Summer. The most wonderful time of the year, when students were rid of school work and free of all responsibility. It was a time to celebrate, either having an elaborate plan for the entire holiday or just being stupid with friends. Pool parties in the sun, endless gaming sessions every day and never, ever had to be confined in a boring area where one had to study.
Summer was simply glorious.
But apparently not glorious enough for Hana Song’s parents.
So what? She failed one history test. One! That didn’t mean she deserved to be stuffed into a random forest somewhere, cut off from friends and civilisation!!! Well, in truth, she hadn’t done any research about the place, yet, but what else should Hana be expecting? It would be packed with eggheads. If not, then bugs and no cell service!
…Okay, so maybe it wasn’t just one test. Maybe Hana skipped a month worth of homework too so she could enter this kickass StarCraft tournament. The first prize was worth being yelled at and grounded at the time. Never in her wildest dreams would Hana imagine her parents sending her to a summer camp though! Had they any regard for her extensive plans?!
At least her friends were being supportive. Even though they had already been notified as soon as Hana herself knew, she still appreciated the reactions in the group chat. From solemn salutes to outraged rants, even the teasing eased Hana somewhat. They were trying, and she soon found herself distracted by silly conversations. At least it made the car ride more bearable, especially with her mom’s stiff back and her dad’s uncharacteristic silence. Considering the explosive fights the family got into for the last couple of weeks, it was pretty self-explanatory. Hana was sure neither party was proud of what they said, but that didn’t curb her anger at all.
Camp Overwatch didn’t come into view until afternoon. The name caught Hana’s attention immediately, as it didn’t have the same hippie vibe she had mentally associated it with. The second, eyebrow-raising detail would be the gate. Uneven, dark stones stacked up together, looming over visitors in a medieval-themed construct, torches and all. Quite impressive, if not a bit cliché. Still, it was in the middle of nowhere, and Hana was more concerned about her waning signal than watching the greenery passing outside the window.
Gravel crunched under slowing tires, announcing Hana’s impending doom. Sullenly, she threw on her backpack and hauled her suitcase off, not waiting for her parents. If she was going to go out today, then she would go out with her head held high, thank you very much!
Her bravado didn’t last long.
Amidst the circle of trees, two canvas tents sat at each other’s opposite. There was a lodge across the sparse wooden bridge by the river, and a primitive watchtower stood next to it. A generous patch of land was fenced off, empty except for a pile of logs. There was a hiking trail leading up to the mountains, but other than that, there was nothing worthy of note.
There was no power generator, no campus for them to sleep in.
Oh fuck, what if they didn’t have a functioning plumbing system?!?!?!
A loud, commanding voice snapped her out of the miserable thoughts. Towering above the group was probably the most attractive camp leader Hana had ever seen. Not that she had seen a lot, but still...Curiosity perked, she joined the others loitering about. In contrary to the supposed theme of the camp, this guy was wearing black sleeveless T-shirt and fatigues, topped with a beat-up beanie. His beard was trimmed in a way that made it look both unkempt and styled, and the afternoon light made his scars shine, standing out against his dark skin.
“Alright! Gather up!”
They shuffled closer, not in any particular order. There wasn’t many around, Hana noticed. Twenty, including herself and not the hovering parents, at most. The camp leader did a head count, checked his tablet (A tablet! Maybe they had electricity after all!!!) and nodded at a woman standing behind him.
Damn, did this camp only hire supermodels?
The lady was an exceptional beauty, with long, fluttering black tresses that seemed to go on forever. She was lean and angular, a sharp contrast against the man’s rolling slabs of muscles, and had a perpetual, knowing quirk to her lips.
The camp leader’s chatters with the parents only further soured Hana’s mood. Stubbornly, she didn’t turn around, not even when everyone else said their goodbyes, not even when her dad came over to give her a squeeze on the shoulder, or when her mom tried to make her look at them. Deep down, Hana knew she was being childish, and her fists balled up so tightly around her backpack straps they popped.
It was a terrible feeling, and it sucked.
She might have made mistakes, but this was extreme of them, keeping her away in such a stupidly isolated place for months. It was unfair, and Hana refused to give in, even when her dad sighed and mom shook her head.
“You’ll like it here, you’ll see.” Mom said, lacking her usual firmness, “Bye, honey. Remember to call when you can.”
Stone dropped down her guts, but she was too stubborn to respond, even when they walked away.
Thankfully, the camp leader’s voice rang out once more, saving her from sinking further into a grave of negativity.
“Hello and welcome to Camp Overwatch. My name is Gabriel and I’m your camp leader. This is Ana, your other camp leader.” The lady did a two finger salute, making a tall girl standing beside Hana chuckle, “For those of you that have been here before, welcome back. And the newbies…well. We hope you’ll survive.”
Gabriel gave a sharp leer overhead, making some the kids eye each other worriedly. The girl next to Hana, however, tried hard to stifle a giggle, while a boy (long-haired with incredibly fair complexion) beside her rolled his eyes. Hana’s interest perked a bit further.
“Anyhow, I’m going to go over camp rules, because you little stinkers aren’t out here to read, and I ain’t gonna make ya.” Somebody whopped loudly in their little crowd, “Thought so. Right. Some of this might sound off, but you’ll understand better once we go through camp’s programme. Rule number one: You cannot and will not steal personal belongings. They are off-limit. Rule number two: Accidents happen. That isn’t to say you should be a wimp about it or going out of your way to injure somebody else.”
By now, Hana’s eyebrows almost touched her hairline. What kind of camp had they sent her to?
Gabriel was just getting the third rule out (no asking for outside help under any circumstance unless it was an absolute emergency) when a sparkling clean, blue Fiesta pulled up near them. Instead of pausing to wait, Gabriel barrelled on as if nothing happened, though there was a faint smirk quirking up his lips.
Intrigued, Hana turned, expecting another kid to join their bunch.
Would this place ever run out of hot, young adults? Because the driver could have stepped straight out of a magazine cover and Hana wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. Glimmering golden hair, eyes bluer than the sky and that bod. Yum! A camo duffle bag slung over his broad shoulder, and the blond dreamboat strode purposefully towards the group, clearing his throat.
To Hana’s surprise, Gabriel blatantly ignored the newcomer, though his smirk did widen. This seemed to immediately annoy the blonde, but he stood a respectful distance away instead of forcing his way over, foot tapping impatiently.
This was getting interesting…
“We are going to split you into two teams.” Gabriel continued, “These two teams are going to represent two opposing kingdoms, going to war. This “war” is a series of competitions and activities. The winner of each activity will be awarded a point for their kingdom. Whichever team earns the most points within camp duration will win this “war”. Points are awarded or taken away based on the size of your hoards, how well you managed among yourselves, how many battles you win, and how clever your tactics are. As you can see.”
He pointed with both hands, each at one of the canvas tents, “We have two separate sides of camp. These two sides can be built and redecorated accordingly to your team’s taste and defence. You may find basic equipment and supplies in those tents and in the ranch back there.”
“There will be further supplies provided, such as food and tools, but you will had to go through challenges to acquire these. The “kingdoms” may also forage from the forest and mountains. Under supervision, of course. They will also be converted to points by the end of camp.”
“You are encouraged to build forts, walls and traps around your side of the camp, as the opposing team is allowed to pilfer from your hoards and attack your side.”
A few stink eyes were already been thrown around. The rules made much more sense now. With how competitive this theme was, there would undoubtedly some minor injuries and accidents.
“Of course, it’s not a war without epic battles, so we will definitely have battle game right here.”
The kids cheered loudly. Hana found herself hollering with them, grinning from ear-to-ear and her earlier resentment forgotten. This was going to actually be fun! And Gabriel wasn’t even done yet.
“Your camp leaders, I and Ana, will be acting as supervisors to the “throne”. For each kingdom, your king or queen will be voted among yourselves. They will be your leader, who has the final say. However, throughout camp’s duration, if said king or queen is seen unfit to “rule” anymore, the kingdom can overthrow and assume a new leader.”
“In the last week of camp, starting on July 20th, a series of competition will take place. This includes a jousting tournament, armour crafting, poetry weaving, archery tournament, and etcetera. Think mini Renaissance fair, if you may. During this last week, there will be a copious amount of points given out, so even if you did terrible throughout the two months, your kingdom would still have a chance to catch up.”
“And, of course, there’s no winning if there isn’t a prize. The winner of the two kingdoms may decide whichever prize they desire, from both the losing kingdom and the camp itself. This is, of course, restricted by budget and common sense.”
Gabriel grinned at the kids, “Any question?”
By now, everyone was practically buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Well, except for one.
“Mr. Reyes, I need a word with you.”
Apparently, Blonde Guy had decided that he had enough of Gabriel ignoring him. Blue eyes were both challenging and defensive when the camp leader threw him a teasing smirk.
“Now, now, Jack. I asked for questions, not commands. But if that’s how you like it, I’m sure I can arrange something in the office. After I’ve dealt with the kids, of course.”
Hana’s eyebrows shot up once again, and she couldn’t help but let the giggles escape. Unfazed by the taunt, Jack narrowed his eyes.
“You know full well that it is because of the kids that I am here.”
Gabriel gave him a shrug, both nonchalant and ignorant, “If this is about that one complaint, then I don’t have time for it.”
“Actually, there are three now. Which forces us to take actions.” Jack produced folder from his jacket, waving it at Gabriel’s face, “There has been complaints from parents about injuries, and that the camp’s methods are not safe for the children. Thus I am-…”
“Oh. Wow.” Gabriel cut in, his stare dragged from the folder to Jack’s face, unimpressed, “A whole three complaints. I’m shivering in my boots. Should I be packing my things? Close down the camp?”
Jack bristled, but he was, at least, tried to stay polite, “Nobody is closing down your camp, Gabriel! At least not yet. Which is why I’m here, if you’d just let me finish.”
“There is nothing to finish.” A sharp edge rolled under the lazy drawls of Gabriel’s voice, signalling the end of his patience, “From what I’ve seen, you’re the only one at the office to bring up this stupidity. I’m flattered, really, but I ain’t gonna change anything here just because some whiny kids couldn’t stand a few scrapes.”
“A few scrapes-!” Jack was at the brink of shouting at Gabriel, but managed to catch himself, even when his glare was blazing, “Sprained ankles and broken fingers aren’t scrapes!”
“Uh, hello?” There was a sneer in Gabriel’s voice now. He made a grand, mocking gesture, “We’re out in the woods. They go hiking, foraging and competing. Among other activities. All of which listed on the programme. With the risks. That the parents had to sign. Ain’t my fault neither you nor they can’t read.”
This time, Jack forwent all manners, hissing, “Maybe if you weren’t being such a jerk about it then there wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place!”
“The only problem here is you! Again, you have been the only one that’s been giving me crap! If you have that big of an issue, then go talk to your superior. I’m sure he can find something useful for you to do.”
The forgotten file crumpled in his fist, the inspector snapped at Gabriel, “Too bad! Reinhardt has assigned me here to investigate and prevent further accidents from happening! I. Am. Staying!”
For the first time, it seemed like Gabriel was at loss of what to say, and looked like he was going to punch Jack in the face. Everyone was gawking at the two of them, eyes following the two back and forth as if watching a tennis match.
“You-!” Gabriel started, fists curled dangerously.
“Alright. Settle down, boys!”
Thankfully, Ana stepped in between them before the two men came to blows. She was exasperated, like she was having to deal with two screaming toddles instead of two grown-ass adults.
“How about this, since Jack’s already here, instead of me managing one side of the camp as usual, we’ll get him to. That way, Jack can both supervise our activity and come up with possible ideas to make this place run better.”
Oh, this wasn’t just interesting anymore, this was way more entertaining than anything Hana could have been doing at home right now. Not only had the camp flown pass her poor expectation by half the planet, but this juicy, juicy drama was just to die for.
Jack recoiled, eyes wide, “What?! Ana, that’s absurd! I’ve never run a camp before, it’d be much more dangerous than it already is! I’m only supposed to be taking notes and giving advice!”
Obligatorily, the kids turned to Gabriel, expecting the man to explode at this suggestion. However, the camp leader was wearing a thoughtful expression that soon turned sly. Jack took an instinctive step back.
“What? Scared now?” Gabriel smirked, his dark eyes gleamed devilishly, “So much for Mister Jack I-know-how-to-run-this-place-better Morrison.”
Jack went a little purple, “You’re being juvenile!”
Palms up, Gabriel gave him the cheekiest, smuggest shrug Hana had ever seen in her life, “Hey, I’m not the one barging in on someone else’s business and insisting that I know better.”
Sighing, and giving Gabriel a disapproving scowl, Ana then turned to Jack with an encouraging smile, “You’re going to be stuck here for two months anyway. The way I see it, both of you want to prove the other wrong, and this, other than just an activity, is also a competition. What better way to settle it? Besides, I’m going to be right here to help you.”
Darting his stare between Ana and Gabriel, Jack was trapped. Desperately, he smoothed out his file, looking lost. And Hana was sure the kids weren’t helping with their excited chatter either, telling Jack to just go with it.
“It’ll be fun!” A boy, not much older than Hana, with bright green hair grinned at Jack, whilst another kid in a cowboy hat nodded enthusiastically.
“It’s like y’all be havin’ your own competition!”
“You gotta show ‘im what you’ve got!” Hana chimed in, getting bolder as well. Though, secretly, she kinda wanted to be assigned to Gabriel. Even though he was kinda rude, the guy seemed to know how to have fun.
The tips of Jack’s ears were turning red and, for a moment there, he was the definition of a lost puppy, looking at the faces around him helplessly. But his eyes hardened the second they met Gabriel’s, arrogant and challenging.
The camp leader gave Jack a shark-like grin, “Perfect.”
Jack regretted his decision almost immediately. Why was he so foolishly goaded into this situation???
At first, everything was alright. They split the kids into two groups of ten, picked randomly, under Jack and Gabriel’s charges. It only took a few minutes to get through with their names, and Jack dutifully noted them all down. There was Hana, the petite Korean girl with a fiery attitude. Cheery Lena with her oversized shades. Lucio with his beloved skates and a grin brighter than the sun. Bright-eyed Efi and her quick laughter. Freckled and gentle Emily. Aloof and proper Hanzo. Mild-mannered but firm Angela. Fareeha, commanding and decisive just like her mother Ana. Shy, soft-spoken and polite Mei. But what surprised him the most was Brigitte, his boss’ niece.
Jack couldn’t believe Reinhardt would let her attend this camp, especially with the feedback they had gotten. Perhaps the man didn’t know? Maybe Jack should give him a call whenever he could. Maybe this was just a confusion.
Jack Morrison quickly learned that this was the least of his problem.
Reyes’ team consisted of ten other kids, Satya, Mako, Zarya, Gerard, Liao, Amelie, Sombra, Jesse, Genji and Jamison. All of them seemed unruly and…unique at first glance. Jack had been sure Reyes would have a hard time rounding them up and getting them to behave.
He didn’t expect them to fall in line before Gabriel like little soldiers, young faces scrunched up in utter concentration, and agreed upon a leader within fifteen minutes: Satya. As soon as her name was announced, the prim, crisp girl led her team back to their side of the camp and, without a beat, started assigning roles for everyone else. The kids fell into their duties, efficiently even though there were more than a few complaints from Jamison.
They play to win, Jack realised, and as he scrambled to gather his thoughts, loud arguments from his team snapped the blond back to the task at hand.
“Why should you be the leader?” Hana gave Hanzo a one-over, arms crossed and eyebrow raised. The boy obviously took offense to this, lifting his chin up haughtily and peering down at her over his nose.
“Because I’ve been here for many years and obviously know what to do? Unlike you, newb.”
“Excuse you! Nobody calls me a newb!” Hana stomped her feet, glaring, “But I don’t think you’d know better. This is a camp, not a beauty pageant, princess!”
Hanzo looked like he was ready to murder Hana at the spot, when Brigitte thankfully interfered,”Hanzo’s been here every year for the last five years, he knows what he’s talking about.” A pause, then, “But to be fair, Hanz, the last time you led, we lost, pitifully.”
“I told you to stop calling me that!!”
“Why can’t I be the leader then? I’ve been here before and everybody likes me.” Lena flashed them a winning grin.
Fareeha rolled her eyes, “But that’s just it, Lena. You’re nice to everyone, even when they are the enemy. That isn’t exactly the greatest thing.”
“Guys! Calm down!” Angela’s attempt to stop the argument fell on deaf ears. She threw her hands in the air, exasperated, “Why does it have to be like this every single year???”
Wide-eyed, Mei asked, amidst all the bickering, “It is?”
“Yeah. It’s usually even worse when Satya and Hanzo are on the same team.”
Jack felt a headache coming. Taking a deep breath, he tried to gather their attention by clapping loudly. It worked, as most of the kids looked his way, but Hana and Hanzo were still too busy shouting at each other’s face to care. Frowning, Jack separated the two by the shoulder.
“Now, now, there is no need for fighting. I’m sure we can settle this fair and square.”
“I am not the one who’s been acting like an uncivilised beast.” Hanzo seethed. Hana bristled.
“Who are you calling-“
“Enough.” Ana’s firm voice cut in, effectively ended anything else anyone could have said. Hands on her hips, the camp leader stared the kids down, “You are not going to win by yelling and calling names. Look at them.” Gestured towards Gabriel’s side, “While you are busy fighting, they have already been building.”
Even though they were just snapping at each other, both Hana and Hanzo wore almost the same expression as they followed Ana’s pointing finger. It was comical how they both visibly deflated, before determination set in their eyes.
Jack gave Ana a grateful nod, “Alright, let’s get this started, shall we?”
It wasn’t too bad when they had all agreed that they wanted to beat the other team more than yelling at each other, though Hana and Hanzo came pretty close a couple more times as they discussed who should be their leader. In the end, it was Angela who nobody could find anything to whine about.
Satya’s team split into four smaller groups, each building a tent surrounding the main structure. They had also drawn a perimeter around their camp to build barricade later. Meanwhile, Angela had her team expand the initial tent. She planned to have them build a makeshift wall and barricade surrounding the place after the centre was done. After all roles were sorted out and agreed upon, thanks to Angela, the work moved along smoothly.
Jack, being the good man he was, wanted to lend a hand. However, he suddenly remembered something and almost blushed to death when his corgi, stubby and full of pent-up energy, fell face-first out of his car when he went to let her out. Undeterred, Corgnelius bounced up on her chubby feet, and wagged her butt in all her doggy excitement upon being set free. This prompted a whole cooing and petting session from Jack’s team. Corgni, shameless little thing, soaked up the attention like a sponge, pink tongue lolling out happily.
“There isn’t anyone that could look after her while I’m gone, so I decided to take her with me.” Jack explained to an amused Ana, still pink around the edges.
He completely missed the stare Gabriel was throwing at his direction.
With that bit of delight out of the way, it was time for the next event of the day.
While renovating their tents, the kids soon found clues hidden within the pile of supplies. To maintain the integrity of the game, the camp leaders, Jack included, had to go to the watch tower.
“Normally, we are allowed to give them extra clues when they are stuck, but since you weren’t briefed, we’d lay that off for now.” Ana explained, showing Jack camp’s layouts and where they had hidden the hoards.
“Has there ever been any team who didn’t get any of the hoards?” Worried, Jack skimmed through the three positions, each cleverly concealed within the mountain’s foot.
“Only happened once. We specifically placed the hoards so that each team would at least be able to grab one for themselves.” Ana tapped on the touch screen, enlarging each area to show Jack, “Two hoards are always placed so each respective team has the upper hand in getting there first. The third one is always somewhere in the middle. Each is marked by a flag, and upon collection, will be brought to the camp leader so the supplies will be distributed. Of course, being the first treasure hunt, it is easy enough to ensure everyone has enough supplies. Even if they fail, there is plenty of food at the lodge. Do you really think I’d let my kids starve?”
Bashful under Ana’s sternness, Jack rubbed the back of his head, chuckling, “Of course not. But you know, I am here to ask questions.”
It was a lame response, but Jack was nervous. Not only he worried about the kids’ safety, roaming around the place unchecked (well, not entirely, since the leaders could oversee them from here), but also he was worried about how his team fared. Jack hoped they wouldn’t get into any more trouble.
Plus, Gabriel’s odd quietness peeved Jack just a little.
Of all his years working as a Health and Safety inspector, Jack had never seen anyone quite like Gabriel. The man’s methods were unorthodox to say the least, and while even Jack couldn’t deny that Gabriel did care about the kids in his own way, it was Gabriel’s attitudes that irked Jack. Reyes was cocky, had little regards of regulations and rules, and he knew exactly how to get under everyone’s skin.
The blonde had no idea why, but ever since they first met, Gabriel went out of his ways to rile Jack up. They didn’t cross paths often, but every time they did, Jack’s impression of Gabriel worsened. Jack had no idea how anyone could stand the guy, certainly not level-headed Ana. Mouthy and arrogant, Gabriel Reyes acted like he owned the world, and Jack felt sympathy towards Ana, having to deal with the man’s bullshit.
Of course, his stupid dog had to disagree. While Jack was busy with his inner monologue, Corgni decided to get all chummy with Reyes. Tongue-lolling and butt-wagging, she circled the camp leader, vying for his attention at every turn.
“Did you say something?”
He threw a sheepish grin at Ana’s quirked eyebrow, “I mean, the trails. Yes, the trails, do you place any obstacle or anything on the trails?” Smooth.
“No, we don’t do that here.” Ana’s tone was slightly sceptical, “But the kids are allowed to.”
That broke Jack out of his flustering, “What???”
“It’s nothing extreme, of course, but the kids are allowed to put traps along the trails to slow the enemy team.”
“But that’s dangerous!”
“Oh please, you act like our kids are a bunch of rampaging, murderous gremlins.” Finally, Gabriel looked away from the binoculars, drawling sarcastically, “The worst they do is tripping someone over.”
“Tripping over in a mountainous terrain can result in many serious injuries!” Jack glared.
“They can just easily slip and break their neck walking around on the streets. With your logic, they should all be swaddled up in fluffy blankets and stowed away in a padded room somewhere.”
Jack was aghast with the description, but Gabriel cut in before he could form a retort, “Aren’t you supposed to be watching the kids instead of entertaining me?”
Not for the first time, he really wanted to punch that smug smirk off of Reyes’ face. Ultimately, Jack decided against it and glared through his own pair of binoculars.
Before he left his team, they had decided to have Mei, Lena and Lucio going after the treasures. On Gabriel’s side, the treasure hunters were Sombra, Genji and Amelie.
Jack’s team split up into two, with Lena and Lucio rushed off while Mei hiked towards a different direction. A quick look at the map told him that the two athletic kids were heading for the middle point, while Mei was going to the one closest to their camp. Solid strategy. That way, they would have a chance to attain two hoards and, worst case scenario, secure one.
Unlike them, Genji, Amelie and Sombra all split off to three different directions. They wanted all three, Jack realised, though he was surprised to see Genji, the quickest, heading towards the closest one to their side of camp. Still, it was a smart strategy and sure enough, within fifteen minutes, Genji had already plucked the flag triumphantly.
The competition got a bit intense then, and Jack found himself inwardly cheering for his team. Despite her lithe form, Amelie was fearsome, sprinting through the trees and vaulting herself around at a blurring speed. She was not as fast as either Lucio or Lena, but damn was she agile. Judging by the distance between the competitors and the hoard, it was difficult to tell who would be reach it first.
Jack couldn’t help it. He let out a small whoop when Lena skidded and snatched the flag right out of Amelie’s grasp. Ignoring Gabriel’s shit-eating grin, Jack turned to Ana, “Has there been any situation where they got into a scuffle over the flag?”
“There has been and probably will happen again, but that’s why we are here. That counts as a rule violation and points will be deducted heavily if they do so.”
Reassured, Jack got back to the game. Mei was nearing the final flag, a dozen feet away at most. However, Sombra was nowhere in sight, and that worried Jack a little. Mei was so close, it would be a matter of seconds before…
Suddenly, she stopped, frantically looking around. At this distance, it didn’t look like there was something wrong. Jack’s stomach dropped. Mei must have seen, or heard, something that he couldn’t. Judging by the way she was acting, she was terrified.
That one moment of hesitation was all Sombra needed. A streak of purple zipped pass Mei, snatching the flag up before the stunned girl. The way Mei’s lips trembled had Jack stomping his feet.
“That isn’t fair! Mei was there first!”
Gabriel was amused at Jack’s accusing finger, “Yeah, but she didn’t grab the flag first, did she? All is fair.”
Unable to spit out something coherent and not a salty insult, Jack turned on his heels, ignoring Ana’s loud announcement over the megaphone, “Corgni! We’re out of here!”
His exit would have been a lot stronger without his dog’s bouncing steps and jingling collar. That and Gabriel’s snorting.
Upon returning, Jack’s righteous fury evaporated. Even though nobody was vocal about it, they were dejected. Obviously, Mei was the most downtrodden, her glasses foggy and her lips raw from biting back the tears. Angela was by her side, whispering quiet reassurances, but that seemed to do little good.
“Come now, cheer up guys. It’s only one point less and it’s only the first day. There are plenty of chances to earn it back!” Jack put on his sunniest smile, hoping to pull them pass this early defeat.
“Yeah, well, we could have had it if she wasn’t so slow.”
He scowled, but didn’t retort. Everyone else went a little quieter, uneasy of Angela’s harsh tone. The lithe girl was always light and airy, pleasant like a summer breeze, so her anger was somewhat scary. Composing herself, Angela sighed.
“Sombra has always been a bit of a bully.” She ignored Lena’s snort, “She used a sound file to scare Mei. That was bad planning on my part. I should have known they would have her skulking around.”
“Well, pointing fingers and sulking isn’t going to help us win.” Fareeha said, and Jack could see Ana’s sternness reflecting in her, “Jack’s right, this is nothing. We can easily win back, if only we’d just stop being dicks about it.”
“Fareeha!” Jack exclaimed, scandalised, “Language!”
She blinked up at him, a faint blush dusting the peaks of her cheekbones. The camp went silent and, almost at the same time, burst out laughing. It was contagious, and Jack found himself a lot less miffed.
Night fell when the tent was erected. To try and lighten the mood further, Jack taught them how to build the most badass campfire ever, roaring and dancing at the centre of their circle. Between the smores, smoking hot dogs and the kids tossing random twigs into the fire, the afternoon’s misadventure almost didn’t exist. It hit Jack with a wave of nostalgia, and he smiled, remembering himself and faces not much younger than these.
“So…I take that your first day here isn’t as bad as you thought?”
He blinked at Lena, who had inched over with a grin that made her freckles bunched up adorably. A chuckle drew out of Jack, and he patted her head, “No, not really.”
Lena beams got brighter. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and for a second there, Jack thought she was going to say something cheeky, but the pixie thirteen-year-old opted to ask instead.
“Where did you learn to do all the camping stuff?”
“I used to live on a farm. And I was a Boy Scout when I was a kid.”
Fareeha, crouching by Corgni and giving her the most glorious belly rub, to look up and give Jack something akin to a leer, “So that’s why Uncle Gabi calls you boy scout.”
“I…think it’s just a form of name-calling. You know, when someone gives another person names just to be mean.” Jack frowned, trying not to fume.
Fareeha and Lena exchanged a glance. This turn of conversation had also drawn his entire team’s attention. It made Jack feel…awkward.
“You know, boys only give people names when they liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike somebody.” Lena sang, earning a few giggles from the girls.
Jack’s eyebrows shot up, “I don’t know what gives you that silly idea. He and I are not kindergarteners. Plus I assure you, Mr. Reyes doesn’t have a high opinion about myself, considering how much of a…nuisance I have been to him, as he has adequately let me know.”
The camp went into a scrutinising silence. Calmly, Hanzo placed down his tea thermos (seriously, what fourteen-year-old drank tea??) and spoke with an imperial flick of his chin, “You sounded awfully defensive there, Mr. Morrison.”
“Alright, what is this all about? What are you trying to get at?”
“Ignore them, Jack.” Angela said coolly, “They simply assume things because Gabe’s been mentioning you a lot.”
Pinching the bridge of his nose amidst the fits of giggles and slightly thrown off by Angela’s remark, Jack sighed, “So do you kids and your parents all know Gabriel personally?”
He should have guessed, that would probably the only way the camp leader could swindle people to sign their kids up in here. Completely ignoring the fact that the entire concept was kinda fun.
“Obviously Fareeha knows Gabe, since her mom works with him and all.” Lena blew a raspberry at him, grinning, “Me, Emily, Angie,” Ignoring Angela’s distasteful noise, “The Shimada bros, Amelie, Sombra, Jesse and Brigitte come here every year! We chat with Gabe all the time!”
Jack’s head turned over so quickly it popped, “You come here every year???”
Brigitte winked, “Every year since I was eight. Uncle Rein and Uncle Gabe go way back. Do you know Uncle Rein helped Uncle Gabe set this whole place up??? I wasn’t allowed to go on the first year, but I went on the second!”
“That’s because you weren’t old enough.”
Brigitted stuck her tongue out at a flexing Fareeha, “Only because I got chicken pox that year!”
“My uncle Torbjorn wants to send his kids here next year too.” Angela chimed in.
Emily wrinkled her nose, “Doesn’t he have like seven kids or something? Gabe and Ana never take more than twenty per year. And I’m not giving up my spot.”
“Why doesn’t he take more than twenty?” Jack quirked up an eyebrow. The conversation was moving too fast for him to stomach the fact that yes, not only Reinhardt knew Emily was going here, but he also had a hand in building this place. It made the decision to send Jack to camp Overwatch the more baffling, but he would file all those thoughts away in order to keeping up with the kids’ chirping.
“Safety reasons, duh.” Fareeha rolled her eyes like it was the most obvious thing in the world, “Can’t have some unattended idiots run off and get lost.”
Jack’s “language” was lost under Lena’s loud protest, “Hey! That was ONE time!!!”
Before the argument could get heated, and before Jack could ask about that incident, Hana butted in, “So you guy come here every year? Isn’t it the same thing over and over?”
“Well, yeah and no.” Emily took a sip of her hot chocolate, “I mean, we do competition every year, but the theme varies. Last year it was sci-fi, and Gabe set up this wicked laser tag ring for us. Got split into four teams last time, and we had Gabe and Ana as information brokers.”
She went on to describe how they got to play a more strategic rather than physical game last time, as the teams earned points by solving riddles, some even hidden amidst the enemy team’s fort, trying to trick each other by messing up clues, taking pieces of a puzzle away and keeping the “information brokers” from snooping and selling out their plans. Hana was completely enamoured by the end, and Mei too, from the looks of it.
“Any chance finding out the theme beforehand?” The bubbly Korean bounced on her butt.
“It’s usually listed on the website a few months before summer. It’s pretty cool, because when the theme is announced, the people who signed up can vote on a few activities.” Fareeha puffed up with an air of importance, “The battle thing this year was my idea.”
Hanzo snorted behind his thermos. Fareeha gave him a long stare, “Oh please, don’t act like you don’t like the chance of shooting Genji up the butt.”
He glared at her, mumbling, “How uncouth.” But didn’t deny it. Amari Jr. flashed him a victorious grin.
“I thought this was lame at first.” Hana admitted, and flailed when Lena gasped at her, “I mean, I’m sorry! But the idea of being sent off to a camp when you could be doing all the other cool stuff with your friends sucks. But first day, and I’m sold! This is badass! I’d totally come back next year!”
Sighing at all the cheering, Jack gave up trying to fix their language. If he was honest with himself, their exuberance and carefree joy brought a warmth to his chest. There was no denying that the kids loved Gabriel, and they loved camp Overwatch as a whole, safe or not.
The more he pondered, the more it didn’t make sense. Why did Reinhardt send Jack here if the man himself didn’t have any problem with the camp being run the way it did? And if Reinhardt did somehow have a problem, why did he still let his favourite niece coming here?
Lost in his musing, Jack didn’t notice it at first when Efi, tiny with huge, expectant eyes, tugged at his elbow.
“You’re not going to close down the camp, are you?”
Jack melted before the pleading, innocent stare. And was that a flicker of guilt he felt? “No…No. Of course not. I’m just here to help make things better.”
It earned him a wide, tooth-gaped grin and a squeezing hug.
The moment was shattered however, when a shout came out from their tent. Jack, and half of the others, scrambled inside to find a shocked Lucio, the canvas wall at the back untied and a chunk of their canned food hoard missing. Hanzo immediately set to investigate the opening.
“I don’t think we need your poking around to know who did this.” Angela’s eyes narrowed into slits. Behind the blonde, Fareeha crackled her knuckles.
“Oh, it is on.”
I decided to split this into two chapters due to the length of it. Makes it a lot easier for everyone to read ^^; Enjoy!
It was chaos the next day.
When Jack heard “re-enacting epic battles”, he didn’t expect them to be given foam sword and padded arrows to go to town down on each other. And he certainly had a clear idea of how Hanzo would like to “shoot Genji up the butt” now, as Fareeha had eloquently put it, because the elder Shimada was chasing down his brother, crackling like he just drank a vat of Mountain Dew, and repeatedly shooting the green-haired boy in his backside. It was also terrifying to see Efi, tiny, adorable Efi, screaming at the top of her lungs with a foam sword double her size, and chasing down Sombra of all people.
If Jack had to admit it, he would say it was hilarious. Until Zarya decided enough was enough and tried to choke Lucio with her thighs, squishy weapons be damned.
“Hey! HEY!!! That’s against the rule!”
Jack was only half way there to break the two apart, when Gabriel swooped in out of nowhere, and held them by the scruffs of their necks. The burly, pink-haired eleven-year-old struggled to reach for Lucio again, while the latter was just glad to be able to breathe.
“That’s enough. You’re sitting this one out.”
The girl broke into a string of loud, harsh Russian, which Jack was glad he didn’t understand. Crouching down by Lucio, “You ok?”
“Yeah…” The boy croaked, still a bit dazed. Though he declined when Jack suggested he should sit down for a bit, “Are you kidding??? This is awesome, man!!! No way I’m missin’ this one!” Turning back to the fray, shouting, “Let’s turn up the BEAT!!!”
And charged right into a towering Mako in Jack’s horror.
Thank goodness he had the insight to leash Cogni at the tent. She would have gone ballistic at all this madness. The corgi normally behaved at home, but here, in such a place with such a crowd, a pup like her was bound to get overly excited. And that would have caused way more harm than good.
“How do you deal with…this???” Jack blurted out, watching Zarya stomping off. He didn’t even have it in him to scowl when Gabriel smirked.
“Scared, boy scout?”
This time, Jack did frown, “I’m just saying, this doesn’t seem safe at all. Without interference, someone could have gotten seriously hurt!”
“That’s why we are here.” Gabriel shrugged, “Besides, it should calm down by tomorrow.”
“They look like they could run from New York to LA.”
“Why do you think I had them labouring on the camps, going on that treasure hunt, and now this?” Gabriel gave him a pointed stare, but there wasn’t any sarcasm in his words, “These kids got stuck sitting on their asses most of the year. P.E. is not enough to let off their pent up energy. They need to do something to release all of that, with as few limits as they can get. This is a perfect place for them to do so, without breaking anything and their parents’ scolding.”
Jack’s eyes widened. But Gabriel wasn’t done, “I grew up in the city. Everywhere you look, it’s a wall. Summer was restricting with many kind of dangers and looming accidents. Summer camps were ridden with rules are chiding eyes.”
“So you decided a foam sword battle is the best thing for the kids.”
Under Gabriel’s sudden heated glare, Jack shook his head vehemently, palms up, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be offensive. I mean…it’s actually…great.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, Jack viciously regretted it. Replacing that spark of passion, Reyes’ lips slowly stretched wide with the smugness Jack associated him with. The latter immediately scowled.
“Don’t get too ahead of yourself. It could use some improvements. Take Lucio for example. He could have been seriously hurt if nobody interfered on time.”
“But he didn’t. That’s why we’re here.” Gabriel repeated, smirk only grew wider, “Just gotta pay-“Gerard came flying out of nowhere and slammed into Jack right on the side, “attention.”
While the lanky boy couldn’t knock Jack down, hell, his elbow was sharp. Still, Jack tried, hard, to smile as Gerard profusely apologised, “It’s alright. Just watch where you’re going next time.” And was hyperaware of Gabriel’s stare burning at the back of his neck.
By the end of it, the adults were just as dirty and ragged as the kids. Jack had to escort Hanzo off twice for making his brother bawl, and another one for tackling Jesse to the ground. Hana bit Amelie in the hand, somehow Liao and Bridgette caught each other in a headlock, Mako was sitting on a screaming Lena and Jamison broke every single foam sword he was given. Even so, they probably would have fought through the night if Ana didn’t call it to a stop.
“The total point pool for each team is 10. For each member violating the rules, one point is taken away.”
Blackwatch ended up with 6, whilst Jack’s team got 7. That meant the total tied. This definitely brought the kids’ mood back up and, though exhausted, they chattered happily all the way back to camp after a quick shower at the lodge. Whilst Angela and Jack went around to check if anyone’s scrapes needed bandaging, the rest were, loudly, debating on what name they were going to call themselves.
“We can call ourselves the MEKA Unit!”
“That’s too sci-fi, Hana.”
“Yeah, but the other team called themselves Blackwatch.”
“Just because they suck doesn’t mean we have to suck too!”
And thus the bickering began, as they stuck pieces of sausages on sticks to cook over the fire. Sighing, Jack went through the next day’s programme.
“Says here we need to get two to help each respective camp leader cook for each team from tomorrow and onward.” He read aloud, and realised with a slight shudder that he was the camp leader.
Jack couldn’t cook worth a shit.
“Well, we can’t eat packaged sausages forever.” Emily commented from where she was sharing a stick with Lena.
Fareeha made a noise, “This would be the one time I’m jealous of their team. Uncle Gabe’s chili is killer.”
Jack was genuinely distressed, “He cooks???”
“Yeah. Don’t you?”
Lena whistled upon seeing the look on Jack’s face, “Hoooo boy. We’re gonna fail spectacularly.”
“It’s also worth points.” Angela, with endless pool of patience and understanding, explained, “Think Masterchef. Just smaller scale. Every day you have to serve lunch and dinner. By the end of the day we have to vote which dishes are the best. Whoever gets the most votes gets one point for the team.”
Jack groaned, holding his head. Lena was right. He was going to fail spectacularly. Thus would make the kids fail and they would hate him and everything he might come up to improve the place would be rebuked and…
“I can help out if you’d like?” Emily broke his depressing, border-lining frantic train of thoughts, “I know how to cook.”
“Same here.” Lucio beamed, “I have a lot of younger cousins. You won’t believe how much food they chomp through in one sitting!”
They were being so supportive. The least Jack could do was try, right?
“That’s great and all, but we still need a name!” Hana exclaimed.
Growing up on a farm, Jack knew how to do a number of things. Chopping woods, collecting eggs, herding cows,…you named it and he would ace it. But he was also a walking disaster in the kitchen, and his Ma had banned him from there since the day he broke her favourite china trying to boil a tomato.
How that happened, Jack had no idea.
Just like how he was fumbling with this one carrot.
“You’re supposed to peel it first.” Emily piped up.
Jack wasn’t, or at least he would like to think, an easily flustered man. But there was a certain sense of embarrassment when one was being taught by a ten-year-old. And Gabriel very non-discreet stares at the back of his neck didn’t help either.
“Yeah. Peeling.” Peeling he could do. He used to have to peel a ton of potatoes when he was a kid. Still, he ended up knocking over the strainer whilst trying to find the right utensil. Lucio blinked down at the spilled green beans.
“Maybe it’d help if we decide what to cook first?” He suggested, handing Jack the peeler before the man could make a bigger mess. Jack’s ears burned at Sombra’s stifled giggles behind his back.
He raked his brain, trying to think of something within his capability. Ever since he moved out, the most Jack had ever “cooked” was heating up spaghetti-O’s and frying eggs. He had a feeling neither would impress the kids. Then again, nothing had gone according to his expectation since day one. Jack didn’t think the camp lodge would house a semi-industrial kitchen, nor did he imagine they would get fresh farm products delivered here.
“Just for today, you get access to everything. But from tomorrow onwards, your teams must earn credits from puzzles, treasure hunts and other activities to place an order for products.” At six a.m. sharp, Jack stared at Ana owlishly after her explanation.
“What about the cans?”
The camp leader gave him a stare that would have made Jack shrink and his Ma proud, “That’s only for the first two days and emergencies. Say, like the food camp leader provides is unfit for human consumption.”
Needless to say, the too recent memory did not boost Jack’s confidence. He didn’t even know where to begin.
“Maybe a stew?” Emily suggested, picking at the chicken, “We can separate the bones and make a nice stock with the veggies.”
“Oh! And we can make a peach cobbler for dessert! I saw a few cans in the pile!” Lucio zipped away as soon as the words left his mouth.
Being clueless as he was, Jack didn’t argue with their choices. Being the ever responsible adult, he insisted that he would handle the knife.
Naturally, Jack almost chopped his finger off.
Lucio almost fainted at the sight of streaming blood, Emily and Sombra both went pale, and Jesse’s jaws hung loose. And Jack just stared dumbly at his hand.
“What do you mean ”oh”?” Calloused fingers wrapped around his wrist, yanking it under the tap. Jack hissed when cold water hit the open wound, though he was too stunned to pull away.
“Jesse, quit starin’ and give me the first aid kit. You three, scram.”
Snapped out of shock, Sombra, Emily and Lucio almost tripped over each other to get out. Jesse clumsily dropped the box next to Gabriel, before masking a hasty retreat himself. If Jack wasn’t so occupied with how close Gabriel was, he would have felt worse for the kids. In fact, he was so distracted by fresh aftershave’s scent, he almost missed the question.
“How did you survive this long?”
“Well, I used to live on a farm. This is nothing.” He had plenty “battle scars” on him to prove his point. The one on his back from falling down an apple tree when he was eight, a burnt mark on his elbow from the barbecue, one on his upper arm from the tractor steps, a few on his thighs from climbing a beat up fence…
“I meant the cooking.” Jack felt heat dusting his cheeks again. If Gabriel noticed, he ignored it in favour of wiping Jack’s hand clean, “How did you live on a farm and not know how to use a knife?”
“It’s…different.” Jack struggled to find the words, staring down at their joined hands. How could a hold so firm be so gentle at the same time? And how could he possibly associate Gabriel Reyes with the word gentle? “To whittle a branch, you bring the knife away from you? Not laying everything on a board and chopping it, and certainly not with a massive chef’s knife.”
A chuckle rumbled forth, resonating against his side and taking Jack by surprise. There was no mockery in the sound, just pure amusement and, dare Jack say, a drop of fondness. But Gabriel didn’t speak more, and neither did Jack, out of conflicted thoughts. The cut was dressed quickly with practiced movements. Jack had half a mind to ask how many times and to whom had Gabriel done this to. But he felt like that was a pretty petty thing to say, and Gabriel had earned enough merits for the day for Jack to not be an ass about it.
Oh, yes, certainly enough merits, as Gabriel quietly and neatly separated the meat from the bones of Jack’s chicken. The former also moved his station across from Jack’s team instead of with their backs against each other. If the kids, once called back inside, had any question about the changes, they didn’t voice it. Though, Sombra did glance between the two men, an almost hidden smile playing on her pursed lips.
Jack didn’t make a fuss over it. After all, Gabriel didn’t have to correct them when they forgot to season the broth, nor did he have to tell them to strain the peaches. For once, there was no jab or taunt between them. Honestly, the silence bothered Jack a little, not quite on an uncomfortable note, but with this uncertainty that refused to leave his thoughts. It occurred to Jack then that he knew about Gabriel just as little as he knew any of the kids here, despite having some mutual acquaintances. That he didn’t know enough to judge the man on a personal level.
It was…grounding, and it also kindled a sense of curiosity.
Lunch didn’t turn out too bad. Jack had to admit the vegetable chunks could be more even and they could use a bit more seasoning. He wasn’t even mad more than half the camp voted for Gabriel’s stunning beef goulash and coconut flan. Hell, Jack himself enjoyed it.
“I think you need some lessons, Commander.” Fareeha spoke solemnly. They were working around the camp’s perimeter, as Angela had decided to implement some form of defence around the big tent.
“I definitely do.” He didn’t sound too positive. Emily and Lucio did all the cooking, Jack just did the heavy lifting, literally.
But this was a very tentative matter. On one hand, Jack knew he was setting up for failure and that he was one of those people who just couldn’t get the art of cooking right. On the other, this was his team, and they were counting on him. Plus letting two kids doing most of the job for him, a grown ass twenty-seven years old man just didn’t feel right.
“Maybe I can convince Uncle Gabe to give you lessons.”
Fareeha didn’t even bat an eyelash, “Emily told us how he helped you guys back there. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind giving you a hint or two.”
Jack stopped stacking up the logs, gawking, “But this is a competition!”
“Yeah, duh. But it’s also supposed to be fun.” She was the splitting image of Ana then, with hands on her hips and a proud quirk to her lips, “It’s no fun when the opposing team is hopelessly outmatched and miserable, isn’t it?”
Jack didn’t know why, but this idea didn’t sit well with him, “What about your mom?”
The girl puffed up with laughter, “She’s terrible with cooking! Well, not terrible terrible, but not the best. Uncle Gabe helps her all the time. He always had to prep recipes for her beforehand. Looks like you’ll be continuing the tradition.”
She then lowered her voice, big eyes darting around in an innocent secrecy that made him smile, “But don’t tell the others, ok? It’s sorta a secret around here.”
Jack found his amusement fading later that day, when he was called up to the watch tower. Mostly because he was hit with a full face of Gabriel Reyes’ Smug Smirktm.
“So a little birdie told me you need help.”
Jack groaned, and couldn’t be bothered to be offended when Corgni immediately bounced towards Gabriel, “Would you just focus at the task for now?”
Surprisingly, Reyes complied, though Jack wished he would wipe that look off of his face. But Jack figured instead of being annoyed, he should at least pay attention to something he could do.
Each team was given a puzzle box today. A yosegi, to be exact, though Jack didn’t have a higher understanding of what it was despite Hanzo’s exasperated explanations. On his team, obviously the Japanese boy was in charge of solving the puzzle, along with Mei and Angela. On Gabriel’s team: Gerard, Satya and Sombra. Since this was more of an intellectual thing, Jack wasn’t too worried about anyone getting hurt.
That was until Ana told him the second part of the game.
“Inside the puzzle, there is a clue to where the credits are hidden. The kids have to solve the puzzle, then pass the clue to another teammate to gather these credits before the opposing team does.”
“Why do all of these games have to be so physical???”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow at him, “That’s kinda the point?”
Jack groaned. Why did he even bother?
If his team’s performance wasn’t the best the last few rounds, today they were exceptional. Hanzo’s head probably would be growing twice its normal size, as Fareeha might say, but the boy was incredibly quick with his movements. Mosaic cubes were pushed around at blurring speed, and got unlocked within fifteen minutes flat. Lena, Lucio and Fareeha were at the ready, and they shot off at different directions.
Gabriel’s team was frantic, and the more they rushed to keep up, the more they fumbled.
“Looks like it’s canned shit for us tomorrow.” Gabriel remarked, amusement colouring his voice in lack of the half-expected bitterness. There was this spark in his eyes, one Jack couldn’t quite place, when Gabriel turned around, grinning, “I’ll see you at the lodge tonight.”
Well, that would not be pleasant.
Even though Emily and Lucio did lovely for dinner (twice baked potatoes, roasted pork belly and peanut butter cookies), Jack couldn’t stop scowling. Without their presence there, he expected shit to go flying.
Jack came to Camp Overwatch a number of times, as other local camps. In contrary to many leaders Jack knew, Gabriel was flippant towards anything Jack had to say, and always had the sass to fire back. It was frustrating dealing with him, because Gabriel had to question every simple regular regulation. Jack had to admit some of them were long-winded and could be approached more efficiently. However, the way Gabriel approached them could be border-lining insulting.
“Keep making that face and it’ll get stuck like that.”
The whisk in his hand clattered to the counter, splattering egg everywhere. Jack’s frown deepened, “Sorry.”
Gabriel quirked up an eyebrow, “You hate cooking that much?”
Letting out a sigh, Jack tried, and failed, to school his expression, “No. I won’t use hate, but I hardly cook at a normal time, much less pass 10 at night.”
It was a bit awkward. They didn’t know each other well and Jack didn’t know if they could hold a conversation without arguing their faces off.
“You cook often?”
Granted, that probably wasn’t the stupidest and most obvious question he could come up with, but Jack kind of want to face-palm all the same. And there it was, Gabriel’s smirk.
“I don’t think I have a choice.” He gestured towards the door. But then his smile softened, turning a bit more genuine, “But yeah. I actually do like cooking. It’s calming.”
“Calming? I don’t know. To me it’s stressful as hell.”
And yes. There was the disagreement.
“Probably because you aren’t used to it.” Gabriel shrugged, tossing a pinch of salt into the batter, “My grandma made it her business to drill most of her recipes into my head before I left home. Said I can survive anywhere if I know how to cook.”
Jack blinked, “That’s a bit strange. But I can see what she meant.”
It was definitely useful and a desirable skill. Even if he didn’t say it aloud, sometimes Jack wished he could make something that’s not either charred or hopelessly raw. Especially after a long day of dealing with paperwork, every spoon of cold Spaghetti’O felt like it would go right back up his nose.
“What’s your favourite food?”
Were they sharing stuff now? Was Gabriel actually…okay with this?
The way Gabriel was staring at him…Gods, the man probably though Jack was mental. Immediately, he felt the need to explain.
“When I was a kid, my Ma would make it every summer.” He couldn’t keep the smile off his face. There were just so many fond memories, “I’d bring them to the Scout meetings and share them.”
His words ended on an awkward note. Gabriel was still looking at him, but the thoughtfulness in his eyes was one Jack had never seen before. At least not directed at him.
Gabriel cleared his throat and went back to his batter, “Mine is chili cheeseburger. It’s messy, but it’s great. Grandma used to make it every barbecue Sunday.”
The way he fumbled a little made Jack bite back a smile, “Fareeha said your chili is pretty good.”
“Good???” Scandalised, Gabriel waved the spatula at Jack, “I’d have you know, my chili is bomb! That’s it, screw the rules, I’m making chili tomorrow, and you, sir, are going to love it.”
This time, Jack did laugh, feeling the tension drawing out of him.
And he did love the chili. Even though he’d never admit that to Gabriel.
It opened a whole new door. The prep night became a routine. Not that Jack had a say in the matter, but he at least was happy that conversations with Gabriel were more pleasant than he thought. In the span of two weeks, Jack learned that outside of this camp, Gabriel led a rather fascinating life. He was in the Navy for a time, used to go to college for a nursing degree, but dropped out because it didn’t feel right for him, went and travel around Asia alone for a year, and would have headed to Europe if his grandma didn’t fall sick. He had a three-legged cat named Bastion and, outside of camp, he was the chef at his mother’s restaurant.
“When summer rolls around, my sister comes home from culinary school and fills in my spot.”
“That’s a bit cheating. No wonder why you have to prep all the meals.”
Gabriel had laughed then, the sound warm and resonating within the space between them.
As for Jack’s team, they had finally decided on a name without bickering so much over it. They called themselves the Uncrowned, simply because it sounded cool, and Angela refused her Queen title, unlike Satya.
“But that’s…” The word edgy died on his tongue at the kids’ excitement. Oh, well. As long as they agreed.
Begrudgingly, Jack had to admit camp Overwatch was fun, despite its many violations. And Gabriel had arguably picked the best crowd for all these activities. Despite their differences and occasional arguments, the kids worked well together, and were genuinely enjoying everything they got to do. Everyone had a role they could fall into, and none of the “duties” seemed like a chore to them. Both Blackwatch and The Uncrowned were neck to neck in points by the end of the third week. Excitement ran high when Gabriel announced the final week’s events.
“The mural competition starts on the first day and will be judged on the final day of the week. Also on the first day are the heraldry competition and cupcake battle. On the second day, we have a long bow competition and melee. On the third day, we have the fantasy mask competition and theatre. Poetry competition and jousting tourney are on the fourth day. And yes, yes we are going to get real horses in here.”
Jesse whooped so loudly, he probably scared all the woodland critters away within the five miles radius.
“We’ll have an eating competition, costume contest and three-legged races on the fifth. The sixth has potato sack race, long sword tourney and fairy house contest. And of course, the seventh is our final judging day and prize awards.”
The kids practically buzzed. Aside from the daily treasure hunts and puzzles, they now had to plan ahead for the last week. With the credits used to order food, they also were allowed to put down the materials they might need for the competitions, especially for all the crafting and arts.
And that was when the sieging began.
“Seriously? A ram?”
“It was just a log, Jack.”
“Gabriel. They used an oversized log as a battering ram. To knock down a canvas tent.”
The man in question rolled his eyes. Jack glared.
“Fine. They probably might have gone overboard a little bit.”
“A little???” Bewilderment coloured Jack’s voice, “Gabe, this is the third time in the last two days we have to sit down and talk about this kind of things! Control your kids!”
“Maybe you should stop coddling yours. Hana was totally snickering under her tear-streaked face as soon as you walked away.”
Instead of firing back, Jack covered his face with his hands, muttering.
“What was that?”
“This is ridiculous. You were right there. You could have stopped them.”
“Uh…I got lost in the moment?”
From behind his fingers, Jack shot Gabriel a look, “Really?”
The latter’s smirk was smug, with equal parts of sheepishness, and something else Jack couldn’t quite place. Gabriel had been sending a lot of those out lately, whenever they had these five-minute meetings and during their nightly prep times. Even though Jack didn’t fully understand it, it was a lot well-received than the cockiness he was graced with before.
Sighing, Jack turned to Ana, who was utterly unhelpful, unlike what she had assured him in the beginning, “You have nothing to say about all of this?”
“Nah.” She picked at her nails, boredom oozed out of her voice in waves, “You boys seem to have this under wrap.”
“…I swear, this entire camp is against me.” Jack grumbled, walking away with Corgni, ever so faithful, bounced after his steps.
The complaints became more and more frequents the longer it went on. And despite Jack’s resolution about safety measures, even he thought this was becoming ridiculous.
“Jack!!! Mako yelled at me! Go get Uncle Gabe!”
“Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!! Sombra broke my nail!!! Please go tell Gabe!!!”
“Jack. Tell Gabriel to kick Genji off his team.”
The last was definitely Hanzo’s, and Jack obviously didn’t comply. But the trips to go see Gabriel turned into some sort of reflex now, whenever a kid came running towards him. And they, Jack and Gabriel, mostly talked about what kind of food to prepare that night rather than the kids’ shenanigans, and Ana didn’t even bother to show up anymore.
If Jack had to admit it to himself, this routine was kind of nice.
“So why did you decide to open a camp?”
Jack was getting better with his knife work. Although slow, his chicken breast cubes were even, and the best part was he didn’t have too many accidents anymore. The first week had seen a copious amount of bandages gone and Jack’s poor hand wrapped up like it was mummified.
“I don’t know if you remembered, but I wanted to make a place for the kids to run around with as little restriction as possible. I’ve always been good with kids too, so I figured I’d give it a try.”
Jack blinked, “So you just went ahead and opened a camp?”
“Well…” For once, Gabriel Reyes, the Sass Master, was flustered, “It kinda came to me in a dream.”
Jack stopped every movement, gawking. Sheepish, Gabriel scratched the back of his head.
“At the time, I was actually applying for the same job you have now. I and Reinhardt went to the same high school and actually were in the same squadron. We had a beer over it and he was adamant the job wasn’t for me. He was right, of course. Being tied down inside an office would drive me insane. The dream came up after some bantering and here we are.”
“That’s…very spontaneous.” There was a note of hesitation in Jack’s voice. Going back to the chopping board, he found himself unable to focus. Growing up, everything had always been so certain and planned. Jack always knew he wanted an office job, and he always wanted to help keeping order, to protect and prevent. He did well at school. He took a year off from all the studying and found an internship. Stayed there for almost a year and got the job. Been staying ever since.
It wasn’t that Jack didn’t like his life. He was grateful for it, not having to struggle. But sometimes, he did wish there was some excitement.
“Something wrong with it?”
Jack blinked, “Ah…no. No. It’s just…Quite a life you’ve got there, Gabe. Mine is a bit…boring.”
His smirk was sly, “Oh? Jealous, Morrison?”
“A little bit, yeah.”
Instantly, Jack felt stupid. He couldn’t believe he just said that. But the look in Gabriel’s eyes turned soft and his smile was gentle when he nudged Jack.
“I guess this change of pace is good for you, then. You’re welcome to return next year. The kids love you, and you’re much more fun than Ana.”
Jack’s stomach did a flip.
Amidst the pink, delicious-smelling bowls of marinating chicken tikka, Jack fell, for rumbling laughter and tenderness wrapped up in a thunderstorm.
His first question to himself was why, more in an automated sense than him actually needing an answer. Perhaps it was so unexpected in its expectedness, his mentality couldn’t process it quick enough to be in denial. Or that he had been in denial the whole time and just now realised the inevitable.
He started to spend less time talking, and more to watch and listen. His heart would soar when they spoke, and there was this certain yearning when they didn’t. He tread a little more careful, and he became a little more self-conscious. He smiled easier, despite the nagging uneasiness at the back of his mind, and the butterflies in his stomach.
It was the anomaly that reeled Jack in. Gabriel’s defiance and his quick wit had always been the most striking traits, but there was also that underlying passion, and just how much he cared. Jack hadn’t been able to see that when they first met, bristling with ego and self-righteousness. He didn’t see how much effort Gabriel put into the camp, how much thoughts he put into it to entertain the kid, even just for two months a year.
And Gods, their personalities just clicked, once given the chance to.
With the final week just around the corner, Jack was sucked into the whirlwind of preparations and guarding their spoils against Blackwatch’s attempts. Both teams had been constantly trying different, and terrifyingly creative, methods to plunder each other’s hoards, which in turn gave Jack more headache causes than he would have liked. Hanzo had a tendency to snap whenever someone was being too loud. Lena was skittish. Mei and Angela were both paranoid. Emily had taken to arm herself with an iron skillet (which Jack had to confiscate the moment she almost knocked Jamison out cold). Lucio and Brigitte took turns patrolling the camp. Hana and Efi made a bunch of booby traps around the premise that had the tendency to trip their own teammates over. Fareeha was probably the only one to be relatively calm, but then again, for a kid her age, she had a pretty damn good poker face.
At least they managed to assign who to sign up for which competition without much quarrelling.
“They let Angela be in the cupcake team?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow at the list Jack provided. The latter winced at his tone.
“Is that a bad idea?”
“Oh, trust me, she’s one smart cookie, but that girl is just as bad as you are in terms of cooking.”
Jack sighed, “That explains the glaring…But with Lucio full time on the mural team, he won’t be able to participate.”
“…Right. I’ll make sure to stock extra toilet papers.”
On the last week, parents were invited to come spectate and cheer for the kids. Gabriel had enlisted the help of a few friends to set up booths around the fences and erect some tents for other activities. They worked overnight, and by July 20th, the camp did turn out to be a mini Renaissance Fair, just as Gabriel described. Canvas tents, colourful flags, wooden shields, weapon racks and many other nick-knacks Jack didn’t have the name for. They even wired some hidden speakers around the premise, playing jig and skipping lute that quite frankly got a bit annoying after some time.
As Gabriel predicted, as soon as the parents showed up, the kids were a lot less difficult to manage. Everyone tried to be on their best behaviours, especially the Shimada brothers, in hope they’d be able to return next year. Hana even made peace with her parents, gushing about her time and was just short from begging to sign for next year.
Jack, too, was excited, both for the same reasons as the kids and another of his own. Gabriel lived in Sacramento, but he mentioned he would still be in town for at least a couple more weeks before heading back. Perhaps then, when there wasn’t anything else to distract them, Jack could get to know Gabriel a bit more. Jack was equally hopeful and scared.
After all, Gabriel had to like him to some degree in order to extend an invitation for him to come back, right?
Jack was glad he postponed asking Gabriel out (was that even the right term? Or was that too childish? Rushing it?) On the second day, Reinhardt’s booming laughter almost made Jack cough up the remains of Angela’s abominable cupcake.
“Jack! My boy! How’s it been?”
Struggling to regain his balance after the massive man’s enthusiastic slap in the back, Jack huffed, “I’m alright. What brings you here?”
“My niece! Never miss competition week for her!” Reinhardt boomed and, upon seeing the pointed look Jack was shooting him, laughed again, this time a little sheepish, “Guess I’m busted.”
“You could have told me.” Jack accused. His boss gave him a shrug that eerily reminded him of Gabriel’s.
“You were obsessed over this place, so I figured there wasn’t anything anyone could say to change your mind. Best to let you experience it.” Pausing briefly, he grinned, “And by the looks of it, I was right.”
“Improvements can be made. But yes, it is rather nice.“ Jack had no reason to deny that. It would be silly at this point.
“I’m sure you and Gabriel can discuss that over dinner.” The twinkle in Reinhardt’s eyes were too mischievous for the words to be coincidental. But before Jack could comment on it, his boss flagged down Brigitte, and lumbered away with a broad grin.
Jack supposed he should be suspicious, however was soon having to direct all his focus on the archery ring and the melee tourney. Despite the arrows being padded and the swords were foam, Jack wouldn’t put pass the kids to try and do something stupid with them. Sure enough, not even into round two, Hana and Liao tossed their swords aside and wrestled instead.
“Tomorrow is going to be worse, isn’t it?” Jack sighed after they benched the two kids, “Why did you have to bring in real horses…”
“There are only two that will be competing and I cleared that out with their parents beforehand. Besides, it’s not like they are going to charge at each other. Only some poor stuffed dummies are going to get knocked down. So don’t worry your pretty head over it.”
Jack’s heart fluttered, catching onto the way Gabriel’s hand lingered just a tad longer at his nape.
At least they had a breather on the third day. There wasn’t anything note-worthy except for a minor backstage accident, caused by overly-elaborate dress trains and unnecessary high heels. The Uncrowned did a quicker rendition of Romeo and Juliet, with Emily trying and failing to stifle her giggles while Lena sang at the top of her lungs an off-tune version of I’m Kissing You. Meanwhile, Blackwatch did a comedic show loosely based off of Robin Hood. Jack had to admit, it was impressive the way they coordinated Mako and Jamison’s dancing.
On the 23th of July, it was nerve-wracking. Their two competitors were Jesse and Hanzo, who were as far away on each end of the spectrum as one could get. Somehow Jesse’ entire extended family showed up, taking up a whole square of the spectator booth and cheering so loudly Jack thought they brought an entire rodeo with them. And then there was the Shimada, quiet and imposing, crisp in their pressed suit and fancy dress. While the two kids did get to do a few test rides with their horses, brought here by the same farm that supplied their food, Jack was still on edge with how massive the beasts were compared to the boys. Jesse was known to be a hot-head and nobody could be as fiercely competitive as Hanzo, so Jack could only hope they wouldn’t do anything rash just for a few extra points.
It did get tense for a while there, as Hanzo and Jesse both knocked out the same amount of dummies in the same amount of time. However, on their last round, the cowboy’s lance slipped out of his hand, making him and his horse go sailing pass the target. This had Hanzo winning by one point, and the crowd exploded with excitement as the boy did a victory lap.
Jack let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, not because his team won this round, but because everyone was safe, thankfully. But there was a slight smile hidden under Gabriel’s moustache. Upon queried, there was a certain fondness in Gabriel’s voice as he watched the boys.
“It’s complicated. I’ll tell you later.”
It fed Jack’s hope, making him giddy and expectant through the last two days of competition. Not even the gross outcome of the eating contest or having to clean up the fairy house mess dampened his mood, though the potato sack race came pretty close with so many of them falling face-first on the track.
On the eve of the 25th, Jack, Gabriel and Ana gathered at the lodge, going over the total points and discussing the possible prizes. Since Ana kept impeccable records of everything, it didn’t take them too long to find out which one was the winning team. With that bit out of the way, Gabriel groaned and threw his feet up on the table.
“And that’s another successful year. I’m so ready for a vacation.”
Rummaging through the back fridge, Ana snorted, and provided them each a beer, “Don’t lie, you enjoyed this way more than the kids.”
“Takes one to know one.” Gabriel muttered, but his eyes crinkled with a grin, raising his bottle to the other two, “Cheers.”
Silence was pleasant and, in Jack’s case, melancholic. To think that just two months ago, he would have never imagined sitting beside Gabriel Reyes without a snarky remark, much less sharing a beer. And even more outrageous, having developed feelings for the man! It brought a smile to his face, one that Ana didn’t miss.
“Say, Jack. Are you thinking about coming back next year?”
Although he feigned nonchalance, Jack saw the glance Gabriel threw his way. Heart fluttering like a fool, Jack chuckled, “I don’t know. I mean this is supposed to be a one-time thing. I don’t think Reinhardt would let me take another two months off for nothing again.”
Ana’s eyes were suddenly sharp on him and, not for the first time, Jack was reminded of how Gabriel owned the place, but Ana was the boss, “Trust me. Reinhardt isn’t going to be an issue.”
“Oh? Is there something you’d like to share?” Gabriel slid into the banter, sly smirk already flitting. Ana turned up her nose.
“It’s none of your business. Remember, Gabi, you still owe me big time.”
Still smirking, he held up a palm, “Alright, alright. No need to get all threatening.” Then turned to Jack, expression automatically softening, but there was still a hint of mischief, “But I don’t think you have a say. You’re part of the crew now. Besides, I like your dog.”
Something warm danced at the pit of Jack’s stomach, and he couldn’t help but laugh, “I’m pretty sure she loves you more than me now. My God, if we stayed any longer, she’d get so fat from all the jerky you slip her.”
They talked well into the night, until they ran out of beers and Ana started nodding off. When they parted ways, Jack didn’t know if it was the tiredness playing tricks on him, but he could have sworn, Gabriel’s hand brushed against his, just for a fraction of a second.
In the morning, as soon as they woke, the kids immediately pestered Jack for the final scores. It was hard not giving in, partially because he was sad, knowing this was goodbye. He had grown to care for them just as he had grown to care for Gabriel. Even if they argued and had their crazy moments, they were still Jack’s team.
Perhaps, he thought wistfully, he would be able to see them next year.
Just as how Jack felt, even though excitement was running high today, there was a sombreness to them all. They anxiously waited for the results, and then not at all. The announcement was set before noon, so they could begin their journey home early. All chatters around the picnic tables stopped the moment Ana got onto the theatre stage.
“I, and my fellow camp leaders, just want to say thank you all so much for being here and participating in Camp Overwatch’s programme. We hope you enjoyed your stay, and we would like to let you know that you have brought us just as much joy as we, hopefully, brought you all. And, of course, we’ would love to welcome you all again next year!”
Cheers, claps and stomps erupted. Somewhere in the crowd, Jesse screamed, “Y’ bet I’m comin’ back!!!”
Chuckling, Ana pulled out an envelope from her jacket, sealed with wax and all, “And now, for the important bit.”
They could practically hear the grass rustling, everyone was waiting on baited breath for the result.
“Winning by a shocking, impossible two points is…”
Breaths were being sucked in. Jack bit back a laugh.
Screeches and hollers exploded from one side of the camp as the team scrambled on stage, hugging each other and cheering. On Jack’s side, the kids had flocked together for comfort.
“It’s not bad. We put up a really good game.”
“Yeah, it’s suuuuper close. Two points, man!”
“Well, just means we have to do better next year.”
“Depends on the theme though. You think they would do fantasy stuff next?”
Speculations and promises were already made. Even Hanzo was pulled into the conversation, a smile dancing in his eyes. Jack’s heart swelled, and he didn’t care if he was wearing the dopiest grin at that moment, watching Gabriel giving each of Blackwatch kids a crown, and a wooden shield for the Uncrowned.
As for the prizes, Jack was surprised to see Satya, nose up in the air, demanded everyone to add each other on social network, or at least the newcomers anyway. The kids also wanted to each take a part of their tent home, and wanted a big group picture by the lodge. However, Jack didn’t see it coming when some of his team joined with some on Blackwatch, forming a loose circle and whispered with great urgency. In the end, Sombra and Fareeha went to Gabriel, relaying to the man something Jack couldn’t catch, gesturing wildly all the while. What alarming was how wide Gabriel’s eyes grew as they spoke, and he stayed shocked as they were done.
And then, he laughed. Doubling over, Gabriel hollered as if he had heard the best joke in the world, so much that Corgni yanked her leash out of Jack’s hand and barrelled over to check on him.
Well, another thing to ask Gabriel about later.
The sun was bright when they gathered for the photo. To Jack’s pleasure, Gabriel chose to stand next to him instead of the other side of the group. Heat dusted his cheeks, feeling the back of their hands brushing. Mentally, Jack prepared a pep talk. Just wait for the crowd to clear, after they could take a breather, and-…
“Would you like to go out for dinner?”
Jack’s heart missed two whole beats.
Three days later, when the dust settled and Jack had learned how indeed everyone at camp was playing against him, he received a bunch of messages from the kids. Most didn’t have much text, either “aaaaawe” or “cuuuuute” or “omg”. It was the attachments that made Jack’s heart soar, curling closer to Gabriel’s snoring side.
At the very edge were the two of them, hands linked and smiles mirrored, perfectly captured the moment Jack said yes.