Information was everything – but it never mattered if it was true.
Gathering intel has always been Sombra's job. Sometimes it consisted of knocking down doors, slipping past debris and then vanishing with each footstep lifted away from history. Or all it needed was a well-placed laugh from her and a smile, all while she carried a flash drive in her palm, just as sinister as a dagger. People hardly kept their secrets as guarded as they thought they did. So, of course, she could extract what she needed, and take away all that and more when the mood hit her. Sometimes, she even did it right in front of their face.
(But what secrets does a ghost have?)
The private habitations provided to them by Talon were of true military-grade, perfect for their necessities, but not much else. But no one went to work for Talon for an easy life of luxury. And for Sombra, breaking into the rooms of her teammates didn't really spike up her adrenaline that much.
When Reaper marched out of his room, Sombra was there to greet him with a cheery smile as she appeared out of thin air.
"Qué tal, old man?" She held something in her hand, lightly hefting it by her long nails.
Predictably, Reaper caught the object just as she let go. She may not have been able to see through that mask of his, but just one word out of him was enough for anyone to know what mood he was in. Here's a spoiler: it never changes.
"Why do you have my clip?" he growled.
It was a heavy clip, perfect for those heavy guns. It had felt real in her palm, full of weight, packed with shells noted by a caliber that, after a bit of research, was rather dated by today's standards. Going by their last mission together and the bodies left behind, that didn't seem to matter.
"Needed it for a pet project," she told him. "I've been wanting to ask, Gabe, – can I call you Gabe? – where do you get these anyway? No serial number or nothing."
He pocketed the clip in his jacket, though he did so by giving no hint as to just where exactly – or how. She imagined it blending within his clothes, like smoke, like fumes, like the fog that comes after a rainy day.
(Had it been a real thing? Is he real? But I felt it, and I felt-)
"Keep your nose out of my business." He stalked off, boots clomping hard against the metal floors, but the echo of it distant and unreal. "If I catch you in my room again, not even your little toys will help you."
"Is that how you treat your teammate?" She could teleport away, slip back through the translocator into the comfort of her own bed (she was never much of a morning person, yet it was Reaper of all people that liked to rise with the dawn) but she decided to saunter up to him, back through the corridors to the mess hall. "Besides, I never went into your room. Too dreary, too drab, and I'd stand out anyway. But maybe you should try following your own advice."
That caught his attention. His head swiveled in her direction. "What-"
"Or maybe keep a leash on your own toys. They seem to have a habit of showing up on my dresser – not that I don't mind the attention."
Her back was already to him as she said that. Hearing no heavy footsteps chasing after, and no angry yell, she figured she played her cards right.
Gathering intel had been getting routine for her as of late. But playing with her information, and dangling it in front of her targets: that was where the thrill was.
"You act like a school girl," Widowmaker had once told her. "Drawn to the very thing that will bite off your head, and not even knowing it."
"Ayy, qué lindo," Sombra had shot back. "I'm flattered and all, but I'd rather just stay as besties."
"You're a fool." It was one of the few instances she ever saw so much as a wrinkle on Widowmaker's face – caused by her frown. "I don't care what you do, but he cares far too much."
"That old softy? He's just a relic of the past, nothing more than a scary ghost story." Sombra shrugged. "But then, I guess I've always liked ghost stories when I was younger."
"And do you know what happens to the children in those ghost stories?" It was probably the first and only time she and Widowmaker would ever have breakfast together. The French woman had sipped her coffee, and no flush of its warmth ever reached her cheeks, ever reached anywhere. "I just want to avoid filling out the paperwork when they find a bullet in that pretty head of yours."
That was before. Now, instead of café con leche, she drank whiskey and gin. The bar was rundown, the patrons either still or snoring. The loudest was that vaquero in the corner, his hat tattered with wear, and a belt that screamed 'steal me!' in its flourish of gold lettering. On any old day, she would have done so, if it didn't spell something so stupid. That and it was Christmas; which made her a little less receptive to burglary. Probably something to do with nostalgia.
Her augmented hand let her know about her little sleepers – Reaper had been a busy man. He was all over the map, quicker than any normal human being. And Frenchy must have enjoyed where she was, for she hadn't moved from her position for a full two hours.
Downing her drink, she passed the bartenders a few coins and left through the creaking front door. She wouldn't linger long – some of Los Muertos' markings were still engraved on her skin, and it paid to be part of a collective without them knowing your face, unlike with Talon. She doubted anyone from there would even remember the little girl with her backpack of tech and a rebellious hairstyle. But, as she learned not too long after that, it paid to be extra careful.
In the space of a keystroke, she moved from Calaveras to somewhere on the outfringes of Paris – maybe. She didn't care enough about France to know its geography.
"Your spying isn't cute," Widowmaker told her. The snow was still falling, and the rose left on the tombstone before her was already covered in white powder.
"All harmless fun. I just get so worried about my friends!" Even so, Sombra was already getting bored. Amélie's background had been easy enough to gather since day one. The dead man being visited by his wife/murderer – now, while that might make some good drama for a trashy telenovela, Sombra had seen it all before.
"He will not appreciate it."
"Then I guess what he doesn't know won't hurt him."
A wink and a wave, and she was satisfied to see Widowmaker's grimace. Even for an emotionless killing machine, she sure did get touchy.
It's been known that ghosts haunt either a certain a place, or a certain person. Unfulfilled, unsatisfied, or regretful, a ghost's existence is nothing short of tragic.
In Reaper's case, it is a person he haunts.
When he made it back to Talon, he emerged from the shadows, nothing of him substantial but the white mask he wore. It's fascinating, really, to see him like that. To gather enough of himself to put up with the illusion.
(Or maybe he really does exist like this? Does he pull bits of his soul together at every moment, giving it enough substance so that he can walk as this broken shell?)
"You miss him?"
Quick turn, trigger cocked. He aimed the barrel at her forehead, not even an inch away. It's a work of art, the way he moved. His jacket outstretched like the dark wings of a bird, and though she would never admit it, it's a movement she herself wants to mimic well enough, someday.
She could already smell the gunpowder, and worked inside her head the image of the recoil that would push them both back. Huh. Maybe Widowmaker had a point before. But the sight of him aiming the gun at her only made her laugh.
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" he asked, annoyed. He didn't put the gun down though.
"Just wanted to wish you a Feliz Navidad." Her eyes then widened with a flourish, all excited and eager. "And to show you something!"
He was uneasy, that much she could tell. Reaper made the slightest grunt as he lowered his weapon. It gives her enough room to breathe, gives her time to appreciate the pulse in her neck. Biting her lower lip, she pulled up a mini projection of a young man, in the midst of what could be assumed to be his family. A wife, a son, probably a pet back home just to fill in the quota. They are in the throes of a city, the rain pouring, but their faces so sickeningly bright.
Reaper's fists clenched suddenly. His guns are gone, but that means fuck all, because she can hear the claws of his gauntlets scrape against the leather. "Where did you get that?"
"Around." Then she closed out the image, leaving nothing between her and Reaper. "So, you miss him?"
A moment more, and then he towered over her. A hulking shadow, a silhouette cut-out that painted black against the building.
"I can give you what you want, you know," she said, her tone all business, but her heartbeat suggesting anything but. "Where he works, what he eats for lunch, what baseball team he roots for – all those little things that no one else would really care about. But then, Gabe, you are a family man, after all."
In her line of work, much of her hacking comes with routine guessing, with trial and error. And whether due to her skills or luck, she's more right with her experimentation than wrong.
Reaper was doubting her. Perhaps he was thinking of raking those claws of his against her face, or dragging her over to an interrogation room to weasel out the rest of her information. Ghosts were vengeful after all, but ghosts were also desperate.
And poor thing, he didn't even have the advantage that other ghosts have. He couldn't even go through walls – or doors.
"You're a liar," he told her, spitting it out like acid to her face. Even she had to admit, that hurt a teensy bit.
"Now, why would I ever lie to you?" With a sharp inhale, she stepped forward, her face up to his, then past, so that her lips hovered just where her ears might be. "What if I told you that his name was…?"
As she thought, ghosts were desperate.
Why else would they stick around?
Talon had cameras everywhere, but even they would have been unable to tell if anything changed. And on the surface, nothing did. Reaper still growled out everything he said, and Widowmaker looked at everyone and everything with the greatest of distaste, probably wanting to suck some blood out of the other operatives or whatever hobbies she was into. Sombra wouldn't judge. Unfortunately, this meant that she would never have another girlfriend over for breakfast. Good thing she wasn't a morning person. And even better, she had a new best friend.
Reaper, in so many little, silent ways, begged for her information.
It was how he stood next to her in their missions, the sudden silence he would foster when Sombra jabbed at him time and again. It was the way she'd call him up on the receiver, having a stakeout at some boring-as-fuck watchpoint and whine "Gabe! I'm lonely," and then he'd easily come right on over to keep her company. He always followed her demands right down to the point.
At 3 in the morning, when she was bored, he'd come with her for a midnight snack. Hack the vending machine for some chips, and she'd feed him the very last place their person of interest when to the day before. When Talon's paycheck was low one week, she'd call him up for a little borrowing, and her payment to him would be this store that man went to last week. A toy store, to be exact. In the baby section actually. Maybe he was shopping for a little one on the way? Or for just some distant niece's birthday. Did Reaper know anyone like that?
"Just stick to the facts," he said to her one time, deeply furious – but that was all.
His door remained open, and when she was particularly struck by ennui, or needed a place for some shade, she'd walk in, make herself home in one of his armchairs and take in the bareness of the room. "Not even a photograph?" she quipped one time. "You're getting old, you might forget things one day."
And he'd stand there, and he'd take it, and she'd trail her eyes over his chest, to the shells strapped around them, to the bulletproof casing that molded over him. That wasn't surprising, you could kill ghosts multiple times – the trick was to keep them dead in the first place.
"Now you're just being stupid." Widowmaker had cornered her down a hall one day – the one time that Sombra didn't prepare a backdoor. Well, that's what happened when she ran on soda and code the night before. It had been months since she had felt this invested.
"Are you going to say that I'm spinning myself a web of lies?" she said with a grin.
"Shut up." There was a hitch in her voice, along the nature of Reaper's growl, but sibilant, more grounded. "In case you haven't noticed, he is not very forgiving."
Hand on her hip, Sombra thought it over. "You know, I wonder why you're even bothering this much. I thought you didn't care? Oh!" She tsked and grinned. "Maybe you wanted him for yourself? Is that it? A nice strong man after you slit the other's-"
"I don't care." There came that hiss again. Lethal, very sensuous even. Sombra would need to learn to pull off something like that someday. "I'm just not looking forward to the mess."
A tilt of her head, a shrug of her shoulders, and Sombra walked past. "You're in the wrong line of work, amiga."
Not all her information was true.
She suspected that Reaper knew this. But the tricky part was finding the lie. It's a nice game, she thinks. Find the lie within the truth, which was hard to do in practice. Sometimes it was safer just to accept all of it, which Reaper did.
The man went to the countryside today, she told him. Oh, or maybe to the city? He took out a recent investment in this startup company. Or maybe he just sold it all to better clear his head of financial troubles. He worked in manufacturing… or customer support. Maybe both. He also liked chocolate ice cream the best, except for that one time it was cupcake batter. He was allergic to pineapple, yet he bought a skin cream with that ingredient last week.
The information was contradictory, obviously so. Of course Reaper knew it, and of course he could barely do a thing about it. Did this man have new connections? Some important government officials? Now isn't that an eye opener? Gabe, amigo, are you worried about him?
She already knew what the man was to Reaper – such intel was as simple as a web search, just one not open to the public. It's one part of the information that was for sure as true and pure as the summer rain, and the way Reaper would silently stare her down as she recited the man's routine for day only confirmed for her of its purity.
Really, he was such a sad man. It's enough to make any woman's heart aflutter, to want to save him from the depths of his own little brooding darkness. Well, that's not what she had in mind, but she could play the part if she needed to.
One time, however, he had grown fed up with her tells. Here she was, being the best friend he could ever hope to have, and while she may have stalled, commenting on their crepes, a rare courtesy food from Talon ("Really kind of sweet, you know? Ay, have a bite, come on!"), and he was appreciating none of it. Instead he pounded a fist against the breakfast table, stood up, with the faintest of red seeping out of the holes of that mask, that stark white mask ready to swoop down at her at the faintest movement.
"Enough with the fucking games. It's been more than half an hour, and you've told me nothing!"
"Oh, relajate. I'm just getting there. It's called building-up, you know." She finished her meal, brushing crumbs from her cheek. "Those tantrums of yours will kill you one day, Gabe-"
"Do not call me that."
That gave her pause, just for a second. Her laugh was airy. She propped her feet up on the chair that Reaper had occupied before. "Aww, pobrecito. You're really hurting, huh? Wanna talk it out with me? Have a crying session together?"
Her breath caught for a second, the gravel that was his voice traveling through her spine. "Come to me when you have something worthwhile to tell me."
Reaper stalked off, his form melting into smoke, into thick clouds like a thunderstorm, brewing within the facility.
(Pfft. Melodramatic for an old man).
She gave him three days to cool off before she became worried.
Could he have gotten the intel from someone else? Discovered more by himself? For a wraith-like abomination, he was rarely that sneaky. No, she was still valuable to him.
But a little checking-in never hurt anyone.
Her trackers in his room didn't tell her much. Reaper was rarely in half the time, and the place was always dark. After her visits, she knew that much. It was practically her second home.
His bed was sparse, and his drawers were empty except for some papers. It was little slept-in, that much she could tell. Like the crying woman by the river, he haunted the world more than rested.
(A stiff bed. How boring).
She laid in it immediately, arms behind her head, right leg crossed over the other as she stared up at the ceiling. Not even much in the way of sound besides the hum of her camo. Maybe she was taking too much of his savings? He clearly needed a new mattress.
She had the master plan of waiting for him in his room, like real friends did! Her friend in Russia had been so pleasantly surprised, surely Gabe would feel the same. But at least she could get comfy.
Just a blanket, one soft enough for her to ease her back. Her hands reached out to the side, instantly pulling it over. But. It was tough. The material creaked, and nowhere near as pliant as blankets should be.
So. He had left this here.
Her nails stroked against it. She scrunched up the hood between her palms, felt the hem brush against her thighs. It was warm. Strange. Warm like fire, heated against her skin. As if he had just worn it seconds ago.
That was a given. The back of it was frayed, and she flashbacked to the mech that had flung him aside back at Volskaya. What a shame. You couldn't get these threads just anywhere.
She put it on. Sombra never neglected treating herself.
The coat was heavy, pressing down on her. It felt like she had just gotten out of the water with all her clothes on. Packed with two shotguns and expensive belts, yeah, no wonder Gabe was a tromping monstrosity.
The sleeves of the jacket dwarfed her arms, and the hood fell over her eyes. It didn't fit her look, but she liked it still. The way it engulfed her like a black shroud, how it made her feel all mysterious. Gabe was such a weirdo.
But hey, "De pelos," she whispered. She'd make her own set if she could.
Then the shadows next to the bed shifted.
Was there a way to take back every thought you ever had about someone? Well, maybe not all. Reaper still liked all that mystery shit. What better way to say that than to creep around in your own fucking room, waiting for someone to come in, and not take one fucking breath? But ghosts don't need to breathe. So really, it was her fault to begin with.
Sombra raised her head, and Reaper was this solid thing, a silhouette against the wall, a smoke that passed through her throat. His jacket was still heavy. She bent her knees, feeling the leather fall around her, over her hips, between her thighs, gathering in folds around her neck. Submerged, suffocated, hot.
(It's hot, the way he looks at me).
She had pushed too far, played too much with the matches. Like that little girl, she had stumbled into forbidden territory and was caught like a deer in the headlights. There was all this information, staring at her right in the face, and she didn't know what to make of it.
There was the scent of rot and decay, of cologne, of sweat. But he wasn't doing anything to her.
She reached out, tapped her finger against his nose. She was surprised to find something solid.
Instantly she teleported away. Backdoors are always important, after all.
She could barely breathe.
Another three days passed, and she didn't leave her room.
For a hacker, Sombra didn't keep much about herself hidden. Nothing except her name. And that was only because that girl was dead. The dead don't really have much to give.
However, that's an opinion she found herself reassessing. She was looking through her video feeds, the ones she hacked through Talon's surveillance system. Nothing interesting besides other agents, a few illicit activities here and there, but barely anything worth even a feigned yawn. She had to do away with it before she looked through her own resources – the secret entrances she made to other satellites, the several trackers she sent out, the email servers she'd broken through to find that man's communication. Nothing much, nothing much at all. How could someone so boring attract Reaper's attention? Ay, some old men loved being an enigma.
Sure, she may have known Gabe's past, his own downfall, and the scattering ties of his family, but that didn't tell her anything. There was a ghost here, and it mourned, and she wanted to find out why – really, truly, why.
And his face.
This night, she didn't lock her door.
It barely mattered anyway. All that was worth stealing was hidden within her augments, within the folds of her brain. She flexed her hand, watching the wires injected flex along with her. It had been a while since her last tune-up, but some things needed to be on the backburner. The screen was too bright now, her snacks were dwindling, and the shadows were thick.
She waited a long time.
The way the door banged against the wall still made her flinch. Her heart crawled up her esophagus, and even though she wanted to scream, all she could do was smile. She was giddy and excited and terrified of the lurking creep in her doorway. The sensation was amazing.
"Gabe! Amigo! So you stopped sulking for me?"
She wasn't dressed in her usual outfit, down to her tanktop and pajama pants, though her implants within the shaved part of her head still glowed a soft violet. She still had her tools at the ready for anything, anything at all. Yet she remained seated, her legs crossed on her computer chair, hands staying taut within her lap.
It was the way he walked forward, ready to whisk her away down into the depths of the underworld. She figured that was why he dressed that way anyway – as one who was so obsessed with death and all its romantic imagery. Mysterious old man. "If you want, I can tell you a little more, for a price though. No hard feelings. A girl's gotta eat and look her best, and Talon ain't paying me enough for my manicures."
She flourished her hands before him, dangling long, flashing fingernails. The rush was running through her limbs, and none of that could be stopped, not even when he grabbed her by the shoulder, the claws pinching her skin. Her smile never faded when he pulled her to her feet and shoved her at a nearby wall.
Hard enough to jangle the wiring within her spine. Hard enough to send the flash of static through her eyes. Hard enough to draw an electric hum through her fingers, warm and painful and addictive.
"What is wrong with you?" Reaper asked her, actually sounding disturbed.
"It's just really, really funny," she said through her giggles, breathing hard. "What can you even do to me?"
(You're just smoke and mirrors).
"You're insane," he breathed, then leaned forward, enough that she could feel his breath move through the slits of his mask. Warm, heady, and alive. "And a fucking tease."
His other hand reached for her neck and she offered it to him, but only after she could move closer to her mask. Nails scraped against its sides, pulled at its ridges, flipped it away to show the man beneath.
Rot and decay and cologne and sweat. She couldn't believe her luck.
"Gabe," she whispered, pressing one finger against his cheek. Oh, she hoped he hadn't messed up her inner wiring too bad. Through her eyes, she photographed this sight for memory, for recordkeeping, for possible blackmailing. (You never know).
The ghost moved closer to her, full of phantom pains, full of dull anger.
"What do you even want?" he asked her, keeping his hands where they were.
She pulled at his jacket. "Everything you got."
(Pour all you have into me and never let me go).