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On Va Voir

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If Gabriel had to guess on all the places Jack might send him, New Mexico was so far down on the list that it might as well not have existed at all. But there Gabriel was, staring at a stack of what he deemed worthless information on a place he had never even heard of before.

 

“Deadlock Gorge. The next closest thing you can get to Sin City, apparently.”

 

“And you want me there why, exactly?”

 

Jack elected to ignore him as they both flipped through their manila folders. It was a hell of a lot of shit, but for what? It all seemed like superficial intel, something that anyone with a working computer and Google could find. For whatever reason, though, Jack deemed this shit important. Of course it was. Whatever Jack thought needed attention was suddenly turned into the gospel truth.

 

“Covert missions seem right up your ally, considering it’s your job,” Jack said, visibly reveling at Gabriel’s harsh glare, “But putting that aside, let’s focus on the serious matter. Take a look at what I’ve given you, then we’ll discuss it.”

 

Jack paused for a moment and pulled out a few sheets from his folder, Gabriel begrudgingly doing the same. The man made it sound like a shitty little book club.

 

Despite his acidulous thoughts, Gabriel let himself drop the matter and continue flipping through the information. Page after page of mugshots, arrest warrants, and fines were suddenly beneath his fingertips, and as he trudged on and read more, the list of crimes only got bigger. Arson, murder, terrorism, smuggling. You name it, it was probably on the list. Twice.

 

“Fucking treason? Really?” Gabriel asked. He did nothing to keep the exasperation out of his voice, but it wasn’t like he really cared to begin with. “These people are batshit crazy. Why haven’t we heard of this before?”

 

Jack simply shrugged as he continued to read. “They’ve always been up and running, but they’ve only recently made a name for themselves. ‘Deadlock Rebels’, I think. New generation revamped it.”

 

Gabriel could see what he meant by ‘new generation’; most of the mugshots featured men and women that were considerably below the age of thirty, most of which seemed to hit somewhere in the mid-twenties range. They all seemed a little lackluster, though. Most of their clothes and faces didn’t stand out, and neither did the crimes right below their picture. One sheet, however, most certainly caught Gabriel’s attention.

 

It appeared to be a young woman with a rather startling face; mascara running down pale skin, even paler hair being roughed up and tangled as if having been in a fight. She probably had been by the looks of it, but she still managed to hold an arrogant air of entitlement, of a person who knew they could pay their way out of whatever trouble they put themselves into. Gabriel knew too many men like that.

 

“Elizabeth Caledonia Ashe. Twenty years of age.” He stared at the paper for a moment before putting it back down, mumbling as he looked at her crimes. “I’m not even going to try and read all of the charges.”

 

When he dug around a little more, he could see a few other papers that belonged to this Ashe girl; it seemed she had a long history of getting suspended and expelled from school for ‘misdemeanors ranging from Class A to Class D’, only to pay her way back in. Gabriel made it a point to keep all of her files together. He might look over them later.

 

Although the girl’s records spanned over her lifetime, her mugshot seemed to be one of the more recent ones. The others were newer as well, and even the oldest ones seemed to range between five or six years old. Being that they were all photocopies of the originals, they were pristine, clean, and orderly, with no unfixed blemish to be seen; even the reports from years ago were in good condition. He tried to keep them that way, even as he sluggishly threw them back into the folder. 

 

Try as he might, though, Gabriel couldn’t stop the slew of curses that escaped his lips when he knocked the papers off the table. Just his luck. He stared down at them longingly, imploringly, as if praying that they would pick themselves up. Of course this wasn’t the case, and so Gabriel settled for picking the stupid shit off of the floor. He listened to Jack laugh as he threw the folder back onto the table, and as Gabriel grabbed each and every paper, he truly thought about wadding them up and chucking them straight at the other man’s face. He actually did a few times when the laughing got too loud (they were photocopies, they could request more from the archives). It wasn’t until one of the papers felt abnormally flimsy that he stopped.

 

Even from the first glance, Gabriel could tell the paper was the original copy. It was slightly yellowed, especially around the edges, and the surface of it was covered in so many crinkles that they were uncountable. He could even make out an old coffee stain in the upper right-hand corner. At the very middle of the page, a tear ran across like it had been ripped in half, and the way another sheet of similar paper had been stapled to the top confirmed as much. Such wear and tear easily gave up the fact that it was old. The subject of the paper, however, was completely different. 

 

Gabriel was wholeheartedly shocked that the kid (and it was most certainly a kid) on the paper looked completely unfazed at getting his mugshot taken, even having the gall to snarl at the camera. He acted like he’d been there a thousand times. Maybe he had been. In the poster, the boy was no older than fifteen, and even from just a single simply picture, Gabriel could tell he was more feral that civilized. 

 

The boy was a tall, ruddy-cheeked child on the scrawny side, covered head to toe in bruises. His nose was clearly broken, and the blood that trickled from it almost covered the way his lip had been busted wide open. He was absolutely filthy. If Gabriel were to describe what he thought might’ve happened, he would say that the boy had been rolling around in the dirt while fighting with somebody else. It seemed like the most feasible option. 

 

Oddly enough, Gabriel felt some strange dissonance between how the kid was acting and what seemed to be lurking just behind the glaring eyes. He couldn’t truly tell what it was, not from a dirty mugshot taken at a safe distance, but it was there nonetheless. It poisoned the rest of the picture by its mere presence. The more Gabriel stared at the youth, the more concerned and unsettled he became; it only worsened when he finally looked down at the name and the crimes that accompanied it.

 

Gabriel paused. He stared at the paper longer than strictly necessary, because there was no way he could be reading this right, could he? 

 

“That one looks old. The archivists probably forgot to copy it and just gave you the original instead,” Jack said, voice somewhat disinterested as he started to dig through his folder. He didn’t seem to notice Gabriel’s unrest. “What’s it say, anyways?”

 

“You’re going to want stay seated for this one,” Gabriel said, and cleared his throat as he looked back over the paper one last time. He had, in fact, been reading it right.

 

Most of the words on the document were scrawled out in black ink. It was obviously not typed out like the others, though Gabriel couldn’t understand why someone would handwrite a report like this. Most of the writing was all over the place too, and wasn’t nearly as professional or organized as the computerized files. Gabriel would just have to pick out the legible things and get on with it.

 

“Legal name unknown, though defendant claims to be Jesse McCree. Court has requested affidavit of birth. Attending physician reports that the defendant is estimated to be a thirteen year old male. He is charged with six counts of second-degree murder-“

 

What?

 

“-and one count of justifiable homicide. The latter charge has been dropped. The defendant is also charged with aggravated arson, vandalism, forgery, robbery, and extortion. Additionally, there are previous counts of domestic violence, as reported by the biological father. All claims will be presented during the pretrial hearing for a potential capital case.”

 

Both Gabriel and Jack sat in silence for a moment as they mulled over what the hell they’d just read. This boy, McCree, was maybe thirteen, and he was charged with murder. He had a rap sheet that was about as long as Gabriel’s fucking forearm. The kid had no birth certificate, evident from the court’s desire for an affidavit of birth, and as Gabriel started to adamantly dig through the rest of the papers Jack had given him, he realized that the boy didn’t have any other records, either. The single document they’d been given was the only proof that Jesse McCree had ever existed.

 

“I wonder what happened to him,” Gabriel said. “I know he did some horrible things, but he was just a kid. There had to be a reason.”

 

“Well, why don’t you try and find out?”

 

Gabriel turned to look at Jack, whose stare was practically burning holes into his head. He would’ve flipped Jack off if not for the fact that he was busy mocking himself for his weakness; the fate of the delinquent boy had latched firmly onto his brain, and he was already interested in what Jack had to say. 

 

Jack obviously knew it, too. He smiled as he sat farther back into his chair. “Like I said, I already wanted you to go to Deadlock Gorge. They’ve been isolated for so long that even I would be safe from being recognized. Gather everything you can about the gang and see if you can bring it down, but while you’re there, why don’t you try and find out about your boy? I certainly won’t stop you.”

 

Gabriel watched warily as Jack’s smile grew, holding up Jesse McCree’s poster as he leaned forward.

 

“What do you say, Gabe?”

 

When he held out his other hand, ready to make a deal, Gabriel didn’t even hesitate to take it.

 

 

 

————

 

 

 

As soon as his boots touched the dry red earth, Gabriel was no longer Gabriel. He was not Commander Reyes, hero of the Omnic Crisis (the recon team had confirmed Jack’s claims that no one there really remembered or cared about the Crisis), nor was he leader of the shadow organization Blackwatch. He was a consigliere of a criminal organization in the northwest, the muscle of the oligarchs. He went out and got shit done (not much different than his normal job), and if the price was right, he could be a deadly gun for hire. That’s what they were selling Deadlock, at least.

 

With the help of some ‘friends’ inside Los Muertos, Gabriel’s story had been validated and spread around the Gorge every time there was a weapons sell or delivery. Month after month, they sold the story, each time adding something incredible. It wasn’t until almost a year later that Los Muertos reinitiated contact with Overwatch; Deadlock had finally taken the bait. 

 

“We don’t really know if this is the reason why,” one of the men, whose name Gabriel couldn’t remember, had told him, “But we got a call saying that they needed you to guard a shipment until they sell it to their buyers. That should give you a good couples weeks, maybe a month, to get what you need and go.”

 

As soon as Gabriel laid eyes on the shipment, he understood the need for protection.

 

In all of his years working in the military, he’d never seen warheads that big, nor had he ever seen such an expensive price tag attached to one. Blackwatch didn’t even have a budget big enough to buy that shit. Stacks upon stacks of other boxes were placed on the transports as well, and their labels ranged anywhere from ‘heavy ammunition’ and ‘repair parts’ to ‘shoe laces’ and ‘bar soap’. It seemed as though food and water made up the vast majority of the inventory. 

 

“Thank you for your help. I have to ask, though. Do they really need all of this?” Gabriel asked. He readjusted the bag on his shoulder as he hoisted a few boxes onto the back of another truck. “There’s no way one gang can use up this many supplies.”

 

“They can and do, friend. There’s getting to be over two hundred of them, so I reckon-“

 

Two hundred?

 

The man shrugged as he helped Gabriel with a crate full of strong (and probably illegal) alcohol. He seemed unfazed by the shock. No doubt he’d seen that reaction often.

 

“Aye, over two hundred, and that’s without counting the common folk they take in. It’s grown a bit in the past few years, though I believe we’ll be seeing it split sometime in the near future. Wouldn’t be lingering there long if I was you.”

 

“Why do you say that?” Gabriel asked. 

 

Again, the man only shrugged as he threw another box onto the bed of the truck. “I hear there’s been a bunch of infighting between the top dogs recently. My buddy, Amos, he tells me that it’s getting rough, says that they were even splitting into factions, though they all swear up and down they aren’t. Liars, the whole lot of them. God only knows what they’re fighting over now.”

 

The man obviously didn’t bother to keep his voice down all that much, and he seemed unafraid of being overheard. People looked to be too preoccupied to care, anyways. There were well over fifty people milling about the many trucks and supplies, all of them too busy moving crates and trying not to suffer from heat stroke in the blistering sun. They all collectively sighed when the foremen told them that it was time to move. 

 

Like Gabriel, many of the men around him were armed to the teeth. Some even grabbed extra firearms and ammunition as they left the warehouses and finally started trekking through the desert. The man that Gabriel had been talking to offered him a few more rounds and an extra pistol. Gabriel took them graciously. He honestly felt safer knowing he had something like the weapon he was used to.

 

Instead of his own beloved guns, Jack had given him an old double-barrel shotgun to use the entire mission. The power and kick of the gun was familiar, but the pistol felt closer to what Gabriel was used to having in his hands, even if it was just a bit smaller than usual. He was nonetheless grateful for it, and thanked the man as they continued their long journey. 

 

“How long until we reach the Gorge?” Gabriel asked, staring somewhat longingly at the shady canyon far off in the distance. He knew very little about the area (only pre-crisis information seemed to exist), but he knew that the canyon was the the halfway point to Deadlock’s settlement. 

 

That aside, the sun felt unbearably hot, and the shade from the canyon was tempting them more than any siren every could. The man no doubt shared that sentiment as he gave Gabriel a strong pat on the shoulder.

 

“Not too terribly long. You’re a strong man, I have faith you’ll make it through.”

 

Gabriel wanted to believe him, but as they all continued to trudge through the desert for over an hour, he couldn’t help but curse as sweat dripped from every pore. It even got to the point where he had taken off his shirt and shoved it into his bag (it was messenger style, which he absolutely loathed), leaving only a tank top to try and wick away the moisture on his skin. Most people followed suit and stripped a bit as well. There wasn’t a single breeze blowing to cool them off, not a cloud in the sky to block the sun, but when they finally made it to the canyon, nothing outside of its protective shade suddenly mattered. 

 

The groans of pleasure and subsequent laughter echoed against the rock walls as everyone celebrated not being burned alive. The chatter that had once been snuffed out came back to life; Gabriel could hear everyone talking away on random topics, some of which pertained to what they were doing, others sticking to sports or personal affairs. It honestly reminded Gabriel of sitting in the cafeteria with his agents, listening to their mindless gossip over a questionable lunch. The familiarity made him smile. Gabriel turned to face the man he’d been talking to as to strike up a conversation, to share some of the celebratory joy. He was only met with a deafening crack and thick, warm droplets of blood.

 

Cries of alarm hung in the air as gunshots ricocheted through the canyon, and just like Gabriel, the other men grabbed their weapons and turned to face whoever it was that was shooting them down. Raiders, it seemed. Of fucking course. It became very, very apparent that there were many of them; what seemed like a hundred men jumped down from above, and they all scrambled on top of each other as if they didn’t really care about anything aside from their goal. They were all desperate to reach the cargo.

 

“Do not let anything be taken!” one of the foremen commanded, “Shoot them down!”

 

Nobody had to be told twice. 

 

Strange land or not, war was war, and that was what Gabriel had quite literally been built for. He even felt in his element for the first time since starting the mission when he took the gun from his back and started firing at anyone who looked like they had mange. If it weren’t for the fact that he had to kill them, Gabriel might’ve felt bad about their condition. 

 

They all seemed so desperate, so emaciated, that it was impossible to not realize that most were going after the food and water, not the weapons themselves. They shoved at one another so roughly that Gabriel was sure that, if left to their own devices, these people would’ve eventually clawed and mutilated each other until they died, no guns required. Regardless, when a group of them came charging at Gabriel, he was fully prepared to free them of their own heads. He would’ve done so if someone else hadn’t fired first.

 

Through the utter chaos, Gabriel heard some of his men shouting to take cover behind the trucks, and he followed their warnings as more bodies fell lifelessly to the ground. The raiders kept coming and coming, so why were he and his men hiding? Why didn’t they step out and actively fight instead of only killing enemies that came straight for them? The answer came in the form of a blinding flash of light and an explosion of sound. It bathed the entire area, and not seconds later, six bullets cut through the air like knives, sending their targets straight to the grave. It was nothing but a barrage of bullets afterwards.

 

An entirely new group of men stormed into the canyon at the rough command of a voice Gabriel had never heard before. Once he recovered from the stunning light, he could see that these new men (friends? Foes? They seemed to be allies) moved through the uproar as one unit, a very different behavior compared to even Gabriel’s own group. They looked much healthier as well. The bandanas they wore over their faces made them distinguishable from those that they were killing, and so Gabriel’s men were finally able to rise and continue fighting now that they knew who not to aim for.

 

Gabriel himself focused on dispatching the attackers near his payload. They ran at him with reckless abandon, trying their best to get to the crates, only to find themselves filled with lead. Gabriel wasn’t particularly worried about them, even when he ran out of ammo for his shotgun. He simply threw it across his back and changed over to his pistol (he might not have been able to remember that man’s name, but he was thankful for the momentary friendship and the gun). There were hardly any enemies left now. Another body came barreling towards him, and out of instinct, Gabriel slammed his fist straight into their face and pointed his pistol at where the person had fallen onto the ground.

 

“Whoa, hey! Wait just a minute!” Though the man was laid out on the ground, he stretched his arms over his head in surrender. He flashed his left arm a bit in Gabriel’s direction. “I’m Deadlock! We’re friends, and friends don’t shoot each other, yeah?”

 

Gabriel felt his breath hitch as he finally got a decent look at the person he had just punched. With his bandana having fallen back around his neck, the man was clearly sporting a broken nose and busted lip (courtesy of Gabriel), and though the blood flowed freely and with vigor, he simply smiled as his teeth became stained with crimson. Age had twisted his features, as did the gore and wounds, but Gabriel could tell exactly who was laying on the ground.

 

It was Jesse McCree.

Chapter Text

Jesse McCree was far from the ruddy-cheeked child that he had been on the poster, but Gabriel could easily see the same bone structures, the same eyes, that he had observed from the picture. If this wasn’t the kid, then it had to be a very close relative.

 

“Can I stand up now?” Jesse asked. He laughed as he did so, spitting blood to the side as he looked back up. “Not that I want you to shoot me, and trust me when I say that I don’t, but I’m gonna be drowning in my own blood if I don’t get up.”

 

Gabriel shook his head as he came back to the present. He realized he was, indeed, still pointing his gun straight at the man’s head. He quickly flicked on the safety and threw it in his bag, then extended his hand to help Jesse to his feet. 

 

“Sorry about that.” Gabriel winced when he looked closely at Jesse’s injured face. “And sorry for breaking you nose.”

 

Surprisingly, Jesse laughed as he wiped the blood from his face, smiling even wider as he leaned against the side of the truck. Gabriel could just barely make it out, but it seems that underneath the general sunniness, Jesse was quietly taking stock of his injuries in a way that made it seem like he was simply catching his breath. His tongue was prodding just enough at his split lip that it could be mistaken as him wetting the cracked surface, and though he seemed to ignore the obvious broken nose and the cut through his eyebrow, Jesse subtly, swiftly, tensed and relaxed some parts of his body, getting a feel of what was damaged. If Gabriel didn’t do such things himself, he probably wouldn’t have even noticed. 

 

“If you don’t mind, would you help me with my nose?” Jesse asked. He was still smiling, seemingly done with his swift self-assessment by now. “It’s silly, I know, but I have a hard time setting it by myself.”

 

“Of course.” There was literally no way Gabriel could refuse. “Hold still. On the count of three, okay?”

 

Jesse hummed in acknowledgement as he obediently kept still, allowing foreign hands to carefully hold his face. Gabriel almost let himself scoff. This man was actually letting a total stranger lay hands on one of the most vulnerable parts of his body. The only protection Jesse seemed to be relying on was his own hands, which held somewhat loosely onto Gabriel’s wrists.

 

Still, how naive could he be? If Gabriel were someone else, someone who hadn’t been explicitly looking for Jesse, or wasn’t being paid to help, then what would’ve stopped him from wrapping his hands around the man’s throat? What would stop him from snuffing out another life? Those dark thoughts aside, Gabriel put his thumbs on either side of Jesse’s nose.

 

“Ready?” he asked. He waited for Jesse to hum again. “Alright. Remember, hold still. One-“

 

Crack

 

Gabriel didn’t even bother counting as he forced the cartilage back into place. He always did that to agents on the field; it seemed to hurt them a little less when they didn’t tense up for it. Jesse didn’t seem to share the same sentiment, and his blunt nails dug so harshly into Gabriel’s skin that blood welled up and smeared at his fingertips. Then, Jesse allowed himself to rest his face wholly against Gabriel’s hands. Too foolish, too trusting.

 

“What the hell happened to two and three?” he moaned, his bruising eyes staring, almost mesmerized, at the blood trickling onto the dirt instead of the man who had caused it.

 

Gabriel laughed at the whining. He knew he probably shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t help the way he found the situation so amusing, especially since he knew it would be a funny story to tell whenever he got home. On the other hand, he actually felt bad for punching Jesse in the face. It would be very, very sore for a good, long while. 

 

Gabriel allowed himself to laugh one more time before slowly pulling his hands away, readjusting where his bag dug into his shoulder. “Alright, alright. Sorry for-“

 

Gabriel couldn’t even get the words out as Jesse let himself tip forward. The man used his entire weight as he slacked against Gabriel, and he groaned thankfully (and somewhat inappropriately) at having something to rest against, even if it was another person. Gabriel wanted to say it was just chest to chest, but it was quite literally everything to everything. 

 

“Are you always this cuddly with strangers?” he asked incredulously. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he awkwardly placed them on Jesse’s hips, forcing them a few inches away from his own. The movement caused Jesse to laugh.

 

“Only when they break my face, sir.” 

 

Gabriel could feel a devilish grin against his shoulder, then his throat, as Jesse pressed straight into the hands that held his hips at a distance, and Gabriel had no doubts about the bruises it would cause. That was the farthest thing from his mind, though. He had just barely met Jesse, and now, in the aftermath of a literal raid, he was trying to rut against the man who had broken his face.

 

Gabriel didn’t have much time to think on that either, because sudden rough shove pushed Jesse off to the right. As Gabriel caught him, laughter rang out from behind them.

 

“Keep your dick in your pants, McCree, and feel some shame while you’re at it!” a young man said. He was certainly the one who had pushed Jesse, and he waggled his eyebrows as he and all of the others gave playful wolf whistles. Gabriel watched with vague amusement after the group continued with a few more teases, and Jesse winked at his friend, then at Gabriel himself.

 

The amusement turned into shock (and, admittedly, curiosity) as Jesse turned his back on Gabriel. His voice turned harsh, increasingly demanding, with every sudden order that he snarled out at his own people and at Gabriel’s. It became very apparent that nobody was willing to disobey, not even Gabriel’s foremen.

 

Right. This was still business. 

 

The familiarity of hierarchy seemed somewhat distorted when Gabriel watched the others, witnessed a strong yet delicate balance between these people. It was clear that Jesse was at the top; the way others yielded to his commands, broke under his stare, was enough to confirm as much. His posture and attitude even seemed to convey an autocratic air to follow. At the same time, while they obviously weren’t in command, a smaller group floated about Jesse, roughhousing him in a way that Gabriel never would’ve allowed his own agents to do. They pushed and pulled and laughed like children. How odd.

 

Jesse appeared to be used to such occurrences and took them all in stride, only swatting them away when they got too close to his face. One particular boy, one with a bit of a limp, seemed overly bold; he slammed his body against Jesse’s, laughing along with the others, and it probably wasn’t in his best interest to push Jesse’s face with his hands, but that’s exactly what he did.

 

The atmosphere suddenly change. The others stopped laughing, and Gabriel felt his own body tense when the small group sudden dispersed to a safe distance. It didn’t stop Jesse from outright grabbing the boy that had touched him and pushing him to the ground. The boy squealed like a dying pig when Jesse hopped on top of him and held him down. After a few tense seconds, everyone actually started to laugh again.

 

“Stop, stop!” the boy cried. The raucous laughter only got louder as Gabriel approached the scene. “I-I didn’t mean it! Really!”

 

Gabriel had the worst in mind when he’d seen what Jesse had done, especially when the boy beneath him had sounded so distraught, but when he finally came right up to join the group, he realized that nothing terrible had really happened. The only rough thing about it was that Jesse was pinning the boy’s arm forcefully behind his back. A move that Gabriel used often. He knew very well that if that boy jerked too hard or Jesse pulled it any further, his shoulder would dislocate. Gabriel’s gut, however, told him that Jesse was just bluffing.

 

“C’mon, Mikki, you know how this works,” Jesse said. Gabriel could see the arm being pulled a bit tighter, then released. A warning. “What’s the magic word?”

 

The boy cried out a few muffled words, mainly alternating between ‘please’ and ‘sorry’, but one time was good enough for Jesse. As soon as he heard both words, he backed off as quickly as he’d pinned the boy down, and hauled him up to his feet by his good arm. It didn’t seem to have a truly aggressive nature. If anything, it seemed to be an odd sort of discipline, but one that was effective no less. Jesse was not cruel with it; he didn’t prolong his punishment at all. The boy seemed thankful for that. He quietly sniffled behind his bandana as Jesse gave him a friendly ruffle of his hair. 

 

“Now then, is your leg okay? I saw you limping,” Jesse said. The other men in the group seemed to talk to one another as if bored now that the show was over, but they didn’t wander off as Jesse knelt down to check the boy, Mikki, on the leg. 

 

Gabriel turned to watch the men that accompanied Jesse. All of them wore their bandanas over the faces - three red, two gold - and were held firmly in place with hardly any risk of slipping (as proved by the high-octane ‘mission’ that had just occurred). It covered enough of them that Gabriel was left to guess their ages from their bodies and actions alone. 

 

All things considered, it was somewhat easy to do so; all of them, even Mikki, were stripped of their shirts like Gabriel’s men, and their physical features hinted at them being relatively young. They seemed to fall near their late teens, early twenties. The Mikki boy seemed much younger. Oddly enough, Jesse was the only one out of many with every single piece of his clothing on, which must’ve been absolutely miserable in the sweltering heat. He even seemed to have been the only one with longer sleeves instead of a tank top. 

 

That was strange. Maybe it was just a bad choice in clothes.

 

A sharp whistle suddenly startled Gabriel, and he looked down at Jesse, who was attempting to get his attention.

 

“Hey, mercenary! Pretty sure you’re the mercenary, anyways. Whatever. Just come help a man out,” he said, and Gabriel did as he was asked. As soon as he settled down next to Jesse, he could tell from experience that Mikki had a gunshot wound to the leg. Though he couldn’t tell the extent of the injury, he could see the blood slipping between Jesse’s fingers as he applied pressure. No doubt it had to sting like a bitch.

 

“I’m gonna make the safe assumption that you know plenty about wounds and whatnot,” Jesse said. He muttered something quietly to Mikki, who only huffed and ripped the bandana off his face, handing it to Gabriel once it was untied. “I’m gonna need you to play doctor with me. Like I said, I’m pretty damn sure you already know what you’re doing.”

 

Gabriel rolled his eyes. Of course he did. He took the bandana from Mikki, but before he started anything, he tried to get a good look at the wound.

 

“Whatever you say, nurse,” Gabriel said. He heard Jesse’s breath shutter, as if to hide his laughter, and Gabriel let himself smile a little bit in return. “But did the bullet go clean through, or do we need to dig it out?”

 

“Clean through, doc.” Jesse removed his hands, and so Gabriel quickly started to tie the rag around the young boy’s leg. It didn’t seem too terrible; it really was a clean shot, straight through the very edge of the meat instead of hitting any bones or important vessels. The boy had even been hopping around a bit before, having enough energy to warrant getting tackled to the ground, so Gabriel felt that it was a good sign of an easy recovery. Jesse seemed to agree. Well, partially, anyways. As soon as Gabriel had finished his administrations, Jesse took Mikki by the elbow and walked to the nearest truck.

 

“Up you go, buddy,” he said, grunting as he hoisting the boy up by his waist, sitting him safely beside a few boxes. Mikki smiled at Jesse in a way that suddenly had Gabriel’s heart aching. It reminded him of Fareeha; she always looked at Ana like her mother was the sun, the moon, and all of the stars combined. Jesse seemed to follow in Ana’s footsteps as he gave Mikki a gentle pat on the head, walking back to where the others were waiting.

 

“Time to move out!” Jesse wasted no time going from kind to determined. 

 

Interesting.

 

“Thomas, take Amos and the mercenary. Guard both the people and the supplies, because we can’t afford to lose either. Mikki is doing the head count though, so don’t worry about that. Angelo, head up to the front, and take Cassidy and Driscoll with you.” Jesse paused, giving them a halfhearted glare. “And for the love of God, make damn sure that your guns are loaded and your belts are tight. You remember what happened last time.”

 

Three of the men, which Gabriel assumed were Angelo, Cassidy, and Driscoll, all laughed at the accusation, and he never hoped to imagine all of the scenarios that might’ve occurred for that statement to make sense. Regardless, they listened to Jesse’s orders, and slowly made their way up to escort the convoy.

 

The other two men, Thomas and Amos, seemed less enthusiastic about the entire deal. Well, specifically the man that Gabriel assumed to be Thomas, if the way he nearly jumped ten feet into the air when Jesse had called his name said anything. He looked exasperated, and he stared at Jesse so intensely that it might’ve burnt holes into his flesh.

 

“Okay, McCree. First of all,” Thomas started off, “me and Amos can do this alone, and we don’t need some mercenary getting in our way. Second of all, why does Mikki get to ride on the truck but we don’t? He was walking before, so he’s obviously fine.”

 

The long-suffering sigh that Jesse gave told Gabriel that this was most definitely a common occurrence, one that probably didn’t go away no matter how many times he tried to force it to. Instead of losing his composure though, Jesse just turned to face Thomas with a lazy little grin.

 

“Well, you’re free to shoot yourself in the leg if you want to join him, but I’d have to leave you for dead for even considering being that stupid,” he said playfully. He then turned to Gabriel, gently bumping their hips together before addressing Thomas again. “And if you’re gonna complain, I’ll take him. It’s my dime he’s on anyways. Now go talk to the foremen and get us moving before more vultures show up.”

 

Before Thomas could complain anymore, the boy Gabriel assumed to be Amos grabbed the man’s arm and pulled him away, going over to where a few of the foremen were conversing with a truck driver. Jesse did the same with Gabriel; he took him by the wrist (almost the hand, Gabriel noticed, before readjusting his grip) and walked to the very back of the convoy. They stayed several yards behind as they finally started moving. Gabriel took the time to properly situation both his bag and his shotgun, just in case things got hectic again. 

 

Now that they were alone and without distraction, Gabriel observed Jesse carefully out of the corner of his eye. Body covered in blood, face equally as gory and littered with cuts and bruises, he appeared oddly relaxed and without a single care, as if having been through such an ordeal was as familiar as taking a breath. It probably was, if Gabriel had to bet. And yet, it didn’t seem that the violence made Jesse any less caring. It didn’t turn him cruel. He might’ve been a little ditzy and airheaded, and he was apparently absolutely libidinous by nature, but he wasn’t a terrible guy.

 

“So, what’s your name? I can’t call you mercenary forever. I mean, I could, but then I’d feel like an asshole.”

 

Gabriel startled a bit as he turned completely to look at Jesse. The man was smiling rather brightly despite his split lip, looking to Gabriel with an expectant expression. He had a feeling that Jesse would absolutely rename him if the man was not given one to use.

 

“Call me Gabriel,” he said. Though he knew Jesse’s name, he technically hadn’t heard anything other than McCree, nor had he been told otherwise, so he asked, “And what do I call you?”

 

Oddly enough, Jesse paused for a moment. Gabriel could see the gears turning in the man’s head, though he didn’t know what for, or why he hadn’t just said his name and gotten it over with.

 

“What would you like to call me, Gabriel?”

 

Ah. A test, maybe?

 

Gabriel looked at Jesse as the man laughed, smiling that same easy smile from before. He seemed endlessly playful and happy, but for whatever reason, Gabriel felt that Jesse might’ve been a bit lonely, or at the very least, he craved some intimate touch instead of being pushed and shoved all the time. The way he had leaned into Gabriel’s hands even when he’d just had his nose broken, how he had tried to love up on Gabriel right after, all supported that fact. Him seemingly wanting to hold hands but refraining from doing so was honestly the most damning, considering its innocent nature. It was a small revelation of the man’s true mentality.

 

Gabriel smiled to himself as he realized that a wonderful gift had landed in his lap, one which went by the name of Jesse McCree. Though he hated the thought of using this man, it was his only chance to gain information straight from the mouth of Deadlock. All he had to do was find favor in Jesse’s eyes.

 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Whether Jesse understood the (horribly corny) reference or not was unimportant; Gabriel smiled, and watched with no small amount of joy when underneath all of the blood and dirt, Jesse’s cheeks turned a soft pink.

 

Bingo.

 

“Didn’t know mercenaries read William Shakespeare, or anyone else for that matter,” Jesse muttered. He held out a bashful hand which Gabriel shook, returning Gabriel’s smile with his own. “The name’s Jesse McCree. At your service!”

 

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Jesse.”

 

The man’s momentary skittish behaviors slowly switched back to his seemingly typical, laidback confidence. As they walked, however, especially the farther they got from the shady canyon, he noticed that Jesse was starting to express a minor limp, his breathing sounding a bit raspy (no doubt caused by the broken nose), and he wondered why the man didn’t say anything about it. Gabriel was left to wonder why. Jesse didn’t even ask to stop and recover. Instead, he continued on, even to the point where Gabriel could see that walking was becoming a struggle.

 

Seriously, why didn’t Jesse just join Mikki? He could sit and rest while his team covered the convoy, but he happily chatted at Gabriel’s side as if everything was fine. Jesse talked about this and that, talked about how it wasn’t much farther, talked about how he was finally glad to get a new shipment of ammunition. He talked and talked and talked. 

 

He actually said quite a bit about Deadlock when Gabriel had prompted him to. At the same time, though, nothing truly of value had been gained from it. If Gabriel asked about their weapons, Jesse would tell him about the metal casings on bullets and then add a funny story about gun safety (or a lack thereof). If he asked about Deadlock’s sudden member increase, the man spun a tale about the horrors of having to share a bathroom with fifteen other people.

 

Gabriel wanted to laugh; he could tell that Jesse was used to beating around the bush, at placating people who asked too many questions, and he was actually good at it. Gabriel finally gave up on it as they came to a stop in front of a large metal door acting as a secure gateway. 

 

“You ever been to Deadlock Gorge?” Jesse asked him. He took the moment of respite to stretch his bad leg, then scratch at the blood that had dried on his face. Gabriel felt bad as he watched the flakes fall away. He had caused that. Suddenly they were moving again, and so he let himself push those thoughts away as the convoy finally, finally made it through the gateway. 

 

Gabriel felt his breath being taken away at the image that greeted him.

 

Deadlock Gorge (the town, that is) was full of what seemed to be a thousand people, all of them bustling about in some way that made it seem even more hectic. The first thing that Gabriel truly noticed was the thick metal supports of a railroad line (it seemed to be outdated, too old to support a modern hypertrain), one that was directly above their heads. Off to the right seemed to be an old little diner which had plenty of customers inside. Ahead of them, the way they were currently going, was a welcoming sign to Deadlock Gorge and a dilapidated gas station called Big Earl’s. Gabriel could see that someone had built rickety wooden bridges connecting it to the nearest rock path.

 

Eventually they stopped just shy of another metal gate, this one opening to reveal an even more populated section of the town. As soon as they were complete opened, everybody congregated in the middle of the convoy (Gabriel’s men were all huddled together, looking almost expectant), and those who had been milling around came rushing to help unload boxes and direct the trucks that carried the warheads and weapons. The vehicles went father down the road until they disappeared around the corner. 

 

“I’d say that was a good deal, wouldn’t you?” The young men that had accompanied Jesse, the ones that head guarded the front, came wandering back to where he and Jesse were. They had finally taken the bandanas off their faces.

 

“For supplies? Absolutely.” Jesse smiled excitedly at all three of them, though it faded as he lazily started to pat himself down. He seemed to be looking for something in his pockets. “Surplus leads to experiments, and you know what that means. Now then, has anyone seen my-“

 

“Jesse McCree! What the hell is wrong with you?”

 

Gabriel watched, vaguely amused, as Jesse started to search through his pockets with renewed vigor, the three other men wincing sympathetically as they distanced themselves a bit. Coming down the road was someone that Gabriel honestly wasn’t too shocked to see. 

 

Elizabeth Caledonia Ashe, presumably still twenty years of age, walked down the street with such fury that Gabriel suddenly understood why those men had stepped back. She and a very large omnic made a B-line straight for Jesse. The poor man gave a muted sigh as he finally gave up digging for whatever he’d lost and looked up just as Ashe stepped into his space. He gave her his trademark smile.

 

“Evening to you too, Ashe,” he greeted, not even flinching as she stuck her nail accusingly in his bloodied face.

 

“Don’t you ‘evening’ me, cowboy. I told you not to set a single damn foot outside of town until we finished some of our transactions, and what do I wake up to?” She quite literally hissed as she took a step closer, bringing their faces so close that their noses brushed. “I wake up to you and your cretins missing, doing exactly what I told you not to do.”

 

Jesse, for his part, seemed very unfazed. He merely shrugged as he turned his head a bit, hiking a thumb back at where Gabriel’s men had been standing. They were obviously waiting. 

 

“You should be celebrating, Ashe. We saved your shipment,” he said. “Now it’s time to go pay up so we can actually have our water and drink it, too. No malgastes el agua, yeah?”

 

Jesse spoke Spanish. Huh.

 

Ashe gave him one last harsh glare before digging around in her pocket, throwing her wallet at the large omnic (Gabriel recognized that it was made specifically with domesticity and defense in mind) that had accompanied her. She commanded it to go and pay the men so they could leave. Eventually, Ashe turned to him, her snarl turned into something smaller, something closer to bitterness instead of rage and hatred. Gabriel carefully clutched at the shotgun’s strap across his chest.

 

“You know very damn well that I only speak French, not Spanish. And anyways, who’s this?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “I don’t care who actually broke that pretty face of yours, Jesse, but I’ll let him do it a second time if you think for one damn second I’m paying for whatever the hell this is.”

 

Jesse once again laughed as he waved her off. “Don’t worry, he’s not being paid with Deadlock funds. I’ve already told the others he’s on my dime.”

 

A personal hire? Gabriel didn’t know about that. Well, he’d heard Jesse say something about it earlier, but Gabriel just assumed that it was Deadlock as a whole who had made the decision to pay for his help. He didn’t think it would be out of Jesse’s personal funds.

 

That was... interesting.

 

Ashe seemed to think the same thing, though probably for entirely different reasons. Gabriel couldn’t tell what exactly those reasons were, only that she turned even more severe as she forced Jesse to lock eyes with her. Neither of them wavered. 

 

It was Ashe who tapped out first when the distant sound of something going off (it sounded like a small IED, something Gabriel knew well, and it probably meant that someone had dropped some cargo) caught all of their attentions. With the same exasperated expression from before, she glared at Jesse before turning to where the explosion had come from. There was, as expected, smoke.

 

“B.O.B! Finish up and let’s go!” Without waiting for the omnic, Ashe stormed off to where the explosion had happened.

 

Jesse and his men all let out a collective sigh as she finally went out of view. Then, with their never ending laughter, they all clapped Jesse on the shoulder and give him good natured pats and playful shoves. He simply let them.

 

“She’s enough to drive a man to drink,” one of the men said, and a chorus of amens rang out in response. 

 

Jesse joined their little choir as finally went back to digging in his pockets. “Good thing we’re celebrating tonight, then. We got a nice, big shipment of alcohol, so get back to work and unload it. You know where it goes.”

 

As ordered, the three of them all went off to start unloading. Jesse seemed to start to join them, but Gabriel watched as his body tensed, back rigid as he slowly rocked back to his original position. Right. Jesse was hurt, even if he had tried to play it off like he wasn’t. Gabriel was about to offer help, and was only stopped when a large shadow overtook both of them.

 

It was the omnic, presumably named B.O.B, and in his arms was Mikki. The boy looked like he was honest to God pouting.

 

“Yo no fui-“

 

Jesse cut the boy off with a lazy wave of his hand. “Don’t give me that bullshit, Mikki. And while we’re at it, give me my cigarettes back. I know you took them.”

 

Mikki’s expression soured even more as he started to rummage through his pockets before throwing a slightly crumpled pack of cigarettes down in their general direction. It went a little high, and so Gabriel caught it just before it flew beyond their heads. Jesse swiftly stole them from his hands. 

 

“B.O.B, make sure you give him to Doc before you deal with Ashe,” Jesse muttered. He said no more as he pulled a lighter from his pocket, lit a cigarette, and took a long, desperate drag from it. The conversation was over. Mikki seemed to know as much and didn’t fuss anymore as the omnic took him away. Without saying a word, Jesse motioned for Gabriel to follow him as he started to hobble his way past everyone and down the asphalt road.

 

Jesse was... odd, to say the least. Gabriel found him contradictory in some ways, but overall, he just seemed like a bit of an airhead. One that was led mainly by his dick and other such base desires, but an airhead nonetheless. The goofy grin on his face (his sudden sour mood had no doubt been rescued by the nicotine) was proof enough. 

 

Gabriel frowned. It felt wrong to use Jesse; this man was clueless, seemingly oblivious to most things, and was perhaps a bit childlike in nature. The only thing that forced Gabriel to take that with a grain of salt was the fact that he had seen Jesse’s record. Six counts of murder at such a young age, along with countless other crimes, would be no easy sin to bear.

 

Perhaps that’s what made him childlike, then? Gabriel had seen cases where traumatic events caused mental regression, but most of the time, that was accompanied by some other mental illness. Jesse’s situation just didn’t really seem to line up with what Gabriel had seen in the past; it was more likely that this trait was just a fundamental part of who Jesse was. Charisma also seemed fundamental, because as soon as they pushed past a crowd and entered an older building, he began to cut up with everybody who talked to him. 

 

As Jesse leaned carefully against the wall, no doubt trying to catch his breath, Gabriel took the time to observe the building. It appeared to be an inn (he scoffed at whoever created a pun of a name like ‘Cave Inn’). Its walls were bland and faded, though they had obviously been a lively blue at one point, and the furniture was just the same. Everything appeared to be just so old. Gabriel made sure to keep Jesse in his line of sight as he carefully approached a pair of ancient couches. Between the two of them was a small table with a stack of equally ancient pamphlets; Gabriel was surprised they didn’t crumble into dust as he picked one up.

 

“You won’t find much in that thing, trust me. It’s a little... outdated.”

 

Gabriel turned as Jesse flopped down onto the couch in front of him. The man was correct, of course; the inn had been officially established in the 1970’s, apparently being pretty popular for a while before Deadlock Gorge practically fell off the map. The fact that the pamphlet and the sign outside of the hotel boasted about having colored television was enough to prove its age. 

 

This place... it was almost entirely untouched by time, or rather, it was completely lost in it. No wonder Gabriel was safe from recognition.

 

“Ready to go see your room?” Jesse asked. He stood slowly, using the arm of the couch to push himself up, and Gabriel had a feeling that visiting the room was more for Jesse’s sake than his own. “It’s your lucky day! I gave you a special little room that’s not shitty.”

 

Gabriel had a feeling that was a hard task in and of itself, and so he allowed himself to truly be thankful as he accompanied Jesse up the stairs. 

 

It was slow going, of course; Jesse was still wounded. The proof of it was quite literally stained onto his skin, emphasizing by the way his breath shuddered and the occasional wince from stepping too hard. He once again leaned against the wall when they finally made it to the very end of the hallway, and from within his pocket he pulled out a faded plastic keycard. He quickly jammed it into the mechanical lock and pushed open the door as soon as it flashed green.

 

“Welcome home, Gabriel,” Jesse said. He smiled brightly as he hobbled inside, throwing the keycard lazily onto the bed. “This is your room for as long as you’re here. Make yourself comfortable.”

 

Gabriel was thankful that he could finally remove the heavy burdens from his back. As carefully as he could, he sat his shotgun on one of the comfy looking chairs near a small table, then threw his bag onto the second couch-like chair beside it.

 

The room in general seemed rather nice, actually, though it appeared as if someone had just moved out. The bed wasn’t made very neatly, the table and chairs were skewed in a way that looked hurriedly repositioned, and a few papers lingered here and there. There was even a book on the bedside table. Gabriel, however, would’ve taken any kind of room just as long as it had air conditioning. He reveled in the chill it brought him, made cooler by the sweat lingering on his skin. Jesse seemed to share a similar sentiment; his expression was content as he waved to get Gabriel’s attention.

 

“Seeing as it’s my job to watch over you for a few weeks, I told them that you would get the room connected to mine. Special privileges,” Jesse said with a wink. His fingers tapped against the place he was leaning, but instead of it being the wall like Gabriel had thought, it was a small oak door. “It locks from both ways, by the way, so we don’t even have to see each other if we don’t want to.”

 

Gabriel laughed at the man. He had a feeling that Jesse would be a bit upset if they didn’t interact a little, and besides, Gabriel needed Jesse to like him. Keeping his side of the door unlocked would be okay. 

 

“Now then!” Jesse said, smiling as he flicked the lock open on the door and moved to grab the handle. “Take your time to settle in. Get comfy and all. While you’re doing that, I’m gonna go work and-“

 

“You really should look at that wound.”

 

Jesse paused, and his smile seemed to falter. It quirked upwards just a hair. Gabriel could already tell that it was a broken gesture, a tic, something that maybe Jesse didn’t even know he had. Gabriel would have to watch for that. Anyways, if he hadn’t been looking closely to begin with, the infinitesimal change in Jesse’s expression would’ve gone completely unnoticed with ease. The man quickly recovered with a laugh.

 

“I’m fine!” Jesse said, grinning as he leaned against the closed door. “It’s nothing too serious, I promise. Just a little scrape.”

 

“Well, why don’t I have a look at it?” Gabriel sat down on his bed and patted the spot next to him. “I’ve heard I’m pretty good at playing doctor.”

 

Though Jesse was hesitant, he smiled at the joke. It seemed to be enough to encourage him to listen to Gabriel’s request. He hobbled over to the bed with careful steps before plopping down where Gabriel had patted, and silently watched as Gabriel slipped down from his spot and settled onto the floor at Jesse’s feet. 

 

“Left leg?”

 

Jesse hummed in response, and Gabriel carefully removed both of the man’s boots and socks before slowly rolled up the pants leg.

 

‘Scrape’, his ass.

 

A large, oozing gash cut straight from the top of Jesse’s ankle to the middle of his calf, and while Gabriel wasn’t sure if it was caused by a knife, a rock, or something else entirely, the result was still the same. No wonder Jesse had been limping. Gabriel shot a scolding glance, and Jesse at least had the sense to look a bit sheepish. 

 

Without wasting another minute, Gabriel rose from his spot and looked around the room, glad to see that he had his own bathroom instead of a communal one somewhere in the inn. He walked quickly into the bathroom, and as soon as he flicked the light on, he began to search through the cabinets for anything that could help him. He eventually found two washrags and a small (probably inadequate) first aid kit. 

 

As Gabriel sat the kit on the counter, turning the faucet on to wet the rags and wash his hands, he took a moment to observe Jesse from the bathroom mirror. 

 

From a distance, Jesse appeared much more tired than he had before. His body was hunched over, arms curled around his stomach as if it hurt, and the slight twinge in his expression gave away the pain that no doubt coursed through his veins. It felt almost wrong to look at him without his knowledge. Not willing to invade Jesse’s moment of vulnerability any longer, Gabriel wrung out both rags and grabbed the kit, making his way back to the bed.

 

“I don’t understand why you insisted on walking all the way back here with this kind of wound,” Gabriel said. He watched, somewhat mystified, at how Jesse was suddenly back to life, no longer appearing pained or uncomfortable in the slightest. “You should’ve at least rested with that Mikki kid for a while.”

 

“Aw, but that would mean I wouldn’t have got to spend time with you!”

 

Gabriel rolled his eyes at the comment, instead focusing on the blood pouring from the gash on Jesse’s leg. He made sure to completely roll the pants leg up to the knee before getting started. With cautious movements, Gabriel took one of the wet rags and began to clean the blood as much as he could while opening the first aid kit with his free hand. As he suspected, there wasn’t much inside. There were gauze pads, an ace bandage, scissors, a small bottle of rubbing alcohol, and a few packets of pain pills. Well, something was better than nothing. With some of the excess blood washed away, Gabriel grabbed the bottle of alcohol.

 

“This is going to hurt,” he said, untwisting the cap. “Hold still and try not to jerk.”

 

“Are you actually going to use two and three this time?”

 

Gabriel faintly grinned in spite of himself, though it faded as he watched Jesse’s muscles tensed in preparation. The action made more blood ooze out of the wound. He grabbed Jesse’s ankle almost painfully tight for both of their sakes, and without much of a warning, he poured a small amount of alcohol onto the affected area until the tiny bottle was drained. Jesse sharply hissed through gritted teeth. Though he allowed himself to fall onto his back (seemingly to keep his hands away from Gabriel, if the way he nearly tried to reach out meant anything), his free leg lashed out on instinct, and Gabriel was lucky enough to catch it before it connected with his jaw. 

 

“All good up there?” Gabriel asked. He let go of Jesse’s legs once he was certain he wouldn’t get kicked, and instead focused on getting gauze placed over the wound. Gabriel made sure to be extremely gentle (perhaps his sympathy made him overcompensate) as he wrapped the ace bandage around the cotton. The moment he was finished, he leaned back on his hands to give both Jesse and himself a little room to breathe.

 

Jesse didn’t respond to the question. From where Gabriel begun to pack the kit away on the ground, he could hear the man’s ragged breathing, and Gabriel felt another pang of sympathy. Wound management, while necessary, was an absolute bitch. Gabriel left the kit on the floor as he stood up, but he made sure to grab the second clean washrag before moving to sit on the edge of the bed by Jesse’s dangling legs. 

 

Jesse shot him a crooked smile. His movements were hesitant, obviously pained, but he pushed himself up until he was side-by-side with Gabriel. 

 

“I’m beginning to think you don’t know how to count,” he murmured. 

 

“You seem to do just fine regardless.”

 

Jesse breathed a muted laugh at Gabriel’s quip, but despite his attempts to appear chipper, he was visibly drained of life. Gabriel, for the thousandth time, felt sorry for the man. It seemed to be a rough day for Jesse, or at least this part of it was. He would most certainly need to eat, drink, and shower before taking a well-deserved rest, but Gabriel would bet that, more than likely, Jesse would probably just throw himself down on his bed without doing any of those. Knowing this, Gabriel had mercy on the man and slowly, carefully, brought the second rag to wash away the crimson staining Jesse’s face.

 

He didn’t flinch like Gabriel feared he might. Instead, Jesse took a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting Gabriel hold his face in one hand while gently cleaning away the blood with the other. 

 

It felt... intimate. Much more than Gabriel was accustomed to. With every tender stroke, he allowed himself to carefully trace Jesse’s face with his thumb, and felt some odd emotion well up inside of him whenever he barely touched the ends of the man’s eyelashes. Gabriel could almost convince himself that if he wasn’t trying to merely gain favor, he might’ve truly enjoyed the moment. 

 

With all of the blood gone, Gabriel could finally see Jesse’s natural features. He had to agree with Ashe on one thing; Jesse did have a rather pretty face. His skin was beautifully tanned, flecked with constellations composed of freckles, and the smattering of bruises couldn’t possibly hope to ruin a single inch of its beautiful canvas. His features were sharp, yet they were somehow softened by some unknown factor. His eyelashes were heavy and dark (they somewhat reminded Gabriel of Ana’s), and though Jesse’s lips were split and chapped, Gabriel admired the subtle pink that contrasted well with his skin. Even the cut that ran through his eyebrow seemed complimentary. However, all of that seemed rather unimportant when Jesse slowly, carefully, opened his eyes.

 

The color was striking. Especially up close. Though the brown was reminiscent of darkened whiskey, Gabriel couldn’t help but feel his heart shudder from within his chest as he observed the golden hue that made Jesse’s eyes so distinctive. It was unlike anything Gabriel had ever seen. The one component he found oddly familiar was the brief flash of something Gabriel couldn’t quite name; he didn’t know where he’d seen it before until he remembered a younger, more feral Jesse, staring straight into a lawman’s camera with blood dripping from every inch of his skin. Though it only lingered a split second, the sheer force of it caused Gabriel to advert his gaze.

 

“Thank you kindly,” Jesse said. He gave a lighthearted smile as he flopped back down onto Gabriel’s bed. “I’ll get up in a minute, I promise. Just need to rest and prep myself to walk a whopping ten feet.”

 

Whatever encounter that had just occurred was over. Gabriel rolled his eyes as he stared down at the ditzy, yawning young man, back arching to stretch muscles that were no doubt very sore. Gabriel would let Jesse have his moment of respite. Gabriel also stretched as he reached down and grabbed the other dirty rag and the first aid kit, then made his way back to the bathroom, throwing away the bloodied cloths as he sat the kit back under the counter. He washed his hands as well. Though it was painfully familiar, Gabriel hated the feel of blood on his hands.

 

He took his time in scrubbing every inch of his hands, then his arms, all the way up to his elbows, just to get rid of any lingering stains from both Jesse and the day’s earlier events. Once he was satisfied, Gabriel dried himself off and left the bathroom. He was only partially surprised at what greeted him.

 

In the short time that Gabriel had been gone, Jesse had fallen fast asleep. Though he had rolled over onto his side, he seemed to almost curl completely inwards on himself, arms tucked up against his chest, and one knee was curled in as well. The only exception was the bum leg, which extended over the edge of the bed to keep from putting any pressure on it. 

 

Gabriel truly felt pity for this man, and as he grabbed the random book on the table and settled onto the other side of the bed, a safe distance away, he allowed Jesse to sleep with some gentle semblance of peace.

Chapter Text

Hey guys! First of all, thank all of you for reading my stories, it really does mean a lot and your support hasn’t gone unappreciated.

 

Unfortunately life decided it wanted to catch up with me, as it does, so until further notice, this story is going to be on hiatus. I really am sorry, I just have to focus my time on some other things right now.

 

Thank you so much for your understanding! I hope to be writing for you again very soon!

 

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