❝ There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds. ❞
― Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss
❝ You are not the heaviness
sitting inside of you.
You are not the battlefield
where the bodies fall,
and you are not the sound of cannons
breaking the sky open.
You are what happens after the war.
The rebuilding. ❞
― Y.Z, for the bad nights
* * *
Blackwatch Commander Reyes steps out of the aircraft and into the Zurich base’s hangar with barely restrained annoyance, keeping up the good looks and good behaviour for the sake of not being seen as inferior or a threat.
It is late already, with the moon hanging high up in the sky, and he waits with his hands behind his back as the rest of his small Blackwatch team scatters into the base. He nods when Jesse waves a curt goodbye at him, watches the tired-looking boy disappearing from his sight; in his mind Gabriel orders him to get some rest, eat, now that they’re out of the fray and the boy can.
Gabriel lets his team go, filter out of the hangar. The minutes roll on, and he begins to grow restless. Gabriel moves to stand a little further from the aircraft and closer to the doors, a growl paused at the back of his throat, waiting for a greeting he’s beginning to doubt will ever come.
Figures this would happen. It's not surprising, really; neither Commander has spoken to each other in months.
Then again, he is here a day early.
Whatever. He releases the growl by the time his inner clock counts to half an hour, together with loud stomping of his feet as he walks. He’ll have to report face to face, apparently. It is purely out of annoyance, out of spite for the pristine white hallways of the base he once called home, that he holds his head up high all the way through, as if anger wasn’t boiling in his veins trying to blow up like a volcanic eruption.
Gabriel ignores the way the rest of the base’s still-awake Agents and staff look at him as he makes his way through the hallways and rooms, taking the stairs instead of the elevator up to the third floor. He allows his mind to wander meanwhile, not needing to focus — this is one of many walks that he knows by heart, one of many routes outlined to arrive to the same location, the same small office that was once his.
He abruptly stops in the hallway leading up to it, takes in a shaky breath, closes his eyes.
This walk was once the road home, not the path to hell.
Gabriel Reyes was once welcome here.
When he opens his eyes again, most of the fire in him has been quelled by the empty feeling of loss pouring over him like water, leaving him tired and hesitant. Does he really want to do this, right now? Gabriel could wait until tomorrow, go claim a room for himself and sleep it all off to try and come up with a better mask to show Morrison for their obligatory meeting.
A mask of camaraderie and niceness, one that hides away the resentment and low envy Gabriel feels every time he remembers their positions. Something political — a wall put up where there once was warmth.
Gabriel scoffs flatly. No; it has to be now.
He continues on his way to the Commander’s office, determined to end this as soon as possible so he doesn’t have to deal with it later on. Shorten the time he has to spend in here, basically.
The next time Gabriel stops he’s standing before the double doors to Strike Commander Morrison’s office, taking a deep breath in an attempt to reignite some of the fire to drown out the pathetic melancholy that’s settled in instead. It’s always better to be angry than sad.
Gabriel knocks. Some of the soft moonlight from outside seeps in through the tall windows of this hallway, casting his shadow over the wooden doors.
It makes him look like an omen. Knock knock, let me in. Judgement has come.
He’d laugh, Gabriel, if he wasn’t still waiting for an answer to his knocking a whole minute later.
Now he frowns, knocking again with a little more force this time. Morrison should’ve already opened the door and let him in, or at least shouted for Gabriel to let himself inside; he’s not one to leave people waiting. He’s a people pleaser, Morrison, always has been. The Blackwatch Commander grumbles that thought away as he knocks for the third time, now banging his fist on the door.
Gabriel is considering calling out for Morrison by now. The only reason why he doesn’t is because suddenly the door is thrown open, startling him, and he’s face to face with the Commander himself, red-eyed and sniffling.
He’s not sure what he was expecting, but this is definitely not it.
Morrison snorts, grin large and amused yet not really meeting his eyes. Odd. “Oh, hey,” he half-laughs, half-slurs, sending Gabriel’s eyebrows shooting high up his forehead. “You’re… here early, huh?"
Gabriel’s mind goes momentarily blank, the sight before him blaring up alarms in his head that get even louder when Morrison opens the door wider in order to let him in. “Oh well. C’mon in, Blackwatch Commander,” the blond laughs as Gabriel walks inside. “I need your help.”
The door is closed behind Gabriel with what he’s sure would’ve been a slam if Morrison wanted to, but Gabriel is barely paying attention to that, or to the man’s words. Because the place is a mess; there’s discarded papers all over the man’s desk and the floor surrounding it, the curtains are half open, the only light sources the small lamp on Morrison’s desk and whatever moonlight may come in here at this angle.
And then there’s the bottles. There’s at least a dozen of them, the assorted liquors of all kinds with their colourful labels and glass. They're everywhere.
Morrison is drunk.
And if the room is a mess, Morrison is even more so. He walks forward and past Gabriel, unsteady on his feet, his hair disheveled and his blue coat missing the shoulder pads and chest armour typical of the Overwatch uniform. His face is flushed as he sits back on the black leathered chair behind his desk, picking up a tablet and tapping absently onto it, humming a broken melody Gabriel can’t recognize.
He stares, Gabriel, standing still in front of the door with his eyebrows raised. His mouth slowly goes agape and he recoils, then, when his nose and throat catch the stench of alcohol in the room; he hadn’t realized it until now, that most of the bottles are already empty.
Drunk is an understatement. Morrison is hammered.
What the hell. Gabriel glares at the man, arms flying out from behind his back and over his chest to cross. How is it that Jack Morrison, SEP graduate, literal super soldier, has managed to land himself into a drunkenness like this? His enhanced cells should’ve filtered the alcohol like it’s nothing. But here he is, the absolute madman, giddily chuckling while surrounded by empty alcohol bottles as if he wasn’t a public figure.
Gabriel groans when Morrison’s blue eyes land back on him. His grin keeps faltering for a few seconds as he tries to come up with something to say, mind connecting with his mouth until Morrison says, “I need your help with this.”
“You’re drunk,” comes Gabriel’s immediate reply.
He despises the way Morrison deflates, looking like a child whose idea has just been rejected by a teacher. This is shameful. Morrison is pouting, dignity gone with the rest of his sobriety, slumping against his seat with a loud ‘poof’.
Morrison huffs, looking up to try and meet Gabriel’s eyes with one eyebrow raised. He blinks lazily, actions slowed by the alcohol in his being, and for a moment he looks just as insolent as Jesse.
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “Aren’t you still on duty?” he asks, slowly walking over to the desk with long strides. He’s careful not to step on any of the papers on the floor, not to kick the bottles, not to approach too fast.
He stops a few feet away from Morrison, returning the raised eyebrow look. Gabriel wants to laugh out loud so bad when he sees Morrison avert his eyes, curl into himself in obvious shame. “You are, aren’t you?” he accuses. “And this is how you’re greeting me? After fuck knows how long?” Gabriel snorts. “That’s low. It’s irresponsible.”
“I’m Strike Commander,” Morrison whines, hazy gaze meeting Gabriel’s again. “I do what I want.”
There’s the implication of arrogance in his voice, and right then Gabriel stops caring about acting dignified; who cares when Morrison is behaving like this. The growl he releases feels cathartic, even more so when Morrison flinches at the sound.
“You’re pulling rank on me?!” Gabriel demands. The spike of anger comes and goes before he steadies himself again, left simmering under his skin, dangerously ready to come back at any moment should he want it to — an emotional weapon. “Can’t you fucking be a little more professional?”
The blond sniffs. “I wasn’t expectin’ you ‘till tomorrow.”
“Excuses, Morrison,” he’s chastising. “You’re still on duty.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Morrison snaps, voice wavery, but powerful enough to force Gabriel to do a double-take. He’s gone back to typing on his tablet. The pout is still present even then, erased only when the blond taps something else onto the device, to be replaced by a smirk. “Anyway,” Morrison delivers, slurry. “I need your help with this."
An alarm goes off in Gabriel’s mind. It’s small like a bell, easy to ignore, but he doesn’t know why it’s even here. In his annoyance at it Gabriel growls, begins to tap his heavy boot on the floor of Morrison’s office. The sound is loud and powerful, rhythmical, deliberately meant to be intimidating.
But Morrison, the bastard, he chuckles in response. The red of his cheeks deepens just a little bit, his laugh coming in ugly, shuddering snorts. Their sound makes Gabriel grit his teeth. “It’s important,” the Commander urges. “Promise. Please, Gabe.”
He stills. Morrison hasn’t called him that in what feels like ages, much in the same way that Gabriel hasn’t cared enough to call him anything other than his last name, even before the fallout. Were this any other night Gabriel knows he would see nothing but red, the nickname weaponized when it once was playful, digging knives into his heart and pride.
But there’s no redness, no pain, nothing but confusion. For this isn’t any other night, and with all the surprises so far Gabriel doesn’t even know how to react anymore. At least as soon as he notices the slip up, Morrison’s eyes widen and, laughing awkwardly, he looks away.
Away, as if that would help.
The Blackwatch Commander narrows his eyes. Something’s off, but he still cannot tell just what it is. Curiosity is tugging at him from every angle, pushing him and urging him on, telling him to do something about this and solve the puzzle.
Morrison is already humming again, another broken melody that Gabriel actually recognizes this time. He takes a moment to look at the blond, discreetly staring; Morrison’s expression is tight, the corners of his mouth twitching every now and then. In the almost darkness of the room Gabriel swears he sees bags under his eyes, mixing with the drunken flush on his skin.
He looks like shit while intoxicated. It’s almost laughable.
Gabriel inhales a steadying breath, rolls his eyes once again for appearances. Not knowing how else to do it, he takes the situation into his hands by disguising it as a mission and strategizing for it; figure out what’s wrong here, dismantle the situation, unravel the mystery and act accordingly.
The man huffs, softening his stance just a little bit. “What do you want.”
He doesn’t expect Morrison to immediately reply, in singsong and nonchalant, to be “I’m plannin’ my funeral.”
It’s like the world stops when Morrison speaks, the words cutting the air like a sniper bullet that lodges itself into Gabriel’s throat; his breath hitches for a second, pulse beating in his ears and drowning out any other sound. What? This isn’t how this conversation was supposed to go, or what Gabriel was supposed to have shoved into his hands. He can deal with a drunk Morrison, sure, but a funeral?
The unconcerned way in which he’s said it sends shivers down Gabriel’s spine. A funeral for the Strike Commander planned by the Strike Commander himself — this has got to be some kind of morbid, alcohol-influenced joke.
Gabriel searches Morrison’s face, looking for any hints of it being just that: some morbid joke. He finds nothing. Instead he just sees Morrison grinning crookedly, uncontrollably giggling to himself. “Thought you should know first. I got the coffin and airline ready,” Morrison mumbles, blissfully unaware of Gabriel’s mind spinning. He’s the one to roll his eyes this time, right before going back to messily tapping at his tablet. “Funeral in the air. Whaddya think?”
“What,” Gabriel manages to say, taking another slow step forward. His boot makes contact with a bottle and sends it rolling loudly in a curved path. “Your— your funeral? Are you—” Gabriel swallows something thick, disguises the quick breath he takes as a scoff. “Don’t tell me you’re dying.”
And at this Morrison sighs, visibly wilting as his gaze lowers to the floor. Gabriel, hyperaware, swears he sees a dark shadow clouding his expression. “Not yet,” he says, voice low and subdued.
He says it like it’s regrettable. Like it’s bad news, or a disappointment.
Gabriel’s jaw drops.
What the fuck, his entire being is shouting; everything but his mouth. So this is what was wrong. Morrison’s face goes from his current darkened expression to something closer to normal when he shrugs, making another uncaring noise at the back of his throat. He sniffles, smiling down at his tablet.
How dare he not acknowledge what he’s just said. Gabriel fumes. He takes another step forward, growling, hands clenched into fists. “What the fuck do you mean with not yet?”
“It means not yet!” Ja— Morrison repeats. He promptly breaks into laughter. Gabriel glares, and when Morrison notices this he hides his mouth behind his open palm, trying to stop the chuckles that have quickly turned nervous before he clears his throat. “I jus’... I wanna be prepared,” he huffs, shrugs. “For the inevitable.”
The Blackwatch Commander can’t stop the words from spilling out: “You think your death is inevitable so you’re already fucking planning your funeral.”
“Yep,” Morrison says, popping the ‘p’. Then comes the sigh, his pale blue eyes locking with Gabriel’s as his shoulders slump. His expression is blank as he adds, quiet, “Ain’t that how it is, though? Y’know,” he dares add a hollow chuckle, “occupational hazard and all. We both know I’m gonna die, what we jus’ don’t know is when—”
He can hear Jack’s teeth hitting each other when the other literally shuts his mouth, the sharp breath he takes, the chair creaking again as he straightens. Is it out of leftover obedience from Gabriel’s days as Commander that has him obey, or intimidation? Who knows, but Gabriel finds he doesn’t care enough to wonder about it.
Because right now he’s focusing on the way his skin crawls, the way his blood goes cold, then simmers back to furious hot. Fidgety, the man uncrosses his arms to run a hand down his face, the exhale he releases shaking him from the inside out. “God, just— Shut up,” he repeats, forceful, yet restrained. “Shut the fuck up.”
There’s something growing in his gut that’s pressing from the inside, aching for release. He can’t stay here, Gabriel. He wants so badly to do something, anything; to grab Jack and shake him as he yells at him to shut up, punch some sense and sobriety back into his stupid fucking drunken mind.
What the hell is Jack thinking? Or perhaps a better question would be, is he even thinking at all?
Of course not. The man is drunk.
A breeze from the windows plays with the curtains, the cold air of the night biting his skin and freezing him from the outside in, the blood in his veins boiling against his chilly dermis. Strange; he hadn’t noticed they were open. “I’m not fucking doing this,” Gabriel growls at Jack, dropping his hands to his sides, scowling, fighting the urge to lunge at him with his fists ready. “I’m leaving. You’re in no condition for this meeting.”
Jack springs back to life, leaning forward on his desk with the tablet still close to his chest. His chair creaks again. “You can’t,” he insists, holding the tablet close. “You gotta help me with this. I need it.”
Gabriel’s hands are going numb with how hard he presses them into fists. “What you need is to pull your act together. This is— Fuck, Morrison.” Gabriel swallows hard; Jack’s name almost slipped out. “You said you’re Strike Commander. Well, why don’t you fucking act like it?!”
The other man blinks, frowning. And then he sneers. “Why the fuck are you pissed?!” he asks, demands, raising his voice with every syllable he utters. There’s a quiver to it by the last word, a slight shake that makes Gabriel flinch. “Don’t— don’t tell me you don’t know” — Jack swallows — “that you don’t know there’s always a chance of me never comin’ back. One day you’re gonna hear news that— that I died. That I got blown up to pieces, or that I got shot in the fucking head, or, or whatever, and you— What do you care if I live or die?”
And that’s when Gabriel loses it.
The pressure from inside his gut explodes. He doesn’t walk over to Jack anymore; he leaps, slams his large, gloved hands on the desk. The impact of palm with wood is loud and heavy, accentuated by a fierce cry escaping Gabriel’s throat, and it sends some of the papers flying in the air, bottles tumbling down onto the cold floor to break. Two framed photographs fall on their faces, the shattering of glass piercing Reyes’ enhanced ears.
Gabriel is angrier at the blond than he’s ever been before in his life. Here is Jack Morrison, Strike Commander, public face of Overwatch, drunk out of his mind and planning his own funeral while nonchalantly denying the worth of his own life, claiming that Gabriel shouldn’t even care as if they hadn’t spent an entire war fighting side by side, watching each other’s backs.
Startled by the impact, Jack yelps and drops the tablet, pushing himself away from the desk with his legs so harshly that the chair comes tumbling backwards. Gabriel’s anger is momentarily frozen as he watches Jack fall, his heart stopping and reigniting itself with pure adrenaline. On instinct, Gabriel reaches forward, hand outstretched for Jack to take.
He doesn’t make it in time, though — in the end Jack hits the floor hard, and Gabriel hears the air leave the man’s lungs with the crash, the coughing that follows after. The world only starts spinning again when Gabriel hears the pained groaning afterwards, the huffy laughter.
Gabriel doesn’t know what to attribute the blood rush in his ears to: the adrenaline high, the pain in his chest, or the rage at Jack for everything he’s just said and done. He can worry about that later, though; with a muttered curse under his breath Gabriel pushes himself to jump over the desk, not caring about the papers he crushes or the photo frame he pushes off onto the floor, landing carefully next to Jack’s collapsed form.
At least he’s had the decency to try and crawl away from the chair, lying on his knees and with his hands propping him up. Gabriel spends a good twenty seconds debating on whether or not he should set a hand on the man’s back to offer some sort of comfort, if he should say something, if he should even here; even the physical closeness between the two of them right now feels strange, an invisible magnetic friction urging him to push away.
He’s being repelled by a man he used to once gravitate towards to instead, has been for a while now.
What do you care if I live or die?
In the end there’s no comforting touch, no word said, no move made. Jack’s body starts trembling, the obvious sound of restrained giggles escaping him, huffy and shuddery. After all this and Jack is laughing. Gabriel fights the moment of blinding rage when he realizes this, manages to come out victorious for long enough to finally make a move to set a shaky hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“Hey,” he speaks. Annoyed at the whispery quality of his voice, he tries again after clearing his throat. “Hey,” now he barks the word out like an order, shaking the man slightly. “What the fuck was that about?!”
“Who cares,” Jack puffs in a snicker.
It punches Gabriel in the gut, and the man grits his teeth. “Don’t give me that shit, Jack.”
“I’ll give you all the shit I want,” is Jack’s reply. He breaks out into a series of laughs, keeping his head down. In the middle of it he takes a sharp breath, the sound tangling with something that resembles a sob, then a hiccup and a whine. “It’s what I’m good at, anyway,” Jack adds in a shaky mumble. “Giving shit and turnin’ everything to shit.”
“Be quiet,” Gabriel snaps. Jack huffs, laughing softly still, trying to pull away from Gabriel’s grasp, weakly swatting at his hand over his shoulder. Gabriel growls, his hold on the other’s shoulder tightening as he pulls him back in, closer, trying to get him to turn around and face him.
But Jack, though drunk and disoriented, is fighting him still with all of his strength. With his other hand Gabriel makes a grab for Jack’s arm, only to have the man shrug him off while whining. “Jack,” he calls out, trying again with the same result. Gabriel wills down the violent urge to wrestle Morrison into submission. “Jesus Christ. Look at me before I make you, you goddamn five year old.”
And the man laughs. “Make me.”
Gabriel has an immediate reply in his mouth, ready to come out, that dies the moment he hears and registers the crack in Jack’s voice. He stills. The room goes silent save for the curtains’ gentle flutter with the night wind, and in the moment Gabriel sees, horrified, the two little drops of water fall near Jack’s hand on the floor.
Jack is quick to move his hand to wipe at his face, sniffling.
A curse is muttered after a whine is released. It takes Gabriel an embarrassingly long time to remember and connect the word ‘crying’ with Jack Morrison, Strike Commander, his former best friend. When he does it feels like a void opens at the pit of his stomach, sucking out everything he’d felt in the short span of however long it’s been since he saw Jack’s face — the rage is snuffed out, the annoyance is filtered away, the horror is drained out.
Instead, Gabriel slowly becomes aware of the concern that settles in instead, the tiredness and cold shooting up his nervous and intravenous systems to spread all over his body, pralyzing him.
What is he supposed to do now? Once upon a time, Gabriel would’ve taken Jack into his arms and comforted him, sang something, but now he finds himself at a loss as to how to proceed. Muscle memory aches to repeat their previous routine from years ago, but logic dictates that he should stay away from Jack’s personal bubble after everything that’s happened, everything that has been lost. Especially when he’s like this.
Even the hand on Jack’s shoulder feels too close and intimate, wrong. How much is too much when the threads of familiarity are so severed they don’t resist any tension anymore, when they seem foreign and harmful when once they brought solace?
It wasn’t like this, before. Gabriel Reyes was once welcome here.
His heart aches, and Gabriel enters a war of inner conflict just as Jack snorts. It’s hollow and lacks any of the bite Gabriel knows Jack wants it to have; frustration, it conveys. At the situation, perhaps even at himself.
When Jack finally looks up over his shoulders to meet the other man’s gaze, Gabriel gets a clear look at the red of his eyes and nose, easy to mistake for a side effect of alcohol, the intrusive tear streaks that rest on his cheeks. Only now does Gabriel wonder if he’d been crying beforehand. “Y’know,” Jack begins, the grin that follows not meeting his blue eyes. “I’m gonna put you in my will.”
Gabriel’s throat tightens and his words come out as a croak. “Shut up.”
“I’m gonna give you Overwatch,” Jack delivers, nodding to himself as he looks back down at the floor. Another tear falls and Gabriel sees Jack bite at his bottom lip. “It’s how it should’ve been. And, hey,” he continues, “if I die and make you Commander you can merge both branches.”
“God, shut up,” Gabriel breathes. His heart is hammering in his chest. “We can't do that, idiot. They're too different to mix."
Jack laughs. “Ah, shit. Maybe you’re right. They’d break apart eventually with all their differences, like us.”
That’s a low blow to be dealing. The ache turns to a scorching fire in Gabriel’s chest, and his grip on Jack’s shoulder tightens painfully as he wonders, for a fleeting moment, if it’ll be enough to kill him where other things have failed.
Jack’s lips flatten into a tight line. He whines, curls into himself, one of his hands going to cover his mouth. “Sorry,” he says, choking. “I’m sorry. Too far.”
Fuck this; Gabriel scoffs the pain away. “No fucking shit,” he growls, tugging at Jack, bringing him closer to him with one forceful move.
What are you doing? is what the Commander’s wide blue eyes are saying as Gabriel not-so-gently guides Jack to his chest, wrapping his arms around the man. Who knows, is what Gabriel thinks of as a reply. The blond is stiff against him. Gabriel is so quick in the action that his chin knocks against Jack’s head, and their position is uncomfortable until Jack gives in and deflates, helping Gabriel hold him better.
Gabriel snorts humorlessly. Seems like muscle memory wins, in the end.
He’s squeezing at Jack too tight, only now noticing his own trembling is almost as bad as Jack’s own. “You’re such a fucking idiot.” Gabriel almost growls his words, but it’s all bark and no bite; he feels so exhausted. “Hell, it’s so bad I’ll even say it in Spanish: Eres un pendejo de primera.”
Gabriel closes his eyes — Jack’s empty laugh revertebrates against his chest. “I know.”
“No, you don’t know shit.” One of Gabriel’s hands flies up to Jack’s head, cupping it as he presses the man further against him — to his heart. Gabriel isn’t sure who it is that gesture is supposed to comfort most. “You’re just— you’re so— God damn it,” Gabriel’s voice shudders. “You can’t just talk about stuff like that like it’s nothing. What, did you think I was gonna be like, ‘Oh, sure. Let me help you with your little suicide mission.’?”
Jack squirms a little in his hold. He speaks, voice muffled, “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter, John!”
This is going nowhere. Gabriel inhales sharply; in his arms Jack stiffens again, and a part of Gabriel breaks when he realizes he means what he said. It matters. He opens his eyes to look around the room, blinking rapidly. No longer trusting his own voice he goes quiet, and slowly silence settles like a layer of dust, heavy with the power of words.
There’s moonlight starting to seep in from the window. How long has it been since he first came here, Gabriel wonders, for the moon to have traveled enough to be seen from this side already? It casts its light gently into the room, illuminating most of everything the desk lamp couldn't. For a few minutes Jack remains still, quiet. It's only when he sniffs, that Gabriel realizes he’s crying again; restrained and silently, while clawing at his hoodie.
It does matter.
Gabriel sighs. It’s muscle memory’s fault again when his hand finds its way to Jack’s hair, stroking it gently for the next few minutes to try and get Jack to calm down. Not knowing how long that'll take the older man rests his back against the Commander’s desk. Jack is a perfect fit in Gabriel's arms, his head against his chest, everything else hanging in the air as they let time roll on over them.
As he goes through the motions, among the many things he’s finally noticing today, it comes to Gabriel’s attention that Jack Morrison’s hair is steadily going gray. And what an odd mixture of feelings it is, for Gabriel, when the sight makes him remember Jack’s age, Jack’s mortality, while a laugh bursts through his lips.
Jack hears it. He peeks out to look at him, blinking his eyes back to focus. “What?”
“Your hair’s going gray,” Gabriel whispers. He scoffs. “Old fart.”
Jack chuckles and goes back to hiding his face against Gabriel’s chest. It’s a whole different sound and sensation when there actually is emotion behind it, the vibrations it sends through Gabriel's body therapeutic enough to quiet every other thought in his mind. How ridiculous. “Leave me alone,” Jack says, muffled. “I’m a senior citizen.”
He can’t let that opportunity go: “Confirmed.”
“What are you, twelve?”
“If I’m twelve at least I’m older than you, the five year old who genuinely used ‘make me’ as a retort, like, ten minutes ago,” Gabriel says.
A sigh. “You are older than me,” he mumbles, his grip on the older man's hoodie loosening as he finally relaxes in his arms. Jack looks up again, one of his hands flying up to touch Gabriel’s beard only to stop midway. Neither of them move. It’s only after a moment of hesitance that Jack finally reaches forward, gently touching his fingers to the man’s facial hair.
It tickles, for Gabriel. Brown meets blue, smirk meets pout. It’s so strange, all of this, but for a moment in this godforsaken night things finally feel the slightest bit similar to what okay probably was like. “I don’t get how your hair’s still intact,” Jack continues, voice softer than his touch. “So unfair.”
Gabriel scoffs in response. “Tough shit. Looks like I’ll always be the pretty one,” he says.
“You're pretty,” Jack confirms in a slur.
The words alone are enough for Gabriel to feel his own heart stop, but the dopey smile, the deepening redness of his face is what throws him off-guard, smirk falling as his eyes widen. The fingers stroking at his beard stop, and instead Jack sets his hand on Gabriel’s cheek, huffing his laugh. His eyes are unfocused as he says, “I wouldn't mind if you were the last thing I saw in my life.”
Gabriel swallows hard. "There you go again with that death shit."
"It’s just— Who cares, Gabe," Jack whines, lowering his hand to clutch at the man's hoodie like he's a lifeline, rest his blond head on his chest. Gabriel is surprised when it's annoyance that flares in him instead of anger, warm concern; perhaps this is going somewhere. "I'm so tired all the time," he sighs. "Tired of commanding, tired of fucking up. Tired of everyone breathin' down my neck and tellin' me how everything that's— that's going wrong is all my fault, and I just—" His grip on Gabriel tightens a bit. "I just... I wish I—"
"Shut up. And actually fucking shut up for once."
Thankfully, Jack does obey and goes quiet. Good. Gabriel exhales loudly, moving his hand to pet at the blond's hair again, making it a point to massage Jack's scalp in an attempt to tire him out; Gabriel remembers, fingers absently following the motions already set by his past self, the way it worked wonders once upon a time, back during their stay at the SEP.
It works again this time. Jack curls further into him with a low whine, repositioning himself until he’s practically sitting on the man’s lap.
Gabriel takes a deep breath and counts to ten. What the hell are they doing, honestly? Here is Strike Commander Morrison, public face of Overwatch, burying his face against Blackwatch Commander Reyes’ chest and probably listening intently to the still-stabilizing drumming of his heartbeat.
When was the last time they were like this? This close and comfortable without neither burning in each other's presence? What it was that started that fire Gabriel can't even tell anymore, but it was both of them that fed it until it almost succeeded in burning everything to the ground, he realizes now. A mixture of Jack's own arrogance and pride that have felt like daggers to the back, prompting him to return the favor in kind by throwing back all the hatred and bitterness that grew in his heart.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Morrison and Reyes were inseparable, when they would talk things out through shouts and fights meant to put things out there to get somewhere other than back at square one. Some time before this political game they call life settled over everything they loved, perhaps, blanketing it with hatred and suspicion and twisting everything apart from the inside out.
How could they have let everything go so wrong.
He pulls Jack closer without realizing it, worn out from the past who-knows-how-many minutes of this emotional rollercoaster of a visit. He exhales slowly, the exhaustion that settles in feeling painful — an acidic ache that settles into his bones and solidifies, heavy enough that Gabriel can't even move more than the hand petting at Jack's hair.
Already graying even when he's younger than Gabriel himself. Growing thinner, careless, apathetic when not running with a short fuse. Skipping meals. Disappearing when not needed and starting rumours about the Strike Commander being too antisocial to spend time with his team anymore.
God, the signs have all been there.
Things can't continue like this; who knows what will happen if they do. Gabriel doesn't think he can just turn back into his anger and turn a blind eye to everything, leave this broken shell of a man to fester in the the way he was before. Especially not after seeing the true depth of Jack's emotional state, or the impact it had on his own stability, because—
Because he does care, god damn it. Even after all these years and all the things they've lived through, Gabriel Reyes still gives a shit about Jack Morrison, still hurts when seeing him like this, still loves him some-fucking-how. He hadn't even noticed how much he had missed Jack until this moment.
So what's he going to do now, Gabriel?
What are they going to do now?
There's so many thoughts and questions in Gabriel's mind wanting to come out at once, piling in on themselves until they become a large plug of white noise clogging his coherent speech; try as he might, Gabriel finds that there's nothing good enough to say anymore, or anything he even wants to say. But that’s fine, somehow. The silence that's settled feels like it purifies everything after the loud shouting and soft crying that engulfed this room almost threatened with destroying it all again.
Stubbornly does Gabriel decide that there's no need to interrupt the silence anymore; what's said and done is said and done. They can only go forward from here. Perhaps later, when Gabriel isn't thinking with a broken heart, he will try and bite back his own instincts to fight and instead try to talk things out with Jack.
Later, when Jack is sober. Later, when Jack is awake.
When it was that Jack fell asleep against him Gabriel doesn't know, but he is surprised when he finds Jack's deep breaths more comforting than anything else has ever been. The desire, the need for the world to stop for a moment and let him savor this scene is so strong that Gabriel finds himself at a loss again, torn between wanting to strategize for the future and taking refuge in the present. But for once in his life Gabriel decides to tell the world to fuck off and let him be— let them be.
Gabriel closes his eyes and sighs. He rests his head back against the other's desk, counts to five and back as he inhales and exhales, syncing their rhythm to Jack's own.
They can only go forward from here.