"I don't know how you survived that plane crash, but I've never been one to question providence; I'm Atlas, and I aim to keep you alive."
"Would I ever get the pleasure to meet you face to face, Atlas?"
He held the radio in his hands, wondering if perhaps he’d get a response
he’d be somewhat satisfied with. He doubted it…
The line went silent for quite a while after that, though Atlas was quick to respond as soon as he’d thought up a fitting lie.
"That’s all up t’you, lad," he said, stretching out his back as he did so, wincing with every sharp creak of bone. "Soon as we wrap things up here, you an’ me? We’ll be headed back up to th’surface together won’t we. Unless… well, y’ain’t proposin’ that we set somethin’ up before we’re done, are ya?”
Imagine that. Bless his heart for wanting to meet him so badly.
Jack sniffled and nodded. He didn’t have a home, but he was a long way from the lab and he’d fallen. After a long moment of indecision the child put his hand in the adults, letting him see it. Unfortunately, it allowed Jack to see the blood.
He was bleeding.
It was mere seconds of increased sniffles before the boy started wailing. The sight of blood triggering in him something that told him he was in more pain then he was. Slammed his eyes closed, tears pouring from them still. No words at all passing his lips just the hysterical wails of a child half his apparent age. Sobs so hard he gasped for air only to continue sobbing.
He very nearly let slip a sigh that threatened to empty his lungs of air. Children — God, he’d never liked the foul creatures. Not a single intelligent to be had in any of their tiny minds and let’s face it, all they were really good for was a permanent headache. Thank the heavens he’d been smart enough to avoid ever having any of the vile crawlers of his own, though he had done a fair amount of research into the whole child rearing thing for the sake of his own back story and it’s integrity. Had to know how to take care of a kid if he was supposed to have a son, unfortunately.
Atlas bit back each and every bitter grunt and hiss his lips wanted to make and rushed forward to comfort the boy, turning his palm gently with one hand while the other perched itself upon his shoulder. Judging by the looks of the small cut on his hand, it was merely the sight of blood that had sent the young one into a wailing frenzy, unless it really was deeper than it looked. Just as he suspected really, not that one could really tell from just listening to the boy.
Christ, he cried as though he was dying.
“Shh, it’s alright, no need t’panic so. It’s just a bit’a blood, see—” he wiped a spec of it from his skin with a quick swipe of his thumb, drawing attention to the shallow scrape that was quite obviously no threat to the poor kid’s life. “Come on now — we’ll get that cleaned up an’ you’ll soon see there was nothin’ t’worry about.”
Oh, how could he accurately describe that feeling? It had been something beautiful — one of a kind. Wasn’t something he could hope to sum up in three words or less. There’d always been the off chance that Suchong had rigged the note to read something else entirely, or the girl he’d killed to get the all important ace had fed him nothing but lies. Wouldn’t put it past her to do something so underhanded in her final moments. Could have said anything on that piece of paper and he’d went and foolishly entrusted the task of decoding it to a woman who’s brains he’d half beaten in bare seconds ago, before he’d begun to shake her limp body with a snarl on his lips, hoping that an answer would fall out if he did it hard enough.
So the first emotion he could confidently address after the first, real use was relief. That it had worked at all, really. Anything could’ve happened after sending the note up to the dear, simple boy and his carers. They hadn’t been made aware of the backstabbing doctor’s defection, meaning Fontaine’s word was still law. So off to ‘England’ the kid went, with what he most likely believed to be loving kisses pressed to his cheek and a finely wrapped present slapped in the palms of his hands.
And only then had he fully become his.
It then became Atlas’ job to coax the frightened little rabbit from it’s hiding place, ready to form the words with eager lips and tongue, live and in person. Asked if he would do him the kindly favour of picking up the service radio that would act as his mouthpiece throughout their time together, and boy, hadn’t he just reached on out and grabbed it without a single sliver of hesitance slowing his movements. If only he could’ve seen it for himself. From the very first word he had him. So that was absolute control felt like. Sure, he’d had his fair share of lackies and devotees who’s collective goal in life was to clean the flats of his shoes with their tongues alone, but this was different, wasn’t it? Jack didn’t have what they had. Nothing quite ruined the image of a proper slave quite like the illusion of free will did, and it was a true blessing that this little protégé of his had been born without it.
After the first command came the hard hitting knowledge that he could really make this kid do anything he wanted — no task was too great or small for sweet little Jack to perform, not if Atlas chose to lay the sugar on thick, curled his tongue in the ear of the eager young thing and breathed an innocent request for bloodshed. And then he’d do it. No questions asked.
Oh, what a little messing with the human mind could produce. To know that he could still beat him all the colours of an oil slick and have an obedient, exquisitely trained boy at the end of his leash was… it was indescribable. Though if he had to put it into words, as the question demanded of him:
"I felt… so… feckin’ alive.”
What is a hero without a villain?
What is a villain without a hero?
"That’s where y’got it all wrong. Nothin’ more perfect than absolute control an’ vice versa. Here I thought you knew that, too.”
Behind him, Atlas tutted. Or rather Frank did, but he had taken to using the old Atlas voice more and more these days; whether to torment the boy or out of sheer habit, he couldn’t exactly say why he did it. Not if he were to be asked, anyway. It was better for all parties involved to simply leave him be, ignore what was said in that overly friendly tongue and block out all attempts made to reach into their minds and have their thoughts played with, picked and prodded. Too bad Jack wasn’t too well versed in such practises.
Silly boy. There was nothing more satisfying than watching a person crumble under the weight of words alone. Brute force could only get a man so far. Anyone with enough power behind their fists could blacken another man’s eye. Took a real devious snake to trample over his heart, however, and that was where Atlas excelled.
Smiling serenely, he crept forward and laid a gentle hand over the boy’s throat.
"Ah… no. Maybe I’m wrong. Y’don’t know it cause y’never tasted it. Or… did y’really love havin’ control when Suchong told y’t’end that wee little puppy’s life? Did y’really hate it as much as y’said? C’mon now, boyo. Y’can be honest with me — I’m your friend.”
Jack wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. The one not bleeding from his fall. He had thought he’d heard someone coming. Coming to take him back to the lab. Panicked and tripped and now not only were his bare feet aching from running over he’d not considered what, but his palm was bleeding.
"I… I…It hu-urts…"
"Hey now, that’s nothin’ t’be cryin’ about. You’ll live another day, boyo, I promise y’that," he offered the child a careful smile, taking to his knees to meet him at eye level and to better inspect his wound, of course. Scrapes like those tended to look far worse than they actually were, which explained why children his age — judging by the looks of him, the kid appeared to be eight or nine, though he’d never been good at pinpointing that sort of thing — overreacted like this. Tears over a little scratch, really. He ought to see some of the men back at the main base and count the tiny stubs where their fingers used to be.
Atlas held out his hand, the smile still in place. He was surprisingly patient with this one, waiting for the boy’s injured hand to come to him rather than snatching it himself. Just how would that look to a passing stranger?
"You must be a long way from home, lad. Did y’fall an’ hurt yourself?"
"Christ, that’s a nasty lookin’ scratch y’got there.”
"Anythin’ I can do t’help with that? I know I’m no medical professional but I… t’be honest, I wouldn’t recommend waitin’ around t’see a doctor — might be a fair bit’a time ‘fore y’get th’chance."