Gabriel has no accurate way to gauge how long he’s been captured.
All he knows is that he was drugged in the middle of a mission and he’s woken up in a cell. It is a less than satisfactory summary of the situation.
With a grunt, Gabriel forces himself upright and takes stock. His head pounds, and his tongue is thick and dry. Dehydration, pretty common side effect of heavy sedatives – they must have been modified to his metabolism, which is concerning. There is a shackle around his ankle, the tether is some sort of hardlight tech that Gabriel can’t break no matter how hard he pulls.
Vishkar liked using hardlight. Gabriel frowns. Drugging and kidnapping someone like him isn’t their usual tactic.
“Fuck,” he growls, rubbing a temple. They’ve also taken most of his clothes, leaving him in an undershirt and pants. They even took tags.
In the cell directly across from Gabriel’s is a man with the bluest damn eyes he’s ever seen. They glow, almost, iridescent in the low-light gloom of their prison. He’s tall, broad, and muscled in a way that makes Gabriel think he went through the SEP. Gabriel knows he hasn’t, though, because only twenty people survived, and they’re all under his command at Overwatch.
“Hi,” Gabriel says, shuffling as far forward as the tether allows. “Any idea who has us?”
A fine tremor shudders through the floor. They’re on an airship, Gabriel realises. It’s not comforting. Still, transit is the best time to try and escape. He’ll take what he can get.
“No,” the man answers alongside with a shrug. His voice rasps, like he hasn’t spoken in weeks. “They’re well organised though.”
The man is half-naked. Gabriel eyes the bruises and burns that rope over miles of soft, golden skin. Well organised. Right. Looks like this guy put up one hell of a fight.
“Name’s Jack,” he says, tipping his head to the side. Eyes flash like a cats at night, yellow glinting. “And you are?”
“Gabriel Reyes,” he says as he thinks who the hell doesn’t know who I am?
Aggressive campaigns for Overwatch recruitment has plastered Gabriel’s face over the whole damn world. Even if Jack didn’t recognise him by sight, the name should have rung a bell. Perhaps if he were Russian it would make sense, but Jack sounds American.
“Nice to meet you.” Jack smiles. It’s not a nice sight, teeth a shade too sharp and grin almost feral in the way is stretches across his face. Gabriel’s spine tingles in warning. “Don’t suppose you have any idea how to escape?”
Jack is collared, Gabriel notices. Rather than his ankle, their captors have a shackle around Jack’s neck.
“Nothing solid.” Licking the back of his teeth, Gabriel leans forward, as far as his tether will allow, and peers through the bars. The walkway between the rows of cells is easily ten feet across, and Gabriel can see more cells lining the hall. They seem empty. “We’re on a moving airship, as far as I can tell.”
Jack’s expression twists with displeasure. “I hate flying,” he grumbles, “no wonder I feel sick.”
Jack starts pacing. His footsteps track in a straight line and are silent. A low rumble echoes when his rhythm is jarred by the tug of the tether.
“Why did they take you?”
The tingling along Gabriel’s spine flares when Jack freezes, gaze sliding over to land on Gabriel with an intensity. Never before has a simple look unsettled Gabriel so. His hands twitch for want of a gun.
“No idea,” Jack lies, clearly, and folds his arms. “What about you, Gabriel Reyes? Why did they snatch you up?”
Truths tangle up behind Gabriel’s tongue. There is a distinctly predatory air clinging to Jack, in the coil of muscles as he shifts his weight and watches Gabriel with unerringly sharp eyes. There is a wildness, a furious energy, barely contained by that hardlight collar.
Gabriel holds back a flinch. The eyes are yellow, no trace of blue remaining. It is not a trick of the light.
Gabriel swallows. Jack reveals teeth through a snarl of a grin.
“What are you?” Gabriel asks, and again more forcefully, “What. Are. You?”
Jack rumbles a laugh and doesn’t answer.
Hours pass before Gabriel feels the airship land.
Gabriel stands. Keenly, he is aware of Jack doing the same, of the low growling sound just in the edge of his hearing. They have not spoken a word since Jack refused to answer Gabriel’s question.
Not long after the airship settles, four men and two women in full body-armour appear before his cell. They’re wearing masks with air-filters built in, and Gabriel can to nothing when they toss a canister into his room. Gabriel skips back as far as he can, until the hardlight bites into his skin and his ankle-joint squeals in pain.
Even though it’s useless, Gabriel drags his shirt up over his mouth as white gas hisses from the canister. It’s sweet smelling, swamping his senses in a blanket of cotton in a matter of heartbeats, and then-
When Gabriel wakes he is still tethered at the ankle, but he has been moved to a different room. This room is one more akin to an isolation chamber in an infectious disease ward than a prison cell.
Suspicion crawls along his senses.
Medical equipment sits idle in the half of the room beyond the clear wall that keeps Gabriel contained. Dismay settles firm in his gut as the forcefield ripples into visibility when he raps a knuckle against the glass. These people are well equipped, and well informed. They were prepared for enhanced humans. Even targeting them, perhaps.
It isn’t information on Overwatch his captors are after, Gabriel realises.
Gabriel turns, and sees that Jack is tethered to the wall parallel to his own.
“What are you?” Gabriel once again asks, eyeing the reach of Jack’s tether. So long as Gabriel stays by his wall, he is out of the others reach.
A soft, animal-like whine breaks in Jack’s throat. He’s disoriented. Gabriel scrapes together some sympathy as Jack struggles into a sitting position. Whatever it was they used to knock the two of them out seems to have affected Jack more than Gabriel.
“A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Jack slurs, dark amusement colouring his tone. He’s listless, leaning heavily against the wall, yet still his gaze – blue again – manages to pierce Gabriel. He feels bare, naked, under it. Caught in the gaze of a predator.
Gabriel is used to being one of the most dangerous people in the room.
The tides have turned.
Settling on the cot clearly meant for him, Gabriel scratches at his arm. The little needle-prick has already healed, but the tiny dot of dried blood is all the evidence he needs.
“They want us for what we are,” Gabriel says aloud, puzzle pieces slotting together in his mind. “I’ve had blood drawn. Guessing you have too.”
He doesn’t phrase it like a question. Jack nods all the same.
“What are you?” Jack quirks a brow, as if any possible answer will only amuse him.
Gritting his teeth, Gabriel wrestles his annoyance to the side. He can’t afford to alienate his only ally. One who, in all likelihood, is enhanced in some way.
“Part of the soldier enhancement program,” he provides, testily.
“Hmm.” Jack heaves out a low sigh. “I wondered why you smelt so strange.”
“What?” Gabriel blinks, bewildered. “I…what?”
Making a noise like he wants to moan, Jack drags a hand through his fair hair. He seems to be recovering quickly.
There is a sink. Gabriel’s tongue feels like it’s smothered in glue. He stands. After washing his face and drinking greedily, he feels slightly more equipped to deal with this strange situation.
Gabriel inhales. Exhales. And crosses the invisible line drawn in the middle of the room.
“Up. C’mon, up, Jack.”
Gabriel holds out his hand. Jack eyes it, the first hint of wariness pinching his face. Using the wall for leverage, Jack struggles to his feet. Once he is in reach, he takes Gabriel’s hand fumblingly. He’s warm. So warm that Gabriel genuinely worries about a fever.
“Not sick, are you?”
“No.” Jack bends over the sink, looking wretched. “Just, shush for a second, yeah?”
As Jack looks a breath away from tossing his guts, Gabriel does.
He can’t really say what prompts the move, but Gabriel looks down and, yep, that’s his hand smoothing up and down Jack’s spine. Jack doesn’t seem to mind. Gabriel sure as hell does, and he’s about to take his hand back when the other shifts. The play of muscle and bone under Gabriel’s touch is mesmerising.
“Want me to clean these?”
Though partially healed, the angry lines criss-crossing Jack’s back are puffy and red. Electrical burns, if Gabriel had to hazard a guess.
There are…a lot.
“Nah,” Jack mumbles, pressing more of his weight onto the basin. “They’ll heal fine.”
A pause, in which Jack slants a veiled glance back that does not hide his surprise. “Thanks, though.”
Shrugging, Gabriel retreats to his cot.
“Place your arms through the slots.”
Gabriel exchanges a glance with Jack. Neither of them make a move to stand, and the woman who spoke taps the glass with a pen. The forcefield has been deactivated.
The burly men with her aren’t the least bit intimidating. Gabriel eyes the guns strapped to their thighs lazily. He knows what they’re after. They won’t risk killing him. Any secrets the SEP left in his blood will die with him. Jack is likely in a similar situation. Knowing this puts Gabriel slightly at ease.
“Arms,” she repeats, “Slots.”
“Nope.” Jack snarls, teeth bared in a savage line.
“Have it your way,” she says, lightly, and shuts the slots. “Gas them.”
Vents in the ceiling leak plumes of the white gas. It’s the same, sweet scented bullshit from before, and Gabriel is out for the count before he can do more than say, “Ah, shit.”
When Gabriel wakes there are two dots of dried blood this time. Jack is already hunched over the toilet and throwing up. Ignoring the low-grade headache punching between his eyes, Gabriel drags himself up.
“You alright there, Jackie?”
Jack makes a garbled noise and retches again. Sweat makes his skin shine, and the bruises all the more wicked looking. Gabriel notes that they appear a week old rather than a day. Absently, he wonders if that’s what their captors want. The SEP gave its subjects an almost unnatural ability to heal, reducing weeks, if not months, of recovery time into a handful of days – for the most part.
Turning so that the camera mounted outside won’t get a clear view of his face, Gabriel murmurs, “Reckon they can’t get anything concrete from us if they keep using the gas.”
“I know,” Jack rasps, flopping a hand around until it hits the toilet handle. “Got any mouthwash on you?”
“Shame,” Jack weakly chuckles. “You got a very kissable set of lips there, Reyes.”
“Now is not the time for that,” Gabriel hisses once his wits are gathered.
“Now is the perfect time,” Jack counters, rising long enough to rinse his mouth out in the sink. Done, he sinks back down to the floor. “Unless you’ve got a miraculous plan to escape, I don’t see a way out that’s not in a bodybag.”
“You heard of Overwatch?”
“A little,” Jack hums, and wow, where the hell has this guy been for the past ten years? “Bunch of military muscle the UN threw together to deal with the omnic crisis. Right?”
“Yeah,” Gabriel drums his fingers on his knee, “I’m kind of the Strike Commander.”
Jack stills. It’s an unnatural stillness, the kind that Gabriel has seen guard dogs overcome by when they sight their prey. “Kind of?”
“They’ll be looking for me. I was supposed to report in, fuck, a day ago? Two?” Ana’s a hurricane when her people were in danger. Christ, he’s glad she’s his second in command. “Only a matter of time before Overwatch picks up a trail.”
“Assuming there is one.” Though fragile, Gabriel detects hope in Jack’s voice. “I’d rather not die at the hand of these dicks.”
While they were unconscious the tethers were removed. They’d left the hardlight shackles in place, and Gabriel sneers at the ring around his ankle. Gabriel glances up when Jack shifts, and winces when Jack runs a finger between the collar and his skin, pulling with a-
A clawed finger.
Those tingles return, dancing along his spine. Gabriel is keenly aware how of much space is between he and the other. Jack tugs on his collar, lip curling up to reveal that sharp, sharp canine-
Jack looks up.
“I can hear your heart,” says Jack, quiet. “It’s racing.”
Bitterness slides over Gabriel’s tongue as the question burning in his mind snarls up in his throat. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. If he asks, there is no going back. Knowledge has never given Gabriel such pause before, and it frustrates him, but there are warnings bells clanging around in his head.
“No idea how you’re gonna sleep then, Jackie,” Gabriel says, shifting and leaning against the frame of the cot. “Been told that I talk in my sleep.”
Jack laughs. It is, admittedly, a very nice laugh. Nothing like the hostile noise from earlier.
Yeah. Gabriel’s fucked.
Their captors wait long enough for Gabriel and Jack’s systems to flush the remains of the sedative. When they return, the lady and her two guards demand blood. Gas fills the room when the demand is refused.
“You never just want to talk anymore, Doc,” Jack says the fourth time this happens, and he wakes up that day with a sliver of his forearm missing. Tissue samples become regular after that. Tiny little stripes or circles of flesh that heal without issue, but start leaving scars that Gabriel sneers at.
It sets a precedent is set for the coming days.
Days which become weeks.
“So,” Jack says one day, poking at one of the new scars on his arm, “where are you from, Gabe?”
Only his friends call him Gabe.
At this point, Gabriel doesn’t give a fuck. It’s nice to hear his name after being called Subject 2 for weeks. And Jack is…nice.
“Los Angeles.” Christ, he misses his family. It’s been too long since he heard the clamour of his sister’s laughter, felt his mother’s weathered hands grasp his own, smelt the soft spice of his father’s tobacco. “You?”
“All over,” is the cryptic answer, as per usual when it comes to Jack and personal details. But, then Jack hesitantly adds, “I was living on my granddads old land in Ireland when these dicks found me.”
Huh. Ireland. Gabriel had been escorting a payload through the Scottish lowlands when his team had been ambushed. He wonders if it was planned, or if their captors had merely stumbled across an opportunity. The other cells has been empty, Gabriel recalls.
“I don’t hear any trace of an accent that isn’t corn-fed.”
Jack pegs his fork at Gabriel. It’s plastic and bounces harmlessly off his chest. “Ass. My mum ran away to America when she met my dad.”
“They,” Gabriel licks his lips, “They gonna be worrying about you?”
“No.” It’s the first time Gabriel has seen Jack seem small, defeated. It’s unsettling. “Haven’t spoken to them in years.”
Gabriel doesn’t ask. Tossing the fork back, Gabriel shoves his own meal to the side and starts doing push ups. He can feel eyes on him the entire time.
Days trickle by.
“Arms,” Doc says, “slots.”
They tell her to fuck off, and then let their sneers say it for them when the words grow tired.
Judging by the bush his neat goatee is steadily being swallowed by, Gabriel guesses he has been prisoner for just under a month. Jack’s jaw is swallowed by a swath of blonde fur that obscures his jawline. More for the better, really. It’s a fairly lickable looking jaw.
Burying his forehead into his knees, Gabriel sighs.
Slowly, Gabriel peels himself upright and peers over. Jack is curled up, back to the camera, and motionless save for the steady rise and fall of his sides as he breathes. Gabriel stretches his legs out and flops onto his belly, facing away from the camera. It may not capture sound, but it looks a decent enough quality that a lipreader could pick out what is said.
“Where’d you hear that name?”
For a moment, it seems as if Jack won’t answer. And then, “You called it out in your sleep. A nightmare, I think.”
“A kid under my command.” More than that. Jessie is so much more than that. Fucking twerp and his stupid hat and cocky grin wormed under Gabriel’s skin like a goddamned fungus. “I miss that little shit.”
“Sure sounds like it,” Jack drawls, and there is a smile in his tone. “Is he your son?”
He never pictured himself as a father. And after a few years with the army, stopped thinking on that fuzzy afterthought of what it might be like to have a house and a home and a family that was all his. Jessie made him realise what it might be like.
“Nah,” Gabriel says this with lazy dismissal to cover up the way his heart clenches, “just another stray I picked up.”
“I take it that happens a lot.”
Gabriel cracks his wrist, idly and slow, so that each pop distracts him from this coldness brewing in his chest. The cracks echo loudly in the room.
“Suppose it does.” It really fucking does. Ana gives him a Look every time he has come out of an interrogation room with employment forms instead of prisoner transfer papers. A wolf with his pups, she’d said once. “What about you? Any strays?”
“No. I’m alone.” Material rasps, and Gabriel and picture Jack shifting into a tighter ball.
“A lone wolf, huh?”
Jack laughs. It sounds bitter, brazen.
“Sure.” A pause, long and wrought, that is broken by words spoken with a tender curiosity. “What is it like? Being in Overwatch? Being…a part of something?”
Oh, the things Gabriel could say. He could spin stories of fighting through fire and dust and ash, feeling as if ants were crawling through his veins as the SEP worked its way through them, gaining fresh soldiers under his command and slowly watching them die until only a haggard few remained, bringing Overwatch to the empire it was with his own relentless will and Ana’s determination, watching his team flourish and fight and fight and fight until they finally beat back the rogue omnics, until the world was, for a while, safe.
There is something rotten in Overwatch. A poison. A leech that told his captors where Gabriel was, and that he was alone. But, the rest, the heart, is good.
“Imagine being surrounded by grown-ass children armed to the teeth, some of them with the most advanced tech on the planet, half of whom dress like it’s Halloween every damned day of the year.” He isn’t talking about Overwatch, not really. He is thinking of his core team, a puzzlebox of wrong pieces upended in his lap when he was told to make it work, a team of lethal idiots who have his back no matter what. “It’s family, Jackie boy. The good parts, at least.”
Then where are they, Jack doesn’t say, but Gabriel hears it anyway.
Gabriel shuts his eyes and ignores the hollow feeling settling in his gut.
Gabriel thinks that he is starting to build a tolerance to the sedatives. It takes just a tiny bit longer for them to knock him out, and he starts to wake up from them before Jack does.
Jack isn’t pretty when he’s coming to.
Red and purple veins thread from under his eyes, stark against ashen skin. Gabriel honestly thinks Jack half dead the first time he witnesses this. It is then, after Gabriel has staggered over on still-leaden limbs, that he realises how different Jack is – not just from normal people, but Gabriel himself.
Jack’s breath rattles, like a child with croup, as the skin on his arm laboriously stitches itself back together. This close, Gabriel can see that the wounds are starting to scar more permanently. He can almost track how long they have been captured by the silver lines tracking along Jack’s sinewy arms. It nauseates Gabriel. Twenty days, and that’s only when the scars started to not fade completely.
A month, easy. Maybe more.
Gabriel grips Jack’s shoulder, almost recoiling at the heat that brushes over his palm. Jack’s skin is tacky with sweat, and his eyes are yellow and glazed when they crack open.
“Hey there, Jackie,” Gabriel smirks, pushing the worry away to deal with later. “You look like shit.”
“Ass,” Jack croaks. He tries to sit up, and falls back with a pained groan. Shit.
It is only logical that Gabriel would help Jack up. Gabriel is short on allies, here, and it makes sense to keep what he has alive.
Jack goes through the typical routine of tossing his guts up, despite there not being anything but bile and water in his stomach. Gabriel watches him drink three cups of water and collapse in a sweaty heap by the sink.
“So,” Gabriel starts, to keep Jake focused and lucid, “I take it that what they want from us needs to be taken while we’re calm.”
The nasty plethora of things the SEP had flooded Gabriel’s body with changed everything from his metabolism to how his body produced adrenaline. Gabriel makes an educated guess that whoever these pricks are, they needed his blood before adrenaline and whatnot flooded it. Otherwise, they would have strapped him down and stabbed him with needles long before. Stress alters his chemistry, Angela had said to him once as she peered at his blood sample through a microscope.
“Blerch.” Jack moans behind his teeth. Muscles pulse along his jaw and temple as he clenches his jaw, as if fighting the urge to hurl. “Help me up?”
Gabriel does. Once Jack is splayed out on his cot, Gabriel takes one of the handtowels by the sink and wets it. He can feel Angela’s voice as a lilting murmur by his ear. Subtly, Gabriel gauges Jack’s temperature as he lays the damp towel over a burning forehead. A sliver of blue watches Gabriel.
“Am I being mother-henned?”
Wobbly as it is, Jack grins with weary amusement. “Definitely being mother-henned.”
“Fuck you.” Gabriel chews the inside of his cheek. “You’re running a fever. A serious one.”
Jack sinks back into the cot. He looks wiped. “Allergies.”
Gabriel snorts at the poor lie. “To aerosolised sedatives?”
A rattling sigh. “To the silver nitrate they pump in alongside it; keeps me knocked out longer.”
Chills sweep up Gabriel’s spine. Oddly, it is not the knowledge that silver nitrate affects Jack in such a manner that sparks the warnings, it is the barely withheld dread in his eyes. The realisation hits Gabriel, yet quietly.
“It will kill you eventually,” he says, low and neutral, adjusting the towel as it slips, “won’t it?”
Despite the obvious effort it takes, Jack squints up at Gabriel with another weak smile, though this one is bleak.
Well, Gabriel thinks, shit.
The day comes that Gabriel has long been expecting and he wakes up strapped to a table.
Hardlight pins his waist, ankles, and wrists down so tightly that he can feel the odd static sensation of the tech in his bones. He doesn’t test the shackles. Struggling against hardlight is futile, he knows.
Should of kept my distance, Gabriel thinks, but he can’t find it in himself to regret forming a bond with Jack, knew they were watching.
They leave Gabriel alone long enough that he gets bored and falls asleep. He is awoken by the bite of a shock-prod, the kind they used on goddamned cattle a decade ago, and snarls fill his ears.
Ah. The drugs and silver must have flushed from Jack’s system.
“Place your arm in the slot,” Doc says, coolly.
Jack’s thunderous growl all she gets in answer.
“Very well.” Clinically, Doc runs a glance over Gabriel, and he returns to look with a detached glare. This isn’t the first time someone has taken fists or knives or pliers to his body. He knows what comes. They won’t kill him. All they can do is hurt him, and pain can be overcome. “How fast do your bones heal, Mr Reyes?”
“It’s Striker Commander Reyes,” he corrects, and is gratified to see her brow twitch.
They start with his fingers.
They have the decency to splint Gabriel’s fingers, crack his nose back into place, and slather a sharp, smelling biotic cream over the burns on his arms when they’re done.
“Amateurs.” Gabriel shrugs Jack’s cautious hand away before it can land on his shoulder. He spits into the sink, runs his tongue over his teeth to make sure they are all where they should be. One molar feels loose. “I’m fine.”
Jack makes a derisive noise. His presence is dark and angry, skin vibrating with kinetic energy that pleads to be let free. As best he can, Gabriel ignores Jack and scrubs what blood he can away without a shower. His left hand is already hot and puffy. Gabriel sits and bites back a foul curse at the sight of his own purpling skin.
Pale gold hands hover over Gabriel’s own, and Jack kneels slowly. His eyes are still tinged yellow, just slightly around the iris, but his expression is miserable.
“Let me help,” Jack pleads. “Please. I’m…I’m good at helping.”
Helping each other is exactly what got them into this situation, Gabriel thinks bitterly. It is an unkind thought, and unfair. At some point it would have come to this. Torture for information does not work, but torture for compliance does.
Placing his hand in Jack’s is easier than he thought, and Jack’s touches are so feather-light that they are actually distracting Gabriel from the pain ribboning though his body. He pushes it aside, as he has always done, and focuses on the tender sweep of a gentle touch.
It’s a little more distracting than Gabriel was hoping.
“I’m sorry,” Jack whispers, eyes downcast, voice thick, “I couldn’t let them…I couldn’t.”
“I know that,” Gabriel grunts, “Idiot.”
Rolling his eyes is a good way to look away from the sight of Jack, with his soft hands and broad shoulders and bitten lips, kneeling before Gabriel.
“Look, whatever they want to do with the shit in us can’t be good. Having my fingers broken sucks, yeah, but I’d rather deal with that then whatever bullshit these pricks would cook up with…whatever you are. You did the right thing, Jackie.” Because he can, and because Gabriel is a dick sometimes, he smirks and pets Jack’s riot of blonde hair and goes, “Good job.”
Jack splutters. It is, perhaps, slightly too satisfying. The flush that scorches along his cheeks is doing things to Gabriel’s gut that he has not felt for a long time. He shoves the fluttering aside. This is not the time, or the place. The adrenaline is still buzzing in his blood like an electric current and he has no outlet for it all, is what Gabriel tells himself.
Hell. He doesn’t even know what Jack is, and yet-
“How bad do they hurt?”
“Not bad. It’s ignorable.” Jack still frets, lips pressed thin and pale. “I’ve run ten miles with broken ribs before. This is nothing.”
Gently, but firmly, Gabriel draws his hands back. Taking the hint, Jack shuffles back to ‘his’ side of the cell. The cot creaks under his weight, the collar around his throat glints in the light, and Gabriel has a sudden, visceral urge to scream. He wants out. He wants to smash the glass wall, grab Jack, and tear out of this damned prison.
Gabriel wants to go home.
A week later, it’s Jack strapped to the table.
It is the start of a pattern.
After they have each had three turns on the table, Gabriel says, “They are persistent, I’ll give them that.”
He feels more than hears Jack’s laugh. They’re back to back, sharing warmth in the wake of Doc’s newest tactic to break them. Pumping freezing air into the room has lowered the temperature to near freezing. It isn’t cold enough to kill them, just enough to keep them awake and shivering, even enhanced as they both are.
“How are you holding up?”
“Fine.” Jack is a damned furnace at Gabriel’s back. It’s nice. Too nice, if Gabriel cared to be honest, but he hates the cold. “Spent a fair few years in Ireland, remember?”
“Ah, right. Mooching off your grandpa.”
“Not…quite.” Muscles bunch like Jack wants to shift but is forcing himself to remain still. Gabriel stays relaxed as he can while shivering. “He’s dead. Never even knew him, but he left all this stuff for me in his Will.”
“Land, mostly. The old hunting cabin he lived in.” A sigh, long and tired. “It was peaceful out there. Quiet. Suppose it was too quiet, though. Let my guard down and Doc and Company found me.”
Gabriel’s curiosity is piqued. The drive to pry more out of Jack sits right on Gabriel’s chest, a result of his training and leading Overwatch for over a decade. There is precious little here to do, to think about, and the need burns until Gabriel shoves it away purposefully.
They may not be friends, but whatever Jack and he are, it’s something more valuable than any urge to know might be.
“What was Ireland like? Never been before.”
“Green.” Jack sighs. It’s fond, if sad. “Never seen so much green in my life. The hills stretch on forever, and the wilds are old. Easy to get lost in there.” A little laugh. “Stumbled across a fair few lost souls, actually. Had to guide them out and put them on the road back into town.”
Shit. Jack really does like helping people.
“And you’ve never gotten lost out there yourself?”
“Never,” Jack hums, plainly, and Gabriel detects no ego. “I know my way home.”
That line of conversation could lead to unhappy places. Gabriel stretches, pops his spine, and asks, “How’s everything healing up?”
“Fine. They’ll be long gone before it’s your turn again.” Intentional or not, Gabriel hears Jack suck in a pained breath. “I fucking hate burns though.”
Gabriel doesn’t roll over. He doesn’t even twitch, but the urge to check over the red and blistered patches spotting over Jack’s torso and arms hits Gabriel regardless. Once was enough. They’ve both had enough turns on the table to measure how long it takes the other to heal. Infection isn’t likely either. Not with how clinical Doc and her goons are. Whatever wounds they create, they are sure to treat and clean methodically.
Early on, while Doc was snapping his fingers back into place the first time, Gabriel had understood how meticulous her operation was. Jack and Gabriel are injured in ways that hurt terribly – Jack isn’t as conditioned at Gabriel and always screams in the end - and will heal cleanly without issue. The food they are given is bland and filling, nearly the same slop that SEP fed the candidates – which meant it was high calorie.
Nor for the first time, Gabriel wonders just who the hell has captured him. Them. The list in his head has grown barren, asides a vague thought that the Vishkar had some involvement. Not many use hardlight to this degree.
Whoever these fuckers are, they want the cocktail of chemicals that SEP used to wrangle Gabriel’s body into some semblance of super-human. Not even Angela had been able to puzzle out what the SEP had filled his veins with, and even without the NDA, Gabriel had no fucking idea what had been done to him – only that a third of the other participants had died because of it.
And then there is Jack.
Jack, with his secrets. Jack, with his sharp teeth and yellow eyes. Jack, with his healing and strength and inhuman vocal cords that can produce a beastly growl.
Jack, who Gabriel likes despite the mystery surrounding him.
“Doing alright over there?”
Jack murmurs an affirmative. Heavy muscles flex against Gabriel’s back. He almost chokes.
“Can you tell me about Jessie?” Jack tentatively asks, and it is only the hidden strain in his voice that has Gabriel not clamming up defensively. “Or just, something?”
What Jack is really asking for is a distraction from the pain, from the chill biting at their skin, from the fear of being strapped to the table in the too-soon future.
Gabriel knows this. He shivers and thinks.
Gabriel settles deeper into the cot, pressing his spine a little more firmly against Jack’s own, and tells the story of when Gabriel tried to teach Jessie how to cook something other than bacon. It was a disaster; the mess stunk for a week and Ana had chewed them both out while picking rice from her hair. Not that he would say it aloud, but this is a story he holds close to his heart.
As Gabriel had hoped, Jack laughs. It is a fragile sound.
“They’ll come,” Gabriel finds himself saying. “I promise, Jackie, Overwatch will come.”
Gabriel wakes up to blood on his face.
He levers upright, fighting the lingering effects of the sedative and the hot pain pulsing in his leg with a grimace. Gabriel peers around, expecting to find Jack, only-
One of the guards is on the ground, not two feet away, with a syringe buried in his eye to the hilt. The other guard is just behind him, throat ravaged to the point where bone is visible.
“Here,” is the weak reply.
Stepping over the corpses – Doc’s head has been completely torn off, it’s just gone – Gabriel spots Jack propped against the glass wall that has kept them confined for more time than he is ready to admit. Jack’s panting, short and sharp breaths that are strangled with pain.
Gabriel stands fully. His legs shake, the left buckling as soon as he puts any weight on it.
“Shit.” Gabriel clutches at the limb, trying to ignore the pain. The adrenaline hasn’t flooded his system yet, so it is harder than usual to push through the agony of a broken bone. “Jackie?”
“I’m here, Gabe.”
Gabriel hobbles out of the cell, past the bodies – and he has seen some shit, but this…Christ it’s a bloodbath on par with what the Bastion’s had left in their wake – until he nearly trips over Jack. A distant explosion trembles in the ground. Gabriel falls more than sits.
“I heard the guards screaming about Overwatch before…before…” Jack flops a bloody hand at the bodies.
“What the fuck happened? Are you hurt?”
There is blood everywhere. It paints Jack like warpaint.
“Explosions went off as they were bringing you back in.” Red froths from Jack’s mouth as he gurgles a laugh. “Of all things, the guard fucking slipped and hit the door release.”
Gabriel can’t see a wound, but Jack has an arm curled over his middle. “So you did…this?”
Jack looks away from the gore. “Took a chance to get us out.” A ragged inhale. “I hate hurting people, Gabe.”
It is not the time for a crisis of conscience. Still, Gabriel frames Jack’s jaw with his hands and forces their eyes to meet.
“No one with a shred of decency likes hurting another, Sunshine.” The name slips out, and Gabriel does not regret it. “Sometimes you gotta do it to survive, and sometimes bad people need to be stopped. These assholes had it coming.”
Jack swallows. Gabriel feels the flex of his throat, the beat of his heart, against his fingers. Blood and sweat makes his grip slippery, but Gabriel still pulls Jack closer and presses their foreheads together. Unfathomable feelings burn in Gabriel’s chest at the wide-eyed way Jack takes him in.
“You did good,” Gabriel says with the death surrounding them, “Okay?”
Tremulously, Jack repeats, “Okay.”
One more shared breath, one more moment, and Gabriel pulls back. “Where are you hurt?”
“Everywhere.” A low, cracking laugh. “Doc got me good.”
Jack gestures at the dead guard with the syringe stabbed through his skull.
Oh. Oh shit.
Heedless of the gunfire in the distance, and what sounds like Winston doing a great job of losing his shit, Gabriel wipes the blood from Jack’s face. Black veins appear on the revealed skin, snaking out from around glazed eyes. It’s all familiar, but ten times worse than what Gabriel has seen before. A whine breaks in Jack’s throat when Gabriel palms at his ribs, at his stomach, seeking the wound Jack covers so defensively. Jack does not resist as Gabriel lifts his shirt. Material pulls away from skin with a wet tearing sound.
Gabriel swears, if only so that the scream building in his lungs is quelled. A swatch of skin over Jack’s ribs is nearly blackened, like a hot poker has been jammed against the skin again and again and again. A pus-like liquid leaks from the tiny needle site, ringed by red and swollen flesh. Gabriel is too well trained to gag at the macabre sight, but he wants to.
“How bad is it?”
Jack smiles, and stays silent. Gabriel’s heart breaks.
“No.” Gabriel stands in a sudden thrall of determination, hauling Jack up with him. “No, not after all of that bullshit are you dying on me. Not here. Not now.”
Stubbornly, Gabriel slings Jack’s arm over his shoulders. There aren’t any biotic emitters on the bodies or in the room, so Gabriel grimly limps outside. Jack takes as much of his own weight as he can, and together they stumble along. Two wounded idiots dragging their sorry selves towards the shouting and screaming and gunfire.
Winston is still bellowing, and the facility is rocked with another explosion.
“That’s Winston.” There is the crack of a six-shooter being unloaded. Gabriel knows that sound as well as the boom of his own shotguns. His heart swells with pride and relief. “And that would be Jessie.”
“Sound like they’re wreaking hell.” Jack laughs, and it is worryingly wet. “A family of idiots, huh?”
“Late idiots.” Gabriel slaps a hand over the door controls, wincing as he almost drops Jack when their weight shifts onto his bag leg. “Angela will get you fixed up, Sunshine.”
Breathing swiftly turns laboured. “Why you callin’ me that, Gabe?”
“Your hair,” he lies. “Bright as a fucking yellow Crayola.”
Slumping against Gabriel, wheezing in earnest, Jack still mumbles a complaint. “It is not.”
“Is so.” Gabriel peers around a corner. Finding it empty, he hedges into the hallway. He can see daylight, proper daylight, through the window at the end.
“’s not.” Jack shudders. “Fuck, Gabe, stop, I’m-“
Jack hurls. Gabriel braces their weight against the wall as Jack upchucks bile and blood and fucking black crap into the pristine floor. Necrotic flesh, he realises, and dread bellows in the back of his head. Jack is rotting from the inside out.
Bootsteps stomp up from behind. Gabriel throws a punch as the first guard rounds the corner, snapping her head back so hard that he hears her neck break. The second guard shouts and manages to fire off one shot before Gabriel yanks the gun right out of his hands. An elbow to the temple, and he is dead before he hits the ground. One guard has a biotic canister strapped to their belt. He takes it greedily.
Gabriel inhales. Exhales. He hooks the canister over Jack’s pants and flicks it open. Warm, soothing light envelops them both.
Jack breathes a little deeper. One look at the bleak gratitude in Jack’s expression tells Gabriel it’s too little too late.
No. It’s enough. It has to be enough. Gabriel pulls Jack back to his side with determination.
“Almost there,” he murmurs.
“Gabe,” Jack roughly palms at Gabriel’s shirt, pushing him back just far enough that Jack can swivel in front and-
Jack tastes like blood and bile, but Gabriel is hungry for Jack in a way that would overwhelm him if he were anyone else. Gabriel holds Jack steady and kisses back with all he has, with teeth and tongue and passion. It does not last long, only a handful of moments, and they pull apart.
“Would have appreciated mouthwash,” Jack cracks a laugh. “Six out of ten.”
“Ass. I am at least worth an eight.” Grip sure and strong, Gabriel guides Jack back to his side and refuses to let their first kiss also be their last.
By some miracle, they make it outside.
Sunlight graces Gabriel’s face, the first breeze he’s felt in weeks playing through his hair, and it doesn’t matter. Gabriel pays freedom no mind, not yet, because in the ten minutes between killing the guards and getting outside Jack’s gotten worse. He can barely breathe. Shallow, sucking sounds herald each harsh inhale. Hand pressed firm over Jack’s side, Gabriel can feel the liquid rattle within.
“C’mon, Sunshine,” Gabriel urges, taking more and more of Jack’s weight. His leg aches, but the biotic canister has dulled it enough that he can keep them moving. “Just a bit further. Angela will fix you up.”
A hand grips at Gabriel’s hip. Nails – claws – prick his skin despite the weak strength of the hold.
“Behind-“ Jack gurgles through a heavy snarl.
Gun up, Gabriel turns and sends three rounds into the guard on their six. He kills two more before the clip runs empty. Jack stiffens, letting loose a growl that Gabriel feels clatter through his ribs, and launches for the closest person. It is a desperate move. One that Gabriel would chew him out for later, only-
Jack bats the gun aside, swiping fingers suddenly tipped with claws over an exposed throat. Arterial spray washes over them in a cloud of warmth, and Gabriel has present enough mind to tackle the second last man before he can turn his weapon on Jack.
Gabriel snaps his neck. He takes a gun, stuffs a spare clip of ammo into his waistband, and shakily stands. Despite the biotics, he’s on the verge of collapse; even his body can only take so much. It goes against his training, but Gabriel can hear the whine of Winston’s jump-jets nearby. Jack and Gabriel need help.
“Winston!” Gabriel bellows, throat raw, as he hops awkwardly over to Jack.
“Strike Commander?” Comes the distant reply.
On the other side of another building in the complex, Winston shoots straight up into the air like a kid on a trampoline. Even from this distance, Gabriel can see the grin form when he is spotted. Over the din of battle, Gabriel hears “I’ve found him!” and damn near hollers in relief.
After months, he can finally go home.
They both can.
It is with a sense of disbelief that Gabriel turns, twisting around to see the Orca that brought them here bearing down on them with furious intent. People dressed head to toe in body armour spill from its belly before it even touches down properly. A women fires a canister of that damned sweet-smelling gas at them, and Gabriel can feel it hit him instantly. He wavers, keels over even as he yanks his shirt up over his mouth.
This gas does not seem to be the kind tailored for Jack, though, and it is who Jack rushes forward and desperately fights off their attackers. Gabriel does not know how Jack is still standing.
Hands grasp at his arms, twisting them behind his back painfully, and he shouts as all of his weight is forced onto his bad leg.
In a moment of clarity amidst the pain and fog of sedatives, Gabriel realises that he is being wrestled onto the Orca. He is too weak to fight properly, and at some point Gabriel is forced onto to the floor, the floor which vibrates as the Orca takes off. From this vantage, he can see Winston barrelling over the complex, jet-pack burning bright, Lena – Tracer, it’s Tracer, they use codenames in the field - blurring alongside him, as the tell-tale whine of the Orca’s engines kicks up another notch. A hand stretches out for them, and he does not realise it is his own until a boot comes down on it. Hard.
Screams echo behind Gabriel. Wet tearing and hollow crunches are the cries of broken bones. An arm lands an inch from Gabriel’s nose with a wet splat. Jack might hate hurting people, but he is scarily capable of it.
“Kill him!” Someone shrieks. “Just fucking kill the dog!”
Blackness crawls into his vision. Still, Gabriel has dragged himself through wars, so he heaves himself up. Nausea climbs up his throat.
Jack bodily throws one screaming solider out the still open door, flinging another at his fellows. They tumble like bowling pins. Gabriel giggles, and he tastes blood. Biotic emitters and knockout gas shouldn’t mix, apparently.
Damn sedatives. Damn adrenaline. Damn everything.
The Orca whines, a steady pulse growing stronger as the engines prepare for full-thrust. Suddenly, urgent hands close around his waist and Jack is hissing, “Survive,” in Gabriel’s ear and-
Jack throws him from the Orca.
First thing that Gabriel thinks upon waking up is that his cot is far more comfortable than usual.
He wakes, jerks upright, and feels no comfort in the familiar sight of Gibraltar’s medical wing. Pain is present, but dulled by painkillers. Angela knows he doesn’t like them strong.
“Sleeping in is a terrible habit to get into, Gabriel.”
He blinks, and something inside of him is settled by the presence of Ana Amari in kitten pyjamas. Perched on a chair, lean legs folded together, she stares at him with a haggard smile. Patches of purple encircle her eyes. She seems to have aged a decade since he saw her last.
Ana winces, but her spine uncurls into a straight line. “Three and a half months. Strike Commander, Gabriel, I-“
He stops her with a gesture. “You found me, eventually.” He sucks in a harsh breath. “Where’s Jack?”
“Jack is…the other prisoner?”
Unsettled by a feeling he cannot name, he nods. Ana presses her lips thin, frowning. “Winston caught you just before you hit the ground. He was not able to peruse the Orca. Not with the state you were in.” A sharp exhale. Crows feet deepen, spreading in crevices that speak of stress. “And because the Orca was equipped with stealth tech and we have never encountered before, they got away. Athena is searching for them, but…”
Inside, Gabriel is cold. “Who the fuck are these people, Ana?”
Teeth are bared. She always was a fearsome sight to behold. “An independent group called Vanguard. A radical offset that broke away from the Vishkar, we think.”
Spun cotton sheets are soft against his palms as he flattens them against his thighs. His left leg is in a brace, kept elevated by a harness. Angela does bother with casts for him, not unless he had truly gone and shattered the bone. No point with his healing.
“We lose anyone?” Other than Jack.
“No. Some injuries; Winston is nursing electrical burns, and a few grazes and bruises are the worst of the rest.” Arms shift as if seeking the weight of a rifle. “Athena is tracking down the Orca. We’ll find them, Gabriel.”
It is not in his nature to show defeat. He concedes to shuffling back until he hits the wall, letting it take his weight. Despite whatever Angela has in the IV stuck into his elbow, his whole body hurts – inside and out. An ache that echoes from his bones.
“Jack is a good man,” he says without truly intending to, “he doesn’t deserve to be subjected to that crap again.”
Eyes flashing with a fierce light, Ana calmly enunciates, and her fury is a righteous sight to behold, “What did they do, Gabriel?”
So he tells her.
Two days is all he can stand being kept – trapped – in the med-bay. Angela seems to understand that his desire to leave is not a simple irritation at being bedbound. Sympathy softens her. Save Ana, it is Angela that has seen him at his weakest. He does not mind when she fusses more than usual, or that she clings more than hugs with her embrace as she says, “Welcome home.”
She is young, and strong. Better yet, she understands. With strict orders to take it easy, Angela lets him go with a pair of crutches.
Avoiding his people, Gabriel slinks as stealthily as one can on crutches to his office. As his Captain, Ana had stepped up in his absence. There is much to catch up on. Reports, news, applications. A daunting pile of paperwork awaits.
Once he’s hidden away in his office, he locks the door and falls against it. A strange anxiety had haunted him the entire trip from Medical.
“All duties are still in Captain Amari’s court, sir, upon Doctor Zielger’s orders,” Athena calmly intones. “However, Agent McCree has been asking after you – I do not believe it is work related.”
Is he your son?
Squeezing his eyes shut, Gabriel digs a knuckle into his temple as if he could force the thought away. Leaving people behind always sits ill in his gut. Knowing that Jack is at Vanguard’s tender mercies sits as a leaden weight upon his chest.
“Where is he?”
“The shooting range, sir. Agent Shimada coerced him away from staking a vigil outside the Medical Wing.”
Jessie had never learned how to deal with emotional shit. Gabriel sighs a weary sound. “Let me know when he’s worn himself out.”
“Yes, sir.” A pause. “It is good to have you back, Strike Commander.”
There is a pile of data pads in a neat stack on his desk, and his chair creaks as it always has as he sits, leather creaking softly. It is all familiar, achingly so. Setting his hands upon the wooden surface, Gabriel smooths his palms over the fine layer of dust that has accumulated in his long absence. He has done this many times. In stress, or relief, or when he is struggling to keep a straight face as Ana chews some idiots head off for being an arrogant prat, Gabriel has pressed his hands to this now dusty desk to root himself in the present.
This desk, this room, has witnessed many moments. Many memories.
“Good to be back, Athena,” Gabriel swipes the dust off his hands and digs through his draws for a cloth to wipe everything down. Everything it as it was, and has been left untouched. There is still a stack of granola wrappers left from the morning he was kidnapped shoved in the top drawer. “Keep me updated on these Vanguard people. No matter what it is, you inform me, got it?”
Wiping everything down is cleansing, in a way. Just as shaving his wild beard back down to a neat goatee was. Done, he dumps the cloth in the bin and pulls the first datapad towards him. Ana had kept Overwatch in order while he was captured, and he is so fucking grateful that she had agreed to be his second.
Reports detail how hard she had looked for him. Never had Ana wavered, despite that Vanguard had gone to the effort of demolishing the location they’d captured him at – to the point where the UN had been ready to declare him dead in the field.
Bastards had smashed his shotguns to pieces too.
He gets lost in scanning reports, noting down the odd detail, for hours. Footsteps clomp past his door, guards doing their rounds, and tension winds up his spine every time. Angela has already bullied him into therapy sessions, and he grits his teeth at the thought of them. Human minds are fragile, though. Gabriel knew this before Vanguard.
Exhausted, he pushes a hot breath out and kicks away from the desk.
“Jessie done shooting shit yet?”
“No, sir,” Athena answers, “Captain Amari has resorted to physically removing Agent McCree from the shooting range should he exceed a set number of hours.”
Gabriel chews the inside of his cheek. “How long’s be been holed up in there?”
“Shit.” Scrubbing a hand down his face, Gabriel levers himself up. “Tell Ana I’ve got him.”
Jessie McCree has been a pain in Gabriel’s ass since he found the brat abandoned by Deadlock as they fled from an Overwatch team. A scruffy, red-eyed punk with deadly aim and a streak of cunning intelligence that was going to be destroyed by prison.
By the time Gabriel hobbles down from his office to the shooting range, Jessie has booked it. Ana has likely threatened to use her sleep darts on him if he stayed past her curfew.
Instinctively, Gabriel knows where Jessie has gone.
Even as he the pain in his leg worsens at all the movement, a part of Gabriel softens immeasurably.
It takes the better part of half an hour for Gabriel to make his way outside, through the vacant Orca bay, and out to the cliffs where a cluster of trees stands tall. Crutches do not allow for stealth, hissing over the short grass as he swings them forward. At the base of the largest tree, hunched over between the exposed roots, Jessie twitches at the noise. He does not turn. If anything, he curls tighter, as if protecting himself.
A part of Gabriel aches at the sight of the kid.
Stiffly taking a seat, though still giving Jessie some space, Gabriel sets the crutches down. Silence descends, save for the crash of the waves below and the cry of gulls. This is where Jessie would run and hide for the first weeks of his time in Overwatch, to be alone with his misery and anger, until he learned that he didn’t have to secret those feelings away anymore.
That Jessie has chosen to come here hurts Gabriel more than he is willing to admit.
“Angie said you had to take it easy.”
Gabriel hums. “Not back on duty yet. ‘bout as easy as I can be, at the moment.”
Hat low over his eyes, Jessie shelters his expression from the world, but Gabriel can read more than faces. Shoulders thin and tight, Jessie has his hands curled over his knees – knuckles white – and they shake. Gabriel reaches, setting his hand upon Jessie’s shoulder.
“I’m okay, kid,” Gabe squeezes lightly. “I’m okay.”
A harsh snort. Under the safety of the hats wide brim, Jessie scrubs at his eyes. He does not shrug Gabriel’s touch away like he expects.
“You’re not, old man. Your legs broke. If Winston didn’t catch you-“ he stops, like the words are snagged in his throat. “Aint nothing I coulda done but watch you fall.”
“That’s life. That’s our lives.” Gabriel breathes out slowly. “World’s dangerous; Overwatch are the people that step between those who fight and those who can’t.”
“You weren’t keepin’ anyone safe when Vanguard attacked!” Jessie bursts out, voice rising to a shout.
“No. No, they targeted me.” And Jack. “And you, Ana, and Overwatch came and got me out.”
“After months,” voice cracking, Jessie shudders.
Fuck, Gabriel thinks, and sets a rough hand on the back of Jessie’s neck instead. There is no resistance as Gabriel pulls the kid to his side, even as his stupid hat is knocked loose and falls.
“You came,” Gabriel whispers into a head of scruffy hair. “You saved my ass this time, kid.”
Jessie sniffles. Gabriel can tell when he quits resisting the comfort Deadlock had conditioned him to avoid, because Jessie hugs him back.
“Who was the fella that pushed you from the Orca?”
Gabriel stiffens. Jessie must feel it, as he pulls back and peers up at Gabriel with sharp eyes.
“Jack was another captive. Like me.” Now that his hands are free, Gabriel fists them in the material of his pants. “He didn’t get away.”
They’ll have him collared and caged and stab him with needles until they get what they want. Gabriel has seen much in his life, his career, and yet his stomach still clenches at the thought of it all. He has lost soldiers under his command before, friends, but Jack is…there is something about him that Gabriel misses sorely. An acute sense of absence.
Fair hair, kind eyes and sharp teeth, strong hands that pushed him to safety, I don’t like hurting people, Gabe, snarls of enemies and smiles for friends.
Jessie’s brows pinch, mouth pulling down on one side. His eyes are knowing. “We’ll find him, boss.”
“Yeah,” Gabriel agrees, while on the inside wondering if they’ll find Jack dead or alive. “Yeah, we’ll find him.”
All at once, the agony slams into Jack, dragging him into the waking world – a world which is filled with fire and smoke. Struggling upright, he sucks in a desperate gulp of air. Pain flares anew. Air rasps down his throat like it is full of ash, corrosive and dry, and Jack chokes around the agony.
A knife is buried to the hilt in his shoulder-
-a women tackles him, and he shouts as her fingers dig into the horridly tender flesh over his ribs. He is distracted as someone jumps forward, metal flashing, and-
-fire licks his skin everywhere, paths of electric, dry heat that feel as if his skin is being boiled-
-two guard manage to snag those damned electrified cords around his waist and left ankle. Jack howls and is heedless of all else as he yanks on one cords, pulling the wielder within range of his long reach-
-his face feels brutalised-
-the people are yelling as Jack fights and fights and fights. He fights until he falls, until the largest of the soldiers drives a tazer into Jack’s gut and holds it there until he can’t even scream. But, but, but. Jack’s hand closes around the grenades attached to the man’s hip-
-they leave Jack where he falls, curled like a baby in the womb, and the Orca lurches forward. Jack moans a thin sound. Someone tugs on the collar around his throat, and he cannot help the low whine as he realises they are going to tether him again-
-and Jack cannot go through this another time. He can’t. He won’t. He heaves himself up, pulls the pin from the grenade with his teeth, and throws it into the cockpit.
It is long and loud, and echoes in the belly of the Orca as a metallic wail.
He feels the press of the collar around his throat and does not know how he survived the crash. A flash of light had engulfed the forward half of the Orca, shrapnel marking him in ways that only violence could, and they had fallen from the sky. A bird without its wings.
Everyone had been screaming.
Jack forces himself to his feet. He can stand, and that is more than he can say for the others. Their bodies lay strewn about, some in pieces, some not, and Jack is terribly grateful. It makes him sick. Jack staggers outside of the wreck.
He stands there in the sun for a while. Just breathing, trying not to cry.
Jack fails. He goes down to his knees, buries his fingers into the grass and dirt, and cries. Not all tears are born of grief, and in part, these are tears of relief.
Jack is not safe, not yet, but he is free.
And so is Gabe.
That is the thought that drifts through his mind as Jack, so tired and worn and flushed with silver, falls to his side and lets the dark claim him.
Jack smells snow.
Carefully, Jack affects sleep as he draws a deep breath in. Snow and ice and stone, he smells, and the burning of soft incense. Warm wood and people and metal. He hears naught but the flap of material caught in an enduring wind, and a soft hum that is oddly calming. Jack opens his eyes, and flinches back with a yelp as he finds an omnic hovering not two feet away.
“Greetings,” the omnic intones, calmly lifting its hands in a sign of peace, or surrender, “I am Zenyatta, and bear no ill will to yourself.”
“Jack,” he croaks, and lifts himself upright. The bed is soft.
“Be at peace,” Zenyatta intones, “you are safe here, Jack. None here will harm you.”
Jack does not know whether or not he can believe that. The relentless thing inside of him, the wolf who is kind and gentle and thinks its pack is the whole world, is pleased.
“Where am I?”
“Nepal. My home.” With a gesture, Zenyatta directs Jack’s wary eyes to the window. Snow-capped mountains and blue skies are visible, stretching for miles. “This is a small village, where others such as you and myself have found sanctuary.”
Stiffening, Jack prepares to run. He feels the shift burn under his skin, the wolf that has been caged desperate to run after so long, and-
His neck is naked.
Jack heaves a gasp, grasping at his own skin, and shakes when his hands find no collar around his throat.
“Peace, Jack,” Zenyatta repeats, softly. Optics cannot convey what human eyes can, yet still Jack finds sympathy in the soft blue lights.
“You know what I am.”
“I do.” Zenyatta’s head tips. “Do you?”
Jack frowns, vulnerable. “A wolf. A…a monster.”
It surprises Jack when Zenyatta chuckles. “Long have the wolves watched over this land, and you are not the first lost one they have found. There are no monsters here. This room included.”
Unsure how to respond, Jack remains silent.
“I sense much conflict within you.” Zenytatta hums. “May I check your wounds?”
Setting his feet on the floor – toes digging into a plush, sheep-wool rug – Jack consents. He lifts the heavy, linen tunic, finding his waist wrapped in layers of gauze, and tries not to flinch when cool, metal fingers brush his skin.
“You have slept for three days. Almost four.” The bandages fall away, and Jack sucks in a sharp breath as he sees what the wound on his side has become. “This is healing well, at last. Your body took a worrying amount of time to flush the silver. It was injected, yes? Liquidised.”
Jack marvels. What skin was one black and red, decaying, now appears more like a mild burn. The edges are pink and dark, already scarring, and the needle site no longer weeps. There must be nerve-damage, as Jack cannot feel Zenyatta’s touch as the omnic carefully smears a pale, white paste over the wound.
Considering that Jack had thought he was dying, had felt like he was boiling alive with that poison in his veins, it’s a damn miracle.
“How the hell did I survive?”
“Some might liken it to luck,” Zenyatta answers serenely, beginning to apply fresh bandages, “others a will to live. A hunting party coming from the South saw smoke and investigated. They found you. Lucio was quite worried, as many young healers are with their patients.”
Jack is, honestly, utterly bewildered by everything. He stays quiet as Zenyatta tends to Jack’s other wounds. The long lacerations on his face will scar heavily.
After a while, as Zenyatta packs up the little basket of medical supplies, Jack tentatively asks, “There are others like me?”
“Indeed. Would you like to meet them?”
“Yeah.” Shakily, Jack stands. Zenyatta offers an arm, which Jack takes. “Yeah, I would.”
Lucio is a bright-eyed boy with a smile that stretches from ear to ear. He bounds up to Jack, frame in that awkward place between boy and man, and nearly vibrates with joy.
Jack is rather blindsided. No one has ever been so pleased to see him in years – not even the lost tourists he finds in the woods. A metal hand grounds Jack with a gentle touch on his forearm.
“Lucio, right? Thanks for, uh, everything?”
Lucio beams. “No problem, man. Always good to help people out. Wanna come meet the family?”
Jack is not entirely sure why he is so hesitant. There are more people like him in the world, other than the grandfather that he had never met. The wolf had skipped his mother’s generation, and she had wanted nothing to do with it – going so far as to kick Jack out when he had come into his inheritance at sixteen.
A freezing wind snakes through the stonework buildings and wooden huts that make up the village. Jack tastes it, savours it, and nearly falls on his face when Lucio’s scent hits his nose.
“You’re like me?” Jack blurts, only regaining his footing with Zenyatta’s help.
“Yep!” Spinning on his heel, Lucio throws up a peace sign as his eyes flash yellow. “Still learning the ropes from the old dogs, though.”
“Your stitch-work is coming along well,” Zenyatta offers, hovering alongside Jack calmly. “Would you mind fetching your mother and bringing Jack some food? Soup, and perhaps bread if there is any.”
Lucio shifts like he wants to argue, but bounces off eagerly enough when Jack tries for a smile.
Zenyatta says nothing. Jack can hear the question regardless.
In a moment between heartbeats, Jack feels how fragile he has been, but never let himself feel, since his mother dropped him off at the airport with a letter, a Will, and a dufflebag full of clothes. To Zenyatta, he confesses, “I didn’t know there were others like me.”
“I sensed as much.” With a nudge, Zenyatta guides Jack away from the large building carved into the mountain itself and towards a secluded courtyard guarded by alight braziers. “I believe speaking with Isabelle will be a better course, until you are ready to face the others. They are…” Zenyatta chuckles, and it is kind enough that Jack’s humming heartbeat settles, “a boisterous bunch.”
Jack can hear the laughter, the music, the cheer from here. He shies away from it, further into Zenyatta’s alcove.
All Jack had was a letter and a thin grimoire to teach him - both hastily written in his grandfather’s twilight years, letters sharp and twisted by bitterness, grief, and hope, words crafted by a failing mind and fading eyesight that tried to convey centuries of knowledge and history in thirty pages.
We tell our history orally, Aiden McFarlane had written, but I do not think I will live to do so, my grandson, and so this book will have to suffice. I can only hope you will come here, one day, and find this book.
“How many…” Jack chokes out, shivering. A heavy blanket is draped over his shoulders, and suddenly Lucio is back and pressing a warm bowl of soup into his hands. “Uh, thanks.”
“It’s cool, man. Have a seat; fires keep this place cosy.”
Lucio plops down in the way only young men can. Much slower, Jack lowers himself down, back to a low wall, and lets the soup warm his hands. It tastes far better than the gruel Doc had served them.
Christ. Doc. Jack had ripped her head off. Bile rises in his throat, and Jack desperately washes it away with a mouthful of soup.
A woman, tall in stature and solid in body, sits across from him. Her hair is bound in dozens of tiny braids rather than the heavier dreads her son favours. Jack can tell they are mother and son by eyesight alone. Their skin, jaw line, and eyes are identical.
“Jack,” Isabelle murmurs, warm, “I must say, I had thought you would sleep for another day, at least. I’m pleased to be proven wrong.”
Lucio laughs. It is a bright sound. “That’s a first.”
“Shush, you,” she chides, though fondly. Lucio mimes zipping his mouth shut. “Good. Now, Jack, forgive me for being blunt, but my son is under the impression that you did not know there were other wolves in the world?”
So, it is out in the open. Jack has not spoken aloud about his condition since his mother told him about their heritage, their curse.
“No.” His voice comes out faint and thready. He clears his throat and starts again. “No, I didn’t. How many Faoladh are there?”
“Faoladh? Ah, you must be of the Irish line.” A broad grin. “Explains your complexion.”
Self-consciously, Jack scrubs at his pale skin. He burns so easily, and he has lost what tan he had after weeks – months? – of imprisonment. She laughs, right from her belly, and Jack feels a small one bubble in his own chest.
“Long story short,” Isabelle begins, laying her hands in her lap, “there are wolves like us, healers and helpers and guardians, all over the world. My son and I are from Rio. Our homeland calls us, somewhat mistakenly, Lobisomem. It means werewolf, but the tales attached to it are not entirely correct – outside of our communities, that is.”
“We come here every few years to meet up with other wolves,” Lucio chimes in, kinetic energy buzzing under his skin. “That’s how we found you. The pack from Russia saw the fire from the crash.”
Jack works through more of his soup to avoid talking. Subtly as he can, Jack draws their scents over his tongue, comparing them to the faded hints of pine needles, fur, and rich tobacco that had lingered in his grandfather’s cabin. Lucio is sweet fruits and warm spices, water and light and a summers breeze, and it makes Jack think of music. Isabelle is the same, though softer, muted. A mark of her age, perhaps.
“Mind if I play some tunes?”
Drawn from his thoughts, Jack blinks at Lucio. “Go for it.”
Grinning, Lucio fiddles with a small speaker. Hardlight unfolds from the device, and Jack unwittingly relaxes as a lulling, soothing beat begins to play. Lucio hums along, bobbing to the rhythm. The still present pain of Jack wounds does not fade, but it does dim – like it did with the biotic canister Gabriel hooked over Jack’s pants.
Jack feels the stitches holding his face together pull as his brows furrow. “How are you doing that?”
“Healing boost,” Lucio sing-songs. There is nothing malicious in his bearing, but all Jack can think of it months of relentless testing and pain and torture. Picking up on the discomfort, Lucio’s grin falls into a sombre line. “Sorry, man. It’s sonic healing tech. Works sort of like an auditory biotic field. I can turn it off?”
“No, it’s okay.” Jack forces himself to relax, aware of Isabelle’s heavy stare. “Works wonders. You make it yourself?”
That sets Lucio off on a tangent that well and truly goes over Jack’s head. The enthusiasm, and mischief, is genuine as Lucio talks about a group called the Vishkar and sonic technology. Isabella indulges the talk until Jack cannot quite keep his exhaustion from showing. The music has lulled him into a gooey, sleepy daze.
Isabelle sends Lucio to bed. Once he and his music are gone, Jack regains some lucidity.
“I do not wish to dreg bad memories,” she starts, and Jack cringes internally, “but our Russian fellows found you near-dead, collared, and covered in blood. There were a dozen dead in the Orca, slain by the crash or your hand. Who were they, and what happened?”
Swallowing, as his mouth is suddenly dry, Jack carefully sets his empty bowl down. Porcelain clinks against stone.
“I don’t know who they were, but they targeted me because of what I am.” Unconsciously, Jack touches his throat. “Gabe, another prisoner, thought they wanted to study where my, our, abilities come from.”
“Study?” Brows low, Isabelle rumbles. “How long did they have you?”
Half jokingly, half desperately, Jack responds with, “Not sure. What’s the date?”
Jack chokes on a laugh. “Guess that’s three months I’ll never get back.”
Reality hits him all at once. Fingers tangling in his hair, Jack pulls. He pulls until it hurts, eyes squeezing shut against the hot tears he can feel coming. Jack shudders when unyielding hands pry his own loose, firmly pulling them down into his lap. Zenyatta says nothing, but he does smooth Jack’s hair back into a semblance of neatness. Oddly, it harkens Jack back to when Gabe did the same. A steady hand passing through his hair, strange and intimate and wonderful, as Jack’s body worked through the toxin.
Asides hazy memories of a childhood Jack barely remembers, those moments with Gabe are the kindest in Jack’s life – with Jack delirious and barely conscious and Gabe softly humming songs in Spanish as he combed sweaty hair away from Jack’s forehead.
“Peace,” Zenyatta murmurs, a resonant quality to his voice. “Here you are safe. Know this, even when your mind thinks differently.”
“We’re all a little broken.” Isabelle also offers, kind. “And we all like to help, so of all the places in the world to end up, this is a pretty good one.”
Jack’s mind snags on help. “I thought that it was only Faoladh that helped people.”
Not that this is what his mother believed, who had hated her blood and history - and Jack, in the end.
Isabelle’s laugh is loud, straight from the belly, and sets Jack at ease. “Wolves live all around the world, Jack. Our history is long, often misunderstood and mixed with lycanthropy – which was a terrible curse tied to the moon cycle.”
“My mother called this,” me, Jack pines internally, “a curse. It’s…it’s not?”
No pity rises in the dark eyes meeting his own, though they do soften. “Far from it. Naught but our own will brings shifting between forms. You are not cursed, nor are you a curse, Jack, you are blessed with a gift.”
Jack snorts with bitterness before he can help it. A lifetime of conditioning, of believing the opposite of what Isabelle speaks, tells Jack to reject the very idea of this thing inside of him being a blessing. When he first changed, shifted, from human to wolf…when his mother had found him the next morning – naked, filthy, frightened, and curled up in the forest that backed their farm – he had witnessed the end of his life. The end of his childhood. The end of her love for him.
Slender hands, calloused and rough and gentle, cup Jack’s own. Isabelle has crouched before him, and thus he cannot escape the gaze she levels at Jack.
“Oh, Jack,” Isabelle begins, and there is such warmth, such kindness, in her tone that Jack almost weeps, “There is so much for you to learn here.”
Later, when Jack is back in bed and unable to sleep, he thinks of Gabe.
He thinks of a bloody kiss and surprised eyes and the feel of steady hands bracing Jack as silver slithered under his skin. He thinks of comfort in strange, terrifying places and a warm laugh and a steady presence that always made Jack think of a deep-rooted tree, immovable and stalwart.
What would you think of me, Jack wonders.
Three times, Gabe had asked Jack what he was. And three times, Jack had offered no real answer.
Gabe must have suspected. If not Faoladh, or werewolf, at least that Jack was something other. Something monstrous. Something that made their captors want his poisoned blood.
The thought that Gabe would fear, or even reject, Jack due to his curse – his gift, Isabelle’s words ring in his head – hurts far more than he thought it possibly could.
Curling onto his side, Jack buries his nose into the pillow and tries not to think on it.
Over the next few weeks, Jack falls into a rhythm.
Jack will wake, spend some time with Lucio and Isabelle, learning and unlearning all manner of things, and then either fill the afternoon in quiet with Zenyatta or with the less quiet company of Jack’s fellow wolves. It is strange to be surrounded by so many after months in a two-man cell, and a decade in near solitude before that. The other wolves are from all over the world, and welcome Jack into their fold. He learns phrases and cusses in a dozen different language by the end of the first day.
Jack spends most of his time trying not to be overwhelmed. All his life, Jack has been stubborn to the last, so he forces himself to immerse. The monks and villagers, human, wolf, and omnic, are all so good, so accepting, that Jack feels something like peace.
Something calls him elsewhere. It takes some more nights of staring at the ceiling above his bed before Jack realises the something is his own desire to see Gabe.
That, more than anything, frightens Jack.
During a quiet afternoon in the greenhouse, tending to the herbs and vegetables that cannot survive in the tundra, Jack spills his thoughts to Zenyatta.
Not pausing in trimming dead leaves of a tomato plant, Zenyatta absorbs Jack’s fears with placid contemplation. Few things seem to faze him. Jack wishes he had such inner harmony.
“For what experiences you shared with this man, I do not find it surprising that you would develop an attachment to him. May I ask, was he one such as yourself?”
“I don’t think so.” Jack brushes a light touch over the delicate petals of a thatch of blue flowers. They smell sweet. “There was something different about Gabe, though. I could smell it. See it.” No normal human could heal so swiftly, take so much pain and push through with little but a clenched jaw. Amateurs, Gabe had spat after a session on that damned table. “It was not natural, whatever the SEP was. That much I gathered.”
“Have you considered,” Zenyatta breeches, not hesitant, but gentle all the same, “that what you feel is of a romantic nature, and that in itself is what frightens you?”
Jack nearly drops the clippers. He fumbles, snags them before they hit the ground, and feels every line of his body go stiff. A wash of heat overtakes his face. Zenyatta does not laugh or mock such a display like some would. Like many would. Rather, he folds his hands together in a delicate twist of fingers and thumbs, and observes.
“Discovering the root of this fear within you, and overcoming it, I believe, will bring you a measure of peace, Jack.”
“You think so?” Jack bites his lip, carefully laying the clippers down beside the pile of dead leaves. “I don’t…I don’t even know where to start. Half of my head wants something, and the other half is saying I don’t deserve it.”
“Ah. I see. It is hard to overcome a lifetimes worth of lessons, be they good or bad ones, in the pursuit of healing.” A pause. “This man, Gabe, he survived, did he not?”
“Yeah. His people came for him.” Longing croons in Jack’s chest. “He never gave up on them.”
Jack swallows. He can still taste the blood sometimes, hear the faint, whispered Jack as he pushed Gabe from the Orca. Pressing his hands into the wood, Jack bows. Sometimes bad people need to be stopped. Conscious off how fragile he has been the last few days, he keeps his palms flat, fingers spread, so that his claws do not gouge the table.
He hates hurting people. He hates how easy it is to do so. He hates how he can’t forget what he has done.
And perhaps Jack should not forget.
You’re a beast, just like your grandfather. A monster. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Perhaps Jack should just run back to Ireland, disappear so deep into the woods that no soul can find him this time. Leave Gabe to his life with Overwatch.
“Running from ones troubles solves little.”
Jack starts, realises his sight is blurred. “Didn’t realise I said that aloud.”
Acknowledging this with a metallic hum, Zenyatta adds, “Oftentimes, it is the things we do not mean to say, that are the most honest.”
Words knot up in his throat. Jack remains silent. Kindly, Zenyatta allows it.
There was a reason why Doc had Jack collared at the throat rather than shackled at the ankle like Gabe. Shifting from man to wolf would have killed Jack, choked or decapitated him, with unforgiving hardlight wrapped around his throat. But once-
Once, Jack had almost risked it.
Gabe’s first time on the table. A change in Doc’s strategy, bones snapping sickeningly loud in Jack’s ears, the strained sounds of pain Gabriel was not able to completely hide. Not from Jack, not from his senses. Jack had seen, felt, smelt, and heard pain. He’d wanted to stop it. To help.
Collar be damned, Jack had almost shifted.
Doc and her people had known exactly how to contain Jack and those like him. How to trap them, contain them, restrain them. Hell, they had tailored sedatives for him.
Worried, Jack has told all to Isabelle.
Knowing such people, such a group, are out there has Isabelle and the others concerned. Their infectious joy, shown through gentle touches and warm company, dwindles the more the topic is discussed. Thick and cloying like a foul smelling fog, fear hangs over the wolves and the little village in Nepal.
Lucio, not the youngest but the brightest, tries to boy their spirits. It works, at times.
Tonight is not such a time.
Jack, Zenyatta, and a few of the other omnic monks are minding the children in the courtyard as a tense talk happens within the temple. Most of the children enjoy the sunlight while it lasts, kicking a ball around with agility and reflexes that speaks of their heritage. Witnessing their play does Jack some good. They are free, and they are happy.
It reminds him of memories that hurt, but in a distant way. Even if it stings, Jack never begrudges another’s happiness.
“Think they’ll finally decide what to do?”
Jerked out of the daze he had fallen into, Jack twists to peer down at Lucio. They are seated on a low wall, legs dangling over the edge, and just far enough away from the children that they will not be overheard. Lucio’s bony shoulders hang low.
Jack licks his lips. “Not sure. The idea that there are people out there who want to study us is hard to take, let alone figure out how to deal with it.”
“What about Overwatch, then? Could they help?”
“That’s what they’re discussing tonight.” Jack casts his eyes towards the temple. A golden light glows from within, inviting and warm, but Jack wants no part of the talks. Never has Jack been a part of a pack. He has no idea what to do with one. “Knowing Gabe, he is probably already investigating whoever kidnapped us.”
A family of idiots.
“Shame we don’t have a tv up here,” Lucio sighs, in that deep, aggrieved way that only teenagers can manage, and it draws a smile from Jack. “News hounds Overwatch like a bad smell, man. I think they had stuff going every day when for the first week after Reyes was reported missing in action.”
As always, any mention, even a stray thought, about Gabe has Jack’s heart fluttering. A butterfly trapped by his ribs. “Not surprised, considering.”
“Ay, man,” a slow, delighted grin curls Lucio’s lips, “you got a thing for him?”
Jack splutters. Lucio cackles, jostling Jack’s shoulder with a friendly shake. It does not feel like mean laughter, so Jack does not take offence, or hurt, by the others obvious glee. Kids, he thinks with a bittersweet fondness, remembering being that young and carefree.
“I won’t tell a soul, man.” Lucio leans into Jack, like they’ve been friends for years and not a fortnight, and knuckles him in the ribs. “But, man, I aint ever seen someone blush like that before.”
“Irish blood,” Jack ruefully says. He can feel the warmth lingering in his cheeks still.
An urge strikes him. Jack cracks his neck, flexes his hands, feeling the ripple of heat surging under his skin and indulging in it. “You want to go for a run?”
“What? Seriously?” Pushing off their perch, Lucio comes alive. He bounces on the spot, as if the music he loves so much fills his very veins, and pumps a fist into the air. “Been waiting days for you to ask, man. Let’s go!”
Again and again, the wolves have invited Jack to join them as they run over the mountains. All those who are not wolves that live in the villages on the mountains know of them. They are safe to expose themselves here.
Not long ago, Jack would feel shame in the wholeness, the sense of completion, that shifting into the wolf brings. It feels right, and good. Not pure, but something akin to it. Like finding ones way after being lost for an age. Jack has gone without for so long, and here...
Here, he is free.
Lucio bolts ahead. Jack laughs and follows. They shuck their clothes, barely remembering to throw them into the baskets set out for this very purpose, and leap forth into the snow. Not hands, but paws hit the ground. Human bodies glide and flow into those of wolves, bones and muscle and skin reshaping in a matter of moments. It does not hurt. It never hurts. It simply is.
Jack shakes out his fur, stretches his legs and spine out with hedonistic pleasure. Not in years has he gone so long without shifting. He inhales, drawing all that he can into the great bellows of his lungs. Holds it. Exhales, and opens his eyes. Lucio is waiting as patiently as he can, though Jack can practically taste the enthusiasm crackling over his rich, brown fur.
For all the misery this heritage has brought Jack, he would never surrender this…this gift.
A gift, he reminds himself, not a curse.
Again, Jack wonders what Gabe might think of him.
Rolling his shoulders loose, Jack sidles up to Lucio, not the first wolf he has witnessed, but the first that has witness himself. You ready, a young yet wise gaze seems to ask.
And Jack is.
“You want to go to him.”
Isabelle does not speak as if needing confirmation. Corded arms are folded loosely over her chest, not defensively, and her shoulders are lax. Jack cannot sense anger, or accusation, in her tone.
“I do.” Jack rubs the back of his neck. “I owe Gabe some honesty.”
A brow curls up. And, she seems to ask silently.
“And,” Jack heaves a sigh, feeling a flush rise to his cheeks, “I’d like to see if…if he’ll have me.”
“As an Overwatch agent, or as a partner?”
Uncomfortable at the low amusement riding on her scrutiny, Jack mumbles, “Both.”
“Easy, Jack.” Steady hands brace his shoulders, grip firm and strong, and Isabelle looks up at Jack with kindness crinkling her crows feet. “Not all of us are built the same.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No.” Dozens of braids swing as she shakes her head, the ends snapping like angry snakes with her vehemence. “Some wolves find their purpose as protectors, others as healers. We all help in our own ways. My mother was a nurse, my sister a combat medic, and my father a guide, an ear, or a steadying hand depending on what our community needed. What you want,” she says forcefully, sliding a hand up to cup his jaw, and this is so much like how Jack’s mother was that he aches a little, “is what matters.”
After letting those words sink in, and how they dig down into his very bones, Isabelle asks, “What do you want, Jack?”
“Gabe,” he sighs, “I want Gabe. I want to join Overwatch and help people.”
A thumb sweeps under his eye, tracing the faint shadows that reveal Jack’s uneasy sleep. It is a lulling motion, and Jack shuts his eyes against it. While the wilds have always been home to Jack, he is tired of being alone, of living in a tiny cabin in a damp forest. It was never really a home. A refuge, more like.
“I do not know them personally, but there are members of the Egyptian pack within Overwatch. I will contact them.” Isabelle draws away, and Jack almost - almost - chases her retreating hands. “Besides, my son has been warming to the idea of joining Overwatch. Knowing that you would be there to watch over him gives me some peace with the idea. Not,” she adds,” that he will be joining any time soon.”
“What about the Vishkar?”
“Let me worry about them,” she waves a hand, brushing the problem away. “Little pests with their technology; it may not seem like it, but their grip on Rio lessens every week.”
As much as Jack wants to stay with his fellow wolves, and he does, he yearns for something else. Jack loves spending time with them, learning all there is about his kin from all over the world, bounding over the mountains in his wolf skin with a pack, but-
But they are not Gabriel Reyes.
Catching Isabelle’s hands, Jack draws them together and squeezes. Gratitude swells behind his breast. “Thank you,” he says, and it will never be enough, but it is all Jack has to give, “thank you so much, Isabelle.”
Jack says his farewells the next morning. He is surprised, still, when there is genuine sadness at his departure. Zenyatta is joining Jack, as Isabelle’s Overwatch contact believes there is a person who needs an omnic monks help. The company will be nice, and reassuring.
“Stick to the wilds,” Isabelle imparts, forehead pressed to his own, “we still do not know who it was that captured you, and they may be watching for you. Keep each other safe, and call us when you are able to.”
“Of course,” Zenyatta replies for them both as Jack wears his wolf skin. “Do not fear for us, my friends.”
Lucio wraps his arms around Jack’s neck, heedless of the heavy fur pressed to his face. “Keep outta trouble, man. You to, Zenyatta.”
The orbs hovering in whimsical patterns around Zenyatta trill with his chuckle. “Indeed.”
Little more can be said, and prolonged goodbyes are painful, so they leave.
Damn it, Gabriel thinks acidly. His gut rolls and burns, even with all that he has witnessed and done, as he stares at the scene before him.
The Orca that he had woken up on months ago, that had nearly carried him away from his team again, lies in a burned out wreck. Fire has licked most of the ship clean, leaving little behind but blackened bones and metal. Gabriel has checked the bodies, burned ones and rotting corpses alike, and not found a collar or fair hair or the bone structure to match his target.
Jack is not here.
“What is it, McCree?”
“Winston thinks he might be able to recover something from the Orca’s computers.”
Gabriel is doubtful. The wreck has been exposed to the elements for three weeks, not to mention the violence of the crash itself. Still, this ship had stealth tech they had not encountered before. There is a chance.
“Drag the lot of it back to Gibraltar. Bodies included.”
“Yes, sir.” There is the crackle of brittle grass under shifting feet. McCree is hesitating. “He might’ve escaped. Run off into the woods.”
If he were a lesser man, Gabriel would shut his eyes and gather his composure. Two prerogatives have plagued him since the moment he woke up in medical with a broken leg and Ana watching him: find Jack, and find the fuckers who kidnapped them.
This is why Gabriel didn’t make to do lists. It always drove him nuts if he couldn’t accomplish everything on it.
“Maybe,” Gabriel murmurs, because he can feel the kid’s nerves prickling at his back. “Get Mercy to supervise rounding up the bodies.”
At the dismissal, McCree finally leaves Gabriel be.
Drawing in a steading breath, Gabriel thinks of blue, blue eyes, sharp smiles, and hair the colour of sunshine. He lets himself picture it, just for a moment, and then Gabriel pushes it all aside. Later, he tells himself, and steps away to let the recovery team swarm the crash site. A nausea stubbornly clings to his belly as Gabriel oversees it all.
Ignoring discomfort is second nature.
Once the bodies are collected and loaded into one of Overwatch’s large, transport airships, Mercy finds him. Her gaze is assessing and sympathetic.
“How is your leg?” she asks, instead of what he knows she truly wants to say.
Delicate features pinch in worry. “Sir-“
“Mercy,” Gabriel grunts, harsher than he intends, “No, I’m not fine, but I will be fine until we get home. Mission comes first, you know that.”
Hands tight on her staff, Mercy takes the rebuttal as well as he expects. Which is, not at all. Her compassion overrides her common sense at times. “You’re only human, Strike Commander.”
Rumbling a sigh, Gabriel fixes her with a warning glare. Begrudgingly, she backs off. The wings of the Valkyrie suit glow iridescent in the watery sunlight that graces them today. A gloomy day for a grim purpose.
Every agent in Overwatch, from the admin staff to the highest ranking officers, are trained to be efficient and precise. As such, barely an hour passes before their job is done and they are headed back for Gibraltar. Desiring solitude, Gabriel stuffs himself into a corner in the aft. He stretches, legs out long and crossed at the ankle, and gives off clear not now vibes.
Ana, as usual, gives no fucks. She takes a seat beside him, rifle cradled in the crook of her arm, and at least pretends to ignore his rattling sigh.
“You are scaring the troops,” is what Ana opens with, and there is an undertone of amusement. When Gabriel offers no reply, she herself sighs. “Gabriel.”
“I know.” He growls half-heartedly. The angle of the inner wall affords enough privacy that Gabriel allows himself to slump. The wall is cold even through his beanie as he tips his head back. Gabriel deflates. “Find anything in the woods?”
“No. There was no sign of anything but animals.” Silken hair spills over her shoulder as she leans forward, elbow braced on a knee. “Gerard reports that no one from the nearby villages has encountered someone of Jack’s description either.”
“Clearly, Jack has a knack for survival, if he made it out of that crash, and put up with you for three months.” Ana pays little heed to his affronted noise. “If what he told you is true, then the wilds here will be little challenge for him. Perhaps, Jack will find you when he is ready.”
Sitting up, Gabriel thinks on this. His mind has always been fast, it is what got him and his team through the Omnic war. Facts click together with sharp clarity.
“You think he’s in hiding until we take care of Vanguard.”
Ana taps her nose.
“Why the hell didn’t you say something earlier?”
“You needed to see the crash.” Ana inclines her chin, something apologetic in it. “And I was not certain that this might,” she emphasizes, “be the case. False hope is dangerous, even for a realist like yourself, Gabriel.”
“That’s fair,” he concedes. Pride will not stop him from accepting the truth, and Ana is right. Ruthless as Gabriel is capable of being, he still hopes, still finds himself praying at times, still hurts when he loses people or innocents suffer. Pulling his beanie off, he rubs a palm over his scalp – still surprised to feel short hair fluff up under his hand instead of an unruly mop of curls. “So, Jack’s hiding. Fine. You have an idea on Vanguard, then?”
Ink frames the half of her gaze he can see, stark black lines marking the Eye of Horus against a dark complexion. Gabriel has always liked her tattoo.
“We know they splintered from Vishkar, but we do not know why. I believe discovering Vanguard’s intent and why they left to become their own group will lead us to who the ringleaders are.”
Gabriel had considered this. He was leery of making contact with Vishkar considering their hostile style of management over Rio. Their take on ‘rejuvenating the neighbourhood’ rubbed him the wrong way. He had kept as close an eye on Rio as the UN allowed him before they’d come out and actually told him to back off.
“Overlords won’t allow it.”
“So we don’t tell them.” She shrugs, and it is only years of experience that has Gabriel withholding a reflexive bark of laughter at her blasé dismissal. “There is enough probable cause for us to investigate Vishkar’s ties to Vanguard, regardless.”
There are times when Gabriel truly wishes that Overwatch had a black ops division. The UN had denied his request for a covert unit three times, citing any number of bullshit reasons to keep Overwatch’s – and his – image as clean and pure as possible. Hard to do, considering he hated giving speeches and his only reaction to being confronted with press cameras was to scowl.
He liked doing, not playing politics and attending galas when he should be out in the world actually helping people.
He hated his job as much as he loved it, sometimes.
“We’ll see what we can find on all of that,” Gabriel jerks a thumb at the transport Orca, just visible through the port-side window, bearing the remnants of the crash, “and decide where to go from there.”
“Yes, Strike Commander.”
A week later Gabriel is trying to wrap up paperwork when Athena announces that Fareeha is requesting entrance to his office.
He blinks, and musters some surprise when he seeks that the clock reads half-past eight.
“Yeah. Yeah, let her in.” Rubbing his eyes, he attempts to hide his exhaustion as Fareeha enters. She is carrying a tray of food, tongue poking out in concentration, and genuine affection dispels some of his weariness. “Hey, kiddo. Whatcha got there?”
“Dinner.” Very carefully, she comes forward and sets the tray on the coffee table shoved under the window. Crafty thing, he thinks fondly, and leaves his desk full of paperwork in favour of a meal. “You forgot to join us. Again.”
“Sorry.” He sits, and notes that Fareeha waits for him to lift his arm before curling into his side. She wraps thin arms around his middle. Of all of the people Gabriel considered family, she had taken his kidnapping the hardest. “How was school?”
“Dull. I like Torbjorn’s lessons better than Miss Addison’s.”
Smothering a laugh, Gabriel digs into the lamb stew Ana tended to favour making in the cooler months. “You only say that because Torbjorn makes stuff blow up.”
“Which is exactly why he is not allowed into my personal kitchen ever again.” Ana strides into the room, thermos in one hand and a trio of scuffed tea cups in the other. “I had to throw that toaster out, you know.”
Oh, Gabriel knows. At length. He’s heard the damn toaster story from five different sources. Torbjorn’s not allowed in Gabriel’s personal kitchen either. Ever.
“Foods good, Ana.”
“Of course it is.” Sitting opposite of him and Fareeha, Ana lays the teacups out and pours an even measure into each. Warm spice and vanilla hits his nose immediately. “My cooking is always spectacular. Now stop talking and eat up, Gabriel.”
In part because he knows she always keeps that damn sleep dart gun on her, and in part because the food is good, Gabriel does. It makes him miss his mother’s cooking, noisy family meals with his sisters and kicking back with a beer once their kids were asleep. Damn. He needs to book in a holiday and visit home. A phonecall once a week was not enough, especially not after everything.
He eats, and then drinks his tea leisurely.
“You’ve been spoiling me these last few weeks.”
Ana chuckles into her cup. “Are you complaining?”
“Never.” Mindful of Fareeha, who had fallen asleep before he’d even finished the stew, Gabriel leans into the backrest of the couch. He does not resent her newfound need to be close. “Why though?”
Thin-boned hands curl around the body of the teacup. “When you obsess over a job you…become so focused that you forget to eat, to sleep, to let yourself breathe, Gabriel. As your Second, and as your friend, it is my job to step in and remind to do those things. You are only human.”
“Enhanced human,” he corrects. “What else is this about?”
Ana looks at her daughter. “She wanted to help you. We can all see your strain, and we worry. My daughter has nightmares, Gabriel; that you will be taken from us – permanently, this time.”
“That’s a soldier’s life, Ana.” Quelling the urge to get up and start pacing, Gabriel drains the last of his tea. “But, I’m sorry that Fareeha is losing sleep over it.”
“My daughter loves you, you big idiot.” Sharp words are softened by a amiable smirk. “It is not something to feel guilty over. Just promise to always fight to come back to her, to us, and it will be enough.”
She does not make him promise to come home, for that would be an impossible oath to keep. There will always be forces beyond his control, and one day said force might be a stray bullet that hits him between the eyes. But Gabriel will always fight. That was a promise he could make, and keep. It was not in his nature to surrender without giving it his all.
Even though Gabriel had long ago accepted that he would probably die on the job, it did not mean he would accept it idly.
For a while, Gabriel just enjoys the presence of those who are family in all but blood. Fareeha sleeps, oblivious to the world, and Ana contents herself with another serving of tea. Only once the second cup is drained does Ana speak again.
“My mother has told me that there are people who want to join us. An old friend of hers tipped her off, and asked us if we might help,” she starts with, tapping a nail against the teacup. Tik, tik, tik. “They are not refugees, but they are in danger, and willing to join Overwatch.”
More strays. “Who are they and why are they in danger?”
“She was not given their names.” He reads the tension in her jaw easily. Her mother and her friend are worried that they are being watched or the phones were tapped. “She was told of their merit. They are good people, quite skilled, and they want to help.”
“What do you think?”
Thin lips purse thoughtfully. “There is more to this than meets the eye. I said as much to mother, and she said I would understand once I met them. Once we met them.”
“This is far more cryptic than I’d like it to be,” he grumbles, and Ana inclines her head as if to say that’s fair. Logistically, if there are those that need help Gabriel will offer it. And statistically, some of his best agents have been found through situations like this.
Not for the first time, a sense of anticipation tingles up his spine as Ana spells out the location and date her mother had provided – through a code set up long ago. Gabriel had created one for his own family shortly after enlisting, knowing that soldiers correspondence was monitored, in case he needed to tell his family to get out of dodge. He dislikes the knowledge that such protocols are a necessity, even with Overwatch’s efforts.
A rough plan is laid out. Full of good food and tea, Gabriel bows to Ana’s barely veiled threat to sleep dart him if he doesn’t go to bed. He walks Ana to her quarters, Fareeha oblivious to the world in her arms, and bids her goodnight.
Alone in his own rooms, Gabriel undresses and climbs into bed.
It’s funny. He hasn’t shared a bed with anyone in years, and yet Gabriel misses having another presence to sleep beside. Even just near. After a while, it had been reassuring to hear Jack on the other side of the cell. Harsh muslin rasping against rough cotton sheets as he shifted, the gentle rhythm of his breath, the soft noise of disgust he’d make when he smelt breakfast being brought.
The song of his laugh. The heat of his back pressed against Gabriel’s. The pleasant rumble of his voice.
Gabriel sighs and scrubs at his eyes.
It is night, and all he can think of is sunshine.
They are setting up in the area where Ana’s people are supposed to be meeting them when Athena’s voice calmly intones in his ear, “I am picking up an encoded frequency. It matches that which we pulled from Vanguard’s airship, sir.”
Ana and he exchange a glance. Shit, he thinks, and reads a similar thought in Ana’s eyes.
“We have incoming,” he calmly relays to his team even as something terribly close to fear cinches around his lungs. “Vanguard. Numbers unknown. Keep sharp, everyone.”
McCree swears. Loudly. Distantly, Gabriel is aware of Ana gripping his shoulder. There is a high keen in his ears and a cold anger swiftly surging over the fear at the thought of those who held and tortured him for months are coming for him again.
As he must, Gabriel pushes it down. Keep a clear head for the mission and freak out later.
Curling a hand over his mouthpiece, Gabriel tells Ana, “I’m fine,” and conveys it as best he can.
He can tell that she does not believe him, but will allow the lie. For now. He can also tell, from the way she grips her rifle, that she will not be leaving his side. Despite how furiously Gabriel compartmentalises his feelings about this shitshow of a mission – before it even starts, what the hell – he does allow himself to experience the gratitude.
“Say the word and I’ll be there in moments, sir.”
“Hang back, Mercy. You too, Winston and McCree. Keep your distance unless I give the go ahead. Clear?”
He gets three less than happy confirmations. Already, Gabriel wishes he had brought a bigger team. Reinhardt was leading an op in Madagascar, Lena on leave visiting Emily, and Torbjorn nursing a concussion from a lab accident. At least Genji was sleuthing around in the woods doing recon, and as angry as he was capable of being, Gabriel trusted him at his back.
Sides, the kid could summon a spirit dragon, and Gabriel doubts Vanguard had a way to counter that.
Some tense minutes later, in which Gabriel wonders who will find them first, Vanguard or their quarry, Genji breaks the fraught quiet.
“You have incoming.” Gabriel can just make out the hum of an Orca powdering down over the connection. “Heavily armed, though they appear to have non-lethal armaments as well.”
“Two dozen.” A pause. “I can make out another stealth airship flanking behind you.”
Already peering through the rifle sights, Ana hums a confirmation. “They appear to be blocking us in, sir.”
Internally, Gabriel swears. It’s Vanguard, and Overwatch either has a leak or a mole. Anger and nausea battle in his gut before he quells them both. Tactically they are in a bad position, even with McCree, Winston, and Mercy as back up, but there are two people coming who need their help. They might be hurt, running for their lives, and expecting Overwatch to be here.
“Any sign of our targets?”
Gabriel takes cover behind a rusted out Bastion unit as Ana finds a snipers perch atop a shelled out building. She disappears into the shadows like a ghost. Palming his other shotgun, Gabriel feels their weight drag at his arms and trusts in Torbjorn’s design. They pack a bigger punch than his last pair, are lighter and sleeker, and the name Hellfire suits the new line.
“Uh,” Genji uncharacteristically proffers with a genuine bafflement, “there appears to be an omnic monk and giant wolf coming in from the West.”
“Are you fucking with me?” Gabriel growls at the same time Ana barks, “Giant wolf?”
There is no chance to listen to Genji’s response, as Vanguard springs the attack. Bullets dig into the armoured chassis of the Bastion, sending sparks skittering over the rusted metal, and Gabriel thinks fuck.
They want him alive.
“Take some alive if you can,” he says through his teeth. “Mercy, hang back on the Orca. McCree, Winston, come in from behind on the right. Genji, the left.”
“Yes, sir,” Winston says over McCree’s, “Fuck yeah, boss.”
“Gabriel, the wolf and omnic,” Ana says, and there is an urgency in her tone he has never heard before, “they are who we’re here for.”
Footsteps on the left. Two sets, measured and steady, trying for stealth. Gabriel twists out of cover, lifts both guns and takes them out before they can react. Ana’s rifle cracks, and he sees a body fall from a tree not far off. There is the thud of Winston’s peculiar gallop accompanied by the whine of his Tesla cannon, and then screams.
“Are you serious, Ana? An omnic monk, fine, but a giant wolf?”
A thin, frustrated noise scrabbles over the comm. “I will explain later, I swear. Trust me, Gabriel.”
“Always do,” he grunts, and feels the immense kickback of his guns as he takes out another three Vanguard. McCree’s damned spurs tinkle as he darts through the trees encroaching on the abandoned village, and there is a viciousness in his movements as he takes down two people who were trying to sneak up behind Gabriel. “Fine. We have a giant, talking gorilla. A giant wolf won’t be too out of our purview. Genji, keep them safe.”
“They appear to be doing that themselves,” Genji replies, dry. “Those two dozen are now eighteen. Shall I assist?”
Of all times for Genji to actually act like the twenty-something he was. “Yes. Yes, get in there,” Gabriel growls, regretting all of his life’s choices. “Ana, cover me.”
Not waiting for a response, as he does trust her - with his life, with the lives of everyone - and Gabriel darts out of cover. Legs pumping, he swings an elbow into a woman’s temple. The force cracks the visor of her helmet. She yells, and it gargles into silence as he knocks her out with another strike.
“Stun guns on your left,” Ana shouts, rifle coughing non-stop now the fight is in earnest. He spies a few bodies with sleep darts sticking out of them, and there are enough that he does not bother with non-lethal takedowns any longer. Spinning on the spot, Gabriel brings his shotguns up and starts firing.
“We are moments away-“
The rest of Genji’s statement is lost in a screech of electricity. Muscles spasming, Gabriel’s jaw clenches to the point of pain as he desperately claws at the stun-prongs sunk into his shoulder plating. He can hear screaming. Not until blood sprays in a red mist through his teeth does Gabriel realises it is him. His leg jerks form the impact of another stun-prong. He does down.
Over the pain, the sound of his team fighting, Gabriel hears a snarl.
All at once the pain ceases. Still, Gabriel’s muscles spasm from the onslaught, and he sucks in a desperate breath. Blood clings to his throat. From experience he knows he will be unable to move for some long, vulnerable minutes.
And then a biotic field sinks into him. With relief, Gabriel groans.
Not realising his eyes were shut, Gabriel forces them open, and makes a strangled noise.
The wolf stares back at him.
Its eyes are blue. Its fur is golden, like fields of wheat swaying in warm light.
Absurd, Gabriel thinks, absolutely fucking impossible. It goes against reason, against every piece of logic and pragmatism drilled into his very bones, and still-
And still Gabriel looks past the muzzle full of bloodied fangs and fur and the fact that it’s a fucking giant wolf and into those blue, blue eyes and goes,
The fight ends as quickly as it started. Winston and Genji secure the living members of Vanguard while Mercy fusses over them all with her tender graces.
Even with the little orb floating over his shoulder, emitting a gentle cloud of biotic energy, Gabriel cannot quite walk right. Ana stomps past the wolf – Jack, it’s Jack, Jack, Jack – and the omnic monk hovering by his flank. She cups Gabriel’s jaw with both hands, nails just shy of digging into his skin, and presses their foreheads together.
Slight tremors snake through their contact. His or hers, or both, Gabriel does not care.
“You good?” he croaks, somehow managing to speak around his tongue. It feels heavy and thick; he’s bitten it through.
“I will be, once we’re home.” Pulling back, but not letting go, Ana casts a stare over her shoulder. Jack stares back, ears flicking forward and tail – Jesus Christ, Jack is a wolf, a wolf the size of a horse and his goddamned tail is wagging.
Gabriel was not prepared for this. Even after months, Gabriel had not even come close to figuring out why Vanguard was so interested in Jack.
Ana does not stiffen, but a tension flickers through her touch. Nails retreat, purposefully, and the pads of her fingers press deep into his cheeks. “I knew a wolf was coming, but not who he was.”
A barrage of questions sits in his throat. She knows something. She knows everything.
Gabriel works his throat, takes her wrists and squeezes them tenderly even as he pulls those hands from his face. It is not anger stirring in his gut, and certainly not betrayal. He is confused, and hurting. Even for Gabriel this is a great deal to take in.
Mercy darts a wide circle around Jack, eyeing the orb critically, and swoops down to his side. After the usual questions and a few bursts from her caduceus staff, she helps him stand. His knees buckle, and Mercy is saved from being crushed by his weight by Jack. Jack, who pads forward and presses his head against Gabriel’s chest.
Ignoring Mercy’s poorly muffled squeak, Gabriel curls his free hand into Jack’s fur. It’s not as wiry as he expects. Not the baby down like that of the puppy his family had owned decades ago, but still soft. Jack takes his weight, manoeuvring until they are parallel and Gabriel can loop his arm over Jack’s wide neck. Golden fur tickles his nose.
“This,” Gabriel rasps a laugh at the way his team is staring at the pair of them, “is Jack.”
“So,” Gabriel drawls once he cannot take the awkward silence on the Orca any longer, “werewolf?”
Jack lifts a massive paw and makes a so-so gesture. Winston keeps muttering algorithms and hissing about the laws of matter and conservation, and if Gabriel weren’t two seconds away from breaking into hysterical laughter he’d find it amusing. The genetically engineered, super-intelligent gorilla from the moon cannot fathom the possibility of werewolves.
Mercy seems to take everything in stride and is speaking softly with the omnic, Zenyatta, about his healing orbs. One of which is hovering over Gabriel’s shoulder still.
“This is what Vanguard wanted from you.” Thumbing his jaw, Gabriel wills the mild spasms in his muscles to fade. They will in time, Mercy said. “I take it that this isn’t like those old myths, then? Bites and full moon curses.”
“Can you turn back?”
Jack nods, and then he is shrinking. Fur ripples and recedes into newly revealed skin, limbs warp from canine to human, and in a matter of moments Jack is standing in the middle of the Orca. He is human, and naked.
Zenyatta unslings his bag and passes it over. Jack pulls clothing out of it, and dresses calmly. There are two long and deep scars streaking across his face.
There are so many things Gabriel wants to do right then. The mission is not done until they are back at Gibraltar, so he swallows the urge to discover what Jack’s mouth taste like without blood and asks, “You hurt?”
“No.” Jack keeps a wide berth around Winston, who appears to be having a scientific fit and furiously muttering mathematical equations to Athena. “Not anymore.”
Realisation strikes Gabriel. “The silver?”
A wince. Jack lays a hand over a puckered scar on his abdomen. “Took a good week or so to clear out of my system, but…yeah. I’m okay.”
Exhaling a long breath, Gabriel jerks a thumb at the seat beside him. “Why the hell didn’t you contact me?”
“Wasn’t safe to, and I had no way to either. No reception where I was.” As if unsure of his welcome, Jack tentatively lowers himself into the seat. Their voices are low, and Gabriel can tell that his team are attempting to give them some privacy. “I wanted to, Gabe. But…”
“But?” he prompts.
“There were others like me,” Jack whispers, “I didn’t know there was anyone else like me, Gabe, and they took care of me. Helped me.”
Others like me, Gabriel clings to, and thinks of Ana.
“Huh,” he hums, and is too tired to bother thinking deeper on it. For now. “So, you want to join Overwatch?”
“Not as a soldier, or to hurt people,” Jack is quick to say, emotions flickering across his face, “but you said that you hated sending Angela into the field without backup. I thought that, with my abilities, I could, well, do that.”
“Got a way with words, Jackie.” I hate hurting people, he remembers as Jack flushes. “And Zenyatta?”
“A healer, but he’s good at hocking those orbs into people’s faces. I’m not really sure why he wanted to join, to be honest.”
A headache starts to make itself known, even with the biotic field. Tiredly, Gabriel rubs at his eyes. What a fucking day.
“Are you okay, Gabe?”
With caution enough for Gabriel to feel, fingers brush his knee.
“Fuck tasers,” he grunts. Jack rumbles a low laugh. Quickly, aware that McCree has eyes sharp as a hawks and will lord this over him for months, Gabriel takes Jack’s warm hand in his own and squeezes. “I’m glad you’re alright, Jackie.”
After a moment, Jack squeezes back.
Gibraltar feels too small.
In reality, it isn’t. While not a main base, like Zurich or Grand Mesa, it is still one of the largest. Gabriel prefers Gibraltar as his headquarters. The good memories outweigh the bad, and the garrison stationed here is small enough that Gabriel knows every face – which an endlessly wary part of him likes very much.
These factors that bring Gabriel such comfort are working against him today.
“You’re hidin’ from Ana.”
“I am not,” Gabriel dismisses Jessie with a curt glare. “Is your report done?”
“Done and submitted, boss.” Adjusting his hat, Jessie poorly pretends that he is not intensely curious about the day’s events. “If you’re not hidin’ then why are you out here?”
“Wanted some sun,” Gabriel says, flat.
“Yeah. Sun.” Jessie stretches a hand out, just beyond the overhangs protection, and lets the rain collect in his palm. Thunder cracks, and the storm battering the coast howls with new intensity. “Fine day for some sunbathin’, sure.”
Giving up on compiling a brief explaining Overwatch’s newest members, Gabriel flicks his tablet off. His hand spasms. Because it is Jessie, he notices and frowns.
“Fine.” Gabriel rubs his hand until the twitches finsih. “They’ll fade by tomorrow.”
Jessie grunts. “Jack was askin’ after you. Any word on the whole dog turning into a man thing?”
“Save your questions for someone who knows what the fuck is going on, Jessie.”
And, seriously, what the fuck is going on? There are few things that Gabriel despises more than not knowing, than being out of the loop. It bristles under his skin like burrs, stirring a restlessness in him.
“Seems like Ana is the one I should be askin’ then, hmm?”
Gabriel resists pinching the bridge of his nose. Honestly, Gabriel knew Jessie would pick up on it, he had just hoped that Jessie would give him more time to figure things out.
“Leave it, kid.” Fuck, Gabriel’s tired. He is so tired of being out of the loop and ten steps behind. “Just, give me some time. I’ll brief the Strike Team tomorrow, if I can.”
Remarkably, Jessie backs off. It chafes, just as much as it warms Gabriel that Jessie has been acting differently since the kidnapping. Not softer, or kinder. Just, quieter. He gives Gabriel space, does not put as much bite into his bark as he did before, and makes a point of always watching Gabriel’s back when they’re in the field.
“Whatever you say.” Shrugging carelessly, Jessie tries to conceal his true feelings. For all of his experiences, with Overwatch and Deadlock, Jessie is only a young man barely into his twenties. He feels too much and has not learned how too hide it, not from someone of Gabriel’s skill. Frankly, Gabriel would prefer it if he stayed that way. “I’ll leave you be, boss. Fair warning, though, I’m pretty sure Ana’s lookin’ for you, and she knows all of your hidey holes.”
Just like I know yours, Gabriel thinks.
“Get,” he knuckles Jessie’s knee, hard, and manages a genuine smirk when the kid grumbles and shuffles off.
The warning rings true. Not long after the thud of Jessie’s footsteps fades, a more delicate, muffled rhythm comes. It is a beat he knows well, having heard it from behind on countless missions and associated it with trust – knowing that he had the best at his back.
Ana Amari walks the lithe pace of a lion on the prowl.
Or, perhaps, a wolf.
He looks up as Ana pushes through the door, and blindly accepts the cold beer she offers as she sits beside him.
A space is left between them. Is it no man’s land, or is it a bridge to be burned, Gabriel finds himself belligerently wondering. Acid washes his thoughts, in spite of him already acknowledging that he had no right to family secrets like these.
Still, the lack of trust hurts.
Twisting the cap off, Gabriel takes a swig. The beer is crisp and dry, the kind that Reinhardt grudgingly concedes is acceptable – for American brews.
“Mother did not tell me of Jack, what he was,” is how Ana chooses to begin, voice low and steady as it has ever been, “not even his name. Had she, and were I sure that it was your Jack, I would have said so.”
“Hm.” Another swig. Condensation beads on the glass, running over his fingers. The storm rages on. “And the wolf thing?”
“Where to begin.” A humourless laugh. “My family is a line of…I suppose the closest American term would be werewolf. Every culture and country is different, but in Egypt we are called Wepwawet. I will leave Jack to speak of his own line, but if he has Irish blood, as you said, he is likely part of the Faoladh.”
The names roll of her tongue and ring in his head. Still, Gabriel fixates on her own history.
“The gift skipped my generation, as it does on occasion.” Ana swipes a lock of silken hair behind her ear. “My senses are sharper, my body stronger and more resilient, but I cannot shift forms like Mother, or Jack.”
“Time will tell.” Out of the corner of his eye, he can see her take a long draught. “Are you angry with me?”
“Yes.” He sighs, and it scrapes up his throat noisily. “No. Blindsided, a bit.”
“Just a bit?” Reluctant amusement, a half-hearted jibe from a wrung out woman. “You can be honest with me, Gabriel.”
“Like you’ve been with me?” Regret stains his tongue like a bad flavour the moment the words are out of his mouth. “That wasn’t fair.”
“It was,” Ana tips her chin down, “and it wasn’t.”
She does not apologise for keeping such things from him, and he does not ask for one. They are not captain and commander, here, and perhaps he should be angry for, what has turned out to be, relevant information. The anger is deeper, personal, and Gabriel knows how easily such anger can curdle into something more poisonous.
Last thing Gabriel wants is to lose Ana Amari as a friend. As family.
“Was it…was it me?”
“What?” For the first time since sitting down, Ana looks at him directly. “What do you mean?”
“Have I done something that made me untrustworthy?”
“Oh, oh no, Gabriel.” She twists at the hips, clutches his shoulder with her free hand. Fingers dig into muscle, unrelenting. “I trust you with my life, my daughter’s life. I wanted to tell you, and if Fareeha showed the signs I would have – regardless of Mother’s wishes.”
Strings pulled taught collapse. At once, Gabriel feels far more at ease. Ana’s reasoning is just. Setting his hand over hers, Gabriel pulls it between them and clutches it tight.
“I understand,” says Gabriel, and a similar wave of relief overcomes Ana. “So, do you howl at the full moon?”
He knows little has changed between them when Ana cuffs him upside the head.
Hours later finds Gabriel giving Jack a tour of the base. It’s late, all but the insomniac and night watchmen awake, and they have the halls to themselves.
Walking beside Jack is surreal. Months crammed into a ten by ten cell, a sudden month apart, and now they are back together. Gabriel is usually more capable at handling peculiar situations. It’s what got him most of his promotions.
Jack is a whole other deal.
“I always wondered,” Jack says softly as they pass through the mess, “what it would be like. Overwatch,” he clarifies at Gabriel’s quirked brow.
“A family of idiots fits pretty good, right?”
Save gentle, warm laughter, Jack does not respond, preferring to silently drink in Gibraltar. Half the time, Gabriel catches Jack staring at him instead. It’s flattering, and unnerving. Long has it been since Gabriel had feelings of this kind. Now, not only do they seem mutual, but can be acted upon.
Awareness tingles along Gabriel spine. He feels the air shift around Jack, smells him, hears the little, curious noises he makes as they circle through Gibraltar. Never has Gabriel been so aware of someone to the point of fucking shivering every time the back of Jack’s hand nearly brushes Gabriel’s own.
Christ, his heart is drumming a beat in his throat.
Jack tilts his jaw down, and Gabriel can see a blush rising on his cheeks. “Your heart is racing, Gabriel,” he whispers, like it’s a secret.
“Not the first time you’ve said that to me,” Gabriel replies, licking his lips and hyperaware of how Jack watches the movement. “You tired, or can you talk for a bit?”
Curious, and hopeful, Jack watches Gabriel closely. “Sure.”
“This way.” Bypassing the door that leads to the dorms, Gabriel heads for the officers rec room. Ever the night owl, Lacriox is in his usual chair when Gabriel leads Jack through. Other than offering a paltry, “Evening, sir,” Gerard does not comment.
This balcony overlooks the ocean, and has chairs strewn about haphazardly. Neither of them sit, instead coming to lean on the railing. Jack rests his palms down, letting his arms take his weight, and stares at the ocean with a wonderment. Since the storm had passed some hours ago, the skies and sea have settled into an easier state.
“It’s beautiful out here,” Jack murmurs.
“Suppose so,” Gabriel agrees easily, turning and bracing a hip against the low wall that rises underneath the rail-guard. A vantage that lets him watch Jack all the better, he acknowledges without care for how sappy it might be. “Look, I need to know…why do you want to join Overwatch?”
“I like helping people,” Jack answers immediately, and Gabriel can practically feel the earnestness and honestly pouring from him. “I want to do more than help lost hikers in the woods, Gabe. I…I want to help.”
“Okay.” Gabriel folds his arms to stop from fidgeting. “Now that you’ve spent hours in her care, do you still want to sign on to be a guard for Angela’s unit? I’d place you solely under her command.”
Neat way to get around those fraternisation rules too.
“Yes. Angela is…she’s wonderful. Kind. I’d like to work under her.” Jack ruffles a hand through his hair, sending the fair strands into a chaotic mess that Gabriel wants to curl his own fingers through. “That is, if you’ll have me, Gabe.”
Instantly, Gabriel can tell there is more to that statement. Foolish as it is, Gabriel hopes.
“I will, Jack,” he manages to say, throat tight and words rawer than he means for them to come out, “but, not just as an agent.”
Jack turns, stands up tall, and a slow grin spreads over his face. Eyes crinkle into joy as he slides close, closer, until he threatens to press flush to Gabriel. And Gabriel fights between the urge to choke at the boldness of the move and the urge to simply lean into the heat radiating from Jack. Slowly, methodically, Jack pulls Gabriel’s arms loose and takes up his hands. Fingers thread together, and it feels good. Right.
All the pain that brought them to this point seems irrelevant in the face of that smile, those blue, blue eyes.
“Will you have me, Gabe?”
“Always, Sunshine,” Gabriel sighs into the space between them, and chuckles breathily. “Always.”
Gerard pretends to be engrossed in his datapad as Gabriel and Jack, hands still twined, come back through the room. Gabriel can see his moustache twitch with suppressed humour, and ignores the heat creeping up the back of his neck.
Jack follows Gabriel to his rooms, and barely waits for the door to hiss shut behind them before smothering him in kisses again. Like a dance, they push and pull, tasting, caressing, and touching, through to the bedroom. Clothes are discarded in their wake. Gabriel’s hand sails up Jack’s spine. Shivers follow the movement, and Gabriel savours every touch, every taste, and every sound. He finally discovers what Jack’s kisses taste like without blood and desperation mixed in.
The world outside of this room, of Jack, becomes inconsequential.
Just for a little while.
Morning heralds a pair of arms wrapped around Gabriel’s waist and a face using his stomach as a pillow.
There is no point to ignore temptation. Gabriel spears his fingers into Jack’s hair and smooths the wildness of it back. Jack hums, sleepily, and nuzzles closer to Gabriel. Not that he could get much closer.
“Mornin’,” Jack rasps.
“Morning, Sunshine.” Gabriel continues mapping Jack’s skull, and Jack hardly seems to mind.
It’s early. They can indulge for a while yet. Gabriel rolls his spine, feeling the pops and the pull of sore muscles with a satisfaction. The hickey Jack sucked into his hip has nearly faded entirely. Jack stretches, staying glued to Gabriel’s side, and lets out a content hum.
Because it is Gabriel - who is Strike Commander of Overwatch, who is a strategist and a pragmatist and realist, Gabriel who knows that once they leave his rooms reality will present itself – he cannot let the lazy morning drag on forever.
He sits up, draws Jack close when he follows.
They shower, dress, and eat. Over the coffee and toast, Gabriel says, “The people after us are called Vanguard. They’re an offset of Vishkar.”
Jack crunches through another mouthful of toast. “What’s their goal?”
“Not sure,” Gabriel’s irritated rumble echoes in his small kitchen. “Likely has something to do with achieving a higher evolution for humanity, or something similar, if they were a part of Vishkar.”
“Suppose we ought to put a stop to them. Right?”
Aside the determination is a touch of challenge. Jack grins, flashing his too sharp teeth and letting his eyes catch the light in a way that makes them luminescent for a heartbeat. Gabriel was never one to back down from a challenge. Hooking a foot around Jack’s chair, Gabriel hauls him closer and tastes that grin. Letting those teeth, those fangs, sink into his lower lip sends a curious shiver through Gabriel.
Danger does not excite Gabriel. Jack’s presence is not threatening, not in the slightest, but Gabriel knows how deadly he can be. Perhaps that is why Gabriel comes alive under Jack’s touch, so very aware of how easily the nails scraping over his nape can become claws.
Gabriel trusts Jack.
Not without some reluctance, Gabriel pulls away.
“C’mon, Jackie,” Gabriel shrugs on hit battlecoat, rolling his shoulders until the armour plating settles comfortably, “we’ve got work to do.”
Months later finds Vanguard a fortnight dead and Gabriel taking a well-earned holiday.
“So,” Gabriel runs his hand over a dusty counter, “this was your granddads place.”
A wood cabin, secluded from the world, surrounded by miles and miles of wild forest and stretches of mountains and grass planes. Upon seeing the desolate cabin, groaning under its weight and purpose, Gabriel’s first thought had been what a lonely fucking lot in life. This is nothing like his own grandfathers cabin, even though both are surrounded by woods and wildness.
Half-buried in a trunk, Jack makes a vague noise. Gabriel leaves him to sorting through his belongings and explores. It does not take long, as there is little to actually discover.
Absently, Gabriel wonders exactly how long Jack lived here in isolation. Time and trust have revealed parts of themselves, and Gabriel knows pieces of Jack’s history. They all have scars; some are not so easy to see.
Still, in the ten steps it takes Gabriel to walk from bedroom to living room, he aches for Jack.
Gabriel decides that he hates this cabin. He goes outside, sucks chilly air into his lungs, and waits. He does not know whether to be grateful or terribly sad when Jack soon follows. A large dufflebag is slung over his shoulder, stuffed with the remains of his old life that he wishes to keep. John ‘Jack’ Morrison is scratched in marker along the zipper, childish script faded with age.
Gabriel looks into Jack’s eyes instead. “Ready?”
Jack pauses, casting a long look over his shoulder. The door is shut, but not locked, and Gabriel knows they will never be coming back here. Not all farewells are sad.
“Yeah,” Jack says, and he smiles as he slots himself into the space beside Gabriel, “I’m ready.”