Jack’s been staring at a fixed point for the past three hours. He thinks that maybe, with enough determination, the illusion in front of him will stay just that, an illusion. He stares so long that the dryness of his eyes starts competing with his focus, and the urge to blink becomes a battle of wills that he’s bound to lose. He’s used to that.
It’s easier to admit that pride comes before the fall once you’re already dead.
The once figurative gates stand before him with the kind of gauzy uncertainty that comes with heat mirages. Maybe it’s actually there, an image of biblical proportions, or maybe he’s just desperate enough to call into a being a manifestation of the good he tried to do in his life. God, he tried his best. He fell so short that he’s still debating whether he should start laughing or crying.
Sure, Overwatch helped in its own way, did what it could while he was still there to care. But how could he ever hope for forgiveness in the face of a betrayed friend and a lost love. Gabriel deserved better than Jack ever gave him and that fact seemed to haunt him into the afterlife. That seemed about right, some kind of messed up retribution. Or repentance. It was hard to come up with good bible-sanctioned metaphors when you were standing in front of the pearly white gates, the real thing.
His last moments were not peaceful. One bomb too many, a long life lived trying to grab forgiveness by the throat, and a final surrender. His chance at goodbye had lasted the span of a blink, a testament to the fact that he couldn’t do more. Talon had fallen, but so had Jack.
His last sight in those final moments had been the staring face of an owl mask. Jack had tried saying one last ‘I’m sorry’ but it came out sounding more like ‘I love you.’
But that was then. Now that he had crossed that threshold and passed on to what was supposed to be the final rest, he could finally hang up his hat. Pay tribute to what he had ruined with his own two hands and figure out a way to move past it. That was easier in theory.
He stood and stared for a second longer before deciding that waiting around had never been his best attribute. The only solution now was to take a step forward. If there was any sort of confidence left in the wreck of his mind and body, well, now was the time to summon it up.
“You always were the type to jump the gun. Always trying to be two steps ahead of me at every point in our lives -- or deaths.”
The foot on the verge of stepping forward gave Jack good leverage to pivot on his heel. How could he ever turn his back to that voice? How could he ever not attribute the husk of that cadence to anything but home? Gabriel was here with him and if he weren’t already dead, Jack might have kicked the bucket from the sheer relief he felt course through his body.
“Just scoping out the place, making sure it’s to your liking.” The quick response and quicker smile made Jack feel like a teenager again. Here was the one person who could make death seem like a blessing. The pre-wraith face that stared back at Jack’s blinding happiness was what Gabriel could have been. Slightly wrinkled, laugh lines overtaking the scarred crevices of his face, the old and happy man he should have always been. It was as if he had never taken possession of the owl mask.
“I’m not dreaming right?” was Jack’s next question. Maybe it was selfish of him to want this experience to be a shared one, but by the end of his life Jack had made it his mission to be as honest as possible. And the truth was that if he had not been able to do right by Gabriel in life, well then by hell or high water he would love him to the best of his ability in death.
Gabriel took a moment longer to look at their surroundings, seeming to search for an answer in the ground at their feet. “I know it’s easier to believe that this pretty face is the stuff of dreams, but I gave up believing in the pearly white gates a long time ago. This is honestly a bit of a surprise.” Gabriel replied. Jack knew enough of Gabriel to know when he was doubting himself. Maybe he was in the same boat as him, wanting to believe they had done some good but too hurt by what the world threw at them to believe they deserved it.
“So you see them too? The gates?” Jack replied.
“For a few seconds, then sometimes it’s just a pathway. Some Dorothy and the yellow brick road kind of shit. Maybe it knows I wasn’t always a heathen. Or maybe it’s going to disappear altogether the next time I blink.” Gabriel was being contemplative, staring at the same fixed point that Jack had been getting so familiar with before a better sight became an option.
Made sense that after all this time they would still not trust in their own accomplishments, their own goodness. A long life lived at the brink of a fiery chasm had a tendency of tainting your view of yourself and the world around you. That didn’t mean that Jack wouldn’t still fight for what he saw in Gabriel. Maybe he hadn’t always seen it, or kept it in the forefront of his mind, but those last few seconds of life were burned into Jack’s retinas like nothing else. Gabriel had been there.
“Don’t do that, not when we’re already here. If there’s anyone that’s always deserved a good rest, it’s you. You’ve given enough.”
“You sure sound certain of that, Sunshine. What do you know of what I’ve done? The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that.” Gabriel looked too sad when he said the later bit. Sad enough that his mood slowly bled into his surroundings, giving a muted quality to the landscape at his feet.
But that voice, God that voice. The kind of low decibel shake of walls that came with that deepness. Jack had forgotten what it felt like in his bones to hear Gabriel speak past the barrier of his mask. Before, Jack had been hollow, barren except for his own mistakes and regrets. Now, that vibration rattled through every crevice, filled a hole that years had carved with loneliness. Wall-shaking tones and the memories of a simpler time, moments of sleepy kisses, maskless faces; Jack wanted to douse himself in it.
“If this is someone’s version of hell, well then I’ll take whatever life they’ve lived.” Being sardonic seemed second nature now. That inherent bitterness clashed with the bright skies they were surrounded by and the picturesque field of green that back dropped the whiteness of St. Peter’s gates. Just because the violence that permeated the later years of his life would point otherwise, that didn’t mean Jack didn’t grow up a good Christian boy. The pages of the childhood bible he had carried around were reflected in the images he saw around him.
“Maybe this is enlightenment. You feeling enlightened, Jackie Boy?” Gabe was so beautiful when he smiled like that. Sure it was a barbed comment, but the grin that split Gabriel’s face was enough to bear the brunt of whatever he threw Jack’s way.
Times of the year were marked by impressions. The impression of a dewy morning, foggy with impending humidity. The impression of a sunset bathed in orange darkness, the telltale signs of pumpkin seeds and hay rides. The passage of time made obvious by the music of cicadas and then their abrupt silence. Being in this place felt like that. Turn your head too quick and you’d miss something important.
“You’re being too nice. Why aren’t you mad at me?” Jack asked.
Gabriel stops at this question, still looking at Jack with a smile. The shift of his shoulders as he sighs makes Jack feel like he actually has missed something important. “We’re dead, Jack. I don’t know what you want me to say. That I hate you for doing something in your nature? That after watching you die in an explosion twice over I could stand to not have you near me? You knew me better than that, once.” Gabriel looks down after this, a sad shake of his head accompanying his soft laugh. It would have broken Jack’s heart if it was still what kept him alive.
“This isn’t any better. Yell at me, tell me you hate me, please just don’t pretend what happened was something that we can slip out off like a second skin. I can’t bear it.” If Jack had been anywhere else, he might’ve gotten down on his knees, played the part of the penitent. If he were anywhere else.
Gabriel’s sadness was killing the flowers at his feet. Jack was hoping that the smoky tendrils snaking out of their remains were just a part of his imagination, their slow crawl first toward Gabe’s feet and then up his calf was the sort of nightmarish conjuring his mind would have supplied while earthly dreams still turned to horrors while he slept. Their slow progression was changing the Blackwatch getup that Gabriel had shown up in. They were turning into the black coat of his later years.
Jack watching this progression with the silent devastation of a man too used to awaiting the worst.
But then again, waiting around had never been his best attribute.
Running towards Gabriel was the sort of thing he would not have done in his earlier years. He would’ve let his pride settle heavy in his stomach, turned and walked away from the only good thing in his life for the sake of not looking sentimental. Why had he ever thought loving was a weakness? He’d had time to regret, however. Had time to realize that turning his back on Gabriel was no longer an option.
Crashing into Gabriel was like an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force. The kinetic energy of two people too used to immutability defied the physics they had known as mortals when their flesh made contact. Coming together shook the world at their feet. They canceled out the greenery that had stretched for miles, insulated themselves in a bubble of the universe that they’d created of themselves. They bled the rest of the smoking tendrils into the air around them, dissipating into the universe and ceasing their steady crawl.
“I think you just blew up heaven, Jackie Boy.” Gabriel said, laughing. He never was any good at reverence.
“Oh no, you’re not putting that on me Gabriel, we did that together. I think I’ve given up on taken credit for work I didn’t do.”
“You decide to do that now? Good timing, Sunshine. We didn’t even make it past the gates.”
Gabriel’s happiness wasn’t something built out of Jack’s interference. Jack had never been the one to change him, Gabriel had come out swinging at a world too cruel to those who were forced into roles force fed to them, and Gabe’s ability to come out a good man despite it was a testament to his character. Dismantle Talon, make Jack a better man, St. Peter’s list of sins was blank under the name Gabriel Reyes.
Jack liked to believe in a God that was rooting for the underdog.
Gabriel’s happiness now was the realization that those same hateful tendrils that had tried to taint the bubble of their universe were the same tendrils he had been forced to don in order to do what was right. Infiltrate the enemy, take them out from within, watch the man you love die in front of you while the cause you sacrificed the last days of your life to finally came to an end.
Jack had realized this all too late to do anything about it, but his pride in the man that he once hated still tasted like the love he had tried to shove aside.
“Maybe it isn’t so set as all they fed us in Sunday school. I think I like this version a bit more than anything else they could’ve offered me.” Jack was still in Gabriel’s arms from when they had crashed together. He planned to stay there a little longer.
“Maybe it just reflects what we want it to look like.” Being the optimist was easier when the worst thing in life had already happened. Jack’s death was freedom from the restraints he had placed on himself in life.
“I think I’m okay with thinking it’s that simple. Being dead makes it easier to stop thinking so much.” Gabriel said as he looked around at their little bubble of the universe, a pocket of galaxies and stars that stretched for longer than Jack was willing to conceive of. He could do with a little less thinking too.
The flowers at their feet sprung up with the quickness of a breath, the fields that had quickly vanished were now spreading from the center point of their embrace off into the expanse of galaxies that were still visible around them. The gates that had taken up so much of their attention before the explosion of the universe were no longer there, replaced instead with more expansive greenery.
“I think we’ve officially been kicked out.”
“I don’t know about that, I think I have heaven right here.”
Gabriel’s expression was one Jack had seen plenty times before, it was the face of a man who would never get used to Jack’s corniness. It was okay, though. Now they had forever for Gabe to call him out on his bullshit, and for Jack to make amends.