When Aristotle got the call from Campus Security, he immediately interrupted his lunch meeting with the same lab researchers that had been guaranteed to be out-of-office to go down in person to investigate. It was important enough. The investigators were on his heels when they heard that it was their lab.
When Aris viewed the footage in the private transport with them, they told him exactly what had been on the computer that the man had been on. That was extremely classified. Was that Jasper — Rhys' Jasper? Then, Security told him that Rhys had been the one to notice something amiss. Thank Olympus for that man. Rhys had probably only noticed because he had a hard-on for the cute young thing. Shame that Jasper would soon be going to jail.
Rhys waited for the security team to have things in hand before he acted any further. He knew how to throw a punch, but he didn’t have that kind of training. When the muffled speech and frantic radio calls slowed, Rhys knew it would be okay to get a little closer. Seeing Jasper lying on the ground with his arms cuffed behind his back, Rhys didn’t know how to feel. Without realizing it, he walked over to the new prisoner until his shoes came to rest about a foot from Jasper’s face. He sighed audibly. “What a shame…” he said before turning to leave the room.
From his position facedown on the ground, Adrien recognized Thamyris' voice. When he came near to his face, he thought that the Coin was going to kick him. But then he turned to leave, and Adrien let himself release the tension a little...as much as he could with his arms cuffed behind his back and his legs secured to one another. 'What the hell is he doing here?'
He heard Rhys and the security team speaking with someone else — heard what Rhys said about the mole on his face. Tiresias damn his eyes. How much had he been staring to remember such a minor detail? But then...maybe this was just some Coin memory thing.
A few minutes later, Aristotle arrived. Rhys heard his friend before he saw him. The distinct, rhythmic sound of hard-soled shoes on the polished floor gave him away. That and the fact that the apparent leader of the security team was already waiting for Aristotle to arrive. “Sir, we caught the suspect without issue. He had no weapons or transmitters that we could see.”
“Check for small ones, maybe a half-centimetre long,” Rhys said from a few paces away. “I noticed a new mole on his face on the way here. It might have been that.”
K4z3 had been moving as fast as he could since the moment Adrien ditched the transmitters. He cranked the mike sensitivity to the max, sent a flurry of messages calling for back-up and advice, and tempting their employer with the type of info Lycus had found. When he made out a familiar voice in the background suggesting what type of bug to look for, he froze. The hairs on his arm stood on end, and after a few seconds he burst into another series of actions, prepping the vehicle to leave at a moment’s notice, and the whole time he kept a finger on the switch to cut all communications with Lycus’ gear. Seth couldn’t help Adrien if he was traced and caught himself.
Aristotle approached a worried-looking Rhys and touched a hand to his shoulder. "Thank you for calling Security, Rhys. I'll handle it from here. You can head off — I'll see to it that everything's secure."
“Of course,” Rhys answered with a smile at Aris’ thanks. “But, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to wait here for you. Consider it moral support.”
Aristotle smiled a bit absently at his friend. "If you insist on waiting — I shouldn't be too long once I see him off. It's imprisonment for him — this lab's research is practically considered a national secret. It seems that you put a stop to things before he managed to do very much damage. You've done both me and this institution a great service, friend."
Something about Jasper’s repercussions made Rhys uneasy. Not knowing what else to say, he quietly responded to his friend, “...You’re welcome, Aris. You know I wouldn’t let harm come to you or yours.” None of this felt right anymore.
Entering the room where Adrien was being held, Aristotle assessed the young man lying helpless on the floor and felt a thrill at the sense of power that ran through him. "Hmm...You know, trespasser, this is one of the only labs you could have entered that would get you more than a slap on the wrist and a record. It's just a shame that you happened to catch my good friend's eye and that now I have to send you off to prison. I have to assume that you saw what's on that computer."
Adrien remained motionless, unresponsive. If they already had him and considered his guilt a foregone conclusion, then the least that he could do was not give up Seth or Fawn.
"You can talk to me...Really, it's your only choice if you want any leniency. You were at the concert last week. Casing the joint? Who told you to come in here? Why?"
Adrien couldn't think of a thing to say that wouldn't make things worse. But at least he could misdirect. He raised his head painfully to speak. "Heard there was a lot of fancy gaming and computer equipment in here, and that there was only the one door guarding it. Thought I could sell it."
Aris made a small noise of pity. "Poverty makes your kind do desperate things. At least you'll get three square meals at the prison. I'll try to send you to a nice one out of respect for Rhys' feelings toward you. Of all sad words of mice and men, the saddest are these: it could have been."
He didn't believe the thief for a second. Jasper didn't have a bag with him or any equipment that would facilitate stealing expensive — and bulky — VR equipment. And to hold Rhys' attention, he couldn't be that much of a fool.
Aris gestured to the guards. "Get him on his feet. Transport is already being arranged."
One of the researchers came up to tell him that there was nothing visible missing from the lab, but that one of the computers had been open on a video of the Lethe portion of Project Mnemosyne, even if the screen was shut down. It was impossible to say what the young thief had seen. It was possible, one of the researchers admitted, that they had left it open themselves because they had been editing that same experimental footage that morning.
With nothing else to do at that moment, Rhys listened to the exchange between captive and captor from the next room over. He tried to ignore Aris’s comments about Rhys’ feelings. ‘What does he know about it? He’s not living in my head,’ he thought. Without really examining the thought further, Rhys ascribed the growing blush in his cheeks to anger, not embarrassment. Then, the extra colour receded as an idea blossomed in Rhys’ mind.
With a sigh, Aristotle stepped back out to greet his friend. "It'll all be over soon."
As Aris came over to speak with him, Rhys acted like he was not paying attention by thumbing through notifications on his datapad. When he was close enough, Rhys looked up at his friend with a smile, shut off the holographic display, and replaced the remaining projector stick into his pocket.
“About that,” Rhys responded, “I have an idea, assuming you didn’t get anything out of him. Shall I walk you to your next appointment and explain?
Aristotle smiled at his friend, but it barely touched his eyes. He was holding onto some negative feelings around the almost-discovery of Project Mnemosyne — it was both classified and likely to be controversial if it became known what they were doing with that project in that lab. "Sure, Rhys, you can walk with me. I'm just headed to my office to call the police."
“All right then.” Rhys smiled back as he fell in with his friend. “I was thinking, some slipping into your labs must be a huge security risk. And, judging by how little time you spent in there with ‘Jasper’, I can only assume that he isn’t cooperating.”
Rhys took a breath to stop himself from rambling. “Now you’re going to call the authorities, and you’ll lose at least some access to him. You won’t be able to find out what else was happening here. Now, what if I could help you with that?”
Aris slowed his walk a little. Aristotle was just going to have the prison soften the thief up a little before going down there and interrogating him in the prison. But he cared for Rhys, and for Rhys' feelings. That was clearly why Rhys was bothering to interfere, and he wanted to hear him out. But he couldn't imagine what his friend had in mind that would be better than his own method. "I suppose I would have less control over the outcome. What's your suggestion, Rhys?"
“It’s simple,” Rhys explained, “You need information from him, and I need practice breaking and training pets. So I take him first and do what I can. If it doesn’t work out, then I just give him back to you and the law.”
Knowing that wouldn’t quite do, Rhys decided to reveal a little more than he would usually like to.
“I normally wouldn’t even bother, but…” he ran a hand through his hair, and looked away from Aris’ gaze for a moment. “I find him attractive. Very attractive in fact. I’d hate to see that go to waste in a cell.”
It was a ridiculous proposal. Aristotle could never agree to it. But...Aris's gaze softened, and he turned toward his friend, stopping in the hallway. He leaned over to pull him into a hug cheerfully. "You like someone! Awww! You've got a crush on my criminal!"
Rhys tensed as his arms were pinned to his sides in the hug. Aris looked absolutely ridiculous, but Rhys couldn’t exactly call him on it this time. “Would you mind keeping it down a bit? I’d appreciate it if you at least didn’t let the kids outside in the quad know.”
Aris stood back, placing his gloved hands to his cheeks. "You finally found someone worth making your pet. And he's obviously spirited — it'll be like breaking in a wild stallion."
He considered for a moment. Was there any way for him to give Thamyris what he wanted in this situation? Perhaps...perhaps if the pet remembered who had hired him, and who he was working with, but not what he had found?
"On one condition."
Rhys straightened his jacket again once Aris released him. “What? You want in on it if he’s hung like a stallion, too?”
"Ha! No...maybe..." said Aris, raising an eyebrow at his friend. "The condition is that you let me have some insurance. I want to perform a minor operation on him. It'll safeguard the information that he might have seen in the lab. Otherwise...I'm afraid it simply isn't safe to release him into your custody."
This took Rhys by surprise. He didn’t mind letting Aris’ researchers use Jasper as a guinea pig for a while, but the reasoning was… not what he expected. “Safeguard the infor— Just what are you researching in there? Some type of new holonet security systems?”
Rhys then sighed audibly. “Fine. That’s more than reasonable. Will it damage him at all? I should at least know about the side effects and such. He’s no good to me all scarred and worn down.”
"Well, he may be out of it for a little while, but it shouldn't be any more damaging than taking a solid hit to the head," said Aris carefully. "And if I told you what they were researching, I'd have to restrain you, too."
Rhys raised an eyebrow at Aris’ mention of a head injury. What are they doing in that lab? He quickly dismissed the thought. If it was dangerous, Aris would tell him.
Aris turned on his heel, already heading back toward the lab, his tone first serious, then lighthearted. "Okay, let's get to it. How exciting! Thamyris is getting a pet! Now go home, and I'll personally deliver your new boy when he's ready. Think of it like sending him to get neutered."
Aristotle was looking down at the young man on the gurney when the graduate student technician arrived. He turned to the researchers and raised a gloved hand toward the observation area. The scientists exited the room, except for the technician. "We will of course record the procedure fully. I'm told that you are the one with the most up-to-date training on the recently-developed protocols for operating Mnemosyne’s Lethe mode?"
Adrien jerked a little on the gurney as Aristotle walked away. "Hey! You should be giving me over to the constabulary! This is a violation of my rights! Where are the authorities?!"
Meanwhile, Adrien tried to surreptitiously work the multitool out of his wristband, which they had not bothered to remove. He recognized the name Mnemosyne from the holovid that he had seen on the computer. If he turned his head, he could just see the scorpion tail-like chair, with its many adjustable metal supports. He did not want to end up in that chair.
Aristotle exchanged a glance with the technician. "You needn't concern yourself with anything the subject says. This is for the continued survival of the Project and everything you have achieved so far. Do you understand me?"
The technician hesitated only momentarily before nodding. After all, this was Aristotle Brandywine. "Yes, Sir, Mr. Brandywine."
Listening to the exchange, Adrien tried to work faster, but then the technician came over and he stilled himself. "This is unethical. This is wrong — you know it is."
"I'm just doing my job," said the technician, pulling out rounded medical shears and pliers. "Now, I'm going to cut off your clothing and remove any jewelry to prepare your body for the chair. You'll need skin to surface contact."
Adrien squirmed, but there was little that he could do. The cold metal of the scissors whispered across his abdomen and up his chest as the first cut was made. He shivered when it stopped at his collarbone and reversed directions to cut across his chest and through the arms of his shirt. The technician was efficient, not lingering, but simply pulling away the pieces of the shirt and moving on to his pants and underwear.
They came away together, with the technician cutting through both layers, exposing Adrien to the cameras and the observers in the next room. To his surprise, his dick seemed to like the attention and he had a semi. He swallowed hard as the technician removed his shoes and socks and slowly moved up his body until he cut off the wristband and took out Adrien's ear piercings.
The technician offered no soothing words, and Adrien was sort of grateful for that. It might be worse if he had. He was well and truly fucked — that was becoming all too clear.
Adrien watched as the technician left his view and returned with more tools, including what looked like an injector — it was a smooth barrel with a sleeve over it, no visible sharp protrusions, that could be plunged to give one or more injections. He cleaned his hands with a gel-like substance and also cleaned Adrien's inner elbow. He raised the injector and showed it to Adrien, as though he cared about his comfort and understanding. "This will prevent you from moving throughout the procedure. You'll be alert, but still. That's very important, as even a random twitch or scratching an itch could disrupt the scan or the following procedures, and trust me, that's a quick path to brain damage. You're much safer this way."
With that, he pierced Adrien's skin and injected the needle's contents into his veins. As the chilled substance spread through him, Adrien felt a heaviness settle over his body. As promised, he still felt extremely fucking alert.
The technician went out of view and Adrien heard him preparing something unseen, clattering away at a keyboard. He then came back over and raised the gurney using an electronic button and transferred Adrien's immobilized body onto Project Mnemosyne's scorpion-tail chair.
Now that he was immobilized by the drugs, Adrien had to be secured to the chair so that he wouldn't fall out of it as it was moved around. It didn't take long for the tech to finish with the restraints, and then the machine started up. Adrien hoped that they wouldn't shove him into virtual reality. That stuff had always nauseated him, full dive or not. He suspected that they would, though, based on the setup.
When the lights came on, they were not as bright as he feared, given that he could not look away. His eyes still burned. As though reading his thoughts, the technician came over and gave him some kind of eyedrops that kept the surface of his eyeball moist. The lights began to flash in a slow, attractive pattern, lulling Adrien’s conscious mind into a sense of calm. He recognized that he was being hypnotized, but he literally couldn't shake himself out of it, and his internal freakout and fear only went so far. It seemed like the drugs he had been given weren't just to keep him still.
The pattern continued until he could hear the steadiness of his own breaths and the slow, even beep of the monitoring system as his body relaxed. Then, the technician came over and began to apply sticky pads to various parts of his body. For Lycus' head, he brought down a full helmet of nodes rather than stick down individual patches. There was clearly virtual reality integration inside of the helmet, and his stomach was already lurching in anticipation.
The helmet covered Adrien’s face entirely. As the technician fiddled with it, small earbuds came to rest deep within his ear canals, and the eyepieces refitted themselves over his eyes until no light passed around their rim. Inside, the throbbing, sensual lights began their patterns anew, keeping him calm and entranced. It was a small mercy that they weren't very bright, and Adrien felt his eyes adjust.
He heard the technician speaking through the headset, and wondered if this was intended as a kindness too, so that he might know how things were progressing and stay calm. But then, he realized that keeping him calm was to the technician's advantage. Whatever they were doing, they needed him in this state.
"Initiating baseline scan of subject's neural map, no stimuli except pacifying visual pattern."
Adrien wasn't sure how long the scan took — time seemed to be passing at a rate that he could not fathom, but it seemed soon when the technician spoke again.
"Mnemosyne has identified short-term and long-term memory centers. Requesting confirmation of the length of time of erasure."
Adrien' felt his heart rate jump at that. He felt scared — they were planning to erase a part of his memory, just like the person in the video. They had said that it caused brain damage with repeated use, but the technology was experimental. What if they were wrong? Would his brain be fried by the end of this?
"Confirmed. Mnemosyne is set to erase sixty minutes of memory, including this procedure."
Lycus badly wanted to squirm. Being helpless, lying here, all he could do was beg his body to move. Then, the VR headset activated and new, wild patterns of colours flashed before his eyes.
"Beginning neural stimulation."
Suddenly, Lycus found himself reliving the events since he had entered the university so vividly that he immediately became disoriented and confused. Alongside this, he could still see the flashing lights. When they reached the current point, the memories began again, but they were somehow...dimmer...less distinct. Less vivid. Again and again, the memories played, and Adrien knew that he was losing more and more of them.
Finally, he could not remember anything before the present moment from the moment he walked into the university. He was dazed, disoriented, could feel the drool running out of the corner of his mouth in soft little drips that he couldn't control as he could not move his lips.
"The newest scans indicate that all but the procedure itself has been erased. The procedure is ninety-five percent complete."
And then, he heard another voice...Adrien thought that he recognized it, but could not place its cultured tones. A Coin, probably. "Before we finish the procedure, let's give Rhys a little gift. It's harmless — there's no further risk of damage, correct?"
"Y-yes, Mr. Brandywine, as you say. There's no risk of damage with that particular program."
The full-dive virtual reality scene began suddenly. There was a golden-haired man — the soloist from the concert. Thamyris Fairmount. He came in close and Adrien could smell him — he smelled delicious, like all of his favourite scents in one bouquet. Soft words teased at the edge of his consciousness, barely perceived.
'...You trust this man. Thamyris. Your new Owner. You will be good for him, tell him what he needs to know. You will allow yourself to develop positive feelings for him. You trust him to take care of you. He owns you now. You will be his pet. You will develop feelings of love and devotion over time, and it will be so, so easy to allow those feelings to flourish...'
He felt a soft hand at his cock, slowly pumping him alongside the words. Hands teased his naked body, feeling warm and reassuring after the cold and terrifying procedure. Warm hands wiped away the drool at his chin and played with his nipples, slowly rubbing at them and the pectoral muscles underneath. The touches alternated between firm and feather-light.
'...Your new Owner...you'll tell him everything that he needs to know...you trust him to take care of you...'
In his receptive state, without the ability to even moan in response, Adrien was helpless to do anything other than receive those words, those visions of the man to who they pertained. In the simulation, it was this man, Thamyris, who stroked him and toyed with him. It felt good. It felt right.
And then, the man leaned over and though he was out of Adrien’s vision except for his brilliant golden hair, the thief felt his mouth on him, tonguing his balls and lapping at his shaft, covering his cock with warmth and delight.
That long tongue lapped up and down his shaft. That mouth engulfed him, swallowing him to the root and working his length. With no ability to reciprocate, to even indicate he was enjoying it, Adrien had to let the overwhelming sensations wash over him. He couldn't even twitch.
And then he came. He didn't see where his semen went, and then the lights returned, pulling him straight back down into that tranced state.
His vision went black then, though he wouldn't remember that later, nor anything else that he had witnessed in the Mnemosyne Lab.
As much as Rhys wanted to relax, the whole drive home his mind was a-buzz with preparations and planning for the addition of a pet to his household. There was training to plan (VR and otherwise), spaces to prepare, protocol to set in place with… His eyes shot open with a sudden realization. With Philemon! He thought. Of course! Rhys immediately tensed his eye as he started a call.
Philemon Schumacher, ‘Phil’ to his friends, and ‘Lemon’ only to his closest friend, briskly walked the hall of the multi-level apartment he worked in. He was on his way to inspect the batch of laundry that had come back that afternoon. Their performance had been lacking for a few weeks now, and he was definitely going to nip that problem in the bud before it got worse. He wasn’t halfway there when he received a call. With a thought, Philemon answered. “Hello—”
“Lemon, it’s me! I’m on my way home,” Rhys interrupted. “I’ve got news. Big news. I’m getting a pet!”
Philemon stopped for a moment, at a complete loss for words. “Tha— Wai— Really? Tonight?” Philemon couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard Rhys this excited.
“No. Well, I don’t think so. It depends when Aris is done setting him up. Probably in the morning. But, Lemon, here’s the best part, remember the cute student I told you about from the concert? It’s HIM!” He exclaimed, lifting his fists, clenched in triumph. Later that day, when he looked back at this moment, Rhys would be glad that he had tinted windows in his self-driving car. “I’ll tell you all about it soon, but we need to set up. I suppose we may need to change some things around later, but for now, set the guest room up to hold a completely untrained pet. I’ve got to let you go for now. I have to plan the training regime. See you soon!”
‘Well, this is unexpected,’ Lemon thought, trying to shake himself loose of the shock. The call had ended before Philemon had the opportunity to answer his employer back, further surprising him. He knew what he needed to do. The laundry would just have to wait. He spun on his heel and nearly ran back to the way he came.
Aristotle delivered a dazed Adrien to Rhys' apartments some hours later. The boy was practically sleepwalking — which was a side-effect of the sedatives. He made sure that Adrien was nicely dressed in an adorable outfit that highlighted his form and the colour of his hair and eyes. He laid the new pet out on Rhys' couch. "Here's your new pet! All good to go."
By the time Aris arrived with the new pet, Philemon had the time to calm Rhys down, helping him to collect himself. Rhys wore a calm, controlled smile as ‘Jasper’ shuffled in. Even dazed as he was, he was adorable.
Aristotle took Rhys aside and out into another room, pulling him gently by the arm. He lowered his voice to almost a whisper, but the soundproofing was decent in any Coin's apartment. "Now, he won't remember anything from after he walked into my school this afternoon. It's up to you to let him know how he got here... and up to you what you want to tell him, especially since you're the one responsible for his capture."
After the new pet was seated, Rhys let himself be pulled aside for a moment. Rhys was surprised and a bit worried by Aris’ words. “That all sounds good, but how did your therapy make him suppress his memories so fast?” he probed. “That must be some research. Are you sure it worked?”
"It's a new kind of VR therapy," said Aris blandly. "As I said — if you knew, I'd have to erase your memories too, love. It's very effective. This latest iteration has been 95 percent effective, except in one case where a physiological anomaly caused interference with the program. If he remembers, you just let me know, and I'll handle it."
Rhys rolled his eyes at the ridiculous false threat from Aris to ‘erase his memories’. Still, those numbers were impressive. “This new therapy sounds promising. When do you think I’ll see it out on the market?”
Aristotle tried not to appear as cagey as he had to be around the topic of Project Mnemosyne. "You know how it is with human trials. Probably years before it'll see the light of day. And Jasper is as solid a name as any...if you change your mind, you can give him a nickname or change his registration. He'll probably be up soon, so I should go. I'll see you Friday."
With that, Aris clapped Rhys on the shoulder before letting him proceed to the sitting room while he headed toward the apartment door. He paused and called back. "Though I suppose there may be a bit of a change in plans from our usual shindig given what's lying on your couch right now."
Then, Aris paused and broke into a sunny smile. "What name are you going to register him as?"
Rhys smiled at Aris’ question. “I was thinking to keep ‘Jasper,’ since I feel it fits him quite well... Do you have any other suggestions?”
Aris smiled. "Jasper is very nice. What about Clover? It suits his eyes, and he's got to have four-leaved clover stashed somewhere for the fact that the most eligible bachelor in the city chose him as his very own."
“You’re too kind,” Rhys’ voice was dripping with sarcasm. “but I wouldn’t want to seem immodest. Besides, ‘Jasper’ has a degree of history now. Although, if you did have any other suggestions, I’d be willing to listen.”
Rhys smiled at Aris, the man that made all this possible. “I will see you Friday. And Aris... thank you,” he said uncharacteristically sincere. “You didn’t have to do this, but you did.”
Adrien was completely sprawled on the couch, splayed like a ragdoll. His head felt heavy, his tongue thick, and his throat dry. He didn't feel fully in control of himself. What had happened after he had entered Brandywine University? He didn't remember a thing... Fumbling around, he brought one hand to the other and pinched the webbing between his thumb and forefinger painfully, trying to muster up some adrenaline. His green eyes flew open.
Adrien did not understand where he was. He felt his face and couldn't find the mic. He felt inside his ear canal, but there was no earpiece. Not trusting himself to get up, he called out a soft, raspy, "Hello?" to the empty room... only to realize at second glance that it wasn't empty. A well-dressed man was standing unobtrusively to one side — so still that he seemed to blend in with the walls. "...hello?"
“Good evening.” Philemon quietly answered back to the pet. “Are you feeling any better? How’s your head?
Almost back to full awareness now, Adrien glanced down at his body to find that he was wearing an almost skintight, emerald-green polymer suit, something like a wetsuit, with a bolero and an honest-to-goodness codpiece in a slightly darker hue. He blinked, licking his lips to prevent his mouth from falling open. Feeling better? What had happened? Why didn't he remember anything?
This was clearly someone's servant. Was he still somewhere within Brandywine University? He needed to be very careful about what he said. "I'm terribly sorry. I don't remember meeting you before. Where is this, exactly?"
Philemon smiled. The poor man couldn’t know. He strode across the room until he was only two meters from the couch. He noted that the pet tensed as he stepped forward him. “No, that’s not surprising. We’ve never met. But don’t worry, my goal is to help you to acclimatize. I am Philemon. I’m glad to meet you.”
And that was when Thamyris Fairmount walked into the room.
“And you’re in my home, far above the streets of New Argent,” Rhys called as he entered. “Welcome home, Jasper. How’s your head? I understand you suffered quite a blow.”
"What?" Adrien blurted in response to just...all of it. He was in Thamyris Fairmount's house, which Fairmount had just called his alias' home, wearing a ridiculous sexualized outfit, and with everyone telling him that he ought to have a headache from some kind of blow to the head? Maybe he had a concussion, because this was one fucking trippy hallucination, by Tartarus and Asphodel. "...that is to say...what happened? What do you mean, home? Did I get hit in the head?"
“So I’m told. Apparently, you got mouthy, and one of the security guards didn’t take too kindly to it. The head trauma was enough so that the doctors wondered if you’d lose your memory,” Rhys shrugged with an easy smile, then moved to sit in the chair across from Jasper. “I can tell you the whole story as it was told to me. But before that, let’s see what you can remember.”
Rhys turned to Philemon, “Would you bring us drinks please?”
Philemon nodded. “For a head injury, let’s keep it simple. Hot tea, cold water, and a few salted wafers. Easy on the stomach.”
In one smooth motion, Philemon turned around and stepped away from the conversation.
With an almost imperceptible twitch of his eye, Rhys turned on the recording function of his implant. Aris would no doubt like confirmation on what the results looked like. Especially since human testing can be so difficult to navigate. “Take it slow, Jasper. We need to see what you remember so we can tell what the damage was. Tell me about the last few hours you remember before you woke up here.”
Adrien felt a kind of panic rise inside of him. He was trapped. He was injured. Head trauma. That could be seriously bad. He ignored Philemon's departure, lost in his own thoughts. His eyes flew up to meet Rhys', shocked. He lowered his gaze almost immediately.
What did he remember? He remembered walking into the University, but that was the last thing that he could safely tell this Coin. He tried to put himself in Jasper's shoes. Maybe it was better if Jasper didn't remember very much. Play into the brain damage. He tried to keep his voice steady and soft. "I... remember...uh...it's a little fuzzy. I remember being at my piano lessons...I remember leaving to go meet a friend at the...at the school..."
So many emotions and thoughts flew across Jasper’s features in those few seconds. Fear, embarrassment, confusion… Rhys would have felt sad for him if he hadn’t brought this on himself.
Adrien rose to his feet a little unsteadily. He felt the need to gain some power in the situation, and changing his posture helped that. "Why am I here? What am I wearing?"
“Come now.” Rhys chided him. “We both know that you weren’t going to meet someone at the school. You broke into some sort of research laboratory.”
He gave Jasper a stern, unblinking look. Rhys didn’t try to hide that he wasn’t intimidated by Jasper rising from his chair. Without looking away from Jasper’s eyes, he motioned with his hand. “I won’t answer your questions just yet. I can’t have it colouring your memories and recall. Sit down. Tell me what you remember next.”
Adrien felt frustration flood him, and he tightened his hand into a fist. He took a deep breath. Eventually, he sat back down as he was told, drawing his knees together and crossing his arms. Shit, so he had made it into the lab and then got caught. But what did Thamyris Fairmount have to do with that place? Why was he here now? Adrien was missing a major piece of the puzzle, and it was clear that that was by design. To keep him off-balance, maybe.
There wasn't much use in arguing if he had been caught in the act. Adrien wondered what he had said that made the security guard crack him over the head. It didn't matter. He knew he was capable of plenty of snark, and if it had hit the wrong way, well...
"...I don't remember anything after entering the school."
If pressed, Adrien would claim that he was coerced, that he was being blackmailed into breaking into the lab. Something like that. Something vague that would protect Hayak4z3 and Fawn as best he could, given that he didn't know what they knew, and didn't know how it had all gone down. That was…very selective memory loss. Was something afoot? Or was he just unlucky and had lost his short-term memory, like a black-out drunk?
Rhys was patient, but stern. He didn’t take his eyes off of Jasper until he had gotten ahold of himself and sat back down. It appeared Jasper had gotten the message. Leaning forward, Rhys placed his elbows on the armrests, and his chin lightly on his clasped hands. His voice was measured, and clear when next he spoke.
“Nothing else? You’re sure?” Rhys sounded almost disappointed. Almost. “That’s okay. I believe you. Maybe telling me why you were entering a secured area with hidden communication equipment and booted up one of the computers will jog your memory.”
Adrien tensed a little. He had apparently not had the chance to discard the Comms equipment before being caught. That was unfortunate. Seth would have cut the line as soon as he realized something was wrong though. He had to make Rhys leave the subject alone as soon as possible to avoid slipping up. How would this all end, though? Why was he here? The outfit — it had to be a clue. It seemed like something a pet would wear. What in Tartarus had he agreed to?
'Jasper' lowered his eyes, still gripping his arms to his chest. "I was paid by an anonymous someone I met on the HoloNet to get hold of a keycard and enter the lab, take some files off the computer, and bring them out. They told me no one would be there. I don't know who they were..."
He glanced up at Rhys.
"I... was casing the place and getting the keycard when I...when we met. I was going to do the work that night, but I was having such a good time talking with you. I've never done anything like this before. It was a one-time mistake, and I'm sorry. It's just...you don't know what it's like out there. Being poor... Will you forgive me and let me go?"
‘Now we’re getting somewhere,’ Rhys thought. He didn’t think this was the whole truth, but it did fit the situation well. At the least, it was a decent lie. And it definitely wasn’t a one-time crime. Rhys tried to keep his mind off of Jasper’s pathetic attempt to pull at his heart. Jasper almost definitely had to be a career criminal to get into a restricted area like that, and to play it so cool at the concert.
‘This also explains why he was trying so hard to get away from me at first. Then as the night went on…’ Rhys tried to put that part out of his mind. It was too much of a distraction.
“Yes, I’m sure I have no idea what your life has been like.” Rhys’ voice was dripping with sarcasm. “It must have been terribly difficult, and I’m sure that justifies this attempted theft, and all manner of crimes that you might commit in the future.”
He sat back in his seat again, relaxed. “But, be that as it may, you and I have struck a deal, and I intend to see it through. You avoid jail by joining my household. And, should you provide answers about who put you up to this theft, I will make it much easier on you.”
‘Shit.’ And there it was. Adrien had agreed to "join his household" — and judging from what he was wearing, he had agreed to become a pet. The shock was open on his face, and Adrien didn't do a thing to hide it. What point would there have been in that?
It made sense, though. He had a far greater chance of being able to escape from Rhys than from jail. He had to hand it to his past self, even if he was feeling betrayed. Adrien could also tell that Rhys didn't believe him. That was fine. Clearly, Adrien's impression of that night, ending with the card that he had kept in a drawer at home, had not been mistaken. Rhys had saved him by offering him this opportunity. Even if it was opportunistic, there was kindness in that. Adrien decided that he could probably trust Rhys to hold up his end of whatever deal that they had made.
A part of Adrien wanted to shut down and stop feeling, and that part won out, in the end. He returned his face to a carefully neutral expression. "I...am very grateful, Mr. Fairmount. I don't remember making the deal, but I see that it is to my benefit. I wish I had more to tell you. The person from the HoloNet, they used a codename...my head is still a little fuzzy. We never met face-to-face. They transferred some of the money ahead of time to prove that they were serious."
Rhys was beginning to find the fruitless questions about the theft boring. He’d asked enough questions about it, and he obviously wasn’t going to get any more. He’d let Aris know what little he learned later on It was time to change directions.
“So just what were you going to do with all the money?” Rhys asked. He smiled at Jasper. There was no judgment in Rhys’ voice. Just curiosity, and even a little concern. “What kind of thing were you so lacking in that you thought it was a good idea to steal scientific research?”
'Jasper' did not smile back. Even having done his best to shut down and just deal with the situation at hand, it still felt like his heart was beating in his throat. When Rhys asked this next question, Adrien again realized the gulf between them. Imagine being so rich that you didn't understand why others needed money. But, it seemed like Rhys was being genuine and sounded even a little worried for him.
"I was trying to establish some...stability. To be able to stop worrying about my basic needs and about what would happen if I had to miss a day's work."
‘Clever,’ Rhys mused. ‘Just about every question I ask he has a vague answer for. I wonder how long he can keep this up before letting some identifying information slip.’
The Coin’s smile faded from his lips. “Hmm, I suppose a degree of certainty and financial safety can mean a great deal.”
Rhys leaned back in his chair. Rhys motioned to the room around them. “Obviously, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid such concerns. And now, you don’t need to worry about those things either. If that was a major concern for you, then I am glad to alleviate that, at least.”
"Thank you," said Adrien, when Rhys reassured him that he wouldn't need to worry about money. It would be easier on everyone if Adrien was reasonable about this...new development. About his becoming a pet. It would be easier if he was as honest as possible with Rhys and gave him his trust. As Rhys asked his next question, Adrien raised his eyes and gulped, wondering what awkward question he'd have to dodge next.
“Speaking of previous concerns, I wanted to ask you something.” Manipulation or not, Rhys’ could identify that his next concern might be a sensitive issue. He tried to hold Jasper’s gaze. “You’ll be away from your old home and associates for some time now. Are there any messages you wish to convey? Others shouldn’t suffer through not knowing if you are okay simply because you made a deal.”
'For some time now...' He wondered briefly how long it would be before Rhys lost interest and discarded him. A few months? A decade? He wanted to look away, but there was something about the way Rhys was looking at him... Adrien focused on those eyes, trying to decipher the meaning of that look, as he quickly considered who he might be able to contact.
Seth probably already knew that something had happened, but would probably be looking for him on the prison admission list, not on the pet registry. He might set up a HoloNet alert for Adrien's various pseudonyms, including Jasper. The truth was that anyone Adrien sent a message to would probably have their communications monitored indefinitely. Fawn was probably already being watched. But how to both use Fawn as an easy out and avoid Fawn trying to pass a message to Seth that could get them both in trouble? Well, that was in the wording...
"...To my cousin," said 'Jasper'. "To Fawn. I don't want him to worry. But I...I'm embarrassed. I don't want anyone else to know."
How long could Adrien pretend to be Jasper before it fundamentally changed who he was and how he thought? As far as Adrien was concerned, you were who you pretended to be...if you pretended long enough...Well, he was stuck now. It didn't bear thinking about.
Rhys presumed as much. Not that he was convinced that Fawn was Jasper’s cousin. It was more likely that Jasper had paid some poor student off to get him through the campus and into the labs more easily. And the poor boy probably had no idea. Regardless, that was the only person it was immediately logical that Jasper could get a message to.
“It’s very normal to be shy at first.” Rhys knew that supporting a pet, and showing them empathy was key in the early stages of training. The more Jasper trusted Rhys, the better. “For the moment, you don’t need to tell anyone what you are doing. You can just let them know that they don’t need to worry about you. When you are ready, you can send them another message explaining a little more. So how exactly do you want to get this message to Fawn?”
Adrien smiled a little. It was legitimately sweet of Rhys to go through the trouble of comforting him. If the situation had been as they were pretending it was, it would have been a kindness that Jasper was unlikely to forget in these early, uncertain moments. He went with that feeling, projecting gratitude and sincerity onto his face. "...Rhys...thank you. Thank you for being so understanding. I have Fawn's HoloNet mail address. I could send it that way. Or a video call..."
Adrien had a feeling that he wouldn't be allowed any privacy either way. He wasn't sure why Rhys was letting him decide the method.
“It’s no problem. After all, your well-being is my responsibility now.” He let that sentence hang in the air for a moment. “This will be a period of acclimatization for you. I’m sure this will make it easier for you. Just let me know when you are ready to send that message.”
Adrien couldn't deny the shiver of arousal that went through his body when the supremely confident Coin, in that suave voice of his, with that assuredness, told him that his well-being — essentially, he, himself, was Rhys' responsibility going forward. It hit a lot of the right buttons for Adrien's proclivities. He was a natural switch, but he rarely trusted anyone enough to sub or bottom for them. He couldn't stop the blush that coloured his cheeks.
Rhys leaned back and crossed a leg over his knee. “Speaking of which, we’ll need to make you familiar with your new home, and what will happen in the coming months.”
Lemon abruptly and quietly slipped in from the side with a tray of beverages, and a plate of crackers neatly arranged around a pile of tea biscuits. After all this time, Rhys was very used to his sudden appearances and disappearances. Lemon had a way of blending in, like part of the background.
Adrien was about to speak up again when Philemon arrived. He swallowed hard, embarrassed. He looked up to the servant, who it seemed would also be in charge of his well-being, sometimes. He was fair-looking — all Coin servants generally were — and seemed almost as self-assured as Rhys himself.
“Ah! Thank you.” Rhys smiled at his servant as two cups of tea were poured. “I was just explaining to Jasper how things would be here. Would you mind giving him the tour after we’re done here?”
Philemon smiled pleasantly. “Of course.” He turned to the newcomer. “As you may have surmised, I mind the household when Sir isn’t home. I’ll return in a short while to collect you. Do you happen to have any burning questions already, or would you prefer to wait?”
"...No... no questions..."
“Very well, then.” Philemon was mildly disappointed. He was curious about Rhys’ new pet. What was it that he liked so much about Jasper? Regardless, he had tasks to see to, so he decided it was time to go back to work. “I will see to it that the preparations for your arrival are in order. Again, welcome home, Jasper.”
Nodding to Philemon as he left, Adrien sort of covered his mouth with his hand, resting his fingertips against his lips, and glanced back at Rhys, holding his gaze shyly. "...you said...something about what will happen in the coming months...?"
There had been a distinct reaction when Rhys had mentioned how Jasper would be losing his agency, but it was mixed with so many other emotions that Rhys couldn’t be certain what was going through Adrien’s mind. He tried not to betray his curiosity when he answered back, “Of course. The adjustment period we’ve been alluding to is not just about where you’ll be living and getting your meals. I have to get you registered as a pet, get you to a physical and psychological exam, get you measured for clothing, and of course all the training you’ll need before we can really celebrate our new arrangement publicly.”
“I’ve already called ahead with my tailor.” Rhys went on. He was smiling excitedly. “We’ll be heading over tomorrow afternoon to get that out of the way, and I’ve arranged for the first part of the medical exam tomorrow evening. There’s no point in delaying, and the sooner you have a clean bill of health, the better.”
Rhys unexpectedly stopped and furrowed his brow in thought. “Now that I think more on it, you’ll need your strength if we are going to get all this done tomorrow.”
He looked back to his new pet, smiling again. Rhys picked up a cracker as he stood, every inch the proud, beaming new pet owner that he was. “Why don’t you concentrate on resting for now. Finish your tea here, and then just head right through there, and follow Philemon to the end of the hall. He’ll get you settled in for the night. I’ll take care of a few tasks myself before I turn in for the night. You just try to relax. You’ve nothing to worry about anymore.”
Rhys and his servant, Philemon, treated Jasper's arrival as celebratory. They welcomed him home, told him about all the wonderful things that the coming months would have in store. This was the normal way of things — most pets were eager to join a Coin household. It was meant to be an honour, a joyous occasion. If the Coins manipulated their way into a pet's heart, what of it? That was just the game of seduction, wasn't it? What humble plebeian wouldn't be honoured and star-struck at the attention of a demi-god come to earth to scoop them up and carry them to the Heavens, like Hermes himself?
Despite Adrien's somewhat unique situation, none of them had yet acknowledged that he might have some more...complicated feelings about all of this. That night, Adrien settled into his rooms by pacing through them. Finally, he changed out of the sexualizing outfit that some unknown person had picked out for him, then pulled on the more sensible shirt and pants that Philemon had set out as nightclothes. Adrien felt his skin tingle at the sensation of the soft, luxurious material. Just having the fabric against his skin felt like a caress. It was breathable and warm, and Adrien found himself letting out a soft "whoa" of surprise at the feeling of it. It was easily the most comfortable clothing that Adrien had ever worn.
For some reason, it was the pyjamas that pushed him over the edge. He felt his gorge rise and he was overcome by emotion. He found himself blinking rapidly as tears filled his eyes. Knowing that he was probably being watched, he threw himself face down into the pillows — they were so fucking soft — and wept. He wept until his eyes stung and felt dry and swollen. Then, he fell asleep. It was the sleep of exhaustion, and he dreamt no dreams.
There were a lot of moments with pets when you had to do things you would rather have avoided. And so, it was very difficult for Rhys to resist going to Jasper that first night to try to reassure him. It was a moment where Jasper needed to work through his emotions and adjust to his new reality. Even if Jasper’s weeping was difficult to listen to, Rhys was glad to hear it, to know what his pet was feeling in that moment. He supposed it was a good thing that Lemon only got the microphones working in time for Jasper’s arrival, and not the cameras. That might have driven Rhys straight to Jasper anyway.
Without a word, Philemon walked quietly over and placed the small tray on the table beside where Rhys was ‘reading.’ Rhys gave the smallest of nods when the refreshments appeared beside him. He barely moved at all. But, that nod at a time when he was so distracted and distressed showed a degree of appreciation most wouldn’t recognize. Even in that moment, Rhys noticed and ‘thanked’ Lemon for his care. The way Rhys’ eyes were unfocused, he certainly wasn’t reading. Philemon knew he had to be listening to Jasper with an earpiece under that long hair.
Philemon had read up on this. The first few nights would be the hardest for an unenthusiastic pet, and for any owner who gave a damn. As a result, he wasn’t surprised when he passed by the door to Jasper’s bedroom and heard a muffled sob. He sighed. ‘I suppose it can’t be helped.’