Gabriel makes it a point to assure that anyone outside of Blackwatch thinks he’s an absolute hardass, devoid of any positive emotion, vicious almost to the point of abusive to his crew. Mostly because it gets people to leave them alone, since no one wants to risk incurring the wrath of cold-blooded Commander Reyes. The rest of his motivation is how funny it is to see new Overwatch recruits scurry away in fear when he enters a room.
Of course he keeps a measure of stoicism with his group, and he by no means goes easy on them. They train daily; hand-to-hand, weapons, strategy, protocol. But he’s also set up a program to help those who dropped out get their GEDs, even partnering with the local university to let them get a degree if they want. There are lifestyle classes to teach them about taxes, how to cook a balanced meal, what the hell life insurance is all about. Yes, they’re criminals, but Overwatch is supposed to be their second chance, and a second chance should include more than the same violence and pain they’ve known long before they should’ve. He doesn’t make them take the classes, knowing how busy they are with missions and training, but there are always good reviews coming from those teaching the courses.
In short: Gabe was a bit more attached to his cadets than he probably should be. As much as he tries to keep his persona, he can’t help but care for his ragtag bunch of ex-cons.
The one he has the biggest soft spot for, unfortunately, is Jesse McCree, his stupid cowboy sharpshooter with a dumb stetson and lifetime of regrets far beyond his 20 years. The kid’s a prodigy with a handgun, sharp as a tack with strategy and has a knack for unusual approaches to get any job done quicker and (usually) safer. He’s brilliant and talented, hardworking and near desperate to prove himself as someone who deserves redemption. The thing that gets to Gabriel, that really ticks him off about the kid, is that he hides it all behind a goofy smile and fumbling words. Sure, he’s a bit of an idiot sometimes, makes dumb mistakes here and there, but never when it counts. Hell, Gabriel’s big enough to admit he makes about as many mistakes himself, and just because of his position and responsibilities it can often be when it does count. But where he keeps his admitted failures to himself and doesn’t let anyone equate a slip-up with ineptitude, Jesse gladly plays up his own faults to give the impression of being a fool. Even though Gabriel understands why he does it, knows how powerful an advantage comes from being underestimated, he still has to grit his teeth whenever he hears someone devalue arguably the best member of Blackwatch. It also looks bad on Gabe in a way, to have everyone think his protege is incompetent, but he’s never cared what others think and he isn’t about to start now.
It’s all respect, though. Every soft thing he feels for Jesse is just respect and appreciation for a brother in arms, platonic affection for a close friend who makes his days brighter and warms a room to something that feels like home .
Gifts were abundant in Gabriel’s childhood, but even with a pile of presents every birthday, his mamá made sure he remembered and genuinely appreciated each and every one. Even now, he still writes her and his sisters thank you notes for every birthday gift. Those three gifts are just about everything he gets anymore, save for whatever Jack slips to him. He’s the only non-family member that knows Gabe’s birthday, and that’s how he likes it. The more people give him gifts, the more he has to give back, and buying gifts is its own kind of hell.
He’s content with the situation, treasuring the thick winter coat from his sister Isabella, the new black beanie from Rosa, the sweets from his mother that remind him of stealing violetas from the box while she pretended not to notice. These gifts are sparse but meaningful, filling his room with life, seemingly useless things from Jack nostalgic point of light that rival the Sun.
This reality is the reason he’s knocked speechless when Jesse catches him in the hallway after returning from a day trip to town with Lena and shoves a folded piece of fabric into his hands.
“Made me think of you, boss,” he says with a smile so wide dread immediately settles in Gabe’s gut. He unfolds the bundle anyway, confusion forcing out the apprehension as he reveals a plain black t-shirt. It’s a standard cotton, from the feel, so Gabe can’t for the life of him figure out what’s so special about it. When he turns his eyes back to Jesse, the kid motions with his hand to turn the shirt over. He obeys, flipping it around to find bold white lettering declaring
MAS FUERTE QUE LA MUERTE.
The sharp laugh that escapes him is unexpected but it brings the most genuinely delighted smile to Jesse’s soft face he thinks he’s ever seen, so he can’t find it in himself to regret the lapse in composure.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Gabe says, gruff to hide the lump in his throat. Jesse’s smile doesn’t waver, even as he gives a mocking half-salute and turns on his heel to follow Lena toward the mess hall.
If the stupid shirt becomes his go-to pajama top, well. That’s no one’s business but his own.
When you live among something for long enough, you tend to stop thinking about it. So for something as inane as his room, active thought on the space checked out a long time ago. He doesn’t have much anyway, just a few knick-knacks from Jack, blankets and photos of LA from his mamá, the white porcelain elephant from Isabella, a few family photos along with one or two from SEP. Other than that it’s just a chair, a bed, an end table, a set of drawers, and a desk scattered with paperwork. Having spartan living quarters has never bothered him, all his years in the military ridding him of any overt desire for material objects. Perhaps it could use something to brighten it up, something to spruce up the bland tan walls and grey metal door, to break up the monotony of dark faux-wood furniture and black window dressings. But with two dozen agents, ten new recruits, eight active ops, and all the bureaucratic bullshit that comes with working for an international agency, his decor isn’t even on his radar.
Though he hates to admit it, it takes a few days for him to notice the cactus sitting small and cute on his bedside table. It’s only a few inches tall, tiny pink flower blooming despite the evident lack of water. He fills a small paper cup with water from the bathroom and pours until the soil is adequately moist, drinking the rest in a long swallow. Though he has no idea where it came from, he still enjoys the spot of color. Whoever the mystery benefactor is, it was kind of them to pick something that doesn’t require much of Gabriel’s limited attention.
A week later, the cactus has a friend. This one doesn’t have a flower, but its pot has little sparkly stars all around it. He names it Stella, because he’s an adult who names his plants okay? Stella and Rosa (call him sentimental, he can’t help but miss his little sister) get watered every few days, usually when Gabriel goes to lay down for sleep and sees them standing directly in his line of sight. Sometimes when he’s stressed, he runs fingers gently over the waxy petals of the pink flower, imagines he can feel the life it holds, one life he can actually save.
Within a month, there are five cacti cluttering his table. Three have flowers; Rosa, Isabella, and Indigo. The other two, Stella and Jack, only have the characteristic spines on their bright green bodies. One morning he reached out blindly for his phone, instead smacking Jack with the palm of his hand. He’d shot up, suddenly very, very awake. The spikes in his hand were secondary to the fact that he’d knocked Jack over, cracking the pot and balding an entire side of it. He took what he could of the soil and put it in one of the small bathroom cups, transplanting Jack as best he could. Getting all the spines out of his hand was a pain; dealing with the actual Jack’s scolding at his lateness for their meeting was even moreso. When he came back that night, Jack was safely in a new bright blue pot.
Maybe he should be worried that someone has been breaking into his room regularly-- wait, no, scratch that, no ‘maybe’ about it. He should absolutely be worried that someone has the code to his door, but he isn’t. Nothing has gone missing, he’s found nothing dangerous put anywhere, and he’s got a pretty good hunch who it is anyway. The kid has never been subtle.
Jesse was the only one who knew about his cactus-smacking incident, the only one who would know to sneak in and replace the pot. When he’d mentioned to Jack and Ana how odd McCree was acting toward him, the long looks and close proximity, they had laughed in his face. Because he’s in love with you, dumbass , Ana had said. It would only make sense that the gifts were from Jesse, small tokens of appreciation, not love. The kid did not love him, okay? He was nearly two decades younger than Gabe, still fresh and unjaded and hopeful and deserving of so much better than an emotionally constipated old man.
No matter how many times he repeated it to himself, he couldn’t quite force himself to believe it.
The guitar is old, nearly as old as he is. It was his father’s, a white and brown acoustic painted to look like a sugar skull. When his papá died, the guitar had been passed down to him, plucking out tunes a comfort as he was forced to grow up sooner than a child should ever have to. He was eleven then, still clumsy on the strings, not coordinated enough to impress. Now he can play most anything, though he rarely has the time. Rochelle (his father had picked the name, that of the aunt who gave it to him) sat idle in her stand in the corner, collecting dust as Gabe tried to save the world.
The mission had gone wrong, so very wrong. Someone had fed them false information-- someone who was now dying slowly at the hands of Ocampo, Byrne’s partner. It had been too risky to go back for Byrne’s body, and the weight would’ve slowed their retreat enough that the enemy may have caught up. But Jesse, that fucking suicidal motherfucker , went back on his own, running through gunfire and smoke to slip the golden ring off Byrne’s left hand. Gabriel had ripped him a new one for it once they got back to base, but he couldn’t deny the grateful tears in Ocampo’s eyes when the kid had pressed the ring into her hand. She had lost her wife, would never get to bury the body, but Jesse had given her something to hold on to. Gabriel is loathe to admit it, but the sight of the ring glinting bright and blood-free on a chain around Ocampo’s neck the next day makes him proud.
After he leaves Ocampo with the mole and finishes his paperwork, he withdraws to his room, too exhausted to deal with people anymore. His intention is to flop down face-first onto the bed, and he’s lucky he hesitated, because he would prefer not to get a face-full of polished wood. Rochelle is laid out on his sheets, and after a moment’s inspection he realizes she’s been restrung. The old strings are coiled up neatly in a bag next to her, as if the person who did it had been worried they might hold some significance. Gabriel picks her up gingerly, arranges her so he can strum a quick chord and hear that she’s perfectly in tune. A note is set on his bed where Rochelle had been, and Gabriel puts her down so he can pick it up.
Play for me sometime, it reads. Gabe spends the night singing old country songs and thinking of bright brown eyes.
Soon enough it’s October, and the vicious wind chill has resigned everyone to staying inside as much as possible. Whenever a team gets back from an op, there are steaming cups of hot chocolate and chamomile tea waiting on the kitchen counter that everyone pretends they don’t know were made by McCree. It’s a common thing, not openly acknowledging the things Jesse does; leaving someone’s favorite snack outside their door on a bad day, playing a teammate’s favorite song in the lounge when they’re grumpy, cups of coffee and bottles of aspirin left out the morning after a party. He doesn’t do it for praise anyway, the grateful nods and occasionally returned favors more than enough to satisfy him.
Gabriel hates it.
He hates the way it makes him like the kid, the way a plate of bisochitos after a bad meeting with the brass warms him to his core, how the burns on Jesse’s hands from making him flan fills him with something tingly and suffocating, the brand new recipe book for Mexican food he finds lying in the kitchen a reminder of how aggressively American Jesse was raised that makes him burn because the kid is doing all this for him , learning how to cook food he was never taught about in an attempt at assimilation.
The stupid cowboy is learning his own history by giving and it reminds Gabriel so violently of himself that it hurts . Growing up only knowing enough Spanish to understand his relatives in Mexico over video call but not to respond, only speaking English around the house lest he develop an accent the other kids would mock him for, having peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day because the teasing in second grade about his “gross” menudo rojo sent him home crying. As he grew older, he learned to love his heritage, taught himself Spanish, how to cook all his mother’s recipes, to celebrate holidays without a care as to how people may respond. Jesse had known Spanish when they met, but otherwise he was forcefully detached from anything Mexican. His family had lived in Santa Fe for generations, he’d mentioned once, the US border had crossed over them and not the other way around. Years of forced assimilation by ridicule and humiliation had left the McCree family isolated from their roots, made them aggressively American to survive a country that hated them for centuries. In that way it was funny that Jesse had the whole cowboy schtick, emulating the white-John-Wayne-Clint-Eastwood version of a profession that was originally and almost wholly belonging to Mexicans and Asians. A bastardized version of the heritage that he didn’t even realize was his own.
But now he sees the same transformation happening that he had gone through years prior, that realization of the joys of their culture, the feeling of finally belonging in your skin. Jesse gives and gives and gives until his heart is ready to burst and somehow Gabriel has managed to give in return. He hates the grateful happiness that threatens to shatter him.
The day he finally breaks, finally allows himself to realize what all this means, it’s over the stupidest thing. He comes back to his room, exhausted with a clenching heart at the loss of another agent, finds a small ofrenda in the corner of his room with marigolds and food laid out for a holiday Gabriel had forgotten was here. There’s a bottle of the vodka Carr had loved set in the center and it hits Gabriel like a gunshot. He falls to his knees and weeps; cries for everyone he’s lost, all his failures that others paid for, cries because this stupid boy with his stupid big heart has ruined him.
He doesn’t intend to do anything about it, plans to keep his feelings locked away until he dies. But he’s so weak for this boy who has destroyed him, so overwhelmed by feelings he’s never known that all it takes is a small crocheted owl and a nonchalant made me think of you, boss to have his plans laid to waste. Gabriel sweeps Jesse up in his arms, holds him so tightly it must be hard to breathe, buries his face in his shoulder and whispers,
“I’m so in love with you”
Jesse stiffens. Gabriel runs.
Gabriel considers abusing his power and rearranging a team so he can send Jesse on an op far away, avoid him until the raging embarrassment fades from its choking place in his chest. He can’t breathe, can’t think, doesn’t know anything beyond how much he loves this man he doesn’t deserve, this man who’s far too young for him, this man who is everything he never knew he needed. Gabriel doesn’t deserve the happiness Jesse brings, not with the things he’s done, not with the blood that stains his hands so deep he’ll never be able to get it off. He is a lone wolf, he is alone . At least he was alone, before Jesse fucking McCree came along and made him feel, brought him close and gave him a family amongst his crew. He is impenetrable, unflappable, heartless Commander Reyes, damnit. He is something to be feared, a force of nature, a veteran of the bloodiest war in human history. He is nothing compared to Jesse; Jesse who is kind, who is soft in a world that should have made him hard, who is light, who is home .
When he’s finally finished having his panic attack in his office, he slumps back to his room, punches in his code with hands heavy from emotional exhaustion that reaches his bones.
“Hey boss,” Jesse says, perched on Gabriel’s bed like he belongs there. Every one of Gabriel’s instincts screams to run, run away as fast and far as you can, because humiliation is making his eyes prick with tears and he cannot, will not, cry in front of Jesse. He feels his left eye begin to twitch slightly, like it always does before he cries. He walks over and sits on the bed beside Jesse nonetheless. He rests his elbows on his knees and buries his face in his hands.
“So,” Jesse starts, clearing his throat, “Not a great time to run away, there.” It sucks, this sucks, everything in life sucks. Gabriel hopes death takes him swiftly.
“Didn’t even give me a chance to say I love you too,” he continues after a hard swallow, the words said so easy as if it were natural, as if love for Gabriel was meant to be on his tongue, “Have this whole time.” Gabriel can’t help it, he laughs long and near-hysterical. He’s crying again, face wet with rare tears and nose starting to run. The laughter devolves into sobs, body shaking as Jesse rubs soothing circles into his back. Jesse lets him cry, and for that Gabriel is grateful. He doesn’t cry often, but when he does it’s ugly and disgusting, terrible sounds tearing from his throat as tears and snot and spit run down his face. Through it all, Jesse sits beside him, thigh pressed against his own, hand a comforting weight on his back.
“Be right back,” Jesse says as Gabriel finally calms. He stands and Gabriel is too embarrassed to look up and see where he went. In a moment he’s back with half damp washcloth, offering it to Gabriel so he can clean his face. Gabriel accepts immediately, glad to wipe away the mess.
“I cried too, y’know,” Jesse says softly, “When I realized I loved you. Was so damn sure you’d never feel the same about a stupid cowboy.” Gabriel laughs. He never thought he’d fall for a cowboy either.
“Well,” he says, voice raw from sobbing, “Here we are.”
“Yeah,” Jesse breathes, gentle smile bright as the sun, “Here we are.”