A/N: So this kinda took on a life of its own. Not sure how I feel about, but it's done and I took way too long writing it, so it's going up. Chapter 2 of "Down the Skag Hole" will be coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy!
Takes during Episode 5 of Tales from the Borderlands, after Helios' crash and Rhys stands up to Handsome Jack.
Spanner in the Works
"Heya, Cupcake. Still breathing? Good. 'Cuz, heh, I'd be soooo disappointed if you missed me stranglin' the life out of ya!"
Rhys's eyes flew open. Handsome Jack vanished. Yet this—Jack's disappearance—didn't stop the company man from flailing about wildly like a fish out of water, the sounds that left his mouth similar to those of a wounded skag.
He—Jack—had been there in all his holographic glory, arms outstretched, reaching for Rhys's throat, hands twitching, lips pulled back in a manic sneer, madness shining in his ethereal blue eyes.
Rhys's breath came in panicked spurts, splotches of black dotting his vision.
The only thing he could see was a set of metal steps, the only thing he could hear were the snaps of a dying flame. But that didn't mean that Jack wasn't there somewhere, lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike. Perhaps when Rhys pulled himself to his feet, Jack would throw him off balance, send him falling down the stairs to a broken neck and death. Or maybe when he passed by that slowly petering fire, Jack would have Rhys hold his real arm to it, have it set his very flammable clothes ablaze.
Something in his bowels moved, causing Rhys to writhe in agony, his body contorting into shapes that resembled a sand worm.
Was that it? Had Jack gotten into his digestive system? Rhys didn't remember getting any implants down there, but maybe he had? Maybe there had been a mix up, a goof, and he had gotten the full Jughead Treatment? A synthetic liver that could process the most toxic of toxins and a cast iron stomach that could withstand the explosion of dynamite?
If that was the case, if he had gotten the Jughead Treatment, what was Jack going to do him? Increase the production of acid? Corrode the metal? Eat through flesh? Consume Rhys from the inside out?
An image flashed through Rhys's fevered mind—his body, midsection completely gone, flesh rotting, white bones jutting through pockets of holey skin, real eye hanging by a musclely thread.
"No, no, no, no!"
Rhys tried to push himself up only to immediately flop back down like the fish he had been imitating earlier, smacking his nose on the hard metal floor he was laying on. Something warm and fluid-like erupted from his nostrils, his real eye welling with salty tears.
Something was wrong with him—aside from Jack trying to make his innards become his outards. His mechanical arm wasn't responding.
Pain lanced through his real arm as he used it to push himself up again, something sharp biting into his palm and making it burn. Grunting, he gently lowered himself back down and maneuvered his hand in front of his face. Shards of—was that glass?—were imbedded deep in his skin.
Frowning, he went to run a diagnostic on his wound, see what it was he had gotten stuck in himself this time, and was dismayed when his ECHO eye failed to respond. He closed his real eye, commanding the ECHO eye to stay open, and was alarmed when the world went dark. Opening his real eye, the world returned with its abundance of night-subdued colors.
Next, his fingers traversed to the spot where his head jack—hah, head jack—was. Or, at least where it was supposed to be. His pinky slid inside the empty hole, wiggled about in free space.
With a rush, the fight with Jack came back.
Clenching, tightening, squeezing.
Need to breathe.
NEED TO BREATHE—
Rip it off.
Get rid of it.
RIP IT OFF NOW—
HE CAN CONTROL IT—
YOU'RE GONNA DIE—
I DON'T CARE I'M NOT A HERO I DON'T CARE I'M NOT A HERO—
PULL GODDAMMIT FORGET THE PAIN—
GONE IT'S GONE—
YOU KILLED THEM YOU KILLED THEM—
GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP—
IN MY HEAD GET OUT IN MY HEAD GET OUT—
I WON'T LET YOU I WON'T LET YOU I WON'T LET YOU—
GRAB IT GRAB IT GRAB IT GRAB THE SHARD AND STICK IT—
CUT IT OUT CUT IT OUT—
NOW PULL PULL PULL PULL—
STAB IT STAB IT STAB IT—
I DON'T CARE I DON'T CARE—
PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL—
GET OUT OF MY HEAD GET OUT OF MY HEAD—
PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PU—
Rhys blinked, sucking in an involuntary but much needed breath.
That was right. He had...Jack was...was...was...
Breaking off his mechanical arm, hot red blood spraying his vest and face, grabbing the shard of glass and digging it into his skull, using it to pry out his ECHO eye...he had done these things.
He had driven Jack out.
He had crushed Jack.
Rhys's chest seized and his throat clenched as violent sobs threatened to break loose, the realization of what he had done settling in.
Jack was gone
He was alone.
Jack was gone.
He was alone.
A keening noise—a cross between a hysterical laugh and a desperate cry—escaped the ex-Hyperion's bruised lips.
Jack wasn't trying to kill him. Jack was gone. Jack was dead. Dead-dead. Actually dead. Really dead. Dead in the flesh. Dead in the whatever an artificial construct's version of flesh was. He was never coming back. Never. Ever.
Rhys was free.
The keening noise continued as the last of the adrenaline from his flight or fight response flowed through his veins. If anyone had been around to hear his bouts of snotty sniveling, crazed hoots of victory, and high-pitched screeches of relief, that would have believed Rhys to be a Psycho. But he wasn't a Psycho. Not yet, at least.
Finally, he mellowed out into quiet-by-comparison gasps of air. Blink by blink, breath by breath, sanity returned to the battered man, and with it, his senses.
The smell of molten garbage and smelted steel wafted together with the scent of his own sweat and blood to create a most revolting aroma, sending his already nauseated stomach into full puke mode. His cheeks puffed as a grimy, cold sweat broke across his forehead. Without thinking, he clutched at his side with his real arm. With nothing to support his weight, as he had intended for his missing artificial limb to do, he was sent careening into a pool of blood, drool, tears, and sweat with a sickening splat. Shivers of disgust raced up and down Rhys's spine and he very nearly lost what little he'd had for breakfast that morning. The only thing that kept it in was the thought that he didn't want the pool of blood, drool, tears, and sweat to become a pool of blood, drool, tears, sweat, and vomit.
How long he laid there, quaking and shivering as a cool wind swept in and dark clouds gathered overhead, he didn't know. What he did know was that there was no Handsome Jack—flesh and blood or otherwise—just himself, the soft rays of Elpis's moonlight that bled through the gaps in the clouds, blood, drool, tears, sweat, stairs, a metal floor, and burning chunks of debris.
So why didn't he feel like a winner?
"How many people do you think were on Helios, huh?"
Rhys closed his eye, rested his head against the cold metal floor. In the distance a rakk screeched, a skag howled, a god-knew-what roared.
"How many of your coworkers did you just eject into space to get rid of me, huh?"
Yes, he had won. But at what cost? For what purpose? What had even been the point?
"What makes you think you're the good guy in this scenario, huh?"
He had sacrificed many to save many more. But hadn't that been Jack's philosophy?
Rhys let out a shaky breath. Jack was right. He wasn't a good guy. Wasn't even close.
He was going to die alone, with no friends or family. Just as Handsome Jack had.
Oh, how had he had longed to become Handsome Jack. And he had.
Dying alone on Pandora…
This was his reward.
"Your stun baton...It's the JR4000. Can I...Can I see it?"
His eye snapped open.
"I believe in you, Rhys."
A fire—this one internal and inside Rhys, rather than external and belonging to the smoldering remains of Helios—lit.
"You and Vaughn are the Hyperion I know. And you dress terrible...so...maybe I should just take my chances."
The blood, drool, tear, and sweat cocktail smeared across his cheek and matted his hair as he drug himself forward.
Maybe he was Handsome Jack, maybe he wasn't. But he sure as hell wasn't going to die here. There was something he had to do first. Living the life that he had, a life that he now almost fully regretted, there was at least one thing he had to get right.
Pushing with his remaining arm, his physical exertions from his fight with Jack still taking their toll, he fought to get to his feet. Memories, sensations, impressions, of his time with her ran through his tired brain, encouraged him to take one step, then another.
...the feel of her surprisingly strong arms pressed against his back and carrying his weight…
...her emerald eyes softening as she looked his way, expression completely unguarded and relaxed….
...the innocence with which she had laughed and swung his stun baton...
"Sasha..." His voice came out a scratchy croak. "Sasha..."
In this moment of darkness, both literal and metaphorical—when his hopes and dreams, his life's work, had literally crashed and burned—she was a beacon of light. All that mattered was her and getting back to her, of confessing how he really felt, of admitting to her what had been growing within, gnawing at his gut, since the first time he'd laid eyes on her and thought to himself, "Who the fuck is this?"
He wanted to see her again. He wanted to touch her, kiss her, hold her, inhale her scent of guns and peaches. He wanted to be with her, hear her laugh, soak in her encyclopedic knowledge of all things weapon related. He wanted to start over with her, build a new life with her on this beautiful and dangerous planet, make something good from the wrong.
Maybe it was wrong of him, selfish, but he was going to live and live with a vengeance. To make up for everything he'd done, to become a good guy. Hero was a bit of a stretch, but good guy? Yeah...he could manage that. And maybe, just maybe…
...fall in love.