They were either idiots or assumed she was - she'd spent far too long watching them save the world to be thrown off by a few masks and a new jacket. Angela had known Ana by her walk, hunched under the weight of her rifle even when it was propped up by the door. Jack had given himself away with his world-weary bravado. Her third revelation came when the thing that called itself Reaper shot her in the chest.
She'd loosed off a few bullets his way but the assassin had vanished like a wraith. Every breath burned and in the moment, there wasn't time to do anything but turn her staff's golden beam on herself then, but later, digging shot out of her armor, she'd realized he could have blown off her face.
Not telling the others was beyond stupid, but she had no evidence. Besides, Jack and Ana would have said something if she was right; he was their friend. Their betrayer. She had just been the fresh-faced medic. It wasn't her place.
Angela picked out the shrouded shape again amongst Talon operatives a month later in King's Row. She half hoped the mask would be knocked aside to reveal an unfamiliar face, but he moved like Gabriel; every swoop and shot. How had it taken her this long to see? She almost flew to heal him when Jesse's bullets thudded into his leg. That would have been fun to explain.
They made Talon pay for every step in blood, but still, the truck-sized EMP advanced on the glowing red heart of the omnic industrial quarter. She had had her beam trained on Wilhelm when a sniff of smoke and the clack of reloading shotguns behind her made her dive aside - right off the steel walkway. She grabbed at Gabriel's cloak and felt a hand crush closed around her wrist, but he couldn't stop them tumbling from the walkway. Only her furiously-beating wings saved them, tilting the path of their fall into an old maintenance tunnel instead of the furnace flames. Jack shouted for her above and she heard the patter of Genji's feet, but Gabriel snarled a command up to his new team and the tunnel entrance broke into rubble in a flash and a blast of heat.
Angela scrambled free of the tangle they'd landed in, ears ringing. It was her, Gabriel and the gloom, trapped in the tunnel by the wall of debris. The back of the space was packed with neon-yellow barrels of waste that didn't move when she tried to heave them over. A tacky, dark liquid oozed out around her feet. She wrinkled her nose.
"Enjoy the peace and quiet," Reaper's smug voice sounded like Gabriel's confidence buried under a ton of gravel. His outline began to blur.
"I hope that you got a good look at where you need to land. Or that you are fireproof."
She jutted out her chin at his mask's empty eye sockets and prayed that she was right in guessing that he was planning to teleport out blind. Then again, for all she knew, this Gabriel could see through walls. Would her bullets even hit if he tried to escape the cave-in as a ghost? She had to try. The longer he stayed here with her, the less he could wreak havoc on her unsupported team.
Smoke curled around him and he swooped past her, through the barrels. Her shots were deafening in the small space, but only punched holes in the barrels' plastic shells. For a moment, she despaired, but he reappeared in the growing puddle of industrial ooze and stomped back to the square meter of dry ground beside her.
"Looks like you're trapped in a tunnel with death."
She didn't holster her pistol, "I've beaten death before."
"Proud of that, are you, Dr. Ziegler?"
His bone-white mask swiveled to her and she felt his anger burn. It wasn't fear that welled up inside her, making her look down, it was guilt; an old friend that looked like Genji staining her operating table red and Gabriel's cracked lips warning her not to turn him into a monster. She couldn't look at him.
"Gabriel," the name came out as more breath than word, but he locked up at the sound, "What happened to you?"
"You tell me, Doc. I think it's an improvement."
"I'm stronger, faster," his arm snapped and the muzzle of a shotgun was in her face, "I can steal life and phase through any damage your team can think to put out."
"That's not what I meant," she looked over the gun at the shadows where his eyes should be, "You died on my table. I held your hand. I felt your pulse stop."
She could see the white cross of his grave in her mind, with its too-neat, too-small lettering proclaiming the final resting place of Lieutenant Gabriel M. Reyes, 2015-2065. How many times had she begged forgiveness from an empty coffin?
"It's a recent development," he twirled his shotgun and slammed it home in his holster, "Just call me a miracle of modern medicine."
"And you're wasting it on Talon?"
"I'm not about to bite the hand that feeds me. Besides, Talon has always been better at making the hard choices."
Not even the furnace's heat could stop the chill that sank into her stomach at that, "You make it sound like you were always Talon."
"I haven't always trusted them as much as I should have. Making up for that now."
"But you did so much for Overwatch! The Omnic Crisis, the Dead Eye Gang… if you were working for Talon - "
"Who do you think set Overwatch up?"
She snorted, "Why would Talon create their own enemy? Even if they did, Jack would have found out."
"That you assume he wasn't in on it."
Jack, a part of Talon? She would have laughed if not for the sudden fear that rebirth had driven Gabriel insane. He was enjoying torturing her too. This new, venomous version of Gabriel's familiar stone-faced teasing made her ache with loss. Mad thoughts dashed through her mind of grabbing him, pleading with him - whatever it took to pull Gabriel out of Reaper. Angela shook her head so hard her ponytail whipped against her neck, "I think I would prefer for us to wait in silence."
The chemical stench grew stronger by the minute. She covered her nose and tiptoed around him to stand by the rubble, farthest from the barrels. He stood like a statue as she passed but his façade broke into disgust when the off-color pool swallowed his ankles. They glanced at the ceiling, inches above his head, at the same time. Her eyes watered with the fumes.
"What a great idea it was to shoot up the industrial waste barrels."
"I am not the one who ordered their soldiers to blow up a storage tunnel with us inside."
"Maybe I don't need to breathe anymore."
He gave an irritated sigh, "As if your cowboy would ever abandon his angel."
She rolled her eyes, but the thought did let her breathe easier. They would find her. Gabriel watched her with his head tilted.
"Don't tell me my pathetic protégé still hasn't worked up the guts to tell you?"
Angela shrugged and let her gaze slide away like she always did when questions about her close brush with marriage came up, "We didn't work out."
He must have realized how surreal their conversation had become because the next few moments passed with only the muffled sounds of fighting overhead and the ooze creeping up their calves. Angela perched as high as she could go on the rubble heap and still, she was only eye-level with the assassin. She tried not to think about what hid behind his mask and armor, but scars and savaged skin filled her mind. She busied herself rolling up the cloth that hung down from her waist so it wouldn't get contaminated. Thank God her armor left little skin open.
"What gave me away?" Gabriel asked at last, failing to keep the interest out of his voice.
"You spared me."
"A mistake I won't repeat."
He laughed, and she tried not to show how it jarred her. Gabriel's laugh used to make her smile no matter what he'd said before it, but this one was ground glass.
"You expect me to believe you missed my head at point-blank range?" She asked, "If Overwatch is so bad, why didn't you kill me?"
"Why didn't you let me die?"
Ouch. As much as she'd like to lie, Angela knew she was too much at fault to give him anything but the truth. Thankfully she'd had ten years to dig it out of herself. She sighed the kind of sighs only medical professionals can, though there had been nothing professional about her motivation.
"I couldn't let you go."
Judging from the way his head snapped around, it wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. He seemed to struggle with something for a heartbeat, but it was lost in the rage that radiated off him. Sludge splashed up his thighs as he closed the gap between them a single stride. His outline blurred again and she smelled smoke. Mixed images came to mind: the wreck of their Swiss HQ; toasting marshmallows with her parents when she was young. Would she smell it stronger if he phased right through her? Would she feel him? The clawed fingers of his glove scraped his mask when he took the bottom edge of it but panic shot through her and she grabbed his arm to keep him from removing it.
"Don't you want to see your good work?"
She looked at her knees and dug her fingers harder into his leather armguard. What could she say? That she couldn't bear to see how she'd hurt him? The fear was beyond selfish, but it kept her hand in place.
Gabriel drew in a breath, ready to growl the curses she deserved, but a crumpling, rupturing noise behind them interrupted. A wave of waste hit Gabriel square in the back, crushing him against her into the rubble. She gasped and immediately feared she'd inhale a mouthful of poison goop, but her head banged into the rocky ceiling instead, clearing the tide. She flinched away as the mixture splashed up against her neck and found herself face to face with the yellow and black stripes of an exit sign half-hidden by the debris. The wave of slime retreated in a second, evening out at elbow height. Her eyes teared up with the sting and the back of her head throbbed.
Only when one of Gabriel's clawed hands rose from the muck toward her did she register the other at her waist. Had he lifted her clear on purpose, or tried to shove her out of his way?
"Thank you," she said, just in case.
He snatched his hands back, "The barrels might have fallen enough for me to - just stay here."
"Wait," her hand was still wrapped around his wrist and she used it to tug him closer so he could see what she'd seen, "We only need to shift a few rocks, and we can - "
Smoke stung her eyes and her hand closed on goop as he phased through the rubble and the door. She heard his boots clank down on the other side and grow faint. The waste seeped up her shoulders.
"Gabriel!" Angela slammed her slick fist on the yellow and black sign, afraid for the first time, "If you're going to kill me, shoot me!"
Silence. Her heart raced in her ears. Faces flickered through her mind - Jack, Ana, Wilhelm, Torbjorn, Genji, Fareeha, Winston, Lena, Jesse. She wasn't ready to see her parents again yet. Think, Angela, think. The ooze lapped at her suit's neckline, stinging like poison ivy. Boosting herself with her staff was asking for an electrical fire, and even then, could she lift the rocks herself?
Angela had just slid her thumb over the switch on her staff when a snap of smoke filled her nose.
"No promises," Gabriel growled, suddenly taking up all the space in front of her.
He squeezed past her to wrap his arms around outermost rock and strained.
"Sure," he grunted, "Just enjoy the show."
She rolled her eyes and raised the head of her staff above the waste, crackling with blue.
Only the edge of panic in his voice stayed her hand, "Why not?"
"It - you'd need to calibrate it to my DNA, wouldn't you?"
"It's ready to go."
"You still have me programmed as a friendly?!"
Angela's gaze flitted away. She readjusted the collar of her suit to lessen the slime's sting, "Do you want to discuss it, or do you want to lift the rock?"
"Fine," he ground the word out through gritted teeth.
Gabriel tensed like she'd shocked him when the blue arc leaped across to hit the space between his shoulders. Aside from anything else, his reluctance piqued her medical curiosity. Her staff's beams could give few notable side-effects - supercharging the body had its price - but Gabriel had never displayed any. Come to think of it, she couldn't remember boosting him more than a few times though, since it tended to draw attention that didn't suit his style of attack.
The big rock shifted sure enough, and his breath hitched as she moved the beam to his chest for more direct access to the bloodstream.
"Am I hurting you?"
He let the rock plop into the goop and moved onto the next silently. It followed the first. Angela didn't waste time wriggling through the gap. The clear air was a balm to her neck. She'd expected to see Gabriel tapping his foot on the other side, if at all, but he appeared behind her once she was through and jerked his head for her to lead. She flicked a healing stream onto him automatically, then wondered if she she shouldn't have.
"That doesn't hurt too, does it?"
"Neither hurt," he muttered.
The red glow up ahead grew in intensity until they stood beneath a steaming grate. She hesitated when he motioned for her to climb the ladder first.
"If I was going to kill you, I wouldn't have done the weightlifting."
Angela was two steps from the top when the back of Wilhelm's helmet came into view. Her halo visor, remarkably unscathed, dropped a familiar cyan target over it.
It was pure habit to zoom to him, but she felt herself dragged back to the floor by her wings with cold steel at her temple. Wilhelm whipped around, hammer raised, but Gabriel held her securely in front of him. Of course he'd only come back for her to have a hostage. She was overanalyzing like the infatuated recruit she'd been fifteen years ago. Angela dropped her head. Idiot.
"Stay back, Lancelot." Gabriel's voice was grit in her ear. She didn't feel any hint of breath on her neck - maybe he hadn't been joking earlier. She jabbed an elbow into his leather gut but he barely moved. Ahead, Wilhelm shouted threats and banged on the open manhole at his feet. Genji leapt out in a flash of green, and she heard the clank of the rest of her team's footstep beneath them. So they had been searching for her.
"I'm fine," she promised, "Where's the EMP?"
"In pieces," Genji said with anger coloring his robotic tone, "Like this Reaper soon will be."
"He saved - "
A yank on her wings jerked her head back so that her teeth clacked shut. This time she jabbed him with her staff. The grunt next to her ear was a satisfying response.
"Here's how this will go," Gabriel growled, "I'm going to leave -"
"Like hell you - " Jesse's head bobbed out of the manhole only to duck with a loud curse when shot peppered the air above it, and most of his hat.
"I'm going to leave, and if I hear any dainty little footsteps behind me or feel so much as a pinprick, I'm going to teleport back just enough to make sure our angelic friend never flies again. All you have to do is count to ten."
Angela held her hand up slowly with a warning in her eyes to her team. Wilhelm's hammer creaked in his grip but he nodded and Genji sheathed his sword. Jesse's curses floated up through the manhole until Jack's voice cut in telling him to stow it.
"Next time, I'll finish the job."
That was said low, just for her, and then he was gone in the now-familiar wash of smoke.
Her team didn't wait until ten to rush in.
"Are you hurt, Dr. Ziegler?"
"I'm fine, Genji. Really."
"I am happy you did not burn!" Wilhelm stopped just short of sweeping her into a hug, "McCree, give her your cape, she is covered in this - this -"
"Toxic waste of some kind, I believe. He trapped me in a tunnel full of it."
"It ain't a cape," Jesse's relief was palpable as he strode up, but the corners of his mouth were turned into a sad frown. She didn't get it until she looked down at the shredded hat in his hands. She shook her head when he reached for the knot of his serape.
"I would not want to ruin your entire costume."
"Good to see you're well enough to make fun of me."
She smiled a tired smile, "My armor has kept the worst of the waste out, but I would love a shower."
Wilhelm sent her staggering with a clap on the back before hauling the EMP's core onto his shoulders and leading the way back to the ship. Angela let them go on ahead at a glance from Jack.
"What did he say to you?" the old soldier asked.
She looked up sharply but couldn't read anything past his visor. Her throat felt dry.
"Almost entirely threats and ego."
It wasn't a lie, but it was hardly the truth. Jack's gaze remained impenetrable as he nodded, and she let herself drift up ahead to walk with Genji and Jesse. She cheered and gasped appropriately through the story of their triumphant final push, but she was running on autopilot. The smell of smoke lingered on her skin.