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Broken Hearts

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On Monday, Talon tries to turn on Sombra. Ostensibly she has strayed too far from their goals, but in truth she’s digging too deeply into the business of too many of the heads for their comfort. Too many fingers in too many pies, and too many secrets baked inside. They want her brought to heel before she can use what she’s found.

    Sombra, of course, is ready for this. She has been for ages. Thanks to Reaper’s warning, she is well prepared for the waves and waves of mediocre hackers trying to drain her resources and divert her attention from the few elite hidden among the chaff, all of them trying to find her well-guarded heart. They waste their time on the traps she leaves for them while she pulls out the big guns in retaliation.

    She sics Soldier:76 on Talon.

    It is, perhaps, just the tiniest bit overkill. Cruel and unusual punishment, at least. Unfortunately for Talon, their efforts have already forced her to disconnect from her heart, so she doesn’t care about that. Can’t, really.

    More’s the pity; she probably would have enjoyed watching him tear through their base like the testosterone-overdosed protagonist of a classic action film.

 

    Soldier arrives on a tip-off that a certain location has a clue to the many mysteries he’s trying to unravel. By the time he finds the dogtags, most of the building is a burning, bullet-filled mess. Most of the Talon agents on site are also bullet-ridden, though they’re more bloody than burnt. Soldier:76 doesn’t feel too bad about that. He can’t. He’s not Heartless, but his heart is too broken to work the way it ought.

    In the old days, someone might have bound it in iron bands to keep it from falling apart. Everyone he would have trusted with the task is either dead or thinks he is, so it rattles around like a stone in his shoe instead: a minor irritation he can ignore as long as he keeps busy enough.

    Finding the dogtags is enough of a shock to slow him down, and the pain catches up. Funny how two pieces of scratched-up, burn-scarred metal can come so close to shattering him entirely. One of the tags has his name on it. He hasn’t seen it in years, not after he gave it away. The other tag has a different name, one just as long gone.

    Gabriel Reyes .

    It’s another question in his search for answers. He doesn’t like the theories it suggests. Still, he can’t very well leave them behind. The tags are all he has left; and besides, he has the right to them three times over: once by original ownership, once by right of inheritance, and once by right of conquest. By the rule of three, they are his, he wears them with his half of the set, hanging above his broken heart.

 

    On Tuesday, Reaper realizes his heart is no longer under Talon’s control. Wherever it is, it’s been removed from the seals and circles that bound him to the organization, and the last shreds of their influence burn away like morning mist under summer sun.

    Unfortunately for Talon, this revelation comes as they start a critical mission against the forces of Overwatch. Nothing could prepare them for one of their greatest assets suddenly turning on them and unleashing Hell. Reaper may not have a heart, but he has a will, and there are rules that must be obeyed. All service has a price. The cost of keeping him is blood and death.

    The bewildered members of Overwatch stand in awe and take a collective step back-- some in fear, some in respect, and some for reasons they don’t know how to name-- and don’t interfere. The air is heavy with the debt owed by Talon’s folly. By the time it settles, only Overwatch remains. Reaper bows his head, melts into the shadows, and begins the hunt for his heart.

    Talon was careful when they ripped it from him, bleeding out in the rubble of the doomed Swiss base, but their spells no longer hide it from him. Stolen as it was, it calls to him. He follows it across the world. He walks through valleys and drifts over mountains, spans the width and breadth of the sea and the plains. He wears through the steel in his boots, replaces them, and wears through it again. It doesn’t take as long as it should. Eventually he arrives in a city so busy that no one blinks twice at a man in a hood and mask, so long as he is not shooting anyone.

    Soldier:76 isn’t shooting anyone, not yet anyway, but he looks like he’s seriously considering it when the dark wraith approaches. In another world, they might know each other for the men they were, dropping years of distance and isolation like unwanted baggage. In another world, they might shed their masks. They might shed tears. They might shed blood.

    This is not those worlds, and here the Soldier meets the Reaper with a question:

    “What are you looking at?”

    “Want it back,” says Reaper, gesturing to the tags. He’s unused to proper conversation; aside from a little bit of banter with Sombra, he hasn’t had one in years. It makes him gruffer, more direct, less eloquent.

    Soldier cocks his rifle, ready to defend himself. He’s heard rumors of who Reaper works for.

    “Well, you can’t have it,” he says. “It’s mine by right, three times over.”

    Reaper is close enough that he can almost feel through his heart again, and what he feels is pain. Pain and the faint persistent trembling of a broken heart. It’s nearly enough to drive him to madness after years of nothing, but he clings to the thing that has pulled him through the void all this time: there are rules .

    Something desired must be gifted or paid for. If not now, the price comes later. Greater. There is always a price. He just has to discover what it is.

    “Very well,” he says.

 

    On Wednesday Reaper returns carrying with him a sword that once belonged to a hero-king. Legend says it is sharp enough to carve through the anvil on which it was forged, and that it’s strong enough to cut the tops off of three mountains.

    “I offer a trade,” he says.

    “Do I look like I use swords?” Soldier scoffs. “This is of no interest to me.”

    “You don’t want it?” Reaper looks at the sword. It’s a good sword, for an ancient longsword. If he used swords, he might like it. Then again, he doesn’t, so he supposes he can’t blame Soldier.

    “Ten points to the wise guy,” Soldier storms off and does a better job of disappearing than a masked man in an iconic leather jacket should be able to do. The faint feelings from his distant heart fade with the man’s departure.

 

    On Thursday Reaper brings him three severed heads, two human and one Omnic.

    “If I ask you how you found my safehouse, are you going to give me a straight answer?” Soldier demands instead of a more common reaction to an unexpected arrival like “hello” or “get the hell out.”

    “I bring you the heads of your enemies,” Reaper offers. “Three of Talon’s international branch leaders, the kind who hide behind steel doors and expensive defenses so they would never have to face you on the field of battle. I offer a trade--”

    “What am I supposed to do with those?” Soldier gestures in annoyance. “And who are you to determine my enemies, and whether or not I can get to them?”

    “I didn’t say you couldn’t get to them,” Reaper replies, finding himself on the defensive. “I did it for you.”

    “And what if I wanted that pleasure for myself?”

    Reaper takes this as a good sign because at least now they’re having a dialogue.

    Do you want--”

    “No!”

    So much for the dialogue.

    “Well, it’s not like I can put them back.”

    “Not my problem,” Soldier huffs. “I didn’t ask for them in the first place-- don’t you leave those here, you--!”

   

    On Friday, Reaper returns with a golden apple that grants youth and vitality. The skin gleams, and it smells of sweet temptation. In his hands it shines like a captured sun.

    “I journeyed to the graves of gods and slayed the ghost of a dragon to bring you this,” he says. He might be getting the slightest bit testy. “It’s one of the last in the world, first cultivated in the gardens of Atlantis--”  

    “I think I’m insulted,” interrupts Soldier. “Is this some kind of crack about my hair?” He rubs ruefully at the short white locks, the hairline higher than he cares to admit.

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” says Reaper, because he needs this deal to go through. Three offers are all he gets to make, and then he has to wait until Soldier dies in whatever war he’s fighting. “Silver is a good color for you.”

    Soldier laughs, then, but more importantly, he doesn’t say, “no”.

    “Who are you working for?” he asks. “I thought you were Talon, but you brought me their heads… I hear you left quite a mess when you left.”

    Reaper points at the tags again. Funny, for all the time he’s spent as a smoke-and-shadow creature-of-darkness this last week, he feels unusually solid now. His hand stays steady.

    “Those were mine,” he says. “Talon took them from me.”

    Soldier goes deathly still.

    “What did you say?”

    “I was bound while they had them. I’m free now, and I want them back.” Reaper watches Soldier’s reaction carefully. His admission is a calculated risk based on what little he’s been able to observe about the man in their brief meetings. Soldier seems the sentimental type.

    But Soldier does something that even Reaper couldn’t foresee: he pitches over, grabbing at his chest.

    The lack of heart keeps Reaper from panicking, but his proximity is enough to let some of his old reactions bleed through. He catches Soldier before he can hit the ground. The dogtags and pieces of Soldier’s broken heart ring like battered bells.

    “Gabe?” Soldier calls out, soft and wondering.

    Reaper remembers answering to that name. He remembers answering to that tone, often in the dead of night with certain death on the horizon.

    “Jack?”

    Masks fall away. For the first time in years, Jack Morrison and Gabriel Reyes see each other face to face. They stare.

    Reaper recovers first, unable to properly feel shock or awe.

    “Silver is still a good look for you,” he says. Jack laughs until he cries, which doesn’t take long thanks to his broken heart.

    “You said that before.”

    “I stand by it.”

    “Gabe…” Jack sobers, clutching at the dogtags. “They really took your heart out? This is… this is really it?”

    Reaper’s stare stretches back across continents and years.

    “I saw the doctor walking through the rubble, looking for survivors,” he says quietly. “I called out, but she didn’t heal me. She took my tags, said some words, and then… the knife… When I woke up, my heart was gone, bound to their service… until…”

    Jack nods roughly.

    “I got a tip-off about a Talon base a little while back,” Jack muses. “I found the tags there.”

    “And took them.”

    “Well, I couldn’t just leave them!”

    Gabriel’s face is frightfully blank, as emotionless as his mask. Jack finds it difficult to look at him for long; Gabriel was always so expressive that to see him like this causes his heart to shudder.

    Neither man speaks for a long time.

    “I suppose you want these back.” Jack takes the tags and holds them out. Gabriel moves to take them, but freezes as his claws touch the chain. His eyes widen, reflecting horror as the full weight of the last several years suddenly assaults him.

    Gabriel never had problems making tough decisions or getting his hands dirty for the greater good, but that was when he made the decisions in service to the good he chose. Justification falls apart when it’s someone else’s ideals poured into his head, pulling his strings and making his bloody dance fit their tune. He cannot put into words the things he feels-- in a way, he doesn’t quite feel them because his heart is still trapped on the outside-- but he knows . He knows; he sees the pit into which he plummets, sees the way the darkness yawns and pulls at him. He is far from where he wants to be, and he sees no way back…

    Reaper’s hands turn to smoke, and the tags fall through his non-existent grasp. Jack cries out and manages to catch them before they hit the ground.

    “Gabe?”

    “You should hold on to them,” Gabriel says. “They’re yours, anyway.”

    “Not if I give them back,” Jack replies, but he watches carefully because he knows that he should read between Gabriel’s lines. “And besides, right of conquest is no right at all.”

    Gabriel’s eyes flicker to the tags the way he used to look at loaded guns pointed at his face. Jack pulls the tags away and slips the chain around his neck again. His heart is broken, but at least he still has the pieces.

    “How about I carry them for you,” he says, “since you seem to be having problems with your grip?”

    Gabriel can’t be grateful, but he is. Jack reads it in the way the tension bleeds out of his shoulders. Gabriel does not regret. Gabriel does not fear. Gabriel moves ahead, ever onward, no matter what.

    Gabriel will burn himself out and never realize how bright he’s burning as he falls.

    Well, this time Jack is ready to catch him.

 

    On Saturday, two old soldiers stand outside the door of the Gibraltar Watchpoint and, contrary to all appearances, do not have an argument.

    They have A Discussion.

    “This is a terrible idea.”

    “It’s better than any you had.”

    “I didn’t offer any.”

    “Then it wins by default.”

    “It’s still terrible.”

    “I didn’t say it was my best plan, but it beats sitting in a moldy safehouse and trying to figure out which roof tile is leaking, which is what we were doing.”

    “It’s not going to work.”

    “You know, you’re awfully pessimistic for a man who survived a Broken Heart.”

    “You’re awfully optimistic for a man without a heart at all.”

    There’s a brief pause wherein Gabriel just stares at Jack. There’s no pain in his look, and somehow that’s worse than a dozen kicked puppies. Gabriel reaches out and taps the dogtags with the tip of his claw.

    “I have to know,” he says. “I haven’t caught him on the field since I saw his heart explode, but I’ve seen his bounty go up.”

    “That doesn’t mean anything, especially with McCree,” replies Jack, though he relents just a little bit. “He gets blamed for crap all the time, even when there’s evidence he was nowhere near the scene.”

    “And that’s why I have to know,” says Gabriel. “Because otherwise, I never will.”

    Jack shuffles uneasily.

    “And you think, what, they’re just going to receive us with open arms? Us ? Now ?”

    “Woulda done it five minutes ago, but you two seemed like you were havin’ fun trying to sort yourselves out,” comes a deep, warm drawl. Both Jack and Gabriel turn to find Jesse leaning on the doorway. His face is oddly quirked, eyes bright and dancing between them. It takes Jack an embarrassingly long time to realize that Jesse is smiling .

    “What’s wrong with your face?” he asks. Jesse laughs . The sound of it, pure and true, causes the fragments of Jack’s broken heart to grind together. Even Gabriel takes a step back.

    “It’s just my face, Jack.” Jesse pushes away from the door frame. “Now, what brings you two old dogs to what’s supposed to be a secret hideout?”

    “It’s not a very good secret,” says Gabriel. “And the security is still shit.”

    Jesse’s lips curl back, showing teeth with his smile.

    “Can’t be too bad,” he muses. “After all, y’all are still on the outside.” As if to prove his point, an arrow strikes between Jack’s feet. There’s no obvious sign of Hanzo except the arrow, but both old soldiers are smart enough to take a solid guess as to where he’s perched.

    “What happened to you?” Gabriel asks. “I saw your heart explode.”

    “Explode?” Jesse’s eyebrows hike up to the brim of his hat. “Now how do you reckon that happened? And why, might I add, were you in a position to notice such a thing?”

    “I had to stop them from using you the way they did me,” Reaper says. “This time, it wouldn’t have been the kind of thing you could walk away from.”

    Jesse’s face goes flat and cold, which is closer to how Jack remembers it. For a long moment no one moves, until finally Jesse nods once and shifts his weight, not quite relaxing but much closer to it than before.

    “May I ask how you got away then, Mr. Grim, Dark, and Edgy?”

    “Got lucky,” Gabriel nudges Jack, who glowers back.

    “It wasn’t luck, it was a tip-off.”

    “Lucky tip-off.”

    “Boys,” Jesse says tersely. Gabriel can’t exactly take offense at the chiding tone, nor can he completely appreciate the irony, but he knows he should, and that has to be enough.

    “Jack broke the circle,” he says. “I’m not bound anymore.”

    Jesse raises an eyebrow. “I take it that has something to do with Tuesday’s little hiccup?” He waves it off before either of them can answer. “Nevermind, that’s out of my paygrade.”

    Jack looks at the wear and tear on the building and on Jesse’s clothes and gear.

    “They pay you?” he says skeptically. Jesse smirks.

    “Not enough,” he says. “I’m guessing this ain’t a social call, though, so let’s not stand here on the porch jawing away--”

    “McCree,” Gabriel says before he can turn away. Jesse waits. “You didn’t answer. What happened to your heart?”

    Jesse replies by unbuckling his breastplate and pulling Gabriel’s hand up to rest his palm flat across his chest. It’s a foolish move, too trusting, too open, too vulnerable… but Gabriel’s had suspicions since he hit that wall, and this is proof of them.

    Still, his eyes widen a fraction because witnessing the impossible warrants some kind of reaction. Gabriel grabs Jack’s hand and also puts it up to Jesse’s chest. The gunslinger looks moderately embarrassed, but it’s his own fault for starting his explanation this way, so he endures.

    Jesse’s heart pounds on steadily in his chest as if it was never carved from its rightful place.

    “How?” Gabriel asks.

    Jesse scratches the back of his neck.

    “Jury’s still out on that one,” he says. “Everyone’s got their own theory. My favorite is that Hanzo’s actually Cupid bound in mortal flesh, and he petitioned his mother on my behalf. Mostly I like that one ‘cause Hanzo would look good in a toga.” Another arrow sails by, knocking off McCree’s hat. He chuckles as he retrieves it. “Good money, however, is on True Love’s Kiss, if you’ll believe it.”

    “True Love’s Kiss.” No one can deadpan like an undead, Heartless man.

    Jack manages to keep from visibly reacting, but little can stop the audible grind of the broken pieces of his heart. Jesse’s attention snaps over to him, and Jack wants to slap the pity from his face. It’s not right that Jesse McCree of all people should pity him . Jesse has been Heartless for so long--

    Gabriel touches Jack’s back.

    “Breathe,” he commands. “You still need air.”

    “I know,” Jack snaps. Gabriel remains unfazed.

    “C’mon in, then,” says Jesse, graciously plowing ahead. “We may as well finish this conversation inside, before Hanzo sunburns because he insists he doesn’t need sunscreen.” Jesse narrowly dodges another arrow aimed at him and ducks inside, laughing.

    Jack and Gabriel, despite their reservations, follow.

 

    A month of Sundays pass. Gabriel and Jack quietly integrate into the new Overwatch and commit themselves to its clandestine efforts of thwarting Talon’s agents and influence. It’s… surprisingly easy, all things considering. Those who already joined are in the business of hope, and tend to be more forgiving of history than either of the latecomers. They’re kind enough not to push buttons or dig too deeply too quickly.

    In Gabriel’s case, he takes up sitting in the back of the room and occasionally tossing out comments that feed into the conversation. It gives the illusion of sociability, which seems to be sufficient for people to consider him part of the team. Jesse especially seems happy to accommodate and runs interference whenever Gabriel falls short.

    “It’s all right,” Jesse fusses at him after Gabriel’s cold contribution to a mission plan results in Lúcio verbally tearing him a new one. “You don’t have to force yourself.”

    “I’m not forcing anything,” Gabriel snorts. “This is what I want to do.”

    “Reyes--”

    “I can choose now, Jesse, and I chose the hard way over not choosing at all.”

    Jesse smiles and chuckles and lets him have his own way.

    Jack is as careful as he can be, but the pieces of his broken heart still clatter and grind at times. When he catches Reinhardt regaling the new members with stories of the glory days. When Ana brews a specific blend of tea. When Jesse’s laugh-- strange as it is to hear it-- echoes through a room and Hanzo’s raspy chuckle follows it. When Gabriel stares at him just a second too long, unblinking and unreadable.

    Not that there is anything to read.

    Eventually Jack does what he should have done in the first place and goes to see Torbjörn. The engineer examines the mangled pieces and gives him the look of patient despair that comes to a craftsman who’s been asked to do the impossible, and to do it on a shoestring budget.

    “I’d ask how you’re even up and walking around with it in this state, but honestly, I think we both know you’re the most stubborn bastard around,” he sighs. “I don’t know what to tell you, Jack. I could try a few things, but at this point it’s likely to fall apart before it ever functions reliably again. Well, fall apart worse than it already has.”

    “Oh,” says Jack. Then, “Do you think Angela…?”

    “If it were cholesterol or cardiovascular disease, to be sure, but this…” Torbjörn gestures to the intricate spellwork, runes, and circles that line his workshop. “This is a different kind of magic, Jack. This is the old stuff. Deep. Powerful. Living Will is the trickiest, most dangerous thing to try and manipulate. Even trying to help can be more harmful than good. If you’re still going like this… maybe best to leave it be.”

    Jack shrugs. Disappointment is sharp, but not unexpected, and it’s a pain he’s endured long enough that it’s almost not a pain at all.

    He tells himself he wouldn’t know what to do without it, anyway. That he doesn’t remember how to *not* be defined by the state of his heart.

    Gabriel finds him that night, sitting on a little balcony that used to be reserved for the base commander. Neither of them were stationed at Gibraltar, but their override codes still work on everything, and Jack is far from caring if he abuses that loophole.

    “Enjoying the view?” Gabriel asks. It sounds so normal and yet so strange at the same time. Jack can’t count how often Gabriel used to ask the same question back… before… They fought side by side across the world, and every time they found a moment’s peace, Gabriel smiled, gestured to the sky, the mountains, the trees, whatever was around them, and he’d ask. Even when it was raining and they were up to their knees in mud, and Jack had lost a boot because he was too stubborn to accept help. Gabriel had pulled him under some makeshift shelter and grinned like a maniac and asked him.

    Jack breathes in slowly to steady himself. It does no good to remember, and it does no good to mention it now or ask him to stop. It’s not Gabriel’s fault someone cut out his heart while he was lying under half a building.

    “Seaside at sunset?” Jack does his best to sound casual. “It’s like that vacation I always meant to take.”

    Gabriel stares out across the water, but like a lodestone his attention turns back to Jack. Jack can feel it like a weight on his back. This is what he hates most about the whole ordeal: the moments where he can’t figure out what Gabriel is thinking. Always before, he and Gabriel could read each other like books. Now Gabriel’s pages are blank, and most of Jack’s are ripped or blurred.

    Jack sighs in frustration. Gabriel’s look intensifies.

    “We should have,” Gabriel says at last. “We still could, you know.”

    Jack can’t catch his breath. His chest compresses painfully, pieces of his heart imploding, everything tilting…

    “Hey.” Gabriel grabs him, hauls him upright. Holds him steady. Just like old times. Despite the pain, Jack finds himself stabilizing.

    “I’m fine,” he says. Gabriel has fallen for that one exactly no times, and he doesn’t start now. His fingers tighten on Jack’s shoulder.

    “You don’t have to be,” he says. Jack shudders again, then slumps against Gabriel’s chest with a sigh.

    “I miss you,” he whispers. Gabriel stiffens, and then he slowly pats Jack on the back.

           “You've got me,” he whispers back, “and not just the tags.” It's as much of a consolation as he can offer. “I'm here. I choose to be here. I choose you.”

           It's a small consolation, but a heavy one. Jack cradles it in the pieces of his heart and does what he's always done: carry on.



    On a Monday they get into a fight with a hacked giant robot. This wouldn’t be a problem-- their entire early C.V. is fighting robots, after all-- except the fight happens in an active factory the team is investigating, and there are massive vats of molten metal everywhere. The team scatters across the field to avoid being splashed with liquified steel whenever the robot flails. Jack takes the high ground, old habit dying harder for the familiarity. Gabriel is at his back, right where he should be.

    For one moment, the world is as close to perfect as it will get. Jack’s boots ring on the grate of the catwalk as he charges into position. Gabriel fires at one of the robot’s massive arms as it tries to swat at Jack, and his shots are true, hitting something vital that sparks and shreds. The arm crashes into the far end of the walkway, far exceeding its weight limit. The supports give out, and the catwalk buckles.

    “Damn!” Jack hisses. He stumbles, pitching forward. Gabriel grabs him. He is solid. Unshakeable.

    The robot lets out a synthetic screech, turning on them with another swipe. Below, Reinhardt charges into its legs, knocking it off balance. The robot falls over backwards, away from them, but the impact it makes on the ground is enough to sunder the catwalk from its supports. A railing snaps. The walkway twists, falling out from under them.

    Jack nearly plummets into the vat of hot steel, but Gabriel catches him again, hooking one arm through the remaining railing to link them to safety. For one moment he’s upside down, and then he slams into the grate hard enough to jar the dog tags from around his neck. They fall as he would have, taking the same inexorable path towards the molten steel. His eyes widen as he sees the chain glinting in the heat-haze. It hangs in the air, untethered, and then gravity starts to tug it down.

    Jack’s broken heart stops entirely. He can feel Gabriel’s hand tighten around his arm, claws digging into the leather. Jack stretches-- flails -- for the tags. His fingertips brush the delicate chain and skim over the engraved metal tag, but they cannot close on them. The chain plummets beyond his reach--

    --and catches precariously on the broken railing below.

    Jack exhales. The leather of his jacket starts to rip. He glances up to Gabriel, whose face is unreadable-- no, not unreadable. All of Gabriel’s attention is focused on Jack. On holding him up. On keeping him safe. Gabriel’s heart hangs above certain destruction, and he focuses on Jack.

    “I can get it.” Jack says, glancing to the tags. “I just need a little more…” the tear in his jacket spreads. The leather is no real match for an enhanced soldier’s uncooperative weight.

    “Jack,” Gabriel says, infuriatingly calm. “You need to climb up. I can’t hold on to you.”

    “I can get it,” Jack insists.

    “Jack.”

    “Damnit, it’s your heart , Gabe!”

    “The important part is right here.” Gabriel tries to tug Jack higher, but part of his shoulder starts to smoke from the strain. “Jack. Please. Climb.”

    Jack means to defy him. He intends to reach. He intends to grab. He intends to fall if he must, as long as he can throw those precious tags somewhere safer. He has never backed down easily, and he doesn’t intend to start now.

    The remaining support strut shrieks and bends. The catwalk drops, one end sinking into the molten metal with a vicious splash. Gabriel grits his teeth and swings Jack out of the range, letting go of the railing just in time to get dragged long. They fall to the ground beside the vat. The tags sit mere inches above the surface of the liquid where the heat begins to warp the thin metal.

    Pain consumes Gabriel’s world. Every nerve burns. Memory melts away as agony seeps into every part of him. Despite this, he clings to Jack’s hand with little more than stiffness to his face.

    “I could have got it,” Jack rasps, squeezing Gabriel’s hand tighter. He doesn’t say, “you’re going to die.”

    “With butterfingers like yours? No thanks,” Gabriel replies. He doesn’t say, “I know.”

    “Stupid, stubborn, goddamn asshole!” Jack curses. He can’t breathe, can’t see, can’t do anything except feel like it’s his heart melting in the vat. It’s like Switzerland all over again-- Gabriel is dying, and Jack can’t do anything to help him. Can’t even ease his pain. “I wanted to save you,” he whispers. “Just this once, I wanted to save you.”

    Gabriel smiles at him through the pain. The scars on his face glow with the heat that eats at him from the inside.

    “You did,” he says. “I’m free.”

    Rather than spend their last moments arguing, Jack surrenders to his broken heart and leans down, pressing his lips to Gabriel’s.

    It’s a “goodbye” kiss. An “I’ll miss you” kiss. An “I’ll be with you soon” kiss. An “I love you” kiss.

    Gabriel kisses him back. I loved you first and last. I loved you most and deepest, I loved you then and I love you still .

    The kiss goes on and on, through a dozen different meanings, a hundred, a thousand. The kiss goes on until the pain fades away from both of them, until they’re breathless and deaf to the world from the pounding of their heartbeats in their own ears. The kiss goes on until Reinhardt comes up behind them and clears his throat.

    “I am sorry to interrupt,” he says, “but I wanted to see if you needed back-up. Our foe is fallen, and the rest of the team is cleaning up.”

    Jack looks down at Gabriel. Gabriel scowls up at Reinhardt.

    “I’m in the middle of dying; can you come back later?” he bitches. “Only one teary goodbye per team, and Jack called dibs.”

    It’s about this time that Jack registers the lack of clatter from his heart. Gabriel is warm and leans on him heavily, and Jack can feel every breath he takes. Reinhardt moves to pick up Gabriel and carry him back to Ana for what limited medical assistance can be provided to a Heartless, and Gabriel tries to shoo him off, drawing Jack’s attention to the strange flutter in the vein running up Gabriel’s throat. Inspiration coalesces from fragmented-- but not particularly subtle-- clues.

    Jack tests his theory by goosing Gabriel.

    Gabriel swears up a blue streak, spinning on Jack with wild eyes. “What the hell was that for?” he demands. “Why would you do that to a dying man?” Which is when everything catches up with Gabriel, and he goes so deathly still and ashen that Jack wonders if he was wrong after all. Gabriel grabs Jack’s hand and drags it up to his chest, but his armor makes it impossible to feel anything. Jack reaches for the pulse point in Gabriel’s throat, the same jumping spot that gave him hope. Beneath Jack’s fingers, Gabriel’s pulse pounds on.

    A smile cracks across Gabriel’s stunned face. One side of his mouth quirks up, then the other.

    Jack’s heart overflows with joy, no longer broken but reforged in the crucible they just endured. He falls into Gabe, unable and unwilling to restrain the wild emotions that flood him.

    Reinhardt clears his throat again and eventually turns aside to give them their moment. They’ve earned that much, after all.

 

    On Tuesday Jack wakes up, warm and comfortable and half spooned against Gabriel’s chest. He turns over so he can see his lover’s face; the scars still glow like dim embers in the wrong light, but he is otherwise whole and hale… and staring back at Jack with pure adoration. Jack tangles their legs together and smiles.

    Eventually they’ll rejoin the team, once the shine of their new future wears off. Possibly Friday. Maybe Saturday. Next Sunday at the latest.

    They have time. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow after that.



END