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Ties of the Past

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Closure isn’t like shutting a book. Jesse learned the hard way that closure is something you work at, something you come to terms with. It’s not so simple as closing up that book and putting it up on a shelf, where it sits forgotten, collecting dust. It’s more like a wound that doesn’t heal right - it’s scarred over, ugly, hurts sometimes when the weather is just right. Most days it doesn’t bother you, but sometimes the pain zaps through you right out of the blue.

Seven years after Jesse left Blackwatch - and Gabe - behind, the call comes through. Recall. Overwatch is putting itself back together. Jesse feels that zap of pain somewhere in the middle of his chest. He silences his comm and keeps doing what he's doing. He doesn’t need to get himself tangled up in that mess again.

They’re persistent, though. Eventually, Angela tracks him down and appeals to him directly. Time has been kinder to her than it has to him. She looks so earnest as she tries to talk him into rejoining.

“Think of all the good you could do with Overwatch behind you, Jesse,” she says. She’s sitting across the table of a booth in an anonymous diner somewhere in Idaho. Jesse scoffs, leaning back in his seat with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I’ve heard that one before, Angie,” Jesse says. “That didn’t turn out so well, if you remember.”

Angela grimaces and looks down at the cup of coffee clutched between her hands.

“I do remember,” she says, her voice going soft.

“Then you can understand why there ain’t no way in hell I’m coming back,” Jesse says. Angela lets her breath out.

“It’s different now,” Angela says. Jesse snorts, but she presses on, more firmly than before. “It’s different. We don’t have the United Nations behind us, we shouldn’t be doing this at all. But there’s something big happening, Jesse, something dangerous. You saw what happened in Paris, didn’t you?”

Jesse grunts in the affirmative, but he keeps his expression blank even as Angela scans his face.

“The Omnics are back, Jesse, and they won’t go down without a fight,” Angela says urgently. “We need people like you and me - people who know how to deal with this threat. People who’ve fought this war before.”

Jesse doesn’t say anything, turning his head to look out the window at the parking lot. The ache in his chest is back, memories jostling for attention. He put that chapter of his life behind him. It was different then - back then, he wasn’t alone. Back then, he had Gabe by his side, at his back. They protected each other.

Until it all went to shit.

“Jesse?” Angela’s voice pulls Jesse back to the present.

“I can’t, Angie,” Jesse says, his voice coming out rough. “I can’t go back.”

Angela reaches across the table and puts a hand gently over his. Jesse tenses, but doesn’t pull away.

“I know it won’t be the same,” she says. “But, Jesse. We need you.”

Jesse looks down at their hands, trying to breathe through the pain that has a hold around his throat. He put all this behind him, but his past has a funny way of catching up to him when he least expects it. He wishes, not for the first time, that he had been left to rot in a prison cell all those years ago.

“Come to Gibraltar,” Angela says. “No obligation. Just - just listen to what we’re up against. Then you can make a decision.”

Jesse feels the fight go out of him. He pulls his hand away from Angela’s and drags it over his face.

“I have to think about it,” Jesse says finally. “I ain’t - I just don’t know, Angie.”

Angela is clearly trying not to look too hopeful. The part of Jesse that’s been forever trying to do the right thing, to make up for all the wrongs he’s committed, hates to disappoint her.

“It’s different now - it’s going to be different,” Angela says again. “Overwatch isn’t the same now as it was before… before we were disbanded. You can do things your way.”

“I’ve heard that before too,” Jesse says. Angela breathes out.

“I know you want to do good things, Jesse,” Angela says. “You were always the moral center of Blackwatch.”

Jesse snorts.

“No - really,” Angela says. Her face is too earnest and Jesse has to look away again. He never really believed that Gabe had been the one to betray them all, that Gabe was the monster that the media made him out to be. He knew - he thought he knew Gabe better than that. Jesse doesn’t deny that, in the months leading up to his leaving Blackwatch, he and Gabe butted heads. He took issue with Gabe’s approach, certainly. Jesse had had doubts. He still has doubts, even now. But Jesse never thought Gabe was capable of the things the UN and the media accused him of. Gabe had wanted to make the world a better place.

Didn’t he?

“I have to think about it,” Jesse says again. Angela takes a sip of coffee to hide her hopeful expression.

“Take you time,” Angela says. “Really.”

“I’m too old for this shit, Angie,” Jesse says. Angela snorts.

“We’re the same age.”

“Yeah, well. I’ve been living a little rougher than you have.”

“Are you still smoking?” she asks. Jesse gives her a look. “You should really consider quitting.”

“If I join back up, I ain’t gonna have any of your nagging,” Jesse says. The corners of her mouth turn up.

“I’m just doing my job,” she says. She hesitates. “How have you been, really?”

Jesse shakes his head and looks back out at the parking lot, avoiding her searching eyes. “I’ve been surviving.”

“That’s no way to live,” she says, her voice going painfully soft. Jesse takes a deep breath.

“Yeah, well. It’s worked out so far.”

Angela looks like she’s about to say something, but she takes a sip of coffee instead. Jesse looks down at the laminate table. He already knows he’s going to give in, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s a few weeks before Jesse works up the wherewithal to get himself to Gibraltar. When he arrives, the sun is shining and the base looks… almost the same. It’s a little rough around the edges, maybe, with paint peeling here, rust showing there, but it’s better maintained than Jesse would’ve thought.

Angela comes to meet him when he shows up. Jesse can tell she’s trying to moderate her response to Jesse’s arrival - probably because she’s worried about driving him off again. Truthfully, it’s… nice, being wanted, being welcome. It’s been a long time since Jesse had a warm welcome anywhere.

“There’s a briefing tonight that you should come to,” Angela says. “At 18:00. There will be dinner, too, if that helps. But feel free to make yourself at home in the meantime. There’s not many of us here, so you can have your pick of bunks.”

“How many?” Jesse asks, looking past Angela’s shoulder at Winston’s lab.

“Ten, including me, though not everyone’s here at the moment,” Angela says. “Echo arrived a few weeks ago. I don’t suppose you had anything something to do with that?”

Jesse shrugs. He looks back at Angela.

“I’ll see you at 18:00,” he says. Angela looks as if she’s going to say something else, but she presses her lips together and nods.

“Alright. See you then.”

Jesse turns and walks towards the shuttle hangar, letting his feet carry him by memory. He already regrets coming here; the memories are crowding in around him, ghosts of his past threatening to drag him down into misery. Jesse does his best to stay present, though, noting the differences - the deterioration - of the watchpoint since he was last here.

His feet take him out to the cliffs near the launchpad, where he used to sneak out for a smoke. The sun glitters off the water. It’s beautiful. Jesse pats his pockets and finds a cigarillo and his lighter. He settles onto the ledge, letting his feet dangle over the side as he takes a deep inhale from his cigarillo. He closes his eyes as he breathes out, the nicotine soothing his nerves.

“Angela said you were here,” a soft voice says behind him. Jesse nearly jumps out of his skin - he didn’t hear anyone coming. He half-turns in his seat to look over his shoulder and is surprised to see Genji. Of all people, Genji is one of the last Jesse would have expected to answer the recall.

“Genji,” Jesse says, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice. Genji presses a button on the side of his mask, which slides back to reveal his scarred face. His scars are as prominent as ever, but his face looks somehow softer.

“It’s good to see you, Jesse,” Genji says. Jesse blinks. He scrambles to his feet, his cigarillo pinched between his thumb and forefinger.

“I didn’t think I’d see you here,” Jesse says.

“I could say the same to you,” Genji says. Jesse shrugs.

“I didn’t think I’d come here either.”

“Angela can be very convincing,” Genji says. There’s a lightness around his voice that Jesse can’t remember ever hearing from Genji. He had managed to befriend him all those years ago in Blackwatch, more or less, but the Genji he remembers is raw, angry.

“Yeah,” Jesse rubs the back of his neck. “Where have you been the last few years? You sound… good.”

The corners of Genji’s eyes crinkle - a smile.

“I wandered, for a time. I found myself in Nepal, with the Shambali monks. I spent a long time there,” Genji says. He pauses. “I found peace.”

Jesse doesn’t know what to say for a moment. “I’m glad for you,” he says eventually. Genji lets out a little laugh.

“It’s strange, I know,” Genji says. “You knew me at my worst.”

“You weren’t that bad,” Jesse says. Genji shakes his head, but he’s still smiling.

“I’m glad you came back,” Genji says.

“I dunno if I’m staying,” Jesse says quickly.

“Even if you don’t, I’m glad you came,” Genji says. Jesse shuffles awkwardly on the spot.

“Thanks. I figured I at least ought to hear Angie out.”

“There’s work to be done.”

“There always is, isn’t there?” Jesse says. “What are less than a dozen of you gonna do to stop a war?”

“You know as well as I do that even one person can make a difference,” Genji says. Jesse exhales. He looks back out at the water, at the golden light reflecting off the waves. If one person can make a difference, why is it that nothing Jesse does ever seems to be enough?

“Jesse?” Genji’s voice pulls him back out of his thoughts. Jesse looks back at Genji.

“Sorry,” he says. “Lotta memories, being back here.”

Genji nods sympathetically. “I can leave you be, if you’d like.”

Jesse hesitates, then shakes his head. “Nah. I don’t mind the company. If you don’t mind if I -” Jesse waves his cigarillo.

“I don’t mind,” Genji says. Jesse turns and eases himself back down to the ground, letting his legs dangle again. He feels but doesn’t hear Genji settle in next to him. Jesse glances at him sideways as he relights his cigarillo. Genji sits with his legs folded in some kind of yoga pose.

He does look peaceful. Jesse tries not to be envious.

He takes a long draw from his cigarillo.

“Has Angela asked you to quit yet?” Genji asks after a moment of silence. Jesse snorts.

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s bad for my health, apparently.”

“She knows what she’s talking about,” Genji says, gesturing at his body. Jesse takes another puff.

“Yeah, well. Some of us ain’t worth the investment,” Jesse says. He thinks fleetingly of his teammates in Blackwatch, those who came up through the military and were endowed with various enhancements courtesy of their respective governments. Gabe had the benefit of the Soldier Enhancement Program, as mixed a blessing as it was. Genji had been rescued from certain death, rebuilt into a superhuman. Someone had invested in all of them, literally and figuratively. The world’s best and brightest. Jesse had been a gang rat, dragged kicking and screaming out of Deadlock, with only a stolen ocular implant to show for it. He was always out of place in Overwatch. He might be a good shot, but he never stacked up against any of the others, not in the same way. If it hadn’t been for Gabe’s good word, Jesse would’ve been locked up.

“She could help with your arm,” Genji says. Jesse tenses. He pulls his serape tighter over his left side.

“It’s fine,” Jesse says. Genji turns his head to look out at the ocean.

“I know it’s difficult to get used to,” Genji says. Jesse loosens his grip on his serape. Of all people, Genji wouldn’t judge him, not for that.

“Yeah,” Jesse says, but doesn’t elaborate. He smokes in silence for a few long moments, and Genji doesn’t try to say anything. As more time passes, Jesse finds himself almost relaxing into the silence. He and Genji weren’t close exactly, back in Blackwatch, and especially after Genji moved over to Overwatch after the incident in King’s Row. But Genji, of all people, probably understands best what Jesse’s been through.

At the very least, Genji doesn’t try to talk Jesse into joining up again. Jesse appreciates that.

Jesse smokes his cigarillo down to the end, then stubs it out and pockets the remains. The sun is moving lower in the sky, the color reflecting off the water going warmer, more golden. He exhales slowly.

“Are you coming to the briefing?” Genji asks, breaking the long silence.

“Yeah,” Jesse says. “I mean, I said I would.”

Genji unfolds himself and stands up. “I don’t think we’re letting Lena cook again, if that convinces you.”

“I’ve mostly been living off convenience store junk and diner food,” Jesse says. “Most anything’s better than that.”

“You haven’t tasted Lena’s cooking,” Genji says. There’s some mischief in Genji’s voice, a lightness that still sounds strange coming from him.

“I’ll see you at the briefing.”

Genji nods and slips away, as quietly as he came. Jesse lights another cigarillo and stares out over the Strait of Gibraltar, trying not to let his thoughts dwell on the memories that are pressing in all around him.

Jesse ends up smoking right up until the briefing. He stubs out his cigarillo just before he enters the briefing room. He immediately spots Winston - hard to miss - standing at the head of the conference table, chatting with Lena. Echo is seated primly halfway down the table while Angela and Genji are chatting off to the side. The moment Jesse walks into the room, all heads turn to look at him. Jesse immediately feels incredibly self-conscious. Angela moves away from Genji and comes over to Jesse. She stops short and wrinkles her nose.

“You smell like a tobacco factory,” Angela says. Jesse shrugs, acutely aware of all of the eyes on him.

“Is this everyone?” Jesse asks. Angela nods.

“For tonight’s briefing,” Angela says. “There are a few others who are on assignment elsewhere, like Reinhardt and - you remember Torbjorn’s daughter, Brigitte? She’s been acting as Reinhardt’s squire, following him all over.”

“Oh,” Jesse says, not really sure what else to say. Angela reaches out as if to touch Jesse’s shoulder, but thinks better of it and lets her arm fall back at her side.

“Have a seat,” she says. “We’ll get started.”

Jesse glances at the conference table again. Echo gives him a little wave. Jesse takes a deep breath and goes to sit across from her. Angela follows in his wake as the others take their seats. Winston stays at the head of the table, fiddling with the hologram projector. Angela takes a seat next to Genji and Lena stays near Winston at the head of the table. Across from him, Echo smiles at Jesse, her hands folded on the table.

“It’s good to see you again so soon, Jesse,” Echo says.

“You too,” Jesse says, hoping that he sounds sincere. Winston clears his throat and all heads turn to him and his hologram. Jesse slouches back in his seat with his arms crossed tightly across his chest. He listens as Winston begins to speak.

It quickly becomes clear that the briefing is entirely for Jesse’s benefit. Winston reviews the more recent incidents in Paris and Rio and the intel they gathered following the attacks. Jesse listens carefully, even though his anger is simmering at the glorified recruitment pitch. The contrarian in him wants to cut ties again and disappear back into the southwest, but then Winston switches gears and starts talking about Talon.

On the hologram, Winston plays security footage from Venice, during Carnival; Talon operatives move among the crowds of revelers. An enormous man dressed in purple shakes the hand of another man who isn’t in costume. In the blink of an eye, the man in purple tosses the other man over the bridge. Winston freezes the footage, the man suspended in midair as he falls.

“We have reason to believe that the man who was killed was Vialli, a known member of Talon’s inner council,” Winston says. “The man who killed him is thought to be Akande Ogundimu, alias Doomfist. We think that Vialli’s murder preceded a meeting on Talon’s inner council. There were reports of other known council members in Venice at the same time.”

Jesse remembers Vialli, or at least his profile, from the incident in Rialto when Gabe killed Antonio. Jesse digs his fingers into the meat of his biceps at the memory. In hindsight, that was almost certainly the moment when everything started to go wrong.

Winston lets the rest of the security footage play out. A figure costumed in red appears at Doomfist’s side. Jesse isn’t sure if it’s the quality of the footage, but there’s some kind of distortion around the figure in red, like smoke.

“The one in red is, we think, Reaper,” Winston says with a grimace. Lena huffs.

“He’s like a cockroach, that one,” she says.

“We think Reaper is on the council as well,” Winston says. He switches the security footage to reports of increased Talon activity elsewhere. “After the murder in Venice, we started to see a shift in Talon’s activities away from smuggling enterprises. We don’t know what they’re planning yet, but it won’t be good if they start causing trouble too. We don’t have the resources to fight two wars.”

Jesse grits his teeth but doesn’t say anything. Thinking about Talon brings up a whole host of memories and feelings that Jesse would rather ignore. The rumors swirling around Gabe’s involvement with Talon after the explosion at the Swiss base stung - Jesse knew, intimately, how hard Gabe had worked to thwart Talon, to take them down. They had worked so hard, and yet Talon is still here and Gabe is not.

Winston moves on, providing updates on the new Overwatch’s more recent efforts. Aside from the omnic threat, they have their hands full. It’s no wonder they’re trying so hard to get Jesse to join up - there’s no way that they’ll be able to tackle everything they’re facing without a lot more help.

At the end of his briefing, Winston turns the lights back on and looks down the table. He pushes his glasses up his nose.

“Any questions?”

Jesse presses his lips together. He can feel several pairs of eyes on him again, but his only question - why him? - was not exactly productive.

“There’s one more thing,” Angela says. Jesse’s eyes slide to look at her. She looks strangely nervous but she meets his eyes. “I have reason to believe that Reaper is actually Gabriel Reyes.”

Jesse’s vision goes blurry as Angela’s words sink in. The anger that’s been simmering in his chest boils over. He pushes his seat back from the table abruptly, the metal scraping harshly against the floor. He’s dimly aware of Angela’s voice calling after him but he doesn’t stop. Jesse is out the door and striding away as fast as his legs can take him. Blood rushes in his ears as he tries to process Angela’s words. Reaper is actually Gabriel Reyes.

Gabe, working with Talon - no, Gabe running Talon. Gabe, Reaper, a terrorist, just like the press said back after the explosion.

Gabe, alive.

Jesse doesn’t stop moving until he’s back at his spot overlooking the water. With shaking hands, he lights yet another cigarillo, trying to calm himself as Angela’s accusation rolls around his brain. The outrage he feels is enough to make him want to leave and never look back, but the tiny rational voice in the back of his head wants answers.

Jesse is nearly through with his cigarillo when he hears footsteps behind him. He goes tense, shoulders rigid.

“Jesse,” Angela’s voice floats over to him. Anger flashes in his belly again. He doesn’t turn around, doesn’t say anything. He takes another long drag off his cigarillo instead, biting back the acidic words at the tip of his tongue.

“Jesse,” Angela tries again, her voice closer this time. Jesse exhales slowly, letting the smoke trail off his tongue. He hears her footsteps again, tentative. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have… I should’ve told you sooner.”

Jesse flicks the stub of his cigarillo over the edge of the cliff and turns to face Angela abruptly. Angela takes half a step back. Jesse tries to rein in his anger, but he’s finding it difficult.

“I wanted you to decide to come back to Overwatch on your own,” Angela says. “I didn’t want you to think you were being manipulated.”

“And this?” Jesse shoots back. “You don’t think this doesn’t fucking reek of manipulation?”

“You needed to know,” Angela says. “We wanted to put all of our cards on the table.”

“Gabe is dead,” Jesse says, his voice low and forceful. “He died. He can’t be - he’s not working with Talon.”

“Jesse,” Angela says. Her voice sounds like it’s dripping with pity - the way she’s looking at him, too, makes Jesse want to scream. He clenches his fists at his sides. “I know that it’s hard to believe. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen Jack and Ana in Cairo.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Before I rejoined Overwatch, I was working at an aid camp in Cairo,” Angela says. “Talon attacked Helix Securities at Anubis - that’s when Jack and Ana reappeared. They’re alive, I saw them with my own eyes, touched them, fought with them during the attack on Helix. Jack was the one who made the connection to Reaper. He said Gabriel led Talon’s attack on Helix.”

Jesse scoffs. Angela gives him a look.

“I know that you and Jack have bad blood,” Angela says. “But you have to believe me, Jesse. If Jack and Ana survived everything - you know Gabriel did too.”

Jesse averts his eyes, half turning away from Angela. Out of everyone, Jesse always thought Gabe would be the one to survive. But not like this.

“Gabe gave his life to taking down Talon, to making the world a better place,” Jesse says harshly. “He wanted to save humanity, not destroy it.”

Angela is shaking her head. “We all thought we knew Gabriel -”

“You didn’t,” Jesse interrupts, his voice raised. He turns to Angela, steps towards her. To her credit, she doesn’t flinch. “None of you knew Gabe like I did. None of you trusted him to do his job - we were hobbled at every damn turn. All we ever tried to do was the right thing. You all just didn’t like when we had to get our hands dirty, except when it was convenient for you, except when you didn’t want to do the work yourselves. Gabe did all the hard work and got none of the recognition. And you know what? He didn’t care. He didn’t fucking care that he didn’t get the credit. He was happy enough to know he was doing the right goddamn thing. He didn’t need medals and ceremonies to know it, not like some folks.”

Jesse drags a hand down his face.

“There’s no fucking way that Gabe gave it all up to Talon,” Jesse says. “No fucking way.”

“I know that you saw a different side of Gabriel,” Angela says carefully. “But the evidence, Jesse -”

“What evidence? Jack’s word?”

Angela let her breath out. When she looks at Jesse, the pity is unmistakable in her expression.

“It’s not just his word, or Ana’s. We have other evidence, other records that point to his involvement,” Angela says. “We have everything - you’re welcome to look at it, see for yourself. You don’t have to take my word, or Jack’s.”

Jesse grits his teeth, looking away again. He refuses to believe her - there’s just no way that Gabe would’ve turned his back on all the work he had done, that he would throw it all away for Talon. Gabe spent over thirty years trying to put the world back together. Why blow it all away?

“Show me what you’ve got,” Jesse says.

Angela gives him everything. Jesse has unrestricted access to their databases, their intel, everything that Winston and the new Overwatch team have collected over their short tenure. He locks himself in one of the small conference rooms that Blackwatch had used once or twice during their brief assignments at Gibraltar. Jesse has every screen on the walls turned on, all of the intel, down to the smallest details, spread out. He follows every twisting thread from beginning to end, making the connections himself, piecing together the whole web.

It takes all night. When Jesse finally sits back and checks the time, the sun has already risen. He feels wrung out, defeated. He drags a hand down his face, trying to make sense of his world now that the whole thing has been shattered.

Was everything that Gabe said and did a lie?

Jesse spent his time in Blackwatch, with Gabe, thinking that he knew Gabe better than most, if not all. He thought he was privy to parts of Gabe that he never shared with anyone else. He thought that Gabe confided in him, trusted him, loved him.

With all of the evidence spread out in front of him, Jesse suddenly doubts everything he ever knew.

When Jesse joined Blackwatch, it wasn’t really his choice. That is to say: Gabe gave him a choice, but who would choose a life in supermax? Jesse chose Blackwatch because he didn’t really have any other options. But there was something about the way that Gabe framed Jesse’s options that made Jesse feel like he had the power to choose his own destiny - something that Jesse never really felt he had. Gabe always gave him choices, and that was what allowed Jesse to learn to trust him, to rely on him, to love him.

Gabe never forced Jesse to do anything he didn’t want to do. That’s true. Jesse has to believe it’s true.

Before Gabe, Jesse took care of himself. It was a matter of survival. He trusted no one, relied on no one but himself. When Jesse was with Gabe, he felt secure, protected. It was like nothing Jesse had ever had before. He had to learn to give up a little of himself, to allow himself to rely on someone else. Ultimately, he trusted Gabe with his whole heart. It was novel to rely on someone, someone who always had his back, who wouldn’t pull the rug out from under him.

Which isn’t to say that what they had was perfect. They didn’t agree on everything; they fought. Jesse walked away when it got unbearable. But when things were good, Jesse knew that if he fell, Gabe would be there to catch him. How many times had Jesse been injured in the line of duty only to wake up in the sickbay with Gabe seated at his bedside? How many times had Gabe taken the fall when it was Jesse’s call that landed them in hot water? Gabe put Jesse first, over and over.

After Gabe, Jesse has had to relearn how to take care of himself. He’s done a lousy job of it, sometimes, but he’s scraped by. It isn’t that Jesse needs someone to take care of him, but being able to share the burden of simply existing was such an unexpected privilege that Jesse misses it. Knowing that someone unquestioningly had his back, that Gabe was there to pick up Jesse when he was down, or share a slice of happiness in rare quiet moments, it was something that Jesse had never really experienced before Gabe came into his life.

Does it matter if it was all built on lies?

There’s a soft knock on the door that jolts Jesse out of his thoughts. He clears his throat but his voice still comes out raspy, strained.

“It’s open,” he says.

He’s surprised, but relieved, to see Echo poke her head in. She’s carrying a thermos, which she now holds up. Jesse sits up straighter in his seat.

“I thought you might like some coffee,” she says. “I remembered how you like it.”

“Black with a lot of sugar?” he asks.

“The amount of sugar you require is greater than the recommended average intake for most humans,” she says, stepping further into the room. She sets the thermos on the table beside Jesse.

“Yeah, but it tastes better that way,” he says. He reaches for the thermos and unscrews the lid. The first sip goes down smooth. He closes his eyes and takes another sip. “Thanks.”

When he reopens his eyes, he sees Echo looking at all the screens Jesse still has up.

“You are thorough,” Echo says.

“Am I missing anything?” Jesse asks. Echo looks back at him.

“No, you’ve found everything we have,” she says. Jesse lets out his breath.

“Do you believe it? That Gabe would do…” Jesse trails off, gesturing at the screens. Echo doesn’t say anything for a moment, her face thoughtful.

“You knew Commander Reyes best,” she says finally.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Jesse says. Echo gives him a rueful little smile.

“My apologies,” she says. “I only mention it because the evidence against him is sobering.”

Jesse shakes his head and looks away, taking another sip of coffee to try to hide whatever his face is doing.

“It was all lies,” Jesse says. His voice breaks a little. He clears his throat again. “It has to have been. He was playing some sort of long game.”

“It does appear that way,” Echo nods.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Jesse says. He drops his head into his hands, elbows on the table. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Humans are complex and unpredictable,” Echo says. Jesse shakes his head. The back of his throat is burning and he can feel the tears welling up again. He tries his damnedest to hold them back. The tears fall anyway, and Jesse can’t muffle all of the sounds that fall from his mouth. Echo lets him cry for as long as he needs.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Jesse says finally.

“You have to find your own answers,” Echo says. “We can’t tell you what to do or who to believe.”

Jesse lets his breath out shakily. He had more or less come to the same conclusion, but hearing someone else say it out loud made it feel like an actual option. To get his answers, Jesse is going to have to find Gabe himself.

♦ ♦ ♦

Jesse makes himself copies of all the data Overwatch has on Gabe and Talon. He tells Angela that he’s not ready to join them, that he has some of his own work to get done. She’s obviously disappointed, but she doesn’t try to convince him to stay.

“I had to come back on my own terms,” Angela says. “I thought that Overwatch was shut down for a reason, that we shouldn’t come back. I changed my mind, obviously, and I hope you do too - but, you have to do what you feel is right. I understand that.”

Jesse nods, hoisting his pack further up his shoulder.

“I’m still pissed at you,” Jesse says. “But I understand why you held back intel.”

“I’m sorry, Jesse,” Angela says with a small, apologetic smile.

“I’ll see you around, Angie,” Jesse says. He leaves Gibraltar with a newfound determination. He wants answers, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get them.

♦ ♦ ♦

Europe, Angela had said. Jack and Ana were pursuing Gabe into Europe. There are a few coordinates from Angela’s communications with the two that Jesse lifted before he left Gibraltar - it isn’t much, but it’s a start. Jesse slips back into work mode as he narrows his search. He decides he will treat this just like any other job: find the bad guy, take him out.

He’s not going to make it personal, he tells himself. Of course, he immediately fails on that front.

As Jesse works, he racks his brain for any inconsistencies throughout his time with Gabe, any signs that Gabe was something other than what Jesse thought he was. It’s almost impossible to come up with any real indication of Gabe’s true loyalties during their time in Blackwatch; in hindsight, with all this new information, Jesse can’t trust his memories to be accurate. Any little thing he thinks about now is tainted with the knowledge that Gabe is currently running Talon.

Jesse lands in Venice on a hot, humid afternoon. Jesse hates Venice. Nothing good has ever happened here, as far as he’s concerned. He doesn’t get the romantic appeal either. If he had to pick an Italian city for romance or even just a nice visit, Venice would probably be on the bottom of his list.

But he’s here and he has a job to do. His best intel indicates that Gabe is probably in the area, so Jesse settles in to do some recon. As he sets himself up in a dingy little rented room, Jesse hopes that he doesn’t run into Jack and Ana. He can really only deal with one ghost at a time, and not very well at that.

Jesse spends the first few days refamiliarizing himself with the city, plotting escape routes and finding safe spots for surveillance. The twists and turns of the alleys and canals are both a blessing and a curse, but Jesse remembers some of the tricks they used in Blackwatch. He helped write the playbook, after all. After a few days of purposeful wandering, Jesse’s fairly sure he’s black, or at least not actively being surveilled.

It turns out that finding Talon isn’t terribly difficult. They seem to still be using the city as a base of operations, and they’ve never been particularly subtle - elusive, maybe, but not subtle. Jesse tails a few of their operatives through the city, trying to establish a pattern and zero in on a base of operations.

Interestingly, Jesse does notice a difference in Talon’s operations. The runners aren’t hitting up the usual suspects - smugglers, thieves, fixers. Instead, they seem to be spending more time around political institutions and other influential organizations. Jesse starts building his list, checking it against the intel he pulled from Overwatch’s files. Winston’s observation that Talon is moving away from the money-making business seems to be accurate.

A week and a half into Jesse’s stay in Venice, he notices he’s being followed. He figured it was bound to happen eventually - the fact that he went so long without coverage is already fairly impressive. He wonders vaguely whether there’s still a bounty on his head.

The sun is setting when Jesse spots the tail. He casually changes course into one of his countersurveillance routes. At first, he loses the tail pretty quickly, but they loop back around not long after. Jesse is annoyed that he’s impressed - clearly, Talon has improved their tradecraft. He steps it up, moving quicker, taking more turns, backtracking, and looping around. His tail keeps up.

Hours of this cat and mouse game go by, Venice sinking into true night. Jesse isn’t a young man any more, but he manages to lose the tail shortly before midnight. As tired as he is, flexing his old tradecraft skills is kind of exhilarating. He starts the long process of winding his way back to the safehouse.

Jesse is only three blocks away from his safehouse when he’s ambushed. He’s knocked down and pressed face first into the cobblestones, a rough hand pushing down on the back of his head. Jesse tastes blood but he’s not giving up without a fight. He jerks his head back as hard as he can. The back of his head connects with the person holding him down, taking him by surprise. The man loosens his grip enough to allow Jesse to roll onto his back. Jesse scrambles to his feet and throws a punch, but another Talon operative melts out of the shadows. Jesse takes a punch to the side of the head and he sees stars. He reaches blindly for his gun, but suddenly he feels his left arm go completely still, a deadweight at his side. The sudden shift in weight makes him stumble. He squints down at his arm to see a tiny, glowing EMP device stuck to the metal of his forearm. The Talon agents take advantage of his distraction, and they wrestle Jesse back down to the ground. This time, when he cracks his head against the cobblestones, his vision goes black.

♦ ♦ ♦

There’s no way of knowing how much time has passed since the fight in the alley. Jesse lifts his head with difficulty, a painful headache throbbing between his ears. He shifts and realizes he’s cuffed to a steel chair. He tries to shift the chair, but it’s bolted down. Jesse moves his head again, trying to get a look at his surroundings, but his vision swims. When he finally manages to get his eyes to cooperate, Jesse sucks in a breath sharply.

It’s him.

Jesse feels his heart skip a beat. He isn’t prepared for this - not so soon. Jesse swallows thickly, his mouth feeling full of wool. In front of him, Reaper leans back against a metal table, the only other piece of furniture in the barren room, arms crossed over his chest. He’s dressed in all black from head to toe, with something that looks like a cloak around his shoulders. The hood is up, casting his face in shadow. The only thing that Jesse can make out is a red glint around the eyes.

“Haven’t I killed you somewhere before?” Reaper asks. His voice is full of vocal fry, but if Jesse listens carefully, he can imagine Gabe’s gruff voice under it all.

“You’ve got me mistaken for someone else,” Jesse says, his own voice coming out rough. He shakes his head a little bit, as if to clear it. This isn’t how he pictured this going - though, if he’s being honest, he really hadn’t let himself think this far ahead.

“You’ve been prowling around Venice,” Reaper says. “Why?”

“Just visiting,” Jesse says. “Thought I’d see the sights.”

“Who do you work for?”

“Nobody,” Jesse says. Reaper pushes himself off the edge of the table and advances on Jesse. Jesse tilts his head back to look at him. He still can’t see his face under the shadow of the hood, but there’s no doubt in Jesse’s mind that it’s Gabe. His chest aches.

“You’re lying,” Reaper says.

“I ain’t,” Jesse says. “I work for myself.”

Reaper’s hand shoots out and grabs Jesse by the throat. Jesse chokes. He feels something sharp pressing into his neck - not a knife, but a few points of pain digging into his skin. He struggles to draw breath. Reaper leans his face in closer and, finally, Jesse gets a look at his face.

There are more scars than Jesse remembers. The newer scars look raw, as if they haven’t healed completely or correctly. Though the shadow of the hood hides some of the details, Jesse swears he can see some of the muscles and sinew peeking through the scars. Wisps of smoke ooze from some of the fresher scars, which reminds Jesse of the way Gabe would smoke out after his sessions with Moira. His skin looks pale, almost bloodless, an odd, inhuman grey color.

It’s him, though. Jesse knows that face. He clenches his hands against the arms of the chair, struggling to draw breath.

“Who do you work for?” Reaper asks, his eyes flashing red.

“Nobody,” Jesse manages to choke out. Reaper releases his grip on Jesse’s throat and turns back to the metal table. Jesse drops his head, taking a few deep breaths while Reaper’s back is turned. He has to get himself back under control.

Reaper turns back around. Jesse picks up his head slowly to see that he’s holding up a syringe to show Jesse. Jesse notices the sharp claws at the ends of Reaper’s gloved fingers. He isn’t sure which threat he should focus on.

“I’ll ask one more time,” Reaper says, advancing on Jesse slowly. “Who do you work for?”

Jesse shakes his head. “I told you. Nobody,” he says.

Reaper steps in close and uses the claws on his left hand to rip open the sleeve of Jesse’s shirt. The claws catch skin and Jesse hisses through his teeth.

“You’ll tell me,” Reaper says. He slides the syringe into Jesse’s arm. “You’ll tell me everything.”

Jesse does his best to keep his breathing under control as he watches Reaper depress the plunger. There’s no telling what is in that syringe.

“I ain’t telling you shit,” Jesse says. He can’t tell if the drug is making his heart beat faster or if it’s just his own nerves. Reaper turns to drop the syringe back onto the metal table.

“You don’t have a choice,” Reaper says, a sneer in his voice. Jesse tugs ineffectively against the bindings holding him to the chair.

“We’ll see,” Jesse says. His mouth feels dry, his head is beginning to feel heavy again. He fights against it as best he can.

“Who sent you?”

“I sent myself,” Jesse says. His heart feels like it’s going to beat out of his chest. Reaper leans in close again.

“Don’t fight it,” Reaper says. “Who are you looking for?”

Jesse lifts his eyes to look at Reaper again, scanning his face, searching for any bit of recognition. Gabe was always infuriatingly unreadable, but Reaper is something else entirely - there’s anger etched into every scar, the glare of his eyes, the curl of his lips. Jesse’s chest aches.

“Gabriel Reyes,” Jesse says before his brain catches up with his mouth. He tries to remember the kinds of drugs that could be used to loosen the tongue - scopolamine, amobarbital, midazolam. Truth serums, though technically these drugs really only lower inhibitions, and some subjects are more suggestible than others. Jesse bites down on his tongue, trying to force himself to focus.

Gabe already knew all of Jesse’s secrets. But Reaper is a different person.

“Gabriel Reyes is dead,” Reaper says forcefully. Jesse’s chest feels tight again and he’s pretty sure it’s not because of the drugs this time. “Who are you working for?”

Jesse shakes his head. His heart is still beating too fast and his eyelids feel heavy. It takes all of his concentration to keep his head up.

Reaper seizes Jesse by the throat again. He can feel the claws of Reaper’s gloves scraping against his skin. One of the claws almost definitely breaks skin.

“There are other ways to get you to talk,” Reaper growls, bringing his face closer to Jesse’s. Jesse feels a trickle of blood work its way down his collar.

“Not if - I can’t - breathe,” Jesse manages to say. Reaper gives him a disgusted look, tightening his hand slightly before finally letting go. Jesse sucks in his breath. “I don’t got any answers you wanna hear, anyway.”

“Why are you here?”

“I told you already,” Jesse says. “I’m looking for Gabriel Reyes.”

Reaper says nothing, though Jesse swears he can see more smoke oozing out from under his hood.

“Don’t you remember me?” Jesse asks, again before he can stop himself. He watches Reaper’s face for any sign of recognition. Is that a flicker of recognition, or is that wishful thinking on Jesse’s part?

“We know who you are,” Reaper says.

“That ain’t what I asked,” Jesse says. His heart rate is slowing, his eyelids growing heavier again. He forces himself to sit up straighter, as best as he can, being cuffed at four points. “I asked if you remember me.”

Reaper’s sullen silence is enough confirmation for Jesse. The little flare of hope that Gabe might still be in there is snuffed out. Jesse hadn’t let himself think too much on it, but even still, the realization is devastating. The fight goes out of him. He lets himself give into whatever drug Reaper had injected him with. He just wants all this suffering to end.

“Listen,” Jesse says. He swallows thickly, his mouth too dry. “You either kill me or don’t, but I ain’t gonna tell you anything you wanna hear. So just get it over with, won’t you?”

Reaper doesn’t move, doesn’t say anything, for a long time. Jesse keeps jerking upright involuntarily even as his body succumbs to the influence of the drug. His eyes don’t leave Reaper, though. He watches as more smoke oozes out from under his hood, escapes from the seams of his clothes. Jesse wonders vaguely if smoke will kill him after all.

All of a sudden, in one fluid movement, Reaper turns back to the metal table and lunges back at Jesse in one quick movement. Jesse sees the flash of another syringe before Reaper plunges it into his neck. He cries out, but the drug takes effect quickly. It feels like his body rapidly turns to stone, his limbs going heavy and useless, paralyzed. Jesse rolls his eyes up to try to meet Reaper’s gaze.

“Gabe -” Jesse chokes out, before the paralysis takes over his throat too. He feels his heart stop, and everything goes black.

♦ ♦ ♦

Jesse wakes with a pounding headache, face down on the bare mattress he’s been sleeping on during his stay in Venice. He feels like he’s been hit by a truck. With difficulty, he rolls into his back, the room spinning with the movement.

All at once, the memory of Reaper and his interrogation room comes back to Jesse. He swears, then retches. He makes it over the side of the mattress before the bile comes up. His stomach is empty, so the bile splatters on the floor. Jesse stays there, hanging over the side of the mattress, the acidic smell nearly making him throw up again.

Had the encounter with Reaper been real?

If so, how did he get back here?

Slowly, Jesse pulls himself upright, even though the room spins. It feels like he’s hungover - but somehow worse. He rubs a hand over his face.

Suddenly, he realizes that he’s back in his safehouse. He doesn’t remember bringing himself here, either. Jesse sticks his hand under his pillow, feeling for Peacekeeper, but she’s not there. He feels the bile come up again as the realization that he didn’t bring himself back to the safehouse. Reaper did.

Jesse lurches to his feet, casting around for his revolver. He needs to find his gun and get the hell out of Venice. Finally, he spots Peacekeeper resting on the rickety card table in the corner. Jesse checks the chamber - all the bullets are still there. He takes the gun apart to inspect every last inch. As far as he can tell, she hasn’t been tampered with. Jesse puts Peacekeeper back together slowly. He needs to move, get out of here. The safehouse is no longer safe, and if Reaper knows this place, who knows who else has eyes on him. Talon could take him in, or tip off the authorities. Jesse’s pretty sure Italy has an extradition treaty with any number of the countries Jesse is wanted in. He’ll pack up and hop the first train out of here.

As he snaps the last piece of his revolver back into place, he realizes he isn’t going to leave Venice. He still has a job to do, and he’s not one to leave a job unfinished. Jesse came here to track down Reaper and get some answers. He’s managed to track him down, sort of, but he still needs answers. He’s not going to run away now. He’s been running from everything for a long time. It was about time he stood his ground. In the back of his mind, he knows that this is going to end up with his death or Reaper’s.

♦ ♦ ♦

The next night, Jesse wanders the city aimlessly, not bothering to take any detection precautions. He notices his coverage almost instantly - it looks like Talon agents again, but this time they keep their distance. They’re definitely following him, though. Jesse doesn’t pay them any mind. He gets himself a nice dinner and tries not to think of it as a last meal. The sun sets over the canals, and Jesse can almost agree that the sight is a pretty one.

After dinner, his tail stays on him the rest of the night. Jesse wanders until the wee hours of the morning. The Talon agents make no move to take him in. Jesse returns to his no-longer-safe house and practically makes eye contact with the agents as he lets himself in. He sits with Peacekeeper in his lap, facing the door, until the sun is fully risen, but nobody kicks down the door. Bemused, Jesse puts himself to bed with his revolver under his pillow. He falls asleep and sleeps undisturbed through the afternoon.

At night, he gets up and does it all over again.

Nothing happens until the third day. Jesse almost considers inviting the Talon agents to dinner, but resists the temptation. He finishes his dinner without incident and begins his aimless wanderings as usual. A little before midnight, Jesse notices that the agents tailing him have peeled off. Jesse perks up. His feet take him to a slightly more secluded part of town but, for another hour or maybe two, there’s no sign of additional coverage. Jesse keeps his hand near his gun, just in case.

It isn’t until Jesse is finally making his way back to his not-so-safe house that he senses he’s being watched again. Sunrise is not far off, but the night is as black as ever. The hairs on the back of his neck prickle but his steps don’t falter. He takes a side route, down an alley not too far from the safehouse. There’s a sound like wind through fabric behind him, followed by the sound of boots on cobblestone. Jesse wheels on the spot, Peacekeeper drawn.

In the darkness of the Venice night, Jesse can see the red of Reaper’s eyes.

Jesse fires a shot before he has time to think about it. Reaper dissolves into smoke. Jesse loses track of him, the smoke blending into the night. He takes a half step back as he tries to make out the difference between shadow and smoke. He hears the rustle of cloth again, too late - Reaper reforms and slams Jesse into the alley wall. Jesse’s head bounces off the stone. He tries to bring Peacekeeper back up, but Reaper has a grip around his wrist. Reaper slams his wrist against the wall. His other hand goes for Jesse’s throat. He’s strong. Jesse’s finger slips on the trigger, sending another shot down the alley. Reaper presses on Jesse’s wrist until his bones shift under his grip and Jesse finally drops the gun. Jesse hears it clatter to the cobblestones underfoot.

“You,” Jesse growls.

“Why are you still here?” Reaper asks in his gravelly voice.

“Seeing the sights,” Jesse says flippantly. “It’s such a romantic city.”

Reaper’s fingers tighten around Jesse’s throat in a way that is becoming all-too familiar. Jesse swallows as best he can. He can feel the claws digging into his skin again.

“You should have left when you could,” Reaper says.

“You should’ve killed me when you could,” Jesse shoots back. Reaper’s grip tightens more, making the breath catch in Jesse’s throat.

“I still can,” Reaper says.

“Then - why - don’t - you?” Jesse asks. Reaper doesn’t say anything. Under his hood, Jesse can barely make out the red gleam of his eyes. After a long moment, as Jesse’s vision starts to blur from lack of air, Reaper’s grip loosens just enough for Jesse to draw breath.

“I remember you,” Reaper says. The words come out haltingly, stilted. Jesse doesn’t know what to say for a minute - he’s not sure if it’s a trick. And if it is, to what end? If Reaper wanted to kill him, he could do so without the psychological torture. Unless that was half the fun for him.

“I don’t believe you,” Jesse says finally.

“I was Gabriel Reyes,” Reaper says.

“Was?”

“He’s dead,” Reaper says forcefully, his fingers tightening around Jesse’s throat again. Jesse gives a little cough, and Reaper’s grip loosens.

“Looks to me like he’s standing right in front of me,” Jesse says. Reaper shakes his head.

“Gabriel Reyes is gone,” Reaper says.

“You just said you remember me,” Jesse points out. A voice in the back of his mind warns him not to antagonize the terrorist, but his self-preservation skills were never very good.

“It’s… complicated.”

Jesse manages not to roll his eyes. He doesn’t understand what the game is here.

“I’m only interested in talking to Gabriel Reyes,” Jesse says. “He’s why I’m here.”

Jesse feels the fingers around his throat loosen more. He manages to duck out from under Reaper’s grip. He doesn’t mean to run away, but Reaper catches the hem of Jesse’s sleeve to keep him from going too far.

“It’s complicated.”

“Yeah, you said.”

Reaper huffs out a breath. It’s a sound so familiar that Jesse’s heart skips a beat.

“Gabriel Reyes died,” Reaper says. Jesse grits his teeth against the myriad of smart responses that threaten to spill out.

“You said that too,” Jesse says. Reaper makes a frustrated noise. Jesse is beginning to lose his patience.

“When he died, I was born,” Reaper says. It sounds so absurdly dramatic that Jesse can’t hold back his scoff.

“Great,” Jesse says. “Listen, I told you. I don’t care who you are. If you’re not Gabriel Reyes, then I don’t give a fuck. I’ll kill you and move on. Easy as pie.”

“You wouldn’t,” Reaper says.

“Fuck you, I would.”

“Then why don’t you?”

Jesse makes a noise and scrubs a hand roughly over his face. He starts to bend down to retrieve his gun, but Reaper slams him back up against the wall.

“Oh, fuck you,” Jesse says with a wheeze. Reaper pushes his hood back with his free hand, keeping his other hand pressed tightly against Jesse’s sternum. The sky is just beginning to lighten, the shadows shrouding Reaper’s face giving way to the deep purple light of early morning.

Jesse loses his breath again, but not because his trachea is being compressed, but because the face that’s looking at him is painfully familiar. It looks different outside of Reaper’s torture chamber. The scars are the same, old and new barely holding his face together, the eyes are still glowing red, and smoke still oozes from the seams in his skin. But the expression behind the eyes, the furrow between the eyebrows - there’s something there that Jesse didn’t see before. A flash of pain rips through his chest, having nothing to do with the firm hand that holds him to the wall. His feigned indifference melts away, leaving his chest aching.

“Just - just kill me, alright?” Jesse manages to say. “I’m too old to be playing games like this.”

“I should kill you,” Reaper says, nodding.

“But you like playing with your food?” Jesse asks. He makes a half-hearted attempt to slip free from Reaper’s grip again. Reaper tightens his fingers. Jesse can feel his claws through the fabric of his shirt.

“Listen,” Jesse says. “I came looking for Gabe because I wanted answers. If you ain’t gonna give me anything, then just kill me, because there ain’t no point to going on living otherwise.”

A strange, unreadable expression passes over Reaper’s face.

“I’m not who I was,” Reaper says slowly.

“But you’re him,” Jesse says, though it comes out more like a question.

“I’m… I’m not sure,” Reaper says. Jesse makes a frustrated noise.

“You either are or you ain’t.”

“I don’t know!” Reaper growls, giving Jesse a little shove against the wall. Jesse is pretty sure his ribs are, at least, bruised. He winces.

“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” Jesse says. “You either gotta tell it to me straight or -”

“It’s not safe to talk here,” Reaper cuts him off.

“You were the one who stopped me,” Jesse says. Reaper scowls at Jesse, and suddenly Jesse can see more of Gabe in his face than ever before. He swallows thickly. He has to remind himself that there’s no way to know that Reaper is Gabe - not now, not for sure. This could still be an elaborate trap.

“I know where we can speak safely,” Reaper says. Jesse narrows his eyes. Definitely a trap.

“Sure, then you truss me up and deliver me to the highest bidder,” Jesse says. “I know they ain’t picky about whether I’m dead or alive.”

“I’m not going to kill you,” Reaper says. He drops his hand away from Jesse’s chest. He looks surprised, his eyes going slightly wider, as if he didn’t mean to say those words. Still, Jesse doesn’t trust it.

“Change of heart?” Jesse says.

“If we’re going to talk, we can’t do it in the open,” Reaper says.

“Well, you probably shouldn’t kill me out in the open either,” Jesse says. Reaper scowls again.

Jesse huffs a breath out and drags a hand over his face. If Jesse’s being honest with himself, he doesn’t have much to live for. The fact that he’s made it this far is a miracle in itself - should’ve been dead when he was a teenager, and there were plenty of times he should’ve been dead at any time after. He’s done the best he can to make the world a better place and has little to show for it. He’s probably done more harm than good. The world might just be a better place if Jesse McCree wasn’t in it.

So, if Reaper was going to kill him, it wouldn’t be a huge loss, not really. Jesse’s tired of playing games, though. The only thing that actually matters to him at this point is figuring out if Reaper is Gabriel. After that, he doesn’t care what happens.

He just wants it to be over.

“Alright,” Jesse says finally. “Let’s talk.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Reaper takes Jesse through the city, walking quickly as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. Jesse follows closely, his revolver tucked back into his holster. He keeps a hand instinctively near the butt of his gun as they walk. He doesn’t trust any of this and he doesn’t want to be caught empty-handed. Yet, he’s still letting Reaper take him to god knows where.

The sun is halfway up by the time Reaper stops in another alley, at a side door of one of the canal-side mansions that has seen better days. He flicks some tiny switch under the doorknob and a biometric scanner slides out from the door. Jesse raises his eyebrows but doesn’t say anything. When the door clicks open, Reaper steps to the side to allow Jesse in ahead of him. Jesse’s fingers brush the handle of his gun as he steps inside.

It takes a moment for his vision to adjust to the relative darkness of the interior. He hears the door click shut behind him.

There is no ambush.

Jesse doesn’t relax, exactly, but his shoulders come down a notch.

“This way,” Reaper says behind Jesse. Jesse turns towards the sound of his voice and then follows Reaper down a narrow hallway then up a flight of stairs. The steps creak precariously underneath Jesse’s feet, though Reaper doesn’t seem to have that problem.

As Jesse’s eyes adjust, he’s able to make out more details of the interior. The elaborate wallpaper is faded and peeling, the plaster moldings along the edges of the ceiling are cracked and stained. The brass fixtures could use a good polish. A damp smell of decay permeates everything, compounded by the scent of the briny canal outside. Jesse wonders how much of the decay is for show and how much of it is original - the biometric scanner in the front certainly indicates there’s more than meets the eye.

Jesse follows Reaper through the villa until he stops in a room that looks like it might have been a parlor at some point but is now some kind of command or security center. There is an enormous red velvet sofa along one wall, the velvet faded and worn in some places, though a large blanket covers up some of the damage to the cushions. In one corner, several screens are crammed together, showing pages of data and feeds of locations Jesse can’t place immediately. He doesn’t get the chance to get a closer look - Reaper goes over and turns off the screens.

Jesse stands awkwardly in the middle of the room, his hand still close to the butt of his gun. He doesn’t know what to expect next.

When Reaper turns back around to face Jesse, it becomes apparent that Reaper doesn’t know either.

“Well?” Jesse says. “Are we gonna talk or are you gonna kill me?”

Reaper pushes his hood back, giving Jesse a full view of his face. It’s painfully familiar, in spite of the waxiness of his skin. Jesse tries not to let the little details give him hope. If it’s Gabe’s body that Reaper occupies, he’s done a poor job taking care of it.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Reaper says slowly. “I’m not sure why. I should.”

Jesse waves his hand, trying to get him to hurry up, cut the crap, get to the point. Reaper looks unsure, though, maybe… scared?

“You’re not the only one who wants to kill me,” Jesse says.

“I’m not going to,” Reaper says again, more firmly this time. He hesitates. “Are you going to kill me?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Jesse says, though he drops his hand from his gun. “Jack and Ana are looking for you, you know. I reckon they’re interested in killing you.”

“They’re fools,” Reaper says forcefully. Jesse shrugs.

“They’re pretty sure you’re Gabe,” Jesse says. “And it looks a whole lot like Gabriel Reyes was - is - working with Talon, which, you can imagine, is problematic as hell.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Reaper says.

“You better start talking, then,” Jesse says. He watches Reaper take in a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling.

The silence stretches on.

Jesse’s about to turn and leave when Reaper finally speaks again.

“I only ever wanted to make the world a better place,” Reaper says finally, quietly. Jesse feels his breath catch in his throat.

“You thought Talon was the answer?” Jesse asks. It comes out harsher than he means to, but the implied admission that Reaper is Gabe makes the anger inside him flare up.

“No,” Reaper says. He lifts his gaze to meet Jesse’s eyes, and there’s a weariness there, an underlying sadness that makes Jesse look away. Jesse’s not yet ready to believe him, to trust anything he says. “It’s a long story.”

“Try me.”

Reaper takes another deep breath, and then he starts talking.

♦ ♦ ♦

Much of the story is familiar to Jesse; the struggle to keep Blackwatch going, fighting with the UN for funding, fighting with Jack to keep the strike team afloat, bending rules, breaking them. Jesse remembers it all vividly. They were just trying to keep the world safe - that was their only goal. They worked hard to stop bad things before they happened, or to intervene to keep things from getting worse. There were long, sleepless nights, weeks on end of constant pressure, constant work, with no break in sight. They were run ragged. Nobody in Overwatch or the UN liked to acknowledge the work that Blackwatch had to do, but they kept asking them to do their dirty work for them. It was frustrating, infuriating - but the ends were worth it.

That’s what they kept telling themselves. They were saving the world.

Then the SEP serum started deteriorating. Jesse knew about most of that - or so he thought. Reaper describes the pain, the headaches, the double vision, the feeling that he was going to shake apart. Jesse remembers holding Gabe and trying to comfort him during a particularly bad episode; a nightmare that had turned into a panic attack left Gabe shaking and sweating, in physical and psychological pain. There was nothing Jesse could do to help, and nothing that the Overwatch medical team gave Gabe seemed to help.

Moira had been on the team for some time by then. Jesse had never liked her - there was something about her that he could never trust entirely. When Gabe had turned to her for the genetic rehabilitation, Jesse was extremely skeptical, suspicious even. But he couldn’t deny that Gabe seemed to get better after they started their sessions.

Until Moira convinced Gabe to try out some additional experiments. Jesse had been away - Blackwatch had been sidelined, and Jesse was assigned to babysit Dr. Liao in Singapore. Gabe had mentioned the experimental treatments when they managed to find time for video calls. Jesse remembers being suspicious, even angry. They fought. Jesse was afraid. Gabe was stubborn. He ended up letting Moira experiment on him, without telling Jesse. That’s when the smoking started happening. Jesse remembers coming back from Singapore and Gabe having one of his nightmares - except this time he dissolved into smoke in Jesse’s arms. Jesse had never been so terrified in his entire life.

“She manipulated me at the most essential level,” Reaper says. “It wasn’t just physical. It was psychological.”

Jesse crosses his arms over his chest tightly, biting his tongue. He knew that already too - something was off about Gabe when Jesse was recalled from Singapore. Gabe had always been hard-headed, stubborn. But he was more combative, then, pushing ahead when he should’ve bided his time. He was more evasive, secretive. His arguments with Jack were more and more explosive. The rules got bent and broken more frequently, mission parameters were changed on the fly. Jesse and Gabe argued more. A wedge was driven between them. Jesse felt like Gabe was slipping away - he just didn’t know how much at the time.

“It wasn’t just Moira,” Reaper says. There’s an almost mournful note in his voice. “There were others - Overwatch, Blackwatch, the UN. It was all rotten from the inside.”

“I remember,” Jesse says tightly. Gabe had been relentless - he was singularly focused on cleaning house, even as threats piled up elsewhere. No matter how much Jesse tried to convince him otherwise, Gabe had been completely focused on uprooting the corruption he believed existed within Overwatch. Gabe’s utter refusal to listen to Jesse drove Jesse to the brink. Jesse had begged him to listen; he was on Gabe’s side, he wanted to help, but Gabe had refused. He said he wanted to protect Jesse, but he kept pushing Jesse away. Jesse broke first - he couldn’t take it anymore, so he left.

It turns out that Gabe had been right about the corruption in Overwatch… except he was part of it.

“So you blew up the Swiss base?” Jesse asks. Reaper steps towards Jesse, finger raised and pointing at his chest.

“I did not blow up the base,” Reaper says, jabbing his finger into Jesse’s chest. “I was trying to warn Jack. He wouldn’t listen - they did it. Talon.”

“So you let them do it,” Jesse says. “Because you work for them.”

“No,” Reaper says forcefully. “I told you. Gabriel Reyes died in that explosion.”

“I ain’t following,” Jesse says. “You’re telling me all about Gabe, but you aren’t him?”

Reaper makes a frustrated noise. “It’s - I’m -” he stops, shakes his head. He paces away from Jesse, turning his back on him. Silence stretches on. Jesse tastes blood in his mouth - he realizes that he has been biting down on the inside of his cheek.

“It’s complicated,” Reaper says yet again. Jesse doesn’t say anything. Reaper half turns back to Jesse. “When I woke up after the explosion, I was with Talon. I was Reaper. They had - they had put me back together. They let me believe that the explosion was Jack’s doing. All I could feel was anger and - and they used that. They weaponized it. All I wanted was revenge. I told them, over and over, I tried to warn them and nobody listened.”

Jesse shakes his head. He’s heard this all before, but it rings differently coming from Reaper. He let Talon take him in, twist him into the person that stands before him.

“You’re a terrorist,” he says, his heart breaking all over again. Everything he knew about Gabriel Reyes was a lie.

“I was brainwashed,” Reaper says, raising his voice. “I was manipulated. I am Reaper, but I’m - Gabriel Reyes is in here too.”

Reaper falls silent. He’s watching Jesse, waiting for… something. Jesse can’t begin to imagine what Reaper expects from him. Acceptance? An apology?

“You lied to me,” Jesse says, finally. Reaper looks taken aback, as if that wasn’t what he was expecting. Jesse lifts his chin to look him in the eye. “You kept saying you weren’t Gabe, but all this time, you were.”

Reaper starts to open his mouth but Jesse keeps going.

“You told me, you promised me that you’d protect me,” Jesse says, his own voice getting louder. “You said from day one that I could trust you, that you’d always be honest with me. You were supposed to look out for me - don’t you remember that? I was practically still a kid, broken and bleeding in cuffs when you took me in and told me that so long as I trusted you, you’d protect me. I gave you everything, god damn it. And then you turned around and lied - you went behind my back, you pushed me away, you got yourself fucking blown up -”

Jesse stops, breathing hard, his emotions threatening to get the better of him. He takes a shaky breath in.

“Trust don’t work if it’s only one way, you remember me saying that? You stopped trusting me somewhere along the way,” Jesse says, his voice going softer, rougher. “I could’ve helped you, we could’ve avoided all of this bullshit if you had just trusted me.”

“Jesse,” Reaper says. There’s something about his voice that sounds so very much like Gabe, that Jesse feels like he’s going to lose his mind.

“Don’t fucking -” Jesse starts to say, his voice breaking. He stops, shakes his head. “You’re a terrorist, a monster, just like they said.”

Hurt flashes across Reaper’s face, plain as day. Jesse feels his chest clench up.

“I’m trying to fix it,” Reaper says, almost pleadingly. Jesse shakes his head.

“How? By killing Overwatch agents? By killing Jack and Ana, just because they didn’t listen to you? How the fuck is that supposed to make it right?” Jesse asks. “You’re doing the same damn thing you did before - you don’t see the harm you’re doing. You’re a fucking terrorist!”

Reaper’s shoulders sag.

“I need help,” he says. He says it so quietly that Jesse thinks for a moment that he imagined it. Jesse blinks at Reaper. “I need help, Jesse.”

Jesse stares at him, his mind trying to catch up.

“When I first saw you show up in Venice, something in me shifted,” Reaper says, his voice still quiet. “I - something had been wrong for a long time. I had… flashes. Moments of clarity where I realized that something wasn’t right. Talon’s hold on me has been slipping, Jesse. I don’t think they know. I think - I need a way out. I need help.”

All those years ago, Jesse would’ve given anything to hear Gabe admit he needed help. Now, it just hurts.

“You run Talon,” Jesse says.

“A council runs Talon,” Reaper corrects. “Doomfist is consolidating his power. I don’t think the council will last. He wants a war.”

“How the fuck am I supposed to trust you?” Jesse asks. “How do I know that this isn’t some kind of trap?”

There’s something helpless about the way Reaper looks at him. Jesse looks away, rubs a hand over his face. He’s angry. He can’t trust him. He shouldn’t trust him. He’s been hurt, physically and emotionally - he was abandoned. He was lied to. He was tortured. But there’s something inside of Jesse that never gave up on Gabe.

“Jesse,” Reaper says again. Jesse can hear Gabe’s voice under Reaper’s vocal fry.

Jesse hates that he can give in so easily.

“What are you asking me to do?” Jesse asks. He feels suddenly so very, very tired. He never stopped loving Gabe, not when he left Blackwatch, not when he found out he was masquerading as Reaper. Jesse always knew he would die for him.

“I want to take down Talon,” Reaper says.

♦ ♦ ♦

Jesse still doesn’t trust him. Their plan, if it can be called that, comes together easily - it feels like old times for a moment; the two of them, side by side in front of Reaper’s screens, plotting points of entry and exit, debating the approach, arguing about the most effective methods. Jesse finds himself watching Reaper out of the corner of his eye, watching the way he studies the floorplans of the Talon facility. He can see glimmers of Gabe there, though he still can’t quite let himself believe it.

Their plan is risky. Too many things can go wrong. Jesse only really agrees to it because he doesn’t have anything to lose. He knew going into this that it was all going to end with either him or Reaper dying, and, as far as Jesse can tell, Reaper can’t get hurt like he can.

They get ready. Reaper ties Jesse’s hands behind his back, pulling the rope tight. His touch is surprisingly light, though, his fingers brushing the back of Jesse’s flesh hand before he pulls away.

“Alright?” Reaper asks.

“It’s fine,” Jesse says shortly. Reaper comes around to Jesse’s front and holds up the gag. Jesse gives him a curt nod and Reaper covers Jesse’s mouth, reaching behind to secure it behind his head. Jesse finds himself scanning Reaper’s face. The more time he spends in Reaper’s company, the more Jesse finds himself blurring the line between the Gabe he knew and Reaper. It’s harder and harder not to.

“Alright?” Reaper asks again. Jesse nods this time, not able to speak. Reaper nods too, then seems to steel himself. He reaches for his mask and sets it on his face before he pulls his hood up. “Let’s move.”

Reaper takes Jesse into the heart of the Venetian Talon facility, on one of the small islands off of the main city. The building is old and impressive, though Jesse only gets a fleeting look at the exterior before Reaper pushes him inside. The interior of the building stands in stark contrast to the historical exterior - the floors are gleaming and modern, the walls are lined with screens. If Jesse didn’t know any better, he would’ve assumed that this was an Overwatch facility. Talon agents scatter when Reaper draws nearer. They cast curious looks at Jesse, though they keep their distance. Reaper takes Jesse down a hallway, giving him a little shove that Jesse hopes is for show.

They end up in the same interrogation room from before. Jesse stiffens when he spots the metal chair bolted to the floor. Reaper puts the palm of his hand between Jesse’s shoulder blades, though if it’s meant to be a reassuring gesture, it misses the mark. The door slams shut behind them and Reaper turns Jesse around before shoving him back into the chair. Jesse goes down with a grunt. Reaper paces in front of Jesse.

“Do you see the camera?” Reaper asks. Jesse struggles a little with the rope binding his hands. He feels the rope give around his metal wrist. He follows the tilt of Reaper’s head to see the camera mounted in the ceiling corner to his left.

“Yeah,” Jesse says. Reaper wheels around to face Jesse again, dropping his hands to the arms of the chair and getting in Jesse’s face. Jesse leans back and away, feigning intimidation for the camera.

“Like we planned then,” Reaper says. Jesse grins for show. His hand slips free of the ropes and he whips Peacekeeper from the waistband of his pants. He brings the revolver around and fires it into Reaper’s chest. Reaper dissolves into smoke as Jesse pulls the trigger. Jesse turns the gun on the camera and shoots out the lens just as Reaper envelopes Jesse in smoke.

Reaper hadn’t gone into much details about this part. The smoke wraps around Jesse and he chokes on it, at first, as it fills his mouth and lungs. Then the most peculiar feeling sets in and - Jesse has to remind himself not to panic - he feels himself come apart. His molecules separate and mingle with Reaper’s, the two of them a cloud of smoke. Jesse struggles to cling to his consciousness. He feels himself moving, though he can’t really perceive where he’s going. He holds on as best as he can.

When they reform, Jesse drops to his knees. Above him, he can feel Reaper hovering.

“Are you okay?” Reaper asks. Jesse holds up a finger, sucking in lungfuls of air as he tries to get his bearings. He did not enjoy that. Finally, he gets back to his feet, shaky.

“Is it always like that?” Jesse asks. Reaper shrugs. He’s taken off his mask and set it down on top of what looks like a munitions box.

“You get used to it,” Reaper says. Jesse tries to shake it off, but his molecules did not appreciate the shakeup. He looks around instead, trying to bring his focus to the task at hand. Reaper brought them into the armory, just like he promised. Jesse exhales.

“It sure looks like they’re gearing up for a war,” Jesse says.

“This isn’t the only facility,” Reaper says grimly.

“Well, we’ve gotta start somewhere,” Jesse says. “Where are the rest of the ordnance?”

Reaper leads Jesse through the armory to where the heavy weapons are stored. Jesse is impressed and horrified at the variety of munitions Talon has stockpiled. If there’s more than one facility as Reaper said, the scale of destruction that Talon is capable of is truly appalling. Overwatch will never be able to handle Talon and the Omnic threat.

Reaper stops in front of a locker full of explosives. He looks at Jesse.

“You sure you want me to do this?” Jesse asks. Reaper nods. Somewhere in the distance, Jesse hears an alarm go off. “What’s that?”

Reaper frowns, glancing behind him. “A complication.”

“Is that going to be a problem?” Jesse asks, already pulling explosives into a pile. He starts pulling wires free, twisting the wires from one explosive to connect to another. Reaper moves a few steps away to a gun locker.

“Maybe,” Reaper says. He pulls down two enormous shotguns. Jesse works faster.

“You’re going to get us killed,” Jesse says. “Actually, you’re going to get me killed.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Reaper says. The alarm gets louder.

“You know, you say that,” Jesse says, drawing more ordinances into his pile. “But you have a track record, you know.”

“You’re still alive,” Reaper points out. He tucks a handgun into his waistband.

“For now,” Jesse says. “What I mean is, you have a habit of kicking the hornet’s nest.”

“I thought we’d have more time,” Reaper says. He comes back over to Jesse and holds out a bandolier of what looks like flash grenades. Jesse slings it over his head, still trying to get his make-shift bomb together. “Are you done yet?”

“Don’t rush me,” Jesse says. He accidentally zaps himself, but keeps working.

“We don’t have much of a choice,” Reaper says.

“I’m very much aware of that,” Jesse says. He glances up at Reaper and sees Gabe’s face looking down at him. Jesse feels his chest clench up. He pushes the feeling aside. He has to focus. He connects a few more wires and gets to his feet. “Alright.”

“We need to move,” Reaper says. Jesse presses a button on the top of his jury-rigged bomb. The timer starts counting down from five minutes.

“After you,” Jesse says, gesturing for Reaper to walk ahead of him. As Reaper steps forward, the door to the armory bursts inwards and Talon agents pour inside. “Well, fuck.”

Reaper launches himself into the fray, Jesse close at his heels. Without thinking, the two of them fall into sync, taking down the Talon agents as they come. Reaper shoots someone coming up behind Jesse and Jesse rolls under Reaper’s extended arm to stun another agent with a flash grenade. The movements come back to Jesse as easily as if they had never stopped working with each other. The realization strikes Jesse as he watches Reaper take out a Talon agent with a blow to the back of the head. Reaper meets Jesse’s eye and gives him the barest nod before he moves to meet the next attacker. Jesse pushes down the emotion that rises up in the back of his throat.

Together, they fight their way out of the armory. Reaper manages to shut the door behind them, locking the last of the Talon agents inside. He shoots the lock and then gestures for Jesse to follow him.

“Quickly,” Reaper says. Jesse is at his heels.

“We have two minutes, maybe more,” Jesse says. Reaper nods.

“This way.”

Reaper leads Jesse out of the weapons storage wing. Alarms are blaring - the facility is going into lockdown. As they round a corner, they come face to face with another group of agents. Jesse can practically feel the laser sights trained on him. He raises Peacekeeper again.

“Just like old times, huh?”

The fight in the hallway is more difficult - without cover, Jesse has to keep moving. He gets a fist to the side of the head and a bullet grazes his shoulder. He tucks and rolls, bringing his revolver up first and then his fist. An agent falls in front of him, and Jesse scrambles over the body. Reaper is a few steps ahead of him, melting between agents, half-smoked out. He moves like Gabe used to - light on his feet and deadly precise. Jesse surges forward, following in Reaper’s wake. Together, they clear a path and manage to get themselves clear. They hurry down another hallway, then another.

“An exit would be good,” Jesse says, jogging to keep up with Reaper.

“We’re getting there.”

“Faster would be better.”

“Just keep moving.”

Under Jesse’s feet, the building shakes.

“Gabe -” Jesse says, and then the explosion rips through the facility. In the split second before everything goes black, Jesse sees Gabe’s face turn back to him, arm extended. Jesse pitches forward with the force of the explosion, his own hand reaching out for Gabe’s.

♦ ♦ ♦

“Hey,” a voice says. “Hey, come on.”

Someone is shaking him. Jesse blearily blinks his eyes open, head throbbing. He’s vaguely aware that he’s sitting on something, and he can smell acrid smoke in the air around him. Fire crackles somewhere behind him. He can taste blood in his mouth and his head is throbbing something awful. He blinks rapidly. Gabe is kneeling in front of him, a cut over his eye oozing something black. He’s holding Jesse up with one hand on his shoulder, the other on Jesse’s knee.

“We made it?” Jesse asks. Relief passes over Gabe’s face. There’s something not quite right about it - he looks too pale, there’s more scars than he remembers - but he’s smiling now, that breathless, relieved smile that Jesse remembers after so many missions.

“Yeah,” Gabe says. “We made it.”

Jesse huffs out a laugh. He ducks forward, closing the space between them, pressing a kiss to Gabe’s mouth. Gabe makes a surprised noise, pulls back a little, but Jesse catches his shoulder to keep him from going too far.

“Jesse,” Gabe says uncertainly. Jesse looks at him, really looks at him this time, and realizes he’s looking at Reaper. The escape from the Talon facility comes back to him in a rush - the explosion, Reaper smoking out and bringing Jesse with him. Jesse digs his fingers into the shoulder under his hand. It’s solid, real. He scans the face that’s looking at him - the pinched brow, the scars, the facial hair. His skin is waxy and pale, and his eyes are red, but…

“Gabe,” Jesse says.

“You hit your head.”

“Yeah,” Jesse agrees. “Pretty hard, I reckon.”

Still, Jesse reaches up and cups Reaper’s - Gabe’s face with one hand. He rubs his thumb over the line of Gabe’s cheekbone. Gabe looks back at him, hesitation clear in his expression.

There’s still a long way to go, Jesse knows that. He knows that trust will take time to come fully. He’s still angry, still hurt. There are a lot of unsolved issues to wrestle with. But Gabe’s right here, in the flesh, alive and breathing, and Jesse would be a fool to turn his back again.