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Sweet as Molasses

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    Reaper faltered mid-step, his shot which should have been fatal going wide and he was forced to twist to the side, a blur of shadow and smoke, to avoid the retaliatory shot and he snarled as he re-solidified. Shotgun solid and steady once more as he pressed it into pale flesh as he loomed over the unfortunate Helix guard who had frozen at the sight of the nanites drifting around him. “Die.” There was no emotion behind the command and no hesitation as he pulled the trigger. It was a quick kill, but not out of mercy and before the body had even hit the ground he was turning, trying to locate what had distracted him in the first place.

    The battle was nearly over, the security compound unprepared for the vicious efficiency that had been the Talon onslaught and a small part of him. The same part that had once worn a different uniform and fought people like him felt a pang of sympathy as his gaze rove over the bodies littering the ground and heard the crackle of radios, someone in the base still calling for aid. In the past, he would have been one of the ones to answer that call, to give them hope… but that was over, and the pang was quickly buried. That man was gone, dead and buried as far as the rest of the world was concerned and he was content to leave it like that. The familiar numb anger washing over him as he turned away, automatically checking his weapons even as he tried to work out what could have distracted him.

   It took him a few minutes to realise what it was, the scent almost lost amongst the others currently flooding the air – buried beneath the smoke from the initial assault, the acrid smell of pulse emissions and the cloying smell of blood and death. He might have dismissed it, his sense of smell – the part of him that had once relied on that sense, one of the many things sacrificed to the nanite technology holding his patchwork body together. But the scent, as faint as it was, was arresting – sugar and caramel, butter melted over fresh pancakes …

 “You smell intoxicating like this…”

     The memory hit like lightning, the words and voice an echo of an even more fleeting memory and for a moment he was lost in a sea of gold and blue. Jack… The name was a breath and a curse, carrying with it a deep wellspring of pain and grief..and anger.

    Reaper snarled, hand curling into a tight fist as he drove the clawed tips of his gloves into the palm of his hand, using the stinging pain to jolt him back into the present. The wounds were nothing, the nanites already buzzing beneath his skin, stitching him back together, but they couldn’t do anything for the dull ache that had blossomed in his chest. A pain that he hated himself for feeling, and he turned, more smoke than anything, intending to flee – his job was done, a quick glance at the closest holo-screen showing a familiar purple glow that confirmed their infiltration was complete. He didn’t need to linger. He didn’t need to confront the past.

He couldn’t leave.

    The scent tugged at him, as faint as it was and after a few reluctant steps, he found himself turning back with a curse. The trail was weak, his own dulled senses working against him and slowly he reached up, unlatching his mask just enough to tilt it upwards, recoiling as always at the rush of air against ruined skin. He pushed through the sensation, sniffing the air. The scent was marginally stronger now, tickling his nose and now it brought a sense of wrongness because while the sweetness was agonisingly familiar, there was something off about it, an almost burnt edge and he staggered under the force of another memory.

“Your Uncle Jack is a disaster in the kitchen,” Gabriel muttered to Fareeha as he bustled past her to throw open the kitchen window, ignoring Jack’s soft protest, although he did spare his partner a smile when he caught the forlorn expression on his face. He’d come back to find their quarters filled with smoke, and the air choked with the overwhelming smell of burnt sugar, charging inside in a panic only to find Jack and Fareeha standing forlornly over what he assumed had been an attempt to make toffee apples. He shook his head – Jack could cook when he put his mind to it, but he tended to get distracted while doing so which had decimated their pans more times than he cared to count and glancing at the pan that Jack had flung under the tap he realised that there was another one to add to the list. Let’s get this mess cleaned up, and we can try again.”

   Why? It had been months since he had been assailed by memories like this. Even the news that the damned Gorilla had recalled Overwatch agents and more than one account with the new organisation hadn’t brought a rush of memories – which had hurt in its own way, although it had been a relief too, as he knew that even now eyes were watching his every move. Waiting, watching – still unwilling to believe that he had completely abandoned his old affiliations.

   As though summoned by his thoughts, the communicator in his ear crackled to life and Amelie’s emotionless voice cut in, breaking through the memory.  “Where are you going? The mission is complete.” Not for the first time, he wondered what it must be like to be that empty – there was no inflexion to her voice, nothing to show pride or satisfaction in a clean mission, no emotion over all the bodies that she had undoubtedly put to the ground.

“Someone is here,” he mimicked her expressionless tone, clamping down on the unsettling emotions and memories with icy determination. There was no way he could trust her with the knowledge that his past was bubbling up, and she wouldn’t understand. Not that he wanted her to, he realised as the scent tickled his nose again, stronger than before – bringing with it a sudden surge of want, although he couldn’t name what it was that he wanted, and he swallowed, claws pricking his palm again as he fought to calm himself. “Keep an eye on Sombra. I’ll clear the building and meet you at the rendezvous point.” The irritation with their hacker wasn’t feigned in the slightest, as he knew without a doubt that her fingers would wander into areas that they weren’t meant to, and he knew that the distraction had worked when Amelie chuckled, a haunting, empty sound.

“Don’t be long.” It was a warning, but he didn’t waste his breath replying as he ended the call and strode forward, careful to maintain the image of someone searching for an enemy. And maybe he was.

“What the hell did you do Gabriel?” Jack’s eyes that had always been warm to him, even when the blond had been tearing others apart were like chips of ice as he stepped back, putting distance between them that was more than physical as his scent became muted.

Shutting down.

Locking him out.

*

   It was like tracing a ghost, and more than once Reaper lost the elusive scent, forcing him to double back until he was able to find it again. It was a reminder of much had changed, as there had been a time when he could have pinpointed the source in minutes. “Are you sure you’re not part bloodhound, boss?” Another memory hit, and in frustration he lashed out, nanite-infused claws leaving deep gashes in the wall and there…

It was faint.

The shifting of a body, the creak of leather…a sharp intake of breath, that spoke of pain and fear, and when he paused, he realised that the scent was growing stronger. Sugar and caramel singed around the edges, but alluring all the same and his anger was forgotten as he stumbled forward, called to it, a siren call that thrummed through his entire body, awakening instincts he’d thought long forgotten.

Protect.

    The need was sudden and overwhelming, stealing his breath as he followed the scent down the corridor to a door that lay partially ajar, the body of a Helix guard slumped against the doorframe and Reaper paused. The man was dead, no traces of life or his soul to be detected, but that wasn’t what held his attention. No, it was the wound that had decimated his body armour and a large portion of his chest, a gunshot wound that didn’t match any of the Talon weapons – the burns around it, speaking of pulse emissions at close range and he drew in a sharp breath.

   Jack dropped into the space beside him, covered in dust and blood, although a quick survey proved that it wasn’t his. Gabriel didn’t have time for relief beyond a quick sideways grin, which became an eyeroll as he spotted the wild smile on Jack’s face, and the way his fingers were reverently checking the pulse rifle clutched to his chest… the same gun that had just well and truly given away their position and he sighed.

“Subtle…”

    There’s no way, he told himself sternly, quashing the memory and the traitorous spark of something – he refused to call it hope that had followed. The scent. The wound. It couldn’t be that…it couldn’t be him.

It couldn’t be Jack.

   So, why did it hurt so much? And why did he hesitate as he reached for the door, as though opening it would shatter an illusion? Jack… Jack was dead and gone, and not in the same way that Gabriel was dead and gone. Reaper had left behind an empty grave. Jack…there hadn’t been enough of Jack left to fill a grave, the explosion that should have killed them both, claiming everything that the former Strike-Commander had been.

“S-sorry,” Jack’s voice was nearly lost in the roar of the flames around them, the sound of rubble falling and settling as their funeral pyre settled around them, and Gabriel almost wished that it had been.

“Don’t…” He started, breaking off as pain stole his words…not that he knew what to say anyway. There had been a time when the apology might have changed things when it might have saved them, but now it just hurt. Because, he could hear the finality behind it – the realisation and grief as Jack pressed against him, the gentlest of pressures, his body failing him – the wounds from where the idiot had tried to shield him, stealing him away breath by breath. Gabriel pulled him closer even as he fought to get his breath under control, to find the words, burying his nose in the crook of Jack’s neck as he chased the fading scent of sugar and caramel, and butter melted on fresh pancakes.

It couldn’t be Jack.

    Reaper…Gabriel had held him as he faded. Until he was gone. And only one of them had left the ruins of Zurich. His breath caught, the burning ache in his chest intensifying – that memory hurting as much as it had the day he had woken to this altered existence, and there was a snarl twisting his lips as he shoved the door open. Determined to find answers, and to destroy whatever this was that was dragging up the past he had so desperately tried to bury…

It was like being enveloped by the past.

    The scent that had been so faint until now swelled and grew until it filled the air around him. Until it was all that he knew, and the world wavered in and out of focus for a moment, even as his eyes darted to the figure slumped against the far wall.

    Gabriel heard movement outside his bedroom door and grinned, even before he caught the familiar scent trickling through, and Jack had barely finished knocking before he had the door open. He caught a glimpse of startled but amused blue eyes as he grabbed Jack and pulled him into the room, shoving the door shit even as he wrapped his arms around Jack, burying his face in his shoulder and losing himself in the beloved scent. “I missed you.”

“You saw me at breakfast,” Jack’s voice was dry, but there was a note of fondness that had Gabriel grinning even before his hands began to slip lower, lifting the edge of Jack’s shirt so that he could find warm skin underneath.  He knew Jack’s body, fingers moving with practised ease as he sought out the spots that would make Jack turn to putty in his hands, guiding his partner backwards towards the bed, even as his nose never left Jack’s neck.

   Pain forced him out of the memory as burning fire blossomed in his shoulder. Before he had fully registered what had happened, staggering back with a pained growl, he could feel his nanites going into overdrive as they fought to repair the damage. He spared the wound a brief glimpse, before turning his focus to the source…the sickening fire of the gunshot wound pushed aside as everything stilled, his breath catching in his chest as he found himself staring into familiar icy blue.

Jack…

   His first thought was disbelief. Then anger – an emotion that came too easily after everything that happened. Then there was a strange, strangled kind of relief – the kind that had bought him to his knees too many times in the path when Jack had walked unscathed or at least alive from a battle that would have killed most men. Followed by hope, as Jack’s gaze rove over him, the pulse rifle in his hands falling away – but it was short-lived. As whatever strength the other man had found to fire faded, and he slumped, eyes slipping shut in a way that was painfully reminiscent of another time and place and Reaper didn’t remember moving, the pain of his wound wholly forgotten in favour of reaching his side.

“JACK!” The name that had been a curse not long before was now a plea and prayer wrapped up in one as he dropped beside the other man, taking a shuddering breath as the familiar scent washed over him once more. Sugar and caramel, and butter melted over fresh pancakes -  different, yet the same as he reached for Jack. As he reached for his mate with trembling hands, finding the pulse, the ragged rise and fall of his chest, and the blood that was pooling beneath him. The proof that he was there, that he was alive for now – and the emotion that had hit before, returned tenfold as the reality of the situation hit him.

Protect.