Author's note: Many thanks to Hell on Training Wheels for reading this! Enjoy!
The Writing on the Wall.
"Amongst the monsters, I am well hidden; who looks for a leaf in a forest?"
― Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus
"Piece of cake," the boy had said.
Of course he hadn't told the twelve-year-old the whole story. Not only was she just a child, but there was no true need to fully interiorize her with details that were far beyond her incipient sense of comprehension. All he had to do was convince Fareeha that it would be fun, that pranks were a thing for them, that they all were about to have a laugh.
It was Halloween, after all, and even if Morrison's rough ways had said 'no' to Gabriel's heartfelt attempts to have a celebration, the boy was not as easily dissuaded as his superior.
It didn't take long before the rascal dressed in cowboy's clothes smiled the final grin of victory. He had succeeded, his silver tongue, once again, had been most triumphant.
The girl believed him quite easily. She was bored, after all, spending the majority of her time among adults. Gibraltar wasn't the best place for a petite young lady to bloom – they all knew it for a fact. Fareeha herself knew it, even if she didn't have the mental clarity to say it out loud yet. Still she would try, determined to understand her own situation, to aim for some certainty in that swirling youthfulness gradually molding her behavior. Regardless of her efforts, though, the words were still too evasive, still too elusive, still too tricky to be united into one coherent sentence… all she knew was that she could feel her own childhood slipping through her fingers day after day and that profound hollowness; that impeccable void was real and palpable – as palpable as Jesse's hand reaching out for her, speaking about Halloween, candy, jokes and laughs.
Jesse was the cool kid of the unit; good looks and everything. Charm, to paraphrase her own mother, was one of the most visible qualities of the seventeen-year-old member of Blackwatch, Overwatch's dirty cousin.
That same charm he had inherited from his mother, Gina, a beautiful Italian lady whose only mistake in life had been to marry the wrong bastard. Her sweet words and her easy-going spirit had defined the son for as long as possible, sweetening his lips with nonchalance and gallantry.
Yet there were some other qualities to the young man, perhaps not as enticing as his sugar-coated sentences; maybe not as visible as the ever petulant eyes of a natural-born flirter – and definitely not as noble as the morals his mother had tried to pass onto him from a very young age.
Perhaps his father's legacy had defined him more virulently than his mother's.
He was inherently darker than most kids his age. Maybe it was the gore of having blood splattered all over his hands from a very young age – God, he would think every time he would glance in Fareeha's direction; as if trying to summon a higher being capable of explaining what good and bad were supposed to mean.
He was already a sinful killer by the time he had turned twelve. His mother never knew, she never had the certainty about what had truly happened during that fatidic June afternoon but her own brown eyes ultimately darkened as well, the minute her gaze discovered his son's corrupted expression.
Fareeha was twelve now, the same age he himself had reached by the time he aimed and pulled the trigger for the first time. Yet her indolent innocence could never mirror the ashes of his own lost paradise. That sweet candor of hers, that white, radiant eagerness was a million miles away from the shallow darkness embedded deep inside of him.
"Piece of cake," the boy had said.
He had crafted a plan inside a plan. He needed the girl to become his silent accomplice – and even if the entire structure of his plot was weak, it could provide him, in time, with the chance he had been seeking for so long.
He had his doubts, of course – after all, his whole idea depended on something as whimsical, as capricious as the goodwill of a child. Yet he was positive things would work out fine for them. The girl would disappear in the middle of the night and he would take advantage of the confusion. Their chaos would become his own protective leverage.
They would all laugh at the end, it was Halloween after all. Their laughter was surely about to rain over him like a celestial curtain decorating the most perfect of nights, yet it would be the very last one of the treasures he was sure to collect during those dark hours.
Oh, how he loved her.
Angela; the object of his affection, was the inadvertent reason, the true ulterior motive behind it all.
The feeling had spread itself underneath his young skin quite rapidly. They had met as soon as he set foot on the Overwatch Med Bay; Reyes was still by his side, eager to let him choose between a brand new sense of duty and the putrid cell of a maximum security prison. The option, as simple as it might have seemed then, became even clearer the second his eyes met hers – Overwatch not only offered stability and redemption, it also offered the caring services of a young Swiss doctor and now his eyes could not look away from that gentle smile of hers.
They were the same age, granted, yet he was nothing but a failed criminal and she was a professional, taking care of everyone. The differences between them should have been overwhelming for him, yet the boy persisted, the doctor was worth it.
A part of him feared their words, as his superiors would repeat over and over again that he was in over his head, that the good doctor was not meant to be his, that she was better – that she could find someone better. Yet Angela herself had been all the reassurance he could ever need, the gentle touch of her pale hands and the laborious balm that only her kisses would provide were strong arguments; subtly telling the world that she had made her choice already; the feeling was mutual, authentic and genuine like that tender grin of hers.
His inner chiaroscuro would eclipse the young man from time to time, though - his basal instincts taking the lead during most of his agitated nights. Angela was nothing like those other girls from his teenage years; her body was nothing like all those other bodies, the ones from the stashed magazines hidden under his bed.
He had promised her to wait for her and he had meant it; he understood that Angela needed more time. Her body, anew and pristine like an uncharted territory, was begging him to be patient. But a part of Jesse was tired of playing the boyfriend – that part of him, the most elemental and primitive side of his personality wanted the teenage doctor to be his and his alone. Holding hands and sharing a mouthful of kisses around dark corners was not enough for him anymore but he couldn't just ask for it; he knew Angela wasn't ready, the charmer in him would not allow it. Ever the flirt, he would cover his bones and his true intentions way under that greying halo of that sweet politeness contaminating his sugar-coated words. Oh, she liked that version of him; soft and almost nourishing, ever gentle and attentive.
He had crafted a plan inside a plan. The girl would disappear and he would take advantage of the confusion, he would become the one awakening the woman still dormant inside the lovely doctor.
That's why that night, when Ana walked into the girls' room to tuck her daughter in and kiss her goodnight, her brown eyes surreptitiously met the very sight of horror:
Fareeha was gone.
Amaris' worried vociferations woke up every soul resting behind the secluding walls of the Gibraltar watch point. As the elders gathered in the main hall, they decided to wake up the younger ones as well, not only to make sure they were alright but also as a precatory measure. Even if they were kids by their ages, their experience and expertise had force them to move quickly towards adulthood; they could help.
Morrison, Reyes and Amari herself took the lead.
"Fareeha has disappeared." The all said in unison; their worried words fighting to escape the barrier of their consternated throats.
Angela and Jesse shared bewildered glances – yet only one of them was genuinely preoccupied by the twelve-year-old's sudden disappearance.
A visibly upset Torbjörn made his way down to the main hall – his sleepy Swedish diction already cursing those ones responsible for his unexpected insomnia. His frowny face melted rather quickly as soon as the engineer heard the words he had not been willing to listen. Reinhardt followed shortly after; the worried fighter already commanding the search.
"Piece of cake," the boy had said to the girl – and he had meant it. He knew Fareeha's disappearance was surely going to upset his superiors but he was positive they would understand and laugh in the end.
It was Halloween after all.
Morrison divided the group yet both parties stayed right where they were standing, as if their feet had been weighted down with the unbearable heaviness of terror: the watch point was big enough for a small child to play hide-and-seek; there was no real chance for the youngster to have reached the outside.
There was nothing outside, after all – just water and the ever mesmerizing horizon forever changing its colors from the warmest of yellows to the coldest of blues.
Water, stars and the distance; stretching itself before their tired eyes.
Nothing more than the magical vacuum of everything that is unreachable.
Strike Commander Morrison scratched the back of his head as the unspeakable fear became visible inside the elders' eyes: their only hope was to think that the child had suffered some sort of emotional dissonance: maybe she was angry, or sad or confused, and those unresolved emotions had led her to venture her still-infantile body into the dark depths of the nocturnal watch point.
But there was another option, they knew – one that none of them seemed strong enough to face: the surreptitious panic of acknowledging their enemies. What if they had kidnapped the girl? What if they had found their weaknesses somehow and were now eager to exploit them, as if sadistically twisting the knife in an open wound?
What if Gibraltar wasn't as safe as they all had assumed?
As fear jumped from one face to the other, the silent pact of tacit understanding engulfed their visages in a rather gloomy expression – that dangerous thought had indeed surfaced their thoughts, and now it had a weight of its own.
"Piece of cake," the boy had said.
Reinhardt let a muscled arm travel the distance to wrap up the worried mother – silence became unbearable then; the untouchable fear encysted deep inside their eyes still persistent and rather eloquent. The boy suddenly started to feel that shameful sense of guilt invading his thoughts: his own needs had made a fool of himself; he would have never imagined such a simple joke could cause so much pain.
He took a step backwards as he took a good look at a sincerely concerned Angela – he knew she would never forgive him.
It was Ana the one who approached him, her eyes tender and warm, as she stretched one of her arms to try to dismiss the boy's apparent concern. That very same guilt punishing him, that very same anguish torturing him inside finally began to strangle him as the first tears became visible, cascading down Amaris' cheeks.
He could see his own worried mother inside those raining eyes. Those very same tears that he had witnessed so many times, back in the day, when he would disappear from his house for days, even weeks, trying to get away from that vicious man only to gravitate dangerously closer to the dark depths of the dreadful Deadlock gang.
Those same tears would welcome him back home every time, her reddened eyes in perfect concordance with the multicolored bruises scattered all over her face and body. The same tears would beg him not to leave again, not to leave her again, not to make her worry so much about him… The asphyxiating embrace would come suffocate the little boy then, his mother's warm tears moisturizing his own cold cheeks.
Until one day, the boy never returned home. Those tears, missing him from an unreachable distance, were the same ones he had caused to stream down Ana's face, the lump in his throat restraining his words, the feeling – all too familiar to be easily ignored.
A mother's tears.
The story of his life.
"She asked about her father," the woman let out softly after a while, as she lowered her head.
Her words had inadvertently divided the waters or so it seemed, the tension between them shifting its focus: while Angela, Torbjörn and Jesse had shown curiosity, Reyes, Morrison and Reinhardt had only found uneasiness in her unexpected revelation.
"Every time she wants to talk about her father, I always try to dismiss her." Amaris explained then, ashamed. "Maybe she's not a child any more – maybe she really needs some answers."
The three absorbed men shared suspicious glances – the fracture became palpable, the air grew thicker. It was Reyes the one who dared speak first.
"We need to find her," he said, his dire directive trying to hide the evident conundrum engulfing them. "You heard what Jack said, let's go find the girl."
Reyes' cold instructions were the diversion they had been waiting for. They had been sleeping comfortable in the treacherous bed of the blessed unknown, and none of them wanted to really wake up from their sleep. Ana understood, then, that the precious silence she had crafted was not meant to be broken by mere speculations – not only it was uncomfortable to think about it: it was dangerous.
The four of them were being held captive in their own elaborate glass house – they were free to move inside its numerous rooms and empty spaces yet they weren't allowed to fully communicate with one another. That shallow comfort had led them down the darkest path ever: not only they weren't allowed to fully communicate with one another, but as time and distance began to apply more pressure on such invisible wound, they had irreversibly changed. With their transformation, the problem itself had mutated as well: it wasn't that they weren't allowed to speak; now they didn't even want to. They had embraced a silence so thin yet so profound the slightest wind could now be perceived as a threat.
So silence was now a part of them.
Three silent fathers suddenly took on the quest of finding a muted daughter, then.
Morrison stayed behind with Ana – after all, he had always been the one capable of calming down the woman. Torbjörn joined them quickly, as they walked towards the deposits, and headed for the upper catwalks. Reyes and Reinhardt immediately turned around, determined to cover more ground and inspect the rest of the rooms and the corridors.
Angela grabbed Jesse by the hand, her movements quick and somewhat clumsy.
"Come on, Jesse – we're going with them." she said.
Gabriel Reyes froze and turned around as soon as he heard Angela's voice; her tone had been stained with the indelible marks of genuine concern yet his ears had yet to hear the proper sounds of footsteps closing in on them.
Jesse flinched under Angela's touch, an odd reaction traveling the length of his whole body – the mere thought of it was unsettling; he was willing to finally get the chance to experience first-hand the fiery tongues of carnal affection yet that surprisingly cold hand of hers, taking him by surprise and shaking him out of his pastel-colored fantasies was an unwelcomed anchor forcing him to face reality once again as shame and guilt found their way back inside his chest.
"Piece of cake," the boy had said.
Jesse looked over his shoulder to meet Angela's worried gaze. There was a certain sense of candor in her eyes; a candor that differed from his own agonizing candor; but it was candor nonetheless.
"There's no use…" the boy reflected out loud, already feeling Reyes' eyes burning the back of his neck, "we should go and check the basement – cover more ground, you know?" he finally suggested.
An alarmed Jack Morrison heard them and joined them with a renewed sense of urgency; he had told them many times not to go down to the basement. It was nothing more than an old, rusted shelter used by previous generations of soldiers yet it contained some of the most unstable and dangerous equipment that the organization had ever created. Most weapons and devices were nothing but prototypes that had gone wrong yet they held the power to unleash mayhem – especially in the hands of an inexperienced child.
"He's not implying that Fareeha is there; he's just saying that we should go check, just in case." Angela intervened then, trying to put out the fire burning inside Morrison's blue eyes.
The serious frown adorning Jack's face was enough for the group to know that if Fareeha had chosen to go down to the basement, more than a simple scowl would be waiting for her.
"The girl's witty," Reyes remarked, trying to mitigate Morrison's sudden anger – even if it was still contained, bottled up inside a handful of thoughts unsaid, Gabriel knew Jack was not the kind of man to let go from his anger so easily. "But she's not reckless – I don't think she would disobey your orders, if anything let's just allow these two to check the basement, just in case. Can't hurt, after all."
Angela eyed Jesse with a suspicious look but the boy paid no mind and nodded silently at his boss. The irony felt delicious as it traveled all across his skin quite gracefully: of all the people he would have never expected to help him get together and alone with Mercy, Reyes was number one on that list.
The two seventeen-year-olds began to march then; the burning sensation scorching the back of Jesse's neck was persistent still. He looked over his shoulder once more and then he saw them both, as they parted ways: Morrison and Reyes – their speculative gazes piercing through his skull as if silently telling him that they both knew he was involved somehow; that he had been a necessary participant behind Fareeha's mysterious disappearance.
It could have been his own convoluted mind playing tricks on him, he thought…
The boy grabbed the young doctor by the hand, squeezing her fingers gently in the process, and looked down. He tipped his imaginary hat and blushed, realizing that he was not wearing it. Those cold and suspicious stares followed them for a while – yet he knew it was time to man up and fight his own nervousness: he had to keep walking, now more than ever.
Unbeknownst to them, they had helped him: the path was clear, they would be alone – together and alone; all they had to do was to keep walking.
The unpleasant thoughts disappeared from his head as they ventured their bones into the darkness. He pushed the door open with his shoulder and reached for the lighter hidden in his back pocket. Angela, cautious and silent, turned on the light.
The sight wasn't exactly what they had expected it to be.
The basement wasn't all that scary; probably Morrison had exaggerated in order to prevent their curiosity to bloom.
"What's this?" Angela questioned as her hands began to toy with the contents of an opened cardboard box. The Halloween decorations made her smile, even if only minutely, detaching her briefly from the concern in her head.
"This, is what Halloween looks like." He informed her as he joined her. Plastic cobwebs, pumpkins, horror costumes and all sorts of fake spiders appeared then. Jesse took one of the many tarantulas from the box and carelessly placed it on Mercy's left shoulder; the doctor laughed benevolently yet her fingers brushed it off nonetheless. "My boss wanted to have a proper Halloween night here at the base. But your boss, the unit's wallflower, refused." The boy explained as he picked up the fallen spider and placed it back inside the box.
Angela moved quickly, as she began to search for the missing girl. She inspected every area of that godforsaken basement, shelves and old panels, as Jesse stayed behind pretending to look for Fareeha under the battered table placed near the wall. His eyes found the doctor when she let out a soft sigh tainted with a bittersweet mixture of relief and frustration:
"I don't think she's in here." She let him know, her thick accent making the words dance inside her mouth.
Jesse nodded in silence as he approached her. He embraced her lightly, lifting her chin with his left thumb. His free hand stroked her hair tenderly, causing her blond locks to intertwine with his fingers – as the new curls became undone after being released from the spiraling motion of his hand the girl smiled, fondly, leaning in to his touch.
His left hand traveled the outline of her cheek, then, as she closed her eyes minutely, captivated by his tender affection. His gentle ways, she knew, were enough to cause her to melt.
"I knew we wouldn't find her in here," Jesse began, his voice nothing but a low purr, "yet we had to check, just in case."
The girl seemed pensive, yet her words reassured him:
"I knew Fareeha would never disobey Morrison. If anything, I think she's a bit scared of him," Angela chuckled tenderly, "I can't really blame her, though, the man's quite intimidating."
"And…he's not exactly good with children." Jesse laughed, yet that harmonious sound of his was only meant to be brief. His hands traveled down until Angela's waist got circled by his forearms. The young doctor considered the chance to say the obvious out loud: we should get back to the others, let them know Fareeha is not here, yet his tantalizing touch was blocking her reasoning. His lips were on her lips, softly brushing the corners of her mouth. Only when the kiss grew stronger, Angela's hands recovered the control they had been lacking, gently pushing Jesse aside.
"Ana needs to know her daughter's not here." She said, trying to regain her composure yet Jesse was determined enough not to let her go without a fight. He walked back to the box filled with Halloween decorations and picked up a pointy, black witch hat. Handing it to Angela, the boy teased her:
"Ruining the fun already?"
"I'm not ruining the fun, Jesse – I'm just trying to help a mother who is searching for her missing daughter." She retorted, trying to talk some sense into him.
Noticing Angela was not going to accept the hat the boy himself placed it over her head. He smiled, amused, yet his eyes were contemplative, as if his mind was struggling to find the right words to say. After a short while he found them, a vague sense of responsibility and concern barely scratching the tone of his voice.
"Give 'em some time, Ange," he began, as his hands came to rest on the improvised witch's shoulders. "You saw them, you could cut the air with a knife, let them work things out – their way."
The scientific witch sighed helplessly yet she couldn't deny the fact that there was certainty in his words. She had noticed the shared glances and the uncomfortable silence engulfing their superiors at the very mention of Fareeha's father. She had actually been there many times, Ana had told her a few things about the girl, yet the father had always been a riddle and, in time, the doctor had positively learnt that there were some things that were probably better left unsaid.
She shrugged, finally accepting Jesse's words and taking them as valid enough for the two of them to stay in that dimly lit basement even if the look in her eyes was suggesting otherwise. Jesse beckoned her and the girl moved closer, but just as he was about to kiss her again Angela looked away, absorbing her eerie surroundings.
"This place isn't as scary as Morrison makes you think it is." She concluded.
She was right, in fact. More than a secret laboratory filled with failed experiments and deadly weapons, the basement looked like a regular storage deposit. Large shelves were placed against its walls, numerous untagged boxes were scattered here and there, filling up the space. Only a few boxes of ammunition caught her attention but the ammo itself wasn't what was awakening her curiosity: it was the type of ammo; too ancient to be used, too unnecessary to be kept.
As she contemplated the basement, the question began to weight down on her: why would they keep ammunition for guns they didn't use anymore? Yet the answer presented itself rather easily as she carelessly slid one of her hands on the table: that accumulated dust had subtly answered her query: they had abandoned that place, they didn't use it no more – not even for inventory. They had forsaken that part of the base. It was clear: they didn't even know what was in there because no-one would ever go down there anymore.
She walked towards the shelves and began her silent investigation yet out of the many devices she found there, only a few caught her eyes. They looked like medical prototypes of some sort, very precarious, and very simple.
"See somethin' ya like?" the boy questioned her; mildly curious as to find what was it that was keeping her away from him. Wanna keep that one as a souvenir, maybe?"
She hesitated at first, but took the item from one of the shelves and exhibited it on the table for the boy to see.
"What's that?" he asked.
Angela shook her head as she tried to find simple words for the young cowboy to understand.
"I believe it is a very old type of machine to synthetize blood." She tried, already assuming he had no idea what she was talking about. To her surprise, Jesse didn't even pay attention to her explanation – he had devoted his mind and his soul to a tiny weapon he had found inside one of the boxes. As she got closer she noticed it looked like smaller version of a Derringer pistol only his face, far from the calm expression of such an obvious observation, was absorbed in confusion.
"Who could ever use this?" The boy mumbled as he cupped the small gun with his hands. The doctor raised a suspicious eyebrow as Jesse silently invited her to hold the gun herself: he was right, as little as that thing was it was exceedingly heavy for a soldier to use it in battle, leave alone trying to conceal its petite shape inside a pocket.
Jesse clicked his tongue as he observed Angela's tender hands trying to hold on to the weapon – smiling, he took it from her fingers and placed it back inside the box, then he found her again as his fingers began to massage the palms of her hands.
"You claim this place ain't spooky at all, miss, yet I could tell ya some stories…" he teased, causing Angela's laughter to mirror that of a true witch. "It's Halloween, after all," he begged as he cornered the young doctor, causing her back to meet the nearest wall.
The girl cocked her head slightly, a half-smile accompanying her motion.
"I'm afraid that's your festivity, not mine."
"True…" Jesse seemed to ponder as his left hand traced invisible circles all along her collarbone. "But this place makes you curious, and even if it isn't as scary as Morrison wants us to believe, the great mystery of this basement doesn't reside in the place itself – it's in the things you see here, all around you."
The girl tucked her hair behind her ears as her avid eyes witnessed Jesse walking towards the entrance and turning off the light. In a matter of seconds he was back, and even if her pale blue eyes were having a hard time trying to discern his figure from the growing shadows in the room, his body suddenly pressed hard against hers was all the proof she needed to know he was still there, with her.
The gunslinger took her by the hand and they walked in silence until they were standing underneath the only light clumsily finding its way inside the basement. It wasn't a window; at least, it wasn't intended to be a window yet the faint luminescence reaching from the outside and dancing its way through the dirty fanlight placed above a bricked-up door was more than enough for them to vaguely recognize each other.
The capricious moonlight washed over their young faces until it was only blue and brown clashing in the dark embrace of night. Their skins, pale and whitened by the reflection, were barely visible even though the outlines of their features could be witnessed as static shapes fumbling dangerously close to a whole new sense of proximity.
The girl moved closer, her lips already venturing the small space separating their faces. Yet Jesse moved away, tempting but resolute:
"Story says that there was a doctor working in this watch point – a man in his late-forties or maybe early-fifties, whose sole goal in life was to create a soldier that could endure all wounds." He began.
"The program, Jesse I know the story." Angela interrupted him, assuming he was referring to the biological experimentations that had created such formidable warriors like Reyes and Morrison. The boy shushed her tenderly as he rested one of his fingers against her lips, closing them delicately. It was his Halloween tale to tell, after all – not hers.
"Not that one." He corrected her. "This man wasn't interested in resistance; he wanted to achieve something else entirely: he wanted longevity."
Angela stopped him again, as her logic reasoning took over her head.
"Longevity is not something achievable, Jesse. Not in terms of enduring a battle – a man can only fight for so long, everybody knows that. Of course there have been cases of very old soldiers still fighting here and there, all across every history book, but in reality, the body has a limit, like an expiry date – ballerinas can't dance forever, sportsmen can't run forever; soldiers are not the exception I'm afraid." The doctor said.
"Angela…" the boy demanded, "just listen."
The cowboy spread his red serape on the floor for the both of them to lay on it – Angela obeyed, even if reluctantly, and placed her head in the soft hollow between Jesse's neck and shoulder. Soon the timid light began to toy with his features, sometimes making it impossible for her to see him, sometimes only allowing her blue gaze to guess shapes such as the tip of his nose or the contour of his Adam's apple, barely grazed by his incipient beard, moving relentlessly as he spoke.
"The doctor was a very capable man, they said. Rumor has it that he eventually succeeded, making it possible for the first Overwatch agents to fight until they were seventy, eighty years old perhaps." As he resumed his narration, Angela intertwined her fingers with his – the warm sensation made him stop, the smile uncontainable – Jesse held on tight to the young doctor as he shifted her shape in his arms, causing their eyes to meet.
"But his success had only been apparent, I'm afraid, the doctor had achieved a state of longevity he had never expected to create – a type of longevity that should have never existed." His features darkened as her dilated pupils finally bought his story. A tight squeeze of her hand proved the girl was finally invested, finally embracing his very own concept of Halloween.
"What happened?" Angela asked.
"The soldiers wouldn't leave this world." He replied, simply.
The doctor fidgeted under his touch as she looked over her shoulder to stare at all those clinical devices that seemed too foreign to ever be used for anything benign. Her brow furrowed instinctively, eyes widened in disbelief. Even if her logical mind was telling her that it was just a spooky story, her senses were telling her otherwise: that basement was indeed full of very rare, very odd items – biological experimentation didn't seem to be all that unlikely now.
"They all came to a point of perpetual decomposition yet their cells would regenerate every time, as if creating a loop, a cycle: they weren't entirely dead, but they weren't alive, either." Jesse concluded, his brown eyes drifting away as his gaze unfocused towards the distant ceiling.
Angela closed her eyes as she rested her head on Jesse's chest – she had read an old report about such cases during her early stay in the Gibraltar Med Bay. She had been told to keep quiet; they had advised her not to dwell on it: the story was true, she knew, only it was slightly different from the young cowboy's version. There had been a doctor, that much was true, but he wasn't looking to expand the utility of the warrior's body – he had tried to save the life of one of the soldiers; his best friend, yet the procedure was too risky and the result had been as unstable as the whole theory that had sustained the surgery.
The soldier had made it – yet things had never been the same.
The cycle of perpetual decomposition and regeneration of his cells had altered the man; causing him to be dead and alive at the same time – at all times.
"Hey," Jesse summoned her back to reality, "what's wrong?"
Angela shook her head pensively – if anything, Jesse's tale had proven the rumors to be at least plausible enough for her inquisitive mind to wonder. Back in the day, that report was just another fairytale compiled inside the pages of her predecessors' journals yet now, ricocheting through the fundamental boundaries of her private definition of 'science', Jesse's words were beginning to spark her thirst for knowledge: was it even possible, then, for a body to be both death and alive at the same time?
"What happened to the soldier?" she asked.
"No-one knows." His voice trailed off as the doctor's mind drifted away from Jesse's warm embrace. Sheltered by the dark, she asked herself if it was even justified – if one could ever love somebody so much - a relative, a friend, a lover - as to be completely unable to let them go – if that feeling was enough to ever consider the chance of turning those loved ones into monsters; far from the clarity of the living yet barely reaching the confines of the dead.
As hard as it was for Angela to admit, Jesse's Halloween story had not frightened her yet it had startled her. She suddenly envisioned his body on the table, death lurking around every corner: if it was up to her, what would she do? Was she ready to turn him into a monster?
If the flame had been extinguished, if all hope was lost – was she ready to cling to his life, even if it meant corrupting his very essence, the very substance defining the quality of those who are still alive?
The doctor held on tight to him as the boy stroke her waist with his fingers – that's when they heard footsteps, they were still looking for Fareeha, and now they were walking directly above the basement.
"We should go," she finally suggested.
He had missed his chance, or so it seemed. Halloween and its stories had pushed him away from the one true thing he had wanted to do; the one true thing that mattered.
Shifting position, he laid her on her back as he placed himself on top of her using his elbows to maintain both balance and distance – Jesse admired her then, as his eyes traveled from her face to her chest. Angela blushed beneath him and even if the feeling was still too alien to be recognized or addressed by her, she suddenly found herself moving her legs slightly, as if inviting him to fully lower his legs, as if suggesting his stomach to caress the soft skin of her stomach.
The boy leaned in to kiss her, then, finally accepting the subtle signs of her body. It was just a soft kiss, far from his passionate needs and close, very close to a simple, innocent act of just brushing his lips smoothly against hers.
The seemingly harmless motion of Jesse's mouth on her mouth suddenly felt warmer somehow, the kiss was hungrier than before, his loving, about to be unleashed – devouring her like he had only done in his wildest dreams, the boy's tight grip closed in on her waist.
"Fareeha," the doctor was still grasping for some mental clarity, even if her receding reasoning was leading her towards a brand new source of pleasure, "we should tell the others," she mumbled breathlessly, but even if her mouth was saying otherwise the rest of her body was already caving in, finally succumbing to his touch and the nearly soundless noises emanating from his parted lips. Those immaculate whispers were calling her on like the alluring voice of a siren eager to sing her enchanting song to a brand new lover.
What was she willing to do, if all hope was dying, to keep him alive; to keep him by her side?
Would she rather turn him into a monster instead of letting him go?
Angela wrapped his neck with both her arms as her mouth, starving, reached out for him once more. The kiss was long and desperate yet as their lips parted, as the need to breathe became unbearable, the duality in her became crystal clear for him: she wanted to stay there with him, she finally wanted to be his and only his, yet in the back of her mind she was still worried about the missing girl and Jesse know, deep down, that she would never succumb to his hands while the doubt was still hovering above them.
"She is the broom closet," the boy finally said.
Angela opened her mouth to protest yet no sound came out.
"I just wanted to be with you." He confessed, removing his clumsy hair from his visage.
She knew she should have been offended, knew she should have left, slapped his face, tell the others. Yet he had moved earth and skies only for a chance to be alone with her – she couldn't help it, his own need was making her feel needed; desired, cherished, even.
God, she loved that boy.
She would do anything to keep him by her side – she would never be ready to say goodbye, she would rather turn him into a monster…
Her mouth summoned him again yet, this time, her hands guided his; down her collarbone, past her chest. Jesse slid his left hand under her tight white shirt as his digits began to explore the soft skin underneath her clothes until the inexperienced girl moved rather awkwardly, and his hand got stacked between her ribs and her shirt; his clumsy fingers were helplessly trapped between the undersides of her bra.
The girl laughed, but she was the only one laughing. Jesse stared down at her, a serious expression taking over his face but only briefly.
"You shouldn't laugh at this…" he began, tantalizing yet serious. "That hand could be gone, ya know?" he knew it was his first time, knew she must be nervous so he tried to change the subject to save her from the embarrassment of her own inexperience taking the lead.
"Jesse, please," the girl sighed before she laughed even harder, louder than before. "Come on, don't start…"
"What?" the boy demanded, "It's true, and you know it for a fact. What we do… it's dangerous, Ange. That hand could be gone, legs… this me you see now might be quite different in the future."
His expression had darkened somehow – even if he hadn't meant his words he knew there was a light of true in what he had just told her. His job was dangerous, their jobs were dangerous. They had seen many bodies mutilated by war and battle; they both knew his reckless ways could get him killed.
She would rather turn him into a monster.
"I'll fix you up every time," Angela said as smiled sweetly and unbuttoned her white shirt for Jesse's left arm to be free again. "Besides, human touch is overrated." She mocked him, as her fingers traveled the length of his forearm, her soft caress imprinting all sorts of whimsical patterns across his skin – "The handless gunslinger, can you imagine that?" the boy said but even if there was a certain tenacity, a certain fierceness shown in those seemingly innocent words that had just propelled from his lips the doctor paid no mind, as her legs finally intertwined with his, the future and its lugubrious, gloomy echoes already talking about stories that had yet to see the light of day.
Venturing that body for the first time, as the dark shadows of a torturing tomorrow silently began to creep up on them, Jesse closed his eyes to breathe her in – finally, what he had longed for was there, it was real, meant to become unforgettable, formidable even. The memory they were about to create together was surely going to last – until that laughter startled them.
Jesse and the doctor froze in their respective places, his brown eyes only dared to look back at Angela, to make sure he wasn't crazy, to make sure she had heard it too.
Concealed by the shadows of the room, both teenagers remained still as they witnessed a thick halo of dark smoke suddenly engulfing the room – a shaded figure was moving in the distance, yet they weren't able to discern its petulant shape from the smoky cloud surrounding it.
It seemed human.
Human enough, at least.
As the shadow moved past the table and began to approach them, Jesse instinctively reached for his peacemaker but it was pointless, he seethed soundlessly as he quickly realized he had left the gun back in his room. Unarmed and perplexed, his curious eyes focused on Angela then, as she quickly buttoned up her shirt and stood up.
"Doc…" the figure roared darkly; the voice was familiar yet immensely unknown.
As Angela walked towards the smoky halo enveloping the unwelcomed specter Jesse observed her from a distance; feeling already fascinated by her resolution and her bravery. Maybe it was her skeptical mind what was driving her, guiding her through the tenebrous mist. Maybe it was plain stupidity, maybe…
The young doctor stretched one of her arms as a futile attempt to make contact with the being – yet the elusive shadow moved away, revealing a black cape covering its head and shoulders.
"Are you one of them, doc?" the figure asked, the laconic voice was enough to make her tremble. "Are you one of those who think they would rather turn people into monsters instead of letting go of them?"
"No," Angela managed to reply, frightened yet fascinated.
"Are you sure?"
A cold hand traced the outline of her jaw – the nail, pointy and sharp, had an uncanny resemblance to an animalistic, vicious claw.
"Who are you? What are you?" Jesse yelled but the figure didn't even care to look in his direction.
"You tell me, doc."
As the figure moved closer to the doctor, the smoky halo surrounding it began to wrap her up as well. It was only then, while sharing that same hollowing darkness, while captive inside that lackluster grey, when the incipient woman finally managed to catch a glimpse of the face of all obscurity, the artificial mask covering the human face.
The sight was so horrifying, so tremulous and vicious Angela could only run away from it – Jesse followed her as rapidly as his numb legs allowed him to yet as the boy was running, he looked over his shoulder only to find those hollowed, bottomless eyes staring right back at him.
As they left the basement, the satirical, nearly demoniac laughter still ringed inside their troubled ears – the sight would accompany them, their eyes wishing they could erase that sordid visage from the confines of their memories. As both kids ran upstairs they saw Ana and Torbjörn already headed for their respective bedrooms. Reinhardt's voice, coming from the distant corridor, had already found relief now that Fareeha was back.
Angela and Jesse, subjugated by a tacit pact of understanding, had already made their choice: they would stay away from the basement; they would never talk about that figure, its lifeless eyes and its haunting voice.
Now that the base was quiet again, Jack Morrison made his way to the basement – he found Reyes all alone, laughing at himself.
"I thought I heard you say you didn't like working with teenagers," the Strike Commander began, "thought you said they were unstable."
"Yes, they are," Reyes agreed as he folded a long black cape and placed it back inside one of the boxes. "But they are also coachable."
As a half-smile adorned Morrison's tired expression the man moved closer to the boxes, his fingers already toying with the many Halloween decorations resting peacefully on the inside of the cardboard containers.
"You can't take 'no' for an answer, can you?" he said, as he remembered his own cold stare from a few days ago, informing Reyes that they wouldn't be celebrating Halloween in Gibraltar.
Gabriel Reyes simply smiled in return; he shrugged unpreoccupied as he closed the box – still between his hands the mask was already anticipating his own dark, twisted fate. Morrison took a good look at the horrendous face yet even if he knew it was nothing but a mask, the sight was so frightening the man looked away almost instantly.
"Leave that thing in here," he instructed bitterly.
Reyes let the mask fall down to the ground rather carelessly as both men finally left the basement.
Pale and lifeless, that black and white mask looked as if it was smiling. Those hollowed, painful eyes looked as if they were amused; delighted even.