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A Dead Man and His Angel of Death

Chapter Text

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

The plan started out fine. Find Talon branch. Destroy Talon branch.

76 had gotten a little past the "find" part of the plan when it all went to shit. Destroy had started out strong. Then a stray bullet cracked his visor and everything started going south. The visor malfunctioned, leaving him cripplingly blind in the dark, thermal and night-vision gone for crucial seconds. And his sight had never recovered from the blast six years ago. Fighting a gang of punks nearly blind while not trying to kill them was a bitch. A couple had already got a few lucky punches in his ribs. He ducked behind a crate as bullets ripped through the wood where he'd been standing seconds ago. The jets of air slashed at his jacket as splinters rained across his face.

Fuck. He was getting too old for drawn out firefights.

He waited for the lull of reloading and stepped around the corner. His visor flared bright red, marking five targets in a fraction of a second. He snapped his rifle up. Five times he pulled the trigger. Five targets blinked out. He ducked behind cover again, waiting to see if there was answering gunfire.

It was quiet as death. Crap. He only shot them in the chest. They didn't make punks like they used to. He leaned around the corner, doing a quick sweep. The visor flickered dangerously.

"Damn!"

It gave him the all clear on thermal, but something was moving. Impossible. No heat signature but movement? Talon didn't use mechs. The visor went out.

"Fuck." He pulled a new clip out of his hip pocket. Last one. "Shit." Had to make it count. Maybe it was nothing.

A breeze whispered by his cover, slow, methodical. No natural breeze moved like that. Not a nothing then. 76 rammed the clip home. His cracked visor blinked back on, the red-tinted world he'd come to know wavered, clouded by static. But static couldn't explain the tail of black smoke winding closer to him, zig-zagging with unnatural speed. He shot it. The black spit apart around the bullet and rushed by his legs. Not. Natural. He whirled around, rifle up. The visor flickered. Not now! There was a ghost of a silhouette against the shadows. He fired. The visor blacked out.
Low chuckling filled the air. There was a harsh, mechanical tinge to it, much like 76's own voice. Someone in a mask like him.
"Not a bad shot," came the low voice. "But not good enough."

With his vision gone, 76's hearing improved. There was the faintest whisper of metal against leather. Gun! He dropped and spun around the corner a fraction of a second before duel blasts tore through the air. Burning pain in a dozen places ripped through his right shoulder and bicep. Fuck! Shot guns!

Distance. He needed distance. And eyes god damn it! He took a chance. Slinging the rifle back into its holster on his back, he lunged across what felt like an open gap, hands outstretched and grasping. He nearly crashed into another crate. With finely honed reflexes that hadn't betrayed him like his eyes, he hauled himself up and over the top. Another shotgun blast ripped by him as he rolled away. Fuck this guy was fast! Too fast.

"Hide and seek?" the eerie voice mocked. "Aren’t you a little old for games?"

76 dropped to the floor. His knees ached from the impact. The buckshot in his arm burned with vengeful fury. He pushed the pain aside and tapped the visor, trying to reboot. Darkness. Fuck! He unslung the rifle, putting his back to the crate and feeling his way along. His finger's sensitivity increased, feeling changes in air pressure, leading around another corner and behind a new hiding place. He was lost in a maze, low on ammo, nearly blind, with a fresh gunman after him. His day could’ve been better.

There was a noise somewhere behind him, a soft scrape of boot on floor. Had to keep his distance. He slipped around a corner, pressing his back to it. The rifle was shit up close unless he was using it for blunt force impacts. If his visor would only—a swish of cloth made him hold his breath. That had come from in front of him. Two attackers? No way could one move so fast to get in front of him.

"Come out, come out wherever you are," whispered the mask-concealed voice again, way too close for comfort.

76 slipped an empty cartridge out of his pocket, hoped he'd memorized the terrain right, and chucked it into the blackness. He nearly snarled in pain as the shot gun wound burned. For several agonizing seconds it was silent. Then, several dozen yards away there was a sudden clang where the cartridge hit the floor.

Material snapped, fluttering in a rapid breeze. Shit that had been right on top of him! How could he not hear someone so damn close? He waited for a breathless second and then doubled back the way he came away from the noise, taking a new route through the maze of shipping crates. His visor clicked. The damn thing had better start working and fast! The red world appeared once more, muted, with a large, bare crack down the center. Better than nothing. With surer steps, he worked his way through the maze. This target was too good for one clip. Somehow, with all 76's enhancements, he'd failed to hear the other's approach until he was nearly cornered. And even with his sight back, 76 was at a serious disadvantage. He was wounded and out gunned. The best course of action would be escape, research who the fuck this guy was and go at him again when the advantage wasn't in his favor.

His entry point wasn't too far away. If he could slip out in the dark and—

"Clever," the voice said, "but if you think you can hide in shadows, I am darkness. You cannot escape from me."

Fuck it was a crazy one on top of being a pain in the ass. He leaned forward, checking around the corner. Nothing on thermal. Still? What the hell? Why wasn’t this guy’s body heat showing up? He moved without a sound behind a crate with its doors open for extra cover. Stealthily, he moved across the gap to the other side. He checked around the next corner. His visor warned of movement. He saw it, a streak of mist, slithering through the air like a snake toward him. He put the rifle on his back again and lept up. His fingers grabbed the rim of the crate. With an effort, he soundlessly hauled himself up.

The smoke passed by, winding down into darkness. Too close. 76 went the opposite direction, stealing across the top of the crate, careful to keep his boots quiet. This wasn't some Talon street punk. This was a professional. And he was good.

A speck of dim light appeared beside the crack in his visor. His entry point. It was still a distance away. Jumping would make too much noise. He did a movement sweep. The visor flickered dangerously, but reported nothing close by. Now or never. He came to the end of his elevated path and carefully let himself down. He strained his ears. No sounds. No boot scrap or material flapping. He didn't like it. Not knowing where the guy was unsettled him. Better to have an enemy in his sights then the other way around. Creeping forward, he wove through a tangle of smashed debris. There was a large, open stretch from his cover to the entry point. He'd have to run for it. Shit. Everything had gone to hell.

One last sweep for movement and he bolted. He was halfway across the gap in a few strides. He was going to make— something bashed into him, throwing him sideways. Two powerful arms encircled his chest, cold, metal claws piercing through his thick jacket down into flesh. Entangled, they hit the ground and rolled. 76's back exploded with pain. Snarling, he squeezed off a shot. In the burst of light, he managed to get a glimpse of his target. Black on black, his poor eyesight couldn't make out much more than a powerful frame straddling him, face shrouded with a cowl. What he could see clearly was a stark-white mask like the skull of an animal, with empty sockets for eyes. The light vanished and he was left grappling with a ghost of an image in the visor.

Clawed fingers grabbed his wrist and wrenched. With a strangled shout, 76 lost his grip on the rifle. It clattered to the ground and out of sight. Fuck! He kicked his leg out and back, catching the target in the back of the head with the end of his steel-toed boot. The masked man grunted, caught off guard. 76 rammed his free palm forward, under the mask into a stone-like chin. The man's head snapped back and he snarled, letting go of 76's wrist. Damn! That should have broken his neck! Who was this guy? He reached up with both hands, grabbed the target by the neckline of his Kevlar body suit and pulled him down as he brought his head up. His forehead smashed against the mask and sent pain ringing through his skull like a gong. Shit that hurt!
The masked man teetered. 76 rolled him before the head-butt wore off. Shredded shoulder shrieking in protest, he reversed their positions, slamming the man's head down on the concrete floor. One hand squeezed the target's throat while the other made sure he had a good grip on target's dominant hand.

"Who the hell are you?" he barked.

The masked man laughed. "Not bad. I haven't had a fight like this in years."

76 cracked the man's skull on the ground again. "Answer me!"

More laugher. Then, the man's body... changed. 76 felt it shift under him, turning lighter, unstable. Under his hands, the body turned into mist.

"What the fuck!" 76 dropped to the ground as the body under him evaporated into air. Thick, black mist circled around him like a cyclone. Holy shit was the smoke the man's body?
He got his answer when the mist gathered and the masked figure appeared out of it. He reached into the blackness of his long coat and extracted two enormous shotguns. Someone must be compensating. 76 lunged away. Twin blasts decimated the concrete he'd vacated. He rolled over his lost rifle, grabbed it and came up in a kneel, firing off two shots into the chest. Or they would have been chest shots. The man turned to mist again and the bullets zipped right through him. Fuck.

On his feet again, he broke for the door. The smoke clearly couldn't attack him and with distance, the shotguns were useless. Two steps from the door the masked man exploded out of the dark in front of him. 76 lowered his shoulder, braced to ram. He connected with the man, hard. For a second, he thought he'd barrel right through him. Then the solid body against his shoulder gave way and a clawed hand lashed out, grabbed his back and swung him around with the force of his own charge. As he was swung, 76 planted a foot on the ground to give him a stable footing, ducked under the grasping arm with all the grace of a dancer, grabbed it and twisted. But the masked man was ready. He turned with him, the arm rotating hopelessly out of 76's reach. They ended mask to mask, centimeters away.

Two counters perfectly executed.

God damn.

No one but another super solider was that fast. That perfect.

"Who are you?" the masked man whispered in their mutual pause.

"I asked first." 76 threw a right hook, catching the mask in the cheek and sent the man staggering.

Fuck that hurt! What was that thing made of? A metal fist slammed into his ribs, right in his bruised side. 76 reeled, gasping. Another blow rattled his other side before he caught his balance. Sidestepping the next left hook, he slipped in under the masked man's guard and delivered one punch to the solar plexus and another to the sternum. There was strangled gasp from the skull mask and then claws dug into the back of his neck and pulled him down.

76 make an X with his arms and blocked the knee aimed at his face. The heavy metal boot sent pain rolling down his arms. The knee came back up, fast as lightning. He deflected the kick, and punched just behind the kneecap. The masked man crumpled to his good knee. 76 swung at the mask again but the man rolled, lashing out a leg and sweeping 76's out from under him. 76 somersaulted through the fall, springing up just in time to duck under the roundhouse kick to the head. He battled back with a flurry of feints and jabs aimed at weak joints. All of them were blocked. He blocked everything the other threw at him. The haymakers, the uppercuts. Despite the stakes, 76 found the fight... invigorating. All the other super soldiers were dead or retired. No one in Talon had given him a fight this good.

He leaned out of the way of a fast roundhouse as his own reverse grapple was deftly avoided. Former Overwatch agent? No way. No Overwatch agent ever turned into smoke. But how was he this strong, this fast?

A clawed fist appeared out of darkness while he had been thinking and caught him in the temple. The visor made a crunching sound and 76 stumbled into complete darkness. Shit. This was bad.
Blows came fast and furious. Without his eyes, all 76 could do was take the blows, blocking when he got lucky and heard one coming. The masked man was merciless. He beat 76's bruised ribs until they broke. He coughed blood into the mask as he fell to his knees.

In a haze, he heard the shot guns unholster. He rolled away a second before they exploded. Razor sharp flecks of cement showered his face. Red hot pain ripped up his right leg. He hadn't been fast enough. Shit he couldn't feel his leg!

A steel boot connected with his face and sent him rolling. Bits of visor glass dug into his face. Fuck he hoped it didn't completely blind him. Not that he'd be living long enough to find out. Coughing, he nearly choked on the blood backing up in the mask. It dribbled down his neck and chest, no doubt making him a sad looking sight. He put his arms under his shoulders and pushed himself up. If he was gonna die today, he was going to face it head on.

Claws grabbed him by the throat, lifted him up and flung him against a wall. His claw lacerated back burned like hellfire. He slumped forward but an icy barrel pressed under his chin, forcing his head back. It was bigger than any shotgun had a right to be. Oh yeah, this guy was compensating hard. If 76's sensitive ears weren’t mistaken, his attacker was wheezing. There was at least the satisfaction that he gave the asshat a good workout. Well, at least he was taken out by pro and not a lucky shot by some two-bit hustler.

"Any last words?" the man in the mask asked.

"Suck my cock," he snapped.

There was a pause, and then a soft chuckle. "I bet you'd like that."

God damn right he would! 76 knew Gabe would forgive him. After all, it'd been thirty years. Getting laid one last time before he died would have been ideal. And maybe death wouldn't be so bad. Gabe was waiting on the other side.

The clawed finger caressed the trigger, 76 heard his end coming. Part of the visor glass fell away, tinkling to the floor. He kept his eyes open, staring into the sockets of the mask he could barely see. Still the trigger didn’t pull.

"What are you waiting for?" 76 snapped. His voice was gravely and harsh to his own ears, but with the visor broken, it was his own. If he was going to fucking die he didn't want it dragged out.

The masked man said nothing, the shot gun didn't waver. A clawed hand grabbed the mask. Jack kicked off the wall with his good leg, barreling into the man.

Something cold and heavy bashed into his head. 76 saw a blast of white light and felt himself hit the floor like a bag of rocks.

Chapter Text

No. It couldn't be.

Reaper stared at the body on the floor. He waited to see if the man would shake off the blow to the head. For a silent moment he stood, unmoving. He could reap the energy from it, tasting its soul, see if really was who he thought. But there were easier ways. He squatted down, inspecting the prone form. Battered, dusty clothes that looked lived in. A broken visor. A mask leaking warm blood. Half a dozen wounds, most of them from Reaper himself. He hooked a claw under one of the leather shoulder straps and rolled the man onto his back.

Reaper touched the visor. It creaked unsteadily. Carefully, he traced his claw along the mask, following the nearly invisible seam. Halfway between the cheek and chin, the claw caught on a latch. Hesitating for a second, he wondered if it would be better to kill the man and leave. But his hand didn't reach for a shot gun, or move to strangle the unconscious victim. He had to know. The eyes would haunt him. A small amount of pressure made the latch release and Reaper lifted the mask away.

Blood streamed from a broken nose down a strong chin that was already soaked in scarlet. Reaper flinched, standing and moving back. A ghost lay before him. A ghost that lived and breathed, that fought. He drifted closer, circling, taking in the face from every angle.

It was not the same face he remembered. He remembered a mane of thick, golden hair, dancing in a summer breeze. Smooth skin, a chin never shadowed with stubble. He remembered an expressive mouth, usually schooled into a neutral line, but more often quirked up in a small, infectious smile. Bright eyes, bluer than a sapphire, bluer than the god damn sea. Eyes that could look into yours, see straight into your soul and no matter how dark, would find the ray of light within. He remembered Jack Morrison.

This wasn't him.

The once golden hair had turned bone-white. The thick locks had thinned, and receded back, revealing a forehead creased with wrinkles. The once distinguished nose was cocked off center, evidence of several breaks. The strong chin was nearly the same, but stubble white as his hair covered it, except for where small, pink-white scars had cut furrows through his skin. What had once been soft lips were now cracked, and boosted a handful of pale scars. His mouth was set in a hard frown, even unconscious. It probably hadn't smiled in over thirty years. But his eyes... his eyes were still the same god damn perfect blue. There was no mistaking them.

Reaper knelt by the man's shoulder. Slowly, he reached out a hand, lightly tracing a deep, ugly scar that cut diagonally down the handsome face. That was new. He cocked his head to one side. So was the scar on his cheek. The ghost had been busy. He withdrew his hand.

What did he do now?

This base would miss its radio report, someone would be sent to investigate. If they found him here with an unconscious intruder, not a dead one, they'd ask questions. Questions he didn't want his targets asking. Not until everything was ready and his fury rained down on them like Death.

"Fucking Morrison," Reaper snarled, standing. "Always fucking things up for me!" He paced, his legs leaving behind trails of mist.

What did he do? Jack was supposed to be dead! Everything hinged on the bastard being dead! He swiveled back to look at the prone figure lying on the ground. For fuck's sake didn't the bastard have the common courtesy to stay out of the way even in death? His pace increased. He couldn't leave him here. Talon would shoot on sight. A hospital wasn't equipped for treating a super solider, let alone one as surly as this ghost of Jack Morrison. And with the ribs Reaper had broken, Jack wouldn't be in a position to defend himself. Super soldiers were built to inflict damage, not recover from it. If they lived, they'd be patched up back at base. Even with his slightly elevated healing rate, he'd be lucky if they set right on their own, let alone if he could keep out of Talon's crosshairs.

Reaper stopped. Only then did he realize he'd nearly completely ghosted. Fucking Morrison. Even after thirty years he still could get under Reaper's skin so much he couldn't concentrate on anything else. He focused, bringing his body back from oblivion. There was an easier way to deal with this....

The smooth grip of his shotgun was a warm weight in his hand before he even realized he'd drawn it. The silver barrel gleamed dully in the dim light. Yes... it would solve all his problems neatly. He'd still appear the dutiful mercenary, watching out for his paycheck, Jack would still be dead. All Reaper's pain and sacrifice would still be worth a damn.

Two purposeful steps brought him alongside his victim. This wasn’t his Jack. The shotgun hovered above the face that haunted Reaper's every waking moment. His finger caressed the trigger. It creaked. He could feel the hammer pulling back, the potential energy begging to become kinetic. Just one blast. At this range there wouldn't even be a torso, let alone a face, to be recognized.

Talon would dump the body where it would never be found. The blood would be scrubbed away. Jack Morrison wouldn't exist any longer, ghost or otherwise. The plan would be back on track....
The shot guns didn't have a heavy trigger. It didn't take much to let them roar, but they stayed silent.

From the floor, the ghost groaned. Reaper's finger left the trigger. That voice. It woke so many memories. The shotgun returned to its holster. Reaper knelt again, running the backs of his fingers along the stubble dotted cheek. How could he have even contemplated killing him? After everything he'd already done, how could he kill him twice?

Jack needed a place to recover. Fast. Reaper returned the visor and mask, clicking them back into place. Jack could never know they'd been off. Couldn’t know that he was recognized. Grabbing the unconscious man by the leather holster straps, with a grunt, he hoisted him up and over his shoulders, snatching up the pulse rifle as an afterthought.

"Shit Morrison you packed on the pounds," Reaper grunted, adjusting the dead weight so the broken ribs didn't bear the brunt of it. One of Jack's arms dangled down his chest, the other behind his back. Blood dribbled out of the mask and onto Reaper's shoulder, glistening on the black coat. Oh well, it worked with his image.

He walked back into the darkness of the silent warehouse. Where was he going to put him? No doubt Jack would escape from anywhere. He was far more than a pretty face. Reaper paused. A place no normal human could get in or out of. Somewhere Reaper could keep an eye on him. At least until he had some kind of idea of what to do, how to change his plans. There was only one place.

Reaper blended in with the shadows that had become an extension of himself. He moved with unnatural speed from darkness to darkness, weaving his way through the city, doubling back, leaving false tails. He couldn't risk anyone being able to follow him. Not with Jack. His unconscious ghost groaned, head shifting. Wet blood on his temple shone in the stray bits of light they skidded. That blow wouldn't keep him down long. Maybe he needed another to keep him under. That thick skull could handle it.

Finally, when they were well out the city proper and into to a stretch of abandoned urban decay Reaper slipped along familiar shadows. He stopped before a small vent in the ground, hidden by foliage and long disuse. Time for an experiment.

Ghosting was easy. It was just tearing apart every fiber of his being. It was putting himself back together that was the hard part. It had taken years to master. Even longer to add in clothes and guns. What was Jack but an extra coat and gun? He just had to know where everything went to put him back together. Despite more than three decades, his memory of Jack's body was impeccable. Time to put it to the test.

Slowly, he let his body vanish into its vapor form. He kept a firm grip on Jack, going slow, praying that he didn't wake up now of all times. Jack evaporated with him.

As smoke, Reaper could see everything around him. He couldn't touch anything, nor attack, simply move any direction, see any direction. It was useful. Especially when finding hiding places. He let himself sink into the vent, pulling what had once been Jack with him. Having a second person for this was... a new sensation. The smoke that was him and that was Jack mingled, intertwined as he pulled them along the vent. It felt as if they shared one body... embraced in a way they never had before. It was intimate and unsettling. Reaper guided them through the twisted maze of ventilation shafts until he came to the bunker. They poured out of the vent in the ceiling to the floor.

He put Jack back together first. Holding a picture of the old soldier in his mind, Reaper carefully separated them, building Jack back together piece by piece. When he was done, Jack lay on the floor, breathing. His pale skin looked slightly ashen, gray in places, almost as if he'd been reaped. Damn it! Reaper untangled himself from the mist and stood over Jack. He checked his pulse. Still beating, but a little faint. He needed rest. Food. Tons of food. Tons of bandages. Reaper scooped him up and placed him on an old, little used bed. Its aged springs creaked. Jack groaned again, stirring slightly.

Reaper wasn't ready to face him awake yet. He took the pulse rifle, flicked open the chamber and pried out the cartridge. Stowing the weapon in the gun locker in the corner, he slid the ammo into one of his pockets. It couldn't do much harm now.

Jack was safe. Now Reaper had matters to attend to. Food, bandages... and something for himself. There were five perfectly good bodies back in that warehouse, still warm, that he could use. The fight with Jack had drained him, and turning them both to smoke had strained his reserves. Yes, it was time to reap.

Chapter Text

Ever since he saw real combat, 76 had nightmares. Not every night, and not always bad, but this one was different. There was no guns, no mines, just thick, oily smoke. He coughed, wrenching up globfulls of the foul air. His lungs rejected it, refused to breath it. Gasping, he tried to flee. He rushed headlong one direction, then another. No matter where he ran it surrounded him, clung to him like another skin. Snarling, he lashed out at it. It swirled around his fists, nonplused, then tightened around him like a vice. He struggled, kicking, thrashing, swearing. Nothing worked as the smoke crushed his broken ribs.

A silhouette appeared in the smoke. 76 reached for it, tried to yell for help, but only smoke poured from his mouth. The shadow reached out a hand. He strained toward it. The hand shot out, grabbing his chest, sinking claws into his chest. He screamed.

Yelling and thrashing, his fists connected with something hard and cold. He struggled to find his attacker in a world of black and formless gray. Something struck his temple and he saw white.

"Don't. Move."

The bleary command filtered in his ear, wove around his scattered brain and finally registered a long time later. 76 groaned. His head hurt. His back hurt. Fuck. The list of things that didn't hurt was short. He curled and uncurled his fists. His left shoulder was a hot bed of suffering. It felt like a dozen knives cut into his muscles. Memory came back. Shadows and shotguns. Shrapnel. He flexed his right toes. The scream ripped from his throat echoed back at him, magnified tenfold. His calf felt shredded, like he'd been mauled. Shotguns were a sonofa bitch!

"I said don't move," the command came again.

76's eyes snapped open. He saw nothing but a hazy black shape hanging over him, with a gray world behind him. Fuck! The visor! The fight! He punched at the figure with his good arm. The shadow caught it easily and forced it back down.

"Stop moving!”

That low voice with the mechanical edge! 76 lashed out again, but the black figure avoided the blow and pressed a hand to 76's chest. Pain rocketed up and down every nerve ending in his body. He gasped in short, harsh gulps as his broken ribs screamed in agony. He was supposed to be dead! Why was he alive?

The figure removed his hand but the pain didn't abate. "Sit still or you’re going to break the stitches and lose more blood than you can spare."

Stitches? What? He tried to push himself up onto his good elbow, but when his chest flexed his broken ribs cut deeper. Teeth clenched hard, he snarled, hands balling into fists. What was in his hands? Cloth? As a matter of fact, what the hell was so soft under him?

"Where am I?" he demanded. "What the hell have you done to me?"

“I removed the shrapnel and sewed you back together, that’s what I’ve done.” The figure turned its face toward him. Jack squinted. A white skull mask shrouded by a black hood. Swearing, he scrambled away, ribs and leg be dammed! The masked man caught his arm and pulled him back.

"Idiot! Stay still!"

"So you can shoot me?"

"If I wanted you dead you would be," the masked man said. "In a dozen different ways that don’t need a gun."

They glared at each other in silence. Without the visor, Jack could hardly see the face a few feet away from him. Not that it would have done much if he could have. That mask betrayed nothing. He needed to read body language. Damn that blast and damn the visor! For a long time, they sat facing each other.

"You're bleeding again," the masked man said finally.

They still glared at each other without moving.

Finally, 76 looked down. He'd been stripped of his trademark jacket and his under armor. His naked torso had been bandaged with fresh white gauze. But a large patch of red was creeping up through the layers. He checked his leg. It was wrapped as well. His shoulder was raw and bloody with the first few wraps of gaze trailing off down the bed.

"Are you going to let me finish?" the masked man asked. "Or would you rather bleed to death?"

Bleed to death very nearly came out before 76 stopped himself. Instead, he clenched his jaw and didn't move. They stared awhile longer.

"Is your hissy fit over," the masked man said, "or do I need to get you a bottle and change your diaper?"

"Go fuck yourself."

"How about I finish what I started?" the mask nodded toward 76's bleeding arm.

76 snatched his arm to his chest, forcing back a groan of agony. "Why?"

The mask tilted to one side ever so slightly. "Why?"

"The fuck are you doing patching me up?"

"You're complaining?"

"Looking for a motive." No way a Talon sympathizer had a heart of gold under all that black.

The mask turned away for a moment, then came back. "You were quite an opponent. It'd be a shame to kill you."

"Yeah, about that." 76 hugged his arm to his chest, not sure what hurt worse. "Where the fuck did you get enhanced?"

His attacker, rescuer, whatever the fuck, didn't answer.

"Super Soldiers were hand-picked, half didn't make it through the program, and I knew them all. But I don't know you. So who the fuck made you one?"

The man tilted his head back and laughed his low, throaty chuckle. "I'm no soldier," he said. "I'm a mercenary. The highest bidder gave me what I have." He lifted a clawed hand before 76. It disintegrated into smoke before his eyes, then reformed. "Can your precious soldiers do that?"

No. Fuck no. For all their great gifts, no one in Overwatch could do that. He got a flashback to his nightmare, of black smog invading him, ripping him apart from the inside.

"I want you alive because you're fun," the mercenary said. "I didn't get into the business for boring fights and guard duty."

76 snarled, clenching his fists. "You wouldn't be breathing if you hadn't broken my visor."

The laughter came again. "A super solider that needs a targeting visor to hit a target? I should have let you keep the rifle."

"I'm blind you idiot," 76 snarled. "And I kicked your ass all the same."

The bone-white mask stared at him, betraying nothing. Fuck he just wanted to wrench it off and beat the man with it.

"Blind?" he asked, no more chuckles or snarky comments.

76 smiled under his own mask. Let him think he was completely blind. He'd be careless. "The visor feeds directly to my optic nerve. Good as new. Mostly."

The masked man was quite a long moment. "Then lucky for me it's broken. Now, can I finish with your arm? Or would you rather I amputate?"

There wasn't much of a choice, 76 couldn't do it himself. Slowly, he released his death grip on his chest. The man reached out and took his arm, those silver claws inexplicably gentle. With speed and sureness that only time and much practice brought, he expertly wrapped the wound. No matter what he said, the man was former military. You didn't learn to field dress a wound like that online. Special ops? They always tended to have a screw loose. Maybe even... Blackwatch? 76's heart hammered. There was a pack of bastards sadistic enough to let some mad scientist turn them into a smoke monster. The skull mask almost looked like their emblem. If that was the case, this could be one of the bastards that planted the bomb the Swiss Headquarters. One of Gabe's.... he pushed the thought aside. Blackwatch was dead. It’s members didn't live five years in their line of work let alone thirty. He'd made sure of that. Personally.

"Now don't move," the man said, pinning 76 with empty sockets. "I'm not doing this again." He rose and turned, black coat fluttering softly. "There's water on the crate. Don't bleed out while I'm gone."

"Where are you going?" 76 demanded. "Where am I?"

"Safe."

The man dissolved into black smoke before 76 could strangle a better answer out of him. The smoke rose up, disappearing through a vent in the ceiling. 76 snarled, glaring after it like the sheer force of his will would drag it back. When it was clear the smoke was gone, 76 swore and leaned back.

Now that the immediate threat was gone, he took stock of his surroundings. He was in a room. High ceiling, rusted walls that had probably been white at some point in the past. It wasn't much bigger than an old Overwatch safe house. Nothing fancy, but enough to get you through a tight spot. He lay on an ancient bed that was little more than a rusted frame, dusty mattress, and a few moth eaten sheets. Across the way was the hazy outline of a door.

He couldn't take sitting around and he wasn't waiting for the merc to come back. Swinging his legs over the end of the bed, he put his weight on his good leg and stood. The world tilted crazily for a moment. He grabbed the small shelf on the wall to steady himself. His wounded bicep blazed with a fresh wave of pain that nearly made him cry out. Fucking shit! He sucked in a breath through clenched teeth. Super Solider damn it. He was a super solider. Put a lid on it and act like one!

Carefully, he put some weight on his right leg. He nearly passed out. His shoulder crashed into the wall, jarring his broken ribs painfully. Fuck. Couldn't stop. With supreme force of will, he dragged himself along the cold wall, shoulder scraping against the rough metal. Come on damn it! One foot in front of the other! Each time his right leg had to support even part of his weight, red and black spots danced in front of his ruined eyes, pain threatening to drag him into oblivion.

After an eternity of suffering, he finally leaned against the door. Huffing, he smiled. He was going to find a shirt, some ammo, come back and drill that asshole full of plasma. The handle creaked as he pulled on it. The door rattled, but didn't open. It wasn't locked. Rusted shut? He pulled again. More rattling. 76 threw his weight back and the door squeaked open.

Darkness greeted him. Squinting, he put out his hands, feeling along the walls as he stepped outside. He crashed into a something. He spat out a mouthful of dirt. Dirt? The hell? He put his hands in front of him. Yes, there was a wall of earth and rock in front of him. Methodically, he ran his hands over every inch. Rocks of varying sizes lay jumbled together with sharp, twisted bits of metal. Dead grass came off in clumps when his fingers brushed over clods of earth. From floor to ceiling, the way was blocked.

"Fucking goddamn, cock sucking, sonofa bitch!" He slammed his hand on the barricade.

Where the hell had the merc taken him? Snarling, he turned back around, feeling his way back to the light of the room. They'd gotten in here somehow. He'd find the way out. Staggering through the doorway, he looked around. Bed. Small crate with bottles of water on it. Rusty stool. Gun locker, he couldn't see if there were any guns. Something told him the merc wasn't that stupid. Toilet and sink in a corner. No other doors.

Snarling, he lurched along the wall. There must be another exit hidden somewhere. He dug his fingertips into the metal, clawing at it. It was here somewhere. Had to be! Carelessly, he took a step, putting all his weight on his right foot.

He crumpled to the floor with a scream. Fuck this leg! He hugged it to his chest as his ribs protested with fiery stabs of agony. If he wasn't bleeding before he was now. Fuck this place! Fuck that guy! Fuck everything!

 

Something hitting the floor woke him. He opened his eyes to see an apple sitting on the floor a foot or two from his nose. The hell? Another dropped down, bounced, and rolled away. 76 pushed himself up, growling as his ribs burned like embers. He looked up as an orange dropped through the vent. What the fuck was going on? He dragged himself to the bed, pulling himself up and collapsing into it. Spots danced before his eyes as he huffed. More things dropped out of the vent until finally, a billowing cloud of black rushed through, materializing into the masked mercenary.

The mask looked at 76 a moment, turned, following the tail of blood along the floor and then took in the open door. 76 wanted to lift his chin, look defiant, but he was exhausted. Screw image. He needed to rest.

"I told you not to move," the merc said.

"Got bored."

"You look like shit."

"You look stupid."

The merc shrugged off the comment and kicked the door closed. "Don't want to let a draft in."

"Where the fuck have you taken me?" 76 demanded.

"My safe house," the merc told him, scooping up the stuff off the floor.

"Where?"

"Doesn't matter, you can't get out."

That sounded like a challenge. "I got in. I can get out."

"Save your strength. I'll need to re-stitch your leg." The merc swiped a water from the crate and brought it over. He dumped it and the fruit on the bed, along with other food stuffs. "Eat."

76 pushed himself up, glaring through the broken visor.

"If you want to heal faster, you're going to need a calorie binge." He reached into one of the ammo pouches on his belt and pulled out a handful of ration bars. "If you’re not into fresh stuff." He dumped them on the bed too.

76 reached out, running his fingers over the food, playing up the blind act. "How do I know it's not poisoned?"

"What use do I have for a dead body in my safe house?" was the answer.

76's empty stomach made up his mind for him. He tore off the mask, snatched two of the bars and tore them open, wolfing them down without even tasting them. He stuffed an apple in his mouth. A round loaf of bread with sugar on top was next, a chunk of cheese, a few candy bars he didn't recognize. He stopped long enough to chug the water and grope for the next thing. A pack of powered pastries, another apple, some kind of dried meat. More sugary little candies. Good. He needed sugar. Finally, he slowed down, taking a moment to peel open a ration bar and chew it. Everything a wounded super solider needed for a binge. How did he know?

"What about you?" he asked, cocking his head the merc's direction.

He was sitting on the stool, watching 76 eat. "Already had something."

76 picked up an orange he didn't have time to peel in his binge and tossed it at the merc. The clawed hand whipped out and caught the fruit. "It's rude to eat when someone else isn't."

The deadly silver claws dimpled the fruit's flesh, but didn't pierce it. 76 chewed as the merc seemed to stare at the orange a moment. Then it changed color. It turned gray, slumped over like its insides had been scooped out. Quickly it rotted, turned black, then crumbed to dust. Holy shit!

The merc looked at him and 76 remembered that he was supposed to be completely blind. He took another bite of the ration bar to cover his shock. Shit what the hell was that? "Juicy?" he asked before he looked suspicious.

"Something like that," the merc said, brushing the ash off his hand. "Need more?"

76 swallowed his bite and assessed. "Not now. But soon." He'd be ravenous until the wounds healed. He took another bite. "How do you know about calorie binges?" How did he know sugar jump started the healing? Or was it just a lucky guess?

"I need something similar," the merc said, looking at his hand again.

76 finished his ration bar, feeling for another but he'd clean them out. "Just who the hell are you?" he asked, trying very hard to keep his voice even and not make it a demand.

The merc turned and looked at him, silent for so long 76 thought he was going to have to ask again.

"Reaper."

76 snorted. "Reaper? That sounds suspiciously made up."

"And I'm sure a man who raids covert Talon warehouses in a mask has a name less fake?"

"Seventy-six," he replied in a grumble. "Soldier Seventy-six. And it's a call sign."

Reaper scoffed. "A number."

"Better than Reaper."

"My name at least fits."

"Haven't you seen my jacket? Mine does too."

They sat, staring at one another for a while. Sleep was trying to creep up 76's limbs and surprise him, but he wasn't about to sleep with that thing watching.

"You need to rest," the merc finally said. "and if you want your ribs to mend right, you need to stay still. A repeat of your escape attempt and you'll cripple yourself."

"Can't have that can we?" 76 sneered. "A toy is no fun if it's broken, right?"

A low growl emanated from the mask. It tingled up 76's spine like a ghost of something he used to know.

"Think whatever you want," Reaper said. "Give me your leg."

Before 76 could protest, a clawed hand clamped down on his knee and held his leg down. He growled with pain, fingers digging into the mattress. The bandages came off quickly. 76 snarled as claws probed sensitive wounds.

"Despite your best efforts, you only managed to open some."

"Next time," 76 taunted.

"Shut up and stay still." Reaper stabbed something into one of the wounds.

76 hissed, toes curling which only amplified the pain. The stinging receded, only to be stabbed back in again. 76 slammed his head back against the bed, breathing through gritted teeth. Stitches had never been painful when Angela did them.

"Your technique leaves something to be desired," he spat.

"What did you expect?" Several more stabbing sutures silenced anything 76 had to say. "I am the Angel of Death." Reaper cut whatever he was using for stitches with a claw and moved on to the next.

"Your bedside manner is even worse than your stitches."

Reaper stitched in silence for a few more minutes. When he finished, he wrapped 76's leg. "You're welcome."

"Didn't thank you."

"You will." With that, he turned to smoke and disappeared.

76 lay back on the bed, breathing hard. He was too weak for all this bravado. But something about the merc... Reaper, made him want to do anything to piss him off. He was not going to be some mercenary’s nemesis so he could have something fun to shoot at. He put the mask back on and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

Reaper stood over the five bodies in the warehouse. The holocom in his hand lit up the dark place with blue light. The silhouette on the other end leaned forward, out of its chair.

"That's all you have to report?"

He nodded. He wasn't going to spare words for a self-inflated peon.

"The shipment is gone? Just like that? On you watch?"

"My deployment happened after the event," he said, truthfully. "Five were dead when I got here. The shipment was already gone." He tilted his mask to one side, grinning under it. "Perhaps if someone on your end was faster with my money, I would have been here sooner."

The man on the other end of the holocom swore. "Watch your tone Reaper," he snapped. "We pay your absurd price and we expect our money's worth out of you."

Reaper ground his teeth together. If only the little bitch was in the room with him.... "And you have it. When I'm paid. Not sooner."

"Be careful how to speak to us or the next time your little pet project raids on an Overwatch base won’t have Talon support."

Soon, Reaper reminded himself. Soon he'd tear their souls out and devour them. Patience. For now, do as they say. Soon.... "Of course," he growled.

"We've acquired some intel on who we think took our shipment. Patching it through to the holo-unit now." The imaged changed to a blurry video of a man with a stupidly large gun. Jack’s taste in weaponry hadn’t changed. The bigger the better. "They call him Solider Seventy-six. He's been a thorn in our side for some time now."

Reaper grinned. Oh was he now? That could be useful... and presented some new possibilities worth looking into.

"See if this wasn't Seventy-six's doing. Find that shipment. Oh. And clean up the mess."

"Already done." With the toe of his boot, Reaper nudged one of the bodies. It disintegrated into gray ash.

 

 

Reaper ghosted through the outskirts of the city, keeping to the late evening shadows. He'd raided what he could, but he didn't want to draw any attention with more petty thefts. He found what he was looking for and materialized in the shadows of an ally. Pushing back his hood, he unbuckled the mask, tucking it in the back of his belt. Carefully, he slid off his spiked gauntlets and tucked them beside the mask. Close enough to normal. He walked to the mouth of the alley, leaning against one of the walls.

A pair of young children played tag on the dirty sidewalk. Reaper crossed his arms. "Hey."

Both the boy and girl froze and looked at him. Reaper pulled a bill from his ammo belt. "¿Ven esa tienda de ahí?" he said in as mild tone as he could manage. "Necesito que vayan a comprar toda la comida que puedan y traérmela. Preferiblemente dulce."

The boy whispered something Reaper didn't catch to the girl. She looked Reaper, then the boy.

"¿Eres un... héroe?" she asked.

Reaper smiled. "Si." Or rather, he used to be, once upon a time.

Both children's faces lit up. They rushed over. The boy tapped the shotgun shells on his belt, a look of open wonder on his face. The girl took the money.

"Fruta, pan y dulces," Reaper told her. "Cualquier cosa dulce, mi amigo está enfermo."

The girl nodded. She grabbed the boy's hand and hauled him across the street to a run down little grocery store. They disappeared inside. Reaper ran a hand along his close cropped hair. Idly, he wondered if he had as much gray as Jack. God he hoped not.

Minutes dragged by. Reaper's face tingled, not used to so much fresh air. His fingers tightened on his arms. Maybe he wasn't getting Jack's food or his money back. Being out in the open, exposed like this... he didn't like it. The shadows called to him, beckoning him back to their shielding embrace. A couple more minutes, just a few more.

Running footsteps brought his attention back to the street. The boy and girl raced up to him, each holding a bulging bag of food. They babbled in rapid-fire Spanish. He didn't catch most of it. Something about leche? The girl thrust something at his face.

"Para su amigo!" she said, shoving a sugary stick at him like she was going to force feed him. "Muy dulce!"

Reaper looked at the cinnamon treat, taken aback by a memory. He'd brought back churros after visiting home on leave. He teased his white-bread roommate with them, saying one bite of churro and he'd never want anything else again. Jack had taken up his challenge. The Indiana farm boy had given the pastry a dubious look, took a bite, then promptly devoured the whole thing, asking for another. It'd become his favorite.

"No," Reaper said. "No. Churros no. Los odia." He pushed them away. He couldn't bring those. He didn't want Jack to even have the slightest hint. He reached out his hand. Both children handed over their bags. "¿Juegan aquí a menudo?" he asked.

Both nodded.

"Bueno." He put another bill in the girl's hand. "Es posible que vuelva."

"¡Si!" the children chorused. "¡vuelva, señor héroe!"

Reaper nodded and shooed them away. They kept shooting glances at him over their shoulders, lingering to wave long after they should have been gone. Kids. Reaper waited until they both were looking elsewhere before turning and heading back into the shadows.

There was too much to take down the vent at once. Reaper stashed half of it and ghosted the other half down the vent with him. He poured out onto the floor, taking stock before he gave Jack a solid target. But Jack was sprawled out on the bed. Reaper materialized, pulling his haul out of pockets and pouches, setting them on the crate that served for a table. Another water was gone. Good. At least Jack was getting fluids into him.

The old soldier had been busy while Reaper was gone. There was fresh blood along the wall. What was the idiot doing getting up and walking when he was like this? Of course, that was typical Morrison. Too stubborn to accept a situation he didn't like. He could look all he liked, the only way in or out of this safe house was the vent, which made it perfect for Reaper.

He walked over to the bed and looked over Jack. He looked terrible. Bastard. The shoulder didn't look so bad. Who the hell knew about the ribs. Jack still wore the mask and broken visor. Reaper wondered if it still functioned... or if Jack was truly blind. Christ... blind. Yet another thing Reaper had taken from him. One more sin to be ashamed of.

He cocked his head. Something seemed wrong. Jack was too quiet. He reached down to take off the mask. He felt the heat coming off Jack even through the thick glove. Shit. A fever. He'd been careful to clean all the wounds before and after stitching him. Sepsis? Seemed too early for that. The wounds were clean. He'd have to check again. If his breathing was rapid....

His claws touched the latch on the mask. Jack's good hand whipped up, grabbing his wrist.

"You've got a fever," Reaper said mildly as the vice-like grip crushed his bones.

"No shit." The hand didn't release him.

"Afraid your ugly mug will scare me off?" Reaper asked, retracting his claw from the mask's latch.

"Trust issues."

Reaper was glad he had his own mask firmly in place so Jack couldn't see him flinch. Reaper shrugged "Fever could be sepsis. You feel ready to die?"

Jack grunted in response, letting go.

Guess that was a "no."

"Need to check your stitches." Kicking the stool into place, he sat, unwinding the white wrapping around Jack's leg. "I hear you’re quite the thorn in Talon's side."

No response. Reaper glanced up to see if the old man had nodded off. No, he was awake. Those blue eyes were open, staring at the ceiling they couldn't see. Guilt pulled at Reaper’s soul.

"Seems you enjoy scavenging old Overwatch bases when you’re not out eating shotgun blasts." He began checking his work slowly. He didn't want to get kicked again.

"Everyone needs a hobby."

Nothing seemed infected or out of place. Maybe he'd just caught a cold. "Dangerous hobby for a guy your age."

There was a rough scoff.

Reaper couldn't find anything wrong with his work. He left the leg alone. "What exactly are you looking for?"

"Who says I'm looking for anything?" Jack growled.

"Guy puts on a mask and rummages around buildings that have been condemned for years doesn't do it for exercise. Some of those places are heavily guarded. There’s a story there."

Jack grumbled and scoffed again, his leg twitched. He was still for a long time before giving a response. "Answers."

Reaper tossed the bloodied gauze into a corner and looked up. "To what?"

"What does it matter to you, merc?"

"Conversation. You're going to be here a while." He thought he heard a 'not if I can help it.’

"Who ruined my life," Jack grunted at the wall.

Reaper clenched his fists so he could tell himself his hands weren't shaking. "Revenge. I can relate."

Jack pushed himself up onto his good elbow and glared at him, face flushed with fever. "You don't know anything! Someone took everything from me! Everyone...." He laid back down with a moan.

The admission felt like a physical blow. The punch to the gut hadn't hurt that much. Reaper did his best to shrug it off, but it hung over him. Took everything from me... everyone. The guilt he bore seemed to double, threatening to drag him under. He stood, moving the stool so he could sit at Jack's shoulder. The soldier turned and glared at him, blue gaze burning straight through the mask.

"Someone used me," Reaper started, his voice barely filtering out of the mask. He shouldn't even have asked, but he needed to hear it. Needed to hear the accusations he hurled at himself everyday spoken by someone else. "Then they turned on me." Why was he saying this? But he knew. He was looking for some kind of absolution when he didn’t deserve any. What a bastard he was. "When I find them, I'm going to turn them inside out."

Jack turned and looked at the ceiling once more. Reaper sat in silence for a long time, brooding. This was getting dangerous. His carefully constructed walls were cracking. If he slipped up even once.... Jack deserved to know, deserved to kill him, but Reaper couldn't allow that. Not yet. Once he was finished with Talon and Overwatch, he'd take off the mask and let Jack have his answers. But not yet. He was lower than scum.

"I hope you find whoever it is," Jack grumbled.

Reaper turned to look at him.

"They must be a real asshole."

"Yes. But whoever ruined your life sounds worse."

"Maybe. When I find my answers, I'll know."

Reaper wanted to tell him, but the words backed up in his throat, refusing to budge. "Hope you find 'em," was what he could get out. Coward.

Jack closed his eyes. In a moment, he was asleep. Reaper dragged a claw down his mask. Fuck. Morrison was going to be the death of him.

Chapter Text

76 woke to his stomach tying itself in knots. God he was starving! He turned his head and opened his eyes. In the hazy gray world, the black form of Reaper sat at his shoulder, cleaning a shotgun. Damn he'd fallen asleep with the merc so close? The fever must be messing with him.

"Hungry," he said.

Reaper looked at him and slid the shotgun into its holster. "Thought you were dead you slept so long."

"Hungry," 76 repeated. He was too damn tried to rise to the taunt.

Reaper dumped a bunch of something on the bed. "Sit up."

76 wanted to, but his arms felt heavy. His head pounded and everything was too hot and cold at the same time. He felt like shit, but no way was he going to let Reaper see that. Carefully, he inched up to a sitting position. His ribs still ached, and every jarring movement made them burn, but slowly, he made it up.

Reaper handed him something. Round, soft. Bread? He didn't care. He tore a bite out of it. Sugary and light, a little stiff on the outside but soft in the center. There was something familiar about it. He shrugged it off. All calorie binges blurred together. Groping for the next thing, he scarfed down a pair of soft cookies with an unfamiliar spice. A plum, another apple, a chocolate bar with caramel, another round bread, a small jar of apricot jam, some candy cherries. Where the hell had the merc got his hands on all this stuff? He licked the sugar off his fingers as he reached for more. No ration bars this time. Just candy. He wasn't about to complain.

"Where did you find all this?" he asked, biting a chunk out of a chocolate bar.

"I have my sources," Reaper said, watching him.

76 handed him a candy bar.

Reaper waved it away. "You eat it."

"Don't like chocolate?"

"Don't need it."

"What do you eat then?"

"Souls."

76 laughed. "Your tough guy act doesn't work on me."

Reaper reached out, taking the candy bar. "I feed off energy," he said. The candy withered in his grasp, folding in on itself until it was a husk. He dropped it back in 76's lap where it disintegrated into ash. "Food doesn't do much for me."

It was hard to pretend he hadn't seen what happened. 76 ran his fingers through the ash to hide his reaction. It felt dry and gritty, nothing like the candy it had been. "And you do this to people?" he asked.

"After they're dead."

"I'm sure that's a great consolation to them."

Reaper shrugged. "They weren't in a position to complain."

76 didn't know how he could live with something like that. Killing people so you could survive? "And the smoke?"

"Came with reaping," the merc said. "Very handy."

76 groped and found a bagel he'd missed. He took a bite, mulling over that. Turning into smoke where bullets couldn't touch you was an interesting power... but at the expense of human life? "Worth it?" he asked.

"What was?" Reaper asked.

76 swallowed. "The eating people's souls and what not. Was it worth it?"

Reaper turned his mask away. "It will be."

To be completely consumed by revenge like that.... 76 finished his bagel. "Who did you lose?"

The mask swiveled back to look at him.

"Men get used and betrayed all the time. To take it to the level you have... it's not just pride. You must have lost your anchor to fly off the rails this bad."

"Hm," Reaper said. "I supposed I did. But that was long before all this." He stood and walked away.

76 realized he shouldn't be getting to know this guy. His good will would only extend so far. But still, no merc would patch up his enemy, bring him food and answer personal questions. There was something more going on. Reaper was keeping him for some other reason.

He'd dwell on it when he was stronger, when things might get... tense. Gingerly, he eased himself back down onto the bed and closed his eyes. He rolled his tongue around his mouth, across his lips. There was something nagging at the back of his mind, some long ago memory that was whispering to him. He pushed it aside. His eyelids were too heavy and his mind too tired to try and puzzle it out.



His skin felt like it was melting. 76 thrashed, trying to escape. Suddenly he was freezing, his teeth chattered behind the mask like he was going to bite his way out of it. Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Panting, he lay on his back, hands curled into fists, unable to fight, too tired to keep trying.

"Easy, Chico de oro ," came a gruff voice, "you're liable to mess up that perfect hair of yours."

That was a voice he hadn't heard in ages. "Hmm... Gabe?"

"Of course, estupido. Who else would take care of your dumb ass?"

76 cracked his eyes open. He could see clearly. When had that happened? Where... he glanced around. Medical wing, in a bunk. There was no one else around. But... how had he got here? Someone sat on the bed by his hip. They patted his cheek with a gun-callused hand.

"Come on Morrison I know I didn't hit you that hard." Gabriel Reyes leaned down into view.

He was exactly how 76 remembered him. Ever present beanie covering his slightly curly black hair—that if anyone else ever found out about Gabe would make sure no one ever found 76's body. His handsome face was unblemished by scars that would come later in the war. The beard that had become a staple of his image was short and patchy, just starting to come in. His brown eyes sparkled with mirth under thick eyebrows. He smacked 76's cheek again.

"Earth to cadet Morrison! I knock something loose in that grueso skull of yours?"

76 blinked, it'd been so long since he'd seen so clearly... "How did... when?"

Gabe laughed his rich, throaty laugh that meant he was seriously entertained.

What was so funny?

"Do you remember training?"

"You're going to have to be more specific."

"Today. Close combat."

76 mulled it over. Nothing struck him, but there was something... familiar about all this. "I remember... someone in a mask... and you're dead."

Gabe let out a low whistle. "You are messed up. I look dead to you?"

76 shook his head. "Must have been a dream."

"Yeah, that's the only place you could kill me in a fight." Gabe smiled. "Not that you didn't try very hard."

"What happened to me?"

"I did." Gabe grinned proudly. "Close combat training. No weapons. You fight like my hermanita —little sister. All nails and screaming."

76 let his head roll back onto the pillow. Shit. He did remember something like that. All out offensives against another recruit until someone was knocked out. Of course they would pair him with Gabe. 76 was pry the only one left stupid enough to think he could win. "Tell me I at least hit you a couple times?"

Gabe clucked his tongue and shook his head.

Fuck. Well that was embarrassing.

"You fight by the book, Chico de oro . Everything above the belt. You gotta learn to fight sucio . Dirty."

The 'S' rolling off Gabe's tongue made a ripple race up 76's spine. Dirty, hm?

"Doc laid you up in the infirmary for a little while, said when you wake up, you gotta eat."

Eat? "Why?" Didn't he just eat recently?

"Calorie binge," Gabe said with a shrug. "Doc says our bodies need it. Sugar jumpstarts healing, so I smuggled you in a little contraband." From under his gray hoodie, Gabe produced a paper bag.

"Those what I think they are?" 76 asked hopefully.

Gabe grinned, arching an eyebrow. "Maybe. Let’s hear if your Spanish has improved."

76 groaned. "Please don't make me."

Gabe put a hand to his ear. "Eh? No le oi."

"Churro," 76 muttered.

Gabe laughed. "You make it sound like burro . Jackass. Come on: churro . Roll 'r' a little."

"Churro," 76 repeated, resting the tip of his tongue on the roof of his mouth behind his front teeth and trying to mimic the rolling sound Gabe made so easily.

"Farm boy you're lucky you're pretty," his friend chuckled. "Because you are charming no one with your linguistic skills."

"Just give me the damn things!" 76 protested. "You beat the shit out of me, you owe me!"

Grinning, Gabe pulled a familiar cinnamon-coated stick from the bag. "Say por favor."

"Por favor," 76 sighed, reaching up a hand. "Please?"

"Alright, you do deserve it for putting up a less than terrible fight." Gabe deposited the churro in 76's waiting hand.

He took a big bite, letting the fried bread and cinnamon linger on his tongue as he chewed. "How did you get these on base?"

"Es un secreto," Gabe said with a wink. "Got ya some new stuff to try. Figured, what the hell, doc said the sweeter the better." He pulled a dozen different pasties out of the bag, like he was some kind of magician. "Oreja," he said, showing 76 a golden, heart-shaped bread. "Honey glazed. Mm, pay de queso, little squished, but it'll still taste good." His nose scrunched. "I was too rough with the pineapple empanada. Filling everywhere!"

76 kept at his churro while Gabe introduced him to more pastries. "No donuts?" he asked, popping the last of the treat in his mouth.

Gabe glared at him. "Take your gringo trash elsewhere."

"Bet you haven't tried a maple bar," 76 teased.

"I've got something better than a maple bar." He pulled out a small, round bread with pink sugar on top. "Concha. Cookie on top, sweet bread underneath. Blows your donuts out of the water."

It was 76’s turn to arch an eyebrow. "A cookie on bread? I don't know about that."

"Shut up and eat it," Gabe said, shoving the concha at him. "You said that about the churro."

76 took it, his brow wrinkling as he took a bite. Sugary and light, a little stiff on the outside but soft in the center. It was sweet and sticky, and damn delicious. He... knew this already. He closed his eyes and got a flash of blurry bandages and red... food laid out on a moth-eaten bed sheet.

"Well, what you think?" Gabe prompted.

76 snapped out of it. "Good." He took another bite. "Really good."

"Better than a churro ?"

76 glared at his friend. "Nothing's better than a churro." He tried rolling his 'r' again.

It got a laugh out of Gabe. "Keep trying, farm boy. I'll have you fluent if it kills me."

"It might kill me first."

"Naw, just gotta loosen up your tongue." Gabe smiled. "Feeling better?"

That smile was too much. It made 76 break out in a sweat that wouldn't stop. He wiped his forehead, but it only got worse. "Too hot," he mumbled, his limbs aching all of a sudden. "Like I'm wrapped in wool blankets."

"I'll take 'em off for you." Gabe leaned in.

In slow motion, his face morphed, changing from a rich mahogany to bone-white. His features melted away, revealing an elongated skull. 76 cried out, scuttling back. Gabe's fatigues turned black, billowing out like a sail. Clawed hands came out of the blackness, grabbing 76's face.

"No!" he screamed. He tried trashing against the hold on him, but all he could do was turn his face. His body was lead, heavy and unyielding. His arms ached too much to lift.

The wraith said something, its voice distorted and painful, like someone ran barbed wire over 76's ears. It ran its claws along the side of his face, turning him back to look. 76 shut his eyes. “Gabe...” he whispered. “Where did you go?”

Something cold appeared on his forehead. He struggled against it for a moment. Then the heat began to cool ever so slightly. He relaxed, teeth chattering, and let his head fall to the side.

Chapter Text

Reaper wanted to tear out someone's soul. His foul mood was frustrated by practicality. It wouldn't do him any good. Sure it would bring his anger a small amount of satisfaction, but it would leave a trail. Shooting something would be slightly more soothing, but would leave an even more noticeable trail.

Three days.

Three days Jack lay on the bed, burning up. It didn't look like sepsis, it set in too fast. The stitches were clean. Jack's breathing was normal. No coughing. Nothing pointed to cold. A reaction to something? He'd have to ride it out. It wouldn't have been that bad. Reaper could deal with changing cold compresses and force feeding him water. But Jack kept moaning a dead man's name. Over and over, like a mantra. Sometimes it would be sentences, sometimes just a name, but always the same. Gabe. Gabe. Gabe.

It was madding. He was going crazy listening to it. He had to take several less than ideal trips to the surface to get away from it. Escape the accusations that came unceasingly. Gabe. Gabe. Gabe.

He couldn't stay away long. He dove back down the vent, trying to shore up the cracks in his defenses, prepare.

Jack lay still on the bed, one arm resting on his chest, the other at his side. He wasn't speaking. Good. Reaper couldn't take much more of that name. He walked over. Below the broken glass of the visor, the blue eyes fluttered open.

"Reaper?" he asked.

"You're not dead," Reaper said, sitting on the stool at Jack's shoulder. It'd become his customary spot. "You lucid?"

Jack blinked slowly, turning his head toward him. "God I hope not. I feel like shit."

Surly. He was back. "Just going to have to deal with that."

Jack blinked again. "Damn."

"I'm going remove the stitches."

Jack grunted.

Reaper stood. "Do me a favor and don't reopen the wounds."

"No promises."

He really was feeling better to be that much of disagreeable bastard. He went to the soldier’s leg. Dried blood was spattered up and down it, but as Reaper inspected the stitches, they were intact. The shrapnel wounds had closed well. Cutting the knot on the first stitch, he pulled it out. Jack stayed still for the rest.

"Well doctor," Jack mocked. "Will I live?"

"You're lucky you're fast I would have blown your leg off."

"My shoulder itches. Your stitches suck."

"Watch your mouth or I'll sew your lips shut."

Jack snorted. He pissed Reaper off to no end. He pushed a knuckle to one of the wounds. He got a very satisfying yelp and long list of swear words out of Jack.

"Sit up."

"Bastard," Jack snarled as he complied.

Reaper checked the stitches in his shoulder. These ones weren’t as bad as the leg. They'd healed well. He removed them, checking each for any sign of infection. None. Where had the fever come from? "You'll live," he pronounced.

"Great. Can I go now?"

"Take a deep breath."

Jack got about two seconds of inhaling when he sputtered and growled.

"That's what I thought."

"You can't hold me here forever," Jack snapped.

"I'm not trying too," Reaper said. "Soon."

"Not soon enough," Jack grumbled.

Reaper put his hand on Jack's shoulder and tried to push him down. "Then stop being a stupid and rest, Jackass."

Jack turned and stared at him, his gaze burning into the mask. "What did you call me?"

Fuck. "What? Can't take a little name?” Reaper tilted his head. "Would you prefer princess?"

Jack glared at him a moment more. "Call me that and I'll rip your heart out of your mouth."

The moment passed. Reaper clenched his teeth as Jack leaned back against the wall.

"I'm hungry," Jack said.

Reaper tossed him a bag. "Then eat."

Jack caught the bag with his good hand and looked inside. He glanced back. "Why are you really doing this, Reaper?" He set the bag aside. "You are the Angel of Death, right? So then why are you keeping me alive?"

"I told you—"

"You told me a load of bullshit." Jack pinned him with a stare that Reaper swore went straight through the mask. "You bring me here, you sew me back together, feed me, won't let me leave, supposedly for my own good. What's your endgame?"

The tips of his claws sank into his Kevlar. What did he do now? He'd slipped with Jackass. More bullshit wasn't going to fly. He licked his lips, tasting ash. "The person I lost," he began in a low voice. "They were like you. Self-righteous. Stupid." He retracted his claws. The best lies were the closest to the truth. "He wanted to change the world. And I believed we could."

Jack didn't take his eyes off him. "And then?"

"And then I killed him," Reaper snarled, low, dangerous, the mask amplifying his voice to something less than human. Pain was his penitence. Speaking his guilt dug the knife in deeper, but lying to the one man that deserved the truth twisted it in deep, opening wounds long festering in self-loathing.

"So... what? I'm some stand in for you friend?" Jack growled. "You think saving my skin means you save him? You can't save what's dead."

Reaper leashed his temper, rising slowly to his feet. Smoke curled out of his mouth, gathering behind the mask. He leaned down, his mask nearly scraping against the broken one. "You know nothing of my guilt," he whispered, smoke curling around his lips, up his nose. He wanted to reach through Jack's broken ribs and tear out his self-righteous soul. He dug his claws into his palms instead. "Nothing of my suffering. You. Know. Nothing about what weighs on my soul."

Jack didn't flinch away, he held their gazes steady. "And you don't know what weighs on mine."

Chapter Text

His problem had compounded. Reaper leaned against a corner, cleaning his gun, brooding. Jack's wounds had nearly healed completely, leaving behind scars but nothing more. His ribs were tender, but the binges had done their work well. It was almost time.

Soldier 76 could be an asset, a powerful one. Able to do things Reaper himself could not. But a subject had to be broached, one that was not easy to begin. It had to be navigated carefully. Reaper wasn't sure he was ready to tread that minefield. His gaze flicked to Jack taking a piss in the toilet. Better to do it while his ribs were tender, easily targeted if things came to blows.

Still, he hesitated. It would cause him great pain, untold self-loathing. Long due penitence for sins of the past. He must suffer. He must be careful to make sure the price he paid was high and long drawn out.

Jack finished and washed his hands. "It's creepy when you don’t take your eyes off me," he said, never looking Reaper's direction.

"Thought you were blind."

"Even blind men feel eyes watching them." He looked over his shoulder. "Especially ones that never leave."

Reaper ran a claw along the silver and black barrel. "I'm considering something."

Jack casually walked to the crate, uncapping a water. Smart, putting an obstacle between them. Trust issues.

"You? Thinking? Now there is something to consider." Jack took a swig of the water.

Reaper slid his gun away. The beginning of the end. He pushed himself off the wall. "You don't like Talon."

"What gave it away?" Jack said with a bitter edge to his tone.

"You hate them."

Jack said nothing, but his masked face was following Reaper’s voice.

"You're looking for answers. I'm looking for someone." He cocked his mask Jack's direction. "What if we helped each other?"

The plastic in Jack's hand crinkled ever so slightly, but Reaper saw the white knuckles, the neck muscles straining.

"We share a hobby, you and I. Overwatch's old data holds many secrets. Secrets I could use help retrieving."

The bottle creaked again, a rivulet of water dripped down the white knuckles.

"Talon's archives are equally... well stocked with information."

"And?" Jack asked, his voice low and full of warning. "What's your point?"

"There is only so much I can do from the inside," Reaper said, stepping closer. "Someone outside, someone already a thorn in Talon's side can do things I cannot. Be blamed for things I cannot." He came closer still. "Give me Overwatch's database, and I will give you Talon's," he whispered.

The blue eyes glared at him from behind the shattered red glass. "You think the person you're looking for was former Overwatch."

Reaper flexed his fingers. "I know they were."

"How?"

"The same way you know you're answers lay hidden within Talon," Reaper hissed, drawing a foot away from Jack. "We have been presented a unique opportunity. You have found little resistance infiltrating Overwatch, where I have not. Give me what I want, and you'll have your answers."

Jack was silent, unmoving. Thin trails of smoke curled out of the corners of Reaper's mouth as they waited, face to face in silence.

"You want Overwatch so you can kill."

The blow connected solidly with Reaper's mask. His head whipped to the side. Jack grabbed the neckline of the Kevlar and pulled Reaper's face to his.

"If you want Overwatch, you’re going to have to go through me," he snarled shoving Reaper back.

Smoke wormed between Reaper's teeth. "Yes," he hissed. "Your precious Overwatch." Old wounds bled fresh blood. His control frayed. "I'm going to tear it down. Every last festering, corrupt brick."

"It might have had its flaws," Jack growled, "but it was not corrupt. It was betrayed."

"Then you must have been blind a long time," Reaper said, struggling to keep the smoke and his rage under control. The conversation was spiraling out hand. "It was complacent, and a cancer invaded without resistance. It grew and festered, slowly taking over because its leaders couldn't see beyond their own damn noses."

Jack grabbed the Kevlar again. Reaper let him.

"Blackwatch," Jack spat, "took all that was good and twisted it. Violated everything we stood for. I cut them out so Overwatch could heal."

"Not Blackwatch," Reaper whispered. "You still don’t see it. Let me enlighten you!" He swept Jack's hold off him. "Overwatch recruited people whose ambitions overshadowed everything else. They wanted power, Overwatch had it. So they took it. When a country didn't comply, they made a force that would enforce their will in the dark. When the Strike Commander got in the way... Overwatch had him removed."

Jack punched him in the mask again. Smoke drifted out of a new crack. "You lie!" he yelled. "My people were loyal!"

"Were they?" Reaper asked.

Another blow rattled the mask. Light appeared in the crack.

"Were they?" he asked again, louder.

Jack smashed his fist against the mask, pulling back for another blow with blood-coated knuckles.

"Were they?" Reaper yelled, grabbing Jack's shirt, his claws drawing blood on the newly healed chest. "Who do you think created Blackwatch? What do you think grew from the ashes? Talon you moron!" He shook Jack, willing him to finally see. "Like a parasite, when they killed their host they moved on! You're precious Overwatch rotted from the inside and destroyed everything, twisted everyone! Give me Overwatch so I can make them pay for what they did!"

Jack snarled, breaking the hold on his shirt and smashing his forehead into Reaper's face. The mask fractured. He stumbled back.

"Don't dishonor the memory of good men and women that died defending lives!" Jack roared. "People, good, honest people joined to make a difference the world. They weren't just loyal to me, they were loyal to what Overwatch stood for, for an ideal!"

Reaper growled. He plunged the knife of his guilt into the deepest of his wounds, not caring about the pain anymore. He deserved it all for his failure. "What about Gabriel Reyes?" he hissed softly.

What he could see of Jack's face paled. Yes. Hurt him. Hurt him so he'll hurt you more, Reaper told himself.

"What did you say?" Jack whispered, completely still, his knuckles so white the bones looked ready to tear through flesh.

"Gabriel Reyes," Reaper repeated, hurling the name like a weapon. "Was he a good man? Was he a loyal man to you, Strike Commander Morrison?"

Jack said nothing, did nothing.

"He was your friend, was he not? Your closest confidant." Reaper came back within striking distance. "The Strike Leader of infamous, hated Blackwatch. The man that brought you down, disgraced you, destroyed everything the two of you built." Reaper pressed his broken mask toward Jack's. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "The man that ordered the bomb that killed you."

Jack was on him in an instant. He slammed Reaper against a wall, massive hand curled around his throat. "Liar!" Jack yelled, his sightless blue eyes blazing with hate.

Reaper laughed. A hollow, guttural sound through the cracked mask. Jack punched him over and over, leaving bloody knuckle prints behind.

"Trash like you don't get to speak his name!" Another blow to the face as his fingers crushed Reaper's throat. "Gabe would never! He was a good man! He meant everything to me!"

"I was there," Reaper choked out.

Jack's eyes widened. He froze with his arm cocked back for another blow.

"Yes," Reaper hissed. "I had a front row seat. The beginnings of Talon in your beloved Overwatch poisoned him, turned him into their tool. What better way to destroy the most powerful organization in the world, than for its two most powerful people tear each other apart?" He laughed again. "It was easy for them. He was so angry, so bitter. All he needed was a little nudge."

"No," Jack whispered. "No!" He pummeled Reaper again. "No! No! No!" Each no was punctuated with a blow. "No! No!"

"Yes!" Reaper caught the old soldier’s fist and held it. "Does he still mean everything to you, after what he did? Do you see now? Talon poisons everything, even Gabriel! Overwatch is still infected. Everything must burn! Talon, Overwatch, everything!"

The right half of his mask fell away. He could feel hot breath against his skin. Jack's gaze flicked down and focused on Reaper's cheek where his scars were. Shock and recognition blossomed across Jack's face.

Realization caught Reaper in the gut like a sucker punch.

Jack wasn't blind.

Chapter Text

Those scars! He knew them! 76 grasped the mask.

"Get away from me!" Reaper lashed out, raking his claws across 76's face.

76 recoiled as the claws tore through his scar and shredded his mask. Blood streamed down his face, blurring his already compromised vision. Reaper escaped his grasp, smoke enveloping his form.

"No!" 76 lunged, tacking the fleeing mercenary to the ground.

They rolled, snarling like rabid animals. 76 lunged for what was left of the skull mask. Reaper twisted his face away.

"Don't touch it!" he howled, flinging the other off him.

76 rolled, his tender new scars burning as his ribs felt ready to break again. Reaper was dissolving into smoke. He couldn't escape! 76 assessed what he had. He ripped the mattress off the bed, folded it as best he could and jammed it into the vent. The smoke swirled angrily around him, spiraling up, probing for a way out. There was none. It sank down, shooting to the wall farthest away from 76 before coalescing back into Reaper. He held his hood across the missing half of his mask.

"Let. Me. Out." His voice was dangerously low.

"You and me," 76 said, slowly inching his way closer. "We're not going anywhere. Not until we finish this."

Reaper drew a shot gun. "I will turn you into a stain on the wall."

"Will you?" 76 asked, taking agonizingly slow step closer. "After all of this?"

The gun didn’t waver. Nor did it go off. 76 braced himself to get out of the way, but kept moving forward. "You owe me answers."

"I owe you nothing!" Reaper hissed.

"Yes you do," 76 said quietly. He grabbed the barrel of the gun.

Reaper tried to pull back but 76 lunged in, grabbing his wrist and twisting. The mercenary refused to let go of his hood, leaving his gun arm vulnerable. 76 disarmed him, tossing the shot gun away.

"Just me and you," he said quietly. He grabbed for the mask, fingers grazing it.

Reaper slammed his fist into 76's chest with brutal force. 76 gasped, retreating, holding his chest. He looked at the mercenary.

"I will break them all again," Reaper snarled, still covering his face.

Anger and guilt welled up in 76, giving him strength. "I don't care." He lunged.

Reaper tried to twist away, but 76 followed, grabbing his free wrist and dragging him back in reaching distance. He grabbed the chin of the mask and wrenched it off. Reaper roared like a wounded beast, slashing at 76's face again as he whirled around, shoulders hunched, dragging the hood down over his face.

"Don't look at me!" he yelled at the wall, his voice hoarse.

76 stood, watching the merc's back. He glanced down at the mask in his hands. Its bloodied face started back at him. Slowly, he unlatched his own mask, tossing both aside. "No more hiding," he said, stepping to the merc's side. He reached for the other's face.

Reaper tried to push him away, but 76 caught his hand and held it fast. Slowly, he reached into the shadows of the hood. His fingers found a strong chin, brushed against a short beard. Gently, he turned the face toward him. The other snarled, turning to face him, ripping back the hood.

A ghost stood before him. It was not the same face he remembered. The rich, mahogany skin was gone. A gray, ashen tone had replaced the once sun kissed tan. Familiar scars cut valleys into the face, two deep ones on the right cheek, one on the left. Two on his lower lip, two on his nose, one at the corner of his eye. Without the familiar beanie, 76 could see more on his eyebrows, temples and forehead. Eyes as brown as dark whiskey glared at him with anger so strong it was nearly tangible.

76 ran his thumb along the gaunt cheek. Good God, it was really him. "Gabe."

"I'm not!" Gabe shook his head free of 76's touch, backing away. "Gabriel Reyes died in the blast that killed the man he loved."

76 wanted to shrink away from the anger in that powerful voice, but he wouldn't allow himself. Not when he was so close.

Gabe glared at him, the brown eyes turning black as the smoke that curled out of the corners of his mouth. "You want answers?"

"Yes," 76 whispered.

"No you don't," Gabe growled back. "They're not what you want to hear."

"I don't care. I'll hear them all the same." He stepped closer but Gabe retreated.

"You always got to be the good guy," Gabe said, meeting 76's eyes. "I always had to be the hardass. The guy sending everyone to their deaths. The guy barking orders, drilling them harder than necessary. You got to smile with them, tell them I was a grumpy asshole and laugh with them. The golden boy."

76 balled his hands into fists at the old nickname. A name he hated.

Gabe's scared lips curved up into a sadistic smile. "Don't deny it, Jack. You loved it. You loved basking in their adoration. Loved sitting with them, drinking and laughing while I was in a damn office, getting my ass chewed out."

"Gabe—"

"No!" he snapped, pointed a clawed finger at 76. "You wanted to know, I'm going to tell you. You can't stop it now."

76 closed his mouth. He’d do anything for his lost friend. Even be silent.

"I didn't care," Gabe went on. "They hated me for drilling them hard. I didn't care. I drilled their asses into the ground so they'd come back from the field on their feet, not in a bag. I put up with the bass, took their demands and wrath so the team didn't have to. They had enough to worry about. And I didn't care—" He pinned 76 with a look so intense it felt like a blow. "Because I had a second that had my back."

The sucker punch to his past got him right in the heart.

"After we won, as Strike Commander I was going to get to sign off on leave time. I was going to get to tell you to ease up on the new recruits. I was going to be the brass and make decisions with everyone’s best interests in mind, not my career. I was going to get to be the good guy for once."

"But it was me instead," 76 said.

The look in Gabe's eyes was tortured. "Relegated to the bad guy again," he said with false levity. "Everyone whispered that I was jealous. Angry. Conniving to put a knife in your back. Do you know what I really was?"

"Really fucking pissed?"

Gabe lifted his chin. "Proud of you."

The brought 76 up short. "Proud?"

"Proud, estúpido! What, I gotta spell it for you?"

76 reeled. He never thought... never guessed.... All he ever heard was how angry Gabe had been at getting passed up. They hadn't spoken for weeks after the ceremony. It’d been torture. But Gabe needed space. Time. And then time had run out.

"My Farm boy was a good man. He'd make a good Strike Commander. Yeah, I was pissed, but I had his back. Like any good SIC. Until...." He looked away.

In profile, 76 could see a long, pale scar cutting jaggedly down Gabe's neck. God, he had so many scars 76 never knew about. When had he stopped noticing when he got them? "Until... when?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Until I didn't," Gabe said quietly. His face turned back to him, the whiskey color returning to his eyes, chasing out the alien black. "People started whispering to me, not about me. Whispering that my new Strike Commander was going to put me where he'd never have to think about me again."

76's face paled. "Blackwatch."

"Blackwatch," Gabe said, again with fake levity. "You turned me the biggest bad guy with the stroke of a pen."

"No, that wasn't my intention," 76 whispered. "It was a promotion—" Something to make them closer to equals. An olive branch… a consolation prize.

"It was a prison," Gabe hissed at him, eyes black as his Kevlar. "Blackwatch... What’d you call it? Dovetailed with my leadership style. Mission first. Victory at any cost. Stuck in the dark, doing things that would never see the light of day, things I was ashamed of. But I did it. Cause I had my Commander's back... until he didn't have mine."

Gabe's bloody claws curled and uncurled, his boots began drifting away into smoke. 76 wanted to go to him, explain himself, but he was rooted to the spot.

"Suddenly my calls starting get put on hold. My presence in meetings was no longer required. Your office door closed in my face. My advice was ignored... then ceased to matter. What was it... weeks? Months with no contact between us?"

The heavy boots wafted away into the cloud of smoke that roiled around Gabe like a violent sea.

"I was your shadow Morrison. Something beneath you, something you stepped on as you basked in the light."

76 swallowed hard, his mouth was dry, his throat raw. He tried to remind himself this was what he wanted, what he'd searched so hard for. The truth hurt. He'd always known it would.

"So I became a shadow, doing whatever orders came my way. Never knowing or caring why you asked me to do them. Because it didn't matter. You couldn’t be bothered by the real work, the dirty work. It didn't matter what I did." His voice lowered. "You didn't have my six. I was on my own."

76 couldn't, wouldn't deny that. He'd been blind long before he'd lost his sight. "I sense we're getting close to I part I know."

"Always were smarter than you looked," Gabe said with a rueful smirk. "All the red on my hands blurred together. Sometimes, I think back and wonder why the hell I didn't just put a shotgun in my mouth. Maybe I was hoping if I did something bad enough you'd notice."

76 had noticed. He had seen the after-action reports, or, the sanitized versions of them. Even still, some of the stuff he read, stuff Gabe had done, it had sickened him. At the time, he kept rationalizing his inaction. He shouldn't step in, it was Gabe's team, he'd already done enough hurt to their relationship getting promoted. Gabe wouldn't go to such extremes unless it was necessary. Gabe would never cross the line. And yet... it was really the fear that if he intervened, anything they had left would be broken beyond repair. What a fool. He'd abandoned Gabe when he'd needed him the most.

"I did it for years, the killing, the arson... worse. Until I couldn't take it anymore. So I did something about it. I looked into where my after-action reports ended up. Quietly, I started asking why you were sending us on the missions you did. Ended up tracing them back to a desk that wasn't yours. The legit ones you did send ended up with something extra in them. Found out my soldiers took orders from their paychecks, not me."

"But I wouldn't listen," 76 said, watching as Gabe's legs started disintegrating into smoke. Was he trying to escape again? He wasn't being subtle about it. His gaze was still boring into 76's face.

"Blackwatch's shadows reached deeper than I ever imagined. It'd grown into something I couldn't hope to control or remove on my own. The only way was to tear it all down and make you see before it was too late."

Realization dawned. "The Blackwatch Reports," 76 said. "You leaked them to the public."

"I was careful to keep suspicion off me," Gabe said, knees and thighs evaporating into the storm of smoke. "I played the part of the angry, bitter sonofa bitch. Everyone thought it already. It wasn't a stretch for anyone to believe I wanted Jack Morrison laid low for going on record saying he was going to crucify me and my team. No one bat an eye when I very vocally declared the only way you were stripping me of power was if you killed me." His face twisted into a ghost of a smile. "Not even you."

That hurt. It hurt that 76 had believe it back in the day. Gabe's outright, public insubordination felt like a personal attack at the time. It was damn near open rebellion. How come he hadn't seen Gabe's pain before now? Or that it had been a plea for help? "I ordered you to Headquarters," 76 said, finally getting to the heart of the matter. "What happened that day?"

"The desk that sent Blackwatch its missions and slipped them bonuses wanted you removed. You'd become troublesome, and the handlers they had around you couldn't control you on the issue of Blackwatch after the leak. The meeting was the perfect way to wrap up a loose cannon. They came to me, but I came up with the bomb."

76 heart hammered harder. No. No that couldn't be true. That was a Reaper lie, not a Gabe truth.

"I set it myself." Here, his smile turned wicked. "The bomb was up in the lobby. I lead you down into the conference room. It was supposed to look like a timing accident. I meant for the blast to give us time to talk. Really talk. If they thought you were dead, maybe I still had a chance to save you. Save you from the blood thirsty public, from the idiots in the UN, save you from Talon. But we fought instead. Just like we always did.”

76 unclenched his jaw. "But the bomb was in the conference room."

Gabe laughed. A cruel, biting laugh that didn't need his Reaper mask to make it horrible. "I was pinned under half the building when I realized that it had been the real plan all along. It all became so clear. I'd been a fool. It wasn't you they wanted dead. It was both of us. And I walked right into the trap, bringing you with me like a good little Judas."

"Gabe—"

"Shut up!" he roared, fingers and waist disappearing. "I'm not done."

76 tried to get closer but Gabe drifted away.

"I killed you. I killed myself. Everything was my fault. I couldn't stop Talon from growing, from destroying what we built together. In the end, I couldn't even save the man that meant the most to me."

His gaze lowered, whiskey and darkness ebbing and flowing across his eyes. God! If only 76 knew what to say to him!

"The broken, mutilated thing that crawled out of HQ wasn't Gabriel anymore. But it had his mission. I went back to them, the thing that would become Talon. They wanted a weapon. So I became one." His wrists blew away into smoke. "I let them build me stronger, give me powers, so I could tear down what had destroyed Gabriel. I always worked in the shadows, now I was a shadow." The rest of his arms curled into vapor as his chest began to recede into darkness. "I hunted in secret, keeping my cover as their weapon until I could turn it against them. At least my time in Blackwatch served some good in the end."

76 watched as the thick cloud of smoke obscured all but Gabe's face. He had a horrible feeling that if Gabe vanished now, he'd never see him again. But whenever he tried to close the distance, Gabe moved away, like he couldn't stand being close to him.

"I've reaped dozens of agents of Overwatch that had a hand in Talon's formation. But not the one in charge. I'm so close. The plan was to whisper your name right before I ripped their soul out. So they knew that justice had finally caught up with them. But here you are, alive, ruining all my plans. Again."

There was nothing left of Gabe but his eyes. So much pain, so much hate and anger. 76 could see all of it now. He'd once been the focus of Gabe's hate, he knew how hot it burned. Nothing could withstand it. Not the Omnic Crisis. Not Overwatch. Not Talon. And yet, Gabe had turned all that fury inward. Years of rage and regret aimed at himself, under a crushing weight of guilt. How could he survive all that self-loathing? All that pain in silence? God damn, what had 76 done to him?

The dark eyes began to disappear. 76 went to him, arms outstretched. He put his hands where Gabe's face should be. "Gabriel! Por favor, no me dejes de nuevo. Vuelve!"

The smoke stopped swirling. It hung in the air, paused.

"Vuelve," 76 begged. "Vuelve."

Slowly, the darkness and shadows returned to a solid form. Gabe stood before him again, his face in 76's hands. He was cold to the touch. 76 ran his thumbs along the scars of his cheeks, the solid jaw. The soft brush of beard was a long missed feeling.

"What did you say?" Gabe whispered.

"Do I have to spell it out for you?" 76 said. "I wanted you to come back."

"Why?"

76 could see all the pain and hurt in those expressive eyes as they searched his. So long he’d suffered alone. 76... no. Jack. Jack could relate. But he wasn’t alone anymore. "Porque te amo. Siempre te he amado," Jack said."Estúpido," he added.

Gabe reached up a clawed hand, putting it over Jack's."Te he echado tanto de menosI missed you so much," he whispered.

"Lo siento," Jack whispered back. "I'm so sorry. For everything I've done to you." Guilt swept over him with new force. All this time.... All this time he'd wondered if there were any signs to avert disaster. He wondered what detail he had missed. Yet Gabe had been drowning under his nose, trying desperately to save them both on his own, and Jack had never guessed. He thought what they had was dead and gone. "Forgive me," Jack said, holding onto Gabe's face tighter, sure the man would evaporate away out of reach. "I was an idiot. I—”

"Don't." Gabe closed his eyes, leaning his cheek into Jack's palm. "It was my fault. I should have tried harder--"

"No," Jack cut him off. "You've taken too much of the guilt. Most of it rests on my shoulders. I let you down. Never again."

They stared at eachother for a moment. Jack pulled him closer. Gabe let him, until their noses touched. He flinched away, drawing back.

"You're fluent now?" he asked, rather awkwardly.

"No," Jack said, feeling his heart sputter and deflate. "Just picked up some things. My teacher left me."

Gabe's eyes snapped back to Jack's. God they looked so damn hurt. Damn him and his stupid expressive eyes.

"I didn't mean... not like that," he tried to amend. "I was talking about you."

"We left things so fucked up," Gabe said, looking away. "I assumed you'd moved on. Even back then. You wouldn't... not with your SIC."

"It didn't seem to bother you when I was yours," Jack reminded.

"That was different, it was war. No one cared. But a Strike Commander and one of his Strike Leaders?"

"You needed space," Jack said, everything unsaid from years past welling up inside him, wanting to finally be spoken. "There was a huge paradigm shift between us. We needed time to figure out how to cope. I needed to...." How did he say this and make it sound right? He took his turn to look away.

Gabe put a knuckle under his chin and turned his face back. "What did you need?"

Jack had been alone for so long. Ever since Overwatch fell. But really, he'd been alone ever since he lost Gabe. To open up after so long.... "I needed to prove that I was just as good as you," he forced himself to say. "That the promotion wasn't a mistake, or a race thing, or for an image on a poster. I wanted to show you that you'd made me capable. That I could lead on my own." He snorted. "And I was too proud to admit to myself that I needed your help. If I'd only asked—”

Gabe put a gentle claw to his lips. "We both made mistakes," Gabe said, leaning closer.

Jack pulled him in the rest of the way. For the first time in nearly three decades, they kissed.

Gabe's lips were cold and tasted of ash, but their gentle pressure was familiar. Jack drank in the long forgotten feeling of another person pressed against him, sharing something with him. It was like coming in from out of the rain. His hands slid up behind Gabe's head, running his fingers through the short black hair that had become peppered with gray around the temples. Gabe's hands cupped Jack's cheeks, tilting his head back.

They parted mutually.

"Was that your first kiss in thirty years?" Gabe asked against Jack's lips.

Jack nodded. "Yours?"

"Who would kiss the Angel of Death?"

"A dead man," Jack said with a smirk.

Gabe smiled, a tired looking one, but there was a spark in his eyes that Jack liked the look of. His spirit was back.

"Sabelotodo," Gabe snapped.

"Sé lo que eso significa,"  Jack shot back. Gabe's rumbling voice caressing the Spanish word sent a thrill up his spine. Time hadn't diminished his sexy voice.

"You've got a smart mouth, farm boy."

"Is this where you say I should use it?"

Gabe grinned. "I think it is."

Their second kiss was just as chaste, but longer than the first. Jack didn't want it to end when Gabe drew away.

"How are your ribs?" he asked.

That was not what Jack wanted to talk about. Or think about. "Fine."

"You should rest," Gabe said. "You need to go slow."

He knew that Gabe meant more than just his ribs. Thirty years was a long time. They were completely different people... but some things never changed. "Will you stay with me?"

"If you want."

Jack refused to remove the mattress from the vent, just encase Gabe got ghosty. They ended up sitting together on the floor, their backs against the wall. Jack reached over, sliding his hand into Gabe's. In retaliation, Gabe leaned his head on Jack's shoulder. It was nice. Familiar. If he closed his eyes, Jack could almost believe they were still kids.

"You know the best part about being dead?" he said.

"Always knew how to ruin a quiet moment," Gabe grumbled. "What is it?"

He squeezed Gabe's hand. "No obligations or responsibilities.”

"Idiota, we have missions," Gabe said, turning his face to look up at Jack.

"Yeah, but no more Strike Commanders. No more Strike Leaders. Just a dead man, and his Angel of Death. We can do whatever we want." He grinned, looking down at Gabe. "Do whoever we want."

"Dios, dame paciencia porque si me das fuerzas lo mato," Gabe sighed. "You haven't changed at all."

 

Chapter Text

"You're sure about this?" Jack asked, looking up at the vent.

"Absolutely," Gabe reassured him. "A good seventy percent sure."

Jack punched him in the arm. Gabe chuckled. Jack was certainly feeling spry. Another day of rest had done him good. He should stay down longer, but Jack was stir-crazy. Gabe feared keeping him in the bunker any longer would result in Jack tunneling to the surface with his bare hands.

"You could stay down here with me a little longer," Gabe tried one last time. "If you're scared that is."

Jack punched him again. "I'm not scared of a little smoke."

Gabe opened his arms. Jack stepped to him, chin up, glaring through what was left of his abused mask. Slowly, Gabe put his arms around the other. God Jack was so warm! It cut though his skin right to his core. He rested a hand on the small of his back, claws prickling the leather jacket, while he put the other behind his neck. With a grin, he pulled Jack flush to his chest.

The old soldier grumbled, but there was no bite to his words. If anything, he rested against the Kevlar.

Gabe leaned in, putting his lips to Jack's ear. "Relax," he whispered. "I've got you.”

"Still not sure about this," Jack snapped.

"I'm doing all the work, Morrison. I don't know what you’re worried about."

"Where do I start on the list of things to worry about?"

"It'll be fine. Just stay calm during it. Whatever you do, don't struggle. No matter what, just stay calm."

"See, now you’re making feel like I need to be worried."

"Relax, I've got your back."

Jack closed his eyes. "Do it. Before I change my mind."

Gabe dug the tip of his claws into Jack's flesh to make sure he had a solid hold, then dissolved them both into smoke. He'd expected the same... entwined sensation as before. What he didn't expect was the intensity with which it hit him.

He could feel Jack's heart beating like it was his own. He felt the swell of anxiety, felt a fight or flight response that wasn't his own grow in his breast as if it was. Oh Dios! They were sharing minds! His curiosity mingled with Jack's and suddenly, there was someone feeling him out.
Gabe couldn't stop Jack exploring everything he felt. Quickly, he pulled them up into the vent, but he couldn't outrun his defensiveness, nor Jack's picking up on it.

Thankfully, the sensation of moving as smoke tore the other's attention away from getting free access to Gabe's feelings. Wonder and surprise flooded him. Gabe tried to ignore it, trying to focus on getting them through the maze. But they were sharing everything. It was hard to untangle who was feeling what. Was he amazed at the feeling of being lighter than air? Or was he the one trying not to feel anything?

The opening to the surface appeared. Gracias Dios! They shot out of the vent into sunlight. Gabe recoiled at the bright light, but Jack drank it in. A bloom of amazement warmed Gabe. Was that his own? Or Jack's? He couldn't tell. Didn't matter. He had to get them separated before Jack saw things Gabe rather he didn't. Quickly, he pulled them away from the light into the shade of a half demolished building. He separated them, putting Jack back into his body first before he followed suit.

"My God," Jack said.

Gabe moved deeper into the cool shadows, a hand on the wall to steady him. Damn it. Ghosting two was harder than just himself. His claws reached for the broken mask tucked in his belt. What did his face look like? He took a breath. The gnawing in his chest wasn't bad. He shouldn't look terrible. Turning, he found Jack looking around himself, sun glinting off his white hair, making it look almost gold once more.

"That was...." he began.

"You're alright?" Gabe asked. If he had reaped Jack while they had ghosted....

"I could see again," he said, turning to look at him. "Without the visor. Not like now. Really see. Color, depth...." He returned to the rather grungy view, staring like it was some kind of exotic vista.

"We were..." God this was going to sound sappy, "one, I think," Gabe said, walking back to Jack but staying out of direct light.

"One?" Jack asked, glancing over his shoulder.

"We were broken down into particles," Gabe hurried to say before Jack took that in some kind of romantic context. "Mingling together. Our particles... mixed. Maybe you saw with my eyes."

"Hmm." Jack turned back to the view. "Something like that happen to you?"

"I was busy trying to keep us together and moving," Gabe replied.

"But you felt something," Jack said. "I know you did."

What was with him being so damn perceptive? And on the first ghosting. "Why couldn't you be a dumb blond?"

Jack pointed at his hair. "Not blond anymore."

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't." When hiding your feelings, go non-committal.

Jack left the view and came over, fingertips brushing the wall, not for support, but guidance. "Still got your barriers up," he said, carefully picking his way over some loose stones. He tapped the shotgun shells on Gabe's chest. "I felt them. Never wanting to let anyone in. Even me."

They started at each other for a moment.

Damn him. "Hey, I had trust issues long before you did."

"I know."

Now what? Jack was recovered, free. They each had their own paths. What did they do now? He didn't want Jack to go, not after just getting him back. What if fate kept them apart again?
"Hungry?" he asked.

Jack's blue eyes lit up. "I could go for something."

Gabe held out his hand. "I know a place."

Jack pressed himself flush to the Kevlar as Gabe embraced him. If seeing made Jack happy, any amount of ghosting was worth it. He broke them both down into smoke again. This time, there was no hesitation from Jack, just elation.

 

 

Gabe materialized them in the shadows of the ally. He braced himself on the wall to catch his breath. The gnawing in his chest had grown stronger. Fuck. Where was a dead body when you needed one?

"You alright?" Jack asked.

Gabe waved away his concern. "Fine." He pulled himself up. "This way." He led him to the mouth of the ally and whistled.

"Not exactly five stars," Jack muttered.

Just wait, farm boy, Gabe thought. He was about to whistle again, when two heads peaked around the corner.

"Señor héroe!" the boy and girl chorused, rushing around. "¿Necesitas más comida?"

"Are these are your sources?" Jack asked.

When he spoke, both children seemed to notice he was there. The girl stepped in front of the boy.

"Mi amigo," Gabe told them, "él está mejor gracias a ti"

"¿Es él un héroe también?" the girl asked.

Gabe nodded. A much better one than I ever was, he thought. "¿Recuerdas lo que te dije que no consiguieras?"

Both nodded.

"Bien, consigue tantos como puedas llevar."

"Sí!" they ran off to the store.

He might at some far flung point in the future miss these kids. Maybe. If he got soft and sappy.

"The fearsome Reaper has kids running errands for him," Jack said.

"Shut up."

"You're lucky I'm already dead or I'd die from laughter."

Gabe smirked. "Fine, I'll eat them all then."

"Eat what?"

"You'll see."

They didn't have to wait long. In moments the kids were racing back, all four hands grasping cinnamon coated bundles.

"No way," Jack whispered.

The kids tried to hand them to Gabe, but he pointed at Jack. "Para el. Es su favorito."

Any apprehension they had for Jack was gone. The girl spouted off into a flood of Spanish, telling Jack all about Mr. hero as she placed the churros in his hand one at a time, as if to have an excuse to talk to him longer. The boy shot in a comment when his sister had to stop for a breath. He touched Jack's leather jacket, tapped the empty cartridges hooked to his belt. Gabe grinned as Jack's wounded eyes darted from one to the other. He was so hopelessly lost.

"You’re failing your Spanish exam," Gabe said, offhandedly.

"I'm not fluent!" Jack defended. "Lento!" he begged. "Más despacio, por favor."

Hearing a white man speak Spanish only seemed to spur the kids to faster questions and comments. Even Gabe lost their meaning after a while. Something about a new kitten. Or finding a lost kitten? Seeing a cat? Jack caught snatches here and there, trying his best to answer. But by the time he had the words, the kids were ten questions ahead.

God. Hearing Jack speak Spanish was... amazing. After the war, their estrangement, and deaths, he'd kept learning. Gabe was flattered. It wasn't every day an ex learned your language.

Finally, when Jack had botched yet another reply, Gabe decided he needed a rescue. "Hey," he called to the kids. "Tenemos que irnos."

They had grown used to his sudden arrivals and leavings and, thank God, said their farewells to Jack quickly. Gabe took the girl's hand and kissed it. "Muchas gracias señorita." He patted her shoulder and set them on their way. She'd find the roll of bills in her dress pocket later. "Come on, let's find a place to eat."

 

 

They sat side by side in abandoned house, watching the sunset through a busted out window. Not exactly five-stars, but it was private. Gabe admired Jack's mask-less face as he savored the fresh churros.

Jack caught him looking. "What?"

"Just noting that your churro face looks an awful lot like your orgasm face."

Jack ran his tongue along the stick before taking another bite. "Don't know what gave you that idea."

Gabe chuckled. It was good to see Jack finally enjoy something. "How long has it been since you had a real churro?"

"A lifetime," Jack said, finishing his and handing one to Gabe. "How many times do I have to tell you not to be rude?"

Gabe took the cinnamon stick and rolled it in his claws. It would do nothing for the gnawing hunger in his chest. Jack started in on another. They sat in silence for a while and Gabe's mind wandered.

He'd lied when he told Jack he hadn't been pissed about the promotion. He'd seethed for a while about it. Over and over he wondered why. What had he done wrong? He'd lead them through the worst crisis in human history, yet they didn't think him worthy. Was it his leadership style? Or something worse... the color of his skin? The rumors that reached Jack's ears had a grain of validation. The best lies were often the closest to the truth. Talon had manipulated his anger before it could cool. Whatever the reason, pride in his capable second in command should have never been so slow take anger's place.

What would their lives have been like if he had only been a man and swallowed that anger instead of letting it fester? Would he and Jack be sitting on top of the world, side by side, sharing churros, reminiscing about the glory days? Would there have been a house? A pair of rings? Age gave him perspective. And his perspective was he had been young and stupid. He looked down at the churro in his hands. It had lost its rich brown color. Oh he was paying dearly for those few moments of weakness so long ago.

An elbow nudged him. "Hey."

He snapped out of his thoughts and looked at Jack.

"Where were you just now?" the old soldier asked, licking cinnamon from his lips.

"Thinking," Gabe said.

"About what?"

"Hmm. The stupidity of youth."

"Gabe," Jack's tone was warning. "Don't start the self-deprecating stuff."

"I'm not." Lie. "Well, maybe a little." He sighed. Jack should be let through the emotional barriers he kept up. "I'm fucking late as usual, but, you made a damn fine Strike Commander."

"Don't," Jack warned.

"I mean it." Gabe rested his shoulder against Jack's. "Being older gives me perspective. Any commander should be proud when his second gets promoted. You lead well. The choices you made, I wouldn't have, but you're not me."

Jack put a hand on Gabe's knee. "We were always better as a team than apart." He squeezed. "I struggled with it. A lot."

"No you didn't."

"I did," Jack admitted. "I wasn't used to having the final say, and all the weight that comes with it. It was back-breaking." He tilted his face to look at Gabe. "I got the easy part, leading in mostly peaceful times. How the hell you ever lead us in war I don't know. Still, I could have used help from my friend."

"You did fine on your own while I was being a pedazo de mierda."

"But you weren't fine and I didn't do anything to help." Jack looked away.

"Hey, don't start the self-deprecating stuff," Gabe parroted back to him.

Jack smiled, turning back. "But we're a team again."

Were they? "I'm not going to stop," Gabe said, lowering his voice. "I'm going to find every last sonofa bitch that played a role in your death and reap their souls. Including Overwatch."

"I'm not saying stop, I'm saying you have help," Jack clarified. "As long as you don't reap the innocent."

"No one's innocent."

"I know all you see is the corruption, but there are others that got used too, Gabe. You really think someone like Lena has it in her to be evil?"

Gabe looked away. Even the innocent could be corrupted... but it was hard to believe Lena doing anything malicious of her own freewill.

"I'll do digging on my end. See what doesn't add up, who doesn't add up, and we'll pay a little visit. Together."

Jack only had found out Gabe was alive a day ago, and he was already sliding in on the revenge scheme. "This was my mission."

"And now it's ours," Jack said. "Or don't you think when I found out about this I'd do exactly the same thing?"

"You? Chico de oro on a revenge mission? You sure you can handle the blood?"

"Golden boy died a long time ago," Jack said. "Soldier Seventy-six has no qualms about killing bad guys."

"But only bad guys." Couldn't let Jack think himself too macho.

"You want my help or not?"

God yes. More than anything he wanted an excuse to keep seeing Jack, anything to see him one more time. "I guess."

"Good. I wasn't taking no for an answer." He slid off their makeshift bench and stood. "It's getting late."

Gabe hated this part. "Yeah. I gotta go too."

"I'll see about some ear pieces when I get this damn visor fixed. So we can... stay in contact."

"I'm a busy man, soldier," Gabe said with a smirk. "Might not have time for all your calls to shoot the shit."

Jack ignored him. "There was an old supply base, bout ten miles north-east."

"It's on my list."

"Someone might be breaking in soon. Maybe like a week."

"Maybe a week and a half. New moon. More shadows."

"Week and a half."

Jack didn't move. Maybe he was reluctant to part too. Gabe stood, setting aside the ashen churro. He cupped Jack's cheeks in his hands and kissed him. The old ache in his heart eased when Jack's lips opened against his. God, it felt so good, so right. He didn't want to go. This was where he belonged, in Jack’s arms.

The sun had set when they finally parted. Gabe took a step back. If he didn't, he'd never let Jack leave. The old soldier clicked his mask back into place.

"See ya around." He turned away slowly—or maybe Gabe just wanted to believe that—and headed for the door.

"Hey," Gabe called after him. "Te amo, Jackass."

Jack stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Yo tambien te amo, Gabriel."

Gabe nearly ghosted in surprise as Jack slipped out the door. He'd called him Gabriel, pronounced it right, with a flawless rolling 'r' in the middle. God damn... what a tease.