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In Alio Loco

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            In your defense, you never meant to join Blackwatch.  You didn't know what the hell that was and if you had at the time, you probably would have run in the other direction and thrown yourself in front of the nearest speeding train. 

            You didn't survive the worst of the Omnic Crisis by being a hero.  You got by doing a little of this and little of that and a whole lot of ducking and running.  But you survived, which was more than anyone else in your hometown could say.  Smuggling, couriering, and occasionally a good old-fashioned heist: your work wasn't exactly legal, but there wasn't enough government around to care.

            You could have gone on like that, scraping by, except you couldn't mind your own business.  Midway through a courier job, you found a couple of guys in blue versus a scrapton of rogue humanoid omnics on an abandoned stretch of highway.   Luckily, you came up behind the omnics.  That gave you the perfect opportunity to turn around and go back the way you came. 

            You hesitated.  You remembered what was left of your hometown. 

            "Hold formation!  Can't let'em pass here.  Too late to evacuate the town!" The squad leader had a voice like a hammer striking iron.  She stood at the head of the group, she fired a fancy-looking assault rifle, all shine and circuits.  There were others behind her.  But she was the one that left the impression.  She fired and bullets arced across the battlefield, dropping her target where it stood. She kept up the barrage, the firefight drowning out her actual words. 

            Her soldiers worked in tight formation.  Two shooting prone, two shooting upright, and one manning the barriers. 

             She wasn't tall, her skin was very brown, and her head was shaved.  She turned and half her face was puckered with burn scars.  When she looked across the battlefield, you didn't see a lick of fear on her face, just cold determination.  Even sustaining heavy fire, she made you believe they had a chance. 

            You counted at least a dozen robots left.  Then you shouldered your 30-06 bolt-action rifle and began shooting.  The CZ 557 was old, not a great firing rate, but those big old bullets were meant for elephants and tore through armor-plating like a dream.  You had to move fast, because once those robots got a bead on you, they shot back with shinier more explosive firepower.  One hit and the concrete highway barriers were powder on your shoulders.  You slid across the ground, trying to aim on your back.  You had limited ammo and a long-range weapon.  A couple times, the smarter ones aimed above you, almost pancaking you with bits of overpass. 

            But that gave the people in blue a chance to regroup.   They had discipline and more importantly shielding.  They could do this all night.  You wouldn't last much longer. 

            Already you were soaked in sweat and covered in dirt.  Only a few minutes had passed, but they felt like an eternity.  You knew what you were carrying.  And you also knew what would happen if you got hit carrying it.

            "Fire in the hole!" 

            You threw the frag grenades, illegal mods and all, into the mix.  Then you backed up a bit, but not quite far enough.  The resulting explosion left you with no cargo, no eyebrows, and a bad case of tinnitus.  But the omnics were scrapped.  Little fires licked at the metal and you idly wondered how much you get for the salvage. 

            It took you a moment to realize what you'd done.  You hadn't gotten all the omnics by yourself, but you'd thrown yourself into the middle of a firefight you had no business being near.  You sat down and lit a cigarette.   You didn't normally smoke - cigarettes were better currency than luxury - but blowing up a dozen omnics on a whim called for some kind of celebration. 

            The squad leader stalked up to you.  Up close, you realized she was even smaller than you thought, and easily over fifty.  But she stood like she had a bar of steel in her spine, and she walked like she was just in time for the execution.  Somewhere in the back of your head, you felt the urge to stand and salute.  But you quashed it and settled for a casual nod of acknowledgement. 

            "Are you insane?"  Her voice was rough with dust.  She didn't actually sound angry.  She seemed genuinely curious.

            You shrugged.  You had had a lot of smart ass retorts.  None of them seemed appropriate. 

            She stared hard at your rifle.  The flames and smoke gave her scars a hellish cast. 

            "What are you doing out here?"

            "I was delivering a package."  You wave a hand at the smoking remnants of robot pieces.  "But it got damaged in transit."

            She studied you, dark eyes sharp in the dusk light.  "Thank you for the assist."

            "You're welcome."  Her uniform, with its Overwatch insignia, told you everything you needed to know.  Professional.  Hardass.  Big damn hero. 

            Her gaze went back to your gun.   After your cigarette was gone, she finally sighed.  "That belongs in a museum."

            You shrugged.  She wasn't wrong, but it was the best gun you had. 

            "Lieutenant Sato," she snapped.  A tall slim man appeared beside her.  His skin glowed golden in the twilight.  He had sharp cheekbones and a playful mouth, and he moved like a shadow through the smoke.  His black hair was slicked back. But it was the excitement in his eyes that really caught you off guard. 

            "Yes, Captain Patel?"  His voice was lightly accented, and smooth.    

            "Gather the others.  Looks like we're heading back out tonight."  Captain Patel turned to look at the smoldering wreckage.  "Do I want to ask where you got those?"

            "Probably not," you said, wondering what you were going to tell your employers.  "They weren't mine.  I was holding them for...people I don't actually know."

            Lieutenant Sato's mouth curved in a grin.  You liked the line of his jaw, the brightness in his eyes.  He really was pretty, especially in uniform.  

            "What exactly do you do, Ms-?"  Captain Patel did not look nearly as amused.

            "I'm an import-export specialist." 

            Captain Patel looked you over once more.  "That is the fanciest term for "smuggler" that I've heard in this country.  Look, I'll be blunt.  You're an idiot, but a lucky one.  I don't know how else you'd survive on your own.  But you obviously have some combat experience and more balls than brains.  Join up: I can offer you better money, better guns, and health insurance."

            You blinked.  Maybe a few times.  Overwatch?  You?  Was this some kind of joke?  Or were things really that desperate?  You looked around the desolate landscape that used to be a thriving city.  Well, things did look kind of desperate.

            "What she's saying is she's impressed, Lucky Strike.  You have potential." Lieutenant Sato regarded your gun with laughing eyes.  You squinted at him.  It wasn't mockery, you realized, but genuine delight.   

            If you want to be honest with yourself, it's Sato that cinched the deal.  Health insurance and salaries were pipe dreams, things you weren't sure really existed.  But fancier weapons and sexy men? You weren't a big damn hero, but you knew a good deal when you saw one.   

            "Guess I'll have to learn to salute."

            Captain Patel rolled her eyes and walked off to check on her squad, muttering about how the gods favored idiots.

            Lieutenant Sato lingered. 

            "I'm Shin," he said. 

            You gave him your name.

            "Nah, you're Lucky Strike," he said, smirking.  You saw a very unprofessional hunger in his eyes and you shivered.  That look stayed with you for weeks; the nickname has lasted much longer.   



         

            You got in their transport, filled out the forms, and got shipped off to basic. 

That was a trip in itself: a haircut, some new clothes, and a crash course in how to be a soldier.  To be honest, you weren't a great soldier, too underhanded and disrespectful of the command structure.  But desperate times called for lower standards. 

            Captain Patel requisitioned you, as it was her recommendation that got you in this mess. Then her unit was seconded to Blackwatch.  Ten weeks later, you were transferred to a miserable little listening post in the Yukon as a "probationary" Blackwatch agent.  No one seemed sure what "probationary" status meant for a Blackwatch agent.  Captain Patel joked that it meant if you washed out, they'd have to take you out back with a shovel.  At least you were pretty sure she was joking, but her delivery was so deadpan, you couldn't be sure. 

            Captain Patel wasn't just a tough little old lady.  She was faster, stronger, and had better endurance than you.  In fact, you'd seen her arm wrestle Agent Valdez and win.  You heard rumors of "SEP," and you believed them.  But you'd believe it if they told you she was an omnic wearing old-lady skin.  That kind of toughness didn't happen organically. 

            Sergeant Nwazue was from Numbani and specialized in demolitions.  Almost monk-like in her focus, it was hard to tell if she was working or asleep.  She wasn't too impressed that you had no idea what kind of modded grenades you were carrying around.  Middle-aged and rail thin, she had most of her fingers and all of her limbs, a testament to her skill.   

            Dr. Razafindrandriatsimaniry, thankfully, just went by Simon.  He wasn't out of his twenties yet, but drank a lot of tea and complained about the weather.  It didn't matter where you were, the weather was never good enough.  He was the medic, and you were careful not to step on his toes, because he was fussy and you were accident-prone.

            Agent Valdez didn't talk.  You weren't sure if it was because he wouldn't or he couldn't.  But there were rope scars on his throat, and his fists were the size of your head.  So you didn't push it.  Probably in his mid-thirties, he kept his black hair close-cropped.  It looked a little silly, because he was so massive. You reached the hip of his power armor, while wearing shoes.  He was smart though, spending most his time on the upkeep his armor.  He had some basic hacking skills too.  It was always fascinating to see him at a keyboard.

            Agent Lao didn't shut up.  The youngest in the unit and not yet out of her teens, she liked to blast dubstep during combat.  She rigged the energy barriers to resonate certain tones when hit.  Under automatic fire, you could have a dance party.  It was ingenious, if amazingly annoying.  Lao was also a hacker; she moved at twice the speed of everyone else and that was before the coffee.

            And of course, there was Lieutenant Shin Sato, Captain Patel's second-in-command.  He was the stealthy one, a little too good at turning up in the shadows.  He was as deadly with a sniper rifle as he was in hand to hand combat.  The air rippled when he moved.  You had to remind yourself not to stare, because half the time, he would pop up directly behind you.

            He had everyone but the captain calling you "Lucky Strike" by the time you'd come to Canada. 

            Besides the fact you were in the middle of nowhere, it wasn't so bad.  Three meals a day, a roof over your head, and all the beatings you could take.  Captain Patel's unit was one of two stationed here for guard duty and patrol.  There was plenty of time for other activities.  You started a nice side business in "acquisitions" for base personnel.  Nothing illegal, because you still weren't sure about the shovel, but hard to get stuff: organic macadamia nuts, real ouzo, Moldovan porn mags, etc.  If Captain Patel wasn't making you study strategy, Agent Lao harangued you about cyber security and stole your beer.  Sergeant Nwazue mostly gave you safety lectures on how to properly handle incendiary devices, and it was obvious she thought you were an idiot.  Agent Valdez showed you how to mod energy weapons after you smuggled him some nice scotch.  And Shin liked to throw you around the practice mat. 

            You could kick Agent Lao's ass and that was about it.  She was fast, but you fought dirty.  Captain Patel threw you across the room more than once and looked disgusted if you couldn't get back up.  You tapped out any time Agent Valdez got you on the ground.  Even Simon knew some archaic martial art with nerve pinches, and one time it took you a day to regain feeling in your arms.  Shin just played with you.  Whether he was throwing you onto the mat or pinning you under his hips, he made a game out of it.  He didn't let you win, but he took the time to show you what you'd done wrong.  And if he held you against the mat for half a second longer than was decent, you didn't complain. 

 



            "Where do you get this stuff?" Shin laughed, sipping the whiskey.  Everyone was in his room for the weekly poker game, sans Captain Patel.  Dance music you didn't recognize drifted through the speakers. 

            "I traded an entire carton of cigarettes for that, so don't drink it all."  You stole the bottle back, but couldn't muster enough anger to glare.  Blush streaked his cheeks and his eyes were bright.  His hair black hair fluffed up without gel.  It was much longer than regulation and you wanted to run your fingers through it.  It was worth a bottle of good booze to see him like this. 

            "Where are you getting cartons of cigarettes?" Shin shook his head.  "Someone check the armory to make sure she isn't selling the base out from under us."

            "I would never," you said, indignant.  "I traded fresh rabbit for the cigarettes.  One of the techs really likes rabbit, but he's no good at hunting and he..." 

            "Oi, pay attention to the game," Lao smacked her cards against the table.  She was losing.

            Nwazue had the most chips.  She eyed the whiskey and you handed it to her.  She poured herself a few fingers.  "Damn.  It looks like you are good for something, Lucky Strike, cuz it sure as hell ain't cards."  She passed the bottle to Valdez who passed it to Simon.  Simon was losing too and he took a swig straight from the bottle. 

            "Fuck!"  Simon glared at his hand.  "This is ridiculous."  He took another drink.  "Good liquor though."

            "Give!" Lao tried to grab the bottle out of Simon's hand but he passed it back to you.  You poured yourself another drink, watching Shin out of the corner of your eye.  He nibbled on his lower lip and concentrated on his cards.  He looked so serious that you struggled not to laugh.

            Unsurprisingly, Nwazue won the next three rounds.  You were pretty sure she cheated, but you could never figure out how.  It didn't matter.  She collected her winnings and sauntered off to the rec room for more booze.  Valdez nodded at you and helped Lao up.  You slipped them both chocolate bars - her to go away, and him to take her away.  You weren't sure if they were sleeping together, but that wasn't any of your business.  Simon staggered to his feet, looking warily between you and Shin.

            "Don't do anything to end up in the infirmary, because I'm not going to be there," he said.  "And I doubt you want to explain anything to Georgie."  Georgie, the base doctor, wasn't know for his sympathetic bedside manner. 

            "Don't know what you're talking about," you said.

            "Not a clue," Shin chimed in.

            "Pfft," Simon snorted and stumbled out.  "Idiots," he muttered and shut the door a little too hard. 

            You sipped your whiskey, very aware of Shin's warmth beside you.  His room was bigger than yours with its own bathroom. 

            "Should I-"  You looked up to see Shin studying your face.  The tipsy ease was gone from his stance.  He focused on you, an almost predatory light in his eyes. 

            "If you want to go, Lucky Strike, now's the time," his voice was rough.  "Otherwise you're spending the night here."

            "Oh," was all you managed to say.  You stared at Shin.  He was really too pretty to be a soldier.  His face was angular and elegant with sculpted cheekbones and striking cat eyes.  Give him some hair gel and tight pants and he could have passed for a Japanese pop star.   Somewhere in the back of your mind, you remembered there were rules about fraternization.  But if you didn't get caught...

            You carefully got out of your chair and pushed it in.  Shin stiffened and backed away, averting his eyes.  The tension in his shoulders made your neck ache.   You licked your lips, went to the door, and locked it.  No sooner than it clicked, and you were pushed against the cold wall.  Groaning, Shin turned you around, fingers tangled in your hair.  His mouth pressed against yours and a muscled thigh spread your legs. 

            He tasted like whiskey and smelled like leather.  You moaned softly as he broke the kiss and went for your neck.  You squirmed against him as he sucked. 

            "Goddamnit, Lucky Strike, you really had me worried there." 

            "Just wondering if you were ever gonna make a move, or just sit there and eyefuck me for the rest of the year."

            He exhaled slowly.  "I'm higher ranked than you.  Gotta make sure you really wanted it and I'm not...abusing my power."

            The thought warmed you.  This kind of decency was not something you took for granted.  You weren't just attracted to him, you genuinely liked him.  "You don't scare me, Shin." 

            "Good," he murmured, and nipped your shoulder.  "Because that means you don't know what you're getting into."  He peeled your shirt off, kissing a trail down your breasts.  You felt the lightest touch on your back and suddenly your bra was on the floor. 

            Shin smirked up at you flicking a nipple with his tongue. 

            You groaned and tugged at his shirt.  "Off."

            "You've seen me shirtless."

            "Yeah, every time we were on the mat, showoff.  Even Lao was starting to notice."

            "I can't help that you're dense."  Shin kissed your jaw.  "Soft," he murmured, rolling your breasts in his hands.  "I planned to take my time, but now I just want to be inside you." 

            He pulled his shirt off, exposing a lean muscled torso.  A long faded scar trailed up his side, the skin rough under your fingers.   Already barefoot, you worked your pants off. 

            "Damnit, do you normally go commando?" He groaned.

            "Guess you'll have to find out," you said, smirking at him.

            His fingers rubbed your slit.  You sighed as one dipped inside.  He paused and grit his teeth.

            "You're already so wet," he dropped to his knees and his tongue flicked across your clit.  You whined then, as he began to finger fuck you, his tongue still working you over. 

            'Shin," you moaned.

            "I love how you say my name, so needy.  And you taste so good.  Fuck, I'm going to eat you later, Lucky.  I want you now."

            "What's stopping you?"  

            Shin unfastened his pants.  You licked your lips at the sight of his cock.  It was pretty to look at, long, well-formed, and uncircumcised.  He stroked himself a few times preening under your admiration.  Then he reached into his pocket and opened a foil packet.  Deftly he rolled the condom down his length.  You were slightly disappointed, but even if you had a birth control implant, you wouldn't complain about him being responsible. 

            He pressed you against the wall, lifting one of your legs against his hip.  You wrapped it around his waist instinctively.  He sighed and you cried out as he slid the head inside.  "Damn you're tight."  He rocked his hips, easing in inch by inch.  It wasn't fast enough. 

            You rested your head in the crook his neck.  "You don't have to go slow."

            "Don't want to be too rough with you, baby.  Not yet." 

            You bit him. 

            He growled and slammed his hips into yours.  Whining, you felt his length bottom out.  He stretched you nicely, hitting that sensitive spot inside you.  Pinned against the wall you squirmed on his cock.   

            "I was trying to be nice, Lucky Strike," Shin hissed.

            "Don't call me that in bed."    

            He growled your name.  "We're not in bed, baby.  I've got you against the wall, and you're making it real clear that you want me to go rough."

            "Put up or shut up, Shin." 

            "You say that, but next time I'll tie you up and fuck you senseless."  The threat had you clenching.  He narrowed his eyes and pulled out leaving you empty and needy.  Then he snapped his hips upward and filled you to the brim.    

            "Fuck!" You snarled. 

            Shin leaned in.  "Safe word?"

            "Rabbit," you said, belatedly realizing that goading Shin into rough sex without a clue as to what he considered rough was unwise.

            He lifted your other leg and suddenly you were bent in half, pinned against the wall, with no leverage.  His hard thrusts went deep and you clung to him, panting.  "Look at that tight little pussy taking me." He sped up, pounding you as you began to wail.  "Love those cute little noises you're making.  Bet you want the whole base to hear me fucking you." 

            "Shin," you whined. 

            He kissed you hard.

            "What do you want, baby?  You want it harder? You feel that?" He purred, driving deeper into you, his cockhead bumping your cervix.  "Not enough for your slutty little pussy?  Don't worry, Lucky.  I'm not one of those punks you used to run with.  I'll have you begging long before I'm tired." 

            It had been while.  You couldn't remember the last time someone got you this hot.  You were right on the edge and you clawed his back, trying to get him to push you over. 

            "What do you want, Lucky?" He chuckled.  "You want to me to make you cum?"

            "Fucking hell, you talk too much Shin," you gritted your teeth. 

            "Mmm, but I feel you clench every time I say something filthy."  He reached down, fingers circling your clit.  He captured your mouth as he rubbed, his thrusts getting faster, but still controlled.  Shin wasn't sloppy. 

            You whined, then, legs tensing as he drove into you, giving you precisely what you wanted, his fingers stroking your clit with just the right amount of friction.  The pressure built.  Caught between Shin and the wall, you writhed as he fucked you over the edge, your eyes rolling back.  He just kept thrusting through your orgasm. 

            "I can feel you milking my cock," he groaned.  "How the hell are you still so tight?" You moaned into the crook of his neck and sunk your teeth into his shoulder.  He grunted but held you. 

           Shin waited for the tremors to stop before lowering you to the ground.  You sat there, trying to catch your breath, eyes widening at Shin's still-erect cock, now shiny from your juices.   

            "Come on," he helped you up on shaky legs and pushed you onto the bed.  You landed on your stomach. Shin came up behind you and pushed your ass up in the air and spread your legs.  One hand fisted your hair and pushed your head down into the mattress.  He didn't warn you, he just grabbed your hips hard enough to bruise and thrust back inside.  You moaned, eyes rolling back in your head at the sensation of being filled again.  Your walls were still sensitive, and Shin started at a hard pace, his hips slapping against your ass with each stroke.

            "Not so mouthy now, are you?" He smacked your ass and you squeaked in protest. 

           "Fuck," you panted, your whimpers muffled by his mattress.  You gripped the sheets, trying to push your hips back onto him.  His breathing was rough and the bed squeaked, but what really got you was the wet sound of flesh on flesh.  Your thighs were soaked with your own juices and you could hear his cock sliding in and out of you. 

            The hand in your hair released and suddenly he was stroking your overly sensitive clit.  You raised you head and looked back over your shoulder.  Shin's jaw tensed in concentration, his eyes met yours and he grinned wryly, the fingers on your clit speeding up. 

            "I didn't say you could get up."  He leaned forward and nipped your shoulder.  His teeth worried the side of your neck and you clenched around him in response.  He laughed roughly and pinched your clit.  "You look hot like this and you feel so good around me, Lucky.  Love watching those cute tits bounce while I'm pushing against this tight ass." He paused, running his fingers down your spine.  "You're practically gushing around my cock.  Enjoying yourself?" 

            "You're stretching me out," your voice came out hoarser than you expected.  He began to thrust again.  "I'm going to be so sore tomorrow."

            "Mmm," he said.  "That's too bad.  Not going to stop now.  I like watching you cum." 

            "Don't want you to stop." You gripped the sheets and pressed back against him, taking him to the hilt.  "I want to feel your cock twitching inside me when you cum.  I want to hear you come undone." 

            At that he groaned your name, his hips jerking.  He rubbed your clit faster.  A second wave of pleasure hit you, sharper than before and almost painful to your inflamed nerves.  Bucking your hips, you rode it out, high-pitched whines coming from the back of your throat.

            "Shin," you panted his name as your second orgasm subsided.  "Come on baby."

            He snarled and his strokes grew frantic.  Swearing, he ground against you, fingers digging into your hips.  

            You flipped your hair out of your face and grinned over your shoulder at him.  He finally pushed in deep and you could feel his thighs trembling against you as he came.  Taut and dripping with sweat, he was beautiful.   His eyes were half-closed and he slowed his strokes before pulling out.  He leaned over and kissed you hungrily.

            "Tsk, you made such a mess," he sighed.

            "Sorry?"  There was wet spot toward the foot of the bed. 

            He kissed you again.  "I'm not."  He got up and took care of the condom before tucking himself back in his pants.  He stretched, and you blatantly ogled him, his golden skin gleaming with the sheen of sweat.  When your brain finally caught up to your hormones, you realized he was doing this on purpose.

            There was a comfortable silence as he climbed into the bed beside you.  One arm tentatively draped around your shoulders. 

             You weren't sure what to do next.  "Do you want me to go?"

            "You can stay," he said.  "I'm not that much of a bastard."  He kissed your forehead. 

            "Yes, you are," you said, nuzzling his neck.  "Seriously, I can go."

            "Stay."

            You nestled against him.  He was warm and still managed to smell nice, a pleasant musk mingled with leather and whiskey. 

            "Been wanting to do that since I saw you playing chicken with those omnics."

            "I was that impressive, huh?"

            He laughed.   "Nwazue was sure you wouldn't last a minute.  Lao was screaming incoherently.  The captain was speaking directly to her gods, and you almost got flattened by falling asphalt.  It was stupid as hell.  Ballsy though."

            "So is it stupid or ballsy that turns you on?"

            "Same thing in the end," he said.  "The best part was how you got all shy around the captain.  It was adorable."

            You punched him in the arm.  He let you. 

            "You're such a cocky bastard.  Thought you were going to have me begging," you taunted. 

            Shin pulled you against him.   You felt him twitch against your thigh and you blinked at him.  "I still have the rest of the night," he said smugly.

 



            The next day, Captain Patel gave you both the eye, but said nothing.  She'd nail you both if you fucked up, but Shin was on good behavior outside his bedroom.  You'd made it a month alongside him before falling into his bed, and you were pretty sure everyone knew what had happened.  You were bruised, sore, and had no complaints about it.  Shin had his share of bite marks, scratches, and hickies, but seemed ridiculously proud of them. 

            Everything fell into place with Shin.  You didn't talk about the future.  You didn't know how, you'd never had one before.  But you ate together, fought side-by-side, and fucked like rabbits.  You were now certain Lao and Valdez were sleeping together, but you weren't sure if it was an exclusive thing.  You didn't ask.  You and Shin were the unit's worst kept secret, but it didn't interfere with work, so no one said anything. 

            It was the happiest you'd been in a long time.



            You knew you were the rookie, the lowest on the totem pole.  And while Blackwatch was very different from being a freelance import-export specialist, you made the extra effort to be useful.  Maybe it wasn't necessary, but you went out of your way to get to know the other three dozen people stuck in the Yukon wilderness with you.  Black Base Delta was the official name.  Everyone else called it the 9th Circle, a name the would prove to be painfully apt.  The only person you really avoided was Major Gleeson; he was in charge of your little slice of heaven.  You didn't like to attract the attention of authority figures, and Captain Patel never looked happy after her meetings with him.  She was annoyed about practically everything that man did.    

            When not on patrol or in training, you visited various techs and comm specialists at their unrestricted stations.  There were plenty of places you couldn't access and you weren't about to push that boundary just yet.  Rivka and Lavalle were some of the friendlier techs - IT specialists that handled the databases.  You still weren't sure what exactly the point of the 9th Circle was, but it was a listening post, collecting shit tons of signals intelligence then storing and deciphering select portions. 

            You dropped in on the server room, trying to figure out exactly how some of the terminals worked.  The holoscreens graphed all sorts of data, but you didn't know what anything meant.  "Rivka?  Lavalle?"

            "That you, Lucky Strike?"  Rivka asked, she popped up from the center of a hexagonal terminal.  The blue light gave her skin an eerie cast, bluing her white curls.  The lights reflected off her square rimmed glasses.  She was old enough to be everyone's grandmother and had the voice of a chainsmoker. 

            Fucking Shin.  Everyone called you "Lucky Strike" now.  You shook your head.  "I have a real name."

            "Nonsense, everyone wants to be Lucky," she said.  "What do you have for me?"

            You roll your eyes and tossed her a package. 

            "This is the organic stuff, yes?  Not that plastic shit they serve in the cafeteria?"

            "It's tahini.  The jar said organic.  It's the best I could get in under a week."

            Rivka opened the package.  "Overwatch had better food."

            "I wouldn't know."

            She popped the jar open, stuck her finger in, then licked it.  "Adequate.  You have good instincts."

            You smiled modestly. 

            "Quit pretending to be humble.  You are like my rotten grandchildren.  But smarter.  And more useful.  I would introduce you to my grandson, but that foxy Lieutenant Sato might object."

            You rolled your eyes upward.  "Is that all, Rivka?"

            She snorted again and hesitated.  "You have good instincts, Lucky.  I have recently come across some...troubling data.  It could be nothing.  It could be dangerous.  Our servers have a...vulnerability.  It would be easy and convenient to lose things..."

            You furrowed your brow.  You understood technology, but you weren't a hacker.  "I thought we had a remote backup server."

            "...We did.  It's down.  I...I might have a fix for that.  But it's not by the book."

            You laugh.  "Nothing we do is.  I'm not your boss, Rivka.  But I'd say better safe than sorry.  All that shit is above my pay grade."    

            Rivka paused, made up her mind, then scrawled something on a real piece of paper and handed it to you.  "Bring me these things," she said. 

            You raised a brow.  You weren't entirely sure what some of the items were.   But you could probably get them.

 



            You gave Captain Patel your old rifle.  It didn't have any value outside sentiment and age.  The quartermaster stocked much better equipment, but the captain had been so irritated by your gun, that you had to gift her with it.  It was the right thing to do.

            "Really?"  She asked, when she opened the box.  But she didn't look displeased.

            "It kicks like a mule," you admitted. 

            "Of course it does. It's a goddamn elephant gun, Agent.  It's bolt action.  I don't even know where to start."

            "I'm better with knives," you confessed.  "But omnics don't have the decency to be squishy."  You grinned at her. 

            She rolled her eyes, but Captain Patel kept the gun. 

 



            "Finally!"  You stood over Shin pumping your fists.  He sat on the ground, holding his throat.  "Two hundred thirty-six bouts later, I finally win!" 

            He smiled up at you, eyes shining with pride.  And then he kicked, sweeping you off your feet and flat onto your back.

            The wind knocked out of you, you laid there for a moment, dazedly contemplating the pride before the fall.  Shin straddled you, still massaging his neck.      "Good job, Lucky," he said, voice coming out strangled.  "But you can't let your guard down just because you think you've won."  He ground his hips against yours, and you glared at him. 

            He reached for your throat and you smacked away his hand, your fingers shooting for his neck.  You almost had him, but he rolled backward, laughing.  You picked yourself off the mat. 

            "Let's get cleaned up," he said softly.  "I want to celebrate your victory."

            You showered in his bathroom and when you came out, there was a prettily wrapped box on his table. 

            "What's this?"

            Shin sat on the bed.  "Open it."

            You took a second to admire the wrapping - Shin seemed to take pride in presentation.  Then you tore it off, because that was the point of wrapping paper.  The box was about a foot long.  You pulled the lid off and inside was a tanto, a Japanese-style dagger.  The blade was ten inches and the hilt another four.  It was a monochrome matte black - no glare or shine to catch the light.  The sheath hooked snuggly to your belt.  You slid the blade along the wrapping paper, watching it slice through evenly.  The weight of the dagger felt right in your hand. 

            "This is impressive," you said.  "Thank you." 

            "You deserved a reward.  Thought I'd be able to give it to you sooner, but...you're just so slow."  Shin favored you with a shit-eating grin.

            You sheathed the dagger and gently placed it on the table.  It was one of the nicest gifts you'd received.  Shin's words didn't even sting.

            "Thank you," you breathed, leaning in to kiss him.  Shin met you halfway and pulled you down onto the bed.

 



            Captain Patel swore no one was in trouble, but you could sense her unease.  Commander Reyes was making a surprise stop at the 9th Circle.  It was already nine months into your tenure as a probationary agent.  That hadn't changed yet - bureaucratic snafu- and you got the feeling Captain Patel was getting annoyed.  The fact no one knew the reason why Blackwatch Commander, and former acting commander of Overwatch, was visiting bumfuck nowhere, had everyone nervous.  Valdez and Lao were holed up in armory modifying shotguns.  Nwazue hadn't spoken to anyone in days.  And Simon had taken to muttering passive-aggressive comments to the snow.  While indoors.  Shin didn't seem bothered, but neither of you had slept alone for the past week.

            Patrol done, you delivered Rivka some parts, and she'd disappeared back into the server rooms muttering something guttural.  You lingered in the doorway, but Rivka didn't surface.  You weren't too worried, Rivka was good for it.  It wasn't like there were a lot of people coming and going out of the 9th Circle.

            "I don't like it Aishani.  Who the hell is this guy?  I didn't put him in charge and I certainly didn't order this place constructed."   You froze, not recognizing the voice. 

            "I told you my thoughts, Gabriel.  I did this as a favor to you.  We are not staying.   I do not wish for my unit to be part of this Blackwatch.  I do not do black ops any more.  I care not for espionage.  And if you remember, playing politics really made me lose face."  That was Captain Patel. 

            The man, Gabriel, gave a bark of laughter.  It wasn't happy.  "Goddamnit Aishani, I'm building this from the ground up.  I need good people."

            "You have and always will have Jack."

            There was an awkward silence. 

            You recognized Captain Patel's distinct exasperated sigh.  You'd been on the receiving end of that enough times to know she was very irritated.  "I'm not stupid, Gabriel."

            "Didn't realize it was that obvious, Aishani."

             Their voices faded and you peeked out, in time to see the back of the man.  Black beanie, massive muscled frame, "Gabriel" was Commander Reyes.  And apparently Captain Patel knew him.  Which made sense if she was SEP.  Well, there went your theories about grandma-wearing omnics.  You sighed.

            "Still there, Lucky?"  Rivka popped out from behind a terminal nearly making you shit yourself.  You revived the theory about grandma-wearing omnics as you stared at your reflection in Rivka's glasses. 

            "Yeah, does the stuff work?  If you can give it another week, my contact can get some of the other stuff."

            "It will hold for now," Rivka said. 

            "What?"

            She looked at you sharply.  "It is above your pay grade, Lucky."

            "I'm just asking if you want me to get the other stuff on your list."

            She hesitated.  "Yes.  I think that would be wise."  She ran her fingers through her white hair.  "I don't like this Lucky.  We don't have rules about this yet, but when I approached Gleeson, he didn't seem to care that our backups weren't running properly.  I get that a lot of our data is noise.  But from the base commander?"

            You thought about what you'd just overheard Commander Reyes tell Captain Patel.  "Commander Reyes was just saying he didn't authorize any of this.  I'm guessing he meant the 9th Circle."

            Rivka huffed.  "Well maybe he'll shut it down and I can see my ungrateful grandchildren this year."  She fiddled with a stray wire.  "Listening at keyholes, Lucky?"

            You shrugged. 

           "Hmm.  Well, if we're shutting down, then this is all moot."  She clucked her tongue.  "Well, if we have to wipe everything, make sure we have someone in Greenland redo their backups."

            "I heard nothing," you sighed, wondering how Rivka pulled that off.  You could ask Lao later. 

            "Come by tomorrow, Lucky.  I will bring you some hummus.  I made it myself."

            "Sure thing, Rivka."

             



            "So, Captain Patel knows Commander Reyes," you dropped casually into dinner conversation. 

            Valdez sat up straighter.  Lao fell silent, only for a moment.  Then the questions began.  "How do you know?  Like everyone knows who the commander is!  But-"

            Simon just sipped his tea.  But as a doctor, he would have been aware of Captain's Patel's SEP status.  Nwazue didn't blink either, but she might not have cared.

            Shin nudged you with his elbow.  "Don't go spilling the captain's secrets," he said softly.

            Lao groaned.

            "It's more like something is wrong and both of them are upset about it."  You didn't mention Rivka's remote backup issues.  "I guess I was wondering how everyone felt about getting seconded to "Blackwatch."  I mean, I thought I joined "Overwatch" because it was cushier than civilian life.  That's probably not a very high bar."

            Valdez shook his head.  You took that to mean he wasn't crazy about the idea but it could have meant "no comment."  He caught your confusion and made a thumbs down sign.   

            "Theoretically, it's exciting," Lao said.  "But we're stuck in here most of the time.  Blast an omnic or two and see if any of them are from Siberia...  But I wanted adventure."

            "It's work," Nwazue said unenthusiastically.  To be fair, that's how she always sounded. 

            "Doesn't matter much to me," Simon said.  "I just wish they'd post us somewhere more hospitable."

            "I don't mind," Shin murmured. 

            "Yeah, but you're the shadow ninja assassin type," Lao blurted out. 

            Shin inclined his head back.  "If I remember correctly, you were recruited wearing an ankle bracelet because you couldn't stay out of big corporate data networks."

            "That's different," Lao pouted.  "They were doing suspicious things."

            "And you were breaking the law," Shin laughed.  "Sometimes you have to break the rules to get things done, and I trust you to do it right, Lao.  Blackwatch is a good place for you."

            Lao perked up at that.  "Aww, thanks Shin."

            You ate your food, wondering if Blackwatch was a good place for you.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

            Rumor filtered down that Commander Reyes wasn't too happy with being placed in Blackwatch.  In front of the cameras, everyone seemed pretty happy that Jack Morrison was made Strike Commander.  Behind closed doors, you were hearing differently.  Reyes had been acting commander and being seconded to the black ops world seemed almost like burying him.  The reasons for this didn't seem clear.  You weren't well versed on Overwatch's internal politics, so you kept your mouth shut and your ears open.  

            Commander Reyes was staying an extra night, no explanation given.  Or maybe there was one, but you didn't rate highly enough to get it.  It kept everyone in a state of low level anticipation.  Rivka made you hummus; it was delicious.  Lao talked too much.  Nwazue got snappish.  Simon had sharp whispered argument with Georgie - no one wanted to attract Reyes' attention.  Valdez didn't seem any different.  Shin couldn't keep his hands off you. 

            Sparring was almost foreplay to him.  Sometimes it made you feel inadequate, because Shin wiped the mat with you.  But then, the only person in the unit who could take him down was Captain Patel. 

            You were face down eating mat, locked in an armbar between Shin's thighs, when he stiffened beside you.  You looked up, in time to see Commander Reyes, dressed in sweats, enter the gym.  He surveyed the equipment but his gaze stopped at the mat. 

            "You should probably tap out," he told you.

            "Oh no, I have him right where I want him," you said brightly.  "He just doesn't know it yet."

            Shin laughed and to your surprise, Reyes' lips quirked up, his shoulders relaxing a little.  He was a big man, all muscle and attitude wrapped in a compression gear.  You scanned his features since it was the first time you'd seen a celebrity up close.  Neat trimmed beard, iconic black beanie, and big neck-snapping hands. His dark skin bore lots of scars and you forced your eyes to his eyebrows to keep from staring anywhere too long. 

            "Well go on," he said.  "Don't let me stop you."

            Shin laughed as you rolled into the pin, trying to get a favorable angle to work yourself out.  If Reyes weren't here, you would've bitten Shin by now, that usually worked.  Of course, it also got you stripped and fucked in the showers, so definitely not a good tactic in front of the boss.  You settled for pinching a nerve in his thigh.  Shin winced and his grip loosened just enough for you to wiggle out. 

            You rolled backward before Shin could trap you again and thought about your options.  Shin was going to get you for that pinch. 

            You jumped off the mat. "Retreating now."

            Shin rolled to his feet.  "Did I finally scare you off, Lucky Strike?"

           "Well, obviously the winner has to fight Commander Reyes.  And I like living.  Also, you win 98% of the time.  I'm making the tactically-sound decision."

            Commander Reyes gave you the side eye.  "I'm just observing.  Get back on the mat, agent." 

            You sighed.  So much for that.  "Yes, sir."

            Shin smiled at you.  It was very amused, but not very nice.  "Don't worry, Lucky.  I won't hurt you too bad."  There was a feral pleasure in his eyes and you really hoped Reyes didn't notice. 

            Shin lunged, full speed, and you didn't have time to move.  He took you down to the mat, knocking the wind out of you.  You forced your legs apart, locking them around his hips, trying to keep his arms away from your face.  But he was taller with better reach.  You batted away his hands and tried to elbow him in the face, but you couldn't get good momentum on your back.  Almost leisurely, Shin placed his hand on your throat.  You bucked, trying to swing up and headbutt him, but he pulled back.  You ended up smacking your nose on his chin, hard.  Almost immediately, your nose began to gush. 

            Shin hurriedly climbed off you and grabbed one of his towels.  He held it up to your face. 

            "No, don't smother me, I can recover from this, honest," you said, voice unpleasantly nasal. 

            Shin snorted and you tilted your head back, holding your nose. 

            "That is not how you headbutt someone, Lucky Strike."  He sounded amused.  "That is the actual opposite of what you're supposed to do."

            You held your face and sighed.  "Yeah, I got that."

            Commander Reyes crouched down in front of you.  He was blocking out the light.  "You want to hit them with this part."  He flicked the crown of your head.  "Neck straight, chin tucked, opponent preferably locked in with your arms. Go for the nose.  That little bit of cartilage doesn't stand a chance against bone.  Don't get it reversed."

            "Yes sir," you said. 

            He grabbed you by the collar, fists nearly pulling your shirt up.   "Show me."

            You were still bleeding, but you grabbed around the back of his neck and lined the crown of your head up with his nose and jerked forward, stopping before contact.

            "Better form.  But if you need to be headbutting people, you're already doing things wrong."  He let go of your shirt.

            You exhaled, releasing him.  "I'm working on it, sir."

            "Very good.  Go ice that nose, Agent."  He looked at Shin.  "Are you up for a round?"

            Shin's eyes gleamed.  "Yes, sir." 

            You really wanted to linger, if only to see how Shin did.   But Reyes gave you a look that clearly said "go away now, small annoying unworthy one" and you had no choice but to retreat to the infirmary. 

           


 

            Shin came back to his room with a black eye and a wide smile. 

            "Did you win?" You asked, stepping out of his bathroom, drying your hair with a blood-free towel. 

            "Oh hell no.  He's tougher than Captain Patel.  I'm lucky to be upright."  Shin leaned in and kissed you.  He tasted like blood. 

            "But you impressed him."  Of course, he did.  Shin was that good. 

            "He did mention Switzerland."  There was a pause.  Shin looked at you, suddenly uncertain.  "He wants our entire unit there."

            You cocked your head to the side.  Interesting thing to let slip.  Reyes must have already made up his mind, Captain Patel's protests aside.

            This idea of a "future" loomed ahead of you.  You could see it in Shin's eyes too, and he didn't seem apprehensive at all.  Your heart skipped a beat.  It wasn't scary like it used to be.  Still you didn't know how to voice it.  But all in all, it seemed nice.  "Anything's better than the 9th Circle," you said, instead. 

            "I hadn't noticed," Shin murmured, pushing you against the wall. 

 


 

            You had to shower again.  Shin wasn't badly hurt.  In fact, he was more energetic than usual.  You kept a few things here in his room now, a toothbrush, some clothes, toiletries.  It wasn't just sex.  It wasn't just friendship.  You rubbed your nose then combed your fingers through your hair.  Maybe it was time to talk about things.  Problem was, you didn't know how.   Shin hadn't come out and said anything, but the way he looked at you when he mentioned Switzerland...

            "Hey."  You stepped out of the bathroom, pulling on one of his t-shirts.  They were a little big on you, but he didn't complain about you borrowing his clothes. 

            Shin sat at his desk sharpening your knife.  "Have you been cutting wood with this?"

            "Umm..."  You'd cut a lot of things.  Plastic, wood, meat... "Maybe."

            Shaking his head, he went back to running the blade against a whetstone.  "You need to keep this sharp, Lucky." 

            "Sorry."  You rubbed the back of your head sheepishly.  "I do sharpen it, honest.  It's my favorite knife.  I use it all the time."

            "I noticed."  Shin glanced back at you, a small smile on his lips.  "I thought it was a bit much at the dinner table..."

            "It was only that once, and I got the captain to laugh."

            Shin wiped your tanto down and set it back in the sheath.  "You-" 

            Something crashed into the hall, the impact shaking the doorframe.  Someone screamed, the patter of gunfire echoing through the vents. 

            Shin was on his feet instantly.  He grabbed his submachine guns.  "Call it in, Lucky." 

            You pulled on your sweat pants and picked up Shin's comm unit.  He was already out the door.

            "Captain?  We have a disturbance-" 

            Static.  You tried another channel.  All the same.  Comms were down.  Growling, you clipped the sheath to the back of your pants and grabbed your pistol.  Slamming into your boots, you opened Shin's door, peering around hostiles. 

            There was blood on the floor.  Swallowing your curses, you followed the trail toward the sound of gunfire.  You found the source of the crash, and promptly slapped your hand over your mouth. 

            Valdez lay on ground, the back of his head pulped, half his skull smashed.  Blood splattered the hallway.  You raised your gun, now running toward the rec room.  There were half a dozen more bodies on the way, people you knew, people you worked with.  You could name them all, even if their faces were ruined.  These were headshots.  Executions. 

            Why the fuck hadn't any of the alarms sounded?  The realization chilled you.  You could think of one very good reason and it was very bad.  There was a manual fire alarm in the hallway, something not tied into the computer system.  This base had been far from state of the art.  Smashing the glass, you pulled the handle.  Lights and sirens began to flash. 

            Normal people ran away from gunfire, but you tracked it to the rec room.  Shin was going to be OK.  He was a kickass.  He'd be fine without you there to hold him back. 

            "Where's Reyes?" It was a man's voice, Australian-accented.   

            "Go fuck yourself," Shin spat.

            You peeked around the corner and clenched your teeth.

            There were dead bodies everywhere.  Some yours, some wearing unfamiliar masks and thick combat armor.   The Aussie had his back to you.  He was huge, bigger than Commander Reyes, and he was holding Shin by his throat.    Worse, he had metal arms and cooling tubes protruding from his back.  You raised your gun, sure of your shot.

            The cyborg was faster.  His fingers closed around Shin's throat. 

            You fired, even as you heard the crack. 

            The cyborg dropped Shin, his body too limp as he fell.   The cyborg turned to face you, his mouth working open to speak.  You fired again, and a pretty little hole appeared in his forehead.  He took another step toward you and fell, no words coming from his bloody mouth.  You kicked him, as you rushed forward, to check on Shin.

            He couldn't be.  He couldn't be.  He couldn't be.  You dropped to your knees. You went to feel his pulse and stopped mid-air.  He hadn't been strangled; his throat had been crushed, bones and all.  There was blood on his mouth and his eyes were open and unseeing.  Covering your mouth you rested your forehead against his.  You might have kissed him.  You might have said his name.  You might have begged him to wake up, please.  You weren't sure what you said and what you managed to keep inside. 

            Your nascent future, the one you'd just begun to acknowledge, turned to ash. 

            It was the cyborg that roused you.  Something crackled and you jumped. 

            "Status Gamma Team?" 

            You found an earpiece on the cyborg, just like you found he wasn't quite dead, his breaths coming shallow as he lay there.  He had some sturdy backup systems integrated in his spine.  You drew your knife, the one Shin had just sharpened for you, and began to cut.  You cut his throat.  You cut through bone.  You cut through circuit.  You made damn sure he wasn't coming back.  You found his gun and put on the earpiece.  Then you wiped your knife off, sheathed it, and listened to your enemies. 

            "Eastern wing clear.  Southern wing clear.  Delta and Bravo units respond."  You winced.  You had a good idea what "clear" meant.  You were in the northern wing. 

            "Need back up in the north.  Got some stringy old bitch that won't go down."

            Captain Patel.  You stood a little straighter. You gave yourself one last look at Shin, his eyes now closed.  You wished desperately for something clever to say. Something to absolve your failure.  Something to ease the ache in your chest.  But you had nothing, so you turned on your heel, checking the big assault rifle the cyborg bastard had been using.  It would kick like a mule, but you knew how to handle that. 

            Your ears ached as you got closer.  The air stunk of blood, guts, and cordite.  There was something else too, something electric.  It would be safe to assume more cyborgs were on their way. They were after Commander Reyes.  The rest of you were collateral damage. 

            Cursing sounded over the stolen comm unit.  It brought a tight smile to your lips. You were running now, charging toward a bloody death.  This time, you wouldn't be too slow.  This time, you'd get there in time.  You could hear her now.  She was in the northern hangar.  Right now it was just storage, all the transport units were in the southern hangar, and that was enemy territory. 

            "What's the matter, assholes?  Can't take one little old lady?"  She laughed, a terrible rumble in her throat. 

            You slid inside, coming up behind more men in black.  They were in cover behind crates.  Captain Patel was on the far side.  You clutched the assault rifle, holding it firm to your shoulder. 

            It kicked worse than a mule.  It kicked like Captain Patel and you couldn't keep this up indefinitely.  But you grit your teeth, and bright bursts of light shot across the room instead of bullets.  You tore through them, wondering what the fuck you were shooting. 

            The body armor slowed your kills, but they went down.

            "Captain!"  You shouted, nearly slipping in the blood as you charged forward.  You checked five different bodies, all of them shredded and burned by the gun in your hands. 

            "You've upgraded," she said.  Captain Patel sat against the back wall, behind another stack of crates.  "That's a pulse rifle.  Thought they were still in development."  Paler than usual, she gave you a pained grimace.  She held her stomach, and you winced, because she was literally holding everything inside. 

            "Shit, what can I get for you?"  You stared at her gut wound, wishing Simon was here. 

            "...Time.  I could use superglue.  You got any cigarettes?"

            You heart dropped.  You'd never seen Captain Patel smoke. 

            "No, Captain, sorry." 

            She waved away the apology.  "Casualties?"

            "A lot of techs."  You didn't want to name them all, though you could.  "Valdez for sure.  Someone smashed his head in."  You swallowed roughly.  "A cyborg got Shin," you choked out.  "I was too slow."

            "Cyborgs are faster than Shin, let alone you, Lucky Strike."  Her voice was hard.  But her eyes shined suspiciously and you looked away.  "You killed the cyborg?"

            "Yes, Captain." 

            "Good girl."  She sighed.  "How?"

            "I shot him in the head, then I cut his head off.  Had to...disconnect some circuitry."

            Captain Patel gave you a vicious smile.  "Good."  Her breath hitched.  "Nwazue's dead too.  She blew the southern lab with them in it."

            You lowered your eyes.  You'd never been close to the demolitionist, but you respected her. 

            "I haven't heard from anyone else." 

            The stolen comm crackled to life in your ear.  "Delta unit, respond.  Sending Alpha and Bravo to your location." 

            "They're coming then."  Captain Patel stood shakily.  

            "Let's go."  You stooped low to help her up.

            "I'm done for, Lucky Strike."  That was the second time she'd called you that.  It meant something, but your brain didn't want to process it. 

            "Suck it up, Captain!  You're an SEP super soldier!"  You snapped at her.  You ran back to one of the dead men and tore off his armor.  They wore body suits underneath and you cut one off, getting enough fabric to hold her together. 

            Captain Patel gave you a bemused look at you wrapped her and tied it.  "That's not going to save me, child.  But I will go with you as far as I can."

            She leaned on her rifle. 

            Footsteps rounded the corner.  You raised the gun.

            Commander Reyes leveled his shotgun at you.

            "Gabriel, you need to get a move on it," Captain Patel said without turning around. 

            "Goddamnit Aishani, I still don't know how you do that." 

            She rasped out a laugh at that.  "They're heading this way." 

            "Status, agent?"

            "Captain Patel is critically injured.  I'm uninjured.  And I picked up this supposedly-prototype pulse rifle from a fucking cyborg."

            "Shit."  Commander Reyes stared at the gun.

            "You want it?" You asked. "Because the recoil is going to break my arm."

            He swapped you guns and offered an arm to Captain Patel.   Past the airlock, there was a hall up ahead, and then a foyer before the exit.  You'd be out in the snow, but that beat getting ripped apart by cyborgs. 

            "They're close," Captain Patel said, wrenching away from Commander Reyes.  She took a knee in front of the door.  "This is as good a place as any, a natural chokepoint."

            "No, Aishani," Commander Reyes said, a desperate note in his voice.

            "It's you they want.  So we're going to deny them.  I'll just slow you down and we all know my chances out there are too slim.  Take care of Lucky Strike.  She's a fool, but she walks with Durga." 

            "Captain, no."  You shook your head.

            "Give me the shotgun," she said.  "They'll get close very quickly and I'm low on ammo."

            Against your will, you held the gun out. 

            "Thank you," Captain Patel said.  She patted your cheek.  "There is no guilt.  There is only the mission.  And your mission is to keep that jackass alive."

            Commander Reyes gave a sharp laugh.  "Goddamnit, Aishani."

            "Give my regards to Jack," she said, clasping his hand.  "Don't leave it like this, Gabriel.  There aren't that many of us left, and you have something special."

            Commander swallowed roughly.  "The grave cannot hold you." 

            "Go Gabriel.  I must say the Durga Shatru-Shanti." She took a deep breath, and her eyes cleared.  "Ripavah sankshayam yaanti kalyaanam chop padyate-" 

            "Orders?" You asked opening the door and refusing to look back.  Because if you saw Captain Patel kneeling there chanting her prayer, while you left her to die, you would lose your shit. 

            "Let's just get it done." 

            You shut the door. 

            The gunshots began behind you.  You still had your pistol.  Commander Reyes took point.  You were almost out of the base.  You just had to clear the check-in point.  Reyes walked through that second to last door and right into the trap. 

            Of course, they stationed guards at the exits.  The man-metal thing was bigger than the one you killed.  It seized the commander by the throat and smashed a metal fist into his head.  You charged forward, pistol drawn, but another man tackled you and you went down.  You watched your gun skitter away and swore, even as you were dragged backward.   You could hear the sound of metal hitting flesh, but all you could see was the mostly-human man on top of you, head shaved, eyes wild, his lower jaw reinforced with a metal plate.  He straddled you, one hand on your neck, the other on your hips. 

            "Aren't you a cute morsel," he murmured, his voice high and scratchy.  A hand closing around your throat.  "Are you Reyes' little bit on the side?  Probably why he's got you with him. Must be a good lay.  Wish I had time to fuck you while I squeeze the air out of your lungs.  Bet it'd be real hot."  Your periphery was starting to go black. 

            In the distance you heard the shooting stop; Captain Patel was gone then.  You heard the blunt sound of whatever beating Reyes was receiving.  You heard someone reporting Reyes was in custody.  You remembered Shin, even as your heart fluttered, and you felt his gift against your back.  There was still the mission.  Your focus narrowed, you had only one choice.  You reached down with one hand, the other clutching your assailant's collar.  You nicked yourself drawing the blade, but you slid it out from under your body and straight up through his throat. 

            The grip on your neck relaxed, and you twisted the blade, your field of vision expanding.  Sweet air rushed into your lungs and you climbed to your feet.

            None of your enemies took you seriously, and that was their undoing.  The cyborg on Reyes crouched over him, his back to you.  You stepped forward, bloody knife in hand.  Gripping his hair you simultaneously shoved the tanto through his neck.  You had to saw.  You had to cut some odd wires coming out his back.  You didn't quite behead him, but only a stickler for perfection would call you on it.  Then you rolled his body off Commander Reyes and checked to see if he was alive.

            He was.  Bruised and bloody, but breathing.  You let out a breath you didn't realize you were holding. 

            "Come on, Commander.  We're almost out."

            Your stolen comm crackled to life.  "Northern wing is clear.  Charges set.  Get out or get blown, fellas."

            "Who has Reyes?"

            "Doesn't matter.  Timer is live."  The voices were tinny.

            "Sir, you have to get up.  They're going to blow the base up."

            "Nngh."  Commander Reyes laid there.  He was far too heavy for you to carry.  You opened the door, pistol retrieved.  It was dark, but you saw no signs of humans or cyborgs.  It didn't matter, you couldn't stay here.

            You grabbed him under the arms, and began to pull.  He was heavy.  But you could get him out.  If only you had a sled or a dolly.  Instead it was one painstaking step after another.  Your neck hurt and your insides felt scraped out.  But you kept moving. 

            "Agent Lucky Strike," he mumbled. 

            "Not my actual name, sir."  You clenched your teeth and pulled him out the door, and down the stairs, his metal boots clanking on the floor. 

            "Leave me.  That's an order, agent.  Aishani wouldn't want both of us to die here."

            You kept pulling, your body aching.  Dragging him wasn't hard, but you weren't moving fast and damnit, you were trying to be gentle.  He flopped on the ground.

            "I said leave me.  That's an order!  Are you fucking stupid?  Can't you follow simple orders?"  He sounded like a wounded bear and you tuned him out.  Captain Aishani told you to keep him alive.  That's what you were going to do. 

            You were three yards outside the building when the rumbling began.  You staggered, dragging Commander Reyes through the snow.  It was the sticky kind, harder to move in, but smoother than grass.  Four yards.  Five yards.  The rumble became a roar and you threw yourself over Commander Reyes' body, because they wanted him dead and everything be damned, you were going to deny them that victory.  You didn't care what it cost you.  Pain lanced through your side, your fingers stinging, your leg burning.  You clung to the commander, eyes squeezed shut, praying to Captain Patel's gods that you could do this one last thing. 

            Fire roared behind, and then the shockwave claimed you.    

           


 

 

            "Agent.  Agent.  Lucky Strike."  The world zoomed into focus, and at its center was Commander Reyes.  Blood smeared his face, and his nose looked wrong, but you definitely recognized him.   It was still night, but the moon was full, giving the snowscape a soft glow.  You shivered.  You were in the snow.  And you were freezing.  But you didn't want to move. 

            "Yeah, that's me," you said, cleverness used up.

            "Can you get up?"

            "Nah, I'm good here," you said.  Your leg ached.  "My leg was on fire, but the snow is nice." 

            "You took some shrapnel.  Can you try to walk?"

            You sat up, your head spinning.  Commander Reyes had on a jacket, but no shirt.  You looked down and found a black bandage along your calf.  You chanced a look at your left hand and found it similarly bound up.  He used his shirt, you realized.  You struggled to stand, but you just fell back on your ass. 

            "I tried," you said.  "Partial credit, OK?"

            Commander Reyes swore. 

            "You're feeling better," you said, brain fuzzy.  You shouldn't be this woozy, but you'd never been blown up before so...well, you weren't really blown up, but you were actually caught in the shockwave this time.  You felt for your eyebrows, and they were thankfully still there.  

            "I heal fast," he said.

            You shuddered as you tried to move your left hand.  It didn't feel right.  You were scared to look at your leg.  So you kept your eyes on Commander Reyes' face.

            "You're in shock," he said.    

            "Probably," you agreed.  "And I'm really fucking cold.  I'd like to think of a clever simile, but I'm totally concussed."

            Commander Reyes frowned.  And like that, he scooped you up, holding you against his shockingly warm body.  It jolted you into a stronger sense of awareness.  You were concussed, but you knew the area.  So you wracked your brain for helpful information. 

            "Supplies run through a waypoint in the valley," you said, waving you hand in the general direction. 

            "I know the spot.  We have an extraction point there. It's only twenty miles or so."

            You weren't walking twenty miles or even a quarter of that. 

            "You can leave me here, Commander," you said.  "I know you'll come back."  You didn't know, but you didn't care.  You were tired now.  You were cold.  You just wanted to sleep. Commander Reyes was badass.  He could make it on his own.  You'd done your part. 

            "Stay awake, Lucky Strike."

            "Sorry, Commander."

            He hesitated.  "You can call me Reyes, given the circumstances."

            "Sure.  My name isn't Lucky Strike, but...you can call me that.  Everyone else did.  Everyone else-"  Your gut clenched.  You didn't want to think about everyone else.  "Fuck. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck."  You ground your teeth together. 

            Reyes began to walk, holding you against his body.   "Sugar will help.  I have a candy bar in my pocket.  Do you want it?" He asked.

            "Is that a euphemism?" You wondered.  Did you say that out loud?  Well when a grown man tells you to reach into his pocket for a sweet treat, what are you supposed to think? 

            "No, agent.  It's a chocolate bar.  What the hell is wrong with you?"

            "Ah, I did say that out loud.  Sorry.  Concussed.  Shocky.  I say things." 

            "Left side pocket, in my jacket," he emphasized the last word.  You reached down, finding the foil wrapped bar. You unwrapped it with your right hand and your teeth.  You weren't hungry, but when you bit into it, it was the best thing you could remember tasting. 

            "This is going to be a long walk," Reyes said.  "Talk to me.  Try to keep me entertained."

            "Or you'll drop me?"  You wondered and held up half the candy bar to Reyes' mouth. 

            "I'm considering it," he said.  "Take another bite.  Then I'll eat it."

            You obeyed and then offered the rest to him.  He took it in one bite and you were left with the wrapper.  You pocketed it, because littering was bad.  You were too fucked up to reason, but you knew it in your heart.  Shin told you so many times.

            Shin.  Your heart stuttered. 

            "Agent?"

            "I'm thinking.  It's hard.  It was hard before the potential brain damage, and it's worse since my skull is all swimmy."  You went for light, carefree, but the words came out tight and clipped. 

            "You definitely need to stay awake," Reyes said, trudging through the snow.  Great black plumes of smoke churned upward in the night.  The fire lit up the sky and it was oddly beautiful.  A funeral pyre for...

            "You got people out in the wide world?" You asked, trying to distract yourself.

            "I have family in Los Angeles," he said.  "You?"

            "No.  No people in Los Angeles, or anywhere else."  You shook your head and immediately regretted it.  That and you nearly got a literal eyeful of Reyes' nipple.  "Are you going to be OK with just a jacket?  Shouldn't you zip it up?"  He had it partially draped over you. 

            "Trying to keep you warm, Lucky Strike.  I'll be fine as long as I don't run out of energy."  He had insane body heat, and for that you were immensely grateful.  It was fucking cold, but you curled against him. 

            He marched down the hill, keeping a solid pace as he entered the forest. 
            "There are bears out here," you said.  "You can put me down and wrestle one if it comes to that."

            Reyes coughed.  "I'd prefer to leave it alone.  But if it attacks, I'll shoot it."

            "Not going to feed me to it?"

            "That would just make it angrier," he said, but there was no sharpness in his words.  You rested your cheek against his chest.  You could hear his heartbeat, steady and loud.  It was strangely soothing.   

            "Do you have more food?"

            Reyes snorted.  "Are you actually hungry?"

            "No, just wanted to make sure you'd have the energy to carry me and make it to the extraction point." 

            "I know what I'm doing, Lucky Strike.  Just follow orders and I'll get you out of here alive."

            You took a deep breath.  That was precisely what you wanted, no, needed to hear.  And orders meant keeping Reyes entertained.  You struggled to think of good stories, but the best ones involved your unit, and you were too raw inside to talk about them. 

             "So I used to be an import-export specialist," you told him.

            He made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a snort. 

            "Very respectable living where I'm from," you said sagely.  "A meal at least once a day, only one firefight a month if you're good, and a real interesting customer base."  You looked over his shoulder, but it didn't seem like you were being followed.

            "Weirdest thing you've transported?"

            You laughed.  "OK, I don't know if this was authentic, but the seller swore it was: a pair of Jack Morrison's combat pants.  Lightly worn, unwashed, and yeah...I didn't look.  The buyer was extremely fanboyish."

            Reyes made a choking sound.  "What?  How much did they cost?"

            "A cool ten thousand credits.  I got a transport fee.  I didn't set up the transaction." 

            Reyes began to laugh, then abruptly stopped.  "Ugh.  Ribs.  Real laughter hurts."

            "Sorry," you said.

            "No.  I'll have to tell him that.  We could start a business..."  Reyes paused.  "You remember the people involved?"  There was an odd intensity in his voice.

            "I think the seller worked at a hotel.  Like, got them from the laundry, not stole them from his dresser.  But I can't be sure."  You shrugged. 

            "Huh."  Reyes walked at a solid pace, not jostling you too much.  "How much do you think my pants would sell for?"

            "No clue.  As I said, I just arranged transport."  You looked down.  "But those look kind of beaten.  I guess there might be a market for it, but I'm not an expert."

            Reyes did one of those laugh-grimaces.  "Why are you called Lucky Strike?"

            You fell silent.  You didn't feel lucky, even though others would say you were.  You survived this far.  You had Commander Reyes helping you stay alive.  That was pretty lucky.  You should be grateful.  You just felt numb.  "Shin called me that," you said quietly.  "It stuck."  You blinked rapidly, hoping your tone was neutral.

            Reyes was silent for a moment.  "You and Lieutenant Sato were lovers?"  There was no judgment in his tone, and maybe Reyes was sharper than you expected. You shouldn't be telling the fucking head of Blackwatch your secrets, but you were afraid of sinking into silence.  You didn't want to die with these things unknown. 

            "Yes.  Cyborg got him.  Moved too fast for me and crushed his neck.  They wanted to know where you were.  Shin wasn't...cooperative."  You forced yourself to look off into the night and not at Reyes.  "I killed that bastard.  I shot him through the skull and cut his head off.  But that doesn't make me feel any better."

            Reyes was quiet for a long time.  "I'm sorry."

            You shrugged, because words weren't an adequate medium of expression and screaming wasn't an option.  "New subject, please."

           


 

            Commander Gabriel Reyes kept rewinding the past few days, trying to pinpoint how things got so fucked.  Black Base Delta had been wiped off the map.  He had already considered closing it down, especially after that bastard Gleeson had droned on about its importance.  But even before he'd nearly been assassinated, something about the whole setup rubbed him wrong. 

            And then someone had sent very expensive, very talented mercenaries to salt the earth. 

            Aishani was dead and most of her unit too.  The thought made his blood thunder.  She'd gone down fighting, like she'd wanted, but it didn't absolve him.  He was the one who'd asked her back.  He was the one who put her in this position. 

            Instead of answers, he had you in his arms.  A weirdly amusing, probationary agent, one who had aided and abetted the sale of Jack's pants.  Admittedly, it was fucking hilarious, though undeniably creepy. Jack would most definitely freak out.  It made him smile to think of the blonde man.  Things hadn't been good lately, but Aishani was right.  Jack was special.  Reyes nearly died today.  It put things into a clearer perspective.  Rank changed like fortune.  People?  People were what mattered. 

            "Why'd you join up?" He asked you.  He was comfortable with the silence, but you were obviously getting too tangled up in your thoughts. 

            "Pass for now," you whispered.  "Please," you added.

            Reyes grunted.  "What kind of bears are out here?"  He asked after a few minutes. 

            "Grizzly, I think."  You gnawed on your lower lip.  "They should be hibernating, but we've had issues with them not staying down all winter.  Climate change, you know.  And if you're wondering about grizzly bears versus omnics, omnics win.  As long as they have lasers or big guns.  The humanoid ones don't do so well, but it's a close thing."

            "Do you take bets on bear-baiting omnics?"  Reyes was a little disturbed.

            "I don't torture animals.  I've just seen it a few fights now.  It's weird.  Kind of sad, because you know the bear doesn't stand a chance.  And even if it disables the omnic, you're going to have to put it down because it can't survive the damage."

            "Huh."  Talking to you was more informative than Reyes expected. 

 


 

            "Yeah, I know, I learned a lot of things I never knew I never wanted to know since joining Overwatch."  Like how it felt to lose your whole unit.  You clenched your fists, and your left hand felt wrong.  You tried to wiggle your fingers and fire shot across your nerves.  You winced. 

            "How's the pain?" Reyes asked.

            "Grizzly Bear-able," you said.

            "I will drop you," he scowled.           

           "Plain bearable?" You said, because even if it wasn't, you didn't really have a choice. 

            "I have another chocolate bar," he said.  

            "Save it," you said.  "I'm on a diet."

            Reyes looked down at you incredulously. 

            "It was a joke," you said.

            "Jokes are supposed to be funny."

            You huffed.  "I'm doing the best I can in the middle of the night, in the Yukon, concussed."

            Reyes face softened.  "Yeah, OK.  But don't quit your day job." 

            You didn't ask if you still had a job.  You didn't know if you wanted it.  But he was being snarky, not literal.  Your mind didn't normally wander like this.  "Do you need to rest?"

            "No, I'm good.  I'll stop halfway."  He paused, looking out into the woods.  You couldn't see, but it seemed he had good night vision.  It made you wonder just what all was enhanced by SEP.  He started to move again, double quick.  You hung on tight, tucking your head down.  

            You lapsed back into silence, the pain in your limbs getting worse.  But your mind was coming out of the fog.  You were going to have to face some harsh truths soon. "Thank you," you said, after a moment, realizing that you'd lost your basic manners somewhere in the explosion. 

            "De nada," Reyes said.  "You dragged me out the base.  Expressly against orders," he added sharply. 

            "Yeah, well, they were stupid orders."

            Reyes stopped.  "What?"

            "You were obviously concussed and in no position to make that call.  So yeah, I ignored you."  You grimaced as your left leg bumped against his hip. 

            "Don't ever emphasize to your commanding officer that you thought his orders were stupid and that you deliberately disobeyed him," Reyes said tautly. 

            "Or you'll drop me?"  You looked up at his surly face.  He was rigid in the moonlight, jaw clenched.  "Captain Aishani was my commanding officer," you said quietly.  "She told me to get you out alive.  That's what she died for.  That's what mattered.  I didn't repeat my cyborg decapitation trick just to let you get blown to meat confetti."   

           Reyes' fingers dug into you right thigh.  You winced and he hastily loosened his grip.  "That was- shit.  That was you."  It was more shocked acknowledgement than question. 

            "Who else was left?" You laughed, though it wasn't the least bit funny.  "You actually forgot." 

            "I've seen you fight hand-to-hand," Reyes said dryly.  "But now that you mention it, I do remember a knife popping out of that bastard's throat.  I guess I'd been focusing on...everything else."  

            You felt your back, the familiar weight gone.  Your heart dropped.  Everything you'd owned was gone.  If you'd lost Shin's tanto...

            "Relax.  It's on my belt.  I picked it up when I was treating your injuries."

            You reached down, fingers circumnavigating his belt. 

            "What the hell, puta?  You don't just go groping a man!"

            You ignored him, till he swatted your hand away.  He fiddled with his belt and then handed you the familiar blade.  You clutched it against your chest. 

            "Thank you," you said.  "It's important to me."

            Reyes resumed his quick pace.  "I can see that." 

            "I'm not the kind of person who gets into a fair fight," you said.  "That's for people with super enhancements and pride to spare."

            Reyes chuckled at that.  "Fair point."  He looked at the knife, a peculiar light in his eyes.  "Maybe we should reconstruct what happened, while the memory is fresh." 

            You felt calmer with the tanto in hand.  So you told Reyes everything, glossing over the aftermath of Shin's death.  You told him about Valdez and Nwazue.  You didn't go into detail about your kills, but you informed him of them.  You'd killed eight men tonight.  It wasn't a fair trade for all your friends.

            "It's good you grabbed the pulse rifle," he said.  "These aren't supposed to be out of development yet.  It gives us somewhere to start."  Then Reyes told you that he'd been inspecting some of the shipments the base had received.  Manifests sent to HQ didn't match the inventory on hand.  He'd been doing that when the attack began.  They'd gone after his guest quarters first, then spread through the whole base.  Reyes fought his way through, finding no survivors along the way.  He too picked up comm chatter on Captain Patel's location. 

            "In conclusion," he said wryly.  "It was a fucking waste."

            "We were betrayed," you said.

            Reyes went silent at that. 

            "No alarms sounded.  The only reason Shin and I knew something was wrong was because Valdez made an enormous racket before they killed him.  I pulled the fire alarm, and it only worked because it was manual.  All our comm channels were down.  The blast doors were unlocked and they knew where to find you."  You thought about the equipment you'd procured for Rivka.  No, if Rivka betrayed you, she wouldn't have needed extra equipment. She could open the doors, sabotage the system, and be out with no problem.  No help needed. 

            You were still uneasy.

            Reyes stayed quietly for an awfully long time.  "You're right," he said, having done the situational calculus.  "Motherfucker!" He snarled.  "I knew I recognized some of those mercs." He paused.  "Talon."  The word came out a hiss. 

            You had no idea what he was talking about.  But the epiphany reinvigorated him. He kept moving, fast enough the cold wind began to sting.  You clung to him, shivering.   Reyes was sweating when he stopped.  He reached in his pocket, tore open the chocolate bar, and ate half in one bite. 

            "Eat the rest," he ordered.

            "Are you going to need it?" You asked, taking a moment to rub your numb legs.    

            "Depends on how long it takes Overwatch to find us."

            You put back in his pocket.  "I'm good."

            "You're a fucking trip, Lucky Strike." 

            "You're welcome," you told him, patting his rather solid chest. 

            Reyes glowered down at you, his dark eyes smoldering.  "It's my chocolate bar."

            "Definitely.  Which is why I put it back in your pocket.  You're getting grumpy.  You're probably going to need it sooner rather than later."  You tried to wiggle your leg.  "Just so you know, I can't feel my toes.  Or my left hand."

            Reyes swore an impressive stream of Spanish.  He set you down against a tree and pulled your boots off. 

            "No frostbite yet," he said, rubbing circulation back into your feet.  "The good thing about the cold is it slowed the bleeding."  He touched your left calf and you winced.  He continued vigorously working your extremities between his large palms.  But he didn't try to jostle your left hand.  Instead he tucked it in his very warm armpit.  You flinched, partially because that was gross, but mostly because you were regaining feeling in it and it hurt. 

            "Thank you," you said after a moment.  Because while it was weird and embarrassing, Reyes was trying to keep you from losing digits.  That was thoughtful.  He even put your shoes back on for you, because you weren't tying any laces one-handed. 

            "...You're welcome," he said gruffly.  "And thank you, for saving me twice." 

            "I think this more than makes up for it.  Stabbing people is easy.  Putting other people's cold hands in your pits; that's real friendship." 

            Reyes laughed at that, then winced.  "Don't make me laugh, chica." 

            "I'm concussed.  Can't be held responsible for what I'm saying." 

            "I'm concussed too," he said.

            "Yeah, but you're a super soldier.  You heal fast.  Totally different situation.  Also, do you need to worry about frostbite?"

            "I run at a higher temp than you, and no, I'm good right now."  Rolling his shoulders, Reyes lifted you back up, tucking you tightly against his chest.  It would have been intimidating if your brain was working properly.  As it was, it was just kind of comforting. 

            "Keep your hands tucked and protected.  I won't drop you." 

           "Even if I say something really stupid?"  You tucked clipped your dagger to your hip. 

            "Eh...no promises."  He took off his hat, and it surprised you to see he had a tangle of curls hidden underneath.  He tucked it over your head.  It was too big and slid down over your eyes, but it kept your ears warm. 

            "Thank you, Reyes," you said. 

            "Call me Gabriel.  If I'm giving you my clothes, you might as well call me by my first name."

            "You do this with all your subordinates?"

            "Just the ones stupid enough to defy orders and try to rescue me." 

            "Well, look how that worked out for me."  You pulled the hat up so you could see him.  "Master has given Dobby a hat!  Dobby is freeeeee!"

            "...You're an idiot, agent." 

            "I have a name."

            He said it then, the entire string.  He knew your actual name.  That surprised you a little.  "I make a point to know my people.  That and Aishani personally requested you."  He scratched his head.  You knew he was wondering about the nickname. 

            "Shin dubbed me "Lucky Strike" after I crashed an omnic firefight.  I had an old CZ 557 and played blitzkrieg without any shields.  Captain Patel's company wasn't advancing fast enough to rescue me, so I threw the grenades I'd been transporting into the fray.  They were uh...modded.  I lost my eyebrows, but took out the omnics.  Apparently, my antics made Captain Patel pray a lot, and freaked out the rest of the unit.  She told me to join up, because I was too stupid to survive on my own.  Shin thought it was all hilarious."

            "Aishani was right," Gabriel said wryly.  "She told me that story.  Showed me the gun too, because I'll admit, I thought she was joking." 

            You didn't like thinking about Captain Patel or Shin right now. 

            "Do you have someone to go home to?" You asked. 

            "Yes," he said with certainty.  "I do." 

            "That's good," you said, but you didn't ask more.  Your mind turned over a new problem.  There was no doubt in your mind that those cyborgs could have killed Gabriel, and it wasn't just your skills that saved him.  Why risk hand-to-hand with him?  Were they that unstable?

            "You alive?"

            "Thinking," you murmured.  You nestled there in Gabriel's arms and let yourself drift. 

            "Stay awake, Lucky," he said, going the path of everyone and shortening your nickname. 

            You tried, you really did.  But at some point, the world dropped off and you went with it. 

           

           

           

           

Chapter Text


             "Wake up, agent."  Groggily, you opened your eyes.  It was cold.  But something hot rested against your back.  You looked over your shoulder to find a bare-chested Gabriel Reyes holding you against him.  He was ripped, his chest moderately hairy.  He had even more scars and you turned your head back to keep from staring.  You were wrapped in his jacket, hat tucked over your ears, and he was rubbing your right hand. 

            "Sorry," you said.  "How long was I out?"

            "An hour, give or take." 

            "Sorry," you mumbled again. 

            He didn't seem angry.  "We're at the extraction point.  I've set up a beacon.  Now we just have to wait."  There was a tension in his voice that hadn't been there before.

            "You think we're going to get ambushed?" 

            "It crossed my mind."  He held you a little too tightly, like a stress ball.  "It's that or die of exposure." 

            "I remember when we both went down, someone reported that you'd been caught.  Maybe they think you're dead."  You rubbed your nose, it was icy.  "But I've been thinking.  If they wanted you dead, they would have shot you right away.  You're too dangerous to punch to death.  I think they wanted to take you alive."

            "I don't remember this."  His brow furrowed. "Pendejos.  Makes sense."  

            "We were kind of busy not getting killed.  But yeah, someone called in that you were in custody.  It was right after I noticed Captain Patel had stopped shooting, but before I went on my throat-slashing spree." 

            If you were in your right mind, you might have been concerned about all the touching.  But Gabriel wasn't doing anything untoward.  He just kept rubbing your stiff limbs.  Your mind seemed to flow with your pulse.  The cold sapped your strength, everything felt very heavy.    

            Gabriel unwrapped the leftover chocolate.

            "Open," he ordered.

            "You keep it.  I'm not going to be able to run away.  Don't waste it on m-"

            He calmly forced the candy into your mouth.  You nearly choked. 

            "Eat it," he said.  "That's an order."  He touched your forehead and swore.  "You're getting kind of warm, chica." 

            You chewed up the chocolate and swallowed.  This was ridiculous.  You were sitting in Commander Gabriel Reyes' lap, wearing his clothes, while he fed you chocolate.  You decided that you had actually been knocked unconscious back at the 9th Circle and were having bizarre hallucinations.

            "Is this one of your weirder survival situations?" You asked.

            Gabriel held your left hand.  He wouldn't let you peel back the bandages.  He hadn't said a word about it, but you realized he'd made a point not to let you see how it looked.  Your stomach sunk, but there was a good chance all of this was a bad dream.  You willed it to be so. 

            "Yes, but not the weirdest.  It was an urban zone.  We had to wear niqabs and skirts underneath, just in case.  Jack in a niqab is ridiculous."

            You pictured Commander Morrison crossdressing in full body-covering veils and dresses.  Yeah, you were definitely hallucinating now. 

            "You know a lot about frostbite."

            "Jack almost lost some digits to it.  And I have had other idiots under my command.  Ana's the only one with any sense."

            Even you'd heard of Captain Amari.  She was a legend.  "She's pretty," you told him, accepting the fact that none of this was real. 

            Gabriel snorted and began to laugh.  "Is Jack pretty too?"

            "Yes.  But Captain Amari is prettier.  And oh my god, don't tell her I said that.  She'll probably kill me."

            Gabriel snorted.  "Am I pretty?"

            "Yes," you said.  "You're the prettiest."

             "Now I'm worried," Gabriel said, but he sounded like he was laughing.

            You shrugged.  "None of this is real, so what does it matter?  I'll wake up in the 9th Circle and be like "why the hell did I eat nachos right before bed?"  It's very apparent that I have a lot of unresolved emotional issues and they're manifesting in strange ways."

            "This is real, idiota."

            "This is surreal, Gabriel."

            He couldn't really disagree.

 


 

            The orca dropping into view was a great relief.  And Jack, bags under his eyes, stubble clinging to his jaw, clad in his bright blue overcoat, Jack was one of the most beautiful things Gabriel had ever seen.  

            "Gabe!"  Jack hit the ground running. 

            Jesse and Ana brought up the rear. 

            Gabriel set you on the ground and caught Jack in a hug.  He winced as Jack squeezed his ribs.  

            "I'm sorry," Jack murmured.  "I shouldn't have let you go without...saying something."  Hair mussed, eyes wild, Jack took in Gabriel's injuries, his hands flitting between bruises. 

            "Mi cielito," Gabriel gripped the back of Jack's head and kissed him, the frustration and exhaustion draining away. 

            "Very pretty," you said, blinking up at them. 

            Jack looked between you and Gabriel, his confusion obvious. "You don't seem to be dressed for the weather, Gabe."

            "She needed it more than me," Gabriel said.  "But the idiota is borderline delirious.  Ignore her." 

            "Captain Amari is pretty," you declared. 

            Gabriel snorted and lifted you up.  "Yes, everyone is pretty, chica.  You should probably shut up before you embarrass yourself."

            Ana and Jesse caught up and Ana gave you a skeptical look. 

            You sighed and lowered your head.  "Too late." 

            Jack ignored you, staring off at the smoke still rising in the distance.  "Gabe...we saw the satellite footage.  What the hell happened?"

            Gabriel's expression darkened.  "We need to talk, Jack."

 


 

            You woke up in a small white bed, the air smelling of astringents.  Immediately you lifted the sheet.  Your left leg was bandaged, but it was there.  You checked your toes.  All accounted for.  But your left hand was wrapped, and it didn't feel right.  You began to pry at the white bandages. 

            "Easy, Lucky.  You've been out for 48 hours.  I can give you the damage report."  Gabriel sat next to your bed, more relaxed than you'd ever seen him.  He looked better than you remembered, no bruises, no blood stains.  He was back in his signature beanie, wearing his casual Blackwatch outfit: hoodie, jeans, and those insane metal boots.  There was a chair and a curtain surrounding your bed. 

            "How bad?" You asked.

            "You're missing half your index, middle, and ring fingers on your left hand.  They were pretty shredded from the explosion. Angela saved what she could." 

            "Now I'll never be concert pianist," you said, trying for levity.  It fell flat in your ears.  

            "We can get you prostheses," Gabriel said, his deep voice soft.  "Maybe with extra attachments, if you have any ideas."

            "Multitool, pressure injector, and vibrator," spilled out of your mouth and then you clapped your uninjured hand over your mouth.  "Or knives.  I can be Agent Stabby Fingers."  You held your mutilated hand up.  "Wow, that sounded better in my head, less B movie.  Is this how it starts? Because I saw some of those cybernetic mods on those mercs and am I going to look like that?"

            Gabriel rubbed his forehead.  "I'm hoping that's the anesthetic talking."

            "It's the panic," you agreed.  "You OK?  Because you look OK."

            "Fine."  He folded his hands together.  "Except for all paperwork.  You should eat."

            A blonde woman appeared from behind the curtain, with a tray.  "Good, you are awake.  Eat first, then take these."  She set a cup of pills beside your pudding cup. 

            It was bland stuff, creamed corn, steamed carrots, and something you thought was turnips.  You ate, too hungry to taste anything or be self-conscious that Gabriel was watching you.  The pudding cup was best part, even if it was tapioca and not chocolate.  You took your pills, and put the tray aside, feeling more human than you could remember. 

            "Where am I?  What is happening?  Did anyone else get out?" 

            "You are the sole survivor of the terrible accident that befell Black Base Delta," Gabriel said formally.

            "What?"  You screeched.

            "I'm sorry.  You will be debriefed soon."  Gabriel studied your face and you realized your mouth was hanging open.  His eyes darkened and he leaned closer.  "Do you trust me?"

            You stared at him, trying to work your jaw.  He'd saved your life, carried you through the snow, and made sure your wounds were treated.  He'd been here when you woke up, the only familiar face left.  You didn't think he was going to throw you under the bus, make it out to somehow be your fault.  You didn't think he'd do that.  You took a deep breath.  "Yes, Gabriel."

            His frowned slightly, like he didn't believe you.  "Then here are your orders.  You are not authorized to talk about the events leading up to the destruction of Black Base Delta with anyone lacking the proper clearances.  I am your commanding officer.  You will not pick and choose how to follow these orders, am I making myself clear?" 

            You sat back in the bed, staring at Gabriel.  There was a hard cast to his face, mouth set in a grim line.  He meant it.  "Yes, sir."

            "There are procedures before you can be promoted to full agent.  You are ordered to write an account of the events leading up to the base's destruction, as well as your activities that evening.  You will also undergo a polygraph.  If you fail to complete these in a satisfactory manner you will be dismissed." 

            "Understood," you said.  "Sir."

            Clenching your fists you stared down at your lap.   Eating had been a mistake.  You felt queasy now.  How were you supposed to take this?  You didn't expect him to hug you and tell you everything was going to be OK.  However this reception put real fear into you.  The rug had been pulled out from under you again and you were falling. 

            Gabriel, no Commander Reyes got up and left. 


 

            Hahaha.  How were you supposed type while drugged and down a hand?  You sat in the bed and stared hard at the tablet Captain Amari had brought you.  Oh, voice recognition, right.  The painkillers helped, but you really wanted to take the bandages off and see the damage for yourself.  Dr. Ziegler had actually smacked your hand when she caught you trying to remove it, then lectured you and threatened to get restraints. 

            "Focus, Agent," Captain Amari said. 

            "I'm not...entirely here," you told Captain Amari.

            "I can tell," she said politely.  "But you need to give your account, while your memory is fresh."

            "My entire brain is floaty weird," you said.  "And I'm sorry I said you were pretty, not because you aren't, but because it was not a socially appropriate occasion to make that observation and I wouldn't want to detract from your value as a big goddamn hero, which certain types will do if they view a woman as "pretty."  I only have platonic admiration for you, Captain, so please don't be weirded out.  Also, I was hallucinating, only that...kiss wasn't a hallucination.  Shit. Oh my god, why am I talking so much? What the hell is wrong with me?"      

            Captain Amari only raised a brow, and to her credit, she didn't look the least bit surprised.

            An epiphany slapped you in the face and you gawped.  They'd drugged you on purpose.  Your inner voice grew steadily more paranoid, especially after Commander Reyes called everything an "accident."  You stared at your hands.  They didn't have reliable truth serum, that you knew of.   That you knew of, you pleb.  "Shit spiders," you muttered.

            "Shit spiders" appeared on the tablet screen.  Best mission report ever. 

            "Go on," Captain Amari said. 

            OK, they wanted to read your mission report?  They wanted to drug you first?  Fuck'em.  You were going to give them their damn post-mission report.  It would be the best post-mission report ever. 

            The screen reflected your thoughts.  Apparently you'd said all that out loud. 

            Captain Amari was laughing at you. 

            You began at racket Valdez made.  You ended at the rescue.  You tried to gloss over anything that made you feel.  You admitted you and Shin were sleeping together, but you didn't have to tell them how his death turned your insides to broken glass.  You admitted you might have a little bit of hero worship where Captain Patel was concerned, you didn't have to tell them it was like burying your family all over again.  You admitted you did everything you could to save Commander Reyes, you didn't have to tell them you were ready to give up after that.   So you didn't tell them what you didn't have to.  Just the facts with an unhealthy dose of truth serum induced stream-of-consciousness.  Because fuck'em. 

            By the time you were done, Captain Amari wasn't laughing any more. 

           


 

            They let you rest after the mission report.  You'd had no visitors, and every time Angela pulled back the curtain, you'd hoped, prayed, Gabriel had been wrong and someone else from your unit would appear.  Thatwas a pipedream. Two days later, you were released from the infirmary.  Your tanto was missing, as were your clothes.  Well, Shin's shirt.  You suspected it wouldn't smell like him any more, even if you did get it back.  They gave you generic sweats to wear. 

            Your leg was functional, Angela having done some bizarre pseudo-skin graft to prevent infection.  You could walk, but you wouldn't be running any time soon.  Your left hand remained bandaged.  It felt whole, and your fingers itched, alleged missing parts included, but you couldn't get to them.  The sensation was driving you mad. 

            Captain Amari escorted you through the base.  You were in Switzerland of course, and it was huge.  You took it in quietly, knowing Shin would have liked it here.  Most people ignored you, though one or two stopped to whisper to a companion.  You wondered what story was being told.  Gas leak? Omnics?  Rocks fell and almost everyone died?

            "What you have endured is unfair," Captain Amari, said out of the blue.  She hadn't come out admitted you were drugged, but you both knew it. 

            "It's about to get worse, isn't it?" You crossed your arms.  Shin would have liked Switzerland.  You were starting to hate it. 

            "That depends on you," she said.  "You left some things out of that mission report."

            "I spat out every flickering thought I had, for you guys to dissect."  You paused.  "But then, the newbie is always suspicious.  Especially if they're the "sole survivor." Fuck."  Imagine what would have happened if you hadn't saved Commander Reyes.  Your life wouldn't be worth shit.  You turned your head.  "I told you what happened, Captain."

            "Everything?" She asked.

            "Everything that happened, as I remember.  Some parts are fuzzy."  Like Shin's death.  Half your trip with Gabriel, scratch that Commander Reyes.  You weren't in a position to be that informal with him now.  You understood that clearly.

            "You didn't tell us everything," Captain Amari said gently.  "But you will."  She opened a door and ushered you in, shutting it firmly behind you.  You almost turned right around and tried to walk back out. 

            You were developing so many fucking trust issues. 

            "Sit down, agent."  The man behind the table was polished.  French accent, neat pointed mustache, and even in combat blacks he looked debonair.  You distrusted him immediately, but you sat on an elaborate looking computer chair. 

            "Have you taken a lie detector test before?" He asked.

            "Nope," you said.

            "It is quite simple, and the technology has caught up a great deal."  He regarded you a piercing stare.  "Anything you've heard about "beating" the test, I would recommend forgetting.   It won't help you, and we know what to look for."

            He placed sensors on your wrist, chest, face, spine, and legs.  A screen lit up on his tablet monitoring pulse, heart rate, and other metrics you weren't so sure of. 
            "I am Gérard Lacroix," he said.  "You may have heard of me." 

            You thought about it.  "Nope," you said.  "Sorry." 

            To your surprise, he smiled slightly at that.  "All right.  I want to get some baseline readings.  State something true."

            "This sucks," you said.  "I'd never heard of you before." 

            "Truth," he agreed.  "Now lie."

            "I love surprise tests," you said. 

            "Lie," he agreed.  "Now give me something complex."

            "I like Overwatch.  It's great."

            He actually laughed at you.  "Interesting choice.  Now what does this make you feel?"  He held your tanto in hand.  Your felt your heart speed up.

            "That's mine," you said, measuring your words.  "I want it back."

            "And if I told you I had to hold onto for evidence?"

            "I want it back," you practically snarled. 

            "Good," he said, placing it on the table.  "We will talk about that later."

            You glared at him.  He was the bad cop and the insufferable Sherlock Holmes rolled into one smarmy French pastry.  And if he was against you, well, you were already fucked. 

            He started easy, asking questions about your childhood.  They were mostly "yes" or "no."  You tried not to let your gaze stray to the mirrored window on the side.  Captain Amari was there and you knew Commander Reyes was as well.  Who else?  It didn't matter.

            "Have you heard of Talon?" He asked.

            "No.  Yes," you amended.  "Commander Reyes mentioned them when we were escaping." 

            "Was that the first time you'd heard of them?"

            "Yes," you said. 

            Lacroix gave you a skeptical look.  Or maybe that's how rich people looked at reformed criminals.  You couldn't tell.

            "Are you sure that's the first time you've heard of them?"

            "Yes," you repeated, annoyed. 

            "And you've never encountered them before?"

            "Not that I know of," you said.

            "Are you sure?" he asked, his tone implying something you didn't like.

            "I'm sure," you ground out. 

            He gave you half a minute of silence, leisurely inspecting his screen. 

            "I know nothing except the name," you said. 

            Lacroix tapped something on his screen, ignoring you.  You wanted to cross your arms, but you held still, glaring at your interrogator. 

            "You were a smuggler," he said, switching gears.  "And it's known that you procured things for fellow agents."  His tone grew snide.  "Commander Reyes mentioned there were issues with manifests.  Were you stealing and selling Overwatch property?"

            "No!"  You threw your hands up.  "I was a probationary agent!  Captain Patel said if I washed out she'd take me out back with a shovel.  So no, I wasn't about to fuck that up."

            "But you were doing a side business," he said.

            "Yes.  Tahini, silk flowers," your brain stuttered as you remembered Rivka.  You had concerns about what she was doing, but you weren't about to voice them to this guy.  He was looking for something to nail you with.  "Lots of booze and cigarettes," you added.   

            "Illegal narcotics?"  He came around the table, leaning over you.  

            "Nothing harder than booze and cigarettes," you repeated. 

            "What else?" Lacroix asked, scrutinizing the readings on his screen.

            "Vintage porn mags, rabbit meat, calligraphy brushes..."

            "Were you selling anything stolen?"

            "No," you said firmly. 

            "Did you ever smuggle unauthorized weapons onto the base?"

            "No." 

            "Where did this knife come from?"

            "Shin gave it to me."  You stared at it.  You would be getting it back. 

            "And you were sleeping with Lieutenant Sato?"

            "Yes.  And we were fucking."  You held your head up. daring him to judge.  He was unfazed. 

            "You are aware fraternization with a direct superior is against regulations?"

            "I took my orders from Captain Patel," you said.  It was your one flimsy defense.  But it was also true.   "If Shin gave me orders, they were from her."

            "Semantics," he said.  "Did Lieutenant Sato use his position of authority to convince you to have sexual relations with him?"

            "No, we were consenting adults," you said, your eyes narrowed. 

            "Are you aware of anyone in your unit, Shin Sato included, contributing to the sabotage of Black Base Delta?"

            "No!"  You might have shouted.  "I watched my friends die," you said grimly.  "You be careful what you say about them." 

            "Are you threatening me, mademoiselle?" He asked, sounding vaguely amused. 

            "Friendly warning," you said with a feral smile.

            "Lie," he replied with an easy smile.

            You sat there, breathing deep, willing yourself to calm down. 

            "Did you lie or otherwise try to beat the truth serum when you gave your post-mission support?"

            "I tried to reign in what I was spewing," you said.  "Obviously, it didn't work."

            "Yes, "shit spiders" indeed."  A trace of amusement in his voice.  But his eyes were hard.  "You left things out."

            "No, I told you what happened."

            "You started in Lieutenant Sato's quarters?"

            "I spent a lot of time there," you said. "But yes, we had sex." 

            "You got separated and followed a trail of bodies?"

            "Yes."

            "Did you shirk?  Were you hiding?  Was that what got Lieutenant Sato killed/"

            You clenched your fists.  "Fuck you."

            "Answer the question, agent."  He said your title like an insult.

            "No.  I didn't hide."  You were in that hall again, taking in the bodies of the dead.  You knew them all.  You also knew they were dead.  You just had to reach Shin...  "I was trying to find him and I was too fucking slow.  OK?  I know it.  I took the shot, but-"  You wiped your eyes defiantly.  "Yeah, I was too slow.  It was a mistake to depend on me.  But I didn't run away from the fight and I didn't betray anyone."  Your breathing was ragged and you hated that you were shedding tears in front of this jackass.  It felt like he was winning and you just wanted to punch him in his stupid rich smug face.

            "So you admit you didn't do a good job?" 

            You held up your hand.  "I've got skin grafts and a maimed hand.  I've paid for my stupidity."

            "Minor cosmetic injuries," Lacroix said, gesturing with his two good hands and you wished your left hand wasn't bandaged so you could throttle him. 

            "Anything requiring surgery isn't minor," you growled. 

            He hmmed, and scrolled through his tablet screen, but you could see his shrewd eyes on you.  You held eye contact, unwilling to show him fear.    

            "You killed, hmm, eight people? Any way of confirming that?  You only have so-so combat scores."

            "I can count.  Eight people, at least half of them with cybernetic upgrades."  You paused.  "You know what, it doesn't matter.   I don't need credit for that."

            "Do you know where the pulse rifle came from?"

            "I got it off the cyborg that murdered Shin."

           You were getting a feel for his pattern.  Lull, sharp question, lull, gut punch.  Repeat.  This wasn't just a lie detector test, this was an interrogation.  On a rational level, you understood why it was necessary.  But it was a shit thing to do.  You were vulnerable and Lacroix was exploiting that. 

            "Were you ordered to get close to Commander Reyes?"

            "I was ordered to "keep that jackass alive."  End quote." 

            Lacroix chuckled.  "And those were your only orders regarding him?"

            "Yes."

            "Are you going to tell us what you left out of your mission report?"

            "You keep saying that, but I didn't.  Well actually, I have no clue, because I don't have the clearance to read it.  To my knowledge, I didn't leave anything out, but I was drugged, so who knows?"

            Lacroix snapped his tablet on the table.

            "You think you are clever, but you aren't fooling me.  You think this a joke?  Thirty six people are dead.  And you want to make witty bon mots?"

            You stubbornly glared at him.

            "What do you know about Talon?"

            "That I want them dead," you spat.  "If it was them, I want them dead."

            Lacroix watched you impassively.  "Have you ever collaborated or worked for an outside agency to the detriment of Overwatch and or Blackwatch?"

            "No."

            "Have you had sexual relations with Commander Reyes?"

            "No!"  Shin had just died.  "What kind of questions are these?"

            "The ones I am asking you," Lacroix said sharply.   "What else do you know about Talon?"

            Lacroix hit the important points multiple times and from different angles.  Talon, your smuggling, and whatever he thought you were leaving out.  You didn't know how long you were in there, but by the end, you were drained.  

            "Are we done?" You scowled.  There'd been a few moments when you'd nearly gotten out of your chair and slugged him, but you forced yourself to stay sitting. 

            "Allow me to be blunt.  You have already broken several rules, and demonstrated you don't really care about regulations.   You have blatantly defied orders on more than one occasion. Do you understand how bad this looks?"

            "I don't care," you said.  "I completed my mission.  Commander Reyes is alive.  I'm missing finger parts.  I don't care.  Give me my tanto and I will fucking walk home." 

            You weren't sure where home was now, but it didn't matter.  It wasn't here.

            Lacroix stood and showed you the door.  Stone-faced, you found Captain Amari waiting for you.  She silently escorted you to another room and gestured for you to go inside.  It was a cell.  You considered running.

            "Do you trust me?" Commander Reyes had asked while you lay in that hospital bed.  You'd said "yes," but maybe not so much.  You forced yourself to relax and step into the cage. 

            Captain Amari shut you in. 

            You sat down on the bunk and waited.

 


 

            "You want to what?" Gabriel asked sharply.

            "We need to interrogate her," Gérard Lacroix said, his voice soft.  "While I trust your judgment, it is also possible she is a Talon plant.  Wouldn't it be convenient?  After saving your life, you would trust her implicitly."

            Gabriel, Jack, Gérard, and Ana sat around the conference room table.  Each of them held a copy of your dossier. 

            "Her background is impossible to verify," Ana said examining the file.  "Half that region was wiped out a decade ago." 

            "She has some dubious connections," Gérard continued.  "I believe you Gabriel, but we have to do our due diligence."

            "Aishani picked her out, Jack.  That counts for something." 

            Jack nodded.  "It does.  And you like her.  That counts for even more."  Warmth flared in Gabriel's chest.  Jack was trying.  "But given what happened, we need to question her thoroughly.  If she's as good an agent as you think, she'll be fine.  This needs to be done if you want her working on the operation."

            Gabriel growled under his breath.  They were right of course.  And he was biased.  This was all routine.  "It will get her clearances out of the way too," he said.    

            "Blackwatch efficiency," Jack said, shaking his head.  "Gabriel you're our best interrogator, but..."

            "I will do it, Gabriel.  She trusts you and that is well and good.  No sense breaking that.  I do not mind being the bad cop. "  Gérard picked up the mission report.  "Shit spiders?"

           


 

            You might have laid down and cried a little before you passed out.  It wasn't the worst day of your life, but it was the day when everything hit you at once.  Captain Patel was dead. Shin was dead.  Overwatch thought you were a traitor. 

            When you woke up, Captain Amari was sitting in the room.  You were too drained to make a fuss.  You just sat up, rubbed your face, and waited for her to speak. 

            "Is there anything you wish to say?" She asked.

            "I don't think there's anything left to say."  You hesitated.  "No wait, shit spiders."

            She didn't look amused.  "Shit spiders are not a good defense."

            "Do I need a lawyer?" You asked, because you didn't know any.

           "Blackwatch trouble doesn't go to court," she said, a little too ominous for your taste. 

            You leaned against the wall.  "Is it trial by gladiator?  Because if so, I'm fucked."

            "Do you have anything you can give me so I can help you?" 

            "Uhh..."

            "Information," she clarified, looking annoyed. 

            "I answered all Lacroix's questions to the best of my ability.  I gave you my awesome post-mission report.  I mean, I can tell you the price of tulips in Peru, as of a week ago, but I've got nothing else, ma'am."

            She stood.  "Good luck, agent."  She exited, and two men stepped into the room.             

            The cowboy looked familiar.  But it was the cyborg that had you tensing.  You didn't realize Blackwatch had them too.  Goddamnit.

            "You're to come along with us," the cowboy said.  He was grinning and touching the revolver on his belt.  The cyborg waited silently.

            You followed, watching the cyborg from the side.  His overall design looked nothing like the ones you fought in the 9th Circle.   He was more metal than they were.  Part of his chest and one arm were flesh, but you weren't sure how much was left under all the metal.  You flexed your left hand unconsciously. 

            "It's rude to stare," the cowboy said.

            "Sorry," you muttered, and regretted it. 

            The cyborg met your gaze, his eyes the only human part visible on his face.  "I understand it is horrifying to see."  His accent was Japanese, heavier than Shin's.  Thankfully, they sounded nothing alike. 

            You shrugged.  Yeah, cyborgs were fucking terrifying.  You were going to have nightmares for the rest of your life.  But it seemed rude to say that to him. "You just look really different from the last batch I met." 

            "Huh," the cowboy said, exchanging looks with the cyborg.   "How so?"

            "Hush," the cyborg said.  "We are not supposed to be conversing."

            "Their whole design was much clunkier. And they were wearing shirts," you said.

            The cowboy snickered. 

            "Hush," the cyborg repeated, but he wasn't looking at you. 

            You walked down the hall, past other cells and what you were sure were interrogation chambers.  You didn't really want to find out.  You followed them till they stopped outside a room, the placard by the door said "Commander Gabriel Reyes."

            You sucked in a breath. 

            Did you trust him? 

            It didn't matter.  You'd done what he asked. 

            The cowboy knocked.

            "Enter."

            The officer was large, two desks, a large terminal, and Commander Reyes sitting on what you assumed was his desk.  Strike Commander Morrison, Captain Amari, and Agent Lacroix were there as well.

            "Lucky Strike," Commander Reyes said, inclining his head at you.

            Tight-lipped, you nodded back. 

            The cowboy elbowed you lightly. "He wants you to salute, say "sir," the whole shebang.  Gets kind of salty if you don't."

            "Shut it, Jesse," Commander Reyes said.  "I bet you three are wondering why you're here." 

            "How come you don't have to salute?" Jesse murmured. 

            "Because I'm pretty sure I don't work here," you growled back. 

            "Shut it," Commander Reyes snapped.  Then he said your name.  "You've been promoted to full agent."

            You looked at him, then Lacroix, then back at Commander Reyes.  You couldn't quite get the incredulity off your face.  "Who said I wanted to work for you after...all that?"  You waved your injured hand trying to come up with a gesture that encompassed your feelings.  But your middle finger wasn't available. 

            Jesse began to laugh.  Strike Commander Morrison turned around so you couldn't see his face.  Captain Amari covered her mouth.  Agent Lacroix just smiled pleasantly. 

            Commander Reyes fixed his burning glare on you.  You stared back unwilling to be cowed.    

            "I thought you wanted to avenge your friends."  There was no heat in his voice.  But he didn't look happy. 

            "I thought you suspected me of being a traitor!"  You threw your hands up.  "Why the hell would you think that?"

            "I think we should clarify.  You passed your...tests," Lacroix said.  "I am sorry for the deception, but that was standard tradecraft.  Interrogate everyone.  Capitalize on a weak spot and torque till you say something interesting.  We had to be sure." 

            "Meaning you're a gullible idiot," Commander Reyes said.  "You're in, and everyone in here is cleared to know about Operation Shit Spiders."

            "Seriously?" Jesse asked. 

            "It was randomly generated," Commander Reyes said without batting an eye. 

            You rubbed your face.  There were too many feelings inside you and you didn't know which one was going to surface first.  You wanted to hate Lacroix, and you certainly weren't going to any of his dinner parties, but it all made sense now and you were an idiot. 

            "Are you in, Lucky Strike?" Commander Reyes asked. 

            "Yes, sir," you said, face buried in your hands. 

            "Are you all right?" Captain Amari asked. 

            "I'm...processing." You were trying not to hate everybody right now, because they didn't actually deserve it.  OK, maybe a little.  Maybe you were overreacting.  You couldn't tell.  Your judgment was severely impaired.  

            "Is there cake?" You asked when you had your face under control.  It seemed the safest thing to say. 

            "No," Commander Reyes said.  He sounded annoyed.  Why was he annoyed?  He hadn't been stuck in the infirmary for days.  He hadn't been under interrogation.  Was a little cake such an unreasonable request?

            "I told you we should have brought a cake," the Strike Commander whispered to Captain Amari.  "New Overwatch agents get cake." 

            "You can get cake in the mess hall, after we've briefed Genji and Jesse," Commander Reyes said. 

            "Is he lying to me?" You asked Genji.          

            "There is usually cake in the mess hall," the cyborg told you.

            Jesse elbowed you again.

            It almost looked like there was smoke pouring from Commander Reyes' ears.  You shut up. 

 


 

            "Was that...necessary?" Gabriel asked.  Jack, Ana, and him had all sat in on the interrogation.  He'd winced at some of the implications, but Gérard had not been out of line. 

            Gérard looked between him and Jack.  "The interrogation was pretty light.  These things are always delicate.  But her responses were consistent and the fact she hasn't heard of me tipped the scales in her favor.  I am satisfied that she is not a double agent."

            "I meant the question about sex with me.  Seriously?  That was on your mind?"  He looked at Jack, wondering for a moment, if he'd put Gérard up to it. 

            "That was for her protection," Gérard said lightly. 

            "What do you mean?" Gabriel narrowed his eyes. 

            "There's a rumor going around that she's your...lover," Ana said.  "Since we're officially calling it an "accident" and she is the only one who survived at night, coincidentally alongside you, well, you know how it goes."  She wrinkled her nose. 

            "Jack-"

            "I'm not worried Gabriel," he said. "I'm fully briefed on the situation."  He rested his hand on Gabriel's shoulder.  It'd been like that since he got back.  Jack couldn't stop touching him, reassuring himself that Gabriel was here and alive. 

            "Should there be any kind of inquiry, it will be on-record that your relationship was...above-board."  Gérard folded his hands in his lap.  "I have no lingering concerns.  It would be wise to get her a therapist for the grief."

            "Already set up.  Her quarters have been allocated and I'll drop off her things in a minute.  Any other issues?" 

            "You're soft on her.  With you, she gets away with things most people wouldn't dream of," Ana said mildly.    

            Gabriel shrugged.  "She saved my life in a dramatic and touching fashion.  I'm a sucker for grand gestures."  He tilted his head back.  "Aishani told me to take care of her.  So yeah, she's not just another grunt now.  She's one of Aishani's strays and she's mourning her unit."  He paused.  "That's why you're in charge of her.  You aren't a big softie like me."

            Ana sat back in her chair.  "All right.  No objections.  Jack?" 

            "No objections.  Now will there be cake?" Jack asked. 

            "This is Blackwatch," Gabriel said.  "We don't need no stinking cake."

 


 

            There was white cake in the mess hall, but you found yourself unable to eat it.  You packed it up in a napkin and Jesse walked you back to your new room. 

            "Welcome aboard," he told you with a charming smile.  "Some time I'll tell you about my initiation; it was a barrel of tarantulas and there was no cake." 

            "That sounds awful," you said. 

            "It was," he agreed. 

            The door was keyed to your biometrics.  When you opened it, Commander Reyes was inside, sitting in your chair.  It was a small suite - bed, desk, dresser, your own bathroom.  It reminded you a little of Shin's bedroom and you had to take a deep breath. 

            "People are going to talk," you said walking in and shutting the door.  You set the cake down on the dresser. 

            He grunted.  "People are already talking.  The best thing to do is ignore them."

            "Since you're warning me, I'm guessing it's nothing nice."  You crossed your arms and leaned against the wall.  "Hit me." 

            "You only survived because we were out having sex."  He said it bluntly and you winced.  "I know."

            You blew out a frustrated breath.  "My tanto?"

            "Here."  He handed it to you with both hands.  "It's a good blade.  I'm sorry things are starting out so rough."

            "I've seen spy movies.  I get it."  You tucked the blade in your waistband.  "Do you want me to confirm, deny, or be coy?"

            "Up to you."

            "Don't want to make things difficult for you and the Strike Commander."

            There was a long pause.  "He's aware of the rumors.  He's also knows they're false."

            You pushed your hair back.  "I'll wait and see how people are acting before I react."

            "I've scheduled you a meeting with Angela and Torby tomorrow at 0900 hours.  Your bandages are good to come off and they will get you set up with prostheses."

            "Thanks," you said, not looking at your hand. 

            "Your clothes were pretty shredded,  but what's left is in the drawer.  There are some extra sets of sweats.  You can go by the quartermaster tomorrow and put in an order for uniforms. You're getting a pay raise by the way.  Officially, you're my assistant.  Unofficially, you're part of the team that's investigating just how this happened and how far it goes."

            "Talon," you said. 

            "Probably," he rubbed his nose.  "Are we good?"

            "Yes, commander."

            "Gabriel," he said. "Gabriel in private is fine."

            "OK," you said, squashing your urge to be petty and add "commander" to the end of that sentence.  It was a near thing.

            "As for chain of command, you're Ana's subordinate."

            "Why?"

            "I'm...difficult on assistants.  It's a high turnover job."  He rubbed the back of his neck.  "If I'm asking too much of you, say something to Ana.  She'll be an impartial judge." 

            "It'll also fuel the rumor that we're sleeping together," you said, not entirely convinced.    

            "It's not meant to be common knowledge," he said.  "Expect shit tons of paperwork, some commendations that will be top secret, and more training."  He stood.  "You're getting grief counseling too.  That's not negotiable."

            You cocked your head to the side.  "That's awfully presumptuous of you."

           "I've buried a lot of friends, chica. It doesn't stop hurting.  You're going to need help, and if you don't like this one, we've got a few on staff.  My door is open and so is Ana's." 

            You averted your eyes, because the pain etched on Gabriel's face was very real.  It struck a hard chord and you rubbed your temples.  "OK.  Thanks.  For getting me set up."

            "Do you need anything else?"

            "A map.  Street clothes and gear.  New friends."  There was more bite in your words than you anticipated. 

            Gabriel brow furrowed.  "You're still angry."  You didn't recognize the expression he wore. "I'm not going to apologize for doing my job."

            "Not asking for one."  You picked up the paper plate of cake and the plastic fork. "I'm...not myself.  I've killed people before.  I've seen people die.  But it wasn't like this."  You took a bite of cake.  It was OK.  Valdez's were better.  You got an involuntary flash of his battered body, brains leaking out.  You forced yourself to swallow your cake and put the plate down.  "I am still sore about the whole promotion process.  I get it and I'll get over it.  But don't act like I don't have a right to be upset."

            "Most people don't push me, Lucky Strike."  He didn't sound aggravated any more. 

            "Most people don't push Commander Reyes.  And I won't.  But I'll push Gabriel, if that's how it's going to be."  You tentatively signaled that you understood his boundaries, hoping you hadn't misread the situation. 

            Gabriel leaned back in your chair.  He was too big for it.  Hell, he was too big for your room.  Your leg was starting to ache and you just wanted to take some of the nice pills Angela gave you and lay down.  "Not in front of subordinates," he said.  "Ana, Gérard, and Jack are fine." 

            "Understood."

            Gabriel stood.  Up close, you had forgotten how much larger he was than you.  He towered over most people.  "Get some rest," he said.  "It'll get better." He patted you on the shoulder. 

            He left and you took your pills, before dropping onto the unfamiliar bed, and drifting into a troubled sleep. 

Chapter Text

             You awoke to pounding on your door.  The clock said 0800 hours.

            "Time to get up, buttercup."  Jesse's voice was muffled, but not by very much.  "Got some stuff for you."

            "I'm awake," you said, rolling out of bed.  You'd gone to sleep in your clothes and was it time to change your dressings?  You didn't remember, but you were seeing Angela today anyway. 

            You opened the door to find Jesse fully dressed, with a large box in hand.  Now that you were paying attention, he was younger than you initially thought, the facial hair giving him the illusion of age.  He moved carefully, like he'd recently filled out, hardened up, and hadn't quite gotten used to the changes in his body.  You recognized those circumstances, because that was you four months after Captain Patel recruited you. 

            "Captain Amari and the commander got you stuff since you're starting all over.  Clothes, pretty much all black,"  he held up a t-shirt, waved it in front of you,  then tossed it over his shoulder.  "Tablet - there's a map preloaded and everything."  He handed you the device.  "And my personal favorite, amber-scented lotion.  Captain Amari uses the stuff.  It's not cheap and it smells like heaven."  He popped the lid and inhaled deeply. 

            You were reasonably sure everything had been neatly packed before Jesse rifled through it. "Thanks," you said.  "Did you...uh...want the lotion?" 

            Jesse's eyes widened at your implication.  "Now you're mistaking me for one of those unsavory types."

            "Everyone needs lotion.  For dry skin."  You kept your tone flat.  Jesse could read into it what he wanted.

            "Naw, don't feel right just taking it from you."  He paused.  "But I'll give you a bottle of whiskey for it."

            "Sure," you said.  "That sounds fine.  I can't drink lotion."

            "There are kinds-"

            "It's too early to think about that," you said. 

            Jesse stepped in and set the box down.  He left the door open.  "I'll be right back."

            You opened your drawers, finding clean sweats in one and your tattered clothes in another.  Your sidearm was there as well.  You got it out and tucked it in your waistband.  You'd pick up a holster from the quartermaster later.

            Jesse was back, holding up a bottle of Maker's Mark.  It wasn't impressive, but as you said, you weren't going to drink lotion.  You opened the bottle, sniffed, and took a swig.  It was decent. You tossed Jesse the lotion. 

            "Kinda early for drinking."

            "Inspecting the merchandise."  You set the bottle down.

            "You're supposed to meet Angela at the infirmary.  I'm free and clear this morning. Want me to walk you there?" 

            The you from before would have enjoyed Jesse's fussing, maybe even flirted back.  But the you now... You closed your eyes.  "Thanks for the offer, but I have to get showered and changed." 

            "I'll wait," he said brightly.

            "Not necessary."

            "Got nothing better to do, sweetpea."

            "I don't need a babysitter," you snapped.

            "No, you don't.  But in Blackwatch, we have a buddy system for greenhorns.  Guess you don't know about it.  And maybe you don't need it.  But I'm here to help you get oriented, like it or not.  Commander's orders."

            You exhaled slowly.  Orders, you understood.  "All right."

            You didn't cry in the shower, but it was a near thing.  The last shower you'd had was days ago and Shin was still alive.  The sheer relief of personally washing off some of the filth was cathartic.  Sure they cleaned you up in the infirmary, but that was different.  The hot water soothed your nerves and while you had to do some interesting acrobatics to keep your bandaged parts dry, you did not need Jesse's help. 

            You pulled on the black sweats.  They fit well enough, but that didn't surprise you. Gabriel had an eye for detail.  You rummaged through the gift box and found a bag of hair ties.  Your hair had gotten longer than you remembered. 

            "Feelin' better?" Jesse asked, standing in the hallway.  

            "Need breakfast," you said.

            "After," Jesse said.  "In case Angela and Torby need to do some workups."

            You re-equipped your tanto and sidearm, then grabbed the tablet.  The two of you walked in easy silence.  You pondered the lotion.  Overwatch provided basic moisturizers.  You could requisition that kind of stuff at the 9th Circle.  And it wasn't the worst lube ever.  So that left the quality and the scent.  Was Jesse the pampered type?  Didn't fit his image, but that cowboy persona seemed pretty cultivated.  Did Jesse like scented lotions?  Or did he like how Captain Amari smelled personally? 

            "Here we are," Jesse opened the infirmary door and held it for you, but did not come in. 

            You recognized Angela.  The short, bearded man who stood beside her must be "Torby." 

            "Hello, sorry I'm early.  Jesse is...escorting me everywhere."

            "Blackwatch policy," Torby snorted.  "So many people get pressganged in that they have to kept on a short leash.  What'd you do?"

            You blinked.  "I...survived?"

            "Her unit was transferred," Angela said.  "She is not one of Gabriel's hard cases."

            Torby relaxed a little.  "Makes more sense then," he muttered. 

            "We were just talking about your hand. "  Angela smiled.  "Sit. Torby took measurements while you were under anesthesia.  I think you'll like the finished product."

            "Friends call me Torby.  You can call me Torbjörn or Mr. Lindholm."   He gave you a hard look but you didn't take the bait. It was too early in the morning to pick a fight with a dwarf.

            "Be nice, Torby.  Lucky Strike saved Gabriel's life.  She is a good egg."

            "Why do you think I'm sore at her?  We had the perfect chance to be rid of that egotistical, jumped-up sociopath." 

            You stiffened.  Someone was trying to kill Gabriel.  Rationally, you knew it was probably a joke.  It just rubbed you wrong. 

            "Now he's back, shouting at everyone and requisitioning all sorts of things.  Do you understand what that does to my workload?"

            Angela noticed your expression.  "Torby is much like Gabriel.  Very...fussy."

            "You take that back!" 

            You sat there, a little dazed.  Torby was joking, so you needed to relax.  Angela took your left hand and peeled off the wrapping.  Your fingers were almost a uniform length.  The pinky was now the longest.  You were missing index, middle, ring fingers down to the second knuckle.  The skin was shiny and new with almost no scarring.  It was borderline obscene. You couldn't take your eyes off your maimed hand. 

            "Did you amputate or-"

            "A little bit of bone.  It would have given you difficulties.  There wasn't much left by the time you got here," Angela said. 

            "Oh."  You wiggled your stubs.  "OK." 

            "Hold still," Torby said.  He got out a box and took your hand.  "If you can't move them, that's Angela's fault.  I don't do the nerve-augments.  These are omnium, fully articulated so you can type, punch, eat a sandwich.  You can also stick your fingers in the oven or underwater.  But remember, metal conducts heat and electricity.  So you can burn yourself or short your fingers out.  I have also included the requested extensions."  He sounded business-like, but there was a gleam in his eye. 

            "The nerve augments double as the socket," Angela said.  "These are the basic models, for typing and every day activities." 

            Something pricked at your stubs, and you swore, clenching your left hand.  Dull metal digits dug into your palm.  You released immediately, watching the metal fingers move on will.   There were neat nailbeds shaped on the metal fingertips.  Nothing mimicking prints though. 

            You fanned your fingers, rolling them up and down.  There was a slight stutter in the middle finger and Torby frowned.  You forced it again, and it rolled properly. 

            "That's you Angela."

            "Mmm," Angela said, studying your hand.  "Common acclimatization issue.  It will resolve itself over time."

            Torby set a metal case in front of you.  Inside were other finger tips. 

            "Multi-tool.  Includes a light.  Very useful for missions."  He pressed on the nailbed and the finger split open, revealing a tiny Swiss army knife configuration.  He placed it back in the case.  "Pressure injector.  I assume you're looking to drug or poison people.  Blackwatch,"  He grumbled.  "The trigger is pressure on the fingertip.  So don't poke yourself."  He demonstrated and a needle shot out from under the fake fingernail.  Then he opened the finger and showed the little double-sealed bag that would hold the liquid.  "Spring-loaded blades.  Two inches and not good for sawing through bones," he said, pointing to another row of metal fingertips.  "You have to flex your whole hand.  It'll take some practice." 

            Angela showed you how to deactivate the prostheses, and swap them out.  You tried the blade-fingers.  It took a few tries, but they popped out smoothly. 

            "This is really cool," you told Torby.  "I'm going to eat cheese with these."  You awaited the outrage but he shrugged.

            "Better than I was expecting," he told Angela.  "Oh yes.  Vibrator."  He poked the nailbed and the finger whirred to life.

            You stared in horror at both Torby and Angela.  "I was high as fuck!  I'd been drugged multiple times that day.  He actually asked for that?" 

            Torby snorted.  "Reyes is a right bastard," he said, smirking at you.

            "I may kill him," you marveled.  "All that work...and I may have to kill him." 

            Torby's smile was downright evil.  "So this might take some practice,  But you can flex your finger to increase speed and power." 

            You buried you face in your right hand.  "I'm going to go throw myself off out a window now." 

            "You are making a chicken out of a feather."

            "I really have no clue what that means."

            "You are making a big deal out of nothing, girl." 

            "Sorry, I've never had a coworker make me a prosthetic finger vibrator.  I don't know what to say."

            "A "thank you" is appropriate," Torby said.

            You weren't feeling thankful.  Mortified, would be the right word. 

            "So you don't want it?" he asked innocently.  "Because I can scrap it.  No skin off my nose."  He looked entirely too smug.

            " Uh..."  You thought about it.  That was actually terribly handy.  Oh.  Terribly punny too.  Good thing you didn't say any of those things aloud. 

            "You're like a cat walking around hot porridge."  What the hell did that even mean? 

            "You made it. I might as well take it.  For science," you said.

            "Yes, about that.  These aren't free, you know," Torby said. 

            You made a mental note to check your bank account.  "What do I owe you?"

            "We would like you to come back weekly.  Any feedback and data you can provide would be very helpful.  And of course, if you're having problems, come find either of us," Angela said, completely unfazed by the sex toy.  "Was this helpful on a mission?  What kinds of additions could you use?"

            You could do that. "What kind of energy use are we looking at?"

            "Augments need to be charged monthly if you're doing heavy things, like using your extensions.  The basic models can go a year."

            You stared.  "OK.  I can do that."

            Torby closed the case up.  "Well then, we have a deal."

            You looked at your metal fingers, attached to little metal disks that occasionally glowed.  It was jarring.      

            "Our flesh sleeves are still cumbersome.  They look like skin, but impair movement.   If you don't like the aesthetics, I suggest wearing gloves," Angela said. 

            "Thank you," you said. 

            "Clean them regularly," Torby said.  "Especially if you're killing people.  Or eating cheese."  He set a bottle of solution on the table.  "Soak them overnight if they get really dirty.  You can wipe down the augments.  Don't soak those."

            Feeling slightly overwhelmed, you nodded mechanically. 

            "We will send you instructions," Angela said.  "And while you're here, I want to look at that leg."

 


 

            Jesse was still waiting when you got out. He took one look at your hand and whistled.  "Fancy."

            You shrugged, holding the case.  You'd swapped out the basics for the tool and two knives.  It was a little tricky to switch fingers on your own, but you'd adapt. 

            "Torby says Blackwatch pressgangs a lot of people," you began.  "Captain Patel didn't really want to be in Blackwatch, but she said she agreed to it because Commander Reyes asked.  Is that what Torby meant?"

            Jesse tilted his head back.  "Nope."

            "Didn't think so," you said.

            "Not so long I ago, I ran with the Deadlock gang.  Course, Blackwatch brought'em  down and Commander Reyes gave me a choice, join Blackwatch or join the chain gang.  Ain't got no regrets, but it was rough starting out."  He paused.  "Genji's story is rougher.  Don't ask him about it."

            "Noted."  Wasn't your business anyway.

            Jesse took you to the Quartermaster, getting you uniforms, basic necessities, and gloves.  Gloves and sweats looked a little strange, but your metal fingers looked stranger. 

            "Gloves gonna be your thing, Lucky?"

            "Maybe," you said.  "I don't like looking at them just yet.  The loss is still fresh."  Also, you weren't sure you had good control over the tools.  You were careful not to flex your hand.

            "Now I know it ain't none of my business, Lucky, " Jesse began as the two of you carried your stuff back to your room.  You suppressed the urge to shut him down.  Jesse nice, and likeable, and trying to settle you in.  "But you gotta be real careful with the commander."

            "Are you talking about the saluting or the rumors?" You asked. 

            "Both," he said.  "Reckon you and him have an understanding, what with you wearing half his clothes in the middle of a blizzard." 

            "...It was to save my life.  We weren't doing anything...unsavory."

            "I know that," Jesse said.  "But people saw you carted off to the infirmary in the Commander's hat and jacket."

            You rubbed your forehead.  "The commander doesn't mind the rumors.  Thinks it will distract from my actual investigation."

            "Commander forgets what it's like to be the rookie, and the commander's good looking but he ain't a pretty young lady.   People are going to be shit to you because they're thinking you're trying to sleep your way up the ranks.  Blackwatch ain't exactly popular.  Not like we can advertise when we get a win."  Jesse sat down in your chair.  It wasn't your chair, it was the guest chair.  You were going to have to go get another chair that would be your own. 

            "In public, it'll be all "yes, sir, no sir, how high do you want me to try to jump, sir." He and I went over the rules."

            Jesse nodded firmly.  "Good."  He paused.  "You know about him and Strike Commander, right?"

            "That they're together?"

            "For now," Jesse said.  "There's been trouble brewing for awhile.  You best keep your head down."

            You had to admit, your impressions of Jack Morrison had been vague.  He seemed nice.  Which was wrong, because if he's the fucking Strike Commander of Overwatch, the guy that replaced Gabriel Reyes, he better be a badass.  Either he was unqualified, or scary good at switching roles.  You suspected the latter. 

            "I'm not a homewrecker," you said.  "My lover was just murdered.  I'm not looking to replace him." 

            "I heard.  Sorry about your loss," he said automatically.  "It's going to be rough riding, Lucky."  He paused.  "I read your Shit Spiders report.  Randomly generated, my ass.  But nice work: I laughed, I cried, I want to kill some black ops guns-for-hire.  You saved Commander Reyes and you took some pain doing it.  Me and the Commander have your back.  Genji probably does too, if you're worried."

            "I'm not a great fighter," you told him.

            "That'll change," Jesse said cheerfully.  "You'll be back in training as soon as Angela clears you."  He paused.  "I wouldn't blame you if you lagged for an extra week.  Because the Commander had a lot to say about your hand-to-hand."

            "It's shit, I know."  You scowled. 

            Jesse patted your arm.  "There's always room for improvement."


 

            You sat at your desk in Gabriel's office, scrolling through compartmentalized intelligence.  There was a lot of fascinating stuff, and you were struggling not to drown under the workload.  Your official duties included flagging especially interesting reports, liaising with VIPs to schedule meetings, and miscellaneous tasks that Gabriel decided needed to be done: figure out who stole the broom, find him coffee that didn't suck, summon minions so Gabriel could yell at them.

            Unofficially, you were collating the mission data as it came in.  Winston, the gorilla in the lab, no joke, had recognized the design and pursued some techie angle, to reveal the manufacturer.  You and Winston were also sifting through the assorted detritus that forensic teams were bringing back from the Yukon.  Not human remains, thankfully, but gear, cybernetics, and papers.  Office work was all you did for two weeks and you were drowning in it. 

            Gabriel was rarely in his office lately, and you were fine with that.  It was sad to admit, but while you liked Gabriel, Commander Reyes was a real bastard.  He was like that with everyone, sharp, hypercritical, and fussy.  He had no patience for fuckups, sky-high standards, and woe to those who underperformed.  When he was stressed, which was most of the time, the best anyone could hope for was a begrudging "good job, agent." 

            "There you are."  Captain Amari stepped into the office.  "How goes it?"

            "Steep learning curve, ma'am," you grumbled. 

            "Come have a cup of tea with me," she said.  "I've been meaning to check in with you, but it's been busy." 

            You eagerly put down the tablet and stood up. 

            "How are the prostheses working out?"

            "Better.  Angela had to fine tune some of the settings for the extensions.  The equipping process got trickier.  Can't use the same nerve augments for weapons as I can basics.  But she's confident they'll have it back down to one set in a month."   You had accidentally stabbed through a keyboard or two.  The vibrator remained unused, but you were working up to it. 

            Captain Amari walked you to her office.  The HQ was huge, but you were catching on to the layout.  She already had a tea set out, and her electric kettle was going off.  She poured, though there was no cream or sugar.  You didn't mind.  She drank teas that didn't require them.

            "How are things?" She asked.

            "The Commander is...tense.  He's making everyone else tenser."

            "Mmm, Gabe can be difficult," Captain Amari agreed.  "While I don't normally encourage insubordination, you and Gabriel have a more...unorthodox relationship.  I think you could tell him that and survive the experience."

            "He's barely around.  Two missions this week and a meeting with the UN," you said. 

            Captain Amari rolled her eyes.  "He is overcompensating.  He does that when he feels things are out of control.  Jack would be wise to rein him in, but-"  She stopped abruptly, as if she was remembering you were a lowly newbie agent. 

            "Is that a hint that I can try to convince him to do something to unwind?" 

            "It's not in your job description," Captain Amari said blandly.  "But he might listen to you."

            "I'll try.  I guess...I'm not trying to push it, Captain.  There's enough talk as it is." 

            Captain Amari narrowed her eyes and sipped her tea.  "Have you had any problems with the...overzealous?"

            Some people had felt the need to tell you off because you'd "slept your way into a promotion." You'd just laughed and asked them what they actually knew.  It was hard, maintaining that devil-may-care expression, when all you wanted to do was feed them their teeth.  But you endured, because drama would only blow up in your face.  Acting blasé would not validate their accusations. 

            "Some snide comments.  Most people mind their own business."  You paused.  "And it was mostly from Overwatch people.  Not Blackwatch."

            "Two reasons: Blackwatch knows that's not how it works.  People don't sleep their way up.  Maybe assassins, but that's different." 

            You blinked.

            Captain Amari laughed.  "Secondly," she didn't say she was joking.  "If you actually were sleeping with Gabriel, they wouldn't want to piss him off."

            "So trust no one.  Got it."  You sighed, sipping the fragrant jasmine tea.  "I'm having a little trouble balancing the workload.  And Angela is about to clear me for active duty.  I don't know how I'm going to train, do the Commander's paperwork, and continue a proper investigation without delegating some.  Winston's great by the way.  He's got Torby looking at his connections for info on the rifle." 

            "I'll talk to Gabriel," Captain Amari said.  "It is a legitimate concern.  You're working a little slower on the administrative tasks than we'd like, but that's to be expected, since you're handling the research on Operation Shit Spiders.  And I know Gabriel hasn't been around to show you how to get things done.  Is there anything else?"

            You never chatted like this with Captain Patel.  She was all business, up till the end.  You even saluted when you gave her your rifle.   You really wish you had been able to just sit and talk with her. 

            "Genji found a note about some compartmentalized intelligence regarding Black Base Delta.  I wanted to request access to it.  I can get you the reference file."

            "I know what file it is," Captain Amari said.  "I'll release it to you now.  But I should warn you, it is...upsetting."

            You downed the rest of your tea.  "Guess I better get to it then."


 

 

            You sat in front of your work terminal.  There was a file.  It was time-stamped about half an hour before the explosion.  It was a video file.  You opened it.

            The screen was mostly static.  "Mayday.  Mayday.  Mayday."  You recognized that voice.  "This is Agent Rivka Cohn of Black Base Delta.  Can you read me?"  You could almost see the glare of the computer screens in the background.

            "This is Overwatch HQ, emergency channel, this is not a secure channel.  We cannot get a visual on you."

            "That is because they are jamming us.  Lao, boost the signal."

            You heart thumped as Rivka's stern lined face appeared on the screen.  "Overwatch HQ, this is Agent Rivka Cohn.  We are under attack.  They are well-trained, cybernetically-enhanced, and slaughtering us.  They are after Commander Reyes.  We will hold them as long as we can.  Requesting backup."  The screen flickered, and you could hear gunfire in the background. 

            "This is not a secure channel.  We cannot confirm your location.  We cannot confirm you are sending from a secure recognized location."

            "We are Blackwatch at Black Base Delta.  Lao, give it more juice!" 

            "Why do you even have this stuff?" Lao complained in the background.

            "Above your pay grade!" Rivka barked and you had to smile a little.  "I repeat, we are requesting assistance.  They are attempting to assassinate Commander Reyes.  "

            "What is your clearance-?"

            "This is Strike Commander Morrison."  Jack Morrison's voice was an extension of authority.  The operator's voice cut out immediately.  He didn't sound like that when you met him.  "We are listening Agent Cohn."

            "Move that terminal Lao.  It'll hold them for a few more minutes."  Rivka looked at the screen.  "Commander.  They're coming.  We're almost out of time.  It was an ambush and it's likely we were betrayed.  I do not know Commander Reyes' status.  But I'm listening in on their comms.  They haven't gotten him yet. "

            "Thank you, Agent Cohn.  Try to get yourself to safety," he said. 

            "It's too late for that," she said with a harsh laugh.  "Fire that operator for me."

            "It's done, Agent Cohn," Morrison said.  "We're heading in your location.  Please seek cover. 

            The gunfire grew louder. 

            "We're out of time, Commander."  Rivka saluted.  "Agent Cohn and Agent Lao out." 

            There was a shower of sparks and then the screen went black. 

           


 

            When Gabriel returned to his office, you were wiping your eyes on your sleeve.  You didn't look at him.  You weren't sure how many times you'd watched it.  Once was enough, but due diligence called for more.

            "Ah.  Ana told me she'd released that to you."

            "Rivka made me hummus," you said.  "She complained about her grandchildren all the time.  And Lao was the unit...baby.  She stole my beer."

            "Jack demoted the operator," Gabriel said. 

            "Good." 

            "That call lit a fire under Jack's ass.  If they hadn't gotten that distress signal out, you would probably would have lost more than a few fingers."  Gabriel uncrossed his arms.  "You should have read the transcript beforehand."

            "I-yeah."  You hung your head.  "I didn't think about it.  I just...I kind of knew that if anyone got through, it was Rivka." 

            "Agent Cohn was a very ruthless Mossad operative before she came out of retirement to work for us," Gabriel said.  "You OK?"

            "I...no.  But I will be."  You shut down the video.   "I uh...meant to tell you this earlier, but, you've been busy and I've been swimming in paperwork."  You folded your hands.  "About a week before you arrived, Rivka came to me for some computer parts.  I didn't know what they did, but she was worried about the remote backup server being down.  Said Gleeson wasn't in any hurry to fix it."

            Gabriel swore.  "So those bastards knew about that problem?"

            "Rivka was...very concerned.  I got her some parts.  Not everything she needed, but some.  She did something, I don't know what."  You paused.  "I might have heard you talking about shutting down the base.  Rivka let slip that if that happened, Greenland would have to redo their backups.  When I asked, she said it was above my pay grade."  You choked out the last sentence. 

            Gabriel's brow furrowed.  "We don't have an operational base in Greenland."  He looked at you.  "Wait, you smuggled unknown tech into the base?"  He swore, giving you the hard stare. 

            "Nah, I got it online," you said.  "It was all retail stuff, but I couldn't tell you what it did.  Still have the receipts in my email."  You forwarded him the information.  Then you set your head down on the desk. 

            "We've finished salvaging the remnants of Black Base Delta," Gabriel said after a moment.  "Not a lot of remains were recovered.  But there are some more items."

            "I'll look at them tomorrow," you said, not lifting your head. 

            "Tomorrow you're starting training."

            "I'll look at them tonight," you said, still not lifting your head off the desk.

            "They can wait," he said.  "Are you hungry?"

            "No," you said.  And it was true.  Grief did weird things to your appetite.  Sometimes you just wanted sweets.  Sometimes food just made you ill.  Sometimes you actually were hungry and then found everything tasted disappointing. 

            "I am.  Mess is closed.  Want to raid the staff kitchen?"

            "Can you cook?" You asked.

            "Of course," he said, sounding very annoyed that you even asked.

            "Me too."  When you looked up, Gabriel was watching you, somewhere between worried and aggravated.  "Let's get Jesse or Genji."

            Gabriel looked like he wanted to object.

            "Reputation," you said, pointing at yourself.

            Gabriel's expression darkened, but the two of you grabbed Genji.  You suspected it was because he talked less.  There was a full kitchen off the side of the mess.  Staff could prepare their own meals.  You rummaged around, not quite willing to steal anyone's labeled lunch. 

            "We can just eat Jack's food," Gabriel said. 

            "You can eat Jack's food.  We'll be drawn and quartered," you said. 

            "I don't actually want to eat Jack's food.  It's all casseroles and potato salad.  He thinks salt is a spice," Gabriel groused.  You hoped he was joking.

            You found some basic ingredients and heated up the skillet.  Leftover rice, onions, chicken, soy sauce, ketchup, eggs.  You had the stuff for omurice.  Short for  "omelette rice," Shin would make it for you every now and then.  Said it was a "kids" meal.  You didn't care.  It was delicious.  You fried the rice, chicken, and onions, seasoned the eggs, and added the sauces to the rice.  It was...nostalgic.  Gabriel took over flipping the omelettes. 

            "These are flat omelettes." 

            "Supposed to be," you said.  "I'll whip the whites if I want fluffy ones." 

            "Ketchup and eggs are blasphemy," he said casually. 

            "This is the exception.  Pope gave it an indulgence and everything," you said, stirring the rice.  "Genji, do you have any nori?"

            He looked over your shoulder.  "Is that omurice?"

            "What?" Gabriel asked, wrinkling his nose.    

            "Yes," you said.  

            "I'll get some nori," Genji said. 

            You spooned the rice onto plates in a dome shape.  Then you wrapped each rice bundle in the omelette crepe, and drizzled ketchup and mayo on top.  Genji handed you a package of nori and you cut it up into sprinkles. 

            "You put ketchup and mayonnaise on my eggs, idiota." 

            "Just try it," you said grabbing a fork.  It was good comfort food: flavorful rice offset by the gentle creaminess of the egg.  The sauces added tart and tangy layers to the richness of the dish. 

            Genji removed his lower face plate and began to eat.  His face was scarred and his lower jaw wasn't flesh.  You forced yourself not to stare and continued eating. 

            "I used to eat this as a kid," Genji said softly.  "You need to add dashi and mirin to the eggs."

            "I know.  Didn't have any though."  You took another bite.  "Next time." 

            Gabriel took a bite.  "...Acceptable."  He glanced over at Genji. 

            "You can make a mentaiko sauce to go on it," Genji said.  "Spicy fish eggs," he said for Gabriel's benefit. 

            Gabriel wrinkled his nose.  "Next time we're doing carne asada," he said, but he ate three plates anyway.

Chapter Text

            Two weeks later, the bandages came off your leg and while the grafts took care of the worst of the damage, you weren't going to be modeling swimsuits any time soon.  The color was almost right, but there were starbursts of scars and a jagged edges to the seams.  Your left leg looked very patchwork,  but you were functional and cleared for active duty. 

            Captain Amari was pleasantly surprised by your competency with a rifle.  You weren't a sniper, but your form and aim were good.  You handled pistols, shotguns, and other light armaments with no difficulty. 

            You also sat in on a refresher medic course, because you knew someone would need it.  Probably you. 

            And of course, Commander Reyes had his own hand-to-hand combat training class.  You ended up sore, angry, and eating mat on a regular basis.  Jesse and Genji thought it was hilarious.  You might have lost your temper, except there were half a dozen less friendly Blackwatch agents present.

            Though you might have come to an uneasy accord with Genji, it didn't mean he went easy on you in hand-to-hand combat.  He liked to throw you, and you were learning very quickly how to land properly. 

            "You'll make a better projectile than fighter, agent," Commander Reyes told you after you picked yourself off the mat. 

            "If they're close enough to throw me, I've fucked up," you said, panting. 

            "You've fucked up.  Now less fucking up, agent." 

            If looks could kill, you would have set Commander Reyes on fire with your eyes.  As it was, you trudged back over to Genji, well-aware that the rest of the class was watching you. 

            "Hajime," Genji murmured.  He came at you, modified speed.  You made sure only to wear the basic finger tips when you sparred.  But you could use them at full power on Genji.  With your right hand, you batted away his strikes.  You flattened your left hand into a blade and slammed it into Genji's faceplate, metal fingers your point of contact.

           Genji's head snapped back and you lunged forward, driving your elbow into his neck.  Genji staggered, and faster than your eyes could track, he struck back.  The air in your lungs suddenly gone and you were dropping.

            Oh good, it was his flesh fist that he'd gut-punched you with.  You'd probably survive that.  You laid there, gurgling unpleasantly.

            "Are you all right?"  Genji asked.

            You glared up at him.  Air didn't seem to be passing through you properly.   

            "Well, that wasn't as pathetic as before," Commander Reyes said, bending over you.  He might have been concerned, but he might have been laughing at you too.  "Do we need to get Angela in here?"

            "I'm fine.  Just really loving these mats," you wheezed, your voice not quite right.

            "Sorry," Genji said, offering you his hand.  "You caught me by surprise.  Good job."  Of course, the more predictable moves only got you thrown which was arguably better than gut-punched.   There really was no winning.    

           


 

            Your room was too quiet.  Shin hadn't been loud, he provided just enough noise to lull you to sleep.  The 9th Circle had shitty ventilation and the fans were always running.  The HQ was too quiet.  You put on an extra hoodie, wrapped yourself in a blanket, and headed out to the rec room. 

            It was the early AM.  After nodding at the few people who were up, you sat down on the couch, with the TV on, and promptly fell asleep.  Even with people talking and a siren going off in the background, it was the best rest you'd had in awhile. 

            You made it to Commander Reyes' office early and found a flagged message from Winston.  Torby had gotten a hit.  The trigger assembly was pretty unique, and Neostratum Industries, a startup, held the patent. 

            The morning revolved around researching Neostratum Industries.   Small, Belgian, and otherwise inconsequential, you were finding it very hard to figure out who exactly owned it.  Genji was the better forensic accountant, for some reason, he knew all sorts of tricks that unsavory types used to hide their money.  You decided you didn't need to know the reason. 

            Rubbing your forehead, you realized Genji would be the better person for this and switched over to Commander Reyes' workload.  Mission authorizations, requisitions, transfer orders.  Most had been approved, and filed those.  You skimmed them, some of them sounding unfamiliar.  Commander Reyes didn't tell you everything, but you'd begun to form a good picture of what kind of ops he was running.  Stings, busts, honeytraps, blackmail, the occasional termination with extreme prejudice, but some of these...  You frowned.  There was the abduction of a hostile UN ambassador's infant daughter.  That didn't sit right.

            "Problems, agent?"  Commander Reyes shut the door behind him.

            You looked around.  "I...Did you authorize this mission, Gabriel?"

            Gabriel raised a brow at you and read the file.  "Do you see my signature?"

            "I didn't get that far," you admitted.  "Sorry."

            He flipped it so you could see the blank line.  "It's a proposal.  Ops has laid out the plan.  But I haven't given the go ahead." 

            "Are you going to?"  You asked.

            "If necessary," he said, giving you a hard look.  "But the situation hasn't gotten that far and I am curious how this ended up on my desk." 

            "It was there with the ones that had already been approved."  You showed him the stack of unsigned forms.  "Sorry, I'm trying to keep up with your workload, I just-"

            Gabriel crossed his arms.  "This isn't the first time this has happened, Lucky."

            "I'm sorry, I-"

            "No.  Not you," he growled.   "There have been requisitions and missions I haven't authorized or even talked about getting pushed through or showing up in interesting places.  I had to recall Jesse from Paris a month ago, because someone tacked on additional mission parameters and he wasn't happy."

            It wasn't just the 9th Circle.  Someone was actively sabotaging Blackwatch.  "So someone is trying to make you look bad or-"

            "Or has their own agenda, yeah."  Gabriel took his cap off and roughly combed his curls.  "It's not happening frequently, but I know I'm not imagining it.  Can't seem to trace these back to anyone.  I need you to keep a closer eye on things, then.  I'll talk to Jack."

            "How am I supposed to know which ones are wrong?"

            Gabriel laughed sharply.  "How'd you pick that one out?"

            "It was...overkill," you said.

            "They all have been," he said darkly.  "With the potential to blow up in our faces." 

           


 

            Overwatch HQ had a few nondenominational chapels and multiple quiet rooms for "meditation."  You weren't comfortable with any of them.  Captain Patel had her own way of worship that centered around battle and Durga.  Shin had half-jokingly explained to you that all Japanese people are born Shinto and die Buddhist.  Valdez had been Catholic.  Lao was an athiest.   Rivka was a self-described secular Jew.  You weren't sure what Simon or Nwazue believed.  And you weren't exactly comfortable attending a bunch of services for things you didn't believe in or pretend to understand. 

            There was a memorial wall outside for all of Overwatch's fallen.  Sometimes, early in the morning or late at night, you'd go out there and burn incense.  It was a small thing.  There was no gravesite.  There was no funeral or wake.  This, and revenge were all you could give. 

            You trudged outside, hating every inch of snow.  It was pretty enough, but after the 9th Circle you would never like cold weather.  You knelt by the wall, planting the joss stick in the snow.  The smoke was heavy, not to your liking, but it seemed proper. 

            "Aishani would've like that." 

            You nearly fell over.  Commander Morrison was on your left only a few yards away.  He was in full blue overcoat and eyepiece.  You hadn't even seen him in the shadows.  Some secret agent you were.

            You exhaled slowly.  "I like to think so, sir." 

            Shin would have laughed at you.  He was irreverent, always said he'd be reincarnated as something fast and cute: a rabbit, an owl, maybe a ferret.  It was endearing that he didn't choose the fiercest or the biggest creatures. 

             You had looked up the Durga Shatru-Shanti, that last prayer Captain Patel said when you left her.  It was a mantra that was supposed to protect one from their enemies.  For all the good it did her.  A vicious streak of emotion bubbled up in your chest. 

            "These rituals for the dead, they're really for us," Commander Morrison said.  "They're how we come to terms with it."

            "Yes sir."  You knew that.  Just like you knew Captain Patel wasn't really praying for her own deliverance.  Just like you knew she didn't expect the mantra to protect her.  Just like you knew your anger was broken thing, lashing out because it hurt, not because it was right. 

            "I knew Aishani," Commander Morrison said.  "And I knew her well enough to say she was at peace with her decision."

            You bit your lip, wishing he would mind his own business.  The Strike Commander may have know Captain Patel better than you did, but this was between you and the dead.  "She might have been OK with it," you said, not looking at him.  "But that doesn't mean the rest of us are."   

            "No," he said.  "It doesn't.  And that's something we all have to come to terms with.  Good night, agent." 

            You stayed on your knees in front of the memorial, listening till the crunch of snow beneath his boots faded into the distance.  

            He was right of course.  But that didn't make it any easier. 

 


 

 

            You sat in Winston's office, off the lab eating a peanut butter and honey sandwiches.  You'd made them before coming down.  "We're having security breaches," you told him.  "Someone's modifying mission assignments."

            Winston stopped mid-bite.  "Are you sure you should be telling me this?"

            "I don't know how they're doing it.  And while we have decent techs, I don't know them well enough to trust them, and I feel like our hackers are only so-so or untrustworthy.  I'm getting hard copies delivered to the office, so it's got to be a network breach of some sort."  Or you would at least like to rule that out before you started a molehunt. 

            "Does Commander Reyes know?"

            "Yeah.  I'm part of the "safety net."  But I'd like to figure out how they're doing it.  And maybe upgrade some of Blackwatch's systems."

            "I-I have offered.  Commander Reyes has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't want me uh "monkeying around" his computers.  He would have to be "bananas" to let me go "apeshit" on his system." 

            You winced.  "He really said it like that, didn't he?  God, Gabriel is such a dick."  You put your head down on Winston's desk.  "Sorry."

            "Why are you apologizing for him?"  He paused.  "You call him by his first name?"

            "Privately and in a platonic way," you said.  "I'm not apologizing for him.  I'm apologizing because I'm going to put in a request to borrow you."

            "Lucky-"

            "Please."  You swallowed.  "There's more at stake than just making Commander Reyes or Blackwatch look bad."

            Winston adjusted his glasses.  Those big yellow eyes focused on your face. "Black Base Delta wasn't an accident, was it?"

            "Aw fuck, you haven't been briefed?  And they still had you look at pulse rifle?  What the fuck?"  Gabriel obviously didn't like Winston or Torby.  But you needed their help on this.  "I'm going to go talk to Captain Amari and Commander Reyes."

            "Do you mind leaving the sandwiches?" Winston asked.

 


 

            "You what?"  Commander Reyes' sat at his desk, expression was thunderous.

            "Requesting Winston and Lindholm be fully briefed and used as resources in tracking down the origins of our attackers, sir."  You stood up straight, saluting as hard as you could.  Captain Amari sat at your desk, observing.  "Secondly, requesting Winston be brought in to upgrade our systems."

            "I don't need a monkey to fix my computers, agent.  We have contractors and techs that do just fine."

            "Respectfully disagreeing sir.  We have so far been unable to trace the origins of the security breaches.  Bringing in a specialist might help eliminate network vulnerabilities, and let us focus on potential moles.  Winston has already been partially briefed on the emergence of the pulse rifle and maintains Overwatch's mainframe.  He is the logical choice, sir."

            Commander Reyes gave you his full officer glare.  If you'd actually done something wrong, you'd be quaking in your boots.  But you hadn't, so you met his gaze. 

            "Denied," he said, drawing the word out.  The bastard was enjoying this. 

            "Sir-"

            "No."

            "Sir-"  You tried again.  

            "No."

            "Gabriel!"  You slammed your palms on his desk.  "You're being an ass!  I'm only one agent and while Jesse and Genji are great, I need tech support and I need people we can trust!  Are you just setting me up to fail?"

            "Get a hold of yourself, agent," he said sharply. "You are out of line."

            You jerked back as if slapped. 

            "You are dismissed," he said. 

            You stalked out of the office.

 


 

            "That went well," Ana said, resting her boots on your desk.  "Am I supposed to write her up for insubordination?"

            Gabriel looked up fuming.  "It's not about the computers, Ana.  I am well aware of the problem.  I'm not ignoring it."

            "Your house, your rules," she said.  "But for the record, I agree with her proposal.  Whatever your problem with him, Winston is an impeccable engineer.  It was good of her to have a plan ready, wasn't it?  Shows initiative.  Certainly saved you some time and effort.  I heard she was bribing him with sandwiches.  Smart move."

            "I've been collecting the mis-fires.  There's a pattern, but I'm not seeing it.  I need to get a few more to pin down the angle."

            "Are you willing to risk one of these more...reckless missions going through?"  Ana studied the ceiling. 

            "We'll just be more diligent."

            "If they're electronically transmitted?  Because it could anything from your network to your people to your encryption.  Something is going wrong, Gabriel.  Once was a warning.  Six times is serious.  This is something you need to talk to Jack about."

            "I'll handle it, Ana.  I just need a little more time to rule out certain possibilities."  He paused.  "You going to run to Jack with this?"

            "Handle it, Gabriel," she said.  "And I won't need to."

 


 

 

            You met Jesse on the mat.  "Now sugarpie, remember which fingers you're wearing." 

            "Don't want to talk," you said, tapping your basic tips.  "Let's go."

            Jesse laughed.  "Commander finally pissed you off, huh?  It happens to us all."  He gave an easy smile and dodged your front kick.  You followed through with a roundhouse, grazing his hip.  "Better get used to it." 

            "Don't want to talk, Jesse."

            "Don't be like that, huckleberry," he said.  "Don't you want to hear my advice?"

            "Don't want to talk," you hissed.

            "Then don't."  Jesse lunged forward and bopped you lightly on the nose, before dancing back out of your range.  "Listen here.  The commander's stubborn.  You ain't gonna get nowhere hitting him head-on."

            "I have before," you snarled. 

            "Well, you're special.  But if the commander really doesn't want to do something, good luck moving him.  The man's a mule in the mud."

            "What?"  You dropped your guard and stared at Jesse.  He swept your feet out from under you, grinning as you landed flat on your back.  "Damnit Jesse!"

            "You gotta be smart, Lucky Strike."  He held his hand out and you took it.  "You turn this into a fight, and you won't win."

            "So there should be begging and manipulation?"

            "This ain't Sunday school, Lucky.  This is Blackwatch."

           


 

            Genji was in Belgium, tracking down whoever ran Neostratum Industries.  Jesse was chasing another lead in Cuba. 

            Captain Amari did not write you up for anything.  She just served you tea and told you to try another angle.  You had one, but you didn't like it.  So you waited, keeping Winston sweet with assorted peanut butter desserts.  You weren't running goods any more; you didn't have the time. But you still liked getting presents, or bribes, for your coworkers.  It kept the working relationship smooth.

            Jesse's idea was passive-aggressive to the extreme, but fell just short of unethical.  You were the only one paying the cost though, so it didn't matter.   

            You went through Gabriel's papers, carefully picking out the questionable ones.  There were a lot.  And if you wanted to be honest, you could guess that half of them were legit.  But the language was ambiguous and you had to make a point. 

            You went over each document with a fine toothed comb.  You circled questionable methods, orders, and requests.   The stack on his desk piled up.  You'd found at least two documents, one an order for a political assassination in Indonesia, the other a proposal to increase the budget by forming an alliance with Vishkar.  You made a note to track down whoever suggested that one.  It was ridiculous. 

            Winston was sorting through the wreckage of the 9th Circle.  He called it Black Base Delta, but he might have been the only one who got the nickname.  The explosives were military grade, but not an uncommon formulation. 

            Your eyelids were heavy and you drowsed, knowing if you fell asleep at your desk, you'd wake up with terrible neck pain.  A bad choice since you had hand-to-hand practice tomorrow. 

            You woke up to Commander Reyes coming into the office.  You lifted your head off the desk, ignored him, and went right back to paperwork.  Once you had finished, you set the stack on his desk.

            "Questionable activities marked and noted, sir."  You were keeping it formal now.  Because he'd set the boundaries again.  He was Commander Reyes.  You were just an agent.  It wasn't emotional blackmail, you told yourself.  You thought the two of you were friends.  He'd pulled rank and shut down that assumption.  You were respecting that.

           He nodded tersely and you went back to your desk to review Genji's incoming report.  Genji had attached photographs.  The CEO of Neostratum Industries was a brown haired man with a beard.  More interestingly, he was meeting with a red-headed man.  You studied that face.  It was familiar.  Add 10 years.  Change the hair color to brown.  Put on another thirty pounds:  It was former base Commander Gleeson, looking awfully young and spry for a dead man.  He couldn't have afforded the youth-restoring gene therapy on a base commander's salary either.    

            You didn't hesitate.  You sent Genji the order.  "Keep him under surveillance.  Requesting extraction."

            You wrote up the report and forwarded it to Commander Reyes. 

           


 

            It was your third day of sleeping in the office.  Commander Reyes was only speaking with you to issue orders.  You were steadily losing steam, verifying every document that crossed his desk. 

            Captain Amari stopped by with tea. 

            "You look rough, agent."

            "It doesn't matter how I look," you said dryly.  "I've got work to do."

            "This seems petty," she said. 

            "Petty is a proud Blackwatch trait, ma'am.  We follow our leadership in lockstep." 

            Captain Amari covered her mouth at that response.  "McCree and Torby are betting on who will crumble first."

            You blinked. 
            "The odds are against you, Lucky Strike," she said mildly.  "But that's nothing new, is it?" 

            "Just don't let the commander know.  It will only make him dig in his heels."

            "Mum's the word," she said, leaving you a thermos of tea and some dry biscuits.

            You missed Captain Patel, but Captain Amari made it easier.  You missed Shin, and there was no easy replacement for that either.  You'd try out the vibrator soon.  Really.  Except then you'd have to tell Torby and Angela about it and that was going to be so awkward.

           


 

            It wasn't your diligence that turned the tide.  You fucked up.  You missed one.  You shouldn't have been trusted.  To be fair, you'd been juggling training, administrative duties, extra verification, and Operation Shit Spiders.  It had been a miserable week in Commander Reyes' office.  No friendly conversation.  No late night kitchen runs. 

            Commander Reyes sat at his desk, holding a printed copy of a mission proposal.  He silently handed it to you. 

            "I stopped it before transmission," he said.   Captain Amari was there sipping tea.  Her expression was politely blank.

            "I'm sorry, sir," you said. 

            "Was this what you wanted?" Commander Reyes growled.  "What exactly did you plan?" 

            "No sir," you said.  You met his eyes, jaw set defiantly.  "No sir.  My plan was to show you how serious I was and impress you with my diligence."  You swallowed.  "Obviously, it didn't work, sir." 

            "Hmph."

            You could feel him studying you for any deceit.  You met his eyes with no trouble. "Are you asking for my resignation?"

            "That is falling on your own sword, agent," he said.  "We don't do that here."  He brought up a chart on his tablet.  It looked like he'd been tracking all unauthorized documents and narrowing down changes and timing.  "The misprinted physical deliveries have come to a trickle.  Probably because they aren't getting through."

            That was good. 

            "But despite me having our technicians run all sorts of diagnostics, the electronic copies of our documents are being altered."  Commander Reyes glared at you.  "I needed extra time to verify that our servers weren't trustworthy and to pinpoint patterns between alterations." 

            You stared at him. 

            "We can initiate your plan," he said for your poor frazzled brain.  "You can bring in the barrel of monkeys."

            You sagged in relief.  "Thank you sir."

            "Ana, can you leave us?"

            "I'll deliver the happy news," she said without inflection.  But she patted you on the back as she passed by. 

            "You're a stubborn idiot," he said once the door was shut. 

            "I am what I am, sir."  You emphasized his title, because petty was a Blackwatch trait. 

            "You don't-" He huffed a breath, rolling his eyes.  "Dios mio.  That's why you're so worked up.  Because I pulled rank." 

            "We're either friends or we aren't, sir.  I'm trying to respect your rules, but it doesn't work when you change them on me." 

            Gabriel uncrossed his arms.  "Friends, huh?" 

            It was a long beat.  How else could you describe it?  You wouldn't have survived without him and vice-versa.  There was something there.  An affection?  A respect?  An understanding?  There was trust.  There was a bond.  You just couldn't put it into words. 

            "If we were enemies I would have stabbed you by now," you said, instead of talking about feelings.  "In the neck."

            "You and your vampire instinct." 

            You shrugged. 

            "Friends then," he said, testing the word. 

            "We weren't friends before?"  You shook your head, a stone in your stomach.  Maybe it was better not to talk to him about it. 

             "Please stop giving me that hangdog look.  It's awful."

            "It's my face." 

            "I was...unfair.  Sorry."  He took his beanie off, fingers working through his hair. He focused on a specific spot on the wall.  "I have carne asada marinating.  Get your work done and I'll make some tonight.  We can eat it in the office." 

            "OK," you said, because that was a bigger apology than you expected and because maybe Gabriel was just as emotionally stunted as you.  "Thank you." 

            "You get to deal with the monkey," Gabriel said abruptly. 

 


 

 

            Gabriel's carne asada fries were delicious.  You slept in the rec room again.  Things were moving in the right direction.   Torby and Winston were already revamping the entire system.

            Torby designed you more blades, the originals were for slashing.  These were thicker, for thrusting attacks.  Then he casually asked you about the vibrator, smile shrewd.  You still hadn't used it. 

            Then you got the call: Genji was on his way back with Gleeson in tow. 

            You met Jesse in the interrogation wing late in the evening.  He was still in uniform and his smile was grim. 

            "You eaten?"

            "A couple hours ago."

            "That should be ok.  There are barf bags in the observation room, if you need'em."

            You took a deep breath.  "Jesse McCree, it sounds like you're trying to scare me."

            "Friendly warning.  Commander verified your target is who you say he is."  He squinted at you.  "And if that's the case, I guess you won't mind how messy it gets." 

            You've seen some shit. But you've never been a big fan of torture.  You thought about skipping it and asking for the transcript, but that didn't seem right. 

            This time you were on the other side of the glass.  The polygraph wasn't torture, but it was an interrogation.  This was an enhanced version.  Jesse leaned against the wall.  You pulled up a chair.

            Gabriel was already at work.  "You look good for a dead man, Gleeson."

            "It's not what it looks like, Commander," Gleeson gibbered.  "I barely escaped with my life.  We were betrayed."

            "I noticed," Gabriel said.  He moved like predator, all swagger and anticipation.  He was fast, maybe faster than Genji.  "You've seen my work Gleeson.  Cut the shit."

            "It wasn't me!"  Gleeson screeched.

            "Wrong answer," Gabriel murmured and picked up the bolt cutters.

            You clenched your left fist as Gabriel started with his left hand.  He looked at the window, smiled fiercely, and cut off Gleeson's index finger.  Your own stubs twinged, but you didn't look away.            

            You needed reinforced gloves to keep your fingertips from gouging your palms.  You'd ask Torby about it later. 

            Gleeson screamed.  "Orders!  I had orders!"

            "From who?"

            "I thought it was Morrison," he sobbed. 

            Gabriel bared his teeth.  "Oh?'

            "Upper brass, higher than you.  Everyone knows you resent Morrison for usurping you! He was just pre-empting you!" 

            Gabriel cut off his middle finger, the sound of snapping bone turning your stomach.  "Not buying it.  Talon was involved."

            Gleeson screamed.  It made your stomach clench. 

            "Try again."

            "I wouldn't lie to you, Reyes!  Talon mercs were the bullet, someone higher up was the trigger!" 

            Gabriel paused, watching the blood pour out of Gleeson's finger stubs.  "Names, Gleeson." 

           "I don't know any!"  Off went the ring finger and you closed your eyes for a moment, centering yourself.  Those weren't your fingers.  Yours went all at once and you didn't even notice.  It was completely different. 

            "Wrong answer," Gabriel purred.  He held up Gleeson's left hand so the man could see the damage.  "What was the plan for the base?"

            "There was data - all gone now.  It didn't get backed up.  Capturing you was a bonus!  They thought they could turn you.  They still want you.  Morrison's too idealistic to play their game, but you-"  Gleeson began to laugh wildly. 

            Gabriel rolled his eyes.  "What kind of data?"  Gabriel put the bolt cutters down.  "I'm thinking I want to move to softer tissue now, cockless wonder."

            Gleeson babbled everything he knew.  He had a few helpers in the base.  He didn't know if any survived.  The data was what needed to be destroyed.  He had no idea what it was.  UN stuff, above his pay grade.  There were sympathizers in both Blackwatch and Overwatch.  He didn't know names.  He didn't know where the gun came from. 

            Gabriel cut him anyway.  You didn't throw up.  The fingers left you with the most visceral sensation; everything else was minor.  Gleeson was partially responsible for everything.  You'd lost your friends, your lover, and your home.  And through it all Gabriel smiled viciously.   Or was he Commander Reyes?  The line was getting blurred.  He was Commander Gabriel Reyes and while you knew the protocol of how to address him, you weren't sure how to think of him any more.  The significance of the fingers hadn't been lost on you, though the meaning was less clear. 

            Gabriel asked questions.  Gleeson gave answers.  And you watched. 

            "You want in, Lucky Strike?" Gabriel asked, looking at the mirrored glass.

            You stood. 

            "You don't have to go in there," Jesse said.  His jaw was clenched.  "Commander makes everyone sit in the first time their mission takes them this far.  Makes sure they understand what they're doing when they take on this kind of job."  Jesse took his hat off.  "But you don't have to join in." 

            "I understand, Jesse." 

            "No you don't, Lucky.  He's not normally like this."

            It was hazy, like a dream.  You practically floated into the interrogation room.  It stunk of blood, offal, and human waste.  Gleeson had voided himself. 

            "Pleasepleaseplease," Gleeson begged.  Blood and foam flecked his face.  His eyes were wild like a fear-maddened horse.  You didn't look at his abdomen.  Gabriel had made a mess of it. 

            "Names," Gabriel said. 

            "Petras! Vialli! Ngumi! Maximillien! Shimada!  Morrison! Nguyen!"

            Every time Gleeson mentioned Commander Morrison, you could see the darkness jolt through Gabriel's eyes. 

            "You think he's got anything else useful?"

            "No," Gabriel said.  "And I don't care.  He got Aishani killed." 

            "Do you remember me, Gleeson?"

            "Pleaseohpleaseohpleasenogodno." 

            Of course not, you weren't important enough to remember.  There were a lot of things you wanted to say.  Gabriel gestured at the tray of instruments, his expression almost beatific.  There were a lot of things Gleeson deserved.  For Captain Patel.  For Shin.  You were no angel.  In that room of revelation and suffering, the ones you couldn't save lingered.  You saw Gabriel there, stained with blood, his mind in a dark place.  He was here with you now.  He was alive. 

            You examined the tools, mostly out of morbid curiosity.  They didn't disturb you, not like they should have. 

            "We don't need him any more?"

            "He's all yours," Gabriel murmured, so close you could feel his heat radiating on your back. It was a comforting, even in a room like this. 

            You drew your tanto and you cut Gleeson's throat.  "We have enough nightmares," you told Gabriel.  "We don't need more."

            Gabriel stared down at you, his pupils too wide, his nostrils flared.  "We're not saints, Lucky. Gleeson knew better.  He fucking knew. Actions have consequences."

            Gleeson was a bloody mess and he got what he deserved.  Actions did have consequences.  Neither you nor Gabriel needed to spend extra time torturing people: you didn't need to pay for that.  You wiped your blade on a towel.  "I think you're freaking Jesse out," you said.  "You want me to call the Strike Commander or Captain Amari?"

            "I'm fine, Lucky," he said, voice tight.  "You're bleeding."

            You looked down at your left hand.  "I uh...still have control issues."  You didn't tell him that watching him amputate Gleeson's fingers disturbed you more than anything else you'd seen. 

            Gabriel looked down at you, his arms bloody.  It wasn't a big room, and you should have been uneasy being so closed to him in this state.  But it was Gabriel.  He had carried you through the snow.  He had given you the clothes off his back.  There were days you were furious at him, but you weren't afraid of him. 

            "Can I get you some whiskey?  Water?"

            "Jesse's probably already called Ana."  He wiped sweat from his brow, smearing blood across his face.  "I don't normally get this carried away."

            "This was personal," you agreed. You tentatively reached up and patted his back with your good hand. 

            He looked down at you skeptically.  "You do realize you're trying to comfort me after I tortured a guy past sanity?"

            "Wow, when you put it like that, it sounds bad.  And like aftercare.  Ugh."

            "You got a problem with aftercare?" Gabriel raised a brow.

            "In this context, yes."  But you didn't pull your hand away.  "Come on, you need to get cleaned up.  I hear the blood of traitors causes cancer," you said leading him out of the room. 

            Strike Commander Jack Morrison leaned against the wall outside.  He was dressed down in a black t-shirt and cargo pants, his bright eyes on Gabriel.  There was an intensity to him you hadn't seen in prior visits.  He crossed over in two steps, his presence filling the hall.  Your theory was right; he was one of those who could turn it on and off. 

            "Gabe," he said like it was air in his lungs. 

            "Jack," Gabriel murmured. 

            "You OK?"

            "Fine." 

            "Got something right here," Jack tapped his temple.

            "I know.  Gonna have to shower."

            There was rhythm to their responses, the words not mattering as much as the eye contact.  Morrison surveyed Gabriel like he was looking for cracks in his armor.  Gabriel stared at Jack like he was the only lifeline in a storm. 

            You sidled away, feeling very much like you were intruding. In an outer hall, you ran into Jesse. 

            "You OK, Lucky?" He didn't try to see what was going on in the hall behind you.             

            "Oddly OK."  You managed a smile.  "I'm uh not sure what to say about that."

            "Don't talk about it if you don't want to," Jesse said.  "I thought it was going to get worse."  He had a funny look on his face.  "Good de-escalation."

            "Not going to lie, the finger thing made me really uncomfortable."

            Jesse nodded.  "Yep. You're pretty handy with a knife."

            "I don't go looking for fair fights," you said.  "I don't know if I can get to sleep now.    I'm going to take a shower and have a drink.  Maybe not in that order."

            "You want company?" Jesse didn't look at you. "For the drink, Lucky.  Seeing that shit doesn't make me wanna tumble anyone."

            "Yeah," you agreed. 

            You showered, cleaned your knife, and met Jesse in his room. 

            Jesse had a couch.  You sat down.  He took a swig of whiskey, then handed you the bottle.

            "I'm not squeamish, Lucky."             

            "I know."  Loveable as Jesse was, he was a killer for Blackwatch. 

            "I don't like seeing him like that.  It's...disturbing." 

            "I got that," you said, taking another drink.

           "The commander's a stand-up guy.  Just wish he'd stop digging his grave," Jesse said. 

            "You really care about him," you said and passed back the bottle.  It was a little surprising.  Jesse was personable about everyone, but you didn't take his declarations of affection seriously. 

           "Yeah.  He taught me a lot."  Jesse sighed.  "He didn't used to be this...tightly wound.  He was still a bastard, but he wasn't so torn up."   

            "You don't have any lingering resentment for him making you work for Blackwatch?"

            "Nah.  Used to," he said.  "But it's been a good place for me.  The only complaint I have is Captain Amari won't give me a second look."

            "She has a daughter," you said.  "Between soldiering and mothering, she probably doesn't have time for ..."

            "I know," Jesse said.  "I know." 

            "Sorry, I'm not good at saying the right thing."  You took a big swallow of whiskey.  "Sorry."

            "I really like her, Lucky.  She's fierce. She shoots straight. She is damn pretty like you said."  His expression grew dreamy.

            "Oh god, don't remind me.  I was delirious."

            "You were cute," Jesse laughed.  "Crazy girl wearing Commander Reye's clothes and spouting nonsense."  He dropped onto his bed laughing.  "And shit spiders.  Oh darling, that's the best report opening ever."

            You sat on Jesse's couch, drinking.  It was kind of surprising that you hadn't been drinking more.  Your shrink said it wasn't a healthy outlet, and Gabriel kept you so busy, you didn't really have time to self-medicate.   But you felt warm and Jesse was muttering about how pretty Captain Amari was.  Smiling, you put the bottle down and curled up on the couch. 

            "We should build blanket forts with Genji," you said.

            "I don't know if that would translate right for him," Jesse said.

            "OK, we should do this with Genji.  With movies or popcorn."

            "Get drunk and babble?"

            "Yeah." You grinned. 

            "OK," Jesse said.  "We'll ask him next time."

           


 

            It was Jack that helped him into the shower, stripping the bloody clothes off, adjusting the water, lathering up the washcloth.  He was tired now, the anger a dull ache underneath the crushing weariness.  Gabriel stood in the shower letting the hot water pour over him.  

            She should have left it alone.  Gleeson deserved more than what Gabriel gave him.  And what Gleeson kept saying about Jack...  He could have made it last for a very long time. 

            We have enough nightmares

            Gabriel sighed, watching the bloody water circle the drain.  That was true too.  It was Gabriel's duty to punish Gleeson for his sins.  But it was Lucky's right to decide Gleeson's fate.   Was she even cut out for Blackwatch?  Maybe.  It hadn't been blustery morality or squeamishness that drove her to give Gleeson the coup de grace.  Gabriel had really expected her to cut and run.  She should've been scared to see him so close to the edge.  She'd made the kill for him.  Because he was a man who couldn't let things go.  He would have wrung every drop of blood out of Gleeson and come back for the marrow.  This was a thing they both understood.  She'd survived her friends.  He'd let down his subordinates.  Aishani was dead.  They had a responsibility to fix things.  It was a fucking mess.  And then the damn ingrate called Jack, of all people, to see him like this.

            "Gabe?"  Jack's voice echoed in the bathroom. 

            "Still here," Gabriel muttered.  "No window to throw myself out of."

            Jack pulled back the curtain.  He was nude, cock semi-hard, and he stepped into the shower behind Gabriel. 

            "Want me to wash your back?" Jack moved with confidence, but his voice gave away his unease.  They hadn't been like this for awhile.  Not since before the demotion.  Things had been better with Jack since Black Base Delta.  But they hadn't progressed beyond an occasional kiss or shared meal.  Despite Aishani's words, he hadn't let himself completely forget that things between them were complicated.

            But Jack was here right now, when he needed him.  That counted for something.  

            "Yeah," Gabriel said, his voice rough.  "Thanks." 

            Jack's hands moved gently across his back and Gabriel leaned into the touch. 

            "I know you don't like me to watch you-"

            "I know you don't like to watch me-"

            They stopped, simultaneous in their confessions. 

            "You first," Gabriel said. 

            "I'm sorry," Jack said, resting his forehead between Gabriel's shoulder blades.  "About everything."

            "Gotta be more specific," Gabriel said because "everything" was a copout.  And maybe he was just a little petty.   

            "I'm sorry about your people.  I'm sorry about Aishani.  I'm sorry you're the one who's stuck making all these impossible calls.  I'm sorry I wasn't there for you.  I'm sorry I was blind."  The apologies poured from Jack's lips and melted into the steam of the shower, fogging up the world around them.   

            Gabriel turned around.  Jack's eyes were the blue of the ocean, and looking into them was always such a shock.   

            "I want to do better," Jack said.  "I miss you."

            Gabriel slumped against the wall.  "You picked a hell of a time to say this."

            "There was never going to be a good time, Gabe." 

            He remembered Lieutenant Sato laughing as he'd cleaned up Lucky's bloody face on the mat.  He remembered the emptiness in Lucky's voice when she talked about her dead lover.  Those encounters were only hours apart.  Jack's words, they didn't fix everything.  They didn't even fix the things Jack himself had broken.  But they were a start.  He just had to get to the next step. 

            "Yeah," Gabriel said.  "I miss you too."

            Jack's hand brushed his temple.  "You still got something right here."  He began to rub the area with a soapy washcloth.  "How does this even happen?"

            "I need you to help me see myself," Gabriel said after Jack was done.  "I get too caught up sometimes."

            "I know," Jack said.  "Same here."

Chapter Text

             It was the best night's sleep you'd gotten since arriving in Switzerland.  And maybe it was because you'd killed a bad guy last night.  Despite Jesse's couch being lumpy and smelling like liquor, you'd been comfortable.  You awoke to Jesse's alarm.

            "I'm getting changed then hitting the office.  Thanks for drinks," you told him.

            You got a grunt in response.  You flitted out of Jesse's room, only to be met by Genji.  He held very still. 

            "Nothing happened," you said.  "I slept on the couch."

            "As you say," he said. 

            You sighed.  "You don't believe me, do you?"

            "As you say."

            "Dick," you muttered.  "We're not inviting you to the next one then.  No movies, or hair styling, or popcorn for you."

           


 

            Gabriel was in a strangely cheerful mood.  Actually, scratch that.  You knew why he was cheerful.  There was nothing strange about it.  Someone got laid.  And it wasn't you.  Happy Gabriel in the office was a blessing.  Happy Gabriel in combat classes was a nightmare. 

            You were paired off against Genji.  Why were you always with Genji?  It was the fingers, you realized.  Or Gabriel liked watching you get tossed around like a frisbee. Genji had started blocking anything from your left side.  It was kind of unfair. 

            Jesse had been paired up with a hacker called Riggs, long black hair, thin straight nose, serious air.  Riggs was cute, you decided.  And he'd never been a jerk to you. 

            "Seriously," you told Genji.  "After the interrogation, we were both drained.  There was nothing except him pining after you-know-who.  And then we talked about cool slumber party ideas."

            "I am flattered," Genji said.  "But I am afraid that I am not interested in you in that way."

            You face palmed.  "You've been trolling me this whole time, haven't you?"

            "As you say," he agreed.

            "Strike Commander, what a surprise," Gabriel said brightly.  Everyone straightened up.

            Morrison had entered the gym wearing blue sweats.  They matched his eyes.  He had to be doing that on purpose. 

            "At ease," he said, warmth and authority coming from his voice in equal measures.  "Gabriel," he said, and you had vivid memories of last night.  "Mind if I join in?"

            "Not at all.  Genji, come here for this demo."  That wasn't unusual.  Genji could take the most hits out of all of you.  "Lucky," Gabriel practically purred.  "Why don't you partner with the Strike Commander?"

            Ha ha ha.  Fuck.  "Sure thing," you said, your enthusiasm a little strained.  You remember Captain Patel's kicks.  Morrison's were going to be worse.

            Morrison strode up to you and extended his hand.  "Call me, Jack."  You could feel everyone watching.  Not because you were interesting, but because it was the Jack Morrison.  You shook, and he was so good-natured he gave you a well-measured firm handshake that didn't even make your bones creak. 

            You were warmed up and you watched with slight horror as Gabriel wrestled Genji to the mat and then pinned him to the ground.  "Less throws, more pins.  Begin."  He grinned in your direction.

            You'd been nice to him last night.  That was a mistake.  Obviously.  You didn't know if he was getting you back for killing Gleeson early or seeing the big sexy subtext between him and Jack, but he obviously had it out for you today.

            Jack lunged at you, and you danced backward.  His reach was farther than Genji's and you nearly took a foot to the stomach.  He wasn't scrawny by any stretch of the imagination.  Jack was all muscle, though not as bulky as Gabriel.  And he was faster.  You knew he was going easy on you, but you barely dodged a haymaker. 

            "Are we fighting or dancing?" Jack asked lazily. 

            Trick question!  It was tag.  You were running away in circles and Jack was chasing you.   You feinted with your right hand and tried for a knife hand to his throat.  He only clicked his tongue and knocked your hand away.  He struck and you barely blocked his blow to the side of your head.  Unfortunately, his legs were moving too and he did one of those dreaded leg sweeps.  You hit the ground and rolled, barely dodging his mount. 

            Cocky bastard was grinning, his blonde hair not the least bit mussed.  You hated him a little then, for being so happy and good-looking while kicking your ass.  He tackled you, pinning you on your back underneath him, as he straddled you.  He was heavier than he looked and you hooked his leg, trying to buck him off. 

            He just laughed, his hard body pressed against yours.  You spun your hips trying to snap him off.  He leaned forward, one of his hands wrapping around your throat. 
            "Better think fast," he said lightly.  And then he squeezed. 

            Your vision darkened.  The world went silent. 

            He was going to kill you.  He was going to choke the life out of you while straddling your hips.  Captain Patel had stopped shooting and they'd already captured Gabriel. 

            You screamed, a feral sound ripped from you throat, your fingers prying his hand off your neck.  You snapped your head up, aiming for the cyborg's nose.  He grunted and you flipped him off you. You didn't feel your knife, so you punched him.  There was already blood from the headbutt, but that wasn't going to keep him down.  So you had to hit him.  A lot. 

            Two sets of hands dragged you off the cyborg and you thrashed. 

            "Easy sweetpea," a voice said.  "We got you.  Come on, Lucky.  You're OK.  It's OK." 

            And then you were yourself, Genji holding one arm, Jesse holding the other.  Someone was laughing in the background.  And when you looked down, you saw Strike Commander Jack Morrison, his eyes wide, blood gushing out of his nose.  You might have split his lip too. 

            "Oh,"  you sagged, Genji and Jesse still holding you up.  "Oh shit."  The classroom was eerily quiet except the rough laughter coming from behind you.  Gabriel stepped forward, mirth evident on his face, and offered Jack his hand. 

            "You OK, Jack?" 

            "A little shocked."  Morrison tilted his head back, staunching the flow. 

            "Your face was pretty priceless."

            "My face is pretty bloody."  .    

            You flinched "I...uh...am so sorry." You had Jack Morrison's blood smeared on your knuckles.  You sat there, forcing yourself to breathe normally.  You were dead.  You were kicked out.  Then you were dead, because you'd just punched the Strike Commander in the face.  Worse, you punched Gabriel's boyfriend in the face. 

            "I always knew you had it in you, Lucky.  You think too much.  You should be using more instinct."  Gabriel paused.  "Though I thought Genji would be the one to push you over the edge," he said.  "Thanks, Jack."

            "My pleasure," Jack said dryly.  "Always happy to help an agent grow." 

             Your brain stuttered. 

            Jesse and Genji released you.  

            "Class dismissed," Gabriel said.  "Go get Jack some ice, Lucky." 

 


 

            Jack's expression was impossible for you to read, mostly because he was holding an icepack over his face. 

            "I'm really sorry, Commander Morrison," you said. 

            "I said call me "Jack," he muttered from behind the ice.

            "It's a little blood, Lucky.  It's not a big deal."  The three of you were in Gabriel's office.  Jack had stripped off his bloody shirt and was sitting in Gabriel's chair.  You tried not to stare at his chest.  But you kept sneaking glances.  He was very toned, with a dusting of blonde hair and pink nipples. 

            "I'm fine," Jack said.  "A little embarrassed, but this is nothing." 

            Gabriel sat on the desk and leaned over to kiss Jack.   They looked good together. You felt heat traveling up your cheeks. 

            "She's called Lucky Strike for a reason," Gabriel smirked.

            "Because I'm lucky, not skilled," you added.    

            "That didn't feel like luck," Jack said.  "Forgot about your fingers."

            "Sorry," you said again. 

            "Stop apologizing," Gabriel said. "It's annoying."

            You sat on your desk.  Jack tossed the ice pack in the trash and leaned against Gabriel. 

            "I didn't see what happened.  What was the trigger?" Gabriel asked too casually.

            "I uh...he had me by the throat and squeezed.  I kind of blacked out, but more like...I don't know."

            Jack frowned.  "Has someone tried to strangle you before?"

            "Yeah," you said.   You had your right hand over your neck.  "I didn't know I'd react that way."

            "Talked to your shrink about it?" Gabriel asked. 

           "I honestly didn't know it was an issue.  I mean, I've avoided a lot of different deaths; I don't have reactions to rocks, scorpions, or toasters." 

            Gabriel opened his mouth, then closed it again.  He took another moment. "Triggers aren't always logical.  I can only begin to guess yours.  Cyborgs was the obvious one." 

            Your brow furrowed. "Is that why you put me with Genji?"

            "You once killed eight people in a night," Gabriel said.  "I'm only pairing you with experienced operatives.  Genji is the best adapted to handle you if you freak out." 

            "I didn't do it bare-handed," you said. 

            "Taking a combat knife to a single cyborg is pretty impressive," Jack said.  He looked comfortable in Gabriel's chair, almost boyish.  "You did it to three." 

            You rubbed your face.  He was making it sound more impressive than it actually was. "It wasn't a fair fight."

            "So who tried to strangle you?" Gabriel asked. 

            "There was a smaller cyborg right before we got out of the base. You didn't see him, because the big guy was busy punching you."

            Jack gripped Gabriel's thigh, his mouth pressed in a flat line.  The expression gave his face a vicious cast.  It was the eyes.  His eyes went cold with a murderous anger you recognized.  It hit you then that Jack Morrison really loved Gabriel. 

            "Yeah, saw it in the mission report.  He had you flat on your back, but you managed to stab him."

            "I cut my back drawing the knife," you said. 

            "I saw that firsthand," Gabriel said and it made you squirm.  "Nasty little nick you had there." 

            You took a deep breath.  " He took me down and decided I was your...mistress.  Said he wanted to fuck me while he strangled me.  Didn't have time, but he was pretty excited about whatever he could do.  Captain Patel's gun had gone quiet.  And I could hear the other guy just slugging you."  You didn't remember the guy's whole face, just that lower jaw and neck.  "I stabbed him through the throat."  You mimicked a stabbing motion with your left hand, then turned in ninety degrees to simulate the twist.  "Then I got behind the big guy and did the same thing."

            Jack leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands.  "You dragged Gabriel out?"

            It was all the report, but there was something in Jack's eyes that you couldn't identify.  But you understood he wanted to hear it from you firsthand, and maybe you owed him that much. 

            "I was hopped up on adrenaline, but he's heavy.  I had a stolen headset and was tracking the countdown.  Gabriel wouldn't get up, but he wanted to yell at me about not following orders.  I didn't care, because Captain Patel told me to keep him alive.  I couldn't get him completely clear of the blast zone though."

            "You know, Gabriel came back with almost no shrapnel wounds," Jack said.  "But you..." 
            "Captain Patel told me to keep him alive," you said, looking at your desk.  "I wasn't being heroic.  Our attackers wanted him dead.  They'd killed everyone else.  I can be real petty.  It was really a big "fuck you."  That's all." 

            "Thank you for shielding me," Gabriel said.  "You didn't mention that in your report."

            They both watched you with some kind of fragile emotion you didn't want to think about and you felt the blood rushing to your cheeks.  "There's no way to say something like that without sounding like you're bragging. Like "Oh look, I saved your life this many times.  You owe me, pleb."  After you carted me through the snow, I wasn't keeping tally."

            "You're an idiot," Gabriel said gruffly.  "Aishani was right.  You're too stupid to be left to your own devices."

            "Thank you for bringing him back," Jack said.  He was really looking at you now, so very different from your first few meetings.  You wondered if he was just talking about Black Base Delta.  "I'm glad Gabriel has you to rely on."  There was a tinge of pink in his cheeks and he was so pretty you couldn't look directly at him.

            "You guys can't just go saying things like that," you muttered.  "I'm not evolved enough to handle it."

            "It's just good to know that deep down, Lucky Strike is mostly lizard brain," Gabriel smirked.  "I'm also going to point out that my assistant can totally kick your new assistant's ass." 

            "Why are you so competitive?" Jack muttered.  "I didn't even get to pick my assistant." 

            "Overwatch Barbie has it bad for Jack," Gabriel smirked. 

            "She's really efficient," Jack said weakly.

            "She looks like Barbie.  Complete WASP name too. She thinks that if she can just collate harder, she'll win his heart."

            "Ainsley is very...earnest," Jack said, massaging his temples. 
            "She's also Director Petras' niece.  So if you see more of Jack around here, that's the reason."  Gabriel exuded smug.  You weren't exactly sure why he was so pleased with himself.  The man was like a cat. 

            "Shall I requisition more chairs?"

            "Make it a couch, with a fold-out bed."

            "Really?"  You weren't sure if you crammed enough incredulity into that one word, but you tried. 

            "Would you rather we used your desk?"  Gabriel purred.    

            You worked your jaw, trying to make words come out.   You managed a short chattering noise.    

            "He's kidding about the fold-out bed," Jack said.  "We'd break it."

 


 

            There were names to cross-check.  After yesterday, you didn't think Jack would have betrayed Gabriel.  Someone had to investigate, and it wasn't your place.  You attached the Gleeson interrogation transcript and video to a message and sent it Lacroix. He was cleared for it. 

            You'd identified some of people Gleeson named.  Antonio Vialli was a mega-rich CEO with family ties to the Camorra.  You studied his picture.  He was the one meeting Gleeson in Genji's surveillance photos. 

            Ngumi was Adhabu Ngumi AKA Doomfist, a vicious cyborg mercenary. 

            Anh Nguyen was a highly controversial nationalist and UN ambassador who seemed to have a massive grudge against Overwatch. 

            Shimada was a powerful Yakuza clan. 

           You cross-checked other Morrisons, but contextually, you knew Gleeson meant Jack. 

            And Petras?  Well, Director Petras had been appointed by the UN.  He was rarely at the HQ, mostly seen making statements to the UN.  Jack was the Face.  Gabriel was the Muscle.  Petras was the Sphincter, pushing all the shit out.  Or at least, that's how Gabriel described it. 

            "It looks like we have a fully automated science lab in Greenland." Gabriel said.  They would be less secure than actual bases.  You had to move fast. 

            "So we should ask Winston to mine the backups?"

            "You ask the monkey," Gabriel said.

            You rolled your eyes.  "Why are you such a dick to him?" 

            Gabriel didn't look up from the desk, but you could feel his attention.  "I'm not."

            "You are."

            Gabriel gave you a look.  "Have you ever seen Planet of the Apes?  Apes take over, enslave humanity, and are a general nuisance.  Now Winston is apparently from a secret base on the moon and he's the only super smart gorilla that doesn't want to kill the humans and he coincidentally was able to build a rocket ship to carry him to earth.  You buy that?"

            When he put it that way... 

            "It's fine to be suspicious.  I'm suspicious of everyone.  Doesn't mean I'm a dick to them."

            Gabriel snorted.         

            You paused.  "Have you been reading his logs?  There are a lot of anomalies in our mainframe.  He's running a backtrace on the ones he can pry open."  You stretched, feeling your lower back twinge.  You'd been sitting too long.  "We need better hackers.  He's come up with a laundry list of troublesome behaviors."

            "I know we need more trustworthy hackers.  I'll look into." 

            "I've compiled a list of Gleeson's names with dossiers."  You tapped your stylus against the desk.  "He named Petras but..."

            "Hard copy only, keep it off the books."

            "I meant, which one?  Yeah, I can see the politician sabotaging us, but there's a whole family of them.  His niece could be fucking shit up in Jack's office.  His brother has some pretty questionable financial holdings.  His uncle-"

            "All of them.  Keep it quiet," Gabriel said.  "Delegate it if you have to."

            Genji was the best choice.  You sent him and Winston their respective assignments. 

            "Vialli is the next link," you said. 

            "I'm on it."  Gabriel looked up.  "How do you feel about being on mission rotation?"

            "...If it's combat, I'd strongly prefer someone I trust at my back."  Word had gotten around that you'd "attacked" Jack.  After that Jack made a point to be seen walking with you through the mess hall, chatting pleasantly about chili.  He'd clapped you on the back and laughed when you told him that real chili didn't come from a can and what the hell was wrong with him?  But you were still getting the cold shoulder from rank and file Overwatch agents.            

            Conversely, your fellow Blackwatch agents now thought you were insane, but competent.  Apparently, everyone got beaten up by Genji.  Not everyone got to punch Jack.  They were getting used to you sleeping in the rec room.  Sometimes you overhead things like "Who cares whom she's sleeping with?  I'd sleep with the commander in a heartbeat!" and "She's obviously not sleeping with the boss, because she's on the couch all the time, hogging the throw pillows."  Those statements were strangely validating. 

            "All right."  Gabriel stood.  "It's your turn to cook."  He cracked his neck.  "Jack's probably joining us."

            You mentally cycled through your ingredients.  "You think he'll like curry udon?"  You'd have to put some aside for Genji too. 

            "Yeah," Gabriel said.  "Make sure you do those soft-boiled eggs." 

            "You're awfully bossy," you said, a flicker of warmth in you chest. 

            "Because I'm the boss." He crossed his arms.  "Deal with it."

 


 

            You and Jesse ended up in Tokyo.  There was a link in the Shimada connection that Gabriel wanted taken alive.  A mid-level Yakuza boss, Kigarashi Fuma had been "vacationing" in Europe recently.  Right now, he was staying at a fancy casino, eating gold-flecked sushi and cube-shaped melons. 

            "I'm just saying, we need jobs that give us those kind of vacation benefits," Jesse murmured, his hand around your waist.  He wore a surprisingly nice black suit with a bolo tie and his signature hat.  Your cherry red boots went thigh-high, covering your scars.  The hem of your matching red dress barely brushed the tops of your boots.  Even your gloves were red.  Jesse looked like a business man.  You looked like a fetish whore. 

            "I'm just saying, next time, you be the sex worker."

            "You look good, baby," Jesse grinned.  "You know the boss picked it out, not me, right?"

            It was a struggle to keep your face vapid and smiling.  But if you didn't, you might smear your lipstick.  "Let's just get to the room, OK?"

            "Did you pick up the wagashi already?  I ain't fussy, but Genji-"  Jesse asked, looking around.

            "Yeah.  Genji was pretty adamant that he wanted his fancy traditional desserts.  I got all the stuff shipped out this afternoon.  Not risking leaving it behind if this goes south."

            "Maybe I should get Ana some tea."

            "She'd like that," you said.  "You should get her some wagashi too.  They're supposed to go with tea.  She'd probably have to invite you to eat some with her."

            "Huh."  Jesse smiled down at you.  "You're good."

            "I'm a sucker for lost causes." 

            Snorting, Jesse pushed you into the stairwell.  You froze as he pinned you to the wall, his jaw grazing your neck. 

            "Grab my hair or something," he said.  "Ow, like you're enjoying yourself, sweatpea."

            "Sorry."  You loosened your grip and stroked his hair while he planted the device.              You'd hit two other elevators earlier.  Here and the central elevator - the one Kigarashi was most likely to take, were riskier.

            The two of you stumbled out and to the elevator, your skirt sliding up too high.  Jesse turned you away from him and pushed you against the elevator wall.  His hips jerked against you and you yelped.  "You're knocking it off kilter."

            "Sorry honeypie," he grinned, burying his face in your hair.  "I'm being convincing.  Move your hips a little."

            You acquiesced, wondering when you'd become a sex mime.  Maybe that's what happened when you didn't get laid.  You just went through the motions as a sad mockery of the real thing.  You still hadn't worked up the nerve to use the finger vibrator.  Not that you didn't have other toys, but you really didn't want to have that personalized product review conversation with Torby. 

            Jesse dragged you out of the elevator and the two of you stumbled past some startled looking men with elaborate tattoos.  Yakuza.  Jesse pushed you against the designated hotel room door, while fumbling with his keycard. 

            You moaned, and it came out stilted.  Oh well, your role was a prostitute.  You were supposed to fake it.   

            Jesse huffed into your neck and got the door open, quickly pushing you inside.  He shut the door hard and then started laughing.  "You sounded like a dying goat.  Ain't no one thinking you're turned on."

            "Shut up."  You shook your head.  "We're two floors under Kigarashi's suite.  I'd rather take him out the window."

            "We need him alive, Lucky.  Stick to the plan."

            You readjusted your weapons, wishing you could wear your combat gear instead.  Your tanto was strapped to your thigh and covered by the boot.  

            "You should keep that outfit."

            "Shut up, Jesse."

            "No, really.  It looks good on you.  Commander has an eye for that kind of thing."

            "I'm sure I'll have to use it if I'm undercover."

            Jesse paused.  "Morrison spends a lot more time in the office with you two."

            "Petras' niece is his new assistant.  Gabriel says she keeps throwing herself at Jack."

            "You sure Morrison's not a little worried about how much time the Commander and his lovely assistant are spending together?"

            "Considering, we're working and that he's there half the time, no."  The thought had crossed your mind, but Jack never seemed displeased to see you.  He could be faking, and the Strike Commander was a good actor, but your gut reaction was that he just liked being there, if only to get away from his assistant. 

            You didn't have any illusions about your ties to him.  You were Gabriel's friend.  Jack accepted you because of it and because you weren't in his direct chain of command.  He was a decent person and he would be friendly to you because of that.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

            "It ain't awkward at all?"  Jesse probed.

            "Only where Gabriel talks about having sex on my desk.  When they get all...affectionate, I just leave."  You might have also booby-trapped your desk.  "I mean, we're having a chili cook-off next week.  You want in?"

            "Hot damn, about time you picked something good to make!"

            "...I thought you liked my cooking," you said, double-checking your fingertips.

            "Of course I do, but chili.  Chili! I make mine with lots of bourbon and porkbutt."

            "Huh.  OK.  Well, whatever you make, I'm sure it will be better than Jack's.  He said he was opening a can and adding cheese.  I think he's joking, but...sometimes I can't tell." 

            "OK, as long as you're not stuck in some awkward love triangle."

            Your heart twinged.  You were stuck on something else. Shin had talked to you about Tokyo.  There were places he'd wanted you to see.  You couldn't remember them all.  You'd gone to a shrine today and bumbled through a ritual prayer for the dead. 

            "I'm not over Shin," you said. "But I'm doing better.  I can check out guys and not feel guilty.  But my head isn't in that game."  You checked your burner tablet.  Patched into the security network, you found Kigarashi heading toward the elevators, one bodyguard at his heel. 

            Jesse adjusted his holster.  "He's in place." 

            You and Jesse exited the hotel room.  You took the fire escape two floors up, not encountering anyone.  You leaned on Jesse, as the two of you waited for the elevator. 

            Ding. 

            You and Jesse stumbled inside, before Kigarashi and his bodyguard could get out.  Jesse took the guard, driving his fist into the man's liver.  You fell against Kigarashi, pressing your middle finger to his neck.  You felt the needle pop through your glove and into his flesh.  He gasped, stiffened, then fell against you. 

            "Hit it," Jesse said. 

            You activated the scramblers, shorting out localized surveillance.  It was a casino.  They'd rush to the vault first, giving you a clear exit route.  You held Kigarashi against you, like you were helping his drugged ass out to his car.  Jesse deposited the bodyguard in the stairwell.   Then he came back to help you with Kigarashi.  The fire escape door opened, siren disabled, to a side street.  An SUV, keys in the ignition, awaited you.  You and Jesse loaded Kigarashi into the back.  Jesse secured the target.  You drove out to the airfield. 

            All in all, it went smoothly. 

 


 

            Genji got to interrogate Kigarashi, and you didn't sit in.  The transcripts would be enough. 

            You'd picked up so souvenirs in Japan and lots of snacks.  Jesse had managed to wrangle an invite to tea after presenting both Captain Amari and the visiting Fareeha a beautifully wrapped box of wagarashi each.  He hadn't liked the desserts one bit, and neither had Fareeha, but Captain Amari found them charming.   She seemed to enjoy the tea Jesse got her too.   Jesse was over the moon.  You gave Fareeha some of your Meiji chocolates and said they were from Jesse.  Because even if he didn't have a chance, you supported him.

            You delivered candy to Torby and Angela, reporting that the injector had worked well.  You asked for some kind of cap to keep from unintentionally triggering the mechanism when you were scrabbling around. 

            Torby grumbled, but he delivered one the next day.

            You went all out for the chili cook-off.  Little bread bowls, pepperjack cheese, sour cream.  Cooking it the night before ensured it had time for the flavor to set.  You used chunks of brisket and chuckeye in addition to coarse ground sirloin.  The meat simmered till the fat would melt in your mouth.  You would show Jack the power of seasonings: smoked salt, anchovies, adobo sauce, sherry, habanero peppers, cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, bay leaves, allspice... 

            The kitchen smelled delicious.   

            "You're definitely going to beat me," Jack said, as he came in.  He was wearing his blue overcoat and eyepiece.  Must be fresh from a mission. You didn't see Gabriel.

            "That goes without saying.  Chili doesn't come out of a can, Jack.  That's not real chili.  Whoever told you that lied."  You might have raised your voice.

            Jack grinned at you, his hair falling in his eyes.  "I want to make an alliance.  Gabriel and Jesse have formed one."

            You scowled.  "What?"

            "Jesse made a smoker out of an empty oil drum.  He's smoking a pork butt.  Gabriel's making chorizo."

            "Son of bitch!" You swore.  "I totally saved his ass with Fareeha.  And he didn't even offer me a spot." 

            Jack chuckled.  "I can make light and fluffy cornbread.  Just help me pick out the spices.  All I have is taco seasoning in a packet."

            You crossed your arms.  "What else you got?"

            "I don't know," Jack said with a shrug. 

            "You got any good booze?"

            Jack snapped his fingers.  "Yes.  Wait, what do you need?"

            "XO Cognac." 

            "Be right back."  Jack flashed you a winning smile, perfect for a recruitment poster, and it might have melted part of your face.  He was really too pretty.

            You went back to stirring your chili.  Fucking McCree.  That traitor.  You expected that kind of shit from Gabriel, but not Jesse.  Well, it didn't matter.  If Jack brought you the cognac, you'd show him white chili.  It wouldn't compromise your dish and it would educate his sad uncivilized mind.

            Jack was back in ten minutes.  He'd shed the overcoat and eyepiece and his black turtleneck was skin tight, clinging to his broad chest and shoulders.  More importantly, he had a large unopened bottle of XO cognac.  "I get them as a "appreciation" gifts," he said almost apologetically. 

            "Gimme," you said, opened it, and sniffed.  You poured yourself a small glass and tasted it.  Oh yeah that was nice.  Fuck you Jesse.  "OK, I'm in."

            "The cornbread's better fresh," he said.  "But I'm good for it tomorrow."

            The cognac was worth way more, even if he didn't deliver.  You gave Jack instructions on white chili.  He chopped the onions, garlic, and jalapenos.  You got him some canned navy beans and added cumin and white pepper.  You donated some sherry and chicken stock.  Then you poured yourself more cognac, because it was nice.  

            Jack took a sip out of your cup.  "Damn.  We should drink this."

            "Yes," you agreed. 

            Jack got the base done, sautéing the aromatics and chicken with seasonings. He added the liquid and the beans and you were pleasantly surprised that he could actually cook. 

            "Tomorrow, add the heavy cream after you heat it up."  You took your pot of chili back to your room because who knew what kind of dirty tricks Gabriel and Jesse would stoop to. 

            You came back and Jack had already cleaned up.  He grinned at you as he put his pot in the fridge with a label that said "Property of the Strike Commander."  It was fancy.  You were a little jealous.  You wanted fancy labels too.   

            "That is good," he said.  "Better than in a can."    He looked down at you.  "So I hear you sold my pants once."

            You put your hand over your face.  You knew this was going to come up.  Gabriel wouldn't have been able to keep that to himself.  If you'd know the nature of their relationship, you never would have said anything.  "I transported your alleged pants.  I have no idea if they were real." 

            Jack laughed at you, which was a relief.  "Now whenever I'm missing clothes, I tell Gabe to ask you about it."

            "It's probably why he never asks me to pick up his dry cleaning," you said. 

            Jack grinned.  "Maybe I'll offer a bounty on his clothes.  You in?"

            "Not worth my life, Jack." 

            "Want to finish this?"  He held up the cognac.

            You looked around.  It was late.  There weren't a lot of people out, but you didn't need any more rumors.  This was the longest time you'd spent alone with Jack.  It was actually kind of fun.  "Not here."

            "The office," he agreed.  He started off at a brisk pace. 

            You ended up in Gabriel's office drinking expensive cognac with Jack. 

            "You actually got the couch," you said, staring at the back wall.  "I am never sitting there."  You sat down on one of the chairs across from Gabriel's desk. 

            "You're welcome to use it.  Probably more comfortable than any of the common areas ones," Jack said, seated on Gabriel's desk. "There's no foldout bed." 

            You looked up at him, narrowing your eyes. 

            "It's come out that you're apparently narcoleptic.  Or that your room is haunted.  Or that Jesse has loud sex every night and it keeps you awake.  I think he started that one."  Jack shrugged.  "We thought you'd be more comfortable in here.  You already sleep at your desk."

            "Thanks," you said, examining your gloves.  You waited for the uncomfortable questions. 

            "It's not a big deal," Jack said, rubbing the back of his neck.  He was turning a brilliant shade of red, possibly from the booze.  "We haven't had sex on it," he blurted out, his eyes darting to your side of the office.

            Son of a bitch.  "What about my desk?" You got up and checked your trap.

            "Gabriel uh...found your thumbtacks...and box cutters.  Nice placement.  We didn't see them."

            "Seriously?"  Your jaw dropped and you couldn't look at Jack. 

            "Well, we had to stop to pull out the tacks," Jack said.  "Gabriel's a little sore about that.  That's probably why he teamed up with Jesse."

            You stared at your desk and tried very hard not to think of Gabriel bending Jack over your desk.  Just like you tried very hard not to think of a nude Gabriel sprawled across your desk, Jack on top of him- 

            You downed the rest of your cognac and poured more.  You drank till the burn of your blush was drowned out by the burn of the alcohol. 

            "I'm going to have to set fire to everything and start fresh," you told Jack.  "Stop smiling at me, you asshole.  I hate you all."  You covered your face. 

            "The couch is untouched," he said.  "I promise."

            When you sobered up, you'd find the bleach.

 


 

            "Reprobates," Gabriel boomed as he entered the office and you nearly fell off the couch. 

            You looked up.  Jack was still in Gabriel's chair, wiping drool off his chin.  You'd taken the cognac and hidden it under your desk.  Because you were going to have to clean it.  Because...

            "I hate you," you told Gabriel.  "You have a perfectly good desk!  It's even bigger than mine.  Why?"

            Gabriel raised an eyebrow at Jack.  Jack just grinned at you both.  His hair was mussed. 

            "You couldn't resist bragging, could you?" Gabriel sighed.  "The couch is a peace offering.  We haven't done a thing on it."

            "Yet!" You hissed.

            "Keep it up and we will," Gabriel said. 

            "I will burn everything."       

            "So, who's coming to judge the chili?" Jack asked. 

            Gabriel gave him a suspicious look.  " Gérard's out of town, so we have Genji, Angela, Ana, and some other assholes I don't give a shit about."

            "He means Winston, Torby, and Reinhardt," you said. 

            "Reinhardt?  Are we going to have enough food?"  Jack cracked his neck and made a face.  Instantly, Gabriel was there beside him massaging his shoulders. 

            "I didn't invite them," Gabriel said.

            "Reinhardt overheard me telling Torby and invited himself," you admitted.  "And he was so excited, I couldn't say no.  Even if it threw off the judge count."

            You, Jesse, Gabriel, and Jack ended up in the kitchen putting your finish touches on the chili.  Jack wore an apron and kept kissing Gabriel.  You were pretty sure he was doing it to sabotage the other man and you really hoped it was working. 

            You added cognac and reheated your chili, tasting it as you stirred.  The spices had melded well.  You ground black pepper and added some hot sauce.  Your bread bowls would be out of the oven soon and your cheese was already grated.  Jesse's chili smelled smoky and sweet.  Gabriel's smelled like hot spices and bacon.  Jack tasted his chili and gave you a wink.  You turned back to your dish. 

            "Anyone need some cold refreshment?" Jack asked, breaking a pack of blonde ale. 

            You took one, and began plating.  Chili in breadbowl, Jack's cornbread on the side, cheese on top. 

            Jesse happily chatted with Ana and Angela.  Winston didn't look particularly enthused to be there, but it could just be Gabriel's presence.  Torby and Reinhardt immediately helped themselves to the beer.  Genji was stealing cornbread, but since it was from Jack's portion, you didn't care.

            You were done first, and you set everyone's bowls in front of them smugly.  Because who didn't love bread bowls?

            Reinhardt beamed at you.  It was so open and pure you didn't regret inviting him, even if he ended up voting for someone else.  Torby went very quiet, but when he looked at you, he gave you a sharp nod of approval.  Angela seemed quietly pleased as well.   

            Ana closed her eyes.  "Bread bowls automatically win," she told you. 

            "Hot," was all Winston said, and downed a glass of milk. 

            "Then you won't be able to handle this," Gabriel said.  He handed you a bowl.  "Taste it and weep, chica." 

            "Because you mistook heat for flavor?"

            "Not me.  And I don't need fancy side dishes to win," he sneered. 

            You took a bite.  Pork belly with mole, chorizo, sundried tomatoes, and fava beans.  It was a smoky balance of piquant and sweet with plenty of spice.  You gave him a grudging thumbs up. 

            Gabriel only grunted at you when he tasted your bowl.

            Jesse grinned.  "So spicy," he said, eating the cornbread first.  Jack didn't need to say anything, happily coming back for seconds. 

            Jesse's chili surprised you in that it was really good.  He'd smoked the pork butt and sautéed apples with his aromatics.  Not as good as Gabriel's, and sweeter than you preferred, but solid. 

            The white chili is what surprised everyone.  Mostly because they expected Jack to open a can and maybe grill some hotdogs.  Gabriel gave you a long "I know what you did there" look, after Jack gave you half his cornbread.  It was creamy and smooth, almost like a curry.  It turned out like yours.  You were kind of pleased. 

            Of course Reinhardt messed up the votes.  He and Angela voted for Gabriel.  Genji voted for Jack.  Winston voted for Jesse.  You secured Ana and Torby's votes. 

            You tried for a chef tiebreaker. Voting for your own was poor sportsmanship.  You and Jesse then voted for Gabriel's chili.  To your surprise, Gabriel and Jack voted for yours. 

            So in the end, you and Gabriel tied for no actual prize except bragging rights.  And since this had initially been a contest between you and Gabriel, it solved nothing.  You didn't mind. 

 


 

            You didn't actually like your therapist.  But then, you didn't have to.  In fact, you were starting to suspect that it was the act of seeking help, not the "talking about your feelings" that made the difference. 

            She had good tips for dealing with grief, and sometimes it was nice to have someone who didn't actually care about you listen to your problems with an objective ear.  You didn't want the pity or well-meaning sympathy of a friend.  Maybe you were being stupid, and yes, you knew you were, but if they pitied you, they wouldn't respect you.  You couldn't handle that.   

            You gave up sleeping in your room.  Your shrink had offered a sleeping pill prescription, but that wasn't the problem. 

            Today you were out at the memorial wall again.  It was early and you held note cards in between your metal fingers. The most important one said "Shin:  Were madly in love.  Had kids.  Or dogs.  They were awful.  We didn't care, we liked them anyway."  There were others, but that was the one that stuck with you.  They were all futures that couldn't happen now.  No meeting Rivka's grandchildren in a cafe and listening to her berate everyone.  No taking Captain Patel out for drinks and reminiscing about old times.  No attending Lao and Valdez's civil union and telling embarrassing stories.  You bowed your head.  You'd come up with your own rituals now. 

            Then you set the cards on fire, watching them burn away to ash.  It was OK.  You could let go of them now.  Really. 

            The wind caught the embers and carried them upward.  You stood there long after the flames died, your metal fingers so very warm.

 


 

 

            Blackwatch needed better onboarding protocols.  Making Faustian bargains with criminals wasn't a bad tactic, but that was no way to staff your organization with trustworthy reliable people. 

            You weren't a bureaucrat.  You weren't.  You were just trying to make things run smoother.  And you couldn't depend on Overwatch's HR department to fill your very specific needs.  Winston had been a really good sport about helping out, but his workload was insane. 

            "I need a new hacker, Gabriel."

            "You have access to the Interpol databases.  I'll sign off on whatever clemency agreement you want.  Go pick one."  Gabriel didn't look up from his brief. 

            "I need a trustworthy new hacker, Gabriel.  For Shit Spiders."

            "Go ask Jack," he said, letting you know that he didn't have any idea where to get one either. 

            You rubbed your forehead.  "Anyone have any tech-oriented family members?" Because it wasn't nepotism if you recruited them for their skills.  And it wasn't nepotism if this was about trust issues...was it?

            Gabriel looked up.  "Huh.  Not a bad idea.  Why don't you expand that search?"

            You thought of Lao and Rivka.   Rivka had grandchildren, and a grandson she complained about more than the others.  You were pretty sure that meant he was her favorite.  You started to dig.

            Rivka had one son with three children.  Ziv Mihret was the only boy listed.  You pulled up a picture off a social media network.  He didn't really look like her, his face narrower, almost pinched, and his skin several shades darker.  His hair had grown a little wild in an asymmetrical fro.  He was tall and gawky, like he hadn't grown into his body yet.  He was a recent computer systems engineering graduate of Tel Aviv University and had already completed his conscription. 

            You went a bit further, checking his transcripts, internships, and social media.  He'd spent a lot of time in Addis Abba.  OK, his mother was an Ethiopian Jew.  He played a lot of online games.  You were pretty sure he preferred men and was keeping it a secret from his family.  Your snooping was definitely a violation of privacy and maybe an abuse of power.  But you were on a mission. 

            Winston agreed his qualifications would be acceptable. 

            You forwarded his information to Gabriel. 

            "Go recruit him, if that's what you want," Gabriel said, not even looking up.

            You messaged Winston that you'd need him available for a long distance interview and you checked in with Overwatch HR so you could go over hiring protocols.  You looked up at over at Gabriel who grinning at his terminal.  You were now 99% sure he was sending Jack obscene messages.

            At least someone was having fun.

           


 

           

            You took Jesse with you, because he was friendlier than Genji.  Ziv lived in a student neighborhood, his flat small and cheap.  You stopped to buy bourekas from a street vendor.  The triangular-cut flaky phyllo dough was stuffed with cheese, potatoes, and spinach and topped with a hard-boiled egg.  Jesse looked uncertain.

            "You got to try stuff so you can take good stuff back to Captain Amari," you said.

            "I'm eating this one," he told you after one bite.

            The two of you walked leisurely around the apartment building, eating your lunch. 

            "So this is Rivka's grandson.  Am I making a terrible error in judgment?"

            "Guess that depends on the boy," Jesse told you.  "You going to tell him about his grandmother?"

            "If he joins up.  I can't really dangle that in front of him without clearances."  If he joined up, he would see that last video.  You weren't sure if that was the right thing to do or not. 

            "No time like the present," Jesse said.  "I want to be back in Zurich for tea."

            You knocked on the door.  There was a long pause and you could feel the scrutiny from the peephole.   Ziv opened the door and his face unfriendly.  He was in his early twenties and bony. 

            "Hello," you began.

            "I'm not buying anything," he said in accented English.

            "I'm not-"

            "I don't want religion."

            "I'm definitely not-"

            "I'm not interested," he said and began to shut the door.

            "I knew your grandmother and wanted to offer you a job," you blurted out.

            Jesse snickered.  "Smooth, Lucky."

            Ziv's shoulders stiffened.  "I know what my grandmother used to do, and I will not work for the Mossad.  Good day."  He shut the door in your face.

            "I'm not with the Mossad," you said to the door.  "Honest."

            "If you knew my grandmother, what did she say about me?"

            "That you were a good-for-nothing and lazy," you said, then wondered if honesty was your best policy.  "I assumed it meant you were her favorite."

            The door opened.  Ziv stared hard at you.  "Your name is "Lucky?"

            "No, but she called me that," you said.

            "Lucky Strike?"

            Oh, he had heard of you.  "I'm not here for that date," you said quickly. 

            Ziv made a face.  "She didn't."  He looked at your face.  "She did!"  He buried his face in his palm.  "Savta was impossible."  

            "Above my pay grade," you said, and found that it didn't hurt as much as it used to. 

            "She...spoke of you," he said finally.  "Said you got her tahini and were a disrespectful half-wit, who could only be trusted under adult supervision."

            Jesse laughed at that. 

            "I can't deny that," you said after a moment of thinking. 

            "It meant she liked you," Ziv said.  "Come in."

            He had a neat flat, small and homey.  Jesse looked strange in it; he didn't fit into normal settings.  You wondered how long it would be before you were like that too.  You noted a family portrait on the wall, Rivka sitting in the center, her glasses gleaming. 

            "I need someone who's good with computers.  Your grandmother...I don't even know how she did half the things she did."

            Ziv shrugged modestly.  "She taught me everything I knew.  But probably not everything she knew."

            "I'd like to set up tests, an interview with my head tech, and get your consent for a background check, polygraph, all the invasive procedures."

            "You haven't even said who you work for."

            "I think you already know."

            "Since Savta worked with you, it was a black ops division of Overwatch," he said.  "You're just a rumor."

            You shrugged.  "I am." 

            Ziv looked away.  "Savta didn't die in a plane crash, did she?"

            You tilted your head back and closed your eyes.  You remembered her final signoff.  "I think you already know."

            He was silent, because it wasn't your words that answered his question, but your face.  You didn't look at him, because you understood that you didn't have a right to his grief. 

            You heard him swallow.  "So you're offering me revenge?" 

            "And health insurance," you said, remembering Captain Patel's pitch.

            Ziv snorted.  "I live in Israel.  We have universal health care."

           


 

            Winston was delighted with the test results and interview.  He'd be handling Ziv's acclimatization, because you didn't know how to onboard a hacker.  Lacroix was going to do the polygraph.  And you had hired your first hacker-lackey.  Hackey?  You were going to stop now.  The power had obviously gone to your head and shorted out your brain.

            The holes in your cybersecurity were closing.  The problem wasn't solved, but now you had a handle on the situation. 

            You suspected Gleeson was right.  Talon was a major player.  Talon was a problem.  But Talon only the triggerman.  There were too many figures in the UN who had vested interests in maintaining instability.  You couldn't call it a conspiracy, because you weren't sure they were acting in concert.   But it was starting to look a lot more complicated than just betrayal.

            So you dug deeper and you trusted your team would be there to fish you out if you got in over your head. 

 


 

            A lot of underlings didn't particularly like Gabriel, which was fair, because Commander Reyes was a hardass, no-nonsense, son of bitch with an axe to grind.  Most people understood they could rely on him, but his workplace interpersonal exchanges left a lot to be desired.  You could tolerate his abrasiveness because you got to see the person outside the job.  And because somewhere along the line you forgot to be afraid of him. 

            "Goddamn scum-sucking taintworms!" Gabriel snarled as he slammed the door behind him. 

            You looked up, took a sip of coffee, and then went back to scanning reports. 

            "Fucking bureaucratic shitstains." He dropped into his chair and putting his boots on his desk.  "I'll show them budget cuts.  Clip the fat right off their heads-"

            You waited for the muttering to abate.  "Good meeting?"

            His head whipped around and he narrowed his eyes at you.  "Fuckers want to expand Overwatch reach while cutting our operations budget by a third."  Blackwatch got its funding from the operations budget.  There was a blackbag slush that you didn't question too closely; though you were pretty sure Genji had been funneling mafia assets into it.  "Someone had the nerve to suggest we draw our funds from "other enterprises."  This isn't the CIA.  We don't run drugs and deal weapons to scumfucks!"

            "Who?  I'll add them to the list."

            "I made several additions to the list," Gabriel said tersely.  "Then they started asking questions about operations they had no business knowing about." 

            "Ziv and Winston have started uh...their individualized investigations.  I'm expect to start hearing back from them today."

            You checked your mailbox.  "Oh, Ziv's got something for me.  I'm going to down to the lab.  Hmm."   Jesse was in Spain.  You'd have to ask Genji. 

            You made your way down to the lab, flexing your fingers.  Your control of the blades was getting better.  Angela had been making monthly upgrades to the software, tweaking the sensitivity.  Torby still hadn't made you a protective gauntlet yet, muttering something about how every kid wanted to be "Doomfist." 

            Ziv sat cross-legged on the conference table, staring hard at his tablet.  "You were right to hire me, Lucky.  I don't know what kind of shitshow Reyes was running, but your systems were a mess."

            "For the love of cheese, don't say that in front of him," you said, tilting your head back and pleading silently with whatever was upstairs that Ziv took your advice.   You didn't want to have to hire a new hacker.  "Please."

            "I mean some of these people he caught and hired?  Should've just shot them.  Their protocols are full of holes and some of them are even intentional."  Ziv threw his hands up.  "I finally watched the video."

            "Ah."  You rubbed your forehead.  "I'm sorry.  Jack demoted the guy.  And I might have accidentally transferred him to Antarctica."

            Ziv raised a brow.  "You can do that?"

            "Technically, no.  But Blackwatch is petty.  So yes, maybe we bent some rules and did something like that.  And maybe Commander Reyes helped." 

            "Savta would still be alive if Blackwatch's systems hadn't been compromised."

            "Maybe," you said.  "But it wasn't the computers that busted in and shot everyone." 

            Ziv huffed.  "That our enemies knew all our moves ten steps ahead didn't help."

            "Truth," you agreed.  Ziv had been given full access to Shit Spiders and once, when he was drunk, he asked to see your scars.  He was on the team, and Rivka's blood, so you'd rolled up your pant leg and taken off your gloves.  He didn't say anything, just took in the damage with sharp amber eyes.  And then everyone went back to drinking.  He knew.  That was enough.

            "I've cleared two people.  And then I have two more for the commander, one of them's internal security so you know he's done some damage.  Ben-zona!"  Genji leaned against the table.  You hadn't heard him come in and apparently, neither had Ziv.

            "Here."  Ziv handed Genji a file.  "You take that one.  Lucky can go get the other one."

            "Commander's going to want you to sit in on the...interrogation."  You blew out a breath.  "It'll likely be messy."

            Ziv smiled at you with bright white teeth.  "I don't think I'll mind." 


 

            Vladimir Ivanov was not a small man; he was part of Blackwatch Internal Security or In-Sec, kind of like an MP only less law-abiding.   You wondered if Ziv had meant to give Genji this one.  You flipped through his dossier.  He'd been Spetnatz once and he outweighed you by at least a hundred pounds.  Ziv had found some pretty damning messages in his personal communications.  You approached him in the hall as he was coming back from the gym. 

            "Hey, Ivanov.  Commander wants to see you," you said.

            He turned around, narrowing his gray eyes at you.  He kept his head shaved, and had some rather elaborate tattoos on his limbs.  All in all, he went out of his way to nonverbally scream "I am a badass." 

            "I don't answer to the commander's whore," he sneered and kept walking. 

            Well, then.  You hadn't really expected that response.  Maybe he knew you were on to him.  Yup, that was it.  And so you'd have to take him down before he tried to escape or destroy evidence.  Definitely good justification; that's what you'd tell the review board if it came down it. 

            You eyed his neck.  You couldn't kill him, Gabriel needed to interrogate him.  You calmly walked up behind him.  "Seriously, Ivanov-" you put a hesitant whine in your voice, sounding like a helpless little girl. 

            He whirled. and you struck him in the throat, metal fingers extended.  Your control was better.  No blades popped out. 

            He grabbed his neck, face turning red, and dropped to his knees. 

            "I said, "the Commander wants to see you."  The proper response would've been "Yes ma'am."  Or maybe "on the double, ma'am."  Or even "understood."  That, was completely uncalled for."  And then you punched him, because you didn't need to monologue.  You just needed to get his unconscious body to the interrogation room.  You called Genji.  You weren't dragging Ivanov through the base.

            Then you went to find Gabriel. "Prep the interrogation room," you told him, peeking your head in the office.  "We've got live ones."

            Gabriel stood, adjusting his hat, his smile was wide and unpleasant.   "You always know how to cheer me up," he said, too happy and too vicious for your comfort.    

            You paused stood there, wondering if you were making a mistake.  Maybe it would be better to get Lacroix. 

            "You can come too," Gabriel said, looking down at his desk.  "If it doesn't bother you." Then he looked you dead in the eye.  "I trust you to keep me from going too far."

            How could you say no to him after that? 

Chapter Text

            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. 

            "Yes." 

            "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."

            "You're welcome." 

            "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. 

            "Let's go."

            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."

            "Your first?'   

            "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. 

            "I'm sorry."

            "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. 

            "Lucky?"

            "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!" 

            You waved.

            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.            

            "You're welcome." 

Chapter Text

            You got off the plane, no longer a fancy butler, but a Blackwatch bum in sweatpants and a hoodie.  Gabriel, Captain Amari, and Jesse were waiting for Jack and you.  Jesse hugged you and Gabriel gave you a measured manly arm clasp.  You saluted Captain Amari.  Jack and Gabriel embraced, one of those masculine one-armed half hugs that was better suited for comrades than lovers.

            You handed Jesse a box of pastries, madeleines included, and Captain Amari a box of loose leaf teas.  There were macarons for Genji, when he got back from his mission.  You'd bought Gabriel a fabulous replica of a musketeer hat.   It was black with a huge white feather.  Very Blackwatch pimp.   It was in your luggage. 

            Jack and Gabriel were off, speaking in business-like hushed whispers, that you suspected was just cover for the fact they were going to go tear each other's clothes off. 

            You blinked.  That was unnecessarily graphic.  You were going to have to try the vibrator attachment out soon. 

            "Winston softened the cyborg up," Jesse told you.

            "What?"  You couldn't picture Winston condoning any torture.

            "He disconnected his arms.  The guy can feel them, but he can't move them.   Gabriel's been... Well, he waited for you."  Jesse sighed.  "He was not happy about everything.  He almost handled the pickup instead of me.  But Captain Amari reminded him that leadership couldn't just up and run off to Paris whenever the fancy struck them." 

            You laughed.  "Jack is a beast in combat.  He downed four cyborgs in minutes, all T-box shots.  Like, they should have sent three times as many." 

            "I could do that!" Jesse said.

            "Yeah, I know.  But one minute he was all smiley and shit, then it's "I'm a serious super soldier, watch me kill things! Rawr!" Then he wouldn't talk to me for hours because I got the last guy with my tanto."

            Jesse coughed.  "What?"

            "The last one had Ainsley hostage and was all "surrender or I'll kill Overwatch Barbie."  So Jack went out to face him, and I snuck up behind him and stabbed him in the throat.  Wait, am I getting predictable?"      

            "I guess it's better than you constantly going for the family jewels.  The implications are certainly less...disturbing."  Jesse shook his head.  "Thanks for the pastries.  Was that tea you got Captain Amari?"

            "Yeah, figured it'd go with the cakes." 

            Jesse lifted his hat to scratch his head.  "I appreciate it, Lucky." 

            "I'm rooting for you," you said. 

            "Well shucks," Jesse grinned.  "Any lucky fellas catch your eye?  I can give you lowdown."

            You shrugged.  "Not there yet.  Just...looking."

            "Any good-looking ones?"

            You remembered Jack smiling up at you in Paris.  You remembered Gabriel's deep concentration while he rubbed your back.  You almost smacked yourself in the head.  They were good looking.  They were also together.  "That hacker, Riggs.  He's cute.  Doesn't talk much though."

            Jesse shrugged.  "I've thrown him around in the mat a few times.  He's not as tough as you."

            "Ouch, poor guy."  You weren't the worst person in Gabriel's class.  But you were the one getting kicked around the most.  "Is that your "friendly" way of telling me he's not worth my time?"

            "I don't right know," Jesse said.  "Gimme a week.  I'll have it figured out."

 


 

 

            You were surprised to see Jack in the interrogation viewing room.  The Strike Commander needed plausible deniability.  He didn't need to come witness Blackwatch's dirty work. 

            "I'm here for Gabriel," he said, reading your look.  "And because those bastards came after me."

            Captain Amari, Lacroix, and Jesse joined you. 

            The surviving cyborg was strapped to a table.  His arms and legs had already been removed, but they were still connected through wires.  He was pale, sweat dribbling down his face.

            "State your name, affiliation, and mission," Gabriel said, sounding bored. 

            "Yancy Koch.  Nguyen Private Security.  We were to capture and extract Jack Morrison."

            Anh Nguyen's man then.  You got your tablet out and began to take notes. 

            "Where are you based out of?"

            "Hanoi." 

            "Where'd you get your fancy limbs?"

            "Work.  Most of us were...injured vets.  We signed contracts with the House of Nguyen.  They gave us a second chance at life."  You felt an involuntary twinge of sympathy. 

            Gabriel's jaw clenched.  "I see.  How were you going to get him out of there?"

            "We had roof access.  A transport was supposed to meet us once we confirmed possession."

            "Were you supposed to kill all the witnesses?"

            "Everyone but Morrison and Petras.  We had her picture.  She was deemed too valuable to kill."

            You could feel Gabriel's stare through the glass.  He couldn't possibly see you, could he?   

            "You ever been to Canada?"

            The cyborg began to hyperventilate.  "I-I-"

            And like that, your sympathy evaporated.

            "Thought so," Gabriel said.  He took out his bolt cutters and patted the cyborg's left hand.  "Just how sensitive are these?"

            "I can't feel anything," the cyborg began.

            Gabriel tore through the index finger and the cyborg locked up, his eyes widening. 

            "Does that hurt?"

            "N-No."

            Gabriel plucked off the middle finger.  "Is that so?"

            "I don't feel a thing." 

            Gabriel snapped the ring finger and pried it out of the socket. 

            You could feel eyes on you, but you kept taking notes.  Why was it those fingers?  You're the one who lost them, not him.  But then, who were you to judge?  You went for the neck.

            "Fair enough.  I was just checking."  Gabriel picked up a curved blade.  "You've got plenty of flesh to work with.  Did you or your party spare anyone in the Yukon?"

            "I don't know.  My orders were to ensure there were no witnesses."

            You stretched your left hand out, very careful not to close it as you clenched your right fist.  You really needed some kind of armored gloves if you were making hard fists.

            "You like shooting noncombatants, Koch?"  Gabriel slid the blade up his abdomen, and a red line sprung up behind it. 

            "Oh God, I was just following orders!"

            "Keep him alive," Jack said, and you belatedly realized Gabriel was wearing an earpiece. 

            "You're going to tell me all about those orders, Koch. And if I'm satisfied, you might get to live," Gabriel said in a low voice.  "And if I'm not, well, I'm sure I can find ways to cheer myself up."

 


 

            Some of Koch's data didn't add up and you charted it accordingly. Gabriel was personally chasing down a lead in Siem Reap, and he'd taken Jesse and Genji, expecting heavy resistance.  It irked you a little that he'd left you behind, but then who would be left do paperwork?  Gabriel liked going on missions and maybe it was better you didn't do a lot of runs together.  He was even more obnoxious when he had guns.

            You sucked down some sludgy coffee and debated begging Ziv to bring you some food.  He could drop off more reports and maybe grab you a burger.

            A familiar single knock sounded, and the door opened.  Jack strode in, in full Strike Commander regalia, carrying a bag. 

            "Gabriel's still out," you said. 

            "I know."  He pulled up a chair and set the bag on your desk.  "I brought some cake.  Figured you could use a break." 

            "Thanks," you said.  Because this was the first time Jack had come to the office with the clear purpose to visit you and not Gabriel.  It probably meant he needed something.  You put your work aside and cleared space. 

            Jack had brought an entire small iced chocolate cake.  It smelled of chocolate and fruit jam.  If you remembered correctly, Jack had some meeting in Vienna yesterday.  "Is that a sachertorte?"

            He gave you a funny look.  "Am I the only person who didn't know what this was?  Ana told me to buy one for her.  I thought you'd like one too."

            You shrugged.  "You're the Strike Commander, not a food critic."

            "That means "yes you hoosier, quit being such a bumpkin."

            "I would never directly disrespect a man who brought me cake."  You steepled your fingers.  "Not while the cake was still on the table anyway." 

            Jack snorted as he pulled out a canister of whipped cream and plasticware. "While I suspect you could eventually eat the whole thing on your own.  I want to try it."  He proceeded to cut you a large slice and sprayed on a generous dollop of whipped cream.  You got up, refilled your coffee, and poured him a cup. 

            "Thanks, Jack."  You gave it ten seconds.  "Do you need something?"

            Jack continued cutting the cake.  "A clone to handle all my public appearances.  And a vacation."

            Huh.  You sipped your coffee. 

            Jack took a bite of the sachertorte.  His eyes widened, a looked up at you with slight awe.  "This is really good," he said, mouth full of cake.   It was kind of adorable. 

            You took a fork and cut yourself a bite.  Chocolate sponge cake with apricot jam and chocolate icing.  This was wasn't too sweet, and rather dense.  You sipped your coffee, savoring the taste of expensive chocolate. 

            "What's the occasion?"

            "Does there need to be one?" Jack huffed. 

            "No.  Cake is a good enough reason for cake."  Jack occasionally brought food to your meals.  You and Gabriel did most of the cooking.  Sometimes Jesse would join in.  But Jack and Genji mostly just showed up to eat.  You didn't begrudge Jack that.   He had a crazy schedule.  Eating with Gabriel was more about companionship than freeloading off Blackwatch.  Maybe you were just bad at accepting gifts.   And maybe Jack was behaving suspiciously. 

            You ate your cake, waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

            "I guess I wanted to say "thanks."  For having my back in Paris."  He smiled at you brightly.  It was a good smile, all light and Jack Morrison's patented blinding charm.  You pulse sped up for a moment. 

            "You're welcome," you said, keeping your voice as bland as possible.

            "You're suspicious," Jack said, the smile fading.  He studied your face with the cool calculation of the Strike Commander.  You were getting used to how he did that.  It was unnerving, but that was Jack.  He had buckets of charisma and he channeled it accordingly. 

            You shrugged.  "Being part of an undercover investigation into the black ops arm of a security agency does that to you." 

            "So I shouldn't bring you gifts?" 

            "You don't usually," you said.

            "I-you're right."  You expected the sheepish smile, the hand on the back of the head.  Maybe an embarrassed "sorry."  Something cute to disperse the tension.  Instead he just looked you in the eye and said, "I'm a shitty friend." 

            You shrugged.  "I figure you got my back in a firefight.  That's good enough."

            "It's really not," he said, looking a little disturbed.  "We had this talk in Paris." 

            You shrugged.  "You're the Strike Commander.  That alone takes its toll on your personal relationships."

            "...Yeah."  Jack sighed.  "I noticed." 

            "I mean, being a shitty friend doesn't help either."  You put some cake in your mouth before you added to that. 

            Jack narrowed his eyes and sat back in his chair.  "Do you think I betrayed, Gabriel?" he asked flatly.      

            "If you mean, do I think you're part of the conspiracy that tried to kill him?  No."  You looked down at the cake.  You hadn't really expected him to come out and directly ask you.  Because honestly, you didn't think Jack really cared what you thought.  "I don't know enough about what happened in your relationship to say whether or not you "betrayed" him at some point." 

            You wondered then, if you were wrong and about to pay for it.  But after that day on the roof in Paris, you couldn't help but trust Jack.  Maybe you were getting too paranoid. 

            "You were suspicious of me in the beginning."

            "Yes," you agreed.  "I was suspicious of everyone."  You still were.  You just hid it better. 

            "Why?"  Surprisingly, he didn't sound hurt.  There was a genuine query there. 

            "The situation didn't add up." 

            Jack leaned forward on the desk.  "Explain." 

            You'd been thinking about this for awhile.  Talked about it with people.  Did some good brainstorming with the understanding that you would never say that shit to Jack Morrison's face.  Ha!  "So, Ziv is really good at his job, don't you think?"

            "Agent Mihret is an asset," Jack said.  "His skills are impressive and he's got leadership potential." 

            "You think we should promote him over Winston?  I mean, Winston's so...Let's just say, maybe the general public would like a young handsome man and not a gorilla in charge of our tech.  You know?  The image is all wrong.  Sure, Winston is capable but-"

            Jack stared at you, disappointment on his face.  "Have you been listening to Gabriel's conspiracy theories?"

            "Fast forward.  For whatever reasons, you give Ziv Winston's old job.  Are you going to demote Winston and shuffle him off to climate-change R&D?  He'd be good at it.  You know, give him something to manage, but then you make sure everyone knows that Ziv's in charge.  You could give Winston a consultant status, come up with another position title worthy of his experience, or give him a chance to save face.  But you don't."

            Jack wasn't slow on the uptake.  "That's bad management."

            "Yeah, I agree." 

            He sat back in his chair.  "Go on."

            "Doesn't mean Ziv's not qualified.  Doesn't mean Ziv is bad at the job.  It does make you wonder what upper management is trying do besides sabotage Winston.  I mean, I'd be worried about the strain on their friendship, wouldn't you?  They certainly wouldn't be working well together after that."

            Jack inhaled sharply. 

            "I can't take credit for the theory.  Me and some others worked this out."  You weren't going to mention Jesse and Captain Amari just yet, in case Jack didn't take this well.  "So it doesn't make sense.  Not unless someone was actively trying to fuck over Gabriel.  I mean, the situation sucks and Gabriel's proud. He's going to take it as a slight."

            Jack was quiet.

            "And then I thought about Captain Patel.  She's my personal hero, but she was a real stickler for the hierarchy.  I have to ask, was SEP really rigid about the command structure?  I figured they have to be.  If your super soldiers don't respect authority..."

            Jack nodded.  "Yes.  Hierarchy was drilled into us.  Aishani was no exception."

            "You were Gabriel's second.  And suddenly the roles are reversed.  That's not going to be a smooth transition.  Less so when Gabriel gets shuffled over to Blackwatch.  He's going to wonder if you had some bearing on that decision, you know, to get him out of the way."  Because Jack was proud too.  He'd rise to the occasion and then resent Gabriel for not being happy for him.  "Overwatch has all kinds of psych evals and forecasting analytics.  You really think we should have missed that?"

            Jack was watching you closely, his face too blank. 

            Your throat itched. 

            "Gabriel has always been difficult."  Jack sighed.  "They told me I had a cleaner record, and I was a less...divisive figure." 

            "That's true," you agreed.  "I don't think you're a bad man for the job, Jack.  I just wonder why they treated Gabriel they way they did." 

            Jack nodded curtly.  

            "You're obviously leadership material," you said, because you didn't want to hurt his feelings.  His big super soldier feelings.  "Being Gabriel's second had to be rough.  You had to be approachable, friendly, someone the squad could come to if they were too...shy to deal with Gabriel."  And he had to be tough too, because that kind of environment didn't allow for weakness.  It explained how he was so good at being the charming idealistic leader one moment and the ruthless Strike Commander the next.  "Shin did the same thing for Captain Patel.  He smoothed over a lot of her rough spots."

            "You do it too," Jack said.  "There's been a sharp drop in HR complaints about Gabe." 

            "Probably because we're on a molehunt, he personally killed two former agents, and has been weeding out the shitty ones.  Everyone's thinking twice about filing complaints." 

            Jack shook his head.  "You act as a buffer for him."

            You shrugged.  "I'm his assistant; it's my job."  You'd learned more from Shin and Captain Patel than you realized.  Like how to deal with grumpy super soldiers.  Most importantly: feed them a lot and don't make eye contact when they're wound up.  "But my point is, whoever made that call, handled it so badly, you have to wonder, was it on purpose? And once you look at the purpose, you also have to wonder who stands to gain?"

            Jack cut another slice of cake.  "So your suspicions?"

            "Petras is obviously high up there." 

            "He promoted me," Jack said.   He took a deep breath, not looking at you. "There were several UN figures that played a role and encouraged me to take the job.  I can make a list."

            "That'd be helpful."  You took another bite of cake.  "So back to my suspicions.  At first, I wondered how you could miss the big glaring red flag that, but then I learned from personal experience. Gabriel is really good at being petty and enraging people to distraction."

            Jack laughed at that. 

            "After seeing you together, I don't think you would willingly betray him."  You paused.  "You haven't had this talk with Gabriel yet, have you?" 

            Jack looked at the floor.  "You can be alarmingly insightful, Lucky."

            "Yeah, I know your first impression of me was that I was an idiot.  I give that out a lot." 

            Jack laughed, not denying it.  "I feel like an idiot.  When you explain it like that...well damnit, how did I miss it?" 

            "Ego," you said without thinking.  Then you popped a bite of cake in your mouth because damnit, friend or not, this was your boss's boss and maybe you shouldn't be that honest. 

            "You're as blunt as Gabriel complains you are."  Jack sounded tired.  He rubbed his eyes. 

            "I don't know why that surprises you.  And that's the pot calling the kettle colorist epithets.  While on fire." 

            "Sometimes I take people for granted," Jack said after a minute.  "I'm sorry."    

            "You brought me cake," you said, unsure of how to take that.  "As long as it's not poisoned, that's a declaration of friendship in my book." 

            "Thank you for helping me see myself."  He looked at you so earnestly, it hurt.  It was easy to see how Gabriel fell into those blue eyes and never crawled back out.  "I get too caught up sometimes." 

           


 

 

            Winston pulled some interesting location data from the dead cyborgs.  Koch had spilled quite a bit.  And Anh Nguyen had bumped herself up the head of your list. 

            Jack had kept Ainsley's tablet.  He and Gabriel had chairs behind Gabriel's desk.  Lacroix and Captain Amari  took the couch.  Jesse and Genji sat with you around your desk. 

            You went first, giving a recap of Gleeson's testimony.  Everyone had the transcripts.  Then you explained the conversation you'd had with Ainsley as the Assassin-Butler. 

            "Wait, you talked her into quitting?" Gabriel asked.

            "It's what she really wanted," you said sincerely.  "I only helped her realize that."

            "Huh," he said.  "I thought she wanted in Jack's pants."

            "She did, but he was too much like her father, and she just couldn't deal with the implications of that realization."

            Jack covered his face.  "Unnecessary-" 

            "She kept bringing up her uncle," you continued.  "Either Ainsley is a completely unwitting fool.  Or she's a genius mastermind implicating the Director in her plot.  I'm kind of leaning toward the former, but the latter actually wouldn't surprise me.  She said her uncle liked Jack better than her, wanted her to seduce him into the family, and made plans for a "men's only" retreat for the first month of August in the New England area.  It all sounds sketchy as hell to me."

            "Agent Mihret found very high level tracking software in her tablet.  She might not have willingly given away your location," Captain Amari said.  "He's inspected her terminal and found traces of similar work." 

            "She said her uncle would come down and "help" her with work.  I'm assuming he had access to everything she could see, and then some."  You'd written a report up that night, because Ainsley had said too many things that you needed purged from your head. 

            "That the director is conspiring with a hostile UN member is a pretty farfetched accusation," Lacroix said.  "I take it you have found more tangled things."

            "Well, it seems that your old base was in just the right spot to pick up some very interesting data transmissions," Jesse said, looking at you.  "Winston said something about northern lights and magnetic pulses and Agent Cohn's unauthorized tech modifications, but I stopped paying attention.  You guys received massive packets of encrypted Talon weapon programs.  It covers pulse rifle production, neural reconditioning, some highly unethical biology mods, and that's just the stuff the nerds have decrypted.  The real jackpot is that some of the location tags haven't been scrubbed or rerouted.  So we can find where some of this data came from.  Hanoi was on the list, if you were wondering." 

            "The Shimada are their allies in this," Genji said.  "There are contracts out on Captain Amari, Commander Reyes, and Strike Commander Morrison.  But interestingly enough, you're the priority target, Agent Lacroix.  As is your wife."

            Lacroix narrowed his eyes.  "Send me everything."

            "Agent Mihret has also finished decrypting Vialli's data.  The old bat stockpiled blackmail on his allies," Captain Amari smirked.  "He kept locations, in lat-long, down to the seconds.  His information also corroborates the weapons R&D.  And yes, these cyborgs are mostly being routed through Hanoi."

            "It looks like all roads lead to Hanoi," Gabriel said.  "I'll start planning the op."

 


 

            "Riggs is a homebody," Jesse said, not very enthusiastically.  "Writes letters to his mother, gets snickerdoodles sent weekly, and no one has anything negative to say about him."

            You stirred the milk.  "I don't want to think about it today."

            "OK darling.  Is some of that for your poor chilled Jesse?"

            You were in the staff kitchen, trying to decide which type of hot chocolate you wanted most.  You had a whole backpack of cookies- you might have gone overboard, but given the occasion, you weren't taking any chances. 

            There were dark chocolate curls with a generous mix of fresh peppermint oil.  There was an organic fair trade milk chocolate with mini-marshmallows.   There was a wonderfully spiced Mexican hot chocolate filled with chili powder and cayenne pepper.   And there was whiskey.  Lots of whiskey.  Maybe you'd do that instead. 

            You poured Jesse the milk chocolate with mini-marshmallows and stirred in the milk. 

            He took it eagerly. "Ow hot!  That's a lot of chocolate, sugarpie.  You feeling OK?"

            "I-"  You paused.  You weren't sure how you were feeling just yet.  Maybe because you were trying not to.  Justice, you believed, would be the best therapy, but your shrink kept talking about how important it was to have a future to work toward.  Something not tied to the trauma of your past.  Something just for you. 

            Jesse nudged you.

            "I don't know," you said.  "It's an odd day."

            "Well, I saw Morrison limping toward the Commander's office.  Maybe you should go commiserate."  Jesse's tone was odd. 

            "Maybe," you said. 

            You looked up to see Jesse frowning down at you.  "You ain't pining after someone, are you?"

            "No one alive," you said.  "Pining" wasn't even the right word now.  Thinking of Shin made you sad.  It made you determined.  But he was dead and you had accepted that a long time ago.  It was more the absence, the place where he used to be.  You dreamt of him last night.  You were eating ice cream and throwing pennies in a pond.   Captain Patel was going to meet you there. It was a nice dream.  You still woke up with tears on the pillow. 

            "Oh."  Jesse sipped his chocolate.  "This is good," he said.  "Want me to take you out to town?  You can meet a good-looking...whatever you're in the mood for, and have some fun?"

            "I've thought about it," you admitted.  "But I'm not there yet."

            "OK," Jesse said.  "You let me know.  I'm a great wingman.  Well, better than your other options."

            You tried picturing Genji as wingman, and cracked a grin. "Thanks Jesse."

            "Want to watch a movie?  I have Transformers XXII.  They cast omnics as-"

            "Nah, I'm going to go finish mapping some of the notes.  I want the next phase of Shit Spiders done before winter's up."   You poured the milk into a thermos and packed your chocolate back up in your backpack.  You could decide what you wanted after you got back to the office. 

            You walked in to see Jack sitting in Gabriel's chair face down on the desk, Gabriel was working his shoulders.  Jack groaned, and Gabriel laughed. 

            "That's what you get for being stubborn."  

            Jack said something unintelligible.   

            "Should I use Winston's lab instead?" You asked. 

            "Nah, Jack doesn't need a happy ending," Gabriel said.

            "Jack needs all the happiness he can get," Jack muttered.  "And failing that, Jack needs food."

            You closed the door behind you.  "All I have are sweets."

            "I'll take them," he said, not raising his head. 

            "Should I ask?"

            "UN meeting.  Director Petras was asking uncomfortable questions.  Some about Ainsley.  I put him off, but uh...that's the spot Gabe." 

            You grabbed three mugs from the cupboard.  "Spicy, mini-marshmallows, or peppermint?" 

            "Marshmallows," Jack said.  "Wait what am I getting?"

            "Spicy," Gabriel said.

            Rolling your eyes, you made them each a mug of hot chocolate.  There wasn't enough warm milk left for you to have a full batch, so you topped off the peppermint with whiskey. 

            You set the mugs down on Gabriel's desk. Jack sniffed the air and raised his head.  "Whiskey?"

            "That's in mine.  You have milk chocolate." 

            Jack picked up his mug, closing his eyes and inhaling.  "Oh, that smells good."

            Gabriel sipped his. "That's a lot of hot chocolate, chica."

            "I wasn't sure what I wanted, so I ordered three different kinds."  You pulled some cookies out of your bag.  "I might have gone overboard with the cookies."

            Gabriel raised a brow.  "What's the occasion?"

            You contemplated lying.  Your period was the perfect excuse, and you had been saving that one.  But honesty was the best policy with Gabriel.  "Shin's birthday."  You took a drink, the burn of the whiskey made up for the tepid temperature of the chocolate.  The peppermint combined with the whiskey wasn't bad.

            Jack and Gabriel exchanged a look.  You sank back in the chair.  "Don't get all wound up.  I wasn't throwing him a party.  I just knew today would be...off.  Figured I'd need a pick me up.  Got a little carried away."

            Jack opened up a box of sandwich cookies, chocolate with cream filling.  "You want to talk about it?"

            "Not really."  You took a cookie.  "Not much to say.  Just...feelings." 

            "Psych have any helpful insight?"  Gabriel asked. 

            You shrugged.  "Thinks I need to put myself out there more.  I mean, we were together less than a year.  And it's almost been a year since everything went tits up."

            "No timetable on grief," Gabriel said.  "You're ready when you're ready.  It's not a race or a competition."

            "Yeah.  I don't know.  Shit Spiders means there aren't a lot of people I can trust.  Maybe Shin just represents a time when I was happy and things were simpler.  Fuck if I know."  You downed the rest of your chocolate and refilled your mug with whiskey. 

            "Are you...unhappy here?" Jack asked. 

            "Meh.  It's not the location.  It's the fucking conspiracy.   It's all complicated and stupid."

            "What would you be doing if you weren't here?" He took another cookie.  "I mean, when this is over.  What do you want to do?"

            You shrugged.  "I haven't gotten that far." 

            Gabriel gave you a sharp look. 

            "What?  It's not like I'm planning to lay down and die.  I'm just really focused on the now.  This is a lot of work.  But I like it here.  I'd probably stay on."  You paused.  "Why?  You thinking about retirement already?  I know Gabriel's old, but-"

            "Step onto the mat.  I'll show you old..."

            "All that stuff I say about hope and the future isn't bullshit, Lucky."  Jack crossed his arms ignoring Gabriel.  "We all need something to work toward.   It makes us fight harder.  I know we're all swept up in something bigger than us, individually.  But it's not going to last forever, and you need to start planning what you want to do after."

            "Yeah, maybe."  You kind of wished you hadn't said anything now.  Jack's pep talk was well-meaning.  But now you felt like a charity case.  Poor grief-stricken Lucky Strike.  Doesn't know how to live outside a crisis. 

            Because one day, Gabriel Reyes and Jack Morrison weren't going to be in Overwatch.  One day Captain Amari would be gone.  One day Jesse or Genji might up and quit or never come back from a mission.  And then...?

            You hung your head.  And then it would be a mess all over again.  You didn't want to see that day.  The thought of it broke your heart, because now it seemed inevitable.  How could you have thought otherwise?  "Wow, now I'm even more depressed than when we started.  Good talk."  You grabbed the whiskey, but Gabriel caught your wrist. 

            "You and me.  Mat.  Let's go."

            "I'm not sober," you told him.

            "Oh I'll sober you up," he promised. 

            You tried to pull away.  "I'm not in the mood."

            "Come on.  Don't make me drag you," He said, yanking you to your feet. 

            You thought about making him drag you kicking and screaming.  That would just lead to more disturbing rumors about everyone's personal lives.  Mostly yours. 

            "Aww, she's sad, I'm gonna beat her up.  That'll fix it," you muttered.

            "Just gonna knock some sense into you," Gabriel grumbled. 

            Jack sighed.  "I'll get a med kit."

           


 

            You were mostly sober by the time you got the gym.  It was late.  The gym was empty.  You had your basic fingers on, so no drugging him and running.  You thought about just running.  You could hide under Captain Amari's bed forever.  You'd live off tea fumes and biscuit crumbs.  Jesse could smuggle you candy. 

            Jack sat there, holding his mug of hot chocolate and eating your cookies.  He seemed oddly calm about the whole thing.  Maybe he was still holding a grudge over all those times you were stupid-honest.

            Gabriel stripped down to a thin white t-shirt and sweat pants.  You did not need to watch him stretch.  You didn't need to see how well-muscled he was all over.  He could easily crush your head with his thighs.  Or pretty much any part of his body. 

            You rubbed your forehead and then tied your hair back.  You took off your gloves and studied your fingers. 

            "Better warm up," he said.

            It would hurt marginally less if you were loose when he kicked your ass.  You began your stretches, pointedly not looking at either of them.  You'd take a hit, ragdoll, and beg off because you had work to do in the morning.

            When you stood, Gabriel had his hands up.   He grinned at you, the set of his jaw nowhere near friendly.  His eyes gleamed with excitement.  You nearly took a step back. 

            "Come on, Lucky Strike.  Show me what you got," he rumbled, crooking a finger. 

            So much for Plan A.  He was getting into this. 

            You went for the ankles, practically sliding into him.  He kicked at you and you lunged past it, grabbing his knees and knocking him off balance enough to take him to the ground. 

            It was like hitting a rock, a very warm ,slightly hairy rock, but the impact hurt you more than him.  You punched him in the liver, but not hard enough.  You weren't sure you could break past his six pack shield.   He rolled sideways and you fell backward, forcing yourself to tuck and roll.  You got back on your feet and Gabriel smirked at you from the floor. 

            "Come here," he growled.  "You're going to end up on the ground anyway.  I'll save you the fall." 

            You charged him, springing off the mat into an airborne kick.  You struck his chest, but Gabriel's hand caught your ankle and whipped you to the floor.  Landing on your back, you bit into your lip.  Blood filled your mouth.  

            "You always did like doing things the hard way," he said, straddling your chest, his knees pinning your shoulders to the mat.  You thrashed underneath him, but it was like hitting a brick wall.  He was heavier than Jack or Genji and you couldn't budge him. 

            He shifted,  leaning over you.  One hand went to your neck.  You froze, his fingers pressing lightly on your throat.

            "You should tap," he said.

            You turned your head to the side, forcing yourself to breathe.  Gabriel wasn't going to choke you out.  Gabriel wouldn't hurt you...badly.  He gave a squeeze. 

            Rational thoughts evaporated.  Snarling, you grabbed his thigh, and bit down hard through the fabric.  You bit till you could taste blood, the searing heat letting you know it wasn't yours. 

            Gabriel swore in a violent stream, and grabbed his thigh.  His weight shifted and you slid out from under him, blood dripping down your chin.  You wiped your mouth with the back of your hand and charged, your left hand straightened. He whirled, his arm snapping out to knock you away.  He was fast, but not as fast as Jack, and you ducked underneath and lunged up, smashing into his chest with your metal fingers.  You'd been aiming for the neck, but he'd dodged. 

            His arms closed around you, trapping you in a bear hug.  Your ribs creaked as he squeezed you against him.  Hard things dug into your soft tissue, your hips, your stomach. 

            "I should bite you back," Gabriel growled, his voice a rasp.  He stared down at you, pupils huge. 

            "Fuck you," you hissed back, glaring up at him. You tried to squirm away, but he had you pinned.  You threw yourself forward, crown of your head smacking him in the nose, just like he'd showed you.  Gabriel swore and you reared back, going for another shot. 

            He slammed you into the mat before you had a chance.  You rolled sideways, and drove your elbow into his stomach as he tried to pin you again.  The short punches in the floating ribs might have repelled a normal human, but Gabriel flipped you around, his arm wrapping around your neck, pressing your back to his chest.  You couldn't reach his arm to bite, so you kicked.  When that didn't work you shot your elbow back, trying to hit a weak spot.  He didn't choke you this time, just held you immobile against his chest.  Panting, you tried to slip out of the chokehold, your fingers digging into his arm.  You pressed hard, searching for the nerve that would make him release you.  You squeezed, till you felt his arm spasm. 

            Slick with sweat, you slid down and sprung forward, feeling the air whoosh overhead.  He'd grabbed at you and missed.  You whirled, straightened your left hand and struck as Gabriel charged you, driving you back down into the mat.  You hit him in the neck, but his momentum carried him forward, throwing you on your back. 

            He gagged, holding his throat and glowering down at you.  You went to hit him again, but he dropped off of you.  Unsure if he was plotting a second run, you tapped.             Then you went flat on the mat, all your limbs burning.  Gabriel had gone half strength, at most.  You had no illusions about that.  It didn't matter.  You were in one piece and he was sitting overhead rubbing his neck.  Good.  He was the one that went after you.  You'd just used his own strength against him.

            "You OK, Lucky?"  Jack asked gently.    

            You were going to hurt so much tomorrow.  "I hate you both."

            "You bit me!" Gabriel said, his voice raw. 

            "You were choking me.  What else was I going to do?" 

            "Tap out," he said.

            "Yeah, that'd be the logical thing to do," you said.  "But if you...strangle me, I don't react well.  And unlike Jack, you knew that going in.  I have no sympathy."  You closed your eyes.  Your heart beat in time with the blood in your skull.  You were already hurting pretty badly.  If Gabriel tried to go for another round, you were going to tear his face off.  Actually, you'd probably just die.   

            Someone crouched beside you, and you cracked open an eye.  Jack's gloved hand tilted your chin up and he wiped your mouth off with a soft cloth.  He wore a look of concentration. 

            "I can't tell how much of that is yours and how much is Gabe's." 

            "Half?" you guessed.  He dabbed at the wounds and his gloved fingers brushed against your lips.  Jack's focus was on your mouth and it made you self-conscious.  "Did I bite a chunk of my lip off or something?"

            "No," he said abruptly and put one hand on the side of your neck.  You flinched.  "Does that hurt?"

            "A little."  You were going have bruises, probably in the shape of Gabriel's fingers.  "I think my back is going to be one big bruise," you said. 

            "Hold on," Jack said, and the comforting yellow light of a biotic emitter began to numb your pain. 

            Gabriel sat down on the other side of you, giving you a good look at the bloody tear in his pants.  You couldn't see the wound, but you'd ripped his pants with your teeth. 

            "You bit me," he said, still incredulous. 

            "Sorry," you said a little insincerely.  "You freaked me out."

            Gabriel sighed.  "Yeah, I got it. No breathplay.  Message received, Lucky."   

            Jack was blushing now.  Maybe watching Gabe fight really did it for him.  You couldn't blame him.  Gabriel was good looking.    

            "We should clean up the mats," Jack said. 

            "I'm going to lay here a bit longer."  You tried to move your left shoulder.  That didn't feel right..  "How was this supposed to help?"

            "If you wanted to mope, I thought I'd give you something to mope about." 

            "Gee, thanks." 

            Jack moved over beside Gabriel and started cleaning the bite. Gabriel crossed his arms.  "Got you out of your head, didn't I?"

            You turned on your side so you could look at him.  "Not following."         

            "You think yourself into a corner and get stuck.  A little exercise fixes that."  Gabriel's hand lingered on Jack's shoulder.  "Thanks," he said bending over and kissing Jack.

            You turned your head.  They were right beside you.  You could feel the heat radiating off them.  And you weren't completely oblivious.  Gabriel had been hard while fighting you.   You'd felt him very clearly when he'd trapped your body against his.  He was...proportionally big.  You closed your eyes.  Well, there were some unsavory implications there.  The most likely one was that Gabriel got turned on from hand-to-hand combat.  It figured.   It explained why he rarely sparred in his combat class. It explained why Jack showed up to them so often.  No wonder he was so grumpy after combat missions.  The chafing had to be hell. 

            Jack groaned, and the tension in the room ratcheted up.  You could not stay here and listen to this.  No matter how much you wanted to. 

            "I'll get the bleach wipes and clean this up.  Then I'm going to bed," you said, struggling to get upright. 

            Gabriel released Jack and gave you a neutral look  "We making you uncomfortable?"

            "I'm tired," you said.  "Everything hurts." 

            "Wore you out already?  After one mouthful?" 

            Those two were ready to go.  Gabriel was dropping innuendo like cluster bombs.  Normally, it didn't bother you, but normally you didn't have to go wash the taste of your commander's blood out of your mouth. 

            "It's not that I bit you," you said.  "It's that I nearly lost my teeth to your thighs then drowned in your blood.  I'm done for the night."

            Gabriel gripped your forearms and hauled you up against his side.  "We can get this cleaned up.  Do you need to go to the infirmary?"

            "I'm fine.  Just sore." 

            You took a step.  You'd kicked Gabriel and your foot felt like you'd smashed it against a rock.  You were going to be limping. 

            "Take the emitter," Jack said. 

            "Thanks."  You hobbled out of the gym, desperately not thinking about whether or not Jack and Gabriel were going to wait till they got to a private room. 

           


 

            You dreamt of him holding you to the mat, his hips pinning you down.  You started to say Shin's name, but it was Gabriel's weight on your body and Jack's hands on your wrists.  Gabriel gave the most deliciously masculine laugh before leaning over and biting down on your neck, teeth not quite breaking flesh. 

            "This is payback," he said.

            You whimpered as he ground against you.  You could feel the outline of his cock very firmly between your thighs. 

            "He likes it when you struggle."  Jack kissed the other side of your neck, his tongue flicking down your collar bone. 

            "Let's get you warmed up," Gabriel purred, tearing your shirt off.  "Don't worry, we'll be doing things the hard way..." 

            You woke up then, sore, horny, and mortified.  Apparently dating Shin had made sparring into foreplay for you too.   He would've been so amused.  It was finally time to try out your vibrator attachment.

 


 

            "-So in conclusion, while the noise level is acceptable, I feel it could be reduced and the heat output needs to be better monitored.  You could make thermal control part of the package as well.  And you could improve range of use by offering programmable patterns of vibration as well as additional lubrication options, rotors, and a softer covering to prevent chafing."

            Torby and Angela stared at you in comic horror.

            "Still, it was a satisfying prototype.  Will you be wanting it back?"  You asked. 

            Torby narrowed his eyes at you.  "Well played, Lucky Strike."

 


 

 

           Jack gripped the bars of Gabriel's headboard.  He was too tense for restraints tonight.  Gabriel knelt between Jack's tensed legs, his teeth worrying at the Strike Commander's inner thigh. 

            "Stop teasing, Gabe."  Jack was hard, he had been since he'd watched Gabe wrestle you to the ground.  It got worse when you bit Gabe.  You'd caught him staring, your swollen lips stained with blood, your body shaking with exhaustion.  The memory made him ache.  "Either suck me or fuck me, can't take the edging right now." 

            Gabriel pushed three of his fingers past Jack's lips. " Get them wet for me."  Gabriel's voice was a low rumble.  Jack eagerly slid his tongue over the digits and Gabriel pushed them in to the third knuckle.  

            Jack sucked on Gabriel's fingers, his hips jerking upward, wiggling his invitation. 

            "So needy."  Gabriel pulled them out.  "Turn over.  I want to pound you into the mattress," he growled. 

            Jack rolled over, his fingers digging into the sheets.  "I think you mean you want to pound Lucky into the mats, with your cock. 

            "Smartass."  Gabriel's calloused fingers slid into Jack's puckered hole.  Jack clenched around him, knowing Gabe enjoyed some resistance, just like he liked the burn of being stretched.  "But still so tight," Gabriel thrust roughly, as Jack began to pant.  "Gotta get you nice and sloppy." 

            "Fuck...I can take it Gabe.  Just hurry up."  Jack shuddered as Gabriel's fingers sped up, going deeper.  Jack buried his face in the crook of his arm. 

            Gabriel withdrew his fingers and grabbed the lube off the nightstand.  Jack stiffened as Gabe worked the cool gel into his passage. 

            "Going to wreck you tonight, Jack.  Can't hold back now."  Gabriel pressed the head of his cock against Jack's entrance.  He was long, but it was the girth that was intimidating. 

            Jack moaned into the bed as Gabriel slowly pushed in, the pleasure of being so full momentarily blanking his mind.  He clawed the sheets, his whole body shuddering from the intrusion. 

            "Gabe," Jack gasped, his neglected cock leaking against his thigh.  He pushed back against the thickness stretching him.  It burned along that fine line between pain and pleasure in a way that wound Jack up and left him gasping.   

            One of Gabe's hands slipped around his throat.  The other gripped his weeping cock.  Jack squirmed as Gabriel's mouth slid down his neck. 

            Gabriel was in to the hilt, his body trapping Jack against the bed.  Gabriel had always run dangerously hot, and Jack writhed, sweat already beading on his forehead.    

            "I felt your eyes on us," Gabriel's voice was low and hungry.  "You wanted to see her under me almost as much as I wanted her there."  Gabriel's fingers firmly squeezed Jack's cock, and began to stroke. 

            "Damnit, Gabe."  Jack's hips jerked, as he fucked himself between Gabriel's cock and slick hand. 

            "Were you hoping to have her between us tonight?"  Gabriel drove into Jack's ass.  "Or were you thinking I'd bring you both back here and fuck you like this while she sucked you off?" 

            Jack whined, the images vivid in his head.  Those pretty lips wrapped around his dick while Gabe slammed into him.  The hand on his cock sped up.  

            "You're so filthy, Jack," Gabriel purred.  "Fantasizing about a threesome with one of your subordinates."

            "You have no room to tal-"  Jack groaned as Gabriel picked up the pace. 

            "Tell me about it," Gabriel commanded. 

            "I wanted to hold her wrists while you stripped her," Jack said, strain creeping into his voice.  "I wanted to watch you inch inside her, see the look on her face while you filled her up for the first time."

            "Fuck!"  Gabriel swore.  "Jack-"

            "Do you think you'd fit?  It'd be such a stretch..." Jack teased.  He felt the moment Gabriel's composure snapped, his thrusts becoming hard and desperate.   There were no words now.  Jack pushed back, trying to ride it out.  The older man's hands tightened around his neck and cock.  Gabriel's hips jerked and he came inside Jack, hand still milking Jack's cock. 

            Jack's eyes rolled back as Gabriel's hot cum filled him.  A few more ragged thrusts into Gabriel's hand, and he came too, semen splashing his chest.   He laid there a moment, legs shaky.  Gabriel kissed the back of his neck and withdrew, cum oozing out of Jack's stretched hole.

            It took Jack a few minutes to remember he had legs and sentience.  He rolled over and Gabriel was there, kissing him hard enough to bruise.

            "You fucking tease," Gabriel said without rancor. 

            Jack laughed softly.  "You liked that a lot."

            "Yeah, but I didn't realize you did too." 

            "I never had a problem with her."  Jack could feel the blood rushing to his face. 

            "You weren't always interested either."

            Jack's blush grew.  "I've been thinking about it more."

            "Since Paris?" 

            Jack rubbed the back of his head.  He knew Gabriel wanted to hear him admit it.  "You dressed her up and put her in my colors.  What was I supposed to think?" 

            Gabriel laughed.  "You prick.  It was the fight that did it.  You just like them tough and crazy."

            Jack couldn't refute that.  After all, Gabriel embodied those traits.


 

            They'd gone a few more rounds, Jack having no trouble switching roles.  More relaxed than he'd been in weeks, Gabriel lay there sweaty, sticky, and fulfilled.  The bite mark on his thigh throbbed and he grinned at the bruise that was forming.  It would fade soon, but he liked knowing it was still there. 

            "You deserved that," Jack said, nestled against Gabriel's chest.  It was a small thrill every time he looked over and saw Jack's blonde hair on his pillow.  He didn't want to get used to this.  He loved knowing Jack was here, pressed against him. 

            "Yeah," Gabriel stretched, he ached, but in a good way.  "But she didn't tap out or run away.  That's progress."

            "I guess."  Jack yawned.  "She's not me, Gabe.  You can't just throw her on the mat and expect that to get her going.  And she definitely noticed that you were turned on."  

            "Probably.  Didn't mean to let it go that far," Gabriel muttered.  "I got carried away."

            "Mmm.  You'll have to apologize.  Might have freaked her out.  Don't think this is how she goes about things." 

            "Fuck," Gabriel muttered.  "You're right."

            "Can I get that in writing?" Jack asked.

Chapter Text

            Yesterday had been Shin's birthday.  You'd celebrated by drinking and getting your ass kicked.  You'd bitten Gabriel and had involuntary dirty thoughts about two of your commanding officers.  Shin would probably be pretty amused. 

            The biotic emitter had taken care of most of the bruising, but your muscles felt like wet clay.  You were back at your desk, sorting through another chunk of the Greenland data dump. 

            You found a cache of pictures.  Valdez cooking.  Lao and Valdez kissing.  A blurry one of Nwazue raising her middle finger at the camera.  Rivka and Lao building something haphazard and covered in wires.  Simon bandaging Valdez.  Captain Patel looking off-camera.  Captain Patel shooting into the distance.  And Shin.  Shin and Valdez sparring.  Shin and Nwazue drinking. 

            These were Lao's files.  You sat back in your chair and cycled through them, finding one of you after you'd just joined up.  Your uniform didn't fit right, and you were slumped against a wall making a dramatic "why me?" face.  Shin stood beside you laughing. 

            You weren't going to cry.  Because you were happy.  Because all you had before were their ID photos from central records.   It was stupid and superstitious, but yesterday was Shin's birthday.  It would be like him to give you a gift for his birthday, a day late.  You blinked rapidly and downed your coffee. 

            You would look through these later.  Alone.  Now you just had to focus on the Hanoi angle.  Genji was off again, gathering intel on Nguyen's movements and facilities.  You had to check Vialli's coordinates against known facilities in Hanoi.

            You got more work done when Gabriel and Jack weren't here.  It was lunchtime and Gabriel hadn't come in yet.  Well, you didn't actually expect him, given what he and Jack had to have been up to last night.  And you didn't need that image in your head, any more than you needed to be having dirty dreams about either of them.

            You met Jesse in the mess hall and to your surprise, that cute hacker Riggs was with him.  Jesse invited him to sit with you.    

            "You know Lucky Strike," Jesse said brightly. 

            Riggs smiled, but he didn't make eye contact.  "By reputation," he said shyly. 

            "Oh God.  I'm afraid to ask."  You picked at your fries.  He sat across from you, mac and cheese untouched.  "OK, spill," you said, having enough of delayed gratification.

           "You killed a cyborg mercenary with a knife," Riggs said, still not looking up at you.  "You punched the Strike Commander into entering your chili cookoff.  You have metal claws underneath those gloves.   You're a certified badass, ma'am." 

            You turn your head slowly to Jesse.  Jesse smirked and shrugged.  "I...what?"

            "You watch TV with your eyes closed," Riggs said earnestly. 

            "I'm...napping." 

            "Really?  You always answer when people talk to you." 

            You looked between him and Jesse.  "Jesse, what did you do?"

            "Don't deny it!" Riggs said.  "I saw you punch Commander Morrison.  You took him to the ground!  He spars exclusively with you in class!"

            "Uh...I don't have...claws," you said.  "But the cyborg thing is true."

            "I knew it!  Those normie Overwatch techs didn't believe the reports!  You and Commander Morrison took down those terrorists in Paris and saved all those politicians.  The Parisian tabloids ran blurry pictures of Commander Morrison's aide-de-camp "Ms. Strike."  And for the record, I totally believe your relationship is purely professional ma'am.  I don't countenance that kind of talk. But you fought alongside the Strike Commander, just the two of you.  You saved Director Petras' niece!   I bet it was awesome."

            You remembered a blood-soaked cafe, too many dead bodies, and a terse, angry Jack Morrison.  Saving Ainsley Petras wasn't awesome, considering the amount of crying she did.  But you didn't regret it.  "Yeah, I guess," you said. 

           "I mean...before that mission, we'd all heard rumors. But we know better now ma'am.  You and Commander Reyes were on a top secret mission in Canada.  I heard that when you wouldn't talk it was the Shimada that took your fingers-"  His eyes widened when he saw your face and he hastily dropped his gaze. 

            "Those circumstances are classified," you said stiffly. 

            "Oh my God, I'm sorry.  You don't have to tell me twice."  He was practically shaking with excitement.  "It was the Shimada!"  He mouthed at Jesse. 

            Jesse was shaking with silent laughter. 

            "I'm just a regular agent, Riggs," you said, even though that was a lie.  Regular agents didn't have a rumor mill coming up with bizarre inflations of their exploits. 

            "Of course, ma'am," he said.

            "Yes, ma'am," Jesse repeated. 

            You resisted the urge to throw your plate at his head.

 


 

            "Thanks, Jesse.  I know this is all your fault, somehow."

            "It's mostly because you dropped Morrison," he said, not quite denying it.  "And the aftermath of the Paris trip.  It's not just Riggs.  You're getting mighty popular, Lucky.  Following in Ana's footsteps."

            "You're calling her "Ana" now?"  You folded your hands under your chin.  "Tell me more."

            "Ain't nothing to tell yet, Lucky."  But he preened under the attention.  "I'm making her some chili this weekend."

            "Don't forget the bread bowl," you said. 

            "That's what she said."  Jesse paused.  "I said that literally.  And I picked up some baklava on my last mission.  Reckon that'll get me invited to tea."  He looked around.  "Where is the Commander?"

            "Probably taking the day off," you said.  "He kicked my ass last night," you said.  "Called me out to the mat and then threw me around." 

            "What'd you do?"  Jesse leaned forward with a smirk. 

            "I got "mopey."  Which is bullshit because I made him hot chocolate.  Well, him and Jack.  They got my cookies too."

            Jesse stared at Gabriel's chair.  "I don't get it."

            "Me neither.  I think he was trying to cheer me up."  You shrugged.  "It seems like a Gabriel thing.  "Here's some physical pain to distract you from your silly feelings."  It kind of worked.  Don't you dare tell him that."

            Jesse leaned back in his chair.  "Morrison was there too?"

            "He brought the med kit."

            "Darling, are you-?"  Jesse stopped.  "You good with this?  It's not crossing any lines?"

            "I don't really like the extra pain, no.  But Gabriel wasn't going at full blast or anything.  And Jack gave me a biotic emitter afterward.  That worked wonders."

            "Hm."  Jesse crossed his arms.  "Everything's go well, though?  It's staying friendly?  Morrison's not...scratch that.  Everyone's getting along?" 

            "Those two are always..."  You shook your head.  "I'm totally jealous of the amount of sex they're getting."

            Jesse made a face.  "What?"

            "They keep their clothes on in front of me, but they're not hiding what they're doing.  I might have to take you up on the wingman offer soon.  I'm just...rusty."

            "Won't know till you try," Jesse said, adjusting his neck kerchief. 

            And my perception of my surroundings is completely off."  You shook your head.  "I can't ever ask Riggs to dinner, because he's got a bad case of hero worship and that would be weird."

            "I thought so too."

            "You could've just told me."

            "Would you have believed me without seeing it for yourself?"  Jesse dusted off his hat.  He had an odd smile. 

            "Good point."  You laid your face on your desk.  The circumstances of your problems had changed, but the end result was the same.  You were alone and needed to get laid. 

 


 

           

            You'd mapped out the various locations of interest between Vialli's coordinates, the 9th Circle data dump, and the cyborg extraction information.  Nguyen had a large compound what remained of the Old Quarter in Hanoi.  It wasn't in her name, and in fact had been hidden under the aegis of several shell companies, but it was large and connected to a private shipping company that Genji had traced to the Vialli family.  You'd put in a request to Winston for closer surveillance via drones.  He didn't specialize in SIGINT, but he and Ziv could work something out. 

             The office door slammed open and your pistol was in your hands before you realized it. 

            "Code White," Gabriel shouted.  "Gear up!" 

            The blood drained from your face.  You grabbed your go-bag, and followed him out.  Code White meant an agent's family was under attack.  Gabriel's people were on the west coast of the United States.  Jack's family was somewhere in the middle.  Fareeha and her dad were somewhere in Canada, near the west coast.  Those were all a long distance away.

            You, Jesse, and Genji didn't have family to worry about.  It was one of those rare moments your lack of roots felt lucky. 

            Jesse and Genji were already in the locker room.  You strapped on your gray Blackwatch armor and pulled on your modified armored boots.  Your tanto rested in the small of your back and you holstered your pistol on your hip. 

            Jesse tossed you a long gray scarf.  "Dress warm."

            Fuck.  You'd avoided cold weather missions since you left the 9th Circle.  For obvious reasons.  You wrapped the scarf around your neck and pulled on your charcoal heavy coat. 

            "Where are we headed?"  You picked up a carbine and extra magazines.  It was your best performance gun: light weight, medium range, selective fire, and excellent accuracy.

            "French Alps," Gabriel barked.  "Move out."  The four of you jogged up to the transport dock.  Captain Amari was already in the ship.  You climbed in and immediately began switching out your prosthetic attachments. 

            "Agent Lacroix sent out a distress signal twenty minutes ago.  He was vacationing with his wife.  We haven't been able to make contact and the entire area's gone dark.  Satellite imagery has brought up a lot of activity."  Captain Amari gave you the rundown.  Lacroix was supposed to be in some kind of ski resort with his wife.  He'd likely fled the area to avoid civilian casualties and seek refuge in some of the hunt lodges in the mountains.  He knew the area well and was an experienced skier.  The biggest concern was hostile forces.  The second was avalanches.  The elements came in third.  Oh goody, because the cold and snow had been your biggest worries.

            Overwatch was going to secure the area.  Your Blackwatch squad was going to rendez-vous with Lacroix and provide protection.

            You equipped your combat attachments and secured the others in your belt.  You pulled on your gloves.  Captain Amari distributed biotic emitters and additional cold weather gear.  You took one of the ridiculous earflap hats, because stupid-looking or not, you didn't forget being cold.

            Jesse snickered.  "You going to be able to move under there, Lucky?"

            "Fuck you.  Fuck snow.  Fuck Talon."  You repacked your bag: med supplies, chemical hand-warmers, radio, emergency flare, canteen, ration bars, extra ammo. 

            Genji was staring now.  He didn't say anything, but he didn't need to. 

           "It's not heavy," you told him.  "These boots are heavy.  They're going to suck.  Also, put on a shirt.  You're making me cold just looking at you." 

            "Ease up, Lucky."  Gabriel inspected the shotgun across his lap.  "It won't be like last time."

            Of course it wasn't going to be like last time.  You were prepared.  You tightened the straps of your bag. 

 


 

            Muzzle flares lit up the night.  The snow and the moon left the landscape with an almost dreamy brightness.  You hit the ground running.  The Overwatch squad had encountered heavy resistance around the ski chateau Lacroix had been visiting. 

            The pilots dropped you further into the mountains. 

            "Ana, get in position.  Jesse, you're with Genji.  Lucky, you're with me.  Move out!" 

            The snow came up past your ankles.  Gabriel held two shotguns, and you jogged behind him.  He stopped, holding up his hand.  He gave an odd whistle, almost a birdcall. 

            There was no response. 
            "Down," he ordered and you dropped, switching to a prone shooting position.  The snow was pretty and fluffy.  But you weren't fooled.  The cold would set in soon and everything would be miserable.   Gabriel crouched beside you.  He pointed and you could see three figures in white jackets moving in the snow.  They were armed. 

            You looked through your sights.  "They're wearing masks and one has cybernetic legs."

            You stayed in position, till Gabriel gave the go ahead.  You shot fast, dropping them in bursts.  The cyborg took two, and you were going to confirm that kill personally. 

            You looked up and Gabriel was smiling fiercely at you.  You grinned back, until you remembered your theory about his combat arousal and had to drop your gaze.  The two of you stayed low as you approached the bodies. 

            They were dead, but you cut the cyborg's throat and circuits, just to be sure.  You found his radio and Gabriel clipped it to his belt.   

            "Targets spotted!"  The radio crackled.  "Southeastern quadrant!  All available units converge!"

            Gabriel radioed details back to the others.  "Ana has eyes on them.  They're bunkered down, with about two dozen hostiles closing in.  Genji and McCree are going to take the ones in the south.  We're going to come in from the west."

            You reloaded before moving.  Gabriel was much faster than you.  Now you knew he wasn't even trying the other night.  Which was a little demoralizing, considering how sore you still were.  The cold wind hitting your lungs made running miserable and seemed to halve your endurance.  You tightened your scarf, wrapping it around your mouth.   You were going to check into a hotel once you got back to Switzerland.  And you were going to spend the entire time in a hot tub.  You were going to drink hot chocolate.  You were going to put the hot tub in front of a fireplace and fill it with hot chocolate. 

            Shots whizzed by your ears and you dropped to the ground taking cover behind a tree.  Gabriel began to shoot, double-firing his giant shotguns.  You caught sight of muzzle flash in the distance and looked down the scope.  You got off two shots before you had to duck again.  Fuck fair fights.  You'd give an ambush any day. 

            You bellycrawled behind a log and from this angle you could see the head better.  You got off another two shots, and the enemy sniper's head exploded.  You looked up to see Gabriel on the move again.  His hellfire shotguns didn't need accuracy.  You just pointed them in a direction and voila!  Instant splatter!

            Your fingers were starting to get cold.  You glared at your breath in the air, and got back up, jogging behind Gabriel. 

            "We're getting close.  Take shelter by those rocks," Gabriel said.  He was sweating, despite the snow collecting on his hat, and you had an unpleasant moment of déjà vu. 

            You pressed yourself against a large rock and peeked around the corner. 

            About a hundred yards out you saw a tiny wooden lodge built into the side of the mountain.  The ratta-tat-tat of automatic fire caught your attention. 

            You got on your stomach and began thinning the crowd.  You weren't as effective from this range and you couldn't tell if Genji or Jesse were in the treeline to the south.  Best not to depend on it. 

            Gabriel ran forward, shotguns primed.  To your relief, Genji burst through the forest in the south, bloody sword drawn.  Jesse was close behind, already fanning his revolver. 

            You crept closer for efficiency's sake.  You focused on picking off the ones just out of Gabriel and Genji's short range attacks.  You'd downed another couple of hostiles when you heard the snow crunch behind you.  You rolled to the side, gun raised. 

            Two men in white jackets had their guns trained on you. 

            You didn't hesitate.  You fired, shooting the nearest one in the head.   You shifted, but not fast enough.  The second man got off three shots, hitting you square in the chest.  You reeled backward, unable to breathe.  Your chest was on fire and you gripped your gun tighter.  He stepped toward you, intent on checking his kill. 

            You clutched the carbine and pulled the trigger, dropping him to his knees.  Blood bubbled behind the mask and he fell backward.  You groaned and felt your chest.   It didn't cave.   No blood seeped out.  Your armor had done its job. 

            Wincing, you rolled back over and lined up another shot.  The woman's head exploded before you could pull the trigger.  You weren't sure where Captain Amari was, but you were glad it was near here.

            "Withdraw!"  Gabriel's voice came over your radio.  "They've set explosives.  They're trying to trigger an avalanche!"

            Of course they were.  You wheezed a laugh and climbed shakily to your feet.   Gabriel was rushing toward you and Lacroix, looking annoyingly dapper and strangely stylish, bounded behind him, a graceful brunette woman keeping his pace. 

            Great, a civilian was going to make you look bad. 

            You heard the rumble before you saw anything.  They'd set the explosives by Lacroix's shelter.  You jogged toward the rock formations, knowing you wouldn't be able to get clear of the area in time.  The most you could hope for was that the curve of the mountain would partially shield you. 

            Gabriel caught up to you there and even as the wave of snow crashed down, he caught your arm and pulled you against the rocks. 

            "Swim!" He ordered.

            You thrashed, knowing you had to keep the snow around you loose, and that you couldn't let yourself get disoriented.  Gabriel stayed anchored to the rocks and didn't let go of your arm. 

            You lost sight of Lacroix and his wife.

            Snow flowed around you, but the dangerous slabs of hardened ice didn't manage to cross the rocks. 

            Eventually the rumbling stopped, and you were only partially buried, almost floating on top of the snow.  You'd gotten lucky.  The rocks broke up the flood and the snow around you was loose.   Gabriel was only chest deep.  You looked around.  "Lacroix?"

            Gabriel swore.  "Start digging."

            You slid your pack off and began to kick through the snow.

            "Over there!"  Gabriel pointed a few yards out to a jaunty red scarf sticking out a sea of white.  You dragged yourself over.  Even if it was loose, it was wet and heavy snow. 

            "You alive?" You asked, clawing at the spot marked by the scarf.  .

            "Mais oui, bien sûr," Lacroix said, a little muffled. 

            You dug, trying to create an air passage above his head.  He blinked up at you,  his wife smiling and nestled against his chest.    

            "Ah, Lucky Strike.  This is my wife, Amélie.  Thank you for coming to assist."

            "Anyone need medical attention?"

            "Non, just some help getting out." 

            You would take all the small mercies you could get.  "Can you move?"

            "Not quite.  If you could keep digging?"

            You looked over your shoulder.  Gabriel was working his way out.  Your hands were freezing and you just wanted to go drown in that hot tub full of cocoa. Your kept bailing. Lacroix and his wife helped, speeding along the process. 

            Gabriel was on the radio.  "Genji, Ana, and Jesse got clear.  Transport's picking them up first."

            You worked your way back to your pack.  You'd gotten a hang for the weird swimming motions.  You tossed the Lacroix couple some handwarmers and stuffed some down your shirt.  You hissed as they came in contact with your bruised skin. 

            "You OK?" Gabriel asked.

            "Sore," you said.  "How are you not freezing?"

            "Side effect of SEP.  When the adrenaline sets in, I burn hotter than most.  Not great in tropical climes, but it makes cold weather ops easier.  The downside is I need to eat more." 

            You got a ration bar out of your backpack.  "I am prepared." 

            "You sound like a boyscout."  He took it though, eating it in two bites. 

            "No, that's your boyfriend.  I'm a survivalist.  And after all this I'm moving somewhere tropical.  No snow ever."

            Gabriel snorted.  "Come here." 

            You were too cold to protest. Gabriel pulled off his gloves and placed his warm hands on your icy face.  You sighed. 

            Amélie murmured something in French. 

            "Yes, this is the most exciting double date we've been on," Lacroix said. 


 

            "What happened to your armor?" Jesse asked after you'd taken off your soaked overcoat managed to clean some of the snow off on the transport.  You'd have to change out of everything anyway.  Your socks were soggy.  That was the worst. 

            You looked down.  Oh, that was bad too.  Severe cracks, like fault lines, spread through your chest plate.  You wouldn't be using this piece again.  You could kind of see the smashed bullets, only because you knew exactly where they hit; you had the bruises to map them. 

            "Weird.  That doesn't normally happen when you get shot," you said still looking down.  "Maybe the impact combined with the cold fucked up the plate?" 

            "When were you shot?" Gabriel barked, eyes flashing. 

            "Two guys ambushed me after you went to clear a path for Lacroix.  I killed one, but the other shot me in the chest.  I played dead for a second, then shot him when he came to check on me."

            Gabriel's face was hard.  "Take it off."

            "I uh...need some help," you said.  The adrenaline was starting to wear off and already you knew you were in for a world of pain.    

            Gabriel didn't wait for Captain Amari.  He unstrapped the chestpiece and pulled it off you.  You exhaled slowly, the lack of a constriction a relief.

            "Show me," Gabriel ordered. 

            Jesse leaned back in his seat, his expression hard to read.  Genji wasn't paying attention, which let you know he was totally paying attention because he making an effort to look like he wasn't. 

            You pulled off your hoodie, stripping down to your bra.  A massive blue-purple bruise had already started forming in the center of your chest.  It stretched from above your collarbone to right below your sternum.

            "Head and throat shots are where it's at," you said.  "Otherwise they just get back up."    

            Nobody laughed. 

            Gabriel's mouth thinned.  He knelt in front of you and poked a rib on your left side. You seized up, pain jolting through your body. 

            "Don't do that again," you hissed through clenched teeth. 

            He ignored you and poked the other side.  His prodding fingers weren't comfortable, but it didn't hurt nearly as much on your right side.  "Have you been spitting blood?"

            "No.  I would have said something." 

           Jesse turned on a biotic emitter, and the warm yellow light numbed some of the pain.  "You shouldn't be relying on these too often, Lucky." 

            Captain Amari handed you a dry hoodie.  "It's fine, Gabriel.  She can go to the infirmary once we get back."

            You sighed.  So much for your hot tub plan.

 


 

            Bruised ribs, no internal bleeding, big sucker of a bruise.  You were fine, except for the pain.  You sat in the infirmary wearing a stupid paper gown.  Gabriel sat in one chair, Jack leaning against the wall while Angela gave you a mostly clean bill of health. 

            "Did you get all these bruises from this mission?" She asked.

            "Did some sparring yesterday."  You didn't look at Gabriel or Jack.  They were mostly faded, but Angela knew you'd used a biotic emitter.  She could probably guess how old they were. 

            Angela shook her head.  "With who?  Reinhardt?  You need to be more careful, Lucky."

            You went to shrug, then winced.  "Yes, ma'am."

            "Eat a good meal, use the emitter, come see me when you get up tomorrow.  You'll probably be fine." 

            "Thanks."  You pulled your pants on.  Then you turned around and put on your hoodie.  No bra right now.  The pressure would be unpleasant. 

            You slouched on the exam table.  Breathing was a little uncomfortable.  But you did it anyway.  Gabriel gathered up your things. 

            "Glad you're OK," Jack said.  He'd watched the entire exchange silently, occasionally placing a hand on Gabriel's shoulder.  "You need anything?"

            "I had this elaborate plan to rent a hotel room so I could use the hot tub because fuck cold weather fighting...but I don't think I'm leaving the base tonight."       

            Gabriel regarded you grimly.  "Did you get hurt because you weren't in fighting shape?" 

            You blinked.  It took a moment for your patented Reyes-Regular English translator to kick in.  "It had nothing to do with last night's sparring.  I was a little slower, but even at my best, I can't guarantee I would have been able to kill both those guys before one got a shot off.  And speaking of last night...are you OK?"

            Gabriel snorted.  "I have idiot-rabies now, but other than I'm good."

            You shrugged and immediately regretted it.  "Can't tell the difference."

            Jack laughed. 

            Gabriel glared at him, then took a deep breath and looked you dead in the eyes.  "I pushed it too far last night.  I'm sorry."           

            You weren't sure if he was apologizing for choking you, or having an erection, or putting you in that situation in the first place.   But you had it a feeling it was for all of the above. "You should be.  I made you hot chocolate and you beat me up."

            Gabriel awkwardly examined the floor.  "Yeah.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Sorry."

            Oh, he said it twice, he must really be feeling guilty.  Good.   "We're good, Gabriel," you said. 

            "Let me help you back to the office.  Or your bedroom.  Or the rec room.  Where do you want to sleep tonight?" 

            "Office," you said, getting up. 

            Jack and Gabriel escorted you back to the office, Gabriel carrying your things and Jack hovering beside you, like he wanted to say something, but wasn't sure how. 

            You lowered yourself onto the couch with a groan.  Gabriel set up the emitter and you sighed. 

            "I have to write up my report," he said.  "Will it bother you if I stay?"

            "It's your office, stupid," you mumbled. 

            "She's getting hungry," Jack said. 

            You opened on eye.  "How can you tell?"

            "You start name-calling."

            "I'll get you something to eat," Gabriel said.  "What do you want?"

            "Something warm," you murmured. 

            Gabriel left you there with Jack.  Jack pulled a chair. 

            "If we ever do something that makes you uncomfortable, you can tell us, you know that right?" Jack asked.

            "Uh-huh."  You closed both eyes. 

            "If you're not comfortable telling us, tell Ana.  She'll do it."

            "Yup," you agreed.

            "You're not actually listening and you're falling asleep."  He laughed softly. 

            "Got it in one."

 


 

            When you awoke, Gabriel was at his desk.  The biotic emitter was still running, and your aches had diminished enough for you to sit up comfortably. 

            "You were out for twelve hours," he said, not looking up.  "How are you feeling?"

            "Hungry."

            Gabriel snorted.  "How's your pain?"

            "In my stomach, because I'm hungry."

            "Idiot," Gabriel muttered.  "I made you chicken and lime soup last night.  You were out cold by the time I got back."

            "You took too long.  I passed out from hunger," you said.

            Gabriel got up and went to the minifridge.  He got out a covered bowl and reheated it for you. 

            "Thank you," you said and drank it straight from the bowl.  It was hot, a little sour, and hit the spot.    

            "You had a close call last night," he said.  He sat down beside you, hands folded in his lap.

            "I managed to avoid losing fingers, getting blown up, or buried alive." 

            "You managed to get shot."    

            "You going to be unreasonable and mad at me for something I couldn't control?"

            "I want to be," he said gruffly.  "But no, that's not fair." 

            " That's big of you," you said.  "I appreciate it."  You put the bowl on the floor and debated lying back down. 

            "What can I do?"

            You blinked.  Gabriel either brought you things or told you in a roundabout way that you needed them.  He didn't ask open ended questions.  To be fair, who knew what you would ask for on bad day? The heads of your enemies in hand-woven baskets?  Elaborate prototype weapons?  More cake, probably.    

            "Do you care if I go back to sleep?"  You yawned.

            "That's fine," he said, not moving.  "May I sit here?"  Gabriel was looking straight ahead, and not at you.  There was a familiar unpleasant tension in his shoulders.  He held himself rigid and still, but he practically vibrated with uncomfortable energy.    

            The last time you'd seen him anything like this was with Gleeson.  It hit you then that you'd scared him.  That last night's run combined with your ruined armor triggered something unpleasant in his psyche.            

            "Where's Jack?" You weren't sure what to do. 

            "Had some meetings he couldn't skip," Gabriel said, still not looking at you.

            "I'll probably curl up against you because you exude the warmth of a thousand heat rocks."  That was true, though you hadn't cuddled with Gabriel since that night in the Yukon.  And you weren't going to call that "cuddling."  That was self-preservation.    

            "I don't mind," he said, shoulders lowering a few centimeters.  He finally glanced over at you. 

            You wrapped your blanket around yourself and leaned against him, his body familiar, the heat comforting.  He delicately rested an arm around your shoulders.

            "Is this...too much?"  he asked.  "You don't have do this."

            "Are you kidding?  You're like a giant hot water bottle," you said, trying to sound flippant. 

            "Ah."  He nodded.  "That's OK then."  

 


 

            Jack walked in to find Gabriel sitting on the couch reading his tablet, you were asleep against him, your head resting against his upper arm.  You had cocooned yourself in one of the many blankets you left around the office. 

            "She OK?" 

            "She's fine," Gabriel said.  "Woke up hungry, talked some shit, and went straight back to sleep."

            "You OK?" Jack asked, already knowing the answer. 

            "Doing better," he said. 

            "She really did a number on her armor.  Reminded me of that time in Kandahar."  Jack pulled up a chair in front of Gabriel.  "I was fine too, Gabe.  Just sore."

            "Scared the shit out of me, Jack.  Thought you were bleeding out underneath."

            Jack leaned in and kissed him.  "We're all here, Gabe.  We survived.  It's going to be fine."

 


 

            You opened your eyes as you felt Gabriel shift beside you, and promptly pulled yourself upright. 

            Jack held Gabriel's face in his hands, their foreheads pressed together.  Jack caught your eye and smiled knowingly.  Then he nudged Gabriel.  "You woke her up."

            "Well, there goes my plan to see if we could have sex without her noticing."  Gabriel sounded more himself. 

            "What is wrong with you two?  Do you do this Captain Amari?"

            "No, but I don't make soup for Ana either." 

            Apparently making soup for someone meant you could be a shit to them.  You began unraveling the blankets.  Your muscles still ached, but you felt much better.  It was very warm in the office, probably from Gabriel's crazy body heat.  And with Jack sitting here, it almost too cozy.  Like you shouldn't get comfortable because they needed their space. 

            "Lacroix OK?" You asked. 

            "Oh yes, he and his wife are recuperating.  Ana's handling it." 

            "All right.  I'm going to go get changed and washed up."  And you'd avoid the office for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

             It was a year ago today.   It felt like a lifetime now, but the wounds still ached.  Funny how time and pain didn't always match up.  You pulled on your gloves and gathered up your offerings. 

            The sun hadn't risen yet, but they were waiting for you down by the Memorial Wall.  You hadn't expected to see them, and you certainly hadn't invited them, but Gabriel and Ziv stood there silently.  Gabriel had his hands in his pockets.  Ziv was bundled in a puffy white coat, striped scarf, and a knit cap with ridiculous pompoms. 

            You nodded and knelt, lighting that awful incense Captain Patel would have liked.  That was fine, your death rituals called for sacrifice, symbolic as it may be.  It'd been a goddamn year, and you'd killed some of the people responsible.  You weren't done yet, nowhere near close, but you liked to think she wouldn't mind the delay.  You were doing the job right.  Someone else had not, and while you knew it was not your fault, she had paid the price. 

             Rivka had also bought your life with hers.  Maybe that hadn't been her intent, but she'd stayed and sent out that distress call.  You weren't going to put hummus on the memorial because that was silly, but you'd gotten a hold of some myrrh oil and you think she would have liked it.  It was strong and bittersweet and you poured it on the ground.   

            The tanto rested against the small of your back.  Shin would be pleased by how much use you got out of it.  And you knew he would be delighted by your work.  The tanto was a good gift.  The time he'd given you, that had been better.  You got out a bottle of whiskey, a nice one, and poured some of it at the base of the memorial. 

            This too was for Julio Valdez, your shield;  Chibundo Nwazue, your demolitionist; Simon Razafindrandriatsimaniry your healer; and Lao Yue, your baby hacker. 

            Your feelings hadn't changed over the course of a year, but maybe the pain had diminished.  This was for you as much as it was for them.  You took a swig of the whiskey, stood, and wiped your face with the back of your hand.  Then you passed the bottle to Gabriel.  He drank and passed it to Ziv.  Ziv took a drink and poured the rest on the ground. 

            The sun was rising and you could see your breath in the morning light.   

            "Savta would've laughed at how fucking early and cold it is," Ziv said.  "Then she would have told you how stupid you were for wasting myrrh."  He turned abruptly and walked back to HQ. 

            You managed a wan smile.  Gabriel's hand rested on your shoulder.

            "That little shit poured out all the whiskey," he muttered.  "What the fuck is wrong with him?"

            You laughed at that and walked up the path toward Overwatch HQ, Gabriel's warmth at your back. 

 


 

            It was only a matter of time before someone asked.  Jesse had assured you of it after you realized you were no longer a pariah.  You weren't so sure. 

            "Hey, Lucky Strike, right?"  A man in Overwatch blues jogged up behind you.

            You looked over your shoulder.  You were on your way back from hand-to-hand training.  "Yup." Your fingers tightened at your side, but you forced yourself to look relaxed.

            He was taller than you and on the slender side of fit.  He had elegant cheekbones, a pointed chin, and a thin mouth.  He'd shaved the sides of his head and let the rest grow long in a ponytail.   

            "Hello, I'm Joon," he said in British-accented English.  He gave you a shy smile.  It was cute.  "Do you want to get coffee some time?" 

            "OK," you said, wondering what you were agreeing to besides coffee. 

            "Great."  He smiled brightly at you and for half a second you saw shades of Shin.  "How about now?"

            You were sweaty, but not bloody.  And it was just coffee in the mess.  "OK."   You walked a few hallways in silence.  "What do you do, Joon?" 

            "I'm a sniper," he said. 

            The silence started up again and it wasn't the comfortable kind.  He wasn't Shin, he wasn't going to be anything like Shin, and that wasn't a fair comparison to make.  In the mess hall, you grabbed a coffee and a slice of cheesecake.  You found a table and sat down.  Joon joined you with a mug of coffee. 

            "Am I out of line?"  Joon asked. 

            "What?  I don't think so," you said.  "I just don't normally grab coffee with strangers."

            "Oh.  Well, thanks for making the exception?" 

            "It was no trouble."  You cut your cake and ate it in measured bites.  "Sorry, not usually talkative after getting tossed around in training."

            "Oh yes,  I heard Reyes pairs you up with the cyborg.  He's pretty tough, isn't he?" 

            "Very," you agreed. 

            "But he's a melee fighter.  Can't really compare against a sniper," Yoon said. 

            You felt a twinge of annoyance.  "Guess it depends on the situation." 

            "Of course," he said hastily.  He put his cup down.  "I guess trying to impress you is the wrong track?"

            "It probably isn't wise to shit-talk one of the men who watches my back."  You took another sip of coffee.

            "That came out wrong," he said.  "It took me all week to work up the nerve to talk to you.  Sorry." 

            Slightly mollified, you held the coffee mug in both hands, savoring the heat.  "OK."

            "I-do you want to get dinner some time?"  He looked at you hopefully.  And it was a relief because Shin would've just brought you dinner and made it a stealth-attack.  Joon was not Shin.  You could stop drawing the comparison and like him or dislike on his own merit. 

            "If it's on the base," you said after a moment.  Because even if you didn't want to go, it was important to see people besides your coworkers. 

            "Great.  I'll see you tomorrow night at seven?" 

            "Should be fine," you said, already regretting it.

 


 

 

            "I've heard of Park Joon.  He gets around.  The shy thing works for him," Jesse said as you studied a potential evacuation route for the Hanoi mission.

            "We had coffee yesterday.  It was awkward.  Then he asked me to dinner.  I'm betting it's going to be twice as awkward." 

            "You like awkward or something, sweetpea?" 

            "Nah.  Just trying to get back in the saddle.  Might have a few false starts." 

            "Ain't a crime.  You have needs,"  Jesse said almost too casually. 

            "You disapprove?"  You finally looked up at Jesse.  He sat on your desk chewing an unlit cigar. 

            "You could do better,"  Jesse said after a moment.  "Gonna speculate that he's just looking for another notch in his bedpost.  And you're a pretty nice one."

            "Thanks, I think.  Not everyone is trying to woo their one true love," you said.  "Some of us just need to get laid."

            The office door opened and Gabriel came in carrying three pizza boxes.  Jack had the beer. 

            "Well," Jesse said, giving you a sly look.  "I'm sure you'll have lots of fun. Enjoy your date, Lucky.  Get laid.  Don't do anything I wouldn't do."  He grinned at Gabriel and Jack.  "Hey boss, Strike Commander." 

            You couldn't see Gabriel's face, but Jack was giving Jesse a hard look. 

            "Everything OK?   What'd Jesse do now?" You asked after Jesse shut the door behind him. 

            "No smoking, indoors," Jack said, face lighting up as he turned that devastating smile at you.  "We got pizza and beer.  Gabriel got you your own, because...anchovies."

            You rolled your eyes.  "They're delicious."

            "If you say so," Jack said.  "Why don't you take a break?"

           The plan sat in front of you.  As an evacuation route, you weren't sure about this one.  You'd have to check to see if those Metro tunnels still existed.  Vo Min in demolitions was from Hanoi.  She might have an idea where to look.  You made the note and put your tablet aside. 

            When you looked up, Jack was shaking his head. 

            "You joining us, or what?" Gabriel asked, his box of pizza already open.

            You grabbed a beer and pulled up a chair.  "Some of us have work to do."

            "Just look busy.  When the boss comes in, he'll never notice," Jack said. 

            Gabriel shot Jack a dirty look. 

            You laughed and took your pizza.    

 


 

            You had more casual outfits now.  Nothing fancy, but at least you could now go out in things other than uniforms and sweats.  You put on a black turtleneck and jeans and met Joon in the mess hall.  He waved and you wondered if maybe he was a Talon spy.  You weren't overtly hunting them like Lacroix, but sending a honeytrap after Commander Reyes' assistant was theoretically a smart tactical choice.  You did have access to lots of classified information. 

            You realized then, that maybe you weren't normal any more and you should probably relax.  You walked over to Joon, reminding yourself that you were a single female and people would ask you to dinner based on that criteria alone. 

            "You look good," Joon said, giving you a once over. "I don't think I've ever seen you in civvies." 

            "Thanks," you said.  He looked nice enough, button down green shirt, pressed khaki trousers.  You got in line.

            "I do like the food here.  I did my service in Colchester.  The food was absolute shit." 

            "Yeah," you thought of the 9th Circle.  "I was in the middle of nowhere.  We usually ended up making our own meals if given the chance.  That or field rations."

            "Rough," he said.  "You served in a lot combat zones?"

            "Not really."  The chatter was generic.  You could have done it half awake.  Joon got a bowl of beef stew and you took a stack of pancakes.  Because they had real syrup here.  Lao had turned you onto it while you were in Canada.  Real maple syrup was the 8th Wonder of the World.

            You ate, mostly listening to Joon talk.  It wasn't hard.  But out of the corner of your eye, you saw a familiar cowboy sit down at the table behind Joon.  He grinned at you. 

            You raised a brow.  Really? 

            "I know this nice place downtown if you're ever up for a night out," Joon said. 

            You pondered it for a moment.  Joon was...nice.  But you didn't really enjoy talking to him and you couldn't quite picture having sex with him.  "I don't think that's a good idea," you said finally.  "You're attractive and good company, but I'm not in a good position to date right now."

            To his credit, Joon just smiled.  "That's a shame.  You're lovely and mysterious.  That's pretty irresistible." He paused. "Is there someone else I didn't account for?"  You struggled not to think about Gabriel's arm around your shoulders or Jack wiping blood off your mouth. 

            "No," you said a little too forcefully.  "Work is just kicking my ass."

            "Ah," Joon said. "It's one of those "if you tell you me, you'll have to kill me" deals.  Got it."

            That was a better answer than you had.  So you smiled noncommittally, ate your pancakes, and then went back to the office.

 


 

            Gabriel was at his desk looking over your Hanoi proposals.  He looked up, frowning.  "Aren't you off-duty?"

            "Wanted to go over the numbers again.  Something felt off."  You plopped down at your desk, and pulled up your dossiers on the Petras family. 

            The door opened and Jesse poked his head in.  "You looked cute together." 

            "What?" Why did he feel the need to announce this?  Especially since you weren't together. 

            "You and your date.  He asked you on a third date, right?  You know what that means-"

            "Some of us are trying to work, McCree," Gabriel said.  "Go have tea with Ana if you want to gossip like an old woman."

            Jesse just grinned at you.  Which was ridiculous because he knew you'd turned Joon down.  "You going to with him to the ball?"

            "What ball?" 

            "You didn't tell her about the ball?" Jesse asked Gabriel.  "Oh that's right, you don't go."  You'd forgotten how well Jesse could do Blackwatch petty. 

            Gabriel just pursed his lips. 

            "He probably planned to ask on the third date," Jesse said.  "Zurich hosts this fancy title something something Celebratory Honorable Appreciation of Overwatch Ball at the Kongresshaus.  We don't usually attend overtly, because Blackwatch is a big secret, but since they offer tickets the general public, we can get in on the lower levels and mingle.  A lot of the rank and file wear their uniforms and the public eats it up.  There's a hotel attached and the afterparty gets real wild." 

            "Oh."  You looked down at your paperwork.  There was a ball?  You were part of a top-secret, need-to-know unit, and you didn't even know what was going on in the town outside.  Compartmentalized intelligence indeed. 

            "It's two weeks out.  You should go, even if he doesn't ask," Jesse said. He flashed Gabriel a smirk and shut the door. 

            You sat there, deeply disturbed by your lack of situational awareness. 

            Gabriel cleared his throat.  "That idiot is wrong by the way.  I am going, just not as Jack's official date.  I thought you knew about it.  It starts on Friday and ends late Saturday morning.  Genji is staying in to hold down the fort, if you wanted to go."

            "Good to know," you said, and laid out the Petras dossiers. 

 


 

            "What the hell was that about, Jesse?" You demanded when you finally cornered him in his room.

            "Are you really that dense, Lucky?"  Jesse shook his head, the sharpness in his voice surprised you.  "Or is it just denial?"

            You crossed your arms.  "I am that dense.  I didn't even know there was a ball till you said something.  So enlighten me."

            Jesse sat back in his chair, hat in his lap.  He brushed his hair back. "Sit down, Lucky.  It's about time somebody said something.  Might as well be me."

            You sat down.  Jesse rarely snapped at you.

            "OK," you said, bracing yourself. 

            "It's been obvious, as the nose on your face, that you got it bad for the Commander."

           You felt heat spread across your face.  It wasn't something you'd ever acknowledged, because it couldn't end well.  But you weren't in denial about your feelings; you were very aware of them.  You just put them in a box, set them aside, and did what you had to do.  "I never act-"

            "You didn't have to do a thing.  It was always there.  And it's been just as obvious, from the get-go, the Commander has a soft spot for you." 

            "Was I really that obvious?  Like everyone in Blackwatch or just..."

            "To the people that see you every day.  It's real obvious to me and Genji.  Ana too.  The Commander was less subtle, which is partially why people thought you were sleeping together."

            "And so it was all obvious to Jack then." 

            "I know you hadn't noticed, because you're too busy sticking your head in the sand, but Morrison doesn't mind," Jesse said.  "At first I thought it was bad news that he kept hanging around.  Like he was waiting for you to screw up."  Jesse put his hat on the table.  "But I was wrong about that."  Jesse reached down and grabbed two beers.  He slid one across the table to you. 

            You grabbed it.  "Why do you say that?"

            "He's a good actor, but he ain't that good."  Jesse smirked.  "Come on, you know damn well Morrison fakes his way through people.  We've both seen it enough to know when he's being genuine."

            Jesse wasn't wrong.  "He doesn't care because I haven't and won't do anything."

            Jesse laughed.  "He cares.  Should've seen the look he gave me when I brought up your date.  Think it was probably your Paris trip that changed things.  That and he's always checking out your ass in training."  You nearly choked to death on your beer, because you definitely had not noticed that.  So there it was, in front of you, the option you hadn't acknowledged:  It wasn't just fighting that aroused Gabriel.  He liked manhandling you. 

            "I... They're together, Jesse.  That's not something I want to mess with."  You'd seen the light in Gabriel's eyes when Jack walked into the room.  The exhaustion faded from Jack's face when he had Gabriel beside him.

            "I ain't telling you what to do, Lucky.  That's your call.  Just letting you know, the feelings seem mutual.  The Commander is real aware of rank.  He ain't gonna do nothing to pressure you.  Morrison's the same."

            You remembered how careful Shin had been with you that first night.  Jack and Gabriel were even more conscientious of the wider power gap.  "OK."

            "Take it.  Leave it.  You have that choice.  But it's about damn time you acknowledged it instead of dancing around it." 

            "So wait, why did you keep flinging my "date" in- Oh."  Jesse was an instigator.  He liked needling Jack and Gabriel.  Blackwatch petty to the rescue. 

            "Man's gotta get his kicks somehow."  Jesse grinned.  "And riling up your commanding officers with something they can't punish you for, that's pretty satisfying." 

            "So you're going?"

            "Who do you think's escorting Captain Amari?" 

 


 

            "So are you going?" Jack asked, leaning over your shoulder.  He was dressed down again in a tight black turtleneck and black fatigues. You were painfully aware of his presence in your space.  It had been easier not acknowledging your attraction to him, just passing it off as playful friendship.  Now it was almost overwhelming.

            "I guess," you said.  "I have to find something to wear."   That wasn't entirely true. You had gone into town and placed an order already. 

            "Are you feeling OK?" Jack asked.  "You've been so quiet all week."

            "Just tired." 

            "Gabe working you too hard?" He sounded genuinely concerned. 

            "Nah, just trying to tie up the loose ends on this op.  Though I guess my sparring partner could stop bruising me up before the dance."

            Jack had the grace to look sheepish.  "If you wanted me to go easy on you, all you had to do was ask." 

           "I was talking about Genji," you said, picking up your tablet, only being a little petty.  "Gabriel won't be back for another hour.  He's getting fitted for a new suit."

            "I know," Jack said.  "I came by to convince you come, if you weren't already."

            "I've attended formal occasions with you before.  They are overrated."

            Jack laughed.  "You get to dress up in whatever you like and you're not my bodyguard this time.  Just pick up a regular ticket from support services.  We'll get you upstairs to the ballroom."

            "Thanks."   

            "McCree said you had a date.  You can bring him too," Jack said so casually, it almost didn't sound like fishing.

             "Jesse's an idiot," you said, turning back to your paperwork.  You could feel his gaze on the back of your neck.  It might have been petty not to explain the situation, but you were too frustrated to want to go into that right now.  Besides, you were Blackwatch.  Petty was your game. 

 


 

            "You don't have to go, if you don't want to." 

            You sat in front of Captain Amari's desk. 

            "Jesse...said some things."

            Captain Amari looked up from her paperwork  "About?"

            "Gabriel and Jack.  And me."  You didn't feel comfortable saying it out loud.  "Am I...has it been-?"

            "There has never been a need to talk about it, because your behavior has been professional," Captain Amari said.  "If that wasn't the case, we would have dealt with this much sooner.  I trust Gabriel and Jack haven't made you uncomfortable?"

            "They haven't behaved unethically," you said, which was different from making you uncomfortable.  "I...if something happened, discretely, would that cause problems?"

            "I'm your direct superior, Lucky.  As long as everything is between consenting adults, discrete should be fine."  She paused.  "Honestly, I was expecting this to come to a head much earlier."

            "What?"

            "You weren't the only one who was obvious, Lucky.  Why do you think I'm your CO and not Gabriel?"

            Your brain flashed back to that first day, Gabriel sitting in your room. 

            "...Because I'm a gullible idiot."

           


 

 

            You opted for a little black cocktail dress that fell mid-thigh.  It was sexy, versatile, and you could fit your tanto against you back.  You wore black stockings to cover you scarred leg.  You'd found a terribly expensive pair of wrist-length black lace gloves.  Red heels and a matching clutch completed the outfit, giving just enough color that you didn't look like a widow. 

            You kept a spare set of basic fingertips in the clutch with a tube of red lipstick.  It was blades tonight. You'd already been to one formal occasion with Jack.  You'd rather be armed than sorry.

            You were traveling with Captain Amari and Jesse.  Jack and Gabriel would already be at the function giving speeches and doing official things. 

            Captain Amari wore a deep cut blue jumpsuit in Overwatch blue with a white sash, white heels, gold hoop earrings, and several thin gold chains that formed a cascade down her chest.  Jesse was back in his black suit and bolo tie, hat in place, firmly keeping with the cowboy theme. 

            They were a handsome couple. 

            Jesse whistled at you.  "You clean up nice, Lucky."

            "Are you catcalling another woman in front of me?" Captain Amari asked.          

            "No ma'am," Jesse beamed.  "I wouldn't dream of it."

            Captain Amari gave him a look you'd never seen before.  Part amusement, part warmth, and all pleasure. 

            It wasn't meant for you and you studied your shoes.  Well, if nothing happened tonight, at least someone else was having fun.

 


 

           You sat at a high table in the bar on the second floor, sipping a whiskey on the rocks.  Captain Amari had gone ahead to the ballroom with Jesse as her plus one.  You were waiting on Gabriel or Jack and needed a drink or three to fortify yourself. 

            "Hey there." A brunette man in the Overwatch dress uniform leaned against the table.  "You alone pretty lady?"

            "I'm waiting for my friends," you said flatly. 

            "Aww don't be that way.  I'm Cooper, this is Jones-" he gestured at a stocky-looking blonde man who'd sidled up alongside him.  "Thought you looked lonely.  We're in Overwatch, you know.  Kind of a big deal."

            You just stared.  You liked the lace gloves and really didn't want to ruin them.  Because there were too many people here and you were just now realizing how antisocial you'd become. 

            "Jones, I think the lady's impressed," Cooper said to his friend.

            "I'm not." 

            "Now don't be like that.  We're risking our lives for the greater good all the time.  Why don't you show some appreciation?"

            You took another drink of your whiskey.  You could throw it in his face.  You could take off your glove and slap him with it.  You could just punch him.  You imagined starting a bar fight at the Overwatch Ball.  It could be epic and add to your personal legend, but you'd probably just get arrested and ruin your nice new clothes. 

            "I'm not interested.  Please leave me alone."  You put your glass down.

            "You're a rude bitch," Cooper said, resting his hand over yours.  "But all the hot ones are."  His fingers began to travel up your arm.

           You punched him with your right hand.  He went down, blood gushing from his nose.  You glove was undamaged, thankfully.   "I was polite.  I even said "please."  Now I'm done.  Fuck off."  You'd use your left next and then he wouldn't be getting back up. 

            "You-"  Cooper staggered to his feet.  "You can't-"

            "What the hell do you think you're doing?" You knew that voice too well.  You forced your fists down as a set of hands pulled you back.   

            "She-"

            "You OK, Lucky?" Jack asked, his hands resting on your bare shoulders.

            "I don't care who the fuck you are, you don't lay hands on my people," Gabriel was in front of you now.

            "Oh God, Commander Reyes-"  Cooper looked around frantically.  "I didn't know she was your girl-"

            "Shit, Cooper, that's Lucky Strike.  She's with Morrison-!"  Jones backed up.  "We're sorry, we didn't know!"  The two men took off running, pushing through the crowd.

            Tension coiled in your hands, you were so close to ruining your gloves.  You didn't need to hide behind their names.  You could do your own dirty work. 

            "I was handling that," you said sharply. 

            "It is my privilege to look after my people."  Gabriel turned around, and your mouth went dry.  He'd gone all out: white shirt, red bowtie, a matching red brocade double-breasted waist coat under a black tailcoat, crisp pleated trousers, and sharp leather shoes.  He'd trimmed his beard and you were pretty sure he'd styled his curls.   Gabriel took your hand in his, rubbing the knuckles.  "We would have been here sooner but everyone and their mother wants to talk to Jack." 

            "Besides, those are pretty gloves," Jack said, his breath warm in your ear.  "We'd hate to see them ruined."  His hands hadn't moved from your shoulders.  "You look good, darling.  You even match Gabriel."

            "It wasn't intentional," you said, still salty about their interference. 

            Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was the adrenaline, but you stared boldly at Gabriel, taking in his polished appearance.  The cut of his jacket emphasized his broad shoulders, and while he'd always been attractive, the formalwear lent him a devastating elegance.  He just smiled smugly at you, looking absolutely sinful.  Your anger began to ebb, even as you grasped at it for support.  He didn't get to just show up looking sexy and steal your fight. 

            "You like?" Gabriel purred. 

            "You look nice," you said, begrudgingly. 

            "You look beautiful," he said, obviously too pleased with himself to care that you were being petty. 

            You turned around, and Jack was so very close.  He had been bold, going with an almost identical ensemble, only in a shade of cream with a blue waistcoat to match his eyes.  It should have washed him out, instead it gave his skin a warmer, almost rosy cast.   

            "Gabriel picked it out," Jack murmured.  "What do you think?" 

            "You're always too pretty," you told him, nerves still shot. 

            Jack raised his chin, his grin even cockier than before. "Where's your date, Lucky?"

            "Didn't bring one," you said, trying not to grit your teeth. 

            "That's a pity," Jack said, sounding anything but disappointed.

            Gabriel muttered something about "that damn ingrate." 

            "So do you want to join us?" Jack asked, his face inches from yours.  There was a hunger etched on his face you'd seen many times before but never this close.  How could you have missed it before? 

            "I'd hate to impose," you said baring your teeth, because you were too wound up to play nice and you had the sneaking suspicion Jack was goading you because he liked it when you were feral.  You'd had some time to look back on your interactions.  Jack came off as a boy scout, but he really liked pushing people's buttons.  And worse, he could be subtle about it.    

            Like the time he'd given you cognac and casually slipped out that he and Gabriel had fucked on your desk.  You still weren't sure if he was being catty, or fishing, or instigating.  That was the past.  You just knew he wasn't to be taken at face value. 

            "Relax," Gabriel said, a hand stroking the back of your neck.  "We have to play civilized now.  But they comped Jack the penthouse suite for the weekend as a sign of appreciation. Supposed to be fancy.  I have a team sweeping it right now.  We can unwind there after we've socialized."

            The implication was there.  The invitation was open. 

            Suddenly the room was very warm.  You took a couple of shuddering breaths.  You were now all worked up to fight and instead you were stuck between Gabriel and Jack with the offer of something else.  You weren't sure if the whiskey was a bad idea or if you needed a whole bottle for survival.  Your blood was still hot.  You didn't trust yourself. 

            "I need a moment," you said, bowing your head. 

            "Take your time," Gabriel said, rubbing circles on your back.

            "You can fire them Monday, in person," Jack said softly.

            You lifted your head.  "Isn't that some kind of abuse of power?"

            "Yeah, but so is forcing your attentions on someone, while trying to use Overwatch status as leverage.  I'm shit-canning them, either way," Jack said.  "Doesn't matter who does it."

            That made you feel marginally better.  Gabriel's hands were firm against your waist.  "I think I'll need another drink," you said.

            "They have nice champagne upstairs," Jack said. 

            "I want whiskey," you said, because you needed to get yourself under control before you went upstairs.  And maybe because you were petty.

            "Go get her a whiskey, Jack," Gabriel said.  "But don't overindulge, Lucky.  We can't have fun if you're sloppy drunk." 

            Jack raised a brow at Gabriel.  You had no idea what Gabriel's expression was, but Jack turned and headed to bar.  You stood there watching him, Gabriel holding you by the waist. 

            "So you finally figured it out," he said.  He spoke softly, but you could hear him clearly over the crowd. 

            "I had help."  It was easier to do it like this, not looking at him. 

            "We were getting pretty obvious," Gabriel said with a laugh.

            "I'm a gullible idiot."  At least when it came to them.  "There was a lot of self recrimination." 

            "That explains what's been eating you all week." 

            "I didn't know what to do," you said, crossing your arms tightly. 

           "You don't have to do anything," he said gently.  "If you're not comfortable with this, then there's no expectation."  He was so very warm against your back.  "I don't want to do anything you don't want." 

            You believed him.  "I know."  You rubbed your forehead.  "It's still hella complicated."

            "It doesn't have to be."  His hand rested on the back of your neck, lightly kneading.    

            You really wanted to believe that.  

            Jack was back.  He set the glass of whiskey on the table and patted your cheek.  "You've never backed down from us before," he said, the pads of his fingers rough against your skin.  "Why the hell would you start now?" 

            Jack was scary good at pushing your buttons.  You threw back the whiskey and mustered a wry smile.    

            "Let's get through the ball, and then we'll talk about it upstairs."

           


 

            It was like a Disney movie, only with more old people and no singing candlesticks.  You could feel the eyes on you as you walked in between Gabriel and Jack.  They weren't touching you now; no need to start more rumors.  But they hovered.  You had your polite, vaguely disinterested expression pasted firmly in place.

            There were a lot of people here.  It would be hard to track an assassin.  The press was thick enough that it'd be real easy to just sidle up to someone, cut, and walk away.  You'd be halfway out the door before anyone noticed anything was wrong.   If you were really unethical, poison would be super effective.

            It was easier to think about tradecraft than your feelings.  Yeah, you definitely weren't normal any more.  But you could pretend.  You snagged a flute of champagne of a passing waiter's tray. 

            "Thank you," Gabriel said, plucking it from you fingers and downing it in one gulp.

            "That was my prop," you said.  "I was going to hold it and blend in."

            "You walked in next to Jack and me, looking ready to kill.  You're not blending in now," Gabriel said.   

            Your face felt warm.  You were going to blame the whiskey.  "That was my "bored" face, not my "kill" face," you said trying for a polite smile.

            "You'll fool the masses, but you're not fooling me," Gabriel said. 

            "Oh, Reinhardt, you look dashing," you said brightly, turning away as Reinhardt approached in what had to be a custom tuxedo. 

            "Lucky Lady!" He boomed, because Reinhardt didn't have an indoor voice.  "You look lovely!" He beamed at you, and your sourness diminished just a little.  "Would you like to dance?"

             You glanced out on the dance floor.  There was a live orchestra and you caught sight of Jesse stepping carefully with Captain Amari, his head bowed as he leaned in to whisper to her. 

            "I uh...terrible dancer," you said, because smugglers didn't get lessons in ballroom dance and because you did not need Reinhardt breaking your toes tonight.  You needed those to run away.

            "Nonsense!  Let me show you how it's done."  He tugged your wrist.  "Join me?" He was a hopeful puppy, all enthusiasm and honest emotion. 

            "All right," you said, and looked back to see Gabriel frowning at Reinhardt. 

            "Don't worry, Gabriel," he said.  "I'll bring her back to you in one piece!"  He placed your arm in his, guiding you onto the floor.  "Thank you for humoring an old man, Lucky."

            "You're only as old as you feel," you said, because Reinhardt liked platitudes. 

            "Then you have made me very young indeed."  He laughed and placed one arm all the way around your waist.  The other hand carefully took your left, folding the fingers between his.  "Ah, I must be careful," he said.  "Torbjörn said you have unpleasant surprises under your gloves.  He always does such good work." 

            The height difference was going to make this awkward.  "I'm very pleased with them," you said. 

            "Are you ready?"

            "Sure," you said, eyes darting down to your feet.    

            Reinhardt began to move, surprisingly light-footed and graceful. You would have moved your legs, except, your feet weren't quite touching the ground any more.  You blinked, and Reinhardt grinned down at you.  "I do not wish to step on any toes." 

            "Uh, thanks," you said.  He didn't move fast.  Your skirt didn't fly up. Your legs didn't kick out.  So it wasn't readily apparent that you were airborne. 

            "See, you don't have to know how to dance.  You just come out and whirl.  It is good fun."

            You laughed, some of the tension bleeding out of your body.  "Thank you, Reinhardt."

            "It is good that you came.  You work too much," he said.  "You should get out in the field more.  Nothing like a good honest battle to clear the mind."

            You weren't sure how that wasn't work.  "I don't do fair fights, Reinhardt.  I'd lose."  He spun around with you, never bumping another person. 

            "Well, it is good that you came out tonight, Lucky Lady.  Are you coming to the afterparty?  There will be beer.  There will be karaoke.  I will sing the hymns of Hasselhoff.   It will be glorious!"

            "I...don't know," you said.

            "Ah, maybe you have other plans," he said slyly and you wondered how much he knew. 

            "Maybe I do," you said. 

            "There's that devious smile." Reinhardt set you back on the ground, bowing at the end of the song.  "You should ask Torbjörn to dance.  He will decline, but it will make his wife laugh." 

            "That is actually a good idea," you said.  "Thanks."

            "It is a really funny idea," he agreed.  "He's over there.  Let us go."

            You held Reinhardt's arm, and caught sight of Jack smiling flatly and nodding at a group of suits.  Gabriel was speaking with Angela, but he raised a brow as you headed off with Reinhardt.  You shrugged and smiled.

            Reinhardt was exceptionally useful in the crowd.  First, everyone got out of his way without much effort on your part.  Secondly, he could spot Swedish dwarves pretty quickly. 

            "Torbjörn! You look so diminutive," Reinhardt bellowed. "And there's your lovely Lucia."

            Torby was also in a tuxedo which fit him rather well.  It could have been custom made or he shopped at a place for very sophisticated, very round children.  It was probably the former, but you let that latter idea linger for a moment.

            "Reinhardt," Torby grumbled.  "Lucky."

            "You look very nice," you told him.  His wife was stunning, blonde, and taller than him.  It was a little shocking to see him with someone who wasn't another angry dwarf.  You'd pictured his spouse as him, just without the facial hair. "Hello, Lucky isn't my name, but that's what everyone calls me anyway.  Your husband made my prostheses.  It's a pleasure to meet you."  You extended your right hand. 

            She shook your hand warmly.  "Yes, he has mentioned you before.  I would like your chili recipe." 

            You shot Torby an amused look.  "Sure.  You just can't give it to my boss." 

            Torby snorted at that.  "Don't let it go to your head."

            "Of course not," you said.  "I just came over to ask you to dance.  Reinhardt said you were really good."

            Torby bristled.  "Go away."

             "Oh darling, you never told me you were so popular," Lucia said cheerfully.  "Should I be worried?  Is that why you spend so much time at work?  Are all these younger women pestering you?"  She winked at you. 

            "I'll send you that recipe," you said.

            "Now will you come dance with me, before some other girl tries to steal you away?" Lucia asked innocently. 

            Torby took her hand, but turned around to glower at you and Reinhardt, drawing a finger across his throat.  It was actually a wee bit intimidating. 

            "That went beautifully!"  Reinhardt clapped you on the back, and you nearly fell over. 

            "Yeah, great," you said, wobbly.  A hand on your shoulder steadied you.  You turned to find Jack looking a little frazzled. 

            "May I have this dance?"

            Reinhardt looked between you and Jack and chuckled.  "Go enjoy the party!" 

            "Trying to escape someone?"  You said, taking his hand. 

            "I've gotten three phone numbers, two marriage proposals, and my ass grabbed in the last ten minutes, Lucky.  Please dance with me."  His firm political smile was starting to fray. 

            "That is so romantic," you said, enjoying the slip in his facade. 

            Jack wrapped a hand around your waist, his fingers brushing your hip.  "I'll show you romantic later," he said, pulling you close. "This is self-preservation." 

            Jack was a passable dancer moving with coordination, but not grace.  Not that you could complain.  You stepped on his toes a lot.  He didn't seem to mind.  His hands were warm, and he watched you with a strange almost secretive look.  "Gabriel was right."

            "Don't let him hear that.  We'll never hear the end of it." 

            Jack grinned at that.  "He was right about you looking especially beautiful tonight."

            "Stealing your boyfriend's line isn't romantic," you said, trying to be composed.

            "Doesn't mean it isn't true," he said, too pleased with himself.  "I'm glad you're here."

            "To save you?  All part of the job, sir."

            Jack narrowed his eyes.  "Is that why you're here then?  Because of the job?"

            "Of course, sir.  An Assassin-Butler's work is never done," you said soberly. 

            He relaxed.  "You're terrible.  But I liked that outfit.  I liked seeing you in my colors."  He stroked your waist, fingers lingering a little too long.  "Here comes Ana.  We're probably going to have to switch out.  I can't dance with anyone for too long without causing...talk." 

            Captain Amari gave you a polite nod.  Then she and Jack paired off while Jesse took your arm.  "Heard you started a fight."  He looked you up and down.  "You look fine."

            "Jack and Gabriel stepped in."  He gave you an inquisitive look.  "I could've handled it.  They're just busybodies," you said, letting Jesse lead.  "You're not bad.  Have you been taking lessons?"

            A blush crept across Jesse's cheeks.  "I didn't want to embarrass Ana."

            "You look good together," you told him. 

            The blush grew deeper.  "Lucky, I ain't here to talk about me.  Everything OK with the commanders?"

            "We're going to talk about it after the party."

            "Darling, I've seen the looks they've been sending your way.  I don't know if talking is what they're thinking about."  Jesse smirked. 

            You fought the urge to facepalm.  It would smear your makeup.  "I don't know what's going on.  Apparently someone has the penthouse suite and I'm invited to go admire the etchings.  Or some other euphemism." 

            Jesse whistled.  "Classy."

            "Having a threesome with your bosses is "classy?"  I'm really curious about what this word means in your culture, Jesse."

            "You don't have to go.  Ana and I will take you straight home if you want.  No pressure.  No obligations.  If that's what you want."

            "I'm going to talk. After that, it's anyone's guess."

            Jesse nodded. " Fair enough, buttercup.  I wish you all the luck."  He patted your back. 

            "May I cut in?"  Gabriel smoothly placed an arm around your waist.

            "That's between you and the lady."  Jesse released you with a wink. 

            "Dance with me?"  Gabriel already had you in his arms.  Sneaky bastard. 

            "I'm not very good," you said. 

            "I'll lead."  He was graceful, flowing in a way that you and Jack hadn't managed. "Is the party to your liking?"

            "Too many people.  Too many opportunities for things to go wrong."  That sounded like you were talking about something else.  "But other than that, yes."

            Gabriel laughed and twirled you.  "I like the fancy clothes."

            "Yeah.  You look better than "nice" in that suit, Gabriel."

            His laughter came out as a low rumble.  You could feel it in your chest.  "So you did notice?"  He dipped you low, forcing you to clutch his forearms.  You were pretty sure this song did not have dipping. 

            "Of course I noticed.  I'm gullible, not blind." 

Chapter Text

            You casually wandered out after midnight, after making your appearance at the afterparty.   Jack had left first.  Then Gabriel.  Leaving together would be suspicious.  Now you contemplated the elevator hall. 

            You could just go home.  Forget this happened.  OK, no you couldn't.  And it wasn't fair if you left without talking to them.  But you did think about running away. 

            Sex would be easiest.  Just sex.  Get them out of your system and go back to work like nothing happened.  You could do that, right? 

            And anything more...well, it all had the potential to blow up in your face and wreck everything you'd worked so hard for.  Gabriel wasn't Shin.  People wouldn't turn a blind eye if they knew.  And Jack?  You didn't even know what Jack wanted, let alone where you fit. 

            Well, you wouldn't find out by standing in the hallway being a chicken.  You hit the up button and nearly jumped out of your shoes when someone coughed behind you. 

            "You need a keycard to get up there."  Gabriel held up the card.  You stepped into the elevator with him, heart pounding.  He rubbed your back.  "You OK?"

            "Nervous," you admitted. 

            "Nothing to be nervous about," he said.  "You're holding all the cards." 

            The elevator door opened and Gabriel led the way. You went through the leather-paneled hall and he opened a door to a large sitting room.  The couch was bigger and wider than your bed.  Jack was in the middle of pouring flutes of champagne. 

            "Fancy digs," you said, because it looked like a place you would rob, not a place you would stay. 

            "Don't have anything like this back home," Jack said.  He offered you a glass and you took it gratefully. 

            "Three bedrooms, two baths, an enclosed balcony, a hot tub on the balcony, fully-stocked kitchen, multiple televisions, and discrete Blackwatch guards for the weekend," Gabriel rattled off.  "Strictly incommunicado for anything less than Code Blue. This is the first vacation Jack's taken in...awhile." 

            "Oh."  You downed the champagne and it was delicious.  Your hands weren't shaking, which was good.  You sat down on the couch and sunk in.  Gabriel sat beside you. 

            "Are you hungry?" Jack asked.  "There are snack trays in the fridge."

            "Snack trays" isn't a fair description.  They're fancier than beer nuts and pretzels," Gabriel told you. 

            "May I have more champagne, please?" 

            Jack poured it, studying your face. 

            You savored this one, the bubbles pleasantly tingly, the flavor light.  "Nice stuff."

            "Being Strike Commander apparently has a perk or two," Jack said.  He sat down on the other side of you, keeping some space between you.  He loosened his bowtie, letting it hang over his neck. 

            You sipped your second glass till it was gone.  You could feel Gabriel's eyes on your hands and Jack was paying painfully close attention to the floor.

            "How did this even happen?" You finally blurted out.

            "I think you know," Gabriel said.  "About me at least.  As I told the others, I'm a sucker for grand gestures, and you and me have been through a lot.  It doesn't hurt that you're pretty."

            You sighed.  "Yeah, OK. Right back at you."  You rubbed your forehead.   "Jack:  I don't even know where to start."

            "It never bothered me that Gabe liked you.  I would have gone along with it for him.  But Paris was the game-changer.  Still not sure if Gabe planned it that way or not."  Jack laughed softly.  "Though if I want to be really honest, I started noticing you after you broke my nose."

            "I broke it?" Your voice went high. 

            "Gabe snapped it back in place.  Accelerated healing took care of the rest."  He shrugged.  "You were never taken in by the Strike Commander Morrison and all his bullshit.  I'm not saying I'm faking it, but I can't be a paragon of virtue all the time.  You didn't do that shit in Paris for the Strike Commander, you did it for your friend Jack.  I got that message loud and clear.  Especially after your talk with Ainsley."

            "You heard that?"  That devious son of a bitch.  He'd spent the entire trip trying to get you to talk about what you'd said to Ainsley.  And he'd overheard the whole conversation?

            "I was expecting her to try to slip into my room, of course I was still awake."  He laughed.  "So imagine my surprise when you intercepted her and talked her into quitting all while making it sound like it was her idea."

            "I was getting rid of a Petras pawn," you said. 

            "After the firefight, back in the hotel-"  His eyes met yours.  "You weren't teasing your commanding officer.  You were teasing me.  You see me," he said.  "And while I know you don't trust me like you do Gabe, you haven't run away yet."  He grinned, his eyes sparkling in the lowlight.  "And I'm going to be honest, I like watching you fight."

           "I'm terrible," you said, because you very clearly remembered that last night in Paris, your hand on his cheek, his body so close to yours. 

            "Maybe in hand-to-hand, but you're an ambush fighter.  You laid out those cyborgs beautifully."

            You bowed your head, because yeah, you got that.  Watching Jack shoot had been impressive. "God, we're fucked up."

            "Never denied it," Gabriel said.  "So here we are.  That's how it happened.  What happens next, that's up to you."

            "I don't want to ruin things," you said.    

            "So we start small.  Take this weekend.  Try some things out.  No pressure," Jack said. 

            You gave him a look, because Jack was always pushing the envelope.  "You guys are in a committed relationship and I've got baggage the size of a small elephant."

            "Only a small one," Gabriel agreed.  "You fit with us, chica.  All that time alone together and we haven't killed each other?  That night on the mats, if I hadn't gotten so rough...I thought maybe we could have tried then."

            You blinked.  Well, it was good to know that the sexual tension hadn't been your imagination.  "Jack?"

            "You got baggage," Jack said.  "We all do.  Gabriel has a wardrobe with Narnia in it.  My issues are only slightly smaller.  Your point?"

            "Start small.  Take this weekend," you repeated.  "OK."  You nodded.  "OK.  That seems...reasonable."

            Gabriel leaned over, his fingers stroking your cheek.  "You can stop at any time.  Just say the word." 

            "I uh...bathroom first," you said.  "Which way?"

            Jack pointed and you grabbed your clutch and walked in.  You shut the door and looked yourself in the mirror.  The really big full-length mirror-walls and hey you could fit like six people in the shower. 

            You had a lot of little things to do.  Your birth control implant was current.  No worries there.  Your hair was mussed.  You swapped out prostheses, not wanting to have blades popping out in the bedroom.   You took your tanto off.  Then you carefully reapplied your lipstick.  You still looked spooked, but pretty.  It took a couple breaths, but you managed to get yourself looking reasonably calm.  It looked like there were toothbrushes and bathrobes, which was good because you hadn't brought anything besides your purse. 

            You were stalling.  You placed your purse and tanto on the counter and opened the bathroom door.  When you came out, Jack and Gabriel were still lounging on the couch, the television on.  It was some nature program about lions, which was great because you were kind of expecting porn. 

            "Come here," Gabriel murmured. "You want me to rub your back?"

            "I...That'd be nice," you said, because you hadn't let him do that since that one time before Paris.  Because you didn't trust your reactions.

            You perched on the edge of the couch.  Gabriel's hands gently began pressing against your back, working out the knots.  "That feels nice," you said, turning your head to look at Gabriel.

            He kissed you then, hands on your hips, mouth pressed firmly to yours.  His tongue flicked into your mouth.  You opened for him, tasting champagne on his tongue.  He sighed in pleasure.  You squeezed your thighs together, a soft whine in the back of your throat. 

            Gabriel released you, and wiped your lipstick off his mouth with the back of his hand.  "Been wanting to do that all night."  He loosened his bowtie and unbuttoned the top few buttons of his shirt.  He pulled you into his lap.  "You've been here before," he said.  "Nothing to worry about."

            Jack leaned over, his fingers tangling in your hair.  He kissed harder, nipping your lower lip.  "Can I kiss your neck, or is that too much?"

            You nodded and his mouth was on your throat, sucking and licking while your squirmed in Gabriel's lap. 

            "He's good with his mouth, isn't he?" Gabriel asked.  He placed a kiss on your shoulder.  "Do you want to find out how good?"

            Jack exhaled sharply.  He slid to his knees in front of you, a pink blush coloring his cheeks.  "May I?"  He nuzzled your thigh, not moving the hem of your dress. 

            The sight of Jack on his knees made you shiver.  You nodded. 

            "What's that?" Jack asked.  "You have to tell me what you want."

            "I-I-" You stuttered because Gabriel's mouth was on your neck, his hands cupping your breasts.  He squeezed gently.  "I want to feel your mouth on me," you managed to get out.  Gabriel had your knees over his thighs.  He spread his legs to make room for Jack, and open you up to him. 

            Jack hiked your skirt up around your hips.  "Oh, pretty," he said, stroking your black lace panties.  He ran his finger across your crotch, making you jerk.  Laughing, he spread your thighs, and pulled the fabric to the side.  He took a long slow lick along your slit, his stopping to suck on your clit. 

            "Oh God," you moaned. 

            "What's he doing?" Gabriel asked, his tongue flicking the curve of your ear.    

            Jack licked a finger and slowly slid it inside you.  "She's already wet, Gabe."  There was an edge to his voice and he leaned in, his tongue pressing on your clit while he began to finger you. 

            "He's licking my pussy," you whimpered.  "And he's got a finger inside me." 

            "Two," Jack said as he put another in. You could hear it now, his fingers slick with your juices as he         slid them in and out of you.  "You taste so good."  He pulled his fingers out and suddenly his tongue was wiggling inside of you, his fingers rubbing your clit. 

            You were panting now, sitting in Gabriel's lap, legs spread wide while Jack ate you out.  You gripped his hair, grinding against his face.  He laughed softly, the rumble vibrating against your skin.  His fingers curled against your inner walls while his tongue swirled around your clit. 

            You were making little sounds in the back of your throat, hips jerking as you rode his fingers. 

           "That's it," Gabriel said.  He lightly squeezed your breasts, rolling them in his hands.  "Isn't he pretty on his knees?" 

            You nodded, breaths coming in short bursts. 

            "He's getting you ready for me," Gabriel purred in your ear.  His hands rubbed your thighs, making you twitch. 

            "You enjoying yourself?" Jack grinned up at you smugly.  "You want me to keep going?"

            "Please, Jack." You almost didn't recognize your voice. 

            Jack sped up, his fingers hitting your sweet spot while he worked his tongue against you. The friction wound you up, his fingers thicker than your own and filling you.  Your legs tensed and you squirmed as Jack pushed you closer to the edge.  

            "Come for us," Gabriel murmured.  "I want to lick your cum off Jack's lips."

            Jack pushed another finger inside and you arched, slapping both hands over your mouth as you the orgasm hit. 

            "We want to hear you," Gabriel said.  "We're not in the barracks.  You can be as loud as you want."  You couldn't answer, but you moved your hands, soft cries escaping your throat as Jack fingered you through your spasms. 

            "She clamping down on me and she's tight, Gabe," Jack groaned.  He sucked on your clit, while you thrashed, all of it overstimulation now that you'd just come. 

            "Jack, stop!  It's too much!"  You pressed your hands against his head, hips shaking. 

            Jack chuckled, pulling his fingers out.  His eyes locked on yours and he sucked each one clean, his mouth smeared with your juices.  "Just so you know, I like too much," he said.  He stood and leaned over, kissing Gabriel over your shoulders. 

            You looked up, Gabriel's hands gripped Jack's hair as he licked Jack's lips.

            They broke apart breathing heavily. 

            "You do taste good," Gabriel said, leaning over for a quick kiss.  "And now you're all wet for me.  You ready?"

            You eyes flicked to Jack.  "Are you OK with this?"

            "And more," he said.  "Go on Lucky.  He's being so patient when all he wants is to have you ride his cock." 

            You shivered despite Gabriel's heat against your body. 

            "Let's get this dress off you.  I'd hate to ruin it," Gabriel said, unzipping you.  You got off his lap and slid the dress off.  Jack took it from you and draped it over a table.  Then he settled on the back of the sofa. 

            "Very pretty," Jack said as you turned around, still in your gloves, shoes, stockings, and underwear.  Your panties were soaked and you peeled them off, tossing them aside.    

            "Oh hermosa," Gabriel sighed.  He unzipped his fly and pulled a condom out of his jacket pocket.  "Want to help me?"

            You knelt on the couch, eyes widening as he freed his cock.  You already had an idea of the dimensions, but seeing it in the flesh was another thing.  He was long and uncircumcised, but it was the width that you couldn't look away from; you hadn't taken anything that thick before.  You took him in your hand, the skin hot and velvety.  You placed a kiss on the tip, before peeling back the foreskin and swirling your tongue around the head.

            Gabriel groaned, his fingers twining in your hair.  "I meant help putting the condom on, Lucky." 

            "So you want me to stop?"    

            "I'll have your mouth later.  I want you riding me," he said roughly.  He tore open the foil packet and rolled it on.  "Come on."

            You straddled his lap, lining the head up.  Gabriel's hands gripped the cushions.  His gaze stayed on your face, sweat beading on his upper lip. 

            "You teasing me?"

            "No."  Your voice was weak.  Your thighs trembled as you inched down, taking it slow.  "I'm adjusting.  You're big."  You slid down, breathing deeply as he filled you with a delicious ache.  You lowered yourself to the hilt, putting your weight on your knees. 

            Gabriel groaned, head thrown back, arms spread across the couch.  "How the hell are you still so tight?"

            He stretched you almost too much. You leaned forward, burying your face in the crook of his neck.  He was so warm, even through the suit. 

            "Can I move?  Or do you need a moment?" His arms slid down your back and rested around your waist. 

            "Sorry, it's just been a really long time."  There hadn't been anyone since Shin.    He inhaled sharply.  Apparently, he understood exactly what you meant.  You felt his fingers trace your back, and you sighed softly, kissing the side of his jaw.  "Sorry, I'm-"

            "Stop apologizing." 

            You sat back, and nodded at him.  Then you raised your hips, and dropped yourself onto him again, a soft whine escaping your throat.  Gabriel's jaw clenched, but eyes stayed locked on your face. 

            "How's it feel, hermosa?" 

            "Really full."  He rolled his hips upward, and you squeezed your eyes shut, riding him.  "Gabriel," you pled, though you weren't sure what you were asking for.

            "Look at you taking me.  So pretty in my lap."  He unhooked your bra and tossed it onto the ground.  "You fit me so well."  His beard grazed your cheek as he kissed your brow. 

            You wrapped your arms around his neck and starting grinding against him harder. 

            "That's a good girl," he soothed.  "You're taking me straight to the hilt."  He drove up into you, slow deep thrusts that filled you and then left you painfully empty when you raised your hips. 

            "Please-"  Your hips jerked, and you clenched around him, whimpering as you rode his thrusts. 

            Gabriel sucked one of your nipples and then switched to the other, making your toes curl.    "You're so wet, baby.  Going to mess up my pants."  His strokes quickened and you did your best to move with it.  His hands cupped your ass, taking control of the rhythm.  "And I don't fucking care, just keep going."

            You held on, moving your hips with his.

            Gabriel rested his forehead against yours.  His eyes were inky with emotion.  You wanted to look away, but he held you there.  The intensity made you shudder.  "Don't.  I want to see your face when you come for me.  I want to hear it all."  He reached down, one hand stroking your already sensitive clit. 

            "Damnit Gabriel!" 

            "Look how wet you are for me.  You've been mine from the start, haven't you?"  He nipped your neck, and you cried out.  Of course, he was right.  You'd been his since he'd carried you out of that freezing abyss.  You clung to him, panting.  "This is where you belong, Lucky."

            "On the end of your dick?" You tried for flippant, but it only came out as breathless. 

            "If you like," he said, unperturbed by your deflection.  "But I meant, right here with me."  He kept rubbing small circles around your clit.   You jerked backward, and you would have fallen, except for his arm around your waist.   His hips snapped upward, faster and faster.  You clutched his shoulders, thighs shaking as the tension built in your core. 

            "I can't-"

            "You can," he said, fingers speeding up, practically vibrating against your clit.  "That's it.  Take it all, hermosa, hold it as long as you can, and just let it go," he ordered.  It was the tone, when he spoke like that, you didn't argue, you couldn't. 

            "Gabriel," you moaned, as you came, head thrown back, body shaking.  You squeezed your eyes shut, clenching around him.  Gabriel sighed, your name on his lips as he followed you over the edge.

            You clung to him, sweaty, warm, and filled with too much emotion.  You kept your face in the crook of his neck, trying to recover some semblance of composure.  He held you, whispering gently in Spanish.  You took several shuddering breaths, blinking rapidly. It had all been too much. Too much feeling.  Too much confusion.  You weren't use to that.  Even with Shin, you'd kept it light.  No promises.   No open heartfelt declarations.  You suspect he played along only so he wouldn't spook you. 

            "Hey there."  Jack crouched in front of you, bright eyes shining with excitement.  "You OK, Lucky?"

            You nodded weakly.  A twinge of guilt shot through you; you'd forgotten he was there. 

            He leaned in and kissed your forehead.  "That was beautiful."  His fingers traced your jaw.  You kissed them, an apology for ignoring him.    Let's get you up." 

            You winced and climbed off Gabriel.  Gabriel kissed your cheek and you curled up on the couch, eyes closed. 

            "Tired already?" Jack asked. 

            You shook your head.

            "Too much?"

            "Yeah," you said.  "I...Yeah."

            "But you did so well," Jack purred.  "You looked so good riding him."  Jack's compliments were light and playful.  They weren't heavy and meaningful like the words Gabriel had spoken during sex.  Gabriel hadn't said anything wrong.  You just couldn't handle that much so quickly. 

            It took a minute of concentration.  You felt your heartbeat slow.  The pressure in your chest abated.  You could breathe.  You opened your eyes.  Jack held out a bottle of water.  You took it gratefully, still feeling light-headed. 

            "Sorry," you said.  "Baggage."  You downed the water in two gulps. 

            "Stop apologizing," Gabriel said, but there was no bite in his voice.  He sat beside you, pants fastened, shirt unbuttoned.  You were mostly naked, your garter belt still on, but your stockings were starting to fray.  Even though he'd been gentle, you ached from Gabriel's cock. 

            "I think Jack's been neglected," you said, when you trusted yourself to form whole sentences.  "I'm fine.  I just...needed a moment."

            They sat on either side of you, carefully not touching you. 

            "You sure?" Gabriel asked, his hand hovering over your cheek. 

            You kissed his palm.  "Yeah, I'm good."

            "Did I-?"

            "Too much...feeling," you said after a moment.  "I'm...rusty."  You shrugged. 

            "So is rough sex a bad idea?" Jack asked. 

            "The opposite, I think."  You gave a lopsided smile.  "You need a moment with Gabriel?"

            He leaned in and kissed your swollen lips.  "No. What do you want to do?  Do you want us both to take you at the same time?"

            "I...I'll have to work up to that," you said, heat flaring between your legs. 

            "We've got lube and time," Jack chuckled. "You want to choke on Gabe's cock while I fuck you from behind?"

            "Jesus Jack, you have a filthy mouth."

            "Are you complaining?"  Jack removed his jacket, and began to unbutton his shirt.

            You rolled your eyes.  "I don't know why I'm surprised." 

            "What about here?" Gabriel asked, his cock pressing against your ass. 

            "I uh...I haven't."  Wait, how was he hard again so fast? 

            Gabriel growled.  "You've never had a cock in your sweet little ass?"

            "We were working up to it, but I never-"

            "We can take of that for you," Jack said.  "Though I think Gabriel wants to go first." 

            There was an open hunger in Gabriel's eyes as he stroked your face.  "I would love to be the one to show you how good it can feel," he said voice low and strained.  "If you'll let me. We'll work up to it together,"

            "OK," you said, because it was all so overwhelming and when Gabriel looked at you like that, you wanted to do whatever he asked.   "But Jack-"

            "You can just say that you want me.  I don't mind."  Jack smirked at you, shedding his shirt and looking more like a cocky NCO than a military commander.  You openly admired his broad muscled chest, scars and all.  "Like what you see?"

            "You know you're pretty, why the hell are you even asking?"

            "He likes hearing you say it," Gabriel chuckled. 

            "Come on."  Jack pulled you up, by the wrist and you went, legs still wobbly.  "I have our stuff in the master bedroom."  He paused.  "Do you have safe words?"

            You blinked.  "Traffic light system," you said. 

            "Do you have a nonverbal?" He asked.

            "Tapping out.  Jack...what are you planning?"  He opened the door, and you rolled your eyes.  The bedroom was huge, the bed big enough for another six people.  The room was done in tasteful blues and creams, and it didn't surprise you that Jack picked this room. 

            "It just seemed wise to get that out of the way.  We didn't want to spring it on you, right away.  Obviously, you'd be more relaxed after a couple of orgasms and a round of vanilla sex."  He kissed you again, his tongue flicking into your mouth.  When he finally let you up for air, you had to blink away spots. "Get on the bed.  Start on all fours."

            "Should I be calling you "sir" too?" You asked dryly.

            Jack gave you a dark smile.  "Not tonight.  But when that happens, you won't have to ask.  You'll know." 

            Your pussy clenched at that.  Jack had been almost submissive this far.  It shouldn't surprise you that he could switch in and out of those roles just as quickly as he swapped public personas. 

            "Get on the bed, Lucky.  I won't ask again."

            You exhaled slowly.  "Green," you muttered and climbed on the edge of the bed.  You got on your hands and knees, turning your head to watch Jack open up a duffel bag.  Gabriel crouched beside him. 

            You closed your eyes, not thinking about why you were more worried about Gabriel's declarations of affection than Jack's kinks.  Because that would be fucked up.  And while you weren't normal any more, you weren't fucked up, were you?

            Jack climbed onto the bed beside you, naked.  He wasn't as broad as Gabriel, but he was solid muscle.  He did have pretty pink nipples, and his cock was long, circumcised, and not quite as thick as Gabriel's.  He stroked it a few times, smirking at you through half -lidded eyes. 

            "Will throat-fucking you trigger any reactions?" He asked. 

            "I...don't know," you said.  "I don't think so.  I...can choke.  Just don't squeeze my neck." 

            Jack nodded.  "Open up." 

            You parted your lips, and he pushed in slowly.  "That's it.  Been thinking about you sucking me off for weeks."  You forced yourself to relax.  Each stroke went deeper, and soon you were gagging.  He pulled out, patting your cheek.  "Can you take that?  Or is too much?"

            Your eyes watered.  "I can do it for a little while." 

            "Tap when it becomes too much," he said and began thrusting and you bobbed your head at the same slow rhythm, licking the underside of the shaft.  "That's it."  He moaned jerking his hips. 

            Something cold pressed against your ass and you stiffened. 

            "Relax," Gabriel said.  "It'll be easier."

            You shuddered and felt one of his thick fingers, coated in lube, prod open your anus. 

            Jack gripped your hair.  "Look at me.  That's it, baby."

            You whined as Gabriel added another finger, your back passage burning. 

            Jack pulled out, his dick slick and hard.  "How's it feel?"

            "Stretched," you grunted. 

            "Not yet, but you will be," Jack grinned.  He reached over and grabbed a condom off the night stand. 

            Gabriel's fingers pulled out and you relaxed.

            "Spread your cheeks," Jack said.   You had to reposition yourself, ass in the air, face against the mattress, as you spread yourself for Gabriel.  More cool viscous gel dribbled into your hole.  Then something firm, solid, and far thicker than a finger pushed inside you.  You gasped, eyes wide as Gabriel pushed it past your tight ring of muscle.  "That's it, stay open." 

            You held on, whimpering into the mattress.  You knew what it was now.  You'd done this much before.  Gabriel had just put a plug inside you. 

            "Oh hermosa, you took it so well.  But you're going to have more trouble with my cock."  He bit your thigh and you buried your face in the mattress.  You felt Jack's hands on your wrists.

            "Hold still."  He placed a leather cuff on each wrist and when you wiggled them, you found you had about four inches of give.  Your pussy clenched, sensitized by the toy in your ass. 

            "Roll over," Jack said.    

            You rolled onto your back, the plug shifting.  It kept you stretched and you bit your lip, trying to keep your breathing steady.

            "Color?"

            "Green," you said automatically.  You couldn't see the plug, but you felt it, the pressure growing more insistent the longer you lay there. 

            Your hands were trapped under your body. 

            Jack sighed, stroking your stomach.  "You look so pretty like this.  Maybe next time I'll put you in a collar and gag."

            "Figures you'd be into that kind of thing," you muttered.

            "And you're not?" Jack asked, his fingers slipping lower.  "Because your cunt is soaked." He slid a finger in and you bit back a moan.  The plug made everything feel extra snug.  "Listen to that."  He pumped his finger in and out of your slick hole, the obscene slurping echoing the bedroom.  "Such a dirty little slut."  He pulled his finger out and pressed it against your lips.  "Lick it clean."

            You swirled your tongue around his finger, tasting your tang.  Jack was a bit of a shit, wasn't he?  Your expression must have been a little too telling, because Gabriel laughed. 

            "I still haven't punished you for disobeying me in Paris," Jack said.  He pushed your legs up, almost bending you in half.  Then he smacked your ass with the flat of his hand.  A flash of pain melted into pleasure as your pussy twitched, the plug shifting inside you. 

            "Damnit Jack," you panted. 

            "That's not an apology," Jack said and brought his hand down again at a different angle.  You whined, the plug jolting inside you again from this strike.  "You were my subordinate.  I should have done this back then and then fucked you till you were begging for forgiveness."  Your treacherous pussy was sopping wet now and you bit your lip.  He gave you another measured slap in a different spot and your leg jerked. 

            Jack caught it, laughing.  "Were you trying to kick me?"

            "No," you panted.  "But you would have deserved it."

            "It's like you want me to punish you," Jack said, dropping your leg.  He crawled on top of you.  "What am I going to do with you, Lucky?"

            "You talk too much." 

            Jack narrowed his eyes. "Keep digging."

            You blew out a frustrated breath.  "You want me to be sorry for saving you?" 

            Jack pushed his hair out his eyes.  He studied your face.  "No, I want you to be sorry for being stubborn."

            You glared at him.  "I did a good job and that's what matters." 

            "So are you telling me you deserve a reward?"  Jack asked, rolling your nipples between his fingers. 

            "I-"

            Jack smiled knowingly at you.  "You'll get both then.  Because even if you were a naughty girl, you did do a good job.  And you looked cute while doing it."  He parted your thighs, balancing your knees over his shoulders. You saw him working the condom on and then he placed his head against your entrance.  You stiffened as he pushed in with one smooth thrust.  The plug bobbed inside you and you gritted you teeth, gasping as Jack hit your cervix. 

            "That plug makes you even tighter.  And-" he ground against you and you bucked your hips.  "-I've bottomed out."  He gave another thrust and you whimpered.  "Not so defiant now, are you?"  Jack rolled his hips and you squeezed your eyes shut, unable to muffle your cries.  "Oh, you sound so needy."  He pushed against you, his hips driving against your ass.  The angle made it feel like he was pounding the plug deeper into you. 

            You thrashed underneath him, you breathing growing more and more ragged. 

           "You're making the cutest face," he leaned in gripping your chin and kissed you hard.  "What's the matter, Lucky?  Can't take it?"

            "Fuck you, Jack," you hissed and clenched around his cock.

            "That's precisely what I'm doing," he growled. 

            "You're such a bastard."  The frustration of being tied up drove you to needle him.  That, and he looked good angry, muscles tensing, blush spreading across his chest.  His face was fierce, teeth bared like he was about to tear you apart.   

            He kept his hold on your chin.  "Keep pushing baby, see where it gets you."

            "Are you just going to play stupid power games or are you going to fuck me?"

            Jack laughed darkly and shifted his angle of thrust.  The world went white and you threw your head back barely containing a moan.  "Good enough for you?" 

            "Not even close," you said, breathing hard.

            Jack sunk his teeth into your shoulder.  It was fire and shock at first, but the heat radiated outward, making you groan. 

            "I don't know what they taught you in boyscouts.  All we're missing is a speech about unity and giving it your all.  Add a vibrator and maybe I'll get off."   You ran your mouth, adrenaline outpacing good sense. 

            "You think you can outlast me?"  Each word was punctuated by a hard stroke. "I'm a super soldier. I can go for hours.  Keep it up and I'll break you."  His hand rested on your throat and you froze. 

            "Yellow," you said, eyes darting down to his hand. 

            He stroked your neck, and leaned in and kissed your throat very softly.  "Stop pushing me," he said, voice dropping an octave.  "You're making it hard for me to think straight.  I'm too worked up and too dominant to keep playing nice.  Dial it back or I'll have to go cool myself down."

            "Oh," you said, recognizing his actual limit.  "I'm sorry, sir."

            Jack gave you a rueful look.  "Was that so hard?  No wait, don't answer that."  He brushed his blonde hair out of his face and kissed the spot between your ear and neck.  "Give me a reason not to punish you."  It was almost a plea.  You'd almost pushed him too far.  The thought aroused you more than it should have.  OK, you were fucked up.   

            "Please, sir.  Between the plug and your cock, I'm on edge.  Before tonight, I haven't had sex for over a year and now you're overwhelming me.   I'm trying, sir, but it's almost too much."

            Jack's face went blank.  "So you haven't had sex since...before coming to Switzerland?" 

            "Yes, sir." 
            A slow smile spread across his face, like he just now realized you hadn't been fucking other guys.   "I see.  You want me to go easier on you, baby?"

            "Yes sir," you whined as he gave a quick jerk of his hips.  "Please sir."

            "You beg so prettily," he sighed and leaned in to kiss you.  You opened your mouth sucking on his bottom lip while slipped his tongue inside.  He began to move his hips and you moaned into his mouth. Breaking the kiss, Jack began to drive harder into you.

            "Fuck!  That hurts, sir."  You closed your eyes, each thrust hitting your cervix too hard.  "Please-"

            Jack shifted his hips and then he was hitting your g-spot and you shuddered "Better?"

            "Yes sir, thank you sir," you exhaled softly, the tension starting to build again.

            "Good girl," he groaned and snapped his hips forward. 

            You arched your back as he slammed into you.  A strangled cry escaped your throat, and he didn't slow down.  You rode it out, panting.  You shouldn't have been this hot, bound and trapped against Jack's body at his questionable mercy, both your ass and pussy filled. 

            "You're going to feel so good between us," Jack groaned.  "You think this is intense?  Wait till Gabe starts plowing your ass.  It's going to make that sweet little pussy even tighter than now.  We're both going to fuck you senseless.  I don't know if you're going to be able to handle that.  All I know is I can't wait to find out." 

           You thrashed under him, and he smiled down at you placing two fingers on your clit.  "Scream for me." 

            He rubbed your clit, his cock pounding against your sensitive walls.  You wailed as he fucked you through the orgasm.  His fingers still working you.  You clenched, your pussy spasming around his thickness. 

            "Jack, please-" you sobbed as he kept stroking your abused nub.  "I can't- too much."

            "I told you, Lucky.  I like too much," he chuckled and just kept going.   

 


 

            You lay boneless on the bed, your thighs soaked, your ass and pussy aching.  The plug was still inside you.  Jack untied you, gently massaging your stiff wrists.  You stared at him blearily.

            "Drink," Gabriel put a water bottle to your mouth and you took it, throat raw.  He stroked your neck. "I'll get you an emitter.  Didn't think you'd need one on the first night."

            You sighed.  "I can't move and I can't feel my legs."

            Jack didn't look the least bit sorry.  "You wanted to do things the hard way."  He paused.  "You didn't forget your safe word, did you?"    

            "Fuck you, Jack," you said, sleepily.

            "I did and will do it again in a heartbeat," he said, sounding unbearably smug. 

            You closed your eyes. Gabriel pulled you against him.  He was still hard.

            "Sorry, I'm spent."  The heat of his body felt good. 

            "I know," he said.  "I just want to hold you."

            "Oh."

            Jack laid on is side next to you.  "I can't think of anyone beside Gabriel who's pushed me that far so quickly."  He stroked your cheek.  "You did it so well though.  It's like you were made to take me."  He kissed your nose, delight written all over his face. 

            "I'm going to poison your tea," you told him. 

            "And someone obviously hasn't learned her lesson," Jack chuckled.   He combed his fingers through your hair.  "I'm so glad you came here tonight."  He kissed your forehead, taking your gloved hands in his.  He was so giddy.  Damn SEP endurance.  There was a high chance you wouldn't survive this.  "Thank you."  You shouldn't be surprised that he was so cuddly after fucking you senseless.  You probably would have liked it more if you weren't so tired. 

            Gabriel spooned you.  Jack nuzzled your neck. 

            "Go to sleep.  We'll be right here when you wake up."  Gabriel rubbed your back and you sighed, letting yourself drift off into a well-deserved rest.

 


 

            The bed shifted and you awoke, eyes firmly shut.  The sound patterns were wrong.   Your surroundings didn't feel right either.  You didn't jump.  You heard the terribly familiar hum of a biotic emitter.  You slowly opened one eye halfway, surveying the room around you. 

            Fancy hotel room.  Massive bed.  A naked Gabriel bending a just as naked Jack over the bed, fingers in his mouth, while he slowly ground his hips against him.  

            You took in the sight of them, Jack flushed a pretty pink color, Gabriel smirking while he fisted Jack's cock.  Jack's hair was disheveled, wet with sweat.  He panted, eyes half closed.  You guessed Gabriel had been teasing him for awhile. 

            The thought made you wet.  Your body ached, and you winced, realizing you still had the plug in.  

            Jack moaned quietly around Gabriel's fingers. 

            "You got to be quiet, Jack, or you'll wake her up," Gabriel said softly, releasing Jack's cock.  "And then I'll have to punish you." 

            Jack squirmed, eyes squeezed shut as he tried to hold it in.  You shifted a little to get a better view, pretending to twitch in your sleep.

            Jack froze.     

            You went limp, sighing softly. 

            Gabriel chuckled and you had to stifle a groan as you watched him push inside Jack.  Jack gripped the sheets, knuckles white, and he bit his lower lip, face screwed up in concentration.  Gabriel's fingers gripped the back of Jack's neck and he leaned forward, kissing the younger man. 

            Your mouth was dry.   Probably because all the moisture went elsewhere. 

            Gabriel very slowly rocked his hips.  Jack sighed softly, eyes still squeezed shut. 

            "You can stop pretending, Lucky," Gabriel said. 

            Jack's eyes flew open and his gaze met yours.  Excitement shone in his eyes.    

            You didn't need to ask how Gabriel knew.  He'd seen you sleeping enough times in the office to have picked up the pattern.  You propped yourself up with a pillow.  "Well, I didn't want to interrupt." 

            Gabriel smiled, giving Jack long languid strokes.  "We would have invited you, but you were worn out.  Figured we'd give you a break."  He paused. "And we weren't sure if you wanted to be awakened...playfully."

            Jack moaned as Gabriel just kept up his slow pace. 

            "Depends what you had in mind," you said, because you now knew better than to give Jack carte blanche on anything.  

            "Nothing heavy," Gabriel said.  "One of us sucking on your nipples or tongue-fucking your sweet pussy." 

            You swallowed.  "I don't think that would be a problem." 

            "Good."  Gabriel smiled lazily at you.  "How you feeling?"

            "A little sore." 

            "There's water on the headboard.  Why don't you get a snack, get cleaned up, and come back here?   Jack's not going anywhere any time soon."  You were pretty sure Gabriel didn't actually want you to go do all those things just yet.  But he'd said it to frustrate Jack.

            "Damnit Gabe."  Jack rested his head on the bed. 

           You took the water, sipping it.  "Can I just watch?"  You tried not to sound too eager. 

            Gabriel gripped Jack's hair and gave a hard deep thrust.  "If you like," he said.   He seemed pleased, using more force to keep Jack pinned to the bed.  "Why don't you touch yourself?"  His face was relaxed, but you could see the excitement in his eyes. 

            You looked down at your gloves. 

            "You can take them off," Gabriel said, his voice gentle.  "They're nothing to be ashamed of." He kissed the nape of Jack's neck, eyes on you.  "Or you can leave them on.  Whatever you're most comfortable with." 

            They were going to get ruined if you weren't careful this weekend.  You peeled them off and set them on the headboard.  You held your left fist in your right hand, feeling more naked than before. 

            You sat legs apart, knees bent, feet flat on the bed, Jack watching you with undisguised lust, Gabriel looking on with almost predatory satisfaction. 

            "Just stroke yourself," Gabriel said.  "Go slow."  He pulled back on Jack's hair, forcing him to watch as you started rubbing slow circles around your clit with your right hand.  You placed your left on the bed for stability, slipping your metal fingers under the pillow.     

            Jack sighed, smiling up at you, his eyes hazy.  "You're so beautiful spread open like that." 

            Gabriel matched your rhythm, speeding up when you did, Jack gasping as the strength behind his thrusts.  

            "Why don't you play with your tits too?" Gabriel asked, his voice breathy.

            You sighed, knowing you'd have to expose your prostheses.  You began to rub yourself with your left hand, metal fingers now visible.  Your right hand went up to your breasts, rolling them.  You exhaled slowly, noting that while bruises had formed on your thighs and hips, they were already starting to fade. 

            "So was it Jack that woke you?" Gabriel asked, eyes bright.

            "It was too quiet," you said after a moment. 

            "Ah."  Gabriel stopped moving.  He slapped Jack's ass, pushing him toward you. 

            Jack crawled across the bed, eyes on your face.   You stopped moving, taking in the sight of all that hard muscle slinking cautiously toward you.  He smiled up at you knowingly, roles shifted again.  Slipping between your legs, he paused to kiss your scarred calf, shreds of stocking clinging to it.  He kissed his way up, tongue flicking out, till his head was against your stomach.   

            Jack tugged on your left wrist and brought your hand up to his lips.  He started at the tips of your metal fingers, tongue curling around the prostheses.  He sucked, and for a moment you thought you could feel the heat of him pulsing along your missing nerves.  Then he pulled them out and moved up, his lips stopping on what flesh was left of your fingers.  He kissed each knuckle, cradling your maimed hand in his. 

            "Please don't hide," he said. 

            You rubbed your forehead with your right hand, too much emotion rising in your chest and choking out the air.  He rose, pulling you tightly against him, tucking your head under his chin.  "Do you need a moment?" he asked.

            You let out a shuddering breath.  "Just how many masks do you wear, Jack?" 

            "As many as I need," he said, brushing your hair out of your face. 

            The bed dipped as Gabriel sat beside you, his warm hands rubbing your back.  "Too much?"

            "I feel like I'm ruining the mood," you muttered. 

            "I owe you some aftercare," Jack said.  "That's all." 

            "He worked you over pretty good," Gabriel said. 

            That they understood your predilection for balancing the scales, spoke volumes about how fucked up all of you were.   Owing debts was a vulnerability you couldn't afford. 

            "I'm OK," you said after a moment.  "I'd much rather go back to watching you two." You patted Jack's cheek with your metal fingers.  He kissed them again. 

           "If that's what you want," Gabriel slid around you and grabbed Jack around the waist, kissing him with bruising force.  Both men were hard, erections bobbing.  Jack moaned into Gabriel's mouth. 

            You squeezed your legs together.  The throbbing in your ass was getting more intense. 

            Gabriel pushed Jack onto all fours.  Jack crawled forward, resting his head on your lap. 

            "Pass the lube," Gabriel said. 

            You found a tube on the headboard, and handed it him, watching as he spread Jack's cheeks, squeezing them, and then drizzled it inside.  Gabriel poured some on his hands and worked it over his thick cock. 

            "It'll be so good when he does this for you," Jack said, rubbing his cheek on your thigh.  "He fills you up so full and you don't know where you end he begins."

            Your breath hitched. 

            Gabriel put the lube aside and looked you straight in the eye.  Then he began to ease himself into Jack, his pupils wide, jaw clenched.  "Spread your legs.  Let him kiss your pussy." 

            Jack moaned against your lower lips, the vibrations making your pulse speed up. 

            "Damnit Gabe, every time, I feel so stuffed," Jack panted.  He began to lap at your slit. 

            "You want to let her see me fuck you open?"

            "Please," Jack sighed.  He looked up at you.  "It's so good, Lucky.  Promise."

            He wasn't trying to get you off; it was just sweet teasing.  You liked watching his pink tongue flick against you.  He licked in time with Gabriel's slow thrusts, pausing to let you both know how much he liked it. 

            You stroked his hair and he rubbed against you like a cat.  Fucking Jack and his fucking psychological chameleon tendencies. 

            Gabriel rolled his hips and Jack let out a low keening sound.  "Please Gabriel."

            Gabriel leaned over and kissed you.  "Should I edge him for you?  Or do you want to see how pretty he is when he comes?"

            "Please," Jack begged, breaths coming in short staccato bursts. 

            You had vague recollections of Jack finally losing control and pounding you while he came, but by then you were a little too dazed to appreciate it.  

            "I want to watch him.  But you don't have to rush."

            Jack groaned.    

            Gabriel smiled and pulled Jack upright, his hands gripping Jack's hips.  They were both on their knees.  Jack's cock was swollen and red. 

            "Do you want to help?"  Gabriel asked. 

            You leaned forward, taking Jack in your hand.  You licked the tip, watching as his eyes rolled back.  You didn't deep throat it, especially since Gabriel was now pushing Jack hard, but you jerked and sucked, and watching Jack pant and moan, sweat dripping down his skin. 

            You sped up, moving in time with Gabriel's thrusts.  Jack began to keen and Gabriel sunk his teeth into Jack's shoulder.  You felt his cock twitch, and then he came, spurting thick salty fluid down your throat.  There was more than you expected, but you swallowed, even as you heard Gabriel curse, his hips moving faster as he finished.  

            You released Jack's cock, giving the head a little kiss. 

            Jack dropped onto all fours, breathing heavy.  It was Gabriel that leaned over, his fingers tangling in your hair while he forced his tongue in your mouth. 

            "She drank you down, Jack," Gabriel purred.   He petted the back of Jack's neck.  "How'd you like having him in the middle?  Next time we can both fuck him." 

            You found you rather liked that idea. 

            Jack grinned up at you.  He drew in a couple deep breaths, his face still flushed.  "Now it's your turn."

           

 


 

           

            Gabriel helped you remove the plug.  It was such a relief to have it out.  You winced as he poured more cool lube inside you.  He used his fingers, stretching you again and you closed your eyes, forcing yourself to breathe slowly. 

            "I think you're ready," Gabriel said his voice thick with excitement.  "Do you want to try?"  He nipped your ear. 

            "How are we doing this?"

            "Sit on my lap, facing away.  I won't move.  You can set the pace." 

            Gabriel sat on the edge of bed, legs spread.  His thick cock pressed against your puckered hole and he spread your cheeks, prodding gently. 

            You began to lower yourself, inch by burning inch.  You were pretty sure it wasn't going to work.  Gabriel felt much bigger than the plug.  Even with the lube, it burned and the stretch was almost too intense to be pleasurable.   It got easier past the halfway point.  He'd slicked you up well enough that you managed to sit on his lap, his cock all the way inside your ass. 

            He wrapped his arms around you, his hard chest pressed against your back.  Gabriel ran insanely warm but it was comforting as you sat there, trying to adjust to his girth. 

            "You feel so good," Gabriel sighed, his beard brushing against the skin of your neck. 

            You closed your eyes, trying to focus on anything but how much Gabriel filled you.  If he moved you weren't sure you'd be able to breathe. 

            "Jack."  Gabriel said, and you opened your eyes to see Jack sinking down to his knees.  He licked your slit and you felt Gabriel's cock twitch inside you.  Your breathing grew shallow. 

            "Your pussy's soaking wet," Jack said, rubbing his face against your thigh.  "Do you want me to get you off before I fill you up?" 

            "Please," you whispered. 

            "You OK?"

            "It feels like he's splitting me in half."

            A low rumble vibrated along your back.  Gabriel kissed your shoulder.  "Don't want me to move yet?"

            "You're going to wreck me if you do."

            Gabriel drew in a sharp breath.  His thighs tensed and you stiffened. "If you keep talking like that, I might just do that." 

            Jack smiled and slid a finger inside your pussy.  "Are we going to be able to get my cock inside you now?  You just get tighter after you come.  It makes me want to fuck you for hours."  He stroked your clit gently.  It didn't take very long for Jack to coax an orgasm out of you, intensified by the fact Gabriel's cock pulsed hot inside you.    

            "I'm going to stand up.  Just hold still."        

            You shrieked as Gabriel rose, Jack moving with him.  He lifted you with ease, your knees splayed over his elbows.  The sensation of floating with Gabriel's cock inside you had you gasping. 

            Jack was already wearing a condom. He placed the head against your pussy lips and began to push.  You squirmed against Gabriel's body, trapped between them.  Gabriel held your legs up, giving Jack better access. 

            "Oh, baby, look at you," Jack groaned, resting his forehead against yours.  "You're clenching so tightly around me.  I can feel Gabe stretching you out.  I can only imagine how it feels for you."  He shivered.  "Relax, I'm almost in." 

            The pressure verged on too much.  But you clung to Jack, whining as he worked himself in to the hilt. 

            Gabriel groaned.  "Damnit Jack."  He nipped your neck.  "I can feel you inside her."

            "If it's Jack's fault, why are you biting me?"  The words came out strangled. 

            "Can't reach Jack," Gabriel said, sounding amused.  "Something's in the way."

            "You're the worst."  Laughing made you wiggle in an inconvenient way, but Gabriel didn't seem to mind at all.  Panting you rested your head against Jack's collarbone, your holes so full of them. 

            "Jack, you start."  Gabriel's voice was rough.  He was getting impatient.    

            Jack began to shift, and you could feel every twitch and pulse of his cock as he dragged it out of you.  Then he pushed back inside and you were too full to breathe.  You dug your nails into his shoulders, and he hissed. 

            "Gotta be careful of your strength," Gabriel said in your ear.  "Or we'll have to tie you up." 

            "Sorry," you gasped, kissing Jack's shoulder. 

            "It's OK," Jack said.  "I bruised you up pretty good earlier."  He rocked his hips and you tried to arch away, only there was nowhere to go.  Gabriel had you firmly locked in place.  Curled between them, you could only tense and try to control your breathing.  You couldn't even silence your moans.  There was no space to hide.  You were open to them and it was too late to do anything about it.

            Nerves taut, you reflexively pushed yourself back against Gabriel, only driving yourself deeper onto his cock.  He groaned, burying his face in your hair.

            "You're driving me crazy."  He kissed the back of your neck.  "Can't wait till you're ready for me to fuck you, hermosa.  We'll take good care of you." 

            Jack continued with his slow shallow strokes, your thighs trembling against Gabriel's arms.  You were gasping now, shaking with each thrust.  Jack pushed all the way back inside and your head lolled back, pressed against Gabriel's shoulder.  You were just getting used to it, when Gabriel rolled his hips and you jerked forward into Jack. 

            Jack caught you against him, his smile cocksure.  "I thought you were tough, Lucky.  Is this all it takes to undo you?  If we'd known that, we would have held you down and fucked you like this a long time ago."

            Gabriel began to thrust at a slow rhythm, and you bit Jack's shoulder, unable to voice an appropriately cutting comeback.

            "Cute," Jack murmured.  "Careful with those teeth.  I'll bite back.  Or I'll just fuck you harder."  He began to move with Gabriel, alternating strokes.  

            "Damnit, Jack," you clung to him with your right arm.  You kept your left at your side, fingers splayed with painful tension.  You didn't trust your control. 

            The pressure didn't ease, but you were getting used to it.  Through the friction and the fullness you could swear you felt your blood pulsing in time with theirs.  Jack had been right, you were losing sense of where you ended and they began.  It was just one all-consuming feedback loop.  You cursed, sweat trickling down your face.  Gabriel burned hot at your back, and his cock filling you, each stroke feeling like you were at your limit.  Jack with his filthy mouth kept teasing you, while he kept the rhythm: Jack. Gabriel.  Jack.  Gabriel.  You were never empty and the pressure kept climbing, each of them pushing you higher and higher.    

            There was no talking now, just the sound of them slipping in and out of you, their strained gasps and heavy breathing.  Your breaths came in short hiccups, almost like sobs.  Jack kissed your neck and then his fingers moved down to circle your clit.  They moved faster and it didn't matter if you could take it or not, you were drawn too tightly between them, the pressure winding tighter and tighter till it hit the breaking point and you shattered.  The shockwaves rippled outward, dragging Gabriel and Jack deeper inside you.   

            Your face twisted with desperation, eyes fluttering, jaw taut and aching.  You let out a strangled wail.  Your voice broke in your throat and Jack held you to his chest, Gabriel pressed tightly against your back.  You felt Jack come first, deep inside you while he moaned into Gabriel's mouth.  Gabriel's hips stuttered, short hard thrusts that had you sinking your teeth into Jack's shoulder, but you felt him come too, his fingers digging into your thighs, his cock buried inside you. 

            You dangled there, unsure if you were breathing or just thinking about it.  Jack lifted you off Gabriel and laid you on the bed.  When you'd opened your eyes, Gabriel was kissing your stomach and Jack curved around your side, not touching you. 

            "You OK?"  Jack asked.

            You nodded, because you weren't sure you could form words. 

            "That was exquisite."  Gabriel kissed you.  "Thank you, corazon."

            "Intense," you agreed, your voice raspy. 

            "You need another nap?" Jack laughed.

            "Some of us aren't nymphomaniac super soldiers," you muttered, already drifting. 

            You heard Gabriel laugh and felt his warmth encompass you. 

 


 

            For all their talk, when you woke up, they were both out.  Gabriel had thrown an arm around your waist and Jack was snuggled up against his back.  You winced, noting that they'd left the biotic emitter running for you.  You very carefully slid out from under Gabriel's arm and stumbled to your feet. 

            Jack snored lightly.  It was actually kind of endearing.  The lines between Gabriel's brow softened.  They both looked younger when asleep, their worries temporarily forgotten.  Quietly, because you'd been paying attention when Genji gave stealth lessons, you crept out of the room.  The master bedroom had an adjoining bathroom, but running the water would probably wake them up. 

            You made it to the guest bathroom, limping.  It was a good thing they were asleep.  You did not need to hear about it from Jack. 

            You grabbed a towel from the basket walked into the marble shower.  Frosted glass panels set the boundaries and there were four adjustable heads and plenty of space.  It was really too big for one person, but you turned on the water, reached for the soap, and then sat down. 

            Closing your eyes, you leaned against the wall, legs splayed.  You began cleaning yourself up and taking an account of the damage.  There were bruises all on your arms, thighs, and hips.  You had bite marks and hickeys all over.   You were sore, but less than you expected.  The hot water felt good, and you refused to feel guilty right then.  The dull ache between your thighs wasn't too bad and you touched yourself to check for damage.  If there'd been blood or tearing the emitter had healed you up.  You didn't think so, they had both been very careful with you. 

             You weren't going to think about "what it all meant."  You just needed to scrub the sweat off. 

            One of the panels shifted and your head snapped up. 

            Gabriel stood nude in the entryway, his face neutral as he took in the sight of you, curled up on the shower floor.  Your eyes traveled up his legs, the man had amazing thighs, his cock was flaccid, and his muscled torso was lightly furred with dark curls.  You admired his abs and then the planes of his chest, he had great shoulders and-  His face was still very handsome, even when he was frowning.    

            "This is a lot less pathetic than it looks," you said. "It's more comfortable than standing right now.  That's all."  

            He didn't move. 

            You held up the shower gel and washcloth.  "I was so sticky and gross, I needed to get cleaned up." 

            Gabriel relaxed slightly and walked in, shutting the door behind him.  He crouched down in front of you and kissed you hard. 

            "Hey," you said, when he released you. 

            "Wondered where you went," he said gruffly. 

            "Thought I snuck out?"

            He combed his fingers through your wet hair.  "It crossed my mind."

            "I'm too tired to panic.  It'll come, don't worry," you assured him. 

            Gabriel chuckled.  "Then I guess I'll just have to keep fucking you till you're too exhausted to run."  His cock twitched and you sighed.

            "Are you guys always like this? Is this an SEP thing?"

            "Some of it," Gabriel said.  "The stamina comes from SEP, sure.  But it's mostly that we have a free weekend and a pretty lady to impress." 

            "Who?  I'll cut her," you said with a grin. 

            Gabriel didn't answer, he just traced his fingers along your legs.  Your scarred leg would probably always look patchwork, unless you could afford the gene-modded custom-grown grafts.  Honestly, your leg didn't bother you.  You'd earned those scars and it was functional.  Your fingers... you were still adapting.  The prostheses were useful and you maintained them religiously.  But you didn't like the look of them on your hands.  The sight of metal on flesh was too jarring.  You did not want to be a cyborg in the making.  They still didn't feel quite right either.  They would probably never feel like your fingers, just tools attached to your hand.   You didn't complain though.  They were good prostheses and it seemed minor compared to Genji's condition. 

            "Does it hurt?" Gabriel asked, still staring at your leg.  You'd kept it covered, if only so people wouldn't ask uncomfortable questions.  There'd never been an occasion to show it to Gabriel after the bandages came off. 

            "No."  You kissed his cheek. "You want me to wash your back?"

            Gabriel laughed softly at that.  "From the floor?"

            "Maybe," you said. 

            "Maybe after I've fucked you against the wall," he said.  "I like the acoustics in here.  It'd be hot." 

            Your eyes widened.  "Seriously?"

            "I won't if you don't want me to," he said.  "I'll warn you, I'm feeling a little rough, Lucky.  I was holding back earlier, because Jack couldn't." 

            "I noticed," you said, shaking your head.  You leaned back against the wall, legs flat on the ground.  "The floor is really uncomfortable.  I doubt the wall will be better."

            Gabriel tilted his head back, eyes closed.  Rivulets ran down his chest, and you admired the tone of his body.  He was totally doing this on purpose.  You flicked soap onto him. 

            "Really?" He opened one eye. 

            "Rinse off with me, and let's go somewhere less dangerous."  You could just imagine slipping, falling, and having to get medical treatment while horny. Explaining how it happened while horny and frustrated would be the best part. 

            Gabriel pulled you to your feet and took the washcloth out of your hand.  He spun you around and began scrubbing your back. 

            "I really want to use the hot tub at some point," you said.  "For relaxing, not sex," you clarified, and Gabriel pressed against you, already hard again.

           "We can do both," Gabriel said and began to clean himself off.  "How do you want it, Lucky?  You're going to get rug burn if I fuck you on the floor.  Maybe bent over the couch?  Laid out on the table?" 

            "What do you have against beds?" You took the washcloth out of his hands and lathered it up.  You made a twirly motion with your fingers and he turned around obligingly. 

            "You're one to talk.  I just like the idea of having you in every room of this place at least once.  Preferably twice," he said as you scrubbed his back, your fingers tracing the scars along his back.  You recognized burns, bullet wounds, and several slash marks.  Some of them you'd have to guess at.  You kissed the area between his shoulder blades and then squeezed his ass.  It was so round and firm, you couldn't resist.   

            "Keep that up, and I'll have you against the wall now." 

            You laughed turned the water off.   "All right, all right."  You began to dry off, but Gabriel grabbed your wrist and pulled you out of the bathroom.  He practically threw you onto the couch.  You landed on your back, towel still in hand. 

            "You'll want to get rid of that," he growled. 

            You draped it over your front.  "But I'm getting cold," you said grinning up at him. 

            He stalked over to you and tore the towel away.  You were about to laugh, when he dropped to his knees and slid his tongue along your slit. 

            "Gabriel!"  You hissed. 

            "Be quiet or you'll wake, Jack.  And then we'll both fuck you stupid," Gabriel growled.  Then he buried his face in your pussy, his beard scratching the sensitive skin while his tongue pressed against your clit. 

            You sighed softly as his hands gripped your thighs, holding them apart.  You slid your fingers through his wet hair, tugging lightly. 

            He groaned, sliding two fingers inside you.  "You're always so wet for me."

            "You did just drag me out of the shower." 

            "So you like being manhandled?" 

            "I think it's more the who than the what."  You stroked his face and he paused to kiss your palm.  Gabriel sucked on your clit, twisting his fingers inside you.  You splayed out on the couch and sighed as Gabriel pulled his fingers out.  He sucked them clean and stood over you. 

            "Turn over."  You obeyed, putting your weight on your knees and resting your arms on the top of the couch cushions, ass in the air.  You heard Gabriel walk away and turned your head to see him grabbing a condom off the table. 

            "It's uh...safe.  You don't have-"

            Gabriel held his hand up.  "Don't tempt me, Lucky."  He paused.  "That's a discussion we'll have after we talk about things."

            You shifted uneasily. 

            Gabriel narrowed his eyes.  "You trust me?"

            "Yeah."  You rubbed the back of your neck.  "I uh...yeah."

            "Jack and I are both clean, if that's what you're concerned about." 

            "No."  It was the reminder of other things that had you squirrelly. 

            Gabriel moved, and suddenly you were pinned against the couch, his cock pressed against your thigh.  "I can see you thinking too much, Lucky.  Going to change that."  His mouth slid down your neck and your heart sped up. 

            You felt him press his head against your pussy lips and then he pushed in hard.  You fell forward against the top of the couch, gripping the back with both hands.  He filled you too quickly and you let out a choked moan.  You didn't have time to brace yourself because he was already rapidly pounding you into the cushions.  His girth almost too much.   

            "Gabriel!"  You clawed at the couch. 

            "Scream my name all you want," he growled.  "But I'm not going to stop unless you're using your safe word."

 


 

            You moaned as Jack tilted your chin up, your body limp, Gabriel still pinning you against the couch. 

            "You really have Gabe worked up."  Jack kissed you hungrily.  "You remember your safe word?" 

            You nodded, throat raw from begging.   Gabriel had slowed down, his hips moving at a leisurely pace.  It still felt like his cock was hollowing you out. 

            "You're taking him so well," Jack said.  "Think you can fit one more?"

 


 

            You sank into the hot tub, sighing as the hot water soothed your aches.  Jack climbed in beside you, draping one arm around your shoulder.

            "You can go to sleep if you like.  I won't let you drown."

            "Mmm," you sighed.  "Hungry."

            "Of course you are," Jack said.  "I'll order room service.  What do you want?"

            "Cake," you said.

            "Of course you do," Gabriel said.  "Make sure you get her some real food."

            "Steak," you agreed.

            "She's won't be up long enough to eat," Jack flicked your ear. 

            "Awake," you said, sliding neck deep into the water. 

            Gabriel leaned over to kiss you, and you laughed and pushed him away.

            "Ache." 

            "Is there a reason you're rhyming?" Gabriel sighed.

            "Take a break," you hummed and waited for Jack to order food. 

            "Good job, Gabe."  Jack patted your head.  "Looks like you really did fuck her senseless."

            "Mistake," you said, and dunked him under the water. 

Chapter Text

            True to his word, Gabriel didn't give you time to think.  The entire weekend was sex, sleeping, more sex, and food.  And Jack?  Jack surprised you.  There was a level of comfort to touching Gabriel.  You assumed because he'd carried you out of the snow.  Jack loved touch even outside sexual contact.  If he wasn't playing with Gabriel's hair, he was rubbing your shoulders.  He'd rest his head on your legs and try to get you to massage his scalp.  He really liked it when you washed his back.  It was all terribly endearing. 

            You left first, because it wouldn't do for all three of you to be seen exiting the hotel together.  Jack had loaned you some sweats, though the pants were ridiculously big on you.  You caught a taxi back, brain still hazy from the weekend.  Your formal wear was in a bag, gloves included.  The sleeve of the hoodie was long enough to cover your fingers. 

            Jesse was waiting for you when you got back to your room. 

            "You good?"

            "Got a lot to think about," you admitted, tossing your bag onto the desk.  "It was...good.  Really good.  But I don't know if it's sustainable."

            Jesse nodded.  "Ain't no shame in being happy for the now."

            You found another pair of leather gloves and pulled them on.  You'd wash Jack's clothes before you returned them.  The thought of seeing him again made your mouth dry. 

            "How about you?  How'd it go?"

            Jesse gave you a shy smile.  "A gentleman doesn't tell."

            "You're not a gentleman, Jesse."

            He just shrugged.  "Still not telling."

           


 

            You checked your terminal, and then rubbed your eyes.  You were only gone two days, and someone sent Ziv on a mission?  He shouldn't be leaving HQ.  You checked the orders.  He'd requested to go?  What the hell was going on? 

            "Genji, why's Ziv in fucking Shanghai?" 

            "Lacroix needed a specialist for the mission.  Ziv and Winston were the only ones cleared for for Shit Spiders.  Winston was needed here this weekend."  Genji didn't sound worried, but then he never did.  "He has completed basic training, served in the IDF, and it is not supposed to be a combat mission."

            You checked the briefing.  Lacroix had been tracking a Talon asset known only as Bái Shé or White Snake.  S/he was a hacker and an assassin.  The brief credited her with sixteen known military data breaches, countless corporate ones, and at least two murders.  Lacroix was attending a trade fair in Shanghai under the guise of being the CFO of a Parisian startup.  Ziv was his R&D guy, there to pitch the usefulness of a new quantum method of solar energy storage.  You skimmed that part.  It was entirely above your education. 

            The real reason they were there was because Lucheng Interstellar was having a big reveal, something about revolutionizing communications networks.  Again, you skimmed the tech and found the summary: new type of quantum satellite relay encryption.  The analysts were convinced Bái Shé would be there, though no one could pinpoint exactly why. 

            That sat wrong.  You weren't sure Winston's relationship with Lucheng, just like you weren't exactly sure why Genji worked most of the Shimada missions, but you knew there was a connection.   Why send Ziv?  Shanghai was a hard city to operate in; Overwatch had minimal authority and little support.  Sure it was routine visit, but you'd vetoed missions with better planning that this.   After all this, you trusted Lacroix, but Ziv was the linchpin in your cybersecurity.  More importantly, he was Rivka's grandson and your responsibility.  You'd brought him into Blackwatch.  And Lacroix had a big fat target sign painted on his back.   It didn't matter if he was undercover, Talon had massive bounties on him.  Ziv could easily become collateral damage. 

            You looked into the Bái Shé dossier.  It'd be too easy if s/he was Anh Nguyen.  But Nguyen was in New York for some UN summit.  Bái Shé cropped up on the radar six months ago and had been wreaking havoc since then.  Ziv reported that s/he'd had been piggybacking off the UN sat-coms to try and breach the Overwatch network.  That kind of power, tech, or access couldn't be ignored. 

            It made sense for Ziv to help Lacroix on this. 

            And yet, you couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right.  East Asia wasn't friendly Overwatch territory.  And Lacroix hadn't taken a full team, probably because of the ball.  Plus the op was weak at best.  You took the file down to Captain Amari's office. 

            When you knocked, Jesse opened the door.  He raised a brow and stepped back.  "Everything OK?"

            You laid the files on the desk.  "Have you seen this?" 

            Captain Amari picked them up and frowned, brushing crumbs off her desk. 

            "Why take Ziv out for field work on such a flimsy rationale?"

            "Did you have a good weekend?" She asked, sipping her tea.

            "...It was great."  You looked at the floor.  "Still processing, ma'am.  But Ziv-"

            Captain Amari studied the brief.  "Gérard is usually very careful."  She frowned.  "He has been overworked lately.  The attempt on Amélie's life has him stretched too thin.  I was hoping they would be at the ball this year.   She's a ballerina and they are a pleasure to watch."

            You swallowed.  "Requesting permission to go back them up.  I don't like it, ma'am."

            "Have you settled things with Jack and Gabe?"  She asked. 

            "I...no.  But I'm not trying to avoid a confrontation, ma'am.  My gut says this is off."  You swallowed, momentarily wondering if your subconscious had panicked you and Ziv and Lacroix were fine.  No, Lacroix was usually more careful than this.  

            Captain Amari nodded.  "All right.  You can go to Shanghai.  Take backup.  I don't like that it's just the two of them either.  Jesse, do you want to take this one?"

            "If it's a hacker, maybe you shouldn't take Genji," Jesse said.  "And you might want to watch your fingers."

            You looked down at your gloved hands.   "I'll keep that in mind." 

 


 

            Torby gave you a customized sap glove, discrete slits in the fingertips, omnium reinforced knuckles, and most importantly, omnium plates in the palm, cushioned with pads of crash gel - the stuff they padded atmospheric reentry transports with.  He glared at you the entire time, even though you'd already sent his wife your chili recipe. 

            You curled a fist, the material still a little stiff.  This was for combat, or intense emotional situations.  You had the feeling you'd need it soon either way. 

             "Thank you," you told him. 

            "Angela's putting the finishing touches on the next prototype attachment," he said.  He smirked at you.  "We took all your feedback into account.  We're looking forward to your next analysis." 

           


 

            Winston apprised you of the situation on the shuttle ride over.  You thought about going in with a cover identity - fly from Seoul to Pudong International, dodge the Ministry of State Security, check into the hotel as a member of another startup.  But Winston's report changed all that.  Lacroix and Ziv were an hour overdue on check in.  They'd never made it to the conference today.  They hadn't returned to the hotel.  

            And a safehouse on the Huangpu River was burning.   

          Damn, you should've brought a full team, but no time for that now. You and Jesse were going in blind, starting in Pudong, on the eastern side of the river, where Talon had torched the house.  No bodies had been recovered, and the fire response teams had been quick - that area had too high a population concentration to let buildings burn. 

            No police had been dispatched; this told you that Talon had people on payroll in the local government and most certainly in the police department.   No surprise, graft was a must when operating in Shanghai.  You'd written an entire how-to manual on greasing palms to get shit done here. 

            While Winston weeded through civilian comm-traffic, trying to find reports of gunshots, you and Jesse suited up.  Your new chestpiece had a wide omnium-reinforced standing collar that covered half your face.  Someone had taken your neckshot comments to heart.

            "This ain't gonna be a stealth mission, Lucky."

            "I've bailed Lacroix out before."  For such a polite guy, he sure had a way of making enemies.

            "We had more backup then."  Jesse lit his cigar.   "If it's hot, I'm going to take point.  You're going to cover me."  You were a good shot, but you tended to avoid prolonged firefights. 

            "And if we can avoid being seen, I'm better at quiet kills." 

            Jesse nodded.  "Fair."

            Jesse was the better combat strategist.  You might plan ops, but Jesse worked them regularly.  Ranked or not, you would follow him.  And he didn't say a thing about who you were sleeping with and if that affected his decisions.  For that, you were grateful.

            "Take this."  Jesse handed you a grappling hook.  You strapped it onto your belt. "You got grenades?"

            "Frag and flashbang."  EMPs would not be good for your fingers. 

            Jesse nodded.  "I know you don't like fair fights, so it looks like we're getting into a real unfair one."

            You shook your head.  "Extraction plan?"

            "Ship'll wait, cloaked.  We'll need to get somewhere high."

            You didn't like that, if only because you didn't know what kind of condition Ziv and Lacroix were in.  But it wasn't like you had a choice.  And you had to move fast.  The Chinese government would not tolerate an undeclared foreign ship hovering over one of their major metropolitan areas. 

            There was no landing.  The sun was setting when you and Jesse rappelled down, dropping onto a rooftop.

            "Wukong: This is callsign Gunslinger.  Vampire and I have landed.  Commencing Operation: Shanghai Noon.  Objective: retrieving operatives Cross and Light." 

            You stared at Jesse, resolving never to let him name anything ever again.  Sure, Shit Spiders was a stupid name, but you technically didn't pick it.  And you were high as fuck.  What was his excuse? 

            "Coming in clear," Winston said.   "Picking up a crude radio wave SOS around the new Lucheng branch office.  It's still under construction, and empty but-"

            You were only a few miles from the safehouse. 

            "We have a visual."  You had no trouble seeing the half-finished Lucheng logo, on the skyscraper, its sides covered with bamboo scaffolding.  "Fastest egress?" 

            "Grappling hooks." 

            You'd done the training.  You'd passed too.  But there was a difference between using the Zurich obstacle course and playing Spiderman in Shanghai.  Jesse went first, shooting the hydraulic hook into the molding of the next building over.  He tugged testing the strength of the hold, secured the line around his harness, and was off. 

            The hook just took you about seven yards, not too far, not too fast, but if you fell...  It was a long way down. 

            It took you three tries to get a good placement, and you came in too hard, hitting your knee on the side of the building.  But you didn't fall to your death, and you certainly didn't look down.  Jesse snickered and helped you angle the next shot.  By the fourth time, you were getting the hang of not crashing.  

            You both crouched on the edge of the building next to the Lucheng construction site. 

            "There."  Jesse pointed at a flash of light.  "Wukong: Spotted shooters.  Anything you can tell us about the situation?"

            "Cameras showed about two dozen armored operatives entering the building from multiple spots along the base, in squads of four.  White masks.  Urban warfare gear.  They've been in there for twenty minutes.  No one has exited." 

            You blew out a breath.  "Wukong: Any word from our people?"

            "Negative, but the signal is still live." 

            They really wanted Lacroix.  You had to respect him for that. 

            "Don't take any stupid risks."  Jesse didn't look at you as he lined up his shot.  You were going in from the top, and it would be wise to use the scaffolding for ambushes.  "We grab them.  We retreat.  Understood?"

            "Of course.  We're not heroes, we're Blackwatch."  You stood, aiming for the scaffolding.  Your hook landed properly, locked, and you let it drag you into the night.

            You landed on the scaffolding, and Jesse perched on the I-beam above you.  The bamboo looked rickety, but it held well.  The crossbar framework was suited for climbing, even if it did look like it would drop you to your death or snap under a good wind. 

            "You're boosting the signal," Winston crackled in your ear.  "Fifty meter radius." 

            "Cross and Light, are you on this channel?" Jesse asked.  "This is Gunslinger."

            There was a faint crackle. 

            "Change frequencies." 

            "Cross and Light, repeat.  This is Gunslinger."

            This floor was clear.  Nothing but beams.  You dropped a level.  It looked like Talon hadn't made it this far yet.  The wind was cold and loud.  The slight swaying of the building was disconcerting. 

            You went down two more, the next one had concrete supports.  You'd have to sweep more carefully. 

            "Slow down, Vampire."

            Heavy boots stomped around the dust, and you flattened yourself against the beam.  There were two, which meant there were two more you hadn't seen. 

            "Hostiles," you whispered into your earpiece. 

            "Maintain cover," Jesse ordered.

            You crouched there.

            "No sign of them."

            "Target was wounded.  He can't have made it far.  Check out there." 

            You dropped a level, but now you had to be more careful.  The next floor had two more, possibly the other half of the squad overhead. 

            "How hard can it be to find a man in an empty building?"

            You wondered if Lacroix was using the scaffolding to get around.  There'd be guards at the bottom, but he could handle a few of those.  You frowned, waiting for one of the Talon mercenaries to stop searching, but they continued their sweep.

            "Status Vampire?"

            "Passed four on my way down.  No sign of Cross and Light."

            Where would you hide?  Besides where you were right now.  You kept an eye out for tarps and substructures.  The next floor was empty. 

            A scream sounded from overhead.

            "I'm jamming them, get the other two if you can, Vampire." 

            You used the hook, taking two levels up in one shot.  You unhooked your carbine from your back and climbed into the building.  

            "Hostiles encountered!  Repeat-"  One crouched, by the staircase, his back to you.  The carbine would be too loud.  You drew your tanto and put it through his throat.  You set him down gently and picked up his earpiece.  There was nothing but static.  You looked around for the second one. 

            "I have one," you said.

            "Just got the third," Jesse said.  "Keep moving."

            You studied the gear.  The armor was reinforced in the chest.  Joints and neck were exposed.  The mask had the usual comm augments and armoring. 

            You tucked the earpiece in your collar.  "Don't think they heard us."  You climbed back out onto the scaffolding, because even if the winds were scary, they'd have more trouble ambushing you out here.

            "Vampire: The signal's strengthened.  You're closest."

            "Understood Wukong."  You climbed in the next level, listening for boots.  You swept the floor, finding nothing. 

            The next floor was a little different.  There were bricks lined up against one of the concrete substructures.  You padded over, the shadows starting to make visuals difficult.

            You crouched beside the pile.  Streaks of rust stuck out from underneath. 

            "Ziv, Lacroix.  You in there?"  You lifted a brick.  Just another brick behind it.  Then you lifted that one.  "It's me."

            The next brick moved on its own. 

            "Ben-zona, Lucky.  What the hell took you so long?" Ziv snapped, his hair frizzy and brick dust smudging his cheeks.  "Thought we were going the way of Fortunato."

            "Was that a luck joke?"  You shook your head. 

            "Why don't you try reading books instead of burning them?"

            "Why don't you shut up and help me tear down this wall."  You paused.  Your relief was short-lived.  "Lacroix?"

            "He's out.  I managed to stop the bleeding, but- I'm not a doctor." 

            "According to your grandmother, you should've been," you told him, helping to disassemble the shelter. 

            "Yes, I should've.  That way I wouldn't be hiding under bricks, trying not to get executed by terrorists.  Can we talk about my poor life choices later?" 

            "Gunslinger: Light and Cross acquired.  Cross is down.  Need assist."

            Ziv wrinkled his nose at you.  "Seriously?"

            "I did not come up with the names."  You crouched over Lacroix.  He was very pale, but breathing.  Ziv had torn up his shirt, binding his left arm and right thigh.

            "Can you lift him?" 

            "I got him this far," Ziv groused.  "Fucking Frenchy wanted me to leave him behind.  Like I'm giving him to Talon.  Does he know how Blackwatch operates?  We're petty as fuck.  I'd throw him out the window first.  Collect the bounty myself." 

            You grinned, even as you heard boots hitting the metal a floor below you.  Shit. 

            "Gunslinger, we have incoming.  Cross is immobile.  Need evac."

            Jesse dropped from the scaffolding, and rolled in. 

            "I can't carry him," you said, unhooking a grenade.  You guys go, I'll catch up."

            Jesse gave you a hard look.  "Ain't never seen someone so scared of talking about feelings."

            "Ain't scared," you scowled and stalked to the stairwell.  You hurled the grenade as the first one turned the corner, bouncing it off the wall,  It sailed into their midst. 

            You drew your carbine.  The building seemed to shake as the explosive went off.  Jesse shook his head and lifted Lacroix in a fireman's carry.  Ziv limped behind him, his ankle swollen.  You raised your gun, rounding the corner and finishing the one who wasn't quite dead. 

            You brought up the rear, staying at the stairs, waiting for the next batch.  The stolen comm crackled to life.

            "Hostiles on higher floors.  Teams Zed, November, and Violin, converge.  Calling reinforcements.  Do not let the target slip the net."

            "Got three teams incoming." 

            You followed your people up, till you were on the unfinished uppermost beams.  Your transport wouldn't be able to land.  Someone was going to have to climb up first, and that someone was Jesse.  Jesse set Lacroix down, even as the ropes dropped. 

            "I can't climb that," Ziv said. 

            Jesse slipped off his harness and tossed it Ziv.  "Get this on him.  I'll get up there and reel him in. Pilot might be able to help me."

            You covered the stairs, listening as Teams Zed and Violin grew closer. 

            "You got a sidearm, Ziv?" You asked.

            "Lacroix's."

            "Try not to shoot me."

            "Try not to get in my way." 

            "Incoming."  You rolled your grenade down the stairs, knowing that they were probably expecting it.  The flashbang was first, just to soften them up.  You waited for the swearing to start, rounded the corner, and tossed the frag grenade.  You plugged your ears. 

            "Get moving, Vampire!"

            You didn't stick around to watch.  You headed up the stairs.  Ziv shook his head at you.  You took off your harness and gave it to him.  "Secure yourself." 

            "Lucky-"

            The panic in his voice had you turning, gun raised. 

            A woman in cracked white armor staggered up the still smoldering stairs, raising her pistol at Ziv.  You snarled, spun, and threw him behind you. Her bullets slamming into your back, striking your armor. Your entire upper left quadrant went numb, then began to burn. You hissed and returned fire. 

            She raised her left arm, it was fully metal.

            Fucking cyborgs.  You'd have to do this the right way. 

            She tossed her gun aside and rushed you, electricity crackling along her metal arm.  She was too close and threw your left hand out to intercept. 

            Your prostheses went haywire.  Blades clanged against her metal wrist.   Your augments felt like they were on fire.  You couldn't control your fingers, but you could keep your arm up and use your hand to block her. 

            Behind you Ziv began to shoot. 

            Her mask shattered and you kicked her back, all feeling in your left arm lost. 

            "Get up there!" You shouted at Ziv, before turning to the cyborg.  You kicked her to the ground, boots driving into her shoulder.  You drew your tanto, ready to finish the job, and froze. 

            Her hair was too short, circuits running along the left side of her face, barely covering the burn marks.  Even behind the scarring, you knew that slim build and golden skin.  You knew that broken face from a lifetime ago. 

            "Lao?" 

            She stared at you without recognition, eyes empty. 

            The other team would be here soon and you were all out of useful grenades.  Your left arm twitched uncontrollably, smelling like fried electrics and burnt meat. 

            You couldn't carry her.  You couldn't secure her safely, so you couldn't bring her with you.  And right then, you knew you weren't going to stab her through the throat. 

            "Lao.  Lao Yue, it's me.  It's Lucky."

            She just blinked rapidly, her mouth working, but no words coming out.

            "If you're in there, I'll be back for you, and we'll sort this out.  You hear me?  I'll find you."  You touched your knife to her forehead, sheathed it, and grabbed the ropes with your right hand.  Ziv was already onboard and he helped Jesse haul you up. 

            You watched her grow smaller and smaller as you ascended.  She didn't move from the ground, and you lost track of her as you climbed back into the transport. 

            "What the hell was that?" Ziv shouted as soon as Jesse shut the bay doors.  He got behind you, checking your back. 

            "I'm wearing armor, you idiot," you growled at him.  "And you're not allowed out on missions ever again.  Your grandma would pickle my head if anything happened to you."

            "I'm a full agent!"  He shouted. "My grandmother is dead, Lucky.  You don't need to end up like her!" 

            You grabbed him by the collar with your good arm.  "If I can't keep my people alive, what's the goddamn point, Mihret?!"  Desperation bled into your rage.  Your skin was too tight, and you'd left Lao behind.  Again.  You hadn't even suspected you should be looking for her all this time.  

            "Ease up, Lucky.  You're bleeding all over the floor."  Jesse pushed your hand off Ziv's collar. 

            You looked at your left arm.  Blood flowed down your elbow.  One of Lao's bullets had hit you.  That didn't worry you so much as the pain in your finger stubs.   You rubbed your face, smearing soot and sweat. 

            "Let me help you get cleaned up.  Can't have you going back to HQ looking like that."  Jesse sighed.  He helped you with the armor straps.   "Those are gonna leave a mark," he said. 

            "Don't let Gabriel see that," you said.

            "Don't put me in the middle of it," he snapped. 

            "Sorry.  I meant- not asking you to cover.  Just if Jack's there, give it to him instead," you said, sitting down.  "He'll handle it."

            Jesse nodded then.  "Let's get this arm bandaged.  Looks like it went straight through the flesh. That's good- what's wrong with your left hand?" He put pressure on your arm. 

            Your blades were out.  "She hit me with something electric." 

            "Guess it's better that we didn't have Genji."  Ziv handed Jesse a bandage.  He cleaned up the wound on your bicep, sealed it with medical gel, and wrapped it.  "Drugs?"

            "No," you said.  "Got to fix this."   You peeled off your sap glove, blood and bits of skin coming with it.  That electric shock had been powerful enough to burn.  It melted some of your augment circuits.  You began prying them off, hoping there was no nerve damage.  You had more in your kit bag and you put them on, then reattached your prostheses. 

            Your blades retracted and you could move each one just fine.  Whatever Lao had used had only fried the electronics and left you with second degree burns. 

            Ziv set up an emitter, watching you silently. 

            "Lacroix?" You asked.

            "Stable.  Can't do anything for him here.  We could try stopping at another field hospital, but we don't have the security to protect him.  He'll make it to Zurich."  Jesse lit another cigar.  "You get that last one?"

            He had eyes like a fucking hawk.  He knew you spared her.   

            "Fucking hell, Jesse.  That last cyborg was Lao, from my unit in the fucking 9th Circle.  She didn't recognize me."

            Jesse narrowed his eyes.  "You sure?"

            "Staked my life on it, didn't I?"  You ran your fingers through your hair.  "Wanted to bring her with us.  But-"  You waved your left arm.  "Couldn't secure her.  I'm not killing her before I get answers."

            Because you didn't believe Lao betrayed you.  If she had, well, then you'd do what you had to do. 

            You sat there in silence while Jesse went to talk to the pilot.

            "Lucky?"  Ziv stared at the floor.

            "Yeah?"  He hadn't taken care of his ankle yet.  "You should ice that."   

            "Ben-zona, let me finish.  Thank you for coming after me."  He put his head between his knees.  He was coming off the adrenaline then and probably had to puke.  That was the worst.  "And for taking those shots.  I owe you." 

            "You're welcome," you said, because that was only polite thing to do.   You shouldn't have gone off on him.  You weren't Gabriel, after all, but you now understood that burden.  Fucking hell.  So this was what it was like to be on the other side.  No wonder Gabriel was always so grumpy.   "Nothing to repay, Ziv.  The only debts you owe me come from cards and covering for your ass with the Commander."

            "Whatever you feel you owe Savta doesn't apply to me."

            "Of course it does," you said.  "She'd want me to protect you.  You can't possibly think I'd do it for your sake.  You're fucking obnoxious."

           


 

            Motherfucking Ziv and Jesse.  One of them drugged your electrolyte solution, but you were pretty sure both of them were in on it.  You leaned against the seat restraints, boneless.  You couldn't feel your left arm, but that was OK because you could see it and it was still there. 

            "I hate you," you said to Jesse. 

            "You keep saying that, but I don't think you know what it means."  He laughed at you.  "Relax, Lucky.  We know you're a badass.  That gunshot wound is going to hurt something fierce and your back's a mess."  Jesse patted your head.  "You'd do the same for me."

            "I'd let you suffer."  The world spun.  "And I'd ask first!"

            "Sure you would," Ziv said.  "And if we declined, you'd drug us anyway."

            You hung your head, not because you were ashamed that they were right, but because your neck didn't want to support itself.

            "Not the same.  I'm no danger to myself and you don't have to hide from the commander.  You know how hard this is going to make it?"

            Jesse frowned.  "I thought you weren't scared of talking about things?"

            "That is almost true.  That is also not the reason why I will be hiding.   I got shot again, Jesse.  You saw him the last time.  He's going to be livid."  You bobbed your head.  "Doesn't matter if it was Ziv's fault.  Actually, that's what I'll say.  Yes.  You can run from Gabriel with your gimpy ankle.  It'll give me a head start.   Good luck."

            Ziv looked at you sideways.  "You leave me out of your weird love triangle with Reyes."

            "Fuck!  Does everybody know?  Jesse, you told me not everyone knew!"

            "Wait, I was joking," Ziv said looking between you and Jesse.  "You know what, I don't need to know.  That's all above my pay grade."

            "Probably safer that way," Jesse said, shaking his head.  "You'll want to stop talking, Lucky." 

            "Hate you all."  You hated them all.  Even Lacroix, and he was just lying there.

 


 

            Fortunately, the drugs were wearing off by the time you landed.  You unhooked yourself, wondering if running was an option.  The medics were on first, carting Lacroix off.   Jesse watched you like he expected you to bolt, trip, and land on your face.  Ziv had spent most of the return trip focused hard on his tablet, either writing up a report or playing a game. 

            Running and hiding was silly.  You knew that.  Now that the adrenaline was gone, and the drugs were mostly out of your system, you could think straight.  You grabbed your bag, one-handed.  You'd go to the infirmary.  And after that, you'd deal with the fallout.             

            Captain Amari stepped onto the shuttle, blocking your exit.  She nodded at Ziv.  "Go to the infirmary," she said.  "Thank you for the prompt report.  Dismissed, Agent Mihret."

            "Ma'am."  Ziv saluted and limped off. 

            "Jesse?"  She studied him. 

            "I'm fine, Ana."  He grinned at her.  "Sorry, I didn't bring you any mooncakes."

            Satisfied that he was unhurt, she turned to you.  "You need to go to the infirmary."  She paused.  "I can take you, or Gabriel can.  Your choice."

            You wondered what Ziv had written in his report.  "I better go with Gabriel.  Jesse can you?"  You waved at the armor. 

            Jesse handed Captain Amari your dinged up chest piece.  Captain Amari gave it a once-over.  "You can't have nice things, can you?"  She traced the damage with her finger.  "You should talk to Jack about Kandahar.  He'll be able to give you better insight.  Any other concerns, Agent?"

            "Lacroix?"

            "Too early to tell."  She sighed.  "We'll debrief later.  Go get fixed up." 

            "Yes ma'am."  You couldn't really salute, not with your one arm full and you stepped off the transport, a little light-headed. 

            Gabriel stood in the disembarkation hall, hands clasped in front of him.  His mouth was flat and his stance rigid.  He was still in his standard Blackwatch gear, hat slightly askew.  Jack leaned against the wall, arms crossed, looking disinterested in that too-tight black fatigue outfit.  Jack's eyes flicked between your face and your arm.  They knew.    

              Oh, you were definitely in trouble.  Jack walked over too casually and took your bag out of your hand. 

            "Let's go to the infirmary," he said, voice so neutral, he couldn't be anything but unhappy. 

            "Thanks," you said, but he'd already set out on a brisk pace. 

            Gabriel remained unmoved.  You stopped in front of him. 

            "Hey."

            Gabriel's eyes stayed on your face.  "Infirmary," he said. 

            You hugged him with your good arm.  One of his arms slid around your shoulders and pressed you against his warmth all too briefly.  "I-"

            "Save it," he said   "We'll talk after you get a clean bill of health."

           


 

            If Angela was bothered by the looming grumpy super soldiers in her infirmary, she didn't show it. 

            She took one look at your arm and had the bandage off to debride the wound.  She cleaned it, poking and prodding the entire time.  The emitter had already begun to seal it up.  "The bullet went through and missed all the important spots.  You were lucky."

            You would've shrugged, but she had your arm in a vise grip.  Angela sealed it with more gel, re-bandaged it, and moved to check your back.  "Mmm, you're going to have some nasty bruises.  You haven't been coughing up blood, have you?"

            "No ma'am."  You could feel their eyes on you. 

            "All right, you know the signs of internal bleeding by now.  If you have any, come see me immediately." 

            She moved on to your finger stubs.  "You're going to have to leave those off for a few days."  She examined your fingers with her scanner.  "No nerve damage, but the augments will irritate your burns.  Let those heal first.  I will give you a salve."  She studied your arm.  "I'm putting you on temporary medical leave and starting you on a course of nanites.  They'll accelerate healing and prevent infection.  You can take another emitter if you need one.  Get plenty of rest, keep your wounds clean and dry.  Come see me if you have any signs of infection or extra discomfort." 

            "Yes, ma'am." 

            "Leave the broken augments for Torby and me.  We'll want to see a report on this.  I'll get you another set calibrated later."

            "Thanks," you said. 

            "No sparring," she said, her eyes shifting to Gabriel and Jack. 

            Did that mean what you thought it meant? 

 


 

            "Where do you want to do this?" You sat on the edge of the bed, wondering how bad it was.    

            "My quarters are the most discrete," Gabriel said.  Jack still held your bag.  The three of you exited the medical wing in silence.  Your knee hurt, probably from your bad grappling landings.  You'd just set up another emitter and try not to think about all the damage you'd done. 

            You knew where Gabriel's quarters were of course, but for the sake of not feeding the rumor mill, you'd never actually been inside.  His room was more spacious than yours and he had matching furniture that made the place look almost normal: queen bed with lots of a pillows and a thick green comforter, couch and a small entertainment center, as well as bookshelves.  He had weapons on the table and was that sewing kit?  Jack set your bag down beside the table. 

            "Sit," Gabriel said and took the emitter from you.  He placed it by the couch and switched it on. 

            You sat on the couch.  It was a nice couch and you were going to mess it up with all the blood and dirt you still had on your fatigues.
            Jack sat down beside resting his elbows on his knees.  He turned toward you.  "Pain OK?"

            "Yeah," you said.  "Angela gave me some time-release stuff.  Won't make me as loopy as the emergency shit in the shuttle."

            Jack leaned over and kissed your shoulder.   "You're supposed to come back uninjured," he said tightly in your ear.  The roughness of his voice made your stomach do flip flops. 

            "I'm not a super soldier," you said, looking up at Gabriel. 

            "We are very aware of that," Jack said.

            Gabriel crouched down in front of you, his hands rested on your cheeks.  "Tell us if you don't want this.  Don't run halfway across the world and get shot up."

            "That's not what I was doing!"

            "You definitely went halfway across the world and got shot up," Jack said. 

            "It wasn't about you," you said.  "I got back, saw the mission, freaked out because who let Ziv out the lab, and yeah, I'm glad I did because something was obviously wrong.  Was I going to give you guys space?  Yes.  But going to China is overkill, even for me."

            "What made you think we wanted space?" Jack asked.

            "I...don't assume," you said.  "Because I don't know how this works.  And maybe I needed some space too, to figure things out."

            Gabriel dropped his hands.  "Have you figured things out?"

            Relationships left you with a kind of breathless manic insanity that made you dumber and more erratic.  You were on drugs and had been shot.  You didn't know what you wanted, except to go to sleep and maybe cuddle Gabriel because he had insane body heat and you liked it when Jack was there too because it felt right. 

            "This weekend was...really really good," you said, because you didn't know how else to describe it.  "I uh...am terrified of screwing up."

            "That's how I feel every day," Jack said.  "And you know I've fucked up big time.  You explained it to me with everything but diagrams."  He sighed.  "You know you have this awful way of laying things out very clearly and politely and that just makes me feel worse."

            "Sorry," you said, not feeling very sorry because well, Jack needed things laid out with diagrams. 

            "No, I listen better that way," he admitted. 

            "So explain this "arrangement" to me," you said.

            Gabriel raised a brow at you.  "That sounds sordid."

            "What is this?  What are the ground rules?"  You asked, because you needed an anchor, a limit, a boundary to shape it. 

            Gabriel rubbed his forehead.  "You hate rules."

            "No, I hate bad rules," you said.  "I just...I don't know how to do this.  Help."  You gripped Gabriel's hands.  "Shin and I didn't talk about a whole lot of stuff.  We just...were.  I didn't realize we were in a real relationship till I found my clothes in his drawers."

            "And you panicked?" Gabriel asked.

            "...a little."  Shin had just played it off like it was no big deal.  You were there anyway and it was convenient.  Nothing to worry about.  You didn't put a label on it, even if you slept in his room almost every night and didn't look at another man, woman, or omnic.  "But I didn't quit."

            "This isn't just sex," Gabriel said bluntly. 

            "Glad it wasn't just me thinking that."  You remembered how he had held you that first time and how Jack had kissed your metal fingers.  You would follow Gabriel into Hell, sex or not.  And Jack? You'd probably drag him out of Hell, because he was making stupid decisions or being noble.  Same difference.    

            "No one else," Jack said, a hand resting on the back of your neck 

            You made a choked snorting sound.  "Little chance of that.  This is already complicated enough."

            "Tell us if we make you uncomfortable.  Don't just...run off," Jack said.  "We're pushy.  It won't get better if you just retreat."

            "I'll say when I need space," you said, even though part of you wondered how much you'd have to fight for it. 

            "This stays separate from work," Gabriel said ruefully, because everyone present understood it wasn't that simple.  "That enough to get you started?"

            "I think," you said.  "...If we're having sex, is everyone supposed to be there or-?"

            "Relax," Gabriel said.  "We all have hectic schedules.  If you and Jack have some alone time, I'm not going to begrudge you that.  I'll just expect you to make it up to me later.  Same goes for me and Jack or you and me.  It's fine." 

            "Look, you're over thinking it," Jack said.  "We already spend a lot of time together.  Things don't have to change, except for the sex part.  We are having sex and cuddling.  That makes everything better." 

            You were slightly less terrified that you were going to fuck everything up in the worst way possible.  Jack could do a pep talk when it suited him.  "OK.  So it's friends with-"  You stopped, because Gabriel had said right off the bat it wasn't just sex.  And Jack had said it was exclusive.  "Really good friends with exclusive sex.  That isn't just sex."  You buried your face in your hands. 

            Jack laughed beside you.  "It's trust.  I trust you.  Gabe trusts you. Do you trust us?  That's all you need to focus on."

            That actually made a lot of sense. And he didn't even use diagrams.  "Have you done this before?"

            "The sex or the three-way relationship?"  Gabriel asked. 

            "Both?"  You asked, because you didn't want to come out and say you assumed they'd had all kinds mind-blowing orgies. 

            "Yes to the sex.  Kind of to the relationship," Jack said.  "There was a girl back in SEP...but it didn't work out." 

            "She had a strong preference for Jack and some other issues," Gabriel said.  "It didn't balance well.  Put us off this kind of thing for awhile."

            You weren't entirely sure what that meant, but you also didn't want to ask just yet.  "All right, we're sorted.  Can I go shower and collapse now?"

            Gabriel kissed you.  It was hot and needy and you melted against him.  "Why don't you shower here?  You're supposed to keep that arm dry and it'll be easier if we help you." 

            "Uh..."  You rested your head against his shoulder wracking your brain for a reason not to.  There really weren't any good ones.

            "Let Gabriel take care of you tonight," Jack said, kissing the back of your neck.  "You...worried us both." 

            "OK," you said, because you had no willpower left.  Gabriel helped you up.  His bathroom was bigger than yours - his shower could comfortably fit two people.  Three if you were trying.  You shook your head.  You didn't have the energy for that. 

            Jack leaned against the sink and watched as Gabriel helped you out of your clothes, giving special attention to your bruised back and wounded arm.  He stripped and got in first, turning on the water.  You climbed in, careful of the arm.

            "Trash bags work well," Jack said.  "Probably could have told you earlier, but this is nicer, right?" 

            "Shut up, Jack," Gabriel said.  He lathered up a loofah and started scrubbing your back.  You sighed and leaned back into him. 

            "I fired those two assholes today," Gabriel said.  "Jack was going to let you do it, but you disappeared."

            "As long as you had fun," you said.  "And they're gone.  I don't mind."  The feeling of him against your back was soothing. 

            "Turn around," he murmured, and you obliged, letting him get the blood, dirt, and sweat off you.    

            "Thank you," you said when he was finished. 

            "Not done."  He poured some shampoo onto his hand and gently rubbed your scalp.  "You're covered in dust."

            "Construction site," you said.  "Ziv managed to camouflage Lacroix and himself behind a pile of bricks.  Had to help dig them out."

            "The boy is clever," Gabriel said.  "Got a mouth on him though."

            "Yeah," you agreed.  "Just like his grandmother.  But I don't have to take it from him."  You smiled, Gabriel's fingers still running through your hair.  "He's never leaving HQ again.  At least till he's 30." 

            "You can't do that, Lucky."  Gabriel kissed your shoulder.  "Boy has to grow up.  He won't get stronger if you coddle him.  I know it's not easy to let them out of your sight.  Especially in this geo-political climate.  But if you tie them down, they won't improve and they'll resent you for it."

            "Yeah, I know.  Just feel responsible for him, y'know?  I owe Rivka."  You watched the water in the drain go from brownish-gray to clear.  "Not going to clip his wings.  Just...get him better trained.  And get us another hacker."

            Gabriel turned off the water.  "I know exactly how you feel."

            "Yeah, I know that too.  It was an unpleasant realization."  You kissed his hand gently.  "Thank you.  For the shower and for being a good teacher." 

            Jack had gotten two towels and he handed one to Gabriel before drying you off, his hands lingering on your hips.  He gave Gabriel a quick kiss before helping you into one of Gabriel's t-shirts.   It was too big, of course, but it covered you and smelled like him, an oddly comforting mix of Hoppe's No. 9, cordite, and an expensive chypre cologne. 

            "Why don't you stay here?" Jack began to rub your shoulders.  Gabriel helped you wrap your hair with the towel.

            "OK," you said.  "Damn, this was a trap, wasn't it?" 

            "Gabe's got a big bed.  We can all fit." 

            "I'm too tired to argue," you said.  "But you are a tricky son of bitch, Jack."

            "Glad you picked up on it quickly.  Everyone else thinks golden boy is a fucking saint."  Gabriel guided you to the bed, his towel wrapped around his waist.  Jack brought the emitter over. 

            You picked a side and climbed in.  To your surprise, Gabriel dragged you over to the middle, his hands lingering on your hips.  His cock jutted against you, still covered by the towel.

            "I uh..."  You could feel the blood rushing to your face.  "I'm not up for a full session." 

            "Didn't think you were," Gabriel said.  "Angela said "no sparring."  It doesn't count if I just put my mouth on you."

            "Oh."  Your breath hitched as he spread your thighs.  "I uh-"  You bit your lip as he ran his tongue from your clit to perineum. You arched against the pillows, fingers on your good hand digging into the sheets. 

            Jack kissed your neck, his hands gently squeezing your breasts.  "Look at him."  Gabriel laid between your legs, hands on your thighs, his eyes closed as he slid his tongue in and out of you.  "He could do this all night." 

            "Damnit Jack!" You wanted to buck your hips, but Gabriel's hands held you against the bed. 

            "Relax.  Nothing strenuous for you," Jack purred.  "Doctor's orders."  He kissed you hungrily, eyes fever bright.  "You just relax and let us take care of you tonight.  Don't worry," he pulled the t-shirt up, exposing your breasts to the cool air.  "We'll punish you, later." 

            "Goddamnit, Jack, how am I supposed to get to sleep now?" You were only half-annoyed, because while you were exhausted, there was something almost magically revitalizing about sex.   

            "You get to sleep in; I have to be back at the office in five hours.  No complaining," he said smugly. 

            Gabriel slid a finger inside you and your breathing went ragged.  He kissed your hip, his beard glistening with your slick and you tensed while he slowly worked another finger inside. 

            "Gabe-" Jack growled.  "Goddamn this is hot."  He buried his face in your hair, tongue sliding along the shell of your ear. 
            "You're so predictable, Jack."  Gabriel didn't even look up.  "Are you up for sucking him off, Lucky?  Don't feel like you have to.  I'll take care of him later."

            "I don't mind."  Because you liked watching Jack come undone.  "But I get to control the pace."

            "Whatever you want," he said.  He unzipped his pants, freeing his erection.  "I love watching you take me.  You get this dreamy look on your face like you can't get enough.  Makes me want to fuck you harder- which I'm not going to do because you're injured, and in charge, and fuck!"  You ran your tongue along the underside of his cock before sucking on the head. 

            You heard Gabriel's muffled laugh and then he was sucking on your clit, fingers moving leisurely inside you.  Jack gripped the headboard, his thighs shaking as you used your good hand to stroke his shaft. 

            "You're killing me, Lucky."

            "What's killing you is knowing you can't fuck her tonight," Gabriel said.  You moaned around Jack as Gabriel scissored his fingers inside you.  "Don't worry, I'm feeling it too, baby.  Gotta reassure myself that you're alive and here in my bed.  I just want to hold you down, fill you with my cock, and make you scream for me.  But we all have to make sacrifices." 

            There was such a need in his voice it made you ache.  You released Jack  and leaned down, grabbing Gabriel's hair and dragging his head up.  You kissed him, sucking his tongue into your mouth, your tang smeared across your lips. 

            "Oh corazon, you shouldn't tease me," he growled.  "Jack, yes.  Me, no." 

            "Wasn't trying to tease.  Just...wanted to kiss you.  I want you to enjoy yourself too." 

            "I am enjoying myself.  But if you like, I'll finish in your mouth too," he said, and lowered his head back to your pussy.  You squeaked as he slid a third finger inside you and began to pump harder. 

            You took Jack back in your mouth, working him deeper.  He gave a choked groan, but didn't try to thrust.  He let you decide how much you wanted.  You stroked him, squeezing lightly, before raking your hand down his thigh.  Jack snarled eyes narrowing, but he held still.  That deserved a reward.  You bobbed your head, easing his length down your throat to the hilt. 

            "You look so good between us," Jack said, throat thick with strain.  You hollowed your cheeks, rhythm picking up.  "Like that, please-"

            You closed your eyes, sucking hard on Jack while Gabriel got you closer and closer.  Gabriel's mouth latched onto your clit and he curled his fingers, hitting your g-spot.  You tried to buck your hips, but he held you flat against the bed. You were so close, and full.  His fingers weren't the same as his cock, but he hadn't forgotten how to get you off.  He stretched you wonderfully, stroking faster as your legs trembled against the bed.   

            "Look at me,"  Jack begged.  "Please."  His fingers tangled in your hair, but he didn't try to move you.

            You opened your eyes, meeting Jack's hungry gaze.  You nodded gesturing for him to thrust.  Jack clenched his teeth and shook his head.  "No, I'll be good.  Just let me see it before you swallow, please." 

            You swirled your tongue around the head and gripped him tighter, his shaft slick with your spit.  You worked your hand faster and Jack's fingers dug into your hair and he groaned your name, cock twitching before shooting his cum into your mouth. 

            It was salty and stronger than you remembered.  You released him and opened your mouth, letting him see the semen pooled on your tongue.  Jack smiled at you through half-lidded eyes, his cheeks flushed, hair falling in his face.  He rubbed his thumb across your lips. 

            "Gabe?  Do you want-?" 

            Gabriel leaned up and kissed you again, his tongue flicking into your mouth.  He released you, lips smeared with Jack's cum and your juices.  You swallowed, unable to look away from Gabriel's satisfied expression. 

            "Good girl," he said. 

            "I'll finish her," Jack said.  "Why don't you take a turn?" 

            You huffed in disappointment as Gabriel withdrew his fingers. They switched spots, Jack now kneeling between your legs.  He gave you a shy smile before sliding his tongue inside you.  Gabriel had lost the towel already.  He knelt beside your head, flexing those thickly muscled thighs. 

            "Don't know if my jaw can take you like I did Jack."  You sucked on the head, tongue stroking the foreskin. 

            "Don't worry about it.  We'll work up to it later." He groaned and began stroking himself.  "Jack, don't tease." 

            Jack's fingers slid inside you and the blade of his tongue flicked against your clit.  Your eyes widened.  Jack's fingers moved faster, slick with his saliva and your wetness.  Your hips shook. 

            "Let him get you off," Gabriel said, voice husky.  "I want to watch you cum on his face."  His pace quickened, cock pressed against your lips.  "That's it, grind against him.  You two look so pretty like that.  Wish I could take you tonight, but I guess you'll just have to go without.  Don't worry, at some point, we're going to spar again, and after you're pinned, I'm going strip you and fuck you right there."

            "Do you want me to fight back?"  You asked, a little breathless. "Because that actually sounds pretty hot."

            "The harder you fight, the harder I'll fuck you," he promised. 

            Jack groaned against you and you clenched around him, pussy squeezing his fingers tightly.  Jack didn't stop licking you as you came.  But your cries were muffled as Gabriel slipped his cock into your mouth. 

            "Let her up, Jack.  You're supposed to be gentle with her right now." 

            Jack released you, withdrawing his fingers.  He licked them, eyes glazed with lust.  "Sorry, Lucky.  You just taste so good." 

            Gabriel grunted, thrusting into his hands, his cock only a few inches in your mouth.  "Get ready," he said tightly.  He gave himself a few more rough tugs and then his thick cum poured down your throat.  He had as much as Jack and you swallowed, tongue lapping at the head of his cock. 

            Gabriel moved in a few short thrusts before pulling out.  Jack turned your head and kissed you hungrily before letting you collapse against the bed. 

            You looked between them, wondering if they ever got enough sleep.  Your heart pounded in your throat and Gabriel leaned down stroking your face.  "You should probably get some rest now." 

            "Are you and Jack going to-"

            "Jack needs rest too," Gabriel said dryly, and he laid on his side, facing you.

            Jack pressed against your back, his hands resting around your waist.  "Not tired."

            "You will be when you have to deal with all those UN assholes in the morning," Gabriel said, his hand reaching out to pat Jack's head.  He curled closer to you and you closed your eyes.  "Both of you go to sleep. "

           "We're going to fuck on your desk tomorrow," Jack said in your ear.  "If you're good, I'll send pictures."

Chapter Text

            You woke up to Jack pulling on his clothes.  He kissed Gabriel before leaning over and touching his forehead to yours. 

            "Get well soon," he said, kissing the tip of your nose. 

            "You just want to have more rough sex."

            "That is a big motivator," Jack said, kissing you again.  "I'm going to spend the morning thinking about you two in bed without me."

            "Yeah, I'm going back to sleep."  How the hell was he so perky?

            Gabriel chuckled, rolling over to spoon you.  "Have a good day, Jack.  I'll be working remotely today."

            "Is that what they call it nowadays?"

            "Shut up.  I'm trying to sleep."

            "You should probably make sure she gets her next dose of painkillers.  She's getting cranky."

            "We didn't feed her last night.  She's going to be bear when she wakes up."

            "I can still hear you," you growled, and burrowed under the pillows.

 


 

            Your arm hurt.  And this wasn't your couch. This was a bed.  You rolled over, eyes widening as you saw Gabriel, sitting shirtless on the couch, reading his tablet.  He just wore his fatigue pants and you sighed, enjoying the view. 

            "What time is it?"

            "Time for painkillers and breakfast.  Otherwise known as 1200 hours.  Lacroix's still alive, out of surgery, and after that we'll have to see."

            You groaned.  "He better be OK.  I still have to yell at him for dragging Ziv off base and stuff." 

            Gabriel stood and set the tablet down.  He brought you a bottle of water and a pill.  You took it, and maybe it was the placebo effect, but your aches dulled quickly.  "Ana dropped off some chicken soup from the mess hall.  It's still warm.  You want me to feed you?"

            "I can drink it out of the bowl," you said. 

            "What if I want to feed you?" 

            "I uh...I'd like to do it myself right now." You looked down at your bandaged hand.  "Need to remind myself I'm not helpless."

            Gabriel nodded.  "All right."  He handed you the plastic container, lid off.  You sipped it, savoring the heat. 

            "It's not as good as yours," you told him. 

            "I know.  But I didn't want to leave you alone." You drank half of it in one go.  Now you needed a spoon or something to fish out the solids.   Gabriel tapped you on the nose with a plastic spoon. 

            "Thanks.  Yeah, who knows what I would have done?  Tried on your clothes?  Scattered your sewing supplies?  Slept through everything?"  You balanced the soup container between your thighs and began picking out rice, carrots, and chicken. 

            "You're dangerous without supervision."  He sat on the bed.  "Agent Mihret wrote an interesting report.  Jesse verified it." 

            "It was Lao," you said.  "I know it.  She was scarred, wearing a whole slew of cybernetics, and she was all fucked up, but I know it was her.  She didn't recognize me."  You paused.  "I had her on the ground.  I was going to end her, and it's like, fuck: that's one of mine."

            Gabriel raised a brow.  "That was in there too.  Agent Mihret confirms that the resemblance is strong.  He couldn't say either way because he didn't get a great look at her.  Because he was too worried about the idiot that jumped in front of the bullets meant for him.  He didn't say "worried."  He said "concerned."   But I can read between the lines."  Gabriel said, each word becoming more clipped. 

            "You telling me you wouldn't stand between your agents and a bullet?"

            "I'm enhanced."

            "Yeah, yeah, you're going to give me a complex."   You reclined against the pillows.  "I was wearing armor, Gabriel.  And I didn't jump in front of him, I threw him behind me.  I didn't want to take bullets for that smartass.  I just didn't want him to get hit."

            Gabriel sighed.  "You know, I've had this exact conversation before, both sides.  This is all kinds of deja vu."

            "You have predictable taste in friends.  And some bad habits."  You sighed.  "I'm not going to say I learned them from you, but Captain Patel could only teach me so much.  Besides, you wouldn't like me nearly as much if I wasn't occasionally stupid-brave."

            "That's Jack," Gabriel said.  "I prefer my women intelligent and uninjured."

            "Damn, we're both out of luck." 

             Gabriel's jaw clenched.  "This isn't a laughing matter."

            "I don't care.  I'm just happy to be here."  You handed him your empty container and he tossed into the trash.

            "Don't be flippant, not about this and not right now."  He turned his head, fists balled at his side.  

            "I'm sorry, that came out wrong.  I'm sorry I worried you.  I'm sorry I wasn't fast enough to keep myself unharmed.  But I'm not sorry that I kept Ziv safe and made it home mostly intact."

             Gabriel exhaled slowly.  "You're learning."

            "I don't like upsetting you.  Jack?  Yeah, I like goading him; he's been playing stupid games with me for awhile.  But you just get this shadow over your face, and it's awful. I'm sorry."  You nestled down in the blankets.  "I forget you were in charge of a bunch of people and-"  And a lot of them never made it home. 

            "The demotion wasn't the end of the world.  I have less people to worry about and fewer asses to kiss."  He rested his head on the pillow beside yours.  "But the people I do worry about?  I worry about them more."

            You didn't know what to say, so you curled up against him.  "Next time I'll let them shoot Ziv."

            "No you won't,"  Gabriel laughed, despite himself.  "Talon wants him and Lacroix."

           "Talon wants Lacroix.  They'd kill Ziv on principle, but they don't actually want him.  Nobody does.  He's awful."

           


 

            Gabriel stayed in the room with you, probably because he didn't trust you not to go through his closet.  It was a fair suspicion.  Your closet was boring.  Gabriel's might have cool things, like candy, or kittens, or Narnia.  He stayed on the couch, working on his tablet, looking up at you every once in awhile, watching you when he thought you weren't paying attention.

            That was OK.  You did it to him too.  You were just sneakier about it.

            It was back to voice-to-text reports for you.  No "shit spiders" this time, but you gave a full account of the Shanghai op, which you were refusing to call "Shanghai Noon."  You sat in Gabriel's bed, wearing his shirt, trying to manage your communications backlog.  There were missions that need approved, funding proposals to review, and onboarding protocols to tweak. 

            You didn't mind occasionally staffing Blackwatch with criminals, so long as they were like Jesse and you.  A little morally conflicted, possibly homicidal, and definitely shady, but not downright crazy or evil.   It didn't matter how talented they were, if you knew right off the bat that you'd never be able to trust them, they weren't worth it.  Not with Shit Spiders heating up.  The amnesty agreements had steps, conditions, and protection from abuse.  You weren't sure if that would fix things, but you'd worked closely with Jesse and Genji on that. 

            Gabriel was coming around.  He'd been annoyed about that group of brilliant geneticists you'd executed a month ago, but he hadn't been on the ground or in their labs.  You and Jesse had gotten real drunk after that one.  Genji joined you, but you still weren't sure if he was able to get intoxicated.  You'd been able to remotely upload their notes and project data; Ziv had managed to decrypt it within a week, then called you at 3AM to ask if you'd really killed them all or if you'd saved him one.  Then he'd gotten drunk and called you at 5AM to ask why you didn't warn him about how graphic the files would be.  You had.  He was just a drama queen.

            You found the 9th Circle data about Talon's mental conditioning procedures and started reading.  Drugs, severe behavioral modification techniques, electroshock therapy combined with control-chip nanite treatments, partial lobotomies, cybernetic reprogramming... There were a lot of methodologies, used in a variety of combinations.   Most had severe side effects.  You understood then that even if you found Lao, if she hadn't betrayed you, there was a good chance she would never recover. 

            You continued to read up on their biological modifications, though it was way over your head.  But there was a white paper; those fuckers had written up a layman's presentation to market it.  You knew there were plenty of powerful people, and governments, that wouldn't mind buying that kind of technology, ethics be damned. 

            Oh, you had a lot of messages. 

            "Where are you?" Ziv had sent it this morning.   

            "You dead?  Or just wish you were? :)  Also Ziv's looking for you." Jesse. 

            "What did you do to your augments?!!!!!!!"  Torby.

            "Do we need to talk?" Captain Amari.

            "Find me."  Imprinted was the icon of a stylized white serpent.  Sender unknown.

            You closed your eyes.  Of course.  You knew who Bái Shé was.  It fucking figured.  Especially with that stupid white armor.  You pulled up Lao's files, the pictures you'd found after Shin's birthday.  Gabriel had cleared them for your possession. 

            It was a trap, of course.  You'd need Ziv to look at the message, do his magic.  But once he did, you would send a picture of your unit to one of her old private accounts.  Maybe the one with all of you posing except for Captain Patel, who stood in the middle, ramrod straight and unamused by your collective antics.  You think Georgie took it, but you couldn't remember now.   No, you wouldn't send her that one.  Even if you looked different now, there was no point in handing Talon that.  You would find another one of the group, one without you.  You would send that one, the one of her and Rivka, and the one of her and Valdez kissing.  And then you would hone your tanto, because even if she was a traitor, Lao had only been a baby, and you'd loved her.  For that she deserved a sharp blade.

 


 

            You responded to the rest of your messages, making sure to let Ziv know you were out on medical leave and to pester Gabriel instead.  Torby received your report about the battle.  You told Captain Amari everything was fine, but she still wanted to meet with you today.

            "You're not supposed to be working," Gabriel said.  "And why are you siccing Agent Mihret on me?"

            "I'm not supposed to be working," you said.  "I'm only doing the light stuff because I'm an amazing agent.  But Ziv's a pain in the ass, so you get to deal with him."  You paused.  "I'm going to need clothes.  Captain Amari wants to see me later."

            Gabriel held up a bag.  "Jack and Jesse went in your room.  I think Jack's a little surprised by how...unlived in it is."

            You shrugged.  " I store what I have there, but I don't have a lot of stuff.  I don't need a lot of stuff.  I sleep on the couch in the office."  The most "stuff" you had was the food in the kitchen.  And that was all expendable. 

            A cloud passed over Gabriel's face.  "You ever talk to your shrink about your family?"

            "Who doesn't?"  You set your tablet down and slipped out of the bed.  "They've been dead a long time, Gabriel.  It wasn't pretty.  I dealt.  And that chapter of my life is over."  You'd sealed the record and there was nothing left to talk about.

            "I have sisters."

            "I know," you said.  Three, if you remembered correctly, and several nieces and nephews. 

            "My mother is alive," he said.  "So's my paternal grandmother."

            "I know." 

            "I lost my father to cancer.  It happened shortly after I'd joined Overwatch."

            "I'm sorry," you said, even though you knew that too. 

            "Yeah, me too.  The point is, a big sweeping loss like yours, it leaves scars.  It doesn't matter if it was yesterday or ten years ago, it'll fuck you up in ways you don't realize."

            "I think I'm pretty well-adjusted, considering."  You rummaged through the bag and found that some clever asshole - probably Jack - hadn't brought you any underwear.  But he'd managed to find your civilian clothes.  Your underwear was in the underwear drawer.  Honestly, that wasn't a hard concept.  You pulled on a black sweater with extra long cuffs and your jeans.  You couldn't wear gloves with your hand bandaged and there was no point in covering your right hand. 

            "Is that why you're so adrift?"

            "Don't know what you're talking about, Gabriel."  Because you were very focused and anchored in Blackwatch.  You had a mission. 

            OK, you were definitely blaming Jack, because he'd brought you socks and your sock drawer was right next to your underwear drawer.  You sat on the couch next to Gabriel, pulled them on, and looked down at your dusty boots. 

            "You want help with that?" 

            "Nah, I got it."  You'd learned that you could get away with just using your thumb early on.  The loops were loose, but your shoes were tied.

            "Let me," Gabriel said and got on his knees.  He untied your laces and retied them tighter. 

            You huffed.  "Thank you, but it was fine." 

            "Of course," he said looking amused.  "You are very well-adjusted, considering.  I certainly don't think you're teetering on the edge of mental collapse."

            "But?" You asked, a little irked. 

            Gabriel sighed and sat back on the floor, his hands flat on the ground behind him.  "There was a battle outside Dili; the weather was shit, the omnics were overpowered.  I was the only survivor."  He didn't look at you.   "Obviously, Jack and I weren't serving together then.  I think he was in Lisbon.  Doesn't matter."  His gaze stayed on the floor.  "I still catch myself making coffee the way Frank liked it or craving Yuan's weirdly delicious fish ball rice porridge.  I didn't talk about it for years.  Just picked up, got transferred to another unit, and kept going.  That part of my life was done.  I didn't plan on talking about it ever again.  But I didn't mesh so well with my next few units.  Didn't try to get attached or anything.  I didn't really come out of it till I ended up in Kandahar, back with Jack.  But that shit was still there, under all the scar tissue.  Always will be.  I just deal with it better now." 

            "You're so pushy," you said, slipping off the couch and onto the floor beside him.  "And I can't argue with you when you're all honest and open like this.  It's not fair."

            "I don't know where you got this idea that I play fair," he said, his fingers twining around your hands. 

 


 

            You made it out of Gabriel's room without witnesses.  Gabriel had helped you get your tanto and shoulder holster on because those were harder one-handed.  Did you always used to go around armed, even off-duty?  No, that was a recent development. 

            Sitting in Captain Amari's office, you decided it wasn't necessarily unhealthy, but maybe you lived an uncommonly dangerous life.  Captain Amari poured you tea and placed some dark chocolate-dipped digestive biscuits on a plate. 

            "Are you sorted?" she asked, sipping from her bone china set.

            "I think so."  You felt slightly odd having this conversation.  Captain Patel would never have approved, though you liked to think that eventually she would have liked having tea and biscuits with you. 

            "Are you comfortable with what Gabriel and Jack are asking of you?"

            "I am a willing adult in this, yes.  I am also terrified of screwing up because apparently I have repressed emotional issues.  My career is also a concern, but I know I'm good at my work.  I'm bad at...people."

            "That's interesting, considering Agent Mihret has recommended you for every commendation you could conceivably qualify for."

            You nearly choked on your tea.  "He certainly has an overinflated view of the value of his life."

            "Says the woman who took a bullet for him," Captain Amari said blandly. 

            "I keep telling everyone, I wasn't throwing myself in front of bullets, I was trying to drag him out of their trajectory.  There is a distinct difference there."

            Captain Amari gave you a measured look that somehow shamed you for being flippant, right before sipping her tea.  "Gérard is expected to make it."

            You sighed.  "That's a relief.  I'd hate to think we did all that work so he could die."

            That got another look from her. 

            "Sorry, ma'am," you said and took a big swig of tea. 

            "I saw your report.  I find it troubling that Bái Shé has already contacted you."

            "Yeah, me too."  You ate another biscuit.  "I didn't realize she was Bái Shé at the time.  Too shocked that it was her."

            "Understandable."

            "I'd prefer to take her alive."

            "The suggestion has merit.  But she is dangerous.  Agent Mihret has been sifting through the analytics that led Gérard into her trap.  He's reasonably certain that it came from someone up high, not the analysts." 

            "We're getting more of that.  Gabriel showed me a copy of conflicting orders he and Jack received.  It was a little thing, Jack was supposed to oversee some kind of omnic peace meeting.  Gabriel was supposed to "eliminate with extreme prejudice" one of the attendees.  There was only a little overlap, but you can see how that could've gone very badly."

            Captain Amari nodded.  "I saw that too.  Normally, I would be against this sort of personal arrangement.  Too much room for...exploitation," she said.  "But in this case, we need to close ranks, triple-check orders, and you work well with them.  But if you ever feel like your relationship with them is interfering with your work or that you can't tell them no, you come to me.  We will sort it." 

           Well, that wasn't a ringing endorsement, but that was better than you were expecting.  "Thank you, ma'am.  I really do appreciate you looking out for me.  You're a good CO."

           "I have to keep my tea pipeline open."  She didn't mention Jesse or your efforts there, because she was too classy and secretive.  "Just so you know, Agent Mihret was identified.  There's now a bounty on his head from Talon."

            You swore. 

            "Nothing for you yet, but they got plenty of footage of Agent Mihret and Gérard."  You wondered if Lao had been recording.  She didn't seem to recognize you in the fight.  But she identified you and she certainly remembered enough to message you.   Your armor had that high collar that blocked half your face.  There was good chance they didn't have a clear picture of you. 

            "I know it's some kind of trap, but...I want in on whatever Bái Shé ops there are.  I've nearly finished up my part of planning Hanoi.  The rest is up to Gabriel and Jesse."

            "Noted.  You have my recommendation.  When Gérard awakens, I'm sure he will have no qualms about bringing you on board."  She took another biscuit.  "Ah, I was asked to approve leave for you for the Christmas weekend.  You now get a week of paid vacation to use somewhere in the next two months, so it won't cut into your regular leave."  Not that it mattered, because you ended up using medical leave most the time. 

            "I didn't put that in," you said.  Because you planned to work through it, get hot chocolate and omurice with Genji, maybe Jesse, and get drunk.  You didn't celebrate Christmas, but being in Europe, you couldn't quite ignore the dominant tradition and the heavy emphasis on family and togetherness.  You wondered if Genji wanted to check out some of the Krampus parades in Germany.  Those looked cool. 

            "I am aware of that.  I will say no more, except if you would like to work, I can dig my heels in and keep you here."

            Must've been Jack or Gabriel, which was interesting because no one had said anything to you.  "Thank you ma'am.  I'll...sort it.  I better go see Ziv and brainstorm about this bounty and Bái Shé message."

            "You do know you're supposed to be on medical leave, right?"

            "Well, my productivity has taken a hit," you said waving your bandaged hand.  "So minimal paperwork.  But those assholes tried to kill my hacker and then had the nerve to put a bounty on him.  I'm not happy about this.  And in Blackwatch, if we're not happy, we get petty."

            "I wasn't aware that you ever stopped being petty, Agent."

            She had you there.

 


 

            Ziv sat on the conference room table while Winston paced.

            "That's all I'm worth?  Seriously?  How much do they have on you?"

            "Five times that," Winston admitted.

            "I was asking Lucky, you showoff." 

            "Nothing."  You passed your hand over your lower jaw.  "I don't get caught and I had that metal collar that covered half my face."

            "Yeah, you could be anybody," he admitted.  "But fuck, that was Bái Shé's calling card and she totally contacted you.  Couldn't get shit on the location data."

            "It's Lao Yue.  She was in the video with your grandmother."  You rubbed your sore arm.  "I'm not saying she didn't betray us, but I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around that idea." 

            "My grandmother talked about her.  Said she was "stubborn trouble, couldn't keep her hands to herself, and had extremely odd taste in men."  Or was she talking about you?  I might be getting you mixed up."

            Winston was suddenly very interested in his tablet. 

            "Don't tell me it's above my pay grade.  I spent all morning searching for you, and it was fucking McCree who told me to stop."

            "I was sleeping, because I'm on medical leave."

            "Sleeping where?" 

            "None of your business," you scowled. 

            "He has a boyfriend!"  Ziv said.  "You're playing with fire!  You know exactly who his boyfriend is!  Are you insane? I thought you were smarter than that!"

           Oh, that's what he thought was going on.  Huh. "This doesn't leave this room, Mihret, or I will cut your tongue out and give you to Talon myself."

            Ziv uncrossed his arms.  "Yeah?"

            "Goes for you too Winston."

            "I heard nothing."

            "The boyfriend is in on it too.  OK.  Both of them.  No one's in the dark or under duress; we've all talked about it.  There's third party moderation.  It's a mutual thing, and I can't believe I'm having this conversation."

            You had the satisfaction of seeing Ziv's jaw drop and no words come out.  He worked his mouth a few times. 

            "Goddamnit you've totally wrecked the betting pool."

            "What?"

            "I mean, they aren't common knowledge, so after Paris there was a betting pool about who you were schtupping.  McCree is in first.  Reyes is in second.  Morrison is in third.  Genji is in fourth.  Unknown is in fifth.  And "no one" is in sixth.   Reinhardt is in the pool, since you danced with him at the ball, but no one actually thinks he could keep it a secret." 

            You struggled to keep your words sensible.  "There's no fucking way.  You're shitting me."

            "Yes, I am," he said.  "And you deserved it because how do you get two boyfriends and I'm still single?"

            "It couldn't possibly be your winning personality," you said.

            He threw his clipboard at your head.

 


 

            "I want Gérard at Hanoi if possible.  Jack wants in, though, that's not a good idea.  Ana's in. You, Genji, and Jesse are a given.  Get Mihret's combat skills up and he can come."  Gabriel sat at his desk, looking at the building plans Ziv had managed to acquire. 

            "Not happening on our timeline.  He's been focusing on medical training," you sighed.  "His shooting is passable.  But we need a hacker."   You didn't want to take him, but you didn't have much of an option. 

            "Yeah, fine.  He's with you then," Jesse grumbled. 

            "No, he's with you.  You're hitting the labs with Genji.  You'll need him most," Gabriel said.   

            "He can stay with me initially.  Who knows how accurate these layouts are?"  You tapped your good hand against your copy of the building plans.   Your burns were still healing, so no prostheses.  Technically you were supposed to be on medical leave, but it's not like Angela could see through walls and find you in the office...could she?  "Do we need a dedicated demolitionist?"

            "No, I'm skilled.  Genji's pretty adept.  Gérard is also shockingly good at explosions.  That should be adequate." 

            "He's probably good at everything," you sighed.  "Fucking French James Bond."

            Jesse laughed at that. 

            "We need a full medical team on standby.  I know you don't like cross-pollinating, but we're going to encounter heavy resistance.  I don't want to wait to reach a field hospital.  East Asia is too hostile."  Between the Shimada, Vishkar, a variety of omnic invasions, and local governments, it was not a friendly zone.

            Gabriel gave you a look.

            "No, seriously.  We can do them as a second wave.  Get us in position, borrow someone from Overwatch to look after the medics.  Reinhardt, Winston, or Torby could back them up.  They'd have plausible deniability, and with the exception of Reinhardt, they're already cleared for Shit Spiders."

            "No," Gabriel said.  "We don't need them and they're a liability."

            "Jack then, if he's coming.  Put him in second wave with the medics."

            Gabriel sighed.  "You're going to push this, aren't you?"

            "Jesse, I'm right.  Tell him I'm right," you insisted. 

            "Ain't saying she's right, but it wouldn't hurt to have them in reserve.  Have'em cooling their heels in Seoul a week or so ahead.  That town's still friendly.  Put in over Hanoi twenty minutes in.  We don't tell them shit, except it's a combat zone.  Keep'em suborbital, and use a Blackwatch pilot.  If we don't need'em, they don't learn a thing and no harm done." 

            "Yes, to the medical team.  We'll see about using Overwatch agents."

            "They'll agree to it, if Lucky asks," Jesse said, putting his feet on your desk.  You thought about shoving them off, but there'd been worse things on your desk lately.  You had the pictures to prove it. 

            Gabriel glared at him.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

            "It means, we're such assholes in Blackwatch that I'm considered the diplomatic one."  Which wasn't really fair, because Jesse could be very persuasive.  You suspected he was mostly responsible for rehabilitating your image within Overwatch.  It certainly wasn't through your clever efforts. 

            "I want Lacroix's input on everything.  He's done more work in Vietnam than any of us," Jesse said.  "Hell, he even speaks the language."

            "This is just the first revision," you said.  "Wait till he's off bed rest."

            "He'd be happy for something to do," Jesse said.

            "OK, well I need to switch over to the Bái Shé data.  She's hit some Canadian company and I want Lacroix's opinion too.  I'll let him know you're going to hit him up."

            You gathered up your tablet and a sheaf of paperwork. 

            "Hey, Jack wanted to see you when you had a free moment," Gabriel said, studying another map. 

            "OK," you said.  "I'll swing by his office after I'm done with Lacroix." 

            "Can you give him this from me?"  He held out his hand. 

            You walked over, trying to see what he had.  Gabriel grabbed your collar, yanked you in, and kissed you hard.  You stifled a moan as his tongue flicked into your mouth.

            Jesse coughed, a few times, very loudly, before Gabriel released you.  He radiated smug satisfaction.  You couldn't stop the stupid grin from creeping across your face. 

            "I can't believe you fell for that," Jesse said with a groan.

            "I'll pass it on," you said.

            Gabriel just smirked at the two of you.        

 


 

            "This is all I have on Lao Yue," you said, sending Lacroix her personnel file, your notes on her, the files Ziv recovered, and the pictures you'd found. 

            "Much obliged."  Lacroix was sitting up now.  You weren't sure how soon he'd be back in the field, but it seemed Gabriel was willing to delay the Hanoi run to get him in.  "This is more than I had a week ago."

            "You saw my report."  You paused.  "Maybe I should've killed her, but I want answers.  I reread the neural reconditioning reports.  I can't say for sure that's what happened, but that's my working theory."

            "Why would they spare her?" He mused.  "The Black Base Delta data purge seems to be main reason for the raid.  Perhaps with Agent Cohn dead, they needed someone to give them a rundown of the tech situation."

            "That's the only reason I can think of, if this is under duress."  You'd sent three photographs to one of Lao's old accounts.  There hadn't been a response yet.

            When Lacroix had graciously thanked you for the rescue, you'd told him, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't to take your hacker out without better protection.  And that while he was at it, maybe he should take better protection too.  He'd just laughed, all good natured charm, and told you his wife had already scolded him and she was far more terrifying than you. Amélie was currently staying on the base and Captain Amari had assigned her discrete bodyguards.

            "Jesse's eager to get you onboard the next step of Shit Spiders," you said.  "So don't be surprised if he stops by."

            "Of course, but I want to take care of Bái Shé first.  I should be out soon," he said.  "We will talk about it then."

           


 

            Jack wasn't in his office. 

            But he'd messaged you the entry code to his quarters.  You rubbed your forehead.  You'd never been inside his quarters, and now he was giving you the key?  You were just stopping by.  It was no big deal. 

            You walked through casually, looking at your paperwork like you here for work.  People noticed you now.  This wasn't a good thing, in your book, because your work was best done discretely.  You ended up on the upper level where bigshots like Lacroix and Captain Amari also roomed. 

            You knocked twice, just to let him know you were coming in, then input the code and opened the door. 

            The lights were on low.  His room was much bigger than Gabriel's and done in gray and white.  He had a sitting room and a separate bedroom.  Being Strike Commander certainly had perks. 

            "Jack?" 

            "Be out in a moment.  Make yourself comfortable." 

            You sat awkwardly on his couch, setting your stuff on the end table.  Jack's furniture was some kind of golden wood with dark grey fabric.  It was kind of a relief that everything wasn't blue and white. 

            "Hey."  He came out of the bedroom in sweatpants and that was it.  You made yourself not stare at his bare chest, though it was difficult.  He was doing this on purpose.  He wanted a reaction.  And you weren't going to give him the satisfaction.

            "Gabriel said you needed something?"  You studied the pictures on the walls.  They were landscapes and some ships.  Nothing personal. 

            "It can wait.  Do you want something to drink?" 

           "Yeah," you said.  "Please."  You weren't sure the last time you were alone with Jack, but it hadn't been since this...arrangement started.  It made you antsy. 

            Jack brought you a beer and sat down beside you, already drinking his own.  "Relax, Lucky.  I won't bite.  Even if you deserve it."  You didn't trust the way he smiled when he said that.  "Unless you want me to." 

            You did not need to imagine Jack's mouth on your shoulder, his teeth lightly grazing your skin.  You swallowed a gulp of beer.   "Damnit, Jack." 

            "Gabriel said you had something for me," he said smugly. 

            "Gabriel's a goddamn instigator," you said, but you put your beer on the coffee table and grabbed Jack's jaw with your good hand.  You turned his face to you and kissed his roughly, your tongue slipping into his mouth the same way Gabriel had kissed you.   Jack's hands gripped your forearms and he moaned into your mouth.  When you opened your eyes, you were straddling his lap, sucking on his tongue. 

            You broke the kiss, a little breathless.  "That's from Gabriel."

            Jack smiled crookedly at you.  "Oh?"

            "This is from me."  You gripped his hair, tracing your lips down his neck.  He shuddered against you, and you nipped the junction of his neck and shoulder.  He let out a sharp hiss, and you gentled your mouth, licking the imprint you left.

            He growled and wrapped his arms around your waist, his cock pressed against you.  "Like those pictures I sent?"

            "Yeah.  I was in a meeting with Winston, so thanks for that.  Seriously, use Gabriel's desk.  I actually have paperwork on mine." 

            Jack laughed, his mouth moving down your collarbone.  You squirmed against him.  "Next time we can use my desk.  It's bigger.  And I don't care if you mess up my paperwork."  He pulled your shirt down, his mouth moving between your breasts.  He ground against you and you bit your lip.  

            He grinned and rolled his hips, practically bouncing you on his lap.  You bit him again and he kept rubbing between your thighs. 

            "Get those pants off and you can ride me right now," he said, voice raw with need. 

            "Not supposed to be "sparring," you said regretfully. 

            He stopped.  " Ah, I forgot.  Sorry."  He took a deep breath and shifted so he wouldn't be pressed quite so obviously against you. 

            "Yeah, me too."  You started to climb out of his lap, but he kissed your neck, his arms still holding you in place.  Jack liked sex a lot and the novelty of having a regular female partner hadn't quite worn off yet. 

            "We can just make out," Jack said.  "You don't have to worry about teasing or pushing me too far.  I'll be good."

            "Yeah, I'm not falling for that one," you said, sliding out of his lap.  You sat beside him, reaching for your beer.  He was too sexy for your sanity. 

            "Don't trust me?" He asked, sipping his beer.  "Or don't trust yourself?"

            You took a long slow drink and considered your reply.  "It's not like that, Jack.  You push.  I push back.  Suddenly we're using safe words and it's like "how did that escalate so quickly? Damn I don't want to stop."  Best not to risk it."

            "You're probably right," he said, pulling back. "Sorry." 

            "It's fine."  You finished your beer, eyes on your lap.  Jack was silent and maybe you'd said the wrong thing.  It was strange to do this without Gabriel.  Not that you didn't like Jack, just you were used to Gabriel being there.  You knew how to handle Gabriel and vice versa.  Jack was...different. 

            "You done?" He sounded distant now.

            "Yeah."

            Jack took the empty can out of your hands, crushed it flat, and tossed it in the recycling bin.  "You want another?"

            "I'm OK."  You sat there, feeling awkward, like the one night stand who stayed too long.  "Uh...you want me to go?  I don't want to hold you up if you're busy."

            "I'm free for the evening."  He sat with his elbows on his knees, his head tilted toward you.  "You can stay.  I'd like that.  I don't mean to pressure you."

            "It's not like I don't want to," you said, feeling slightly mortified. 

            "I know.  I'm pushy.  You can always say "no."  It's not about me."  He sighed.  "And I'm not giving you the cold shoulder.  I just needed a minute to cool down.  I'm good now."  He gave you a reassuring grin.  "It's safe to come back." 

            "Oh." You leaned against him.   He was pleasantly warm and he put an arm around you.  "How was your day?"

            "Ugh, don't make me think about it.  Tell me about yours instead."

            "Long - maybe not as long as yours, but long enough for an unenhanced human."

            "Tell me about it."  He sounded interested, which was kind of nice. 

            "We started tracking down who exactly put the bounty on Ziv, because I'm going to go kill them personally.  Ziv is doing the research, I'll just handle the fun part.  Torby had to yell at me about really fucking up that set of augments, which is stupid because that's Angela's territory, but you know how he is.  Reviewing Genji's super secret dossiers and debating the best way to discretely take care of an entire family.  I'm leaning toward something creative.  Gabriel's being difficult about planning the Shit Spider op.  Part of me wanted to smack him, but Jesse was there and I'm keeping work and this separate.  Except as I'm getting ready to go talk to Lacroix, Gabriel's all "I have something for Jack" and kisses me in front of Jesse.  So there goes half my brainpower.  Then I delivered my compiled Bái Shé/Lao Yue data for Lacroix, and he's being coy about his plans, but that's fine because I was still reeling from Gabriel's surprise attack.  And then I came over to drink your beer and be awkward."   

            "Aren't you supposed to be on medical leave?"  Jack raised a brow at you.   

            "I'm injured, not unconscious.  I can still do things.  Maybe not jump out of planes or type, but I should be able to equip my augments in the next day or two.  The burns are healing nicely.  Gunshot wound is good, but Angela keeps giving me the "no sparring" euphemism, and I think she's just trying torture me.  Or you guys.  Did you guys piss her off?"

            Jack shrugged.  "Possibly."  There was a story there.

            "Also, Ziv and Winston are kind of aware of...us."  Because you weren't sure what to call it and maybe you didn't want to call it anything yet. 

            Jack shrugged again.  "We're all consenting adults.  I'm not ashamed."  He paused.  "But is this going to make your life harder?"

            "Not them knowing.  Obviously if it becomes common knowledge, that'd be different.  But I trust them and pretty much everyone in Shit Spiders."

            "Yeah, I think most everyone in Shit Spiders already knows." 

            You sighed.  You were afraid of that. 

            "If McCree knows, Ana and Genji know.  If Ana knows, Gérard has picked up on it already, and butter won't melt in his mouth.  Torby might be the only one not in the know and he doesn't care."  Jack rubbed the back of your neck. 

            "OK."  You sat there a moment.  You tried to think of things Jack liked, besides sex.  "You want me to rub your back?"

            "God, yes," he said and turned around. 

            You worked his shoulders, kneading the knots you'd seen Gabriel focus on before.  It was still strange to be here alone with him.  Not unpleasant, just new ground.

            "I have a question.  You don't have to answer."  You ran your fingers down a long scar above his kidneys.   "Captain Amari told me to ask you about Gabriel and Kandahar."  Your hands traveled down his spine. 

            Jack was quiet for a moment.  "I see.  Ana disposed of your armor before Gabriel could see it this time.  I didn't think that was accidental.  But I wasn't going to ask."

            "After the Code White Alps mission... Well, I wasn't expecting that reaction."

            "It's not really about Kandahar, per se.  That's the only part she was there for," Jack sighed.  "How much do you know about Gabriel's service?"

            "I know a little about Dili." 

            Jack blew out a breath.  "Yeah."  He looked over his shoulder at you.  "It took him years to tell me about that."

            "It was recent. He was using it as lever to get me to do more therapy," you said. 

            "Talking about it has helped," Jack said. "Kandahar was that turning point for him.  We were fighting omnics.  I covered a retreat for our demolitionists, pretty standard stuff.  But one of the bastions wasn't actually finished.  It got me in the back, my armor took a dozen rounds in under five seconds, easy."

            You stopped pressing on his back, looking now for signs of scarring.  He had more than his fair share of bullet wounds, gashes, burns, and were those really big teethmarks? 

            "Gabriel lost his shit.  Charged out and practically tore it apart with his bare hands.  OK, I'm exaggerating, but only a little.  Then he was on me, ripping my armor off.  He'd called in medics and while I was hurting, I'm a super soldier.  It sucked, but my armor had done the trick.  I couldn't really understand why he was overreacting.  He sent me to the infirmary and I was pretty sore about it.  Then when I had a clean bill of health, he...well, I knew something was wrong."

            You stroked Jack's hair. 

            "Kandahar was when we insisted he get help."  Jack sighed.  "But the trauma stems from Dili.  He had a friend, Frank Hsieh.  Frank was SEP too, and probably the most laidback guy I've ever met.  He was big, just huge, but calm and pleasant as could be.  SEP pumped us full of so many chemicals and hormones, but Frank never had the emotional control issues that so many of us did.  He ate noodles and listened to us rage.  Sometimes he shared the noodles.  They were spicy."  Jack sighed.  "Frank acted as the shield, trying to cover Gabe and the rest of the unit when the omnics ambushed them.  He had some impressive armor.  Not quite like Reinhardt's, but still pretty hefty."

            You rested your forehead against Jack's back because you already knew how this story ended. 

            "They fought off the initial ambush, but Frank went down.  His armor had stopped the bullets, maybe a heavy armament or two, but the impact had left him with severe internal bleeding.  He died before they could get it off him.  And then a few hours later, the omnics came back, and they wiped out the rest of Gabe's unit."

            You sat there, trying not to picture any of your thoughts.  The words were enough.  "I think I need that second drink."

            "Yeah, me too."  Jack turned around to face you.  "I think, whatever spurred him to tell you this, might have him really worried about you."

            You didn't really want to tell Jack, but it only seemed fair.  "He thinks losing my hometown...and family, in one fell swoop, probably left me with some issues that I need to deal with.  I'm sure it has, but I think overall, I'm OK.  Well-adjusted even.  I've had years to get over it."

            You couldn't read Jack's expression. 

            "It sucks, and I mourned, but then it was all survive and don't get blown up or starve.  Then I joined Overwatch and...well."  You shrugged, because while you knew you weren't normal any more, your only known trigger was getting strangled.  And that was a pretty reasonable one. 

            "What are you doing for Christmas?" Jack asked. He held your hands in his, his grip on your bandaged hand gentle. 

            "Probably making dinner with Genji.  It's not a holiday I really celebrate."  You were smart enough to leave out the "getting drunk" part.  Because that's what you had done last year, new to Blackwatch and mourning your people.  Genji and Jesse had been with you, and Jesse had gotten pretty trashed too.  You didn't like thinking about it.  This year, Jesse was going with Captain Amari and Fareeha to some kind of local festival. 

            "Gabe and I going to visit my family.  Do you want to come?  It's only four days and you have the leave." 

            "I don't think that's a good idea," you said immediately.  Because Jack came from the heartland of America, a place of farms, and community, and lots of mayonnaise-based dishes.  Everyone in church on Sunday.  His family had a farm.  There was corn everywhere. 

            Jack blinked at you.  "Too much?"

            "It's a sweet gesture.  I appreciate it.  But what are you going to tell them?"

            "What do you want me to tell them?"

            "I have no idea," you said truthfully.  "Being described as the Blackwatch agent with no family to see at Christmas seems pretty pathetic though."

            "I would never- "

            "I know.  I'm being flippant.  Sorry." 

            "They won't make a big deal about it.  It's really informal.  We eat a nice meal, open presents, watch holiday movies..."

            And you hadn't gotten anyone anything for Christmas.  Because you didn't celebrate it.  Because you were the sad Blackwatch orphan who planned to spend December 24-26 drunk.  And now you knew why Captain Amari offered to let you work through Christmas.  She had to have known one of them would spring something like this, because they were decent thoughtful people and they wouldn't want you to feel left out, and it was really kind, but fucking hell you weren't emotionally-equipped to deal with your friends' families.  Ziv and Fareeha were the exceptions, and really they shouldn't even be here in Zurich. 

            Huh.  Maybe Gabriel was right about you needing more therapy.  That insightful bastard.

            You realized Jack had stopped talking.  You blinked as he tilted your chin up so you had to look into those terribly hypnotic blue eyes.

            "Hey."  His voice was gentle. 

            "Yo."  The word came out very small.  Damnit. 

            "You don't have to do anything you feel uncomfortable with.  I'm sorry.  I just want you to know you're welcome to come.  I'd like it."

            "I'll think about it," you said, and resolved to beg Captain Amari to put you to work.

Chapter Text

 

            You had your second beer and then made your excuses because you had to get some rest.  Jack didn't invite you to stay, but you could see that he wanted to, if only to convince you to go to Indiana for Christmas. 

            That was a date, you realized belatedly, as you snuck out of the officers' quarters.  It was an ambush date.  You'd been expecting Gabriel to just show up and make it less...strange.  But no, it was just you, and Jack, and a ton of misfires.  No sex.  No dinner.  And an invitation to visit Jack's family for Christmas.  What the hell kind of first date was that? 

            You checked your tablet.

            "Hope you're having fun, but not too much fun."  Gabriel, otherwise known as He-Who-Set-You-Up. 

            "My bounty has gone up!   It's now half of Winston's!"   Ziv was a fucking idiot. 

            "I want to meet."  That stylized white snake glimmered on your tablet. 

            You nodded assent at the screen, as if somehow, she could see you.

 


 

            "Absolutely not," Lacroix said, when you brought it up two days later.  You'd had Ziv try to trace the message, but with no luck.  Then you started your preparations.   

            "I'm in better shape than you, sir."  You were just down an arm.  He was still bedridden. 

            "It's obviously a trap."

            "Yeah, so was Shanghai."  Ah, Blackwatch pettiness; rarely helpful, but so satisfying.

            Lacroix actually rolled his eyes at you.  That bastard. 

            "She is dangerous."

            "Yeah, me too.  And I kicked her ass back in Canada when we were rookies.  I kicked it in Shanghai with her shiny upgrades.  I'll do it again."  You sat beside him, contemplating drugging his IV.

            "It won't just be her."

            "It won't just be me."  You were going to get Jesse and Genji for this one.  Maybe Captain Amari. 

            "You are not thinking logically."

            "Guilty," you agreed.  "That's why I'm asking your help planning it.  I'll be the bait.  I'm not even sure I'm good bait, because nobody gives a shit about me."  You'd already been fitted for another set of that high collar armor and you were considering some kind of visor or mask, for anonymity. 

            Lacroix crossed his arms.  "Get Gabriel to approve it, and I will."

            Oh, that tricky bastard. 

 


 

            "Absolutely not."  Gabriel sat at his desk and didn't even look up at you.  Jack was sitting on the couch, pretending to read. 

            "She reached out to me.  I want answers.  Lacroix can plan the op."

            "We don't run missions because you want answers, agent."

            You narrowed your eyes.  If that's how he wanted to play it.  Fine.  "Here is a summary of the damages she has caused in the last month, sir."  You sent him the file.  The update included more espionage, another murder, and a multibillion credit ransomware of the power grid episode in Oslo.

            "It is just a meeting.  I won't even try to kill anyone first.  Agent Lacroix is the highest value target she is interested in.  He is still on bed rest.  Winston is the next highest, but he is essential to the lab.  Agent Mihret is also considered high-value now, but he has minimal combat experience.  I am not high-value, I have experience, and she sought me out.  As I am not a priority Talon target, it is unlikely they will mount a full assault to attack me.  If I have a support team, we risk very little.  I will follow Senior Agent Lacroix's lead on this.  Dr. Ziegler has approved of my return to active duty as of today.  I have been fitted with upgraded augments, an improved sap glove, and new armor with better ballistic shielding and enhanced shock absorption, sir."  That was meant to be reassuring, but it sounded petty. 

            "No."  Gabriel looked at you.  "I don't know what Angela's on, but that arm isn't healed."
            It was sore, and you had agreed to more physical therapy, but it was useable. 

            "It's a meeting, sir." 

            "Just stop saying "sir" when you mean "you asshole,"  Jack said.  "You're making it worse." 

            You resisted the urge to glare at him and clasped your hands behind your back. 

            "Gabe, she's going to call you out onto the mat next." 

            "Jack, don't tell me to handle my people," Gabriel said harshly, and you wished Jack would stop trying to "help." 
            "I'm just warning you."  You could hear the amusement in Jack's voice.  "Lucky, take a walk.  Go see if they have any of that gingerbread in the mess."

            "Is that an order, sir?" You asked, trying not to make it sound like "you asshole," but not succeeding.    

            "It's a suggestion, baby."

            You exhaled, nodding.  If this didn't work, you would go to Captain Amari.  Because you were doing this, one way or another. 

            When you came back with three gingerbread cookies, Jack was sitting on Gabriel's desk.  Their clothes were straight.  Nothing was broken.  There were no papers on the floor.  Apparently they'd discussed it like adults.  Huh. 

            "Sit down," Jack said. 

            You did, and you held onto the cookies because you were petty.

            Gabriel gave you a hard look.   "I will approve the mission, but Jack and I are coming as observers."

            You tried to keep the incredulous look off your face.  Because that was just stupid.  "You are both high-value targets.  That's overkill."

            "If it's just a meeting, I'll get to see how you handle things.  If it's a fight, you have some of the best backup in the world.  What are you worried about?"  Jack asked. 

            You closed your eyes and wondered if this was a bribe toward Christmas, because Jack wasn't to be taken at face value ever.  You'd started shopping.  You could afford nice presents for them, but now you were contemplating just giving them each a lump of coal.  Yes, a lump of coal each, and you'd set them on fire. 

            "Those are the conditions.  Lacroix can work us in.  Now give me a damn cookie," Gabriel growled. 

            You handed him one and he snatched it out of your hand.  You handed one to Jack too.   But you didn't kiss them or express any personal sentiments.  Because that vow to keep work and this arrangement separate?  You three were already crashing and burning.    

 


 

            Lacroix, to his credit, didn't bat an eye.  He just took one look at your uncomfortable expression and laughed. 

            You replied to Bái Shé.  "When and where?"

            The reply was almost instantaneous.  "Cambridge.  Two days."

            You showed it to Lacroix.

            "I can work with that," he said. 

 


 

            "You and Genji are welcome to come with us," Jesse said.  You were on his couch throwing knives at his dartboard.  The darts were long gone.

            "You know how Genji is about crowds." 

            "I know how you are about crowds.  You'd do it for Fareeha though."  Jesse sipped his whiskey.  "So you aren't going to Indiana?"

            "How the fuck do you know about that?"  You threw the knife hard; it struck the cork, reverberating loudly.

            "Educated guess.  They went to LA last year." 

            You laid your head against the wall.  "It's too much too fast," you said.  "I don't even know how to talk about our "arrangement."  Like, this is my significant other and my other significant other?  This is my significant other and his significant other? These are my slightly significant others?  Haha, kidding, I'm a friend with extra benefits?  Meet his parents?  Fuck."  You threw back a mouthful of whiskey.  "And Gabriel's been extra...overbearing since Shanghai.  Also, the other day, when Jack wanted to see me, that was a surprise date.  I thought it was work but then, no, he gave me the code to his room and we talked and shit.  Mostly talked.  I was on strict a "no sex" advisory from Angela."  You took another drink.  "And then I realized that Gabriel was right, don't you fucking dare repeat that, and I need more therapy. Fuck."

            Jesse, to his credit, just poured you more whiskey.   "So this op?"

            "I know.  I don't want to run ops with them.  It's not that I don't trust them, I just...I'm comfortable with you and Genji.  They're the super big guns.  I'm subtle, and sneaky, and discrete.  They, like, blow up buildings.  Make a bridge or three go boom.  Cause a fucking avalanche."

            "That was Talon," Jesse laughed.  "And I'll be there.  And I blow shit up too."

            "Yeah, I know."  You sighed.  "It's different." 

            Jesse looked slightly offended. 

            "It is different, Jesse.  We're black ops.  They're celebrity heroes." 

            There was a knock at the door.  You ignored it and tossed the knife into the dartboard.  You didn't hit the center, but it was close enough. 

            "OK, stop that for moment while I see who's there."  Jesse got up crossing your path.  He opened the door and Gabriel stood there, looking grumpy as usual. 

            "Boss," Jesse said and you couldn't place the tone.   

            "Lucky in there?"  Gabriel could see you on the couch.  Jesse stepped back, because even if he was your friend, he wasn't getting in the middle of this. 

            "Yeah," you said. 

            "Got some stuff to go over."

            "Right now?" You asked, because even if you were tipsy, but you weren't stupid.  

            "It can wait," Gabriel said politely.  Which was novel.  He'd been growling at you for the past day. 

            "No, it's fine."  You set your glass on the table.  "Thanks, Jesse."

            "Anytime." 

            You waved over your shoulder, walking beside Gabriel.  You walked in silence, heading toward the office. 

            "My quarters?" He asked. 

            You stopped.  "Jack there?"

            "You want him there?"

            "Doesn't matter.  Was just wondering." 

            Gabriel nodded and opened his door.  You went in -no Jack - and sat on the couch.  Gabriel took off his hoodie and hat, setting them on the table.     

            "I haven't seen much of you," Gabriel said sitting down.

            "Been going over the op," you said.  Because you left for it tomorrow.  "Also, went to therapy."  You didn't look at him, because you weren't going to tell him he was right about that. 

            "You're mad about the op."

            "A little," you said.  "Nothing to do about it now.  I just needed space to cool down." 

            "Heard you had an interesting evening with Jack." 

            You shrugged.  "I wasn't expecting...that."

            "Which part?"

            "The whole thing.  I thought it was work-related."  You rubbed your forehead.  "And then he invited me to Indiana for Christmas.  Like how are you going to explain this to your parents?  And he's all "however you want me to" and I'm just like "...I don't know."  I have no idea."   

            Gabriel uncrossed his arms.  "Do you normally drink with Jesse?"

            "Maybe a couple times a month.  Sometimes Genji's there.  And sometimes I fall asleep on his couch."

            "I know."  Gabriel leaned over and kissed you.  "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous." 

            "You have nothing to worry about," you scoffed. 

            "I don't care.  I want you here with me, not on another man's couch," he said.  "I'm not telling you what to do.  I'm just saying, you can drink here with me too."

            "Well on this specific occasion, I was complaining about you."  You tilted your chin up, daring him to be petty. 

            "I figured.  I...overreacted.  I'm sorry."

            You slumped against the couch.  "Yeah, me too." 

            "We have to keep our spats out of work," Gabriel sighed.  "Gérard is having a field day with this."

            "Your fault," you said. 

            "Yeah, I guess." 

            "Jack's too.  I know this was his idea."

            "Yeah."

            Gabriel reclined beside you, resting his head in your lap.  "I'm probably having the most difficulty keeping work and...us...separate.  Jack is very good at compartmentalization.  And while you know how to push my buttons, you rarely cross any hard lines."

            You picked at his curls before giving in and rubbing his scalp.  "Yeah.  I noticed."

            "You're all heart."

           "One of us has to be sensible about this."  And even if you were aggravated with him, Gabriel was...comfortable.  You understood your space with him.  Touch and sex were natural extensions of your shared affection.  He didn't make you nearly as nervous as Jack.  Which was something you were trying not to show.

            "So not going to lie, Indiana sucks."   Gabriel chuckled.  "His family is OK if you score them individually then calculate the average.  They have enough land you can hide out if it gets to be too much. The little brother's a shit.  His dad doesn't approve of me, or the fact his son likes dick.  His mother is a homemaker in her own strange reality but she seems to like me well enough.  I don't mind his sisters.  But when he's there, you get to see a side of him you don't see anywhere else."

            "You think I should come."  Because of course he did. 

            "If only so I don't have to deal with them by myself."

            "So persuasive," you said.  "How could I resist that argument?"

            Gabriel ran his thumb over your lower lip.  "It would mean a lot to Jack."

            "I-"  You sighed.  "I don't know." 

            "How do you want to be introduced?  Jack's bodyguard?  Jack's girlfriend?  Jack's lover?  Jack's other lover?  Jack's boyfriend's girlfriend?  You want to use my name instead of Jack's?"  Each title made you cringe a little more.

            "Please stop."  You buried your face in your hands.  "I think I'll stay here in Zurich and take Fareeha to that Yule festival.  Christmas caroling sounds great.  Do they even do that here?  Because I'll be real embarrassed if I'm the only one making up lyrics for that Twelve Days of Christmas song."

            "Huh.  You weren't joking about panicking.  What did Sato call you?"

            "Nothing.  We never talked about it," you said.  "I think he wanted to.  But we were being covert.  And he didn't want to...freak me out.  Yeah.  I know.  Residual issues from...things that I talked to the shrink about and whatever."

            "It doesn't mean you loved him any less."

            "I never told him that either," you said through clenched teeth.

            "He knew.  You don't hide it very well," Gabriel said, patting your head. 

            "Damnit, Gabriel."

            "Come here.  Let me hold you tonight.  No rough stuff.  You have to be in good shape for tomorrow."  He got up and pulled you toward the bed, and you let yourself be persuaded. 

 


 

            On the transport to Cambridge, it was Jack that strapped you into your armor.  He did it neatly and professionally, no lingering hands or groping.  But you were very conscious of his eyes on you the entire time. 

            "She's probably going to jam the headset.  Jesse's your sniper.  Gabriel will be nearby if you need close range support.  I'll be at mid-range."  Jack was dressed down without his overcoat, opting for a hoodie to cover his armor.  It was, surprisingly, gray.  

            You wore a gray overcoat on top of your armor.  It didn't look out of place in the winter.  The gray wide-brimmed, low-crowned hat wasn't flattering, but it helped hide your face.  Gabriel wrapped a dark green scarf around your neck.  You looked down at it.  The pattern looked almost like fish scales, very intricately done. 

            "Early Christmas present," he said.  "I made it myself."

            "That is completely unfair," you said, unsure of why he would give it to you now.  Did you look cold?     

            "You're welcome," he said, with a smirk. 

            Jack chuckled.  "He'll probably get you something else, just fair warning."

            None of it was fair, and you took a taxi to your destination. She'd named a cafe near the university. 

            You brought more printouts of Lao's photographs, excluding the ones with you.   You wore your tanto in your belt and your gun against your side.  Your sap glove had extra insulation to resist another electrical attack. 

            A girl in white with a reflective visor sat on inside the cafe.  You scanned the area for obvious attackers, but saw none. 

            "Vampire, this is Gunslinger, I have eyes on your target."

          "Gunslinger, this is Darklord, how the hell did you get Gérard to let you name things?  We sound like a fucking D&D party."

            "Darklord this is...Goldenrod.  Stop complaining."

            You could hear Jesse laughing.  "Spotted.  Am approaching."

            You walked into the building, noting that it was empty.  No barista greeted you.  No other customers sat at the tables. 

            "Vampire, take a step back from the glass, you are in prime sniping real estate." 

            You complied, studying the girl in white.  Lao was too thin, still on the cusp of adulthood.  She had high cheekbones and a narrow chin, but her weight loss made her bones jut out sharply.  Her eyes darted around too quickly, but that was how she'd always been. The circuits on her face were dark, and they looked uncomfortable against the burn scars.  She kept her metal arm covered. 

            "Lao."  You didn't sit. 

            "Lucky."  Her voice was harsh, raspy, nothing like it used to be.   You knew that voices could break from screaming.  You could easily imagine how that happened.  Her head had been shaved, the hair growing back as a downy fluff that only made her look younger.  But it was her, no mistake.  She removed the visor, crushing it between her metal fingers.  "I can't...I don't have much time.  I just killed the camera.  It's a trap."

            "I figured."  You unhooked your carbine.  "How many?"

            "A dozen armored units, my handler, four snipers."  She shuddered, metal fingers squeezing the table.  "It's Lacroix they want."

            "You catch that?"

            "Affirmative," Jack said. 

            "You need to get out of there, Vampire."  Jesse voice crackled over your earpiece.

            "Lacroix's not coming," you said. 

            "Then you need to leave."  There were dark circles around Lao's eyes.  Her cheeks were too gaunt, lips cracked and dry.  They weren't taking very good care of your baby hacker. 

            "What happened to you, Lao?"  You set the printouts on her table and stepped back, letting her take in the memories. 

            "I can't-  I don't.  The pictures helped.  It was smart of you not to send one of yourself.  I'm not trustworthy."

            "I know."  You wanted to reach out and comfort her, but you kept your hand on your gun. 

            "It's not me.  But it doesn't matter.  Kill me if you have to.  Kill me while I remember.  I didn't recognize you last time.  I can't guarantee I will recognize you next time."

            "Hush.  We'll figure this out," you said gently. 

            "Vampire, armored squadron sighted.  Take cover," Jesse said. 

            "I want to help you, Lao."

            "I know."  She closed her eyes.  "I'm sorry.  They wanted...Rivka.  She went down shooting.  I don't remember the rest."

            "What's your handler look like?"  Because you suspected she couldn't give you his name.  "Tell me what you can." 

            Lao's eyes flashed.  "Black suit. Middle-aged Ukrainian man.  Brown beard.  He is dangerous."

            You backed away from the window.  "Can you tell me anything about your conditioning?"

            "It...hurts.  I can't hold back much longer.  I-"  She screamed, voice raw, and flipped the table.  "Get out!"  She hunched over her arm tensed.  "Serpent Protocol Loading.  Lucky I-"  Her head snapped up, shoulders shaking.  "Initiating Taipan Mode."  

            "Going to fight me, kid?  Because you were always shit at it." 

            "You need to move," Gabriel's voice growled over the headset. "Gunslinger's taken out three snipers.  Got six soldiers in powersuits heading in your direction." 

            Lao leapt at you, arm gleaming under the LED lights. 

            You whipped your carbine off your back and shot her square in the chest.  She dropped out of the air, her armor absorbing the impact.  You grabbed the omnic-restraints off your belt, and kicked her onto her back.  No bleeding: they'd given her good armor.  You put her arms behind her back and cuffed her, knowing they wouldn't hold her very long.  You couldn't take her and fight off the powersuits.  So you would leave her behind again. 

            "Sorry about the rough stuff.  Give me a head start, if you can.  I'll find you again,  I promise."

             You walked behind the counter and found the barista.  He was unconscious on the floor.  You grabbed him and dragged him out the back, your left arm aching. 

            "I'm clear.  Got a civvy.  He's out cold." 

            "Leave him in the alley," Gabriel said. 

            You dropped the man beside a dumpster, scanning the narrow alleyways for a good sniper's nest.  There was the glint of metal across the way, and you angled yourself around a corner. 

            "Fourth sniper spotted.  Roof of the building on the southeast side - perched between chimneys."

            "Just stick to the shadows, Vampire.   I'll take care of him.  Darklord, are you intercepting those heavies?"

            "We don't have to engage, as long as Vampire moves her ass." 

            You climbed the fire escape of the building next door, staying in cover. 

            "Fourth sniper is down," Jesse said.  "Oh, interesting.  Your girl is loose.  And she's going after those armored units."

            You tensed.  "Shit-"

            "They're trying to take her down with minimal damage.  Keep walking, Vampire," Gabriel said.  "She's too valuable for them to kill."

            You nodded, even though they couldn't see you.  "Gunslinger, you spotted the handler?"

            "Nah, that description was too vague.  Wait, got a guy who didn't scatter.  He's keeping an eye on the fight.  He matches, bowler hat, solid build.  Northside."

            You went north, back to the side of the building where Lao had engaged the armored troops.  You scanned the streets, catching sight of a man in a black bowler.  He walked away slowly, and you dropped back down into the adjacent alleyway and followed, keeping to the shadows.    

            You tucked your carbine against your back, and drew your pistol.  The controller moved at a steady pace, and you followed him down tree-lined streets, trying very hard not to think of Lao fighting alone.

            "Deactivate Taipan mode."  The man had a cultured voice and an eastern European accent.  "Give it a moment and she should be docile.  Don't damage her."

            Yeah, this was the right guy.  You needed him alive.  Lao said he was dangerous.  You believed her. 

            "Bái Shé has disengaged," Jesse said.  "She's peacefully going with the armored units."  The whole thing had taken less than ten minutes. 

            "Eyes on Vampire?" Gabriel asked.

            "She's getting ready to engage the controller," Jesse said.

            The handler had his back to you, and you watched him tense.  If he didn't know you were there, he suspected it.  You had to be fast.  It wouldn't do for him to push his panic button or summon the armored units.   

            You lunged, going low and aiming for his waist.  His fist whipped over your head, and you took him to the ground.  You dug your knee into his back, focusing on keeping him down.   

            "You'll regret that," he snarled, and you hit him, bouncing his forehead off the cobblestones.  He went limp, but you pressed your middle finger to the back of his neck, injecting him with sedative, just to be thorough.

            "Controller acquired," you said.  "Going to need pickup."  You sat back on your heels and took the bastard's hat.  It felt expensive and you found that obnoxious and infuriating.  You smashed it with your left hand, because you couldn't crush his skull yet.

 


 

            The flight back was oddly quiet.  You figured Jack was probably disappointed by the lack of explosions, but your missions were subtle things:  assassination, thievery, occasionally a kidnapping.   You weren't a fucking hero and you'd never pretended to be one.  You kept stealing glances at your prisoner, having already gone through his pockets.  The objects of interest were nasty little gun, some kind of electroshock weapon that made your fingers twitch when you passed them a few inches over it, and an encrypted digital pocket organizer.  Ziv could decrypt it for you. 

            The handler had an ID that said he was Dr. Danylo Chumak.  Ziv was running the profile for a work up.  You had him stashed in a holding cell. 

            The four of you sat in Gabriel's office, doing the post-mission workup. 

            "That went smoothly," Jack said.  He sat on Gabriel's desk, grinning at you.

            "Told you having you all along would be overkill."  You'd gotten rid of the big floppy hat and your armor.  But the scarf stayed, your fingers tracing the soft knit. 

            "A lot of things could have gone wrong," Gabriel said.  "You could have been cornered by those armored units.  Jesse might have missed a sniper.  Bái Shé could've just as easily turned on you."

            You shrugged.  "I can take her."

            "You'd hold back.  You're soft on her.  Leaving her alive will have consequences."  Gabriel took his beanie off. 

            You bit your tongue, because you knew he was right.

            "Hey, I thought our orders were just to meet.  No one mentioned killing anyone today," Jesse said. 

            Gabriel nodded curtly.  "You just need to be aware that your actions will always have consequences.  You might look back on today and wish you'd taken care of her this afternoon."

            "I know."  You didn't feel any better about leaving Lao with Talon, but you hadn't been ready for a massive firefight in Cambridge.  Sure, the four of you could've killed everything twice over, but that was a heavily populated area and it would've caused a lot of casualties and political blowback.  That's not how you did things here.   No, it was better to take it slow.  Be smart.  You couldn't afford to fuck up this time. Lao was in there.  You just weren't sure how much was left and how to get her back. 

            "Who's interrogating Chumak?" 

            "Lacroix can work that out.  We're still running background.  Genji and Agent Mihret are digging.  Lucky, Jesse, write your reports then take the rest of the day off.  I'll let you know if there are any updates." 

           


 

            "Who's doing the interrogation?" You sat in Lacroix's hospital room.  Your paperwork was done, and you were still waiting for all the information Ziv could get on Chumak. 

            "Are you volunteering?" he asked, studying his tablet.  "I did not realize you had a taste for such things."

            "I don't.  But I can do it."  You didn't want to ask it of anyone else. "I have a stake in this."  There weren't a whole lot of candidates.  Jesse didn't like it.  Genji might do it.  But you weren't going to make Gabriel pay for your obsession.

            "I see."  Lacroix put down his tablet.   

            You held his sharp gaze.  "Do you?"

            "You should've put her out of her misery," Lacroix said flatly. 

            "Maybe."  His comment didn't sting, though it was true.  You already knew Lacroix's viewpoints.  You didn't take his opinion personally. "But I'd rather save her.  And I'm willing to do a lot for that chance.  It doesn't hurt that we'd need this information anyway." 

            "Chumak was a valuable acquisition.  You can't just go at him willy nilly with your blades.  This takes skill, not luck."  There was no reproach in Lacroix's voice, just unpleasant truth.  There was a shrewdness to Lacroix that you would never trust.  But you respected his ability to get the job done, his talent for enraging people to the point of murder, and his infuriating sangfroid. 

            "How would you do it?"

            "You really want me to tell you?"  Lacroix's smile was zen.  The hair on the back of your neck stood up.      

            "I want to do it right." 

            "Of course."  There was an odd light in his eyes and he went back to studying his tablet.  "What a terrible power love has, wouldn't you agree?"

            You didn't know what to say that.     

 


 

            "I have cake."  Jack's message was totally manipulative, and you didn't care, you were going for it.       

            "Is it good cake?" You wrote back.

            "Only one way to find out.  My place?"

            You casually walked up to his door, entered the code, and acted like you belonged.  Because this was a cake op.  You were on a secret mission for cake.  It didn't matter that cake was so obviously the bait, you were going to take that cake.

            Jack was shirtless again, and you sighed softly.  Damn he was pretty, all rippling muscle and peaches and cream skin.  His hair was damp and he sat on couch, two beers and two slices of chocolate cake on the table. 

            "Huh, I think I had a fantasy like this earlier.  Nicely done."  You hopped over the back of his couch and sat beside him. 

            "About cake and beer?"

            "Mostly, yes."  You leaned over and kissed him.  He smelled fresh, like soap and toothpaste.  Yup, definitely just out of the shower. 

            He grabbed your collar, pulling you against him.  "You should invite me on more missions with you.  I like watching you work."

            "I figured you were bored.  I had a conversation, snuck around, and hit a guy."

            "You're sneaky," Jack said.  "You shot Bái Shé, tied her up, and told her you were still friends.  Then you went on to drag a civilian out of the line of fire, avoided the heavies sent to kill Gérard, and kidnapped Bái Shé's handler."  He kissed you again, his thumb stroking your throat. 

            "You make it sound so exciting."  Your eyes lingered on his hands.  The skin was rough, but his scarred knuckles and blunt nails were very different from yours.  You took a sip of beer.  "I was just thinking if we got into a firefight, I'd need better equipment.  I'm not good at straight forward gun fights."

            "Too sneaky," Jack agreed.  "I'll talk to Torby about getting you something more suited for battle, if you like." 

            "It wouldn't hurt.  But I have to figure out some new strategies.  Besides duck, cover, and shoot." 

            "Don't get hit and that's most of it."  He laughed.  "Not that Gabe and I can talk."

            "Yeah, I'm pretty sure you've been shot more times in one battle than I've been hit ever."  Your eyes traveled down his chest. 

            "You just wanted an excuse to ogle me."

            "You're sexy.  I don't need any other excuse." 

            "You can touch too," he purred. 

            You flicked his nose.

            He bit your fingers, gently, then sucked them into his mouth.

            Heat pooled between your legs and your breath stuttered. 

            Jack took your hand in his, rubbing circles on your palm.  "So you mentioned fantasies earlier: cake and beer were one.  What else?" 

            You laughed breathlessly, because you were not expecting that.  "You first."

            "I have a lot," he said.

            "You probably have a specific one in mind," you said dryly.

            "I do," he said cheerfully.  "But do you want to know that or something about what Gabe likes?"

            "Both," you said. 

            Jack's grin widened.  "So greedy.  I hear you're off medical restriction.  Want me to show you?"

            You looked at the clock.  You had time. 

            "You know, I still haven't seen your bedroom."

            Jack's smile curved into something predatory.  "If I take you back there, will you stay the night?"

            "I actually have an op thing in the early morning, but I'll stay till then." 

            "That'll work," he said. 

            Jack's bedroom was messier than you expected.  You were pretty sure that was a pile of Gabriel's clothes on the floor.  And his Strike Commander coat stuck out of the closet.  A brush sat on the bed.  There were ammo packs strewn across his dresser alongside a worn stuffed dog, more than a few stitch jobs evident.  It looked like some kind of hound.

            "It's my younger sister's," he said when he saw you staring.   A blush crept across his cheeks.  "When I first left home, she gave it to me, so I wouldn't get lonely."

            "Ah," you said.  "He or she, looks well-loved."

            "Her name's Daisy," he said, rubbing the back of his head.  "I know, I know." 

            "What do you know?"  You asked, turning to face him. 

            "It's silly."

            "Not really."  You shrugged.  "Mementos are important."  You carried your tanto with you everywhere.  If Shin had given you a stuffed dog, maybe you wouldn't carry it on ops, but it would be in your room. 

            Jack stared at you for a second too long.  "Yeah, I know."  He gave you that crooked grin, and waved you over to the bed.  King-sized and unmade, the bedding came in shades of light blue and gray.     

            The bed frame was metal, and you paused when you saw the headboard.  Aesthetically, there was nothing wrong with it, a crisscross of thick metal bars made to look like basket weave.  But there were large gaps in it, perfect for angling various restraints.  You didn't used to notice things like that, but apparently you'd been influenced by some very bondage-oriented men.

            "Too much?"

            "Gives me a lot of ideas," you said.

            "Good."  Jack tugged on your arm while sitting on the edge of the bed.  "So fantasies?"

            "I said "you first."  Quit trying to renege."  You stood in front of him. 

            "I'm not.  So then, you'll tell me one?" His hands stroked your hips and you wished you'd changed out of your ops wear.   

            "Yeah," you nodded.

            "Then I'll tell you one of Gabe's?"

            "Yeah," your voice dropped. 

            "Then you'll tell me another one?"

            "That's how it works."

            "I want to watch you play with yourself.  Toys, fingers, the handle of my brush, I don't care.  I want to watch," he said, hands resting around your waist as he looked up at you.  "I know Gabe likes that too."

            "I learned that one last weekend, Jack."  You rolled your eyes. "I want to tie you up and tease you."

            "Oh?"  Jack unfastened your belt, pulled it off, and placed it on the bed.  "I like that too.  But eventually, I'd pay you back with interest."

            "That's the other half of the fun," you said, running your fingers through his hair.  You leaned in to kiss him, a little bit of stubble scratching your face.  "You should probably tell me something I don't already know."

            Jack laughed softly.  "Gabe really wants to fuck you bareback."

            "I knew that too," you said.  "I told him he could.  I have an implant.  There's such a miniscule risk, I'm not going to bother citing the teeny tiny numbers." 

            "I know.  I'm not worried," Jack said a little too smugly.  "He's just wound real tight when it comes to you, Lucky."

            "I'm not sure what you mean," you said.

            "He's holding back.  Doesn't want to scare you off."

            You could see that and you wondered if this was a discussion you should be having with Gabriel himself.  "I never thought he was vanilla.  I can work with it, depending on the kink." 

            "Not like that, though Gabe's a pretty kinky bastard; he just needs to lose control, fuck you raw, and fill you up.  He's naturally possessive and trying hard not to be." 

            "Oh.  That's actually pretty hot," you said. 

            "I know," Jack said and kissed your jaw.  "But he's got a real protective streak when it comes to you.  You'll have to push him.  If you want to make him lose it, you could probably call him papi."

            "I uh...huh.  Not a daddy kink person.  It...yeah."  You winced.  Smooth.  "The implications bother me."    

            "It's not about that.  It's the power exchange, like "sir" or "master."   Gabe likes fussing over his lovers, especially after he's dominated them.  "Master" isn't his thing.  "Sir" does it more for me than him.  "Daddy" implies a certain level of trust that really turns him on.  Papi is far enough away from "daddy" that maybe it won't trip your alarms.  You don't have to use it," Jack said with a shrug.  "I'm just letting you know."

            "I'll uh...keep that in mind," you said.  "I don't know if that's something I can do, but it doesn't bother me if he likes that." 

            "Fair enough," Jack said, pulling you into his lap.   "Not asking you to do anything you're uncomfortable with.  What else would you like to do?"

            "I liked it when you tied me up.  I wouldn't mind doing more than handcuffs."  You were prepared this time when Jack groaned against you, his cock pressed against your stomach. 

            "I guess I can't be too rough with you if you have work in the morning," Jack said wistfully.  "Let's try it your way first.  There are cuffs in the drawer in the nightstand.  Lube and condoms too if you need them."

            You grabbed the leather cuffs.  You looped the central chain of the cuffs through his headboard, then carefully fastened the cuffs around Jack's wrists. 

            "Comfortable?"

            "No, my cock is going to tear a hole in my pants." 

            You pulled off your shirt and wiggled out of your pants.  Kneeling over Jack in your underwear, you took the fingertips of your gloves between your teeth and pulled, dropping them on the bed.

            Jack's eyes stayed on your face, his smile too knowing to be submissive. 

            "Lift your hips," you told him, pulling his sweatpants down.  His length jutted up, already hard.  "You have such a pretty cock, Jack."  You leaned over, licking the head. 

            "Going to let me throat fuck you again, baby?  Because I love watching you choke on me.  You try so hard to take me down, and you can't quite yet- it's fucking hot," he growled. 

            You pressed down on his hips, keeping him flat against the bed while you slowly licked his shaft.  Jack gritted his teeth, flashing you a feral smile.  "That's it, don't be shy.  I can't wait to get of this and fuck you."

            You rolled his balls in your fingers and Jack grunted.  You gave him a few strokes, watching his thighs tense.   He started jerking his hips upward and you released him.  His expression grew sharper. 

            You peeled your now damp panties off, and took off your bra.  You had your knees on either side of his head, and began lightly rubbing your clit right over his face. 

            "Was this what you wanted to see, Jack?"

            He tried to lick you, but you raised your hips, not giving him access. 

            "Tease," he groaned. 

            "But you wanted to see me finger myself.  Don't you have a good view right there?"   You slipped a single digit into your pussy, cooing softly.  "I'm already wet, Jack.  Do you hear that?"  You slid the finger in and out, your slickness already starting to coat your thighs. 

            "You get so wet," Jack sighed.  "It just means that greedy little cunt of yours needs to be filled. 

            "You really like to talk."  You sat back on your heels, partially resting on Jack's bare chest.  You pulled your finger out and rubbed it against Jack's lips.  He nipped it lightly before sucking it.  You slid another finger in, and he watched you with grim amusement.  You withdrew your fingers and slid two back inside yourself.

            "Come on, Lucky, let me eat you till you come.  You taste so good."

            "I'm going to gag you," you said.  "Also do you have a nonverbal?"

            Jack gave you a hard look.  "I'll be fine."

            "You sure?"

            "What do you think you're going to gag me with?" 

            You rolled your eyes and grabbed your panties. 

            "You wouldn't," he said, a little breathless.

            "Try me." 

            "You don't have the balls."    

            "Oh, you noticed?" 

            Jack glared at you, and you balled up your satin panties and shoved them past his lips. 

            You straddled him, rubbing his cockhead against you opening.  You slid down an inch and he jerked his hips up, trying to get deeper inside you.  You just raised your hips again, smirking at him 

            His eyes were hot with outrage, and promised vengeance.   You kept it up, rubbing his head against you.  He struggled, but you pushed down on his hips and slowly sliding down onto his cock, panting as you took him to the hilt.  He fit you so well, the stretch as good you remembered it.  

            You rode him, palms flat on his chest.  "You look so pretty like that, Jack, tied up and furious underneath me.  Do you like the feeling of my pussy without the condom?"

            He gave one slow, deliberate nod, and you began to ride him, savoring the heat and fullness.  You rolled your hips, head tilted back.  You clenched around him, the feel of his velvety cockhead, hot and slick inside you with no barrier, made you shiver. 

            You kept the pace gradual and deliberate, never giving Jack quite what he wanted.  He bucked his hips, trying to control the rhythm.  You just lifted yourself off him, more interested in teasing him than getting yourself off. 

           Jack's eyes were half open, he moaned around your panties, and you pulled them out.  "Got something to say?"
            "You'll get yours," he said, voice raw.  "I was going to be nice, but now, I'm going to-" 

            You kissed him hard.  "You're so fun to rile up." 

            "Just you wait, baby."

            "Tsk."  You clicked your tongue in disappointment, and lifted yourself off his cock.  You reached for the hairbrush he'd conveniently left out.  The handle was long and cylindrical.  You rubbed it against your pussy lips, watching Jack's breathing speed up.  "If you can't be good, I'll just take care of myself."  You slid the rigid plastic in watching Jack's pupils expand.  "It's not as thick as you, but it's also not as obnoxious."  You began to fuck yourself slowly with the brush, breaths quickening. 

            You smirked at Jack's strained face, and rubbed your clit.  "I'll admit, it's not as satisfying, but it'll get the job done."

            "Why settle for less?" Jack said, voice low and tense.  Sweat beaded on his face and his forearms bulged as he clenched against the restraints.   "Why not just give yourself what you really want?"

            "I want to see you squirm," you taunted. 

            "Karma's going to make you my bitch," he told you, breaths coming quick and hard.            

            "I don't think that's how the phrase goes.  You closed your eyes, making sure to give Jack a good view of yourself spread open. 

            "I think you'll get bored of that soon enough, and come crawling back to me." 

            "I can do this all night, Jackie boy.  How long can you take it?"

            He snarled and twisted against the restraints.  You heard a pop, and suddenly, you were on your back, Jack straddling your chest.  He had your belt in hand, and he gathered your wrists in the other hand and tied them to his headboard. 

            "You're in for it now."    

            You tried to jerk away, but he'd secured you tightly. 

            "Don't worry, I won't gag you.  I want to hear you beg."  Jack gripped your chin, his eyes wild as he pulled the brush handle out of you.   He licked it once and smirked.  "I have better toys.  You should have asked about those."  He eyed you as you wiggled against the belt.    "You have to work later, so I'll spare that tight little asshole tonight.  But this?  You asked for this." 

            Kneeling between your thighs, he pushed inside you and you shrieked, because he went in hard, fucking you into the mattress with feverish enthusiasm. He held your knees apart, his mouth traveling between your breasts, sucking your nipples while he pounded you.

            "Damnit Jack," you gasped his name like a plea, and he just drove deeper, slamming into you with savage pleasure. 

            "That's it," he breathed.  "I love how needy you sound when you say my name."  He nuzzled your neck before nipping you sharply.  He left bruising kisses on your skin, and you were damn sure it was on purpose, because Gabriel wasn't the only possessive one.  "Tell me how it feels, baby.  I want to hear you."

            "You're so vain," you panted as he slowed his thrusts.  "You just want to hear me talk about how you stretch me out and make me ache.  I shouldn't give you the satisfaction." 

            Jack kept the steady pace, fingers brushing against your lips.  "I've got you in my bed, tied up underneath me.  That's pretty satisfying." 

            "You're not...refuting my point," you said as he wound his fingers through your hair. 

            "Give me what I want, let me take it.  It all ends the same: you screaming my name while I nail you to my bed."  He yanked your head back and kissed your throat, thrusting hard inside you. 

            His casual arrogance made you want to bite him, or at least push him harder.  But you now recognized that urge.  It was that same escalation that got you flipped and tied to the bed.  You needed to wind it back, because you and Jack were dangerous together.    

           "It's not fair.  I wanted to tease you more," you said, trying to keep yourself in check.  "You look so good pulling at your restraints.  Couldn't you let me enjoy it a little longer?"

            Jack laughed softly kissing your jaw.  "You're just so enticing."  He gripped your hips, moving faster now.  "Maybe another time.  I haven't had you since last Sunday, and I want to feel your tight little pussy milking me while you scream my name.  You want me to give to you raw, like this?  You want me to come inside you?"      

            "Please Jack," you wrapped your legs around his waist, trying to pull him deeper. 

            He obliged you, fingers slipping down to your clit to add to the stimulation.  You threw your head back. straining against your bonds.  You arched beneath him and he tilted your chin up.  "That's it, I like seeing you writhing underneath me."

            "Harder," you panted.  "Come on, Jack." 

            Jack groaned.

            "You wanted me to beg?  I'm begging," you said, eyes flashing.  "I want it, Jack, Give it all to me."

            "That doesn't sound like begging."  Jack kissed you.  "You're going to have to convince me." 

            He kept rocking his hips, his cockhead hitting your g-spot, his fingers stroking your clit.  You shook underneath him, heat and pressure coiling inside you.  Your thighs ached from the tension. Jack's touch kept you climbing, but it was too light to let you finish.

            The lewd sound of his shaft sliding in and out of you, made you clamp down on him.  Jack kept thrusting, eyes focused on your face, mouth open, breathing hard. 

            "Please Jack," your voice was shaky.  "Can't you feel how wet I am for you?  It's all so I can fit your big dick inside me.  I want to feel you shoot your hot cum inside me. I want you to fill me up, sir.

            Jack shuddered and growled, fingers hard against your nub, his strokes speeding up again.  "Come for me then, agent."  The sheer authority in his voice would have been enough, but then he buried himself in you to the hilt.   

            It was enough to finish you hard.  You came panting and shaking, heat spreading from your center in waves.  Jack hissed your name as you milked his cock, his hands gripping your hips with bruising force, his cum gushing out hot inside you. 

            You took it all, eyes squeezed shut, fingers digging into your belt, Jack's body heavy against yours. 

            You lay there, unsure how much time passed, mind pleasantly hazy. 

            Jack pulled out with a wet pop, and you bit your lip, watching his cum, mingled with your juices, ooze out. 

            "Fucking Hell, that's hot."  Jack's eyes were wide and he brushed your hair out of your face. 

            "There's a lot," you said. 

            "And you took it all," Jack purred, his lips drawn back in a fierce smile.  "That's my girl."  He kissed you hungrily and you melted against him.  "Gabe would have loved to see this... We'll just have to do it again." 

            "I have to work in the morning, Jack."

            "Worn out already?"

            "My arms hurt." 

            "Shit, sorry."  You sighed as he untied you, and began to rub your wrists.  The leather left angry red lines in your forearms, and Jack kissed your hands.  "Want to get a shower after this?"

            "Yeah, I should get cleaned up." 

            Jack lay on his back and pulled you to his chest. "In a minute."  He rubbed your arms.  "You OK?"

            "Yeah," you said.  "A little blissed out, but I'm good." 

            "Good," he said and kissed your cheek. 

            "I'm lying in the wet spot."

            Jack scooted over and pulled you on top of him.  "Better?"

            You rested your cheek against his chest.  "You're adequately warm."
            He laughed at that.  "Well, as long as I can keep cuddling you."

            "The Assassin-Butler is not your teddy bear," you said with great pomp.

            "Shut up and let me hold you."    

           You stayed there, listening to his heart beat.  He wrapped one arm around your waist, the other combed through your hair.  It was a strange place to be, especially without Gabriel, but not a bad one. 

            "What are you thinking about?"

            "You really want to know?"  Your voice wavered. 

            "Of course," he said gently. 

            "I never got to eat my cake."

Chapter Text


 

             Jack had awakened when you got out of bed to get dressed.  He'd been groggy, kissing your chin and grinning when you tucked him back under the blankets.  The fucking Strike Commander shouldn't be that cute.  That was too much power in one individual.  No wonder Gabriel put up with all his shit.  You liked him, even though you weren't sure if you and Jack had anything in common besides Gabriel and chemistry.  Gabriel said it wasn't just sex.  You weren't so sure if that applied to Jack.   

            But you couldn't focus on that now. 

            You checked your tablet.  Ziv had compiled quite a bit of information about Dr. Danylo Chumak.  That was his real name.  He was a psychiatrist specializing in behavioral modification.  He had an unpleasant weakness for barely pubescent girls.  He had been a governmental researcher till he touched the wrong man's daughter and had been a private sector military contractor since.  Interestingly, his was not a name connected to Talon.  At least, not before yesterday.  Ziv was still working on the electronic organizer. 

            Lacroix had managed to get a wheelchair.  You were slightly surprised to see him in the observer's room.  Ziv and Genji were there too.  Genji was your backup.  Ziv had requested to sit in.  You weren't sure what that said about his mental state, but you'd keep an eye on it.

            "This is too important for you to improvise," Lacroix said, handing you an earpiece.  "I will advise."

            "Thanks," you said, because you totally wanted another voice in your head while you tortured a man.

              You adjusted your gloves.  You had attachments on.  Chumak had been drugged. You just needed to convince him to talk.

            You entered the room, very conscious of the unpleasantly bright lights and stink of bleach.  "Hello Chumak," you said, voice distant and dry.  "We should talk."

            He sat strapped to the chair, his pupils dilated, nostrils flared.  He ground his teeth and stared hard at you.  He was a solid man, with slabs of muscle under a layer of fat.  He had a sharp angled nose and thin lips.  He might have been distinguished, in another setting.  Balding with a bushy beard, he dressed nicely and got regular manicures.  And there was a tell, in and of itself. 

            "You've drugged me, you bitch."

            You just watched him struggle against the restraints. 

            "This is illegal!"

            "Yes," you agreed.  "But do I look like I care?"

            "What do you want from me?"

            "I want to know everything you know about Bái Shé.  I want to know everything you know about neural reconditioning.  I want to know everything about who you work for, and what they're doing.  If you can tell me these things, to my satisfaction, well, it doesn't have to get unpleasant." 

            "I don't know what you're talking about."

            You leaned over and patted his cheek, grateful for your gloves.  "Don't lie to me, Chumak.  I'm not a patient woman.  And I'm certainly not like those little girls you like to diddle."

            He spat.  The drugs impaired motor coordination, and the saliva got stuck in his beard.  You laughed, though it wasn't so much funny as gross.  " Bái Shé's Serpent Protocol is clumsy.  Requiring verbal cues is so inconvenient." 

            "Ease up.  Give him room to talk," Lacroix said.

            You stepped back, arms crossed. 

            "You- You're that friend she tried to contact.  Lucky Shot," he sneered.  "You're nobody.  She has orders to execute you on the spot."  That certainly wasn't how it went down.  Did that mean Lao could circumvent some of the commands?  At least for a little while?  "You're just a useless cow.  Now Bái Shé, she's a real achievement.  I've made sure of it."

            "And yet this "useless cow" took you down.  Funny how that works, Chumak.  Bái Shé isn't all that amazing.  You abducted a traumatized teenage girl, rebuilt her badly, and can't even control her half the time.  I'm so very impressed."

            "You know nothing!  She may be a prototype, but she is an invaluable test subject. We've improved the reconditioning process since.  No, Bái Shé isn't cutting edge any more.  But she's still useful in a quite a few ways."  He licked his lips and you wondered if he was trying to goad you into killing him.  If so, he was very convincing.

            "It's hilarious that you work for Talon.  Of all groups, I would've thought they'd see the futility in your work.

            "Talon supports science!  Not the obsolete ethics of a bunch of fools with no understanding of the world!" 

            "Oh, what'd they promise you?"

            "Enough, I know how your drugs work, I've designed some myself!  You can't make me talk, bitch."

            "He's not as resistant as he thinks, look at him sweating like a pig," Lacroix said in your ear.  "Keep pushing."

            "So what method ended up working on her?  Drugs? Hypnotism?  Behavioral modification?  Nanites?"

            Chumak gripped the chair, shaking.  "You can't make me talk, bitch."

            "Hit him," Lacroix said.  "Remind him who is in charge." 

            You backhanded him with your left hand. 

            He yelped, and you gripped his chin.  "I asked you a question.  What method ended up working?"

            "Is that the best you've got?"  He sneered, blood trickling down his face.  You'd split his lip.  

            "What method, Chumak? "  You slapped him again, watching him screw his face up and flinch away.  "It doesn't matter if you tell us or your lab assistant does.  But if you can't even get this much right, what use are you?"

            "Don't engage him.  Don't let him think.  Just hit him again," Lacroix said, ever the demon at your ear. 

            You hit him again, and he spat blood.  He looked at you, a little incredulous. 

            "I can do this all day," you said, raising your gloved hand. 

            "We used industrial-grade Ketamine, to keep her pliable.  Behavior-modification to teach the habits.  Neural leashes interfaced in her cybernetics to reinforce behaviors.  It's all basic conditioning with more sophisticated execution." 

            "Details, doctor." 

            "You won't like them," he smirked.

            "Maybe, but you don't care what I like." 

            "Good finesse and hook, but be careful how much power you give him," Lacroix said.  "You'll undo all the work you put into breaking him down." 

            Chumak told you exactly what he'd done to Lao, in graphic detail, with the euphoria of a man who cared nothing about shame.   There were a lot of ways to break people.  Chumak was intimately familiar with many of them and shared his observations, a nasty smile creeping onto his face whenever he got to talk about a particularly awful act he personally committed.  You clenched your left fist, grateful for the shielding of Torby's sap glove. 

            "So you understand that whatever Bái Shé was before, that girl's dead.  You can't save her."

            You only smiled, because Lacroix was right, you couldn't engage him.  "Tell me about the program sponsors." 

            "Not worth my life," Chumak said.

            "Your life isn't worth much," you told him.    

            "You can hit me all you want, cow.  I'm not afraid of your fists." 

            "That's all you're going to get out of him without escalating.  Choose a tool."  Lacroix sounded so detached it was almost reassuring. 

            You picked up the bolt cutters, because you knew how those worked. You rolled them in your hands.

            "Take something small," Lacroix said.  "See how he handles it."

            "You are right-handed, aren't you?" You said, so very calm, because you already understood what you had started.  No matter what he or Lacroix said, you were going to get Lao back.  And you needed every bit of data this man had, if she was ever going to live a semi-normal life. 

            That was no excuse for torture.  You just didn't have a better way.  You knew that, but cognitive dissonance was a bitch. 

            You cut off his right pinky, because you had to start small. 

            He screamed, cursed, called you names.  You didn't really listen.  You weren't quite in your body any more.  The disassociation made it all much easier. 

            "You'll have to escalate.  Not too far or you'll break him too soon.  It seems he isn't quite as resilient as he acted."  Lacroix laughed darkly. 

            There was no forgiveness for this, even if he had it coming.  It was good that you felt numb.  You had worried for awhile that you'd go berserk like Gabriel.  If you thought about what he did to Lao, you still might.  Best to focus on doing the job right.  Your feelings didn't matter; getting the information did.    

            You cut off his ring finger, and reminded yourself that he wasn't going to need any of it after you were done with him. 

            You repeated your questions and he just cursed you.

            So you whittled down his right hand to little nubbins, nothing left.  Detachment the word of the day.  He held out till you got to the thumb.  Something about that opened the flood gates; Lacroix said it was a symbolic removal of his humanity, but you were pretty sure Chumak wasn't much of a human to begin with.  You studied his ruined hand, seeing parallels where you didn't want to, but also reminding yourself that this was a different situation with clear and present danger to Lao. 

            Rationalization was a powerful coping mechanism. 

            Chumak talked.  He talked more than you expected, and you sat and listened, nodding and asking the right questions, every so often taking a cue from Lacroix.  There were a few Big Pharma companies you would be visiting.  A Cardinal in Hungary.   An MP in Denmark.  A CEO in Argentina.  Even a UN ambassador or three; Nguyen's name was mentioned again.   No, they didn't know how much of her original personality was left.  Yes, some brain damage had occurred, but that was to be expected when interfacing neurons with experimental nano-circuitry.  Yes, Talon had a more polished version now, but Bái Shé was an excellent hacker and they would use her till she burned out. 

            He told you everything, much of it above your education, and you listened politely, trying not to stare at the severed fingers on the floor.  He gave trade secrets.  He gave locations.  He gave you everything you asked of him.

            "Please," he asked after he'd talked.  "Please."

            "Would you like to do the honors?" Lacroix asked. 

            You drew your knife and you cut Chumak's throat.  You didn't stab all the way through like you normally did.  You cut a neat slit, and then you watched him die, air seeping out his neck.  It wasn't quick and quiet like your stealth kills, but you hadn't meant for it to be.  You sat, and you watched the life drain out of him. 

            When you finally stepped out of the room, Gabriel stood in the hallway, arms crossed.  Your eyes darted to the observation room door. 

            "Yeah, I watched the whole thing," he said gruffly.  "Lacroix said you requested this one."

            You nodded, because you didn't trust your voice.  The air out here was clearer and cleaner.  Suddenly your knees felt weak. 

            "When he gets better, I'm going to break his face for letting you do that," Gabriel said casually. 

            You shook your head.  "Not your call."

            "It is my privilege to take care of my people.  You shouldn't have done that."  

            "You do it all the time.  This one was mine."  You turned your head, because you needed to wash your hands again.  Maybe drink.  Then you'd go to the office and collate the data.  You'd listen to the recording, and you'd fast-forward through the parts with screaming.  Then, you would process what it all meant, and how you could save Lao.  Because that's why you did this. 

            "Let's get you cleaned up.  You've got something right here."  He tapped your cheek.

            You didn't bother trying to wipe it off.  You'd only smear it.

 


 

            "Who told you?"  You dropped your bloody clothes on Gabriel's bathroom floor and slipped into the shower, savoring the hot water pounding down on your skin. 

            "...Saw you coming out of Lacroix's room," Gabriel said, his tone strange to your ears.  He stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower.  He filled the space and you flattened yourself against the wall to make room. 

            "I hated it," you said, slumping against the wall. 

            "I know."  Gabriel sucked in a breath as he looked you over.  "Jack do that?"  You glanced down at your bruised wrists, and hips.   Your neck was covered in hickies.  You ached, but you weren't entirely sure that was from rough sex. 

            "Yeah, we fell asleep without an emitter."    You reached for the soap and lathered up.   You'd snuck a glance in the mirror.  You had blood spatter on your face, but it wasn't too gory.  Just an obvious sign that you'd been up to no good.

              Gabriel took the loofah and began to wash your back.  You sighed as he rubbed you down.  "Lucky, you push too hard, and I'll have Ana pull you from the Bái Shé ops."

            You shook your head.  "I'm not doing that again."  Unless you had to, and you were hard-pressed to think of those circumstances right now.  "Please don't threaten me.  I can't process it."

            Gabriel helped you dry off and gave you one of his shirts.  You sat on the bed, waiting for the recriminations to begin.  Gabriel sat beside you. 

            "If you were any other agent, I would tell you that you did a good job," he said.  "But you're not.  I would never ask that of you.  You don't have the temperament for it."

            "I know.  But Lao is my responsibility."

            "No shame in asking for help."  There was bite in Gabriel's words. 

            "Will you hold me then?" You asked, because you were too tired to fight. 

            Gabriel scooted back and you sat between his thighs, his arms around your waist. You shivered, despite Gabriel's heat. 

            "You didn't eat beforehand, did you?"

            "Of course not."  You laughed softly.  "Tell me all you know or I'll bleagh!"  You snickered, even though you felt no humor and all you wanted to do was sleep. 

            Gabriel kissed your shoulder, stroking the bruised skin.  "We have enough nightmares.  Why would you make more for yourself?"

            You didn't start crying then, but it was a near thing.    

 


 

            You opened one eye.  Your stomach hurt.  Hunger pains for sure.  You slowly unwrapped yourself, realizing you were tangled in a cocoon of blankets.  Eventually, you outsmarted the maze of inanimate fabric and sat up.

            Gabriel was asleep beside you, on top of the covers.  His tablet was on the pillow and you guessed he'd been trying to work and keep you company. 

            Your stomach grumbled again.  You hadn't eaten since...  Well shit, you didn't remember.  You probably grabbed something after the mission, but before your encounter with Jack.  And then.. Oh yes.  You'd tortured a man, heard a bunch of his awful secrets that you hated every second of, and then killed him.  And Gabriel had witnessed it all. 

            You took a deep breath and flexed your fingers.  Logically, that wasn't so bad.  But you still had an unpleasant pressure in your chest, somewhere between panic and guilt.  You stood, feeling fragile.  You needed to eat, and then maybe your head would settle.  Though you suspected that wasn't really the case. 

            Your boots were right next to the couch and your clothes were on Gabriel's bathroom floor spattered with blood.  Well.  You could put them back on, and go to your room, and change.  You padded to the bathroom, noting a third toothbrush on the sink.  Well, it wasn't yours.  You didn't know how it got there.  And you weren't going to think about it right now. 

            You pulled on your slightly bloody uniform and checked the mirror.  Oh, you looked like shit.  You combed your fingers through your hair, brushed your teeth with your finger, and checked your bruises.  Nothing too bad.  Gabriel just wasn't used to seeing the aftermath of sparring with Jack.  Sex was way gentler. 

            When you came out of the bathroom, Gabriel was sitting on the edge of the bed. 

            "Hey," you said, because you were smooth.  "Thanks.  How long was I out?"

            "Just a few hours.  I'm going to down to the office.  See you there?"

            "Yeah, half-day for me.  I got some things to do first." 

 


 

            Clean clothes and food made you feel fifty percent more human.  But the sense of unease had only gotten worse.  You weren't up to analyzing the transcripts and you didn't really want to face Jesse yet either.  Instead, you made your way to the infirmary and were relieved to find Lacroix awake and reading. 

            He didn't seem surprised to see you at all.  He took one look at your face and gestured for you to sit. 

            "The first time is always the worst," he said.  "Or at least the strongest shock to the system." 

            "I'm just going to ask if you're a psychopath.  I mean, can we just skip all the formalities and get that out of the way?  Because if you are, I don't think your coping methods are going to work for me."

            "I am not," he said, primly. 

            "OK," you said, unsure if you believed him. 

            "It is supposed to be awful.  The moment it stops being disturbing, is the moment you need to hang up your weapons." 

            "Yeah, I figured.  Killing is normal as fuck.  But torture is a stain on the soul."

            "Sarcasm won't help you here, Chanceux."  Lacroix watched you with those sharp brown eyes, his mouth a thin line.  "Why are you asking me instead of Gabriel?"

            "I don't know." 

            "You do; you just don't want to acknowledge it."

            "Because Gabriel is a super tough warrior who crushes all potential weaknesses?  Because if I let him, he'll coddle me?"

            "That's half of it."  Lacroix set his book down.  "The other half, is because you are not like Gabriel.  He is exceptional at wetwork and black ops.  He is a clever strategist. But he is not a subtle man by nature; he is so strong that he does not have to be.  You are not that powerful.  And so you learned to be underhanded.  Your thinking is all sharp angles and deep water.  You are more like me; you have a good head for espionage. Be honest about your skill set.  You will never don power armor and slay hordes of foes, Chanceux."

            You gave him a look, because you didn't need the French version of your nickname.  "You know, "Lucky" isn't my name."

            "It's a good handle.  There is power in names.  There is meaning in rebirth.  Use it."    

            You were now pretty certain he was heavily medicated; getting into the wheelchair must have taken more out of him than you thought.  "OK.  So now what?"

            "Now you find a way to live with your actions."  He gave one of those little half-shrugs, like he was talking about the weather or a neighbor's dog shitting on the street.  "For some of us, it is simple guilt.  You suffer a price, your guilt is absolved.  For some of us, it is good deeds.  But it is what you know going in that matters.  To torture others, you must hate yourself a little.  To keep your humanity, you must love something far more than yourself." 

            You rubbed your head.  "Did Angela slip you extra painkillers?  Because I have no idea what you're talking about." 

            "You asked for help, I'm giving it to you." 

            "Break it down, Lacroix."

            " Effective treatments must be cathartic.  Some people go to a Domina for...penance."

            Some people, huh?  You'd met Amélie Lacroix and now you were pretty sure you were never going to look her in the eye again. 

            "OK, so intense BDSM is a possibility."  Unlikely though.  Your sex life was already out of control.  That did not seem like a good addition right now. 

            "Some people do good deeds.  Volunteer at orphanages or save the dolphins: put some good back into the world. Some people are content if the mission is a success.  Rescue Bái Shé, and maybe you won't mind the karmic price." 

            You shrugged.  "That's the long-term goal.  I don't know how that will take the edge off now." 

            "Go accomplish something.  Run a mission.  Get your adrenaline up.  Sometimes your body just needs to exert itself."  He picked up his book.  "Or take human comfort.  Find your lovers and sort yourself out.  Whatever you choose, you will not be like you once were, but you'll be able to live with yourself."

            Lacroix stared at his book, clearly dismissing you.

            Wait a minute.  He said "lovers."  Plural.  Damnit, Jack was right.  Lacroix totally knew. 

            "Thank you," you said, even if you weren't sure how much you meant it.

            "De rien, Chanceux," he said, not looking up.

           


 

            "How do you do it?" You were facedown on the mat.

            "I simply use your own weight against you," Genji said.  "You charge, I redirect, you end up on your face."

            "OK, let me clarify."  You sighed and rolled over.  "I meant, how do you deal with the awfulness of torture?"

            "Ah.  I only torture people who deserve it.  And since the whole point of this is revenge, I'm not so picky as you."

            You opened one eye.  "You're after the Shimada.  Why?"

            "Truly, you do not know?  You have access to my full personnel file.  You have not read it?  You should."  Genji crouched beside you. 

            "It seemed...rude.  I don't know.  You're cleared and you watch my back.  Your secrets are your own."  It seemed like a violation of trust.  Everyone in Shit Spiders already knew your sob story, and early on you wondered if it was pity, not respect that got you in.  Yeah, you didn't know what Lacroix was spouting about you being spy material.  You obviously were not. "You want me to read it, or you want to give your version?"

            "My surname is Shimada."

            "Oh."  Well, now you felt super dumb and definitely not spy-like.  You hadn't worked many Shimada missions or really done much with the files, but even you'd heard about Genji Shimada, the second son killed by the Shimada heir.  Granted, Genji looked completely different from that laughing playboy you'd seen in dossiers.   "Well, I uh...you're OK with this?  Like, legit OK?  Because I'll go renegotiate your contract with Gabriel right now."  Or maybe not because this mat was awful comfy.   
            "Angela rebuilt me with this body.  In exchange, I help dismantle the syndicate that destroyed me.  The trade is fair enough."

            "And your brother?"

            "He was a symptom of the problem.  He has stepped down because of it.  I keep tabs on him.  He is...unhappy.  That's karma."

             "Are you saving him for last?"  You sat up.  Your arms were a little stiff, and you ached from Jack's enthusiasm, but you needed to get through this post-mission guilt. 

            "He's my brother, Lucky."

            You shrugged.  "I don't have any context, sorry."

            "No.  I have no interest in harming my brother."

            "OK," you said, and filed that thought away for later.

            "You want to save your old comrade?"

            "Yes."

            "Then it is worth it, isn't it?"

            "Worth it doesn't make it easy, Genji.  I'm not even sure it's manageable."

            "Things worth doing are rarely easy, Lucky."  He stood, flexing his flesh hand.  "Get up and I'll show you this throw again." 

           


 

            You set a tin of bourbon balls in front of Jesse at lunch.     

            "Does this mean you're done avoiding me?" He looked up frowning. 

            "Yes.  Sorry."  You sat down at his table in the mess.

            "I ain't your dad, Lucky.  You do what you want," he scowled.

            "I shouldn't have done Chumak, myself.  I hated it.  It was awful. But if it helps me save Lao, I'll do it again.  Which is also awful.  I've been going around in circles about it all day."

            "And you didn't want to ask the boss to do it," Jesse said opening the tin and popping a bourbon ball into his mouth.  "Genji would've done it for you."

            You shrugged.  "Lao is personal.  Maybe I'm too close.  And if you repeat that-"

            Jesse just laughed at you.  "It's obvious you're obsessed.  Ana ain't gonna take you off just yet, but you need to let up."

            You sighed.  "Yeah, OK.  He fucking deserved it though." 

            "Yeah," Jesse said.  "I saw the transcripts.  He deserved it.  But you didn't."

            "Yeah," you agreed.  "I talked to Lacroix about it too.  That was...a mindfuck."

            "Lacroix's a real piece of work, Lucky.  I never want to get on his bad side and neither do you.   So know your limits.  You ain't gonna to be a Crusader.  You certainly ain't gonna be a concert pianist.  You ain't gonna be the next Marquis de Sade, and that's just fine."  Jesse ate another bourbon ball.  "These are real good."

            "They're part of your early Christmas present."

            Jesse cocked his head to the side.  "I thought you didn't do Christmas."

            "...I didn't.  But then Gabriel gave me that scarf and it's all...I owe everyone presents.  I understand presents."

            "You understand bribes," Jesse said, shaking his head.  "You going to Indiana?"

            "...I don't know."  You stole a bourbon ball.  These turned out nice.  "It seems like a bad idea."

            "Because?"  Jesse drew the word out. 

            "A houseful of Morrisons at Christmas.  It's a fucking made-for-TV movie." 

            "How Lucky Saved Christmas."  Jesse snickered. 

            "Shut up.  And it would be more like "How Lucky Ruined Christmas, Chanukah, Winter Solstice, and Every Other December Holiday."

            "Morrison wants you to go?  Like really?"

            "Seems that way."  You still weren't sure why he wanted you to go.  Pity or at least decency seemed to be the big motivator.  Sex might be one.  Friendship obviously played a part.  Maybe he wanted to mess with his parents?  You had no idea. 

            "The Commander want you to go too?"

            "Yes, but to serve as a distraction from him.  I'm not going to play his decoy.  I owe him, but I don't owe him that much." 

            "And you don't know how to relate to civilians outside of cover, so yeah, I can see that."  Jesse grinned at you lazily.  "Maybe you, Gérard, and Genji can go sit in the conference room and practice looking evil."

            "I mutilated and killed a guy this morning, Jesse.  I am not someone you invite to your family's farm for fucking Christmas," you hissed.

            "If that's who you wanna be, Lucky."  Jesse popped another bourbon ball in his mouth.  "Good bourbon balls.  You make'em yourself?"

            "Yes," you muttered.

            "They're great.  I think Ana'll like'em too.  You just do you, sugarpie."  He got up and took the tin.  "Let me know what your plans are.  Genji wants to do some weird shit for New Years."

            You sat alone at the lunch table, feeling distinctly outplayed, and worse, you weren't even sure why.

 


 

            Lacroix was right about the adrenaline.  Your skin felt like it fit you again, even if you didn't really like looking yourself in the mirror.  Your fingers twitched as you read the transcript from this morning with Chumak.  You sounded way more intimidating on paper than you remembered.  Of course, they hadn't recorded Lacroix's coaching.  Ziv and Winston were translating all the science jargon into plain English, and you were pretty sure Winston wasn't going to be too happy to see you.  You added him to your Christmas shopping list, just to keep things civil. 

            Gabriel wasn't in the office when you got in, which was OK, because you needed space to contemplate what you were going to do about Lao. 

            You kept seeing those severed fingers on the interrogation room floor.  You wondered if your shrink would like to hear about this or if this would be too nightmare-inducing.  Fuck.  You really were more fucked up than you thought.  It was like you'd been hiding it from everyone for so long that you'd managed to fool yourself.  And now that you had to deal with feelings, your whole spectrum of crazy was making itself known.  It was damned inconvenient. 

             You hadn't received any more messages from Bái Shé.  You needed a way to track her.  If you could tag her with a nanochip transmitter, even if they jammed signals, you'd be able to start collecting data and pinpoint her approximate location. 

            Switching over to Gabriel's administrative work was easier.  You finished that and checked the time.  You'd been here long enough.  You could take a walk, get some air.  It was fucking cold, but you didn't need to be around people. 

            You found your way out to the Memorial Wall.  You didn't have incense, but you had a pack of cigarettes and a flask of bourbon.  You lit a cigarette and sat in front of the wall.   The ground was freezing, but there was no snow.   You really didn't smoke often, but today called for it. 

            Lao wasn't quite dead.  You weren't sure if that was living, but you knew that Captain Patel wouldn't abandon her.  You knew Shin wouldn't let this crime go unpunished.  And they wouldn't have faulted you for what you did today.  They would have helped you.  That thought gave you a greater measure of peace. 

            You contemplated the bourbon for a moment.  Not as pacifying as the approval of your dead friends, but pretty high up there. 

            "This is a no smoking area, Agent." 

            You looked up to see Jack, in overcoat and eyepiece, standing above you, arms crossed.  The stony look surprised you.  Unless he knew what you'd been up to.  Never mind, of course he knew.   

            "Sorry sir," you said, cigarette dangling out of the corner of your mouth.  You stepped away from the memorial, because this wasn't for the dead, this was for you. 

            "Most of the grounds are no smoking, Agent.  There are designated areas." 

            And you thought Blackwatch was petty.  You sighed and pulled off your left glove, then put the cigarette out against a metal finger.  You put the half-smoked cigarette back in your mouth and put your glove back on. 

            The Strike Commander was still giving you a look. 

            "It's out," you muttered.

            "Walk with me, Agent."

            That was definitely an order.  You slunk beside him, noting that there were plenty of people on the grounds.  He probably wasn't going to tell you off in front of them.  Jack led you back to Gabriel's office.  Gabriel was at his desk.  He looked up when you stepped in after Jack.  You shut the door.

            "Lock it," Jack said.

            You locked it.  You turned around.  Jack gestured for you to sit on the couch. You glanced at Gabriel, who was still at his desk, and sat down. 

            Jack pulled up a chair and he plucked the cigarette out of your mouth and tucked it behind his ear.  "You don't need that." 

            "Jack-"

            He leaned in clasping his hand around the back of your head.  He pressed his forehead against yours.  "How are you holding up?"

            You blinked.  "What?"

           Jack rolled his eyes.  "I know what you did after you left my bed this morning.  I ask, how are you holding up?"

            "Better now," you said, because it was true.  "As long as you're not planning on telling me off too."

            Gabriel snorted in the background.  "I didn't tell you off, chica.  I didn't even begin to tell you off."  You heard his chair squeak as he stood. 

            "I talked to Lacroix and Genji about coping.  Genji kicked my ass.  I did some...thinking.  I was smoking a cigarette. I'm doing better."

            "I'm sorry.  I didn't know you were already in that deep," Jack said.  "If I'd suspected, I just would've left you tied to my bed." 

            You rubbed your neck.   The couch dipped as Gabriel sat down beside you.  "I didn't want to ask Gabriel to do it.  He does enough of that shit.  It's not fair." 

            Gabriel inhaled sharply. 

            "It's hard work, Lucky.  Harder than it looks."   Jack kissed you, his gloved hands holding your cheeks.  "I know what always makes Gabriel feel better afterward.  Would you like us to show you?"

 


 

            "I need to be more careful with you," Jack said, tracing the bruises on your wrists. 

            You sighed as Gabriel rubbed your back.  You were warm, naked, and your limbs felt deliciously heavy.  You rested on your side, your head in Jack's lap.  He'd lost his gloves at some point.  His fingers skimmed your neck and thighs.

            "Doing a little better?" 

            You nodded, not trusting your ability to form words.   

            "I've done far worse than that, Lucky."  Gabriel said in a low voice.  "No one here's judging you harder than yourself."

            "Me too, Lucky," Jack said, cheeks flushed. 

            "This isn't a competition, Jack," Gabriel said.

            You blinked.  Yeah, you could see that, actually.  Worse, it didn't bother you, except for the toll it took on them.  You were utterly fucked up. 

            "I know it's not a competition.  I'm saying it so she knows I'm not judging her, Gabe."   Jack's hair fell in his face and you ran your fingers along his jaw line.  He leaned into the touch.  "You need some time away from here.  Come home with me for the break."  Jack kissed your metal fingers, twining them with his.  "Please?"  The sincerity pierced your chest and you winced. 

            Gabriel's hands kept stroking your back.  You couldn't keep your eyes open. 

            "OK," you said. 

            Damn, you'd been outplayed again. 

Chapter Text

            "You guys are never allowed to ask me for things after sex, ever again," you snarled at Gabriel as you packed your duffel bag.   "That is unethical coercion and I fucking resent the hell out of it."

            "You're going to want to dress warm," he said helpfully, sitting in your guest chair.  He was eating your chocolates and some of the pastries you'd picked up at Ana's favorite downtown bakery. 

            "...According to Genji, I am expected to take a hostess gift as well as individualized gifts from Christmas.  I don't know these people.  I don't know how they celebrate.  Gabriel, I don't even like Christmas."

            "These cakes are good.  You should bring some.  Jack always takes chocolate.  I bring booze.  Mostly for me."  He laughed at that.  "Bring at least one nice outfit.  Nothing dazzling, just nice."

            "Assassin-Butler?"

            "That is nice, but not quite what I had in mind.  Too formal and probably too intimidating for this venue.  You know what, I'll take care of it." 

            "You're not buying me any clothes, Gabriel."  You scowled at him. 

            "Jack really likes Christmas," Gabriel said, ignoring you.  "Almost as much as I like Halloween.  His family goes all out: the shiny tree, fruitcake, nonstop Christmas carols, clichéd traditional movies..."

            "So basically, this is penance for all my sins.  Especially the most recent ones.  And I'm not allowed to complain about it, because it will make Jack sad.  It's like double penance; I'll have my karmic debt paid off in no time.  Got it."  You stared down at your bag.  You had jeans.  You had black turtlenecks.  You had some gray ones too.  You had the green scarf Gabriel had fucking made you.  You had lame presents for Jack and Gabriel.  And now you had to go get cake or something for Jack's family.

           "I'll put your name on all the presents I'm taking," Gabriel soothed.  "Stop panicking.  It's adorable, but this really isn't that bad."

            You would buy tins of chocolate-filled hüppen, those rolled wafers that looked like stick pretzels full of cream.  You'd even get some tirggel, which were dry and hard biscuits depicting Christmas scenes, and they were meh despite being made with honey, but given Jack's tastebuds, maybe his family wouldn't notice.  And just in case they had better culinary taste than Jack, you'd buy some luxemburgerli, which were just smaller, less filling, Swiss versions of macarons.

            "I've constructed at least three polite exit strategies, if you need breathing room.  And we will use them.  Jack only knows about one.  We can use hand signals.  Think of it as an op.  You're going to support Jack.  You're undercover.  I'm your backup."

            You nodded, because that you could handle.  Because maybe you needed more than therapy to make you less fucked up.

 


 

            You sat on the transport with your duffel bag.  You had a separate bag for all the baked goods you'd bought, trying to fill the void in your Christmas spirit. 

            Gabriel ditched his usual hoodie for a thick green cable-knit turtleneck and black wool coat.  He wasn't wearing his hat either, which surprised you.  You had on your gray combat overcoat and a black turtleneck and black pants.  You wore Gabriel's scarf under your coat.  Though you'd traded the armored boots for leather ones, you didn't really look off-duty. 

            Jack had on his usual overcoat, but instead of armor he was wearing a blue sweater, and if you were interpreting the knit correctly, it was covered in snowflakes and gorillas.  No, you were not interpreting it correctly, those were yetis, probably.

            He beamed at you.  "I'm glad you're coming."

            "Um, thanks for inviting me."  The words came out strained. 

            "It'll be fun, I promise."  Jack kissed your cheek, settling between you and Gabriel.  "Maybe not as fun as Gabriel's family, but quieter."

            You couldn't begin to think about that part of the equation yet.   You just studied your boots.  This was an op.  You were there to support Jack.  Hoping for an assassination attempt would be bad.  Normally you blended in or flirted during ops.  Those rules weren't going to apply here.

            You stared at your stripped down tablet.  No work on this trip, plus you didn't need to leave controlled information around Jack's family home.  You just had people's numbers, and you wondered if Jesse could recall you for a work emergency.  He could ask Captain Amari.  You could get shot again.  That sounded more up your alley.

            The transport landed in a snowy field.  There was a forest surrounding the area, but this area had been cleared, probably specifically for landings.  Three agents in Overwatch blue waited alongside a beat up pickup blue truck.  Jack practically bounded down the ramp, giving the agents an easy nod.  "Chang.  Fitzpatrick.  Almasi." 

            "Your family is back at the house, sir.  Onwuachimba and Maracle are with them," Chang said, a large pistol resting on her hip.  She was strikingly attractive, had a sergeant's bars, a long braid, and the voice of a smoker. "Commander Reyes."  She nodded in acknowledgment. 

            "What's Lucky Strike doing here?" Fitzpatrick asked.  He was a thin brunette with longer than regulation hair.  You studied his hands, noting the chemical burns and missing fingers: demolitionist. 

            "Not your business, Fitzpatrick," Chang snapped.   

            Almasi gave you a curt nod.  He was a tan hatchet-faced man carrying a shotgun. 

            "Lucky's here to help with Michael," Gabriel said, smirking.  To your surprise, Jack put his arm around Gabriel's shoulders.  Apparently, this squad was in the know. 

            " 'Bout time someone did," Fitzpatrick muttered. 

            You raised a brow.  Michael was Jack's nineteen year old brother.  Quite the little shit if the stories were true. 

            Chang didn't even blink.   "Fitzpatrick, you can walk back to the farmstead.  It will give you time to think about keeping your damn mouth shut."

            Fitzpatrick rolled his eyes.  "Yes ma'am."

            She and Almasi climbed into the bed of the pickup.  You glanced at Gabriel, wondering how you were supposed to act.

            "Ride with us," Jack said, smiling at you.  "It'll be fine."

            You tossed your bags in the back of the truck, and wondered if the three of you would fit in the cab.   

            Jack got in the driver's side.  Gabriel gestured for you to climb in, and then you were pressed tightly between the two of them, wincing as Jack sped down the gravel road. 

            "Chang's SEP," Gabriel said.  "Obviously, she's from our gen.  She runs a tight ship, and everyone in the squad knows about me and Jack."

            "OK," you said.

            "They're discrete," Jack said.  "Even Fitzpatrick."

            You snorted at that. 

            "Relax," Gabriel murmured in your ear.  "You'll make the squad nervous if you keep making combat face."

            He kissed your cheek and you knew Chang and Almasi had to have seen that through the window.  You sighed, hanging your head.

            Jack laughed, and kissed your other cheek, and then began whistling.  You'd never heard Jack whistle.  You didn't know the tune, but you had to assume it was something obnoxious and Christmas-themed.

            He stopped in front of the farmhouse.  There was plenty of room to land the transport, but knowing Jack, he probably wanted to be low-key and not "The Strike Commander has descended from the heavens to grace you with his presence."  There was a large barn, a corral, and several fields bordered by forest.  It looked like a fucking thrift shop painting, too sentimental for any self-respecting person to put on their wall. 

            "Plenty of places to disappear to," Gabriel said climbing out of the truck.  He held the door for you.  Jack was already out, walking purposefully toward the people on the porch. 

            You spotted Onwuachimba on the roof of the second story house.  She nodded at Gabriel and stayed where she was.  Maracle must be the big guy on the porch, holding the barrier plate.  It wasn't on, but those shields fired up quick.

            When you looked up, Jack was hugging an older blonde woman.  She wore a green wool dress with Christmas tree motifs, her hair in a bun.  The man beside her was thinner than you expected, though it made sense. Jack went through SEP, he didn't come out all muscle-bound and god-like.  Jack's dad had close cropped graying hair and a weather-beaten face.  He was a lean, rugged sort of handsome in his flannel and denim, and you wondered if Jack would get rougher as he aged. 

            You already knew about the teenagers on the porch.  Maggie was fifteen and charming, according to Gabriel.  She wore a bright red coat and her hair was braided.   Michael was a slender version of Jack, hair spiked and dyed black.  He radiated surliness and surveyed you all with a sneer.  It deepened when he saw Gabriel and you began to understand what you were dealing with. 

            You followed Gabriel up the steps, giving Maracle a nod. 

            "Gabe!"   Maggie squealed and leapt at him. 

            Gabriel caught the teenager in one arm.  She wrapped her arms around his neck.  "I'm so glad you came!"  She smiled brightly and you saw shades of Jack.  Had he been that exuberant and cute at that age? 

            "Ah, Margarita, my year isn't complete if I don't see your smiling face," Gabriel said cheerfully.  "And Jacqueline," he kissed Mrs. Morrison's cheek.  "Thank you for having us.  I'm looking forward to your spice cake."

            "Lucky, these are my parents.  Mom, Dad, this is Lucky." 

            "What kind of name is that?" Michael scoffed.  "Is she a dog or something?"

            You ignored him, shaking Mr. Morrison's hand with your right hand.  He had a firm grip and sharp gray eyes that seemed to take in everything at once.  "Good to meet you," he said gruffly. 

            You reached out to shake Mrs. Morrison's hand, but she swooped in and hugged you.  You went rigid as soon as she wrapped her arms around your chest, and you knew she felt it.  But you took a deep breath, and carefully hugged her back.  "It's so nice that you could come," she said, her cheer a little more strained than before.    

            "Thank you for having me," you said sounding stiff to your own ears. 

           You solemnly extended a hand to Maggie and she shook it once.  "Ignore my brother.  He's an asshat." 

            You refrained from telling her that both her brothers were asshats. 

            "Maggie!"  Mrs. Morrison said.  "Language!"

            Huh.  You'd heard that before too.  You glanced at Jack sideways, but he was already going into the house, happily chatting with his father.  You looked back out at the forest.  This wasn't the Yukon or the Alps.  You could probably make it out of here on foot if you needed.  Hell, you could bribe Fitzpatrick for a lift.

            "Come on," Gabriel said, his hand firmly on your back, like he knew exactly what you were thinking.  "Let's go get ready for dinner."

           


 

            Apparently you were rooming with Maggie.  Great.  Well, at least it wasn't Michael.  You folded your coat and set it on top of your bag.  Your turtleneck and jeans would be fine for dinner.  The bedroom had two beds, apparently one for Jack's other sister Jane who had since married and moved out.  The floral wallpaper was...something.  Thankfully, the rest of the room was done in a soothing shade of green.  You checked out the Overwatch posters and track trophies.  There was a big poster of Jack's team, Gabriel front and center.  Well, that didn't surprise you.  It seemed at least two Morrisons had similar tastes. 

            You tucked your cigarettes in your boot and your flask in your coat pocket.  You had the feeling you were going to need them. 

            Maggie was across the hall in Michael's room, which had been Jack and Michael's room back in the day.  Gabriel and Jack had that one to themselves, Michael loudly announcing how he was going to sleep on the "worn out" living room couch.  One glance told you it was nicer than the rec room couch. 

            "So, what's with Lucky?"  You could hear Maggie very clearly.  "Is she your bodyguard or something?"

            "Sometimes," Gabriel chuckled. 

            "Is she Jack's bodyguard?"

            "Sometimes," Gabriel sounded smug.  "Why don't you ask her?"

            "Because that's awkward!  Come on, Gabe.  You can trust me!" 

            "You saw that newspaper clipping Jack sent you, the French one?"  Jack sent his sister newspaper clippings?  You smacked your forehead.  Jack probably called his mother weekly, at the very least.  Just because you didn't have a family, didn't mean everyone else neglected theirs.  That meant Gabriel probably did too... You couldn't really bring yourself to picture that yet. 

            "That's Ms. Strike?!  Oh my God, her outfit was so amazing!  Jack called her the Assassin-Butler.  Wait...Lucky Strike?  Is that her real name?  That can't be." 

            "Her real name is classified," Gabriel said, and you wondered if that was true.  Because no one fucking called you it except Captain Amari and them.    

            "Oh my God, I'm rooming with a super spy?  Gabriel, that's so cool," she said, equal parts awe and excitement. 

            You felt an odd smile on your lips.  Damn Morrison charm.  You sorted your boxes of cookies.  You'd brought enough to give some to Chang's unit.  Whiskey and brandy too.  Traveling on Overwatch shuttles was duty-free and you'd been a smuggler too long to ignore that benefit. 

            You gathered three boxes of Swiss cookies and headed downstairs.  Jack was in the living room, watching football with his dad.  Mrs. Morrison was in the kitchen.  You had no idea where Michael was, and that was fine.   You went to the kitchen with your cookies. 

            "Do you need any help?" You asked, watching her bustle around, pots steaming, and the oven timer going off. 

            "Oh no, I have it under control.  You just settle in."  She smiled at you, her eyes the same color as Jack's.  You swallowed, not quite sure how to handle all these Morrisons. 

            "I uh...brought some cookies.  The bakery I go to is really nice."  You offered her the nicely wrapped boxes.

            "Oh, store-bought?  That's such a splurge," she said. 

            You weren't quite sure how to take that.  You didn't have enough time to bake.  That and everyone else would steal them if you did.   "They're really good," you said, trying to sound sincere.  "Well, I like the luxemburgerli best.  The tirggel are more of a...Zurich Christmas thing.  The hüppen are pretty good.  I got chocolate and raspberry." 

            "Oh set them in the living room.  John will probably want some right away." 

            You carried the boxes out and set them on the coffee table.  "Mrs. Morrison said to put them here."

            "Cookies?" Jack asked.  "Oh, yeah, Gabriel said he told you to bring them.  Hey, these picture ones are pretty good.  Try one, Dad."

            "They're kind of dry, Jack," his dad said biting into one. 

            "The tirggel are more a novelty," you said.  "The macaron-clones are better." 

            "In between missions, Lucky cooks for me sometimes.  She made this fish egg spaghetti that was really good.  Of course, she didn't tell me it was fish eggs till after I'd eaten two bowls, but, you know.  It was good."  He grinned at you. 

            John Morrison looked at you.  Then he looked at the cookies.  Then he looked at you again.

            "I bought these from a bakery.  There are no fish eggs or anything unusual inside," you said awkwardly.  "I...am going to go see what Gabriel's doing."

            You headed back up the stairs, listening to them creak.  You'd be better off going out the windows.  You could climb the porch easily enough if you had to sneak back inside.  You just had to make sure Chang's unit didn't shoot you. 

            You peeked inside Michael's room, watching as Gabriel applied eyeliner to Maggie.  "Your sister doesn't use enough for night wear," Gabriel said.  "You don't need it per se, but if you're going for dramatic eyes, then you'll want to use liquid liner and outline the top lid at the very least."

            "You need to marry my brother now," Maggie said.  "Oh my God, that is amazing!  And you can do contouring too?!"

            "I have three sisters," Gabriel said, looking at you. 

            You shrugged.  "You're better at it than me."

            "You have very steady hands too," he said, his smile sharp. 

            Maggie looked between the two of you.  "What do you do, Lucky?"

            Your mind flashed back to Chumak's fingers on the ground.  You forced your left hand to relax, because you weren't wearing your sap glove.  "Not makeup," you said a little too tightly.  "I...There are cookies in the living room.  I got them from this excellent bakery in Zurich."

            "Cookies?!  Shit!  I better get some before Michael crams them all down his rude face."  She jumped up, hugged Gabriel, and bounded down the stairs. 

            You stood in the doorway.  Gabriel sat on a bed, eyeliner in hand.  You crossed your arms.  "This is...weird."

            Gabriel set the liner down and stood.  "Come here." 

            He hugged you and you sank against the heat of his chest.  "She's fucking adorable," you said.  "Was Jack like that?"

            "A little less enthusiastic, or so Jacqueline tells me.  But only a little.  There were traces of that when we were in SEP so I can believe it."  Gabriel stroked your hair.  "I wasn't kidding about Michael.  I think you know what to do." 

            "You sure Jack wants us to bury his brother alive?"

            Gabriel laughed.  "I wish.  But he'll probably approach you.  You can do that thing you do with diagrams.  I'm too threatening and Chang's unit is supposed to protect the family, not police them.  Though I'm not sure Fitzpatrick won't eventually snap and do something drastic."

            Gabriel was clever.  He'd given you a sub-mission and that extra focus would center you.  You didn't want to think too hard about what that said about your psyche.  You were starting to think civilian life wouldn't be an option for you.

            "These are so goo- Gabriel?" 

            You almost jumped away, but Gabriel held you firmly in place.  "Yes, Maggie?"

            You could feel Maggie's eyes on the back of your head.  Gabriel had one arm around your waist and the other on the back of your neck. 

            "What are you doing?"  There was a tension in her voice that sounded almost familiar.  It was weird to hear the same cadence of the Strike Commander out of a fifteen year old girl. 

            "Hugging Lucky," he said.  "She gets too tightly wound sometimes." 

            "Does Jack know?"

            "Jack does it too," Gabriel said, sounding smug. 

            "I'm going to ask him about it," Maggie said, daring him to contradict her.

            "That's fine.  He'd probably prefer to talk about it in private."  Which wasn't exactly true.  That was you.  But Gabriel was telling a white lie for your sake; you weren't about to quibble.

            "...Fine.  But you better be telling the truth."

            "I wouldn't lie to you, Margarita." 

            She huffed.  "Do I get a hug too?" 

            "Of course."  Gabriel released you, and you stood very still, wondering if he'd heard her coming up the stairs and if he knew exactly what he was doing.   Because no matter what Lacroix said, Gabriel had no problem being underhanded.  Gabriel stepped past you and you stared out the window at the winter moon. 

            "Are you OK?" Maggie asked, sounding genuinely concerned. 

            "I'm fine, thank you," you said, your voice distant.

            "Mom said dinner would be ready soon and we should come sit.  You're sitting by me, right Gabe?"

            "Of course," he said.   "Come on Lucky.  Jacqueline is making her famous chicken broccoli casserole.  You'll love it."

            "Sounds great," you said.

            Maggie was watching you with suspicion now.  "What kind of cookies are these?" 

            "The flute-shaped filled wafers are hüppen.  The sandwich cookies are Swiss knockoff macarons called luxemburgerli.  The picture ones are tirggel.  They're honestly more of Christmas novelty than something you want to eat."  You had the cookie speech down now. 

            "Like fruitcake," Gabriel said.

            "Bring anything else?" She asked, eating a luxemburgerli. 

            "I bought some cherry brandy.  It's pretty nice."

            "I'm fifteen," she said, not actually sounding outraged.

            "...Umm..."  You turned and looked at Gabriel. 

            "After dinner tonight," he said.  "But if your mom catches us, we're all dead, and you killed us, Margarita."

            Maggie's expression relaxed.  "OK, after dinner tonight.  Now let's go before Mom starts yelling."

            Gabriel patted your back.  "Smooth, Lucky.  You're plotting to bury Jack's brother alive and give his underage sister booze.  I can't wait to see your next trick."

            You rolled your fist, and followed Gabriel down the stairs, wondering if it was too early to break into the alcohol.

            The dinner seating arrangement was acceptable.  You sat between Gabriel and Jack, Gabriel listening to Maggie while Jack talked with his parents.  You were across from Michael, but he didn't look at you. 

            Green bean casserole, spinach casserole, chicken broccoli casserole.  "Casserole" apparently meant "canned cream soup" and/or "lots of cheese" on stuff.  And Jack kept scooping things onto your plate, like you couldn't serve yourself.  You kicked him under the table.  He innocently blinked at you.

            "I don't have an SEP metabolism," you said.

            "You haven't eaten all day," he said. 

            You were pretty sure Gabriel was laughing at you and had put you there because he knew Jack would attempt to overfeed whoever sat next him.  Gabriel lied to you.  This wasn't an op.  This was a suicide run. Your tanto rested in the small of your back, a familiar comforting weight reminding you that seppuku was an option. 

            You picked up your fork and knife, studying the food on your plate. 

            "Lucky, you don't need to wear your gloves at the table," Mrs. Morrison said, possibly registering the assassin aesthetic.

            "Mom-" Jack began. 

            "Really, it's unnecessary," Mrs. Morrison gave you an expectant look, like an older, less tolerant Strike Commander, one you weren't about to argue with. 

            "My apologies, Mrs. Morrison."  You exhaled slowly and took off your right glove off first.  Then you peeled of the left glove, paired them and placed them in your lap.  Your augments glowed brightly in the dining room.  Your metal fingers looked wrong at a farmhouse dinner table covered in assorted casseroles.  But you were already here, so you picked your knife and fork back up.             

            Jack's parents had the grace or the shame not to stare. 

            Michael began to snicker. 

            "Wow, those are really cool," Maggie said.  "Can I paint your nails?"

            "If you like," you said, then remembered these weren't your basic set.  "But nail polish doesn't stick to the omnium very well." 

            "Aww," she said.   "Can I paint your other nails?"

            "If you like."  You took a bite of casserole.  It was comfort food.  You wouldn't make it yourself, unless Jack asked, but it was better than it looked.

            "Do you have other robot parts?" Michael asked, smirking at you.

            "Michael!"  Mrs. Morrison also had the Strike Commander cadence.  Huh.

            "I was just asking," he snapped.

            "Don't be rude."

            You ate your casserole and ignored him. 

 


 

            "I'm sorry."  Mrs. Morrison caught you on your way to the kitchen as you helped her clear the table.  "I didn't realize." 

            "It's fine."  You managed a zen smile.  "I blame Jack."

            "I do too," she said.  "But I should be used to soldiers' idiosyncrasies by now.  That wasn't fair of me."

            "Apology accepted, ma'am," you said.  "Do you need help with anything else?  Opening jars?  Flattening pennies?  Checking electrical sockets?"

            It took her a moment, but she laughed.  "No thank you, Lucky.  Why don't you go see what the boys are doing.  You're a guest too, you know."

            "Do you need help?"

            "John will be in here in a moment.  He's just dealing with Michael.  Michael's going through a...difficult phase."

            Michael just needed a kick in the pants.  "Teenagers," you said, blandly.

            "Yes," she said, and shooed you out of the kitchen.

            You pulled your gloves back on and found your way back up to Maggie's bedroom to dig out the brandy.  You could hear Jack and Gabriel chatting with Maggie.  You peeked your head in. 

            "I have cups!"  Maggie stage-whispered.

            Jack and Gabriel sat on twin bed.  Maggie sat on the other.

            You nodded and shut the door behind you.  You took the cups and poured everyone a little brandy, except for yourself.  You gave yourself a lot.  You handed Maggie a cup, and set the bottle down. 

            You took a sip, the sweetness almost too much.  It burned nicely though, heat traveling through your veins.  You sat down on the bed next to Maggie. 

            "So, I came in on Gabriel and Lucky hugging.  You hug her too, Jack?  And is that all you do?"  Maggie asked as she took a drink. 

            Jack started coughing and Gabriel slapped him on the back laughing. 

            You drank your brandy, and refused to look up.  Jack and Gabriel could handle this.  You were done.  You'd been good today.  They'd set you up.

            "Hey," Jack stood up.  "Lucky?"

            You knew what was coming next.  You really thought Jack would have more restraint.  But he placed both hands on your face and kissed you, his lips tasting of cherries and brandy.   You relented, kissing him back.  When he let go of you, he was beaming. 

            "That answer your question, Maggie?" 

            She squealed.  "You have a boyfriend and a girlfriend?!  And you're OK sharing him?!  New life goal!"

            So much for keeping it quiet.  Forget about not telling the household.  You were pretty sure the whole state of Indiana heard that. 

            Gabriel laughed.  "We're all sharing," he grinned at you and it wasn't just the alcohol warming your blood. 

            You shook your head, drank your brandy, and wondered if telling Jack's fifteen year old sister these things constituted some kind of child endangerment or emotional abuse. 

            "Does Mom know?"

            "She suspects," Jack said.  "I don't mind telling her, but Lucky's shy."

            "Why?!  You should be proud.  Gabe is hot!  My brother is OK.  But Gabe!" 

            You shrugged.  "It would look bad at work."

            "Who cares what other people think?!  You're an Assassin-Butler!  You're a secret agent femme fatale!  You're boning Gabe!  I need details!"

            "Was the brandy a mistake?"

            "No, she's always like this."  Jack sat on the floor and tugged on your leg.  "Come here."

            "I'm not happy about the glove incident."

            "It slipped my mind."  He gazed up at you with heartfelt remorse.  Because even if Jack was thoughtless, he never meant harm.  "I'm sorry, baby."

            "Uh-huh."

            "There's nothing wrong with your fingers." 

            "Not with the ones I have left," you muttered.  "Honestly, Jack..."  You swatted his hand away. 

            "Is she always this grumpy?"  Maggie asked. 

            You shrugged. 

            "No, that's usually Gabe.  She's just embarrassed."

            "You don't believe I'm grumpy," Gabriel said, placing a hand on his chest.  "Do you?"

            Maggie laughed.  "Never.  Gabe's the good one."

            Jack's incredulous face was cute.  He looked rapidly between you and Gabriel.  "That is so wrong!"  You sighed and patted Jack's head. 

            "Stop pouting, Jack."

            He kissed your hand. 

            "Sorry, Maggie.  It's not you.  I'm just not used to this," you said.  "Apparently I don't know how to function outside a military setting any more."

            "How do you act with your family?"

            You downed the rest of your brandy.  "My hometown burned about a decade ago.  I'm not the only survivor, but there weren't many."

            Maggie got quiet.  She must have realized the lack of questions directed at you during dinner didn't have to do with the fingers.   "You warned Mom, but you didn't warn me, Jack."

            "See, he's terrible," you said.    

            "The worst!" 

            "I'm sitting with Maggie. She gets it."

            "I'm painting your nails.  How does green sound?"

            "Paint Gabriel's first," you said. 

            "Gabe?" She batted her lashes at him, and you wondered just how he acted with his sisters.  

            Jack's family wasn't anything like yours, mostly in the fact that they were alive and functional.  But the differences made you homesick in a way you couldn't put into words. 

 


 

           

            Maggie only smirked when you stayed in Jack's room.  You sat on the floor, studying the music posters and books on Michael's shelf. 

            "So on Christmas Eve, my family goes to church.  Christmas Day we stay home and exchange presents.  Jane'll probably be over with her family.  There'll be a few neighbors and friends stopping in.  And we leave the evening after."

            You were going to make yourself scarce for that church service.  Gabriel could help you, or you could hide in the woods alone.

            "We'll be doing that op tomorrow," Gabriel said.  "It might run over."

            Jack snorted.  "Really?"  He didn't look offended though.  He just sprawled across the bed.  "Let's push the beds together.  Can't really do anything fun on them, but we can sleep that way."

            "We're not going to fit," you said, eyeing the twin beds.

            Gabriel ended up pushing them together against the wall, so the three of you could lay on the floor.  Jack spooned Gabriel, and you sat up, back to the wall, still studying Michael's belongings.  He had a lot of space sci-fi and military history.  He also had a lot of art books, a good number of them featuring scantily-clad ladies.  But you noted the large amount of sketchbooks and the art supplies, displaced by Gabriel moving the beds.  

            "Coming to sleep?"  Gabriel asked.  

            "In a moment, thinking." 

            "Hit the lights when you do," Jack murmured, already drifting.

            You got up and took a peek at the sketchbooks.  You didn't know much about art, but there was a natural life to the drawings; most were animals, some people.  You found one of Jack in combat fatigues drinking a beer.  It was a rough sketch, but you recognized the posture and smile immediately.  You turned off the lights, wrapped yourself in a blanket, and sat back down, back against the wall.  You weren't sure how long you sat there, but eventually, you tucked yourself against Gabriel's chest and went to sleep.

 


 

            You were awake and cleaning your gun when Michael opened the door.  He stared at you, eyes darting between your gun and the sleeping men.  

            You watched him as he tried to decide if whatever he needed from his room was worth being in here with them. 

            He clenched his jaw, glared at you, and slammed the door. 

            "Little shit," Gabriel muttered.  "Come back over here, Lucky.  It's too early to be playing games with kids."

            "Nah, I've got plans.   Where'd you say that spot was again?"

            Gabriel grumbled.  "Ask Chang."

            "Wish me luck."

            You kissed him and he tried to pull you back down. 

            "I have a mission, Gabriel.  I'll sleep in tomorrow."

            "That's what you think," he muttered.

 


 

            You found the coffee pot half full and poured yourself a mug.  Michael sat in the kitchen, pointedly ignoring you.  But you felt his eyes on your back when you left.  Chang was on the porch drinking coffee too.  The sun was bright and it was colder than you expected. 

            "Morning," you said. 

            "Mm."  She looked at you blankly.  Chang didn't look SEP.  She wasn't muscle-bound like Gabriel and Jack.  Captain Patel had been compact, but stocky.  Chang was tall and slender with sharp cheekbones and flawless skin, almost too pretty to be a soldier, though she did nothing to accentuate her looks.  You wondered if SEP did other things besides acting as superhuman steroids. 

            "I hear Mrs. Morrison doesn't like smoking.  Gabriel said to ask you where I can do it discretely."

            "So it's true," she said, sipping her coffee.

            You shrugged.  "I don't know what you heard."

            "You were Aishani's protégée, weren't you?" 

            "That was probably Lieutenant Shin Sato," you said.  "But yeah, I served under Captain Patel." 

            Chang's expression was almost flat, but you could see the shadow of something rippling under her skin.  "You were there?"

            "Yeah," you said.  You stared out at the forest.  There were gray clouds on the horizon.  "Captain Patel held the chokepoint, said the Durga Shatru-Shanti, and started shooting.  No one got past her."

            Chang exhaled.  "Reyes told me."  She set the mug on the railing.  "Aishani was a good teacher.  Best of the first gen."

            "Yeah."  You jammed your hands in your pockets, because you weren't wearing your sap glove. 

            "Jack hasn't brought anyone besides Reyes home for years.  Are we expecting extra trouble, agent?  Or is this what it looks like?"

            You snorted.  "I have no idea what this looks like."

            "It looks like Jack and Reyes have picked up a third," she said, her voice still monotone. 

            "Yeah."  You couldn't argue with that description.   You'd worked so hard to keep your feelings secret, and then it turned out that everyone and some random strangers already knew.  You sighed.  "I-"

            "I don't need to know," Chang said.  "I just needed to make sure Reyes wasn't holding back critical information."

            "He wouldn't-"

            Chang gave you a wry smile.  "Reyes and I go way back.  We've always clashed. He would." 

            You sighed, because Gabriel defined Blackwatch petty.  "Yeah.  OK.  Can you point me to the smoking zone?"

 


 

            You stopped by the barn.  Half a dozen goats meandered in the corral and you reached in to scratch their furry heads.  They seemed to like the attention, though it could have just been a ploy to eat your sleeves. 

            You heard someone moving around in the barn, and angled yourself to keep an eye in that direction. 

             John Morrison emerged from the barn carrying a few flakes of alfalfa.  He stopped and opened the gate, going to the feeder, goats suddenly at his heels. 

            "Morning, Mr. Morrison," you said when he came out. 

            "Good morning.  Just call me John."  He looked between you and the goats.  "They're useless.  Maggie used to do 4-H with them.  Wouldn't sell'em for slaughter.  Now they just get fat and terrorize the chickens."

            "They're cute," you said. 

            He stood beside you.  "Are we expecting trouble?"

            "No more than usual," you said, wondering what would have been the right thing for Jack to tell his family. 

            "When Jack brought that Captain Amari back, he introduced her as his friend.  He swore up and down there was nothing going on.  Jacqueline didn't believe him, thought he was being shy, but I knew right away.  He gets a look in his eye.  You, he didn't say a word, but it was all over his face."

            You tilted your head back and stared at the sky.  It was going to snow.  You knew it.  Jack, that damn liar, swore up and down that the climate was fucked up and it didn't snow in Indiana for Christmas any more, honest.  But you could feel it in your leg and your fingertips.  "It's going to snow, isn't it?"

            "Yes," John said.  "So you, Jack, and Reyes too?"

            "Yes," you said, waiting for the shitty comments.

            "I know what Jack tells my wife.  I know he says all he does is go to meetings and take photo ops now.  That his soldiering days are behind him.  He might have my wife's charisma, but he has my brains.  Sort of.  He thinks I don't know when he's lying?"  John Morrison gave you a wintry smile.  "I know the look a man gets when he's killed another human.  I know the look a man gets when he's planning to kill another human.  Jack has the former.  Reyes has both." 

            "They're soldiers," you said.

            "Reyes is dangerous," John said simply.  "So is Jack, and so are you.  But Reyes is the one closest to going rogue."

            "We all have triggers and scars," you said tightly.  "Gabriel's are just the most visible.  He's good to Jack and he's good to me."

            John watched the goats.  "It's a lot for this old man to get used to." 

            "There's nobody I trust at my back more than Gabriel."

            You expected him to say something about Jack, instead he just studied your face, those gray eyes too piercing.  "It's good you like goats, Lucky.  More importantly, they like you back.  Don't have much more to add than that."

           


 

            The field was cleared, the view blocked by the barn.  You sat on a crate, and noted a lot of smashed down grass and visible footprints.  Obviously, Chang wasn't the only smoker.  You lit your cigarette, and you waited. 

            It was another ten minutes before he trudged up behind you, his boots crunching the frosted grass. 

            "Got a cigarette?"  He sounded surly, and you'd been told the soldiers hadn't been sharing with him for obvious reasons. 

            You shook one out of the pack and offered it with a gloved hand. 

            Michael snatched it up and fumbled in his pocket for a lighter. 

            You went back to focusing on your cigarette.  You wondered how Jack would react if he caught you.  Now there was a thought.  He didn't seem to like seeing you smoke. 

            "Are you guarding my brother or that other asshole?"

            You laughed and tilted your head to the side.  "What makes you think I'm their bodyguard?"

            "I saw those clippings Maggie got.  You're "Ms. Strike" from Paris.  You saved Jack from cyborg assassins."  He tried to sound blasé, but his eyes kept darting to your gloves. 

            "It was teamwork.  Jack actually killed more."  You lit another cigarette.

            "Bullshit.  I've hear the reports he gives Mom.  He's just a candy ass figurehead.  Some pseudo-Captain America propaganda," Michael spat.  "But everyone eats it up.  They love him.  He's so fucking fake."

            You laughed, because this one did not take after his father. "You're right.  Jack is  a fucking liar.  We killed five cyborgs in Paris that day.  He did four with T-box shots in about three minutes.  I incapacitated one, because we needed him alive for interrogation, and then I killed another with my combat knife.  Jack might be doing political work, but his skills are real.  I spar with him regularly and even at half strength, he messes me up."

            Michael stared openly at your hands.  "Jack won't spar with me.  Reyes laughed in my face.  Jack and I used to box.  Now he thinks I'm too weak."

            "I'll spar with you.  I'll even take off my fingers if you're worried."  You smiled at him sharply, because he was making this too easy. 

            "I'm not scared," he said. 

            "All right.  So what do I get if I win?"

            Michael stared at you.  "Do I get something if I win?"

            "Sure," you said, knowing that wasn't going to happen.  "What do you want?"

            "I-"  He looked around.  He hadn't thought that far. 

            "If I win, you're going to go have a talk with your brother and be polite to Gabriel for the rest of the visit.  You don't have like him.  You don't have to pretend to be his friend.  You just have to be civil.  And I'll answer one question, because you obviously don't have all the facts."

            "If I win, hand over those cigarettes, and you have to talk to me, and answer all my questions," he said. "Plus show me how your fingers work." 

            "Nothing classified," you said, relieved he didn't suggest anything creepy.  "So we going to first blood, tap out, or knockout?"

            "Tap out," he said. 

            You took off your coat and scarf.  You stretched, noting Fitzpatrick leaning against the barn.  Oh, you had an audience.  Was he there to make sure Michael didn't get hurt?  Or was he just there to enjoy the takedown? 

            Michael danced like a boxer.  He circled you, jabbing at your defenses.  He was strong, and even had some training.  You waited for him to charge, then ducked under his blow, sweeping his legs out from under him.   He went down and you were on his chest, feet pinning his arms, forearm pressing down on his throat.

            He tapped the ground. 

            You got off him. 

            "Best two out of three?" He coughed.

            You obliged, mostly to see what he knew.  He understood the basics, but he fought clean and within the bounds of good sportsmanship.  In the second round, you just slid past his defenses, fingers closing around his throat.  He asked to go again, even if it didn't matter.  So for the third round, you left him wheezing on the ground after one of Genji's hip throws, and then you went and pulled on your coat.  It was fucking cold. 

            "It must be difficult to be The Jack Morrison's younger brother.  Quite the legacy to live up to."  You sat back down on the crates. 

            "Fuck you."  Michael picked himself off the ground, cradling his arm. 

            "No, I feel for you.  Everything you do will be judged against his actions.   People aren't about to let you be your own person when they could try to clone another Jack Morrison.   It's completely unfair." 

            "I didn't ask for your psychobabble." 

            You handed him another cigarette.  Michael took it, begrudgingly.  He shuddered and sat down beside you, now rubbing his side. 

            "Jack's a good man, but he's pretty thoughtless.  I bet he just tried to give you some platitudes about just being yourself and figured this was a phase you'd grow out of."

            Michael eyed you suspiciously.  "Did he tell you this?"

            "No, I just know Jack."

            "You in love with him or something?  Because he's fucking that faggot, Reyes."

            You bit down on the cigarette, reminding yourself that he was a stupid teenage boy and you shouldn't kick his ass for real.  It was just a shame that slur rolled off his tongue so easily.  "Do you actually think it bothers me that they're lovers?  Are you really hung up on that toxic idea that men can't love other men?  Or are you worried that it's going to reflect on you?  Knew there was a reason I avoided rural America."    

            Michael stared at his feet.  Shame was good.  At least he wasn't an asshole to the core. 

            "I suspect Jack takes your relationship for granted.  He thinks that if he just gives you time, everything will work out and you'll be back to being friends again.  Jack's an idiot like that."  Maybe it was good you'd come to Indiana.  You were getting an idea of what made Jack tick and the insight was valuable.  "So what bothers you more?  His reputation?  The fact you think it's fake?  His gay lover?  The way it all reflects on you?"

            "All of it!"

            "Jack'll be the first to tell you he's no saint."

            Michael glowered at the ground.

            "Does it really bother you that Jack likes men?"

            "It's not how men like that are supposed to be," Michael muttered.

            "How are they supposed to be?  Alcoholics and abusive?  Emotionally numb? Misogynistic?"  You scowled, burning through another cigarette.  "Gabriel is even stronger than Jack.  So I can't think of anything manlier than those two together." 

            "I'm not a bigot, OK?" Michael said.  "I just don't like Reyes.  Maybe if Jack was seeing someone who was less of an asshole."

            "OK, then don't be a bigot about it.  You don't have to like Gabriel."

            "Jack liked girls before SEP!"

            "Jack still likes girls.  He just likes Gabriel too."  You smirked.  "You thinking about SEP, but worried it's going to turn you gay?"

            "Everyone expects me to join up.  Follow in Jack's footsteps.  The recruiter said I was candidate, given my brother."

            You sighed.  "Recruiters lie all the fucking time.  Maybe you are, maybe you aren't.  But you should talk to Jack, Gabriel, or even Chang.  Because from what I hear, SEP was miserable." 

             "Do you lose to my brother?"

            "Regularly.  Fucker thinks it's funny to throw me."  You shrugged.  "I don't pick fair fights.  I'm not SEP, so I have to be smart about how I do things.  What works for Jack and Gabriel doesn't work for me."

            "So he'd kick my ass, is what you're saying?"

            You laughed.  "I bet if you ask real nicely, Chang will let you train with her people," you said, lighting another cigarette.  "She could give you a lot of insight." 

            "She's such a bitch," he said wistfully.  "Hot, but a bitch."

            "She's SEP.  It made them all a little crazy.  Though if you want a favor from her, I wouldn't call her "hot" or a "bitch."  You sighed.  "You going to hold up our bargain?"

            "Yeah, sure.  Fuck.  I think you broke my spleen."

            You shrugged.  "Got more questions, besides "what does my spleen do?"    Because I'm no doctor."

            His laugh turned into a moan.  "So Jack really is a badass?"

            "Yeah," you said.  "He channels your mother.  It's kind of terrifying to see her and Maggie do that voice.  It's the Strike Commander in stereo."

            "Huh."  Michael sat up.  "That is terrifying.  Shit."

            "You're an artist, aren't you?"  You studied the sky.  It really was going to snow.  Fucking Jack. 

            "Yeah, I mean...I draw.  I'm not great or anything."

            " I'd like to see some of your work if you have time later."

            "Yeah, sure."  He blinked again.  "OK, who would win?  Reyes or Jack?"

            "Hard to say.  They're pretty evenly matched.  I'm partial to Gabriel, though." 

            "Why are you here?"

            "That's like your fourth question," you said, not actually caring.  "Jack invited me."

            "I figured. But, why?  Don't you want to see your folks?"

            Someone wasn't reading the family newsletter.   Oddly enough, admitting the loss got easier each time they asked.  Or maybe you were just used to being detached.  "Everyone else is dead.  Early casualties when the omnics went bad."

            "That sucks." 

            You shrugged.  "Gabriel shipped me off to therapy.  It helps.  I think."

            "You guys talk to shrinks?  Seriously?"

            "Yeah.  We've all seen and done some shit."  The image of Chumak's severed fingers was seared into your brain.  But it was better than Shin's dead body; you still saw that sometimes when you drifted into sleep.  "I know it doesn't match the big damn hero image, but this life takes its toll.   I've buried a lot of people."  Which was kind of a lie, because there hadn't been enough left to bury.  "No shame in getting help when you need it.  Seen enough people eat their guns in the aftermath to know that I don't want to be one of them." 

            Michael kept his eyes on his lap.

            You managed to smoke two more cigarettes before he spoke again.

            "Jack never made it sound like that."

            "It's not something you bring up in polite conversation.  If I had younger siblings left, I wouldn't tell them the truth.  Unless they were looking to join up."  You stared at your cigarette pack.  You were burning through these way too fast. 

            "How is Jack holding up?"

            "OK.  Gabriel's good for him, and vice versa."  You couldn't keep the fondness out of your voice. 

            Michael looked longingly at your cigarette and you handed him another one.

            "Are you in love with my brother?  Or is it Reyes?"

            "I don't know, but apparently I'm dating them both."  The admission made you smile just a little.  Maybe because you liked them, but mostly because it was a shocking thing to say. 

            You were gratified when Michael choked and almost swallowed the cigarette.  "What?"

            "Good talk, Michael.  Looking forward to the sketches.  You should do a highlight reel with Jack.  I'll be sending him your way," you said, and strode back to the farmhouse before he could get his bearings.

            Mission accomplished.

Chapter Text

             "I'll take Chang, Maracle, and Onwuachimba.  You take Fitzpatrick and Almasi.  We'll hit before the family goes to church so Fitzpatrick, Maracle, and Onwuachimba can accompany them.  I'll probably be busy with Chang."  Gabriel showed you on the map where everyone was supposed to be.  You knew it was never that simple.

            "Chang has to be expecting this "surprise inspection."  You sat on the floor of Michael's room, studying the tablet map. 

            "Of course she is.  So is her crew.  They know we'll skip church, so they're expecting it then.  That's why we hit before the Morrisons leave.  You'll go after Almasi last, because he's in the woods and you'll be out of sight.  Afterward, you can come watch me and Chang.  She's great." Sharp amusement tinged his words.  

            "I got the impression you aggravate her."

            "I do."  Gabriel's grin wasn't very nice.  "But she's on edge and needs a real fight.  Jack normally does it, but I'm a good guy who's happy to help."

            You briefly wondered about their history, then shut it down.  Not your business.  You grabbed the paintball gun.  "You have eyes on any of them?"

            "Onwuachimba is on the roof.  I'm going out the back window, and I'll hit her first.  Fitzpatrick was by the barn.  I'm pretty sure Chang is in the deer blind."

            You nodded and casually tucked the paintball gun under your coat. 

            Being here, with Jack's family, sent your fight or flight instincts into overdrive.  It made no sense, because there wasn't any action.  It was the idleness, you realized.  You didn't know how to just sit there and do nothing.  Years of survivalism and military training had left their mark; you were a goddamn border collie, uneasy if you didn't have a job to do. 

            Or maybe meeting Jack's family just filled you with anxiety and you were grateful for a high-energy outlet.  That was normal, right?  Way more normal than being unable to adjust to civilian life. 

            You went out the front door, hit the smoking zone, and doubled back.  Fitzpatrick was perched on the roof of the truck, his legs swinging.

            You nailed him in the back and he fell off the truck.  "Fuck!"

            You crept up and found him rubbing his back.  You touched the barrel to his nose.  "Tag." 

            "Goddamnit, Lucky Strike!  And I was starting to like you after watching you trounce Michael."  He scowled at the black paint on his glove.  "Really?"

            "Commander's orders: surprise inspection," you said shrugging.  "Sorry."

You tucked the gun back under your coat.  "I got plenty of brandy and cookies for later."

            "If you're out here, then Reyes is going after Chang."  His eyes widened.  "Oh shit.  We can't miss that fight!" 

            "Yeah, well, I got one more tag and I'll be back.  You're "dead" and "out."  So no warning the others."

            "Ugh.  Fine."  He glanced at you.  "You really got cookies and brandy to share?"

            You laughed and crept off to the woods.

            Almasi was quiet.  You knew his patrol routes, but you were pretty sure he deviated from them.  You found a large maple at the junction of one of the footpaths, and climbed it.  There wasn't much cover, but people rarely looked up.  You surveyed the area, catching sight of a blue hat in the distance.  You squinted.  It wasn't moving and you didn't see a coat.  Hmm.  Had you been spotted already?

            You slid out of the tree and circled around.  If Almasi set his hat as a decoy, he'd probably shed his coat too.  Those Overwatch blues stuck out in the forest.  You perched on a stump and listened. 

            Snap. 

            You dropped off the stump, taking cover behind a tree.  Almasi rushed you, blue coat gone.  You fired, black paint splattering across his face and throat.  He made a gagging noise and stumbled.  You got up and tapped his shoulder with the gun.  "Tag."

            "I had you in my sights," he muttered.

            You shrugged.  "I'll let Gabriel know.  Go get cleaned up.  I don't think he's found Chang yet, and Fitzpatrick says we all want to watch that one."

            You headed toward the deer blind, conscious of how the frozen grass snapped underfoot.  But you heard them before you saw them.

            "-Not your concern, Reyes."

            "I'm just testing you, Chang."

            "You're testing my patience," she said tightly. 
            You came up behind the deer blind, taking cautious steps. 

            "You're wound too tight.  Jack's here to visit his family, not babysit you."

            You heard a sharp intake of breath.  "Stop pushing me, Reyes."

            You peeked around the corner, and were slightly surprised to see Gabriel's paintball gun smashed on the ground.   He stood squarely facing Chang, arms crossed.  She had her back to you and you didn't see any paint on her. 

            "Almasi and Maracle might be able to double-team you, but they can't take you down.  Come on, Chang.  We all need to expel.  You don't have to hold back on me."

            "I'm fine," she snapped. 

            You glanced at Gabriel, waving your paintball gun.  He gave you a barely perceptible nod. 

            You shot her in the back. 

            Chang snarled and whirled, her eyes wild as they fell on you.  Faster than you could see, she leapt at you, and then fell short, because Gabriel had her by the back of the neck.  She swore and he laughed, spinning her in a half circle away from you. 

            "You're too close, Chang.  You obviously need to work it off.  Come on, you just got my blood up."  Gabriel's lips were drawn back in a fierce grin.  "I won't hold back either."

            Chang didn't look at you.  "Fine."   And she leapt into the air, all coiled muscle and steel grace.  Gabriel met her head-on and your chest constricted. 

            Chang was fast, much faster than Jack.  She was on par with Genji, maybe faster.   She was agile too, barely touching the ground when she moved.  She sprung off trees and made impossibly high leaps.  What Gabriel couldn't block, he took, his blows heavier and harder.  If she'd been armed, you would have been very concerned, but she went in barehanded. 

            "Shit, she's going all out."  Fitzpatrick panted as he came up behind you.  "Knew she was overdue, but...I wasn't going to say anything." 

            "She's beautiful," you said, an odd pang hitting your chest.  You'd never be able to match Gabriel like that. 

            "Like a naked blade," Almasi said.  "I heard there were going to be cookies and brandy." 

            You glanced at Gabriel and Chang, still parrying and striking at blurred speeds.  They were going to be at it awhile.  "Yeah, I'll be right back."

            You went in and out the window of Michael's room, avoiding the Morrisons and any potential invitations to church.  Carrying a sack of cigarettes, brandy, and cookies, you were like Blackwatch Santa. 

            You passed the bottle to Fitzpatrick, and crouched down, opening a box of cookies.  "Shit, anything broken yet?"

            They were both bleeding from the mouth, and Gabriel's coat was on the ground, his shirt shredded. 

            "Hard to say," Fitzpatrick looked at his watch.  "Well damn, I guess I'll have to cover the Christmas Eve service.  Sarge isn't going to be done here any time soon."

            Almasi sat on the ground, stoically eating cookies.  "He planned it like this.  When they're done, I'll patch her up.  The rest of the squad is sufficient to cover the church outing."

            "There better be brandy and cookies when I get back," Fitzpatrick warned. 

            "I brought plenty for the class," you said, because it was true. 

            "Then we're good, despite the fact you're a lowdown, dirty, cheating, backstabber."

            You shrugged.  "I'm in Blackwatch.  That's how we roll."

 


 

            Chang went down hard, one of Gabriel's kicks knocking her to the ground. 

            "You left it too long," Gabriel said, wiping blood off his face.  "Sort yourself out sooner next time.  Before you're a danger to everyone else."

            Chang exhaled slowly, picking herself off the ground.  "Damnit, Reyes.  You kick like a fucking AA gun." 

            She glanced over at you and Almasi.  "The rest of the squad accompanying the Morrisons?"

            "Yeah, Reyes got us out of church service.  Merry Christmas, Sergeant," Almasi said dryly. 

            Chang snorted and limped over to you.  You offered her what was left of the open bottle of brandy.  She downed it in one go.  "Aishani should've taught you that if you surprise one of us, you better be ready to run."

            You shrugged.  "I normally use more...effective weapons."

            She nodded at you.  "Come on Almasi.  Can't let the Morrisons see me like this."

            You stepped aside, watching as Almasi casually took a whole box of cookies as he followed his CO toward the farmhouse. 

            "You OK, Gabriel?"  He stood there in the cold, shirt gone, hat and coat on the ground.  He bled from dozens of tiny cuts and you wondered how badly he'd be hurting later. 

            He took two quick strides and cupped the back of your head, his mouth covering yours.  He tasted like blood and you didn't care.  He drew you against him, his chest radiating heat.  You sighed softly, his tongue parting your lips. Gabriel ground against you, and suddenly your coat was too warm and your clothes too tight. 

            "Damnit, Gabriel," you pulled away.  "Let's get you cleaned up." 

            "You're not hurt, are you?  His voice was raw, his hands tracing your side.

            "She didn't touch me.  You got her first."

            "I didn't think she was that bad off," Gabriel buried his face in your hair, his breathing heavy.  "Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten you involved."

            "You just frustrate people at twice the usual rate."  You tried not think about how stunning Chang was when she fought.  She would look good on the battlefield beside Jack and Gabriel. 

            "I'll get cleaned up.  Then we'll grab my bag.  I have a treat for you." 

            He grinned down at you, his smile promising something wicked.  You bit your lip, heat building between your legs.

            It started to snow then.  And in that moment, you couldn't bring yourself to care. 

 


 

           "Didn't you learn your lesson back in SEP?"  Chang sat on the porch, drinking coffee.  Her hands were bandaged, and she had a rapidly healing black eye.  

            Jack sat on the steps, resting his weight on his elbows.  "It's different."

            "Yeah, Reyes likes this one.  A lot."  Chang looked at him sideways.  "That going to be a problem?"

            "Only if you try to hit her," Jack smiled back.   

            "Fuck you, Jack," she said, and went back to her coffee. 

            The snow continued to fall fast, several inches already sticking to the cold ground.  Jack could still see the stars, but the snow blanketing the farm left him with an overpowering sense of nostalgia.  This wasn't quite home any more, but having his people here made it feel right. 

            "Michael's going to politely ask you to start letting him participate in squad workouts."

            Chang snorted.  "Michael is?  You're not ordering me?"

            "Hell no, Ray.  Even I know that's a bad idea."  He rubbed his forehead.  "I might've missed some things with Michael.  But I think it's going to get better.  We talked about...things.  I guess I didn't really know what was going on with him."

            Chang, very diplomatically, did not add to that. 

            "It seems Lucky left an impression on him.  You know anything about that, Ray?" 

            Chang drained the rest of her coffee.  "According to Fitzpatrick, she took him to the ground three times in five minutes.  He wasn't close enough to hear what they said, but it wasn't an angry exchange."

            "Huh.  He left that out.  I wondered why he was limping.  Wasn't sure if Fitzpatrick hadn't finally snapped on him." 

            "If Fitzpatrick snapped, the boy wouldn't be walking."

            Jack rolled his eyes.  "Always a bundle of cheer, Ray."

            "I am what I am, Jack."  Her eyes were hard.  "You sure this is a good idea? After what happened during SEP-"

            "This is different.  It flows."  Jack tilted his head back.  "She makes Gabe happy."

            "And you?"

            "Yeah, I like her," he grinned.  "She broke my nose.  She stole my kills.  She calls me on my bullshit."

            Chang rolled her eyes.  "You macho dickheads with your crossed wires.  You like them fucked up, Jack.  I don't know why I bother.  You didn't listen to me then, you certainly won't listen to me now." 

            "She cooks for me too."

            "Well, that makes it all better."   

            "I could go into graphic detail, but I don't want to make you uncomfortable," Jack said smugly. 

            Chang gave him a withering look.  "Reyes told me to avoid the northeast quadrant by the forest.  If you want to catch up with them."

            "I wish.  The family is watching holiday movies.  Can't get away."  He got up, looking out over the snowy landscape.  "Lucky hates the cold, so I doubt they'll be long."

 


 

           

            It was still snowing.  You weren't sure how this was going to be a treat.  If Gabriel wanted to show you the stars, you could see them perfectly fine from the farmhouse roof. Gabriel had a backpack, and there was an emitter peeking out.  Maybe Chang had done more damage than you thought. 

            Gabriel led you to a clearing, the ground mostly even.  You were right next to the forest, and while it was already night, the snow and the moon didn't allow for it to be dark. 

            You shivered, even though it wasn't that cold.  You really didn't like snow. 

            Gabriel opened the bag and pulled out two wooden knives, about a foot long each.  He opened a tube of lipstick, rubbing it across the edge of each blade, then he tossed you one.  You caught it, and stared.  It was weighted like a real knife.

            "I want to play with you," Gabriel said, his eyes glittering.  "You like knives.  So this should even the score."

            You raised a brow.  "You want to spar on Christmas Eve in the snow?"

            "Remember what I promised you? The harder you fight, the harder I'll fuck you.  So don't worry about staying warm."  Your pussy clenched and you gritted your teeth. 

            "So sparring with Chang really did it for you?"  The words slipped out, and you blamed your habit of being Blackwatch petty. 

            Gabriel gave a bark of laughter.  "Jealous, baby?"

            You took off your coat, setting it on a stump.  The snow was slowing down.  "Give me a moment, I'm wearing blades."  You'd brought your go-bag, unsure of what he had in mind.  You swapped out fingers and took your tanto off.  You left the gloves off. 

            You picked up the wooden knife.  Gabriel had laid his jacket next to yours.  He was oddly relaxed, watching you with bright eyes. 

            You didn't ask about rules; Gabriel didn't play by them, so why bother?

            "We go till someone mimics a deathblow.  If you win, I'll give you an extra reward," he said, excitement roughening his voice. 

            You put your hair back, jaw set tight.  Chang might have warmed him up.  But you were going to finish him.  You didn't wait for his invitation.  You lunged, drawing an arc through the air, nicking his forearms.  Lipstick smeared his skin and while it wasn't blood, you felt a surge of pride.  If it had been your tanto, you would have cut him.

            Gabriel's laugh was a low rumble.  "Did watching me and Chang do it for you?" 

            He began to circle you, knife held loosely and pointed at the ground.  You weren't fooled.  Gabriel didn't have to be sneaky, he could just charge in and overwhelm you.   The snow crunched underfoot and you moved with him, keeping him beyond arms length. 

            Gabriel had better reach, but you could gauge it now.  He stepped forward and you scooted back.  He laughed.  "What's wrong, baby?  Scared?"

            "You're too cocky," you said, tone sharper than you expected.  You edged toward his left side. 

            "You are jealous," he purred.  "You can just drop the knife, hermosa.  I'll reassure you right here and now."  Gabriel could be a real bastard.  You darted in, ducking under his arm and slashing him across the thigh as you passed behind him.  You whirled to hit him in the back, but he was already circling around. 

            "You really like doing it the hard way."  He thrust the knife like a fencer, a textbook move that had no business in real battle.  You slid back, waiting for his follow-up.  He didn't disappoint, lunging forward, knee raised.  You scrambled out of range, your wooden knife would be useless against that.  He stomped the ground in front of you, flashing a feral grin.  It was meant to be an intimidation, but you were already sliding to his right, and jabbed your weapon into his liver, maybe harder than necessary. 

            He grunted, one hand dropping to guard. 

            You pulled back, knowing you were only fast enough to get one hit in without getting countered.  Gabriel narrowed his eyes, rubbing his side.

            "There's one mortal injury," you said tightly.  "Keep going?"

            Gabriel shook his head, a low growl coming from his chest.  "You think that's enough to bring me down?"

            "Then I'll keep going."  You held yourself in a half crouch. 

            Gabriel's arm shot out, and you jumped backward.  He was trying to grab you.  Once he had you at close range, he'd disarm you and that would be it.  You couldn't get airborne like Chang, but you stay close to the ground, forcing him to come to you.  Nothing fancy like her leaps and kicks.  You fought dirty. 

            You kept circling, because you couldn't afford to just charge in.  Gabriel had that kind of stamina and power.  You did not.  So you had to wait for the right moment. 

            "How'd Chang get under your skin?" Gabriel's eyes smoldered.  "Did she tell you all about our SEP days?"

            You inhaled sharply. 

            And he swiped at you, the blade stinging your cheek. 

            You pulled back, one hand on your face.  There was no blood, but that would leave a mark beyond the lipstick. 

            Chang had done no such thing.  But Gabriel?  Gabriel was taunting you.  After you'd been so good this whole trip.  You'd humored Jack's family.  You'd assisted on actual missions and intervened in the Michael drama at his behest.  Fuck him. 

            You dropped to a crouch when Gabriel charged you.  You scooped up a mess of snow and dirt clods, flinging them in his face.

            Blinded, his arm swung out to guard.  You went under and past, turning in time to draw your blade across the back of his neck. The lipstick left a viscerally-satisfying red line. 

            Gabriel dropped to one knee. 

            "That's a second mortal injury," you hissed.  "I win." 

            "Well-played, Lucky."  Rubbing his face, he began to laugh, deep and pleased.  You stayed behind him, your grip on the wooden knife too tight.  "And I didn't even have to choke you this time.  It's a shame Jack missed this."

            You swallowed and waited for him to get back up.  Gabriel bared his teeth at you, his lips curving into something fierce. 

            "You win, baby.  Now come over here and claim your prize."  He tossed his wooden knife aside and pulled off his shirt. 

            You glared at him if not for presumption, then for his cocksure attitude.  "No thank you."

            Gabriel's gave a sigh of pleasure.  "Do you really want to do this the extra hard way?  Because I meant what I said, chica.  You won't be walking back to the house after this."

            You just raised your chin and relaxed your grip on the knife.  He would rush you again, and if your best hope was to hit him somewhere vulnerable. 

            Gabriel reached for you and you danced backward, knife up.  "Damn you're wound up now."  He watched you, pupils too big.  "Is this how you and Jack get?  Push, push, push.  And then suddenly he's got you tied to his bed, rawing that pussy while you beg for him?" 

           Heat bloomed from your center outward.  "Damnit, Gabriel."  You clutched at words, loosening your grip on the knife. 

            "He told me all about it," Gabriel said, stalking toward you.  "He should've sent me a picture of you, tied to his bed, legs spread wide, his cum dripping out of you.  I would've been up there in minutes.  I would've fucked him clean out of you, and filled your tight hole back up again."

            "Didn't think you got jealous of Jack," you said, backing up.

            "I'm not jealous of Jack," Gabriel purred.  "I'm annoyed at the missed opportunity, something I intend to remedy now."

            You both moved at once, you to counter, him to disarm.  He knocked the weapon out of your hand.  You smashed him across the face with your left fist, and he didn't even blink.   He just dragged you to the ground, blood trickling from his nose.  You flinched, the snow a cold shock against your back. 

            "You going to be good now?" He gripped the back of your neck, pinning your body with his thighs.  He wiped off his face, his grin taut.    

            "It's cold," you shuddered.  "I don't- I really don't like that."

            "I'm going to let you up.  Get your clothes off, unless you want me to tear them off you."

            You stared at him in horror, mostly because there was fucking snow on the ground and that was the opposite of how things were supposed to work. 

            "Trust me," he murmured and sat back on his heels.  "I'll keep you warm."  He got up and pulled a waterproofed blanket out of his bag.  He placed it on the ground, and you kicked off your boots, stepping onto it.  You were surprised to find it was hot.  One of those luxury heating coil blankets, then.  You would've killed for one of those back in Canada.

            You pulled off your clothes, carefully placing them off the ground.  The snow had stopped, but the cold air was a terrible shock.  Gabriel picked up his jacket and helped you into it.  It didn't cover you completely, but it provided some protection from the wind.  

            You sat on the blanket, not quite comfortable, but better off than you expected.  Gabriel crouched in front of you, and tugged you forward, his hands on the lapels of his jacket. 

            "Better?"  He pulled you onto his lap, against the heat of his chest, his cock hard against you. 

            "You're the worst.  I hate snow, Gabriel."

            "You know I like the challenge," he said and suddenly he had you flat on your back against the blanket.  His jacket was still warm and smelled like him.  "Have to get you ready for me, hermosa."  He slid your knees over his shoulders, cupping your ass while he began to lap at your core.  You lay on the heated blanket, wrapped in Gabriel's jacket while he tongue-fucked you.  He slurped at your pussy, the sounds wonderfully obscene.

            "Fuck!"  You had your left hand splayed against the ground, your right fisting the blanket. 

             He slid two fingers inside you, giving your clit a slow lick.  "I'm going to, baby.  I'm going to fuck you hard and I'm not going to stop till your tight little cunt is overflowing with my cum."

            Your breath hitched at that.  "Gabriel-"

            "Don't start begging yet, otherwise I'll just start pounding you now, and you're not ready to take me," he growled. 

            You writhed, hips jerking against Gabriel's face.  He kissed your pussy, fingers working you open for him.  Soon, you heard him unzip and watched through half-lidded eyes as he withdrew his fingers from you, and lowered you onto his lap.  He rubbed your slick across his thick cock, then gave it a few quick tugs, and placed the head against your slit.  He looked at you hungrily, eyes clouded with lust.    

            You lay on your back, propped up on your elbows.  You stared up at him, breathing shallow. 

            His lips brushed your ear. "Don't forget your safe words."   Then Gabriel slammed into you, his cock driving deep. 

            You wailed as his shaft stretched you wide, arching sharply off the ground. 

           He filled you to the base, his balls slapping against your ass.   His hips snapped back, and you were empty and aching. Then he was inside you again, all friction and heat.  The feeling of skin on skin intensified the experience and you dropped flat on your back, one arm thrown across your forehead. 

            Gabriel brought one of your legs over his shoulder, his thrusts hard and measured.  He wasn't losing control, but he wasn't showing you any mercy either.

            "Gabriel-"  You couldn't finish that thought, because your voice cracked.

            He leaned forward, his angle shifting, and you whimpered as he kissed you, his lips tangy with your juices. 

            "You're making the filthiest noises," he groaned.  "That's it, baby.  Listening to you pant for me is hot, but hearing your sopping pussy take my dick...  That's even better." 

            You could see his length disappearing inside you each time he hilted himself, your slickness shining on his skin.  The motion was hypnotic; you couldn't look away.  You clenched around him, whining when he sped up, refusing to allow you any control.

            "Please," you clawed at his chest, arching as he continued his relentless pace.  "Gabriel-"

            "I told you," he said, voice gravelly.  "The harder you fight, the harder I'll fuck you.  And I fucking meant it."  He kept a savage rhythm.  His body glistened with sweat as he began to speed up.  "You're still so tight for me, baby.  Feels like you don't want to let me go." 

            He had you pinned against the ground, trapped against his cock.  He was all over you, mouth on your throat, hands playing with your tits, girth filling you while his tip hit your cervix.  If you had less adrenaline, it would have hurt, but you were still wound up from the fight, endorphins turning any discomfort into a fullness that soothed the ache deep inside.   You needed this after the pseudo-fight.  He edged you on the boundary between pleasure and pain, working off the rest of the adrenaline coursing through your system. Your hips shook and you writhed, toes curling from the sheer intensity of it.  The sound of flesh slapping against flesh was deliciously vulgar. He was breaking you, his massive cock tearing you apart.  The pressure made it hard to breathe and harder to think.  "I can't- Gabriel, please!" 

            "You want to come, baby girl?" He crooned.  "You think that will stop me? Go on then.  Let me see you fall apart."

            His fingers moved rapidly against your clit and your breathless sobs filled the air he drove you over the edge.  Your hips bucked against his as your orgasm tore through you.  Gabriel kept fucking you while you thrashed beneath him. 

            "Please, I need- need a moment," you clutched at his forearms, your voice hoarse.  "Please-"

            Gabriel rested his forehead against yours, eyes wild.  "That's not what you should be begging for." 

            "Please, papi!"  Jack said Gabriel would respond to this, though you couldn't think of his exact wording.  "I can't-" 

            Gabriel froze, his breathing ragged.  "What did you say?"

            "I-I-papi," You hiccupped.  "Jack said I should use it.  I'm sorry-"

            "Fucking Jack," Gabriel growled.  "You can use it, baby.  You can use it any time."  He paused, giving you that moment you needed. "But it isn't going to get you any mercy.  It just makes me want to claim that pussy more."

             Your thighs trembled as he buried himself in you again.  "You're wrecking me, papi," you mewled.   

            Gabriel swore, control fraying.  "Keep that up and your ass is next," he snarled, pounding you frantically. 

            Gabriel's fingers were back against your clit, and you squirmed under him, sensitive nerves burning from his rough handling.  "I know you have another one in you.  Don't care if you don't think you can handle it." He grinned viciously.  "Come on, baby.  Let me feel that pussy milk me." 

            You screamed his name, desperation coiling in your voice as he forced another orgasm through you.  Your muscles contracted hard around his cock, the intensity almost painful.  He gripped your hair, his pace growing more frenetic.  He yanked your head back, teeth sinking into your shoulder as his hips jolted against yours.  "Mine," he grunted, head pressed against your cervix.  And you felt it then, his cock buried to the hilt, his hot cum flooding you.  You clung to him, labored breaths causing your whole body to shake. 

            Gabriel dropped onto his forearms, balancing above you, his forehead resting against your collarbone.  He took a deep shuddering breath and then kissed you hard, grinding against you. 

            You moaned as he pulled out, and it was a few seconds before his cum started to trickle out of your pussy.  He held your legs apart, watching it flow, an expression of distinctly masculine satisfaction on his face. 

            You lay there, coated in sweat and semen, your heartbeat slowing. 

            "You like it when your papi gives it to you like that?" His voice was raw.     

            You closed your eyes.  "Fuck.  That isn't something I say.  I uh...not a daddy kink person.  But Jack-"

            "Jack's not the one underneath me with my cum pouring out of her well-fucked little hole." 

            "I just thought you'd like it," you said lamely. 

            "Oh I do," he breathed, stroking your thighs.  "But you can save it for special occasions."  You were pretty sure that it was the opposite of the safe word, that it was the "wreck me" command, and that was not something you needed to use. 

            Gabriel petted you, his hands gentle now. 

            "You warm enough still?"

            You nodded. 

            He stayed over you, peppering your neck and shoulders with rough kisses.  You carded your fingers through his hair, taking slow deep breaths.   Your body felt too light, adrenaline still dulling your pain receptors, and you were going to pay for this later.  You tensed, realizing that you and Gabriel never had that talk about safe sex.  Why the hell not? 

            "You're thinking too hard," he said as you tensed under him. 

            "We...uh never actually talked about not using protection.  I mean, I have the implant, so I wasn't worried.  Was there a reason you didn't want to when we started out?"

            "I wanted to," Gabriel said, nuzzling your neck.  "Been wanting to do this for ages: fuck you hard and make sure you know you're mine.  But didn't want to spook you.  Plus," he stroked your slit and you stiffened.  "I have a lot.  Another SEP bonus."  He exhaled slowly.  "Not sure about risks though.  A lot of people came out of SEP infertile.  I don't know if me and Jack are shooting blanks.  Never had the occasion to research it."

            The blanket was still warm, and Gabriel's body heat was comforting, but you wanted out of the wind and cold.  You winced as you tried to close your legs.  "Possessive asshole."

            "You had to do this the hard way," he said, not sounding the least bit remorseful.    

            "You were flaunting a former lover in my face.  And Chang's strong, fast, and gorgeous.  What was I supposed to do?"  You rested the back of your hand over your eyes.  It was a natural position and maybe he wouldn't think you were avoiding eye contact. 

            "Huh.  You are jealous," Gabriel said, sounding surprised.  "I can't say that doesn't turn me on." He curled around you, a man-sized space-heater and chaos-bringer.  "I guess now's the time to admit that Chang and I never got together.  Jack and her neither.  Wanted to a long time ago, but Chang's got her own issues and doesn't fuck anyone.  She pushes me, sure, but then we end up with broken bones, internal bleeding, and penal latrine duty. It went down like that too many times to be fun.  So no, there's nothing there.  Never has been."  Gabriel's mouth moved against your neck, his teeth worrying the skin. 

            "You-"  Outrage flared in your chest. 

           "That wasn't fair," he admitted.  "I shouldn't have implied that.  But you got so angry, and stopped holding back.  It was beautiful."   One hand gripped your jaw and he kissed you then, his teeth nipping your lips. 

            "You're an ass," you said when he let you up for air.  "And you owe me a prize for winning your game."

            "Mmm, I can go again, baby."  He pressed against you.  "And you're still wet and ready for me." 

            "Jesus Christ, Gabriel, you're trying to kill me."   Your breath hitched.  You were starting to feel sore, but your inner muscles clenched for him anyway. 

            "Just little deaths," he said, flipping you onto your stomach.  "Take my jacket off.  I want to feel your skin." 

            "I can't do that again."

            "All right.  We won't."  Gabriel peeled the jacket off you and kissed the back of your neck.  You relaxed, which was a mistake, because then he pulled your hips up, your ass in the air.  "I'll go easy on you this time."  He already had his head pressed against your slit. 

            You bit your lip and rested your chin on your forearms.  "You would do this even if I hadn't won.  I still get a prize."  You didn't care about "prizes," you just wanted to be petty.  Because Gabriel deserved it. 

            "All right," he chuckled, chest pressed against your back.  Then he pushed inside and you sighed, moaning into the blanket.  "You're taking me so smoothly, baby.  Guess I need to fuck the fight out of you more often." 

            "I thought you were going to be nice."

            He rocked his hips at a leisurely pace, "I am being nice, hermosa."  He gave a sharp thrust, hitting deep inside you and you whined.  "Playing with you got me all wound up.  I still want to pound you senseless."  He squeezed your ass.  "But if you're sore, I'll just have to be gentle." 

            "Please," you said and he rubbed your back, pressing kisses between your shoulder blades. 

            "If Jack were here, I could work this off faster.  Make him clean you up with his mouth, while I drilled him," Gabriel purred.  "Give you a little break while you got your second wind.  You like having Jack between us, don't you?"

            "Yes."  The word came out breathless and  you began to push your hips back, impaling yourself deeper on Gabriel's cock.  Maybe you should be jealous that Gabriel was wishing Jack was here under him, but you liked the image.  "I like it when you make him beg.   I can't - I can't stop him when I've pushed him too far.  He just turns the tables on me."

            "I know."  Gabriel laughed softly.  "When we get back to base, I'll show you some tricks."

            "Please."  The rhythm between you began to speed up.  You took sharp shallow breaths, trying to keep up with Gabriel. 

            "I want to watch," he said.  "He told me how you rode him, edging him while he got more and more desperate.  I don't mind watching him flip you and fuck you into the bed after that, but I'm curious to see how far you could push him." Gabriel's balls slapped against your pussy lips and your breathing grew more jagged.  He was filled you so well and all these filthy words had you clawing at the ground.

            "Want to do it to you too," you moaned.  "I want to tease you, Gabriel."

            "That's how you end up wrecked, baby girl," Gabriel murmured.  "You tease me enough as it is.  Much more and I'd break you.  You're not ready for that yet." 

            His hips slammed into you and you buried your face in the blanket.  "Gabriel, please-"

            "Oh we'll get you there, don't worry.  I want you between me and Jack again, one of us fucking open that tight little asshole.  You took us so beautifully before.  Want to do it again soon.  Jack doesn't want to pressure you, but he really wants a turn.  You like that thought?  Jack'll fuck you harder than I did.  I wonder if you can take it."  His voice was so full of promise. 

            "Damnit, Gabriel."  Your hand slid between your legs and you began to stroke circles around your clit. 

            "You do like that.  Good."  Gabriel gripped your hips tightly.  "Keep playing with yourself." 

            You shuddered, your clit was too sensitive. 

            "Ask for my cum, like a good girl."

            "Really?"

            "You begged Jack," he said, nipping your bruised shoulder.  "Don't you want me to come inside you again?"

            You had enough trouble stringing words together.  "Gabriel, please-"

            "Please what?" His breath was hot in your ear and he rolled his hips, making you arch. 

            "Goddamnit!  You hung your head, panting as he got you closer to the edge.  "I need you."  Sweat trickled down your forehead and you squeezed your eyes shut, trying to focus on words and not the sensation of his cock.  "Please Gabriel, you've fucked me so hard tonight.  You've come inside me once and it's not enough, I want more, please-"

            "Such a greedy little cum slut," he groaned, fisting your hair.  "All right, I'll give you what you want."  He yanked your head back, forcing you to look up.  Your eyes widened, even as Gabriel's fingers pressed down on your clit. 

            Jack stood in the snow in front of you, arms crossed, grin crooked. 

            "Let Jack see your face while I fill you up."

            You quivered, your jaw clenched.  You didn't know how long he'd been there, but judging by his smirk, he'd heard you begging.  The thought sent a thrill through you.  You met Jack's excited gaze, whimpering as you clamped down on Gabriel's cock, his fingers coaxing you over the edge.  You could feel his head twitching deep inside you, shooting thick ribbons of cum against your overly sensitive walls.  Your thighs shook, and you collapsed when Gabriel released you, the blanket still warm against your chest.  

            "Hey pretty," Jack said, crouching in front of you.  "Heated blanket, huh?  No wonder you've been gone so long."  He tilted your head up and kissed you hungrily.  "Had to make excuses as to why you missed dinner.  Don't know if anyone believed them."

            "Sorry," you said weakly. 

            "You can make it up to me later." 

            Gabriel pulled out of you and you looked over your shoulder, hoping he was finally spent.

            Jack got up, and stepped behind you.  "You certainly made a mess, Gabe."

            "I'll tell you all about it later," Gabriel chuckled, and Jack kissed him too, a little rougher, his teeth sinking into Gabriel's lower lip.   It occurred to you then that Jack and Gabriel talked about you while they were fucking too.  You sighed.  That was hot -worrisome, because who knew what ideas they came up with during sex - but still very hot. 

            "Look at that, wow, Gabe, you're pouring out of her." 

            You shivered as Jack leaned in and kissed your swollen lower lips, his tongue flicking out to taste Gabriel's essence. 

            "Jack-"  You tried to close your legs, but your lower half wasn't cooperating.  Jack's fingers traced your slit, until one slipped inside.

             "How many times did you fuck her?"  Jack's voice was like honey on ground glass, smooth layered over jagged and dangerous.    

            "Two times," Gabriel said.

            "That's it?"  Jack slid another finger in and you dropped your head.  "But it looks like you used her so hard.  If it was only twice, maybe she's ready for more..." 

            "I can't-"  The adrenaline was starting to wear off, and you ached. 

            "We sparred first, used training knives.  She won, with two deathblows.  I owe her a prize."  Gabriel patted your ass.  "It was fucking beautiful."

            "Shit, now I'm really sorry I missed it.  Guess that means he really gave it to you, huh?"  Jack was still working himself up.  He curled his fingers and you gasped.  He pulled his fingers out and you glanced over his shoulder as he licked them clean.  "Just wanted another taste," he said innocently.  "Unless you want to go again?" 

            "Jack, I'm sore and getting cold.  If you and Gabriel want to go, that's fine.  But I can't."  You finally managed to close your legs and roll over.  You reached for Gabriel's jacket.  Your front was now cold.   

            Gabriel chuckled and retrieved your clothes, helping you dress. He layered his jacket over yours, kissing your cheeks.  "Let's get you back to the house.  You can clean up there."

            "Thank you," you said. Gabriel scooped you up.  "Hey!"

            "Can you walk back?"

            Heat crept along your face.  "Umm..."

            "Didn't think so," he said smugly. 

            You tucked your head against Gabriel's chest.  He was still so warm and you liked the feel of his arms around you.  You'd been here before, under less pleasant circumstances.  This time you could enjoy it. 

            Jack picked up the blanket and knives, stuffing them in Gabriel's backpack.  He grabbed your bag too. 

            The two men fell into an easy stride. 

            "Good workout, then?"  Jack asked you.

            "...What do you think?" You scowled. 

            Gabriel laughed, hugging you against him.  "She had to do things the hard way." He still didn't sound sorry.

            "She seems to like that," Jack agreed.  "What'd she do to push you so hard?"

            "Besides winning the fight?  Someone told her to call me "papi." Gabriel gave Jack a look.   

            "Oh I missed that, too?  Damn." 

 


 

            Gabriel put you down before you reached the farmhouse.  You were pretty sure whoever was standing guard saw that much, but you were too tired to care.  Your gait was wrong and your steps wobbly, but you made it up the stairs and into the bathroom for a hot shower.  It was past midnight and the Morrisons were already in bed, or pretending to be.  Gabriel joined you, helping you clean up.  The water pressure was pitiful, but it didn't matter.  You were grateful for hot water. 

            When you emerged in clean pajamas, Jack had warmed two plates of leftovers and you kissed him in sheer gratitude before devouring one. 

            "Feel better?"  He asked, rubbing your shoulders.  You sat between him and Gabriel on the floor of Michael's room. 

            "I'm going to pass out," you told him.  Because Jack was tricky and you weren't falling for it tonight. 

            "That's fine, I'll take care of him," Gabriel said, finishing his plate.  Because apparently, he was still horny.  Goddamnit, they were going to kill you.  You were going to die of exhaustion if you tried to keep up with them.

            Jack took your empty dishes and you dropped back on the floor.  Gabriel set up the biotic emitter.  A warm yellow light suffused the room and you practically melted into the pillow. 

            "You did beautifully today," Gabriel said. 

            "You're talking about the sex."  You scowled.    

            "I'm talking about all of it: the fighting, testing Chang's unit, and definitely the sex," he said.  "I want to spar with you more.   There's still a lot of room for improvement.  Your form is still pathetic."   

            "If those were real knives, I would have kicked your ass," you muttered.

            "If those were real knives, I would have held you down and fucked your ass," he said smugly.  "You think a little blood bothers me?"

            "...I am too tired for this conversation."  You pulled the covers over your head, and let yourself sleep. 

 


 

 

            "You're going to have to be quieter, Jackie.  If you wake her up, I'll stop."  Gabriel's voice was a taut whisper, and come to think of it, he woke you up the last time he played this game with Jack.  Well, last time that you knew he played this game with Jack.  Still, was that a coincidence?  Probably not. 

            Jack muffled his sounds in the pillow beside you. 

            You were on your side and they were behind you.  You could feel the hum of the emitter and the heat pouring off them.  You wondered then if you should just go back to sleep.  Let Jack and Gabriel play their game, work off their tension, and you could finish getting the rest you deserved.  As a bonus, you could totally thwart Gabriel's not so subtle plan to wake you up for more sex.

            Wait a minute... Maybe there was such a thing as too petty.  Even if you were in Blackwatch. 

            You turned over, treated the sight of Jack on his stomach, nude, his face buried in the pillow, his hands digging into the blankets.  Gabriel knelt between Jack's thighs rolling his hips so slowly it made you ache. 

            You reached out, and gently stroked Jack's hair, already damp with sweat.    

            Gabriel gave you a lazy smile and pushed down on Jack's lower back with one hand, and thrust hard. 

            Jack kept his face in the pillow, body shaking. 

            "Just like chem camp, eh?"  Gabriel murmured, not quite ready to give up the game.  "You have to be real quiet, or we'll get busted.  We had some close calls back then.  Probably because you make such cute noises, Jackie."

            Jack's hips jerked and he hissed into the pillow.  "Shut up, Gabe." 

            Gabriel leaned forward and bit Jack.  The blonde man jerked forward, his breathing sharp.    

            "Worry about your own volume,"  Gabriel said and went back to his slow strokes. 

            "Not giving you the satisfaction," Jack muttered. 

            Gabriel just tilted his hips, hitting a new angle that made Jack stiffen and sink his teeth into the pillow.  "You don't need to give me anything, mi cielito.  I'm taking what I want, and it's so very satisfying.  It's a shame Lucky's out cold.  Bet she'd like to help edge you."

            You raised a brow.  Gabriel kneaded Jack's ass.   

            "Your fault," Jack growled into the pillow.  "Can't believe you did all that without me."

            "She was such a good girl today.  Deserved a reward."  Gabriel flashed you a brash smirk.  "Told her all about how badly you want to fuck her ass.  She liked the idea.  Started playing with herself and everything."

            Jack's breath hitched.  "Damnit, Gabe-" 

            "You could've joined us."

            You placed a kiss on Jack's shoulder and he sighed.  "Family time.  You were both welcome to-"  He shook his head.  "...I get it.  Not the same for you guys.  She probably needed an outlet.  Didn't think...didn't think about that."  Jack clenched his teeth as Gabriel sped up. 

            Gabriel just laughed, his strokes slowing.  "I know."

            "I just...fuck Gabe.  I just wanted us all here together.  Didn't think beyond that." 

            "Good execution, bad follow through.  And you're a shit host.  You've always been like that."  Gabriel's voice was gentle, despite the chastisement.  He kissed the back of Jack's neck. 

            "I'll make it up to you both, just please..."

            "You have to be quiet, Jackie."  Gabriel nipped his ear. 

            Jack shuddered. 

            Gabriel glanced at you, brows raised. 

            You rolled your eyes and nodded. 

            "I think I have a solution."  He pulled Jack up by his hips.  "On your knees." 

             Jack pushed off the floor and rolled back onto his knees, his eyes widening when he saw you on your side, propped up on your elbow watching him. 

            "Damnit Gabe-"

            "Shhh," you said, kneeling in front of him and pulling your top off.  "You're supposed to be quiet."

            Jack groaned as Gabriel embraced him tightly, hips driving forward.  You leaned in, kissing Jack's face, fingers tracing the planes of his chest.  His cock jutted up, but you ignored it, opting to place your metal fingers against his lips.  Jack opened his mouth, moaning softly as you slid your fingers inside.  He sucked them, eyes fluttering shut. 

            You bit his neck, marking his throat while Gabriel thrust deep inside him.  "Is that better?" You pressed against his chest, kissing his jawline. 

            He nodded, nostrils flaring as you tweaked his nipples.  You lowered your head, flicking your tongue against them and he jolted backward, spearing himself deeper on Gabriel's cock. 

            "So sensitive."  You grinned up at him, curling your fingers in his mouth.  "I know what you're thinking, and the answer is still "no, I'm too sore."  Plus, you were so pushy earlier, I don't know if you deserve any other relief from me."

            Jack curved an arm around your back, pulling you tighter against him.  He dropped your fingers, his mouth moving down, trailing kisses across your neck.  " I'm sorry," he gasped.  "Sorry, baby.  I know I get carried away.  I mean it, I'll make it up to you-"  He shuddered, pressing his forehead to yours.  Flushed and slick with sweat, Jack clung to you, eyes searching your face.  "I'll take whatever you give me.  Just stay here."  His hips jerked, cock pressing against your thighs.  "Please." 

            The sheer openness of his expression made you look away.  Jack's sincerity was one of his greatest weapons and he knew it.  That you knew this too didn't make it any less potent. 

            "Please."  He whispered your name, a breathless prayer against your ear.  "Need you too."

            "Doesn't play fair, does he?" Gabriel murmured.

            "Neither of you do," you sighed as Jack nuzzled your throat, hands running up and down your sides.   You rubbed your metal fingers together and found them still a little slick.  "Get them wet." 

            Jack's tongue wove between your fingers, still focusing on your face as he took them into his mouth, one by one. 

            "Show off."  You withdrew them from his mouth and wrapped your left had around his cock.  "Is this what you wanted?"

            "Anything you want to give me," he held you against him, shuddering as Gabriel began to thrust harder. 

             You stroked him in time with Gabriel. 

            "May I kiss you, please?" 

            "So polite," you said.  "All right." 

            Jack's mouth covered yours and you sucked his tongue.  His hips began to shake. 

            "He's close," Gabriel said, voice strained. 

            You sped up, squeezing Jack's cock lightly.  You could hear Gabriel sliding into Jack and feel Jack's little gasps at each thrust. 

            "That's it Jack, here's your reward," Gabriel groaned. 

            Jack moaned into your mouth as you pumped him harder.   His hips bucked faster against you and he came, cum spurting across your chest and his.  When Jack released you, his cheeks were flushed and he dropped his head against Gabriel's shoulder.  Gabriel's eyes were closed in firm concentration.  His hips shook, arms tightening around Jack, thighs so tense.   He bit his lip, but kept silent.  You liked seeing him lose control, but this was charming too. 

            Gabriel opened his eyes, then leaned over and kissed you.  "Lie back down and we'll get you cleaned up.   I know you're tired."

            You dropped back against the pillows, smiling as the boys disengaged.  Jack picked up one of his shirts and wiped you clean before taking care of himself. He kissed your stomach, hands lingering on your sides.  You found your top and pulled it back on. 

            Gabriel lay down beside you, sliding his arm under you.  Jack was on your other side, his head against your chest. 

            "Too heavy?" 

            You put an arm around him.  "You're fine.  But if you drool on me, all bets are off."

Chapter Text

 

            "Merry Christmas!  Oh my God that's adorable!"  Maggie laughed, peeking in her head in.  "Now get up before Mom sees you!"  She slammed the door shut, and you wished, not for the first time, that there were working locks on these doors. 

            "What time is it?"  You were still on the floor, in the crook of Gabriel's arm, Jack draped across your stomach.  He was drooling on your shirt.

            Gabriel chuckled.  "It's 0800.  They let us sleep in this year."

            "Eight?"  You sighed.  This was a holiday.  You were exhausted.   "What the hell do we need to be up that early for?"

            "Presents," Jack muttered.  "Maggie wants her presents.  Can't open them till everyone's there.  Gotta get up.  She'll send Mom next."

            You groaned.  "You drooled on me."

            "Was comfortable," he said, not sounding the least bit sorry. 

            "Gross.  Gabriel, why is he so gross?" 

            "Wait till I get you a ball gag, then you'll feel some real drool," Jack said, still not lifting his head. 

           "I'm going to poison you," you said.  "Get off."  You shoved him, but he didn't budge, clinging tightly to your waist.

            "Uh-uh," he grinned, eyes squeezed shut.  "You have to ask nicely."

            "Gabriel, hand me my tanto."

            Gabriel rolled over, still shirtless, and kissed your neck.  "It'll be faster if you ask nicely.  He's kind of stupid when he first wakes up."

            "Jack, please let me up or I'll give Maggie your present."

            He opened his eyes.  "You got me a present?"

            "I could be wrong, but I hear that's what people do at Christmas.  Was it presents?  Or anatomically-correct piñatas?  I get confused sometimes."

            "Mm, don't know if I want an anatomically-correct piñata."  Jack sat up.  "But if it's from you, I guess I'll pretend to like it."

            You wobbled to your feet, still sore, despite the emitter.  At least the swelling had gone down, though the bruising hadn't completely faded.  "I'm supposed to wear something nice today, right?"     

            "Nah, don't worry about it.  I got us covered," Jack grinned.  He handed you a box.  It wasn't wrapped, and you shook it.  "It's technically not a present," he said. 

            "So I technically don't have to pretend to like it?"  When you opened the box you realized there was no way you could convincingly pretend to like it.  It was a blue sweater, Christmas-themed, the front dominated by a Christmas tree covered in pom poms, sequins, glitter thread, and ribbons.  It was hideous, and you just stared at it, not quite comprehending how all the parts formed the whole. 

            Gabriel groaned.  "Really Jack?" 

            "It's an ugly Christmas sweater.  It's a tradition."

            "I'd rather have an anatomically-correct piñata."  You put the lid back on.  "Thank you for the optical illusion in a box, but I'm sorry, Jack.  No fucking way."

            "I packed Gabe's," Jack said.  "We'll all be wearing them."

            "No, we won't," Gabriel said, wrinkling his nose.

            "Everyone else will be doing it."

            Gabriel folded his fingers.  You nodded and made the hand sign for the woods.  There was an exit strategy in place, and you would use it.

            Jack eyed you both suspiciously.  "There'll be an ugly sweater picture later.  You have to wear them then.  That's an order."

            "Mmm-hmm," you glanced at Gabriel. 

            He rolled his eyes.  "Here."  Gabriel handed you a box as well.  "This technically isn't a present either, and it's more tasteful than anatomically-correct piñatas, or that."  He waved at the box of ugly, dismissively. 

            "...Are "technically not a present" presents a Christmas tradition?  Because I missed the memo." 

            "Shut up and open the box, Lucky." 

            You took the lid off and pulled away the tissue paper.  It was another sweater, but black and very soft with a wide cowl neck.  It would hang off at least one shoulder.  "Cashmere, really?" You raised a brow.  That wasn't cheap.

            "Gives me an excuse to pet you," Gabriel smirked.  "And it doesn't look like you got jumped by a craft store."

            "Ah.  Thank you."  You looked between them, unsure of how your choice would affect their feelings.  Gabriel's sweater was obviously superior, but finding something that ugly took effort, among other things.

            "Wear the pretty sweater," Jack said, rolling his eyes.  "I'm sure it will look good on you."

            "Anything is going to look good compared to that eyesore," Gabriel said, and you silently agreed.

 


 

            It looked like something out of a TV show.  There were stockings on the fireplace, names embroidered on them.  The tree was a shiny fire-hazard, decked in lights, glass balls, and strings of tinsel.  A crooked star perched precariously on top.  There were neatly-wrapped packages underneath, and you placed your gift basket underneath beside Gabriel's offerings, despite the fact every tag said "From: Gabriel & Lucky."  You weren't sure how that made you feel.  But it was a nice gesture. 

            You'd skipped personal and brought a gift basket full of smoked meat, processed cheese, decent wine, and cookies. 

            Jack's parents were fully-dressed and sitting on the couch.  Michael and Maggie were still in flannel pajamas, sitting beside the tree.  Michael's gaze darted between you, Jack, and Gabriel, his expression guarded.  Maggie's eyes were glued on the boxes, her grin somewhere between eager and downright avaricious. 

            Jack brought you a cup of coffee and you sat on the floor beside Gabriel.  The sweater fit perfectly, slipping down one shoulder, and it was now the softest thing you owned.  You wanted to take your gloves off and pet it, but not in front of other people. 

            Gabriel casually draped his arm around you and Jack settled beside you, resting his head on your shoulder.  You sipped your coffee and stared at the floor, because apparently they weren't going to pretend any more. 

            You could not look at Jack's parents. 

            "I think we better let Maggie open presents before she combusts," Jack said. 

            "I want to hand them out too!" 

            "All right," John said.  "We can go ahead.  Jane and the kids won't be here till after noon." 

            "And I can't wait that long!"  Maggie grabbed a box and shoved it at Michael.  "This is for you from me!  And you better like it because it's awesome!"  She continued along that vein, distributing presents, all from her. 

            "Jack!  Lucky!" She dropped a box in your lap.  "Gabe!  Now I'm just a poor teenager, so don't judge too hard, OK?"

            "I'm sure it's lovely," Gabriel said. 

            "Thank you," you said, staring at the candy-striped box.  You watched Jack tear through the wrapping paper before taking your cue and opening your gift.  It was a fluffy stuffed fox, cute and pseudo-realistic. 

            "Because you're clever and sneaky," she said, grinning at you with a certain amount of subtext.  You glanced over at Jack, who was blushing.  "He called you a "wily vixen,"  Maggie stage-whispered loud enough for people outside to hear. 

            You were just going to go dig a hole and stay there till the transport came.  You could live off the land.  Foraging for nuts and berries.  Pooping in the woods.  No, it was too cold out.  You would have to use a different strategy. 

            "I uh...thank you?  It's cute.  Like Daisy."  

            "Wait, how do you-?  He still has Daisy?!  Oh my God!"  Maggie shrieked.  "You told me she got lost when you moved to Lisbon!"

            You smiled sweetly at Jack. 

             He sighed.  "This is a really nice scarf, Maggie.  Thank you." 

            "You still have Daisy!  You totally lied to me!"

            Gabriel chuckled, and showed you his nice new leather-bound edition of The Count of Monte Cristo.  Well, everyone knew whom Maggie's favorite was.  You knew Gabriel read for pleasure, but you had no idea what.  You would ask later.

            Most of the gift exchange was between Jack's family.  It was...odd, and while they had been welcoming, you felt like an intruder.  This wasn't your family.  They were being nice because you were a guest.  You didn't fault them for anything, but the togetherness, that you weren't part of, was very tangible. 

            But this wasn't for you.  This was for Jack.  So you smiled pleasantly, and tried not to make eye contact, because you still weren't sure how Jack's parents felt about your arrangement. 

            "Oh Lucky, we just got you a little something."  Jack's mother handed you a heavy wrapped box and you kept your smile pasted firmly in place, in case it was another gift with subtext.  Because you couldn't handle much more of this.

            "Thank you very much," you said brightly, because you were in cover.  You weren't going to break cover.  You weren't going to hide behind Gabriel or Jack.  You were going to do this and look happy.  You opened it and found a large cast iron skillet. 

            "Jack says you cook for him, and I'm glad someone else is making sure he isn't eating MREs all the time," Jacqueline said cheerfully, and you detected no hidden messages. 

            You didn't think anyone willingly ate MREs, but when you glanced over at Jack, he wore a shit-eating grin.  Actually, you could see him doing that.  Never mind. 

            "Thank you very much.  I'll definitely get a lot of use out of it."  It was also heavy, and you could hit people with it. 

            Gabriel, thankfully, distributed the gifts he'd put your name on, and while everyone said "thank you" you were pretty sure they knew who did the shopping.  Which was fine.

            "Hey," Jack nudged you.  "Here."  He handed you a small box.  "This is technically a present, in case you were confused." 

            Maggie gave him a weird look.

            "This may be an anatomically-correct piñata," you told him, handing him your clumsily-wrapped gift. 

            Maggie gave you a weirder look.

            You opened the box.  The earrings were omnium hoops, the same gunmetal color as your prostheses, inlaid with spiraling panels of fiery blue opal. 

            "I thought they'd...match.  You don't seem to have a lot of jewelry," Jack said. 

            "Thank you," you said, softly.  Because they were a thoughtful gift. They did match your fingers, though the blue color was pure Jack.  "I like them.  They're very fitting."

            "Can I put them on you?"

            You blinked.  You didn't normally wear jewelry - it didn't survive missions and sparring.   But you were on vacation.  "Yes, please." 

            You held very still, heart beating a little too fast.  Jack gently put the earrings in place.  You swallowed, leaned over, and gave Jack a quick peck on the cheek. 

             Jack grinned at you one more time before opening your gift.  "Really?"  He stared for a moment, then got out the "Jack Morrison's #1 Fan" t-shirt, complete with his face on it.  He stared for a long moment.  Gabriel started to laugh and you covered your mouth.  "I uh..."

            "You have to wear it," Maggie said.  "And I want a picture."

            "Your actual present is underneath it," you said. 

            "You had me worried." 

            "It's in your size," you told him. 

            "I know what I'm getting you and Gabe next," he muttered. 

            "We can get them for the whole team," you said.  Because you could take this joke further than he dared, and you would, if necessary.

            He studied the square ebony wood box inlaid with mother of pearl.  Then he tried to take the lid off. 

            "It's a puzzle box.  You have to figure out the order of panels to move and then it opens.  I think there are twelve steps." 

            He shook it gently. 

            "I promise it's not going to open a portal to Hell.  But there's something small in there for when you figure it out."  Explaining all this was awkward.  Maybe you should have gotten him a tie or something.  Not that you knew the first thing about tie-shopping.  You'd have to ask Gabriel. 

            "That's really cool," Maggie said.  "Let me see!"

            "I'm solving it," Jack said, keeping it out of her reach. 

            Gabriel placed a large box in your lap.  "It'll take him awhile.  Open mine." 

            You laughed and complied, because you couldn't remember the last time there'd been this many presents for...anything.  There were two large polished wooden boxes you opened one and found a slew of familiar pentagonal tiles.  The hinged box folded into a grid board.  You studied the characters on the tiles.  You didn't remember exactly what they said, but Shin had showed you how to play.  "I'm terrible at shogi."

            "What is that?"  Maggie hovered over your shoulder. 

            "It's a Japanese chess-type game.  First one that lets you reuse your opponents captured pieces," Gabriel said.  

            You rubbed one of the wooden pieces between your fingers, recalling how Shin had fastidiously explained everything a lifetime ago. 

            "Aishani preferred it to regular chess," Gabriel said. 

            You bowed your head.  "I watched her and Shin play once."

            "I play, if you want a partner." Gabriel's eyes were on your face and you nodded.  "Jack has a regular chess set in his room.  We can play that too, but you'll have a better chance at winning against him."

            "Shut up, Gabe," Jack said, still fiddling with the puzzle box. 

            You opened the next box and found a slew of black and white stones separated into different compartments.  There were pretty carved wooden bowls included.  "OK, I can do go."  You studied the gift, sensing a theme.  "Thank you."  You had not expected games from Gabriel, but you weren't displeased.  You kissed his cheek.  "I like them." 

            "You work a lot," he said.  "It's good to have different ways to unwind.  And it gives you a few more options to beat Jack."

            "Shut up, Gabe."  Jack sounded a little more annoyed this time, but he was still sliding pieces on the box.  Maybe you should have got him the five step box instead. 

            "Jack and I both play strategy games.  It's a good way to compete without getting...physical."  Ha!  You could easily picture them flipping the game board and punching each other or playing strip chess.  And it was kind of hot.  "And you're clever.  I thought you'd like the challenge."  He seemed almost embarrassed and you studied the boxes in your lap, your smile secretive and strangely happy. 

            He carefully unwrapped your gift.  "Really?"

            There were two chocolate bars on top.  The same awful military ones he'd fed you in Canada. 

            "I owed you some chocolate." 

            Shaking his head, Gabriel lifted up another puzzle box, this one rectangular and carved from lignum vitae and inlaid with horn and bone.  The color of the wood was odd - it had a green tinge - but it smelled like perfume and you heard it wouldn't rot.  He tilted the box, listening to the soft clink of something moving inside. 

            "It's also twelve moves," you said. 

            "Jack's been at it for seven minutes now?  Let's see if I can beat that." 

            "Ha!  Finally!"  Jack popped the lid off and looked inside.  The necklace was simple, a lapis disc, shot through with gold, circular hole in the center, wrapped on a buff leather cord.  It was the color of his eyes and you knew it was cheesy as fuck, but you wanted to give him something pretty.  He held it up, studying it carefully for a moment. 

            "Lapis lazuli, right?"

            You nodded.  "Sorry, it's not expensive but-"

            "Put it on me?"

            He could damn well put it on himself, but you undid the clasp and fastened it for him.  He tucked it against his chest, and kissed you on the nose before you could back up. 

            "Thank you.  Even if I had to work for it."

            "I'm always going to make you work for it," you blurted out and Maggie snorted.

            "And I'll make you pay for it," Jack said softly in your ear, sounding pretty pleased.    

            Gabriel had the box open in under seven minutes and his contained an almost identical malachite disc on a black leather cord.   He silently offered it to you and you fastened it for him too. 

            "Thank you," he said.  He looked at Jack for a moment, then you.  "You got another one?"

            You nodded.  You chose a black obsidian one for yourself.  It was simple and elegant, but it was still in the box.  You weren't sure if they'd like the necklaces, let alone want matching ones.  It sat in your duffel bag. 

            "Good.  Why don't you go get it?"

            When you came back, Jack was holding a green sweater, in the same yarn as your scarf.  It didn't match his eyes, but it looked good against his skin.  Maggie giggled.  Gabriel was chuckling, and he held out his right hand.   The pinky ring was gold, with a flat black inlay.  A small diamond protruded slightly from the center. 

            "He said he wanted one!  Why is this so funny?"  Jack looked at you, bewildered. 

            "Pinky rings are a mafia thing, Jack.  Made-men wore pinky rings as tokens to pay for their funerals."  You'd seen it happen once or twice back in the day.  You might have...harvested and resold one or two, and not to pay for a funeral.  "Also, if he punches someone, that ring is going to cut their face." 

            "Royalty and church figures wear pinky rings too!"

            "Yeah..."  You shook your head.  Bishop Gabriel?  King Gabriel?  "I uh...no comment." 

            Gabriel held his hand out and you offered him the box.  He opened it and studied the stone.  "Why obsidian?"

            "Didn't want to be flashy.  I'm not a big damn hero, after all.  And I guess I default to black." 

            Gabriel put the necklace on you.  "Thank you, corazon."  He kissed the back of your neck. 

           You looked up and realized that at some point Jack's parents had gone to the kitchen.  Maggie sat there smugly, and Michael lingered by the tree, his back to you. 

           "I'm going to take Chang some coffee and cookies.  You want to come?"  Jack asked.  

            "Sure," Gabriel said, smiling with teeth. 

            "I'll uh...stay inside," you said, because it was cold.  And maybe because you were not up for the ribbing Chang's people were going to give you about last night. 

            You picked up your trash and put it in one of the plastic bags the Morrisons had for the occasion.  Then you gathered up your gifts and carried them upstairs.  You packed them carefully in your bag before heading back down. 

            Maggie was in the kitchen and Michael stood by the door, rubbing the back of his neck. 

            "You uh, want some spice cake?" He asked you, staring at his feet. 

            "Sure," you said. 

            "I'll grab some," he said, already heading to the kitchen. 

            You sat down on the couch with your coffee. 

            Michael came back with two slices of cake and two forks. 

            "Thank you."

            "You're welcome."  He sat down beside you, a sketchbook in hand.  "You said you wanted to see some of my work?"

            "Yes, please."  You took a bite of the cake.  It was nice, not really spicy enough to be called "spice cake" but you were in Midwestern America.

            He handed you the sketchbook and studied his hands. 

            It was not the one you'd seen before.  The drawings were more polished.  You put the cake down and leafed through it slowly.  They were mostly of his family, with a few farm animals sprinkled in.  You paused on one of Maggie, fist in the air, caught mid-shout, her braids swinging. 

            "You really captured Maggie's energy." 

            He blushed. 

            "I'll fully admit that I'm not an expert, but I think they're really good.  There's a life to them."  You paused, seeing one of Jack sitting in a chair, staring off into space.  "I like this one.  You work from photos, live models, or memory?"

            "A combination.  I freehand the live models, sometimes get a photo, then polish it up." 

            You finished flipping through the book and handed it back.   "Have a good talk with Jack?"

            "I-yes."  He glanced up at you. 

            "He's dense," you said.  "You have to lay things out with diagrams."

            "Yeah," Michael said.  He turned the sketchbook over in his hands, fingers tracing the binding.  "I'm sorry I was a jerk to you." 

            You shrugged.  "We're good now.  I'm not the one you were really a jerk too."

            Michael nodded.  "I know.  I'll talk to him later."  He sighed.  "It's going to suck."

            "Yeah, Gabriel's petty as fuck," you said, and then realized that wasn't the encouragement he needed. 

            "Would it be weird if I asked to see your prostheses?"

            You took off your glove, held out your hand.  "You want me to take them off?"

            He studied them.  "Umm, if it's not too much trouble." 

            So you broke them down and showed him the nerve augments.  You explained basics as Torby and Angela had done to you in the beginning, and went over the upkeep routine.

            He watched you attach the prostheses to the sockets.

            "How'd you lose them?"

            You sighed.  "That's classified.  But despite popular rumor, the Yakuza did not cut them off."

            His eyes widened.  "They did?"

            "No."  You shouldn't have mentioned that.  "Never mind.  Someone else was spreading that rumor.  It's not true."  You sighed.  "Lost them to shrapnel.  I was too close to an explosion.  That's about all I can say." 

            "Jack said you had a wicked scar on your leg." 

            "Jack has some wicked scars-"  You stopped.  Because you didn't need to go there. "How did that get brought up?"

            "I asked who had the coolest scar." 

            You weren't going to out Jack to his family.  But you did not have the coolest scar.  "That's a matter of opinion.  Mine's a burn and shrapnel scar, so it looks more like tree bark and not epic like a plasma blade or something." 

            Michael's eyes darted down to your leg, but you did not roll up your pants. 

            "Do you do color work?  Or just black and white?"

            "Umm, dabbling still."  He looked away. 

            "I'd like to buy some of the Jack ones.  I'd be fine with a digital copy." 

            Michael's eyes widened.  "Seriously?"

            "Yeah, they're good."

            "I uh...sure, I'll have to scan them." 

            "Well, let me know."  You reattached your prostheses and pulled on your gloves. 

            "Reyes bought me that hideous sweater, didn't he?" Michael asked.   It was a terrible shade of yellow-green that was vaguely reminiscent of vomit. 

            "Yeah, I had no idea what to get anyone."  You laughed.  "You should see the one Jack bought me for the Ugly Christmas Sweater photo.  It's fucking awful."  You paused.  "Though I bet if you wore when you uh...apologized to him, he'd go easier on you."

            "Really?"

            You shrugged.  "Maybe."

            He eyed you skeptically. 

            "I mean, it's hard to act mad when you're laughing at someone wearing the terrible sweater you gave them."

            Michael deflated.  "Yeah, you're probably right."

 


 

            You didn't need a cigarette, but it was such a sinful luxury that you snuck out behind the barn and had one anyway.  Because you'd made it through Christmas morning at the Morrison farm without causing any awkward incidents.  You deserved a reward. 

            "Really?" Jack asked, arms crossed.  You hadn't even heard him approach. 

            "Uhh..."  You shrugged. 

            Jack plucked the cigarette out of your mouth and leaned in, his hips pressed against yours.  He kissed you hard, mouth covering yours and for a moment, you couldn't breathe.  When he pulled away, he blew out a mouthful of your smoke. 

            Your eyes widened when he took a drag off your cigarette.  "I thought you didn't like smoking!"

            "I never said that.  I've got accelerated healing.  But it's bad for you."  Then he kissed you again, and when you exhaled, smoke curled from your lips.  "If you hadn't figured it out, I like bad girls.  A bit too much."  He ground against you and your breath quickened. 

            "This where you'd bring all your conquests, farmboy?  Behind the barn?"

            "Only if I planned on fucking them," he said and kept smoking your cigarette. 

            "We are not having sex here." 

            "No," he agreed.  One hand slipped into your coat and stroked your stomach. "That sweater is soft."  He kissed your neck.  "How are you holding up?"  You leaned against the wall, hands in your pockets. 

            "I'm a little sore."

            "I mean, do I need to make excuses so you can escape into the woods?"  He straightened your coat, though he hadn't stopped touching you. 

            "I think I'm OK," you said. 

            "Jane'll be here soon.  She has two kids, Gloria and Martin.  They're four and two.  I think her husband is scared of me, so who knows if he'll show." 

            "Why would he be scared of you?" You said, when you actually meant "what did you do to him?" 

            "I might've threatened him a few times before they got hitched.  You know, rural sexist stuff about "treating my sister right" and stupid things like that.  Of course, it was after I'd finished SEP, gained like a hundred pounds of muscle, and my emotional control wasn't great..."  Jack shrugged, cigarette dangling from his mouth.  "The irony is Jane's the meanest out of all of us.  She can take care of herself.  But Will's not the brightest bulb.  My sister bats her lashes, and he's tripping over himself to get her what she wants.  Which is the smart thing, honestly.  But she doesn't need to raise her voice to get her way."

            You laughed, because Jack didn't have to raise his voice to get what he wanted from you or Gabriel.  "I see.  She know about us, too?"  You don't know why you bothered asking.  Everyone knew.  And you were pretty sure Jack had known that it would happen like that; which was why he hadn't been the least bit worried about explaining it.  Sneaky bastard. 

            "Yeah.  I talk to Jane the most," he said.  "She knows where a lot of the bodies are buried." He finished the cigarette, stubbed it out, and tossed it in the designated coffee can. 

            You surveyed the land.  "Well, you have the room for them."

            "That was a metaphor."

            "Sure, it was." 

            Jack's hands skimmed your hips.  "Thank you for being a good sport about this.  I'm sorry I wasn't a better host." 

            "It's been...nice.  Alien, but nice."

            "Yeah.  I like...not having to pretend.  It can't be like this in Zurich," he said regretfully. 

            "I know.  I'm not the one advertising our private life."

            "That's not what I mean.  I like being here with you and Gabriel.  I like being in the open.  It's going to be hard going back."

            "I'm sorry."  You looked away.  Jack was good at showing emotion.  You didn't mind the secrecy as much.  You weren't ashamed, but this arrangement between you three, it was private.  Explaining your business to everyone else was strange, even if they were accepting. 

            "Not your fault."  Jack ran his fingers through your hair.  "What'd you say to Michael?"

            "I said a lot of things. I can't remember every word."

            "I heard you threw him around," Jack said, eyes bright.  "Are you beating up my kid brother?" 

            "Nah.  We made a deal.  He asked for best two out of three, but wanted all three matches, even after he lost the second.  I obliged, because I'm a good guest." 

            Jack gave you a sly look.  "You left an impression on him.  He asked if we were really "dating."  Dumb question.  It's much too late to concoct a scenario so I can pretend that I don't like cock." 

            You snorted.  "He was a bit hung up on your sexuality.  I'm scared to ask what you told him." 

            "I said, "yes, and more." Emphasis on more."   Jack lifted your gloved hands to his lips. 

            "I bet you did.  "Wily vixen?"  How old are you? Seventy?" 

            "I was being stupid for Maggie," he huffed.  "My siblings like you.  It's a good thing." 

            "Well, that's good.  I worked hard to be likeable," you said, unsure of what he was getting at.    

            "You're treating this visit like a mission."

            You winced.  Were you that transparent?  "I wouldn't say that-"

            "You think I don't know when you're playing a role?"  He raised a brow, and you had to admit, Jack was a better actor than you.  He could probably recognize your bullshit pretty quickly.

            "I mean, a little.  Mostly I'm just milling about in confusion."    

            "I didn't realize how uncomfortable you were.  I'm sorry.  Maybe Gabe's family would've been easier to start out with.  I uh, shouldn't have pushed you so hard.  Not after Cambridge." 

            "It wasn't just you," you said, recalling Jesse's little digs in the mess hall.  "Other people played a part too.   It's fine.  I'm glad I came."  And you were.  It might have started awkward and harrowing, but there'd been something here that you couldn't have gotten in Zurich.  Not just the cornfields and excess of casserole.  There was something about seeing Jack with his family that was intimate.  And it made Jack happy.  That counted for something. 

            He studied your face. 

            "I mean it," you said.  "It's good for me to do things that...aren't work." 

            Jack placed both hands on the wall on either side of your head and looked you in the eye.  "I know it's not the same for you and me as it is with you and Gabe.  You're more guarded with me.  I see you working hard to hide it, but it's fine.  We don't know  each other as well as we know Gabe." 

            You shrugged sheepishly, because of course Jack noticed.  "Sorry."

            "Nothing to apologize for.  We're getting there.  I'm just saying, you don't have to pretend." 

            "I'm not pretending.  I just don't know what I'm doing." 

            Jack sighed against you, one arm slipping around your waist.  The gentleness surprised you.  "You're trusting us to work it out," he said and kissed you softly.  You leaned into him, one hand gripping his shirt, your metal fingers held firmly at your side.  "I think we're doing pretty good so far.  I know I have trouble keeping my hands off you, but it's not just sex for me.  You know that, right?"  The earnestness on his face made your chest ache. 

            "I...I'm not just here to humor Gabriel," you said quickly.  "I hope you don't think that."

            "I know," he said.  "You're not as inscrutable as you think." 

            "You're not as smooth as you think," you scowled. 

            "Well obviously I'm doing something right, otherwise I wouldn't have you alone behind the goddamn barn," he gave that damn recruitment poster grin and you wanted to bite him.  "You're doing it again.  You get that look and I want to do bad things to you."  He nuzzled your cheek.  "One more kiss, please?  Then we'll go back before I get us in trouble." 

            You wanted to say "no" on principle.  But Jack had a way of circumventing your Blackwatch petty.  He cupped your face, and you wrapped your arms around his neck and met him halfway.

            "Hey Jack, Gloria's looking for yo- Shit!  Sorry!"  Michael's voice went high.

            Jack broke the kiss, but his hands stayed on you.  He grinned at his brother.  "We'll be there in a minute." 

            "Damnit, Jack, how old are you?  Sixteen?  You're still sneaking behind the barn?"  Michael faced away, but the tips of his ears were red. 

            "Did she bring Will?" Jack asked, conveniently ignoring Michael's query.   He did that a lot.  "Or is he still traumatized?" 

            "He's here somewhere," Michael said, turning around, a scarlet blush blazing across his cheeks.  "Gloria's looking for you."

            "Want to meet a living breathing wrecking ball?" Jack asked, his smile infectious. 

            "I already know Reinhardt."   

            "This one's smaller, maybe a little less innocent," Jack said. 

            "Sure," you said, because you really were treating this like a mission, and you didn't get the option to chicken out. 

 


 

            The pair of towheaded kids were far more interested in their Uncle Jack than you.              Sitting on the floor, a thin blonde man in a cowboy hat smiled nervously at you, but couldn't quite bring himself to make eye contact.  He kept shooting panicked glances at Jack.  That must be Will.  Beside him was a tall blonde woman with sharp gray eyes and full lips.  Jane was pretty in a severe way, and she reminded you more of Jack's father than his mother. 

            You sat on the couch beside Gabriel, watching Jack toss Gloria in the air.  He was good with them, not that you were surprised.  Jack was good with people in general.  Maggie and Martin played with a truck, repeatedly ramming it into Michael's leg.  Michael rolled his eyes, now wearing Gabriel's hideous present.  Jack's parents looked on fondly.  

            It was so domestic it made your teeth hurt.

            You did your best to look placid, but having to watch all this togetherness that you could never reclaim, it made breathing hard.  You didn't resent the Morrisons, but you needed air. 

            "Be back in a minute," you told Gabriel cheerfully.  "Forgot to send instructions to Ziv."

            Gabriel gave you a measured look.  "Go ahead: that boy needs constant supervision."  It was a prearranged signal, and you slipped off the couch and up the stairs.  You went into Michael's room, closed the door, and pulled on your coat.  You were halfway out the window when the door opened.

            Jane stood in the threshold, a small smile on her lips when she spotted you.  You should have dropped then, slipped down the roof and off the porch.  If you ran, you could make it out of earshot before she had the chance to react. 

            "I was hoping I'd get a chance to talk to you," Jane said too quickly for you to feign deafness.  Her tone was pleasant, but there was measure of steel at the core.  It wasn't quite the Strike Commander cadence, but she had plenty of confidence in her authority. 

            "Ah," you said, crouching outside the window.  Damnit, you should have run when you had the chance.  It was too late to pretend to be polite.  "I uh..."

            "Why don't you come back inside?  It's cold out there." 

            Damnit.  She'd been waiting to get you alone.  That was the only explanation.  You wondered then if Jack had tipped her off.  Who knew what he told her? 

            You sighed and climbed back inside.  You debated on leaving the window open so you could fall out if necessary. 

            "Do you mind closing the window?  We don't want to let all the heat out." 

            Damnit.

            You shut the window and watched her, back to the wall.  She stood tall, wearing a bright red sweater and jeans, her riding boots, freshly polished. 

            "What did you want to talk to me about?"   You studied the other exit route.  She blocked the doorway and you couldn't slip by her politely.  Damn these mission parameters. 

            "I just wanted to get to know you a little better.  Jack speaks quite highly of you."  She smiled, and you tried to return the expression.  Fuck, you'd misread the entire situation.  You thought Jack's family was going to leave you alone because Jack asked them to.  No, they were waiting for the big guns: Jane was here to interrogate you.

            You'd survived Lacroix.  You could handle a civilian, right?

            "Maggie told me all about her new life goal."

            You winced.

            "Though I think she wants two boyfriends, rather than a boyfriend and a girlfriend.  She is severely disappointed that Gabriel doesn't have any brothers."  Jane's smile was friendly and you didn't trust it in the least.  "And Michael, well, his attitude has drastically improved, though I'm a little concerned about that limp.  He swears he tripped over a goat."

            "Ah," you said cleverly.  "Those goats.  Very trippy."  She had a disturbingly clear picture of what you'd been up to for the past few days. 

            "Jack won't tell me exactly what you do, only that you work with Gabriel, so I have to assume it's very classified.  I'm a school psychologist; I can only imagine how difficult your work is."

            "Dealing with children is much more challenging.  I do lots of paperwork," you said, used to redirecting.  "It's awful." 

            She tilted her head to the side.  "We've all seen the "Ms. Strike" photos.  Jack was pretty tickled about how you got rid of his personal assistant.  It's funny, I always thought he'd end up with a girl like Ainsley.  Turns out he has better taste than I expected."

            "He has great taste in men," you agreed, because you had no idea what kind of women Jack actually liked. 

            "I'm making you uncomfortable," she said, keeping that same measured, easy tone, like she was talking to a child. 

            You crossed your arms.  There was nothing polite you could respond with. 

            "I'm not trying to interrogate you about your intentions toward my brother, despite how he terrorized my husband.  I honestly just want to get to know you," Jane said, not raising her voice or even looking disturbed.  "Jack says you spar with him and you cook for him.  He says you're loyal, brave, and acerbic.  He says you like your space, and I think I'm starting to understand what he means."  She leaned against the door.  "You know the interesting thing?  Dad's more relaxed about Gabriel since you're in the picture.  Not that I agree with him - Gabriel is great - but Dad seems to think you're a civilizing factor.  It could be a kneejerk reaction of relief that Jack still likes women, but I can't be sure."

            "He said something about the goats liking me."

            Jane laughed.  "I bet he tried to tell you Maggie wouldn't let him get rid of them.  Don't be fooled.  Dad adores the goats.  Maggie lost interest long ago."

            You waited for her to continue, because you'd learned your lesson about volunteering information. 

            "Jack's very fond of children.  I know he terrifies poor Will, but his niece and nephew adore him.  Gabriel is also good with kids.  I know they've talked about starting a family."

            You blanched, eyeing the window.  Those were not thoughts you were ready to build upon, let alone talk about with this uncomfortably perceptive stranger.  You recalled how they doted over Farah.  That was safe.  "Yeah, they'd be great parents."

            Jane waited expectantly.

            You gritted your teeth.  She wasn't going to move till you'd satisfied her curiosity, and you couldn't just shove her out of the way.  That window pane didn't look too thick.  If you punched it with your left hand, you could jump out.

            "Hey Jane, what are you doing in my- Oh, hi, Lucky."  Michael stood behind his sister.  "I meant to ask, did you have a print you preferred?  I think I'll start the coloring tonight."

            Jane watched you shrewdly.    

            "Can you show me them again?  I liked the sketch work for the three-quarter face, but I don't know if color would really add to it." 

            "Yeah, sure.  My sketchbook is downstairs." 

            "I'll come take a look," you said, and Jane stepped out of your way. 

            "It was good talking to you," she said brightly. 

            "Uh-huh," you said, because if you used real words, you might tell her what you really thought. 

 


 

            In the kitchen, a room with three exits, you gave Michael all your cigarettes and a firm handshake.  He just grinned at you, looking pleased with himself.  He handed you the sketchbook.  You examined one of Jack in Strike Commander gear petting a patchy Labrador.  You hadn't seen the dog, and now that you thought about it, what farm didn't have a dog? 

            "That's Atticus.  He was Jack's dog before he left for boot camp.  We haven't tried to replace him yet," Michael said. 

            "Ah.  Then that one for sure."  You weren't sure if Jack would like it, but you thought he would. 

            "She means well," Michael said after a moment.  "She's just intense."

            "I get that."  You rubbed the back of your neck.  You weren't going to badmouth his sister, as uncomfortable as the encounter had been.   "I really appreciate the assist.  You had excellent timing.  Thanks."    

            Michael just turned red and mumbled something unintelligible. 

 


 

            You stayed away from the house till you saw the minivan drive off.  You gave it another fifteen minutes, then casually made your way back. 

            Gabriel sat on the porch, drinking something out of a mug.  "You missed the ugly sweater picture." 

            You shrugged.  "Why didn't you warn me?" 

            "Didn't know she'd come on that strong.  She was all lightness and flowers when I met her.  Of course, Jack hadn't traumatized her husband yet."  Gabriel handed you his mug and you smelled whiskey.   

            "Thanks."  You finished it, craving heat.

            "After you left, Michael said some sharp things to Jane, mostly about "not scaring you off."  Maggie caught some of it and joined in, definitely on the side of not spooking the feral Lucky."  Gabriel patted your back.

            You rubbed your forehead.  "She could give Lacroix a run for his money.  Seriously, you should consider hiring her for interrogations.  You'll have people begging for the bolt cutters."

            "You're pretty persuasive when you want to be.  I know you're the reason I got a vague stuttering apology from a maladjusted teenager in a hideous sweater."

            "Jack's terrible at honesty.  I blame him."

            "Of course," Gabriel said, tolerantly.  "Everyone's watching The Christmas Story.  Why don't you come back inside and warm up?" 

            You followed Gabriel in.  Jack was on one couch.  His parents were on the loveseat.  Michael and Maggie were on the floor, and Maggie waved before returning her attention to the film.  They all politely pretended like the movie was very engrossing.  It felt staged. 

            It hit you then: Jack's family was fucking catering to your crazy.  Goddamnit. 

            You sat down beside Jack and he put an arm around your shoulder and kissed your cheek.  Gabriel settled on the other side rubbing your back.  You forced yourself to smile and stare at the television screen.

            Jack's family wasn't perfect, however they felt normal, supportive, cohesive: whatever families should be.  They had their problems, like all families did, but it wasn't hard to see how Jack turned out to be such a goddamn decent person. 

 


 

            You changed into your pajamas.  At some point, you'd dozed off during the movie.  Tonight was the last night here and then it was back to Zurich and work.  Work would be good. Though no one had sent you any messages or requests, not even Bái Shé. 

            Gabriel came in and sat on a bed, eating a cookie, his new book under his arm.

            "What kind of books do you like?"  

            "All kinds."  He looked at you.  "You looking for a recommendation?"

            You shrugged.  You didn't read for pleasure any more.  There was too much work now, but maybe once upon a time, two lifetimes ago, you had.  Back when you thought you'd be a doctor, or a firefighter, or an astronaut.  Back before.

            You'd transported a rare book or two.  "Incunabula" they called it, which you assumed was academic-speak for "pretentiously expensive."  Thousands of credits just for the first or a unique printing of a real paper book.  One particularly old manuscript required temperature control, no exposure to light, and definitely no reading.  Digital readers made more sense, letting you carry thousands of books in one convenient package.  Anything else was silly.  Now, you realized, you were most likely missing parts of that equation. 

            Gabriel finished his cookie.  "Jack used to get real sick during SEP.  Me, not so much.  I read to him: Borges, Tolkien, Achebe, Kawabata.  I started Pride and Prejudice as a joke,  but I couldn't get through the second chapter.  Jack bought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and that was more fun.  We did The Color of Water, H is for Hawk, Cry the Beloved Country, Shadow of the Wind..." 

            You weren't sure what to say; you'd heard of a few of those.  But Gabriel rattled them off like they were common knowledge.  Maybe they were.  You hadn't exactly been attending book clubs.  There were a lot of things you'd missed out on, this was only one of many. 

            "Hey."  Jack stepped into the room and shut the door.  "Feeling better?"

            "Yeah."  You managed a wry grin.  "I'm fine."

            "I know."  He pulled off his shirt and sat down in front of you.  "I appreciate you not decking my sister or breaking a window."

            "I am a normal healthy person who wouldn't do things like that to a civilian," you said, not the least bit defensive.  No, not you.    

            Jack just kissed you, his hands sliding down your waist.  He rolled backward, pulling you on top of him.   "Hi."

            "Is that how you greet everyone?"

            Jack just ran his knuckles across your cheek.  "You're so pretty."

            "Jack-"

            "Want to make you smile, the happy one, not the mean one."  He kissed your hands.  "What can I do?"  He looked up at you, eyes wide and hopeful.  Your heart hit your ribcage too hard and you wondered if everyone else could hear it.

            "How do you do this to me?"  The question was meant to be rhetorical, but Jack dragged you down to his level, sprinkling light kisses across your neck.  "Jack-"

            "I know you're sore.  I'll stop now."  He dropped his arms to his sides.  "Just tell me what I can do."

            Your pulse was too quick and you were already breathing too hard.  

            He lay beneath you, the yearning on his face making your throat tight. 

            "I don't know what to do when you look at me like that."  You turned your head. 

            "Whatever you want," Jack said softly.  

            You shivered and he rubbed your lower back.  "I can't do hard tonight, Jack."

            "Whatever you want," he repeated.  "I mean it."

            You rocked your hips against him and he groaned, arms tightening around you.  He felt good against you and even if you knew you should stop, he'd just given you the invitation you needed.  "I want to be on top."

            He nodded, placing his hands flat on the floor.  "You lead."

            "Off."  You tugged at his shirt and he obeyed, grinning. 

            You stripped off your clothes and unzipped him, unsurprised to find him ready for you.  You licked him and he squeezed his eyes shut, inhaling sharply.  Once he was slick, you lowered yourself onto him, gasping as you sank down taking him to the base.  It was always a slight shock at how smoothly you could fit him.    

            Jack's eyes were on your face.  "Do you want me to move?"

            "Slowly," you said, resting your knees on either side of his thighs. 

            Jack raised his hips and you put your palms on his either side of his neck, giving yourself extra leverage.

            "I love watching you take me," Jack whispered.  "I can't get enough of that look on your face.  Like you want more, but you're not sure if you can do it.  I want to make you feel good.  I want to see you come while riding me." 

            You rolled your hips, sticking to languid motions.  Jack moved with you, slow shallow thrusts.  The gentleness was comforting. 

            He stroked your face, fingers twining in your hair.   "That's it, baby.  You want me to keep going like this?  Or you want me to go faster?"

            You whined, clasping his hand against your cheek.  "A little faster." 

            He obeyed, a dreamy smile spreading across his face.  "Want me to rub your clit too?"

            You nodded, biting back a moan. 

            He started slow, rubbing circles around your nub.  "Do you want me to come inside you?  I can finish with you, if you like.  But I don't have to."

            "Please."

            "Look at me, please." 

            You couldn't deny him that much.  You locked eyes, and his smile widened.  "Going to come soon, baby?"

            You nodded, hips shaking as his fingers sped up.  His cock slid into you at an achingly gentle pace.  You flattened one hand over your mouth, not looking away from Jack's face.  He grinned up at you, breathing hard.  He drove his hips into you and you shuddered as he filled you all the way.  Your control snapped and you could feel yourself clenching around him, trying to take him deeper.  The pleasure came in waves, and you forced yourself to keep your eyes on him.   

            It was your name on his lips when he came, his naked gaze on your face.  You dropped against his chest, whimpering as you rode out the aftershocks.  He held you against him, kissing your face while you caught your breath. 

            Jack's tender smile made your chest clench.  "I'll do whatever you want, just keep looking at me like that."

            "You're ridiculous," you murmured.  Jack pulled out, and his cum streamed down your thighs.

            Still on the bed, Gabriel groaned.  

            "Don't be self-conscious."  Jack kissed your throat.  He looked up.  "Do you want to watch me take care of Gabe?  Or do you want to help?"

            You followed his gaze.  Gabriel sat on the bed, legs spread, eyes dark as he watched the two of you.  You sat back on your heels, looking for something to clean yourself up with.

            "Leave it," Gabriel said hoarsely. 

            Jack unzipped Gabriel who was already hard.  He pushed the foreskin back, tonguing the head.  Gabriel had his legs wide enough apart that you could kneel next to Jack.  So you joined him, kissing Gabriel's shaft.  Your breath quickened as Gabriel stroked your head.  You nibbled on Gabriel's inner thigh as Jack began to deepthroat him.  Gabriel thrust slowly while Jack took him to the base, eyes closed as he moaned around the cock in his mouth. 

            "Don't be greedy, Jack."

            "I can't fit you like that," you said.

            "Don't need to tonight.  Just like watching you both share."  Gabriel sighed as you and Jack licked his cock, Jack cupping Gabriel's balls while you slurped on the head. 

            "He just likes debauching us both in my childhood bedroom," Jack said and nipped Gabriel's thigh. 

            "You like it just as much," Gabriel rumbled.  "Go on then.  Show me some of that teamwork you're always going on about, Jack."

            "Shut up, Gabe." 

            You laughed and kissed Gabriel's thigh.  "You're awful."

            "Seeing you two playing so nice together is such a rare treat.  I might as well enjoy it." 

            Jack placed your hand on Gabriel's shaft.  He kissed you before running his tongue around the head.  The two of you worked in tandem, sucking and stroking till Gabriel's fingers tightened in your hair.  He came down Jack's throat and Jack kissed you hungrily, Gabriel's seed on his tongue. 

            "That was adorable," Gabriel said, somewhere between sardonic and satisfied.

            Jack helped you clean up, with one Gabriel's shirts, you were pretty sure.   You put pajamas on because the lack of a lock was really going to get you in trouble.   Gabriel tucked himself back in his pants.  Jack sprawled in the center of the floor, grinning at you both.  Gabriel took one side, and you lay on the other, legs tangled with Jack's.

            Something had changed over the course of this trip, and while you weren't too sure what it meant, it didn't bother you as much as you would have expected.

           


 

 

             In the early noon hours, you visited the goats.  Then the barn cats.  There were a variety of people dropping by today, mostly to get a glimpse of Jack.  You made yourself scarce, because you didn't need the attention.  But you were getting hungry.  Maybe it was safe to sneak in?

            You were halfway up the drive when you saw Gabriel on the porch, hands casually arranged in the "woods" sign.  You turned around and casually headed toward the barn before breaking off toward the woods.  Chang was waiting for you there. 

            "Sitrep?" You asked, touching your sidearm.

            "Nothing serious.  Local reporter friend of Jane's weaseled an invite.  Reyes wanted you out of sight.  He'll be along shortly."

            You sighed in relief.  "That's fine."  

            She handed you a travel mug of coffee.  "That's from him." 

            "Thanks."  You leaned against a tree.  The snow was only up to your ankles, but it still aggravated you.  "Am I keeping you from something?"

            "No."  Chang watched you, and you weren't sure how to interpret her expression.  You just held the coffee a second, savoring the warmth.  "Reyes asked me to stay with you till he came."

            Huh.  You sipped your coffee.  Gabriel had made it just the way you liked it.  That man was a treasure, when he wasn't being a dick.  "Do you know how I met Captain Patel?"

            Chang reminded you of a hawk.  She had that slow, serious blink and slightly feral gaze that made you feel like prey.  "No."

            You told her about the grenades and your old rifle.  Chang's stance relaxed just a little over the course of the story.   "She was a good mentor.  I was a terrible student."  You studied your cup.  "How well did you know her?"

            "Aishani was the best teacher in SEP.  She was harsh, but fair.  Jack and I served under her in Lisbon.  After we were assigned our own units, she told us to call her by her first name.  There was another Patel in the platoon and he was a moron.  She said she didn't want people to think they were related.   Aishani wasn't openly affectionate, but we understood what she meant."  Chang closed her eyes.  "Shouldn't you be asking Reyes or Jack these questions?"

            "I'm trying to get a broader view."  Gabriel didn't like talking about her.  He would, if you asked, but there was such a shadow on his face that you stopped asking awhile ago.  You hadn't asked Jack yet.  You didn't need to be dropping more of your baggage in his lap. 

            Chang uncrossed her arms.  "I heard you regularly spar with Jack."

            "Ha, I wouldn't call it sparring.  He kicks me around the mat and thinks it's funny.  He has to go at significantly reduced speed and strength.  I'm nowhere near his level.  My skills skew subtle: B&E, surveillance, assassination."  You looked at your cup.  "You're pretty amazing to watch.  I've seen Jack, Gabriel, and Captain Patel in action.  You're faster than all of them.  Graceful too."

            She wrinkled her nose at you.  "What are you getting at?"

            "Compliments where compliments are due," you said.  "I may avoid straight up fights, but I appreciate skill where I see it."

            "Fitzpatrick and Almasi shared their displeasure regarding your skills."  She smiled that cool, not quite friendly smile.  "I can't fault them too much."

            You shrugged modestly.  "You were busy with Gabriel.  He's good at driving people to distraction."

            "That's an understatement."  Chang laughed harshly.  "He and Jack have always pushed too far.  I have never had any interest in getting mixed up in their dominance battles.  They fight, fuck, and eventually work it out.  I hold grudges close to my heart and have no desire to be touched."

            You kept silent, because that's not quite how Gabriel told it, and drank the rest of your coffee.  "Gabriel said you got along with Jack."   

            "Jack and I are friends.  Reyes and I, not so much."  The way she said "friends" made you think she didn't have very many of those left.  Jack obviously trusted her with his family and the knowledge of his relationship with Gabriel.  That was definitely friendship.

            "Is this the part where you give me friendly warnings?  Because I met Jane yesterday, and she was terrifying." 

            "Jack's an adult.  He can take care of himself.  You're the one who stands to lose the most."  Chang said it as cold statement of fact.  On someone else it would be catty or backhanded; but you were coming to understand that she was just uncommonly blunt.  Maybe that's why she'd never risen above sergeant. 

            "Yeah, I know.  I can't even say this is the dumbest thing I've done.  I mean, the omnic grenade attack was pretty stupid.  I really shouldn't be allowed on an open battlefield."

            Chang nodded.  "You're the kind of idiot they like.  You should be careful though.  Jack's soft.   He'll be upset if you stupid yourself to death.  Reyes too, probably."

            "Wow."  You laughed because there was someone out there more emotionally stunted than you.  "I uh, thanks."

            "Michael came to see me today.  He wants to train with my squad.  He even asked nicely.  Your doing?"

            You shrugged.  "Sorry."

            "Oh no, I've been waiting for this.  Because he's been a little shit for the past two years.  I'm going to enjoy this."  Chang's smile was beatific; it was the happiest you'd seen her.  "Don't worry.  I won't cause permanent damage.  He'll be better for it.  I trust you remember Hell Week." 

            "Uh..."  You did, though it was the basic training one, not the Navy Seal one.    

            "The Road to Heaven?  You know, where you crawl over rocks and coral through ocean water in a obstacle course of pure endurance and suffering?"

            "No."

            "Pig Pond?  It's how you get the best ghillie suits." 

            "I uh...no."  You wondered if you should warn Michael. 

            "Aishani didn't make you do any of that?"  Chang looked annoyed. 

            "We were in the Yukon.  There were the sleeveless snowball fights and polar bear club-style ice-swimming.  Fuck, I hated that shit."

             Chang nodded.  "Yes.  I'm going to do it all.  And when I'm done, he will be able to take care of himself.  Perhaps Maggie will want to join in."

            You weren't sure if anyone would willingly do that shit, let alone Maggie. 

            Chang smiled to herself and you knew her excitement was real.  Yeah, no one who went through SEP came out normal.

 


 

            Goodbyes were more emotional than you expected.  Maggie kept wiping her eyes, repeatedly hugging you and Jack, but mostly Gabriel.  Jack's mother gave each of you a packed lunch and a long hug.  Jack's father grimly shook everyone's hand, Gabriel included.  Michael did the same. 

            "Chang's uh...got an intense workout planned for you," you said.

            "Yeah, Jack warned me."  Michael sighed.  "But it'll give me an idea of what to expect if I join up." 

            "Sure," you said, hoping he wouldn't. 

            "Jack gave me your contact info.  I'll uh, send the work when I'm done."

            "Yeah, want me to pay you now?"

            "No, no.  It's fine."  Michael handed you a large envelope.  "I uh...late Christmas present."

            "Thank you," you said, opening it.  The sketch had been inked, but not colored.  It was you, Jack, and Gabriel on the couch.  You asleep against Jack's shoulder, Gabriel with his arm around both of you.  Jack was smiling and Gabriel looked vaguely amused.  It had to be from last night during the movie.  "Wow.  I...thank you."  

            "It's rough.  I'm going to do a color version, if you like." 

            "Definitely." 

            "What do you have there?"  Gabriel glanced over your shoulder.  "Oh, that is good."  He studied the page.  "If you do a color page, I'll buy one.  Jack would too." 

            Michael looked at his shoes.  "Yeah, OK.  Thanks."

            "You can't go featuring this in your portfolio though," Gabriel said. 

            "I know."  Michael gave him a look.  "It's a present, OK?"

            "Thank you, Michael," you said.  You wouldn't be able to display it anywhere, but just knowing it existed made your stomach do flip-flops.

 


 

            Jack was quiet the entire ride home.  Gabriel had his new copy of The Count of Monte Cristo out.  He saw you studying the cover.   

            "Have you read it?"   

            "Saw the movie.  It was OK."

            "None of the movies do it justice.  It's too long and complex for one film.  There was a French mini-series that stayed true to the book.  Gérard would probably be able to dig it up.  The book is much better than any films."  Gabriel looked slightly offended by your reference to the movie.  "It's very clearly about revenge.  Would you like me to read it to you?"

            Sometimes shogi boards, weren't just shogi boards.  You felt the undercurrent of something in Gabriel's offer.  This wasn't just about expanding your literary horizons.  He knew you were capable of reading it on your own; granted with your workload, that was highly unlikely.  

            "Sure," you said, because Gabriel had a nice voice.  "Thank you." 

            "It's long," Gabriel said.  "He got paid by the word.  But it's worth it." 

            "I trust your judgment."  You back in your seat, head resting on Jack's shoulder.  "If it's boring, I'll just fall asleep." 

            "You better not," Gabriel said, thumbing through the book. 

            "It's your voice," you said.  "Makes me sleepy."

            Gabriel snorted.  "Chapter One, Marseilles, the Arrival-" he began.

            Jack looked at you both and smiled. 

Chapter Text

            "So, how'd it go?"  Jesse sat in your room eating the casserole Mrs. Morrison packed for you. 

            "It was weird," you said.  "Good, but weird."  You put the games on your desk, unsure where you were going to store them.  And you took your earrings out, because you couldn't wear them on missions.

            "Morrison?" Jesse asked, gesturing at the earrings.  You put them in an empty ammo box and tucked them in your drawer.  You left on the obsidian disk.  You'd take it off before any action, but no one else could see it under your shirt. 

            "Yeah.  Gabriel got me the board games and a sweater." 

            "They liked your gifts?"

            "I think so."  You put the fox in the drawer and tucked the envelope with the drawing in your desk.  The cast iron skillet was already in the kitchen.  "His whole family knows now."

            "Drama?" 

            "Mostly from me hiding, I guess.  His married sister was dead set on interrogating me.  Sorted out his younger brother.  We're good now.  Everyone else was nice."

            Jesse nodded.  "We took Genji with us.  Ate too much chocolate.  Fareeha liked all the lights."  He paused.  "I ran a short mission with your boy."

            "Oh?  How'd it go?"

            "He's fucking obnoxious."

            "Yeah, I know."  You laughed dryly.  "But how'd he do?" 

            "Wasn't a combat mission.  Good B&E skills, adequate E&E, obviously superb tech ability.  You and me, Lucky, we talk shit;  Ziv spews it like a goddamn geyser."

            "Yeah, there's a limit to how much smart ass we can contain in Blackwatch." 

            "Oh, here's your gift."  Jesse casually pulled out a bottle of Johnny Walker Gold with a ribbon on it.  "Figured you should probably learn to drink better stuff."

            "Thanks, asshole."  You handed Jesse his present.  "It's kind of from both me and Genji."

            "Shouldn't Genji be here for it then?"

            "He made the recommendation.  Said he'd show you how to use it, if you wanted."

            "Now I'm worried."  Jesse opened the box and studied the tea set.  The clay pot and straight edged cylindrical cups were glazed a swirling white and gray.  It came with a bamboo whisk, mixing bowl, and scoop for a Japanese tea ceremony.  You'd included some good matcha as well.

            "Thought you and Captain Amari might like it."

            Jesse gave you a grin.  "You're putting both our names on this gift?"

            "Oh no, I'm giving her the wagashi."

            "Thanks, Lucky."  He studied it.  "Can't believe you got me a tea party set.  Can I have a pony next?  Maybe a tiara?"

            "Oh fuck you."

           


 

            "Chanukah is over."  Ziv stared at the package. 

            "Well, sorry." 

            "This isn't a Christmas gift, is it?"  He sounded offended. 

            "No.  Christmas is over."

            "You insensitive bitch.  Not only did you get me a Christmas gift, you gave it to me late.  And I'm Jewish!"

            "It's a New Year's gift, you ass."

            "Who gives gifts for New Years?"

            "I do, you ungrateful little shit."

            Ziv huffed and opened the box.  "...Your taste in clothes sucks."

            "Oh shut up.  Those are omnium plates, meant to be worn under your clothes, and will hopefully deflect bullets."

            He lifted the lumpy black vest up; it was lightweight. "For missions?"  His voice went high.  "They provide armor, you know."

            "Yeah, I know.  But you managed to piss off Gabriel, Jesse, Torby, and who knows who else, while I was out.  I figured you needed the extra protection."

            "Fuck you, Lucky."

            "Maybe you need a helmet too..."

 


 

 

            Three hanetsuki sets for Genji: the Japanese badminton game was a New Years tradition, and you anticipated Jesse, Fareeha, and Ziv wanting to play.  Five pounds of peanut brittle for Winston.  Wagashi for Captain Amari.  Chocolate fudge for Torby and Angela.  An emergency flare kit for Lacroix.  It was a joke and probably inappropriate, but you gave it to him anyway. 

            And now, you were having a sit-down meeting with him and Captain Amari. 

            He was mobile, finally, dressed in a dapper black suit with long cuffs and a Nehru collar.  Captain Amari was in uniform and sat behind her desk.  He sat on the side of her desk, and she frowned at him.

            "Chanceux," Lacroix greeted blithely. 

            "Is my real name classified?"

            "Yes," Captain Amari said.  "But no more so than any other Blackwatch operatives."

            "Just checking," you said, giving Lacroix a look.

            "You are wondering why we have called you here.  Rest assured, it is not about your personal life or your questionable taste in gift-giving."  Even if Lacroix sounded amused, that was no reason to let your guard down. 

            "Bái Shé?" 

            "In a way."  Captain Amari looked like she was struggling with the urge to push Lacroix off her desk.  "Gérard, this is your show."

            "Chanceux, you've graduated beyond short-term ops, and frankly, they're beneath you.  You're wasted on admin work.  And you don't have the discipline to remain a permanent member of a frontal assault team.  I would like to offer you more training and have you come work for me."

            You blinked.  "...I'm sorry, I heard a bunch of backhanded compliments, at least one honest insult, and then something about you wanting me to work for you?  What?"  You glanced at Captain Amari.  "Did I hear that right?"

            "Yes, Chanceux.  Your powers of observation have not failed you yet."

            You couldn't keep the incredulity off your face.  "Is this some kind of twisted payback for saving your life?  Because I'm sorry.  I won't do it again."

            Captain Amari cleared her throat. 

            Lacroix just laughed.  "No, the Shanghai incident has led me to be