It gives him time to think. Time to prepare.
His secret is going to come out eventually. He needs to be ready. There's a packed duffle under his bed just in case.
Whatever that is.
He's not so exhausted anymore and his training is much easier.
He still hasn't talked to Jack. Jesse tells him that he's okay.
"He's Jack. He'll come back from anything."
He knew it would come, and it hit him with relief when he received his first proposal.
They'd given him a choice of course, and he took it without thought. He needed to be valuable and this was his way in.
He does his job well. Just like he's been trained to. The only thing he's ever been good at.
Jesse is the only one that talks to him openly. He doesn't see Jack on missions- figures he's been sent elsewhere.
But he does see him on base. Jack has been showing up in his space more often then not lately.
He supposes that's true. If he has a soul- it's only because Gabriel is there.
Does something like him have a soul? Is he alive?
He knows he was grown. Programmed. The form his concsiousness took was built from his experiences- but he was created in a lab.
Is he living or is he just a parasite stuck on a dead man?
Would they exterminate him like a nest of cockroaches?
Or would they let him live?
It's a dream he can't hope for. This body doesn't belong to him. These people are not his.
Jack isn't his. Never was.
Lena keeps trying to get him to socialize, inviting him to movie nights and cookouts. He's reluctant and only goes because she's backed him into a corner in the training room.
He wears his mask.
Hana sits next to him- not touching, but close. It's strange, being close to other people.
Jack takes one of the other couches next to Wilhelm and the movie starts.
He's only half watching as he's hyper aware of Jack's every move.
Did Gabriel get to see this side of him?
The movie ends and he helps with cleanup as most of the team wanders off to bed.
He's taking glasses back to the kitchen when he sees Jack bent over the sink.
He can't leave without dropping off the glasses so he moves swiftly and quietly, setting the armful onto the counter.
He moves to leave, pulling the hood of his jacket further over his mask.
He freezes, having not gotten much farther than a step away.
"There's a rag there, can you dry this pile here?"
He looks to where Jack is pointing, a pile of plates next to a dishrag.
He breathes deeply, nodding and moving to Jack's other side, facing away from him.
If he wasn't repaired, he'd be leaking nanites from the stress of it.
He takes it, wiping it down and placing it in the cupboard.
He's never felt so anxious before. If he wasn't under Ziegler's care, he'd probably already be a smoky mess.
Would it have been better to never come here? He would've died, but at least Jack would've loved him then.
Reaper shudders, freezing as Jack's hand grips his.
He's silent, waiting. Jack's thumb is brushing against his palm and he's not sure how to react.
All he can think about is the way Jack used to touch him.
The way he looked when he realized Reaper was wearing a loved one's skin.
It's conflicting, the urge to run and the urge to feel.
Jack smiled softly, pressing his palm against his neck and rubbing a pattern into the bulk of muscle there.
It's silent for a few minutes while Jack seems to think- Reaper holding still and waiting.
He relaxes under Jack's touch.
He doesn't want to see that look on Jack's face again. The heartbreak and grief.
Worse than seeing Jack's anger was seeing his pain.
"Can I... Can I see you?"
Reaper jerks, head pulling away from Jack's grip. He can't. He can't. He can't.
Jack looks so earnest, soft, and full of want in the dim lighting of the kitchen.
"You don't want to see me. You want to see him."
He knows he means nothing to Jack except for the face he wears. Seven months between them meant nothing anymore, and that was barely more than sex.
"I what? Am surprised that the /parasite/ riding his husband's body can actually figure it out?"
Jack is wide eyed and slack jawed at the outburst, hand on the counter.
He steps closer onto Jack's space, staring into his eyes.
There's confusion. Anger. Desperation. Pain.
Because of him.
The flame of anger inside him gives way to guilt.
"If I could give him back to you, Jack, I would."
Would he? Can he?
It's the truth. Even if Jack doesn't love him the same way- even if he's just a poor substitute for the person that's in Jack's heart.
He'd do anything to make Jack happy.
There's tears in Jack's eyes, breath coming short.
Jack was the only person that saw more. The one that made him believe for even a second that he could have something else.
He can make him happy in return.
"Jack I need you to look at me."
Jack looks up, tears breaking free from his forced composure as he reaches up to pull his mask off.
Reaper let's Jack take in the sight of him. Let's the sobs wrack his own body.
"Jack, did you- did you love me?"
He needs to know. Needs to hear it.
Jack is leaning in, wrapping a big, warm hand around the back of his neck and pulling him close.
"Yes. Yes I did."
Jack is kissing him and warmth flows through his body.
He focuses on the spark in his chest- the one he knows belongs to Gabriel.
The one he's being hiding from and surpressing for years out of fear and confusion.
He doesn't know if Gabriel is awake this time- but he hopes he is. Hopes he knows what's happening.
He can do that. He can give him that much.
His breath catches in his throat as he pours every emotion he has into the kiss. Wants to remember this, not the fear and pain.
And then he pulls away.
He's deaf to the world as he pulls every one of his nanite colony from Gabriel's cells.
Jack is leaning over him -he must have hit the floor- and he's shouting but he can't hear.
And then everything goes black.
There's beeping, the subtle whoosh of machinery and he knows he's in an infirmary.
He groans- or tries to, but the sounds catches in his throat.
But he's alone. His head doesn't feel like it used to.
His eyes flutter open, responding to his will for the first time in years.
He can't move, but he can see the ceiling and that's more than he used to have.
And he remembers.
He just has to focus.
He doesn't know how long he lays in the medical bed before he can feel his fingers move.
He hears shouting as Angela moves around him, pulling the respirator from his throat and helping him sit upright.
His eyes move lethargically over to her, trying to will a response.
Angela seems happy despite his limitations, grabbing his hand and squeezing.
"You're still recovering, Gabriel. Don't push yourself. It will call come back eventually."
He's facing away, looking down at his hands and Gabriel tries to move.
He's more successful this time, brushing his fingers against Jack's thigh.
Jack is crawling into the bed in an instant, pushing against his side and wrapping an arm and leg around him, pulling him close.
He can't do much still, but he relaxes into it.
It's real. Visceral.
He struggles to speak, to say all of the things he's wanted to for the last seven years.
He can try again later.
For now, Jack is with him and he has his own body back and it's enough. It's more than he could ever thing possible.
Reaper gave him this.
No, that's not right.
Reaper gave /Jack/ this.
The team visits him often and Lena takes him outside to help him reacclimate to his body.
It's strange. His body feels emptier than it used to.
Angela says that she's not sure how much of his powers have remained after Reaper's purge. The nanites are gone- he's human.
Reaper had made a choice and now he was here.
And Jack- Jack was grieving in his own way. Celebrating in his own way. Unsure which to show.
Gabriel is there for him as much as he can be in his condition. Wishes he could give more, but needs to focus on himself first.
Jack loves him- he knows that. But he lost someone else too and he can't fix that.
He remembers it all. Remembers the fear and anxiety- the strength to bear it anyway because Jack was there with him.
Jack remembers too.
It's dark and quiet in the abandoned hangar and he doesn't want to see some poor creature die in there. He approaches the crate and something dark comes flying out.
He sighs, standing upright and following the form.
He flips the light on and the /creature/ shrieks. It's form is loose, changing as it tries to hide from the light, a white beak clicking angrily.
A white face and beady red eyes makes him realize what he's seeing.
The creature hisses at him, trying to fly and failing miserably as it stumbles.
There's more angry clacking and the creature is water in his hands- rolling and dissolving and being a fucking asshole.
"Stop struggling, you're making it worse."
Surprisingly, Reaper listens to him, just laying on it's front.
"C'mon, let me take you to Angela. You don't look so great."
The mask turns slowly, staring up at him as the red eyes pierce his soul.
"She'll know what to do, just let me take you."
He tucks the creature into his hoodie as gently as possible.
"Is everything alright, Gabriel? Are you feel-"
"It's not me, Angie. Found someone who might need some help."
He walks closer, shifting the hoodie in his arms as more hissing erupts from inside it.
"Gabriel, I may be skilled but I am not a vetrina-"
A white mask peeks out from the folds of his hoodie, red beady eyes gazing menacingly as more clicking is heard.
"I don't think we're dealing with an animal, Angie."
She sighs, a hand coming up to rub at her temples.
"No I suppose not."
Gabriel shifts uneasily. Angela would help wouldn't she? The only other person who knows what Reaper is made of is Moira and they can't go that route.
"Put him there. I will have to do some tests to see what is going on."
Gabriel reaches into the hoodie, yelping as a sharp beak pinches his skin.
"I swear to fuck that I will put you back in that dingy crate if you keep this up."
"C'mon, we just want to help. We're not going to hurt you."
Reaper stops staring, but still appears uneasy.
"Jack misses you. Once we're done here I can take you to him, yeah? How's that for a deal?"
Not the reaction he was expecting, but it's good enough.
Angie comes over just as he's set the bundle of blankets and nanite ooze onto the counter. Angela moves gently but quickly, swabbing and touching before turning away.
Gabriel nods, turning back to Reaper on the table.
He looks even more tired, head drooping and putting up very little resistance when Gabriel moves to nest him back into his hoodie.
Reaper was quiet as he burrowed into the material of his hoodie.
It was strange, carrying the thing that had bodysnatched him for seven years. He didn't even know Reaper had a form.
Jack should be in their quarters- he usually waited for him to come back from his run so they could plan out the day. Routine was good for both of them.
Reaper is oddly quiet as he walks down the hall. The creature is burrowed into his hoodie, only the back of his head visible. He's completely still- almost like he's hiding.
Jack isn't in the living room or the kitchen- so he dims the lights and brings the bundle to the counter.
Reaper is still worryingly still.
Hesitantly, he reaches for the creature and runs a thumb over his head.
"Had to check you were still alive in there. I'm gonna find Jack- stay here?"
No response, just a chatter of a beak.
He finds Jack in their bedroom, going over some information on their latest mission.
Jack turns around, smiling tiredly.
"Started to think you'd gotten lost out there."
Gabe laughs, shrugging.
Jack raises a brow.
"Is that so?"
Gabriel nods, sticking his hands awkwardly in his pockets. He's not too sure how this will go, but he'd made a deal.
"Yeah, come look for yourself."
After not having control of his life or body for so long- he found these little moments worth so much more. The way Jack would smile at him or touch him throughout the day.
Reaper had given them that.
He leads Jack into the kitchen and frowns at the mass of feathers and smoke by their coffee machine.
Not a great sign.
Jack's brows are knit as he approached cautiously.
The form didn't move as Jack reached out, testing his fingers against the wave of nanites cascading onto the counter.
Gabriel watched quietly as Reaper finally moved.
Barely looking. Anxious.
Jack froze a moment before exhaling heavily.
Jack reached further, running a finger over the creature's temple. Reaper squeaked, beak clicking menacingly.
But Jack was smiling.
Jack was delighted, laughing lowly as Reaper gripped the edge of his shirt, climbing awkwardly up his arm.
"He's not great at flying. Rather clumsy actually."
"Where was he?"
"In the hangar. Angie is running some tests to see what might be happening to him."
Reaper seemed thoroughly distracted at the prospect of pulling Jack's hair.
"You think he's been like this since-?"
"I don't know. I don't think he even knew he'd end up like this. Those last memories- he thought he was dying."
Jack nodded as Reaper shrieked softly.
Gabriel stepped closer, offering more scratches to Reaper's scruff and thinking.
"We'll see what Angie says. This is the liveliest he's been since I found him. He might just be tired though."
Reaper had turned towards him, nipping at his fingers softly.
Reaper stopped nipping, straightening on Jack's shoulder and looking around -well- owlishly.
So it was up to him then.
Despite everything, he didn't actually hate Reaper. Their arrangement hadn't been one of choice.
He was... Innocent in all of this. Both of them had been victims of circumstances not in their control.
"As long as he isn't one of those assholes that poops on everything then I don't see why he can't stay."
Reaper squints at him, hissing and burrowing into Jack's neck once more as if offended.
Reaper clicked his beak rapidly, an expression of annoyance on his white face.
"Just because he looks like an owl doesn't mean he is one."
Reaper puffed out his chest, continuing to click.
"Yeah, okay big guy we get it."
Jack barked a laugh.
"Angie says to bring him back. She's got some news."
"Good or bad?"
"No see for her to tell us over the phone would be too easy."
Jack chuckled, reaching for the hoodie.
Reaper shrieks and digs his talons into the meat of his shoulder.
"Ow ow ow okay. You can stay there."
He goes to throw the hoodie back onto the counter, stopping when he sees the ichor stained inside it.
"Yeah I know."
The same shit he was spewing when his body started rejecting Reaper's nanites.
"Angie fixed him before, she can do it again."
Jack took a deep breath while reaching up to let Reaper nip at his finger.
He hissed once they stepped into the bright lab, but seemed to relax at the sight of Angela.
Jack shrugs, rubbing at Reaper's chest.
"He seems to like me still so I think that's a good sign."
Rapid clicking came from Reaper's beak, silencing only as he leaned over to preen Jack's hair.
"That's good to hear. I do believe I've figured out what is happening to him."
Reaper turned to stare, shrieking.
"I've been observing his samples over the last few hours and it appears that his nanites are in a form of extreme survival."
She got up, pulling out a few slides.
"Without the ability to gain those materials, he's...
Jack looks down.
"What happens when he runs out of mass?"
Angela took a deep breath.
"He will lose the ability to exist in the way he is now."
Angela pulls out more slides, taking a moment.
"It's hard to say whether or not he is truly alive enough to die. His nanites work as a type of system. They make up all of himself and carry the parts that make him unique. When the nanites expire- so does he."
Jack was looking away, down at the creature on his shoulder.
Reaper didn't seem to react to Angela's statement, still happily preening what he could reach.
Jack's words are quiet, soft.
Angela bit her lip.
"At his current rate, he'll have perhaps a week left if his nanites remain stable. Perhaps less if they don't."
Jack was quiet.
"What can we do?"
Six years of hell and yet he has to ask. Has to try.
"Can we find a host?"
Angela shook her head.
"He was created to take only one host, Gabriel. You."
She brings up a few slides.
"His nanites are coded to your DNA. He has no chance of finding another host- living or dead."
Gabriel stares at the small creature on Jack's shoulders, seemingly unaware of his own fate in light of Jack's mere presence.
"Do you think he knows?"
Angela places her clipboard on the table.
"It's hard to say. His nanites carry information much like a brain."
"So it's like Alzheimer's?"
"And if he does remember?"
"Then he'll remain whole as his form shrinks and eventually collapses."
He's not sure which is worse.
Gabriel still isn't sure whether or not Reaper can understand what's happening around him, but has his suspicions.
Reaper was intelligent, even like this.
Gabriel was leaning against the doorway, arms folded eyeing Jack warily.
He already knows the answer. There's nothing they can do other than make Reaper comfortable, but he needs to make sure Jack's on the same page.
There was empty silence hanging between them for a moment.
"I remember everything you know."
Jack frowns, turning away.
"He felt... A lot for you."
They had something good. Something that probably keep Jack out of the grave at times.
"Yeah he did."
He remembers being held down, like he was underwater while something else took control.
He remembers the confusion, the sole focus on the one thing Reaper was encouraged to do- accomplish his mission and all costs.
Remembers the fear of becoming more.
He remembers being happy at the threads of contact he was allowed, and the soul deep fear that he wasn't enough.
Reaper knew that when it came down to it- he would be sacrificed.
Whether true or not.
Smoke and ichor stained the sheets, but it was still moving.
Jack can't take it four hours into their vigilance over the amorphous black mass in their sheets and goes for a run in the early morning.
Gabriel is left with it- left with his thoughts and everything that happened over the past years.
This isn't something he'd wish on his worst enemy, and Reaper -despite everything that happened- didn't deserve this either.
Anything that loved Jack as much as himself didn't deserve this.
Gabriel is torn. He hasn't gotten enough time to cope with what happened, but he can't ignore this either.
It's not... ideal, but maybe they can come up with a compromise. Something not wholly as consuming as it was before- Reaper hadn't seemed that interested in subduing him once he realized what was going on.
Could they share a body?
They could work well together. They could keep Jack safe, keep their small family here safe.
Would it make Jack happy? Not having to choose between the two he loved?
Could it work?
Before, Reaper hadn't had a mind and acceptance hadn't been necessary, but now Reaper couldn't take a host without some form of consent or he'd taken over ages ago.
He opens his hands, Reaper pooling in his palm.
"You think we could... we could try this again?"
There's not much of a response, just a hesitant tendril of black crawling up his wrist.
A testing motion before stilling completely.
"It's okay, we're okay. Just hop in, yeah? We'll figure it out later."
The black spreads.