The first time it happens, Gabriel is close enough to hear Morrison's rifle jam. He spins on his heel, senses working in overdrive to catalogue the situation, save Morrison, save them both because his own chances are slim on his own. There, there, there-- his hindbrain is already calculating the movement as he twists in slow motion, firing once, pivoting on the force of the recoil, fire-- Morrison roars like the fucking Hulk and smashes his forehead into the remaining omnic’s head, and Gabriel watches with widening eyes as the sweet kid from Kansas smashes its core in with three precise blows.
“Reyes, behind!” Simmons yells in his comm, and Gabriel whips out his arm to deal with the threat. When he looks back to Morrison, his expression is calm again, looking bashful as Gabriel checks over the bleeding bump on his forehead.
“It’s fine,” he says, rubbing at his neck with a dirty glove. “Everyone says I'm pretty hardheaded.”
He's not from Kansas, he's from Indiana, and Gabriel starts to think of him as Jack. He's still got a little bump on his forehead, and Gabriel pokes it when he's being particularly annoying.
They're fighting a--- fuck, it's some kinda mutated farming tractor or something, Jack would know, when it happens again. Nguyen's in trouble, her right arm bent in a way that spells medical ward and one of the smaller bladed things slicing at her legs, when Jack launches himself at it and goes rolling down the hill with the damn thing in his arms. Nguyen doesn't seem to be immediately dying so Gabriel sets off after Jack, and finds him in a ditch with a trashed omnic and a broken nose.
“Viv okay?” he slurs, stumbling as Gabriel helps him to his feet.
“She’ll live.” He pats Jack down, checking for injuries, finding a few bleeding cuts but nothing that won't heal in a couple of days. “Come on, you,” he says, steadying him against his side and leading them back towards their unit while Jack stumbles along trying to staunch the flow of blood. “You know they give us guns so you don't have to attack the tin cans with your face, right?”
He's got two bumps on his forehead now, his skin warm and uneven with scarring under Gabriel's fingers.
“You gotta stop doing this,” Gabriel says on a laugh, his fingers lingering.
The party has moved on without them, the remaining SEP graduates running wild down the hallways in search of something strong enough to get them drunk.
Jack empties his beer bottle with drawn out slowness, Gabriel's breath catching at the way his Adam's apple moves when he swallows.
“Doing what?” Jack asks, his fingers wrapping around Gabriel's to pull them down. He doesn't let go, his fingers still chilled and clammy from the bottle. His eyes are endlessly blue.
Gabriel takes the shot, leans forward to gently bump his forehead against Jack's.
“This. Your thick head's not gonna protect you forever.”
“I guess,” Jack whispers, not pulling back. Their noses brush as he tilts his head. “I have you, though.”
“Damn right,” he whispers back, squeezing his fingers, and then Jack is kissing him, tasting of chili nuts and a hunger just as strong as Gabriel’s.
The third time ends poorly, and Gabriel wasn’t even there to see it. He sits in a rickety folding chair next to Jack’s hospital bed, reviewing the footage with Jack’s limp hand held in his. The fucker tried to headbutt an E-49, took two bullets in the shoulder for it, and it’s a miracle he’s even still breathing.
Gabriel is so deep in his head he doesn’t even notice Ana enter the room, snaps alert in the middle of her sentence with an intelligent “huh?”
“Reinhardt’s awake,” she says, and Gabriel nods absently, his attention drawn back to Jack’s slack features. He’s vaguely aware that she’s still talking so he hums along in the pauses, parsing scattered words until he becomes aware that she’s stopped and looks up to find her glaring at him through perfectly made up eyes. The last time he saw her, her face had been covered in blood, the only remnant of it now a neat line of butterfly bandages closing up the cut in her hairline.
“You need to sleep,” she says with a sour twist of her mouth. “Go. I’ll sit with him.”
“No, it’s okay,” he says, his body choosing that moment to betray him with a giant yawn. “I want to be here when he wakes up.”
Ana crosses her arms, looking at him like she expects better. He stares back until her expression softens and morphs into sympathetic exhaustion.
“Need to kick his ass for making me worry,” Gabriel explains, and the corner of her mouth quirks up in something akin to amusement.
“I have a few choice words for him myself,” she says, looking Jack over. “You need your rest. I’ll make sure he stays put.”
She’s not in charge of him, he reminds himself as he stands up and lets her take his chair, lets the private who escorted her there lead him out to the car. He falls asleep as soon as he straps in, Jack’s face twisting between laughter and pain in his dreams.
The fourth time, Gabriel doesn’t even need to be told what happened. He returns from a training mission with his newest batch of Blackwatch recruits, and finds Jack and Ana waiting for him in the hangar when he steps off the plane.
Jack has a neat white bandage tied around his head, traces of blood dried into his hair and tight, tense lines around his eyes like he’s trying to fight back a migraine. Ana looks decidedly unamused as she hovers close, one hand twitching to reach out and steady him as he wavers slightly on his feet.
“Let me guess” Gabriel says when all of his agents have filed past. “The Terminator showed up, and Jack showed it who has the thicker skull.”
“Worse,” Ana says, cuffing Jack on the arm and immediately steadying him again. “Omnic separatists took the British Embassy hostage. He was supposed to negotiate.”
“In my defense,” Jack says, “all the hostages got out alive, and all the separatists save the leader were apprehended alive.” He pauses to touch his fingers to the bandage, blood soaking through where he puts pressure. “I’d call it a win. Ow.”
“Let’s get you back to medical,” Gabriel says, hooking his arm through one of Jack’s as Ana takes his other side. “Public relations having a good time with it?”
“They’re asking to replace him with a replicant again.”
Gabriel grins, pinching Jack in the side.
“Works for me. The original can bring me to fancy parties instead.”
“Wouldn’t work,” Jack says, elbowing him back. “I’d only headbutt someone there instead, and getting blood out of a tux is awful.”
Gabriel groans into his mask as the bastard does it again, and why is he even surprised at this point. Secret identity or no, Jack’s the kind of man who likes to face his problems head-on, and preferably at extremely close range. The sensor array in the OR-15’s face flickers, cracks running both across their face plate and along Jack’s visor, but the omnic stays on their feet and Jack is hoisted off of his by their human companion.
Well, shit. Two omnics and a human in full Talon livery, including the helmet cameras that he knows will expose him to the Council even after the wearers are dead. He briefly entertains the idea of dumping his mask and coat and hoping he won’t be recognized, but the human Talon agent decides to dig the muzzle of his rifle into the wound on Jack’s thigh, making him bite back a scream, and well. That’s not something that anyone gets to walk away from.
He hears Ana curse in his ear, and he’s already letting his body fall apart when she starts shooting, the smaller bipedal omnic dropping with a bullet through its processing core as he rematerializes on a roof beam above them.
Ana’s next bullet goes through the camera strapped to the human agent’s helmet, and Gabriel drops, the blast of pellets from his gun shearing the OR-15’s camera straight off its rails. The next shot goes through their already damaged face plate, and they crumple on their side accompanied by the human agent’s scream as Ana puts bullets through both of his knees.
Gabriel blasts the camera attached to the smaller omnic’s head, then steps up to rest the smoking muzzle of a shotgun against the visor of the whimpering agent.
“What did I say about punching robots with your face?” he asks, giving the downed Talon agent a kick for good measure. He’s not getting out of here alive, not after seeing Reaper and 76 working together, even less when Shrike drops down from her perch as well, firing a few biotic shots at Jack’s wound as she approaches, but they might as well ask him some questions if he hasn’t realized that himself.
“You find it incredibly sexy?”
“Nope. Try again.”
Ana walks up and helps Jack to his feet, flicking her mask back into her hood to give the unfortunate Talon agent a look utterly devoid of mercy. It still looks wrong on her face. Gabriel doesn’t know if he’ll ever get used to it.
“Stop doing it, or I’ll shoot you myself,” she says, crouching down to remove their captive’s mask. He’s young, maybe twenty-five. In their previous lives, that might have deterred them. Not now. Ana’s eyes narrow. “Talk.”