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“Gabe?” He doesn’t sound entirely there, his voice is distant, eyes unfocused, in the way only heavy narcotics ( or, in this instance, DNA altering drugs that 90% of the program was certain were illegal ) seemed capable of doing. Pupils blown, but his sight is far off, and he makes no motion of recognizing the hand resting atop his on the bed.

“I’m here.”

This is a bad one.

Most of them are, actually; the serums were all experimental, tested on young soldiers like rats, for lack of any other real option. The world was on the brink of devastation from the omnic crisis, and the United States military was running out of options. The whole world was running out of options. The solution? A straight-from-a-comic-book experiment, in which young soldiers – such as Johnathon “Jack” Morrison, or Gabriel Reyes – were injected twice weekly with what most believed to be radioactive goop, then tested to see how said goop changed them. Each injection was brutal, though some carried it better than others ( Jack, Gabriel had realized, was one of those people ), and most were left for days with a lingering sick from the doses.

Of the millions who had joined the military at the beginning of the omnic crisis two years earlier, 40 had been chosen for what was known then as the “Special Program”, where soldiers with potential were to be trained rigorously to battle the oncoming torrent of machines. For all its wealth and power, the United States had kept the omnic threat from their shores, but it wouldn’t last forever, every soldier knew it, every family knew it – it was a matter of time. But details of the program had been kept classified, even to Gabriel Reyes, who was on the fast track to officer.

“Bet it’s a bunch of bullshit, and we’re the suicide team.” The scrappy blonde beside Gabriel had whispered to him, arms folded across his chest with something Gabriel had thought to be an unearned arrogance. Nevertheless, his lip twitched up at the comment. If that turned out to be true, Gabriel couldn’t even say he would be surprised – the world was giving up hope that anything would stop the God Codes, and the United States wasn’t above buying itself time.

Illegal injections of experimental drugs, however, did surprise him, surprised most, in fact. Less surprising, though, were the twenty or so who immediately opted out ( Gabriel didn’t know what became of them, but they were led through a chamber off in the corner, and from what he had heard, were never seen again. Rumors, but chilling, nonetheless ). Half the group gone, but Gabriel stayed, and the spunky blonde at his left did, too; in total 13 men, and 7 women were left standing.

 

Gabriel learned a week in that “Spunky Blonde” – as he had affectionately named him – was actually named Jack Morrison. He learned another week later, that Jack Morrison was born and raised on a farm in Indiana.

“Bloomin’ton, to be exact,” he had told Gabriel in the locker room, the sweet southern tang surprising, given that Indiana was, technically, north of anywhere Jack should have picked up the accent. He learned week three, that Jack had exaggerated it ( and week 3.5, learned he had only exaggerated it a little ).

He learned that Jack’s family owned a farm, that he had two younger sisters, that the men in his family were military men ( but that wasn’t why Jack had joined, apparently ), and he learned, though by accident, that Jack Morrison was, in fact, straight as a circle.

The first injection that came during week three was the mildest, and only one or two of the recruits had even experienced any symptoms. Jack, however, was one of them, as had been the soldier a year or so older than Gabriel whose dick was stuffed into the farm boy’s mouth in the locker room. The few who had experienced symptoms at all from the first injection had all reported the same thing, enhanced libido, and Gabriel wasn’t sure whether to laugh or run when he saw it.

 

He told that story now, holding Jack’s hand while they both fought off the wave of sick washing through their veins. Jack had never been the type to complain about his symptoms, had taken them all with headstrong confidence, in a way that Gabriel, himself, hadn’t quite been able to do ( more than once he had succumb to the aches, the nausea, the high fevers, but Jack made strides to fight it with that same arrogance he’d had the day they met ). But the blonde looked like he was a half-step from death’s door; eyes sunken, skin paler than normal ( jack was white bread, but this was to an extreme ), and Gabriel had had to stop a nose bleed once or twice. Three people had already died from the injections, boys whose families would likely never know the truth of what was happening – most of the program was convinced most of the military didn’t even know the truth, that this was nothing if not illegal.

Four months in, though, Jack looked ready to go next. The soldiers had stopped going to the infirmary after the first month of injections, knowing there was nothing that could be done to make any of this easier, nothing that could be done to even prevent the death associated with it. All that could be done, was to sit by their side, and pray to any god that might listen that they survive the night.

“I was honest to god surprised how well you deep throated him.” Gabriel laughed, and it earned a squeeze to his hand from Jack, and a soft chuckle. That was enough. He had moved to sit on the bed beside Jack by then, back leaned against the wall, and Jack’s head on his shoulder. “That how you got through high school? Sucking everyone’s dick?”

“You took Anderson’s up your ass pretty well, I heard,” came a snappy reply, and it earned a sharp laugh from Gabriel. He was cracking jokes, that was a good sign. That rumor wasn’t true, and Jack knew that, but it made them both laugh, and it made the silence that followed something akin to torture. Jack was still holding his hand, his eyes were still open, unfocused, but open, and despite the raggedness ( something that had prompted Gabriel to urge Jack desperately to go to the infirmary for, to no avail ) of the way he breathed, Jack was still breathing.

Gabriel hadn’t officially come clean about it, but he liked Jack a lot, and he knew that Jack knew, which made it all the more awkward, but then again, Jack hadn’t told Gabriel how he felt, either, but they both knew it. An unspoken love, but it was there, and it could be felt in the way Jack held Gabriel’s hand, and in the way Gabriel tried desperately not to think about what might happen in the night ( he could feel Jack’s fever on the skin of his shoulder, and it was harder to try to think of anything else ).

 

He didn’t know what time he had fallen asleep ( it was after 3 am, he remembers wiping up another nosebleed that had stained Jack’s shirt in his sleep ), but when he awoke, startled, it was well into the afternoon, and after a minute of disorientation, he realized the space beside him was empty. Panic is what set in first, shooting from the mattress as he looked around the room frantically, calling for Jack with rising anxiety.

“Jesus, relax,” came the groggy reply from Gabriel’s private bathroom ( a benefit of his position prior to joining the program ). Jack had ditched his shirt into Gabriel’s laundry bag from the blood, but his sweats still hung low on his hips. Gabriel let out a breath he’d been holding, fingers pushing through the short crop of curls on the top of his head, relieved as he relaxed back onto the edge of the bed. Jack looked like hell, dark circles under his eyes, face still pale, but he had a certain glow that only came with blowing chunks until you felt better.

“Don’t scare me like that you asshole,” Gabriel barked back without any real annoyance, palms pressing to his eyes as he rubbed the sleep from them. “What time is it?”

“Almost 2:30, woke up like 45 minutes ago and I literally just stopped throwing up.” Jack moved to take a seat beside Gabriel on the bed, lying back to stare up at the ceiling. A moment of silence, and Jack couldn’t help but snort to himself, cerulean blues trailing to look at Gabriel. “You were worried about me.”

For a moment, Gabriel stared at him, dumbfounded by the statement. Worried didn’t quite sum up the degree to which Gabriel had panicked – not only minutes earlier, but through the night. This goddamn, gay as the day was long, blonde-haired blue-eyed farm boy from Indiana was his best friend, he loved him, and the idea of losing Jack hadn’t just worried him, it had scared the ever living piss out of Gabriel, and it still made his heart clench painfully. But after a moment, he let himself lie back, too, feeling Jack’s eyes on him, though his own stayed trailed on the ceiling.

“Yeah. Yeah I was.”