Nine months in, you were halfway down the list. Traitors talked and some got their 9mm pension plan. Ziv was heavily modifying the Blackwatch systems. Genji was dealing with the Shimada connection. Gabriel had personally assassinated the Vialli patriarch in what was meant to look like a N'drangheta hit, and raided his private office. Winston was still decrypting that chunk of data, but Ziv had doubled the pace.
You suspected the whole Vialli family was corrupt, but you could only link the dead man to Talon with any certainty. Jesse had taken down Ngumi, but another "Doomfist" had risen in his place.
You, Ziv, and Winston were sorting the data from the Greenland science lab. Rivka had managed to mask and route the data there. But there was so much and you didn't even know what you were looking for. Winston and Torby had upgraded the Blackwatch systems hardware, with Ziv doing maintenance weekly. Gabriel was easing up on Winston and Torby, to your relief.
Jack still showed up at Gabriel's hand-to-hand class when he had time. Gabriel always partnered him with you. Which sucked, because Jack cheerfully wiped the floor with you. You were starting to wonder if Jack secretly hated you and was trying to drive you insane. You started hitting him for real. He didn't seem to mind or let up.
Gabriel never sparred with you. You assumed it was to avoid feeding the rumor mill. That was OK. You didn't need another super strong person to kick your ass in front of everyone.
"Got a short assignment for you, if you need to get out of the office," Gabriel said while you dredged through the 9th Circle's backups.
"Yes," you said. "Please." You rubbed your shoulders. You'd been sitting there too long. Again.
Gabriel rose and came over to your desk. "Stiff?"
"Yeah," you said.
"You want me to work on it?" He asked. "I can see the tension from here."
You scratched your head. Gabriel was touchy feely with Jack, and that was about it. "Yeah, I guess. Thanks."
"You look like you're in pain," Gabriel said, clearing his throat. "Angela does this kind of thing too if you'd be more comfortable with her."
You didn't feel like walking all the way to the infirmary. You got up and sat cross-legged on the couch. "Just don't do one of those crazy bone cracking things that leaves me unable to move."
"Like snapping your neck?" Gabriel asked. He sat behind you, the couch sinking under his weight.
"That would be bad," you said, looking over your shoulder warily.
His large hands rested on your shoulders, and very carefully, he began knead. You groaned. He was strong, his fingers working the knots out. "OK, you could've made a fortune as a masseuse."
"Jack talks too much."
You tried to think of a time Jack mentioned massages. "He's never said anything about your back rubs."
He chuckled. "I give a lot of happy endings."
You hung your head. You'd walked right into that one. "I hate you."
One hand carefully worked along your neck. You swallowed and held very still.
"Too much?" Gabriel asked.
"I'm OK," you said. You weren't going to freak out because Gabriel touched your neck. No one was squeezing your throat. No one was hurting you. You could breathe. You took several deep breaths, just reassure yourself of that.
His fingers rubbed carefully, loosening the tension. He moved down your midback, focusing on the muscles around your shoulder blades. "These are interconnected. Working this muscle group will also help relax your shoulders." His voice was soothing.
"OK," you said. It hurt, but it was a good soreness. Gabriel had strong hands and while you'd expected him to use more bruising force on your knots, he was surprisingly gentle.
"Do you want to hear about the assignment?" he asked.
"OK," you said. Because at that moment, you would have agreed to anything he asked.
"Jack's going to be at a diplomatic conference in Paris. I'd like you to go watch his six."
You raised your head, making your very specific "Are you fucking serious?" face. "I'm sorry, did I hear you right? You want me to go to Paris with your boyfriend and make sure no one kills him? Because your boyfriend throws me around the mat every time we spar and thinks it's hilarious when I punch him. Your boyfriend is like ten times stronger than me, five times faster, and super deadly. Your boyfriend is a goddamn super soldier."
Gabriel's fingers traveled down your spine, working your fatigued lower back. "I am too. Doesn't mean I don't depend on you."
Oh. The upholstery suddenly grew very interesting. "Why?"
"Ainsley's going with him." Gabriel's knuckles dug into your muscles. You winced. "If she's part of Petras' plan, he'll be isolated. Ana and I can't go without drawing attention. Jesse and Genji are occupied. It could be nothing. It could be everything. I'm not willing to take that risk." He pressed down on a sore spot making you wince.
"In what capacity?" You'd never make it as Jack Morrison's overt bodyguard. Just like being his second assistant would probably set Ainsley off on you.
"You'd be in civilian clothes."
"Does Jack want me to go?" Which was a nice way of checking to see if Jack knew what Gabriel was up to. You looked over your shoulder. Gabriel's focus was on your back and he pressed on another muscle group causing your entire low back to twitch.
"Yes. How are you so tense?" Gabriel asked. You could feel the frown in his voice.
"It's a side effect of being a workaholic punching bag."
"I thought Jesse was helping you out," Gabriel said in such a neutral tone, you weren't sure what he meant.
"Jesse is a good friend and great coworker. He makes missions run smooth and does occasionally help with paper work."
Gabriel silently rubbed your back, obviously waiting for you to continue.
"We're still trying to convince Genji to join us for a slumber party: monster movies, hair-braiding, and blanket forts. But I guess Genji's too cool for that kind of thing."
Gabriel snorted. "What are you, six years old?"
"At heart. Maybe we should invite Captain Amari and Fareeha," you decided. You'd have to leave off the alcohol, but it would still be fun. Jesse would like that. "She can shame Genji for missing out."
"Are you still having problems with...other agents?" Oh, maybe that's what he meant.
"Not really." You stretched your neck, feeling the bones pop. "But I don't really have the time or inclination to socialize outside our little circles. Paranoia is not conducive to making friends."
"I get that," Gabriel said. Yeah he should, he embodied it.
"You sure Jack wants me to go?" You'd seen him the other night, and he hadn't said a word about this.
"Then why isn't he asking me?"
"Because you're my assistant," Gabriel said, sounding oddly offended.
"Huh." You sighed. Gabriel would have needed to clear it anyway. "OK."
"You'll need some new clothes," he said, because apparently he knew that you only owned one suit and countless generic Blackwatch sweats.
"No hooker outfits," you grumbled.
Gabriel continued to massage your back, his hands very warm. "It'll be tasteful." His thumbs worked another knot, digging into your back. You gripped the arm of the sofa, letting your head hang loose. He kept finding the fatigued spots and working the muscles loose, switching between your shoulders and low back. His hands were so warm and soothing. Eyes closed, you gave a soft mewl.
Gabriel froze. "Are you all right?"
"Uh...yes," you said, voice too squeaky. "I'm good. Thanks for the back rub," you almost melted off the couch, but Gabriel was there steadying you, both hands on your shoulders.
"Any time, chica. Thanks for agreeing to go."
Even in your hazy state, you were suddenly suspicious of Gabriel's intentions. "What aren't you telling me, Gabriel?"
"It's too late, you've already agreed to go," he said smugly.
You were going to kill Gabriel. You were going to put him in a sack, roll it down the hill, and straight into the Lake Zurich. It would be great. You could sip lemonade and watch the him slowly sink into the harbor.
"Please stop making that face," Jack said. "You're scaring my assistant." He didn't sound too bothered.
"My apologies, sir." You smoothed your expression over.
You stood beside Jack on the private Overwatch jetliner. Your outfit actually wasn't so bad: fitted black waistcoat, black cloth gloves, crisp white collared shirt, narrow legged black trousers, and polished Italian leather ankle boots with a slight heel. Your bright blue pocket square matched Jack's overcoat. Your hair was pulled back in a blue satin ribbon. You had a pistol holstered snugly under your waistcoat, and your tanto in a sheath on your low back. You were Jack's...valet? Butler? Accessory? You decided on the title Assassin-Butler. You were a dreaded Assassin-Butler, the last of your kind. Roaming the world to fight evil and serve a good cup of tea. "More prosecco, sir?"
"No thank you, Ms. Strike," he said, sounding amused. It wouldn't do to use your real name, but really?
"I'll take some," Ainsley Petras said hesitantly.
You debated throwing the bottle at her. Instead, you made a neat turn and poured her a glass, resisting the urge to poison it. You were wearing your combat attachments, because it was a special occasion. You served it silently, noting that Ainsley wouldn't actually look at you.
There were several cover stories that Gabriel had offered. Jack Morrison fan club member, complete with t-shirts with Jack's face on them. Movie producer, with stiletto heels and a too-tight skirt-suit. Sponsor showgirl, wearing some bizarre sexualized version of the Overwatch uniform made from spandex. There was a French maid outfit too, but you were pretty sure that Gabriel was just fucking with you at that point. You would have been fine with "low-key reporter" but for some reason that wasn't in the repertoire. Something about the "sanctity of the press" and "not putting reporters in danger so you could play undercover." Which was bullshit, but Blackwatch did shadier things than pretend to be a muckraker. So to the world, you were Jack's hand servant, if anyone asked. Jack had even practiced "Oh yes, Ms. Strike is in my personal employ. Next question." Ainsley was his professional assistant.
Ainsley knew you were her counterpart in Gabriel's office. Jack had explained that someone had lost a bet and this was the result. He might have heavily implied it was Gabriel. Ainsley looked uneasy, and you figured if she was really in on the conspiracy, or even remotely intelligent, she'd know you were Jack's bodyguard.
Gabriel was absolutely right to call Ainsley "Overwatch Barbie." Blonde, blue-eyed, and obviously from money, she looked like the very rich girl next door. Her designer skirt suit was blue, a few shades lighter than Jack's, and cut to flatter her cheerleader figure. She wore pearls and very understated makeup making her lips a glossy pink, and her eyes soft and wide. Her default expression was a beauty queen smile and she was so very perky. She didn't swear, but she spoke with a breathy voice you had to lean in to hear. She was a future trophy wife, all pageant smiles and limp handshakes.
You didn't like her. Not because she and Jack looked like they could be an Aryan power couple. Not just because she kept touching Jack and speaking earnestly to him. Jack could take care of himself. No. Your poor roots were showing. You had no patience for entitled rich girls playing white savior. If she didn't stop talking about her charity trip to help are those "starving orphans in Africa" you were going to open the emergency exit and throw her out. And if she didn't stop talking about how that trip "really changed her perspective," you were going to stab her with the crab fork. It would so cute. So. So. Cute.
"Ainsley, I'm going over my speech. Don't you have an itinerary to review?" Jack's voice was military firm, and disapproving. It felt weird, considering he never spoke to you that way.
"All done, sir," she beamed. "Landing at 3PM. Fifteen minutes to meet the press. Hotel by 4:30. Reservations at L'Occident at 6PM. Diplomatic drinks and cigars after."
"Is Ms. Strike covered in the reservations for L'Occident?' Jack asked.
"No, Jack. I didn't realize she was accompanying us."
"See if you can get her in to all of our scheduled events. If not, she can take your spot."
"But I have all your briefings-"
"It's mission-critical, Ainsley. That's all I can say."
"Oh. Yes sir. I understand." She regarded you both with big doe eyes. "I'll call in some favors. My aunt knows the head chef personally. She says the onion tartes are spectacular."
You started reaching for the crab fork.
"Ainsley, I need to focus," Jack said sharply.
"Sorry, sir," she said, sounding hurt.
Gabriel had explained that you'd need to stand to attention in public. So you were stuck, on the fancy jet, standing behind Jack's comfy chair, staring impassively at the walls. It was only five days. You could do five days.
"Ms. Strike, can you take a look at these documents? Make edits as needed."
You felt Ainsley's eyes on you as Jack passed you a tablet, without looking up. "Of course, sir."
"This was all Gabriel's idea," was written across the messaging screen. You pretended to be deep in thought. "I'm sorry."
"You're enjoying this," you wrote back. "You are all so close to being murdered with a crab fork."
"Please. If it gets me out the meet'n greet."
You refrained from smiling.
"The outfit is good. You look very proper and dangerous."
"I am the legendary Assassin-Butler of Blackwatch, cutting throats and serving tea. Sometimes in that order."
Jack began to choke-cough.
Ainsley sat up, alarmed.
"May I get you something to drink, sir?" You asked, blandly.
"Damnit, yes please," Jack managed to get out. You poured him some sparkling water and served it, impassive expression firmly locked in place.
You were getting used to going to infiltrating expensive places with Blackwatch, usually by playing an unsavory role. You had lots of practice with that before ever joining up. This was different. You were part of Strike Commander Jack Morrison's entourage. Even if you were his "hired help" you sat at the table and ate with painstaking politeness.
The onion tartes were good, not that you were going to tell Ainsley that. Neither of you were seated beside Jack. You were at the far end of a long table, back to the wall, eyes on the exits. There was Overwatch security in place, along with other governmental forces and the occasional intelligence officer. Your presence was overkill, but that wasn't an excuse not to do your job.
Jack was between two world leaders, calmly explaining something with great authority and saint-like patience. This was the Jack you'd seen in the media. Not the Jack you made chili with. The role-change could be jarring, but you were getting used to it. Gabriel vacillated between NCO crude, seductively charming, and flat-out murderous, and while it could be disturbing, it wasn't quite the same transformation Jack made.
"So I bet you're real close the Strike Commander." You heard to your right. You turned your head slowly, noting that the fat man wasn't talking to you, but Ainsley.
"I beg your pardon," she said, crimson streaking her cheeks.
That would be the ambassador from Austria, Lukas Pichler, if you remembered right. He was ruddy, balding, and already in his cups.
"You can't fool a man like me," he boomed. "For shame, putting young women there to be exploited." His was growing steadily louder. "Or maybe that's how you like it."
You set your utensils down. If Ainsley Petras was part of the problem, you had no problem consigning her to a terrible fate. Hell, earlier you were ready to murder her with any available piece of silverware. Even if Ainsley Petras was just a self-absorbed idiot, she was still part of Overwatch, and letting her be humiliated would set a bad precedent. You got out your tablet, pretending to check for messages.
You stood, and walked over to her seat. "Ms. Petras, my apologies for interrupting," you weren't looking at her, but Pichler. "But your uncle, the Director, has asked you to call him."
"Thank you, Ms. Strike," Ainsley said, holding her head up. "Please let him know I will contact him after dinner."
You gave Pichler and long empty stare, and then returned your seat. He averted his eyes and seemed unnaturally interested in his sausages. None of you had actually caused a scene, but you caught Jack watching you out of the corner of his eye. You disengaged, returning to your sole meuniere. It was delicious, and maybe you could work this into your plans.
People kept mistaking you for the restaurant help and holding out their empty glasses and plates to you. You ignored them; it was the most fun you had all evening. That didn't happen to Ainsley. It must be a smell or a posture. She smelled like money. You were obviously an outsider. You and Ainsley flanked Jack during the after dinner cocktails, Ainsley smiling pleasantly the entire time. You kept your hands behind your back, very careful how you flexed your left hand. The dinner was delicious. Dessert was lovely. The company ruined it all.
You didn't speak, opting to pour non-alcoholic cocktails for Ainsley and Jack. They had to mingle, but they needed clear heads. Your expression stayed flat, and uninterested. You were the hired help. No one cared what you thought.
Jack did diplomatic doublespeak well, never committing to anything, but letting each person know they'd been heard. He actually made it look like he was seriously considering their proposals. You heard everything from various methods of integrating omnics to giving special preference to their nation's manufacturers. You wondered how Gabriel would have handled these asshats. He could obviously finesse people, as demonstrated by getting you here, but would he have the patience for these idiots? You paused, well he did run Blackwatch. Maybe Gabriel would be fine. You wouldn't or couldn't do Ainsley's job.
This was just the VIPs for the conference. Tomorrow, there would be lots more people to worry about.
The ride back to the hotel was tensely silent, Jack in a meditative state, Ainsley in some kind of mope. You drove.
The three of you had separate but connected rooms. There was a large common area, and it was one of the more expensive hotels you'd stayed in. It was very modern, none of the fancy curls and scrollwork furniture you expected from French period shows. Everything was ergonomic and vaguely unrecognizable. The couch was shaped like a hotdog bun. The table had multiple asymmetrical tiers, like a cat tree. You were afraid to look in the bathroom.
Ainsley disappeared to her room, presumably to change out of her four inch heels.
"That was nice of you," Jack said after the door clicked.
You shrugged. "You couldn't do it without causing a scene. And she's Overwatch. You don't fuck around with us."
"You're really into this Assassin-Butler role," Jack said, smiling warmly.
"It is a good outfit," you admitted. "But I'm still pissed."
"It's a good outfit," Jack said, eyes lingering on your pocket square. "You're wearing my colors. It's like I'm a feudal lord."
"Or lady. I'm just wearing your token because you need me to gain victory in your honor." You smirked at him. "But I'm not chivalrous. Try not to faint at the sight of blood."
"That works too," Jack said, not at all bothered by the flip. "Thanks again for coming. I really appreciate it." He tapped your cheekbone, right under the eye. "You need an eyepatch. It will make you look like a mafia hitwoman."
"I'm an Assassin-Butler," you told him. "I'm too classy to work for the mafia. Now go to bed young master Morrison. You have a long day tomorrow."
You settled on the couch, wrapping a blanket around you. It was a central location, a good way to monitor the situation and keep Ainsley from trying to sneak into Jack's room. You were almost asleep when a door opened. You cracked an eye.
Ainsley traipsed out in a matching sky blue pajama set and satin robe. You counted to ten, trying to swallow all your horrible thoughts.
"Are you awake, Ms. Strike?" Ainsley asked, knocking on your bedroom door. Well, that was unexpected.
"I am now," you muttered and she jumped.
"Oh, I didn't see you there. I-" She wrapped her robe closer. "Are the rooms not to your liking?"
"No problem with the rooms," you said. Your stuff was in there. A few weapons and more uniform suits.
"Umm..." She took in your blanket and uniform, obviously trying to figure out your angle. "Thank you, for earlier."
"I could've handled it. I have in the past. But you did it so smoothly. I don't think Jack even noticed."
You didn't say anything to that.
"You're a passable butler," she said. "But I'm not stupid. I know you didn't lose a bet. Are we in danger?"
You shrugged. "Being in Overwatch is dangerous."
"You can't even tell me, can you?" She crossed her arms, hugging herself. "I hate this, you know. I thought it would be different. Like I could change the world. And working next to the Jack Morrison? That's every girl's dream."
You wrinkled your nose.
"OK, that sounded stupid. But I'm the envy of my peers. All my college friends are begging for introductions. He's handsome, charismatic, super strong... And completely emotionally unavailable. He's all-business. No fun. Like, he's kind of a jerk. I know he works hard, and kills things, but it wasn't supposed to be like this."
You stifled a laugh. "What did you expect from the job?"
"I-" She sat down in a chair, tucking her feet under her. "I thought it would romantic. Danger, excitement, hearts pounding: the perfect set up for love. I'd be part of something important and I'd get to be close to him. But...I thought he'd be a gentleman."
"Has he been...ungentlemanly?"
"No that came out wrong. He's not a bad person," she waved her hand. "He just works all the time. He's a whole different person in front of the cameras. He has this way of making people love him. But in real life, he's just cold. He barks orders and expects everyone to live up to his high standards." She sniffled. "I had the biggest crush on him, and I thought, fine, if I just work hard enough, he'll see how pretty and clever I am, and he'll be charmed. Instead, I'm working myself into exhaustion for a guy who will never think I'm good enough. I don't know why I'm telling you this."
You had no idea either. This was girl talk, you realized. Once upon a time you'd talk to Lao and Rivka about feminine things: clothes, jewelry, Shin. But that was a lifetime ago. You talked about work and mutual friends with Captain Amari. Most of your conversations with Angela were mostly about your prostheses. You were going to use that vibrator soon. Honest.
"It's fine," you said.
"My uncle thought it was a good idea," she said. "He got me the job and told me to follow my dreams. He likes Jack and wants him in the family. He thinks Jack is way better than the other guy. Your boss Reyes. Doesn't think he's leadership material. Says people won't follow a guy that...uh...low-class."
Low-class? Jack came from a poor background too. He meant "black." You clenched your teeth, trying vainly to keep your face placid. It didn't really work.
"Sorry, that's what my uncle said. I don't have a problem with him, he's just kind of rough around the edges."
"He is," you said, quashing the urge to remind her this was a military organization, what the hell did she expect?
"I just- I don't stand a chance with him, do I?" She looked up you blinking rapidly.
"Do you actually want him?" You unfurled your blanket, trying to get comfortable. "There's the "ideal" of Jack Morrison. And there's the actual Jack Morrison. And now you're one of the select few to know the real Jack Morrison," you lied smoothly. "He is what he is. Do still you want him?"
"I just think he could change," she said. "I've seen it when he's warm and lively and makes people feel safe."
"You'll drive yourself mad trying to change someone," you said. Especially to fit your own selfish ideals. "You deserve someone who appreciates you for you." As did Jack. "If the Strike Commander isn't that man, maybe it's time to move on."
She hung her head at that. "I-"
"Do you like working at Overwatch?" You tapped your fingers, wondering how to bring up the director.
"It's...challenging," she said. "But my uncle says I'm doing a good job. He's come in to check on me and sometimes shows me how things work."
You wondered if this was some kind of double-blind. "I've heard you're very good," you said convincingly. "Is Overwatch what you want?" You didn't have to argue with her. You just had to ask her the right questions and let come to her own deeply tangled conclusion.
"I don't know," she said. "You know, I was going to knock on Jack's door tonight and throw caution to the wind: an intimate setting, alone with him, maybe I could change his mind..."
It was a struggle to keep your face neutral.
"But I don't think it would have worked. I would've made a fool of myself, wouldn't I?"
You weren't going to dignify that with a direct response. Because once you started, you wouldn't be able to stop. "You're a lovely young lady," you said, even though she was close to your age. "But you already have concerns about his...ways. Even if you did have a night of passion-" You almost choked on those words. "What about the next day? Do you think he'd change that quickly?"
"I guess not," she said sadly. "It was a good dream though."
Pity, sympathy, and empathy swirled involuntarily. These were human feelings, and you tried not to dwell on those. You weren't a saint, but Ainsley was apparently so lonely, she had to be to come talk to the Assassin-Butler for emotional counseling.
That would take awhile, and you had to be up at five.
"Would you like some tea?" You asked, because maybe you could drug it and get some sleep.
"Umm, yes please." You got up and found an entire tea service in the "appertif" nook. You'd watched Captain Amari enough to know how it worked. You found chamomile tea, and valiantly resisted the urge to drug her, even just a little.
"I'm sure your uncle will be very understanding," you said.
"He really wants me to get Jack to come to Nantucket this summer. He talks about it all the time. Like, I think he likes Jack more than he likes me."
Your hand didn't shake as you poured the tea. You served her first and then took your own cup. "That can't be true."
"It is! He's got this whole retreat planned."
"Huh," you said. "Where exactly?"
"I'm not sure. He was emphatic that it was a "men's" thing but not to worry. He wasn't inviting anyone else from Overwatch, just Jack. You know how it is on the east coast. Very who knows whom, which Ivy League did you attend, how big is your Aspen home, etc."
You nodded, even though you didn't have a clue. "I see."
"When was this supposed to happen?"
"First week in August, I think. He seemed so confident that Jack was interested in me and would love to get to know me." Ainsley clutched the teacup. "It's not me, is it?"
"You've already pointed out that he's a man married to his work," you said, pleased with your own diplomacy.
"That's right. I don't think he's the kind of guy who can make himself emotionally available to another person," she said. You thought of all the times you'd seen Jack and Gabriel touching and cuddling, reminding each other that the other was still here. "Like, the job is everything to him." Hazy as it was, you remembered the look on Jack's face when he found Gabriel after the base exploded. The sheer relief made your heart hurt.
"You're in Overwatch," And rich. "The world is open you," you told her.
"You're right, Ms. Strike." She downed the rest of her tea. "I'll sleep on it." She stood up and marched resolutely to her room. The twit didn't even thank you or offer to help clean up.
Jack spent a lot of time on stage making speeches about the good Overwatch had done and calling for unity. You stood in the wings, holding bottled water, and watching Ainsley. She'd spent the last two days in a flurry of messages, hopefully finding a new direction for her life, one that would take her far away from you. As it was, she'd stopped being so painfully earnest, but it was only by degrees. She was still annoyingly perky.
Thunderous applause sounded and Jack walked off. You cracked open the water and handed it to him.
He took it and downed it in one swig. "Thank you, Ms. Strike."
You were going to stab him. But you settled for a curt nod and you took the bottle to dispose of. "You're free till the luncheon. That's two hours out. Did you want to go socialize?"
"I'm peopled out. You scout out any quiet places?"
"Yes," you said.
You led him out the back, checking the halls for paparazzi. There was a cafe on the fifteenth floor, far above the assigned convention center activities, and you'd "unlocked" the terrace access.
Jack needed a hat, you decided. Sure, that was Gabriel's thing, but Jack's unruly blonde hair was pretty recognizable. You ushered Jack out to the terrace, and ordered some coffee and chocolat au pain at the cafe.
In the corner of your eye you caught sight of a familiar blue skirtsuit. Jack hadn't invited her, had he? You walked swiftly out of the cafe and quickly made it to "authorized personnel" door.
Jack sat on the ground of the terrace, legs flat, staring up at the sky. You handed him his drink and chocolate croissant.
"I think Ainsley followed us."
"Really?" Jack cocked his head. "She's been...better lately."
"I'll tell you about it later," you said, for the millionth time. Because you didn't want to get into the Petras connection just yet. You wanted to see Genji's most recent dossier before you started laying things out.
You bit your into your croissant. The dark chocolate filling was perfect with the coffee.
"Thanks, Lucky. I'm sorry it's been so hectic." Jack gave you a wry smile.
"I joined Blackwatch because I wanted a life of ease and luxury." You were careful not to get chocolate on your gloves.
"I do appreciate you coming, it's made this more...bearable." He was staring off into the sky.
"I think you just wanted someone else to suffer alongside you."
"Isn't that what friendship is?" He tilted his head back, looking at you upside down. How could he go from inspiring to cute so easily?
You blinked. "I think friends don't want to let their friends suffer."
"Agreed. But when they are suffering, friends step in." Jack took the second half of his pastry in one bite. "Before...I didn't want to ask Gabriel for help. I thought he should have been...happier for me."
"He did get demoted," you said.
"Yeah," Jack ran his fingers through his hair. "I mean, I thought it was more of a lateral move. I was wrong, about quite a few things. And then I was too proud to ask for help. That was my second mistake."
"Not being there for Gabriel," he admitted. "But we're working through it. Almost losing him like that..." Jack sighed. "It scared me so badly, Lucky. But you don't want to hear all this...stuff. I guess, I'm trying to say that I appreciate it, and it's important that I communicate that. And that being friends is more than just...wishing good things on people. It's taking an active role." He drank his coffee. "I'm babbling."
"You are babbling, sir," you agreed.
Jack shot you a dirty look. "I wasn't sure how to ask, but I'll just do it instead of dancing around the subject."
"Oh boy," you said.
"What was he like?" Jack asked, and you didn't need to ask whom he was talking about.
You bowed your head. "Shin was of those dualities that's hard to describe. He was clever and strong, a better fighter than I'll ever be. Underneath it all, he was playful. He liked life, but he would have made a good assassin. A real mission-first, but stop to smell the roses kind of guy." You tilted your head back, feeling the sun on your skin. "He made me feel like I could do anything. I don't know if it would have lasted, but it was real."
Jack pat the back of your left hand.
"Yeah, you're a real buzzkill," you told him and finished your coffee.
And that's when the shooting started.
Jack was on his feet instantly, sidearm in hand.
The shots came from inside the building.
You took point, but Jack grabbed your arm. "I can take more hits than you," he said.
"I'm your bodyguard."
"Get behind me. That's an order."
"Gabriel assigned me to you. He's my CO." You slipped in front of him quietly prying open the access door.
You could hear Ainsley whimpering.
"Where is he?" An impatient voice demanded.
"I don't know!" she sobbed.
"She's his assistant. He has to be here somewhere." You slipped inside, holding up your hand so Jack would wait.
The door was in small alcove. You flexed your left hand, and priming your attachments. There were six of them, in full tactical gear, wearing masks. They were cybernetically-enhanced. You clenched your teeth. Blood pooled on the cafe floor.
The leader held Ainsley by the neck. "Where is he?"
"I don't know!" she wailed.
"Spread out, he was last seen on this floor." The leader lowered Ainsley. "He'll be wanting her back alive, so if you find him, make sure he knows we have her."
You flattened yourself against the wall, a pair of boots growing closer. You waited till his shadow fell on you and you turned into him, pressing yourself against his chest before he could react. Your left hand pressed against his throat, and your needle shot out, filling him with a powerful sedative.
He gurgled slightly, and you pulled him into the alcove and set him down. You handed Jack his assault rifle.
You pointed at the unconscious man then held up five fingers then pointed toward the hall.
Jack gave you a dark look, but nodded. He pushed ahead of you and went down the hall. Rolling your eyes, you raised your pistol and followed.
Two of them rounded the corner. Faster than you could react, Jack fired, two shots, two kills; they fell, heads leaking ooze. You raised a brow, but Jack was moving ahead of you. You checked them as you passed. Those bullets were big. They were very dead.
Two more came running, the element of surprise gone. Jack fired again, and you threw your hands up in frustration. They too, were dead before they could hit the ground. "I know you're out there Morrison! Get over here, or I'll snap her neck!"
Jack gestured for you to stay put. Then he stalked out to the cafe. The layout of this floor was a loop. You went back the way you came, debating on picking up a gun. They had some impressive armor. You could shoot, but you didn't want to risk hitting Ainsley. The paperwork would be a nightmare. You had one tried and true method. You reached behind you and drew your tanto.
"Let her go," Jack said. He stood in cafe, facing the cyborg holding Ainsley.
"Drop your weapon, Morrison, or I'll crush her pretty head!"
Ainsley began to scream.
You emerged behind the cyborg.
Jack glared at the cyborg, no wait, that was meant for you. And slowly began to set the gun down. "What the hell is this about?" He boomed.
"You really think we're going to answer your questions, Morrison?" The cyborg sneered. "Get on your knees. Hands on your head."
Jack obeyed, and you appreciated him serving as a pretty distraction.
You padded silently behind the remaining cyborg. There was a port on the back of his neck. You aimed a little higher. Three feet. Two feet. You lunged, flexing your left hand and digging into his shoulder. With your right, you pushed the tanto through his throat and twisted, the blade catching on whatever was connected to the port. He flailed, dropping Ainsley. You pulled your weapons out and let him drop. He wasn't properly dead yet, so you laid him on his back and cut his throat.
Blood soaked your gloves, your blades ripping the fabric was they drew back into your prostheses. The nice thing about metal fingernails was that blood didn't get under them. But you were going to have to clean your blade mechanisms. Still easier than blood out from under real fingernails.
You looked up to see Ainsley watching you with terrified blue eyes. Jack stood behind her, his face grim.
"Are you all right?" You wiped your blade on the cyborg's pants.
"Oh God, where were you?" She looked between Jack and you.
"Ambushing cyborgs," you said, because it was kind of a stupid question. "I'm going to radio Commander Reyes to pick up our survivor," you told Jack.
"Wait, how did they find us?" she asked.
"How did you find us?" Jack asked.
"I saw you leaving and followed. My uncle wanted to meet with you. I figured I'd come find you and let you know, but then you disappeared- " She began to sniffle. "He was going to kill me!"
"Maybe," Jack said. He glanced over at the cafe. The unlucky barista had been executed behind the counter.
You pulled out your tablet and called Gabriel.
"We were attacked. Jack's fine. We have a survivor. Come get him before the French try to claim jurisdiction." You closed the call and took pictures of the dead cyborgs.
"I-I can't do this," Ainsley sobbed, clinging to Jack. "I-I resign, sir."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Jack said, not sounding that way at all. "May I see your tablet?"
Ainsley got a private flight out of the country. Poor thing.
You and Jack sat around the bloody crime scene, waiting to "handle" things. You had the pleasure of watching Jack tell the gendarmes this was "Overwatch business." Official sanction was kind of nice. But you couldn't get used to it, not with being a member of Blackwatch.
You checked the drugged cyborg. This formula was pretty potent. He was still out, but Jack commandeered some gendarme omnic-restraints for him. You sat at a cafe table, watching Jack bark orders. You really wanted to clean your hands, but it would have to wait.
A copter landed on the terrace and Jesse climbed out. He and Jack dragged the unconscious cyborg aboard.
"Bring me desserts!" Jesse told you. "I'm serious! Captain Amari wants madeleines!"
Jack drove back to the hotel. You had a police escort this time, for the good that would have done. And Jack wasn't talking to you, which was a shame, because you had a lot to talk about. Maybe he was just like that after combat. Gabriel was always tetchy when he first got back from a mission.
In the privacy of your hotel room, you peeled off your gloves and carefully removed your prosthetic fingers. You cleaned your hands and switched in the basic models. Then you began to clean, getting the blood out of your finger blades.
There was a knock at the door.
"It's unlocked," you said.
Jack strode in. He was still in his coat. "You disobeyed my direct orders."
You nodded, carefully wiping your blades. They would probably have to soak. You'd been stuck at the convention center too long. "I told you, Gabriel assigned me to you. You think I could go home if anything happened to you, Jack? Gabriel told me to look after you."
Jack bared his teeth at you. "I'm a decorated SEP officer. My coat has omnium plates in it. I can take a bullet or seven."
You shrugged. "You're the Strike Commander. I'm just a grunt. What did you think it meant when I came along? I'm your bodyguard for this run. It's my job to get between you and danger." You were going to have to soak these. You placed them in individual containers and filled them with solution. Then you popped open your injector and began to refill it.
You looked up. Jack was staring. You stopped moving.
He froze, then turned his head, his cheeks turning red.
"I'm sorry, I hadn't seen your hand before," he said. "Torby and Angela did a good job."
"They did," you said.
The silence stretched between you.
"Do you think I could face Gabe if something happened to you?" Jack said, still turned away.
"I think he'd know I was following his orders and you'd both have a terrible guilt-wallowing party. Him more than you, since he tricked me into coming." You had learned that post-battle you were oddly flippant. Like the adrenaline wasn't gone, but you knew everything was fine, so you were free to calmly talk shit. It amused you, but annoyed everyone else.
"Gabe's right, you're an idiot," Jack said, leaning against the doorframe. There was no heat in his words.
You finished with your prostheses and started on your blade. "What would you have done, Jack?"
"It's not the same." He crossed his arms. "I can't argue that your decision was tactically sound. But I'm not here as the Strike Commander. I'm here as Jack. And I'm pissed off at you."
"For taking the last kill?" Because Jack was a competitive bastard, no matter how much he denied it.
"For scaring me," he said.
"Huh." You weren't angry, not like he was. You knew you were right. and you knew he knew it too. So you just nodded. "Sorry for scaring you," you said. You didn't need to tell Jack it was the right choice. He knew that as well. Just like you didn't need to tell him you'd do it again. He was just going to vent. Gabriel was different, you'd have to fight him tooth and nail, because he was always convinced he was right.
"Friends help friends," you said. "They don't just sit on the sidelines and send good wishes. As interesting as it would be to see you save the world on your knees, I figured I'd better keep Ainsley alive. For posterity."
Jack laughed sharply. "You and your vampire instinct."
"We all have our talents. You shoot much faster than me."
Your left hand began to shake. You were in cooldown now and you needed to eat. "I'm hungry, Jack."
He sighed. "Yeah, me too. Want to order room service?"
"Sure." You stood, and Jack backed out of your doorway. "You know, you were the first person to ask me about him, well other than the shrink."
Jack rubbed his forehead. Maybe all this excess emotion was too much for him. You were drained. There was something on his face. You unfolded your pocket square, licked the corner and carefully dabbed Jack's cheek. He held very still, his eyes on darting between your face and the cloth.
"This is chocolate," you told him, holding up the piece of fabric. "You killed four cyborgs, yelled at the gendarmes, and drove through Paris with chocolate on your face."
"Thank you," he said.