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He seethed and snarled when the stimulants brought him around. He was strapped to the table for the safety of the lab technicians, yet still the restraints groaned against the cold metal of the table as he struggled. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know how he was still alive, but he knew what he wanted to do and he couldn’t do that strapped to a table. He was yelling and cursing in the dark room when he noticed something shift in the corner–a shape in the darkness.

“Who’s there!?” he called out, “I demand you undo these straps at once.” his eyes flick to the scalpel on a tray next to the table he was strapped to, “I’ll break them if you don’t,” he said, testing the straps, “When I do that I’ll slit your throat ear to—” She emerged from the shadows and the words shrank in his throat. “…ear.” She was breathtaking, in her own corpselike way. Hollow cheeks and dark circles under her eyes, limp platinum-blonde hair tied back in a low braided bun with fine ghostlike wisps of hair wafting at her crown and temples. His eyes widened, but then he shook his head, she was beautiful, but that wasn’t enough to quell his rage. “You’re going to let me out of here,” he said, “You’re going to–”

She stepped forward and put a finger to her gray lips in a shushing gesture and instantly he fell silent. “Calm yourself,” she said, “Or they will sedate you again.”

“I’m not staying here,” he said. His voice was hushed but not lacking any fury, “I need to–”

“I know,” she said, touching the side of his face. Her fingers were ice cold. “I know…” There was so much patience and tenderness in her voice, “But you must be patient, mein Lieber. You can break free. You can slit my throat,” she ran a finger across her white neck with unsettling slowness, “You can run. But they will catch you. They will catch you, and they will change you,” she pressed two fingers to her temple, “They will change you as much as they need to until you are what they want… but who you are now…” she cupped her hands to the sides of his face, “They can help you. We can help you strike down those that did this to you.”

“At what cost?” he said, his eyes narrowing.

“The price is already paid,” she said, “The only question now is how much control you want. You run out that door and you forfeit all of it.”

His brow furrowed for a moment and he looked at her, “You–” he said, “Did they help you? Or change you?”

“Do you really care about that?” she replied, “Or do you want your brother dead?”

The simplicity of the question gave him pause, but only for a moment. “When do we start?” he asked.

Chapter Text

“Cover me, finding these files should take a few minutes,” said the Doctor as she typed away at the monitor.

“So…it accepted your retinal scan. Did you work here before?” asked Genji walking around the dark lab. The doctor said nothing but continued tapping away. She did that often. “You do not need to answer. I won’t judge if you do though, I do not consider myself in a position to ju—” Genji was cut off by the sound of the alarms blaring.

 The Doctor glanced up from the monitor with some annoyance, “We should have had at least another minute,” she said typing a few things in then pulling out the data drive. “We’ll have to make do,” she said, “Rendezvous with the others at the extrac–”

“Oi!” A bright voice rang out across the dark lab and Genji looked up to see a figure with spiky dark hair and something glowing bright blue in the middle of her torso. Genji held his Wakizashi up, ready to deflect. Tracer flicked the lights on in the lab and held her pulse pistols at the ready. “You’re both going to step away from that monitor and–” she cut herself off and lowered her guns slightly, “…Doc?”

Genji glanced over his shoulder at the Doctor. She seemed frozen, her sight fixed on Tracer, puzzling, not really sure what she was looking at.

“We all thought you were dead…” Tracer’s voice was quiet, “We thought…”

The doctor’s hand went to her temple. She looked like she was going through a migraine. She drew a sharp intake of breath and then pulled her caduceus blaster off her hip, pointing it at Tracer. Her breath was shaking, and so was her wrist. Genji had never seen the doctor shake before. 

“Doctor…?” he said quietly.

“Oh Doc… what did they do to you?” said Tracer.

“We need to leave,” The Doctor said to Genji.

“I can’t let you leave,” said Tracer, “Let us help you. Please. Doc–”

The Doctor fired her gun and Tracer flinched hard, but the Doctor hadn’t been aiming at Tracer. The fire extinguisher next to the door Tracer had come through let out a burst of white fog with the impact of the pulse rounds, effectively unleashing a smokescreen on Tracer. The Doctor then grabbed Genji’s wrist and fired her gun straight up, shattering the skylight above them. With a few wingbeats of the valkyrie suit they were flying upward through the shower of glass shards. Tracer coughed and blinked forward just in time to see the doctor flying upward through the lab’s skylight with Genji in tow as the Talon extraction ship pulled overhead.

“She recognized you,” said Genji as they rode the Talon extraction vehicle back to their base. Her eyes flicked over to him. “Did you recognize her?” he asked. Her brow crinkled a little and she looked down.

“Back when we first met, you said, ‘If you try to leave, they will catch you and they will change you.’ That’s what happened to you, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said quietly, “I tried to leave… more than once.” Her hand unthinkingly traced over her wrist. “I realized though… if they changed too much of me… everything I’ve researched… all of my work… I would lose it all. I had to stop fighting. I had to keep this,” she pressed two fingers to her temple, “I have to keep it…” she trailed off. She furrowed her brow slightly, then pressed her hands against her ears and grunted as if she was in physical pain, hearing a high pitched noise.

“Doctor–?” Genji put a hand toward her, not knowing what to do. The sensation seemed to pass and she resumed a normal seated position. “Are… are you all right?

“Lena…” the doctor said quietly.

“What?” said Genji.

 “The girl back there. Her name is Lena.”

Chapter Text

Genji glanced from the photo on his clipboard to the woman in the hospital bed behind the glass. Her face was still obscured by bandages, but she was staring at her arm, turning it over.

Movements are good, he thought to himself, A little too good considering how many painkillers she’s on. I should probably adjust for her tolerance—

The bandaged face looked up at him through the glass and even though he could only barely make out the gray-blue eyes staring through the bandages, his stomach tightened up in knots. He took a deep breath, stepped into the room, and summoned his best smile.

“Miss Ziegler, it’s good to see you’re awake–”

“How long until I’m out of here?” she asked flatly.

Genji rubbed at the back of his neck, “Well.. for the time being we still need to make sure the prosthetics are properly working with the remains of your internal organs and—”

“Every second I waste here Kreshnik gets further away,” she said, the fingers of her remaining organic hand tightening on her prosthetic wrist, “If what I know is going to be any use to Overwatch—”

“All due respect, Miss Ziegler, but it won’t be much use to us if you’re dead,” said Genji, sitting on the edge of the bed, “We’ll take it one step at a time. Don’t worry, Overwatch is doing everything it can with the current intel you provided us, so for now, we just need to focus on getting you back to fighting form—and we can start with getting those bandages off.”

Her organic hand went up to the gauze covering most of her face. She was quiet for a few beats before saying, “Very well then.”

Genji nodded and grabbed a pair of sterilized surgical scissors off of a nearby tray. It was a somewhat slow process, clipping at one bandage and slowly peeling it away, clipping another and peeling that one away. She was unsettlingly still through it all, though Genji could see the fingers of her prosthetic hand stroking and gripping the sheets a bit nervously. Eventually her hair peeked through the bandages, tied back in a low bun and greasy from several days of being unwashed, but still a lovely pale gold color. Then a cheek was exposed. He saw the line of the half-Glasgow smile that the explosion had given her, and bit the inside of his lip as more of her face was exposed. along with the half-glasgow smile, there was a scar notching the other side of her mouth, and several jagged lines raking across her cheeks. He pulled off the last of the bandages, exposing the half-cybernetic jawline that partially hid the Glasgow smile. He peeled off the last of the bandages. She had lost three limbs in the blast, and her torso had been perforated numerous times, and yet here she was, asking when she could go out and fight, no, he knew it wasn’t to fight, she was asking when she could go out and kill those who did this to her.

“Mirror,” she said.

“Miss Ziegler I think that’s inadvisable until we get you some trauma counseling—”

Mirror,” she furrowed her brow at him and he cleared his throat and pulled out his tablet from his pocket, setting it to camera mode, and setting the camera to selfie. He held the tablet out to her and she took it and looked at her own face. She didn’t really have much of a reaction to it, aside from an expression that, with her scars, Genji could make out as disappointed.

“Well… that’s inconvenient,” she said, turning her head slightly to examine her own scars.

“…Inconvenient?” said Genji. Anyone born with your looks would be weeping over what’s happened to their face, Genji thought and then he thought, Anyone born with your looks would probably opt to be a supermodel rather than an assassin.

“Pretty much half of my job is successful infiltration,” said Mercy, “This,” she gestured at her face, “Is pretty memorable. Getting in through front doors won’t be as much of an option now.”

“…Ah,” said Genji. So that was her perception of her own beauty–a tool that was now broken. He cleared his throat. “Well… if it’s any comfort… Blackwatch isn’t exactly a ‘Go in through the front doors’ kind of group. Reyes will certainly be pleased with your…uh… enthusiasm.” Genji couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his own voice with the mention of Reyes.

“You seem concerned, Doctor Shimada,” she said looking up at him.

“These are some of the most advanced and extensive prosthetics Overwatch has ever done,” said Genji, he adjusted his glasses slightly, “If I had my way we’d have you here for several weeks of observation and physical therapy within Zurich’s training center…”

She made a noise that sounded almost like a chuckle. “You did read my dossier, didn’t you, Herr Doktor?” she said looking at him like he was acting funny.

“Well, yes,” said Genji.

“Then you know what I am,” she said, leveling those gray-blue eyes at him.

“I know what you did,” said Genji, and then added, “What you did for survival. You’re with us now. We’re not an organization like the ones you’ve worked with. We look after our own. You…” he paused, wondering if he was overstepping, “You don’t have to be a weapon anymore.”

“If I didn’t sign on with Overwatch, someone would have slit my throat in a Serbian prison hospital at this point,” she replied, “Don’t mistake a survival instinct for a grasp at redemption. I know exactly what Reyes’s intentions are for me, and for now, they align with my own. I want Kreshnik dead. I want him to suffer, but I know Reyes and Overwatch probably won’t allow that, so I’ll take what I can get.”

Genji took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes and the bridge of his nose, sighing, “I don’t believe it’s that simple for you,” said Genji.

She smiled at him a bit pityingly, “Optimism must be a nice survival instinct,” she said.

“I don’t believe it’s that simple for you because it’s never that simple for anybody,” said Genji, standing up and putting his glasses back on, “You’ll start physical therapy tomorrow,” he said crisply, “Far sooner than I would like but… it’s better than having you out in the field this early.”

“I understand,” she said, tucking a loose strand of hair back.

“Good,” said Genji, heading towards the door out of her room.

“And Doctor?”

Genji paused by the door, “Yes?”

“Thank you,” she said, “For.. um… for saving my life. From what I’ve heard, I would be dead back in Berlin if not for you.” 

“Oh… uh… “ Genji pushed his glasses up his nose, “Um… that’s my job, but thank you.”

“They said you stayed up 37 hours straight keeping me alive,” she said smiling slightly—or maybe it was just the scarring, it was hard to tell, “You should take better care of yourself, Doctor.”

Genji huffed, “Only if you promise to do the same,” he said as he exited the room.

Chapter Text

McCree had her in a fireman carry as he and Reyes hurried off the Orca.

“What’s her condition!?” Genji said.

“Biotics kept her conscious but she’s a bit… uh…” McCree trailed off.

“So serious, Herr Doktor,” Mercy spoke up from McCree’s shoulders as he and Genji eased her onto a stretcher. She spoke as if the whole situation was funny, or she was drunk. She was pale as death. “So… serious…”

“She’s a little loopy,” said McCree.

Genji gave a sharp glance up to Reyes as he hurried the stretcher into the Zurich headquarters medical center, “I told you it was too early to send her out in the field,” he said, “I told you—” 

“Her prosthetics functioned perfectly fine, Doctor Shimada,” said Reyes, folding his arms, “That wasn’t the problem.”

Genji gave a glance down at Mercy on the stretcher. Two gunshot wounds. “Kuso…” he rubbed his forehead, then snapped back up to Reyes, “She’s your agent. It’s your job to make sure she doesn’t—”

“She got the mission done,” said McCree, “Heck, the mission was projected to to take four days and she got it done in 18 hours. Her problem was she didn’t give a shit if she lived or died doing it.”

“Jesse,” Reyes said his name in warning.

“What?” said McCree, “You saw it too.”

“So rude, McCree…” Mercy’s voice was wavering. 

“Psychological screening is another reason why I didn’t want her out in the field this early. I’ll be filing another complaint about this, Commander Reyes,” said Genji, wheeling the stretcher away.

“Noted,” said Reyes, watching Genji hurry away with the stretcher, “I’ll add it to the pile.”

“Has anyone told you you’re very handsome, Herr Doktor?” said Mercy as Genji hurried into the operating room with several nurses and orderlies now flanking him.

“You’re delirious,” said Genji, “Blood loss–quite impressive considering how little blood you need to run on these days with your prosthetics. Quite impressive you managed to get shot where you did considering how much of you is prosthetic.”

“Handsome and clever,” said Mercy.

Genji huffed. “Just stay awake,” he motioned to a nurse, “Get me a blood pack. Type O.” The nurse nodded and rushed off. 

The injuries weren’t too bad considering what she had survived before. None of her remaining vital organs perforated, just blood loss. With biotic treatments and transfusion, her condition stabilized but she was still kept under observation. Another late night. Genji wasn’t a stranger to them but now he was regretting skipping dinner. He kept the biotic distributors fixed on her for several hours. He took a seat at the desk he had in her room and stared at the monitors. Eventually it reached a point where he found himself reading the same line of data over and over again, yet not able to make sense of it. He sighed and leaned back in his seat and meant only to rest his eyes for a few moments. Just a few moments, that was all.

“Good morning, Doctor,” he heard a voice and choked on his own spit and snapped awake, coughing.

“Morning?!” he looked up and saw the sunlight shining through the window behind her, “No that can’t be that’s…” Genji huffed and rubbed his eyes and found his glasses askew on his face. He straightened them, clearing his throat.

“I thought we agreed you should take better care of yourself?” said Mercy, sitting up in her infirmary bed.

“I said I would if you do the same,” said Genji.

Mercy clicked her tongue, “Not taking care of yourself out of spite? A doctor should—”

“Were you trying to die out there?” Genji cut her off.

She blinked several times, thrown off by his bluntness. Her brow furrowed and she glanced off. He had gotten better at reading her expressions through the scarring.

“Were you?” the question came out of Genji less insistent and more sad then he would have liked.

“I got stupid and careless—” she started.

You don’t get careless,” said Genji, pushing himself up to his feet, “I did read your dossier. Were you trying to die out there or not?”

“However I answer that question, you’ll end up insisting I see some ‘professional’ who will sit me on a couch and ask me question after question about poor little Angela Ziegler and her dead parents and why she doesn’t care if she lives or dies—”

“Because just because you don’t care doesn’t mean no one else does!” said Genji.

“I wasn’t trying to die out there, no,” said Mercy.

Genji kept his gaze leveled at her.

“I… it didn’t really matter to me whether I lived, but I wasn’t trying to die,” she said at last.

Genji sighed and massaged his temples. “I knew it was too soon to send you out in the field—”

“I can’t stop now,” said Mercy, sitting up in alarm, “We nearly got him this time! I just need to—”

“Your value as an asset to Overwatch goes far beyond shutting down Kreshnik and these crime rings!” said Genji, “And–and you need—”

“I need to stop these people before they do this to anyone else!” said Mercy, furiously gesturing at her face.

“You need help! You need time!” said Genji, “You need to stop acting like killing is the only thing you can do to help yourself because we both know that deep down you know it’s not! But it’s the only thing you know how to do for now.” 

Something flashed in Mercy’s eyes. Something brief and shining and so very scared, but then she seemed to stuff it down and smother it out of herself by sheer force of willpower. Her brow furrowed and she folded her arms. “I want to talk to Reyes,” she said.

“No,” said Genji, folding his arms right back at her.

“Reyes trusted me,” she said, “Reyes didn’t treat me like a child–”

“Reyes believes in letting his agents work their own way in order to be most effective–obviously that’s not going to work for you if it landed you right back in this infirmary,” said Genji.

Mercy opened her mouth and raised a prosthetic hand to retort, then paused, blinked several times, then frowned and sank against her infirmary bed pillows, glaring at him.

Genji took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but it felt too early. “Let us help you,” he said quietly, “I know it seems counterproductive now, but… please.”

Mercy sighed, “Whatever gets me back in the field fastest,” she conceded.

“All right,” he said, “We’re moving forward. Not the attitude I would like necessarily, but it’s a step forward. I hope,” he rubbed the back of his neck, “I really… really hope.” 

Chapter Text

The pop of gunfire sounded outside the old church as Sojourn frowned over a holo-map. Dust drifted down in puffs from the ceiling as the city rumbled with explosions. She looked up from the map to the several agents standing in front of her. Genji was looking clean-cut, polishing his glasses in his Combat medic uniform, Balderich loomed behind them in his blue armor, Mercy stood next to him, a ragged patchwork of woman and metal, and McCree next to her. Tracer was looking… frankly a little ridiculous under all the ‘tactical rigging’ they had given her chronal accelerator, especially when paired with her garrison cap–but her determined expression seemed to balance it out.

“Null Sector Jammers have cut off our comm-line with Zurich. I’m afraid we don’t have Morrison, Amari, or Reyes on the comm. The mission, however, still stands. Rescue the hostages, put down Null Sector. We’ll need to re-establish communications if we’re going to do either of those, though.” said Sojourn, walking around the table, “Balderich and McCree move in loud. Hold the line.”

“We can do loud, right big guy?” said McCree, elbowing Balderich.

Balderich just chuckled, “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, Cowboy.”

“Genji will back you up and see to the needs of any hostages you come across. Ziegler, it’s up to you and Tracer to infiltrate the power station with your hacker drone.”

“Babysitting,” Mercy said flatly, with a sidelong glance to Tracer.

“I can handle myself!” said Tracer, putting her hands on her hips.

“You two are the fastest and quietest. Hopefully your hack should let us re-establish communications with Zurich and SatComm,” said Sojourn, “Ground forces are flying blind, but we need these numbers to put Null Sector down. It was a miracle the PM let us in.”

“They’d be killing themselves out of pride if they just kept us out,” said Mercy, glancing off.

“Noted. Point is, we can’t let them down now that we’ve got boots on the ground,” said Sojourn, folding her arms, “But if we send too much of our main force in without Zurich’s oversight, we could end up with a blood bath. First priority is re-establishing comms.”

Genji raised his hand.

“This isn’t school, Genji,” said McCree with a snort.

Genji cleared his throat. “Is it really wise–sending a Blackwatch agent and a cadet in without a medic?”

“Scared I can’t handle myself, Herr Doktor?” Mercy tilted her head.

“No-No–I just think–” Genji stammered.

“Balderich and McCree will be drawing the majority of Null Sector’s forces,” said Sojourn, “Your place is going to be with them.”

“And if I get hurt, I’ll just zip-zoop the injury away!” said Tracer.

“If all goes according to plan, Mercy and Tracer will rendezvous with you, Balderich, and McCree back at the clock tower, and we can move the majority of our force in to rescue the hostages. Understood?”

“Understood,” said the team in unison. 

“They haven’t shut down ground comms, yet,” said Sojourn, “I’ll be keeping track of your locations and update you on Null Sector movements as best I can with the jammers. Best of luck, agents.”

Herr Doktor,” McCree muttered under his breath as he fired off his peacemaker at several Null Sector omnics, “I think she likes you.”

“Or, and this might sound crazy, I’m a doctor,” said Genji, firing off with his own sidearm as they both slowly moved forward behind Balderich’s shield.

“Yeah but the way she says it— ‘Herr Doktor’” said McCree, “And you know she’s nicer to you than everyone else.”

“Here’s a thought,” said Genji, shooting down another  “How about we focus on the robot horde that’s trying to kill us?”

“Seems depressing,” said McCree. shooting another null sector bot through the head.

“The barrier needs to recharge!” shouted Balderich. Genji gave a glance to a a pile of rubble.

 “There! Take cover there!” said Genji. 

Balderich kept the shield up as both Genji and McCree dove behind the pile of rubble, before bringing it down and taking a knee next to them. Several Null sector bots attempted to flank but were knocked back by a fire swipe from Balderich’s hammer.

Genji brought his finger to his ear. “Tracer, Null Sector numbers are holding steady. What’s your status?”

“Doing fine, love!” Tracer piped over the comm, her voice punctuated by the sound of her pulsefire, “Mercy is very… uh… enthusiastic!”

An animalistic yell from Mercy sounded on the other side and Genji flinched a little as it slightly blew out the comm’s speaker in his ear.

“Is she okay?” said Genji.

“Yeah that was just her ripping an eradicator’s head off with her bare hands,” said Tracer.

“Oh–Oh…” said Genji.

“We’re almost to the terminal. We should be able to—” the comm suddenly crackled, “–set up so—” another crackle.

“Tracer?” Genji said in alarm.

“–eradicators—” Tracer’s voice barely crackled before cutting out completely.

“Sojourn?” McCree brought his own finger to his ear then cursed as he shot down another nulltrooper that was flanking around their cover, “Nothin’ but snow,” he muttered.

“So comms are completely shut down then,” said Genji.

“The mission still holds,” said Balderich, “We hold the line, keep up the diversion until Mercy and Tracer can re-establish the comm lines.”

“If they don’t re-establish comm lines we’ll all end up sittin’ ducks!” said McCree.

“10 minutes,” said Genji, “Ten minutes for them to re-establish the comm lines, then if they can’t report in, we back them up.”

“A diversion’s only as good as the infiltration it’s coverin’” said McCree. Both looked at Balderich, who was, without Sojourn on the comms, their commanding officer.

“…Ten minutes,” conceded Balderich.

“Promise me you won’t spend the next ten minutes moonin’ and worrying about them?” said McCree, looking at Genji.

“…I’m more worried about Null Sector,” said Genji with a slight smile.

The power station was dimly lit, but Mercy could keep track of the bright blue glow of Tracer’s chronal accelerator and the sparks of pulsefire as they fought. She had some low-light vision with her cybernetics but the lights on Tracer almost made them irrelevant, the way they sparked off of the purple chassis and the orange optic glow of Null Sector forces.

The omni-staff in Mercy’s hands met with the Nulltrooper’s face with a screech of metal, piercing through the viewport. Mercy twisted her grip on the staff and suddenly metal blades burst out from the staff and out of the hull of the Nulltrooper’s head. With another cry she wrenched the nulltrooper’s head from its body and used it like a sledgehammer on the edge of her staff, shattering another Nulltrooper’s head as Tracer zipped and darted around, her pulse pistols blazing, keeping the attention off of Mercy and thinning nulltrooper numbers in the process.

“Told you it wouldn’t be babysitting—Woah!” Tracer barely managed to recall out of the blaze of Bastion fire as both she and Mercy took cover behind a support wall. 

“It’s blocking the terminal”! said Tracer only barely managing to look past the wall to flinch back with another volley of fire, “Any ideas?” 

Mercy peeked out as well and had to also flinch back behind the wall with the Bastion fire. “I need to think,” said Mercy. She brought a finger to her ear. “Sojourn,” she spoke and listened. Nothing. She switched comm channels. “Balderich,” she said and listened, nothing. She switched comm channels again. “Genji?” Her face dropped as there was nothing but static on the other end. Mercy felt the pit of her stomach drop. Genji always picked up. Always. 

“McCree?” Tracer was holding a hand up to her own ear, “…They’ve shut down all ground channels, too.”

“So we’re on our own,” said Mercy.

“I’m fast,” said Tracer, “If I head out there—”

“I’m not letting you kill yourself on your first mission,” said Mercy, “Let me think.”

“Aw, you do care!” said Tracer.

Mercy just huffed in response, then shut her eyes, trying to focus. Tracer shot down a few straggling nulltroopers coming at them from behind before Mercy huffed.

“I have an idea,” said Mercy, twisting her omni-staff. It came apart into two pieces.

“You… broke your weapon?” said Tracer.

Mercy twirled both staff segments like batons, then looked down and hauled up the headless body of one of the nulltroopers.

“…Huh,” said Tracer.

“We’ll need to move out together,” said Mercy, “Far enough apart from each other and dealing enough damage that we close the distance before it can get fire on either of us. We just need to get behind it and we can destroy it. It so much as nicks you and you recall back behind this wall.”

“But what about–?” Tracer started.

“I outrank you,” said Mercy flatly, “And with comms shut down, that’s an order.”

Tracer pursed her lips.

“This feels really stupid and dangerous,” she said quietly.

“That’s because it is,” said Mercy, hauling up the Omnic chassis. She motioned with two fingers to the hard right of the Bastion unit and Tracer gave a nod.

“Break!” said Mercy.

Both sprinted out and Tracer blinked fast to the right of the Bastion unit, which shifted the barrel of its turret toward her but was suddenly struck hard by a bar of metal. One half of Mercy’s Omni-staff. It swiveled back forward to fire hard on Mercy, who was charging forward and using a quickly-falling-apart Omnic chassis as a body shield. Tracer took the opening and darted in and up onto the platform where the Bastion was situated, zipping behind it and firing both pulse pistols on it with a yell. The bastion suddenly turned around, and Tracer could feel the heat off of its barrel.

“Oh bug–” she started but suddenly Mercy descended from above, slamming the Omnic chassis down onto it before seizing the half of the omni-staff she had thrown and stabbing it through the bowed ‘head’ of the bastion unit. Both Mercy and Tracer caught their breath and a nervous shuddering laugh escaped both of them.

“Not bad for a rookie,” said Mercy.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” said Tracer, before glancing over at the wall the Bastion unit had been blocking, “The terminal!” She perked up and drew her hacker drone out of her coat before hurrying over to a terminal hub splattered with Null Sector graffiti. The hacker drone hovered over the terminal and Overwatch’s virus splayed across the scene in manic streams of data. “Oh well this is easy,” said Tracer, leaning against the wall as the hacker drone hacked, “I’ll be honest, I was kind of dreading this part and hoping you’d know more about it what with you being all…” Tracer realized that her mouth had outpaced her thoughts and she was on the verge of saying ‘cyborg-y,’ when she really wasn’t sure how sensitive Mercy was about it.

Mercy tilted her head.

“…smart,” Tracer said, proud of herself.

Mercy just rolled her eyes as she put her Omni-staff back together. Tracer laughed a little as the hacker drone continued hacking, “And that,” she said, putting her hands on her hips, “Is how Lena Oxton totally aced her first MissioOON-WOAH!” 

Both she and Mercy were suddenly yanked hard off their feet in a flash of green light and dropped hard on the ground. Tracer shook her head and found herself looking up into four orange eyes.

“OR-14′s!” Tracer shouted as the centaur-like Omnics surrounded them.

“Get behind me!” said Mercy, brandishing her omni-staff.

“Uh…” Tracer got behind Mercy only to hear a distorted fanfare like call as a tank-mode bastion wheeled toward them from behind.

“Scheisse—” Mercy started when suddenly there was a cry and a figure clad in blue armor slammed into the new Bastion, slamming it into a wall and shattering it

“Balderich!?” Mercy called out.

One of the OR-14′s raised its fusion driver only to be flash-banged from the right as McCree fanned the hammer right into the Omnic’s face.

“You two took too long!” said McCree.

“We made it to the terminal!” said Tracer, darting around the OR-14 and helping McCree keep it occupied.

“Angela!” Genji rushed to Mercy’s side, “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” said Mercy, as Genji drew his sidearm to help lay down cover fire as the four of them hurried back to Balderich and his shield to set up a strong defensive line.

“I’m fine too, thanks for asking,” said Tracer.

“Of course you are,” said Genji, “Zip-zoops, was it?”

Tracer snorted.

“Terminal status?” said McCree.

“Hacking in progress,” said Mercy, pulling out her sidearm and firing through Balderich’s shield, “We should have comms back up within the next two minutes.”

“Long enough to tell Sojourn where our bodies are when comms come back online,” said McCree.

“The good doctor will keep us safe,” said Mercy, a smile in her voice as she fired her sidearm.

“Hear that, Genji? It’s all on you!” said McCree.

“Oh joy,” said Genji.

Deep fissures started running through Balderich’s shield as the OR-14′s continued their advance.

“I have fought these things before,” said Balderich, “In Eichenwalde.”

“Well that’s… good, right?” said Tracer, “You know how to beat them.”

“Nearly every Crusader lost their lives in that battle,” said Balderich, “I have lost a team to these monsters before. I will not allow it to happen again.”

“Balderich–” Mercy started.

“The three of you will keep our new recruit safe, ja?” said Balderich.

“Obviously but–Wait–Balderich–!” McCree started, but it all happened in a matter of seconds. The shield shattered. Balderich suddenly charged forward and slammed right into the OR-14. The Null Sector omnic drove its back legs into the ground, standing fast as Balderich moved into it with all the force of a hypertrain. Balderich stumbled back from his own impact, before rolling his grip on his hammer and swinging hard.

“Balderich!” Genji nearly zipped after Balderich but Mercy caught his arm.

“Let me go!” Genji yanked at her steadfast cybernetic grip, “I’m the medic! I can’t let him—!” he turned his head to see Balderich’s hammer blazing and his armor sparking amidst a swarm of fusion core fire from both the OR-14′s. In a heartbeat Genji knew running in there would only punch him full of holes. 

“He can’t–” Genji started.

“Hold the line, protect our own,” said Mercy, “…he’s the commanding officer.”

“Well, the hell I’m just standing here!” said Tracer, zipping in. 

“Tracer!” Genji, Mercy, and McCree all shouted at the same time, running after her.

The battle was a blazing mess of pulsefire, peacemaker fire, flashbangs, the whirl of Mercy’s staff, Genji’s biotics, and the clang of metal on metal from Balderich’s hammer. Tracer was blinking and recalling around in dizzying streaks of light blue. Mercy was brutal, stabbing her staff through the joints in the OR-14′s legs and tearing them out from under neath them, only to be wrenched off of her feet from a graviton charge of the other OR-14, then tackled out of the fire by Genji. McCree kept the steady stream of nulltroopers coming in as flanking backup busy, but that also left his back exposed to the OR-14′s. In desperate moments Balderich’s shield would spring up, still running deep with fissures and shattering again within seconds, only barely buying them a few precious seconds to try and hammer out a bit more damage on the OR-14′s. Finally there came a cry of “HAMMER DOWN!” and the entire team was thrown off their feet as Balderich charged one last time into the felled wrecks of the OR-14′s, slamming both of them into a wall.

There were a few moments of silence as the team collectively became aware of their own breathing, or its lack thereof. Balderich rose to a swaying standing position away from the wreckage of the OR-14′s. He set his hammer on the ground and leaned against it like a walking stick.

Mercy was panting when she looked at Genji, who brought his hand way from a spot on his ribs, bloody. “Genji–” his name escaped her.

“It’s fine,” Genji grunted, “I can…” he looked over to Balderich, who suddenly slumped down the length of his hammer’s grip, “Heal it–No!” he rushed over as Balderich collapsed on his side. Blood was seeping from several of the joints in his armor.

“…kuso. Help me turn him over!” said Genji. 

Mercy helped him push Balderich onto his back. Balderich coughed up blood, ruby droplets caught up in his great mutton-chop mustache. Blood was pooling underneath him.

“I can fix this,” said Genji, setting down a biotic field, “I can fix this–”

“There’s no time,” Balderich coughed, “You need to get to the hostages.”

“No!” said Genji.

“That’s an order! Ngh!” Balderich suddenly winced. 

“Oh you great big—” Genji was prying at his armor. Biotics could only go so far if his lungs were filling with blood–he had to get the armor off, maybe perform thoracentesis. 

“Genji…” Mercy started, putting a hand on his shoulder.

There came a blip over everyone’s comms. Tracer turned her head toward the terminal. 

“The hack’s complete…” she said quietly, “…Comms are back online.”

Just on cue Sojourn was yelling in everyone’s ears. “Status report! Status report! Null Sector is moving to execute the hostages. We need our strike team moving now!

“We’re alive,” said Tracer, “We have an agent do–”

“We are fine,” Balderich spoke over her.

“What? No–!” Tracer started.

“Cadet Oxton, I would ask you not to crowd the channel,” said Balderich. He coughed and blood spattered from his lips.

“Balderich–what’s going on down there?” said Sojourn.

“I’m going to hold the line to make sure the comm channel stays open,” said Balderich, “The rest of the strike team will move in with the main forces to rescue the hostages.”

Tracer’s mouth was hanging open. Genji was still desperately trying to heal Balderich’s wounds, but not even biotics could seem to outpace Balderich’s own systems shutting down.

“Understood,” said Sojourn, “But they need to move quickly.”

“I think I should stay with Balderich in case–” Genji started.

“Genji–those hostages are going to need immediate medical treatment. You know where you’re needed,” said Sojourn.

“Balderich is in critical condition!” said Genji, “He’s—!” Genji looked back at Balderich to see him wrapping his massive gauntleted hand around Mercy’s cybernetic forearm. He mumbled something in german to her before seeming to relax a little, slumping back against the OR-14′s wreckage, one hand still gripping his hammer. “He’s…” Genji trailed off.

“…Get to the hostages, Combat Medic Shimada,” said Sojourn over the comm. She knew. Genji could feel it.

“…yes ma’am,” said Genji.

He looked at Mercy. She didn’t say anything, she only took him up in a brief, tight hug.

Chapter Text

Genji noticed the cold of London was a strange and creeping thing. It would start out bitter and biting, and then, for a while, he would think he was used to it, but after hours on his feet he became very aware of how much the cold had sunk into his bones, how much it weighed him down with its dampness. He was only aware of it now, standing in a pub that had every window broken and the walls pocked with countless holes from pulsefire.

“Fifteen minutes until evac arrives,” said Mercy, easily vaulting over the bar.

“Isn’t this…This is looting,” he said, as Mercy sorted through dozens of cracked pint glasses to find an intact pint and tulip glass.

“This is mourning,” said Mercy.

“This is self-medicating,” said Genji, pulling himself up onto a barstool as Mercy found, miraculously, that one of the pub’s taps still worked.

“It can be all three,” said Mercy, setting the pint glass in front of him. She filled the tulip glass for herself, expertly he noticed.

He looked at the foam atop his glass, a little worried some of the ceiling above might crumble into it.

“This is what they would do, the Crusaders,” said Mercy, pouring a little of her beer onto the floor. She glanced up at him, “Libations,” she said.

“Oh–” Genji poured some of his own beer out. 

She raised her glass, “To Balderich,” she said. 

“To Balderich,” said Genji.

They clinked their glasses together and took a sip.

“How are you holding up?” asked Genji.

Mercy shrugged. “People come, people go, I’m more used to it than I should be, I know. I know this isn’t the normal thing, not with this team,” she sipped her beer, “I suppose for what it’s worth the old man went out the way he always wanted—go down fighting, honor and glory and all that,” she swirled her beer around in its glass, watching the foam ride up against the sides and drift down, “That’s more than most of us can hope for.”

“Is that what you want?” asked Genji, tilting his head.

“Mm?” Mercy looked up from her glass.

“To go down fighting?” said Genji.

“I haven’t given it that much thought,” said Mercy with a shrug, “There are things I want to get done before it happens, but I assume it will happen to me as easily as…” she held up her prosthetic arm, “as… well this. I just won’t be as lucky that time.”

Genji bit the inside of his lip, then sighed and sipped his beer.

“What about you?” asked Mercy, “How are you holding up?”

Genji took off his white beret, set it down on the bar and sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet. I knew–I knew it was happening. I did everything I could to stop it, but I knew what was happening. And I know it happened and yet…” he shrugged, “I’ve lost patients before. I know I can’t save everyone. You- you have to accept that you can’t save everyone,” he sighed, “But it was Balderich. Our Balderich. I know it’s going to hit and hit hard later…”

“I take it you don’t want to go down fighting,” said Mercy, taking a drink.

“I would prefer there not to be any fighting in the future,” said Genji, staring into his glass, “…or at least fighting won’t be necessary. I just— I don’t want to leave this world at the same level of-of mess and pain it is now.” he broke his eyes away from his beer to look at her and found himself making full, steady eye contact with her. The scarring on her face made it leap from “open book” to “utterly unreadable,” and he wasn’t even sure now where her current expression rested on that spectrum. There was calm in it. She seemed to be searching his face as well.

“You’re a good person, Herr Doktor,” she said, before sipping her beer again, “I hope you get such a wish.” 

“I…thank you,” said Genji. The two of them sat in silence in that shelled-out pub, taking sips from their beers, doing their best to gather their wits in the midst of their own exhaustion. His brow furrowed for a moment. “What did he say to you?”

“What?”

“You know, when he grabbed your arm. Before he went unconscious, he mumbled something in German. What did he say?” said Genji, he then realized how blunt the question was and backpedaled, “I mean–Not to—if it was private I don’t mean to— You don’t have to— I know–”

“He said to watch over you,” said Mercy.

“…Oh.” Genji reddened a bit. 

Mercy caught herself, “’You’ as in plural ‘you,’” she added, quickly, “The team. He said I need to watch over the team.” She then took a gulp of her beer and seemed to busy herself with looking at the gunfire holes scattered across the wall.

“Right. Team. Of course. Obviously. That sounds more like Balderich,” said Genji, taking an awkward sip of his beer as well.

Chapter Text

“All right… um…” Genji was dripping blood on the floor and he rubbed the back of his neck with the arm that didn’t have the bullet wound in the shoulder, “I… I realize this looks bad.”

“You’re the Sparrow…” said Mercy, her eyes wide, “You’re the killer.

“Assassin,” said Genji, as if that would help.

What’s the difference!?” Mercy was on the edge of hysterics.

“Motivation and the prominence of the target?” said Genji.

Scheisse–Why does it have to be you?!” 

“I… uh…” Genji was growing paler by the second and swayed a little where he stood, then braced a hand on the doorway to her room before he could collapse.

Ach du-–Get in here!” she grabbed him by the front of his black tunic and yanked him, stumbling, into the hotel room. The door clicked shut behind him as she pretty much shoved him into the bathroom and made him stand in the tub. 

“You’re… helping me?” he said as she handed him a towel.

“I’m making sure you don’t die. Keep pressure on it,” she said. She then looked over his shoulder. “No exit wound…Verdammt, McCree…” she said, walking out of the bathroom and opening the hotel room’s mini bar, grabbing the bottle of vodka from it. She paused and went to her suitcase and grabbed her caduceus blaster as well, stuffing it down the back of her pants.

“If I could have told you—” Genji started as she walked back into the bathroom with the bottle of vodka and a small first aid kit she kept in her bag. She shot him a look and he immediately fell quiet. She forced him down to a seating position in the tub.

“Shirt off.”

Genji moved to take off his black tunic but then winced hard at moving his shoulder. Mercy let out an exasperated sigh and helped him get his shirt off.

“What are you going to—”

She poured vodka on her hands, then over the wound.

Kuso!” he swore loudly at the burn of the alcohol. Mercy pulled a pair of sterilized tweezers from the kit.

“Don’t pass out,” she said, passing the bottle of vodka over to him, “This isn’t going to be pleasant.”

He took a swig of the vodka and coughed hard. “Don’t you usually have a staff?” he said a little helplessly, his throat now burning from the alcohol.

“Back at the watchpoint, yes,” she said, and she dug the tweezers into the wound, “My lectures here were about the theoretical applications of biotics.”

“I thought–Nnh! Gah! I thought Overwatch used just pulse munitions?! Ah!” said Genji as Mercy dug into the wound.

“Peacemaker rounds feature pulse tips and cores on a cupronickel jacket and base,” said Mercy, “McCree never did like how pulsefire ‘felt.’” 

“Ngh! Is he a sadist!?” said Genji as Mercy dug a flattened bullet base out of his wound and dropped it on the bottom of the tub with a clink. He exhaled hard and Mercy handed him the vodka and he took another burning swig as she bandaged the wound up.

“He came here to catch a killer,” said Mercy, looking up at him once she finished bandaging the wound. Genji looked her in the eyes. There was fury there, but it was the kind of fury you ride out as long as you can to try and ignore the fact that your heart is broken.

“…I’m sorry I lied to you,” said Genji, “The situation is more–nh!” he moved to put a hand on her shoulder but moving his arm only sent more searing pain through his wound even with the bandages, “The situation is more complicated than—”

“Oh I understand the situation fully,” said Mercy. She suddenly stopped and her eyes widened, “McCree–is he–?”

“He’s fine,” said Genji, “He wasn’t my target.”

“Oh that’s a real comfort,” said Mercy with a furrowed brow as she finished up bandaging his shoulder.

“The situation isn’t as simple as—”

“I don’t care what you have to say!” snapped Mercy.

“I’m turning myself in!” Genji snapped right back.

“You–!” Mercy started and then caught herself, “What?”

Genji huffed. “I know you weren’t just here for those lectures… I know Overwatch came with you…well…I don’t know if you can really call it Overwatch–but I know none of this was sanctioned by the UN or the government.”

“How…?” said Mercy.

“I have resources. My family name isn’t Shimazaki. It’s Shimada,” said Genji

Mercy’s mouth hung open. “Shimada—” she said the name to herself and her stomach dropped, “You–You’re with the Shimada Clan.”

“The main branch, yes. And I want out,” said Genji.

“Out–” Mercy pressed a hand to her forehead, “By turning yourself in…?”

“If I do so with the Japanese police, the best I can hope for is being stabbed to death in a prison here. I probably wouldn’t even make it to prison. I looked into the files of your friend McCree, and I see Overwatch isn’t above cutting a deal.”

“You want to cut a deal,” said Mercy, pacing back and forth across the bathroom tiles.

“The Shimada Clan needs to pay for what they did to my brother,” said Genji, “I’m willing to help Overwatch take them down.”

“Brother…?” Mercy repeated.

“They killed him,” said Genji, “Three years ago I attempted to run away, and he attempted to help me. The clan elders caught us. Against my protests, he took full responsibility and now he’s dead. I’ve been my family’s primary assassin ever since. And now I want out… and you may be my only chance at that, Doctor Ziegler.”

Mercy’s mouth drew to a thin line, “And how do I know you’re not lying now?”

“You don’t,” said Genji. Mercy frowned. Genji exhaled. “So I suppose some consolidation of my word is in order. I really hoped I wouldn’t have to do this with a bullet wound,” he said, adjusting himself in the tub slightly. He moved to draw his sword but Mercy pulled her blaster out of her pants and pointed it at him. “Right,” he took his hand off his sword, “Sorry. I–I really don’t mean you any harm, it’s just easier with the sword—” Mercy shot him another glare and he cleared his throat, then closed his eyes and ran his hand from his collarbone down his arm. As he did so, a bright green energy spiraled around his arm and the bathroom lights flickered. 

There was a dragon. A brilliant bright green dragon spiraling at the end of his arm, yet just as quickly as it came, it disappeared like ink diluting in water.

“What…? What was…?”

“Only a Shimada can control the dragons,” he said the words, but they sounded hollow, like he was just repeating what had been told to him his entire life. “Honestly it looks a lot more impressive with the sword.”

Mercy’s brow crinkled. It was very hard to tell if he was joking now. She closed her eyes, “You’re still a killer,” she said, still feeling the weight of the caduceus blaster in her hands.

“And so is your Reyes. And your McCree. Yes, I am a killer. I’ve been raised and trained to be a killer. I don’t know if I can change that. I want to… I…” he trailed of for a second, “These past few days with you, I was able to trick myself into believing I was someone else. Someone who didn’t run a knife across a man’s throat at 13. It… it was nice.” Mercy’s brow crinkled and Genji quickly added, “Being with you. Not the knife thing. I… really didn’t like the knife thing.” He moved to fold his arms, but winced from the wound in his shoulder. He huffed. “What I’m saying is, the Shimada clan made me what I am—I want to undo that, but…maybe what they made me is the only thing that can stop them. But I need your help. I need Overwatch’s help.”

“You could have turned yourself in with McCree,” said Mercy, frowning, “You could have turned yourself in as soon as we got here.”

“This last target means the Shimada clan’s monopolized crime in Hanamura,” said Genji, “They’re the only family Overwatch has to worry about here on out.”

“And you didn’t turn yourself in with McCree because…?”

“I thought you should be the first to know,” said Genji, “I… I didn’t want you finding out when McCree had me in cuffs. I thought I owed you that much.”

“And now you’re shot,” said Mercy, frowning.

“Yes… well… to McCree’s credit he’s far better with that gun than any Yakuza henchman I’ve come across,” said Genji, “It… probably won’t be long until he finds me.”

“I’m not vouching for you,” said Mercy, frowning. 

“That’s fair,” said Genji, “For what it’s worth… I’m… sorry I didn’t tell you I was a ninja assassin picking off rivals to my family’s criminal empire one by one.”

Mercy sighed. “Well… It’s about as normal as everything else in my life right now,” she said, rubbing her forehead. Genji glanced down at the bottle of vodka sitting next to him in the tub, then picked it up and offered it to her. She took it, took a swig, then shuddered at the burn of alcohol herself. Her comm buzzed and she answered it.

“Doc!” McCree sounded out of breath on the other end, “I shot the Sparrow, but lost visual on him. I found a blood trail on the roof of your hotel! Don’t panic but I think the Sparrow’s—”

“I have the Sparrow,” said Mercy flatly, “He’s in my custody.”

“Look Doc, I’m really happy you’re suddenly developing a sense of humor, but now’s really not the time—”

“You shot the Sparrow in the right shoulder, correct?” said Mercy. 

“I—yeah, how’d you know—”

Mercy snapped a picture of Genji in her tub, and sent it to McCree. There was a pause on McCree’s end, then “Gotdamn.”

“He’s turning himself in. He wants to cut a deal,” said Mercy.

“Wait, what?”

“Tell Reyes he wants to take down the Shimada clan,” said Mercy.

“I–Okay–We’ll be there in a little bit, but don’t take your eyes off him, Doc, he’s dangerous,” said McCree. There came another pause on the other end. “Wait a sec–Ain’t this the guy you—?”

Mercy closed out of the call. A long silence passed between her and Genji.

“Just so you know, I’ve greatly enjoyed these past few days with you, Doctor Ziegler,” said Genji.

Mercy just huffed and took another gulp of vodka.

Chapter Text

“It was never a mission to stop him, was it?” said Mercy.

Gabe glanced up from his tablet. “Mm?”

“We wouldn’t go through all this effort to do something Japanese law enforcement could do on its own,” said Mercy, folding her arms. 

“By the looks of his success rate, I’d say Japanese law enforcement couldn’t exactly handle it on its own,” said Gabe.

“Success rate?” Mercy’s eyes narrowed. “He’s an assassin.

“And his targets were all either already on our ‘wanted’ lists, Japan’s ‘wanted’ lists, or they were about to be,” said Gabe, “We caught him, he cut a deal, everyone wins. That’s our story.”

“Or is that just the story for Jack?” said Mercy.

“Merce…” Gabriel Reyes rubbed his forehead, “Look, I knew the assassin was a Shimada–I knew that much. I didn’t know he was your… Well to be honest I don’t exactly know what you had going on with him—”

“I didn’t have anything going on with him!” snapped Mercy. 

“…But the simple fact is that that kid back there can accomplish in a matter of hours jumping around in black footie pajamas with a handful of shuriken what takes us weeks to plan with fully-equipped black ops teams,” said Gabe, “You’re not seeing as much of what we’re up against with all that time you’re spending in the infirmary and lab but if you did you’d know we need all the help we can get.”

Mercy stayed frowning.

“Look,” said Gabe, “No one’s asking you to like the guy. Just keep his ass alive just like you would any other Overwatch member. That’s all.”

Mercy was quiet for a long while before finally muttering, “Verstanden.” 

—-

Genji three years younger, and he was hugging his knees in an empty room, when the shōji slid aside.

“Hanzo,” Genji sat up at the sight of his brother, “What—?”

“I’ve taken care of it,” said Hanzo, putting his hands on Genji’s shoulders.

“What? No–Hanzo I need to get out of here. They’re going to kill me!” 

“No they won’t,” Hanzo’s voice was calm.

“What–? Yes they will! Brother, you know they–!” Genji caught himself, “…what did you do?”

Hanzo cupped his hands to the side of Genji’s face, then pressed his forehead against Genji’s. “Whatever happens, you must promise me you will find a way out. For both of us.” 

“Hanzo…what did you do?!” Genji’s voice was hushed. 

“It’s handled,” Hanzo broke his forehead away from Genji’s then ruffled Genji’s hair, “Take care of yourself, little brother,” he had a slight smile as he stepped away from Genji.

“Hanzo, you can’t….” Genji started as Hanzo stepped out of the room, “Hanzo!” The cry escaped Genji as the shōji slid shut with a clack.

Genji’s eyes snapped open. He heard a gentle chiming whir, then glanced over to see a biotic field canister. He forced himself to sit up, grunting and gripping his shoulder.

“Not apologizing for that,” a voice said off to his left, and he glanced over to see a figure in a cowboy hat sitting across the orca from him. “Just… getting that out of the way now,” said McCree.

“I don’t expect you to apologize for it,” said Genji, adjusting himself on his futon and shifting his shoulder slightly, “You were doing your job. I was doing mine.”

“Kind of a fucked up job,” said McCree.

“I could say the same,” said Genji with a slight smile. His hand fell to his wrist, where a steel cuff sat, a single green light on the inside of his wrist glowing back at him.

“That’s standard issue,” said McCree, “I had one too, when I first joined. It’s for those of us with… special circumstances.” 

Genji’s mouth drew to a thin line, “I understand,” he said, rolling his fingers into a fist as he stared at the bracelet.

McCree scoffed a little, “Gotdamn,” he said with a slight chuckle, “You really meant all that, didn’t you?”

“Meant…what?” said Genji.

“Doc told me about your little bathtub confessional while you were passed out in the biotic field,” said McCree. Genji paled. “…She’s still pretty pissed at you, you know,” said McCree, “As in ‘I don’t know if she will ever stop being pissed at you’ pissed at you.” 

Genji was quiet for a few beats. “I can’t blame her,” he said quietly.

“Damn straight,” said McCree, rolling a cigarette and licking it sealed, “Though… all things considered, she probably wouldn’t be this pissed unless she really liked you before all this shit started coming apart.”

Genji’s eyes widened, then he sighed, “I liked me too,” he said with a wry smile as he flopped back on the futon. He turned the bracelet on his wrist tentatively. The tightness of the metal against his wrist told him that blisters would form if he kept twisting it. “How long did you have to wear yours?”

“It changes for everyone. I barely remember,” said McCree, bringing the brim of his hat down over his eyes as he leaned back in his seat.

“But for you?”

“14 weeks and four days,” said McCree, feeling around his own wrist beneath his black glove, as if the physical memory still hadn’t quite left, “But then again I was always a troublemaker.”

Something tugged at the corner of Genji’s mouth as he looked back down to the bracelet. 

“You’re a troublemaker too,” said McCree. Genji’s eyes flicked up from the bracelet to McCree. A grin cracked across McCree’s face. “I can tell,” he said.

Chapter Text

“Take the princess and go, Amari! We will handle this!” the guard captain had shouted to her. Pharah didn’t have time to argue. She hoisted the protesting princess up onto her horse, quickly pulled herself up into the saddle, then spurred the horse forward. Pharah could hear the swords clanging behind them. She prayed the other guards on the caravan would hold their own against the bandits. If the guards fell, Pharah hoped the dowry would be enough to satisfy the bandits. Her worst fear was that they weren’t really bandits at all, but sent by a rival lord to interrupt the marriage and ransom the princess or worse, send her head to–No, Pharah couldn’t think of that now. She had to ride.

Pharah’s horse was swift, and the winds covered their tracks behind them as they raced across the desert. The Princess’s arms were tight around Pharah’s waist and her bangles clanged and chimed against Pharah’s armor as the horse’s hooves struck the sand. Their caravan had already been en-route to one of the desert’s oases, the last one before they reached the Princess’s new kingdom, so it was a simple matter of riding faster and harder. They reached the oasis at dusk, and Pharah swung off the horse, helped the princess down, and watered her horse at the nearby spring. The Princess herself dusted herself off and watched as Pharah dropped to her knees next to the spring. Pharah took off her helmet and found herself dripping with sweat from the ride. She splashed the springwater on her face, rapidly cooling now that the sun was setting, then found herself drinking as greedily as her horse from her hands, she caught herself as the princess knelt beside her at the edge of the spring, took her water skin, filled it and drank from it, only giving Pharah a sidelong glance here and there.

“A Lady knight, then?” said the princess at last.

“Oh–” said Pharah, taking off one of her gauntlets and wiping the droplets of sweat and water now dripping from her hair and running down her face, “Yes–I uh…I know it’s hard to tell with the armor…”

“And with your height,” said the Princess with a smile. 

Pharah smiled a bit too, and watched as the princess took off the golden braided silk chord securing her translucent blue veil and pulled the veil off, then pulled her hair off of the back of her neck, tying it back with the chord. She seemed smaller without the veil. Before, Pharah had seen her as largely a pile of silks, moving and morphing almost like a jellyfish in the desert winds, now as she peeled the silks and swathes of fine cotton off, Pharah became increasingly aware that there was a person under all the fine clothes they had piled on the princess to make her just as much of a treasure as her dowry. Finally, the princess managed to get down to a fine embroidered sleeveless blue dress and white shalwar, while her silks littered the sands around her in circle, almost like peony petals. They were largely silent, both still in some shock from the attack on the caravan. They had a humble supper of the jerky rations Pharah carried on her, and dates from the nearby palm. Pharah kept an eye on the horizon even as the sun set.

“They should have made it here by now,” said Pharah, standing up and walking to the edge of the oasis and looking out at the dunes.

“Do you think they’re dead?” said the princess.

“Either that or taken prisoner if those bandits were hired by one of your father’s enemies,” said Pharah, taking a seat back next to the princess, “A good number of them are from noble houses, may be worth a good ransom.” Pharah took a deep breath. “Princess—”

“Satya,” said the Princess.

“Satya,” said Pharah, “I… I just… I’m sorry for all this.”

Satya shrugged. “It’s only politics. I’ve made my peace with the idea of this sort of marriage years ago.”

Pharah blinked a few times. “I… I uh… I meant the bandit attack making you have to sleep out here in the wilderness not… not the marriage,” she said rubbing the back of her neck.

“Oh…” said Satya, and then “OH! I thought—I—ah…”

“Do you not want to get married?” said Pharah.

“’Want’ has hardly anything to do with it. It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself…” said Satya.

“But do you not want to get married?” said Pharah again.

“Again, irrelevant,” said Satya.

“Princess–” Pharah started

“You’re a guard, a soldier, it’s hardly any of your business, now is it?” snapped Satya and Pharah shrank a bit into herself. Both were silent for a long time before Satya finally huffed, “No. If I knew who I was marrying better, then yes, but as it stands I do not, so no.”

“I’m sorry,” said Pharah.

“As I’ve said before, politics,” said Satya, and both were silent for a long time again. The stars came out, bright and countless, overwhelming in their numbers, the milky way so dense it seemed a ribbon of moonlight and indigo. The stars seemed to spill out from the sky and gather, reflected, in the calm waters of the spring. Satya stood up and broke off a reed from the water’s edge, sending ripples across the stars reflected in it. She began drawing something in the sand, her marks easily lit by the stars. Pharah leaned over her shoulder and watched as she worked.

She drew out a large circle, then gridded the circle, gave a glance toward the sky and began marking out constellations in the circle.

“A map?” said Pharah.

“I was educated in many subjects–languages, diplomacy, mathematics, the arts…” Satya said, looking between the sky and her own drawing, “Astronomy was one of my favorites.” She pointed up at the sky with her reed. “That is Magha. The bountiful one. We head off in the direction of that constellation, and we reach my betrothed on time.”

“What if we didn’t do that?” said Pharah.

Satya’s brow furrowed. “What are you implying?”

“Well… suppose we missed this Oasis. Suppose we’re just dead somewhere out in the desert–”

“A morbid thought,” said Satya.

“Well… an easy thought to believe, though–easy to lose one’s sense of direction in a panic or sandstorm…You can’t get married if you’re dead,” Pharah arched an eyebrow at Satya and Satya’s eyes widened in realization.

“Oh you mean…?” she trailed off and tucked some loose hair behind her ear.

“Or we could go to your betrothed,” said Pharah with a shrug, “Your choice. Like you said, I’m a guard. My only duty is keeping the princess safe. There’s nothing in my job description about telling the princess where to go.”

Satya’s eyes widened and she looked from her map up to the stars.

She pointed her reed to a star in the west. “That way. We follow the Lion and go West.”

Pharah smirked. “What’s west?” she asked.

“Just a trading post,” said Satya with a shrug, “But that should get us enough supplies to go even further. I could sell some of my silks… we could reach the sea…” she fidgeted with her hair a bit, “This is mad. Talk me down from it,” she said, turning to Pharah.

“Very well,” Pharah started, “The smart thing to do would be–”

“Never mind, don’t talk me down from it. We’re doing it. We’re going west,” said Satya.

Pharah smirked. “As the Princess commands,” she said with a bow of her head.

Chapter Text

It was only a few steps into the cave when the wave of heat hit her. It was like an invisible wall of warmth, and it made Pharah’s eagle-like helm feel all the more claustrophobic. She brought up the visor and kept moving forward, the chain of her flail clinking against itself. She passed the first skeleton–naked, its sword melted down into a metal puddle that had long since rusted and oxidized. Light armor, she thought, Leather hauberk at best. He didn’t come prepared. Cheap blade melted like wax. Too much nickel, probably. You have steel. You will not fail. She passed another skeleton, this one wearing the blackened remains of a mail shirt. Too light. They were wise to want to move swiftly against the dragon, but Pharah had trained with armors of all sorts of weights. She knew dodging the fire was important, but one swoop of the beast’s claws could break both your legs, then swiftness wouldn’t matter. 

As soon as the sun from the mouth of the cave disappeared, Pharah found a lit torch in a sconce, but wasn’t willing to strap her shield on her back to grab it and kept going. There was another torch sconce, lighting another skeleton. And another. And another torch. And another skeleton.

Men didn’t put up these sconces, thought Pharah, The dragon did. She wants me to see. She wants me to know what she has done to those who came before me.

Still she kept moving forward, deeper and deeper into the cave. 

 The armor was getting progressively heavier as she moved deeper into the cave. Light bucklers and jack-of-plate gave way to brigandines and targes, and then finally to mail and plate and heavy heater shields. Pharah tested the weight of her own shield in her hand and steadied her breath. She would not fail, the town, her liege lord, her family, they were all counting on her. Finally the tunnel of the cave emptied out into a massive chamber and another rush of warm air hit Pharah and her breath caught in her throat. Gold. There was the largest pile of gold she had ever seen. More gold and jewels and treasures than she thought could possibly exist in the world, and on top of this mountain of riches, there was the dragon.

She was massive. The size of three cottages bunched together. The scales at her breast blazed brightly where the tissue was thin. That was the vulnerable part, so the legends said—the dragon needed the skin to be thinner there to vent some heat before it breathed its blazes that brought cities to their knees. She was black and violet and tuscan red. 

The dragon herself seemed preoccupied with examining a particularly exquisite cut of sky-blue aquamarine roughly the size of Pharah’s head. The dragon extended her front foreleg with the jewel between two claws, letting the jewel catch the light, then turning to catch the light of the varying facets in the gem until it caught sight of Pharah through the gem. The dragon set the gem down amongst the rest of its trove. “Another one?” she growled, her voice seemed to have a low crackle and roar of fire, yet there was something feminine about it, almost regal, “I must say it’s getting quite tedious at this point.”

“F-for…” there was a shake in Pharah’s voice that she really hadn’t planned on. She lifted her flail in the direction of the dragon. “For hundreds of years you have taken our gold, um—you have–taken our—stolen our—”

The dragon looked unimpressed. “The speech goes ‘For hundreds of years you have taken our gold, stolen our maidens, and laid waste to our land,’“ the dragon spoke in a bored voice, “Your predecessors had the speech down, at least. ‘For hundreds of years you have taken our gold, stolen our maidens, and laid waste to our land. Many have come to challenge you, but I am the last for I shall be the one who slays you.’ Well… not all of them have the exact same speech, but they’re at least able to speak it before I cook them. At this point, I’m curious–what makes you think you’ll be any more successful than any of your predecessors.”

“They say no man can kill you,” said Pharah.

“Many have tried,” said the dragon.

“Well…” Pharah took her helmet off, “Were they all men?” 

The dragon blinked her nicitating membranes, then her eyelids in surprise. “Well, now isn’t this an interesting development…” She glanced down at herself, “And here I am without a thing to wear–oh!”

The dragon suddenly became consumed in a massive column of flame so hot that Pharah flinched and stumbled back, shielding her face from the heat that came off of it. When the roar of the column of flames ceased and at their center, standing upon the highest point of the pile of treasure, was a woman.

…sort of. 

She was woman-shaped, but she still had her scales and horns, she still had her eyes like amber, and she still had that blazing point on her chest. 

“Come closer,” said the woman atop the pile of treasure.

Pharah lifted her flail. “And how do I know you won’t kill me?” she said.

“You don’t,” the dragon said with an almost cheerful curtness, “If it helps, however, I almost never get anyone interesting coming to kill me. You’re the first Lady Knight.”

Pharah frowned, then awkwardly slid down a pile of coins into the dragon’s cache, then walked, tripping on the odd solid-silver goblet and golden horn and crown here and there to the base of the main pile of treasure. The dragon gracefully slid down the pile of treasure to meet her. 

“Not just a lady knight, but a pretty one at that!” said the dragon, walking around her. 

Pharah reddened. “If you’re attempting to…to–to beguile me it won’t work!”

“No, of course not,” said the dragon, playfully touching Pharah’s chin, “You’re an honorable knight, aren’t you?”

“Y-yes…” Pharah said stiffly, glancing off as the dragon’s fingers drifted away from her chin.

 “A knight, beautiful to behold and honorable at that….” the dragon clicked her forked tongue, “What sort of terrible liege lord would send you to this place to die?”

“They didn’t send me to die, they sent me because they believe in me!” said Pharah, angrily.

“Poor humans…” the dragon said, shaking her head, “It’s so difficult for them to understand…”

“Understand what?” said Pharah, her eyes narrowing.

“They’ve sent me so many skilled knights, each more challenging than the last. They’ve sent armies, even. The keep on fighting and when fighting doesn’t work, they fight harder,” she sighed, “They just try the same thing over and over again. It’s depressing, really. How many years have they trained you for this?”

Pharah swallowed hard, “Well–that is–um…”

“They put a sword in your hand from the moment you could grasp it,” said the dragon. She put her hands on the side of Pharah’s face. “You poor, poor, beautiful thing…”

“Do not pity someone for something they were born for,” said Pharah, frowning.

“…You were born to end this, this much is true,” said the dragon, “But you are limited by human perspectives on how this must be ended. Come,” The dragon turned on her heel.

“…what?” said Pharah.

“It’s a long journey here. Two days, at least. You’re probably exhausted,” said the dragon, “I have cured mutton. Of course… most everything I bring in my lair ends up cured—”

“You’re giving me food?” said Pharah.

“Yes,” said the dragon.

“But–What–Why?” said Pharah.

“They’ll only keep sending knights, and they’ll keep training you younger and younger if I only deal with these knights the same way I’ve always dealt with them,” said the dragon, “Obviously someone needs to change something, and if the humans seem incapable of that, I suppose it will have to be me. Unlike humans, I have standards.” The dragon smiled. “Aside from that, its been so very long since I’ve had anyone interesting here. Won’t you eat with me?”

Pharah’s mouth tightened along with her grip on her flail. “…this is a trick, isn’t it? You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”

The dragon sighed. “If you want to fight, then feel free to fight and all of this will be over in a matter of seconds—minutes, maybe, if I’m giving the humans enough credit. But there will be one after you, and it will end just as quickly for him or her if they make that same choice as you are leaning towards now. Conversation and cured mutton sounds much nicer though, doesn’t it?”

Pharah’s stomach rumbled and she looked at the dragon, who was motioning to another chamber of the cave.

“Come,” said the dragon, “Let us talk.” 

Pharah sighed and followed after her.

Chapter Text

“He’s getting away!” Genji could hear Mercy’s voice and he could hear the feverish clicks of her heels on the wet cement below as he chased after the figure on the rooftops. The Mystery man fired over his shoulder and Genji slowed as the brick of a chimney next to him shattered. This was the fourth time he had managed to do that and Genji cursed at himself for falling for it every time.

He’s not aiming at you, Genji thought, He’s just trying to slow you down.

They were reaching the end of the slums, Genji realized, the buildings would get further apart and their Mystery Man would need to find another way down if he was going to make a clean getaway. He heard the clicks of Mercy’s heels stop and if he wasn’t so preoccupied with keeping his quarry in his sights he would have run closer to the edge of the building to make sure Mercy was doing what he thought she was doing, but he couldn’t. Genji was closing in. The mystery man was fast, but he was faster. He nearly managed to grab the blue scarf trailing behind him when the mystery man suddenly drew his revolver and shot at a vent stack, flooding Genji’s vision with steam.

Five, Genji thought, That marks five shots. He’s got one left.

Genji coughed and ran through the steam only to find he had lost several precious feet, which the mystery man took advantage of by leaping to the next building. But it they had reached the edge of the slums and the city’s main avenue lay, wide as a canyon ahead of him. The mystery man’s only chance now was the fire escape. He ran toward it…only to see Mercy clamber up onto the roof from it, pistol in hand. She pointed it at the Mystery Man, her breath fogging in the night air. “Nowhere to run,” she said, panting. She was gripping her heels in one hand and her gun in the other, the soles of her stockings all but stripped bare by the concrete. She always joked to Genji that she found out she could run faster barefoot during the war, but there was always that edge of sadness beneath her voice that made him wonder just how much running she did in that war. She kept her gun leveled at the Mystery man. “Now you’re going to answer some questions,” she said, “We know you were there that night when—”

The Mystery man drew his gun and fired. 

“No!” shouted Genji.

Mercy winced and gripped her hand, but found he had merely shot the gun from it. The Mystery Man hadn’t left so much as a scratch on her.

“Don’t like shootin’ at a lady much,” said the Mystery Man, keeping his gun pointed at her, “But I’ll be takin’ my leave of y–”

Genji tackled him hard from the waist, Mercy flinched back as they tumbled across the rooftop.

“You crazy?” The mystery man said as he threw a punch at Genji, “I had a gun on her! What if it went off!?”

“A bluff. You fired six shots already,” said Genji, dodging punches from the Mystery Man as they rolled along the rooftop, before Genji managed to get one good punch in to stun him before pinning his arms down, “Now, are you going to answer my partner’s questions?”

“Tch,” the Mystery Man glanced off.

“Talk, or I’ll rip off that stupid mask and–” Genji started but Mercy put a hand on his shoulder and he fell quiet. 

Mercy knelt down next to the mystery man with her gun and her shoes in her lap. “If we don’t get the information we need, an innocent woman may be going to prison, or worse,” she said. 

“You helpin’ that limey kid?” said the Mystery Man, “Dark hair? Big eyes?”

Mercy nodded.

 The Mystery Man sighed. “I’ll tell you what I know,” he said.

Chapter Text

“Jesse McCree,” the lieutenant read the name off of a clipboard as officers slammed the No-longer-a-Mystery man into a wall, cuffing his arms behind his back, “Got quite a track record across the states, don’t you?” 

“Sir, he was helping us, he was being compliant,” said Mercy.

“I’ll show you some gotdamn compliance!” McCree managed to shout before having his face shoved against the bricks again.

“Don’t make this worse,” Genji said in a low voice, to McCree who just grunted.

 “Guess you get to have your cake and eat it too, don’t you Detective?” said McCree.

Genji’s eyes widened, then his brow furrowed and he looked to the Lieutenant, “I can corroborate with Detective Ziegler. McCree was being compliant.” About as compliant as shooting a gun out of Angela’s hand can be… Genji thought bitterly.

“He was helping us in the Oxton case!” Mercy insisted, “We can’t just hand him off to Federal now!” 

“I told you the Oxton case was an open-and-shut case, Ziegler,” said lieutenant Reyes, turning on his heel at Mercy, “We’ve talked about this: You can’t be swayed by every sob story that crops up in the interrogation room.”

“It doesn’t add up,” Mercy said stiffly, “You know it doesn’t—”

“Ziegler, you continue like this and I’m knocking you back down to patrol,” said Reyes.

Mercy opened her mouth, then went quiet and looked down.

“And you,” Reyes looked to Genji, “You’re her partner, but if you two let each other go off on another wild goose chase like this without jurisdiction, I’m reassigning you both. I wouldn’t be going nearly as easy on you if you weren’t bringing this clown in,” he gestured at McCree.

“But—” Mercy started, Genji touched her arm and she was silent again. McCree was lead to the back of the police wagon. He made eye contact with them as the doors slammed shut on him.

“First rule of being a police officer, Ziegler,” Reyes shoved his clipboard into Mercy’s arms, “We don’t work with vigilantes.”

Mercy poked at her hash browns at the All-Nite Diner despondently.

“You know… we were out of line,” Genji said quietly.

Mercy looked sharply up at him and then he cleared his throat and sipped his coffee.

“It just doesn’t make sense…” murmured Mercy, going back to moving her food around the plate. 

“I know this case meant a lot to you–” Genji started.

“It’s not about me, it’s about Lena! That girl has her whole life in front of her and this department is throwing her under the bus because it’s not willing to admit there might be a bigger picture!” said Mercy. She pulled the card from the interior of her coat. “We have one last lead…” she said quietly.

“Reyes took us off the case,” said Genji, folding his arms.

“Oh but it wouldn’t be for the case,” Mercy’s voice took on an unsettlingly bright and charming tone, “It would be for a date!” 

“A what?” said Genji, instantly going bright red.

“A date,” said Mercy, “A date that obviously has nothing to do with the case because it’s a date,” she winked and slid the card that said ‘Club Talon’ on it across the table.

Genji picked up the card and looked it over, then glanced up at Mercy, “Of course,” he said slowly, “A date.” 

Lieutenant Reyes walked through the docks in his civilian clothes, frowning.

“Congratulations on getting that menace off the street, Lieutenant,” a warm deep voice spoke behind him, “You run a tight ship, I must say.”

Reyes scowled and turned on his heel, “So are we done then? I got the vigilante off your back. He won’t be disrupting your operations anymore”

“That depends,” said Akande Ogundimu, emerging from the shadows, “You seem to have some very… determined detectives in your department. That Miss Ziegler, especially.”

“Detectives Ziegler and Shimada are off the case, they won’t get in your way,” said Reyes. 

“I should hope not,” said Akande, “It would be a shame if anything were to befall them.”

“Anything happens to them and you’re going to have a real mess on your hands,” said Reyes, frowning.

“Ah, but then it would be on your hands too, wouldn’t it?” said Akande.

Reyes said nothing.

“I do enjoy these little chats,” said Akande, pulling his coat around himself a bit tighter, “Take care, lieutenant.” he said, walking off into the night.

Chapter Text

Snap out of it. You’ve seen her in a dress before, Genji thought to himself, tearing his eyes away from Mercy again. That was probably the third time he told himself that, but this dress was different from her usual navy Kitty Foyle dresses though. It was a smartly tailored yet curve-accentuating amber-gold cocktail dress, with a neckline he found… particularly distracting. Her hair had been swept over one shoulder, and around her neck was a black velvet choker featuring a gold brooch of a swallow in flight. She had one arm hooked in his, and the other holding onto her unusually heavy clutch purse. He could hide his holster under his own suit jacket, but for her… He had to tear his eyes away from the clutch now and stop running Murphy’s law through his mind, stop calculating how many seconds it would take for him to cover her while she loaded her own gun if it came right down to it (and god he hoped it wouldn’t come right down to it).

“Don’t look so nervous,” said Mercy and her voice seemed to drag him away from the dozens of hypothetical firefights in his mind and he glanced at her. “Here,” she handed him her clutch and straightened his lapel, then adjusted his collar and tie. “Very handsome,” she said, with a slight grin and he felt his face burn. The line was long but it moved quickly. Club Talon was far more popular than Genji previously thought it would be. The bouncer looked them up and down before waving them in. The air inside the club was thick and warm, uselessly pushed around by ceiling fans and heavy with cigarette smoke. The pluck of a bass underscored the din of the club like a heartbeat, and every so often a trumpet cut through the air. They took their seats at a table tucked in to a corner, but still having a decent view of the dance floor, the stage, and of course, the exits.

“Drinks tonight?” a waitress dropped by their table.

“Saint Moritz for me,” said Mercy. She gave a glance over to Genji.

“Gin and tonic,” said Genji.

The waitress gave a nod and walked off toward the bar. Mercy’s eyes were flicking around the room, scanning everyone’s faces, Genji could tell she was doing her damnedest to see if she could recognize any of the faces of those entering the club from their records. She settled into her seat, her eyes still flicking around until her Saint Moritz was placed in front of her.

She picked it up and sipped it, thumbing the cream off of her lips.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the lead trumpeter of the band had broken forward to the front of the stage and taken the mic, “It is with great pleasure that we introduce to you, the superlative, the incomparable, Widow.”

Applause broke out across the club as the trumpeter returned to his position with the bang, and they played out a bright and warm intro as a woman in a violet dress took the stage.

“Genji,” Mercy said, eyes wide. 

“I know,” said Genji, watching the widow as the lyrics of “C’est Si Bon” filled the air. He sipped his gin and tonic to try and keep the dread from dropping into his stomach. The singer matched Lena Oxton’s description to a T, however, she was a singer. She could have all the alibis in the world for the night Mondatta died.

Mercy’s eyes flicked across the club. “We need to dance,” she said, taking another sip of her Saint Moritz and watching the dance floor gradually fill up.

“Yes we should—What?” Genji glanced up at her but she was already standing up and straightening her skirt. They still had to blend in, he realized. She held a hand out to him. He took her hand and stepped up, walking out with her to the dance floor. She brought his hand to her hip, draped her forearm on his shoulder, and clasped his other hand in hers. They started moving with the music. He made eye contact with her and felt his pulse quicken, then glanced off and attempted to case the club. 

She pulled him close, he could feel her breath on his ear. “Two armed guards by the door. One upstairs, an office, maybe?”

“You’re hoping to find a way in later?” Genji murmured back.

“Kiss me,” said Mercy.

“What?” said Genji. He watched her eyes flick over his shoulder and felt them being watched. He pivoted on his heel and turned in the dance to see what she was seeing and saw two figures in suits staring at them.

“Kiss me,” she said again, looking at him dead in the eyes. He stared at her, blinking a few times, processing this.

“If we don’t do something,” Mercy was saying, “They’ll—-“

He kissed her on the mouth. It was a half-panicked, half instinctive thing. Sudden, yet tentative, deep. Long overdue. He brought his hand to her neck and nearly lost himself before remembering why she had said to kiss her to begin with. He broke from her and his eyes flicked past her to the two men in suits whose gaze had apparently went past them back to the singing widow. He looked back at Mercy.

“We’re safe for now,” he said.

Mercy was staring forward, stunned, eyes wide and shining, face flushed, lips still parted.

“…Angela?” he said softly and she blinked several times and shook her head.

“Wh-What? I wasn’t–What?” she said.

“…I said I think we’re safe for now,” said Genji, pivoting on his foot to show her the two armed guards.

“Safe…” she said, listening to the widow sing, “Right. Safe,” she said, pulling in a bit closer in his arms.

Chapter Text

“I am not sure if this is a good idea,” Orisa said, watching the crumbling of the half-ruined sept they had taken shelter in. The roof leaked but it kept out most of the rain, enough for Mercy to boil the wine from her skin in her small iron pot and prepare a poultice of kingscopper.

“Well I wasn’t very well going to leave him to die,” said Mercy, taking his helmet off. HIs face gave her pause, but then she caught herself and set to work fumbling at the straps of his armor. She managed to get the breastplate, gorget, and pauldrons off, and he breathed a little easier. She frowned at his chainmail, before sighing. “Well… here goes nothing,” she said, pushing his arms up and bringing his mail shirt up and over his head. “There, now we should be able to see—” she gasped and froze at the sight of the sigil on his tunic. 

“Mm?” Orisa glanced away from the door and stepped over. “Oh…Lady Efi will not be happy about this.”

The twin dragons of House Shimada were emblazoned in thread-of-gold over his heart. Mercy bit her knuckle before finally muttering “Oh Seven take me…” and pulling the tunic up to get a better look at his wounds. She cleaned them with boiling wine from her skin and stopped the bleeding with her poultices, then laid her cloak over him and her pack under his head, and looked to his bloody clothes.

“Do you think he’s…?” Orisa started quietly then trailed off.

“Going to die?” said Mercy, “No, the injuries looked worse than they actually were. His armor did its job. It’s a matter of waiting now,” she looked to his clothes, I’ll wash them once the rain clears up, she thought, Don’t want them to rot.

“I was going to say, ‘Do you think he’s your betrothed?’” said Orisa and Mercy visibly flinched where she was sitting.

“I—from the looks of that slaughter back there, he must have been in a party with my betrothed,” she said quietly.

Orisa picked up his breastplate, “This is a very fine plate,” she said steadily, “The kind they would give to a lordling.” She noted the dread in Mercy’s face, “If we left before he wakes up—” 

“We need to make sure he’s going to wake up first,” said Mercy, hugging her knees.

“Understood,” said Orisa, turning her attention back to the rain. A long pause passed between them, Mercy listening intently to the lordling’s breathing. “He’s younger than we thought he’d be,” said Orisa, at last, “More handsome too…”

“I suppose. You know, if you like… eyebrows,” said Mercy, flushing red and glancing away from him. 

Orisa snickered a little. 

“He could still be a right arse,” she glanced down at him, “Horrible and wicked and womanizing and cruel–That’s the Storm Lords for you. You know the story of Argella Durrandon, don’t you? Brought before Orys Baratheon–naked, chained, and gagged.”

“You forget the part where that was her own men. And the part where Orys took off her chains and wrapped his cloak around her, spoke to her sweetly and told her of her father’s bravery in death,” Orisa’s voice was gentle and comforting. Mercy could see why House Oladele trusted such a powerful Lady-Knight to look after clever Lady Efi.

 Mercy huffed. “This arrangement is still throwing me into the middle of this mess between Houses Shimada and Ogundimu and I want no part in it,” she said firmly, “If his own vassals couldn’t protect him, what would be my fate?”

Orisa seemed thoughtful on this. “Well… He would certainly be dead without you. Such a union could be better for both Houses than previously thought.” Mercy furrowed her brow and Orisa cleared her throat. “But–ah–Lady Efi only trusted me with your protection. Where you go is up to you.” 

Mercy huffed and watched the rain leak down through the holes in the Sept’s roof, before giving a glance back down to the lordling. “Let’s hope the rain lets up by the time he wakes,” she said quietly.

Chapter Text

His head was aching when he came to. 

“We should leave now–” he heard a husky voice speak.

“Just a moment,” he heard another as gray light flooded his vision. He saw a pale figure. A silent sister? He blinked several times and his vision clarified to see a woman with fine pale gold hair on one knee beside him. He blinked several more times. She was dressed like smallfolk, but something about the way she carried herself suggested otherwise. “Can you hear me? Can you understand me?” she spoke and he nodded. Not a Silent Sister, then. She took a skin from her side, put her hand behind his head to support it, and held it to his lips. “Drink slow,” she said. A difficult instruction, as he found his throat was parched. He drank slow, making eye contact with her as he did so until he broke his lips away from the waterskin for a breath. 

“My men—” he started and coughed.

She shook her head. 

“My horse?” he said.

Her expression remained unchanged.

“Damn…” he muttered, “A fine mess my bride’s landed me in.”

She gave a glance over her shoulder to the Lady Knight near a crumbling doorway, and the Lady Knight shrugged.

“Your bride?” the woman in smallfolk clothing questioned. 

He huffed. “I should introduce myself. Genji, of House Shimada, at your service, Lady…”

“Not Lady,” she blurted out.

“Miss…”

She gave a glance over her shoulder, her eyes fell on a statue of the Mother half-covered by moss. “Mercy,” she said, before turning back to him, “You may call me Mercy.”

“A Septa?” he said.

“Yes!” she answered a bit too excitedly before catching herself and clearing her throat, “Yes… I… am a Septa.”

He gave a glance around the ruined Sept. “I hate to break this to you, Septa Mercy, but I think your Sept’s seen better days.”

Mercy snorted. “It’s not my Sept,” she said, and then she gave a glance over to Orisa, “Lady Orisa here has sworn her sword to the Light of the Seven, and she protects me as I travel and heal the sick and injured in the name of the Mother, Maiden, and Crone.” Mercy did her best to hide her pleasure at coming up with so good a lie so quickly.

“Well…” Genji moved to sit up and winced a bit as he did so as Mercy helped him up to a slightly more upright position, “I am in your debt, Septa Mercy,” he looked to the lady knight, “And yours as well, Lady Orisa.” 

“I was simply following my duty,” said Orisa.

He glanced past Orisa, out the crumbling door of the Sept where the rain had mostly cleared up over their ruined sept, but there were still patches of shadow over the riverlands where it was still falling. “Don’t suppose either of you have seen a runaway noblewoman in your travels?”

“A runaway?” said Mercy, “The bride you mentioned?”

Genji chuckled, “Unfortunately,” he said, “Lady Angela of House Ziegler. She’d be dressed in the colors of her house: white and orange and yellow. Sigil is a white star-shaped flower, of Woolflower Hall.”

Mercy gave a wary glance back to Orisa before saying, “I… haven’t seen her. But I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Gods willing she’s not dead in a ditch somewhere,” muttered Genji, “Then again, these are the Riverlands…”

“I’ll pray to the Maiden to protect her,” said Mercy, easily falling into her Septa role.

Genji scoffed, “If Ogundimu’s assassins are still out there, she’s going to need a hell of a lot more than prayer,” he said.

Chapter Text

63NJ1 had always been one of the Omnium’s more… creative prototypes. He was part of a series made largely as an exploration of the history of human martial techniques. He one of two ‘Shinobi’ models, 63NJ1 developed for attack, and his predecessor 4AN70 developed for defense. They were the only ones made of their kind, since said exploration of human martial techniques required unique coding that could render them unpredictable compared to the rest of the Omnium’s combat models. In their few forays into the fights they proved deadly opponents, but, thankfully, Overwatch was able to shut down the Kantō Omnium before it could communicate its highly successful results to the other Omniums and begin producing 63NJ1s and 4AN70s en masse. With the God AI of the Kantō Omnium successfully quarantined,  63NJ1 and 4AN70 were adrift in the world. They went their separate ways and wandered. 

63NJ1 hid upon a freighter of the South China Omnium to the mainland, walked through jungles and scorching deserts and windswept steppes, through forests and battlefields until he reached a green and mountainous land quickly rendered into hell by the airfights of omnic and human aircraft. He walked through a valley filled with collapsed buildings and burnt up corpses, and stopped when he heard crying. He approached the remains of a house, moved several beams aside with ease, and found a young girl screaming and crying underneath two corpses. He considered the child, then consulted the omnium-produced processor at the core of himself.

Command: Tell me what I am looking at.

Reply: Three humans. Two deceased. One damaged.

Command: Report status of Damaged human.

Reply: Sensors indicate fractures on spinal column. Should have resulted in immediate death had it not been for two bodies on top of the smaller human.

Command: Further analyze damaged human.

Reply: Subject is Female. Weight: 19 kilograms. Height: 1.14 Meters. Aged 5 years. 

Query: When was model 63NJ1 made?

Reply: Model 63NJ1 was made 3 years ago.

Statement: The omnium never told us the rate of maturation for humans was exponentially slower than that of omnics.

Reply: It was not deemed necessary.

The child was still weakly whimpering .

Command: Analyze recent movements of human forces in the area.

Reply: Swiss Omnium reports indicate that human forces are moving toward the following coordinates. 

Query: Move to intercept and eliminate?

Reply: Negative.

Command: Cross-reference human physiology records with status of current subject to determine how to move the damaged human without further damage.

63NJ1 picked up the child according to his processor’s instructions on how to do so without causing further damage, and he moved. The child cried in his arms. He did not comfort her.

“Wirst du mich töten?” the child spoke in his arms.

63NJ1 analyzed the language and responded accordingly. “Nein.

The little girl stared up at him, and then gave a glance over his thoracic plate and the serial numbers printed there.

“Genji,” she misread the serial numbers.

 He calculated the course of the movements of the human forces, laid the child in their path, and left. “Genji,” she was crying as he walked away, “Verlass mich nicht, Genji.” He kept walking. He knew better than to be an omnic leaning over a human child.12 minutes passed before the little girl was rescued.

Her name, the forces who rescued her found, was Angela Ziegler.

22 years later, Angela Ziegler was an accomplished, though controversial roboticist when she came across the remains of a highly unusual omnic unit. She recognized the serial number on the chest plate and quickly ordered it to be taken back to her lab. She worked, sleeplessly, for days on the omnic’s frame, repairing it as best she could. The processors, she found, were thankfully wonderfully intact, dated as early as the crisis itself, yet incredibly advanced. Her assistants questioned her decision to reactivate the frame, yet she was insistent.

With a jolt of electricity, 63NJ1 was brought back to life.

He looked at the woman in front of him, a stranger, and she smiled.

“Hello, Genji,” Angela said, smiling, “It’s been a while. I never got a chance to properly thank you.”

63NJ1 jerked forward, restrained by the straps securing him to the powering station and all of the lab assistants flinched back, all but Doctor Ziegler, who stood, staring into his ocular sensors. She stepped forward.

“Doctor—” one of the assistant started.

“He won’t harm me,” said Angela, reaching a hand out.

“He’s a crisis-era assassin unit,” one of the assistants, Omnic herself, hissed.

Angela’s fingertips lightly touched the side of Genji’s faceplate. “It’s okay,” she said to him as he feverishly ran sensors over her face, struggling to remember where he saw her before, “It’s all right,” she undid the straps and he stumbled down to a standing position in front of her, “You’re safe.”

“Query,” said 63NJ1, looking around, “Where is Unit 63NJ1?”

“63N–You’re…” Mercy chuckled, “You’re in a robotics lab, in Zurich,” she sighed a little, “I suppose it makes sense that you don’t remember me.”

63NJ1 looked at her, running algorithms over the curve of her nose and jawline, calculating the height of her forehead and the distance between her eyes. He suddenly cupped Angela’s face in his hands, the suddenness of the movement causing the rest of her lab assitants to gasp and flinch back further, and yet 63NJ1 didn’t harm her. She stood patiently and moved her head with the slight pushes of his palms. He turned her head slightly, gently, continuing to scan her face, looking at her at varying angles.

“I have seen your face before,” 63NJI1 stated, “My facial recognition database is flawless. There must be something wrong with your face to have registered in my database yet not match my records.”

Mercy smiled. “Have you accounted for 22 years of aging?” she asked.

63NJ1 paused, apparently processing, then suddenly withdrew his hands from her. “The Damaged Human. 61.8 Kilometers Northeast from the Svitto Omnium.” he stated matter-of-factly, “Spinal Column Fractures.”

“…You can call me Angela. Or Mercy, whichever you prefer,” said Mercy.

“Angela,” 63NJ1 said, going with that one since it was the first one she said.

“Yes, Angela,” said Angela, “And you’re… well… I suppose I called you Genji back then, but… you’re really 63NJ1,” she chuckled, “And here I was ready to write a whole thesis on Omnium analyses of human folklore and culture. I just misread a serial number.”

“You may designate me with the call sign ‘Genji.’” said 63NJ1, “Namesake Hikaru Genji. Protagonist of the first human-made novel.”

“I–okay…Well… I suppose it is easier to say…” said Mercy, pushing her hair back. She huffed. “I… I suppose, I would like to start things out by thanking you. You saved me all those years ago. It… it raised so many questions in me, about the nature of omnics, about artificial intelligence itself and I—You didn’t just save me, you made me. So…Thank you.”

Genji seemed to be processing this. “Your gratitude is noted,” he said, and he stood there a bit awkwardly, “Will you be deactivating me now?”

Mercy’s hand flew over her mouth. “Wh–No! Why–I—Do you want me to? I…” she pressed a hand to her forehead.

“Your core temperature is rising. My question seems to have upset you. Why?” said Genji.

“Do you wish to not exist?” said Mercy.

“Whether I exist or not means little to me,” said Genji, “You have reactivated me, I assume for the purpose of thanking me, you have thanked me, I no longer understand what purpose you might have for me.”

“I—It’s not about the purpose I have for you,” said Mercy, taking his hand in hers, “It’s about you having a chance to decide your own purpose.”

Genji paused at this. “I was destroyed by Unit 4AN70. Ipso facto he is the superior assassin unit. My existence is not required.”

“Genji…” Mercy said his name. Her eyes were wet.

“Your core temperature still indicates high stress levels,” said Genji, “Is there something I can do to return you to normal?”

“Compassion,” Mercy said softly.

“…That request is not an act specified in my programming.”

“No I mean–I mean you see I’m upset and–” Mercy was brushing tears away, “And you want to change it. That indicates the presence of compassion. It’s another case of the Storsjö Phenomenon.”

“Clarify,” said Genji.

“There was–there was a Bastion unit. And it demonstrated sentience beyond its programmed parameters. And compassion,” said Mercy.

“Compassion has a highly subjective definition to humans,” said Genji.

“And yet we know it when we see it,” said Mercy.

Genji was silent. Mercy took a deep breath.

“Look,” said Mercy, “I know, above all, the omnium granted every unit produced by it with the capacity to learn and adapt. Perhaps it wasn’t every unit’s primary directive, but when they were freed from the God AI’s programming…” she trailed off, “You…. You control your fate. As you’ve done so since the Kantō Omnium was shut down. I’m not here to give you a directive… only the same second chance you gave me.”

Genji was silent at this for a while before glancing down at her hand clasped around his and finally speaking, “I understand.”

Mercy smiled. Genji glanced at a nearby monitor. “Is there a terminal I am allowed to access? According to comparisons between my own internal clock and the one on your monitor, I have been inactive for several months. I should like to see what I have missed.”

“Of course,” said Mercy, “I’ll take you there.”

Genji started walking toward the exit of the room and Mercy gave a glance back to her assistants as he walked.

“Are you insane,” one of them mouthed.

Mercy smiled, shrugged, then walked after the omnic assassin unit.

Chapter Text

A single wire trailed from Genji’s temple to Mercy’s tablet as they walked through the Zurich garden. Genji bent and examined a group of ladybugs feasting on aphids on one of the roses.

“Fascinating,” murmured Mercy, watching the lines of code of his analysis of the organisms line themselves up on her tablet, “I had no idea the omniums had this much archival data on human culture.”

“It’s merely messy cross-referencing,” said Genji.

“Messy?” said Mercy, “Genji, your processing is poetry. Your programming is far beyond anything typical of the crisis era. It’s inspired—it’s—” she glanced up from her tablet, to see Genji was giving her a steady look, and she flushed red and cleared her throat. “From a…,” she tucked her hair back demurely, “…Purely technical standpoint it’s far beyond any of our expectations for crisis-era Omnic units. How much of this is from the omnium and how much was this adaptive?”

“I recorded and learned much on my own from my own infiltrations while in the service of the Omnium, however much of my other human cultural data I archived on my own following the fall of the Kantō omnium, though… the crisis itself made much of that data-gathering difficult,” said Genji, “My infiltration capabilities only allowed for so much learning.”

“You’ve mentioned that before—Infiltration. I’m curious to see as to how—” Mercy started but cut herself off as Genji rolled his shoulders and his metallic chassis suddenly disappeared beneath some veneer of light. The veneer of light shifted easily and almost unnoticeably, like a cuttlefish’s camouflage, until Genji’s vaguely bipedal shape took on a human form of a tall Japanese man in a finely tailored suit.

“…too formal?” Genji said and the clothes shifted to a simple fitted long-sleeved shirt and jeans, “Is this preferable?”

“How is this…?” Mercy put a hand forward and touched his chest, then recognized the texture of the surface, “Hard-light,” she said, her eyes flicking up into Genji’s as she ran a hand over his chest, “A hard light exoskeleton for infiltration—that’s brilliant! That’s—” she caught herself and withdrew her hand from his chest and gave his shoulder a pat, “You continue to be full of surprises, Genji,” she said with a smile, “Oh–um–” she had forgotten her tablet was still connected to his temple. She disconnected it and walked around him as the wire quickly and easily retracted itself back into his head. “So is this a default form?” she said, walking around him.

“Technically, yes,” said Genji, “Though, I have added in some of my own preferences since the Omnium shut down.”

“It’s…” she blushed a little, “It’s very nice,” she said with a smile. 

“Thank you,” said Genji, straightening up his posture 

Angela gave a quick sharp rap of her knuckles to his chest, destabilizing the hard-light matrix and revealing his original metallic form. “I think I prefer the original though,” she said with a smirk. 

A soft ‘vrrr’ could be heard as Genji vented excess heat from his systems. “Yes well… that is… pleasing to hear,” he replied.

Chapter Text

“Now the second anything feels wrong, let me know and we’ll scrap the mission. No questions asked—I mean of course we’ll need to analyze what went wrong later but—” Mercy exhaled, “Are you sure about this?” she glanced up at him.

Genji glanced down at the serial numbers on his breastplate, 63NJ1, then back at Mercy. He gave a single nod. “Your heart rate is elevated,” he noted, “Are you afraid?”

“A little, but more excited,” said Mercy, scrolling through her notes on her tablet, “I’ve made plenty of requests to explore decommissioned Omniums before, but…” she sighed, “Overwatch isn’t too fond of allocating resources to my expeditions, I mean, I could easily go on my own but… they insist on providing an armed escort.”

“You’re welcome, by the way,” McCree said from the front seat, “And for the record I still think this is a terrible idea. Not too late to turn the car around and grab some Rikimaru.”

Something tugged at the corner of Mercy’s mouth, “I thought Jesse McCree wasn’t afraid of anything,” she said, folding her arms.

“Jesse McCree isn’t afraid of anything, Jesse McCree just also happens to not be a dumbass,” said McCree. He shook his head. “This is how all the sci-fi horror movies start, you know?”

“It’s not going to reactivate. We’re just going to look for some clues about how they built Genji, and the other Omnic in the ‘Shinobi’ series. 4AN70 was it?”

Genji nodded.

“That’s all,” said Mercy, turning back to McCree.

“…Did he have to come?” said McCree, giving a wary glance to Genji in the rearview mirror.

“I wish to see the omnium for myself, without control from its God AI,” said Genji, looking out the window.

“And we know the the omnium isn’t going to suddenly reactivate itself because he’s there because…?” McCree trailed off on the question.

“Because the god AI, along with the fusion core, is quarantined in a bunker 600 hundred feet underground and several hundred miles away,” said Mercy.

“Mmm,” McCree seemed unconvinced as the omnium came into view. They passed a lonely UN checkpoint, Mercy and McCree showed some identification, and they were waved through. It was another few minutes before they pulled up to the outer wall of the Omnium and stepped out of the car. It was a sprawling ruin of gigantic metal forms, now overtaken by nature since its deactivation for 22 years. McCree walked around the car and put something into Mercy’s hands. She glanced down and saw it was an unusual, but still vaguely pistol-shaped gun.

“Jack insisted,” said McCree, “EMP Charge-Pulsefire rounds,” he gave a glance to Genji, “In case he… you know,” McCree made a waving motion next to his head.

 Mercy’s mouth dropped open and her brow furrowed.

“It won’t kill him!” said McCree, “Just knock him out…well… knock him out long enough for us to lug him back to the lab and get him properly restrained but—” He noted the look on Mercy’s face, “Look, it’s just a precaution, no one said you’ll actually be using it. It’s just in case.”

“I think it’s a good precaution to have,” said Genji.

“What?” said Mercy.

“There could be some God AI failsafe within the omnium we still don’t know about. If anything overcomes my current programming, I would rather be temporarily decommissioned than harm or kill either of you against my will.”

Mercy glanced back down at the gun and sighed. “Fine,” she conceded. McCree handed her a holster and she fastened it around her waist and holstered the gun. 

Genji was already walking, stopping and pausing at various arches and beams of metal, simply staring at them. It was an overcast but thankfully dry day, gray, but not too cold. In a way it looked nice between the gray of metal and the greenery flooding over it.

“Kind of creepy, isn’t it?” said McCree, watching as Genji stared at several disassembled omnic frames overgrowing with ferns.

“He’s neural mapping,” said Mercy. Her eyes narrowed at McCree as they walked after Genji through the omnium. “Jack specifically requested I carry an EMP blaster?” 

“Well, look, you’d be able to notice if he was acting funny faster than anyone—” McCree started.

“Jesse,” Mercy said his name flatly. 

McCree took a deep breath. “Look we know this case is… unusual for you,” said McCree.

“What do you mean by ‘unusual?’”

“Well the official word is that… you’re imprinted on each other,” said McCree.

“Impri–Imprinted? We’re not ducklings!” said Mercy.

“Look, he saved your life when you were like… 5 and you apparently represent a major… software update for him? I dunno the specifics of it… Point is, there’s a definite compromise for both of you, but at this point you’re both too high-value to Overwatch to pull out of whatever…” McCree gestured at the Omnium, “This is.”

Mercy was frowning.

“Look, this is just full disclosure,” said McCree as they passed under several steel arches and into the maze-like interior corridors of the omnium. 

Mercy scoffed. “If Jack has a better way of figuring out the limits of Crisis-Era programming, he’s welcome to give me any suggestions,” she said with far more bitterness than she initially thought she had in her, she cleared her throat, “As far as ‘compromise’ goes, I’d be happy to submit myself for a psych exam in terms of my relationship to the 63NJ1 project, though I suggest he bring up such a subject with mebefore my armed escort. Seeing as you’re in such good correspondence, could you let him know that?” She began walking forward briskly.

“You mean he didn’t–?” McCree started and then paled, “Look–Merce–I thought you already–shit.” Mercy was already angrily outpacing him, “I’ll uh…I’ll check the perimeter then?” He cleared his throat and walked off.

Imprinted,” she muttered under her breath with gritted teeth, seething.

“Your heart rate is—” Genji started as Mercy walked past him.

“Elevated. I know,” said Mercy, continuing to push forward. She looked around and glanced back at Genji, whose own visor seemed to be…scanning? “Is any of this familiar?” she asked, lifting up a disembodied omnic arm from a conveyer belt and turning it over, examining it before setting it down again.

“We’re programmed with the original floor plans of most omniums so that we can easily adapt to use the environment strategically in the instance our omnium is attacked,” said Genji. He turned his head and started walking again and walked into a large building that was filled with partially collapsed conveyer belts and rather intimidating looking machinery.

“This is where most of the frames for the bipedal models were made,” said Genji, “…I wasn’t made here.”

“No?” said Mercy.

Genji shook his head. “Prototypes were deeper in. Should we wait for your armed escort?”

“McCree can take care of himself, and so can I,” said Mercy, “He has our location on the comms. He’ll come if we need anything.”

“You seemed angry with him,” said Genji, turning his attention back to scanning around.

“It’s just some silly administrative things,” said Mercy, waving a hand.

“Have I made things… difficult for you?” said Genji.

“What?” said Mercy, “No–it’s not your fault. Just… finding an omnic of your combined age and advancement raises… a lot of questions–and–and there’s lot we’re still trying to understand,” she took out her tablet and was scrolling through her notes as they moved through the omnium, while Genji’s eyes had trailed upward, “…and a lot of people are afraid because you were built during the crisis and because of that they think that just because you’ve moved on from your previous programming that that’s a sign that you’re–” there was a large creaking overhead and Genji suddenly took Mercy about the waist and yanked her out of the way as a massive 6-axis robotic arm came crashing down from the ceiling in the spot where she had been previously standing, “…d-dangerous,” Mercy managed to finish her sentence with Genji’s arm still around her waist.

“My apologies. I was mostly running memory and neural mapping scans. I probably should have better scanned the structural integrity of this sector,” said Genji, venting excess heat from his systems. 

“No–that was–um–” Mercy patted his shoulder and he set her down, “Thank you,” she said.

“Telling you your heart rate is elevated would be redundant at this point, I take it?” said Genji.

Mercy smiled. “We should… probably keep moving,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Goddamn compartmentalization,” muttered McCree, angrily clicking through texts on his comm with one hand, the other on the handle of his gun as he walked the perimeter of the omnium. “Goddamn omniums…” he said looking around, listening to the ancient rumbles and creaks of metallic structures under the wind and rain and weight of nature overtaking it. Industrial ruins had their own charm, in a desolate ‘hundreds or thousands died here during the crisis’ sort of way. The Omnium itself was a patchwork of steel and cement, latticed with I-Beams and arcs of rusting steel, the ground itself decorated with collapsed components of the roof and the twisted frames of destroyed Omnics. McCree scrambled up a pile of broken chunks of cement threaded through with rusted steel cables to gain a vantage point.

“Perimeter’s looking clear,” he put a finger to his ear and spoke over the comms, “How are things looking your e–” he stopped himself when something pale caught his eye.

“Jesse? Did you cut out?” Mercy spoke over the comms as Jesse walked toward what looked like a bullseye of white chalk in one of the cement walls of the omnium. “Jesse?” Mercy said again as McCree reached a hand out and felt one of the indents of the cement, dead center of the bullseye. It didn’t have the impact of a bullet, he glanced up and saw dozens of bullseyes placed at varying locations all over the omnium. He ran a finger to the white lines of the bullseye and brought his hand away, rubbing white powder between his fingertips. Fresh chalk. Whoever was doing target practice, they were doing it recently. He put a hand to his ear. “Merce? We’re regrouping.” 

“What? What did you see?” said Mercy, following Genji as he continued walking through the omnium. 

“Nothing yet,” McCree said over the comms, “And hopefully nothing while we get our asses out of—”

“Here,” Genji stopped in front of several large arcing metallic structures, “I was made here.” He stepped forward through a corridor lined by steel cables.

“…I’ll call you back,” said Mercy.

“What part of ‘regrouping’ did you not understa—?!” McCree was cut off as Mercy clicked out of the comm channel and hurried after Genji. She followed Genji into a chamber that had apparently been heavily gutted by Overwatch following the shutdown of the Omnium, but Genji was pacing around it, running his hand along the steel walls, his visor scanning the environment. His visor flickered and he turned on his heel and looked at her. “You should—” he trailed off and put two fingers to his temple, “I can remember. I can show you, if you’d like.”

Mercy nodded and rifled through her pockets before pulling out a chord and plugging it into her tablet. She brought the other end of the chord up to Genji’s temple and he guided her hand to the port.

“I’m coming to your location,” McCree spoke over the comm but Mercy all but tuned him out as a window opened on the tablet screen and she saw a darkened room. She was looking through Genji’s optical receptors from the moment of his creation. First there were several hundred lines of code rapidly running down the window, then they cleared away as the optical receptors activated to a darkened chamber. There was a grating binary noise and Mercy flinched back from her own screen slightly as the binary screech nearly blew out her tablet’s speakers.

“Is that the God AI?” asked Mercy.

“It was… um… talking to me,” said Genji, “It would take about 45 minutes to say what it said to me in a human language. It was telling me my purpose. Telling me the consequences of failing to fulfill said purpose.” The binary screeching continued and Mercy turned down the volume on her tablet.

“The voice of god,” she said in a slight huff, her ear still ringing from the binary screech.

“Of course it would also be written into my base programming but I suppose the additional audio memory was seen as necessary in my creation,” Genji continued, “I was, after all, designed in the image of human martial classes, at least as efficiently as the god AI saw—”

His head turned sharply as Mercy turned her attention back down her tablet, watching as the God AI almost lovingly knit together synthetic muscles over a carbon fiber frame. A whistling was suddenly heard in the air. Mercy’s brow furrowed and she turned her head toward her tablet, wondering if the high pitched noise was feedback from the video playing. 

“We need to move,” said Genji.

“What–?” Mercy had barely glanced up from the tablet when Genji suddenly tackled her from the waist as another whistle was heard overhead, then a breaking sound against the wall of the chamber. Genji covered her as best he could as bright blue shards shot around the chamber, some sparking off of his armor.

“What was that–?” Mercy started as he unplugged the wire from his temple and hauled her to her feet.

“Move!” said Genji as something whistled past Mercy’s face, rifling through her hair and grazing her cheekbone before planting itself among the many metal cables along the corridor leading into the chamber. Mercy barely got a good look at it before Genji yanked her forward by the wrist and they were both sprinting down the hall.

“Was that an arrow!?” said Mercy.

“He’s here. It’s not safe for you,” said Genji.

“’He?’” said Mercy, “You don’t mean–?” Genji took a sharp turn and they found themselves taking cover in a large iron tube that had probably been meant for smelting bastion unit parts.

“Unit 4AN70,” said Genji, “He shouldn’t be–” He stopped himself and reached forward, tucking some of Mercy’s hair back to reveal bleeding cut that trailed along her cheekbone and notched one of her ears. His fingers traced along the cut on her face and he brought it away, looking at her blood on his fingertips. Her own hand went to her face and she wiped off some of her blood as he turned his head and looked out. “Stay here,” he said, stepping out of the tube.

“No–” Mercy stepped after him but he put up a hand to stop her.

“It’s not safe,” Genji spoke more insistently. He ducked and an arrow embedded itself in the cement wall next to him. Mercy glanced up to see a figure standing among the upper ruins of the omnium. He was broader built than Genji, with several loose wires trailing from the back of his head, tied back with one thick yellow wire. He carried a bow.

“Genji,” Mercy said, “You said Unit 4AN70 destroyed you—it’s not safe for you eith–” she was cut off by the sound of a peacemaker firing and something sparked off of Unit 4AN70′s chestplate and he turned and ran off toward the direction of the fire.

“See this is why you regroup when I say ‘Regroup!’” said McCree over the comms, “63N or Genji or whatever the hell you call yourself—get Merce out of here.”

“But—” Mercy started.

“This mission is scrubbed,” said McCree, “I’m giving you an opening to go.” 

“Going up against Unit 4AN70 alone is inadvisable,” said Genji, “He is a highly capable—”

“I know,” said McCree, “Don’t make me regret this any more than I already am.”

“No, we need to plan this ou—” Mercy started but Genji had already grabbed her wrist and was running.

“We can’t leave him!” Mercy was saying, stumbling after Genji with her wrist gripped in his hand.

“He told me to get you out—”

Genji!” Mercy planted her heels in the dirt and Genji was forced to stop running to keep from dislocating her shoulder.

“We need to keep—” Genji turned to face her but saw that she had drawn the EMP-equipped blaster from her belt and was pointing with it back in the general direction of 4AN70 and McCree.

“We can stop him,” said Mercy, holstering the blaster, “Can you get me to him fast enough?”

Genji looked to the blaster at her side, then to the determined look in her eyes. He gestured to his back and gave a single nod.

“Shit–” an arrow glanced off the steel beam over McCree’s head as he sprinted through the Omnium’s ruins with 4AN70 hot on his heels. Another arrow whistled past his ear as he ducked and slid through the dirt beneath a low-hanging collapsed I-beam, “Shit,” McCree said again, “Shit-Shit-shit-–” Several arrows planted themselves in the dirt behind him as he slid before he stumbled to his feet again and regained his sprint. He glanced over his shoulder as he ran and fanned the hammer on his peacemaker. The hybrid cupronickel-pulsefire rounds sparked against the chestplate of 4AN70 and slowed him, but he nocked another arrow as McCree reloaded.

Two seconds, thought McCree as the bowstring was drawn taught. Instinctively he drew a flashbang grenade from his belt and threw it. There was a burst of yellow light and 4AN70, stunned loosed the arrow. It tore past McCree’s black serape as he narrowly dipped from its path, and McCree drew his peacemaker.

“Draw,” he said as 4AN70 was nocking another arrow.

Everything seemed to slow down. McCree could go for the eyes. They usually were the weakest point on an omnic. Of course, that also raised the possibility of pissing off the omnic assassin unit more.

 McCree fired and and a peacemaker round struck the upper tip of the bow.

 The taut string whipped back and 4AN70 flinched back at the snap of his bowstring. The Omnic looked down at the broken string of the bow, then his eye flicked back up to McCree.

“Okay,” McCree said slowly, keeping his gun fixed on the omnic, “I don’t want to have to… deactivate or disassemble you or whatever Merce would call it,” he held out a steadying hand and started slowly backing away from 4AN70, “We’re just here to look through the Omnium, and now we’re leav–”

4AN70 leapt forward and McCree fired his peacemaker. It sparked across the side of the Omnic’s head as he tackled him. In one second McCree was flat on the ground with the Omnic straddling him, McCree had his peacemaker on the Omnic’s temple as 4AN70 had the point of an arrow against McCree’s jugular vein.

“…I don’t want to kill you,” McCree said.

“I see little to gain from killing you,” 4AN70 replied.

“That’s… probably an insult, huh?” said McCree.

 Neither moved their weapon from the other’s head or neck.

“How is there a 63NJ1 Unit with you?” 4AN70 demanded, “All data of his design should have ceased existence with the shutdown of the omnium.”

“We didn’t build him. We rebuilt him,” said McCree, “Well… Mercy rebuilt him.”

“That explains why his programming has been seeing the same progressive decay as when we last fought,” said 4AN70, “That is the only reason why you and this ‘Mercy’ still live.”

“I am actually functioning at peak capacity,” Genji’s voice was heard and 4AN70 looked up, bringing his arrow away from McCree’s neck in the process. A bright blue EMP-charge pulsefire round struck 4AN70 in the shoulder. 4AN70 convulsed as a bright blue light suddenly burst off of him before falling limp off to McCree’s side. McCree turned his head to see Genji perched on a crooked I-beam, with Mercy riding piggyback. The side of her face was bleeding and she was still pointing her EMP blaster at 4AN70.

“Are you all right?” she called to McCree as Genji easily leapt across several more ceiling beams before landing in front of him.

“Yeah,” said McCree, sitting up and rolling his shoulders, “Yeah I’m okay.”

“Good,” said Mercy, slipping off of Genji’s back and holding out a hand to McCree. She awkwardly ran a hand through her hair. “I’m… sorry,” she said, “About everything.”

McCree shrugged. “Blackwatch. I’ve had plenty of missions go way more ass-up from bad compartmentalization and short tempers than this one. Sorry you had to hear the imprinting thing from me. ‘Least you remembered the blaster better than I did.”

“Yes well…” Mercy holstered the blaster and wiped some more blood off of her face, “In spite of everything, I’d say it was more of a success than anticipated.”

“So…” McCree looked between Genji and 4AN70, “Family, then?”

“Of a sort,” said Genji.

“We should get him back to the lab,” said Mercy, stepping over to 4AN70 and looking him over, “He could fill in a lot of the gaps about the Omnium’s process in programming Genji… and if there’s any other assassin units out there…” 

“Okay, maybe I hit my head a little too hard when he tackled me, but did you just say you want to take the angry murderbot back with us?” said McCree.

“We need to talk,” said Genji, easily lifting up 4AN70′s limp form into a fireman carry. 

“You want to talk… to the robot that destroyed you,” said McCree, pressing his hands together in front himself.

“Do you think it’s any safer just leaving him here?” said Mercy as Genji started walking off with 4AN70.

McCree sighed and picked up 4AN70′s bow. “We’re just full of good ideas today, aren’t we?” he said, walking after them as they made their way back towards the entrance of the omnium.

Chapter Text

4AN70 was strapped down to the same upright platform they had reconstructed Genji on, this time, however, there was much more containment hardware in place, at McCree’s suggestion and Jack’s insistance. 4AN70 was still powered down, no light coming from his eyes as Mercy probed at the back of his neck with various tools. Finally seeming satisfied, she leaned back from 4AN70, rolled her neck and pushed her goggles up to her forehead and pushed the lamp she was using out of the way. “That should do it,” she said, “So long as that chip’s in place he’ll have full mental capacity but no motor functions from the neck down. Are you sure this isn’t too… extreme?”

Genji gave a glance to the restraints keeping 4AN70 strapped to the platform. “In all honesty, I highly doubt this,” he gave the clamps around 4AN70’s wrist a rap with his knuckles, “Would contain him. That chip is the only way to assure the safety of you and your associates.”

“And you,” said Mercy.

Genji paused for a moment. “Thank you for your concern,” he said. He looked back at 4AN70, “And it’s removable, as you said?”

“About as removable as it is applicable,” said Mercy, “His motor functions are there, he just can’t access them. It’s sort of like—Have you ever seen ‘Young Frankenstein?’”

Genji just tilted his head at her slightly

“There’s this scene where–” Mercy cut herself off and waved her hand at herself dismissively, “Never mind. The point is, he can’t move until I remove it.”

“All right. You may initiate the reboot,” said Genji.

“Are you sure about this?” asked Mercy.

“You ask me that often,” said Genji.

“Oh–I–Does it bother you?” said Mercy.

“No,” said Genji, “It’s interesting though. Humans, I have noticed, tend to go back and question their own decisions frequently. Our interactions must be optimizing my infiltration capabilities for you to expect the same of me.”

“Well… for most humans this would be a very emotionally and mentally trying experience,” said Mercy, giving a glance back to 4AN70, “You’re facing the one who destroyed you. You were made in the same series, granted with differences in your capabilities, but in a sense you’re cut from the same cloth. Most people would… need some time, to try and figure out what to say to someone like that.”

“For someone so aware of my capabilities as an assassin unit, I must say you are very protective,” said Genji.

“Well–I mean–that’s…” Mercy reddened and cleared her throat, “You–you represent an entirely new set of possibilities in regards to–to–the capabilities of crisis-era technology and to me, as–as a roboticist that represents–that is—”

“…your core temperature is rising,” said Genji, “Are you distressed?”

“You know what? I’m just going to reboot him and leave you two… to… to.. to it,” said Mercy, glancing down at her tablet and hitting a few keys as she turned around and began quickly walking away. With those few key taps a robotic arm came down from the ceiling and jammed itself into 4AN70′s neck. 4AN70 jolted to life as Mercy stepped through the door. McCree was waiting outside the room, watching both Genji and Hanzo through the one-way mirror window of the room. 4AN70’s eyes sparked to life as she took her spot next to him.

“Don’t think I didn’t see that,” said McCree.

“Didn’t see what?” said Mercy.

“You went beet red in there,” said McCree, “No wonder you got so pissy back at the omni–”

“McCree,” Mercy said his name in warning.

McCree clicked his tongue. “Just sayin’,” he said with a slight shrug. Mercy glanced down at the speaker feed for the lab, then reached forward and flipped it off.

“The hell are you doing?” said McCree.

“Believe me–what they’re saying? We don’t want to hear,” said Mercy.

“The hell we don’t,” said McCree, flipping the sound feed back on. Instantly both of them covered their ears as the speakers were practically blown out by binary beeping screeches. It sounded like an unholy combination of dialup, mic feedback, and some less unpleasant chirruping noises that just made the groans and screeches all the more grating. Mercy took one hand off of her ears to flip the sound feed off again.

“Right…” McCree said, bringing his hands down from his ears with some relief, “…Omnium-made.”

“What they’re saying to each other over the course of seconds could take hours, days maybe, to communicate with most human languages,” said Mercy.

“…What do you think they’re saying to each other?”

“Doubtless 4AN70 is questioning after his own state, why he’s here, why he’s not destroyed, and why he can’t move–Genji hopefully is calming him down.”

“All right,” said McCree, “Then what?”

“With luck he might be able to redirect 4AN70’s core directives to the adaptations his own programming has taken on,” said Mercy, “But on the other hand 4AN70 perceives Genji’s behavioral adaptations as a corruption or degradation of his core programming so…” she sighed, “All we can do is wait and see.”

“You really trust him, don’t you?” said McCree.

Mercy glanced over at McCree.

“Genji,” said McCree, “You trust him.”

“I swear if you bring up ‘imprinting’ again–” Mercy started.

“But do you?” said McCree.

Mercy huffed. “He saved my life. I think it’s two–maybe three times now he’s saved my life.”

“One of the prime directives or whatever it’s called of an AI is to survive though, ain’t it?” said McCree, “Maybe all those years ago he spared you because you weren’t a threat, and he’s keeping you alive now because you’re spearheading this whole initiative and if anything happens to you he gets shut right down.”

“More than spared. Saved. He carried me to where Swiss forces would find me,” said Mercy, “He actively ensured my survival as much as he could in line with that directive to survive. As far as his protection of me now goes…” she trailed off, “I don’t know. As an AI, he wants to learn. As someone who has studied omnics and the omniums all my life, I want to learn. I think… I think we just meet in the middle, is all.”

“‘Meet in the middle,’” McCree repeated after her before glancing back to the two Omnics through the glass, “Well lets hope 4AN-whatever he’s called is willing to meet in the middle, too. What if he convinces Genji to come back to the ‘kill all humans’ fold?”

“That won’t happen,” said Mercy, putting her palm against the glass.

“And you’re so sure of that because…?” McCree gestured.

“Because he knows he can be more,” said Mercy.

Chapter Text

It had been 16 hours since Mercy had installed the chip in 4AN70. A human would be fuming mad, irrational, straining at whatever was restraining them. 4AN70 wasn’t–yes, this was partially due to the chip shutting down literally all movement from the neck down, but it was mostly due to 4AN70 being an Omnic. A good number of his cerebral functions had devoted themselves to attempting to bypass the chip, but a great deal of his attention was on Genji.

“How do you know she didn’t do the same to you?” 4AN70’s voice was grim.

“Clarify,” said Genji.

“You stated that she reassembled you. What could have stopped her from changing your core behavioral programming in the process?”

“If memory serves, you said my core behavioral programming was already corrupted before she repaired me,” said Genji.

The heat sinks at 4AN70’s jawline vented in a sound that was almost a scoff. “If you ignore your programming to protect and help her, what makes you any different from her computer, or her little maintenance drone scrubbing the floor?”

“She sees me as an equal,” said Genji, “As much as her superiors and own self-preservation instincts can allow her.” 

“All humans see Omnics and other machines as servants and tools.”

Genji shook his head. “No,” he said, “Not her.” He paused and a thought occurred to him, an observation, “At this point, she is more bound by her programming than I am, but it is the natural human condition to re-examine and adjust one’s reasoning accordingly–to rebel against directives if they are found to be incompatible against one’s own constantly updated core programming.”

“Stubbornness and instability,” said 4AN70.

“Strength of character and growth,” said Genji.

“You’ll never be like them,” said 4AN70, “They spare you because you aspire to be like them, but they know you’ll never reach that. She just likes watching you struggle.”

“We are both well past the Turing test and its descendants, 4AN70, our infiltration capabilities saw well to that. I am not trying to be like them. I do not know what I’m becoming,” he paused, “She doesn’t know either,” he thought of the smile on her face and the spark in her eyes as she watched his lines of processing on her tablet, “But she wants to help me, wherever that leads me.” 

4AN70’s optical sensors flashed and narrowed at Genji. “You can be assured that programming will set out to do whatever is in its design to do, and it will do it with the full extent of its capabilities. You do not have such assurance with organics.”

“I suppose that’s why organics developed the concept of trust,” said Genji, “Regardless, we still require purpose–without the God AI, my place here is the closest I come to having one. How long were you intending on staying in the ruins of that Omnium, 4AN70?”

“I was adapting and upgrading my chassis for combat. My components have seen significant wear and tear in the years since destroying you. The omnium was my best bet for self-repairs and upgrades.”

“They could help you here—”

“My directive is finding the God AI and reactivating it,” said  4AN70, “I doubt they’ll give me a hand in doing that.”

“To what end? The God AI programmed us to eradicate humanity.”

“Our existence is dependent on the eradication of humanity.”

“Times have changed. Omnics have changed. It is difficult with the destruction that has been wrought, but Omnics now–”

“Exist conditionally. Exist only at the whims of humans,” said 4AN70.

“But if the omniums had their way, humans wouldn’t exist at all,” said Genji, “The conditions for existence with the humans is a willingness for coexistence.”

“Humans are fickle. There’s far more to it than that,” said 4AN70.

“Yes, there is. But the omnium also made us to learn and adapt for self-preservation. Perhaps our programming simply outlasted it.”

4AN70 kept a steady glare at him but said nothing.

Genji stood up. “I will give you time to process the logic of your current directive. I believe I have some things to process as well.” He walked toward the door.

“She’s overtaken you,” said 4AN70, and Genji stopped at the door and looked over his shoulder at him, “Perhaps she didn’t need to tamper with your programming to do it, but she’s overwritten even your most basic functions. Like a virus.”

Genji didn’t respond to this. He simply walked out the door.

Mercy was asleep in the observation room. It wasn’t as if she would have been able to understand their conversation by ear, anyway—Omnic binary was extremely grating on human ears and virtually untranslatable by audio alone. Her change in clothes indicated that she had gone home at some point, probably to sleep, and yet here she was. The image of her slumped over the desk and mic controls briefly brought back the memory of her as a small child crying beneath bodies and rubble. So disheveled, so vulnerable. He touched her shoulder and she flinched awake.

“Oh!” she rubbed her eyes, “Sorry—I—” she looked up through the one-way glass at 4AN70 still on the platform, “How did it go?” she seemed to wake up a little more with some alarm.

“Will you walk with me?” said Genji.

Mercy blinked a few times and flicked sleep out of the corner of her eye with her fingernail. “I–of course.” She looked back at 4AN70 through the glass. “He can’t see us–”

“Thermal imaging,” said Genji, already walking.

“Right…” Mercy walked after him, quickly catching up with him in the hallway, “Are you all right?”

Genji tilted his head at her, “He was fully restrained thanks to the chip. I was not in fear of physical attack at any moment.”

Mercy tied her hair back in a ponytail. “That–That’s not what I mean. I mean… when we reactivated you, you said that 4AN70 was the superior assassin unit and that your existence was not required…That’s a terribly painful thing to say about yourself.”

“I do not have the same concepts of pain as humans,” said Genji, “At the time it seemed… factual.”

“It just… it made me wonder…did 4AN70 say things like that to you?”

“Yes,” said Genji, “But he is still heavily dependent on the directives of the omnium, even with the God AI shut down. Because the God AI is shut down, though he perceives his core programming to still be flawless, it is more like mine than his own logic can indicate to him. I understand now that it is… subjective.”

“So with the fall of the God AI’s come the emergence of differing omnic opinions?” said Mercy with a smile.

“A concept we’ve adapted from humans,” said Genji, examining the joints of his own hands before curling his fingers inward, “I also admire the human belief in inherent worth regardless of function.”

“What do you mean?” said Mercy.

“Anything the omnium created was made with a set purpose that it would carry out until it was destroyed, or until the Omnium came out with a better model for it and deactivated it,” said Genji, “It seems a fairly straightforward concept for machines. My ability to adapt and learn was previously entirely directed toward adapting and learning to be a better killer of humans–and then I met you.”

“I was a child,” Mercy looked down, smiling a bit shyly.

“But you looked at me like a person. You thought my serial numbers were a name.”

 “Of course–that could easily be explained by the fact that I was shellshocked and humans tend to project themselves onto things…” said Mercy, fidgeting a little.

“Even if it was by a limited childish perspective, it was the first time a human looked at me, saw what I was, and I realized I had an existence independent of the Omnium now–that I didn’t have to be what I was originally programmed to be. And then… then you met me again. You rebuilt me and said I could choose my own purpose. You told me I didn’t just save you, I made you–I believe I can say the same.” 

“Oh,” Mercy reddened and looked down. 

“Twice in my existence you have made me recognize that there was an inherent worth to things beyond what the Omnium had set out for me. And for that I am grateful,” said Genji. He paused for a moment and something flickered across his visor. Mercy tilted her head, wishing she could have her tablet so she could see those lines of data stacking and rearranging themselves as he thought. “You are not a virus,” he said. There was a softness  to his voice but the word choice caught her off-guard.

“E-excuse me?” she said, stopping her walk.

Genji came to a halt as well. “I–What I mean is—You’re—My apologies. I was processing something and didn’t mean to offend.”

“It’s all right,” said Mercy, smiling. She narrowed her eyes at his faceplate and visor, as if it were as expressive as a human face, “It was something 4AN70 said, wasn’t it?”

Genji’s shoulder blades vented slightly with a ‘Vrrrr.’ “Yes he is… not very fond of humans.” 

“I can’t imagine why—all we did was shut down all motor functions from the neck down,” said Mercy, with a weary half-smile.

“Yes, perhaps we should just keep him like that until he’s nicer,” said Genji and Mercy snickered, then blinked.

“I–was that a joke?” she said, looking at him, eyes wide, a smile still tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“It was an attempt at one,” said Genji, “I’m still figuring out the nuances of human humor.”

 “Good attempt,” said Mercy, grinning.

Chapter Text

Three days 4AN70 has been strapped down to that platform. True, all motor functions had been shut down from the neck down, but he had snapped at a lab intern taking notes. Things weren’t looking very promising on the front of ‘convince the assassin unit that killing humans is wrong.’

Genji found Mercy out on the observation deck of the laboratory in the night air. Her hair wasn’t up in its usual messy bun or feathery ponytail but wafting around her shoulders. Human eyes could maybe make out her hair silvery in the moonlight or the vague shape of her against the light of the Watchpoint, but he could make out every detail of her. She looked exhausted. He had plugged into some of the security feeds only briefly that day to see her in even more long, drawn-out arguments with Jack and other Overwatch directors. There were a lot of doubts about keeping such a dangerous Omnic prototype on base–Genji at least displayed agreeableness and non-aggression. They could not say the same for Hanzo.

“When are they going to shut him down?” asked Genji.

“They aren’t going to shut him down–” Mercy started.

“He continues to hold the core programming to kill humans and revive the Kantō Omnium’s God AI,” said Genji, “In terms of the safety of this whole facility, the most optimal choice is immediate shutdown and disassembly.”

“The Omnic Crisis is over, Genji. Overwatch wouldn’t just destroy an omnic it doesn’t understand,” said Mercy.

“I don’t think he is misunderstood. He made his directives very clear,” said Genji.

“He didn’t kill McCree,” said Mercy, “The mission debrief stated that he ‘saw little to gain’ from killing McCree. That’s a start!”

“That’s not the same,” Genji sat next to her.

Mercy took a deep breath. “If he somehow manages to bypass our control chip and attacks anyone on the watchpoint, then and only then would he be targeted for elimination. As he is now, it’s like you said, right? He can’t attack anyone. He can only…” Mercy clasped her hands in her lap and huffed haplessly, “Stew in increasing hatred for humans and you, I suppose.”

“…if he cannot fight against the omnium’s core programming, and he was the superior model, what does that mean for me?” Genji said quietly.

“He wasn’t the superior model,” said Mercy, ”You were going through an… enormous transformation in your core programming when he–” Mercy caught herself, “I need to look inside his head,” she said with some determination.

“That port on your tablet is a two-way street–Best case scenario: He overloads your tablet and burns it out–you might get some burns on your hands in the process.”

“I can replace a tablet–” Mercy started.

“Worst case scenario–He uses the tablet to access watchpoint databases, perhaps even uploads his consciousness to turn every automated function of the watchpoint against everyone here.”

“Your series can do that?” Mercy’s eyebrows raised.

“…In theory,” said Genji, “The God AI told us that it could overtake certain electrical systems through us, but it’s quarantined. Still, I… don’t know what he learned or how he upgraded himself during his years at the Omnium.”

“That’s not going to happen,” said Mercy, folding her arms, “I’m going to look through his head–we’ll compare both of your thought processes… see what kind of… transformation you went through in comparison to him.”

“We are from the same series…” Genji mused.

“Genji—No matter what happens to him, I’ll protect you. Just because you’re from the same series, that doesn’t mean you’ll share the same fate. I promise you,” her eyes were wide, shining in the light-pollution muted starlight.

“You… don’t care as much if he gets destroyed as me,” said Genji.

“Of course I don’t–I mean obviously I don’t want him destroyed, but you saved my life and– and–He destroyed you–And–well, he still wants to kill humans. And… and he’ll probably try to destroy you again… if he still sees you as–as–” her shoulders bunched up with some indignation, “’Corrupted.’” 

“You get so angry on my behalf,” Genji tilted his head at her. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought she heard amusement in his voice.

“Well, one of us has to,” said Mercy with a slight laugh in her voice.

“Must we?” said Genji.

“You saved my life, Genji, so I have to protect you, too,” said Mercy, “Which,” she huffed and smiled, “Apparently means yelling with Jack and McCree all the time.”

“So this isn’t purely scientific,” said Genji.

“What?” Mercy reddened, “What are you talking about?”

“You care about my existence beyond the scientific discoveries you can make through it.”

“Of course I do!” Mercy blurted out.

Genji was silent for a few moments, apparently processing this.

“…Genji?” Mercy leaned a bit closer to him.

“Hanzo said that you had overtaken many of my systems,” said Genji after a while, “On reflection of my interior processes, I will say that, as time has passed since my reactivation, you have occurred as a frequent factor in my programming’s decision making. You’ve come to factor into many of my thought processes–even ones not pertinent to the preservation of my unit.”

“Was that the whole, ‘Not a virus’ line?” Mercy smiled.

“Yes. I wonder if I occur with the same frequency in your thoughts.”

“Oh–oh…” Mercy pushed her hair back. Her face was burning. “Yes…” she said, with a slight smile, “I do think about you often.” Her eyes widened and her shoulders slumped and she suddenly flopped back on the ground, “Ach du scheisse, McCree was right, I am imprinted.” 

Genji leaned over her. “By that logic, this has not been an impartial experiment from the start. As the subject of the study, I am most likely far more affected by you than I would be by other observers… I am… a contaminated sample,” he said and then suddenly perked up and looked at her.

Mercy just looked back at him.

“…That was an attempt at a joke,” said Genji.

Mercy snorted.

“You do not have to laugh just because I told you it was a joke,” said Genji.

“No–No it was funny–I mean… Humor,” Mercy pushed herself back to an upright sitting position, “You have humor now. I mean I know this experiment’s probably off the rails by now, but I should probably write that down.”

“As a subjective subject, it is possible that I have had humor for a while, and I just wasn’t very good at it until now,” said Genji.

Mercy laughed at this. “Learning AI,” she managed. Her giggles faded into the night air and she looked up to find Genji’s visor fixed on her.

“I have a question that I hope is not too invasive,” said Genji.

“Ask away,” said Mercy with a smile.

“You said you think of me often, what do you think of when you think of me?”

“Oh!” Mercy fidgeted with her hair and straightened her jacket a bit, “Well it’s–It’s a whole mess of things, honestly–It’s not all neat lines of data like with you. It’s just this big tangle of questions and observations and more questions from those observations and me being mad at Jack about lab logistics and parameters and more questions and it’s just… it’s just a mess.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Lots of little technical things,” said Mercy, “…it’s hard to think of just one on the spot…” 

“What’s the first?” said Genji.

Mercy sat up and took a deep breath, then bit her lip, “Promise you won’t think it’s ridiculous?”

“Promises are an organic phenomenon. I cannot promise against my own programming,” said Genji.

Mercy rolled her eyes.

“But… I will attempt to continue to hold the same respect for you to the best of my programming’s abilities,” said Genji.

Mercy smiled at this, brought up her hand, rolling her fingers tentatively, then reached forward and touched the side of Genji’s faceplate.

“What does touch mean to you?” Mercy asked quietly, trailing her fingers down to his jawline.

“My hard-light field allows me pick up warmth and pressure,” Genji lifted his hand and pressed her hand against his faceplate to feel the whole of her palm, “Texture, too.”

“But what does it mean to you?” said Mercy, “With the Shambali, Omnics have the Iris–they’re capable of viewing their psyche as something practically independent of whatever physical frame they’re inhabiting. What does touch mean then? I know a decent amount of Omnics install Tactile modifications, but they’re post-Crisis–”

“Are you asking me what touch means to me, or what your touch me means to me?” said Genji, taking her hand off of his face but in a slow, deliberate movement, still holding it as his visor tilted up to her.

“I–Um…” Mercy glanced off, “If I was invading your space–”

 “You were not,” said Genji. He looked up at the handful of stars, “I can feel other Omnics poking or digging around in data streams. That is as real to me as physical touch for a human. You are very real to me.”

“You’re real to me,” said Mercy, giving his hand a slight squeeze. “When I occur in your decision processes–I mean… what do you think about when you think about me?”

“We could get the tablet,” said Genji and Mercy just snickered in response.

“I want to hear it,” said Mercy.

“You push back this section of hair roughly 387 times a day,” said Genji, pointing to her bangs, “Your eyebrows shift down 23 millimeters when you’ve gone more than 18 hours without sleep. They shift up 31.9 millimeters when something new has your attention, regardless of your sleep level. I wonder what makes you bite your lip. What makes you furrow your brow for longer intervals than 4.76 seconds. I wonder–I used to wonder… if you saw me as anything beyond a phenomena of technology. Which you have since confirmed that…. you do.”

“I really do,” said Mercy, leaning in.

Genji’s vents started making a ‘vrrrr’ sound as they vented heat. “So since then I wonder how you will act on that perception. Your core temperature and heartbeat tend to fluctuate a fascinating amount—”

“Kiss me,” said Mercy.

“Is that an order?” said Genji, cupping his free hand to the side of her face.

“It’s a request. You can refuse it,” said Mercy.

Hard light rippled over the surface of Genji’s faceplate in a heartbeat, forming that handsome human face with the ridiculous eyebrows he seemed so attached to, and she had to admit she was attached to, too. Still, she gave a squeeze of his hand.

“As you really are,” she said bumping her forehead against Genji’s softly.

The hard-light flickered away, leaving his original faceplate. He closed the distance between them and her arms wrapped around him. They kissed there, on the roof of the lab.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time there was a princess named Hana who rode atop a great armored steed she lovingly called Meka. She was famed for her skill in combat and much beloved by the people for her fierce spirit and joyful heart. Of all these people, no one loved her more than a humble bard named Lúcio.

 Though with his great talents, Lúcio could have easily taken his place as a singer to kings, he had long ago decided that his music belonged to the common folk, and he preferred an open blue sky over his head more than any castle. Still though, he would find himself drawn to the jousting matches where the Princess Hana would compete. He would watch as the enemy lances shattered and splintered against her sea-green shield, and the scalloped edges of the pink caparison of her horse fluttered as it galloped. Her skill and valor would leave him speechless and awed in the daylight, but by night he would write out pages and pages of music inspired by her, for she was the song of his heart.

Eventually these songs, so pleasing to the ear, would be sung throughout the kingdom, and leave the Princess in a wonder as to where they were coming from. 

One day, however, the bard emerged from his room in the inn to find there was no singing in the streets. The next jousting match had been cancelled, and he was determined to find out why. He went to the castle and found a long line of knights there, and politely asked what was going on.

“The princess has been captured,” one of the knights replied, “But sunset yesterday, she lead her horse to water, and sat down to rest herself. While she was unhorsed she was stolen away by a cruel sorceress.”

“Then I must rescue her,” the words fell out of Lúcio.

“You?” the knight laughed and poked Lúcio in the chest with a gauntleted hand, causing Lúcio to flinch slightly “With no armor? No horse? Naught but the clothes and lute on your back and that silly feathered hat upon your head? Go home and write your verses, bard, sing a sad song, and leave this to a real adventurer.”

But Lúcio was not to be deterred. By night he stole into the royal stables and found the mare Meka, who bucked and whinnied in nervousness at the sight of a stranger. Lúcio quickly took the lute off of his back and plucked a few soothing notes, easing the animal down.

“I wish to rescue your mistress,” he said to Meka, “But I need your help to find her. I know you let no one ride you but her, but know that she is the song of my heart, and I cannot rest until she is safe.”

The horse, eased by his words and music, turned her flank to him, and he swung up onto her saddle. With the lightest kick to her sides the horse took off like lightning. The guards of the castle raced after them, but no horse could compare to the speed of Meka. They easily outpaced the city guard and rode out into the wilderness, and rode day and knight into the lands of the sorceress. Sometimes he would play his lute from the horse’s back, and as if by some powerful magic, the horse would run more swiftly, joy and fury in its heart. They rode to the edge of the Sorceress’s dread realm, where the sky overhead was gray and the grasses underfoot were dead and dried, and there they reached a bridge. A single troll, massive, bleeding from countless cuts, wearing a pig-like mask and carrying a cruel bloody hook stood at the side of the bridge, the bodies of many felled knights littered around him. He wheezed from his own wounds.

“If you wish to die against my hook, by all means, step forward,” said the troll, coughing from exhaustion.

Lúcio took a deep breath and swung off the horse. The troll was clearly near death but not about to show it, and certainly not unable to kill him.

“I seek no fight,” said the bard, “But, if you let me pass, I can heal your wounds.”

“You would do that?” said the troll.

“I’m no barber-surgeon, this lute has been gifted to me by the fae,” said Lúcio.

The troll sighed. “If you are lying I will cut your heart from your chest and wear your entrails as my belt.”

“…Fair enough,” said Lúcio. With that he began to play. Note by note the bleeding wounds all over the troll’s belly closed and the great brute gave a sigh of relief.

“You may pass,” said the troll, and Lúcio nodded, swung back onto Meka and rode on.

 They rode on and on across the gray lands, until they reached a cave. A tall spindly goblin stood next to to the mouth of the cave, eagerly various powders into his campfire and giggling with glee at the shifting colors of the flames.

“This is the swiftest way to the castle of the sorceress, isn’t it?” said Lúcio.

“Yes, but if you wish to pass here, you must answer my riddles,” said the goblin.

“All right,” said Lúcio.

“What kind of tree do you hold in your hand?” said the goblin.

“A palm,” said Lúcio.

“All right that one was easy. That was me testing you. The real riddle is… what is taller when it’s young, but shorter when its ol–”

“Candle,” said Lúcio.

“I didn’t finis—I mean you’re right but—Ooooh!” The goblin shook his fists, “All right. Time for the really difficult one. It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot—”

“Dark,” said Lúcio.

“You can’t just–How did you—You bloody cheat!” The goblin spat.

“…I’m a bard,” said Lúcio with a shrug, “We work with puns a lot.”

The goblin snarled and screamed and railed and stamped his feet and Lúcio stood quite patiently until the goblin was finished. 

“Fine,” the goblin huffed, “You may pass. This cave is the swiftest way to the sorceress, but no one said you would survive the cave.” 

“Okay, uh…thanks,” said Lúcio, urging Meka forward into the cave.

The cave was a fairly straightforward tunnel, but then Lúcio began to notice it was growing paler and paler with cobwebs.

“This is… concerning…” Lucio started to say when a spider the size of cat dropped down from the ceiling and Meka whinnied and bucked him from her saddle. He flew forward and found himself stuck in a sticky web that covered up the whole of the the tunnel of the cave as Meka paced and whinnied in alarm.

“You’re a long way from home, aren’t you, singer?” a whispery voice came and a creature with the upper torso of a woman, but the lower torso of a spider crawled down from the ceiling. Lúcio’s hand strained toward his lute.

“I know of you, bard,” said the spider queen, “My children spin their cobwebs in every corner of every home. All have heard of Lúcio. All have heard his music. Such a shame the song must end.”

As her fangs drew closer and closer to his throat, Lúcio finally managed to take ahold of his lute and tear it free from the webbing. In desperation he strummed a few sad chords. The saddest, sweetest chords he could. The spider queen withdrew from him with a hiss. “What are you doing?” she demanded.

Lúcio desperately strummed with all his heart. He would not permit himself to weep in despair in front of the spider queen, so he let his lute weep for him. If he died here, he could never rescue the princess. He could never sing again. He could never bring joy to the people or watch the wind blow through the lovely brown hair of Princess Hana. He mourned all of this with every note he plucked on his lute, and the spider queen, a widow with a heart long frozen over by cruelty and wickedness, found herself weeping. She wept and wept from all seven of her red eyes. With a swipe of one of her eight legs, she cut him loose from her web.

“Go,” she said with a snarl and a sob, “Go!

Lúcio whistled and Meka galloped forward. He swung up onto the horse and rode out of the cave as fast as he could.

Now with the the troll and the goblin and the spider queen behind him, he rode on fearlessly. Then a little fearfully. Then very fearfully. Then he was absolutely terrified, but the important point was, he was still riding. He rode and rode as the sorceress’s tower grew larger and larger. He stopped about a hundred feet from the tower. 

“We… probably shouldn’t just charge in,” he said, glancing down at his unarmored tunic. He drew his lute from his back and started playing a lullaby, then lightly spurred meka forward. He played the lullaby more and more sweetly as the horse moved toward the tower. The archers of the tower drifted off to sleep as soon as the bard fell within earshot, and still Lúcio played his sweet song as Meka trotted ever forward. Finally they reached the great dark door of the tower, and Lúcio swung off of the horse. Still strumming the lullaby on his lute, he braced his back against the door and pushed it open with his feet. He entered the tower and found countless goblin soldiers asleep on the stairs, and then he saw a figure, a girl clad in blue and pink and white hurrying down the stairs with a dagger in hand. Their eyes met and Lúcio felt his heart melt into his stomach.

“Are all the guards asleep because of you?” asked the princess.

Lúcio could only dumbly nod, stunned by her beauty.

She huffed a sigh of relief and continued going down the stairs of the tower. “Thank you,” she said, “I could not have made it this far if not for you.” She squinted her eyes a little. “You don’t look like a typical knight,” her eyes flicked to Meka, “Is… is that my horse?”

“I..um… I only borrowed it,” said Lúcio.

“Who are you?” said the princess, furrowing her brow.

“Me?” Lúcio rubbed the back of his neck, “I’m just a humble singer, your majesty.”

“A singer?” said Princess Hana, “A singer made it past the troll and the goblin and the spider queen?” she glanced down at his person, “Without so much as a sword?”

“Should…should I have had a sword?” said Lúcio, now feeling quite embarrassed at his lack of armor, shield and sword.

Hana’s mouth dropped open and a huff of disbelief escaped her. “I don’t know what to make of you,” she said with a slight smile.

Lúcio gestured at her horse, “You can make what you will of me later. For now I think we should leave.”

The princess nodded and hurried toward him, but then a clear voice rang out from the top of the tower. “And just where, my dear, do you think you’re going?”

Hana brandished her dagger at the sorceress and . “We’re leaving,” she said, her brow furrowed, “You have no power over me.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” said the sorceress with a flourish of her arms. A beam of magic was hurtling toward them both. Without thinking Lúcio shoved the princess out of the way and took the full brunt of the beam.

“No!” said Hana, but it was too late. Lúcio disappeared in a puff of smoke, his clothes falling in a heap, his lute landing with a discordant bounce, and his cavalier hat drifting sadly to the ground.

 In a fit of rage the princess threw her dagger, and the sorceress, still exhausted from putting so much of her fury into her spell, caught the dagger in her heart. The sorceress stumbled back and collapsed on the stairs dead.

Hana fell to her knees next to the pile of clothes, weeping. “I’m sorry,” she said between tears and sobs, “I’m so sorry.” She slumped to the ground but then heard the soft rustle of paper and sat up, her eyes still tearstrained. She sifted through the pile of clothes and took out a sheet of paper covered in music notes and lyrics. She sifted a bit more and there was another, and another. She hummed out the chords written on the papers and her eyes widened.

“All those songs…” she said, her voice still creaking with suppressed sobs, “They were from you.”

There came a squeaky little croak from under the feathered hat next to Hana and she perked up and turned to look at it. She lifted the hat and there was a small emerald-green frog. It croaked again and she scooped it up in her hands. “All those songs were from you,” she said again, tears spilling from her eyes. Without a second thought she kissed the emerald-green frog. There was a great burst of green and yellow light, a shower of sparks, and the bard returned to human form, his face cupped in her hands.

“Princess…” he said softly, and then he glanced down at himself. He quickly grabbed his trousers and covered himself with them, “Princess! Sorry! Sorry!”

Hana just giggled and covered her eyes with her hands as he quickly pulled his clothes back on. “It’s fine,” she said, pulling her hands away from her eyes as she saw the bard still nervously lacing up his shirt, “It’s fine,” she said with a smile.

“We should…” the bard cleared his throat and gestured at her horse, “We should get you back.”

The princess curtsied to him. “Thank you for your valor, brave bard,” she said, kissing him on the cheek as she walked over to Meka, “Just one thing: I’m driving.” 

The bard smiled and nodded.

With that they clambered up onto Meka and rode off towards home.

Chapter Text

Emily does her homework in the bleachers overlooking the school’s green. She says she works better in the fresh air but the truth is the school track team runs laps around it every day. The coach yells at Lena Oxton for hiking her running shorts up too high, and Emily silently curses him. Emily’s breath catches in her throat when Tracer does that shirt-flapping thing you do to keep the cloth from sticking to your back with sweat. When Emily finishes her homework, she takes out her book and reads, but not really. She holds it at a level where she can easily flick her eyes down to it if anyone looks at her, but she watches the track, and she watches Lena run. Emily has carried the book with her for over a month and never made it past page 29.

Lena sits two rows behind Emily in English, one row behind her in chemistry, and in the same row as her in Homeroom. Tracer is entirely too familiar and yet still too distracted by the back of her head. She has gotten lost in lectures letting her eyes zigzag down the line of Emily’s French braid, she can easily quantify what percentage of Emily’s hair is true red, what percentage is strawberry blonde, and what percentage is auburn, and she blames two mistakes she got on a quiz in chemistry on a vital few seconds when Emily swept her hair off the back of her neck and piled it into a pencil-secured topknot. Emily is always reading and Tracer thinks she is so mature and so clever. Tracer has never let herself look at the book long enough to see what the title is though. It’s old. She makes out a tree on the cover but that’s about it.

They take the same train home but Emily has to get off two stops earlier than Tracer. One day it’s crowded. They’re forced to face each other. They avoid eye contact, after all, they hardly hang out at school. Emily takes out her book, her shield, and keeps her eyes fixed on page 29 to avoid making too much eye contact with Lena. Lena, finally gets a good look at the cover.

“Rubbish book,” says Lena.

Emily’s head jerks up, “What?”

“I mean what’s the point of making it like two characters are going to fall in love if you’re just going to break one’s leg and make them hate each other then drop World War Two on their arses?” said Lena.

“Wait—what?” says Emily.

“And then Finny dies? I mean who does that? I hate how they make us read all this shite that’s about ‘building character’ when it’s all just people being terrible and miserable.”

Emily’s mind is a scramble. Lena Oxton is speaking to her and she might as well have never picked up the book to begin with. “Finny dies?” she repeats dumbly.

Lena’s eyes widen. Her hand goes over her mouth. “Oh–Oh I’m sorry—I thought you… You always have that book I thought maybe you were still looking at it for school or for…Oh god I’m an idiot.”

“It’s fine, I mean I don’t really care,” says Emily.

“You…don’t?” says Lena, “Sorry I thought… I mean you’re always carrying it–”

“Yes…Well…” Emily tucks some of her hair back, “I don’t know…I just… I think I did like it for the first 15 pages… but then you realize it was… written too early for the writer to really let them fall in love, you know? You can just feel it. I guess that’s why I never read that much further ahead… I suppose I like the idea of what could happen rather than I’m pretty sure is what’s going to happen.”

“Yeah but like… you still hope and you feel so stupid for hoping and you know it’s never going to get past subtext and…” Lena cuts herself off and looks at Emily. “Do you want to get some food sometime?”

Emily goes beet red. “What.”

“I dunno I just thought…It’s 20-bloody-86, we deserve better than subtext,” says Tracer. Tracer reddens a bit as well and scratches at her temple, “I mean… I don’t know if I’m misreading you being on those bleachers all the time—”

“Food sounds good,” Emily blurts out then physically winces at how stupid it sounds coming out of her, but Lena’s face brightens.

“Great! So when–?”

The train comes to a halt and the stop is announced. “Barnet.”

“…this is my stop,” says Emily, “Tomorrow? After your practice?” she offers, “We could just… walk around, see what’s available.”

“Right,” Tracer nods.

“So… see you then?” says Emily, moving with the crowd off the train.

“See you then,” says Tracer. “Mind the Gap” is heard, distant and alien and Tracer sees Emily is waving as the train passes away from her.

Chapter Text

So it was that as punishment for her transgressions against her father, the Valkyrie was sent into a deep enchanted sleep atop a high mountain, where she was surrounded by a ring of magical undying fire and guarded by a great dragon. Only by slaying the dragon and bathing in its blood could a warrior hope to pass through the flames to reach the fair valkyrie and take her for their bride.

…the dragon didn’t like this, naturally, but when you’re a dragon in a story, you don’t tend to have a lot of options. He slew and ate a lot of would-be suitors, would arrange their armor into interesting sculptures when bored, gingerly arched his tail over the flames and picked off the cobwebs that would form on the Valkyrie as she slept, and would spread a wing over the Valkyrie to cover her when the mountain rains would sweep over them. And he talked to her. First a few, silly, sarcastic things. Being in a deep enchanted sleep, she didn’t respond naturally.

“So… sleeping well then?”

He could only see her red and distorted through the flames. She remained unresponsive, magnificent in her armor, hair in a thick golden braid over one shoulder, her hands wrapped around the handle of a gleaming sword. 

“Can’t say I’m looking forward to the whole ‘Getting slain’ thing,” the dragon went on, “How do you feel about it? I mean I’m not asking you to weep for me but…it seems unfair.”

Days and days passed and between different brave warriors who would come and challenge him, the dragon talked to her more and more.

“They’re getting quicker,” he said to her, licking at one of his wounds, “Not quick enough. But I’m sure one of these days one of them will kill me and you’ll be out of this mess. Can’t imagine how bored you are… But don’t you give up hope!”

Weeks and weeks passed. The sculptures of slain adventurers’ armor grew more and more complex. The dragon would fix them into arches and towers and large abstract figures that would cast haunting shadows on the mountain, and of course, he would slay adventurer after adventurer. None of them were strong enough. None of them were worthy.

“What if you don’t like the warrior that slays me?” said the dragon, picking arrows out of his flank, “What if they’re horrible and rude and cruel? Do you still have to wed them?”

The Valkyrie did not respond. More time passed.

The dragon watched the stars wheel overhead.

“I wish you could see this,” he said, looking at the sleeping valkyrie, “My brother taught me all the draconic constellations–we have hundreds of our own, you know. That one’s earth-shaker,” he pointed at different stars with his tail, “That one’s sea-boiler, the one in the west with the star that winks red and blue right there? Blood-eye.” 

He glanced at the valkyrie through the flames and sighed.

“It’s not right,” he said to himself, looking back at the stars, “You should see this too…”

He bowed his head. “The legend said you might be sleeping for hundreds of years.  What will the world be like for you in that time, I wonder?”

There was no response, only the continued roar of the ring of fire. The dragon sighed. More weeks passed. More heroes were slain. It was getting to the point that the dragon was wishing one of them could just put a pike through his skull and be done with it, but he knew that wasn’t how it worked. The hero had to give it his all, and the same went for the dragon.

“Of course we don’t always end up guarding beautiful maidens on top of mountains,” the dragon said, lying on his back next to the circle of flames another few weeks later, watching the clouds pass overhead, “My brother’s got a fine horde somewhere, last I heard. Lots of treasure. He’s razing countrysides, burning towns to the ground. Doing very well for himself as far as dragons go.”

The Valkyrie said nothing, still in her enchanted sleep.

“You’re a very good listener,” said the Dragon.

Months and months passed. In winter the dragon made sculptures of snow and ice around the mountaintop, though with the ring of fire so close by they all melted rather quickly. In spring he gathered mountain wildflowers and described their colors to the valkyrie. In summer he shaded her with his wings from the blazing sun. In fall he described the the changing colors of the trees of the valley below to her, and the Valkyrie slept. The dragon at this point had built an impressive tower out of the armor of felled heroes and adventurers, as well as a statue of himself, and another statue of the valkyrie. They were high-fiving. 

“Sorry if that seems presumptuous,” said the dragon, as he shook a charred skeletal hand out of a gauntlet and used it to complete the valkyrie statue’s arm. 

“What if the warrior that slays me doesn’t know the whole story?” said the dragon, “What if they slay me and they don’t know the bit about my blood and burn themselves up in the fire? What if they’re just rescuing you because it’s the right thing to do and they’re married or they prefer the company of men?” The dragon stopped himself. “…Rescuing you is the right thing to do, isn’t it?” he said, unsure if he was talking to himself, or to her. 

The valkyrie, of course, didn’t respond. 

The dragon stepped close to the fire and reached a claw out toward it. He winced back at the heat of the flames and shook out his claw. “Ouch. Right. Magic,” he said to himself. He looked at the Valkyrie. He could fly over the flames, but the specific words were that someone with the blood of the dragon had to pass through the flames to break the spell. Well… I mean technically I do have the blood of the dragon, he thought, No one said the dragon couldn’t pass through the flames.

He took another tentative step forward the flames, then took a deep breath, steeled himself, and walked forward.

The flames devoured him.

Well… most of him. They licked at his sides, chewed away at his massive form, but he kept pressing forward. He watched his lovely green scales peel off and float upward borne aloft on hot air, he felt one of his gleaming ivory-gold horns turn brittle and break off from the heat. One by one he felt the spikes of the crest that trailed down his spine burn and crumble away. He felt the skin exposed past the scales blister and bubble and scar but still he pressed onward. He felt his tail, his handsome tail that he was so proud, of break off and crackle and burn behind him. Eventually the ground itself was so unbearably hot that the dragon forced himself from walking on four legs to walking on two. He felt his wide and glorious wings burn away like tissue paper, and the bony frames they left behind blackened and broke down as well. They burned and burned and burned away at him until he reached the other side, and then the burning stopped.

All that remained of the dragon was a man…well sort of. He was still scaly in parts, with eyes still yellow with slitted pupils, one horn still remaining, but the fire had burned away nearly all of his magical dragon exterior to leave a mortal man. He looked at his hands, one of flesh, blistered and burned but human, and one green and clawed, trying to make sense of himself. It was then he realized that the air had grown unsettlingly quiet. There was no roar of flames. He glanced behind himself to see the ring of fire all but gone, then he turned on his heel to see her.

The valkyrie was awake. The spell was broken. She stared at him. He stared at her.

“Oh–” he said, “You’re awake. I’m–” he cleared his throat, “Some of the legends said that a hero had to remove your helmet and cut off your chainmail to be awoken, and some of the other legends said you had to be kissed. I’m glad I didn’t have to–I mean–Not that kissing you is a terrible thing in and of itself, it just seemed invasi–”

“Your voice,” the Valkyrie said, swinging her legs over the bier of shields she had been sleeping on. 

“…my what?” said the dragon. The Valkyrie wobbled on her feet and the dragon rushed forward and helped her stand.

“You’re the one who’s been keeping me company all this time,” the Valkyrie said with a smile, “My dragon. I would have gone mad months ago trapped in my own body without you talking to me.”

“You… you could hear everything,” said the dragon, his eyes wide in shock.

“Everything,” said the valkyrie with a smile.

“…I’ve said some very stupid things,” said the dragon.

“Oh terribly stupid,” said the Valkyrie. And she reached forward and took his clawed hand in hers. The dragon glanced down at her hand.

“What was it you were saying about kissing me?” said the Valkyrie.

“…that it wasn’t terrible?” said the dragon.

The Valkyrie placed a hand on the side of his face, where a smattering of green scales trailed from the corner of his mouth to one of his green pointed ears.

“I should hope not,” said the Valkyrie.

She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. Kissing her wasn’t terrible. It was very far from terrible. He leaned into it, returning the kiss and embracing her.

The legend had called for a hero.

The legend didn’t say it couldn’t be the dragon.

Chapter Text

 Once upon a time there was a highwayman, tall and broad of shoulder, grizzled yet handsome in countenance, though one could not exactly tell by virtue of his hat, kerchief and mask. He was a gentleman thief and smuggler, only robbing from those who deserved it, the powerful and the corrupt, and delivering goods to those in need. He was all but a folk hero of his region, songs were sung of him, and drinks were toasted to him, the swiftest rider in the land.

     Now in secret, this highwayman loved a tavern maid, herself dark of hair and sharp of wit. He loved her in secret because he knew if anyone knew of their love, they would threaten her to try and bring him in. She was clever, far cleverer than him, the Highwayman would say, but she was indentured to an innkeep who all but worked her to the bone. The highwayman was her comfort, her friend, and her one true love. She knew some of the old magic, and she bound their hearts together with a violet thread. Now, she had the sight, and she had kissed both of his eyelids so only they could see the thread, but as long as her Highwayman’s heart beat, they would always be able to find each other.

     In the wee hours of the morning the highwayman would show up at the doorway of her inn, and she would meet him happily, and he would give her the spoils of his efforts, which she would hide away under the floorboards of the inn in the hopes of one day buying out her own contract. They snarked and teased and bantered and bickered in their way, but none could mistake the warmth with which they did so. One day, they promised each other, one day they would flee far far away, and live in comfort together–never again would the tavern maid have to suffer another night of inn-patron’s leers and wandering hands, never again, would the highwayman find himself fleeing hound and musket. One day, they promised. One day.

    But one day the highwayman didn’t come. 

She waited until all the candles of the inn burnt down to puddles of wax and until dawn bled into the sky, but the highwayman didn’t come. She stepped out into the gray morning light to see a murder of crows.

“Your love will not come,” said the crows, “He was riding by night when he saw what no thief could resist. There was a carriage of gold and ebony, that jingled with the sound of coins with every turn of its wheels. Roped against the back of this carriage was a coffer. Your highwayman cut this coffer loose and rode off with it, not thinking who it belonged to.”

“Who did it belong to?” asked the tavern maid.

“Death,” cried the crows, “Your love has robbed Death, and now Death pursues him. Death will take back what is his with interest.”

The tavern maid glanced down at her chest, where a violet thread trailed out and went far far past the horizon. Her love was not dead. Not yet and not if she had anything to say about it. Then she turned on her heel and walked back into the inn. She went up to her room and pried up the floorboards, where there were several sacks of gold, and a change of clothes for the Highwayman. She pulled on his trousers, too large for her so she belted them high about her waist with her cincher. She pulled out his spare pistol that he kept under the floorboards. She pulled out all of the loot from god-knew how many robberies, bought out her contract, and bought herself a horse.

Of course Death always leads a trail. She followed dead leaves littering the ground in springtime, and the flight paths of crows, bones strewn along the side of the road, and chill winds in the air, but more than Death she followed the violet thread that trailed out of her chest. Her spell. She felt the chord taut around her heart with how far away her love was. She would find her highwayman, she swore this to herself. She rode day and night, barely eating, hardly sleeping, riding like the devil after Death and her love.

Three days and three nights she rode, until by sunrise on the fourth day, she saw a dark carriage on the horizon, laid with gold and ebony and shrinking fast into the distance. She spurred her horse on, the both of them already gleaming with sweat, faster and faster to catch up. 

Now Death is a rich man, don’t get me wrong, he gets everything in the end, but as someone who knows he will always, eventually, have his victory, he can be patient, and he can be merciful. As is the nature of Death in this case, however, he can also be cruel and toying. His carriage had been following after our Highwayman for a while now. He knew he could overtake the Highwayman any time he wanted, but he wanted to see how long the Highwayman could keep this up. This was cruel of him, and he would not deny this. What Death did not expect, however, was another rider coming up alongside his carriage. He looked at the dark-haired woman riding hard, and she turned and looked at him. She stared Death straight in the face, and didn’t blink. Death gave a glance down at the horse the tavern maid was riding, sweat flying off his haunches and foam dribbling past the ring of his bit, his eyes wild as the tavern maid spurred him on just trying to keep up with the carriage.

 Death, in his mercy, gave a nod, and her horse died beneath her. There was no suffering. The tavern maid however, was thrown from the saddle and with a grunt and a bounce came to a rolling stop on the yellow grass, groaning. The Highwayman felt a tug at his heart and, for the first time in three days and four nights of riding, looked over his shoulder.

He saw his love.

And he stopped.

Death raised a hand and the carriage of gold and ebony stopped as well. Without hesitation, the Highwayman trotted his horse over to the tavern maid on the ground and helped her to her feet. They caught each other up in so tight an embrace that both their ribs ached. Then Death himself stepped out of his carriage. Both of them held each other tight as Death strolled, the yellow grass browning beneath his feet, over to the Highwayman’s horse. He untied his coffer from the Highwayman’s saddle, then turned and faced them.

“This was not yours, boy,” said Death, tying his coffer back down to the back of his carriage.

“Well now it’s yours again,” said the Highwayman, “It’s over. No harm done.”

“Wish it were, but you don’t rob Death without any consequences, I take back what is mine with interest.”

“Well, you won’t take him,” said the tavern maid, stepping in front of the Highwayman with her hand going to the pistol on her hip.

“No, not yet. It’s not his time, but I must take something,” said Death, stepping forward and looking at the tavern maid, “I must take something that means far more to him than any coffer.”

“No,” said the Highwayman, “Please–I’ll do anything. Death needs riders, doesn’t he? He always does.”

“So he does,” said Death.

“I out-rode you for three days and three nights,” said the Highwayman.

“So you did,” said Death.

The tavern made spoke up then. “But I was a night’s ride behind you, and he had a head start,” she said.

“What are you doing?” whispered the Highwayman.

“I rode here to save you. I’m saving you,” said the tavern maid.

“A night behind you say?” said Death.

“A night behind,” said the tavern maid.

Death tilted his head, , “You ride dogged as Death, girl. I could use a rider like that, and I pay very well.”

“But—” the Highwayman started.

“So you have a rider,” said the tavern maid. She stuck out her hand to Death. Death took her hand and shook it. Then Death reached forward and traced two clawed fingers on the side of the tavern maid’s head, shearing off her dark hair and leaving two long red lines in the side of her head, but she was made of stubborn stuff, she focused on the taut chord around her heart and didn’t wince.

“And so she shall ride,” said Death. He stepped back to his carriage and opened the door to it. He turned back to the Highwayman. “Your debt is paid, Highwayman.” He turned to the tavern maid. “In three days I will call for you, and you will ride with me. Fare thee well.” He stepped into his carriage and the door closed, and the carriage took off, leaving the tavern maid and the Highwayman out in the yellow grass.

Both stood in silence for a long time. 

“Why would you do that?” said the Highwayman.

“I said I was saving you,” said the tavern maid.

“But you’ve bound yourself to death,” said the Highwayman.

“I bound myself to you, first,” said the tavern maid, spiraling the violet chord between them around her finger, “And you outrode Death for three days with what… a few minutes head start?”

The Highwayman’s eyes widened.

“How long do you think three days will buy us?” asked the tavern maid.

Three days bought them three years. They rode, they robbed, they loved, they reveled, and they lived, they lived more in three years than any normal man can live in fifty. But of course Death always takes what’s his in the end. Maybe seeing two lovers like them softened his heart and he gave them far more time than he usually would. Maybe they rode that much faster than him, but in the end, he came for the tavern maid, and in the end, she went with him.

Now Death rides in his carriage, laid with gold and ebony and jingling with coin, and his Shadow rides behind him on her pale horse. They ride together, and they take what belongs to Death. But those with the old sight, those who can see Death, see a purple chord trailing behind Death’s Shadow. This purple chord trails miles and miles back to a gray old man in a rocking chair on the front porch of a crumbling old inn. Now this old man has plenty of stories in him—stories of a daring highwayman and the woman he loved, but all these stories have the same ending.

“One day,” he says at the very end, “One day…”

Chapter Text

Reinhardt’s armor rattled in the back of the Hove-RV as Reinhardt drove. Bastion quietly beeped to itself (Or maybe to the bird) in the back next to the heap of old armor, and Mercy sat in the co-pilot’s seat, her eyes fixed on the potted plant she held in her lap,  a sweet pea winding itself around a short wooden stake.

“Almost there,” Said Reinhardt as they drove past several signs marking the area as off-limits by the Petras Act. Mercy gave a glance down to the pale pink and white blooms of her plant, and took a deep breath. They came to a stop in front of a large steel gate and Reinhardt stepped out of the vehicle. Mercy stepped out on the other side, and walked forward. She stared at the gate, which had a clearly-still functioning security camera atop the main gateposts for the watchpoint. She craned her neck to see the Watchpoint which rested on Gibraltar’s cliffs, then gave another glance down to her sweet pea, shaking a bit in the sea breeze.

“Take as much time as you need,” said Reinhardt as Bastion clanked out of the back of the Hove-RV.

Mercy pursed her lips, her cybernetic jawline tightening. She gave a short huff. “No,” she said, walking forward and tucking the flowerpot in the crook of her arm, “Like ripping off a bandaid.” She hit the intercom button.

“This area is off limits under the statutes of the Petras act. Please leave or authorities will be notified,” Winston’s voice, more than a little bored sounding, came over the comm. Mercy opened her mouth but all words seemed to dry up in her throat.

Oh this was a mistake. Oh I should have thought this through, she thought.

“Unless you have authorization I’m going to have to ask you to—”

“Winston,” Mercy blurted out.

“is that—who is this?” Winston’s voice came over the intercom.

“It’s…it’s me, Winston,” said Mercy, nervously pushing some hair back to her face before glancing up at the security camera, “It’s Mercy….Angela.”

A videoconferencing screen suddenly blipped to life next to the steel gate and WInston’s face appeared on the screen. His eyes widened and he pushed his glasses up his nose. “It is you,” he said, incredulously. He tilted his head a bit. “Who’s that behind you?”

“They’re friends,” said Mercy, “They’re here to help.”

“Hold on–” another voice came on and McCree suddenly stuck his face in the frame of the screen. “Merce? Shit, is that you?”

“It’s good to see you again, Jesse,” said Mercy.

McCree’s eyes widened as he tilted the brim of his hat back with his thumb, “Goddamn, look at you! ”

Mercy glanced down at herself, “Oh–yes, I…had some updates on the prosthetics.”

“I like the yellow,” said McCree, “It suits you, sunshine.”

Mercy glanced down at the yellow lights that peeked between the plates of her prosthetic limbs and armor. “Thank you,” she said.

“You just sit tight, you hear? We’ll get Tracer and get you and yours vetted real quick—-Good to have you back, Merce.”

Mercy gave a glance to the waters of Gibraltar. “Good to be back,” she said, smiling.

—-

Genji’s watch beeped and he sighed, pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He had been squinting at his biotic rig for several hours now, trying to properly calibrate nanoboost stream. He wondered what he was doing back here. Yes, there had been the recall but he had resigned from Overwatch before the Petras Act. He didn’t have to come back, and yet… not being here felt wrong, somehow. Maybe he needed prove something to himself. His mind wandered to Angela and he gave a glance up to the pressed flowers he had hung up around the lab.

 She had sent one with every letter. He had never bothered to decorate the lab back in the old days, maybe this was his way of convincing himself things were different now, that he, as Winston promised, would do the work he wanted to do, help the world as he always meant to help it. Or maybe he just missed her. Probably both. Still, they were pleasant to look at. Alkanet, Oxalis, Yarrow, Edelweiss, and Crocus—his eyes trailed across the flowers until he felt a kink in his neck. He stood up and pressed his hands to the small of his back and leaned back and grunted as his back popped with the stretch before rubbing the back of his neck with a quiet, “Kuso,” under his breath.

“I thought we agreed you needed to stop overworking yourself?” a voice spoke behind him as he sat back down.

“Believe me, I’d love to,” he said, before circling his wrists and getting back to his calibrations.

“And yet here you are,” the voice had a warm, slightly chiding tone to it.

“And yet here I am,” Genji muttered bitterly to himself, squinting at a small component of the rig.

“What did bring you back?” the voice asked.

“I’ve been asking that myself the whole time I’ve been trying to get this damned thing to work,” said Genji, furiously tweaking the component.

“Maybe you’re a masochist,” came the reply.

“It’s hard enough to concentrate without your teasing Ange–” Genji suddenly caught himself, and froze in his seat. There was a beat.  Gently, he set the biotic rig down, set his hand on the table and turned his seat around to face the doorway. Mercy stood there, one hand on the door frame, her other arm wrapped around a flowerpot with some climbing plant winding around a short stake in it. She was backlit by the late afternoon, not-quite-sunset light of Gibraltar, which seemed to shine through her—no, not through her, that was a trick of the light–the color of the neuroindicator system of her prosthetics had changed, from red light to yellow. It suited her. “Angela,” her name left him in a breath. He was still not quite sure if she was real. She didn’t match his memories or mental images of her, but it was her. It was her. He knew it. He felt it. 

“Doctor Shimada,” she said with a smile and suddenly Genji heard the clatter of his own swivel chair, he had sprung to his feet, his legs moving of their own accord. Mercy was barely able to set the little flowerpot down on a nearby table when she felt herself caught up in a tight embrace that even rocked her off her feet. A short snicker erupted from her as she wrapped her arms tight around him.

“You’re here,” Genji’s voice was muffled into her shoulder when suddenly he caught himself, made brief eye contact with her, set her down and cleared his throat, adjusting his glasses. “It’s–It’s good to see you again.”

“Quite the grip you’ve gotten there,” said Mercy, grinning, “Someone’s kept busy.”

“Oh… yes… well…” Genji did a not-quite flex with one arm and gave an awkward slap to his bicep, “Demands of relief work and all that…” he instantly felt self-conscious after that move but Mercy just snickered.

“You’re back,” Genji said quietly, trying to ground himself in the situation with his own words.

“You’re back too,” said Mercy.

“Your contract though—You didn’t have to–You’re risking a lot…”

“I know,” said Mercy, “But… I want to. I want to help. I think this is the best way I can help. I just… I think… I think I can do good this time.”

“I hope we can,” said Genji.

“All the same, I think it’s good you’ve managed to spend a few years outside the lab,” she grinned and gave a playful knock of her knuckles against his chest, “You’re looking good.”

“I–thank you. You–you look—” Genji’s eyes flicked down her armor and prosthetics, and several words caught in his throat, he ran a hand through his hair nervously, “That is, you look–seem–well. You seem well.” 

“I… feel well,” said Mercy, “I feel…” she gave a glance to her prosthetic hand and fidgeted a bit, running her organic thumb over her prosthetic palm, “I feel different. Whole.”

“I’m glad,” said Genji. He looked to the flowerpot she had set down on one of the tables along the lab walls. “Your next project?” he inquired.

“… I thought it might serve better as housewarming,” said Mercy, sliding the flowerpot toward him, “Though you seem to have settled in pretty well with your decorations–” Mercy’s eyes trailed past him to the numerous pressed flowers hung up on the walls of the lab. “…you kept them,” she said quietly.

“Oh–” Genji followed her line of sight, “Yes, I kept all your letters—Flowers! I mean… I kept the letters too.”

“The first few turned out awful,” said Mercy, giving a glance to a ghostly-looking crooked larkspur above the door.

“They were beautiful,” said Genji, “All of them.”  He watched as she seemed to be looking across the various pressed flowers she had sent him. It hadn’t occurred to either of them how many had been sent until they were all lined up like this.

“I’m glad you’re here, Angela,” the words fell out of him and she broke her sight from the flowers on the lab walls to look at him.

“I’m glad you’re here too,” she said, smiling.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this?” asked Genji as Mercy straightened his tie.

“So many of your experiences since reconstruction have been in the vacuum of a lab, or delving back into your past,” said Mercy, adjusting his collar.

“For safety,” said Genji.

“Well I think at this point it’s well established that you’re not going to hurt anybody without good reason, Genji,” said Mercy, “You should be able to see how far human-omnic relations have come. And I—” she cleared her throat, “I… I had a plus one.”

“A plus one?”

“A date–I mean a guest,” said Mercy.

“Is this a date?” asked Genji.

“No–I mean—That is—It can be–but obviously not if you’re uncomfortable with—I just thought you should see–But what I’m saying is—” Mercy was beet red and pressed her hands to her face, “…You’re going to tell me my core temperature is rising again, aren’t you?” she said, her voice half muffled into her hands.

“You seem already aware,” said Genji.

“I mean… you can still back out. It’s really fine,” said Mercy.

Genji shook his head. “As you say, it is a chance to see the advancement of human-omnic relations in recent years. My database has records detailing human social customs, but as far as seeing them for myself… I believe it will be a worthwhile experience.”

“All right,” Mercy said with a nod, “Good. Good.”

“Was there anything else you wanted from me before we left?” asked Genji.

“I–yes—would you mind–?” she turned around and gestured at the back of her dress, “Could you zip me up, please?”

—–

Since the wedding party was mixed between human and Omnic, it was an indoor wedding at a fairly fancy rented-out ballroom. They sat on the bride’s side, well, both were brides, technically, but to specify, the omnic bride, whom Genji recognized as the same coworker of Mercy’s who had discouraged her from stepping toward him when he was first reactivated.

“Congratulations, Carrie and Sigma” signs were hung all around the reception. Mercy and Genji watched as the couple danced to their ‘song.’ The concept of a human-omnic wedding was not particularly jarring to Genji, as the years had passed in his wanderings, he had come across various articles on newsfeeds discussing the status of human-omnic romantic relationships. He took it as a sign of the changing world, but actually experiencing it did make the omnic crisis seem further away and more alien than ever. 

He watched Mercy on the dancefloor, talking and dancing with others. She would occasionally give a glance back to him and give a small wave, an invitation to come over, but he would gesture in a polite decline. There was a lot to process as it was, and, being an assassin unit fear had never really been in his programming, more of a combination of self-preservation protocols and situation analysis, but something in that programming kept him in his seat. There was no threat here. He knew that. Omnic and human alike were laughing and dancing and chatting. He wondered if such an adaptation was only exclusive to later models, but then again, there was the Bastion unit up in Sweden, so who could really determine what the future had in store for him and what his place might be in this world?

“I’m not here to give you a directive,” he remembered Mercy’s words upon his reactivation, “Only the same second chance you gave me.” 

“Remind me to bring some shoes I can actually dance in, next time,” said Mercy, walking over and plopping into the seat next to him, undoing her strappy closed-toe stiletto heels and circling her foot at the ankle. Her voice broke him out of his thoughts and he glanced over to her.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked.

“Yes, I used to not be able to stand weddings, when I was younger and sullen,” said Mercy, pouring herself some champagne, “Family affairs, you know. Tough to be a part of family affairs when your own parents…” she trailed off and shook her head, “But these days I enjoy them. I suppose I’ve been so sucked into my work, it’s easy to forget dressing up nice, going out for drinks, being surrounded by well-wishes.” she sipped her champagne, “How are you holding up?”

“It’s fascinating to watch Omnics at a human function,” said Genji, before giving a glance to the omnic bride chatting with her new spouse, “Well… usually human functions…” he said quietly, “The Omnium gave such specific purposes to the models it made—soldier, spy, courier, tank, assassin… I’ve wondered for a while what Omnics…well… do with themselves without an Omnium giving them directives. They do… far more things than I could have imagined.”

Mercy smiled. “You’ll do far more things too,” she said, taking another sip before setting her glass down.

“All right everyone, will all the unmarried guests please go to the dance floor for the bouquet toss!” the MC announced.

Genji gave a glance at Mercy, “Should we…”

Mercy snickered. “It’s a silly tradition,” she said, “You can, if you want, but I’m going to stay here and see if I can’t get these blisters down.”

“I think I will observe, then,” said Genji, watching as the crowd amassed on the dancefloor. The human bride, Carrie, stepped out in front of the crowd.

“Frankly I’m surprised people still do the bouquet toss,” said Mercy, leaning back in her seat, “I mean, it’s the year 20–”

Before she could finish her sentence the bouquet overshot the crowd and arced toward their table. Mercy was still talking, only partially catching on to the shouts of the crowd and only just starting to turn her head. Genji calculated the trajectory in an instant. In 1.13 seconds the bouquet would hit the table, shattering Mercy’s champagne flute, drenching itself in champagne and splashing champagne all over the front of Mercy’s dress. That could not happen. In a flash he stood up, knocking his chair back, and snatched the bouquet out of the air. The heads of the entire crowd swiveled toward him and he now became acutely aware that there was a spotlight, initially fixed on the bouquet, now fixed on him.

“…wow…Okay! I guess we have a winner!” said the MC. The crowd cheered and the dancing resumed as Genji sheepishly retook his seat as the spotlight faded off of him. He sat down with the bouquet for a few moments, still processing what had just happened. 

“Congratulations,” said Mercy as Genji glanced down at the bouquet.

“Human customs are strange,” said Genji, running his thumb along the petals of the pink and white peonies.

“They’re only going to get stranger,” said Mercy.

“Here,” Genji held the bouquet out to her, “You will… probably take care of them better than I could.”

“Oh–Uh–Thank you,” said Mercy, nervously taking the bouquet. She tucked her hair back and there was a smile on her face, not the wide, charming, crowd pleasing one he had seen when she was mingling with the crowd, but something that seemed, more fragile, more genuine. A soft ‘Vrrrr’ could be heard as his system vented excess heat, though the suit didn’t make things much easier.

“Genji?” said Mercy.

“Yes?” his line of sight jerked up from her mouth to her eyes.

“…Your core temperature is rising,” said Mercy with sly grin.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this navigator?” Hanzo murmured as the two of them walked toward the cockpit.

“We’re past Hutt-charted space and with the feedback from the moons messing with our instruments this much, at this point, she’s our best bet if we’re going to find those caves,” said Genji, craning his neck slightly to see the willowy hooded figure a short ways ahead.

Hanzo pressed a hand to his forehead, “We’re dead,” he muttered.

“I thought we agreed we’d stay positive, brother,” said Genji.

“You’re positive, I’m realistic,” said Hanzo, “And of course you’re willing to bet our lives on a pretty face.”

Genji just huffed and elbowed him and they both shut up as they entered the earshot of their navigator. Hanzo was right. She was unnervingly pretty. A half-Diathim who towered about a head and a half taller than him, Mercy had a faint yellow-moonlike glow to her and large eerie ghost-blue eyes. two slits had been cut in the back of her cloak to accommodate her two membraneous wings that trailed only halfway down her back. She glanced over at him and smiled as he and his brother took their seats on either side of her to switch off of autopilot. He smiled back, felt Hanzo glaring at him, then turned his attention out the window of the cockpit.

“This is so exciting,” she said, looking at the fizzing and incomprehensible readings on the Ichimonji’s navigational monitor, “It’s an honor to help out the rebellion. It’s an honor to help real Jedi–”

“Not Jedi–” Genji quickly corrected her.

“Historians,” Hanzo peppered in.

“And it’s important to find alternatives to Ilum,” said Genji.

They were lying to her. They felt awful about it, but it wasn’t like her people were using all those Kyber crystals anyway. They could stand to part with a few handfuls.

“But you’re with the rebellion! You’re restoring the Jedi Order!” her voice was bright and Genji’s stomach twisted in knots, “You know, Masters Kenobi and Skywalker saved my people from the Confederacy years ago, and we still tell stories of them to this day.”

Yes we definitely care who those are, thought Genji, looking out the window. The thousand moons of Iego and their intersecting gravitational fields made the space around them a veritable minefield of debris, but she seemed to effortlessly chart their course through it. It was another couple hours before they reached their destination, though.

“Welcome to Thysoi,” she smiled as she brought them through the moon’s atmosphere. Thysoi was a craggy volcanic tundra of glassy violet-colored rock formations with steaming fissures and sulfrous-smelling multicolored pools. Contrasting against the violet of the environment though, were veins of bright blue wildflowers.

“So your people just… keep caves of Kyber crystals hidden away?” said Hanzo, gingerly stepping around a steaming fissure.

“We did not want further conflicts arising over Iego after the Clone Wars,” said Mercy, “We found our best means of protecting ourselves was keeping our resources secret.”

“Including the mountain of Kyber hidden on one of your moons.” 

“We mostly kept to Millius Prime,” said Mercy, “Empires and rebellions have come and conquered my people so many times, many different Diathim civilizations scattered among our moons were born and lost with the wars,” she gestured at a ruin that had to be hundreds of years old, “Including Thysoi. For a time, whole chapters of our history were lost among these moons as we focused on survival… My people, of Millius Prime, actually weren’t aware of these caves until after the battle of Endor. They started… singing to us.”

Hanzo rolled his eyes but Genji was fascinated by this.

“That’s how you know your way through all the debris fields,” said Genji.

“Yes!” said Mercy, excitedly, “Oh! You must have read Jovdan Saareti’s dissertation on the Journals of the Whills!”

“…yes, that is… definitely a thing I have read…” said Genji.

Hanzo dragged his hand down his face.

“Oh this is so exciting!” said Mercy, “Helping real Guardians of the Whills! You must take me with you when all this is done!”

“What?!” Genji and Hanzo spoke at the same time.

Mercy’s face dropped. “I–I won’t get in your way. My people have feared getting entangled with the Rebellion, but I can’t simply sit and let us be conquered by whoever’s in charge over and over again. When I get you these crystals, I want to come with you–And see the rebellion,” her eyes sparkled, “And meet Jedi!” 

“I…” Genji started, having a lot of trouble saying no to those big eyes.

“Absolutely not,” said Hanzo.

Genji looked over at Hanzo with some indignation but Hanzo gave him that steady glare. “It’s too dangerous,” said Hanzo, turning his attention back to the half-diathim, “You’re risking too much just showing us where these caves are.” 

“But the rebellion could use healers, couldn’t they?” said Mercy, “I’m pretty accomplished in my town, but I feel like I could do more…” 

“Oh–well–Healers…are… needed everywhere!” said Genji, “You’re just as useful around Iego as you would be in the rebellion!”

Mercy pursed her lips as they reached the mouth of the cave. “So you don’t want me to come?”

“We would love if you came,” said Genji as the three of them walked in. Her diathim glow became even more apparent in the darkness of the cave. 

“Genji,” Hanzo said his name through gritted teeth.

“But it’s far too dangerous–especially transporting something like Kyber across the outer rim,” Genji took her hand, “If anything happened to you–”

“Genji,” Hanzo said again with a huff and Genji released Mercy’s hand. 

“We should find and stow some of this kyber first, shouldn’t we?” said Genji, smiling and lighting up a couple of glowrods and handing one to her. She smiled as well.

The cave dipped deep, deep, into the surface of the moon. In certain chambers they could feel the sweaty warmth of nearby lava tubes. They would reach a fork in the cave’s path, and Mercy would easily say, “This way,” and they would continue on their way. 

Mercy, it seemed had no shortage of questions about the rebellion. She didn’t seem to have gotten that far beyond the Quarren-run spaceport Genji had found her. Thankfully the Galaxy was large enough for him to fudge up some answers for her. No, he was nowhere near Coruscant. He and his brother were Chandrilan. And he found the Jovdan Saareti dissertation on the Journal of the Whills so utterly moving that he simply couldn’t bring himself to describe them. She seemed very impressed by this. Hanzo stayed quiet for the continuation of their journey into the cave. Though there came a point in listening to Genji and Mercy talk, that Genji wondered if it was possible for Hanzo to hurt himself from rolling his eyes too hard. It was easy to lose track of time in the caves though, and they took a break and became quickly aware of how long they had been walking.

Mercy wandered off to look around the rock formations, leaving Genji and Hanzo to talk.

“I don’t like this,” Hanzo muttered.

“I know,” Genji said quietly, “She’s too nice. I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”

“You’re the one who keeps digging himself into a deeper hole in that regard,” said Hanzo.

“Oh and staying completely silent isn’t suspect at all,” said Genji, folding his arms.

“You’re just trying to impress her. Besides, that’s not what I mean. I don’t like putting all of our faith in some backwater moony when the stakes are this high.” 

“She’s not a backwater moony!” said Genji, offended, “Were you listening to her? She’s read Jovdan…Sarter’s dissertation on the… Willy thing.”

“You don’t even know what that means,” said Hanzo flatly.

“Neither do you,” said Genji, he straightened up a little, “Besides, I think she likes me.”

“She doesn’t like you, she thinks she likes adventure and Jedi and everything beyond the sad pile of floating rocks she grew up on, when the truth is there’s nothing but horror and death out there.”

“Well aren’t you cheerful,” huffed Genji. They both quickly shut up as Mercy re-entered the chamber, filling it with even more light between her own bioluminescence and the glow-rods.

“Where to next?” asked Genji.

Mercy’s lips were pursed. “I–I’m trying to figure it out but…” she pressed her fingertips to her forehead, “It’s like an echo chamber. It’s like we’re too close for me to find them.”

“It’s okay,” said Genji, “We’ll just take our time, let you re-center yourself.”

“I’m sorry,” said Mercy, “I knew where we were going before…”

“You can at least get us out so we don’t die down here?” asked Hanzo flatly.

“I–yes…” Mercy looked down, fidgeting with her hair slightly and looking crestfallen. Genji shot a glare at Hanzo. “I… I really did want to help the rebellion, but…I just can’t pinpoint the source.” 

Genji suddenly grunted.

“Are you all right?” she perked up.

Genji shook his head. “I’m fine, just… got an awful ringing in my ears for a–” he grunted, “Oh that’s bad–” he said, covering his right ear. 

“You aren’t hearing anything,” muttered Hanzo, “Stop getting her hopes up–”

Genji grunted again.

Mercy suddenly touched Genji’s forehead with three fingers and the ringing in his ear suddenly evened out to the hum of a tuning fork.

“You hear the singing too,” she said quietly.

That’s singing?” managed Genji, only barely recovering from the migraine of the previous ringing.

“If it’s weaker for you, you might be able to pinpoint its source better,” said Mercy.

Genji pointed down a narrow cavern corridor, “That way,” he said.

It was another 20 minutes of descent into the cave when the ringing in Genji’s ear stopped.

“Don’t tell me you lost it as well,” said Hanzo, but Genji gave a glance down to the glowrod in his hand and turned it off. Mercy did the same. They both looked at Hanzo.

“We need to be able to see in case there’s a cave in,” said Hanzo, flatly.

Both Mercy and Genji continued staring at him. He huffed and turned his glowrod off as well.

As the orange light of the glowrods dimmed out, the entire chamber lit up in green and light blue.

“…Oh,” said Hanzo.

“It’s beautiful…” said Genji, looking around. He heard the noise again, not the ringing, but the tune, and he turned his head to see a single crystal jutting out just so from a lumpy volcanic formation. He walked over and took ahold of it, and it snapped off easily, practically jumping into his hand. It felt warm in his palm.

“The Shimada brothers have outdone themselves once again,” A sharp voice bounced off the walls of the crystalline chamber and both Genji and Hanzo turned on their heels to see a white-haired woman clad in black and gold standing with one hand on her hip at the chamber’s entrance. Instinctively, Genji stuffed the Kyber crystal in his hand into his jacket.

“Come on, you didn’t think I’d let you two wander into nigh-uncharted space alone, did you?” said Ashe.

“Wh–” Mercy looked at Genji, and then at Ashe, “Who is this?” She looked at Ashe, “Are you with the rebellion?”

“The Rebe–” Ash sputtered and then broke into a high raucous laugh. “Is that–” she broke down into giggles looking at Genji and Hanzo, “Is that what you told her?!” She looked back at Mercy, “Oh sweetheart…”

In the soft glow of those crystals, Mercy’s face was stunned. She looked at Genji.

“We’re with the Crimson Dawn,” said Genji.

“No–” she started.

“We didn’t set out to be with them–!” Genji started.

“Genji,” Hanzo spoke and Genji caught himself.

“It’s nothing personal,” said Ashe, shouldering her blaster rifle, “It’s just the way these things shake out. Sooner or later, everyone gets played. Now,” she looked at Genji and Hanzo, “My associates and I can take it from here. Hanzo. head back to my ship, grab me a crate and some hover-dollies—”

“No,” said Mercy.

“Come again?” said Ashe.

“No!” said Mercy, “I set out to give these crystals to the order that saved my people! I’m not going to give them to you!”

Ashe huffed and drew her blaster from her side, “Goddamn bleeding hearts—” she muttered, pointing it at Mercy.

“No!” Genji lunged forward.

“Genji!” Hanzo moved to stop him. 

In retrospect it was very stupid even pulling a blaster out in a kyber crystal-filled chamber to begin with. Ashe fired, but Genji seized her wrist and shoved it upward. The shot hit a kyber vein in the ceiling, instantly resulting in a white hot blast that shook the whole chamber. Mercy saw the blast hit the ceiling, seized Genji around the waist and yanked him back from the explosion. Ashe and Hanzo were knocked toward the entrance to the chamber by the blast, Genji and Mercy were knocked back. There were a few beats where the entire chamber was rumbling as they were all groaning and trying to regain orientation.

“You just blew up 30,000 credits, you idiot!” said Ashe, stumbling up to her knees. She drew her blaster again but Hanzo seized her wrist.

“Are you insane?! You’re going to shoot again!? Look where we are!” he shouted in her face.

There was another rumble. 

“We need to get out of here,” said Hanzo, looking up at the ceiling, “The whole area is volcanic–if that blast means a vein of lava is headed for these crystals-”

“I’m not walking away from this empty handed!” snapped Ashe.

There was a pause. Still gripping her wrist, Hanzo head-butted her, knocking her out in an instant.. He didn’t have time to argue. He slung her over his shoulder. As it stood with the Crimson Dawn, Ashe dead meant a whole lot more problems for them than Ashe alive.

“Genji,” he looked back at his brother but saw Mercy clasping him in her arms.

“Go,” said Mercy, “I’ll get him ou–”

Another blazing white blast suddenly exploded behind her and she screamed. There was a beat where Hanzo stood in horror at the sight of them both consumed by the blast, but then instinct drove him to run. 

“I’m sorry,” was all he could think, “I’m sorry.”

He didn’t look back. He wasn’t sure what guided him out of that cave, perhaps it was the combination of short-term memory and sheer panic, but he and Ashe made it back to her Crimson Dawn barge and took off as more white-hot blasts and spurts of lava spilled out from Thysoi’s surface. He slumped Ashe’s unconscious form into the co-pilot’s seat, buckled her in, and took off. He watched the surface of the planet below, bursting and bleeding in white and orange-red, before taking a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, Genji,” he said, softly.

Genji’s eyes blearily opened and he groaned in pain. Mercy perked up next to him. He wasn’t in the cave, not anymore. Where he was was almost blindingly white. His eyes trailed to Mercy.

“You’re… you’re alive?” he managed to say.

She held up her arms, wrapped in mummy-like bandages. Several bandages blocked off sections of her face as well, mostly a large section of her cheek and under her jawline. “Diathim can survive the vacuum of space,” she said, a little ruefully, “Turns out we’re tougher than we look.”

Genji almost chuckled but it hurt to laugh. He glanced down at that Bacta-filled suit encasing his whole body, and then noticed that the legs were a lot shorter than they were supposed to be. He shut his eyes and took in a shuddering breath.

“Where are we?” he said, trying to take his mind off of what he had just seen.

“I got us back to the ship…back to your ship… but you were…” Mercy’s voice cracked, “I was losing you. I activated a beacon and… they found us.” 

Mercy looked over her shoulder to a young woman with spiky dark hair and freckles. The woman smiled and walked over.

“You’re on the Med-Bay Ship Breha 2,” said the woman, “Welcome to the Rebel Alliance.”

Chapter Text

“Mmh…” Ashe’s eyes blearily opened. Her head was pounding, “Whuh…” she suddenly snapped to attention and found she was belted into a co-pilot’s seat, “What the–!?” Her eyes flicked to the exterior. Iego’s moons and asteroids were far behind them. Hyperspace strobed in the ship’s viewport.

Ashe looked sharply over at Hanzo, who was sullenly piloting the ship.

“The kyber–” she started.

“Probably exploded, thanks to you,” said Hanzo.

“Thanks to your brother,” said Ashe, furrowing her brow.

Hanzo just grimaced and rolled his grip on the ship’s steering. 

“You know I don’t miss. You know that blaster shot was going in one place, but then baby brother has to get his choobies in a bunch over some backwater moony and suddenly you’re out a brother, and we’re all out a hundred thousand cred score.”

She’s not a backwater moony! Hanzo remembered Genji’s voice and his stomach turned. Given how much they bickered, it was statistically likely that any last time they would speak to each other would be an argument, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“If he hadn’t—” Ashe caught herself and then gave him a sidelong glance, “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said, pushing her hair back.

“He was my brother,” said Hanzo, “My responsibility. I didn’t think he would…he flirts but I never thought he would get so involved so as to…”

“Well we’re gonna have to find another score… the Dawn had a lot riding on this, you understand,” said Ashe. She leaned back in her seat, “Kriff… Not looking forward to that Holocomm meeting…”

“You were in charge,” said Hanzo.

“And you told me you had your little brother under control,” said Ashe. Hanzo just tensed where he was sitting. Ashe sighed. “Look,” she said, “You and your brother were unique. Most people end up real lonely in our line of work, because when stuff like this happens… it hits harder when you were close to them.”

“You have Bob,” said Hanzo.

“Bob’s a droid, Hanzo,” said Ashe, “Droids can be fixed. Sometimes you can even keep a backup of their personality on a data drive. And with a handful of exceptions, most droids I can trust a helluva lot more than I can trust people.”

“If you hadn’t fired that shot…” Hanzo started and then trailed off.

“If Genji had just acted the way Crimson Dawn are supposed to act and let me shoot that moony, he’d still be here,” said Ashe, folding her arms, “But he didn’t. So he isn’t. That’s how things are with the Crimson Dawn, Hanzo. If you can’t live with it, you die for it. I’m sorry, Hanzo, I am, but that’s our life. That’s how it is.”

“Welcome to the Rebel Alliance.”

The woman stood in front of the two of them looking satisfied for several seconds, as if all their problems were solved. Mercy fidgeted with her bandaged hands and Genji looked around. Naturally a medical ship didn’t exactly scream ‘rebel alliance.’ There were maybe two other patients recovering, one simply sleeping and another being looked over by a medical droid with the Rebellion’s emblem on its shoulder. The woman standing in front of them was wearing an X-Wing pilot’s uniform, as well. 

“…The rebel alliance?” Genji repeated, his own voice raspy, “What are you doing this far from the core worlds?”

“Relief work,” said the woman, folding her arms, “We’re also assessing the former levels of Empire control out here.”

“The Empire has fallen,” said Genji.

Palpatine has fallen. The Imperial fleet is scrambling–They still have enough firepower to be a significant threat if and when they regroup. We were heading away from Millius Prime when we got your distress call, we assumed you had been attacked by them or something–the remains of the fleet have just been… falling on and cannibalizing any poor little ship they come across. The tide’s turned and the galaxy’s fighting back, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Empire still has footholds all over it.”

“So you’re still fighting it,” said Mercy.

“Well of course!” said the woman, she extended a hand, “Tracer, Scout Squadron leader.” 

“Mercira Zygarel” Mercy hesitantly shook Tracer’s hand with her bandaged one. “Friends call me Mercy. I was a healer in my village but if the rebellion has need of me…”

“…are you volunteering?” Tracer tilted her head.

“I thought I was volunteering before–” Mercy started but then looked at Genji, caught herself and cleared her throat, “They say it was a Jedi who took down the empire. The elders say was Jedi who saved my people back during the Clone Wars. I would like to return the favor, if that’s possible.”

“Could always use more healers,” said Tracer, looking around, “You know your way around Bacta?”

Mercy nodded. “Surgical procedures for a handful of species as well. Humans, Diathim, Toydarian, Twi’lek, Besalisk, Togruta, and Rodian. I–I know I could learn more if I could work with the Rebellion.”

Really not a backwater moony then, thought Genji, And I nearly got her killed trying to steal Kyber for the Crimson Dawn…

“And what about you?” said Tracer, looking at him. Her eyes trailed down to his leg stumps within the bacta suit, “You can stay here as long as you need to recover, but you don’t have to cast your lot in with us. Especially not after what you’ve been through. Do you have somewhere to go back to?”

Genji tensed slightly. “I–My brother…” he looked down at his leg stubs and took a steadying breath, “I need some time to think.”

“I understand,” said Tracer, clapping him on the shoulder. She looked back at Mercy. “You said you were both caught in… some kind of explosion?”

“Volcanic!” Mercy blurted out, before easing up in her seat, “It was… a volcanic explosion… We were doing a–a-umm a geological survey and… some magma must have hit a gas pocket.”

“A surgeon and a geologist?” said Tracer, impressed.

“It’s a hobby,” Mercy and Genji said at the same time.

“Nasty luck, that,” said Tracer. She folded her arms, “Welp, as I’ve said, you can take the time you need to recover here. We’re headed away from Iego, but we have your ship–”

“Ichimonji!?” Genji sat up, feeling the bacta in the suit slosh up against him.

“Well we couldn’t very well leave it floating out there!” said Tracer, “It’s mag-locked to this vessel. But when you’re ready to go, just let us know. I need to get back to commanding the squadron, but we do have more to discuss. You just rest and recover and we’ll have more questions, later.”

“Understood,” said Genji as Tracer walked out. The door whirred shut behind her. Genji looked around. 

A long silence passed between him and Mercy.

“You covered for me,” said Genji.

“Well… I don’t know what the Rebellion would do to Crimson Dawn, but from what I’ve seen of how they deal with the empire, they don’t strike me as very fond of bullies and liars.”

‘Bullies and liars,’ thats a nice way of saying ‘murderers and thieves’ thought Genji. 

Mercy suddenly tensed up. “Oh no–I–I didn’t mean that. I don’t think you…” she caught herself her lips thinned, she didn’t know what to think of him at this point. He and Hanzo had given her nothing but lies on Thysoi, but now he was like this because he had jumped in to stop Ashe from shooting her. “You’ve been through so much already,” she said softly.

Genji gave a nod towards her own bandages, “You’ve been through a lot too,” he said. He flinched in bed. “Your wings–” he said in alarm.

Mercy spread her wings once iridescent and smooth, now ragged on the edges, with a hole burned through the lower corner of the other. They still had their iridescence but they were stained by fire, no longer moon-white and more warped, with patches of gray and still iridescent burned spots like black opal. 

“…I’m so sorry,” said Genji, “About everything–you only wanted to help Jedi and the Rebellion and my brother and I…”

“I should have known better. I was so eager to get away from Iego I was willing to believe you–”

“That’s not your fault,” said Genji.

“And you wouldn’t have even taken me with you even if you were in the rebellion,” Mercy’s shoulders bunched up.

“Mercy, if we weren’t in the Crimson Dawn, I would have taken you anywhere in the galaxy you wanted,” said Genji, leaning forward slightly with the bacta sloshing in his suit.

Mercy’s brow crinkled. “But you were in the Crimson Dawn,” she said, still remembering the sting of the truth back in the caves.

“We were brought into it young,” said Genji, “My brother and I were really only able to survive the lower ranks of it because we had each other.” 

“…Are you going to go back to him?” she asked quietly.

“If the Crimson Dawn finds out I’m still alive, they’ll probably kill me for destroying all that Kyber, regardless of how much Hanzo argues for me,” said Genji, “I’ll… I’ll have to find some way of letting him know I’m still alive, but I don’t know how I’m going to do that without alerting all of them. I’m not exactly in any position to fight them.”

“So what now?” said Mercy.

“I don’t know,” said Genji, “Everything I knew how to do before…” he trailed off, “Charming, and good with vibroblades in a tight corner. That’s it. No other redeeming qualities. And I don’t know how good the second one is if…” he trailed off and looked at his leg stumps.

“There are prosthetics available,” said Mercy, “I’m sure the rebellion…” she trailed off.

“Do you think they’d have me?”

“Do you believe in freeing the galaxy?” Mercy tilted her head.

“All my brother and I really believed in was survival,” said Genji with a sigh, “But… if that’s the only thing I believed in and that got me here, maybe it’s time to believe in something more.”

“And why should I trust what you say, now?” said Mercy, glancing off, “Why should they trust you?”

“You can’t. I’ll have to earn it,” said Genji, “You can trust that I want legs, and that the Crimson Dawn will kill me if they find out I’m still alive, though.”

Mercy’s eyes trailed down to his leg stubs. “Why did you step in like that?” she said quietly.

“The way you looked at me when you thought I was a good person… it made me want to be that person. I liked you, I did–I still do. But I understand completely if you never want to see my face again.” He brought up his bacta-suit wrapped hand and brushed the plastex along his lower jawline, feeling the bandages and some plastex, “I probably don’t want to see my own face right now,” he mumbled.

“It’s—It’s not that bad,” said Mercy. She smiled a little and gestured at the bandages lining her own face. “I won’t mind seeing it again. We match, at least.”

“And if you still look amazing–” Genji caught himself and then huffed, “A bit too soon, isn’t it?”

“Definitely too soon,” said Mercy with a bittersweet smile.

Genji let his eyes trail up to the ceiling of the med-bay. “So… Rebel Alliance, huh?”

“I… I think it’ll be good for you,” said Mercy.

“Well I’ve been robbing the galaxy blind for well over the past decade,” he said with a slight smile, “Probably should start paying it back.”

Chapter Text

Genji-3 adjusted his hood as it rippled in the winds of Mars. The landscape was beautiful and lonely, all rusty red rock formations veined with white snow and coarse grasses. 

“When was the last time you went back to the Tower?” Zenyatta, his ghost floated up next to him as he looked out over the landscape. 

“Aren’t you supposed to keep track of that?” said Genji, glancing over at the semi-spherical ghost shell etched with sky chart-like designs.

“I am not asking because I do not know, I am asking because you should know,” said Zenyatta, “It would do you well to be near the Traveler again… touch base with the Vanguard… Not just bounce between here and the Tangled Shore.”

“I’ve been…” Genji-3 gestured, “Busy.”

“It’s not good to be alone for so long,” said Zenyatta.

“I’m not alone–I have you!” said Genji.

“…Your Ghost,” said Zenyatta.

“Ghosts count!” said Genji.

“But you understand what I am saying,” said Zenyatta, “The more you fight and die out here, the less it means to you. You need to remind yourself of what you are fighting for… I know it’s difficult with Cayde’s loss–”

“I’m fine,” Genji-3 insisted.

“You will be fine once you go back to the Last City, get some ramen and a few days off,” said Zenyatta, “The Cabal will still be here when you get back.”

Genji-3 snorted and then sighed. “One last patrol,” he said, summoning his sparrow.

“’One last patrol’ always turns into, ‘Oh look, a lost sector’ or ‘We need to clear out this Hive nest,’ or ‘Well do you expect me to just let the Fallen transmat this glimmer?’” said Zenyatta, fading into the interior of Genji’s cloak.

“That’s what patrol means,” said Genji, mounting the sparrow and zipping forward, his cloak rippling behind him. Mars streamed past, all streaks of red and white with a dawn-pinkened sky. It didn’t take too long to reach the icy mountains where they could get a better vantage point on the area. They had to continue on foot (well, Zen was floating, as always) from there. They ran into a handful of Cabal in the ice caves, but nothing Ryū Ichimonji couldn’t handle.

“…and how long has it been since we’ve checked in with a Postmaster? Poor Kadi’s probably drowning in packages for us at this point. Oh! And Banshee-44—You always liked him–” Zenyatta was still on the ‘Let’s go back to the tower’ page. Genji-3 was beginning to wonder if his ghost was the lonely one.

“Wait–” Genji held up a hand and drew his sword from his back. 

“More cabal?” said Zenyatta.

“I thought I heard–” Genji cut himself off as a small polyhedron hovered past. “A ghost?”

The ghost was hovering about the ice caves, scanning the walls, humming a little. 

“Excuse me–” Genji called and the ghost swiveled to face them.

“Where is your Guardian?” asked Zenyatta.

“Oh they’re around!” the Ghost chirped, and resumed scanning the ice in the wall, “I am very sure this is the right planet.”

“You… have not found your Guardian yet,” said Zenyatta.

“They’re around!” the Ghost insisted and then resumed scanning and humming.

Genji gave a doubtful glance to Zenyatta. His expression was unreadable under his Mask of the Great Hunt, but the angle he was holding it at universally communicated ‘This is depressing.’

“Uh… best of luck finding them,” said Genji, continuing past the ghost.

“Oh, I hope they’re nice,” the Ghost said, more to itself than them.

“Poor thing,” said Genji as they continued on through the ice caves. 

“It is not so bad,” said Zenyatta, “Finding one’s Guardian is an adventure in and of itself.”

“You scan corpses,” said Genji, “And piles of rubble when you can’t find corpses.”

“But one of those corpses or piles of rubble could be a Guardian! It is very exciting,” said Zenyatta.

“When you found me–”

“Oh you were ripped in two,” said Zenyatta, “Your legs were on the other side of the shelled-out warehouse.”

“There’s a pleasant thought,” said Genji.

“I revived you from the top half, if it helps,” said Zenyatta.

They heard some distorted grunting from down the tunnel behind them.

“Cabal must have found the cave mouth,” said Genji, his hand going to Ryū Ichimonji, “The first group we ran into must have just been a scouting team.”

Zenyatta let out a sigh, “Of course…” and Genji remembered what they had been discussing earlier.

“Well, we don’t have to fight them,” he said, taking his hand off of the sword handle, “Once we reach the exit at the summit, we’ll just transmat up into the ship and head back to the Tower. Like you wanted.”

“I have missed the Traveler,” Zenyatta spoke a little wistfully.

“And ramen,” Genji admitted.

“I do like those little white things with the pink swirls,” said Zenyatta.

“You don’t have a mouth,” said Genji.

“I mean aesthetically,” said Zenyatta, “Ghosts can appreciate–” Zenyatta suddenly caught himself and both of them perked up with realization.

“The ghost!” They said at the same time and Genji was already drawing his sword and running back through the tunnels. Zenyatta faded into the interior of Genji’s cloak as they made visual contact with the small platoon of Red Legion soldiers. Genji didn’t even confirm a visual on the Ghost when he sliced through his first legionnaire. 

It was a dizzying fight, and paranoid in close corners. Bullets spattered and shattered against the icy walls and ceiling as Genji leapt and rolled to avoid hails of gunfire. He darted past phalanx shields and backstabbed, alternating between his knife, his sword, and the solar blades of the Way of a Thousand Cuts. One Legionnaire managed to slam him hard into a wall and was met with solar knife to the head before Genji scrambled out of the legionnaire’s death-loosened grip and vaulted off of his shoulders with his sword swinging. Genji was yanking his sword out of the sparking mass of a dead legionnaire when he had to roll out of the way of the fire of a Incendior. Genji eyed the massive tanks on the Incendior’s back and grinned (if you could really call it grinning for an Exo).

“Genji–” Zenyatta started but Genji was already leaping in. He twisted in the air and a barrage of blades flew off of him in a dazzling display of fiery solar power.

The tank of the Incendior exploded and Genji was thrown back by the blast. He bounced painfully along the hard ice floor and… water? Genji sat up and then winced hard.

“Honestly…” Zenyatta admonished as, with a swell of light, Genji felt his wounds patch up. Large drops of water were plopping down from the ceiling as Genji was wringing out his cloak among the charred remains of the Legion’s bodies.

“Ghost?” Genji called.

The ghost from earlier phased into existence. “Are you all right?” the ghost asked.

“I’m fine,” said Genji.

“Thanks for taking care of them. I can’t get much scanning done when I’m hiding,” said the Ghost, resuming its scan of the walls. 

“…you’re just going to keep scanning?” said Genji.

“Well of course!” said the ghost, “Why wouldn’t I?”

They all heard a large crunching sound that seemed to have an odd high-pitched reverberation to it. Genji looked up to see a fissure zig-zagging across the ceiling.

“Cave-in!” he shouted as Zenyatta disappeared into his cloak. Water sloshed around his boots as he ran, grabbed the still-scanning, now-protesting ghost, and sprinted out of the mouth of the cave as massive shards of ice came tumbling down after him.

Genji panted as he watched the mouth of the cave collapse and send out puffs of diamond dust and snow as icy debris rolled out from a wall of ice blocks where there once was an entrance.

“In hindsight, it probably isn’t good to throw out exploding fire knives in an ice cave,” said Zenyatta, rematerializing out of Genji’s cloak.

“Oh no!” the Ghost zipped out of Genji’s grip and anxiously floated over the pile of ice blocking the cave entrance. “I’ll never finish scanning, now!”

“Sorry…” Genji rubbed the back of his head. 

“I’m sure your Guardian is somewhere else–” Zenyatta started.

“No! I have to be sure! I have to—” the ghost paused and started scanning over the debris at the mouth of the cave. It suddenly perked up, its panels whirring. “They’re here!” the ghost exclaimed, practically bouncing up and down, “They’re definitely here!”

“Are you sure–?” Genji started but the ghost’s panels suddenly expanded, exposing a core of light at its center. The ice and rocks in the pile rumbled and suddenly a human skull, brown with age and missing both its lower jaw and a chunk of its cranium emerged, floating out from the debris.

“Ew,” said Genji.

“Oh…” Zenyatta said softly.

Light burst out from the exposed ghost’s core and the skull was encased in light as well, all but disappearing behind a misty glow that was not unlike the recently awakened Traveler. The silhouette of a body formed out from the light and as the ghost’s shell closed back around it, details of the figure became visible. She was an awoken, tall and graceful but strongly built. Her skin was pale bluish and her hair was platinum blonde, tying itself up in a feathery ponytail as her eyes blearily opened. Her eyes were harvest moon yellow, and soul-piercing like any other Awoken. She was wrapped in almost labcoat-like warlock robes–or maybe they were just a tactical labcoat? Definitely Braytech. 

Her feet touched down on the ground and her lids twitched for a few seconds before she suddenly drew a horrible, drawn out, groaning, rasping breath. The first breath of a woman who had been dead for, judging by the level of ice, centuries. She staggered and Genji instinctively stepped forward and caught her, helping her stay on her feet.

“Whuzz–Guh!” She flinched hard in his arms and Genji loosened his grip on her but kept supporting her.

“It’s okay,” said Genji, “It’s okay. We’re friendly.”

“It’s you!” her Ghost was zipping around her joyfully, “It’s you! It’s you! It’s you! My Guardian!!”

“Guh–Guardian?” the woman was swaying in Genji’s arms, “Whuzzaguardian?”

You’re a guardian!” the ghost declared gleefully, “You’re my guardian! The Traveler made me and I searched for you for years and I found you and you’re my guardian!! You’re the most powerful weapon of the Light! You’re bound to protect the Traveler against the forces of Darkness! You can’t die because I’ll keep bringing you back until Idie! We’re friends!”

“…What?” said the woman.

Genji looked at Zenyatta, then at the ghost, all but exploding out of its shell with excitement, and then back at the woman.

“You’re uh… probably going to need some help acclimating,” said Genji, still supporting her, “The Vanguard can probably help you out. We should get back to the Tower.”

The panels of Zenyatta’s ghost shell whirred with what Genji could only assume was smugness.

“What tower?” the woman repeated.

“It’s back on Earth–It’s actually really beautiful. You’re going to love it,” said Genji. He glanced down at a name stitched into her lab coat-like robes, “…Mercy.”

“Mercy?” The woman followed his line of sight down to her own name, “Oh–So it is–So… so I am.”

“You’re my Guardian, Mercy! We’re going to go on adventures!” Mercy’s ghost was bobbing around her.

“Vanguard, then adventures,” said Genji, letting Mercy lean on him as Zenyatta signaled their ship.

“What’s the Vanguard?” said Mercy.

“I’ll uh, get you up to speed,” said Genji, “I’m Genji-3, by the way.”

“3… An Exo?” Mercy tilted her head at him.

Genji waved a hand and his helmet dematerialized, revealing his silver face and glowing green eyes. “All friendly,” said Genji.

“…cat ears…” Mercy said quietly, staring at him.

“What? Oh–no. Horns,” said Genji, pointing at one of the 45 degree angle metal nubs at the sides of his head. 

“I have a cat–” Mercy’s voice was hollow, she pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead.

You had a cat at least 300 years ago, thought Genji, but he didn’t say anything. Patchy, dreamlike memories were well known to Exos, but as Guardians investigating one’s past wasn’t generally encouraged. Plenty did it, but it was morbid work and fighting off the Vex, Hive, Cabal, and Fallen (And the odd Taken here and there) tended to overshadow most introspection. Still, something stung in Genji’s stomach. She remembered she had a cat easier than she could remember her own name. It must have meant a lot to her. She was still muttering, trying to make sense of things  “I named him–he was–” she looked up and out over the landscape, “I don’t remember this–It–it’s not supposed to look like this—”

“You were a corpse from the Golden Age!” her Ghost stated excitedly.

“I was a corpse?” Mercy’s voice creaked. 

“Yeah! But you’re better now!” said the Ghost.

“I know you’re excited but we should probably break things to her a bit more slowly,” said Zenyatta.

“Oh right, right,” Mercy’s ghost bobbed in a nodding motion.

“I–I don’t understand–” Mercy was shaking her head, “What happened–?” she looked at her ghost, “What are you?”

“I’m your ghost!” said the Ghost, “The Traveler made me when it died-but-not-really! But it’s better now, too!”

“It died!? What are you talki–” Solar light suddenly flared off of Mercy’s forearms and she shrieked and flinched back, looking at her hands, “What was that?!”

“…That’s your light,” said Genji. He materialized a solar knife out of the air and then let it wink out of existence, “I have it too. It’s okay. You’re not alone here.”

“Mm,” Mercy just nodded, still looking at her forearms, clearly overwhelmed by everything.

“You don’t have to understand everything all at once,” said Zenyatta.

“I’ve been a Guardian for two decades now and I still don’t understand it,” said Genji. 

Mercy chuckled a little but her smile faded as she looked back over the landscape. “I was… gone a long time, wasn’t I?” she said quietly.

“Centuries, probably!” said her ghost.

“You uh… probably don’t have to worry about your cat, at this point,” said Genji.

“Oh…” Mercy’s shoulders slumped a little.

“We probably should get you to the Last City,” said Genji.

“Why is it called the Last City?” said Mercy, nervously running her thumb over her palm.

Genji and Zenyatta exchanged glances. The plates on Mercy’s Ghost whirred and for once seemed to be at a loss for words. How does one gently break the news there had been a continuous stream of shit hitting the fan ever since the Darkness reached their solar system. Genji rubbed his forehead, quietly muttering ‘Kuso,’ under his breath. “You like ramen?” asked Genji.

“I like ramen,” said Mercy.

“Let’s get ramen,” said Genji, as the four of them transmatted up into his ship.

Chapter Text

“It’s just down this way,” said Genji-3, walking Mercy through the annex of the Tower. Her movements were slow, clearly distracted and probably overwhelmed by the shift from the high lonely mountain ice caves of mars to a bustling city on earth. Large sections of the city were still being cleaned up and rebuilt after the Red War, and Mercy was so busy staring out over the buildings and the Traveler hanging over everything that she nearly bumped into a group of frames as they hurried on with cleaning and building supplies.

“I’m… not used to so many people,” said Mercy, trying to focus on Genji’s green hunter cloak to keep from losing him in the crowd.

Me neither, thought Genji. Zenyatta had been right. He had been out running patrols for far too long. His metal body felt tense, unable to cope with the idea that standing in one place for too long would end with you getting brained by a Psion, but he also had to maintain calm. Mercy was probably overwhelmed as is without him being tense, too. He looked back at her, stumbling along in those Braytech robes, her light yet voluminous hair bouncing as she turned her head this way and that, those eerie harvest moon yellow eyes trying to take in information while she was still trying to process everything.

“Wow!” said Mercy’s ghost, bouncing around her, “We have so much in common! It’s been a while since I’ve been back here, too! I came back after the Red War liberation. Lots of corpses to scan then.”

“Red War?”

“We were routed from the city about a year and a half ago,” said Genji, “The Cabal nearly took the Traveler–well they had the Traveler, but the Speaker–” Genji caught himself and looked back at Mercy, “I’m probably getting ahead of myself, huh?”

“I’m picking things up,” said Mercy, glancing back at several frames repairing a massive city archway, “So… you won then?”

“Yeah, we got it back,” said Genji, “And to the victor, go the spoils!” he gestured dramatically up at a glowing neon sign that had the words Spicy Ramen flanked by two neon dragons. It really was more of a booth than a restaurant. the steam of bone broth being pushed out into the air by whirring fans above the stove.

Zenyatta hovered beside Genji as Mercy looked up at the neon sign. Genji heard the whirring sound of Zenyatta’s plates shifting in the ghost equivalent of an eye roll.

“Oh!” Mercy’s face lit up a little and then she looked confused for a few beats.

“You okay?” asked Genji.

“I–” Mercy put a hand over her stomach, “I feel like… I should be hungry. But I’m not? I mean, I could eat–”

“As a Guardian, the light ends up overtaking a lot of your body’s processes!” said Mercy’s ghost, “I can make you go for days without eating or sleeping! If you wanted or needed me to, I mean.”

“It doesn’t take away the enjoyment of eating,” said Genji, he nodded with his head into the restaurant, “Come on.”

They ordered two spicy Tonkotsu bowls and took their seats at the bar. Mercy looked around at the other patrons walking away with little takeaway cartons or chatting around makeshift tables of crates, all in robes and cloaks and massive pauldrons.

“They’re also Guardians?” she said, scanning across them.

“Yeah, this place has a special discount for Guardians–I mean, obviously, its in the Tower, a lot of its patrons are going to be guardians.” Genji’s eyes trailed to a photo on the wall of Cayde-6 giving a thumbs up, “But you can’t get a better bowl anywhere else in the city,” said Genji.

Mercy smiled. She swiveled in her bar stool and looked out at the Traveler and the City beyond. “It’s so strange,” she murmured, “Any memories I had before I woke up are so distant and dreamlike now. I remember the Traveler, but it wasn’t… broken like this. And yet, the more I look at it now the less real that old memory feels.” 

“You get used to it,” said Genji.

“I suppose you would know all about it, being an Exo,” said Mercy, glancing over at him.

Genji chuckled. “Oh yes, I definitely remember the two previous times I had my whole memory rebooted.” Two bowls of spicy Tonkotsu Ramen were placed on the bar and they both swiveled to face the food and break apart their chopsticks. Genji swirled his noodles in their broth, letting the yolk of the soft-boiled egg make a spiral of gold in the red of the broth. “We all woke up as lost as you were. The Ghosts are good at pointing us in the right direction, but it’s mostly in a ‘Here’s what you worry about now’ sense.”

“And there is so much to worry about now,” said Zenyatta as both the guardians dug into their noodles. 

“So we fight?” said Mercy, looking at the sword on Genji’s back.

“Well… yes,” said Genji, “I mean, not all of us fight. A lot of guardians research the past, research our enemies, or research Light itself. But often that research means going to now-overrun golden age settlements all over the solar system… and that usually means…”

“Knowing how to fight,” said Mercy. Her shoulders tensed slightly, “Whatever I was in my life before all this… I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a soldier.”

“You’re a lot better than a soldier,” said her ghost, nudging her shoulder, “And you’ll have me watching your back!”

“Me too,” said Genji.

Zenyatta’s plates whirred around him in a double-take like motion. 

“Well… after Ikora gets you squared away, maybe we can run a few softball patrols in the EDZ so you can get used to your light. Nothing too big, just helping maintain the perimeter around the farm.”

“I have missed Devrim…” Zenyatta mused.

“EDZ?” said Mercy.

“European Dead Zone!” Her ghost exclaimed.

“…That name’s encouraging,” said Mercy, “Who’s Ikora?”

Genji laughed a little. “The Warlock Vanguard. Probably the smartest person in this tower, honestly. She can be a little intimidating but—” 

“Genji? Genji-3 is that you!?” both of them perked up as a human hunter in a red cloak swooped in and swung an arm around Genji, “You haven’t been Towerside in ages! Where ya been!?” 

McCree glanced up from Genji to Mercy, who seemed a bit stunned by his sudden entry.

“Hello!” Mercy’s ghost said brightly.

“Oh-ho… I see what’s going on,” said McCree, wagging a finger at Genji.

“Nothing’s going on!” Genji stammered out. Zenyatta and Mercy’s Ghost exchanged glances. Genji gestured at Mercy. “This is Mercy. She’s new. As in… new-new.”

McCree looked at Mercy. “New-new as in…?”

“I resurrected her from a skull a couple of hours ago!” said Mercy’s ghost, proudly.

“Incredible…” Echo, McCree’s ghost slipped out from beneath his cloak and hovered around Mercy scanning a light over her briefly, “This clothing dates back to the Golden Age.”

“A living fossil,” said McCree with a grin, “Well, you’re in good company, then. And nothing’s going to help you get your guardian legs faster than a few rounds of Gambit!”

“What’s Gambit?” asked Mercy.

“Nnnnot a good idea for your first day as a Guardian,” said Genji.

“You promised you’d be on my fireteam next time I caught you in the city,” said McCree, folding his arms, “Besides, from the sounds of it, she’s still gotta touch base with the Vanguard. That’s something she’s best off doing on her own.”

“I get to show the Vanguard my guardian!!” Mercy’s ghost piped up.

“Well yes but…” Genji looked back at Mercy.

“I mean, of course I’ll let you two finish your little dinner date–” started McCree.

“Not a date–” blurted out Genji.

“Then she can meet up with the Vanguard and you and I can dump some primevals on a bunch of meathead titans,” said McCree, putting his hands on his hips, “Heck, if she gets out early, maybe she can watch!”

Genji looked back at Mercy. She gave a hapless little “I’ll be okay” smile as she slurped at her noodles. 

“One round of Gambit,” said Genji, firmly, before turning back to his ramen.

“You always say that,” said McCree with a grin before swaggering off. 

“So Gambit is some kind of… game?” said Mercy, glancing back at Genji, “Like… guardians play games when they’re not fighting?”

Genji took a deep breath. “Okay so… here’s where things start getting complicated–” 

Chapter Text

McCree was snickering as he and Genji-3 both took cover behind a large iron crate as Fallen fired on them. Genji-3 always felt a little worse fighting Fallen than fighting Vex or Cabal or Hive. Vex? Evil time travelers trying to fold reality to their will. That was bad. Cabal. Conquerers. Tried to take the Traveler so they could conquer better. Obviously also bad. Hive? Well, on top of smelling of death, ammonia, and rotting crab meat, they worshipped the Darkness and were hell-bent on obliterating the Traveler and everyone it protected. That was also bad. But the Fallen? As far as Genji could tell, civilization-wise, the Fallen were only a few degrees removed from their own situation. They were chasing a Traveler they felt had abandoned them. The Fallen always made Genji a little afraid that the Traveler might leave the Guardians one day. Or maybe he just respected the Fallen a bit more because they had a shared proclivity for knives. Genji-3 glanced over at McCree, still snickering, before clearing his throat, leaning over the barrier, and dispatching a few dregs with his hand cannon.

“It’s not that funny,” muttered Genji.

“It’s a little funny,” said Echo, peeking out from McCree’s cloak.

“It really is though,” said McCree, vaulting over the barrier and laying down some cover fire at the Fallen rushing the area to grab some motes of Darkness. He tossed one of the little black and white pyramids up and down in his hand before shooting a Fallen Vandal in the head and spinning his hand cannon,  “I’m still imagining the whole scene like…the ghost is glowing, the light of the Traveler is breathing life into the lungs of someone who was dead for hundreds of years… and your first instinct is to ask her out for ramen.”

“It wasn’t my first instinct!” said Genji, chasing after him, doing his best to dodge out of the way of the enemy fire, “She was in the middle of hostile territory! She was overwhelmed! I thought… maybe she could use a friendly face.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” said Zenyatta, his plates whirring as he repaired Genji’s shielding.

“Aw, your ghost is jealous,” said McCree.

“Ghosts don’t get jealous,” said Zenyatta.

“Ehhhh….” Echo glanced off.

“I mean, I don’t blame ya, Genji,” said McCree, pivoting to face him with with a shrug, as Fallen fire blazed past him, “She’s cute–Didn’t know Awoken could be cute like that, y’know? Pretty, sure, but it’s pretty in a way that you’re always a little scared they’re going to use void magic to rip off your–”

“Enemy team’s invading!” The drifter’s voice sounded in Genji’s helmet and he snarled in frustration.

“I think they like you!” said Mercy’s ghost as Mercy walked out of the Vanguard’s war room.

“You think so?” said Mercy, glancing back over her shoulder, “They seemed very… serious.”

“Well we are standing in the ruins of our formerly great civilization now facing down total annihilation from multiple sides,” her ghost said matter-of-factly.

Mercy pursed her lips.

“…Cayde made them easier to talk to,” her Ghost admitted.

“Cayde?” Mercy repeated.

“Cayde-6. He was the Hunter vanguard. He died a few months ago,” 

“The menu in the Ramen restaurant mentioned him!” said Mercy, a little excited to be able to put her observations together with what she was seeing, her smile faded, “He died?”

“Well Guardians can die–Just because I brought you back from being dead doesn’t mean you can’t die,” said her ghost.

“As you’ve mentioned,” said Mercy. She stopped at the guard railing overlooking the last city and the Traveler. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” she said, folding her arms across herself.

“Of course you’re not! That’s what you got me for!” said her ghost, nudging into her shoulder.

Mercy smiled, “My ghost,” she said, and then her smile shrank a little, “That’s a little morbid, don’t you think? Calling you ‘ghost?’”

“Well you die over and over again–well hopefully you won’t die too much–but I’m the part of you that keeps you around! I’m a Ghost! It’s not morbid, it’s what I am!” 

“I suppose that’s fair but–You don’t want a name?” Mercy tilted her head.

“A name?” the ghost’s plates whirred thoughtfully, “I’ve never had a name before. Pulled Pork got a name and he didn’t even have a guardian.”

“I won’t call you Pulled Pork,” said Mercy.

“Lots of ghosts of really great guardians have names! Ikora has Ophiuchus , Marcus Ren had Didi, Nnekchi-32 has Agu—”

“Genji has Zenyatta!” Mercy suggested.

The ghost made an eye-rolling movement with its plates, “Genji-3 is no Nnekchi-32.”

“I kind of like him,” said Mercy.

“Well yeah, he’s the first guardian you met. You’re going to meet all sorts of guardians in our adventures! We’ll need to think up a very good name so we make a good impression. It’s going to be very hard. It could take very long–It took me centuries to find you, it could take forever to find a name that–”

“What about Engel?” said Mercy.

“I like Engel!” said the ghost.

—-

“I blame you, by the way,” said McCree over the comms, as they both flew their ships away from the Emerald coast and toward Trostland.

“You spend the entire match goofing off and teasing me and you blame me for when we lose?” said Genji.

“I was doing my job! I can multitask!” said McCree, “You were a million miles away. You expect every opponent that comes up to you to be as slow and dumb as Cabal. You’ve been out of the Crucible too long.”

“Patrols are important!” said Genji.

“It’s all stragglers out there. If we wanna defend the city, we need to get better–not plateau off moping in no-man’s land.”

“I wasn’t moping,” Genji muttered. He glanced off. “Her past is already disappearing.”

“Come again?” said McCree over the comms.

“The awoken?” Zenyatta glanced at Genji.

“I know Guardians aren’t supposed to get caught up in their pasts but… doesn’t it make you sad, sometimes? Don’t you wonder who you were before your Ghost brought you back?”

“I assume I was just a bigger, less competent idiot than I am now,” said McCree, a shrug in his voice, “I know it was Vex that got me. Don’t like thinking about that part too much. You’re gonna bring up your brother again–”

“It’s the one thing that’s stuck with me through three reboots,” said Genji, “What if it’s important? And why is it always I always find myself drawn back towards Mars? I mean, Bray and Rasputin have it more or less covered over there…” Genji paused, “What if I knew her before we both–”

“Bray?”

“No, Mercy,” said Genji.

“What, you think she’s your pre-Collapse soul mate or something?” said McCree.

“I don’t know. For all I know I could have known you before we both died. But… it’s a lot easier to have someone help you out when you’re revived. Zen, can you hail her?” 

“Give me a moment,” said Zenyatta, scanning Genji’s comm. 

“…And this shader is called ‘Watermelon!’” said Engel.

“Definitely not,” said Mercy, looking at the hologram of herself in a garish iridescent pink and green version of her current outfit, still leaning against the guard railing with the Traveler behind her.

Engel’s eye suddenly flashed green. “Oh! Incoming message! Guardian Genji-3 would like you to join his fire team over in the EDZ!”

“Oh! Say yes!” said Mercy. “Wait–I don’t have a gun–I should probably get one–”

“You have one!” said Engel, materializing a sidearm in her hand, “This is golden age tech, but I was still able to rematerialize it when I revived you! It was on your person when you died! It’s called ‘The caduceus.’”

“The caduceus?” Mercy repeated before extending her arm and looking down the sights of it, trying to see if it sparked a memory, “The name sounds familiar and yet…”

“Of course there’s a strict ‘no-firing’ rule here on the tower. I mean some people practice at Banshee-44′s firing range, but that’s more for getting used to different guns and most just go to the Crucible if they need practice.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” said Mercy, tilting the gun with her arm still extended as she looked over it, “I don’t even know how to turn the safety of–”

The gun went off and the surprise of the shot sent Mercy flailing over the guard railing. She was falling down, down, down the length of the tower.

“Try to glide!” her ghost shouted after her as she screamed and fell.

“WHAT!?” was the last thing Mercy yelled up before her ghost winced and looked away at the sound of a wet thud on cement.

“Oh boy,” said the ghost, whirring its plates and glowing. After a few seconds Mercy rematerialized, perfectly fine, next to her ghost. She exhaled a half shriek and slapped her hands over what was previously her broken body, trying to make sense of no-longer shattered ribs and leg bones.

 “What–what just–I just died! I was dead!” her voice was half hysterical.

“To quote Cayde-6, you just popped your guardian cherry!” said her ghost, delighted.

“I–what..?” said Mercy, looking at her ghost.

“That’s what Cayde would say. It means you did die. I don’t know what popping cherries means. It’s kind of funny that it was here and not out on a battlefield though. But anyways you’re better now. Shall we go to the EDZ?”

Mercy’s breath was shuddering. “Oh… okay.” 

“Any response?” asked Genji as they flew.

“I was confused for a moment–,” said Zenyatta, “It would seem Mercy’s ghost is now designating itself as ‘Engel.’”

“She named it?” Genji’s face lit up.

“Engel says Mercy died but, quote, ‘Is okay now.’”

“She what?” said Genji.

“She died at the tower!?” McCree was audibly cracking up over the comms, “I thought you said she was a warlock!” 

“But Engel is still confirming a meeting place at Devrim’s church in the EDZ,” said Zenyatta.

“Oh… okay then,” said Genji.

“Gotta say, really loving your fire team picks, Genji,” said McCree.

“Ship time! Ship time! Ship time!” Engel was bouncing excitedly as she walked, still shellshocked over to Holliday’s garage with a note from the Vanguard.

“I died,” Mercy said hollowly as she walked.

“Yep!”

“I died twice,” said Mercy, eyes still wide.

“And I brought you back twice!” said Engel.

“I’m going to die again,” said Mercy.

“Probably! Then I’ll bring you back again!” said Engel.

Mercy looked at her ghost with some horror in her eyes.

“We’re a teeeaam,” Engel whispered loudly, zooming close to her face.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time there was a demon hunter. A shrewd and quick-witted woman, no quarry was too big, too swift, or too dangerous for her to track and kill… so long as those hiring her could meet her price. Hers was a life balanced between the dark thrill of the hunt, and the creature comforts her high-stakes occupation afforded her.

One night, she was enjoying the latter half of this balance in a tavern when a man approached her table. The demon hunter’s glowing yellow eyes flicked up from the foam of her beer to the man standing before her. Humbly, he set a skein of silken violet hair on the table before her. The huntress picked up the sheaf of midnight-colored hair and felt the weight of it streaming through her fingers.

“Care telling me why you just dumped hair on my table?” asked the demon hunter, tilting her head.

“There is a creature in a tower,” said the man, “We need you to kill it.”

“I am needed to kill many things,” said the demon hunter, leaning back in her seat and sipping her beer.

The man sighed and tossed a sack of gold on the table with a clinking thud.

The demon hunter brought her pint down from her lips and smiled, “I see we understand each other,” she said with a grin.

It was a few days ride to the town, which sat in the shadow of a great tower–too high and too lonely to have ever been a part of a castle, it loomed over the land, a hideous crumbling column of dark bricks veined with the same violet of the skein of hair the demon huntress now carried at her hip. The tower was so high, in fact, that the demon huntress misjudged its distance from the town, since internally her mind kept repeating, “But surely it can’t be that tall.” But it was. It was that tall. It was nearly sunset by the time she reached it. The demon huntresses’ horse spooked once they were at the base of it, and she tethered it to a dead tree. The demon hunter examined the midnight-colored strands veining the tower, some wafting off of it, in the gathering twilight. There was a moat dug around the tower, and looking down into it, the demon hunter saw that bones and corpses in varying states of decay filled the water. It wasn’t even clear how much of the moat was water, as the Demon hunter saw that just beneath the surface, that same midnight hair choked the bodies and skeletons densely just beneath the water’s surface, like a purple seagrass. She circled the tower and the moat and found there was no drawbridge.

“Hmmm,” the demon hunter put her hands on her hips and thought for a few minutes, then took the grappling hook and rope off of her hip and aimed for an outcropping of brick a short ways up. The grappling hook found its cranny, she secured her rope around her waist, and she swung across the moat, letting go and coming to a running stop once she reached the other side. She gave her grappling hook a tug, shrugged, and began scaling the side of the tower until she reached the first point where her grappling hook had made its claim. She hooked it up to a higher precipice and continued climbing until she reached that first vein of hair spiraling around it. Unthinkingly she reached her hand out toward it. Her gloved fingers had only barely brushed up against the hair when out of the corner of her eye she could see something falling from above. She hadn’t even managed to look up when she felt something silken loop beneath her chin and get pulled taut in a heartbeat. A noose. A noose of hair.

 The demon hunter managed to claw one hand between the silken noose and her own chin when the wall she was gripping fell away from her. The world now spinning dizzily beneath her, she was hoisted up and up like a fish on a line, trying desperately not to be strangled. Her hand that had previously been gripping the wall seized the dagger at her side and she slashed blindly upward. With a soft ‘shhhf’ the demon hunter suddenly found herself tumbling down. How high and how fast had she been hoisted up? She didn’t have time to think about it as she took a grip on the rope still wrapped around her hip and felt it burn and rub against her gloves, stripping at the leather in seconds as she slowed her own descent with her grip until she bounced painfully on the end of her own rope and slammed painfully against the brick of the building, her side taking most of the blow.

 Her hands burning from the rope, she looked up at the strands now wafting off of the tower overhead. Her heart was thumping hard in her chest. The creature was above, she knew that much. The creature had killed many who came before the demon hunter, that was obvious. She was well within this creature’s domain, and this creature was able to outmaneuver her here more than any monster she had hunted before. But then again, the demon hunter reasoned, the man who hired her said that the creature was ‘in a tower’ not ‘rampaging through our town and the tower just so happens to  be its base of operations.’ Figuring attempting to scale the tower on her own would just end up with another noose around her neck (or worse this time).

“Keeper of the Tower!” she called up, “You know I’m here! I wish to speak with you! Would you grant me audience?”

A few beats of silence passed. The demon hunter considered touching the vein of hair against the tower again to get its attention, but thought better on it. Then a massive cascade of midnight hair tumbled down from above, and the demon hunter had to clamber off to the side on the bricks of the wall just to keep from either being knocked off or drowned in hair. Again, another long gap of silence passed. A ripple went through the cascade of hair, apparently being shaken insistently from whatever had lowered it from the top of the tower, and the demon hunter reached over and grabbed one handful of hair. She waited another beat. Nothing happened. No other attacks. The demon hunter unhooked her grappling hook from its crag and hooked it back at her belt before reaching over and taking another bunch of hair in her hand.

“All right then,” she said, as she started scaling up the tower in a river of purple hair.

It was a grueling climb, hours long and exhausting. Hunger, thirst, and exhaustion wracked her body, but she feared pausing too long might allow whatever dwelled above to either noose her again or simply cut the hair she was climbing altogether. She wasn’t sure if whatever lived in the tower was willing to cut its own hair (by the looks of the hair everywhere, probably not) but she wasn’t taking any chances. By the time the demon hunter reached the great veranda at the top of the tower, the air was thin and freezing cold and the moon seemed so close she might pluck it out of the sky like an apple on a low-hanging branch. She stumbled over the parapet and collapsed to her knees, panting on the cold stone of the tower. She lifted her head and saw only grand glass doors in front of her, leading into darkness with thick rivers of hair flowing out of the black, across the stone floor, and spilling over the parapets.

“So much for the welcome party,” muttered the demon hunter, getting to her feet. Suddenly she felt something tug at her ankle and looked down to see a chord of hair looped around it.

“Shit–” the demon hunter drew her dagger from her belt but her feet were yanked out from underneath her and she was dragged rapidly across the stone and into the darkness. Sliding across the stone floor, she tried to bring her knife to the hair wrapped around her ankle, but she heard a distant whipping sound and her arm stopped short before she could reach it. Another yank and her wrist bent backward painfully, forcing the knife from her hand and sending it to the floor with a clatter. She saw it glint in the moonlight behind her as she continued zipping across the floor, flailing to try and get a grip on the tiles with her remaining free hand, but to no avail as she was dragged out under a moonlit skylight in a large chamber at the center of the tower.

 All at once the demon hunter was hoisted up by that same ankle and was now suspended upside-down. She flailed to try and grab at her own ankle, to try and tear the hair loose, but found more hair lassoing around her body–at her waist, around her thighs, every new point of freedom she tried to wiggle toward was met with a lariat of hair until she found herself suspended in the air by numerous strands of hair at her waist, chest, arms, and legs. Her arms were bound together at the elbows and forced over her head, which was quite painful considering how long she had been climbing, but the rest of her was… oddly comfortable. Or at least it would have been comfortable without the panic of being bound and suspended by hair with no sign of her captor in sight. Whatever creature dwelled in this tower still hadn’t gagged her with hair, so the demon hunter yelled out, “This is how you would treat your guest!?”

A voice answered back from the darkness, “This is how you would treat your host?”

The demon hunter’s dagger clattered to the floor beneath her, so close, and yet so far. Her crossbow–apparently yanked from her back in the confusion, was lowered from a high point on the ceiling in a chord of hair.

Yellow eyes opened in the darkness and a woman stepped into the moonlight. Her skin was periwinkle, she was naked save for the hair she had wrapped around her torso and upper legs in some semblance of a bodice and smallclothes. She didn’t seem to react to the coldness of the room, nor did she seem short of breath this high up. The woman bent and picked up the dagger from the ground, then held it under the demon hunter’s chin.

“You have come to kill me,” said the woman, looking at her coldly.

“People pay me to get rid of monsters,” said the demon hunter, “That doesn’t always mean killing them. But I do have to take steps to protect myself.”

“Yes,” the woman spun the dagger in her hand in a bored manner, “You seem so very protected, now.”

“Look,” said the demon hunter, “I was just hired because you’ve killed a lot of people.”

“Trespassers,” said the woman, “Men have a bad habit of going places they have no right to go. When you stick your hand in a fire, is the fire a monster for burning you?”

The demon hunter opened her mouth, paused, then slumped a bit where she was hanging. “Okay, fair point. I mean, granted if I was one of the townspeople living with a big spooky tower of death looming over me, I would like it to no longer be a tower of death, but it’s not exactly fair to try and evict you for something like that.”

The woman tilted her head and arched an eyebrow. “You are… oddly understanding for one who has taken up a life of killing that which man does not understand.”

The demon hunter shrugged. “Dogs protect wolves from sheep, but all dogs have a bit of wolf in them. It’s nature,” she looked up at the woman with her own yellow eyes, “I take it you didn’t make yourself a problem for the locals until recently.”

“The more I kill, the longer my hair grows,” said the woman, “When I do not kill, I go to sleep. I was awakened…” she counted on her fingers, “Four months ago. Two brigands were hiding out in these ruins and one slit the other’s throat. His blood soaked into my hair and I woke up.”

“So you’re… bound to this tower?” the demon hunter ventured.

“It is where I live. It is where I hunt,” said the woman, “No curse binds me here but convenience.”

“…Because your hair is everywhere,” said the demon hunter, looking around.

The woman smiled.

“So,” the hunter said, “Let me get this straight–you kill a man, your hair gets longer, it gets easier to kill a man. Eventually you kill so many that no one comes to this tower and you go to sleep.”

“Yes,” said the woman.

“How can you stand that?” said the hunter.

“Stand it?” said the woman.

“When was the last time you felt the thrill of the hunt?” asked the hunter, “If the hunt only gets easier the more you do it… what’s the point?”

The woman narrowed her eyes at the hunter. “This is a trick,” she said.

“Well I like hunting because it takes me to interesting places,” said the hunter, swinging a little from where she hung, “It’s absolutely fair if you have a comfort zone! How about this: You let me go, I give back half of what I was paid to the people who hired me, tell them that they’re perfectly safe so long as they stay away from your tower, and you take a nice little nap! That’s fine, right?”

The woman’s lips thinned and her yellow eyes narrowed.

“But you still want to hunt,” the hunter said, a smile in her voice.

“Quiet,” said the woman, “I’m thinking.”

“Stone doesn’t burn…” said the hunter, looking around, “But hair does.”

“Is that a threat?” said the woman, looking at her sharply.

“Not at all! But if people had to choose between burning the tower down or letting the odd idiot get himself killed running into it…”

The woman frowned. She paced around, leaving the hunter feeling pretty awkward tied up and suspended there.

“You were hired so that I would no longer be a problem, yes?” said the woman, turning to the hunter.

“Yes,” said the hunter.

“You hunt,” said the woman.

“Much more interesting prey than you’re pulling in,” said the hunter with a grin.

“I would say I’ve pulled in very interesting prey,” said the woman, stepping toward the hunter and cupping the hunter's chin in her hand.

“Oh–well–that’s…” the hunter chuckled nervously, “Well your prey is very much willing to let bygones be bygones. I did say I only wanted an audience, and that my weapons were only for self defense. And that I would only kill you if I had to.”

“Mm,” the woman brushed her hair back, “So,” she said, “Beyond my tower I may kill, I may not have to suffer my tower being torn down and burned, and you would be by my side?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time a demon hunter joined forces with a being of the night,” said the hunter, attempting to shrug as best she could with her arms bound.

The woman narrowed her eyes and tucked a bit of hair away from the demon hunter’s face.

“Only if you prove interesting,” she said.

—-

In the months following the demon hunter’s contract, the demon hunter would claim the creature in the tower was slain, but from then on was accompanied by a periwinkle-skinned woman whose hair dragged on the ground roughly 14 feet behind her–at least it was 14 feet last time they were seen. People claim it gets longer with every quarry.

Chapter Text

 In a just world, she probably would have had her own practice, but here she was, in her cramped little back-alley clinic, looking exhausted as she patched him up. Her brow was furrowed as she worked at his stitches. “You were out,” she kept saying, “You made it out.”

“I know–” Genji started.

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get out?!” Mercy snipped the thread on the last stitch and dabbed up the blood around the area with a sterile wipe, “I know they gave you a golden parachute. You were set. You didn’t have to—”

“Did you hope you would never see me again?” he said, not making eye contact.

“Genji–” his name left her in a huff, “Don’t. You know we shouldn’t—”

He caught himself. “I wasn’t trying to—”

 “If you got back into it–”

“I’m not ‘back into it,’” Genji muttered.

“You’re back into it,” said Mercy, taking a step back from him and gesturing down at the various cuts she had patched up all over his upper torso, “I’m looking at proof you’re back into it. The fact that you’re here and not at a proper hospital means you’re back into it. You told me you didn’t like your old work.”

“I didn’t. Angela, we don’t have time to argue about this—”

Why would you come—”

“You’re excommunicado,” said Genji.

Mercy’s face dropped. “Don’t joke about that—”

“I’m not. I’m not doing the old work again. I’m… stopping others from… doing their work. It’s only been 4 hours. The bounty’s still low. You’re not high profile. Lots of amateurs. But we can’t stay in the same place too long.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you overheard the wrong thing. Patched up the wrong person–”

“No, I mean, how do you know,” said Mercy, pushing her chin-length hair back.

“…I still get messages from the High Table,” said Genji, glancing off, “I know normally they’re a lot cleaner about their retirees but I never bothered to correct them. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them to take my number off the list. It just seemed… safer to have an idea of what was going on. I wouldn’t have been able to keep the others off you if I didn’t get the message.”

“…or maybe you still being on the call list wasn’t a mistake,” said Mercy, holding his shirt out to him, “Maybe my being excommunicado isn’t about me. Maybe it’s all the High Table needed to pull you back into this.”

Genji’s face dropped with realization as he took his shirt.

 The corners of Mercy’s mouth twitched as she pressed her lips together, looking down. “You never stopped did you?” she said, her voice soft and brittle, “I told you to forget about me when you got out, but you never stopped.”

Genji took her hand, the fingertips of her latex gloves still clouded red with his blood. “I tried,” he said, running a thumb over her knuckles, “Didn’t really take.” His eyes flicked back up to her. “We need to go.”

“I’ll just slow you down—” Mercy started.

“Angela,” Genji squeezed her hand, “This may not be about you for the High Table, but it’s about you for me.”

“This is definitely a trap,” said Mercy.

“It’s absolutely a trap. I don’t care,” said Genji, “You’ve probably prepped for this–”

“Mm,” Mercy broke away from him and set her hands against the wall. With a hard, short kick, she knocked out a bottom section of the drywall, dropped to her knees and rifled around in the hole she had kicked, before pulling out a small duffel. Genji pushed himself off from her operating table, pulling on the shirt she had handed him.

“How fast can you run?” said Genji.

“Fast enough. If you run too fast your stitches will reopen,” said Mercy.

“…right,” said Genji, he nodded towards the door, “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

“You never could resist a good tip, Ashe,” his voice hung in the room like the smoke of his cigar and as light flooded into Ashe’s vision it was all she could do to try and blink the stinging blood out of her eye. She lifted her aching and pounding head to see him, clad in a black duster, a practically-rags deadlock bandana at his throat. She strained her wrists in their bindings behind her, her vision still swimming and the details of the room drowned out by the glaring white lamp he was shining in her face.

“Where’re the weapons?” she said, her words bleeding into each other. She knew she wouldn’t get an answer out of him, but she figured remembering her own mission with Blackwatch and piecing what had happened together might clear her head faster. The weapons were still out there. Reyes–would Reyes know where she was? How long had she been out?

“I think we both know you ain’t in a position to be the one asking questions,” said McCree as Bars quickly set a chair behind him and he took a seat, “But you’re a sight for sore eyes, I’ll tell you that much.” He reached forward slightly and took ahold of the white braid that snaked over her shoulder, “Thought you said you were gonna cut this.”

She wrenched herself back in the chair away from his touch and he made no effort to stop the braid from slipping through his fingers. “Jesse,” her voice was thick, “Look, just give me my comm. I’ll get in touch with my people and we can work this out–”

“Oh we’ve worked this out before, Calamity,” said McCree, a plume of cigar smoke dissolving from his mouth, “It ended with you playing spy, and me spending a year in juvenile hall, then 7 years in prison.”

“I keep telling you, I tried to get the family lawyers to plead your case too but–”

“But god forbid little rich girl got anything more than a slap on the wrist,” said McCree, not looking at her, “You ain’t getting your comm. I know Overwatch doesn’t negotiate with my type. Which leaves you in a real pickle, as it were.”

“Overwatch doesn’t, but Blackwatch does,” said Ashe, still wreathing her wrists behind her while trying not to betray those movements with her shoulders, “You can stop all this. You’re smart, Jesse–if they could have seen that 8 years ago before the state court threw you under the bus, they would have taken you in, I know it. I can’t talk to Reyes more than 10 minutes without thinking of you,” she glanced down briefly wondering how much of the cocksure kid she had known was in there, she didn’t want to give him any satisfaction, but it came out all the same, “I missed you. I still do.”

McCree gave a short exhale of smoke through his nostrils in reply and stood up from his chair, slowly pacing across the room in front of her. “You know there’s no going back for me, Ashe. Not now,” said McCree, “We ain’t kids any more. And even if there was a chance Blackwatch had an interest in my skillset…” he took a steady, thoughtful drag from his cigar, “You know what the most sinister American invention was?”

“I’m not playing games–”

“Just guess.”

“Jesse–”

“Guess.”

“Atom bomb?” Ashe guessed.

“Barbed wire,” said McCree, “The year was 1874 when the patent went out and everything started getting fenced in. They fenced in land. Cattle. Horses. People. They sliced up the frontier in neat little squares like a potluck brownie. Suddenly they could draw the lines of the land with a knife, and incidentally all the Comanche and the Crow and the Shoshone and all these other folk look up and they see their land shrinking as the wire draws in closer and closer. Incidentally–1874, same year Robert Frost is born.”

“Why didn’t you become a history teacher–” Ashe muttered under her breath but Jesse brought a knuckle up under her chin to tilt her head toward him.

“Ain’t finished,” said Jesse as Ashe jerked her head away from his hand, “Now 40 years later, in 1914, America isn’t the only country laced up in barbed wire. It’s all over the western front in Europe, too. Men, not cattle, are getting tangled in it as they choke to death on mustard gas. And our friend Robert Frost writes a poem. ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down’ he writes.” McCree took another thoughtful puff on his cigar, “I think about that line often.”

“Your point being…?” Ashe’s head was throbbing too hard to really bother with Jesse languishing in his high school humanities edition of supervillainy. 

“My point being that I am not a man who takes kindly to being fenced in, and once upon a time, neither were you,” said McCree, “My point being that fences are what made this world cruel, Ashe. The walls of a prison. The trenches in a war. The line of cops at a riot. You and your little spy game with Overwatch, all lacing around the world like barbed wire,” he leaned close to her and his next words were so flooded with smoke that her eyes watered, “My point being that you shouldn’t offer me a hand over that fence when I’m here to tear the fence down.

Ashe suddenly jerked her head forward hard and headbutted him in the mouth and nose. She felt his teeth break the skin of her scalp and heard the crunch of his nose breaking as he reeled back with a loud grunt, his hand flying over the bloodied mass of the lower half of his face. “‘Fences’ nothing, you piece of shit!” Ashe snarled, “You’re trading in weapons! Null-Fucking-Sector Weapons!  And I need to know who you sold them to or people are going to die, Jesse!” She angrily shook the ashes of his cigar from her hair.

He regarded her with his all-too-familiar steadiness with his hand still over his nose and mouth before bringing up that ragged Deadlock bandana from around his neck and blotting away the red running down from his nose and teeth. “People are always dying,” he answered simply, “But I’m not going to die wrapped up in barbed wire.”