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The new kid was a feral young alpha, hauled reluctantly to heel. How old was he, seventeen, eighteen? Gabriel couldn’t really tell. Beside Jack, the youngest member of the now defunct Deadlock Gang glared at Gabriel with resentful defiance, hands shoved in the pockets of his borrowed fatigues, which hung awkwardly off his skinny frame.

At least the kid cleaned up well. Whatever his name was.

Jack cleared his throat. “I’ll uh. Leave you two to it?” He shot New Kid a stern look, full eye contact, shoulders up, all aggressive confidence. Gabriel would’ve rolled his eyes if he could. A decade and a half spent around alphas hadn’t made their instinctive posturing any better to take.

“I got a choice?” The new kid asked sullenly, in his twanging drawl. No give, nothing. That was new. Young alphas usually tried to overcompensate. New Kid radiated indifference.

“As a matter of fact you do, kid,” Gabriel raised his eyebrows. “Could be that you want to go to jail after all. Thanks, Commander,” he added, when Jack didn’t take the hint and leave. “I’ll take it from here.”

The gangly kid with the prosthetic arm slouched into one of the plastic chairs before Gabriel’s desk. Jack, the perpetual worrier, shot them both a concerned glance before reluctantly leaving the office, probably to lurk somewhere in the background where he could spring another lecture about second chances on Gabriel later.

Second chances. Fuck. Whose idea had it been to give Blackwatch the charity case anyway? Wasn’t Overwatch meant to be the kiddie-friendly version?

“Your chair sucks,” the kid began by saying.

“Seriously? That all you can come up with?” Gabriel sneered. “And of course it’s uncomfortable. Anyone who sits in that chair is probably in some kinda trouble.”

To his credit, the kid looked slightly abashed. “I’m not a kid,” he muttered. “Name’s Jesse.”

“Yeah? How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“I’m calling bullshit on that.”

“… Seventeen. And a half.”

Gabriel whistled. “Whoah. And a half, you say. That makes you, hm, half a year too young to be actually doing anything at all in here.” The hell was Jack thinking?

Jesse shot him an incredulous look. “You can’t be serious.”

“Actually, I am. We’re part of the UN, and the UN takes certain things like the age of majority very seriously.”

“So what am I gonna be doin’ in here? Coolin’ my heels?”

“How good are you at making coffee?” Gabriel asked, with a carefully blank face.

Fuck that,” Jesse growled.

“I suggest you learn fast, then. I’ll book you in for a session at the canteen.”

“Thought I was here to join some kinda black ops unit,” Jesse sneered. “I killed a man before.”

“Yeah?” Gabriel shot back. “Who was he?”

The question seemed to throw Jesse for a loop, disarming him of his temper. “Uh. Well. It was in the last bank job we did. Security officer. Old guy.”

“So you killed an old man, probably some retired cop,” Gabriel said slowly, his voice dripping with contempt. “Blasted him away, just like that. You ever got up close? Saw the light go out of his eyes? Learned his name, or the names of his family?”

“Well uh, no-“

“Then you didn’t kill a man,” Gabriel cut in. “You offed some faceless stranger and didn’t think more about it. Means you’re dangerous, sure. But nothing more than that. Any idiot can kill someone they don’t know for the sake of something as stupid as money. I’m not looking to hire on a killer.”

“You want a soldier.” Jesse was bristling again. Typical alpha kid, puffing up at the slightest criticism. Gabriel swallowed a sigh.

“Soldiers go to Overwatch. I’m looking for agents. People who can think on their feet. Who can operate alone, or as part of a team. People who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty - but only get their hands dirty for a good reason. Frankly, I don’t think you have what it takes.”

Jesse didn’t take the bait. “Yeah? Send me to jail, then.”

“Don’t think I’m not tempted. Seventeen and a half, you say? Sounds to me like you’re real close to getting tried as an adult. Deadlock Gang’s all locked up in supermax, tried in the USA. You know what that’s like? America’s one of the only developed countries in the world where places like Red Onion still exist. Months, years of solitary, for people who like to think they’re dangerous. Even if you ever get paroled out of there, you’ll be fucked up forever. That what you want?”

That gave Jesse pause: he ducked his head, growing a little pale. “I heard,” he muttered.

“You’re not like the other agents here in Blackwatch, and don’t think that you are,” Gabriel continued quietly. “The others here earned their place. I picked them personally, from the SAS, the SLCU, the Green Berets, the Mossad, the spetsnaz. You’re just some kid who got handballed to me because Overwatch didn’t want to take in a criminal. Get that?”

“I get that.”

“I get that, sir,” Gabriel corrected, and waited, as Jesse glared at him. This was the break point. If Jesse snapped and snarled, Gabriel was going to kick his ass back to Jack. He didn’t have the time to deal with young alphas and their inbuilt sense of privilege-

Jesse dropped his eyes, fidgeting, and exhaled. “I got that. Sir. Sorry.”

“Well, aren’t we all sweetness and light all of a sudden.”

“I do want to be here, all right? Everyone’s heard of Overwatch. When they - uh - the Strike-Commander said he was gonna give me a chance to sign up, hell, I probably would’a signed up even if it was between that and walkin’ free,” Jesse burst out. “I just. This ain’t Overwatch. It was kinda. Bit of a surprise.”

“That’s right,” Gabriel said evenly. God damn Jack Morrison. “This isn’t Overwatch.”

“But the thing is,” Jesse said, almost shyly. “Everyone’s heard’a you, too. Commander Reyes. You led Overwatch during the Omnic Crisis. Some of the things you done-“

“Here’s another lesson for you, kid,” Gabriel cut in, amused despite himself. “Flattery doesn’t work around here. Especially not on me.”

“I wasn’t tryin’ to flatter you,” Jesse scowled. “To be honest, you seem like a real piece of work and then some.”

“This job interview is going so well,” Gabriel mused out aloud, and Jesse flushed, but barrelled on.

“I was tryin’ to say,” Jesse muttered, “that although I was kinda yeah, disappointed that I wasn’t gonna be in Overwatch after all, I thought, hell, maybe Blackwatch is better. Sorry I was kinda rude at the start, all right? I was still shook up. Are you really gonna stick me on intern duty?”

“Up until you convince me that you actually belong in Blackwatch, yes.”

Jesse brightened up. “You come down to the range with me and I’ll show ya.”

Gabriel didn’t need to - he’d read the test scores from the initial processing. Jesse was off the charts, at least with a revolver. Given anything higher caliber, he was better than average too, but at gunslinger range, he was a monster. That was the only reason why Gabriel had even agreed to this goddamned interview. “You’re a crack shot. But so’s everyone else in this gig.” He took a small box from the top drawer of his desk and slid it across.

Jesse opened it. “Uh. Box of stickers?”

Gabriel nodded curtly. “You’ve got two weeks to stick one on any three people in Blackwatch. Three stickers total. That’s your first test.”

This time, Jesse didn’t run his mouth: he pocketed the stickers instead. “Got it. Sir.”

“And you’re going to take suppressants. Like everyone else in Blackwatch. Report to Doctor Ziegler, she’ll prescribe you a set.”

“So that’s why everyone in here smells like nothin’. Guess that’s logical,” Jesse added, before Gabriel could start to explain. “What with bein’ black ops and all.”

That was one good thing about Jesse being young, maybe. Convincing the older alphas in the unit to take suppressants had been an uphill battle. “The suppressants are special issue. They’ll make you completely null. Hopefully, you won’t suffer any side-effects, but if you do, Doctor Ziegler can make the necessary adjustments. Dismissed.”

“Right.” Jesse got to his feet, hesitated, then stuck a hand out over Gabriel’s desk. “Um. Lookin’ forward to workin’ for you, sir.”

“Nice try, kid,” Gabriel said dryly, grabbing Jesse’s wrist and turning up his palm. A sticker sat against his fingers, adhesive side up. “But you’re going to have to work harder than that.” At least the kid had balls.

Jesse grinned at him, not even embarrassed at being caught out. “Two weeks, boss.”

1.0.

The suppressants made him dizzy for the first two days until Doctor Ziegler messed around with the dosage, and then it seemed to work. Kinda. Jesse wasn’t really sure what the effect was at first, until one day he accidentally snuck up on one of the janitorial staff, a beta. While apologising profusely and helping pick up all the shit they’d knocked off the cart, Jesse realized that he’d never managed to sneak up on anyone indoors before. His scent signature was gone.

Two weeks was going to be a cinch.

This opinion lasted a day or so, all the way until the ex-spetznaz agent, Andrei, dislocated Jesse’s good arm. Reyes looked in on them right after Jesse was getting his arm popped back in by an infirmary nurse. It hurt like a bitch, but Jesse would be damned before he made it look like it did. Good thing he was already pleasantly numb on whatever military-grade painkillers that Blackwatch had stocked.

“So,” Reyes said dryly, once the nurse had been dismissed. “Explain.”

Sitting straight-backed in the chair beside the infirmary cot, Andrei shrugged. He was a reticent man who looked like an office drone on a first impression: compact, bald, and with narrow blue eyes set too close to a sharp nose, an unremarkable face on an unremarkable body. Jesse had been given the distinct impression that if Andrei hadn’t recognised Jesse when he had, Jesse would be nursing a broken neck, not just a dislocated shoulder.

“Tried to put a sticker on his shoulder,” Jesse confessed. “Sorry sir.”

“Can we try not to kill the intern in the future?” Reyes asked Andrei.

Srochnik need learn not to approach Andrei from behind,” Andrei said pointedly, in faintly accented English. “Also, he is not dead.”

“It was my fault,” Jesse said quickly. “I got caught. Nothin’ broken.”

“At least you tried Andrei first instead of Gordon,” Reyes said wearily.

Jesse tried not to shudder. Whippet-thin, pretty-faced Gordon was a Green Beret, and although he was unfailingly polite to everyone, something about him had always seemed… off, like a gun primed to go. “Wasn’t even gonna try Gordon.”

“Good instincts, at least,” Andrei said, all magnanimous pity, which was possibly worse. Jesse slunk out of the infirmary after Reyes and Andrei had lost interest, plotting his next move. Maybe one of those Nerf pistols? It wasn’t as though Reyes had said how the stickers were meant to get stuck on, after all. Or for how long.

It took him eight hours to land himself back in the infirmary, this time with cracked ribs. On hindsight, the ex-Mossad agent definitely hadn’t been someone to mess with. Reyes popped by as the long-suffering nurse was giving Jesse a biotic shot, and he looked pissed. “You’re an idiot,” Reyes said curtly, without even waiting for the nurse to leave.

The nurse nodded vigorously. Jesse shot her a betrayed look. “Got two out of three,” Jesse said defensively. “Sir.” The second sticker ‘victim’, the British SAS guy, had been the one to save Jesse’s ass, actually.

“How did you even get the nerf gun? You don’t have mail privileges. Or money.”

“Think you don’t want to know that, sir,” Jesse said hopefully, as the nurse swabbed him, cleaned up, and stalked off.

“If Harding hadn’t saved your ass, Noam would’ve killed you,” Reyes growled, clearly winding up towards some kinda epic lecture.

“No pain, no gain, right?” Jesse tried his best ingratiating grin, hoping to ward off what was looking to be a monumental shitfit from the boss. Reyes let out a deep sigh. So much for that. “Look, sir. I mean. I haven’t managed to tag you ‘cos your door ain’t got great line of sight and the last coupl’a times I tried to get to you through the hallways you saw me comin’. Andrei’s watchin’ me, Gordon’s off limits. But I got Noam and Harding. That’s two outta three in three days.” If he could tag one of the ex-SLCU twins… Ming seemed nice. She probably wouldn’t try to break his arm. Probably.

“I’m trying to teach you subtlety, kid.”

“Hey, you didn’t say that I had to get them stickers on unnoticed,” Jesse said brightly. “Way I see it, the only thing I got goin’ for me is that I’m a fair shot with any gun but a great shot at revolver range. So I might as well stick to what I know.”

Reyes rubbed a palm slowly over his austere face. He was probably a beta, Jesse decided. Sure, he was aggressive, and sure, he’d seen Reyes face down Morrison, who exuded his All-American-Golden-Alpha-Male shtick like a part of his physical armour. But it was a good thing that Jesse couldn’t really guess, same way he had absolutely no idea what everyone else in Blackwatch was. Not being able to guess meant no first impressions.

“All right, kid,” Reyes said gruffly. “Yeah, you got two. But if you go on like this you’re going to be dead by the end of two weeks, and that’s not gonna look good on the paperwork.”

“God bless paperwork,” Jesse said dryly.

“Yeah, you’d better be grateful. Paperwork’s the only reason why I haven’t busted your ass down to a detention cell.”

“Well what did you think was gonna happen?” Jesse shot back. “Ain’t nobody in here who was gonna take a little joke like this kindly.”

“All right, firstly,” Reyes growled, “I said three people in Blackwatch, not agents. There’s a lot of support staff on the ground. Secondly, Gordon aside, most of the other agents are capable of ‘taking a joke’, if it doesn’t involve them being shot at.”

“Uh. Right.” Well, that was stupid. “Wouldn’t feel right shootin’ at the janitor,” Jesse muttered. “What’s the point of this, if I could’a just stuck it on three civvies? That wouldn’t have impressed you. Thought this was some kinda test.”

“‘Course it was,” Reyes told him. “And somehow, you’ve managed to both exceed my expectations and fail them spectacularly.” At Jesse’s blink, Reyes added grudgingly, “Tagging Noam and Harding like that? Harding called it a ‘brilliant shot’. Haven’t heard any praise from him before that didn’t involve Gordon. But,” Reyes said sharply, as Jesse brightened up, “it was still a dumb move.”

“Well,” Jesse pushed himself up onto wobbly feet, “I still got a week and a bit, so if you’d ‘scuse me, sir-“

Dizzy, he tripped over his own feet on his next step, and if Reyes hadn’t caught him quickly, Jesse probably would’ve broken his jaw against the infirmary counter. “You’re not going anywhere,” Reyes snapped, hauling him back onto the cot. “Just sleep off the meds and think about your life choices.”

Jesse couldn’t help the grin on his face as he lifted his hand off Reyes’ shoulder, revealing the sticker underneath. “Sure am, boss.”

Reyes’ expression jumped from surprise to irritation and finally to a sort of resigned amusement. When he let out another sigh, Jesse braced himself for a second lecture, but what actually came out was a wry laugh, Reyes’ mouth twisting into a little quirk that wasn’t quite a smirk, not quite a smile, and against all odds, it softened the angular lines of his face, the cold set to his jaw. Jesse could feel himself starting to flush.

Thankfully, Reyes didn’t seem to notice, patting his arm. “You’ll have a lot of time to think about it. You’re assigned to the kitchens."

“What? Oh man. Come on!”

“You’ll be making a valuable contribution to the team,” Reyes said, and the smirk had returned. “Stay out of trouble, kid.”

“Name’s Jesse,” Jesse called after Reyes’ retreating back, and got a dismissive wave for his efforts. Still. Reyes hadn’t removed the sticker. Jesse grinned to himself, somehow absurdly pleased. Maybe Blackwatch wasn’t gonna be so bad.

II.

Somehow, Jesse survived. Not only that - he thrived. There was something ugly in that, watching how Jesse seemed quick to ingratiate himself to anyone remotely friendly - like Harding - and quicker to get out of the way of anyone with no patience for him, like Gordon. Even Noam grudgingly seemed to warm up to the boy. Watching the ex-Mossad agent give Jesse a hand up to the top of the sheer wall, Gabriel couldn’t help but tense a little. Beside him, when Jesse was hauled safely up, Jack let out a soft breath.

“Thought Noam didn’t like to be touched,” Jack murmured.

“That’s right.”

“… so McCree’s doing well then,” Jack said tentatively. Gabriel tried not to scowl. Why the hell was Jack even here? Putting Blackwatch through its paces was Gabriel’s job. Seemed like Jack was starting to stick his nose in where it wasn’t wanted with impunity nowadays.

“Could say so.”

“Turned eighteen yesterday, didn’t he?”

“Yeah.” Far as Gabriel knew, no one else in Blackwatch really gave a damn. “I heard Amari tried to make him a little cake.” It probably hadn’t been edible.

“She did.” Jack eyed Gabriel carefully. “Said he was real thankful. Like he ain’t ever gotten anythin’ for a birthday before.”

Gabriel set his jaw. “You have something to say to me, sir, say it.”

Jack winced, and looked away. “Gabe, that’s not why I’m… look. All right. Ana wasn’t too happy about Jesse being taken in by Blackwatch at his age.”

“Believe me, I know.” Jack’s second-in-command wasn’t the sort of person to take anything she didn’t like lightly. Or softly.

“The first couple of weeks didn’t really help things neither.”

“He’s still in one piece, isn’t he?”

“Thing is,” Jack coughed, “She’s gotten to the UN Secretary, so. It’s possible, with your recommendation, that, uh-“

“That we kick Jesse out of Blackwatch?” Gabriel frowned. “To what? Supermax?”

“No! No. Not to jail. But to the regular army. Where we were before.“

“What’s the difference between the army and Blackwatch?” Gabriel asked, with a little more bite to his voice than he could help.

“Blackwatch is an elite unit and-“

“And Jesse will make a good operative. That’s my recommendation.” Gabriel wasn’t really sure why his hackles were up on this matter, but he’d long learned the value of trusting his gut. “You guys dumped him with me at the start. Now that he’s actually ready for combat, you want to drop him off elsewhere?”

“Ana talked to him, Gabe,” Jack said quietly. “Asked him whether he liked it here. And he said things were fine. Wasn’t anythin’ he wasn’t used to.”

And there it was. Jesse was this good at navigating the social order in an outfit as tightly wound as Blackwatch, with its often volatile agents - because he was used to it. In its own way, the Deadlock Gang had probably been the same. As a boy, Jesse had learned quickly who to suck up to and whom he had to leave well alone. The way he’d shrugged off his injuries in the first week like they were nothing special? That should’ve been a sign.

“If he wants to leave,” Gabriel said finally, “he can leave.”

“You know he ain’t goin’ to, unless you tell him to.” At Gabriel’s frown, Jack nodded over at Jesse. “Kid thinks the world of you, Gabe.”

Gabriel looked. Somehow, Jesse had made it to the end of the obstacle course first, and he was grinning hugely, looking over at the both of them. At Gabriel. If he’d had a tail, he would’ve been wagging the hell out of it. “He’ll grow out of that,” Gabriel said dryly. “Same way you did, Commander.”

Jack exhaled. “Is that still a problem?”

“Is what a problem?”

“Gabe, we’ve been over this,” Jack said, always with his annoying, holier-than-thou patience. That disappointed look, like Gabriel was deliberately trying not to understand.

Oh, Gabriel understood, all right. “So we have,” he said evenly. “The whiteboy alpha got promoted. Way of the fucking world, sir. Always has been. I get that.” Whoop. That wasn’t really what Gabriel had wanted to say, but he was coming off his pill cycle, and that always made him cranky.

“That’s not-“

“Whoah, sir.” Jesse was suddenly at Gabriel’s elbow, so abruptly that Gabriel flinched aside. “Ey, Commander. Nice to meetcha again.”

“… Good work on the obstacle course, McCree.” Jack said neutrally, though his hands were still clenched. “Gabe, we’ll speak later.”

“Sure, schedule it in,” Gabriel suggested, just to see Jack’s expression turn tight. He relaxed a little when Jack stalked off, letting out a breath. Jack and his goddamned alpha male, pack leader attitude-

“Want me to make sure that Whiskey Delta falls down a couple of staircases?” Noam inquired beside him.

“You watch your mouth, Abrams. That’s the Strike-Commander you’re talking about.” Gabriel said flatly, then added, in a lower voice. “And stop fucking tempting me.”

Noam laughed, one of his hoarse, mirthless coughs, nodded at Gabriel, and loped off towards HQ with the others. Annoyingly enough, Jesse lingered. “You all right there, boss?”

“I’ve told you before,” Gabriel said absently. “You either address me as ‘sir’, or as ‘Commander’.”

“Seems to me like that’s confusin’,” Jesse grinned at him. “I mean, I’m meant to call everyone here ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’. And there’s more than one Commander here’bouts. While you’re the boss, see.”

“Morrison’s the boss.”

“Not of us, he ain’t,” Jesse said cheerfully, jerking a thumb over at the other agents. Ming, late of the SLCU, turned her head just at that moment, as if checking in on the both of them, and she gave them both a smile and a reassuring little wave.

Gabriel tried not to feel a little gratified. Off a pill cycle, everything always felt more visceral. “The Strike-Commander wanted to know if you would prefer to be transferred to the regular army.”

“What? Oh hell no,” Jesse yelped, incredulous, then he started to frown. “You… you tryin’ to get rid of me? What did I do now?”

“Was gonna be your choice.”

Jesse stared at Gabriel warily, as though he was approaching a trap, something to defuse. Finally, he ducked his gaze. Submitting. A young alpha, at that. Well now. “I don’t wanna go,” Jesse muttered. “Please. Sir.”

Gabriel’s eyes were probably starting to dilate. Please. Sir. He evened out his breathing, and focused on the warmth of the sun on the back of his neck, on the weight of his body armour, even the faint pressure of the rim of the beanie cap on his head. Looked like he’d left holing up a little too long. “I’ll let him know.”

Jesse was blinking owlishly now, sniffing at the air. “Is that…” he began, then trailed off, frowning. Gabriel watched, resigned, as realisation started to dawn. “Whoah. So that’s what Harding meant.”

“Oh?” Harding, too?

“Heard him tellin’ Gordon that he thought you didn’t get made Strike-Commander ‘cos of what you were. Well, I also think that’s bullshit, if that’s true,” Jesse said fiercely. “If those guys in Overwatch really told the UN that they prefer takin’ orders from Morrison, well, fuck’em.”

“Address your superiors with respect,” Gabriel told him, but it was halfhearted. Respect. Wasn’t like Blackwatch tended to get very much of that. Long ago, Gabriel had tried to tell himself that it didn’t matter. Job got done, and that was what was important.

Now, though… hell. Jesse had his head ducked down, flushed, shifting his weight on his feet. And Gabriel couldn’t smell him. Kid was still in the middle of his own cycle.

That wasn’t any good.

“I’ve been told that you like watching me,” Gabriel said neutrally.

Jesse flinched, but didn’t raise his eyes, not immediately. When he did, he was grinning, all reckless mischief. “They fit this uniform real close to skin, just sayin’. Sir.”

“Three days in a month, I don’t like being near anybody.” Gabriel continued, as though Jesse hadn’t spoken. “The fourth day, though, when the comedown’s over and the headaches have been and gone? I don’t mind having some company. Willing company,” Gabriel elaborated, when Jesse started to gawp. “It’s up to you. And I won’t count it against you, whatever you decide. And don’t think that it’d get you any kind of special treatment. Understand me?”

“Yeah,” Jesse breathed. “I getcha. Sir. Fourth day.”

“Damned kid,” Gabriel said, and his rough amusement was probably the closest Jesse would ever get to any kind of affection, but the boy didn’t need to know that. Not now, or ever. “If you decide to come by, stay off your pills.”

2.0.

Three days stretched by in a crawl. Not even a short hop to settle a rogue omnic op down in Ankara registered as much more than a blip. Normally, Jesse would’ve enjoyed himself on the op no matter what. It was his first op ever with Blackwatch, after all, even if he’d been assigned to Gordon and Harding as a minion. Reyes stayed in his quarters, though he was checking his messages. Trust Reyes to be bloody-minded enough to still be working through a cycled heat.

Jesse wasn’t sure what the procedure was, if any. People holing up for a few medical days every month was normal, apparently. Doctor’s recommendations. Though, when Jesse finally ginned up the courage to ask someone about Reyes, however obliquely - Harding said that he had never known Reyes to ask anyone for a ‘bit of a hand’ before.

That left Jesse standing outside Reyes’ quarters, at a loss. He’d left his armour back in his room, along with his gear and his hat. He no longer had casual clothes that fit, but wearing even his off-duty kit out here felt a little bit wrong, a little bit right. Jesse wasn’t sure if he liked it. Taking in a deep breath, he pressed his palm to the bioscan pad beside the locked door, watching it flick pale light up and down his palm. For a moment, Jesse was convinced that Reyes had been having him on. Bit of fun at the youngest alpha’s expense, why not. Of everyone on the base to choose, why the hell would someone like Reyes pick a rookie working off a commuted felony sentence?

But then the pad turned a pale green, and the door slid open. This was it. Jesse wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and headed on through, trying not to feel too keyed up. Coming off the pill cycle was playing hell with his nerves.

He hadn’t been sure of what he’d see, but this certainly hadn’t been it. Reyes’ quarters were nearly twice as big as the rooms Jesse had been given, but they were starkly empty of any sort of decoration or personal effects. There was a closed wall cabinet, a door to an en-suite bathroom, and a couch and tv, all pristine and neat, a large bed at the far end with a side table. Reyes was at the desk, obviously working through his messages, with mission reports open on the holodeck to his left and right. The air smelled sterile, recyclers working at a high clip.

Reyes didn’t even look up until he finished whatever he was typing, then he glanced through the next message - some sort of weapons schematic - and closed it down. Then he looked over at Jesse. The beanie was gone, Reyes’ only concession to what he was going through.

“Come over here,” Reyes said, his voice pitched a little lower than usual, uneven. Jesse went, trying not to breathe too deeply. Off the pills, Reyes was very, very evidently an omega, all rich and earthy scents, primed up. Jesse wanted to climb on Reyes’ lap, or go down on his knees, tip up his chin, bare his throat. Something. He stood nervously by the chair, instead, trying not to shake under Reyes’ scrutiny.

“Done this before?” Reyes inquired, when the silence stretched.

“Nope,” Jesse admitted, and braced himself for derision. Instead, Reyes only sniffed.

“Ah… I fucking figured. You’re too goddamned young.”

“Sir,” Jesse began desperately, in case Reyes changed his mind, and Reyes smiled at him, all bared teeth, merciless.

“But would you look at that. Cycling off your pills, and still so eager to please. On your knees.” Jesse obeyed, with a gasp of relief that he couldn’t stifle in time. Reyes turned to face him, loosely comfortable, hands clasped between his knees.

“Hey,” Reyes said quietly, all that sharp amusement briefly gone. “Last chance to back off. Told you before, I’m not gonna hold it against you.”

“You think that I don’t wanna be here,” Jesse concluded, absolutely mystified.

“No, I think you’re a dumb kid who likes to shoot first and maybe, only maybe, think about it later,” Reyes retorted, but Jesse had a good instinct for blood and for war, and he liked to think he was good with people as well. Life had closed Gabriel Reyes up, somewhere down the line, forced him to stand apart and wall himself off from its many disappointments. Rejections. Sympathy would have gotten Jesse kicked out of the room on his ass, so he went for honesty, instead.

“Sir,” Jesse said frankly, “I think you’re smokin’ hot and I don’t even know what you see in me, but if there’s even a tiny chance that you’re gonna let me fuck you, I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Definitely a dumb kid,” Reyes repeated, though he was smirking again, nudging closer, until he had his knees pressed against Jesse’s arms, his hand curled around the back of Jesse’s neck.

The kiss, when it came, was somehow still unexpected. Reyes’ fingers were a firm and steady pressure against his neck, hooked into his hair, and somehow, that confident touch grounded him, shoved his nervousness aside. Jesse pushed back, opened his mouth, and tried, clumsily, to kiss Reyes back. He’d never done this sober before, hell, never with someone he’d wanted so badly to impress.

Jesse was shaking again when Reyes let up, breathless, hands clammy against his knees. Reyes was a little flushed, but other than that, Jesse couldn’t really read him, couldn’t tell if he was amused or worse, disappointed-

“C’mon up here,” Reyes said gruffly. “God, you look fucking spooked.”

The chair creaked dangerously under their combined weight, with Jesse folded awkwardly over Reyes’ lap, all gangly knees and angles. He was sprinting through his growth spurt, and although Jesse was currently a little shorter than Reyes, that wouldn’t stay the case in a year or so. Right now, the thought didn’t really give Jesse any pleasure. He knew that all Reyes was gonna see was some skinny coltish kid.

Still. Jesse hadn’t survived ten years in the Deadlock Gang by being some sort of shrinking flower. The first thing he’d ever taught himself to do was how to fake up confidence even if he was way out of his depth. He tried to lean up for a kiss, but Reyes caught his shoulder, holding him pointedly still. Jesse tensed for a moment before he understood. He was here on Reyes’ terms, not his own. When he relaxed, going pliant, Reyes grunted and pulled him over, chuckling as Jesse rode up eagerly over his thigh. Damn. Under him, Reyes just felt like solid muscle. There was nothing easy about him at all, nothing vulnerable, no gentleness. Walled off. There was a wound here somewhere, deep down, too deep for Jesse to reach. He didn’t try, letting Reyes lead instead. Even if they didn’t move from the chair, Jesse decided that he didn’t mind. This wasn’t bad, like this, folded together, learning how to kiss, like new lovers.

Reality was different, of course. Reyes wanted to get off and Jesse happened to be available. Jesse wasn’t dumb enough to think otherwise. Fingers tapped up his prosthetic arm, digging lightly into the joints. Jesse couldn’t feel that, but he liked it anyway, with the same helpless idiot hero-worship that got to him whenever Reyes was around. Just being here, breathing the same air - Jesse liked that too. When Reyes pushed at his shoulders, Jesse instinctively resisted, an unhappy whine pressed between them.

“Get up,” Reyes said, smirking again. “Clothes off.”

“Uh. Yeah. Right, sir.” Jesse said, all unthinking, and tried not to grin as Reyes sucked in a slow breath at the honorific. Big chink in the bossman’s armour, that. Maybe there were still caveman alphas out there who couldn’t take direction, who weren’t willing to call an omega boss and sir. Fuck them. They were never gonna get this lucky.

Feeling smug about it got Jesse bitten when they made it to the bed, Reyes licking the mark he’d left on Jesse’s shoulder before biting him again, higher up, right on the throat. Jesse let himself get pushed down on the bed, and held on to the bar of the headboard when directed. He was painfully hard, but it didn’t seem to matter. Bent over Jesse, Reyes seemed to shove the rest of the world out of focus. Dimly, Jesse knew it was instinct, biology, that scent. Deep down, he understood that it was more. He’d walk through fire for Gabriel Reyes, just like the others.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Reyes rasped, hips lifted, groping between his own thighs. From the sound of it, he was wet, probably had been for days. Jesse tried to hold still, but it was a near thing, with something like that in mind, Christ. “Reminds me of-“ he twisted the words away, bit them down, but Jesse knew them anyway. He’d known it days before, watching Morrison and Reyes circle around like a pair of matched wolves, snapping at each other's heels. Hatred only burned with that kinda intensity when there had been something else at the start, something that had cored out a deep hollow through Reyes’ defenses, far under his skin.

Jesse nodded, but said nothing. Seemed like the right choice. Slicked fingers stroked him wet, then Reyes lined himself up, taking Jesse in, Gods, so hot and wet and blindingly tight. Somewhere above him, Reyes laughed. “Breathe, man,” he drawled. “Breathe.” Jesse gasped, hands clenching up over the headboard. So good. “Think about something else. You close already? Don’t you-“ Reyes cut himself off, stiffening up as Jesse’s hips pumped up, all involuntary stutters, his knot swelling up, catching fast. “Fuck.”

“Sorry!” Jesse squeezed his eyes shut, bright red with embarrassment, but thankfully, Reyes was laughing again.

“Shit. Forgot. You bloody kids.” Reyes started to move anyway, rocking himself against what little give he could get from the knot, clenching down, Gods. Jesse’s knot felt tender, almost, not quite painful. He tried blindly to reach for Reyes’ cock, but Reyes pinned his hand back on the headboard. “Not yet.”

‘Not yet’ seemed to stretch for hours, with Reyes on top, until Jesse was milked dry and arousal was a scratchy, thorny breed of pain. He felt raw from it, blindly sated, exhausted when Reyes finally, goddamned finally, took himself in hand. Jesse wasn’t sure what happened after that, in the blind rush of visceral relief. He woke up afterwards, with a start, wiped down, curled against Reyes. As Jesse blinked in the dark, disoriented, Reyes’ breathing changed, subtly, and then fingers curled up in Jesse’s hair, carding over to the back of his head, and tucked him closer. Sleep came more easily that way.

In the morning, Jesse woke up to Reyes already suiting up for the day, buckling body armour back in place. When he sat up gingerly in the bed, Reyes glanced at him from the wardrobe, fiddling with catches. It was hard to smell anything in the room but sex, and an hour was way too soon for the pill to kick back in. Full uniform meant that Reyes was probably headed to a debrief.

“Just so I know,” Jesse rasped, “How pissed off is Commander Morrison gonna be?”

“This wasn’t about Morrison.” Reyes jammed the beanie back on his head. “Get cleaned up. If you can run your mouth, you can probably walk, and you’ve got an op pending at eleven hundred hours.”

This was totally about Morrison, Jesse didn’t say, as Reyes nodded curtly at him and stalked on out. Alone, Jesse yawned, and scratched his temple, still tangled up in the sheets. He had a feeling that he was going to have to lie low for a while. But hell. Life lived in half measures was boring anyway.