Fiona watches Gortys explode in stunned silence, adrenaline shooting tremors through her arms and legs. Fate—and a shockwave—sends her half of the core to the ground near her feet, and Fiona picks it up in a daze, her ears ringing.
As they walk, Sasha's hand finds hers, and Fiona clings to it, anchors herself with it like she has since she was eight years old. She closes her eyes, focusing on the mantra that has kept her and her sister alive all this time. Take care of Sasha.
Sasha is the first to speak. "Where are the others?"
Fiona looks back at the empty stretch of land where Gortys had been, the swirl of the storm settling, the Vault and its monster gone. Debris and bodies are scattered among the rocks. She doesn't answer.
Sasha lets go of her sister's hand, raising a finger to hear ear instead.
"Rhys? Are you there? Can you hear me?" The sound of Sasha's voice echoes double in Fiona's ear. "Loaderbot, what about you? Anyone? Hello? Rhys?"
There's nothing but silence in return. Eventually Sasha's hand drops back to her side.
Fiona allows herself a second to feel the roiling mess of emotions pulling her every which way, then sets her shoulders and puts it all aside. Take care of Sasha.
Everything else comes second to that.
"We need to get out of here," Fiona says. "This place will be swarming with bandits and scavengers and God knows what else any moment."
In another life, Fiona and Sasha would be among them, picking through the remains of Helios with relish. Here, now, Fiona wants to get as far away from the wreckage as possible.
Sasha must feel the same, because she doesn't protest, even for a shot at the stockpile of Hyperion weapons that must have landed somewhere. Instead she moves to help August, who's still crumpled on the ground, mourning a mother Fiona had wanted to kill herself.
As she passes Finch's body, Fiona stops. Fresh burns on his face have eclipsed the old ones she gave him.
She rips Sasha's goggles out of his limp hand.
They steal a vehicle left behind by Vallory's gang and ride in silence, a deafening change from the constant companionable chatter of the last few weeks.
Fiona drives until she can't anymore, until the last of the adrenaline is replaced with a fatigue she feels in her bones. She pulls over somewhere she hopes is as safe as any place in Pandora, tips her hat down over her eyes and falls into dreamless sleep in the driver's seat.
When she wakes again a pit has settled in her stomach, leaving her nauseous. After nearly thirty years on Pandora, Fiona has killed more people than she could count. It's a matter of necessity and survival, and she stopped wasting guilt on it long ago.
Yet she can't turn off the parade of faces in her mind: Felix with her bullet in his neck, opening a briefcase set to explode. Scooter, his hand trapped by a piece of bad design. Vaughn lost somewhere on Pandora. Loaderbot asking for a promise Fiona can't keep. Athena dragged away by Vallory's goons.
Gortys begging for her own destruction.
Rhys on the other side of a nearly-closed door, so scared and wanting to be the hero anyway.
"Fuck," she hisses, heels of her hands pressed against her eyes.
Desperate for a distraction, she turns away from the steering wheel. August is asleep across the backseat, a makeshift bandage over his wound. Sasha is missing from the passenger's seat.
The roof, Fiona thinks. Sasha always liked the view from the top of the caravan when they were on the road, liked how vast and expansive the night sky is—a whole universe of possibility outside of Hollow Point.
Fiona has never been as much of a dreamer as her sister.
Still, she hops out the window of her door and heaves herself up to look at the roof. The storm is over, the sky clear and dark. Liberated from the shadow of Helios, Elpis shines big and bright by its lonesome.
Sasha is nowhere to be found.
For a split second, it makes Fiona's heart race, but she takes a breath. She climbs back into her seat and leans over August, hitting his ankles to wake him.
"Where did Sasha go?"
His peaceful sleeping face turns to a scowl as he wakes to the wrong sister looming above him. Fiona knows full well he'd helped them for Sasha's benefit only, though she doesn't blame him. He must know he wouldn't be her choice of survivor.
"How should I know?" he grumbles. "I've been sleeping."
He's got a point. Fiona scowls back anyway. "Whatever. I'm going to find her. Try not to do anything stupid, okay?"
August rolls his eyes but doesn't argue any further, which is too bad, because Fiona is itching for a fight. She thinks of Rhys—always good for a verbal dust-up whenever she wanted one—and then wishes she hadn't.
She leaves August sleeping and steps outside.
"Sasha?" she calls. "Sash, you out here?"
She picks up her pace, circling the car, trying to stamp out the anxiety rising in her belly. Sasha is fine. If she survived Helios and Pandora and a Vault monster, she'll survive a pitstop.
Still, Fiona quickens her step and calls Sasha's name louder.
Finally, after a minute that feels like an eternity, Fiona sees a silhouette in the distance and jogs to cross the space between them. She's just about to unleash a scolding when she gets a proper look at Sasha—shoulders tensed, fists clenching and unclenching, lips a taut thin line—and changes her mind.
"Hey…" says Fiona, gentle instead. "You okay?"
"Yeah," says Sasha automatically. Then, "No. No, I'm not, I'm—ugh." She moves frantically all of the sudden, stripping off her black blazer as urgently as if it is on fire. "I'm so—fucking—sick of —fucking—Hyperion," she snarls, holding the blazer in both hands and tugging. "And I just—I— oh, ugh, God, okay, this is really well made."
Unable to tear it in half as she intended, Sasha throws the blazer to the ground instead. She rips the headband out of her hair and adds it to the pile, grinding them both into the dirt with her heel for good measure.
Fiona blinks down at the discarded clothes, suddenly regretting the sleek black-and-gold outfit she actually quite likes; she has nothing to contribute to the sacrifice.
"I know." She sighs, then shrugs. "But… hey, you know, there are other Vaults."
"I'm not upset about the stupid Vault!" shouts Sasha, staring at Fiona so incredulously she recoils. Then her face softens. "I mean… not really."
Fiona crosses her arms and looks down at her chipped nail polish.
"Yeah," she agrees quietly, "me neither." She forces a smile and tries for levity. "It's not all bad, though. I mean, we did literally bring Hyperion crashing down in flames."
"Yeah, we did," Sasha grins, but it's fleeting and followed by a frown. "It... didn't really feel as good as I always imagined."
Fiona's smile fades, and brushes back her dyed lock of hair. "Uh... no. No, it didn't, did it?"
Sasha is quiet for a moment, staring plaintively at the sky. They've worn all sorts of things for all sorts of jobs over the years, but seeing Sasha like this—with her hair down, a white button-up blouse and a black pencil skirt—is so incongruous that Fiona finds it a little unnerving. It makes her look strangely vulnerable, a side of Sasha that even Fiona rarely gets a glimpse of.
Then she turns to face Fiona with wide, imploring eyes and it's even worse.
"Why didn't he tell us?" she demands, sad and angry in equal measure. "I knew something was wrong! I asked him! I told him we were worried! Why did he lie? Why didn't he trust me?"
Fiona can think of a dozen reasons why Rhys might have kept Handsome Jack a secret, but none that will make Sasha feel any better.
She hates him a little for that.
So she snorts and shakes her head and says, "Because he's a selfish douchebag, and if he's still alive I'm going to—"
"Shut up," Sasha snaps, so sharp that Fiona's eyes widen in surprise. Just like that, Sasha's sadness is superseded by rage. "Shut up, just—stop it! He's not here to hear you insult him, okay? There's no points for you to score, you don't need to keep up with this stupid charade. He's not here, he's probably dead, no one's here, it's just us, and maybe if you weren't jumping down his throat every five seconds—"
"Whoa, whoa, hold on, this is my fault now?" She doesn't want to fight with Sasha, not really, not now, but all the emotion she's been keeping down for hours is boiling over inside her. "Sorry, which one of us wanted to ditch him in Jack's office and which one of us insisted we wait?"
"Oh my God, I just wanted to wait by the ship! I wasn't planning to abandon him on Helios, which is exactly what you did!"
"I didn't have a choice! I had to look after you, like I always do—"
"I can take care of myself!"
"—because you got yourself kidnapped to help August, of all people—"
"He got shot for us, why shouldn't I?"
Fiona scoffs. "After nearly putting a bullet in us himself six times, yeah, big hero."
Sasha shifts uncomfortably but doesn't back down. "It's not like we're innocent. We tried to con him—"
"Who cares?" Fiona's eyes roll in exasperation. "We tried to make a buck, we weren't going to hurt him. Meanwhile his warlord mother blackmailed us into this whole mess, she stabbed Vaughn—"
"You let that happen!" yells Sasha with an accusatory finger jab. "And yeah, I wanted to help August, okay? I felt bad. I spent months with the guy, and he got shot for me, and I wanted to help him. So what?"
"Oh, come on, we've been over this!" Fiona shoots a frustrated stare skyward. "You can't care about the marks, Sasha, that's the point."
"Well, excuse me," Sasha snarls, "if using people doesn't come as naturally to me as it does to you and Felix."
"I do what I have to do to keep us both alive." Fiona is distantly aware of the way her voice is starting to shake.
Sasha's glare is ice cold. "Yeah, but it never seems to bother you very much, does it?"
"Of course it bothers me!" Fiona explodes, arms spread wide. "I'm not a monster, all right? Of course it does! But I haven't had the luxury of letting it get to me me since the night Mom didn't come home, okay?"
Sasha opens her mouth like she wants to yell back, but no sound comes out. Slowly her expression softens.
Fiona can't think straight over the sound of her heartbeat in her ears, and the nausea from earlier is worse than ever. She looks away, nibbling on her lip, trying to keep her breathing under control. Her eyes sting in a way she hasn't felt in years and she blinks rapidly to push it down.
"Fi…" Sasha says eventually, her voice gentle now. "I—I didn't mean that. I know you're not a monster. It's just…" She sighs. "You make it look so easy sometimes." When Fiona looks at her, she's got a weak smile on her face. "Even with Felix. It's like you can just… get over it. Makes me jealous."
"Well…" Fiona raises her chin, puts her hands on her hips and adopts an expression of false pride. "Making it look easy is maybe my greatest con." Then she deflates. "And I don't want you to be like me. I don't want you to stop caring. It's just…" She trails off, gesturing helplessly.
"Caring sucks," Sasha offers frankly, and Fiona smiles.
With a huge sigh, Sasha looks around, and then, finding nothing better, sinks down to sit on the Hyperion clothes she'd dropped earlier. She props her elbows on her knees, and Fiona takes a seat next to her, legs crossed.
Fiona doesn't want to fight anymore, and she feels exhausted enough by the argument they did have. But with her anger melted away, Sasha only looks unreservedly sad, and Fiona knows she's ill-equipped to help.
"Feels like every time we get close to something good it slips away again," Sasha admits quietly, looking at her hands, chipping the polish off her thumbnail.
"I know." Fiona traces a circle in the dirt with one finger, trying to find the optimism Sasha needs to hear. "But… listen, one day we're gonna get it right. I promise." She puts on a grin. "I mean, statistically, we must be due for some good luck soon."
Sasha nods, but it's clear she doesn't believe it.
That's fine. Fiona doesn't really believe herself, either.
A minute or two passes in silence, Sasha picking at her nails, Fiona mindlessly adding to her design in the dirt until the interlocking circles start to remind her of Gortys and she wipes it away with her palm. She shifts until her knee is bumped up against Sasha's thigh, appreciating the touch. She never wants to revisit the few moments when she thought she'd lost Sasha too.
When Sasha speaks again, her voice is small, and Fiona pictures her many years ago, ratty clothes and dirty hair, crying because she was too frightened to steal the wallet from the man Fiona was distracting.
"It was good, though, wasn't it? Having a team?" Sasha asks, and though Fiona looks over, Sasha is looking at her lap. "Having friends, real friends, for once, not—not marks or trading partners or temporary alliances, but real, actual friends. It was nice, right?"
She looks at Fiona then with such desperation that Fiona couldn't deny her if she wanted to.
Fortunately, she doesn't have to lie.
"Yeah." Fiona swallows the lump in her throat. "Yeah, it was nice."
Sasha hugs her knees tighter, staring at some spot on the ground in front of her. "I just—I can't believe they're all—all…"
She can't bring herself to finish the thought. With a noise midway between a groan and a sob, she rests her forehead on her knees and squeezing her eyes shut.
We don't know that, Fiona thinks of saying. Rhys and Vaughn have both surprised her before, and Loaderbot is, well, durable. She wants to believe Athena's okay, too, that she's escaped her captors and gone back to Janey with nothing more than a vague sense of regret at taking a job from Felix in the first place.
But Fiona's a realist, and Loaderbots are strong, not indestructible. Vaughn is lost somewhere in the Pandoran desert without a weapon or even the know-how to use one. Athena's at the mercy of people who want something that can't possibly be good. As for Rhys—
Fiona had been there as Helios started to fall. She'd been there to feel the frenzied panic, see the people outnumbering escape pods three to one, watch the explosions as the station collapsed in on itself and escape pods collided with each other. Throw in Handsome Jack with a vendetta, and...
Well, Fiona's a gambler, but she wouldn't take that bet.
False hope can be crueler than the truth. She won't do that to Sasha.
So instead she reaches out, puts her hand on her sister's shoulder and squeezes. Sasha doesn't look up, but she rests her hand overtop of Fiona's.
"We've still got each other," says Fiona, more resolute in that than in anything else. When Sasha nods, Fiona allows herself a little grin. "And, hey, you know, I'm pretty sure August would do just about anything you asked, so, if that's what you want..."
Sasha finally lifts her head, resting her chin on her arms. She lets out a whisper of a laugh, then says, "You know, he gave me a flower."
"August? Seriously?" Fiona snorts. "Didn't strike me as a flower guy."
"No, not August. Rhys."
Surprise contorts Fiona's face. "Wh—what? When?"
"At that Atlas biodome place, when it was just the two of us." Sasha's voice has turned wistful. "He picked one of the flowers and he tucked it behind my ear." She chuckles. "Um, of course, then it sprayed some kind of pollen in his face and those floaty jelly things got really angry…"
Sasha smiles at the horizon, lost in the memory—which is good, because it means she doesn't see Fiona's expression of mingled shock and disgust.
She's not an idiot, of course; she'd seen the looks Rhys sent Sasha, and heard the way his inarticulate bumbling became even more pronounced whenever Sasha was around. What surprises her is not the flower-giving itself, but rather the look on Sasha's face as she retells it: soft and fond and faraway.
Fiona schools her features into a neutral expression even as she buzzes with renewed irritation. Anger is far more comfortable than grief, so Fiona wraps herself in it like a blanket.
Rhys liked her sister enough to give her a flower, but not enough to tell her the truth when she asked.
If Fiona ever sees him again, she's going to knock him flat on his skinny cyborg ass.
"I know it's stupid," Sasha says, her expression suddenly self-conscious as she hugs her arms around herself. "But…" She hesitates, chewing her lip and looking away shyly. "It was a really pretty flower," she finishes lamely.
"It's not stupid," says Fiona, short but sincere. She rises to her feet, brushes the dust from her hands. She won't give her sister false hope, but she can give her a plan. "Okay. Here's what we're doing. We go back to Hollow Point—"
Sasha snorts humourlessly. "Fucking Hollow Point—"
"We go back to Hollow Point," Fiona carries on, "because people can find us there. If someone…" She pauses, choosing her words carefully. "If anyone were looking for us, they would know to look in Hollow Point. Okay?"
Sasha regards her for a moment, weighing her options, her hatred of Hollow Point against the love of her friends.
Finally she nods. "Okay. Yeah. I guess that makes sense. Hollow Point it is. Again."
Fiona offers her hand, Sasha takes it, and the combined effort lifts Sasha to her feet. Together they turn and head back towards the car.
"Tell you what though," Fiona adds, bumping Sasha's shoulder with her own. "I'm proud of us. Technically we did find a Vault. Not bad for a couple of orphaned Pandoran street urchins."
"Hey now." Sasha's mouth turns up in a small smile, her first of the night that isn't overshadowed by sadness. "A couple of orphaned Pandoran Vault Hunters."
No one comes to find them, and though they never discuss it, Fiona knows she and Sasha draw the same conclusions.
Months pass, and when a message arrives addressed to them both and claiming to be from Rhys, Fiona is suspicious. Her gut tells her it can't be him, and Fiona trusts her gut more than she trusts just about anything else in the universe.
But she's curious about who would use his name to try to get to them, so she keeps the message to herself, feeds Sasha a lie about going to follow up on a lead about a Vault key ("it's probably nothing—you know how it is"), and goes to investigate the rendezvous on her own.
Besides—on the off chance it really is Rhys, Fiona owes him a punch, and he owes her an explanation for why he sent a goddamned missive instead of having the balls to come see Sasha in person.
When she gets hit from behind and wakes up alone in God-knows-where, arms tied to her sides, her first thought is that her gut is always right.
Her second thought is that only Rhys could continue to ruin her life posthumously.