I can't get these two idiots out of my head. Their dynamic in Tales From The Borderlands was just too good. It hit all the right buttons. Specifically, I have no idea how Rhys thought he would keep Jack without you know, trying to turn him back on at some point. That's literal temptation in your pocket, kiddo!
Takes place during Episode 5 between the crash of Helios and the "Present." It's also a one-shot because good grief do I not need another unfinished Fanfic on my hands.
Handsome Jack was in Rhys' pocket.
Some part of his brain supplied a lewd joke to follow up that thought, courtesy of the sections that had been corrupted by hanging out with Fiona and Sasha, or even something he'd just picked up from being around August. But the rest of him was too tired to think about laughing. Was too focused on remembering that the Jack central to said lewd joke to was trapped in the ECHO eye Rhys ripped out of his head.
That sort of killed the humor.
Rhys stumbled through the halls of the Atlas facility, looking for an old storage room. His side ached, the stub of his shoulder still aching despite being wrapped as best as it could be with a ripped piece of his sleeve. Somewhere in this place had to have spare parts, or something not already hooked up and trying to run something.
As he searched, Rhys listened to the small device in his pocket as the pupil contracted and expanded and the steady clicks of the hard drive looking for the rest of its connections; trying to reboot. It was a steady beat, signaling the eventual failure of the device. A quiet sound, but echoing so loudly in Rhys' head he could have sworn it was a drum beat. It was struggling to stay alive.
Considering who was trapped inside of it, that was no surprise.
And why Rhys was digging through old Atlas tech, looking for something he could transfer the data to before the eye sputtered out. What was the point of keeping the damn thing if he let it wind down and die?
The irony that he was looking for a computer terminal to save the monster first, and parts for his arm (or the gaping hole in his ECHO eye's old shell that Rhys did not want to think about) second was not lost on him.
He opened a side door and hit jack pot, his shoulders dropped in relief as he looked over the spare parts storage. Stacks of neatly organized parts filled the shelving units in the room. Rhys stumbled inside and ran his finger along the labels that were before each stack, looking for what he needed.
Rhys left to find an empty crate, and gathered the pieces he needed one at a time before finding an old office room to get to work. The sooner he got this over with, the better.
Strangling the kid would never have been good enough.
It was so dark here. There was nothing. He'd said there was nothing and he meant it. No dreams like when he was in Rhysie's head. No light. No dark. Just an empty void that pulled on him. Made it hard to think. Relived moments with no point.
Using Rhys' own hand to strangle himself was its own brand of punishment, but certainly not satisfying. Not really. It was a desperate act, from a desperate man and if there was anything Jack hated, it was being desperate.
Nothing, nothing. Rhysie had sent him here. Rhys knew. He knew! Jack told him this was what was coming. Why didn't he just die and take them both someplace better?
Rhys had made Jack desperate.
Jack would rip him apart. It'd be a better job than what that kid did in the ruins of his office, of that Jack would be sure. The kid was an amateur. Jack would have taken each connector off one at a time. Made sure there was more blood. Taken the entire arm off where skin met metal instead of detaching it at the port.
Desperate to live.
Then he would have dug out the eye. Taking out the ECHO part without the shell just wouldn't do. Jack would grab the whole thing. Dig it out with his fingers until they were wet and thick in the kid's skull. Dig his fingers inside and pop them out the hole on the side of the kid's head where his port used to be.
That back stabbing bastard had gotten the Handsome goddamn Jack to fall to his knees and beg. Made worse by his bravado and boasting about willing to go out if it meant he took Rhys with him. A double death. A refusal to go to the great beyond alone. Desperation. Rhys had done that to Jack. Made him desperate.
He couldn't stop there though. For leaving him in this void, Jack would never run out of ways to torment that kid. And still nothing would come close to payment for trapping him here. Once the mechanics were gone, Jack had all that wonderful flesh left to mutilate. And oh, he knew how to make it last.
Desperate to avoid the hell where he currently resided.
He'd leave the kid's eye alone though. Needed to make sure the kid could see the damage Jack was doing to him. Kid wanted to be just like Jack anyway, so he might as well be stuck with one bum eye and one good one, right? It'd be Jack's one little favor to him. Somewhere in the middle of all that glorious viscera, Jack could remember the good times.
Rhys had done that. And more.
He'd bring them up, even. Let the kid know why he got to keep the eye. Rhys deserved to feel guilt. To know what he'd given up. To know just how happy he'd made Jack just to stab him in the back and take everything from him again. Hyperion. His life. His sanity. He left him here. In this darkness in this void.
Made him talk. Made him share. Rhysie made him tell him even about his baby girl and her betrayal. Made him fall to sub-par methods of death when once upon a time his own hands could have been wrapped around that tattooed throat and felt the slowing pulse on his own skin. Made him beg.
There was nothing here. Nothing, nothing, nothing. No dreams. No nothing. Just his own thoughts. Angel. And nothing. Nishia. And Nothing. Wilhelm. And nothing. And Rhys, Rhysie. Needs to die. Rhys.
Jack wasn't sure who he hated more at this point. Rhys or himself for being that weak.
Make it stop, please. This emptiness. Please, please, please. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'll kill you and make it all stop if you make it stop. Please. I hate this.
But then again, he was Handsome Jack.
If this void, this nothingness was something that scared a Hero.
There's a light.
Then it was something everyone should be damned well scared of.
Rhys hadn't exactly been expecting things to be all roses when he flipped the switch to the monitor, but he had thought there'd be more threats the second Jack came back online. Or at least an insult for sure. Maybe yelling continuing where he left off in his destroyed office at the wreckage of Helios. Something.
But Jack had nothing for Rhys but silence.
He backed away from the makeshift computer, shifting the screen just enough so that the camera tacked on top focused on the chair Rhys had pulled over. He sat and stared at Jack as he floated on the screen, much like he had at Hyperion. The man glanced around, the camera above moved with his eyes, taking in the surroundings. Rhys knew that the microphone and speakers worked from an earlier test, so at least when Jack was ready to talk he would.
Rhys took a seat and decided to enjoy the silence while he could get it. Waking Jack up wasn't going to be a walk in the park no matter how he looked at it, and putting it off seemed like a good idea.
Because hooking his ECHO eye up to a monitor and closed circuit computer to bring back Handsome Jack was definitely a bad one.
This might have been the only time that Rhys was glad his friends weren't around. Rhys wasn't sure he could have lived this down if they knew about it.
He pulled open a piece of fruit with his remaining hand and ate a piece to sooth his grumbling stomach. At least he didn't have to worry about starving any time soon with all the plants and fruit around this place. Because between Jack, the blood loss, and the constant headache, he could really use at least one break. That was only fair, right?
So at least one problem was solved. Rhys still had to figure out how to fix his arm, his eye, his ECHO ports, and with the angry A.I. he'd restarted against all better judgement. So damn right that at least his basic needs of food and shelter have been met!
Rhys took another angry bite from his fruit and concentrated on how good it tasted, instead of how his insides twisted waiting for Jack's response.
It took another ten minutes of angry staring before Jack finally spoke up, his voice full of static and stuttering: "I knew you were an ungrateful backstabber, Rhys, but I didn't think you were this stupid."
"I thought about what you said," Rhys started, picking at his piece of fruit. He sunk into his chair, the weight of the past few days hung off him like anchors. "About there being nothing in there. I needed you out of my head, but I guess even Handsome Jack doesn't deserve to be stuck in a sensory deprivation prison."
"Surprised you didn't just crush the eye," Jack said, eyes focused on the side wall.
"Thought about that, too," Rhys admitted. He plucked a seed out of the piece of fruit and flicked it across the floor. "Would probably have been smarter."
"Yeah," Jack said, his tone thoughtful even through the static. "Probably should be glad you're an idiot, then."
"Yeah," Rhys answered. "You should be."
"Engineering ain't your strong suit, is it kiddo?" Jack asked, kicking his feet up in his virtual space. He watched the outside room through his camera lens, wishing the kid would install a few more cameras. As it stood, Rhys had left his camera sight radius, but he could still hear the kid cursing up a storm, and saw sparks fly into view every so often. "Someone else made your first arm, didn't they?"
"Focused a little more on hacking the computers running the machines than building them, yes," Rhys said, followed by a new curse. He heard the kid yawn and leaned back. "Can't say I ever thought I'd need to adapt a port to fit mine."
He listened to the sound of metal scratching, and closed his eyes. He could just picture the kid hunched over his desk, struggling with the welder. Brought Jack back to his younger engineering days, when he built everything up from scratch, instead of needing to level existing disasters for the even surface.
"If you think this is bad, wait until you have to get a new eye," Jack snorted. He dropped his feet and sat straight up. "Make sure my camera is pointing at you when that happens. I wouldn't want to miss that show for anything."
"I can turn that camera off," Rhys replied.
Jack would have taken it for an idle threat, if Rhys hadn't actually done it once. Some time after the shock settled, Jack had made it very clear how he felt about Rhysie. Some of his little void-day dreams may have slipped in, graphic detail included, and the kid slammed the off switch to the cameras and the microphones mid-sentence as Jack described how badly he wanted to rip the kid's throat out.
It wasn't quite like being stuck in the void of nothingness, as Jack still had access to the external hard drive Rhys had attached to his eye (a clever idea, as much as Jack hated to admit it), but it was close enough.
Quiet and dark; like being stuck in a room with the lights off and sound proof walls. But it was something.
The kid flipped the cameras and microphone back on a few hours later, but left the speakers off. Jack had yelled himself hoarse, but the kid refused to turn on the speaker until he calmed down.
Unlike last time in this little game, Jack really couldn't touch Rhys.
But that was fine. He could wait. He'd been prepared to wait the long game before when Rhys ripped off his arm, hadn't he? It was all a matter of time. Play nice. Butter the kid up.
And hope he could be fooled a second time. Which meant, Jack had to be more helpful in the meantime.
"Lucky thing though, finding an arm that was almost finished," Jack laughed. And what were the odds of that? Rhys had the best luck, didn't he? Jack wondered if the kid even truly appreciated the odds of finding a mostly-working mechanical limb in an abandoned facility. "Can you imagine if you'd had to build one from scratch?"
"I'm actively trying not to," Rhys answered. "I'll probably have to trade someone for a new ECHO eye though."
"Good luck with that one," Jack said. He kept the "because everyone on this planet is scum" to himself. He was generous that way.
Rhys didn't respond, but that was fine. Jack was used to lulls in conversation at this point. The kid was running on minimum sleep, and all of his free time was spent fiddling with that new arm he'd found two days ago, and making sure that bandits weren't going to suddenly appear in the facility.
The steady sound of him working continued in the room, and Jack closed his eyes. Maybe he'd take a nap.
Rhys tapped his fingers on the desk, the shining silver practically glowing under the desk light. After having the matte yellow for so long, the shining chrome-look was foreign and odd to see every time he looked down. Rhys was sure that at least one time, he'd look down at the same time the metal caught the glare of a light and he'd blind himself.
And since he was down to one eye, that was something he had no plans on doing.
But, it'd been a week since he'd finally managed to adapt the ATLAS tech to his Hyperion ports and the arm was holding strong. And as odd as it was, Rhys had to admit it was a better arm than his last one. It was more fluid and the fingers were more articulated. It was a nice arm, all considered.
Rhys rubbed his face, the tips of his fingers touching the eye patch he'd slung over his eye in the meantime. A bandage covered his old port and he groaned. "Where on Pandora am I going to find a new Port and ECHO eye?"
"Probably would want to pay a visit to the Crimson Enclave, or Fort Knoxx," Jack supplied, turning away from the game of solitaire Rhys had installed for him. "Heart of the ECHOnet has to have some way to surf it, right? But unlucky for you, kiddo, that also happens to be full of lovely military personal who'd kill you faster than you could say 'hello.'"
"Wonderful," Rhys said. He slouched in his chair, looking toward Jack and tried his luck. "Any tips for someone who doesn't go in guns blazing?"
"Sorry, no," Jack said, smiling. "I only know how to do things the Hero Way, cupcake. You're on your own if you're wanting to be sneaky like your con artist buddies."
"Well, there's got to be something that they want that would be worth the trade," Rhys said, walking back and forth in the room. He folded his arms and tapped his new metal fingers against his forearm. "I'll concentrate on that for now. I don't need the ECHO eye or net access immediately, anyway."
"That is true, you are on the dirt ball where people do business with guns to the face and fists first and foremost," Jack chuckled. "Neither of which you're much good at, Mr. Stun Baton."
"Hey, I like my stun baton," Rhys shot back, pointing his finger at the camera. And Sasha thought it was cool, and no one knew weapons like Sasha, so therefore, his stun baton was cool - no matter what Jack said. "It's a great weapon."
"Your requisition buddy probably picked it out because it had the least chance of you shooting yourself in the foot," Jack said, smirking. He flicked his fingers, moving the cards around on his little holo table as he continued his game while he talked. "Smart of her."
"Yeah, Yvette was good at playing things smart," Rhys said, rubbing his face. Yvette wasn't someone he wanted to think about right now. He only hoped her ship landed safely, even if he was still sore she sold him out. At least Vaughn had attempted to cover it up by assuring Rhys he didn't mean it. "But that doesn't change the fact it's a nice weapon. I like it."
"Your signature move, right?" Jack asked. He shrugged and kept playing. "I get that. Sometimes image goes over practicality."
Rhys rolled his eye and went to the coffee machine he'd fixed up last week. Athena had been right: ATLAS really knew how to make a good cup of coffee. He sipped from the cup and rolled his shoulders.
He caught his reflection in a window and sighed at the mess that he saw. All that work he'd done to adapt his port and the connectors on the arm ended up leaving his shoulder looking less than its best. The metal was twisted and while he'd managed to smooth it down, there was no longer a nice cover for it. The exposed joints looked raw and too unrefined for Rhys's taste, but his shirt was missing a sleeve, so he could hardly cover it up.
Rhys looked at his ripped sleeve on the other side.
"I need knew clothes," Rhys said, taking his coffee back across the room. "Screw the eye for now. I want to feel like a person again."
"Good luck with that one, kiddo," Jack snorted from the computer.
Rhys flicked him off before grabbing his vest and heading for the door to the facility.
Jack was impressed.
It wasn't often that happened, but now that it had he sort of hated life and everyone in it. Not only had it happened, but it was Rhys that caused it. He gripped his fist together and counted to ten. He was a hero. Heroes had trials. This was just another trial, and he really ought to give credit where credit was due:
Rhys was the first person he'd met who had not only worked up the nerve to rip out his own ECHO eye, but also the first to install his own.
"Didn't trust the doctor who gave that to you, did you, kiddo?" Jack asked, watching as Rhys blinked rapidly into a mirror. Tears streamed down his face, and the ECHO eye focused and unfocused, again and again like the kid didn't have complete control of it. Though, that wasn't true. Alignment protocols just sucked. "Wonder why?"
"Shut up, Jack," Rhys snapped. He grabbed a towel and wiped off his face when his eye finally settled. The dull amber color glowed and he sucked in a breath. "I didn't have the money to pay for an installation anyway."
"After all those guns you sold? Get out," Jack said. He snickered and took a seat in the chair he'd constructed. The longer he stayed on the hard drive, the longer he had control of his own environment. If he'd made a living room for himself, who was Rhys to complain? Her certainly hadn't yet. "You really need to work on your profit margins, kiddo."
"You don't have to tell me that," Rhys said. He pulled away from the mirror and slicked his hair back. The kid had spent his hard earned money on a new eye, a new ECHOnet port for his arm, and a new suit. He'd almost put himself all back together. "But now that I'm back online, things should go much smoother."
Jack hoped for the same as well. The more comfortable Rhys got, the sooner he might let his guard down. Jack hadn't forgotten. Never for a day would he forget what Rhys did to him.
So let the kid have his success while he could. Let him run around in that pretty suit and make new friends and connections. The more Rhys built things up, the better it'd be when Jack brought it all crashing back down.
"You think I need a haircut?" Rhys asked, fiddling with the end of his hair.
"Hey, new suit, new look," Jack said, smiling brightly. "Might as well."
Rhys grunted as he transferred Jack's computer station onto the mobile cart. Jack made the usual comments about Rhys being an idiot while his camera went wonky, but Rhys ignored him. He wasn't leaving Jack down here in the main work area any more. Not when he had a few employees coming in starting tomorrow.
The last thing he needed was to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Stop complaining," Rhys said. He pushed the cart along the nearest corridor, back toward his personal room. There was a window he could stick Jack in front of, so the man could keep himself busy when Rhys was working in the facility. "You wanted a new view, and now you're going to get one."
"You're just ashamed of me," Jack said. "Want to hide me away, huh? Keep me all to yourself, am I right, kiddo?"
Rhys didn't give Jack the benefit of an answer. No matter what he said, Jack would leap on it and dig in some wound Rhys didn't want to admit still festered. Instead, Rhys focused on hauling the cart with its computer set up over the ramp he'd placed on the stairs that led into his room. He pushed the entire set up into a corner to where the camera could see out the window, but couldn't turn far enough to see Rhys' bed.
Just because Rhys could turn off Jack's speaker when he wanted to ignore him, didn't mean he wanted to leave the guy completely in the dark when Rhys wanted to be alone.
"Okay, there we go," Rhys said. He wiped his forehead off with his new handkerchief (he probably shouldn't have spent the money on a nice one, but screw it! The trader was there and Rhys had the coins). "Your new home."
"You spoil me, kiddo," Jack said, putting a hand to his chest. "Truly."
He really did. Rhys rolled his eyes and walked back to his bed. He slammed his door shut and fell back on his bed. Tomorrow his first employees would be arriving. Hopefully they didn't try to back stab him. Rhys needed more merchandise to sell. Needed help to get this company back on its feet.
Jack had really done a number on this place, so much so that even the off-Pandora sites were feeling it.
But on the bright side, Rhys had convinced the off-shore sites of his legitimate ownership. They weren't happy about answering to a new CEO/Owner, but they'd learn to deal with it.
Rhys was going to make this work.
"I don't have to see you to know you're thinking too hard, Rhysie," Jack said. "Relax. You're the one who always wanted to be the big guy in charge. And you already destroyed a company to get it. Your reputation as a big shot killer is already made. Now that they're scared of you, they'll cooperate. When it comes down to it, cupcake: This is the easy part."
Rhys rolled over on his side and covered his eyes.
He really should have crushed that eye.
Jack felt exhausted watching Rhys pace back and forth as he glared at the ECHO in his hand. The kid had a look of fury on his face, that melted into worry and regret and back to fury as he paced. It was tiring.
"Are you trying to wear a hole in the floor or what?" Jack asked. He took a sip from his digital whisky (it was amazing what a month's worth of night's alone could create - while Rhys slept, Jack built). "I thought things were going well for Atlas right now."
Rhys stopped and looked at the monitor. He looked back at the ECHO in his hand and bit the edge of his lip. He continued pacing.
"Hey, kiddo! Stop ignoring me," Jack said, throwing his drink behind him. He turned the volume up on his speaker and hissed. "I'm talking to you!"
"Shut up, Jack," Rhys said back. There was no bite it in, and that almost worried Jack. Whatever was on that ECHO must have been important. And as much as he hated to admit it, Rhys was what kept power going to his computer terminal. So he should probably make sure the kid didn't get himself shot. Not that he was helping. Rhys waved his hand. "It doesn't concern you."
"It sure has you in a fuss," Jack huffed. "What? Someone threatening to kill you already?"
Rhys paused, and shook his head. "No, nothing like that."
"If you're worried I'm going to go spilling secrets, than you're more paranoid than I gave you credit for," Jack said. He put a hand over his heart and grinned. "Come on, tell good old Handsome Jack what's got you so worked up, kiddo."
"Fiona," Rhys blurted. He clutched the ECHO to his chest and licked his lips. "It's a message from Fiona. She wants to meet up, and sounds pretty angry."
"It's been like six months," Jack said. "What could she possible want now after all this time?"
"I don't know," Rhys said. He started his pacing again, talking faster and faster as he blurted out all his thoughts in a rush. "I just know, that when Fiona's mad, she acts on it. And now that she's a Vault Hunter, she's got even more resources at her disposal. I don't need this right now. The company's too new. So whatever I did to tick her off now, I should deal with it."
"Then go see her," Jack said. "And remember to bring your stun baton and a gun."
Rhys scowled, glaring at the computer. "I'm not going to shoot Fiona."
"Not even if she wants to shoot you first?" Jack asked.
Rhys stalked over to the computer console and stared Jack down. He leaned over and hissed, "Not even if she shoots at me first."
"So, you have a back up plan to keep me running when you go out there and get yourself killed?" Jack asked. "Because I'd like to know that ahead of time."
"Look at it this way," Rhys said as he wandered around the room, gathering up the pieces of his suit. He fixed his hair in the mirror and watched Jack through the reflection. "If I don't come back, then I guess you get to enjoy your time alone."
Rhys fixed his shirt before adding, "You're hooked up to a battery pack with a solar recharger. As long as there's sun on Pandora, you're going to keep running."
"Don't get killed, Rhys," Jack said. No one else gets to do that but me.
"I'll be back later," Rhys said. He waved and left the room, his door slamming with a resounding click.
Jack sat on his sofa, and watched the outdoor scenery pass by as it hit him that Rhys had just more or less walked out the door to his doom. No con artist contacted someone after this much time unless they wanted something. And with a new budding company under his command, Rhys had value even he didn't see.
If Fiona killed that kid before Jack could do it, then there'd be hell to pay.
The next sap that came into Rhys' room to collect his things would be easy to fool. Atlas was terrified of Handsome Jack. They'd do whatever he told them to. Jack would be on his way to a new body, a new life, and he'd destroy this entire planet. Rhys would regret dying on him. He'd regret ruining all of Jack's perfect plans to destroy the kid's life and getting his next chance to be a Hero.
But until then. Jack sunk into his couch, staring out the window as the breeze floated through the greenery.
Until then he was alone.
But that was fine. Jack could wait. He could wait as long as it took.