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Set My Soul Ablaze

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The heat of New Mexico in July was always a horrid thing. The vigilante known as Soldier: 76 could remember being in the area years ago and thinking similar thoughts. Back then, though, he had a well air-conditioned facility to stoop in, rather than a dusty motel. The soldier tries not to think back on those days, however, lest he fall down that familiar path of misery.

Instead, the vigilante focuses on “the mission,” the one he’s led his life towards. Arbitrary justice at worst; hunting down villains at best. It was a losing game, to be honest, when he was a soldier used to the front lines, not laying low in a dusty motel. But he’s been at this game for decades now, and he’s damned if he’s going to lose.

No, Jack Morrison doesn't lose.

Reaper is an elite agent of Talon, a worldwide terrorist organization. None really know the thoughts of Reaper, but so long as he plays by their (admittedly few) rules, none seem to care. This suits him well.

In truth, Reaper is playing the (very) long game. His former attempts, as Gabriel Reyes, to bring down the terrorist organization failed at every turn. So when his life came to death and he was reborn under a new persona, he took the opportunity for a daring attempt: bring down Talon from the inside.

Reaper doesn’t think about his human past. The monster he is now doesn’t let him. Because if he thinks about his past, he knows his hand will trail to his hips, where words were once etched in the name of another, a soul mate named Jack Morrison.

Jack closes his eyes. It doesn’t change anything, he’s still blind without his Vishkar Visor on, but sometimes he likes to pretend it helps. Once upon a time, he could see without the visor’s assistance. Sometimes he forgets he is blind when he opens his eyes, much like he imagines some people struggle with the ‘phantom limb’ experience. It always crashes back in on him when he puts the visor on and the world slams back into place.

And yet, sometimes it is only when Jack closes his eyes that he feels truly safe enough to think about his past, as though seeing the scars on his body are too painful a reminder. He can feel them without the visor, of course, but there’s a sweet serenity in the darkness. But one scar hurts the most.

Across his back, a name was once written. ‘Gabriel Reyes,’ it said, written in a rather beautiful signature. But Gabriel Reyes was dead, Jack knew, and his name is gone from Jack’s skin. But there are moments like this when his spine tingles, the same as it did whenever Gabriel looked at him. He swears he can feel the burn of each letter screaming at him, but he’s never looked. He’s too afraid to see words that aren’t there.

But Jack is not afraid of his demons! He shouts this in his mind as he stands from his dusty motel bed. He hasn't looked at his back in nearly ten years, since Gabriel had Jack look in the mirror to watch as he kissed his way down his own signature. After the shock wears off from attaching his visor, Jack removes his shirt and grabs a hand mirror he carries with him — useful for checking corners — and enters the bathroom.

Faced with the inevitable sense of loss, Jack panics for a moment. He thinks seeing those words will shatter some illusion he’s under, and he’ll feel Gabriel’s loss all over again. He’s heard the stories, of course, but never seen it for himself; the scars of a soul name ripped from one’s body are supposedly horrific. But Jack reasons that he has plenty of scars and turns his back to the mirror, then holds aloft the hand mirror to see his back.

Jack drops the hand mirror.

Gabriel Reyes’ signature is still etched into Jack Morrison’s skin.

Gabriel is still alive.

Reaper never takes off his mask. Talon agents are aware that he is a wraith, but some still are curious as to who he once was. They learn their lesson quickly when nearly choked to death by the black smoke that oozes from his body. He doesn’t need sleep, either, so they don’t have many chances to ambush him and rip the mask from his face.

As the years went by, Reaper established himself as a solo agent. He would be assigned missions that, while not always covert, didn’t need the lesser agents to be sent in. This meant that he could relax without fear of being ousted. And in the down time, when waiting in a safe house between one strike and the next, he could even dare to remove his mask and see the horror underneath.

In truth, Reaper looked much like Gabriel once did, but the black smoky tint to his skin and the redness of his irises attested to his inhumanness. However, Gabriel was learning on these days to himself that he could control, to some extent, his appearances. On a good day, he could repress most of his wraith-like qualities and even convince the mirror he was human. Most days, however, his skin seeped black smoke and stunk of decay. On particularly bad days, he was barely more than a tangible mass of smoke.

Assigned to a strike mission in New Mexico hunting a former Overwatch agent for information, Gabriel stooped in a safe house while waiting for information on his target. In the meantime, he took the chance to strip in front of his mirror. It was an average day, he’d admit, so he was unsurprised to see where skin was falling to decay. After so long, he was used to the sight. What caught his eye, however, was something he didn’t dare look away from. Pulling his underwear down, he saw the beautiful script he hadn’t dared look at in an age: Jack Morrison.

Amidst the rumors of the fall of Overwatch, Gabriel had believed that Jack had perished along with him. And in his current state, he had had no reason to believe otherwise. He had never been able to suppress his wraith appearance to this extent before, and had been too afraid to see Jack’s name struck from its place on his skin. But seeing it now? He practically leapt in joy.

Gabriel knew there was no reason to believe the sight before his eyes. Jack’s name could just as easily be a trick of his long addled mind. But the signature was a chance that Reaper hadn’t dared think of before, and he was damned if he was going to let the hope slip him by.

As much as Gabriel wants to abandon Talon and hopelessly search for Jack, he knows that if his lover has stayed hidden this long, then the search would be just that: hopeless. Instead, he believes Talon’s mission of hunting former Overwatch operatives may just be a better step in the right direction.

The information that got Reaper sent to New Mexico was sketchy in the first place. There wasn’t a solid identifier on the operative, other than that his motives and his fighting style were Overwatch-esque. Reaper would have refused the mission initially but knowing it would grant him some free time had been the deciding factor. Otherwise it was a goose chase at best.

“Soldier: 76” was the vigilante’s call card. It struck a familiar note in Gabriel but he didn’t recognize anything about the man. Even the pulse rifle he used was too generic. Gabriel still hoped he might get some information from the soldier before he was forced to kill him.

After all, Reaper had no room in his scheme for loose ends…

Settling the mask back over his face, completing the Reaper get-up, Gabriel grins darkly. Leaving the safe house behind him, he plans for this night to be very productive.

The information on the Talon operative in the area was sketchy at best. The agent had only just arrived but he had worked in the area before, supposedly. His call sign was “Reaper” according to Jack’s sources. It didn’t really conjure any images for Jack, but he supposed that was because Talon was only rising as Overwatch was collapsing.

Unfortunately, with these limited resources, Jack’s best approach would be to patrol for the night. He hated to do this, as it more often than not alerted other offenders to his location, like last year in Dorado. But without more information, he wouldn’t get anywhere sitting around waiting for Reaper to strike his target.

As Jack slides his shirt over his head and grabs his jacket, he thinks of the words etched down his spine, eliciting a tingling feeling. As much as he would like to abandon everything and search for Gabriel, Jack knows this would undo all his work since his apparent death. He’s avoided everyone related to Overwatch, abandoned all the recognizable methods he learned in his decades as Strike Commander. His work may be Overwatch-focused still, in hunting down former enemies, yet he’s remained unconnected so far. He shudders to think what would happen if he were recognized, though he admits the years have been unkind enough to give him some leeway.

Jack wonders what Gabriel would look like at his age. He recalls a time when they were much younger and joked about being gross old men together. For as much as they laughed back then, Jack would have given anything to hold Gabriel for just another day. Now, knowing Gabriel really is out there, Jack hopes he won’t have to wonder any more.

Reaper stands outside the warehouse, perched on a ledge. It was a pain getting up there, and no matter how undead he might be, he can still feel his age on days like this. According to his sources, though, the vigilante would be walking near enough to the warehouse that Gabriel could approach him.

Sure enough, waltzing down the alleyway with his pulse rifle armed but not aimed, Soldier: 76 scans the area. In truth, the pictures don’t do the man justice, Gabriel thinks absently. That is the only thought he is allowed before the visor turns on him and in a matter of moments Helix rockets blast towards him.

Reaper jumps from his ledge and grabs his guns from his cloak. He had hoped to speak with the man before resorting to violence but he wouldn’t complain at the turn of events. Clearly the vigilante had been expecting him.

Despite the dimness of the alley, Soldier: 76’s visor is visible enough for Reaper to keep an eye on him. Avoiding the Helix rockets were one thing — Reaper had been privy to their design, after all — but the pulse rifle’s signature “bullets” were another matter. Even worse, the vigilante kept Reaper at enough of a distance that his own guns wouldn’t be much use, rather a short range means of killing.

Finally, Soldier: 76 taunted him in a rich, throaty voice that made Gabriel stop in his tracks despite the tone: “Fight back, god dammit. Hit me!” This was clearly a mistake on Gabriel’s part, as immediately following the voice was another spiral of Helix rockets. With no other option, Reaper evaporated.

Jack blinked. The talon operative was gone. He wasn’t killed — not even hit! — just gone. Jack had heard strange things about Reaper but had brushed them off as just baseless stories. They were not.

An almost demonic chuckle came from somewhere behind Jack but before he could even react he felt the very painful blast of a shotgun. The bullet spread shred his jacket and the force of the blast knocked him forward. He had the base thought to deploy his biotic field, but he wasn’t sure if it would be enough as his world blurred. He may have heard a gasp from behind him.

As the world comes into focus a short time later, he first is amazed he’s even alive. More than that, he’s only laying face down on the ground a short distance from where he was attacked, not tied up or anything. In fact, if he’s not mistaken, his biotic field fully healed him. Without thinking, Jack grabs his pulse rifle and swings around to face Reaper. But it is not Reaper he sees.

Knelt on the pavement across from Jack is one Gabriel Reyes. Though his eyes are red and his skin is ashen, Jack recognizes him. Gabriel is weeping tears of blood, and Jack does not know why. But the wind at his back reminds him: his soul name.

As the shock wears off, Jack forms tears of his own. “Gabriel?” Though his back stings, Jack makes his way roughly to where his former lover is and sees the sobs wracking the man’s body. “Gabriel,” Jack whispers again. But he has no words for his lover, and seeing him brings no more to his lips than to utter his name a thousand times over. Instead, Jack kneels on the ground in front of Gabriel and removes his mask and visor, leaving him blind. Jack cups his soul mate’s face in his hands, though Gabriel must have moved some to meet him part of the way. Jack can feel Gabriel’s bloody tears on his thumbs but this doesn’t bother him; he can feel Gabriel’s cold skin but this doesn’t bother him; he can smell the strange smoke accompanying Gabriel but this doesn’t bother him. Instead, Jack leans forward and brings their lips together.

At that moment, their respective marks burn as their soul flames are reignited.