Our Broken Pieces - twinaquapisces (2024)

Rhys remembers the day his soulmate’s words first showed clear enough on his skin to read. He was 5, like almost everyone tends to be when it happens, and enjoying a happy day on the beaches of Aquator with his family. His sister was the first to notice the way the blocky script stood out on his slightly sunburnt shoulder, just above and to the side of his right collarbone. Kior was still learning to form words and had likely hoped for positive reinforcement for sounding out the phrase. She stumbled over the syllables at first but by the time their parents had waded through the water to them she was happily squealing, completely oblivious to the looks of astonished horror the adults around threw their way.

He spent the next two years memorizing his soulmate’s first ever words to him. His parents told him to keep them covered, the comment too brash, too indignant, to flaunt to the world, but he loved it. Rhys proudly displayed the garrish phrase on his skin. Though blocky and bold, Rhys believed it was written in his soulmate’s voice. He could almost hear it every time he looked at the words, harsh and mighty yet underneath holding a gentle care that told the boy everything he needed to know about the person he was destined to meet someday.

When Kior turned five their family took another vacation to the bright and happy beaches of Aquator. Just like two years prior the trip saw a soul mark appear. Rhys was the first to see it, calling their parents over to hear the good news. “Hah, wouldn’t that be somethin’?” he says aloud when they are near enough. They laugh, a few tears escape their eyes, at least one of their children’s soulmates won’t be a nightmare. They usher their children to La Cabana Aquata, a cabana restaurant and resort just up the beach, to celebrate into the night.

Rhys remembers that night, more than any other night in his life, he remembers that night. He remembers the music, soft yet thumping just enough to get people moving. He remembers the people, smiling, laughing, enjoying themselves. He remembers the way his sister’s face looked when she tasted the bubbly drink their parents let her sip. He remembers the way that silly face fell, the terror at the sudden halt in music and immediate uproar of screams. The way their parents tried to hurry them along, no real destination to go, only the hope to get them someplace safer than the open dunes. Rhys remembers the sound of his mother’s pain when she hit the sand face first, dragged back by the misshapen humanoid creature biting at her ankle, tearing at her Achilles tendon.

Their father yelled for Rhys and Kior to just keep running, turning from them to hurry back to his wife’s side. He tried to pull her up and away from the small monster, her left foot already almost gnawed entirely off. Too focused on her, he didn’t notice the second creature until it had latched itself onto his back, its teeth in his skin, an ungodly joyous shriek rending from its throat as it tore out his. Rhys looked back to see the bloody mess and his father collapse atop his mother. Tears blurring his vision, he gripped Kior’s hand tight and pulled her along as fast as their little legs could carry them.

They made it to the divide between the sand and the rocky terrain where the two mixed. Rhys felt a tug at his hand before he heard her scream in agony and her fingers start slipping away. As he turned to see what happened to Kior, his ankle twisted on the uneven ground, the very ground that rose to meet his face before he could utter a single cry. He couldn’t move, a pain in his left eye keeping him face down in the dirt even as something stabbed into his right forearm, and again in his shoulder, his fleshy inner arm, tearing away the skin. He could feel a tugging until the bone gave a sickening pop and his little lungs struggled to find the air to scream. It kept pulling, a bare foot braced against his ribs, unkempt nails digging into his side. More teeth ripping into the skin of his shoulder until the tugging on his arm began to stretch the torn flesh. The agony, too much for Rhys to bear, flickered as his mind left and came back to the sound of his own skin rending from itself, his right arm weightless and gone, his lungs still incapable of drawing in enough air.

Rhys never heard what killed the beastly things, he only heard an elderly woman screeching about how someone murdered her pets as he slowly came to. Finally, he was able to breathe in, only to wretch out a hideous sob and wail in his pain. They hadn’t thought him among the survivors until the sound tore their attention to his broken little body. Medics swarmed to him, reporters recording his despair on their ECHO devices, all of them making sounds of horror and disgust at his injuries. The pain in his face, they found upon lifting his prone form from the ground, had been a particularly large stone gouged into his left eye and shattering a portion of his temple. His arm, he already knew well, was gone. What he worried at was the gasps of unfiltered pity, whispers of sympathy for him losing so much so young, saying that no child should have ‘something like that taken away’, he didn’t think they meant his family. They definitely didn’t mean his family.

As he was turned over onto a cot to be carried away, Rhys’ remaining eye scanned the gore around him for Kior. Her mangled body lie several paces back from where he fell, and a few yards down the beach, and against a nearby grassy dune. The bloodied terrain around them blackened by the light of the pre dawn Aquatorian moons. The tears bleeding down his cheeks matched in shade. Rhys succumbed to the pain again as the medics carted him away.

It had taken him just over a week to regain consciousness, his first moments spent in darkness and pain. He hadn’t been able to see, couldn’t open his eyes, didn’t understand why. A doctor responding to his rapidly fluctuating vitals calmly explained, his left eye was gone, his right was fine but bandaged as well to prevent disorientation due to sudden lack of depth perception. He cried, asked how darkness was any better, he just wanted his mom. The following silence was as dark as his unseeing eyes. He didn’t want to hear it.

Over the next several years Rhys would spend his time in and out of hospitals, his parents’ money keeping him afloat. In his spare time, he studied, participated in coding competitions, was a prodigy with one hand flying across the keys. For his tenth birthday he had surgery to reconstruct his orbital socket. For his fifteenth birthday he decided on an ECHO eye and neural port. For his eighteenth he began the process for a cybernetic arm. The doctors often asked why he would go through all these procedures so young; he was already gifted without them, they’d say.

“I need to be the best.” He would always say “I’m going to work for Hyperion, and for that I need to be the best.”

Every new cybernetic part took some adjusting to. The shift back to having depth perception was about as jarring as seeing the world for the first time without it. Once he was familiar with the new eye, he tested its use in his coding. It didn’t necessarily make him any faster, only marginally more efficient, and he could work with that. The neural port was more useful in the ability to up and download programs and code fragments to test and reconfigure at his leisure. It was the arm that gave him the most trouble.

The trouble really began the moment he saw his soul mark for the first time since the incident, what was left of the mark, as it were. Rhys cried, cried for days, inconsolable. No one could offer words of comfort, they all knew the unfortunate truth, a person with a damaged mark could never find their soulmate. Rhys’ soulmate’s words had been torn near down the middle, only half the words, some legitimately half words, still set on his skin. He would stand in front of the mirror daily, staring at what remained, reciting the full phrase as if it would etch itself back into his scarred shoulder.

When it came time for his cybernetic arm, Rhys demanded that the shoulder plate not obscure any of what was left. The doctors gave him a look that told him they held him in great pity, he despised that look, but they made it happen. The pain of his broken nerves being wired into the circuitry was akin to how it felt to have them torn asunder in the first place. The damage meant that the process would take longer to complete, but Rhys was determined to see it through. He sat through the appointments while completing his university coursework. Used his coding experience and the adjustments due to cybernetic alteration as the basis for his thesis.

Rhys was twenty years old by the time his arm was attached to the completed shoulder plate. Hyperion’s latest model, only the best from the company he would work for after college, he was sure the company pride would help get him in. He finished his thesis, the output of his coding increased significantly with the new limb. Not just for having a second hand, but the palm display working in tandem with his eye allowed Rhys to complete code chains exponentially faster. He had fun using his newfound coding genius to keep his grades above and beyond, anything to get that job.

His first day at Hyperion was the best of his life. There had been a recent power shift, the former CEO taking an extended leave of absence. The new CEO had plans, he was very vocal about his plans, and Rhys was hanging on every word. He agreed, bandits needed to be eradicated, stomped out from all corners of the galaxy. Decimating the population on Pandora would be a start, for sure, and then the blight on the bandit numbers could move further out. Nobody would have to suffer at their hands ever again, no more psychos murdering families and eating their corpses. No more of a lot of things, but that is the one that matters to Rhys, the only reason that matters.

So what if he got a little obsessed, the man was enigmatic and charming like nobody’s business. Handsome Jack could charm the pants off a pile of skag sh*t and it would thank him for it. His new friends, Vaughn and Yvette, didn’t quite understand. “That’s way beyond company pride, Rhys!” they’d often chastise any time he purchased a new novelty item with Handsome Jack’s face plastered all over it. It didn’t matter what people said about his appreciation for the older man, Rhys believes in his mission, wants to see him succeed, and if his hard-earned credits being channeled back into Jack’s pockets helps him do that, then maybe Rhys can say he helped end bandit terrorism.


Jack sat on their couch; the cushions almost as soft as the sound of Honey singing to Angel in the kitchen. He thumbed through articles on the ECHOnet, half distracted and ready to join his wife and daughter, until he passed one about a psycho attack on Aquator. His attention latched onto the article and as he read through it his face darkened. There was a video report halfway down the page, he hesitated only a moment before selecting play.

“Nor Lera with Aquator ECHO5 here on site where the massacre happened late last night. A party held at La Cabana Aquata, just down the beach, turned bloody when one of the guest’s ‘pet psychos’ got loose and attacked. You can see behind me the remains of several partygoers, a lot of whom didn’t survive the ordeal. We have word that there are in fact survivors, few as they are, and here now we have the medics bringing down the child they just found.” The woman sounds far too chipper for the content of her report. She hurries over to the medics carrying a cot down the beach towards their emergency action tent.

“You just found this boy, it has been several hours, how has it taken this long to determine he was alive?”

“The kid was mangled, face down, didn’t appear to be breathing. By all accounts he should have bled out in the night, it’s a miracle the kid is alive.” A young medic answers in a tone that sounds both irritated and impressed.

“He must be quite the fighter!” the reporter smiles too sweet, the smile falling as she finally looks at the small body on the cot “Oh, oh you poor thing.”

“Yeah, poor kid lost everything last night. Let’s hope he is a fighter, that’s about the only thing the kid will be good for without a soulmate to help him through life.”

“The poor boy’s soul mark has been damaged in the attack, let us take a moment of silence for this child’s failed future.” She says with fake sympathy, stopping only for a moment before powering on with her report.

Jack huffs and pauses the video, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Honey moves into the room to sit next to him, Angel cooing on her hip. He smiles fondly at them both, the loves of his life, his happiness, and his whole world. When Honey is settled on the couch he leans over and kisses her then gives Angel an exaggerated kiss that makes all three of them laugh. Honey motions toward the article Jack still had open.

“A shame they’re exploiting that poor kid like that.” Her voice soft and melodic even tinged with sadness.

“It never should have happened in the first place.” Jack says “Who keeps psychos as pets? For that matter why would anyone keep them as pets and then take them to Aquator of all places? That’s one of the few planets in this galaxy completely free of bandits! That was all but inviting murder into everyone’s peace. Then of course the reporter wants to focus on a kid who lost his soul mark, talking like it makes him all but worthless to anyone now. I hope that kid grows up to be something great, if only to spite those naysayers.”

“Darling, we both know how untrue their scripture is when it comes to soul mates and marks. The three of us are living proof of how false their beliefs are, that boy can still grow up successful and happy. I hope he finds the perfect person to spend the rest of his life with someday, if only to spite those naysayers." she smiled with warmth, love, and just a hint of mischievousness.

Jack smiled warmly at his wife and daughter, knowing Honey was right. Their marriage was considered blasphemous to regular society, his being without a soul mark, and her having a soul mark that destined her for someone else. When her father had discovered their involvement, he had all but forbade Honey from ever seeing Jack again. “I won’t have some soulless bastard corrupting my baby girl!” Montgomery had claimed as he stared Jack down through the sights of his pistol. It wasn’t long after that Honey had met him at his shuttle off of Eden-6 and stowed away with a small bag of her most precious belongings.

Being the traditionalist that he is, the old man had welcomed Honey back when she fell pregnant. He still sent Jack scathing glares behind her back, but he was adamant about being in his granddaughter’s life. Jack inwardly winced as he thought about the trip to Eden-6 they had planned for the entirety of Angel’s fifth year just so Montgomery could be present for the appearance of her soul mark. Honey reached out and smoothed her palm down his arm like she could see the inner workings of his mind, sometimes Jack was almost certain she could.

Whatever Jack could have thought to fear happening in that year wouldn’t hold a candle to the devastation that actually occurred. Montgomery slowly got more and more irate as the year went on and a soul mark failed to show on Angel’s shoulder. By the last month of the trip he was fuming, seeking Jack out among the twists and turns of the jungle planet he knew like the back of his hand, further infuriated at how the soulless monster still managed to elude him. When the old man finally caught Jack, he was sitting, waiting, resigned to the truth even he could not deny.

“I’ve cursed her to a life without a soulmate, I know. If the mark hasn’t appeared yet, it’s likely to never show. That doesn’t make her broken, she can still live a beautiful and vibrant life, she can still find love and be happy.” Jack said, looking up slowly, a sadness in his eyes that he tried desperately to drown with hope.

“Your soulless union with my daughter has spoilt our bloodline, cursed our kin, and you say it can all be just dandy? How dare you, come to my home, corrupt my child, steal her away, give her a child that can never be loved, and talk to me as if you haven’t ended their lives. I should have shot you when I had the chance.” The old man spat. “As it stands now, I’ll have to make do with firing you.”

Jack didn’t tell Honey that her father had fired him until they returned home to Pandora. She had tried to call her father, reason with him that they needed Jack’s income to support their family, but the old man never picked up her calls ever again. By chance miracle, Jack landed an entry position in Hyperion, just a low level programmer, his programming experience with Jakobs overshadowed by Montgomery firing him. He wasn’t deterred, he was bringing in credits to feed his wife and daughter, and he could always just climb back up the corporate ladder. All was well. Until Angel became a siren.

Grieving Honey’s death, Jack reached out to Wainwright, hoping to get the man to talk sense into his father, to allow Honey to be interred with her ancestors in their family tomb. All this succeeded in doing was give the old man cause to threaten Jack once more. “Your poison will never touch my family again, and if that means keeping her out of the family tomb then so be it. Should I ever see you again, know that I will not fail to pull the trigger a third time.” Jack reeled at the vitriol dripping from every word, cried as he laid his wife to rest in a makeshift grave that he dug himself out back their home. He spent the entire day shoveling the dirt until his arms couldn’t lift the spade a second more. Almost certain it was still too shallow, he gently settled her into her resting place, draped her in the few precious items she stole away with when she eloped with him, saving her favorite broach, and layered the soil back over her corpse.

Jack did his best, he really did. He tried so hard to do what was right, tried to keep his baby safe, tried to covertly climb the corporate ladder, tried to rid Pandora of those damn bandits. Maybe it was his hiding in the shadows that led to this. Maybe it was trusting bandits to actually be trustworthy. Maybe he should have listened to Grandma Crawford all along, never trusted anyone, never let anyone get close to him, never let them hurt him. They were never his friends, he should have known. Jack should have known!

He can get them back. He will make them pay for what they’ve done. Jack seethes as he clasps his new face into place. He will make all those filthy bandits pay with their lives. This time he won’t be hiding his plans, this time he will go straight to the top and shine a light on his war, his mission to free Pandora of its blight. He straightens the vest over his sweater and lab coat, tugs on his jacket, and stalks his way up to Tassiter’s office. The old bastard won’t be needing it much longer, and Jack will make much better use of it.


Rhys tried to steady his breathing, Vaughn talking him through each breath. “Four seconds in, hold for two, out for six. Four seconds in, hold for two, out for six. You got this, bro, that promotion is yours. All you have to do is walk into Henderson’s office and accept it.” The shorter man giving his best pep talk and spinning Rhys around, pushing him towards the programming department. Rhys plastered his best Hyperion smirk across his face and strutted right into Henderson’s, soon to be his own, office.

Trying not to be humiliated is incredibly difficult when working the most humiliating job on Helios. Rhys makes the most of it, he thinks. Has developed a nose blindness to the stench of hours old corpses, harsh chemical cleaners that are just this side of corrosive, and an unbelievable amount of vomit, almost always next to the hours old corpses. Some days he had time to plot out Vasquez’s very timely demise, making sure to thank the walking slime ball for putting him in the position to make sure his remains would never be found. Other days he almost wanted to thank the toupee sporting dunce, if only for the fact that Rhys’ new janitorial position occasionally let him see the Handsome Jack himself stalking off, away from whatever minor massacre he had just repainted the walls with.

This was one such occasion. As Rhys pushed his cleaning cart along a hallway, Handsome Jack left the room he was meant to clean, the man tracking blood and viscera down the hall as he hollered into his ECHO comm. After taking a rather generous moment to appreciate the sight, Rhys hurried into the conference hall. He stopped short, seeing the splattered gore, and took a few calming breaths. “He does this for our safety. He does this to be rid of the bandits. Those filthy f*cking bandits. Deserve to die, the lot of them, don’t deserve to keep living spreading their plague among our homes.” Rhys mutters to himself as he scrubs the blood from the carpet.

As he makes his way to the head of the table where Jack would have sat, something shiny catches his eye in the gore. Carefully picking up and gently cleaning the item he realizes it’s a rather fancy broach. He handles it as delicately as he can, not wanting to damage the surely priceless gems set in the gold. Rhys admired the blue, green, and burgundy gems set in the intricate twisting design, like a tree of life settled in the pool of fate.

“I don’t care what you have to do, Meg, I want those reports on my desk before I get back up there. No, don’t, you know what, sure, tell them I’ll go easy on them for the hustle, will be that much more satisfying to see their faces when I kill them anyway for wasting my time.” Rhys freezes as Handsome Jack storms back into the room, looking as furious as he sounds, and seemingly looking for something while still yelling into his comm. He doesn’t even seem to notice Rhys standing there until he holds out the broach in his flesh palm, taking a calculated risk, and hoping not to die by the hands of the greatest man in this universe.

Jack startles slightly, hand automatically reaching for his digistruct holster. Rhys’ eyes widen and he holds the broach up, his voice caught in his throat. Jack slowly lowers his gaze to the accessory and a visible wave of relief washes over him. He snatches it out of Rhys’ palm and stalks off. “I’m on my way back, they had damn well better be there, Meg, I won’t be kept waiting.”

Rhys stares at the man’s retreating form in shock and awe. Slowly his brows crease, draw together in the middle, and his jaw drops open in an indignant huff. “f*cking ungrateful prick.”

Jack jolts to a stop in the doorway. “Now, you know I’d hate to have to kill you, too, Meg, so don’t let me down. M’kay?” He says as he hangs up the call and slowly turns on his heel to face Rhys. Rhys freezes again at the pure rage on the man’s face, goes weak in the knees when it melts into a manic, menacing grin that splits his masked face in a way that gives Rhys’ heart several good gut punches. “Mm, I am so sorry there, Sunshine, now I really do have to shoot you.” His voice laced with false sympathy and giddy anticipation.

Rhys shakes his head, brows pulled tight, as he gawks at Handsome Jack. He squawks out “N-no way, you?” As he lifts his flesh hand to touch gingerly at his right shoulder.

Jack is taken aback at the response. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? You think I won’t kill you, kiddo? Have you forgotten just who I am!?” He is shaking his head with an incredulous smirk as he again reaches for his holster, a gun digistructing between his fingers.

Rhys shakes his head frantically, “No, I just mean, that’s, well that’s my soul mark. Or, it was, when it was whole. I don’t doubt your ability or drive to kill anyone, I could never doubt that, you do it so well.” He begins to ramble, wincing slightly at his clear fanboying, all he needed to do was prostrate himself at Jack’s feet to complete the act.

“I will only say this once, Cupcake, so listen to me very closely,” Jack snarls as he stalks forward, rage set back into the lines of his face and gun in hand, “I don’t have a soul mate, I am not yours, you are not mine. Make sure you get that through your friggin head right now so I can shoot…” He is cut off by his comm firing an alert that he answers with a growl, “What? I’m busy, what couldn’t wait 10 goddamn minutes?” Rhys presses the heel of his palm into his shoulder while he waits for Jack to finish his call and kill him. He is resigned to dying by the hands of his idol and quite possibly soul mate. Jack grumbles as he pinches the bridge of his nose and turns to walk back out the door, “Yea, yea, I’ll be right there, let them stew for a moment, no refreshments.” He turns back to Rhys one last time before he disappears, “Get that notion out of your head and you better make damn sure I never see your face again, you won’t get out of having your brains splattered on the walls a third time.”

Rhys stares at the door long after Handsome Jack disappeared, it wasn’t until his comm shrieked at him that he broke from his stunned reverie. He checked his comm to see that he was being assigned another cleanup, this time in Handsome Jacks office. Any other time he would have been ecstatic to finally be sent to one of those clean-ups, but now he hangs his head as he selects to call his boss with a heavy sigh. He calmly explains his encounter with the CEO, omitting a few details, and how his current clean up is taking longer than expected. His boss is of course less than pleased and a bit skeptical that Rhys had a run-in with the Handsome Jack, displeased him, and survived, but he concedes to send someone else to clean the office. Rhys sighs again as he gets back to his knees and starts scrubbing again. “What the hell do I do now?”


Jack washes his hands after he calls for janitorial to send someone to remove the bodies from his office, not that the ordeal was particularly bloody, he just needed to wash away the filth that made contact with his own skin. Being a hands-on kind of guy did have a few disadvantages, the utmost being that a lot of the people he killed were disgusting low life peons that really didn’t deserve the honor of dying by his hands, but he allowed them that honor regardless. He always felt things got messier when he fired people that way, even without the bloody mess.

For instance, that kid from janitorial, one of the lowest in the chain of filth beneath Jack’s own glory. Not just for being a janitor, no, for trying to pull that soul mate bullsh*t. Jack scoffs into the mirror and rolls his eyes, the audacity of those lowlife little sh*t stains. The kid wasn’t the first to try pulling that trick on Jack, and he likely won’t be the last. He may just be the first to walk away from it with his life, though, that audacity isn’t usually something the CEO lets slide. Quite frankly, it’s typically some of the biggest messes he tends to make. His already nearly non-existent patience running bare at the very notion that someone thinks they can pull the soul mate wool over his soulless eyes. He should have Meg pencil in a time to kill that kid, the last thing Jack needs is for the janitor to try telling the other peons about the encounter, some idiot is bound to make something of it. Come to think of it, Jack hadn’t even considered who might be sent to clean his office, perhaps it would be that idiot kid and he could just have Meg call in another janitor afterwards. As Jack sauntered out, back into his corpse ridden office, he almost couldn’t stop the disappointment that wanted to jump to his face at the sight of some other peon, stout and exposing his backside from a uniform too snug yet not enough to cover all. Jack let that disappointment simmer down into a sneer and decided he did not have the patience to watch that thing clean up the other things, he would finish his workday in the comfort of his penthouse.

In the enclosed space of the elevator, short as the ride one floor up to his penthouse was, his mind shifted back to the young janitor again. Something kept ticking in the back of Jacks mind, telling him that there was something off, more off than the attempted ingratiating. He couldn’t place it and it was bothersome that the boy wouldn’t leave his head. Jack almost wished he had stayed in his office for the ease of any number of peons to strangle his frustrations out on after hours of trying to focus on work. He had even tried switching to his own personal coding project, hoping that the alphanumerical lines flowing before his eyes would wash away the unease pressing in from behind them. Nothing settled the nerves, the incessant thoughts, the raging migraine pounding away to the beat of his heavy heart.

Jack grunted and grumbled as he stood from his couch, gently patting Buttstallion on his way past her, and slotted into his restroom. The room wasn’t small by any means, but it wasn’t large either, the true grandeur being the adjoining washroom. He set his shower to run straight hot in preparation for when he would move over to the other room. Standing at the restroom sink slowly unclasping each metal fastening at the edges of his mask, Jack slips a finger under the synthetic material, the seal breaks away from his skin with a slight tug and allows him to draw the second face away. He heaves out a long breath, opening his eyes to face his face never gets any easier. The prosthetic green eye still seems unnatural when backed by the vault scar running through the skin over and under it, the pristine surface of the prosthetic unmarred in such glaring contrast. The scar itself, just one more permanent reminder of all the things in his life that should have been good, great, perfect even, but had ultimately gone horribly wrong.

Jack shucks his layers, hangs the jacket up on the back of the door, settles the vest on the counter, tosses the lab coat in the hamper, and folds his sweater up on top of the vest. He looks back into the mirror, his eyes flit over his scars, linger on his right shoulder. The bare expanse is mocking him. It tugs on that nagging tick in the back of his mind, the one that says something about the janitor boy was off. He scoffs in an over dramatic yet suave way that only one Handsome Jack himself could ever manage, and turns from the reflective glass before he breaks it and has to order in another. Again. Jack moves into the washroom and steps under the scalding stream. The heat and heavy massaging pressure knead the backs of his shoulders. He tips his head back to feel the pelting drops soothe away the headache. In the quiet white noise of the shower, Jack allows himself a moment to relax. Just as much as he can afford, no more, no less.


Rhys heaved a full chested groan as he stood one last time, up off the floor where he had spent nearly his entire shift zoned out and scrubbing every speck of dried blood out of the carpet. His mind was perpetually zeroed in on Handsome Jack and the man’s deadly magnetism that pulled Rhys in even as he was promised death. He stretched out, bending back to work all the pops and crackles out of his back, then curling forward to pull the muscles into a more comfortable ache. With bleary eyes and sore arms, Rhys disposed of the waste bags and finally pushed his cleaning cart back out of the room. When he returned to the janitor control hub, unaffectionately dubbed trashquarters, his boss was waiting with a face so red Rhys could almost swear the man was actually fuming. The stout man had caked blood under his nails, evident that he had tried to wash away the grime, as they all do, but failed, as they all do. He pointed a stubby red brown tipped finger in Rhys’ face as his own contorted in an impressive feat of further rising rage.

“Six. Six years, Ryan! Do you know what that is?” He spits as he screams in Rhys’ face, he is yelling again before Rhys has even opened his mouth to answer. “It’s how long I’ve gone without having to get my hands dirty. Do you know why it has been that long? Because I’m your f*cking boss and you all do the dirty work so that I don’t have to. Until you, you had to go and take FIVE GODDMAN HOURS to clean one f*cking conference room. And not only that, but also had the gall to claim that Handsome f*cking Jack himself told you to stay away from him? If I had gotten the call that he killed you, airlocked you, added you to the pile of bodies you were sent to clean, I would have understood. I understand perfectly, the want for you to be so dead even a psycho wouldn’t touch your meat. But no, that’s not what happened. Instead, you expect me to believe the big man himself wanted to kill you but somehow you were left alive to lie to me, make me have to clean his office myself, and then come skulking back deep in the night from a job that should have taken a fraction of the time?! Why, if I were a man like Handsome Jack, I’d kill you right here and now; you damaged, worthless, insignificant, useless, walking f*cking trash pile!”

Rhys breathes in deep, fighting with the heavy wetness trying to climb out his eyes to run down his face. He is used to the digs at his damaged soul mark, having been on the receiving end of the comments for the past twenty years, but it still hurts to be reduced to nothing for what happened to him. Nobody even knows Rhys is the boy from the massacre on Aquator all those years ago. His boss’ mention of psychos merely a spot on stab he had no idea could actually cut Rhys as deep as it does. He nods once, a silent affirmation, to appease the raging boar that is his boss, and turns to put his cart away for the night. The stout man lets Rhys go about returning his work equipment, satisfied that he has suitably put the lanky little sh*t in his proper place. As Rhys walked up the hall to his and Vaughn’s apartment, in those few steps finally out of prying blackmailing eyes, he finally let a few tears break free. He wiped the tears away as he unlocked the door, sniffled once as he stepped inside, but still met his best friend in the kitchen with bleary red eyes full of anguish.

“That kind of day, bro?” Vaughn sighs as though he didn’t really have to ask. He knows he didn’t need to ask, but asking gives his best bro the space to be open with his suffering.

“Kirpo busted my ass for a cleanup I had today, took the whole shift to get done, so he had to do a call himself.” Rhys mumbles as he shucks his janitor’s apron in the small laundry room just outside the other end of the kitchen. “Included the usual insults and a new one involving psychos, nothing I can’t handle, though. You know I’ve heard them all by now.”

“Damn, bro, it really was that kind of day, huh? How about you go use all our hot water for the week to get clean and relax with Yvette’s good soap from last Mercenary Day? While you do that, I’ll set up Hero’s against Bandits and reheat dinner so we can eat while we play with The Jackinator on the tv in the background so you can quote the Handsome Jack lines in between reading the cards. Sound like a plan?”

Rhys gave his best bro a sad but grateful smile, “Bro you are the absolute best, but let’s not waste the water or that soap when I have to be right back in the trash first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll just cold shower like normal and if you can handle the residual smell, we can still do the rest of that?”

“Of course bro, but your stink makes every card you win worth half a point less.”

“Oh you just say that because you know you won’t win enough to make up for my cards at full points.” Rhys laughed as he turned to head down the short hall to their restroom with the collapsible shower. He didn’t waste time getting out of his soiled clothes and into the shallow trough, turning on the water as he stepped over the side. The sting of the freezing water threw a hiss between his teeth but he powered through just like always to scrub as much of the residual grime and odor from his skin. Only when he stepped back out, standing in front of the mirror behind their toilet that multipurposed as a sink, did he take a moment to lower his gaze. “Ere, Sunshine, ave to shoot you.” His eyes raked over the remaining letters like the lifeline they had been for almost twenty years. Hearing them in person from someone who wasn’t reading it off his skin was so much different than his family reading it or himself speaking the words like a mantra to get through the pain. Hearing Handsome Jack speak the words Rhys had waited so long to hear was like being lit on fire and drowned in ice at the same time. And he had gone and acted a complete fool about it. The CEO probably thought him just another crony trying to get into bed with him in one way or another. He repeated the lines until his voice cracked, strangled and wet, a sob chasing his voice away.

“Hey, bro, everything is set up. You good in there?” Vaughn called through the door, knocking softly before he spoke. Rhys wrapped his towel around his hips and opened the door, wiping away the remaining tears once more.

“Yea, just that kind of day, like you said. Thanks, Vaughn. What would I do without you, bro?”

“Stay in there all night sobbing over your inability to spend your life with the person you were fated to be with?”

“I wouldn’t sob over it all night, only until I pass out standing up, or until I get too hungry to wallow in self pity any longer.” Rhys retorts back with a small grin.


Jack sat back at his desk with a groan. “Felicity, pull up the file on that janitor, the leggy one with the mouth.” He ran his palm over the rough surface of his scarred face, not having put the mask back on after his shower. As the desks interface lit up with the files he requested a soft chime sounded, the only sound the AI ever made when she was in one of her remembering moods. He rolled his eyes at her dramatics and swiped across the surface of the desk interface. “What kind of name is Strongfork?” he scoffed as he saw the kids name. “Rhys Strongfork, twenty six, cybernetic enhancements, spent the past five years working in Hyperion’s Securities Propaganda programming department, recently demoted to,” Jack took a moment to reread the words in front of him, “What the hell is ‘Assistant Vice Janitor’? Remind me to find out who came up with that and schedule a one on one with them.” Shaking his head he moved through to the live feed of the company issued apartment the kid was assigned on Helios’ lower level living quarters.

“Filthy bandits like you don’t have a future in Handsome Jack’s galaxy!” Spoken with such vehement fervor, almost more so than the double playing Jack in the ECHO flic managed. It sounded exactly the way Jack would have said it himself, and it was from the lips of that janitor, lips tilted halfway between a sneer and laughter as he threw down a card at his companion. “Handsome Jack’s massive palms. Beat that.”

“A hero’s most deadly weapon. The Nidhogg rocket launcher, or Handsome Jack’s massive palms.” His companion sighed, “How come you always get the cards that make sense in a Handsome Jack kind of way and all I get are standard Hyperion play cards. You have to be cheating.”

“Come on Vaughn, all my wins are worth half points tonight remember, you could still win.” The kids smirk says he is almost definitely cheating to get the best cards. “Annihilate that bandit settlement before they spread like the vermin they are.” He quotes the flic perfectly and with an astounding heat of disgust that once again Jack’s double had come just shy of achieving in his role.

“You know its really disturbing how much you sound more like the boss than the guy paid to act like him does.”

“Did you know they eat people? Alive? Just tear right into them, no reservations, only consuming the people stupid enough to get that close without a weapon to kill those disgusting beasts. Anyone who survives an encounter with a bandit is either severely injured and extremely lucky to even be alive, is a bandit themselves, or is Handsome Jack. I believe in what he promises because he is right, and that actor should have tried believing in it too so maybe then he wouldn’t have fallen short on his lines. Makes Handsome Jack seem less invested in his own campaign against the bandits. I wouldn’t be surprised if the actor playing him in this flic didn’t survive long after. Though they probably should have just reshot the whole thing before releasing it so I imagine the entire production team is vacuum packed by now.”

“Again, Rhys, disturbing. I mean it’s one thing to hate bandits because we work for a guy dead set on destroying them all, but you really seem to go beyond just being obsessed with the big boss man, bro. Yvette and I, we worry about you.”

“I’ve told you guys before, I’m not obsessed, I just believe in his promise of a future free of the blight that is the bandit population.”

“You said you come from Eden-7, got your degree on Eden-5, have you ever even been around bandits to hate them like that?”

“Well, since I’m not a bandit and I’m not Handsome Jack himself, then if I had been around bandits at any point then that must make me extremely lucky to be alive. Thanks for helping me after all that with Kirpo, but I think I’ll go to bed now. Gotta go face him again in the morning and I’m sure he’ll still be pissed about having to do a cleanup himself.”

“Right, you did say that’s why he was pissed… What did you do that made him have to clean?”

“I took too long cleaning one of the conference rooms and had to turn down cleaning Handsome Jacks office. There was a tooth stuck in the ceiling, I don’t even know how that happens.” Jack pondered a moment on what he did to the board during that meeting that could have lodged a tooth in the ceiling and determined that he also had no idea how he managed that. When he looked back to the interface the kid had left his companion to clean up by himself. He sent the file on the janitor to his office desk and shut down the interface. Thinking on the conversation he had just eavesdropped on, Jack realized that shortstack loser made a rather interesting point. If the kid was raised on and studied on Eden-7 and 5 respectively, which were as far as anyone was aware bandit free for generations, then where did he get his pure disdain for the creatures plaguing the galaxy? Jack himself had grown up amidst the bandits, suffered at their hands more than once in his life. His hatred was justified but the janitor was just a kid. A kid that also made an interesting point. Jack passed out on his desk well into the early hours of the next day cycle still pondering what ordeal the snarky little sh*t could have been so lucky to come out of alive.

The sound of a revving buzzaxe cut through the sniffles and wailing. Screams and rending flesh drowned it out. The squelch of flesh jamming up the dull blade lost in the echo of a child’s pain.

“Oh, hush you simpering whelp! I told you there is no one you can ever trust. Not even those cursed so-called soul mates. This just proves it; don’t you see that child? No proper partner starts off saying something like that, eh, I’ve saved you, brat. Ought to thank me and quit your simpering. The arm is still there, don’t make me finish it off.”

Jack woke with a start, “And severely injured. Extremely lucky to be alive and severely injured. Felicity! Pull up the feed on the kid.” The AI dutifully obliged and Jack’s desk interface lit with the dull image of a rather vomit inducing room. In the room was a handful of nobodies, the kid with the legs, and that fat sh*t that was in his office the night before.


Rhys stood silent and stock still as Kirpo doled out the starting assignments to everyone else in janitorial. The others filed out with their tasks leaving Rhys alone with the boss. He knew Kirpo was still pissed, the sneer and jovial glee in his eyes gave away a day that Rhys was bound to wish for death to end, if it didn’t actually kill him. “Well, no calls have come in to clean Handsome Jacks messes yet. Don’t worry you can still have whatever of his blood trails are left after you finish your task list for the day, but first you will be cleaning out every airlock on this station. Top to bottom, every corner and crevice. Twice.” Rhys felt himself falter only slightly as the blood drained from his face before he could school his features into an unaffected façade. Clearly his death was the intended goal. There was no guarantee that Jack wouldn’t just open all the airlocks just for fun, or that he could see Rhys cleaning one and decide he had crossed him just by existing in an opportune place to kill him, or he could be cleaning an airlock when Jack just so happened to choose that one to space somebody else and Rhys be caught in the way. He was absolutely going to die before the day was out and he didn’t even get to say goodbye to Vaughn, or donate all his Handsome Jack merch back to the company to be resold at unreasonably higher prices, or tell Yvette not to let Assquez being her soul mate turn her into him even if she was only a margin and a few genitalia off anyways.

The dingey ECHO interface on Kirpo’s desk, so old it may well have been there before even Tassiter ran the company, suddenly rang out a chime that cut off a rant Rhys hadn’t even registered the stout man spewing in spit and rage. Blinking several times the man hobbled over to his desk and opened the urgent communication that had come through. Rhys watched as Kirpo’s face suddenly paled and a mix of fury and confusion flitted across his eyes and twitched in his lips and brows. “Mr. Rhys Strongfork, Assistant Vice Janitor, has been requested to clean the office of Ms. Meghan Priar, Personal Assistant of The One and Only Handsome Jack and Don’t You Forget it Cupcake, immediately.” He read off the screen, his face by the end seemed almost green tinged purple. Rhys wasn’t certain if the head of janitorial was going to hurl or pass out from lack of oxygen. “Just get your sh*t and get out of my face you pathetic broken waste of…” another chime from the interface cut him off again and the colors in his face grew more interesting as he stepped away to grab his own cleaning supplies and the airlock override badge.

Rhys stared wide eyed at his boss’s back until it was out of site before he shook himself out of his stupor, grabbed his supply cart and made the long journey all the way up to the office of Jacks PA. On Rhys’ arrival he almost thought he had taken too long or perhaps there had been a mistake. “Uhm,” He breathed out trying to find the words to ask if there had been a mistake.

“Immediately means Immediately, Mr. Strongfork. You may start with the bins, then I want every inch of carpet scrubbed until you can tell the colors apart again. The bin behind my desk here first.” Meg spoke up and redirected Rhys as he made to move to the bin across the room. Just as he crouched to grab the bin behind her desk Meg pushed him down to the floor and held her hand on his shoulder to keep him from getting back up. The sound of the large double doors opening just off the side of the office put ice to Rhys’ chest. He felt himself huddle further into the floor and the inner corner of the desk as Meg spoke up. “R&D has three presentations for you today, Nakayama is requesting a meeting again, the satellite is in a mood and it may be a good idea to check in there if you would like me to reschedule some of your other meetings.”

“Didn’t I kill that Nakawhatever already?”

“Yes, I believe he has hidden clones with memory backups somewhere on the station.”

“Find them, kitten, m’kay? Don’t let R&D know I’m on my way now, I want to see their stupid little faces when they scramble to get all their last second adjustments just in time.” There is a pause within which Rhys holds his breath, afraid to be caught. “Did that thing ever arrive for you pumpkin? Not seeing it anywhere.”

“Yes, Sir, not very punctual but put to work right away as requested.”

“Hmm, see to it that it stays that way all day.” As Jacks footsteps faded off and the sound of the elevator chiming its decent Rhys finally let his breath out. Meg moved her hand to pull on his shoulder rather than hold him down.

“Come on, up you get. Don’t just leave the bin there.” She chided when he got up and started to walk off without what he was sent over for in the first place.

Rhys spent the entire day cleaning Meg’s office. The carpet took a decent chunk of the day cycle but all too soon he had brought out the funky colorful pattern from under layers of dirt and dust and blood. When that was done Meg had sent him to fetch take away supper from the Hub of Heroism and gave him an extra portion of credits to get himself something as well. After they ate she tasked him with sorting the unoccupied desk on the other side of the room and allowed him to keep any personal knickknacks the previous owner left behind. All the while a thought ran through his mind on repeat. The way that Jack and Meg spoke at the end of their conversation sounded suspiciously like they were talking about him. More to the point it sounded like perhaps Jack himself had sent the request that had saved Rhys from airlock duty. He wouldn’t have, though. Not after the way the day before had gone. And he sounded like he was looking for whatever they were talking about, which really couldn’t have been Rhys, unless Jack did request for Rhys to be someplace he would be put in Jacks sight and thus free game for Jack to kill as promised. But Meg had intentionally kept Rhys out of sight. The inconsistency of it rattled Rhys and he dropped a paperweight under the desk. As he crawled under to grab it Meg’s voice rang out in the silent air.

“Stay there, don’t move, don’t speak.” Rhys froze immediately and a moment later the elevator chimed its stop and opened.

“Still working, Cupcake?” Jacks voice carried through the room before his steps could even sound on the carpet. The way it resounded without effort settled deep in Rhys’ chest and stole his breath from within it.

“Yes, Handsome Jack, Sir. Been a quiet day of steady and well executed work up here. Did you make it to the satellite?”

“Hmm, didn’t make it today. Quiet, hm?” Jack dismissed and quickly followed up with a prod.

“Yessir, rather quiet. Are you certain it is the right one?” Meg’s tone said she was poking fun at the CEO.

“Well, I haven’t seen it, now have I?”

“You specifically requested not to, Sir.”

“Don’t push, Meg, you may be the best at your job right now, but that doesn’t make you irreplaceable.” Jack’s tone was soft in the way that it was when he made a threat that to anyone else sounded like friendly banter. But Rhys knew better, and Meg surely did too. Jack didn’t wait around for a response and soon the double doors closed behind him on his office.

“Alright, kid. That’s enough for today. Get out.”

Rhys scrambled to put the paperweight back on the desk before grabbing his cart from the corner and making a hasty retreat. Kirpo was nowhere to be found when he dropped his supplies back at trashquarters. The absence hardly bothered Rhys and somewhere in the back of his mind he hoped the old f*ck lost the override badge or just didn’t make it to the scanner in time to avoid being spaced. Before he knew it he was back in his and Vaughn’s apartment with his best bro shaking him by the shoulders.

“Rhys, bro, hey come on man what’s with you bro? Don’t make me bring out the big guns, I’ll do it, come on bro. Alright I’m going into your sock drawer and taking the…”

“Hey, no, I’m fine. It’s just been a day, okay?” Rhys slapped Vaughn’s hands away. “Seriously? You’ve been in my sock drawer? Not cool, bro.”

“No, I haven’t, but now I want to know what’s in it. Is it a lifesized…” Vaughn started before Rhys pushed him away.

“No! It’s just my special edition Hyperion issued sock collection, don’t be creepy, Vaughn.”

“Says you, creeper. So what happened that got you all blank stare in the kitchen, bro?”

“I think Kirpo tried to orchestrate my death today. Had me on to clean the airlocks until I was saved by a personal request to clean Meg’s office.” Rhys laughed as he thought back on how absurd the events of the day actually were.

“Woah, wait, like as in the Meg?”

“Yes Meg, Handsome Jack’s personal assistant Meg. I spent all day cleaning her office and I’m not going to lie, bro, it was kind of the most relaxing cleaning I’ve ever done since Assquez dumped me in janitorial. I should see if I can thank Meg tomorrow for requesting me to clean her office.”


Jack had raised a brow when the pudgy man had tasked the kid with cleaning the airlocks. He knew the kid must have realized the implications the same as he did by the way the color rushed from his face and he froze on the spot. The fat man grew angrier with every second that the kid stood there still. It didn’t take more than two seconds before he was storming up to the kid and spitting in his face. The vitriol the man spewed about being unworthy without a proper soul mark, worthless, fit for bandit chow, unwanted, it had Jacks blood boiling. He couldn’t even place exactly why it pissed him off. Maybe it was the way it reminded him of how that old bastard Monty had disowned Honey and Angel, maybe it was just that it made him think of them and his own lack of soul mark. Maybe it was that the thought of the kid’s soul mark being damaged made his heart ache in a way he hated not being able to explain.

“Felicity! Send the janitorial hub interface an urgent request for the leggy kid to clean something else, make it sound professional. Have it be, I don’t know, Meg’s office or something. Not mine, I don’t want to see him. Send Meg a notice too.” Jack dragged his fingertips over his face as the AI chirped in affirmation. He went to grab his mask and was just fastening the last clasp when he returned to hear the old man starting another tirade of soul mark bashing. “Felicity, send another urgent communication to the janitorial hub interface directing that thing there to clean every airlock on the station, from top to bottom, every corner, crack, and crevice. Twice, and then thrice more after that. Make it from my personal line and mark it erase after open.”

Jack stopped at Meg’s desk when he left his office later. He saw the cleaning cart but not the kid so he asked about his arrival just to mess with the kid wherever Meg had him hidden away. Later still when Meg sent him a communication reminding him to eat he stopped in again only for her to inform him that this time the kid was off getting food “Which you should do as well, Sir.” She had pressed. He worked off his petulance at being told to eat by finding the airlock the old fat man was currently in and ‘accidentally’ pressing the command to open the outer doors and disable the badge scanner. At the end of the day he followed Meg’s eyeline to the desk across her office and knew the kid was hiding behind it. It was only reasonable to tease again, though Meg almost gave the game away. Even after all that he still had the live feed up watching the moment kid got back to his shared dwelling. He watched and listened as the kid explained what happened with his now former head janitor, how he wanted to thank Meg for personally requesting his services. Jack scoffed at the audacity. When the kid went to bed Jack shut down the interface and went to shower with very much the same process as the night before and every other night besides.

“You don’t need no soul mark, no soul mate, no one can ever be trusted. This here is proof of that and you think you should keep it? Have I not taught you this lesson well enough yet, boy? Oh hush your bawling and grab me my buzzaxe. Do it, boy, or I’ll make it a double lesson. There, was that so hard? Now stay still. You are a f*cking ungrateful prick you know, but to have that be the first thing some ‘fate’ driven sh*t says is just proof that you need to be listening to this lesson, boy. Nobody can be trusted. Nothing will hurt you more in life than a soul mate.”

The sound of a revving buzzaxe cut through the sniffles and wailing. Screams and rending flesh drowned it out. The squelch of flesh jamming up the dull blade lost in the echo of a child’s pain.

“Oh, hush you simpering whelp!”

“You are a f*cking ungrateful prick, you know.”

“f*cking ungrateful prick.”

The face of a battered and bruised young boy stared at him. The boys eyes slowly drifted down to his bare shoulder where a sharply swirled script appeared earlier that day. ‘f*cking ungrateful prick.’ He smiled. He had a soul mate. The door flew open and Grandma Crawford stormed up to him, grabbing at his arm to see the three little words on his skin. Her eyes flared. He knew he was in for another lesson.

The scarred face of a broken man stared at him. The mans eyes slowly drifted down to his bare shoulder where a sharp and jagged scar sat on his skin, faded from time but still a reminder of that one time he upset his grandmother so badly she almost cut his arm off. What had he done that was so bad? He couldn’t remember.

“f*cking ungrateful prick.”

Jack shot up off his desk, the wet corner of his mouth cooling instantly in the air. His breath in short turbulent bursts to match the racing of his mind. The time display on the desk interface showed that his slumber had been hardly more than a nap but it was certainly enough to set gears in motion. He shook his head and stood on shaky legs that carried him back to his restroom where he stared down his reflection. It stared back at him with a sort of confused rage backdropped by the very present vault scar. The scar he had gazed over briefly every morning and at length every evening. The scar that he had for years thought was the most life changing scar of his life. Jack almost held his breath as he drew his eyes down to his right shoulder. To the scar that had faded so much over his entire life that he never remembered it was even there until the past few days. He reached his left hand up across his torso to touch the skin where normal people had soul marks, where for his entire life he truly believed he never had one. For the first time in his life Jack stared at the blank skin trying to imagine words etched into the empty space. He tried to remember what the script looked like in the dream, tried to see the round swirls and sharply flicked tails. When he looked back to his face, he saw a tear caught in the roughness of the bit of scar under his eye. Jack felt rage surge in his chest as he called out to Felicity to get the kid up and in front of him immediately. He was just going to shoot the kid and be done with it, be done with the things the kid put in his head. Done with the soulmate bullsh*t that he never should have entertained. He was Handsome Jack, he didn’t have a soul, and he didn’t have a soul mate.


Rhys grumbled as he woke abruptly to an incoming urgent message lighting up his ECHO eye. The sudden light so jarring he had slapped himself in the face in a dazed attempt to make it go away. As he sat up to open the message he silently thanked his deities that his cybernetic arm was detached and charging. Rhys squinted uselessly at the bright letters spelling out a request that he make himself present in the office of Handsome Jack post haste. Another urgent message came through as he was rereading it for the fourth time, this one simply restating the express importance of getting a move on or else. He groaned in confused annoyance as he rolled groggily out of his bed and shuffled into a pair of slippers. Rhys briefly considered putting his arm back on but decided it would take too long to take his shirt off and reattach the connectors then put the shirt back on again. He walked out the apartment as he was, after checking to make sure he had his sleep pants on, and trudged his way through the space station. An elevator up to the Hub of Heroism, a shuffled trek across the Hub, and into the elevator on the other side that slowly took him up to the office he spent the day cleaning. It was strange making his way through Meg’s office without her in it and he briefly wondered if he needed her there to allow him into Jack’s office. The message said he had to be in there though and if nobody was there to let him in then he would have to take his chances walking in himself. Rhys slowly pushed one of the large doors open and peered inside. The office was dark, the only light coming from Elpis through the floor to ceiling windows behind the desk. He stepped entirely into the room and held his arm around himself as he looked around, wondering if he should verbally announce himself.

Just as Rhys opened his mouth to speak a ding sounded from his right drawing his attention. As he turned his head an elevator opened up, bathing a sliver of floor in light as if illuminating a path for Rhys to follow. Confused and wary, Rhys looked around the room once more before slowly walking over and stepping into the lift. The second he was entirely in the car the door closed behind him and the sudden thought occurred to him that he may be walking into his death. He didn’t even leave Vaughn a note saying where he had gone. Not that it would have done anything if he didn’t make it out alive anyways, but at least his best bro could have known. Hugging his arm tighter around his middle, Rhys tried desperately to control his anxious breathing. There was no floor counter in this elevator, only an arrow pointing up that blinked slowly as the car came to a smooth stop and the doors opened behind Rhys rather than in front of him like he expected. He turned around and took a cautious step out. Just like when he had gotten into the lift as soon as he was fully out of it the doors closed once more, stranding him in an expansive room he never knew existed and no one knew he was in.

The sound of a gun co*cking drew Rhys eyes into the dark in front of him, his breath caught in his throat. He could see the silhouette moving forward before the man even came into the light, the barrel of the gun aimed at Rhys in perfect unwavering Handsome Jack surety. Rhys kept his eyes on the gun as Jack stepped closer still, until he was looking down at the gun directly in front of him as it was raised to his chin and used to lift his face back up to meet the other man’s eyes. His breath staggered as he did his very best to keep his eyes on Jack’s and not on the large scar spanning up one side of his face and down the other. The gun still rested under his chin and Rhys waited, watching the eyes of his idol as they flickered through anger and confusion and curiosity. Finally his eyes seemed to land squarely on curiosity as the gun shifted down to the stretched collar of Rhys’ sleep shirt and pulled it to the side. Rhys felt his heart fumble through its beats as genuine fear crept into his chest when the barrel slid over what remained of his soul mark. Jack raised a sculpted brow and Rhys knew the fear had shown in his eyes.

“You are so ready to die but the moment I might see what you have there is when you are afraid? Afraid I will see the truth of your faked mark, kiddo? Did I not give you enough time to draw it on? Answer. Me.” Jack spoke in the calm tone that said murder was in the air.

“It’s, well, it’s not that it’s fake… it’s just that,” Rhys’ voice wavered as he fumbled his words, trying to express exactly what brought on such fear. He moved his hand up from his waist to the edge of the collar that was hooked on the cool metal of the gun. Slowly, carefully, he pulled it fully over the plate that served as his right shoulder. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Rhys continued. “It’s just that this is all I have left of it. I don’t mind dying, but I couldn’t bear to lose any more of my mark.”

Jack moved the gun away from Rhys’ shoulder and stepped forward, looking intently at the half phrase. Rhys held his breath as his idol reached up to prod the blocky letters, rubbing as if they would disappear under the pressure. A hiss and wince drew the CEO’s eyes back to Rhys’ for a moment before they were back on his shoulder, the bruising pressure eased up as he continued to poke and prod. Rhys felt a shudder creep up his spine when the touch turned gentle, fingertips softly tracing each remaining letter. The light touch on his soul mark was turning knots in Rhys’ stomach, each one begging to be untangled by the very same fingers that placed them there. His heart beat a thunderous tune, his chest rising and falling in heavy stunted breaths, his cheeks flushing as he swallowed down an embarrassing sound trying to claw its way up his throat.


Jack paced while he waited, scolded himself for pacing like a fool, and settled to stand and wait watching the doors of the elevator that would deposit the kid in his penthouse. He held his pistol in hand, ready to end this growing obsession before it had a chance to take root. Finally the light showing the lift was in use shone out and within moments the doors opened. The kid looked drowsy and confused as he stepped out, jolted when the doors closed behind him. Jack co*cked the gun and raised it, aiming for the kids chest. He stepped out into the light, continuing forward until the barrel pressed to its target. His finger poised to pull the trigger, dancing along the metal, failing to place the pressure needed to fire the bullet and splatter his walls with the kids pathetic little heart. But he isn’t looking at Jack, he’s looking at the gun, and Jack wants to see his face when he kills him. Using the barrel to lift the janitors face, Jack detoured before he could even think about what he had done. Snagging the stretched collar of the shirt the kid had on with the sight Jack pulled the fabric to the side until he saw fear fly into the unmatched eyes before him. He should have known. He had known and just kept pushing that clarity aside for the foolish notion of what if. Jack knew better and he allowed himself to consider the possibility regardless. He taunted with the falsity of the supposed mark he had yet to uncover, pressed the barrel into the skin as clear an intention as his tone. Only to fall into himself in the next moment when the kid turned his stuttering rebuttal into a declaration of sentimentality for the mark the he revealed to Jack himself.

Jack lowered the weapon and stepped closer to properly inspect the mark. He trailed his eyes along the jagged scar that split some of the words in half. Jack reached up, pressing into the letters, attempting to rub them away, almost desperate to prove them a farce. It had to be fake. Had to be. The kid hissed in discomfort and it was all it took for Jack to let up on the reddening skin. Had to be a ruse, couldn’t be real. He traced the letters that remained, blocky and bold. Had to be lies, couldn’t be true. Half the words he knew full well he said to the kid just two days prior sat there before his eyes denying him his sanity, laughing up at him in the face of his despair. Jack was pulled out of his head by the sound of the kid swallowing around an aborted whimper. He undigistructed the gun back into his holster and quickly brought the newly freed hand to the kids throat, turning to push him into the wall. Jack felt him swallow heavily under the pressure, watched as his eyes widened and fluttered almost simultaneously. He left his hand there, just a steady weight around his throat, and pressed his palm into the partial mark on the kids shoulder. Reveled in the sharp inhale that pulled through the trembling lips inviting Jack in with it. Jack stole himself back and let the kid go, leveling him with a stern glare.

“What happened to it?” Jack asked, surprising himself both in asking as well as the soft tone the question came out in. The look of pain that took to the kids face struck something in Jack’s chest, something Jack chose to dampen down and ignore. “I asked you a question, kiddo. Most people know not to keep me waiting.”

“It happened when I was seven.” Rhys slowly started to speak. “I, I was with my family.” He blinked against incoming tears. “On,” he paused taking several heaving breaths, “On Aquator.” The words squeezed out in a whispered sob that wretched Jack’s heart and slapped him in the face with a clarity he wasn’t sure he was ready to face.

“Not the pet psycho incident?” Jack shook his head as he asked, silently demanding the kid to say it was a different occasion and not the article he and Honey had commiserated over 19 years before. He watched a flicker of rage cross the kids face before it was drowned out by the pain again and he knew there was no hope to be had.

“My sisters mark had just appeared and my parents wanted to celebrate. They got my mom first and then my dad when he stayed behind trying to help her. My sister and I, we were just kids, we couldn’t outrun them. They tore her right out of my hands.” Rhys' voice broke off, tears creeping out the corners of his eyes. Jack was tempted to hold the kids face and wipe the tears away, he refused to give in. “I fell on a rock, with my face, I couldn’t move. Could feel it though, the psychos eating my arm, p-pulling it off…” His head dropped as his shoulders shook and Jack fought so hard to stay in place. “The medics thought I was dead for hours before I woke up.”

It was the last sentence, sobbed out in broken hiccups, that pulled Jack up to Rhys. He lifted Rhys' head back up with one hand and reached over to the shoulder plate with the other. Carefully tracing the edge of the metal where it bit into skin, gently thumbing across the remaining words as he passed over them. “You should have bled out, miracle you survived, they said that in the video report.” Severely injured for sure, but extremely lucky to be alive was the biggest understatement Rhys could have made regarding his survival.

“Nobody knows that was me. Not even the doctors that did all my cybernetic work. Not even my best friends. Don’t want people to know.” Rhys looked Jack in the eyes as he spoke, soft and low, a plea hidden in the statements. Only to follow it up with a question that jolted Jack back to reality. “Why do you think you don’t have one?”

“I never think about why.” Jack sneered. Lies. “I don’t care that I don’t have one.” Bullsh*t. “I’ve never had one and never needed it.” f*cking ungrateful prick. Jack shoved Rhys into the wall as he pushed himself away, blocking himself off once again. His brows pulled together, the Vault scar tugging and warping with the movement. “Get out.” Jack snarled as he turned from the kid. “Felicity put the kid back to bed.” He shouted to the AI as he stormed away, back to the mirror, back to his solitude. He jolted as his face glared back at him, maskless. By the time he got back out to where he left the leggy janitor the kid was gone. He hadn’t said anything about the scar. Rhys… Rhys didn’t… Jack was sitting at his desk before he could think about moving, his desk lit up to show the kid trudging back to his apartment.


“Felicity put the kid back to bed.” The words rattled about Rhys' head the entire journey back home. Handsome Jack, his Hero, his Idol, his could be soul mate, called him a kid. It struck something deep in his chest, something that both made every nerve cry out in pain and numbed him to the very bone. “Put the kid back to bed.” Rhys supposed it couldn’t be helped. Of course Handsome Jack would only ever see him as a kid. He said himself he knew of the article written on the pet psycho incident on Aquator, he probably saw Rhys' small body being carted along the dunes broken and bloody and a child. How could the Fates make them soul mates? Were they really soul mates? Or had Rhys deluded himself all his life with dreams of happiness with his Fated love, loved in spite of being broken… Useless… Unlovable…

Rhys blinked away tears slowly clouding his vision as he stepped into his and Vaughn’s apartment. It was still the dead of night and he could hear his best bro snoring away unaware that Rhys had ever left. As he tiptoed back to his bed he considered once more how things could have gone. From walking willingly to his potential death, to the way Handsome Jack’s touch burned his skin with sparks of desire, to the way it ended. He thought of the man’s face, bare to his eyes all the while he was up there. The scar that curved across Handsome Jack’s entire face. Rhys closed his eyes, remembering as much of his potential soul mate's real face as he could. It struck him how similar the mask was to his true face, but also how subtly different it was as well. In what felt like no time at all Rhys was waking to his daily alarm, a static image of his lips pressed tenderly to mottled flesh of a purple scar still hazily flickering behind his eyelids.

He was still groggy when he shuffled into trashquarters almost an hour later. It took Rhys several minutes to realize Kirpo wasn’t there doling out assignments and every janitor remained lined up shaking in their Hyperion issued work boots. Someone clearing their throat shook him from his haze. Behind Kirpo's desk stood Meg, the same Meg whose office Rhys had spent the entire previous day cleaning. Meg who looked displeased to be there and looking lengthily at each janitor in line as she finally spoke up.

“Haroldo Kirpostrik had an unfortunate accident while cleaning the airlock in subsector G yesterday and will no longer be your supervisor. A replacement will be assigned, until then your individual assignments are as follows.” Meg read off a list of names and assignments, stopping only to inform the janitor lineup that they were not yet dismissed when they immediately moved to gather their equipment as they had learned to do under Kirpo. When she finished the list she looked back to the line of jelly-kneed workers. “These will be your daily assignments until a replacement supervisor is available to place you in alternate rotations. If you have issue with this action, no you don’t. You are dismissed.”

Rhys grabbed his cart and started for the door until a firm hand around his forearm stopped him. “Just where do you think you’re going, Mr. Strongfork? Your assignment was not on the list.” He looked back at Meg, blinking slowly as he realized she was right. He furrowed his brows and opened his mouth to ask what he would be doing but she seemed to be ahead of his brain. “You will be in my office again today. You are to be there before the hour is out, and in fresh clothes. I will not have the stench of this dump lingering in the air all day. Leave the cart, go change.” Meg commanded and shooshed him off.

Rhys made it back to the apartment in almost record time as his heart pounded with his racing thoughts. He needed to change but he also still smelled like trash and 3 day old gore so he should shower but he surely didn’t have time… unless he used hot water and the good soap from Yvette. Rhys quickly scribbled a note to Vaughn and stripped on his way to the collapsible shower. Not wanting to waste time he hopped in the straight hot stream and held his cybernetic arm out of the water while he clumsily scrubbed away the smell of his occupation as fast as he could manage. After drying off and scurrying to his room he finally stopped to breath. He could finally wear his nice clothes again, and that meant he could wear his special edition Hyperion issued socks! Grinning like a fool, Rhys pulled out one yellow sock with baby blue accents and green polka dots then paired it with a black and gold striped sock sporting a white outlined Hyperion logo. He may have took a few extra minutes to appreciate his good looks and the way his trousers accentuated his legs in the mirror before rushing out the door.

As he stood in the elevator taking him up to Meg's office for the second day in a row he checked the time on his palm display. Pleasantly discovering he had made it right on time just as the doors opened and he stepped out a minute before the end of the hour. Meg's face however told him he was still considered late. Her eyes darted to the desk on the other side of the room and back to him then back to the desk. Rhys darted under the desk just as the door on the other side of the room hissed open and footsteps that were slowly becoming familiar to his ears padded out onto the carpeted floor.

“Morning, Sir. You have a conference call with-" Meg started before she was cut off.

“Cancel it. I’ll be at the Satellite all day.” Handsome Jack’s voice sounded slightly gruff as he spoke.

“Y-yes, Sir. Take a lunch with you!” She called after the CEO as the elevator doors closed behind him.

Rhys crawled out from under the desk and stood up brushing off his admittedly still immaculate trousers. Meg was already on her ECHO comm making calls to anyone Handsome Jack he’d been scheduled to meet with for the day. Rhys fiddled around with a few items on the unoccupied desk while he waited, laughing quietly as he heard her rescheduling rather than canceling as instructed.

“You clean up disgustingly well, get over here.” Her sharp tone rang out leaving no room for hesitation as Rhys hurried over. She looked him up and down and motioned for him to turn around. He complied, albeit confused, and upon completing his full turn struck a pose with a hand on his hip just to feel a little less awkward. It didn’t help. Meg looked at him unamused before pointing down. “What the hell is that on your feet?”

“My… special edition Hyperion issued socks?” Rhys offered looking down at the colorful fabric peeking out from between the tops of his boots and the bottoms of his trousers. He looked back up to see Meg rolling her eyes so hard her head rolled with them.

“You’re one of those fans then?” She huffed. Her hand flew up , palm out, to shush him before he could stammer a rebuttal. “Those collectables,” she emphasized, “Are only ever purchased by Handsome Jack fanatics that would die at his feet if he so commanded.” Her distaste for them was almost palpable.

“It’s not like that! I believe in his cause, to be rid of bandits…” He couldn’t stop the way his lips curled as he said bandits and Meg’s eyes widened at the sight.

“You really mean that, don’t you?” She asked at a whisper before nodding as if it was an acceptable answer. “This is yours, set up that desk how you like, and don’t speak to me unless I speak to you.” She stated flatly as she shoved an ECHO comm into his hands and pointed to the desk on the other side of the room. “If you decorate your work station with pictures of his face, I don’t care if he wants you alive, I will airlock you myself.” Her glare was stern but final.

Rhys sat at the desk, his mind flittering through half formed thoughts and glaring questions with no answers. Did this count as a promotion? Did Handsome Jack approve this? He must have. But why? What did that make his job now? Did this have something to do with his being called to Handsome Jack’s office last night? Was there hope for him yet? Before he knew it Meg was sending him to grab them lunch and all too soon after the elevator was flashing the floor light noting its assent. Rhys looked to Meg and at the lowering of her eyes he shuffled back under the desk. He sighed, hoping this wasn’t going to be a daily occurrence if he really was being promoted. The elevator opened and those footsteps pounded in his ears. They stopped halfway through the room.

“Get out.” Handsome Jack’s voice ground out followed by the sound of Meg’s yessir and her hurried footsteps clonking into the still open elevator that carted her away. Handsome Jack’s footsteps plodded along the carpet until Rhys could see his shoes behind the desk he was under. Above him on the surface of the desk three knocks sounded as the man’s face appeared in his view sideways. Rhys' heart thudded so hard he felt it would burst from his chest. “Rhys.” His name fell from masked lips like music to his ears as a crooked finger beckoned him out of hiding. Rhys complied, prepared once again, to die if his potential soul mate so willed it. At least he left Vaughn a note this time.


Jack stood outside Angel’s door for the first time in almost five years. His fingers traced the outline of the mask along his jaw as he considered removing it for his daughter. When he stepped into her room the mask was still in place, as was his look of trepidation. “Angel, princess, you’ve been redecorating.” He japed at the mess of electrical components pulled from the walls.

“Dad.” Her voice came soft and displeased from across the room.

“I know.” He said simply. “I know.” He sighed, repeating himself. “You don’t have to destroy your room just to get my attention, you can call whenever you need.” His tone softened as his eyes searched the room for her.

“Calling doesn’t get you here anymore.”

“You know how busy I’ve been, Angel.” He sighed knowing he was trying to justify his absent parenting to his now grown daughter who knew him better than the peons at Helios. “I’m here now.” He offered solemnly.

“Not because I tore apart the room. You know I can easily put everything back to rights and I would have if you called and asked me to. Why did you come to see me, Dad?” Her frail frame and knowing gaze stepped into view as she laid the challenge before him.

Jack looked over his daughter, an instinctual check for injuries despite knowing no one but him has access to her. He still needed to see she was safe… alive. Catching on her stone blue stare his shoulders dropped, defenseless, vulnerable. “I… met someone…” He finally breathed out as if the words didn’t know how to form on his tongue. His face twisting in confusion as Angel laughed in response.

“Is she your soul mate?” Angel asked smiling through her delighted laughter.

“He’s not! I don’t have… What?” Jack’s voice broke in his incredulous shock that Angel would ask about him having a soul mate.

“Mom always believed you did.” She said looking down at her feet as she spoke.

“Angel, baby, I don’t have a mark. I never did. We know this, it hasn’t changed…” His eyes finding their way the her markless shoulder, regret and despair written plainly on his face.

“Stop, Dad… it’s not your fault. Mom and me… we never blamed you. Only you and grandpa ever blamed you, and neither of you has the most level headed view of soul marks and soul mates.” Angel spoke softly as she stepped over to her father and knelt, pulling him to the floor with her.

Jack shook his head as he let his daughter pull him into a sitting embrace. He didn’t know what he expected to happen when he decided in a moment of overwhelmed exasperation to cancel his workday and come here instead, but a gentle soothing embrace from his daughter was certainly a surprise. He slid his arms around her shoulders, carefully returning the hug until she pulled away and reached into the inside of his vest. “What are you?” He asked as she pulled Honey's broach from the vests inner hidden pocket. Around them the wires and computer components began to fit back into their proper places as Angel willed them to until the screens around them fizzled with static and garbled sounds stuttered through the speakers.

“N… da… No… d… N… Dad…” The sounds soon became a voice that grew clearer and clearer until Jack was hearing his wife’s voice for the first time in fifteen years. “No, dad, Jack isn’t soulless!” As Honey's voice rang clear and wet with emotion in his ears the static on the screens coalesced into a moving figure. Jack felt tears well up in his eyes as her tear streaked face became visible. She paced on the screen, her ECHO comm lit with the image of her father’s stern face. “I believe he did have a soul mark, he just doesn’t remember it. He has a scar over that whole shoulder dad! It’s not his fault! Please! She’s not soulless, she’s a siren, it’s not his fault!” Montgomery’s rage dripping screaming could only partially be heard but Jack wasn’t paying attention to the old man, his mind catching on his wife telling him Angel was a siren.

“She knew?” His voice croaked in disbelief.

“Mom was born a Jakobs, dad. They’re probably the only family that knows as much about sirens as you do and they’ve had generations to gather that knowledge. Of course she knew…” Angel sighed at her father. “That wasn’t the important part of this memory, don’t get stuck on it.”

“This is your memory?” When angel nodded he looked back to his wife’s image on the screens replaying the memory again.

“So… your soul mate is a he then?” Angel smiled up at Jack after the memory had played over thrice more. “What did he say? The first thing…” There was hopeful curiosity in her eyes when Jack finally turned his gaze back to his daughter.

“He called me a f*cking ungrateful prick. But he’s not my..”

“Language, Father!” Angel jokingly chided and relished the small grin it brought to Jack’s face. “What about his mark? What did you say to him?”

“I told him I was going to shoot him, obviously, he just insulted me to my back!” Jack said as if it were the only reasonable response to have.

“He grew up with a death threat for a soul mark? Dad…you didn’t really kill him, right?”

“No… not yet…” Jack admitted. “He didn’t, it’s only half there. He lost his arm at the shoulder when he was young… shortly after you were born.” He hesitantly revealed with a slight wince.

“How young? Wait, dad… how old is he?”

“He is twenty-six, he was seven when he lost his arm and half the mark.” Jack’s face twisted as he considered that properly for the first time.

“You’re like 30 years older than him!” Angel gasped in mock horror and laughed at his groan of disapproval.

“I’m not that old!” Jack grumbled indignantly. “It’s fourteen years, not thirty. Not that that makes it any better. But he’s not my soul mate.” He attested again.

“Dad, this is not up for argument.” Angel persisted. “Mom believed you had a mark, I believe she was right, and I think you know it too. Why are you really fighting so hard against having a soul mate?”

“Angel…” Jack shook his head as if she wouldn’t understand. “I… I can’t. Your mother…”

“Would be so happy for you, dad!” Angel cut him off. “Mom is gone, and even if she were still here, she wouldn’t have wanted you to turn away your soul mate. Do you like him, Dad? If you weren’t thinking about Mom, would you be happy with him?”

“I don’t know!?” Jack pulled his brows together. “He hates bandits, that’s good. He isn’t afraid to talk back, that’s I suppose a bit refreshing… nice legs… long…” He trailed off thinking about Rhys, his face softening as he drew the lanky young man in his mind.

“Well,” Angel laughed as she stood and once again pulled her father with her. “I think maybe you should go talk to him about it. You remember how to talk to people, right, Dad?”

“Of course I do, pumpkin, I talk to people every day.” Jack once again let his daughter tug him along with her. He pulled her gently into a hug himself this time, kissing the top of her head before letting her go. “I love you, Angel.”

“Proof he is already good for you, Dad. I love you too. Next time let me meet him?”

“If I don’t kill him tonight…” Jack smirked as Angel rolled her eyes. “I’ll consider it.”

Unfortunately for Jack, the return to Helios was not an instant one. The time in his own head gave way to frets, worries, and in typical Jack fashion those gave way to anger. By the time he was in the elevator watching the floors count up entirely too slowly, Jack was fuming. Rage festered in his chest, squeezing his heart, sharpening his breaths. Each wave another what if crawling like sludge through his veins. What if Honey and Angel were wrong? What if the conflicting feelings in his chest settled on killing Rhys after all? What if Rhys turned him away? What if… What if… What if…

It all boiled over when Jack stepped out of the elevator to see an animal skin boot disappear under the previously unoccupied desk across from Meg’s. The look of thinly veiled concern on his PA's face when his gaze swung from the other desk to hers was like bile on his tongue. She was hiding what belonged to him from him. Why was his Rhysie hiding? He shouldn’t be. He should be standing, smiling, looking at Jack with those mismatched doe eyes. Jack growled out a dismissal to Meg and watched as she hurried off, for once in her employment under him, scared of his ire.

f*cking ungrateful prick…

The words rattled in his head, his grandmother’s voice ringing loud and clear in his ears as he stepped further into the room. Jack did his best to calm himself, even his tone as he rapped his knuckles on the surface of the desk and bent over to look under it. “Rhys.” His voice softer, a hint of desperation slipping off his tongue as he beckoned the young man out from hiding. As Rhys stood to full height Jack’s eyes trailed along his form. From the neatly styled hair, the tailored shirt and well fitted vest, to the half pinstripe trousers that accentuated his long legs and the animal hide boots pulling the entire outfit together. Jack tore his gaze away and stalked into his office, his fingers undoing the buttons on his vest as he walked.

When the door to his office closed behind them, Jack turned back to Rhys, sliding off his jacket labcoat and vest as he turned. He watched his Rhysie’s eyes follow the movement of his arm dropping the over clothes onto the back corner of his office couch. Saw the way his pupils dilated as Jack’s fingers flexed after being free of the fabric. Drank in the rise and fall of his chest and the pink hue rising from under his collar. Jack stepped closer to Rhys, gazes locked together, chests rising and falling slightly faster each step closer, hearts thumping loudly in their ears.

“I am going to show you, Rhys, exactly why I have always believed I have no soul mate. And you are going to say exactly what you think about it. I won’t have pity, I won’t have…”

“You will never get pity from me.” Rhys blurted out, cutting Jack off. “I can’t stand pity for what happened to me, I will not give it to you…” He quickly followed with a gasp.

Jack swallowed heavily at the sincerity in Rhys’ words. It occurred to him in that moment to steal the young man’s lips, he shook the thought from his head and stepped back to lift his sweater over his head and deposit it on the back of the couch as well. He kept his eyes on Rhys, watching as his cobalt and honey gaze lingered on his abs, trailed up his chest with a screaming hunger, only to widen at the bare expanse of his shoulder where his lack of soul mark was plain as day. Rhys' fingers twitched and Jack stepped forward once more to lift those fingers to his shoulder. The moment Rhysie’s fingertips slid over the markless skin so softly, so tenderly, Jack felt an electric spark flit up his spine and out his lips as a soft gasp. His eyes slid closed against his better judgment only to snap open a moment later when he felt soft lips press to his shoulder just above his clavicle, the jolt this time flying directly to his groin. He considered, somewhere, distantly in his mind, that this must have been what Rhys felt last night when Jack touched his mark. How, now, could he deny the truth any longer? His fingers slid around Rhys’ throat, flexing gently at the gasp he received in return. His thumb pushed his Rhysie’s chin up, his lips wasting no time affixing to his soul mate’s. His soul mateHis soul mate… His soul mate who said everything without a single word twice now. His soul mate, here, in his arms, pressed flush against his body, making sweet sounds against his lips.

Jack’s fingers slid to the vest and button down obstructing his Rhysie’s chest from his touch. Rhys plucked his fingers from the fabric straining under his impatient grasp and deftly unclasped every button in in a few swift movements. The moment the half metal shoulder was bare Jack nipped lightly at Rhys' bottom lip and kissed along his jaw, down the neck so quickly offered up to him, and lathed his tongue across the half mark set in pale flesh. His Rhysie whined in his ear, the sound drawing a growl from Jack’s own chest as his hands slid down Rhys’ back. Settling one at the small of his back just over his round bottom and the other grasping the meat of his thigh to lift the lanky man into Jack’s arms with those deliciously long legs hooked around his hips. Their lips crashed back together, groans flowing onto each other’s tongues as their clothed co*cks ground into each other.

“Friggin hell, Rhysie…” Jack muttered as he pulled his lips away from Rhys’ and took a few heavy and heated breaths. In a short moment he had them sat on the couch, Rhys straddling his lap, Jack’s large hands kneading that plump ass as his hips ground upwards. He relished the gasps each movement drew from his soul mate’s lips. Jack’s eyes took in the flushed cheeks and hungry gaze of the man on his lap. After a short breath of indecision his hands left Rhys and unclicked two of the clasps on his mask. His Rhysie grabbed his hands before the third latch, leaning forward to kiss the clasp before clicking it free. Jack slid his fingers under the edge of the mask to break the seal and let his Rhysie pull it gently from his face. There was no pity in his eyes, only soft adoration, as he pressed a tender kiss to the bottom right side of the arch scar. Jack returned his hands to Rhys' hips as he laid kisses along the full shape of the scar before returning greedily to Jack’s lips.

Rhys slid his cybernetic arm over Jack’s left shoulder, hooking down around his back, as his flesh hand smoothed over his scarred right shoulder and sent another shock of arousal through Jack. Jack latched his lips back to Rhysie’s soul marked shoulder in return, groaning at the way Rhys’ hips almost instantly hitched down on his own. A quick rhythm picked up between their grinding co*cks and lavishing each other’s ruined soul marks. Jack’s age and lack of recent relief, self indulged or otherwise, pulling him all to quickly towards his climax. Though the way his Rhysie’s face scrunched as he gasped and whined so sweetly, shuddering as he rode Jack’s hips in shaky inexperienced rotations, told Jack he was surely just as close. Jack slid a hand between them, unclasping and pushing down the front of both their pants, sliding his palm over the precum leaking from their tips and wrapping his large fingers around them both. A shudder raced up his back as their co*cks slid together in his hand, Rhys choking out a half swallowed moan as he fell into Jack’s shoulder.

“Come for me, Rhysie. My Rhysie…” Jack whispered, voice gravelled and low, in Rhys’ ear. “My soul mate…” He breathed with a hitched whine. “Mine…” He repeated as they both shuddered, Rhys whining Jack’s name, come coating both their chests and Jack’s fingers as he worked them through their release. The euphoria lighting Jack’s nerves like fireworks leaving a haze over his vision, breaths heavy and uneven as he willed himself come down from a high that rivaled his office chairs dopamine injectors.

When Jack’s mind cleared he reached back to grab his lab coat, jostling Rhys who had already begun to doze as he used the lab coat to wipe their chests and his hand clean of their spend. The soiled fabric was tossed out of sight and Jack’s arms slid possessively around his Rhysie after fixing them both back into their pants. His hands smoothing over Rhys’ back in gentle motions that had the man relaxing against Jack, his face nestled into Jack’s neck. Jack sighed. “That’s… not how that was supposed to go…”

“Hmmnn…” Rhys mumbled against Jack’s skin.

Jack huffed a chuckle and moved so he was laying on the couch with his Rhysie laying over his chest. “We still have to talk, kitten, but go ahead and rest a while.” As Jack spoke with a soft whisper his own eyes traitorously slid closed until they both lay there, contented and peaceful, asleep.


Rhys woke to a steady thumping at his ear and a gentle glide of fingers up and down his spine. He nestled in closer to the warmth that enveloped him, earning a soft rumbling chuckle that startled his eyes open. “When I called you kitten I didn’t realize it was such an accurate assessment.” Jack’s voice sounded in his ear, low and gravelly. “You awake enough to talk?”

Rhys nodded against Jack’s chest, not quite ready to look the man in the face. At Jack’s rumbled hum requesting he use his voice, Rhys responded, voice hoarse. “Yes. Can I stay here, like this?” He asked tentatively. Jack’s hand stalling for a moment halfway up his back before resuming it’s light motion.

“Are you comfortable?” Jack asked, a tightness in his tone.

“Yes.” Rhys responded, tilting his head up just enough to look Jack in the eyes. “You are warm and comfortable.” The scarred man’s eyes softened with Rhys’ words.

“I…” Jack furrowed his brows as he paused. “You exist.” He whispered cupping Rhys’ face with the hand that wasn’t stroking his back. “Don’t… don’t stop existing, Rhys.”

Rhys pressed a soft peck to Jack’s palm. “You don’t stop existing either… please.” Rhys hoped his eyes didn’t show how pathetically vulnerable he felt asking.

“I’m Handsome Jack, princess, I will always exist.” Jack smirked before his expression softened once more. “No more hiding under your desk. I never want to miss a moment of seeing your face for as long as we live.” Jack’s fingers curled under Rhys’ chin as he spoke and Rhys smiled into the kiss that followed before he pulled away, sitting up on Jack’s hips.

“No. No I don’t want the desk.” He shook his head. “No random promotions.” Rhys asserted sternly.

“You can’t stay in janitorial, Rhysie!” Jack frowned. “What even is Assistant Vice Janitor?” He scowled as if the title tasted as ridiculous as it sounded.

“I don’t know! That jagoff Assquez came up with it when he stole my promotion and demoted me!” Rhys pouted with a spark of anger in his eyes. He blinked in surprise as Jack laughed in response.

“Language, Rhysie.” Jack stated after he finished laughing. “Who stole your promotion for what?”

“Language? What?” Rhys gave Jack an upside down smile and shook his head. “Vazquez. He stole my promotion to Head of Securities Propaganda programming department after I sealed that massive Eridium deal a few months back.”

“No, no that was wallethead. I would have remembered if those legs of yours were at the party celebrating that deal.” Jack narrowed his eyes, seeming to consider the situation.

“Wallethead?” Rhys snickered.

“Yeah, yeah guy was practically bald when I knew him. Wears a toupee now but I know those head folds when I see them!” Jack smirked looking up at Rhys. “So wallethead stole your thunder and knocked you to the bottom of the food chain, and you let him?”

“He's my friends soul mate…” Rhys frowned. “As much as I want him dead I couldn’t do that to Yvette.”

“Kill them both, problem solved, Rhysie cakes. Use your brain, yeah?” Jack’s smirk turned into a scowl when Rhys smacked his chest at the suggestion. Jack grabbed the offending metal hand and lifted himself to a sitting position as well, repositioning Rhys in his lap. “Might need to upgrade your cyberware, princess. Seems this arm is malfunctioning. Looks rather outdated, what is this model? Five, six years old? We’ll get you a new one.”

Rhys scrunched his face. “No promotions and no fancy upgrades, Jack. I want to be able to work for what I earn. I don’t want you to just give things to me…”

“Well then what am I to do with that extra desk out there just waiting for you to claim it and make it yours?” Jack asked as if the only answer was for Rhys to accept it.

“Give it to Vazquez.” Rhys smirked sliding his flesh hand over Jack’s shoulder and pulling himself closer to his soulmate. “Tell him Head of Securities Propaganda isn’t enough for such a heavy hitting deal maker like him. Tell him he deserves the honor of working right outside your office. But any time he messes up have Meg add a tally to a board titled points until wallethead becomes assistant vice janitor. Give him a decent count so he can feel the impending stench of janitorial with each new tally.”

“Damn, Rhysie…” Jack breathed out, his approval written all over his face. “And where will you be then?”

“I will be head of Securities Propaganda, a promotion I already worked very hard for and earned months ago.” Rhys smiled pleadingly at Jack and batted his lashes until Jack let his cybernetic arm go to slap his ass lightly.

“I won’t be able to see you holed up down there, kitten.”

“Nothing saying I can’t do my job from here, is there?” Rhys offered, his reward an pleased hum from Jack.

“Not as long as I make the rules, princess. You want wallethead to see you walking into my office every day don’t you?”

“It might make me feel a little good to see his face watching me walk into your office every day…” Rhys admitted coyly. “Also, I want dates…” He blurted louder than he intended. “I mean, I would like dates if you don’t mind that?”

“Dates? Like dinner and a night in the penthouse?” Jack smirked resting his forehead against Rhys’.

“No, like spending time together not doing… uh… not um…” Rhys felt his cheeks heat up as he turned his face, scowling at himself.

“Just spending time together, no sex?” Jack asks softly to clarify, turning Rhys’ face to look him in the eyes again. Rhys marvels at the gentle sincerity in Jack’s eyes and nods. “Suppose I can remember how a date works.” Jack affirms in response.

“I mean… it’s not that I don’t want to I just… I’m not…” Rhys tried to find the words in the right order.

“When you’re ready, Rhysie, you let me know, okay?” Jack kissed Rhys’ forehead and tapped his hip. “How about we get you presentable and back to that little hovel of yours before your shortstack roommate thinks I killed you this time, hmm?”

Rhys squawked as he jumped off Jack and scrambled for his shirt and vest that had been discarded on their way to the couch. Buttoning up the clothing was a much slower process than it had been when he removed them before and his fingers slipped in his rush. Jack’s large hands stilled his and helped pop the buttons into place. Looking to Jack after securing his vest Rhys saw he had redonned the yellow company sweater and was holding his mask.

“Will you take it off when it’s just us?” Rhys asked, his whispered question somehow sounding loud enough to echo in the open room. Jack looked to him as he clasped the mask into place.

“I… might.” Jack frowned. “We’ll have to see when we have our date.” His frown smoothed into a grin As he stepped up to kiss Rhys lightly once more. “Don’t keep tiny waiting, Rhysie. I will see you tomorrow, Head of my Securities Propaganda programming department.”

Rhys kissed him back before turning to leave the office he would be returning to the next day, his life finally exactly where he dreamt of being. As the door closed behind him he heard Jack telling Felicity to make sure he made it home safely. A dopey grin never left his face the entire way back to his and Vaughn’s apartment. Even when Rhys opened the door and both Vaughn and Yvette were sitting at the table, bowed heads snapping up at his arrival with sad eyes turned quickly to deathly glares, that smile remained.

“You absolute clap brain!” Yvette shrieked with a stiletto manicured finger jabbed into Rhys’ sternum. “Do you know how long we have been trying to get ahold of you, Rhys?! Did you even think about us while you were off ignoring us?!”

“Bro, there was a rumor about a janitor getting airlocked and we were so scared when we couldn’t contact you…” Vaughn wrapped Rhys in a crushing hug, face tear stained and pressed to Rhys’ chest.. “Why are you wearing your not janitor clothes?” His best bro asked through sniffles in the fine fabric of the vest before stepping an arms length away to actually take a good look at Rhys and his confused expression.

“I uh… I wasn’t in janitorial today. I wrote a note and left it on the table when I stopped back here to shower and change.” Rhys scratched at the back of his neck with his cybernetic. “Didn’t you see it?”

Note?! Rhys, there was no note when we got here! And just because you weren’t in janitorial today doesn’t excuse you from not answering us calling you! Do you know how late you are?! Rhys, we thought you were dead!” Yvette was jabbing him with her nails again.

“Ow, Yvette, I’m sorry I didn’t know you were calling. I must have forgotten to unmute my comm this morning…” Rhys frowned swatting at her hand as she made to stab him once more to get her point across. “I had a busy day and… um… I…” Rhys fumbled his words as he debated of he should tell them the truth, or even half the truth, to calm them down. He cheeks darkened as he thought about why exactly he was so late getting home and Yvette gasped.

Ooohh… I see, okay. You met someone didn’t you? Was it your one?” She grinned, her rage entirely forgotten in an instant. “Come now, Rhys, we’re your best friends, tell us everything!”

“Oh please! As if Assistant Vice Janitor Rhys could find his soul mate with a broken mark!” A deep nasally snark came from down the hall. “His soul mate probably doesn’t even know he exists, if it even exists. Ha! Oh, and by the way, your toilet is clogged. You might ah… wanna do something about that.” Vazquez drawled out his suggestion with his typical slimey smirk that Rhys had learned to know means nothing good.

“No! I did meet my soul mate!” Rhys snapped without further thinking about what he was doing, only wanting to swipe that look off of Assquez's face.

“Oh, Rhys! That’s great news bro!”

“Don’t leave me in suspense, now! Tell us who it is! What do they do?”

“If you have a soul mate then I’m betting it’s one of those psychos they keep down in R&D, isn’t it? Ha, who else could it be right?”

Hugo, that’s well beyond enough.” Yvette scolded her fiancé. “Of course Rhys has a soul mate, and it is not any sort of bandit.” She looked Rhys up and down. “You dressed nice so it must be someone higher than janitorial, but we didn’t see you in any of our departments today so it can’t be someone any of us would know personally.” Yvette hummed as she tried to think as if it was a riddle to be solved.

“Ah, I’m not sure I can say who it is to be honest…” Rhys sighed.

“Why not! They didn’t reject you, did they?! Oh, bro we can order some pizza and beer on Vazquez’s tab and cheer you up.” Vaughn immediately went into best bro mode, reaching for his glasses before Rhys could say that’s not what happened.

Rhysie! Gonna introduce me to your friends, Rhysie cakes?” Jack’s voice froze all of them in place. His hand landing on Rhys’ shoulder jolting him forward a step, enough to turn around and see that Handsome Jack was in fact standing there.

“Jack?” Rhys mumbled dumbly.

“Your one and only, kitten! Now, who’s who here? Let’s see short and nerdy over there is the roomy, right? Ah, oh there’s wallethead over there! That means this one with the claws over here must be the friend that’s stuck with him, am I right? Of course I’m right! I’m Handsome Jack!” Jack laughed overly loud as he rang off each of them like he already knew exactly who they were.

“Mr. Handsome Jack, sir… uh… it’s an honor to speak with you again.” Vazquez sputtered from what he seemed to assume was a safe distance away.

“Oh she definitely pegs him.” Jack chuckled to shocked gasps and disgusted groans.

“He’s not wrong.” Yvette smirked.

“Jack… why?” Rhys groaned trying to shake the image of his friend pegging his nemesis from his brain.

“Ah, see, I realized we forgot to talk about making our relationship public before we parted ways tonight. Couldn’t leave my Rhysie to explain an extended absence without having discussed if it’s safe to tell people where you were all evening, could I?” Jack slipped his arm around Rhys' shoulders and pulled him into his side. “What sort of soul mate would I be then?”

Rhys stared at Jack, mouth agape for several moments. The other three observers flopping their jaws like fish at the revelation. “So now they know?” Rhys finally said raising a brow.

“Now they know.” Jack smirked, pressing a swift kiss to Rhys' lips. “Now wallethead! My Rhysie told me that you do so much for my company that Head of Securities Propaganda programming department is beneath you. So let’s talk promotion!” Jack stepped around Rhys to grab Vazquez from where he was failing to hide and dragged him out of the apartment already discussing an unoccupied desk just outside his office.

“Your soul mate… Is Handsome Jack?!” Vaughn’s voice cracked, his hand over his chest. “You really could have died and we would never have known!”

“Did you just get my fiancé promoted or murdered, Rhys?” Yvette fixed him with a hard glare.

“Technically…” Rhys chuckled. “I’ve gotten him demoted, he just won’t find out for a while.” At Yvette’s reddening face he added, “I didn’t think Jack would actually do it! I swear!”

“So does that mean no pizza on Vazquez’s tab?” Vaughn cut in.

“Pizza is on Rhysie’s tab, which tonight is my treat. Go crazy kiddos, you won’t get this chance again!” Jack slapped Vazquez on the back as they reentered the apartment. “Let’s party.”


Rhys, Vaughn, and Yvette stood waiting at an elevator in the Hub of Heroism. It had been almost four months since Rhys and Jack had met and discovered they were soul mates despite their damaged marks. Jack had kept his word and started taking Rhys on dates, though most of them were just sit ins in the penthouse. Sometimes Jack would consider a night of improving the tech in Rhys’ arm a date. Sometimes they argued over Jack buying everyone pizza that first night qualifying as a date or not. Vazquez had a board full of tallies, but Rhys convinced Jack it would be funnier to just keep adding marks and not actually sending him down to janitorial. The toupee had begun to wear thin as Vazquez tugged at the hair, his eyes obsessively trained on the tally board. And to Rhys’ surprise, Jack had implemented a new division, not yet public, at Helios as a part of Hyperion research and development. Though Rhys quickly pointed out it would only be research and no development and nothing they know of could be developed on soul mark research. Jack always quipped back with an overly sure yet.

A new group of interns, came to stand next to the trio waiting for the elevator. Their conversation seemed to be on soul mark research and how social stigmas hinder some soul mates from ever meeting. One of the women in the group theorized excitedly that perhaps if soul mates were kept from meeting in one lifetime then they may be reborn to meet in the next. She grabbed Vaughn’s arm and smiled. “Can you imagine fate so determined to ensure you and your perfect match meet?!” She blushed as she realized her excitement had gotten the better of her.

Vaughn’s eyes, however, had widened along with his smile. “Hah, wouldn’t that be somethin’?”

Our Broken Pieces - twinaquapisces (2024)
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