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Choke on it

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The train trip to Opportunity was way longer than expected. When they told him that he will be traveling by train, Rhys expected it to take about two or three hours at most.
But here he was. Sitting in an uncomfortable seat with muscles itching from lack of movement. He and the other four Vault Hunters have been on this train for about six hours, without any information about their whereabouts what so ever. Rhys tried to ask one of the guards passing him in the wagon, but he would always get the same answer. “We will be there soon, sir. Please just wait on your seat.”
Once again he tried using his ECHO eye to see if he can get any hints about how far from the city they were, but since this was his first time on the planet his eye wasn’t fully collaborated with the land yet, and so it could show him nothing but blur of useless information.

Rhys sighed and looked around at his four companions. They were sharing this small space for almost seven hours, but none of them have spoken a word.

Nearest to him was sitting a girl with short blue hair and yellow shirt that was missing one sleeve. Her arm was covered in a tattoo matching her hair with its color. She was reading some old-looking book. Rhys tried to look at the name, but it was written in a language he didn’t recognize.

On his other side was a handsome looking blond man trying to fix something on his turret that he’d deployed after an hour of their trip. Rhys had considered offering him help with that but decided against it. After all, he wouldn’t let anyone touch his mechanical arm either.

In front of him was sleeping a short man with a funny looking beard. His snoring seemed to be louder than the train itself. Rhys was tempted to wake him up, but he valued his life too much for even getting close to the guy. Even though he was short, Rhys considered him to be the scariest of them all. The guy had more muscles than the mutated cows on Eden 5.

And then there was this… person, sitting right next to the sleeping cow guy. He was dressed in thin black armor and had a helmet covering his face. He was not moving. At all. From the first moment, they got on the train until now, Rhys did not see this person move. It was freaky, but fascinating at the same time.

After a quick self-convincing he decided to talk to the girl.

“Hey.” Rhys greeted her, moving to sit closer.

“Hey.” She replied, her gray eyes never leaving pages of the book.

“Ehm...” The brunet cleared his throat. “The book you are reading. It looks… Interesting.”

“It is.”

“What is it about? “

She sighs, understanding that he will not leave her alone that easily, and finally looks away from the book turning her attention to Rhys. “It is about mystical realms and the effect they can have on one’s aura and mana.”

“Oh” Rhys replied not knowing what he had expected. “That’s, nice. Aura and stuff. Really cool.” Smooth one. God the day he learns how to talk to girls will be the day skags will start writing gay romantic poems.

The girl raised one eyebrow. She was about to move back to her book, but then she noticed the mechanical arm and pointed at it. “You made that yourself?”

Rhys looked at his arm, as if just now realizing it was there. “Oh. This? Well, I had a little help with the basic structure, but yeah. I did most of it on my own.”

“Can I have a look?” She grabbed the arm without waiting for permission and started inspecting the separate parts. “Is it connected to your nerve system or just the arm muscles?”

“Both, actually. It allows it to react on both conscious and subconscious impulses. I also have it synchronized with my ECHO eye ;so I can use it as a computer.” He turns on the projection of map from the projector built into the metallic palm to show his point. ”This thing can come really handy in combat.” Rhys chuckled to himself. “Pun intended.”

To his surprise, the blue haired girl smiles back leaving his arm be and looking back into his eyes.

“Those are hard to find these days. How did you manage to get one?” She asks this time pointing at his ECHO eye.

“My dad was a scientist. He gave it to me when I was ten years old. Saying it will improve my chances to follow in his footsteps.” Rhys looked away to stare at his black shoes. “But you can say things didn’t turn out as he’d expected.”

The girl was silent for a moment not sure how to respond to that. “My name is Maya.” She says after a second of thinking. “It is really nice to meet you. You seem to be a nice guy, for a Vault Hunter.”

“Rhys.” He smiled, shaking her hand. ”Same goes for you.”

“So, tell me, Rhys. How did you end up working for Hyperion?” Maya asks closing her book.

“Well.” He rose his hand running through his hair. “I was kinda hoping that it would get me to meet Handsome Jack.” Rhys paused looking at the blue sign with the man’s face. “I really do admire the guy you know? I was thinking that working for him would be a great experience.” At this Maya laughed.

She´s got a beautiful smile. Rhys thought, blushing a little. “You are lucky that the man decided to hire Vault Hunters. Must be a dream come true.”

“Heh. Guess you’re right.” He smiled looking at his shoes. “Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of things the guy does that I don’t agree with. Still, it only took him a decade to turn Hyperion into what it is today. And I think that’s admirable. “Maya shrugs mumbling something that sounded like, guess you’re right, under her breath.

“And what about you?” Rhys’s eyes finally left the floor and turned back to her.”What made you join?”

She stayed silent for a second thinking about her answer. “I came to Pandora to find more information about sirens. Because this place seems to be their origin. But I had no luck with coming across any valid clues, only this one guy talking about a siren that used to live here. Unfortunately, she got killed by Hyperion a few months ago. At least that’s what the official records say, but the rumor has it that she is still alive. Hiding, because she knows Hyperion is after her.” There was a brief pause before she continued. “Anyway, I have been running out of resources, and the pay check Hyperion offers is hard to say no to.”

Rhys nodded. “So you really are a sir-“ He got interrupted by a loud noise of something landing on the roof. They wasted no time getting combat ready, standing up from their seats, loading their guns.

Rhys’s attention got caught by a movement coming from the sign with Handsome Jack saying “Welcome Vault Hunters.” It was revealing another sign. Handsome Jack was on it still smiling, now with a murderer’s grin. Rhys’s heart stopped when he read the new red sign.

Welcome Vault Hunters. To your doom.

(nothing personal)

Chapter Text

Two loader bots were charging up right before their shocked eyes, and more sounds were coming from the roof. Rhys spotted the black armored Vault Hunter moving to the window and climbing his way up after the sources. He wanted to join him but got interrupted by Maya who caught his sleeve and dragged him down on the floor to cover just a second before the robots started shooting at the spot where the two of them were standing. New turret was deployed responding them with the same number of bullets.

Mayas tattoo glowing in light blue as she pointed her finger at the nearest loader bot. “Freeze.” She yelled, and the unfortunate thing is trapped, levitating in dark purple bubble, unable to move. Rhys wastes no time before he starts sending his bullets into it. They manage to destroy him unusually fast. From Rhys’ experience, you need at least one full gun magazine to wipe out a single Hyperion loader bot, but now with Maya´s help he only used a half of it.

There were more of them coming. Rhys looks at Maya, waiting for her to make another bubble but she just shook her head. No more bubbles. Reloading his SMG Rhys aimed for the red light placed in the middle of robots’ head. Their weakest spot. This time it didn’t go as fast as before, but he managed to take down two more robots, before running out of ammo and switching for a pistol. Luckily Maya was still there, helping with dealing the damage. The total count of destroyed robots by the duo was five.

The two remaining Vault Hunters meanwhile took out the other four loaders, the smaller one now shooting into the door with a maniacal laugh. It takes him only a moment to get them opened and once the passage is clear they all run into the next room, the last Vault Hunter in black armor joining them, his sword covered in fresh blood.

Rhys’ heart freezes at a sound of s familiar voice coming from figurine sitting in a red chair in the middle of the room. But Rhys didn’t hear what it was saying. His full attention got caught by the enormous amount of explosive that was stocked in the room. Without a second thought, Rhys turns on his ECHO eye to its maximum performance.

He likes to call this his “ultimate ability”. By connecting all data it had received, and after analyzing the possible outcomes, it allows Rhys for a few moments not only to predict but to see next moves of his enemies as well as the future shape of his surroundings. Right now, it was calculating the unavoidable explosion and its outcomes, leading him into the safest position by the window granting him 1.028 % of survival.

He gets into the position just to hear Jack´s voice say, welcome to Pandora kiddos followed by an explosion that throws Rhys to the wall hitting his head hard and knocking him out into the darkness.

***

It was raining outside when his mother was murdered by local bandit’s gang, God knows what she did to piss them off. She was well known for her sharp tongue, so the chances were that she just said the wrong things to the wrong people.

His father would've always said that she was going to get herself into trouble if she wouldn’t keep some things to herself. And so here she was. Lying in a pool of her own blood in the middle of their living room, her empty eyes looking at her son and husband who just got back from the grocery shop.

The bags his father was holding fell on the floor as he was running to her. “Call the medic!” He yelled back at his son, who immediately did as he was told. But Rhys knew it was pointless, she was already gone. And so was the rest of his father’s sanity.

Before the accident, his parents had a great plan prepared for Rhys. He would go to college, get his diploma and follow in his father's footsteps into becoming a famous technical developer. To increase his chances, his father replaced Rhys’ biological eye with an ECHO eye of his own creation.

But with his wife dead, Rhys’ dad had a change of mind. He determined for Rhys to become a soldier, who's quest will be to get rid of all bandits in the known universe. As impossible as the idea might sound, he actually believed that his son will be capable of achieving that goal.

“You are still too weak.” He commented one day, looking down at Rhys who was laying down on the ground (again) after being defeated by the robot (again) that his dad made for him to train with. “You need to become stronger. You need to become strong enough to knock someone out just by punching them with your…” He paused for a second “fist.” At that, he turned on his heel and walked away. Rhys didn't see him for a week after that.

When he finally returned, he grabbed his son and led him into the lab. Rhys’ attention got caught by a silver robotic hand laying on the working table, and so he didn’t notice his dad holding an injection until he felt a sharp pain in his neck. His knees buckled and Rhys slipped into unconsciousness.

When he woke up, his left side felt like it was set on fire. He looked for the source and saw the silver arm from earlier attached to the left shoulder. His father ran to him when Rhys started screaming.

“Oh. You’re finally awake.”

“YOU CUT OF MY ARM!” Rhys’ eyes wide open, staring at the silver thing lying next to him.

“Would you calm down?” His dad replied, the same monotone voice as always. “I had to replace your arm. It was too weak.”

“YOU CUT OF MY FUCKING ARM!” Rhys continued yelling, his voice full of panic. Tears making their way into his eyes.

“Listen young man.” Clearing his throat, he continued. “Soon you will understand how big favor from me this was.” He paused for a second, focusing on his son’s new attached arm. “I will give you some time to adjust. Come to the kitchen when you are ready, we have to do some tests with it.” At that, he left, closing the door behind him. Rhys waited until the sound of father’s footsteps subsided in the hallway. Then he started crying.

As much as Rhys hated to agree with his father, the hand was indeed very useful. Not only it increased his physical strength, but now, after few adjustments, he could connect it to his ECHO eye, gaining for himself an access into every machine that was running on ones and zeros. They returned to their training, and things started looking a little better.

That was until his dad tried to cut off the other arm in his sleep.

Rhys woke up in the middle of the night, feeling pressure on his mattress. Scream escaped out of his mouth when he saw a figure kneeling above him, holding another injection. He pushed into his father’s chest with all his strength. Underestimating his newly gained power, he pushed him way too hard and so his father – who obviously did not expect Rhys to do that – ended up falling backward, hitting his head on the sharp corner of the bedside table.

And so, Rhys watched his second parent die in a pool of blood.

After that, Rhys decided to leave his home town. He sold his house and used the money to buy equipment that allowed him to become a proper Vault Hunter.

The first time he’s heard about Handsome Jack was on one of his missions on Eden 5. His task was to assassinate the head of a small bandit camp. Rhys got the quest from the mayor of some random town that had been having lots of troubles with the group for almost half a year.

When he was done shooting a hole in the guy’s head, he heard news from the radio that had been turned on before he got into the room. They were talking about Hyperion’s new CEO and about how he was doing some massive changes within the company. Rhys chuckled when he heard his name. Handsome Jack. What person with a sane mind would want to be called like that? There was no way his mother had given such name to him.

He didn’t pay much attention to him at first. CEOs come, CEOs go. That’s a known fact.

But over time, Rhys heard more and more about him. About how he focused on mining eridium, about how Hyperion’s every gun was now a top sale, or about how they were in a constant need for new employees.

And so, Rhys ended up searching his name on the ECHO net. And couldn’t get him out of his mind ever since.

Handsome Jack was perfect. He was fearless, he was respected, and he claimed for his life goal to be whipping all bandits out of Pandora, planet Rhys had heard nothing but stories filled with psychos, mass murders, and fauna that can kill you the moment you set your foot on the land. Rhys has become obsessed with him.

The day he saw the poster, saying the Handsome Jack was looking for Vault Hunters, was the luckiest day in his life. He decided to take the picture – of Handsome Jack with his arms wide opened, inviting every Vault Hunter to join him on Pandora – with him after staring at it with his jaw dropped for almost ten minutes.

He was going to work for Handsome Jack himself! He will be able to look him into the perfect mismatched eyes, and who knows? Maybe he will even talk to the guy.

Rhys smiled for himself. Maybe the universe didn’t hate him that much after all.

Chapter Text

Universe despised Rhys. And it's way of saying that was making him wake up with his head half buried in the snow, and ears ringing as if he’d been listening to malfunctioning megaphone in headphones on the maximum volume. But he was still alive.

Rhys groaned and dug himself out of the white dirt.

He set a moment in the snow, waiting for his head to stop spinning while trying to connect the previous events.

He was on the train. Going to Opportunity. It was s trap. The train exploded. It was supposed to kill him, but it didn’t.

Unsure what to do now he stood up and started walking in a random direction. Snow was cracking heavily under his shoes, while Rhys tried to move forward as fast as the white material allowed him to. It didn’t take a long before he heard noises coming from one of the broken wagons.

Rhys immediately started running that direction, ignoring the burning pain in his left leg.

He saw Maya laying on the ground, stuck under an iron pillar, her tattoos glowing light blue as she was trying to move the thing away from her torso with her magic. But the fact that she was bleeding heavily from several places sure was making it difficult for her.

She gave up on her trying when she spotted Rhys. Her lips moved as if calling his name, but no sound reached Rhys’ ears. He ran to her, tripping over his dysfunctioning leg. Yeah, that’s definitely broken.

Rhys joined Maya in trying to get the thing away. Together they pushed with all their strength, but it was immediately clear that even if he had his arm fully charged, only the two of them would never be able to lift it up. It was just too heavy.

Judging by Maya’s changing facial expression, she was thinking about the same thing.

“I…I can go and try to look for help. There might be someone-” He tried to stand up but Maya grabbed him by his sleeve shaking her head. There was something sad in her eyes when she pointed at the gun Rhys had tucked to his belt.

Rhys was confused for a while, looking at the gun and then back at Maya, not understanding what she wanted from him.

His eyes widen in surprise when the realization hit him. “You can’t be serious!” He shouted leaning away from her. “There has to be some way.” Maya didn’t say anything, so Rhys continued. “I’m gonna go up there, I’m gonna get some help, and we will get that thing off of you.” He tried to stand up again, but she only tightened her grip.

“You are a Vault Hunter, Maya.” He was practically yelling at this point. “Vault hunters don’t give up. We fight till our last breath, until there is no other way, and, and even then! We go and make our own…” Rhys’ voice was shaking as the tears started making their way into his eyes.

“I am done fighting Rhys. I am stuck under a train in the middle of a frozen desert.” Her voice was weak, easily lost under the sound of freezing wind.

Rhys didn’t answer. He wasn’t even looking at her, his eyes set on the white cold ground, head shaking.

“Rhys, please.” She whispered “Don’t let me…. Bleed to death slowly. That’s not…That’s not how I wanna go.” When he didn´t move, she continued with a weak voice. “There is no one around here. Handsome Jack had his reasons for waiting with the explosion until we reached this location.” Rhys shook at the name. He really wanted to hate the man for being the cause of his current situation, but at the same time, he did understand his motives. He finally met with her tired, gray eyes. There was so much sadness hidden in them. But no fear. Maya wasn’t afraid of death.

“I don’t wanna do it.” He said. His voice abandoning him. “I really don’t.”

“I know. I am sorry Rhys.”

He nodded. Fingers running through her blue, blood soaked, hair before slowly standing up, reaching for his gun. His flesh-hand was shaking way too hard for him to hold the weapon in it, so he put it into the robot one instead.

“Goodbye Maya.” Rhys whispered, tears running down his cheeks.

“Bye Rhys.” She smiled.

The smile did not leave her lips even after Rhys pulled the trigger.

Harsh sound of gunfire echoed through the frozen land, spreading the message of young girls’ death into the wide world, making all other noises go silent. But after a moment, it just got lost in the wind.

Rhys stood in the same position for a couple of minutes before his knees betrayed him and he fell onto the frozen ground next to the dead girl. He didn’t even know her for that long. And there he was, kneeling next to her dead corpse, crying over her death, tears freezing on his face.

As a Vault Hunter, he should be used to people dying around him. He should, but he wasn’t. Rhys never really got to enjoy killing like others usually did in this kind of job. He wasn’t built to be a Vault Hunter, but his father did a great job making him think that this was the only thing in his life he could do properly. That killing people is the only way for him to ever achieve anything.

He stood up, ignoring the growing pain in his leg – which seemed to be way more intense now when the adrenalin was washing away from his body – and headed away from the corpse. Not even considering picking up the gun. It used to be his favorite weapon. He did many modifications on it, making it be one of the best guns he had ever have. But now? After using it to kill Maya? There was no way he would ever use that one ever again. Plus, if the rumors were right, Pandora was drowning in weapons. It wouldn´t take him long to find, or create, a proper replacement.

He noticed a light, coming from behind him. First, Rhys blamed it at the flames that were still surrounding some of the destroyed wagons. But there was something off. Was it even possible for the flames to be blue?

Rhys turned around when the light started to grow more intense. “What the-” He watched some form of blue energy rising from the place where he left Maya’s body.

Without thinking, Rhys started running away from the source. But the leg hurt him like hell and he only managed to get a few steps away before a flash of blue light hit him, rising Rhys up from his feet up above the ground.

He saw nothing but white. He'd felt nothing but cold before the energy started spreading through his whole body, making it impossible to do as little as breath. When his vision came back to him he was floating in the air, the blue light he saw earlier was now surrounding him. It was the clearest color he had ever seen. It was so scary, so beautiful, so energetic all in the same moment. And yet, it left him completely numb, his brain being too overwhelmed by trying to process the situation Rhys was in, not having any time to produce proper emotions.

Before he managed to figure out what was happening, it was all gone. The blue light, the energetic feeling…Only thing that stayed was the cold.

He was lying on the ground again, without any idea about what just happened, unsure what to do now. When the cold started soaking in, he got up with a sight.

Rhys knew that there was no point in trying to figure out what had just happened to him. His life was filled with crazy stuff like that, he gave up on trying to understand them years ago. His life was weird. Strange things happened to him, practically on daily basis.

Plus, right now he was too cold, too sad and too tired to even care about anything. All he wanted to do was find some safe, warm place, curl up in the corner and forget that the rest of the world ever existed.

Still, he couldn’t get rid of the awful feeling, that this weird experience was going to have some terrible consequences.

***

“What do you mean one of them survived?”

“That there is a person whose life functions maintained untouched even after the explosion.”

“Don’t be a smart-ass Angel. It doesn’t look good on you.” Brown haired girl on the screen rolled her eyes as Jack leaned his back on the table while holding his chin with the left hand. “Did you manage to locate them?”

“No. Not yet. The storm is blocking my signals. We will need to wait for the weather to calm down before I can contact them.”

Awesome. This means that a pissed Vault Hunter is running around in the Southern Shelg, and Jack has absolutely no control over them. “And I don’t suppose you know which one of them it was, do you?”

She shrugs. “Nope. No Idea. Could be anyone.”

“Well isn’t this just fricking perfect?!” Jack turns away from the huge monitor he has been using to communicate with his daughter and starts walking around the table. “First there was that fiasco with Maliwan catching our spy, another of our eridium mines got taken over by some cock-sucking bandits, and now I gotta deal with some piss stain who just won’t stay dead after I fucking tell it to!”

Grabbing his gun Jack shoots his whole magazine into one of his targets he had someone to set up all around his office. He did that after Angel suggested that shooting at his employees every time he needs to cool down his temperature might not be the best idea if he wanted to keep his number of stuff in the same way it is.

Jack knew she was right, but still. It just wasn’t the same without all the blood and begging being involved.

When he turned back, Angel was still watching him with a unamused expression on her face. “What do you want me to tell them when I manage to establish contact?”

“I don’t know.” Jack responds in frustrated voice throwing his hands up, still holding on that gun. “That it would be lovely if they just could jump off the nearest cliff and break their fucking neck or something.”

“I don’t think that would help us to achieve anything. Besides, even if I would succeed in persuading them into doing so, I don’t suppose anything would happen to them. Judging by the odd way the gravity works on this planet, they would just walk away after that in the same shape they were before.”

“Angel, what did I just say about being a smart-ass?” She smirks back at him with raised eyebrows. Jack could not help but see himself in that expression. Sometimes he wishes that the two of them weren’t so alike. She would be way easier to deal with if she hadn’t had inherited so much from him.

But she has a point. Getting rid of a Vault Hunter is never that easy, especially when they expect you to come after them. He needs to be smart about this. “Alright. We are going to have to do this right.” Jack continued the left hand back on his chin. “You will gain their trust. Help them reach Sanctuary. We can use having someone who will listen to you in that forsaken city.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Helping another Vault Hunter to join the resistance? Wouldn’t we be just playing into their hands?”

Jack just waved his hand dismissively. “Nah, they are going to get there anyway. This way they will at least have a feeling that they can trust you. And I am pretty sure we will be able to use that to our advantage.”

Angel nodded with a serious expression. “All right. I think I can do that.”

“I know you can, sweetheart.” Jack winked at her. “Just let me know when you find out who exactly are we dealing with, will ya?”

Nodding again, she mumbled something like, as you wish, before the screen turned off.

When he was alone, Jack returned to his computer. There was so much work for him to do, even before the fuck up with assassinating the Vault Hunters. He opened his e-mail with the conversation with Maliwan. It was time for him to turn the charms on and someone to manage to get Hyperion back on good terms with the elemental-focused gun manufactory before they manage to turn it into an armed conflict.

This was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

It was already dawn when Rhys found the robot. He was digging through some old corpses, mumbling something about skags’ buttholes and how the dead guy’s face reminded him of them.

The unit stopped with whatever he was doing when he saw Rhys approaching.

“Well hello there, stranger.” The machine greeted him with loud and annoying voice, making Rhys’s headache even more unbearable. “Judging by your inappropriate clothing, you sir, are very lost.” It rolled closer to Rhys studying him with huge interest. “Forgive me for being rude or something, but are you by any chance one of the Vault Hunters?”

“Ehm. Yeah. I am…” Rhys tried to focus on the appearance of the talking robot through his blurred vision. It was small. Almost half of Rhys’ height. Its color was in Hyperion yellow, and it was moving on only one wheel which, Rhys though, had to be extremely impractical, judging by the fact that they were in an area covered by nothing but tons and tons of snow. “Are you a claptrap unit?”

“Oh, how inappropriate of me. I haven’t even introduced myself yet! Let me fix that. I am a CL4P-TP steward bot, but my friends call me…”

“Claptrap. Like all those others units. I know. So please, just…Just shut up. The sound of your voice is making my head hurt.”

“No problem. I am well known for my capability to be a completely silent companion, aside from my many other skills. Like making cupcakes, riding horses or singing. And most importantly, daaanciing.”

And then it started dancing. Rhys would’ve face-palmed himself if he hadn't been so painfully exhausted. “Listen. Please, I am exhausted, cold and unbelievably hungry. So, if you could just show me a place to hide from the cold or something? That, that would be great.”

“Well of course mighty Vault Hunter. Follow me.” Claptrap turned around and went away without checking if Rhys was going after him.

With a heavy sigh, Rhys started walking in the same direction as the forever mumbling unit, who seemed to have hidden and lost its ability to stay quiet for more than two minutes somewhere under the deep snow. Rhys thought he’d heard him say something about Sanctuary, but at that moment he couldn’t really care less.

Seriously. Only Rhys, one of the few people who actually welcomed the mass killing of claptrap product line after Jack got to power, could be the one who would manage to find one of the last functioning pieces in the frozen middle of nowhere.

Luckily for Rhys, whose leg was beginning to feel like it was going to fall off, it didn’t take too long to get to Claptrap’s hideout. Claptrap managed to get the door open – obviously, that was one of the few things those bots were good at – and Rhys followed him in.

The temperature inside the cave was almost the same as outside, but at least now he was hidden from the freezing air.

“So, why do you have all those dead bodies around here?” Rhys pointed at a dead psycho whom they’ve just passed by.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. Handsome Jack has made his personal dump out of this place. Most of the things he kills end up here. Bandits, Vault Hunters, Claptrap units…”

“You sound kinda pleased about this.”

“Oh, that’s because my programmers made this my default tone of voice. I am actually quite depressed!”

“Sorry to hear that.” Rhys was only half paying attention to what the unit was saying, keeping himself busy by looking around at what seemed to by Claptrap´s living room.

“Aw. How kind of you! Well, let’s see what we can do about your health state.” When the Vault Hunter turned around, he saw Claptrap approaching him with a red filled syringe in its metallic hand. Without thinking, Rhys grabbed some gun which was lying nearby and pointed it at the unit. “What the hell do you think you are doing?!”

“Giving you the insta health?” Rhys didn’t move, so the bot continued. “Surely an experienced Vault Hunter like you has already used one of those?” He hasn’t. But it would be a lie if he said that he’d never heard of them.

Expensive, almost magical medicine, used mainly by Vault Hunters, which guaranteed to its user an immediate relief from any wound, with only minor side effects. They were extremely rare. You’d have to pay tons of money to the right people just to get one of those. But it seemed that on Pandora they were much more common than in the rest of the galaxy. Rhys shouldn’t be so surprised. This was Pandora after all.

Still. There was no way he was going to get this thing near his skin. “I don’t do needles.”

“Are you sure about that? I mean, we are not going anywhere with the state your leg is in.” As in a response to that, a sharp pain ran through Rhys’ leg, making his teeth clench.

He tried to consider his options. It was a) staying here, in Claptraps hideout and waiting until the leg healed itself. Which could take from two days to weeks or b) just taking medicine and getting away from here as fast as possible.

“Ah, for a love of… Give it here.” Rhys grabbed the thing from Claptrap´s hand and took a deep breath. Trying not to think about it too much, he stabbed the needle into his leg.

He felt the effect immediately. A warm feeling coming from the spot where his skin met with the sharp iron quickly spread through his entire body, washing all the pain away. Together with his tiredness and hunger. He felt incredible.

“Wow.” Rhys breathed out, not realizing that he’d been holding his breath.

I am glad you made it here.” A soft voice spoke from behind him. Rhys jumped and turned to face a picture of a young girl who just appeared out of nowhere.

Reflexively, he tried to punch her, but his fist just came right through her.

He tried once more, and again until he finally realized that this would lead him nowhere and turned to Claptrap. “What the hell was in that thing?!”

“Well, the essential composition is company’s secret, but I am pretty sure they add some hydrogen phosphate in those. Some say that’s what makes it turn purple when you try to pee on in.

“Would you please stop freaking out? You are making yourself look silly.” The girl said in a soft voice.

“You! You drugged me. Made me seeing things. Why am I seeing hot brunets floating in the thin air?”

“That’s what insta health does? Men, now I really wish I could use one of those.”

“You are not hallucinating Rhys.” She said trying to regain his attention. “I am an AI, using your cybernetics to communicate with you.

“My name is Angel. And I am here to help you.”

***

Jack had an awful night.

Communication with Maliwan led him nowhere. The CEO used all his tricks and energy on trying to talk some sense into those knotheads, but it all met with the same refusing reaction. With all his willpower, Jack stopped himself from any further dialog with the rival company, before he would start threatening them. He rolled himself away from the table and turned his chair to face the giant window behind him, resting his face in his palm.

This was bad. He’d left the guy in Maliwan for way too long. He knew that, but still. Jack was so sure that they were planning something. They always were. He just needed to find out what it was this time. Maybe if he had more time… No. There was no point in thinking about that now.

Maybe he should just send someone to kill the spy. He was useless anyway and knowing Maliwan, they were in the middle of getting all information the guy had stored in his incapable head. Jack was sure that Nisha would do it without a wink of her pretty brown eyes. Or he would just send Wilhelm.

Talking about Wilhelm, there was something off with that guy.

After the last surgery, he looked and acted more like a robot than anything else. And even though Jack would’ve never admitted that out loud, it scared the living shit out of him.

People, Jack could handle. People were easy to read, easy to kill. But robots? They were something totally different. Jack was an engineer, he knew how to build a robot, he understood how they worked. And how easy it was for them to turn against you whenever something unpredictably switched in their weird mechanical minds. That was one of the reasons why he decided to shut down all claptrap units soon after he became the CEO. Claptraps were getting involved in everything. There were just all-over the fricking place, it was only a matter of time before one of them decided to go into a homicidal rage and shoot out half of a city. He was sure about that.

Jack didn’t realize how tired he was until his eyes started closing on their own will. God, when was the last time he’d slept for more than three hours? He couldn’t remember.

But really, who could blame him for avoiding sleep, when all his vivid dreams were filled with nightmares and horrors, no psycho would ever be ashamed of.

Jack sighed. There was no point in fighting it. Even though he didn’t like to admit it, Handsome Jack was still a human being, and before the incompetent fist fucks who he hired to work in his labs made him some pills that would help him get rid of this annoying human habit, he will need sleep.

For a second, he considered going into his bedroom but decided against it. The chair he was sitting in will do just fine. He paid unholy amount of money for this seat, so he better be able to have a nice nap in it.

Jack pushed himself deeper into the soft black fabric and closed his eyes. The sleep came almost immediately, soon followed by an old nightmare.

The walls around him were hard but sticky to touch. Air in the room was cold. So cold, a puff of steam would come out of his mouth every time he breathed out. It was just the right temperature when your mind wouldn’t get numb, but it’s still cold enough to keep you awake during the whole time you’d spent in there. John couldn’t remember what it was he did to deserve to be in The Pit again.

The Pit was a name his grandma gave to this place. The room itself was hidden under their house. Its original purpose was to serve as a place for storing food before they could save up enough money to buy a proper fridge.

Now there was no real purpose for it, so his grandma decided to use it as some kind of punishment room for John. Whenever she thought that her grandson was a “bad boy”, she would send him to The Pit and left him in there for a day or two.

Sometimes being a bad boy meant coming home late, leaving the door open, or just talking to her with an inappropriate tone. She would always find a reason to send him in there.

John hated The Pit and she knew it. Sometimes, he thought, he would prefer another beating with Mr. Buzzteeth. Buzzteeth was a buzz axe she made herself out of skags teeth, psycho´s nails and more nasty things she found outside her house. That woman had a weird habit in giving names to inanimate objects.

John had an abnormal fear of being in enclosed or narrow places with no way to escape. It made him feel trapped, vulnerable.

The boy tried punching the walls again. He knew they weren’t moving, but unless he could feel the hard, steady structure under his fist he couldn’t tell just how far they really were from him.

He wanted to get out. He wanted to get out from this dark, smelly place and feel the breeze and see the trees and just run, run away.

His heart was beginning to pound erratically. His childish mind was searching for a way out, for something to help him to get away from here. He wanted to get out so badly.

The boy wants to scream. Call for help, but he knows that he can’t do that. If he does, she would come here, with her buzzing axe and beat him to a pulp. Then she would just leave him here in the cold, all covered in his own blood for another day.

John didn’t want that. He wanted to stay quiet, but he just couldn’t help it. He couldn’t stop the screams coming from his mouth, he couldn’t stop the small fist from beating hard on the iron door, begging for her to let him out.

And then there she was. Standing above him, with Mr. Buzzteeth in hand, crazy grin spread across her wrinkled old face. “Now, what do we have here?” John wipes off the tears from his face, not daring to look away from her. “Someone is a bad boy again.” She swings the axe and hits John hard into his small skinny chest.

Jack wakes screaming and covered in cold sweat. There was a gun placed in his hand, and his eyes were searching for any sign of movement, ready to shoot.

It took him a moment before his mind settled and he fully realized where he was. Safe and sound in his huge office that was equipped with the most efficient security system within the entire galaxy, free of any crazed grandmas and their disgusting axes.

Damn that woman. Making a hell out of his life even after all those years. No matter how much distance there was between the two of them, she would always find a way how to terrorize the hell out of him.

Jack tucked the gun back into his case and ran his hand through the brown hair, destroying the rest of its usually perfect shape. He will need to redo them before he starts letting people in.

He should just send someone to kill her. Maybe all those nightmares will stop once she is buried deep under the ground. He could just pay some bandits to do the job for him and make the garbage do something useful at least for once in their miserable lives.

Shaking his head, he let out a heavy sight. As if I haven’t tried that before.

Jack wasn’t sure if he could count the number of times when he decided to just off the lady. Or better. Just to pay someone to off her for him. Once, he even got that far that he actually started recording the quest on the ECHO net. But he never finished it. The awful feeling growing from somewhere deep-inside him wouldn’t let him. It would force him to question his decision, make him scared of the act and just push him into finding something else to busy himself with, getting his mind away from her.

Sighing again, he looked around his office. His working table was barely visible under the growing pile of papers, half of which needed his attention yesterday, another huge company was threatening him with an armed conflict and Hyperion had neither the time nor the personal to afford that more and more of his eridium mines were getting taken over by the shit-eating bandits and on top of all it, his assassination attempt didn’t meet with full success and now there was one more Vault Hunter running around on Pandora.

There was only one thing for the CEO of Hyperion to do.

Get drunk and play some videogames.

Chapter Text

“So, this Sanctuary is like, a city full of bandits?”

More or less.

“And you want me to go there.”

That is correct.”

“To join them in fighting against Handsome Jack?”

Precisely.

“Are you out of your mind? Why would I want to do that?”

Angel rolled her eyes. “He tried to kill you. Remember?”

“He is not the first person who tried doing that. And I bet what’s left in my wallet that he is not the last one either.”

Jack has been terrorizing this planet for almost a decade. Many innocent people lost their lives because of this person. He claims himself to be the savior of Pandora, but all he does is bringing fear and death to its citizens.”

“Oh, you mean all those lovely people running around in masks made of…Other lovely people?”

Angel stayed silent for a moment. “Either you go to Sanctuary, or you will stay here with Claptrap.”

Rhys frowned at her, turning to look at the yellow colored robot who was currently searching for something in his closet, making noises that remotely resembled dubstep. “Can’t you just get me out of here without me going to the Sanctuary?”

Nope.”

“Why not?”

Roland will need all the help he can get. You are a Vault Hunter. Meaning he needs you.”

“What part of – I hate bandits they destroyed my whole life, I’d rather choke myself with my own fists than to ever work with them – did you not understand?”

Alright Rhys. Let me clear one thing for you. Right now, you are stuck on this planet. The only way to get out of here, is in a spaceship. And those are expensive. You will need a lot of money to get a ticket on one of them. How much money do you currently have on you, Rhys?”

Angel grinned when the brunet didn’t respond, looking back at her with a pissed frown. “Thought so. You know Rhys, they might be bandits, but they pay well. Work for them for a while, and you will be looking at Pandora from space in no time.”

Rhys hid his face into his palm.

Angel was right. He knew she was right from the beginning of their conversation. He just didn’t want to admit it. Working for bandits? That was a new low, even for him. He didn’t like it. But staying on Pandora after the job for Handsome Jack was currently on hiatus, that he liked even less.

“Oh, god fine you’re right. So how do I get there?”

The AI smiled victoriously. “Just follow Claptrap. He knows the way.”

“Why do I need to take him with me? Don’t you think my brain cells have suffered enough?”

You will need him to open the doors for you.”

“Couldn’t you do it instead? You already hacked into my ECHO eye, opening a door should be a piece of cake for an AI like yourself, no?”

That is correct. But I want you to take him with you.”

“Why is that?”

He is such a cute thing. Would be a shame to just leave him here.”

Rhys looked over his shoulder at Claptrap who now added dancing to his little performance.

“You are joking.”

Not at all. Just take him with you.” Angel winked at him, really enjoying his reaction.

Rhys was staring at her with narrowed eyes. “Claptrap! Let’s go. I don’t wanna spend here more time than I have to.”

“Alright! To Sanctuary it is. Follow me minioooooo-“Claptrap yelled when one of the biggest bullymongs Rhys has ever seen – true, he hasn’t seen much, but still – just came out of the hole in a roof, grabbing Claptrap by his “head” and swinging with him like if he was a rattle. For some reason, it decided that the most interesting thing on Claptrap was his eye. So, it took it out, accompanied with Claptrap’s loud yell “My eye!” and left the same way it came, throwing the robot back on the ground.

No, please, take him with you. I don’t want him. Rhys thought desperately, watching as the eye missing robot was unsuccessfully trying to regain his orientation. Needless to say, it was a really entertaining thing to watch. He tried throwing a desperate look at Angel, but she was already gone.

“Minion! I will need you to be my eyes.” Claptrap announced after hitting the same spot for the fifth time. “Just tell me if I am going to walk into something.”

Yeah, right. Rhys smiled to himself after watching him hit the same stone again.

“I will just assume that you didn’t see that.” Claptrap mumbled, moving away from the stone just to hit another one. He looked so pathetic, it made Rhys feel sorry for him.

The brunet rolled his eyes. I am way too soft for my own good. “Here, hold my hand.”

“Oh, thank you, minion! “Claptrap sang happily, catching the offered hand. “Now, let’s go on our adventure. We will be like two soldiers on a battlefield! United and inseparable. You will be the muscles, I will be the brain. You will be the wheel, I will be the driver. You will be-“

“I am throwing you out of the cliff if you won’t shut up.”

“Understood sir.” Claptrap responded happily.

Rhys didn’t believe it could be possible, but the unit actually did stay quiet for a moment, leaving the two of them to walk in almost complete silence through the frozen land.

That was until more bullymong came. Then he started screaming hysterically.

“Protect me, squire!” The unit shrieked as it was rushing to hide behind a piece of ice.

Rolling his eyes, Rhys loaded the shotgun he found at Claptrap’s place and fired a few rounds into the closest bullymong. But the gun was a cheap piece of shit, and it took at least four shots to get one of the animals down. By the time, he killed all six of them, his count of ammunition was on dangerously low level.

“This won’t do.” He said more to himself than to the unit, who came back from his hideout after the last animal stopped moving. For the fact that he couldn’t see, Claptrap was able to hide admirably fast. “I am already running low on ammunition, and we just left the cave.”

“Well, you can always try searching the piles of snow.”

“Heh, right.”

“There are usually some ammo hidden in them.”

“Wait, what?” Rhys turned back to face the robot.

“Yeah! Nobody really knows who keeps putting them in there, but you can always find something really useful in those things.”

Rhys looked at the nearest pile of snow. He found it hard to believe that there might actually be something hidden in there. But the robot didn’t look like he was joking. Still, hard to tell with this guy, judging by the fact that he had no facial expressions and his voice is always in the same tone.

Rhys sighed, feeling like an idiot as he approached the snow pile. “Just punch it with your robotic arm. It will break, and you can take whatever flies out of it.” Claptrap called behind him.

Punch it. Right. I can do that. Rhys swung his arm and hit it with all his might. To his surprise, some ammunition actually did fly off the snow landing in front of Rhys’ feet. “You gotta be kidding me.”

He picked up all the ammo and repeated the same action with the other piles before his magazine was full. “Alright, that should do for a while. Let’s go.” Rhys announced, re-offering his arm to Claptrap.

The moment Claptrap grabbed it, his ECHO communicator went on, voice coming out of it before he even had the chance to pick up.

“Hey, kiddo. Jack here, president of Hyperion.” Rhys froze in the middle of a step. Oh my god. It´s Handsome Jack. Handsome Jack is talking to me. “Let me explain how things work here. Vault Hunter shows up. Vault Hunter looks for the new vault. Vault Hunter gets killed. By me. Seeing the problem here? You’re still alive. So, if you could just do me a favor and off yourself, that’d be great.”

“What, Handsome Jack wants me to do the job that he fucked up? What a surprise!” Rhys slammed the palm over his mount, but the words were already out.

The other line was quiet for a while. “Heh. Cute. See ya later pumpkin.”

There was a sound announcing the end of the call, and then the ECHO went off. Rhys stayed in the same position for a few moments, before putting the ECHO back into his pocket.

“Wow. I never thought I would see someone to back talk to Handsome Jack.” Claptrap said, still holding Rhys’s hand. “Well, technically I didn’t see it, with my eye still missing. But you got my point.”

“Yeah, well what can I say? “Rhys chuckled, still processing the fact that he just had a private phone call with Handsome Jack. “I’ve inherited my mother’s sharp tongue.”

***

Jack had a hangover. A nasty one to that. His head hurt like hell and every little noise he heard felt like it had a volume of thunder.

He spent the night playing Gun Game Online IV and drinking his finest whiskey. But after the fifth level, Jack gave up on the game and focused his full attention on the honey colored liquid. The first bottle was empty before he knew it and as the morning came, the second bottle was, more or less, in the same state.

Jack blinked a couple of times, trying to get his blurred vision under control. Without success.

He groaned at the sound of his ECHO beeping. Jack grabbed the little box and accepted the call without even looking at the name.

“What?!” He barked into the microphone.

“I have spoken with the surviving Vault Hunter.”

“Oh, Angel. You did? And what…What did they say?”

The second end of the line was quiet for a while. “Jack, are you drunk?”

“What? Me? Drunk? Pfff…do-dodon't be ridiculous Angel. I don’t get drunk.”

“Sure. I will call you later.”

“No, no no no. Don’t do that. I am fine. I am fine, just tell me how did it go? Who is the lucky bastard that got to see my special fireworks and live to tell about it?”

Angel sighed. “It’s the developer. The one with the robotic eye. He is known for upgrading his guns or even making his own. People call him the Company man, but I don’t really know why and from what I understood he doesn’t use the nickname himself. He goes under the name Rhys.”

“Rhys, Rhys… Hmm, nope doesn’t ring any bells. Could you send me his file so I can take a look at what we are dealing with here?”

“Sure. But it won’t be much. Whoever this guy is, he is excellent in hiding his tracks. I wasn’t able to find any of his personal files. All we got is a few police records and some photos made by our safety cameras.”

“Yeah, whatever. Just send them here will ya?”

“They are already in your mail box. Right now, Rhys is on his way to Sanctuary, but he hasn’t even left the Windshear Waste.”

“Alright. Keep an eye on him for me and let me know whenever he does something interesting.”

“Of course, Jack.” Beeping noise announced the end of their call. Jack shoved his ECHO communicator back into his pocket and slowly stood up. It was a challenging task, because his head just wouldn’t stop spinning. But with enough willpower, he managed to get to his computer and open the file Angel just sent him.

First thing that popped up was a picture taken by one of the Hyperion’s security cameras on Eden 6. It showed Rhys, who was just about to enter one of Hyperion’s facilities through the window, looking over his shoulder, as if checking for someone who might be following him. However, Jack couldn’t read much of his features, partly because the picture was taken during night, and partly because his vision hasn’t fully regenerated itself yet.

But what he did notice was a silver prosthesis arm. He didn’t see any logo on it, meaning that it had to be home-made. Jack let out an admirable whistle. You either had to be rich as fuck to afford one of those or incredibly skillful to be able to make them on your own, without risking it exploding the moment you attach it to your body.

Angel was right about the lack of information Hyperion had on this guy. There were a few notes about him clearing bandit camps here and there, stealing something from the companies’ stocks or doing some lower jobs like a delivery or finding a missing person. Nothing interesting what could help anyone to learn more about him.

Jack got back to search through his photos – only photos, no videos which was really suspicious. Almost like someone took his sweet time with separating things he was willing to share from those that were actually useful – and stopped at one where Rhys was looking right into the objective of the camera.

The picture was taken in some city Jack didn’t recognize. Rhys’s flesh hand was running through his brown hair, destroying his trim haircut. He was wearing a black shirt with a metallic looking vest. Jack wondered if it was bulletproof. Heh, probably not. Nobody wore bulletproof vests anymore, After Atlas had come up with electromagnetic shields, those things were good for nothing but slowing you down. Plus, they never covered more than half of your body.

Jack zoomed in on the boy’s mismatched eyes. Unlike himself, he had one brown and the other light blue. Wait. Didn’t Angel say something about him having an ECHO eye? That must be it. Heh. This boy must be tougher than he looks. Jack remembered when Wilhelm told him about his first surgery when he was getting the first ECHO eye. “It was a close one.” He said. “The doctors said that they were sure that I was a goner. My brain just turned off during the surgery. They stated that I was lucky to be so strong built. Took more than a few incapable doctors to get me to stop kicking.” Jack had been thinking about getting one of those for himself, but this conversation made him change his mind.

Another thing Jack couldn’t help but notice, was that the boy was really good looking. Like damn, he was hot! Jack had seen some pretty faces among the Vault Hunters, but they mostly belonged to girls. Male Vault Hunters all tend to keep this tough image, making themselves look as if they were ready to crush your bones just by looking at you.

Rhys’ features, on the other hand, were soft. Almost too soft for a guy, a Vault Hunter to that. He didn’t make the impression of someone who would be able to survive an explosion and walk away from that like nothing happened. Jack even considered calling Angel again to ask her if she’d sent him the right files.

But then he got a better idea. He will call Rhys instead and talk to him himself! Just to see how things really are with this guy.

Not bothering to think about what he was going to say, he quickly searched for the signal of the Vault Hunter’s ECHO communicator and dialed it.

One of the many advantages of being the owner of a billion dollars’ company was that you didn’t have to wait for others to pick up your calls. The moment their ECHO reads your ID, it just picks up itself.

Time to make a good impression. Jack thought the moment he heard noise announcing his ECHO call being successfully connected.

“Hey kiddo. Jack here, president of Hyperion.” Yeah right. As if he needed to introduce himself. He heard a gasp from the other side of the line as the kid realized who was calling him. Alright. He got his attention. Now what?

“Let me explain how things work here. Vault Hunter shows up. Vault Hunter looks for the new vault. Vault Hunter gets killed. By me. Seeing the problem here? You’re still alive. So, if you could just do me a favor and off yourself, that’d be great.” Good old threatening. Never fails.

Jack didn’t really expect the kid to respond anything to that. He wouldn’t expect anyone to answer to that. But before he managed to end the call, he heard a honeyed voice coming out of the speaker. “What, Handsome Jack wants me to do the job that he fucked up? What a surprise!”

Jack stayed quiet for a second, unsure if he heard that right. Did the kid just back talked to him?

“Heh. Cute. See ya later pumpkin.” The CEO responded sarcastically before hanging up.

Kid´s got balls. He thought to himself. Well, he just signed his death sentence. Nobody back talks to Handsome Jack and gets away with it. Jack pressed the blue button on his table, calling his secretary.

“Morning sir.” Meg answered from her office.

“Hey Meg. Get me on the Pandora’s broadcast will ya? Need to make my morning announcement.” He stopped for a second.

“And where the fuck is my coffee?!”

“Right away, sir.”

Jack smiled to himself. So, Rhys. Let’s see how you manage to keep running the pretty mouth of yours after I get the whole planet chasing after your guts.

Chapter Text

A few years ago, Rhys accepted a job offer from some low-class bartender. The task was to clear the man’s basement where a pack of kolcavacks had settled.
Kolcavacks were nasty animals. They had similar features to rats, but they were bigger. Holy god, were they bigger. Regular kolcavack had a size of full grown pig, but those? They were like aggressive cows living underground.
Rhys had to kill about a dozen of those creatures, and one crazed naked guy who lived there with them and whom the bartender conveniently forgot to mention. From what Rhys understood, the man came to a conclusion that he was a kolcavack and lived there with the animals for about a month or two.
Rhys will never understand how the man didn’t die of infection after spending a week in that place, let alone two months. Needless to say, Rhys himself smelled like shit after the job had been done and the scent wouldn’t leave him for next three days.


But Rhys would go and do that again. He would go and do that again twice if it meant getting rid of the stupid, annoying, soul sucking robot who he was currently stuck with.
For almost an hour in a row, Claptrap was going on about his morning routine, and whenever it started to look like the tell-tale had finally come to its end, he would just add another part of the story, which was even worse than the previous one. Rhys had found out about so many nasty things robots could do, that he will have nightmares about it for another decade.


Just when Rhys was on the edge of screaming, the bullymong with Claptrap’s eye jumped down from the ice hill they were just passing by, accompanied by another five smaller bullymongs.


Oh, thanks god. Rhys thought, loading his gun and fired first shots into the animals. The smaller ones were quick to kill. As soon as Rhys managed to figure out their weak points it turned into a child’s play. But the big one? He was just refusing to give up even after the other bullymongs were long dead. Plus, he kept throwing ice on Rhys, which was really annoying and it made his attempts to aim unbelievably difficult.


All right. Time for a change of strategy. He turned on his ECHO eye and quickly scanned the situation. It showed Rhys a few cold stones coming his way from the raging animal. Also, it brought his attention to a frozen cliff that was on the edge of falling. One good aimed shot and it will break and fall. It was heavy enough for Rhys to weaken, or maybe even defeat the animal.
But first, Rhys needed to get the bullymong under it. The first idea was to have Claptrap do it, but then he remembered that the unit was still missing his eye. It would take an eternity to make him understand what he was supposed to do. And even longer to explain how to do it correctly.
Rhys sighed. Playing a bait himself it was then. He quickly sprinted from his hideout behind some old Hyperion capsule that was conveniently placed there and jumped in front of the bullymong. “Hey! You! Overgrown monkey! I was thinking, what are you going to use as a face when the baboon wants his butt back?” He wasn’t that naive to believe it was possible for the animal to understand him, but it didn’t even matter. His plan worked, and now the enormous four-armed mutant was chasing after him.
He didn’t stop when he aimed for the rock, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to run right under it when the massive piece of heavy frozen water fell on the big animal, leaving him trapped underneath it, conveniently the only thing left untouched was one of his right palms, that was still holding the robot’s eye.
Rhys grabbed it victoriously, calling for the unit to come out. Claptrap didn’t leave him waiting for too long, before he happily approached Rhys, congratulating him for retrieving his eye.

“So, do you want me to get it back in there or…”

“Oh, no minion. This is a delicate brain operation. I would rather leave it to professionals.”

“You sure? I hate to break it to you Claptrap, but I don’t see many professionals running around here.”

“We will need only one on them. He lives nearby. Goes under the name Sir Hammerlock.”

Rhys was silent for a second, looking at Claptrap’s offered hand. “Are you positive you don’t want me to do it instead? I mean I don’t wanna boast too much, but I know my way around the tech pretty well. It wouldn’t be that difficult for me to just...”

“No thank you. Let’s go, Sanctuary awaits.”Claptrap grabbed Rhys’ hand without waiting for any response and dragged him up the hill. They didn’t have to walk for too long before stopping in front of a massive iron door.
“Old Hyperion security.” Claptrap snorted. “Child’s play.” He jumped in front of the door. “Aaaand opeeeen!” There was a blue light scanning Claptrap’s whole structure before turning red.

Fakely positive woman’s voice came out of the door. “Unauthorized attempt. Locking doors.” With dull thud two iron plates came out of the wool, sealing the doors against any intruders.

“Well.” Claptrap turned to face Rhys, after a second of just staring at the lock. “It was nice knowing ya. I’ve heard that getting eaten alive by bullymongs isn’t such a bad way to go.”

“Wait. What?”

Here. Let me fix that t.” Rhys'd heard Angel’s voice before the doors opened.“There. Perks of being an AI. I am connected into all of the networks on Pandora.”

“Of course, you are.” Rhys mumbled under his chin. “Thanks, Angel.”

You are welcome.” She smiled. “It’s a long way to Sanctuary. Take anything you need.”

The room they just entered was filled with various ammunitions, few insta health and what was the most important thing of all, guns. There were in total three guns. Revolver, SMG and one sniper rifle. Rhys’ favorite kind of gun. Without thinking he throw away the old useless shotgun and quickly equipped the new weapons.
Rhys took a couple of seconds to study his new sniper rifle. It wasn’t the best one he had ever seen, but it wasn’t the worst either. Surprisingly, none of the guns were Hyperion issued, but Dahl and Torgue. The sniper, in particular, was Dahl. However, there was a long reload speed, meaning that he had to wait a couple of seconds before he would be able to shoot again and there were only five slots for ammo. He was going to be reloading very often unless he manages to reconstruct it. Damn. Now he really wished he wouldn’t lose all his tools in the train explosion.

“Whenever you are ready, Vault Hunter.” Claptrap called, standing next to the door in classic steward position.

“Alright.” Rhys nodded. “Let’s go.”

This wasn’t the first time he used teleport but still… Rhys will never get used to the feeling of his body being shattered into million tiny pieces and spread through the air just to be rebuilt again into the chosen destination. He couldn’t poop properly for at least two weeks after each teleporting trip.

When they finally “landed” they were standing in an area that was almost identical to Windshear Waste. Only with slightly less snow and more stones.

Once again, his ECHO beeped and once again it was Handsome Jack’s voice coming out of it. But this time it wasn’t a private conversation like before, but a broadcast meant for all people on Pandora who had their ECHO communicator with them. Meaning, for every single one. “Attention, people of Pandora! Handsome Jack here, offering a million bucks to whomever brings me the head of the Vault Hunter who just arrived in Liar’s Berg. Oh, and I’m still offering a reward for Roland, the mass-murdering leader of the Crimson Raiders. Good hunting, bandits!” Bitches.


The ECHO went off only for a second before it caught another frequency. This one surely wasn’t meant for Rhys’ ears, but since the bandit who was now speaking didn’t know how to properly work with those things, his message ended up broadcast into the whole Liar’s Berg. “A million bucks? All right boys – this is Capitan Flynt. I want you to find that Vault Hunter and bring him to me! NOW!”

“Great.” Rhys moaned. “That’s just what I needed. And million bucks? Seriously? There were awards ten times bigger on my head from people who didn’t own a half of what Handsome Jack has.” Shaking his head, Rhys started to walk forward, dragging Claptrap behind him.
It didn’t take long before they arrived at the lock gates of some small town. Behind them, Rhys saw a movement.
Armed and bored looking man was walking in the middle of the residence, SMG in his hand, head in the sky. A watch. The brunet realized. He kept searching the area and spotted at least five more armed bandits walking around the place, chatting with each other. One of them was lying on the ground, leaning against a wall, head rested on his shoulder. He was either deeply asleep or dead. Rhys would prefer the second option.
Six outside. There might be more of them in the buildings.
Rhys had begun to plan his strategy. He could take out at least two of them with his sniper rifle before they spot him, but the sound of gunfire will lead out those who are in the buildings. Maybe if he used a garnet, he could…

His thinking process got interrupted by a sound of rowing animals.

“Bullymongs!” One of the bandits screamed, pointing out what was so painfully obvious. None of them hesitated in loading their guns and sending their bullets into the animals’ thick fur. But they were all idiots and none of them was aiming for the weak spots. Instead, they were just randomly shooting in the air, probably hoping for the animals to just run into the bullets. What a waste of ammo.
Another four bandits ran out of the buildings, joining their teammates in the fight. All Rhys had to do was to wait and enjoy the show.
After all the animals had been defeated, only two bandits were left standing. Rhys had them already focused on their heads with his sniper rifle. Two clear shots were all there was needed for the town to become “of bandits and bullymongs free."

“Vault Hunter… Can you hear me?” Rhys jumped at the sound coming from a near old radio. “Oh good, the ancient thing is still working. My name is Sir Hammerlock. Thank you for clearing the town from bandits. And you brought Claptrap?! Well isn’t that…lovely. I am in the house with the large satellite on its roof. Let me just turn off the electric fence.”

Rhys headed through the town to the furthest building. “Please, Vault Hunter, let Claptrap go first.” The brunet stopped at the request, unsure why was it that this Sir Hammerlock wanted the unit to go before him. But then he noticed an electricity sparks on the gate. It’s still on?

Apparently, the unit didn’t notice, heading towards the fence. “I know Hammerlock very well. I and him go way back. We are like a …” A sound of electricity spreading through metal spread across the empty city and Claptrap fell on his back.

“My sincerest apologies, Vault Hunter, but every time Claptrap speaks I feel my brain cells committing a suicide one by one.” Sir Hammerlock was coming from the now unlocked gate, smiling apologetically towards Rhys.

“Yeah, I can relate to that.” The Vault Hunter nodded, studying Hammerlock’s looks. He was a tall, slim guy in his mid-fortieth, dressed in the kind of clothes that archaeologists would wear. He had fancy glasses for only one eye. Classic. But what really got Rhys’ attention was his arm. It was a metallic prostatic, but he looked way older and less effective than the one Rhys owned.

“Hmm. This unit is missing his eye. You don’t happen to have it on you, do you.”

“Actually…Yeah. Here.” Rhys handed him Claptrap’s eye, using his robotic arm.

“Oh, would you look at that.” Sir commented when he spotted Rhys’ prostatic. “Looks like I found another member of fake limbs wearing club.”

“Guess you are right.” Rhys laughed, watching the man as he kneeled next to the unconscious unit. “Which type is it?”

“The basic one. Nothing compared to what you got.” Sir chuckled, pushing the eye into the robot’s socket with maybe too much strength for a delicate brain surgery.

“You know.” Rhys ran a hand through his hair. Damn, he will never get rid of that habit. “I could improve it for you if you want.”

“What do you mean?” The man looked away from whatever he was doing on the robot’s head to face Rhys.

“When I got this,” Rhys pointed at the limb, “it was in the same shape as yours. But I made some improvements on it.” Sir didn’t respond. He just kept looking at Rhys with raised eyebrow. “What I am saying is that I can make it more flexible or maybe stronger? Depends on which you prefer. It’s not that hard, really, when you know what you are looking for.”

“And how much would that cost me?” Hammerlock was watching Rhys with stoned poker face.

“Cost? Oh, well…” Right. The only Vault Hunter who wouldn’t ask for money before doing anything. That’s Rhys for ya. “Well, I could use a shield? I lost mine when the train exploded.”

Rhys jumped as Sir Hammerlock unpredictably pushed on the eye one last time and it with a laud cracked turned on, blinked a couple time and Claptrap was functioning again. “Yeeaah I am back. And you, Vault Hunter, are even better looking than I remember.”

Oh, god he is talking again.

“Correct me if I am wrong, Vault Hunter.” The man in archeologic clothes continued. “You want a shield for repairing my hand.”

“I mean…what I suggested was that…”

“That’s absolutely brilliant.” Hammerlock who was kneeling the whole time now jumped up facing Rhys with a wide smile. “It’s unbelievably difficult task to find someone who knows his way around mechanical limbs in this area, and doesn’t cut your throat right after you pay him for the job.”

“Heh. I guess I know what you mean.” Rhys smiled, remembering that most of the local population were mostly bandits and wild animals.

“We can do it right now if you don’t have anything better to do.”

“Sure. Do you have any equipment that I could use? I lost mine when the train exploded.”

“I suppose I do. Come with me. It’s in this house.”

“Is the Vault Hunter going to do something with your lame looking arm?”

“The lame looking arm just fixed your ungrateful eye, but it can also break it without a problem. So, I would recommend you to remain silent while the Vault Hunter here is going to do his job.”

“Alrighty then. Don’t let me distract you. I will just wait he-” Sir Hammerlock didn’t wait for Claptrap to finish his sentence before shutting the door behind him.

“Ah, the robot will be my death one day.” Hammerlock sighed. “I don’t really have many tools because you see, aside from guns, most things on Pandora are barely impossible to find.”

Rhys quickly scanned the room. It was small and dark. Didn’t really make the impression of a room that has been inhabited by someone for a longer period of time. There were some personal stuff lying around, like bags filled with clothes, some equipment probably used for archaeology or something? Rhys wouldn’t know.

“The working table is over there.” Sir pointed at an iron piece of furniture. Rhys nodded, sitting on one of the wooden chairs that were next to the table. “Give me a moment, I will go get equipment that you can use. Would you care for a cup of coffee when I am at it?”

“Yes please. With milk and sugar.”

The man nodded murmuring something about the first Vault Hunter who puts sugar in his coffee.
Sir Hammerlock disappeared into the other room, giving Rhys more time to look around. He noticed a frame with a picture of a pretty young lady dressed in a blue coat. Her skin had the same shade as Mr’s Hammerlocks. He also noticed some other familiar features like the shape of her nose and the distance between her eyebrows. She was looking at the photograph with strict expression in her ice blue eyes.

“Ah, Aurelia, my sister. Terrible woman. She punched a puppy once. Said she wanted to know how it would sound like.” Hammerlock said, holding a tool box in one hand, and plate with two cups in the other.

“She looks familiar.” Rhys mumbled.

“Well. She is a Vault Hunter. You might have heard of her. She likes to call herself the Baroness. Describes her quite well, I would say.”

Baroness. That’s right. Rhys had the honor to meet her in one of the bars on Eden 4. But he’d never spoken to her. He only managed to overhear her dialogue with one guy, who probably hired her to do some job for him and didn’t want to pay her for it afterward. So, she froze his neck. Just the neck. She turned all the meat, all the muscles into one big piece of ice and watched him as he gasped for air on the floor, blood running out of his nose. His face turned grotesquely purple, and his swollen lips gained a weird shade of blue. Rhys heard her laugh as the whites of the man’s eyes turned red and begun to bleed, wheezing out his last breath.
“Nope. Never heard of her. Let’s take a look at the arm, shall we?”

Sir Hammerlock nodded, sipping the drink out of his cup, and moved to sit on the other side of the table. Rhys opened the bag with his equipment. It was nothing special. The basic stuff you can find in everyone’s garage, but it will do just fine.

“So, tell me.” Rhys started while opening the metal cover to see how the basic structure of the hand looked like. “How did you and Claptrap meet?”

“Oh well, it happened a while back. Short after Handsome Jack turned off the whole claptrap product line.” Sir Hammerlock started to tell the story, eyes locked on Rhys’ working fingers. “Well, almost the entire product line. I have been here for a while before that, studying bullymongs and other animals, when I saw a Hyperion convoy heading to the long abandoned Vault Hunter’s hideout. I noticed they were dumping some old robots’ parts in there before, so I went to check if there was something useful this time.” He went silent for a while, watching as Rhys played with the joints. “It was sad. To see so many of the robots, just lying there. I was never really a fan of the units. They were all kinda annoying and only making things worse everywhere they were employed, but still. Seeing them like that? Just didn’t seem right.” Another silence, only interrupted by Rhys’ working fingers. “Then I noticed a light in one of the unit’s eye. As if still fighting for life. It made a great impression on me. So, I brought him here. Repaired him and let him live here with me for a while. Before he decided that life with me is too boring and went to see the bandits. I haven’t seen him so often ever since.”

“Why would he want to go to bandits?”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic question, my friend. But I worry that I am not the right person to ask. You might wanna talk to our robotic companion about it.”

Rhys sighed. “I guess. Well, it will have to wait after I finish your arm. Do you by any chance have some Pagani Huayra bolts lying around?

***

It’s been more than five hours after he made his announcement about the price on Rhys’ head and still no respond. Those idiots on Pandora have only one job! Get him the head of the pretty Vault Hunter. One Vault Hunter! And he even offered to pay them for it. Honestly, after everything he had done for them, they should trip over themselves when it comes to returning him a favor.

Jack turned away from the photo of mentioned Vault Hunter. It was now set as a wallpaper on his computer screen. For the sake of irony of course.

He needs to distract himself away from him. Or he will go mad and break something–or someone–again.

“Meg!” Jack yelled into the microphone knowingly scaring the shit out of his young secretary.

The respond came–as always–immediately. “Yes, sir?”

“I feel like shopping. Tell me, ;sweetheart, what’s the most expensive thing on the market right now?”

Chapter Text

“Thanks again for letting me use your tools on the gun.”

“Oh, it was nothing, Vault Hunter. I am kinda ashamed that I couldn’t do more for you. Let me say, you can work real magic with the electricity. The arm now feels like a feather!”

Rhys smiled at that compliment. It wasn’t the first time that someone appreciated his working skills, but it would always make the warm feeling spread across his chest. But still…

When he was working on Sir Hammerlock’s hand, it felt different than when he was working on something similar before. He always had talent on working with the technical, but this time? It felt so…Easy. So, natural. As if he’d done the same things a hundred times before, even though he never came across this type of prostatic. Heh. Maybe he was just getting that good.

“Are you sure you won’t be coming with us to Sanctuary?”

“Oh, there is a couple of things around the camp that I want to take care off before I leave this place for good. Also, I’d rather travel alone instead of having to listen to Claptrap’s never ending mumbling.”

“God, how I wish I would have this option. Well, see you there I guess?”

“Of course, good luck, Vault Hunter.”

They both shook hands–the mechanical ones, of course–and Rhys was on his way. On the way, filled with bandits, leading him into a town, that was as well filled with bandits. Fantastic.

There was another camp down the hill from where they just left. Rhys doubted that there would be another animal attack. He wasn’t that lucky, so instead, he had to rely on his own skills. Fortunately for him, the bandits were dumb enough to leave explosive barrels all over the place. He just had to time the attack right, when three of them were just in the area that would be covered by the explosion and pull the trigger.

Three down, six more to go.

Rhys was still in a safe distance, so he managed to headshot two more, but one psycho jumped away and was now sprinting towards him. Rhys quickly switched weapons to revolver, and when the psycho got close enough, he fired and didn’t miss this time.

For reasons–Rhys will never understand–the remaining bandits decided that the best way for them to survive was to grab shotguns and start shooting at him from behind covers. Fricking shotguns! They were trying to kill him from distance that was impractical even for sniper rifles, and they just came to a conclusion that they will manage to shoot him down with a weapon that was good only for close combat, and even then you couldn’t be one hundred percent sure if you will really hit the target. Rhys almost felt bad as he took them down one by one after switching back to his improved sniper rifle.

Almost.

Before Rhys finished packing the gun, his ECHO went on without him touching it. Meaning that it could be only one person calling him.

“Hey pum… oh god, those pretzels suck!” There was a sound of someone munching on the snack from the speakers. Pretzels. Gross. Rhys didn’t understand people who would willingly put those in their mouth. They were dry, salty and always left this unhealthy feeling on your tongue after you swallowed.

Rhys chose to remain silent and listen to whatever the other man had to say. “So, how’s your day been, buddy? We haven’t really talked much since I left you for dead.” There was a brief pause for more chewing. Why does he eat them if he doesn’t like them? “Hey, you think you’ll freeze to death out there? Nah, probably not. The bandits will get you first.” Rhys looked down on one of the dead bandits lying next to his foot. Heh. Yeah, right.

“My day? It’s been pretty good. I just bought a pony made of diamonds, because I’m rich. So, you know. That’s cool. Kay, bye.” And just like this, the call ended. Rhys tucked the ECHO back into his pocket, grateful that he managed to hold himself of making another stupid comment. He didn’t think the other would react warmly to any commentary about how stupid it is that an adult man is willing to spend any money on horses made out of diamonds when everyone knows that diamond tigers would make a way better impression.

On the other hand, there was already a pretty high price over his head. What worse could possibly happen?

“Handsome Jack has a diamond pony? Man, that guy doesn’t know where to put his money.” Claptrap laughed. “C’mon minion. My ship is this way!”

Oh right. Claptrap was still here. Rhys almost forgot about him as he kept hiding whenever anything dangerous popped up.

It didn’t take him long before they came across another bandit camp. Rhys who got carried away by the previous success, let his guard down and didn’t think about his strategy too much forward.

Because of this mistake, he now ended up surrounded by five bandits, who had been hidden inside the buildings. They came out right after he was done with the few who were outside. And at this moment his new revolver decided that it will get one of the bullets stuck inside his barrel making itself unusable.

Right now, the Vault Hunter was unbelievably grateful for the shield that he got from Hammerlock, but even that was slowly running out of energy.

He activated his eye. In a lightning speed, it told him about his shield running out in two seconds, followed by him getting shot in the head from the bandit that was sprinting to his hideout. Rhys avoided that by throwing a knife into his eyes. But now there was another death sentence coming from the man with face covered in a red scarf. Judging by his criminal records, he was first going to shoot Rhys in his leg and then cut his throat. Classic.

Rhys used grenades. He didn’t like doing that because they were hard to find and the explosion made his head hurt. But thanks to that he took down two more bandits. Didn’t make his revolver functioning though. Instead, he jumped to the bandit with his knife in a head, took his gun and used it on the last bandit standing before him. He fell to the ground with a loud thud.

Wait a second.

He killed one with a knife, two with a grenade, and this last one with a gun. How many of them were here again?

Rhys turned around just to see the last bandit standing in front of him, revolver pointed into his face. “Bye, you piece of shit.” He shouted with a murderous grin.

And then everything stopped. At one moment Rhys was facing a bullet that just left the barrel of Jacobs revolver, and at the other second, he was standing behind the man who just shot at him. The bullet that was meant for him hit an iron wall of one of the houses, leaving a small hole in the structure.

“What the fuck?” The bandit'd screamed right before Rhys shot him from behind.

The–now dead–man was right though. What the fuck just happened?

Rhys stepped over the body to stand on his previous spot and tried to inspect the place. However, he had no idea what he was looking for. Was there even something that could just randomly teleport you away at the most convenient moment? The brunet shook his head. No. No way that would happen just like that.

He inspected the new shield. Would that be possible that this thing had some added ability to teleport you few meters when you really need it? Maybe Sir Hammerlock added some functions before he gave it to him and forgot to mention it? That had to be it. Rhys will make sure to take a closer look at it when he gets someplace safe.

“Claptrap! Where are you? I need you to get the bridge opened for me.”

“Of course, Vault Hunter. Your fearless companion is here to help you.” While Claptrap was tapping something into the hundred years old digital lock, Rhys’ ECHO communicator went on again.”

“You know, I have been wrecking my head of thinking about the name I should give to the pony. I was thinking a Piss-for-brains? You know, in your honor.”

“Hah! Piss-for-brains? What are you, twelve years old? You got a pony made of diamonds, gotta give it some cool name. How about Butt Stallion?”

“Nah, that’s even worse. Tell you what. I will give it some thought.” Rhys chuckled as the call ended. This guy. Never fails to surprise.

“The passage is free minion.” Claptrap called as the bridge fell down and opened them a view of a small elevator.

“Awesome.” The brunet muttered fixing his weapon. You play tricks like that on me one more time, and I am rebuilding you into a vibrator.

They both stepped on the moving platform, and Rhys pressed the green bottom. The moment their elevator stopped, cannonball landed right on the place where they were standing. Both of them would be corpses if there wasn’t for Rhys’ perfect reflexes. He grabbed the unit and jumped aside to some hole dug into the wall.

“What the hell was that?!”

“That’s Boom and Bewm. And his cannon Big Bertha. They both work for Flynt.”

“Oh, right. That guy who wants a million bucks and doesn’t know how to use broadcast communicator. How could I forget him?”

Another shot shook with the small place they were hiding in. “Come out little chicken!” One of the two brothers called after them. “Don’t make me come for you.”

Rhys looked from behind the corner and let his ECHO eye scan the cannon. It was an old model. One that was used in the first war, which took place about a hundred years ago. Back then, people had no idea about Vaults or other advanced alien technology. However, it already had some automatic function operating on a simple computer processor. And that was a green flag for Rhys.

He tried to focus his ECHO eye on analyzing the software, only to get an error message from his system. He needed to get closer. Holding his revolver tight, the Vault Hunter sprinted from his hideout, leaving Claptrap behind, heading towards the cannon. He saw it reloading again and jumped aside just to miss the fired bullet.

There was a psycho with a bomb attached to his chest, chasing after him yelling something like; “Light the fuses bitches!” Rhys shot him into one of those explosives and watched as he shattered into a million pieces of flesh. However, there wasn’t much time to observe, since he was still in the middle of battlefield.

His ECHO eye reactivated itself the moment he reached the necessary distance between him and Big Bertha. He connected it to his palm-projector and send a virus into her systems. Bertha lacked any kind of firewall or any protection what so ever, seeing how outdated she was. It took him less than two seconds to gain control over her.

“All right girl, let’s see what you got.” Rhys smiled, aiming for the smaller bandit equipped with flying jack. It took him just one move with his finger to make her fire at him.

“You little piece of shit!” The older one yelled after the bullet hit and destroyed its target. “I will make you pay for this.” Rhys watched with an unamused look how Boom left the seat in his tank, sprinting towards him, face curled into a furious grimace. Heh. Idiot.

Another move with a finger and the canon turned after the running man. He stopped, realizing that leaving the seat was a huge mistake, but it was too late.

Rhys smiled to himself after the last bandit fall to the ground. Well, that’s about it.

“Claptrap! You can come out now. I need you to open the other door.”

“On my way.” Claptrap rolled himself to the iron door to complete his task. “Argh. Stupid old locks. I can’t open this one.” Rhys raised his eyebrow. “So, you mean you are able to operate with high-level electronic locks, but don’t have anything like, I don’t know, a lock pick for this kind of door?”

“No. I wasn’t built to do a job of some filthy rubber to ever need a lock pick.” Was it possible for Claptrap to sound offended? Because Rhys was sure he sounded very offended.

“Well, we need to get past that door somehow.” He turned around to see if he might find something useful. His sight settled on the old cannon that he just used to kill its previous owners.

“Oh, I know!” Claptrap called behind him. “You can use that cannon to destroy the door.”

Rhys didn’t look back. Using his palm computer, he turned the cannon to face the big, iron door. But there was a problem. The robot was still there. Standing right in front of the door.

“All right. So, I need you to shoot the door. It will open, and we can get on the other side.”

“I know Claptrap. But you are still standing there.” Rhys waved his hand in a gesture that was signaling for Claptrap to move away.

“Right, right. I am just showing you the exact spot, where you need to shoot the door.”

The brunet stood there, wondering if the unit was making fun of him, testing his patience, or if he was honestly that dumb. “Get away from there. Now!”

“Just making sure you know what to do. Shoot the door. Just pointing that out for you. So, you won’t be too confused about what you are supposed to do.” The robot answered, but it didn’t seem like he had any intentions of moving away.

Rhys’ blood boiled. “Oh, for a love of God!” He yelled, quickly sending a command to the cannon and fired. Rhys watched as the robot flew away accompanied with his loud cry, landing somewhere far away.

“Heh. That was actually pretty funny.” He stopped, thinking. “Angel is definitely gonna kill me for this.”

With heavy sight, he headed the way his shiny companion just flew like a rocket. Remembering the picture of flying robot accompanied with persisting smell of gunfire made Rhys smile.

Totally worth it.

He didn’t even make ten steps before a voice of Handsome Jack came out of his ECHO.

“I should probably clarify–the diamond horse I’ve been telling you about? It's not a sculpture or anything. It's a living horse that actually happens to be made of… Actually, I'll just go get her. Butt Stallion! Say hello.” Rhys heard a horse whinnying. Heh. So, he actually did use the name? For some reason, a proud feeling spread inside his chest.

“Hello, Butt Stallion. So, pleased to meet you. Gotta say. Your name? Best name I ever heard. I haven’t even seen you yet, and I already am a big fan. Hope you’re well.”

As a response, more horse whinnying came out of the speaker. Rhys’s smile widens.

“Well, that was enough chit chat for today. I am sure the Vault Hunter’s got enough on his plate already. We wouldn’t want to disturb you from all the important duties lying before you. Like getting killed for example or turning yourself in. Or you could just break the pretty neck yourself, save me a lot of trouble. Whatcha say pumpkin?”

Rhys chuckled. “You think my neck is pretty?”

Once again, the line went silent. It took so long, Rhys actually checked the display to see if the call was still going. It was.

“Don’t get too cocky.” Was the final sentence Handsome Jack came up with as a response, before officially ending the call. Rhys couldn’t help but laugh. He wondered how many people aside from him had ever managed to leave this man speechless?

Chapter Text

Rhys was thinking about what Jack said before. About breaking his own neck. Was that even possible? Could you actually break your neck, if you just pressed the right spot? Rhys was now under big temptation to find out. And it was all thanks to Claptrap.

Finding where the robot landed was easy. He just had to follow his annoying voice. Rhys had to admit, he was sort of disappointed after he found him without a scratch. The unit just got shot by an enormous cannon for crying out loud! How was he still alive? On the other hand, he shouldn’t be that surprised. If Handsome Jack couldn’t kill him, there had to be only a few things in the universe that would be able to do the job. Funny. Could anyone say the same thing about Rhys?

For a moment, he just stood there. Watching a group of psychos who were kicking and punching the yellow unit. None of them noticed him. Maybe he could just leave him there? Say he didn’t find him? He could just say he thought that the shot killed him, broke beyond repairs, and leave him here for death? Rhys turned away, happy about the idea, but then Angel appeared, pointing at the unfortunate group. “Go get him.

And against his better judgment, he obeyed.

Then Claptrap led him to captain Flynt. Apparently, the guy had stolen Claptrap’s ship which they needed for crossing the sea and getting to Sanctuary.

One thing about the guy–he really liked fire. No wonder they called him Flynt. He tried to play a few tricks on Rhys, like setting the floor on fire and shooting him with fire bullets. However, none of that was any use to him when Rhys kicked him out of the platform down into the cold water.

But now, Rhys wanted nothing more than to follow his example and jump into the cold waves himself. That way he would get rid of him for good. And no AI girl could scold him about it.

Oh, what he would give for the silence that was shared among the Vault Hunters in the train. Every single one of them would be a companion from dreams, in comparison with what was aboard with him right now.

He. Just. Wouldn’t. SHUT! UP!

From the moment, they got on the small boat, until now Claptrap was non-stop talking about the stupidest topics: Are bananas indecent fruit? Are spoons useless? Should people be required to take a shower daily? Is picking your nose good for your eyes?

All of this and more had actually led Rhys to get on his knees and kiss the ground the moment they arrived on the mainland. He quickly regretted it, having his mouth full of weird-smelling sand, but nothing could ruin the happiness he felt from getting out of the god-damned ship. Before he dies, he will set it on fire. That much was sure.

“You can go ahead, minion. Prepare people in Sanctuary on my arrival. I will need a few things for my welcome party. Number one…”

“Oh hell no.” Rhys started to sprint away as fast as he could on legs that haven’t been moving for more than eight hours.

You could use a vehicle to move faster. There should be a Catch-a-Ride station nearby.”

Angel reappeared right before him, scaring the shit out of Rhys.

“Can you stop doing that? You’re gonna give me a heart attack if you keep randomly appearing right before my nose!”

Angel smiled. “Sorry about that. The station is over there.”

Rhys headed the way the girl pointed at. She was right. The station was made of two parts. A computer with a touchscreen and an empty platform where was just enough room for two cars.

“No vehicles here.”

“You can use the station to download one.”

The brunet didn’t move. Just stared at the girl with a raised eyebrow.

“I am serious. Do it.

Shaking his head, Rhys went to the computer. But the moment he touched it a man’s voice with heavy southern accent came out of the speakers.

“Unauthorized user up my grill. You’re trying to hack my Catch-a-Ride? Uncool bro. Uncool.”

“Damn it. Oh, sorry Darn it.” Rhys giggled. Angel was cute. “This station is locked to prevent the bandits from using it. But I’m reading an inactive Hyperion bot in the Bloodshot camp. If you can attach its interface adapter to the Catch-a-Ride, I can hack the machine and get you a car.”

Rhys smirked. “That, or I could just do this…” Rhys activated his ECHO eye and turned on his palm computer. The system–the Catch-a-Ride computer was running on–was way more complicated than what Big Bertha had, but it was still relatively old, and thus it didn’t take much time for Rhys to break its firewall and made a permission for him as a user. “Tada!” Rhys turned back to Angel with victorious grin.

“I am not gonna lie.” The AI nodded. “That was impressive.”

“Thank you, thank you.” Rhys bowed as if receiving an applause from great audience.

“Well, now go ahead. Get the vehicle.”

He turned back to the display and selected the only machine that was available. The brunet took his sweet time to choose its color, making Angel seem quite impatient. When he was finally satisfied with an option called Nova Star, he pressed proceed, and a new car appeared before him.

Angel laughed when she noticed his surprised expression. “What, you didn’t believe it would work?”

“Not even a little.” The brunet shook his head and headed to the car. “But, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised. This is Pandora after all.”

Angel’s smile vanished at that note. Did he manage to offend her somehow? “I will send the city location into your ECHO. It should lead you right to the city gates. Good luck.” And just like that she was gone.

Rhys sighed. Women.

There was no key to turn. The motor was already running. Not to ecological option, but who was he to judge? Still, it was a while since the last time he’d driven a car. He quickly studied the map Angel updated for him. It led through ice, stones and some narrow cave.

This is gonna be great.

***

It will be almost half an hour since this man has walked into his office and started mumbling one crazy long sentence after another. All of them were filled with complex words and oddly used phrases. On some lackey, it could leave an impression like the person in front of him has things fully under control.

But Jack knew better.

He was a master when it came to leaving a fake impact on other people. He was like a guru or something when it came to inventing new ways to lie to people and leave them totally clueless after hours and hours of filling them with alternative facts.

So now, he felt rightfully offended by this man who thought he could successfully use this method on Jack and walk away with it.

“Let me stop you right there, pal.” Jack interrupted him in the middle of one long sentence. “Did you just mention something about the central system of our security in the mine failing?”

“Well, the latest notification showed that most of our statistics servers were inflected by external influence, followed by an unauthorized foreign penetration.”

“You just defined hacking. In the lamest way, I can currently think of.” Jack shook his head. “You let someone to heck in our mines security server, unlock the gates and let another gang take over the station.” He slowly stood up and begun to walk towards the man.

“Tell me, Jeremy. Jimmy? Or what the heck was your name, what exactly is your job description?” Jack was now standing right in front of the man. From this close he could see the sweat on his large forehead. The man tried real hard not to let it show, but he was terrified from the CEO. As he should be.

“My task is to secure the network-lines of our mines complex, sir.”

“Oh, that’s right. So, tell me, why is that that the Pandoran scan was able to get into yet another complex when you just said that it is your responsibility to keep them out of there?”

“Sir, the attacks were completely random and came from multiple destinations at once. We had no way in knowing that-“

“Na-a-a-a.” Jack interrupted him. “If I felt like listening to your shitty excuses, I would have said so from the very beginning. Now, I know the basics of hacking attacks. And I also know that you had what was necessary to stop them. What I didn’t know, was what kind of idiot would be able to sleep through the firewall warnings and let all the gates open, but heh, I think that you just cleared that one out for me.” Jack moved even closer to the man, whose skin was slowly gaining a slight shade of green color. “It’s the exact same kind that would have the dignity to walk into my office and waste my time with empty bullshit, instead of–like an average sane person would do–hide somewhere under a rock on Pandoran desert and beg God for not letting me find your stupid face ever again. But here we are.” The man jumped a little as Jack ripped a blue pencil out of his hand, and turned away from him. “Jimmy tell me, why do you think that I have a red carpet in my office?” The man looked at his feet, as if just now noticing the fancy-looking rug. Fear spread across his face as he realized the deadly meaning in his question. He turned around to run, but it was too late. Jack was already behind him, grabbing him by his shoulder with one hand while the other–that was still holding the expensive pen–swung against his neck, stabbing him with the silver panicle, burying it deep into his sensitive flesh. Jimmy tried to scream, but blood was the only thing leaving his mouth. He fell to the CEO’s feet, shaking slightly while the blood soaked into the floor.

Jack stood above him, watching as the remains of life energy slowly faded out of the man’s body, leaving him completely motionless.

“Oh, god.” Jack turned after the voice coming from monitor behind him. Angel was watching him with eyes filled with disagreement and disgust.

“Angel! I told you to let me know forward before you make the video connection.” She didn’t look at him. Her blue eyes locked on the dead body.

Jack sighed, running his hand through the brown hair, leaving blood trails in them. He didn’t like it when she saw him like that. He and his daughter didn’t share the same opinion when it came to dealing with employees. They used to lead many passionate discussions about it in the past.

But Angel has been becoming more and more tight-lipped about the topic lately. Jack wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign. However, it didn’t change a thing about him not wanting his daughter to see his hands covered in blood.

“Well? Was there any reason in particular for you to call me, or did you just miss me so much?”

Angel finally looked away from the man to face her father. “I got an update on the Vault Hunter.”

“Fantastic! Well, spill it, time is money sweet cheeks.”

“The boy should be getting close to the gates of Sanctuary as we speak. He killed Flynt on his way there.”

“Who?”

“The guy who kept setting things on fire. The leader of the biggest bandit group in Liar’s Berg. He threw him into the water.”

“Cha! Classic. I wouldn’t do it differently. I never liked that guy anyway. Anything else?”

Angel nodded. “I think that now I understand why we don’t have anything on him in our database. I took a closer look on the system after I saw what Rhys did with one of the Catch-a-Ride stations. It seems that someone’s gotten into our database and deleted every useful information about him. Whoever did it, managed to leave without leaving any trace behind him. But after what I’ve seen today, there is no doubt that it was all his job.”

“That’s impressive.” Jack supposed, holding his chin. “Is that all Baby-doo?”

The girl nodded. “I think so. Want me to keep you updated?”

“Of course.” He smiled. “Bye honey.”

Jack waited for her to turn the monitor off, as she always did, but nothing happened. “Is there something else?”

Angel was silent for a moment, staring at something behind Jack. “About Rhy-… The Vault Hunter.”

“Yes?” He crossed his arms over his chest, trying to read in her face, but it was settled into unreadable mask.

“Nothing. It was stupid. I will keep you updated.”

“What? Not Angel, wait!” But the monitor went black, and she was gone. Jack sighed. He could try calling her back and asking her about the thing she wanted to tell him, but that would be pointless. She was way too stubborn for that, he knew that. Angel took after his father in persistence.

He looked at the unmoving man who was lying in the middle of his office. His eyes were wide opened, directed into the direction where Jack was currently standing. A scarlet liquid escaping from his neck had drenched his white shirt, as the color from his rosy cheeks vanished.

“Meg!” He yelled into the microphone turning his back to the corpse. “Get me, someone, to clean up the mess in front of my table.”

“They are already on their way, sir.” His secretary responded immediately.

Good. The last thing he needs is to have the smell of dead men sucked into his carpet. He inhaled deeply through his nostrils. Well, more of the smell of dead men.

Jack returned to his huge black chair and rested his legs on the table. He planned on getting some job done, but ten minutes had passed, and Jack was once again staring at the picture of that cute, young boy with mismatched eyes and auburn hair.

Was he doing the right choice by keeping him alive? It would be so easy to make Angel just throw something at him, close a gate when he walks through it or just lead him to some place with no exit and just leave him to rot in there.

But. He didn’t want to. Something was telling him that this kid was going to be something special. That killing him would be a huge mistake that he would come to regret eventually.

Instead he turned his attention away from the boy and like a good CEO, Jack began to go through the stuff, that was making his company running and profitable. Like finding a new chief of their online security.

Chapter Text

“You gotta be kidding me. Please tell me you are not serious about this.” Rhys said with unnecessary loud voice into a microphone attached to a gate leading into Sanctuary.

“I understand you must be tired after your travel, but believe me what I say that this task is super important. We lost his signal soon after...”

“Yeah, yeah, you said that. Some loser got lost. I get it. What I don’t get is why none of you went after him if he is so unbelievably important that I can’t even go to the city to take a shower or something. Why wait for me? It’s not like you knew I would be coming today. A few hours ago, I didn’t know I was coming today.”

“We are incredibly busy with …”

“No, you know what? Don’t even say it. I don’t wanna hear that. Probably be something stupid anyway. Just send me the location where you lost track of your guy so we can get this over with.”

“Thank you, Vault Hunter.”

“Yeah, whatever.” The brunet muttered angrily already, leaving the gates and returning to his–still running–vehicle.

This was stupid. Searching for a bandit. What was even the point? The more of those people get lost, the better.

Luckily the coordinates Roland sent him weren’t far from the gates. It was easy to find the lost man’s vehicle, for it is surrounded by a pack of bullymongs. There was but one slight problem. The driver was missing. Rhys called Rolland to tell him about it. He didn’t sound too surprised. Instead, he sent him another location, where the guy might be. This time, it was miles away, plus the road was blocked by some fence forcing Rhys to abandon his car and walk the rest of the way on his own.

Rhys had almost given up on the task when he finally came across a group of people surrounding a guy that matched the given description. Looks like a few psychos managed to find him before Rhys did and now tried to turn him into a soccer ball. Rhys watched them for a while, to see if something interesting was going to happen with the strange group, but got bored soon after.

He activated his ECHO eye and let it calculate the distance between each person who was located underneath their feet. The only thing for him to do was to activate electric grenade and let the electricity do its job after he threw it just in the right spot, where it could eliminate all the crazed men, leaving the person on the ground untouched.

Turned out it was useless anyway because the guy died soon after he told Rhys that some bandits–other bandits–have stolen a power core from him. Which was a problem, because Roland really needed that power core for Sanctuary shields and sent Rhys to get them.

“So, you are telling me that you can’t let more people in the city, because it´s already off the limits, but still are not able to find one person who would be capable of doing this instead of me so I can finally go and sleep at least for five hours?”

“Sorry, Vault Hunter.”

“No, you are not. I will call you when I get the stupid power core. But you better have a room with a bed prepared for me by then.”

“Of course.”

***

A bandit camp was close. But Rhys forgot where he left his car, so he had to walk all the way there. Finding the one guy who had the machine was also easy because for some reason the bandit decided to wear it as some kind of trophy attached to his back. Rhys killed him with two shots and didn’t really bother with the rest of the bandit population.

The time interval between him asking Roland for a bed and standing in front of the gates of Sanctuary couldn’t be more than an hour. But still, somehow the guy managed to get himself kidnapped.

“How is that even possible?” Rhys howled. “How can someone who is supposed to be a feared leader of a bandit city get kidnapped just like that?”

The guy behind the gate started mumbling some excuses like, it was a trap, and we couldn’t do anything about it, but Rhys stopped him. “Any idea where he could be?”

Apparently, the biggest lead was a tape recorder from a guy named Firehawk found in Roland’s office. They directed Rhys to the camp, and once again he was on his way–to locate and save another bandit. Hopefully for the last time, today.

But Firehawk didn’t have Roland. Plus, it turned out that the feared man was, in reality, a hot redheaded woman who claimed to be Roland’s “old friend.” Also, she was a siren and her name was Lilith. It was easy for Rhys to connect one plus one together and realize that this woman had to be the reason for Maya to come on this planet. Rhys felt a sharp pain in his chest when he remembered the last time he saw her beautiful gray eyes closing in the frozen land.

However, he had no time for heartsickness. After they had defeated all the bandits who just found out her whereabouts, Lilith told him who actually kidnapped Roland. But instead of joining him on the rescue mission, she headed to Sanctuary to keep an eye on whatever it is that is happening in the city. Rhys wouldn’t know. After all, all he has seen were the gates from outside.

So once again Rhys departed into another bandit camp. Once again, he´ll totally kick their asses. From the time, he’d spend there, Rhys concluded that most of the local bandits have no idea how does radio communication work. Because the head of this group was broadcasting seemingly private conversation. This one was trying to reach Hyperion and trying to bargain the price he will get for handing Roland over.

Another thing that Rhys had realized was that not only were most of the bandits stupid, they were also naïve. Did the guy honestly think that he will get Handsome Jack to negotiate and even pay for something he could get for free? Of course he won’t!

As a result of the failed communication between bandits and Hyperion, Rhys watched as a loader caught Roland right before his eyes. He rushed after them, palm-computer running at full speed as he hacked into its system. He had to handle this to Hyperion, out of all the systems Rhys’ met with on Pandora, this one was the most complexed. It was not easy to hack-in, but that didn’t mean Rhys wouldn’t get in.

Once he gained control of the robot and freed Roland he turned the bot around and sent him against the rest of the robot army that was currently attacking the camp, buying himself time necessary for escorting Roland out of the old factory.

“Thank you, Vault Hunter. I will go ahead and wait for you in Sanctuary.” Rhys watched as the other man turned his back on him.

“No.” He called after him, making Roland stop and glance back at the brunet.

“Excuse me?”

“I am not going to Sanctuary. I haven’t even been in the city, and I´ve already grown to hate it. You guys were doing nothing but giving me stupid quests and letting me do them all alone.”

Roland seemed to be surprised. “I, eh. I didn’t know you felt that way.”

“Oh well, I did. And I hate it. You have fun leading the fight against Handsome Jack. Can’t say I hope you win, cuz honestly? I really don’t.”

Roland was about to say something, but the last comment made him shut his mouth. “You what?”

“You’ve heard me.” Rhys answered, determined not to break the eye contact. “I don’t see the reason you fight for. I mean what do you wish to achieve? To keep the life on Pandora the way it is? Where you need to always watch your back for some wild animal to attack you, or worse, someone to stab you with a knife? Handsome Jack, on the other hand, fights for a change. He is showing you a different way, literally giving you an opportunity to start something new, something better.”

Roland’s eyes went dark. The usual calm expression vanished and got replaced with pure anger. But he was not yelling when he said: “You have no idea what you are talking about. You didn’t see the way he treats our citizen. The future he shows us means being enslaved, losing our freedom and living in complete obedience under the Tyrant. And that’s not a future anyone of us wants to be a part of.”

“But what is it your freedom brings to you? How far do you think it can take you? If you keep things just the way they are, you will slowly kill Pandora from the inside. People here, they need a strong hand. Someone to lead them out from the chaos they currently live in, because they are not able to see it for themselves. And the someone isn’t you, Roland. You might be a good leader, but Handsome Jack has something you will never be able to reach. He has a vision, and he has the will to sacrifice everything to achieve it.”

The other man didn’t respond. The way he was currently watching Rhys could be described with only one word. Disappointment. He turned away from the boy and begun to slowly walk towards his vehicle.

Roland didn’t look at him when he said: “Goodbye, Vault Hunter.” And drew away to the desert, leaving Rhys alone.

“Ah! Screw you!” Rhys kicked a small stone lying next to him, sending him flying a good number of meters away. “Way to go, Rhys.” He muttered to himself, walking in the direction the stone landed just to kick it again. “I just tose away my ticket out of this planet. Where the heck, am I supposed to get the money now?” He turned on his palm computer and searched some job offers that were online. It was nothing special. Few assassination proposals, finding a missing person and revenge on a cheating boyfriend.

With a heavy sigh, he accepted the missing person mission and begun to follow the given location.

***

Jack didn’t realize he was holding his breath until his lungs begun to hurt.

After the Vault Hunter had freed Roland, Jack hacked into the camera security system of the old Dahl factory and quickly searched for them. He found the two of them almost immediately–of course, he did, he was awesome–standing near the back exit. He was about to send his troops their way when he noticed the angry look Roland was giving to Rhys. Jack turned the volume on out of pure curiosity and listened to their dialogue.

And man did that caught him off guard. He watched as the brunet walked away from the frame where he couldn’t see him anymore.

Jack didn’t expect this. He didn’t expect the Vault Hunter to leave Sanctuary. He didn’t expect him to offend Roland about his beliefs and on the top of it, he didn’t expect Rhys to actually agree with him. With what he was doing on Pandora. He got used to the refusing reactions, and people always disagreeing with him, putting him into the position where he had to constantly vindicate his manners. This was a really welcomed change. But he would never see it coming from a Vault Hunter, whom he had tried to assassinate on the top of it. An odd feeling spread inside his chest. Why was this making him so happy?

And it looked like this Vault Hunter was looking for a job. Well it wouldn’t be like himself if he didn’t take advantage of this situation.

He dialed Rhys’ number. As always, it connected him immediately.

“What?” An angry voice barked at him from the other line.

“Aw, someone is grumpy. Hey, it looks like they kicked you out of the gang, heh? And I might have heard about you, looking for a job? Well luckily for you, old pal Handsome Jack is here to help.”

Rhys didn’t answer immediately. “I´ve never been in any gang. And how do you know about that anyway? It happened not even half an hour ago.”

“Sweet cheeks, I literally own half of the shithole which they call a planet. Of course I know about everything that happens there.”

An answer was another wave of silence. Crap, did he give away too much? Jack wasn’t sure if he wanted the Vault Hunter to know about him overhearing his conversation with Roland. “You see pumpkin, I keep an eye on the job board that they have online. Helps to keep the sense of what is going on down there. Also, it makes for good-night-reading material, dontcha agree? Well, and seeing a Vault Hunter accepted some low paid job? Wasn’t difficult to connect one plus one together.”

“I guess.” Rhys sighed. “So, what do you want?”

“What could this Handsome CEO of a huge company possibly want from an unemployed Vault Hunter?”

“Whatever it is, I am not interested. You tried to kill me, remember?”

“Oh kitten, that’s in a far past.”

“It happened this week, Jack.”

“Yeah, whatever. But tell me, how much do they pay you for doing the whatever boring stuff you agreed to do?”

“Why do you care? I told you I am not working for you.”

“Becaaaause, I am sure I can make it double.”

“Not interested.”

“Plus, I can get you out of this planet.”

Another silence. That was a good sign. He managed to get the kid´s attention. “Bullshit. How do I know you won’t pull any tricks on me?”

“C’mon cupcake. Who do you think I am?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Someone who would blow up a train full of people who came willingly to work for him doesn’t sound very appalling, does it?”

“Man, you just won’t let that one go. How about you give it a try, heh? I can promise that I will not pay any more affords to end your life.”

“You know what? Fine. Everything beats spending more time on this planet than I absolutely have to. So, what is it you want me to do?”

Jack smiled. “Ya ever been in eridium mine, honey?”

Chapter Text

Rhys couldn’t believe he was doing this again. Blindly trusting Handsome Jack and accepting yet another job offer from the Hyperion CEO. But what else was he supposed to do? Even after what happened, he still deeply admired that guy and the option of being able to work under him was as tempting as ever. Plus, Jack promised that he would get him out of the planet. And right now, after the dialogue with Roland, Rhys wanted nothing more but to leave this place and be as far away from it as possible. And if that means risking getting murdered on his way out, well it wouldn’t be anything Rhys could call “a new experience”.

So now here he was. Standing in front of a gate leading into the ex-Hyperion eridium mine that has been taken over by bandits, after someone opened the gates for them and turned off all the security turrets. That was something Rhys couldn’t get out of his head. As far as he knew, people here weren’t exactly masters in IT technology. And getting into a highly-secure system like this required not only skills but equipment on incredible high level. Rhys kinda wanted to meet the person who did that. The two of them would definitely be able to find a common topic to talk about. Plus, it would be interesting to see someone who had the courage to attack Handsome Jack himself. After all, it was no secret that most of the AI security system came from his hands.

The Vault Hunter loaded his gun and made his first step inside the camp. The task was to kill as many bandits as possible and make as little damage as possible to the mine, meaning no grenades and no explosive weapons. Rhys was okay with that.

The bandits came the moment he got inside. Rhys was doing admirably well with getting rid of the psychos. But then he accidentally pissed off Goliath.

And it wasn’t even his fault. Well, not completely. He was going after one midget who was standing on some big stone, waving his hands like a complete idiot and yelling something at Rhys about throwing a budget on his head. So, Rhys aimed at his head and pulled the trigger. Then the little scav jumped away and the bullet hit Goliath standing behind him. Right in his face.

An angry scream echoed through the entire building as he turned against his former buddies and started ripping them apart. Literally.

Rhys had two options. First, hide and wait for him to do all the job for him, but risk getting the man too big and too powerful for Rhys to take him down or just take him down now when he was still in his basic form and deal with the rest of them on his own.

Rhys decided for the first option. He hid behind some painted wall and watched the monster on losing. When he was done, standing in the middle of the main room, breathing heavily, making noises that resembled anything but human, Rhys came out of his hideout and threw an electronic grenade at him. Then another two, successfully creating the effect of fusing bomb, trapping Goliath in the middle of the explosion. When the effect ran out, he was still moving. But for Rhys, there was nothing simpler than to send one good aimed shot right into his small worm head and end his suffering.

After the overgrown man had stopped moving, Rhys turned on his ECHO eye and scanned the rest of the locality for any survivors. It came out with a negative result. “Nice job buddy.” Rhys complimented the Goliath who was lying under his feet. He was about to leave when he noticed a brand-new revolver, tucked into a belt of one of the dead bandits. Well, hello there beautiful. The brunet smiled and headed towards the electric based gun. Rhys kneeled next to the corpse and begun to untuck its belt. He was almost done when out of nowhere, a dumb pain spread on the back of his head. Did someone just hit him?

His vision went black, and Rhys could feel himself falling before completely losing himself in the darkness.

He woke up when someone splashed a bucket filled with cold water right unto his face.

“Rise and shine beautiful.” Someone said in high pitched voice right next to his ear. Rhys shook his head to get rid of the water that was soaked in his hair and looked around his surroundings.

He was in a small dark room, with one light right above his head. If there were any windows, they had been covered in thick curtains not letting any sunlight from outside in.

There were many office equipments like a table, shelf filled with papers and books, few chairs similar to the one he was currently tied to, and a fancy looking blue carpet under his feet. However, now it was covered in dirt and dust as no-one really cared to vacuum this place for a longer period of time.

The person who woke Rhys up was now standing in front of him, leaning forward into his personal zone, trying to get a closer view on his face. Rhys curled his nose. “Oh, my God. When is the last time you brushed your teeth? Your breath smells like a skag took a shit in your mouth.”

The bandit leaned away, apparently offended. “Watch it, princess. I don’t think you are in any position to be saying rude things like that.”

“Oh, you don’t know me. I am always in that position.”

The man with smelly breath smirked. “Well now. I think I know you well enough.” He turned his back to Rhys, giving him time to notice the other three men that were in the room with them. “You are the Vault Hunter, who just murdered half of my boys and made a bloody mess out of my new facility.”

“In my defense, it wasn’t looking like a fancy hotel when I got there either.” Rhys tried to pull his hands out of the knot, but it was pointless. It was tied really good. He turned on his ECHO eye and let it search the room for something that would help him escape.

“I can’t argue with you there.” The man turned back to face Rhys just to notice his eye shining in light blue color as the processor was running at its maximum performance. “Oh, what do we have here?” He pointed at the shining eye. “That looks fancy. I might wanna take it.”

“I might not gonna let you take it.” Rhys tried to pull his hands out one more time. Fuck fuck fuck fuck.

“No? Well, let’s see what you are going to do about that.” He took some dirty looking drill from the table and begun to slowly walk towards Rhys.

Rhys tucked once more. Nothing. The bandit was almost in front of him. Few more moments and he will be close enough to start digging into his head. Rhys did his best in hiding it, but underneath the tough face, he had his private panic attack.

Everything from the previous days flashed right in front of his eyes. The fact that: he hadn’t slept for three days, he had been walking around with broken leg that was healed only by using some weird drug, he was hungry, thirsty and feeling sick ever since he’d spent two days by running in the snow wearing the only thin jacket and leather shoes. And all the things he had to do to get here. He killed Maya, protected Claptrap, murder dozens of bandits, got kicked out of Sanctuary before he even got in… All of this just to get here. And now, this is how he is going to die. On a dirty planet in a dirty room by a hand of a dirty man whose breath smells like dirty rotten eggs. This was not fair. It was bullshit. And it made him so angry. It made him wanna scream, it made him…numb.

Out of nowhere, a numbness took over his mind. It was as if someone pressed some button inside his head and made him completely unaware of any feelings, or any thoughts what’s so ever. It was as if he wasn’t even there to see how everything in the room started floating. Rhys didn’t see the confusion on the men’s faces slowly changing to fear. He didn’t even hear their screams nor the sound of breaking bones.

It was all happening in slow motion. First, there was a light coming out of his chest. But it was merely noticeable, because of his black jacket which was still covering his whole upper body. The biggest give away about something bad happening were his eyes. They both started to shine in light blue color. Not the electronic blue characteristic for his ECHO eye, but color that was lighter than sky and brighter than noon’s sun.

This light surrounded all inanimate objects in the room, lifting them up in the air and leaving them just floating in the room for a few seconds. Before all of them suddenly streaked against the bandits in the room, hitting them in a full speed and turning them into mash of blood, muscles and joints.

They were all dead long before the light faded away. Rhys blinked as his mind cleared and looked around the room. He didn’t have to think about what happened. He remembered it all. The anger, the light, the noises they made as he smashed them into the ground. It was all him. He did that. But how?

Rhys remembered the feeling of some energy inside his chest and tried to look down at it. But he was still tied to the chair. Damn it.

He looked around to see if there was something he could use to cut himself free, but without any result. Well, if he can’t get rid of the rope, he will have to get rid of the chair.

Luckily for him, they didn’t tie his legs to the chair, so it wasn’t that difficult to get to the wall. Breaking the chair, on the other hand, took little more time. He needed to throw himself against the wall at least ten times before the seat finally broke and he was freed.

Rhys took off his jacket and gasped at the sight of a newly-formed tattoo. It was like various ornaments covering his entire left side, leading to his left shoulder. It seemed like it would’ve continued to his arm if he still had it.

But how was that possible? Where did he–of anywhere–get this cool-looking tattoo on his chest, and why did things around him started randomly floating. And the light? It was just like the one…

The light. He saw the exact same light in the frozen land after he killed Maya. After he killed a siren. But does that mean… “Oh, no. No, no, no. Not happening. This is not happening.” Rhys started walking in circles inside the small room, hands in his hair. “This can’t be possible. I don’t need more shit like this in my life. It is already fucked up enough as it is.” He stopped to look at his tattoo one more time. He had to admit, it was looking really nice. And he always wanted to get a tattoo, but never really had the chance. But something smaller, elegant, like two circles or something in that genre, definitely nothing like this. He grabbed his black jacket and got dressed.

Rhys took a deep breath. This is bad. No one can ever find out about this. Actually, he just got another reason to leave Pandora as soon as possible. If Maya was right and this planet was really a source of all those siren powers, then he wanted to be anywhere but here.

He checked one more time if all parts of the tattoo were covered and headed out from the office. When he got outside–on the signal–he called Jack.

“What is it?” Jack barked from the other side of the line.

“I finished the job. Now, get me outta here.”

“Oh Rhys! My favorite Vault Hunter. You’re done already? Good job kiddo, good job. I know you want to get out of Pandora, and I respect that but seeing how nicely you handled this job, I might have another gig for you on Elphis. Whatcha say?”

Rhys hesitated for a moment. Another job offer right away? And away from the planet to that? Elpis was Pandora’s moon so it’s not as far as Rhys would like it to be, but it was something. Still… He was lucky enough that no one–himself included–haven’t noticed his new gained siren tattoo, but if he continues vault-hunting, the revelation will be unavoidable. And he cannot let that happen. Not until he figures out what to do about it.

“I can’t.”

“What was that, pumpkin?”

“I am not gonna accept the job. I am done with being a Vault Hunter.”

Jack burst out laughing. Rhys waited for him to calm down before he continued. “I am serious. I have gone through so much shit in just one week, made me think about my life. And I decided that it’s just not worth all the effort.”

“Ha! Well, cupcake, have fun finding someone crazy enough to hire an ex-Vault Hunter.” And he hung up. Rhys wanted to call him back and yell at him about his reward, but his ECHO was already ringing.

“I am gonna hire you!”

“You what?”

“You’ve heard me kiddo. I am gonna hire you. I’ve heard you know your way around the guns and codes and we could totally use that up here.”

“Up here?”

“On Helios, dumdum. Now, I made up my mind. You are going to work for me. I am sending you a shuttle right now so stay where you are till it gets there. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. See ya when you get here.”

“Jack, wait I can’t-” A beeping tone announcing the end of their call interrupted him. Damn this man. Not even giving him time to respond.

Rhys sighed and looked up to the sky. Helios station was floating in the air, almost completely blocking the view of Pandora’s only moon. Rhys always thought it seemed like a jewel on the sky He’s heard stories about it being equipped with the latest technology and the luxurious equipment. He never even dreamed of being able to work there.

And now, Handsome Jack himself offered him the job. Well, it was more like an announcement than an offer, but that didn’t bother Rhys. It made him excited.

Then he remembered the tattoo. And the floating tables in the office and the dead people in there. He looked at his chest one more time. The jacket covered him completely. But how long will he be able to hide it?

He watched as a rocket landed next to him and opened its door, inviting him in. He hesitated, unsure if he should get in or just walk away. Rhys took one step towards before Angel appeared before him.

Rhys don’t.” She said in pleading voice.

“Angel!” Rhys jumped. “I told you. Don’t do that. Appearing like that before me, it’s not good for my heart.” He grabbed his chest with a dramatical gesture. But Angel was still watching him with a serious expression. The brunet sighed. “Listen, I know you wanted me to help Roland in the Sanctuary, but me and him, we had some kind of fall-out. It just didn’t work. And now he doesn’t really want to work with me so… Ya know. Gotta head somewhere for more opportunities.”

I know. I understand you don’t wanna work for Roland. And I can see why you don’t wanna stay on Pandora either.” Rhys’ heart almost stopped. She knows? But before he could start panicking, Angel continued. “People down here on Pandora aren’t exactly welcoming, and no one stays here just to watch the nature. This planet is cruel, dirty and it’s not much to look at.” She stopped for a moment. “But for some people, it’s still their home. The home they know and–even if it’s hard to believe–home they love. But Jack doesn’t understand it, he never will. He sees Pandora as something he needs to change, because of his hero complex. But what he calls change, means a disaster for this planet. And if you get into that rocket,” she pointed at the Hyperion shuttle standing just a few steps next to them “he will use all your abilities to achieve his goal faster. I’ve seen you work Rhys, I know what you are capable of. And with your help, Handsome Jack will destroy this planet in a matter of months, taking all of our changes for this planet to stay the way it is.” She looked him right in the eyes. “And that’s why I am asking you to leave. I don’t care where you go. You don’t want to help us fight Jack? So be it. But I am begging you, Rhys, don’t join that man. Once he gets you, there is no turning back.

Rhys was silent. He returned Angel’s stare for a few brief moments, before smirking at her. “I am sorry Angel. I said something like this to Roland today, so I will say the same thing to you. I don’t see what you are fighting for. Keeping Pandora the way it is? Are you serious? Just look around you! This is a complete a shithole, and the sooner someone does something about it, the better.” Rhys looked back at Angel. She was watching him with a hurt expression. The brunet sighed. “Listen, Angel. I really like you. Honestly. You are one of the few people who could convince me to spend more than ten minutes in the same room as one of the claptrap units. But, this is something we will never see the same way. I don’t like Pandora. You figured that much. I came here only because it meant working for Handsome Jack. And call it whatever you want, but I still wanna work for him. And if that means helping him to make Pandora a better place, well that’s just another plus, isn’t it?”

Angel took a deep breath. “There is no way I am going to convince you to change your mind, is there?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Sorry.”

Well then,” She smiled weakly. “I should probably wish you good luck.”

“Thanks.” Rhys smiled back. “Will I... eh, see you again?”

Yea, I am sure you will. Take care of yourself till then Rhys.” She waved at him before disappearing.

“You too.” Rhys muttered to himself, heading towards the rocket. I will miss you.

Chapter Text

Rhys had seen a lot of beautiful things in his career as a Vault Hunter. He saw purple waterfalls on Eden 5, vast plains full of glowing flowers on PT-12, and even the breath-taking Aurora on Prometheus. But all of it felt like nothing in comparison with the view on Pandora from space. He wasn’t sure if it looked so gorgeous because of the vast color spectrum, the shape of the brown land, or for the fact that he could see it only because he was really far away from the planet.

The brunet turned his mismatched eyes away from the fascinating view to watch how his shuttle landed on the space station. From this close, Helios seemed to be even bigger than when he saw it from the surface of Pandora.

The door finally opened, and he hurried outside. But maybe he was a little bit too fast on the exit because his shoe got stocked on the last iron stair and before he knew it he was sliding down the stairs. It all happened very quickly, but at the same time, it also felt like it was going on in slow motion. His hands flew up as he was reflectively searching for support, but caught nothing but air. He landed face first, his mouth making a weird splashing sound at the contact with the ground.

Someone in front of him burst out in a loud laughter. Painfully familiar laughter.

Oh god.

Handsome Jack was standing right in front of him, shaking with laughter, tears streaming down his face, one hand was wrapped around his ribs, and the other was pointing in Rhys’ direction.

Rhys’ eyes widen. The CEO was even better looking than on the posters. With brown hair, which were persistently refusing the laws of physics and skin in a light brown tone, that you could gain only by spending hours outside in the wild sun. The only pale part was his mask attached to his face with iron clips. Rhys never noticed the difference between his skin and the color of his mask, but from this close, it was difficult not to see it. Another arrestive thing was his mismatched eyes, now filled with tears from laughter, watching Rhys in amused way as he stood up, slowly walking towards the snorting man.

“Ha ha ha ha, oh my, that was so good. Ah, you should see your face when you were falling! Like, yeah. Bum!” Jack mimicked a terrified expression before wiping tears out of his eyes. “Actually, now that I think about it, I am sure one of our security cameras recorded it. Give me just a sec-” He took his ECHO out of his pocket and quickly swiped over few screens, before showing it to Rhys. It was a record on loop of him tripping over his shoe and falling down on the floor face first.

“Hilarious.” Rhys mumbled, hiding his blushing cheeks by looking on his knees and clearing them from non-existent dust. His face hurt like hell but he was too proud to show it.

“I know, right? Comedy gold. Ah, anyway. Welcome to Helios, kiddo. “Jack threw his hands in the air, a happy grin on his face. Rhys looked around. They were still standing outside the facility, but thanks to the artificial gravity and air conditioning in Helios’ field, it felt like they were already inside.

“Nice. So, what is it I am going to be doing here?”

“Patience, kitten. Patience. We will get to that but first, how would you like a private tour on Helios from its handsome CEO? Don’t answer that. You would love it, I know. Let’s go. You can thank me later.” Not waiting for Rhys to respond, Jack turned around and briskly walked towards an iron door, which opened when he was close enough for its sensors to detect him. Rhys sighed before heading after the man. He had to run a little to catch up with Jack.

“We can start in the R&D. Those guys always have some neat stuff to show. Or the Tech engineering? You look like someone who likes coding. Am I right?”

“Well, I-”

“No, no I got it! We are going to see a Hub of Heroism. It’s one of my favorite parts of Helios, you will love it pumpkin, let’s go there.”

Rhys’ heart jumped when Jack grabbed his hand and led him through one long corridor. The other one didn’t seem to notice and continued walking forward while talking about the rooms they were passing by.

People were walking around them, all dressed in the same monotone colors. Most of them had their eyes locked on their ECHOs, but those who haven’t–and noticed the two men walking towards them–jumped aside and stuck themselves on the wall, as far as possible from their CEO. Jack paid them no mind and happily continued with their tour, dragging Rhys behind him.

When they arrived into the huge hall, all people who didn’t necessarily had to be there immediately left. But even then, the concourse was full and buzzing with chatter.

“So, this is it. The Hube of Heroism. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? “

It was. The enormous space filled with–now nervous looking–bodies was one of the biggest halls Rhys had ever seen.

They fit in here numerous of plants, benches, golden statues of Jack and an area reserved for dining purposes. Rhys could smell the hot coffee from over the entire room. God, he would kill half of the people here for one cup of the miraculous drink.

“Yeah, so that’s it, now we can go to-” Jack was interrupted by the sound of his ECHO beeping. “Damn it, what now?” He barked indignantly. He quickly read the incoming message, his face getting more annoyed with each line. “Oh, for a fuck’s sake. Those idiots... I swear to god I can’t rely on anyone on this whole god-damned station.”

He turned back at Rhys. “Sorry, kiddo. Looks like we are going to delay this tour. Jack’s gotta go. But before I leave you, there’s one last thing I’m gonna say.” He made one step closer towards Rhys, making the brunet to subconsciously hold his breath.

When Jack spoke up, his voice was low, each word filled with deadly threat. “If anyone here finds out about your little Vault Hunter business, I will personally send you out of this station right back to Pandora, without a shuttle. Is that clear?”

Rhys nodded, surprised by his lack of responses. It was weird. Completely new experience, but having Handsome Jack standing this close to him made him speechless. He could only hope that he would get over him after some time passes.

“Great!” The older man clapped his hands, his cheerful, confident voice back in its place. “Now let’s find someone who will take care of you for me.” Jack looked around the crowd. “This one.” He grabbed an unfortunate guy who was just passing by, nose buried in his paperwork. “You. You look like the responsible type who would happily help my new friend over here.” He pushed the small, shocked man towards Rhys. “This is Rhys. Show him how things work around here for me, would ya? And he is going to need to get some room I guess. Help him with that too, kay?”

The short man mumbled something like. “Yes, sir.” But it was more like a whisper, so Rhys wasn’t sure if his boss heard it. But even if he did, he didn’t seem to care.

“Have fun, you two.” Jack winked. “Oh, and Rhys! Don’t forget what we talked about.” Jack made a little finger gun move before turning around and walking away from the stoned duo.

Rhys was the first one to break the silence. “Well, I guess there is no point in introducing myself now, is there?” He ran his hand through his brown hair, turning to face the smaller man. But the guy wasn’t looking at Rhys. His eyes were still locked at the door Handsome Jack just left through, jaw dropped. “So…What’s your name?” The brunet asked trying to gain his attention.

“Ohmygod.”

“Great name.”

“Oh, my God. Handsome Jack just touched me.”

“Oh. Right.” Rhys giggled. “I guess he did.”

“I am never washing my shoulder!” The short man said finally turning to face Rhys.

“Okay, first of all. Gross. And second, he didn’t touch your skin, he touched your jacket. If I were you, I would just never wash the jacket instead,” Rhys lowered his voice into a whisper to make sure that anyone else couldn’t hear them “and kept it locked somewhere safe. Some people could be willing to pay lots of money for something like that.”

“Great idea. I guess it tops skipping on showers.” The short man chuckled, offering Rhys his right hand.

“My name is Vaughn. It’s nice to meet you.”

Rhys smiled, shaking the offered hand. “Same here.”

“So, you are looking for a room, heh? Funny. I could use a roommate. The last one got transferred to another facility two months ago, and the room had been empty ever since.”

“Are you serious?” Rhys asked with hope in his voice. Just the thought of having his own room, with his own bed already made him excited.

Vaughn nodded happily. “Of course. I mean, if you don’t mind having a roommate with an obsession in videogames and junk food?”

“Oh, my God. You are meeting all my standards.” Rhys laughed.

“Well then, it’s settled.” Vaughn clapped his hands together. “So, how about we go there first? I am already done for the day and was heading there anyway, before…You know.”

“Before Handsome Jack grabbed your shoulder.”

“Before Handsome Jack grabbed my shoulder.” He shook his head as if still not believing it actually happened. “All right, let’s go there. I would’ve offered you the tour, but you look like you could use some rest.”

Rhys smiled. “Heh. You are right about that. I can’t remember how long it was since I had a good long sleep.”

“I can tell.” Vaughn said while heading out of the hall, leading Rhys trough yet another corridor. “You are also going to need better clothes. I don’t understand how they let you in with those things you are wearing right now.” He stopped for a second. “But I can assume that it had something to do with Handsome Jack walking next to you,” Vaughn added with a small laugh.

Rhys looked at his dirty black jacket and leaky shoes. Now that Vaughn mentioned it, he could feel the stares of others on him. His clothes really did make him stand out of the crowd. And if Jack was serious about his threat, standing out was the last thing Rhys needed. “Yeah. Any idea where I can get some?”

Vaugh nodded. “There should be some spare clothes left in your closet. And we can go shopping after you get some rest.” He looked back at Rhys. “By the way, which facility did you come from? Was it Promethea?”

“Why Promethea?” He asked, only to buy himself a time to think of some plausible answer. If Rhys wanted to keep his identity secret, he had to come up with a good lie and stick to it in the future.

“I’ve heard that they let them wear whatever they want on the local facility. Probably because Handsome Jack never visits that place to check on them?”

“Heh. Maybe you are right. But I am not from Promethea. I worked in terrain on Eden 5. Mostly research of the local gun structure. But they dissolved our team and transformed me here.” This was a good story since he knew a lot about the nature of Eden. He would be able to answer any question about the planet and its people.

“Research in terrain, heh? Well, I guess it had to be way more exciting than what you are going to see here. Aside from occasional finger gun fight nothing exciting ever happens here.”

Finger gun fight?

“Okay, so here we are.” Vaughn stopped before a door with a number 074. He took out a plastic card out of his pocket and pressed it against the chip sensor attached to the door. A green light appeared on the sensor, and the door with silent “pop” opened, and they both walked in.

The apartment wasn’t big. Its main room consisted of two parts, kitchen, and a living room. There was a gray gauche and television in the center, surrounded by numerous shelves with books and trinkets. The kitchen corner also seemed to be fully equipped. Which was great, because cooking was one of Rhys’ favorite activities to pass the time.

“Your room is over there. Right next to the door to the bathroom.” Vaughn was already opening one of the three remaining doors in their apartment. Rhys followed him in without hesitation.

The room was perfect. It had everything Rhys could wish for. It had a bed, working table with the laptop that had Hyperion logo attached to it, big brown closet and blue carpet covering the whole floor. Vaughn wasn’t joking when he said that it was already fully equipped. All the things he had never owned were already there.

Shelves with books, pictures of nature hanging on the walls… He also noticed a teddy bear sitting next to the pillow on the bed.

“This is amazing.” Rhys breathed out. “I didn’t imagine it to look so… inhabitable.”

“So, does that mean you are going to share the rent with me?” Vaughn laughed, being very happy about Rhys’s touching reaction. “Like I said, there should be some clothes in here, but we can go shopping tomorrow. You got the bathroom right over there. Please don’t hesitate to use it.” He stopped for a second, sniffing through his nose. “Seriously, please don’t. I didn’t want to bring it up, but you smell like you haven’t seen a shower for at least three weeks.”

Four. “Yeah, I heard ya. I think I am going to do that right now.”

“Sure thing. And please, get some rest. The bags under your eyes are making me feel tired.” Vaughn pointed out with a concern in his voice.

Rhys rolled his eyes. “Sure, mom, don’t worry.”

“Funny. Well, I think I will give you some time to adjust. I should go grocery shopping anyway. I have been running low on nachos lately, and if you try opening the fridge, an endless void is the only thing that will greet you from the inside. So, I really don’t recommend it.”

Rhys laughed, thanking his new roommate one more time before Vaughn left the apartment. Leaving him alone.

First thing Rhys did was check the clothes Vaughn was talking about. He walked towards the closet and opened both of its wings at one, as he saw people doing that in movies.

It was almost empty. Three shirts, one hoodie, two trousers and only one pair of shoes, plus some underwear. But for Rhys, this was more than enough. When you work as a Vault Hunter, you don’t get to carry many clothes with you, aside from what you are dressed in. So, having more options was another big and welcomed change for him.

It didn’t take him long before he managed to create the perfect combination of gray trousers, black vest and light blue shirt with long sleeves.

He grabbed it, ready to head into the shower before a small piece of red fabric coughed his attention. It was lying on the bottom of the clothes, hidden in a corner. It was a tie! Red soft fancy looking tie, just lying on the floor. Rhys promptly grabbed it and added it to his little pile of clothes before heading to the bathroom.

To Rhys’ disappointment, there was no bathtub, only shower. But the water was warm, and the temperature made him relax, bringing the amazing feeling of freshness all over his skin. It also gave him a time to take a better look on the new siren tattoo.

Rhys had never seen a siren tattoo before so he couldn’t tell if they all looked alike, or if there was a special design for each. What he did know, however, was that they were supposed to be from their biggest part on your hand. His hand was missing and with it the rest of the tattoo’s structure. The part on his chest was… nice. It was made from four circles, all connected with a chain of smaller ornaments, together creating an illusion of a wave.

This was good. He could work with that. Without seeing how it starts glowing the moment he gets mad, people shouldn’t be able to tell that it’s a real siren tattoo. He just needed to come up with a good story about how and where he got it, and he should be alright.

But what if someone does see him when the powers start kicking in again? As far as he knew, there was no way for him to control them, and if Handsome Jack finds out about it… Well, let’s say that going back to do the military jobs would be considered the better option. Between the other–less promising–option belonged to be used as a science test subject or a source of energy for one of the big military ships.

Rhys shook his head. There was no point in worrying about that now. He couldn’t just leave,–not that he wanted to–being on Helios was all he ever wished for, and thinking about stuff like that was good for nothing but making his head hurt. It’s not as if it was possible for him to plan that moment beforehand.

With a heavy sigh, he turned off the water. His whole body shivered in protest, but he didn’t want the first to do as a roommate to waste all their hot water. Plus, Vaughn was right about him being tired, and the idea of having a big comfortable bed waiting for him wasn’t bringing any willpower to stay awake.

Rhys grabbed one of the clean towels and covered himself with it. His sight set on the pile of clothes he had prepared before coming to the shower. His intentions were to get dressed and help Vaughn with the stuff from grocery shop as a sign of good will, but now he realized how stupid idea it was. The short guy would probably refuse his help anyway and send him to the bed instead.

Funny. He only knew the guy for a few moments, and he already liked him. And that was a thing he couldn’t say about many people in his life.

Rhys smiled impishly before jumping to the bed like a small child and tucking himself deep under the warm blue sheets. It didn’t take long after his eyes closed for the sleep to come for him and bring his mind away, to the sweet land of dreams

Chapter Text

Being a CEO of a huge corporation meant you had to deal with a lot of crap on a daily basis. People were always coming up with some new ways to annoy you, make your life harder or just to prove to you on how high level of stupidity they could get. With the passing years, Jack had seen lots of shit happening around him not only on the Helios station but others facilities as well. He thought that he got already used to it. But still, once in a while, there would be something that he just wouldn’t understand.

Like today for example. With the explosive shields.

Jack was really looking forward to showing the Vault Hunter the rest of his space station. True, he had been a little nervous about having someone who is able to commit mass murder in a matter of seconds, just casually walking next to him side by side. For a few brief moments, he even considered giving the guards an order to shoot him before he could even land his foot on Helios. But then the kid tripped over his own shoe.

It was one of the funniest and cutest things Jack had ever seen. Oh, the look on his face when he was about to land on the metallic floor. Pure perfection. And the way he was blushing because of it? Seriously, the only blushing Vault Hunter in history of Vault Hunters and Jack got to have him on his space station.

He could tell from the kid’s face that he was fascinated by everything they have passed. Jack was really enjoying their little tour until the idiots from the engineering department had called to tell him about one of their newest fuck-ups.

Apparently, they have been working on developing a shield for the new line with explosive effects which was planned for the next month. And apparently, they managed to mix two codes and now when the shield has run out of energy, it created an explosion. The problem was that this explosion wasn’t aimed for the shield’s surroundings, but it burst inside it instead, turning the owner of the shield into something that slightly resembled of a burned sausage sauce. And as funny as it might look, it wasn’t going to bring any money to the company.

So now, after he forced those who had fucked up the job to wear the shield while serving as targets for the gun testing, he headed right into his office to take a look at the code himself and fix their mess, because he didn’t trust anyone else but him to finish the project till the deadline. Well, maybe he could ask Angel to help him with it. But she has been acting weird lately. Maybe she was getting sick? Jack made a mental note to pay her a visit after everything here calmed down. But now, he had some coding to do.

***

Rhys woke up to a sound of an incoming message on his ECHO. It obtained information about his new position in constructive engineering. He was supposed to meet with someone named Henderson to get more info about what he was going to be doing. And it also said that his new boss will be expecting him at nine o’clock. Which was in ten minutes.

He got quickly dressed and stumbled into the living room where Vaughn was sitting, chewing on his breakfast.

“Morning.” He said between two bites.

“Vaughn! Thank god you are still here. Where is the constructive engineering department?”

“It’s the fifth floor. The elevator is on the end of the corridor. Don’t you want a breakfast first?”

“I am already late. I will talk to you later.” Rhys called before shutting the doors and hurrying out.

The brunet sprinted through the long corridor just to catch the already closing elevator. Luckily for him, it was empty and took him directly to his floor. He rushed into the door labeled Henderson to find a slim, nerdy-looking man sitting behind the desk working on some paperwork. He looked up from whatever he was doing when he heard the door opening just to see the untidy brunet to enter his office.

“Oh, you must be Rhys.”

Rhys nodded–unsure what to do exactly. Whenever he was about to get a new job as a Vault Hunter, he just asked for the basic information and left without a word. He didn’t suppose that it was possible for him to apply this process in Hyperion.

“Great. I was waiting for you. I was told that you are going to be our new constructive programming guy.” Henderson stood up and walked towards Rhys for a welcoming handshake.

“Then they told you more than me.” Rhys smiled.

“Is that so?” The other man looked slightly surprised. “Oh, that’s just typical. I hope you know your way around the computers?”

“With both hardware and software.”

“And do you understand guns?”

Rhys smirked. “We speak the same language.”

“Well then you should be okay. Follow me, I will show you where you are going to work.” Henderson chuckled, heading out of the room first, waiting for Rhys to join him on the corridor. He led him through the whole department. They had a little chit-chat going on on the way filled with Henderson asking him about his previous job and his impression of Helios, to which Rhys had replied with the same lies he told Vaughn. Until finally they arrived at his future work place.

It looked like a small office, with a wooden table, laptop and some papers lying around. There were parts of guns lying around and some sketches of what seemed to be future design of Hyperion’s new weaponry.

“You got lucky.” Henderson said. “The guy who used to work here had an accident just yesterday it the testing area. Looks like they were trying the new explosive shields or something.” He shook his head as if the idea of such a thing was something he considered exceedingly stupid.

“Anyway. You are going to take over his last unfinished project.” He pointed at the table. “You see, we just got a new prototype over here that was already approved by the leadership and is ready for the mass production. But before it begins, we need someone to write the working code for the manufacturing machines, that will serve as a guide or recipe or whatever you want to call it. And that someone is now you, Rhys.”

Rhys nodded. “So, you want me to take the gun and write down a code that will tell the machine how they are supposed to build them.” He looked back at the older man with a confident grin. “No problem.”

Henderson clapped his hands. “Fantastic. I will be in my office. Knock if you need something.” He waved at Rhys before leaving the small room.

After he was left alone, Rhys sat behind his new working laptop and looked into the files containing info about the new gun that was about to be realized. It was nothing special. A basic revolver, like those that had been already released. But the plans contained one major practical mistake.

It was a known fact that Hyperion guns were focused on accuracy. In the beginning, the gun starts off shaky, and you can barely aim at a barrel, let alone a person. However, the moment you start firing, the accuracy of the gun increases. Those guns are really effective against stronger enemies, and thus belonged between Rhys’ favorites brands since stronger enemies were kinda his specialization.

However, the highest status on this gun was her damage, and the rest of her abilities were on an embarrassingly low level. Plus, her magazine size was only 8. That was standard for Jacobs revolvers, but with Hyperion shooting system, it was making the gun completely useless, not even allowing it to reach its full potential, making itself completely useless when it came to real combat. It was obvious that the person had never held a gun before and fully concentrated on the better looks and high damage. But Rhys supposed that this had to be a common mistake between the Helios workers, judging by what he heard, the biggest fight you could get here into, was the finger gun fight.

Rhys checked through the files to find the name of the person who came up with this prototype. Apparently, the inventor was some guy named Hugo Vasquez. He should pay him a short visit. Surely he will understand why it’s necessary to make some improvements on this model.

Rhys stood up and headed through his new department’s corridor to find the door with Vasquez’s name on it. He didn’t have to search for long, for the door being just a few steps from his work office. He knocked shortly, and after brief “come in” respond, he had entered the room.

It was slightly bigger than his office. But not just the room itself. He also had bigger windows, bigger table, and larger chair. Rhys wondered if it might be that this guy was compensating for something.

“Yes?” The man spoke from behind his laptop. Rhys took a second to measure this guy. It was the most stereotypical example of a douchebag he could think of. He had black hair tucked behind his head by tons and tons of gel and beard shaved into a shape that had been outdated before Rhys was even born.

The brunet coughed into his fist before speaking up. “Sir, I have been handed the project of the new explosive gun. I work on writing a code for its manufacturing.”

The other guy–Vasquez–nodded. “Yes, what about it?”

“You see, I have gone through your plans, and I think there might be a way to improve some of its functions.” Rhys walked towards the table and placed the stack of plans on the wooden table. “For example, if we increased the number of bullets, we would give the gun an opportunity to actually fulfill its potential in its aiming system. Plus, I am sure that by decreasing the maximum damage, we could increase its fire rate, which is with this brand always a welcomed bonus.” Rhys finished with his small presentation and looked at Vasquez. He had a few other improvements prepared in his head but decided to wait with those after he sees Vasquez’s reaction. And it was a good choice.

The other guy tried holding on his poker face as good as he could, but Rhys could see the ticks he had under his left eye. He watched him, stood up and slowly walked around the table to stand just next to Rhys, violently disturbing his personal space. Rhys turned to stare right back into his eyes with undying confidence.

“You are new here, am I right?” Vasquez asked in a haughty voice. There was a brief silence spread up across the room before Rhys had answered. “Yes. I just got transferred to this office.”

“I see, I see.” Vasquez broke the eye contact and walked behind Rhys, resting his hands on the brunet’s shoulders, leaning forward, so he could speak in a low voice directly into his ear. “Listen, young boy. I don’t know from what shithole they dragged you here, but now you are on Helios. You don’t get to think, you don’t get to suggest and you certainly don’t get to come up with ways to fuck with my gun!” Vasquez was at the point of yelling before he even came to the end of the sentence, without leaning away from Rhys’ ear.

“I am sure that sounded better in your head.” Rhys smirked. He turned to face the angry man, just to meet with his flying fist. It caught him off guard, so he ended up falling on the floor, hand covering his hurting nose. He didn’t even need to see it, to know that there was blood coming out of it.

His mismatched eyes turned back to look at Vasquez who was whipping up his fist. “Well then. I think that now we have come to a mutual understanding, am I right?”

Rhys narrowed his eyes. How he wished to just shoot this smug piece of shit into his dumb-looking head. But he couldn’t. This was his first day and he was sure that killing your supervisor wasn’t the best way to leave a good impression. “Yes, sir.” He muttered instead. “I am sorry I bothered you.”

“It’s your first day. Let’s let this one slide if you promise me that it won’t happen again.” Vasquez said in the most annoying, arrogant voice a human being could produce, causing Rhys to cringe, while he retorted through gritted teeth “Of course.”

With an enormous effort, he resisted the need to slam the door on his way out. He stopped in the corridor to take a deep breath, before heading back to his office. There was no way he would get scared by some corporate douchebag, just by getting a little slap in the face. It was this kind of people Rhys would always make fun of whenever he would come across them in one of his missions. If he wasn’t determined to fix the gun structure before this, he sure was going to do something about the shitty plans now.

Rhys burst into his office and threw himself into his chair and begun to work on the scripts immediately. The temptation to throw it all into the trash bin and just start from a new blank spot was strong, and it would probably make things way easier, but then he would be just working on his own project, and that wouldn’t bring the sweet flavor of revenge after he was finished. No, he needed to work what he was given, even when what he was given was complete shit.

The brunet quickly ran through some notes of the previous worker to check on the progress made, when he came across a small note written on yellow paper, saying that the deadline for this project was until the next morning. Rhys sighed, reaching for his ECHO to call Vaughn and let him know he won’t be returning to their apartment tonight. Shame. He was really looking forward to spending another night in his amazingly comfortable bed, but it had to wait.

Rhys was going to code the best gun Hyperion has ever produced and shove it up Vasquez’s ass.

***

The night has been long for Rhys. The gun Vasquez produced was even bigger mess than what he had expected.

Vaughn was very understanding about this whole thing. When Rhys called this short man to let him know about his decision to spend the night in the office, he was surprised at first, but when Rhys mentioned Vasquez’s name, he let out an understanding sound and promised to stop by and bring some snacks and coffee. He even offered his help to Rhys, but seeing that he worked in the finance department, he did not possess the skills necessary to even get what Rhys was doing. At last, he decided that the best way to help his new found friend was doing him company and just take the position of the psychical support.

He waved him goodbye around one a.m.because unlike Rhys, Vaughn wasn’t used to staying up the whole night and be able to function normally the following day. He fetched Rhys one last coffee before leaving him to his work and headed to bed.

Rhys was unbelievably happy and grateful for finally having a friend like that. As a Vault Hunter, he has never come across a person who he would be able to trust as fast as he did Vaughn. And whenever someone like that actually did appear, they would die soon after.

Rhys shook his head to get rid of those thoughts and turned his full concertation towards his work.

When he ran the last test on his creation, the clock was already at seven fifty-five, meaning that Henderson was already expecting him to have the job done and ready.

He quickly copied his work into a flash driver and hurried into his supervisor’s office, just to meet the man with a paper mug of latte just about to enter the same room.

“Rhys! You are here early.” He welcomed him with a wide smile. “That’s the attitude I like to see.”

“Actually, I never left here sir.” Rhys admitted, hand running through his hair.

“Is that so?” Henderson said with his left hand at the door’s handle. “Don’t tell me that there were some troubles with writing the code?”

“No, not with the code.” Rhys shook his head, following the older man into the room. “But I made some changes in the gun structure, and that took me more time than I expected.”

“Changes? What kind of changes?” Before Rhys could respond, he was already in front of him with: “Show me.”

Rhys gave him the USB driver and followed him to his computer. “Those plans were approved by the board. Rhys, you had no right to change anything in them.” Henderson wasn’t looking at Rhys, eyes sat on the computer screen as he was going through the changes Rhys made. But the boy could tell that he liked what he saw there, only by his changing expressions. Henderson had to be aware of the fact that the gun their company was about to produce was an entirely useless piece of shit, but apparently, he wasn’t in any position to question decisions of those who actually did agree to start with the production. He turned back to Rhys. “Does Vasquez know about this?”

“Well, we did have a little discussion about this topic yesterday.” Rhys admitted.

“I see.” Henderson nodded, noticing Rhys’ bruised nose. “You know, you are risking your neck doing this. If there is going to be anything wrong with this gun, and I mean anything, it’s on your shirt.”

“There will be nothing wrong with it.” The brunet answered confidently.

“Very well then, I am not sure if I have another job for you today. They were supposed to give us some plans from the explosion lines, but I’ve heard that there were some problems with the products, so it’s going to be delayed. So, you can go home, and I will let you know if anything happens here.”

Rhys nodded and left the room after waving goodbye to Henderson, heading straight into their apartment. He has already wasted enough time by being awake, and the faster he could get to his room, the longer he could sleep. Weird. He had never realized how much he missed sleeping until he got a taste the feeling of being well rested. And now, he just couldn’t get enough.

As expected, Vaughn was out there somewhere, working with money and so their apartment was once again empty. Rhys headed straight into his room and hid under the sheets, determined to spend there the whole day.

***

He woke up to the sound of his ECHO beeping with an announcement of a new incoming message. It was from Vasquez.

- Come to my office. We need to discuss my new weapon.

Rhys growled turning away from the device. He really didn’t want to get up. Especially, if the reason for him to wake up happened to be Vasquez. He was strongly tempted to stay in his bed and just pretend that he has never seen the message. But like it or not, Vasquez was his superior and Rhys didn’t think it was wise to keep him waiting, no matter how big of a pain in the ass this guy was.

He quickly grabbed the same clothes that he was wearing the previous day and headed out. Rhys made a mental note to actually go out and buy some new clothes because he could tell that those were starting to smell pretty bad. He quickly fixed his hair in mirror before heading out.

He got somewhat used to the short nights and long days that he had experienced on Pandora, so he was a little surprised to find the corridors empty and the lights low. It must have still been a night time for the Helios workers. So why the hell did Vasquez need to talk to him right now? Couldn’t it just wait till the morning?

Rhys sighed. There was no use in thinking about it. He wasn’t able to see into this guy’s head–not that he wanted to–so, for now, it was just better to suck it up and do what he says. No doubt that he was going to yell at him for those improvements, but Rhys can get over that. He did a good job, and that’s all that matters.

The corridor in his new department was seemingly even darker than the one in the apartment sector. But that wasn’t that surprising, since most of the station was asleep, so the lack of light was alright for the low number of people who were supposed to be here. Which was zero. So why were there two men in the suit walking towards him? No. He can’t overthink this. This is not Pandora. This is Helios and he cannot expect everyone he sees here to by armed assassin or drunken bandit. Rhys took a deep breath and begun to walk towards Vasquez’s office, ignoring those two by looking down on the floor. But wasn’t it rude? Maybe he should acknowledge their existence by saying “hi” or something. He looked up from the floor to greet them just to see how one of them opened the door to the next office and the other pushed him inside. Rhys managed to get a quick look around the room before someone punched him in the face. Three other men were waiting for him in there. The ugliest one with the biggest smirk on his face, being Vasquez.

So this is what he meant when he said that he wants to talk about the gun. Well, Rhys already got used to this kind of dialogue. He quickly turned to the one who welcomed him with the fist into his face, and returned the favor, causing the man to fall on the blue carpet. Before he could turn around, someone jumped on his back. Seriously? This is your tactic? Rhys ran back towards the wall and hit the other one against it with all his strength. This was pathetic. What can five nerds do against one experienced…Vault Hunter? Rhys suddenly remembered what Jack told him in the Hub of Heroism. About him being forbidden of letting anyone find out about his career. And wouldn’t it be suspicious if a random dude would be able to win a fight five versus one? There’s no way it would go without anyone questioning it.

Rhys sighed as he quickly decided how this fight was going to turn out. He bit his lip while the man on the floor swiped his leg, kicking Rhys into his ankle, causing him to lose balance and fall on the floor. In a moment, the two others were on top of him, holding his arms, as he pretended to be fighting them back. Someone kicked him in the ribs, causing him to yelp in pain. Another kick and he stopped his fake resistance.

Those two who were holding his hands dragged him up, forcing him to sit on his knees, facing Vasquez who was watching the scene with a smug grin never leaving his face. He slowly walked toward Rhys, whose head was weakly hanging on his neck, facing the floor, hoping that he would not have to look this bastard into his dumb-looking face.

As if he’d heard his wishes, Vasquez grabbed the brunet’s chin, forcing him to look directly into his eyes.

“Hello there, Rhys.” He was so close to his face, Rhys could smell the fancy mouthwash this guy used this morning. “How have you been? Had a nice day? Gotta tell you, mine was just great. I was getting ready to see how the manufactory of mine machine went you know? This project was definitely going to bring me the promotion, so my mood was perfect.” His grip around Rhys’ chin tightening. “Well, until I found out some little piece of shit changed the fucking plans.” Vasquez let go of Rhys, just to get his hand right back in the form of fist hitting him from the side.

“What were you thinking, heh?” Another hit, this time to the other side of his face. “You think you’re so smart you can just come here,” Vasquez was already yelling as he kicked Rhys in ribs, causing him to spit a little blood on the floor “and fuck up my project,” two hits back to his face, and the brunet started seeing black dots. This was the first time someone got this far in beating him up. Usually, he can get out of this situation just in a matter of minutes. He could do it. Rhys knew that there would be nothing easier than shaking off those two nerds from his shoulders and beat Vasquez up–his mother wouldn’t recognize him after he was done. But this time he couldn’t do that. He just needed to sit down and take it, listen to Vasquez’s stupid complaining “making me look like an absolute idiot in front of the whole department!”

Rhys smirked, trying to look at Vasquez but his eyesight abilities by now did practically not exist so he might have as well been staring at a wall as he spoke. “Buddy. That was the easiest part of the whole thing. You kinda already did most of the job for me. I mean, after I saw your work I honestly got a little bit jealous. Cuz I bet your brain feels as good as new, seeing that you never actually use it.” Even with his blurred eye vision, he could see how Vasquez’s face changed color, so now it had the same shade of red as a tomato. “You little piece of shit!” Vasquez growled through gritted teeth before he grabbed something hanging from his belt and pointed it at Rhys. Wait. Is that a gun?

…Bang!

Chapter Text

The code took way longer to rewrite than he'd liked. It was beyond Jack’s understanding how someone could fuck up with programming that bad, that the code needed to be completely redone. He would’ve asked those dumb idiots who managed to succeed in destroying one whole product line only by their stupidity, if they wouldn't be already dead. This company was seriously lucky to have such a smart, talented and great-looking CEO like himself who could take care of this kind of business and solve stupid problems in such a short time.

Jack was just on his way to the constructive engineering department to handle them his work so the business could get moving, when he heard sounds of a fight coming from one of the smaller offices. He peeked into the room to see one unconscious man lying right next to the door and another one standing in a corner placing a bag of ice on his head. Furthest from where Jack was standing was a group of four people. Two holding the other one’s both hands, keeping him still in a kneeling position, while the last one was acting as if the unfortunate boy was his punching back. Jack had no idea what it was that this guy did to piss them so much, but he sure as hell deserved it, if only for his awful fashion sense. He couldn’t see much of the men, the two others were blocking most of the view, but from what he saw, the beaten one was wearing some hideous looking trousers and west, that he wouldn’t even use as bedding for Buttstalion. Maybe he should go join them? Show those losers how it’s done? Nah. He’s the CEO. He’s got better things to do.

Jack was about to leave the group when a familiar but weak voice spoke from behind him. “Buddy. That was the easiest part of the whole thing. You kinda already did most of the job for me. I mean, after I saw your work I honestly got a little jealous. Cuz I bet your brain feels as good as new, seeing that you never use it.” Jack froze in a middle of a step. He would recognize this sassy tone everywhere.

He sprinted back into the room, just to see the other guy who was punching Rhys to point a gun at his the boy. But Jack was faster. He promptly grabbed his revolver and fired one good aimed bullet right into the guy’s forehead. The shot man fell on the floor with loud thud. The rest of the staff turned to face their CEO standing in the door frame with loaded gun and furious face.

“Handsome Jack!” One of them yelled, letting go of Rhys’s arm, leaving the boy to collapse to his feet. Jack stared at his motionless body for a moment before ordering everyone to get the fuck out of here. Each person beside the unconscious one (and the corpse, of course) briskly obeyed.

The CEO walked towards the beaten Vault Hunter, to find him lying completely still on the ground with his eyes closed. He crouched before him, pushing slightly into the boy’s shoulder. “Hey. Rhys.” A low growl escaped Rhys’s chest in response, but his eyes stayed closed. “Rhys. Wake up.” No response.

Jack quickly checked all his visible wounds.

Most of the damage took his face, there was no doubt about that. His nose was bleeding, there were bruises all over his skin, and it was hard to tell, but Jack would bet his left shoe that he had a black eye forming. Jack unbuttoned Rhys’ shirt to see if there were more wounds hidden under the clothing. And there were. He had one huge bruise on his left side, signaling that there were ribs broken, and another one in the middle of his chest. But that was not the only thing Rhys had on his chest. Next, to the wounds and bruises, he had a light blue tattoo spread all across his upper body. It looked damn nice on him. A few ornaments all connected into one big complex. Jack really liked it.

But now there was no time to be looking at pretty tattoos. He needed to help Rhys. Maybe he should bring him to the hospital? Nah, there was no way Jack would ever trust anyone wearing white coat and scalpels in his hands. He can take care of this on his own. He just needed to get him into his pent house.

Now how was he going to do that?

The first idea was to wrap Rhys’ arms around his shoulders and just drag him in there, but Jack quickly dropped this thought after considering the broken ribs. So, if he cannot drag him into the pent house, he will need to carry him there.

Jack carefully wrapped one arm under Rhys’ knees and around his back with the other and slowly lifted him up. He was trying to move with him as little as possible, but couldn’t stop the boy’s head from falling slightly and lining his face into Jack’s chest. Not that he minded it though. He would say that Rhys looked damn cute like this if it wasn’t for all the blood covering his face. Jack threw one last look at the dead body lying across the room. He will need to remember to tell someone to clean up this mess.

On their way, Jack could properly look at the Vault Hunter. He looked so calm and valuable–if you could unthink all the blood on him–with closed eyes and sleeping expression, it is hard to connect him to the sassy person who talked back to him from Pandora in their ECHO dialogs, or the one which he read about in his Hyperion notes.

The corridors were still empty, so they didn’t meet anyone aside from the two unfortunate souls, who were probably coming back home from late bar tour, and happened to come across their–in blood covered–CEO carrying an unconscious body. Jack didn’t forget to stop and yell at them for staring at him and ordering them to move their asses out of his sight before he gets his revolver. It was rather amusing to watch two drunken buddies tripping over each other as they tried to run in a straight corridor.

When they finally arrived at the pent house, Jack had headed right to the couch, carefully putting the brunet on the soft fabric. He grabbed one of his red injection which he had hidden in countless places all over the pent house and stabbed it into Rhys’ flesh arm. The boy didn’t wake up instantly, but Jack could see the color returning into his skin. He went to the kitchen to get some medical kit so he could fitch Rhys up properly.

When he returned, he was welcomed by a pair of mismatched eyes staring at him.

“Hey pumpkin, finally awake?” Jack asked walking towards the sofa.

“I see Handsome Jack with a medic kit.” Rhys noted turning his eyes away from the older man. “I must have died and come to hell.”

“Oh, C'mon. That’s no way to talk to your hero.”

“My hero?”

“I just saved you from sure death by five angry nerds. I believe I deserve some gratitude for that.” Jack winked.

Rhys snickered, finally turning to face Jack who sat next to him on the couch. “Yeah, you are right. That does sound very heroic.”

„Speaking of which, how does it happen that one Vault Hunter, who manages to clear out a bandit camp in a matter of moments can get beaten up by a group of paper workers?” Jack asked with honest interest.

“Wasn’t it you who told me that no one can find out about me being a Vault Hunter? I figured that winning a fight five on one might bring some attention.” Rhys answered as if it would be the clearest thing under the sky.

That, however, was an answer Jack did not expect to get. Does that mean that Rhys let himself to get beaten up this bad, just because he thought he was following his orders? Strange feeling speeded up inside his chest. Was that guilt? Nah. Handsome Jack could never feel guilty. Especially about something stupid like this.

“Can’t believe that you actually thought that’s what I meant by it.” Jack shook his head. “I told you to keep it secret, so it wouldn’t scare the other workers. But if they already got you surrounded I don’t expect you to just sit there and take it. Seriously kiddo. I thought you had something smart hidden in the pretty head of yours.” Jack shrug. “Guess I was wrong.”

That was a lie. Jack couldn’t care less about his workers and if they were scared of something or not. Hell, in every morning announcement he literally threatened their lives if they would suck at the job he gave them. He wanted Rhys to keep the fact, about him being a Vault Hunter, a secret because he knew that other corporations would do whatever they could to steal him for themselves, the moment they would find out about Hyperion employing a Vault Hunter who is experienced in gun technology and its development. But he would never have imagined that this kid would go this far just to obey his orders.

Rhys was silent, abviously lost in his thoughts, biting his lower lip. So, it was up to Jack to break the silence.

“Anyway, we should get you fixed up. Can’t have you bleeding all over my awesome couch.” Jack grabbed some bandages he brought in the kit and turned to Rhys. “I am going to wrap those around the broken ribs.”

Rhys stared dumbly at the bandage Jack was holding in front of him. “Wait, you? What? Why would you do that?”

Jack rolled his eyes. “So the ribs would hold still while they grow together? Which is going to be really soon because of the stuff I gave you while you were out?”

Rhys’ eyes shot to the empty injection and understanding splash across his face, before turning back to the bewildered expression. “I mean, why would you do that? I can do it myself you know?” He said, holding his hand out.

“Yeah, sure. I can already see you wrapping this around your chest properly, while you can’t hold your hands still without shaking.” Jack said sarcastically.

“What are you talking about? I can…” Rhys lifted his flesh arm just to see it shaking as if he had tremor. “What the hell?” He yelled out.

“Calm down. It’s just a side effect of the medicine I gave you. It will fade out in half an hour.” Rhys looked from his shaking hands back to Jack, not saying anything, just watching perplexedly.

“Will you let me put this crap on your chest or are you just gonna stare at me all day?” Jack asked annoyed by the intense look.

The brunet winked a few times, as if Jack just disturbed him from some complicated mind process, moving couch so Jack would have more space for his medical work.

“So, where did you get this sick-looking tattoo?” Jack asked as he begun to wrap the bandage around Rhys’ chest.

“Hm?” The other one hummed, not turning his sight away from Jack’s working fingers.

“The blue, cool-looking tattoo that you got all over yourself. Seriously pumpkin, how much did they hit you to make you forget about that?” Jack shook his head incredulously.

“Oh, right the tattoo. It’s something I'd got before I went to Pandora. I got drunk one night on PT-12 and woke up the next day on the sidewalk with a headache, and this painted on me.” Rhys shrug as if it was nothing. “I have no idea where I got it or what it is supposed to mean, but I figured that I could just go with it.”

“And that’s it?” Jack asked slightly disappointed by the answer. He had expected from it to be a symbol of some awesome fight with a bandit leader or maybe something in honor of memory to some hot chick that dumped Rhys before he came to Pandora.

“That’s it.” Rhys nodded, watching as Jack tied the last bandage around his waist and pulled away to admire his work.

“Well, I think I am done here.” Jack announced, his attention turning to the boy’s face. “Now, let’s do something about the face.”

“The face?”

“Your face. I don’t wanna scare ya kiddo, but you got a little blood on it.” Jack said in a mocking tone.

Rhys wiped his cheeks with his–still shaking–hand and looked genuinely surprised to see a red fluid stuck on it.

“I think I’ve got something here that will help you with the bruises. I mean, no offense but your face looks like an overgrown plum. You are actually lucky that you can’t really see yourself. Not a pretty picture to look at, seriously.”

Rhys kept watching him with a puzzled look on his face. Just what was this kid thinking about so hard?

Jack ignored him and grabbed white wet napkin and begun to clean all the blood from the boy’s face.

“Tell me, where did you get that arm? I don’t see any brand’s logos on it.” Jack asked, as the silence in the room begun to get on his nerves.

“That’s because I made it.” Rhys answered with a proud smile. “And the eye as well.”

“All by yourself?” Jack rose one eyebrow.

“Well, no, not all of it. My dad made the basic structure. He also connected the wires to my nerves. That would be a hell of a job to do just by myself.” Rhys smirked.

“Interesting. Where is your dad now? We could use someone like that.”

“Dead.” The brunet answered casually.

Of course he is. “Sorry to hear that,” Jack mumbled turning his attention back to whipping off the blood from the other’s face. “It’s a shame though.”

“Not really.” Rhys shrugged. “The guy was a goner ever since he saw my mom die. Something switched on him, and he just wasn’t the same.”

Jack hummed in response, turning his full concentration to attending to the brunet’s injured skin. They both went silent. Jack had switched from napkin to the healing ointment and was now covering Rhys’ bruises with it, studying every curve of the boy’s face. He already knew from the pictures that this guy had soft looks. But he never connected it to him also having smooth skin. While applying the ointment, he felt as if he was touching marble statue that had been exposed to the sun on a spring day. It was sending calming vibes all over his fingers, making him want to touch more, so he ended up placing the medicine multiple times on places, where it wasn’t even needed. When he got to attend the part where Rhys’ lips were, Jack froze. He didn’t realize it, but somehow, he leaned closer to Rhys while he was applying the ointment all over the face. He was so close to him, he could feel the warmth coming from the boy, he could smell his sweet body odor. Only inches were standing between Jack and Rhys’ lips. All he had to do, was lean a little closer and he could… Jack jumped away from the sofa, maybe a little too fast, scaring Rhys by his sudden movement.

“Well, that should do it. Give it some time to do its magic, and your face will be back to normal before you know it.” Jack announced whipping the rest of the cream from his fingers into his shirt.

Rhys was silent, watching Jack walking away from the couch. “Yeah, right.” He cleared his throat. “Well, thanks.” The boy started to stand up from the sofa, but Jack’s stern voice made him stop. “Where do you think you are going?”

“Ehm. Home? Or at least into the apartment where I live now.” Rhys responded with a tone that was clearly saying that he had no idea what was Jack so mad about.

“Na-ah. Nope. Not having any of that. You, pumpkin, are staying here. At least for tonight.”

“I am, what?” Rhys jumped up from the couch, the same way Jack did before. But unlike Jack, Rhys had multiple rib fractures, so his face curled into I painful grimace as he felt the sharp pain coming from his chest.

Jack rolled his eyes. “See? This is what I am talking about. You are going to hurt yourself before you manage to get into the apartment.” He pointed at the sofa behind Rhys. “You can use the couch.”

Rhys opened his mouth to protest, but Jack was faster. “Listen, cupcake. I said you are going to spend the night here, so you are going to spend the night here. End of the discussion.”

“Fine.” Rhys said after angrily staring at Jack for a moment. “Whatever.” He turned back to the sofa and slowly sat in its soft material.

“Oh, and don’t even think about sneaking. I got turrets set up in front of the elevator, and it registers anyone walking there that isn’t me and turn him into an Emmental cheese.”

Rhys looked at him with clear disbelieve in his eyes. “Emmental cheese?”

“Yeah. Cuz you know, Emmental's got holes in it... Never heard the saying before?” Rhys just shook his head in response.

“Whatever. Good night pumpkin.” He turned around and walked into his bedroom, turning the light off on his way out, leaving Rhys in the dark.

Of course, he, himself, wasn’t going to sleep. He had too much work to do. Starting with finding out what it was that Rhys got so beaten up about. True, it might be easier just to ask him right away, but Jack preferred learning about things from the first hand. Right now, first hand meant going through the work that was given to Rhys by Hyperion job-resource system. Meaning, his secretary.

After a quick search through his laptop files, he found out that Megg had assigned him to the constructive engineering. Smart girl. With the little info he gave her about Rhys, the constructive engineering was a perfect choice.

Another few minutes and Jack already knew who was his supervisor, what exactly was Rhys’ position and who was the guy Jack shot in the head this evening.

Rhys was supposed to write a code for a gun, that was somewhat invented by the dead guy- Vasquez- and send give it to his supervisor the following morning. But apparently, Rhys made some major changes on the gun and Vasquez didn’t seem to be too thrilled about it. He even managed to write a complaint letter on Rhys, but it was immediately denied. Jack smirked. Of course, it was. Whoever got to look into the changes should know that Rhys managed to save Hyperion from releasing one of the biggest failures. The dead guy had to be drunk while he was developing this. Otherwise, Jack had no explanation for how someone could come up with something as hideous as this. He should probably thank Rhys for it.

A grin speeded across Jacks' face. He knew exactly how he was going to thank the boy for saving him trouble with shitty relist.

He promptly grabbed his ECHO and dialed his secretary.

A tired voice responded him from the other side of the line. “Yes, sir?”

“Morning Megg! Get some people to bring me another table into my office would ya? Oh, and you can also resign Rhys from the constructive engineering. The kid is changing workplace.”

Chapter Text

Rhys couldn’t sleep. There was no way he would be able to just close his eyes after all what happened tonight.

Jack was acting weird. There was no doubt about that. First, he had saved him from Vasquez, or at least that’s what Rhys concluded after seeing that he wasn’t, well, dead. Damn, he really did underestimate that guy. Rhys knew he was going to make him angry by messing with the weapon plans, but he would never have suspected that Vasquez could aim a gun at him.

And that was the last thing Rhys remembered. Blurred vision of revolver pointing to the middle of his face, before his eyes rolled into his head and he lost consciousness.

Then he woke up here. Lying on one of the most expensive things he had ever seen in a place that resembled palace more than anything else. Handsome Jack was also here, fixing his wounds. Rhys didn’t understand anything. Why was he here? Whys was Jack, the CEO of a gun-manufacturing corporation, one of the most dangerous people in known universe, who was famous for his ruthless tactics and violent ideas, helping him? Rhys couldn’t think of any valid reason no matter how much he tried. As he was lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realize how close was Jack getting to him, while attending the wounds he apparently had all over his face.

Jack was about to kiss him. Rhys could see it in his eyes, he could feel how his body was reacting when Jack was looking at his lips. But before they managed to close the space between them, the other one jumped away, acting like nothing really happened, leaving Rhys in total confusion. And now he wanted him to spend the night with him. True, they weren’t actually sleeping in the same room, but it was still weird. Plus, he didn’t want Vaughn to be worried about him if he finds his bed empty the next morning.

Rhys slowly seated himself on the sofa, activating his palm computer to see if Jack was serious about turrets monitoring the entrance. Quick scent with his ECHO eye and the brunet knew that he was indeed very serious. There were at least two turrets in each corner of the entrance room and one more right in front of the elevator.

If he wanted to get out of here, he would need to disable them first.

Rhys stood up and walked towards the door to get as close as possible to the turrets mechanism. His palm computer detected the server that was connected to the mechanism of each turret before he got to the end of the room. But this was just where the fun began.

The moment he managed to get into the server, he knew that there was no way for him to turn off the turrets without setting off the alarm. But didn’t Jack say something about the turrets having a motion sensor? Maybe he would be able to do something about that.

Of course, he was able to do something about that. Unlike turrets, the sensors’ setting was left without any bigger security, so there was nothing easier for Rhys than to get into its statics and change a few basic things in there. So now the sensor reacted only if it detected something bigger than adult elephant with the shape of banana.

The brunet proudly smiled as he turned off the computer. He was about to walk from the room before realizing that leaving without a word would be a kinda rude idea. But he really didn’t feel like knocking on Jack’s bedroom to announce him that he has just temporarily disconnected his turrets and is about to leave, even though Jack told him not to do that. No, he was going to leave a message.

Rhys took a paper and a pen from the working table and quickly scrambled few words on it. He smirked to himself when he was done. Yeah, this should do the job. He placed the letter on the sofa where he was supposed to spend the night and turned to the exit.

But the brunet hesitated for a moment, unsure if he really did a good job with the turrets sensors considering if he should double check it before walking through this deadly trap, but he just shook his head. The setting was right. It was always right. Rhys took a deep breath, before taking his first step to the hallway.

He was nervous. Even though he convinced himself of the opposite, he was definitely nervous. Who wouldn’t be when at least ten turrets were aiming your way? But someone had heard his prayers, and none of the machines went on a killing spree before he got to the end of the hallway. The boy let out a heavy breath when he finally got to the elevator and pressed a red button for the door to open.

On his way to the apartment Rhys had some time to think about all the things that happened tonight. He wondered about what will Vasquez say to him tomorrow at work. Now that he knows Rhys has a connection to the CEO himself, he might give him more space for his work. Speaking of which, the boy wondered what it could be that Jack did to stop a douchebag like Vasquez from shooting a hole in his head? Well, he will need to wait until the morning to find the answer.

And about the kiss… Maybe Rhys just misunderstood the situation? That’s right. He must have been imagining it. That had to be it. There was no way Jack would ever feel something for him. Him! Filthy fucking Vault Hunter, good for nothing but killing people without really asking much questions about it. True. Lately, he had felt like he could do better. He hoped that being on Helios could be a fresh start for him. Maybe, if he could finally get on with his own life, to prove to everyone that he was something more than just a mindless weapon. But the thing about all this vault-hunting business was, that once you got in, there was no way escaping it. It was only a matter of time before his past came here for him, but maybe it didn’t even matter. After all, Rhys had never doubted his dad when he said that Rhys was born to be a Vault Hunter, that was all there was for him. And Jack knew it too. He might not look like it now, but Rhys didn’t doubt he wouldn’t think twice, before sending him back to the battlefield the moment things get little harsh. But it was all right. Rhys had been used to it already. Till the time comes, he is determined to enjoy every moment of this “normal” life.

When he finally got to the door to the apartment, he was surprised to find them unlocked. And his surprise had increased when he found the lights on and his roommate sitting on their sofa in the living room. The other had looked away from his ECHO device when he heard the door open.

“Rhys! Oh, thank god you’re finally here.” Vaughn threw away the ECHO device and hurried to welcome him home. “I was worried sick! You weren’t answering your messages, and your room was empty when I got home. And what the hell happened to your face?” Vaughn pointed one little finger right into Rhys’ face. It was funny how Vaughn had to look up so he could look Rhys in the eyes. But not even the bizarreness of their height difference couldn’t lower the degrees of the legitimate worry hidden in the way Vaughn was watching his friend. Rhys couldn’t help but be deeply touched by it. This was the first time someone was actually worried about his well-being or first time he had someone waiting for him at home.

He petted the other one on his shoulder “I am here now, aren’t I? But thanks for worrying about me. It’s deeply appreciated.” Rhys walked around him and headed to the sofa to sit on it, his grotesquely long legs rested on the table in front of the couch. Vaughn followed his example.

“So, where have you been?”

Rhys smiled. “You are never going to believe this.”

“Try me!”

“Okay, so it started with Vasquez sending me this text…”

Rhys ended up telling his roommate everything. About how he got beaten up by Vasquez and his chums, how he had passed out and woke up in Jack’s penthouse and how he helped him with the bruises. He decided to keep the fact about his suspicion of Jack wanting to kiss him, to himself.

Vaughn didn’t interrupt him even once. He was quiet the whole time Rhys was talking, aside from occasional “no way”, or “are you kidding me?”. He remained silent even after the brunet stopped talking, absorbing all the information he had just received.

He finally looked at him with a puzzled face. “Rhys, tell me, what’s going on between you and Jack?”

Rhys froze. “What do you mean?”

“Well, when I first met you, he called you a good friend, he saved you from Vasquez and he even took you into his penthouse! I have never heard of anyone even getting close to the door, yet stepping inside the room.” The shorter man kept staring at Rhys, waiting for him to answer.

But how was he supposed to respond to that? He just got beaten up for his determination to listen to Jack’s order to keep his identity a secret. Would it be alright to tell Vaughn? So far, he was nothing but acting friendly towards him, and he was sure that this short man would keep a secret if he asked him to. But… What would he be thinking about Rhys, if he found out about him being a Vault Hunter? Would he keep this friendly behavior even if he knew that Rhys was practically a mass murderer? Vaughn has been the closest Rhys had ever had to a friend. He really didn’t want to lose him. Even if it meant lying about his whole life.

“Hehe, well that’s not really much of a story to tell. We knew each other for some time now. Been together in the same department. That was when Tessier was still the Hyperion CEO. But then the opportunity to be the one who monitors Pandora from Helios appeared and Jack jumped after it, leaving me alone to deal with the rest of the job we were doing on one of the old facilities.” Rhys shrug smiling at one of his feet. “I had been stuck in there this whole time, watching Jack as he grew power and eventually became the CEO himself. Honestly? I was sure he had already forgotten about me before he got me transported here after our department went to shit.” He stopped for a second. “Guess I was wrong.”

“Hmmm.” Vaughn hummed, not really looking in Rhys’ direction. “Where did you say, this department was again?”

“The Research in terrain on Eden 6.” Rhys answered without hesitation, stretching his back. “Is that all? I mean, I love chatting with you, but I am exhausted. How about we leave it until morning?”

Vaughn looked like he was about to say something, but changed his mind before smiling at his friend with an understanding look. “Sure thing. We can talk later.” Vaughn watched as the brunet stood up and walked into his room. He waited till the door were closed before reaching out for his ECHO device and dialed a number of a close friend.

After the third ring a woman’s voice spoke up from the other side. “Vaughn, do you have any idea what time it is?!”

“Yeah, sorry Yvette, but this won’t wait. I need you to look something up for me in the central database.”

“The database? Why?”

Vaughn was quiet for a second. “I think Rhys is lying about his identity.”

***

Rhys was gone.

When Jack came back into his living room to tell the boy about his new awesome position, he found the room empty and completely Rhys-free.

“Rhys?” Jack called out. But no answer. He looked at the sofa, where Rhys was supposed to be sleeping, and noticed a piece of paper. The CEO grabbed it and quickly read through it.

Couldn’t sleep. Went home. Thanks for the help.

PS: Your turret security sucks.

Jack read through it one more time, not sure how to react to this. Rhys left. How did he leave? He did mention something about the turrets…. Jack jumped to his computer to check if they were still active. However, someone played with the setting and made a complete mess out of their sensors.

So this is how he got out of here? Smart. Jack definitely made a good move by transporting his workplace into his office. He needs to keep a close eye on him.

He glanced at his watches. It was way too early for Jack to go and tell Rhys about his future position– even though he couldn’t wait to see how the boy was going to react–and there was nothing for him to do in the penthouse. He considered fixing the mess the other made from his security system, but right now he didn’t really feel like it. Maybe he should just go to his office and take a look at what’s going on down on Pandora.

Pandora! He should call Angel and see what’s up with that shithole. He didn’t really have much time for the ugly planet.

In a moment, he was already sitting on the sofa with ECHO in his hand. As always, Angel responded immediately.

“Yes Jack?”

“Angel! Sweetheart. Just calling to check on you. How are things?”

“Well, since Rhys had left, Sanctuary hasn’t done any major expansions. Claptrap managed to get in. He had some difficulties since there was no reason for them to let him in, but he kept pleading and pleading, so they actually found a suitable place for him to live at.”

“Kay, boring. I don’t care about that stupid yellow machine. What else you got?”

“Lilith. You were right about her being alive. She officially moved into Sanctuary as well.”

Jack nodded. “Called it. There was no way that bitch would go down so easily. But it’s a good thing we know where she is. Saves me the trouble of looking for her after I am done whipping out the goddamned city off the surface of Pandora.”

Angel rolled her eyes. “Yes of course.”

“And that’s it? Nothing else?”

Angel was silent. Considering if she should really respond to her father. “Yeah. One little thing.”

“Well whatcha waiting for? Tell me. You know I love to know all the gossip.” Jack winked at the blue-eyed girl.

“But before I tell you, promise not to do anything rash all right? Also, I want to let you know that I did want to tell you sooner, but you were too busy, and I wasn’t sure if my information were correct so…”

“Angel can you just cut off all the bullshit and tell me already?” Jack said in with urgency in his voice. What the hell was going on with his daughter? He didn’t remember when was the last time he had seen her acting so nervous about giving him an info from Pandora. Hell, he didn’t remember her acting nervous about anything.

“There is someone new who came to Pandora, shortly after Rhys left.”

“Yeah? And who’s that?” Jack asked with raised eyebrow.

“Her name is Gaige.” Angel said, not daring to look at the CEO on her monitor. “Some people call her The Mechromancer.”

“Wait. Don’t tell me she is the…” Jack was sitting straight, knuckles white from all the pressure he was clutching on the ECHO device with.

Angel just nodded sadly. “She is a Vault Hunters.”

The device shattered against the floor.

Chapter Text

Rhys was feeling great.

He woke up before his alarm clock even went on, feeling like a brand-new person.

No doubt that the medicine Jack gave him yesterday evening has had its big share on his current state, but Rhys didn’t care. He was happy and full of energy.

Seeing he got plenty of time before he had to head to work, Rhys has decided to prepare a breakfast for him, and Vaughn as a way to say sorry for making him worried the previous night.

Unlike many other Vault Hunters, Rhys actually cared about what he was eating and how it tasted. That forced him to learn how to prepare tasty food from very little ingredients.

For today’s first meal, he decided to make his famous fried egg on toast. His secret was to put a little bit of cheese underneath the egg to add it a bit more delicate flavor. He also preferred to use olive oil instead of the sunflower one, but those were hard to find.

Vaughn crawled into the room commenting on the nice smell. Rhys smiled at his drowsy friend and handed him his cup filled with instant coffee the moment Vaughn sat down behind the table.

“Thanks, bro.” Vaughn mumbled, still half asleep.

Rhys paused in the middle of a step, holding a pan with the eggs in one hand and two plates in the other. “Bro?”

Vaughn looked up from his cup, sleep covering his eyes. “Hmm?” The short man winked a couple times, clearing his thoughts. “Oh, sorry. It slipped out of my mouth. Was it inappropriate?”

“Ehm, n-no, Not at all.” Rhys stuttered with a tight voice. “No, I mean – I think I like it.” He smiled, light red spreading across his cheeks. “Bro.”

Vaughn grinned, giving him a cheering wink. “I don’t know if I mentioned it already, but that thing smells delicious.”

“Oh, right.” Rhys cleared his throat and hurried to the table to serve the cooling breakfast. “It’s called Towieggwito. Toast with eggs, eggs with toast. My specialty.”

Vaughn chuckled. “Have you really named the meal you made?”

“If something tastes this good, it deserves to have a long name, don’t you think?” Rhys tried for his voice to sound serious but met with only half success. The other one rolled his eyes before taking his first bite.

“Ahhhh, man.” Vaughn let out a satisfied groan. “You weren’t joking! This is one of the best things I have ever tasted.”

Rhys raised one eyebrow. “Wait, seriously?” He asked watching his friend take another full bite.

Vaughn just nodded happily in response, mouth full of mixture of eggs and bread.

Rhys was touched by that. He couldn’t even remember when was the last time someone complimented his cooking. “Glad you like it.”

Rhys glanced at the digital clock standing at their dining table and jumped up. “Shit. It’s eight already?! I gotta go. You can eat mine if you want, but I am already late.” The brunet turned around and sprinted to the doors.

“What?!” Vaughn coughed, choking on his bite a little when he remembered that he wanted to talk to Rhys about something from yesterday. “No, wait, I need to talk to you about-”

“Sorry bro, but I really gotta go. You can tell me when I get back okay?”

“Rhys, but this is importaa-aand you’re gone. Great.” Vaughn sat back to his meal–when did he get up anyway? –watching as the door to their apartment closed behind his roommate. He sighed. Looks like he will need to wait for Yevette to tell him what she managed to find out about this boy.

***

Rhys was once again sprinting through the Helios corridors and once again being late for work. But at least he could say he had some workout in the morning. Yep. Gotta stay optimistic.

As he was running around a corner, he noticed a girl with brown hair and gray shirt leaning against a wall, watching him practicing his daily routine. Rhys was so focused on keeping up his speed, he almost didn’t notice the leg she set in his way. Almost. But years of the life of Vault Hunter teach you few things, one of them is reacting to things that you couldn’t even see. So instead of tripping over her foot, he jumped over it. But unfortunately, by doing this sudden movement, Rhys somehow lost his orientation and ran right into the wall in front of him, at his full speed.

“Auch.” She said through gritted teeth, watching him as he held his hurting nose.

“What the hell? Why would you do that?!” Rhys yelled, turning around to give her an angry look.

The girl just shrugged. “Needed to make you stop. This was the fastest option.” She offered him her right hand. “My name is Megg. I am Handsome Jack’s secretary.” Rhys looked at the offered hand–with perfectly groomed nails–before grabbing it and letting her pull him back on his feet.

“Rhys.” He responded. “And I am late for work. So, it was nice to meet you, really having to trip over someone’s set foot is always a welcomed way to start a day, but I gotta go.” He tried to pull away, but Megg just tighten her grip.

“Would you, ehm, would you mind letting go of my hand?” Rhys asked with a confused tone.

She just shook her head. “Nah, don’t think so. You would just go and run away.”

“That’s the plan.” Rhys nodded. “I am not sure if you heard me when I said that I am already late to work, so yes, running is on the schedule.”

“Work can wait. Handsome Jack wants to speak with you.”

“What? But I have to-” Megg didn’t let him finish the sentence. “I’ve already talked to your boss. He understands. Now, enough chit chat. I am not sure if you’ve heard it, but Jack really doesn’t like when someone keeps him waiting.” She winked, finally letting go of his hand. “So, just follow me. I will accompany you to his office.” The girl turned on her heel and walked in the opposite direction of where Rhys’ workplace was. He watched her as she stopped at the corner, waiting for him to follow.

Shit. He really didn’t feel like talking to Jack after last night. Was he mad about the turrets or something? Rhys was sure that they wouldn’t be too hard to fix, but who knows.

Maybe he could take a run for it. Megg was wearing high heels co it would be hard for her to chase after him. But this was Helios and Rhys didn’t know of many places where he could hide. No, that idea was stupid. He took a deep breath before walking after Megg and following her through the maze of corridors.

***

When they got into the office, Jack was standing on the other side of the room, speaking with someone through the ECHO com. Rhys couldn’t hear what he was saying, but judging by the gestures the man was throwing around, the CEO was in a middle of intense argument.

“Ehm, shouldn’t I wait outside?” Rhys turned to Megg, but she was already closing the door from the other side of the room. Great. Rhys looked back at Jack. The other one didn’t notice him yet or was purposely ignoring his presence. Either way, Rhys had no idea what to do with himself, so he just continued standing there in front of the door, feeling like a total idiot.

But at least it gave him time to get a good look around the office. Office? What office? This place was a fricking shrine for Handsome Jack!

He had enormous statues of himself in here, he got some posters with his face on them hanging on the walls and on top of it all, he got himself in there. Standing in front of one of the biggest windows Rhys has ever seen, looking like a god, surrounded by all those lights from the outside space. Rhys loved this view. It made his back shiver and bring butterflies into his chest, but he purposely ignored them.

Next to the huge window was another working table. It didn’t really look like it belonged in here. The table was similar to the one Rhys had in his office. Maybe a little bigger? Weird. Why would Jack need another table in his office? The first one was already big enough, and Rhys has never heard of anyone else working here, aside from Jack himself. Maybe Megg? But she had her own office outside this room. Why the hell were there two tables?

Rhys was busy staring at the other table, he didn’t notice that the other one had finished his call and was now on his way to where the boy was standing. “Rhys!”

The brunet jumped at the sound of his name and turned to face Jack who was approaching him with a quick walk and grin spread all across his face. “How are ya? The stuff I gave you is working nicely I see.”

Rhys was staring at him with genuine surprise. Jack was not yelling at him. Not yet at least. “Well, yeah. Thanks.”

Jack just waived his hand as if it was no big deal. “No problem kiddo. I got tons of that stuff so don’t worry about it.” He stood next to him, so now they were looking at the room from the same direction. “How do you like my office? Not as fancy as the pent house I know, but I gotta keep some serious image.”

Rhys swallowed before responding. “I like it. Got this rich vibe in it. But are you sure you got enough statues here? Maybe one or two more could add the magic to this place.”

“Heh. Maybe. Anyway, I’m glad you like it. Cuz this is going to be your new workplace!” Jack spread his arms looking at Rhys with excited grin.

Rhys didn’t say anything. He just stared at Jack with a dumb face. Then he slowly turned to look at the other table, placed in this grotesquely huge office. Well I suppose that explains this.

Jack used the silence to continue in his favorite activity. Talking. “Cool am I right? I had them to bring the table this morning. It’s a temporary solution, just till we found something that fits here better. I mean look at the color!” Jack gestured towards the table with disgusted snort.

“Why?”

“Meh, I dunno. It’s something about its shade I think. Or maybe the material? It seems kinda cheap.”

“No, I mean why would you want me to work here? I already got a workplace in the constructive engineering.”

“Oh, you mean the place where you almost got shot? Yeah. Not letting you back there, pumpkin.”

Rhys frowned, crossing his arms. “I don’t need you to protect me.” He muffled with irritated voice.

“Ha! Damn, right you don’t. We all saw what happens when I let you run around without my supervision.” Jack smirked. “Besides! After what I saw yesterday I decided that I gotta keep a close eye on you.”

Rhys froze. After what he saw yesterday? Could he be talking about the siren tattoo? Shit. Rhys knew that he should have come up with a better story about its origin. Seriously, who gets drunk so much he doesn’t remember getting a tattoo? What if Jack realized he was lying, and somehow concluded that Rhys is actually a siren? Well, it’s not as if it would be some clear fact. Rhys has never heard of any male siren before, half of his tattoo was missing, plus Rhys wasn’t sure if Jack has ever seen a real siren tattoo. But this was Handsome Jack, after all, everybody knew that this man was above genius. Maybe he…

“I mean, disconnecting my own security system, just like it was nothing? No way I am letting you run freely around my space station after that little trick.” Jack smirked, clearly not noticing the pause on Rhys’ side.

The security system? Oh right. The turrets.

“Right. Sorry for that.” Rhys mumbled, hand going through his hair.

“Don’t worry about it.” Jack smiled. “I already fixed the thing. But, just so you know, if you ever pull a trick like that on me again I won’t hesitate to design a machine that will tumble your body down on an eternal flight of carpeted stairs, so you die by carpet burn and broken limbs.” Jack winked at Rhys after saying him all this in the same tone as if he’d been announcing him that tomorrow will be a sunny day.

Rhys was stunned by this sudden threat, so it took him a second before collecting his thoughts. “I-I will try to remember that.” Damn. Jack made him stutter again. He really needed to get hold of himself when it came to interacting with his boss. No one, but Jack, had this impact on Rhys’ conversation skills and he didn’t want to get used to it.

Jack smirked, apparently satisfied by the reaction, throwing one arm around the other’s shoulders and leading him to the smaller table. Rhys tried his best to ignore the way his heart skipped a beat on the touch, focusing on the fact that Jack wants him to be working in the same room as himself. Though, he was honored by that the idea itself seemed rather perilous. Honestly, who would want to have a Vault Hunter working in the same place as they did? Hell, Rhys was used to people leaving the room just so they didn’t have to be breathing the same air as he did.

Jack must have noticed the silence coming from the boy’s side when he asked. “What’s wrong Rhysie?”

Rhys blushed at the new cute nickname. This man, he will be the death of him that’s for sure. “I just, don’t understand why would you want me to be working here. I mean, it was hard to get why would you let me stay on this station, but now you are letting me into your office?”

“I already told you. Need to keep an eye on ya. And what’s better way to do that than having you here?” Jack rolled his eyes as if he’d been explaining some silly thing to a little child.

“But still! Don’t you think it’s a little irrational idea to have a Vault Hunter working here? In the CEO’s office? What would people think if anyone founds out? “

The older one was quiet for a second, making Rhys think that he was actually reconsidering the idea. But surprisingly, Jack just burst into a laugh, showing a perfect line of white teeth. Rhys knitted his brows at him. “I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

“But you were! Gosh, kiddo, do I really look like someone who cares what the knot-heads around me think? Little hint. I don’t give a shit. Plus,” Jack winked, calming down a little bit “I’ve got a really good feeling about having you here.”

Rhys had no idea how to respond to that. Once again Jack left him speechless and, once again, he had no idea how to act in this situation.

“So,”, Jack continued, “I know that they told you to write the codes for manufactory, but guess what. I gave it some thought, and I think I got something even better for you.” Jack pushed him into the chair behind Rhys’ new table and opened a laptop in front of him. Bending over Rhys, the CEO started going through some files, clearly looking for something specific. “Oh, here we go,” Jack announced happily after a new app opened. There were online scripts of unfinished gun models. Rhys took a quick glance at them before turning back to Jack, whose face was once again dangerously close to Rhys. “Those are my models.” The brunet said, pointing at the computer screen.

“Yep. They are. I did a quick search through the documents we got on you. Seems like you are pretty good at coming up with new weapons. So, I got some of your old models imported in here. You can make some changes, so they are more appealing for the mass production. Whatcha say, pumpkin?”

Rhys rose an eyebrow. “You want to start selling my gun designs?” He asked, disbelieve hidden in his voice.

“Sure, why not?”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong it’s not as if they are bad, I’ve already made some prototypes of them when I was on Eden 6, but they are not great either. It’s like, something I came up with when I was bored, you know?”

Jack just laughed. “Well, if those are the ideas you make out of boredom, then I can’t wait to see what you are going to come up with when you really get into it.” He tousled the boy’s hair before walking to sit at his own table.

Rhys sighed, mentally kicking himself for the way his cheeks were blushing whenever Jack touched him. Mass production, heh? That probably means that he will need to make them easier to use, get rid of some additional functions and also adding some of the Hyperion design. Nothing too complicated, even if it was a little out of his usual style. But with the app Jack has given him, he should be done with the changes in no time. There were just too many awesome functions! Anyone had to be able to produce a gun with this kind of equipment. Even if you just pressed random buttons in the right order, this thing would create something capable of firing a bullet. Heh. Maybe this is how Vasquez was able to create his weapon? And what the hell happened with that guy anyway?

Beep. Beep.

His thought process was interrupted by incoming ECHO call, coming from the CEO’s table. He watched as Jack checked the name on display before answering the call.

“What?!” He barked into its microphone, voice filled with threat and dominance, so much different from the way he always talked with Rhys. He quickly shook off the thought and tried his best to keep his full concentration on his newly assigned work, but Jack was making it really difficult with the way he kept yelling threats disguised as orders at the unfortunate person at the other side of the line.

“So? Just find another way to get in!” Jack turned his chair around to stare out of the huge window at the view of Pandora’s moon. “How the hell am I supposed to know that? You idiots got brains, use them! What do you think I am paying you for?” He went silent, listening to what the other person was saying, his expression getting darker and darker with each second. “I know what I said before. But that changed, now I want to focus on destroying the rotten city. So, I recommend you, start coming up with a way of how we are going to get in there and don’t even think about calling me before you have a plan prepared, or I'll rip out your tongue, cut your arm off with it, and beat you to death with the arm!”

Rhys has watched as Jack threw the device at his table without looking away from the window. He tried to turn away to his work, convincing himself that it’s not his place to question Handsome Jack, but his curious side won this internal dialog, and so before he knew it, he was already asking, what was wrong.

Jack glanced at the boy as if he had already forgotten that he was here with him, before answering, voice still filled with remains of annoyance. “Remember Sanctuary? The ugly ass city you never got a chance to visit? Well, I decided that it’s about time to wipe them down. The problem is that the people I hired to do that are even bigger idiots than I thought. They are telling me that they cannot get through the fricking gate.”

“How come?” Rhys asked, remembering the metal wall secured by two turrets. He doubted that this only could be any use against military squad equipped with the Hyperion technology.

“The force field. They need to get it lower at some point, but neither of them had figured out how to do it.”

“Oh!” Rhys hummed. “Right.” He remembered now. There was a shield securing the entire city. Rolland asked him to bring the power core to them so they could recharge it. But from what he remembered, the one he bought them wasn’t looking like he would last long. Soon, they will need to look for a new one. So maybe…

“Maybe you can attack while they are changing the power core?” He said out loud, disturbing Jack from his own line of thoughts.

“What was it, pumpkin?”

“But that might not be enough time for your people to get in there.” Rhys continued, ignoring Jack’s question. He was lost deep in his own ideas, completely forgetting about the world around him. “The exchange will take ten seconds at most, so you will probably need to find a way to prolong it. But that would be impossible from the outside, and I doubt the people inside the city would be willing to help you with that.” He paused, biting his lip while concentrating on his own mental analysis of the situation.

They couldn’t get inside, because of the shield. So, they need to destroy the shield, but that is possible only from the inside. The one hint they have is that the shield will need to get recharged, and Roland will be looking for a new power core before this one runs out. But the time between the exchange is too short. Why is it short? Because the pole will reactivate in less than ten seconds… Unless it doesn’t.

“I think I got it!” Rhys called out turning to Jack, just to meet with his glowing eyes. Was he watching him this whole time?

“Oh, do you?” The older man asked, standing up from his chair and walking towards Rhys. “Care to share?”

“Well, I think the first step to get inside is turning off the shield. They are charging it with a power core, but the thing will run out of energy sooner or later, and that’s our way in.”

“You mean the tiny moment when their shields are off? Already thought about that, cupcake. I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that those dumbasses would be able to time their entrance in such a small-time window.” Jack said, looking rather disappointed.

Rhys just smiled. “They won’t need to time anything. Because the shields are not going to turn back on. What you need to do, is to give them a fake power core, modified by Hyperion that it will explode the moment they connect it to the shield system. It’s not gonna be easy to convince them to bring it there, but I think that if you…”

“This is absolutely brilliant!” Jack clapped his hands jumping up from his seat. “See? I told you it was a good idea to have you in here. I am going to tell them to start working on the fake version right now.” He grabbed his ECHO and quickly dialed the developing department, to tell them about their new assignment.

“Yeah, but we still don’t know how to make them actually use it.” Rhys mumbled, hating himself for destroying the excitement in the others mismatched eyes.

Jack stopped for a second, looking at his ECHO communicator before dangerous grin spread across his face.

“Oh, kiddo.” He said, voice low. “I know exactly how we are going to do it.” Jack turned around and walked away, once again leaving Rhys alone and confused.

***

He knew that it was a great idea to keep the kid in his office. Not only was he cute as hell, but smart to that. There was no way he would let anyone ever steal Rhys away from him. It was obviously predictable that one of the competitive corporations might take their move on this boy, especially now that there was another Vault Hunter running around down on Pandora.

Damn this cycle of luck. Just when he manages to get Rhys on Helios, some chick decides that it would be a great idea to come visit that shithole some people still call a planet. And it seemed that unlike Rhys, she had no problem with joying the Crimson Raiders.

She was the main reason why Jack decided to focus on destroying the city before he returns to charging the Vault key. Sure, he hated every second that was separating him and his Warrior, but he was certain that he’d made the right choice.

Now, thanks to Rhys, this situation might be over even faster than he had expected.

Honestly, this idea with tricking Roland into thinking that they would have a new power core and then have it explode into their faces was perfection. Jack would expect nothing less from a Vault Hunter. He just needed to make sure that it would be believable. Of course, he didn’t suspect that Roland would blindly grab Hyperion core that was just lying on Pandora and shoved it into their shield system. No, he needed to make it look like he doesn’t want them to have it. Luckily, Jack had already a plan forming in his head.

He practically owned most of the trains down on Pandora. They were constantly transporting machine parts from one facility to another. Occasionally, those trains get attacked by some bandit group. That was something you had to count with while working on planet where people attack each other for half of butter.

His idea was to have one of his heavy-secured trains transporting the core. He will spread a rumor that they are carrying some treasure or something like that–he was going to figure that out later–and wait for them to catch the bait.

Jack stopped. They will probably send the new Vault Hunter to get it. Jack had already done some digging on her last night, enough to know that she was definitely going to be a problem. Also, anyone who will be securing the train was as good as dead. Aside from Wilhelm of course. That guy had already looked more like a badass loader bot. But unlike robots, Wilhelm didn’t have any remoter or self-destruction bottom, turning himself to be an uncontrollable weapon, giving Jack the creeps every time Wilhelm accompanied him on one of his missions.

He should probably send him down there as security for the fake power core, to make it more believable. Maybe he will tell him to hold back, and to get out of the fight without really fighting the Vault Hunter. Sure, she was good, but there was no way she could ever defeat his Wilhelm… Or could she? If his information were correct–and they usually were–she belonged between the best Vault Hunters in Six galaxies. Jack could use that.

By sending Wilhelm as the core guard, not only would he make it seem like a legit transporting mission, but there was even a chance that he would get rid of Wilhelm. Once and for all.

That made him excited. He loved the rush he felt in those situations. He loved the feeling of seeing how things are going to work out for him just the way he wanted them to, it felt as if some higher force was playing with his destiny.

Somehow, things like this always reminded him of who he really was. He was the hero of this story.

Chapter Text

MoneyMan: Come grab a lounge with me to The Hub of Heroism. We need to talk.

Rhys sighed, reading the short message one more time.


It’d been almost two hours since Jack left the office. At first, Rhys wanted to wait for his permission to go get lunch with his friend, but he was slowly losing his patience. How bad could it be if he just decided to stand up and leave on his own? Jack didn’t really say he was not allowed to do that, and Rhys didn’t like the idea of declining Vaughn’s invitation. And his growling stomach was more than supporting him in this way of thinking.


He glanced at the ECHO one more time, before standing up and making his way out of the room. He almost expected Megg to get up and stop him on his way out, but she merely acknowledged him as he was passing by her table. Rhys took it as a signal that he was free to go wherever he wanted. And the place where he wanted to go was the one that contained food, coffee and his short nerdy friend.


***

The short nerdy friend wasn’t as excited to see him as Rhys would've thought he’d be. When he set down behind the table, all the other man did was weakly wave at him, eyes locked on the burger with fries he had on his plate.


“Hey, man,” Vaughn mumbled, voice low. “What’s up?” He was still refusing to make an eye contact, and Rhys would swear, that he was two shades paler than when he saw him this morning. Not knowing how else to do, Rhys just shrugged, watching as the other one played with one of his fries.


“Well, you will never guess what happened to me this morning. I was on my way to my office and this girl …”


“I know you are a Vault Hunter!” Vaughn yelled, hitting the table with both fists, almost tripping over his plate full of junk food. Rhys jumped back, shocked by the sudden change of Vaughn’s normal character, watching him with opened mouth.


Before Rhys managed to form a reaction, someone else spoke from behind him. “Vaughn! Oh my god, I told you not to be suspicious about it.” They both turned after the woman’s voice to see a tall, dark skinned lady with exotic haircut heading their way. She was looking around, checking how many people were watching their newly formed group. But luckily, Vaughn’s previous outburst didn’t cause a bigger reaction than few raised eyebrows and couple of shaking heads. With a relieved sigh, she sat down next to Vaughn watching him with crossed arms and disappointed look.


“Yeah, well I told you I am not good with those situations. I got nervous.” Vaughn gesticulated dramatically with his hand, accidentally letting go of one of the fries. It flew behind their table, landing on the head of one of their co-workers. But luckily for them, the guy didn’t even seem to notice.
She sighed, turning her attention to Rhys, who didn’t make a sound during this whole scene.


“I guess I should introduce myself, cuz’ someone might be too nervous to do it for me.” She gave Vaughn a quick glance, but he just frowned at his food and decided to pretend he was not even here. “My name is Yevette. Nice to meet you.”


Rhys glanced at the offered hand before shaking it. “Yeah, same. I guess.”

“So, how do you like Helios Rhys?” She asked with a smile playing on her lips.


“Are you serious? Are we really going to discuss how pretty this station is right now? He is a fricking Vault Hunter. How can you be so calm about it?” Vaughn shouted at her, pointing at Rhys who finally began to understand the situation he got in.

“Whoa, wait. Me? Vault Hunter? What are you guys, nuts? I am not a Vault Hunter.” He said holding his hands up. He really hoped they didn’t notice the way his voice cracked when he said the last word.

They both turned at him, not saying a word. Rhys took it as a sign to continue. “I mean, cmon. Vault Hunters are badasses. They all got this scary look and huge, huge mussels! And look at me.” Rhys pointed at himself with his flesh arm. “I look nothing like that.”

“That’s, true. I guess.” Vaughn mumbled turning at Yevette, who was already searching for something in her bag.

“Yeah, that’s cute and all, but I got evidence.” She said smug grin spread across her face as she threw sheets of papers on the table.

“What’s that?” Rhys asked, eyes pinned on the papers. He could feel his heartbeat picking up on speed as he already had his suspicions of what they might be containing.

“Photos, registers, basic records containing info about a certain someone, who is famous for clearing bandit camps and his ability to fight Vault monsters.” She responds casually, but not too loud, so the only one who can hear her are Rhys and Vaughn. “Also, name Company Man is mentioned in here couple times. Rings any bells, Rhys?”

Rhys swallowed hard at the sound of his old nickname. He had no idea how, or where Yevette managed to get all this info, but it didn’t really matter. What was important was that he needed to think of a way how to get out of this mess.

While Rhys was desperately trying to find some arguments, Vaughn reached for the notes and began quietly browsing through the papers.

“How did you…?” Rhys slowly turned away from the shocked face of his shorter friend.

“How did I find it? Easy.” A smug smile speeded across the girl’s face. “I work in propaganda, and that job requires lots of knowledge about what’s happening on planets influenced by Hyperion. And Vault Hunters are kinda one of the main topics. We need to keep an eye on what you people use because, you know, once a Vault Hunter uses a stone to beat someone to death, everyone suddenly wants to use stones. And that’s when Hyperion will start selling stones.” The brunet nodded. It made sense, though he had never realized this connection before.

“So, it’s true,” Vaughn muttered, almost whispering, bringing the attention back to himself. “You are a Vault Hunter.”

Rhys bit his lip. Shit. He really didn’t want Vaughn to find out about it, especially not like this. But now he knew. Rhys could see himself with a revolver in hand and blood stain on his face on the picture Vaughn was holding. There was no way he could lie his way out of this one.

The brunet sighed before looking Vaughn right into the eyes. “Yes. It’s true. Everything in there should be true, even though I made sure the most important info got deleted, so my guess is that all you got are the basics about my past.” Rhys could see in the corner of his eye Yevette making an offended face, but he paid no mind to it. “But it’s just the past. I am not Vault Hunter anymore.”

“You are not?” Vaughn asked, with rising hope hidden in his quiet voice.

“No. The reason why I am on Helios is that Handsome Jack gave me another chance after I told him that I wanted to quit.”

“Why would he do that?” Yevette asked with raised eyebrow.

“You’ve read the notes about me. So, you know that I am quite good with computers and he said that he wanted to use it. But there was a condition.”

“Condition?” Both Yevette and Vaughn said almost at the same time.

“Yeah.” Rhys nodded. “It was supposed to be a secret. He said that if anyone ever finds out, he will kick them out of Helios.” Rhys paused for a second. “And me with them. Obviously.”

“Oh, shit,” Yevette whispered, her whole position suddenly changing from dominative to nervous, looking around to make sure that no one was listening to their conversation. “I didn’t think of that.”

“It’s fine,” Rhys said with a calming voice. “Just make sure not to tell anyone. Especially not Jack.”

“Yeah, I think that goes without saying.” Yevette responded, while Vaughn just sat there, imitating the walls with his skin color.
They all sat quietly for a while, lost in their own thoughts.

“So, why did you quit anyway?” Vaughn asked after swallowing one of the shorter fries.

“Hm?” Rhys hummed, not getting what was it the other one was asking him.

“You know. The hunting. Why did you quit with that? I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before. I thought it was something you get to do for life?” Vaughn asked, voice still unnecessary low. There was no way anyone could eardrop their conversation in all this noise.

But he was right. It was unheard of that a Vault Hunter would suddenly quit the job. Once you started Vault Hunting, you were stuck to it till you died. True, some people tried that, if only for the dream of starting a family, but sooner or later they would always get sucked back into this business.

“Well. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.” Rhys shrugged.

“And? That’s it?” Vaughn asked, not actually believing that it could be the only reason.

The brunet nodded, not looking at either of them.

Why did he quit? That was a good question. It was because of the siren tattoos, wasn’t it? He couldn’t allow anyone to see them, and running around a battlefield wasn’t the best way to do that. But why did it matter so much, if being a siren meant that he could be even better at his job? There was already a prize on his head, so having people, especially reward hunters, chasing after you wouldn’t be anything new. Plus, when he told Jack that he wanted to quit, he’d never hoped for actually finding a different job. He just thought he’d take a break before he figures out what to do.
But the opportunity Jack gave him, to work here on Helios as an average worker, it was something Rhys never knew how much he wanted until he got it. And now when he was back, he couldn’t help but fear the idea of coming back to that way of life.

“Yeah,” Rhys said when he noticed that Vaughn was still waiting for a response. “That’s it.” Vaughn pulled himself deeper into the chair he was sitting at with crossed arms, making it clear that he was not satisfied with the answer, but he didn’t try to ask more about it. It honestly hurt Rhys, to see his newly found friend like this. This whole situation was the reason he tried to keep it a secret from him.

“So, could you tell us about how is it like to be a Vault Hunter?” Yevette asked, noticing the tensing atmosphere.

“Ehm, sure? I guess.” Rhys laughed nervously, hand running through his hair. “What do you wanna know?”

“Let’s start with how does one start Vault Hunting,” Yevette suggested. “To take it from the beginning.”

Rhys smiled. “That’s simple. First, you need to have really shitty parents, or in my case at least one of them.” Yevette nodded as if it was something she’d expected him to say. Rhys could see Vaughn leaning forward a little bit so he could listen to the tale as well, but he was still looking in another direction. “Then, you need to have some unique ability. Some people call it: The ultimate ability. It’s something hunters use in the battle frequently, and it’s also what gives them the predominance in combat. Invisibility, increased movement speed or accurate targeting, you name it.”

“I’ve heard about something like that.” Yevette nodded, sipping from Vaughn’s cola, earning an annoyed look from the man. “Is it true that there is really someone with a shield that can bounce of bullets?”

“Yeah, you must mean Athena.” Rhys smiled lightly. “I met her a few months ago, and we went on a few shared missions together.” He grinned at the memory of the woman, whose face would sooner explode than shape something resembling a smile. But she was a good teammate. Always giving him a cover while he burst into the enemy lines with his modified weapons and giving him the time he needed to clear their path.

“And what about your ultimate ability? What did you get?” Yevette asked, bringing him back to reality.

“I can see the future.”

“You what?” She asked with apparent shock.

The brunet just smiled at the over-graduated reaction. “Just for a few seconds. But it’s handy in combat.”

“And how does it work?” This time it was Vaughn’s turn to ask as if forgetting that he wanted to stay mad at Rhys for lying him about who he truly was.

“It’s all thanks to my ECHO eye.” The brunet responded, pointing at his blue eye. “During the battle, it scans my surroundings and monitors all the movements. Then when I turn it on, it calculates all the possible outcomes and shows me the most accurate one.”

“Wow,” Vaughn whispered.

“And, do you have some stories from battles?” Yevette asked, leaning even closer than she already was. Rhys smirked. He wouldn’t tip her as someone who might be interested in this stuff.

He ended up talking about his hunting experiences for more than two hours, telling them about his first solo mission, where he got lost in the underground of some bandit camp, about how he kept taking covers behind explosive barrels or about the one time, when he almost bought a fake vault key from two crazed sisters, who hadn’t expected him to have an ECHO eye.

Yevette was interested in the way Goliaths work, saying that she would love to see how they lose control after you shoot them in the head. Vaughn, on the other hand, kept asking about Vaults. In the beginning, he tried to hide his interest behind casual questions like So, have you ever been in any Vault? How was it like? which soon escalated into more complex ones like What is the procedure to open the Vault? or What do you think is the more efficient way to kill the Vault monster? and Rhys gladly responded to all of that.

True, the Vault he helped to open was nothing special. It was on one small planet called PE-23, and he did that with another group of explorers. After they had defeated the guardian, who looked like an overgrown rhinoceros, they found a bunch of books and plans written in a language which no one of them understood. Rhys grabbed plans for building some weapons, and the others took the books. He still hadn’t succeeded in translating the text, but even then, he managed to create something, following only the pictures and graphs. Still, opening a Vault was always a good story to share, and it seemed like the more he told them, the less they were angry about his hunting past. Well, Yevette never looked like she was mad, to begin with, but Vaughn was way calmer than when Rhys had come to the table.
Yevette was just about to ask for more info about the Vault monster, but they all got distracted by the sound of Rhys’ beeping ECHO.
Rhys quickly glanced at the display to see who was texting him, before turning back to his companions with an apologetic look. “I am sorry guys. Jack wants me back in his office.”

Vaughn drew his eyebrows together. “Jack’s office? Why would he want you to go there?”

“Oh, right. I haven’t told you yet.” Rhys’ lifted a corner of his mouth. “He moved my workplace this morning. Since today, I will be working in there.”

Yevette spat all the cola she just stole from Vaughn at Rhys’ shirt, earning a disgusted look from both boys. “You are what?!”

“Oh, cmon. How is that the biggest surprise of the day?” Rhys rolled his eyes. “Why is this what gets my shirt destroyed out of all thing I told you today?” He said, more amused than anything else.

“Sorry about that.” Yevette mumbled.

“I think she did you a favor, bro.” Vaughn chuckled. “She just gave us one more reason why we need to get you something new to wear.”

“Fair enough.” Rhys sighed, before waving his goodbyes, leaving them behind as he walked his way out of the hall.

***

It was kinda entertaining to watch a bunch of people in in the same outfit as they began to stumble over each other, the moment he got in the room with his new demand for creating the fake power core. True, at first they were all like: But sir we will need more time for that, and Sir, this thing will need some testing, or Will the end of the week be fine, sir? He had a hard time keeping a straight face after the guy before Jack almost pissed his pants when he shoved the barrel of his silver revolver into the guy’s mouth.

“You got an hour, or I am opening all the windows in this sector. Are we clear?” Jack growled moving small circles with the gun, forcing the shaking man to follow the move.

The other one tried to say something, but all that came out was a muffled sound, so he quickly nodded, eyes locked on his CEO.

“Good,” Jack smirked, whipping the gun into someone’s shirt before putting it back behind his belt. “See ya all later.” He waved, already walking away from the room.

On his way out, he quickly messaged one of his Pandoran infiltrators to spread info about the Hyperion wagon transporting some treasure.
Now, the next step was to go find Wilhelm. Luckily for Jack, Wilhelm got himself so many surgeries that he wasn’t able to function for longer than a few weeks without a regular system diagnoses. And it was just about time for his check-up.

Jack quickly made his way down into the programming sector, where those examinations took place, to scare the shit out of the girl who was in charge of Wilhelm’s health check. He quickly glanced at the monitors to see in what stage the programming was in before turning to face the blond lady.

“Hey, pumpkin. How’s it going?” Jack smiled, running his fingers along the desk.

The girl took a deep breath through her nostrils. “Good, sir. We are almost half way through the procedure, and there were no complications so far. If the rest goes this well, he will be ready to go in….” She stopped to look at her watch. “Twenty-two minutes.”

“Just what I needed,” Jack smirked, putting one hand on her shoulder. “You look tired though. Tell you what. How about you go and make yourself a coffee? Let Jack look after Wilhelm till you get back. Sounds good? Of course, it does.” He laughed, letting her go and turning to the monitors.
It had taken a second before she collected her thoughts, mumbling something like, “of course sir”, and leaving the room.

“And make one for me while you’re at it.” Jack called after her.

The girl just nodded, closing the door behind herself, leaving Jack alone.

He looked once more at the soldier.

Wilhelm was asleep. Connected to numerous machines through wires, each with a different color. It was sad to compare how he looked now with how Jack remembered when he saw him for the first time.

All his hair was gone. Lost after the numerous brain surgeries he’d gone through. The small blue ECHO eye he used to have was now replaced with a head-computer, that looked more like a telescope than anything else. The rest of his face was left to be human-like. Unfortunately, no one could say the same about his remaining body. Not only was it tall, made of iron, looking like a loader bot, it was also yellow. All of it! Jack remembered joking about putting on him more Hyperion logos, to make sure bandits knew what corporation killed them, but Wilhelm took it way too serious.
One thing was sure. This wasn’t the same person who helped him when Dahl attacked Helios, or who was there with him when he entered his first Vault. This was just a machine, waiting for a chance to turn against him.

Jack opened the application that was working on Wilhelm’s programming, gaining himself access into his central system. There was nothing easier than to change a few basic things to slow his movements, lower his strength and turning back on the sensory relay center.

He was just about to be done when the blondie burst into the room, a cup of coffee in each hand.

“Oh, you are back! Great. I was just about to leave.” Jack walked towards the girl, taking the both cups from her. “Thanks, cupcake. Oh, and could you do me a favor? Don’t tell Wilhelm I was here.” He winked before walking away, only to hear a weak, “yes sir,” from behind his back.

Jack was surprised when he found his office empty. He quickly placed the coffee on his working table, before smashing the bottom to call Megg.

“Sir?”

“Megg, where the hell is Rhys?”

“I think he went for lunch, sir.”

“Well, tell him to move his cute ass up here. Fast!”

“Of course, sir.” Megg responded before ending the conversation.

Jack took a sip from his cup, turning to Pandora only to see a shuffle flying towards its surface. But he had to be imagining seeing the bolt head with the telescopic eyes staring his way through one of its small windows.

***

When Rhys got into the office, he found Jack standing in front of the huge window, but he turned around to face him the moment the door closed behind him.

“Rhys! Took you long enough. You just missed the first part!” Jack called out, heading towards him. “What happened to your shirt?” He asked, handling Rhys one of the two cups he was holding.

“Ehm. I spilled a cola on it.” The brunet responded, inspecting the drink he had just received. Judging by the smell and color, it was coffee.

“Good. You should burn all of the trash that you are wearing anyway. You look like you just crawled out of a dump.” Jack smirked, pointing at Rhys’s model. “What happened to the cool Vault Hunter style? I dug the black shirt.”

“I thought it might bring too much attention. If I was walking around with a bulletproof vest, people might notice that I am not from here.” Rhys tried to explain himself, taking his first sip from the brown drink. It might have been good if he’d get it fifteen minutes ago. Now it was almost cold.

“Ha! So, it was a bullet proof vest? Someone still uses that ancient crap?” Jack laughed, shaking his head.

“It’s modified.” Rhys mumbled, but the other one was already walking away.

“Yeah, whatever. But now, cmon. We are about to miss all the fun.” Jack briskly walked towards his computer and pressed few buttons. In a second, a picture of Pandoran city showed up on the window screen.

“What is it?” Rhys asked, walking towards the window to get a better look.

“Don't cha recognize it? That’s Sanctuary in its full loveliness.” Jack responded walking to stand next to Rhys. “Take a good look at it, cupcake. Cuz’ soon there will be nothing but wreckage and debris.”

“Wait, you mean that you have already-?”

“Sure, I have! Now, look! They are about to get the power core in!” Jack called out, pointing at something like a small station next to the city. Rhys looked in the direction, just to see a small explosion, followed by the shield shattering into pieces.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was that your shields that just went down? So, you knew that I knew, you were going for the power core – and you just plugged it in? Even for you guys, that’s pretty – ah, man, that’s pretty stupid.” Jack laughed into his microphone, broadcasting it all across Sanctuary. “I told you guys – the hero always wins.” Rhys watched as from the center of the station shot the first rocket, just to be followed by another, and another, all of which landed on the city surface, turning their surrounding into tangle of sand and stone.

“Waw.” Rhys breathed out. “This is even better than I imagined it to be.” He could feel Jack’s gaze on him, but he didn’t turn from the view. He didn’t want to miss it.

That’s why he was surprised by the touch on his chin, gently pulling him to look in Jack’s direction.

“Wha-” Rhys started, but the rest of the question lost the moment Jack’s lips closed the distance between them, pulling Rhys into a gentle kiss.

The kiss was slow, passionate and demanding, leaving Rhys in clear shock. It had taken about two heartbeats before the stiffness washed away and Rhys began to return the kisses, sucking on Jack’s lips just to have him responding with the same action. Jack’s lips were warm and tasted of the coffee that he was drinking just a moment ago. Jack wrapped his hands around Rhys’ hips, pulling him even closer as if he wanted to make sure that there was absolutely nothing separating the two of them. Rhys’s fingers found their way into Jack’s hair, playing with them, exploring their soft texture trying to remember its shape into every little detail. Rhys could feel his heart picking up speed, and the whole world was spinning around him, all senses filled with Jack.

He slowly opened his eyes to catch a glimpse of changing a picture on the screen. Rhys leaned back, breaking the kiss. “Ehm, Jack?”

The other one winked a couple times, confused, before following Rhys’ eyes in turning towards the screen.

“Oh, are you freaking kidding me?!” He yelled, stepping away from Rhys, the moment he realized what he was watching. “That’s the best you got? A flying city? What could you chumps POSSIBLY have that makes you think you’ve got a chance against me?” Jack was once again talking into his microphone, eyes locked on the screen, which was not showing how the Sanctuary was slowly picking up on height, while still being bombarded by the Helios’ moon-shots.

“A siren.” Roland’s voice said followed by Lilith. “Sup.” Just a moment before the whole city got surrounded in purple light coming from somewhere in the middle of its square and vanished into thin air.

“Hm.” Jack hummed, standing still, staring at the seemingly endless hole that was now covering the place where just a moments ago stood a city. Rhys was in the same state, watching the pit with opened mouth, not believing the picture that was being shown on the screen. So, Lilith just teleported the whole city? Yes, Rhys knew she was in there, but he would never have guessed that she would be able to pull out something like that. How could she be so powerful? Were all sirens able to do something like that? Did this mean that he could do this as well?

Rhys slowly turned to face Jack, just to find he was already looking at him with confused eyes. No words were needed to let each other know, neither of them had expected that.

Chapter Text

It’d been almost two weeks since they lost the city.

But no matter where they looked, to who they talked or who they threaten to kill -and who they ended up killing- they were no step closer to finding Sanctuary.

True, Jack did most of the job, but Rhys tried to help as much as he could. However, the fact that Jack only talked to him with short sentences, never started a conversation on his own if he didn’t absolutely have to and most of the time was basically avoiding looking at Rhys, didn’t really help.

Rhys tried to pretend he didn’t notice, focusing on the work Jack gave him and acting as if everything was normal. But of course, he couldn’t not notice the drastic change in Jack’s behavior when he was around him. They were in the same room for most of the day for god’s sake!

Although Rhys suspected that Jack himself never left the office. Everyday Rhys went home to get some sleep, and when he asked if Jack was going as well, the other one just mumbled something like, just a minute, or, let me finish this. Rhys just passed that with a shrug, but when he got back only to find Jack in the -more or less- same position.

Since Jack was wearing mask Rhys couldn’t see the forming bags under his eyes, but he didn’t have too. The slowed reactions, the low tone or the redness in his eyes gave it away. Jack was very tired.

“You should get some rest.” Rhys said, after putting another cup of black coffee on his table one morning. It somehow became his routine, to bring one of those for his boss every few hours.

“Huh?” Jack looked up from the note he was just reading to face Rhys.

The brunet sighed. “You should go get some rest. I am beginning to worry about you. You’ve been buried in work since Lilith did her little trick with the city, and I haven’t seen you leaving this room once in that two weeks.” Rhys put both hands on the desk of Jack’s table, leaning closer to look directly into Jack’s eyes. “You need to rest.”

Jack stared at Rhys, clearly lost in his thoughts, before winking a couple times and standing up. “I am going on Pandora.” He said finally.

Now it was Rhys’ turn to stand stunned. “You, what?” He said finally.

“There might be some leads in the pit that left behind Sanctuary, and I wanna go check it out.” The other one said, not looking at the brunet while he talked.

Rhys watched as Jack grabbed some papers lying on his table and stuffed them into his bag. “So, should I come with you?”

“No,” Jack responded, not even considering the option. “No, you stay here and keep working on, whatever it is that you are doing right now.”

“Okey,” Rhys mumbled. “But I don’t suppose you will want me to stay here in your office while you are gone, do you?”

“No, I don’t” Jack sighed, hands running through his hair. “Take what you need and move to your room or somewhere. I won’t be gone for long, two days at the absolute most, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal.” Jack checked one more time if he had all he needed before heading towards the door.

“Jack, wait!” Rhys called before he could stop himself. The CEO froze instantly, only a few steps away from the exit.

Rhys took a deep breath before he started talking again. “Before you go, I need to ask you about something.” He said, waiting for the other one to turn around and face him. But when nothing like that happened, he continued talking into his back. “I need to know, you know…About what happened, while you were moonshining Sanctuary. Between you and me…” Rhys didn’t know how to continue. He never had this problem before, always saying what he wanted, whenever he wanted didn’t prepare him for a situation like this. He never had to talk about his feelings with anyone, so he didn’t know what to expect in this conversation.

But it surely wasn’t laughter. It was a quiet sound at first, so Rhys wasn’t sure if he’d heard it right. But then it was getting louder and louder, spreading across the whole room. He could swear he felt how his heart stopped, the moment Jack finally turned around, the whole face shifted into grotesque smile, whipping away the tears from laughter.

“You are talking about the kiss, aren’t you?” The man finally said after he calmed down a little. “Oh man, kiddo you never fail to entertain me.” He paused to let out more chuckles before continuing. “That was just to celebrate the victory, cupcake.” Jack shrugged, shaking his head. “Nothing special behind it.”

Rhys said nothing to that. He just stood there, jaw slightly dropped as his mind was trying to process what he was just being told. Nothing special.

Jack sighed. “Look kiddo, I gotta go. I will tell Megg to lock the door behind you, so you have some time to get your things.” At that, the older man turned around and left the room.

Rhys sauntered to his char and set into it, hiding face in hands and taking a couple of deep breaths.

Nothing special. It was nothing special. Jack did it just to celebrate something. It was just for fun. Of course, it didn’t mean anything. How could he even come close to thinking that he could ever mean something more to the Handsome Jack? That was stupid!

So why did it hurt him so much? Why did he feel as if someone froze his inside ice cold, and now was trying to melt them with hot coal? He felt as if a winter wind was blowing right through his skin while his mind kept repeating, again and again, those two words. Nothing special.

He pulled his face away when he felt something wet around his fingers, to see the small drop of water running down his palm. Was he crying? Perfect. Now he let the arrogant dick make him cry. Rhys didn’t know who he should be more mad at. Jack, for causing him to lose his clear judgment, or himself for letting him get away with it.

Rhys quickly copied some files from his computer to his USB drive and grabbed few random papers that were lying on top of his table and burst out of the office, ignoring the questing look Megg gave him when he walked past her table.

He didn’t slow down until he arrived at his empty apartment. It was still too soon for Vaughn to be back and Rhys was grateful for that. Right now he wanted nothing more than to be alone.

***

“God fricking darn it!” Jack yelled, kicking into the non-functioning vehicle. He walked few steps away, hands in the hair just to turn around and fire a round of bullets into its windows. It made him feel a little better, but now there was glass all over the seats so he couldn’t get back inside to hide from the burning sun.

And the worst part about his current situation was the fact that him being here, in the middle of Pandoran’s dessert with this wrecked car, was all his fault and thus he had no one who’s neck he could break for it. Well, that wasn’t really true. He could blame Rhys for it. After all the kid was the real reason why he left Helios in such a hurry. But Jack doubted he could come anywhere near to hurting the kid.

His original plan was to land somewhere farther away from Sanctuary's previous location and drive his way there. But the moment he got behind the wheel, he felt this need to go for a short ride, that somehow turned into a race with himself and before he knew it, he was driving miles away from the place where he was originally headed. But with no gas.

Jack sat on the sand, leaning against some bigger rock and quickly sand a message to the people who were waiting for him in the pit to come and get him. But he knew that it would take them while before they got into his location.

While he was waiting, watching his space station hanging in the blue sky, his mind kept running back to the moment two weeks ago.

He still didn’t quit understand why he did it.

One moment he was watching the moon shots landing in the city, and the other one he was staring at Rhys. How the red, white and orange colors from the fires were dancing on the kid’s face, and how he was focused on the explosive show.

Jack didn’t realize he was pulling him closer until their lips met for the kiss. And damn, was it a good kiss. The excitement from the close victory combined with the sweetness of Rhys’s lips made him feel like he was standing on the top of the world.

But then the bitch Lilith teleported the city to god knows where and completely ruined the moment.

Both of them spend all their time searching for the city. Jack knew that Rhys was trying to help the best he could, but the more he did, the more time Jack had spent by working with the boy, the more he realized how much he was beginning to rely on him. Every time Rhys left the office, the entire room somehow lost its spark, the walls got darker, and the air was colder. But when he returned? Jack could swear he saw little stars surrounding him as if he’d be bringing some sort of light whenever he went. He tried to deny it at the beginning, but the more time passed the clearer it was to him. He was slowly falling it for Rhys

And that was bad.

He was Handsome Jack god damn it! He couldn’t let himself get too attached to anyone, especially not to Vault Hunter.

Jack knew what would happen whenever he would let someone too close to him, he had to learn it the hard way, and he promised to himself a long time ago that he wouldn’t allow anyone to get under his skin ever again.

And seeing how close Rhys was, he had no choice but to go somewhere where he could collect his thoughts and Pandora happened to be the perfect place for that.

But just had to bring up the damn kiss.

He knew Rhys would ask him about it. Eventually, he was just hoping that it would wait until after he came back from Pandora.

Jack tried to believe that what he said was true. That the kiss was an act caused by the intense feeling of the close victory, and that it was nothing more than celebration on that. But why did it feel like if he was lying? Why the hell did his chest felt suddenly so heavy when he saw the way Rhys looked at him. The pure hurt in the kid’s eyes was almost physically painful. Everything inside him was begging to run towards the boy, to wrap his arms around him and pull him closer so he could tell him how sorry he was, that he didn’t mean it and that he hates himself for seeing him being hurt.

But he didn’t do that. Instead, he turned around and flew on Pandora. Why? Because he was Handsome Jack! He doesn’t do hugging, he doesn’t take back what he says, and most importantly, he doesn’t apologize. Ever.

This whole Rhysie thing was stupid. Rhys was stupid. Why did he have to go and make him feel miserable about this whole kissing nonsense? And now he was here, in a middle of nowhere with a broken car and it was all because of the pretty boy.

It was clear that he was a huge distraction. If there weren't for him, Jack would be sitting in his awesome chair, working on finding the way for eliminating Sanctuary´.

He couldn’t afford to waste his time down here when he had the whole corporation to rule over. And if Rhys was a reason why he wasn’t able to properly do his job, well, then he will do the one thing he always does. He will get rid of the problem.

But how? The safest way was to just kill him. But that would be a waste of talent. As much as a distraction the boy was, he still was one of the smartest people Jack knew, and the business men inside him refused to let go of such talent.

Maybe he could move him to some smaller station. Somewhere far away in space, where he knew no one would get to him to drag him into another competitive company, but where he could still do his job.

This seemed like a perfect solution. No matter how much Jack tried, he couldn’t think of any other way how to deal with this problem. So it was decided. The moment Jack gets back on Helios, he will move Rhys on some other station.

But first, he will go take a look at the stupid pit.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god, Yevette!” Rhys breathed out, shaking with laughter, “This is the funniest thing I have ever heard!” He said, whipping tears away from his cheeks.
“Wasn’t that funny,” Vaughn mumbled from the bar chair next to him, not enjoying being the target of their entertainment.
Yevette threw him an amused look. “Are you joking? It was hilarious. I will never forget your face when you were trying to turn the computer off.”

“It was a pop up add, okay? It wasn’t my fault.”

“Jeez, Vaughn, at least lower the volume down, so the whole department won’t hear everything next time you decide to watch porn at work.” Rhys chuckled squeezing his shoulder.

“I wasn’t watching any porn!” Vaughn said loud enough to cause a few heads turning their way. “The window just popped up on me when I clicked on some website.” He muttered this time in lower voice so only those sitting around his table could hear him.

“Well, that’s what you get for browsing the web when you are supposed to be working.” Rhys smiled, sipping from his glass.

“You know what´s a time for? Change of topic.” Vaughn claimed, turning to face the brunet. “Rhys, why don’t you tell us what’s been going on with you for the past few weeks?”

“What do you mean?” He asked, raising his eyebrow.

“What could he possibly mean Rhys?” Yevette rolled her eyes before Vaughn could say anything. “At first you don’t talk to us for weeks, and when we did see you, you were either sleeping or begging for coffee.”

“I was busy.” He responded, finishing the rest of his drink. He should probably slow down on the liquor. They weren’t here for more than an hour, and he could already feel the alcohol toying with his mind. But he didn’t protest when the bartender put another round of shots on their table.

“And how come that now you are not?” The shorter companion had asked before Yevette had another chance to steal the word from him.

“I still am.” Rhys shrugged. “Just kinda, waiting for some info so I can move on with the project.” He grabbed one of the glasses filled with white liquor and finished it on one take.

“And why exactly are you waiting for that in your apartment?” Yevette reached over for her glass and took a short sip.

“Because ” Rhys giggled “would be stupid if I was in there while he is down on Pandora.”

“He left? When did that happen?” Yevette asked, lowering her voice.

“About a week ago? When I moved to work in my room? I thought that would be obvious.”

“And you were right. Because it is.” Vaughn nodded throwing Yvette a disappointed look at which she just rolled her eyes. “You know why he left?”

“He said something about searching some pit.” He told Vaughn, playing with his empty glass. “But who knows what he’s really up to. We didn’t really talk too much after that stupid kiss…” Rhys hadn’t had time to fully realize what his drunken self just said before a loud doubled yelled ‘what?!’ hit his ears.

He looked up from the shot to see two shocked friends staring at him with the face you give to a person who just said he had eaten a radioactive Lego block.

“I-I don’t think I wanted to say that.” He stuttered.

“Rhys, tell me you didn’t do what I think you said you did.” Vaughn almost whispered, his tone covered in worry.

“Sure,” The brunet nodded, “but I didn’t think you like it when I lie to you.”

“Rhys, oh my god,” Vaughn howled, hiding his face behind the menu, “Why?!”

“What? You are acting as if it was my fault,” Rhys said in rushed voice before turning back to the glass, “He was the one who leaned in.”

“Jesus, Rhys this is serious,” Yevette said in accusing voice. “You don’t just kiss Handsome Jack and then act as if nothing happened.”

“I didn’t act as if-“

“Yes, yes you did! You still do. Because if you didn’t, you would be sitting on some rocket heading as far away from Helios as possible, not drinking cheap crap in the bar!”

“Okay, first, this cheap crap tastes great,” Rhys said, pointing at his empty glass. “Worth every penny. And second, I have no intention of leaving this space station what so ever! I like it here, Handsome Jack or not. I am not sure if you guys get it, but being here? It’s like a dream come true.”

“You got pretty sick dreams, bro.” Vaughn chuckled.

“Guess you are right.” Rhys smirking at his roommate who seemed to have calmed down a little. “But I am not planning on letting anyone steal them away from me.”

“Okay, but still,” Yevette sighed. “This thing you got going on with our CEO? Stupidly dangerous.”

“Oh, cmon Yevette,” Rhys grinned. “Give me some credit. Danger is my middle name.”

“And stupid the third, I guess.” She sighed into her glass of dry tonic. “How do I keep forgetting that?”

“Beats me.” He shrugged, smile playing on his lips. “Now, I want more drinks.” He said before turning to call the bartender to bring them more shots.

“Let’s have some fun tonight.”
***
“Fucking cock-eater,” Jack swore, spitting out the dirt he had stuck in his mouth and picking himself up from the ground.

“Jack! Watch out!” Someone had called from behind only a few moments before another explosion sent him flying meters away from his previous position. He let out a long growl when he landed hard on his back, hearing nothing but whistling sounds. He shook his head to regain his orientation sense and searched for the enemy.
It wasn’t hard. You would have to be extremely drunk to ignore the enormous lighting monster that was sprinting his direction. Jack quickly picked himself up from the ground and jumped aside only to miss the next meel attack by less than ten inches. He didn’t wait for the animal to turn around and sprinted to hide behind a rock where Nisha was already waiting for him, reloading her pistols.

“Damn, those beasts got some stamina in them, don’t they?” She laughed before sending another round of bullets into the monster’s solid skin only so they could watch most of them bounce off on the ground. “We are just wasting our shots here.” Nisha continued, quickly counting her remaining ammo. “There’s gotta be some faster way to off those things.”

“Rhys would probably know how.” Jack muffled, eyes set on the monster.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Forget I said anything.” Jack hissed shaking his head.

Nisha rolled her brown eyes but decided not to push Jack for the answer and moved around the rock to get a better view. She could see with a corner of her eye Jack typing something on his ECHO device but didn’t care enough to even try guessing what it was the guy was doing. Instead, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, lifting the gun to the high level of her shoulders, allowing her instincts to determine her aim.
With her second breath, she pulled the trigger and watched the bullet hit one of the crystals covering the monster’s legs. The beast let out a painful growl and turned to sprint after them. Nisha laughed when she lifted herself from behind their hiding spot and ran to face the furious animal, shooting more rounds into the newly-found weakness. She switched to her whip when the loud clicks announced an empty magazine bar and threw herself under the beast only to finish it with one good aimed flick.

The animal let out a final roar and collapsed into the dirt with a loud thud. Nisha stood up from the ground, whipping off the dirt from her clothes. She could hear Jack calling some victorious phrases at her, but she was too far away to understand the exact words. She smiled when the idea of a fat check appeared in her head.
She stopped when a sharp smell hit her nostrils. Nisha sniffed, trying to connect the smell to the source before turning to run away as fast as she could. It was the smell of incoming explosion, and that could only be coming from the hunted animal.
Jack watched her with a bewildered look when she dodged behind the rock, mouth opened to ask, but the question disappeared behind the sound of explosion accompanied with splashing sounds of the meat falling on the ground.

“Woah!” Jack laughed, clapping his hands. “That’s what I call an explosive finally, am I right?”

Nisha rolled her eyes at the cheap joke and headed towards the mess that was left from the monster. Surprisingly, there was only little of the blood or meat, but there was quite a lot of the crystals left. Jack grabbed one of the glowing stones and picked it closer to inspect it. He played with it for a minute, studying its texture with his fingers, before throwing it against the nearest rock and watching it explode the moment it landed, with a puzzled look before he bent down to pick up another one.

“You ever seen anything like this?” He asked Nisha who meanwhile found a place to sit at and was now watching Jack with bored eyes. “Not really. I’ve heard of those beasts though. Some of my men call them crystalisks, but so far they’ve only met few in the Fridge.” She shrugged. “Guess Dahl found their original location.”

“Right.” Jack nodded looking around at the remains of old Dahl headquarters.

He did know what he was expecting to find in the pit under the city, but it sure as hell wasn’t a new location with relics of the fading company. It turned out that Dahl was looking for a way how to mine those crystals that were left all over the frozen areas of Pandora and came across those monsters. Instead of stopping and focusing on the search for another way to get the mineral, they tried to hunt those beasts down and just picked up what was left of them. But Jack might have a better idea.
They both turned around when they heard a sound of heavy footsteps sprinting their way.

“Sir! Here you are.” One of the Hyperion soldiers said when they finally got to the two of them. “We went looking for you the moment we got your message, but we couldn’t locate you on the map…” He stopped when he noticed the pile of blood, bones, and crystals, before turning back to face Jack, “Sir, was that one of the monsters?”

“Damn right, it was.” Jack laughed, throwing the crystal at the soldier and watched as the man caught it with slight disappointment. “If you worthless wastes of DNA weren’t moving at the speed of a snail, you’d get to see how me and sheriff over here totally kicked its ass.” He pointed at the glowing stone the soldier was holding, “Bring that to the lab. Dahl had to have a reason why they tried to mine those things, and I want to know what it was.”

“Aren’t you coming back to the camp with us?”

“Nah. We were just on our way out of here.” Jack shook his head and turned on his heel away from the group. “I’ve wasted enough time down here, gotta to go check what’s going on up there. Just make sure someone takes a look at the stone and sends me the results asap, is that clear?”
They might have said something like, yes sir, but Jack didn’t even bother to listen, checking on his ECHO as he walked away.

***

“And he couldn’t even do as much as call me or text me or, I don’t know, something!” Rhys gesticulated violently, almost tripping over Vaughn’s glass of beer. “He just left me to work in my room while he is having fun down there, exploring the stupid pit that’s left behind the city. Like, what is he even trying to find in there? It’s not as if they left a map to where they are going, am I right? Hell, I don’t even think they knew what was going on when Lilith teleported them God knows where.” Rhys shook his head, finishing the whole glass in one glob.
He was very well aware that at this point, he was really drunk. When he was still in the Vault Hunting business, he would never drink more than few beers, for the good manners, but that was it. Getting this wasted would be out of the option. He´d heard too many stories about other Vault Hunters who got killed after overdoing it in one of the low-level bars. Sometimes it was a murder for revenge, sometimes people just wanted to say that they managed to kill a Vault Hunter. Either way, Rhys was too smart for getting over his limit with alcohol level in his blood system.
At least he used to be. At this moment, he had troubles focusing on the glass in his hand. But he was far beyond the point of giving a shit about that.

“Yep. Sucks.” Yevette nodded, taking another sip from her martini.

“I still don’t understand how she managed to teleport the entire city,” Vaughn commented, shaking his head. “I’ve heard of some crazy shit sirens can do, but this totally tops the list.”

“Vaughn is right. Teleporting Sanctuary sounds badass.” Yevette said turning to Rhys. “Have you ever met that girl by the way?”

“Ehm, yeah. I did. But I would’ve never guess she could be able to do something like that.” He shrugged looking at his empty glass. “So, ehm, what are we going to drink next?”

“I am fine for now.” Vaughn pointed at his half full glass.

“Same here.” Yevette smiled. “Guess you just gotta decide on your own.”

“Gosh, you guys suck.” Rhys sighed just to have Yevette’s tongue stick out in his direction. He laughed at that before standing out and heading to the bar. But he overestimated his powers in walking a straight line for more than five meters and ended up tripping over his own shoe just to fall right into arms of some dude who was holding a glass with wine and was just turning to walk towards his own table.
It was like a scene from some cheap comedy. Everything around Rhys slowed down so he could fully absorb the way the man’s face shifted into a shock when Rhys flew into his arms, pressing the glass on his chest, causing the red wine to soak into his white shirt and leave a permanent red mark on this expensive piece of clothing.

“Oh shit,” he mumbled, face still pressed into the other's chest “fuck I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He leaned away to look at the stranger’s face so he could read his reaction.
To his surprise, the man didn’t seem to be mad. He was looking down at him with entertained green eyes, lips curved into a charming smile. One thing was sure about him. He was absolutely stunning!
He had natural blond hair which seemed to be missing any touch of gel or some other beauty product but still making them look as if he just left a professional hair studio.
Rhys blushed when he realized he was still leaning against the other man and quickly took a step back.

“You don’t need to worry about it.” The other one said in a stronge foreigner accent. “I didn’t like the shirt anyway.” He glanced up at Rhys from his attempts to wipe the red wine away from the shirt and gave him a wide smile. “But if you’d want to make it up for me by buying me a new drink, I wouldn’t protest.”

“Oh good,” Rhys nodded, a smile flashing across his face. “Because I wouldn’t let you refuse.”

They walked towards the bar and leaned on the wooden desk.

“So, what are you drinking?” The stranger asked smiling in Rhys’ direction.

“Shouldn’t I be the one asking this question? I am the one who is buying your drink.”

“Oh, right. Sorry. Old habits die hard, I guess.” The man said, looking at Rhys the way he wasn’t quite able to place.

“Old habits, huh?” He asked, his brows lining together.

“Well, I am usually the one who buys drinks to the pretty ones.” The stranger said, voice covered in honey as he leaned closer to Rhys. “But I guess that tonight might be my lucky night.”

Rhys blinked a couple times, slowly sinking in the realization of what was exactly happening. He must have been really drunk not to understand his situation sooner.
He opened his mouth to say something sassy but was stopped by a foreign tongue entering his mouth. Once again, Rhys froze as his body needed time to examine the moment.

He was being kissed.

Someone was kissing him, and he didn’t even know the person’s name.

Something inside him screamed for him to pull back, to push this attractively-looking man off him and leave the bar as fast as possible.

But he was way too drunk to even try to listen to this reasonable voice, so he just pushed all the sane senses away and let himself drown in the forbidden kisses.
He didn’t protest when the man stood up and led him out of the bar, lost in the doze feeling which even made him forget to say goodbye to his two friends who were still waiting for him.

***

The office seemed even darker than Jack remembered. He never noticed it before, but somehow now it felt as if the room just wasn’t getting enough light. Which was stupid, cuz he had literally sunlight coming in through the enormous window all the time, so there was no need to be getting more than he already had.
He sighed, blaming this on his extended stay on Pandora, where he was running under the burning sun practically nonstop and sat behind the table. There was a bunch of new files lying on his desk that apparently needed his attention, but Jack wasn’t in a mood for looking into them. Instead, he turned on his computer and searched through a list of smaller facilities he had chosen as suitable candidates for Rhys’ next stay. He was currently deciding between five of them, but he felt as if he got stuck on that number. Maybe he should let Rhys have a final word in this.
Without thinking about it too hard, he picked up the ECHO and called Rhys’ number. But it wasn’t Rhys who spoke out from the other side.

“Ehm, Handsome Jack, sir.” Shaky voice sounded from the speakers.

“Who the hell are you? Where is Rhys?” Jack asked frowning at the picture of a bearded man on his screen.

“H-he left his ECHO here, sir. I-I-I am his roommate.” He said, visibly shaken by the fact that he was having this conversation.

“Well, what are you waiting for, dumbass? Go and get him! I need to talk to that idiotic giraffe.” Jack said his patience decreasing by each passing word.

The man turned his eyes away from the screen and looked around the room, probably a bar, judging by the music playing in the background. “I don’t know where he is.” He said in shocked voice as if he just realized Rhys was missing.

“The fuck you mean you don’t know where he is? Weren’t you supposed to be with him?” Jack said visibly annoyed.

“B-but he was just here! He went to get some drink and th-”

“Oh my god I hope not all of my employees are this incompetent.” Jack cut him off and closed the ECHO. He might have been more annoyed by that if he hadn’t already gotten a solution to that. A long time ago, he had a new software installed into the security camera system, which was able to locate any employee on the station by scans of their face. It was supposed to serve as a way for monitoring those who refused to come up to his office if they fucked up some projects or decided to do something as stupid as to steal from him. Jack remembered being more surprised than annoyed by those attempts, and this program helped him save a lot of time searching for those idiots.
It didn’t take the computer too long before coming up with the results. Rhys was currently on the fourth floor, near the upper-class apartments.
“The hell are you doing there?” Jack muttered to himself and switched on the visual record from the nearest security camera.
There was a second of numbness before Jack realized what was happening on the display.
Rhys was leaning his back against the wall while some dickhead was busy sucking on his lips. Jack winked a couple times, but the picture stayed the same. Rhys was still there, and so was that douchebag with an awful haircut.

But it was okay. This was fine. Why the hell should he care whose tongue gets into that idiot’s mouth? He was planning on sending him away eventually. He was totally okay with that. He was…

He was fricking furious!

Jack grabbed his gun from the table and sprinted out of the office, anger running through his veins making him run even faster. He didn’t care how many people he passed nor the yells of his name when he passed some of the workers.

By the time he arrived at the couple, he already saw white dots in the corners of his vision. He wasn’t sure when exactly did the gun got into his hand, but he was already aiming at the man whose hands were wrapped around Rhys’ butt cheeks. He was about to pull the trigger, but he stopped himself when he realized that one small mistake and he would have ended up hitting Rhys instead. With gritted teeth, Jack pointed the revolver at the floor instead and shot a hole into the carpet.
But it was still a success, since the man jumped away from Rhys, following the direction of the sound of gunfire. His jaw dropped when he saw the CEO standing in the hallway with a furious grin and smoking revolver in his hand. He didn’t wait for Jack to reload and turned away running down the corridor.
Rhys waited until he couldn’t hear the sound of footsteps and turned to look at Jack with shocked eyes.

“Jack, what the fuck was that?”

Jack, unimpressed by the question, took three steps in Rhys’ direction and cornered him between his arms. Rhys was surprised by how angry Jack sounded when he said, „I can’t go away for more than a week before you go on letting some low ass-sucker go tongue twister in your mouth?”

Now it was Rhys’ turn to jump into the train of anger. “As if you care what I do!” He growled,” You kicked me out of your office and ran down on Pandora, not even bother to text or call, or I don’t know, anything!”

“Why the hell would I do that?”
“Because I was worried sick, you dumb bastard!”
That sent Jack silent.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Rhys hissed, brows knitted. “What did you expect? You go down there, to the most anti-Jack place in this universe saying it’s only for a few days, only to check some things out under the fricking city and then you disappear for an entire week! Do you have any idea how much time I’ve spent on the Pandora online servers looking for someone to brag about getting your head?” Rhys stopped, trying to catch his breath before breaking the eye contact with Jack to stare at his brown vest. “I don’t know what I would do if that’d happened. I should have gone down there with you. I knew it would be dangerous for you to go alone, but I let you go anyway. If anything happened to you down there, I would… I would…” He stopped, unable to finish his thought process. Jack was silent the whole time, and Rhys didn’t want to look up at him to read in his face. He knew he was scared of his reaction. He closed his eyes, fighting back the tears that were already running down his cheeks and left them closed even when he felt Jack’s thumb whipping them off, and kept them that way even when he felt Jack’s menthol breath when he leaned closer.

“I am sorry,” Jack whispered before closing the small space between them. Rhys didn’t know if he was apologizing for leaving him, for being away for so long, or for the soft kisses he was pressing into his lips, but he didn’t stop to think about it. He was lost in blurry dose of kisses and sweet whispers, and he didn’t want it to ever end.
He let Jack pick him up, legs wrapped around his hips, and carry him away from the corridor.
It felt as if no time passed at all before they got to the elevator to Jack’s office, but none of them moved when the ringing tone announced their reaching destination. Instead, Jack pressed Rhys against the wall and started placing soft marks into the sensitive skin on his neck, rewarded by Rhys’ first quiet moan. He could feel Jack’s smile against his skin when his hand crawled up under his shirt, slowly moving to inspect every inch of his torso, but careful to avoid the most sensitive parts. Rhys didn’t realize he had lost track of the other hand before he felt Jacks fingers brushing against his hardening crotch. He could feel his knees slowly giving up on him, but Jack refused to let him fall. Instead, he pressed him harder against the wall, his tongue demanding the entrance into Rhys’ mouth. Rhys let him in, tongues twisted into one synchronized movement, fighting each other for dominance.
Rhys knew he was weeping pre-come already when he let Jack slowly undo the bottoms on his brand-new jeans and let out another moan the moment when he felt Jack’s fingers wrapping in slow motion around his member.
Rhys’s muscles melted as a thumb ran circles into his slit before Jack started moving in slow swipe to the base of Rhys’ erection. Rhys’ chest tightened, allowing only sharp intakes of air in. His head grew fuzzy as he pushed himself further into Jack’s hand over and over again.
It became too much to handle the moment when Jack twisted his wrist to get a better hold of him brought Rhys to choke on his last loud moan, cum pulsing out of him, whimpering as he rode the waves of afterglow.
He collapsed into Jacks waiting arms and allowed the older man to escort him into the penthouse and right into the bedroom. Rhys wished he would have more will power to take a good look around the room, but he was already being shoved into the bed, forgetting all about his surroundings.
And then there was Jack again, leaning over Rhys to reach on his bedside table. He pulled out a white tube and returned back to Rhys, clashing their mouths together. Rhys’ fingers dug into Jack’s back, pulling him flush with his own chest. He could feel Jack’s hard cock pressing against his crotch as he moved to attack Rhys’ jaw line.
Rhys didn’t know when Jack got the time to get the lube on his hands, but it was there when he pushed in the tip of one finger. Rhys moaned into Jack’s mouth when he slid in his entire digit, before quickly thrusting against the single finger. “God, Jack!” Rhys whined, breathing hard when Jack added two other fingers, finding a synchronized rhythm in each thrust. Separating their lips Jack pulls away his fingers, but before Rhys can complain about the lost they got replaced with something even better.
Jack tensed for a moment, then pushed inside with a single, deep thrust. Rhys’ hand flew up, slamming across his mouth as he whined into his palm, trying to stifle the loud sounds. “Nah-ah.” Jack panted, pulling the hand away and pressing it against the bed sheet with powerful grip. “None of that cupcake. I wanna hear you.” He breathed out, lips brushing against his ear. Rhys nodded, letting out another groan when Jack started moving again. He quickly caught up with the new fast rhythm, adjusting to the speed, to turn it into something even rougher. Rhys claws his fingers into Jack’s hair, pulling him down to catch his mouth in a bruising kiss. Jack moans into it, following the movements of Rhys’ tongue, but still thrusts his hips forward, never losing on their rhythm. “J-Jack!” he finally says, voice hoarse and scratchy.
“That’s it Rhysie.” Jack purrs into his ear. “Say my name, let me hear it.”
Rhys feels his own breath coming short and quick, as he calls Jack’s name, again and again, each time a little louder than before, his body shaking with the electricity rushing through his veins. His entire body twists upwards, and he moans as he comes, only to feel Jack tremble before he collapses next to him panting heavily while he rides on the waves of afterglow.

Rhys was still out of breath when the idea in his head popped up, that he had never heard of anyone coming into Jack’s apartment, let alone spending a night in there, so maybe Jack was expecting him to leave. With that in mind, he started moving to the edge of the bed, only to by stopped by a strong arm wrapped around his waist. And that was all he needed to stop and turn around, cuddling into Jacks' chest and falling asleep in his tight hug.

Chapter Text

 

Rhys woke up with a pair of arms wrapped around his torso, feeling Jack’s hot breath on the back of his neck. He stretched his itching muscles and turned to face Jack.

His eyelids were closed, breathing deep and calm. All muscles on his face relaxed, combine with the stillness of his mask, were making him seem more like a statue than a living man. Not even a twitch, barely any movement of his chest but the rising and falling which each intake of air. Rhys would never imagine that a man so powerful as Handsome Jack could look so peaceful when he was asleep.

Rhys’ hand went up, following the line between the mask and Jacks skin, not directly touching, but feeling the warmth of the skin through his fingers. He quietly lifted himself, leaning closer to place a soft kiss on Jack’s lips before lying back into the mattress and closing his eyes for a few more minutes.

When he opened them again, Jack was already gone. The only proof of his presence was crumpled bed sheet and the unmistakable smell of his cologne. Rhys yawned and stretched his whole body before sitting up, looking around for his clothes which he tossed up somewhere in the room yesterday, but there were no signs of them. Instead, there was a pile of dark clothing on the bedside table right next to his head. He checked for the size and sighed when he realised that they would be too big for Jack, but should fit him just fine. He decided not to think about when did Jack have time to figure out his size and put the clothes on before heading out. He meant to go to his room first, but somehow, he ended up walking past Meg right into the office.

Jack was already there, buried in piles of papers, but he looked up when Rhys walked through the door. Even across the room, Rhys could see the smile flashing all over his face when he saw him. “Haya Rhysie. Slept well?”

Rhys mumbled his ‘okay’, and he made his way to Jack’s workplace. He stopped in front of the table, stunned by the sudden realisation that he actually had no idea how to act right now. Jack watched him with raised eyebrow, waiting for him to say something, but Rhys who failed to come with any words stayed silent with no idea what the something should be. So, he just stood there, hand running through his brown hair.

“Nice shirt,” Jack smirked, more amused than annoyed by the silence. “Looks like it suits you.”

“Yeah.” Rhys nodded. “Thanks, but what exactly happened with what I was wearing yesterday?”

“I air locked it,” Jack answered casually.

“You, what?” Rhys gasped louder than he meant to, grabbing on the table to stop himself from any other movements.

Jack throw him an unimpressed look before continuing. “You can thank me later, cupcake.”

“Thank you? Those were my new clothes! I bought it up here on Helios.” Rhys throw his arms, anger rising with his voice. “I’ve spent most of my salary to pay for all that stuff.”

“You mean you got more of those things?” Jack asked, leaning closer to the table.

“Well, yeah. Full closet.”

“Great. I will have someone to burn it later. Apparently, I cannot trust you with choosing what you are wearing so I will just choose it for ya” Jack smirked,” Can’t let my boyfriend walking around dressed like a bag lady. Bad for the image.”

Rhys gasped stepping away from the table. Jack looked like he was going to comment on it, but the ECHO on his table ringed, and he picked it up with quiet curse after reading the name on display. Rhys watched Jack talking with the person on the other side of the line for a moment, before coming to the conclusion that this call was going to take a while and heading to his table.

He started the computer and watched the screen load but didn’t open any file. He felt too much like his head was going to explode from all those feelings gathered together for him to focus on any work really. Right, Rhys didn’t remember much from the previous night. There were some memories of him being somewhere doing something, then there was dark and then he was somewhere else doing something completely different. But it was enough for him to make a picture of what happened. 

He was with some dude from a bar when Jack ran out of nowhere, and the guy left. And then they were in Jacks room. How did they get there? Rhys had no idea. What happened in the penthouse, on the other hand, Rhys could describe to the smallest details. The problem was, that even though this was the brightest part of his memory, he had a hard time believing it. Rhys would just say it was his mind playing drunken tricks on him if there weren’t for the fact that he ‘d woken up in Jacks bed. And even if he had any doubts before, they were all gone the moment Jack called him his boyfriend.

Rhys looked at Jack who was still talking over the ECHO now turned to the window. He’d noticed before that he would do this every time he was either thinking or taking calls about something important. And Rhys couldn’t blame him. Whenever he'd hit a wall in one of the projects, he would find himself staring out of the window as if he could find the answers written somewhere in the depths of the galaxy. Now, however, he was entirely concentrated on the way the light coming from the stars was dancing on the surface of Jack’s mask and throwing shadows under his eyes, making him somehow look even more threatening. The mere thought of having somebody like Jack calling him his boyfriend was arousing at the least.

Rhys shook his head and turned to the monitor. He finally got back into the office and was already far behind his own schedule so lacking off like that was really out of the option. With a heavy sighed he opened the first file and begun working on the replacement for their last line of shields.

He didn’t realise how much he got into the project before he felt someone’s chin resting on his shoulder.

“Whatcha working on there cupcake?”

Rhys jumped, turning to look at Jack who just somehow came all the way from his table to stand behind him without Rhys noticing. He sighed, earning a grin from Jack who was more than humoured by his shocked reaction.

“Shields.” He answered turning back to the computer and opened few more windows to show Jack his progress. “I know the last line didn’t go all that great, but I still like the idea of an explosion those shields would make.”

“Awesome. But ya know the last team who tried fooling around with those things didn’t end up so good, don’t you?” Jack said in mocking tone, but Rhys knew he was already reading through the code lines Rhys had written.

“Okay, but that was because they were a bunch of underdeveloped idiots who shouldn’t even be allowed to put their hands on the constructing process in the first place,” Rhys shrugged, “even if they didn’t fuck up with setting up the direction of the explosion, you can’t have the shield explode right next to the one who is using it. The customer would end up getting blown up together with his surroundings.”

Jack nodded leaning away with his arms crossed, looking like this was all old news to him. “Yeah, so what’s your solution?” 

Rhys had to think for a second before he responded. “I guess the simplest way to explain it is that I will have the plasma gather into twelve parts and use the remaining energy to shoot each one into a separate direction and let them explode when they reach a suitable distance,” Rhys paused for a moment, “The most difficult part will be figuring out the way for making the plasma shattered right before the fuel runs out and gathered in the place where are need it to be, but after I get that the rest of the project shouldn’t be too complicated. I guess I will be able to give you the plans next week at the absolute most.” 

Jack nodded and walked around Rhys’s chair to sit on the desk. Rhys waited for him to say something, but he seemed lost in his own thoughts, so he just went back to work letting him figure himself out.

“You still haven’t asked me about what I found on Pandora.” He said after a few minutes of silence. Rhys looked up at him to see if he heard him correctly, but Jack was staring back with a blank expression.

“Ehm. I- I didn’t know you’d wanna share that with me?” He said half stunned half confused by the sudden change of topic.

“Why would you think that?” Jack snarled leaning slightly backwards to get in better position for staring Rhys down.

“I-eh.” Rhys coughed into his fist. What did Jack want him to say? He was a Vault Hunter. He wasn’t used to people just saying things to him right after Rhys straight up asked them. He was planning on having Jack telling him what he found on Pandora. Eventually. It was just that the option of simply asking him about it didn’t really occur to him before. “I don’t know, really.” He said in the end only to watch both of Jacks eyebrows rise in disapproval, “what did you find?”.

Jack didn’t say anything at first. Rhys could feel the intense stare on his face, as he was trying to read in him, searching for any sign that might give him some hint about what was Rhys actually thinking about. But he didn’t seem to find anything, so he just smiled when he said, “Oh, I am happy you asked. You see, we found those monsters living under the city that were hard as fuck to kill. They looked like a fricking walking mountain, and they would throw crystals on us which explode like grenades whenever they hit the ground. But they went down real fast when we figured out that we need to shoot them into their legs.” Jack paused for a second waiting for Rhys’ reaction.

Rhys nodded, chin resting on his hand when he said “That sounds like lots of fun. How did they look like?” He didn’t really need to hear that. Rhys already knew what creatures Jack was talking about the moment he said they were throwing crystals at them, but he found himself really enjoying listening to the way Jack talked about cristaliks and watching him as he got deep into describing how the animals looked like, and the way he would throw his arms around whenever he wanted to exaggerate some of its features.

“So, you are saying that Dahl wanted to use them as sources of the crystals?” Rhys asked when Jack took a slight break from the story. Jack looked at him slight smiled before nodding. “Yep. Seems like they came out with a way for using those crystals in some of their machinery.”

“You can do that too, no? I am sure we would find a place for them in some of the new products or something.”

“Sure. But the problem is that Dahl managed to already hunt down most of them, and I don’t feel it’s really worth any effort with starting a product line using those crystals while we got only about twenty remaining species, even if each one drops around one tonne of that sparkly shit.”

“What do you mean?” Rhys asked now fully turned to face Jack his shield project long forgotten. “ twenty of them should give you like two tonnes of crystals for a mouth if you feed them right.” He waited for Jack to say something but was met only with silence and a look that screamed ‘what are you talking about?’ so he continued. “You know, you don’t necessarily need to kill them to get the crystals. You can just take them off of them, and they grow them back within a few days.” He said at a slow pace as if he’d be explaining something obvious even though he knew that it was not. He only knew about this being an option because he came across a tribe of Indians who lived on one of the wild small planets around Eden 3 and he saw them do it with their crystaliks and then used the crystals to start fires.

But Jack seemed to be more than pleasantly surprised by that news. “Well isn’t that just wonderful,” he laughed, “you gotta tell me how exactly we can do that so I can have some people to set up the farm or whatever,” his hand flew up to stroke Rhys’ hair as he continued in sweet voice, “bet those Dahl fuckers would beat themselves over just to get their fingers on the smart head of yours.” Jack smiled, and Rhys could feel his heart skip a beat. Jack seemed to notice and needed only a second to consider his next move, before pulling Rhys closer for a brief kiss. He only allowed their lips to meet for a few moments before leaning away, content grin all over his face. “Well,” Rhys purred without breaking the eye contact, “luckily for you, I am not feeling like leaving this space station any time soon.” Rhys saw how Jack paused at that as if he just remembered something, but the expression was gone faster than it came, so Rhys didn’t stop to think about it. Instead, he turned back to his computer, giving Jack a clear sign that it was a time for him to get away so he could continue working on the shield plans, but sighed when the CEO mentioned unmoving on his sitting spot on the desk. “I will send you the instructions for farming the crystals this evening, but I just wanna get done some of this first.” He said without looking up to see Jack shrug and walk back to his own workplace.

The rest of the day went pretty normal with Jack getting out and back in from the office, as he was constantly called over to see the results of weaponry testing which had to be delayed due to his prolonged stay on Pandora. Rhys waited for him to come back from one of the latest test to tell him that he was calling it a day and going to his apartment. Jack just waved him off, too busy on of his calls with some people Rhys couldn’t care less about.

When he got to the room, Vaughn was already waiting for him on the sofa overflowing with questions about where he’d disappeared to the previous night. Rhys just smiled when he told him that he had a super important meeting with Jack and left his roommate with his jaw dropped to stare at him as he closed the door from his own room, before throwing the new clothes off and jumping into his bed. Rhys didn’t spare more than a second to glance at his opened clothes, to see that it was completely empty, not even a sock left. He sighed, turning on the other side and finally closed his eyes.

***

Jack was frowning through space between his two fingers at two men sitting in front of him. Both were wearing one of the famous Maliwan issued suits which you can get only if you manage to climb high enough on the corporate leader in that organisation. Jack didn’t think that in the entire galaxy could exist anything that yelled more ‘I am a corporate douchebag who ass-licked my way almost to the top, but I am not quite there yet’ than this suit.

One of them was reading from a stack of papers with the most boring tone Jack ever heard. He was trying to listen to whatever the guy was saying for a whole ten minutes before getting too bored to even process the meaning of the separate words, so he just waited for the man to tire himself out. Which turned out to be a fatal decision because this man was going on for almost an hour now and didn’t seem like he was getting to end of whatever he was saying anytime soon.

Jack's finger itched on the bottom placed on top of his table desk when the door into his office opened, and Rhys walked in, reading something on his ECHO screen.

He was wearing a simple black shirt with a small golden H embroidered into its collar together with a pair of skinny jeans which were showing just the right places. And all the clothing were only fragments of what Jack had have prepared as a surprise gift in front of the door into his room. The way Rhys was walking screamed confidence, and it was only highlighted by his fancy appearance. The brunet finally looked up from the screen when he was almost in the middle of the room and froze, unsure if he wasn’t interrupting something. He only continued when Jack waved at him to go to his table. Rhys nodded and walked to his workplace without sparing another look to the group sitting at Jack’s table. Which wasn’t the same Jack could say about his guests.

One of them only coughed and continued in reading whatever it was written on his paper, but the other one didn’t set his eyes off of Rhys until he was sitting in front of his table. Jack gritted his teeth when a smug grin spread across the guy’s face the moment Rhys turned his back on them before sitting down to his computer.

“I think that was enough,” Jack growled, gaining surprised looks from both men. “Why don’t we move to the point already? I am getting sick from listening to all this law bull shit. Tell me what you want and let's get this over with.”

The guy who was checking out Rhys threw Jack an unimpressed look which made his already hot blood boil, but it was the other one who responded. “As I already said, the spy, send by Hyperion into our development centre, has caused some serious damage to the reputation of our next product line. We cannot risk releasing the guns scheduled for next month due to all the stolen protocols. There is no way we can risk that you would realise the same product in the same time interval as we do.”

“I already told you that I couldn’t give less of shit about your stupid modified garbage of weapons. We are not going to make any copies of that crap, so you don’t need to worry your empty heads about that one.” Jack said not even trying to hide his annoyance.

“If that’s true, why even bother sending the spy in the first place?” The other one asked, watching Jack with a smile that was everything but polite.

“Curiosity.” He responded with a shrug.

“Either way.” The first one said putting his papers away. “The leadership has already decided to stop the ongoing production due to the fear of Hyperion’s operating and now we demand compensations for our losses.”

“Figures,” Jack growled. “What do you want?” One of them reached into his bag and handed Jack a paper filled with black text. Jack didn’t spare it more than a glance before throwing it on his table with a dismissal. “No way.”

Neither of the due was surprised by this reaction. “You do realise that the other option is a war between our corporations? And it's only horrifying to image what outcome this would have for your manufactory. Hyperion doesn’t seem to be in a state when it's prepared to battle with us.”

Jack’s eyes had darkened, and he leant forward to stare the man directly into his eyes with murder written all over his face. “I am sorry.” He said slowly, “I must’ve misheard you. Because it sounded as if you were trying to threaten me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of that, sir.” He responded with the same unsurprised tone. “I was just trying to point the obvious. But I can assure you that it is not in our intention to provoke you in any way.”

Jack heard his teeth creak against each other as he reached for his gun under the table. Somehow, while making that move, Jack’s eyes wandered to the place where Rhys was sitting, to see that the brunet was watching him with an intense look. Jack could see his anger and irritation mirrored in the pair of the mismatched eyes. But when their eyes met, Rhys slowly shook his head in a move so indistinct, anyone who wasn’t focused enough would have missed it. But Jack noticed. He noticed and understood, focusing himself on taking a deep breath before turning to look back at his unwanted guests.

“Well then,” Jack said finally in the fakest tone possible. “No matter how lovely this whole interaction was, I am afraid I cannot allow you to waste more of my time. So, if you could go and close the door from the other side, that would be fantastic.” He turned to look at something on his computer, but when he didn’t hear any movement, he looked up. “What? Did I stutter? Get out!” At that, both of them stood up and left the office in a hurried pace.

When the door closed shut Jack looked at Rhys who was already on his way to Jack’s table. “Can you believe that?” He asked the boy and showed him the piece of paper left here by the Maliwen’s representatives. “Those idiots think they can just come here and waste my time with their political bull shit.” Rhys took the paper from him and quickly looked through their demands. “Maybe I should’ve just killed them.” Jack continued watching how Rhys’ eyes were reading the small text before finally looking at him with a serious expression.

“I’m glad you didn’t,” he said, “the repayments they want from you are impossible to fulfil without hurting Hyperions reputation.” He stopped to think for a second.” I don’t believe that they actually expect you to comply. I think they are just looking for an excuse to attack you.” He stepped closer to the table, so he didn’t have to talk too loud.” The way they were talking to you? They were practically begging you to cross the line. If you’d hurt them, they wouldn’t even have to wait for Hyperion to refuse the settlements to send their flotilla on you.”

“Let them come!” Jack said, the anger from before kicking back on the surface, “we got all the stuff we need to kick their asses out of the galaxy.” Rhys just smiled at that angry expression Jack was doing.

“That, or you could just let me settle this.”

“What? You?” Jack laughed,” Since when do Vault Hunters know how to handle stuff like that?”

“They don’t” Rhys smirked, “I do.” He said with a smug expression covering his face. He waited for Jack to respond, but the man didn’t look like that was happening anytime soon, so he sighed and continued. “Just have some faith in me, won’t you? What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

The CEO stayed quiet for few more moments, thinking about the rhetorical question. The worst thing would be logically two corporations going into a war with each other, but that wasn’t why Jack was hesitating with making the decision. He wasn’t afraid that Rhys would fail and start the conflict. Jack was scared that Rhys would fail, and he would’ve ended up losing him because of that. He made up his mind about keeping the boy by his side for as long as he could when he watched him sleeping in the bed next to him, and he wasn’t ready to let him go just yet.

“Jack,” Rhys said, breaking his thought process,” I really think I can pull this one off.” There was no place for something else than confidence in the tone of his voice, but it was the determined look that made Jack nod.

“Alright kiddo. I will leave this one to you.” He said finally, taking Rhys by his flesh hand and using it as a support for him to stand up. “But now, I am super annoyed by those guys so how about we take a break from all this working nonsense.” Rhys looked confused for a moment but nodded anyway. Jack didn’t wait for other reaction and turned to lead him to the corner where he kept his playing station. “You’ve ever heard of Purple Blood V?”

***

They ended up playing for hours. The game was full of explosions, shooting and grotesquely looking monsters. Rhys could just laugh on the surreal way the aiming system in the game worked, but he got really into it and together with Jack cleared one level after another.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” He started, after getting a critical hit by one of the lava monsters, “If we could respawn in real life?”

“Hm?” Jack hummed, not taking his eyes off of the screen. He was just about to take off the exact copy of the monster that defeated Rhys before.

“I mean, we already know how to teleport from one side of the country to another. How hard can it be to create a station that could bring you back to life?” The brunet continued, watching his character waking up on the latest checkpoints.

“It sure as hell would bring me tonnes of money,” Jack commented after getting his revenge. He glanced at Rhys who was already counting all the possible ways in creating a respawning device. Jack sighed leaning on a side to catch Rhys’ chin between two fingers and forcing the boy to look at him. “Don’t think about it too much okay? You already put a lot on yourself today, and I don’t want you to overwork your pretty head about crazy stuff like that,” He paused to think about something for a moment before smirking, “at least not before you help me kick Maliwan into their elemental based guts.”

Rhys winked as he tried to bring his thoughts back to the reality. He stared at Jack with a blank expression before smiling with his sweetest grin. “So you think my head is pretty too?”

It took Jack a moment before he got what Rhys was referring to. “God damn it kiddo.” He whispered under his breath, before returning the grin with louder answer “one of the prettiest I know.”

“Aw, you flatterer.” Rhys fake-giggled, pushing himself closer to meet Jacks lips in a shameless kiss, to which Jack responded immediately, probably half expecting Rhys to do that. Rhys’ hand move to play with Jacks hair, adding more pressure to their lips and deepening the kiss. They both seemed determinate to stay like this forever, but Jack’s ECHO started ringing and the moment was ruined.

Jack swore and picked up the call. He listened for a moment to what the other one was saying before standing up and walking out of the room, completely forgetting about Rhys’ existence. The boy didn’t wait much longer before picking himself up and heading back to his computer to continue in his own work. His progress on the shield went faster than Rhys expected and there were only a couple of details with the mechanism and some adjustments in the code script, and he could call the project finished, so nothing was standing between him and preparations for outsmarting Maliwan.

When he finally arrived home, he was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go to bed. But he couldn’t sleep. His mind kept coming back to the idea he got when they played the video game. Respawning in real life sounded like something you could only see in the craziest science fictions, but no matter how much he tried to not think about it, his mind was already drawing plans and coming up with ideas that could help him make it into reality. He decided to give up on sleep after few hours just lying down with his eyes closed and moved into next room with a tablet and piece of paper in his hand and started writing down all the ideas of creating the respawn station.

 

Chapter Text

Rhys knew that hiding the mining spots of a company as big as Maliwan itself couldn’t be an easy task, considering all the people and machinery involved in the process, but at least they could pretend a little effort!

The night after Maliwan‘s people left the space station, Rhys threw himself fully into working on his personal goal to take down the corporation, if for nothing more than the fun of doing that. Working on new guns‘ projects for Hyperion was great and he liked the job. He loved coming up with new ideas and inventing new things that wouldn’t only stay on the paper, but still, he couldn’t help but miss the thrill in more dangerous tasks which he got in every time he was on one of the Vault Hunting missions. To find and sabotage Maliwan‘s material sources was only the first step. He needed to weaken them first before moving to another more rational progression.

He didn’t realize he was up all night until the doors from next room opened and Vaughn walked in still half asleep. Rhys quickly shut down all the windows and turned to greet his sleepy roommate. 

“Morning, beautiful,” Rhys called at him with a mocking smile.

Vaughn blinked through his glasses. “Were you up all night again?” He asked ignoring the way Rhys’ smile even brightened.

“Maybe?” Rhys shrugged and turned the computer off. There was no point in working now that Vaughn was here anyway.

It wasn’t as if Rhys didn’t trust his roommate with this project. He did, he trusted Vaughn more than most people in his life, but he couldn’t risk putting his friend’s life in danger because of his secrets. The less Vaughn knew about what he was working on, the better for him.

The short man seemed to notice but was smart enough not to comment on it. “What do you want for breakfast?” He asked instead, making his way to the kitchen court.

“Ehm. Coffee.”

“Yeah, of course.” He said and Rhys knew he was rolling his eyes even though he was facing away from him. “But what do you want to eat? You know you cannot survive just on coffee, right?”

“I can die trying.”

“Alright, we are having pancakes,” Vaughn announced after checking inside the fridge. Rhys made a happy sound in response and moved to turn on the TV. Some show about the wild life was just on and Rhys was content with listening to whatever it was the man on the screen had to say about one especially grotesquely looking example of a herbivore.

Just when it looked like the man will get eaten by the animal, who had proved himself not to be as herbivory as he seemed before, the door into their apartment loudly opened and Yvette walked in. “I smell free food.” She said and moved to stand behind Vaughn who was just about to finish with his morning cooking.

“Good morning to you too, Yevette,” Rhys called from his seat on the sofa. She just waved at him in response, eyes never reaching his direction, still fixed on the plate filled with the fresh sugared meal. Rhys could hear her chatting with Vaughn about who in her department was banging who, and turned the volume up, saving himself from all the fresh gossip.

He stood up only shortly before the food was done to prepare the table and the three of them finally set down to start with the breakfast.

“Anyway.” Yevette started as soon as she managed to swallow her first bite. “As I was saying, someone needs to fix the gaps in the new dating app. Because there is no way in hell Natasha would ever match with someone like Thomas. Those two are like nothing alike and, oh my god Rhys, is that a hickey on your neck?!” She dropped the pancake on the plate and pointed at Rhys with her perfectly trimmed fingernail. Rhys just frowned at her, touching the skin on his neck, unable to feel any difference. She handled him her make up mirror from her bag so he could finally see the red mark shining on his skin, half hidden behind the collar of his shirt.

“Oh,” Rhys said after examining his neck for a few seconds. He looked at his two companions who were clearly expecting an explanation. A few quick lines flashed in his mind but he suppressed them all. He promised to himself that he would lie to those two as little as possible. Plus this was something he would happily share. “They must be from Jack.”

Rhys looked up to see how his friends will react, unsure what to expect from them. Shock? Disgust? Maybe anger? But neither of those emotions was reflected in the way they were looking at him. Instead, they were watching him with faces cleared of emotions, slightly broken only by Yevettes twitching mouth corner.

Vaughn stood up from his chair and walked away from the table, disappearing into his room for a few seconds and coming back with something hidden in his fist. He didn’t look at Rhys when he walked to Yevette who already gave up on keeping her face straight and was now grinning from ear to ear. Vaughn opened his palm and revealed a ten-dollar bill which Yevette grabbed and hid inside her own pocket. And Rhys finally realized what was happening in front of him.

“Did you two seriously bet on me?” He said, without trying to suppress the surprise in his voice.

“We did indeed.” Yevette nodded. “It was super obvious you two are gonna bang the moment he moved you to work in his office.”

“And you disagreed?” Rhys asked turning to Vaughn who shook his head in response.

“Of course not. We didn’t bet about ‘if’ we bet about ‘when’. And I just thought it would take him at least two months before he got you in bed.”

“Oh.” Rhys let out, stunned by how transparent he must have been to them, not even realizing. “Well, I don’t know about you but I would have never guessed that I am going to end up dating my boss.” He muttered, feeling somehow offended, slowly processing the fact that he was a centre of someone’s bet.

“Wh-what? Who said anything about dating? How are you dating?” Vaughn gasped, both hands grabbing on the table to support himself. He probably meant that this gesture would make him seem more dramatic, but considering his high, it only made him look like a child who slipped on an ice cube and was catching things before falling down.

Rhys looked at him with a risen eyebrow. “I am dating Jack. And I thought that’s what we were talking about this whole time?”

“No.” Yevette shook her head, “we were talking about you fucking Handsome Jack.”

“And how is that not the same thing?” Rhys asked, confusion written all over his face.

“Of course that’s not the same thing!” She laughed. “You would not be the first on this station who Jack fucked, far from that actually, but you would definitely be the first one to date him.” Rhys tried to interrupt her but she didn’t let him. “Plus, everybody knows that Jack doesn’t do dating.”

“How does everyone know it?” Rhys asked, feeling a strange warm pain rising in his chest.

“It’s written on his website.” She shrugged, reaching for her glass of juice.

“But,” Rhys continued, “he already called me his boyfriend.” Rhys could hear the desperation rising in his voice, but he refused to care.

Vaughn sighed from the other side of the table but it was Yevette who responded. “He calls everyone here all kinds of things. You can’t take it that seriously, you know?”

“Did he tell you that he loves you?” Vaughn tried when he noticed how the face of his friend was getting paler with each word they said. But Rhys just shook his head in response.

“It's probably for the best.” Yevette continued, blind towards the brunet’s feelings. “We already told you he was no good for you. Like, I get it you got a crush on him. Who doesn’t? But don’t let him destroy you like that. You are smarter than that.”

Rhys closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wasn’t ready for this conversation. A small part of him had its suspicions that Jack might not be taking this whole thing as seriously as he was, but the rest refused to care. Not until this conversation had started, at least. Now he couldn’t shake away the feeling that they were right. Both of them were working for Jack way longer than he was, so they probably knew what to expect from the CEO.

“Okay.” He said finally. “Okay, you are right. I can do better than that.” Rhys put on his faked smile and winked at his friend. “The sex was amazing though.”

A blush spread across Vaughn‘s cheeks and he caught into his palm. “I did not need to hear that.”

Yevette high-fived Rhys before he stood up and stretched his back. “Well, this has been a lovely morning and I will be forever grateful for that, but I gotta go. Work is calling me.”

“Right.” Vaughn nodded. “Well, see ya later man.”

Rhys quickly collected his stuff and waved his goodbyes before closing the door behind. He held the same face for until he reached the end of the corridor. Then his legs started to slow down from his usual fast-paced walking speed and he let the confident mask fall down, finally letting the conversation to get to him.

He truly believed that he and Jack had a thing. It was hard to let it all go only after a few words from his friends. But that didn’t mean they didn’t leave any impact on him. No matter what they said, Jack did call him his boyfriend and Rhys already grew to the idea of the two of them being a couple. Whether it meant something to the other man was another thing.

And Rhys refused to let himself dwell on this for any longer than needed. He will go ask Jack about it. The worst possible scenario – Vaughn and Yevette being right, Jack will just laugh into his face and make fun of him about it. But that is something Rhys was willing to risk. Because if he is right, and Jack sees him in the same way he sees him, then he is officially dating the man whom he has been admiring for so many years.

He nodded at Megg who was too busy playing on her phone to notice him and walked into the office. He was prepared to meet Jack’s gaze, just like every morning, walk right to his table and demand his answers. Maybe he would even hit the table to add it a little more action or something.

Instead, he froze in the doorway, staring at the picture of Jack, lying on his desk, head resting on one of his hands and the other holding a golden pen with Hyperion logo. Rhys’ legs started moving on their own, and he sprinted across the room, fearing the worst. He allowed himself to calm down only when he saw Jack‘s back rising and falling, breathing.

Jack was sleeping. Probably just wanted his eyes to rest for a moment when he was reading through one of the reports and didn’t manage to open them until now.

Some part of Rhys wanted to wake him up and ask the question that was burning on his tongue, but he fought it off. Jack always looked so peaceful when asleep, Rhys doubted he would find the will power to disturb him. Instead, he headed to the sofa to grab a blanket lying on it and slowly placed it over Jack‘s shoulders, being extremely careful not to wake him up. When he was done, he spared the man one sad glance before heading to his own table. His own emotional problems had to wait. He had got some real work to do.

***

John was in a desert.

The Pandorian desert to be exact. He was running as fast as he could, but the sand crumbling beneath his feet was making it so much more difficult. He was exhausted. He could feel the muscles burning and it was too hard to fill his lungs with oxygen over and over again.

He was holding something small and soft, something that was squirming in his arms. He looked down, to see a brown kitten, its eyes matching his with their colour. His kitten. The one that he found abandoned on the streets, hiding from the rain under one of the paper boxes. It was the reason why he was running. Because he wanted to protect it. Protect it from her. And so he kept running, refusing to let himself slow down and catch a second breath because if he did, she would get them.

John jumped over a large rock and ran to his hiding place, hoping he was fast enough for her not to see him. He opened his arm to put the kitten on the ground. But the cat was already gone. His hands were now covered in sticky blood and brown fur.

An ugly laughter hit him hard into his ears and he looked up to see her in front of him. She was holding the tiny animal in one hand and a rusty knife in the other. And she was smiling. Staring at him, devious grin John knew far too well. Her hand moved and he wanted to run to her and stop her, but he couldn’t move. His feet were buried in the red sand and no matter how much he tried to pry them out they stayed hidden, frozen in one place. All he could do was beg.

And so he begged.

He cried and screamed for her to stop. He was pleading her not to hurt his friend. He promised to do whatever she wanted him to do, just to stop her hand from moving towards the cat. But it didn’t work. It never worked.

 He watched with blurred vision as the knife ran across the animal's neck. 

There was a loud scream coming from inside his thought as he fell on his knees, unable to look away from the horrifying scene in front of him.

'Jack…' Soft, worried voice sounded in his head, bringing a slight wave of comfort. But it was immediately lost in the woman’s laughter. She was laughing when she threw the dead animal away and was now slowly coming towards him. He cried again, now louder than before, his fear growing with every step she took closer to him.

And then the voice was back. 'Jack, wake up!' He felt two hands grabbing him by his shoulders. But she was still too far away from him to be able to reach him. This grip wasn’t hers, it was someone else. There was no intention of harm in the touch, just pure comfort. And John woke up.

***

It took him few moments to realize that he wasn’t in the desert anymore. He quickly scanned the room, searching for any kind of danger, but the only thing he found was Rhys, sitting next to him, watching him with worried mismatched eyes. His hand was on the sofa right next to Jack’s, but not close enough to touch. Jack found himself under the wave of slight disappointment because he was sure it was Rhys who held him by his shoulders when he was asleep.

The last person to witness Jack having one of his night terrors and who happened to be near him when he woke up screaming, ended up with a bullet in his head. Because Jack wouldn’t trust anyone walking around with that information about him. He hated it when people caught him in a moment that showed him acting weak. There was never a guarantee they wouldn’t end up using it against him in the future. But this was Rhys. So it was alright.

“Bad dream?” Rhys asked and Jack felt his heart stumble at the concern which he could hear in Rhys’ voice.

“Nah, pumpkin. I just tend to yell really loud out of pure excitement.” Jack joked, but the dream was still too vivid for him to sound convincing. Of course, there was no chance Rhys would buy it.

The brunet leaned closer, eyes locked with Jack’s when he said, ‘Tell me about it.’ Jack frowned at him and Rhys frowned back. They held each other’s gaze for a minute, both refusing to be the first to break the stare. But then Jack couldn’t take it anymore and turned away with a heavy sigh. Damn this kid. Anyone else on this station would be smart enough to be scared of the Handsome Jack and not force him into revealing his personal things to them. They all knew they would end up floating outside the window before getting their answer. But maybe, Jack thought, that might be what I like the most about him. The fact that Rhys had never looked at Jack as someone who he should be afraid of, might’ve gotten him on the top of the short list of people Jack allowed to let close to him.

“It's my grandma.” He said finally, both eyes closed, feeling stupid.

“Your grandma.” He could hear Rhys repeated in a confused tone.

“Yeah,” He sighed. “I lived with her as a kid. The old crone still manages to give me the creeps.” Jack opened his eyes again, but Rhys wasn’t looking at him. He was staring out of the window, looking into the space behind it. Jack wasn’t sure what to make out of it.

“Where is she now?” Rhys asked. “It's not on the Helios, right?”

“God, no.” Jack exhaled. “She would never set a foot in here.” He laughed at the picture in his head of his old granny running through the corridors. It was as hilarious as terrifying. “She should still be on Pandora. As far as I know.”

“Good,” Rhys said nodding. He finally looked away from the window and smiled at Jack. “You should go back to sleep. You can try to hide it behind the mask as much as you like, but I can see how red your eyes are right now. You are going to blow up the station by accident if you continue overworking yourself like that.”

“Pumpkin, once I blow this place up it will be anything but an accident. It will be just me deciding that Helios would look way better as a giant firework. Heh, can you imagine that? This whole place just going buuum! Bet those dumbheads down there would shit their pants if they ever got to see a show like that.” Jack laughed at the idea of people running around on Pandora’s surface all confused and scared by the giant explosion happening above their heads.

Rhys’ lips were still shifted into a light smile but his eyes were unfocused. Jack had already learned that this meant he was inventing something. Like setting pieces of puzzle in his head. He reached out, wanting to touch Rhys’ face and bring his attention back to his own person. But in the middle of its way, his hand was stopped by cold, metallic fingers wrapped around its wrist. Jack looked at robotic arm first, then back at Rhys, waiting for an explanation. But the boy's expression remained unchanged. There was still the smile playing on his lips, and his eyes were watching him in the same unfocused way.

“You need to sleep, Jack. No matter how much you try to deny it, you are still a human being. You can‘ function on only two hours of sleep per day.”

“I can die trying.” Jack joked. There was a moment of surprise and Rhys' eyes widened for a second but then he laughed and looked at Jack with the soft happy way that made Jack’s heart melt. How could he even consider sending this precious treasure away?

Rhys slowly began to stand up but Jack moved and grabbed him by the same hand that he had stopped him with from reaching for his face before. Rhys looked at him with a sigh. “Jack, I told you to-”

“Lay here with me,” Jack said with demanding voice without even thinking about it.

One pair of brown eyebrows raised up. “Are you sure?” Rhys asked, watching Jack and searching for any sign to give away if the other man was joking. Instead of answering, Jack moved on the sofa, making space for Rhys to lie on. The boy stood there for a second too long, looking like he was thinking about what to do next and Jack half-expected him to walk away. But then he threw his long legs on the couch and stuffed himself next to Jack. They laid facing each other. There was a small gap between them which Jack closed by throwing one arm around the other’s waist and pulled him closer. He was almost disappointed when there was no flash of pink across the boy's cheeks. Instead, Rhys was staring into Jack‘s eyes like he was trying to tell what the other one was thinking. And as far as Jack knew, Rhys could actually do that. His hand moved again towards the brunet’s face, waiting for him to try to stop him again. But Rhys did nothing, not even as much as to look at it, eyes still locked with Jack’s.

Jack’s palm finally reached its destination, thumb gently running across Rhys cheekbones, memorizing the warmth and the soft texture, before pulling him in for a short light kiss, which Rhys was the first one to break with a silent order. Sleep. So Jack closed his eyes and pressed his head against the boy’s chest. He fell asleep listening to his heartbeat.

When he woke up again, he was alone. Well rested, filled with energy from a good sleep, but alone.

He looked at the table, thinking he would see Rhys there working on his computer, but the chair was empty. He must’ve gone to the programming department. He did that everytime he needed some more advanced computer for writing one of his overly complicated codes. True, he always asked Jack if it's fine for him to go there, but he probably just didn’t want to wake him up again.

Jack stretched and walked to his own workplace. Even with Rhys’ promise that he could take care of Maliwan, there was still a mass of work left for Jack to deal with, starting with looking through some of the more expensive projects. Most of them were based on Rhys’ ideas, so it was a clear ‘to go’ but after the fiasco with explosive shields, Jack didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

The nap helped. With his mind rested it was easier to read through the long texts and follow the steps of construction. He was soon done with most of it, already excited to see some of the new guns in person. But Rhys was still gone, which sucked because Jack felt like talking with him about the double effect pistol, which Jack was sure was one of the boy’s invention. So he reached for his ECHO and called him. The call wasn’t video based, but sound only was also fine.

“Heya, pumpkin. What’s taking you so long?” Jack heard a quiet swear and distant voice in the background and noises of something falling down. He almost began to think that Rhys had left his ECHO somewhere.

“Sorry, I am just in a middle of something, gonna call you when I‘m done, alright?” Rhys didn’t wait for Jack to answer and hung up. Jack was about to call him again but stopped himself. Rhys was probably working on something big and if this something was about to bring Maliwan on they knees, Jack wasn’t the one to hold him back from it. So instead he went for the rest of the papers lying on his table. Rhys was working so hard, he better not stay behind.

It didn’t take too long for his ECHO to stay quiet. Jack quickly reached for it, but for his disappointment, the name on the display didn’t spell Rhysie. Instead, it was the number of the security department.

“What?” Jack groaned. He really didn’t want to deal with those guys right now.

A deep voice sounded from the other side. “Sir, we got a report of a stolen shuffle. It's heading in the Pandora’s direction as we speak.“

“And isn’t it supposed to be your job to have the ships guarded?” Jack said, massaging his temple.

“They managed to take down five of our guards, sir. And got away before the backup could arrive.” There was a brief pause, and Jack could hear a second voice talking to the guard. “We suspect,” he finally continued, “that it might be a small group of spies, sir. We tried to make a contact but they cut off all the communication systems in the ship.”

Jack sighed. “So? What do you want from me? Blow them off!”

“We require your personal authorization to activate the self-destruction process on this particular ship.” The man explained.

“Does this mean I have to walk all the way down there just to fix your fuck-up, correct?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Just bring me names of the people responsible for this. I will deal with them later.” He hung up and headed out of his office.

The trip there would take way more time if he didn’t install fast travel station in his office years ago. It could take him basically anywhere on Helios in a matter of seconds. But still, he had to walk through the corridor into the command centre. It gave him a little time to think about the idea Rhys had about the respawning stations. As crazy as it might have sounded at first, it caught his attention and the more time he spent thinking about it, the more he liked it.

True, they would need to figure out how to manage to keep the data of a living being in the computer, so they could use it for the respawn. It would require a big energy source to keep the data disk of such size running nonstop, but Jack was sure if they worked together, they could come up with the solution in no time.

The scanner on the iron door in front of him flashed blue light on his face, before turning green, granting him the entrance.

Everyone in the room turned to him when he walked inside. There was a moment of absolute silence before the man in command stepped towards him.

Jack recognized his voice. He was the one who called him about all this mess. “Sir, the ship has already entered the atmosphere. All is prepared for you to start the self-destructing process.”

Jack didn’t do as much as nod in the man’s direction and walked towards the central computer. The program was already opened, waiting for Jack to type in the code and start the explosion.

He hesitated before pressing the bottom. “Have you managed to figure out who are those people?” He asked no one in particular.

“No, sir.” The man answered. “But we suspect the members of the Pandorian terrorist group.”

Jack didn’t need to hear more. He slammed his fist against the button and watched how the ship in the screen exploded.

“Alright.” He clapped, turning on his heel. “I want names of at least two people responsible for wasting my time on this shit in an hour or I am considering this mess up a group project and just blame all of you.” He only turned around to see how everyone’s faces lost their colour before walking out of the room right back into his office.

“Angel!” Jack smiled at the picture of a blue-eyed girl on his ECHO screen, after he got back to the office. “I got a group of Pandorian scum who thought they were smart enough to come to Helios and steal my ship. Emphasis on were, they exploded. Well, I made them explode them together with the ship. But now I really wanna know who those shitbacks were. And those idiots in security department who I obviously pay way too much than they deserve aren’t even able to do that.  Can help daddy out?”

“Of course, Jack.” Angel nodded, ending the call.

Jack sighed, feeling a little bad about not calling his baby girl more often. He made a mental note to buy her another present later today. Just needed to figure out what the present should be. Maybe another companion robot? She seemed to really like the previous one. Or maybe he could ask Rhys. But first, he would need to come up with a way to ask the boy for a girl-gift idea without giving away who it would be for. Jack wasn’t sure if the time was right for Angel and Rhys to officially meet. As far as Rhys knew, she was an AI helping Rhys and the rest of the resistance to fight Jack. What a joke!

Wonder how Rhys would react. Jack thought, smiling at the image of Rhys staring at his beautiful daughter with opened mouth and widened eyes.

He got so caught up in his own mind he almost missed the incoming call from the siren. He was already smiling when the call was connected. “Knew you wouldn’t fail me.” He said in a proud voice.

“I am sending you the tape as we speak.” She said, voice oddly freed from any emotion. She sounded more like a robot than a human being. “The first part is from the camera in departing hall and the other one is from the shuffle.”

“You are the bestest.” Jack laughed. “And did you find out who they were?”

“Yes, I know the identity.” Angel nodded without looking directly at the camera. “Just watch the tape, Jack. See for yourself.” The call ended as she finished. Jack almost called her back but changed his mind, curiosity winning over his parental tactics.

He opened the file and leaned back in his huge chair.

Nothing happened at first. The clip was showing the departure room with all the guards and scientists walking around. But Jack’s attention was on the figure hiding behind a supply box, only a few steps away from two guards casually chatting with each other. It was hard to see but Jack could tell it was a boy but didn’t see enough to figure out who it was, but Jack guessed he will see when he gets to the part filmed from the ship. Plus judging by what they told him, there will be more of them coming. The person was apparently about to move from his hiding spot when suddenly the two guards turned towards him. The figure threw on the floor something that looked like an ECHO device. Jack laughed. What a beginner’s mistake! Everybody knows you gotta turn it off if you are about to sneak somewhere.

The person waited a few seconds for the duo to get closer before jumping up, hitting one of them with an iron pipe and spinning around to electrify the other one with something in his hand. He got rid of the two but now the attention of half of the room was on him. Instead of running straight towards the ship, he reached back on the floor for the ECHO, saying something into it before tucking it back into his pocket. He finally turned to run to the ship, with three other guards chasing after him. All of them ignored the small pieces of metal he was tossing on the ground behind him. Jack could see him typing something on a device in his hand before an electric blue light flashed across the ground behind him and all the guards fell on the ground, unmoving. He made his way into the ship and within a minute, it was flying away. Jack didn’t need to wait for the film to change to know who this intruder was. He had the feeling from the very beginning, he was just hoping he was wrong. He wasn't.

The footage changed and now he was watching Rhys through the eye of camera set above the driver‘s head, which Rhys apparently failed to notice, seeing he never looked into it.

Rhys turned on the computer in his palm and a holographic display appeared. Jack didn’t see what he was doing but soon after that the ship engine was running and the Vault Hunter was flying away.

Jack was in a state of shock. Part of him was still refusing to believe that what was happening on the screen was real. He couldn’t think of any reason for it to be true, any reason for Rhys to go, fight the security, steal the ship and leave while Jack was sleeping. He couldn’t help but shake at the wave of betrayal flashing over him.

He continued watching when the light in the ship turned red. And a female voice started to count down from ten. Warning that the explosion was coming. He watched Rhys trying to overcome it by hacking into the system and block the signal, but he knew it was impossible. Because he was the one to program the system, sealing it against any attack coming from the inside. He could tell the exact moment when Rhys realized it by the way his eyes had widened, face shaping into tense grimace of panic. He was watching as Rhys realized he was about to die only a few seconds before the clip ended together with the sound of a female AI reaching zero on her countdown followed by the sound of the explosion.

He didn’t move when the screen turned black. He felt as if he just got hit by a hammer right into the stomach. His head hurt as it was trying to process what he just saw. The picture of Rhys seconds before he died was frozen in his mind, bringing him into the reality. Into the reality where Rhys was dead.

Into the reality where he was the one who killed him.

Chapter Text

Rhys hated Pandora. He hated it from the bottom to the top. He hated the animals, he hated the people and most importantly he hated the red sand which he had been trying to spit out of his mouth with little success.

Waking up with his face buried into the ground wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but it was better than getting blown up.

He had to admit that stealing the ship from Hyperion without doing all the research about its programming beforehand wasn’t one of his best ideas – it didn’t even reach the top ten – but he couldn’t help it. After he heard Jack crying from his sleep, he had been acting on pure impulses. It was so unlike his old self! Jumping into the action without having prepared any clear plan beforehand, but he couldn’t force himself to care. At least he already knew where the woman lived. He found the location while Jack was sleeping, resting his head on Rhys’ chest.

Maybe stealing the ship wasn’t really necessary. He could just make himself a fake ID and pretend he was one of the pilots. That would be way easier and safer and it could’ve saved him all this trouble, but it would take more time and Rhys refused to wait a second longer than necessary.

The explosion was an inconvenience. He was sure the system was disconnected from any outside signals, but apparently, he was wrong. And his pride exploded into pieces together with the ship. At least he succeeded in disconnecting the camera system in the hall. Rhys really didn’t want Jack to know he left the station without telling him about it first.

Luckily for him, his powers had awakened and he somehow managed to teleport himself out of the ship before the explosion could physically harm him. Rhys only wished he’d manage to find some time before all this to practice the siren stuff because it always seemed to act on its own.

And maybe if he had known how to teleport in the first place, he wouldn’t have to deal with all the stealing Hyperion ship bullshit. Or at least to get closer to the house so he didn’t have to walk all the way there.

Rhys looked around the desert where he had landed. He could see nothing but sand and a smoke coming up from the wrecked shuttle. He knew that this was going to lure bandits or some wild animals searching for a dead meat, so he better got moving.

Unlike the first time he got to this planet, his ECHO eye had already been fully coordinated with this land so he had no troubles with regaining his orientation. The closest fast travel station was only a few miles away from here and he was sure he could find one of the places that sold cars around here. And so he started walking. He hadn’t moved more than few meters and he was already sweating. He must’ve landed in the hottest part of Pandora. The heat even made it hard for him to breathe. He stopped, letting himself think for a moment, considering his options. He wasn’t sure how long he was going to stay in this area, and if he got in a fight here, the fact that he could barely catch his breath only after slow walk would be a great disadvantage.

With a heavy heart, he took off his vest. It was the one from before he even got on Helios. His special modified bulletproof vest. It was one of his greatest inventions and he felt sorry about leaving it here. He could make himself a new one of course. But there were tons of memories hidden in its scratches. Rhys refused to just leave it laying on the ground. Instead, he found a bunch of stones and built a small shrine for it. When he was somehow satisfied with how it looked like, he saluted to it and walked away, feeling as if he just said his last goodbye to a long-known friend. He wasn’t sure if it was just his imagination playing tricks on him, but he could have sworn that he had heard a sound of a car engine coming his way.

 

***

“I don’t give a fuck you are under fire. Throw grenades at them. Use the laser guns. Go hit them with a fricking stick! I couldn’t care less what you shitheads do. Get. To. The. Fucking. Ship!” But the only response Jack got was more sounds of gunfire and screams of dying men. “Send more loader bots! Send all of them at once!” Jack yelled at some random guy standing next to him who quickly ran away to complete the order. But that didn’t stop Jack from more shouting. “And get me the visuals. I wanna know what exactly is going on down there. I want to see the ship and I want to see it now!” Jack was shaking with anger when his fist hit the iron table, right next to the keyboard of the main computer. He hadn’t felt like this for years.

Last time that he got close to this level of anger was before he even had the scar under his mask. He and Nisha were on Helios, in this exact room and they almost got sucked in a warm hole which they accidentally created after being tricked into destroying the eye of Helios. He remembered feeling as if something inside him cracked. The taste of betrayal burning through his organs as he watched the world in front of him losing its shape.

But this was different.

As horrible as the betrayal from his ex-girlfriend was, it still couldn’t match the way he was feeling now. Because he knew why they did it. He didn’t understand, but he knew. They called him psychopath and lunatic. They didn’t understand the way Jack was dealing with things, they weren’t able to see the greater picture. But Rhys was different. He saw things the same way Jack did, he agreed with him and was willing to follow him through the path Jack had chosen. Having Rhys on his side felt as if he has found a long-lost part of himself. He was filling all the places Jack hadn’t even known were empty without the boy in his life. And he was so sure Rhys felt the same way.

That’s why this didn’t make any sense. No matter how hard he thought about it he couldn’t think of any reasons for Rhys to leave. The boy looked like he liked being on Helios with him. He seemed there was almost nothing that could make him go away. But Jack was starting to have a feeling he might know what made the Vault Hunter change his mind.

Before he left, he heard Jack crying in his sleep. He saw him at one of his weakest points and since them, he looked like his mind was absent. Jack might have misinterpreted it as if he was about to invent something. But apparently, the only invention he was thinking about was his fastest escape road away from Helios. Away from Jack.

It made sense, really. Rhys was a Vault Hunter and those are not exactly known for appreciating when people show weaknesses around them. Jack remembered that from the times he was dating Nisha. True, Rhys was everything but an ordinary Vault Hunter, but he had never seen Jack like that. Maybe he felt like staying with him would put his reputation in danger. If Rhys saw him in a moment like this, it meant that sooner or later anyone else could as well.

That’s why Rhys left. He saw Jack being weak, fragile and that’s why he decided to run away.

“Sir.” A woman in white coat spoke next to him. “We got the drone fly over the wrecked ship. Do you want to see the footage?”

Jack glanced at her and nodded. She typed something on the computer in front of him and a short video began to play.

The ship was on fire. Jack could see a number of dead bandits and few Hyperion soldiers lying around. The sand was filled with blood and ashes. He didn’t need to listen to the woman saying there was no sign of the pilot surviving the explosion because he already knew. He just nodded to whatever she was saying and left in the middle of her sentence.

 He wasn’t sure where he was going, lost in his own torturing thoughts, wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings or the shocked looks people were throwing in his direction as he walked past them. It was as if he was in a trance, waking up only when he stopped in front of Rhys’ working table.

He was in his office, but it felt different. The empowering feeling, he got whenever he walked in was gone. Now the room just felt too big. Too empty. Jack stared at the piles of papers laying on the table, unsure what to do.  He only left to go get a bottle of whiskey he had in his drawer and walked back, sitting in front of the table with his back leaning against it. He closed his eyes and pressed the bottleneck against his mouth, splashing away the taste of Rhys’ kiss on his lips.

***

It wasn’t hard to admit that there were some aspects of life of a Vault Hunter that Rhys missed. As much as he loved being on Helios, there was nothing that could at least remotely compare with the rush he felt when he jumped with his newly purchased vehicle across the cliff.

His car had successfully landed on the other side, which wasn’t something he could say about the bandits who had been chasing him through the desert for a while now. There was a loud sound of an explosion behind him, but Rhys didn’t turn to look at it, he didn’t have time to waste by looking over his shoulder.

For the past half an hour, moonshots had been landing on the surface of Pandora without a pause. Rhys had no idea what kind of battle had Hyperion gotten itself into but he wanted to get back to the station as soon as possible and help Jack fight. But that couldn’t happen before he killed Jack’s grandma.

Rhys was well aware that what he was doing was impulsive. If he’d only stopped and thought about it for more than ten seconds, he would be able to come up with at least a dozen good reasons for why what he was doing right now was stupid.

But then he remembered the fear he saw in Jack’s eyes after he woke up from his nightmare and suddenly Rhys was gritting his teeth with rage. This woman had hurt Jack. And was still hurting him only by being alive and Rhys was determined to put an end to that.

The blue mark on his map got bigger, announcing he had successfully reached his destination. Rhys looked up at a small house that was standing in front of him. It seemed nothing out of the ordinary. A small cottage with small windows and a small garden. He noticed some blue flowers growing around the house. For a moment, he even considered picking them up but shook his head at that idea. He was a Vault Hunter for god’s sake. He will not pick any stupid flowers. 

Rhys walked towards the door and shot away the lock with his pistol. The door opened without any resistance after that. He took it as an invitation and let himself in.

Inside of the house was everything he expected from a place inhabited by a Pandorian old lady. All the equipment inside looked like it was stolen from the past century. The walls were gray with tiny pieces of old wallpaper hanging here and there. But it was empty. Rhys checked for any hiding spots, searching for a place where she could be hiding, but gave up soon after. The house was empty. Rhys took it as an opportunity to look around the place.

He was standing in the living room, checking for any hidden traps that were known to be set in most of the Pandorian houses, but couldn’t find anything. Instead, he reached for one of the pictures standing on the coffee table. It was a frame with a picture of Jack shaped into a paper hearth He wanted to pick it up but the picture was glued to the table. When he looked closer he could see scratches on the wooden frame, as if someone tried to get rid of it but failed. It seemed that grandma wasn’t too happy about having them in here.

Rhys didn’t hear the doors opening, but suddenly he knew he wasn’t alone in the room. And then everything happened too fast.

He turned around right in the moment when the whole room filled with a buzzing sound of spinning sharp wheels. She was standing right behind him, and Rhys was a second too late to jump away from her swing. The sharp iron teeth ran across his chest, cutting through his clothes, leaving a painful red trail on his skin. Rhys yelped in pain but didn’t wait for her to regain her stability and hit him again. His robotic arm flew up, digging his metallic fingers into the soft skin on her neck. She made a choking sound when he lifted her up. The old woman tried to hit him again, cut off the arm that was holding her in the air but once again the Vault Hunter was faster.

“Handsome Jack sends his regards.” He growled through gritted teeth, and a moment later a blue flash shot from his robotic palm, burning through every cell in her body. She let out her last scream before going limp, becoming a dead weight hanging above the floor.

Rhys finally let go and the body fell to the ground with a loud disgusting “thud”. He took a few shaky steps back before the wall stopped him from moving any further. He leaned against it, making sure he wouldn’t fall when he inspected the wound.

It was even worse than he thought it would be. Blood was already soaking through his black shirt, shaping into a sticky dark stain. He didn’t bother taking the shirt off until he had something to clean it with or at least something to wrap around his torso to stop the blood flowing out.  But there was nothing. Everything in the house was so dirty, he would probably die of blood poisoning before the fabric even touched his skin. He tried to hope for a miracle and looked around the shelves for an injection of an insta-health but of course, he failed.

He was forced to give up his search when his vision started to get blurry. He sat down on the floor next to the old bed and reached for his ECHO to call for help. To his horror, he found out that the screen was cracked. He could see nothing but black and white lines on the display. He could’ve used his palm computer if he hadn’t used the electric wave to kill the lady next to him. Now he had to wait at least fifteen minutes more for it to recharge. But judging by the speed the blood was leaving his body, he wouldn’t be alive by then. 

Breathing was hard and exhausting and so was thinking. His eyes were looking around the room still searching for anything that could save his life.

Rhys.” A female voice spoke up from next to him.

If he wasn’t so weak right now, he would’ve jumped up.

“Hi Angle.” He smiled weakly. “Long time no see, heh?”

Look under the pillow.” She ordered instead of responding.

Rhys nodded. Too tired to even ask what he was looking for. He somewhat assumed it was a red injection so he was more than surprised to find a purple glowing rock under the pillow.

Alright, that’s it. Now take it.”

“Wha-” Rhys started but she stopped him. “No Rhys. Just do what I say. No talking.”

He attempted a sigh, but it turned into a bloody cough. Without any more protests, he reached for the weird stone.

Good. Now pull it closer to your chest. Close your eyes and think only about the stone in your hands.” She continued and he obeyed. “Now, imagine the stone turning into a light. A pure energy. Imagine the energy floating around your fingers.” Rhys tried to do what she said. He must’ve been losing a lot of blood because he could swear he felt how the weight of the stone in his hands had disappeared, replaced by something light and warm. “Let the energy surround you. Imagine how it’s getting closer to the wound. Let it enter your skin around the cut.” Rhys did exactly what she said. He thought about the purple light shining around him, getting inside him, letting it enter through his cells. It felt so weird yet so natural. He kept his eyes closed the whole time, but he didn’t need to see to know that something was happening.

The pain was replaced with burning feeling that was everything but painful. It was as if he was charging the life back into his organs. He finally opened his eyes to see that what he had been imagining became a reality. Only the light wasn’t really purple, it was more of a darker pink shade. He kept focusing on the energy a little longer, watching as the purple stone kept getting smaller and smaller until it completely vanished. But by that time, he was already fully healed, feeling more alive than ever.

“Waw.” He exhaled. “What was that?” He looked at Angel who was already watching him with narrowed eyes.

Eridium. It started appearing all over Pandora after the Destroyer was killed.” She explained.

“Oh. I’ve heard about it.” Rhys nodded. “But I didn’t know it could heal people?”

It can’t heal people.” Angle shook her head, sounding a little too harsh. “But it can heal sirens.”

Silence spread across the room leaving the two of them to stare at each other quietly. “Oh,” Rhys said finally after it became clear that the girl was waiting for him to say something. “That explains it, I guess.”

Angel’s blue eyes stared Rhys down with iced look before sadness broke through her face. “So it’s true then.” Angel sighed. Too late Rhys had realized that she was expecting some form of denial and mentally kicked himself for it. “You have to run.” She told him then, in the way that left no place for discussion.

“Yeah, don’t worry.” Rhys grinned. “Once my hand recharges I will order myself a ship and be flying off of this planet, no problem.”

But Angel shook her head. “No, you don’t understand. You need to run away from Jack.” Rhys frowned at her and opened his mouth to argue but she was faster. “You have no idea what he is going to do to you once he finds out about this!” She pointed at the tattoo that was peeking out through the hole of his vest. “He will imprison you. Trap you in one of the labs and use you to power up his machinery.”

Jack would never do that.” Rhys frowned, the need to defend his employer growing stronger in his chest.

You know that’s not true Rhys. You are too smart for that.” It was a statement more than anything else. Rhys could feel her searching for any sign of confirmation in his face, but she must have failed if the way her mouth shifted into a shocked grimace. “Wait, you truly believe that?” She gasped stepping closer to Rhys who was still sitting on the floor.

“Look. You don’t know him like I do. I’ve spent a lot of time with him and Jack’s got a lot to offer to this planet. If the people here had just let him, he could even-”

“Oh my god, you are in love with him!” She yelped before slapping both hands across her mouth.

“I am not in love with anyone.” Rhys snapped at her crossing his arms over his chest.

Oh really? So, tell me, what exactly are you doing here, Rhys?” Angel turned to look at the corpse, lying forgotten on the floor.

“She was like this when I got here.” Rhys tried, only to be rewarded with a raised eyebrow and disappointing head shake.

“Fine.” He continued with resignation. “She had it coming. Just look at her! She looks like the witch from the scary fable about two children getting eaten alive.”

Can’t argue with that.” She sighed watching the smoke escape from the dead body. There was another moment filled with silence in which both of them tried to collect their thoughts. “So, Jack still doesn’t know anything about it?” She asked finally.

Rhys knew she wasn’t talking about him murdering a member of his family. “No.” He confirmed. “He has no idea.”

Good.” Angel nodded. “It’s important that you keep it that way.” She finally turned towards him and continued. “Rhys. Jack saw the video footage from the pod you had used to get here. I made sure he saw nothing from the part where you teleported away, but it’s important that you figure out a good reason for you not being dead next time you talk to him.

“Wait, what?” Rhys was suddenly up, hands clinging on his hair. “What do you mean he saw the footage?! What footage, there shouldn’t be any!”

She was watching him the way that made him wanna tear his hair out. “It doesn’t matter how he found out. He knows. So, you have to act on it.” Rhys was about to start demanding more answers but she was already gone.

“Awesome.” He sighed. He checked his arm to see that he needed to wait at least five more minutes before he would be able to start using it again. Rhys decided there was no point in spending the time inside this awful house so he moved to walk outside, adrenaline rushing through his veins. Jack knew. Jack knew he stole the ship. He knew he left without telling him first but he didn’t know that Rhys had survived the explosion.

There was a brief moment for Rhys to panic over how Jack was going to be mad at him for leaving, but it was quickly replaced by worry over the other man. If Jack thought Rhys was gone, he was now facing some major issues with accessing some of his work files which were heavily coded, hidden deep inside his computer’s software. And what about Maliwan?! Rhys promised to take care of it and Jack had trusted him with the task so much, he didn’t even bother with preparing his own plans. He must be freaking out by now, working on some speed up plan without having the proper time window to come up with any good ideas. And Rhys never really told him how he was going to handle the situation, simply because Jack never asked.

He was going to fix this. He was going to get back up there and talk to Jack. Let him know that he was still alive and that he doesn’t have to worry about his scary grandma anymore. He was also going to share his plans with Maliwan and give him the access to his files containing the gun models.

The metal arm on his shoulder made a beeping noise letting him know that it was ready to operate. Rhys used it to log in the Hyperion central software and ordered himself a new spaceship. As he waited for the shuttle to arrive, his sight set on the old house, just standing there. Suddenly, a new wave of rage splashed over him and he gritted his teeth at the memory of iron teeth biting into the magically healed skin on his chest. Stupid witch. Making him look like an idiot who got his ass kicked by an old lady. And suddenly her death seemed to be way too quick.

Rhys noticed a barrel of kerosene standing next to the house. An image appeared in his head and he was already walking towards it, switching the setting on his palm from electricity into flammable.

By the time his racket arrived, the house wasn’t even visible behind all the flames and smoke.

***

He found Jack in his office. Not sitting behind his computer, hacking into the locked files nor on his ECHO ordering people around because of the Maliwan problem, like he should be doing. Instead of all that, Jack was sitting in front of Rhys’ desk with an empty bottle of some alcohol in one hand and bag of pretzels in the other.

He didn’t look up when Rhys entered and stayed like that the whole time he was walking towards him. The brunet stopped only a few steps before him, unsure if coming any closer would be a good idea. He stood there, waiting for Jack to show any signs of registering his presence but nothing like that happened.

 “I thought you didn’t like those.” Rhys said finally, pointing at the opened pack of salted goodies.

He had no idea what reaction what he expected when he kneeled in front of the sitting man, but it sure wasn’ta gun pressed against his forehead. He froze, shifted into a unconfrontable position and waited for what was going to happen next. He hadn’t heard the sound of the fuse being unlocked so Jack probably wasn’t going to shoot him right away and Rhys knew he could knock the gun off of his hand if he heard any clicking sound.

Jack was watching him silently, expression dead, free of any emotions what so ever.

“Jack,” Rhys started when the silence had become borderline unbearable only to be rewarded by more pressure of the iron on his forehead.

“Where were you.” The other one hissed, eyes fixed on Rhys’s face. He swallowed at the dangerous threat hidden in the undertone. He’ spend enough time to know that Jack yelled at people only once he was angry. Yelling would be alright. Jack loved listening to himself and seeing people get smaller and smaller under the high volume of his voice. It was an entertainment to him. It was moments like this that showed how dangerous Jack really was. Once he got this quiet, that’s when you knew you fucked up.

But Rhys refused to show how much he was aware of the danger he was in right now or to let show how hard his heart was beating against his ribs.

 He returned Jack’s intense looks for a few heartbeats before putting on his most innocent smile. “I thought I might go on a short walk. Strech my muscles, see the nature, just pay a nice visit to the neighbors, you know?” The careless way he said that sounded like the exact opposite to the alert mess that was happening in his head.

“What?” Jack growled through gritted teeth, visibly losing his patience with Rhys’ shit.

“Yeah. I even got one of them to say hello to you on a tape. Wanna see it?” He didn’t wait for Jack to respond – it wouldn't happen anyway – and lifted his robotic palm. A flash appeared, turning on the hologram and then the footage started to play.

It was a video record his ECHO eye started recording when he activated the map on Pandora. He’d cut away and deleted the conversation with Angel once he was in the shuttle. But the quality wasn’t as good as Rhys thought it would be. The camera angle kept switching as he had to keep looking in different directions once he got caught up in the fight. At one moment he was studying the pictures, the other one staring at his wounded torso. He didn’t even manage to get a good look at the old witch until his fingers got wrapped around her neck and she got lifted into the air.

Somewhere in the middle of the short film, the gun had disappeared from his face together with the tense expression Jack was wearing. It got replaced with total disbelief. As if what Jack was seeing on the clip was something physically impossible. Rhys might as well showed him a picture of a pink elephant and the reaction would probably be the same.

Once the film ended, Jack remained quiet. Rhys waited for a moment before turning the hologram, with a frozen frame where his grandma was lying dead on the floor, off. He didn’t turn away from Jack, expecting him to show any reaction. Or maybe to see any give away that this was all a major fuck up. That Jack didn’t want his grandma dead and that Rhys red the whole situation incorrectly. With every passing second, he grew more and more restless, preparing his fastest road to the escape pod and counting his chance of survival in the case Jack decided that the best reward for Rhys’ doing would be death.

But Jack did something else.

Rhys was just about to stand up and run away through the window, Jack’s fingers grabbed his collar and pulled him in for an angry but passionate kiss. Rhys was too stoned at first but leaned into the touch the moment he realized what was happening. He let Jack bite on his bottom lip and allowed his fingers to find their usual spot in the mess that had happened off Jack’s hair. He felt one strong arm wrapping around his hip and Jack pulled him closer so now their chest had nothing to separate them but their clothes. To Rhys’ surprise, he felt Jack’s heartbeat echoing his own with its speed and strength.

Jack leaned slightly back, breaking the kiss and Rhys wanted to protest but what came next might be even better than the whiskey- tasting lips. “I love you,” Jack said. It sounded so weird as if the voice Jack owned wasn’t even made to be able to pronounce those words in a combination with such an honest tone. But at the same moment, it was the most natural thing in their lives. It was something so obvious, yet it had stayed hidden and ignored for so long.

Rhys blinked. Overwhelmed by the enormous wave of emotions, half of which he will never be able to name but all filling him with the sweetest feeling down in his chest.

It felt like forever before he was finally able to reach his voice and respond. “I love you too.”

 

Chapter Text

Things were great. Ever since Rhys got back from Pandora, everything around them just seemed to be brighter and easier to deal with.

There was no point in hiding the fact that Rhys was a Vault Hunter – not that Jack had ever really tried doing so in any way – after his little theatre with stealing the ship. So now everyone on the station knew Jack had one of the biggest badasses in the universe working in the same room with him twenty-four-seven and some of them could shit their pants over it. Literally. One day, he and Rhys were walking to the lab Rhys wanted to use to develop some new equipment, and Jack decided to make him a company. The brunet was reading something on his ECHO and wasn’t really paying attention to their surroundings, thus he didn’t notice how the guy who was walking towards them pressed himself against the wall and hid his face behind the stock of paper he was carrying. The man looked like he was ready to burst into tears when Rhys walked by him seemingly oblivious towards his existence. Jack had never felt safer in his life.

And that reflected even on his sleep. His grandma was gone and together with her were his nightmares. The only thing he regretted about her death was him not being there to see the whole thing with his own eyes. But even that was alright because the footage Rhys took for him was good enough of a substitute.

He still didn’t really understand how Rhys managed to survive to crash. The story about him getting out of the ship and jumping out right before the crash was an utter bullshit. Even if Rhys was telling the truth about being able to survive the crash thanks to the modified vest he was wearing, there was no way for him to get out of there while the racket was still moving at its maximum speed. Vault Hunter or not. But Rhys didn’t look like he was about to give up his secret anytime soon, so Jack moved to another way of finding the truth and set up a team of people whose task was to figure out what exactly happened. The only thing left for him to do was to wait for the news.

But now, with his newly gained energy, he could fully concentrate on his job as the CEO and the employees must have taken notice of that, because the company was now doing better than ever.

And all of that only thanks to one pretty boy with long ass legs and dorky smile, who was now sitting only a few steps away in his brand-new table, which Jack had finally brought into the office. Well, he didn’t bring it himself of course, but he paid the guy who did which is practically the same thing.

Jack stretched his back and turned to look at Rhys. He was going through some files which Megg brought in about an hour ago. From time to time, he would write something on a piece of paper next to him, only to cross it out a minute later. Jack could tell he was frustrated about something by the number of chewed pencils lying all over the table. He knew that this bad habit was something Rhys was ashamed of, because he got instantly annoyed anytime Jack would point it out.

“Would you stop that?” Rhys hissed without looking away from his notepad.

Jack blinked in surprise. “Stop what, pumpkin?”

“The staring.” He responded, crossing over a whole sentence with a black marker. “I can’t think clearly if you keep watching me like that.”

“It's your fault for looking so damn cute.” Jack grinned. The brunet sighed, shaking his head but didn’t look up.

That somewhat offended Jack who decided to challenge himself into getting Rhys’ attention. He opened the drawer in his table and grabbed one of the colorful rubber bands he’s been storing in there and wrapped it around two fingers, creating a provisional slingshot. He loaded it with a piece of paper and shot it at Rhys. It missed, the paper landing on the other’s table. Rhys had to notice, but he refused to acknowledge it. That only encouraged Jack to try again. And again and again, until he finally managed to hit him on his cheek.

“What are you, five?” Rhys sighed, turning towards Jack with disappointment written all over his face.

“C’mon cupcake, you are working too much,” Jack smirked, hiding the band in his palm.

“At least one of us is,” Rhys muttered as he was about to turn back to his stocks of paper. But Jack was not having that. He stood up and walked towards the Vault Hunter, stopping behind his new black chair. He leaned toward him, wrapping his arms around the other's chest and resting his chin on Rhys’ shoulder.

“Whatcha doing that it’s so important you can’t even spare a glance to your handsome boyfriend?” Jack asked in a low tone, lips brushing against the others earlobe. He didn’t have to look to know there was a blush already playing on the boy’s cheek. Rhys got like that every time he mentioned the fact that the two of them were officially dating. Jack only hoped this was something that would never change.

“It's for the Maliwan project. I am meeting with them in few days and there are still some adjustments I need to do before I leave.” He said, sounding exhausted.

Jack went silent for a moment. Maliwan. They were such a huge pain in the ass. If he had known that the spy mission would turn into this mess, he would’ve never approved it. But honestly, it was their own fault for acting all suspicious about their expenses and slowly cutting down on the cooperating projects between the two companies.

But now, Rhys had to go and fix it all on his own. After Jack transmitted him all the responsibility regarding the future progress of the situation, Maliwan got used to working with him and refused to communicate with anyone else. Rhys said it was fine because it played well into his hands, but Jack didn’t like it anyway. Especially now when he had to send him right into their headquarters with a minimum security.

He sighed and placed one light kiss on the soft skin on Rhys’ neck. “Are you sure you need to go there? I mean we can just bomb the shit out of them instead of all this negotiation nonsense.”

“Yeah, but this isn’t a normal negotiation. I already told you that.” Rhys smirked, shivering under the touch.

That’s right. Rhys was preparing something. And judging by how much effort it took, it was something big.

“Buuuut you are still not going to tell me what the plan is.” Jack sighed, already knowing what the answer was going to be.

“Nope. That’s a surprise.” Rhys grinned, turning to face Jack, so now their noses were almost touching. Jack leaned in for a kiss but was stopped by his own voice.

“Ehm. Is this a bad time? I-I can come later.”

Jack was still in the pre-kiss haze so he froze as his brain was trying to process the change of the situation. Rhys, on the other side, acted quickly. Too quickly actually. There was no other way he could adjust to the change of the atmosphere that fast, so the only explanation was that he already expected this to happen.

“Of course not, Tim! You are right on time for your meeting with Jack.” He called, turning over his shoulder to face the person who just entered the room.

That was when Jack finally caught a glimpse of him. It was Timothy. His very first body double.

Tim has been working for him for as long as Jack could remember. He was one of his first employees and played a crucial in opening the first Vault together with the rest of the gang Jack hired when he was still working under the dick Tassier.

But no matter how much time had passed since then, Tim still wasn’t able to shake off the remnants of his old geeky personality. It especially showed when he got scared or frustrated. Just like now. He was standing in the door, looking like he was about to take a run for it.

Before Jack managed to say something, Rhys swiftly stood up and started walking towards the exit.

“I will leave you two here. I am sure you have a lot to report from your mission in the Elpis mine.” The brunet didn’t wait for anyone to reply and left the room without looking back.

“He seems nice,” Tim commented with a slight smile after the door closed.

Jack’s hand shot up, finger pointing at the door Rhys just used to exit. “You know him?”

Tim shook his head. “I only heard some stories. Never met him before.” Timothy paused, trying to collect his thoughts. “The last thing I heard about him probably was that he died in the train explosion. With the other four Vault Hunters, you hired?” The last part of the sentence was more of a question than a statement. He was obviously trying to connect that information with what he just saw.

“Well, you should probably start paying more attention to the gossip. Because obviously, he is working for me now. Alive and kicking.” Jack said and waved his hand when Tim looked like he wanted to add something. “But that’s not your business. The Elpis’ mines, however…”

Timothy nodded and came closer to handle Jack his ECHO tablet with a detailed report. “Nothing interesting is happening over there, really. We had some minor problems with the local bandit gang that claims to be a part of the Crimson Raiders. They even tried to assassinate me on one occasion, thinking that I was you. But aside from that, I have nothing to report.”

“Did you nuke them?” Jack asked, not even pretending to be paying attention to what was written on the tablet.

“Ehm. Excuse me?”

“The bandits. Did you nuke them, after they attempted to kill me?”

“Did I nu- no. I didn’t do that. But they didn’t try to kill you.” Tim tried to correct him. “It was me who got shot at, remember?”

“Buuut they thought it was me. So there is no difference.” Jack corrected him. “And now you wanna tell me, you let them live?” The anger mixed with the all-present irony was rising in Jack’s voice with each word that left his mouth.

Tim noticed, taking a small step back. “No, no-no. They are dead. We executed the group immediately. I just didn’t think it would be necessary to do anything else.”

Jack shook his head. “Ehhhh, I would try to explain it to you but I have no time, nor enough of my brain cells to spare on this. Plus if you weren’t able to understand how important it is to leave a strong impression even after all those years, I am just gonna go on and give up on you forever. Now get out of my face. I would get some rest if I were you, and I almost am. You are going back there tomorrow, and you will see the place burning to the ground.”

Even if Tim wanted to say anything back, it wouldn’t matter because just when Jack finished talking, his ECHO started ringing and he immediately picked up the call. Timothy took it as a sign for him to leave, so without any goodbye, he walked away and left Jack alone in the office.

“What?” Jack growled and the display with the picture of one of his officers who was placed in the Sanctuary.

“Sir. We have a problem. The workers are on a strike. They demand better working conditions and they refuse to negotiate with anyone but you.” The man said, already aware of Jack’s dislike in prolonging reports like this one.

“Oh, for a fuck’s sake,” Jack swore. “Have you tried shooting lasers at them?”

“Their first leader was killed two days ago but they just keep replacing them. At this rate, we will be out of workers by the end of the week.”

“This is such a waste of time!” Jack moaned, hiding his face in his free hand. “Fine. I will be there tomorrow morning. Just make sure you have a list of names of those who were involved prepared, understood?”

“Yes, sir!” The man saluted, and the call has ended.

God damn workers. He couldn’t wait until his beautiful city was finally finished so he wouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense anymore. This was going to be the first step towards the new world he was going to build for Angel. And now, he also wanted for it to be a place where he and Rhys could live together.

Speaking of Rhys. How the hell did he know about Tim coming in here? Everything about him was a top secret, protected by the heaviest security Hyperion had to offer. It shouldn’t be possible for Rhys to know about Timothy’s existence, let alone his meeting with Jack today.

***

Hacking into Hyperion secret files was getting easier with every time he did it. Once he got a grip on the structure of the coding, he could more or less do everything he wanted with it. Of course, the first thing he did was trolling some of the higher placed board members. So one of them got scheduled an appointment for his prostate and one was signed in for a staring into a wall context, which now officially existed.

Of course, he had to take a peek at the files that were marked as a top secret. But there wasn’t anything interesting in them, really. Aside from some plans and some secret alliances, Hyperion was a part of, there wasn’t much Rhys didn’t already know. Except for the folder about Jack’s doubles. That was a new one. Rhys never knew Jack had people undertake a plastic surgery to look just like him. But then again, he never really thought about it. He read through a few of them only to stop at the number one. Timothy Lawrence. He was the first one to be hired by Jack for this particular post. It was way back into the times when Jack was still a low-key engineer. He must have been pretty ambitious even back then.

Whoever Tim was, there was nothing about his life before the surgery written in there, aside for him being a student with enormous depts. No wonder he jumped at a chance to get a quick cash.

Rhys also noted that Tim had a meeting with Jack scheduled. He could use that to get out of the office without giving Jack a chance to ask where he was going. And even if he asked, Rhys would have to lie that it was about the Maliwan project. Even though, it kinda was. Just not in the way Jack could know about. Rhys wasn’t doing any adjustments on the machinery he was planning on bringing with him. He was practising his siren powers.

He’d been doing so ever since he got back from Pandora. He found one lab that was normally used as a testing area for new machines but was empty for most of the day. For some reason, the people who worked in there used it mostly during the night hours.

Rhys never booked it, not wanting to have any proof of his visits. He hacked into the camera's system and changed the vision so it would seem like the room was empty with the lights turned off.

He started with the teleportation because he did that most often. It was really hard at first and he felt sick after every time he did it, but it was worth it. He could now teleport at will across the whole room and was more than confident he could go much further, but didn’t want to risk being discovered.

Telekinesis was much harder to master. It wasn’t hard to get the objects to move, but it was almost impossible to make them stop. He ended up with countless bruises and scratches all over him after many unsuccessful attempts to dodge a hammer or fork flying towards him. But it was going to be worth it. If everything went according to the plan, he would be using those powers at least once.

The plan. Was he in any right to be naming it like that? There were so many occasions where he already knew he was going to need to just wing it that he leaned more towards just calling it the way it was. A huge mess.

But at least now he had a solid ground to stand on. He made sure that by the time he gets there, Maliwan will already be on the edge of collapse. He will only provide the necessary push and make sure they fall deep down into the abyss.

Their mines were facing one attack after another and no one was accepting their calls for help. At least no one important. Also, their weapons had now such a bad reputation that people were ashamed to be seen with them. Their sales were low just like the morale of the industry. But they didn’t show it at all. During the conversations Rhys had with one of the representatives, they did their best at keeping the façade of a fancy company focused on elementary weaponry. They thought that they still had a card to play with, and the card was Hyperion. They believed that if they manage to get Hyperion into signing a contract with them, it would save them from the inevitable bankrupt. And Rhys did his best at keeping those hopes up, just so he could crash them all at the right time.

Jack would be proud. Rhys really wanted to tell him, but then he would start asking for details. Details that would lead to the harsh truth, that there were high chances of Rhys getting killed in the process. True, those siren powers were going to be a huge benefit, but still. The moment they find out he was the one who stood behind their current situation, he was done for.

So he decided to keep it all a secret, making sure that the news he was creating would never reach Jack’s ear. Not for now, at least.

Rhys took a deep breath before entering the training room for the last time before he had to leave Helios, doing his absolute best at ignoring how hard his hands were shaking.

***

Jack was at one of the board meetings, drawing pictures of himself riding Buttstalion and shooting the Destroyer at a piece of paper while pretending to be listening to the presentation about some statistics of something he probably couldn’t care less about when he got a text from an unknown number that said “Tsunami”. He immediately jumped up and left the room without a word.

The only number that could be marked as unknown on his phone was from one of the few members of Angel’s security. And Tsunami was a code for something really bad happening in her chambers.

Jack went straight back to his office and called Tim, making sure the door was shut and no one could hear them. For a change, he was glad that Rhys wasn’t there.

“Change of plans, Timothy. You are going to Opportunity instead of me. There is a strike going on and I need you to go there and fix it.”

“Wh-what. A strike? Are you sure it’s a good idea to send me in? I am not good at those things.” His own voice responded from the other side of the line, sounding so worried and panicked it actually made Jack wanna gag.

“Yeah, I know that dumb dumb but I can’t be there,” Jack growled, but took a deep breath before continuing. “Look. I just got a message from one of the people around Angel. Something is wrong with her and I need to get there immediately. So, I need you to go to Opportunity instead of me. And I need you to be as convincing as you possibly can, got it? No one can even suspect that you are not me. Understood?”

Tim didn’t need to think too long about that. “Yeah. Yeah. I will do my best. Just make sure Angel is all right.”

“You got it,” Jack said and hang up.

He quickly walked towards the door in the back corner in his office and let a scan check his fingerprints. The door opened in a moment and he walked into a small room that contained only one thing and it was a fast travel station. Jack only used this one in a case of emergency. This travel station could get him only to Angel’s bunker and nowhere else. It was a little risky to use, because no matter how much he tries to secure it, there will always be small holes for someone to use to track Angel's location. So he normally preferred to use the old fashion way via the bunker on Pandora. But there was no time for this now.

The station started up when he walked in front of it and a bright light blinded him. In one moment he felt himself falling apart and turning into a mash of atoms and in the other one he was whole again, standing in the room he created to keep his daughter safe.

But something was wrong.

He got hit by an unbelievably loud sound of the alarm accompanied by flashing red lights. He could feel the fear dripping from the air and there was blood everywhere. Jack materialized right next to a dead body of one of the nurses who was stationed here to take care of Angel.

This one was a young woman with blond hair, timed nails, white uniform and a hole of a size of a man's fist in the middle of her back. She probably died while trying to get close enough to the travel station to escape from the room. What a shame the only person who can use this machine is Jack.

More screams were coming from inside the main room. Jack didn’t even have to enter to know what he was going to see in there.

Angel was having her maniac fazes again. She was standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by dead bodies, some of which didn’t even resemble a human form anyway.

Her tattoos were glowing and so were her eyes. And she had her wings back. Those beautiful, energetic wings that were the reason for her name were wide opened, standing completely and seeming just so pure, that they couldn’t belong into this bloodied scene. As if they didn’t belong to the black-haired girl who still didn’t notice the newcomer in her chamber.

She was occupied. Her attention set on a young boy who Jack didn’t recognize, but who was wearing the guard’s uniform. The boy was kneeling, forced to look right into Angel's light blue eyes, that were now shining in the bright holy light, held in a position by her firm grip on his brown hair. Angel’s free hand moved and she placed her palm on the boy’s heart and Jack was stunned by a flashback memory from so long ago.

He saw Angel like this many times, but the first one was without any doubt the most horrifying. The first time Angel lost control was the last time he saw his wife. Angel killed her in her room, with fingers wrapped in her hair and a palm on her chest.

There was no escape from the pure source shooting from her tattooed arm. The victim fell dead, with a hole formed in his chest. She watched as he dropped to her feet, and let the blood spread on the floor, soaking in her black leather shoes. Whether it was the red liquid, or something that was stuck on the boy’s face, Jack didn’t know. But whatever it was, it held her attention long enough for him to close the distance between them, and stand behind her, with an injection in his hand. He couldn’t wait for her to turn around, and quickly stabbed the sharp end into the soft skin of her neck and injected the dark, purple chemical which it contained into her blood.

She lost her balance, but Jack didn’t let her fall. He wrapped his arms around her and held her as close to his chest as he could, without causing her any harm. Her eyes were already closed when he got to look at her face. She looked so innocent. The soft childish features never got to leave her face even at this age. There was no way she could ever stand the thought of her hurting the people around her. And that was why she will never know about it. Jack won't allow it. He will tell her that he had some doubts about the stuff working here so he had to get her a new one. She will be mad again. No doubt about it, but what does it matter?

Jack swore to keep her happy. To keep her safe. Even if he had to lie to her. Even if he had to keep her in a room she never called anything but a prison. Even if he had to listen to her calling him a monster. Even if she hated him for everything he’s done, he knew he had done it for her. And he could never bring himself to regret it.

Chapter Text

Angel woke up tired. She felt as if she’d been running nonstop for the past hour. Not that she could possibly know how someone who ran so much would feel. But her guess was that it had to be something like this.

Her body hurt. Everything hurt. Everything was itching, and she was just so tired.

Her father was there. Sitting against a wall, his fingers absentmindedly playing with her hair. He hadn’t noticed her waking up, too busy typing something into his ECHO tablet.

That explained the pain. He must’ve done another experiment on her without telling her beforehand. Again.

It was the same thing over and over. She would fall asleep out of nowhere and then wake up feeling like this with Jack always sitting somewhere nearby, either talking with someone, reading something on his ECHO or just watching her with the empty look on his face. And those were the moments when she hated him the most.

He was the worst father. Period. Not only he never let her out and forced her to live her entire life locked in one room, and on top of all of it, he also always treated her like she was one of his employees. She felt as if he thought he was better than her somehow. She used to blame her tattoos for that. She always thought that the horrible things that were happening to her were all because of the fact that she was born siren. That it was in siren’s destiny to be either held as a prisoner or live a life on the run.

Until she met Rhys. She didn’t know there could be a male siren, so it never occurred to her that the only Vault Hunter who survived the train explosion would be one of them. And she didn’t find anything in his files that would even suggest him having those powers. It was hard to believe it until she saw him use them with her own eyes.

But she saw him teleport from the stolen spaceship right before it crashed on Pandora, via the camera. She made sure to cut the tape before sending it to Jack. Angel didn’t think that her father would pass on the opportunity of having not one, but two sirens kept in his lab. But still, she wasn’t fully convinced until she made Rhys use the eridium to heal his wound.

So, Rhys was definitely a siren. Male siren, working for Jack right under his nose without being discovered. Free to go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. And for reasons Angel will never be able to understand, he chose to spend his freedom on working with Jack.

It was impossible to describe how much she envied him. He was living the life she always wanted to live, but never got a chance to. It was just so unfair.

She blinked a couple times to stop any tears, and slowly sat up. She took a deep breath before speaking up, to make sure her voice wouldn’t give away her feelings.

“Jack, what are you doing here?” She asked and the man next to her finally looked up from whatever it was he was doing on the device. “Weren’t you supposed to be in Sanctuary?”

Angel knew about the strike. She watched it via the camera's system, so she knew every detail of the situation. But most importantly, she was the one who convinced the workers to start with the whole thing. Not directly, of course. But she left hints. And it worked.

Jack just smiled with the grin that was on every Hyperion poster. It made her wanna gag. “Oh, look who is awake. My favourite daughter. Had a nice nap, princess?” He asked instead of acknowledging anything she said.

Angel was silent, refusing to play the game of the happy family Jack loved so much. Instead, she looked around the room. It felt different. Too clean. Plus, there was no one in there, beside the two of them. “Where is everyone?”

An emotion Angel couldn’t quite place crossed her dad’s face, but it was gone sooner than it came there, and the disgusting grin was back in place. “What. Are you seriously worried about those air-suckers? No no no. Don’t waste your energy on stupid things, I thought you better than that. How about you tell me about the Vault key instead, heh? Ya know. I was kinda busy lately, completely forgot to ask you how it's going. Sooooo. How’s it going?”

“It's getting closer. I will let you know when I will be able to count the final date. But not unless you tell me where everyone went.”

“Ha! Stubborn. I like it. Reminds me of myself. Whatever. If you need to know I guess there is no help to it. I fired those suckers.”

“You did what?” Angel gasped leaning back, making more space between the two of them. “Why would you do that?”

“Welp,” Jack shrugged. “I kinda figured the less people know about my precious little girl, the better. Plus, most of them were getting more and more cocky lately. Like the blonde chick. I don’t know what it was, but something about her was just pissing me off whenever I saw her. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter, they are gone now.”

The blond girl must’ve been Alexa. The only person Angel could talk about Gaige with, without having to worry she would tell on her. Alexa hated Jack as much as she did and was working for him only to get enough money to support her family. What is she going to do now that she was out of the job? And most importantly, what did Jack do to make sure none of them ever told anyone about her?

She almost asked about it but stopped herself.

“So, I am going to be all alone from now on?” She asked, trying to sound hostile.

“Sweetheart. You are never alone. You got me, remember?” Jack smiled, patting her head. “But of course, I am not letting you here without a protection. I just told some people to send some loader bots over here.”

So, from now on, not only will she be trapped in this prison. She will be here alone, surrounded by nothing but robots. It would be much harder to bear if she hadn’t had already a prepared plan to hold on to.

And Jack just helped her with figuring out what she would do about the presence of her loyal crew when Gaige finally arrives. The only thing left was to let her know that everything was ready.

So, she nodded. “Alright. That’s good to know. But can we talk about Opportunity? Are you sure you don’t need my help with the strike?”

“Nah, everything is fine sweetie. It's no big deal. I’ve sent one of my body doubles to handle it because there is no point in wasting my time over something like this shitty mess, am I right?”

“I guess.” Angel sighed. She started to figure out what to do to make Jack leave her alone already, but his ECHO beeped, and he jumped up.

“Oh, for a fuck’s sake. Angel honey, I am sorry but those idiots up on Helios wouldn’t survive a fricking second on their own if there wasn't for me wiping their stupid asses. Daddy’s gotta leave you here, but I promise I will be back soon. Sounds good?”

“Yes, of course, I understand.” Angel nodded, but not too quickly, not to raise any suspicions.

“That’s my girl. I will send you the robots asap.” He waved before heading towards the fast travel station, only he could use. Angel watched as his body shattered into million glowing waves of peace and wished for it to never reconstruct again.

She counted till ten in her head to make absolutely sure he was gone and then closed her eyes. In her head, she imagined a flow of ones and zeros that were running back and forth in the teleport station. She lifted her hand and reached for those numbers. Once she touched it, she automatically whispered "executing phaseshift" and she was suddenly part of the numbers, free to do almost whatever she wanted. Almost. Because no matter what she did, she just couldn't get past the bio code Jack implanted in it. Meaning she could never be able to use it to escape. But, she could destroy it.

As soon as the idea appeared in her head, it was done. The station exploded into a huge fireball, leaving black marks on the burned wall. Now Jack had to travel to Pandora in order to get here. But he is not going to have any time to do that.

Now she had to act fast.

Angel dialed the person who somehow managed to bring so much light into her life.

A ginger-haired girl smiled from the screen. “Haya Angel. Good to hear from you again. How’s it going?”

Angel smiled back, enjoying the warm feeling that spread in her chest. She was in love with Gaige. What was it with their family having a thing for Vault Hunters? And what was even worse was that Angel knew Gaige liked her back. Even though she still thought of her to be an AI, she never treated her like one. Ever since their first encounter, Gaige talked to her like to any other human being. They joked, and they laughed, and they watched the sunset together. Most of her fondest memories were from the time the two of them shared together. And all of those things were making it so much harder to proceed with her plan. But there was no other way.

“Gaige. I have important news. The person in Opportunity isn’t Jack. It’s one of his body doubles.” Angel said.

The smile faded from the Vault Hunters’ face. “Are you sure?” She asked with a serious tone that was just so rare with her.

Angel nodded. “Positive. But I am not sure how long he will stay there. You need to hurry and go get the voice modification.”

“Am on it,” Gaige responded and ended the call. Too soon. She ended it too soon. Angel sighed. This determination of hers was one of the many wonderful things about her strong personality. And more importantly, it was something Angel counted on when it comes to completing the final part of the plan.

Angel sighed again, pressing a hand against her pounding heart and looked at the glowing stone levitating in the middle of the room. No point in changing her mind now. The key was almost charged, and this was her last chance to make sure Jack will never get to use it.

 Even if it meant sacrificing herself.

***

Jack wasn’t in the office when Rhys came looking for him. And it seemed like nobody in the station had any idea where he’d disappeared to. So, Rhys left a note saying he left to kick some element-based asses and headed to say goodbye to his roommate.

“So, is it like a Vault Hunter mission?” Vaughn asked when he told him he was leaving Helios.

“What? No. It’s just some business meeting with Maliwan. Jack doesn’t have time to deal with it, so he left it to me.”

“Hmmm. Sounds like a Vault Hunter mission to me.” Vaughn said, earning a rolled-eyes from his tall friend.

“Yeah okay, whatever. It that’s what will make you happy, it’s a Vault Hunter mission.”

“Ha! I knew it.” Vaughn grinned, folding his arms on his chest. “Can't fool me.”

“But you promise to be careful out there, right?” Yevette said from her cup of coffee.

“I am always careful.” Rhys smiled with a slight shrug. He almost added that there was nothing that could go wrong, but Yevette’s sharp look stopped her.

“I mean it.”

“Yeah, me too.” It was true. He was careful. He always planned his missions and had multiple routes of possibilities of how the mission could turn out. Aside from that one time when he was killing Jack’s grandma, but he refused to add it to his missions’ list because no one paid for that one. They didn’t call him Company man for nothing.

Yevette didn’t look convinced but nodded anyway. “Fine. When are you leaving then?”

“In half an hour. I should probably go check if they brought everything into the ship, but I wanted to say bye to you guys first.”

“Bro.” Vaughn gasped, as if that was the most touching thing he’d ever heard and leaned in to give Rhys a bear hug. “I will miss you.”

“Aw, Bro. I will miss you too. “

“Jesus, can’t you two get a room? Please go before I throw up.” Yevette quipped throwing them a judging look.

Vaughn tried to look offended but failed miserably. Rhys just laughed at the face he made and waved the dude his final goodbye, before leaving their apartment.

On his way to the garages, he replayed the plan in his head. He’d got most of it covered. There were still many blank spots left for improvisation, but that was always the case. He couldn’t think of many things that could cause a disaster and if it did, he had his newly trained powers to cover for it.

So why was it, that he just couldn’t shake off the feeling that something horrible was going to happen?

Chapter Text

Maliwan headquarters looked nothing like Helios but at the same time, it was practically the same thing. Helios was shaped in a giant letter “H” that represented its name and the name of the company. Maliwan wasn’t a letter, but it was also representing its brand in its own way.

It was a giant globe, made from a material that was in the exact same shade of silver like Helios. Six disc-like boarding docks were connected to the globe with tunnels serving as corridors for the workers.

It was nice. Helios was better.

Rhys made himself busy with reading some of the e-mails Jack and the Maliwan CEO had exchanged and then checked on their location. Pleased with what he found he finally acknowledged that his ship was about to land and prepared to leave.

When the door opened, the insides of the station were revealed to him and he had to stop himself from wowing and thus ruining his reputation.

The hall was enormous. It was hard to see the walls for how far away they were from each other. And it was all so damn fancy too! While the landing docks in Helios were obviously a place that was meant for hard work, filled with equipment and boxes laying everywhere, this place felt as if it was inside a palace. Untouched by any dirt or other mess. Everything had its place, and everything was just in exact the spot where it belonged.

Same went for the people. All the workers were dressed in white-coloured uniforms. The only difference in their dressing was the belts. Some were green, some were blue, some purple. Rhys deducted that they were probably separating the job positions.

He was welcomed by a stressed secretary. Rhys knew she was a secretary because she looked like she was a model for the typical secretary stereotype. Brown hair brushed into a tight bun, dressed in a white suit with a tight miniskirt and walking on black high heels and her belt was grey, holding sheets of paper. Secretary.

“Mr. Rhys.” The woman said, stopping to check the notes, quickly searching for his second name.

“Just Rhys is fine.” He said, and the woman nodded, visibly relieved that she didn’t make a mistake in preparing his file, but it didn’t stop her from shaking.

“Alright then, Rhys.” She started again, “Welcome to Incipit. I hope your trip here was alright?” Her tone was professional, hiding any signs of the nervousness which her body was basically radiating.  

“It was fine.” He shrugged and looked around. “But they told me that the CEO would be here to see me?”

Judging by the face the secretary made, she must’ve been hoping Rhys wouldn’t ask that. At least not this soon. “I am sorry, but Mrs. Park won’t be joining us until later. Something urgent came up and she must make sure the problem will be taken care of before she can come and welcome you personally.”

Yeah. A busted engine in your shuttle definitely is something Rhys would call urgent.

The CEO had to leave the station two days ago for some check up on one of the facilities but was scheduled to be back by now. Which she would have been if there wasn’t for the broken engine. And it was broken, because one of the Maliwan workers, who owned Rhys a big one, accidentally took one of its parts out and threw it away. She wouldn’t get back until tomorrow.

“I see.” Rhys sighed.” And do you have any idea how long it's going to take for her to get here?”

“It shouldn’t be too long. Let me show you your room so you can rest a little before she comes.”

“Room?” Rhys asked with surprise put in his voice. “I didn’t think I would be spending a night here.”

“And we still believe it won’t be necessary.” She was quick to assure him. “We don’t want to keep you from your important duties on Helios, but we believe it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

“I guess you’re right.” Rhys smiled and followed her out of the hall.

So far things were going just as planned.

 

The room was nice and just what he expected. Decorated in white and grey colours and had only the basic furniture, like table, bed and closet. There was only one window, but it was big enough to cover half of the wall, leaving no space for any pictures or other decoration. Not that they were needed. The view was breathtaking. Space will never fail to impress him with its beauty.

“We will come for you when the CEO arrives. Feel free to make yourself at home.” The secretary said and left without waiting for Rhys to respond.

Rhys looked around the room, searching for any visible cameras, but failed to find any. That only meant there had to be hidden. Rhys activated his ECHO eye and scanned the room. The results showed two cameras. One installed within the wall in front of him and the other one just above the door. Rhys saved the scan and went to the white table, where he opened the computer, which he brought with him from Helios. It was useless for anyone else but him because it contained no important information what so ever, but it served as a perfect camouflage. When the computer was up and running, Rhys opened the scan in his ECHO eye again. He didn’t like using the full-screen option he had installed in the eye because he couldn’t see anything around him while this function was on. But it worked perfectly.

He used the scan of the room which he took earlier and found the two cameras and hacked into them. He couldn’t have turned them off, that would be too suspicious. Instead, he changed the footage which it was taking. Now, anyone who would check on him via those cameras would see him either working on the computer reading some files or taking a nap and nothing else. All that thanks to one smart code Rhys prepared when he was still on Helios. The cameras were now basically recording a hologram of him.

Now that this was taken care of, it was time to get to the harder part.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of small metallic balls and placed them on the table. He took one and held it between his two metallic fingers and squeezed it. The ball made a low, buzzing sound and quickly transformed into a bug-like small robot. Rhys synchronized the robot's vision with his own and placed it on the floor. He could control the robot’s movements using the keyboard. Well, technically, it was reacting only to the movements of his fingers on the keyboard, but it felt more natural when he could touch the buttons.

He made a few testing loops around the room and when he was confident enough with the coordination, he sent it out of the room.

It wasn’t hard to orientate on the station. Not only was the layout similar to the structure he’d seen on Helios, but the bug was creating a visual map from all the recordings it got from the places it went.

Rhys had to admit, Maliwan had a nice style. Maybe a little too fancy for his liking, but he could appreciate the idea.

The design of the building was like the guns those rooms produced. Elegant. Meant mostly for the higher class and for people who knew they were members of the higher class.

Rhys realized he was starting to feel homesick. He couldn’t stop comparing everything he saw here to Helios. It occurred to him, with a shock, just how much he was looking forward to coming back. Back to the station, back to his office, back to the great smell of coffee on his table each morning. Back to Jack.

He shook his head, forcing himself to pay more attention to what he was doing. He never realized how much distracting would thing like this actually be.

With the bug, Rhys scanned most of the station unnoticed. He made a digital mark on the map whenever the bug passed a placed that contained explosives or unstable chemicals. In the end, he made one big mark when the bug passed the core energy generator. He also made sure to memorize where exactly the escape pods were located. All that unnoticed by anyone passing him. People should really pay more attention to what is going on right underneath their noses.

When he was gone, he uploaded the map into the other bugs and set separate coordinates to each one of them. After he activated them, they all headed to their chosen destinations, marked by the exes in their digital maps. He made sure to send at least three of them to the core.

When the last bug left to face its explosive destiny, Rhys took a deep breath to calm his running nerves. If anyone notices even one on those devices, he is fucked. He made sure not to leave any fingerprints on them, but how stupid would they have to be, to not connect him to the foreign devices, filled with extremely strong, miniature bombs?

But he couldn't think about that. He knew that he would have to take some risks on this mission. This was one of them.

He laid on the bed, facing the white ceiling. Maybe he could call Jack to ask how he’s doing. He planned on not speaking with him at all during the mission, because he wanted to minimalize the chances of Jack figuring out anything about the plan, and he could somehow reveal himself. But maybe if he’d just said that he is still waiting for the CEO, Jack would automatically go to talking about himself instead. Right after having a rant about how incompetent the Maliwans are.

Nah. He will wait. It's better to stick to the original plan as much as possible. Jack must be busy with the paperwork and all the things around being a CEO. Maybe he is on one of his meetings right now. He would definitely be grateful for any distribution from that.

Rhys smiled at the picture of Jack, sitting all bored in his enormous chair in the meeting room, while someone is trying to keep his attention on some presentation about economics or maybe some new product line that might be in the production next year.

He didn’t notice how exhausted he was until his eyes started closing, and before he knew it, he was asleep.

A sharp knock on his door woke him up and he jumped off of the bed, almost sure that they got him and were there to execute him. But he held himself together and made sure no one could tell he was freaking out. He was a master of camouflage after all. What was Jack’s mask against his pro-poker face?

He pushed away from the need to scream when he opened the door.

But there was no gun aiming into his face behind them. Instead, there was the same woman standing there, visibly calmer and collected than when he saw her the first time. That could mean only one thing.

“The CEO returned early this morning. I will have someone to bring you a breakfast in here. Mrs. Park will be expecting you at her office at ten AM.” She told him with a light smile.

Rhys nodded and closed the door. He quickly checked the time. It was eight in the morning, meaning he had enough time to take a shower before the meeting. He was surprised to see there were no missed calls from Jack. He didn’t tell him that he would be standing a night here. So it was weird that Jack wasn’t calling to find out what was taking him so long. But he was probably just too busy.

When he got back from the shower, the breakfast was already in his room. It was an egg with toast and it gave him flashbacks to one of the first breakfasts he had ever prepared for Vaughn. He missed Vaughn. Rhys couldn’t help but smile at a picture of the small man running around this station, blown away by all the fancy stuff they got here. He considered calling him instead, but it would be a distraction. And he couldn’t afford that.

They came for him ten minutes before ten. Instead of the secretary, they sent for him a couple of bodyguards, who looked like they would explode if anything even remotely similar to smile should ever appear on their faces. It was an old trick, they were trying to scare him by doing this. Rhys appreciated the effort.

The corridor was empty. Which was weird, something that could never happen on Helios. They walked through it with slow peace and Rhys was starting to get restless. He just wanted to be done with this thing, so he could go home. But this was probably what they wanted, make him nervous before he even meets the CEO so he made sure not to let it show.

And then they arrived at the office. One of the bodyguards opened the door for him and the other one stepped aside so Rhys could enter. They didn’t follow him inside.

The moment he stepped in, it became obvious that Jack wasn’t actually the only one who had the need to bust his ego on the size of his office. Even though this room wasn’t quite as big as Jack’s, it was still way too big for only one person.

The decoration stuck with the Maliwan style, so everything was in light colours. But this was the first room with plants. There were plants almost everywhere. It wasn’t as if the room was overly filled with them, but if you looked at some random spot in the room, there would be a plant there.

And each plant was different than the other one. Either with colour, shape or size. But they were all equally beautiful.

Mrs. Parks was standing next to one especially breathtaking. Her fingers were merely touching the leaves, coloured with vibrant blue. She slowly turned around to face him and this was the first time he saw her with his own eyes. She looked somehow different than on all the pictures.

She was wearing a black suit, with silver lines embroidered across one sleeve. Her hair was short and silver, but that couldn’t be their natural colour because she didn’t seem to be over thirty.

Her posture was peaceful and measured, not showing any emotions other than calmness.

“Mr. Rhys.” She said in a tone that matched with her body language. “Welcome. I apologize for the wait, I hope we didn’t cause you much trouble.”

“It's alright.” Rhys smiled, walking towards the woman. “I’m sure Helios won’t fall apart without me in only one day.”

“Let's hope not.” She replied, offering a hand which Rhys shook with a light grip.” Well, since we already took enough of your time, I recommend we start without any further delay.” She said and gestured for him to take a seat in a huge grey chair that was just as comfortable as it looked.

“So, I believe you have already received our documentation together with copies of the e-mail correspondence between Hyperion CEO and myself?” She started, getting comfortable in her own chair, that was about twice the size of the one Rhys was sitting in.

“I have.” Rhys nodded and opened his suitcase that contained those printed documents. “And if I understood it correctly, you want Hyperion to give you some kind of a substitute for yours loses, which were potentially caused by one of our employees?”

“Not potentially, I am afraid.” She responded with a slide headshake. “We are talking facts here. The presence of one of Hyperion spies caused us throwing away many prototype plans, which we were planning to release this year. We cannot do that anymore because there is no way of knowing which one of them your company got your hands on.”

“I am sure I read in one of the e-mails that Jack promised you we aren’t planning on coping any of your projects.” Rhys mentioned. It was more than a polite translation of what was originally written in the e-mail. Rhys wasn’t sure if he recalled it correctly, but it was more or less something like “the moment I decide to use some of your shitty ideas you are trying to call projects, is the day I stick a Stun Baton into the Hyperion energy core, because the outcome would be exactly the same…”

“That is true.” She nodded. “But Hyperion doesn’t really have the reputation of standing behind its words.”

Rhys couldn’t argue with that. “And what kind of substitute are we talking about here?”

Mrs. Parks smiled, probably pleased that Rhys was the one to start with this topic. “The board agreed that the total ownership of Elpis' mines would be enough of redemption.”

“So you want the whole moon?”

“If that’s the way you want to put it, yes. We want the moon.” 

Rhys tried to pretend he was thinking about it, searching through his files, looking for nothing in particular. All to entertain himself a little. “No.” He said finally.

“No?” She asked, rising one of her perfectly timed eyebrows as if she wasn’t sure if she heard that right. “And are you sure you are in a position to discard our offer this quickly? You must know what the outcome of this meeting is, in case we fail to find a solution.”

“I am qualified enough, if that is what you mean,” Rhys told her with a slight smile. “And I am not worried about this outcome, and neither is Handsome Jack.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but Rhys was faster. “Because if we take a look at your current economic situation,” he said, opening a holographic projection on his robotic arm, “we can immediately see that Maliwan is in no position to start the war you like to threaten us so much with.”

Her eyes focused on the projection. Rhys was showing her something no one should have access to. The numbers, representing current financial stats, he should have no access to.

And he didn’t. No matter how hard he tried, he just wasn’t able to hack into their central system and gain the access to that information. Which was embarrassing because he got into the Hyperion’s without much effort.

But obviously, there had to be an only small amount of people who could get to those numbers. Maybe Mrs. Parks wasn’t one of them. It was a risky bluff, but Rhys took it anyway.

And it turned out to be the right move to do, because all the emotions that flashed across the CEO’s face, she took the bait. “How did you-“

“You really need to get a better security system to your online data.” Rhys grinned. “But don’t worry. It might be hard to believe, but I am here to help.”

The CEO looked away from the numbers displayed on the hologram with narrowed eyes. She was losing the upper hand she thought she had and was not happy about it.

“Let me give you our proposal.” Rhys made a pause, making sure she was paying a full attention, “we want to merge.”

“What?!” She barked, leaning away from the table. “There is no way we would ever merge with Hyperion.”

“But it’s a really good idea if you just think about it,” Rhys said, reaching for more of his papers and handling them to her. “This is our proposal. You can read through it, but basically what it says is, that merging with us is your best solution if you consider your current situation. Merge with us, and we promise to help you with getting more resources and we can help you reach the new customers. The two things that Maliwan is lacking right now and that will be the cause of your fall, if you keep heading the same direction.”

She was quiet, reading through the document, so Rhys continued. “Plus, we don’t even insist on you changing your name or your logo. You can keep all that, the only difference will be in the united leadership. You will also get to keep most of your larger stations for yourself, and we will let you work on your product lines without any bigger interference.” He paused, giving her time to think about it and then said with a lower voice, “you must agree that this is an offer you cannot refuse, right?”

She didn’t answer right away.  Instead, she read through the whole file before finally looking up to meet his eyes. “I will need to discuss this with the board.” She said.

Rhys shook his head. “Well, you see I don’t really have time or mood to be waiting this long.”

“You don’t really think I can make such a big decision on my own, do you?”

“I know you can.” Rhys laughed. “You are the CEO, you have all the formal authority to sign this contract.”

 “That might be true but I cannot-“ she started but Rhys didn’t let her finish.

“I am not giving you an option here.” He said, a memory of Jack saying this to one of his employees flashed across his mind as he reached for one last thing that was still hidden in his case and threw it on the table. She waited before reaching for it, shocked by what it was. A stack of pictures and she was on all of them.

“What’s this?” She asked but it was obvious she knew exactly what it was.

“Your pictures, of course,” Rhys smirked. “I’m sure you must remember your trip to one of the concurred camps, there weren’t so many of them lately after all, where you watched over your workers who “modified” some of the guns you stole from the dead bandits? You know, the exact same guns that you are selling as your new product line. I don’t think people will be happy when they find out about that.” He reached to point at one of them. “I think you look extremely lovely on this one.”

“You wouldn’t dare publish that.” She hissed. “This is a common procedure, everyone does it, even Hyperion.”

“That might be true.” Rhys shrugged. “But the difference is, that’s not Hyperion’s logo they are sticking to the guns, is it?”

He knew she was defeated when she didn’t respond. “Sign it now, and I forget that those pictures exist. Refuse and I will make sure this will be the last fatal decision this company had an opportunity to make. And your name will go down with it.” Rhys pushed the paper across the table and offered her his pen.

She stared at the paper, colour leaving her skin, so it looked like she was about to get lost in the whiteness of the chair. “Very well.” She said finally and took his pen. “Let’s get this over with.” With a short and quick movement, she signed the paper and leaned away from the table with resignation. Rhys reached for the document. “It was nice doing business with you.” He smiled and offered her his flesh hand, which she ignored. “I will make sure someone sends you more information and who will assist you with all the paperwork.” He continued, not bothered by her mood at all.

“Just leave. I don’t want you on my station any longer.” She replied, not even looking at him. He was about to turn and leave when the doors swung opened and the two guards stepped in followed by a man with a black belt holding something small in his hand. It was one of the robots Rhys released earlier. He held his breath as he watched him cross the room, straight to the table. He scrolled the document and pushed it into his pocket as he listened to what the man was going to say.

“Mrs. Parks. We found this in one of the warehouses. It's not made out of our materials.”

It was stunning how quickly was the CEO able to realize exactly what it was and what it meant. She looked from the small ball to Rhys, who was already taping order onto his ECHO.

“Throw it awa-“ She couldn’t finish the order, because the small metallic ball exploded into hot flames, covering the whole room. Rhys started feeling the heat on his face, but before it could do any real damage he teleported himself away.

He appeared in front of the room and started running as soon as he could feel his legs. The alarm went off when he was in the middle of the hallway, leading to the office. Too fast. This was happening too fast, he needed time to get to the escape pot but now it might be too difficult. He was about to face the whole station.

Rhys quickly pulled out the signed document and scanned it with his ECHO eye. He immediately sent it to Jack and pushed the real one deep into his pocket. The first part of the mission was done, now to the rest. He opened his palm and set a timer for thirty minutes. After the times runs out, all his small robots will explode. If his calculations were correct – and they probably were – there will be nothing left from this station after that happens. He checked the digressing numbers and prepared the fastest route in his head right at the moment when all the speakers went on.

“Attention!” An exhausted female voice sounded. So Parks survived the explosion. The woman was tougher than she looked. “We are under attack! There is a Hyperion’s Vault Hunter running and I want you to kill him at sight. That’s an order!”

As if they were waiting right behind the corner, a group of soldiers rushed to face him. He kept running towards them and didn’t slow down until he teleported right behind them. He used the confusion and stole a gun that was locked in one of the guard’s pockets and pulled the trigger next to the soldiers head. The noise of him falling down got lost in the gunshot that immediately followed from the rest of the group. They managed to get above half of Rhys’ shields down until he finally managed to activate his siren power and turned all the bullets they shot at him fly towards them instead.

Now fully armed, he left the bodies there and kept running. Twenty minutes left.

He ran until his shield was fully recharged again and when he was confident enough, he teleported to the docks. At least he tried, but apparently, he hadn’t mastered this ability yet and instead ended up in the room they gave him before.

“Oh no.” He breathed out, exhausted. All those siren powers took so much energy from him, he thought he was about to faint. And he still must get to his ship or to the escape pods or anything really that will get him away from this station before it turns into a huge ball of flames.

He opened the map on his ECHO that the robots made when they were walking around the station and checked how far the closest escape pods were. To his horror, they were even further away than the docking station with his ship.

Knowing there was no time to waste, he made himself run again, refusing to use the teleportation again.

Good thing was that nobody had probably expected to be taking this road because the corridors were empty and thus he was able to move faster. But even then, he had only ten minutes left when he finally arrived at the docks.

The first thing he noticed was that his ship was busted. They decided to burn his lovely vehicle down so no one could ever use it again. No time to mourn, he will just need to steal one of theirs. The second thing he saw was an enormous man, who had a size of angry Goliath running towards him. Rhys pulled out the gun he stole and shot him a few times. But the man hardly noticed and just kept running with a loud yell. Do they really have goliaths up here? Rhys thought right before jumping away from one of the huge fists that tried to hit him. He didn’t have time for this, he needed to get out. He remembered one idea he had while he was still on Helios. He concentrated on the man's head and in his mind, he imagined how it got sucked into itself. Right when this idea got vivid enough, he heard the angry yells turned into painful ones and then there was a sound of exploding meals and bones. It worked. And he had only five minutes left.

He half ran half teleported himself to one of the wasted-looking ships and got into it. It didn’t have hard software to hack into and before he knew it, he was flying out of the station. And the timing couldn’t be better because right when he got the engines running, about twenty guards ran into the docking station and all started shooting at the ship. But it was their fault for making their rackets this good, that Rhys had no trouble leaving.

He checked the time to see how the digits reached zero, right before the whole station exploded. It happened so fast! Rhys thought there would be smaller explosions occurring throughout the stations and that it would slowly get covered in flames. But instead, there was only one huge explosion which completely consumed all of the Maliwan’s headquarters. He closed his eyes and focused on taking deep breaths. He did it. He made the CEO sign the contract, that basically said that all that Maliwan will keep is their headquarters, he delivered the contract to Jack through the ECHO and then destroyed the headquarters while killing their entire leadership. And now, Hyperion had total control over what was left of them.

He should call Jack and let him know that his title just got expended.

He reached for his ECHO to make the call, but it was already on. Jack called him first.

“Jack, you will never believe what-“ the way Jack looked made him stop.

“Rhys. Get your ass on Pandora, now!” A voice he had troubles to connect to the memory of his boyfriend sounded from the speakers. Jack sounded angry and devastated and worst of it all, scared. Jack was panicking. Something Rhys couldn’t even imagine the man could do.

“Why, what happened?”

“They,” Jack gasped for air before he was able to finish the sentence, that left Rhys cold in the core. “They are going to kill Angel.”

They are coming to murder my daughter.”

Chapter Text

(about two days ago)

 

After Angel had one of her outbursts, Jack stayed with her until she woke up. He used the time to make sure no more people would ever have to enter this room. Beside himself, of course. He wrote a new AI program and created a special new line of the loader bots that were going to keep her company instead of the real workers.

Angel didn’t seem so happy about it. But she will get used to it eventually.

Jack left her there and went to make sure the new bots line for her would be finished as soon as possible.

When he got back to Helios, Rhys was already gone. Meg told him he had come here looking for Jack before he left but couldn’t wait for him. Jack will have to remember to call him and wish him luck.

He was about to do that when his ECHO started ringing. It was Tim.

Jack picked it up but and before he said anything, noises of gunfire sounded from the other line. He quickly kicked his feet of the table and stood up. “Jack.” He heard his own voice say from the speaker. “Jack, we got a problem.”

“Well no shit Timothy,” Jack swore. “Who the fuck is shooting at you? How much did you manage to fuck up the negotiation with the workers? It shouldn’t be that hard to tell them to get their heads out of their asses and do their god damn work.”

“It wasn’t.” Tim breathed out, followed by more gunshot. He was returning the fire. “It was actually going pretty well until the Vault Hunter showed up.”

“Vault Hunter?” Fuck. Jack totally forgot about her. “Wha-Why is the Vault Hunter there?”

“No idea. They are just destroying the city.”

“Oh, are you fucking… Fine. Get your handsome ass out of there, you aren’t any good for me dead. Find a way to get back to Helios, I will take care of this.”

“I am on it,” Tim responded, probably nodding, and ended the call.

Jack sat back behind his computer and quickly found the stream from cameras that were placed all over his beautiful city.

Locating the Vault Hunter wasn’t hard. She was standing in front of one of his magnificent statues. The girl somehow found her way around the shields that were supposed to protect them from potential vandals and was now burning them down with the help of a hacked destructor.

“Aw, what are you doing now? Petty vandalism? Are you serious? That's how far you've fallen? It's just sad. Please tell me at least that you are doing this to get my attention, so it looks like you actually got any purpose.”

The Vault Huntress ignored him. She kept shooting at his soldiers that came to defend the statues.

Just what did she think she was doing? Risking her life like that just to piss him off? Seriously?

“Alright! You made your point. You don't like the statue, I get it! I look a little too badass with my foot in that bandit's face, right? You're jealous, I get it!” Jack yelled at her in a weak attempt to get her attention and possibly cause her to lose focus and get shot in the head. Unfortunately, no such luck.

It caused him a physical pain to watch as one of his beloved statues fell to the ground and shatter into pieces.

“Does that feel good? You got it out of your system? Great. Now go home and stop screwin' with my stuff, or we're gonna have a frickin' problem.”

And she actually stopped. Jack watched her stand there for a few seconds and then turn to run in an opposite direction. Okay? To be honest, he didn’t actually believe that this chick would listen to him. Jack quickly searched through the cameras to find where she could be heading to. It seemed she was running towards the centre of the city, but why? There wasn’t anything to do there, nothing valuable. Aside from his special saunas. But she didn't strike him as someone who enjoyed this kind of stuff.

Jack quickly skipped from camera to camera until he noticed a tall figure, standing in the middle of the square like a complete idiot. Timothy. Jack quickly hit the talk button on his ECHO screen and yelled into the speakers. “What the fuck are you still doing there? If you had a death wish you could just tell me I would more than happily shoot you in the face from here!” Jack yelled and watched on the screen how Timothy jumped a little at the sound of his voice.

“But-But you just told me to come here!” Timothy replied sounding more confused than scared.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Timothy didn’t get to say anything back. He got distracted by the Vault Hunter who just arrived to the building, already aiming at Timothy.

Timothy quickly dodged behind a wall, missing a bullet by the length of his handsome hair.

“Shit shit shit,” Timothy mumbled as he reached for a more accurate weapon. Jack was already sending orders to everyone in the city to get there and protect him.

“What the fuck do you want?” Timothy yelled at the girl who just sent more bullets in response.

Jack was biting his nails. With every bullet fired, the Vault Huntress was getting a little closer to the spot, from which she would be able to get a clear shot on Timothy, who was slowly coming out of options for places to hide behind. But how was she doing that? Without the third eye vision, she shouldn’t be able to know which steps to take with this much certainty. Unless she actually did have the third eye vision. Not on her own, obviously. Someone else must’ve hacked into the camera's system and was now giving her orders how to move.

“Your time is up!” He heard Timothy call in the background, probably giving himself some courage. Or maybe he was trying to make it look as if he was really Jack? Either way, it didn’t work.

Jack didn’t need to check the log to know he was right about someone being inside the system. Instead, he decided to hack the hacker. Jack started working on a way to interfere with her radio communication and cut her off from getting any more help. He was working as fast as possible while keeping an eye on how Tim was doing, sending him as much help via the loader bots and the soldiers as he could afford. But he just wasn’t fast enough. Jack was out of practice thanks to spending so much time as a CEO and not enough time as a programmer. So he could just wait for the code to run while watching Timothy being pushed into a corner with no escape.

Jack swallowed. It suddenly became hard to breathe as he tried to think of a way to help him survive. But there was only one last thing left they could try. “Tim, when she shoots you, play dead,” Jack ordered. Tim looked confused for a moment before he realized what this meant. He lost. His last chance of survivor was to wait for a bullet and hope it won’t be a fatal one.

But as always, the Doppelganger did just as he was ordered. Timothy fired one more time before getting hit into the stomach. He caught blood as he fell on his knees and hit the floor with a loud thud. Jack waited for any sign that the boy was still alive but failed to see any. All he could do was to hope Tim, at the edge of death, became a good actor. He felt cold. The tight feeling in his chest just wouldn’t leave. But he knew one thing for sure. Whoever is behind this will pay for it.

As if it was waiting for the worst possible moment, the computer announced the hack was successful and Jack was now listening to the Vault hunters’ radio communication. And what he heard stole his already mellow breath away from him.

“Alright…” He heard Angel say from the speakers. “Alright. Now grab his pocket watch.”

Jack had to grab his table, so he wouldn’t fall back from the shock. His reality froze. Everything inside him was refusing to accept what was happening right in front of his eyes. There was no way he just heard his own daughter, giving directions to the Vault Hunter. The person just attacked Timothy. Jack checked the screen to see Tim, still lying completely moveless on the ground as the Vault Hunter came to take the copy of Jack’s pocket watch.

“Oh no.” Angel’s voice sounded from the speaker, breaking something inside Jack’s chest with every word said. “Why didn’t he-oh! Shoot that’s Tim? Oh my god why was Tim here?”

“Ehm. Are you alright?” The Vault Huntress asked and Jack wanted to gag.

“Yeah. I-I'm fine.” Angel said but she clearly wasn’t. “Just get to the locations I pinpointed to you on your map and send the voice samples together with the pocket watch.”

Jack stood up. He had no idea what was it Angel was trying to do but he is putting a stop to that. 

He sprinted across his office right to the fast travel station. Why the hell did he lose so much time by just sitting there? The light covered him and suddenly he was in Angel’s chambers. She wasn’t in her main room. Jack quickly scanned the area for all living sources, using his ECHO tablet. Angel was in the farthest corner away from him. He didn’t remember when it was he ran this fast. But he got there right at the right moment to hear Angel say, “I will tell you the password to open it at the appropriate time.”

Jack gritted his teeth. After everything, he’s done for her. After everything he had to sacrifice just for her sake, this is how she repays him? By collaborating with the enemies? The very people who were trying their best to destroy everything he has ever achieved, and take it down together with him? Well, now he is going to put a stop to it.

He activated his own pocket watch. The one that made him invisible, if only for a few seconds, and slowly walked to Angel. She was too busy with some data transporting that she probably wouldn’t have noticed him even without the cloak on. When he was close enough, he clapped a collar that he had secretly made for a situation like this. He only hoped he would never have to use it. The collar was dangerous. It worked on a principle of transmission energy from Angel’s body to the eridium generator. It allowed Jack a total control over her, but if something happened to the generator, the error could cause Angel an enormous harm. But now, there was no other way around it.

The collar wrapped tightly around her neck with a loud “clap”. She let out a painful scream and fell on her knees. Jack grabbed her by the collar and lifted her up to her feet so he was speaking right into her ear. “You seriously thought you could hide from me, Angel? Is that what you thought?” He shook with her as she started gasping for air, the collar slowly adjusting to the size of her neck. “Say goodbye to your friend, Angel. Say it.” Jack ordered, the anger slowly taking over him.

Angel took a deep, painful breath before doing what he said. “See you soon.”

The transmission ended and now it was just Jack and Angel.

“What was that? Heh? What do you think you are doing? Speaking to those savages, helping them? Going behind my back like a backstabbing ungrateful rat!” Jack’s voice was escalating until he was yelling at the top of his lungs. He waived with the hand that was still holding on Angel's collar and threw her on the floor. She didn’t look at him. She just lay there with gritted teeth determined not to say a word to the man.

“You helped them kill Timothy. Why? You couldn’t honestly think that it was me. No way you are that stupid.” Jack said with cold tone. He saw Angel’s shoulder fall. She obviously didn’t know it was Tim. “I don’t think what it is you think you are doing but it ends now! I am not taking this thing down from your neck until I am sure I can trust you again. So you better get used to the feeling of tight metal around your neck cuz sweetheart, it ain't going down fast.”

His ECHO beeped, announcing a new incoming message. The rescue team was back with Timothy. That was fast. “Alright. Imma give you some time to think about how you explain your little theatre to me, next time I come back.” Jack said, pointing a finger at her and walking away.

“You did this to yourself asshole.” She said when he was already far enough. Angel waited until Jack disappeared in a light she herself couldn’t use. Then she grabbed one of the iron pipes she got out from a wall and slowly walked towards the station, dragging the pipe on the floor. She pictured her father’s face as she smashed the machine over and over again until it was just a mess of metal and wires.

Timothy was already on the operation table. Turned out he didn’t really need to do much acting. He wasn’t dead. But he passed out at the sight of the huge amount of his own blood. Jack would be more surprised if this was the first time something like that happened. This time, however, it turned out to save his life. Jack instructed the nurse to let him know immediately when Tim wakes up before heading back to his office, where the soldier who was leading the rescue mission was already waiting for him.

“Report. Now.” Jack ordered when he walked into the room.

“Not much to report. When we got there, the Vault Hunter was already gone. We found the target at the exact coordination that was given to us, so no one moved him. We didn’t run into any troubles on our way back.” The soldier said in an emotionless tone.

Jack nodded and told the employee he was free to go. 

Just what was all this about? No way this was an attempt in taking him down. They had Angel helping them. She would’ve told them that there is no way that was him. And why did they go after Tim’s watch? They were nothing but a shitty version of a replica of what Jack was wearing. To make the illusion more believable or something.

Jack sat down, massaging his forehead. His eyes instinctively shot to Rhys’ table. Jack caught himself wishing he had the boy here with him. He might’ve had some idea of what was happening right now. Being a Vault Hunter and everything. Or at least he could help him figure it out.

But Rhys wasn’t here and Jack had to deal with that on his own. He closed his eyes and tried to recall exactly what happened when they took Tim down. Angel’s voice sounded in his head. “Why didn’t he-oh! Shoot that’s Tim?”

Jack guessed that she didn’t know who it was she was helping to take down. But what was she expecting would happen after they stole his watch? And then it hit him.

Tim was the first and last body double who had to undo a plastic surgery to get his looks. The rest of them were using a special device that made them look like him, thanks to the laser technology. And this device was hidden inside their watches! And if that’s what they were going after, together with the voice samples, then that means…

Jack jumped up, quickly dealing the head of Hyperion’s military.

“Handsome Jack, sir.” Female’s voice sounded from the other line.

“I want every soldier you got on the facility in Thousand Cuts. Now!” He ordered.

The head of his military didn’t need to ask any questions. “Understood, sir.” She said, ending the call. Jack was already on his way to the fast travel station. He already had this terrible feeling, but he just needed to reassure himself.

He waited with a racing heart for the blue light to scan him. It took a moment for the machine to start processing the data before it came back with an error. This machine wasn’t operational.

No. No, no, no!

He tried again and again only to see the same error sign, shining into his face after every attempt. He tried a few more times before he finally lost his nerves and he ended up firing a round into the machine. 

Jack didn’t spare it another look and was already browsing through the camera’s system in Thousand Cuts.

Alright. Calm down. There is no way she is getting past that gate.

Jack tried to breathe as he found the Vault Hunter heading to the most powerful gate ever created. By him, of course. She was on her way, sprinting towards the orange plasma. Jack hoped for a second that she would run into it. Oh, what wouldn’t he give for a gif of this girl, running into the deadly laser and turning into almost non-exciting dust.

But she wasn’t alone. It was hard to notice at first, but she had a yellow companion, about the half of her height.

Fucking Claptrap! Just what was this annoying piece of garbage doing being still alive?

Jack watched with gritted teeth how Claptrap turned off the lasers in the doors after passing through it completely untouched.

“Oh, you made it past the security wall, huh? That's, uh, that's really cute. 'Course, the bunker's still going to obliterate ya, but nonetheless – cute.” He tried, only to be once again completely ignored by the Vault Huntress.

This was bad. The Vault Huntress didn’t spend more than ten minutes on taking down two of his buzzards and was shooting her way forward through the Hyperion army who seemed to be completely useless. If this continues, then…

Jack grabbed his ECHO and dilled the only person who could have the power to stop this from happening. The call got redirected to video call. Rhys was already on a ship.

“Jack, you will never believe what-“ he started but stopped when his eyes reached the display. 

“Rhys. Get your ass on Pandora, now!” 

“Why, what happened?”

“They,” Jack could feel the adrenalin rising as he tried to finish the sentence „They are going to kill Angel.”

The reality finally started to fully sink in. He knew it from the very beginning, but the situation didn’t fully kick in until he was able to force the words out of his mouth. “They are coming to murder my daughter.”

“Send me the locations,” Rhys said in a tone of a soldier accepting an order. “I will be there as soon as I can.”

Jack typed the location of Angel’s bunker and Rhys ended the call without any more questions.

Jack turned back to the computer screen, that was live-streaming the events that were happening in Thousand Cuts. The girl already arrived at the top of the facility and was now shooting at the cannons so the bandits could get there to support her in her assassination mission. He watched as she destroyed the last one with a corrosive rifle.

But Jack still had some cards in his sleeve to play with. “Do you really think I'd protect Angel with nothing but a couple bots and some flimsy turrets? See, you're not at the bunker right now. The bunker isn't a place.” He typed in an order to activate one of the most powerful and deadliest weapons that ever existed. The ground started shaking and the Vault Huntress watched with wide eyes as the BNK-3R took off. “THAT'S the bunker. Meet the BNK-3R, the greatest defense bot ever built. Designed her myself. Now do me a favor, and DIE.”

But the girl wasn’t intending on doing that. She ran under the roof and was shooting all the ammo she had into the bunker, while her ugly-ass robot was flying around, taking care of most of the Hyperion military. Jack couldn’t do anything else but watch, as his beloved bunker fell down to the ground after getting one final hit with a Rocket Launcher.

 For a moment, Jack was numb. He heard screaming, but it took him a moment until he realized it was his own voice. Meg probably ran inside, but left again, judging by the closing doors.

Why, why was this happening. He did everything right to protect his daughter. There was no way anyone would ever get near her. He made sure of it. Then how was it possible, for the stupid, bitchface of a Vault Hunter to be standing in front of the door to her chambers?

The security system scanned her, and he heard his own voice saying the password that would allow the entrance to Angel.

No. He can still stop this. Somehow. “Consider this your final warn- no, consider this MY final warning. Turn around and I promise I'll make it quick. But I swear, you take one more step, every soul back in Sanctuary will die staring at their own lungs as I rip them from their chests.” That was a promise. He never meant anything more serious in his life. But just like everything he said so far, even this was completely ignored by the red-headed girl.

He called Angel. But the call was rejected. Jack knew she was talking to her. He just used the same hack to get to their radio communication as he did before while she was still in Opportunity.

He got in just to hear Angel say “To truly stop Jack from waking the Warrior, you cannot just steal the Vault Key – you must destroy his catalyst. You must destroy...”

No.

“...me.”

No. She wasn’t doing this. This wasn’t happening. Angel didn’t bring them there just, so she could get herself killed. There must be something else going on.

He opened the transmission between Angel’s TV screens and his ECHO. So now his face was broadcasted all over the chambers. But that was the only way left for him to communicate with her.

 “You get the hell away from MY DAUGHTER!” He yelled, activating the collar and sending Angel flying in the middle of the room, where a cage was already waiting for her.

“What the hell are you doing?! ANGEL?!” Jack shouted through the TV, as the Vault Huntress made her way into the chamber.

“Stopping you, you piece of—” Jack typed an order into the collar, making it tighten around her neck to stop her from finishing the sentence.

“Rrgh – language!”

“The Eridium injectors! Destroy them!” Angel gasped, and Jack froze as his mind showed him the following events if that would happen. No. If they destroy it while she’s still wearing the collar then…

The Vault Huntress moved to complete the order. “Oh, no you don't! Shields up!” Jack turned on the shields around the injectors, protecting them from any bullets that the red-headed girl could try to use against them.

“No! I'll try to expose the injectors, just hold on!” Angel tried, but Jack knew as well as she did, that she was powerless. Unlike the other girl who could still somehow come with a way to get around the shields. He learned that the stupidest thing you could do is to underestimate a Vault Hunter. Speaking of Vault Hunter, where the hell was Rhys?

***

Rhys was going as fast as the ship was able to go. Maybe even a little bit faster.

He was still exhausted from taking down the station, but he used all the power he had to make account jumps with the ship, using the siren power.

He was worried about Jack. He just looked so scared, Rhys had never seen him like this. But him worrying wasn’t what Jack needed. He needed a soldier who listens to orders and completes them without questions.

A question like, how was it possible that Jack had a daughter and never mentioned her once? And he even called her Angel. Angel like the AI girl who was helping him on Pandora. Like the AI who told him how to use Eridium and save his own life. Could Jack be referring to the AI? But he seemed just so worried. Rhys knew Jack had strong feelings about IT technology, but could it bring him to tears of worry? Rhys doubt it. But then, that would mean that Angel wasn’t an AI in the first place. But what was she? Not human, that’s for sure. No human should be able to do what Angel did while helping him on Pandora. That would mean only one thing. Angel was siren.

Rhys swallowed as he did another jump with his powers. He almost called back Jack to confirm this. But he didn’t. Because right now, he was a soldier.

***

It was too much.

Jack was at the edge of ripping his hair off. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could take watching Roland, who chose the worst possible moment to show up, as he destroyed one shield after another. It was always immediately followed by the Vault Huntress destroying it with her weapons. And if there was any hope for his non-stop incoming loader bots, that were spawning all over the room, to actually defeat them and win this fight, it was all destroyed the moment Lilith got in.

Everything around him was spinning. It was hard to focus when there was only one injector left.

“Don't you know what you're DOING?! Who cares about the goddamn Key – you're gonna end the life of an innocent girl!” Jack yelled in his final attempt, tears of anger making their way down his cheeks.

“Jack ended my life long ago. This has to end NOW, Gaige.” Angel said in a cold voice.

The girl hesitated. Jack could see how her hands started shaking. Maybe she changed her mind. She’s gonna leave now and everything will be fine. Who in their right mind would ever be willing to hurt his Angel?

“Gaige what are you doing?” Lilith yelled from across the room, over shouting the sounds of gunfire. She looked at the Vault Huntress and then at the injector. Jack could practically see the next decision forming in her head. She grabbed a gun that was lying on the floor and aimed at the injector. It took only two bullets for the glass to break and the liquid splashed on the floor.

The cage around Angel disappeared as she fell down, her white electronic wings slowly fading, slowing down her fall.

“It's done. It's finally done. Thank you... friend.” Angel breathed out.

“Angel, you can STOP this! I'll still forgive you, baby!” Jack called. He wasn’t exactly sure how, but there just had to be a way to make all of this turn out alright. Just like the stories about heroes. Something happens in the last possible second, that saves the day. That had to be this case too! It had to…

“Dad, I have to tell you something...” Angel said, almost whispering.

“Yes, baby? What is it?”

Angel’s voice was so low, it was hard to even make out what she was saying. But Jack felt as if this was the loudest thing he has ever heard. “You're an asshole.”

Her head hit the floor. She wasn’t moving anymore. Nothing was moving. The whole world stopped and shattered right in front of his eyes.

Someone was yelling her name. Was it him? Jack didn’t know. He heard Roland say something to the others, but he couldn’t find the will to care.

Something moved across the room. But Jack couldn’t look. His eyes locked on the dead body that used to be his daughter.

Another gunfire. And Rolland fell on his knees with a hole in his chest.

“Rolland!” Lilith cried out. She turned to look at the person holding the gun that just ended her boyfriend’s life. Jack’s eyes finally moved away from the corpse to see who was the person Lilith was probably about to murder.

It was Rhys.

He ducked behind a wall to miss a fireball thrown in his way, by the length of a hair.

“You!” Lilith hissed, sounding more like a wild animal than a person. She was getting ready for another attack when the girl next to her grabbed her hand.

“Lilith no!” She yelled, gaining the siren's attention. “We have to get the Vault Key out of here. Now!”

“Wha-“

“Remember what Rolland told us!” The girl said in a tone that left no place for argument. “What is the main mission?”

Lilith wanted to protest but was interrupted by a wave of bullets flying from Rhys’ direction.

She seemed to finally remember something and nodded. She held tighter to the Vault Huntress hand. Gaige grabbed the Vault Key with her free hand.

“You will pay for that.” She promised, pointing at Rhys before a purple light surrounded the two of them and they teleported away.

Rhys had his gun ready for couple more seconds before slowly relaxing his pose. He looked around, clearly not sure what was this place supposed to be. He finally noticed the dead girl on the floor. He started slowly walking towards her.

Jack finally found his voice. “Rhys.” He said and the boy turned to face one of the huge screens that were now broadcasting his face.

“Jack what-“ He started but Jack wouldn’t let him finish.

“The teleport station!” He ordered. “I need you to repair it. Now!”

Rhys turned around, to see the broken machine. It didn’t look fixable. “I might have something better. “He said and pulled out a small device from his pocket and placed in on the floor. “I have something like this on my desk. You can use it to teleport here.” Rhys explained, and Jack quickly ran to look for the identical device. He found it in the drawer and quickly pressed the only button. It was just like teleport station, but smaller. Since when did Rhys have something like this?

It didn’t matter. The moment Jack materialized in the chambers, his legs started moving on its own. He ran to Angel, falling on his knees next to her moveless body.

“Angel!” He tried, taking her head in his hands. Her blue eyes were closed as if she was just asleep. But her cheeks were cold. They were slowly losing their natural blush. And most importantly, her tattoo. It was gone. “No. No, baby don’t do this to me, please wake up. Angel please I forgive you.” Jack started mumbling to the girl who couldn’t hear him anymore.

“Jack.” Someone spoke behind him.

He turned around as if the words somehow slapped him in the face. “Where were you?!” He roared towards to the boy who unconsciously took one hesitant step back.

“I-I was…The Maliwan…” Rhys tried, not able to find words. It was as if just tied up his tongue.

“You were supposed to be here! You could’ve stopped it!” Jack continued, anger rising in his voice with each word. He stood up, taking one step towards the boy who was frozen in place.

“You could’ve saved her. If you came sooner, my Angel could still be alive.” Jack was breathing fast, like a wild raging animal.

***

Rhys was lost. He didn’t know where any of this was coming from or how he should react. He wasn’t even sure what was Jack accusing him off.

“Jack I-“ Rhys started, but couldn’t finish. A fist flying from Jack hit him hard from the right side right into his jaw. Not being ready for the incoming attack, Rhys lost his balance and fell on the floor. His flesh arm reached to inspect the damage. There was blood on his fingers when he pulled them away from the fresh wound.

He heard a clicking sound and his eyes shot back to Jack, who was holding his revolver, aiming right into Rhys’ face.

Rhys heart stopped. “Jack don’t.”

The others’ fingers were shaking when he pulled the trigger. A loud noise of the gunfire once more filled the room. But he missed. Rhys checked himself to be sure, but the bullet really hit the spot on the floor right next to him.

“Get out.” Jack hissed through gritted teeth. “Don’t ever let me see you again.”

Rhys swallowed. He was confused and hurt, but he obeyed. Jack wasn’t at his right mind and he couldn’t think of anything he could do to make it right. He stood up. He looked once more right into Jack’s eyes, searching for words, but not being able to find any. Afraid his voice would fail him if he tried to say goodbye, he just nodded and turned around. It might be foolish to turn his back at someone who just shot at him, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t bear one more look at the person who he fell in love with and who was rejecting him for no reason.

But before he left the building, he made a promise to himself. He was going to make things right again. He was going to figure out exactly what happened and he was going to fix it. And he knew exactly where to start.

Gaige.

Chapter Text

 

It was a beautiful night.

The view from the high cliff where Gaige was sitting was breathtaking. All the colourful lights produced as a defence mechanism by the local flora made it seem like a world stolen from a fairy tale book.

But all the beauty beneath her feet hanging in the air was nothing in comparison with what was above her. Gaige doubted she would ever get bored from watching Pandoras night sky.

The bright stars seemed to be on the reach of hand. She felt as if she really tried, she could grab them and steal into her pocket. She almost said it out loud, so used to someone always listening to her.

But there was no one to laugh at her random thoughts anymore.

A sharp pain ran once again through her chest. A memory of Angel taking her final breath only a few feet away from her flashed through her mind, for the thousandth time. Gaige closed her eyes and hid her face in her palms.

Angel wanted this. She repeated to herself. She asked you to do this. There was no other way.

But wasn’t there really? Gaige couldn’t help but doubt this. What if there was a way to prevent all this from happening without Angel having to die? Maybe if they spend a little more time thinking about this, maybe they would come out with a better plan.

Gaige sighed. She needed someone to confirm that she was wrong and that Angel had to die. That there was no way to avoid it. But the only person who was left alive to assure her that what they did was right was Lilith. And after their last mission, Gaige couldn’t bring herself to look her in the eyes let alone talk to her about this. Even standing in the same room as the siren was almost impossible and Gaige had to repeat to herself that she was not allowed to blame Lilith for pulling the trigger. She did what needed to be done to finish the mission. And on top of it, she also lost her loved one. So basically, they should be even.

But that didn’t stop the wave of hatred from splashing all over her every time she heard Lilith’s voice. Which was almost nonstop, because Lilith became the new leader of the resistance and was shouting orders left and right.

She had her hands on the Vault Key and from what Gaige understood, she was determined to use it to take down Handsome Jack and Hyperion with him. That was obviously the right thing to do. After everything Jack's done he deserved nothing less than to die, watching everything he spent a lifetime building up to burn down.

Gaige heard steps behind her and she instinctively summoned Deathtrap before turning around.

“I thought you wanted to add him a new arm? For high fives?” A voice from old friend spoke from the darkness.

Gaige smiled weakly. “Yeah, but that threw off his balance. Plus, he can do it with the current number of arms just fine.” She lifted her palm in the air and Deathtrap immediately flew closer to high-five her.

“Nice,” Rhys said weakly slowly walking to sit next to her.

Gaige turned to look at him, while the brunet's eyes were set on the landscape beneath their feet.

He looked much older than she remembered him. But that was understandable, after all the last time they went on a shared mission was a few years ago.

But even though, Rhys looked like someone who hasn’t slept properly for a week or maybe more.

“Well, you look like a piece of skag crap,” Gaige commented.

“Speak for yourself.” Rhys retorted, earning a punch to the shoulder.

They sat in silence for a moment, listening to the sound of wind circling around the desert.

“Do you remember the mission on one of the B-34 asteroids? What was it, Kepler-452? The one where we were after the lost treasure under the sea and had to wait five days in a cave waiting for the tide to end for us to be able to get out of there?”

“Kepler-442.” Gaige corrected him, nodding. “And yeah I remember. Shame the treasure turned out to be just a pile of shiny garbage.”

“I know it was garbage, you know it was garbage but the guy who we sold it to had no idea.” Rhys laughed, still looking at the dark land. He paused before continuing. “I remember how you told me that your dream was to become a scientist that will come up with the coolest inventions ever. That the treasure was supposed to pay for the expenditures.”

“You really do remember all the random shit people tell you? Wow, wouldn’t want that for me.”

Rhys was silent again, finally turning to look at her with a tired smile. “What if I told you I could help you with that dream.”

“Like how?”

“I could give you the money you need to buy all the equipment you need.”

Gaige laughed, but Rhys’ face remained dead serious. “I don’t suppose that would be just like an old-times friend favour?”

“No.”

“So what would this dream come true cost me?”

“Leaving Pandora and never coming back.” He said in an emotionless tone.

Gaige shook her head. “I really hope you are just joking, Rhys. You can't honestly believe I would fall for this.”

Rhys didn’t say anything, so Gaige continued. “Lilith told you all about how you sold yourself to Hyperion. That’s not gonna be me.”

“Sure, it won't.” Rhys nodded. “You won’t be selling yourself to Hyperion, but to me. I am the one giving you the offer.” He turned to look at the giant H levitating on the sky. “And as you can see, I don’t work for Hyperion anymore.”

That…Was a surprise. Angel mentioned Rhys never really wanted to become a part of the rebellion and that it didn’t take much convincing for him to start working for Hyperion instead. Honestly, Gaige was more surprised by him actually ever even working for Roland, seeing how harsh his opinions about bandits were. But from what she understood, he was more than happy to be working for the corporation she spent the past few months fighting against.

“How come?” She asked finally.

Rhys sighed. It took some time before he spoke again. “Jack blames me for Angel’s death.” He said finally.

Gaige rose an eyebrow. “Seriously? Correct me if I am wrong but I don’t really remember you being there when she died. Honestly, I don’t recall you being there until you shot a bullet through Roland’s chest.” She smirked ironically. “Not cool by the way. I should probably be trying to revenge my old boss instead of talking to you like this.”

“And I should be trying to kill you to revenge my old boss’s daughter, but here I am instead, offering you money to get you out of the planet so we can avoid all this,” Rhys said in a tone that could be used on commenting on the weather.

It was Gaige’s turn to be quiet for a moment. Thinking. To be honest, the offer was more than tempting. She came to Pandora to get money exactly for this project. Her own lab. She often daydreamed about building a body for Angel and taking her away from here. That was back then when she still believed Angel was an AI.

"Why does Jack blame you for her death?" Gaige asked.

"He thinks I could've saved her if I were there in time."

"You wouldn't."

"It doesn't matter."

"It does. Angel wouldn't let you do anything. She wanted for the things to happen the way they happened and you wouldn't be able to do anything even if you tried."

"I said it doesn't matter." Rhys hissed, obviously not willing to continue on this topic.

She sighed, giving up. “How much money?” She asked instead.

“Ten million dollars”

“You got ten million dollars in cash here with you?”

“No, I got ten million dollars down the hill hidden in racket you can use to get out of here if you decide to take the deal.”

Gaige shook her head. Of course, there was a racket down there. Rhys wouldn’t ask to meet with her if he didn’t think she would agree to this. She sometimes envied this confidence of his when it came to closing deals. “Where did you get ten million dollars if you don’t work for Hyperion?”

“I got a good friend with magic glasses.” Rhys shrugged. “Aren't you gonna ask me about the racket?”

“C’mon, it's you we are talking about. You could build a racket in a free afternoon if you really wanted to.” She laughed.

“That means a lot coming from you.” Rhys smiled at her. He turned to the angle where the moonlight could shine on his whole face, showing off the enormous bags underneath his tired eyes.

She didn’t smile back. “And if I say yes, are you going to come with me?”

Rhys sighed shaking his head. “I still need to take care of some things here.”

Gaige almost asked what those things were, but figured she was better off not knowing.

She looked down at the ground before finally responding. “Alright then.” She nodded finally. “I take it.” Rhys looked at her with a look that was saying he knew this would be her answer from the beginning. She ignored him and stood up, brushing the dust off her trousers. “Where is the racket?”

“Follow me,” Rhys told her, turning to walk down the hill. “It has a camouflage shield on, so you won’t find it on your own.” He explained already facing away from her.

She looked at the land one more time, trying to memorize her final moments on the planet she met someone who was probably the love of her life.

And turned away, determined to bring all the memories of the girl with the most beautiful eyes away with her.

Chapter Text

It was dark in the office.


The windows were covered with heavy curtains, and all lights were turned off. The only thing shining through the dense darkness in this enormous room was a computer screen on Jacks table.


The man himself was sitting in front of the device, watching the screen with a blank expression. The computer screen had opened tuns of seemingly random windows. But Jack wasn’t paying attention to any of them.
A half-empty bottle of a bitter liquor stood next to the computer, and he couldn’t even find the strength to reach for it and pour himself another glass.
 Because what was even the point. What was the point to do anything anymore? In just one moment, he lost everything.
He lost Angel. The primary reason behind his every action. The biggest purpose in his life, the source of happiness he could always lean to was taken away from him, right in front of his eyes. The pain of losing her felt unbearable. And the way she died, beckoning her killers into the bunker. Assisting them with passing all the protection he spent ages just setting up.


She died hating him. One of the most important people in his life died calling him an asshole — only moments before he almost shot the other one and cased him out.


Just what the hell was he thinking? To throw Rhys out like that, when he did nothing to deserve it.


Noted, Jack tried reaching out to him the moment his mind cleared up a little, but it was already too late. When he attempted dialling his ECHO, it always came out with an error message. It was as if the boy just disappeared into thin air, leaving no trace to follow.
The door into his office opened quietly, and Megg walked hesitantly inside.


“Get out!” Jack growled through gritted teeth immediately, not looking away from the blank screen at his monitor.
“I-am sorry sir, but I think you should see this.” She said and slowly walked towards the table, bluntly checking if Jack wasn’t about to reach for a gun she knew he had hidden underneath the table desk, and who knew where else.


But she managed to make it safely to the table and handed him a printed-out contract. “This was sent from Rhys’ ECHO when he was still at the Maliwan headquarters.”


Jack finally looked up, and took the papers from her and tried his best to focus on the text. “What am I looking at?” he asked when his attempts failed.
“It’s a confirmation of Maliwan agreeing to march with Hyperion,” Megg explained. “Rhys got the CEO to agree on his terms and made them sign this right before the explosion.”


“The explosion?” Jack repeated, confused.


“Maliwans headquarters exploded. Some error in their core centre, but it’s hard for any investigation to take place when there is nothing left to investigate.” Megg explained.


Jack was silent, processing the information.  Maliwan exploded. Well, he certainly did not expect to get news like that today. Or ever.
But if they signed this before the station got destroyed, then that meant that this document was perfectly valid. Jack was holding a proof, that he was now the legal owner of two of the biggest corporations in the universe.


Rhys singlehandedly managed to settle what people waged wars for and got kicked out before he even could tell anyone about it.
Jack put away the tablet and hid his face into his palms. Megg looked as if she wanted to say something, but her conscious got the better of her, and she decided to leave the room instead quietly.


 Jack did not move for a while after the door closed behind her. His eyes slowly reached the computer screen. He closed the running apps, one after another, until the wallpaper appeared. He never bothered to change it from the old picture of Rhys from so long ago.
He bit his lip end reached for his ECHO device, calling the chief of the military.


“Yes, sir?” A voice answered immediately.

“You guys down there done sitting on your asses? Because I got a new mission for ya and you are going to make it your prime priority, understood?”

“Yes, sir.” The chief nodded without hesitation. “What is the mission.”

Jack paused, eyes never leaving the picture on the computer screen as he gritted through his teeth. “Find me my Vault Hunter.” 

----


The outside of the town’s pub smelled of piss, blood and spilt beer.


Rhys stood in front of the old building for a moment, convincing himself that this would be much safer than to stay outside in the desert. But all the time he spent inside the fancy walls of Helios had spoiled him, and he found himself frowning at the dirty door handle.


He braced himself, took a deep breath and finally opened the door to the pub.


Even before his foot touched the first step, a chair flew by his head, smashing against the wall and breaking into wooden pieces.


He turned around, more annoyed than anything else, to see the bandit who threw the chair. But the man in question was already too busy burying his face into a fist of another bandit. Trying to identify him would be a waste of time. Instead, he used the disruption in the form of a fight between the locals, to make his way across the room unnoticed and sat in the furthest corner, away from all the noise and mess.


He threw his bag on the table and pulled out his ECHO tablet.


First, he went through his notes. It started as a security procedure to make sure he would remember all of it in case he needed to wipe out his memory disc, again. But it somehow turned into a habit that helped him calm down a bit.


The first file was named “Lilith”.  He opened it and read through the familiar text. This was the first note has written and already knew its content by heart.

-Has the V. key

-Pissed about Roland

-Is a siren (probably can charge the key by herself)

-Is in Sanctuary (location yet to be found)-) will need to change her position to summon the warrior.

Rhys sighed. Lilith was a huge problem, and the worst thing was, he had no idea what she was capable of doing. He’s read stories about her ruthless behaver, but surely at least half of them had to be exaggerated.


However, now when she lost Roland, Rhys could only imagine what she was going to do.


His best guess was she would go and awake Warrior and use it against Hyperion as some sick irony. But that would mean shes lost every last grip she had on her morals. Wakening up Warrior would be a significant hazard and threat to every living being on Pandora. Rhys didn’t care about Pandora, and neither did Jack. But he was hoping Lilith still have some sense in her and would consider every factor that could occur after using the key.

That brought him to the second file labelled, The V. Key

-Has to be charged with Eridium

-Needs Catalizator


He closed his eyes after reading this. Those two notes led to individual links he didn’t feel like opening. Firstly, because they weren’t part of this ritual and secondly, he already remembered all the information they contained anyway.


The first one would lead to an article of some sort, reporting on the recent attack on one of Hyperons biggest Eridium stocks. The bandits took what they could and left without a trace. The journalist speculated that they perhaps used some mobile teleporting device, but Rhys had a nagging feeling this wasn’t the case.
Ever since he got back to Pandora, he’s spent most of his free time practising his siren powers. Something that started as a habit developed out of curiosity somehow turned into a necessity. After he attacked Maliwan, he felt as if he’d explode after a day without using the power. He was sure that this must be how a computer feels if you overcharge it. Just too much energy that starts eating you up from the inside if you do n’t somehow use it.


During one of these practices, he figured out that the teleporting ability didn’t end on his persona, but he could also move other things around in a similar manner.
After he got bored of practising with rocks, he tried it on skags. And after throwing a few of them out of a cliff, Rhys came to the conclusion that he indeed could teleport other living beings.


And if he could do that, so could Lilith.


The other note just led to his study that he wrote just to clear his thoughts.
It was about Angel, functioning as a catalysator for charging the Vault Key. Rhys somehow figured out the primary system from what he saw when he was in the chamber. If someone else knew what they were doing, they could build something like this as well and duplicate the charging process. The only difference would be, Angel wouldn’t be the catalysator anymore. Lilith would replace her place in the case she was aiming to awaken the warrior.
That led to the final note Rhys had. The Warrior.He had most of the information from an old library he entered before he even came to Pandora. He was really glad he decided to take the time to scan most of the books they encountered.

- biological Eridian superweapon

-a colossal beast (four legs, two arms, a pair of wings, and a long tail which can fire a laser of slag energy)

-home in lava and another warm environment like fire or hot steam

-weak spots: heart, mouth, ribs

He didn’t know why exactly he wrote those things down, but something was telling him that he could come to using them soon.
Rhys leaned away from the table and stretched his back. He turned towards the bar, considering if it would be worth the effort to risk it and order a beer when a word of conversation from the nearest table got to him.


…”I am telling you, Hyperion will never see it coming.” One bandit just finished, with enthusiasm in his voice.

“I still don’t understand how she managed to charge it so quickly.” The other shook his head, holding a bottle of beer. “I mean, didn’t they say that something like this would take at least a couple of years?”

“Yeah, but it was already charged all the way up when she got it.” The first bandit laughed. “That’s probably the best part about this whole thing. Handsome Jack was this close to waking the warrior, but now? She will be the one to own the beast and use it to kill that motherfucker.”


Rhys gritted his teeth. He didn’t need to hear another word for all his suspicions to be confirmed. He stood up and headed towards the exit.
One of his hands was already on the door, and the other reached for the gun in his pocket. He aimed at the bandit who dared to take the name “Handsome Jack” in his mouth and shot his brains out with one good aimed shot. The man died still wearing the stupid smirk on his face.
He walked out, leaving a silent room behind his back.


There was one more information he had memorised from the ancient books about the warrior — the spot of his summoning.

And that’s where he was heading next.

----

Exhaustion mixed with adrenalin ran through her veins, as she watched the monster rise from its burning prison. The beast roared, slowly throwing its enormous head back and forth, climbing towards the suffice, revealing its dragonish body, and landing just a few inches from Lilith’s feet.


She heard Brick swearing and taking a few steps back. Neither him or Mordecai were too happy about this plan, but neither of them wanted to fight her on her decision. Was it that their hatred towards Hyperion overlapped their common sense, just as it did with hers, or were they just too afraid of her to raise any objections? It didn’t matter. She made her up her mind to summon the Warrior herself and use it against those who murdered her boyfriend, and there wasn’t a thing on this planet that could stop her. The only thing she cared about was getting her revenge.

And she was going to get it, even if it should cost her life.

----


Rhys could hear the bubbling sound of stones being melted into a burning form of lava before he even entered the cage.


Getting there was way too easy. All the Hyperion machinery was lying around, abandoned. There was no sign of any guard or workers. Or at least no one who would be visible on plain sight. And Rhys didn’t have time to waste to go looking for them.


He was too late. He knew this much the second he stepped into the summoning stop. The powerful vibe of magical energy was imprinted into the air. It was making it hard to breathe just from how heavy it was.It was Lilith. Rhys realised. She got here first, summoned the Warrior and was now on her mission to take down Hyperion, and Jack with it.

Rhys turned on his echo palm and quickly hacked into the live footage from the surveillance cameras of Opportunity. He saw few workers slacking off by the corner of the town square, but no signs of Warrior. But it had to be just a matter of time.

He was sure this was where Lilith was going to attack, since Helios was out of reach, even with Warrior on her side. But Opportunity was Jacks private project. Attacking the city was almost as attacking himself. No doubt he would show up, especially after what happened with Angel.

Not wanting to waste any more time in here, Rhys headed towards the closest fast travel station.

He never liked using those things. He closed his eyes as his body was scanned and broken into a thousand and thousands of tiny pieces only to be put together in an entirely different location. Rhys couldn’t help but wonder, if it were his true self after using the first teleporting station, or if his present body was just a copy of a copy?

When the blue light vanished, and the teleportation was successfully over, he opened his eyes. And all philosophical thoughts were lost the moment he did.
It was more reflexes than any real thought input, that made him jump away only a seconds before the teleporting station got crushed under a heavy leg made of stone, leaking drops of lava.

Rhys slowly looked up, meeting face to face with the ancient beast. Rhys held his breath when his eyes reached the shining eye sockets filled with flames and rage of a monster that had been imprisoned for whole millennia and was finally set free.
The Warrior opened its mouth, revealing the fiery abyss that was its insides and roared, making a sound so loud it forced Rhys to cover his ears. But even with hands over them, he still heard the high-pitched laugh. He looked up, finally noticing Lilith who sat on the monsters back, watching him with entertained eyes.

“Hello, Rhys.”

---

Jack was at the Pandora observation office, walking back and front across the room. They were running a code that was supposed to scan every life footage from Pandora and come up with the result that would let them know where Rhys was. However, the problem was, that this program was a prototype and was taking forever to finish. Jack was about to lose his temper and fill the processing computer with his bullets, when Megg ran in, hardly catching her breath.

“What now?” Jack barked at her.

“Sir, its…It's Opportunity.” She breathed out with a visible afford. “It- It is under attack.”
J

ack reacted immediately, jumping to one of the computers, pushing one of the workers out of their seat and opening the live footage.

It was true. By the entrance to the city, right on the bridge was a monster Jack immediately recognised. It was the Warrior. The beast which he saw in the visions from the time he was in the Vault. The god that was promised to him by destiny itself was not attacking his beautiful city. Someone was sitting on its back, but he couldn’t make out who it was.

He skipped to the second camera, closer to the bridge where he could get a better view. It was only then when he realised that it was Lilith. That red-headed bitch was sitting there as the beast slowly approached the city, looking like she owned the whole dammed world.


Jack opened his mouth to start shouting orders but was distracted when he noticed someone was activating the fast-travel station. For a moment he couldn’t see who just materialised in a spot that was about to become their death bed, because of the overly bright light produced by the teleporting machine. The teleportation was done just in time for the person to jump away from Warriors feet, which landed right on the station, crushing it to the ground.
And by that moment Jack knew who it was.

“Rhys.” He breathed out.

It was him. He was wearing his old black Vault-hunting suit, one knee on the ground, ready to jump away from the next attack. But Jack could see the posture slightly weaken, as the boy looked up and saw where the attack would be coming from.
The god that was capable of destroying the whole planet, the one Jack spend most of his life trying to summon, only to have him stolen before he even got the chance to do so, now just stepped away from the only person that was left in his life.


He was too late. He couldn’t find Rhys in time. And now he is going to die because of it.


He gritted his teeth as anger spread through his veins. No. That is not going to happen. He is not going to allow this.

“I want every man we have down there! I want you to bring me the head of the ugly bitch. Now!” His anger reflected in his voice, scaring the employs into the state when there couldn’t even think of any objections and ran away to spread the orders. The only person left in the room was Megg.

“You.” Jack pointed at his assistant. “You have three, no not three, two minutes to make sure my weapons and shields are ready next to my fast travel station.”

If she intended on objecting, the glare Jack gave her made her forget every argument she could come up with. She didn’t even nod as she turned on her green heel and sprinted away.
Jack looked one more time on the screen, where Rhys was still facing the monster, before heading out, to the fast travel station. Just a few moments. He thought. Stay alive for just a few more moments.

---

Rhys’ head was ringing, adrenalin rushing through his veins, forcing his heart to go faster and faster.

“Hello, Rhys.” Lilith called at him sending shivers down his spine, “So nice of you to show up like this. Spared me a lot of time looking for you.” Before she even finished her sentence, the warrior opened his mouth, charging for a new attack. “Now, Die!”
Every instinct in his body was screaming at him to teleport. But he couldn’t. There were cameras everywhere, and he wasn’t going to use the siren powers on tape unless he had to. So instead, he recalibrated all the energy in his shield to the front and braced himself for the incoming attack.

The hit was hard. Hard enough to break the shield.

It held for a few seconds, taking the most significant part of the damage. But when it broke, the remaining power-wave sent Rhys flying backwards, landing on his back. He quickly rolled aside, feeling the pain of burned flash on his face and chest.
He hid behind one of the metallic transporting boxes, well aware that was in no way a valid covering spot, but it gave him a chance to catch his breath

He massively underrated the situation. What was he thinking? Rushing in with just his basic equipment has already proven to be an enormous mistake.
He heard the warrior coming. Rhys didn’t need to use the ultimate power to know that in the next second, the Warrior will kick away the box he is hiding behind and attack him again. He charged his gun, ignoring the sharp pain the movements caused him. Aim at Lilith. He thought. It was a wild shot. But right now, wild was all he got. He took a deep breath and prepared for the action.

---

Stupid fucking fast travel.


Jack felt his knuckles burn in sharp pain as he hit the metallic device one more time.

He was ready, wearing the best shield Hyperion owned, together with the most efficient weapons. Everything was prepared for the fight, but the problem was, he couldn’t use the fast travel. At least not to Opportunity. It seemed that after Rhys teleported to the city, all the fast travel stations were disabled. How? Jack had no clue.

Angel would know. A thought went through his head, accompanied by a sharp pain in the chest, but he pushed both away. No time for that, he needs to get to Pandora and save Rhys. Fast travel stations aren’t the only way that is fast enough.

The cannon. Jack realised.

It was a long time since he used it on people, but it worked before so it will work now.

He changed the travel destination from Opportunity to Helios docks, and in a blink of an eye, he was there.
He quickly yelled at one shocked worker to get the shuttle ready and placed himself in it. The seats that were installed there for some reason were everything but comfortable. But they had to do.

“Sir!” Mag called behind him. “Please, think about what you are doing. This is too dangerous. And the soldiers aren’t even ready yet, and you will be heading there on your own.”

“How did you get- eh whatever.” Jack waved her off. “Don’t have time for you. I am on a rescue mission.”

“You will die.” The secretary cried out. If not in such a rush, Jack could even be touched by this concern.

“Eh, don’t worry kitten.” He smirked. “Heroes never die.”

Jack closed the door, muting any response from the worried secretary. He sat down and pressed the lunge bottom.

As he looked out of the small window, a picture from the old days flashed in front of his eyes.
He was still an engineer back them, sending Timothy to check how their experiment with lounging a bandit in this shuttle on Elphys ended up, only to receive the report of a dead bandit, hanging from the roof. He held tighter to the seat, assuring himself that this couldn’t happen to him. Even if just for Rhys’ sake.

---

Rhys was ready to jump up when a movement on the sky caught his attention. He looked up, to see a shuttle fired from Hyperion’s cannon, flying closer and closer to Opportunity.


It crashed just a few hundred feet from them, shaking the ground at the impact.
He automatically checked with heat sensor what was inside. Just one person, making their way out of the metallic vehicle. His chest tightened as suspicion of who this person was, laid on him.

“Jack,” Lilith growled next to him, the moment the man managed to open the door and look out.

Rhys jumped up when Lilith directed the beast towards the crashed vehicle. His scanning sensors were still on, telling him that Jack was wearing a strong shield, but the crash must have damaged it because right now, it was only on five per cent of its total power.


His heart skipped a beat, as the danger of the situation Jack got himself in quickly laid on him.


He used his ultimate power, relying on its ability to calculate the next step for him. The first calculation showed Jack getting crush to death within the next ten second. If he runs there now, he will never be on time. Rhys started moving anyway, aiming his gun at Lilith, but the second calculation showed that even if he shoots her now, Warrior still kills Jack before Lilith stops breathing.


The world around him went to slow motion as the timer grew closer and closer to zero. Rhys was in a state of panic, tears finding their way down his cheeks while yet another version of Jack’s death played in front of his eyes.


Rhys resorted to the very last option, that not even his ultimate power could come up with. With two more steps, he closed the distance between him and Warrior’s back leg and placed his palm on the stone surface. He closed his eyes and allowed his instincts to take over.


The siren energy kicked in immediately, sucking him, Warrior and Lilith into his wormhole, teleporting them away from Jack. Rhys didn’t have time to think of a place that would be their destination, so he was just as surprised as Lilith when they appeared back in the lava-spot where Warrior was summoned.

“You!” Lilith called in rage. “You little bastard! That was the last time you screwed me over!”

Rhys teleported step away from where the Warrior’s attack landed. He grabbed his gun and aimed at Warriors week spot on his chest. The fight was on.

---

Jack was left alone, staring with an open mouth at the empty space in front of him. Where only a second ago was the scariest, angriest and probably deadliest thing he had ever seen, riding a Warrior who was lounging towards him was now, nothing. Just an empty square and some burned boxes. He leaned towards the nearest wall to gather his thoughts.


He was still shaken and disoriented from the rough landing when he managed to get out of the shuttle. He didn’t even have time to realise what he managed to get himself into when he saw in the corner of his eye Rhys sprinting towards him side by side with the beast.
Then the wings appeared. Beautiful, hypnotising wings materialised out of nowhere behind Rhys, the moment the boy touched Warriors' leg. Before Jack realised what they reminded him of, and what they meant, they disappeared together with his boyfriend.
He looked around, confused. His mind still too busy processing the situation to be ready to come up with a plan for his next steps. What the fuck just happened?

Jack almost jumped when the ECHO communicator in his pocket rang.

“Sir, are you alright?” Megg’s voice sounded from the small speaker.

“What happened?” Jack responded with his own question. “Where are they?”


He heard Megg typing something into a keyboard. “They are in the Vault of the Warrior.”


Jack’s breathing weakened. An image of lava-soaked cave appeared in his head. The worst place possible where face Warrior that this planed had to offer. “How.” Jack started, but his voice failed him. He swallowed and tried again. “How did they get there?”


“I-I am not sure sir,” Megg hesitated. “But from the footage that I have, I think that Rhys was the one who teleported them.”


“How.” It wasn’t a real question, because Jack already knew the answer. He just needed to hear it from someone else.


“I think that, well, the only explanation that I can think of right now is that Rhys is, well, he is probably a siren sir.”


Jack took a deep breath. Rhys is a siren. That’s right. Another deep breath. How did he not see it sooner? A fucking siren, right under his nose this entire time. His fists clenched until his knuckles whitened. Rhys. The Vault Hunter. The boyfriend. The engineering genius. The siren. “THE LIER!” Jack heard himself yell before his fist met with the wall behind him. A sharp pain ran through his body as the skin broke under the rough surface. But it helped him to get his senses back together.

“Megg, what is happening in the Vault right now?” He asked, eyes locked on the bleeding wound.


“I am sending you the link to the live footage as I speak.”

Before she even finished the sentence, the link was in his ECHO tablet. Jack opened it to see Rhys, holding a handgun and firing one bullet after another to Warrior’s direction while sprinting to take a cover behind one of the taller red rocks. Lilith was standing nearby, hidden safely inside a protection field, yelling orders at the beast.


The camera quality wasn’t good, far from it. But Jack could still see the blood running down Rhys' forehead, soaking into his brown hair. Everything that remained of the anger vanished was replaced with burning worry. He wished the anger would come back. Being angry at Rhys wasn’t a great feeling. But worrying about him was physically painful. His stomach twisted in a weird way when the stone Rhys was hiding behind shattered into pieces and the Vault Hunter, again, left without a cover.


“I want every man we got at the Vault, now,” Jack growled, watching as Rhys threw a grenade in front of the Warrior, gaining himself few seconds to change his location.


“Right away sir. I will tell them to meet you before the entrance.”


“No.” Jack stopped her. “Tell them to meet me there. I am not waiting for anyone.”


“But sir that’s-“ he ended the call before Megg could finish her objection. He was going to get his boyfriend back, and no one, not even a fucking ancient god from legends was going to stop him.


---


He was out of grenades.

Rhys watched with desperation how his last grenade exploded before the beast without doing half of the damage he was aiming for. He thought he could hear Lilith laughing, but was too busy to check. Instead, he jumped behind yet another bigger piece of rock and reloaded his gun.


The strategy was good. Rhys was even beginning to believe that he could take the beast down. If only he had more bullets. But his ammo was running dangerously low, and even though his aim was right, even though Rhys kept hitting the weak spots, his ammunition was quickly running out. Sooner or later he would run out completely. And the chances of taking the Warrior out before that were getting lower and lower with each shot fired.


A cold shiver crawled on his back. Was this where he was going to die? In the middle of lava filed, surrounded by the smell of fire and sulphur. He bit his lip, fighting back the tears that were threatening to return. What he would give to be able to see Jack one more time. To tell him that he was sorry that he wasn’t good enough to fix things. To let him know him how much he loved him and how the moments with him were the best moments of his life. That-.


A fireball hit into the stone with a loud explosion. But unlike before, this one didn’t shatter into small pieces. Instead, it broke into a few large parts, one of them falling right on Rhys. His instincts took over, and his robotic arm shot up, ready to use the siren power to stop the stone from crashing onto him. But to his horror, nothing happened. The teleportation drained all his siren energy, and right now, there wasn’t any left for him to use.


The stone landed right on his arm, trapping him beneath its mass. Rhys yelled in pain as the electricity of the broken prostatic ran through his solder. He couldn’t move a muscle. Rhys couldn’t even see properly, the electronic eye sending him one error message after another. His ears rang, but still, overall this, he could hear the warrior approaching.


But he wasn’t coming his way. Rhys' head turned into the opposite direction to see that his wish came true. Jack was here. He was equipped with recharged shield and fancy looking shotgun. He was yelling something, but Rhys couldn’t make out the words, too busy reaching for the knife on his belt. It took only one sharp cut to disconnect him from the sparkling cables, and he could move again, leaving his arm beneath the rock.


He didn’t have to look to see the light of the siren tattoo transforming to his flesh arm to know what was happening. A new wave of energy ran through him, as he rose the shining arm and pointed into the space between the CEO and the beast charging towards him.


An idea of molecules in the air getting together to create a new wall popped up in his head and almost at the same moment, he saw it happening right in front of him. A shield field appeared literally from thin air at the spot he pointed at. The Warrior was running too fast to stop in time, so he ended up crashing to the field in full speed. The earth shook at the impact, but the protective field remained unaffected.


Jack was standing on the other side, one hand over the place on his chest where his heart was running a million miles per hour. His eyes shot from the raging animal to Rhys. And from the tiniest moment, their eyes met. And it wasn’t a disgust that Rhys saw in them. It was a worry. But there wasn’t time to act on it or even to analyse what it meant. He had a monster to kill.


“Hey!” He called towards Warrior, gaining his attention. “Running away already?! “He wasn’t sure if the monster could understand him but didn’t care he just wanted it to be as far from Jack as possible. “What, are you scared? Oh god, that’s rich. A scared Warrior! What a joke!”The brunet laughed, holding tight on the knife in his hand. He could switch for a gun, but without the robotic arm, he could rely on his accuracy.


His teasing worked because the monster was now entirely focused on Rhys. It turned its enormous body towards him and roared as if in response to his teasing.
Rhys’ eyes focused on the glowing part of Warrior's chest. It pulsed in a regular interval, with every beat of its heart. And he realised that the knife might be all that he needed.


In the corner of his eye, he could see Jack bumping on the shield from outside, trying to get in. But he forced himself to look away.


Rhys took the first step towards it. He pointed the knife at its chest and imagined the spot exploding. The moment this image formed in his head, Warrior roared in pain, revealing the weak spot where now was a small hole, leaking with a hot, yellowish liquid. Rhys wasn’t wasting any time. He lunged towards it, his movements misbalanced by the missing arm. In the middle of his step, he teleported right to the Warriors chest.


He appeared where he wanted, flying mid-air, with perfect visual on the heart of the monster. Rhys wasn’t even fully materialised yet, when he swung his remaining arm down, stabbing the sharp metal into the glowing organ. Because he lacked a second arm to get a hold on something with, Rhys ended up hanging on the knife that was stuck into Warriors' chest. Rhys tried to gain some balance by stepping on the chest with his feet, but the yellow blood purring from the wound was making it borderline impossible. To his horror, the blood was burning hot, taking down his shield power every time he touched it.


 He cursed when the shield finally broke, but his words got lost a noise so much louder than everything he had ever heard before. The Warrior roared in agony, making a sound of thousands of earthquakes. It was so powerful that it made Rhys loosen his grip on the knife, falling on the ground and landing on his back. He quickly got up, expecting another attack from the beast. But it didn’t come.


Instead, the Warrior took one step back, then another, before finally his knees gave up and the monster fell on the ground, dead.
Rhys watched as its chest stopped moving, his knife long lost in glowing blood.


He was shaking from the adrenalin rushing through his blood, mind still in fighting mode. He tried activating his echo eye to confirm that it was indeed dead. At first, it threw at it a few more errors, before finally coming in with the green light. The fight was over. He won. A tsunami of relief and endorphins flow over him as he allowed the idea to get into his head. He won. He, actually won!

“Rhys!” He heard Jack calling his name.


He turned to see the man running towards him. The shield Rhys made to keep Jack safe had to break after his mind realised that the danger had passed.
 There were some soldiers in yellow armour standing nearby, but Rhys paid them no attention. All he cared about was the look in Jacks eyes. It was not just like Rhys the most magnificent thing Jack had seen in his life. But also, as if he was looking at something that was about to break in a few moments. It was a look combined of love and worry, and it made Rhys' heart melt.


“Jack.” He called back in return, his exhaustion and happiness reflecting in every pronounced letter. But it still sounded so right. He turned to face his boyfriend, leaving the dead body behind.


They were only a few steps apart, when Jacks mismatched eyes drifted somewhere behind Rhys, and focused on something that made his expression change. It went from excitement to shock into a horror. His lips moved, forming a frightened commend. “No!” He yelled, and his arm swung up, and he was aiming right behind Rhys’ back.  


He was too confused and too exhausted to even think about turning around, to see what Jack saw. He heard a gun fire, and something flew through his chest, leaving a traces of warm sensation behind. The warmth went quickly into burning pain. His flesh arm instinctively touched the spot on the left side of his chest, where the hot feeling was coming from. He felt some liquid on his fingers, and when he looked at them, they were covered in thick blood.
He heard Lilith laughing manically, but it quickly stopped when a loud response in the form of gunshots came from Jacks direction.


She was probably dead, but Rhys couldn’t check. Gravitation won a battle over his ability to stand up, and he was falling to the ground. But instead of hitting a hard surface a pair of strong arms was what stopped his fall.  


His vision was blurry, but he would always be able to recognise Jack. The man was saying something reassuring, but Rhys didn’t hear the words. He was so busy enjoying the sound of Jack’s voice, the warmth from his chest pressing against him, the smell of his overly expensive perfume. Everything else lost its meaning to him. His eyes finally focused, and he saw the worried expression on Jack’s face. It hurt, seeing him like this. It hurt more than the hole in his heart that remained there from Lilith’s bullet. He wanted to say something back that would comfort Jack, but his voice failed him. Instead, he rose his fingers to touch the soft material of Jack’s mask, accidentally marking it with traces of his blood. Jacks hand pressed against his own, holding him tight. He wasn’t talking anymore, just looking at him with glassy eyes.


Rhys wished he could stay like this forever. He wouldn’t even mind the pain in his chest. If that were the price, Rhys would happily pay it. But he could feel that the time was running out. His eyes were getting heavier and heavier.


“No no, no! Rhyse don’t you dare leave me.” He could hear Jack cry out when his eyes started closing. “Please don’t leave me pumpkin, please.”


But there was nothing Rhys could do. His eyes were no longer under his control, and he could feel himself falling more and more asleep with every drop of blood he lost.

“Jack.” He finally found what was left of his willpower to whisper. “I love you.”


And then the darkness took over him.


Chapter Text

It was twenty-five days, seven hours, twelve minutes and five seconds since the world has lost its purpose.


Jack wished he didn't know it this exactly, but there was no helping it. A timer was burned into his mind, counting from zero and non-stopping ever since, digits growing larger with each passing second.


There was a hole in his chest, in the same spot where the bullet crossed through Rhys' ribs. Jack was going through the moments over and over in his head, trying to find some sense in it.


The happiness of seeing Rhys, smiling and walking towards him, which was quickly replaced with fear and anger when he saw Lilith aiming at his boyfriends back.


 If only he noticed her sooner if only was holding his gun the way he was supposed to, he could've killed her first, and everything would be fine. But that didn't happen.


Even though his response was quick and his aim was right, even after the bullet that went into her head, the blood soaking through Rhys' shirt didn't stop creating the bright red stain on the left side of his chest. He didn't know how he managed to catch Rhys before hitting the ground, but one moment Jack was firing bullets after Lilith, and the other he was holding Rhys' damaged body in his arm. He was so much lighter than Jack remembered. It seemed as if Jack could do one wrong move and the boy would break into pieces. Watching the focus slip away from Rhys' eyes was the most painful thing in Jack's life.


But he didn't let go. He didn't let go of him even when the tattoos on Rhys' damaged skin started to glow in bright, electric blue covering them both in magical aurora, signalling a death of another siren, before disappearing into thin air. The only thing left, was a reminder in Jacks mind, that there was a yet another secret Rhys had hidden from him. But Jack couldn't find it in himself to feel mad. Instead, there was an overwhelming sadness from the realisation, that Rhys will never be able to tell him the story, to share how it is like to be the first male siren in human history and getting away with it without anyone noticing.


He finally managed to give an order to return to Helios. As soon as they landed on the station, he ran as fast as he could into the hospital wing, with Rhys in his arms. It was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do, to keep holding him like that. Not just because of the blood and the itching in his muscles from the weight. Because with every moment Rhys' eyes remained shot close, his chest remained still; the unimaginable was starting to creep inside the man's mind. Rhys was dead.


It was twenty-five days, thirty minutes and forty seconds since the doctor came to announce the news.


Jack was waiting outside the operation room, staring at the wall. The doctor was pale and borderline shaking as he struggled to let the words out. But Jack just looked at him with a blank stare, as if the man wasn't even there, and walked away.
He was numb during the walk into his office. The comforting numbness, keeping all the emotions outside until the unavailable moment came.


 Jack finally arrived in his office. He walked past the tables, brushing his fingers across Rhys' working place before finally stopping in front of the large window. His eyes set on Pandora, and all the rage that until now stayed behind the invisible wall suddenly rushed in. His breathing fastened, together with his hearth crashing into his ribs at an increasing rate. It was rage. Rage, mixed with hatred towards the thing in front of him, granting him a new purpose he could cling onto.


 This planet. This shithole was the reason behind the life-long struggling. All Jack did was trying to fix things. And how did they repay him?


Calling him a dictator, a madman thirsty for power. They kept fighting against him and in the process, taking away from him, peace by peace, his life purpose. First, they took his daughter, and now Rhys.


They finally did it. They crossed the line and now it was payback time. Time to become the man they already thought he's been.


Twenty-four days, twenty-two hours, two minutes since the attack on Pandora began.


First, Jack made sure there was nothing left from Lilith. They bombed the awaking spot with everything it took to turn the place to a black hole and a bit more. When he was satisfied with the state, he began his search for Sanctuary.


He put together a team of researches and gave them all the founding's his companies had to use as they pleased. They had a week. After that, with each passing day that did not bring any results, he personally shot a hole in the head of one random member of this team, and he made sure the rest saw it.


The team was down quite a few members when they finally found the city, hovering over Pandoras moon, hiding in plain sight.
With no siren left to help, the city went down in flames faster than Atlas' career.


After the main centre of resistance was gone, there were only a few left, who were foolish enough to stand against Jack. After wiping those who remained out, Jack moved to his goal of recreating Pandora to its purest form.


He lacked the Warrior to make it as effortlessly as he originally planned but having the second most successful weaponry company under his command was a great alternative solution. He started with rebuilding the cities.


First, he made sure to finish his original project, Opportunity. There was quite a lot repairing to do after the bandit attack. But it didn't matter, because now he had gained new working power in the form of Pandorien citizens. Jack immediately discarded the idea to pay them for their work. Instead, he came up with a unique solution. He created a set of rules for the planet, and everyone who disobeyed them would instead of punishment go to help with creating the new, better, version of Pandora. In Jack's eyes, every citizen of the rotten piece of rock was a criminal. But its always better to have paperwork behind the label.


If there were any complains, they never reached Jacks ears. Everyone was too afraid to be the one bringing the information the Handsome Jack, in justified fear of losing their life.


Jack couldn't help but wonder what would Rhys say if he saw how much he improved the planet in such a short time? He was sure the boy would be proud, maybe come with some improvements to the whole process. And they would rule together, above their entire, perfect land.


The door opened with a tall woman rushing in his office, holding a stock of blue papers to her chest, followed by worried Megg.


"I am sorry sir!" Megg exhaled. "She pushed me out of the way."


"Wha-"Jack started but was interrupted by the giraffe. "I have something you need to see!" The exotic looking woman called over the room, waiving with some of the papers above her head while the rest of them fell on the floor.


Jack watched the scene with an unimpressed look."Oh, sweety, it should be real' good or your tall ass will be levitating behind my window before you know it."


If the threat got to her, she didn't show it. Instead, she took a step closer, holding the paper in front of her as if Jack could see what was on it from such a distance.


"My name is Yevette. I know how to bring Rhys back."


---
It was exactly twenty-five days, five hours, nineteen minutes since Rhys died.


Vaughn knew. He saw the body when they returned from Pandora.


He was in the hospital wing, because his back was hurting from all the time spent on his training bike, and wanted to ask for some pills when they brought Rhys in. The corridor door opened and hit the hospital wall, probably leaving a mark on the white wallpaper. The noise made Vaugh jump and turn to see who just stormed in.


He froze the moment his CIO, stormed through the corridor, holding Vaughn's roommate tight in his arms followed by a team of doctors.


Vaughn got a good look at Rhys when the group rushed by him. And he couldn't get the horrifying picture out of his head ever since.


The Vault hunter looked so beat up. Like an old doll, someone threw to a dog to finish off. Rhys was pale as the wall behind him, blood everywhere. Vaughn had never seen this much blood, and it was making him sick, but he still couldn't force himself to look away. The prostatic arm was missing, torn apart from his body. Now it was just colourful wires sticking out of his shoulder. Rhys's mismatched eyes were closed, and Vaughn prayed he was just unconscious.


But he wasn't.


The next day, Hyperion started with its Pandora attack. First place that got taken down was some spot with lava and tunes of Hyperion technology. Vaughn overheard his collages speculate that this was all just to cover some failed project, but Vaughn had other ideas. In his opinion, this was where Rhys died, and their CEO didn't want to allow the place to exist. They were blasting the area the whole day with the Helios laser cannon until it had to be nothing but ash and fire.


When this was over, a new order from the upper management arrived in Vaughn's department. They were told to cut all incomes that were headed to the research department and invest it in exploring. Hyperion was searching for Sanctuary and involved every resource they had into this mission. And thanks to the new, seemingly never-ending finances that they now had from Maliwans pocket, they found it. It took a while for them to realise that Sanctuary was no longer on Pandora and expand the research to outer planets. But when they did, they found it on Elphys almost immediately.


Hyperion sent its best troupes to tear the place to the ground. From what Vaughn heard, the Sanctuary inhabitants fought with everything they got, and Hyperion took some massive damage from this battle. But they never stood a real chance against the power of two biggest companies led by a man with nothing left to lose.


Once Sanctuary was gone, and the resistance weakened, Jack begun with establishing his dictator regime on the planet. Vaughn didn't know everything that was happening down there, but from the little information he did happen to get, he was thanking his happy star for not being born as Pandorian.


It was madness. Everyone knew that once Jack got to power things would escalate o lot, but this was over the top even for someone like him.


The first thing Jack did was crown himself the King of the whole planet and establishing something he called "Jack rules".


It was a set of borderline insane rules every citizen had to follow; otherwise, they would be either executed or worse, sent into one of the newly established eridium mining camps. Vaughn didn't know all of the rules. But it apparently include commends like "every household has to have at least one picture of Handsome Jack in each room, or the whole family would be thrown into a cage with skags, no one was allowed outside after eight a clock in the evening and everyone had to be out and working by six in the morning. Those who would fail to fulfil this particular order would mostly end up buried neck deep in the middle of Pandorian dessert for a full day.


They also weren't allowed to leave your city or village without Hyperion documented permission. Or another rule was, that the Pandorian citizens were forced to bow to every Hyperion employee they met on the streets, or they would be shot immediately. In case of meeting Handsome Jack, they were obligated to get on their knees and hide their face into the ground and look up only when Jack was no longer in sight. Breaking this rule would mean death for the one person, and Eridium camp for the family.

"It's just utterly insane," Yvette said one day in the cafeteria. "Madness what they are doing to Pandora. Seriously, how is the new system supposed to work when most of them are scared shitless to even look at the sky in case Jack would notice and shot them from his Helios office."


"Shhh." Vaughn hissed at her, looking around nervously, making sure no one heard her.


"You know I am right." She frowned but lowered her voice. Vaughn didn't say anything, eyes locked on the table, refusing to answer and Yvette sighed, resigned. "But what does it matter if I am right, the only person who would be even close to having a shot on putting a stop to this and talking some sense into the man's head is dead anyway."


Vaughn swallowed nervously but remained silent.


"What?" Yevette asked" What's that look supposed to mean?" She leaned closer so no emotions on Vaughn's face wouldn't escape her. "He is dead right, Vaughn?"


"Of course, he is dead." He finally hissed back. "He was dead even before they got back to Helios."


"But?"


Vaughn sighed, cursing himself for ever agreeing to this lunch.


"I, I was going through Rhys' stuff yesterday." He started explaining but stopped when he realised how creepy that might sound. "Because I thought he left something important? You know, like some clue about what to do when Jack goes bunkers or something."


"Sure sure you buffoon." Yevette interrupted him. "What did you find?"


"Well, I am not sure," Vaughn admitted, adjusting his glasses. "But I think I found a blueprint of something Rhys called 'The respawn station'."


"The respawn station?" Yevette repeated. "What's that supposed to mean?"


"I don't know, how am I supposed to know? I don't do tech I do accounting. But like what does it sound to you?" Vaughn barfed at her. This whole situation was taking a tool on his nerves. "But respawn is a term used in videogames." Yevette blinked in shock at the sudden leash and learned a bit further from the table. Vaughn sighed, calming himself down and continued. "It basically means, gets a new start, or bring back a dead player."


"But." Yevette started but paused to rearrange her thoughts. "But, that's impossible."


"It is." Vaughn noded quickly. "But its Rhys we are talking about. I mean, that guy pushed borders of what's and what's not possible pretty far when he was still alive. Maybe his death wasn't enough to stop it?"


Yevette nodded, still processing the information. Her eyes light up when an idea flashed through her head. "You have to tell Jack!"


"Yeah, about that." Vaughn readjusted his glasses one more time. "I don't think I can. I mean, what if I am wrong? What if the blueprints are just some doodles Rhys made when he was bored, and it's not even meant to work?"


"Than its probably not going to work. What's the big deal?"


"The big deal is," Vaughn continued "that if it is wrong, I would be giving false hope to Handsome Jack."

Yevette rose her trimmed eyebrows, the question "So?" unspoken handing in the air. "Do you have any idea what Jack would do to me if that happened? I mean you heard about the doctors, right?"


"Yeah, but what if it works?" Yevette responded, "there are so many things you would be getting from it. A promotion, Jacks' endless gratitude, a gun-line named just after you, and most importantly, Rhys would be back."


"I don't know." Vaughn sighed. "I mean, false hope hurts. And not just Jack." He added quickly when he saw the look on Yevette's face. "But for me too. The moment I bring in the blueprints, I am convincing myself that Rhys will be back. I don't think what I would do in case it all failed."


Yevette was silent. An odd abnormality in her case, because Vaugh knew her as someone who would she never shut up, not even in her sleep. He could almost see the wheels turning inside her head. It felt much longer than it probably was before she finally spoke again.

"Okay, maybe we need more time to think about it." Yevette readjusted her bracelet as she spoke. "Maybe we can look into the blueprints together to try to figure out if we are dealing with the real thing or not?" She said, a slight smile on her lips as she reached to hold Vaughn's hand.


The short man exhaled with relief. He felt as if a huge weight fell off of his chest. "That sounds like a perfect plan." Vaughn returned the smile.


Yevette nodded, waving her hand as if to shake the tension off.

"Yeah, sure it does. It's my plan after all. They are always brilliant."She winked, making the smaller man chuckle. She leaned to the side, checking the large clock on the wall. "Well, my break will end in a minute. So, see you tomorrow?" She said, already standing up.

Vaughn nodded, calling his goodbye as she turned on her heel and stormed out of the hall. He looked down at his plate and smiled to himself. He was so lucky to have someone like Yevette.

Such a good friend.