"You can't hold someone's hand without your hand being held." -Teal Swan
That's what she did. Saved lives. Over and over and over, until Lena doesn't have to be a soldier anymore, until Jamison and Bastion won't always be at each other's throats, until Jesse would take her by the hand, walk with her in the nighttime and tell her that things have changed, changed, changed, that it's over now, that they can go home.
She's always there, because they need her to be.
She's always there, until she's not.
(OR: Angela learns to let herself be held).
She's always there.
Like sunrises and the sound of birds, like Jack's second cup of black coffee, reliable and consistent. On the field she is little more than a streak of white and wings; a dove fluttering from teammate to teammate, never still, never satisfied, never finished. The newly developed Caduceus Staff stays clutched in her precise, deft hands— hands made for healing and helping and unbreaking bones.
She's there before they could even get a chance to signal her with the comms, appearing from what feels like thin air, as if she could smell the hurt like sharks could smell blood. Tucking a strand of pale, ethereal hair behind her ear, she asks them to identify the source of injury. Sometimes. Sometimes, she already knows, is already halfway through resetting their out-of-socket joints or closing up cuts, telling them in a quiet voice it's alright, they'll be fine, I've got you.
When she finishes, she gives them her reassuring smile— a flash of white teeth and a soft kind of kindness— and then she is gone before they can thank her, off to save someone else, and another, and another.
She's there afterwards, too— checking them over one by one on the way home in the hovercraft, rewrapping McCree's forehead and demanding that come see her after they land so she can properly heal her broken wrist.
"Totally uncool! It's just a scratch," the young recruit would say, arms crossed over her chest, drowsy from the meds administered to her as soon as the fighting was done.
"No, it's a shattered growth plate, Hana," the woman tells her patiently, using what little power her staff had left to stitch together the gash on Fareeha's hip, where a Talon agent had managed to hit her through her armor. "Unless you want a brace for two weeks, you are going to meet me in the clinic."
The agent gulps and nods, the threat of having to wear a hot, itchy cast enough to keep her silent for the remainder of the trip home.
Sometimes the younger agents— Lena, Lucio, Jamison, and Hana, especially— would jokingly reply to her persistent advice (things like to go to sleep sooner and eat less artificial sugars and stretch before exercising and please, Zarya, don't lift that much) with yes, mom. It makes the doctor flush and stammer for her next words, eyes glued to the clipboard she nearly always carried with her, ignoring the giggling that ensued.
That's just who she was. The one who makes sure they're alright, who never minds tending to the little things— the cuts and splinters Torbjorn always gets from building and redesigning his turrets, the mornings Reinhardt would sometimes limp in when his bad knee starts acting up, the nights she would sit with Amélie for hours when the woman came out of one of her attacks, shaking and sweating, needing nothing except someone to stay with her for a little while. The one who only ever raises her voice when she catches McCree sneaking a cigar out back, or finds Jack and Gabriel going at each other in one of their disputes. She'd drag them into another room by the tips of their ears, tell them in a steely, dangerous voice to start acting their age and set a better example for the others.
"There are young recruits here who don't have parents to guide them, and seeing you two at each other's necks first thing in the morning doesn't improve their already unstable mental states. So play nice," she explains ethically, arms crossed, stance making it clear that this wasn't up for debate. The grown men shuffled uncomfortably, sneaking heated glances at one another and sneering silently.
"But he started it," Morrison demands, throwing an accusing finger towards Reyes, who looked ready to begin using his fists instead of his words.
The young woman glared him into submission before saying, very clearly, "I don't care who started it! I'll finish it! Mein Gott, it's like working with schoolboys, somedays." She turns on her heels and walks out of the room, pulling at her hair, leaving the two of them feeling guilty and God-awful.
Mom. It wasn't a stretch.
The nights, though— the hours that most of the team are not awake to see, where the world itself is quiet and dark and still— the nights were hers.
They'd find her in the mornings still typing away at her computer, taking apart the Valkyrie suit or puttering it back together, halfway through redesigning the Caduceus staff to feel lighter in her hands. Or sometimes (rarely, rarely, only when she lets herself slip and stumble), they find her passed out, slumped over her desk or on the floor, nestled among the books and notes and scraps of equations. Ana was usually the one to put a hand on her shoulder, watch her jerk awake, shake her head dully when asked if she needed help getting to her room.
"Just dozing. Just a little."
The Egyptian woman stares her down, watches as the doctor reaches for the cup of cold coffee left over from a couple hours ago and bring it slowly to her lips. The bags under her eyes are dark and heavy, but Ana's tried fighting this battle before— even threatened to sleep-dart her— but the young woman was stubborn. And fine, apparently.
"For someone so determined to take care of everyone, you sure have a tendency to work yourself into the ground, you know that, Angela?"
"Such a Mother Hen," she teases tiredly, rubbing her eyes, standing from her chair.
"You need a mother."
Angela laughs; a laugh Ana knows has nothing to do with humor. Then she slips on her white coat and walks out of her lab, the click click click of heels against the tiles, off to brew a fresh pot of coffee, off to save anyone she could find, anyone except herself.
She's always there.
Like war and peace and the little yellow bird Bastion was so fond of; like a shadow despite the lack of light.
She's the one Lena first confides in about the girl with red hair and green eyes— the one that drives her heart up into her throat and makes it hard to breathe, impossible to speak.
"She… makes you have asthma," Angela attempts, seated across from where Lena perched on her examination table.
"I. I think they call it love," the young girl clarifies.
Lena laughs, her fingers finding each other, twisting themselves into a knot. Lena tells her that she's got an event— no, no, bloody hell, Angela, I got a date!— with this redheaded, asthma-inducing character tomorrow night at their favorite coffeeshop. Lena says she's never been more stressed out in her entire life, which, frankly, was saying something. Lena says she wants to look nice for it, look proper. And then Lena asks her in a shy voice (in all her years of knowing the bubbly girl, Angela has not once considered her reserved, much less shy) if she would mind helping her with her makeup.
She chokes on her coffee, grabs the arm of her chair for support.
"Me?" she manages, setting the mug down.
Lena flushes, looking down into her lap, at her tangled fingers. "Yeah… I'm rubbish at it, and I considered askin' Hana, but the last time I let her come at me with eyeliner and maskcara, I walked away half blind and lookin' like a pop singer. I don't wanna be… flashy." Her voice is quiet and kind of embarrassed, her leg bouncing nervously. "I know you don't wear makeup lots, but I saw some pictures of you durin' a couple of Overwatch's formal events, back when it was being recognized an' everything. You didn't look flashy, but you looked… you looked really pretty."
Angela looks absolutely blindsided. She opens and closes her mouth a couple times, her lips trying to form words, no sound coming out. This was new. She wasn't— she didn't—
Lena hangs her head, looking red and regretful. The girl hops off the table, rubs her hands together. "No, I get it. You're right, it's stupid. I'm sorry to—"
The words release all at once, stuttering and slurred, not at all graceful. "I-I'd be honored, Lena, I— I just didn't think you'd… I mean, I'm not the most in-tune with— with the times style-wise, is all. But, no, yes. I'll do what I can."
Lena's blinks forward, throws her arms are around the doctor's neck (although there are almost eight years of age difference between them, they are nearly the same height), tells her in the most relieved, grateful voice, "Thank you!"
Angela flinches. She doesn't mean to, she never does, but she's not used to this sort of contact, not since she was six, maybe younger. If the other girl notices, she doesn't say a thing, and Angela is thankful.
The next evening, Lena knocks on the door to her room— her actual room, where her actual bed is, seldom utilized to its proper potential— and when Angela allows it to slide open, she sees the brit struggling to carry three drawers worth of powder and blush and fake eyelashes.
"I didn't know what we'd need!" she says, stumbling through the doorway without waiting to be invited in. She dumps the supplies unceremoniously on the floor.
The doctor laughs softly, trying not to cringe at the mess the girl had brought into the once organized, sterile room. "Not all of this, I can assure you…"
They decided to sit there on the carpet. Lena shows her a picture on her phone— it was Angela three years ago, attending a gala to try and promote her research and receive fundings from curious corporations. The image showed her glancing off to the left, as if tired of the constant speeches being given, deep in thought over her next breakthrough, over how much she wishes she never came. She squints at the picture, reaching up to brush her fingers over her face, wondering if that's what she really looks like: distant, isolated, unreachable.
"I want that," Lena says, motioning to the light eyeliner and lipstick, faded smokey eyeshadow and blush. Angela nods, trying to remember exactly what she had done that night, the order in which she had done it. From the pile of products the girl had brought to her room, she picks up a pack of foundation— much darker than her own, much more colorful, and begins.
"Your hands are real steady," Lena comments after a couple minutes, struggling to keep still herself. "Much steadier than Hana's, thank God."
Angela blinks, bringing the brush away from Lena's face. "Yes, well, lots of practice, I suppose. Being a surgeon is good for more than just saving lives, hm?" Lena laughs at that, and the sound is something golden, something Angela wonders why she's never recognized before.
Up close, things are clearer. The freckles that form unfinished constellation across the girl's nose and cheeks, the infinitesimal imperfections on her otherwise smooth skin— a little white scar that curves up against her bottom lip, specks of acne at the start of her hairline. Up close she can see the way her pupils grow and dilate, looking this way and that, blinking and adjusting to the light. The glow from the Chrono Accelerator washes them in shades of ocean blue, and up close, in that cold light, she can see how young Lena is— hardly twenty and somehow a soldier.
"You alright, luv?"
Angela breaks away from her thoughts, forces herself to fake a smile and goes back to putting every ounce of her attention into shading the girl's eyelids with a dark shade of brown, holding the brush like she usually holds a scalpel.
Those thoughts weren't welcome here right now. She was needed.
"Of course. Hold still, please."
She's done in less than thirty minutes. Lena jumps for a mirror as the other woman begins to organize the mess of materials subconsciously, first by size, then by use. Frankly, it's been bothering her since the beginning.
Lena gasps, staring at the mirror in Angela's bathroom like she was looking at God Himself. "Oh, Ange, it's brilliant!" she says, hands hovering over the newly applied makeup, gawking over how it made her look so different, so striking. "'Av my eyes always been this gold? They were brown this mornin'! And, forever, I think."
She replies without much thought, still arranging the products on the floor, this time according to brand. "Oh, well, your eyes are hazel, which just means less melanin than brown. You have many colors in your eyes, like blue, green, grey, and yes, gold."
"… Well that's brilliant, too!" Lena declares, tearing herself away from her own reflection and strutting back into the room. "What do green eyes mean? Emily's got the greenest eyes I've ever seen, like emeralds and leaves in the summer!"
"Oh, well, 'green' eyes are, in reality, just a shade of blue created by something called the Rayleigh Scattering, which is a rather old—"
Something on Lena's phone beeps wildly, the sound of sirens. Paling, she looks down at the device, nearly dropping it when she sees the screen. She blinks across the room a couple times in what Angela assumes to be anxious pacing, then recalls back and says, in one big breath, "Oh God, it's six— it's six, Angela, six! I got to get changed! I got to convince Jack to loan me his keys and get the cash Reyes owes me from— oh, bloody hell, it's six, I've got to go!"
And she's gone. Out the door in a burst of wind and blue streaks, not even bothering to take her makeup with her or shut off the light she was using in Angela's bathroom.
Satisfied from her organizing, she stands, looks out through the doorframe into the florescent lit empty hallway, a foreign feeling floating inside her ribs. It ate at her in all the wrong ways. Looking down at where she— they— had been sitting for the past half hour, she is suddenly presented with the distinct sensation that she's forgotten something, something important— something crucial—
Lena recalls, zipping back in her own time. Angela opens her mouth to greet her, only to be cut short by a crushing embrace, strong arms wrapping around her back and squeezing. She doesn't flinch this time. She sinks into it like a warm chair.
"Thank you, Angela," the girl says, every syllable dipped in gratefulness.
"You're welcome. Have fun on your date, Lena."
The word makes her shoulders bunch up, and she pulls back and holds Angela at arms' length, smiles like the sun, and yes, for a moment, the doctor supposes her eyes seem golden.
Then she zips away, giggling, taking with her the premonition that Angela had forgot anything at all.
She's always there.
Like rainy mornings and the crescent moon coffee-cup-stains Gabriel leaves on tables, no matter how many times Jack asks him to use a coaster; reliable like Fareeha's mornings runs and McCree's bad breath.
They're friends, her and McCree. Not like how she was friends with Jack or Ana, not with all the little niceties, like the knowledge that she could never be all-the-way-honest with them.
(If she did that, told them how much the nightmares shook her, how sometimes the sound of her own heartbeat gets too loud, too shaking, too much, they'd probably send her to a shrink, take her out of the field until they were sure she was fine. She is. She's fine).
No, it's different with Jesse. He's the only one her age— too old to be considered a rookie, too young to be anything else. The one who sometimes sits with her in her lab, dozes in one of the big, soft armchairs she has set against the wall, watches her work, worn out from it all. The one who doesn't try to get her to say anything, to be anything, to fake conversation. The one that she goes on midnight meanderings with when he can't sleep or her research hits a blockade, the one that she brushes shoulders against as they put one foot in front of the other, drifting across the grass, listening to the trees bend in the breeze.
They talk, some of those nights. About the team, the timing of it all.
"You ever get the feeling nothing's really changed?" he asks her, his usually booming voice quiet, like he was afraid to wake up the world.
Angela tilts her head, balances on the curb, tries to walk like those acrobats on tightropes. "No. It's all changed, I think, hasn't it?"
He looks torn, like he's not sure he believes it. "It's… different, I suppose. Different on paper; a different crisis, a different war to fight, different folks to fight it with. But we're still fightin', ain't we?"
"Overwatch will always be fighting, Jesse. There will always be a reason for it. It's just… It is what it is, for right now."
"That's what I'm sayin', Angie. Nothing's changed. We're still at it. Doing the same thing, over and over, get shipped out and come back and hope you're doin' something right, hope you're not screwing up the world more than it is."
He stops, digs his toes into the dirt, takes off his hat and runs a hand through his dark hair. He doesn't get like this often, and never around the others; dropping down his defenses like a pack of armor that was getting too heavy, letting the soft spots underneath breathe a little. Vulnerable. Transparent. In the moonlight, his metal arm turns to white fire, glows softly against his skin, reflecting patterns into the amber of his eyes.
(She remembers working on that arm for days straight, remembers programming every feature, begging Torbjorn for advice on how to make it more energy efficient, more comfortable against the skin. She remembers trying to forget what had happened— a classic mission gone wrong, the jet that once took all seventy of them to the battlefield only carrying twenty-two home. She remembers the red against her hands as she tried to stop him from bleeding out, remembers telling him he's fine, he's fine, feeling the bone of his shoulder poke against her palms as she stuffed the hole full of bandages. Remembers watching him hooked up to tubes for weeks, the blood long cleaned from under her nails, but still there when she looked down.
When he wakes, groggy and grumbling for a cigar, he brings his right hand up to rubs his face and feels the cold metal against his eyelids. He jerks the prosthetic back, blinking hard at it, sure this was a dream. Angela sits beside him, reaches out to touch him but then thinks better of it.
"I… it's state of the art, and as lifelike as I could manage— there are a couple billion nerve receptors along the fingertips, tells you texture, heat and everything… A-and it's removable as well, for when you want to… It's got, ah, the same biological muscle memory as your old arm; I used a sample solution from your previous— it doesn't matter, but after a few rounds in the range, your aim should be back up to par, I'm positive, and—"
"'Sa robot arm, doc."
She flushes, squeezing a pen between her fingers. "I… yes."
"… can I punch through walls with it, then?"
She wonders if this is real, where his rage was at her foolishness, her inability to do her job, her inability to save him. "Ah… the exterior is made of titanium alloy and carbon fiber, powered by a self sustaining energy source that will most likely last longer than this planet… so, yes, you could punch through a few walls, although I would not condone it."
He seems to think about this, squinting at the metal, flexing his new fingers and twisting his wrist. The new joints are soundless and smooth.
"Cool," he says finally, like he had arrived at some profound conclusion. He lets the artificial appendage drop onto the bed, stares up at her with hard eyes. "Now, for the important shit: where the hell's my hat?")
She rips herself from the memory, feels the blades of grass tickle her toes.
"Somethings have changed," she says quietly, like she needs to believe it, standing closer to him. "In their own ways."
Jesse scoffs, looks up at the sky and thinks. "Well, Reyes went through a goth phase. Those were stranger years."
"And Amélie took up ballet again, just this spring."
"Pretty sure Jack wears glasses now to read, the old fart."
"What's wrong with glasses? I wear glasses."
"Yeah, but you read 'bout a library a week, so you have a get-outta-jail-free card," he says, like it's obvious. It makes her laugh, which makes him laugh, which makes the night come alive and drives the doubt back to bed.
He walks her to her room, ever the nicotine-addicted, badmouthed cowboy gentleman. Drops her off at the door to her personal quarters, tells her to go the hell to sleep, for God's sake— that she can save the world tomorrow. Then he says thank you, in that quiet tone that's used only between the two of them, something vulnerable and real and raw, something that turns back the years.
She smiles softly, bats his hat in a playful motion that buries his eyes under the shade. "See you in the morning."
The door closes between them, but they don't feel alone.
She's always there.
There like the orange leaves in August, the snow in December, the cans of energy drink found in the garbage in the morning times, a byproduct of Hana's late night streaming. Attentive and careful, ready to step in between Jamison and Bastion when the former started getting testy about broadcasting his view on omnics, ready to fly across the battlefield to make sure the younger recruits were doing alright.
"Lucio, just because you have a healing factor doesn't mean you should be taking this much damage," she tells him, her brows pinched together as she felt out his sprained ankle. The young man just flushes, gives her a weak thumbs up.
"Ay, I'll try to one more careful. Promise."
Standing, she gives him a brief nod and smile before taking off to address the explosions to the east, where Lena— no, Tracer, here— was tag teaming a group of omnic extremist with the Junker duo. Reaching her fingers up to activate the comms built into her headband (halo, Reyes would call it with a smirk), she called,
"Agents Tracer, Junkrat and Roadhog, I'm seeing heavy fire in your sector. Anything to report?"
There was a burst of static, then the deep, not-so-reassuring voice of the latter man, telling her, rather flatly, "S'fine."
Another boom, this one big enough to give off a little mushroom cloud of grey and black.
"I'm on the way," she replies.
Tracer is there when she lands, holding onto her side, where little rivers of red were running slowly through the cracks in her fingers, down her leg, dripping silently onto the ground. Thoroughly alarmed, Mercy— that's her, right now— rushes forward, immediately activating her staff and putting it on standby, wanting to examine the wound first before making any decisions.
"Let me see," she orders, gently prying away the fingers from the injury, hushing Tracer gently when she winces, apologizing and muttering soothing nothings. The cut is deep, with what looks like shrapnel still lodged into the meat of her shoulder, where the armpit starts. Slipping on a pair of fresh latex gloves, she instructs the younger girl to sit down and take a deep breath.
With a pair of tweezers, she carefully removes the debris, hands steady and confident despite the bangs of bullets and bombs sounding off in all directions, the stench of smoke and burning bodies. She is not afraid. She knows what she's doing, here and now more than anywhere else.
Discarding the scrap of metal, she activates the Caduceus and lets the nanites stitch the skin back together, watches as Tracer's face contorts and the releases, as if she were suddenly free of some heavy weight. She moves her arm tentatively, happy to find it in proper order.
"Please call me immediately next time," the doctor tells her, double checking the limb had set correctly with a few knowing pokes and pulls.
(That name doesn't belong here, doesn't fit).
"I tried to get out of the way, I really did, but I tripped over a bloody piece of… woh. Hey, doc, you alright there?"
Mercy— Angela?— frowns, looking down at her chest, where the girl is pointing. There was a stain right below her collar, something she didn't notice before now, something black and red and spreading slowly through her suit. She puts her fingers to it on instinct, pressing gently to the blotch of blood, wincing when it erupted into a dull ache.
"Bloody hell, 're you shot?" Tracer gasps, moving forward as if to help somehow.
The medic puts up a hand, calmly reaching inside her suit for some disinfectant and an adhesive bandage. "It's fine. Just a glaze, a think."
"But… when did… Should I call Jack to—"
She doesn't let the girl finish that sentence. "No. The nanites will take care of it… there's no need to distract the team." Zipping down her suit enough to properly see the flesh wound, she douses a cloth with the disinfectant, pushing it against her chest— against the skin stained crimson— not able to stifle the hiss of hurt. It stung, made her vision fog just a little.
Tracer looks absolutely lost, torn between calling for help and accepting Mercy's wishes. "I… Didn't it hurt? You shouldn't be flying back in forth, bleeding out like that."
"I was too distracted to properly perceive the pain. It's a very minor thing, anyways." She removes the cloth, red and ruined, and sticks the bandage overtop the gash. Then she zips up her suit and stands tall once more, gripping the staff hard in her hands as if nothing had happened, as if she was just fine.
(She can't be hindered by this— there are still people that need her, people that trust her to be there).
"I don't know much about medicine, but I think you should maybe call—"
"Tracer, I'm fine."
It's a bit too harsh to be coming out of her mouth, a bit too sharp around the edges, something Reyes would bite out after being told off for drinking too much. Tracer freezes, fixes her eyes on her shoes, looks like a scolded puppy.
"Yes. Of course. Sorry."
Gunshots are getting closer, the sound of Roadhog's hook and guttural laugh coming from just around the corner. Tracer thanks her, tells her to be safe, and then blinks away from the doctor, towards the fight.
Angela stands there for a moment, leans against her staff, senses the regenerative cells in her body struggle to heal the wound she does not wish to acknowledge. She feels awful for acting the way she did, but she doesn't regret it. She knows what she's doing. She knows her priorities— knows that the long list will always begin with keeping those around her alive and eventually finish with her own name.
She takes off without lingering a second longer, off towards where Reinhardt was taking on gunfire, where the war was worst and the smoke was thickest. That's where she was needed— that's where she belonged.
After the battle she checks over everyone, tells Jack to ice his back and take it easy for a day. On the ride home, she sees Lena look her way, sees the concern and confusions etched into her bent brows, but the girl doesn't say a word about any of it. Angela gives her a smile, one that feels too big, too tired to be true.
When they get back to base she shuts herself in the lab, locks the door and asks Athena to please block all calls for the rest of the day. Leaning against the windowsill, she peels off the Valkyrie, breath catching as the nerve receptors in her wings disconnect from the ports built into her shoulders— a striking, tingling sensation that after all these years, she has still yet to get used to. She set the wings down carefully, makes a note to clean them later, after she deals with the blood that had long ago begun to soak through the bandage on her chest.
The bullet is broken up into two pieces, each dripping red, each clattering onto her metal table as she removes them from her chest with tongs. Her fingers threaten to shake, threaten to break down and acknowledge the way it hurt, it hurt, it hurt— but she bites down on her lip until there is blood in her mouth, tells herself to get over it.
Dousing the now-empty wound with hydroperoxide, she holds a cloth to her collar, feels the nanites in her system begin to properly heal the damage. Then she lowers herself into the closest chair, brings her knees up into her chest, puts her head back against the cushions and lets out the breath turning stale in her lungs— finally allows herself to stop moving, allows the aches to take over, just for a minute.
The AC rumbles above her in the vents, the sound of falling leaves against the windowpane. Her eyes close in seconds.
There is knocking at the door. Fareeha's voice bold voice jerks her from the near clutches of sleep, makes her heart do backflips. "Angela? You in there?"
"Gah…Y-Yes," she calls, struggling to work up the resolve to remove herself from the warm chair.
"Why is your door locked? Is this a bad time?"
"No. I'm just… just changing," she half lies, looking up at the clock. It had only been minutes since she had sat down.
A speck of silence, too long to be comfortable.
"Changing… in your lab," Fareeha half-asks.
"The Valkyrie needed some repairs. Is everything alright?"
"Morrison is looking for you— I think he wants to go over some post-mission debriefs. He thought it would be best to have a medical officer's opinion, and Lucio passed out in his room." Another lapse of silence, of Angela forcing herself to stand on shaky legs and pull a lab coat over the tank top she always wore underneath her suit. The whiteness covers up the tear in the fabric, the thin crust of dried red.
"If you would like, I could wake him instead?" the soldier suggests through the door.
"No, no, that won't be necessary. I'll… I'll meet Jack in the debrief room in a minute. Thank you, Fareeha."
"It's no problem." She doesn't move from outside the door for a few moments, like there's more she wants to say. But then she turns on her heels, and Angela can hear the sound of combat boots marching away on the tile, further and further, fading into nothing.
Angela leans against the counter, reaching up for the pain meds she kept atop her tall shelf. The seal comes off with a satisfying pop. She spills two of the tablets into the palm of her hand and brings them up to her face as if to swallow them, then hesitates, suddenly remembering. The pills dulled the pain considerably, but made people drowsy as well. Drowsy and slow.
Jack needed her to have a clear head if he wanted to go over post-mission schematics.
He needed her more than she needed the pills.
After a moment of debating, she lowered her hand, carefully poured the pills back into their orange cylinder and left them there where she had found them, furthest from the ground. She walks away from them, slips out the door and into the fluorescent-lit hallways, like she never touched them to begin with.
She's always there.
She's always there for them, for them, for them, because it's her job, because it's the only reason she survived the bombings when she was six, to be a doctor, to heal, to invent and innovate. She's there because she's the one who took nearly every medical law known to man and broke them between her hands— used those hands to build machines a fifth of the size of a grain of sand that repair and regenerate cells— created feathers out of light— took people considered gone and breathed the world back into them— because that's what it took to save lives these days.
That's what she did. Saved lives. Over and over and over, until Lena doesn't have to be a soldier anymore, until Jamison and Bastion won't always be at each other's throats, until Jesse would take her by the hand, walk with her in the nighttime and tell her that things have changed, changed, changed, that it's over now, that they can go home.
(Go where, Angela? What more do you have?)
She's always there, because they need her to be.
She's always there, until she's not.
They should have know better. The comms weren't working correctly, the streets were empty, and the sky was grey like the eye of a storm. They stepped out of the drop-ship, welcomed with the quiet sound of sand being swirled by the wind, tangling into the folds of their clothing and the cracks of their armor.
Jack was the first to speak, hoisting his rifle onto one shoulder and saying, very simply, "This isn't right."
"Maybe we landed in the wrong sector?" Reyes suggested.
The man just shook his head, stepping further into the deserted town. "No, this is it, this is it… there should be a hundred Talon agents here. More, even."
The rest of the team share sidelong glances at one another, Amélie holding her sniper closer to her chest, Jesse twirling his hat on one finger, pretending to be bored. The only one who did not seem offset was Ana, who strutted forward to stand right next to Jack, dark eyes calm and expecting.
"Shall we continue or fall back, Captain?"
They all knew the answer. Morrison stretched out his neck, turning to face them, the words feeling practiced and stiff despite the fact that this was a situation none of them saw coming.
"We go in, stick to our groups, and smoke them out. They're here; they're just playing coy, is all."
The team nodded, split up and moved out, ready to check every building, basement, and hidden-away bunker they could find within a one-mile radius, looking for trouble, looking for Talon.
Turns out they didn't have to; Talon found them.
The comms erupted into a burst of yelling and cursing and guttural barks of it's a trap, trap, trap as the gunfire broke out. Figures dressed in black broke out from the shadows and spaces between broken building like ghosts, heaving massive machine guns and firing them like their goal was to use up every single bullet at their disposal.
"Oi, Mei's hit up pretty hard, we need some assistance—
"We got a couple dozen on the south end the block—"
"There's too many, Reinhardt, get over here!"
Mercy was moving like lightning, the HUD implanted into her contacts telling her which one of her teammates needed assistance quicker, their positions, and how long it would take to reach each of them. The wings on her back expand from their metal casing and then she was off, soaring between bursts of bullets, holding onto her staff with the grip of someone ready to perform miracles.
She lands by Morrison, who was sporting both an entry and exit hole in his right hand and a gash on his left cheek. The staff activates in a burst of gold and white, the nanites finding their way into his body, slowly stitching the skin back together. They watch as the cuts seem to evaporate into nothing.
He starts to say something to her but she is gone, off towards , and then Mei, and then McCree and Reyes and back to Morrison, her feet barely touching the ground before taking off again, not having enough time to treat the injuries naturally. It's draining the charge of the Caduceus at a rate so rapid she fears that the next time she goes to heal someone, the machine will sputter and die.
A bullet whizzes past her ear, rings like a finger dragged atop the lips of a wineglass.
It fades and she fumbles to land properly, knees bruised and scrapped. One of her ankles shoots pins and needles up into her leg every time she uses it to step, and she knows it's fractured, knows the adrenaline will wear off eventually and walking will become difficult. She activates her mic, keeps her voice professional. "This isn't working. We need to retreat."
"We can do it!" Reinhardt bellows, not ready to give up the fight.
"Just a little longer until their ranks will break," Ana states calmly between the thundering shots of her sniper, the sound echoing through the streets, a warning to any enemy that dare step out of line.
There is protest in her stomach but she swallows it like bile, forces the feathers of her wings to extend once more as she flies between the streets, sticky with sweat and grime and blood. It's not her call. Not her place. She just has to keep them alive, keep them kicking, make sure that all twenty seats are filled on the hovercraft home. Has to take care of all of them.
She can do that.
That's why she's there.
"Widow, I'm on my way to your position, try not to—"
She's cut short by a bang, by the distinct noise of metal breaking apart, wires fizzing out, and the eerie sound of her own scream. Her vision goes black, then red, then white. Fire races up her spine, down her legs, and the ground gets closer, and the world turns too fast for her to make sense of anything else besides the bullet that had just torn through her wings. Her beautiful, perfect wings.
She hits the ground, her halo shattering, hardlight feathers broken up all around her.
The earth scrapes some of the skin from her cheek, cuts patterns into her chest, breaks her shoulder and shatters a couple of ribs. When she tries to breathe, her lungs shutter and shake, filling with dust and dirt and blood. She sees double and then triple and then not at all, and as medical professional, she knows she's about to go into shock, but as a human being, she knows she's about to die.
Footsteps, a couple pairs of them. Boots against the ground.
"Got'er." Proud, arrogant, reloading his gun by the sound of it.
Another voice, riddled with an accent she cannot place. "She dead?"
Then suddenly there are hard hands on her broken wings, half tearing her from her stupor, making her cry out, making her flinch and quiver and wish she could fly away. Her wings are sensitive things, packed with artificial nerve receptors and receivers, and they've just been shot through, crashed into the ground, and now they're touching them—
"No, she ain't. Pretty thing's alive and kickin'." The hands pull up on the broken machinery, forcing her chest off the ground, shoving stars into her vision. She tries to call out, hoping her comms would pick it up, forgetting how they lay in pieces far away.
"Get off me."
She means to yell the words, means to spit them in the man's face like maledictions, but they come out delirious and dazed, like an animal drugged and backed into a corner. The sound of gunshots fade in and out, the explosions shaking the ground below her. Her team was still out there, still taking on fire, wondering where she was, wondering why she wasn't there doing her job—
The man laughs, his friend with the gun joining in. The pressure of his grip on her wings tightens immensely, and she can feel the wires begin to snap, feel the joints strain and threaten to come undone. She bites down on her lip to keep from calling out again, trying to stay strong, stay proud, keep her dignity. But she is slipping, slipping, slipping.
"Or what?" the voice whispers, right in her ear, in a way that makes her feel physically ill.
These words come out right, sharp and dangerous, a feral growl: "Or I will make you."
This makes the man hesitate, pause right by her face, and through the bangs of her dirty hair she can see his tanned face debate what to do next. He turns to his friend, still keeping her up by the wings.
"What does this one do, huh? Spit fire? Turn into a monkey? Summon dragons?"
The other man pauses, thinking hard. He crosses his arms and replies, "Nah, pretty sure she's just the medic."
It is quite possibly the most degrading thing anyone's ever called her.
"Just the medic?"
There is fire festering in his black eyes, a grin slicing across his face, yellow teeth and the smell of something sour. "Per-fect."
Then he readjusts his grip, and tears the wings off in a lightshow of sparks and loose wires.
She can't think. Can't move. Can't see. The wings— the things she usually removes slowly, allowing the receptors enough time to switch off before the ports disconnect— are gone but still there, phantom limbs that press down against her shoulder blades, setting her back on fire and leaving her to burn.
Dropped back onto the ground, she twitches violently, only partially aware of the scream tearing out through her throat, the way her lungs burned for air, the way the two men stood there and looked on, like she was entertaining. It hurts like nothing she's ever felt before, like her spine was split in two, every speck of sand caught in the wires sticking out from her shoulders agonizing. She tries desperately to quiet herself, but then there is a boot on her back, right on top of where the base of her wings began, crunching against what was left of the machinery. The ground pushes harder against her. When she inhales, her breath catches into a sob.
When she looks up, there is a gun in her face.
The man leans down, his breath hot against her ear, telling her patiently. "Go on. Do somethin'. We're waiting, doc."
She tries— tries to stand up, tries to stop the tears from gathering at the corner of her eyes, tries to be more than she is. Nothing happens. She just lays there underneath him, watches the world fade in and out of focus, feels her conciseness begin to come undone.
(You stupid, useless girl, thinking you save them, thinking you could save the world. You don't even know how to save yourself).
Just before it fades to black, she sees blue. A familiar, electric shade that reminds her of golden eyes and smoky makeup, takes her back to that evening where they sat crosslegged on the floor, a brush poised between her thin fingers.
The figure pauses at the start of the alley, where Angela had crash landed, and took it all in: her crumpled, broken form; the blood staining the dirt floor; the boot against her back; her once white, whole wings, pulled apart and discarded like unwanted fodder.
Every syllable sings with rage, every word a declaration of war, bright and beautiful against the grey.
"Get away from her."
Lena blinks forward, shoves the Talon agent off the woman, sends him flying into the wall. As soon as the foot is off her shoulders— the barrel of the shotgun away from her head— Angela's body goes limp.
The second agent scrambles to bring up his own firearm, a look of horror etched into his face. He is too late. Using the back of her pistol, the girl breaks his nose, then his jaw, watches him crumple to the ground.
"How dare you!" she screams, kicking him hard when he tries to lung for his weapon. "The only one of us that wouldn't— that would save you— and you— you—"
Angela sees it all before it happens. Sees the man slumped against the wall—the one who had torn off her wings, stomped her into the ground— raise a single arm, the gun that was moments ago only inches from her forehead now pointed right at Lena's back. She tries to say something, but it's a wheeze of a sound, quickly evolving into a cough, and she tries to pick herself up, tries to stop this from happening, but she can't, she can't, and for a moment she wishes the fall had killed her.
A shot rings out. A single, perfect hole smokes between the man's black eyes, his arm dropping like lead, the firearm slipping from his fingers. Angela is sick.
There is someone next to her; soft, metal fingers against her face, a voice that shakes.
"Ange," Jesse says, kneeling right beside to her, not sure where to put his other hand. It hovers above her frame, like if he touches her wrong, she'll break. "Stars, Ange. Y-You're okay, it's okay." He looks around him, her wings in pieces, her halo long gone. He feels like gravity got turned off, like he might float away at any minute.
She grabs at the smooth limb, smearing it with red, trying to bring him closer. She needs to see him— needs to make sure he's okay— but when she tries to sit up she feels her lungs threaten to collapse, the nanites in her system working so hard to repair it all that she can hear them hum in her ears, like a second heartbeat. After trying once more, she lies flat to the earth, attempts to recover from it all: the hands on her, grabbing and pulling and placing panic into her bloodstream.
"Jess," she says, like a prayer, all formalities of McCree thrown out the window. She needs the person who stayed with her when it got late, strolled through the courtyard and watched the crescent moon come and go.
In one fluent motion, he removes his sash, drapes it over her like a blanket. "I'm here. Right here."
He takes her hand in his own, helps her remember how to breathe.
Lena is back too, the second man reduced to a bleeding pulp. She is breathing heavily, taking in the broken form in front of her, dropping to her knees and saying over and over again, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."
That's the last thing she wants to hear, the last thing that needs to be said. Those words were in the wrong mouth, she thinks, she knows.
"No, no, i-it's my—" her voice breaks off into another attack of coughs, every one of them like a knife between the ribs. Her head has been picked up gently placed on the girl's lap, and she feels awful.
No, that's not it, not the right word. It's more than the broken bones, it's beyond the bruised pride— it's— it's—
Lena brings her finger up to her earpiece, pressing the radio button on her comm. "Jack, Jack, Angela's down. We need Ana and Lucio and… we need… get down here."
There is a mouthful of static, then a thick, hard voice. "We're coming. Stay where you are."
Those are the words she was looking for.
Because this is wrong, these hands cradling hers, the cape covering her body like she was a mess swept and hidden under a rug. The tears she could hear Lena trying to hide, the way Jesse had dropped his hat a dozen yards back and still hasn't made a move to get it. She shouldn't be here, shouldn't be the one weighing them down, shaking against them like some child, some coward. She shouldn't be a liability. It's wrong.
The doctor tries to move, tries to speak, but it's all sharp and soundless, a couple strained gasps and a pitiful mew of some sort of sentence, something like I'm sorry or I tried or I wish I was stronger.
Jesse gently prods her for injuries, accounts for the broken ribs at the expensive of Angela's harsh flinches, her vision blotching over with black, chewing on her lip in hopes of stifling the gasps that tore through her. He stops after that, not able to go on.
"Just breathe, Angela. Everyone's okay, and so are you. Just breathe."
At the confirmation that the team was alright, that there was nothing left for her to do, she allows her head to drop, her body to shut down.
There are only flashes after that.
There are the rough, familiar hands on her shoulder, the sound of Jack calling her name, the smell of Ana's perfume as the woman feels for her pulse. Someone is moving her— large, armored arms picking her up from the ground, gently brushing the dirt from her face. The motion aggravates her ribs, her broken shoulder, her back. She feels the exposed wires sprouting from her shoulder scrape against the hard, cold material, and her breath shutters like the firing of a machine gun, and for a long while, she sees nothing.
The next time she is able to rip herself from the blackness, she is out of her suit, and the ports built into the bone of her shoulder blades are empty. There is an IV in her arm, one from the emergency supplies she keeps on every hovercraft, the ones she told the team to use only in emergencies.
There is a hand in her own, the smell of nicotine.
She forces her eyes to focus, temporarily blinded by the lights. Her body is laying on the small couch in the corner of the ship, piled under an army of blankets and a few jackets—it is only after she realizes this that she comes to the conclusion that she is freezing.
(Blood loss? Shock? Intensive internal damage?)
She tries to sit up, fighting for a moment against the minimal weight atop her, of the only to be pushed back down by gentle hand, purplish in color. A quiet voice with a familiar accent tells her, "No, chérie. Do not move."
Her own throat is dry and raw, and she can barely manage a whisper around her chattering teeth. "I… cannot feel my… my back."
The blurry shape of another body fills up her vision, and when she can clear it, Ana kneels before her.
"Angela, can you hear us?"
The relief is obvious, physically washing across the woman's face. "Your lungs collapsed. Before I could fix it, you nearly slipped into a coma from the loss of oxygen, not to mention the pain. We need you to try and stay calm, understand?"
Her voice is stiff and professional, but she has the face of a mother watching her child drown.
"What… Is everyone al—" her voice catches and she coughs, and that's it. She's gone again.
She dreams this time.
Dreams of their faces cast downwards at her in disappointment, telling her she should have known better, that she comprised everything because she had gotten sloppy and forgotten—
Dreams of Reyes telling her she's done, off the field. Of the elder Amari taking her aside and telling her in her high-and-mighty tone that she should have taken into consideration those around her, how her absence would effect them, how she should have been less careless. Of Tracer viewing her as broken, no, mundane, of Jesse— Jesse, please—
She dreams of the quiet hiss in her ear, hot breath sending shivers through her like lightning.
Go on. We're waitin', doc.
She lingers in those dreams for a long time, gets lost, lost, lost, begins to believe them.
When she wakes up next she's in a bed that is not her own, tubes going into her chest, the sound of beeping and a smell she knows too well— the scent of a clinic, clean and sterile. Her body aches something awful, like she had been run over by a train, but she can breathe again, feel her ribs expand with every breath, her lungs hold. She turns her head one way, sees the nighttime outside a fogged window. She turns her head the other way and sees them.
Reinhardt is slumped over in one of the chairs by the door, snoring so loud the walls shake. Beside him is Gabriel, grumbling Spanish in his sleep, his head falling to lean on Jack's shoulder, who was snoozing in an adjacent chair and clutching a cold cup of coffee. They're all in casuals, all looking exhausted.
As her eyes adjust, she see's Amélie sprawled out on a small recliner in the corner, presumably listening to the music Angela had suggested to her all those years ago when she first returned from Talon— when the nightmares wouldn't leave her and when the silence of her room was too much. If she concentrates hard enough, she thinks she can hear the soft versus, cushioned with violins and acoustic chords:
Prendre un moment,
Juste un moment,
Écoutez les violettes qui essaient de pousser vers la lumière.
Something shifts at the foot of her bed. With effort, she lifts up her head, ignoring the blossoming ache as her spine cries out in protest, and sees the curled-up form of Lena at her feet, her Chrono Accelerator glowing from where she set it aside. In the light, Angela could see the girl using her arm as a pillow, the fresh bandage that went over the bridge of her nose, the little silver scar on her bottom lip. She breathes gently through her mouth, small and sleeping.
Angela leans back, lets the moment sink in.
They're all alive, all here, all with her.
She doesn't know where his voice comes from for a moment, not until he pops his head up from the floor, where he had been lying next to her bed. He looks like he has been crying; his hat is still nowhere to be found. He puts his hands on the edge of the mattress, brings his face closer to hers.
"Hi," she says quietly, a breath, a sigh.
He looks at a loss for words— no, he looks like he's drowning in them.
"You don't… don't ever to that. Don't scare me like that ever again, Ange."
The cool touch of metal brushes against her closed fingers, wanting in. She uncurls her hand, letting it be held.
"M' sorry," she whispers, "I was… careless. Foolish."
He shakes his head, scrunches up his nose like he does when she tells him off for smoking. "No. No. You don't get to be sorry, not this time."
"Goddamn it, Ange, you almost died. You went into shock from the— all the pain, an' you brushed up against a coma, an' it's on us. We should've pulled back. Should've listened…"
He looks awful, too. Looks like he's going to start screaming or crying or cursing at it all, like someone did him wrong, like he doesn't know what to do with himself. She wants to fix it. She doesn't know how.
"You're always there, savin' us, healin' us, an not one of us was there to protect you…" His voice is a whisper, so quiet she nearly misses it.
"It's my job, Jess."
"No, it's not. You can't use that line right now."
"It's my job," she murmurs again, half here, half not. "My job to keep you… keep you all safe, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but it ain't to be a Martyr."
He says these words so strongly that she worries the others will wake, but the don't. Jack mutters something and shifts, his head dropping on top of Gabe's, and Jesse brings himself to sit on the edge of her bed, like he needs to be closer, like he needs her to understand.
"You don't get to risk your life with the excuse of saving ours. I won't let you. We won't let you. You got that mentality to you, you know, where you think that you gotta do everything for everyone, that you gotta shoulder it all, like some saint."
No, no, no. That's not what she is. Not what she wants to become. She's just— she's just…
(She left her parents in pieces, left them bleeding on their kitchen floor. She watched the life drain from their eyes; that grey, gone look that she finds over and over, on battlefields where she's too late, too slow, too young, in hospitals where people come to live or die. She sees it at night, after a bottle of Chardonnay leaves her passed out and dreaming, sees it the next morning, the terrors still painted on the back of her eyelids as she goes through the motions. Sees it again and again, worries about finding it in the eyes of her team, her friends, her family. Worries she'll let them fall, let them fade away all over again.).
"If I can't be there for them, what the hell am I good for, Jesse?"
He looks like she had slapped him. The brows above his eyes press down and then together, like she had presented him with some mystery, some monster to trap and tame. His lips open, close, form see-through syllables that only he can hear. The hand in her own slacks, just for a moment, then returns with doubled force.
"Ange," he whispers against the darkness, suddenly panicked, "Ange, just because you ain't perfect doesn't mean we won't still love you…"
Oh, oh, there it is, there she goes.
The words hit her hard, right where it hurts, right where she doesn't know how to defend, and the corners of her eyes blur with the feeling of it all. They're not going to throw her out. Gabe isn't going to take her off the team, Ana isn't going to scold her like a disappointed mother, Lena will let her live on as who she was, as Angela Ziegler M.D., and Jesse— Jesse—
She tries to say something, but the words stick to her throat, and her eyelids go heavy. When she attempts again, she's half asleep against her will.
"You are all… all here. With me."
Jesse tightens his grip on her, using his other hand to bring the covers up closer to her chin. He settles in, braces he back against the bed-frame, makes it clear he's not going anywhere.
"Yeah. Yeah, Angela. It's about time we returned the favor."
thank you for reading. if you enjoyed this story, please drop me a line.