There was nothing worse than having to wake up with a hangover because some sick bastard decided nine o’clock on a Sunday morning was a perfectly normal time to be vehemently ringing your doorbell.

Rex dragged his feet to the front door and threw it open. Without even looking at his visitor, he walked to the kitchen and grabbed a beer—the best medicine for hangover. He popped the bottle open and took a couple of sips before finally turning around.

An older man merely stood at the opening of the door, wiping his glasses. His entire appearance screamed ‘wrong part of town.’

Rex scratched at his crotch. Sleeping in his jeans apparently hadn't been the best idea. He should remember that the next time he passed out. “You sure you got the right apartment, mate?”

“Are you Richard Ackart?” the man asked in a cultured British voice.

Rex knew he’d heard that voice before, although he couldn’t place it. “What if I am? Do I owe you money? ’Cause if I do, good luck getting it.” He approached the door and pulled it towards him so that the only opening to his apartment was shielded by his body. He was ready to shut it in the other man’s face if need be.

“So, are you?” The man seemed impatient, but still didn’t make a move to enter.

“Was, a long time ago. Now I’m Rex.” He ran the fingers of one hand through his still gelled hair and tussled the jet black curls loose. Trying to look cool and menacing, despite the Heavy Metal concert he felt take place inside his head, he hooked the thumb of his other hand through one of his belt loops and squared his shoulders.

The man shoved the door, simultaneously hitting Rex's ribs and nose. Rex heard a cracking sound and knew his nose was busted. Hell, it wasn’t the first time that had happened. He could taste his own blood before he saw it drip to the floor. He cupped his nose and tried to set the bone straight. His mind fuzzy, he didn't think of protecting his body from another assault, so he did nothing when the other man grabbed a fistful of his t-shirt and shoved him backward, then followed him inside and closed the door behind him.

“I’m a friend from the past,” the man said, “and I’m here to make sure you’re Richard again long enough to go visit your mother at the hospital.”

Rex didn’t realize he’d passed out again until he woke up in his bathtub, fully dressed, cold water being splashed on his face. “Mum... What happened to her? Who are you?” He tried to get out of the two inches of water already pooling in the tub but lost his footing and slipped back inside.

The man placed a hand on his shoulder and held him in place. “I told you, I’m a friend. I used to know you when you were a boy.” He shook his head when Rex made to rush out of the tub again. “Sit back down. We have to stop the bleeding. Pinch your nose and tilt your head back.” He narrowed his eyes. “Whatever made you want to pierce an eyebrow, for heaven’s sake? No matter. Our flight isn’t until tomorrow morning. Enough time for you to clean up, and for the both us to have a nice long chat.”

Despite the rapidly cooling water, it was the glint in the man's eye and the tone of his voice that made Rex shiver. He had done something the man really didn’t appreciate, and Rex was sure he didn’t want to remain on the bloke’s bad side. “Just tell me if she’s all right.”

“She will be.”

An hour later, Rex was extremely sober. He had on a pair of sweats and a clean t-shirt instead of the skin-tight black jeans he favored these days. Nose no longer bleeding and eyebrow stud taken off, he sat and watched the man who’d screwed up his morning—as well as his nose—make tea.

“You’d think a fellow Brit would have better taste in tea than this,” the man said.

Rex—no, he was Richard again now, properly scolded and worried about his mother—was hit by a sense of the surreal when he found himself answering in the same conversational tone. “I was able to find nothing better in the local supermarket. I should have kept looking.”

The tea was finally served, and Ric caught the other man's gaze. “Now will you please tell me what’s wrong with my mother?”

“Only after you tell me what happened to change Richard-of-the-Brush to Rex the alcoholic punk.”

His tone wasn’t mocking; it was concerned. The phrase he’d used triggered an old memory, and Richard’s eyes widened in recognition. The man’s hair was grey now, he wore glasses, and his attire was different. Still, Richard wanted to smack his forehead. He should have known. “Edmund?” he asked in a whisper, tears prickling his eyes.

Edmund Pedelty was the one who’d bought Richard his first crayon set and encouraged his love of art—the only person who’d never treated him as a child, always as an equal. Edmund had taught him how to fight, after Richard had come home from school with a black eye.

Richard had felt completely alone in the world after Edmund had left for the States.

It wasn’t that his parents hadn’t been understanding or supportive of him, but he’d never felt he could talk to them about his hopes and dreams, about science and the stars, and the girl who sat in front of him in class, whose pigtails he wanted to pull because she wouldn’t give him the time of day.

He’d been eight years old the last time he’d seen Edmund, though they’d kept in touch a few times a year until Richard had gone to college. Now he felt like throwing himself into the man’s arms and crying for all the things that had gone wrong since.

But that wouldn’t be manly, now, would it?

He let out a sigh of relief when Edmund stood and grabbed him in a bear hug. “Son, what happened to you? What is this?”

How do you tell someone who’s dear to you that you royally fucked up your life, then ran away from those who loved you to avoid facing the ways in which your fuck-up affected them?

Easy: you start at the beginning.

“Richard was weak.” He pulled back from the hug.

Edmund retook his seat with a frown on his face. “You were never weak; you were a sensitive, good lad.”

“Yeah, well, good lads don’t get to have a lot of fun, now, do they?” He used the uncultivated, rough brogue he’d adopted during his third year in college—when he’d met Bridget and decided he just had to be a badass for her.

Decided to become Rex for her.

Edmund’s frown turned into a scowl, but Richard didn’t revert to his real, upper class accent. “I fell in love; had to do something to make her interested in me. She was a punk bird and I went punk for her.” His tone was even, as if he were giving the summary of a movie, not describing the love that had shattered his heart into a million pieces and screwed up his future. “I became a bad boy, though I still went to my classes. I was hoping to make a good life for the two of us after I finished my studies. I was going to ask her to marry me.” He let out a pained chuckle. “Didn’t know she had a badder boy on the side. She showed up with him at my graduation party, the both of them stoned.” Edmund gave him a worried look, and Richard hastened to add, “Never touched the stuff myself; alcohol is my poison.

“Got home late that night, three sheets to the wind. Dad started shouting at me for waking them and for being in that state. He said one word too many, and I punched him. I punched my dad, Edmund.” He hid his face in his palms. “Couldn’t face him after that. Took the first plane here.” He lowered his hands to fidget with a thread gone loose on his pants. He avoided Edmund's gaze, afraid of the disappointment he knew he'd see in the man's blue-grey eyes. “Been doing odd jobs since.”

“Odd jobs?”

“Yeah. Kept up the bad boy routine. Did some bouncing at night clubs. Then met a guy who was looking for a hacker. I was always good with computers, so that was it.”

“I think I may have a plan to make right of this mess of a life you have here.”

Richard finally looked at him. “I don’t care about that. I told you what you wanted to know. Now, how’s my mother? What’s wrong?”

“She and your father have been looking for you since you disappeared.” His voice held no accusation, and Richard was grateful for that. “They only thought to contact me a few months ago. I called in some favors to locate you, but you’re a hard man to get a hold of.”

“She’s been hospitalized for months?” Richard jumped out of his seat.

“No, boy. Sit down.” Pedelty waited for him to do as he was told before explaining. “It’s been six years since they last heard from you. Her health had been…deteriorating. You know she never had a strong constitution. She suffered a heart attack five days ago. The doctors said it was a close call, but she will be fine as long as she has the will to get better. I called today to say I finally found you, and she’s expecting you tomorrow. You are what she wants to live for.”

Richard nodded, but his panic was rising. “But I’m a mess. Can’t let her down again. I can’t!”

“You won’t.”

At the certainty in Edmund’s voice, Richard felt something flutter in his chest that he hadn’t felt in a long while: hope. “I have to get a clean change of clothes,” he mumbled.

“Better throw away your entire wardrobe. I can lend you a suit for tomorrow, but you’ll definitely need more than that if you are going to work for me.” Edmund grinned wickedly when Richard gave him a startled look. “We have no dressing code, but your current fashion choices are a tad over the line. With your…experience, you’ll fit right in the IT department. Of course you’ll have to cut down on the slang.”

“Mate?” Richard didn’t know if he should thank the man or grab his shoulders and shake some sense into him. He’d done nothing to deserve such an opportunity.

“You can’t call me that at the office; I’ll be your boss. But you may call me Edmund.”