Sometimes, Jack’s eyes seem to reflect light in a strange way, like there’s a mirror in the backs of his pupils. They glow, as ridiculous as it sounds, like an animal’s eyes do in the dark.
That should have been Rhys’s first clue. Honestly, there were probably others, but this is the first one Rhys thinks he really notices. One evening, he looks up from his desk and across their shared office to see Jack watching him, backlit by Elpis behind him, the faint light of his screens reflecting off the back of his pupils. Red, despite the blue light. It sends an instinctual spike of fear through Rhys, like realizing you’ve been alone with a deadly predator, which is basically the truth anyway. But Rhys is quick to shrug it off as exhaustion, it is getting pretty late and surely he’s just imagining things.
“I think it’s about time you call it a night, Rhysie,” Jack says. It makes Rhys jump a little after the long silence, which in turn makes him flush a little from embarrassment. He’s worked with Jack long enough to not blush at his own name, surely.
“What? Just me? Are you planning to keep working after being here even earlier than I was?” Rhys can’t keep the concern out of his tone even if he tried. Jack has been working himself ragged, recently, his normally tan skin (aside from the mask) gone pale with weariness.
Jack smiles and one of his canines flashes in the low light. “No rest for the wicked, kiddo. Now get out of here, go home, I’ll see you bright and early.”
Rhys makes a sour face, but complies and starts packing his things. There’s no use arguing with Jack when he’s like this, half frenetic energy and half melancholic moodiness.
Standing in the elevator on the way down to the Hub, Rhys can’t help but frown, frustrated. Maybe it’s too much to expect transparency from Jack, but Rhys likes to think they’re friends of a sort. As much as a person can be friends with their boss, at least. Or friends with Handsome Jack. Rhys may be a lowly PA, but he’s also the longest living PA Jack has ever had. He’d like to think they have some sort of understanding, even if it will never be the kind of relationship Rhys wants.
The thought makes Rhys flush again in embarrassment. Even after working for Jack for a few years, the hero worship Rhys feels for him still lives on. If anything, seeing the actual human being beyond the facade Jack puts up has only made it stronger. That a real person did all that Jack has done, alone, it’s just astounding.
Rhys is so preoccupied with his thoughts that he almost walks right into a harried looking man in a mid-tier suit and tie. The man begins apologizing profusely, surely recognizing Rhys as Handsome Jack’s PA and thus gratifyingly scared of crossing him, and scurries away before Rhys can decide how offended he wants to be.
“Yeah, you better run,” Rhys mutters under his breath, making his slow way across the lobby towards his apartment. He’s been able to get his own place since he got a raise with his new position, but he still misses having someone to go home to even if it’s just Vaughn. Sometimes, Rhys had even been able to steal Vaughn’s shitty health food leftovers instead of picking something up on the way home or, god forbid, cooking something himself. His stomach growls resentfully at the thought, reminding him that he hasn’t eaten since lunch and it’s well into the evening by now.
Swerving into a nearby fast food place, Rhys thinks absently about how bad his diet is now that he lives alone and spends all his time with Jack. Maybe he should take up running, the stress isn’t going to burn all his calories for him forever.
“I’ll just have a large #1 with a fountain drink,” Rhys tells the cashier before trailing off and staring at the menu for a long moment. Maybe he should get Jack something too. Jack is always skipping meals unless Rhys reminds him to eat. The cashier clears his throat pointedly, so Rhys scowls at him before he continues with, “And a large #3 with extra sauce and another fountain drink. Can I have one of those drink carrying things?”
Luckily the place puts the “fast” in “fast food” and Rhys is able to collect everything quickly. It’s a bit ungainly to carry it all at once, but he makes it to the elevator to Jack’s office and activates it with his ECHOeye so he doesn’t have to juggle anything to press a button or something equally as barbaric. He cannot wait to set all this stuff down and dig into the hot, fresh fries he can smell waiting for him in one of the bags.
The elevator doors slide open on an empty office. Rhys hesitates at the threshold, surprised to not see Jack still at his desk. The lights have been turned low, the room quiet; maybe Jack finally decided to get some rest and is on the couch?
Something squelches under Rhys’s shoe as he steps further into the office. It takes a moment for Rhys to identify it in the low light, but after a moment of staring he discerns that he is standing in blood, a trail of which glimmers faintly in the light of the moon outside, leading out of sight behind one of the towering busts of Handsome Jack that flank the approach to Jack’s desk.
Immediately, Rhys starts to imagine the worst case scenario: somehow, someone has gotten into Jack’s office and hurt him, or worse, killed him. He’s not sure who or how someone would be able to get this far into Helios or take on Jack in his own station, but the idea has already taken root in his head and only fuels his anxiety. Terrified breath catching in his throat, Rhys carefully sets the food aside on the floor ( not in the blood, just in case it's needed later) and tries to proceed as quietly as he can.
A pair of unfamiliar shoes are the first thing Rhys spots as he rounds the statue, attached to legs that are splayed across the ground like their owner’s strings have been cut. At least he knows they don’t belong to Jack, Rhys reasons as he forces himself to press forward. He becomes aware of the sound of weak, labored breathing. To make it even worse, it sounds wet.
The legs, it turns out, belong to the guy that had bumped him in the Hub earlier. Rhys isn’t sure why that fact is the first thing his mind latches onto, because the guy also has a gaping hole in his neck. As Rhys watches, he breathes his last, a wet exhale that expels a fine mist of blood like a final fuck you to the universe, and then falls completely still.
This isn’t the first time Rhys has seen a dead body. Hell, this isn’t even the first time Rhys has seen a dead body in the last month, but something about seeing one with no Jack nearby as the obvious source (and also a source of protection) makes it more unsettling than usual. The sight drives him to take a step back, right into the person standing behind him.
Rhys lets out a very unflattering shriek and jumps away. Or, he tries to, but an iron grip catches him by the arm and stops him from getting very far. Clenching his metal hand into a fist, Rhys turns as much as he can to strike his attacker with something hopefully more painful than his shoe, which he’s saving as a last resort because he doesn’t want to scuff the leather. The hit doesn’t land, though, forestalled by his opponent's other hand, and by then Rhys has figured out it was Jack behind him and things are feeling less dire anyway.
“Woah there, kitten,” Jack gives a low chuckle, sounding a mix both patronizing and amused like Rhys really is a kitten taking a swipe at him instead of a full grown man with a metal arm and a will to use it. He also has, Rhys is startled to see, blood all down his chin and the front of his shirt.
“Fuck!” is Rhys’s eloquent reply, then, “Fuck, Jack, what happened to you? Are you alright?”
Jack’s eyes look strange again in the low light, reflective like a wild animal’s as he stares at Rhys who is still caught in his grip. There’s something about the way he’s looking at Rhys that makes Rhys wary, some ancient instinct rearing its head and notifying him there is a predator nearby. This wouldn’t necessarily be unusual, as Jack has always been a dangerous man to be around, but the hairs standing on the back of Rhys’s neck tell him this is something different.
Then, without blinking, Jack licks at the blood still on his lower lip, allowing just a flash of fangs to show, and Rhys now feels completely certain that he should be scared because there is something deeply uncanny in Jack’s behavior.
Rhys tries to jerk his arm free in reflexive fear, his breath quickening, but Jack’s hold on him is inexorable. He looks around the room for something to save himself with, but of course finds nothing. A deep, trapped-animal panic seizes him, and Rhys begins to struggle in Jack’s hold.
“Don’t.” The word is heavy with some kind of power, making Rhys immediately swing his gaze back to Jack’s. The reflection of light in his pupils are like kaleidoscopes, mesmerizing, and Rhys feels himself falling into them. He stills.
“That’s it,” Jack’s voice is low, soothing, and the slight angle of his approving smile sends a tingle of warmth through Rhys’s extremities. He didn’t realize he was shaking until the moment he stops. Rhys smiles back reflexively, happy to see Jack happy.
“Pretty far under, huh?” Jack releases his hold on Rhys’s arms to cup his face, thumbs skimming his cheekbones. All Rhys can do is stare back, still smiling vaguely, and lean into Jack’s touch with a sigh. Jack always looks so beautiful with blood on his face.
“Oh yeah, you’re really far down, aren’tcha, sweetheart? Look at you, you just let me right in. What a good boy.” Jack’s hands move from Rhys’s face to his throat, thumbs on his pulse. His eyes darken even more when he feels Rhys’s heartbeat quicken at the praise.
Jack’s smile is even sharper this time, full of fangs and a terrifying, unknowable hunger. I should be scared, some part of Rhys thinks, but it’s so deep down inside himself that the thought is unreachable, snatched away by the high winds of Jack’s regard.
Crowding closer, Jack continues, “Imagine my surprise when my little midnight snack smelled a little like you. God, you always smell so fucking good.”
As though to make his own point, Jack presses his nose to Rhys’s pulse point and breathes deeply. All the hairs on the back of Rhys’s neck stand on end, and despite the order to be still, he shivers. Jack’s answering chuckle in his ear is enough to make Rhys’s toes curl.
Pulling back, Jack takes a moment to stare at Rhys, his gaze weighted heavily with consideration as it catalogues Rhys’s features before eventually settling on his lips. His eyes flash again with that animal hunger, that faint glow.
Finally, Jack says, “Kiss me.”
The command rings through Rhys like a bell, a tone so sonorous he can feel it in his bones. Following it like a siren’s song, Rhys pitches forward and kisses Jack. It’s not like he didn’t want to kiss Jack already, but he’s doing it all wrong, just mashing their lips together gracelessly like teenagers with no finesse. A sense of frustration percolates in Rhys’s chest, but he’s unable to relieve it, his thoughts too heavy and waterlogged to make his body act.
Jack seems to agree that the kiss isn’t up to par, because he pushes Rhys away with a grunt of irritation. “Jeez, okay, you are really far under, huh, princess?” Framing Rhys’s face once again with his palms, he continues, smug, “That’s alright, I’ll lead by example.”
Then he reels Rhys in for another kiss, parting Rhys’s lips easily with his own even as he tilts Rhys’s jaw open to provide himself full access. Jack kisses him like he’s conquering a rival company, like he knows everything Rhys has is his to take if he wants to. A foreign impulse worms its way into Rhys’s brain, somewhere between his own thoughts and his actions, and suddenly Rhys is kissing back.
This time, the noise Jack makes is one of approval. His hands find their way into Rhys’s hair and take hold, keeping Rhys angled just how he wants him until Rhys nicks his lip on one of Jack’s fangs. Jack surges forward, a low, feral growl resonating from deep in his chest as he sucks Rhys’s bleeding bottom lip so hard it hurts. The thinking part of Rhys churns under the thick blanket keeping it suppressed, the instinctual fear returning and mixing with, of all things, arousal.
“Fuck!” Jack hisses and pulls himself away. He stares at Rhys, at his kiss-bitten lips, at his sleepily bewitched eyes, at the flush that’s risen on his cheeks, and seems to come to a decision.
“Do you know,” Jack asks, his voice low and sinister and so, so hungry, “how much restraint it takes to be in the same room with you every day and not let myself have a little taste? I have been exercising some admirable fucking restraint, all this time, and yet you waltz in here after I sent you away, after I’ve just drank down a man that I let myself pretend for a moment was you?”
The words are angry, but there’s a fondness under the fury of Jack’s tone, Like Rhys is a favored pet that Jack has just walked in on eating the couch. Tracing the whorl of Rhys’s tattoo, Jack smirks, revealing a flash of fang, and concludes, “It’s like you want me to do something about it.”
Then, tugging Rhys’s shirt collar aside gently and angling his neck just so, Jack sinks his fangs right into the target of Rhys’s neck tattoo.
It hurts at first, a white-hot slice of pain as Jack pierces the skin, but then he sucks and the wound flares with hot, dull pleasure. Rhys gasps helplessly, hands twitching at his sides with the urge to grab Jack and hold on, but unable to move without direction. Each swallow pulls an a painful hook of pleasure through Rhys’s core so strong it makes his eyes roll into the back of his head. He’s dizzy, either from the sensation, the bloodloss, or both, and a haze besets the corners of his vision until he’s swooning in Jack’s arms.
Jack catches him, but the bite is over. The blanket smothering his thoughts is gone. Every blood vessel in Rhys’s body feels like it’s singing, resonating like harp strings. Rhys blinks deliriously up at Jack, and Jack laughs.
“Oh, kiddo, you should see your face.” Jack’s tone is mean, but Rhys doesn’t take it to heart, because Jack is staring at him fixedly like he just closed a billion dollar deal. “You look so stupid it’s cute.”
Rhys feels completely incapable of processing what just happened. It feels like a dream, or maybe a nightmare. Is he, in fact, lying in his own bed at this moment, dreaming?
“Jack,” Rhys murmurs tremulously. It wants to be a question.
As though reading his mind, Jack chuckles, “It’s too late now, Rhysie. I’m not done with you yet.”
Scooping him up effortlessly, Jack carries Rhys to the couch and deposits him into its embrace before he begins plucking his shirt open further and guiding it off Rhys’s body. Catching Rhys’s eyes again, Jack smiles possessively as that blanket descends over Rhys’s thoughts once more.
“I might never be done with you.”