Chapter 1: Induction
Associate Medical Researcher.
Angela read the words over and over in her head, dizzy with excitement. Her plane had three hours and twenty-nine minutes until landing.
Not that she was counting.
On the other end of the flight lay her official acceptance into Overwatch. She’d never dreamed of joining, not on her own. When the request came, from her hospital’s medical director no less, she stared awestruck at the invitation. Overwatch only recruited top talent. The organization was essentially a household name. The members, too, were like heroes from a storybook. Children knew Captain Ana Amari and Strike Commander Jack Morrison by name. Fond memories of children watching videos of the soldiers while in recovery crossed her mind.
To think, she’d actually be a part of them now.
Of course, Angela wouldn’t pick up a gun and fight on the front lines. She’d trained in emergency medicine and trauma surgery, but she stuck strong to her promise of ‘do no harm.’ Her role lay in research, alongside a team of some of the world’s best.
Angela pulled a thin holopad out from her bag, skimming over her notes for the seventh time. Or maybe it was the eighth.
Chief Medical Researcher and Lead Geneticist, Dr. Moira O’Deorain.
Angela remembered murmurings in her department two or so years ago over a controversial paper, something regarding microcellular regeneration. She’d ignored the chatter at the time, unconcerned with drama in academia. But the moment she read over her Overwatch invitation and caught sight of her new colleague, she dug into the past. Dr. O’Deorain’s research read like a symphony might sound. Angela remembered sitting on her couch late one night, lost in page after page on study notes and trial results. Never had a journal article intrigued her quite like Dr. O’Deorain’s.
Maybe she ruffled some feathers. Angela knew Overwatch only recruited the best. The research community may have had their reasons for criticizing Dr. O’Deorain’s work, but Overwatch recognized something they didn’t.
And whatever that something was, they saw in Angela, too.
“Doctor Ziegler?” A woman her senior, with sharp eyes and an easy smile, stood just outside of airport security. Angela immediately recognized her as Ana Amari. How could she not?
“C-Captain, it’s such a pleasure!” Angela stuck out her hand, surprised by Ana’s firm grip.
The pair took toward a waiting car, only brief words passed between them. Angela stayed quiet, nervous excitement leaving her body jittery and on edge. The driver sped off down the highway, weaving through traffic until Angela had completely lost track of how far they’d traveled.
“Once we get to the Watchpoint,” Ana said, startling Angela out of a haze. “We’ll get your intake processed. Nothing serious, just a brief medical screening, a few questions here and there.”
“I think I can handle that.” Angela laughed, easing the nerves in her gut.
“Soon enough, you’ll be the one processing intakes. Our current officer gets a bit, well, you’ll find out soon enough.”
What’s that supposed to mean?
After what felt like an hour, the car slowed to a halt in front of a helicopter pad. Angela tugged on the few luggage bags she’d brought along, slinging one along her shoulder and rolling the other behind her. Riding in helicopters was nothing new to her. She spent a year out of her medical fellowship as a flight surgeon, tending to wounded on the field. But this? The sheer excitement outweighed all the adrenaline she felt those years before.
“Just a short flight now. We’ll be there in no time.”
The Watchpoint loomed in the distance, surrounded by acres of wilderness. Angela marveled at the beauty of the Iberian sunset. She could definitely get used to the view along the coast. Even if she did have to live in a bunk and share a shower.
As the helicopter landed, a crowd of people gathered just outside the perimeter of the helipad. Angela gasped as a small round of applause greeted her. She did not expect such a welcome. The last time she’d heard applause was her graduation ceremony years ago. Were people happy about her arrival? Ana took just a moment to introduce her, allowing the crowd to express their joy at her arrival.
“We’ve heard wonderful things about you, Doctor Ziegler!”
“We look forward to working with you!”
“Welcome to Overwatch!”
“I...look forward to working with you all.” Angela’s cheeks burned from the compliments. They heard about her? She’d only published a handful of papers. There was one time she appeared on the news, discussing her research, but…
Ana’s voice cut through her brief confusion, refocusing her on the task of weaving through the small crowd. As she followed Ana, she caught a glint of something in the woman’s eyes. Something a little too knowing, a little too perceptive.
“Let’s get your room assigned, then we’ll get your intake done.”
“Understood!” Angela stood up just a little taller as she followed her new Captain.
“I take it this is the medical lab?” Angela asked, keeping just one step behind Ana. The Watchpoint must’ve been a constantly growing behemoth. Every time they turned a corner and Angela thought she knew the layout, something changed that sent her sense of direction in a tailspin. Maybe she should’ve left a trail back to her quarters. Regardless, they’d finally reached the area for intake processing - the last step before Angela could officially call herself a member.
“That’s correct.” Ana tapped her finger absentmindedly against her chin. “It’s awfully quiet down here. She must’ve driven everyone out for the day…”
Angela’s chest seized for a moment. Without thinking, she straightened the front of her shirt, hoping to iron out any stray wrinkles. She didn’t imagine meeting the Dr. O’Deorain on her first day. If only she had a moment to disappear into a bathroom and actually look presentable.
“Moira!” Ana called out. “Did you forget we have company today?”
“I’m working.” A gruff voice called out from the other side of the lab, dripping with annoyance.
“How about you come work over here and process your new colleague?”
“S-she does intake processing?” Angela whispered, her face flushing red in embarrassment.
“We’ve deployed most of our qualified people abroad. It’s good for operations, but it leaves us a little...short staffed back on base. That’s why we’re recruiting!” Ana beamed at the last comment.
“Get her sleeve rolled up,” the voice barked out. “I’ll be just a minute.”
“You heard her.” Ana pointed to Angela’s shirt. Without questioning, Angela rolled the fabric up to her bicep. The Captain lead her over to an examination table, then pulled a computer screen down near it. Angela’s stomach tightened, cold sweat beading on her palms. She hadn’t felt this nervous since her pre-med examinations.
Just relax, she pleaded with herself.
Easier said than done.
Angela managed to slow her breathing. For a moment. But just as she wiped the sweat from her palms, a woman rounded the corner.
Angela caught herself gawking, then quickly looked away. Dr. O’Deorain looked much different in person than photos gave her credit. Handsome, willowy features paired with a sleek, tailored labcoat - Angela turned again to meet her new colleague face to face. Even if she were attractive as hell, she’d need to get used to actually making eye contact with her.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Angela Zi-”
“Amari, you brought me a med student.”
“Don’t be daft, Moira. You read her qualifications.”
“She’s barely old enough to drink.”
“Stop being so harsh. She’ll be perfect.”
“I-I’m right here…” Angela dared to speak, anger welling up in her chest. Dr. O’Deorain had yet to meet her eyes, staring instead through her. At her words, though, their gazes connected. Angela swallowed, caught off guard by the difference in color. The photos had always been too small. She never knew Dr. O’Deorain had heterochromia.
“How observant,” Moira quipped. “I suppose we should get this over with.”
“It’s an honor to meet you, Doctor-”
“Spare me the unnecessary chatter. I need a past medical history, list of allergies and current medications.” Moira turned her attention to the computer’s holoscreen, her long fingers tapping in annoyance. Angela sighed, listing off what little she had to say.
“Fantastic. You’re the epitome of health, Doctor Ziegler.” Angela caught Ana rolling her eyes at Moira’s dry sarcasm. Maybe this was normal? Would she have to deal with this regularly?
“One more thing.” With deft precision, Moira grabbed an object from a nearby table and injected it into Angela’s arm without warning. The blonde yelped with surprise, nearly bouncing off the table.
“You cut people open and you’re going to tell me a needle makes you cry?” Moira narrowed her eyes, locking a safety cap over the syringe.
“You didn’t warn me! What was that, even?”
“Standard vaccinations. I asked you to roll your sleeve up. If we’re going to work together, you need to put two and two together, Doctor Ziegler.”
“What is wrong with her?” Angela whispered as Moira shuffled to the back of the lab. Ana took a step further, shrugging her shoulders.
“You get used to her.”
How am I supposed to get used to that?
Angela slept a meager four hours before her alarm dinged for her to awaken. The previous day weighed so heavily, her mind couldn’t relax. Her new colleague, her direct colleague, started off with zero respect for her. She’d met plenty of doctors just like Moira, egotistical and self absorbed. What she didn’t expect, however, was having to prove herself after years of already proving her talents.
Alright, Angela thought. Today is our first official day. I’ll make her respect me.
After a quick cup of coffee and a few bites of breakfast, Angela slipped into her new lab coat and made her way down to the medical lab. It took only three wrong turns to actually get into lab. She found the lab, of course, already occupied. Moira stood over a table of petri dishes, delicately measuring something into each of them.
“Good morning!” Angela beamed, determined to make the best of the situation.
“Will you always be this perky?” Moira didn’t bother to look up as Angela approached.
“Sorry...you understand how first day excitement is, don’t you?”
“...Right.” Angela shuffled on her feet awkwardly. This was going nowhere. “So...I’m reporting for duty.”
“You can report right over there.” Moira stopped her work long enough to point toward a desk on the far side of the room.
“You really don’t like that I’m here, do you?” Angela crossed her arms over her chest. Her brows knit in frustration as anger gripped at her. She didn’t leave her home and fly off on an adventure just for someone to belittle her as soon as she started. Moira let out a long, labored sigh before turning to face Angela.
“I don’t have anything against you personally,” she started, one delicate brow arching high on her forehead. “But I do wonder why Amari thought it best to send me a field medic.”
“I’m -!” Angela snapped her mouth shut, realizing her emotions were getting the best of her. Taking a moment to breathe, she held herself in restraint before continuing. “I’ve conducted research. I respect that I’m not as well versed as you, but-”
“I’ve read your dissertation.”
“You have?” Angela’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“It was interesting. You have excellent theory, but your application is naive. It means nothing if you never progress your findings.”
“The research ethics committee recommended I-”
“Again, your application is naive.” Moira pinched the bridge of her nose before turning back to her experiment. “Academia, emergency medicine — they operate under a different paradigm. You’ll find things flow more smoothly here.”
“I-I’m not sure I follow.”
“There are no committees dictating when we can and cannot progress.”
“So who holds Overwatch in check?” Angela asked, her voice tinged with worry. Moira slowly turned and held her gaze, an exasperated expression on her face.
“You have so much to learn.”
Chapter 2: Inoculation
One week in and Angela hadn’t made any progress on warming up to her new colleague. Despite her attempt to approach every day with a smile and a kind greeting, Moira offered only a sigh of annoyance and a dismissive wave of her hand. The first day stung, like a heavy handed insult. Angela knew she had the talent and the knowledge to assist if Moira would just let her.
Instead, she’d been given her first solo assignment. Angela swore she heard Moira mutter to Captain Amari about pawning it off oh her. Still, even if she were handed the grunt work, she’d make the best of it. Maybe then her colleague might actually show her some respect.
“How is the dizziness this morning?” Angela darted a penlight in front of a young woman’s eyes, measuring her pupil’s response. The woman, four or five years her junior, smiled despite the myriad of wires and tubes attached to her.
“Much better, doc!” Lena Oxton leaned up in bed, stretching her legs out beneath the sterile, white hospital sheet. “So when do I get up and moving.”
“Perhaps today we can try a walk.”
“Just a walk? What’s the fun in that?” Lena brushed a wire off of her scalp, scratching at the sticky pad just below her hairline.
“We’re still testing the effectiveness of this chronal accelerator,” Angela said with a smile. “You’re the first to have such a condition. We shouldn’t push you too hard.”
“Aw, I’m fine, doc!” Lena’s eyes flashed with pure exuberance. Angela could tell Lena was only eager to get back to normal, but being her first patient, she wanted (needed) to make a good impression. Starting her career off at Overwatch with mishaps would only earn her ire from the higher ups. And Dr. O’Deorain. Though honestly, she wondered if her colleague could like her any less.
“One step at a time, Cadet.”
“Okay, okay. At least let me walk down to Winston’s lab then.”
“Great idea. I’m sure he’d like to run a few diagnostics while we’re at it.”
Angela grew to like Lena. While the young woman had endless energy and spunk, she had a spirit unlike any she’d seen. Even after facing a catastrophic disaster that would’ve put any soldier out of commission, Lena put her best foot forward every day. Her passion for life kept Angela’s darker thoughts in check during the few short days they’d worked together. Winston, while he was...a gorilla, which struck Angela as unnerving at first, proved intelligent and pleasant company. They spoke two different languages of science, but at least he was polite.
As expected, Angela struggled to keep pace with Lena as she scrambled down the medical wings toward the engineering department. Despite Angela’s frequent reminders for Lena to slow down, she found herself panting by the time she reached the outside of Winston’s lab.
“You’ll stress your heart out if you push yourself too much!” Angela brushed a stray bead of sweat from her forehead, then straightened her lab coat.
“S’all good, doc! Don’t have any of those palpitations you warned me ‘bout!”
“That’s a relief.” Before Angela could speak again, Lena darted into the lab, spotting Winston on the far side. The two fell into amicable chatter within seconds. Angela kept her distance, allowing her patient the chance to socialize without looming over her shoulder. She let a sigh escape her lips for just a moment, relishing the small break.
“Ziegler.” The sultry voice sounded right behind Angela’s back. She whipped around, nearly colliding with Moira.
“Ah! D-Doctor O’Deorain! You surprised me.”
Angela blinked. She knew how to apologize?
“I’m working on a project that could benefit from your expertise. I need your assistance in the lab.” Moira stated the words curtly, no emotion behind them. Angela quirked her head to the side, unsure if she actually heard right.
“You...want my help?”
“Do you need that repeated?” Moira’s eyes narrowed.
“No! I just...didn’t expect you to ask.”
“Perhaps you should be more prepared for the unexpected.” Moira turned, long strides carrying her off in the direction of her research lab. Angela hesitated, turning back to where Lena and Winston chatted.
“What about Cadet Oxton? I shouldn’t leave her alone.”
“Check her vital readings yourself. She’s progressing as expected. There are others who can watch her in your place. Now, are you joining, or shall I complete this on my own?”
“R-right…” Angela frowned, realizing Moira had a point. Lena could spend the rest of the day out of her hospital bed if she chose. It was Angela’s caution holding her back. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she waved at the pair across the room, then followed behind without another word.
Moira showed her into the lab, allowing her to walk in first, then sealed the door shut behind them. Angela didn’t expect actual manners from her colleague, especially after her first impression. Captain Amari warned her that Moira was rough around the edges. Maybe she just needed time...
“You’re familiar with battlefield traumas.” Moira didn’t phrase it as a question, but a statement of fact. Still, Angela nodded, following close behind as Moira led her to a large holoscreen. “I’ve received a few blueprints from Mister Lindholm.” The name rolled off her tongue with mild distaste. Angela had only met Torbjorn once since she’d joined, but realized his humor probably struct Moira in all the wrong ways.
“Is this a staff?” Angela brushed her fingers over the screen. Details illuminated beneath her hand.
“It is. The theory behind it is the end produces a concentrated stream of cellular rejuvenation. The jarheads lovingly refer to that as a ‘healing beam.’”
“Clever,” Angela giggled.
“The prototype is incomplete.” Moira turned toward her desk, lifting up a pole stretching nearly five feet long. “This is just a model.”
“How far have you gone with it?”
“Not nearly far enough. That’s why you’re here.” Moira placed the pole back on her desk, then leaned over it, her eyes focused on the various parts and pieces strewn across. “Nothing so far has provided enough regeneration potential to prove useful. If we’re to mend wounds in combat, we’ll need to increase the output by at least two hundred percent. Perhaps more.”
“There’s a formula I used during my years as a field medic. I’ve...never fully tested it, but in theory-”
“In theory, it’s of no use.”
“You didn’t even let me finish speaking!” Angela huffed.
“If you don’t ever apply your knowledge, it might as well be locked up in an archive.”
“Some things take time, especially when you’re dealing with human subjects.”
“That is what we call wasted potential.” Moira turned to face the younger doctor, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Is it wasted if you prevent harm?” Angela’s pulse hammered in her ears, indignation roiling in her gut.
“Are you always this cautious in life?” Moira cocked her head to the side. “Do you question every action you make over whether you may ‘prevent harm’ or ‘avoid risks?’ How have you come so far without some risk?”
“You’re not listening to me!” Angela’s anger reached its boiling point. Her voice rose an octave as heat flooded over her ears. Moira only watched her with calm regard.
“On the contrary, I am listening to every word.”
“Alright…” Angela took two steps away, running a hand through her hair. Her fingers trembled as she struggled to calm her nerves. Winning the argument was beyond her ability, she conceded. She’d learned to work around stubborn individuals before. This was nothing she couldn’t handle, right?
Moira O’Deorain would not knock her down.
“What if we made these adjustments…” Angela’s voice trailed off as her fingers went to work, concentrating her annoyance at the holoscreen beside her. She tinkered with the output calculations of the device’s mechanics, tweaking numbers here, amplifying wave lengths there. Sure, she was no physicist, but she’d worked on enough patch repair jobs in the field to know her way around basic robotics.
“You’re stressing the capacitors with that amplification-”
“I’m not finished!”
“As you say..” Moira leaned onto a nearby desk, idly crossing one leg over the other. Angela noticed her tapping her chin out of the corner of her eye. The sight irritated her to no end. Yet, the look of fascination that slowly dawned on Moira’s face seemed…
‘Pay attention, Angela.’
“There!” Angela clapped her hands together, taking a step back.
“Hmm.” Moira stood beside her, scrutinizing the details. Angela felt her palms grow slick with sweat. Moira must’ve known how her height intimidated others, right? Even with her slight heels, Angela only reached the redhead’s shoulders. “Crude.”
“What?” Angela deflated.
“You heard me. I can tell you developed this under pressure.”
“But I reached the necessary-”
“While it is crude,” Moira interrupted, glancing down at Angela. “It works.”
“It needs refined, however. I want you reassigned to this project.” Moira waved her hand over her shoulder, retreating back to her desk.
“What about Cadet Oxton?”
“Oxton is the lower priority right now. Amari will agree with me.” Right on cue with Angela’s protest, Moira turned with a small holopad detailing the new assignment. “It’s official, dear.”
Angela snatched the holopad from the redhead, scanning over the details herself. Captain Amari had, just as Moira stated, requested her complete commitment to battlefield technology and medical innovations. Angela clenched her fingers tighter over the flimsy sheet.
“Yes?” A smirk crept up Moira’s lips.
“Don’t call me that.”
Fifty. Seven. Times.
Angela counted every single one of them. Moira picked apart her calculations. Criticized her designs. Tore into her theory. Three weeks spent working on a project together had Angela contemplating why she ever decided to join Overwatch in the first place. Even worse, Moira was brilliant. Ideas flowed out of her like artwork. Angela envied her for the ease at which she’d sit and concoct a solution for their newest roadblock.
Moira was insufferable.
But if Angela were going to learn, if she were going to master her field and reach her fullest potential, she worked alongside the best mentor the world could offer.
If her own sense of ethics didn’t stop her, she considered self-prescribing anti-anxiety pills just to get through the stress.
The prototype regeneration tool sat in its final stages on the lab’s work table. Angela glanced at the clock, realizing the rest of the base would be sitting down for dinner soon. Commander Morrison expected the project finished tomorrow. Angela promised herself no matter the consequences, she would not disappoint. She’d pulled all-nighters in med school plenty of times. Tonight would be no different. Moira sat in her own corner, busily typing away at something (which Angela thanked the heavens for).
“If I could just…” Angela muttered to herself, jamming a screwdriver into the side of the staff’s fuse box. A spark flashed at her, sending her yelping in surprise.
“Take a break,” Moira called out from across the room. “Clear your head.”
“I’m fine!” Angela barked.
“You’ll regret it.”
“She thinks she can boss me around, huh?” Angela spat, just under a whisper. “Ego-tripping little - Ow!” A jolt of electricity lurched from the staff, shocking through Angela’s hand. She tumbled backwards, tripping and collapsing onto the ground. Dazed, she stared up, meeting a pair of mismatched eyes.
“Ziegler?” Moira knelt beside her, offering a hand. Angela searched her face for signs of smugness or triumph, but found only a tiny crease between her brow. “Did you injure yourself??”
“I...must’ve touched something I shouldn’t have.”
“You’re not wearing the right gloves.”
“...So I’m not.” Angela gritted her teeth. Of course she missed something. Of course Moira would point it out.
“Let’s dust you off.” Without realizing it, two steady hands looped under Angela’s arms. She went from on the floor to on her feet in an instant. Dizzy from the movement, Angela blinked several times, not realizing her hands had clasped to Moira’s waist.
“...Sorry.” She darted away, putting a solid foot between the two of them.
“Now, are you going to do what I told you?”
“I suppose.” Angela huffed, storming across the lab to her desk. She plopped down and took to catching up on emails. The monotony of reading Morrison’s field reports, Winston’s research notes, even Lena’s excited (if somewhat misspelled) updates got the better of Angela’s exhausted brain. Her eyes lulled shut, a warmth washing over her body.
Just a little nap won’t hurt…
A jolt coursed through her. The project needed to be finished tonight. She couldn’t afford to waste time, even if only for —
Well, maybe fifteen minutes rest wouldn’t end the world.
The scent of cloves and orange blossom brushed against Angela’s nose. Her hand tapped against something smooth and warm as she rose from her nap. Groggy with exhaustion, she rubbed her eyes to force herself awake. A mug sat before her, steam wafting from the top. Pulling it closer, she stiffed at the hot liquid.
“Doctor O’Deorain?” Angela perked up, scanning the lab for red hair. Moira stood, hands deep in the splayed open guts of the staff.
“Drink up,” Moira muttered, eyes fixated on a pair of wires. “You’ll need the caffeine. And sugar, since you seem to think it’s candy.”
“Did you…?” Angela tested one sip of the drink, surprised by the hint of sweetness.
“Do you see anyone else here?” Moira’s lips curled into a slight frown as she peered up from her work. “We have a long night ahead of us.”
“...Thanks.” The last thing Angela expected was actual kindness. It was only tea, though. She would’ve done the same for any of her colleagues.
She checked the clock, cringing when she read the time as after nine. Too much sleep, not enough progress. Moira was right about needing the caffeine. If they were to hit their deadline, which Angela swore she would, she’d need every last drop.
“We’re looking forward to your first presentation.” Commander Morrison stood in the doorway, greeting Angela before she could enter the training deck.
“Thank you, Commander. I hope it fulfills all your expectations.” Angela clutched the staff closer to her chest, hiding the tremor in her hands.
“I’m sure it will.” Morrison moved to the side, granting Angela space to enter. The training deck seemed so much larger on the inside than Angela imagined — more like a hangar than a place to test new technology. An observation window sat just above the main floor. She spotted Captain Amari through the glass, as well as several other officials. Waiting on the floor stood Commander Reyes, Winston, and Moira. Angela swallowed, the gravity of the demonstration sinking down on her shoulders. She prayed every last one of her calculations measured up.
She prayed she measured up.
“You ready, Doctor?” Reyes smirked as Angela joined the group. Something felt uneasy about Reyes, but Angela couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
“As ready as I’ll ever be!” She beamed, forcing herself to smile despite the twisting in her gut. She caught sight of Moira’s gaze out of the corner of her eye.
“Get over here, Jack!” Reyes shouted. Angela moved to the side as she waited for the Commander to approach, enjoying a momentary calm as Winston reassured her. Moira stood motionless beside her, hand clasped behind her back, gaze passing between Morrison and Reyes.
“Ready, Gabe?” Morrison reached for something at his waist, a click sounding as he brought it into view.
“What is he doing?” Angela whispered, her voice pitched high with desperation. This was not in any way proper scientific method.
“Trial by fire, my dear.” Moira’s lips twitched into a small grin.
“Why didn’t you warn me?”
“Didn’t I tell you to prepare for the unexpected?”
Angela suppressed a whine, pleading with her heart to stop hammering against her chest. She ran plenty of tests. She knew deep down the technology would work. Still, the scrutinizing gaze of her superior officers made her knees lock up, her palms slick with sweat.
“She looks terrified, Jack,” Reyes laughed. “Better make sure you only glance me.”
“Sometimes I think you deserve one in the gut.”
“Ouch. So cruel.”
“All due respect,” Winston said, adjusting his glasses. “But you’re not making this any easier for Doctor Ziegler.”
“Sorry, Doc.” Reyes shrugged. “Can’t help it when they make me work with this guy.”
“Let’s get this over with.” Morrison raised the gun to eye level, his gaze locking down through the sights. Reyes stood still, his face lit up with an unsettling fire. Angela readied the staff, her finger hovering over the trigger.
Ear protectors. Why didn’t they wear ear protectors? Angela winced, white hot ringing filling her senses. Were they all so used to gunfire that the noise didn’t faze them? Her daze subsided in an instant, however, when she noticed Reyes clutching his right arm. Thin trails of dark red seeped through his fingers.
“God damn, Morrison!” he cursed. “I hope you enjoyed that.”
Angela’s instincts knocked into high gear. Suddenly, the nerves dissipated into cold, clinical judgement. She’d done this hundreds of times before. Reyes was no different than a soldier wounded by omnics. Darting to his side, she readied the staff, jarring her finger into the trigger. A bright, yellow beam erupted from the end, engulfing Reyes’ arm in soothing light. Reyes forced his hand away, revealing an ugly tear through his shirt and his flesh. The bullet may have only grazed him, but the singed skin and blood soaked fabric did not make Angela any more relieved.
“Shit, Doc…” Reyes gasped, his eyes widening as he watched the wound mend shut. The burnt patches of skin faded from black, to purple, back to healthy brown. “Is it supposed to tingle like that?”
“It means it’s working.” Angela smiled, despite the anxiety slowly cloaking over her again. She released the trigger, taking a step back to observe her work.
“I’m impressed.” Morrison replaced the gun at his hip.
“I think we can call this a success!” Winston beamed. “Initial output shows no excess stress to the internal components while producing optimal results.”
“Excellent.” Moira’s face revealed no emotion.
“Congratulations, Doctor Ziegler,” Captain Amari’s voice boomed over loud speaker.
“I...didn’t do this alone. Doctor O’Deorain —”
“She countered a flaw I failed to recognize,” Moira corrected. “This is her success. She is quite capable on her own.”
“Quite a success, if I might add.” Morrison clapped his hand over Angela’s shoulder. “In fact, I think we should move right on to field testing.”
“I’m glad we can agree on something,” Moira said, passing by Morrison on her way out of the testing bay. Angela caught a flash of annoyance in Morrison’s eyes as the taller woman passed. Something sparked between them that left the atmosphere tense and uneasy until Moira exited.
“So,” Winston interjected. “Perhaps we should discuss practical applications?”
“Right. Good idea.” Angela forced the unanswered questions out of her head for the time being. Whatever that was, she had work to accomplish now.
Angela never could get to the lab before Moira. Despite her earliest mornings, Moira’s irritating glance and half-smirk caught her first thing, when Angela felt least prepared. Today, though, Moira busily sweeped up books and files, stuffing them into a single box.
“I’ve been reassigned.” The words fell flat, like Moira simply rattled off the weather. Angela stopped mid-step, her jaw falling slack.
“Reyes approached me last night about it. I’ll be stationed in Zurich for the time being.”
“What?” Angela balked.
“You’re acting awfully disappointed.” Moira paused her packing to gaze at Angela. “And here I thought you’d enjoy the chance to flourish on your own.”
“That’s — That’s besides the point!” Angela balled her fists. Moira had a point. Why was she upset about the news? She should be jumping for joy, blessing Reyes for the relief. Yet, the thought of working alone sat uneasily with her. As much as Moira left her frustrated beyond belief, her sharp insights were what drove Angela to her first successful innovation.
“Relax,” Moira grinned. “I’m quite sure I’ll be back. This is only a formality, after all.”
“What’s even in Zurich for you?”
“That’s confidential, I’m afraid.”
Angela’s patience grew thin. What was Overwatch planning now? And despite the fact Dr. O’Deorain and her were colleagues, the details of her reassignment were kept from Angela? Perhaps Captain Amari could give her answers…
“You’re making great strides, dear.” Moira swept by, her arms full with a box of possessions. “This recent achievement puts you right into the spotlight of top command.”
“Why didn’t you admit you helped me?” Angela crossed her arms over her chest, following Moira as she exited the lab. “You should’ve told them the—”
“It was an unnecessary detail.”
“How can you say that?”
“Ziegler.” Moira whipped around, one eyebrow arched high on her forehead. “There is much you have to learn about this...organization we represent. You can either take my advice, or handle the outcomes on your own.”
“You make it sound so ominous.” Angela grimaced.
“Interpret it how you will.” Moira turned, continuing her path down the winding hallways to the transport dock. “It’s your choice if you choose to listen.”
The words left Angela feeling unsettled and confused. She didn’t realize she still followed right behind Moira until the taller woman glanced back at her, curious glint in her eyes.
“You’re leaving today?” Angela shrunk inward at how small her voice sounded. This wasn’t a big deal. She’d do just fine without constant guidance. And nitpicking. And scrutinizing.
“First thing tomorrow.”
“Right, well…” Angela paused as Moira approached the exit for the transport dock. A helicopter sat idle on the far side. “Safe travels?”
“I know you’re terribly sad to see me leave.” Moira smirked as she turned to face Angela. “But do keep in touch. I’d hate you to get something wrong just because you felt you couldn’t reach out to me.”
“I’m sure we’ll both be busy.” Angela frowned, realizing she’d fallen right into a trap. Moira wanted her to be disappointed, she thought.
“I’m sure you will, dear.”
The first thing Angela noticed after Moira’s absence was the silence in the lab. While she never considered her colleague exceptionally noisy, the constant bickering ceased. As well as the ambient chatter. Within a few days, she offered for several of the lab technicians stationed in Winston’s area to utilize her space as well. The silence ebbed away as people filled the vacancy.
None of them were a Dr. O’Deorain, however.
Captain Amari personally tasked Angela with developing new combat-ready gear for the Overwatch medical team. Upon the request, she chafed at the idea. Combat support was not her preferred role. While she’d worked on the field before, she much preferred the quiet of the lab. However, Overwatch seemed to have different intentions. Moira’s warning rang in the back of her mind.
“Whatcha workin’ on?” Lena’s excited voice knocked Angela out of her thoughts. She stood before a prototype design of a full body suit, an idea she’d been toying with for the past few weeks since her recent assignment.
“Lena,” Angela breathed. “It seems you’re recovering well.”
“Sure am, Doc! I...actually came here with a question. Request. Favor, maybe?”
“Yes, Lena?” Angela smiled despite her wariness.
“I wanna start training for field work.” Lena stood confidently, her hands on her hips, chin held high. Angela gazed at her, searching her eyes for uncertainty. Despite all she’d been through, everything she endured, Lena still wanted to help.
“You’re awfully brave.”
“I just wanna do my part, ya know?” Lena rocked on her heels. “I won’t let this thing stop me.” She patted the chronal accelerator strapped to her chest.
“Why are you telling me?”
“I, uh.” Lena blushed, rubbing the back of her neck. “I need medical clearance first.”
“That’s it?” Angela chuckled, leading the younger woman toward the exam area. “You made it sound like you were asking a mother for permission.”
“Well, I mean…” Lena stuttered on her words as she hopped onto the exam table. “I was worried you might say no.”
“I can only give you advice, Lena. It’s up to you to decide.”
“Pffft, you sound like old Doctor Stick up the You Know.”
“Tall, redhead, left a few weeks ago. Where’d she go, anyway?”
“...New assignment.” Angela hid the fact that inside, her stomach twisted in disgust. The last thing she wanted was to sound like Moira, much less offer medical advice like she would.
“Oh, good for you, then. Right?” Lena bounced in place. “She was awfully stuffy.”
Angela turned her back to Lena, a frown planted on her face. An uneasiness settled over her, making the muscles in her shoulders go tense. Nothing Lena said was false, yet somewhere deep down, she felt guilty for agreeing with her.
Angela shook her head, concentrating on her physical assessment. Falling back on her old routines, the thoughts slipped from her mind as she checked Lena’s lung sounds.
“If it’s up to me,” Angela said, a soft lilt in her voice. “I say you’re fit for duty.”
“You’re the best, doc!” Lena hopped off the table, darting out of the lab in no time.
“...Don’t push yourself too hard.”
(p.s. im gonna set a goal for updates on Sat/Sun)
Chapter 4: Clinical Signs
“Ziegler!” Moira shouted, jabbing her pointer at Angela across the classroom. Angela froze in the doorway, the stares of the other students setting a sweat into her brow.
“Y-yes, professor?” Angela stammered, clasping her hands in front of her.
“Are you under the impression that your pathetic performance in my class will allow you to get away with habitual tardiness as well?” Moira peered over her glasses at Angela, a wicked scowl on her face. “Front of the class, now.”
Angela stepped forward, making her way to Moira’s side and putting her hands behind her back. “Since it seems that failing grades are not enough of an incentive for you to get your act together, it’s clear a greater punishment is necessary.” She smacked Angela’s shoulder with the pointer. “Legs apart.”
Angela’s cheeks flared as she obeyed, ducking her head. Moira set her pointer down and approached her, towering above her eye level. Her hand trailed down Angela’s front, then hooked under her skirt and hiked it—
The sharp staccato of an alarm shocked Angela from her sleep. She jolted up in bed, hand clutching her chest.
What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck?
“What the fuck…” she whispered, her thoughts finally forming words. Sweat clung to her forehead and under her arms. A soft heat boiled inside her, leaving her a jumble of confused emotions. While her brain recoiled at the imagery still playing at the edge of her awareness, the lingering tug in her lower belly made her throat dry.
Before her mind could wander in any other direction, she jumped from bed and charged into the shower. Cold water this morning, for sure.
The rhythmic drumming of droplets on her skin lulled Angela into thought as she washed away the sweat. Over the last week, stress had eaten at her insides. Her latest prototype, a type of combat armor, sat unfinished for longer than she’d anticipated. Morrison waited patiently for results, but she knew he wouldn’t stay patient for long. Overwatch’s reach extended further with every day. Their members needed outfitted with the best equipment.
Exiting the shower and towel drying her hair, Angela wracked her brain for a solution to her issue. Materials, mobility, cost efficiency — none of the factors lined up in just the right way. When she thought she had something worthwhile to work with, another roadblock always appeared. The current consultants, namely Winston, were of little help.
“If I could just—” Angela paused, halfway through blow drying her hair. The image of Dr. O’Deorain’s smug grin flashed in her mind. She watched her cheeks grow pink with heat, then immediately pushed the thought aside. “Absolutely not.”
Even if it killed her, she’d figure this one out on her own.
“Even in its current state, it’s not durable enough,” Angela muttered to herself. She tabbed through a series of schematics on her holopad, noting where the calculations flashed in red. The prototype, which she nicknamed the ‘Valkyrie’ suit, remained at partial completion for over a month. The first attempt at producing it from the lab’s 3D printers created more of a mess than a product. The pieces weren’t nearly durable enough to withstand finishing, much less combat. Now, the current model showed signs of stress fracturing in simulations.
Angela sighed in defeat, pacing through the lab. She tread so far out of her comfort zone, her roadblocks felt more like impenetrable mountains. Creating the Caduceus staff was easy in comparison.
She could ask—
“Ugh!” Angela gripped harder at her holopad. She would not go down that route. The last thing she could stand at this stage was Moira nitpicking her work.
“Is everything okay, Doctor Ziegler?” A young lab technician cautiously approached. Angela could barely remember their names, especially with her head buried deep in her latest project. Maybe one of their opinions could help.
“Take a look at this,” Angela said, handing the holopad over. “Any solutions come to mind?”
“I’m…” the lab tech stared at the schematic, his brows furrowing. “I’m sorry, Doctor. I’m not very good at this sort of thing.”
“Right…” Angela trudged past him, scanning the room for others to question. Each person she came across, however, frowned with disappointment.
“This is out of our pay grade, Doctor.”
Of course it was. Of course she’d need expert help in this matter.
But asking was the last option in her mind.
“Maybe Captain Amari can offer some guidance,” she muttered, exiting the lab. Recent missions kept most of the higher command away over the past week, yet she suspected Captain Amari wouldn’t put herself in harm’s way without good reason.
The Captain’s office sat along the side of Gibraltar's complex that faced the ocean. As Angela approached the room, warm sunlight bathed the hallways. She envied the layout, especially the vantage point Ana had over the base. However, her position came with all sorts of unpleasantries — reasons Angela thanked herself for her spot in a laboratory.
“Doctor Ziegler,” Ana said, her smile hidden behind a steaming cup of tea. “Something on your mind?”
“I’m just seeking a bit of guidance.” Angela took the seat opposite Ana’s desk, clutching her holopad in her lap. “I’ve...run into some difficulties in my department. I was wondering if you had any advice for my current project.”
“Your timing is impeccable.” Just as Ana spoke, the distant thrumming of a helicopter sounded outside the window. “Commander Reyes’ team is inbound for the base as we speak. I’m sure Doctor O’Deorain can help.”
“That’s not— I...wasn’t expecting their return.” Angela bit the inside of her cheek. Impeccable timing? More like a horrendous coincidence.
“Reyes claimed he had a new recruit for us. In fact, if things go well on Morrison’s end, you’ll have your first intake today.”
“A welcome change of pace,” Angela said, smiling despite the growing tension in her chest. She should focus her attention on whoever this new recruit was, but her mind flashed images of Moira hovering over her, critiquing her assessment. She couldn’t let the older doctor bully her out of her work, no matter how intimidating she seemed.
Ana slipped out of her chair, walking towards the large window. One side of her office sat perched above the transport dock. Joining her side, Angela spotted the helicopter zooming in from the north. Within minutes, it settled against the ground, it’s propeller blades slowing to a halt. She could just make out Reyes hopping to the ground, his hand gripped on the arm of an unknown man. The man struggled against him for a moment, causing his hat to slip from his head and fall to the ground. Angela’s brows furrowed as she watched Moira hop out of the helicopter next. The redhead straightened out her lab coat, then gingerly picked up the hat and offered it back to the man. A terse exchange happened between the pair before Reyes yanked him further along.
“He looks like a feisty one,” Ana said, amusement bubbling in her voice. “I bet you money Morrison will request a vacation day after this.”
“Captain!” Angela suppressed a laugh.
“You might want to prepare your lab before...well, I’m sure you can guess.” The twinkling in Ana’s eyes did nothing to assuage Angela’s worry. Without waiting for confirmation of her fears, she left the Captain’s office.
“Hey Doc!” Commander Reyes didn’t wait for permission before bursting into the lab. Angela sat in anticipation near the medical bay, anxiously tapping a pen against her holopad. As Reyes approached with the unnamed man at his side, he cast Angela a smug grin. “Make sure this dog is free of diseases, will you?”
“I have a name, dammit,” the man cursed under his breath.
“And that would be?” Angela directed him to sit on the exam table as she tapped information into her holopad.
“McCree. Jesse McCree.”
“Welcome to Overwatch, Mister McCree,” Angela said, her smile bright.
“I ain’t a ‘mister’ and I ain’t here on my own terms.”
“This little ingrate,” Reyes said, shoving his shoulder against McCree’s back, “Came to us because he might be useful. Otherwise, he’d be in jail.”
Angela blinked, forcing her face to show no emotion.
“I’m sorry, could you explain that to me?”
“Don’t you worry one bit, doc. He’s my problem, not yours. Just get ‘em cleared. Kay?” Reyes winked, the corners of his lip disappearing behind a thick moustache.
“If you insist…” Angela shook her head. “I’ll need to start with the basics. Age, past medical history, allergies.”
“Twenty-nine, none, and I’m allergic to being manhandled.” McCree scooted as far away from Reyes as he could without falling off the table. “Unless he asks nicely.”
Angela coughed, hiding her surprise behind one hand. Reyes cackled at the joke, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Maybe you will fit in Blackwatch.”
“Blackwatch?” Angela’s attention perked. Reyes regained his composure as he cleared his throat.
“My team. That’s all you need to know.”
“Is that where Doctor O’Deorain was reassigned?” Angela couldn’t hide the curiosity in her voice. She knew she should keep her thoughts to herself, but how else would she find out?
“Doctor...? You mean the lanky, grumpy one?” McCree asked.
“Ha!” Reyes snorted. “That’s her. And yes, that’s correct. Again, Doc, just focus on the medical stuff.”
“Of course.” Angela held back the bite in her voice. “Could you please step out, Commander? It’s for patient confidentiality.”
“Whatever you say.” Reyes shrugged, walking out towards the hallway.
“Any drug use?” Angela asked, running a handheld scanner over McCree’s chest and abdomen. No internal injuries, no abnormalities.
“Not yet, though I might change my mind the longer I’m around that guy.”
“Take a wild guess, doc.”
“Noted,” Angela said wryly.
“Look, are you done yet? Not a big fan of being poked and prodded.”
“One poke and then we’re done.” Angela turned to her table, holding up a syringe.
“Oh for crying out — what the hell is that for?”
“Standard vaccinations. Now please roll up your sleeve.”
“You’re good at the whole ‘kill ‘em with kindness’ aren’t ya, doc?” McCree reluctantly rolled his sleeve up, revealing a lean forearm. Angela didn’t waste time, wanting the examination to finish as much as McCree did. Despite the man’s complaining, he didn’t flinch as she delivered the injection.
“All finished!” Angela declared. “You passed.”
“Damn right I did.” McCree hopped to his feet, straightening his shirt out. Reyes stood just outside the doorway as the younger man joined him.
“Thanks again, Doc.” Reyes dipped his head before yanking McCree down the corridor.
After finishing with the intake exam, Angela expected Moira to interrupt her work. She tapped away at her screen absentmindedly, her senses on full alert. A mix of annoyance and eager anticipation swirled in her stomach. The two hadn’t spoke a word since Moira first left for Blackwatch. Would the new assignment have tempered her attitude?
Staring over the unfinished design of the Valkyrie suit, Angela pinched the bridge of her nose. She made zero progress over the last hour, even with the lab cleared out and silence weighing heavy around her. She contemplated giving her mind a break with a quick walk around the base. Exercise could do her good.
The door on the far end of the lab whooshed open. The hair on the back of Angela’s neck stood on end. Without turning, she knew who joined by the sound of languid footsteps approaching.
“Working hard, I see.” Angela didn’t turn to acknowledge her until Moira stood just behind her. She felt the woman’s eyes on her neck. Her heart hammered in her chest as she faced the taller woman. Flashes of her dream invaded her thoughts, forcing her to look back at the ground.
“What can I do for you, Doctor O’Deorain,” she choked out, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Nothing at all. I’m merely here to check on Overwatch’s bright new talent.” Moira’s lips curled into a grin.
“If you don’t mind, I’m busy—”
“You’re not busy. You’re struggling, dear.” Moira took a step toward the holoscreen, her long fingers brushing against the illuminated surface.
“I thought I asked you not to call me that,” Angela said, an edge creeping up in her voice.
“Apologies.” Moira cast her a sideways glance before staring intently at the Valkyrie design. “Is this your new project?”
“If you’re so curious,” Angela sighed. “Yes.”
“Did you come all the way here just to insult me?” Angela couldn’t contain the anger leaking out in her voice. The few months she’d been in Overwatch, she’d learned what she could and couldn’t get away with saying. Moira, however, was fair game as far as she was concerned.
“Take it as an insult if you insist,” Moira said, rubbing her chin. “You have your strengths. This just isn’t one of them.”
“Our medics desperately need upgraded equipment. Someone has to—“
“And why do you assume that someone has to be you? Do you have experience in engineering personal body armor?” Moira took one step back, finding a chair near Angela’s desk. She plopped into it and slid one long leg over the other, leaning back with her hands in her lap. Angela forced herself not to stare. She cursed repeatedly at the way her pulse thumped against her ear. “You can’t be everyone’s savior, Ziegler.”
“I’m not trying to be!” Angela stomped her foot. “What would make you think— “ She paced a few feet away, struggling to compose herself. “I don’t know what I did to you to deserve this kind of disrespect. I’ve only ever tried to be polite!”
“My, you’re quick to get your feathers all ruffled.” Moira’s lips curled into a dangerous grin, her gaze following Angela. “Admit it. You need my help.”
“Like hell I do!” Angela spat. The words left her mouth before she could think. Blood rushed to her cheeks as she desperately tried to regard control of the situation. She knew deep down she needed help. So did Moira.
That was the problem.
Moira laughed softly, a gentle noise, low and musical. Angela wanted to throw something at her, but resisted the temptation. Moira held one hand out toward the holodisplay, her eyes alight.
“If you could only admit you need me, I’m sure I could lead you past these...technical flaws.”
“Don’t you have business in Zurich?”
“Unfortunately, I’m stuck here for the next few days. What a pity, since I do have work I could be attending to. This lab will have to suffice.”
“Verdammt!” Angela said under her breath. She turned her back to Moira, hiding the mix of rage and annoyance on her face.
“It’s not that bad.” Angela heard Moira rise from her seat. Her nerves stood on end as she felt Moira’s breath against the back of her neck. “Think of this as a chance to collaborate.”
“I told you I do not need your help.”
“We’ll see if you’re still saying that in a few days. After all, our Commanders need their results. Best not to keep them waiting.” Moira lingered for an uncomfortable second too long. Her presence behind Angela left her questioning her own sanity. How could she want to punch someone and feel her veins light up with heat at the same time? Finally, Moira relented in her standoff, the click of her shoes signaling she’d left the lab.
“What the fuck…” Angela whispered.
“Is this what you’ve been workin’ on?” Lena sat atop Angela’s desk, cross-legged and gently rocking from side to side. Angela normally didn’t like disturbances, but Lena’s presence meant her mind wouldn’t wander on its own. The two had made fast friends since Lena ceased to be her patient and instead became her colleague. The younger woman’s decision to join Overwatch as an agent surprised everyone after the trauma Lena endured. Still, Angela found her a valuable team mate and — especially now — a welcomed distraction.
“What do you think?” Angela made one final adjustment of the suit, ensuring it’s fit on the display dummy was perfect. The combination of royal blue and white fit perfectly with the standard Overwatch uniform. “Valkyrie suit, ready for duty!”
“Oh!” Lena jumped up, running her hands down the long sleeves. “It’s brilliant!”
“I hope Commander Morrison thinks the same.”
“Of course he will!” Lena beamed. “So who’s the lucky person that gets to wear it first?”
“Me.” Angela smiled, holding the sturdy fabric of the armor’s skirt in her hand. Despite her promise to keep far away from combat, she knew the ins and outs of her equipment better than anyone. The combination of the suit and her Caduceus staff wouldn’t be as effective in anyone else’s hands.
“You really sure about that?” Lena quirked her brow.
“Absolutely. Someone has to keep you all patched up out there, right?”
“I won’t lie. I’d trust you more than anyone, but…”
“Don’t worry about it, Lena. We get the honor of being alongside some real heroes! You’ve seen Reinhardt’s shield. We’ll be safe.”
“I s’pose you’re right.” Lena flashed a confident smile. “You know I’ve got your back out there!”
“And I’ve got yours.”
Angela blessed her alarm for knocking her out of another unwelcomed dream. She did not intend on finishing it, especially since the day marked the third in a row she’d suffered through them. Dreams reflected the unconscious thought, but she couldn’t imagine why her mind felt the need to go down that path. Especially with Moira, of all people. With any luck, Moira would leave base today. She could only hope her flight departed in the morning.
Before Angela could enter her lab, an alert flashed on her comms, direct from Captain Amari. She wasted no time, hurrying to the command hub in the center of the base.
“Doctor Ziegler,” Morrison greeted her as she entered.
“Commander.” Angela nodded her head. The meeting room held several of Overwatch’s top agents, including all of the base’s command. Lena sat tense in her seat, nervous eyes darting over the room. When they fell on Angela, she offered the younger girl a warm smile.
“Go ahead, Jack,” Ana said as the room settled into a hushed lull.
“There’s a critical situation in London as we speak. I’m sure you’ve all seen the news. Null Sector hasn’t backed down, despite several attempts from local authorities. We’re sending in an attack squad to deal with the heart of their operation. Hence why you’re all here.”
“Finally!” Reinhardt slammed his hands onto the table. “I’ve been waiting for this!”
“Not so fast,” Ana chided. “This is a strike mission. You have discrete objectives, so I want you all focused. No charging off for glory and honor.”
“You wound me,” Reinhardt said, an over dramatic frown on his face.
“Cadet Oxton, Doctor Ziegler.” Morrison turned his attention to the newest members. “Are you both prepared for this?”
“You bet!” Lena said. Angela noticed the lack of Lena’s usual gusto. Deep down, though, Angela trusted her own instincts. She’d served as a field medic long enough to know she could keep them all safe. She nodded in agreement with Lena.
“Excellent,” Morrison replied. “I want everyone prepped and ready in one hour. Dismissed.”
Without much time to dawdle, Angela rushed back to her lab, the excitement of trying her gear out for the first time overpowering her concern for the risks ahead. As she entered her lab, the sight of Moira leaning against her desk stopped her in her tracks.
“What do you want?” She didn’t bother hiding the bite in her tone, cautious eyes locked onto the redhead.
“So defensive,” Moira teased. “Can’t a fellow colleague wish you well on your first mission?”
“I know better than that.”
“You’re more clever than I gave you credit for.” Moira stalked over to the display dummy holding the Valkyrie suit. “You should’ve taken my offer for help.”
“And why is that?” Angela hurried over to her new armor, placing herself between it and Moira.
“This won’t do.” Moira reached over Angela, her long fingers caressing down the arm of the suit. “You didn’t run enough simulations, I’m afraid.”
“I ran plenty!” Angela growled. “I know what I’m doing. I’m not a child.”
“No, but you are stubborn.” Moira narrowed her eyes, watching Angela like a hawk would watch a mouse. “The material isn’t sturdy enough to withstand concussive force. The hardware casing will fail and your components are too delicate. If the regenerative apparatus is knocked out of place—”
“I’m not a frontline soldier. I don’t need that much weight on me.”
“You’re not flying in to the rescue of a finished skirmish. You’re diving head first into it.” Moira crossed her arms over her chest, staring down at Angela. Her scowl, coupled with her height, made Angela’s insides flip in uncomfortable ways. She bit the inside of her cheek, willing her anger to subside. No matter how smart Moira may be, no matter if there may have been a hint of truth in her words, Angela refused to back down. She’d prove Moira wrong. She had to.
“If you’re so concerned about safety, why aren’t you taking your expert opinion to the battle as well?”
“Please,” Moira scoffed. “I know where my talent is required. I don’t feel the need to involve myself in everything.”
“You certainly do enough of it in my research,” Angela whispered.
“So touchy.” Moira’s smirk caused Angela’s pulse to thrum through her neck and into her temples. She turned her back to Moira, hiding the head building in her face.
“If you have nothing else constructive to say,” Angela began, her voice shaking, “I have a mission to prepare for.”
“Of course.” A soft chuckle left Moira’s throat as she turned to leave. Angela followed the sound of her footsteps, waiting for them to fade away down the hall. Hearing them stop, she turned to catch Moira lingering in the doorway.
“Yes?” Angela frowned.
“If you refuse to follow my advice,” Moira said, her tone subdued. “I suggest you take extra caution.” Without waiting for a reply, Moira disappeared down the hall. A sick sensation filled Angela’s chest, leaving her short of breath. Why would Moira even care?
It doesn’t matter, she thought. She had to trust her own instincts and not the meddling of an egomaniac. Shaking the worry from her body, she slipped her armor off the display dummy, handling it with care as she left to get changed.
“Have you been keeping count, Torbjorn?” Reinhardt boasted, hoisting his massive hammer onto his shoulders. His armor hissed from several stress fractures, yet only a few scant traces of blood stained the electric blue. Angela staved off the worst of the injuries, keeping the team safe from disaster.
“Of course I have!” Torbjorn growled. “You didn’t win this time.”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“I’m not. Oxton had you beat by five.”
“The little ones don’t count,” Reinhardt huffed.
“You’re all awfully cheerful for something so barbaric,” Angela said, pinching the bridge of her nose. She leaned against a ruined wall beside her team, praying their extraction would arrive soon.
“Aw, c’mon Doc!” Lena clapped her on the shoulder. “He’s just getting us all riled up.”
“The fighting is over, Lena.”
“Don’t be so confident,” Torbjorn spoke, his voice too ominous for Angela’s liking.
“Excellent work, team.” Morrison’s voice echoed over their comms. “We’ve got an extraction inbound, ETA two minutes. Just hold tight until we get you out of there. Even with their command taken out, I wouldn’t drop my guard if I were you.”
“Stay close to me!” Reinhardt yelled.
Angela sighed, her muscles aching from the encounter. She pulled off her first mission successfully. Best of all, she proved Moira wrong. The armor worked just as intended, allowing her enough maneuverability to reach her entire squad, and she had been able to take the force of a grenade just fine. Though she’d been knocked to the ground, nothing disastrous had occurred. Reinhardt’s shield left them all free from bullet wounds. She knew she could trust herself.
“Let’s get to the landing zone,” Torbjorn instructed. The team followed behind, weapons at the ready. At street level, they spotted their helicopter in the distance, honing in on their location.
“We did it!” Lena said, her voice soft enough for just Angela to hear her. “This calls for a celebration! I know just the pub, too!”
“Sounds wonderful,” Angela mused. Relief washed over her as she watched the helicopter maneuver around the ruined buildings. The aircraft’s blades whipped dust and debris into the air, causing the team to shield their eyes. As the air settled, Torbjorn was the first in, shouting out a quick insult as Reinhardt offered to help him up. Angela waited, letting Lena hop in next.
“Ladies first,” Reinhardt said, extending his hand out to Angela.
“You’re too kind.” Angela stepped forward. A crack sounded through the air, followed by a burst of metallic pings. Angela yelped, something searing hot shooting past her arm. Instinctively, she darted back, searching for the source of the attack.
“Get down!” Reinhardt shouted. “Behind you!”
Angela’s veins filled with ice. She sensed the presence behind her before she saw it. Towering over her, a half destroyed OR-15 emerged from the side of a crumbling building. Sparks shot out from it’s ripped limb, but a functioning turret aimed itself at the group, its servos whirring faster by the second.
It got off one single shot before a crescent of fire struck it in the chest, flung from Reinhardt’s hammer. Angela clutched at her wrist, watching the blood start to pour from the slash in the suit. She breathed a sigh of relief, climbing onto the chopper.
“You hurt, Angie?” Lena asked, looking at her with concern.
“I’m quite all right.” Angela could hear the suit start to hum, ready to deliver its regenerative energy, miniaturized Caduceus tech. “Just give the suit a—”
White hot pain shot down her entire back, lightning arcing across her limbs, crawling up her spine and into her skull. Her vision swayed, blurred, and dived down to the floor of the helicopter. She collapsed into Reinhardt’s arms, spasms rocking her muscles as her hearing faded.
One last thought followed her into unconsciousness as her paralysis set itself in, nerves frying and then falling silent.
I made a mistake.
Chapter 5: Overload
Apologies for the delay in getting this out. Also, thank you to everyone who's commented/kudo'd! I'm terrible at replying, but I read every last one!
Trigger warning: mentions of suicide, graphic medical descriptions, medical trauma
She could only register vague sensations. Movement. Backwards, somewhere bright. Angela blinked, struggling to make sense of the combination of shapes and colors above her.
“...Pressure’s bottoming out…”
That’s funny, Angela thought. She’d heard herself say those words so many times before. Was it about her now? She tried to reach out and touch the source of the words, but blackness seeped back into her vision. Time passed on forever. Or did it? She couldn’t tell anymore.
“It’s bad.” She felt more than heard the words rumble from her tight throat. Shapes moved around her periphery, morphing in and out of existence. She knew they were people, somehow, but the colors were too bright, too washed out from a burning light overhead.
She should feel more, right? This was the part that needles and tubes and strange devices were jabbed into her. Nothing came, just figures frantically scrambling around her. Their hands were stained in red.
“I told you so.”
Angela blinked, clarity merging into her vision for the first time. Moira lingered over her, eyes boring down. As soon as Angela recognized the red hair and haughty attitude, it faded. A man, full of worried wrinkles and salt and pepper hair, stared down instead.
“...Emergency surgery...could die if we don’t…”
The words blurred in and out, fading away before jarring into her head again. She wanted to sleep. The pull to fall into oblivion overcame her, leaving her wrecked body still.
Angela heard voices. They tickled her eardrum, urging her to wake. The noises started off vague, but clarified into a man speaking quietly to her. She blinked her eyes open, pain shooting through her skull at the harsh fluorescent light.
“She’s awake.” Another voice spoke, calm, but not in the reassuring way.
“Something happened,” Angela croaked, her own scratchy rasp surprising her. She sounded weak. Sick.
Angela forced the grogginess out of her eyes, focusing in on a pair of discouraged frowns. Amari and Morrison.
“How bad?” Angela tried to move her hands to assess herself, but found them unresponsive. Her fingers barely twitched. A cold, sinking fear settled over her, causing a wave of bile to lap at the back of her throat. She hoped the images from earlier were merely a bad dream mixed with doubts. But this?
“The damage,” Amari started. She paused to let a tired sigh escape her throat, then continued. “Is extensive. Third degree burns down your spine, starting at C7-”
“Paralysis,” Angela interjected. “I’m paralyzed.”
“That’s correct.” Morrison said, struggling to keep the emotion from his tone. “They say you’ve lost all motor control and most of your sensory-”
“No no no, this isn’t-”
“Doctor Ziegler.” Amari placed one gentle hand on the sterile white covers, over Angela’s foot. “Can you feel this?”
She couldn’t. The nagging, sinking feeling in her chest intensified. Angela wanted to vomit. All her hard work, her research, her planning — images of throwing herself off the craggy cliffside at Gibraltar flashed in the back of her mind. Waves of nausea wracked her body, manifesting into a pain that throbbed deep in her gut.
“This is all wrong.” Angela’s eyes stung as hot tears spilled down her cheeks. She couldn’t reach up to wipe them away. She couldn’t even turn away to hide her shock. Both officers bowed their heads. Whether it was out of respect or pure despair, Angela didn’t know. Didn’t want to know.
“We’ll seek out the best physicians to help-”
“They don’t exist.” Angela grit her teeth. Not a damn soul could help her, she knew.
“I know this is bad, but please have hope.”
“You don’t understand,” Angela said. “This is experimental technology. It's not published. It’s not researched. This was the first time it’s ever been tested. I’m the only one who can fix this.”
“We can find a solution, Doctor.” Morrison’s grim stare did nothing to help.
“I don’t—” Angela choked back a sob. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. This is a mistake. I can’t live like this.” She thought into the future, a lifetime of twenty-four hour assistance, no longer able to heal the sick with her own hands, or even write her own notes. Catheters and colostomy bags, diapers changed by staff with pitying looks on their faces. So much time ahead of her, all of it so much worse than the short while she’s had. “You should have let me die,” she whispered.
“Angela.” Amari snapped. “Please. I know this is difficult—”
“I just need some space right now,” Angela said, her voice tiny and weak with defeat.
Without another word, the pair left the room. Angela sobbed as she fought against her limbs, screamed at her muscles to work. Something still had to function. She stared down at her body, hidden beneath the sheets. Tubes and wires poked out on both sides, leading to machines that whirred softly behind her. Bags of fluid hung just to her left, dripping medications into her veins. She watched the steady drip, forcing herself to concentrate and not cry.
A tiny, dull ache radiated from her neck. She wondered how much pain she’d feel if her nerves worked. Her breath crackled in her throat, weak lungs unable to force the air through her.
A chill swept over her as she sunk further into her thoughts. What if someone could help her? Her colleagues back in Zurich? Someone else from Overwatch? Even still, the recovery would take months, if not longer. She’d seen patients rehabilitated for spinal injuries and watched them suffer through more than anyone ever should. The thought that this was now her reality stung like ice in her chest. The mix of emotions whirled in her head like a cyclone, bouncing from despair to horror. She wanted the noise to stop. She needed all of it to. Just. Stop.
I can’t do this.
A bustle of energy left the lab at Gibraltar empty. Moira didn’t bother asking why the technicians had scattered like mice. She assumed something important happened with the team dispatched to London. News would reach her in due time. She had work to accomplish. Without disturbances or intrusions, she could fall into her old routines in the lab. Before she showed up.
Zurich certainly had state of the art facilities, but nothing as familiar as her old base of operations. She needed past data to add to her recent projects. Perhaps then she could progress with the project Reyes assigned to her.
The archives in the lab had quickly filled with Ziegler’s work. It didn’t take long, Moira thought. Finding someone with as much of a scientific curiosity as her wasn’t that uncommon. But finding someone to act on it?
Ziegler showed promise, but not enough follow through. Moira shouldn’t have expected much, especially from someone Morrison insisted on recruiting. Still, with enough pressure, she thought Ziegler could turn her talents into real progress. While she demonstrated a worthy accomplishment with her Caduceus staff, Moira needed her to push her boundaries. One medical breakthrough was expected. Moira had no time for the predictable. If anything, Moira could borrow from the regenerative properties of the Caduceus staff. It wouldn’t quite fit her research, but she could modify the existing formula.
Angela proved just as naive as Moira imagined. Trawling through her files, she found none of them protected. Not even encrypted. Did Angela honestly have this much trust for her colleagues? Still, the added boon would only aid Moira with her own work.
“Degradation reversal…” Moira mused to herself. “This is…”
Angela wasn’t just working on healing battle wounds. Her speculative research, the notes that never left her lab for Morrison or Amari to carelessly abuse, displayed a kind of imagination Moira was not expecting.
“My dear,” Moira whispered as she carefully copied the data to her own remote drive. “Did you realize you were starting to play God?”
Somewhere in the span of her misery, Angela had fallen into a restless sleep. The drugs dripped her into a space where her mind went silent, leaving no room for dreams. She woke to the sound of a door softly closing. She wished the drugs were stronger.
“Why are you here?” Angela couldn’t hide the venom in her voice. Moira stood at her door, hands clasped behind her back. She neither grinned nor frowned, only regarded Angela with neutral eyes. “I don’t need your criticism right now.”
“While I do wish you would’ve taken me seriously,” Moira said, walking closer to the bed. “I am not here to criticize.”
Angela didn’t believe her. Of course she came to criticize. That’s all Moira knew how to do, after all.
“Then why are you here?” she spat.
“I have a proposal for you.”
“I’m not in the mood.” Angela wished she could turn over, toss a pillow over her head and forget the aggravating voice looming over her. She wished she could walk out on her own, but her legs wouldn’t budge despite the constant urging in her mind. She felt trapped, scrutinized, like a lab rat.
“I ran into Morrison on the way here.” Moira took a chair from the wall and pulled it to Angela’s bed. She leaned over, her arms crossed over the white sheets beside Angela. “He talked about the severity of the accident.”
“Why?” Angela felt tears prick at her eyes. She blinked rapidly, refusing to let them fall. Moira held the advantage over her, but even weakened and injured, Angela refused to roll over in submission.
“He mentioned how he’d contacted the best doctors to work with you, but recovery would still take over a year. With conventional methods, of course.”
“There are no other methods.”
Angela’s brow furrowed. She knew the extent of what she’d be facing. She knew no one could fix this like she could. Yet, deep in her chest, a nagging urge told her to at least hear Moira out. Nothing could be worse than her current situation. She hated feeling vulnerable, but what other option did she have? Despite the pride burning inside her, she swallowed it down. For the moment.
“You have an idea.”
“Not just an idea.” Moira reached forward, delicately encircling Angela’s wrist with her long fingers. Angela only felt pins and needles. She couldn’t feel what she imagined as a cool, strong grip. She tried to pull away, but the only response her feeble hand gave was a slight twitch of her thumb. “A solution.”
“How can I trust you?”
“You wound me, Doctor Ziegler. When have I deceived you?”
“I don’t have the energy for nonsense,” Angela sighed, a weak cough wracking her body.
“Your Valkyrie suit backfired,” Moira began, her hand still on Angela’s wrist. “The regenerative properties of the suit must’ve slipped into a feedback loop and created a—”
“I get that part,” Angela snapped impatiently.
“It’s impossible to salvage the musculoskeletal degradation as is, but with an implant, we could restore function.”
“Does such a thing even exist?”
“It will.” Moira leaned closer, her mismatched eyes scanning over Angela.
“And if it doesn’t work?” Angela met the redhead’s gaze with growing intensity.
“I will fulfill the request you gave Morrison. If that brings you peace, then—”
“Deal,” Angela whispered, the tears finally flowing past her willpower and spilling over her cheeks. Moira dabbed the corner of her sleeve against Angela’s cheeks, wiping away the moisture. Angela couldn’t make sense of the action, especially coming from Moira, of all people. She cursed herself for breaking down, but a tension eased itself within her.
“I need a few days to prepare.” Moira stood and took her leave from the room, looking back once with determination in her eyes.
Watching the ceiling tiles pass by as Angela’s stretcher wheeled into the surgical suite, she wondered if she’d survive the anesthesia. Perhaps she’d fall into a dreamless sleep and never wake. The logical side of her brain told her this wouldn’t happen, but at this point, she almost prayed for relief. The combination of pain and numbness sent her nerves into a frenzy. She’d lost sense of the days, her time instead falling into a pattern of when will the medicine kick in? When will someone come to the room to fix a tube or respond to a monitor? When would Captain Amari visit with a solemn frown? When would Lena come and try to joke, but her voice contort into an awkward uneasiness?
Angela was tired of counting her life out in moments. She was tired, despite the constant time stuck in bed, woozy from narcotics.
When the surgeons entered her room, she caught sight of Moira standing across the suite. Even fully gowned and masked, indistinguishable from the rest of the staff, her determined gaze set her apart from everyone else in the room. Angela mouthed out her last words before a mask of odorless gas covered her face.
‘Keep your promise.’
Her world faded to black, void of color and sound. Her body drifted away, leaving only her thoughts to quietly wane in the darkness.
In her dream, great white wings spread out from her back, carrying her into the atmosphere, far above conflict and pain. The world below looked so small and silent and harmless. The rush of the wind filled her ears instead of droning machines. She never wanted to come down.
The words sounded muddled, far away like she was hearing them from under a foot of water. She felt herself grumble, felt the vibrations in her chest. Her limbs twitched as an uncomfortable sting shot down her back.
Her hands clenched.
“I can…” she said weakly, forcing her eyes to open. The room seemed hazy at first, but as her focus returned, she spotted Moira at the side of her bed.
“Do that again.” Moira had the tiniest hint of a smile at the corners of her lips. Angela complied, closing her hands into a fist.
“I can move them.” The soft astonishment in Angela’s voice didn’t go unnoticed. Moira stood, pacing to the foot of the bed.
“Now your knees. Bend them.”
Angela breathed out as her heels dragged across the bed, her knees folding together. A stiff, hollow pain throbbed in her back, but she could move. Her heart thrummed against her chest, pounding louder in her ears as she tested her muscles.
“It worked.” Angela raised her hand above her, marveling at the simple action of moving her fingers. “You made it work.”
“You had doubt?”
“I had no hope, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Don’t be so pessimistic.” Moira returned to a chair at Angela’s side, sitting beside her. “Even with the surgery a success, there’s still work to do. Don’t lose focus.”
“What did it look like?” Angela couldn’t keep her curiosity from slipping out. The surgeon in her wondered just how badly her technology damaged her spine. Even if she knew the answer were moot now, she needed to know.
“Necrosis, burns, cellular degradation — the implant covers the entire length of your vertebral column. I don’t think it’s wise for you focus on those details now, however.”
“Fine.” Angela conceded, using her new strength to adjust the covers over her torso. “I want to walk tomorrow.”
Angela caught herself watching the clock the next morning. Eager anticipation kept her tense, despite the cocktail of medications the nurse handed her this morning. Therapy started at 10 o’clock. She wanted, no, needed to test her legs. She needed to walk again. She needed her dignity back.
As scheduled, a perky, young physical therapist arrived at her door right at 10. Behind her stood Moira, her typical lab coat missing in favor of a simple dress shirt and slacks.
“You’re here?” Angela asked, unsure of the arrangement.
“I’m observing my work in action.”
Before Angela could protest, the therapist dragged a wheelchair into the room. Carefully, she urged Angela to the side of her bed. Angela blinked, blood rushing from her head. How many days had it been since she’d walked on her own? With one fumbling step, Angela swiveled herself into the chair, grateful for the support.
“Perfect!” The therapist chimed, guiding the wheelchair out of the room. Moira followed a few steps behind. Angela couldn’t see her, but heard quiet footsteps follow them down the hallway. Only a few scattered staff stood around, but Angela didn’t fail to catch the looks of astonishment. She knew what they must be feeling, that this wasn’t possible. That Doctor O’Deorain accomplished a medical miracle.
Her misgivings about Moira aside, Angela whispered a silent prayer to herself.
A moment later, they arrived at a room designated for physical therapy. Scattered gym equipment lined the walls. In the center stood a small walkway lined by handrails. Angela knew that was her first goal.
“You wanted to walk today, right?” The therapist said as she stopped the wheelchair.
“I do.” Angela gripped the sides of her chair. She watched as Moira leaned against a far wall, arms crossed over her chest. Angela turned her attention back to the handrails. She wouldn’t let Moira distract her.
“Let’s try one step, okay?” The therapist guided her hands to the bars, allowing Angela to do the rest.
Angela complied, lifting one foot first, then the other. Her feet felt limp under her, plopping against the ground, like she was an infant practicing to stand for the first time. The first few steps left her shaky and sweating. Her hands could barely grasp the handrails as her arms trembled from overexertion. The logical part of her urged her to sit down and try another time, but she couldn’t falter. Not when she’d made it this far.
“Um, Doctor Ziegler,” the therapist mumbled. “Maybe you shouldn’t—”
“I’ve got this.” Angela clumsily stepped forward, deadset on making it to the end of the walkway. Before she could reach it, her knees buckled beneath her, feeble legs collapsing from the movement. Her hands slipped off the bars. She clenched her eyes shut, bracing for the impact against the ground, but it never came. Arms circled around her waist, holding her firmly until she felt herself lowered into the wheelchair.
“Moira—” Angela blinked, then corrected herself “Doctor O’Deorain, you—”
“Don’t push yourself so hard.” Moira’s stern glare burned into Angela. “You could’ve damaged the implant.”
“You’re stronger than I expected.”
“And you’re more foolish than I predicted,” Moira retorted, turning her back to Angela. “You can resume tomorrow.” Moira snapped her finger towards the wheelchair, then looked toward the door. “You’re going back to bed.”
Angela swallowed, unsure how to react to the authoritative side Moira displayed. She knew her to be cunning, intelligent. But never so forceful.
Maybe she’d never paid enough attention.
Back in her room, the therapist helped her back into bed, then scurried towards the door.
“...Thanks.” Angela murmured, the tension in the room growing thick.
“We’ll change your dressing and observe the healing, then you will rest. Understood?”
Moira aided Angela onto her side, taking care to undo the ties of her hospital gown and expose the long surgical dressing. Angela shivered at the touch of cool fingers on her back. Her mind raced in ways she wished she could silence. At the feel of tape and gauze peeling off her skin, she thanked the sensations for distracting her from Moira’s breath on her body.
Moira worked carefully, setting aside the discarded material as she did. A cool, damp gauze ran down the length of Angela’s back several times before Moira taped a new dressing down. When she turned over, she noticed the pile of gauze, soaked in dark red and brown.
“That’s all...from me?”
“I told you it was extensive.”
“My god…” Angela swallowed a dry lump in her throat. “Will it heal?”
“It is healing. Rather well, actually.” Moira paused, looking to the side. “There will be some changes.”
“I can’t say yet. This is a live experiment, and anything could happen. Rather exciting, isn’t it?” Angela gave her a doubtful look, and the small smile on Moira’s lips faded. She cleared her throat. “Rest up for now, Doctor Ziegler. We’ll try this again tomorrow.”
Angela watched Moira exit the room, watched as the sky turned from bright blue to orange through her window. Time faded again into a series of moments, when her nurses came to check on her, when Lena visited for the night with a coffee she snuck past the front desk. Angela watched the clock tick, waiting impatiently for the next day to dawn. She promised herself she’d walk successfully this time, without Moira’s help. Without relying on anyone to catch her when she fell.
Walking again was the first piece to surviving this fiasco. She needed her life back. She needed to return to the lab, to the constant low humming and clicking of equipment. She needed to return to her duties, and all the people that needed her.
Chapter 6: Latency
Moira had been stuffed into this tiny conference room far too many times in the past three weeks, and she had become very, very tired of these same two faces always narrowed in petulant annoyance staring at her over the table. Ana and Jack looked at her expectantly, waiting for her response, as though it would be any different this time.
Moira folded her arms. “I do not authorize a psychiatric evaluation of Angela Ziegler at this time. Is that sufficiently official language for you, or should I find another way to tell you ‘no’?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Amari.
“Moira, I know you enjoy being difficult, but this is ridiculous,” Ana scolded her, narrowing her eyes.
“I’ve spent far more time with the patient than either of you. As our senior medical officer and, may I remind you, the current medical authority over Dr. Ziegler, it is my call to make. Neither of you are more qualified than I to make this call and I say that the intrusion of a psychologist,” Moira said, spitting the word like it’d gone sour in her mouth, “can only harm her recovery.”
“She told me she’d rather be dead than living with this injury less than a month ago and you’re telling me she doesn’t need therapy?” Jack growled. “I’ve had men suffer flesh wounds on the field who can’t come back to active duty without six months of intensive psychological work.”
“With all due respect, Commander,” Moira drawled, intending to put as much disrespect into her tone as possible, “Dr. Ziegler is not a soldier, despite her foolish attempts to play one on the field. She is a scientist. I know scientists, I happen to be one. The implant is working. Already she has been able to walk with minimal assistance with only a week and a half of recovery. In a manner of days, she will be physically fit to return to work with all her faculties intact.”
“Oh, you’re referring to the unauthorized project you pushed through Blackwatch channels in less than a week and stuck in one of our brightest members without authorization from anyone but Commander Reyes?” Ana asked, raising her eyebrows innocently. “That implant?”
“I followed all protocols enacted for my team,” Moira snapped, stiffening. “I have medical authority to return Overwatch members to duty without requiring any of the red tape you so love here. I assumed that was the very purpose of forming Blackwatch, was it not?”
“You have an awful tendency to follow the letter of the law more than the spirit, Doctor O’Deorain,” Ana said, a warning note in her tone.
“Enough, you two,” Jack said, standing and starting his incessant habit of pacing whenever he had to make any kind of serious concession or compromise. “Moira. I need to hear a real explanation for how you think you will have Angela back to her old self again.”
Moira suppressed her urge to groan. “Very well. She will not be her old self — thankfully, as she was rather careless before. But what drives a scientist is the work. When she can stand up on her own again, when she has created something again, her confidence will return, measured by the lessons she has learned from the error that led to this situation to begin with. She is stronger and smarter than I had predicted when we first met — and don’t take that as a victory, Amari.” Moira shot a glance at the woman in question, who merely smirked. “In less enlightened times, we certainly could have lost a great talent like hers to a rookie, youthful mistake like the one she’s made. But she will realize the second chance she has been offered, and will only produce greater work for you, if you simply do not waste her time and show her the trust she deserves.”
Jack sighed. “All right, Moira. I’ll be keeping an eye on her progress. Athena reports her activities to me, I hope you know that.”
“But of course. I assure you, Commander, she will be extraordinary. She merely needs a push.”
On her own, completely without assistance. The physical therapist said she was ready. She hardly believed it until she simply...was. Standing, that is.
Being paralyzed so severely should’ve meant years of recovery. It should have meant crutches and wheelchairs. And yet, she stood. She walked through the handrails without touching them, wobbly, perhaps, but moving, and independent, and free.
She found herself exhausted but pleased on the other side, and even walked back through a second time before collapsing gratefully into the wheelchair. She pushed her sweaty hair back from her forehead and beamed at the therapist.
“You can go back to your room and rest,” the therapist said. “Tomorrow, we might be able to try a walk around the courtyard. Your legs have barely atrophied at all, and they’re improving rapidly. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Me neither,” Angela admitted, smoothing her hand over her thigh. “I didn’t think it was even possible.”
“Well, that’s what happens when you have the best-funded medical research team in the world on your side,” the therapist said with a shrug, opening the door and letting Angela wheel her own way out. Her arms had become stronger too, in the past two weeks. It felt insane, like everything Angela knew about medical science had been turned on its head just for her. She wasn’t sure whether to feel thrilled or frightened.
When she returned to her room, she found a nurse waiting for her, and sighed. Another dressings change. Somewhat defiantly, she got out of her chair herself and sat on the bed as the nurse went about his work. But to her surprise — and, seemingly, the nurse’s — the gauze came away completely clean. The bloodstains had been getting less and less noticeable over the past few days, but this…
“May I see it, please?” Angela asked as the nurse started to unwind another bandage. “It may not need to be wrapped again.”
“Right, I keep forgetting you’re a doctor,” the nurse said with a nervous laugh. “It’s really quite something. I’ll warn you, it doesn’t look great , but—”
“Just take a picture already,” Angela snapped. “I’m a professional, I can handle it.”
“If you’re sure.” The nurse stepped back, and Angela heard the electronic click of his cellphone camera. “Here,” he offered, putting the phone into her hands.
The implant was no sleek, simple augmentation to replace a broken bone like she’d seen with other implantation work to restore function to a finger or a leg. It sat like some massive metal insect on the curve of her spine, extending spiderwebs of silver into her scabbed, scarred flesh. Spots of dead gray tissue drew her eye immediately, each one like a punch to the gut as she pored over the image. God, it looked like butchery! How could she have let Moira do this to her?
The phone shook in her hand. She let herself be turned into some freakish experiment for Moira because she couldn’t handle the thought of being like anyone else. It was her fault that she was like this, her fault that it happened at all, her fault that—
“Dr. O’Deorain!” the nurse said suddenly, swiping the phone from Angela’s hand. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Leave us,” Moira intoned, looking down at the nurse like she was considering squashing him beneath her heel.
“I can re-dress her myself, and I need to speak with her. I’m sure you have other things you could be doing.”
“R-right, Doctor. Sorry. Be well, Dr. Ziegler.” The nurse quickly exited the room, closing the door behind him.
There was a silence in the room for a moment. Angela only stared down at her lap, unsure what Moira could possibly have come for. She walked behind Angela, hand on her chin, tapping one nail against her cheek.
“I take it you asked to see the results of my work,” she said at last.
“Yes,” Angela admitted, voice wavering.
“And your opinion?”
“I’m a freak,” Angela breathed, her words coming out wet.
Moira scoffs. “Hardly.”
“You know what you put back there!” Angela snapped, turning to face her. “It’s so — so intrusive! And there’s so much of it exposed!”
“You wouldn’t be complaining so much had you seen the initial photographs and scans from when you came in. I’m glad I barred you from doing so, if this is your reaction to something slightly out of the ordinary.”
Angela felt herself grow pale at the thought. She was right, of course. She always felt childish in front of Moira, like there were centuries between them instead of a mere eleven years.
Moira sat down behind Angela. “What you carry on your back is a medical marvel. You know it as well as I do.”
“I’d say I consider it quite beautiful.” And suddenly, Angela felt something. Moira’s nail was tracing down the back of the implant, she could feel it catching on the layers of metal that covered the outside of it. The sensation shocked her; she hadn’t expected there’d be that much neural connection to a part of her body that didn’t exist before. “I designed the casing to take an explosive blast. A human spine can be broken by a fall. I suspect it’d take a tank shell to paralyze you again.”
“But the scar tissue — the necrosis—”
“Is healing. That is your doing.”
Angela blinked. “What?”
“I used some of the research you put into the Caduceus staff and applied a simplified, miniaturized version to your implant,” Moira said. “What did you think these were?”
Moira’s fingernail moved to one of the small silver trails running through Angela’s back, and suddenly the hairs on the back of Angela’s neck stood up, her nerves tingling all over. Her mouth went dry, and she couldn’t focus, biting down on her lip.
“The technology is working at a low level throughout your entire body, rebuilding your nerves and muscle and preventing atrophy. You are going to remain healthy for a very, very long time,” Moira informed her, the pad of her finger gently brushing another tendril and making something pulse deep within Angela. She crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling very vulnerable in front of Moira like this.
“W-why didn’t you tell me before?” Angela asked.
“I didn’t want to get your hopes up if your research turned out to be flawed. It would only impede your recovery to know that I had attempted to incorporate your work and failed.” Moira’s hands wandered, roaming over the whole of Angela’s back, exploring the edges of the implant’s work, pressing down on scar tissue. Angela gasped, and Moira stopped in her tracks, hands still poised across Angela’s skin.
“Could you…” Angela murmured, and Moira took her hands off like she’d suddenly realized she’d been sticking them in a fire.
Moira cleared her throat and stood up abruptly, moving to face Angela instead. “But now that I see that it is working, you deserve to know the truth. You are as much responsible for your rapid recovery as I am. Of course, my technology would have still restored a normal nervous system, but your recovery would have taken months instead of weeks.”
Was Moira...complimenting her? That almost didn’t feel real. Angela couldn’t find a way to respond before Moira clasped her hands behind her back and said, “So I expect you’ll be returning to work next week.”
“What?!” Angela barked in shock. “I — there’s no way—”
“You want to work, do you not? You wish to return to what you do best, and surely you must be bored to tears sitting around here waiting for every single thing you’ve lost to return,” Moira countered. “You needn’t return to full duty, as I’m sure you will still be recovering and not able to stand as long as you’d like just yet. But of course, I’ll be there to keep an eye on you and ensure you don’t injure yourself.”
Angela’s head was spinning. “Wait, you will? But—” But working with you is the worst, she was about to say, but luckily Moira interrupted her.
“I am both your medical supervisor and your direct superior — for now, of course. Until you’ve made a full recovery, you will be assisting me in Blackwatch, and then you will promptly return to your duties at Gibraltar.”
“There are no buts, Doctor Ziegler. This is an order.”
Angela tightens. “It is my decision when I am ready to leave.”
Moira smirked. “Oh, certainly, it is. That is protocol. But I suspect in a week’s time you’ll be more than ready. I assure you, my work is quite stimulating.”
Angela considered, her arms still over her chest. Moira was right. Of course she was right. But the last thing she wanted at this point was for Moira to think she had Angela completely pegged and easy to manipulate.
“If it’s so stimulating, then why are you here bothering me?” she challenged slyly. “Couldn’t you have sent someone to tell me?”
Moira flared her nostrils. “You are my project right now, Ziegler. Do not think you are anything else. When you leave this room, the real work begins.” With that, she turned on her heel and walked out, and Angela gratefully got her gown back on and sunk into the bed, staring up at the ceiling.
She couldn’t deny it. She was itching to work again. But she had to wonder what exactly Dr. O’Deorain would consider ‘stimulating.’
Chapter 7: Antigenic Shift
Angela sucked in a breath as she glanced over the implant. Turning to get a better angle in the mirror, she winced at the merging of metal and flesh. The spindly tendrils she recalled just a week ago had already flattened out beneath her skin. Angry scars faded to pearly pink. She couldn’t imagine the technology allowed her to heal this quickly without an external power source. And the implant...despite her initial disgust at the monstrosity, she’d grown to accept it. The weird metallic shuffling as she bent over, the warm buzz she’d feel after spending too long in therapy — all of its new sensations were part of her now. Maybe one day she could look in the mirror without cringing.
Angela slipped into comfortable clothes and tied her hair loosely behind her. The small dormitory she’d been offered wasn’t much more than a bed, bathroom, and kitchenette. However, she wasn’t in a hospital room anymore. That was an accomplishment.
She checked her tablet on the nightstand, bringing it up to check her schedule. It had been annoying, at first, to be so thoroughly supervised that she couldn’t make it herself, but she’d grown accustomed to—
There was nothing on the schedule whatsoever.
She almost started to call for a doctor when someone rapped sharply on her door. She had a distinct feeling she knew exactly who it was.
She held her head high. She wouldn’t be bullied today.
As she opened the door, she found Moira standing there with her hands clasped behind her back, inspecting her thoroughly. “Hardly a state to be making a transfer in,” she said, quirking an eyebrow at Angela.
“I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Nonsense. I said a week. You ought to learn to trust my scheduling.” Moira walked in, uninvited as always. “Will you be ready to go in an hour?”
Moira looked taken aback. “Really?”
“Expecting something different?” Angela said, putting a hand on her hip and feeling a little bit proud. Moira wasn’t someone easily surprised.
“Yes. You’ve been incredibly belligerent through this whole process. I assumed I’d need to keep pushing.” Moira looked at her curiously. “Has something changed?”
“You were right. I’d like to get something done, and my recovery’s going to proceed without constant supervision.” Angela shrugged. “I can’t justify sitting around doing nothing any more than you can, right now.”
Angela had been thinking of it. The whole time. Being idle made her go back to thoughts of failure and paralysis instead of progress and work. She was tired of it, so tired, and she had decided to adjust her attitude towards Moira as well.
Moira was a pain. An egomaniacal control freak. But she knew what she was talking about, and if Moira could use Angela, Angela could use Moira.
“Very well. Pack your things — whatever you really need — and I will come to collect you to take you to work.” Moira sighed wistfully. “I’m looking forward to getting back in that lab. If you keep up this...cooperative attitude, you’ll find a very exciting project waiting for you.”
“Considering what you find boring, Dr. O’Deorain, I’m a bit afraid to see what you find exciting.”
There was a brief pause, and the Moira let out a sharp laugh. “Ha! You’re getting feisty. That’s good. I’ll need you on your toes, Doctor Ziegler.” With that, she turned back for the door, lingering with her fingers curled around the frame as she looked over her shoulder. “I’ll be back soon. Then, you’ll see what resources this organization can really provide.”
An hour later, as promised, Angela stood in the hall with a suitcase in one hand and her wheelchair in the other. While standing for too long was still difficult, she hadn’t yet gotten tired wheeling herself about — the reason for her discharge in the first place. She looked back at the little dormitory, wondering if she would’ve enjoyed more time there, and what the accommodations wherever they were going would be like.
And she wondered if she could stay on Moira’s good side for more than one conversation.
As if summoned by wayward thoughts, Moira suddenly appeared behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. “You’re ready,” she said, voice loud in Angela’s ear. Angela jumped away, staggering on her not-quite-steady feet and bracing herself against the wall.
Moira chuckled. “Really, Ziegler, you ought to learn to take compliments a bit better than that.”
Angela tried to bite back any stupid instinctual reply and took a breath instead. “I take it we’re heading out now?”
“The shuttle’s waiting for us in the hangar. You’re officially part of Blackwatch, for the moment, which means I expect you to keep your mouth and communicators closed.” Moira lost her joviality as she led Angela down the hall. “For the moment, you are no longer officially assigned anywhere, on retainer in the Overwatch roster. You’re not expunged, as I am, but it’s sufficient limbo for you to remain anonymous.”
Angela’s mouth twisted. “What exactly is it that Blackwatch does?”
“That, my dear, depends on what Overwatch needs. ”
“This is the third time I’ve told you not to call me that.”
“A figure of speech, darling, common where I come from. You needn’t take such offense.”
Angela stopped in her tracks, making Moira turn to face her. “You want me here. You’ll treat me the way I’ve been asked to be treated, or you won’t get what you want at all.”
“My, my, seems I installed a metaphorical backbone in you as well,” Moira noted, a smirk perking up one corner of her lips. “Very well, Doctor. I’ll do my best to tailor my communication to suit your neuroses.”
“My neuros—No. Thank you, Moira.”
The first name made Moira visibly bite her cheek, but Angela saw her pulling back from snapping. No one liked to be a hypocrite, after all.
They’d finally reached the hangar, where a jet-black shuttle with red accents hovered, waiting for takeoff. Moira directed her up the loading ramp, showing her where to stow the wheelchair. The walk wasn’t long, but Angela was grateful to sink into the seat and strap herself in across from Moira.
As they lifted off, Moira’s asymmetrical eyes met hers.
“We’ll be traveling to Blackwatch Site Four, based on a small man-made island off the coast of Japan,” she explained. “We have an interesting specimen there that I was meant to start work on before word of your injury reached me.”
“Specimen?” Angela asked, doubtful.
“You’ll see. You’ll be set up in your quarters, and then I’ll introduce you myself.”
After they landed, Angela didn’t see much of Moira for almost a day, too busy being grilled by Reyes, made to sign non-disclosure agreements, and being shown around every single facility except the lab. Finally, however, just as Angela was heading back to her quarters to catch some rest after all the commotion, Moira called for her over the intercom.
“Doctor Ziegler to the medical lab. Ziegler to the medical lab for orientation.” Angela scowled at the nearest security camera, unsure if Moira could see her but hoping she could sense the annoyance she felt at being treated like some fresh intern after all she’d been through. Still, dutifully, she turned away from potential sleep and found her way down to the lab, thumbing the pad and saying her name to request access.
“About time,” Moira grumbled through the intercom as the door slid up into the ceiling to reveal the lab. Had Angela been there at another time, perhaps, she’d have marveled at the cleanliness of the lab, the advanced equipment she’d heard was years from actually having functional models, the sheer space they had to work in. However, what drew her eye immediately was Moira, and the thing she was standing in front of.
In the center of the lab stood a large glass cylinder, lit from below and filled with some odd green solution, and floating within it was a corpse.
Or, it should have been a corpse. All that was left of him was a shattered, ragged torso, missing one arm and both legs, jaw missing below the nose. But his eyes were open and darting rapidly from side-to-side as Moira stood in front of him, hand on her chin.
“What happened to him?” Angela asked as she walked up.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to determine,” Moira informed her. “The little brat is apparently one of the heirs to the Shimada criminal empire. Blackwatch Japan has been trying to deal with them for some time now, since they’ve been undermining security with their antics and leaving us all open to Omnic problems.”
“How did you find him?”
“One of our spies brought him back in this state. Apparently he was a rather impressive fighter before, well, whatever this is,” Moira said, gesturing at the mutilation on display before her. “And Reyes wants me to bring him back to a fighting state to sow political tension in the Shimada clan and leave them open for attack.”
“I see.” Angela couldn’t look away. He was even worse off than she once was.
“My main problem at the moment is that, while we can sustain his life, his body is rejecting any traditional attempt to heal or clean his wounds, leaving him...festering.” Moira tapped one nail against her chin. “I need to know the nature of his wounds, but I can’t figure it out. I don’t know where they come from. I have nowhere to start.”
“And this is where I come in,” Angela said, feeling a small satisfaction.
“It had better be, or I’ve wasted my time.”
Moira had a particular way of turning satisfaction into spite. Angela was quickly learning how to take deep breaths before responding to her. “Why don’t we try asking him what happened?” she suggested.
“What are you on about? Look at his jaw. Even if we could keep him alive out of that tank—”
“A neural interface, Doctor O’Deorain. The same thing we use with coma patients?” Angela said, raising her eyebrows. “I hooked up plenty when I was a civilian. We use them in case we can’t wake a patient up, but no will is present to tell us their wishes in that situation.”
Moira rumbled under her breath. “Of course. It should be easy to acquire the materials we need. It’ll be a good way to test his mental state too, come to think of it. He’s not much use to us if he’s a trauma-ridden wreck. I’ll get started right away.” She looked at Angela, sweeping her gaze up and down. “Get yourself some rest. You’re slouching.”
Angela had barely noticed the way she was compensating for the pain in her back, and tried to straighten up. She winced, trying to keep any sound in, but Moira sighed at her. “I’m not blind, Ziegler. Your help isn’t needed any further today.” She waved her hand to dismiss her, and something in Angela wanted to fight back, to insist staying and helping with anything else, if Moira could do it she could do it too.
But the ache in her back said otherwise, and she just said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
The next day was spent working. Genji (Angela had finally been told the poor soul’s name) was placed in an open-air vat rather than the tank, Moira enlisting Angela’s previous experience with patients like him to work the breathing tube he needed and set up the neural connector they’d apparently been shipped overnight. Moira seemed less interested in correcting Angela’s work than usual, rarely even offering suggestions, as though she actually trusted her to know what she was talking about for once.
Angela found it strangely unnerving. She’d been so expecting the usual push-pull of working with Moira that she had a lot of nervous energy, primed for an attack, with no outlet. Tension flared into pain in her shoulders and back, and she often had to wheel herself around on one of the office chairs instead of walking from place to place. Moira said nothing about it.
Genji’s eyes bothered her. They were always reminding her that this was a living man, trapped soundless and motionless in a vat of chemicals, watching two women discuss him like a broken toy. But sedating him would be risky, given his condition, and she had to stomach his gaze until finally the pads were hooked up to his head and connection established with a portable terminal.
As soon as the link opened, Genji’s pupils dilated wide. Moira’s face mirrored his, watching with fascination as she paced in front of Angela’s chair while she held the terminal on her lap.
“Hello, Genji,” Angela said softly. “Can you hear me?”
The chatbox on the terminal started rapidly filling with Japanese characters, then paused. Genji blinked a few times. Then, more slowly, English started appearing.
Where am I?
Moira peered over Angela’s shoulder for a moment, then turned back to Genji. “You’re in Blackwatch Site Four,” she told him. “We rescued you after your injury. Can you tell us what happened?”
Again the terminal rapidly filled with Japanese before Genji scrunched up his brow, then tried again.
“Hanzo Shimada, his brother,” Moira said, looking over her shoulder at Angela. “So the turmoil’s already in place. Excellent.”
Angela furrowed her brow. This was a person they were trying to help, not a pawn. Not to her. She cleared her throat and said, “We’re trying to help you, but we can’t figure out what happened to your body. It’s rejecting most of our treatments, and…” Angela bit her lip as she remembered what the microscope had shown. Bright blue virus-like things, eating away at the flesh slowly, an infection of no type she’d ever seen. “And there’s something attached to all of your injuries that’s still attacking you. In your vat, it’s slowed down, but if we don’t stop it…”
Genji’s eyes darted to her, and they made contact. A long hiss came from the breathing tube.
Spirit dragon appeared on the screen.
“What’s this rubbish?” Moira scoffed. “We need details of your injuries.”
The expression of what was left of Genji’s face matched Angela’s own perfectly. “He’s trying, Doctor,” Angela said.
“Well, he needs to try harder, he’s wasting my time.”
Genji and Angela made eye contact again, and somehow he managed to give her a wry look of So you have to deal with this all day? Or at least, she imagined that’s what the look was.
I told you, the screen said. Hanzo set the spirit dragons of our family upon me and they tore me limb from limb. His hatred persists in the wounds.
Give me silence, darkness, and time. I can remove the infection myself. I must meditate, or, I think that is what I must do.
“One does not solve medical problems with meditation,” Moira groaned. “Whatever he attacked you with—”
“We know absolutely nothing about,” Angela countered. “The patient sometimes knows best.”
“Nonsense. The entire point of the practice of medicine is that people don’t know how to fix themselves,” Moira snapped. “We should start running experiments.”
I do not like the tall one.
“Oh, shut up.”
“Doctor O’Deorain,” Angela warned. “This is hardly appropriate bedside manner.”
Moira groaned. “We will give you a few days. If you can manage to stop your slow death with spirituality, what would you like us to do with you?”
Genji’s response didn’t come for a while, as he closed his eyes and thought.
Give me my body back, the power to destroy my enemies, and I will fight for your organization wherever you need me.
“And your enemies are the Shimada clan?” Moira had a nasty gleam in her eyes.
“Excellent!” Moira clapped her hands together. “Would a simple privacy shield around your tank do the trick?”
That would be enough. Especially if I don’t need to hear you two bicker.
“Hey!” Angela objected. “She’s the one who—”
Angela paused, then let out a little laugh. “I think we can manage that, Genji. Should I disconnect you?”
Yes. The interface is very noisy. It’s hard to think in English.
With that, the two doctors set about their work again, unhooking his connectors and working on transferring him back into the tank. His eyes stayed closed the whole time, giving Angela a measure of peace; perhaps what he’d really needed was simply to be listened to.
After lifting his body into the tank and working to put up a heavy metal privacy shield around it, Angela’s entire back burned, and she collapsed into a chair as soon as she was done, breathing hard.
“We’ll give him a few days,” Moira muttered, rapping her knuckles on the tank. “If it doesn’t work out for him, he’ll be begging us to start experiments anyway.” Angela didn’t bother to argue. She was so exhausted. She let her head hang back over the chair, wiping sweat from her brow. Moira seemed disturbed at the lack of response, turning around to face her and eyebrows shooting up in alarm. “Ziegler, have you overextended yourself again?” she asked, putting a hand on her hip.
“I just need a—a minute,” Angela murmured.
A strange look crossed Moira’s face then. “I completely forgot about your injury in all that excitement,” she admitted quietly, approaching Angela on the chair. “You must rest for the day. Shall I get your wheelchair?”
“No, no, I just need…” Angela trailed off as Moira circled behind her, hands going to her shoulders. With more care than Angela even knew she was capable of, Moira pressed her thumbs into Angela’s back, rubbing circles in her muscles. She let loose a long breath, trying to steady herself as Moira’s hands worked lower, easing the tension in her back with a strong, patient massage. She found herself bending over to give Moira more room to work, sighing in relief as Moira worked out the knots.
She didn’t know how long it went on for. It had been some time since anyone had touched her so much. She wasn’t sure she wanted it to end. After all the stress of the past couple of months, it felt so freeing to share silence with someone. It almost felt like an actual human connection.
With Moira O’Deorain, of all people.
After...however long, Moira stood up, clearing her throat. “Better?” she asked.
“Y-yes. Thank you, Doctor,” Angela said, sitting up straight again. “I think I can walk back to my quarters.”
“See that you do. I have other work that needs my attention and you’ll just be a distraction if you stay.” Moira quickly walked off towards another section of the lab.
It figured. Moira couldn’t help but ruin a moment if one was presented to her, Angela thought. Still, when she rose to her feet, she did feel she could make the walk, and looked desperately forward to falling into her bed and being horizontal for a while.
But when she got there, she had dreams she wasn’t sure she liked at all.
Chapter 8: Uncoating
Angela wasn’t surprised to see Moira sitting and staring at Genji’s monitors when she wheeled herself into the lab. What did surprise her, however, was that Moira seemed to be wearing the exact same purple shirt under her labcoat as she had been yesterday, rumpled and coffee-stained at this point. Her hair, for once, was out of place.
Moira looked over at her as she entered, squinting. “You’re in your chair,” she noted, before turning her eyes back to the screens.
“I figured I’d save my energy for the lab today.” And maybe avoid another confusing massage. “Were you up all night?”
“This is fascinating,” was Moira’s only response, tapping a nail against the microscope display. “Observe.”
As Angela approached the screen, Moira pulled the timeline back, showing what Angela had seen before — the odd amorphous blue attackers, latched onto every cell in Genji’s wounds. As Moira dragged the timeline forward, they slowly stopped moving, then shrank until quite suddenly there was nothing there at all.
“I don’t understand it,” Moira murmured. “If we could capture his brother, or if he can control this ‘spirit dragon’ himself, perhaps...we could make such weapons.”
“Is that always your first thought?” Angela asked.
Moira gave her a withering look. “This is Blackwatch, dar— Doctor Ziegler. It’s my job. Nonetheless, the patient was right. Perhaps this is some latent form of psychic mutation manifesting as projections of spiritual significance. I’d love to dive into his DNA when I have the chance.”
“You wouldn’t allow for some magic in the world, Doctor O’Deorain?” Angela teased. She tensed for a moment, not sure if she should’ve said that, but Moira just laughed.
“Magic, Ziegler, is just a catchy word for unexplained phenomena. Our duty as scientists is to rob the world of magic, wouldn’t you say?”
“That’s a grim way of looking at our profession.”
“Grim tales are often the most entertaining.” Moira cleared her throat. “However, right now our duty is to get this man back into fighting shape, and I have a few ideas on where to start. Looking at his profile, I know exactly what would help him reach his full potential.” She turned her chair to face Angela, a wicked gleam in her eye. “Are you ready to remake a man, Doctor Ziegler?”
Moira could certainly have a flair for the dramatic. But it was better than a bunch of nitpicking, so Angela could play along.
Moira knew what she was doing.
Angela supposed that Moira must have been planning something similar for Genji’s body when Angela had been injured; the neural connection blueprints that Moira had on file were already complete and ready to go. The spinal replacement would be more complete than what Angela had received, fused further into Genji’s ruined body.
Angela was at first surprised of how much of Genji’s body Moira seemed to want to either throw away or encase in entirely cybernetic parts, but after looking more closely at the readouts, it made sense. While he could be regenerated and only a few parts replaced, there was significant internal damage as well as the obvious amputations, and some of it wouldn’t grow back no matter how long Genji was charged with Caduceus energy. Artificial lungs, a carefully enhanced heart, most of his body permanently sealed behind a layer of bulletproof armor...it wasn’t a delicate operation. Angela wondered if Moira knew the meaning of the word.
Moira spent most of her time silently tweaking Angela’s initial designs for the replacement limbs, the only sign that she was finished being the flash of the printer in the far corner of the lab. Moira seemed to be in her element here, with only Angela as an assistant, all the equipment money could buy, and absolutely no need to report what she was doing to anyone.
It made Angela a little nervous over the weeks, but what could she do? Moira was being patient, and while kind was never the word she’d use to describe her, she wasn’t actively cruel or brash with Angela anymore, either. Something had changed between them. That much was obvious at the end of each day.
As much as Angela tried, she couldn’t stay off her feet in the lab all the time, and nor would she go to bed before the day’s work was done. So she ended up with an aching back, a need to rest before making the long walk back to her quarters, and Moira…
They never talked about it. It was a small ritual, like Angela’s morning coffee, or the stimulant injections that left track marks on Moira’s right arm when she’d stay into the early mornings, or when she’d skip sleep entirely. The massages soothed a need for both of them, that was what Angela decided after a few difficult nights. Moira stopped working for a minute, which Angela doubted she would ever admit to being something she wanted, and Angela got the physical relief, and the warm touch of another person to tide her over.
In an odd way, it seemed like the most comfortable work environment Angela had ever been in.
Finally, the day came when all the individual components were complete, and there was nothing more for the two women to do than send Genji into surgery. For the first time since Angela had arrived at Site Four, someone else came into the lab, a team of doctors and nurses coming in to collect the components, consult their files, and load Genji onto a stretcher for transfer to the operating room. Moira spent her time fussing over them, telling them off for getting minor things wrong, obsessing over their intrusion into their space. Angela tried to be as helpful as she could to offset the mood Moira was creating in the room.
And then they were gone, and it was just Angela and Moira again, sitting across from each other in front of the empty tank. It was barely mid-day, but Moira sank back in her chair like she’d been working for days — and she had been, come to think of it. Angela wasn’t sure when Moira had last slept.
“Butchers,” Moira murmured. “I hate to leave our hard work in their hands. I ought to become a surgeon, do things right. ”
“Didn’t you once tell me you can’t do everything yourself?” Angela asked.
“Not until I have experience, at least. Still. It’s an option worth pursuing. I’d like to see my work start-to-finish.” Moira sighed. “He’s going to be in there for at least six hours. Our project is complete, Ziegler. You’d best take the rest of the day off. I fear we’ve been straining your implant too far as of late.”
“I need to take the day off?” Angela teased.
“Yes. What are you trying to imply?” Moira narrowed her eyes.
“You haven’t slept in days.”
“I’ve perfected my stimulant formula. All the physical and chemical benefits of sleep. I’m fine, Ziegler, I just need to figure out what to work on while I wait.” Moira folded her arms. “ You are not here to worry about me. ”
“What about simply having a few moment’s rest, Moira?” Angela asked. “The mental health benefits? Stop thinking of work for a moment and have some time for yourself.”
“It is unnecessary and I am incapable. “Mental health” is something best managed with discipline, not sloth. Ziegler, go. I’ll call you when he’s out of surgery.” Moira was too dignified to make the air quotes with her hands, but Angela could’ve sworn she saw their image in the air for a moment.
“Just think about what I said,” Angela told her, before standing up and walking herself out, pushing her empty chair before her.
She was already planning what to do with her day off — check in with Lena to see how she’s been since all this started, perhaps catch up on long-abandoned television programs, learn what’s going on in the wider world. She’d been sucked into Moira work-focused world for so long that taking a breather felt wholly necessary.
But she still waited with bated breath for Moira’s call.
The first time Angela saw the reconstructed Genji Shimada, he walked up to thank her personally.
One of the advantages of working with an almost entirely cybernetic muscular system, Angela noted, only lightly bitter. No time to adjust. Like turning on a machine.
And it was a machine that he mostly resembled, there in his hospital room. The only flesh that could be seen was one arm, some of his collarbone, and a small slit in the face mask that had replaced his mouth and nose, showing his still-human eyes and a black stubble of hair. The rest was all Moira and Angela’s work, functioning right before their eyes, exactly as intended.
“Arigato, Doctor Ziegler. For giving me my life back.” He bowed respectfully to her. “And you, Doctor O’Deorain.”
Moira scoffed. “You hardly seemed grateful to me in the tank.”
“That was before you gave me these.” Genji’s eyes lit up as he raised his cybernetic arm, and something moved. A plate on his wrist shifted, and three razor-sharp shurikens flitted out of the prosthetic and right between Genji’s fingers. Angela jumped back, eyes widening.
“I didn’t know you added that!” Angela protested to Moira’s smug grin.
“Feels natural, doesn’t it?” Moira asked. “Have you tried your mobility enhancements yet? I’ll be very interested to see how high you can jump.”
“The ceiling in here is a little low,” Genji remarked with a sly note in his voice. “I might have tried already.” He pointed to a dent in the plaster above his head, making Angela wince in sympathy.
“You didn’t hurt your head, did you?” Angela asked, but Moira laughed it off.
“Excellent to see such a cooperative patient. We’ll have to monitor you for a few more hours yet before Reyes will get to make the best use of you, but I assure you, you’ll get our money’s worth out of that technology.” Moira hummed, circling Genji, running a finger along the ridges of his implants. Angela stiffened. She remembered how it had felt when Moira had once done the same for her, along her back. She didn’t like seeing it happen to someone else.
She pushed the reasoning for why far, far down, to sit beside her nightly dreams.
She cleared her throat instead. “Are you sure you’re all right, Herr Shimada? We’ve done quite extensive work on you.”
“Nothing hurts, Doctor,” Genji assured her. “I’m surprised, but nothing hurts at all, and most of it hurt quite a bit in the tank. You are more than worthy of my services for this alone. I look forward to working with you all.”
“And I you, Mister Shimada,” Moira replied, standing back beside Angela. “You simply must inform me of when you first go into training. I’ll want video.”
“I’m sure I can arrange that.”
“Doctors,” a nurse said from behind them, coughing politely into his hand. “We need to check the patient’s vital signs, and he needs to lie down, ” he added, glaring at Genji over Angela’s shoulder.
“Yes, yes, manage the boy,” Moira said, grabbing Angela by the upper arm. “We’ve got much to do ourselves.”
Angela sputtered, but they were already out of the room by the time she asked, “What have we got to do?”
“It’s in the lab, Ziegler. A surprise.”
Angela hadn’t even bothered bringing her chair out, she wasn’t ready to do work right now, but Moira doggedly drove her down the hallways regardless. She barely had time to question Moira further before she was palming the door to the lab and bringing her inside.
“Sit, Doctor,” Moira ordered, reaching down under her desk for something as Angela obeyed.
“Moira, really, what’s this—”
“A-ha!” Moira shot back up, holding in her hands two glasses and a large, dark bottle.
“...oh.” Angela blinked. They’d just turned a man into a living weapon, which for Angela, on another day, might’ve necessitated some time processing that. Thinking about all the ways that her work is just a response to a deranged and terrifying world outside of the walls of the lab. But Moira...wanted to drink.
Angela couldn’t deny the appeal, but she was about to ask Moira when she started talking again.
“You do have good ideas sometimes, Ziegler,” Moira drawled, placing the two glasses on her desk and opening the bottle. “I bought this years ago. Kept saving it for a special occasion. Never found the time to crack it open.”
“Until now?” Angela asked.
“Until now.” Moira took the glasses, then walked over and handed one to Angela. She held hers out for Angela to clink against. “Cheers, Ziegler. To work well done.”
“Cheers.” They tapped glasses, and Angela took her first sip.
It’d been quite some time since Angela drank anything but water, but she knew this was good whiskey. Smooth and strong, almost certainly Irish. Moira had good taste.
“A fine vintage,” Moira said, sitting down on an office chair and rolling it over to be closer to Angela. “You know, I first bought this in preparation for my graduation from university.”
“What happened?” Angela asked, a bit too eagerly, perhaps. But she’d never heard Moira talk about her past, or about anything that wasn’t work. This was an opportunity too good to pass up.
“I was offered a position and had to spend the night of graduation frantically packing everything away,” Moira explained with a soft smile. “Work came to me. It’s always been so. So long as you are good at what you do, the world will find a way to keep you occupied. Competent people are always needed somewhere.”
“It’s a shame you haven’t had time to enjoy any of it, though,” Angela said, taking another sip.
“Oh, I suppose I’ve had the time, but what could be more engaging than continuing on?” Moira asked.
Angela felt bold. At first, she tried not to say anything, but then again, Moira had invited her in here, had gone out of her way to accommodate Angela and keep her busy — which may have been Moira’s version of an ultimate gift, come to think of it. So she went for it, asking, “What about sharing a drink with a friend?”
Moira looked down, chuckling. “Haven’t had many of those, I’m afraid. Few enough people are worth my time outside their usefulness to me, and most people seem to feel the same way about me.”
“What about me?” Angela inquired, leaning forward.
Moira regarded her, for a moment. Those asymmetric eyes swept down her body, and she took another drink before responding. “You are capable,” Moira admitted. “Very much so. Working alongside you isn’t a grim necessity, unlike with those butchers we just dealt with. You will be a brilliant scientist.”
Angela’s chest fluttered. She’d been hearing talk like that for most of her life, by that point, but somehow it felt so good to hear it from Moira, who never seemed impressed by much of anything. “Thank you,” she murmured.
“I simply state the facts, my dear.” Moira paused, then said something in Gaelic that Angela didn’t catch. “Apologies, I forget myself.”
“It’s all right, when it’s friendly,” Angela told her.
“It’s always friendly!” Moira objected with a laugh. “In a way.”
“Sometimes it’s condescending.”
“Can one not hold affection for those they talk down to? Haven’t you ever had a pet?”
Angela laughed. “Most people don’t like to be considered pets, Moira.”
“I suppose. Still, know that I never held you in contempt, Ziegler. My ire was reserved for much more bothersome subjects. I do not call Captain Amari ‘dear,’ I can assure you.” Moira took a drink, then refilled her glass. “I suppose I considered you a bit of a Watson, is all.”
“To your Holmes?”
“Clearly,” Moira said, sweeping her arm over herself. “I’m the tall and stately one, here.”
“And what am I now?” Angela held out her own glass and let Moira refill it while she thought, a contemplative expression on her face.
“I suppose the best comparison would be Sherlock and Mycroft,” Moira said, “Though in that metaphor, you’d be Sherlock. I have the authority and dislike of fieldwork, and you have that go-getter spunk about you. It’s very endearing.”
“Two compliments in a row, Moira?” Angela asked. “You must be slipping.”
“It’s the whiskey, darling, don’t take any of it to heart.” As Moira sat back down, she smiled goofily at Angela, leaning back in her chair. “It is good whiskey, too. My excellent taste surprises even me sometimes.”
“I would tell you you’re being egotistical, but you’re not wrong.”
“Isn’t that always the case with me?”
The two of them started laughing, little hiccups escaping Angela as she did. This was nice. Moira really did feel like an equal, at that moment, someone to work alongside rather than push against, despite the small niggling worm of worry in Angela’s heart about their extensive modifications to Genji. But he had asked for it, after all, and such worries were for later.
They talked long into the night, Angela asking after that bit Moira had said about Captain Amari and getting a thorough understanding of Moira’s opinions on all the major actors of Overwatch. While she was a harsh judge, Angela couldn’t deny that Morrison could be thickheaded, Ana a bit of a controlling commander, Reyes too bloodthirsty for his own good. Angela didn’t really watch how much she was drinking, and soon she’d taken two chairs and lounged herself across them, closing her eyes and looking to the ceiling.
As they reached a lull in the conversation, Moira cleared her throat. “So...how is the implant functioning?” she asked, delicately tapping her fingers against her glass.
“I was hoping it’d feel a bit more natural by now,” Angela admitted, rubbing at the spot where the implant ended just below her hairline. “I’m getting stronger, but every day I go to bed so sore.”
“Do you think I ought to take a look at adjusting it for you?” Moira asked.
“No, no, I…” Angela gulped, remembering how good Moira’s massages felt. “I think it’s mostly stress. I’m not even sure if I would feel any better with my original spine, the way we’ve been working.”
Moira considered that for a moment. “What was it like?” she asked. “To have it done. I have so many ideas about what one can do with the technology, to be able to add limbs or other, more complex neural tasks...but I’m not sure I want to do that to myself.”
“It’s a bit heavy on my back, and when I was first recovering it felt like I was carrying around a big backpack all the time,” Angela explained. “But...I know, this is silly. But when I first went under, I dreamed about flying. Sometimes I dream that the, the weight on my back is my wings, waiting to unfold.” A foolish, silly thought, escaping from her mouth only with the social lubricant of alcohol.
“You see yourself as an angel?” Moira asked, a smirk on her face. “Now who’s the egotis..tistastical one?”
“It’s just dreams,” Angela murmured, her cheeks gaining more color than just the whiskey had given them. “They don’t mean anything. If my dreams always meant something, I’d…” She trails off, thinking of the images of Moira’s hands on her back, Moira’s teeth on her neck, trying not to let them distract her. “I’d, uh…”
Moira chuckled. “Losing your train of thought, dear?”
“Sorry,” Angela said with a shrug. “God, how much did we drink?”
Moira held up the bottle and swished it. “About half, I’d say.”
“I’m so going to regret this,” Angela moaned, leaning back and pitching her head to the sky. “I haven’t practiced walking drunk with my new spine yet. And I think I’ve been straining myself with all this falling over chairs nonsense.”
“You certainly have found some creative positions.” Moira stood up, a little wobbly, but with an open face. “Before you head off, would you like me to…”
Angela’s heart jumped. Moira’s touch would feel so good, she knew it, under the haze. “Yes,” she answered quietly. “Give me a, a moment.”
Moira nodded, giving her space as she drew herself up. Angela deliberated, and as she turned around on her chair, she decided it would feel nice, so she would do it.
She took off her labcoat and draped it over the back of the chair, then unbuttoned her blouse, holding it in her lap. She heard Moira take in a sharp breath behind her, but there was no comment. “All right,” Angela said, her voice cracking against her will. But she was open, now. She wanted Moira to do this.
Moira’s touch was strong, unimpeded by the whiskey, just as careful and measured as before. Now and then, her fingers slipped under Angela’s bra straps to reach knots, and Angela didn’t say a word, just hoped that the pulse spikes weren’t too noticeable. She wanted to fall asleep right then and there, draped over the back of the chair. When Moira moved to her neck to work out some of that tension, she let out an involuntary “Oh,” and tensed as Moira stopped.
“Did I hurt you?” she asked.
“N-no, not at all, keep going.” They’d never talked this much. It made it feel more real. Angela wasn’t sure if she liked that or not.
Angela felt like a human puddle by the time Moira stepped back, like the implant itself was no longer heavy or strange at all. She let out a happy sigh, closing her eyes and enjoying how relaxed she felt, dreading having to get up and ruin it all.
“It’s near two in the morning, dear,” Moira murmured, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You ought to rest.”
Angela grumbled wordlessly, peeling herself off the chair and putting her blouse and coat on again. She stretched, then looked down at the door to the lab, and back to Moira.
“Are you going to bed too?” she asked.
“I have something to work on,” Moira said, looking away from her and reaching for a syringe on her desk. “Go on. I’ll catch up.”
“Are you sure?” Angela wouldn’t normally question her a second time, but...Moira deserved sleep too, plus, she was probably still drunk.
“It’s no matter, dear. I assure you, I’ll get myself some natural sleep eventually. It’s the weekend, after all.” Moira looked over her shoulder as she rolled up her sleeve, and gave Angela a nod. “Be well, Doctor.”
“You too, Moira.”
Angela awoke near noon, face-down in her bed and still feeling quite nice from Moira’s massage last night, despite the hangover. She was surprised Moira hadn’t called her into work yet, but perhaps she was actually serious about giving Angela time to relax.
However, by the time she’d showered and eaten, ready to work again, she felt compelled to figure out why Moira hadn’t gotten to her yet. Even for a moment of kindness, this seemed very long for Moira.
“Charon,” she called into the hall as she walked towards the lab, “Where’s Doctor O’Deorain today?”
“Doctor O’Deorain is currently sleeping in her quarters, Doctor Ziegler,” the synthesized voice answered. “Would you like me to wake her for you?”
“I...no, that’s all right. I’ll talk to her myself in a moment.” Angela palmed the door to the lab and found it impeccable, as always...save for the fact that her computer was already on, a blueprint on the display.
She approached her desk cautiously, sitting down and observing the blueprint in more detail. She recognized it, but for the enhanced casing around the spinal column, and the two enormous wings sprouting from the back.
She read the name at the top right corner.
Valkyrie Swift-Response Suit, MK. II.
Chapter 9: Release
Angela brushed her fingers over the the dim light of Moira’s computer screen. The words ‘Valkyrie Swift-Response Suit Mk. II’ played on repeat in her head. She couldn’t believe it. The specifications were erased from the mock up on display, but Angela could only guess how seamlessly this new tech would flow into her current implant.
The thought that Moira went through all the effort for a design...how much time did she spend? Considering the work they’d done on Genji recently, Angela couldn’t even place when Moira would’ve had time to do something this elaborate.
Before her thoughts could wander any further, the door to the lab slid open. Moira took one step in, then paused. She squinted, proceeding forward until she reached Angela’s side. “I see you found it.”
“Our next project, yes.” Moira coughed, then looked annoyed at herself for doing so, before continuing on. “You won’t be in Blackwatch forever, and you’ve already shown that you can’t keep yourself off the field. So I’m ensuring you survive your next little jaunt.”
“So this is just for me?” Angela swallowed. That was...it was sweet. After all the time Moira’d spent decrying her choice to go out into the field, after the horrible mistake she’d made that had forced them together in the first place, Moira had actually—
“It’s for the benefit of science,” Moira snapped. “It’s not a personal favour. I know you well enough that I know you won’t listen to reason and stay in the lab, so I’m ensuring it doesn’t cost us a valuable scientist.”
Angela raised her eyebrows. Moira was trying this again, was she? After last night, after all the time they’d spent together? Angela supposed she ought to be used to it by now. If she’d never get a verbal admission that Moira cared about her, she could at least probe at her pride.
“You think I’m valuable?” she teased, putting her hand on her chin. “Why, Doctor O’Deorain…”
“It’s obvious to anyone with eyes, Ziegler, you needn’t make a production of this.” Moira crossed the lab over to her own desk, taking one of the syringes and starting to roll down her sleeve. “You’ll be a very unique figure on the field, something difficult for the enemy to counter. I’m not so blind to the advantages of your ideas.”
“And the wings?” Angela asked, swinging around to watch her inject. “Those aren’t from—”
“Our discussion last night gave me the idea, yes, but they’re antigrav generators with thrusters to help you reach your teammates above or below you without suffering injury,” Moira interrupted. She aimed the needle carefully, but for the first time since Angela had seen her start injecting, she flinched and hissed when she inserted.
“You stayed up all night designing antigravity wings for a field medic after drinking half a bottle of Irish whiskey?”
“I’m brilliant, Ziegler, it’s exactly the sort of thing I’d do, isn’t it?” Moira cast a tired smirk at her. The circles around her eyes were darker than usual today. “Give me a moment and I’ll transfer the full schematics to you. I’d like to get your input on the integration of your implant into the suit.”
Angela couldn’t help smiling. Moira was a difficult person, but having her support would mean that the Valkyrie suit could reach its full potential, and Angela along with it. It felt like such an honor.
She got up to make coffee while Moira got herself ready for the day’s work. As she poured herself a cup, Moira’s sudden presence by her side made her jump — she never drank caffeine after ‘perfecting her formula,’ or that’s what Moira had told her, at any rate. But here she was, silently filling a mug for herself, before heading back to her desk.
“Are you feeling all right, Doctor?” Angela asked carefully as they sat back down at their workstations.
“If you’re asking if I’m hungover, Ziegler, I assure you that’s not the case,” Moira said, sniffing and clearing her throat.
“You’re drinking my coffee.”
“It smelled divine, my dear, it always does. I may as well try some. Besides, I never had a hangover in university when I drank, so it can’t have happened now.”
Angela chuckled. “Doctor—”
“No cracks about my age or changing bodies, I won’t have it.”
Angela laughed to herself, then turned back to her screen. She blinked at what she saw — schematics for the very implant that sat heavy on her back. She bit her lip. It really was quite impressive work. But it was important to stay objective, to look at the miniature Caduceus generator and figure out how to maximize its distribution while in the suit. It would be an even faster response time, a quicker healing than the original design, and the way Moira had hooked the implant into the wings…
Angela knew, suddenly, that she would feel them on her back, like in her dreams. Control them as if they were a natural part of her body, the same way Genji’s built-in weapons worked.
A year ago, Angela would have said working beside Moira O’Deorain was the worst nightmare of her professional career. But today, it felt like a privilege.
The suit was barely getting to the point of prototype production. Angela was just about ready to head down to the lab and start that process when an incoming call showed up on the tablet by her nightstand.
She sat down on her bed, wondering who in Overwatch would be calling her, and for what reason, when she saw the name on screen. Strike Commander Amari. Was she being recalled already?
She gave in and accepted it, beholding Ana’s smiling face. “Angela! It’s been so long since I’ve seen you!”
“You’re awfully chipper, Commander Amari,” Angela said, smiling back. “What’s the occasion?”
“Well, we’re all very excited to have you come back to the Watchpoint and out of that dungeon Moira calls a lab,” Ana began, “But we have to wait for her say-so to recall you, so don’t worry about being torn away too long. However.” She cleared her throat.
“Overwatch is suffering a bit of a public image problem, at the moment. Some rumors are getting around that are diminishing faith in our organization, and we’re trying to raise funds to combat them.”
Angela thought back to their work on Genji, a small disquiet rising in her stomach. They’d received some news already about his work on Shimada cells, single-handedly destroying entire shell companies. But how could that be bad? The Shimadas had become more feared than most Yakuza in Japan, and now they were being put on the defensive instead of taking advantage of a world in crisis.
“With all due respect, Captain, what does this have to do with me?” she asked.
“We’re holding a benefit in Japan soon, and we’d like all of our best and brightest to make an appearance. You’ve been shut away for a while, so maybe you don’t know, but you and Lena made quite an impression in London that day, and I think you’ve been missed. We’d love for you to go.”
“Oh!” Angela started. The wider world outside had faded a bit since her injury, it was true. But… “My injury...I can’t easily hide the implant, Commander. Maybe I’m not who the public wants to see.”
“Nonsense!” Ana cried. “You’re a walking example of Overwatch’s finest medical technology. Your implant could be the key to restoring normal life for thousands of civilians. You’ll be perfect. All you need to do is make an appearance and mingle, that’s all.”
“It would be nice to see Lena again,” Angela concedes. “All right. When is it?”
“Just a week from today. Wear something nice.”
“Will…” Angela took a breath. “Will Doctor O’Deorain be attending, as well?”
Ana curled up her nose. “Moira isn’t technically a part of Overwatch any longer and some of her theories are rather controversial regardless. According to all records, she does not exist. She’s not the face of Overwatch’s medical team — you are.”
“I see. I’ll have to let her know. We’ve been hard at work for a while now.”
“I’m sure she’ll take the news with her usual grace. I’m looking forward to seeing you again, Doctor. I hope all is well.”
“It is, Commander. Thank you.”
As the call ended, Angela ran a hand through her hair. Going out in public sounded terrifying, but it might be nice to see everyone from the old base, get used to them again. Someday, she would have to leave Site Four, return to working on her own again. But for now, she still had to manage Moira.
“I”m going with you, of course.”
Angela blinked. “But—”
“Not to the actual event, no, I’d rather die,” Moira clarified, rolling down her sleeve and setting her syringe aside. “But I ought to be nearby in Tokyo in case anything happens with your implant. Besides, we can’t test this suit until after the benefit regardless, and…”
“You’d like a break? Doctor, I never thought I’d hear you say it.”
“You still haven’t,” Moira warned. “Some time away from the lab would give me a chance to think outside of our current project, however. When I am here, I tend to want to work on what’s in front of me, not theorize.”
Angela nodded. “If you say so, Doctor,” she said with a sly smile.
“I’ll stay in the same hotel as you. Reyes will arrange everything, and I believe Genji will be acting as your silent security guard for the evening as well. Rest assured, you will be safe despite the turmoil Overwatch is in these days.”
Angela leaned back in her chair. “I really wasn’t worried about safety.”
“Then what might concern you?”
“What am I going to wear?”
Moira scoffed. “That’s your thinking right now?”
“It’s just...the implant. I’m not sure how to dress nicely with this thing on my back.”
“The solution seems obvious to me,” Moira said, leaning against her desk and crossing her arms. “Don’t cover it.”
Angela’s chest tingled. “You mean, a backless dress?” Would Moira like to see me in that? That thought was dangerous. But Angela liked it regardless.
“Obviously. We needn’t hide our scars, darling. Amari said it herself, did she not? You’re an example of our finest technology. Work with that, don’t shy away from it. I’ve never known you to be cowardly.” Moira turned back to her desk. “Now, enough distractions. We’ve still got real problems to solve.”
Angela smoothed the soft white dress down her sides, staring at herself in the hotel mirror. She looked good, she thought...from the front. She turned and looked over her shoulder, spotting the industrial gray of the implant peeking over her shoulderblade, the crags of scar tissue, the thin silvery lines spreading out from the implantation site. So much ruined by her own foolishness, and only Moira’s work brought her out of it.
And Moira wasn’t even credited! She’d probably have to pretend she did it herself, or one of the other researchers, if she was asked. It seemed unfair to her, but Moira had never expressed anything of the sort herself. For all Moira’s ego, credit didn’t seem to be her concern — results were.
She thought about Moira a lot. She kept coming up in Angela’s mind, not as unwanted as before.
A knock came to her door, and she jumped. Right. She should be heading out soon. She breathed, shaking from nerves, not sure if she really wanted to be Overwatch’s display girl right now. But she turned and opened the door to see who it was, and found it was Moira herself standing there. Angela almost envied her for getting to wear something practical and comfortable tonight, just her usual work shirt and slacks.
“Amari’s getting restless waiting for you in the cab, Doctor,” Moira said, walking in and closing the door behind her. “Having second thoughts?”
“Just...nerves,” Angela admitted. “I feel like I’m a different person than I was in London. It hardly feels like it’s me the world wants to see, just some hero they made up in their heads.”
“Because of this?” Moira walked behind her, a hand tracing the outline of Angela’s implant. Angela bit her lip, losing her breath for a moment. The touch felt so intimate, Moira’s voice so soft.
“Yes,” Angela murmured. “It’s…”
“You look striking, darling.” Moira circled back around, putting a hand on Angela’s shoulder. “You are a brilliant scientist and all Overwatch could ask for — possibly more than it deserves. Go out and show them your charming new accessory.”
Angela chuckled. “Thank you, Moira,” she breathed.
“And should anyone stare at you, keep your head high. They are impressed, not disgusted, or at least they ought to be. If they aren’t, they aren’t worth your time, do you understand?” Moira’s eyes burned into Angela’s.
Angela swallowed and nodded. “Like an angel from the Old Testament,” she said, thinking of the way Moira would phrase such a thing. “Fear not?”
“Precisely.” Moira smirked at her like they were in on a conspiracy. “Take this.” She produced a small earpiece from her pocket. “If there are any problems, simply touch your ear and I will be available for anything you require.”
I could use a hug, Angela thought, but that wasn’t Moira’s style. So she simply said “Thank you” again, and Moira opened the door to let her out, saying she had somewhere to be herself.
After Angela made it down the stairs and out onto the street, she found Ana in a very tasteful suit, leaning against a hovercab. A young woman with many of her features fidgeted at her side. "Good to see you, Doctor,” she said, nodding her head. “This is my daughter, Fareeha. Since she’s off deployment right now, she insisted on coming along.”
“Oh!” Angela’s eyes widened as Fareeha stood up straight, trying to look respectful. She didn’t seem comfortable in the dress she wore, limbs seeming too long and toned for something she couldn’t run in. “Nice to meet you, Fareeha.”
“This is Doctor Angela Ziegler, Fareeha. With any luck, she’ll be in the Watchpoint again soon,” Ana explained as Fareeha tentatively stuck out a hand.
“Nice to meet you too,” Fareeha mumbled awkwardly. “You look very nice.”
Angela chuckled. “From the front, you mean.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Ana admonished.
The window rolled down on the cab, and Angela only had a second to see Lena’s awestruck face before a flash of blue nearly knocked her off her feet. “Angie!” she cried, squeezing her tight around the waist. “I missed you so much!”
“Hi, Lena,” Angela said, chuckling and hugging her back. “How’ve you been?”
“Well, since seeing one of my favorite people suddenly collapse from total paralysis right in front of me, I’ve been doing just great,” Lena said, standing back and raising her brows. “Oh, and then I barely get to talk to her for half a year…”
“I’m sorry I’ve been away so long,” Angela replied, rubbing the back of her neck. “I’m doing all right, though.”
“Speaking of, I haven’t really got to see it.” Lena hustled around Angela, peering at her back, and gasped in shock. “Holy shit!” she whistled.
“Oxton, language,” Ana snapped. “You look fetching, Angela.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re still a looker, no doubt,” Lena said, nodding rapidly. “But hey, now we’ve both got things stuck to us to keep us tickin’, don’t we?” she added, pounding the accelerator over her coat for emphasis.
“I suppose we do,” Angela replied. “Always nice to share something with a friend. Shall we get going?”
“Yeah, sure, let’s go show off for a bunch of tossers in fancy clothes,” Lena sighed.
“Are we not tossers in fancy clothes?” Angela asked as Fareeha and Ana got into the cab.
“We’re the sexy ladies in fancy clothes, keep up, Angie,” Lena said, elbowing her. “Let’s blow some socks off.”
They piled into the car, and Lena excitedly filled Angela in on everything that had happened since her injury. New recruits, daring operations, ceasefires and tensions. Angela listened patiently, and was happy to stay by her side when they got out and walked up the long stairs to the venue, flashing their IDs and being let in by the security. Once they were inside and Ana’d been drawn into a conversation with an Overwatch captain on the other side of the room, Lena elbowed Angela, pointing at Fareeha looking a bit awkward and leaning against the wall.
“That one’s got a big old crush on you already,” she said with a snicker.
Angela had felt Fareeha’s eyes on her as they’d come in, but... “She’s just staring at the implant,” she murmured. “I feel like everyone is.”
“Naaah.” Lena laughed to herself again. “She was lookin’ a little further down.”
“Lena!” Angela said, giggling.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Lena said suddenly, her eyes widening. “I think that’s Gérard’s wife, over there.”
Angela cast her gaze above the crowd, and then found that she didn’t have to; the woman in question was tall and fair, long black hair cascading down her back, a dark violet dress clinging to her curves.
Lena whistled low. “Hey, uh, Angie, I’m just gonna—”
“She’s married!” Angela protested.
“Lookin’s not a crime. Go mingle! Find a pretty girl with a thing for scars and update me in the morning!” Lena insisted, then flashed across the floor right into Amelie’s face. Angela chuckled to herself, wondering when she might’ve indicated to Lena that she shared her orientation. Perhaps the woman just had a sense for these things.
She made her way among the tables, searching for something to calm her nerves. She happily accepted a glass of champagne, and when she got no attention besides further stares, accepted another. It was only after the third round of this little dance that someone came up to her at the table.
He was a short man, Japanese, his hair pulled back into a ponytail. He had a very serious face, with something familiar about the eyes, but Angela couldn’t place it. He cleared his throat. “Excuse me, are you Angela Ziegler?” he asked, giving a polite bow.
“I am,” Angela confirmed, bowing back. “And yourself?”
“Hanzo Shimada, of Shimada Financials,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back. “I hate to be rude and cut to the chase too fast, but I am curious. That implant, on your back — what is it for?”
Angela froze. Genji’s brother. The one who killed him, or very nearly did. She stumbled over her words for a moment, then managed, “It, uh, it restored function to me when I had become completely paralyzed.”
“Incredible. Your organization is ahead of the curve on so much technology. Tell me, is there a civilian model in development?”
“N-not currently. It’s the first of its kind.” Angela swiped another glass of champagne as it passed by her. “But we absolutely intend to share our work with the world when we can be certain of their effectiveness. I’m still recovering.”
“Yet you walk, and speak, and work.” Hanzo hummed. “I have been considering donating to your cause for some time. Since my brother met with a terrible accident, I can’t help but think what might have saved him.” He looked down. “If I could prevent his fate…”
Liar, Angela seethed internally. This criminal talked like a philanthropist or scholar when all he was was a crook. She wondered if he even knew that Blackwatch was the one who was setting the deadly "Dragonblade" ninja on his people.
“I understand,” she said through grit teeth. “I only want to make the world a better place.”
“As do we all, Doctor Ziegler. Cheers.” He took his own glass and clinked it against hers. “You are a true survivor. I admire that. I ought to speak to your superiors.”
“I’m sure they’ll be thrilled with your proposal.”
“Good night, Angela. Walk in peace.”
As Hanzo left to find someone more important than Angela to talk to, she tried to control her breathing. She swallowed, and decided to head into the bathroom to cool down, instead.
But when she made her way there, she opened the door to find Lena and a red-headed girl cuddled up in the corner, talking in low whispers to one another. Lena looked up and beamed. “Angie! How’ve you been all night?”
“Still standing,” Angela replied with a shrug, though her back was starting to ache. “Who’s, um, who’s this?”
“You wouldn’t believe the coincidence!” Lena said with a smile. “This is Emily. I actually met her during the London Uprising, tackled her out of the way of a rocket!”
“She was so cheerful,” Emily said, smiling. “I happen to be here on business, and here she is, so I had to thank her personally.”
London. The injury. The giddiness on Lena and Emily’s faces, their closeness, the meeting with Hanzo, it all swirled around in Angela’s brain and made a thick fog. But she had to endure.
“That’s very sweet,” Angela said, smiling softly at Lena. “I’m glad you found someone you like here.”
“I like everybody, Doc, but some are prettier than others.” Lena’s grin was wicked. “Anyway, we were thinkin’ we were gonna get outta here, find a pub that’s a bit more down-to-Earth. Wanna come?”
“Thank you, Lena, but I’m already getting pretty tired. My back aches if I have to stand for too long, still.”
“That’s a shame,” Lena said, a little frown crossing her features. “Well, have a good time, love. I’ll talk to ya later, yeah?”
“C’mon, Em, let’s get outta this dump.”
Emily started moving first, and as she passed Angela, Lena pointed at Emily and mouthed “Gonna bang ‘er!” with a big smile. Angela waved her on, giving her a weak smirk before collapsing into one of the stalls and sighing, putting a hand to her head.
This was all too much. Too much standing, too much feeling like a freak, too many secrets. She made her appearance, she had people talking. She could leave, surely. She wanted to be back somewhere quiet where there were no expectations and fewer people.
She thought about Lena and Emily again, how close they’d been, how happy they’d looked. About her dreams of Moira, which were turning from subconscious desires in the night to hazy fantasizing during the day, always loving her touch when she gave massages, always feeling soothed and ready to keep going on afterward. God, she’d kill for that.
She pressed her finger to her ear. “Moira?” she whispered.
“Ziegler!” Moira cried happily in her ear, a slight slur in her voice. “How are you, darling? No problems, I hope?”
“I was just about to head home.”
“So soon into the night? Are you feeling well?”
“Yes, I’m just...I’m tired, and I ran into Hanzo.”
“Ha! Plausible deniability at its finest, I see. Don’t you worry, dear, he doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“I know, it’s just...it’s hard.”
“You needn’t stay if you aren’t enjoying yourself. I’m enjoying my self quite a bit, I haven’t been to Japan since undergrad, and never tried their alcohol. Some of these people are quite entertaining so long as you’re sharing fermented rice.”
Angela chuckled. “You’re being social?”
“Only somewhat, my dear, just enjoying the local colour. If you like, I’ll walk you home myself, I’m not far.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“Of course. The city is beautiful this time of night, and the air is brisk. It’s nice to be stretching my legs, and I’ve a lot to stretch. I’ll meet you outside, all right?”
Angela felt warmth, and didn’t know whether it was the champagne or gratitude or...something else.
“Thank you, Moira.”
“Don’t mention it, my dear. Enjoy the rest of that expensive food we paid for while you have the chance, I’ll be there in a moment.”
Angela took her finger off her ear and sighed gratefully. She got up and headed back out to the main room, grabbing finger food and just one more glass of champagne on her way out.
As she walked down the stairs, she spotted Fareeha standing off to the side, kicking at rocks in the driveway and looking dissatisfied. Angela approached her, and when they made eye contact, Fareeha straightened up instantly.
“What’s the matter, Fareeha?” Angela asked, taking a sip of her champagne.
“My mother, as always,” Fareeha said with a sigh. “I came here hoping she’d finally see that I’m ready to join, but she’s been ignoring me all night and talking to Hanzo Shimada of all people. Overwatch shouldn’t be taking money from criminals.”
Angela smiled at her. She reminded her of herself, at her age, all bright youth and ambition. She wasn’t so old herself, but she felt she’d aged a decade since London. “You have a strong sense of justice, Fareeha,” she said, sitting down on the steps. “It’s good for you.”
“I always thought Overwatch was better than all this,” Fareeha grumbled. “Between the way my mother’s been acting and the Japanese government issuing a complaint about some black-ops division operating here, I’m starting to feel like I should join just to fix it.”
Angela coughed and looked away. “It’s not so bad. But not all of our work is glamorous, you know. It’s part of the business of running a paramilitary organization.”
Fareeha scoffed. “I’m not naive, Angela, I just wish I could help.”
“Oh, where did my youthful optimism go?” Angela asked the air, laying back and staring at the stars. “I used to be just like you, you know.”
Fareeha bristled. “I’m not a kid. I’m a soldier.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Angela sighed. “War isn’t something you should need to think about. Nobody should have to think about it.”
Fareeha went quiet, getting closer to Angela as she watched the blank, light-polluted night sky of Tokyo. “I forgot,” she said softly. “I’m sorry.”
“I can’t forget,” Angela said. “About what happened to me. Nobody in there will, either.”
“People weren’t staring because of your implant,” Fareeha said. “It’s just because...you look good tonight.”
Angela remembered Lena’s sniggering and laughed. “Ms. Oxton did say you had a particular interest…” she teased as she lifted herself onto her elbows to look at Fareeha.
“So what if I do?” Fareeha asked, folding her arms. “I have eyes too.”
Angela downed the rest of her glass, thinking. Was Fareeha suggesting something? “You’re the commander’s daughter, Fareeha,” Angela said after a time. “It wouldn’t be professional of me to, to entertain such ideas.” Something in her twinged and told her to stop entertaining other unprofessional ideas she had if she was going to wax poetic about it.
Fareeha snorted. “And this is very professional. You’re drunk.”
“I have a right. Can’t I stop being the golden girl for a second? ”
Fareeha looked at her oddly. “You’re a hero to a lot of people. You don’t need to run away from that.”
“That’s not what I’m running from, Fareeha,” Angela said. “What I am running from is this party. Would you mind taking this back for me while I wait for my escort?” She held out the empty glass to Fareeha, who took it.
Fareeha looked at her with some sort of pity in her eyes. “I hope you feel better soon,” she said, heading back up the stairs. When Angela looked down again, she saw Moira standing at the bottom, the top buttons of her shirt undone and her hair mussed, but looking quite bright-eyed. Angela shot to her feet and almost fell down the stairs, but managed to get down to her without further incident.
“A little unsteady on your feet, darling?” Moira asked, putting her hands on Angela’s shoulders.
“I’ll be — I’ll be fine. Do you know where to go?” Angela asked.
“Of course. We can catch a cab, if you think—”
“No, no, let’s walk.”
Moira smiled at her, turning to her side and linking arms with Angela, taking her breath away. “Let’s.”
Angela knew that this would be the right time to talk, to get to know Moira better, but she was too focused on keeping her feet steady and her back straight. Moira held her strong, and when they were close, Angela could smell the sake on her breath. She just enjoyed the moment, for a while. Enjoyed Moira’s company, even in this crowded city, in the silence.
But it was a longer walk than Angela had thought about, and by the time they were heading into the lobby her back ached, barely able to hold herself upright. “I’m sorry,” she moaned as Moira threw an arm over her shoulders to support her instead. “I’m a mess tonight.”
“Don’t fret, my dear,” Moira cooed. “Let’s get you to your bed. You simply must lie down.”
“And get a massage?” Angela said hopefully.
Moira paused for a moment as they entered the hotel elevator. “If you like,” she said in a low tone.
“I like,” Angela whispered, smiling lopsidedly. Her heart pounded in her chest. She had an idea.
Moira cleared her throat. “Very well.”
The elevator chimed, and the two walked out, finding Angela’s room and fishing the key out of her purse. Angela went in first, letting Moira close the door behind them as she kicked off her shoes.
She swallowed. She looked back to Moira, saw her flushed cheeks, her messy red hair, the light scatter of freckles across her skin.
I want this.
And she was pretty sure Moira wanted it too.
She’d had this fantasy, ever since the massages became regular. She could just...act it out. Tell Moira the steps.
She peeled the dress’ straps off her shoulders, letting it pool around her ankles as Moira stared on. With a deep breath, she took off her underwear, too, letting it pass without comment, simply lying down on the bed and putting the pillow beneath her head. She heard Moira’s breath hitch, but nothing was said until Angela felt the warmth of Moira’s hands on her back.
God, she was good at this. She let loose a sigh. “Where did you learn to do this?” she mumbled, rubbing her face against the pillow.
“One must earn the money for university courses somehow.”
Angela tried to imagine Moira working at a massage parlor and failed. “You touched strangers for a living?”
“Perhaps, if one doesn’t have close friends, and finds that one has talented hands...they might find massage work soothes a need,” Moira said softly, her thumb pushing into just the right spot below Angela’s shoulderblade. She hummed. “You carry so much stress on your shoulders, my dear. You needn’t, you know. The world doesn’t need you to hold all its weight.”
“Mmm,” was all Angela could say. Her heart pounded, thinking of what needs Moira could soothe for her. “Lower. Please.”
“As you wish.” Moira’s hands on the small of her back, the pads of her fingers light and delicate, her nails touching on Angela’s skin and leaving tingling all over.
Down, further, as Angela raised her hips, biting the inside of her cheek as Moira’s hands grazed her inner thighs. She knew what Moira must be seeing, feeling, knew that she was done being subtle. “Please,” she whispered once more, and there.
Moira cupped between her legs, and both of them sucked in a gasp at once. Angela’s shoulders shook as she waited for Moira to move, and she did. So delicately, so carefully, soft up and down strokes, stoking a fire in Angela’s belly.
Without Moira, she couldn’t feel this at all. She’d never be here, sweating and tensing her limbs and burning up. Without the thing that had felt like such a curse tonight, Moira’s handiwork, Moira’s decision, Angela would never know what this perfect, delicious anticipation felt like. The thought made her weak, her head cloudy, her eyes stinging.
She let out a cry as Moira experimentally circled her clit, surprised at how wet and sensitive she felt, though Moira was so slow and methodical. She clutched the pillow under her head, rocking her hips back and forth to find a rhythm as Moira crawled up onto the bed over her, balancing herself above Angela. Quick flits made Angela bite the pillow, as Moira grew bolder, still watching herself, still trying not to hurt Angela.
“Moira,” she breathed, and felt the woman above her jolt. “Moira, God. ”
There was a laugh that Angela barely recognized as Moira’s, not one of her self-satisfied chuckles or amused hoots; a nervous, shaky laugh, like she was surprised at what she herself was feeling. Angela wanted to kiss her, then, for being so endearing at the oddest times, but then a bolt of electricity passed through her and she forgot the notion entirely, only wanting Moira to finish her work, to press in harder — yes, like that. Angela’s hands strained as she kept clawing at the pillow, biting hard into her lower lip, breath coming out of her nose in hot spurts.
“F-fuck,” Angela hissed, squeezing her eyes tightly closed to shut out everything but what Moira was doing to her. “Moira—oh, oh fuck, Moira—”
Angela shuddered, and she felt it coming, moans burning her throat without coming fully out, harsh sounds escaping her lips, pushing herself against Moira’s fingers and palm until finally her body gave in and bliss poured over her mind like sunlight, blinding everything else as she twitched and finally collapsed fully back to the bed, the pillow soft and welcoming against her face.
Moira said nothing, lifting herself up off the bed, a hand trailing down Angela’s leg. Angela felt the wet stains on her cheek, the rawness of her throat, the deep desire to simply lie here until she passed into sleep.
She heard the door open, and could barely turn to look at Moira’s silhouette in the doorway.
“Sweet dreams, darling,” Moira said, and closed the door behind her.
Chapter 10: Prodromal Period
Angela woke to the sun invading her hotel room, stabbing at her eyes even through closed blinds. She curled into the fetal position for a moment, realized she felt cold, and then remembered why she was lying naked on top of the covers.
She rose up, clutching her pounding head. That couldn’t have actually happened. Her memory of the night was fuzzy, at best. But there were still flashes that were clear as day, stripping down in front of Moira, telling her what to do, clinging to the sheets and crying out her name. Angela ran a hand through her disheveled hair — when had it fallen out of the bun? — and shuddered.
She did that. She really did that, with her superior, her colleague. The woman who gave her her life back, and made it hell on other days. Her head swirled, and she wished she was less hungover so she could figure out what the fuck to do next.
Moira wasn’t there. That much she knew. She’d gone as soon as Angela had finished, that last tease in her voice. Did it mean anything? Did any of it? They’d both been drunk, and the tension had been building for a while...at least, Angela had thought so. Moira had been so sweet last night, moreso than Angela would’ve ever thought her capable of being months ago. So why had she left?
Maybe it was for the best. The tension was broken, now, and maybe it wouldn’t happen again. But Angela wanted to know for sure.
She gathered the covers around herself, hugging them to her chest. Somehow, she’d have to get out of bed and call a shuttle back to Site Four, somehow get dressed and showered and go back to work like this wasn’t completely throwing her for a loop.
She gave herself a few more minutes of blind panic before she’d try that.
When Angela finally made it into the lab, she found no sign of Moira. What she did find was a fully-assembled prototype of Valkyrie II.
It sat in the center of the lab, where Genji’s tank had once been, worn by a dummy with wings inert and hanging off its back. There was a post-it note attached to the chestplate, which Angela handled delicately, trying to decipher Moira’s handwriting.
Take the day off.
Damnable woman. Angela wasn’t blind to the pattern, but not even being able to speak to Moira after last night felt deliberately antagonistic. “Charon,” she called to the ceiling, “Where’s Moira?”
“Doctor O’Deorain is asleep in her quarters, Doctor Ziegler. Would you like me to wake her for you?”
Angela looked around the lab a bit more thoroughly. Moira had left evidence of her passing, in the form of an empty bottle of Guiness and a discarded syringe. “No,” she said with a sigh. Forcing Moira into anything seemed unwise.
Angela decided she ought to do at least some work today to distract herself, so she sat down at Moira’s desk and cleared off the debris. Moira was never so sloppy, usually, but when Angela checked over the specifications of her work finishing up the suit prototype, she didn’t see any flaws.
She wished there was someone she could talk to about this. Lena, God bless her, wouldn’t really be the ideal confidante for something this messy. Anyone else in Overwatch would be likely to report her, and she’d long lost contact with anyone outside work, and she didn’t exactly know anyone in Blackwatch thanks to her and Moira’s tendency to not even eat in the cafeteria, having every lunch and dinner in the lab. So when she went back to her quarters, she was alone, too nervous to entertain herself, still exhausted from last night, from the flight back, from nerves. She fell into a fitful sleep, any excitement about what happened last night turned to a stone in her gut, weighing her down.
“Ziegler, come to the lab. We need to test your suit integration.”
Angela groaned. Of course it’d be back to this, today. Moira waking her up at the crack of dawn, probably already hard at work, staying late into the night, sleeping only when absolutely necessary. Angela wished it had all changed, the way it felt like it should have.
Still, she was an adult, dammit, and she wouldn’t whine about working the same way she had been, so she just said, “Give me a moment, Doctor,” and set about her morning routine.
She found Moira disassembling the suit from the dummy, laying out the pieces on a table. She didn’t turn when Angela came in, just speaking over her shoulder.
“I hope you understand the risk you’re taking, Doctor,” she said, running her fingers down the spinal column of the suit. “If this works...I’ve run some simulations. The lingering aftereffects of your injury should almost completely be counteracted by the surge of Caduceus energy.”
Angela couldn’t help but stare at Moira’s fingers as they traced the lines of the suit. There was something different, something drawing her eye — oh. Moira had clipped her nails. Angela blinked, trying to regain focus. Work. Right. That didn’t mean anything except maybe Moira thought it’d happen again after all and oh God Moira was waiting for a response.
“And the...the risk?” Angela asked.
“Everything looks solid. I’ve double-checked every component. But feedback is still a possibility. Another degenerative surge.” She looked back at Angela for the first time. “You would require a replacement for your implant, and some of the damage would likely be completely permanent regardless. There’s only so much that I can undo.”
Angela breathed out. The flash of pain through her nervous system would never be forgotten. But it brought back the memory of Moira’s offer, her work, everything about her, again. “I never thanked you properly,” she said. “For...for making it in the first place.”
“Indeed not, you complained about its appearance and despaired of being a freak,” Moira said.
Angela felt taken aback. This felt familiar, in the entirely wrong way. She wouldn’t let it degrade again. “Well, I would like to. You did incredible work.”
“It’ll all be for naught if I paralyze you again. Please.” Moira stood aside and presented the suit to Angela. “I’ll help you in.”
Angela felt a chill run down her body at the thought of stripping down in front of Moira again, when so much was still unsaid. But she had little choice in the matter. Her heart pounded as she undressed, Moira ensuring the lab door was locked. She carefully folded her clothes and put them on the table beside the suit, then started pulling on what she could get on herself. Moira helped her with the chest piece, activating the generator to make the wings lift themselves so they could attach to her back. She clamped the spinal column into place, hands rough on Angela’s back.
Angela swallowed. She knew where the suit activation was, a simple button on the belt. She held her hand over it as Moira circled around to her front, across the table from her.
“Cameras on, focus Ziegler, Charon,” Moira called out. “Commencing Valkyrie II test in five...four…”
Angela closed her eyes.
She readied herself for the lightning.
As soon as Angela pressed the button, heard the mechanisms fully click into place, she felt a surge. But it wasn’t the same as London. It didn’t burn. It was like being plunged into a hot spring, warmth flowing through her, spreading out through her whole body — from her back, to her fingers, her toes, her wings. She moved them unconsciously, felt them perk up on either side of her and hum to full power, and then she was floating an inch off the ground. Aches and pains that she’d had so long she’d forgotten about them suddenly vanished, and she felt rejuvenated, alive.
The endless fatigue that had been her companion since implantation was gone, and she was airborne.
“Test successful. Valkyrie II is viable,” Moira said with a raise of her eyebrow, a hint of a smile. “Congratulations, Doctor.”
Angela breathed, looking down at her feet, still hovering. Right. She needed to learn to use this thing. With a thought, the antigravs leveled off, and she gently floated back down.
“How are you feeling?” Moira asked.
“Incredible,” Angela breathed. “Moira—”
“Don’t thank me for this, Ziegler. The Valkyrie suit was your original design, and without your work it would not be as it is.” Moira clasped her hands behind her back. “Let’s take a walk to the gym. We need to see the true capabilities of the wings. And one other thing.” Moira walked over and pulled a long case out from under her desk, unlatching it as Angela hesitatingly made her way over.
“I believe this is yours,” Moira said, lifting the Caduceus staff from the case and offering it to Angela.
She took it, feeling awestruck. “Where did you—”
“Your technology has been adapted — rather sloppily, I might add — into Caduceus generators in Overwatch field hospitals across the world. Your staff, however, is yours. It was locked away in storage along with Valkyrie I, and I received it when I first started working on your implant.” Moira slicked back her hair. “You had to expect that I’d retrieve it, Valkyrie II is still designed with it in mind as a companion.”
“I thought we’d have to make another one,” Angela whispered. “Thank you.”
“It’s no matter. Come along, Doctor, we ought to test that integration.”
Angela followed her out, still getting used to the wings on her back, unconsciously flexing and unflexing them. She wanted to stop Moira, to ask what was going on, but the entire way she’d managed to start getting along with Moira in the first place was to follow her lead, to boost her up rather than forge ahead without her say-so.
So she stayed silent, and focused on work. Like Moira.
She put her thoughts into managing the suit, instead, experimenting with floating along behind Moira instead of walking. When Moira stopped hearing her footsteps, she turned to check if she was still there, and Angela only offered her a little wave and a sheepish smile. Moira stiffened and quickly turned back, but Angela saw the little smirk Moira couldn’t hide, and felt just a little bit emboldened.
When they opened the door to the gym, which seemed large enough to be a hangar, they found Genji climbing up one of the walls. He stopped when he saw them enter, waving with his human arm and then dropping a good ten feet to the ground, landing right on the legs Angela had worked so hard on without so much as a roll.
“Doctors!” he cried, walking over to the two of them. “I didn’t expect to see you here. What are you wearing, Angela?”
“The latest fashion,” Angela teased, perking up her wings a bit more. “Haven’t you heard? It was all the rage in Tokyo.”
“That’s not what I saw on watch,” Genji said, a twinkle in his eye. “You two had quite the adventure, stumbling through the streets like—”
Moira loudly cleared her throat. “Shimada, Ziegler here is trying out a new suit to make her a more effective field medic.”
“Yes, yes, right,” Angela said, blushing. Moira didn’t want to discuss Tokyo, apparently. “What are you doing here yourself, Genji?”
“Interesting news last night,” Genji began. “Blackwatch pulled me off my mission because my brother apparently left the clan and it’s tearing itself apart. I’ll go and clean up once the mess is made. So I’m training.”
“Enjoying your new toys, you mean,” Moira said.
“Well, yes, that too,” Genji said with a laugh. “You do make wonderful toys, Doctor.” He looked away. “Though the shine wears off a bit after you wipe off the blood.”
“Second thoughts, Shimada?” Moira asked.
“No, Doctor. I made my commitment to Blackwatch.” He turned to Angela. “I'd bet I could reach the ceiling faster than you.”
“You’re on, Genji,” Angela said with a smile, spreading her wings wide.
They spent hours in there, testing the wings’ flight capabilities, scratching at both of their skin in turn with Genji’s shurikens to test both the suit’s self-repair and healing capabilities and the connection with the staff. Moira stood by impartially, calling out to Angela to ask for reports on how it felt to move in the suit, what the readings were on the staff, everything that could be covered.
By the time Moira declared a break for lunch, Angela would’ve expected to be exhausted, all that movement and physical labor. Yet, when she floated back to the ground, she found that she only wanted to return to the air again, or to run, or just move. She hadn’t felt this energetic since she was at university. She felt she could take on the world.
And then she looked at Moira, and remembered that night in Tokyo, and everything in her mind became fogged all over again. Her wings folded up, and she bade Genji a fond farewell as they left, with Moira only grunting in response.
They spent the rest of the day scanning and analysing the suit, seeing how it had responded to the stress they’d put it under; but it needed no repairs, and they’d done very well. Moira turned to Angela as the clock hit six.
“Are you feeling well?” she asked, putting a hand on her hip. “No aching muscles?”
Angela had hardly even thought about it, trying to absorb herself in the work and stop herself from staring at Moira like an idiot. “No,” she noted, rubbing her neck. The skin felt smoother than before, the scar tissue softer, like it was somehow reforming itself. “No, I feel really good.”
“That’s excellent news. An internal surge of regenerative energy — we must find a way to apply that more widely.” Moira hummed. “Go enjoy your reclaimed youth for a while, Doctor. I’ll close up shop in an hour or two, myself.”
“I can stay and work,” Angela offered.
“No, no, don’t fret about it. Just tying up loose ends, I won’t be long.” Moira waved her off. “I’ll see you soon, Ziegler.”
Angela realized, with a twinge of sadness, that there was no need to part with a massage as they’d done before, that perhaps that intimacy was now closed off to her. “Be well, Doctor,” she said as she left, standing tall.
Angela wasn’t sure what to do with herself, but she hadn’t eaten yet, so that’d be a start. She had to find something to distract her from thoughts of Moira.
Watching world news wasn’t exactly the most relaxing thing to do, but given everything that had been said in Tokyo and since then, Angela felt the need to catch up. It felt like every other story was about Overwatch and how it was failing, or how it should be limited in its reach, how negotiations behind closed doors were going badly. She found herself wishing she was back out there, flying that new suit of hers, back on the front line.
But that would mean leaving Moira, and losing the routine she’d grown so accustomed to. It would mean going back to labs without equals to bounce ideas off of, to lead her to her best work. She could get sloppy again, or get too far ahead of herself, or—
Someone knocked on her door. “Open,” Angela called out, and it slid up to reveal Moira leaning against the doorway, a half-empty bottle of whiskey in her hand.
“I was thinking,” she drawled as she stepped into the room, “That we ought to make a tradition of this.” She held the bottle up for Angela to inspect, and she realized it was the very same one that they’d worked on after Genji’s reconstruction.
Angela’s heart pounded against her ribs. Moira seemed to be intent on keeping her off-balance, and it didn’t help that she was still properly dressed while Angela was in pajamas. “I don’t see why not,” she said softly as Moira set the bottle down on the kitchenette counter and went rummaging through her cabinets for glasses.
“It’s a shame, though,” Moira sighed as Angela got up off her bed to join her. “I can only hold off Amari’s demands for your return for so long. I ought to ensure that you suffer no side-effects after Valkyrie II, but then…”
“Oh,” Angela breathed. “Y-yes, I suppose that’s true.” As Moira started to pour, Angela decided to push, just a test, just...something less professional, as if this wasn’t unprofessional already, but they were acting, and she didn’t want to keep up a charade. “I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve really enjoyed working with you.”
“And I you,” Moira said, words thick with honey, and Angela shivered. “Cheers, to making the best of unlikely partnerships.”
They clinked glasses, and Moira drank first, Angela watching her lips, the way she savored the taste. Moira’s eyes caught hers, and quickly she sipped her own to show she hadn’t been staring, honest.
“You shall truly be a sight to behold,” Moira sighed as she sat her glass back down, leaning against the counter. “It’s what you really want to do, isn’t it? Flying into the thick of things.”
“It is,” Angela confirmed. “But I haven’t had such a terrible time here. What about you? Is Blackwatch your dream?”
“In some ways,” Moira admitted, taking another sip of her whiskey. “Unlimited resources, quite limited oversight, a degree of creative freedom. But I’m a geneticist. Or I was.”
“I remember,” Angela said softly. “Your paper—”
“Got me blacklisted by everyone but Overwatch, and Overwatch only wanted me as a body. My opinions didn’t matter to them because I didn’t get to express them, I simply became their workhorse.” Moira slammed back the rest of her whiskey. “I wonder where I might go, someday. Back to the work I once dreamed of.”
“Couldn’t you try to start your own lab?” Angela asked cautiously.
Moira laughed dryly at her. “And who’d follow me? Would I be managing an entire corporation? Ugh, no. I belong in the lab, working. And Blackwatch will have me, so it is where I am.”
“One day you’ll get the recognition you deserve.” Angela drained her glass too, and Moira refilled both.
“Of course I will, no matter what the redactors at Overwatch may try to do to me.” Moira paused to sip her whiskey. “But enough of irrelevancies. You’re sure you’re feeling well?”
“I am,” Angela said, standing up straight to show her. “I can still feel the weight, but it’s easier to carry, now.”
“I’m pleased. If we’re to create a suit for a single person, it had best do everything it possibly can.” Moira looked her over. “I suppose you and Genji have something in common now, both of you being Blackwatch projects.”
“Should I resent being called a project or is that another one of your ways of complimenting people?” Angela asked, giving her a little smile.
Moira chuckled softly to herself. “It’s merely fact, my dear.” Angela’s skin flushed at the term. She hadn’t heard it in a while, and had forgotten how nice it had felt to be called by it, after their first crack at this bottle. “You two did seem to be getting along today.”
Before Angela could control her loosened tongue, she asked, “Jealous, doctor?” and wanted to slap herself afterward. Teasing now—
“Hardly,” Moira said with a scoff. “He can’t compare.”
Angela nervously sipped alongside Moira, feeling them approaching the subject of what the hell happened between them rapidly. But before she could think of what to say, Moira began, “I do wonder if there’s been any visible change in your implant. I didn’t get a good look in the lab.”
Angela’s breath hitched. “Would you like to look now?” she asked, heart-rate spiking.
“If you like. It’s no immediate concern, just an idle curiosity.” God, was she intentionally filling her speech with double meanings, or was Angela just reading hopefully into everything?
“Just let me finish this,” Angela replied. This whiskey was too good, she thought. Dangerous stuff, too easy to drink. But drink she did, and she set down her glass, turning away from Moira to lift her t-shirt over her head. Moira’s fingers were cold on her bare skin.
“Oh, my,” she murmured. “It looks much better.”
“Really?” Angela asked.
“Yes. The Caduceus conductor lines are almost completely hidden...pity, they were fine work,” Moira said with a laugh. “I suppose this means you shan’t need any massages in the future.”
Angela gulped as Moira ran a finger down her augmented spine, pressing herself against the counter. It felt better than anything, shot signals down Angela’s whole body. This was it. This was the time to say something, if she wanted this.
“What if I just...want one?” she asked.
Moira’s chuckle made her weak in the knees.
“I did enjoy our night in Tokyo,” Moira purred, hands going to Angela’s waist. Angela’s heart stopped for a second, her breath suddenly difficult to take in. “If you’d like to...continue that, I could oblige.”
Angela was burning up, desire shaking her body, and she didn’t know what to say, how to move forward. By continue that did Moira mean just sex? Did she want something more than that? Did Angela want more than that? She didn’t know, she didn’t know. For two days she’d been wanting to talk about it, and now that she had the opportunity she was too keyed-up to make sense of herself.
The pause was too long. “I apologize,” Moira began. “If I’ve misinterpreted—”
“Yes,” Angela breathed. “I...I would like that.”
Moira let out a shuddered sigh of relief. Angela felt Moira’s hold on her relax, hands traveling down to her hips. “Tonight?” she asked, voice low and thick.
Angela nodded, her throat dry. She turned in Moira’s arms to face her, staring into her mismatched eyes, trembling with indecision. Should she lean up, kiss her? Bring her closer? If this was just sex...but Angela didn’t know the rules, and so paralyzed she was, vulnerable in the face of Moira’s smirk.
Moira suddenly thrust against her, pinning her to the counter. Angela let out a gasp, bracing herself as Moira leaned down, nipping gently at her neck. A hand slipped under Angela’s thigh as she mewled, blood igniting, and then Moira was hoisting her up. A bit wobbly, perhaps — Moira was a scientist, not a soldier, after all — but she held strong for long enough to lift Angela and carry her to the bed, throwing her down.
Angela was in a daze. Somewhere in her, she knew she should slow down, stop Moira, find out what this was. Another part, a more animalistic and hungry part, told her that she’d find out what it was if she stopped getting in its way, and that was what she listened to as she lifted her legs to let Moira take off her bottoms. Moira seemed so confident as she straddled Angela, the view excellent in Angela’s estimation, despite the fact she hadn’t even unbuttoned her shirt. It was all in her face, her poise, her very being.
Angela wanted her, wanted this, the way Moira’s hands dragged down her body from her collarbone to her breasts. Moira played her, that was the only word for it, like a musician plays their instrument. Her fingers were deft and confident without the worry of scratching nails, no hesitancy once she knew her touch was welcome. The delicate pinch of a nipple, light grazes to make Angela’s stomach flip, and then one hand leaving her chest and moving down her stomach, agonizingly slowly.
Angela let out a short, high-pitched noise when Moira finally made direct contact, her eyes squeezing shut, hand going to cover her mouth. This time, Moira’s laughter showed no hint of nerves, shifting her position as Angela spread her legs, her free hand moving to brace herself against Angela’s thigh. While Moira’s work was incredible, her fast strokes and circles making Angela’s legs tremble, she couldn’t keep her mind off of Moira’s fingers, and specifically, how they’d been clipped, and what that would mean.
“Moira,” she groaned, lifting herself up on her elbows and looking into her eyes, panting.
Moira’s smile had gone from a smirk to something more genuine, open, but her voice still filled Angela’s head with buzzing as she said, “Looking for something more, dear?”
On the last word, a finger slipped inside Angela and she gasped, throwing her head back and keening into it. Moira’s fingers were long, slender, precise, and as a second entered her and started moving Angela threw one leg over Moira’s shoulder, then the other, pushing herself against Moira’s body.
As Moira crooked her fingers inside her, Angela cried out, feeling Moira’s palm pass over her clit with every pump, the other hand wrapped around Angela’s thigh to keep her up, her body taut and ready for the peak. Moira must’ve felt it, for she didn’t stop, or change her intensity, just let it build until Angela quaked around her, calling out wordlessly as she came. Moira let her down softly, lowering her legs to the bed, but Angela curled herself forward, hands on Moira’s shoulders, and then…
Then she wasn’t sure what to do, being so close, face-to-face with her. Moira hadn’t kissed her, and nothing about this was gentle or intimate, and yet Angela didn’t want to let her go. After a moment of pause, eyes locked, Angela closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around Moira, resting her head on her shoulder. Moira’s hand stroked down her spine, and all the thoughts she’d had in Tokyo, everything she was capable of thanks to Moira, came back with a fury.
She tried to hold it back, but silent tears came regardless, and she clenched tight to Moira’s chest. Moira stiffened, stopping her careful strokes, shaking like a trapped animal in Angela’s grasp.
So pathetic, Angela thought to herself, this isn’t what Moira wants from you, it’s not what anyone would want. She pulled herself back, looking away to wipe her eyes, unable to speak of how she felt or what just happened. Moira pulled away as well, standing up and straightening her collar.
“You’re leaving?” Angela managed, pitifully. She didn’t want her to go. Wanted to be able to trust her to handle what was happening in her mind.
“I’d like to get back to the lab,” Moira said with a soft smile. “I do enjoy showing you our new projects in the morning, my dear, and what I have in mind will surely make you make that adorable surprised face of yours.”
Angela laughed weakly, feeling warmth in her chest despite everything. Moira did like her. She found her adorable. But she wouldn’t stay, why wouldn’t she stay? “M-Moira—”
“This was wonderful, darling,” Moira said softly, leaning over the bed and kissing Angela’s forehead. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Angela nodded, still wiping at her eyes. “Thank you,” she murmured as Moira started to head for the door.
“Anytime, Doctor, anytime,” Moira said, and then she was at the door, and then she was gone. Angela gathered the covers around herself, rocking back and forth.
This was how it was going to be. She knew that. She didn’t really know what this was, but she wanted more. But how could she tell Moira that? How could she command respect if she went begging for affection?
She barely slept that night. The only distraction she had was wondering what on Earth Moira had planned for their next project.
Chapter 11: Morbidity
Moira woke her up again in the morning, her abnormally chipper voice radiating through Angela’s room. She clutched the pillow to her head, trying to drown out, “Doctor Ziegler, to the lab! Doctor Ziegler, I’ve something to show you!”
It was infuriating. How could she act so happy after last night? How could she get up and work like nothing was different between them when Angela had spent the night tossing back and forth and trying to figure out her own head? Did Moira just distract herself with work all the time, was that how she managed?
Or did she think it was all fine? That this was the arrangement they’d agreed on in their vague terms last night, and it was all Angela should expect?
“Ziegler, get out of bed, this is really quite something.”
Angela groaned, rising to her feet. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes, Moira.”
“Very well. I’ll have your coffee ready.”
Angela blinked. That was definitely new. Did Moira herself even know what she was doing?
The thought unnerved her. If anything, Moira’s endless certainty, while frustrating as hell sometimes, had been an anchor for Angela since her injury. She didn’t want to think that Moira was stumbling through this just as much as she was.
She shook herself free of the thought, focusing on the present, her groggy head. If Moira and coffee were going to be waiting for her in the lab, she’d go and meet them. There wasn’t much else to do.
Angela walked into the lab and took a deep whiff of the coffee scent swirling through the air. Moira stood leaning against Angela’s desk, a cup in her hand, another beside Angela’s keyboard.
“Doctor,” she said with a smile. “Come and see this. I think you’ll recognize it.”
“What’ve you cooked up this time?” Angela asked with a yawn. Moira’s shirt was rumpled, the top button undone. Angela kept noticing the little things about her, and that made her anxious. She distracted herself by sitting down at her desk and looking at the blueprint on screen.
It was familiar. The shape of it, a half-circle, and some of the calculations on screen, ideas Angela had scratched down in the dead of night while working on the Caduceus project...
“Where did you find this?” Angela asked, eyes widening. “I’d completely forgotten…”
“Of course you did, you were in quite a state before I whisked you away.” Moira took a sip of her coffee. “But when I saw what happened to you when you put Valkyrie II on, I remembered. Some of your files were passed to me while you were...indisposed. This convinced me you were worth saving.”
Angela remembered her own idea, breathlessly whispering, “A way to supercharge the Caduceus generator and create a surge strong enough for—”
“Resurrection.” Moira’s voice sent shivers down Angela’s spine. “We created a self-contained version of this when we built the suit into your implant. That’s why it regenerated so much tissue — you were lugging around dead weight that’s become fully active again. Two generators, working in harmony, looping the energy beam until it could be sent into a body…”
“You really think it could work?” Angela asked, turning to Moira.
“The science is sound. Actually engineering it will be a challenge, and I suspect we’d only have a brief window after death for it to succeed. But imagine it,” Moira sighed. “My dear, we can accomplish one last wonder together. Are you prepared to take the plunge?”
“You always have a flair for the dramatic, Moira,” Angela said with a laugh.
“It’s part of my charm, dear. Now let’s get started.”
Working with Moira was still invigorating, despite the oddness of their relationship now. She was being sweet again, all I’ll-get-that-for-yous and ‘dear’s and fawning attention, and yet there was always something she was holding back. But Angela decided to settle in, ignore the roiling desire in her gut for more, because there was work to be done.
It felt easy, almost. Bouncing ideas off of her, working off all their previous projects with cell regeneration, it was merely an extension of what they’d done before. By the end of the day, they had a blueprint, and a plan.
The resurrection apparatus would be contained in a reinforced glass chamber in case of failure — they’d worked out that it could create a degenerative shockwave if improperly assembled, and wanted to contain the blast in that case. The Elysian circle would be suspended above a slab where they’d be able to drop off their test subject; Moira claimed she’d be able to acquire a lab animal in little time, which they’d humanely kill shortly before running the test. A gruesome business, but Angela had been in science for a long time, and knew that animal testing was sometimes necessary.
All the plans had been laid out, but as night encroached, Moira stood up from her computer and cracked her back. “I think we ought to save prototype assembly for tomorrow, don’t you?”
Angela had been dumbly staring at Moira’s lanky body, and quickly had to get herself together to say “It seems reasonable, yes.”
Moira caught her looking and smirked at her, setting Angela’s heart racing. Again. She wanted to slap herself. How did she fall into this trap so easily? Angela cleared her throat and turned around. “I’ll just save a few things and then I’ll be off.”
She heard Moira approaching her from behind. She tensed when she felt Moira’s hands on her shoulders, biting her lip.
“Is there anything else you require?” Moira asked, bending low to speak into Angela’s ear.
Angela’s fingers tensed, gripping the hem of her skirt. As Moira’s hand slowly dragged down her front, sneaking into her blouse, she breathed hard, trying to think, but damn it was hard with Moira so close to her, that sultry note in her voice. This is just sex, she told herself. That’s all it is.
She tried to savor it. The anticipation, the thrill in her stomach. She tried to just let go, leaning back into Moira’s touch, closing her eyes and focusing just on sensation. Something in her told her that doing this here, now, in the lab was the dumbest way she could possibly go about this, but Moira had started it here, and it was hard to ignore the way her body lit up at the slightest hint of Moira’s interest.
The door was locked. This was just sex. And doing it right here, right now, was too exciting an opportunity to pass up.
Moira very suddenly spun Angela’s chair around and lifted her out of it, then pushed her against the desk. Angela gasped, trying to follow the motion, shocked at the quick response her body gave. It was addictive, the way Moira took control. She wanted to lose herself in it.
“I do appreciate when you wear skirts, my dear,” Moira said with a chuckle in her voice, hand trailing up Angela’s leg. Angela gulped, opening herself to Moira’s touch even as Moira got even closer, snaking an arm around her waist to brace her.
They were so close. Angela found herself wanting to kiss Moira, again, wanting to feel that intimacy, but she kept herself still instead, grabbing the edges of the desk as Moira’s fingers danced on her inner thigh. She couldn’t bear the teasing, the anticipation, how good Moira was at making her body react. She threw her head back and groaned.
“Moira,” she breathed. “Moira, just—”
Moira chuffed and pushed her hand up, against Angela’s underwear. “Just that?”
Angela paused for a moment, then pushed herself up so she was sitting on the edge of the desk instead. Moira reached under her skirt and pulled off her panties, dropping them to the lab floor and pushing herself up against Angela once again, arm around her waist, hand between her legs. Angela held herself up with one hand, the other covering her mouth as she felt Moira’s insistent pressure, quick motions.
She closed her eyes and let Moira fuck her, at her pace, her whim, her will. Moira knew just when she couldn’t take it anymore, when to stop teasing and enter her, pumping rhythmically into her. Moira laughed whenever Angela let out a sound, a moan or a gasp, like it was all a game to her, and that always made Angela want her even more, want to finish even more. This is sick, something inside told her. You’re sick. But it felt too good for her to stop before she was finished, writhing on top of her own desk with Moira’s name on her lips.
She fell back, panting hard, sprawled across her paperwork with her chest rising and falling. She didn’t cry, locked down the thoughts of gratitude that had lead her to disaster twice now, trying to feel nothing at all. She stared into the lab ceiling as Moira casually grabbed a few tissues from the dispenser beside her and wiped off her hand, then reached down and picked up Angela’s panties, sliding them up her legs. When they were in place, Moira tugged Angela’s skirt down again, patting her hip.
“Satisfied?” she asked softly, leaning over Angela’s prone form, standing between her dangling legs. Angela closed her eyes and swallowed, not wanting to look into Moira’s beautiful eyes right then, not wanting to set off any feelings she might regret.
She nodded, and Moira chuckled to herself, taking Angela’s shoulders and lifting her up. Angela yawned as she stood, as Moira brushed off her skirt and coat for her. “You know, that is precisely as fun as it looks,” Moira said airily, a flush in her cheeks, glint in her eye. Angela laughed with her, a hollow in her throat.
“We’ll...have to do it again sometime?” Angela attempted.
“Anytime you like, darling.”
Angela gave her a smile, then ducked her head and hurried out of the lab. She would be okay with this. That’s what she told herself.
And so it went on.
They printed prototype components and ran brief tests; Moira pushed Angela against the wall and made her scream. They ordered specialty glass and lab animals from suppliers offsite, creating precise blueprints and setting them into motion; Moira knelt between Angela’s legs and put her tongue to work. Angela took time off to test Valkyrie II more often, feeling the intense surge of energy every time she put it on; Angela felt another kind of surge altogether when Moira met her in her quarters each evening.
It wasn’t every day, but it was close enough that Angela found it surprisingly easy to rest at night, despite the obvious and blatant ethics violation she was constantly repeating. Moira exhausted her, met her long-unfilled physical needs without any regard for her own pleasure, left Angela dazed and lost in a fog of feeling. There would be times when Angela would have the intense urge to embrace her, kiss her, touch her the same way; Angela never let it take control of her, knew it ran the risk of ending even this and making things even worse between them.
Moira, for her part, seemed pleased with the arrangement herself. She would still occasionally stim and keep herself up all night working, but more often she’d go home with Angela at the end of the day, walk the halls chatting amiably about their work as if she hadn’t just reduced Angela to a gibbering mess minutes earlier, and meet her the next morning with coffee and a smile.
It wasn’t everything Angela wanted, but it was enough. When the resurrection chamber stood completed at last in the center of the lab at the end of a long day, she found herself somewhat sad to see it so close to being over. Perhaps, after they were no longer working together, she could reach out to Moira and ask about having something real, without these excuses and this complacency weighing her down. Perhaps once they were disentangled professionally, they could form something less messy on a clean slate.
The day they finally received their lab animals, Moira selected an unfairly cute white rabbit from the lineup. She brought it into the lab near the end of the day, dropping it on a cart near the Elysium chamber. “I present to you, the first animal to be brought back to life,” Moira said proudly, presenting the rabbit like a gameshow host. Angela couldn’t help but giggle. Moira was fun when she was theatrical.
“What’s their name?” Angela asked. “We have to have that for the records.”
“She needn’t have a name,” Moira scoffed. “She’s only so long to live even after we bring her back, regardless.”
Angela chose to ignore her, leaning back in her chair with her pen in her mouth. “What about Lazzie? Like Lazarus?”
“Ziegler, darling, such a pedestrian pull. I’d say I’d expect better, but then, you did name Caduceus after the wrong staff,” Moira chided. “You were looking for Asclepius, I hope you know.”
Angela’s cheeks burned. Moira had her there. She’d realized her mistake the night after it’d been officially inducted into Overwatch record, and had simply hoped no one would call her out — but of course, such hopes were pointless with Moira around.
“I still say she should have a name,” Angela said, crossing her arms.
“I refuse to consider it. Now, I ought to enter her statistics into the record…”
As Moira turned to her desk, Angela thought quickly, taking a Post-It note and scrawling LAZZIE onto it. She carefully snuck out of her chair (Moira always hyperfocused on her work to an eminently exploitable extent) and slapped it onto the front of the cage, then retreated back to her chair like nothing had happened.
As Moira finished her entry, she turned to face the cage and chuckled to herself, casting Angela a wry look over her shoulder but offering no further comment. She poked a finger through the holes in the mesh to tease at the creature’s nose, smiling to herself.
“Shall we perform our first test tonight, or in the morning?” she asked, looking to Angela.
Angela grimaced. She wasn’t sure she had it in her to kill that poor animal tonight — or, rather, watch Moira kill her. Besides…
“We don’t know what kind of result we’ll get yet,” Angela warned her. “What works in theory and what works in practice are different things.”
“My dear, with the two of us working together, when have we ever failed?” Moira asked, standing and smiling at her. “I have every confidence in us.”
“Still, no reason to end a day with a failure. It’s a lot easier to stomach it if we mess it up and we don’t have to spend all night thinking about what went wrong instead of sleeping.”
“I suppose,” Moira sighed. “You are full of wisdom, Ziegler, truly.” She patted the top of the cage. “You are safe for a few hours longer, cara. Though, if we have our way, nothing permanent ought to happen to you at all.”
Angela giggled. “I’d have never thought you’d be such a softie around animals, Doctor O’Deorain.”
Moira scoffed. “She is worthy of respect, as is any creature that isn’t smart enough to truly be wilfully ignorant.” She walked over to Angela, lighting a hand on her shoulder. “Anything else you’d like to do before we close up shop?”
Angela felt a squirm in her stomach, but hushed it. “Not in front of Lazzie,” she said with a smile. “Perhaps another time, Moira.”
Moira stiffened, but only slightly. “Of course. I shall see you in the morning, Ziegler.” She left the lab first for the first time Angela could remember — she still had to clean up her desk and get things ready for the morning, herself.
On her way out, she stopped by Lazzie’s cage and offered her a bit of banana. “Don’t worry,” she said softly. “We’ll really try our best not to hurt you.”
In her quarters, Moira drank alone.
She’d taken to keeping a small private stash since they’d finished off their first celebratory bottle, and found that it helped dull nagging insecurities rather nicely in the late hours after she’d left the lab. Working there alone often felt pointless and boring without Angela, these days.
Angela was on her mind constantly. Their arrangement had proven...very diverting, to the point where Moira often found herself wondering if she’d just created a distraction for herself. But perhaps there was something to be said for distractions, for she certainly felt better and more calm with such a cooperative and beautiful co-worker by her side.
She sipped her whiskey and sank further into her bed. She couldn’t make heads or tails of herself sometimes, as of late. It was all different than she’d imagined, and yet she knew, in the back of her mind, that she’d always hoped things might end up this way. That there was always something about taking care of Angela, bringing out her full potential, that had a selfish element to it, a fondness for the woman that went against the grain of Moira’s life in general up to this point. She truly would miss her, miss this, when it was all over.
She finished her glass. Hopefully she wouldn’t get too melancholic tonight. She found that quite annoying. All of this with Angela had been unearthing old, bitter thoughts in her, to a degree she wasn’t sure she liked. It had been easier to lose herself in the chase, the pursuit of science, and forget about her old hopes and dreams that she kept spilling out in front of Angela for her to gawk at.
In some ways, it would be both a relief and a curse when Angela left for good.
Her thoughts were spinning in too many directions, and she wanted to refocus them. With a sigh, she got off her bed, still dressed for the lab. This happened more often than she let Angela see, as well. She tried to get the natural sleep Angela seemed to want her to have, but still she found herself drawn to the lab at night, working to ensure they’d always have successful tests, that their partnership would always feel like a never-ending string of wins. There were precious few other ways she could divert herself, and today Angela had made it clear that she would not be Moira’s distraction for the night.
However, when she stepped out into the hallway, she was surprised to see someone running right past her, one of the medical team, it looked like. “You there!” she called, and he stopped in his tracks at the crack of her voice. She valued that in Blackwatch; everyone jumped at her command. “What’s got you rushing about at this hour?”
“News from the mainland, ma’am,” he said with a quick bow. “Commander Reyes has been injured, we’re all getting woken up to get ready for when his shuttle arrives.”
“Injured? How badly?” Moira inquired. “Shall I get the Caduceus staff for him?”
“I—I didn’t know you had that around, but if you want, I’m sure Helling won’t mind someone else coming to help,” he stammered. “I gotta get down there, though.”
“Yes, yes, run along.” Moira waved him off, considering what to do. She could wake Ziegler, she supposed, but the Valkyrie suit wouldn’t boost the power of the staff enough to effect the outcome should things be grim. She could handle this herself.
She ran to the lab to get the staff, then down to the hangar, only to find a half-destroyed shuttle and an empty room. Following a hunch, she headed to the medbay instead, finding the medical director standing over a gurney, draping a sheet over the body upon it.
“Giving up so quickly?” she asked the team, who all jumped at her intrusion.
“He’d been dying the whole way over,” Helling said, straightening up. “He took a hit from Doomfist. If we’d been earlier…” She eyed the staff in Moira’s hand. “You had an idea.”
“I still do. But a different idea.” Moira breathed out. An idea that had come unwelcome to her as soon as she’d heard the news, but it was an idea. And if it worked, wouldn’t Angela have something to see in the morning? “Come with me. Ziegler and I have been working on something.”
“This is a man, Moira!” Helling said, crossing her arms. “He’s not fodder for your experiments! He should be returned to—”
“He’s no longer a man, is he? Just a body.” Moira leaned forward on the staff, staring her down. “I can make him a man again. If it doesn’t work, send him back for whatever archaic ritual you desire, it makes no difference to me.”
Helling sighed. “You’re impossible, Moira, but...take him to the lab. If we have a shot at bringing back our commander we might not get completely dismantled.”
Two of the nurses grabbed the gurney and followed Moira through the base to the lab. They stood anxiously by as Moira prepped the chamber for its first test, opening the hatch on the front for them to load Reyes’ body in. When she got her first look at him proper, she saw precisely the damage that had been done; his chest was caved in like he’d been hit by a cannonball, face smashed to pieces with teeth poking through his cheek, eyes staring ahead lifelessly. She’d seen worse, but not much worse.
She started warming up the chamber, watching the bright yellow glow of the Elysian circle hum to life, beams zipping around the interior, multiplying and brightening until the whole room shone with light. The indicators on the console flashed READY.
“Charon, cameras on, focus Reyes,” she called to the ceiling. “Elysium Chamber test one in five...four…”
She finished the count, closed her eyes, and hit the button.
The multiplied beam shot into the center of the circle, then down to Reyes’ body. Moira stared, watching the corpse go taut, starting to float off the ground, and then—
He burst. Jet-black smoke billowed out from where his body once was, filling the chamber until it was a great bubble of nothing in the center of the room.
Silence filled the lab. Moira cleared her throat.
“Test unsuccessful,” she said, low and quiet. “I made a mistake.”
Chapter 12: Metastasis
Angela had gotten so used to Moira’s voice being her wake-up for the day that she felt shocked when her actual alarm went off. She’d forgotten what it sounded like, and for a moment was completely out of herself in her quarters before coming to her senses.
It was a shame, she thought as she got up and set about her morning routine. She rather liked having brief conversations with Moira in the morning, even if Moira tended to want to wait for her to get into the lab before telling her anything truly interesting. It was almost like waking up beside her.
With that unwelcome thought sitting in her brain like a bridge troll, Angela walked down to the lab. Perhaps Moira had simply given her a break and was going to let her arrive at work at the actual standard agreed-upon hours.
Or perhaps not.
When the door opened, Angela was presented with a unique view. Moira had stretched herself across both her own and Angela’s rolling office chairs, an empty bottle of liquor on the floor beside her. Lazzie sat on her half-open shirt, uncaged, Moira stroking her fondly.
“You’re not smart enough to do something this stupid,” Moira cooed, lifting Lazzie and pressing their noses together. “That’s why you’re better than me.”
Angela’s stomach dropped. Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong. She’d never seen Moira in this sort of state. “Moira?” she asked hesitantly, walking forward and peering around her shoulder to try and make eye contact. “What’s going on?”
Moira met her eye for a brief moment, then raised an arm and pointed to the Elysium chamber. When Angela managed to tear her eyes away from Moira’s sunken features, she was only further puzzled.
The chamber contained a boiling mass of smoke, wisps of vague shapes forming within its expanse. “What is that?” Angela asked, turning back to Moira.
“That,” Moira said, putting Lazzie back down on her chest, “Is Blackwatch Commander Gabriel Reyes.”
Angela’s blood went cold. “No,” she whispered. “Moira, what did you do?”
Moira swallowed, then let out a hiccup. “I made a mistake,” she murmured, standing up and carefully cradling Lazzie in her arms. She led Lazzie back into her cage while Angela approached the chamber, trying to understand what she was looking at.
“Last night, Reyes was brought back to Site Four in critical condition,” Moira explained, falling against her desk and running a hand through her hair. “He died before I could reach him with the Caduceus staff. And, in my ever-brilliant way, I decided that right then was the time to test our new creation.”
Angela could barely believe what she was hearing. She put a hand to the glass, and the smoke within suddenly coalesced into a solid shape and bumped back, making her jump in shock.
“I’ve been sitting here all night analyzing the situation with Charon,” Moira continued with a sniff. “It’s a nebula of cellular uncertainty, humanlike cells constantly degenerating and regenerating, unable to hold concrete form. Charon detected...neural patterns. Brain activity, scattered across the entire mass. Whatever is in there is at least partially conscious, and according to Charon, the patterns best match our data from subjects in extreme physical pain.”
Angela turned back to her. “How did this happen?”
Moira put a palm over her forehead and laughed hollowly to herself. “Isn’t it obvious, my dear? I tried to play God and create life, and I made a cloud of smoke in endless agony. A grand victory for science indeed.”
Angela felt the panic begin to rise in her throat, seeing Moira so unbalanced, undignified, everything that she wasn’t supposed to be, when she was meant to be Angela’s rock, had been Angela’s rock since London, in all her maddening certainty. This was unnatural. This shouldn’t be.
“N-no, Moira, I mean — do we know what went wrong?” Angela asked desperately.
“Somewhat,” Moira spat. “Near as I can tell, the Caduceus energy was always calibrated to work with the living body’s natural regenerative processes, taking the whole system into account. When I forced it into a corpse, there was no grand mass for it to base its work off of, and a thousand different impulses were amplified at once, all the microbes trying to decompose it and all the human cells trying to stay together, resulting in this disaster.”
“Can it be corrected?”
“Who’s to say? It hardly matters anyhow.” Moira walked over to where she’d been sitting, taking her bottle off the floor. She took a long, hard pull. “Blackwatch,” she began after she swallowed, “Is over.”
“What?!” Angela exclaimed.
“The news of Reyes’ death went to Morrison overnight. We were already on thin ice, and without his leadership we’re a liability. In a month’s time, all Blackwatch operations will cease, all personnel recalled to the Watchpoints and discharged.” Moira fell back against her desk again, sliding into a sitting position. “In one single idiotic decision, I managed to make death worse and destroy my own career. Aren’t you going to gloat, Ziegler?” she asked, looking up at her.
“Why would I gloat?!” Angela asked, gesturing at the chamber. “This is horrible!”
“I mocked you, belittled your work for months back at Gibraltar,” Moira muttered to herself. “I’m terrible to work with. I deserve this.”
Angela couldn’t decide which impulse to follow. She wanted to scream at Moira, how this kind of rampant human experimentation was exactly why they were supposed to have oversight, how could she do this? But another part of her saw that Moira already knew all of that. Moira was punishing herself far more than Angela ever could.
In the end, she chose to soften her tone. “You never should have done it,” she said carefully, “But—”
“Just another in the string of ethical lapses that I always assume are reasonable shortcuts but aren’t,” Moira hissed. “An obvious pattern. Like with you.”
Angela’s heart stopped. “That isn’t—”
“Of course it’s relevant.” Moira took another swig of her bottle. “Do you know why I did it? I wanted to impress you,” she seethed. “Childish. Stupid.”
Angela walked over to her, head spinning. She’d wanted Moira to open up, but not like this, not here, not now. “Moira—”
“Don’t try to comfort me,” Moira muttered.
“Moira, you need to get out of the lab.”
“And where shall I go?” Moira asked, looking up at her. “Where else do I belong?”
“I’m not talking about your life, Moira,” Angela said, crouching down to take her hand. “I’m talking about right now. You need to sleep this off.”
“And when I wake I shall be brilliant again, I suppose,” Moira said with a soft, sad chuckle. “And not the refuse sitting before you now.”
“You’re not garbage, Moira.”
“You would say such a thing.” Moira took her hand and let Angela pull her to her feet. She dropped the bottle on her desk with a thud. “Too pleasant for Blackwatch, always. Too good for this pitiful place.”
“Moira, you’re rambling,” Angela chided gently.
“So I am.” Moira tried to straighten up and start for the door, but stumbled and caught herself on the edge of her desk. She looked up at Angela wearily, like she was ashamed to ask for what she clearly needed.
Angela sighed. “Come on. I’ll take you back.”
Moira looked down, straightening up again and letting Angela put an arm around her waist to steady her. They made their way through the halls, Angela taking Moira’s directions after realizing she had no idea where Moira’s quarters actually were. When they reached her door, Moira palmed it open, then turned to face Angela.
“Stay with me,” she urged, her voice low and sultry, hooking an arm around Angela’s neck.
“Angela.” Moira breathed her name like a prayer, stealing the air from Angela’s lungs. It was the first time she could remember it passing Moira’s lips. Moira traced Angela’s lip with her other hand, finger hooking on them. “Stay with me.”
Angela felt paralyzed, their faces so close together, and then Moira finally pulled her in and kissed her. Angela knew she was falling, then. Sparks fired in her stomach, warmth spreading through her at finally, finally being this intimate with Moira, finally getting to feel her as she’d wanted for so long.
They stumbled backwards through the door, Moira attacking Angela’s lips, her hands rough on Angela’s waist. As the door closed behind them, Moira grabbed Angela’s wrists, thrusting them towards the remainder of her buttons. Angela gripped her shirt uncertainly, pulling back. “You’re drunk,” she said, trying to regain her breath.
“I want you,” was Moira’s only response. Angela’s head fogged over, a mass of conflicting signals, and Moira took advantage. She pulled Angela back in, kissing her fiercely, walking them both back to the bed. She fell backwards onto it, Angela on top of her, breaking apart by necessity as they bounced. Angela found herself with her hands pinning Moira’s wrists back, their eyes locked, Moira panting needily beneath her.
Angela knew that she shouldn’t. She shouldn’t. But the way Moira looked at her, the way her body and face were open to her for the first time she could recall, the way she squirmed beneath Angela, trying to force her own shoes off, it was all what she’d wanted for so long.
As Moira finally managed to kick off one shoe, Angela gave in. Everything in her thrilled when she kissed Moira, who groaned into her mouth. Her hands went to Moira’s buttons, undoing her shirt until it was open beneath her, the black sports bra visible in the gap. Moira lifted herself for a moment to shed her shirt, and Angela took the opportunity to get Moira’s other shoe off while Moira lifted her bra off and over her head as well. When Angela looked back up, her breath caught in her throat.
What she saw shouldn’t have surprised her. The track marks all down Moira’s right arm, the visible ribs, the soft scattering of freckles across her breasts and collarbone. What surprised her was that Moira would ever let herself be that vulnerable before her. Moira looked at her, propped up on her hands, eyes blown wide, chest rising and falling.
“Angela,” Moira murmured, bending forward and taking her by the shoulders, pulling her down on top of her again. Angela just wanted to hold her, see if she’d calm, if there was a way to quell whatever force was eating Moira up from the inside out and get back the woman she knew. But Moira drew her into another burning kiss instead, pushing her chest into Angela’s, taking her hand and directing it to her breast. When Angela hesitantly circled her nipple, she got a taste of an entirely new addiction: Moira’s body shuddering beneath her, the soft mewl into her mouth.
Angela grew bolder, kissing Moira, stroking her chest, grabbing at her to feel her reactions. Moira didn’t succumb, only intensified her search for feeling, unbuckling her belt between them and pulling it out of the loops to toss it against the wall. Moira unzipped her fly and Angela jumped, following her instincts, running a hand beneath her open fly and her underwear and reveling in the way Moira broke off, her head pitching towards the ceiling. That moment of submission didn’t last, however. Moira looped an arm around Angela and pulled her close, marking her neck with bites even as Angela started to rub her, fingers trapped in wet heat.
Angela’s range of motion was too limited, despite how Moira’s hissing breath was getting higher and higher in pitch as she worked. She broke off for a moment, and Moira looked at her like she was ready to kill her for that before Angela grabbed her bottoms and started tugging them off.
Once they were gone, Angela crawled up Moira’s side, gently cupping her and kissing her neck. Moira pushed herself against Angela’s hand, groaning, wanting , and Angela had a feeling she knew exactly what it was Moira wanted.
It had been a long time since she’d done anything like this. She’d wanted to, wanted Moira in her grasp like this, but she was still nervous, hesitant, until Moira groaned out, “Angela, please.”
Angela’s body quickened in response as she carefully eased a finger into Moira. “More,” Moira gasped, and Angela obliged her, adding another, adjusting her angle, feeling for Moira’s weaknesses. Seeing her seize beneath her, feeling her hands clawing at her back as she shifted to be directly over her, Angela forgot. She forgot everything that had led them here, and only wanted to see Moira in bliss.
When Moira’s body clenched around her fingers, her skinny legs trembling on either side of her, Angela felt a warm contentment spread through her body. Moira’s shuddering “Angela,” only made it burn brighter, and she fell down onto Moira’s body and peppered her with kisses, loving her little giggles and the way she reached up to stroke Angela’s hair.
When they tasted one another’s lips again, Moira pushed softly at Angela’s shoulder, putting her on her back. And Angela let her do it, as she had so many times before.
But Moira was gentle, that time. Took her time, kissed her way down Angela’s chest as she undid her buttons. Her touch was lighter, softer, though she still held Angela down, kept her in her place. Every piece of clothing Angela lost felt like another step closer to Moira, another moment of connection. When Moira slid down the bed and put her head between Angela’s legs, she cried out, and it was better than before, better than just physical release. It felt like a moment when all their defenses between the two of them had been swept aside as unnecessary, and all Angela could do was enjoy it.
Her head only started to clear after Moira crawled back up the bed, after she’d held Moira’s bony body in her arms for a time. But before she could really consider what they’d just done, Moira was suddenly speaking, her words a wet whisper.
“You were my first,” she admitted in the quiet.
“No,” Angela breathed. “You must be almost—”
“Forty.” Moira let loose a sigh. “I’ve never been much good with other people. I never expected this. I never thought it was something I could have.”
“You can have it,” Angela urged. “E-even if Blackwatch is over…”
“I don’t know,” Moira mumbled. “I clearly don’t know much about anything. Look at what I’ve become. It’s pathetic what’s happened to me. I had such promise.”
“You just made one mistake. So did I.”
Moira seemed to have little to say to that, nestling into Angela’s hold. After a time, she said, “I haven’t slept in days. I’m not sure I can sleep.”
“I’ll stay with you,” Angela promised. She wanted this. Despite everything, she wanted to be here for Moira. Maybe things between them could recover and become real, no matter what the catalyst for that might be.
Moira woke naked in Angela’s arms.
Well. She should’ve expected this.
She’d been getting sloppier and sloppier. Letting everything with Angela go to her head and disrupt her routine, her ability to work. Letting the alcohol become her companion when she couldn’t keep thoughts of the woman away. And now she was here.
It felt good. Angela’s soft body around her own. The sleepy kiss she pressed to the back of Moira’s neck. But it couldn’t continue. Moira would keep getting distracted, keep making idiotic mistakes, keep doing things for the wrong reasons. She had to stop this, now.
She got up, worming her way out of Angela’s arms. “Moira?” she called after her, but she was simply sitting down at the desk in her quarters, logging onto her computer.
“Stay there a while, darling,” she said softly. Angela didn’t deserve the blame, here. Moira had always had a choice, and she’d chosen wrong, every single time.
Angela didn’t need much convincing, putting her head into the pillows. Moira admired her back, the lines of the implant, the stretch of gorgeous pale flesh. She felt the pull of attraction, the image of going back in and mounting her coming into her mind unwelcome. And then another image, Reyes’ body exploding into smoke, and she knew what she had to do. It would be best for the both of them, really.
With the impending deconstruction of Blackwatch, I’m sure you’re curious what I’ve done with your prize researcher. After testing a new prototype of the Valkyrie suit, she’s back to one hundred percent functionality and still brilliant besides. I hereby authorize Dr. Ziegler’s return to Overwatch duty with no mention of her work in Blackwatch to enter the public record, her reputation spotless.
Do not waste her this time.
-Dr. Moira O’Deorain
“What are you writing?” Angela asked, turning over, and Moira cursed herself for enjoying the view so.
“You’re going back to Overwatch,” Moira told her. “Effective immediately. I’m sure Amari will have a shuttle here within the week.”
“What?!” Angela sat straight up, hair falling around her face in an artful mess. “But — Reyes—”
“Is my problem, not yours. It’s best you return. You needn’t get caught up in all the politics.” Moira folded her arms. “I have the authority here, remember?”
“How could you,” Angela said, and the hurt in her voice stabbed at Moira’s chest. “You’re shutting me out? Again?”
Moira held herself steady. “It’s for the best.”
A crackle came over the intercom in Moira’s room, then an, “Uhh, Doctor?”
“McCree?” Moira said, her face twisting automatically in disgust. She hadn’t met the man often, but she wasn’t exactly looking for his company.
“Yeah, so, I was down here in the lab tryin’ to pay my respects to the old man, and...you should really be in here. What are you doing?”
Moira looked right at Angela. “Tying up loose ends.” Angela clutched the covers to her chest, breathing hard.
“I’ll be there shortly. And who let you into the lab? I’ll need a word with them.”
“Not tellin’, Doc.”
“Charon, cut off this call.” At the little tone, Moira stood and started searching for her clothes, throwing them on with little care beyond being covered.
“Ziegler, I’m working. ”
Angela’s hand went to her face, and softly, she started to weep.
Moira dressed as quickly as she could. She didn’t look up. Refused to see what Angela was feeling.
It was for the best. One day, Angela would have to see that.
She left her there, knowing she’d leave on her own, eventually. Her walk to the lab was filled with the memories of what they’d just done, how it had felt to have Angela inside her, how letting her take control had felt so terrifying and so necessary.
All of it was the alcohol, she was sure.
When she got to the lab, she found McCree standing by the Elysium chamber, turning to her with wide eyes.
“So what is it that I am supposed to see?” Moira asked, putting a hand on her hip. Wordlessly, McCree pointed to the chamber, and Moira saw something in the glass. Curious, she approached the chamber, peering into the new markings that had appeared there — and as her angle changed, the hair on the back of her neck stood up.
There, etched into the surface in long, ragged letters, was the word MOIRA.
Chapter 13: Remission
Moira stared at the engraving of her name in the glass. When she looked into the smoke, it seemed like it was looking right back.
McCree cleared his throat behind her. “So, uh, Doc—”
“Get out of my lab,” Moira snapped. “I’ve work to do.”
“Now hold on—”
“I said out, cowboy.” She straightened her back and pointed to the door. “Charon, who let this imbecile in?”
“Doctor Helling’s authority—”
“Right. Well, revoke it.” Moira glared at McCree as the AI meekly acknowledged the request. “You haven’t moved.”
“Look, I got it, I’m going. Just — tell me if he—”
“You’ve no right to demand things of me. Out.”
McCree scowled at her, but left the lab all the same. As Moira turned her gaze back to the chamber, something formed in the smoke. A single, long talon emerged, the edge sharp and menacing, digging into the glass again. Moira watched with a terrified anticipation as it scratched out another word.
Moira felt some sort of thrill rise within her. It wasn’t just alive. It was sentient. It had language. It might actually be Reyes in there, in some form. The Elysium chamber worked, despite what she’d thought. Perhaps in a different way than she’d originally imagined, but still.
She set her mind to the word on the glass. Feed. She did a quick scan of her office, spotting an unopened energy bar lying on Angela’s old desk. For a split-second, she wondered what Ziegler might make of this — but she quashed the thought. She quickly tore the wrapper off and approached the hatch on the front of the chamber. The smoke within swelled in interest, but when she carefully pried the hatch open, it actually retreated from the opening until she dropped the bar in and stepped back. The smoke swarmed around the bar, blocking it from view, until suddenly it lifted up and slammed it against the wall, breaking it in two.
“Everyone’s a critic,” Moira grumbled, putting her hands on her hips. “What is it you want, then?”
The smoke hung motionless in the air for a moment, then formed a claw again, scratching another word in front of FEED.
Moira’s stomach dropped, her eyes automatically darting to the sleeping rabbit in her cage on the cart beside her. Well. She was bred for this, after all.
She unlocked the cage and took Lazzie into her arms, smoothing back her ears and holding her to calm her shakes. As Moira lifted the hatch, Lazzie started to squirm and claw, forcing her to tighten her grip until she could hold her over the opening and drop her in.
Moira didn’t look away when the smoke surrounded Lazzie, pouring into her mouth and nostrils, unable to scream as her body rapidly decayed into bone and ash. Moira watched it all, and wondered how it worked.
Two glowing red eyes materialized in the darkness. A harsh, throaty voice sounded from the chamber. It spoke to Moira of opportunity and of vengeance, and Moira listened with rapt attention to every word.
Angela gathered herself together in Moira’s room, after the tears stopped coming. The silence surrounded her, emptied her out until she was hollow.
Moira never really cared, did she?
Getting dressed felt like trudging through mud. But she did it, because she knew if Moira found her there again when she returned she’d just reinforce the lesson Angela should’ve learned long ago.
She left the room in her crumpled labcoat and skirt, heading for her own room while hugging herself. She didn’t work for Moira anymore. She was adrift, cast aside like nothing as soon as something went wrong, as soon as Moira lost her control over the situation.
She should have expected it. But for a while, it had seemed so real.
Exhausted, she sank onto her bed as soon as she got into her room. She threw herself back on the pillows, staring into the ceiling. She wanted to be anywhere else.
A ring sounded through her room, and she groaned. “Answer,” she sighed to Charon, and the screen across from her bed lit up with Ana Amari’s face.
“Angela!” she cried, beaming. “Moira’s finally released you, has she?”
Angela lifted herself up on her elbows. “Pretty suddenly, yes.”
“You look rather surprised by it,” Ana mused. “She’s been keeping you up all night working, I suppose. Typical.”
“It’s Moira,” Angela sighed. “What are you going to do?”
“What, indeed,” Ana said with a chuckle. “Not to worry, we’ll be rid of her soon enough. Everyone’s so excited for your return...especially Lena. She has such a fondness for you. When you’re back with us, you can be saving lives again, like you wanted.”
Angela nodded. “It’ll be...nice, to return to my actual work. Moira’s research projects have been interesting, but…”
“You’ll be better served directing yourself. I’ve been digging through the Blackwatch files — that Elysium circuit sounds quite fascinating, and incredible if you can get it working. I’ll be happy to have you back at Gibraltar.” Ana cleared her throat. “We’re sending a shuttle tomorrow afternoon, so you’d best get yourself ready. I want you back to your proper place as soon as we can manage.”
“All right,” Angela said quietly. “I’ll be ready.”
“You’ll have a lot to come back to. We could use that Valkyrie suit on the field. We’ll keep you busy, I assure you.” Ana looked over her pitifully. “Get some rest, please. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
It was nighttime, wasn’t it? As Ana’s image blinked off the screen, Angela turned over and buried her face in the pillows. She’d already slept that day, with Moira, and she knew she’d just lie here awake if she tried right now. So she set about packing up the rest of her life, what little there was.
When Angela left her room in the morning, she found a huge suitcase standing outside her door. A note taped to it read For Dr. Ziegler, and as she laid it on the ground to find out what was in it, she found that the main compartment contained the broken-down Valkyrie suit. Another pocket held Styrofoam casing where a syringe sat, a familiar yellow concoction within, along with a spare vial and a flash drive labeled FORMULA.
Moira’s final gift gave Angela a twist in her stomach. But she closed it up and took it with her, regardless. She left Blackwatch Site Four without seeing Moira, and that was the last she heard of her for some time.
She was set to work, as promised. On her own, progress on making the Elysium circuit viable was slow, many late nights in the lab with Moira’s stimulant running through her veins, but eventually it did work. Valkyrie III had it integrated into a brand new headpiece, and the Angel of Mercy became a common and beloved sight on the battlefield, Angela one of the few success stories Overwatch had left.
But the star of Overwatch was fading. The Swiss base exploded in fire and chaos on the day Blackwatch was officially disbanded, leaving Ana in charge; Ana went chasing after Amelie after she murdered Gerard in his sleep, and lost her life in return. Though the senior administration was trying to keep the organization afloat, the time came when the UN declared an end to Overwatch.
In those final days, the limbo between the announcement and the time when all operations had to cease, Angela found herself thinking of Moira often. To her surprise, her name came up in a news article when she searched it; apparently Oasis had appointed her to lead the Ministry of Genetics. She thought of seeking her out, sending a message, but what was there to say? Moira had made her position clear. She thought Angela was a liability.
On the final day of Overwatch, as she and Lena sat on the cliff overlooking the sea outside Gibraltar, Lena leaned back on her hands and sighed.
“You’re gonna write me, right?” she asked. “Wherever you go?”
Angela chuckled softly. “Yes, Lena. Of course.”
“Good. ‘Cuz I’m gonna go live with Emily in London and she’s great and all, but I’m gonna miss you. I’m gonna miss all of you.” Lena ripped a blade of grass out of the ground. “Sucks, don’t it?”
“I think it was time for us to end,” Angela admitted to her. “The world doesn’t need us anymore, and I’m tired of the violence.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Lena said with a sigh. “Better to go be a civvie and stop fighting so much. I’m sure Em would say so.” She hummed. “But you’re going right into the thick of it anyway, aren’tcha? You’re working with...whozit…”
“Crisis Control,” Angela answered. “International aid.”
“Yeah, those guys.” Lena leaned into her shoulder. “You’re not gonna have your suit anymore. Don’t get hurt. They’re only letting me keep this junk on my tits ‘cuz I die without it.”
Angela laughed softly, putting her arm around Lena and giving her a squeeze. “I rather like you alive.”
“Same back to ya, Angie.” Lena stood up and stretched. “Right. Gotta get the last of my crap outta here before six, huh?”
“I’m already mostly moved out. I’m on the next flight to Moscow,” Angela said. “Have a good life, Lena.”
“Do my best, won’t I?”
Angela stood up, the weight on her back still present after all these times. “That’s all we can do.”
“Aw, don’t get like that, now. C’mon, race you to the barracks.”
Angela laughed as Lena brazenly cheated by blinking away down the driveway. As she readied herself to say goodbye for real, she couldn’t help but think of her time in Blackwatch, the way she’d never really gotten to bid Moira farewell.
She wondered, somewhere inside, if she’d ever see Moira again. But the world was a busy place. She intended to let herself be swept away in it, and Moira had always stood on her own against it, trying to change the current. So far upstream, Angela might never even know she was there.
But the thought remained, weighing her down as surely as her implant, and she went into the rest of her life with it wriggling in her mind.
And on the other side of the world, in laboratories both bright and dark, Moira worked.