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“What’s taking so long?”

Acting as a lookout had never been Reaper’s cup of tea. Sitting and waiting fell more into Widowmaker’s skill set. Yet there he crouched on the corner of a flat rooftop, one shotgun tapping against his shoulder as he watched the vacant streets below.

He pressed against the comm in his ear to ensure the hacker heard his complaint, “Sombra?”

”Patience,” Her voice teased back, ”This setup is ancient. I’m almost done. Besides, I didn’t asked you to come babysit.”

No, she hadn’t, but he didn’t trust her to stay focused. Keeping the latina girl on task, when she purposely tested his patience just enough to get on his nerves, was bound to leave even his wraith form a shade of gray from the never ending exasperation. Reaper inwardly sighed and trained his attention back on the streets.

Several blocks away, gunfire sounded. It was followed by a muffled thump of a contained explosion. Reaper straightened as eager tendrils of black smoke emerged and curled over the edge of the roof.

”Do I need to be worried?”

“No,” The rukus was too far off to be of any real concern. “Just get the job done.”

Releasing the tenuous grasp he held over his physical form, Reaper gave way to the writhing shadows within and stretched his way across the dark gaps between rooftops. As he moved closer to the commotion, sirens whined in the distance and by the time Reaper stood, gazing downward from top of a fire escape, the gunfire had ceased and the sirens had grown louder. Tangling with the local authorities didn’t interest him. He almost dismissed the venture, almost, but then a figure - a man - sprinted through the alley below.

Curious, and admittedly bored, Reaper stalked after the fleeing man via the rooftops.

He pursued his quarry on a zig-zagged path through the city, always keeping to the darkest of streets and narrowest of alleys. When the sirens were little more than an distant wail, the man slowed to a brisk walk. Familiarity nagged at Reaper and he dropped to ground level to better sate his curiosity. The details became more clear: the trim physique, the stark white hair, the visor, and the stupid Kevlar jacket emblazoned with the number 76. The latter detail sealed the deal. It was so blatant and begging for attention. There weren’t many people around that understood the numerical reference.

Gabriel Reyes, soldier 24, was one of them.

It was like Jack wanted him to notice.

Behind the bone-white mask, Gabriel’s lips pulled away in a sneer as his original rush of delight of cutting down some hapless fool was replaced with a resentment for the familiar shape. A shape that suddenly spun on heel and shouldered a pulse rifle. For a long moment they just eyed each other, one mask to another, and an equally familiar tension strummed through the air.

Gabriel brushed the mechanism built into his gloves, prompting the hard light technology to form the twin shotguns into his waiting hands. Before their weight could settle fully into his palms, his opponent opened fire. Gabriel threw himself to the side while ditching his physical form. The bullets sailed harmlessly through his smoke and embedded in the wall behind him.

Nice to see you too, Jack.

They fell into a familiar dance of circling each other and Reaper couldn't help but chuckle. Black mist, a manifestation of his energy, swirled through the alley in long, twisting ribbons. The night, the shadows, and the living darkness blurred Gabirl’s form as he stuck close to the old soldier, rendering the rifle more useful as a bat than a gun. Yet each time Reaper brought up his own weapons, his attempts were met with a sweeping block or dodged all together. The buildings suffered the brunt of their quarrel; splintered wood and paint chips laid scattered in their wake.

They abandoned the guns and resorted to exchanging blows with fists and feet. As Jack struggled to ward off Reaper’s clawed attacks, the scent of blood wafted over the burn of pulse emissions and gunpowder. Reaper gauged his opponent; the sweat on Jack’s brow, the faint limp as he adjusted his stance, and the way dark lines glistened from where they ran fresh from under the hem of the tacky jacket.

Jack had gone into their fight already injured.

Gosh, what a crying shame.

Reaper capitalized on the weakness, shifting in and out of reality and focusing on the injured side. Ultimately, as Jack’s energy waned and his reaction time slowed, Reaper’s claws found purchase around his neck. The metal points dug in to the tender skin and the white-haired soldier went still. Reaper steadied his breathing while eying the blood saturating the fabric encircling Jack’s upper thigh.

He reached for the wound. Jack shoved him away. Razor-thin lines of red bloomed along the pale skin of Jack’s throat as a result. Shallow cuts. Reaper could have dug in deeper, but, for now, he let it be a reminder of who had the upper hand. Certainly not the soldier whose neck streaked with crimson. The fresh spill of blood and pain called to Reaper's power. It came, forming as lazy drifts of dark smoke that brushed fondly — hungrily — over the essence of Jack’s life.

Despite the lack of true eye contact, Reaper felt the defiance glaring at him through the lens of Jack’s visor. How many times had they squared off in the past; back in their days of training together in the enhancement program? Gabriel didn’t need to be able to see all of Jack’s face to know exactly how those cornflower blue eyes burned with suppressed fury and stubborn determination.

“You can’t win,” Gabriel taunted with thinly veiled pleasure.

Jack’s gloved hands curled into fists.

Gabriel laughed, slow and mocking, then obliged Jack’s wounded pride. He attacked with a calculated force. Close quarter combat was one of Gabriel’s specialties, and with Jack already nursing an injury, it didn’t take long before Reaper found an opening to strike hard at the wound. Jack grunted and his knees smacked audibly against the street as he went down

Once again, Reaper's claws found purchase against the front of Jack’s bloodied throat.

Jack clasped a hand over the hold, but froze when Reaper tightened his fingers and the metal tips pierced shallowly into the soft, vulnerable flesh. A super soldier could survive a lot, but not a crushed and torn wind pipe.

“If you kill me,” Jack struggled to speak, “what then?”

The voice didn’t sound like the one Reaper once knew. Perhaps it was the visor that concealed the lower part of Jack's face, or the hand tight around his airway, but Jack sounded rough like he spent the last several years sucking down cigarettes.

“Then you’re off my list.”

With difficulty, Jack swallowed under the unyielding grip, “What list?”

“The list of old friends I mean to visit — personally.”

“Can’t it just stop with me?”

A derisive snort, “What makes you think you’re so special?”

“It’s my fault, isn’t it?”

Reaper narrowed his eyes. It was Jack’s fault. Everything was Jack’s fault. Reaper slowly applied more pressure, closing his clawed fingers around Jack’s throat for the simple pleasure of hearing him choke. He relented before Jack’s survival instincts kicked in to fight back.

“Maybe,” The word lingered to inspire a false sense of hope, “Maybe I will save you for last so you can stand by, helpless, as I kill all your old friends.”

Our old friends,” Jack strained to protest.

“Our?” Reaper bared his teeth, inwardly seething as black mist rose above him in thick, twisting plumes. “None of you were my friend in the end.”

“Gabe—”

The name burned in his ears. Fueled by rage, Reaper lifted Jack up by the neck before he could get a handle on the surge of emotions. He threw Jack aside, not bothering to follow through with an attack. Not when Jack did little but cough and roll up on an elbow to watch him. Perhaps the blood loss had sapped the fight from Jack, but in that moment, to Reaper, the old soldier looked defeated.

Reaper flexed his fingers, feeling the blood thick and sticky on his gloves. “You,” His lips curled in contempt, “want me to kill you.”

Jack’s chin dropped and quietly, so quiet that Reaper strained to hear, he whispered, “I want it to be over.”

“You fucking martyr,” Gabriel spat as shotguns formed in his hands. He should shoot him. Right there. Splatter his self-righteous blood and brains all over the dirty, nameless alley. A rather dismal end to a once prominent figure. Instead Gabriel let the shotguns dematerialize and he turned his back to Jack in a rude sign of dismissal. A motion that flagged Jack as someone too weak - too pathetic - to pose a threat.

Gabriel moved to leave the broken soldier, but a cry from an adjacent roof stopped him. Above him the air shimmered to reveal Sombra with her SMG extended and aimed at Jack. Gabriel spun around.

Jack had picked up his discarded rifle. Whether he meant to use it to attack, or simply to retrieve it, was unclear. It didn’t matter. Sombra opened fire, but only managed to spray the wall above Jack’s ducking head before something stuck her shoulder. Almost instantly — as there was a moment where the three of them gawked at the small dart protruding from the hacker’s arm — Sombra went limp and fell from the roof.

Reaper’s wraith form sprang forward to coil around the falling girl and to catch her before she hit the ground. He retreated from the alley while turning her torso around to gain a better look at the dart — a very familiar dart.

Ana.

So many familiar things tonight.

With a snort born of both amusement and annoyance, Reaper left with the unconscious hacker.

Chapter Text

Reaper took his time navigating the dark streets back to the transport ship. He highly doubted the two vigilantes would follow. Jack had been in a bad way and, despite being a super soldier, he needed time to recover. Even if he was foolish enough to pursue, Ana would stop him. Reaper knew them, and their habits, all too well. With Sombra snoring softly in his arms, Reaper kept a sedate pace and allowed himself the temporary peace to mull over the encounter.

Jack Morrison.

Anger writhed like an angry snake under a blanket of disappointment left from the back alley encounter. While Jack still put up a decent fight, Reaper never thought he’d see the day when the once proud Commander gave up. The notion boggled him. Jack said he wanted it to be over and there was only one way the war ended for soldiers like them.

Had it really come down to that?

Reaper growled while his hands tightened around the petite woman in his arms. The victory, or whatever had transpired, felt hollow. Sure, Gabriel enjoyed winning, and sure he wanted to make the man suffer for everything, but it felt like time had robbed him. Time had worn Jack down, jaded him, whittle him thin and fragile. Time had made Jack want to give up. Time had cheated Gabriel.

On the other hand, seeing Jack bloodied, on his knees, and at the mercy of his hand remained an image to savor.

Sombra groaned as she stirred. Reaper, momentarily, sympathized with her. He knew first hand about the headache the girl likely suffered as part of the after effect of Ana’s special sleep juice.

As her eyes fluttered open and she realized she was being carried bridal style in his arms, Sombra flung her arms around his neck and kicked out her legs in a mock show of delight. “Oh Gabe—”

He promptly dropped her and continued walking.

¡Ay!” Sombra scrambled to her feet. Her scowl slid into a sly grin as she bounded after him, “So, before I totally saved your life back there, what was going on?”

Reaper exhaled; the sound raspy behind his mask.

“Yeeaah,” Undeterred by his lack luster response, Sombra skipped ahead and twirled around to walk backwards in front of him. “Cuz it seemed to me you might’ve known each other.”

How much had she seen? Enough, he decided, if she felt inspired to badger him about it. “Leave it.”

“As if."

Reaper seized her wrist, twisting and lifting it up between them as they came to an abrupt halt. She glared and tried to pull free, but he refused to relent. Although, he thought belatedly, threatening the girl would only inspire her to pry even more into his business. He had to give her something to sate her cat-like curiosity.

Pushing her wrist aside, Reaper began walking again, muttering as he passed, “An old friend.”

Her face lit up like a Christmas tree, “You have friends~?”

“No.”

Why had he even bothered trying to stop her?

“So, like, if he really was one of your old friends, that makes him from your Overwatch days. Because, let’s face it, you haven’t made any friends since then. I mean, besides me, of course.” Her lips pursed in thought. “So what are you going to do about him?”

Reaper sighed then, recalling the defeated soldier lying bloodied at his feet, shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Pft,” Sombra rolled her eyes. “Don’t bullshit me. I’m the one who wrote the hack you tried to use in Gibraltar. You wanted their locations.”

“That’s my business.”

She pushed her lower lip out in an exaggerated pout. “You’re no fun.”

 


 

“Jack,” Ana toned patiently from across the room, “are you alright?”

Snapping from his daze, Jack busied himself with cleaning his pulse rifle for the third time. His wounds had already been tended to and, despite his efforts to keep his mind from wandering, he repeatedly caught himself staring into space. “Yeah. I’m good.”

Ana hummed, unconvinced, but opted to finish making her tea. She crossed the small space of their shared hideout and sat at a table set near the narrow window; a spot where she could keep an eye on both him and the street below. Once settled with both hands cupping the warm mug, she again peered over at him. “Why do you think Talon was there?”

He shrugged, keeping his eyes downcast. “Isn’t that why we came here? To find out what they’re doing?”

She mimicked his shrug, “I thought we might root out some bottom feeding thugs, not Talon.”

Her deliberate avoidance of saying Gabriel’s name, even his code name, didn’t go unnoticed. Jack’s motions slowed. He wondered if it troubled her, as much as it did him, to acknowledge the mere presence of their former comrade. Their last encounter with him had been in Giza and even then she hadn’t wanted to talk about it.

Ana audibly sighed from her corner. “Please tell me you’re not thinking about going after him.”

“No,” He immediately replied, but his heart sank with uncertainty. He didn’t know what he wanted in regard to Gabriel. But his pulse raced at the idea of talking to him again. Whether the excitement formed in anticipation, or fear, he couldn’t quite decide. Either way, his chest ached as if a heavy weight was pressing against his ribs.

“I suppose if we do go after him, we’ll need to gather some real intel.”

Jack’s stomach dropped at the mere thought of going up against Talon as a whole, “Ana...”

“I’ll settle for putting that man in the ground.”

“Ana!” He snapped.

“No, Jack!” She slammed her cup against the table, spilling the tea. “Whoever you think that man is, he is not our friend.”

He glared, not even sure why the words struck an angry cord within him. His nerves vibrated with ire and he balled his hands against the sensation and forced his attention back to the gun in his lap. Her words, honest and harsh, were nothing but the truth, but Jack still didn’t want to hear them.

“He was going to kill you,” She argued with his stoic silence.

No, Jack thought while gingerly touching the healing cuts on his neck.

“He’s not your friend anymore. He’s not.. “ She gently shook her head and frowned at the spilled tea. Her next words were firm, but laden with sadness. “He’s not Gabriel.”

“I know,” He replied through gritted teeth while running a hand down his face. “Ana, I know.”

“Good,” She settled with a sniff before fetching a rag. As she mopped up the table, she spared another glance in his direction. “Promise me, Jack, if your paths cross again, you will take him out before he can do the same to you.”

Again Jack found himself staring blankly at the gun in his lap. Sighing, he finally set the rifle aside, “Let’s just focus on finishing the job we came here to do.”

 


 

In the following days, Reaper found himself too involved with Talon missions to deal with personal business. No, that wasn’t entirely true, but he welcomed the distraction from unwanted mental ponderings that tended to crop up when he found himself idle. He still caught himself glancing over the newspapers he found, sparing a moment to listen to the news channel, even eavesdropping from rooftops. He never used his holovid because Sombra would monitor his activity. She spied on everyone, but she had taken a special interest in him over his supposed disinterest in Jack.

As far as he could tell, Jack and Ana were still operating in the area. Their targets remained low-key and easily forgotten. Reaper couldn’t help but wonder what was the point of it. It seemed a fruitless effort. Did it make them feel good to play at being heroes?

Jack had always wanted to be a hero, as much as the man might deny it. He had drafted into the military with foolish ideals and a bright disposition. Gabriel knew because he had roomed with the guy during the enhancement program and Jack rambled when he was tired - especially after a round of injections when he laid in bed, too sick to move. Gabriel knew everything he ever needed to know about Jack Morrison from those days.

To think that same man now wanted to give up continued to grate on Gabriel’s nerves.

Reaper tapped his claws against the table where he sat in on a briefing. As he shook thoughts of Jack from his mind, he became aware that he wasn’t alone at the table.

Sombra grinned knowingly from his right. “Hey Gabe.”

“Pay attention, Sombra.” Not that he had room to judge. He couldn’t recall the purpose of the meeting. He had sat in the room hoping to keep his mind occupied, but clearly that venture had failed.

“What, the part where he goes go kill that lady, blah blah blah, dismissed?” Sombra flicked a glance at the strike commander, McManaway, at the front of the room and waved the matter aside. “Who do you think put together the dossier?”

She scooted closer and brought up her holovid. “Forget them, check this out.”

On the screen several videos played on loop. The quality of the images was sub-par but, despite the graininess, Reaper recognized the figure passing through the frames. Sombra had collected footage of Jack Morrison, dubbed Soldier:76 by the media, from various times and places around the world. How the girl ever found the time to do such extensive work on top of her normal duties baffled him.

“Your friend has been busy,” She mused in a musical tone as she casually swiped through the different videos. “It’s like he’s on a one man crusade against the lowlifes all around the world. Kinda adorable, right? Apparently he’s been doing this for years.”

The smile she directed at him while she swiped on eluded to an ulterior motive. Sombra was never one to dish out information without having a goal in mind — even if her end game involved annoying the shit out of him.

He turned his face away from her glowing screen, but his eyes wandered back.

“Five years, in fact, give or take. You know what else happened five years ago?” Her glowing fingertips flew through the screens. The videos disappeared and photographs took their place. Reaper didn’t have time to take in them all, but Sombra seemed to know exactly where to stop the slide show. The ruins of the Overwatch base in Zurich glared at him from her screen. “Mm, after that, Overwatch got shut down, didn’t it? You remember Overwatch, right?”

The pictures flew by again, appearing on the screen just long enough for him to glimpse familiar images of his time spent in both Blackwatch and Overwatch. The further the images went back, the more angry Reaper became at the impromptu trip down memory lane. The last image to appear was one of himself and Jack sitting together. It was one of the rare images of them back in their SEP days. Back when the world made sense to them both.

“Oops, too far,” Sombra feigned. “By the way, muy guapo, boss.”

She flicked her wrist and the image disappeared only to be replaced by the surveillance loops of Soldier:76. Sombra thoughtfully tapped one of her glowing fingers to her cheek, “It’s funny though.”

Gabriel’s patience waned dangerously thin.

“All his targets have Talon connections. Bottom of the ladder types, but recently he’s been moving up. I wonder,” She purred, finally getting to the point. “How long do you think it will take before Talon takes notice of him?”

Was that a threat?

Giving Sombra his full attention, he grabbed her arm, the one that projected the holo screen. It began as a light hold but slowly grew in pressure and she started to squirm. “He’s mine.”

She flashed him a fierce look, “Like I said, Gabe, when do you think they will start paying attention to him too?”

A sharp twist of his hand caused her personalized gear to crack. The screen disappeared and Sombra cursed at him in rapid-fire spanish. Her eyes burned with ire as she cradled her broken gear.

“They won’t find out,” He released her arm, staring pointedly at her. “Will they.”

She glared, but Reaper figured she got the point. If she wanted to stay on his good side, she better make sure that Talon didn’t care about some vigilante scraping away at the lower ranks. No one touched Jack. Gabriel would deal with it — personally.

Chapter Text

Even without Sombra’s help, it wasn’t difficult to track Jack’s movements. Reaper knew the ins and outs of the supply chains leading up to Talon. So while both Jack and Ana scurried to get information to find their next target, Reaper already knew where their efforts would end. Following the lines of the lackeys they laid to rest, he surmised the two restless vigilantes were nipping at the heels of one of Talon’s gun suppliers. Thus Reaper picked a stash house and waited to see how well Ana and Jack gathered intel.

Between the two of them, Ana had always been the one able to gather information while Jack would rather rush in and knock a few heads around. It was a wonder how the two got anything done. Over the last few years, the two of them had hardly made a dent in Talon. It might take weeks before they could even narrow down the right target…

Yet, despite their lack of progress in the grand scheme of things, Sombra had a point. Talon would eventually notice a pair of over-confident do-gooders poking around their front doors. At the moment Jack and Ana were little more than gnats buzzing over Talon’s head. Utterly insignificant. But if they pestered enough, Talon would not suffer their existence much longer.

Reaper, fortunately, didn’t have to wait long before trouble befell the building two blocks down. With Ana likely slinking around on the rooftops, Reaper kept to the darkest of spaces; a fire escape, a balcony, the shadow of a water tower. Relying on an educated guess, one based on years of operating along side Jack, Reaper lingered near the narrow opening that provided the best escape route from the stash house. Whenever Jack left he would most likely retreat to a less crowded area; somewhere with narrow streets and plenty of alley ways and nooks to use to his advantage.

Which, just so happened, to be to Reaper’s advantage as well.

Sure enough, as the building began to burn, a lone figure emerged and quickly ducked down the alley. Reaper followed at a distance, biding his time until he felt certain Ana wasn’t present. Even then he waited until Jack’s pace slowed and the tension eased from between his shoulders. The old soldier wove through the complicated pathways before stopping in a small courtyard nestled between trees and tall apartment buildings.

After setting his rifle against a bench, Jack sat and seemed intent to study the loose stones beneath his boots. Then, with arms crossed over his broad chest, the soldier leaned back and gazed up at the rooftops.

Amused at the idea that Jack was looking for him, Reaper turned his sights upward as well. There wasn’t much to see through the tree tops. The towering buildings and the dark clouds obscured most of the stars. A gentle, warm breeze broke the solemn silence as it rustled the leaves. Reaper, taking opportunity of the noise, shifted and traveled weightless through the shadows until he stood a few feet behind Jack.

“Expecting someone?” His words curled with amusement.

Jack leapt to his feet, rifle in hand, but didn’t aim. He did, however, slide back several steps to create a generous distance between them. When Reaper didn’t immediately spring on him, Jack pointedly looked at the dark rows of windows - homes of innocent civilians - around them and set his rifle back down.

Reaper chuckled as he languidly approached his quarry, “Really? Purposely putting yourself at a disadvantage?”

A shotgun formed and Reaper pointed it at the nearest window.

Jack tensed, “Afraid you might not win in a fair fight?”

Reaper playfully tutted at the younger man, “Why would I want to fight fair?”

“To prove you’re better.”

Reaper paused then let out a harsh laugh. Jack had him on that one. He tossed the shotgun to the side and lifted empty hands up for Jack to scrutinize. When Jack slid a foot backwards into a fighting stance, Reaper accepted the invitation. They came together, twice, in an exchange of blows that aimed to test the waters before they plunged. It felt good. It felt familiar.

As they parted the second time, Reaper purposely drew his claws along the sleeve of the Kevlar jacket.

Jack inspected his sleeve, growling upon discovering the fresh knick at the elbow. They clashed. Jack swung with annoyance while Reaper blocked with amusement. Their hands clasped in a grapple and they warred for the upper hand. One super soldier to another. The strain on his muscles felt good.

Behind the mask, Reaper smiled. “You’ve always been too trusting.”

Shifting his grip, Gabriel turned his claws into the backs of Jack’s hands in a decidedly dirty move. Jack winced and tried to endure the pain, but when the metal points pierced through the dense fabric of his gloves, Jack broke away. He retreated, but Reaper didn’t allow the distance. As a shadow he moved, curling around Jack and seizing him from behind. One arm wrapped around Jack’s chest while the other hand settled pointedly on the tender, pale flesh of his neck.

“I win,” Gabriel taunted.

Jack tested Gabriel’s hold, but the ruthless press of claws kept him in place. “You cheated.”

“You should know better than to think I would play fair,” Reaper mused and gently tilted Jack’s head to the side. He slid the claw tips along Jack’s throat, disappointed that the cuts he’d left on the man after their last meeting hadn’t even left a scar to admire.

The claws continued to caress, feather light, mockingly, over Jack’s thudding pulse. “Besides, you never were great at hand-to-hand combat.”

Jack growled, arching and grabbing at the hold. Gabriel tightened his hand and pulled the man back while pressing the point of his hip against the small of Jack’s back; ready to throw him to the ground and start their quarrel anew. But as much as he enjoyed a fight, Gabriel aimed for a different conclusion to the night. He hummed while checking their surroundings for any on-lookers. Seeing none, Gabriel nudged his mask against the side of Jack’s visor, “Kneel.”

Jack tensed against him, then slowly, inch by nervous inch, he surrendered to his knees. Reaper’s claws drew away as he lowered; slid along Jack’s neck, the shell of his ear, and ended in his short, white hair. Reaper carded his fingers through the pale strands. Once he had a fistful, he jerked Jack’s head back, exposing his throat.

The soldier hissed, but didn’t retaliate.

Good boy.

Gabriel savored the image before shoving Jack’s head away, “Why are you here?”

“I... “ Jack settled back on his ankles and looked over his shoulder at Gabriel. “A job.”

“No,” Gabriel slowly circled the younger man while a smile edged on his words, “why are you here - on your knees?”

Jack’s chin dropped and his fingers curled against his thighs.

Such a demure posture, Gabriel swept his gaze over the resigned soldier, “Do you want to bargain for the lives of your friends?”

The way Jack tensed spoke loud enough for Gabriel.

“What could you possibly offer to change my mind?” Gabriel stopped just out of Jack’s line of sight. He couldn’t even answer his own question. What did he want from Jack Morrison? Gabriel studied the man’s stock of pale hair, then the way Jack spread his hands palms up in a helpless gesture.

“What do you want?” Jack finally asked in a small voice.

For you to suffer as I have.

One moment the hateful words were so clear in Reaper’s mind, the next they refused to pass his lips. He reached forward, slid the tips of his claws through Jack’s hair before scraping them along the metal of the visor. “Take this off.”

Jack jerked away from the touch. Then, again slow and hesitant, raised his hands to the visor. His fingers ran along the metal before curling around the edges and pulling it away. Jack’s eyes remained downcast as his hands settled into his lap; his fingers curling protectively around the visor.

Gabriel drew his claws under Jack’s chin and forced the man’s face up, catching what little light that filtered down into the quiet courtyard. It had been several years since he’d last seen that face. The explosion in Zurich had done Jack no favors. The pallor of his skin, his hair, was more pronounced. The stress, or whatever had eaten away at him since that day, left its mark in the creases around his eyes and along his brow. It was still the face of the man he use to know. It wore its suffering, but what drew Gabriel’s interest were the twin scars running diagonal across Jack’s features. One ran over his brow, across the bridge of his nose and ended mid-cheek. The other started just aside his nose and slashed across his lips before disappearing over the curve of his chin.

Gabriel ran the claw of his thumb over Jack’s lower lip, prodding at the scar.

Those blue eyes remained adverted.

Releasing his face, Gabriel seized the lapel of Jack’s coat and hauled him to his feet so they could stand face to face. Gabriel squared up in front of him before leaning forward. “Now mine.”

Suddenly, Jack couldn’t do anything but stare at him. His brow furrowed with thought, an expression Gabriel found endearingly familiar. He lightly took Jack’s wrist and lifted the attached hand up to his own mask and left it to hover in the air between them. It pleased him to see Jack’s fingers shake and his blue eyes frantically search for any sign of a ruse.

Jack swallowed hard before his gloved fingers finally made contact with the mask. The touch slid back, pushing away Gabriel’s hood in the process. The fingers paused over the clasps.

Gabriel watched with a mixture of amusement and anger. He wondered, as he noted Jack’s uncertainty. He wondered if the soldier knew the gravity of the situation. Wondered if he knew how special the moment was because Gabriel never allowed people to touch him. An eagerness shone in Jack’s eyes, which could only mean the foolish soldier was utterly unaware of the why behind Gabriel’s whimsical decision. A sadistic need for Jack to see what lurked beneath the ominous layers. Gabriel wanted him to see what horrors awaited his earnest gaze.

Black, misty tendrils wrapped hungrily around Jack’s hands. The power twisted around them, growing restless the longer Jack stalled. Gabriel bent his head forward, silently giving the last bit of permission Jack so desired. The mask came away and Gabriel lifted his face. His eyes, dark and hard, were narrowed as he met Jack’s widened stare.

Gabriel had stopped looking at himself in the mirror ages ago. Not only did he bare his fair share of scaring from the explosion in Zurich, his condition left him in a constant state of decay; forever stuck in the cycle of his death from that day. His once warm brown skin was mottled with grey. If he fed enough, his skin could almost return to its original hue and hide the sickly dark lines, thin and web-like, that lurked just beneath the skin. At the moment, with his hunger keen and sharp, Gabriel knew his face must look like it was smeared with ash. He also knew, from how much he’d wraithed around that night, his skin likely had torn open, allowing wisps of black smoke to seep out, as if his body forgot that it was suppose to bleed instead of smolder. All in all, there was nothing handsome to find in his sunken features, the facial hair - once fastidiously groomed - that laid patchy and unkempt, or the lank, disheveled hair that further emphasized his ailing existence.

“I want you to see,” Gabriel sneered as thick plumes of smoke coiled around them, “See what I became for you.”

He jerked the pale soldier close, so Jack couldn’t do anything but look at the ruins of his face, “This is what I became, so that I could do the work you couldn’t stomach. Did you enjoy keeping your hands clean while you stood up there, up on your white pedestal, smiling for all the world? And then, when it all started to fall apart, you shunned me. After everything I did for the sake of the greater good, you left me to suffer.”

“I didn’t—”

The smoke raked sharply at Jack, “I don’t want to hear your excuses."

Jack tentatively touched at his cheek, “Gabe…”

Gabriel froze. Even though Jack’s hands were gloved, they left a burning line where the fingers trailed along his cheekbone. Gabriel turned his face toward the unwelcome hand with intentions of biting it. Instead he nuzzled his cheek against Jack’s gloved palm and again went still.

He closed his eyes and listened to his racing heart.

“I’m sorry...”

As quickly as a light switch being flipped, anger filled Gabriel to the point of bursting. He shoved Jack away. His power loomed above him, lashing angrily at the sky. Jack was sorry. He was fucking sorry? Did he think an apology made up for the years spent in constant pain? Did it erase the misery of living as death incarnate? Did it ease the anguish of being unable to bare looking at himself without wanting to smash his reflection? Did it change the fact that every day it reminded him that his closest friends had never trusted him?

Jack had ruined his life.

Retrieving his mask, Gabriel put distance between them. “You don’t get off that easy, Morrison.”

Jack stepped forward and Gabriel fell away to shadows.

Chapter Text

Reaper didn’t appear the following night or the next. A couple uneventful days quickly turned into several and as each night passed, leaving Jack to walk the dark streets alone, a numbness crept over his mind. He knew better. Rationally, he knew better than to get involved with Reaper. Emotionally, however, he could care less about what was right, wrong, healthy or flat out self destructive when it came to his old friend.

As if cursed by their encounters, Jack subconsciously tormented himself in lieu of the absent wraith. His sleep suffered, his motivation waned, and his ability to focus ended with him staring into space.

He ached to see Gabriel again.

With one encounter, Jack realized how much he had missed Gabriel. More so, he had missed the friction. No one could get under his skin quite like Gabriel did so effortlessly. It made his blood run hot. The new dynamic, with Gabriel physically asserting his dominance, added a new exciting layer to their already complicated arrangement.

What was wrong with him?

Gabriel took pleasure in hurting him, demeaning him. And Jack - starved of any real physical affection - craved it like a man in a desert thirsted for water. The need to see Gabriel again consumed him, invading every wakeful thought and troubled dream. During the day his gaze searched the empty shadows, and when he finally closed his eyes at night, he chased the taunting darkness through his dreams.

Jack accepted the mental anguish as an additional punishment for all his failures. Overwatch gone. His friends and comrades either dead, scattered, or hiding with bounties looming over their heads. The world teetered on the brink of a war Jack had fought against almost his entire life. And for every victory Jack had thought he’d won, the world had showed him, in the end, nothing he had done had mattered.

He had failed.

Jack scrubbed his hands over his face in frustration. His fingers curled inward and scrapped along the mix of gray and blond bristles that ghosted along his jaw.

“Something on your mind, Jack?”

Unrelated to his inner self-loathing, Jack disliked the one room safe house he shared with Ana. They didn’t talk much; both of them content to keep to the privacy of their own thoughts. Yet the mothering nature Ana possessed knew when something was wrong. She might not say anything, at first, but eventually she couldn’t stop herself from prodding at the issue no more than she could stop herself from breathing.

He shook his head, “Not really, no.”

“You mood has gotten worse over the last few days,” She observed.

A soft sigh escaped him, “I’m just tired.”

“I can imagine,” She opened the window shutters. A thin cat sprang inside, meowing after the sniper. “Considering all your late night walks.”

He watched her feed the stray, not surprised when the sound of dry kibble hitting the shallow dish summoned two more cats to climb in through the window and vie for a place at the bowl.

She glanced at him, “Not to mention the bruises.”

Before he could catch himself, Jack reached for his neck. He tried to play it off by pretending to straighten his shirt collar, but Ana had seen his subconscious confession. There weren’t even any bruises left to be seen. Ana, the sly creature that she was, just knew how to prompt a guilty mind. He wondered if she played those same tricks on Fareeha when she’d been little.

Is that chocolate on your face? Ana might ask as the little girl scrubbed away the proof while feigning wide-eyed innocence. No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Jack cleared his throat, “When’s our next strike?”

“We don’t have enough intel,” Ana hummed while scratching each stray behind the ears. Afterward she picked up her data pad and flopped on her cot. “Unless you have something to add from your nightly patrols?”

Even though the data pad blocked her face from view, Jack could see the questioning lift of her brows. Clearly she wasn’t ready to let the subject slide. At least he didn’t have to fabricate a lie, “Nothing to report.”

“Mm,” Ana toned with an air of disbelief. “So what have you been doing out there?”

Nothing.

“It’s just,” Ana sat up to peer at him, “a few days ago you were… lighter.”

She frowned while waving her hand through the air, as if the action were more suitable description of Jack’s previous mood. “Then you went back to being all broody. Only this time it’s worse. I just want to know what happened that brightened your mood, or why you’re mentally beating yourself up over it.”

Jack threw his hands up in mock defeat, “I thought I had a good lead on a Talon operation. It didn’t pan out.”

She studied him a moment before shrugging, “Knowing Talon, they’ve probably moved on already.”

Jack’s heart sank at the words. It made sense that Reaper had left, but Jack had been foolishly hoping for another meeting. The thin strand of hope burned and blistered at his soul, but he continued to grasp at it as if it were a life line.

“Don’t worry, Jack. We’ll catch up to them soon enough.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” The thread of hope twisted maliciously around his heart.

Ana made a displeased sound, lowered her data pad, and gave Jack a grave look. “Is this about him? Jack, please, don’t go after him. Especially not alone. That man is not Gabriel. Gabriel is dead. I made my peace with it and so should you.”

Was he that transparent?

He wanted to cry out in frustration. Instead his hands curled into fists and pressed against his temples. Wanting to talk to Gabriel didn’t feel wrong to him. Not talking to Gabriel had been one of the problems from the Overwatch days. They would just let it build and build until one day the dam burst and they would scream at each other in a messy, emotional flood. Zurich had been the finality to it all. Jack couldn’t even remember what they had been fighting about, or even the explosion. He only remembered crawling out of the rubble of the aftermath.

“Oh!” Ana sat up and tapped excitedly at her data pad. “I think I have a lead.”

“On Reaper?” His mouth jumped the gun, betraying him.

“No,” She gave him a scolding glance before handing the pad over. “A lead on our weapons dealer. Seems he skipped town on us. We need to move fast on this.”

She began packing and Jack stared blankly at the pad. If they left, he wouldn’t be able to go out looking for Gabriel. Walk away, he told himself. Walk away and don’t look back. He’s not coming. There’s no reason for him to come back.

Jack set the data pad to the side and began packing his own belongings. He paused to eye the cats lounging in the morning sun. “Who’s going to take care of your cats?”

“Someone will, no doubt,” She smiled at him, amusement dancing in her single dark eye. “Besides, I always find new strays to take care of.”

 


 

It took a week before they picked up on the trail again. It felt promising, until both of them came to the realization that they may have bitten off more than they could chew. To do the mission, with minimal risk, they needed help. But, taking in the fact that both of them had gravestones depicting their names elsewhere in the world, leaving them little more than ghosts, neither one of them had the contacts to call for support. Besides, even if they had friends to call, there simply wasn’t enough time to bring them in on the job. Their target would be leaving the country in two days.

They took the risk after agreeing that the arms dealer could not be allowed to get away.

That night, with a spray of bullets in his side, Jack realized they may have pushed their luck too far. He pressed a hand to the wound as gunfire continued to hail around him. There wasn’t suppose to be so many men. They had scouted the place extensively and the number, while risky, had been within reason.

Jack drew his pulse rifle close to his body and scanned his surroundings. The warehouse was large and generously filled with wares. It provided amble cover as long as he didn’t allow himself to be surrounded. But the cover had a downside, Ana couldn’t spot him either. If he wanted to get out of this alive, he needed to find a sight line with her.

A task easier said than done considering she wasn’t responding to her comm.

He stood, but just as quickly as he rose, he crumbled down on one knee with a stifled cry of pain. Taking a bullet, or several in his present case, never got any easier. After a few deep breaths Jack tried again, this time he managed to hobble toward the nearest exit.

A shot took him in the shoulder. He didn’t drop, by sheer force of will, but his pace slowed to a near crawl.

Blood splattered against concrete floor as it ran down his arm and side. Fuck. The newest bullet to his growing collection must have pierced through the Kevlar in his jacket. He ducked behind cover and leaned heavily against the storage crate. His body needed time to recover. Super soldier or not, he needed to rest a moment. His left arm began to grow numb and, without even looking at his stomach, he could tell that the blood had saturated not only his shirt, but also the leg of his pants.

If the men didn’t shoot him dead first, the blood loss would get him.

Several sets of footsteps approached. Jack brought the butt of his rifle to his shoulder with minor difficulty. A glance down at the small screen made him frown. Low ammunition. Better make it count.

“I didn’t think the extra men were necessary,” A voice bearing an Italian accent was one Jack recognized as their intended target, “But I will admit, I was wrong.”

As the steps drew near, Jack noticed the trail of blood he’d left on the floor. He let his head hang, momentarily defeated, before he drew in a deep breath and accepted the fact that hiding was no longer a possibility. They knew exactly where to find him. All they had to do was follow the bloody bread crumbs.

“Thank you for the assistance,” The target was close.

A guard stepped into sight and Jack quickly smashed in the man’s head with his rifle. He broke from cover, shouldered a second man against a crate before striking him broadside. Two bullets saved. Jack spun to face the voice with his rifle firm to his uninjured shoulder. His target stood behind several men with rifles, and next to him - Jack’s heart gave a sickeningly lurch - stood a painfully familiar figure in black.

Gabe…

Jack’s aim faltered a half second before locking on the arms dealer.

“Like a wounded tiger,” the dealer’s voice bubbled with delight, “so fierce to the very end.”

The guards edged closer, half a step at a time, and Jack mentally encouraged them to close the gap. The largest threat in the room was Reaper, but Jack would settle with taking out his original target and wing it from there.

“And what of his accomplice?”

“Dealt with,” Reaper’s graveled voice replied.

The pulse rifle weighed heavily in Jack’s hands and his left arm began to tremble. Were they talking about Ana? It would explain why he wasn’t getting any support fire. Had they killed her? Captured her? Jack pushed the thoughts down and firmed his grip on the rifle.

Just a little closer.

“It’s almost a shame to kill him like this.”

A low, amused chuckled sounded from Reaper, “Isn’t it?”

The dealer lifted his arm with fingers poised to snap.

Jack’s fingers were quicker.

He fired at the dealer, then shifted to put two in the chest of the guard nearest him. He stepped over, slung an arm around another guard and jerked the man around to use as a shield when the rest opened fire. The guard took the brunt of the attack and Jack returned fire.

Reaper laughed out right and Jack made sure to spare a pair of bullets his way. They passed harmlessly through his chest, spinning out his back with tails of black mist marking their path.

Should haven’t wasted the bullets.

Jack downed two more men before his rifle clicked dry. He dropped the man he’d been using as a shield and made to step back behind cover, but his leg gave under his weight and he crashed to the floor. The little Italian man was screaming. Jack could see him scrambling back up to his feet with a handkerchief to his bleeding cheek.

Had he missed?

No, Reaper must have pushed the man out of harm’s way.

What an ass.

“Stop! Stop!” The dealer screamed, “I want to kill him. Give me your gun. Give it to me! Now!

Jack groped for one of the guns on the ground, but a guard stomped down on his wrist and then something struck him across the face and his vision blurred and darkened. He saw clear enough as Reaper casually strolled closer. His boots scuffed heavily against the concrete as he stopped just short of Jack’s head.

“Bastard,” Jack spat at the shotgun pointed at him.

“No!” The Italian stormed toward them. “Give me your gun! This one has been a huge pain—”

“He has, hasn’t he?” Reaper mused playfully.

The world darkened around Jack, but he blearily watched as the shotgun lifted away. Reaper extended his arm toward the Italian and fired, point blank, in to the man’s surprised face. The dealer’s slender body fell with a wet thud. As Jack blacked out, he heard shouting, gunfire, and above it all, he heard Reaper laughing.

Warm blood splattered across his face and the last thing Jack remembered was the coppery taste of blood and the smell of gunpowder.

Chapter Text

The acrid smell of gunpowder haunted Jack’s dreams. The darkness held him down and filled his mouth with the taste of tangy metal and gritty smoke. He fought against it, but it had no form. The darkness laughed; a cold and cruel sound that echoed and ate at him. It ripped and tore at his flesh. It twisted at his soul until he couldn’t breathe.

He couldn’t breathe.

Jack sat upright with a startled gasp. Pain ravaged his senses and he fell back, clutching his side. Instead of bullet holes and blood, his fingers found bandages. He explored the gauze, following it around his abdomen. He found more around his tender shoulder. With effort he managed to open his eyes, finding himself in a small, dark room. He dropped his legs off the side of the bed and pushed himself up into a sitting position. More bandages circled the thigh and knee of his right leg. Jack picked at the tattered remains of his pants. Someone had patched him up.

“Ana?”

“No,” the dark replied.

Jack’s heart attempted to leap out of his chest and suicide on the floor. Either he was still in a nightmare, or he had begun hallucinating. Given that the shadows didn’t surge forward to pick him apart, Jack leaned toward the latter scenario. He brought his hands to his aching head and slouched against the cold wall. The bed jostled next to him. Jack, nervous about what he might fight there, hesitated before glancing down. It was a bottle of water. His brow furrowed with confusion before he looked up at the open rafters above him.

Reaper or, rather, Reaper’s mask - as the rest of him melded with the dark - gazed indifferently down at him from above. “Drink.”

Jack glared up at the over-sized crow. His hand curled around the water bottle but, as much as he wanted to, he didn’t throw it at the ominous gaoler. He drank the water, not because he was told, but because his throat felt dry and his head hurt.

“Why am I alive?”

“What?” Reaper mocked before shifting down to stand in front of him. “Did you think I was going to let some nobody like Moretti take your life?”

Jack arched a brow and picked at his bandages, “You sure let them shoot me to pieces first.”

“You heal fast enough,” Reaper’s gaze shifted to Jack’s wounds. “Or, at least you use to.”

Jack narrowed his eyes as he considered the words. He worked his fingers into the gauze to unravel it, but as soon as he got a strip loose, Gabriel smacked his hand aside. Jack glowered, but the expression faded into exhaustion. Could Gabriel be any more inconsistent? Jack couldn’t get a read on him. Gabriel’s words said one thing and his actions said ten different things.

“Just kill me and get it over with,” Jack muttered.

Reaper scoffed, “Not after I paid someone good money to patch you up.”

“Ah,” Jack’s inspected the quality of the bandages. “Makes sense. You always were a shit field medic.”

“These days I prefer the mercy of a bullet.”

“Except for me,” Jack countered.

Reaper chuckled.

An insistent meow from across the room drew their attention. An orange tabby eyed them from the open window. At the sight of the stray, his grief and anger twisted together. “You killed Ana.”

Reaper merely grunted in response, already across the room to greet the feline. Worried for the cat’s safety, Jack forced himself to stand, shifting his weight onto his uninjured leg. “Why not me?”

Ignoring Jack’s antics, Reaper carefully scratched behind the cat’s ears with his claws. “You don’t deserve mercy.”

Jack’s resolve wavered, “And if I just kill myself?”

Reaper slowly turned to face him. “Then you won’t be able to save anyone.”

“But maybe you’d stop.”

Black mist seeped from Reaper, “You’d kill yourself on a maybe?”

Jack lifted his chin in a show of bravado.

But Reaper saw right through the gusto and, once again, quietly laughed. “You’ll never be anything but a boyscout. You should have taken the chance, after Zurich, to retire back to the farm.”

“And let scum like you walk the earth?” Jack spat.

Reaper paused. Without being able to see behind the mask, and layers of black, reading Gabriel’s reaction - while difficult - wasn’t impossible. Jack knew he had struck a nerve. Good. He limped toward Gabriel, reached into the nearby box to pull out a handful of cat food. Then, after pointedly glaring at Reaper’s mask, Jack collapsed into the nearest chair.

“See?” Reaper teased, looking slowly from the cat to Jack. “Ever the boyscout.”

Reaper began to poke around the small room and it suddenly dawned on Jack that he knew the room. His mouth stumbled over the words, “How did you know about this safe house?”

Reaper snorted in dismissal and continued to root around for hidden treasure.

Hating how helpless he felt, Jack struggled back to his feet. He made a valiant effort to limp over to Gabriel and grab his arm. His fingers dug into the thick, black material of his sleeve. “Why are you here?”

“Lie down before you hurt yourself.”

Jack tightened his hold, both to keep himself steady and to make a point. “I’m alive. Fine. You don’t need to be here anymore. So leave.”

“Yeah?” Reaper loomed over him, black mist fanning around him in an impressive display.

It certainly worked on the cat. The tabby flattened its ears and hissed at Gabriel. Jack merely narrowed his eyes. The posturing had never worked on him during their SEP days, and even with the dramatic flare of energy, Jack still wasn’t intimidated.

In a sudden motion that sent the tabby cat scrambling out the window, Reaper threw off Jack’s steadying grip and stepped toward him. Jack stumbled backwards until his calves hit the edge of the bed. Reaper’s hands shot out, shoving him to fall back on to the cot.

“I said,” Reaper growled, “lie down.”

Even though his head swam with pain, embarrassment burned across Jack’s cheeks. The world around him spun and Jack surrendered to the firm press on his shoulder and laid down. His nearly passed out, but his addled mind sharpened when Gabriel touched at his bandaged side. Annoyed, Jack smacked the hand away, but succeeded only in cutting open his own knuckles against Gabriel’s clawed gauntlets.

“Just leave,” Jack meant to sound firm, but instead his voice broke with emotion.

Gabriel ignored him and tended to the bandages. Jack reached to push the hands away, again, but this time Gabriel caught him by the wrist and twisted the hand aside. A low growl emitted from behind the bone-white mask, “You opened your wounds, idiot.”

Jack craned his neck to view the fresh red splotches spreading through the pristine bandages. Shit. Jack closed his eyes against the feeling of vertigo that threatened to turn his stomach inside out. A coldness crept over him, sending tremors down his arms and legs.

“Why aren’t you healing?” Reaper asked more to himself than Jack.

“I don’t know,” And at the moment he didn’t care whether or not he would recover. If he died, so be it. He had fought long and hard against the corrupted darkness of the world and no one should fault him for wanting to rest. Regardless of his resignation, a small sliver of fear wedge itself into his conscious thoughts. Talon had torn his Overwatch family apart. He’d sworn vengeance. If he died…

Well, just another failure to stack on his shoulders.

Darkness ate away at the edges of Jack’s vision. When Gabriel again fussed over his bandages, Jack didn’t have the energy to push him away. The darkness drew him deeper, but a tender touch to his face brought him back to the surface of consciousness.

“Jack?”

Funny, Gabriel actually sounded concerned.

“Why do you care,” Jack mumbled, annoyed at the other man, before sinking completely into the darkness.

 


 

Jack woke to his heart vibrating.

With a gasp, he reached for his chest and his fingers met with the long gray fur of a purring cat. He sank back against the cot and gently stroked the feline until his heart stopped trying to burst through his ribs. The sun streaked in from the narrow windows, chasing away the last traces of looming shadows. Aside from the cat, he was alone in the room. His blue eyes fell on the corner Ana often occupied with a cup of fresh tea between her hands, and grief pressed heavily on his soul.

The cat, tired of the attention, jumped down.

With no small amount of pain, Jack swung his legs over the side of the cot. The cat arched against his shins, urging him to shuffle over to where Ana stashed the dried cat food. He set the bowl on the window sill and peered down at the streets of Cairo. On the chair next to him sat a box neatly wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. A white card laid just under the twine; a single word neatly scrawled on the back.

Eat.

Jack glared at the card, then show it to the disinterested cat, “What an ass.”

He contemplated throwing the box out the window, but his stomach strongly protested the idea and the motion was vetoed. The noodle dish inside was cold, but Jack didn’t care as he shoveled the food into his mouth. When the cat prowled up to him, Jack wrapped a protective arm around the box and shooed the cat aside with his plastic fork. “You don’t want this. It’s probably poisoned.”

After eating, Jack decided the safe house reminded him too much of Ana. He changed into fresh clothes and found a small amount of money tucked away in the wall. What he didn’t find, even after upturning every last crate, was his visor, his rifle, or his ammunition. Gabriel must have picked through the room while he was unconscious. It gave Jack all the more reason to leave. So, sore and tired, Jack parted with the safe house after giving the gray cat one last scratch behind the ears.

The morning waned as Jack walked the streets. He found the market, full and bustling, and let himself be swallowed by it. The din of multiple languages being spoken all at once became a comforting hum. Jack, already feeling fatigued, propped himself up off the beaten path and enjoyed the vivacious life around him. The constant hustle and bustle kept his mind focused on his surroundings instead of the turmoil thundering inside of him. When his thoughts did threaten to claim him, Jack bought wine and drank generously from the bottle.

By late afternoon Jack found himself in a small bar toasting the lives of lost friends. It began with an attempt to say goodbye, once and for all, to Ana. Then he recalled Gerard, then all those lost in Overwatch’s cause, then the men lost during the enhancement program, and then those he had fought alongside in service. He remembered most of them, at least until he had successfully drowned himself in drink. After a while the names escaped him and the faces became a blur. But he drank for them, and he drank for himself, and at some point he drank for those standing next to him.

Jack stumbled out into the night with no intention of returning to the safe house. Not when, with the fall of darkness, Gabriel might be waiting there, roosting in the eaves like some baleful raven. Jack waved the mostly empty bottle around his head to chase away the feathery visage. He followed the motion by drinking the last dregs of wine and finding a doorway to slouch in for the night.

In the morning, if he wasn’t crippled with a hangover, he would decide where to go and what to do.

A cadence of angry words drew his attention down the dark, narrow street. Jack wrapped his arms around himself and attempted to ignore it. More voices joined the argument. Jack closed his eyes to the sound of the breaking fight, but it gnawed at him. In the back of his mind he could hear Gabriel taunting him. Ever the boyscout.

With a growl of frustration - because Gabriel was right - Jack climbed to his feet and staggered toward the fight. He found three men standing around a forth man who laid curled up on the street. Jack palmed the nearest wall to keep from teetering, he swiped his other hand at the attackers, “Leave ‘im alone.”

Laughter ensued, followed by insults in a language Jack didn’t know. It didn’t matter, he understood them well enough. He shook his head and stepped toward them, swaying as he did. The three assailants stood shoulder to shoulder to face Jack. They again jeered at him in their native tongue. One man made to push him. Jack caught the offending limb by the wrist and followed through with a breaking strike to the elbow. The arm now neatly inverted, Jack let it go.

A stunned moment of silence passed, Jack wobbled drunkenly, then the other two jumped.

Jack broke someone’s nose, someone’s knee, but at some point a knife came in to play and his arms bore the brunt of the bladed attacks. If not for being drunk and on the mend from previous injuries, Jack wouldn’t have even broken a sweat. As it was, once the three men fled to lick their wounds, Jack collapsed against the wall. He slid down to the street while glancing at where the victim had been. The street was empty and Jack couldn’t help but laugh at the futility of it all.

Why did he even bother? None of it mattered. It was all so pointless.

Clutching his bleeding arms to his chest, Jack curled up against the wall and drifted off to sleep.

He stirred when the ground beneath him swayed. He reached for the wall to steady the world, but instead of palming the hard surface of a building, Jack’s hand gripped fabric. He fought to open his eyes, but even after he managed to crack his eyes open, what he saw only caused more confusion. Gabriel carried him, bridal style, through the dark streets. Jack stared, awed and annoyed, before enough sense trickled through and he weakly pushed at Gabriel’s chest. “Put me down.”

“No,” Gabriel replied without breaking stride.

Jack pushed at him, but he didn’t have the energy, or the health, to quarrel. His eyes fluttered to a close despite his efforts to remain alert. He turned his face into the warmth, inhaled the scent of gunpowder, and fell back to sleep.

The next time he woke, Jack found himself laying on a metal examining table. The fluorescent bulbs above burned into his eyes, causing him to groan and to cover his face with his arm.

“He needs to stay here,” A man said, speaking with a heavy Indian accent.

Jack lifted his arm up far enough to squint in his direction. He watched as the short, brown-skinned man peeled off a pair of blue medical gloves while casting a nervous look at the other side of the room. “This is the second time in one week. Are you sure you can take care of him?”

A familiar growl sounded, and as Jack turned his head, he saw the black mist curling around Gabriel as if to protect him from the brightness of the room. It made him look all that much more like his call sign. A grim reaper looming nearby, waiting to lay claim to a departing soul.

Jack snorted at the theatrics.

“I paid for you to do a job,” Gabriel sneered, “not to hear your opinion.”

The short man sighed, but didn’t reply. Perhaps he knew, just as well as Jack did, that arguing with Gabriel would get no where. Jack turned, intending to sit up, but both the men rushed to hold him still. He knew why in the next moment, when pain suddenly hit him like a bat to the face. His vision swam and he emptied his stomach on the floor next to Gabriel’s boots. A pained groan escaped him and he reached for the darkness that was his nemesis in a silent plea to blot out the eye stabbing light.

Metal-tipped fingers carefully slid through his short hair and Jack tensed in surprise before he eventually relaxed into the touch while remembering days he’d spent sick after a round of injections in the enhancement program. He remembered the Gabriel from then, rubbing his shoulders, his neck, and sometimes running fingers through his hair to soothe the ache.

“I will give you some sedatives,” the doctor said.

Yes, Jack thought, relieved at the prospect of returning to the silence of the void.

The next thing Jack remembered were the dull, tan walls of the safe house he’d left behind. Gabriel, without his mask, was leaning over him with his brow furrowed in concentration. Beneath the shadow of the hood, Gabriel’s face looked gaunt and his skin seemed to shift hues. When his eyes did flick up to meet Jack’s stare, they reflected with an eerie red luster. Then his attention returned to Jack’s arm where he’d been working to insert an IV.

“Why aren’t you healing?”

I don’t know. Jack examined the needle in his arm with a pensive frown, “Why don’t you just let me go?”

“Since when do you want to just give up?”

“Since I’m tired,” Jack murmured and draped his free arm over his face, “and I just want to be done.”

Gabriel softly scoffed then focused on the task of tearing off strips of medical tape to secure the IV. Jack turned his arm away, only to have it firmly seized and pulled straight again. He cast a grim look at the other man, “Why are you doing this?”

Gabriel didn’t even bother looking at him.

Determined to get some kind of response, Jack grabbed Gabriel’s forearm with his free hand. “You could have left me with that doctor. Why are you doing this?”

“You need to rest,” Gabriel toned flatly while prying off Jack’s fingers.

Energized by a rush of anger, Jack swung his legs over the side of the cot and sat up. Fine, he accepted the simple fact that Gabriel wanted to keep him alive, but he wasn’t going to make it easy. “I’m hungry.”

“That’s what the IV is for.”

In one quick motion, Jack pulled the needle out of his arm which caused Gabriel to flash his teeth in a displeased snarl. The wraith’s red eyes narrowed in a glare as black smoke snaked around him, twisting with repressed ire. But then all at once the darkness vanished and Gabriel’s expression smoothed into a guarded mask of neutrality.

Gabriel yielded.

Jack fought to keep the surprise from showing on his face as he watched Gabriel pull on the dark gauntlets. The wraith flexed the claws and casually examined the sharp tips before flicking a pointed look at Jack. He then slid on the bone-white mask before the shadows swallowed him whole. The writhing cloud of darkness slithered out the open window like a nightmare fleeing a waking mind.

Seizing the opportunity, Jack scrounged up a set of clothes that wasn’t flecked with blood. By the time he dressed and grabbed his boots, he was exhausted. Jack sank back down on the bed and tried to catch his breath. His abdomen burned, his right knee trembled, and a cold sweat had broken out across his brow. With a burst of determination, Jack managed to lean forward long enough to pull on his boots, but not lace them. In the end he succumbed to fatigue and slumped against the wall.

What was wrong with him?

Jack glanced at the IV bag with distrust, but before his paranoia could gain momentum, a take-out bag landed next to him. Inside Jack found a pair of burgers and some fries. He glanced up toward the rafters, a question posed on his parted lips, and was met with a handful of ketchup packets being dropped on his head.

“Really, Reyes?”

The malevolent mask tilted down to regard him without comment.

Not too proud to pass up free food, Jack unwrapped one of the burgers and took a generous bite. He briefly wondered if Gabriel had stolen the food. Probably had. Pilfered or not, his stomach didn’t care. The first burger disappeared in record time. The fries followed suit. Jack hummed, content for the moment, then began to unwrap the second burger. Again he glanced up where Gabriel sat on a rafter beam, one leg dangling over the edge. “Do you have to do that?”

Again Gabriel gazed down at him and said nothing.

Jack grunted, “Yes, of course you have to do that.”

Halfway through the second burger, Jack suddenly found his arm too heavy to lift. His vision wavered and he watched helplessly as his fingers went slack and the burger fell to the floor.

The air rustled and Gabriel was there beside him, “About time.”

Unable to do anything but mumble unintelligible swears through the haze of sedatives, Jack watched in dismay as Gabriel removed the boots he’d worked so hard to get on. He swept Jack’s legs up into the bed, shifted him to lie down, then - likely just to be irritating - drew the blanket over him. Jack tried to glare, but instead he fell away, once more, into darkness.

Chapter Text

Jack woke to the scent of something floral with hints of spices unknown. He struggled through the haze of sedatives and groggily opened his eyes and set his bare feet against the floor. As he scratched at the stubble along his jaw, Jack took in the familiar walls of the safe house. The soft orange light of the evening sun streamed in through the windows and gave life to several long shadows; none of which belonged to Gabriel’s twisted form. Just to be sure, Jack tilted his head back to check the rafters for the moody guardian angel.

Instead of the skull-faced jailor, Jack's gaze hinged on a slender figure of metal, “Good Evening, Commander Morrison.”

Jack’s brow furrowed and he rubbed a hand over his eyes before taking a second look at the man, “Shimada?”

The cybernetic ninja dropped from the rafter and landed in near silence in the middle of the small room. With a grace utterly unnatural to a human, he strode over to the table set near the far wall. A pot - Ana’s tea pot - sat on table. A thin wisp of steam rose from the spout and Jack absently drew in a deep breath, recognizing the fragrance of one of Ana’s favored teas.

Genji sat and, after a puzzling moment, Jack took the unspoken invitation. With minimal wincing at stiff joints and aches of pain, Jack sat in the chair across from the ninja.

“It is good to see you alive and… somewhat well.”

The synthetic quality to Genji’s voice, and the faint awkwardness over the language, made it difficult to read any emotion behind the words. But, if Jack had to guess, it sounded as if Genji had teased him. Jack ventured an uncertain, crooked smile in response to the jab at his appearance. “How long have I been out?”

“I cannot say,” Genji carefully poured out two cups, “for I do not know that particular answer.”

Jack wrapped his hands around the cup and let the warmth seep into his fingers. He managed a small sip to soothe the dry, scratchy feel in his throat. It felt good, even more so as it sat warm in his empty stomach. Lowering the cup, Jack thoughtfully regarded the man across from him. He had never known Genji. The young Shimada had entered his life at a time when Overwatch had been in full swing. Jack had read the reports about the man that Angela had saved, but afterward Genji had been assigned to Blackwatch.

Other than that, Jack knew next to nothing about him.

“Alright. How long have you been here?”

“Almost two days,” Genji casually replied.

Jack sputtered out his tea and quickly covered his mouth with a hand to hide the dribbles on his chin. Genji, whether out of good manners or simply because Jack couldn’t read the man’s expression, didn’t bring attention to the mess. “Right,” Jack used his sleeve to mop off his face then the table with only the faintest trace of red burning along his cheekbones. Gabriel must have kept him drugged for convenience but - “Why are you here?”

Genji lifted his cup, but didn’t appear to do anything more than enjoy the smell of it, “Commander Reyes asked me to be here.”

A frown hardened on Jack’s features, “Commander Reyes? Are you part of Talon?”

“No,” Genji chuckled, a strange sound, but still soft and peaceful as it seemed to vibrate behind the metallic face mask. “I apologize. It is… an old habit.”

A habit from Genji’s time spent under Gabriel’s command, Jack reasoned. It made sense considering the Shimada had referred to him in the same manner and Jack hadn’t even batted an eye at the formality. At the moment, he did little but stare inquisitively at the cyborg. If Gabriel had asked Genji to be there, did that mean that the two had kept in touch after the fall of Overwatch? After Gabriel had taken on the persona of Reaper?

A pang of jealously stirred in Jack’s chest and he dropped his gaze to his tea, “You two are on speaking terms?”

Genji carefully set his own cup on the table, “In a sense, I suppose.”

A perturbed look from Jack prompted Genji to try and explain, “Commander Reyes,” He paused. “Gabriel.” The ninja shifted in discomfort and Jack waved a hand at him, granting him the permission he seemingly desired to continue calling Gabriel by his former title. Genji nodded in understanding. “I served under Commander Reyes for a number of years. He gave me wise council in those days when I was still struggling with who, and what, I had become.”

Jack rapped his fingers against the table, “So you are doing a favor for him as thanks?”

“I believe,” Genji began, his body eerily unmoving aside from the faint tilt of his head, “Commander Reyes now struggles with who, and what, he has become. I wish to help him.”

Jack smirked, suddenly struck with how absurdly differently Genji’s views were in comparison to the person who normally sat across from him while sharing tea. Ana thought of Gabriel as a monster, a career murderer, and black spot in their shared history she wished to ignore to the bitter end. Jack lightly shook his head, “I’m not sure it’s possible to help him.”

Genji bowed his head and when he spoke a hint of chiding slid in behind the pleasant tone, “I wonder why Commander Reyes has kept you alive.”

“To watch me suffer,” Jack toned bitterly. “To make sure I’m still around when he kills my friends. He’s said as much.”

“Yet the things we say do not often match the things we do.”

Jack briefly considered the words before he decided he didn’t want to pry open that particular can of worms. He opted to change the subject, “You sound a lot like Zenyatta.”

Genji tucked his chin in toward his chest as he chuckled, “No, Zenyatta would be a lot more obscure.”

True enough, Jack conceded with a nod and a slight smirk. He had only a handful of dealings with the omnic guru, and while he respected the omnic, their conversations were done with no small amount of awkwardness on Jack’s part.

“A shadow in the night looks very much different from a shadow in the day, but they are still both just shadows,” Genji impersonated his master while steepling his fingers.

Jack stifled a laugh, “And what’s that suppose to mean?”

Genji settled his hands into his lap and gazed solemnly at his untouched tea, “I believe it would be about perspective. That despite the circumstances surrounding the shadow, circumstances that may alter our perspective, we must not lose sight of what we know to really be there.”

Mulling over the words, Jack chewed on the corner of his lower lip while picking at the wood of the table. He wondered if Genji had intended to subtly steer the conversation back toward Gabriel, or if his own mind simply wandered back that direction on its own. The bit about a shadow, of all things, did seem a deliberate comparison.

But, and there was always a but

“He’s killed… “ Jack paused and frowned at the tea pot, missing his friend. “He’s killed so many, Shimada. How can I look past that?”

Genji’s head canted to the side, “Do you recall the circumstances of my death?”

The question surprised Jack and for a few heartbeats he gawked at the younger man. He wouldn’t say that Genji had died, since Angela had cleared saved him, but on the other hand, he couldn’t argue that whoever Genji had been, before that defining moment, had been someone entirely different from the man, the machine, sitting with him now. “Yes, of course - your brother...”

“Yes,” Genji turned his face away. “When I first woke up and came to understand what had happened to me, and more importantly, why it had happened, I was filled with rage. It hurt, worse than my broken body. It hurt to know my own brother had done that to me. I felt betrayed... and I felt alone. And sad. It took me a long time to find a way to forgive him.”

“That was very noble of you,” Jack commented softly, not even sure he should speak at all.

“I had a lot of help. Angela helped me work past the feelings of self-loathing. Commander Reyes and McCree helped me with my anger, and later Zenyatta helped me to find peace with myself.” Genji paused, “I believe Commander Reyes is very angry.”

“No shit,” Jack blurted.

“But,” Genji toned over Jack’s outburst, “unlike me, he does not have anyone to help him work past the anger, the betrayal—”

“—He betrayed us,” Jack growled while stabbing a finger against the table.

Perspective, Commander Morrison.”

Jack exhaled a long, slow breathe in attempt to expel the anger threatening to spill over his composure. He rubbed at his brow, then dragged the same hand down his worn features, “Okay. Alright. So he’s angry and feeling betrayed by all of us.”

“No,” Genji’s green visor never wavered from his face. “I believe it is only you he harbors these feelings toward.”

Great, Jack thought with a poorly concealed glower. Of course it was all his fault that Gabriel had turned into a terrorist. Did anyone else want to throw some more blame on his aching shoulders? Please, maybe just a bit more and the pressing weight of his failings might just mercifully crush him the death. If not that, then maybe the guilt he felt could gnaw him to death like a pack of voracious rats.

“What the hell am I suppose to do about it?” Jack sniffed back the sudden sting of tears. It didn’t keep his voice from breaking, “I tried, Genji. I tried to give him what he wanted. I.. was ready to let him kill me. I was ready to die.”

A morbid truth. One that Jack hadn’t dared to utter to Ana because she would have beaten him over the head for days about it. For whatever reason, he didn’t feel that Genji would judge him for it. Of course Jack felt ashamed at the weakness, but it didn’t change the way he had felt when those claws had closed in around his throat. He really had been ready to have it all finally come to an end.

“I do not think your death would help Commander Reyes,” Genji spoke softly.

“I hoped that by killing me, he’d stop looking for the others.”

Genji considered that, then shook his head, “I think Commander Reyes has to find his own way to give forgiveness.”

“Ha,” Jack barked with scorn, “Is that before or after he slaughters everyone I’ve ever known?”

“I do not know,” Genji wilted, “but perhaps with some help it will be sooner, rather than later.”

Help Gabriel.

Jack wanted to adhere to the notion, but he didn’t know how to even begin. Gabriel wasn’t the kind of person that readily accepted help. Even under duress Gabriel would flat out refuse aid. There had to be a way, another way. Hoping, of course, that there was a way at all.

“Are you... hungry?”

Saved from his own thoughts, Jack glanced down at Genji’s full cup of tea then up to the man.

Genji seemed to understand the unspoken question, “No. I do not eat, but I do have money.”

“Well,” Jack smiled, “as long as you’re buying, I could eat.”

They changed into less conspicuous clothing; Genji going as far as to removed the top half of his mask to reveal his human features between the bridge of his nose to his brow. The eyes, scarred around the edges as they were, startled Jack with their normalcy. Jack so often leaned toward thinking of Genji as an omnic rather than a human. Not intentionally, of course, but it was there all the same. He accepted Genji, machine or not, but it didn’t mean he knew the politically correct way to refer to the Shimada even in the confides of his own mind.

The night chased the tail end of the evening and lifted the oppressive heat from the streets of Cairo. They, among many others, walked the streets and enjoyed the cool air. The cadence of voices, of life itself, made for a welcomed change to the stoic walls of the safe house. Famished from his extended bed rest, Jack took great interest in the aroma of cooking meats over everything else. He lead Genji toward one of Ana’s favorite hole-in-the-wall joints as a subtle way to honor her memory.

“Have you spoken to your brother?” Jack asked the hooded figure next to him as they slowly shouldered their way through the busy street.

“Yes,” Genji, with his eerie grace, followed a half step behind.

It wasn’t his business, Jack knew, but his curiosity got the better of him. “Did you two reconcile?”

Genji turned his head just enough for Jack to catch a glimpse of his dark red eyes beneath the cowl of his hood, “I have forgiven my brother, but he has yet to forgive himself.”

Jack smiled, “Again, you sound so much like Zenyatta.”

There was a faint crinkle at the corner of Genji’s eyes that translated the smile that could not be seen, “You spend a couple years with him and not pick up on it.”

Jack ordered for them both, knowing full and well that Genji wouldn’t be eating. He just planned to eat it all. Genji paid for the food and they watched as it was cooked in front of them.

“So what of you, Commander Morrison?” Genji asked.

Jack lifted his brows, “Hm?”

“The story is not without its parallels,” Genji’s eyes, too intent and observant than they ought to be, watched him like a hawk. “Will you forgive yourself?”

It’s my fault, isn’t it?

A cold hand clutched at Jack’s heart, “For what?”

Genji watched him, thoughtful, until the cook handed them their food. Genji accepted the koshary dish, kebabas, and pieces of falafel stacked on top. Jack’s mouth watered at the sight of it all. He wasted no time in stuffing one of the pieces of falafel into his mouth before relieving Genji of the bowl, leaving the ninja awkwardly holding the kebabs. As Jack ate, he led them toward a quiet area. He only paused when he lost Genji along the way.

“Captain Amari, how nice it is to see you.”

Jack nearly dropped his food as he locked eyes with the slender woman next to Genji. His blue eyes raked over the length of braided ivory hair, the warm brown skin, the tattoo around her only eye. Ana. Confused, Jack took a step toward the woman only to have her throw a bowl of fava beans at him. Jack recoiled, “What the hell?”

“Well at least now I know you’re not a ghost,” Ana replied, not the least be apologetic.

Genji laughed, drawing Ana’s attention back to him. She threw her arms around the young man, “Genji Shimada, it’s been such a long time, how have you been, dear?”

Openly staring, Jack used his sleeve to wipe at his face, still not believing his own eyes.

“I am well, Captain Amari, and yourself?” Genji smiled with his eyes alone.

“All things considering, I’m doing quite well.” She beamed at him like a mother reunited with a long lost child. “What have you been up to all this time?”

Jack was well aware that Ana was pointedly ignoring him.

“Many things, I suppose,” Genji said. “Traveling the most.”

Ana finally let Genji go, still smiling with endearment, “Have you kept in touch with anyone?”

“Zenyatta, of course.” Genji replied, his head tilted in an ever present show of respect to his superiors. A trait Jack found oddly endearing. “Angela and I still exchange letters.”

“Oh, that is wonderful to hear that you have kept in touch with people instead of letting them think you were dead,” Ana’s cheerful tone quickly fell into a dead-pan drawl. Her dark eye shifted balefully to Jack. “Again.”

Jack shook out the front of his shirt, dislodging several fava beans and bits of rice, “I thought you were dead. Again.”

Her hands made their way onto her hips, “Did you even try to find me? Or did you just find a hole to wallow in?”

Jack stumbled over his next words, his mouth opening and closing in a good imitation of a fish. He wanted to argue because in his defense he had been detained and drugged by Gabriel. But, if he was honest with himself, he had wallowed. One of the first things he’d done was get drunk and stumble his way into a fight while not caring about his own well being. Hell, deep down, he had wanted to get hurt. Physical pain was always more manageable than mental anguish.

Coming to terms with it all, Jack sighed. “I’m sorry, Ana.”

She smiled and pulled him into a gentle hug, then she laughed and pulled a fava bean from his hair. She tapped it against his nose before tossing it aside. “So tell me what did happen.”

Jack rolled his shoulders in a shrug, “It was a trap.”

“I have bad depth perception, Jack. I’m not blind,” She tutted at him. “How did you get out?”

Technically, he had been captured. Jack anxiously rubbed at the back of his neck, “I didn’t.”

“You... “ She lifted a questioning brow at him. “I don’t follow, Jack.”

His heart kicked up a couple notches as he tried to think of a way to explain the situation to Ana without her immediately jumping down his throat about it. “I didn’t make it out. Gabriel,“ His lips tripped over the words, “saved me, I guess.”

“Saved,” She repeated, her tone thick with doubt.

Jack sharply shook his head, “What happened to you?”

“I don’t know,” Ana casually shrugged. “I was hit from behind. I work up hours later in the same spot.”

It didn’t make any sense. Jack and Ana exchanged identical looks of confusion. He again shook his head and she threw her hands in the air with an arabic curse. “You sure it was him? Why would he leave us alive? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I think it makes sense,” Genji commented, then instantly regretted it when Ana whirled on him. He quickly amended his statement, “I mean, it must make sense to him.”

Ana watched the ninja shrink back a step before turning her ire on Jack, “What do you mean he saved you?”

“Well, he let me get shot to hell first,” Jack muttered. “Then he killed everyone, had my wounds treated, and put me in a safe house... “

Once the words were out of his mouth, they sounded ridiculous. Jack looked to Genji for help, but that only caused Ana to also shift her attention to the ninja. “What does he know?”

Genji wilted under her stern glare, “I do not know what transpired at this operation. I only know that Commander Reyes—”

Ana actively spat at the title.

“-implored unto me that it was of vital importance that I watch over Commander Morrison to make sure he didn’t ‘trip over his own damn feet and bust open his stupid head’.”

Her eyes narrowed in speculation, “You are in cahoots with Reaper?”

Genji sighed, the sound breathy behind the metal guard covering his lower face, “No, Captain Amari, I am not in ‘cahoots’ with Commander— ”

“Don’t call him that,” Ana snapped coldly.

“Ana,” Jack interrupted to give Genji some reprieve, “Genji isn’t the enemy.”

“No,” Ana spared the youth an apologetic smile before honing a sharp look on Jack. “Our enemy is still out there, playing games with our heads.”

It was no use. No matter how many times Jack explained it, beginning to end, Ana could not find peace with the truth. The only thing they agreed on was that the discussion needed wine - a lot of wine. Ana argued about Gabriel’s possible ulterior motives, which only intensified when Jack didn’t seem to agree with her concerns. The more they drank, the less they fought, and eventually Ana cornered Genji to interrogate him on every aspect of his life.

Jack found a quiet spot to sit down. Other than the meal Genji had bought him, Jack’s stomach had been empty for two days and the wine was hitting him faster than usual. It gave him a pleasant buzz to go along with the happy feeling of having Ana back. As his thoughts once again began to wonder why she hadn’t been killed, he heard the tell-tale rustle of an ominous wind…

Chapter Text

Jack sipped at his wine and pretended to not notice the sound of the wind. In the small enclosure - set with flat stone benches, well tended planters, and tall desert palms - the tall buildings sheltered the cozy nook from the harsh winds. There was no mistaking the growingly familiar noise of Reaper’s arrival as just an errant wind.

Just as there was no mistaking the low, growling voice, “She really hates me.”

“Yeah,” Jack glanced at the shadows, able to make out a gleam of white cutting through the dark. “She will definitely shoot you on sight.”

Another side-long look went toward where Ana was attempting to teach Genji a native dance. The cyborg, despite possessing more grace than a cat, shifted awkwardly under her instructions. Jack sympathized, but also didn’t fail to seize the opportunity of their distraction to stroll over to the dark alcove.

Stumbling only once and managing to keep the wine aloft, Jack maintained a cheery disposition as he palmed the walk several feet from the lurking wraith.

“If she does shoot you dead on the spot, at least you’d be spared the lecture.”

Gabriel chuckled, a soft and genuine laugh that made Jack smile. Immediately the skull mask snapped away and the laughter died, “What are you grinning about?”

Jack lifted his hands, palms out in a show of innocence, and wobbled ever so slightly as he continued to smile. “Can you blame me for being in a good mood?”

“Possibly.”

Unable to keep standing without wavering, Jack shouldered the wall and took another drink from his cup. He chewed over his lower lip and forced his gaze elsewhere.

Having Ana back in his life, and very much not murdered by his ex-best friend, certainly lightened his mood. The wine, too, helped to elevate the evening into a joyous occasion. But Gabriel's prescense summoned a flurry of mood dampening questions Jack was too afraid to ask. As if putting voice to the words weighing on him would break the fragile ground between them. The last thing Jack wanted in that moment was to irk the wraith and lose the unexpected company.

Thusly, with a lopsided smile, Jack offered the wine to Gabriel. The clawed hand reached for it but, instead of the cup, Gabriel grabbed his wrist and yanked him closer. The other hand went to Jack’s side, the injury, and gently probed at the spot.

It took a moment for Jack to remember to breathe while his heart rattled off on an impromptu drum solo. The fingers groping at his side sent his wine-soaked thoughts toward the gutter and he needed to maintain at least a sliver of decorum in his inebriated state.

He squirmed away from the hand, “That tickles.”

“Oh?” Gabriel’s tone dipped low and the claws turned inward to press threateningly against the bare skin. “How ‘bout that?”

“It’s uh,” Skin impossibly hot against the cool night air, Jack refused to admit just how much he liked the rush of adrenaline brought on by the press of claws. Or how it made his heart race, making him dizzy. Or how much he liked the way Gabriel’s growling words wove such an alluring tension in the air, encouraging him to feed the friction.

With effort, Jack swallowed down the impulse to rise to the unspoken challenge.

The claws eased and continued a delicate exploration with no regard to the blushing taking over Jack's face. After a moment, he snorted, “You seemed to have healed - finally."

“Yup,” Jack strained to keep his voice from pitching high. Again he attempted to slip away, but his evasion spurred a tightening of the claws and Jack accepted, with a carefully blank expression, that he would not be allowed to escape any time soon. “But, you know, I’m uh - kinda drunk.”

“Your point being what?”

A sweeping look over the stoic mask revealed nothing and Jack rambled with nervous energy, “I’m in no condition to fight you.”

Gabriel tilted his head, “Is that what I’m here for?”

“You know what,” Jack grumbled while leaning toward the grim figure and pointing a finger toward his mask, “You always did get a kick out of being contrary.”

“What ever do you mean, Morrison?”

“That,” Jack jabbed at the bottom of Gabriel’s mask, prodding it with enough force to make the man turn his head aside. “That snark. You’re a professional ass.”

Silky dark laughter emitted from the mask, “Tough words, country boy.”

Jack scoffed and gave the older man a flat look, “Spic.”

Oooh,” Gabriel crowed with amusement, “I bet the UN would love to hear their golden boy spouting off racial slurs.”

“Yeah, well,” Jack shrugged and took a quick sip of wine. “Fuck the UN.”

“Jack Morrison, did you just swear?”

“No, I fucking didn’t.”

Gabriel clicked his tongue, “Your mother would be so upset.”

Summoning up his best pout, Jack inclined his head demurely toward Gabriel. “Please don’t tell her.”

Gabriel shook his head, looking away from Jack’s coquettish pout. “God, I forgot what a mess you are when drunk.”

“Not drunk,” Jack argued on reflex, then shrugged amicably and finished off his cup. “Yet. Speech is fine, balance is... debatable. I’m tipsy and - and -”

“And?” Gabriel prompted.

Jack pressed his lips into a thin line and looked elsewhere. And he was enjoying the attention too much. For years he’d kept himself so far away from others. Ana was good company, of course, but Jack missed being able to be close to another man. God, he had been staring at Genji’s eyes for crying out loud. It was a bit pathetic that he found Gabriel’s taunting words to be borderline flirtatious. But, damn, Jack missed the feeling of his heart racing, his skin yearning, and his thoughts fluttering while the tension thrummed through his nerves.

Quite vehemently, Jack blamed the wine for the mess of emotions swirling about inside his chest.

As the claws pressed at his side, seeking a verbal response, Jack blurted, “Drink with me.”

Gabriel eased his grip, “Why would I do that?”

“Why would you not do that?” Jack countered.

“Because I don’t want to.”

“Mm,” Jack smirked at his dark companion, “I think you do.”

“You have no idea what I want.”

With a sly smile, Jack lifted one finger after another as he rattled off a itemized list, “Kill all former Overwatch members. Make me suffer. Be dark and mysterious. Oh, and prove you hold your drink better than me.”

“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

Jack again tried to employ a pout, “You know what you use to say to me?”

“You’re an idiot?”

“Haha,” Jack toned dryly with a smirk, “You’d say, ‘All work and no play’—”

“Makes Jack a dull boy,” Gabriel finished with a scoff. “So?”

So,” Unsure where he meant to take the conversation, Jack floundered by waving a hand through the air to buy his mind the time it needed to put the words together. “How am I suppose to have fun if you won’t drink with me?”

Gabriel gave a derisive snort, “I don’t think you remember how to have fun.”

“Oh, come on,” Jack whined.

“Nope,” Gabriel shook his head. “Not since those days in Soldier Enhancement.”

He wanted to argue but his mind drew up a blank. Perhaps, in the earlier days of Overwatch, they had all gotten together to enjoy the holidays. They had been a family then, and Jack use to look back at those time with an aching fondness. Yet those days were long gone and that family had been torn asunder. Happiness had become a foreign emotion amid bitterness and vengeance. Jack didn’t have room in his morose existence for fun.

But, at the moment, Jack wanted to hold on to the light hearted exchange between himself and Gabriel.

He’d missed him - so much.

Jack hummed, “That long, huh?”

“Mhm,” Gabriel teased. “After that you got real dull, Jackie boy.”

Jack glanced up at the nickname. He searched the imperceptive skull mask for more, but was left wanting. Jack drew in a slow breath to bolster his courage and waggled the empty wine cup at the wraith. “Then we should make up for lost time… ?”

After letting forth an exaggerated sigh, Gabriel relinquished Jack’s side, but not without scraping those damn claws along his bare skin like the wraith knew how it affected him.

Jack retreated to fetch the abandoned bottle of wine, taking the moment to still his frantic heart and to steal a glance at his other companions. Ana appeared to be engrossed in telling a very animated story to a patiently listening Genji.

Convinced that his encounter with Gabriel remained a secret, Jack slipped back into the shadows with a lopsided grin.

The cup was filled and passed over while Jack opted to keep the bottle. He picked at the label and feigned disinterest as Gabriel remove his mask and toss it on the flowers of a nearby planter. In reality, Jack cast several side-long peeks at the wraith, hoping to catch a glimpse of his face, but the voluminous hood kept the shadows thick and impeded his surreptitious glances.

“So,” Jack carefully ventured as his eyes dropped down the peeling label. “Genji Shimada?”

Gabriel sipped at the wine. “What about him?”

“You two are… friends?”

“No.”

“So he did you a favor because you two are not friends.”

“Maybe,” The hood turned and Jack could see the downward slant of Gabriel’s ashen lips, “I told him he better do something for me or I would gut his brother.”

“That sounds more plausible,” Jack muttered over the rim of the wine bottle.

They drank in silence, half listening to Ana’s voice as it drifted over to them at the more exciting parts of her story. Jack continued to steal fleeting glances at the other man, at least until a thin wisp of smoke trailed along Gabriel’s jaw and flicked off his skin like the irritated flick of a cat’s tail. After that, Jack openly stared at the wraith while his mind wandered unattended. He wondered over the timing of their meetings - always under the veiling cloak of night - and considered the idea of Gabriel employing the darkness to hide his condition. The night did soften certain elements of the the cycling decay. Things that the light of day would highlight as twisted and grotesque.

Jack suddenly found himself gazing into a pair of crimson hued eyes that glowed faintly from beneath the shadow of the hood.

“Jack.”

Blinking from his reverie, Jack snapped his eyes away and felt his cheeks burn, “Yeah?”

“You’re being dull”

An empty cup was held out and Jack sulked as he obediently filled it, “So are you.”

The shadows moved, curling languidly around Gabriel and masking his face from view. Only the distance pinpoints of red, like two hot coals buried in soot, remained visible. Jack stared, unable to break away from the ethereal display, and his mouth jumped ahead of his brain, “How does it work?”

“How does what work?”

“The whole whoosh thing,” Jack waggled his fingers through the air for emphasis.

“Quite the technical term there, Morrison.” Gabriel’s tone hinted at an amused smirk hidden behind the veil of mist.

“It was part of my special PR training,” Jack lifted his chin and squared his shoulders in a mockery of the posture he’d been instructed to use when addressing the public. He followed the motion with drinking generously from the wine bottle. It seemed like the majority of his career as a Strike Commander had been spent playing that farce. What a colossal waste of time spent reading report after report, navigating around the web of red tape, and spinning words to placate the public and politicians.

Don’t forget to smile, Jack. Smile nice and big because they needed them to like him - to trust him - to believe in him.

“It shows,” Gabriel taunted after sipping at his own drink.

Jack turned hopeful eyes toward the wraith, “So… ?”

An annoyed sound escaped Gabriel, “You’ll have to ask Dr. O’Deorain.”

Jack’s lip curled and his shoulders slumped as he looked away, “I’d rather not.”

The wraith laughed but didn’t elaborate on the topic. Even as accustomed to Gabriel’s aloof nature as Jack was, it still disappointed him. Over the years Jack had seen plenty of strange things that he wouldn’t claim to understand how any of it worked. Yet he wanted to know what had happened to Gabriel and it hurt a little that the wraith wouldn’t share even the smallest of details.

“Shit Morrison,” Gabriel groused, “You look like someone kicked your puppy.”

Jack opened his mouth to retort, but found the words caught in his throat as Gabriel grabbed his hand and lifted it between them. He pressed their palms together, fingers almost intertwining, and then his arm - from fingertips to elbow - morphed into the strange smoke. Jack, mouth still agape in surprise, had a moment to slip his fingers through the cold shadows before it shied away.

Gabriel’s arm reformed, “Satisfied?”

“Not really,” A forlorn smile drifted across Jack’s face as he stared at his own hand and tried to recall the texture of the ghostly caress. Thicker than smoke, lighter than water, but somehow smooth like silk and cold as the waters of an icy lake. Jack lowered his hand and turned wistful eyes to the enigmatic wraith.

A smirk played over Gabriel’s lips before his shape blurred, this time his arm disappeared all the way up to his shoulder. The shadows danced between them, curling around Jack before the darkness coalesced into a clawed gauntlet that closed on the front of Jack’s throat. The sharp points spurred Jack closer to meet with the narrowed, crimson eyes. “Morrison, what—”

Later Jack would blame the wine, his compromised balance, and his touch starved existence - because when Gabriel pulled him forward, Jack followed through with the momentum and pressed his lips against the wraith’s. The contact between chapped lips was light, brief, and before Jack’s brain caught up to his actions, Gabriel rudely shoved him back.

The bottle of wine shattered against the hard packed earth. Jack, too horrified to even speak, gaped apologetically at the red eyes blazing at him from within the maelstrom of writhing darkness. He silently begged for a quick death, because the mortification swelling inside of him was worse than any torture.

“I didn’t, I - it was,” He babbled uselessly, “I’m sorry I- I - fuck!

“Jack?” Ana called in alarm.

A growl escaped the seething wraith. Then the looming shadow shrank down and slid off into the night, leaving Jack to grope at the wall for support as he turned to awkwardly face Ana when she came into view.

“Jack, you alright?”

“Just tripped,” Jack toed one of the shards of glass scattered over the wine splattered dirt. “Dropped the bottle.”

“Well, come on, let’s go,” She beckoned to him. “Genji is leaving us.”

Jack swallowed against his mounting despair, “Yeah, I’ll be right there.”

Once she had turned to head back to Genji, Jack slumped against the wall and covered his face. In a fit of pique, he gouged his blunt nails into his features while wishing the earth would just open up and swallow him whole. A scream threatened to rip free and Jack clenched his jaw against the impulse. Of all the stupid things to do, why—

Jack forced himself into motion before he tore himself apart. He pushed away from the wall, but paused when his gaze fell on the bone white mask resting against the orange and violet flowers. A nervous glance went in Ana’s direction before Jack grabbed the mask and tucked it under his shirt. If anything, Gabriel would come back for the mask and Jack would get a chance to apologize.

He’d been drunk. Simple enough. It meant nothing. Nothing at all.

Later, after Genji said his farewells and Ana passed out, Jack stared unseeingly up at the ceiling. The wine that had made the night so bubbly and bright had been burned away by his enhanced metabolism and the sheer embarrassment of his idiocy. The image of himself, so tactless as he leaned forward and kissed Gabriel only to be shoved away, played over and over in his mind. Bile rose in the back of his throat and despite his best efforts to shove aside the images, the haunting humiliation crept back over him and continued to torment him well into the night.

Eventually he fell into a restless slumber, but woke when a hand clamped over his mouth. Jack’s eyes flew open and he struck out at the shadowy figure before he belatedly recognized it as Gabriel. The wraith jerked away from the blow and Jack scrambled to grasp for the mask that had tumbled free of his shirt.

Gabriel reached for it at the same time, and they quietly warred over it while Ana snored in the corner.

“Let go,” the wraith hissed.

“I just want to talk,” Jack whispered back.

Ana stirred in her cot and the two men paused in their quarrel to look at her. Jack acted first, jerking the mask free of Gabriel’s grip and hugging it to his chest. The wraith glared while thin tendrils of smoke flicked at the air between them. Then, perhaps deciding wresting the mask required too much effort, Gabriel shifted forms and slipped out of the safe house.

Jack waited until Ana resumed snoring before padding out after him.

It took two blocks of walking on bare feet before Jack heard the wraith, a buzzing swarm of irate shadows, drop from above and form into the loose shape of a man. The shade stalked toward him, looming and lashing, but did little more than shoulder him out of the way. The shadows settled into a more solid shape, and Jack stood aside as Gabriel paced back and forth with long, angry strides.

After several passes, Jack reached out to grab Gabriel’s arm. “I want to talk.”

The hand was dodged, “Nothing to talk about.”

Jack stepped in front of Gabriel and extended the mask like an olive branch, “I’m sorry.”

Gabriel grabbed the mask, pulled, but Jack stubbornly held on.

“I kissed you,” Jack couldn’t bring himself to look any higher than Gabriel’s collar bone. “I’m sorry. I was drunk. It didn’t mean anything and can we just forget that ever happened?”

The darkness settled, dissipating until only small wisps swirled around Gabriel’s boots. Jack inched his eyes a little higher and braved a glance at Gabriel’s face. What he saw made his eyes widen and his jaw drop. Amid the brown skin tinged with a ashen gray, deep fissures had opened along Gabriel’s cheeks and brow. From the bloodless wounds black smoke seeped and wove like crude stitches. Jack stared, unable to tear his eyes away from the stark changes in appearance.

Catching on to Jack’s unease, Gabriel stepped closer with a cruel smile, “What’s wrong, Jack, didn’t realize you’d kissed a corpse?”

“No - I mean - you’re not - “ But hell, Gabriel really did look like death warmed over. Distraught at the sight, Jack released the mask and reached instead for the strange wounds. His hand was knocked aside before it could make contact. His heart twisted in dismay. “Does it hurt?”

Teeth flashed as Gabriel sneered, “All the time.”

Still unable to grasp the cause of the changes, Jack slowly shook his head in disbelief, “Earlier you didn’t—”

“Look like this?” Gabriel finished with a sting of bitterness. His posture, and his shadows, shifted into something smooth, graceful, and brimming with lethality. The wrath pressed closer, “Want to know what makes it better?”

Jack’s hands hovered uncertainly over Gabriel’s arms, as if the man were coiling to pounce and he needed to be ready to protect himself. The cold tendrils of mist curled around his extended hands, raking over exposed skin as if daring Jack to make a move. He stood his ground, met the wraith’s burning eyes, and - despite the alarm bells ringing in his head - nodded.

In turn, Gabriel leaned in to whisper next to Jack’s ear, his breath wafting warm over his cheek, “Killing people.”

Reaper, the call sign, said it plain enough.

“I can taste their life as it leaves their bodies,” Gabriel’s lips ghosted over Jack’s neck and the wraith made a show of inhaling deeply. He turned his face into Jack’s, lightly bumping his nose against the underside of Jack’s jaw. Jack swallowed, barely able to think over the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. With no effort at all, Gabriel kept Jack rooted to the spot by proximity alone. “I devour it and, for a moment, the pain stops.”

Jack let out a shaky breath when Gabriel eased back. “Moira did this to you?”

“Does it matter?”

No, placing blame wouldn’t solve anything, but having a face to imagine punching might be beneficial to the soul. “Why didn’t you talk to me about it?”

Gabriel shoved Jack back, “You didn’t have time for me.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Jack snapped, stepping right back up to the wraith, “stop feeling so god damn sorry for yourself!”

The black smoke sprang forth, lashing sharply at the air, and Gabriel bared his teeth in a silent warning.

Too amped up, Jack didn’t care about the dangers of prodding the wraith, “Is that why you stopped being my friend?”

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed, “You stopped being my…”

As the words trailed off, both men stared at each other in shared disbelief. Then, at once, they both began shouting.

“You had your head - “

“You were always so - “

“ - so far up your holier than thou - “

“ - difficult and secretive - “

“ - ass and you got all chummy - “

“ - and you would never listen - “

“ - with all those other goody two-shoes - “

“ - and you would just walk out - “

“ - and none of you could stomach - “

“ - and disappear for weeks!”

“ - the real work. You just wanted the glory!”

They cycled through sucking in angry breaths, clenching their jaws, and glaring at each other. A frenzied black smoke whirled around them like a hungry snake.

Jack found his cool first, “You pulled away, Gabe.”

“How would you know,” Gabriel seethed. “You were too busy playing ‘Mr. Perfect’ for the cameras.”

“Fine!” Jack threw his hands into the air then spread his arms wide, “Here I am. Right here, right now, and I’ve got all the god damn time in the world - so let’s hear it.”

Gabriel paused then looked away, “You’re too damn late, Morrison.”

Dropping his arms, Jack leaned toward the wraith and growled through gritted teeth, “It’s just like you to be so melo-fucking-dramatic.”

The mist swirled as Gabriel’s hand shot forward, seized Jack by the back of neck, and - with claws lightly pricking into skin - pulled the younger man into an angry kiss. Before Jack could recover from his shock, it ended, punctuated by Gabriel snapping his teeth just short of Jack’s lower lip. A threat, a promise, or maybe something in between.

“We’re even now,” The wraith drew back, studied Jack’s stunned expression and smirked knowingly. “Still mean nothing to you, Jack?”

Dazed, but still coherent enough to notice Gabriel’s form shifting - leaving - Jack panicked. He grabbed what little of Gabriel he could find in the rising mists and pulled the man back to him. Their lips crashed. Blood filled Jack’s mouth when Gabriel made good on his promise to close his teeth over his lower lip.

Gabriel yanked them closer, his metal claws tearing into Jack’s side. The pain registered a heart beat before Jack felt the strange pull. It stole the breath from his lungs and his body trembled as the pain became a conduit for his essence - his life force - his god damn soul - to be drawn out of him.

The low and sensual sound Gabriel made against their quarreling lips didn’t help Jack to regain his wits. The pulling sensation only lasted a second or two, but Jack’s heart continued to race in both alarm and excitement. He licked at the blood welling on his lip, “You were, uh, serious about the whole vampire thing.”

Gabriel twisted the claws, eliciting a pained cry from Jack, then his teeth were against Jack’s darting pulse. The wraith drew further from his life while digging the points deeper into the muscles. Jack fisted his hands into Gabriel’s trench as he rode the line between pleasure and pain. Slowly, as more of the warmth left his body, the soulful ache, and the fresh wound on his side, became unbearable.

“Gabe,” Jack pleaded in a pained whisper.

As if being cut from a tow line, Jack lurched forward and nearly collapsed against Gabriel as the reaping stopped. He gripped at the wraith’s shoulders, trembling, and struggled to gather himself. Gabriel pressed a soothing kiss over his pulse while adjusting the shirt to cover the bleeding gouges. The bloody claws then raised and caressed the other side of Jack’s throat. And Jack, caught between the contrast of affectionate kisses and threat of pain, softly moaned.

He rolled his head toward the kisses, confused and bleeding, “Gabe?”

“Don’t.”

Gabriel silenced any further comments with a hard, demanding kiss. He fisted Jack’s pale hair and forced his head to the side and shoved his tongue into his mouth. Gabriel took and Jack gave. Their mouths warred over taste of blood. Jack’s back hit the wall, a thigh slid between his legs, and the claws closed on the front of his throat and shoved him back, breaking the kiss.

“Please,” Jack quivered.

Gabriel deliberately drew his thigh against the bulge protruding from Jack’s pants, “Please what?”

The clawed hand tilted Jack’s head back against the wall, forcing his jaw shut and, unable to speak his desires, Jack simply moaned. Being at the wraith’s mercy was equal parts exhilarating as it was terrifying. Jack cracked open his blue eyes and gazed through lashes at his — enemy? Friend? Lover?

During the exchange, the hood had fallen back and under the pale moonlight Jack was able to study the other man. The wounds were gone, the skin tone less ashen, and the red hue had faded from his eyes.

Jack lifted a hand and tentatively drew fingertips along Gabriel’s cheek to ensure it wasn’t a hallucination.

“Is the pain gone?”

Smirking, Gabriel leaned forward to lick the blood from Jack’s busted lip. He planted a light kiss over the same spot before disentangling himself from the old soldier.

Jack reached for him, but was stopped short as hard object was shoved against his sternum - his missing visor. Annoyed, having suspected the wraith of stealing it, Jack lifted his head to glower - but found himself alone in the dark alley. He scanned the uneven line of rooftops, but saw nothing resembling the vexing shade.

In the persisting solitude, a dawning horror and a guilty shame overcame the fog of arousal and underlining bewilderment. Jack touched at his bleeding side and grimaced. He assumed his neck looked marginally better, perhaps just bruised from Gabriel’s ministrations. A thought soon amended when a brush of fingers over the tender skin revealed the indentations of bite marks. Bruises and cuts from a fight was one things, but this…

How was he going to explain any of it to Ana?

Chapter Text

He managed to sneak into the safe house without waking Ana and changed out of the bloody while cursing Gabriel's name. The wraith had made such a fuss about him healing, going so far as to drug him to keep him bed ridden, then the damn guy went and tore him up at the first chance he got.

Blood continued to seep from his side; every move caused him a fresh twist of pain and confusion.

As he gingerly touched the gouge marks, trying to get an idea of how deep they went, pain reminded him of the claws sliding along his skin. Goosebumps rushed down his neck and arms, and he shivered. His own thoughts betrayed him further, causing his lips to part at the very real memory of Gabriel kissing him with a possessive fury.

Christ, Jack shouldn’t have liked it as much as he did. Yet there he sat, half-hard from the mere echo of the encounter taunting him.

Jack tempered down the traitorous thoughts with reminders of the fresh injury and the high probability of Gabriel fucking around with him. The blood said it plainly enough. The fact Gabriel maimed him while also kissing him threw up several red flags. This, Jack told himself while pressing his discarded shirt to the wound, was hate. Gabriel hated him.

It didn’t make sense. Gabriel’s behavior, or the fact that Jack, plagued by a continuous string of thoughts revolving around the wraith, wanted to see him again.

He rolled his head back and half-heartedly glared up at the empty rafters.

“Jack?”

Perhaps roused by the smell of blood, Ana stirred. She turned on a small lantern, flooding the room with light and causing Jack to wince. Her keen eye spotted the marking along his neck and rushed to his side.

“What happened?” She asked, her fingers ghosting over the bruises lined with indentations of teeth.

Jack attempted to scoff, but his composure cracked and he ended up sniffing back the sting of conflicting emotions instead. Ashamed, he turned his face away as he adhered to the truth, “I was trying to talk to Gabriel.”

Ana tensed, “Why?”

Because I’m an idiot.

His chest shook with repressed, bitter laughter as he flashed a grim smile. “I wanted to help him.”

“Jack,” Ana scolded, then, upon noticing the blood soaking in to the shirt, pulled the balled up fabric away from his side. Her eye widened, flicking between the marks on Jack’s neck and the gouges that refused to clot. “How exactly does this help him?”

“I don’t know,” He shrugged, helpless. “If it’s any comfort, he doesn’t seem to want to kill me.”

“It’s not a comfort.”

With a cluck of tongue and a faint shake of head, Ana slipped away to fetch a first aid kit. She knelt next to his bed and coaxed him to lean back so she could tend to the worst of the cuts. As she cleaned away the blood, she continued to shake her head, “He’s toying with you, Jack.”

“Probably,” He swallowed around the lump in his throat, “but I had to try.”

“You can’t save everyone. What makes you even think he wants your help?”

“He doesn’t. It’s… “

Jack mulled over the hopeful feeling possessing him. Genji Shimada words came to mind, rationalizing a possibility to Gabriel’s behavior. Genji might have had people unwittingly helping him through the darkest days, but Gabriel had no one. Just a lingering anger and bitterness that had whittled Gabriel down into Reaper - a creature of smoke and pain. Maybe Jack was too late to offer help. But - and therein laid the source of Jack’s feeble hope - the anger suggested that Gabriel cared enough about it all to be mad about it in the first place.

Right?

All the same, Jack didn’t have a clear answer for Ana. “I don’t think he knows what he wants…”

“This is idiotic,” Ana spat. “You know he’s messing with you. He’s hurting you.” She grabbed his chin and forced him to meet her irate, yet concerned, glare. “I know you have a blind spot when it comes to him, but Jack - this won’t end well.”

He spared her a sad smile, “I know.”

“I could twist your ear all day and you’d still chose to be an idiot. At least let me back you up.”

“No,” His cheeks flooded with color.

Brow arching, Ana’s gaze again flicked between the bandaged wound and the tell-tale marks on his neck.

Jack’s blush deepened, “I don’t trust you to not intervene.”

A line, a self-imposed boundary, had been crossed between himself and Gabriel. Between the kisses, and the maiming, Jack didn’t know what to expect. All he knew was that he didn’t want Ana to be witness to any of it. He’d never be able to look her in the eye again.

“Do you have any way to contact Angela?”

Ana straightened with surprise, “Genji told me the general area where she’s working. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to get a message to her. Why?”

Recalling the image of Gabriel’s face - split and weeping smoke - and the wraith’s snarling comment about pain, Jack doubted Gabriel ever went to the Swiss medic for help. Be it pride, shame, or a little bit of both, the wraith would rather rot than admit a mistake.

“He’s in pain,” Jack said.

Ana scoffed, “What are you saying - he’s an ornery lion because of a toothache?”

Jack shrugged sullenly and Ana sighed while reaching for her data pad.

“Don’t make me regret this, Jack.”

 


 

Angela replied by the end of the week.

Afterward, Ana lectured Jack about putting Angela in the same room as him, about putting them all at risk, and for what?

Jack refused to discuss it any further because his answers never satisfied her. In turn she made it clear she would tag along to help him, not Gabriel.

As disappointed as she was with him, Ana surprised him by returning his pulse rifle. She had retrieved it from the warehouse after waking up and finding him gone. Belatedly, and a touch guiltily, she admitted that she hadn’t been entirely convinced of his death since his body had not been left among the others. But, she said, she never would have imagined that Gabriel had taken him and nursed him back to health.

Stranger things have happened, Jack had replied in dismissal. Ana remained skeptical.

Several nights passed with Jack walking the dark streets without so much as a stray cat troubling him. It was after he returned from his latest patrol, sat dejectedly on his bed, that Ana made a clever suggestion. A contingent of Talon operatives were active not too far from their location. If they took out the group, perhaps a message could be left at the scene to work up the grapevine to Gabriel.

“Two birds, one stone,” The old sniper had hummed, pleased.

Whether or not Gabriel would response to such a message remained debatable, but given that their only other option involved prowling the streets all night, Jack favored a more active approach.

Ana spent the next day scouting their target and, in the night following, Jack attacked. It felt good to shake off the dust and put his mind and body to work. It was a shame the fight didn’t last long. The small group of Talon soldiers were there to move supplies and clearly didn’t expect any trouble.

In the end there were just enough bodies to arrange into the configuration of a 76.

“A bit obvious, don’t you think?” Ana chided him later over tea.

Jack shrugged, “We’re pressed for time. Angela won’t wait forever.”

“Of course,” Ana rolled her one eye, “forgive me for wanting to keep my anonymity at the end of all this nonsense.”

On the second night, Jack got his response. It came in the form of a seething shadow knocking him across the roof. It stalked toward him, seeming unable to adhere to the shape of man. The arms and legs wept smoke that fell in tapering ribbons and pooled around his boots. Gabriel’s voice burned with an unbridled fury, “You left a call sign?

Jack eased back on to his feet, “”You didn’t exactly leave a number I could call.”

The smoke flared and arched like dark wings, “I’m not yours to call.”

The wraith circled him, shadows lashing. If not for the visor, Jack doubted he’d be able to pick Gabriel out from all the smoke pouring across the roof. Jack stood his ground, only turning his head to follow Gabriel’s movements. Slow and deliberate, Jack reached up to touch the comm in his ear. “Stand down, Ana.”

”Are you sure you don’t want me to tranq him?”

“I’m sure.”

”Good luck, Jack.”

Bringing attention to Ana’s presence caused the wraith to pause, but not stop smoking. Gabriel looked at the adjacent roof top before whirling around and stalking up to Jack. “You’re on their radar now, Soldier: 76. You were just a nuisance before, but now you’ve forced their hand. You’ve forced my hand.”

Jack smirked behind his visor, “You mad?”

“You idiot!

The shadow pounced. Jack was just quick enough to dodge the claws slicing through the air. They danced. Gabriel pressed the attack, but Jack, instead of rising to the challenge, guarded himself from the worst of the hits and purposely disengaged from the fight instead of countering. He slid just out of Gabriel’s reach - at least until the shotguns came into play. One barrel followed his ducking form, and Gabriel curled his finger around the trigger.

“Gabe—”

“This is the last time!”

Jack’s heart sank and he slowly straightened, palms out. The shotgun continued to aim at his chest. “What do you mean?”

The stoic mask gave away nothing, but Gabriel’s voice lightly quavered, “This is the last time I come for you.”

“Wait,” Jack stepped forward, but Gabriel had already dropped away. “No!”

Scrambling after the shadow that slipped over the edge of the roof, Jack paused at the ledge - just long enough to gauge the height - then jumped. He caught the sill of a window, slowing his descent, then dropped the rest of the way down, tapering off the impact with a forward roll. It wasn’t often he put his super soldier capabilities to the test but, despite the protest in his knees, it felt good to move - to really move.

The shadow fled and Jack stubbornly pursued it.

The chase led back to the roofs, Gabriel’s wraith form scaling the brick and mortar with ease. Jack angled around the corner, spotted a fire escape, and with a burst of inhuman speed and strength, sprinted up the wall as far as the second story. He grabbed the rail of the fire escape as his momentum waned, then noisily clambered up two more flights before the stairs gave away to a single ladder leading to the rooftop.

Gabriel met him at the top, slamming his combat boot down on the top rung and only just missing Jack’s retracted fingers.

“Stop. Following. Me.”

Looking at the boot, then up to the glaring skull mask, Jack snorted and - because he had nothing to lose - decided to press his luck and climbed the last few rungs to gain the roof. As he stood, Gabriel caught the lapel of his coat and force him close to the ledge, threatening to push him over.

Jack gripped at the wraith’s arm, “Wait—”

“What the hell did you think this was, Morrison?”

The cruel edge to the words kept Jack from forming his own. The possible truth - to explain away their nightly dalliances - scared him. Jack didn’t know what the hell was going on between them, but he hoped

The thought broke off as the heels of his boots poked over the ledge. A downward glance showed that while the fall wouldn’t kill him, he might end up crawling back to the safe house instead of walking.

His fingers tightened around Gabriel’s forearm. “Please.”

With a growl of peaking frustration, Gabriel swung Jack around to safety before shoving him away. Gabriel’s body swirled with shadows, a clear sign he was about to lead Jack on yet another chase.

Jack shouted his own frustration, “I swear, if you don’t stay, I will shoot up Talon’s front doors next!”

The shadows shrank, “You’d be dead before you could knock.”

“Guess that would rob you of your revenge, huh?”

Gabriel’s hands fisted before he slowly flexed the clawed digits, “Wouldn’t be much of a loss. You’re hardly a challenge these days.”

Jack clutched at his chest in mock despair.

“But what are you going to do,” A playful note wove into Gabriel’s tone, “to keep me here?”

A quick, nervous tempo started in Jack’s chest, “What do you want?”

“What do you have to offer?”

Nothing.

A thread of tension wove tightly between Jack’s shoulder’s. The sudden shift from hateful comments to playful teasing left him off kilter. He didn’t know which way to lean in regards to Gabriel. The man had always made it a point to be unpredictable and enigmatic. Jack could play along, open himself up to get hurt, or hold back and try to have a normal conversation. The latter method had never worked for him during their days in Overwatch. He had to try something new

But, again, what could he offer?

Jack barely had two pennies to rub together, and he doubted Gabriel would care for any of his worldly possessions. Weeks ago, Jack had offered his life to the wraith and had been turned down. He had nothing of real worth.

At a loss about what to do, but still desperate enough to try, Jack shifted his weight before removing the pulse rifle slung over his shoulder. He set it on the roof, planted his boot against it and kicked it away.

The shadowy form didn’t seem impressed by the gesture.

Over the years Jack had learned, but never mastered, the song and dance of dealing with Gabriel vexing personality. It was all read between the lines and hide the truth under layers of subtext. Avoid the traps, the teasings, and the playful words that were meant to distract and to veer the conversation elsewhere. Jack knew the dance, but one way or another, Gabriel always seemed to be the one leading it.

But, that’s what Gabriel liked - to be the one in control.

Kneel.

Even the ghostly echo of the command whispered against his ear sent a chill racing down his spine. It was with that memory that Jack knew what Gabriel wanted, and with no small amount of trepidation, Jack relinquished his control over the situation. He dropped to his knees, sat back on his heels, and spread his empty hands over his thighs. Heart pounding against his ribs, Jack concentrated on keeping his breathing even.

The calm bravado broke when Gabriel’s claws slid across his visor, causing him to flinch.

Bit by bit, Jack forced himself to relax and, after straightening his posture, nudged his head against waiting hand. The menacing points drew along the shell of his ear and through his hair, praising him like a dog. Jack tensed but kept his hands compliant against his thighs as the claws traced the edges of the mask before removing it.

Jack closed his eyes to the sudden darkness, his own fingers curled into his palms in response to the vulnerability that came with being stripped of the visor. Without it, he wouldn’t be able to track Gabriel.

“You have five minutes.”

Nerves already worn thin, the brisk words cause Jack to startle out of his inner strife. He blinked rapidly in attempt to make his eyes adjust to the darkness. The artificial lights from below created a soft moat of weak light around their secluded roof top, but it also made the shadows around him all that much darker in comparison.

The warm air stirred with the smell of blood and Jack sought out the moonlit glow of Gabriel’s mask.

The words, the ones he’d rehearsed to be prepared for that very moment, scattered away like startled birds. Jack blurted out the first coherent string of words to pop into his head, “I want you to come with me.”

Cum with you, Jack?” Gabriel teased.

The request, repeated with such a playful suggestiveness, made Jack’s eyes widen and his cheeks darken. He snapped his face away from the amused wraith and scrambled to save his dignity, “Go with me, I mean. I want you to go somewhere with me.”

Jack drew his lip through his teeth before quietly adding, “I want you to go with me to see Angela.”

“Why?” Gabriel no longer sounded amused.

“You said you’re always in pain,” Jack lifted one shoulder in an uncertain shrug, as if the conversation at hand wasn’t as heavy as it felt. “So why not try to fix it?”

Smoke slithered along the roof, ghosting along Jack’s folded legs, “It can’t be fixed.”

Jack glanced back at the shifting darkness, “How do you know - did you even try?”

The shadows thickened. The white mask prevented Gabriel’s face from being read, but Jack was starting to understand the expression in the shadows. Jack narrowed his eyes, “You didn’t. Of course you didn’t.”

In the following silence, the darkness retreated. A twinge of panic tightened in Jack’s chest at the thought of Gabriel having left. “Please, Gabe. You didn’t talk to me then - let me help you now.”

Nothing.

Sighing in defeat, Jack began to stand.

“I didn’t say you could get up.”

Jack settled back down on his knees, “I thought you left.”

“I’m thinking,” Gabriel snapped.

The fact Gabriel was considering the offer meant the world to Jack. But if he let his eagerness show, Gabriel might refuse out of sheer stubbornness. The best way to get Gabriel to do anything was to patiently wait and let the man talk himself into it.

But it wasn’t easy to wait it out. Not when fighting had become their bread and butter over the years. Violence became the only way they could communicate with each other. Their relationship, or whatever it was, seemed to enjoy teetering on the edge of a cliff that looked out over a darkening sea. The wind of their words would batter at it and threaten to push them over with one final, snarling syllable. And they would look down at the angry waves crashing against the rocks and grin up at the flash of rumbling storm on the horizon.

Jack always had loved a good storm.

Footsteps approached and Jack lifted his head in expectation of a forthcoming answer. The urge to look back pulled at Jack, but he resisted. For better or worse, he wanted an answer. If that meant he had to sit there like a good little soldier then so be it. Jack needed that answer. He needed to know whether they would continue to brave the maelstrom, or put an end to it - once and for all.

When Gabriel knelt behind him, planting a knee on either side of his hips, and leaned into him, Jack sucked in a surprised breath. The ability to breath further eluded him when Gabriel draped arms over his shoulders. The skull mask dangled from one clawed hand before being tossed aside. Jack stared dumbfoundedly at the mask while his mind raced.

“Why are you doing this?” Gabriel whispered, his breath hot against the back of his neck.

Jack shivered as lips ghosted over his skin, followed by the faint graze of teeth. He closed his eyes and chewed over the question he wanted to echo. Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this? Claws skimmed over his throat, his clavicles, then settled around his jacket collar. Gabriel gave the coat a light tug in while brushing his lips against Jack’s ear.

“Because I want to” Jack whispered, yearning for more.

Another gentle tug at the jacket. Gabriel was asking for permission. It wasn’t something either of them wanted to talk about, but it was there all the same and Gabriel wanted to push the boundaries. Curious as to how far the wraith would push, confused at why the wraith pushed at all, and admittedly interested — which hindered his ability to be rational —Jack consented by rolling his shoulders to aid in the removal of the last of his armor.

Gabriel only drew the jacket down to his elbows, trapping his arms, and wrapped a hand around the front of Jack’s throat, pulling the younger man against his chest.

At the wraith’s mercy, Jack’s breathing stuttered and he squirmed under the gauntlet trekking down his chest. It palmed the shape of his pec, squeezing the muscle — Jack held his breath against the rush of fire through his body — and then dipped to his waist to slip under the hem of his shirt. The metal claws danced along his skin, jump-starting Jack's heart into a full on gallop. He hadn't expected it — any of it. The mix of fire burning inside of him and the pleasant electric shocks up and down his spine, made for an intoxicating mix.

He shivered and twisted as the tips, ticklish and deadly, trailed upward until they snagged over one of his hardened nipples.

Jack bucked at the sharp pain, his body elated at the shock of pain adding to the lust warming low in his gut. His mind continued to reel and to question the wraith's motives, but the doubts were quickly becoming overshadowed by more needful things. The other gloved hand tightened at his throat, ordering him to settle, and Jack obeyed, panting and uncomfortably hard in his pants.

Gabriel retracted his exploring touch to bring a claw tip to prick at Jack's lips. The old soldier might have been experiencing a prolonged dry spell, but he didn't need to be told what was expected of him. Without thinking twice about it, Jack opened his mouth to welcome in the gloved digit. He closed his lips around the finger with a pleased hum, aware of the bitter taste of gunpowder and tang of old blood. His tongue probed curiously at the sharp tip.

“Bite down,” Gabriel nuzzled behind his ear.

Jack did, applying enough pressure on the glove for Gabriel to slide his hand free of the gauntlet. The glove dropped away as Jack parted his lips, hoping to have the fingers replace the freed space, but the hand drifted back under his shirt. Wishing for something to occupy his mouth, Jack attempted to turn his face towards Gabriel, wanting to bite, kiss, or suck on any available skin. Instead the gauntlet tightened around his throat, keeping him at bay. Jack growled but, in truth, the denial only made him more hard.

At first Jack missed the scrape of claws that made his heart race like a frightened rabbit and his skin break out in waves of chilling goosebumps. But the new sensation of skin to skin brought on new feelings of heat and lightning. It became intimate instead of toying. Jack quivered, his body overly sensitive to even the smallest of caresses. God, Gabriel had barely touched him and he already felt on the verge of falling apart. His hips rolled uselessly against the empty air and his arms testing the makeshift bindings.

The hand paused, then circled along Jack’s hip and lower back as they blindly mapped the semi circle of mostly healed gouge marks. “You’re still not healing right.”

Jack swallowed against the pressure on his throat, “I’m fine.”

The moment hung in the air long enough for a suppressed doubt to frantically claw to the front of Jack’s thoughts. He questioned, for the hundredth time, what kind of mess he was getting in to. Braving the storm ahead didn’t mean he’d come out the other end unscathed. But then blunt nails curled against his lower abdomen and the worry shrank away from the heat of his desire.

Jack arched into the touch, welcoming the slide of fingers as they drew lower, slipping under the waist of his pants. Again the fingers curled, so tantalizing close to where Jack yearned to be touched. He smothered the moan lodged in his throat, but he couldn’t keep his breath from coming in short, heavy pants. His body, starved of physical intimacy for years — decades — burned like wild fire under Gabriel’s teasing.

When Gabriel palmed him over the smooth fabric of his briefs, Jack momentarily lost control of his resolve. A quavering moan escaped his lips and he flexed against the restraints. He could feel Gabriel smiling against his neck, savoring the wanton noise. He pressed and stroked Jack through the thin fabric, encouraging him to sing for him.

A string of hungry kisses and nipping teeth bruised along Jack’s neck as Gabriel slipped his hand into the briefs and wrapped his hand around his leaking member. Jack’s mouth fell open and he thrusted into Gabriel’s rough hand while mindlessly vocalizing his pleasure.

The claws loosened from around his throat, and Jack seized the opportunity to seek out Gabriel’s mouth. Gabriel pulled him into it, deepening it at once. Possessive and hard. The kiss was sloppy, but neither man cared. Jack became lost to his approaching climax, and Gabriel resorted to brushing his lips against Jack’s, content to drink in every needy, sultry sound the younger man emitted.

So close.

Gabriel’s hand stopped and squeezed at the base of Jack’s achingly hard cock. Jack had been there, ready to tumble over the edge into a blissful orgasm. Instead he was denied. He squirmed, whined, and bucked against the cruel hand. Gabriel chuckled, which made the vulnerability ten times worse. Jack trembled in the wraith’s arms, waiting while keeping his eyes tightly shut.

Gabriel nudged Jack’s cheek with his nose, “Tell me what you want.”

Jack rocked his hips against the unrelenting hand, “Please.”

“No,” Gabriel nipped sharply at Jack’s jaw, “Tell me who you want.”

Blue eyes snapped open to search the wraith’s smug expression with a growing sense of despair. A reply, heavy with shame, sat on the end of his tongue. Silently he pleaded to not answer, but Gabriel’s smile only widened in response to the reluctance. He stroked Jack once, edging him back toward the peak.

“You,” Jack whispered as his face burned with humiliation, but his body screamed for release, “It’s always been you.”

Gabriel rewarded him with a soft kiss and Jack closed his eyes to the tenderness. Gabriel’s hand resumed stroking and Jack eagerly surrendered. He came with a throaty moan, head thrown back, shuddering and bucking into Gabriel’s hand. The wraith growled approvingly against the line of his throat which sent of shiver of pleasure sparking along Jack’s spine.

He slumped against the wraith and enjoyed the post-orgasm bliss while it lasted. Gabriel extracted his hand and Jack watched him with a confused fascination. The wraith met his gaze and licked the end of his fingers, then he wiped the mess down Jack’s shirt.

Jack grunted his disapproval but, for the moment, he didn’t have the energy to really care.

A nudge from Gabriel prompted Jack to sit up, and with a roll of shoulders, Jack pulled the jacket back into place. He rubbed at his numb arms and, as the blood returned to his limbs, embarrassment washed over him. His head swam and his lungs struggled to suck in air. He turned away to hide the distress.

Yes, he admitted to himself as shame twisted apart the last bits of euphoria. He’d always harbored an unrequited crush on his friend ever since their days in SEP. Jack had thought he’d hidden it well enough; never allowed himself to cross the line in the past because he didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship. But he couldn’t stop himself from caring deeply about Gabriel. But other than an occasional wanting glance and a short lived dirty thought, Jack had never acted on those feelings.

Until now.

“Were you always this shy?” Gabriel teased while tapping the visor against Jack’s shoulder. “It’s adorable.”

Jack’s stomach knotted while he took the visor. He snapped it to his face, hiding his vulnerability. He didn’t want Gabriel to see his face. It wasn’t fair. Not when the wraith was pulling away, desiring no attention in return. With the mess on his shirt, and the uncomfortable stickiness in his pants, Jack couldn’t help but feel like the whole exchange had been a mockery of the affection he held for the vengeful wraith.

He was such an idiot…

Safe behind the mask, Jack pressed his trembling lips into a thin line and remembered his purpose.

“Will you?” He whispered.

Gabriel donned his own mask, “Will I what?

“Will you go with me to see Angela?”

Silence greeted him and Jack bowed his head in defeat, eyes stinging.

“Where?” Gabriel finally asked.

Jack let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He dug out a piece of paper from the inside pocket and, still kneeling, held it up for Gabriel. The address wasn’t an exactly location of where Angela worked, because Ana wouldn’t allow it, but it was a rendezvous where they could meet up and, together, go meet up with her.

“I should be there by the end of the week,” Jack chewed over his next words, “Ana will be with me.”

Gabriel made an annoyed sound, but still moved to take the slip of paper. The next time Jack looked, Gabriel was gone. In the off chance the shade lurked nearby, Jack remained composed when in reality he wanted to rip out his own hair and smash his fists into the roof because how the fuck did he let that just happen?

You wanted it, his inner voice jeered. And you want to do it again.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, an uneasy silence settled between Jack and Ana. They headed north, lucky enough to catch an anonymous flight in an old seaplane to get them across the Mediterranean. From there they gently repossessed a beat up suburban from a young entrepreneur attempting to sell them illegal substances. Jack kept the man’s I.D. card and left the man with the promise of returning if the man filed a report on the vehicle. Even if he did, Ana and Jack only needed it for a couple more days.

They drove in shifts, trading places when the other needed to sleep. What little money they had was split between food and gas. Every so often Jack would catch Ana watching him, her brow furrowed with troubled thoughts. The trip, the ‘fool’s errand’ as she called it, left her cross. Jack told her, plain and simple, that she didn’t have to come. The tongue lashing he earned for his comment left them both in dour moods for the rest of the trip.

It wasn’t until they turned on to the dirt road leading out to their rendezvous that Ana broke the tense silence. She pulled off the road and shifted into park. For a long while she scanned the landscape. The light fell warmly over the gentle roll of green hills to the north and west. The road ahead curved away from the hills, angling toward the small forested area to the east. Birds flitted through the crisp blue sky, but, despite the peaceful surroundings, Ana gave a soft, sad sigh.

“It’s a trap, Jack.”

He crossed his arms, already defensive on the topic.

“He’s using you to get to the rest of us.”

“I offered to help him,” Jack kept his tone level, “He didn’t ask.”

“Because he knows you, Jack. He knows you will do anything to help someone.”

Jack’s jaw tightened, but he couldn’t refute her words. He, too, had doubts concerning Gabriel’s intentions. A lot of doubt. Amid the bleak thoughts, Jack held fast to the thin, shimmering thread of hope. Despite all the misgivings, Jack had to know, once and for all, whether or not the man he had once called friend was well and truly beyond saving.

Ana wordlessly handed him an ear piece before reaching into the backseat and uncovering her biotic rifle. “Give me time to get into position.”

“Be careful,” Jack slid the comm into his ear.

“Heed your own advice, Jack.” She leveled him with a sharp look before slamming the door.

Jack heaved a sigh before switching into the driver’s seat and watching her disappear over the crest of a hill. He took in the view, mostly the colors, before he donned his visor and washed the word in a varying degrees of red.

“So,” Ana’s voice sounded in his ear. She sounded calmer, “tell me, Jack. What are we helping with?”

The memory of Gabriel’s decaying features played through Jack’s mind, “It’s hard to describe.”

“I saw what he’d become in Giza. Humor me.”

“Apparently he’s been like that since Blackwatch, courtesy of Moira O’Deorain.” Although, back then, Gabriel hadn’t looked like death warmed over, and there had been no thick shadows trailing in his wake. Either Gabriel had been exceptionally good at hiding it then, or - “I think it got worse after the Zurich incident.”

“Since Blackwatch? How is that even possible. I had no idea. Did you?”

Jack shook his head despite Ana being unable to see him, “You were there, Ana. He never told me anything about… anything.”

“I don’t know what you two get up to when I’m not around.”

A flush crept up Jack’s neck, “Back then, most of the time he was out with his team, or training with them. He only came to me when he needed something, and even then we just ended up arguing.”

Their friendship had degraded, rapidly, after Jack had assumed the role of Strike Commander. He had tried to make it work, but the other man had seemed hell bent on doing everything to shove a wedge between them. Why everything changed, Jack didn’t really know. If he had to guess, based off of Gabriel’s angry remarks during those old arguments, he could only assume Gabriel resented him for accepting the position - for being more well received by the general public.

Jealousy seemed such a weak excuse for all that Gabriel had done thereafter, but the man was a tad dramatic…

“So you think Angela can change him back?”

Jack didn’t know the science behind Gabriel’s condition, and while he wanted to hope for the best, he also knew to lower his expectations to avoid being crushed by the possible disappointment. “I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure he never went to her about it.”

“Possibly because he likes being a monster.”

His eyes narrowed, “Ana.”

“Don’t kid yourself, Jack. You know as well as I do that part of Gabriel always enjoyed being a killer. He was good at it.”

The memory of Gabriel laughing as he shot his own men fed Jack’s doubt. Sure, Gabriel had always taken pleasure in a good fight, but as far as Jack could recall, the man hadn’t exactly been lusting to shed blood. But things had changed. Now, Gabriel - Reaper - enjoyed drawing blood, inflicting pain, and killing indiscriminately. Perhaps, Jack attempted to rationalize, it was a madness Gabriel had developed to deal with the fact he had to kill in order to survive.

So Ana wasn’t wrong.

“Have you considered he doesn’t want to change?”

“He’s in pain,” Jack argued, but the conviction wasn’t there. He sighed, “But I know, Ana. I know I might be making a mistake.”

“A costly mistake,” Ana amended with a hint of bitterness, but then she too sighed. “But who is the bigger fool? You? Or me for following you here?”

“You’re a good friend to me, Ana. Always have been.”

“And you’ve always been a sentimental fool.”

Jack smiled, knowing the small pack of photographs he kept in his jacket spoke the truth of her statement. He remembered them fondly, even if at the same time the old images reminded him more and more of what he’d lost. It would be nice, he quietly admitted to himself, to get something, or someone, back. He touched at his jacket, tempted to look over the pictures while he waited for Ana to scout their destination. He resisted with the excuse he needed to stay focused.

Twenty minutes later, Ana deemed the buildings clear and Jack drove up to the old homestead nestled forgotten just past the tree line. He took his pulse rifle out of the back seat before scanning the area with his visor. Upon finding nothing out of the ordinary, he walked through the dilapidated remains of the old farm house. Cleared, he moved to the barn that had held up better than the house.

“There’s a stream that runs east through the trees. There’s decent cover that way.”

Jack settled down in the empty barn, keeping his pulse rifle in hand. “Copy that. He probably won’t show until night.”

If he showed at all.

Judging by how low the sun hung on the horizon, they still had a couple hours until night fall. “Wake me in an hour.”

One of the best skills he had learned during his military service was the ability to fall asleep just about anywhere and in the span of a couple minutes. He listened to the swallows dipping in and out of the eaves, the mice scurrying through the old bits of hay strewn across the floor, the wind that whispered when it passed through the trees, and then he was out.

The wing beats he heard in his dream became loud, dark, and ominous as it flew down at him with talons outstretch. Jack woke as a shadow flitted over his face and he was suddenly struck by the chill of the night. Goosebumps swept across the back of his neck. It had been well past an hour. He stood, scanning his surroundings before he tapped the comm in his ear. “Ana?”

“Don’t fret,” Ana replied. “No movement. I figured you could use the rest, old man.”

The silence weighed heavily around him. It was void of the nightly cadence of insects and nocturnal critters. Jack slowly walked to the open doorway of the barn. The only movement outside came from the wind stirring up the long grass of the field and the leaves of the trees. Then, recalling Gabriel’s penchant to perch up high, Jack peered up in the hay loft. There, just aside from the hay door, the shadows moved. The moon caught on the white mask, illuminating it in an ethereal glow as it impassively regarded Jack below.

The mask suddenly reminded Jack of a barn owl, and with the way Reaper roosted almost unmoving near the window, Jack couldn’t get the imagery out of his head. Gabriel turned his gaze back out the hay door and Jack relaxed his hold on his rifle, “I’m not alone, Ana. He’s here.”

”What!?”

“Tell her to come in,” Gabriel sounded distant and tired. “I don’t feel like getting shot.”

“You alone?”

Again that pale mask turned and seemed to glare down at him while wisps of dark smoke curled around the edges.

“I have to ask,” Jack shrugged unapologetically. He watched the dark figure, concerned by the man’s lack of retort. “Ana, come on in.”

”I’d rather not.”

Jack suddenly knew what Ana felt like, all those years ago, when she attempted to negotiate peace between him and Gabriel. Except instead of finding a compromise between them, like she had, Jack felt like he had to choose a side. And no matter which one he picked, it wouldn’t bode well for him.

“You don’t see anyone, I don’t see anyone, so let’s get a move on before that changes.”

”If he’s wearing a tracker, they could just follow us.”

Amused, Jack turned to look out into the night, imagining that Ana could see him through her rifle scope. “Well if you want to strip search him, you’ll have to come do it yourself.”

A grumble came through the comm, ”ETA ten minutes.”

“She’s coming,” He informed the stoic owl.

Gabriel merely looked back out into the night, leaving Jack to shift his weight.

Before long, Jack, tired of scuffing his boot against the loose bits of straw, lifted his gaze back up to the loft, “Thanks for coming.”

Nothing, not even an acknowledging glance.

Damn you, Jack mentally cursed and stalked out of the barn.

Ana arrived not long after, her rifle slung passively over her shoulder. She stood next to Jack and peered up at the figure watching them from the hay door. She snorted, “I can’t believe I’m not shooting you right now.”

“Oh,” A playful note returned to Gabriel’s words. “You could try.”

He shifted, drifting like soot through the gaps between the loft’s planks and stepped out through the main doors.

“Maybe later,” She waved dismissively at his theatrics before looking to Jack. “We going?”

She strolled over to the SUV and claimed the passenger seat. Gabriel looked over the old suburban with apparent distaste. Ana rolled down her window, looking equally unimpressed. “Not to your liking? I suppose you could just ghost along behind, hm?”

Gabriel shoulders tensed and his head dipped every so slightly, a gesture Jack read well enough, because he could just imagine the way Gabriel would slowly turn around and pin him with a glare that said ‘this is all your fault’. Instead of pivoting, Gabriel climbed into the backseat of the suburban and immediately crossed his arms like a sullen teenager on a road trip with his insufferable parents.

“Right,” Jack sighed while running a hand through his pale hair. “I’ll drive.”

Inside the suburban, Jack pretended to not notice the death glares being exchanged between Ana and Gabriel. Nor did he let his gaze linger on the way Ana rested her rifle in such a way that the barrel pointed directly at Gabriel. They had a three hour drive ahead of them and Jack decided to not push his luck. Even turning on the radio seemed too risky of a move. So he drove, in silence, pretending his two friends weren’t imagining gruesome deaths for each other.

They drove for maybe twenty minutes before Gabriel had to poke at the fragile alliance, “Scared, Amari?”

“Please,” She countered with ease, “I’ve seen what’s under that mask. You’re not scary.”

“No?” Gabriel relaxed against the seat while giving a short, low chuckle. “I guess not, since Morrison kissed me.”

Frozen in absolute mortification, Jack missed the way the road curved, at least until the tires hit dirt and he roughly jerked them back on course. He gave the steering wheel a white-knuckle death grip while purposely keeping his gaze forward. He still didn’t miss the way Ana’s head turned to look at him, the kind of look that told him that she wanted to talk to him later.

“Don’t try to deflect,” Ana shifted her attention back to Gabriel. “Why are you here?”

“Didn’t he tell you?” Gabriel crooned.

Ana adjusted her rifle, the barrel shifting between Gabriel’s chest and face, “I want to hear it from you.”

In the rear view mirror, Jack saw the faintest wisps of black curl off of Gabriel’s body. The wraith gave a faint shrug, “What do you think?”

“I think you’re using Jack, because you know he has a soft spot when it comes to you, and you’re manipulating him to flush out the rest of us.” She cocked her head to the side. “Tell me different.”

More smoke began to rise off of Gabriel. “What difference would it make? He’s already convinced you to go along.”

“I could send a message to Angela and put a stop to this whole thing.”

Jack made to look at Ana - because the last thing he wanted was for her to redact his offer to help - but she had already fixed him with a steely narrow of her single eye, “Keep it to yourself, Jack. You’re too bias in this to have an opinion.”

“I can be impartial,” He muttered, then shot a glare in the rear view mirror when Gabriel chuckled.

Ana honed her attention back on the wraith, “So what is it, Reaper?”

The mist grew into long ribbons that pressed against the ceiling. Jack paid a little too much attention to what he could see in the mirror, and not the road, leading to another jerk of the wheel to correct their course. He ducked his head, noticing the way Gabriel’s head turned every so slightly in his direction.

In the end, Gabriel resigned to look out the window, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Ana brows lifted in surprise. She watched Gabriel a moment longer before facing forward in her seat, ending her interrogation. Jack, however, couldn’t quite believe that she had dropped the subject. She had hounded him relentlessly over it, but Gabriel had gotten off the hook after five minutes?

A short while later, Ana peered at him, “Kissed him, Jack?”

“I was drunk!” He snapped then gritted his teeth to keep from rattling off more excuses. The first time he had been tipsy. Everything there after had been of his own volition, sort of. Gabriel had been the instigator, not him.

“Uh-huh,” Ana sounded unconvinced. “I suppose that explains the hickeys.”

“They were no—” Jack flexed his fingers, growling, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Both Ana and Gabriel erupted in laughter and Jack turned on the music to drown them out.

 


 

“You two stay here,” Ana stopped them outside a nondescript building. “Jack, shoot him if his friends show up.”

Jack glanced at where Gabriel lingered, shoulder against the wall, inside the alley. The shadows made his form hard to pick out, but the mask would always catch Jack’s eye. In a couple hours the morning would break over the town and Jack wondered, idly, if Gabriel would disappear with the rest of the night’s shadows.

Ana paused in the door and pointed at each of them, “No kissing.”

Jack made a choking noise while Gabriel replied without missing a beat, “I make no promises.”

During the drive, Ana and Gabriel had found a way to be neutral with each other, namely in the form of teasing Jack. While he liked that his two old friends were getting along, at least on the surface, he really wish they would torment him about something else - anything else.

The door shut with a bang and Jack immediately stalked over to Gabriel’s dark nook, “Why did you tell her about that?”

“Why not?” Gabriel purred, “Are you ashamed?”

“No,” Even though he instantly felt his face burn hotly under his visor and his heart stumbled over itself. He quickly scanned the empty street then the door where Ana had gone. “It’s just… complicated.”

“Is it?”

“Stop it,” Jack growled.

“Stop what?”

Jack whirled around to face the man. The skull mask hid Gabriel’s expression, but Jack could imagine, quite clearly, the shit-eating grin he’d find behind it. “Turning everything back on me.”

Gabriel’s head tilted every so slightly, “But it makes you twitch and squirm like a nervous rabbit that I just want to sink my claws into.”

Blood went straight to Jack’s groin and he hastily turned away from Gabriel, shoulders slightly hunched. He didn’t know if was the talk of claws, which brought on flashes of sharp, metal tips caressing over his neck, or the idea of Gabriel watching him with the intensity of a hungry predator, but, either way, it sent a flush of desire through Jack’s system. He inhaled the cool, night air and straightened out his stance.

“So why do you think I’m here?” Gabriel asked.

Other than to mess with my head?

Despite his effort to be on guard, and not let his nerves get the best of him, Jack began to scuff his boot against the sidewalk. Even after years spent in the spotlight of the world when he headed Overwatch, Jack didn’t like the acute attention. Spinning yarn for the UN and the public was one thing, trying to explain himself, truthfully, to Gabriel was an entirely different ordeal. “I don’t know what to think.”

He pivoted, just enough to be able to see Gabriel without having to turn his head. “I don’t know what to think about any of it.”

The kissing, the touching.

Jack shrugged, a gentle rise and fall of his shoulders, “I’m hoping you want this.”

This?

Having nothing on hand to throw, Jack tried his best to throw a look instead, “Fuck you, Gabe.”

Gabriel chuckled, quietly, and looked away, his voice suddenly somber, “I don’t think there’s anything that can help me, Jack.”

The words didn’t match the man’s actions. After all, Gabriel was there with them despite the words. Jack tilted his head and took in the way Gabriel’s face was turned up to the sky. The moon lit up the mask in a pleasant, peaceful glow that in turn made the rest of him seem to fall away and meld into the quiet night. For just that one moment, he looked vulnerable.

“But,” Gabriel murmured, “Hope—“

The door swung open and Ana motioned them to follow, “Come on, boys.”

The moment passed and Gabriel walked after Ana with a faint trail of black smoke in his wake. Jack followed after him with troubled furrow marring his brow. A couple turns and a door later found them filing into a room where Angela stood at a table, unpacking tools and arranging them neatly. She didn’t turn when she spoke, “I wish you would have told me more about what I am dealing with so I could have packed accordingly.”

When she did turn, Jack couldn’t help but be struck by her beauty. Even after all the years, she barely had aged at all. Her brown eyes briefly passed over his visor before widening and locking on Reaper. She took an involuntary step backwards, bumping the table with her hip and ruining all her tidying work.

Ana patted Angela’s elbow in passing, “I’m sorry, dear, I don’t really know what is going on either.”

The old sniper dragged a chair to the corner of the room. She sat facing them all with her rifle resting against her legs. Angela gaped, her gaze switching between Ana and Jack several times before settling fully on Reaper. Black against white, Gabriel stood a stark contrast against the sterile room.

When the mist began to rise, flicking restlessly off of Gabriel, Jack decided to break the silence before the rising tension caused someone to murder someone else out of sheer annoyance. “Would you please look at him, maybe figure out what’s going on and try to… fix it.”

It took a moment, but Angela managed to put on a professional face and to step toward Gabriel. “Of course. What seems to be the problem?”

The mist thickened, coiling in on itself, “You tell me, Doc.”

Jack nudged his boot against Gabriel’s in attempt to remind the man of their end goal. The smoke ebbed and with sharp motions Gabriel removed one of his gloves and shoved the decaying limb toward the doctor. Angela, to her credit, didn’t flinch. She looked closely at the gray mottling roving over the pallid skin before stepping away to retrieve a set of blue, medical gloves.

“How long has this been going on?” She asked.

Reaper shrugged, “Seven years?”

“And it’s always been like this?” She rolled up Gabriel’s sleeve to expose more of his arm and the smoke got worse.

The skull mask turned away from Angela to point accusingly at Jack, “It varies.”

“How does it vary?” Angela persisted, unperturbed by the hateful grate to Gabriel’s words. She reached for his mask and the tension in the room exploded. Gabriel caught her wrists, the claws of the one glove poised to rip her pale flesh open. Ana shouldered her rifle at the same time that Jack stepped in the way of her shot. Half the room writhed in shadows, twisting like angry snakes caught in a pit.

Jack laid his hand over Gabriel’s gloved hand and gently removed the clawed grasp from Angela’s wrist. He remained partially wedged between the two as the darkness seeped back into Gabriel. Angela’s face remained carefully blank, her eyes never leaving the dark slits of Gabriel’s mask.

“It’s like that everywhere,” Gabriel snarled while releasing her other wrist.

Angela nodded curtly before fetching a pronged, hand-held healing device. A miniature version of her Caduceus Staff. Soft, yellow light sprung between the two points and Angela ran the healing beam over Gabriel’s exposed forearm. Gabriel looked away, but Jack leaned forward to watch, only to be disappointed alongside Angela when nothing happened. She muttered in her native tongue before moving back to the table and returning with a syringe.

Jack could feel the mist - the malice - as it brushed against him, once again rising in agitation.

The blood filling the syringe was red, fluid, but as soon as Angela crossed the room with the sample, the red faded to black and disappeared. She tossed the syringe aside, grabbed a scope and a scalpel. “May I make a small incision—”

Before Jack could catch the arm, Gabriel used his claws to lacerate his own forearm. The blood, so vivid against Gabriel’s ashen skin, ran in thick rivulets down his forearm to drip off his elbow. A few of the droplets actually hit the linoleum floor before disappearing in a swirl of black mist.

The stunned silence passed and Angela, albeit hesitantly, leaned forward to examine the wound under the scope. She traded the scope for the nano-beam which she ran over Gabriel’s wounds to no avail. Angela frowned at the bleeding cuts, “I don’t understand.”

“Great,” Gabriel muttered and pulled his arm from her grasp.

Angela carefully planted her knuckles against her hips to avoid getting blood on her clothes, “You bleed like a man alive, but there is no response in your cells from my nano-ray.”

“Dead man walking.”

“Your humor is as grim as ever, Gabriel.” She had gone back to using her scope to examine the open wound. “You show no signs of healing.”

When Gabriel didn’t offer an explanation, Jack began to take off his jacket which earned him a questioning look from everyone in the room. Jack tossed the jacket aside and offered his bared forearm to Gabriel. “Show her.”

Gabriel gazed down at Jack’s arm for a long moment before tentatively wrapping his gloved hand around the limb. He pointed the claws inward, breaking the skin, then paused to look at Jack. He squeezed, almost as a reassurance, before digging the claws in and twisting them around Jack’s arm in one fluid motion.

Jack hissed as he drew a breath through gritted teeth. The pain mingled with the eerie, ghost-like pull on his essence, making him feel a touch dizzy. He made to step back, but Gabriel tightened his sharp hold to keep him close. Shutting his eyes against the pain, Jack wrapped his own hand around Gabriel’s to put pressure on the wound. The cuts were deep, and unlike Gabriel’s magically disappearing blood, the floor around Jack’s boots quickly puddled up with spots of crimson.

Angela gasped, not because of the brutality, but because of the way Gabriel’s flesh knitted together before her very eyes. “This seems familiar. How are you doing this?”

Gabriel didn’t take his gaze off of Jack, “You’ll have to ask Dr. O’Deorain.”

“I should have known,” Angela spat.

Noticing the state of the floor, Angela clicked her tongue and wrested Jack’s arm free from Gabriel and ran the nano-ray over the lacerations. Jack made himself watch, worried. His body hadn’t been healing like it use to. The warm light passed over his skin, back and forth, back and forth, and nothing happened. A creased formed along Angela’s brow and she repeated the action, several more times, until the deepest part of the wounds healed, staunching the bleeding.

Her concern lifted to his face and he shrugged her off, muttering about getting old, and walked over to her work station to press a pair of trauma pads over the rest of the wound and finish it off with a wrap of gauze.

“She did it at my request,” Gabriel said idly as he examined the blood coating his claws.

Angela brandished the nano-ray at Gabriel, “What madness seized you to do such a foolish thing?”

Instead of answering forthright, Gabriel looked pointedly at Jack, who in turn cleared his throat.

“Can you do anything?” Jack asked.

“That’s a tall order, Jack.” The sympathetic look she gave him didn’t inspire hope.

Jack picked up his jacket and shoved his arms into the sleeves, “Can you or can’t you?”

Not one to be intimidated, Angela stood a little straighter, “I will have to study it more. But since I can’t keep any samples, he would have to stay—”

“No,” Gabriel growled, his form momentarily blurring. Jack reached for his arm, but his fingers passed through smoke.

“Or,” Angela added with clear distaste. “We could bring her into it.”

Jack managed to find Gabriel’s elbow with a light grasp, “Her?”

“Moira,” Angela was too kind to sneer the name, but her tone did it for her. “She did this, she can help undo it.”

Gabriel pulled free of Jack’s hold, “You know she’s part of Talon, right?”

“I’m well aware of her poor choices,” Angela hummed while she wrote on a piece of paper, a rather smug smile tugging at the corner of her lips. She folded the paper and held it out to Gabriel. “You just tell her that I want to talk with her. She will come.”

The slip of paper hung in the air between them and a silence settled over the room. The shadows began to rise up around Gabriel and, without a word, the wraith turned away from the offer and stepped out of the room. Jack grabbed the paper from Angela and rushed after him. Outside the night had begun to lift, a dim line of silver and blue edged the horizon.

Gabriel whirled on him, black smoke slashing at the air between them, “No, Jack.”

Startled by the words, Jack stopped just short of the flaring energy. Dread sank heavily in his chest, “No what?”

“This little experiment,” Gabriel slid a step backwards. “I’m done.”

Jack reached for him, “Gabe.”

“No,” Gabriel knocked Jack’s hands aside before grabbing the lapel of his jacket. “There’s no fixing me, Jack.”

Finding his own anger, Jack clamped a hand over Gabriel’s arm as if he had a chance to keep the wraith from disappearing. He reached up with his free hand and removed his visor. He glared, “What are you scared of, Reyes? That it might work? You might have to stop being this monster?”

As soon as the words left his lips, Jack regretted it. “No, wait—”

“So you finally tell the truth,” Gabriel had gone still.

Jack’s fingers slipped through the smoke and he stepped forward, crowding into Gabriel’s space in attempt to keep him from disappearing. He managed to find a solid grip on Gabriel’s trench. “No, no. I don’t think you’re a monster!”

“But I am a monster,” The dark energy loomed and enveloped Jack, raking hungrily over his exposed skin. “Look at me. There’s no fixing what I am.”

“I am looking,” Jack whispered, pulling himself close enough to press his forehead against the cool surface of Gabriel’s mask.

“Jack,” Gabriel gripped Jack’s upper arms and eased him back. “No more. No more tests, no more doctors... “

They had more than their fair share of experimental treatments during their years in the Soldier Enhancement Program. Too many nights spent in the med bay, on the verge of death, and in so much pain that death was the preferred option. Whatever Moira had put Gabriel through had left the man in a constant state of pain. It drove Gabriel to hurt, to kill, just to take the edge off. So Jack understood, better than most, about not wanting to go another round with the doctors.

But…

“I’ll be there with you,” He pushed forward against Gabriel’s hands until the man yielded. Jack wrapped his arms around Gabriel’s shoulders in a loose embrace. They had been there for each other in SEP. Jack could be there for him now. If Gabriel would let him.

“It’s not going to work,” Gabriel pushed at an unrelenting Jack. After a moment he sighed and set his hands on the points of Jack’s hips in resignation. “Even if it did, where would that leave me?”

Jack tightened his hold, ignoring the way the point of Gabriel’s mask bit into his shoulder.

“There’s no changing what I’ve done,” Gabriel’s grasped tightened, causing his claws to press into Jack’s side. Not hard, but enough to communicate Gabriel’s grievances. “Talon is the only place I fit.”

Jack’s throat tightened, “Gabe...”

“There’s no redemption for me. This,” The black mist rose from his body, cold and loathing, “is my curse...”

Jack freed Gabriel from the embrace and shoved the slip of paper into the other man’s hand. He forced Gabriel’s fingers to curl around it. The little bit of paper, crumpled and baring no more than a phone number, carried all of Jack’s hope. He slowly let go of Gabriel’s hand and waited to see whether that hope would fly, or fall.

Silently Gabriel looked at the paper, then to Jack’s troubled gaze. Jack fought to keep his breathing even and his eyes dry. The morning woke around them, bringing color to a world once dominated by the varying shades of blues, grays, and a voidless black. A cheerful cadence grew in volume as birds greeted the daylight. Jack stared at the dark material of Gabriel’s metal tipped glove while trying to keep his stomach from turning.

Gabriel carefully folded the piece of paper and slid it inside his trench. He faded and the dawn chased away the shadows.

Chapter Text

Two days later found Reaper returned to Talon, sitting at the desk amid the ruins of his room. When he had arrived, as soon as the door slid shut behind him, he had broken everything that would give under claws, fists, and boots. His power had flared, lashing at things unseen, and now that he’d settled, it begun to ebb and flow as a gentle mist over his body. He sat, staring blankly at the bobble-head figure he’d found on the desk. A novelty item from when Overwatch had been at its peak. When there had been books, toys, posters—most of which featured a certain blond man with blue eyes.

Gabriel’s face had not been on that line of propaganda. Jack Morrison, however, had been the perfect poster boy. Join Overwatch, all the signs had read. Who could resist such a charismatic smile? When a statue, of John ‘Jack’ Morrison had been erected in honor of his work, Gabriel really felt it had all gone to the stupid blond’s head. Then there were the little things that popped up around the world in various countries. The paintings, the t-shirts, the damn action figures—

Gabriel flicked the smiling face of the bobble head, and the over-sized head of Jack Morrison jiggled fitfully.

Sombra must have found the toy and left it as a joke. Gabriel continued to flick his claw against the toy’s face.

Jack Fucking Morrison.

Flick.

Golden Boy.

Flick.

Boyscout.

Flick.

Stupid man that thought he could help everyone - that he could save Gabriel. It was too late. Almost a decade too fucking late. Yet Gabriel had played along with Jack’s folly, perhaps out of morbid curiosity of where it might go. He had let that gruff, sentimental fool get under his skin. What had started out as a game, just to torment his old rival, had somehow changed into something else. Into what, Gabriel didn’t know. He liked having Jack under his claws, submitting to him, gazing at him with those bright eyes so eager yet afraid..

Gabriel’s lips parted as he recalled the image of Jack unraveling in his arms. A hunger stirred low in Gabriel’s abdomen as he remembered the taste of Jack’s skin, the feel of his pulse skipping swiftly beneath the press of teeth. And the sounds Jack had made—

“You not like it, jefe?”

The bobble head went flying off the edge of the desk from a startled swing of Gabriel’s hand. He looked over at Sombra standing in the door he hadn’t heard open. Her brow arched as she surveyed the wreckage of the room.

“Sombra,” He toned flatly, drawing her attention back to him.

“Aw, you remember my name!” She scooped up the abused bobble-head and perched on the edge of his desk with a tell-tale grin. “You’ve been MIA for almost two weeks. The higher ups were starting to think you might be dead. Or, hoped you were dead, because if you defected there would be hell to pay.”

Gabriel rhythmically tapped his claws against the desk as he tried to deduce Sombra’s intentions. Either she was attempting to fish for information, or she knew something and wanted to dangle it just over his head. He patiently waited her out, because he knew the girl. She didn’t have the patience to keep whatever it was to herself.

“They really started to wonder about you after you left to take care of Soldier:76 - you know, the guy that left a calling card on one of Talon’s stash houses,” She shook the bobble head as emphasis. “And instead of returning with a dead vigilante, you went off the grid.”

Reaper shrugged, “I couldn’t find him.”

A grimace briefly crossed Sombra’s youthful features, “I don’t think that’s going to cut it, not after you blew off the head of that weapons dealer. They are really starting to look at you.”

So let them, he thought. He doubted the council would move against him for killing a bunch of underlings. They all had their coldness, their streaks of ruthlessness, their taste for blood. Label him what they wanted. Terrorist. Murderer. Mercenary. Psychopath. It didn’t matter. They knew, if only vaguely, about his condition and his absolute need to kill. He didn’t need to explain himself.

Yet Sombra, watching him with eyes alight with amusement, seemed to be waiting for a response. He gave her one, just so she would get to the point, “Are they now?”

“Oh yeah,” The grin on her face grew as she neared the apex of her story. “They wanted little ol’ me to look into what you were doing in your free time.”

His claws stilled their tapping and he felt the smallest thread of worry worm its way around his chest. “And?”

“I told them you were getting your dick wet.”

“You what!?” His claws gouged the surface of desk.

Sombra nearly fell off the desk with how hard she was laughing. She held her hands up, palms out, to ward off his fury. “You should thank me, jefe, they must have gotten whiplash with how fast they backed the fuck off the subject. Apparently you having a sex life is some seriously taboo shit.”

Did she know? Had she seen?

The areas he’d engaged with Jack had been quiet, tech-free zones, but that didn’t account for flying drones or the occasional home security camera. If Sombra looked in the right place, at the right time — and she had a habit of digging up the most buried of skeletons if she had the motivation. Finding ways to irritate him always seemed to inspire her well enough.

“Come on,” Sombra continued to laugh, “Give me some credit. I didn’t tell them about your little pet project.”

She held the bobble-head figure out to him and Gabriel accepted it into his palm. He would call Jack more of an obsession than a pet project. His aims toward the man were unclear. With some hesitance he could admit that he didn’t want Jack dead, which meant he wanted the stubborn soldier to stay out of Talon’s affairs. He wanted Jack to go away, because he complicated things. Because Jack put stupid ideas in Gabriel’s head. Ideas that gave life to a feeling of hope that fluttered, albeit weakly, in his chest.

But Gabriel had been a monster long enough to forget how to be anything else.

He couldn’t change what he’d become.

Gabriel set the bobble-head back on the desk, “What do you want, Sombra?”

“Geez,” She stood from the desk, her posture meant to be carefree but catching Gabriel’s eye as being nervous. “Maybe a pat on the back for covering for your dark and brooding ass.”

He wanted to be angry with her. Anger was easy. Anger was the armor he wore to keep everything else out. Yet, as he stared at the oblivious, smiling face of the caricature that resembled Jack Morrison, Gabriel’s shoulders drooped and black mist pooled languidly around his feet. “Thanks, Sombra.”

“Uh,” Sombra’s eyes widened in surprise. “De nada, Gabriel.”

A small part of him enjoyed her bafflement, glad that he could still surprise her. She liked to think she knew how to work people, to hack them. Granted, she had a gift for manipulation in the form of blackmail, but the delicate intricacies of a person’s emotions remained an unknown factor for them all. No one knew, a hundred percent, how a person might end up feeling about something.

Or someone.

“Oh,” She paused at the door, “I take it you haven’t been getting any messages.”

Gabriel lazily gestured at the smashed holovid monitor sitting on the edge of his desk.

“Moira wants to see you in the lab. Said you’re due for a check-up.”

It had been a long time since Moira had checked him for stability concerning his condition. If the council really had started questioning his ability to function, the check-up would put their minds at ease. They were content to hire a blood-thirsty mercenary as long as the merc in question didn’t bite the hand that fed.

Gabriel motioned for Sombra to leave, which she did after rolling her eyes. He remained behind, doing little else but stare thoughtfully at the bobble head. He wanted to smash it to pieces. To sweep it into the garbage and to be done with Jack Morrison. Instead he knocked the figure over so it laid useless on its stupid, smiling face and then left the room.

“Gabriel,” Moira greeted him as he entered the lab, “so nice of you to come visit.”

“I had the impression the council ordered this meeting and it wasn’t an invitation,” He muttered in return.

She motioned to the examine table, “It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve defied their requests.”

“Let’s just get this over with.”

He stripped down to his briefs and sat down, unperturbed at exposing himself in front of her. She was Frankenstein, and he was her monster. What he’d become was due to her science. She didn’t look at him with disgust. If anything, Moira was proud of her creation. The work she’d done on him had improved her own abilities. Gabriel doubted she suffered the same pain he endured on a daily basis. Maybe in her arm that looked as twisted and desiccated as his own, but not everywhere. She also didn’t have to feed

A sharp prick to his shoulder brought him out of his reverie. He blinked at the needle she set aside, “What was that for?”

“Standard protocol for agents of Talon.”

That didn’t answer the question. Gabriel rubbed at the afflicted shoulder as a coldness began to seep in along his arm and chest. The last time she had given him a shot had been years ago. He didn’t get sick like other people, or at all. It was one of the perks of being in a state of suspended death. The chill spread to his other arm, down his legs, and his mind felt fuzzy. He looked at her oddly, suddenly remembering the folded piece of paper tucked away in the inner pocket of his trench.

“Do you know Angela Ziegler?”

Moira stilled and her mismatched eyes honed on him with a keen interest, “I know of Dr. Ziegler.”

A fog drifted over Gabriel’s thoughts and he closed his eyes as he tried to focus. His brow furrowed, “She…”

He couldn’t remember. Couldn’t think beyond the deeply rooted hunger inside of him that made his very bones ache. His expression smoothed and he stared blankly at the far wall a moment before peering at Moira. “We done here?”

The doctor studied him with a touch of uncertainty. She took a penlight and checked his pupils then shrugged the matter aside. “Tell me about your list.”

Those words.

A film reel of names and faces played behind his dulled eyes.

Gabriel stood in his room, not sure when he had returned there or how long he’d been there. His red-tinged eyes alighted on the fallen bobble-head. Curiously he picked it up and turned it over between his claws. The toy incited his mind to expand and wander, but a thick fog shrouded the musing from sensible clarity. He curled his hand around the toy, squeezing until the plastic split with a satisfying crunch. He tossed the broken figurine aside. It slid across the desk and wedged itself between the desk and the wall.

He laid down on the ruins of his bed and stared up at the ceiling. Black smoke gently lifted off him in lazy curls, reminding him of the simmering anger vibrating just beneath the skin. The hateful energy paired with the constant hunger and it made his body ache. It was all he knew in that moment.

Hunger.

And pain.

Die.

He was in a house, a manor that would have been lovely if not for the bodies, the blood, and the screaming that echoed through the foyer and down the halls. His shotguns were familiar weights in his hands as he ambled down the hall. His boots sounded against the expensive wood floorboards, every heavy step a gunshot to his fleeing prey. It wouldn’t take long. Another body fell away and the air tasted like gunpowder, blood, and fear. Death filled him, turning the pain to bliss soaked madness. He was high off of it. There was laughter amid the screaming.

It was him - a monster.

Die.

He’s smashing his metal knuckles into the face of a kneeling man. He’s asking ‘where is it?’ but doesn’t care for the answer. Its about the pain. All his life he’d been a tool to inflict pain. His hands tore at flesh and bone, again and again. Even after the answer had been screamed, Reaper didn’t stop until the man would never speak again.

Die.

Mist rolled around his feet, preceding him as he walked through the darkened warehouse. He was itching for a fix the guards outside hadn’t sated. The hunger drove him to hunt, to drown out the madness in his mind with blood. Panicked breathing drew his attention to the hiding dock worker. Gabriel raised his shotgun to the man and paused at the blue eyes staring fearfully back at him. He pushed against the fog in his mind, trying to remember why the man’s blond hair and blue eyes made him hesitate. It made him queasy.

He pulled the trigger and painted the warehouse floor crimson

Die.

Standing in his room, Gabriel’s gaze roamed around the small space. Nothing was out of place. It had been cleaned a long time ago. Nothing was broken anymore, but something still felt off. Without understanding why, Gabriel walked over to the desk and reached around the back until his claws caught on something. He pulled the plastic free and stared transfixed at the broken bobble head.

The young childish face of Jack Morrison smiled back at him.

Gabriel made the motion to throw it in the trash, but at the last second drew the toy back toward his chest. The smog smothering his thoughts kept him from remembering, kept him from understanding why, for just a second, he thought the toy meant something to him. He knew Jack Morrison. The former strike commander was on his list.

But Jack Morrison had died in an explosion, right?

No.

Gabriel frowned at the toy, then carefully placed it into the desk drawer to puzzle over later.

Chapter Text

After the first week, Angela left to return to her work.

During the second week, the news channel covered a story about a massacre of a prominent family in Russia. The story didn’t mention any suspects, but when Ana dug into the police reports on the crime scene, the bodies, and the statement of survivors, she had gone quiet. Pity softened her usually stern expression and when she met his eyes, it felt like a hot knife had been stabbed between his ribs. They didn’t speak about it, but Jack knew the truth of it all the same.

Gabriel wasn’t coming back.

The news only got worse as the days passed. Talon was moving on something and Gabriel - no, not Gabriel - Reaper headed the attacks. The news never put a name to the face, or even had clear footage of a face to name, but Jack knew. He knew Reaper’s modus operandi, his MO, and he also knew what to look for after tracking Talon’s movements over the years.

The knife in Jack’s chest twisted.

After the third week Ana hugged him tightly, “I’m so sorry, Jack. I know how much you wanted this to work. You tried, remember that.”

Sparring him the lecture, Ana kissed his brow and she, too, left. Jack wasn’t in a good place, mentally, but her words couldn’t help him. He wanted to be alone and allow himself to feel the pain radiating from the hole in his chest. He couldn’t do that with her around, she knew, because Jack always tried to be strong for everyone else. She had warned him time and time again, but in the end it was a lesson learned the hard way.

He couldn’t save someone who didn’t want to be saved.

Time lost meaning after Ana left. Not wanting to cope, Jack drank. He avoided the issue because, for once, he wanted to be weak - be a coward - because it was easier. Pain and sorrow wrapped around him like a comforting blanket. It felt wrong to just let it all go and move on. Jack needed to remember it and, for a time, to feel the hurt.

One gray morning Jack woke to the sound of empty bottles rolling across the floor. He groaned and swatted his hand at the room in attempt to scare off whatever stray cat of Ana’s that had wandered into the disheveled safe house. Light pierced through the closed lids of his eyes and Jack buried his face into his pillow with another pained groan.

“So this is the glamorous lifestyle of the vigilante Soldier:76.”

Jack lifted his head just enough to peer blearily at the girl kicking around the empty bottles. Short, hispanic, and while Jack couldn’t quite remember her face, the neon stripes of purple in her hair did seem familiar. He rolled over and pulled the pillow over his head to block out the light and noise.

“No wonder he didn’t kill you,” The girl clicked her tongue, “It’s just kinda sad, like kicking a three legged dog.”

She meant Gabriel, no doubt. Just thinking the name brought on a fresh blossom of pain, but with it came something new - a wave of anger. He set his bare feet on the floor and summoned up his best glare to pin on the girl - pegging her to be somewhere in her twenties. A woman, yes, but with her punk-ish attire, he couldn’t see her as anything more than a rebellious teenager.

He cleared his throat, still raw from last night's whiskey, “What do you want?”

The girl lifted a brow, “Don’t you want to know who I am?”

“Does it matter?”

“I guess not,” She pursed her lips in disappointment. “So, you know Gabe...”

Snorting, Jack reached for a half empty bottle of whiskey and motioned at the door with his free hand. “Kindly see yourself out.”

She set a hand on her hip and narrowed her eyes, “I was under the impression you two were friends.”

Jack scoffed, but the tremor in his chest made the attempt at being dismissive sound quavering as it passed his lips. He covered it up by taking a drink from the bottle.

The girl threw her hands up in the air, “Whatever, all I know is that he was obsessed with you.”

The words clawed at his chest and Jack’s hands began to tremble. What the hell was this? Phase two of project make Jack suffer? Reel him in, cast him out, then start reeling him in again?

Jack strangled the neck of the bottle. “Get out.”

“Listen gringo,” She matched his cold tone with fire, “I’m not leaving until you agree to help me.”

He remembered her then, “You’re Talon. Why would I ever agree to help you?”

“Because it’s about Gabriel!”

“Who I don’t give a fuck about."

The girl stayed quiet just long enough to pointedly look at the empty bottles, at Jack’s physical state - not missing the way Jack suddenly looked up toward the ceiling while rapidly blinking away the sudden moisture - and set both hands on her small hips, “Did you two, like, break up?

“Ha!” The laugh crumbled into a half-choked sob by the end. Fuck. Jack ducked his head and pinched the bridge of his nose, making a show of it so he could brush at the corners of his eyes.

A string of irritated Spanish flew from the girl’s lips. She kicked bottles out of the way as she moved closer. “Look, all I know is Gabe kept going off the radar to meet up with you, and he was happy-grumpy Gabe. Now he’s just soulless mercenary Gabe. Something happened and I want you to fix it.”

Jack smiled, harsh and bitter, “He doesn’t want to be fixed.”

She sank to the edge of the bed with a sigh, “It’s worse than that, gringo. This isn’t like him.”

Shaking his head, Jack again turned away from the girl. From the beginning, Gabriel had made it clear that he didn’t care about anyone or anything. He hated Jack. And he was nothing but a monster feeding off pain and death.

Flickering lights caught Jack’s attention; a holo screen projecting from the girl’s arm. A purple glow emitted from her hand where wires ran from her fingertips down into the custom made brace circling her forearm. She rapidly typed with one hand then flicked through the screens that popped up on the display. Jack tried not to watch, but his curiosity got the better of him. He caught glimpses of words and phrases, understanding enough to make him sit up next to her, his blue eyes rapidly trying to read more. “Those are his medical files.”

“Duh,” The girl smacked his hand aside when he reached to open one of the files. “He was fine until he went to see her.”

The logo of Overwatch flashed, flicked aside to be replaced by Blackwatch, and the girl continued to rifle through the different reports. Jack couldn’t keep up. “How did you—”

“Ugh,” She glanced away from the screen long enough to glower, “Don’t bug me with stupid questions right now.”

“Those reports were from when he was in Blackwatch."

“Uh-huh, because I’m going through that’s bitch’s files.”

He ventured a guess, “Dr. O’Deorain’s files?”

“Mhm,” She continued to quickly flick through the reports.

“How are you reading it all that fast?”

“Don’t have to,” She tapped the metal band connected to the side of her head. Of a sudden she swiped all the screens closed, “There’s nothing there!”

The files gone, Jack didn’t know what to do with himself or the flustered girl next to him. He didn’t want to get pulled back into the situation that had left him such a pathetic mess. But, if anything, at least he didn’t want to mope around any longer. He wanted a shower and to somehow get his hands on those files.

“I know she did something to him,” The girl spoke, once again opening the holovid to search for an answer.

Hope crawled, frail and simpering, back into his chest. Jack didn’t want it, but it was there all the same. Small, shining, and absolutely impossible to ignore or stamp down into silence. His eyes stung, so he closed them and tilted his head back. Why couldn’t he close his heart to this?

With a resigned sigh, he surrendered, “You want my help?”

The girl frowned, “It’s not like there’s any one else I can go to about this.”

Jack dropped his head back down to pin a frank look on the girl, “Do you want my help?”

She stopped flicking through the screens to meet and match his expression, “Duh.”

Close enough. Jack pointed at her holovid, “I want all of O’Deorain’s files on Reyes sent to Angela Zeigler. Know her?”

Her brow furrowed, “Yeah, but why?”

“You want my help or not?”

“Alright,” her tone reflected her confusion. She watched Jack questioningly as he rooted around the room for a change of clothes and a pair of boots. “What are you going to do?”

Jack wished he had a plan, or at least something more than a few wistful ideas he’d strung together just a moment ago. “I’m going to talk to Reyes.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea…”

“You got a better one?”

She frowned.

“Didn’t think so,” Jack worked on lacing up his boots. “You’re going to tell him where to find me.”

“He’ll kill—”

“Yeah, he might,” Jack firmly cut her off because he didn’t need to hear it. He already knew the truth of it and the thought of dying didn’t bother him. Living with the pain was, by far, worse. “Just get those files to Dr. Ziegler.”

The girl left and Jack stared down at his combat boots for a long time afterward. He eventually shrugged into his old, familiar jacket emblazoned with the memory of better time. A time when he had just been a soldier ready to give his life for a cause he believed in. A time when he knew who he was and what he wanted out of life.

Jack trailed his fingers over the jacket’s frayed stitching, the gouges left in the collar and lapels, and the bullet holes he never got around to mending. It had served him well over the last several years.

It was due for retirement.

 


 

     Two Days Later

The approaching storm swallowed the rising moon and sent warm winds through the streets as a warning of things to come. Jack often enjoyed the smell of rain on the wind, and the flash of lightning in the distance, but today it settled darkly on his mind. This time it made his bones, and his tired soul, ache.

He was going to die.

If not for the fact he was running for his life, Jack might have laughed at the futility of the situation. Jack knew, as soon as Reaper coalesced in his field of view, that the fight would not go well for him. The man, Reaper, moved with a cold, calculated purpose of an efficient killing machine. Reaper wasted no time with taunting words. He closed the distance to boost his advantage and opened fire. Actively trying hard to not kill Reaper didn’t help Jack’s odds for survival. Which, again, made him want to laugh at his own idiocy.

Jack took refuge around the corner of a building to throw down his last biotic emitter. The yellow light hummed, infusing him with a warmth that speed up his already accelerated capability to heal. Or, it tried to help him heal; his body continued to reject the aid. Most of the shots he’d taken had been glancing, or just off of anything vital. But with each hit, Jack felt Reaper’s dark energy pull at him, feeding off of him, negating any damage inflicted on the wraith.

He reloaded his rifle, slamming the magazine home when the approaching steps, calm and heavy, changed to the hiss of an angry wind. The shadow loomed and Jack ducked down and rolled away to avoid the materializing shotgun that tore apart the brick and mortar of the wall behind him. Jack swung back around to fire, but Reaper read his motions and threw himself sideways, firing with other shotgun.

Jack ran.

The shotgun pellets impacted against his jacket and Jack kept moving. He slid, taking cover behind a concrete planter and peeked over the top, “Any chance we can talk about this?”

He ducked back down just before a shot chipped away at the concrete. “I take that as a no.”

The air rustled as the shadows billowed over the barrier. Jack rose from his crouch to meet the wraith, catching the man’s arm as it formed. Jack pivoted, shoved his hip into Reaper and threw him over his shoulder, slamming him into the ground. He kept a solid grip on the arm and switched to a restraining hold to keep the wraith pinned. “Please, Gabriel.”

The hold didn’t last. Aside from extensive training and experience in combat situations, Reaper had an advantage that Jack couldn’t counter. He phased, turning into nothing but a cloud of hateful smoke, and Jack lost his momentary advantage.

Jack moved before the mist could coil around him, before those claws could clutch at his throat, or a gun could appear and rip off his face. Jack could run, he’d always been able to out pace Gabriel back in their SEP days, and even later on during their service in Overwatch. Yet it didn’t matter when Gabriel - Reaper - turned into to that tireless shadow and chased him down.

The smoke condensed in front of Jack. The pale haired soldier swung, but too early, his rifle sailed harmlessly through the darkness. Reaper solidified a second later, catching the elbow that swung back around. His other hand, gloved and tipped with metal claws, gouged at Jack’s face. The claws scraped over the metal visor and bit into Jack’s cheek. The visor flickered and, for a heart-stopping moment, Jack couldn’t see. He could smell the approaching rain, could hear the distance rumble of thunder, he could feel the pain from Reaper’s assault, but he could not see.

Jack pried off the claws, twisted aside and retreated far enough back to give himself time to remove the damaged visor. The looming storm had swallowed up the moonlight, but the city managed to offer a faint glow that let him see a little. It wasn’t as much as Jack wanted, but it was better than being completely in the dark.

A kick took him in the knee, sending him to the ground. Jack caught himself and rolled out of the way as Reaper’s shotgun formed. Pain erupted from his thigh, forcing Jack to favor the leg as he spun around and returned fire. A few of the rapid fire pulse rounds managed to pierce Reaper’s chest before the wraith succumbed to shadows.

The mist surged and Jack stepped through the shade, pivoted, and swung where he thought Reaper might solidify. Again his rifle passed through the smoke, the smoke that seemed to be waiting for the attack. Reaper curled around him, one arm wrapping tightly around Jack’s neck while the other sank claws into the rifle in attempt to pry it from Jack’s hands.

Jack snapped his head back, smashing into Reaper’s mask. It hurt, but seemed to do the job, as Reaper, dazed, loosened his grip enough for Jack to counter. He gripped the arm crossed in front of him and used it as leverage to throw Reaper to the ground—only for the man to burst in mist as soon as his body hit the ground. Jack let loose a frustrated shout. He’d rather fight a wave of Bastion units over the elusive wraith.

“Come on, Reyes,” Jack glowered as the smoke swirled aside before thickening into a solid body. “You always did fight dirty.”

“And you… “

Jack dropped his guard, for just a moment, to peer curiously at the man, “And me… ?”

Growling, Reaper’s arm snapped up and he fired wildly at Jack. Jack brought his arms up around his head while throwing himself to the side. Reaper pursued, shooting with every advancing step. Jack dodged to the best of his ability until he heard the shotguns being discarded, presenting him with a small window of opportunity while the hard light reformed.

Jack threw himself at Reaper, taking him down with a shoulder tackle. Instead of a body softening Jack’s fall, his shoulder smacked into the hard street and the mist fanned around him. The next moment Reaper was the one on top, slamming Jack’s head against the ground. Stunned, Jack didn’t feel the second impact, but his training kicked in and he stopped his head from hitting the street a third time. He rolledl Reaper off and followed through with an elbow to the ribs—only to smash his elbow into street with a audible crack.

The mist slid away to loom above Jack before reforming, the shotguns once again materializing. Jack brought up his rifle to counter-fire. Nothing happened when he pulled the trigger. He glanced at the ammo, the magazine was near full, but Reaper’s claws must have damaged his rifle. Jack didn’t get to figure out what was wrong, because in the next moment he used the rifle as an impromptu shield against Reaper’s fire.

The light body armor he wore could only do so much. By the time Reaper ran out of bullets, Jack was weakly pulling himself along the ground with his good arm, a streak of blood marking his progress. “So this is it? No boasting? No lectures about how its all my fault? How I deserver this?”

Reaper finished reforming his guns, raised the barrel to point at Jack’s head, but hesitated. His arm lowered, just a touch, but lowered all the same. “Why would I?”

Jack slumped against the street, using the opportunity to relax into the pain wracking his body. He mentally took stock of his injuries. A hole in his thigh, a fractured arm, gouges on his face, and who knew how many small bullet holes. His ears were ringing and he was certain he had a gash on the back of his head from Reaper’s mask. Jack tried to ease himself a little further away, but with the way Reaper re-adjusted his aim in response, Jack stopped.

He exhaled heavily, tasting the blood on his breath, “Did you forget?”

Reaper advanced a step, “Forget what?”

A laugh bubbled out of Jack, which turned into a groan when Reaper kicked him in the ribs. Jack tried, and failed, to wipe the blood from his eyes to get a clear view of Reaper. What he saw was the shotgun pointed demandingly at his face. Jack snorted, “Do you even know who I am?”

“Jack Morrison,” Reaper snarled while stepping closer, “You’re… “

Jack’s brows lifted, “You don’t remember.”

The mist flared as Reaper knelt, maliciously planting a knee on Jack’s sternum, “I remember I want to kill you.”

“Why?” Jack managed through clenched teeth and shallow breaths.

For a long time Reaper just looked at him. Then the wraith rapidly shook his head. The weight on Jack’s chest began to lighten. It was only for a moment before Reaper, seeming to remember his purpose, doubled down on the pressure, “I hate you.”

Jack pushed back on the knee. It eased the pressure a little but didn’t prevent the coughing that brought blood to his lips. His blue eyes never strayed from the stoic mask glaring down at him, “Do you?”

The pressure lifted.

The wraith angrily turned away while pressing his wrists to the side of his head. He growled, almost screamed, before whirling around and pointing one of the shotguns back at Jack. “Shut up!”

Jack managed to lift his hands, palms forward, at the distressed shade. The girl had been right. The man before him, who seemed to be struggling with his own thoughts, was not the Gabriel they knew. Something was wrong. “Gabe?”

“Don’t!” Reaper struck him across the face with the barrel of his gun.

The world began to fade and the sky rumbled to announce the closing storm.

Maybe, Jack thought absently as his vision wavered, if those files got to Angela, maybe she would be able to help Gabriel. Hope could live on. Jack held on to that thought while relaxing against the street stained with his blood. It might have been the blood loss, but the idea that he had passed on his hope to burden someone else’s shoulders put his own mind at ease. He couldn’t help Gabriel but, maybe, hopefully, someone else could.

Reaper, once again composed, cold and efficient, stood over him. “Any last words?”

Jack smiled, flashing blood-stained teeth. At least that sounded like Gabriel. Jack struggled to reach into the breast pocket of his battered jacket. He couldn’t quite grab the pictures, but he managed to snag the corners of some of them. He extracted them, lifting them up to the barrel that wavered in and out of his failing sight.

“It’s you...”

The photographs, smeared with blood from his gloves, fell from his slackening grip. The images of his past, of their past, spilled over the street. Jack’s arm dropped back to his side, landing just short of Reaper’s boot. The clouds above them flashed with light before roaring in anger.

“It’s always been you.”

Reaper fired.

The first rain drops hit the street.

Jack tasted blood.

And gunpowder.

Chapter Text

  Two Days Earlier

Moira never put thought toward where she wanted to live. As long as she had what she needed to continue her work, it didn’t matter. Oasis served sufficiently enough. The ideal technocracy; clean, organized, and boasting of an open-minded existence while being secretly more harsh than the Viskar when upstarts threatened their scientific haven. It offered a decent sounding board for her theories, allowing her to speak with like-minded individuals since the rest of the world was just not ready for her work. Not yet, anyway.

The late afternoon sun slanted in through the tall windows of her quiet apartment as she settled down with a glass of wine, opening her holovid to review last week's research notes. She barely had relaxed into her chair and taken a sip of her drink before a call popped up in the corner of her screen. An unknown caller but, considering it was her personal line, it would do her no favors to ignore it.

She tapped the line open, “O’Deorain.”

“Guten Tag, Dr. O’Deorain. I hope this isn’t a bad time.”

Recognizing the voice, Moira sat up a little straighter. “Dr. Ziegler. This is… unexpected.”

Young, brilliant, and on the forefront of medical technology, Angela Ziegler had made a lasting impression on Moira. They had only spoken face to face a handful of times, but Moira would be hard pressed to forget the tenacious woman. Their ideals, while similar at the roots, clashed when put into practice and were absolutely volatile when discussed in person.

Moira straightened her dark dress shirt, her fingers thoughtfully pausing over the loosened buttons at the top. The tie left on the counter in the kitchen. Irked by the less than professional appearance, Moira smoothed back her short, red hair before tapping the caller box, opening the line to a video call. She needed to confirm the identity of the caller with her own mis-matched eyes.

On the screen, Angela’s sat, platinum blond hair swung up into a messy bun, honey-brown eyes so dark against her pale skin. She looked ever as much young and vibrant as Moira remembered her.

Mind racing with questions, Moira took a quiet moment to compose herself behind a sip of wine. She arched a delicate brow, “To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”

And how did you get my number?

Angela smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes, “I was just reading over some of your research, Dr. O’Deorain.”

The arched brow inched higher, not buying into the ruse. “Oh?”

“Yes, your work on our mutual friend - Gabriel Reyes?”

Moira’s back stiffened, “Is that so.”

“Indeed,” Angela’s head tilted, her eyes flitting off screen. “It’s very interesting work you’ve done on him.”

“Lying has never suited you, Dr. Ziegler.”

“Yes, well, I was saving the real stuff for when we meet.”

Moira nearly spilled her wine, “We’re meeting?”

“Of course. How else are we going to fix your sloppy work?”

Worse insults had been spat her way, yet Angela’s harsh words always did sting, if just a little. Moira respected the other woman, and it twisted at her to know the sentiment would never be returned. “I beg your pardon?”

“How can you claim what you did to Gabriel as scientific research? What you did was equivalent of throwing a bunch of half-brained hypothesis into a blender, turning it on, and waiting to see what happened. It’s an absolute mess.”

How did she know anything about Reyes’s physiology?

Moira tapped at the rim of her wine glass and clucked her tongue at the angry blonde, “Gabriel is an on going project that I would rate as highly successful.”

The way Angela’s face curdled looked utterly childish with her youthful features, “My point is that he needs work and I am offering to collaborate with you. I need your expertise to fully understand what you’ve done to him and you need my help to fix it.”

Absolutely absurd. Moira splayed her fingers over her mouth as a derisive laugh bubbled out. A smile lingered on her lips, amused at the ridiculous idea. “An interesting notion, but not one that will be acted upon.”

“Oh, you’ll come.” Out came the silken tone and the dangerous smile of a woman intent on getting her way. The devil behind the face of an angel. “Or not only will I release your research to the public, but I will also let Talon know who gave it to me.”

Moira’s mismatched eyes narrowed, “I gave you nothing.”

“I doubt that will matter.”

Sitting back, Moira studied the smug blonde while calmly taking a sip of wine. “So, where and when are we meeting?”

 


 

Moira arrived shortly after sundown and - very quickly - Angela realized how much she detested being around the Irish woman. There was just something about the woman’s cool demeanor, blunt honesty, and utter lack of compassion that grated on Angela’s nerves. After several heated arguments, about the usual topic of ethics, which left both women in dark moods, they agreed to retire for the night and start fresh in the morning.

Angela began the day with a quick shower, cheerful music, and a bagel with strawberry cream cheese. She took in the sunrise and the faint whiff of rain on the wind. After that, she accepted that the day would go nowhere but downhill.

She settled in at the small kitchen table with one of two data pads and poured over the information sent to her from an anonymous source. No doubt Jack was behind the unmarked files containing Gabriel’s medical history. She promised to help him, as long as it didn’t come to violence. A romantic part of her found it endearing; Jack being willing to forgive Gabriel for his grevious crimes. It reminded her, fondly, of Genji.

“So what am I to do,” Moira sat opposite of her with a fresh cup of coffee. She glanced at the second data pad, “I am familiar with my own research.”

Angela vied to remain neutral, “You can start by telling me why you did this to him.”

The notes concerning Gabriel’s condition made her want to cry; no one deserved that level of misery. Moira had stripped away the man’s humanity. Gabriel had never been a pillar of morals, but there had been decency to the man. Now he existed as a thing, forced to feed of the essence of the living in order to survive. Worse, the changes made to Gabriel’s body were based around her nanotechnology. The work she had done to help all of humanity, Moira had taken it and twisted it to make Reaper.

Moira sipped at her coffee, “Do we really need to start that conversation so early in the morning?”

“I am trying to understand it from your perspective.”

“It will only make you angry.”

Angela lifted her hands in a helpless gesture, “Then tell me why you would do this at all.”

The tall geneticist set her coffee aside, her long fingers trailing thoughtfully over the table top, “If not for people such as myself, scientific research would stagnant.”

Angela bristled, “Is my work so insignificant?”

“Hardly so, but you’re not willing to push it as far as it can go.”

“There must be boundaries.”

“There use to be a time when performing an autopsy on a body was considered an act of perversion. Yet if not for those doctors, the men and women who pushed past society’s ideals, we would not have the basic understand of human anatomy that we have today. If they had obeyed the boundaries set upon them, science would have not progressed.”

Moira picked up her coffee, her gaze having never strayed from Angela’s face, “Would you condemn those men and women, or call them pioneers of their time?”

“That’s different.”

“Is it?” Moira’s mismatched eyes slid off to the side, “I don’t expect anyone to appreciate my work during my lifetime.”

It troubled Angela that she could see the potential in Moira’s work; it could very well end up being world-changing. But she could never condone the method of Moira’s research. The ends would never justify the means. Using people, like Gabriel, as mere stepping stones to advance her research—

They were getting off topic. Again.

Angela dropped the subject and refocused on the data pad, “Are you certain there is no way to simply reverse what’s been done to Gabriel?”

“I believe we can agree on the fact that the human body, in its natural state, can adapt to some of the most remarkable changes.” Moira paused long enough to see if Angela would disagree, then continued. “Gabriel, however, is beyond human. His body would not adapt to change like it once could.”

Angela hummed her disappointment, then tapped open a file that had been bugging her, “What is this about? In his earlier treatment?”

The Irish woman only glanced at the screen before closing the file, “It doesn’t concern the matter at hand.”

“Moira,” Angela grumbled while re-opening the file. “I need to understand all of it.”

For a long while, Moira gazed toward the window, a faint wrinkle creasing her brow. Angela waited. She didn’t want to resort to threats to get the information, but she also knew that if push came to shove, she had to make good on her word to expose Moira.

“You are familiar with the subject Amélie Lacroix?” Moira eventually asked.

Alarm bells went off in Angela’s head, “Yes.”

Moira laced her fingers and set her joined hands on the table, “Talon prefers their field agents on a metaphorical leash.”

“Are you saying Gabriel was brainwashed?” Angela glanced at the file’s date. “Since he was in Blackwatch?”

“Not exactly. Gabriel was always something of a wild card. Talon wanted the option to bring him under control if the need arose. I was tasked to merge their desires with Gabriel’s alterations.”

Which meant, Angela realized with a slump of shoulders, Moira had been working for Talon prior to being brought on to Blackwatch. A traitor from the beginning. Of course, she hadn’t been the only one; Overwatch had rotted from within.

Angela closed her eyes, “So what exactly did you do in order to ‘leash’ him?”

“Suppression, for a lack of a better term. I modified some of the receptors in his brain to release a cocktail of chemicals that limit his ability to think and make choices—”

“You took away his free will!”

Moira rolled her eyes before continuing, “It limits his free will. It makes him more malleable, at least long enough to align him back with Talon’s goals. But because of Gabriel’s unique physiology, the effect wears off over time. Hence the need for a serum that can be reapplied.”

“So all this time he’s been—”

“No,” Moira cut her off with an annoyed look. “Gabriel was already walking down this path. After all, he hired me, he requested the alterations. Talon merely saw an opportunity to recruit him. I laid out the ground work, but it wasn’t acted upon until later in his career.”

Of a sudden, Angela wanted to return to her simple work of helping people, easing their pain and suffering. The act of healing was something pure in the world, not something that twisted at her morals and principles. Listening to Moira talk about a living person as if there were little more than a test culture made Angela want to weep. She wanted to turn the other cheek to the whole matter and pretend she never got involved in the whole affair.

Discreetly, Angela brushed her fingers along the underside of her downcast eyes, “Did you ever care at all?”

“He was a subject, a unique challenge that I enjoyed. I’m not going to pretend that I am not pleased by my success in Gabriel. View it however you wish, but I am not going to apologize for my work.”

Even expecting such an answer, Angela couldn’t help but be disappointed. She drew in a deep breath, held it, and let it go along with the subject. She opened a new file on the data pad and began to work. Perhaps she could make an energy to heal Gabriel’s physiology, or develop a blocker to target the afflicted receptors in his brain…

 


 

It wasn’t until late in the evening, after they both had taken dinner and were contemplating bed, when a call appeared on Angela’s holovid. She tapped on the purple skull icon to accept the call, too tired to really care who might calling at such a late hour.

“Hello?”

”Heya Doc, you enjoying the files I sent?”

“Sombra?” Moira stepped up behind Angela.

”Ay…”

The purple skull flickered, disappearing to reveal a young latina woman smiling uneasily at the screen.

”Oh heeeey Dr. O’Deorain, I didn’t expect you to be there.”

Moira, scowling for once, leaned over Angela’s shoulder, “I believe I have you to thank for the breach of security concerning my personal files.”

”Well if you hadn’t messed with Gabe, I wouldn’t have to consult another doctor for a second opinion.”

“Since when is this any of your business?”

”Everything is my business, lady. You broke him.”

Moira scoffed, “Hardly.”

”Whatever vampirella,” Sombra focused on Angela, frowning. ”How mobile are you?”

“I…” Angela shook her head, unsure how to treat the conversation. She didn’t know the girl, but her familiarity with Moira made it clear it involved Talon. Yet the girl had sent the files on what Angela assumed was Jack’s request. It was all so very confusing. “I don’t understand.”

”I did something and uh... I think it got Jack killed.”

Angela’s heart leapt to her throat, “What do you mean?”

”I went to him first, about Gabe, and he asked me to send those files to you. He said he was going to talk to Gabe.”

A month ago, Angela had stood in the same room as Jack and Gabriel. While the tension had been near palpable, the two men had found a way to interact that didn’t involve yelling at each other from opposite sides of the room. They had been - lacking a better term - close. She might even dare to say that they were friends again. What had happened since—

Angela’s heart sank as she looked at Moira, “You wiped him.”

The tall woman retreated a half-step, “Gabriel was straying, no doubt due to these interactions with Morrison. I was given an order to adjust his priorities.”

”You broke him!”

Moira glared back at the woman on the screen.

“Excuse me,” Angela turned the holovid away from Moira. “But you said you think Jack was killed?”

”I didn’t see, but I did pick up on a transmission from paramedics en route to the hospital. The man they described sounded like Jack and… it didn’t sound good.”

“Where is he?”

A pause as the young woman typed, then an address popped up on Angela’s screen.

”I figured if anyone can save him, it would be you Doc.”

“Sombra,” Angela’s eyes widened. “This is several hundred miles away.”

”So you’re not very mobile…?”

If she drove straight there, she might be able to make it in a day. Perhaps she could arrange a video connection with the doctors at the hospital. Her help had never been turned down in the past, so it was worth a shot. It might be enough to at least make sure Jack remained stabilized until she arrived. “I will try.”

”I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for him to get hurt…”

The call ended abruptly.

Angela immediately began packing while Moira sat idle. The pair of mismatched eyes followed her frantic trip around the room. As Angela slid the holopad into her bag, she froze, “I don’t have any of my gear with me. I didn’t think I would need it for this. I- I will have to drive to… it’s going to take me three days at the least…”

“You’re not going to fly?” Moira asked.

“I work non-profit. My funding is strictly for my work.”

“Of course it is,” Moira toned with a hint of amusement. She lifted one of the data pads with a staged sigh, “Let me make arrangements.”

Humbled, Angela’s cheeks burned with color, “Thank you, Moira.”

 


 

They arrived before dawn.

During the flight, Moira had been additionally kind to make arrangements for Angela’s equipment to be delivered by that evening. Angela wished it could have been sooner because once she was briefed on ‘John Doe’s' condition, she feared it would all come too late. Jack remained unconscious, his body refusing to heal on its own.

I’ve seen worse, Angela reminded herself when hopelessness threatened to wash over her. Of course, in the past, when she had performed the miracles people liked to attribute to her, she had been working in state of the art facilities. At the moment, reduced to basic medicine, all Angela could do was fight to keep Jack stabilized while his body continued to fail.

After one harsh episode, Angela found herself in Moira’s arms, quietly sobbing into the tall woman’s shoulder.

“I know his medical file inside and out,” She argued with herself. “He should be in recovery! He’s had worse injuries during the Crisis. I don’t understand why he’s not healing!”

Moira gently rubbed between Angela’s shoulders, “It’s Gabriel.”

Sniffling, Angela drew away to peer up at the geneticist, “What do you mean?”

“An unforeseen side effect of his condition. He tends to infect people he’s drawn energy from.”

“An infection?”

“It causes a lingering effect of decay. The flesh slowly dies. It’s never been a concern as usually he doesn’t leave his targets alive” As an afterthought, as if trying to brighten Angela’s mood, Moira added. “Morrison has survived this long due to his own alterations. It’s possible he might out last the decay and make a recovery.”

Angela wiped at her cheeks, “If it’s an infection, we could make an antibiotic to—”

“It’s not in the blood, or even in his body. It’s more like a lingering aura from Gabriel’s energy.”

Exasperated, Angela ran a hand through her mussed hair, “We have to do something.”

Anything.

Chapter Text

Why.

      Why?

           Why!?

Gabriel clawed at his mind, but the cogs of thought refused to turn. Every now and then, as he continued to press against the mental haze, he caught slivers of memories. A face, a feeling. His consciousness would begin to scream about something being wrong, then the fog would close around the memory and the train of thought would stop, leaving Gabriel’s mind quiet save for a layer of simmering anger. Like a stone dropping into a calm lake, there were ripples of disruption then nothing but an eerie stillness.

His fist slammed into the concrete ledge and he latched on to the resulting pulse of pain. It cleared his mind, momentarily, from the anger, the hunger, and he could almost grasp the understanding to why he lingered. Why he had picked up the blood-stained photographs and slipped them in to his own pocket. Why he had perched up high, watching Jack Morrison die on the street below him. Why he had stayed there, looking at the pictures while Jack’s body was discovered. Why he had followed the ambulance all the way to the hospital and why, now, he kept vigil over Morrison’s room from the roof.

Killing someone had never been a difficult task. He took pleasure in death; it relieved his pain. But shooting Jack and leaving him to bleed out on the street had given life to a new pain, one he didn’t know how to stop. It enveloped him, manifesting as a dark, writhing miasma so thick it obscured his vision.

Why?

Perhaps because he left the job unfinished?

An insistent beep in his ear interrupted his inner strife. Gabriel touched the communicator out of reflex, “Reaper.”

“Hey Gabe,” Sombra greeted in a rather somber tone, ”How ya doin’?”

“Fine,” The word felt like ash on his tongue and made his stomach roll violently. “Why?”

 Why. Why. Why.

”Did you kill that gringo, jefe?”

The image surfaced, a pale, bloody face over the barrel of his shotgun. The too-blue eyes staring up at him, the weak smile, then the words escaping the man like a last breath. Gabriel retrieved one of the worn photographs before the fog settled back over the memory. The picture, the one that kept pulling at his shrouded mind, showed a younger version of himself with Jack Morrison. He held Jack in a loose headlock while they both smiled (himself grinning) at the camera.

“Yes.” The admission tore at him.

“Oh Gabe..”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

The question danced on the tip of his tongue, but the words he wanted to form became jumbled and elusive. He chased the thoughts into the fog, leaving himself with only a vague recollection of what he wanted to ask. “Something is wrong. I... “

“Gabe..”

“He was my enemy... “

“He was your friend.”

“No,” Gabriel refuted, but as he looked at the picture he again felt confused. “Jack Morrison is - was...”

The direction of his thoughts wandered into the fog.

“He was on my list.”

Sombra sighed, “I know that’s what you’re suppose to think.”

Unable to comprehend the words, no matter how much he tried to sift them into an understanding, Reaper let it go. The photograph fell from his quivering fingers, twirling into the darkness below, lost along with his memories. A muted scream raked over his fractured mind. Gabriel removed the comm from his ear and crushed it in his palm.

He was your friend.

Pain blossomed in his chest.

“No.“

But he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember anything; not where he was born, the face of his mother, or his life growing up. The memories eluded him and a blanket of chemical apathy separated him from engaging the underlying emotions. They were so close, pressing against the veil, taunting him.

Gabriel fell away to shadows, one of the few things left under his control. It dulled the ache within, and he wished he could stay forever adrift and forget any of it ever happened.

Instead, as if drawn by the scent of death, Gabriel coalesced inside the dimly lit hospital room he’d stood sentry over for the past day. The quiet, marred by shallow breaths and the sharp beeps of the heart monitor, did not put Gabriel at ease. It made the chaos in his mind worse and the shadows around him whirl.

The slow, torturous beat of the heart monitor made Gabriel wonder, again, if what troubled him was the fact his target lived.

He edged closer to gaze upon the figure swathed in gauze. So vulnerable. So oblivious to the looming figure of death standing at his bedside. Gabriel waited for some kind of reaction from his ‘friend’, but nothing changed. The heart monitor went on like a metronome, marking the passage of time.

IVs hung from poles and Gabriel touched at the bags, struck with a sense of familiarity, “You’re not healing.”

Why did it matter?

It wouldn’t take much to snuff the man. Gabriel reached for Jack’s face, knowing his hand could fit, quite easily, over Jack’s mouth and nose. A couple moments and it would be over. His intentions altered and Gabriel found himself touching at the gauze obscuring the majority of Jack’s face, disappointed when the contact failed to wake the wounded soldier.

“Jack,” The name burned on his tongue, but behind the word something gain momentum, rolling up from the pain in his chest and bursting past his lips. “Wake up, Jack.”

His vision blurred, but before it could come to fruition, the machine next to Gabriel screeched. The screen drew a flat line that stretched on and on.

“No.”

The shadows flared, spiking in angry tails of black flame.

No.

He shook Jack by the shoulders, “Get up!”

The door swung open, Angela entered, flanked by attending nurses. Her tired eyes widened and she shrieked at the writhing mass of shadow before throwing herself between Jack and the wraith, shoving the latter away, “Don’t!”

It took all of Gabriel’s wavering sense of self control to not rip off the woman’s pretty face. She was on his list. He needed to kill her - but, but, Jack was also on his list and for whatever reason Gabriel did not want him dead. Which, in turn, meant he didn’t want the blonde doctor dead because he needed her help.

Reluctantly, Gabriel slunk backwards, allowing the frightened nurses to work on the flat-lining soldier. All the while he silently promised to kill every last one of them if they didn’t get Jack’s heart beating again.

Time passed by in slow motion. Gabriel took in everything at play. The woman taking Jack’s vitals at the wrist, the syringe that was filled and injected into Jack’s veins, the chest compressions administered to disperse the medicine. The monitor beeped and all eyes turned to the machine, watching, waiting for a second feeble bump of the green line.

Beep

“Thready,” said the nurse holding fingers to Jack’s wrist.

Angela listened to Jack’s heart while watching the monitor. “He’s stable. For now.”

The room emptied as quickly as it had filled. Angela lingered behind to glare balefully at the wraith, “You can’t be here.”

Gabriel seethed, “Do you think you can stop me?”

Her red-rimmed eyes welled with angry tears as she advanced on him, “You’re the reason he’s here - the reason he’s still here.”

His gaze strayed to Jack, “He’s dying.”

“Because of you!”

She made to shove him, but Gabriel caught one of her elbows in a fierce grasp. “Fix him.”

With her free hand she slapped him hard enough to make his head turn. “How dare you. This is all because he wanted to fix you!

Annoyed curls of smoke rose around Gabriel. He squeezed her elbow, claws pointed into her delicate skin, but the woman was too proud to wince. Angela maintained her vehement narrow of teary eyes. He let her go, “I’m not leaving.”

True to her bravado, Angela didn’t even put a hand over the small bleeding points on her arm. Neither did she back away from the wraith. She continued to remain a physical barrier between him and her patient. “Fine, but you’re going to help.”

The dark mist abated a little, “How?”

“We need to work with your,” She motioned vaguely to his shadowy form, “features to find a way to counter how you infected him.”

He growled at the insinuation, “Infected?”

She glared at him, “Just don’t touch him.”

Without another word, Angela left the room, leaving Gabriel to grumble to himself. He pressed himself into the far corner of the room and pulled the hateful energy into himself. It wasn’t easy. It made him feel like a dam on the verge of bursting. He was tired, hungry, and angry that he still didn’t understand why he continued to linger.

Kill him.

Gabriel sank down the wall until he sat with his arms draped loosely over his knees. He hungered in a way other people couldn’t understand. His soul ached and he just wanted to lash out, to spill blood and life so he could draw it in to himself to make it stop. He could taste the life seeping out of Jack. It slid through the room, tantalizing his senses. It wouldn’t take much to latch on to that bright thread and pull. Pull and pull until there was nothing left inside of Jack. He ignored the desire to devour the light and soothed his fraying nerves with the thought that as long as he could sense the life in the room, Jack lived.

The nurses, and Angela, came and went every hour, ignoring the darkened corner of the room.

Gabriel did what he did best, he brooded.

 


 

Angela, both physically and mentally exhausted, stood on the balcony in hopes the cold air would help keep her awake. Moira joined her, handing her a fresh cup of coffee from somewhere distinctly not the hospital. Angela wrapped her hands around the warm cup, but didn’t drink. She glanced up at the taller woman, “Gabriel is here.”

“I know.”

“He won’t leave,” Angela’s expression hardened. “Do you think he’s making it worse?”

“Hard to say for certain,” Moira replied, distracted.

A little more awake, and catching Moira’s tone, Angela turned to peer at the geneticist. “What?”

“Hm?” Moira’s mismatched eyes slowly focused on Angela’s face.

Angela softly huffed, “For this to work, Moira, we need to be transparent with each other. I need to know what you are thinking.”

Moira, too, looked tired. “You won’t like it.”

“Just spit it out.”

“I’m annoyed,” Moira admitted. “Gabriel shouldn’t be behaving in this manner. I can’t figure out how he’s overcome the serum.”

“He built up a tolerance, perhaps.” Even if she had promised herself not to get angry with Moira for the truth, it still made her teeth grit and her lips thin. “Or he felt strongly enough to affect his actions. He’s not all there, but part of him is. He’s done something like this before, when Jack got hurt during the beginning of Overwatch. I had to have Ana sedate him and Reinhardt escort him out of Jack’s room.”

“A person’s emotions have always been an unknown factor in my calculations,” Moira muttered.

“Jack and Gabriel use to be very close. If anyone could reach Gabriel after all that Talon’s done,” Angela graciously didn’t place the blame solely on Moira, “it would be Jack.”

Maybe Jesse; Gabriel had always seemed protective over the former gang member. But they didn’t have Jesse. All they had to keep Gabriel from murdering them all in a fit of pique was an unconscious man barely clinging to life. Angela didn’t want to imagine what might happened if Jack died. She lived through his death once already. She had attended his funeral, put flowers on his grave and, after a time, moved past her grief. A second death would not be any easier and, given Gabriel’s current state, she was afraid of what the wraith might do if Jack truly died.

Angela stepped closer to Moira as the cold air began to take hold, “Please tell me you are close to finding a solution. My own attempts have gone nowhere.”

An amused twitch crossed Moira’s lips, “I might, but you’re not going to like it.”

 


 

Dawn broke, filling the room with streaks of warm, golden light. Gabriel immediately closed the blinds to block out the cheerful sunshine. The light highlighted the hollow look of Jack’s cheeks and the deep purples of bruising peeking out from beneath the swathes of gauze. The darkness was kinder, softening the truth while also cloaking how Gabriel’s mere existence as a living shadow spit in the face of the sun.

Restricted to his corner, Gabriel found solace in the rhythmic beep of the heart monitor. Nothing made sense, other than the notion of leaving made his broken mind writhe in protest. But staying proved challenging. He could sense the weak and dying within the hospital and it gnawed at the last sliver of his humanity.

The pattern of beeps changed, snapping Gabriel from his hungry daze. He rose from the floor, limbs stiff, and waited for the nurses to rush in to the room. When no one came, Gabriel’s heart rate picked up to match the monitor’s rapid beat.

Jack stirred, a thin line of blue appeared between dark lashes.

Gabriel held his breath.

He forced himself to remain against the wall, watching Jack grope at the bed rails and struggle to make sense of his surroundings. When his gaze fell on Gabriel, surrounded by flicking shadows, the heart monitor exposed Jack’s alarm; a rapid staccato of electronic beeps filled the room.

The impulse to both kill Jack, and embrace him, warred behind Gabriel’s mask while Jack, much like a rabbit, remained frozen under Gabriel’s predatory attention, heart racing and ready to bolt.

Gabriel broke the stare down, turning his face toward the blinds, “I’m not suppose to touch you.”

The heart monitor slowed and Jack relaxed. Gabriel expected a nurse to arrive at any moment, but the door remained closed. The tension twisted at him, spurring him to speak. “She said I infected you and that’s why you’re not healing.”

Jack started to sit up, but again the beeps revealed the truth, exposing how much of a strain it was on his body. He sank back down, defeated, chest heaving.

Gabriel pressed himself more firmly against the wall while his arms tightened across his chest, “You’re dying.”

Jack smacked his fist against the bed rail.

“I can taste the life escaping you,” Gabriel canted his head to the side, wondering why he continued to ramble, but then Jack’s gaze was on him and the words stumbled out. “Sombra says you were my friend, and the doctor tells me you wanted to help me, but when I hear your name I’m filled with… “

He paused, trying to understand the feelings that twisted around under the surface of his thoughts at the mere mention of Jack Morrison. There was anger, yes, but the rest of the emotional response danced beyond his grasp. Gabriel quickly abandoned the chase of the elusive memories, knowing he wouldn't be able to grasp on long enough to decipher them.

As he lapsed into silence, he caught sight of Jack frowning and his heart tripped over itself. He rambled on, uncertain but determined to find insight, “I’m suppose to kill you. You should be dead, but I…”

Again he saw the bloodied, pale face staring up at him with those vibrant eyes. Gabriel recalled the weight of the shotgun in his hand and the resistance of the trigger as his finger squeezed. At the last second, he had pulled his shot. What should have been a death blow became a lethal wound. Instead of a merciful end, Jack was made to suffer a prolonged death.

  Why?

      Why?

“Because I’m selfish,” Gabriel whispered, then growled. “I can’t think clearly.”

Jack reached for him and Gabriel flattened his shoulders against the wall. The shadows lashed the air between them before he could shove the hungry power back down. Gabriel dug his claws into his biceps, using the pain to steady himself. The pale hand still beckoned him to close the distance.

“I’m not suppose to touch you.”

The dying soldier flipped him off then again extended trembling fingers.

Gabriel chuckled while his heart sank, “Is that your last request as a dying man?”

A ghostly whisper rasped from between Jack’s lips. His arm dropped back to the bed and something broke inside of Gabriel. As a shadow he rushed forward, taking the time to tear off his gauntlets as he pulled himself together. He wrapped his withered hands around Jack’s cold one.

Why?

He pulled the hand under his mask and pressed the limp fingers to his cheek. The touch grounded him. Maybe, if he held on long enough, he might be able to make sense of his scattered thoughts. It could lead him out of the fog. Because, he realized with a stab of fear, without Jack, he was lost.

“Jack...”

The heart monitor screamed.

The plaster cracked as Gabriel slammed himself, and his awful energy, back against the far wall.

 


 

“You must be joking.”

“A yin to his yang,” Moira shrugged. “As you said, we are running out of time.”

“This.. “ Angela shook her head in disbelief. “This meddling is what caused the problem in the first place.”

“It’s the only solution I have,” The tall woman neither pushed the idea nor backed down from it, “between the two of us, the ground work is already done.”

“Jack would never consent.”

“Are you so sure?”

“I—” An alert popped up on from the personal device attached to her wrist. Angela sighed, “Jack’s coding again.”

Angela passed the coffee back to Moira and rushed inside. She didn’t know how much more Jack’s heart could take. Each attack made it weaker and the infection from Gabriel left Jack’s body unable to heal the damage. Angela caught the door before it closed behind her and looked back at Moira. “Let’s do it.”

Forgive me, Jack.

Chapter Text

Jack woke, his skin damp and feverish. The air around him burned with the presence of the sun. He groped at the blanket covering him, pushing it off before reaching for the thin hospital gown. His fingers tangled with the wires of the electrode pads monitoring his heart. He pulled them off, one at a time, along with the IV, and blearily took in the room while vaguely recalling the events leading up to his hospitalization.

There had been—

“Took you long enough."

—Reaper.

Surprise strangled his heart, and Jack’s eyes snapped toward the dark corner. Reaper slouched against the wall, hands dangling over his knees, the metal claws twitching with a cat-like eagerness. Despite the heat, a chill shot down Jack’s spine and goosebumps rushed along his arms as the fight or flight instinct kicked in to gear. He took in the room exits; door and window, then started cataloging possible items to use in defense.

But the wraith didn’t pounce.

“What happened?” Jack asked while considering the IV pole as a potential weapon.

“I killed you.”

Given that Gabriel saw it fit to tease and not shoot, assured Jack that, for the moment, he wouldn’t need to arm himself. He took stock of his wounds, or lack thereof, because as he drew his hand over his face and limbs, he found neither gauze nor healing scar. In fact, he felt good. A strange heat clung to him, but under it, an energy buzzed. He wanted to get up and move around just to expend the excess vitality.

“Guess you failed.”

“Oh no,” Gabriel rose, shadows curling as he languidly prowled closer. “You died. Several times, in fact.”

Jack swung his legs over the side of the bed, his eyes flicked toward the exit, but he otherwise remained still as the wraith neared.

“Your poor heart just couldn’t take the strain, but the eager doctors managed to patch you up.”

Their last interaction, that Jack remembered, had played out over the barrel of a shotgun, so he remained wary of the wraith’s change in demeanor. The conversation seemed harmless, but the restless way the wraith moved, with a predator’s grace and intensity, kept Jack’s heart jogging in preparation for a mad dash.

Gabriel scraped his claws along the edges of the bed and the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck rose in a mix of alarm and interest. The strange heat slid along his arms, making him feel flush.

Jack couldn’t turn his eyes away, “What happened? The last thing I remember was you weren’t… you.”

“Do you really know me?”

“Enough to know this is definitely you.”

“Is it?”

“Case in point,” Jack muttered.

He stood, or, he would have, if Gabriel wasn’t suddenly there, forcing him to sit back down. The wraith pressed in between Jack’s knees, moving as close as the edge of the bed would allow.

“I don’t think you really know me,” Gabriel said.

Heart racing, Jack planted a palm against Gabriel’s chest to keep the wraith at bay. Of all the attacks he anticipated from the man, he hadn’t expected that. Jack fumbled to push away one of the gauntlets playing over his thigh. The faint press of claws through the thin hospital gown enticed his body to react inappropriately. “I know you get a kick out of messing with people.”

Undeterred by the warning glare pinned on him, Gabriel drew the gown up along Jack’s thighs. “What else?”

“Gabriel!” Jack shoved the fabric back down. “What the fuck!?”

“Whatever those doctors did to you,” Gabriel leaned forward, abandoning the gown to plant his hands on either side of Jack’s hips. Jack sucked in a sharp breath and held it while Gabriel audibly inhaled, drawing in his scent and tugging at his soul. “You smell delicious.”

The words took a few seconds to filter through Jack’s short-circuiting mind. He wiggled back, hoping to gain enough space to clear his thoughts, but Gabriel gripped his hips to keep him close. The claws pressed into his skin, and Jack bit his tongue against the wanting noise collecting in his throat.

A rising panic did not mix well with a budding arousal. His mind tossed off conflicting impulses ranging from wanting to punch the wraith to wanting to wrap his legs around him.

“W-what did they do to me?”

A coldness pawed at the heat, hooking and nipping at the edges of the warmth. Gabriel leaned into Jack, hands kneading at his thighs while his mask grazed his cheek. “No more questions.”

Jack swallowed, unable to repress the pleasant shiver running down his spine in response to it all. He stared, wide-eyed, transfixed by the wraith's behavior.

The door opened, but much to Jack’s dismay, Gabriel didn’t retreat. Instead the man’s dark power flared, fanning over Jack like a hawk defending its kill from a contender.

Possessive. Hungry. Dangerous.

Lust pooled in Jack’s groin and he swore under his breath. His hands found Gabriel’s upper arms to force back the wraith.

Angela, flanked by Moira, cleared her throat to gain their attention.

Gabriel pressed more firmly into Jack’s barring hands.

“Gabriel,” Angela warned.

“Don’t care.”

Jack grimaced, tearing his attention away from the wraith to glance at the doctors. “Did you drug him?”

A dry chuckle came from Moira, “In a way, I suppose we have.”

“Jack,” Angela’s cheeks were tinged with pink. “I don’t know how to explain this - please keep an open mind. You were dying and we didn’t have time to find another solution.”

The gown drew up along his thighs, caught in Gabriel’s claws once again. Clearly, after having failed to kill him with bullets, the wraith sought to make Jack die from sheer embarrassment. Jack seized Gabriel’s wrists and glared up at the wraith - for all the good it would do him - then shifted the angry look to Angela. “What is going on?”

“We’ve altered your genetic code,” Moira answered.

“You—” Jack’s anger barely got out the gate before it tangled with distress. He floundered to keep Gabriel’s hands proper when the damning man was intent on the task of exposing him to the room. He growled, loudly, into the skull mask hovering near his face, “Stop it.”

Moira arched a thin brow at the two men, “You are aware of Gabriel’s unique physiology?”

Not trusting the wraith to behave, Jack didn’t break his vehement eye contact. “The vampire stuff?”

“Reaper stuff,” Gabriel corrected with ample amusement.

“In layman’s terms, yes,” Moira drawled. “We altered your body’s chemistry to produce more energy by building upon the modifications you endured during your time spent in the Soldier Enhancement Program and, also, with some of Angela’s personal nanotechnology.”

She paused to let the words sink in,” The energy you produce was made to be compatible with Gabriel’s.”

Spanish, low and decidedly dirty in context, filled Jack’s ears, making it almost impossible for him to concentrate on Moira’s explanation. He pulled the hospital blanket into his lap to hide his body’s interest, but could do nothing to hide the blush blooming across his pale features. “You… turned me into a battery?”

Unimpressed, Moira let loose a small sigh, “Again the simplified version.”

Angela took a half-step forward, her expression creased in apology, “It was the only solution we had to counteract Gabriel’s, er, affliction.”

“I don’t—”

“I’m a blight,” Gabriel mused with morbid delight. ”My touch causes decay and death, but you—”

One moment Jack held fast to Gabriel’s wrists, the next his fingers closed on thin air. The black smoke slipped between his fingers and formed together, claws raking along Jack’s forearms. As Jack cried out in surprise, Gabriel held tight, urging Jack to look. The heat dug into Jack’s arms, and as he watched, the skin knitted together faster than ever before.

“You’re immune,” He grabbed Jack’s face, pulling him closer, “And the way you smell. I can almost taste—”

“Shut up!” Jack leaned away. “Someone please explain—”

“Idiot,” Gabriel growled, affectionately, while pulling Jack back forward under the points of his claws. “Listen so they will go away.”

Jack shot an accusatory glare at the doctors, “What is wrong with him!?”

Out of the two women, Angela at least had the decency to look abashed by Gabriel’s behavior. Her brown eyes skated away from them. Moira, however, watched the exchange with clinical interest. Her mismatched eyes flicked over Gabriel while she folded her arms behind her back. “He’s starving.”

“Doesn’t he need to kill—”

“No,” Angela braved a smile, “he doesn’t, because you—”

“I’m a battery for him!?

Black mist curled around Jack and Gabriel pressed to touch more of him, “Don’t deny a starving man.”

Jack bared his teeth while turning his face into the mask to glare through the dark eye slits, “I told you to shut up.”

“Make me.”

The heat spiked, the shadows loomed, and all at once Jack lost his breath. A chilling wind sailed through him, pulling at things unseen, and the heat - the buzzing energy trapped beneath his skin - twined with the ethereal touch and left him. The room spun. Jack gripped at Gabriel’s arms to steady himself. When it stopped, Jack drew in a staggering breath and the world came rushing back into focus, but his mind continued to reel.

“Leave.” Gabriel said to the women while cradling Jack’s dazed face between his gloved hands. “Now.”

“Jack?” Angela stepped closer, pausing when black licks of smoke snapped at her, barring her path. “If this isn’t alright with you…”

Claws dug into the back of Jack’s head. “He’s mine.”

Her eyes widened, then narrowed into slits. “He is no such thing, Gabriel.”

“Angie,” Jack struggled to form the words, “It’s fine. I’m fine. Just - some privacy while he—”

—feeds

It sounded wrong, but Jack didn’t know how else to explain it. What little he understood from the conversation - about him being turned into some vat of healing energy and Gabriel being half-delirious from starvation - Jack knew what needed to happen.

Gabriel didn’t wait for Angela’s blessing. He pulled Jack close - body and soul - and drew at the warm energy.

More prepared for it, Jack remembered to breathe, though he still trembled at the feel of ghostly hands pulling at his core, feeding the energy into an open, eager maw that was the void within Gabriel. The cold power soothed the fire burning on Jack’s skin and when he stopped fighting against the peculiar sensation, his eyes fluttered to a close.

A groan of pleasure emitted from Gabriel and Jack shoved his hand under the mask to cover the man’s mouth. The noises were not helping. He felt like a man about to drown, barely able to keep his head above the dark waters pulling him down.

Moira’s voice floated from somewhere far away, saying something about thirty minutes, and Gabriel growling, demanding, again, that the doctors leave.

All the while he sipped at Jack’s copious energy.

The world shifted. Jack opened his eyes, surprised to find himself lying down with Gabriel positioned obscenely between his legs. He clutched at the blanket between them and pushed at the wraith’s chest. The adrenaline cleared the haze from his mind. “What are you - stop! I can’t - I can’t think when you’re—”

“Good,” Gabriel pulled at the blanket, “No thinking. You think too much.”

“I n-need to know what’s going on,” Jack gripped back at the blanket.

“You heard them.”

“With you, Gabe, what is going on between us.”

The feeding tapered off. Gabriel’s hands settled on Jack’s hips, the claw flexing, “Really, Jack. Right now - you want to - really?

“Yes really.”

Jack pushed the hands off, only to have Gabriel lean over him, their chests nearly brushing. Shadows slid between them, flicking with visible irritation.

“Mister ‘it’s always been you’ Jack Morrison,” Gabriel punctuated with a growl.

Embarrassment burned at the tips of his ears, “That doesn’t explain you.”

“What do you want me to say, Jack?”

The truth, as much as a white lie. Jack wanted to know if he meant more to Gabriel than a snack to sate the wraith’s hunger, more than an amusing toy to pass the time. Jack’s heart hung in a delicate place, waiting to fall completely over the edge - head over heels - for the vexing man. But there were numerous red flags frantically waving at him, urging him to pull back.

Instead Jack ended up teetering on the edge of his feelings, queasy with vertigo.

He pushed the wraith back, “Does it have to be sexual?”

Gabriel canted his head, questioning.

“The feeding, or whatever you want to call it.”

“Don’t you want it to be?”

Jack fought to keep the space between them despite Gabriel pressing to close it. “Don’t turn it around on me.”

With a growl, the wraith settled back on his heels and planted his hands on the swell of his own thighs. The posture almost submissive if not for the wicked tapping of claws. “No. It doesn’t.”

The answer disappointed him. Jack realized, with stab of guilt, that he had wanted the convenient excuse to entangle himself with Gabriel. Without it, his doubts and troubled heart got in the way. He moved to separate himself from the wraith, but a heavy hand on his knee pushed his bending leg back down.

Gabriel’s thumb pressed against skin, where the blanket had fallen away and the gown and ridden up, “Your turn to answer.”

“I—” Jack caught the clawed touch as it began to trace up his femoral artery. “What?”

Seizing the blanket, Gabriel slowly pulled it aside. “Do you want it to be?”

“Sexual,” Jack clarified with a whisper, aware that the thin gown did little to hide his growing interest. He still opted to shift the fabric over himself, adjusting his arousal to press against his abdomen instead of embarrassing him by standing up like a damn flag pole. “Since when are you - are you into - into uh, into—”

“Men?”

Jack nodded while swallowing thickly, “You never dated a guy that I know of.”

“I never dated anyone, Jack.”

“You had a wife, a kid—”

“You mean I got a girl pregnant and married her so they both got all that sweet Overwatch health insurance?”

Jack’s mouth opened and closed over words he couldn’t find. He never asked about Gabriel’s marriage. One day the papers had crossed his desk and even Ana had been surprised by the news. They congratulated him. Jack offered him time off to celebrate the honeymoon, but Gabriel had declined. Jack might have been a little sad, for himself, but at the same time he had been happy that his friend had found something he couldn’t have in his own life.

“I never knew,” Jack whispered.

“You never asked.”

“It wasn’t any of my business.”

“You just nursed a crush for your friend to torment yourself,” The claw inched upward. A maddening heat shot through Jack’s nerves, swelling in his groin. “And you carried around that fucking torch for Vincent so you had an excuse not to get involved with anyone.”

No—well, yes, in hindsight Jack could admit to using his failed relationship as an excuse not to explore his options. It made sense at the time. If he couldn’t make it work with Vincent, how could it work with anyone else? As for Gabriel, “You were my friend, Gabe, regardless of whether or not I found you attractive. I wasn’t going to jeopardize our friendship.”

“Yeah, well, you were a shit friend in the end.”

The hurt must have shown on Jack’s face, because Gabriel sighed and softened his tone, “But so was I.”

Jack snorted, “Was that an apology?”

Gabriel dug his talons into Jack’s hips and yanked the younger man into his lap. He deliberately ground his bulge against the curve of Jack’s exposed ass, making his intentions crystal clear. “It’s time you answer that question.”

Any further excuses escaped Jack. “Take off the mask.”

The wraith leaned over him, “Make me.”

Eager hands sprang forward, knocking back Gabriel’s hood to strip him of the mask and toss it aside. Their lips found each other before the mask finished clattering across the floor. Jack buried his fingers into Gabriel’s messy, dark brown hair and pulled the man in to deepen the kiss as far as it could go.

The ferocity of the kiss burned away the rest of his doubts, and his rational mind dissolved into primal need as Gabriel rutted against him, notably hard. It was frantic, the way they vied to obtain the maximum amount of physical contact, both men starving and craving more.

The kiss broke and Gabriel’s lips wandered, greedily trailing across Jack’s face and down to the crook of his neck. His teeth sank into the soft flesh and he drew hungrily from Jack’s warm aura.

Jack arched into the ethereal sensation, his hands clutching for purchase in Gabriel’s hair. The connection between them synced, like a key to a lock, turning to open up a whole new sensation of balance and harmony. Both of them paused at the euphoric feeling, warm like the sand of a beach, cool like the waves crashing against the shore and misting the air.

The zen faded and hands scrambled to expose skin.

The gauntlets were the first things to hit the floor, the belts were next. Jack’s hands slid under Gabriel’s shirt, fingers pressing against the hard muscles while his eyes roamed over the sight of Gabriel’s skin; a warm brown with only a small hint of gray dulling the otherwise healthy tone. His face, too, look more vibrant and beauitiful—

“Don’t you dare,” Gabriel said.

“What?”

“That look on your face,” Gabriel swiped fingers over Jack’s eyes to break the stare. “Don’t dare start professing some undying love for me.”

Jack snorted, “I’m not.”

“You always were a sap for romantic gestures.”

“Funny,” With a smirk, Jack reached down to grip Gabriel’s bulge through his pants, pleased when the wraith rocked against his palm. “I was thinking about how I romantically have been wanting to suck you off since SEP.”

Gabriel’s gaze dropped to Jack’s mouth as if considering the idea, then he groaned, “Another time,” and dug a small bottle out of his chest pocket, dropped it on Jack’s stomach, then divested himself of the trench coat.

Amusement lit up across Jack’s face as he picked up the bottle of lube. “You always carry this around with you?”

Teeth flashed at him in a feral smile. Gabriel plucked the lube from Jack’s fingers and unscrewed the cap.

Jack’s heart danced against his ribs as it dawned on him how quickly everything was happening. That it was even happening at all continued to boggle his mind. It didn’t stop him from melting into ecstasy when Gabriel’s slick fingers slid along the cleft of his ass, finding and circling the tight ring of muscles of his entrance, the touch just hard enough to make him squirm with need.

“I’ve had plans for you.”

The gown was bunched up to the hollow of Jack’s throat, giving Gabriel the access he wanted to graze feverish skin with his teeth. Each beginnings of a bite ended with a firm press of lips instead a drawing of blood.

“Your face pressed against the wall of one of those dark alleys where I kept finding you. My hand over your mouth to keep you quiet while I fuck you.”

“Oh fuck—” The exclamation broke off into a moan as Gabriel mouthed over the leaking head of his cock. The velvet feel of Gabriel’s mouth, along with the tongue teasing him as it curled around the sensitive flesh, rendered him speechless. A finger pressed inside of him and Jack couldn’t think beyond the image Gabriel had planted into his head.

Gabriel pulled off enough to speak, “I’ve been wanting to hear you beg for me and watch you fall apart in my arms.”

His lips teased against the tip of his cock, rubbing against the swollen head before sliding down a mere inch over the throbbing erection. Jack lifted his hips, wanting those lips further down his shaft. Gabriel let him while sliding a second finger inside of him. The mix of pain and pleasure hit Jack in all the right places.

Gabriel drew back, far enough to rake his dark, red-tinged eyes over Jack’s unraveling composure. Jack laid with his legs bent and spread, vulnerable and trusting the wraith in the most intimate way possible. His lips alternated from being pulled through his teeth to parting on noisy exhales. Half-lidded eyes, blue and hazy, met Gabriel’s intense gaze.

The connection between them swayed, drawn in by Gabriel’s dark power, and Jack nearly came undone from all the different sensations. When again his blue eyes found Gabriel, the wraith grinned with the likeness of a wolf. Jack half-heartedly swore at him in a whisper. So infuriating, so annoying, so—Jack’s head lolled back, and he unleashed a heady groan as Gabriel repeated the reaping.

The sand warm against his skin, the ocean mist wafting over him.

It faded like a dream.

Gabriel slid a third finger in, and when he spoke, the words were so filthy that he slipped into spanish.

Lust thrummed through his veins. The pressure made Jack light headed. His breathing hitched, caught on sparks of pain and the mind-numbing bliss as Gabriel touched against his prostate. Jack grabbed for Gabriel, pulling at any part of him he could touch. He wanted - needed something to bite, or kiss, or suck on because he wanted more.

What he got was the loss of fingers from inside of him. Jack whined, “Gabe, please.”

“Keep talking,” Gabriel murmured, voice thick with lust.

Please.

The plea earned him a hand closing on his throat, pushing him back into the bed. It spiked Jack’s lust with adrenaline. The fingers squeezed, not hard, but enough to strain Jack’s breathing. Their eyes met, an ocean of blue meeting warm brown earth. It wasn’t hate, nor was it anger. This, Jack decided as he dragged blunt nails along Gabriel’s forearm, this was an intimate trust. He trusted Gabriel to push him toward all the right edges and then bring him back to safety.

The head of Gabriel’s cock pressed against his entrance. Electric jolts raced up Jack’s spine at the impossible heat of the contact. He hooked his heels into the back of Gabriel’s thighs and tried to pull the man inside of him. The hand on his throat tightened and Jack stopped.

The control was Gabriel’s.

“I need this,” Jack whispered, hoarsely, and gripped the hand at his throat. “I need you.”

The pressure as Gabriel slowly pushed into him made Jack dizzy - or perhaps it was the hand tight on his throat - or the fact he was holding his breath to concentrate on every inch of Gabriel inside of him. Once fully hilted, Gabriel grip switched to the back of Jack’s neck to pulled him up far enough to meet for a hungry kiss. Jack wrapped his arms around Gabriel’s shoulders to keep the man there, needing to be able to put his lips, and teeth, to skin.

Gabriel broke the kiss and retreated to his ghost lips over Jack’s thudding pulse. He moved, his pace slow to allow Jack to adjust, and when ever the soldier tensed with pain, the wraith would pause and either bite down on Jack’s collar bone hard enough to leave a mark to re-route the feelings of discomfort, or he would draw at the metaphysical connection until the soldier shuddered and relaxed beneath him.

When Jack began to meet his thrusts, Gabriel abandoned the gentle ministrations of love making and took what he craved. Nails bit into skin where he gripped Jack’s hips, blood welled from the lip he bit too hard. He pounded into Jack, grunting each time he bottomed out.

The heat inside of Jack, along with the warmth brimming against his skin, cried for release. Jack curled a hand around his neglected erection, but Gabriel caught his wrist and pulled it away.

“Gabe,” Jack keened with frustration.

“Not yet.”

Gabe.”

Then, as Gabriel shifted his position, Jack’s saw stars as the thrusts pressed against the bundle of nerves inside of him. He went as taunt as a bow string, fingers clawing at Gabriel’s shoulder as each rock of hips pushed him over the edge. The intensity was maddening; his release dancing at his fingertips. He begged, in nonsensical sounds rather than words, and pulled at his trapped hand. Just one touch, one fucking breath, and he’d be there.

Gabriel moaned, and hearing how close the other man was to reaching his climax, tipped Jack over the edge. His free hand shot down, heedless of the wraith’s desires of delayed gratification, and he clutched at the pulsing length between his legs. He hardly need to even touch himself before he was spilling his load between them.

At the peak of his high, the wraith drew greedily from his energy, which made Jack arch and twist at the sensory overload. Gabriel's hips slammed forward twice more before he came, spilling hotly into Jack.

For a long while, the world around Jack ceased to exist. He floated, light and warm and at peace.

The cold ocean waves lapped over the warm sands.

Gabriel moved just enough to grab the hospital blanket and make a half-hearted attempt of cleaning up the mess. He tucked himself back into his pants, pulled Jack’s gown down, and laid down, sated. With an arm, a leg, and half his body resting on Jack - there really wasn't enough room for them both - Gabriel pressed his face into the warmth of his neck and relaxed.

Their mingled powers continued to ebb and flow against each other, adding to the peaceful euphoria.

Jack, despite wanting to get up and clean himself, didn’t dare move lest it shatter the moment. Gabriel was staying with him. Jack’s heart sang, soaring away on gossamer wings. He ran his fingers over the skin of Gabriel’s shoulder, watching as the lasting spots of gray disappeared under his touch. He pressed his lips to the skin and—

The wraith shifted just enough to reach up and clumsily push Jack’s face away, “Don’t get mushy.”

Jack sharply bit the fingers lingering on his face, and Gabriel chuckled darkly while nuzzling into his throat. The older man pulled Jack’s waist closer, then settled back down.

Staying.

A happiness continued to buzz in Jack’s head.

Then anxiety made his stomach flip. The doctors would return and - oh god - had they watched?

Jack pushed at Gabriel’s comforting weight, “Let me up.”

The wraith growled.

Untangling himself from Gabriel was no easy feat as the wraith wanted nothing more than to curl himself around Jack. He escaped, but not without Gabriel protesting by biting his shoulder.

Jack teetered on his feet, light headed and grimacing at the mess on the gown and what he could feel between his legs.

“I’m showering.”

Gabriel merely groaned with annoyance, flopped back down on the bed and claimed Jack’s pillow as a poor substitute for a snuggle partner. Jack couldn’t help but smirk, finding Gabriel’s desire to cuddle absurd and endearing.

Gabriel, seeming to catch Jack’s thoughts, flipped him off.

“You look adorable.”

Jack disappeared into the bathroom before Gabriel could finish throwing the pillow.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t possible.

Steam filled the small bathroom from the shower Jack had started and forgotten in lieu of catching sight of himself in the mirror. For the last twenty minutes he stared in disbelief. His hand swiped again over the fogged surface to reveal an unfamiliar face. Instead of a grizzled old war veteran staring back at him from under a heavily creased brow, Jack saw a slightly younger man. His stark white hair had gained back some of it’s yellow-gold hue, and the lines along his forehead and around his eyes had lessened.

Jack tilted his head back and forth while running fingers through the pale blond hair. He never wanted to admit to being a vain man, but he had taken pride in his looks when he’d been younger. The scars riddled across his body never bothered him, but the receding hair line and loss of youthful luster did. The older he got, the less he cared.

Now he felt like Narcissus, transfixed by his own reflection.

Moira had said something about Angela’s personal nanotechnology playing a part in his alterations, and the Swiss doctor certainly looked younger than her actual years...

Maybe it was possible.

Or maybe it was a good night's rest, a good fuck, and a trick of the light.

Jack reached for the ties of the gown and, upon catching sight of Gabriel standing in the corner, shrieked in a most undignified manner (he didn't know his voice could even go that high). Mortified, Jack gripped the lip of the sink with one hand while he covered his face with the other. The sound of the running water, and the opaque steam pooling along the floor, must have cloaked the wraith’s arrival.

The wraith grinned, “I was wondering what was taking you so long and why you were wasting all the hot water.”

“How long have you been standing there?”

The grin touched a little wider as Gabriel met his gaze through the mirror, “Long enough.”

Deciding that no response would save him from further embarrassment, Jack stripped and stepped into the shower. He lowered the water temperature, hoping to cool the heat clinging to him and maybe to slow his racing heart.

The lukewarm water ran down his body like a blessing from heaven. Showers were a rare commodity in his life. Washing up in the sink of a public bathroom would never compare to the simple pleasure of standing under the spray of warm water.

Dirt and grim from the last few weeks circled down the drain, washing him anew and presenting him with a fresh start.

The shower door opened, and Jack soon found his chest pressed against the cool tiles with Gabriel flush against his back, lightly biting into his shoulder. Jack’s groin twitched with interest and the heat settled heavily on his skin, turning the shower into a sauna.

Gabriel’s fingers drew along his lower abdomen, slow and teasing, before he deftly shifted their positions and he stole the prime spot for the water.

Jack let him, knowing what Gabriel’s intentions had been upon joining him in the shower. The wraith wasn’t always unpredictable. Besides, Jack mused while leaning against the wall, it gave him the opportunity to drink in the shape of the renowned mercenary. During their liaisons in the past, Gabriel had remained mostly clothed, likely to cover his inhuman condition. Although, thinking of Gabriel as self-conscious of his body felt absurd, especially since the wraith stood before him, scarred and beautiful, well-fed and brimming with vitality. It was a far cry from the first glimpses Jack had seen of Gabriel, ashen in hue, skin ripping at the seams, and smoke weeping like blood.

The man was gorgeous.

Gabriel soaped up his hair then worked the foam over the rest of his body in a quick, military fashion. Jack watched, taking in the play of muscles under brown skin, and imagined tracing his fingers over where his eyes wandered. Jack settled for taking himself in hand and giving his half-hard cock a thoughtful squeeze, unsurprised that between super soldier enhancements and the newest alterations, his body was ready for a second round.

The wraith turned, and Jack continued to admire the man. His eyes trailed down Gabriel’s chest, lingering on a dark nipple while pinching at his own, then indulgently trekked downward. Jack already knew, from glances stolen in communal showers during their time in SEP, that Gabriel was uncircumcised; even flaccid, the man had a nice length and girth.

Jack lazily stroked himself and redirected his spying eyes to followed the path of Gabriel’s soapy hands. They worked over his broad chest, the hard plane of his abdomen, and then they slowed as they moved lower, into the patch of dark curls above his hardening length. Jack’s mouth watered, wishing the shower was big enough to allow him to drop to his knees and pay homage to the brown-skinned Adonis.

Gabriel’s hand curled around his own cock, giving it a few pumps for show.

Oh.

Caught red-handed, Jack’s eyes snapped up to meet Gabriel’s lewd grin, and he blushed. Despite their frantic romp earlier, Jack burned with embarrassment at his voyeurism.

Gabriel palmed the tile next to Jack’s head and leaned toward him, “What are you doing?”

“Enjoying my shower?”

“Then, by all means, continue.”

The heat was sweltering, and the worst of it laid in the fact that he could feel the counter part of his power tugging at his own, taunting him. Jack evenly met Gabriel’s challenging eyes, dark and heated, and swallowed down the urge to beg for relief from the pressing heat. He slowly moved his hand, too stubborn to back down. The wraith hummed, pleased, and a thrill of excitement shot through Jack. The pleasant shiver of lust spurred his hand to quicken.

Their chests brushed when their breathing synced, the slide of skin charged the air like static electricity. Without either man having to say a thing, it became a game to not touch. Jack rolled his head back to expose the column of his throat, and Gabriel ghosted his lips along the feverish skin, his exhales pleasantly cool in comparison.

The cold tendrils of the void clawed at the edges of Jack’s aura, not hungry, but interested.

A bump against his hip drew his gaze down, and he groaned deep in his chest at the sight of Gabriel matching him stroke for stroke.

Gabriel passed his fingertips along Jack’s jaw, using the rule of the game to force Jack to look back up at him. The warmth in Gabriel’s lust blown eyes made Jack’s heart stutter. He closed his own eyes, but a faint brush of lips over his, spurred them open again. The intimacy of the gaze reached into Jack’s soul and his nerves trembled under the exposure.

Pain squeezed at Jack’s heart.

He swiped his fingers over Gabriel’s eyes. Don’t get mushy.

The past between them colored the future in bleak colors and falling completely for the wraith would be the end of him.

With eyes closed, the game continued.

Fingertips ghosted over wet skin, lips brushed in near kisses. The soft exhales and rumbling groans fed the heat coiling in Jack’s gut. He chased Gabriel into the tiles and bent the rules by closing his lips over the lobe of Gabriel’s ear. The wraith shivered at the contact. A weak spot. Pleased by the discovery, Jack lightly bit down and was rewarded with the wraith’s breath hitching then staggering out.

Jack…”

The name, moaned in Gabriel’s deep timbres, made Jack’s toes curl and his balls tighten.

Gabriel ended the game by pulling Jack closer, fingers digging into the back of his neck as they kissed. In unison their hands switched to grip each other and Jack nearly came undone at the contact of Gabriel’s hand around his aching erection, and the heavy feel of Gabriel in his own hand. Their lips moved slowly while their hands worked with an increasing rhythm.

The void beckoned to the insufferable heat.

They lost themselves, mouths open in a half-kiss as they reveled in the whirl of powers, light against dark, Euphoria swelled as everything came together in perfect unison as they reached the peak, spilling over each other, vocalizing their relief.

As the high waned, they washed each other with gentle hands. They stayed that way, entangled with each other, fingers exploring each other’s scars, until the water ran cold and Gabriel murmured something about Moira’s punctuality.

Jack loathed to part from the wraith and the sentiment seemed mutual. Gabriel lingered within arm’s reach. Even after Jack dressed, a simple white t-shirt and gray sweats, the wraith - fully donned in Reaper garb - sat on the opposite side of the bed with his shoulder pressing into Jack’s back. All the while their powers waned and waxed in a subtle exchange that didn’t addle Jack’s mind.

Gentle waves hushed over the warm sands, nearly lulling Jack to sleep.

Both doctors returned after the thirty minutes elapsed.

“How are you feeling, Jack?” Angela asked.

“Fine.”

The two women exchanged glances before Moira took the lead, “A more detailed answer is needed in this particular case.”

Jack shrugged.

As if they had decided before hand to take turns, Angela picked up where Moira left off.

“How do you feel different than normal?”

As if he knew how to describe the weird metaphysical connection. “I feel hot.”

While the heat pressing along his skin didn’t hurt, it was uncomfortable. He didn’t even want to acknowledge how much he was currently relying on Gabriel’s countering power to keep it settled. In the back of his mind he knew the arrangement - of having Gabriel close - wouldn’t last.

Jack touched at his hair, remembering the golden hue that had seeped back into the stark white strands. “Then there’s this.”

Angela studied the change with a curious tilt of her head.

“Gabriel,” Moira was not interested. “Please leave, for now, as far as you can.”

Uncertainty fluttered in Jack’s stomach at the request. Gabriel stood from the bed and the ebb and flow between them ended. A clamp closed on the connection between them and Jack’s heart sprang into his throat.

“Why?” He asked as his eyes followed Gabriel’s silent departure.

Angela flashed an apologetic smile that Jack was starting to dislike, “We are concerned that you two might be too… congruent.”

In response to the confusion blooming on Jack’s face, Moira rolled her eyes and drolly added, “Like magnets.”

The pain started as a pinprick in his chest and slowly grew into a gaping hole. The heat writhed against his skin and Jack clenched at the edges of the bed. His eyes darted to the closed door. An invisible tether tugged at him, drawing thinner and tighter and threatening to snap. Jack fought to breath against the constricting sensation.

“We could be wrong,” Angela softly spoke to Moira.

“For their sake, I hope so.”

His heart beat pounded in his ears.

Moira shifted her attention to him, “How are you feeling?”

Pain shortened Jack’s patience. He flashed his teeth at her, “What’s happening?”

“Are you experiencing pain?”

“What do you think?”

It clawed at his nerves and the heat seared at his skin; the combination made him want to vomit. Jack panted, clenching his muscles against the shivers threatening to rattle him apart. His blue eyes flicked between the two women, brimming with pain and anger, “What is going on?”

Angela touched Moira’s arm, “I’m going to check on Gabriel.”

As soon as the door shut, Moira stood a little taller and her mismatch eyes, cold as ice, narrowed on him. “If you would answer the question, truthfully, we might be able to figure out what is going on.”

“I feel like I’m on fire,” Jack snarled at her. “Every nerve in my body is screaming. I feel like I am going to throw up and I—”

want Gabriel back.

“I believe the metaphysical attraction between you two is stronger than we anticipated. Your powers have collided, violent and chaotic, and while they are drawn to each other, they also repel each other. I am hoping that natural order will intercede and bring a negotiable balance between the two of you.”

It wasn’t chaotic, Jack argued as he struggle to be rational through the pain. When they were together, it felt balanced, but, maybe, the connection was too short and tightly bound, which would explain why he craved the wraith’s presence next to him. His thoughts zeroed in on the need. He needed Gabriel. He—

Jack stood on unsteady feet and lurched toward the door.

He met the floor shortly afterward, his head spinning and unable to focus his thoughts.

When his mind cleared, it was to the sight of Gabriel crouched in front of him, shadows twisting in thin, narrow plumes. Angela wasn’t far behind, her face displaying the worry the skull mask did not. Jack managed to sit up against the bed, grimacing as he moved because if felt like he’d just gotten out of the ring with someone well above his weight class.

“Gabriel, how far did you go?” Moira asked.

“To the neighboring roof.”

“Pain?”

“No more than usual,” Gabriel’s head canted, his attention not leaving Jack. “But I could feel something wrong with him.”

“It seems Morrison is experiencing the worst of it, but it’s hard to say with your familiarity with pain.”

Jack gazed back at the mask regarding him, pushing down on the urge to reach for the wraith and never let go. The sharpness of the pain had faded, but an ache remained, as if something in him had torn from being stretched too far and too fast. “Do you always feel this pain?”

“A different pain,” Gabriel glanced back at the conversing doctors before shrugging. “But not when I’m near you.”

At least they had that in common.

Jack sagged with relief and smirked, “Guess we’ll have to be roommates again.”

“You’d like that.”

Other than the lack of privacy, Jack wouldn’t complain. At least not until reality settled in to stomp down on the absurd fantasies of living together. As if they could rent a flat and spend their days revolving around each other, kisses and shows, dinners and late night cuddling. Jack was too old for such naive longings, even if his heart pattered happily at the impossible images.

Jack slowly looked over Gabriel’s attire, a visual reminder of why Gabriel would not stay.

After everything, all that Jack had been through in hopes of fixing the pain the wraith felt, a solution had been twisted out, but, in the end, in the grand scheme of things, nothing had changed.

The sad story of Jack’s life.

Despite all his efforts to change things for the better, none of it mattered.

Jack swallowed against the forming lump in his throat, “You’ll stay until they fix it?”

“In my experience,” Gabriel groused, “doctors make things worse by meddling.”

“I’m alive because of them.”

“At a price.”

“I’m not regretting it.”

The mist came out, pooling like oil around Gabriel’s boots. The more time Jack spent around the wraith, the more he took notice of the expressive shadows. Gabriel might remain aloof, and the mask certain helped to hide the man’s inner thoughts, but the smoke hinted toward the wraith’s mood. Sometimes the darkness lashed at the air like a cat’s tail, snapping with irritation. Other times the smoke curled, lazy and playful. Then there were the few times the smoke seeped, heavy and thick, to collect along the ground in sluggish pools.

Jack had yet to figure out the latter mood.

“It’s my fault,” Gabriel whispered.

A glance went to the doctors, bickering over a data pad, before Jack leaned toward the wraith. “No it’s not.”

“I killed you.” Small flicks of flames lifted from the smoky tar pools.

“No, you didn’t.”

“If not for me, they wouldn’t have fucked with you.”

“If not for them,” Jack smirked, “you wouldn’t have fucked me.”

The shadows stilled, shrank back, then curled lazily off Gabriel’s arms as he laughed.

“Besides,” Jack inched closer, near enough to touch. “It’s Talon’s fault.”

“But I—”

“Are you trying to win a pity contest?”

Gabriel snorted, “I bet that’s how you sound when talking about Overwatch.”

“Just when I gripe about you.”

The smoke curled toward Jack, “Oh?”

Jack’s smile waned, “I blame myself for what happened to you.”

“I blame you too.”

The mask came off, and Gabriel closed the distance to claim Jack’s lips in a fierce kiss. The cool mist coiled around them both. Jack leaned into the wraith, lips parting as an invitation to deepen the kiss, which Gabriel did, briefly, before drawing back.

“And myself,” Gabriel said.

“I think I could learn to blame you too,” Jack hummed before pulling the wraith back into the kiss.

“Excuse me,” Angela interrupted, her brown eyes wide as her gaze flicked between the two men.

Jack look away, blushing, while Gabriel merely slid his mask back on.

“You were - just now - is that something that is just happening now?”

While Jack could admit the unison between them was certainly unorthodox and unexpected, he didn’t appreciate the finger being pointed at him as if he should be embarrassed of his behavior. He hadn’t had to deal with that kind of shaming since he’d been caught making out with another boy when he was a teenager.

“Are you trying to ask if I’ve fucked him before today?”

Then there was Gabriel, utterly unabashed, making Jack want to disappear into the floor.

Angela gaped at the wraith, “You w-what?”

“She’s wondering if your affection toward Morrison is a side effect because of his condition,” Moira intervened.

Gabriel stood, “Then why doesn’t she just say that?”

“She,” Moira’s lips twitched into an almost smile, “unlike myself, has manners.”

“What a waste of time.”

Taking advantage of their distracted attention, Jack rose from the floor and sat on the bed.

“There was affection—” Gabriel’s tone curled distastefully around the word, “before now, but whatever you two did to him, whatever that energy is, smells really good to me.”

Angela blinked owlishly, “Smells?”

“He tastes good too,” Gabriel added with enough suggestiveness to make not one, but two people in the room fluster.

The blonde doctor looked to Moira for help. An oddity Jack noticed, more so when the tall woman touched Angela’s arm and the contact lingered without Angela flinching or pulling away.

“I’ll explain later,” Moira toned softly to Angela, squeezing the other woman’s arm. Her gaze shifted to the men, “I believe keeping you two separate will hasten the balancing that needs to happen between your energies.”

“What does Talon know?” Gabriel asked.

“I’ve been in touch—”

Both Angela and Jack made similar noises of anger. In response, the red-head woman stood to her full height, taller than two men, and raised her chin until the outrage lapsed. Her mismatched eyes remained hard.

“I cannot simply go off the grid like Gabriel some times does. I must remain in contact.”

“How much time do we have?”

The use of we didn’t escape Jack’s notice. It tied Gabriel closer to the woman, to Talon, instead of with him. Jack curled his fingers into the bed sheet and glared at the floor, the heat digging into his arms.

“I told them that your recent treatment caused an instability and I’ve been working on it around the clock to correct it.”

“Not so far from the truth.”

“Always the safest lie,” Moira agreed before glancing thoughtfully at a visibly displeased Angela. “It’s been almost a month. I’ve sent reports, but they are going to want a second pair of eyes on the issue if it goes on any longer.”

“I’ve been out a month?” Jack quietly asked.

“These things take time,” Moira arched a dismissive brow at him. “It could have been longer, but given the nature of your treatment, it greatly helped your recovery.”

Angela finally found her tongue, sharp with ire, “So you’re going to go back working for them.”

“I never stopped working for them. The only reason I am here is because I was being blackmailed—”

“And here I thought you wanted to help!”

Moira met Angela’s heated look with a cool narrow of eyes.

“The only way someone stops working for Talon,” Gabriel severed the building tension, “is if they are wearing a toe tag.”

The words quelled Angela’s temper enough for her to step away from the taller woman.

Jack lifted his own unhappy look from the floor, “So you’re leaving too?”

“What else would I do, Jack?”

The rhetorical question aimed to cut, and cut it did. Jack pressed his lips together.

“Retire with you on some farm?”

Jack closed his eyes and tried not to let the jeer hurt. He’d known, even as Gabriel had laid with him in the narrow bed, their limbs entangled, that Gabriel wouldn’t stay, but he had let himself dream about it. He had allowed himself to pretend that things could change, that there was actually something between them worth preserving.

“What if we joined together against Talon?” Jack asked, his voice soft.

The shadows around Gabriel thickened and twisted like frenzied snakes, “You and what army?”

Jack opened and closed his mouth a couple times before he could even think of a name, “There’s—”

“They would sooner shoot me.”

Moira cleared her throat, “I’m afraid that I, too, am not well received among your circle of friends.”

He just didn’t want Gabriel to leave, “If I vouch—”

“Jack,” Gabriel refused to even humor him, “they will never trust us.”

Us.

Jack pinched at the bridge of his nose and strove to find the words. In the past, when they argued, Jack never managed to say the right things to repair the situation. It always came out wrong and Gabriel often ended leaving more pissed off than he had been before they spoke.

“Genji trusts you,” Angela said.

Lifting his head, Jack spared the blonde woman a grateful smile before shifting his attention to Gabriel. “Ana is at least tolerate and if we could track down Jesse—”

The smoke got worse and belatedly Jack realized it had been a mistake to mention McCree. Too much, too soon. The wraith left, pausing at the door to shoot a look at Moira. The taller woman followed after him and Jack watched the door close behind them, the pain in his chest starting up once again as the distance grew.

“You two do need to be apart, to settle things,” Angela said as she sat next to him on the bed.

“Where will he be?”

“Moira prepared a room just down the hall.”

If felt so much further because the pain continued to fester.

Angela leaned against his shoulder, took his hand and twined their fingers. She took comfort from him as much as she was offering it back. “I don’t know if I did the right thing, Jack.”

He squeezed her hand, too distracted by the fissure ripping open in his chest to really take stock in her words.

“They are right about the others not being able to trust them. I’m finding it hard myself to really trust either of them.”

Their presence might be tolerated, but Jack knew that there would always be the shadow of a doubt in the minds of the others. It would be just enough to make them hesitate, and a team could not work together if they couldn’t trust each other enough to watch their backs.

“And the way she tampered with him,” Angela shook her head, “He will always be a liability.”

“What do you mean?”

Her misty eyes turned up to his face, “Moira altered Gabriel more than just the shadows. She has this serum that he reacts to, on a biological level, it erases him, makes him a tool for Talon.”

A cold stab of fear cut through the pain, “And we just let him leave with her?”

“Not like we could stop them, and I’m trying to trust her…”

“Wait,” His stomach twisted, “am I compromised?”

Angela ducked her head, “As far as I can tell, no, but… I’m not entirely certain she didn’t do the same thing to you.”

It would have been kinder to let him die, Jack thought, but didn’t voice it because he could already hear Angela sniffling, likely struggling with the same realization. It was all such a mess, and no matter how he tried to clean it, it only got worse.

Another ripple of intangible agony made him grimace, “Do you have something for the pain?”

“Yes, of course,” Angela stood, wiping tears from her cheeks. “How bad is it?”

“Feels like someone is trying to rip out my bones.”

He crawled back into the bed and pulled the pillow tight to his chest while trying to recall Gabriel’s scent, the cool feel of his skin against the heat of his own, the calming presence of his void. Separation was necessary, because Jack didn’t know how much more he could take his heart being jerked around by all the careless hopes.

Mostly he held on to the hope that the pain was a temporary condition.

“This will take the edge off,” Angela said as a needle pricked his arm.

“I hope it’s strong.”

“I’m well aware of your capabilities, Jack.”

Chemicals flooded his systems, forcing his muscles to relax and his mind to slip into a haze. The energy in him continued to ached for its counterpart, but it was dulled enough to allow Jack to drift into an uneasy sleep. The drugs blurred his dreams into a nightmare. The heat tore him apart, scattering him into the point of nothing. He fled - no, he chased after the cold void that sang sweetly to him like a siren beckoning him into the angry waters thrashing against sharp rocks.

Come, said the hungry darkness, inviting him in like the spider would a fly.

Come, beckoned death, offering him a final mercy.

Come.

Chapter Text

As soon as they walked out of Jack’s room, they left.

The abrupt departure wasn't planned, by him, but he understood the smoke and mirrors routine Moira had orchestrated would only detour Talon for so long. Eventually they would intercede and decide whether or not he was a loose end in need of severing.

Staying put everyone at risk.

Even so, Gabriel looked back at the hospital doors, his chest uncomfortably tight.

Jack deserved an explanation, even if the man would argue until he was blue in the face because he refused to see what needed to be done. If he stayed, they died, and if they were dead, what good would that do either of them?

The reasoning was sound, yet…

Jack’s body had been a comforting warmth next to him when everything else in Gabriel’s world danced in and out of the fog. Even after shooting Jack — killing him — the man wanted Gabriel there, by his side, no questions asked. Jack trusted him. Gabriel didn’t deserve that kind of selfless devotion; the man was a fool.

It didn't stop Gabriel from reminiscing about the bed; imagining them laying together, presseing soft kisses along Jack’s warm skin and retracing the scars with his fingertips.

His Jack.

Kill him.

The Talon transport truck swayed as the anti-gravity wheel hubs transverse from pavement to dirt. In the covered back, Gabriel shifted his feet against the floor to keep from being dislodged. It reminded him of his younger days when he’d first joined the military; the war had been amping up and they would shove soldiers anywhere they could fit them. It didn’t bother him, but he noticed Moira’s pinched expression as one of the cargo boxes slid toward her long legs.

Gabriel planted his heel on the box and pulled it closer to himself, using it as a foot rest as the four truck convoy continued its trek across the country side.

Even after gaining a few hundred miles of space, Gabriel could still sense Jack’s presence. The connection between them, stifled as it was, vibrated with pain. It dully ached as a constant reminder that, despite Moira’s assurances that everything would balance out, he had left Jack to suffer — again.

Jack deserved to suffer.

It was all Jack’s fault.

He was on the list.

Kill him.

Gabriel removed his mask and pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off the hissing voice. He glanced at Moira, needing a distraction, and found the woman peering at him, mismatched eyes distant and her brow creased with brooding thoughts.

“Why can I sense him?” He asked. “Wasn’t my own pain enough?”

The woman perked up at the topic, “I had to synchronize his biochemistry with yours for the energy to be viable to you. I have no idea why you can sense his pain. It’s very interesting that you do. What else can you sense?”

“Not sure.”

Not quite a lie or a truth. He had a vague feeling of which direction to go if he wanted to find Jack. At the moment he held the connection between them shut so he couldn’t explore the possibilities. If he opened the gateway, Gabriel worried he would drown in the pain currently flooding the tether.

“I know he’s not doing well.”

“It will balance out.” Her words failed to console him. “Dr. Ziegler will be able to help him adapt to the changes.”

“You like her.”

Moira flicked an annoyed look in his direction, “Should I even bother mentioning your behavior in regards to Morrison?”

“No,” but he wouldn’t be thrown off the scent of blood so easily. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like someone.”

She folded her arms over her stomach before shifting her narrowed gaze elsewhere, “She’s a distraction.”

The statement, so evasive yet so truthful, resounded within him. Gabriel excelled at distancing himself from the rest of the world. The barriers kept him from caring, one way or another, about people or things. Jack was an exception. Always had been. Whenever they were in each other’s vicinity, Gabriel found himself gravitating toward the other man. A frequent occurrence when they’d first met and even as enemies they circled around each other, seeking the friction.

And the doctors’ meddling had made it worse.

“You wanted to stay,” He jabbed at the woman before his thoughts could spin on like a broken record.

“As did you.”

“Yet here we are.”

“Knowing it had to be done.”

He couldn’t win against her; they were too alike in their cold logic. It was nothing like the way he could make Jack fluster and squirm while trying to hide the emotions behind a stern expression.

Gabriel sharply shook his head to rid himself of the rabbit trails of thought that kept winding back to the old soldier.

“Why were you there?” He asked.

“Sombra,” Moira said in a flat tone, “She was ever so concerned about your change in demeanor that she outsourced my research notes to another doctor.”

A smile tugged on his lips. He didn’t know whether to thank the hacker, or curse her for meddling in his affairs.

“I have a confession to make,” Moira added, lifting her chin.

A thin trickle of smoke betrayed his sense of unease, “What?”

It took a moment for the woman to consider her next words. “The alterations I did on you, included something similar to Amélie Lacroix’s brainwashing.”

While it bothered him to think of Widowmaker as a mindless subject, his altered mind muddied the details. A synthetic memory told him he was compliant with her brainwashing, and glossed over who she had been before being absorbed into Talon. The half-memory stirred with a bubbling rage, but as he drew further on the line of thought, it blurred and he could only recall Talon’s desires to see Antonio dead, then later on, Gerard.

Had he assisted Talon in all those things?

He puzzled over the information, but the memories were hazy, and the things he did remember felt like cardboard cut-outs set up to dissuade him from looking further.

“But I’m not—”

“You are a unique case,” She idly examined her nails. “Your physiology breaks down the serum via your wraithing abilities.”

Vaguely he recalled the fog that had plagued his mind in the past and continued to linger around the edges of his thoughts. He remembered, in a unattached way, everything that happened. An invisible hand guided his actions, subtle enough for him to not buck against the reins. Jack ended up dead because of him. Gabriel knew it, remembered it, but the memory lacked inflection. It read like a report; just the facts. He had no feelings to attach to the actions. It played out in his mind like it had been someone else doing those things, not him.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because the cat is out of the bag, Gabriel.” She sighed. “One way or another, you were going to find out.”

“And why am I not killing you right now?”

“If you do, it would save me from dealing with the eventual back lash.”

“Expecting an angry call from Angela when she finds out we left?”

Moira scoffed, “I’ve already ignored two of her calls.”

A fury burned in his chest, but it was smothered by his reluctant gratitude. Not only had she saved Jack, she had kept Talon off their backs in the weeks following. It would bereave him to kill her now when he still needed her expertise. The confession cleared the air and Gabriel was willing to risk a continued alliance, even if he wanted to smash her head in for tampering with him. He settled the blame on Talon instead, smart enough to know the orders had originated elsewhere.

It all gave him a lot to mull over.

A silence settled between them as Gabriel dissected the new information. He ruffled at the idea of anyone controlling his actions. The decisions he’d made - the good, the bad, the ugly - all originated from the cold logic of his mind. Ana had once called him a sociopath. Maybe it was true because, with a few exceptions, it never bothered him to kill people. Jack had always been the one with compassion.

Blue eyes, drowning with sadness, swam to the forefront of his thoughts.

Gabriel shoved the image aside.

Even if he was not the most moral of creatures, the notion of all his choices being influenced by Talon made him feel sick. His head swirled with dizziness and his arm and leg phased before he forced them back into a solid state.

"What the—”

The lapse in control sent pain screaming through the connection. Heat and lightning sliced at him, ripping him apart until his body fell into shadows. Gabriel mentally screamed at the foreign attack and pulled himself together. His claws sank into the crate to ground himself against the unseen power viciously yanking at his core.

“Reyes,” Moira regarded him with widened eyes. “What is going on?”

“I don’t know,” His hand disintegrated into smoke, trailing away like leaves in the wind. The heat claimed more of his arm as the seconds passed.

“Stop the truck.”

She hurried to bang on the small window separating them from the driver.

Knowing he would lose the fight to keep solid, Gabriel gave in to the pull to see where it lead. His darkness collided with a searing heat. The frenzied power wrapped around him, tore at his metaphysical state. Gabriel pushed at it like a drowning man shoving away water.

Then changed tactics.

Instead of pushing, he gripped back at the light and pulled. He ripped it out of the abstract realm of energy and into the physical world in a similar way he pulled himself back into his body.

The cool autumn wind stirred, slipping through the stand of trees along side of the road where Gabriel formed and slammed his opponent against the ground. Gabriel instinctively had his claws around the neck of his assailant. As he pressed the unconscious man into the muted background of rotting leaves, the bright blond hair caught his attention. Pale skin, scars cutting diagonally across the man’s face—

Jack.

Gabriel sprung away from the body as if burned.

Jack Morrison, younger than he had looked at the hospital but still dressed in the plain t-shirt and sweatpants, laid unconscious on the forest floor. Gabriel had last seen him several hours ago, several hundred miles ago. It was impossible.

The convoy rumbled as it backed down the road, assuring Gabriel it was not a dream. He watched the approaching trucks with growing apprehension and considered the wisdom of walking away from Jack’s body before the trucks arrived.

Instead he crouched and nudged the young man’s shoulder, “Jack, wake up — you can’t be here — how the fuck are you here?”

The air around Jack burned feverish hot. A part of Gabriel yearned to draw in the heat and savor the ever changing taste. Sometimes it came as a warming ray of sunlight, other times it slid along his nerves like smooth bourbon, or something charged with electricity that made his tongue tingle.

At the moment, Gabriel’s concerned won over his hunger and he frantically patted at Jack’s cheek.

Leaves crunched under the boots of approaching soldiers. Moira drew the closest, eyes wide and questioning as they scanned over Jack. Gabriel looked up at her, his mask hiding the desperation contorting his features.

The nearest soldiers spoke into his comm, making a report of the incident.

Gabriel clamped down on his emotions, struggling to keep the shadows at bay as they were threatening to lash out and flare protectively over Jack. Slowly he rose to his feet, his attention keen on Moira, demanding an explanation.

“How interesting,” was all she said while clasping her hands against the small of her back.

“That’s Jack Morrison,” A soldier whispered to the man next to him. “The Overwatch guy. Swear to god, that’s him.”

Talon knew.

It didn’t matter if Gabriel murdered the whole lot of them, the information had already been put out over the comms. He couldn’t act to protect Jack without painting a target on himself. He would be hunted down until every last trace of his shadows was purged.

And Jack, the idiot...

All Gabriel had ever wanted, when he was sound of mind, was to keep Jack off Talon's radar. In hindsight, he realized he should have never approached the old soldier in the first place, never should have sought him out the nights following, but the familiarity of the other man called to him. After years of wandering through the fog, Jack had been a sun dawning on a moonless night, a memory so clear instead of hazed and riddle with holes.

If only he had never—

“How?” He hissed at Moira.

She gave an almost indecipherable shrug of shoulders.

A pair of soldiers advanced on the scene with their rifles ready.

Black smoke rose off of Gabriel’s body like flames fanned by a sudden gust of wind. Gabriel crouched and seized a fistful of Jack’s sunshine blond hair and growled at the two men.

“Bring me some handcuffs.”

Chapter Text

“Hola.”

Sombra’s crooked grin greeted them as they walked into the base. Her glowing fingers waggled in a mockery of a wave while her eyes slid over Gabriel’s mask, searching for the distinction between him and his cold-hearted persona.

Over the last few hours Gabriel had struggled to find that same blurry line.

As the convoy had swayed and Jack had laid bound and unconscious at his feet, Gabriel had picked through his disjointed memories. What he had formed, after sorting between what rang as real and what felt like plastic replicas, was a crude time line of his last few years. Parts of his history remained fuzzy or gone completely, and while Moira’s confession helped to explain the discrepancies, it didn’t give him the answers he needed to plan his next moves.

With Jack at risk, he had to be very careful about how he proceeded.

“I heard the reports,” Sombra’s eyes widened and glued to the sight of Jack’s unconscious body being carried between two struggling soldiers. “I thought you killed him.”

“I did.”

“But—”

“It didn’t take.”

“Gabe—”

Her fingers curled around his elbow, but fell away as black flames sprang from his shoulders and arms. Her expression creased with concern before shifting into annoyance as she handed him a new ear comm. “Akande is here. He wants to talk to you.”

Time slowed to the point he could feel the precise moment his heart trembled before giving a feeble beat.

“Where?”

Her thumb jerked in the direction the soldiers had taken Jack. They were under strict orders to let no one touch Jack, but Akande was well above their pay grade. The hallway loomed ahead of his racing mind. It wasn’t a coincidence. Akande never made a move without having an agenda in mind; his timing was impeccable.

When it rained, it poured. Bad things happened in threes. Karma was a bitch.

Gabriel had his pick of phrases to blame the cosmic forces of the universe for the string of misfortune he was experiencing.

“You okay?” Sombra again touched his arm.

Smoke filled the hallway, painting the walls and floor with writhing stripes of black. He drew the power back in, tapping it down lightly lest he explore, and turned away from the concerned hacker. The walk to the prisoner cells took all of two minutes, but stretched on for hours in Gabriel’s mind as he shucked away his personal qualms and fit himself back into the mold of Talon's design.

Akande stood a foot taller than Gabriel and was built thicker than Reinhardt. Gabriel had the advantage of a sharp mind, super soldier capabilities, and the ability to wraith as he pleased, but Akande had something else that drove him. Even without the gauntlet Gabriel remained wary of the man.

“You sent for me?" Gabriel asked.

“I heard you were unwell.”

He had a voice that was rich and accented, as charming as it was condescending. Akande glanced at Gabriel from over a massive shoulder, then returned to observing the room beyond the one-way mirror. The interrogation chamber. Jack sat, still out cold (or hot in his case) and heavily bound to a metal chair bolted to the floor.

“O’Deorain cleared me.”

“Are you capable?”

“I brought in Jack Morrison, didn’t I?”

Akande flexed his fingers in a show of thoughtfulness. “Yes, and you brought him in alive.”

The names and faces of ex-Overwatch agents buzzed at the back of Gabriel’s mind along with the quiet urging to kill them. Bringing back one of those faces, alive, wasn’t praise. It went against the order droning on in the background of his thoughts like a leaky faucet in the night; a constant drip driving him insane.

“I want him for information.” Gabriel said.

“He’s a failed hero,” Akanda chided. “As a man presumed dead, he has no useful connections.”

“He might have locations on the others.”

“Locations you were suppose to get from Gibraltar.”

Gabriel sneered behind the safety of his mask, “We both know the monkey can be quite capable.”

Inside the room, Jack stirred, drawing their attention.

Akande spread his large hands like a showman introducing the next act, “Ah, excellent timing. I have my own questions for Overwatch’s former Strike Commander.”

“Given my history with Morrison, I think I would be better able to extract information.”

“I’ll warm him up for you.”

A cold dread rooted his boots to the floor while a thin mist curled around his twitching claws.

“As long as he can still talk afterward,” Gabriel said.

Akande laughed, “I make no promises.

 


 

Akande’s interrogation involved a great deal of pain and no questions.

Smoke choked the outer room as Gabriel stood, seething as he cataloged every punch, every cut, every broken bone, every drop of blood, every pained grunt — he vowed to pay it all back with interest.

Every so often Akande smiled toward the one-way mirror. The Doomfist, knowing his audience, was baiting him for a reaction; each blow aimed to test Gabriel’s allegiance. It only strengthened Gabriel’s desire to see Talon reduced to a smoldering ruin.

With hands calmly folded behind his back, Gabriel watched while being grateful Akande was not a man interested in more traditional methods of torture. He was cold and ruthless, but not sick and twisted. The Doomfist contented himself by beating Jack senseless. Simple violence.

Jack would endure. He was stronger than he looked; a lesser man would have already begged for it to stop.

One particularly savage punch left Jack boneless in the chair. Akande lifted Jack’s slack face and ran a thumb ran along his bruised jaw.

Behind the mirror, Gabriel's fingers curled into his palms, the claws biting into the Kevlar.

Punching was one thing, touching was quite another.

Jack’s head lolled forward, once again unconscious, and Akande left. Gabriel managed to suck in all the dark ink flooding the room before the Doomfist joined him.

“I’ll give it to you super soldiers, you sure know how to take a hit.”

The connection, although closed, hummed with heat and pain, letting Gabriel know Jack was still alive in the other room.

Akande wiped the blood from his knuckles with a handkerchief. “Tell me about Moretti.”

Gabriel inwardly winced, “Who?”

“The man you killed.”

“I’ve killed a lot of men.”

“The man you killed who was one of our men.”

Gabriel tilted his head, as if contemplating the question. He knew who Akande meant, because when he’d blow the man’s head off, then murdered his whole team, he knew it would eventually come back to bite him in the ass. It had been a twisted effort to detour Jack from pursuing Talon. He wanted to show Jack that he was in over his head. What he got were mixed feelings about the whole affair.

“He allowed himself to be tracked down by half-rate vigilantes.” Gabriel said.

“But you killed him, not them.”

“I don’t suffer idiots well.”

Akande narrowed his eyes, but said nothing more on the topic. He gestured toward the window, “You can have your fun. When you’re done, give him to O’Deorain.”

“I’m not killing him?” Gabriel asked with genuine surprise.

“If she is successful, there will be no need to kill him. He will fight for us.”

Left alone in the room, Gabriel considered the unexpected opportunity. Moira wouldn’t dare touch Jack, not since she had revealed her hand. His possessive fury in regards to Jack was threat enough for her to keep her needles to herself. If not, he’d remind her.

“Bring me a tranquilizer,” Gabriel ordered one of the guards in the hall.

As soon as Gabriel entered the other room, the heat slapped against his face. Jack’s energy, like his own, could not pass through physical objects. It pooled and burned, saturating the room as it healed the battered soldier.

Shadows shivered along Gabriel, the intangible part reached out to curl against the heat like an affectionate cat. The heat pressed back with less elegance — more like an old lover starved of affection; it threw itself at him. The taste and smell of rain on a hot summer afternoon danced along his senses. Gabriel let it in, just a little, because ignoring it entirely was impossible.

Had Akande noticed the heat? Or was the enveloping warmth only for him?

Jack stirred then froze when he saw Gabriel. Several emotions flitted across Jack’s bloodied features — confusion, fear, suspicion, anger — before he schooled his expression into stoicism.

Under the watchful eyes of Talon, Gabriel had a role to play.

He took Jack’s chin in his claws, firm enough so the blonde couldn’t pull away. The thumb of his other hand slid along Jack’s cheek, clearing away the half-congealed blood to reveal healed skin with no trace of scaring. The idea of Akande leaving a mark on Jack, especially on the face, pissed him off. Gabriel tilted Jack’s head side to side; other than a couple fading bruises and a lingering swelling around his eye, Jack looked fine — physically.

“So what was the plan, Morrison?”

His fingers coiled into Jack’s hair, jealous of the renewed luster and thickness.

“You missed me so much you threw yourself at a Talon convoy?”

Jack’s brows pushed together, “I — what?”

“You don’t remember?”

“I remember—” Jack flashed his teeth, “Why am I here?”

Slowly, as to relish the ferocity in Jack’s glare, Gabriel forced Jack’s head back to expose the line of his throat. Jack’s pulse visibly thudded against his skin and his teeth gritted on a tense growl. Fuck. Gabriel wanted to straddle the blonde’s waist and turn all that heated anger into a searing kiss.

“I brought you here.”

Jack jerked out of his grip, livid. Gabriel drew from his energy — sunshine and honey, rain and earth — and almost laughed as the heat surged toward him, eager and willing. Jack had absolutely no control over it. The reaping continued until Jack’s blue eyes grew hazy and his body relaxed.

While his words remained cruel, Gabriel hoped the invisible exchange would serve as an apology.

“Gabe…”

His hand snapped forward, closing on the front of Jack’s throat tight enough to shut him up. Talon had eyes and ears everywhere. A few careless words from Jack could raise questions among the higher-ups.

“How do you want to betray your friends?” Gabriel asked.

Jack glared.

“I could dangle you like bait; see who bites. Or I could turn you over to the doctor, let her mess around in your head, then turn you loose and see how many of them you’ll kill for us.”

“I would never—”

“I bet Amélie said the same thing about Gerard.”

I thought the same thing about you.

The temperature around Jack spiked and Gabriel stepped away from the blistering intensity. He studied the raw anger on Jack’s face, realizing he had touched a nerve with the comment. So, Gabriel mused as he struggled to rein back his own power from gorging itself on Jack’s witless offering, that memory was real. Talon really had brainwashed Amélie into Widowmaker and used her to kill Gerard. He thought he had fabricated that particular version of the memory.

“So what will it be?” He asked.

“Fuck you.”

The growling words, paired with the way Jack flexed against the bindings, derailed Gabriel from his ruse. Jack was bloody, restrained, and — as far as Gabriel knew — unaware of the game being played. It shouldn’t turn him on so much to watch Jack struggle and snarl. He yearned to draw his fingers along Jack’s face, soft and slow, just to fan the embers burning in Jack’s vibrant eyes.

The intoxicating heat wore further at his self control.

“And when it’s all over,” Instead of cold and sinister, an underlying longing wove into his tone. “I’ll let you remember yourself. I will tell you how you killed each and every last one of your friends. Do you think you’ll kill yourself then, or beg for me to put a bullet in your head?”

He paused, reflecting on the words.

Would it have been kinder to have never known?

As the memories started to clear, and he remembered bits and pieces of what Talon had made him do, the ugly truth sank in like a knife.

The Talon soldier's arrival with the tranquilizer came as a blessing. And while it pained Gabriel to watch the fight seep out of the glaring blonde, like witnessing a beloved pet being euthanized, it was a neccessary precaution. Once Jack went pliant against the chair, Gabriel motioned to the guard.

“Transport him to Dr. O’Deorain’s lab — quickly.”

He went the opposite direction, rounding the corner to find a different quarry. Sombra straightened and promptly closed her holovid when she caught sight of him, as if she had not just been spying on the whole affair. He knew better. All of Talon knew better. Sombra’s ambition held great potential, but she had a lot to learn. Her espionage certainly was top-notch, if only she didn't also have the habit of gloating information over people for sport.

He fished the comm out of his ear and held it out to her, “Doesn’t work.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not a secure line.”

She stopped fiddling with the comm and turned a curious squint up to his mask.

“Tracker isn’t working right either,” he said.

Sombra slowly nodded, “I’ll look into that.”

“You better just come with me until you can fix it.”

Any worry about the hacker not catching his drift was erased when she hugged his arm. He allowed it and opted to pretend it never happened. How he had ever earned her friendship was beyond him; for better or worse, he trusted her not to betray him. She hastened her steps to keep up with his determined stalk as he led them toward the medbay where Moira worked when away from her actual lab.

He had to stop himself from immediately going to Jack upon seeing the man strapped to a surgical table. He folded his arms behind his back and turned his attention to Sombra. She smirked before rounding the room with her custom holopad active on her arm. Her glowing fingertips tapped at the hexagonal keys several times before she nodded to him.

“You’re good, jefe.”

He whirled on Moira, “You do anything to Jack and—”

“You’ll do something terrible to me,” Moira finished, unimpressed. She sat at her desk, nursing a tumbler filled with a generous pour of amber liquid; whiskey, judging by the smell. The woman lofted a brow at him, “How far are you willing to go down this rabbit hole, Gabriel?”

“As far as I need to.”

“And what becomes of us? Or have you failed to think that far ahead.”

Gabriel bristled, “We both want something more, don’t we?”

Their conversation in the convoy said as much. There was no need for her to confess to him, but she had, and Gabriel wanted to believe that it meant something. He couldn’t trust her, not completely, but he needed to know she wouldn’t interfere with his plans. She wouldn’t help him, but she could turn a blind eye to his actions and — most of all — not meddle with Jack.

Moira frowned at him, “It’s not feasible, Gabriel.”

He wanted to hope otherwise; for Jack’s sake, he had to.

A wafting heat preceded Jack’s shift into a conscious state. Gabriel abandoned his conversation with Moira, drawn to the warmth like a moth to the flame, and stood next to the waking blonde while his heart danced against his ribs. An apology and several excuses tied up his tongue and he settled for placing his hand against Jack’s shoulder.

When Jack first opened his eyes, the blue orbs searched Gabriel’s mask with a hazy thoughtfulness. A second passed and the look sharpened and turned to ice. Jack jerked at the restraints.

“Easy,” Gabriel squeezed his shoulder.

“Let me up.”

Against his better judgment, Gabriel loosened the straps binding Jack to the table. Jack mirrored his caution, slowly sitting up while scratching at the dried blood on his face. Before Gabriel could read the motion, Jack’s fist collided with the side of his mask with enough force to make him stagger.

“Asshole.” Jack growled.

Shadows cascaded down Gabriel’s arms, but he didn’t retaliate, figuring he deserved it. Jack was still glaring at him, but didn’t move to escape the room, which meant they were somewhat on the same page. Maybe Jack was a better actor than Gabriel gave him credit for.

Jack flexed his hand, the small gash along his knuckles already closing, and took in the rest of the room. “What the hell am I doing here?”

“You tell me,” Gabriel straightened, planting himself back in front of Jack. “You appeared out of thin air in the middle of a Talon convoy.”

Jack leaned away from him, “I was with Angela. She gave me something for the pain because—”

Noticing the tensing in Jack’s shoulders, Gabriel managed to catch the second blow. Jack slid off the table and shoved him away with his free hand instead.

“You left!

“I had to.”

Jack stalked toward him, heat and anger whirling, and Gabriel welcomed it by leaning toward Jack, halting the blonde an inch before they collided. Gabriel only just resisted the urge to press further, either for a fight or a kiss, it didn’t matter which.

“Say who?” Jack challenged him.

“Says me.”

“A lot of good that did.”

Gabriel growled, “I didn’t know you were going to fucking teleport to me.”

The fury melted and Jack retreated. Gabriel made a half-step to follow, but thought better of it and remained rooted, fingers twitching at his sides.

“You shouldn’t have left,” Jack said.

The wounded look Jack flicked toward him made his heart ache in response. One of the reasons why he had left in such a cloak and dagger manner was to avoid that particular argument. “If I didn’t, Talon would have come for me and would have found you and Angela as an added bonus.”

His reasoning was sound — Jack had to understand that.

“When you appeared out of nowhere, I took you as prisoner because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know Akande would be here.”

Jack shook his head, but at least the glare lessened. “Your apologies suck.”

Without being consciously aware of it, Gabriel had inched closer. Jack noticed, because the blonde tried to maintain an angry distance between them. In the end, Gabriel corralled Jack against the table. His claws scraped over the metal as he planted his hands on either side of Jack’s waist. He leaned forward—

“Boys,” Moira said from over the rim of her tumbler, “behave yourselves in my lab.”

“Speak for yourself,” Sombra grinned. “This is better than daytime soaps. Please, go on~”

Shit.

So caught up in Jack, Gabriel had spaced out the presence of the two women. All he wanted to do was figure out how to best entangle himself with Jack and that new confounding power. It thoroughly distracted him and he hated how it took entirely too long for him to pull his thoughts back together.

Jack crossed his arms, expression cut with stern lines, “So what’s your plan?”

“Yeah Gabe,” Sombra pitched in with all high notes of repressed laughter, “What’s your big secret plan besides kidnapping tu novio.”

“I didn’t kidnap him,” Gabriel muttered while retreating a step. “He threw himself at me.”

Jack glowered, “The plan, Gabriel.”

The half formed ideas he’d cobbled together in the last ten minutes hardly constituted as a plan, but hell if he’d admit it. “First, Moira isn’t going to brainwash you, but she is going to figure out what the fuck is going on with you.”

“Am I?” Moira chimed from behind a fresh refill.

“He can heal as quick, or even faster, than Angela’s nanotechnology. He looks ten years younger, and that fucking energy of his drives me crazy and — if you’ve forgotten — he somehow traveled several hundred miles while, apparently, knocked out on pain killers. So yeah, I think you want to know what’s going on with him.”

Her head tilted forward, acquiescing to the truth of his statement. “Fine, but to what end? This charade can only go so far.”

“Wait, wait,” Sombra twirled in the middle of the room, eyes bright with laughter. “Are you suggesting the gringo is going to pretend to be a Talon agent?”

All eyes in the room turned to Jack. Under their curious attention, he ducked his head and rubbed at the back of his neck.

“Can’t I just escape?” Jack asked.

“No.” Gabriel slowly closed the space between them. “They know about you now. They won’t let you just walk away.”

“I’ve avoided them so far.”

“You weren’t a priority then, and you weren't Jack Morrison.”

The gravity pulling him toward Jack was as subtle as the serum used to restrict his free will. A bare inch separated his boots from knocking against Jack’s bare feet. Gabriel distinctly remembered retreating to the other side of the room to avoid the temptation, but once he loosened his hold on the tether between them, it reeled him closer.

“The end game, Gabriel.” Moira reminded him with impatience evident in her tone.

He nudged his leg between Jack’s as he leaned into the younger man. He managed to alter the course of his hands, shifting them to grip at the edge of the table instead of Jack’s hips. Caught in the blonde’s orbit, Gabriel found it difficult to pull away. He growled with annoyance while the warmth pressed and rolled against him, begging to be let in.

“You and your rag-tag group of vigilantes will never take out Talon.”

Jack scowled, but his pupils were blown, his irises darkened with another kind of heat. Smoke rolled off of Gabriel, drawing in lazy circle along Jack’s bloodied skin.

“Talon is too strong against outside forces and you know it.”

“Then what?” Jack snapped while turning his head away.

Gently placing his gloved palms against either side of Jack’s face, Gabriel forced the stubborn man to look at him. “But Talon has enough strife on the inside. Politics, back-stabbing—”

“Rome fell from within,” Moira drawled from her desk with a repressed snort of laughter.

Gabriel curled his claws into Jack’s skin, pulling him closer but stopping when Jack’s hands came up to grab at his wrists. Stop, the action said while his darkened eyes conveyed an entirely different message. Gabriel itched to remove his mask so he no longer had the excuse to keep his lips from Jack’s.

“If we take out a few choice pillars within Talon…”

Jack exhaled sharply through his nose.

“You oppose?” The claws pressed harder. “Assassination still beneath you, boyscout?”

A hand pushed against his chest, vying for space that Gabriel didn’t yield.

“I’ve learned—”

“Have you?”

“I’ve learned,” The growl in Jack’s voice gave Gabriel goosebumps, “that I can’t keep my hands clean if I want something done.”

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Jack, despite his public image, had never been entirely pure and honest, but he had played the role well enough. Gabriel had known Jack long before Overwatch, before all the cameras and politics. He once knew a reckless soldier that would do just about anything to bring ruin to their enemies. It pleased him, beyond words, to image Jack free of the red tape used to bound and gag him in the past.

Gabriel reached for his mask—

“Geez Gabe,” Sombra needled, “you gonna finish telling us about this plan of yours or are you going to jump his bones first?”

Fuck

Gabriel quickly withdrew from Jack, slamming down on the connection between them. He slashed a hand through the air in Jack’s general direction, “Get that fucking energy under control.”

It was a god damn aphrodisiac and Gabriel loved it as much as he absolutely loathed it.

Jack blushed, eyes low, and rubbed a hand along the back of his reddening neck. “I don’t know how.”

With a growl, Gabriel rounded on Moira. “You—”

“Don’t even ask. You already know that you have to teach him.”

“Fine.”

The shadows lashed before he wrapped the power around him as a protective barrier from Jack’s alluring warmth. His body shivered, teetering on the cusp of falling into shadows. Smoke rippled down his arms.

“You can’t give them a reason to look too closely at you.” He said to Jack.

“Just let me go.”

“You leave and my head goes up on the chopping block. Either they kill me because I’m not worth the hassle, or they dose me to make sure I’m fully cooperative.”

It put Jack in an impossible position, Gabriel knew, but the truth of the situation was there. They could work out an alternative plan later but, for now, Jack needed to yield.

“Then all of you leave.”

Moira clucked her tongue, “Speaking for myself, but living as a vagabond is not something I care to endure.”

“You once had the chance to walk away from all of this. You didn’t, Jack.” Gabriel said. “You want to take out Talon? This is the best chance you’re ever going to get.”

A pained looked crossed Jack’s face and Gabriel’s heart clenched, ready to call the whole thing off and accept his dire fate.

Jack hung his head and whispered, “I know.”

It was a unique opportunity; the best course of action. Fighting back, together, was what Jack wanted. Or so Gabriel thought. The conflicted look on Jack’s face said otherwise. Even on the same side they were still at odds. It felt like the Rome incident all over again. Vague memories slid through Gabriel’s thoughts, feeding into the anger which had guided him through the last few years. Jack had given him the okay to act against Talon that day. An unspoken permission, like always, where Jack turned a blind eye to the necessary evil…

Then Jack had… turned on him… ?

Jack… betrayed him?

Kill him

The sharp sting of betrayal attached to the memory felt genuine. Gabriel took in the faces around him; Sombra’s crooked grin of amusement, Jack’s glower beneath pinched brows, and Moira’s disinterest as she nursed her drink. Who was he suppose to trust when he couldn’t rely on the validity his own thoughts and feelings?

His gaze settled on Jack, wavering over the thin line between love and hate.

Chapter Text

Four walls, one metal door, and a single narrow bed; that would be the end of the famous Jack Morrison.

Over the decades, Jack had envisioned his death many times. As a teenager it was hitting a patch of black ice on the stretch of country road leading out to the family farm, the truck rolling end over end and tossing him around like a rag doll. After he joined the military, catching a bullet in the gut and suffering a long agonizing death haunted the background of his thoughts every time he went out on patrol. His stint through SEP made him wish for death. Being crushed under the metal feet of marching OR-14s or mowed down by a line of Bastions during the Ominic Crisis almost became a reality. Even during his years in Overwatch, he had imagined several assassination attempts on his life.

Dying of sheer boredom never made the list.

The days stretched on between Moira's makeshift lab and the small, locked room. The door only opened when guards came to escort him at Moira's behest or to slide in a tray of food. It was a cozy cell, but it tormented him with endless hours of nothing. It should have been more alarming to be Talon's prisoner, but it felt like any other time he’d been caught behind enemy lines.

He kept his head down and his guard up.

The heat remained constant, driving him to exercise in the small space in hopes of burning away the excess energy. Other times he laid on the bed, the air thick, heavy, and threatening to either suffocate him or cook him alive. He could feel Gabriel elsewhere in the base and ached for him. Several times he sensed the wraith outside his door, but he only lingered a second or two before moving on. Understanding the reason for the separation didn’t lessen the hurt it caused.

A searing pain woke him in the night. He clutched at his chest and gasped at the horrifying sight of his glowing hands. His fingertips burned white, fading into cracked golden lines pulsating up his arms. No amount of shaking them would snuff the light. The lines spread, fanning over his skin like a spider's webbing. He would fall apart at any moment. The door nearly gave way under his pounding fists; the racket brought the guards.

Moira, none too pleased to be woken at such an hour, took one look at his instability and her expression switched from annoyance to intrigue. He laid on her examining table, shaking from the effort it took to keep from falling to pieces, and shamelessly begged for the medical relief of drugs.

But Moira was not Angela.

The guards strapped him down and she studied his pain without sparing him a single word of comfort. She left and returned wearing a strange apparatus on her back. With her attention keen on the monitors, she extended a hand over his chest and Jack felt a familiar tug at his essence.

Stunned, his eyes swept the room for Gabriel.

But it was her pulling the energy from him and all at once the differences were felt. The ghostly tendrils cut like razors along his soul. It flayed him open and no amount of screaming made it end. She bled the life from him. The power skittered across his skin like a hundred tiny spiders and Jack thrashed against the bindings.

Afterward the guards escorted him back to his room and Jack laid on his bed, arms tight around himself. His skin no longer glowed; a blessing, even if he continued to feel raw and exposed. The drugs Moira eventually administered helped dull the aches.

That night, Sombra began talking to him through the comm panel next to the repaired door.

”Rough day?”

“How long have I been here?”

“Almost two weeks.”

Anger twisted into the tarry sickness roiling his gut. “Where’s Reyes?”

“On assignment.”

He wanted to ask if Gabriel even cared, but the words floundered in his chest, seizing around his heart with fright. Would he ever stop hoping for a change?

”Listen… “

Reluctant, as the last thing Jack wanted to entertain was listening to someone tell him, again, staying there was the best plan, he rolled onto his back and looked toward the small blue light glowing on the comm panel.

”I think they suspect something… and they’re mad at him… but, just know, if it goes bad, I made a promise to get you out, gringo. Ok?”

Worry trickled through Jack’s thoughts as he wondered what Sombra meant, because even though he was Talon’s prisoner, he felt more concerned about Gabriel's well being than he did about his own murky future. The feeling faded into anger, because clearly Sombra knew more than him about Gabriel's 'plan'.

Jack turned toward the wall, “Goodnight, Sombra.”

The following nights, Sombra continued to check in with him, always at a late hour. Jack learned she was an orphan of the Omnic Crisis and had grown up working for Los Muertos. Small world, he had commented with a dry laugh and then told her about his personal vendetta against the gang. It was interesting to hear her perspective on it, explaining that Los Muertos fought against the government oppressing the poor. Their means, however, Jack couldn’t condone. They attacked and hurt their own people to gain what they couldn’t from the government.

Another cause gone sour.

When prompted, Jack told Sombra stories about his life before the military and she shared what little she remembered of her own childhood — there hadn’t been much before she’d been forced to grow up. It surprised him to find that she was actually around thirty years old. She acted young, in the same way Jesse McCree often behaved like an obstinate brat. Gabriel had a knack for attracting rebellious youths.

The days blurred as Jack settled into a steady course of medication to ease the phantom pain of Gabriel’s absence.

He will always be a liability.

Angela’s voice abruptly reminded him one night as he stared at the wall, mindlessly picking at the plaster with his fingers.

He’s hurting you. Ana chided him. This won’t end well.

“I know.”

Jack closed his eyes as the nagging doubts chewed at his resolve and he decided, with a final snap of determination, he needed to escape before he lost his mind, either to the walls of his room or to Moira’s meddling.

Once he began playing the role of obedient soldier, the reins began to loosen. Eventually he was allowed to walk the halls with only a single guard tailing him. His room remained locked at night, but open during the day. Meals were eaten at tables in the mess hall instead of on his bed and, a few times, he was graced with the expanse of the afternoon sky as he joined in on training sessions.

He almost slipped when, upon walking the halls of the base, he crossed paths with Amélie. Although he maintained a blank stare, aimed further up the hall, she recognized him at once.

The savagery in the glare she pinned on him and the unattractive baring of her teeth contrasted sharply against the blushing bride he’d kissed on the cheek and congratulated on Gerard’s wedding day. And her skin — what had Talon done to cause her to look blue?

“What are you doing here?” Her French accent was familiar but fierce. She snapped her fingers at his trailing escort. “You there, seize this man at once!”

Jack tensed, fighting against the years of training urging him to break the arm of the guard restraining him. It was a loose hold as the guard, who had been assigned to him for days, did not view Jack the same threat as the snarling sniper did, but he acted enough to appease her orders.

The drugs clouding Jack’s senses helped him maintain a blank countenance as Amélie’s cold eyes bore into him. She looked like Amélie, but it was a shell, because on the inside she had become something else. Had Gerard sensed the change in her after they had wrested her back from Talon’s clutches? Had she revealed the change to him before she killed him, or was she merciful and shot him while he slept?

An alert must have been sent out, because Moira arrived before the situation could escalate further.

“Release him,” Moira signaled to the guard.

“Excuse me?” Amélie hissed.

“He’s perfectly harmless.”

“Are you stupid? That is Jack Morrison.”

“I am well aware of my subject’s identity.”

Amélie's long arm, ending with elegant fingers, lashed at the air in front of his face. Her dark eyes narrowed on Moira. “What is he doing here?”

“Presumably he’s walking to his room.”

“Do not toy with me.”

It surprised Jack how vicious Amélie spoke, struck again by how much Talon had twisted her apart. As they had done to Gabriel, and perhaps countless others. Jack needed to get out before he became another causality to their control.

At some point Moira dismissed him back to his room.

The gray ceiling above his bed swam in and out of his vision. His mind bumped along with thoughts jaded by sedatives. A warmth stirred along his skin and it was with effort he pulled together the last bits of give-a-fuck to acknowledged the smell of blood permeating the room.

A shadow, silhouetted by the light from the hallway, stood in the open door of his room. Under the familiar tang of blood, the stench of rot and something akin to scorched metal lurked. As Jack’s muted senses came to terms with the unexpected visitor, the shadows shifted and instinct took over.

Jack rushed to catch the wraith as he stumbled inside. His hands slid across the congealed blood coating Gabriel’s light chest armor, his fingers caught on the ruined edges and came away thick with blood and shadows clinging to his skin like hungry leeches.

“Gabe?”

“I’m fine.”

The words did not match the vice-like grip Gabriel held on his shoulders, or the way he slid down the nearest wall to settle on the floor with Jack hovering over him with bloody hands.

A frightened heartbeat passed before Jack shut everything away and acted on his training. He divested Gabriel of his mask, his hood, and struggled to remove the armor so he could assess the wounds. His fingers slipped on the latches welled with blood.

Gabriel caught his trembling hands by the wrists, “Do you trust me?”

The absurdity of the question caught Jack off guard. He stared at the darkened outline of Gabriel’s face, the wraith’s eyes tinged red by hunger, then down at the blood coating his hands, and down further to the fitful shadows cloaking the injuries. He hated the game Gabriel played, to bring him in so close only to shove him away. It was cruel, because Jack cared, and he knew that Gabriel knew it. Between the emotional anguish twisting in his chest, and the awful smell of rotting flesh, Jack's stomach churned and sent a sour taste to his tongue.

With a forced calm, Jack eased his hands free and worked at removing the armor. “Why aren’t you at medical?”

Gabriel chuckled, then grimaced at the motion, “So you don’t trust me.”

Jack’s palm pressed roughly into the site of the wound, drawing a pained groan from the wraith and prompting claws to seize around his forearm. Jack leaned into the brutal touch, snarling, “Look at where I am — locked in this fucking room, being doped up by Moira, waiting around for some asshole to remember I even exist and when he does, he smells like a rotting corpse. Fucking hell, Gabriel, you want to ask me about trust?

“Fair point,” Gabriel wheezed between shallow breaths.

“I’m sick of you toying with me. I can’t—”

The armor parted from Gabriel’s skin and clothes with a sickening wet sound reminiscent of Velcro. Thin tendrils of smoke filled in the missing chunks of flesh of Gabriel's chest. The white of an exposed rib surfaced amid the sea of black, rising above the dark tide as Gabriel drew in breath.

Jack stared, horrified, but before he could collect his thoughts and dash for the door, Gabriel caught him by the arms.

“Gabe,” His voice was more steady than his heart, “You need to go to medical.”

“Don’t need to.”

He couldn’t stop staring at the grievous wound, “You’re hurt.”

“Yeah, I’m a fucking mess.”

“Then why are you here!?” Jack paled, knowing he had shoved his hand against the wound in a pique of rage. “How did you even — don’t you heal when you shift? Why — why — what the fuck, Gabriel!?”

Cold hooks picked at the edges of Jack’s aura, the heat responded, flooding forward in a rush and turning the room into a sweltering jungle. Jack hadn’t realized how quiet his own power had been over the last few days until the void coax the small flame into a wind fueled forest fire.

Gabriel grinned and Jack glared.

“Seriously,” Jack gestured at the space between them, “You could just…”

“Angela said I have to ask your permission first.”

“You’ve never asked—”

“Heal me.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re bleeding out and you’d rather mess with my head than heal yourself?”

The wound shifted and stirred like a nest of angry black snakes, and while the void yawned at him, open and eager to be fed, the heat around Jack fluttered uselessly over his skin. His fingers hovered over the smoke and blood, clueless how to trigger the reaping Gabriel needed.

“How long have you been hurt?” Jack asked.

“Does it matter?”

“I want to gauge how stupid you are.”

“So it doesn’t matter.”

“You’re a fucking moron,” Jack bit down on the rising anger and the urge to jab his fingers into the wound just to emphasis the statement. “Go to medical.”

“Fuck you,” The shadows spread over Gabriel’s body, a thin protective blanket, and as they passed over his ashen face, his eyes shimmered with crimson hues. “Heal me.”

“Heal your damn self.”

“I’m here to teach you,” Gabriel growled and grabbed the front of Jack’s shirt, yanking him closer. “So heal me.”

Jack resisted until he heard fabric ripping under Gabriel’s claws. “I can’t.”

“Figure it out.”

“You’re delirious.”

Caught in Gabriel’s manic gaze, Jack couldn’t escape. The way the wraith grabbed at him, seeking to pull his body and power closer, reminded Jack of when he’d woken up in the hospital. Gabriel had been starving — needy — and a traitorous heat pooled in Jack’s groin, recalling exactly how that exchange had ended.

“It’s your power that does that, not whatever I am.”

Smoke engulfed them, raking across Jack’s warm skin while Gabriel’s claws sank into the sides of his chest, “The only reason I can take what I please from you is because you don’t know how to control it. If you really didn’t want me to take it, you could stop me.”

“But I want you to take it.”

“Learn to control it.”

“Your teaching method is to bleed out over the floor? You’re an ass. I can’t—”

“You’re the love child between Angela’s nanotechnology and Moira’s genetic tampering. You heal your own body in the blink of an eye without having to think about it. You were made for me. You can and will heal me.”

The temperature in the room spiked in response to Jack’s mounting frustration. For a moment, just one crazed moment, Jack entertained the idea of being able to wield the power like Gabriel did his shadows. His fingers curled around the warm air, but he instantly felt silly, like a child trying to catch the wind.

“It took me a month before I could hold my physical form for more than an hour. I kept falling apart…”

Drop him in the middle of an active war zone and Jack would excel because he could use his five senses and his enemies were tangible. While the energy around him manifested into a heat he could feel, it wasn’t something he could grab, point, and shoot like a gun. His years spent in Overwatch had introduced him to some amazing people with abilities beyond his reasoning, and even though he was very much involved with a man that could turn into a plume of smoke, Jack could not attach the supernatural abilities to himself. The idea of him being able to control the hot wind swirling around him was a stupid notion his mind repeatedly rejected.

“Stop thinking so much,” Gabriel said.

“Fuck you!” Jack jerked away and stormed over the comm panel. The door, of course, was locked to him, so he pounded his fist against the reinforced metal while also stabbing his blood slicked fingers against the panel buttons.

“Just going to leave me here to die?”

Jack glared over his shoulder, “You’re too stubborn to die.”

“I brought you a present.”

The playful lit to the words aimed to entice him back, but Jack turned away and continued to jam his finger against the buttons until the panel cracked. He pressed his forehead against the door, his jaw set, “Go to medical.”

“You want me kill them so I can heal myself?”

Right.

The blood on Jack’s hand tingled. The dark stains lifted in a thin veil of smoke before slipping between his fingers and disappearing. He pivoted to view the wraith, slumped against the wall and intently watching him with glowing eyes. The shadows had grown lax, puddling around Gabriel’s eerily still form. If not for the faint side-to-side shift of his hungry gaze, Jack might have thought him dead.

Annoyed, but not cruel, Jack trudged back to the wraith.

He stepped over Gabriel’s outstretched legs and lowered to straddle the wraith’s thighs. He fisted Gabriel’s hair and jerked the man forward, his lips hovering a hair’s breath from Gabriel’s. All the while the heat stretched between them, pressing and curling in an open invitation.

“Heal yourself.”

Claws found Jack’s side as the wraith grinned, “I’m surprised, boy scout. You do know how to play dirty.”

Fingers tightening on the hair, Jack grazed his lips over Gabriel’s ashen skin. He inched his hips forward which sent the clawed hands to his thighs to stop him. The shadows rippled with pleasure. Jack smirked and brushed his lower lip along the shell of Gabriel’s ear, their bodies close enough for him to feel the hitch in the wraith’s breath.

“Or, you could actually tell me how to do it,” Jack said, lips moving against the weak spot.

Gabriel shivered and flexed his claws into Jack’s thighs, “And if I don’t?”

“As hungry as you are, I don’t think you’ll last.”

“I could leave.”

“You won’t — not until you get what you want.”

The wraith growled and Jack could feel the void nipping at the invisible edges of his power. He envied Gabriel’s control, even if it existed out of sheer stubbornness. Either he caved and took the energy to heal himself, or he surrendered better advice than ‘figure it out’. The only way to spite Jack out of winning was to leave and make them both lose.

Jack set his fingers along the outside of the angry wound. The smoke, cold and sharp, spilled out to coat his fingertips.

“It’s like a muscle you’ve never used,” Gabriel yielded as he leaned more heavily against he wall. “It’s not something you can grab and force around. You have to figure out how to flex it, in your mind, and after a while it will be as natural as breathing.”

Taking the words into consideration, Jack closed his eyes and focused on the strange metaphysical way he could feel the eager heat and the waiting void. It was an intangible sensation, like how being watched could raise the hairs on the back of his neck. He imagined the power moving like invisible arm from his body before the imagery became too absurd. Again he tried to shove it at the void, but it parted around his attempts like the wind around his hands.

He settled on the image of the heat sliding off of him like water. Thick, golden light that slid and curled elegantly like Gabriel’s shadows. Jack pressed his fingers into the skin near the wound, pretending the rivulet ran down his arm, off his fingertips, and into the wound — and deeper still into the welcoming void.

A pleased sigh from the wraith drew Jack’s eyes back open. His hands were glowing. His heart raced as memories of being strapped to Moira’s table and having her rip the essence away from him broke his concentration. He jerked away, willing the glow to subside.

Gabriel growled, “Stop thinking.”

“I can’t—”

“You were doing it!”

“I don’t want to do it!”

Claws bit into his skin and Gabriel yanked him closer and drew greedily from the warmth.

“New lesson,” The wraith snarled and the pressure increased, instead of a gentle reaping, the cold tendrils ripped and pulled at him, rendering the golden imagery to tatters as his soul screamed.

Jack physically pushed away. “What are you—”

“Stop me.” Gabriel held fast, drawing blood and essence. “Control it. Don’t let me take it.”

The voracious void dug into his core, into his bones, and stripped him bare. Jack’s arms were shaking too badly to hold them apart. He collapsed against Gabriel’s ruined chest while a series of whines and whimpers escaped him, pleading for it to stop.

Gabriel had always been a harsh teacher. He’d knock a new recruit down, again and again, with no mercy until they learned. Jack’s nose had been broken several times during training exercises with Gabriel until he learned to not let his guard down.

Good intentions, questionable methods.

Jack focused on the heat, imagined pulling it back out of the darkness to settle around him like a blanket.

It worked — for a whole second.

Then the void opened its maw and Jack tumbled down the rabbit hole. The darkness, cold and bleak, enveloped him with welcoming arms. Further and further into nothing. Deeper still until he lost who he was and felt nothing at all.

When Jack’s eyes fluttered opened some time later, he saw the ceiling above him and felt his bed below him. He might have dismissed the whole thing as a dream if not for the weight against his side. Gabriel sat on the edge of the bed, elbows on knees and hands wrung together.

Jack rested his hand against Gabriel’s back, causing the wraith to flinch.

Too tired to question the reaction, Jack sated his curiosity by sliding his hand forward and touching at the site of the wound. Whole, warm skin met his exploring touch. He mapped it, up and down, left and right, until he affirmed to himself the injury was completely gone.

Gabriel caught the hand and gently pushed it aside while standing.

“Stay.” Jack said.

“I shouldn’t be here.”

Managing to snare his fingers around the tail end of Gabriel’s trench, Jack tugged. “You’re already here.”

“They’re watching me.”

Despite the grumble, Gabriel sank back down. Jack wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled. The wraith resisted long enough to toe off his boots, shrug out of the long coat, then — and only then — allowed Jack to draw him down into his arms.

“One hour,” Gabriel muttered. “That’s it.”

Jack, still drawn thin by what had transpired between them, laughed weakly. “You charge by the hour?”

“As if you could afford me.”

“Yeah, well, you owe me for whatever the hell you just did, so tonight it’s free.”

Gabriel’s shoulders tensed and his hand squeezed around Jack’s wrist. With an understanding sigh, Jack drew his nose up along the back of Gabriel’s neck, planting a kiss against the bare skin before hugging the wraith close.

“I’m fine,” He whispered, the words muffled against Gabriel’s hair. “I’m fine.”

Chapter Text

Living a militaristic lifestyle for over half his life left its mark. Jack ate his meals quickly, showered in under five minutes, kept his living quarters tidy, knew his firearms forward and back, and — perhaps a more annoying quirk — he woke, without fail, before dawn. Even without a window to note the time, the automated lights in the room slowly grew in brightness to mimic the sunlight creeping over the land.

The narrow bed hardly fit two super soldiers, but Jack found the weight half sprawled over him reassuring and Gabriel's skin blissfully cool against his own. He cherished each passing second of their entanglement because the dawn would chase away the shadow.

As the lights brightened Jack drew his fingers along Gabriel’s arm, searching for decay but finding only unblemished skin of a rich, earthly hue. His hand drifted to the hole in Gabriel’s shirt and traced around his pectoral and side ribs to assure himself, again, the wraith was whole.

Gabriel growled against his neck, “What are you doing?”

Although they shared similar backgrounds ingrained with routine, it amused Jack to find Gabriel remained very much not a morning person.

Jack smiled and, since the other man was awake, shifted enough to lie face to face with him. He froze at the sight of a younger Gabriel Reyes. Seeing the wraith whole and fed in the shower at the hospital didn’t compare to the new level of vitality. Jack's fingers ghosted over his cheekbones, then slid into the dark, chestnut hair grown wavy with lazy curls.

Had some of his own regained youth passed off to him when the void devoured him last night?

Gabriel’s eyes slitted opened, annoyed, and with a groan the wraith turned onto his back, only to shoot upright and take in the rest of the room with a puzzled frown.

“Overslept?” Jack asked

“I don’t sleep.”

“Ever?”

“Not since the changes. I can’t hold my form when I sleep and if I drift too long…”

Gabriel ran a hand down his face and flopped back on the bed, confusion evident while he rubbed at his stomach. “And I’m hungry for breakfast. I never eat — not real food.”

Jack set his chin on the wraith’s shoulder, “So this is a bad time to mention you look different?”

Smoke misted over Gabriel, “Different how?”

The door opened before Jack could reply. Gabriel dissipated and slipped under the bed while Jack scrambled to receive his morning escort. Moira joined the guard stepping into the room and the three of them looked over Gabriel’s discarded clothing, mask, boots, and — more eye-catching than the rest — the blood staining Jack’s clothes and bed sheets.

Moira's expression steeled as she dismissed the guard, “Gabriel?”

The shadows reluctantly slunk back out from under the bed. When Gabriel reformed, glowering, Moira’s gaze widened and she cast a questioning look toward Jack before honing it back on the wraith. “How long have you been here?”

Gabriel snatched up his boots and sat heavily on the bed, lips set in a firm line.

“About six hours,” Jack replied, earning a scowl from the wraith.

Moira glanced at the unkempt bed, “And you two…”

A flush inched up Jack’s neck, “He came to get healed up, then slept. Nothing more.”

“Slept?”

The boot laces nearly snapped from the sharp pulls of Gabriel’s hands, “Got a problem with that?”

“Not at all,” Moira canted her head. “You’ve regenerated beyond your normal levels. I want to know what precipitated it.”

The words caused a pause. Gabriel examined his hands, flipping them back and forth several times before looking to Jack for a second opinion. Jack grinned and waggled his eyebrows back at the wraith. If he had to put a number to Gabriel’s outer age, he’d peg it around his late thirties, maybe early forties.

A curt motion from Moira drew Jack’s attention, “Report to my lab.”

The world fell away from under his feet. Jack opened his mouth on a wordless protest but failed to find the words. Once again the world turned. Gabriel would leave. The days would return to a blur of sedatives while his soul ached for the wraith. Nights would be spent staring at the walls and listening to voices reminding him of his foolishness.

“I want him cleared to go with me,” Gabriel said.

Jack’s heart pitter-pattered against his ribs.

“Unbelievable,” Moira frowned, the slant of her lips more irritated than anything forlorn. “I have no idea what other effects he may have on you.”

“I kinda like the idea of not looking like a corpse.”

“Your vanity is not my concern. Continued exposure to this synergy between you might have adverse effects.”

Gabriel lifted a hand, his fingers and forearm drifting apart before re-shaping. “I seem to be fine.”

For the first time, Jack witnessed a true flush of anger color Moira’s pale features. Her long fingers flexed where she clutched them behind her back. In small increments her posture relaxed until her movements were calm and fluid. She roused a holopad from her armlet, “For the record, I am against this — all of this. He’s your problem now. May God help us.”

“You never struck me as a pious type,” Gabriel’s grin disappeared behind his mask.

“All the more fitting, because there is no helping you with this folly.”

After directing one last look of displeasure at the wraith, she left. Jack spun to grin at Gabriel, only to have his visor shoved into his hands.

“Your present, by the way.”

A crooked smile lifted the corner of Jack’s lips as he turned the familiar visor over in his hands. “Where did you find it?”

Gabriel lifted one shoulder in a nonchalant shrug, “Some kids had it.”

Alarmed, Jack's eyes flicked up to the wraith.

“I didn’t kill them,” Gabriel grumbled. “Give me some credit.”

Jack chuckled and ran a thumb over the red of the repaired plate. Warmth flooded into his chest. “Sure beats getting flowers.”

“You’re such a sap,” the wraith griped, “You’re going to need it because you’re a shit shot without it these days. Report to the armory, gear up, we ship out in an hour.”

“Yes, sir.” Jack saluted, his grin a mile wide.

Gabriel paused in the doorway, looking sorely tempted to either say or do something in response to Jack’s flippant attitude. The shadows danced in languid curls around his boots, but instead of furthering their engagement, he turned and left.

It didn’t take long before Jack was outfitted in Talon garb, handed a rifle, and packed into a sleek orca with a dozen nameless soldiers. He sat shoulder to shoulder with his sworn enemy, placed under the command of a senior officer, and given the briefest of synopsis of what the mission entailed. A quick in-and-out. His squad would hold down a specific location and terminating any hostiles.

Glorified guard duty.

Jack quickly realized he didn’t like being just a soldier. He’d grown use to giving commands or being in charge of his own actions. Operating on a need-to-know basis rubbed him the wrong way. His mood soured further at being unable to interact with Gabriel.

Gabriel sat near the front of the cargo hold, arms crossed with Amélie at his side. Jack absently stared at the wraith like a teenager with a crush. The skull mask turned toward him and Jack abruptly dropped his gaze to the floor.

Behind the visor, Jack smiled ruefully at himself. When he’d been a young man, when the relationship between him and Gabriel hadn’t been so complicated, he had caught himself looking at the older man in a similar fashion. Back then he would have followed Gabriel anywhere and would have never questioned an order barked his way. Things hadn’t exactly changed, but in hindsight, it made sense why things never worked out with Vincent.

Granted, it never worked out with Gabriel either.

They moved into position. In the quiet, Jack paced. Their location was too far from the operation and, as just a lackey, Jack didn’t have a commlink to clue him in to the progress of the mission. He patrolled the edges of their assigned zone for a better view of the main objective. A fire escape provided him with the height needed to examine the small, squat building across the quiet thoroughfare.

Information gathering? Seizing technology? Assassination?

Watching the building gave away nothing, but before long, a motorcade arrived; several dark vehicles with tinted windows revved their engines as they raced up the street. They screeched to a halt. Jack reached for his comm and cursed when his gloved fingers touched against his empty ear.

Men and women unloaded from the SUVs and Jack shouldered his rifle but waited to get a better read on the situation.

A high-powered sniper pierced the night. One of the gunmen dropped to the ground in a graceless heap. Jack, out of habit, remained out of sight and scanned the roof tops for the sniper. He knew it had to be Amélie and, given his past experiences with the woman, he hesitated to give away his position.

Another shot; another body fell.

The quiet of the night erupted in gunfire. Jack squeezed off a few shots, aiming to wound but not kill. His shots found two gunners before he dropped from the fire escape and regrouped with his squad. More vehicles, more guns. It occurred to Jack, as one his comrade-in-arms fell, that Talon soldiers weren’t the best of marksmen. He adjusted his priorities and started to land his shots with fatal precision.

His squad of four quickly found their position being pinched. Another man fell but the leader refused to retreat.

“We leave this spot and we’re dead,” he shouted at Jack.

“There’s enough cover we can—”

“If we abandon our position, it’s as good as defecting as far as Talon is concerned,” The leader remained hunkered behind the wall, no longer bothering to return fire. “We hold this position until we get the call to pull out.”

A few choice curses flew through Jack’s head, but instead of coming to blows, Jack focused on the wounded. He dragged them to better cover and patched their wounds the best he could given the circumstances and dire lack of medical supplies. Using the ammo from the wounded men, Jack positioned himself to hold off the hostiles flanking them.

When the call to rendezvous came through, Jack began to shoulder the arm of one of the injured men but the squad leader stopped him.

“Leave them.”

Jack didn’t budge from his crouch or drop the arm already slung over his shoulders.

“We won’t make the evac in time with them.”

When Jack still refused to obey, the squad leader shook his head and took off without him. Jack gaped at the man’s back. The shock quickly dissipated when gunfire tore apart the wall to his left. Jack finished hoisting the injured man over his shoulder before grabbing the chest armor of the other man. He couldn’t follow after the squad leader, the man had already drawn fire to the escape route. Jack had to find another way.

In the end, while Jack managed to find a safe place to hold out with the two injured men, he missed the rendezvous. The Talon Orca rose above the buildings, red and green lights of the ship's wing tips disappearing into the thick clouds. Jack felt strangely calm. His chest didn’t even lurch in pain at the growing distance between him and—

A string of angry French floated down from the rooftop. Jack looked up just in time to watch the tall, blue-skinned sniper lower herself by means of a grappling hook. She landed softly and with lips pulled back in a snarl, she regarded them through a mask with too many eye ports. The steel wire whirled as it retracted into her armlet. She pursed her dark lips before engaging her comm.

“I found them.”

Jack felt more than saw Reaper’s shadow cascade down the side of the building to drop heavily on the ground next to Amélie. Once formed, Gabriel stood more shadow than man. The dark energy lashed and filled the air; all dark wings of ill omen as he stalked over to Jack and the two injured men.

“Why are you not on the ship?”

The cold words, grating inhumanly, sent Jack back a step. Reaper didn’t relent, moving right up to Jack until — not even realizing his retreat — he found himself flat against the wall. His hands tightened around his rifle and, when the words wouldn’t come, he gestured to the wounded.

Reaper barely glanced at the other men, “In and out. We don’t do rescue ops.”

“Juz kill ‘im and get it ov’r with,” Amélie hissed, anger thickening her accent.

A shotgun materialized in Gabriel’s hand and was aimed at the nearest injured soldier.

“Don’t!”

Jack leapt between Reaper and the man, heart racing, but the wraith slammed him back into the wall with his free hand. His metal talons curled around the body armor in a grip strong enough — angry enough — to leave gouges.

“Reaper,” Amélie stance brimmed with bridled rage. “We ‘ave no time for this.”

Gabriel’s fury shifted to the sniper. She shrank away and snapped her own ire to Jack. She studied his visor before her lips drew back, “Is that ‘im? Is that why you have delayed us?”

“Doomfist wants him alive.”

“He would be more useful to us dead.”

“Get the wounded back to the ship.”

Amélie’s nostrils flared, “You cannot be serious.”

Silence and shadows filled the alley. With an angry flourish of french, Amélie grabbed the arm of the conscious man and prompted him to stand. Once the sniper was out of ear shot, Gabriel removed his comm while his claws curled against Jack’s armor.

“You have to follow orders, Jack.”

Jack turned his head aside in disagreement.

“I told you,” Reaper growled, “You can’t give them a reason to look too closely at you.”

“Sorry, I’m not brainwashed enough to—”

The shadows bit sharply as they flared. Reaper slammed him into the wall hard enough to crack the brick. “They’re Talon, Jack. Since when do you give a fuck about them? If you were on the other side, you would have left them for dead. So don’t you dare start with your holier-than-thou bullshit.”

With a start, Jack realized he had a point. He looked down at the remaining man, wondering when he had started to care. Pinned down by gunfire, his enemies suddenly became his brother-in-arms. A strange development. As Soldier: 76, Jack had killed plenty of Talon lackies, gang members, and just low lifes in general. He’d never cared about their fate.

“You’re right,” Jack said and set a gloved hand over the one holding him stationary. “Old habits, I guess.”

The shadows lessened, “Old habits will get you killed.”

Jack tightened his hold on Gabriel’s hand. He ground his teeth to hold back his tongue from spitting out the bitter remark running through his mind. Gabriel was an old habit.

“Who were we fighting?”

“Doesn’t matter."

Jack twisted Gabriel’s hand off and shoved the smoking mass back. “It matters to me.”

Gabriel’s fingers flexed at his sides, “We don’t have time for this.”

A familiar anger boiled. How many times had he gotten into similar arguments with Gabriel over Blackwatch operations? Gabriel refused to share information with him and, no matter how Jack tried to reason with the man, they always ended up going head to head like two bucks in rut.

“You have to bend my way,” Gabriel kept his distance even if his body language said he wanted to do the opposite. “This isn’t Overwatch. You’re not in charge here.”

“I know,” Jack let go of the anger, but his posture remained rigid and his tone firm, “But if we’re suppose to do this together, you can’t leave me in the dark. You had your reasons back then — plausible deniability — but this is different. Either we’re in this together, or...”

He leaned against the wall, his shoulders sagging and his voice weakening, “Or we’re not.”

The smoke around Gabriel swirled in quick twists before growing heavy and falling in thick ropes. The next moment it faded; all except a few errand wisps drifting lazily off the man’s shoulders. Gabriel stooped to grab at the breastplate of the injured soldier, effortlessly lifting the man’s weight, and dragged him toward the rendezvous.

“Get back to the ship,” He growled at Jack, but it lacked bite. He lifted the comm to his ear but paused, lowered his hand, and spoke in a softer tone. “We’ll talk later.”

Chapter Text

“So…”

In the dark, lying together in the small bed, their auras pushed and pulled in a gentle tide, neither one pressing for more lest it tip the scales. With quiet words, Gabriel had gone over the plan while Jack listened and idly traced his fingers along the arm slung over him.

“Talon have seized new supply chains and areas of influence and these people — the underlining foundation for Talon — are going to meet to discuss how to use the new spoils?”

“An excuse to flaunt,” Gabriel nuzzled his hair. “It’ll be a large event to cover their presence.”

Each touch stoked the heat simmering beneath Jack's skin, each contact point an electric jolt straight to his core. His heart danced, drunk and happy. It all thoroughly distracted him from the conversation. But if he gave an inch, Gabriel would go for the mile and the conversation would be lost.

Jack slowly inhaled and steeled himself against the pleasant buzz flooding his senses.

“So we’re crashing the party?

“Hardly,” The cool huff of air against his heated skin raised goosebumps. “We’ll separate key targets and terminate them.”

“Just us?”

Gabriel pressed close like a tiger rolling in cat nip, ever on the verge of clawing and biting. Needy. Impossible to ignore. Jack focused on the texture of the ceiling while his fingers mapped every dip, curve and scar of the wraith’s forearm.

“We’ll have Sombra,” Gabriel said.

“That’s a short list.”

“I’m limited to the friends that don’t want to kill me.”

His touch ghosted over Gabriel’s wrist and stretched along the inside of his hand. Jack's heart cantered against his ribs when the wraith turned his hand up, allowing their palms to meet and their fingers to intertwine instead of swatting away the tender affection.

“Maybe we can broaden it to friends that would rather see Talon fall more than they want you dead.”

Gabriel pushed their joined hands into the blankets and shifted his weight to pin him down. His nose drew along the underside of Jack’s jaw, lips grazed his throat. “And who’s that?”

Jack closed his eyes as a spike of heat swept over his skin and pooled lowed in his gut. He made a soft sound of frustrated desire as Gabriel rocked against him. Slow. Deliberate. Hard against his hip. Jack tightened his hold on Gabriel’s hand in a failing effort to keep his thoughts grounded.

Among their old circle of friends, any of them would steer their aim elsewhere long enough to get a job done. The problem laid in not only finding them, as they had scattered with the changing winds after Overwatch’s fall, but also in the simple fact that none of them suited the work at hand. Gabriel meant to infiltrate a black tie affair and assassinate specific targets. Blackwatch work.

“Genji will help.”

Gabriel grunted but didn’t argue so Jack expanded the list.

“Ana might threaten to shoot you, but she’ll aim for the greater evil.”

“So I’m the lesser evil?”

“Unfortunately,” Jack feigned a sigh. “There really is no hope of fully redeeming you.”

A rumbling 'good' was mouthed against Jack’s throat as the wraith slid a thigh between his and drew it upward with slow precision. Jack caught the leg, stopping its ascent, because he knew — just as Gabriel knew — the teasing was a distraction. The conversation had a clear route and Gabriel sought to alter the course.

Gabriel reached for his face and Jack caught the hand by the wrist and laid it against his sternum. The shadows loomed. A growl rumbled in the back of Gabriel’s throat as his thwarted fingers curled into Jack’s shirt. Then all at once the wraith went limp, his head plunking against their hands as he muttered over a name. “Jesse.”

“You ever try to find him?”

Gabriel went still, his eyes turning up to Jack with noticeable hesitance, “Once. Hey—”

It was an old hurt. The delinquent came into their lives at a time when their friendship hung by a fraying thread. Jack never bared Jesse any ill will, but part of him hated the ex-gang member because in one fell swoop the drawling southerner replaced him. Gabriel’s smiles were rare in those days, but McCree got every one. He was given the small jokes, the pats on the shoulder, and the camaraderie Jack had earned through the blood and grief of war. Only sneers and cruel words remained for Jack and Gabriel emphasized the differences whenever the three of them were in the same room.

Jack’s stomach twisted with the memories. Without even realizing it, he had turned away from the wraith, but a hand on his chin brought him back around.

“Don’t be like that — it’s different.” Gabriel said.

“It’s — I’m not — “

The fingers caressing his cheek quashed the lie. Jack pressed his lips together and willed away the tangent subject.

“How was he?”

Gabriel, smart enough to recognized the attempt at diplomacy, studied his expression. Jack swallowed under the scrutiny. He didn’t want to pursue the subject and possibly learn why Gabriel had aimed to hurt him in such a personal way. His heart hammered in his chest, palpable under Gabriel’s hand, and the subject slid away along with the wraith's gaze.

“Guess.”

Jack exhaled with relief, “Drunk?”

“As a god damn skunk.”

A thin mist washed over Gabriel’s skin, flicking upward in small curls and betraying his inner thoughts. “Last I checked he was playing hero as much as thief.”

“Old habits,” Jack muttered.

“I wanted better for that kid.”

Tentatively, as Jack was unsure how welcomed his touches were outside of sex, he carded his fingers through Gabriel’s hair; the dark strands soft from a recent wash. The smoke waned and Jack stretched the moment further by brushing his thumb against Gabriel’s temple. A small comfort, because even if Jack’s heart churned with jealousy, he knew McCree was important to Gabriel.

“I never knew where he went,” Jack said. “After Ana was gone, then the thing in Rome, he drifted away from us…”

“Yeah, I doubt he liked that I betrayed everyone.”

“You didn’t—”

“Shut up.”

The harsh snap cut into Jack’s chest and his fingers froze.

Gabriel noticed. He removed Jack’s hand from his hair and placed a light kiss to the inside of his wrist, then against his palm where it lingered. An unspoken apology, the only kind Gabriel ever expressed. Gabriel set Jack’s knuckles against his lips, muffling his words, “I let myself get caught up in my bitterness — my arrogance. Talon knew Overwatch was a threat and I gave them the opportunity to destroy it. They used me. They’re still using me.”

Jack traced the shape of Gabriel’s mouth with his fingertips, “My fault too.”

“Yes,” Gabriel nipped at fingers. “It is.”

Heat flared around him, pairing with the intense desire to kiss the wraith. Gabriel would return the affection, there, in the dark, where secrets could be whispered and weaknesses exposed. Jack ached for the intimacy, just one soft kiss to express everything without the entanglement of words.

Jack licked the corner of his lips, tempted, but also determined to finish the conversation.

“I think we could persuade Jesse.”

Gabriel wilted, “Do we really need to open that can of worms?”

“You don’t want him to waste away in some bar.”

“I want him to kick sense into his own ass — I don’t even know where to find him anymore.”

”I do,” said a female voice.

Jack’s hand fell through the smoke as Gabriel phased and rushed over him like a brisk winter wind. The shade reformed next to the bed, only half corporeal and lashing with rage.

“Sombra!?” The wraith bellowed inhumanly.

”Chill out, I’m not spying on you.”

“Eavesdropping!”

“You’re the one that wanted me to keep tabs on your boy — besides, if I wasn’t listening to your adorable pillow talk, I wouldn’t be able to offer my help.”

“Sombra!”

”Geez, you want to know where your estranged hijo is, or what?”

Jack reached through the black tempest and tugged at the wraith wavering on the verge of storming out of the room to hunt down the taunting hacker. Ignored, Jack stood and shoved the snarling shade into the bed. Jack understood. Gabriel hated to show vulnerability and Sombra had gone right for the jugular.

Determined to get both the information and keep Gabriel’s company for the night, Jack sank to his knees and nudged Gabriel’s legs apart.

The shadows snapped away, emphasizing Gabriel’s surprise. With the wraith’s attention keen on him, Jack rubbed his cheek against the inside of Gabriel’s covered thigh. Derailing Gabriel’s ire would serve the purpose and, judging by the heat in Gabriel’s darkening eyes, Jack’s efforts were not in vain.

Gabriel’s legs spread for him.

Jack admired the inviting display while running his fingers reverently along the muscular thighs. His heart raced with excitement. It was Christmas and his Birthday in one package. Jack palmed Gabriel’s growing bulge through the pants and savored the way Gabriel’s head lolled back and his hips canted forward. Jack curled his fingers around the waistband and unwrapped his gift.

“So tell me, or — more to the point — tell me what you want.” Gabriel said, voice thick.

”Oh Gabe, you know me so well.”

Jack teased his fingers along the underside of Gabriel’s freed cock and gazed up into the eyes, rapt and hungry, watching him.

“Get on with it.” Gabriel growled at them both.

”I know a guy that might help out.”

Jack snapped his teeth at the implied order. Gabriel flashed a feral smile before fisting Jack’s short hair and hauling his face into his groin. A heady musk filled Jack nostrils and he further buried his face into Gabriel’s crotch to inhale deeply, content and dizzy.

Gabriel slowly exhaled and flexed his fingers as his muscles quivered under Jack’s touch.

“Spit it out, Sombra.”

Jack ghosted his lips along the length of him and rolled his tongue against the sensitive foreskin.

”Do you remember Baptiste?”

“Am—”

Jack sealed his lips around the crown of Gabriel’s cock and softly groaned, acutely aware of, and inordinately pleased by, Gabriel’s hitching breath. Nails bit into Jack’s scalp, the pain more encouragement than warning. Jack swallowed him down as far as he could and strove to unravel another stitch of Gabriel’s composure.

Devoted on his knees and eager to worship; Jack had waited decades to get his mouth around Gabriel Reyes.

Gabriel audibly swallowed before attempting a monosyllable approach.

“No.”

”Really?”

With an annoyed growl, Gabriel’s fingers coiled in Jack’s hair and forced him down, lips wet and gliding over his girth. Gabriel’s rolled his hips forward and his tip bumped the back of Jack’s throat. Jack gagged, clawed at Gabriel’s thighs, but lived for every shallow thrust fucking his mouth.

”He sorta defected?”

“Was—“ Gabriel panted, his arm shaking as it urged Jack on, lost to the pleasure of the mouth hot around him. “Suppose — to kill — him?”

Salty pre-cum smeared across Jack’s tongue and he moaned. Gabriel halted, cock throbbing, and firmly held Jack in place by the hair. Jack dug his fingers into Gabriel’s thighs and the wraith’s smoke raked back, hooking into the warmth pooling along his skin. Jack's nostrils flared as he struggled to breath around the erection softly pulsing against his tongue.

”He’s not on your ‘to-do’ list but, well, I’ve kept tabs on him.”

Unable to move his head, Jack settled for swirling his tongue along Gabriel’s cock. He wanted Gabriel to finish in his mouth as much as he wanted to frustrate Gabriel into pinning him down and fucking him senseless. A wanting groan escaped Jack and he pressed the heel of his hand against his own neglected cock.

“Fine.”

The hands tightened in his hair, the pleasure bridging over into pain, and Jack felt drunk between the quarreling sensations.

”I’ll make arrangements.”

“Yes.”

Gabriel coaxed Jack back into motion with a firm press to the back of his head. Eager to oblige, Jack wrapped a hand around the base of Gabriel’s cock to counter stroke the bobbing motion of his head. His other hand spread over the swell of Gabriel’s thigh, loving the feel of the muscles flexing and shaking with palpable restraint.

”In two days sound good?”

“Uh-huh.”

”Great — Night Gabe. Night Jack.”

Gabriel barked out a laugh, “Sorry — but — Jack has his mouth full.”

A soft, amused hum sounded from Gabriel’s lap.

”Eh? — Oh my god.”

The blue light on the comm panel winked out, marking Sombra’s hasty departure.

“Oh fuck,” Gabriel threw his head back and groaned while smoothing his hand down the back of Jack’s flushed neck.

He gripped Jack's shirt collar and hauled him off and up into an messy kiss. His tongue dove for the back of Jack’s mouth, tasting every bit of himself with broad, wet strokes. Jack kissed him back with swollen lips, too fucked out to do anything but respond in earnest to the hands guiding him. His sweats were pushed down and he stepped out of them as Gabriel urged him back down into his lap.

“I don’t have any—” lube was what Jack meant to say, but his breathing hitched as Gabriel aligned their cocks and stroked them together. Hot electricity raced from his groin, up his spine, and short-circuited his ability to think beyond the feel of Gabriel’s calloused hand and his slick hardness.

Jack landed sloppy kisses over Gabriel’s face, “That feels—”

He arched into the sinful pleasure and settled into a mindless rut, the words falling far and away from his thoughts.

Gentle fingers cupping his cheek and jaw drew him back to the world. Their eyes met. The intensity in Gabriel’s dark eyes, open and adoring, slowed Jack’s rocking to a dazed impasse. Gabriel softly caressed his face with reverence. Something in Jack’s chest snapped and poured through him like molten lava. Slow. Searing. His eyes stung.

“You’re beautiful,” Gabriel whispered.

The words floored him. Stole his breath. Made his hands tremble.

And broke his heart.

Tender. Loving. Real.

Too real.

A sob caught in Jack’s throat and he pressed his lips to Gabriel’s to quell the rising turmoil. A pain twisted in his heart. What should have made him soar on high instead made him drown in a sea of hopelessness. This won’t end well. As the kiss broke, Jack hid his face in Gabriel’s dark hair.

Gabriel trailed soft kisses down the line of his neck.

Words — a phrase — clawed at the back of Jack’s throat. If freed, it would shatter the last of his resistance.

Steadying his lips against Gabriel’s temple, Jack reached down and curled his hand around Gabriel’s and resumed rocking, escaping into lust. The fire of pleasure burned away the ache in his chest. It smothered the words burdening his tongue. Jack focused on the sounds tumbling free from Gabriel’s lips, savoring the deep rumbles of pleasure pushing him toward ecstasy.

Their rhythm staggered. Free hands pawed at every bit of skin. Nails bit into flesh.

Gabriel finished first and his pulsing release sent an echoing shockwave through Jack and together they found paradise.

As their breathing settled, Jack found Gabriel’s lips and absently kissed him as he floated down from the high.

Later, folded in Gabriel’s embrace and hovering between sleep and wakefulness, Jack noted the stillness against his back. Gabriel’s breathing too quiet for sleep. Smoke shifted above them, reaching out in long tendrils as if to find an anchor to root against the walls and ceiling. Jack leaned against Gabriel to ensure he was solid, then, noticing the tension there, turned.

Gabriel’s arms tightened and prevented Jack from fully turning to see him.

“Promise me something.”

The gravity to the words crept like ice over Jack’s heart. He squeezed Gabriel’s forearm, listening.

“If they…”

Gabriel shifted and the smoke thickened. Darkness blanketed them, cold and heavy. Gabriel’s forehead rested against the back of Jack’s neck.

“If they take me again — kill me.”

“What!?”

Jack broke free of Gabriel’s arms and rose up on his elbows. His outrage met with Gabriel’s guarded expression.

“Promise me.”

No! You’ve come out of it before.”

“Not before I killed you. Twice.”

That argument again. Jack slumped and covered his face with both hands. “I thought we were past this.”

“Jack.”

A temptation to both punch the wraith and kick him out of the bed rose and made Jack’s teeth clench. Gabriel urged him close but Jack jerked away. Angry didn’t even begin to cover the kaleidescope of emotions spinning between his head and heart.

“No.”

“If we’re getting these people together — Genji, Ana, Jesse? — and I become compromised? I’ll kill them.”

He will always be a liability.

Jack’s chest tightened, “You don’t know that.”

“I do.” Gabriel’s fingers curled around his elbow. “It’s a fluke you’re still alive.”

“Gabe,” Jack’s voice broke and he clamped a hand over his mouth. He took a deep breath through his nose before continuing, his words frail and shaky. “You can’t ask me to do that.”

With the ease of stalking predator, Gabriel slipped through Jack’s defenses and pressed close while hooking his chin over Jack’s shoulder. Dark, pleading, puppy eyes flicked up to Jack’s face. It worked. Jack pushed Gabriel’s face aside, but didn’t shove him away.

“I think — with your new power — you’d be able to do it.”

“I don’t want to do it.”

“I trust you to do what needs to be done.”

Jack struggled to put together a coherent thought to throw back. A storm broke inside of him and tears spilled over his cheeks. The strike and rumble of different emotions rendered him unable to hold on to one string of thought long enough to even decide what to think.

Gabe,” Jack’s throat closed on the words.

“Promise me.”

No.

Jack sat up on the edge of the bed and scrubbed his palms over his face. His weight rocked over his heels, almost pushing down to cross the room and put distance between them. Gabriel’s touch burned. The affection twisted into a bitter-sweet promise, offering him the world but only at the cost of everything.

Stubborn, but not ignorant, Jack silently acknowledged the awful truth. If they went through with Gabriel’s plan, they would be putting everyone at risk. Something had to be done if the worst happened. As the wraith could neither be restrained nor slowed by bullets, a more drastic measure would have to be considered.

“You’re over thinking it,” Gabriel snaked his arms around Jack’s waist.

“You’re not thinking about it enough.”

“It might not even be something to worry about.”

“It—” Jack snapped his teeth together and growled. The manipulation had been subtle, as per Gabriel’s forte, and had effortlessly flipped the sides of their argument. In doing so, it strengthened Gabriel’s point.

Jack bowed his face into his hands, “You’re an asshole.”

“Old habits.”

“You’re asking me to kill you.”

“No,” Gabriel cradled Jack’s jaw in his palm. “I’m asking you to promise me you’ll do the right thing if the moment comes.”

“Why do I—”

Jack.

A note of desperation wove into Gabriel’s tone, effectively silencing Jack’s argument. Gabriel knelt next to him and brought their face together while his thumbs brushed along cheekbones. “I don’t want to be a tool. I don’t want to have to struggle through the fog. They’ve already taken so much from me and I don’t want to be that monster again.”

Jack’s chest ached; each beat of his heart sending another stab of pain into his soul. It wasn’t fair. Love shouldn’t hurt. It shouldn’t take as much as it gave. Life would have been easier without it, but as much as it tore him apart, Jack would follow his heart, time and time again, like a hopeless junkie.

“I don’t want to kill one of them — to kill you.”

Jack held Gabriel’s steadfast gaze even as lips ghosted over his.

"I still hear it in my head, telling me to kill you."

His breathing hitched and staggered as he choked on his own heart. As the internal pain sought to drown him, Gabriel pressed their foreheads together. A steady rock amid Jack's crumbling world.

“Promise me.”

His willpower gave way and Jack sank into despair. He closed his eyes, tears streamed down his face, and he uttered the damning words.

I love you.

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

The abandoned building on the outskirts of town made the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck stand on end. He had grown up under the open skies of Indiana, overlooking fields stretching on as far as the eye could see, but the rest of his life had been spent in some form of warfare among the tall structures of cities. Decades worth of war slowly erased the beauty of the open landscape because, without a wall to pressed his back to, Jack felt exposed.

Jack hunkered in the tall grass and engaged the small holovid attached to his forearm. A second later a shadow curled over him, coalesced, and peered down at Sombra’s encrypted message.

“Are you sure—”

“I know how to read a map,” Jack grumbled and rolled off Gabriel’s weight.

“Why would anyone be out here?”

The open ground between them and the squat building unnerved them both. The workshop garage sat along a stretch of cracked pavement of a long forgotten road. Field grass grew up through the split asphalt and as the wind stirred the dried, yellowed stalks rattled with warnings of winter.

“Well,” Jack began, paused, then shrugged at Gabriel. “It’s peaceful?”

“It’s boring.”

Gabriel grabbed Jack’s wrist and checked the projected map. Jack grunted in protest, knowing full and well Gabriel had his own, but secretly smiled behind his visor because — like a hopeless idiot — he enjoyed the attention.

“The signal is weak out here, but it’s showing the right coordinates," Jack said while freeing his wrist.

Smoke lifted in restless curls, shrouding Gabriel with an additional layer of black as he flexed his claws, his mask turned toward the forlorn building. “I don’t trust this.”

“We’ve already come this far.”

Jack stood and strode across the field; the sharp prickling across the back of his neck a reminder of how easily a sniper could pick him off. A moment later Gabriel joined him, a curling mass of shadows stalking alongside him.

“Remember,” Jack loosened his own stance to counter point the wraith. “We’re here to make a friend.”

Smoke slithered out of the slits of Gabriel’s mask, “Don’t even start.”

The inside of the garage — a relic from when gas powered vehicles dominated the roads — looked worse than the outside. The dust and dirt laid thickly across the floor and every surface. The only footprints hinting toward a presence were their own. Jack picked up a rusted wrench and flipped it like a knife.

“This reminds me the safe houses you and Ana use — dirty, run down, basically a hovel.”

Jack brandished the wrench at him, “Not everyone can live off of Talon’s dollar.”

“The wondrous lifestyle of vigilantes. How quaint.”

“Oh,” A new voice floated down from above. “It’s not so bad.”

The accent was vaguely french twisted with a cadence of something originating from the southern bayou. Musical, playful, and had completely caught them flat footed. Jack set the wrench down and made it a point to keep his palms open to show he meant no harm.

Gabriel, missing the memo, materialized a shotgun and pointed it in the direction of the voice. “Get down. Now.”

“Usually I am a very gracious host — but I don’t like you very much.”

“I get that a lot,” Gabriel gestured with the shotgun. “Down. Now.”

A dark-skinned hand appeared over the edge of a raised platform; some old storage space for tires. The hand tilted to reveal the simple detonator, the thumb already pressed down on the trigger.

Jack tensed and dropped his gaze to the floor while his hand flew up to engage his visor. No explosives registered in the HUD, but it only meant they were well hidden. His weight shifted, his knees bent, and he mentally prepared himself to make a dash for the exit.

The shotgun lowered and Gabriel snorted with disgust, “So?”

“I let go and the whole place goes up.”

“Won’t kill me.”

“What about your friend?”

“Expendable,” said without an ounce of hesitation. “What about you?”

“Oh thanks for asking — I’ll be fine.”

Gabriel chuckled, the relaxed sound a stark juxtaposition to his posture, coiled and swirling with tell-tale shadows. “Aren’t you suppose to be some kind of medic?”

“I feel my talents were always greatly under appreciated.”

“Clearly.”

“So you’ll be leaving now?”

Jack made a small motion with his hand, hoping to stall Gabriel’s quarrelsome nature long enough for diplomacy. They were going to have a talk, later, after Gabriel’s arrogance got them blown up — again.

“We’re not here to fight,” Jack said.

Gabriel’s head snapped toward him, the heat of his glare felt through the mask.

“Besides,” Jack said up to the man while making a cutting motion at Gabriel. Stop. Being. A. Dick. “You’re both pretty.”

An awful joke, and the drop in Gabriel’s shoulders expressed it. But it worked on the man in the rafters. A warm peal of laughter filled the shop and the tension in Jack’s posture eased.

“I like you, friend.” The laughter softened and shifted into pity. “It’s a shame I have to kill you.”

The dark hand opened and the switched dropped along with Jack’s stomach. He lurched toward the door, only to be tackled by a storm cloud. The darkness, thick and audibly buzzing, pressed against him. Hands cradled his head and shoulders, pushing his face into an armored chest. Jack heard his named being yelled as the shadows coiled around him.

And Jack remembered — a different time, a different place.

An argument resulting in an exchange of

Being told to fuck off.

Leave.

Demanding, then insisting.

An explosion rocking the base.

An angry shadow grabbing at him, pulling him down.

Jack had fought back, but the dark arms held him close as the heat washed over them.

Shrapnel ripped through their bodies.

Pain and then — nothing.

The disjointed memory faded and Jack gawked up at Gabriel who had tried to shield him from the blast. Except nothing had happened. They laid on the floor of the workshop, awkwardly entangled as the disturbed dust settled.

“Expendable, hm?”

The shadows betrayed Gabriel’s intentions. Thick, like tar, and pooling across the floor. Jack could feel the ire, cold and sharp, as it passed over his warm aura. Jack hooked his fingers into Gabriel’s mask before the wraith could rend the jeering man to shreds. He knocked their masks together and whispered for the wraith alone.

“Zurich.”

It threw Gabriel’s off-kilter long enough for the tension to ebb from his posture. He no longer coiled like a tiger about to pounce. Jack let him go. Gabriel’s power reached back, brushing against Jack in one swift motion, like an apologetic peck on the cheek, then he withdrew.

Jack stood with the help of Gabriel’s extended hand and looked up to where the man, Baptiste, sat with his legs dangling over the edge of the platform. Baptiste smiled at them, warm and welcoming, in either ignorance of the tension or just a really good farce.

“Sombra’s idea?” Jack asked.

“She might have said a thing or two.”

“Are you sure she’s your friend?”

The practical joke, while harmless, almost ended with Baptiste’s ribs inverted courtesy of a temperamental wraith. Jack doubted Baptiste realized how close he’d come to finding out how truly dangerous Gabriel could be when angered. He doubted even Sombra knew the extent of Gabriel’s rage because he probably let her get away with being a shit.

Baptiste chuckled and dropped down; his exo-boots whined and whirled as they softened his landing.

“I should shoot him,” Gabriel said as he examined the fake switch. “Teach her a lesson.”

“Aw, no hard feelings. How ‘bout a drink?”

Gabriel tossed the switch aside, “If you spoke to her, you’re either in or out.”

“So that’s a no for you.” Baptiste shrugged and looked Jack over. “What about you?”

“In or out,” Gabriel cut in before Jack could do more than part his lips in response.

“I don’t trust you. Olivia says I can but, well, I am familiar with your handiwork.”

Baptiste retrieved a bottle from behind a tool chest along with two dusty glasses. He used the cloth from around his shoulders to clean out the dirt while arching a brow at Gabriel.

“In. Or out.”

“Reyes,” Jack removed his visor and smiled grimly. “You’re terrible at making friends.”

As the skull mask turned to regard him, only the soft clicking of metal claws hinted toward the wraith’s mood.

“Fine,” Gabriel stalked toward the door, falling to shadows as he went. “PR was always your thing.”

Jack, while relieved by Gabriel’s departure, focused on the power calling to his own like parched earth to rainfall. He surmised, vaguely, that Gabriel had gone up. To the roof, likely. Jack scanned the dark rafters above him, smiling as the memory of Cairo flitted through his thoughts.

“Your friend has some serious anger issues,” Baptiste inspected the cleaned glass in the light. “Has he considered therapy?”

The image of Gabriel, dressed as Reaper, lying on a chais lounge with his clawed gauntlets neatly folded on his chest as he poured out his feelings to a sympathetically nodding therapist made Jack burst. It started as a giggle he couldn’t quite suppress and bloomed into full on guffaw. By the end, Jack gripped the edge of the work bench, grinning from one ear to the other, wheezing as he caught his breath.

Baptist chuckled along and set a poured drink next to Jack before wiggling a finger at him. “You know, when you smile like that, I can’t help but think I know you. Have we met?”

Jack swept his eyes over the younger man, “I don’t think so.”

“No, I definitely know your face.” Baptist hummed while rubbing the rim of his own glass along his lower lip. “He called you Jack, yeah?”

As Gabriel had tackled him to the floor, curling protective over what he had dubbed expendable — yeah, his name had been shouted. Jack's cheeks burned and he quickly took a drink to mask the blush. If they were going to work together, he had no reason to play coy about his identity. “Yeah, Jack Morrison.”

“Ooh, ooh,” Baptiste snapped his fingers and smiled. “I remember those posters when I was a kid. Saw you on the news a time or two.”

The charming smile faded as Baptiste looked over Jack’s attire with a darkening expression. “You’re with Talon?”

“I’m not.”

“You are the company you keep.”

The reputation preceding Reaper inspired fear, not trust. Jack never thought of Gabriel as his alter-ego. To him, Gabriel would always be the brilliant tactician who saw them through the Omnic Crisis. He was a friend. A lover. The man had done so much for the world, yet no one knew Gabriel Reyes. In the five or six years since his death, they only knew Reaper.

“Why do you trust Sombra?” Jack asked.

“Oh, uh, Olivia? Well — she’s uh…”

Jack canted his head to the side, “It’s complicated?”

“Yeah,” Baptiste studied him a moment then nodded with understanding, “It’s all a bit complicated.”

“Talon’s backers are meeting,” Gabriel would never approve of laying out the cards front and center like Jack, but that’s why the wraith was grumbling on the roof and Jack was smiling in a way so painfully familiar it made him hate himself.

PR and playing politics came naturally to him. He had learned, as a teenager, people responded well to him because of his charisma. Something as simple as a gentle smile and the right amount of eye contact had won him many things. Over time Jack began to hate himself for the subtle manipulation. Started to hate the hopeful way the new recruits gaped at him. Hated how fake and empty it left him.

“We’re going to take out key figures to weaken Talon’s standing.”

“That’s a tall order, my friend.”

Jack shrugged, “I’ve been fighting against Talon for years. Mostly on my own. It felt good, but I barely scratched the surface. They’re too strong and there’s not enough of us left willing to take on that fight. But right now we have an inside angle open to us and we’re unlikely to get another chance to take this shot.”

He watched Baptiste’s expression, knowing he had the man’s interest, because Jack did his research. Sombra had told him enough about Baptiste to lean on the defector’s good nature. Baptiste had history with Talon and his work since leaving the organization suggested the man sought to make amends with what he’d done in the past. Stopping Talon would stop the pain they inflicted on the rest of the world. The mission was worth a try.

Jack lifted his glass in a questioning toast, “In or out?”

A jovial smile returned as Baptiste tapped their glasses together, “What the hell, if it’s the best chance we’ve got, we should take it.”

After a couple drinks and a bit of back and forth about the past, they traded contact information and Jack took his leave. He crossed the open field now cloaked by night. He made the edge of the clearing before the wraith joined him. The grass gave an earthly sigh as the shadow pushed through the tall stalks and collected together a step behind Jack.

“Heard you laughing.”

Gabriel sounded put out; a mix of annoyance and jealousy. Jack pivoted around, grabbed Gabriel by the mask and yanked him closer. The wraith stumbled and Jack kept his fingers curled on the mask, using the grasp to twist Gabriel’s head aside. Metal claws bit into his biceps but Jack didn’t care. He kissed the column of Gabriel's throat.

Gabriel froze.

Just a touch and a gentle push of power for Jack to remind himself why he had just played devil’s advocate. He didn’t want to fill that role. It brought back memories of the song and dance routine he performed for the UN and various organizations offering to fund Overwatch.

With the taste of rum lingering on his tongue, and bitter memories tainting his thoughts, Jack yearned for another drink. He wanted to drink until he could forget how many years he had wasted, forget how all the red tape had eventually strung him up like a marionette, forget how all of it had been for nothing.

“He’s agreed to join us. We should get back.”

Jack retreated, snapped his visor on, and stalked away. For a long moment only his footsteps and a few brave crickets marred the silence. Gabriel remained rooted among the sea of moonlit grass, watching Jack slip away into the darkness.

 


 

“Stop shooting at me!”

“Go back t’hell where ya came from!”

Gabriel peeked up at the bell tower of the old church. He just made out the shape of a hat when a shot chipped away the plaster of the wall he was using as cover. Gabriel cursed. The open ground between the last houses and the church couldn’t be more than 50 yards, but with a sharp shooter like McCree at the high ground it might as well have been a mile.

“You know I can just phase up there and throttle you!”

“You just try’n do that, I dare ya!”

A hand circled around his arm before Gabriel could, in fact, go and strangle the boozed gunslinger. Gabriel met Jack’s look. Even through the visor Gabriel could tell just how Jack’s lips were set and his blue eyes were slightly narrowed. It was a look that had developed somewhere back in SEP, when Jack disapproved of Gabriel punching someone out just because they were annoying.

“He’s half drunk, hates me, and no amount of talking is going to make him come down. I can just go up there and knock him out. We can tie him up, wait for him to sober up, then we can do all the damn peace talking you want.”

Gabriel returned the look.

“That’s not a good way to earn someone’s trust.” Jack said.

“I’ve killed you and you trust me.”

Reading the way Jack’s head lolled back a fraction of an inch and his shoulders dropped just as minimally, Gabriel could tell Jack had rolled his eyes behind the visor.

“And you make me suffer for it every day.”

“You love it.”

“Focus, Reyes.”

“I am,” Gabriel gestured to the bullet holes peppering the corner of the building. “I’ve been trying to talk to him.”

“Try harder.”

You—” Gabriel clenched his fist and bit down the words. The only reason he remained on the ground instead of knocking McCree on his ass was to appease Jack. Fine. Fine. Gabriel shook the tension from his shoulders and loosened his hold on his physical form. Smoke unfurled from within and curled around what remained, masking his shape.

He drifted more than stepped out from behind cover.

“Jesse,” His voice vibrated through his ghostly visage. A bullet grazed the junction of his shoulder and neck. “I’m just here to talk.”

Releasing his hold, because he knew what was coming, Gabriel fell away to shadows as the fan of bullets pierced through the spot where his chest and head had been standing. Dirt puffed up where the bullets hit the ground instead. Gabriel slid back around the building, reformed, and gave Jack another look.

“Gee, I just don’t think he wants to talk.”

Gabriel pulled at Jack’s power to heal the small wound, but met with resistance. Jack was getting better at controlling it. Understanding the need, Jack let go of the energy and it wash eagerly over Gabriel. Smooth, sweet, and ever so warm where it curled inside of him. He hummed, pleased, but only drew only enough to heal, even if he enjoyed watching Jack fidget in response to the exchange.

“Maybe I should try talking to him,” Jack said.

Before Jack could do more than lean forward, Gabriel pushed him back. “You’re dressed like a Talon soldier. He’ll shoot you on sight. I don’t care if you’re a walking ball of healing light, it’s not worth the risk.”

Jack growled, “Then go out there and get shot up until he runs out of bullets.”

“Wow,” Gabriel grinned behind his own mask. “It’s amazing to think you were once Strike Commander with plans like that.”

“Would make me happy to watch.”

“And they say I’m the sadistic one.”

Jack steered them back on point, “Plan?”

“I’m going up there — incapacitate him.”

“I’ll distract him.”

They swapped positions. Jack manned the chewed up corner of the crumbling wall while Gabriel phased and skirted the church yard.

“McCree,” Jack yelled from behind the wall. “It’s Jack Morrison.”

“Even if he wasn’t dead — why would I care?”

The members of Blackwatch never did learn to respect Jack because Gabriel had set a poor example for them. When out of public view, Gabriel had openly defied Jack. The worst of their arguments happened behind closed doors, but the rest of Blackwatch knew the extent of Gabriel’s disrespect when he made plans without Jack’s approval or spoke slanderous words about the Strike Commander while in their company.

In hindsight, Gabriel wished he had done things differently. A lot of things.

“Not dead, just want to talk.”

Jesse barked out a laugh, “Morrison cert’nly was fond of talkin’”

“Reyes isn’t dead either.”

“That thing ain’t Reyes!”

Gabriel scaled the wall as a shadow, poured over the rail of the tower and pulled himself together as fast as possible.

“Jesse—”

“Shut the hell up!”

Jack must have exposed himself, because Jesse unloaded a series of shots as Gabriel finished forming. He lunged as the gunslinger, sensing his presence, spun around. Gabriel caught the revolver as it raised but didn’t expect the metal prosthetic arm to swing with Jesse’s turn.

It smashed into Gabriel’s face hard enough to break the skull mask and make him stagger. Gabriel ripped free the mask dangling off his face while keeping control of the gun with the other. He flung Jesse around, making the gunslinger stumble over half-drunk legs and crumple to the floor. Gabriel followed through with a forearm pressed to Jesse’s throat.

Except that metal hand — when the hell did Jesse get a cybernetic graft? — clasped onto the arm and squeezed with a strength beyond Gabriel’s super soldier tolerance.

Gabriel fled to the shadows and flurried around Jesse, making him lash and bat uselessly at his immaterial form.

Jesse climbed to his feet and Gabriel formed in parts. First his legs, which he used to sweep out Jesse’s unsteady stance. The rest of him followed like a tide until he could smash a closed fist against Jesse’s temple, sending the cowboy hat tumbling.

His quarry rolled away and rose up on a knee to fire the rest of the chambered bullets into Gabriel’s chest. The pain flared into rage and the embedded bullets dropped to the floor as Reaper shifted and slammed into Jesse. Blood. His claws dug into Jesse’s shoulder and ripped. Pain. The serape tore in wake of the sharp metal and he reaped the life from the blossoming pain.

But it tasted wrong, like ashes on his tongue; acidic and dry.

Gabriel recoiled.

He peeled his mind away from the hunger.

A loud bang from below drew his attention to the ladder leading to the ground floor. The sound registered, after it trickled through the creeping fog, as one of McCree’s flash bangs. Before Gabriel could do more than wonder the cause, a fan of bullets pierced through him. They punched through his lung, his neck, and shattered his teeth as one tore through his cheek.

Darkness spilled from Reaper and he lunged at the gunslinger. His claws closed on Jesse’s throat and Reaper lifted him up while twisting the metal prosthetic to the side. Jesse choked as his toes scraped against the wooden floor boards. He struck at Reaper with the empty revolver, again and again as the wraith writhed with smoke.

He would tear him apart; limb by limb. He would make him scream and beg as he flayed his soul.

“Gabe?”

Reaper slammed Jesse into the floor and kicked the revolver free. A shotgun formed in his hand and he struck Jesse across the face, laying him out on the floor, then he turned to address the voice. Honey laced warmth hung in the air, tormenting his hunger and offering him so much more than ashen energy seeping from McCree.

He kept one gun pointed at McCree while the other leveled on Jack’s visor.

The list — these men were on his list

Jack lifted his empty hands and took a step forward. Gabriel curled his finger around trigger. The visor came off and Gabriel regarded the concern on Jack’s face while blood bubbled up in his lungs.

The shotgun slowly lowered.

“Jack—” it hurts. The hole in his face and his broken teeth slurred his words. He spit aside blood and bone.

A hand set on his shoulder and the heat pressed against him. Gabriel clamped his hand over Jack’s and pulled in the light, hoping to burn out the monster lurking within. His body wavered between worlds as the void converted the warmth into his own twisted essence. The healing itched, but Gabriel hardly felt it after so many years of being torn apart, especially not when his mind reeled with alarm.

Why?

Why now?

The voice telling him to kill had been so quiet. The hungry void so docile. Gabriel thought he had beaten it. Thought he was free.

“Holy shit — it really is you.” Jesse said.

“I wasn’t lying,” Jack’s hand passed over the sealing gash in Gabriel’s cheek.

It would never leave him. It waited in the pit of the void, able to escape when he needed it to survive. If Jack hadn’t showed up when he did, Jesse’s blood would have painted the floor. At least he recognized Jack, or the thing within him at least acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between them, and didn’t immediately try to kill him too.

Jack had moved, standing between him and Jesse in a subtle show of wariness. It hurt, but Gabriel understood. He couldn’t even trust himself. The shotguns fractured apart and Gabriel shoved his distress down. Later he’d seek out Jack and try and drown himself in the heat and light. He’d pray for it to eradicate the darkness, or at least let it remind him he was still human, partly, and not a mindless, hungry reaper.

Gabriel ran his tongue along the reformed flats of his teeth, checking for any permanent damage. He caught Jesse gawking at him and sneered, “What are you looking at?”

“You tell me.”

Jack cleared his throat, “I can’t stop you two from yelling, but will you agree to not killing each other?”

Two glares snapped onto Jack.

“Geez,” Jack raised his hands in surrender. “Just trying to channel Ana.”

“Don’t tell me,” Jesse drawled. “She’s alive too?”

Jack lowered his hands as a sheepish smile inched across his young face, “Actually…”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, really?”

“Sorry, Jesse.”

“You dun need’a apologize, that bastard however…”

Gabriel bristled, “You damn little ingrate—”

“And wha’ the hell should I be grateful for, huh?”

“Everything I did for you, pendejo. I took you out of a bad situation and gave you a life.”

“You used me.”

Any other day, Gabriel would have brushed off Jesse’s upset because it wasn’t Gabriel’s job to soothe someone’s hurt feeling. If someone wanted to convince themselves of a lie, it was their problem, not his. But, catching sight of Jack’s blue eyes, Gabriel realized he wasn’t going to be allowed to dismiss the subject.

“You know that isn’t true,” Gabriel said.

“Sure feels like it.”

Annoyed, because he’d raised Jesse to be smarter than a snot-nosed brat, Gabriel snarled. “You’re such a fucking disappointment.”

The words struck home and Gabriel had a moment to register the hurt flashing across Jesse’s face before the blinds were pulled. Gabriel wished he could take it back, even if at the same time he felt Jesse deserved the verbal smack. Their relationship had always held a degree of tough love. In the past it had been necessary to wrangle in the angry kid. It had been the way Gabriel was raised. He saw no problem with it.

But then there was Jack, raised on hugs and kisses, who was giving him another one of those fucking looks.

Gabriel wanted to bite him for it. Then kiss. The jump in impulses didn’t make a great deal of sense, and Gabriel had long ago stopped trying to rationalize why his thought process went from wanting to clobber Jack to instead wanting to pin him down and ravish him. It was easier to blame the doctors and their meddling.

Regardless, the look Jack held on him smothered all the flames of his anger, leaving nothing but a mound of sputtering coals barely capable of putting together a heated thought. Gabriel grumbled. He held on to the last wisps of his anger, but his mood had already simmered down enough to try a different approach.

“I’m sorry.”

And just like that, the tension in the air popped like a soap bubble.

“I think I misheard that, could ya say it a lil’louder?”

Unable to detect any vehemence in Jesse’s tone, Gabriel first shot a questioning look to Jack, only to find him smiling. His blue eyes were bright, almost laughing, and Gabriel vowed to torment Jack later for it. The whole situation left Gabriel several different types of uncomfortable.

He scooped up the revolver and slid it in his belt before shifting the narrowed look to Jesse, “Don’t push your luck.”

Jesse scoffed as he picked up his hat, dusted it off, and set it back on his ears. “So why am I bein’ visited by two ghosts?”

“We have an opportunity to strike at Talon,” Jack said.

“A job?” Jesse sneered. “That’s why yer here? A fuckin’ job!?”

“Jesse—”

“No,” He gestured sharply with his metal arm. “The answer is hell no.”

This is your stupid kid, deal with it— was what the newest look from Jack said to Gabriel. He glowered, but caved to the blue eyes insisting he remedy the situation.

“Are you sulking, McCree?”

“I don’t want your work.”

“Because you’re doing so well for yourself as a merc for hire?”

“I only take the jobs I believe in. I don’t believe in yours.”

“Does it make you feel good? So much you crawl into a bottle after every job?”

Jesse lunged and Gabriel welcomed the violence. He understood anger; knew it levied the path for the other emotions. As he absorbed the blows and deflected the worst from the metal arm, Gabriel didn’t hold it against Jesse. It was something they went through when Jesse had just been young and angry, but now Jesse hit a lot harder than the lanky teenager Gabriel had taken under his wing.

The blows lessened in force until Jesse leaned heavily against Gabriel.

“Yer such a fuckin’ bastard.”

Gabriel chuckled as he patted Jesse’s back, “I know.”

Feeling Jesse tense and the revolver slide free from his belt, Gabriel grinned and shifted as the gun came up, the barrel pointed where his chin had been. The shadows danced away and pulled together, filling the space between Jesse and Jack.

Jesse made a show of twirling peacekeeper before holstering it. He eyed the other two men, grunted, and fished a bent cigarillo from his shirt pocket. His metal fingers — the ones that had tried to smash in Gabriel’s face — oddly delicate as they straightened the smoke.

“Why now? After all these years — why now?”

Unable to simplify his involvement with Talon and his enlightening encounters with Jack, at least not without inviting a bombardment of prying questions, Gabriel merely shrugged.

A lighter split the night as McCree lit his smoke. He exhaled over his shoulder while his sharp eyes studied them like a detective would a crime scene. “You know, the last time you had a plan to attack Talon, things didn’t end well.”

“You still think what I did was wrong?”

“No,” Jesse tapped ashes over the rail. “I ain’t ever thought that. It’s jus that the consequences from that job came at a cost too high for any of us. And even with that scum dead, another one replaced him. It didn’t even matter what we did. It only hurt us — all of us.”

It wasn’t untrue, but it still stung to hear it. Gabriel couldn’t be entirely sure he had acted on his own volition at the time. He had wanted revenge for the attack on the Rome facility that had taken so many lives — almost taking Gerard’s. But there had been something else, something about Akande wanting Antonio gone. It twisted further with the image of Jack turning his back to him afterward. It was still a mess in his mind.

“It’s different this time.” Gabriel said.

“I don’t know…”

“One bad job and you quit, is that what I’m hearing?”

“I ain’t said that,” Jesse shot a stream of smoke at him. “I just ain’t convince of the viability of this supposed plan of yers.”

“The opporunity is there and we’re not going to get another chance, so you want in on this or not?”

“Hell, give a man some time to consider the options.” Jesse glanced at Jack. “Just us three?”

“Seven, potentially.” Jack looked to Gabriel. “If you have means to contact Genji, he could get in touch with Ana.”

Jesse whined, “You’ve been in touch with Genji?”

Gabriel, having gathered the broken pieces of his mask, narrowed a look on Jesse. “He came to me. Besides, I was under the impression you’d rather shoot me than talk.”

“Did ya even try?”

Yes, Gabriel thought but kept to himself. Admitting such a thing in the dark, wrapped up with the man who had been a constant throughout almost all his life, was something entirely different than opening up to his protégé.

Gabriel snorted, “Did you?”

“Well I had the convenient excuse of thinkin’ you were dead.”

Smoke slipped out, swirling in contemptuous curls in response to the direction of the conversation. His claws picked at the fabric lining his palms. Saying he had been brainwashed by Talon felt like an easy excuse. As if saying those few words absolved him from all the blood on his hands. But there had been a point, after the rut had been worn into him so deep, that he did those things by choice.

“We also have a Talon operative and a Talon defector willing to work with us,” Jack, perhaps sensing Gabriel’s unease, re-routed the conversation.

“What about the rest of the ol’ gang?”

Gabriel waved a dismissive hand, “Too recognizable or not suited for the job.”

“Alright, then, what’s the plan for these big-wigs?”

While they had agreed on the course of action, they had never talked at length about the planned assassinations. Gabriel glanced toward Jack, knowing three versions of the man. A young Jack Morrison, bloodied and harrowed by the Omnic Crisis would have done anything to bring the war to an end. Strike Commander Morrison, so bound up by politics, would insist on doing things by the rule book, even knowing that some of the people they were targeting wrote the damn rules. Then there was Soldier:76, a mix between the two, justice without rules and recklessness backed by years of experience.

Gabriel couldn’t be entirely sure Jack was complacent with the plan, so he watched his expression while he answered.

“We kill them.”

Jack’s jaw tensed and his chin dipped in a shallow nod, “We don’t have authority to be doing this. We don’t have anywhere to hold them or put them to trial.”

“They’d just buy their way out anyway.” Jesse said.

It troubled Gabriel to watch Jack’s posture wilt. Between the two of them, he’d always viewed Jack as the good one. Jack with his sense of honor, as charming as it was annoying. His morals and principles had always served as a guiding light to Gabriel, making sure he didn’t stray too far off into the dark. Now that light had dimmed, just a little, and Gabriel yearned to tease and dote on Jack until he smiled in the shy way the sun broke through the clouds of an overcast sky.

“You two have changed,” Jesse glanced between them. “What happened?”

Snapping out of his thoughts, Gabriel examined the empty space above them where a bell use to hang while hoping he hadn’t been caught staring at Jack. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Yeah it does,” Jesse chuckled. “Watching you two agree on something is mighty surreal.”

Jack grunted, “I”m too old to deal with his bullshit.”

“Another thing,” Jesse waggled his smoke at Jack. “You ain’t lookin’ that old. Ain’t you pushin’ sixty?”

The murderous look Jack speared on Jesse almost had Gabriel in stitches. His lips quivered with suppressed laughter. Explaining Jack’s youth was bound to be an interesting story. A tale for another time.

“Get your stuff together,” Gabriel gestured at Jesse. “Get a damn haircut.”

“Hey now—”

“Sombra will be in touch.”

“Who’s Sombra?”

Gabriel snorted with inner amusement, “A headache like you.”

“In that case, I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.”

Chapter Text

“Nervous?”

The wisps of errant smoke betrayed his mood. Gabriel lifted his gaze from the hallway floor as Jack reached forward and pushed back the hood of his sweatshirt. Gabriel had foregone the Reaper garb on Jack’s behest after agreeing it might start the upcoming meeting on the wrong foot. He felt exposed without the mask, but couldn’t find it in himself to be too fussed when Jack used any and every excuse to touch him.

Jack’s fingers brushed through his hair and, because they were alone, Gabriel closed his eyes and savored the contact. The touch slid down the back of his neck and massaged away the tension. Gabriel gave a low hum of appreciation. Then the hand was gone, replaced by a jostling pat to the shoulder.

“Let’s go,” Jack said.

With a growl, Gabriel pulled Jack close, but Jack caught the wall and kept them apart. He didn’t budge, not even to the hands Gabriel slid up the back of his shirt. Even the heat of Jack’s power — usually so eager to appease — remained locked away.

Gabriel lightly dug his fingers into the small of Jack’s back, “Can’t you run the meeting without me?”

He knew the forthcoming answer, but enjoyed the indulging smile Jack gave him.

“It’s important that you be there.”

Loathed to lose the proximity, Gabriel pulled Jack closer and basked in the warmth. They spent most nights together, but it involved more sleep than anything else. As soon as they were entangled, sharing little more than a few kisses, Gabriel fell asleep. After years of living in a state of insomnia, Gabriel relished the long overdue naps curled around the only thing he trusted.

“They’re waiting on us,” Jack said.

“Just a little longer.”

Gabriel carded his fingers into Jack’s blonde hair and kissed the corner of his scarred lips. Soft and gentle, not pressing for more. When they drew apart, Jack wore a bemused smile and a concerned furrow of brows.

“What?” Gabriel asked.

“You’re just—”

Gabriel narrowed his eyes, daring Jack to finish the sentiment. Jack studied him before dropping his gaze, “Nothing.”

The silence swelled to the point of bursting with all the things they both hesitated to acknowledge. None of it simple, but untangling the mess of their lives might do more harm than good. Gabriel contented himself with small shows of affections while rebuffing Jack’s attempts to verbalize it. The mission ahead weighed heavily on Gabriel’s mind and he didn’t want to complicate things further by talking out their feelings.

“Let’s get this over with,” Gabriel said.

Yet as Jack slid away, the void within Gabriel twisted with agitation. It took time for their countering energies to settle into a harmonious exchange, and forcing them back apart left Gabriel momentarily disoriented. His throat tightened around the unspoken words and, as Jack paused and turned to look back at him, a hopeful thread burned in Gabriel’s chest.

“Gabe?”

Pushing off the wall, Gabriel pulled his hood back up and shoved his feelings down. “Yeah, I’m coming.”

Instead of an abandoned warehouse caked with decades worth of debris and dust, Gabriel insisted on putting Sombra’s talents to work, earning them the private use of an office building. Gabriel followed Jack into the meeting room, almost breaking stride as several pairs of eyes fixed on him. His fingers itched for the triggers of his shotguns.

Jack’s unflappable nonchalance, cultivated by years of facing down antagonistic reporters, served to keep Gabriel from fleeing in a puff of smoke. He followed Jack to the front of the room and leaned against the wall just behind the former Commander. While Jack insisted on Gabriel’s presence at the meeting, they both agreed Jack would do the talking.

If Gabriel had to lead the meeting, he joked, they’d all be at each other’s throats within the first minute. Gabriel could command, but he didn’t have same kind of patience Jack had to answer questions or deal with quarrelsome natures. At least not in a way that didn’t involve a swift smack upside the head and sharp words.

Ana shouldered the wall next to him, “Are you in the dog house?”

The jest poked at his tense posture and the way he half-sulked behind Jack. A joke, but Gabriel warily eyed her all the same. The last time they had been in a room together, she had made sure to keep her rifle pointed his direction. Her teasing did not mask her skeptical narrow of eye.

Gabriel forced his shoulders to relax and brushed back his hood. Trying, for Jack’s sake, to not inspire a room-sized war. He crossed his arms, matching Ana’s defensive posture. “I’m just surprised no one shot me when I walked in the door.”

“There’s always time for that later.”

“Promise?”

She chided him with a cluck of her tongue, a habit so familiar to him it made his heart ache. He wanted to enjoy the banter, but he didn’t trust it. She was measuring him for worth. He knew it, saw it in the way her lips curved in a muted smile, but her one eye remained sharp.

“I’m dying to know,” She cast a conspiratorial glance over the others. “Is Jack coloring his hair?”

Three barks of laughter escaped Gabriel before he clamped a hand over the outburst. The room stared. Gabriel slowly bowed his head and splayed his fingers to hide his embarrassment. He snickered down in his chest, already enjoying the mental images of Jack’s annoyance when he passed on Ana’s question.

Slowly the silence waned as the others returned to the own conversations. McCree spoke, in spanish, to Sombra who kept glancing over at where Baptiste spoke animatedly to a politely nodding Genji. A tension oddly absent among the oddball group.

Jack cleared his throat, drawing the attention of the room with an exception of Sombra who looked pointedly at her nails.

“Thank you all for coming.”

Gabriel’s eyes bugged at the sound of Jack’s speech voice. Even dressed in little more than a black t-shirt and ill fitting tactical pants, arms folded behind him in a parade rest, Jack addressed the room as if he stood at a podium, prim and proper, with a detailed mission docket in his hands. Gabriel glanced over the others, worried the amiable atmosphere would crack. They were all so young and prone to rebellion against authority.

“To recap: Talon’s council and backers are meeting in two weeks at a world peace fundraiser in Switzerland. It’s a masked gala, for anonymity, which will make it easier for us to infiltrate and remove key targets before the inner council meets.”

Genji rasied his hand, “Why do we not wait for them to be together?”

“We’re not after the inner council. We want to remove Talon’s funding and sources of influence.”

“Besides,” Sombra smirked, glancing up from her nails. “Akande would whoop all your asses.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, sweetheart,” McCree grumbled.

“Telling it like it is, vanquero.”

Genji again raised his hand, “What are we doing with the targets?”

Jack hesitated and Gabriel jumped in to keep the meeting flowing forward, “We kill them.”

“You’re okay with this, Jack?” Ana asked while shifting her weight.

The insinuation behind her words, as if Gabriel had not talked it over with Jack in detail before the meeting, did not go unnoticed. He fixed his glare on the ceiling while his fingers tightened around his biceps. Smoke crept out of him and snaked along the floor.

An unruffled Jack simply gave Ana a curt nod. “Yes, I am.”

“It’s a shame to take any life,” Baptiste eased into the conversation. “But the longer Talon is allowed to operate unchecked, the more damage they will cause. It is time we go for the source of the affliction instead of tending to the symptoms.”

Gabriel nodded with the defector's comment, “Akande’s ultimate goal involves inciting a large scale war.”

“Christ,” McCree pushed back his hand to rub at his hairline. “Can he really do somethin’like that?”

Sombra scoffed. “If he pulls the right strings, people will do the rest for him.”

“People don’t want a damn war.”

“Don’t you get it? It’s the people with power that will start the war, and people — like you — that die in it.”

Gabriel raised a hand to stifle McCree’s forthcoming rebuke. “Akande is playing both the humans and omnics, building them against each other. When the time comes, he won’t have to do anything to kick off a second Crisis.”

Jack lifted both his hands to bring the room’s attention back to him, “Sombra will supply you with the floor plans, credentials, and add you to the attending list as staff. McCree, Baptiste, and myself will work the main floor. Genji and Ana will work the designated halls and rooms. Reyes and Sombra will identify the targets and guide them our way.”

“Since no one else is going to ask,” Ana looked from Jack to Gabriel. “How do we know this isn’t a trap?”

Gabriel laughed grimly, “If I wanted to catch Overwatch in my mousetrap, I would have baited it to attract more than those present.”

Before Jack could do anything more than open his mouth, Ana snapped at him, “Don’t try and scold me, Jack. I am not convince by this new leaf turned.”

A annoyed growl sounded as Sombra stepped forward, pointing a single finger at the gray-haired sniper. “You have no idea what he’s been risking to do all this.”

Gabriel shot her a look, “Sombra, don’t.”

“She has no fucking clue!”

Ana arched an unimpressed brow, “Enlighten me.”

“Sombra,” Gabriel warned with a growl and an accompanying curl of smoke.

Furious spanish filled the room as Sombra glared at him and lashed her arm in Jack’s direction. Gabriel sneered and covered his face while Jesse, fluent but unprepared for Sombra’s speed and fluidity in the language, sputtered. Sombra glanced at Jesse, grimaced, then stalked to corner of the room.

“Not like they wouldn’t figure it out anyway,” Sombra muttered to her nails.

“Wait,” McCree lips remained parted with lingering confusion. His brown eyes flitted between the two former Commanders. “Did she say—”

“No,” Gabriel said, his tone firm while his eyes narrowed on the hacker. “She’s just stirring the pot.”

Sombra flipped him off. Jesse’s expression remained bewildered.

“Ana,” Jack glossed over the swell of tension.”We’re not asking anyone to be here against their will. If you don’t want to be part of this, that’s fine. You can walk away.”

She scolded Jack with a look before clucking her tongue in dismissal, “And leave you with no one to bail you out?”

Jack smiled at her and Gabriel adverted his glare elsewhere while his chest stung with a burrowing worm of jealousy.

“Any questions?” Jack asked the room.

Baptiste cheerfully raised a finger, “Will there be food and am I allowed to eat it?”

A perplexed pinch formed between Jack’s brows, “As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the mission, yes, you can eat.”

“Excellent.”

“What about clothes?” Jesse asked. “Ain’t this some uppity get together? ‘Cause…”

“Let me guess,” Sombra said from her corner. “You don’t own anything besides western memorabilia?”

“Listen here you little cyberpunk—”

“Enough,” Jack cut in. “It will be provided—”

“By me,” Sombra refused to be silenced. ”So be nice or you’re going to look like a comic book villain.”

McCree sneered as he drawled, “Like you?”

Spanish flew between the two and Gabriel stepped up next to a shouting Jack with intentions of adding his own commanding voice to the mix. Before he could do more than tap in to the growl building in his chest, the room went silent. Every pair of eyes locked on him. It took Gabriel a moment to realize why: smoke fanned around him, stretching out across the front of the room like demonic wings.

“Like a bat outta hell, ain’t ya,” Jesse said while doffing his hat.

Jack’s lips twitched and he hid the forming smile behind a hand.

“This,” Gabriel pointed between Jesse and Sombra while ignoring the gaping looks, “cannot go on during the mission.”

Both his underlings, old and new, avoided his glare.

“Flirt on your own damn time.”

The room erupted in a roar of protests and laughter. Baptiste’s guffaw the loudest of all. Amid the rukus, Jesse and Sombra yelled at him.

“As if I would ever—”

“Yer crazier than a rat in a shit house if you think—”

Gabriel just laughed, then laughed harder at the sight of Jack attempting to hide behind both hands. Gabriel reached out and squeezed Jack’s arm which earned him a flash of amused blue eyes and a coy smile. The blush coloring Jack’s cheek begged to be kissed and Gabriel actually leaned into Jack’s personal space before he caught himself.

The longing in Jack’s blue eyes made Gabriel’s heart lurch.

After another squeeze, Gabriel turned away only to be met with Ana’s piercing gaze. Laughter continued to fill the room, but the good feeling faded for Gabriel. He shouldered the wall next to Ana, knowing he needed to deal with her contention before the mission. Even if a part of him wanted to drape an arm around Jack and smile at her. Petty. Possessive. Mostly he was just annoyed at her distrust because he thought she knew him better.

“Problem?” He asked.

“History tends to repeat itself.”

His eyes narrowed, “Meaning?”

“You hurt him before and you’ll do it again.”

The din of the room faded as Gabriel openly stared at her. His tongue refused to dislodge where it had glued itself to the roof of his mouth.

“We both know he’s an idiot in love,” Ana continued, her words striking him with pinpoint accuracy. “And you’re taking advantage of it.”

I’m not, he wanted to say, but the seed of doubt had already taken root. From the very beginning, when the line of their lives had first crossed in SEP, Gabriel had known about Jack’s feelings. A shy smile and a skirting glance had told Gabriel everything. And yeah, Gabriel had used it to his advantage; either to distract Jack from a match or derail an unwanted line of conversation. The blind loyalty bound Jack to him. It made it easier to get what he wanted from the man; through the Crisis and into the early years of Overwatch.

Although presenting a token of resistance, Jack rarely denied him anything.

Being shunted into Blackwatch changed things. Gabriel no longer flirted to get what he wanted. No, he did worse. He pointedly ignored Jack knowing it would made him distraught and, eventually, yield. Jack would find him, angry and miserable, and offer him an olive branch.

Even afterward, guised as Reaper, Gabriel had toyed with Jack’s undying crush.

Time and time again; Ana was not wrong.

Gabriel firmed his lips together and looked toward Jack. Their friendship had not been a farce. He’d always liked Jack in his own way. But he had to wonder if their complementary powers contributed to the reason why they’d recently grown close. It had to be more. Right? More than the hunger in him recognizing Jack as a continuous source of food. More than just a pleasant pastime. While Gabriel could be manipulative, not always on purpose, he still cared.

Right?

“We’ll see this through,” Ana drew back his attention, “then go our own ways, hm?”

It hurt, no matter how he rationalized her behavior toward him. Gabriel knew Ana didn’t trust him, and hell she had a good reason to doubt his intentions. Her protective nature wasn’t new; she was born to be both a mother and a soldier. She would not apologize for her words or her actions. While Gabriel hadn’t expected to be welcomed into the fold with open arms, he hadn’t anticipated to feel so gutted by her calm rejection. Even preparing for the worst scenario to play out did not ease the disappointment darkening his thoughts.

Jack’s voice rose above the others, “If there are no further questions — we’ll be in touch.”

Ana stood, patted Jack’s arm in farewell, and left without so much as a parting glance at Gabriel. He tried to let it go, but memories filtered through, reminding him off all the times he had played with little Fareeha. Shared tea with Ana while enjoying the view. The times they teased Jack. The times he had cooked for her when she was having troubles with Sam. She had been a sister to him, but he had burned that bridge a long time ago. He couldn’t expect her to be as willing, as Jesse, to forgive and accept him.

Smoke eddied around his boots and it took a moment for Gabriel to wade through the quick sand of regretful thoughts and acknowledge Jack standing in front of him.

“We need to go.”

“Huh?”

They were cleared for a reconnaissance mission with Sombra until tomorrow and did not have to be anywhere for at least another two hours. The exasperation Jack showed just before turning and walking out of the room only added to Gabriel’s confusion. At the last second, Gabriel dissolved and slipped through the closing door. He reformed in the hall, his boots slapping against the hard floor as he chased after Jack.

“What are you—”

As he turned the corner, intent on catching Jack’s arm, Gabriel found himself yanked off balance and slammed into the wall. His lips pulled back in a snarl.

Jack smirked, “A little slow on the uptake?”

Smoke curled upward in tight spirals of annoyance, “About what?”

The heat, the power Jack kept coiled inside, flooded outward to caress over Gabriel’s cool skin. Jack leaned in, lips grazing but not kissing. Oh. Too caught up in his own brooding thoughts, Gabriel had missed Jack’s interest. He feigned apathy, crossing his arms between them to create space.

Jack saw and met the challenge, pressing close enough to brush lips against Gabriel’s ear; going right for the weakness like a cheater. Gabriel hummed while heat pulsed down his spine. He dug his fingers into his arms to ward off a shiver.

“I wanted you to myself,” Jack murmured. His voice low, graveled, and tightening things low in Gabriel’s groin.

Gabriel tilted his head away from Jack’s lips, “And why’s that?”

The devious way Jack grinned at him was something Gabriel hadn’t seen in years. The playful flicker in Jack’s blue eyes. The knowing tilt of his head. Gabriel wondered if this more flirtatious Jack had once been set on Vincent, or the boldness was just for him.

“How else can I ask about what Sombra said?”

A slow grin grew across Gabriel’s face, “What’s it to you?”

“I recognized the word ‘gringo’.”

“Oh?”

“After all the time I spent hunting Los Muertos, you don’t think I picked up some spanish?”

Gabriel’s grin stretched further. An angry Sombra rattled off her spanish almost too quickly for him to follow. He doubted Jack caught any of it. Hoped he didn’t. The tension in Gabriel’s chest eased when Jack lightly bit into his lower lip, smiling ever so slightly in defeat. Jack’s bluff dissolved with an amused scoff.

“Alright. Fine. She said it too fast for me.”

“Did you happen to catch the word ‘tonto’ after ‘gringo’? Because it means stupid.”

Jack eyes danced with laughter, “I know what she said made you blush.”

Unable to refute the truth, Gabriel softly chuckled while his gaze wandered down the halll. He reached for Jack, sliding his palm along his cheek. His thumb ghosted over Jack’s lips, pleased when they parted and a heat touched at those blue eyes. There he was, manipulating Jack again, because he didn’t want to talk about what Sombra said. Or think about what Ana words had insisted — parting from Jack after the mission.

Jack kissed the pad of Gabriel’s thumb, his eyes vivid and earnest as he whispered, “I love seeing you laugh.”

Gabriel’s heart quickened along with his breath as he remained captivated by the ocean of adoration pooling before him.

“Seeing you laugh with everyone. You looked… happy.”

The laugh Gabriel meant to use to brush off Jack’s words became a weak scoff. He’d never stopped to consider his own happiness. His goals in life rarely involved his feelings beyond satisfaction. Happiness was such a fleeting emotion; there one moment, gone the next. It wasn’t sustainable. Yet he couldn’t deny he saw it in Jack and he desired to chase after it.

“You’re such a sap,” Gabriel whispered.

They were a disaster waiting to happen, but Gabriel could no better stay away from Jack than the night could avoid the break of dawn, or the day deny the fall of night. They were perpetual. Stuck in a cycle. Where one ended, the other began. Either in harmony, or chaos, they would always be drawn to each other.

Ana was wrong about him; but Sombra was right.

He was in love with the stupid gringo.

In love with the smile that came out shy, sometimes awkward, and solely for him. The eyes, so open and earnest even after years of hardship and pain. The criss-crossing of scars mapping the history of the war — their war. He loved Jack’s unshakable sense of duty and honor. His laugh. His wit. Those stupid pink lips Gabriel pulled in for a kiss.

He loved Jack Morrison.

And it terrified him.

Chapter Text

Butterflies danced in Gabriel’s stomach and he drowned them with expensive champagne. He preferred something stronger, but the passing trays of silver offered him little else. Gabriel took what came nearest and downed the contents in two hard swallows.

“So why do you get to drink like a fish and I don’t?” McCree asked.

Gabriel glanced side-long at half-mask regarding him. McCree cleaned up nice when he tried. His hair was slicked back, his beard trimmed, and the tailored black tux with a bone white vest and tie flattered his broad shape. Yet it looked plain next to Gabriel's suit of black on black with a vest shimmering like wet blood whenever he moved. His mask featured a raven swooping across his features with tail feathers sweeping back into the dark chestnut of his hair.

“You know why,” Gabriel said.

“You’re nervous.”

Unable to brandish a decent glare, Gabriel flashed his canines in a muted snarl, “I’m not.”

“If you say so.”

Jesse lifted two flutes of champagne from a passing server and extended one to Gabriel. “But fast metabolism or not, yer gonna get sick if you keep it up.”

Gabriel sipped at the fresh drink, glowering, and cast his attention over the ballroom. The sweeping skirts, the silly masks, the chatter of the crowd a constant hum beneath the string quartet playing in the corner. Most of the people were unknown to him. Innocent bystanders. Others, however, would never see the light of another day.

“There’s Jack.”

Jesse motioned, but Gabriel ignore it and kept his eyes on the crowd. Jesse aimed to test Sombra’s slip of tongue. Most of the group knew, to an extent, about the relationship between him and Jack, but Gabriel refused to welcome it as a potential conversation topic.

“You know, lookin’ back on those years in Blackwatch, it makes a lot of sense that—”

“Don’t even think about finishing that sentence.”

The thin, glass stem cracked between Gabriel's fingers. He threw back the rest of the champagne before discarding the broken pieces on the standing table. McCree grinned, but opted to sip at his own drink instead of pursuing the volatile subject.

“Focus on the mission. Where’s Baptiste?”

“Last I saw ’im—”

As Jesse scanned the room, Gabriel chanced a look in Jack’s direction. He was a beacon; an ever burning pyre on the edges of Gabriel's peripherals. Instead of a three piece suit, Jack wore a casual blue-gray jacket over a white dress shirt with the top two buttons undone. The shirt tucked in to tailored slacks and Gabriel briefly admired the way Jack’s broad shoulders tapered down to narrow hips and long, toned legs. Jack turned and Gabriel's gaze snapped up to the mask; an ivory wolf leaping across Jack's face.

It was exceedingly strange to have Jack present on a covert op. Even more so when Sombra's choice of attire for the man did little to hide his scars. He was a piece of eye candy and Gabriel suspected Sombra of doing it on purpose.

“—he was carryin’ round one of those hors d’oeuvres platters. Pretty sure he was jus eatin’ em.”

Gabriel adjusted his raven mask, turning on the built in HUD Sombra installed in each of their masks. “Ana. Genji. Are you in position?”

”Yes — Can you send some of that food my way?”

“Ask McCree, he’s up with you first.”

Jesse turned back toward him, scoffing. “What do you want me to do, stuff it in my pockets?”

”Clear comms.”

The firm, graveled whisper of Jack’s voice further deteriorated Gabriel’s ability to focus on the mission. He pushed it aside, all of it, while vowing to address the various troubling thoughts after the mission. Ever since the meeting, two weeks ago, the unease brought on by Ana’s words had coiled restlessly in his gut. Now, agitated by the butterflies, the bubbling booze, and the distracting train of thought, Gabriel wanted to drag Jack into a side room and let it all pour out.

”McCree. Reaper.” Sombra’s said over the comm, ”On your left. Purple gown. Black mask.”

“I see her," Jesse said.

A discreet over-the-shoulder glance found the woman and the holo screen inside the mask scrolled with her details. Gabriel didn’t know her on a personal level, but he knew her shell companies Talon used to launder money.

“Tell her Maximilien wants to talk to her, lead her out the south doors,” Gabriel said.

“Why not you?” Jesse glanced at him while setting his drink on the table.

Gabriel made a show of looking over Jesse’s attire, “Because I’m not an errand boy.”

“Ah hell.”

Jesse sauntered off. As he approached the woman, it revealed her bodyguards. They pinned Jesse with twin looks of warning. Through the open comm, Jesse drawled through a sheepish apology. She looked annoyed, but motion for him to lead the way.

“Two body guards in tow,” Gabriel said.

”Roger that,” Ana replied.

The comms went silent until Sombra directed Baptiste to a second target — a man with political influence and seeded with Talon bribes — and Baptiste escorted him to a side hall. Out to where Genji waited, the cameras were rigged, and the patrolling security conveniently absent.

If things went smoothly, they would carve out a decent chunk of Talon’s foundation and leave the party before the first body was discovered. They wouldn’t be able to get them all, but even taking out a few would set off a chain reaction. Upon hearing about the death of their colleagues, Talon's backers would begin to question their own safety. In self preservation they would sever ties and Akande would find himself hard pressed to mend the fractured relationships. Until he found replacements, it left Talon in limbo and open to a second attack.

”Reaper — McManaway is by the buffet table. Red devil mask.”

The Talon Strike Commander was not on the list of targets. The last minute addition made Gabriel pause. In all the years of working together, he had yet to figure out Sombra’s true goals. She held no loyalty to Talon. She wouldn’t betray him, but she also wouldn’t hesitate to act on the opportunity to further her own agenda.

Figuring he owed her for all she’d done for him, Gabriel waded through the crowd between him and the buffet.

”On your six.”

The tell-tale heat of Jack’s aura slotted behind Gabriel, a distant but reassuring presence. Jack was likely suspicious of the shift in targets. An explanation would be given, later, but for the time being Gabriel trusted Jack to adapt to the new scenario and not hinder the overall mission.

Later. There would be time for talk — later.

Gabriel brushed shoulders with the scotsman, McManaway, and plucked the small dish of food from his hand. The Talon Strike Commander puffed up, ready to let loose, until he recognized Gabriel. He visibly deflated and scouted the room for trouble.

“We need to talk,” Gabriel set the plate down.

“I was under the impression that there would be no business talk until later.”

“It won’t take long.”

”Garden is clear for the next five minutes.”

Taking Sombra’s suggestion, Gabriel gripped McManaway’s shoulder and steered him toward the back gardens. Gentle lighting illuminated the stone patio with the manicured garden looming dark along the edges. The chilling air kept the patrons inside until later, when the heat of the crowded ballroom drove them to seek fresh air.

Gabriel led McManaway off the beaten path, amused at the lack of force needed to bring the man away from prying eyes. Confusion briefly creased McManaway’s expression but he did not question the odd location. Not even when the darkness thickened around him. The vertebrae of the man’s neck snapped like a dry twig under Gabriel’s super soldier strength.

The life eked away from McManaway and the hungry void reached out and raked at the escaping essence. Ash and rot touched at his senses. After feeding exclusively from Jack’s honey-laced aura of distilled sunlight, everything else tasted like — like death. The void recoiled and stretched toward the desired warmth approaching him. Jack brushed past him and, together, they hauled the body further into the dark.

The open comm line detoured Gabriel from teasing Jack. Is this a date? Snap a few necks, have a few drinks, maybe stumble into the coat closet for a bit of heavy handed groping? As if sensing Gabriel’s amusement, Jack paused long enough in passing to meet his gaze through the slits in their masks.

Jack remained stoic, set on the mission, and Gabriel couldn’t resist caressing the cold tendrils of his power along Jack’s aura.

Later, Gabriel promised to himself, he would make good on every one of his stray thoughts. He would lay Jack down and praise him with words and lips. He would apologize. Seek forgiveness. He would make up for all the mistakes. The lies. Everything. They would get away from this thing with Talon.

Later.

”Target on the dance floor. White suit. Gold mask.”

”I’m a lil’ tied up at the moment,” McCree sounded strained.

”We uh, have a little mess to clean up,” Baptiste said while Genji apologized in the background.

“I’m on it,” Jack said.

Caught in the gravity of Jack’s aura, Gabriel trailed after him as they returned to the lights and noise. They parted ways at the dance floor; Gabriel to slowly stalk along the edges while Jack idled, casually sipping a fresh glass of champagne. Gabriel watched him through the dancing couples, unable to tear his attention away.

Ana's words rang through his mind, encouraging him end things once the mission finished. His heart sank and his head swam with vertigo. He should have talked to Jack prior to the op, but it had been easier to ignore it. Easier to enjoy the time they had left instead of spoiling it with doubts. Now, with the approaching end so near, desperation clawed at his common sense.

It was a bad idea. A terrible idea. Gabriel knew it before he closed the distance. He was already berating himself by the time he seized Jack by the elbow and tugged him onto the dance floor.

Gabriel's heart fluttered as he removed the glass from Jack and pushed it into the surprised hands of woman. Out of rational excuses, Gabriel blamed the meddling of the doctors, and not the burning knot in his chest, for the reason he pressed close to Jack.

“W-what are you — I can’t — I haven’t danced in years — Gabe.

Jack shied away, but the firm hand against the small of his back kept him in place.

”It’s like riding a bike, Jack.” Ana teased.

”Besides,” McCree chimed in, ”Reyes is a great teacher — as long as you don’t step on his toes.”

A blush colored the skin from below Jack’s wolf mask to the open collar of his shirt. He moved like a log in Gabriel’s arms and vied to keep a space enough between them to peek at their feet. His hand, meant to rest lightly on Gabriel’s shoulder, was gnarled as it grasped for balance and guidance.

With an amused sigh, Gabriel stopped their disjointed shuffle. He reached up to Jack’s mask with the pretense of straightening it and switched off the comm. He did the same to his own, then pulled Jack against him.

“Look at me.”

Jack did, but remained rigid under Gabriel’s touch and his attention continued to stray to those around them. It took a few passes of the dance floor, and encouraging hand squeezes along with a gentle caress of power, before Jack relaxed enough to surrender to Gabriel’s lead.

Gabriel quietly scoffed, his attention never straying from Jack’s uncertain, blue eyes. “You’re like that awkward farm boy I met all those years ago.”

The last the tension ebbed from Jack’s shoulders, “And you’re like that smug asshole who thought he was too good to bother with new recruits.”

“Oh?” A smile passed between them, “I always wondered why you glared at me. Here I thought it was because my handsome face made you question your sexuality.”

You,” Jack firmed his lips together to stifle the outburst, then whispered. “I was out long before I met you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Gabriel lead them in a gentle twirl, angling their dance toward the flash of gold on the other end of the dance floor. “You had that nice, sweet boyfriend back home then realized what you really liked were latino bad boys.”

Jack shook his head, but the small, curving smile said everything. “How did we ever become friends?”

“I decided I liked you.”

“Funny, I recall you being more of an ass to me than anyone else.”

“And you’d just flash me that sunny smile."

“Kill them with kindness.”

Gabriel smirked, “Is that what your mother use to tell you?”

“In fact, it is.”

Jack met his gaze, smiled, and the once quelled butterflies in Gabriel’s stomach rose in a joyous flurry. The party around them blurred and the music faded into the distance. Gabriel stroked his thumb over Jack’s, back and forth, nervous and light. It was the wrong place. The wrong time. But Ana’s words ate at him. Tore at his confidence. His conviction.

His words fell into a whisper, “You ever think about what happens after this?”

“We lay low, keep an ear to the ground, work on phase two?”

Of course Jack’s mind remained fixed on the mission while Gabriel’s wandered. He should let the topic slip away. He knew better than to do something so foolish in the middle of an op.

He squeezed Jack’s hand, “I mean… do you think about us after this?”

Jack’s lips parted, but no words came out.

Gabriel’s thumb increased its back and forth trek as he agonized over the lull in conversation. His heart hammered against the ribs, the frantic beat pounding in his ears and drowning out the quartet. Thinking about the future was a whim for younger men. A thing Gabriel had stopped doing since the Omnic Crisis. The hopeful ideas of what-ifs were foolish for a man who danced with death day in and day out. Any one of those days could have been his last and he had no room in his life for hopes and dreams.

Small licks of smoke curled around their joined hands and Gabriel again whispered, “I want there to be an ‘us’.”

A purple sugar skull appeared on the small holo screen built into Gabriel’s mask. He snapped his head to the side, growling at the interruption. Of course Sombra would have means to reactivate his comm.

”Akande is looking for you.”

His anger sank into dread, “Why?”

Jack, puzzled but keen enough to recognized Gabriel was talking to someone else, fumble to activate his own comm without realizing Sombra spoke on a private channel.

”Beats me. I just got a message to find you. He’s upstairs in the north office.”

Gabriel grimaced while facing Jack’s questioning gaze, “Switch my channel, Sombra.”

The skull disappeared from view. Gabriel took a more aggressive lead on their dance, sacrificing rhythm for efficiency to close the gap between them and the man in the golden mask.

“Who’s free?”

”Baptiste here.”

“Bring food to the dance floor. Meet on the target.”

“Gabe?”

Either we’re in this together — or we’re not.

Gabriel’s leading step faltered and Jack grew tense in his arms. There wasn’t enough time to explain things. Later. Just another thing Gabriel would apologize for — Later.

With a forced spin, Gabriel swung Jack into both Baptiste and the target. The plate of appetizers smeared across the target’s white suit and Gabriel stepped away from the immediate outrage. He slipped through the crowd and moved toward the sweep of marble stairs.

“Target en route. Be ready to pull out.”

”What? Already?” Ana asked.

”Reyes.” Jack was pissed.

“Just be ready. Sombra?”

”Gabri—”

The purple skull appeared, cutting off Jack’s growl as the comm channel switched.

“I’m counting on you to get them out of here.”

”Do you really think it will come to that?”

“Doesn’t hurt to be ready.”

”He’s not going to listen.”

Gabriel paused on the stairs, tempted to look back toward the dance floor. His fingers tapped against the banister as he shifted through the options. He couldn’t ignore Akande’s summonings, but he could apologize later. Besides, he needed Jack angry. It made him effective.

With a final pat to the marble, Gabriel resumed his ascent.

“He’ll place the safety of the team over all else.”

"You're part of the team, Gabe."

He frowned, not sure how to take her comment.

”I don’t like this.”

If anything, Gabriel thought as he gained the second floor, he had a blood debt he meant to collect from Akande.

 


 

“I am so sorry!”

Baptiste tone and mannerisms were so sincere, even Jack felt placated by the apology. The man in the golden mask, however, only seemed to grow more enraged by the words. Jack remained stoic toward the threats being flung at him. The anger (”Do you know who I am? Who do you work for? I demand to know your name!”) became the leash Jack used to lure the man toward the hall.

Baptiste fluttered around them, shooing away concerned stewards while dabbing at the stains with a pilfered napkin.

The side door closed with a click and there, on the plush carpet lining the hall, the man took root, smacking away Baptiste’s hands. “Don’t touch me!”

“Sir, please, right this way and we’ll have you cleaned up in a jiffy!”

“I’m not going anywhere with—”

The sleep dart worked faster than Jack remembered. Ana must have perfected her formula over the years. She had doled them out prior to the mission as a means to deal with more unruly targets. Jack silently thanked her as the red-faced man slumped into his arms.

The supply closet they found to stash the body barely fit three grown men.

“Uhh…”

“I’ll just…”

They shuffled around until Jack ended up leaning back against the wall with the man’s dead weight in his arms and Baptiste shimmied the shelving unit over. When Jack sharply twisted the man’s neck for a quick kill, Baptiste flinched and hunched his shoulders.

“I can see why you say it’s complicated between you two,” Baptiste said to distract himself.

Jack grunted, trying very much not to think about Gabriel, and dropped the body. He helped Baptiste move the cleaning supplies, shove the body onto the bottom rack, and restock the shelf to temporarily hide the dead man.

“Does he dance well?”

While Jack appreciated Baptiste’s attempts to make light of the situation — the medic share a great deal of Angel’s aversion toward violence — Jack didn’t care for the subject of the teasing. Angry words rose up like bile, but Jack choked on them as he recalled the end of the impromptu dance.

I want there to be an ‘us’.

Stunned by the admission, Jack had mentally stumbled over a reply. They didn’t talk about those things. It didn’t matter if Gabriel crawled into his bed and they slept entwined together. It didn’t matter if the kisses were soft and the touches gentle. It didn’t matter if he sometimes caught Gabriel looking at him as if he’d hung the moon, or that his heart would scream in response. They did not talk about it.

By the time he had gotten over the surprise, Gabriel had already shoved him into the target and stalked away.

”I once dance with Gabriel. He was an excellent partner.” Ana said.

”Hell, he taught me for a mission.” McCree added.

Jack curled his fingers around the edges of his mask, tempted to smash it on the floor, and said, “Clear comms.”

”Not to be a spoil sport,” Sombra cut in, ”but you guys need to get out.”

His heart sank, “Where’s Reyes?”

 


 

“Moira.”

Gabriel slowed as he rounded the corner. Moira leaned against the wall, dressed immaculately in a three piece suit of black with a violet vest and a thin matching tie. Once upon a time, if not for her small bust, Gabriel may have mistaken her for a rather androgynous man.

Her mismatched eyes, free of a mask, locked on him. “Gabriel.”

“He sent for you too?”

“Indeed.”

“Do you have any idea what this is about?”

Moira shrugged her thin shoulders, “It could be about any number of things.”

“You can just say no.”

“I could.”

She fell into step alongside him, her arms folding behind her back and her pensive silence unnerving.

A pair of guards opened the doors to the office. Gabriel pulled off his mask to better read the room, noting the armed guards standing against the wall like a firing squad. Not unusual, given Akande's status, but a stitch tightened between Gabriel's shoulders all the same. His gaze shifted to Akande, dressed for the occasion sans the mask.

Gabriel tossed his mask on the nearest table, “Isn’t it enough I attend these things at all?”

“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

Goosebumps prickled across the back of Gabriel’s neck, “Notice what?”

“Your pet project.”

The way Akande spat out the word made Gabriel’s hackles rise. He vividly remembered Akande smiling at him through the one-way mirror, knuckles slick with Jack’s blood. Jerking at Gabriel's chain back then as much as he was doing it now. While Gabriel hadn’t exactly been careful with his behavior around Jack, Sombra never complained about sweeping up his tracks and slipping them into her pocket for later use. He couldn't be sure what information Akande had; the statement left just enough rope for Gabriel to hang himself with.

Gabriel’s lip curled with contempt, “Jack Morrison only lives by your orders. Are you mad I’ve been playing with your new toy?”

“That is part of the problem — he distracts you.”

The hard light apparatus hidden under his sleeve vibrated under Gabriel’s fingertips. He’d take out the guards first. Gabriel's gaze flitted to the far wall as he mapped the exits and points of cover before shifting his attention back to Akande, “And the other part?”

“It’s come to my attention that your priorities may be in question.”

“You have no—”

A sharp pain in his arm derailed his vengeance. Despite his assessment of the room, he’d overlooked a single, minuet detail.

Moira.

Gabriel knocked her arm away, sending the syringe clattering across the polished floor. He stared at it, spinning wildly until it bumped against a rug. Ice burned inside of his forearm. He clamped a hand over the injection site, as if squeezing hard enough might stop the spread of the serum. Maybe if he wraithed—

“I’m sorry, Gabriel. I truly am." Her apology sounded genuine.

—but nothing happened. His arm remained solid and the coldness crawled into his chest.

She had betrayed him. Moira had always been a neutral factor. She preferred to be left alone to her research and leave the physicality to others. Gabriel had thought — so foolishly — that Moira would keep her nose out of his business. He thought they had an understanding.

“You—” He reached to throttle her, but Akande’s hand closed vice-like over his forearm. On instinct Gabriel tried to fall away to shadows, but nothing happened. He jerked, but the motion felt sluggish and weak. Even striking at Akande yielded little to no result. Hard light danced around Gabriel’s fingers as he summoned a shotgun.

Akande’s forehead smashed into the bridge of Gabriel’s nose and the hard light fizzled out. Dazed, Gabriel crumpled to his knees while his arm remained twisted in Akande’s grasp. The shadows continued to elude him. Even the void's hunger remained silent. Pain screamed along his nerves. Blood streamed from his busted nose and filled his mouth with the taste of metal. But as the serum snaked over his mind, the chemical apathy made it all feel so distant and unimportant.

His russet eyes lolled over to Moira, “Why?”

Her stance straightened, but her pinched gaze skirted to the wall. “This is my life’s work. I cannot allow you to take it from me for some… snipe hunt.”

“The woman knows her priorities. It’s time you re-learn yours.”

When he fell to the floor, Gabriel couldn’t recall through the mental fog. The floor pressed cold against his cheek and he could feel the vibrations from the music playing downstairs. He pushed himself onto his knees and groped for the gun that wasn’t there. His eyes raked across the room for an escape and hinged on the raven mask staring blankly at him from the far table.

Jack.

“Talon made you into what you are,” Akande spoke while Gabriel struggled to stand. “You’ve always been a valuable asset, but you’ve been given too much free reign.”

The more he fought against the fog, the more it pushed back. Gabriel managed to plant one foot after the other, slowly crossing the room while seizing on the fading image of cornflower blue eyes. His fingers curled around the feathered mask and he smiled at his success. As soon as his lips curved upward, they expression waned and he lost the purpose behind the action. He turned the mask over in his hands, confused by its significance.

“Reaper.”

Like a puppet, Gabriel’s body turn to face Akande while his thoughts stumbled two steps behind.

“Tell me about your list.”

Names and faces flashed through his mind. The fog finished settling. He watched, offering no resistance, as Moira returned to his side and injected him with a second syringe. A shiver passed through him, followed by the smoke slithering free from its chemical cage. Gabriel continued to study the empty-eyed mask. His thumb passed through the long, black feathers.

Jack.

Reaper set the mask on the table and pulled the satin square free from his chest pocket. He calmly wiped the blood from his face.

“Tell me about your list.”

“Jack Morrison is on my list.”

Chapter Text

Jack didn’t need Sombra to tell him something was wrong, he could feel it. Not as a nagging gut instinct, but as an extension of his power. The void always beckoned to him. The greatest distance between them had only ever reduced the sensation to a soft whisper. Even when Gabriel shut him out, the muted void remained a ghostly presence. To suddenly have that constant sensation fall silent for several minutes gave Jack all the forewarning needed to expect the worst.

Two steps into the ballroom, Jack froze, causing Baptiste to yelp as he crashed into him from behind. At the head of the room, Gabriel descended the stairs, smoke curling in his wake. The movements, mechanical rather than graceful, warned Jack of the change. A chill crept through him as the wraith slowed and scanned the party.

“Sombra, get everyone out.”

”He’s—”

“Reaper, I know.” Jack caught Baptiste by the shoulder. “Get everyone out of here.”

Baptiste studied his face, “Fire alarm?”

Emergency lights flashed to life, followed by the blare of alarm. The work of Sombra's quick fingers. Baptiste’s voice rose over the crowd, his arms waving as he encouraged people to follow him in a calm and orderly manner.

Jack broke away, focusing on where Gabriel stopped to watch the unfolding chaos. The raven mask was missing, but in the off chance Jack misread the situation, he reached out with his power. Just a small tendril of warmth to coax at the cold emitting like a storm from the wraith.

The void sank its teeth into the power like a feral dog and Reaper’s head snapped in Jack’s direction.

“Fuck.”

Jack tore his power from the void's maw and locked it away. Reaper scanned the moving bodies while slowly descending the last few stairs. He disappeared from view and dread spread like ice through Jack’s veins.

“Sombra, I need a gun.”

”Second floor — you’ll have to take it from a guard.”

”Morrison,” McCree voice growled. ”What the hell is goin’ on?”

“Help Baptiste get everyone out of here.”

”And what are you gonna do?”

Jack angled toward the stairs while cold tendrils snaked over his aura. Seeking him out. Nipping. Scratching. Curious and bewildered. Jack used the people around him to cover his movements as much as possible, but he couldn't hide. Reaper could detect him the same way Jack could feel him. A wall of smoke intercepted Jack by the third step. As the darkness gave way to Gabriel, it further revealed the wraith's palpable confusion. For an agonizing moment, Gabriel looked him over, head to toe, with no recognition. Jack swallowed as a hand came up, slowly, and reached for the wolf mask.

Rooted by terror and hope, Jack remained rigid as the mask slid free.

Reaper sneered, “Morrison.”

“Gabe, listen—”

Reaper swung, his arm a blur of super soldier speed. Jack dodged, and equal blur, and used the momentum of follow up blow to fling Reaper down the stairs. Reaper landed in a swirl of smoke and the crowd parted around him like frightened sheep scrambling away from a snarling wolf.

Jack ran up the stairs.

The shadow followed.

Arms sprung from the buzzing smoke and wrapped around Jack's head and neck. The void dug into Jack’s power, trying to rip it free, while Reaper’s fingers clawed at his skin.

Jack shoved them into the stair banister with enough force to crack the marble. Reaper's grip loosened and Jack slipped free. A shotgun barrel met him as he turned. On Instinct, Jack threw himself to the side and awkwardly rolled down the stairs.

As he gained his footing, his thoughts racing and his shoulder blades screaming, the severed end of Reaper’s shotgun clattered past him. What? Jack stared as the hard light fractured and faded, then he looked back up the stairs.

Genji stood, his sword angled between him and an annoyed Reaper. “Good evening, Commander Reyes.”

Reaper eyed the cleaved end of his gun before tossing it aside. “Shimada.”

The thin blade twirled in challenge.

While Reaper remained distracted, Jack eased up stairs. Gunfire sounded, followed by screams from the thinning crowd. Jack glanced back long enough to watch Genji dodge the blasts. He didn’t counter, just danced close enough to keep Reaper’s attention.

Jack nearly plowed into a rather irate Jesse at the top of the stairs. The gunslinger was glaring daggers at him and his hands were closed in tight fists. Instead of decking Jack, Jesse settled into an angry stride next to him.

“What the hell is goin’ on with Reyes?”

“He’s compromised.”

“Whad’ya mean he’s compromised?

Jack grimaced, “It’s something Moira did to him — a long time ago.”

“It’s like he don’t recognize you guys!”

The conversation should have happened well before the actual mission. Jack wanted the others to be able to trust Gabriel, but knew they couldn’t because of Moira’s tampering. The risk of Gabriel's turning became a point Jack willfully passed over as a minor risk and he'd omitted it from the meeting. It had been easy to push the worry aside when Gabriel sat among them, laughing like nothing had ever changed.

But, deep down, he’d known the truth. Known it wouldn’t last.

“He only sees us as targets. He will kill us.”

“Fuck me,” Jesse slid his human hand through his hair. “You set us up with a tickin’ time bomb?”

Two guards emerged and Jack tabled the conversation for later. He divested himself of his restraining jacket and unbuttoned his cuffs. McCree followed suit, his face a twist of displeasure, and together they took out their individual levels of frustration on the guards.

“I can't believe you didn't fuckin' tell us!” Jesse snarled while landing a savage blow with his cybernetic arm. The guard’s head twisted unnaturally and his body fell in a boneless heap.

“Save it for later, McCree.”

“There might not be a later!”

Jack growled, slamming the head of his opponent into the wall with far more force than necessary. He frowned at the gruesome mess of helmet and skull, wiped his hand clean, then retrieved the guard’s rifle and side arm. The pockets of his slacks were too small to fit much ammunition and the pistol, tucked into his waistband, pressed uncomfortably against his spine.

“I told you to get out,” Jack said.

“Fuck you.” Jesse glared at the unfamiliar rifle he’d picked up.

“This is what I get for working with Reyes’s people — you’re all so fucking insubordinate.”

“Cry me a river, Morrison. Now what the hell are we gonna do ‘bout Reyes?”

Promise me.

Promise me you’ll do the right thing.

Sorrow crashed over his heart; the pain sharp and cold enough to steal his breath. It ebbed, leaving behind a chill to creep down his spine.

I don’t want to be that monster again.

Promise me.

The frigid waves of despair continued to wash along the shores of Jack’s soul until he felt numb with the acknowledgement that he would be unable to escape his promise.

“Do you have any of those sleep darts left?”

“One — but we’d have to get close.”

“Give it to me.”

Jesse’s nostrils flared like a bull ready to charge, “Like hell I will.”

“Look,” Jack closed his eyes and seized on the last of his waning patience. “I’m messed up too. I heal extremely fast — faster than you remember. So just — give me the damn dart.”

“I ain’t even sure it’ll effect him.” Jesse rolled back his sleeve and removed the dart strapped to his forearm.

“Neither do I.” Jack attached it to his own arm and covered it.

“Then what’re you hopin’ to do?”

Jack shoulders lifted in a prolonged shrug, “I might be able to make him snap out of it.”

“How?”

“I don’t know, but you need to get out of here. It isn’t safe.”

“No shit. You think none of us ever did anythin’ dangerous before?”

Jack decided, with a fair amount of glowering, that he would not be able to get rid of Jesse. He shouldered the rifle and checked the ongoing fight between Genji and Reaper continued. A blur of silver and green being pursued by an aggressive shadow streak across the dance floor. Genji was fast, but Reaper was closing the gap with each attack.

“Keep your distance,” Jack said while taking aim.

“Don’t have to tell me that.”

Just as the shadows coalesced, Jack fired. The rifle kicked in a three round burst; not as accurate as his pulse rifle, and the grouping not tight enough to be reliable. The bullets caught Reaper in the shoulder and the wraith whirled, livid, and fired wildly in Jack’s direction. The distance nullified the danger of the shotgun blast. Reaper glared while the smoke churned around him.

“Back up.”

As they retreated, the smoke rolled over the rail. Jesse fired at it, leaving chips in the floor. The darkness responded by springing at Jesse. It wrapped around him while Jesse batted at the intangible smoke.

Jack waited, familiar with the infuriating tactics, and followed the thicker stream of darkness until it began to pull together.

“Down!”

Jesse, thankfully, dropped and rolled clear of the shot Jack added to Reaper’s wounded shoulder. Reaper recoiled while the void reached out, raking at Jack’s aura for the healing warmth. The desire to yield to the ethereal pull made Jack's stomach twist. Instead, wrapping the power around himself like a suit of armor, Jack felt queasy as he denied the feeding.

Reaper fell to shadows and pounced. He formed half-way through the lunge, slamming into Jack at full force.

Jack hit the floor on his back, the rifle between them to ward off the blows aiming to cave in his skull. McCree came up from behind to slam his gun on Reaper’s back. The blow sailed harmlessly through smoke and Jack only just caught the butt of Jesse’s rifle before it smashed into his sternum.

It took a second for Jesse to register the failed hit, but by then it was too late. A dark hand curled around Jesse’s arm and Reaper bodily threw him. Jesse flew over the rail and dropped out of sight. The sound of the crash below reached them on the second floor.

Reaper smirked as a red halo pulsed hungrily in his dark eyes. He phased, spilling like ink over the rail.

Scrambling to his feet, Jack hastened to shoulder his rifle and find his target. Reaper loomed over Jesse who laid sprawled and unmoving amid the ruins of the buffet table. Jack held his breath, slowly squeezed the trigger, but paused as the distance risked a stray bullet hitting Jesse.

Instead he threw his power out like a baited line, “Reyes!”

Reaper halted and his head snapped to the side. Goosebumps raised along Jack's arms as the void grazed over his offered aura like claws sliding over his skin. He kept his finger curled around the trigger and reeled the power back in.

The wraith followed. In a rush of bitter, dark wind, Reaper once again stood across from Jack on the second floor balcony.

With careful, slow steps, Jack retreated. Reaper matched his pace, smirking while spreading his arms to the side. His body blurred with shadows. The hanging lights highlighted the damp patch of blood soaking the shoulder of his jacket. As he neared, the void pulled more insistently on Jack’s aura.

“You know how this ends, Morrison.”

Promise me.

It became painfully clear to Jack, he didn’t care about revenge. He would gladly put aside all his grievances if he could have Gabriel. Maybe, if he could just keep Reaper talking, keep him preoccupied, maybe he could pry Gabriel back out and they could walk away from it all.

Jack glanced behind himself to check his path before firming his attention back on Reaper, “How’s that?”

“I win.”

Their pace quickened; Reaper rapidly closing the distance. Jack’s finger quivered on the trigger.

“You lose.”

The shadows surged forward. Jack braced for impact, but it never came. The smoke brushed past him. It took a moment for Jack to realized Reaper had purposely driven him off. Chased him away from his kill. Jesse. As the last of the smoked vanished, Jack sprinted forward. He vaulted over the rail, landed heavily on the dance floor, and rolled up on a knee while taking aim.

Ana blocked his shot.

She had come to Jesse’s aid, but now found herself caught in Reaper’s way. He held her gun hand up by the wrist while hard light swirled around his free hand.

Jack adjusted his aim, no longer able to forestall his promise. His friends were going to die because he didn’t know how to let go of Gabriel. He had dragged them all into the half-cocked plan because he had desperately wanted Gabriel back in his life.

Jack fired.

The three round burst caught Reaper dead center. The wraith lurched, fell apart and sluggishly crawled away. Jack shivered violently as the void cried out for energy. His bones ached with the need to give in to the pull.

He kept the rifle trained on the circling shadow, countering the motion by angling himself closer to where Ana rushed to Jesse’s side.

The shadows crawled along the floor, inching away only to be drawn back by the temptation of Jack’s bright energy. Jack stood between the pool of darkness and his vulnerable friends, silently willing the wraith to flee.

Reaper formed, the pieces coming together in thick globs, and raised his shotgun.

The air between them flickered like a glitched holo screen and Sombra appeared, blocking Reaper’s shot. She brushed her glowing fingertips against his extended gun. The hard light twitched before dematerializing and the specks of light filtered through his fingers.

Reaper clenched his empty fist and glared at Sombra. His posture wilted and blood spilled over his lips when he spoke, “I’ll deal with you later.”

He staggered, dropping away to shadows, and Sombra disappeared as strangely as she had appeared. Jack followed Reaper’s retreat with the rifle, only relaxing long enough to reload and cast a quick glance at Ana tending to a groaning Jesse.

“Can you get him out of here on your own?” He asked.

Ana paused to question him with a look.

He firmed his lips together, said nothing, but Ana knew him well enough to not need the words. He had to go after Gabriel. She frowned, nodded slowly, then turned back to Jesse.

Promise me.

Jack pursued the wraith.

In the hall, the alarm became a deafening din. Jack moved with quick, tight steps with the rifle never once leaving his shoulder. He followed the tug of the void. Ahead of him the shadows slid away from a slumped woman. Jack slowed as he neared, but one glance at her — regal in her designer dress and jeweled mask — revealed her fate. The front of her throat gone and her chest coated with cooling blood.

I don’t want to be that monster again.

The cycle had to be broken.

Promise me.

The hunt led to the back gardens. With the light, a combination of the residual glow from the abandoned party and the thin crescent moon, Jack had about fifty yards of visibility. Afterward the grounds gave way to darkness. Out there, the void beckoned and the wraith watched.

If he didn't follow, end it, Reaper would return to Talon and the cycle would start again.

Jack slowly breached the darkness, his metaphysical senses keeping track of Reaper’s direction.

“Are you done running?” Jack said.

“It’s called a tactical retreat.”

Hope squeezed at Jack’s heart. He shifted to face the direction of the voice and, against his better judgment, lowered the rifle barrel. He strained to hear any movement over the blare of alarm and the distant wail of responding sirens. Their time was limited.

But, maybe, if he could just reach Gabriel...

On a very dangerous impulse, Jack sank to his knees and laid the rifle in the grass. He settled back on his heels, hands on his thighs, and stared into the dark. Once, back on a rooftop, the vulnerable position had kept Gabriel around to talk. Jack hoped it would work a second time.

The shadows shifted, “What are you doing?”

Jack pushed the rifle further away before pressing his fingers into his thighs, “I want to talk.”

“You’re an idiot.”

A rueful smile spread across Jack’s lip while his heart sank. His eyes stung as the darkness took shape, separating from the trees. The moon caught the wraith’s eyes, making them glow with demonic light.

Wary, but also curious and hungry, Reaper eased forward.

Closing his eyes, Jack tilted his head back to offer his throat. His power pooled out to press against the edges of the void, but not yet surrendering to it. Jack focused on the energy, sensing as Reaper neared, and swallowed around the forming lump in his throat. “Please, Gabe…”

He prayed. Earnestly he pleaded to whatever god would listen. Jack never asked for much. For most his life he had always tried to give more good than he accepted for himself. It felt selfish to ask for anything. Yet there he knelt, begging for mercy, asking to be spared the agony of his promise.

Cold fingers grazed along Jack’s jaw. Through the blur of unshed tears, Jack gazed up at Reaper as hands wrapped around his throat. The touch was hesitate, at first, but when Jack offered no resistance, it began to squeeze. Reaper’s eyes hardened and his hands tightened to the point Jack could feel his windpipe cracking.

The fight could end. If he didn’t stop Reaper, the pain would cease to matter. Death erased his responsibilities. His failures. His love. Jack laid on hand over Reaper’s, a gentle touch, which earned him a confused and angry furrow of brows. Tears escaped from the corners of Jacks eyes as his heart wept. The edges of his vision darkened. His lungs burned.

Jack remember the first time he made Gabriel laugh.

Remembered when Gabriel’s smile had made his stomach somersault.

He remembered them huddling together in the ruins of a building during the Omnic Crisis. Him leaning against Gabriel, using the back of his shoulder as a pillow to catch a quick nap. Gabriel kept watch, talking in a whisper about possible strategies and using Jack as a sounding board. Jack remembered humming his agreement to Gabriel’s plans while drifting off to the sound of his voice. As long as he had Gabe with him, everything would be okay. He was safe. He was happy.

Why did things have to change?

How was it fair that he willingly gave up everything only to find he had more to lose?

In one smooth motion, Jack removed the dart from his forearm and buried it into the meat of Reaper’s thigh.

“What—”

And followed the dart with the pistol slid free from the small of his back. He emptied the clip into Reaper’s torso.

Promise me.

As the wraith staggered back, Jack collapsed forward and grasped at his throat. He sucked in wheezing breaths while his hands glowed in response to the flood of energy being used to heal the damage. His vision swam back into focus and he lifted his gaze to Reaper.

Smoke, lifting in thick plumes from Reaper, dropped to the ground like broken limbs. Reaper shifted, or tried, because as Jack watched, the wraith collapsed. He laid motionless on his back, only half corporeal and with the shadows puddling around him.

“Ga—” Jack’s voice crocked.

He dropped the pistol and scrambled over to Reaper. No, no, no— His power washed over Reaper, but the void didn’t grab on to it. The shadows thinned, sinking into the grass like water. Jack pressed his hands against Reaper’s blood drenched chest. Nothing. No heart beat under his palms, and the void remained idle. He stared at Gabriel's face, waiting, but he didn't return the look.

“I hate you,” Jack whispered as his fingers curled into the blood sodden vest. He closed his eyes to the welling tears and focused on his own power, pushing it into the wraith. “Why did you make me promise that? Why the fuck—”

The words stopped as a choked on a sob lodged in his throat. His lips trembled and he dared a glance at Gabriel’s slack expression. “Boyscout’s honor, right? Always a fucking boyscout. Always trying to do the right thing.”

Jack didn’t know why he expected Gabriel to simply wake up and tease him about it. His eyes drifted to the unmoving chest beneath his glowing hands. It didn’t feel real. He didn’t want it to be real. It couldn't be over. They had lived through so much. His heart refused to accept what his senses were telling him.

Gabriel was gone.

The heat passed into Gabriel, but it was like trying to mix oil with water. Jack’s power slid away, unable to find cohesion with the void. The futility of his actions gnawed at the fraying sliver of hope still burning in his chest. Jack angrily shoved more of his power through their leaking connection.

“Fuck you! You fucking—” He choked on the anger, screamed out his frustration, then crumbled under the tidal wave of emotions. "Get up. Please — get up."

Jack collapsed over Gabriel, burying his face into his shoulder while he fisted the bloody vest. “Don’t do this to me.”

“Do what?”

Startled, Jack jerked upright and stared at Gabriel’s pale face. Gabriel didn’t rise up, but his russet eyes slid sluggishly toward him. They continued to drift, becoming distant as the light in them waned.

“Gabe? Gabe!” Jack shook his shoulders to no avail. Then, realizing he had stopped feeding the void in his surprise, Jack again pressed his hands to Gabriel’s chest. The physical contact wasn’t necessary, but it helped Jack to focus on where to channel his power.

Life slowly returned to Gabriel’s eyes. He blinked, taking an inordinate amount of time to focus on Jack’s tear streaked face.

Gabriel frowned, “I’m tired…”

“No, no — stay with me.” Jack forced himself to smile, as shaky and thin as it felt. “Stay with me.”

Gabriel made a move to sit up, but grimaced and laid boneless on the grass. “Doesn’t seem like I’m going anywhere.”

Jack laughed, or tried to, because what started as a chuckle quickly dissolved into a sob. His power continued to slip through Gabriel like water filling a barrel full of holes. Despite Gabriel’s conscious state, the energy wasn’t melding with the void. The smoke didn’t writhe over Gabriel’s wounds.

It wasn’t working.

Again Jack pressed his face to Gabriel’s shoulder to hide his breaking composure.

When Gabriel clumsily touched fingers to his hair, Jack sobbed. He couldn’t stop them from coming out, ugly and muffled into Gabriel’s jacket. The fingers continued to curl through his hair while he cried. When they went still, Jack pulled away, terrified that Gabriel had drifted away again.

Gabriel stared past him, gazing up at the night sky as if he hadn’t seen the stars in years.

“I always wondered,” Gabriel drifted in and out, “what would happen if I wraithed too long…”

The smoke returned, but it was wrong. It didn’t twirl in playful curls, or lash with flicks of irritation. It flaked off of Gabriel’s body like ashes lifting from a dying fire.

“Wondered, would I die?”

“Gabe,” Jack cradled Gabriel’s face in his hands. “Don’t. You have to stay. I can’t — not without you.”

Those dark eyes studied Jack for a long moment. “We’re a pair of idiots, aren’t we.”

“Yes — yes we are.” The void was without end and Jack began to weaken. “Gabe, heal. Please.”

The blackened ash continued to drift away on a gentle, invisible breeze.

“You kept your promise.”

Jack glared; the vehemence lost behind the glisten of tears.

Gabriel cracked a blood-stained smile and drew his fingers along Jack’s cheek.

Seizing the hand, Jack pressed it firmly to his cheek before planting several urgent kisses against the palm. “Please.

“Jack…”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

Jack chuckled weakly against Gabriel’s fingers, “Asshole.”

A gentle squeeze of fingers was all the urging Jack needed to lean down and bring their lips together. Jack didn’t vie for anything more than the simple press of lips. Afterward he tucked his face under Gabriel’s chin to hide the fresh stream of tears. He laid his cheek against Gabriel’s shoulder as a weariness crept over him. His power trembled and began to fade as he pulled from the last of his reserves.

“Why aren’t you healing…”

A thin laugh eased out of Gabriel, “That sounds familiar.”

Through the veil of tears, Jack watched the smoke float away. Just a little while longer, Jack asked the universe and closed his eyes. Gabriel again brushed his fingers through his hair; the motion slow and betraying his waning strength.

“I’m sorry,” Gabriel whispered.

“Don’t.” Jack clutched at Gabriel’s shirt, hearing the goodbye in the apology. His head swam, dizzy from the effort of feeding his life force into the fading wraith. But like a man drowning, no matter how hard Jack tried to hold his breath, he couldn’t find against his body’s need to breath. Even know that breathing in would mean death, he couldn’t prevent it.

Jack couldn’t stop the way his energy gave out, severing the connection between himself and Gabriel.

The smoke stirred and consumed the wraith in a cold fire. The black flames lifted toward the sky, twisting like ribbons and breaking apart bit by bit until there was nothing left. Jack, too weak to stand, curled into the empty space of grass.

A hollowness bore through him. In the emptiness, a thorn of bitterness pierced his sorrow. It embedded a hateful thought there and laughed at the irony of it all. Gabriel once taunted him about wanting to keep him alive to make him suffer. The make Jack watch as his friends died and yet — yet — Gabriel had found a way to do something so much worse.

Jack ripped at the grass. He screamed, he cursed, and in the end he howled into his cupped hands.

He hated him. Hated him. And loved him still.

With nothing left to give, Jack curled in on himself, numb to the world around him.

After a time, a hand touched his shoulder, startling him. Jack blinked owlishly up at the metal face mask regarding him with a glowing line of lime green for eyes.

“Commander. We need to go.” Genji said.

Jack sat up and registered the streaks of blue and red stretching across the lawn as the emergency services pulled up to the manor. The lights reflected off of Genji’s cybernetic body, revealing the blood splatters. Such a delicate creature of grace and death, and nothing but kind in his attempt to coax Jack to stand.

“No,” Jack’s exhaled, beyond exhausted. He used his sleeve to wipe the blood and tears from his face. His weary blue eyes turned up to the stoic mask gazing down at him with an eerie stillness. “I’m not going.”

“Commander — we must.”

No, he decided with a strange sense of calm. His hands pulsed, glowing brightly. Golden cracks slowly traced up his arms. Jack slowly shook his head. He didn’t belong in the world without Gabriel. They were opposites that needed each other for balance. He’d be forever adrift without him. Even if he did find the willpower to stand and leave with Genji, his life would forever feel empty.

A sun without a moon to share the sky in their eternal dance of give and take.

A forlorn smile briefly spread across Jack’s lips as the burning lines of gold spread into his neck. “This is it for me.”

Genji relinquished Jack’s arm and stepped back. After a long moment, he bowed his head. “I understand.”

Jack nodded, grateful, and the last weight slid off his shoulders. He simply let go. The light intensified and spread over Jack’s body in gentle waves of golden warmth. He closed his eyes, not knowing why it felt right, but it did. A heat pooled inside of him like molten metal, burning him from the inside out. All he could think about was how he wanted to be with Gabriel. How he could still feel a distant pull tugging at his soul. How, if he listened carefully, a song — a voice — beckoned.

The light shattered, shimmering like diamonds under the moonlight, then it, too, drifted away on the wind, chasing after the broken shadow.

Chapter Text

“I know what I saw.”

Genji sat cross-legged with his sword resting across his knees. Instead of meeting up with the others, he had taken the time to unwind from the mission and to collect his thoughts about what he’d witnessed. The meditative ritual of cleaning and oiling his blade helped.

Sombra, however, would not be kept waiting. She had hunted him down within hours of the mission’s end. The woman paced feverishly in front of him, sometimes looping all the way behind him while he ran a cloth over his blade to wick away the excess oil.

“There were no cameras watching that area!” Sombra crouched in front of him and brought up a holoscreen for the umpteenth time since arriving. A few screens flipped by with annoyed flicks, then, as all the other times, she growled and closed the program.

Except this time, as the screen disappeared, she leaned forward and looked him over. A slow scrutiny venturing from his head to folded legs then back again. She reached for his chest plate and, while her sudden proximity surprised him, Genji caught her by the wrist.

“You got a port or something I can jack in to?”

“I—” Genji stumbled over several more words as his eyes, hidden behind the stoic visor, widened. He calmly shook his head and pushed her hand away. “No. Just… no.”

Sombra groaned, “You don’t have any video feeds or memory drives I can access?”

A number of emotions raced through Genji’s aghast mind. Hurt. Anger. Confusion. Sadness. He let the myriad of reactions trickle through until deciding on amusement. He laughed softly; the synthetic sound vibrated through the remaining bones in his jaw. “No, Sombra. I do not.”

She continued to eye his cybernetic parts and an odd feeling of self-consciousness rose in Genji’s chest. The thought of Sombra touching him, exploring his inhuman body with her digitized fingers made his very human heart flutter with uncertainty. His gaze briefly roved over the metal grafts along her skull, then fell to the gear embedded in her arms. He wondered how altered the woman had become. Her existence blurred the lines between human and omnic like his own.

His gaze fell to his sword. “I can only tell you what I saw.”

With an aggravated sound, Sombra resumed pacing. “Then tell me it again — in detail.”

Genji softly exhaled, relieved to have his personal space back. “When I found them, the fight was over. Commander Reyes was lying on the ground and Commander Morrison was on his knees holding a pistol. He moved over to Commander Reyes—”

“Oh my god,” Sombra folded up in front of him, both arms flopping over her head as she whined. “Just call him Reyes and save us some time!”

“Very well,” Genji's tone smiled for him. “Morrison moved over to Reyes, his hands were glowing, and he tried to... heal him?”

Sombra wanted details, but Genji omitted the things he had overheard. It didn’t contribute to the events that followed. “Reyes woke but did not appear to be able to move. After a couple minutes, he began to fade.”

“Like, you say fade, but do you mean — you know.” She twiddled her fingers through the air in a poor demonstration of Reyes’s ability to become a shadow.

“No, this was different. It was more like… floating ashes.”

Afterward, the anguish in Morrison’s cries kept Genji at bay. He had waited, respectfully giving Morrison space and time to grieve. “I went to Morrison and he refused to leave. Then he, too, began to—” not fade. A light had enveloped Morrison before breaking away in a swarm of fire flies to be taken away by the wind.

“He disappeared.”

“How the hell—” Sombra again crouched in front of him while clutching at her dark, neon streaked hair. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. There were no bodies, so like, they could be out there somewhere. Weirder shit has happened, yeah?”

Considering he came from a family blessed with the ability to summon spirit dragons to aid in battle, yes, Genji agreed with faint nod. “I suppose it is a possibility.”

“Right!?” She sprang up and took another brainstorming trip around the room. “But where are they?”

Genji carefully sheathed his sword, “Perhaps they need time to heal, or they have found peace — together.”

“Nah,” She was back on her holopad. “Gabe isn’t the happily ever after type, not unless it involves gunfire.”

Deciding it was a good time to leave, Genji silently rose, but his feet hesitated to move and his gaze lingered on her. “What will you do?”

“Keep looking,” She mumbled, eyes never leaving the screen.

He inclined his head to her, “Good luck, Sombra.”

“Aw,” Her gaze, haloed with a purple glow, focused on him through the holoscreen. She flashed him a playful smile, “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”

Embarrassed by the attention, Genji's bow deepend. “Until next time then.”

 


 

“It’s possible though, right doc?”

On the screen, Angela Ziegler shot an irritated look at the holoscreen from across the room. While it had been easy to track down the doctor to the refugee camp, contacting her was limited to the rare moments she connected her holopad to a network to either contact her colleagues or send out requests for supplies. Sombra had hijacked her current connection, denying her attempt to obtain more bioemitters for the camp.

“I don’t know why you’re asking me, Sombra.”

“You can’t expect me to go ask her.”

“I do, since she’s the one that knows more about their capabilities.”

Sombra sighed, “Talon thinks Gabriel is dead. If I start asking questions related to him and Jack still being alive, they’ll start looking too.”

Angela continued to take stock of the meager supplies lining the shelves, making small marks on her clipboard.

With a growl, Sombra pulled up another screen and pressed her fingers to the floating hexagonal keys. “What if I can get you those bioemitters?”

“And vaccines?”

“Done.”

“A biobed.”

Sombra raised a brow, “Do you even have the power to run that?”

“I guess I’ll need another generator too.”

Smirking, Sombra keyed open several more screens to prepare to scramble the trail of the money she’d use to purchase the overly expensive medical supplies while making it look like a generous donation from some anonymous philanthropist. She tapped a glowing finger to her cheek. “Don’t you care how it’s all being paid for?”

Angela snorted and waved a dismissive hand over her shoulder, “Money will always be dirty. It might as well be put to a good use.”

“Won’t it compromise your work if someone found out?”

“No one is going to find out if you’re half as good as you claim to be.”

Between the obvious flattery and the potential to capitalize on the blackmail later on, Sombra smiled. She toyed with the keys on her screen, overly pleased with herself. Then, recalling her original task, the smile slipped away. “So do you think it’s possible?”

“Well,” Angela set aside her clipboard, crossed her arms, and walked up to the screen. “I can only hypothesize at the possibilities.”

It didn’t matter. Sombra had gone up against some of the strongest firewalls that only had the smallest cracks in their security. She only needed that one little flaw. One little possibility. One loophole.

“You said Jack disappeared too?” After Sombra nodded, Angela’s brow creased. “He disappeared before, from the hospital, just — poof — without a trace. From what little Moira told me at the time, it caused Gabriel to dematerialize as well. They were drawn back to each other.”

With her hands, Angela made the motion of two magnets snapping together. “And when their energies met, they were able to reform. Gabriel apparently brought Jack out of his energy form? I don’t know how to explain it, and neither did Moira. I can only surmise that because of their symbiotic powers, they have the ability to sustain the other beyond…”

Angela’s brow creased further, “Not death, surely, but, perhaps, the critical moment before death. Some space in between. I’m not religious by any means, but I know there is more in this word besides life and death. The energy of life comes and goes somewhere. Gabriel can feed off it without, physically, consuming anything at all. Jack and Gabriel are tied to this plane of existence, somehow, so it is possible they survived, but they may not be, well, tangible, I guess.”

The tent flap behind Angela stirred and as she turned to greet her visitor, Sombra killed the connection.

It was possible.

Sombra opened new screens and started working.

 


 

"Has Jack contacted you?"

Tea in hand, Ana slowly turned from the window to regard the holopad with a raised brow. A cat, wedged between the warm kettle and the tablet, pawed at the blinking light. Ana skirted the table's edge, side-glancing the screen and frowning at the self-activated call.

"Even if he had, I would not tell you, habibti."

Admonishing the screen with a glare — the girl, Sombra, sorely needed to be taught some manners — Ana poured the rest of her tea over the pad. It fizzled and popped and set the cat scrambling out the window. After filling a fresh cup, Ana returned to the window and indulged the sigh weighing in her chest. No, she had not heard from Jack, but that in itself was not unsurprising. Jack was only ever set on one path; the most sound of advice could never detour his mulish determination.

Ana closed her eye, let the morning sun warm her face, and silently hoped that, wherever Jack was, he had finally found peace.

 


 

“Just check it out, McCree!”

The short, angry woman yelled at him from the small holoscreen. Jesse couldn’t just close the call — he had tried — because it kept popping back up on its own. He thought about breaking the damn thing, but he really didn’t have the money to buy a new one. So, with thinly concealed irritation, he gave the latina woman a disgruntled look as she glared at him from the tiny screen.

“If yer so concerned ‘bout it, why don’t you go check it out.”

“You’re closer! Besides, I can’t leave right now.”

“Why t’hell you still with Talon anyway?”

“Because you idiots need an insider and Talon has resources and connections. What can you offer me?”

McCree chewed over the end of an unlit cigar, “I guess I’m good ‘nuff to be your errand boy, eh?”

“That’s the spirit.”

“You ain’t winning anyone over here, darlin’.”

Sombra batted her eyes, “I don’t have to win you over, McCree. I know you want to go look.”

She wasn’t wrong, but that didn’t make her right either. Jesse bared his teeth in annoyance, “Shouldn’t show yer hand like that. I should refuse just to teach a lesson.”

“McCree, as much as I’d love to continue this little chat, I have to go. Check it out — keep me updated.”

The call ended and McCree growled to himself as he closed the screen. And, despite his reluctance to be prodded along by Sombra, Jesse arrived in the heart of Mexico City two days later. He gathered information from the usual places, both legal and illegally, before moving into the city outskirts. The locals didn’t give him much — typical when it came to living alongside gangs — but a group of teenagers were willing to spitball with him about the recent dust up involving Los Muertos.

“So who did it?” Jesse asked after doling out the last of his cigarettes.

The kid, couldn’t be older than fifteen, lit up and took a drag before answering. “Nobody knows.”

“Rival gang?”

“No way,” The lanky teen laughed while sharing a knowing look with his friends. “Another gang would have killed them. These guys were all alive. Tied up and stacked in piles.”

“In piles?”

The kids nodded in unison, all smiles while Jesse puzzled over the details. It didn’t mean anything, Jesse told himself. Sure, he could clearly imagine Reyes and Morrison having some competition about who could subdue and capture the most gang bangers. Throw in a Morrison rule of ‘no killing’ and it really did seem possible that two super soldiers had been involved. Treating the whole affair as if it was little more than an afternoon on the basketball court. A game. A friendly competition. It did seem—

Jesse shook his head at the thought because he was probably just projecting Sombra’s hopefulness.

Yet, who was playing vigilante on such a large scale?

Fine. Fine.

He called Sombra that evening.

”Vanquero, got some good news for me?”

“Now dun get all excited,” He sat on a catwalk overlooking the week old crime scene. “But is there some way you can pull up video feed from this area?”

“No cameras, that’s why Los Muertos operates there — that’s why you’re there. So?”

“Look, it’s probably nothing, a’ight? Even if it were them, they’re long gone by now.”

“Soooo, it was them?”

“Hold yer horses, I ain’t said that.” He rubbed at his face with a gloved hand. “And, you know, maybe they don’t want to be found.”

“Pft, I don’t care what they want.”

 


 

It took another month of obsessive surveillance before Sombra was certain she was on the right trail. Newspaper articles from different towns, all featuring insignificant stories about odd occurrences or arrests, created a road map across Mexico. The video footage she scrounged up, low-quality images of two shadowy shapes, was near useless, but she cataloged it with the rest of her work. It wasn’t much to work with, but Sombra excelled at analyzing obscure data.

Smug with her latest discovery, Sombra strolled up to the broad shouldered man leaning against the veranda of a local bar. Although certain she had the right man, she briefly hesitated. Other than a few old pictures, Sombra rarely saw Gabriel so dressed down. The white, collared shirt tucked neatly into gray slacks over polished shoes was a far cry from the layers of black. Without the strong ‘fuck off’ vibe to detour strangers, Sombra began to doubt she had the right guy.

But there was no mistaking the man standing about twenty feet away, talking to an elderly couple. Jack’s stock of blond hair, paired with his vibrant blue eyes and his strong jaw could be no one else. He oozed country boy charm as he flashed his radiant smile at the locals. Sombra could only shake her head and wonder why the hell Gabriel allowed the idiot to parade around his iconic identity.

“So,” She said while leaning against the opposite side of the veranda post. “You guys, like, sight seeing?”

Gabriel slid the toothpick he was chewing on to the corner of his mouth before flashing her a smile. His lack of surprise — not even a stiffening of his shoulders — drew a pout out of her. She had put in some serious overtime in tracking them down.

“Nah,” Gabriel gestured toward Jack, his smile widening. “I’m making Jack practice his spanish. He has to get a recommendation for where to have dinner and get directions.”

He slowly drew the toothpick along his lower lip as he enjoyed the spectacle. “He’s not allowed to use his hands or his phone.”

“You’re cruel.”

Although, Sombra amended, it was rather amusing to watch the gringo grow more and more flustered. They watched Jack for a while longer. Gabriel’s smile threatened to stretch right off his face when Jack glanced at them with utter vexation. Only then, when Gabriel had his fill of the public torture, did he give Sombra a proper look over.

“What took you so long?”

¡Cabrón!” She smacked his arm. “Why didn’t you tell me you were alive!?”

Gabriel shrugged, “I needed a vacation before Talon started hunting for my head.”

“It’s been three months!”

“Meh.”

“And it’s not like I would tell them I found you!”

Gabriel arched a brow at her, “You found us. It won’t be long before someone else does.”

Her shoulders drooped, “You know I wouldn’t let that happen.”

“Some things are out of your control, mija.”

The sad, gentle smile he spared her looked so out of place compared to the grouchy countenance she’d grown to know over the years. In fact, without the mask, seeing his expressions at all felt a touch surreal.

Gabriel’s gaze returned to Jack, “Just let me have this for a little while longer.”

The locals left with apologetic smiles. Jack scowled as he walked toward the veranda. Gabriel met him halfway, greeting him with a patronizing kiss on the cheek. The scowl instantly morphed into a rather pathetic — yet adorable — pout. Sombra scoffed, then realized they were walking away from her and she wasn’t ready to let them go.

“Wait!” She scrambled after them and wedged her small frame between their broad shapes. “Hey Jack.”

“Hi Sombra.” He, also, showed no surprise at her presence.

“I still need to know what happened! Everyone else thinks you’re dead — again.”

Gabriel smirked at Jack, “We’re not very good at this staying dead thing.”

“Not for lack of trying,” Jack said.

“So where are we having dinner?”

Jack huffed, “No sé.”

“Aw, qué lástima,” Gabriel grinned wickedly. “I guess that means another point for me.”

“Don’t gloat. I’m still two points ahead.”

Sombra again inserted herself between them, waving a hand at their smirking faces. “Boys! Hello! I’m still here and I’m not leaving until I get answers!”

Gabriel ignored her, “Do you think she’ll follow us if we go back to the hotel and I strip you naked?”

“Nothing she hasn’t seen before.”

“Mm, you’re right.” Gabriel drew Jack in for a kiss, which forced Sombra out from between them.

“Oh my god,” Sombra rolled her eyes. “I know what you’re trying to do and I’m not going to be scared off by you being all lovey-dovey with your gringo.”

Gabriel curled his arm around Jack’s waist before shifting his dark eyes to her, “Fine. Let’s get drinks.”

The early evening made the weather ideal for sitting on the rooftop patio while holding their ice-chilled drinks. Sombra sat across from the two men who sat close enough that their thighs touched. Gabriel’s infatuation had been bad before, but now he acted like his was on his god damn honeymoon. Their eyes met, constantly, as if the other would disappear if they looked away too long. Absolutely smitten, as if they hadn't known each other for thirty years. Sombra scoffed, but at the same time found herself intrigued by their small displays of affection.

It was fucking adorable and dorky — she was never going to let Gabriel live it down.

As they talked, it became clear they couldn't answer a lot of her questions because they didn’t understand what happened the night of the gala. They had come back to the world before dawn, that much they told her. What they didn’t voice, but she surmised by the sly looks they gave each other, was they had been intimate shortly afterward.

Probably after some tear-soaked professions of love and smoopy kisses. Ugh. Sombra's fingers itched for her holopad. That would have been the best blackmail material. But of course they neglected to mention where they had risen from the metaphorical grave. She wondered if she could casually slip the question in to narrow down the area of her future search.

A quick side-long glance at Gabriel, who watched her with a knowing smirk, said she had a snowball's chance in hell to pry that information out of them.

But there was a chance...

Sombra shifted her attention back to Jack.

“It’s whatever Angela and Moira did,” Jack was trying to explain after mentioning the strange way Gabriel’s body had reacted to Ana’s tranquilizer. “They made me similar enough to Gabriel that I was able to follow his power and bring him back.”

“He’s very clingy — wouldn’t let me go.”

“Ha ha,” Jack scratched at his brow with only his middle finger extended. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Te amo, what more do you want from me?”

“For you to say it in english.”

Gabriel grinned, "Sure, but it'll cost you a point."

"Just one?" Jack hid a smile behind his drink.

"I plan to take the rest of the points tonight."

Jack chuckled, deep and rich, while his eyes narrowed in challenge. "You always say that, yet somehow, by morning, you're several points behind instead."

“You two are so sickly sweet and absolutely gross that I'm going to barf, so knock it off.” Sombra puffed at her bangs. “What about Talon? Doomfist? You’ve set him back, but he’s not going to stop until he has his war.”

The two men shared a thoughtful look, then smiled.

Jack shrugged, “We’ve weakened the organization for a bit. We’ll eventually catch up to him.”

Gabriel hand disappeared beneath the table and, catching the way Jack’s lids drooped, Sombra guessed the hand had landed somewhere along Jack’s thigh. Gabriel mimicked Jack’s shrug, “Maybe when the rest of the band gets back together we’ll take out him and all the others.”

“Maybe?” Sombra raised her brows.

Once again the two men faced each other, ignoring her presence. Jack spoke first, “I really feel the younger generation needs to step up.”

“You’re right,” Gabriel nodded and pursed his lips, “We got them through the Omnic Crisis and beyond. It’s their turn. I’m tried of carrying their dead weight.”

“I’m too old to be fighting this war.”

“Same.”

“Retirement?” Jack held up his drink.

Gabriel smirked and tapped his glass against Jack’s, “Seems about time.”

Sombra could do little but shake her head in exasperation. Yet, all the same, she couldn’t help but smile. After all she learned about them, all she had seen them go through for each other, she agreed with the sentiment that they deserved to be together — if only for a while. If war did come, she’d see them again, because there was no keeping the two soldiers from a good fight. For now, they could have each other and share those dopey love-sick looks with each other.

Later, the hug she got from Gabriel, along with his heartfelt thanks for all she’d done for him, left her flustered.

She waved them off.

When they left, they left with hands clasped and fingers intertwined.