Chapter 1: Recall
Jesse McCree hesitated in the doorway. The impressive conference room dwarfed the few agents seated around the table. All six of them had their backs to him, attention fixed on Overwatch’s leader apparent. Jesse had heard of Winston, of course. Few former agents hadn’t. How often does an organization adopt a literal moon gorilla into its ranks, after all? Winston had his back turned to him as well, indicating with a large hand specific points of interest on his presentation, stumbling over his own pre-rehearsed speech. Of all the people who could have initiated a Recall, he wouldn’t have pinned the timid scientist as the one to finally push the red button.
The rest of the agents he knew by more than just reputation. He could see Lena sitting towards the front, the former RAF pilot twirling her stylus thoughtlessly as she blankly stared at the charts on screen. Doc Ziegler hunched over a paper notepad, writing illegible sentences and frequently glancing up at the holovision. Torbjörn Lindholm’s short stature nearly hid him from Jesse’s line of sight, but the aged engineer’s constant grumbling ensured his discovery. Lindholm’s lifelong friend Reinhardt Wilhelm sat near the front, squinting out of his one good eye, his hulking body undoubtedly blocking the screen for his reasonably sized goddaughter-turned-assistant Brigitte.
It was the final member that gave him pause—Genji Shimada, ex-Yakuza heir, fratricide survivor, literal ninja, and the best damn friend he’d ever had. He nearly buckled under the onslaught of emotions, regret and shame forefront among them. The weight of abandoning his comrades all those years ago bore down on him mercilessly. He took a step back. He had no right to be here. Silently as he arrived, he left the room, none the agents wiser of his return.
"I thought that I might find you here." The voice behind him was quiet. Jesse didn’t need to turn around to know who had followed him to the roof of the comms tower. Genji remained the only human being to ever successfully sneak up on him. His synthesized voice was a dead giveaway, too.
"Can't say the same of you, old friend."
"You speak of my presence with the new Overwatch." Genji's streamlined form slid into his peripheral vision. Jesse merely nodded his response. They sat there for a while, watching freighters glide across the sea.
He took a moment to study the cyborg out the corner of his eye. Not much was outwardly different. Perhaps a few mechanical pieces had been replaced. Maybe that nick on his visor had been there before Jesse left. Maybe it hadn't. The details of Genji’s carapace were not what captured his interest, however. The cyborg wore no clothes. Not that he was naked--he was covered in light-weight armor after all-- but Jesse remembered how insistent Genji had been to blend in with other people as much as possible. How desperate the young Japanese man had been to retain his humanity. He remembered how angry Genji had always been. How angry they both had been. They had raged at the world together for a time, back before it all went to shit. "Why are you back, Genji?"
"Why are you?"
Jesse chuckled at his knee-jerk challenge. "I don't rightly know. Guess I was lonesome. Nine years on the run is a long time to be without friends." Jesse frowned, reaching into his leather jacket to withdraw a cigarillo. "Long time."
His friend turned to face him, visor glinting in the daylight. "I looked for you. When you left, we were not sure why. Some believed that you returned to Deadlock. Some thought that you were dead. I did not know what to think. Even after the Swiss Headquarters, I could not connect the circles."
Jesse shot him an amused glance. "Dots."
"Hm?" Genji tilted his head in question.
"It's 'connect the dots', not circles." He grinned around his cigarillo.
Electronic chuckles filled the space between them. "Forgive me, it has been some time since I have spoken English." The cyborg paused for a moment before continuing. "I have been with the Shambali in Nepal. I have learned a great deal from the masters there. It was only after I learned to accept my own anger-- after I had learned to accept myself-- that I could understand others." Genji stared out over the ocean again. "You were always better at understanding people. I used to envy you for it. I counted it as a failure of my new body, when it was instead a failure of my own person." Jesse turned his head to the ninja, brows raised in surprise. "You were the first to see the cracks in Overwatch. What many saw as a temporary fissure between Reyes and Morrison you saw as a harbinger of the earthquake to come." Genji shook his head. "By the time I understood this, it had been years since your disappearance. I had no hope of tracking you, but I tried anyway." Now his friend turned towards him, lifting a hand to his faceplate and sliding the visor away. The flesh was still scarred from both cuts and burns, but his eyes were bright with life. "Please forgive me for not being there for you, Jesse McCree."
He paled. It was too much. After a decade on the run with only passing acquaintances, after hundreds of nights with only his thoughts for company, it was too much to look his best friend in the face. A best friend who was laying bare his emotions, asking for forgiveness, long after Jesse had convinced himself that they had all forgotten him. So he did the only thing he could in the situation. "I hope this isn't you tryin' to recreate Brokeback Mountain. You're pretty and all, but I don't think I'm your type."
Genji's lips twitched into a smile. "I see that you are the same as ever." He slid the visor back into place. "I am afraid I must ask forgiveness again, for I do not believe you."
"About you bein' pretty or me not bein' your type? Because unless you started battin' for my team--"
Genji playfully swatted the back of Jesse's head. "About the reason for your return. If companionship is what drove you here, you would not have left without announcing yourself.
He sighed. "Guess you weren't lyin' about learnin' from the Shambali. You never used to be this perceptive." He took a long draught from his cigar, contemplating his answer. "I wasn't lyin', either. It's just a little more complicated than loneliness. I've only ever belonged to two places: Deadlock and Blackwatch. When Overwatch put out the call, I thought I could belong again. But it ain't the same." He laughed to himself. "Of course it ain't the same, not when almost all of the original members are rottin' in forgotten graves." Jesse stood abruptly before slowly pacing around the rooftop. "I think it's better this way, though. Even when I first joined Blackwatch, the organization was dying. Tearing itself apart from the inside. The young folk in that meetin' room, they don't know. Winston, Lena, Doc Ziegler, Reinhardt’s protégé, they don't remember. Well, maybe Doc… But it’s a good thing they don’t, because if they did they'd make all the same mistakes again. Overwatch is reborn from the ashes, but I'm not meant to be a part of it. I'd just help poison it all over again."
Genji did not move, perched on the edge of the roof, watching patiently as Jesse aired his grievances. "Would that not be true for me, as well?"
Jesse smiled at him. "Naw. I mean, look at you. You're a born-again man. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if you were a born-again virgin, too." Genji snorted. "I don't know. Maybe it does apply to you. But you don't have any of that anger that you were holdin' on to in the old days. I do."
Genji hummed contemplatively. "Perhaps. Perhaps it would be easier to heal if you acknowledged your anger for what it truly is.” Jesse glanced at him sharply, but the little shit didn’t give him a chance to call him out. “What do you intend to do now?"
He shrugged. "I guess go back to the States. Keep on keepin' on." Even as he said it, he could feel his chest clench painfully. The idea of having to lay low for the rest of his life hurt. He never meant for it to be a permanent solution, but the small bounty on his head had only grown larger and larger after Overwatch fell-- until he had no other choice but to hide.
Genji stood. "I believe that you have made an error in your judgments, Jesse."
"I have not rejoined Overwatch."
Jesse could only stare and repeat himself. "How's that?"
"I came here to Gibraltar to find you. I have one more task to complete before I will be ready to return." Genji stood, laying a hand on Jesse's shoulder and looking up at the tall American. "I have a proposal."
"So you are battin' for my team."
"Jesse be serious." Genji paused, presumably to recollect himself. "I want your help in finding my brother.”
He stared at his best friend, dumbfounded. “You mean, to kill the bastard, right?” Jesse was having a difficult time wrapping his mind around the situation. Both he and Genji had returned to Watchpoint: Gibraltar without actually returning to Overwatch. Genji was here specifically for Jesse. For his help. For his help finding the piece of shit that tried to turn Genji into a sushi dish. Even if he didn’t understand exactly how the circumstances ended up like this, he sure as hell knew what to do from here. “Hell yeah, I’ll help you track him down!”
“Not quite. I want to find him and bring him to Overwatch.”
Jesse narrowed his eyes at Genji, but his damnable faceplate betrayed nothing. “Is this one of those ‘only the law can judge him’ things? Because the death penalty was abolished in 2032 and that’s the only thing that fucker deserves.”
“Hear me out. My brother left the Shimada soon after my—ah, the incident. At the time, we thought that he had gone into hiding.” Jesse nodded. Genji’s sole purpose in his second life had been hunting down his murderous brother and tearing down everything and anything associated with the Shimada-gumi. There had been countless Blackwatch missions and operations, but they never managed to find the head of the Shimada clan.
“So you want to capture him so we can make sure there’s nothin’ left of the old clan? Because we can do that without takin’ him back here. All we need is a soundproof basement, two weeks, and a Blackwatch Q&A kit.”
Genji’s voice hardened, “Jesse, we are not torturing my brother!” There was a brief pause, and his next words were more patient, although the underlying sharpness remained. “I already know where he is and I have contacted him. I believe he has suffered enough for his transgressions.”
“You believe—you’ve contacted him?” Jesse spluttered. “You mean in-person, mano e mano, shootin’ range contact? We spent years lookin’ for that piece of shit! So not only do you know where the son of a bitch is-- you left him alive?!”
“You are not listening! I have seen him. I have watched him for months now. He is not the same man as the one that cut me down. He is broken and hollow. He returns to my grave every year on the anniversary of my death! Are those not the actions of a repentant man? He deserves the same second chance that I received.”
“No, he doesn’t!” Jesse tore his hat from his head for emphasis. He turned away from Genji and stalked to the edge of the roof, glaring at the sea. There was a lengthy pause while Jesse stewed.
“What right do you have to pass judgment on him?” Genji’s voice was gentle, bordering on serene. “You were not the victim of his crimes. I am. I have forgiven him. Is that not all that matters?”
Jesse replaced his hat before lighting another cigarillo to cover his silence. He thought back to Genji’s rescue and subsequent recovery in intensive care. He remembered first seeing the grotesque body and mistaking it for a corpse. Genji’s skin had been flayed from his body, leaving only reddened and raw flesh behind. Deep cuts secreted both crimson blood and yellow plasma. Despite the severed limbs and medical instruments shoved into nearly every available orifice, it was Genji’s hair that broke Jesse’s heart. What was wildly styled and exotically colored in life had been reduced to a few lifeless patches of stringy hair, covered in bodily fluids. Genji had lived a vibrant life only to be betrayed by one of the few people he had trusted implicitly.
Maybe Genji had listened too closely to the Shambali. They were only robots who had no concept of familial obligations, nothing to resemble blood ties. Of course they wouldn’t know the duties of an elder sibling. They wouldn’t understand the completely unforgivable nature of fratricide—intentional or not. Jesse turned back to Genji. The cyborg waited patiently, his faceplate ever impassive. Jesse sighed.
“Lemme get this straight. You found your brother. You followed him, watched him, and presumably gathered information on his habits from others,” Genji nodded in confirmation. “You decided that he is either a changed man or so torn up over his actions that he might as well be one.” Another nod. “You believe that he deserves both forgiveness and a second chance.” Yet another nod. “Why do you need my help for that?”
“My brother… does not quite believe that I am truly alive. He does not believe he deserves forgiveness—“
“At least one of you has sense.”
Genji ignored the interruption. “—and even if he did, I do not think that he knows how to seek it. That’s why I want to bring him to Overwatch. We can help save the world as brothers and... perhaps save him in the process.”
“I don’t remember you always bein’ so idealistic,” he grumbled.
Genji again chose not to respond.
Jesse weighed his options. He had no desire to help redeem the bastard older brother, but he knew very well that Genji was incredibly well-suited to single-minded determination. The ninja would go off on this hare-brained scheme with or without Jesse if it meant he could rescue his brother, but he’d have a much better chance of living through it if Jesse tagged along. He shook his head disbelievingly.
Genji’s posture deflated, interpreting Jesse's silence as a refusal.
Jesse peered into the green stripe across the visor that shielded Genji's eyes. “When do we leave?”
Excitement and joy colored the ninja’s next words: “Right away.”
Chapter 2: Rival
Posting from mobile, formatting might be a little wonky. Please let me know if you see somethin weird!
Content warning: combat related injuries
Jesse cussed and crouched a little lower behind the marble column as bullets flew overhead, biting into the stone and sending debris clouding through the air. Why the fuck did he agree to this? He could hear Genji taunting the mercenaries, trying to draw fire away from Jesse’s position. He scowled and hissed into the comm. “The hell are you goin’, Genji?”
It took a moment for the ninja to acknowledge him. Judging by the burst of gunfire Jesse knew he was probably deflecting a volley of bullets. When the cyborg finally responded, his breathing was slightly ragged. “The guards were already looking for an intruder. I suspect my brother has completed the hit he was here for, but has not yet escaped.” There was another pause, and Jesse took the opportunity to dart out from cover. He got off three shots—two hits—before he dove behind another column. “—you are better in enclosed spaces, so I’ll draw them away while you find my brother.”
“What? No! Genji, he’s your stupid fuckin’ brother and this is your stupid fuckin’ mission, so you find him!” Jesse listened intently for a reply, pressed against the solid marble, but it never came. The little shit. He loaded his last six rounds of ammo into Peacekeeper’s chamber and peeked around the column. The mercenaries were gone, likely giving chase to his partner. The villa was massive, balanced on a cliff high above the ocean. Sly dog that he was, Genji would probably try to trick his pursuers into diving over the precipice.
Jesse went over his mental map. The elder Shimada was working an assassination contract on an Italian Mafiosa. Genji said that his brother would likely attempt to kill the woman while she was alone, but she was rarely such. Even when she retired to her chambers she regularly chose one of her guards to accompany her. The only time she dismissed her guards entirely was during her nightly baths. The bathing room adjoined her bedroom on the second floor of the cliff-side, southeast tower. It was interior facing, with no windows; the only entrance was through her sleeping quarters. Intricate wrought-iron bars covered all the cliff-facing windows of the bedroom, ultimately leaving the stairway as the only avenue of approach. Genji asserted that his brother would have no issue sneaking in undetected, and would leave through the basement. Apparently, there was some sort of ancient exit from the cellar to the cliff. Jesse couldn’t figure how the Shimada planned to scale down five hundred feet of rock undetected, but Genji had only laughed when he brought it up.
Well, if Shimada had already killed the woman, he’d either be on his way down to the cellar or on his way down the cliff. Jesse cautiously jogged to the villa’s kitchen, which housed one of the two entrances to the basement. There still wasn’t any sign of opposition, but he wouldn’t be caught unawares. He peeked into the kitchen window. It was dark within, but it appeared empty. Opening the door slowly to keep it from creaking, he slipped inside. Unsure of the exact location of the entrance, he scanned the spacious kitchen. No sign of a stairway here. He spotted a walk-in pantry and crept to it, careful not to scrape his boots on the stone floor. It took him a moment to find the trap door peeking out underneath a pile of crates filled with fresh greens. He bodily shoved the crates aside, wincing at the grating sound. He paused after the door was clear, listening for any footsteps.
He heaved up the solid wooden hatch, letting it rest against the crates, before squinting down into the cellar. It was nearly pitch black. There were no sounds emanating from inside, but that didn’t put Jesse at ease. He counted to five before deciding that there wasn’t anyone down there.
Left hand on his flash bang grenades, right hand fingering Peacekeeper’s trigger, he descended the stairs. He made it to the bottom stair without incident, but as he stepped onto the flagstone floor the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He whipped to his left, throwing his flash bang before diving further into the cellar, eyes squeezed shut. The sound of the grenade exploding set his ears ringing. Opening his eyes, Jesse aimed the muzzle of his revolver at his assailant—only to be attacked from behind.
He found himself on the ground, Peacekeeper skittering out of reach and out of sight. The attacker on his back shoved an arm underneath Jesse’s neck. He reflexively ducked his chin to prevent a blood choke before rolling to his back, trapping his attacker beneath him. Jesse jabbed his elbow sharply into his assailant’s chest, hard enough to break at least one of the man’s ribs. Suddenly, there were hands on his face attempting to suffocate him. Jesse threw his head back, hearing a sickening crunch as the man’s nose broke. The man’s grip only barely loosened, but it was enough for Jesse to force his escape. He darted across the floor on hands and knees, fingers frantically searching for Peacekeeper. There was a small clink as his left hand landed upon the smooth metal barrel and he seized upon it.
Jesse fanned the hammer in the direction of his attacker. He froze there, chamber empty, barrel smoking, and listened.
“Ryuu…” The voice was choked and wet, straining against the pain Jesse had inflicted. “Ryuu ga…” He felt white hot rage as he recognized the language. He holstered his weapon and strode towards the voice. He reached into the darkness, and dragged the man up by his hair with his cybernetic arm, his flesh arm producing a lighter. Light flared between the two and Jesse stared hatefully as his suspicions were proven true. Bloodied, bruised, and haggard, Shimada Hanzo stared back.
Hanzo winced as light attacked his eyes. He blinked rapidly to adjust, only to freeze at the sight that awaited him. The man wore an expression of utter disgust and hatred, thrown into sharp relief by the singular light source. His lips were twisted into a snarl, his eyes narrowed nearly to slits. When he spoke, his voice was gravelly, low, and livid.
“Shimada fucking Hanzo. Course it is. Given your brother’s talent, I expected more of ya.”
An American accent in the heart of Italy startled Hanzo, but not nearly as much as the mention of his brother. He tried to snarl back into the American’s face, but it came out as a strangled grimace. The American was not impressed. He extinguished the light and began dragging Hanzo to the stairs, still tugging him by his hair.
Hanzo struggled to understand this twist in events. The infiltration of the villa was no more difficult than Hanzo expected it to be. The Mafiosa put up a better fight than he had credited her for, even managing to shove a small blade into his ribs, but she was unpracticed and weak. With the knife still lodged in his side, he managed to sneak into the cellar before the muffled sounds of gunfire reached his ears. It had worried him. He operated independently; no one should have known he was here for at least another hour once the Mafiosa’s body was discovered. He had intended to make a quick escape down the cliff, but with a knife in his side it would take him more time than he might possess. He had huddled in a corner, carefully extracted the knife, discarded the bloodied blade on the floor, and dug out a sealing ointment that instantly closed the wound, although it did not heal the internal damage.
That’s when he heard scraping above his head. Someone was trying to enter from the kitchen. He weighed his options. Perhaps they were trying to use the cellar as a shortcut to the other side of the villa, without crossing open ground. It is unlikely anyone suspected he was here and it was dark enough that most people wouldn’t be able to spot him. Reaching his decision, Hanzo slowed and quieted his breathing as he waited for the guards to enter the basement.
It took longer than he expected; the guards were moving quietly as if to avoid detection. Perhaps this was a rival family instead? The light from the kitchen was dim, barely penetrating the darkness that surrounded him, but it did outline the figure descending the stairs. The man was very tall. He couldn’t see the man’s face and his body shape was odd, as if he was wearing a short cape or shawl. There was no mistaking the menacing gleam in his extended arm, however. He certainly wasn’t one of the Mafiosa’s men. Hanzo hadn’t brought additional weapons—he didn’t want to weigh himself down or leave any evidence of his involvement and had therefore opted to drown the Mafiosa. The confidence that had previously assured him he could complete an assassination without weapons now felt suspiciously like arrogance. His thoughts flashed to the knife freshly extracted from his side and he quietly inched to where he discarded it.
The man on the stairs whipped around, throwing something the size of Hanzo’s fist in his direction. Abandoning the knife, Hanzo dove behind a massive wine cask. A loud bang echoed in the small space, accompanied by a brilliant white flash. Hanzo quickly padded to the opposite wall behind his attacker before switching to the offensive.
He had lost.
Now here he was, trapped. Eyeing his oversized captor, he privately admitted that he should not have put so much stock in his fighting abilities against a fresh enemy.
He stumbled as the man dragged him along into the kitchen. The American raised his free hand to his ear: “I’ve got him, time to go. Did you shake ‘em or do we gotta leave quietly?” He couldn’t hear the reply, but he saw the American narrow his eyes again. “If you’re gonna sass me like that, I’ll just toss him over the cliff.”
Hanzo’s eyes darted about his surroundings, searching for a weapon or escape route. There was nothing he could access quickly enough, especially considering his abductor still possessed a gun. Perhaps if he got close enough to the knife block… Suddenly, the painful grip on his hair released. Unprepared, Hanzo dropped to the floor before scrabbling out of his captor’s reach.
“I see you eyein’ them knives. Wanna take a shot at me? Go ahead. Make my fuckin’ day.” The American leered at him from across the kitchen. His right hand rested deceptively easy on the handle of his—was that a revolver?
He let his eyes dart to the knife block before flicking back to the other man warily. “Why do you not kill me now?”
The man frowned unhappily. “Because my dumbass friend thinks you’re worth savin’ or some shit.” Hanzo watched him thumb the hammer of his revolver impatiently. “The way I see it, there ain’t much difference between draggin’ a corpse and draggin’ an unwillin’ man. Matter of fact, corpses put up less of a fight.” The American lazily drew his weapon and aimed it between Hanzo’s eyes. “So how d’you wanna get out of here? Draggin’ or walkin’?”
He stood stiffly, attention fixed on the barrel staring him in the face. “I believe I would prefer to walk.”
It took them nearly half an hour to reach the panel van even though they traveled at a brisk pace. Jesse would be a liar if he said that he didn’t take joy in Shimada’s pain and discomfort. By the end of their short journey, the Japanese assassin was clutching his side and wheezing with effort. He couldn’t see any injuries thanks to the man’s head-to-toe, all-black apparel, but he thought one side seemed damp with blood. He hoped it was serious.
“There you are!” He glanced up to see Genji hopping out of the driver’s seat. The cyborg paused at the sight of his struggling brother. “Anija…” Genji glanced at Jesse before switching to Japanese. He shrugged indifferently. If Genji wanted privacy for his little family reunion, he could have it.
Leaving the brothers in favor of the van, he snatched his hat off the passenger seat and returned it to its rightful place on his head. He dug in the glove box for his emergency ammo and frowned when he only came up with two twelve-round boxes. He had been running low for weeks. Hopefully he could ask Winston for some money when they returned to Overwatch, but he still had to pay for his food and the past winter hadn’t been particularly fruitful for his wallet…. The sound of raised voices forced him to reluctantly abandon his ruminations.
Genji saw him first. “Jesse! Tell him that I am who I claim to be.” Shimada huffed angrily.
“Why? You tryin’ to claim you’re the Japanese James Bond again?” Genji spluttered in outrage. Jesse glanced at Shimada and raised his voice to be heard over the cyborg’s indignance. “This here is Genji. He used to have a family name before his only brother robbed him of his life. I suspect you know more about that than I do, though, Shimada.”
Shimada gritted his teeth, but Jesse couldn’t tell if it was in anger or pain. “Do not call me that.”
“Would you rather I call you brother-killer?”
Shimada lunged, only to stop short and collapse to the ground.
Genji had also rounded on Jesse, likely to reprimand him for his behavior, but dropped to Shimada’s side at the sight of his struggle. “Anija! What is wrong?” Shimada could only gasp for air. Genji looked up at him. “Help me put him in the back.” Jesse sighed. He turned back to the van and threw open the rear doors before returning to Genji, who was trying to examine his brother’s wounds.
“Don’t do that on the dirt. He’s gonna be muckin’ up my van as is, don’t need to make it worse. Let’s get him loaded up.” Genji nodded, taking one side as Jesse took the other. Despite the man’s short stature, Shimada was fairly heavy. With a grunt, they managed to slide him on the bed of the van, blood streaking a stain beneath his tense figure. Genji clambered up into the van beside his brother, the cramped space barely large enough for the two. He reached to remove the clothes obstructing the wound, only to have his hands slapped away by Shimada. Genji grunted indignantly before trying again, only to be pushed away once more.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake—move, Genji.” Jesse took the cyborg’s place hovering over the assassin. He locked eyes with the wounded man. “You know I’d rather you die than have you bleed all over my van, right?” Shimada held Jesse’s stare, but did not respond. Neither did he resist when Jesse began to peel away the layers of clothes. The jacket came off first. He didn’t bother removing it completely, only unzipping it and removing Shimada’s arms from the sleeves and leaving it at that. He eyed the loose, long sleeved shirt underneath. It’d be easier to cut him out of it. Genji had shuriken that could do the job. On the other hand, it’d probably be more painful for Shimada if he made him take it off normally.
Without warning the other man, Jesse heaved him up by the shoulders. He grabbed the hem of his shirt and jerked upwards and Shimada shouted in pain.
“Jesse, stop hurting him!”
“I ain’t doin’ nothin’, he was like this when I found him!” Shimada shot him a glare. He countered it with a smug smirk. “Well, mostly like this.” Shimada’s torso now bare, Jesse could examine the wounds. His right side was purpling from where Jesse had elbowed him in their fight. He pressed his fingers against it, eliciting a hiss from Shimada. “Well, it’s definitely broke, but it’s a clean break. Whatever strong, handsome fella gave you this did a fine job.” His patient began spitting a lengthy string of Japanese at him. “Aw, don’t be so ornery.” Jesse dug his fingers into the broken rib a little bit harder. Shimada clenched his jaw shut so fast it popped.
“Jesse McCree, if you do not stop torturing my brother instead of treating him, I will feed you your own intestines!” Genji couldn’t see what Jesse was doing, anxiously peeking over the larger man’s shoulder, but he could certainly hear his brother’s enraged insults.
Jesse rolled his eyes. “Yes, ma.” He turned his attention to the Shimada’s left side and let out a low whistle. An intricate tattoo covered his entire arm, beginning at the wrist before snaking its way up his arm and encompassing most of his left pectoral. “That’s some pretty impressive art. Shame they wasted it on you.”
His eyes traveled lower to the angry purple blot swelling at the bottom of Shimada’s rib cage. A thin, white line a few inches wide stretched across his skin, evidence of a knife wound sealed by insta-gel. Jesse was honestly surprised that the wound hadn’t reopened during their trek to the van. It would have been healthier for the assassin than allowing the blood to pool within his body. He reached into his boot and removed a short knife from its holster. Without preamble or ceremony, he quickly sliced across the skin, following the path of the white line. Blood wept from the wound and Shimada sighed noisily—whether from pain or relief, Jesse didn’t care.
“Is that all? Doesn’t seem like enough to take down a Shimada. You should’ve seen Genji after you sliced him to ribbons. He was still trying to crawl after you when we rescued him.” Shimada blanched. Jesse raised his voice so Genji could hear. “Yep, this ain’t bad at all. We can throw a biotic emitter on it and call it a day. Although I suppose we should take off his pants for a thorough examination.” Shimada flushed, the deep red quickly replacing his previously pale expression. Jesse laughed viciously.
“You have molested my brother enough for one day, Jesse.” Genji didn’t bother keeping the irritation out of his voice this time. Jesse only shrugged and extracted himself from the back of the van. Genji already had the emitter in hand, popping the lid and placing it close to Shimada’s torso. The injured man forcefully reset his nose, clearly practiced in bio-emitter healing. A golden light filled the van as the BE went to work repairing Shimada’s wounds. “Rest now, anija. We will return to our hotel and discuss our next move.”
Jesse grinned wolfishly, already resolving to hit every pothole on the way. Genji closed the rear doors of the van before holding up a pair of keys. “I will be driving.” He cursed and belatedly patted down his pockets, wondering with no small amount of irritation when the ninja had pilfered them. Jesse pouted for the entire slow, smooth drive to the hotel.
If Hanzo had to summarize his entire mental state in one word, he’d probably go with bewildered. Or perhaps concussed. He was propped up against soft pillows in a luxurious Italian hotel watching an American cowboy and Japanese omnic ninja argue over the last complimentary mint. He had passed out somewhere along the drive, utterly exhausted. His captors haven’t noticed that he’d regained consciousness and he was perfectly content to remain unnoticed. If only he were so lucky.
Hanzo made no move, changed nothing about his pattern of breathing, but the omnic’s face zeroed in on his wakefulness anyway. “Anija, how are you feeling?” Hanzo’s face twisted into a scowl. Even knowing that this omnic’s AI was only an approximation of his dead brother, he could feel ill-fated hope beat optimistically in his chest. “That bad, huh?” The omnic’s designers must have thought a forgiving facsimile, full of sweetness and understanding would be able to worm its way into Hanzo’s trust better than a more faithful portrayal. They would have been better off not trying to recreate his brother at all.
“Hey, he’s talkin’ to you.” The cowboy flicked the mint, hitting its mark square between Hanzo’s eyes.
“Fuck you,” Hanzo growled.
The man sneered. “You offerin’?” Hanzo felt his face flush hot and switched his gaze to the omnic.
“Do not antagonize him, Jesse.” The robot perched himself on the corner of the bed, cross-legged. “Have you thought about my offer, anija?” Too late, Hanzo attempted to block the memories of his most recent visit to Genji’s shrine.
Recollections of a frenzied confrontation, dragons electrifying the night air, familiar brown eyes glinting from a synthetic body—“No.”
The robot’s body language shifted. Its shoulders dropped slightly and its head tilted subtly to the left, exuding an air of disappointment. “Why will you not fight alongside me?”
“You are not my brother. You are a machine and an insult to his memory!”
An electronic sigh was his only warning before the omnic removed its faceplate. Unlike their last encounter, both the upper and lower portions slid soundlessly from their latches. The face beneath was scarred nearly beyond comprehension. Hundreds of fine lines tracked across his face, interrupted only by shiny patches of burn scars. The man—no, the omnic’s skin mask—had no eyebrows. His nose was misshapen with a large chunk missing from the tip. Hanzo had to commend the artist responsible for this horror. “This face is real, brother. Here,” Genji leapt from the bed and walked to its head. “You may touch the skin. It doesn’t hurt.”
Hanzo recoiled sharply into the soft bed. “No. No.” He could hear the ragged edge in his own voice. Genji was dead. He couldn’t be alive. He saw the carnage! His head spun sickeningly. Because if… if Genji still lived and Hanzo had spent all his time avenging a spirit instead of appeasing the living… He closed his eyes, forcefully willing the vertigo to subside. “I do not believe you.”
The man—the omnic? his brother? Genji?—threw his hands up in exasperation and rolled his eyes. “Why? Why is it so impossible that I could have survived?”
Hanzo struggled for a reason, grasping at any plausible explanation that strayed too close to his frantic mind. “The medical technology necessary—no one could have found you soon enough.” Hanzo winced when he realized he was already referring to the cyborg as if he was Genji. “No one could have saved Genji from his wounds. They were too severe.”
“Is that what it would take? Do I need to bring you to the doctor who saved my life and show you the medical records? Answer honestly.”
Hanzo crossed his arms, ignoring the pain from his still very sore ribs. “No. All of these things can be forged. I will not be deceived.”
“Then you prove that I am dead.”
Hanzo blinked. “I visit Genji’s grave every year on the anniversary of his death.”
A snort drew Hanzo’s attention to the American leaning against the wall. “I think you mean his murder.” Hanzo chose not to rise to the bait.
“You say that you visit my grave. Is my body interred there?”
Hanzo felt a scowl slip into place. “No. Genji was cremated.”
“You witnessed this?”
“Then how do you know that he was?”
“They told me that they… made arrangements for Genji.”
“They? The Shimada-gumi? The clan that so effectively turned us against each other that we both committed capital sins?” Hanzo saw the cowboy’s gaze snap to Genji—the omnic, damn it all!—a look of confusion on his face. The omnic switched to Japanese. “I never apologized for my actions leading up to that night, brother.” The ninja bowed deeply at the waist. “I seek my own forgiveness as much as you seek yours.”
Hanzo breathed in sharply, blinking rapidly. Very few people knew the circumstances that lead to the brothers dueling in the middle of the Hanamura castle. Only the most high-ranking elders of the Shimada-gumi knew, and Hanzo had personally seen to their demise. It was not definitive proof. It was possible that whispers of a rumor made it out before Hanzo could tear his enemies’ tongues from their throats. But it was enough for him to believe that perhaps…
“Do with me as you will.” He swallowed thickly and turned away from Gen—from the man. “I would like to collect my personal effects from my safe house before you escort me to whatever prison you have fashioned for me.”
He listened as the man straightened from his bow. “Of course, anija. Please rest. We will depart for Gibraltar early in the morning.” Hanzo waited until both the ninja and the American had left before allowing the tears to fall.
Chapter 3: Regrets
Genji swung his legs cheerfully on the examination table in the medical bay. Sitting across the room on a waiting chair, face dour and dark, was Hanzo. He finally, finally managed to bring his brother to Overwatch. Not even Hanzo’s omnipresent scowl could distract him from his success! Even if he did technically abduct his brother to accomplish it. Genji was never one to bother with details.
Jesse stood by the window, occasionally peeking into the darkness outside. “Where is everybody? Didn’t Doc tell us to meet her here?”
Genji slipped off the table to stand next to Jesse before rolling up the blinds. “Oh, yes, I forgot to mention. Tonight Winston is—” The ground beneath their feet violently shook, and Jesse fell down with a yelp. A dull roar filled the air around them, steadily growing in volume, as a fiery light illuminated the medical bay. Long shadows danced behind Genji while Hanzo crouched on the floor, eyes wild.
“What in the hell!” As suddenly as they had begun, the earth’s vibrations slowed and vanished, altogether lasting for barely six seconds. Jesse attempted to rise to his knees beside him. Genji ignored his flailing, instead following the path of the shuttle lifting off in the distance, disappearing momentarily before surging above the crest of the Rock of Gibraltar.
“—launching a satellite,” Genji finished belatedly.
“Genji you little shit, you coulda said somethin’ sooner!” Jesse finally made it to his feet, hands shaking from adrenaline. “Damn it, I need a smoke.”
Genji laughed as Jesse removed a half-smoked cigar from a pocket. “Angela will not be happy if you smoke in here.” Jesse growled, angrily shoving his indulgence back into his pocket. Genji turned around to check on his brother. Hanzo had returned to his seat, each hand curled into a fist on his thighs. His eyes were closed and his breathing, while regular, was heavy. Genji almost felt bad for startling him. Almost.
...perhaps he had not eradicated his resentment as well as he thought.
They waited for all of two minutes before Jesse’s fidgeting and cursing became too tiresome. “Just go outside and smoke,” Genji said. Jesse merely glared at Hanzo. Genji rolled his eyes. “He is unarmed. You will be less than five feet away. You will hear us if anything happens.” Jesse crossed his arms grumpily before succumbing to his addiction’s call. He extended his prosthetic arm to open the door, but it swung open of its own accord before he even touched the handle.
A surprised screech was Jesse’s only warning to duck before a purse swung through the space his head had just occupied. “Dear lord, woman!” He dropped to one knee, hands raised in the universal sign of surrender.
“Jesse?” The woman in the doorway blinked owlishly. Genji stared at her. Angela was just as beautiful as the day they had parted. Her golden hair was swept up in a utilitarian ponytail, errant strands framing her heart-shaped face. Her mouth was parted in a small ‘o’ of surprise, her blue eyes wide.
“How many handsome cowboys do you know, Doc?” Jesse smirked down at her, having returned to his full height. The small blush spreading on her cheeks spurred Genji to action.
“Angela! You are as stunning as ever.” The doctor turned her attention to Genji, and he reveled in the twin sparks of familiarity and affection in her eyes. Suck it, McCree!
“Genji! You were supposed to message me when you arrived.” Her tone was scolding, but her smile hadn’t dimmed.
“I wanted to surprise you!”
“At the cost of my head…” Jesse grumbled. Beneath his mask, Genji grinned.
Angela laughed. “Oh, hush, you would have been fine. You have a thick skull.”
Angela waved him off. “And who is this?” She shifted her blue gaze to Hanzo, who stiffened under her scrutiny. Jesse’s expression darkened and opened his mouth to speak. Genji didn’t allow him the opportunity.
“This is my friend I told you about! He is joining Overwatch with us. Unfortunately, his last job left him a little, ah, bruised. Would you be so kind as to give him a checkup?” Even as he spoke, Angela moved to her cabinets to set down her bag, wash her hands, and pull out a New Patient folder.
“Of course! I’m starting our medical files anew. Unfortunately, we lost the cryptographic keys for the previous database so the majority of the old files are inaccessible. Everyone will have to schedule an in-processing appointment.” She patted the examination table, urging Hanzo to sit on it. He did so, warily eyeing everyone in the room. Genji and Angela both saw his hesitation, but she misinterpreted the admittedly justified suspicion as shyness instead. “In the interest of patient confidentiality, I must ask you and Jesse to leave the room until we are finished.” Predictably, Jesse opened his mouth to object. Again, Genji interrupted.
“Are you sure that is necessary? Well, Jesse should probably leave, but I am very anxious about his health.”
Angela’s eyes immediately narrowed. From experience, Genji knew she was generally trusting to a fault, nearly to the point of naiveté, but somehow could always tell when he was edging on dishonesty. “What is going on?” Thinking he fast, he began to spin their cover story only for Angela cut him off with nothing but a raised hand. “Not you.” She turned to Jesse. “You.” Genji winced. Her lack of trust in him stung, but… she had good reason.
Jesse nodded in Hanzo’s direction with thinly veiled disgust. “That’s Shimada Hanzo. What more do you wanna know, Doc?”
Angela’s back went rigid. Her eyes flicked between the brothers and Genji’s stomach dropped when he saw her round on a heel and exit the medical bay entirely. He glanced at Jesse, who stood against the wall stoically avoiding his gaze. So be it. Genji darted out the door after the doctor.
She was standing just outside the medical bay, cradling her arms. He risked a soft touch on her shoulder, earning himself a half-hearted glare. “Why did you bring him here?”
He shrugged his shoulders helplessly. “He is my brother.”
Angela shook her head. “You lived through what he did to you, but I was the one that had to drag you back to the living. I was the one who slaved over your broken body eighteen hours a day for three weeks. You don’t understand how many times you came a thread’s width to dying! And then you just… bring him here? To me? And ask me to heal him?” Her arms tightened. “And your only justification is ‘he’s my brother’. He lost that title when he cut you down in your own home.”
He frowned tightly. This is what he expected. He could not expect his loved ones to understand his change of heart. It had taken him years of healing and tutelage under his Master before he was able to accept his share of responsibility… and blame. “He was not the only one at fault.”
“Yes, he was, Genji. Whatever you did to him didn’t leave him in a highly classified medical facility, subject to countless experimental cures! He tried to kill you,” she said, voice cracking. She rubbed her face with both hands.
Genji gently took her hands in his. “Didn’t you tell me? Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. Does my brother not deserve the same chance at redemption?”
“I was referring to you when I said that,” she sniffed.
He shifted her hands into one of his before reaching up with his free hand to softly brush a strand of hair behind her ear. “I know. It does not make it any less true for him, though.”
Angela closed her eyes and sighed, leaning into Genji’s touch. “What do you want me to say? You didn’t warn me before you brought him here and you were fully prepared to lie about the circumstances. If you do not care for my opinion, why did you bring him into my care?”
Genji wrapped her in his arms. “No,” he whispered fiercely. “That is not true at all. You--” he swallowed the rest of the sentence. You mean the world to me. “Your thoughts mean the world to me, Angela. That is why it was so important that I bring him to you. That is why it was so important that I had Jesse assist me in bringing him to you. You two are family.” He paused and withdrew from their embrace enough to see her expression. “And I want Hanzo to be family again, too.” Angela’s face darkened. “I know he has done terrible, awful things in the past, but so have I. You do not wish to know the details of what I have done both in and out of service with Overwatch and I will respect that, but know that Hanzo has not done any worse.” Angela stared at the ground, silent.
Genji squeezed her shoulder softly. He needed her. There was no version where he could do this on his own. If she wasn’t on his side, then Hanzo was already lost. “You were willing to forgive me once, is that still true?”
Angela wiped at her eyes and nodded. Though it pained him to not immediately comfort her, Genji waited, wanting a verbal response. “Fine, yes,” she sniffled. “It’s still true.”
“Then can you find it in your heart to give him the same chance?”
Angela finally looked at him and his heart spasmed at the sight of her red-rimmed eyes. “You swear to me that if he hurts you again, you are done. There will be no third chances.”
“I swear,” Genji said fervently. “I swear a thousand times.”
She nodded with an air of finality before taking a step back, breaking free of his touch. “I cannot promise anything,” she said, the cool, professional mask back in place. “But I will endeavor to treat him no differently than the other agents.”
Genji felt his lips break into a smile, but he knew she couldn’t see it. “That is the most I can ask for. Thank you, Angela.” He offered an arm. “Can I walk you back inside?”
She snorted, still trying to get her smudged makeup in order. “The door is barely five paces away.”
“Even so.” Genji stepped closer and tried not to giggle like a madman when she finally accepted his arm.
It was happening. It was really happening. Almost all of his family made it to Overwatch, including his brother, and the most important people in his life were willing to give Hanzo the second chance he so desperately needed. The future held so much promise!
They stopped short after opening the medbay door.
Shouts echoed into the night as Hanzo threw sharp medical instruments at Jesse, who deflected them with a raised metal tray. “Your aim is shit, sweetheart!” Hanzo snarled before hurling a scalpel just above Jesse’s head. Jesse let out a triumphant yell before realizing the blade had not missed its mark. Impaled in the wall behind him, his punctured hat hung limply. His face clouded over ominously. “You son of a bitch--!”
Genji watched the scene unfold bemusedly. “What was that other saying of yours? It is a long road to recovery?” Angela merely sighed.
A knock on his door broke Hanzo out of his deep meditative state, but he refused to acknowledge the disturbance further. It was difficult to settle into a comfortable sitting position and the only ones who would disturb him were his captors. Regardless of which one was at his door, he felt no compunction to invite them inside.
The door creaked open anyway.
“Can I trouble you for conversation, anija?”
Hanzo cracked one eye open to see the cyborg—for he was at least partially human, he has determined—standing in the doorway. “Will my answer affect the outcome?”
“No,” the cyborg said cheerfully, entering Hanzo’s room without invitation and sitting in front of him. This, at least, was strongly reminiscent of the original Genji.
Hanzo heaved a sigh. “Can you not see that I am meditating?”
The cyborg removed his faceplate, revealing glittering eyes. “I can! Impeccable posture as always. Master Zenyatta would be thrilled if I could manage even half of your composure.”
Narrowing his eyes, Hanzo weighed out which question he wanted to ask first. “The Genji I knew would never submit to a master.”
“A shame, really. I certainly could have benefitted from a guiding hand in my youth.”
“Genji had many guiding hands. He simply chose to bite them.”
The cyborg shrugged, seemingly unbothered by the statement. “So, what are you meditating on today?”
Hanzo frowned and tucked his chin. What was he meditating on today? The same concerns as he had for the past two and a half days-- sorting through his conflicting emotions enough to properly reflect on his situation. It was difficult. It felt as though he was trying to keep his head above the ocean in a screaming typhoon.
Frustratingly, Hanzo had not been left to this struggle alone. The cyborg had been incredibly bothersome and equally considerate: he insisted that he was Genji, but he acquisitioned Hanzo’s quarters even as Hanzo denied him. He constantly asked questions about Hanzo’s life, but also fetched him linens when Hanzo refused to answer. He monologued about his own ‘life’ but brought Hanzo food every day. He even offered a soft, squishy mat for Hanzo to meditate on for which he was... reluctantly grateful. Sitting seiza for extended periods of time was painful; sitting seiza on hard tile floor was unbearable. That is how he currently arranged himself, resting wakefully on folded knees, bright green mat underneath him, in a square of warm sunshine encouraging calm.
A calm that did not seem willing to attend him while the cyborg was present. “I am meditating on nothing in particular,” he finally answered.
“Ah, so you’re trying to figure out if I am telling the truth again.” Well. The cyborg was certainly irritating enough to be Genji. “Is there anything you’d like to ask? I know how important evidence-based reasoning is to you.”
Anyone would know that. As a leader, Hanzo was infamous for his meticulous and thorough review of information. Inconsistencies rarely escaped his notice and if he determined it was the result of carelessness or ill intent, the punishment was always swift and merciless.
“Tell me something only Genji would know.”
The cyborg snorted. “So I can answer and you can invent reasons why anyone other than myself could have known? We did that yesterday.”
Hanzo did not dignify the statement with a response. It would have been difficult to track the information down, but it was still completely possible that a third party could have catalogued Genji’s dating history. With specific dates. And also Genji’s opinion on each partner. Completely possible.
“How about this,” the cyborg continued. “You ask me to tell a story that you know has never been leaked and I will answer.”
Hanzo rolled his shoulders, thinking. What shared history could he guarantee had never been gleaned by others? In life, Genji had not been particularly tight-lipped. Secrets were no more sacred than a urinal to him. As far as Hanzo knew, the only memories Genji had actually treasured and preserved were from their days as children.
“Who was Hime?”
The cyborg’s lips stretched into a smile, pulling at the many scars on his face. “She was our kitten.” Hanzo’s face tingled faintly as the blood rapidly drained away. “We found her at the edge of the training yard one morning. Spring must have been ending, because I remember she was in a bed of cherry blossom leaves. Looking back, she must have been tiny, but we were still small ourselves.”
The room was shifting. Sliding. Hanzo blinked. Swallowed. Fought the nausea back down. “And what happened to Hime?” He heard himself ask.
“We raised her. Hand fed her milk until she was old enough that we could sneak scraps of fish out from the kitchens. She became one of the many strays that prowled the palace, keeping the grounds free of rodents. She disappeared after the earthquake. I never saw her after that.”
The vertigo was unbearable. It pitched Hanzo forward and he grasped at the fabric on his legs, desperately trying to keep himself grounded. No one living knew this. His lungs were desperate for air, huge shuddering gasps drawing in air was just too thin to sustain him. No one. Distantly, he was aware of hands on his back, of a voice telling him to breathe. No one but Genji.
“Breathe with me, anija.”
Genji was alive.
A wave of nausea crashed over him so hard that he almost didn’t make it in time to the waste bin one meter away.
Genji was alive.
He batted away the hand holding back his hair and whirled around. “How are you alive?”
Genji stood to take a step back, hands raised. “Overwatch,” he said calmly.
“Preposterous! I would have found you. The Council would have found you.”
“And yet, here I stand.”
“Why?” He asked, barely able to see past the rage. “Why are you here? The last we met it was with blade in hand. Why did you seek me out?”
“We are brothers,” Genji said, still enragingly calm.
“And that meant so much to you before,” Hanzo said bitterly. “What has changed that such a paltry sentiment would have you seek out your own killer?”
“To what end?!”
For the first time, Genji’s expression changed from the blank calm, briefly flickering to confusion. “I do not underst--”
“What do you want from me?” Hanzo grit out, appalled to feel hot liquid running down his face. “Is it not enough that I’ve mourned you? Is it not enough that I have sought atonement? What more can you ask of me that I have not already done?”
Genji crouched to his eye level, his gaze steady. “You have not forgiven yourself.”
The anger in Hanzo’s chest froze, transforming from buoyant outrage into an anchor of horror. “I have no right to do so,” he whispered.
“You have every right,” Genji argued gently. “I have already done so.”
Hanzo bowed his head, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes.
“Anija,” Genji began, but then paused. “It has taken me many years to arrive at this point. Not just having you here, but getting myself to accept what happened to us. Learning to forgive you did not take nearly as long as learning to forgive myself.” Hanzo felt Genji’s hand fall upon his shoulder, but he felt too empty to react. He simply listened. “I did not learn on my own. I needed help.” A staticy sigh that sounded almost like a laugh filled the air between them. “A lot of help. You have been alone for a long time now, anija. Please, let me help.”
Hanzo removed his hands from his eyes, letting them fall limply. It proved too difficult to hold Genji’s gaze, so he chose instead to contemplate the weather outside his window. The view was strangely blurred. He wiped at his eyes.
The silence between them stretched, but Genji did not move or waver. Hanzo wasn’t sure how long he made them stay like that. It was strange. The world had stopped lurching. Everything now seemed hyperrealistic, sharp enough to cut, and he felt numb enough to test that. It was mere illusion. The waste bin did not cut his hand.
Finally, he turned back to Genji. “How would a walk sound?”
Genji’s voice was breathless, as if he feared he could shatter glass with the sound alone: “It sounds wonderful.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon together, carefully exploring each other and their own limits. Genji didn’t ask Hanzo about his departure from the Shimada-gumi. Hanzo didn’t ask Genji about his transformation. Neither spoke of the dreadful night that pushed them to opposite ends of the world. Hanzo found that once he allowed himself to know Genji that no detail, no matter how small, was anything less than precious. As he walked beside his brother along the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean, they spoke of Genji’s adventures in the glory days of Overwatch, what he did after its fall, and his infatuation with the resident doctor.
⟪That was the first moment that I thought you might actually be my brother.⟫ Hanzo said with a chuckle. They had abandoned English early in their conversation, taking comfort in their native tongue. Hanzo no longer felt like he was indulging in a lie to do it.
Genji laughed. ⟪Because I flirted with Angela? Not because I went to such great lengths to reach you and convince you to return with me? I traveled the globe three times over looking for you!⟫
⟪It’s not because you flirted with Angela so much as you redirected her affection from the cowboy to you. You always had a knack for being—what did you use to call yourself?—Mr. Steal Your Girl.⟫
At this, Genji spluttered. ⟪What! I wasn’t—Angela isn’t attracted to—McCree isn’t even straight!⟫
Hanzo’s step faltered. ⟪Please tell me he wasn’t serious about, ah, having relations with me.⟫
Genji snorted. ⟪Nah, he was just trying to bait you. He hates your guts.⟫ Now it was Genji’s turn to misstep, realizing he had accidentally broached the very topic they worked so hard to avoid.
Hanzo stopped in his tracks. ⟪Because of what I did to you.⟫ Genji didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. Hanzo felt the lightness of his joy evaporate, replaced by the familiar weight of self-loathing. ⟪Thank you for accompanying me, Genji, but I fear that I have exhausted myself. I will return to my quarters now.⟫
Genji watched his brother turn away from the cliff. ⟪What about dinner? Would you like to eat with me?⟫
Hanzo paused for only a moment. ⟪No. Not today.⟫
Jesse wandered aimlessly through the base, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, hat tipped back. Boredom had set in quickly, with little entertainment around to alleviate it. Most of the Overwatch members could venture out into the city at the base of the mountain, but Jesse had sixty million dollars’ worth of reasons to stay out of public sight. None of the rec rooms were functional, having been turned into storage rooms, and he can only listen to Winston talk about science jargon for so long. That left walking.
Out of the corner of his eye, a glimmer of silver caught his attention. He abruptly turned off the paved road towards the cliff, ducking under the branches of an olive tree. Legs hanging off the edge of the precipice, Genji didn’t turn his head at Jesse’s approach.
“Well, if it ain’t the local Casanova. What are you doin’ out here? Did Angela get tired of your flirtin’?”
“Hello, Jesse.” The cyborg’s voice was flat, bordering on dejected.
He frowned down at Genji—still looking over the ocean, not physically acknowledging his presence. After a pregnant pause, he lowered himself down next to the ninja. “How are ya doin’?”
Genji breathed out an electric sigh. “Hanzo acknowledged me today.”
His frown deepened. Of course the fucker would still be causing Genji pain. Mutilating his body wouldn’t be enough, had to mutilate his mind, too. Unfortunately, Genji wouldn’t want to hear his condemnations against Shimada. “Mighty gracious of him,” he grit out. He didn’t have time to congratulate himself for his restraint before the rest spilled out. “Considerin’ you’ve been his damned housemaid since he arrived.”
Whether Genji ignored his tone or his statement entirely, Jesse didn’t know. “No, I mean as his brother. He called me by my name. We spent the whole afternoon talking.” Jesse’s eye twitched at the corner. The whole afternoon? Alone with the guy who nearly succeeded in killing him once before? Did he seriously need to escort him everywhere? “But I messed it up.” Genji flicked a small stone far into the distance.
Jesse wanted to reprimand him for being so careless. He wanted to yell at him for hanging his hopes on a man sake-bent and hell-bound. He didn’t. He couldn’t. Not when Genji needed him to be a sympathetic friend, rather than a protective older brother. “What happened?”
“I accidentally brought up the incident. He left right after. I do not know if he thinks that I do not forgive him or if he thinks that he does not deserve it.”
Of course he don’t deserve it. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” he said instead.
Genji huffed a soft laugh. “I had forgotten how much I missed your cowboy sayings. Zenyatta—my master while I was with the Shambali—he used to say something similar. His was ‘though you may coax a sparrow to your hand, not all the bread in the world can make him sing.” Genji finally turned to face Jesse. “I invited him here, you know. I told him that Overwatch could use his skills.”
Jesse’s brows raised in surprise. “He a warrior monk? I thought Shambali were the non-violent type.”
Genji nodded his head. “Oh, they are. I asked him to be Overwatch’s spiritual guide.”
“Spiritual guide? What, like a chaplain?”
“I suppose. He also has basic medical training, so he could assist Angela. He was receptive to the idea, but he would need permission from the—ah, I’m not sure of the English word—the leader monk?”
Genji turned his gaze back to the horizon and Jesse followed suit. The sun set on the other side of the mountain, but the gold, red, and brilliant blue hues still streaked the eastern sky. Cruise liners and massive cargo ships glided across the cerulean waters. Gulls wheeled overhead, searching for their roost for the night.
“And how are you, Jesse?”
“Just peachy,” he drawled. “Why d’you ask?”
“I have not seen you interacting with the others. I was wondering if it was just bad timing on my part.”
Jesse felt the discomfort of acknowledging his problems clutching at his lungs, but he barreled past it. “Yeah, the Old Guard is still wary. You, me, and Angela are the only three who know about Blackwatch, but all the old Overwatch heard rumors back in the day. Torbjörn watches me like I’m a fox in the hen house, and even Reinhardt gives me one of those searchin’ glances every so often.”
Genji nodded sympathetically. “Yes. It is easier for me, since I spent three years with Overwatch before the fall. The six months you spent with them before Reyes had you transferred back to Blackwatch was not enough to earn their trust.”
“I was lucky I got that much! Reyes wanted me back after three months, but I convinced him that you hadn’t been fully integrated to the new team. He may not have acted it, but he cared a lot about you.”
Genji hummed, but offered no further response. The two watched the sunset die peacefully, content in their silence. Just as the first few stars began to glimmer overhead, the base’s intercom system crackled to life.
“Would all agents please meet me in the, uh, command conference room, please? Um, this is Winston. Uh, over. I mean, out!”
Jesse shared an amused glance with Genji at the timid scientist’s announcement before clambering to his feet. He offered his hand out to Genji and pulled the light-weight cyborg upright. “Let’s go see what our man from the moon wants.”
Chapter 4: Rescue
In case there's any confusion, I'm using ⟪This⟫ to indicate dialogue spoken in a language other than English.
The eight Overwatch agents chatted amiably amongst themselves as Winston fumbled with the holovid. Genji waved his arms about animatedly, recounting some story or another for Lena and Reinhardt. Brigitte and Torbjörn were having a rather loud discussion about the finer points of steel metallurgy, a recurring topic for the father and daughter. Angela sat near Genji, but her smile appeared strained. Jesse tilted his head at her questioningly. She pursed her lips before shaking her head and pointing at the presentation Winston had finally managed to project.
It was a satellite image of some sort of compound. There wasn’t a scale on the image, but based on the lone, heavy-duty truck in the photo, he guessed that it couldn’t have been larger than a square mile. The dull gray outlines were blurred at their edges by the white background. Squinting, Jesse wondered if it was sand or snow.
At the front of the room, Winston cleared his throat. “Good evening, everyone. My name is Winston, and tonight I’ll be briefing you all on our first mission since the Recall.” Lena let out a soft squeal of excitement. “This is an image from the WorldView-23 satellite. It’s a visible light spectrum photograph of Ecopoint: Antarctica.” Winston clicked to the next slide. The title read ‘Operation: Snowball’ and the text itself detailed the mission. In the lower left hand corner Winston had pasted a picture of the team. Six people stood around the South Pole, each holding a different national flag. They looked at the camera from under their furred hoods, sunglasses covering their eyes but not their grins.
“On October 5, 2042, a team of six scientists specializing in environmental research deployed to the Ecopoint to begin a two-year mission collecting data in the region. Three weeks before their departure date, a polar vortex moved into the area. It lasted for six weeks. No emergency operations could enter or leave the area, but the team sent a request on the twelfth day of the storm for extraction, pending the storm’s subsidence.” Winston took a deep breath, as if bracing himself. “The fifteenth day of the storm was October 23, 2044.” The mood in the room plunged. Everyone could remember where they were the day the Swiss headquarters went up in flames.
“The rescue never came, did it?” Lena’s voice was the quietest Jesse had ever heard it.
“No,” Winston confirmed. “By the time everything was settled and the UN rediscovered the extraction request, it was two months after the original departure date. The team only had enough supplies to last for a week beyond the zero-day. The UN determined that there was no chance of survivors, issued letters of commendation and condolences to the families, and closed the case.”
Winston clicked to the next slide. It was almost entirely black, except for one small dot of bright white. “This is the same image as the first slide, except it is in the near-infrared spectrum. White denotes areas of much higher heat than the surrounding environment.” Jesse saw Lena sit upright, eyes bright with hope. “I’m not saying that there are survivors,” the gorilla said, preempting the obvious question. “I’m saying that there’s an aberrant heat signature that needs immediate investigation. I propose that we send a four-man team to Ecopoint: Antarctica with a primary mission of extracting relevant research and data from the databases. The secondary mission will be to confirm the deaths of the scientists. The tertiary mission is to bring back any survivors. Questions?”
“Can I go?” Lena could hardly contain herself, her outline shimmering as if the very air around her vibrated with excitement. Which was entirely possible, Jesse remembered. Anytime she got too excited her control over her place in the temporal plane slackened.
“Lena, you are the only qualified pilot here. You will be flying the team in and out of the Watchpoint. We will need a medic—that’s you, Dr. Ziegler.” Angela nodded her assent. “But the remaining two slots are for whoever volunteers.”
“I wish to travel with you!” Reinhardt’s voice boomed across the table, but Brigitte shook her head.
“Don’t mean to rain on your parade, big guy,” Lena smiled up at the admittedly massive German, “but we only have the Lark in our hangar. It’d be a mite cramped for you.”
“Ah!” Reinhardt butted his forehead with his palm. “I suppose you are right, little one.”
“I go where Reinhardt goes, or I do not go.” Brigitte folded her arms pointedly.
Torbjörn scoffed, but his expression was fond. “Knew I shouldn’t have let Reinhardt name you.” Brigitte scrunched her nose at him.
Genji raised his hand. “I will go.”
Jesse frowned. “Who’s gonna watch your brother?”
“He can come with us. It would make us four.”
Jesse’s jaw dropped. “You can’t take him with you!”
Genji’s voice took on an obstinate tone. “Why not?”
“He’s not trustworthy, he’s untested, and he tried to kill you,” Jesse ticked off a finger with each point.
“How many times must I say this? I have forgiven him. We are moving past it.”
“You shouldn’ be!”
“Enough!” Torbjörn slammed the table with his fist. “I will go. You are trying to break into buildings that have been in freezing temperatures for more than five years. You will need a welder.”
Winston scratched his chest, a nervous action that almost always manifested during arguments. “That’s settled then. The team is Lena, Dr. Ziegler, Torbjörn, and Genji.”
Jesse stared at the gorilla incredulously. “It ain’t settled! Who’s gonna watch Genji’s brother?”
“Well, if you are so concerned,” Torbjorn said gruffly, “why don’t you do it yourself?”
“What an excellent idea, Mr. Lindholm!” Jesse wasn’t sure how a faceless man could communicate smugness using only his shoulders and head tilts, but Genji was nothing if not expressive. “There is no one better suited to guard my brother.”
“Genji, you little shit—”
“Meeting adjourned!” Winston hurriedly interjected, averting any escalation. “Lena, if you would stay and help me plan your flight and the logistics.”
“Of course, love!”
Jesse stood to confront Genji, but the ninja was already out the door. Jesse swore. “Genji! This isn’t over!” Synthetic laughter echoed in the halls as Genji made good on his escape.
Jesse didn’t bother giving chase to Genji. Instead, he walked briskly down the base’s moonlit boulevard. It took him five minutes to reach the tunnel that housed the Watchpoint’s server stacks. Blue, red, and green status lights cheerily lit up the cavernous room like a miniature Mardi Gras. Grinning at his own analogy, Jesse strode to the command console on the back wall and inserted his old Blackwatch ID card.
“Good evenin’, Athena.”
The console’s screen booted quickly, displaying a pale blue background superimposed by the Overwatch symbol. An ethereal, feminine voice floated from the overhead speakers. “Greetings, Special Agent McCree.”
“I need to update the certs on my ID card, if you’d be so kind.” Jesse brushed off the somewhat dusty desk chair before sitting down wearily. “Also, I’m stayin’ in room 1-377, so if you could configure the lockin’ mechanisms to my biometrics, that’d be great.”
“Of course, Special Agent McCree.”
Jesse was only a little surprised that he still had the valid permissions on his card that allowed Athena to make these changes. Reyes would have been responsible for removing them, but if nothing else his old commander had been two things: paranoid and sentimental. When Jesse disappeared, Reyes would have hung on to his accounts to scour them for any hint or hair of his whereabouts. Even after months passed, Jesse could easily imagine him making excuse after excuse to put off submitting a Permissions Revocation Request. Jesse was sure Reyes would have come to terms with it eventually, but then Zurich happened…
“Special Agent McCree, I have updated your Blackwatch certificates and registered your biometrics to your room. However, I could not reactivate your Overwatch credentials without approval from an Overwatch agent.”
“Who still has those rights?”
“Currently, only Agent Winston has rights to add additional members to the roster.”
Jesse nodded. He expected as much. “That’s fine. Would you send him a request for me, darlin’? Let him know I need a new card, too.” Jesse paused. “Does Winston have access to the Blackwatch archives or any of their servers?”
“Negative. Current activated Blackwatch members are: Jesse McCree, Angela Ziegler, and Sombra.”
Jesse sat up. “Who the hell is Sombra?”
“Retrieving files… Access denied. You must have elevated permissions to access this agent’s profile.”
Jesse frowned and hummed. “Any chance that this is an old member that wasn’t scrubbed with the rest of the roster?”
“You must have elevated permissions to access this agent’s profile.” Jesse rolled his eyes. Damn limited AI. While the unknown profile was concerning, there was no real way to investigate it without bringing in a specialist. The Blackwatch network had been engineered by the world’s best. There was simply no way to compromise the system without an extended physical presence at the command console, thanks to its nature as an insulated network.
“Athena, who has accessed the command console since October 23, 2044?”
“This console was regularly accessed until November 11, 2045.” The day the Petras Act went into effect, so that made sense. “This console was sealed from then until January 27, 2051. The following persons have accessed the system in chronological order: Winston, redacted, Lena Oxton, Angela—“
“Wait, go back. What d’you mean ‘redacted’?”
“On February 15, 2051 a profile was created and then deleted.”
Jesse removed his hat and ran his hand through his shoulder-length hair. Might be time for a trim, he thought distractedly. “Ain’t that the day of the Recall?”
“Who created the profile?”
“Fine,” Jesse groaned in exasperation, “who accessed the console right before and after the redacted profile?”
“Agent Winston accessed the system before and after the redacted profile.” There, now it made sense. Winston was likely testing his permissions, since he was expecting new agents for the Recall.
“And there weren’t any others who accessed the console?”
“Negative.” Well, it didn’t answer who or what the Sombra profile was, but at least Jesse could be sure that it was legitimate.
“Thanks, sweetheart. One last thing, there’s a man livin’ in 1-024. Last name: Shimada, First name: Hanzo. He has no security clearance and is a suspected hostile. Restrict his access around the base accordin’ly. Also, send me an alert any time he leaves his room.”
“Yes, Special Agent McCree. I am whitelisting the following locations: quarters 1-024, gymnasium, kitchen, dining hall, common areas. Is this acceptable?”
“Hm. Add the shootin’ range, but only the main entrance and urban sim. Lemme know if he enters. He shouldn’t have access to the arms room. Limit common area access to the ones in Zone 1. Don’t want him wanderin’ off too far,” Jesse muttered to himself.
“Confirmed. Hanzo Shimada is now restricted.”
“Thanks a ton, darlin’.” Jesse stood and withdrew his ID card. The Antarctica team would leave late tomorrow afternoon, so there was no need to monitor Shimada yet. It was time for some well-earned rest.
⟪Are you sure you’ll be fine, anija?⟫ Hanzo watched the cyborg shift from one foot to another. He couldn’t tell if his brother was worried or impatient. Probably both, he admitted privately.
⟪Aren’t you the one flying to the South Pole for a mission?⟫
Genji snickered. ⟪True, but you must contend with an angry McCree.⟫
His lips quirked into a smile. ⟪I will be sure to stay out of his way.⟫
Genji nodded seriously before replying, ⟪I would not even leave your room if I were you.⟫
⟪You will be gone for a week!⟫ His brother laughed brightly before giving Hanzo’s shoulder a squeeze, boarding the small jet plane where the other three already waited. Hanzo could see Angela watching him through a small window. He lifted his arm in a timid wave. She smiled gently and returned the gesture before turning away.
He made his way off the tarmac, joining the rest of the agents to see the team off. Hanzo had been absolutely amazed when he first met all the members—the diversity alone was enough to make his head spin. There was a gargantuan German crusader; a dwarven Swedish engineer; his brusque, blunt armorer-daughter; a chronally-challenged British pilot; and a genetically-engineered gorilla scientist from the moon. Of course, he was already well-acquainted with his cyborg ninja brother, the pacifist Swiss doctor, and the American cowboy. Speaking of whom, the man—McCree, Hanzo reminded himself—seemed entirely transformed when amongst friends. His smile came easy, his laughs were large, and he seemed to have a kind word for everyone. Except Hanzo.
Anytime Hanzo stood too close to any of the Overwatch agents, McCree’s eyes would pin him in place. The American wouldn’t move away from whatever conversation he was engaged in; His body language wouldn’t change and he would continue to beam in the direction of his teammates—but his eyes would burn with a hatred Hanzo had never known. Eventually, Hanzo settled on the fringe of the group, not particularly eager to anger the man while Genji was away.
Soon enough, the jet’s engines roared, propelling it down the short runway. The plane rushed over the cliff, dropping below the edge momentarily before climbing into the azure sky. Once the aircraft was high in the air, the Overwatch members trickled away until it was only Hanzo watching it disappear over the horizon. He deliberated a moment more before quietly returning to his room. He didn’t waste any time collecting his bow carrier, exiting the room before the door even had a chance to close. As part of his farewell tour this morning, Genji had been kind enough to show Hanzo some of the more productive areas of the base—namely, the gym and the practice range. It had only been a few weeks since Hanzo last had the opportunity to loose a few arrows, but he craved the touch of smooth carbon in his palm.
Hanzo tapped the passcode Genji taught him, waiting until the door had slid completely out of the way before he stepped into the spacious training area. He set his bag down carefully inside the doorway, deciding to explore before he prepared his bow. To his left, a solid metal door guarded the weapons, as announced by the white stenciled letters “Arms Room”. There were ten fifty-meter shooting lanes on his right, clearly meant for zeroing sights and standard target practice. Hanzo would have to stop there first, to ensure that his bowstring wouldn’t need more adjustment from its previous use. He followed the hallway past the shooting lanes until exiting the corridor into a much larger room.
Hanzo blinked in surprise as he realized the room was carved into the very mountain. The edge of the cliff face traveled directly over his head before the rock arched to the ground on his right, leaving the entire left side open to the elements. The room itself was filled with a mock urban environment. Everything from two-story buildings to alleyways to what appeared to be market stalls littered the space. Hanzo was impressed.
He turned about, wondering how the old Overwatch would use this space for training exercises. Did they split into teams and simulate shooting with laser systems? Were there pop-up targets? Hanzo spied a panel set into the wall just before the hallway leading back to the arms room. Situated as it was, it was only visible now that he was outside of the hallway. Curious, he padded up to the wall to examine it. He tapped the glass a few times and the screen flickered to life: Reset last exercise? Hanzo shrugged mentally, selecting Yes and watched the urban setting come to life.
Almost immediately, bots sprung out of concealed closets seemingly everywhere. The majority were painted red, although a few were blue instead, and they zoomed about the space in a methodical pattern. Hanzo watched attentively, committing their paths to memory, when a red bot shot a blue bot. His eyebrows lifted in surprise. Moving targets was a very pleasant surprise, even more so that they act both as allies and enemies. Hanzo could easily pass the time in here while Genji completed his mission. Eager to try out the simulation, he walked back to the control panel and switched off the exercise before reentering the hallway to retrieve his bow. He stopped suddenly at the entrance, eyes riveted on an unexpected figure.
At the other end of the hallway, a scant hundred meters away, McCree leaned casually against the door of the arms room.
Hanzo stood stiffly, unsure of how to react. Had McCree come here for practice as well? His eyes darted about the American’s person, searching for any hint of the powerful revolver—but he couldn’t find it. Sensing no immediate danger, Hanzo allowed himself to examine the intimidating figure. The most prominent feature about the man was his height, easily over 185 cm. It was difficult to judge the man’s build, though. His shoulders were wide, but his long-sleeve flannel shirt hung loosely on his frame. The shirt was untucked, its hem extending to just below where Hanzo thought his hips were. It gave the impression of hand-me-downs or before-and-after pictures of weight loss stories. Faded straight-cut jeans gave way to a pair of scuffed leather cowboy boots. Hanzo’s searching gaze paused when he noticed McCree’s beard and chin-length hair were wet. Not damp, not drying, but soaking wet. Water had dripped on to the shoulders of his shirt, leaving dark stains on the cloth. The American had clearly rushed here to the practice range from the shower.
“How did you know I was here?”
“It’s my job to know where you are while Genji’s gone.” Hanzo frowned at the deflection. “How long d’you want to practice here?”
“It is none of your business.” McCree didn’t look away or even respond. He didn’t move, for that matter. Hanzo tried waiting him out, letting the minutes trickle by before he tired of the game. No cowboy with a power complex was going to interrupt his training. He stalked down the hallway, head held defiantly high and shoulders thrust back. He eyed McCree as he approached, but he remained inhumanly still. Hanzo snatched up his bag before retreating to lane four.
Hanzo tried to take comfort in the familiar routine of preparing his bow. He snapped the limbs onto the main body before securing them with hand-twisted bolts. He examined his string carefully, searching for any frays or signs of breakage before deeming it acceptable and sliding the bottom loop into its corresponding notch. He used his bow stringer to bend the bow back, allowing him to notch the top loop as well. Still, McCree stood in the corner of his vision, hovering at the edge of his attention.
“Do you not have somewhere better to be?”
“You mean anythin’ that would make leavin’ the guy who sliced-and-diced my best friend alone with a weapon seem like a good idea?” McCree hummed in mock thoughtfulness. “Nah, nothin’s comin’ to me. Got any suggestions?”
Hanzo could feel annoyance carving a scowl into his face. “Surely you do not mean to act as my escort at all hours of the day.”
“Is that your way of askin’ me to spend the night?”
Hanzo rolled his eyes. “I know your game now. You will not fluster me with your callousness.”
McCree shrugged unapologetically. “Was worth a shot.” Hanzo continued to glare at him, bow gripped tightly in his right hand. “Look, shit or get off the pot. If you ain’t gonna shoot, I’m gonna kick you out.”
“You do not have the authority to do so!”
“You sure about that?” McCree smirked at him. Smirked. God, Hanzo hated the man. He glared at the cowboy, silently seething. McCree’s hair was still wet. How did he know I was here? Does he really have the power to keep me from practicing? Hanzo growled in frustration. He was too tired for this. With short, angry movements he disassembled his bow and packed it back inside its case. Barely resisting the urge to shove the American aside, he threw the door open, exiting the practice range and storming to his quarters. He needed to meditate.
Chapter 5: Retrieval
Content Warning: Non-explicit suicide discussion, severe malnutrition, off-screen deaths (no character deaths)
“Buckle up, luvs,” Lena chirped from the cockpit, “We’re going in for landing!”
Genji complied quickly, snapping the restraints into place, eager for the descent to begin.
“I can’t wait to get off this blasted plane,” a green-faced Torbjörn said, clutching the arms of his chair tightly.
Angela frowned in concern. “I would have packed Dramamine if I knew you were prone to air sickness.”
He shook his head slightly. “Don’t like drugs.” The plane jerked suddenly as it hit a small patch of turbulence. Torbjörn groaned miserably.
“Less than you like air sickness?” Genji couldn’t help but tease, earning a glower from the stocky engineer.
“Less than you’ll like being locked outside in the snow!”
“Be kind!” Angela reprimanded them both before fixing Genji with a stern look. “I have half a mind to agree with Torbjörn; you’ve been provoking him the whole trip.”
“Do not call me that.” To Genji’s delight, Angela’s eyes sparked with a fierce fire. He grinned, secure in the knowledge that she couldn’t see through his mask. He really wouldn’t goad her if she didn’t make it so rewarding.
Lena’s voice interrupted his thoughts: “Going vertical!”
Genji braced against the forward momentum as the jet’s thrusters slowed the plane’s acceleration. Simultaneously, both wings rotated ninety degrees in their sockets to direct the primary engines’ thrust directly underneath the plane. He peeked out the window, trying to make out the ground. The compound must be on the left side of the plane, because all he could see was an endless expanse of snow under a clear night sky.
“I can’t imagine living here during the winter,” Angela said. “No sun at all for five months!”
“I do not think it would be so difficult,” Genji said slyly. “Your smile alone lights up the day.” Angela rolled her eyes, but he could see her hiding a grin. Still got it!
A sudden lurch signaled the end of their journey. Torbjörn was the first to unbuckle, but Genji followed soon after, eager to stretch his legs after two days of travel. He bounced on his heels as he waited for the rest of the team to don protective layers of clothes--one of the many benefits of a cybernetic body included self-regulating heating and cooling mechanisms.
Angela shouldered her medical bag before handing Genji an empty backpack. He thought Winston was a little optimistic in providing them such a large one; there was little chance of finding significant data.
Lena stood by the exit door, clad in snow pants, boots, and her bomber jacket. “Everyone ready? I’ll be manning the plane while you three get to do all the exciting stuff. If I see any bad weather coming our way, I’ll let you know! Don’t forget to comm me if you need anything.” She waited until everyone gave her a thumbs up. “Alright, here we go!” Lena undid the door’s latch, throwing it open and unrolling the rope ladder. It was less than two meters to the ground, but neither Torbjörn nor Angela would be happy with jumping the distance. Genji had no such reservations.
“I swear, if you get hurt, you will be healing yourself, Genji!” He was already halfway to the compound by the time Angela’s shouts hit his ears, laughing under his breath. He tried the first door he could find, but true to Torbjörn’s predictions it was sealed shut. Rather than try the remaining doors, he scaled the buildings to the roof. Once he reached the top, he scanned the buildings for any signs of life. It wasn’t very encouraging.
Snow drifts piled high on the windward sides of the buildings. What appeared to be an antenna mast had snapped in half, the top portion swinging forlornly from a thin cable. At what he presumed to be the front of the compound, a large silver flag pole stood resolutely against the star-lit sky. At its zenith, a tattered strip of cloth fluttered in the breeze. The whole scene breathed a sense of isolation and abandonment. He didn’t feel very eager to discover the scientists.
A high-pitched whine bounced off the walls of the compound. Turning to face its source, he could see sparks outlining Torbjörn’s and Angela’s silhouettes, meaning they were already hard at work creating an entrance. Knowing he couldn’t yet help, Genji decided to further explore the rooftops. He leapt across the compound, mentally outlining the buildings even though Torbjörn already possessed the building schematics. It didn’t take him long to reach the end of the compound. He paused, nonplussed by his lack of discoveries. He stared over the rooftops disconcertedly. These scientists were already dead. They had been dead for years. Now they were here to rob their final resting place, going off of nothing but a speck on an IR image—oh!
Genji cursed his lack of attention to detail as he fumbled at the side of his visor. When was the last time he used his thermal scanner, anyway? Finally finding the right setting, Genji looked about with new eyes. Nearly everything was black. Their plane still glowed a dull white, its insulation minimizing the escape of heat. The welding gun’s blinding light masked Angela’s and Torbjörn’s own heat signatures. There was nothing else except—Genji raced to the small vent. Barely visible, a meager steam rose from the cylindrical pipe. He turned off the thermal reader before sprinting to his companions.
“There is heat!”
“Yes,” Torbjörn said, already packing his traveling welding gun into his rucksack. “That tends to happen when your gun is designed to melt steel.”
“No, there is heat from the building! I saw it on the roof. It is toward the end of the compound.”
Angela’s elegant brows raised in surprise even as Torbjörn’s bushy eyebrows drew together in skepticism. “At the end?” The engineer asked, hefting his pack onto his shoulders. “Those are the research labs. The common rooms and main living areas are just through here.” He swept his hand at the gaping doorway. “It was probably just your imagination. Can you even feel in that contraption you call a body?”
Genji felt irritation sweep through his frame.
Thankfully, Angela rose to his defense before he could say something he’d later regret. “He has thermal imaging built into his visor.”
“Is that so? Hm. Well, it is probably just a backup generator running on fumes. We’ll find out soon enough. Everyone turn on your lights, it will be dark inside—in more ways than one.”
Genji watched Angela turn on her headlamp and readjust her bag anxiously. He sidled up to her to speak quietly into her ear. “I can go ahead, if you would like. I will let you know if they are…” Genji grasped for the right word, not wanting to distress Angela further. She had never quite recovered from the carnage of the Zurich headquarters.
“I…” Angela scrunched up her face in an expression Genji would find adorable if it weren’t for the somber circumstances. “I would appreciate that. I knew several of the people stationed here.”
Genji nodded sympathetically before stepping into the entry corridor. Torbjörn led the way, his electric lamp raised high. They found the common room first. It was clean and undisturbed. Few personal belongings decorated the room: a couple posters, a chore roster, a stack of board games, a pile of blankets, and a well-used coffee pot. A thick layer of frost coated every surface. No bodies, though. He waved Angela through the doorway.
They spent only a few minutes in the room, as there weren’t any research documents or digital equipment to investigate. The living quarters branched off to the left while a door on the right led further into the compound.
“Why don’t we save the bedrooms for last?” Torbjorn suggested. Genji and Angela silently agreed and the trio continued on its way.
They entered a small kitchen next. Like the common room, it was spotless. There weren’t even any dishes in the sink. Genji hummed. “Does this not seem strange? I imagined that a group of people hanging on to survival would not be so… clean.” He peeked in a cabinet, shocked to discover coffee grounds and sugar. “They did not even use all of their stores.”
Torbjörn grunted. “Then maybe they did not wait for the end to come to them.”
Genji paused. “You mean suicide?” Angela winced.
“Aye. Come on, I don’t like this place. I want to get this over with.”
They pressed through the kitchen to the next room, which turned out to be an office space. Three cubicles lined each side of the aisle. Torbjörn swept the room with a critical eye. “Grab the hard drives from the computers and anything that looks like it might hold data.”
Genji started with the first cubicle on the right. Ejecting the hard drive was simple enough, but finding data sticks was much more difficult. It wasn’t because the desk was cluttered or messy, however. It was the simple act of moving aside the personal effects of the scientist who worked here that stirred up intense emotions of guilt and remorse. Logically, he knew he wasn’t responsible for the deaths of the scientists, but it didn’t help. Overwatch failed so many people when it fell and now he was left to salvage the ruins....
He only wished it didn’t feel like he was raiding a tomb.
The next cubicle belonged to a Dr. Torres, judging by the nameplate. He moved as quickly as he could, trying to shake the sense of unease that had settled deep in his bones. He picked up a snow globe to study it, although “snow” globe might be a misnomer in this case. It was a Mexican beach, perhaps Cozumel, with a mass of sparkling glitter instead of snow. Was Dr. Torres from there? Or was it a way to remember a trip with family?
A scream split the still air-- the globe slipped from his grip, shattering on the tile underneath. Genji whirled about, shuriken in hand, ready to take on the nonexistent threat. Angela had backed herself into the opposite wall, tearful eyes locked on the corpse seated at another desk. Genji rushed to her side while Torbjörn stepped up to examine the carcass.
Genji maneuvered his body to block Angela’s line of sight to the dead man. “Are you alright?”
Her eyes snapped to his visor—his heart skipped a beat at the terror in her eyes—before he abruptly found his arms full of the doctor. She clung to him, head buried in his chest. It took him a moment to move past his initial surprise and tighten his arms around her, but once he did he relished in the contact, rubbing soothing circles on her back. She shook in his arms as he murmured reassurances into the hood of her coat. She made no sound. No hint of a sigh or sob. Her violent trembling slowly subsided, but Genji continued to hold her. They remained that way for a few moments until Torbjörn cleared his throat.
Angela extracted herself from his arms. “It’s… I’m okay now,” she said quietly. She even smiled, but he could see that it was fragile and false. Reluctantly, he allowed her to slip past him and join Torbjörn. She would not appreciate it if he questioned her resolve and with good reason. A rush of concern and admiration washed over him, warming him in this frozen graveyard, as Genji watched her keep her gaze stubbornly fixed on the dead man, determined to conquer her fear.
“This is MacReady’s desk.” Torbjörn explained, pointing at the nameplate next to the computer monitor. “Assuming he wanted to die in his own space, this is likely MacReady himself.”
MacReady sat stiffly in his desk chair, head lolled back on the headrest. His skin had tightened over his features in death, drawing his lips back in a grotesque grin and giving his glassy eyes a look of ghastly surprise. Bright red hair peeked out of his furred hood. He was wearing thick winter clothing, but only had one glove on. His left hand was bare, exposed up to a watch on his wrist.
“Why is he wearing all of his snow clothes?” Angela’s voice was only mostly steady.
Torbjörn shrugged. “They probably turned off the heat to conserve energy. I am more curious that he’s wearing only one glove.”
Genji turned away from the body to examine the cubicle itself. It appeared barren of anything personal, except for an empty photo frame. Genji stepped forward to investigate further when his foot connected with a small object. He looked down to discover a small orange pill bottle. He bent and lifted it to the light. “What is triazolam?”
Angela took the empty bottle from him. “Sleeping pills. These are prescribed to Miguel Torres, though.”
“Hm. Maybe that’s why he took off the glove,” Torbjorn speculated. “To open the bottle. Probably took the lot.”
“So this is Torres?”
Angela shook her head. “No. I knew Torres. He had black hair.”
Encouraged by his find, Genji returned to examining the floor. It did not take him long to discover the missing photograph. He passed it to Angela wordlessly. She sighed at the image.
“This must have been his family. They look so happy…” She flipped the photo over, presumably looking for a date or name to confirm her suspicions. A surprised gasp escaped her lips. “There’s a note!”
They all huddled around the photo to read the stilted handwriting:
December 29, 2045,
It didn’t work. I woke up before the others. If they’ll ever wake up. I know there’s no chance. If a rescue hasn’t come by now, it never will. I can’t go back to the cold. I never want to be that cold again. I’m sorry, Marissa. Please take care of our boys.
-R. J. MacReady
Torbjörn was the first to break the silence. “I guess they all agreed to share the pills? Then MacReady woke up and tried again?”
“I suppose.” Angela brought the photo closer to her face. “The date doesn’t make any sense, though. Didn’t Winston say that the storm happened at the same time as the Fall? This is more than a year later.”
“Maybe he was confused. Dehydrated, starving, just woke up from an attempted suicide—it’s a wonder he could even write.”
“But it says December.” She insisted. “Did they even have enough supplies to last them that long? It would have been two months after their departure date.”
“Careful rationing, perhaps?” Genji ventured. They all stood around MacReady, silently contemplating what his last days must have been like.
“We need to keep going.” Torbjörn ejected MacReady’s hard drive, dropping it in the bag with the others, and left the office. The next room was the largest one by far. Multiple work benches dotted the area, large scientific instruments with no immediately discernible purpose crowded what space remained. “Same as before, grab whatever looks relevant.”
Angela hesitated in the doorway. Genji touched her gloved hand briefly. “I will clear the room first.” She nodded. It didn’t take him long to walk up and down each aisle. Even though this room was the largest in the compound, it still wasn’t particularly spacious. “It is okay, Angela,” he called from across the room.
“Thank you, Genji.”
He decided to start clearing from the side he was already on, but paused when he spotted the door to the next room. Perhaps it would be better if he cleared the rest of the building first? Then Angela could search without fear. He glanced back at her, her headlamp lighting up her face in a manner that could only be described as seraphic. He turned to the door resolutely. It took a couple tries to open it, disused as it was, but he finally managed to pry it open in the end.
He was surprised at how small the space was. It was circular, maybe six meters in diameter, ringed with what appeared to be tube-shaped closets on one side and a large desk and several desktops on the other. There was no other door, so it must be an offshoot lab rather than a continuation into the compound. Might as well clear it while he was there.
He moved to the computers to eject the hard drives, but stopped, fingers lightly resting on the computer’s chassis. The highly reflective metal was tinged very slightly red. Where is that coming from? While they all brought red lights as backups to their primaries, Genji didn’t think anyone had made the switch. He looked out the doorway to confirm this before turning his head back to the computer in confusion. The red glimmer was still there.
He turned to the cylindrical structures. Though they were concealed from the doorway, he was now at an angle that allowed him to see the panels faintly lighting the small room. He rushed to the nearest one. There shouldn’t be any power in the compound. Genji quickly compared his rooftop map to their progress in the building. He should be directly under the vent with heat. He squinted at the panel. Red font dispassionately announced “Critical Failure”. Critical failure of what? Was this an experiment the scientists had left running even in the face of their demise? What could be so important? Genji took a moment to determine how to open the cylinder, but there were no apparent latches. The panel was unresponsive.
Genji turned to the next cylinder and repeated the process. On the fourth cylinder, he was surprised to discover that it was already open. It was large enough that he could stand inside it, but there didn’t appear to be anything within. He turned to the panel in confusion. This one didn’t read “Critical Failure”, however. These words were in a sickly yellow: “Early Release”.
“Genji? Where are you?” Genji padded to the open doorway to see Angela twisting in place, trying to find him in the main lab.
“Over here! I have found something.”
“Why didn’t you say so sooner?” Torbjörn barreled past him into the small antechamber, Angela close on his heels.
“Over here, look.” Genji dragged the pair to the open tube. “There are six of these, most of them say ‘Critical Failure’ but this one says ‘Early Release’. I was not able to open any of the other tubes and I cannot tell what might have been in this one.”
Torbjörn hummed in contemplation, studying the craftsmanship of the cylinder.
“Genji, did you see this one? It doesn’t say critical failure or early release.” He joined Angela at the last tube in the row, one of the two he didn’t have a chance to examine yet. Sure enough, green text read “Status: Sleeping”.
“What does it mean by sleeping?” He wondered aloud. “Is it referring to the computers?” Genji suddenly felt a wave of relief that he hadn’t ejected the drives in this room as it would likely have shut off all the systems.
He studied the panel with Angela, experimentally tapping on the screen. Unlike the previous panels, this one responded immediately. A menu replaced the status monitor, presenting several choices: “Status”, “Read Outs”, “Subject Data”, and “More”. He extended a hand to press “More” only to have Angela swat his hand away. She selected Read Outs instead. Several graphs populated on the screen, showing sinusoidal waves inching across the screen.
“Wait, these are electrocardiographs.” Genji looked at her questioningly. She didn’t even glance at him as she clarified, already busy navigating back to the original menu. “Heart beats, blood pressure, oxygenation, these graphs are monitoring someone’s health.” She tapped on “Subject Data”.
Name: Mei-Ling Zhou
Birth Date: June 7, 2013
Nationality: Chinese citizen—
The profile disappeared as Angela frantically backed out. “She’s still alive! She’s in the cylinder—It’s a cryo-chamber! They froze themselves.” She hit the “More” button, no doubt searching for the option that allowed her to release Zhou from her artificial hibernation. On the next page, one of the options was “Wake Subject”. Angela pressed it firmly. A timer appeared, with a caption that read “Defrosting”.
“That is what MacReady meant,” Genji realized. “He woke up early. They did not commit suicide, they are all here.” The trio looked about the cryo-lab, only now understanding the significance of “Critical Failure”.
“…They would have lived if the UN had sent the rescue party.” No one responded to Torbjörn’s observation. There was nothing to say. Three pairs of eyes watched the timer slowly work its way down to zero. Five minutes remaining. “Genji, why don’t you collect Zhou’s things from her cubicle and bunk? It’s going to be a rough awakening for her, jumping seven years ahead. I’m sure she would appreciate some things that she knows.”
Genji nodded then looked to Angela in question.
“I’m going to stay here. Cryostasis is extremely experimental, there’s no telling what condition she’ll come out in.”
“I will return shortly.” With that, Genji sprinted out of the room. He collected everything in Zhou’s workspace without pausing to consider its worth. He did not want to leave Angela longer than necessary. If the cryo-chamber opened only for Zhou to die of shock or some other unforeseen consequence, Angela would shoulder the blame herself.
After raiding the office, Genji made his way to the living quarters. This door was not nearly as difficult to open as the cryo-lab. He paused once he entered—there were two rows of beds, three on each side. None of them had sheets or blankets on them, only duffle bags. They must have prepared their belongings before putting themselves to sleep in anticipation of their rescue. The bag nearest to him was unzipped, some clothes strewn about. MacReady’s name was stenciled in large black letters on its side. Genji examined each bag for a name, finding Zhou’s at the end of the second row. He deposited the large bag at the entryway, not wanting to drag it to the cryo-lab and then all the way back to the front. As an afterthought, he unzipped it and removed a pair of snow boots and a large, fluffy coat.
He briefly stepped outside to ensure a good connection before clicking his comm button. “Lena, we have found a survivor. Condition to be determined. You should prepare a space where Dr. Ziegler can work.”
“What? A survivor—“ Lena cut herself off on the channel. “Roger that, let me know when you’re close so I can have the ladder down.”
“Acknowledged, out.” He raced back inside and through the compound. He entered the cryo-lab as Torbjörn and Angela pulled an unconscious figure from the cylinder. The woman was emaciated, wearing only leggings and a long-sleeve fleece shirt that both hung limply on her reduced frame. Angela pressed her fingers to the woman’s throat.
“Ah, she’s freezing! Her pulse is weak, we need to get her to the plane right away. Genji, let me have those clothes.” Angela deftly, but gently, dressed the survivor in the garments. These were also too large for her, but it was all they had on hand. “Can you carry her?”
“Yes. Would you carry my bag, Torbjörn?”
“Aye. I’ll clear out this room before I follow.” His eyes darted to the unopened chambers. “They won’t be needing the drives anymore.”
Genji hefted Zhou into his arms, her lightness surprising him despite her evident malnutrition. He jogged through the compound again, careful not to jostle his charge. He shifted her into one arm so he could reach his comm button.
“Coming in hot, Lena.” His feet crunched through the snow as he sprinted to the plane
“Got ya, ladder down.” Lena’s silhouette appeared in the doorway and the rope ladder spilled down the side of the plane. Without pausing to adjust, Genji leapt onto the ladder and climbed the rest of the way one-handed. Inside, Lena had set up a gurney in the center aisle. Genji didn’t know where she had stored that away in the tiny jet and at the moment, he didn’t care. He laid Zhou out, snatching a blanket from one of the seats and folding it underneath her head as a pillow.
Angela burst into the plane, swinging off her bag and tossing it onto her chair. She unzipped it, pulled out a pack of needles, a bag of saline, and a roll of tape. She tossed the tape to Genji. “I’m going to set up her drip. I want you to tape it to the overhead. Lena, close the door and raise the temperature.” She didn’t wait for acknowledgment, already pulling up one of Zhou’s sleeves.
It took Angela less than thirty seconds to disinfect the skin, identify the vein, slip the needle underneath the skin, and raise the saline bag to Genji. By the time Genji had finished securing the bag, Angela had affixed an oxygen mask to Zhou’s face and wrapped her wrist with a handheld monitor. No longer useful to the doctor, Genji returned to the compound to rejoin Torbjörn and to collect Zhou’s bag. They returned just in time for Angela to declare her patient stable.
“What now, doc?” Lena hovered near the front of the plane, trying to alleviate the cramped feeling in the main body.
“We need to get her to a real medical facility.” The doctor strapped Zhou to her gurney and locked the gurney’s wheels into place, preparing for takeoff. “She is severely malnourished. I cannot care for her long enough for us to make the return journey without putting her at serious risk.”
Lena frowned. “I don’t know where we can bring her. The most direct route back to Gibraltar is over Africa, and I don’t have many contacts on the continent.”
“Numbani. I worked at a hospital there for a few years after the Fall.”
“What will our cover be?” Torbjorn asked, strapping himself in. “We can’t exactly bring a person who’s been dead to the world for six years into a hospital without them asking questions.”
“An emergency medical landing will be enough to get into the airport.” Angela’s tone was brisk, every inch the professional. “I’ll handle everything on the hospital side.”
“What? That’s not good enough, Numbani’s security is notorious for—“
“We can discuss this on the way, but we need to take off now.” Angela looked at Lena meaningfully. Lena gave a crisp salute and dove back into the cockpit. Within moments, the plane was in the air.
“Look, Dr. Ziegler, I know how important patients are to you. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go to Numbani, but we must not compromise ourselves in the process of saving her.”
Genji watched the argument with apprehension. He sympathized with Torbjörn’s concerns, but he would never dream of standing between Angela and a patient.
“And we won’t. Trust me, I can get us on the landing strip at Numbani airport and from there I can get Zhou to their hospital.”
Torbjörn stared at her silently. Evaluating her, Genji thought. “And what if I don’t trust you?”
Angela’s eyes turned icy. “Then take it up with Winston when we return.” She turned away from the Swedish engineer, effectively ending the discussion. Genji settled deeper into his chair, preparing for another long journey.
Chapter 6: Reckoning
Content warning: mild violence, mild sexual reference
Hanzo stood, rolling his shoulders to relieve some of his built-up tension. Normally he wouldn’t be so stiff after only an hour of meditation, but then it didn’t normally take him an entire hour to calm his anger. Only a day since Genji’s departure for Antarctica and Hanzo is already contemplating murdering McCree. The man tailed him everywhere. Part of it was the size of the base accessible to Hanzo—in such a small area it was difficult to avoid any particular person—but Hanzo quickly ruled out coincidence when McCree managed to show up at the shooting range mere minutes after Hanzo arrived, three times.
He hadn’t managed to figure out how McCree could constantly monitor him unless he followed him all hours of the day, but he did know how to put a stop to it. He checked his tablet for the time: half past eleven. McCree would probably be on his way to lunch by now if he wasn’t already eating. Hanzo exited his room, grabbing his boxed lunch on the way, and made the short journey to the shooting range. He opened the door, seated himself on the floor, and waited. He didn’t even have a chance to begin on his vegetables when the door was violently wrenched open. Hanzo looked up at McCree with vague disinterest.
“Can I help you?”
McCree stared down at him, a look of distrust on his features. “…What’re you doin’?”
“I am eating my lunch.” He gestured at the modest spread before him with his chopsticks.
“In the shootin’ range?”
McCree’s face screwed up in confusion. “Why?”
Hanzo shrugged his shoulders, not quite suppressing a smirk. “No reason. Have you already had lunch?”
McCree’s stomach answered for him, a drawn-out growl filling the silence. Without another word, McCree turned on his heel and slammed the door behind him. Hanzo chuckled to himself, popping a grape in his mouth.
Jesse was going insane. The few times Genji had described his older brother, he often used the words “serious”, “quick to anger”, and once “a black hole that sucked the life and humor out of everything unfortunate enough to enter his orbit”. What Genji didn’t say was that his brother was an even bigger pain in the ass than he was! Shimada must have figured out that Athena alerted him every time he entered the range, because he used every feasible excuse to spend time in there, always at the most inconvenient moments.
When Jesse took a shower, Shimada was in the range to shave. When Jesse hit the halfway point in his workouts, Shimada meditated in the urban simulation. When Jesse took the time to take care of his personal needs, Shimada was having a god damn tea party with Reinhardt!
The last one had been embarrassing. Jesse stormed into the range, still red in the face, traces of lube on his flesh hand to discover the elder Shimada and Reinhardt discussing the meaning of honor over porcelain teacups. The two men hadn’t noticed Jesse’s flustered state, but just being aware of his own predicament was enough to convince Jesse to just skip the confrontation and return to his room. He wanted to ignore Shimada, but he couldn’t risk leaving him in there unattended. The arms room was secure, but Jesse knew that given a long enough period of time any code could be cracked. Two more days until Genji returns and he could dump this shit on him.
He stalked through the base, frustration hunching his shoulders. He was irritated. He was tired. He was hungry. The last bit of chili he made earlier this week was all he had stocked the kitchen, but he wanted it to last through Genji’s return. Overwatch didn’t exactly have the funds to feed him, let alone pay him, and he didn’t want to eat food he hadn’t earned in the first place. Maybe he’d eat Shimada’s food, since the dick thought it was funny to mock his hunger. Jesse turned a sharp corner on the balcony only to stumble headfirst into a solid, furry mass.
“Oh! Sorry, McCree, I didn’t see you there.” Winston adjusted his glasses, more out of habit than need.
Jesse looked up at the gorilla and smiled warmly. “Nah, the fault’s mine, I wasn’t lookin’ where I was goin’.” He began to walk past the scientist, but paused mid-step and turned. Winston’s back was to him, already trundling away on all fours, but there was an unmistakable air of worry surrounding him. “Actually, I been meanin’ to talk to you, Winston.”
Winston turned around hesitantly. “Er, you have?”
“Yessir. How’ve you been?”
“Uh, good, I guess.”
“That’s good. How’s runnin’ Overwatch?”
“It’s, um, troublesome.”
Jesse schooled his face into a look of surprise. It’s not that he didn’t care about Winston’s problems, he absolutely did. However, to say he was taken aback that the scientist was having leadership issues would be lying. He didn’t get good at poker by being honest, though. “Really? Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No, I don’t…” Winston frowned deeply. “Well, maybe. We shouldn’t talk about it outside. Will you follow me to the lab?”
“Course.” Jesse fell into step next to the scientist for the short trip to Winston’s lab. It was a larger room, maybe a couple hundred square feet in total. The mezzanine was half the size of the lower level but had windows for walls, affording a stunning view of the evening Strait outside. The lower level had several messy workbenches and chalkboards covered in complicated equations. Empty jars of peanut butter were poorly hidden throughout the lab, some behind monitors, others shoved in potted plants.
A tire swing hung from the ceiling, ending at just the right height in front of an extensive computer workspace. Winston eased himself into it and Jesse tried to ignore the worrisome creaking from the cables. The silverback hit the power switch and turned to Jesse as he waited for the computer to boot. “I haven’t been idle during Overwatch’s inactivity. I’ve been keeping very careful tabs on the world. It’s why I initiated the Recall in the first place.” He turned back to the triple monitor and opened three different files, each one expanding to fill a screen. On the far left, the file directory named “76” listed several videos and images along with a seemingly endless number of text files. The middle and the right were both similar, but the directories were titled “Talon” and “SOC”, respectively.
Jesse froze. He looked at Winston sharply. “What do you know about Talon?”
“Uh, just everything I’ve collected in this file. Why? What do you know?”
Jesse weighed his options quickly. He had already overplayed his hand in showing he had knowledge of the shadow organization, but he couldn’t tell Winston everything he knew without exposing Blackwatch as well. He wasn’t ashamed of his time with Blackwatch, but he wasn’t ignorant of the distrust and outright hostility it would inspire in the current Overwatch.
“I was on the run from every government and legal organization known to man for near on a decade, Winston. You don’t live that way without runnin’ into folk of the same cloth. Even amongst us criminal types, Talon is very bad news.”
Winston paused. Jesse tried to keep his breathing even as the silence grew longer, tension building, and building. Finally, the gorilla nodded. “They are indeed ‘very bad news’, as you put it.” He began pulling up news articles. Several about the assassination of Tekhartha Mondatta, some about an attack at Volskaya Industries in Russia, most about an attempted robbery at a museum in Numbani. “I know for certain that the incident at the Overwatch museum in Numbani and Mondatta’s assassination at King’s Row were perpetrated by Talon. One of their operatives—a sniper called Widowmaker—killed him. Lena was in the area at the time, as she lives near King’s Row and is a fan of the Shambali philosophy. While she failed to save his life, she did succeed in confirming Talon activity.
“She told me what she learned about Widowmaker and I began researching everything I could." Winston adjusted his glasses. "I have reason to believe that Talon has existed for decades, even during the original Overwatch’s time. What’s more, I believe that they were directly involved in some of the… less successful missions back in the day.”
If you only knew, Jesse thought darkly. Talon had been the bane of Blackwatch’s existence. The organization was an eternal enigma, despite the best efforts of every black ops intelligence analyst or covert operator. A man by the name of Gerard Lacroix had been one such analyst and the lead for the Talon effort. Jesse was one of maybe three people left in the world who knew who really killed Gerard; Widowmaker didn’t earn her name killing spiders. All of this, he knew; none of this, he could say. He let the gorilla continue his exposition uninterrupted.
“Just before the Recall, I was attacked here at Gibraltar. A small team of Talon soldiers broke past Athena’s defenses. I was able to get rid of two of them easily; I don’t think they expected anyone to be living here. In the ensuing, erm, altercation, I took out the rest, but one seemed to have… unnatural powers. I ended up crushing him beneath a two-ton crate.” Jesse didn’t have to fake surprise this time. Winston coughed self-consciously. “Right. Anyway, it seemed that they failed to do whatever they came here for, but I have reason to believe they were after Athena’s servers.”
An uneasy feeling settled into Jesse’s gut. Talon was still active against Overwatch? Talon had invaded the Watchpoint? His mind instantly flashed to Shimada. He could be Talon. He could be mapping the base and cataloging their every movement, waiting for the opportune moment to strike—wait, no, calm down, Jesse. If Shimada was a Talon agent, he would have definitely known about Genji long before his grand reveal a year ago. He couldn’t rule it out entirely, but… He shook himself, returning to the conversation. “What makes you think that?”
“The weird one tried to copy agent files directly from this computer. It wouldn’t have worked, of course, he would have had to go directly to the server room and use the command console. However, once I discovered Talon’s intentions I began to cross reference the agent database with recent news articles. In the past year twenty agents died of unnatural causes. As you can imagine, I found this suspicious, so I expanded the search to anything in the past five years, and then the past ten.” Winston took a deep breath and locked eyes with Jesse. He couldn’t have looked away from the animalistic eyes if he wanted to. “Since the fall of Overwatch, ten percent of former agents have died in suspicious circumstances.”
Air escaped Jesse’s lungs and didn’t seem to want to return. Ten percent…? Thousands had served in Overwatch. Hundreds of people must have died. How hadn’t he noticed? How hadn’t anyone noticed? Winston said that it was over a decade, but that would average out to at least ten agents a year. Surely, that would have raised some eyebrows.
“Many of these deaths were made to seem like accidents or suicides.” Winston supplied, preempting Jesse’s question. “Or at least they were ruled as such. I, uh, took liberties with some police department records and even in clear instances of foul play, the cases were closed almost as soon as they were opened. I think Talon’s been the one systematically killing former agents.”
“But why?” He could easily imagine Talon wiping the earth clean of Blackwatch operatives, but even including all support agents their numbers never exceeded one hundred. This was bigger than Blackwatch.
“I don’t know. I’ve compared the profiles of every single victim and the only thing they all have in common is that they were a part of Overwatch.” Winston opened another file and the faces of agents flickered on the screen, one after another. They sat in solemn silence, watching the rapid succession of victims.
“When you said you were havin’ problems leadin’ Overwatch, I thought you meant you had less money for peanut butter.” Jesse leaned his hip against the desk, eyes still glued to the screen.
“Well, finances are tight, that much is true. I’ve managed to secure a few donations to our cause, so we should be able to better supply our own logistics beginning next month.”
Jesse perked up at this, eager at the thought of bountiful food. “That so? How’d you get people to pay up?”
Winston’s face shadowed ominously. “Talon might be the biggest danger to Overwatch, but they’re not the biggest danger to the world.” He waved a massive hand at the rightmost screen, the one labeled “SOC”. “This is my file on the Second Omnic Crisis.”
Jesse’s heart thudded against his ribcage. “What—the second? What’re you talkin’ about?”
“An omnium in Russia has gone rogue. Most of our investors are anxious citizens in the neighboring country of Kazakhstan.”
“…Winston, this would have been in the news. I might’ve been livin’ low, but I wasn’t under a rock. I woulda heard about this.”
“Russia is keen to keep this quiet. After the first Omnic Crisis, the nation prided itself on its independence from international organizations. For them to be the first showing symptoms of a second crisis would be a massive blow to their pride and political security.”
“Look, I really wish you’d stop sayin’ first and second crisis. There was only one. There will only ever be one. Just because a single omnium is havin’ some problems doesn’t mean the whole world is goin’ to collapse.”
Winston leveled a disappointed glance at him. “Do you really believe that?”
Omniums going rogue just did not happen after the Crisis. If a factory deviated from its designated production schedule by a single bolt, the whole operation was shut down for weeks until the administrators were sure that there was no danger of corrupted AI. He sighed. “Can’t blame a guy for hopin’, can ya?” Winston sniffed skeptically. “What’s on the first screen?”
“Oh, this is a file I have on a… well, I’m not really sure what to call him. He’s some sort of vigilante in Mexico and the southwest States. He first showed up about a year ago. At first I thought he was a Talon agent, but he probably would have caused more destruction by now if he was.”
“What’s his name? Maybe I heard of him. That’s pretty close to where I was hidin’.”
“I don’t know his name. Nobody does. The locals call him Soldado: 76.”
“Sounds like a low-tier type. Why’re you trackin’ him?”
Winston shifted on his tire seat uncomfortably. “He… he looks a lot like Morrison.”
Jesse stared. “Morrison? Jack Morrison? Strike Commander of Overwatch Morrison?” Winston nodded sheepishly. “Winston, big guy, there’s no way he survived Zurich. He was in the middle of the building, probably near the center of the blast. There were people who died that were in the outer buildings.”
“I know… but, they never found the body. I ran a visual comparison and they’re the same height and build and the same hair color, although it’s a bit shorter. Couldn’t analyze his face because he always wears a visor—” He was rambling now, and Jesse’s heart sank as he listened. He felt like he was telling a kid Santa wasn’t real.
“Winston.” The scientist stopped, eyes fixed on the screens. “There was no body because he was at the center of the blast. He probably didn’t have time to blink before he died. Remember they found Reyes?” Jesse felt his throat clog with emotion. “His body was torn up somethin’ awful, and he would have had twice as much distance to the explosion. This guy might sorta look like him, but he’s probably just another old soldier.” Winston didn’t turn to look at him, but he nodded. Jesse patted his shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting manner. “I wish he didn’t die, too. Hell, there’s a lot of folks I wish were still around. We gotta focus on what we got, though, not on what we lost.”
Damn, that was good. He should start taking his own advice sometime.
Winston forlornly closed the “76” file and sighed. “Well, I guess the real reason I asked for your help was to ask you if you knew any former agents who might consider joining us.”
He blinked at the sudden change in topic. “Didn’t everyone get the Recall?”
“If they still had their comms. I suspect that most people wouldn’t hold on to something like that, or at least not keep it charged. Lena kept hers on out of nostalgia, but I had to personally call Reinhardt and Torbjörn. I think Genji’s Overwatch comms are built into his, um, armor, and he told Dr. Ziegler. The point is, with Talon and another Crisis looming over us, we simply don’t have enough people to be an effective fighting force.”
Jesse’s eyes flitted to the screens displaying articles of Talon carnage and omnic destruction. In the first Crisis, Overwatch had been very small. Thirty of the world’s best soldiers, doctors, engineers, and technicians on a suicide mission with the world’s fate in the balance. Now, they numbered eight. Nine, if you included Athena. He didn’t.
“’m sorry, but ten years off the grid doesn’t afford me many contacts. I’ll do what I can, but you might be better off askin’ Lena or the others.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.” Winston removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Night had deepened during their discussion, but the half-moon didn’t provide any light to ease the harshness of the computer screens. Jesse was surprised to see the clock on the monitor read midnight. “Hopefully we can find a few extra hands before the next mission. I can’t keep sending the same people every time—you would all get burnt out—but we need to solve the cause behind the deaths of Overwatch agents.”
Jesse nodded solemnly. “Well, it ain’t a problem we can solve tonight. You should get some shut eye. We’re dependin’ on that sharp mind of yours to do all the thinkin’ for us shootin’ folk.”
Winston snorted. “We all know you’re not as dumb as you say you are, Jesse.”
“Why I never!” Slapping a hand over his chest in mock offense, Jesse’s lips curled in a mischievous smile, as he walked out of the lab. “How could anyone ever accuse me of such a thing! Good night, Winston.”
He ducked out the doorway, stretching his arms high above his head, wincing slightly as his spine cracked. God, he couldn’t wait to sleep. Since Shimada Asshole decided to wake him up at five that morning, Jesse was eager to recover his sleep deficit. He downed a glass of water to pacify his growling stomach and tossed himself on his bed. His boots barely had time to hit the floor before he passed out.
“Agent McCree, Hanzo Shimada has entered the shooting range.”
Jesse growled in irritation, sitting up in his bed to angrily tug on his boots. He glanced out the window to see that the moon was still high in the sky. “What time is it, Athena?”
“0307 local time.” He snarled out a string of curses. Throwing on his shirt from yesterday and snatching Peacekeeper from his nightstand, only one thought guided his actions: Shimada is going to fucking pay. The short walk and chill air wasn’t enough to cool his fury. The moment he entered the door, his revolver was raised, aimed directly at Shimada’s head, finger on the trigger. Shimada froze, eyes wide with fear. Clearly, he had expected Jesse to take this torment lying down. Surprise, mother fucker.
Shimada slowly raised his hands, palms outward, in a placating gesture. Jesse felt his blood rush through his ears, rage still running strong. He could kill him right now. Rid himself and Genji of this liability that provoked him at every turn. God, did he want to. It would be so easy. All he had to do was squeeze a little more—a shot cracked through the night. Shimada dropped to the ground face-first, barely catching himself with his hands. Jesse holstered Peacekeeper and left. He didn’t expect Shimada to follow him.
Then Jesse felt Shimada seize his upper arm. The white-hot rage nearly blinded him—he whirled about and caught Shimada’s wrist in a crushing grip with his prosthetic hand. Shimada grunted in pain, but he did not release him. “Why did you not kill me?” He ground out. Jesse only tightened his grip. “It was point-blank range. You missed on purpose. Why did you not kill me?”
“D’you want me to? Is this a god damn invitation? Because I’m strongly considerin’ acceptin’, friend.”
Shimada did not recognize the threat in Jesse’s final word. “I want an answer.”
Jesse released his hold, drew back his arm, and punched Shimada in the face. He heard the bone crunch more than he felt it. “There’s your fuckin’ answer.” Shimada stumbled back, hand covering his right eye. Then he straightened and faced Jesse, hands still clutching his face.
“What is your issue with me?” Shimada hissed through the pain.
Oh, that was it. “Are you serious? D’you think you’re funny or some shit? My issue with you is that after I came back to the only family that would have me, Genji asked me to help capture you. You, who tried to kill him, who mangled him and left him for dead. He wasn’t even askin’ me to help track you down for revenge. You see, he already knew where you were. He confronted you at some point, apparently. He found you after fifteen years when he couldn’t find me after ten. I fought alongside him, I took bullets for him, I helped him through the days where he hated himself so much that he wanted to jump off those cliffs”—Jesse jabbed a finger in the direction of the drop off—“because of what you did to him. Then, after half a decade of ‘finding himself’ with the Shambali he decides he wants to mend the bridge between you."
He huffed out a single, humorless laugh. "Of course, I can’t fuckin’ turn him down. That stupid mother fucker would get himself killed if he went off on his own. All enthusiasm, no plannin’. So I tag along. We get to that Italian villa and he runs off on his own anyway, leaving me to find your sorry ass. And I do find ya.
"Did you think it was odd that I didn’t kill you in that kitchen? It would have been easy. Coulda just dressed the scene up like you came after me. I woulda told Genji that you jumped me, it was self-defense. He would have been upset, but he would forgive me eventually.”
Shimada could only stare at him, motionless.
“I was outta bullets. I didn’t have a single round on me. Fired the last of them in the cellar. Lucky you.
“Then, not even a fuckin’ week after you two are reunited, y’all are already bosom buddies! I can’t even ask if he wants to grab lunch with me because he’s either moonin’ after Angela or with you every damn hour of the day. D’you know how many times it’s been just him and me since we dragged you outta the gutter? Twice.”
Now Shimada interrupted, tone astounded. “You dislike me because you are jealous that Genji wishes to spend time with his brother?”
“No. I am his brother. I hate you because he thinks blood is the same as bond.”
“What would you know of family?” Affronted, Shimada removed his hands from his face, his palms slick with scarlet. “What would you know of blood? If an illegal organization like Overwatch is all that will take you, what does it say of you?”
All at once, the anger fled. It abandoned him in the cool night, leaving only a bone-deep weariness. “It says all my family are dead. My sister. My brother. All my friends, all my mentors, my heroes, and my worst enemies. They’re all dead. I’m just tryin’ to keep Genji from facin’ the same fate.” Jesse shook his head. “That’s what tears me up about you. Your greatest mistake survived to forgive you. Mine didn’t.”
Jesse left. This time, Shimada let him.
Chapter 7: Recovery
Genji flopped gracelessly into his seat on the Lark, sighing belligerently. “I am so bored.”
“Then leave the plane and leave me alone.” Torbjörn said.
Nonplussed, Genji watched him bury deeper in the nest of pillows and blankets on his fully reclined chair.
Two days. It had been nearly two whole days since they had arrived at Numbani. Proven miracle worker she was, Angela somehow managed to secure them a landing and escorted the rescued scientist to the hospital without incident. The adrenaline and the tension of the Antarctica mission had been draining for all of them-- Lena had collapsed into a makeshift bed in the center aisle almost immediately after putting the plane in the hangar. “Flying for twelve hours straight takes a lot out of a girl,” she had said, pulling a sleeping cap low over her eyes.
But now it was late into the second night and Genji just couldn't sleep the hours away anymore. The Numbani officials, while kind enough to allow them to stay in their hangar, were adamant that only those with valid documentation could leave the plane. No one on the plane had a visa—except for Angela, of course, which was why she could help attend Miss Zhou in the hospital.
He didn't see what the big deal was. The airport took care of everything else, from restocking the plane every day for a modest fee to refueling to emptying the sewer tanks. Why wouldn't they just let him stretch his legs a bit? Breathe something other than stale, recycled air? Opening the Lark's door only did so much to air out the cramped jet. People stunk after three days without proper showers! Well, not him. His enhancements minimized body order. Really, more people should consider becoming cyborgs.
What was he-- oh right! It was only a matter of time before Angela declared her work finished. She had told him it would take only a day or two and to please be patient. So Genji was patient. In this case, being patient meant meditating for half a day before badgering Torbjörn for the next eight hours. He might have a minor concussion from when the engineer hit him with his welding kit. Iris, he needed off this plane.
“What time is it?” Genji asked aloud.
“Time to let me sleep, you confounded machine!" came Torbjörn's muffled shouts. "Call your brother. Bother him instead!”
“Oh! That’s a great idea, Torbjörn, thank you!”
“Just be quiet about it.” Torbjörn grumbled, rolling over.
Excited to finally have something to do, Genji dug his tablet out of his bag and then carefully stepped over a lightly snoring Lena to get to the cockpit. Once inside, he took a moment to admire all the buttons and switches. Being a pilot would be so cool.
He dropped into the captain's chair and grabbed the yoke, experimentally turning it and beyond excited to find he could. The plane wasn't turned on, surely it wouldn't matter if he flipped a few switches right? He picked a switch at random and flipped it. Nothing happened.
Behind his mask, Genji grinned. He turned around and peeked out the cabin. The other two were still snoring. Facing front again, he quietly said: "Major Tom to ground control, Flight 420 coming in for landing."
He pitched his voice up. "Ground control to Major Tom--" he gasped dramatically "--The Major Tom? The pilot who heroically saved a plane of orphans?"
"Oh, please, ma'am, I'm working. But-- yes, that was me."
"Wow, I never thought I'd meet the famous Major Tom! Could I have your autograph, sir?"
"Why don't you meet me in the pilot's lounge and I'll see what I can do for you. I'll sign anything, you know."
"Aaaany-- something's wrong!"
"The plane is listing. It's almost like-- the engine's on fire! No, two engines!"
"Major, you have to get to the landing strip!"
"No, it's too far, we'll never make it. I'm going to land us on the river."
"No, Major, don't! It's too dangerous!"
"I must, Angela! It's the only way we can save these people. Wish me luck!"
"I've always loved you, Maj--"
Genji clicked the imaginary radio off, focusing on landing the plane. He was drifting too far left, now too far right, no his approach angle was too high! He had to pull up or all was lost! He flipped some extra switches for some last minute dramatic flair before making the daring landing into the river-- click.
He stopped, staring at the hidden panel that slid back only after he pressed a yellow button. It was a cabinet, probably one that was designed for a pilot's personal items, but was currently filled with muffins.
What…? Lena had been hiding muffins from him this whole time?
An especially loud snore startled him, and he twisted in the chair to make sure the other two hadn't caught him… ah… conducting a hypothetical exercise. They didn't stir, but he was unwilling to finish the daydream. He'd pushed his luck enough for now.
Turning on his tablet, Genji hit the green video button next to his brother’s name.
It rung twice before Hanzo picked up. “Genji?”
“Hello, anija!” He frowned at the black screen. “You must turn on your video feed.”
“Must we speak in English?”
⟪Of course not,⟫ He said, switching languages seamlessly. ⟪Now turn on your camera.⟫
⟪I do not need a reason.⟫
⟪Is it because you don’t know how? I can walk you through it.⟫
⟪No. Stop pestering me.⟫
⟪Is it because you are naked? Did I catch you at a bad time, brother? I didn’t mean to interrupt your alone time.⟫ Genji never regretted losing his eyebrows as much as he did in that moment, waggling his brows all the same. It didn’t matter that he still wore his mask, his expressions were for his own benefit. The camera abruptly blinked to life, the screen depicting a glowering Hanzo.
Genji did a double-take. ⟪What the hell happened to your face?!⟫
⟪Nothing.⟫ Genji removed his mask so Hanzo could appreciate just how much he was rolling his eyes. ⟪An accident.⟫ Hanzo amended.
⟪Brother, your cheek is so swollen I can hardly see your eye, which is red from all the burst blood vessels, by the way. It is a very nice purple on your skin though. Brings out your eyes. Did you hire a hooker again?⟫
⟪You swore that you would never bring that up!⟫
⟪Genji, you irritating--⟫
⟪So, what happened?⟫
Hanzo sighed. ⟪I got in a fight.⟫
⟪Were they stealing your lunch money?⟫ Genji asked sympathetically.
⟪What are you talking about?⟫ He held up a hand. ⟪Never mind. Do not answer that. It was McCree.⟫
Genji sat bolt upright, his stomach somewhere near his feet. ⟪Oh my god, you didn’t kill him, did you? He’s a brother to me!⟫
A strange look passed over Hanzo’s face. He couldn’t quite decipher it, especially when the silence grew a beat too long and Genji thought that maybe he really did kill Jesse instead of only maiming him like he initially assumed.
⟪Of course I did not kill him.⟫ Genji sat back slightly in relief. ⟪Why does everyone assume that I am going to kill someone?⟫
⟪…Do you want an essay or is a bulleted list sufficient?⟫ He laughed at Hanzo’s indignant expression.
⟪Okay, but please, start from the beginning.⟫ He'd rather know how bad it was now, in case he had to call Jesse and bully-- ah, persuade him to get medical treatment.
Hanzo frowned. ⟪When you left, McCree started keeping track of me. I do not know how, but he always seemed to know where I was. He was particularly mindful whenever I entered the shooting range. He would stay in there for as long as I did, generally annoying me the whole time.⟫
Genji cocked his head. ⟪Why would he care about you being in there so much?⟫
Hanzo shrugged. ⟪I do not know. I was hoping you might have some idea.⟫
Genji shook his head. He would certainly be asking Jesse, though.
⟪Well, after the first day I became rather,⟫ Hanzo paused in the way he always did when he was trying to downplay a situation. ⟪Irritated. I decided that I would return his annoyances in kind. So I started going to the range for silly things as often as I could, disrupting his daily activities. I hoped that he would simply give up following me.⟫
Genji snorted. ⟪Clearly you do not know Jesse.⟫ His brother would have had an easier time taking a bone from a dog.
⟪Maybe so,⟫ Hanzo said reluctantly. ⟪But it seemed reasonable at the time. Last night I set an alarm for three in the morning and went to the range. As I predicted, McCree showed up and he was very angry. He punched me. That is all that happened.⟫
⟪That’s it?⟫ Genji asked skeptically. ⟪He punched you with hardly any provocation and then you parted ways? You didn’t fight back? You’re holding out on me, brother.⟫
⟪We argued.⟫ Hanzo admitted. ⟪It was nothing. It is nothing, I will ensure that it does not happen again.⟫
⟪How could it be nothing?⟫ Genji asked incredulously. ⟪You have a black eye! If you need me to talk to Jesse I can--⟫
⟪I do not wish to speak of this further.⟫
Genji clicked his jaw shut, clenching his teeth. They stared at one another, neither willing to back down. Minutes trickled past. Genji flopped back in the pilot’s chair. He was too grouchy for this and it was useless trying to out-stubborn his brother anyway.
⟪Fine. We’ll be back tomorrow anyway. I’ll interrogate you then.⟫ And Jesse, too, of course.
Hanzo sniffed imperiously.
⟪The scientist woke up, by the way.⟫
Hanzo's eyes softened. ⟪Really? Poor woman. I cannot imagine what it would be like to wake up and suddenly be seven years in the future. She is the only survivor of her team on top of it. I do not envy her.⟫
⟪Yeah. I haven’t seen her--I’m not allowed off this stupid plane—but Angela says she’s not adjusting well. Won’t talk to anyone. They’re contacting her family now. I think they’re transferring her to a Chinese hospital tomorrow.⟫
⟪What is the cover story?⟫
⟪What, you mean for us?⟫ He shrugged. ⟪I don’t think we really have one. Angela said there was a medical emergency and they let us land, no problem.⟫
⟪No, I mean for the scientist. You showed up with a severely dehydrated and malnutrioned woman last known to be in Antarctica and according to all records has been dead for seven years. Surely they wanted to know how we discovered her. You didn’t tell them about the cryostasis, did you?⟫
⟪How should I know?⟫ Genji said in what was certainly not a pout. ⟪I’ve been on the plane the whole time. Angela’s been handling all the details.⟫
⟪And she hasn’t told you anything? Don’t you find that suspicious? Are you truly willing to put that much trust in her?⟫
⟪Ugh, you’re starting to sound like Torbjörn. She saved my life, I think that’s reason enough to trust her. She’s never betrayed me.⟫
Hanzo visibly flinched away from the camera.
⟪Wait, no—Brother, I didn’t mean it that way!⟫ He sat on the edge of his seat, anxiously watching Hanzo’s face as it clouded with pain before closing off entirely.
⟪…I’m sorry. You are right. You are in a much better position to judge Dr. Ziegler’s character than I am. It is late. We should both get some rest. I wish you safe travels; I will see you tomorrow.⟫
⟪But—⟫ He stopped himself. Pushing his brother right now would only cause him further pain. As Hanzo said, they would see each other tomorrow. ⟪Okay. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Goodnight, brother.⟫
⟪Goodnight, Genji.⟫ The screen cleared unceremoniously.
Genji sighed softly before sliding his faceplate on. That had not gone the way he had hoped. He wanted to have a small chat, maybe get Hanzo to laugh a couple times. Instead, he accidentally throws Hanzo’s past back in his face. His brother was finally starting to relax around him and open up about their past, but now he’ll be lucky if they could talk about anything more personal than the weather.
And Jesse! It was grossly out of character for him to attack anyone without serious provocation. His best friend was very much a follower of the “speak softly and carry a big stick” philosophy. For him to lash out at Hanzo after an argument… either Hanzo seriously downplayed the severity of their argument-- which, typical-- or Jesse was under a lot more stress than he had presumed.
Genji grimaced and stood restlessly in the cabin, feeling the walls close around him. He needed out. His thoughts couldn’t breathe properly in this cramped tin can excuse for a private jet.
Taking extra care to be silent, he crept into the fuselage. Torbjörn and Lena were still sound asleep, evidenced by their snoring duet. Genji peered out the window, searching for any guards or airport employees. Seeing none, he opened the door just enough to slip through before dropping a meter to the ground below. Invigorated by a heady rush of adrenaline, he sprinted through the airport, relishing the opportunity to exert the full force of his skills. He scaled walls, leapt between hiding nooks, and stalked the shadows until he arrived in the city proper, undetected.
Numbani was beautiful, if quiet for such a large city. Glass paneled buildings soared above the landscape in elegant sweeps and curves. Soft blue lights illuminated the wide, clean streets. Small groups of people and omnics strolled through the evening ambiance, some dressed in white tie finery and others in colorful comfort. There was a family dressed to the nines, the father carrying his daughter on his shoulders who in turn held a shining trophy high.
The absolute harmony and peace the city breathed settled Genji’s agitated spirits and he soon found himself contentedly walking through Numbani’s inviting avenues. He blended in easier than he expected. Omnics were just as numerous as humans here and, unlike many of the world’s more populous cities, omnics stood on equal footing.
Master Zenyatta would love to see this, but then again it would only intensify his vision of a brighter future for omnics. Master's fervent pursuit of peace often led him into… troublesome situations. His heart panged unpleasantly as he remembered the ill-fated outreach mission to the poorest districts of San Francisco. The Silicon Valley was arguably the epicenter of the Omnic Crisis and the area around it still bore the horrendous scars. Only a few were physical.
Wanting to ground himself in the present, Genji looked up at the building before him, studying it. Rather than the reflective or translucent aesthetic favored by most of the city, this building’s glass walls were opaque. Funnily enough, he was fairly certain that this was the hospital Angela described. Wouldn't that be a convenient strike of luck? He couldn't read the language on the signs but-- oh, that crescent moon and star was fairly self explanatory wasn't it? It was definitely some sort of medical facility.
The doors slid open with a small woosh of air, ushering him into a wide lobby. The receptionist at the desk was omnic, dressed in a gold shirt reminiscent of Numbani’s traditional West African roots. They looked up at him as soon as he entered.
“Barka da yamma.” The synthesized voice was a pleasant tenor, and while Genji's sensors could oh-so-helpfully inform him the language was Hausa, he had no way of translating.
“Ah, I am sorry, would you happen to speak English? Matawa Nihongo.”
“Japanese?" The receptionist asked. "Not enough to provide adequate assistance, I am sure. How may I help you?”
“My friend was admitted here." Probably. "Her name is Mei-Ling Zhou. Could you point me in the right direction?”
“It is after visiting hours,” the receptionist noted disapprovingly.
“I know, but I have traveled a very long way to see her. I promise I won’t be long, I just need to see that she is safe.” The omnic watched him passively. “Please?”
The omnic stared at him sightlessly, photoreceptors blinking softly. Genji kept his breathing easy. The receptionist nodded.
“Very well. Take this visitor badge and if there is a red card on her door, do not enter. It is for her health. She is on the fifth floor, room 512. I'll have Mataimaki accompany you." A small drone detached itself from its docking station on the wall, coming to hover over Genji's shoulder. "It will ensure that you do not get lost."
“That is very generous of you,” Genji bowed gratefully. “Thank you.”
It did not take him long to find the right door. Mataimaki was quite insistent that he not stray from some unseen path to the room. There was indeed a red card on Mei’s door, but peeking in the window proved that the scientist was the only one in the room. Surreptitiously checking the back of the red card, Genji was pleased to find it colored green. Now all he had to do is block the drone's view, flip the card, and…. Yes!
Just as he suspected, Mataimaki did not have full AI. Some people might be lazy or intentionally insulting by calling a full AI "it", but omnics never made that mistake. The drone did not attempt to stop him from entering Miss Zhou's room. He was doubly pleased to discover that Mataimaki did not attempt to follow him, either. How considerate of the hospital to have this glaring security oversight!
He stepped into a dim room lit by a single lamp on a bedside table.
“Who... are you?” Miss Zhou's voice was soft, but heavy, as if motivating herself to speak pushed her to her body’s limits.
Genji gave her a once-over. The scientist was propped up slightly in the medical bed, her hands resting on her lap, one on top of the other. While she was still as frightfully thin as when they found her, some color had returned to her face and the EKG monitor beeped in a steady, reassuring rhythm. Even so, everything about her countenance spoke of utter exhaustion and loss. She watched him with half-lidded eyes and without raising her head from her pillow.
“Why do you ask in English?' He countered before realizing that answering a question with a question was rather rude. "Apologies. My name is Genji. I am a part of the team that rescued you.”
“Don't... worry about it," she said slowly, with long pauses for breath. "I don’t... speak... local language. English is... common tongue here.” She closed her eyes for a few moments before opening again. “You... took me... from the Ecopoint? You're... Overwatch?”
Genji hesitated. “Ah, I’m not sure how much Angela told you. I was part of the old Overwatch and, ah, now I am with the new Overwatch. You should not mention our return, though, as we are technically an illegal organization.”
“Oh... Yes. The... Petras Act. So much has... changed in seven years.” Her eyes fluttered shut again, but this time they remained closed. Just as he decided that she must have fallen asleep, she spoke.
“Who is... Angela?”
“Perhaps you know her as Dr. Ziegler.” Miss Zhou's eyes snapped open. He could feel the distrust in her gaze sharply. Why was she reacting this way? Angela was a saint to her patients. Was Miss Zhou the type to be distrustful of doctors? “Is something wrong?”
“How... much do you... know about... cryostasis?”
“Not much, I suppose. You freeze yourself and then thaw out at the end of it?” He tilted his head in confusion. “Actually, that is a good point. How does that work? Wouldn’t freezing yourself kill you in the process?”
Mei didn’t answer. She pointedly allowed the silence to grow. Under her baleful stare, it wasn’t long until Genji felt the pressure to change topics.
“So, ah, they are transferring you to a hospital closer to home tomorrow. Have you contacted your family?”
“What’s... left of them,” she answered bitterly. Her right hand weakly twirled a ring on her left. Genji’s heart sank when he recognized it as a wedding band. He bowed his head, trying to communicate his sorrow and regret.
“I am sorry. I wish... that it could have been different. I wish we could have arrived sooner.”
She didn’t respond. Her eyes shimmered and her lips were beginning to twist in emotional agony. Genji looked on in sympathy. He remembered how that expression looked on his own face all those years ago.
“I," he paused uncertainly. "I was lost once, too. I grew up thinking my family was everything. When they were gone, there was nothing for me to…” He sighed, ending the story before it could begin. Miss Zhou hadn't even had time to process her own situation. She didn't need him to overload her worse. “I know our situations are different, but if you ever need a home… Overwatch will be there for you.” He slid his comm card from its slot in his helmet. Taking hold of her hand, he pressed the chip into her palm. “Here. This is my personal comm chip. You can call any of those numbers if you need help. Winston is our leader. If you decide to join us or just need a place to stay, call him.”
She sniffed thickly. “Winston? The gorilla... scientist?”
“Unless you know any other scientist lunar gorillas in Overwatch?” His attempt at humor was timid and weak, but Mei’s lips twitched into a watery smile anyway.
“Thank you... Genji.”
“Of course. I wish you the best, Zhou Mei-ling.” He bowed formally to her before leaving the room. He closed the door with an inaudible click, turned around, and jumped nearly half a meter in the air.
“Genji! What are you doing here?” Angela hissed, trying to keep her voice from disturbing the other patients and doctors. Her eyes darted to Mataimaki repeatedly. “You’re supposed to be on the plane!”
“I needed to get out!" He defended. "Have you ever been in the same space with Torbjörn for 72 hours?” A light shudder passed through Angela’s frame. “Exactly! Besides, everything is fine as long as I get back to the front desk before my thirty minutes are—oh.”
Angela’s eyes widened beseechingly. “What did you do?”
Genji watched Mataimaki's small screen flash red. “Uh, just lost track of time a little. I’m sure it’s fine. I just need to get to the front desk.”
“Yes, yes, let’s walk and talk so they don’t send security after you.” She ushered him down the hall, anxious to get him out of the hospital. “They gave you a helper bot? To do what?”
“As a guide so I could visit Miss Zhou. She seems very sad.”
A small squeak of distress escaped her. “Her door had a red card! You weren’t supposed to go in there!”
“Well, I wasn’t supposed to leave the plane, either.”
“You are impossible.”
“You love me.” He grinned, sliding an arm around her slightly higher shoulders.
She sighed dramatically, rolling her eyes. “Against my better judgment.” She gently, but firmly removed his arm. He frowned, trying to ignore the ache that settled in his chest.
They paused at the elevator landing, waiting for the next car to arrive. Genji’s thoughts warred in his mind. He wanted to move at Angela’s pace, of course he did! He wanted to take his time, to be patient for her, wanted to gently press her against the wall and—wait, no. Patience.
“Hey, Angela?” God, I’m hopeless.
She reached forward to press the ‘down’ button again. “Yes?”
He took a deep breath, bracing himself. This was a terrible, awful, wonderful idea. “Do you think—would you like to try again? I mean, us?” The doors dinged before sliding open. Genji stepped in with her, studying her reaction.
She pressed her lips into a thin line. “I don’t know.” She paused, shifting on her feet, conflicted. She turned to him. “I still love you,” He grinned beneath his mask. Kiss her now! He began to lift his arm to remove his mask when-- “But you really hurt me.” Oh. He let his arm fall to his side. Kiss her later? “I understand why you left and I supported you entirely, but I don’t know if I can open myself up to that again.”
Genji winced. His departure from Overwatch had been abrupt and absolute. Angela had been crushed, obviously. Who wouldn't be if their sort-of kind-of boyfriend left you to join a bunch of hippie omnics in the mountains? She refused to talk to him for nearly a month afterwards. Compared to how they could barely go hours without a text before… well. Message received.
“I'm so sorry, Angela. I never meant to cause you so much pain.”
“No," she sighed. "Don’t apologize, Genji. I may be a doctor, but I can’t cure all wounds. I’m not a miracle worker.” Genji laughed softly, sweeping an arm over himself, referencing his recovery from near-death. She smirked. “Well, not always. We managed to save your body, but we couldn’t reach the real source of your pain and I’m... glad you found healing with the Shambali. Truly.”
A soft feminine voice announced their arrival on the ground floor. Genji returned Mataimaki to the front desk, thanking the receptionist profusely for their kindness. Once outside, Angela resumed the conversation.
“It did sting when I realized I couldn’t heal you. Saving lives in whatever way I can, no matter the cost, is my life’s work. That you didn’t need or... want me to do that hurt more than you leaving.”
"I shouldn't have left the way I did, though."
"No," she agreed. "You shouldn't have."
They walked together on Numbani’s main thoroughfare, not quite touching, occasionally brushing together. He didn't know what occupied Angela's thoughts, but for him? He could only where'd they be if he made only slightly different choices. If he had been a slightly better person.
“In the end," Angela said, bringing his attention back to her-- not that it ever strayed away for long. "I think I grew from it. I learned to accept that I have limitations. Zurich had a big hand in that, too.” She kept her eyes trained on the ground as she said the last bit. Genji tentatively took her hand, hoping to bring her some small comfort. She squeezed once before letting go.
Genji swallowed the hurt.
Angela stopped abruptly when the airport came into view. “How are we going to get you back in? I only have my own pass.”
“A ninja is nothing without his secrets,” he teased her half-heartedly. “Can we walk a little more?”
Genji took the opportunity to admire her profile. The luminescent blue lights that lined the streets of Numbani chilled her normally warm complexion and dulled her vibrant sapphire eyes. Her hair clung to the nape of her neck, stringy from the lack of proper showers. Dark circles shadowed her eyes. She was beautiful. A heavenly spirit walking the earth.
She nodded, turning about on a heel and leading them back into the city. Neither spoke. As much as he wanted to, he simply didn't know how to breach the silence. No destination guided their steps and he couldn't tell which of them was leading their wandering walk. They ended up in a back alley, although in Numbani it didn’t carry the connotation of abandoned or shady. A sheer cliff of glass soared above them on one side while in front of them, a series of benches ringed a small circular garden. By unspoken agreement, they sat with their backs to the city. The savanna sprawled before them, illuminated in silver light from the waxing half-moon.
“We do not have to decide tonight.” Genji finally said, not looking at her for fear of losing his nerve. “If you already know that you don’t… that we are better off as friends, I will accept that.” He fidgeted in place. He really did not want to remove his mask. That thin but invaluable shield was his last defence, his most personal barrier. He knew it was right, though, for what he had to say next. He removed it carefully, taking a shuddering breath.
“I just want you to know that you are right." He swallowed. "I left so I could make myself a better man, but it wasn’t for you. It was for me. I don’t think people can change for the sake of others, it must be for themselves. But... it was because of you that I felt I could be more than what I was. You acted as though I was good, as if I was kind, and we both know that I was neither of those things at the time.” He quirked his lips at her. She mirrored the expression, no doubt reminiscing about their first few disastrous interactions.
“It made me feel as if I should be those things. Even in the very beginning I was enamored with you, but I resented you for the way you made me feel—as if I wasn’t good enough for you." He took a deep breath, willing his heart to not beat quite so loudly. "As we got to know each other and eventually started dating, that feeling never really went away. It was just easier to bury under stronger emotions, like respect. And admiration. Happiness. And love.” His voice softened with every word, ending barely above a whisper.
He reached for more words, to better explain the transcendent effects of his love for her. They all escaped him, dancing out his reach on the wind. He glanced over to her helplessly.
Angela was smiling at him. It was small, close-lipped, and a little bit sad. He felt desperation well up within him. When he started this discussion, he thought he was ready to accept her answer, but as the likelihood of rejection rose with every passing second, he felt the weight of loss threaten to overwhelm him. He could feel his eyes watering.
She reached for him. She put one soft hand on his cheek, and then the other. He reached up to cover her hand, holding it against his face. She gently pulled him towards her. He closed his eyes. The kiss was soft and gentle and chaste and absolutely heart rending. He knew he was crying. She drew back, their lips catching briefly before separating. She swiped her thumb across his cheek, dragging a tear away.
“Hey, it’s okay.” She searched his face, concern overlaying her small smile. “Are you okay?”
Genji soundlessly nodded his head. Then he shook his head. She gave a watery chuckle, and he realized for the first time that he wasn’t the only one with wet eyes.
Angela scooted across the bench, slotting herself into his side. He wrapped his arms tightly around her, relishing the contact. They held each other and watched the moon climb higher into the sky.
“I missed you,” she whispered. He held her closer, dipping his head into the crook of her neck.
“And I missed you.” He snuck a small kiss on her throat, eliciting a giggle and a playful shove. “And I love you.”
She turned her face up at him with a smile so wide and warm he swore he was falling all over again.
“I love you too, Genji.”
Chapter 8: Requests
Jesse woke suddenly to the sound of a blaring alarm. He slammed his fist on the sturdy clock, temporarily silencing it for the next ten minutes. Bonelessly falling back on the thin pillow he closed his eyes tightly, an aftertaste of blood and anger heavy on his tongue.
Please be a dream.
He groggily dragged his palm over his face, reluctantly opening his eyes to investigate his hand’s unusually rough texture. A white bandage stretched around his palm and when he twisted it around to examine his knuckles, he could see the pink stain bleeding through the fabric.
Wasn’t a dream. He actually hit Genji’s brother. Fuck.
Throwing the covers away from him, he rolled out of bed. Disguising it as cleaning his disorderly room, Jesse paced the floor. He lost it last night. He fuckin’ lost control and now he’s going to face the consequences, what the hell was wrong with him, he knew better, he was better than this—except no, he wasn’t. Jesse abruptly stopped pacing, clenching and unclenching his hands as he tried to regain control of his thoughts.
First and foremost, Jesse was a runner. He’d long ago come to terms with this particular flaw, nestled somewhere between his talent for lying and his propensity for laziness. The truth of it was he’d sooner abandon his problems than fight them. Ain’t any problem too big to leave behind, he'd always say. He had run from trouble to Deadlock, from Deadlock to Blackwatch, from Blackwatch to life as an outlaw, and if Genji hadn’t caught him he would have run away from the Recall, too. It’s only when he’s cornered that he fights, and last night Shimada just wouldn’t let go. He half-sat, half-fell on his bed, staring at the bandage on his hand.
Would Genji forgive him for this? He chuckled mirthlessly at his own thoughtless question. If Genji could forgive his brother for attempting to murder him, he’d surely forgive Jesse for breaking Shimada’s face. Hell, he’d probably applaud Jesse for his restraint. That didn’t mean there wouldn’t be consequences, though.
Genji would lose faith in him. Shimada would gain favor. He’d be expected to play nice, to make more of an effort at civility. If he didn’t… Genji might forgive him, but if he was forced to choose between his brother and Jesse, there was no guarantee that Jesse would come out on top. And really, why would he choose Jesse? For nostalgia? For old time’s sake? Not when he had finally reconnected with the only blood relation he had left in the world. No, when push came to shove, Genji would choose Shimada.
By fighting off Shimada last night, Jesse had only managed to back himself into another corner. A civil truce would no longer be an option when Genji inevitably discovered their fight, it would be a necessity. An ultimatum between staying or leaving. The only question was if Jesse could manage it. There’s a lot he’d do for Genji’s sake, but a truce is a two person problem and he punched the other half of the equation. He’d be one miracle short of sainthood if he managed to sweet talk Shimada into an armistice. Might as well save himself the trouble and pack now.
He looked around his room, at his hat hanging on the wall, his boots by his bedside, his few possessions scattered over the desk and on the floor. If he took his time, it might take him half an hour to gather all his things. He sighed, worn and weary. Which came first, traveling light or traveling often?
Hanzo tossed the tablet on his desk, leaning back in his chair with eyes closed, brows furrowed. Today had been absolute shit. All day he vacillated between indignant fury over last night’s confrontation and contemplative shame over McCree’s subsequent confession. He thought he understood McCree before. A simple kind of man, easygoing but quick to anger and not particularly complex in thought or emotion. The American’s vindictive pleasure in causing Hanzo pain and discomfort reinforced his caricature as a violent thug.
That’s why he had been so terrified when the man aimed his revolver at him that morning. As Hanzo had defined him, McCree would shoot him and wash his hands of his existence without a glimmer of guilt. But then he missed, with less than three meters between them. It was such a drastic departure from Hanzo’s expectations that he pursued him and demanded an explanation. He winced, absently rubbing his severely bruised wrist, remembering the sound of his own bones crunching underneath a metal fist.
He still didn’t like McCree, unrefined and vulgar as he was, but he did hold him at a new level of respect. Unlike the fight at villa, Hanzo didn’t have the excuse of deep wounds to explain away McCree’s physical prowress. His own lack of focus and arrogance directly contributed to his embarrassing defeat, but McCree’s strength and startlingly quick reflexes secured it. The unexpected skill would have forced him to reevaluate the cowboy entirely, but not as thoroughly as his final words inspired.
Would he still think himself superior to McCree without that searing speech tearing apart all Hanzo’s preconceptions? The punch made him pay attention to his words, but the content of his impassioned rant is what truly forced him to acknowledge McCree as an equal. He could dismiss vengeance and blind loyalty as indicators of lesser character, but McCree’s story spoke of duty and defense of a brother. The last point was a very... recent understanding, gift of Genji’s holovid call.
Genji’s concern for McCree was unsurprising given their extensive history, but the same could not be said for his declaration that the cowboy was a brother to him. Hanzo had assumed that McCree’s sense of brotherhood was one-sided, that Genji assigned the same flippant importance to McCree as he did all his ever-changing roster of friends in the past. It wasn’t a large stretch of imagination; McCree’s parting words spoke of a loneliness that would make any man susceptible to forming strong bonds with a person simply for giving him the time of day. That Genji substantiated McCree’s sentiments changed the tone and meaning behind all the latter’s actions.
Were their positions reversed, would Hanzo not take the same precautions against a stranger with a violent past? Would he not harbor the same anger and resentment against the man who once called Genji brother? Would it not be the ultimate betrayal to have his brother in arms abandon him in favor of a failed brother in blood? Hanzo grimaced, recalling Genji’s casual reference to his own betrayal.
If Genji calling McCree a brother coaxed him into a new understanding, realizing the full implications of Genji reigniting their relationship at the cost of McCree’s was a paradigm shift. McCree did not abandon his brother even in the face of this apparent treachery. He actually assisted Genji in finding and capturing Hanzo, prioritizing Genji’s health and happiness over his own misgivings and disappointment. Realizing that McCree was a better brother to Genji than Hanzo ever had been inspired both crushing guilt and infinite gratitude. The guilt he was well acquainted with, but the relief he felt in the marrow of his bones knowing McCree cared for his younger brother in his absence was foreign and strange.
The animosity between himself and McCree was no longer acceptable. It dishonored his brother to treat the American with such disrespect and derision as he had the past week.
He gingerly pressed a finger to his cheek, wincing at the fiery pain that flared across his face at the light touch. It would be difficult to persuade McCree of his solemn intentions. The likelihood of becoming easy companions was not high. No matter. Friendship might be out of their reach and willingness, but Hanzo would not allow an ally of his brother to be an enemy of his own. Genji would return tomorrow and Hanzo would show him that the confrontation with McCree truly wasn’t anything to worry about.
Resolute in his decision, he pulled on his slate gray hoodie, careful not to put pressure on his cheek. The evening’s mild weather was still too warm for the extra layer, but Hanzo did not want to display the bruises on his wrist. There was nothing he could do about his face, unfortunately, but one bruise was easier to pass off as an accident than a series of bruises.
Once outside, he paused in the middle of the courtyard, realizing he didn’t know where to find McCree. He immediately ruled out triggering whatever alarm system McCree set up in the range. Even if he did choose to show up, Hanzo doubted summoning him in such a manner would put him in an amenable mood. He hesitated for another moment, scanning his surroundings for a suggestion. Across the courtyard, the kitchen’s window glowed warmly. There. Short, quick strides carried him across the open space and into the bright room. Inside, Reinhardt and Brigitte chatted amiably and loudly over the remains of their meal—something with a savory scent and brown sauce.
“Hanzo! I did not know you were joining us for dinner.” Reinhardt said, frowning regrettably. “I would have made more.”
“No, it is fine. I am looking for McCree. Do you know where I can find him?”
Brigitte rose a brow in his direction. “Are you going to ask him to give you a matching black eye? I can save you the trouble of searching.”
Reinhardt crossed his massively muscled arms. “If you keep that up, Brigitte, I won’t give you any of my famous German chocolate cake!” His assistant squawked in protest and he chuckled before returning his attention to Hanzo. “I must ask what you want with him. I do not want either of you to end up in the med bay while our doctor is away.”
“I have no intention of fighting him.” Reinhardt did not respond, looking nonplussed. Hanzo cast his gaze to the side. “I only wish to speak with him. And… perhaps apologize.”
“I see.” The Crusader rumbled, leveling a skeptical gaze at him. Hanzo struggled not to fidget under the evaluating stare. “He lives in room 1-377. Climb the stairs to the next floor and follow the signs to the third block. It is easy to find from there.” Relieved that he passed the unspoken test, Hanzo nodded his thanks and scurried out of the kitchen. Reinhardt’s booming voice called after him: “And good luck, mein freund!”
In what felt like only moments, Hanzo found himself standing in front of door 1-377. This was a terrible idea. McCree was going to punch him in sight. He rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the tension in his back and arms. The things he did for Genji.
He knocked on the door and took a step back, safely out of arm’s reach. Then another step, for the sake of caution. The sound of shuffling on the other side of the door reached him: footsteps crossing the floor, the clink of glass, and a call of “just a minute!” The door opened wide, light spilling onto Hanzo before a tall shape blocked most of it.
McCree stood before him, dressed in his typical attire—jeans and a flannel shirt, although the sleeves were rolled up to the elbow this time— a tumbler of dark amber liquid in his hand and a half-hearted smile in an open expression. An expression that clouded immediately when McCree realized who his visitor was. The door narrowed, now only just wide enough for McCree to watch him suspiciously, closing off the room from Hanzo’s view.
“What d’you want?”
Hanzo eyed the glass doubtfully. He did not wish to have this conversation if there was a chance McCree might not remember. This was a one-time only apology. “You are not drunk, are you?”
“I’m already wishin’ I was,” he said before downing the two fingers of alcohol.
“No, do not—fine.” Hanzo shoved his hands in the pocket of his sweater. “I want to start over.”
McCree snorted, lip curling in distaste as he stepped back and began to close the door. A brief moment of indecision as Hanzo wrestled with his sense of self-preservation before he lunged at the door, shoving his foot in the door jamb. “Hear me out! I am doing this for Genji, if you care anything for him you will want to listen to what I have to say.” The door opened again and McCree rushed in to fill the space. Hanzo flinched but stood his ground.
“You’ve got some gall sayin’ that to me.”
“I know, I apologize, but I need to speak with you.” He watched McCree warily, ready to leap back at the slightest indication of violence.
McCree folded his arms. “Well? I’m waitin’.”
No sense in waiting for another invitation. “Genji considers you to be a brother. I did not understand the depth of your relationship before. I did not know your history or that you protected him or—“
“Cut to the chase.”
His brow twitched in irritation. “I want to thank you.” Formal custom would dictate that he bow to convey his sincerity, but he could not quite convince his stiff body that it was safe to do so.
“Come again?” Utter confusion reigned supreme on the taller man’s features.
“For taking care of Genji in my absence.”
“In your absence?”
He could hear the outrage building in McCree’s voice and decided to intervene before his fist found the other half of his face. “Yes. I had no way to know he lived. I spent the past fifteen years bringing honor to an empty shrine instead of guiding and protecting him.”
“Y’know, if you hadn’t tried to kill him in the first place, maybe you wouldn’t have had that problem.” McCree’s accusing stare was fiery enough to burn holes in the souls of lesser men. It annoyed Hanzo.
“I cannot change the past, but I can shape the future. That is what I’m here for. Genji should not have to choose between two brothers.” There it was—the change in demeanor. McCree drew back slightly, allowing Hanzo room to breathe easy. He could see that the wariness had not left the man’s eyes, but now it was joined by cautious curiosity. “I have no intention of leaving him and I suspect that neither do you.”
“…What are you proposin’?”
“That the friend of my brother is my friend as well.” McCree’s expression soured. “Or at least, is not my enemy,” he quickly amended.
McCree narrowed his eyes, staring down the length of his nose. Hanzo had to crane his neck back to meet the challenging stare. Why did Americans have to be so damn tall?
“Wait here.” The door slammed in his face. He took a few hasty steps back, not sure if McCree wanted to sucker punch him again. The door opened abruptly and McCree stepped out, a brown leather jacket hugging his shoulders. Without speaking or even looking his way, McCree walked right by him to the stairs.
“What—where are you going?”
“Kitchen. You comin’?”
Hanzo gritted his teeth, growling a few choice explicatives in Japanese before padding after the taller man. McCree continued to ignore his presence, striding into the shared kitchen without holding the door open. The room was empty; Reinhardt and Brigitte must have already cleaned their dishes and left. Good. Fewer witnesses.
He shot an incredulous look at McCree. “I am not a dog.”
“Suit yourself.” McCree began rummaging through a series of cabinets, pulling out two mugs and bowls. He watched, bemused, as McCree pulled out a tupperware box and placed the two mugs underneath the coffee maker.
“I do not drink coffee.”
“Good to know,” McCree said dismissively, not pausing in his preparations as filled the bowls with whatever brown glop resided in the tupperware. He placed the bowls in the microwave and returned to foraging through the cabinets. Arms full, McCree deposited a roll of paper towels, a large packet of saltine crackers, and a small bowl of cheddar cheese in the center of the dining table. The microwave dinged in tandem with the coffee maker and Hanzo realized that this must be a frequent ritual for the man to time it so well. McCree deposited both bowls on the table, grabbed the coffee mugs, and sat down in one of the chairs.
Hanzo could only frown in confusion.
McCree glanced up at him, before rolling his eyes. “Sit your ass down.”
Hanzo obliged. “What is this?” The food in the bowl appeared to be some kind of stew—though there was no broth— and the scent wafting off the mugs was certainly not coffee.
“Dinner. Can’t be friends until you share a meal.”
Oh. McCree was accepting his offer. This was his way of sealing the deal, so to speak. Hanzo looked at the meal in trepidation, poking at it with his spoon. Turning it down would be extremely disrespectful, but the prospect of eating mystery meat was not very appealing.
“Just try it," McCree said. How embarrassing to be caught hesitating... "It’s spicy. Just so you know. I usually make it a bit more mild when cookin’ for others, but I made this batch ‘specially for me.”
Cautiously, Hanzo took his first bite. Heat flooded his mouth, followed swiftly by a full, hearty flavor. Swallowing, he shoved another spoonful through his lips. McCree was right, it was spicy, almost more than he could bear, but it was also delicious. He tentatively cleared his throat. “This is good. What is it?” Without thinking, he reached for his mug, taking a small sip. A surprised hum escaped him when he realized it wasn’t coffee but a very sweet black tea with minty overtones.
“Chili. Picked up the recipe somewhere in east Texas. It’s mostly ground beef and chili beans, but it’s got some tomato and green chilies in there, too. Spices, too, of course, but that’s the secret part of the recipe. You can add in some cheddar if it’s too spicy, or throw some crackers into it.”
As McCree spoke, Hanzo dropped a spoonful of cheese in his bowl, but glanced up in confusion at the mention of crackers. A wry smile spread across McCree’s face and Hanzo was struck by how nice it felt to not be the subject of the cowboy’s ire. McCree tore open the saltine packet, pulling five or so crackers. He brought his hands together over his bowl and crushed, letting small bits of cracker fall into his bowl.
“Normally I eat it plain, but I s’pose I need the calories anyhow.”
Hanzo mimicked McCree’s demonstration before mixing it all together with his spoon, taking an experimental bite. The spicy heat had indeed dulled down without sacrificing the flavor of the chili.
“Should we discuss…?” he began uncertainly, watching as McCree practically inhaled his meal.
“I don’t talk business at the dinner table.”
Hanzo hummed in agreement. This is not how he thought his day would end, but he couldn’t say it was unwelcome. They finished their meal without speaking, although the contented slurps and scraping of spoons against ceramic bowls prevented total silence.
“Thank you for the meal, McCree.”
“Don’t thank me yet," he chuckled. "Folks who ain’t accustomed to my kind of spicy tend to visit the porcelain throne.”
Unsure if McCree was joking, he stared, face twisted in consternation. McCree burst out laughing, full and rich. He felt his ears burn in embarrassment.
“Nah, the only guy who had a problem with it was from the northeastern part of the States, where they think salt is a spice.” McCree gave a mock shudder. “Yankees.”
He couldn't understand it. McCree seemed so… relaxed. Here Hanzo was, sharing a meal with a man who had pointed a gun at him twice with every intention of pulling the trigger, and McCree didn't seem to care. How does such anger and distrust just… melt away? Even when he had watched the cowboy interact with his friends from afar there had been an edge to his smiles, a deliberate balance of easiness and wariness. Was it because of him that McCree was always so tense? Is he only now relaxing because Hanzo offered peace?
“Uh, you all right there?”
Startled out of his thoughts, he felt his ears flush again as he realized he had been staring. “Ah, yes, my apologies. I am just... surprised at how willing you are to accept my offer.”
“Here’s the deal, Shimada--”
He winced. “Please, do not call me Shimada. I abandoned that name when I abandoned the clan. My name is Hanzo.”
McCree held up his hands in apology. “If you insist. Here’s the thing, Hanzo, I was goin’ to ask you the same. About makin’ a truce.”
“Yup. I already told you, I only have a handful of people worth trustin’ in my life and Genji is forefront among ‘em. I’m sure it’ll surprise you to no end that I’m completely aware of where I stand in Genji’s life. I ain’t as important to him as you are. I don’t begrudge him for it; I know if my little brother walked out of his grave tomorrow I’d drop everythin’ for him.” McCree Rose from the table, collected their dirty dishes, and deposited them in the sink.
Hanzo stood. “Please, let me clean the dishes. It is only fair, as you provided the meal.”
McCree held up his hands and backed away from the sink. “Don’t let me dissuade you then, I hate washin’ dishes." He leaned against the opposite wall. "Anyway. What I’m gettin’ at is that when Genji gets back tomorrow and sees what I did to you, he might ask me to leave. Hell, I’d even say it’s likely.”
Hanzo bit his cheek. McCree didn’t know about his call with Genji. He didn’t know that Genji already saw the damage, but informing him would tip the bargaining power out of Hanzo’s favor. He remained silent.
“I ain’t gonna lose my best friend because of you. If that means buryin’ the hatchet, then so be it. But let me be plain.”
Hanzo stopped scrubbing a bowl when McCree didn’t continue. He twisted around to see McCree pinning him with steely eyes.
“If you hurt Genji or any of Overwatch in any shape or form, I will kill you.”
“You think yourself so skilled that you would succeed?”
“I don’t consider survivin’ a part of the victory conditions.”
He stared at McCree, trying to find any evidence of a bluff. He found none. “Very well.” Hanzo turned back to the sink, trying to ignore the instincts that insisted he keep the enemy in his field of view. “What are the terms of this truce?”
“We already covered the no hurtin’ part, but I would add that I expect you to join Overwatch formally.”
The bowl clattered into the sink. “What?”
“You’re wastin’ Overwatch resources sittin’ on your ass. You’re gonna pull your weight. Any mission I go on, you go on.”
Hanzo gaped at him. “You trust me to watch your back?”
“Hell no. I trust you to know that if I don’t make it back from a mission you’re gonna be suspect numero uno.”
“Fine. I have terms as well.”
“Oh no, you don’t get any terms.”
“How is that fair?”
“You’re the one who came to me callin’ for a truce. I get to call the shots.”
“You just said that you were going to do the same!”
“But I didn’t.”
“You are insufferable.”
“I’m a god damn delight. I’ll humor you, though. What terms were you interested in?”
“You will stop following me.”
A smug smile spread across McCree’s face. Hanzo’s fingers flexed unconsciously, itching to erase the look from his features. “I ain’t followin’ you.”
“How do you know when I am in the range, then?”
“Ain’t your business. I’m not followin’ you, though.”
“Fine, then stop hovering while I am in the range. I do not require a chaperone.”
“I beg to differ, partner. Only a fool would leave his enemy unattended near a weapons cache.”
“Then a fool you are, for I am never without my weapons.”
“Please tell me this ain’t a set-up to a ‘my arms are guns’ joke.”
“What? No, I am referring to my bow.”
McCree’s laughter boomed through the small kitchen. Hanzo gritted his teeth and glowered at the cowboy. Catching the irritated look on his face, McCree stilled. “You’re serious?” He nodded. A red flush crawled up McCree’s cheeks, he had to look twice before he realized that, yes, McCree was blushing. “Oh.” The cowboy’s voice seemed small without its usual bluster. “I thought it was just a hobby.” McCree reached up with his flesh hand, rubbing the back of his neck. “Alright, I guess that’s fair then. I’ll stop badgerin’ you in the range. Guess I’ll know who killed Reinhardt if there’s a big arrow stickin’ out of his neck.”
“I would never--!”
“Yeah, yeah, you’ve seen the light, you’re a new man, whatever. Is there anythin’ else we need to cover?”
Placing the dried bowls in the cabinet, Hanzo tilted his head thoughtfully. “What will we tell Genji?”
“The truth. We made a truce. I still don’t trust you and you still don’t like me. I don’t wanna pretend to be friends or any of that shit.”
Hanzo nodded. “These terms are acceptable.”
The chair scraped against tile as McCree stood up, hand extended. “All that’s left is to shake on it.”
Hanzo resisted rolling his eyes at the Western tradition, instead taking McCree’s large and surprisingly cold hand in his before giving a firm shake. McCree nodded in satisfaction before turning to leave the kitchen. He raised a hand as he passed through the doorway.
“G’night, Hanzo. Don’t forget to talk to Winston in the mornin’.”
Hanzo watched him leave, lips pressed thin. What did he just get himself into?
Chapter 9: Reputation
Content warning: there's a fight where the insult get a little personal, not sure how to label it exactly.
Genji pulled up short at the bottom of the jet’s airstair. As he expected, the Overwatch members who had remained at the Watchpoint had all turned out for the Antarctica team’s return. As he did not expect, Jesse and Hanzo were standing side by side. The distance between them was awkward, as though attempt at closeness contrary to their natures. It reminded him of forcing two magnets together as a child, trying to overcome natural laws by force of will alone. It was bizarre.
“Oof!” A sudden force at his back had Genji twisting around, catching Angela before she could crash to the ground.
His lips twitched. “I see that you are falling for me all over again.”
She huffed and slapped at his chest. “I wouldn’t be falling at all if you didn’t stop so suddenly.”
He gently set her back on her feet, subtly tilting his head toward his brother and best friend. Her blue eyes followed the motion, catching sight of the odd duo. She breathed out a shocked “oh” before practically flying to Hanzo.
“What happened to your face? How long have you been without medical attention? Why didn’t you call me?” Hanzo backpedaled from the doctor, eyes wide.
Hm. Probably should’ve mentioned their fight to Angela. Genji shrugged mentally, walking to join the group. Oh well.
Jesse rose a brow at the doctor, wisely taking a step back from her questioning. “Well, hello to you too, Doc.”
A hiss escaped Hanzo when Angela prodded his cheek. “Please, Dr. Ziegler, there is no cause for alarm. I have suffered worse before.”
“I was not your medical provider before! We are going to the clinic immediately. I need to examine the injury.”
Discomfort stretched across Hanzo’s face. Well, it wouldn’t really help Hanzo, but maybe his brother would feel better if Genji put up a token defence for him. “Angela, it is only a bruise.”
She shot him a withering glare. Yeah, no, Hanzo was on his own.
“I’m sorry, who attended eight years’ worth of medical school at two top-tier institutions? I am the doctor here. You,” Hanzo shrunk under her steely gaze, “follow me.”
“Um, Dr. Ziegler?”
Genji glanced over his shoulder, surprised to see Winston approaching. Behind the gorilla’s massive figure he could see Torbjörn reuniting with Reinhardt and Brigitte.
Angela whirled, baring her teeth in what might have been meant as a grin. “Yes?”
Poor Winston blinked in confusion at her acidic tone. “Oh, uh, I just wanted to say welcome back.” Angela softened, a more genuine smile smoothing out her features. “It’s only ten and it’s been a long journey for everyone, so I, um, moved the debrief to after dinner. We’ll cover your mission and then discuss, uh, possible upcoming missions.”
She laid her comparatively small hand on his thickly furred shoulder, smiling brightly. “That is very thoughtful of you, Winston, thank you! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must attend to my patient.”
Hanzo’s eyes darted to him, pleading for intervention. Snickering, Genji only gave a cheery wave goodbye and admired the view as Angela led Hanzo away, her heels clicking sharply on the road. Winston shook his head in bemusement before returning to Lena.
Jesse was still standing beside him, nonchalantly chewing on an unlit cigar, looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world. His silence betrayed him, however. He never allowed quiet to linger unless there was excellent incentive for him to avoid conversation.
“So,” Genji began. Jesse shifted his weight on his feet. “You and Hanzo?”
A beat passed. “What about it?”
“That was a rather large bruise on his face.”
Jesse chewed a little faster.
“What is the story there?”
“Dunno. Maybe he had a training accident with that bow of his or somethin’.”
“Yes, or something.” Genji agreed dryly, only mildly disappointed that Jesse didn’t take the opportunity to come clean. “Perhaps he simply fell. Into your fist. Repeatedly.”
Jesse winced. “You already knew.”
“Of course,” he said, exasperated. “But I would like to hear your side of the story. Hanzo insists that the issue has been resolved. Seeing the two of you tolerating each other’s presence has led me to believe that either he is being honest, or you are both trying very hard to lie.”
“Ain’t that the same thing?”
Genji shrugged, waiting for Jesse to address his question. Normally, this tactic didn’t work on him, but that’s only when other people tried to outwait Jesse. Genji knew he only had to hold his silence long enough for the guilt to start eating Jesse from the inside, which ended up being only half a minute.
“Hanzo wasn’t lyin’. We struck a truce. We ain’t friends or anything, but we won’t fight anymore.”
Genji tipped his head in acceptance. “Not that I am displeased with this development--” honestly, he was pretty ecstatic to hear they were more or less getting along “--but I do not understand. What caused your change of heart?”
“First of all, I still don’t trust the guy. It’s not like we shared s’mores, sang kumbaya, and called it a night.” Pity. “Second,” Jesse discreetly flicked his eyes over their surroundings, ensuring no one was within earshot, instantly making Genji deathly curious. When he spoke again, his voice was much lower. “Second, Talon is still actively hunting agents.”
Jesse nodded solemnly, to Genji’s horror. “Not just Blackwatch agents, neither. Overwatch agents. Hundreds of ‘em. Apparently Winston has been keeping track of everyone since the fall. He’s probably gonna bring this up at the debrief tonight, but I think he wants to go after Talon.”
“Iris,” he breathed, taking it all in. He shook his head. “Winston underestimates Talon. We cannot fight them when we only number eight.”
“I agree. That’s why I got Hanzo to join. It’s still not anywhere close to what we need, but—“
Genji stilled, processing Jesse’s words. “You—Hanzo has joined Overwatch?” After constantly inviting him for weeks, Hanzo joins the moment Genji is away? Typical.
“Yeah, this mornin’. It’s part of the truce. He’ll go on all the same missions that I do; I don’t trust him on his own.”
He wasn’t irritated that Hanzo accepted Jesse’s invitation but not his. He wasn’t. “So you hear Talon is still targeting agents and then coerce my brother into joining Overwatch? At this point, I think you are just acting out an elaborate assassination plot.”
“Now that’s just uncalled for!” Jesse removed the cigar from his mouth and lit it, taking a deep draw before cocking a grin. “What’s more honorable than dyin’ in the line of duty, anyhow?”
“Jesse.” His best friend's rich laugh pealed through the air and Genji grinned despite himself. “Ugh, I almost miss Torbjörn.”
“Ouch. Really know how to step on a guy’s heart, don’t you?”
Hearts. Why did he feel like there was something important about-- oh right! Genji cleared his throat, inexplicably nervous. “Speaking of hearts… Angela and I are together. Officially.”
Jesse blinked at him in surprise before laughing loudly. “You dog!” Genji pitched forward as Jesse enthusiastically patted him on the back. “Bout damn time, too. We should celebrate!”
Genji breathed a small sigh of relief-- wait, no. Sigh of, ah… satisfaction, yes! He couldn’t be relieved because he hadn’t been nervous. Right? Right. “Perhaps later this week,” he answered Jesse. “I need to rest before the meeting tonight.”
Jesse’s smile flickered. Concerned, he tried peering up into Jesse’s face, but the moroseness—did he just imagine it?—was already gone, replaced by a sly grin.
“Alright, then. Make sure you let Angela rest, too.”
Genji grunted in annoyance. “You know that is not what I meant!”
Jesse winked mischievously, tipping his hat in a silent goodbye before striding away.
“Unquestionably, the Antarctica mission was a success.” Winston shuffled a stack of papers, pulling out a report seemingly at random.
The agents gathered around the table—Hanzo included, to Genji’s everlasting astonishment—listened attentively.
“Our goal was to salvage data in whatever form we could, discover the fate of the scientists, and rescue any survivors. We collected a total of thirty-seven sources of data; Athena is cataloging them as we speak. After we determine what is on each disk, we’ll move to analyzing the unencrypted files. The encrypted files may be a little more difficult, depending on whether we can find a copy of a decrypting key somewhere on file or if we’ll have to buy one. Even with at least three disks suffering from cold-weather related damage, the initial overview suggests we have upwards of five hundred terabytes of information to sort through, so I would not expect immediate results.”
Genji turned his head at the sound of Jesse giving a low whistle. “Is all of that about their experiments?”
“Well, there isn’t any way to tell, yet. Like I said, Athena is analyzing the data right now, so…” Winston cleared his throat. “Right. While I’m sure it doesn’t feel like a success, we were also able to solve the mystery of what exactly happened to the scientists.”
Genji thought of the cryo chamber at Ecopoint: Antarctica and the six cylindrical tombs that circled the room. No. It certainly did not feel like a success.
“And what’s more, we rescued Mei-Ling Zhou from cryostasis. We managed to accomplish every task we had set! So, um, comments?”
Mentally brushing the melancholy away, Genji raised his hand. “Sustain: excellent medical staff.”
Angela blushed and Jesse muttered something that sounded suspiciously like ‘suck-up’.
Winston nodded earnestly. “Yes, Dr. Ziegler’s quick thinking and medical expertise were key in Zhou’s survival.”
A small, broad hand shot into the air and Torbjörn’s gruff voice spoke out. “Improve: contingency plans. We had tasks, but no guidance on what to do for those tasks. ‘Collect all available data’ is easy enough, but there was no procedure for what to do with survivors. No plan for casualties, no secured medical facility, nothing!”
From the corner of his visor, he could see Angela bristle. Oh, no. There was no possible timeline where this would get resolved as a peaceful argument.
“That is what I was there for,” she replied. Her voice imitated the needles she drew blood with: sharp, cold, and entirely too intimidating for something its size. “To provide guidance on what to do in the event of a medical emergency. A task I believe I performed to satisfaction.”
“No one’s saying you weren’t dazzlin’, darlin’,” Genji’s head whipped to Jesse. He tried to warn him by shaking his head without drawing everyone’s attention, but he didn’t notice. “Havin’ a standard operating procedure for medical emergencies is just good practice.”
Torbjörn slapped his fist on the table. “Exactly! We shouldn’t have to rely on one person on the mission. What if the good doctor was injured? Then who could have illegally landed in Numbani National Airport and worked some sort of black magic to sneak a legally dead woman into one of the world’s best and most secure hospitals?”
Genji stared at Torbjörn. The engineer wasn’t wrong. Having no redundancy or chain of command established was poor practice, but his manner of delivery was edging awfully close to a line that would be dangerous to cross. The others seemed to sense that, more or less. The air had turned brittle. A red-faced Lena seemed to be literally holding her breath. Reinhardt’s eyebrows were raised halfway to his hairline while Brigitte was leaning forward, unabashedly entertained. Hanzo and Jesse had remarkably similar expressions of guarded interest. Winston was scratching his chest again.
“Is there something you would like to say to me, Herr Lindholm?” Angela asked in her coolest tone.
He could see from the look in her eyes that she was ready for a fight-- but the team didn’t need that, not now. They could still settle this privately. “Angela,” Genji whispered, hoping to distract her from the stare down with Torbjörn. She didn’t even blink.
Torbjörn leaned forward on his mechanical arm. “After the Fall, most doctors and scientists of Overwatch couldn’t find jobs waiting tables, let alone securing posts at internationally recognized hospitals. A few laid low with their private practices or charity work, but not you. No, Doctor Angela Ziegler somehow emerged a hero of Zurich, despite a body count that numbered in the hundreds.”
Angela blanched. Defensive anger flushed Genji’s face. How dare he throw Zurich in her face, as though it was her fault?! Hundreds might have died, but hundreds more would have perished if she hadn't been there! A small pop and a hiss forced his attention to his body armor, which had opened exhaust ports in anticipation of a fight. He grit his teeth. There did not need to be a fight. He started breathing forcefully through his nose, but had little success achieving a calmer state of mind.
Reinhardt frowned at his lifelong friend. “That is out of line, Torbjörn!”
“Bah!” He sneered and Genji could feel his hackles raise. “You want out of line? While her peers were ridiculed for even considering serving Overwatch, she was lauded as a national treasure! How does a twenty-something year old doctor fresh out of medical school with only one published paper end up having contacts at Numbani National? You’re good, Ziegler, but no one is that good. Who did you have to sleep with to get that job?”
“Urusai!” Genji was out of his chair before Torbjörn even finished his sentence. He vaguely registered the other agents surging to their feet as well, but he was too busy bearing down on the Swede to care. Reinhardt shoved his way in front of him, blocking Torbjörn from his reach. Genji snarled at the interference and Hanzo was suddenly by his side, face blank but body tensed for action.
“HEY,” Jesse’s booming voice cut through the generally outraged uproar.
Genji glanced at him, still struggling in Reinhardt’s iron grip. Jesse was standing, but slowly sat once everyone’s attention was on him. He continued in a carefully measured tone, voice low and soothing-- the voice he had used during Genji’s bad nights in the past.
“Everyone needs to calm down. Take a seat. Be mindful of our host.”
As one, Genji included, all eyes swept to Winston. The gorilla’s nostrils were flared and his fur stood on end, with pupils so blown that his eyes were nearly black. Shit. Genji looked up at Reinhardt and gave him a stiff nod. Reinhardt nodded in return and gently sat Genji on his feet.
Still enraged, it took immense self-control for Genji to quietly slide into his chair instead of violently dragging it out like he wanted to. The rest of the old Overwatch similarly found their chairs, recognizing when their normally peaceful scientist was on the verge of losing control. Reinhardt had to tug Brigitte into a chair as she was too bewildered to do much else. Hanzo sat next to Genji, also confused at the sudden deescalation, but Genji appreciated the gesture of solidarity all the same. When no one was left standing and Winston had returned to his typical, timid countenance, Jesse continued.
“Torbjörn. This isn’t how we do business. This isn’t how we ever did business. You might be Old Guard, but that don’t give you free pass to insult the rest of the team, especially the way you did. Apologize.”
Torbjörn glowered threateningly, prompting Reinhardt to speak in a rumbling, warning tone. “Live with honor, Torbjörn.”
From under his large beard, the engineer bared his teeth. “I apologize for insinuating that she had to sell her body to buy a job. I don’t apologize for the rest.”
“Kusokurae,” Genji hissed. He knew Torbjörn couldn’t understand what he was saying, but the way the other man eyed him warily was gratifying enough.
“Hey, now,” Jesse admonished. “None of that. We’re gonna talk this out like the professional adults we are. Let’s boil it down some. We all agree that we need to plan out our medical emergencies better, right?” No one moved, except for Winston nodding enthusiastically. “Alright. Done.
"Now,” Jesse looked directly at Torbjörn. “As far as Doc’s reputation after the Fall. Every single one of us was at the mercy of the media. I don’t know what I did to earn half the money on my head and the other half I earned just livin’ longer than the bounty hunters. You don’t see me begrudgin’ her for makin’ it out fine, it only means good things for Overwatch movin’ forward.”
"Thank you, Jesse," Angela said. Genji attempted to catch her eye, but she seemed determined to avoid his gaze, a habit of hers when she felt embarrassed. Not that she had a reason to be, in his eyes. She wasn't the one who started the fight.
Torbjörn crossed his arms. “Hmph. Overwatch. Is that what we are? I look around this table and I see criminals, old men, and children blinded by the stars in their eyes. What are we doing here? What is the purpose of the Recall?”
Genji reluctantly took his eyes off Angela to glance at Winston. He was the only one who could answer this question, even though Genji and Jesse knew it as well. They weren’t the leaders. They didn’t initiate the Recall.
“Uh,” Winston blinked. “We’re going to fight the evil in the world.”
Genji rolled his eyes. Really? Talon methodically assassinating agents and the answer Winston went with was a nebulous “evil”?
Torbjörn scoffed. “Is that so? Who gets to decide what’s evil? That’s not a goal. It’s not even a purpose. It’s a suicide note.”
Brigitte laughed, a little more high pitched than usual. Probably, rightfully, worried about her father’s safety amongst so much hostility. “Don’t be dramatic, Papa.”
“But… there’s the Omnic Crisis in Russia.” Winston began shuffling through his papers again, looking for some report or another.
“Wait—what? Omnic Crisis?” Lena looked back and forth between the agents, searching for an explanation.
Genji was equally curious-- Jesse hadn’t said anything about this.
Winston nodded vigorously even as Torbjörn shook his head. “Yes, two omniums have gone rogue from their standard production schedules. Russia has been keeping it quiet, not wanting to draw international ridicule or cause panic within their borders, but they actually deployed specialist units this morning.”
“If there is anything the Omnic Crisis has taught us,” Reinhardt said, “It’s that Russia will take care of Russia. They will not accept our help. If we went without their blessing, we would only be repeating the mistakes of the past.”
“Well, um,” Winston adjusted his glasses. “I suppose that’s probably true, but I think we should be prepared, instead of initiating the Recall after it’s too late—“
“It took the UN four months to form Overwatch during the first Crisis,” Torbjörn said dismissively. “And the world is much better prepared than it was in the past—that’s if this little Siberian incident even turns out to be a Crisis.”
Winston fell silent, staring at a spot on the table in front of him. Genji waited for him to gather his confidence. If he knew as little as the other agents, he’d probably agree with Torbjörn, as much as it irked him—with no purpose, the Recall wasn’t much more than a fever dream. Their activities had been ad hoc so far, but that couldn’t sustain a team and everyone in the room knew that.
Winston blew out a large sigh and looked up, his yellow eyes glowing with resolution. “Agents are dying.”
Torbjörn waved a hand dismissively. “We’re old. It happens.”
Winston didn’t respond. He rose from his oversized chair and booted up the projector. After a few minutes of clicking, he pulled up a folder filled with agent profiles. Genji inhaled sharply. Even with Jesse’s warning, he hadn’t… quite realized how extensive it was. Seeing the profiles on the screen—there were so many agents—made it seem so real. He sensed Hanzo shooting him a questioning glance, but he only shook his head. He’d talk with him after the meeting. In private. Profiles began cycling on the screen, flickering into existence only briefly before being replaced by another.
“In the seven years since the Fall,” Winston explained resolutely. “Three hundred and forty-three former Overwatch agents have died. They’ve ranged in age from twenty to ninety-two, of all genders, all nationalities, all religions, and all walks of life. This year alone, thirty-nine have died and it’s only July.”
Genji glanced down the table. Angela stared at the passing faces with wide eyes. Brigitte furrowed her brows thoughtfully while Reinhardt’s grief was clear for all to see.
“What—“ Hanzo cleared his throat and began again. “Who is doing this?”
Jesse answered for Winston. “Talon,” he growled.
The scientist nodded. “Yes. They are a criminal organization whose history extends as far back as the original Overwatch. I haven’t been able to determine a motivation or a method. They seem to be targeting everyone who ever served in Overwatch. These deaths have been everything from suspicious accidents to suicides to mysterious homicides. Even if only half of these were truly untimely deaths, that would be more than twenty deaths a year. Their geographic spread is meticulous. Talon never hits the same region in the same manner to avoid raising suspicion. I’ve been researching these deaths for years now.” Winston locked eyes with a shell-shocked Torbjörn. “I suppose I was searching for a purpose.”
“Aye.” Torbjörn breathed. “Aye, this would do it.”
Hanzo nodded in agreement. “So, what is our course of action?”
Genji clasped his hand on Hanzo’s shoulder. “We fight.”
Hanzo knocked on the door to enter Dr. Ziegler’s office for the second time that day, albeit under different circumstances. At least this time he didn't have a black eye.
The door swung wide almost immediately, revealing a cramped, moderately sized room. A large, L-shaped desk took up about a third of the space while large, metal filing cabinets lined the far wall, each column with its own high-grade lock. There were no windows, but even if there had been they wouldn't have been visible as every meter of wallspace that wasn't occupied with cabinets was covered with bookshelves. Most shelves were stuffed with books and medical texts, but there were a few with more personal touches, including several photos of Dr. Zeigler and Genji.
Dr. Ziegler herself sat behind her glass and metal desk and smiled as he entered, Genji waving over her head from where he sat cross-legged on the desk. But it was McCree who had actually answered the door and Hanzo reflexively took a step back.
“You are just in time, Hanzo.” Dr. Ziegler said, looking much cheered since the meeting.
“Just in—” McCree twisted around to look at the doctor. “You invited him? What the hell?”
“All of Overwatch will need to know eventually,” Genji said. “We might as well start with someone without, ah, biases.”
Hanzo frowned, mind already racing to piece together what they were talking about—or rather, weren’t talking about.
McCree turned back. “Just a sec.”
The door slammed in his face.
He could hear the muted voices on the other side, but despite his best efforts he could not make out the words. After the… eventful meeting that evening, he had confronted Genji to demand a more thorough explanation of Overwatch and Talon’s history, but Genji had cut him off, telling him to be at Dr. Ziegler’s office in fifteen minutes and slipped away before Hanzo could ask any questions. He may not have known exactly why Genji wanted to meet in such an odd location, but it didn’t take any large leap of logic to discern its clandestine nature. Hopefully, Genji would shed light on Winston’s shocking announcement at the meeting: Talon’s systematic assassinations of agents.
Talon. The antithesis of Overwatch, so completely entangled in the shadows, it could only be detected in the peripheral of consciousness, like a nightmare in the light of day. He finally had a name to the organization that fielded Widowmaker. To think that they had been strategically hunting down former Overwatch agents, successfully reaching a kill count in the hundreds without raising any alarms or suspicion.... The kind of power and capital Talon must possess to accomplish such a task marked them a formidable foe.
From the other side of the door, the voices raised in volume. It was disappointing to discover he still could not understand the words, but it now made sense why Genji chose this office as their meeting space. Privacy was assured.
It is lucky that he didn’t know about Talon a week ago. Genji’s memories of their life together would have eventually overcome his misgivings, he was sure, but it would have been so much more difficult to accept his brother if he had he known for certain that Talon was capable of resurrecting him.
The door swept open again, McCree looking much more irate. “Alright, get in here.”
Hanzo carefully sidestepped McCree and sat in one of the two armchairs facing Dr. Ziegler’s desk. That McCree had prior knowledge of Talon inspired unease and suspicion, especially since Genji had appeared as surprised as everyone else at the meeting. He would have to watch the outlaw carefully, regardless of the truce.
McCree took the other chair, sinking into it and extending his long legs in front of him, crossing them at the ankle. “Genji, exposition, if you’d be so kind.”
Genji nodded briefly. “Anija, I have not been entirely forthcoming with you.”
Hanzo immediately stiffened in his chair, senses jumping into overdrive as he prepared for the coming blow. Was it about Overwatch? About Talon? Had Hanzo been wrong after all about Gen--
“To be fair, the three of us have kept this from all of the Overwatch members. After the Omnic Crisis, Overwatch developed a subordinate unit dedicated to covert operations known as Blackwatch.”
Hanzo’s eyebrows shot up in shock even as relief rushed over him. Genji was still his brother.
“Blackwatch was—and still is—extremely classified," McCree said. "None of Overwatch past or present knows about Blackwatch unless they were a part of it themselves. Blackwatch were the ones who rescued Genji--"
"Rescued, rebuilt, and retrained me," Genji said wryly. "Although I only stayed with Blackwatch a few years before I transferred into Overwatch permanently."
Jesse nodded. "I was in Blackwatch the longest out of anyone, 'cept Reyes. Doc was a doc for Blackwatch, obviously.”
Dr. Ziegler smiled tightly. “I served both organizations simultaneously. Blackwatch was too small to have a completely dedicated medical team, but outside of major surgical operations I was rarely needed. I only know of one doctor who was permanently assigned to Blackwatch.”
Hanzo curled his hands in his lap uneasily. “This explains many things, but why are you telling me?”
Hanzo snorted in strained amusement. How many times had he said that to Genji, instead of the other way around?
“Blackwatch has a history almost as long as Overwatch itself," Dr. Zeigler continued. "And the two were inextricably bound. It was a rift between their respective commanders that ultimately brought them both to their knees, although no one seems to know the full story of how that happened. But… I suppose that isn't important. What matters today is Blackwatch’s history with Talon.”
With Talon? Was Genji’s surprise at the briefing feigned? It was good that Genji felt comfortable enough in present company to remove his mask, Hanzo could see at a glance that he was unmoved by Dr. Zeigler's statement. So if Genji had known about Talon already, then perhaps... McCree was not suspect after all. Hanzo experienced a flash of guilt for so readily suspecting his brother’s best friend.
“Blackwatch was formed specifically to counter threats that Overwatch could not be seen interacting with," McCree said. "Talon was at the top of the list. We had an entire intelligence team dedicated to tracking their activities and predicting their next move. Most of the time, it was a stalemate. Neither organization could outmaneuver the other. That changed when Talon kidnapped the wife of our lead analyst." To Hanzo's surprise, McCree's lips curled into a fierce scowl.
"Gerard Lacroix was a French national," Genji quickly said, shooting concerned glances at McCree. "His wife was a reasonably successful ballet dancer, also French. Her kidnapping was a clear message to Blackwatch: not even our families were safe. Despite our best efforts, we could not track her down. Even though we knew Talon to be responsible, we had no way to discover where they had taken her. Three weeks later, she reappears in her Parisian apartment. No injuries, no explanation, just a shaken Amélie with no memory of her time with Talon."
Dr. Zeigler sighed, face full of regret. “We should have taken it as a sign, as a warning. I should have pressed harder to keep her under observation. Lacroix wouldn't hear of it. He was so happy to have his wife back. By the end of the week, Amélie had disappeared again and Lacroix was discovered murdered in his own bed.”
McCree had been silent and watchful to this point, but now he spoke with disgust in his voice. “Next we heard of poor, widowed Amélie, she was assassinatin’ prominent political figures in Southeast Asia.”
Hanzo felt his eye twitch as he made the connection. He was there for those assassinations. So was Widowmaker.
“Then she was assassinatin’ us.” Hanzo didn’t miss the shadow that passed over McCree’s face, but it didn’t linger long enough for him to interpret.
Dr. Ziegler spoke next, seemingly eager to move on. “As former members of Blackwatch, we are privy to quite a bit of information, more than Winston and certainly more than the old Overwatch. While I’m sure he might know more about their recent activities, he doesn’t know that Talon has been hunting agents since the beginning. After Amélie, the death toll kept growing higher and higher. Blackwatch couldn’t keep its ranks filled.”
“We lost a lot of folks.” McCree sighed. “Not all of them good, not a one of them bad.”
Dr. Ziegler gave McCree a sympathetic half-smile before continuing. “Nobody in Blackwatch knew all of the other members. It was designed to be a very compartmentalized effort. The Blackwatch Commander had a full roster, of course, and perhaps the Strike Commander of Overwatch did as well, but...” Dr. Ziegler’s eyes darted to McCree again.
So many strange reactions tonight. He mentally filed it away for later analysis.
“Both died in the Fall," McCree said bluntly.
Dr. Zeigler nodded. "Right. There’s no way to tell how many agents are still alive. We’ve drafted a list based on all the agents we knew and… most of them are dead. Those who aren’t deceased are either in prison or missing entirely.”
“Not that I do not appreciate that you have brought me into your confidence,” Hanzo said, unable to bear the growing concern silently. “But this all sounds like critical information. I understand that this is all still classified, but this current Overwatch is hardly legal. Why not share this with all the agents? Especially Winston, if he is to be planning future operations.”
The trio cast each other side-long glances and it was Genji who ultimately answered. “It is not classification that keeps us from speaking. It is risk. The Old Guard—Torbjörn and Reinhardt—would likely leave Overwatch on the spot.”
Well that did not sound like reason enough. Especially given their behavior at the meeting, Hanzo would have thought the prospect of Mr Lindholm's retirement as a positive side effect.
McCree hummed. “The original Overwatch—and I mean Crisis era, not just pre-Recall—had a lot of bad blood between them by the end of things. I won’t go into all the family drama ‘cause we already told you the gist of it. Two of our most experienced and well-connected members will leave if they find out we were directly associated with Overwatch’s shadow. Brigitte goes where Reinhardt goes, so you can count her out as well. That only leaves Winston and Tracer, present company excluded. Fightin’ Talon is impossible with nine people. If we tried to fight ‘em with only six?” McCree shook his head. “We’d all be dead men walkin’.”
Well. He supposed that did sufficiently explain their reluctance.
Dr. Ziegler cleared her throat. “We are going to inform Winston. Well, I will. I won’t mention that Genji and Jesse were active members of Blackwatch. My cover story is fairly close to the truth: I was an Overwatch doctor who was sometimes conscripted to treat Blackwatch operatives; Due to the nature of my work, I overheard more than I should have.” Her nose crinkled in distaste. “I am already considered suspect by certain individuals, so it will not be considered unexpected.”
Hanzo tried not to remember his own accusations against Dr. Ziegler.
“We’ll be passing information that the three of us have to Winston this way," Genji said. "And… we were hoping you might help.”
“Me?” Hanzo pointed at his nose. They nodded and he frowned again. “How can I assist?”
“Anija, you ran the Shimada Syndicate for years before you left it. Talon would have been in its infancy then, so we could pass info off as things you learned while you were still involved in the criminal underground.”
Hanzo allowed a small smile as he finally understood. “I could do better than that.”
Genji tilted his head curiously and even McCree looked at him with interest.
He steeples his hands, feeling immensely pleased with himself. “I would only be able to talk about the beginnings of Talon if that is the story you choose. However, I have personally encountered Talon agents. My time as a contractor--”
McCree interrupted with a laugh. “Shoot, is contactor what we’re callin’ guns-for-hire now a days?”
Hanzo stiffened. “I did more than kill.”
“Yeah? Like what?” The cowboy leaned into Hanzo’s space, clearly amused by his irritation.
Genji was quick to intervene. “We are getting off track. When did you encounter Talon, anija?”
“The Southeast Asia political assassinations McCree mentioned earlier were carried out by two snipers. I was one. Widowmaker was the other.”
At the mention of the Talon sniper, McCree’s humor evaporated. Hanzo had seen him angry. He had seen vicious hatred and heated violence from the man. This was different. This was worse. There was absolutely no outward emotion on his face and his eyes were empty, almost glazed. Hanzo only ever saw those eyes in the faces of dead men.
“You worked with Widowmaker.”
Hamzo couldn’t tell if it was meant to be a question. The sentence was void of inflection.
“No," he clarified. "We worked opposing contracts. At least, I worked a contract. At the time I assumed she did as well, but I eventually learned of her association with the shadow organization that I now know to be Talon. That is why I mention her. My time as a contractor is how I can provide more recent information on them.”
McCree’s eyes slowly regained their usual shine, leaving no trace that the deadened stare ever existed. He nodded and said nothing further, leaving Hanzo thoroughly unnerved.
“That is actually very helpful,” Dr. Ziegler tapped a stylus against her lips. “We were having trouble deciding how I could feed everything we know without casting undue suspicion on myself and this solves it.”
“I will do my best.” Hanzo paused, considering. “But tell me, if you believe nine too few to combat Talon, then how are we to proceed? Are we only informing Winston so that he will not pursue a path of warfare?”
“We need to recruit,” Genji agreed. “Master Zenyatta has accepted my invitation to Overwatch. He will be arriving next week. However, we have no additional points of contact. I spent most of the years after the Fall in isolation."
"And I may know many doctors," Dr. Zeigler said. "But the majority are unsuited for combat.”
The outlaw snorted. “Most of the folks I knew are dead and the rest are criminals. You can trust them to be untrustworthy, but that’s about it.”
“I am sure that’s not true, Jesse.” Dr. Ziegler protested. “What about Fareeha?”
McCree glared at her. “No.”
She crossed her arms. “What do you mean, ‘no’? I happen to know for a fact that she’s had a very successful career in the Egyptian armed forces as an officer. Her combat experience and leadership skills would be invaluable to our efforts.”
“The last thing her mama ever wanted for her was to fight all her life. I can’t tell her how to live, but I’m not gonna be the one to invite her to the same damn war that killed Amari." McCree pointed a finger at her. "I’m not callin’ her and don’t you do it, either.”
Dr. Ziegler leaned over her desk, eyes intense. “We don’t have the luxury of—“
“Angela, perhaps now is not the time?” Genji interrupted gently. She pursed her lips but did not press the issue. “Would you consider it in the future, Jesse?”
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep.”
Genji dipped his head respectfully. “Fair enough. Anija, do you know of anyone that can help?”
Hanzo ran over a list of names in his head. “Not that we can afford. I made business contacts, not friends.”
“I see. It seems that we shall have to table this topic for another time, as none of us have potential candidates. We will bring the issue up to Winston by way of Angela.”
“Won’t do you much good.” Jesse groused. “He’s aware of the agent shortage. Asked me to drum up some new folks, but y’all already know how that story ends.”
Hanzo rolled his eyes. “Must you always speak in idioms?”
“Must you always have a stick up your ass?”
Hanzo Drew himself up, incensed.
Ever the pacifist, Dr. Ziegler loudly spoke over their banter. “I see that the long day is wearing on everyone’s nerves. It’s high time we all get some well-earned rest. I am sure that everyone will want to settle in to a regular sleeping schedule before the training begins.”
Genji’s head whipped to face her. “Training? What training?”
“Oh?” She blinked innocently. Hanzo narrowed his eyes. Much too innocently. “Did Winston forget to mention it at the meeting? I suppose he got distracted, what with all the fighting and the dying agents—“
“Doc, stop drawin’ it out.”
“—and the baseless accusations.” She huffed. “Winston is setting up a comprehensive training cycle to prepare us for future missions.”
“What d’you mean, ‘comprehensive’?”
It was low-hanging fruit. Hanzo knew it. It did not dissuade him. “Comprehensive is an adjective that means complete or all-inclusive.”
The look McCree shot him was venomous and immensely satisfying. “I know what it means, asshole.”
Dr. Ziegler abandoned her teasing, likely attempting to circumvent another argument. “Winston has asked Reinhardt to develop and lead a physical training regimen.”
“Oh god, Reinhardt?”
Hanzo frowned at Genji's reaction. Lazy he might have been as a child, Genji always enjoyed the physical parts of training. For him to react so strongly….
“He’s also pulled an archived live fire team exercise program to train teamwork in a combat environment.”
Genji perked up at this. “Oh, that should be fun!”
McCree balked. “Fun for you, mister I-can-literally-deflect-bullets-with-my-ninja-sword.”
“It is a katana.”
“It’s a glorified knife!”
Genji grinned. “Just as Peacekeeper is a museum artifact, I am sure.”
McCree had nothing to say to that, laughing good-naturedly.
He might still be annoyed with McCree's behavior, but Hanzo couldn't help but feel relieved to see him and Genji enjoying their company in his presence. It made him feel much less… isolated. He refused to smile over it, however.
“…But seriously, Reinhardt?”
Chapter 10: Recollections
Content warning: minor body horror
A knock at his door shifted Hanzo’s attention away from inventorying his equipment. Curious, he paused in counting his shatter arrows to open the door. Genji stood on the other side, a teapot and two cups in his hands.
⟪Good morning, Brother! I was wondering if you would like to join me for tea?⟫
⟪It is after noon.⟫ He squinted at the tea set. Genji never made tea. Suspicion colored his voice. ⟪What do you want?⟫
⟪I want you to be a little more trusting of your darling younger brother. What is the harm in joining me for tea?⟫
⟪The last time you made tea, you put frog spawn in the pot.⟫
⟪In my defense, I was six and it was hilarious.⟫
⟪No, when you were six you used coffee grounds. The frog spawn was from when you were sixteen. I was sick for a week.⟫
⟪Ah! I had forgotten.⟫ Hanzo’s eye twitched at Genji’s obvious nostalgia. ⟪The look on your face when I took off the lid—⟫ Genji cut himself off, no doubt motivated by self-preservation and Hanzo’s unimpressed expression. ⟪Right. I… just wanted to talk. I thought the tea might put you in a good mood. Especially since the last time we spoke…⟫
Hanzo winced. He had nearly forgotten about their last one-on-one conversation over the phone nearly a week ago, having been caught up in the revelations of Talon and Blackwatch. They were still together often, planning and plotting the future of Overwatch, but it was always painfully polite. He should have apologized much sooner.
⟪Genji, I am not upset with you. I was wrong for accusing Dr. Ziegler. You were right to reprimand me.⟫
Genji shook his head. ⟪I should not have been so thoughtless in the way I did it. I never meant to imply that I hold our past against you.⟫
⟪Well. It is called the past because it is behind us.⟫
Genji nodded vigorously. Hanzo wasn’t sure if he was meant to interpret that as simple acceptance or relief to be away from the topic.
⟪So,⟫ Genji said, ⟪can I trouble you for conversation?⟫
Hanzo’s mind trailed to his long list of chores to be done that day. ⟪I am actually in the middle of doing inventory, and I have yet to do laundry.⟫
⟪Oh.⟫ His brother seemed to physically deflate, slumping his shoulders and hanging his head. ⟪Okay. Sorry to bother you.⟫
Hanzo pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. He was too old for this.
⟪Set the tea on the desk. We can talk while I finish.⟫
Hanzo blinked, feeling flat-footed in the face of Genji’s mercurial emotions. His brother slipped past him into the room, tossing the tea set to the side and ignoring its fragile rattling.
Hanzo shook his head in wonder and perhaps a little fondness as he returned to his pile of arrows. ⟪What did you wish to talk about?⟫
⟪Master Zenyatta is arriving today.⟫
Hanzo glanced up, observing the suddenly tense lines of Genji’s body. ⟪Your teacher from Nepal?⟫
⟪Well, ah, yes. Sort of.⟫
Hanzo politely turned his attention to his bowstrings, waiting for Genji to crumble under his own pressure.
⟪We—I mean you and me, not Master Zenyatta--haven’t talked much about… well, anything. I feel as though there is still so much that we don’t know about each other. That we might be keeping important details from each other. Ah, unintentionally!⟫
This was an interesting direction for conversation. Not wishing to derail Genji’s line of thought, he decided to remain neutral in tone.
⟪Yes. Trying to recount fifteen years in the space of a month is quite the challenge.⟫
⟪I…⟫ Genji tilted his head. ⟪How do you always make things sound so reasonable?⟫
⟪Even the sea seems steady compared to the wind.⟫
⟪Huh. Wait, am I the wind?⟫
Hanzo did not succeed in hiding his smirk.
⟪Brother,⟫ Genji whined.
⟪Peace, Genji, we both know I have called you worse.⟫
⟪True.⟫ The sounds of rustling drew Hanzo’s attention back to his brother again. Genji was fidgeting with one of the few hard-copy books Hanzo owned. ⟪There are some details that I failed to mention about Master Zenyatta.⟫
⟪That is to be expected.⟫ Hanzo put the bowstrings away and picked up a bundle of arrows. ⟪As you said, we have had little opportunity to speak to each other. I know that your Master Zenyatta has been a great influence on you and you regard him highly. I know you studied under him in Nepal. I do not know what religious school he is a part of, although I do confess that I assumed him to be Buddhist.⟫
Genji’s next words rushed out, each syllable tumbling out over the last in his haste. ⟪He is a Shambali monk.⟫
Hanzo froze. Carefully, intentionally, slowly, he turned to face his brother. ⟪Shambali.⟫
Genji nodded jerkily.
⟪He is omnic, then?⟫
Hanzo thought over his words. ⟪I had not been under the impression that Overwatch was… pro-omnic.⟫
⟪In the past it was not.⟫ There was a noisy, staticy sound that Hanzo belatedly realized was a sigh. ⟪I did not wish to bring up the incident, but I feel I have no choice if I want you to understand my journey.⟫
Genji removed his mask.
Ah. This would not be an easy conversation, then. Hanzo sat on his bed, mentally bracing himself.
⟪As you know, our fight left me critically injured, almost mortally so.⟫
Hanzo swallowed and carefully did not remember the large bloodstains in the tatami mats of the meeting hall.
Genji waved the book he was holding distractedly. ⟪Were Blackwatch not monitoring the Shimada-gumi at the time and intervened before the clan could finish me off, I certainly would have died. Even for the first few weeks after my rescue, it was not clear if I would survive.
⟪Angela worked tirelessly to save my life, which I am immensely grateful for now, but in the moment... I cursed her. In the pursuit of preserving my life, they eliminated anything that decreased my chances of survival.⟫ Genji stood and drew his left hand along his right, still holding the book. ⟪All of this is prosthetic.⟫
⟪My entire right arm, my right shoulder, my right lung, and all but the lowest two ribs.⟫ Genji tapped his hip. ⟪My right leg actually survived our confrontation, but they ended up amputating it when it was clear they could not save my left leg.
⟪You see, even as the doctors were fighting to save my life, Blackwatch was planning on how to mold me into the perfect living weapon. They reasoned that I would be more balanced and powerful if both my legs were cybernetic rather only one.⟫
⟪Dr. Zeigler allowed this?⟫ Hanzo asked, aghast.
⟪Of course not. She fought them fiercely, saying it was contrary to the Hippocratic Oath and her own morals. But it was Blackwatch money that kept me on a ventilator.⟫ Genji shrugged. ⟪Perhaps if she was post-residency she would have held more influence. As it happened, the choice between saving my body or saving my life seemed obvious to her.⟫
Hanzo rubbed a hand over his face. That must have been an agonizing choice for Dr. Zeigler, especially while she was what basically amounted to an intern. What a cruel way to disillusion her to the medical field. And Genji….
⟪This body is primarily a polycarbonate synthetic, formulated specifically to mimic the functions of human muscles. I still eat, but I have a much lower caloric demand to match my much lower body density. If I wanted, I could survive on one protein bar a day, not taking nutrition into account. On the plus side, it is a much cheaper way to live!⟫ The joke fell flat. Genji cleared his throat awkwardly. ⟪I lost my ability to regulate my internal temperature. My vocal cords were badly damaged and scarred, so they augmented them.⟫
Hanzo put his face in his hands, struggling to internalize his guilt. Genji said it all so casually, so clinically detached and he was the one who did that to him.
⟪After I regained consciousness is when the real battle for my life began. My body—what little there was left of it—was stable, but now all the stress was mental. I blacked out ready for death and woke up in what I thought was hell. I couldn’t find the line where the wires ended and my veins began. With the way we were raised…⟫
Hanzo flinched. Of course. The importance of their bloodline was never understated. It had been one of Hanzo's greatest burdens to bear, knowing that he'd be required to marry and have children in order to carry on the clan's traditions. How ironic that's what ultimately caused its downfall.
⟪It was traumatic,⟫ Genji finished. ⟪Where was my humanity when I had to worry about mechanical fluid in my joints? Was I even human anymore? Had I become the senseless evil our father had warned us about? I likened myself to Izanami-no-mikoto, who died and became one of the evil things in Yomi. The parallels in the story only grew stronger when Blackwatch offered me a chance at revenge in exchange for my service. I accepted without hesitation. I became the undead wrath of a divine being and the Shimada-gumi was Izanagi-no-mikoto. Thanks to our training, I was already a deadly force. With my new body and enhanced abilities… I was an oni with an iron club.⟫
Sudden understanding struck Hanzo as a lightning bolt would, standing his hair on end and numbing his fingers. ⟪You were the demon. You were the one who was taking out my businesses. Before I left the Shimada-gumi.⟫
Genji nodded. ⟪I destroyed everything I could get my hands on. That is when I met Jesse. He wasn’t originally assigned as my partner, but it quickly became clear to the Blackwatch commander that I was losing control. Jesse helped me focus my anger against the Shimada-gumi. It may not have been a healthy way of coping with the situation, but it was the healthiest of what I was willing to consider. We shredded the Shimada-gumi. It took us three years to do it, but by the end you were the only piece left.⟫
Hanzo closed his eyes, remembering his fear and confusion as his empire crumbled. ⟪When the syndicate began fracturing around me so soon after your death… I thought it the will of the gods, as retribution for my transgression against you. I left hoping that I could draw that divine wrath away. Of course, it failed, but the distance from the machinations of the Shimada elders afforded me new perspective. No duties. No responsibilities but my own person. It gave me time to think. Too much time. I allowed myself to reflect on the bitter days. On you. On Koharu.⟫ His voice nearly broke, but he pressed on, steadily avoiding Genji’s gaze. ⟪I thought about what you said to me the night I…⟫ And now his voice did fail him.
Genji went to his side, laying a hand on his shoulder comfortingly.
⟪You were right,⟫ Hanzo said. ⟪The elders manipulated us. Manipulated me. I could not return.⟫
⟪It is good that you did not, for I have no doubt that I would have killed you if I found you during my Blackwatch days.⟫
⟪It is no less than I would have deserved.⟫
The sound of creaking leather drew Hanzo’s eyes to the book in Genji’s hand—the cover bending distressingly.
⟪I disagree,⟫ Genji said firmly. ⟪Our situation would not have become as violent as it did if I had not cast the first stone. I am afraid we are getting off track.⟫ His death grip on the book eased. ⟪After we dismantled the Shimada-gumi, my purpose in life disappeared. I had nothing to hold on to or live for. Jesse never left me alone for fear of what I would do.⟫
Memories of his fight with McCree flashed before his eyes, the outlaw’s words searing through his skull: I helped him through the days where he hated himself so much that he wanted to jump off those cliffs--
⟪Angela was tied up with her medical training and practice, but she knew I was in trouble. She was the one who suggested I transfer to Overwatch. She thought that I would be able to find my balance there, working for a completely legal organization dedicated to making the world a better place.⟫ Genji’s face went through a complicated series of emotions that Hanzo had no hope of understanding. ⟪It… sort of helped. Assisting with missions that provided disaster relief for typhoons and earthquakes helped me think larger than myself, but I was still torn about who I was. It was during one of these missions that we worked alongside a contingent of Shambali monks. To be honest, I did not think much of them at the time, although their presence surprised me. It was not an omnic-friendly area. I did not seriously consider them until the Fall.
⟪You must understand, Brother, that throughout my time with Blackwatch and Overwatch, I was constantly mistaken as an omnic. In the early days, I fought quite a few people for even insinuating it. I still had those issues after Fall, except then I did not have the support network that I once had. Jesse had disappeared more than a year before and Angela, try as she might, could not support my emotional needs on top of her own after Zurich. She should not have needed to, and that is what inspired me to seek out the Shambali. Without them…I do not wish to think of what may have happened.⟫
Hanzo stared in shock, momentarily without words as he internalized his brother’s story. He cleared his throat. ⟪I am intensely glad that you found what you needed from the Shambali. It pleases me that you could obtain such… usefulness from them.⟫
⟪It is the reason I bring all of this up, anija. Master Zenyatta arrives today. I will not pretend that I believe I can erase a lifetime of prejudice from your heart—⟫
Hanzo balked. ⟪I am not--!⟫
⟪—or change your mind about omnics in general. Likewise, I will not entertain any notion or hint of disrespect against him. Any slight against Master Zenyatta is a slight against me.⟫
Hanzo opened his mouth to protest the idea that his brother’s honor was tied to another’s, but Genji interrupted.
⟪As far as I am concerned, he could be the Emperor himself and I would not be capable of holding him in a higher regard because he already commands the highest amount of respect from me. I ask that you treat him accordingly.⟫
Hanzo clicked his mouth shut. There really wasn’t an option. Risking Genji’s animosity over the principle of honor would be ridiculous, especially having come so far to earn his brother’s trust. He would simply have to show Genji that he had no prejudices against omnics... and save guiding Genji back to the proper path for later.
Measuring every syllable, he chose his next words carefully. ⟪I would never insult those who had a hand in your recovery.⟫
⟪Good,⟫ Genji nodded, relieved. ⟪That is good.⟫
An awkward silence settled over them; Genji seemed to have expected more of a fight. Genji continued fidgeting with the book, eventually looking down at its title. Genji stilled. ⟪This is Kojiki?⟫
So he finally noticed. ⟪It is. I have Nihon Shoki as well.⟫
⟪Are they…⟫ Genji opened the book to a random page, flipping through a few chapters. ⟪They are, aren’t they? Father’s?⟫
⟪He always wrote so many notes in his books.⟫ Genji paused, trying to decipher the cramped handwriting. ⟪Heh. I wonder what he would say if he saw us now.⟫ If the bitter tone was any indication, Hanzo guessed that he already had an idea of what their father’s reaction would be.
He hummed contemplatively. ⟪It is hard to say who he’d be more disappointed in.⟫
Genji gently placed the book on the shelf he had removed it from. ⟪Would you like to come with me to the airport? Master Zenyatta’s flight arrives in a few hours.⟫
Hanzo was not particularly inclined to venture into the public eye today, especially not after such an… intense conversation. He looked to Genji. That was a tactical error. He had never mastered the ability to withstand Genji’s puppy-dog eyes. Glancing at his laundry, he resigned to do his chores the next day. He should have known the moment Genji walked through the door that there was no hope of productivity.
⟪Alright. When are you leaving?⟫
⟪In an hour! Well, hour and a half.⟫ In a stroke of uncharacteristic thoughtfulness, ⟪I can come get you before I leave, so you may do your chores until it is time to go.⟫
⟪I would appreciate that.⟫
⟪Excellent!⟫ Genji cheered, already halfway out the door. ⟪I can’t wait! See you later, Brother.⟫
He shut the door more forcefully than necessary, causing the tea set to rattle on Hanzo’s desk. Hanzo shook his head and grabbed the basket of laundry.
Gibraltar International Airport was modestly sized. Located on the northern tip of Gibraltar with the Rock soaring above it to the south, the airport’s claim to exceptionality was a road that sliced across its runways. Winston Churchill Avenue was the busiest road on the tiny peninsula, as it was the main road leading to the land border with Spain, but that did not deter past city planners from using every inch of available space.
Any time a plane began to taxi on the runway or circled the island with the gulls in a holding pattern, flimsy plastic barriers descended on the Avenue, congesting the traffic for blocks until the runway was clear again. What had the potential to be a critical failing of urban planning amounted to little more than a charming inconvenience for the coastal town. Gibraltar International didn’t handle many flights, barely five thousand a year, and today it would only have three. The second of these bore Tekhartha Zenyatta.
The omnic had not even landed and he already unsettled Hanzo. The name Tekhartha alone—an honorary title for the followers of Shambali—was distasteful. A hybridization of the Awakened One’s name, it merged “Siddhartha” with “tech”, allegedly symbolizing the merging of the original Buddhist philosophy with omnic sensibilities, between Nirvana and the Iris. Hanzo could empathize with their struggle, thrust into a world without ancestry or culture as they were. One day there were seven and a half billion people and the next there were an additional billion minds, but ones without parents or siblings or friends or communities to support them. Finding refuge with Buddhist schools seemed obvious on the surface, as it was one of the few religions that accepted omnics as equal to humans, but the ethics of creating omnics was still hotly debated within the schools. It was the primary reason that omnics split from established sects to form the Shambali and it was the primary reason Hanzo kept his distance from omnic issues.
Beside him, Genji rocked on his heels. “The plane is taxiing in,” he muttered distantly.
Hanzo studied him from where he stood, slightly behind his brother. Just as when he brought tea earlier that day, Genji was tense, but unnoticeable to those who did not look. His shoulders were thrown back, his spine ramrod straight, his feet shoulder width apart as if bracing against a blow. Hanzo’s heart sank. Genji truly was worried about how he would react to Zenyatta, wasn’t he? Not that Hanzo had given him much reason to hold him in high faith, but Genji’s distress was yet another reminder of how far he was from building their relationship to what it once was.
Hesitantly opening his mouth to say something, anything really, to reassure Genji, Hanzo swallowed his words when his younger brother burst out: “There he is!”
Genji bounded closer to the doors, peering around a much taller woman in front of him. Hanzo followed suit, curious despite himself.
Gibraltar International was so small that there were no terminals proper. To board, travelers would cross the tarmac itself to climb an air stair into their plane. Similarly, for disembarking, the passengers descend the air stair with their carry-ons in hand. The large glass windows built into the walls made it especially easy to watch their short trek across the runway. There were several omnics in the group and Hanzo wondered for a moment which one had claimed Genji’s loyalty. Then, as a candle peers through the darkness, blazing orange fabric peered through the dark suits of the crowd.
From this distance, he could not discern many details, but it was clear that Zenyatta took no pains to disguise his robotic features. His body was without a carapace or armor, only the bare pistons and mechanics necessary for movement. His brightly colored garb and simple sandals were the only pieces of clothing the omnic deigned to wear, reminiscent of Thai Buddhist monks.
Zenyatta was halfway across the tarmac now, and Hanzo could see six brass orbs hovering closely to the omnics neck, arranged as a necklace. Hanzo blinked disconcertedly at the casual display of self-propulsion technology, but shoved down his unease. For Genji, he reminded himself fiercely.
He was inside the airport now, walking towards them, clicking with every step, lifting a hand in greeting, speaking in a frustratingly serene tone, “Peace be upon you, Genji and Hanzo.”
Genji dipped in an embarrassingly low bow, clasping his hands before his chest. “Master Zenyatta, I am pleased to see you have made it safely.”
The omnic nodded, his permanently vacant expression betraying nothing, and his brother returned to his full height. Genji’s head twitched to the side, and Hanzo realized that his brother expected him to deliver a similar greeting.
Bending his stubbornly stiff spine was more difficult than he cared to admit. For Genji, he chanted mentally. Even so, he couldn’t bow half as deep or as long as his brother.
“It is an honor to meet you, Zenyatta-san.”
“Oh, please, Zenyatta is fine.”
He felt so off balance. Why would Zenyatta reject his respect? Hanzo did his best to disguise his confusion by keeping his words clipped. “Of course.”
Genji looked between his brother and his mentor. The motion alone wasn’t expressive enough to inform Hanzo whether he was hopeful, anxious, or otherwise. “Is that all you packed, Master?” He gestured at the simple satchel slung across the omnic’s shoulders. “Or should we wait for the checked bags?”
Zenyatta faced Genji, the nine blue dots that served as optical receptors glowing softly. “No, this is all I have. Thank you, Genji.”
“Then let us proceed to the car. No sense in delaying our return to the Wa—to home.”
Hanzo restrained a sigh at Genji’s near indiscretion. He covertly darted his eyes at the people closest to them, ensuring no one paid any heed to his brother’s slip. How Genji survived two painfully secret organizations and joined a third with his level of carelessness was truly a mystery.
The small group garnered a few curious glances on their brief walk to the car. Hanzo had dressed in a simple black suit to pose as a businessman while Genji carried a sign with Zenyatta’s name scribbled across it. They were innocuous enough while waiting for the omnic’s arrival, easily blending in with the crowd, but the incongruency of a sharply dressed Japanese businessman and a Shambali monk was… noticeable. Thankfully, the curious gazes didn’t linger long, sliding over the odd trio before returning to phones or other people. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until he was sitting in the passenger seat of the car that Hanzo could breathe easy. Genji had yet to allow a moment of silence to linger.
“The Watchpoint is built into the Rock of Gibraltar; You can actually see a little bit of the base from here. See that cave-looking indent towards the top? That’s the urban simulation range. The ledges hide the rest of the base very well and most of the buildings use the natural rock as walls and ceilings. Except for the communication tower, of course, because that would cause problems for the signals…”
And on and on.
Zenyatta was quiet, humming with curiosity or interjecting ohs of interest, but not initiating conversation on his own. At least, not until Genji let a pause last a beat too long as he navigated through the airport’s parking lot.
“I know we haven’t spoken before, Hanzo, but I am truly overjoyed to meet you. Genji often spoke of you while he studied with me.”
The air rushed out of his lungs. Of course. Genji would have told Zenyatta everything. He went to the Shambali to mend. A doctor cannot heal wounds he cannot see.
“Is that so?” He managed to strangle out.
“Yes. He would often tell stories that exemplified your self-sacrifice and love for Genji.”
Hanzo twisted around in his seat to stare incredulously at the omnic. Was the monk toying with him? Those nine blue dots didn’t even flicker.
“I remember one, where he described how he had spirited away from his own home to explore the city. He spent the entire night visiting clubs and arcades and bars. When he finally returned to home it was morning and he was quite inebriated.”
Hanzo furrowed his brows. This could be the beginning of any number of stories. Genji’s legendary and unsanctioned forays into Hanamura were not a rare occurrence.
“However,” Zenyatta continued. “Upon his return, he experienced the misfortune of stumbling into the family butsudan.”
“He nearly knocked it over,” Hanzo muttered, the memory slamming into his mind unexpectedly. “Mother’s photo fell from its place and shattered.”
Zenyatta nodded. “You were the first to investigate the noise. The shrine was in shambles and your brother was sprawled in the center of destruction. You could have informed your father. You didn’t.”
“No,” he agreed. “I took him back to his room. Cleaned him up. Accepted the blame and punishment from father.”
“I always found it curious that one Genji was quick to describe as hard-hearted and angry could be so compassionate.”
Hanzo huffed. “Compassionate? I was his keeper. Any shame on him was shame on me also. What you call compassion, I call duty.”
“And yet you need not have taken the blame for the shrine.”
They stared at each other. Hanzo, eyes hard and probing; Zenyatta, blue lights soft yet unyielding. Hanzo broke away first, turning forward in his seat. Outside the window, buildings and cars glided past. Sunshine occasionally peaked through the partly clouded sky, bathing trees in bright light. Seagulls cried harshly at each other.
After an interminably long suspense, Genji began speaking again, of anything and nothing. Hanzo did not rejoin the conversation, the unshakable feelings of unease and unbalance weighing on his shoulders.
Chapter 11: Rebuilding
Content warning: Weight issues/ recovery
Jesse stumbled down the hall, partially leaning on a wall for support. He gritted his teeth as he slowly dragged his uncooperative body through the Watchpoint, each step sending a new wave of agony through his muscles. The door to his room was only fifty paces away now. He paused, desperately gasping for air and wondered how the rest of the team was faring. Probably not much better than he was.
Damn Reinhardt, he mentally groaned as he pulled himself away from the wall for the final stretch. Damn leg day!
Thirteen days into the new training schedule and all the agents were hurting. Not even Doc could escape Reinhardt’s exuberant exercises; she did squats and muscle ups right next to Winston and Torbjörn. Genji and Hanzo seemed to be adjusting the best, already accustomed to rigorous training regimes. It’s not like Jesse was a stranger to tough workouts, but the year leading up to the Recall had been… thin. Work was difficult to find with a bounty on his head, especially work that paid cash and didn’t ask too many questions.
In his top form back with Blackwatch he regularly weighed in at 190 pounds, but when he arrived at the Watchpoint, he barely made it to 140. Putting weight back on in the right way was much more difficult than he expected it to be, mostly due to a lack of money. Winston’s promised funding wouldn’t be coming through for at least another week, so Jesse was still carefully rationing what little cash he had left to buy foods rich in calories and nutrition. Protein was the most difficult to buy cheaply, though, especially in a territory that had to import most meats and dairy.
Thankfully, his struggle had not gone unnoticed.
Finally opening his door, he breathed out a sigh of relief at the sight of a large bowl of curry rice. Bless his soul. He touched his flesh hand to the ceramic, ecstatic to find that it was still warm. How Genji managed to leave training, prepare a bowl of food, and place it in his room all before he could even make it to the door was beyond him. Genji had yet to mention it, probably trying not to offend him by drawing attention to his weight issue. It was oddly thoughtful of him, although Jesse suspected it was just as likely to be careless kindness as mindful consideration. Either way, his thanks were long overdue. Even if the curry was a little light on spice.
He ate his food first, not willing to risk it cooling while he showered. It didn’t take him long to inhale the entire contents of the bowl, burping heartily as he stepped into the en suite bathroom. His shower was quick—fixing the water heaters was low on Torbjörn’s list of maintenance priorities—and soon he was standing in front of the sink mirror.
His ribs were still clearly visible, but not nearly as bad as even just last week. His arms and legs were still thin and wiry with the little muscle he’d been able to maintain with minimal calories, but he thought he might be a little broader in the shoulders. The improvement made him grin. He’d love to actually fit in his clothes again, instead of having them hang on his bony frame and tightening his belt four holes deeper than usual. Hell, at this rate he could be fully recovered in the next month! Still grinning to himself, he stepped on the scale. 144.
Well. Maybe a few months.
Keeping in mind that their first team-building training was that day, he dressed in well-worn jeans and a simple black crew-neck shirt. It wasn’t exactly a flattering ensemble, too big as they were, but they’d provide ample range of motion for whatever training simulation they’d run today and he wouldn’t mind if they ended up ruined. He fondly remembered the many drills Reyes had invented—everything from hostage rescues to urban clearing operations.
Nothing ever quite compared to the sense of camaraderie and seamless teamwork he experienced under Reyes’ command. The man went above and beyond for his soldiers. Jesse was living proof of that. Without the Blackwatch commander, he’d certainly be dead in a canyon right now. A pang of longing shot through his heart and he forcibly pulled his mind away from that line of thought, unwilling to wallow in sorrow so early in the morning. He grabbed the empty ceramic bowl from his desk and made for the kitchen.
With only twenty minutes left until formation for Winston’s exercise, most of the agents had already cleared out of the kitchen. Surprisingly, Hanzo was still there, washing another of the community bowls. Jesse hovered in the doorway, unsure if he should leave the bowl or risk interacting with Hanzo.
“Good morning, McCree.”
Shit. Too late to escape, now. He glared up towards the heavens, cursing whichever of his dead family was watching over him today. Probably Amari. She would have found this hilarious. He schooled his face into a more neutral expression for Hanzo. “Mornin’.”
Hanzo casually glance at him. “I could wash that for you.”
Jesse narrowed his eyes. Why was he being so polite? “Uh, no, that’s alright. It ain’t no trouble.”
“It is less trouble for me, as I already have the wash rag.” Hanzo held up the soapy rag. Like Jesse didn’t know what a rag looked like.
“Well. Alright, then.” He handed over the bowl, still confused and a little suspicious.
“I see you enjoyed your meal,” Hanzo commented. “There is not a single grain of rice left.” How did he—oh right, Genji would probably cook for him, too.
“Not as flavorful as I’d normally like, but I ain’t one to turn down free food.”
“Well, I am glad you managed to eat it anyway.”
This conversation was really beginning to weird him out. “Why would you be glad?”
Bowl now clean, Hanzo rinsed it and placed it in the drying rack. “I was not sure if you were eating the food or just throwing it away.”
It clicked. “Wait—are you the one who keeps leaving me food?”
Hanzo pulled the plug at the bottom of the sink, allowing the dirty water to noisily swirl down the pipes. He turned, drying his hands on a towel. “Yes. Who did you think it was?”
Hanzo raised a thick eyebrow. “I should hope my cooking is better than his.”
The food had been less… burnt than usual. “I thought that Doc was givin’ him tips or somethin’.”
Hanzo shrugged. They stared at each other, the silence growing awkward. Well, more awkward. Than usual.
Ah, fuck it. “Why are you givin’ me food, anyway?”
“As you said, we cannot be friends until we share a meal. I am merely returning the favor.”
“You’ve repaid me five times over this week,” Jesse pointed out.
Hanzo did not reply, avoiding looking at him directly.
Jesse’s eyes darted to the clock. They still had fifteen minutes. Might as well lay his cards on the table. “Is it ‘cause I’m skinnier than a slim jim?”
“I did not wish to be rude in saying it,” he admitted. “You are very thin. Dr. Ziegler has expressed concern for you to Genji.”
Blood rushed to Jesse’s face in anger and embarrassment. “I don’t need pity meals, thanks.”
Hanzo frowned. “It is not pity. You told me that one of the conditions of our truce is that I must attend all the missions you volunteer for. I am unwilling to put my safety and the safety of others at risk because you are not eating properly.”
“Well, I don’t need a nanny, either,” he said, voice sharp.
A look of consternation crossed Hanzo’s face. “I do not understand your resistance. It is clear that you are not eating enough and it is affecting your performance in training. I am only trying to assist. I would do the same for any of the other agents.”
“You sure about that?” Jesse pressed. “This ain’t about ingratiatin’ yourself to Genji?”
“No! Genji does not know I am doing this.”
“Then what’s your game?”
“I do not have ‘a game’. Why must everything I do have an ulterior motive?”
“I’m not lookin’ for an ulterior motive, just a motive. Preferably the motive, but I’ll take what I can get.”
“As I said, I was trying to be helpful!”
Jesse shot him a look that clearly asked, really?
“Tch. I do not have time for this.” Hanzo stormed past him with short, powerful strides exiting the kitchen without a backwards glance.
Jesse shrugged to himself. He may not have been able to draw out the real reason Hanzo was giving him food, but he doubted it would continue now that Shimada’s properly pissed off. Good enough. He followed Hanzo’s footsteps at a languid pace, long legs allowing him to catch up just before they reached the rest of the agents gathered in the yard.
Everyone seemed to have arrived already. Doc was in casual clothing, so she was probably just acting as standby medical. It made sense given her ethical aversion to weapons and killing and such. Reinhardt was in a simple white tank top and gym shorts so horrifyingly short that Torbjörn didn’t even reach the hem. Jesse squinted.
Torbjörn wasn’t in exercise clothes. Neither was Brigitte. Even Lena was wearing jeans rather than her usual skin-tight leggings. He couldn’t draw any conclusions from Zenyatta, who wore the same loose pants and sash regardless of activity. Then he spotted Winston, carrying a ball, several thin rods, and a mess of cloth. His stomach dropped. Oh no.
He looked around the yard, eyeing the objects lying about. Walking over, he had assumed that Torbjörn or Brigitte moved a project outside, given the seemingly purposeless masses of metal and crates. Now he was certain they were placed for a much more sinister purpose.
Winston adjusted his glasses nervously. “Good morning, team! I hope everyone enjoyed physical training this morning.”
A chorus of groans echoed into the warm air. Reinhardt put his fists on his hips. “It sounds like I need to design a more motivating workout!” The groans immediately shifted to over-exuberant cheers. “Ha! That is more like it.”
Winston coughed politely, waiting for the noise to die down. “As you all know, we will be conducting team building exercises today. I know those of you who come from combat-oriented backgrounds may have expected a more, uh, physical method of building camaraderie, but I thought it might be helpful if we started small.” He deposited the rods and ball on the ground and held up the armful of cloth. “We’re going to do a trust-course! Everyone pair up and one person from each pair will grab a blindfold.”
“Kinky!” Lena exclaimed, grinning impishly.
“Lena!” Doc reprimanded.
“You two should partner up,” Winston suggested, too busy untangling the blindfolds to hear their argument.
It would take five minutes for everyone to pair off and another five minutes for Winston to finally solve the knot, but he explained the rules as he worked. “One member of the team will put on the blindfold while the other partner gives verbal directions on how to cross the courtyard. As you can see, Reinhardt and Torbjörn have placed obstacles that each team will have to navigate around. Once you make it to the sidewalk on the other side of the yard, the partners will switch roles. The first team back here wins. Now about teams…”
Intent on getting the agents to know one another better, Winston broke up several predictable pairs. Brigitte was parted from Reinhardt in favor of Torbjörn, since Doc and Genji outright refused to partner with him. Neither Doc nor Zenyatta were permitted to partner with Genji, who was instead paired with Reinhardt. Lena paired with Doc and Hanzo with Zenyatta, leaving only Winston and Jesse.
Oh hold on now-- he might be able to get out of this after all.
“Hey, Winston, looks like I’ll have to sit this one out. We got an odd number of folks.” Jesse cautiously took a step back from the group, nice and easy. Just play it cool.
“Ohoho, no you don’t!” A large hand caught him by the scruff of his shirt and gently tugged him back into the fold. Reinhardt beamed down at him. “Winston needs a partner!”
“Aw, Reinhardt,” Let me go, let me go, letmego. “I’m sure Winston has to play ref. How else are we gonna make sure it’s fair?”
The giant man guffawed, slapping Jesse so hard on the back that he nearly pitched forward into the dirt. “It is true that competition gets the blood flowing in Overwatch!” He lowered his voice to what he probably thought was a whisper, but was still easily intelligible to everyone around him. “Especially Torbjörn, that old fox. Keep an eye on him, eh?”
“Bah,” Torbjörn said, “you’re as bad as the rest of us, old man.”
“Eureka!” Winston held up the freed blindfolds. “Alright, everyone come and grab one. Jesse, would you go to the other end of the courtyard? You’ll make sure that everyone switches off at the right spot. I’ll do the same on this side.”
Jesse sighed, shoulders dropping as he resigned himself to his fate. “You got it, boss.”
He broke into a light jog, legs groaning in protest at the movement. His muscles loosened about halfway across the yard, only to tighten again the moment he stopped. Really should stretch more. He waved to Winston to show he was in position.
For a moment, nothing happened. The group of agents milled about with no real purpose or direction. Jesse could hear the sound of voices, but not well enough to actually discern the words. A piercing whistle shattered the calm and what followed was nothing short of chaotic.
Reinhardt charged ahead at a full sprint, heedless of Genji’s yells for caution, blindly running into several blocks of iron and shouting in pain. Doc was inching forward, step after careful step, much to Lena’s obvious frustration and impatience. In contrast, Brigitte and Torbjörn were making surprisingly good progress. The short Swede took quick but incredibly consistent strides, his predictability simplifying Brigitte’s duty of barking out commands. In fact, the engineering duo were in the lead for the first leg of the race until the last obstacle—a long, low pipe.
“In two steps, there will be a pipe,” Brigitte said, the spark in her eye betraying her affected boredom. “Step over that and it’s just ten more paces until we switch.”
“I can’t believe I came out of retirement for—hurk!” Torbjörn tripped over the pipe, landing face-first in the dirt below.
Biting his knuckle so he wouldn’t laugh, Jesse watched as Brigitte froze mid-step, her large eyes rounding even wider at the sight of her father sprawled on the ground. A loud, guttural grunt broke the silence and then Brigitte was bent double, laughing and snorting in equal measure. Torbjörn was still struggling on the ground, eventually wrenching the blindfold from his face and waving it angrily in Brigitte’s face as he shouted in Swedish.
“Hey, that’s a foul!” Jesse said, laughing as he spoke. “Can’t take off the masks, Torbjörn!”
“Blast the masks, blast this game, and blast you! We were winning!”
“What once was will not always be,” Zenyatta chimed. The omnic serenely felt out his path to the finish line, sweeping his foot in an outward circle before gently shifting his weight on to his outstretched foot in a sort of deliberate dance. Hanzo walked slightly behind him, occasionally muttering brief instructions. “Have I passed the finishing point?”
Jesse’s eyes flickered to Zenyatta’s faceplate, ensuring that the blindfold covered all nine photoreceptors. “Yeah, y’all can switch.”
“INCOMING!” Genji cried out.
Out the corner of his eye, Jesse saw something large flying towards him. Instinctively, he dove forward, crashing into Brigitte and taking her to the ground with him. The metal contraption soared far overhead, without danger of hitting them even if they had remained standing.
Brigitte pushed at him. “Get off!”
“Sorry,” he said, rolling to the side before pushing himself to his feet.
He looked about, trying to piece together exactly what had just happened. Torbjörn was investigating the fallen projectile, cooing at it forlornly as if he was caring for an injured bird. Zenyatta patted the engineer on the shoulder, saying some mystic phrase or other. Hanzo had joined Genji, and they were both hovering over Reinhardt’s prone form. Winston was ambling across the field, anxiety clear on his face. Lena had abandoned Doc in favor of involving herself in the excitement, leaving the doctor calling for her partner in confusion, still trying to inch her way across the yard blindfolded.
Utterly perplexed, Jesse forced his weary legs to jog once more to the small crowd. “What the hell happened?”
“Reinhardt thinks he’s a Pampalona bull,” Genji said, voice full of exasperation but with a thrum of concern beneath it. “He ended up kicking that training bot and fell. I think he hit his head.” Reinhardt groaned miserably. Genji stood up from his crouched position. “Angela! Reinhardt’s hurt!”
“What?” Doc peeked out from beneath her blindfold, looking harried. “It hasn’t even been an hour!” At the sight of Reinhardt lying prone on the ground, she sprinted to the start and grabbed her medical kit before running to his side. “I had hoped we would outgrow injuries on Overwatch Field Days,” she muttered distractedly. She forced his good eye open, shining a flashlight at it to observe his pupil. “On a scale of one to ten, how is your pain?”
Doc hummed disapprovingly, clicking off the flashlight and withdrawing two quarter-sized adhesives. She cracked each one and attached them to his temples and the crowd of agents watched as the circles began to emit a golden glow.
Reinhardt’s eyes fluttered open. “Gahh, I’ll feel that in the morning.”
The Overwatch agents took a collective breath of relief knowing their Crusader would recover. Grinning, Winston held a hand out and hauled Reinhardt to his feet. Shaking her head in fond annoyance, Doc pressed another pair of adhesives into his hand.
“Take two, and call me in the morning if you feel any dizziness or nausea.”
“Much obliged, Angela!”
“Does this mean we’re done here?” Torbjörn asked, cradling his damaged bot in his arms.
Jesse perked up at the prospect.
Winston cleared his throat uneasily. “Um, I think we’re done with the, ah, obstacle race. Yes. But that’s not all I had planned!”
Shot down, of course. Hopefully the other activities ended as quickly as this one.
“Are you sure about that, Winston?” Lena asked, jerking a thumb at Reinhardt. “We’ve already got one casualty today.”
“Hey! I’m still kicking!”
“Oh, this isn’t a physical game, I promise.”
“You seem to underestimate Overwatch agents’ propensity for self-harm,” Doc sniffed, still packing her first aid kit.
“It’s just a simple game of toss. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Winston led the group back to the starting point and scooped up a rubber ball. He held it up high so everyone could see. Jesse was close enough that he could make out what appeared to be sentences written all over its face. “We will take turns tossing this ball to each other. When you catch it, you have to read and answer whatever question your right thumb is on. Where the obstacle course was meant to build trust through action, this is meant to build trust through familiarity.”
“Isn’t the phrase familiarity breeds contempt?” Jesse asked.
“Well, uh, I guess.” Winston scratched his chest. “It’s been seven years since Overwatch was together and not many of us kept in contact during that time. Plus we have two new members who weren’t ever a part of Overwatch before…”
“I would appreciate learning more about my fellow beings,” Zenyatta said. “As I do not know any of you well.”
Winston gave the monk a grateful look.
“So, uh, are there any questions about the game?”
“Do we have to?” Torbjörn grumbled lowly, voicing Jesse’s own thoughts.
Brigitte snickered at the him. “Papa volunteers to start!”
“Excellent! Everyone get in a circle.”
The group obeyed, forming a shape that Jesse would describe as “vaguely round”. Winston tossed the ball through the air at Torbjörn, who struggled for a moment to catch it with his mechanical arm.
“And be sure to introduce yourself!” Reinhardt called out.
“We already know each other’s names!” Reinhardt crossed his arms, still smiling but raising his brows all the same. “Bah, fine. I am Torbjörn Lindholm. I hail from Sweden. I am an engineer and I am too old for this.” He looked down at the ball, patting his beard down so he could read past it. “’Do you have a significant other?’ Yes. Wife.” He threw the ball to Reinhardt.
“I am Reinhardt Wilhelm, from Germany! I was a Crusader, part of the original Overwatch strike team, and served Overwatch for eleven years! The question is ‘Can you play any instruments?’ Ah, that takes me back. When I was a small boy, I learned to play the piccolo! I once dreamt of performing in the Berlin Philharmonic, but I grew so large that I could not hit the keys properly. So the dream of the bard died and the dream of the knight began!”
“That’s…” Lena began.
“Tragic?” Jesse suggested, thumbs hooked on his beltloops.
“Poetic?” Reinhardt said.
“Yeah, let’s go with that.” She said as she caught the ball. “Hello, loves! My name is Lena Oxton and if you can’t tell from the accent, I’m from the UK—London, specifically. I was a part of the RAF right up until a huge accident with an Overwatch project! See, there was this experimental jet that was supposed to jump through time, but the whole thing went tits-up and I got stuck in a parallel dimension—“
“You were disassociated from time,” Winston clarified.
“Yeah, that, and then my best pal Winston engineered this wicked chronal anchor that keeps me tied to this dimension--”
“This time stream.”
“Exactly! I normally wear it on me so I can go wherever I want, but it really just needs to be within three meters of me. Oh, unless there’s interference or--”
“The question, Lena?”
“Oh, right! Let’s see… ‘What is your favorite cereal?’ Pft, that’s easy! Lucio-o’s are delicious!”
Doc frowned. “That cereal has almost no nutritional value and is laden with monosaturated fats—“
“Worth it.” Lena pitched the ball to Doc, who missed. It slammed into her face, causing her to screech in surprise. Laughter escaped Jesse, loud and boisterous, as Genji rushed to her side only to be waved away.
“I am fine! It’s only my pride that stings.” Genji continued to hover anxiously until Doc physically pushed him away and he retreated to his space between Zenyatta and Hanzo. “Now then. My name is Doctor Angela Ziegler. I am Swiss, although I spent a large amount of time outside of my home nation for educational purposes. I am an alumni of Oxford University, where I studied at the Medical School with a concentration in surgical- and nano-technologies—“
“Damn, doc,” Jesse said. “We asked for a little about yourself, not your resume.”
Doc rolled her eyes. “I served with Overwatch’s medical staff for nine years. The question is ‘where and when did you receive your first kiss?’” She looked up, eyes wide. “Winston! Where did you get these questions?”
“I can answer this question,” Genji piped up. Should’ve brought popcorn, Jesse realized regrettably late.
“Don’t you dare!”
“It was a actually her roommate in—“ Doc let out an inhuman scream, chucking the ball violently at Genji’s face. The ninja ducked reflexively, and the ball sailed through the empty space into Hanzo’s waiting hands.
“’What is one thing that all of your love interests have had in common?’” Jesse blinked and breathed desperately through his nose, willing himself not to laugh. He had to hear this. Hanzo looked up from the ball. “They are dead.”
Jesse blinked. Hanzo released his grip and let the ball fall to the ground. It bounced twice as he walked away. The rest of the agents remained in the circle, unsure of how to react.
“Well,” Jesse drawled out, “I’d say that’s enough team-buildin’ for today. I for one feel much closer to y’all. I can tell that we really,” he interlaced his fingers together, “tested our bonds. Great success. Good job, Winston.”
“But I did not get a question,” Genji said mournfully.
Winston frowned at his bag of team-building games. “Perhaps I was too ambitious for our first exercise.” He sighed heavily. “I’m a terrible leader.”
Dammit. If anyone told him ten years ago that he’d have a weakness for sad moon gorillas… “No, it was great Winston! I think it was, uh, a great start. I had fun. Did everyone else have fun?” Jesse swept his eyes over the remaining members, nodding his head emphatically. There were a couple half-hearted ‘yeahs’ and cheers from Reinhardt and Lena. “See?”
“We had another one of these planned for tomorrow, right?” Winston nodded, still not looking up. “Why don’t we do somethin’ similar to this, but without all the personal questions?”
“What do you mean?”
“We could focus it on what we do for combat roles. We could talk about our weapons and our armor, what we’re good at.”
“And we could talk about basic first aid and injury prevention!” Doc volunteered.
“And proper equipment maintenance!” Brigitte said, glaring up meaningfully at Reinhardt.
“There you go, we already got buy-in.”
“Hmm,” Winston held his chin with one hand. “It would allow us to get to know one another on a personal level while maintaining a professional environment, both of which are critical for team performance.”
Winston perked up, yellow eyes sparkling. “It’s perfect! Thank you, McCree. I’m going to go plan this right now.” Rolling up on his knuckles, Winston made it halfway across the yard before he turned. “Oh, uh, everyone is dismissed for the day.”
Torbjörn trundled away without another word. Reinhardt happily shook his head before following suit with Brigitte. Welp. No sense in hanging around. Jesse looked to Genji and Doc, tipping his hat in his own silent goodbye. They returned the gesture with a wave.
Today was more or less a bust. Sure, he managed to set Winston in a new direction for training—hopefully there wouldn’t be any more of these god awful games—but it was only lunch time, and he had no real way to fill his days. Especially now that he wasn’t monitoring Hanzo. He might as well shine and oil up his equipment, make it look nice for tomorrow. His calf cramped tightly and he winced, favoring it as he walked. Maybe he should look into yoga…
He closed his door behind him and moved to toss his hat on his desk only to freeze. “Well I’ll be a son of a bitch,” he muttered.
There, in the very center of his cleaned-off desk, was a bowl of hot ramen. He approached it slowly, as if he feared it would leap at him at any moment. No one had ever told him “fuck you” in food before. Should he throw it away? On principle alone, he figured he should, but that was home-made ramen, damn it!
He poked at the spoon handle that rested on the lip of the bowl. The liquid inside rippled, a small puff of steamy aroma escaping it. His stomach growled. The curry rice that morning was great, but not enough to compensate for missing dinner last night. He sniffed a little deeper, appreciating the savory flavor and the slight pinch in his nostrils that always accompanied—wait is that cayenne? He questions Hanzo’s motives, criticizes his cooking, and blatantly refuses any further meals, and Hanzo responds by making his food spicier?
“Sweet baby Jesus.” He sat at the desk, any pretense of tossing the ramen abandoned in favor of shoving it in his mouth. The scalding liquid burned his tongue, but that didn’t stop him from gulping down another spoonful. What an asshole, being so fucking nice that Jesse couldn’t hate him as much. He had a god damn reputation to uphold! Standards and—he slurped another mouthful of noodles—and honor! Did he think that Jesse would up and abandon his completely-justified grudge just because he fed him?
Halfway through the bowl, Jesse dropped his spoon in shock. Shit. That’s exactly what was happening. He was actually starting to think better of Hanzo. What the hell, was his stomach connected to his heart?! He looked down at his belly accusingly. Traitor. Easing back in the chair, he sighed heavily. Were there any downsides to allowing this… whatever it was, to continue? Genji had already weaseled his brother into the Blackwatch meetings, what more was there for Hanzo to exploit if he was truly against them? He had access to everything already. And he was such a good cook. Jesse stared at the golden liquid still swirling the contents of the ramen. Fuck it. He grabbed the spoon and took another heavenly bite.
Hanzo was going to do all of his dishes, though.
Chapter 12: Rookies
Genji was the first to arrive in the urban simulation range, almost twenty minutes early.
So he was a bit eager, who could criticize him? This was a golden opportunity to unabashedly show off his incredible skills! Not that he normally needed an excuse, he wasn’t shy about his talent—he’d put in the years of work and practice and refinement, why shouldn’t he enjoy the gazes of admiration and amazement when he executed flawless technique? In fact, he should start planning his performance. Perhaps he could start by jumping from the top of the two-story office building? Yes, that sounded like a good start.
He scaled the structure easily and paused at the top. The view was nice from here, as long as you didn’t breathe too deeply. It looked like an entire flock of sea birds had made the roof of this building their nesting ground. Okay, back to the important things, should he swan dive or do flips? If he swan dived, he’d have to roll the landing anyways and they looked cooler in his opinion, anyway. He peeked over the edge of the roof, trying to decide which angle would produce the most dramatic effect, when the sound of voices echoed from the entrance hall.
“What are you wearing.”
That was anija, as perniciously punctual as ever. Who was he talking to? Hanzo hadn’t been particularly fond of company lately. He had certainly taken pains to avoid him since they picked up Master Zenyatta.
“What’re you talking about?”
Genji nearly fell from his perch as he recognized Jesse’s voice. His brother and best friend had been behaving oddly since their supposed truce, but for them to walk together was nothing short of miraculous. Of course, it’s more likely that they accidentally arrived at the same time rather than coordinated a planned meet-up.
“This is my battle rattle. I always wear somethin’ like this on missions.”
“Something like this?” Anija parroted.
Genji snickered at the flat sound of disbelief in his voice. The duo were exiting the hall now, making their way to the center of the range. On impulse, Genji flattened himself on the roof of the mock office building. Technically, it did not have an eave, so this really wasn’t eavesdropping.
“Yeah. Can’t the explanation wait until everyone else gets here? I don’t wanna have to talk about it twice. I’d like to hear about your get-up though. It looks very, uh, traditional.” A disappointing silence settled. Genji peeked over the edge of the roof to see his brother and Jesse standing pointedly apart, awkwardly avoiding looking at the other. Jesse’s face disappeared behind his hand as he lit a cigarette. “Thanks for breakfast, by the way.”
“Please, do not mention it.”
“I get the feelin’ that you mean that literally.”
“Alrighty then.” Another thirty second silence. “So, about yesterday.”
“That was a pretty dramatic exit.”
“Would it kill ya to contribute to the conversation?”
“Perhaps not, but I am unwilling to risk it.”
Genji waited for Jesse’s snappy follow-up, but was once again disappointed when only a deep chuckle echoed up to him.
He remained hidden at the top of the building for a little longer, hoping for more illuminating conversation, but the sound of voices in the hallway a few minutes later eliminated the chance of further discussion. With a put-upon sigh, he slunk over the edge of the roof, not taking care to be particularly elegant. Still, Jesse jumped slightly when Genji landed on the ground, small puffs of dirt rising up from the impact.
Hanzo gave him a once-over. ⟪How long were you up there?⟫
⟪Long enough,⟫ Genji replied smugly.
Jesse opened his mouth, looking irritated, but his voice was not the next to speak.
“Oh! Hello there. I didn’t expect anyone to show up early.” Winston looked between the three brightly, cheered at the thought of willing participants as Lena and Zenyatta filed in behind him.
“Well,” Jesse drawled, “That’s what happens when you give military folk a place and time to be. Fifteen minutes early is on time and on time is fifteen minutes late.”
“But according to that logic, I’d already be late to my own meeting.”
“Never said it made sense,” Jesse shrugged. “Just said it’s what we do.”
“The boss can’t be late!” Lena chimed in. “That’s a rule all its own. ‘Sides, Reinhardt isn’t here and he’s lifelong military.”
“He’s probably gearin’ up. Takes him forever to put on all his armor.”
“Bah! You should have seen him when he had all his hair.” Torbjörn said as he walked through the entrance to the urban sim. “Took him hours to get ready for battle.”
“Good morning, Torbjörn!” Lena waved cheerfully.
Torbjörn grunted in response, leaning on a hammer nearly as large as him. Genji watched him warily. Thanks to extensive and involuntary compassion meditation under Master Zenyatta’s instruction, he no longer wanted to tear Torbjörn’s head from his shoulders, but he hadn’t managed forgiveness, either.
“Wait for me!” Reinhardt’s unmistakable voice echoed out of the hallway, his usually loud volume magnified by the narrow space.
“Not so loud,” Brigitte complained.
“Perhaps I should conduct a hearing exam for him…” Angela’s voice followed.
“Eh? What was that?” Reinhardt exited the hallway, stepping into the bright sunlight. As large as the German was in his day-to-day outfits, he was absolutely mountainous in his Crusader armor.
Silver steel encased his entire body, with carefully articulated joints allowing easy movement—as long as the wearer had the physical strength to even lift the plates of armor. An artfully crafted lion motif dominated his left forearm. Around his chest, the armor protruded slightly in the front, housing the mechanics that powered the mini turbine on his back. While his left arm cradled a three-pronged, full helmet, his right held the hilt of a warhammer so massive that it made Reinhardt seem proportional. It was as though a knight of old had stepped through the pages of a fairy tale right into the modern era. Genji didn’t even notice Angela and Brigitte with him until they stepped directly into his line of sight.
⟪Impressive.⟫ Hanzo nodded appreciatively. ⟪I cannot help but wonder, however, whether the size of his hammer is meant to compensate for other things.⟫
Genji laughed loudly, drawing the attention of those closest to the brothers.
Winston, oblivious as usual, took no note. “Is this everyone? One, two…and ten including me. Excellent, everyone is accounted for! Okay, who would like to go first?”
“I shall lead the charge!” Reinhardt bellowed, flexing his arms in a series of bodybuilder poses. He twisted in the classic back flex, only for a loud popping sound to interrupt him. He hunched over, one hand bracing against his knee and the other holding his back. “Actually, I might need a moment…”
“I told you to stretch, old man!” Brigitte stomped to Reinhardt’s side, berating him even as she guided him through gentle warm-ups.
“Uh, I guess I’ll just lead by example.” Winston moved into the center of the main clearing in the urban simulation. “I’ll talk everyone through my basic repertoire of skills before I conduct a brief demonstration. I’ve never been a part of mission teams—I was in the research and development department—so this should be new information for everyone.”
The group circled around Winston, giving him ample space to show his gear. Genji sat in place cross legged, while Hanzo leaned against the building beside them.
“May I join you?” Zenyatta asked politely.
“Of course, Master.” His mentor settled beside him in an immaculate lotus position, humming in peaceful satisfaction. Genji tilted his head at Angela, silently inviting her to join him. She smiled but shook her head, pointing at her white Valkyrie suit and then at the dusty ground. Pushing his disappointment to the side, Genji nodded in return.
“Ahem,” Winston cleared his throat to quiet the drone of conversation around him. When everyone had redirected their attention to him, he began. “As all of you know, I was born and raised on the Moon as a part of a program designed to test the effects of genetic therapy on gorillas. The program… didn’t go as intended and I had to escape the Horizon Colony on the only functioning emergency pod.” Winston paused, blinking rapidly.
“Anyway, this suit was originally designed for near-range space missions like maintenance or geological studies. I’ve modified it to be more resilient to gunfire, but you can still see the original gray suit underneath my additions.” He pointed to the slate colored fabric not entirely covered by the white over-armor. “I kept the booster jets as well,” he twisted to better display the two slim jets that ran parallel down the length of his back. “They’re best for rapid vertical acceleration. I haven’t removed my sun visor either, although I don’t know what kind of battlefield function they might serve.” He chuckled briefly, until he realized no one was laughing along.
“Um, right. I’ve been working on developing a portable shield projector, but it’s still in the early stages of development. And, uh, what else… Oh, yes! I brought my Tesla cannon as well!”
Torbjörn snorted. “Still using that feather duster of a gun? How’s that working for you?”
Winston hefted up a large weapon, too blocky and rectangular to resemble any traditional rifle or gun, aiming one end towards the sky. He pressed the button underneath its handle and the weapon crackled to life, bolts of electricity arcing into the air wildly, hissing and spitting like digital vipers as they searched for a target. “Why don’t you come over here and ask that again?” the scientist asked smugly.
Torbjörn stared up at the dancing lights approvingly. “I see you’ve made some modifications! Can I see the blueprints?”
“Maybe some other time.” Winston released the trigger and the sizzling sound of electricity stopped. Genji peered at the weapon curiously. Several wires and cables traveled along the length of the—steel or carbon?—metal casing, which split into two narrow arms halfway down. It looked to be unwieldy and heavy, certainly nowhere near as artful as his own choice of weapon, but for Winston’s considerable size and strength it seemed well-paired.
“Too oversimplify,” Winston resumed his explanation, “the Tesla cannon functions as an oversized taser. It emits an electrical field that extends approximately eight meters from the barrel. It’s especially effective against unprotected electrical constructs and, in sufficient doses, can incapacitate living beings as well.”
“Can we see them booster jets in action?” Jesse called out.
“Uh, sure. Everyone back up. No one’s standing behind me, right? Okay, here we go!” Winston crouched and then leapt, bright white plasma firing behind him as he sailed into the air, easily over ten meters high, and landed twenty meters away.
⟪I never thought I’d see flying monkeys outside of a movie,⟫ Hanzo muttered. A second joke? Genji turned his head to see one corner of his brother’s mouth pulled into the barest of smiles.
Tentatively, hopefully: ⟪If we’re lucky, we may fight a wicked witch!⟫
Hanzo chuckled. Warmth flooded through Genji’s body. So much tension and strain melted away with his return to his brother’s good graces. He hadn’t realized how stressed he was when Hanzo wasn’t speaking to him.
“Coming through!” Winston shouted as he touched down from his return leap, dirt billowing up around him. “Okay, who’s next?”
“Uh, Winston, love?” Lena raised her hand. “I think you’re forgetting something.”
“What do you mean?”
“Y’know… the whole ‘don’t make me angry’ bit.”
“Oh. Oh. Um, yes. I wouldn’t exactly consider it an ability.” Winston shuffled in embarrassment.
“I think it would still be important for the new guys to know, yeah?”
“I—yes, I suppose you’re right.” He cleared his throat again before addressing the group. “I have a tendency to revert to a reduced intellectual state accompanied by heightened physical responsiveness whenever my emotional well-being is compromised.”
Torbjörn squinted. “…What?”
“He goes ape-shit when he’s mad,” Jesse translated.
Angela rubbed her temples with her fingers. “Jesse McCree, was that a pun?”
Jesse laughed, shoving his thumbs in belt loops. “Don’t know what you mean, sweetheart.”
“McCree, you’re next,” Winston said crisply, clearly irritated with the humor at his expense.
Jesse shrugged, his serape fluttering with the movement. “I’ll be quick. Ain’t much to tell.”
⟪With that outfit?⟫ Hanzo said. ⟪I’d say he has quite a bit to explain for himself.⟫
Jesse narrowed his eyes at Genji’s brother but didn’t confront him, only able to understand the tone of the words and not the meaning.
“I’ve had extensive training in small unit tactics. I’m proficient in the use of most small-arms and in hand-to-hand combat. I’m best in close-quarters. These,” He unclipped a small canister from his belt, “are non-lethal flash bang grenades. They can immobilize an enemy by temporarily deafenin’ and blindin’ him. I don’t think y’all want a personal demonstration of that.” He reattached it to the loop. “This,” he said as he drew his revolver from his belt, “is a custom Colt Python that I like to call Peacekeeper. It’s a high-powered, double-action revolver that uses custom, expensive ammunition. As such, if you folk want to see my shootin’ skills, I’ll be usin’ one of the weapons in the arms room.” He slid the revolver back into its holster. “Yup, easy as that. Any questions?”
“You’re wearing chaps.” Torbjörn said incredulously.
“That ain’t a question.”
“Isn’t it?” Hanzo countered dryly.
Affronted, Jesse glared at Hanzo. “Hey, I kicked your ass in these chaps! It’s not like they’re just for lookin’ pretty. They’re made out of leather and work real well as light-weight protective gear. Not to mention I was working odd jobs on farms and shit for the past decade, and these happen to be dead useful when you’re shoein’ a horse.”
“Mein gott,” Brigitte gasped with an expression of horror, “he’s actually a cowboy.”
“What, did you think I just like cosplayin’?”
“Well,” Angela stretched out, smiling apologetically when Jesse shot her a betrayed look.
“Explain the blanket, then,” Hanzo demanded.
“Okay, first? It’s a serape. It masks my silhouette and makes it harder for folk to get a solid hit on me. Also makes a good tourniquet in a pinch. Second, I don’t make fun of your get up, Robin Hood.”
“Excuse me,” Zenyatta interrupted gently but firmly. “What does B-A-M-F mean? I am unfamiliar with the term.”
Jesse glanced down at his oversized belt buckle emblazoned with the acronym. He grinned at the omnic proudly. “Bad-ass mother fucker!”
“I see.” Zenyatta nodded sagely.
Genji snorted at the absurdity of it all.
“Thank you, McCree.” Winston said with an air of finality. “Reinhardt are you ready?”
“I’ve never felt better!” Reinhardt thudded to the center of the group as Jesse retreated to his spot and flopped to the ground. “My career began long ago, years before the Omnic Crisis as a Crusader in the German military. From my years as a fledgling recruit to the dying days of the Crusader Battalion, I was part of a narrative that evolved into a true epic with honorable heroes and cunning villains!” An intense craving for pretzels swept over Genji as Reinhardt launched into his dramatic tale. Only a few weeks working with Reinhardt and he had already developed a Pavlovian response to story time. “We fought for glory and honor, in defense of the innocent--”
“How about we save the history lesson for later, eh?” Brigitte said, flipping her ponytail. “Let’s keep to talking about your gear.”
“But Brigitte, how will they understand my motivations? Our code of honor? The life of a Crusader—”
“Is not his own, but belongs to the people.” She finished the quote with a well-practiced air. Brigitte put her hands on her hips and leaned slightly back to look Reinhardt in the eye. “But is this how you want to tell the story?”
“Of course! What better time is there?”
A time with pretzels, of course.
“Good storytelling is all about presentation. A legendary tale such as ours can only be appreciated after a good meal, in front of a blazing hearth, and with a beer in hand!”
“Too true, fraulein! Alright, I shall defer the Saga of the Crusaders for another time.”
⟪Is she that good at manipulating everyone, or just Reinhardt?⟫ Hanzo whispered.
⟪Oh, he knows what she’s doing,⟫ Genji said under his breath, not trying to interrupt Brigitte’s explanation of armor forging. ⟪They’re always putting on a show. That was them letting everyone know they’re planning a dinner.⟫
“—and when coupled with modern hard-light technologies, it allows Reinhardt to project a large shield that blocks most projectiles. Demonstration, please?”
“With pleasure!” Taking a moment to set his helmet down, Reinhardt brought his left arm before him, parallel to the ground, before closing his fist and rolling it inwards. The lion motif opened its jaws wide, eyes glowing a fiery orange, releasing a bright blue light that rapidly expanded into a large rectangular shield that easily covered Reinhardt with space to spare.
“The shield can only take so much damage before the regenerative powers of the hard light engine are overwhelmed. At that point, Reinhardt must deactivate the shield so that the engine can perform self-repairs. It takes about twelve seconds for a fully depleted shield to regenerate completely. There are obvious defensive benefits for having a shield, although it drastically limits his mobility. To compensate for this, Crusader suits have mini jet turbines built into them.” Reinhardt turned to better display the circular engine that took up the majority of his back. “It takes significant power to rapidly accelerate such a heavy set of armor, so a charge doesn’t even last a whole second. In that time, though, Reinhardt can travel upwards of fifty-five meters. Demonstration?”
Reinhardt grabbed his helmet from its place on the ground and dusted it off before donning it. “Safety first!” He walked to the edge of the cliff and turned his back to the sea, presumably to maximize his runway space in the crowded sim. Hammer in hand, he spread his stance wide and— the crush of sound was nearly unbearable as he soared past the group, clumps of dirt and rocks flying into the air behind him. He flew the entire length of the range before coming to an abrupt stop, shield raising not half a breath later.
Genji snuck a glance at his brother as enthusiastic applause broke out among the group, remembering how in awe he was the first time he witnessed Reinhardt’s charge. Hanzo did not disappoint-- his thick eyebrows were high on his forehead and his mouth was parted slightly. For his up-tight brother, it was the equivalent of a jaw-drop.
Reinhardt thudded his way back to the agents, shouting ahead. “What a performance, if I do say so myself!”
Brigitte laughed loudly. “Yeah, yeah, save some glory for the rest of us, old man.” Her smile morphed into a smirk. “Speaking of old men, your turn, Papa.”
The engineer grunted irritably. “I don’t normally like to be directly involved in the fight. My craftsmanship does the talking for itself.” He swung down a heavy, iron contraption that had been hanging on his back as a rucksack would.
It was roughly a cubic meter, maybe a little less in height. Even though it was painted red instead of Overwatch blue, Genji could recognize a Torbjörn Turret anywhere. Torbjörn hefted up his hammer high above his head with both hands before swinging it down violently, hitting the iron so hard that the surface collapsed a few centimeters. Genji leaned back in surprise before belatedly remembering that Torbjörn’s activation sequence was a little more… brute force than most engineers would care for. A mechanical whirring filled the air followed by metallic clanking and the iron block unfolded itself into a large turret.
“This beauty can go anywhere,” Torbjörn said, patting the top of the turret proudly. “All you have to do is set her down and activate her and she’ll take care of the rest. Her AI is limited, of course, learned my lesson from the Crisis. She has a line-of-sight aiming system. Right now I have her keyed to only target bots, but that can be adjusted to firing at certain types of uniforms or not firing based on uniforms. Course, that works best when it’s a clear fight between two sides, have to go manual if there are civilians or third parties involved.”
Angela narrowed her eyes at the turret. As beautiful as she was when she was angry, Genji really didn’t want to fight on her behalf today. Master would have him meditating for years.
“How exactly does your… invention select targets, Herr Lindholm?” She asked.
“Spectral signature analysis,” Torbjörn growled reluctantly, obviously still unwilling to trust Angela.
“Really?” Winston’s attention was focused intently on the machine, completely missing the silent battle between the doctor and the engineer. “I assume that it has a passive sensor that reads its surroundings?”
Torbjörn broke his steely gaze away from Angela, choosing to acknowledge Winston’s question instead, to Genji’s great relief. “It has both passive and active, actually. Passive for when she identifies actively and active for when she targets by exception. Active sensing has a much lower delay when identifying valid targets, but the trade off is near-indiscriminate firing, which is only useful in very specific circumstances of course.”
“I see! I presume we would need to fabricate some sort of paint or armor with a unique signature if we wanted to engage the active mode with an Overwatch team?”
Lena looked between Winston and Torbjörn in clear confusion. “Er, I’m not the only one who isn’t following this, right?”
Muttering under his breath, Torbjörn shook his head and swung his hammer on the turret, initiating its tear-down sequence. “Bah, it’s not important. What you need to know is that my skills are in building turrets and armor, not in running around with a gun.”
“Well, if you say so,” Lena said uncertainly. Her eyes brightened suddenly and she glanced around at the group. “Can I go next?”
No one objected.
“Right-o! Good morning loves, Lena here! My kit is probably both the easiest to understand and hardest to work with. Let’s start with the basics.” She held her arms up, ejecting two pistols from the holsters on her forearms into her waiting hands. “These nifty fellows fire pulse bullets, which means infinite ammo as long as it has batteries. Standard charge rates apply,” she winked. “Of course, pulse-tech isn’t what’s hard to work with, it’s me.”
Genji felt a sinking sensations as he watched her holster her pistols and made a show of tightening the straps of her chronal accelerator. He had a strong suspicion of what she was about to do and while he wouldn’t ruin the surprise for everyone else, it was going to be a tough act to follow.
Lena tapped the glowing blue mechanism hugging her chest. Satisfied that her gear wouldn’t shift, she walked to the edge of the cliff as Reinhardt had earlier. Turning to the watching group, she grinned sharply. Lena stretched her arms wide-- “Be right back!” she called out—and tipped backwards over the edge of the cliff. Hanzo and Zenyatta were on their feet almost instantaneously, the latter crying out in fear. Then the air at the edge of the cliff shimmered, twisting and shifting before splitting open. Lena stood just as she had before she leapt off the cliff: short hair wildly ruffled, arms wide, and smile wider. “Now where were we?”
Genji chuckled, but cursed inwardly. That had been so well done, he would look boring in comparison. Him! A green cyborg ninja dude! No one could possibly top time travel.
Beside him, Hanzo was still as tensed as his bow at full draw. Though relieved, Zenyatta placed a palm over his chest and wasted not a moment in chiding his informal student. “Lena, you gave me quite the fright.”
Lena’s grin turned sheepish. “Sorry, Zen. You gotta admit, though, that was pretty good!”
Zenyatta hummed disapprovingly.
“Anyway, that’s why it’s tricky putting me on the battlefield. I have to be very careful about where I put myself because one second I might be behind you and the next I could be in front of your rifle! So unless it’s a really small-scale scuffle, I don’t use my Recall ability except in emergencies. Same thing as my Blink--” her form disappeared again, a bright blue streak tracing her path before she reappeared in the center of the group nearly instantaneously. “It’s no good without coordination.”
Genji leaned over to Hanzo and poked his side insistently. ⟪Anija, you have to go next!⟫ he hissed.
Hanzo glanced at him, still focused on Lena. ⟪Why?⟫
⟪Because I won’t seem nearly as cool if I go after her!⟫
For one horrible moment as Hanzo rolled his eyes, Genji thought his brother would ignore him and abandon him to a fate of mediocrity, but then Hanzo strode to the center of the group as Lena finished her monologue.
“Good morning,” Hanzo began stiffly, bow clenched tightly in his left hand, chin tucked as he surveyed the agents with hooded eyes. “I possess no extraordinary talents, but the ones that I have cultivated are… unique.” He paused, eyes traveling over the assembled Overwatch agents challengingly. Genji felt his heart clench at his brother’s clear unease—he always compensated discomfort with an imperious attitude. “By trade, I am practiced in missions that require stealth and discretion.”
“Assassin,” Jesse coughed.
Genji twisted around to glare at him, but the cowboy only shrugged, nonverbally saying what? He is.
“I am most comfortable engaging enemies from a distance,” Hanzo drove on, ignoring Jesse. “I am capable of using sniper rifles, but I find that their bulk limits my ability to reposition or to move quickly. As an alternative, I have mastered the bow as my weapon of preference.”
“A bow?” Reinhardt echoed dubiously. Genji snorted. Like a hammer was any better.
“Yes.” Hanzo confirmed, making no move to elaborate.
Genji frowned. Mobility wasn’t the only reason his brother preferred the bow over guns.
⟪Brother, are you going to tell them about your dragons?⟫
Hanzo started at Genji’s voice. ⟪I was not planning on it. Do they know of yours?⟫
He winced. It appears there was at least one more topic that they hadn’t gotten around to discussing. ⟪…Mine is not as it used to be.⟫
Hanzo’s eyes sharpened, something like apprehension flickering behind them. Genji switched to English for the benefit of the group. “It looks like I am the last to perform!”
“Oh?” Zenyatta asked. “Is Dr. Ziegler not presenting today?”
Angela blushed lightly. “Oh, I don’t fight. I’m strictly a medic in the field. It’s just this suit and my medkit for me.”
Zenyatta’s photoreceptors blinked in a manner that Genji recognized as interest. “Really? You do not even carry a weapon?”
She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Ah, that would be correct.”
Genji used the conversation’s distraction to his advantage, scaling the side of the office building and standing proudly above the other agents. Hanzo had tracked his entire journey, but Angela didn’t notice him until he was already on the roof.
“Genji! What are you doing up there?”
He smirked behind his mask, contorting his body in exaggerated stretches. “Whatever do you mean, Angela?”
Even from such heights, he could see her eyes narrow threateningly. Better not drag this out too long. “You better not be doing what I think you’re doing,” she warned.
He paused in an overhead arm stretch. “I suppose that would depend on what you are thinking. Are you thinking that I would do… this?”
He took two large strides back from the edge of the roof before sprinting and leaping off the building. In his cybernetic body, he couldn’t feel the wind rush past him, but he could hear it and his heart soared with the sensation of free fall. As the ground rushed up to greet him, Genji angled his legs beneath him. His feet hit the dirt first, but instead of breaking his joints trying to stick the landing, he allowed the forward momentum to fly him forward. His arms reached out as he tucked himself into a roll, from his right shoulder to his left hip, before coming up in a sprint, shuriken in hand. The blades buried themselves in the wall as he raced up the short building and came to an abrupt halt, his green ribbon fluttering with the continued inertia.
“Wicked!” Lena breathed, staring at him wide-eyed.
“Most impressive,” Zenyatta agreed.
Genji preened at the praise.
Angela was rubbing her temples again. “I swear, between you and Lena, I will die an early death due to unnecessary stress on my cardiovascular system.”
“Because I’m heart-stoppingly handsome?” he teased.
She threw her hands in the air in a show of exasperation, but she was grinning.
Reinhardt was frowning in confusion. “But how do you fight, Genji?” Right, Reinhardt had already ‘retired’ by the time he joined Overwatch...
“With shuriken and my blade,” he said, drawing his katana from the sheath on his back. “As you have seen, I am quite capable of acrobatic maneuvers. I use the utmost precision with my weapons. I can even deflect bullets.”
“Pft, okay,” Lena laughed, looking around to share her amusement, only to tilt her head when she realized no one else found his claim outrageous. Genji smirked.
“Why not test it yourself, Miss Oxton?”
Lena’s eyes widened. “No way! You’ll get hurt!”
“Don’t worry, Lena,” Angela comforted her, “He fully deserves any pain you inflict.”
“Genji’ll be fine,” Jesse drawled, difficult to see from this angle on top of the roof, as he was directly beneath Genji, but still easy to hear. Even when muttering under his breath, Genji could hear his next words: “Wouldn’t mind if you took a shot at the other brother, too.”
Unaware of Jesse’s dig, Hanzo scoffed. “Miss Oxton’s reluctance is reasonable. I would think that fratricide would not be encouraged in such an organization”
A sudden quiet fell over the group. Genji’s armor clinked loudly as he slapped his palm to his face. He knew Hanzo only meant that Lena couldn’t be expected to believe such a far-fetched claim, but how could he not realize that they would take his words as a reference to his own literal fratricide?
As was often the case, Jesse was the one to break the silence.
“Holy shit,” Jesse breathed, gasping for air between raucous laughs. A red flush crawled up Hanzo’s neck at a furious pace, from anger or embarrassment, Genji wasn’t sure. Probably both. “I can’t—” He gasped again. “I can’t believe you said that!”
Genji lifted his katana slightly. “Lena?”
Perhaps she took to Angela and Jesse’s encouragement, or perhaps she simply wanted to see for herself, but Lena didn’t hesitate this time. A solitary pulse bullet sizzled through the air, colliding with the arc of Genji’s blade. The plasma smashed against the flat of the blade before rebounding entirely, ricocheting on a carefully calculated path into the dirt before Jesse’s feet.
“Shit!” No longer laughing, Jesse glared up at him. “Was that necessary?”
His katana slid soundlessly into his sheath as he stared down at his best friend. “As I said, utmost precision.” Applause broke out through the agents, and Genji bowed graciously.
“If everyone has had their fill of entertainment,” Winston said with amusement, “we can begin the first exercise!”
“Wait, we’re startin’ trainin’ today? How do I keep gettin’ left off the distro?”
“Uh, administrative oversight? Sorry, McCree, I’ll make sure you get the message in the future. Okay, everyone in the chute! I’ll activate one of the training modules.”
Genji dropped from the roof to the ground, jogging excitedly to the range entrance. Winston ambled in a moment after everyone else had assembled. “Alright, red bots are enemy, blue bots are friendly. Athena will be collecting data as we go. Are you with me?” The gorilla looked each agent in the eye, his own sparking in anticipation. “Then let’s go!”
Hanzo pulled a chair from the table before taking a seat. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, enjoying the heady scent of tea. Even Brigitte shouting angry German in the kitchen nearby only added to the atmosphere of the morning, rather than interrupting it. Though the liveliness of the Overwatch team initially overwhelmed him, he quickly found comfort in their day to day—wait, shouting? His brows furrowed and eyes snapped back open.
Brigitte shadowed Reinhardt around the kitchen, passing random bowls and ingredients to her mentor for their breakfast even as she ranted at him in the harsh syllables of his native language. Judging from Reinhardt’s sheepish expression, her anger was well placed, but Hanzo couldn’t discern an immediate cause. Perhaps it was related to Reinhardt’s battered condition? He did not have those bruises yesterday morning. Did the training simulation go poorly? He scooped a bite of rice from his bowl, chewing thoughtfully, and continued to observe.
Genji noisily fell into the chair across from him, disrupting his morning reflections. “I see that they are still fighting,” Genji noted.
Curious that Genji would speak to him in English—and what did he mean, still?—Hanzo glanced at his brother in time to see Dr. Ziegler join them. She watched the arguing duo as she sat.
“Yes,” she said in a monotone, “Brigitte has fair reason to be angry.” She clutched her coffee in both hands, staring sightlessly at her plate of bread and jam. Hanzo hid a smile in his tea. Dr. Ziegler was never one for mornings.
Facial expression under control, Hanzo cleared his throat. “What is the source of their troubles?”
Genji waved his hand about carelessly. “Eh, Reinhardt sort of broke his armor during team practice yesterday.”
Dr. Ziegler glared into her coffee, muttering. “Careless… countless abrasions… running out of skin-seal…” Genji reached for her shoulder and rubbed it comfortingly. Automatically, she lifted her coffee mug higher to keep the liquid from jostling.
Hanzo turned his attention back to Genji, aware that Dr. Ziegler wasn’t far enough in her coffee to properly contribute to the conversation. “How so? What simulation was it?”
“It was Blue Team working on one of the hostage rescue sims. I think it was number two?” Hanzo nodded, mentally scrambling to remember who all was a part of Blue Team. Reinhardt, Winston, Miss Oxton, and… Zenyatta? Or was it Dr. Ziegler? “Winston called for a rather… unusual strategy.”
Ah. “I see. Still no improvement?”
It was a little more difficult to interpret Dr. Ziegler’s grumbles this time, but Hanzo was fairly sure that it was something along the lines of “two weeks” and “faster to teach fish to fly”, which seemed a little unfair to him, despite his previous statement. Winston had no prior experience in tactical leadership. Even if he wasn’t progressing quite as quickly as they hoped, it wasn’t as though Winston had a deadline. Unless you counted Talon’s ever-increasing list of victims…
Genji shrugged one shoulder. “It actually started out fairly well. He sent Lena in from the flank to harry the enemy bots and sent Reinhardt down the middle, instructing him to charge. The problem was when he ordered her to retreat to Reinhardt’s position at the wrong time. Reinhardt charged, Lena was in the middle of his path, Reinhardt veered into building, Lena jumped off the cliff. It really was not that close of a call because of Lena’s skills, but I think Reinhardt forgot in the excitement and he steered away to keep from steamrolling her.”
Hanzo studied Reinhardt critically as the large man stirred a bowl of batter, noting that while there were many bruises and a few sealed cuts, there were no apparent stitches or broken appendages. “He does not appear to be terribly injured. How did his armor break without hurting himself as well?”
“Remember how I said he crashed into a building?” Genji asked distractedly, his masked face angled at Dr. Zeigler’s breakfast.
“Reinhardt was fine after the crash. The building was not.” Genji raised his arms up high in a stretch, casually bringing one arm down on Dr. Ziegler’s shoulder as the other reached for a slice of bread.
Hanzo’s brows rose. “The building collapsed?”
Dr. Ziegler slapped Genji’s hand away from her food, still staring at her breakfast. Pouting, he sank low in his chair before addressing the question. “Yes. Reinhardt did not move out of the way in time and was buried beneath the rubble.”
Hanzo’s hand paused halfway to his mouth, pieces of rice falling from his chopsticks back into the bowl. “I had no idea it was so serious. This happened yesterday, you say?” It seemed irresponsible not to inform other agents of serious injuries within the group.
Dr. Ziegler rolled her eyes, caffeine finally working its way through her system. “It was nothing so dramatic. The buildings in the sim are little more than plaster walls over steel skeletons. The issue wasn’t that Reinhardt was buried beneath it, it’s that he somehow managed to pinch the armor.”
Genji’s free hand was inching to her plate again. She scooted it further away from him without breaking eye contact with Hanzo.
“I had to send Lena to fetch Lindholm” –Dr. Ziegler’s nose scrunched in distaste—“so he could cut Reinhardt out of his armor. Brigitte was beside herself, going on about how she didn’t have the equipment or funds to properly repair the armor like it was my fault Reinhardt broke it. It’s not as though we had a choice. We couldn’t very well leave Reinhardt in his armor forever.” She sullenly bit into a piece of bread. “It’s a miracle that ancient suit lasted this long.”
Turning the new information over in his mind, Hanzo watched Genji remove his faceplate with detached curiosity. A realization prickled at the back of his mind and he refocused his attention on Dr. Ziegler. “Is this cause for concern? Can Reinhardt battle without his armor?” How could they form a sizeable battle roster if they lost fighters as often as they gained them?
“Well, he could probably still be effective as an offensive force, but we’re losing a critical defensive capability—Genji!”
Genji chuckled, having successfully snatched the slice of bread from her hand. Dr. Ziegler’s ponytail swung violently as she whirled, angry words ready on her lips, only to come nose-to-nose with her boyfriend. Genji pressed his advantage, stealing a kiss and holding the toast far out of her reach. When he pulled away to eat his spoils, Dr. Ziegler was giggling uncontrollably. Hanzo lifted his tea to his mouth, hiding his own humor and relishing the warmth blossoming in his chest.
“You absolutely terrible, ridiculous” more giggles, “you could have just asked!”
“Yes, but that would not have been nearly as fun,” he teased. “You are too serious in the morning. I like to see you smile.” Genji swallowed the last of his bread and pecked Dr. Ziegler on the cheek before latching his faceplate into place. She blushed lightly and nibbled on her bread with a pleased hum. “I promised to meet Master Zenyatta after breakfast, so I will be going now. Thank you for breakfast, Angela.” She simply smiled. “See you later, anija!”
Hanzo lifted a hand in farewell as Genji darted out of the kitchen.
A companionable silence embraced the breakfast table, the buzz of Brigitte’s wrath providing a pleasant backdrop of white noise. “I am glad that the two of you are speaking again.” Dr. Ziegler said. Surprised to be addressed directly outside of Genji’s presence, Hanzo blinked, unsure of how to respond. “You know, after Zenyatta arrived. I almost thought you had left, it was so hard to find you on the base. Genji was very upset that you were avoiding him.”
Hanzo shifted in his seat uncomfortably. Was she reprimanding him? “I will confess that I was very disquieted with Zenyatta. I was not sure if Genji was angry with me after his mentor’s arrival, so I thought it best to give them time together to avoid… entanglements.” He paused. “I did not mean to cause distress.”
“Well, we were more worried than distressed. I’m surprised you don’t get along with Zenyatta. Genji made it sound like the two of you would have a lot in common.”
Hanzo frowned in confusion. “How much could a Nepalese omnic monk and a Japanese mercenary have in common?”
Dr. Ziegler blushed and she nervously pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I, um, my apologies, I thought you were Buddhist.”
Sensing irritation rising in his mind, he reflexively centered on his breathing. One breath. Two breath. “The Shambali are not a school of Buddhism,” he said evenly.
Dr. Ziegler blinked in surprise, the flush of her embarrassment quickly replaced by the voracious interest of an academic. Before she could ask any questions, however, Brigitte and Reinhardt sat themselves at the table, two large plates of cold meats and bread between them. Brigitte continued to glare at Reinhardt every other bite.
“Ach, fraulein, do not stare at me like that! I am baking cupcakes like you asked.” At least they had the decency to argue in a common tongue when in the company of others. Hanzo made a show of being very interested in his breakfast.
She jabbed a finger in his direction. “That is only the introduction to the beginning of the prelude for your apology, Rein! Do you know how many functional Crusader suits are left in the entire world?”
Reinhardt sighed heavily, morosely mouthing along with Brigitte: “Twenty-nine.”
“That’s right!” She said, tearing apart a piece of bread. “Nineteen of those are in private collections, five of them are in museums, three are still under the control of the German Armed Forces, and two are in the Eichenwald DMZ!” A piece of bread flew out of Brigitte’s wildly gesturing arms and into Hanzo’s face. Nonplussed, he swiped the crumbs out of his trim beard as Brigitte continued her tirade. “I can’t build you another, Rein! That is all we had! It was all we had…” Brigitte frowned at her breakfast and Hanzo was horrified to see liquid gathering at the edge of her eyes.
Reinhardt was similarly distressed. “No! Fraulein, do not cry.” He stood and hurried around the table to kneel beside her, still managing to stay eye level thanks to his unreasonable height. “We can solve this, I know we can!” Reinhardt swept Brigitte into a bone-crushing hug, resting his cheek on the top of her head. “I swear upon my honor!” Brigitte wriggled in Reinhardt’s grasp, trying to extricate herself. Reinhardt squeezed tighter, apparently mistaking her struggle as an attempt to hug him back. Hanzo shared an alarmed glance with Dr. Ziegler when he heard muffled squeaks.
“Reinhardt!” Dr Ziegler said. “Let her go!”
Startled, Reinhardt dropped her in her chair. Finally free, Brigitte gulped down a lungful of air, wide eyes staring at Reinhardt in askance. Reinhardt scratched the side of his head sheepishly. “Ach, sorry about that, fraulein. My hearing isn’t what it used to be.”
Hanzo’s eyes flickered between the two, wary of another argument breaking out. Slowly, ever so slowly, Brigitte’s mouth stretched in a wide grin. She snorted and shook her head before returning to her breakfast. Just like that, the spat was over. Reinhardt reseated himself and began eating with gusto, loudly praising the food.
Bemused with the sudden change in mood, Hanzo turned to Dr. Zeigler to share his humor. Instead of laughing with him, however, Dr. Ziegler tilted her head to the hallway. Interest piqued, Hanzo smoothly scooped up his dishes—grabbing Dr. Zeigler’s plate on the way—depositing the stack in the soapy sink water and ducking out of the kitchen after her. He’d come back to wash the dishes after he sated his curiosity.
No sooner had the door closed behind them than Dr. Zeigler spoke. “As always, your observations cut to the heart of an issue.”
He blinked. “Please forgive me, I do not follow.”
She began walking through the hall at a slow pace, Hanzo matching her stride-for-stride after only a moment’s hesitation. “Reinhardt is not nearly as effective on the battlefield without his armor,” she explained, the friendly and affable tone during breakfast replaced by her usual brisk professionalism. “Brigitte wasn’t exaggerating, either. Repair is beyond her scope of skills. No doubt she’d be able to mend the suit itself to a reasonable level and with Lindholm’s aid, it might even be better than it was before, but as she said, the real issue is the turbine. Even if she had the skill and the blueprints, we don’t have the means to reconstruct one.”
“I do not recall her saying that.” Hanzo frowned, trying to figure out where Dr. Zeigler was leading him on the base. This was not the way to the medical bay.
“It was when I first came into the kitchen. While they were baking.” Ah, right, she spoke German. “But that is why we need to acquire a new suit.”
The only thing in this direction was Winston’s lab… he blinked, mentally reviewing Dr. Zeigler’s statement. “Acquire a new one? Did Miss Lindholm not account for every suit? It did not sound as though any were easily obtainable. I may not be an expert on Crisis-era military technologies, but I doubt there is room in the budget to buy one from a private collection.”
“Ah, but we don’t need to discover a new one and, ideally, we won’t need to buy one, either. We’ll have to talk to Winston about this, however.”
Confirming Hanzo’s suspicions, she slid open the door to Winston’s lab, stepping into the cool air and calling the scientist’s name. She did not receive a response.
“That’s odd,” she said. “He’s always in here this time of day…”
Hanzo’s eyes darted about the large space, glossing over the escape capsule hanging from the ceiling and the numerous boards filled with equations. Winston wasn’t at his computer station. Not in his swing tire, not in his nest of blankets in the corner, not in— ah, there he was. Hanzo crossed through the lab space, careful to step over the various cables winding across the floor, until he reached Winston’s lab table.
The gorilla was slumped on top of the metallic surface, each light snore causing his notes to flutter towards his mouth, only his massive forearm keeping the papers pinned in their place. Several empty jars of peanut butter were strewn across the workspace and nearby on the floor, accompanied by one or two brown banana peels. Hanzo pressed his lips together in distaste.
Dr. Zeigler appeared at his shoulder. “Winston!” No change in his breathing. She shook his arm insistently, but still he did not stir. Muttering lowly in German, Dr. Zeigler worked the papers out from under the sleeping gorilla, managing to pry them all out without tearing any of his notes. “Here, hold this.”
Without turning to face Hanzo, she passed the papers to him. He barely managed to catch the stack before she let go. Dr. Ziegler bent over Winston, close to his ear, her blonde bangs dangling close to the black fur.
“This is your last chance, Winston! Wake up!” The light snores continued. “Well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She grabbed a half-empty water bottle from the corner of the table, unscrewed the cap, and dumped it on Winston’s face.
“It’s the partial derivative!” Winston shouted, disoriented. Dr. Zeigler set the bottle down and crossed her arms. Winston ran a hand over his head, causing his wet fur to stick up at odd angles. “Uh, good evening.”
“It is morning.” She said accusingly.
Winston swiveled in his chair to look out the bay windows. “Um, yes, empirical evidence seems to agree with you.” He blinked several more times and squinted. Dr. Zeigler primly cleared her throat and held out his glasses. “Oh, thanks.”
Several beats of silence passed. Winston couldn’t sit still, turning his head about, looking at everything and anything other than Dr. Ziegler. He only made it about eleven seconds before he accidentally caught her eye.
“Why are you sleeping at your desk, Winston? I’ve told you how bad it is for you! And you promised me that you would cut back on the peanut butter!”
“I, uh, just got lost in my work is all.” He grinned up at her self-consciously before looking around at his workspace. “And, uh, in my defense, I did not eat all of these in one night.”
Hanzo tuned out their bickering, well aware that this was a regular argument between the two and was furthermore uninterested in Winston’s cholesterol levels. He looked down at the notes in his arms, idly wondering if he could remember any calculus from his schooling. He had always been better at geometry. Instead of a list of undecipherable equations, however, the pages were covered in spreadsheets and tables. He squinted at them, holding the page out a little further, willing the shapes to resolve into readable numbers. He had seen this type of report before, though it had been years.
“—if you cared as much about your health as you do your experiments! When is the last time you had an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep?”
Hanzo cleared his throat. Dr. Zeigler glared indignantly at the interruption, but Winston looked ready to kiss him. He tried not to shudder at the mental image. “Pardon me, Dr. Zeigler, I did not mean to be rude. Winston, are you trying to manage all of Overwatch by yourself?”
Winston frowned. “Well, yes, of course. I initiated the Recall, after all, it is my responsibility.”
Hanzo held up the reports. “Before my father died, I was in charge of the administrative branch of the Shimada-gumi. I had an entire team dedicated to managing the financial state of the clan and a separate team that handled personnel and yet another that handled logistics. You mean to say that not only do you fill the roles of leader and recruiter, but also staff and scientist?”
Winston reached for a jar of peanut butter distractedly, frowning in disappointment when he discovered it was empty. “It’s not as amazing as you make it sound. I’m sure Overwatch isn’t nearly as big as your gang.” Hanzo’s eye twitched, but he suppressed the need to educate Winston.
Mostly thanks to Dr. Ziegler, who spoke over his lecture about the difference between a gang and a Yakuza clan. “Is this why you’ve been sleeping so little? Why didn’t you ask for help?”
“That’s because I don’t need help. Besides, it’s my responsibility!” Winston tossed another empty peanut butter jar at the trash can. He missed.
Dr. Ziegler unfolded her arms, placing her hands on her hips instead. “Really? Tell me, what day is it?”
“Uh,” Winston turned to look for his tablet, but Dr. Ziegler cut his search short by snatching it out of his reach.
She returned the tablet triumphantly. “It is the eighth of August.”
“I was close!”
Hanzo interrupted before the bickering could begin in earnest. “Your efforts, while worthwhile and admirable, are unsustainable. Would you not consider spreading the duties amongst the Overwatch team?”
“No.” Winston shook his head, strands of fur flying out and floating to the floor. “Absolutely not. I initiated this Recall. I knew what I was getting into when I pressed that button, and I intend to see it through.”
Dr. Ziegler made a frustrated noise in her throat. “You can lead without involving yourself in every single detail. Do you think I managed all the paperwork and monitored all the patients at Numbani National?”
“That’s completely different.”
“It is not at all different!” She rebutted. “You are micromanaging, Winston, and you are suffering for it!” Winston opened his mouth to retort but she did not allow him the opportunity. “What happens if you fall ill?” Winston rolled his eyes. “What if you are injured? How will Overwatch survive when you are the only one who knows how to hold the helm? Systems need redundancy!”
“There’s only ten of us. You’re exaggerating a non-existent problem. If it makes you feel better, I can look into creating manuals for any successors.”
Dr. Ziegler gritted her teeth. “I’m trying to get you to do less work, not more.”
This discussion was not going well. “There are only ten of us now,” Hanzo interjected diplomatically, “but if we have any hope of expanding the current roster, then we will need to delegate. I am sure that you would have volunteers if you only asked.” Winston rubbed his chin in consideration but did not respond. Perhaps a small bit of flattery. “We all appreciate what you have done for Overwatch, allow us to show our gratitude in return.”
“Well…” Winston breathed out heavily before sitting back in his chair. “I suppose I’ll bring it up at the weekly meeting. We’ll put it through a trial phase and then reconvene on the matter.” Winston’s yellow eyes zeroed in on Hanzo. “Can I have my notes back?”
“Oh,” Hanzo thrust the papers forward into Winston’s waiting hands. “Of course.”
Winston opened a drawer beneath the table to leave the papers. The first drawer was full of miscellaneous office supplies so he closed it, but the second had plenty of room even though there were two full jars of peanut butter. “Aha!” he said, excitedly grabbing a jar. Dr. Zeigler hummed in warning. Sighing, Winston closed the drawer. “What’s a social call from Dr. Zeigler without three health lectures?”
“That’s not true,” she objected. “I didn’t lecture you three times, I—” she paused, apparently doing mental math before switching tacks. “This wasn’t a social call at all.”
Winston eased himself off his chair and yawned, displaying a disturbing set of canines easily over five centimeters long. Stretching his limbs, Winston smiled in amusement. “I suppose you planned to accidentally discover my poor sleeping habits?”
“Actually,” Dr. Zeigler said primly, “we originally came to talk about Reinhardt’s armor situation.”
Hanzo looked between the two, beginning to wonder why Dr. Zeigler had dragged him along at all. He may have assisted in defusing their arguments, but he was sure they would have resolved their differences eventually. Likely in Dr. Ziegler’s favor; She was merciless in pursuit of her goals. However, it was Reinhardt’s armor that initially brought them here, and he didn’t have any idea how to fix Reinhardt’s armor. Perhaps she needed him in case any Talon-related knowledge gaps arise. That seemed most likely.
“The sooner we can resolve it,” she said, “the better. He is a keystone to several of our action teams.”
How long would this conversation last? He’d rather not stand for the duration. Hanzo glanced around for a chair, but there wasn’t a single horizontal surface clear of research or trash. That wouldn’t do.
Winston groaned unhappily. “I am aware of Reinhardt’s armor problem. I know there’s no chance of refurbishing it. We were both there when Brigitte gave her prognosis, so what more is there to talk about?”
Hanzo decided to simply sweep the trash off a nearby counter into the bin and use that as a seat, but first he’d have to find a trash bag. Did the Watchpoint have recycling?
“Well, have we looked into securing another suit?” Dr. Zeigler asked. Hanzo paced through the lab, looking for anything that could serve as a trash receptacle.
Winston shook his head and reseated himself on his chair. “From where? The museums aren’t going to sell and I doubt the private collections would, either, if I could even track down the owners. And if they were willing to sell, well… I had Athena look up the last known selling price for a suit. Unless you have an extra twenty million euros somewhere, I think it’s safe to say that buying a new suit is easily outside of our budget.”
Hanzo finally discovered an entire cabinet of cleaning supplies. He nearly smiled in relief but settled for grabbing a large trash bag. Then another. He was sure that there must be a recycling center somewhere in Gibraltar.
“What if we didn’t buy another suit?” Dr. Zeigler asked.
Hanzo eyed her curiously as he sorted the scrap paper and trash into each bag. She never struck him as one to engage in unethical behavior. That was Genji’s domain.
Winston appeared to agree. “Dr. Zeigler, are you suggesting we steal one? I know we’re not a legal organization, but our purpose is to help reduce crime, not cause it.”
“I’m not sure if I would categorize it as ‘stealing’. After all, no one’s claimed this suit in nearly twenty years.”
As he sorted the last of the trash on the counter, Hanzo’s hand brushed against the metallic surface beneath, thoroughly repulsed to discover a sticky substance covering the entire counter.
“It would be more like,” Dr. Zeigler paused, looking around the lab for inspiration. “Ah! A recovery operation. Yes, we are going to lead a mission to recover an unclaimed Crusader Suit.”
“Unclaimed? You’re not implying—oh, you are. You’re talking about,” a shrill squeak interrupted him. “Uh, Mr. Shimada? What are you doing?”
Hanzo froze, one hand halfway through squeezing a very noisy spray bottle, the other scrubbing fiercely at a stubborn stain. He stood at his full height, projecting a regal mien despite his mundane activity.
“I am cleaning.”
Winston looked baffled. “Why?”
Hanzo placed his rag on the counter, which promptly slid from the soapy surface to the floor. He glared at it before replying defensively. “It was dirty.” He waited until the two returned to their conversation before bending to retrieve his wash cloth. When he lifted it from the floor, he could only stare in horror. Were these tiles supposed to be white?
“Think about it Winston, the Eichenwald DMZ has been on lockdown for two decades. If no one’s claimed those suits by now, we might as well make use of them.”
“You seem to be glossing over the fact that the reason no one has claimed the suits is because Eichenwald was never properly decontaminated. I don’t think they ever even managed to extract the, er, casualties.”
“What? That’s ridiculous, they evacuated the casualties in the first week after the battle. It’s beside the point. Perhaps originally the German government didn’t launch any recovery teams for the suits because of the radiation, but that hasn’t been a factor since they memorialized the battlefield three years ago.” Hanzo looked up from cleaning his third table. Didn’t he refuse a job in Eichenwald two years ago because of the health hazards? “I know that they interred the few bodies they found and—”
“How do you know?” Hanzo asked.
“Where did you learn that Eichenwald is no longer radioactive? None of my sources indicated such an event.” His unspoken questions: Is this related to Blackwatch? Why did you not warn me before we approached Winston? They had long ago established an easy pattern of discussing a bit of information and following it with the source, simply to ensure that the authenticity was never called into question. It was unlike her to deviate from those methods, but perhaps it had merely slipped her mind.
Dr. Zeigler drew back slightly, thrown off-balance as if she were surprised. “I—I thought it was common knowledge.”
Suspicion flared to life in Hanzo’s chest. That was not the expected response. “Not even Winston is aware,” he pointed out. “Clearly, it is not so commonly known.”
She could have cited her Blackwatch medic years to satisfy Winston if—except, no that would not work. Blackwatch fell seven years ago. Did she keep in contact with Blackwatch operatives other than Genji? In the meetings she made it sound as though she kept her head low in the years after Overwatch…
“Well, does Winston monitor every news source in Germany? I was not aware he spoke German.”
Not appreciative of being referred to in third person, Winston spoke up. “That would be because I don’t—”
Dr. Ziegler spoke over him. “Although, now that I think about it, I’m fairly sure that I first learned of it through a medical journal detailing the aftercare of the recovery team.” She turned her icy gaze to Winston. “How thoroughly do you analyze quarterly medical publications in Europe?”
“Uh, not very often, although I suppose I could ask Athena to—”
She shook her head in annoyance. “I work for you now, Winston, it would be redundant to have Athena review the same articles as I do. Not to mention unnecessary. Athena’s processing power would be better served unencrypting the Antarctica files. How is that coming along, by the way?”
Winston blinked, overwhelmed at the rapid speech. “I, uh, Athena last reported to be roughly forty percent complete, although there are some complications—”
“Ach! We are getting distracted. So, are we going to launch a mission to Eichenwald?” Hanzo opened his mouth to question her source again when she caught his attention and widened her eyes meaningfully. Fine. He would interrogate her outside of Winston’s presence.
Suddenly looking very tired, Winston sagged in his seat. “I suppose. Are you volunteering to lead the mission?”
“Ah, no,” she said, blushing. “I think it would be more prudent to assign one of the team leaders. It would be a wonderful training opportunity!”
“I’ll remember to bring it up next meeting, then.”
Dr. Ziegler deflated. “Next meeting? That’s not until Sunday.”
“If you would recall from the last meeting,” Winston said dryly, “Lena still isn’t scheduled to return from her visit home until Sunday morning. There’s no sense in moving up a meeting when our pilot won’t be here to transport the team.”
“Oh. Right, of course.” Momentum lost, Dr. Ziegler smiled shyly. “Do take care of yourself, Winston. We all care for you. We don’t want to see you collapse on our behalf.”
“Or from a viral infection,” Hanzo muttered, glaring at the ostensibly brown tiles. Wolves could feast on the dust bunnies hiding under these tables.
Winston rolled his eyes. “If I promise to take a nap, would you leave me in peace?”
“Of course. I’ll be checking on you tomorrow, though! Do try to eat something other than peanut butter.”
Winston grunted noncommittally as Dr. Ziegler departed from the labs. Keen to extract answers from her, Hanzo followed, tossing the rag into the cleaning closet on his way out, but Winston’s voice caught him at the door.
He deliberated between pursuing Dr. Ziegler and addressing Winston only for a moment. After all, it was a small base. She would be simple to find.
“Um, thanks for cleaning up.” The gorilla rubbed his arms sheepishly. “I never seem to find the time.”
Hanzo bowed slightly at the waist. “If you ever need assistance, do not hesitate to count me among your friends. And, please, call me Hanzo.”
Winston smiled for the first time during their entire exchange. “Thank you, Hanzo.” Hanzo returned the gesture with his own restrained smile before turning on his heel and leaving.
Sorry about the delay on this one! The hotel's wifi was down. Regular Saturday postings will resume.
04NOV: I've had the same question across a couple platforms so allow me to clarify: Brigitte is multilingual. She knows her native Swedish, English, and German. :)
Chapter 14: Rifles
For the fifth time that week, Jesse found himself in the shooting range. He didn’t really mean to end up in there, but every evening after dinner he stepped outside for a smoke and he ended up with a gun in his hand instead.
Jesse had successfully petitioned Winston to order a hundred rounds of ammo for Peacekeeper, but they hadn’t arrived yet so he wasn’t exactly practicing with his favorite weapon. Not that Jesse would be digging into the munition if it had arrived—he was gonna make that shit last the rest of the year, at least. There were much cheaper and more combat-effective weapons on base and Peacekeeper was better suited as a last stand weapon than anything else. That was why, just like every other day this week, Jesse was methodically inspecting, shooting, and cleaning every single weapon in the arms room.
If he was familiar with the model, the process took about thirty minutes per weapon. If he wasn’t, he made a mental note to look up the technical manual for it the next day. He’d been doing four a night so far, but he figured he might stay late tonight since it was Friday. No morning PT on Saturdays and it wasn’t like he had anything better to do anyway.
He punched in the code on the cipher lock and stepped through the doorway, breathing in the dusty atmosphere. Flipping the switch, the overhead lights flickered on reluctantly. Better put in an order for new lightbulbs while he was it. Jesse’s eyes skimmed over the weapon racks before picking up where he left off last night with the assault rifles and counting off the remaining weapons in the room. Roughly twenty. The arms room wasn’t as well stocked as it was before the Fall. Hell, the heaviest weapons in here were a pair of SAWs. It made sense that Gibraltar wouldn’t maintain anything more serious than the light machine guns, but Jesse couldn’t help find it disappointing all the same. Of course, even if they did have something cool like a .50 cal, there wasn’t a long range for miles around. He picked up the next assault rifle in the row.
The metal chair scraped shrilly against the cement floor as Jesse seated himself at the folding table in the arms room. He placed his hat upside down on the table and took the rifle in both hands before he let muscle memory take over his motions.
Pull back the bolt, clear, pop the pin, shotgun the handle, remove the bolt.
He dug a nail under the firing pin retainer to drag it out from place and tossed it into his hat before continuing on the rest of the bolt. Upending the bolt carrier, the firing pin fell into his palm. Into the hat.
Quarter twist, half twist, pluck the cam pin, separate the bolt from the carrier. Into the hat.
He pressed his nail into the button to free the spring from the buttstock and then began his examination. Whoever the armorer was before Petras shut down the Watchpoint had taken their job seriously and also had the foresight to store the weapons dry. Even after nine years with no regular use or maintenance, all the weapons needed in the way of maintenance was a generous coating of lubricant. Still, he took the time to visually inspect all of the rifle’s parts as he lubed up the internal mechanics, careful to note any warping or defect that might cause a malfunction. He reassembled it quickly and performed a functions check, listening for the gratifying thunk on each pull of the trigger.
Satisfied with his work, Jesse grabbed ten rounds of 5.56 and an empty magazine, loading it as he entered the shooting range. Habit lead him to lane four, where he adjusted the iron sights to what the previous three rifles had done best for him. Lastly, he stuffed each ear with ear plugs before settling the buttstock against the crook of his right shoulder.
Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
He flipped the safety, lowered the muzzle, and tapped the screen embedded in the partition on his left. The grouping was tight and dead center, minimal vertical movement from inattentive breathing, but ultimately satisfactory. Not interested in wasting ammo after validating on the first try, Jesse dropped the magazine and cleared the chamber, his feet carrying him back to the arms room. Cleaning kit already on the table, muscle memory once again took over as Jesse disassembled the weapon. Hands occupied, his mind wandered.
A month and a half. That’s as long as he’s been with the new Overwatch and already he was feeling the pressure to move building like a distant thundercloud on the horizon. There were only a handful of instances where he stayed in one town for longer than a few months while he was on the run, and for each one of those instances there was a damn good reason for it. Anytime he accepted the risk of holding tight, it was with a purpose in mind-- and he was starting to lose sight of what he was hanging around the Watchpoint for.
Originally, he wasn’t supposed to stay at all. He wasn’t even supposed to show up, but he ignored his better sense for a misplaced feeling of debt, as if he owed Overwatch. He didn’t owe Overwatch shit. Not a god damned cent. There were people he owed and some of them happened to wear the Overwatch uniform at one time, but that was as far as it went. Genji was one of them.
He didn’t think he could ever absolve his debt to Genji, not after the way he abandoned him back in the day. Genji was his responsibility, his duty, his brother, and he didn’t even look back when he ran from Blackwatch. At the time, he thought it would be easier for Genji, that disappearing overnight without a trace, without a note, without a single sign he had ever existed, would help Genji move on. He thought that maybe Genji would think he died. Thought that maybe Genji would resent him enough to hope Jesse died. What an idiot he was. Should have known Genji was too much of a little shit to obey his expectations. Now, he wouldn’t leave unless Genji damn well told him to. That determination wasn’t enough to soothe his restless spirit, though.
The first few weeks it was easier, because Hanzo had still been a clear threat, an easy way to occupy his time and mind, but he fucked that up when he accepted the truce. A whole month gradually and begrudgingly accepting Hanzo as a permanent fixture in Genji’s life, a whole month losing sight of Hanzo’s original sin, a whole month of his stupid, fucking delicious cooking.
Jesse ran a thumb behind the waistline of his jeans, appreciating that they didn’t hang as loosely as even a week ago. Yeah, Hanzo might still be a dick, but he wasn’t an enemy. Yesterday, Jesse had gone to Winston’s lab to check in on his ammo shipment and found Hanzo in there with him. At first, Jesse thought that he was passing on new Talon information, but that was before he actually looked at Hanzo. The normally conservatively dressed man had his long sleeves pushed up to the elbows and sweatpants pulled up to the knee, although there were long socks beneath. A dust mask shielded the lower half of his face, leaving only his glaring eyes visible.
And he was mopping.
Mopping. Who the hell joins a clandestine international vigilante team with malicious intent to fucking mop the scientist’s floor?
The rifle now thoroughly clean and reassembled, Jesse stood to switch it out with another rifle. Only three more of these to go until he could move on to the few plasma weapons in stock. They were all very early models; The latest and greatest on the inventory were sold to the highest bidder after the Fall and these ancient, twenty year old models probably didn’t even work anymore. One of the many advantages of good ol’ fashioned mechanical weapons over plasma tech, he supposed. One of the many reasons he’d be using these rifles if they ever went on an actual mission.
Pull back the bolt, clear, pop the pin, shotgun the handle, remove the bolt.
Still, what would he do if Genji decided that he didn’t want him hanging around anymore? Would he leave? It’s not like he had anything else keeping him tied to Gibraltar. This had easily been the best month he’s had in a while: good friends, good food, great water pressure. He hadn’t had to fight his way out of a town once and no bounty hunters had come knocking on his door. It was easy living. The insight soothed him some; as the saying goes, gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. He had a good setup here. Sure, it was boring and he was itching to get off base, but on the other hand, boring meant safe. He could use safe.
Functions check. Thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk-thunk. Back into the hall, lane four, ear plugs in.
Overwatch has the same problem, now that he’s thinking about it. No mission, no purpose, no greater aim. Just a vague sense that it’s better to be here than not. Pop. They don’t have the skill or numbers to go directly after Talon. Pop. They can’t interfere with the Russian Crisis. Pop. Not without exposing themselves in the process. Pop. Just sitting here waiting for the slaughter. Pop.
He narrowed his eyes at the display screen. Passable grouping, but he’d need to adjust the sights both horizontally and vertically to center it. Jesse cleared the rifle, pulling out his pocket knife to adjust the sight posts. Would’ve been better to use proper tools, but beggars can’t be choosers.
This time when he rested his cheek on the buttstock, he focused. He sighted down the barrel like he taught himself. Steadied his breathing like his sister taught. Squeezed the trigger like Amari. Dead center like Reyes. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. An itching sensation filled his nose, the urge to sneeze rising. He removed his finger from the trigger well to sneeze away from his weapon, knowing from experience that he was better off getting it out of the way. Shaking his head, Jesse lowered his cheek to the rifle, shuffling a bit until he was confident that his sight picture was the same. Pop. Safety on, he turned to the screen as he dropped the mag. All of the shots were dead center, one on top of another. Grinning in satisfaction, he returned to the arms room.
Absorbed in stripping down the rifle, he almost didn’t hear the door open. If he still had the ear plugs in, then he certainly wouldn’t have noticed, but as it was the creak of steel hinges carried through to the arms room. Who was visiting the range this time of night? Lena was still visiting her girlfriend in London and Jesse was pretty sure Genji was occupied with Angela. Maybe Winston was looking for him? Curious, he set the bolt carrier back on the table and wiped the carbon on his hands with his cleaning rag before stepping into the main hall, only to stop in the doorway.
Maybe all the methodical cleaning and the meditative nature of shooting had mellowed him out. Maybe he spent too much of the night being introspective. Maybe he was just losing his touch, but when he realized it was Hanzo in lane three, his back to him and pulling out the pieces of his bow from its carrier, Jesse didn’t call him out. He didn’t lead in with a belittling greeting, a biting remark, or even a backhanded compliment. Instead, he leaned against the doorjamb and watched.
Hanzo assembled his bow in silence, attaching each limb to the body and stringing it. He made quite a show of inspecting the thin cord, though Jesse hadn’t the faintest idea of what he could be looking for. Hanzo dug through his bag for a moment before retrieving four arrows, setting three on the counter in front of him and notching the fourth. He held up the bow, but did not draw, apparently just sighting. Idly, Jesse wondered whether eye or hand dominance was more important in archery. There was a noisy sigh before Hanzo lowered the bow and turned to face him.
“I thought you were past the staring.”
Not feeling up to faking embarrassment at being caught, Jesse just shrugged. Hanzo watched him with exasperation, clearly expecting Jesse to verbally attack him. The exasperation shifted to distrust and then to confusion as the silence stretched longer and longer.
Eventually, Hanzo turned back to the target.
Jesse studied him as he pulled at the bow, amazed to see such a stiff and unforgiving length of carbon fiber bend beneath Hanzo’s will. Almost as soon as the bow reached full draw, he released, the arrow flying away with a soft snick. Jesse couldn’t see whether or not Hanzo hit the target from this angle, but he was content to wait until Hanzo had finished his round before analyzing his shot group. As Hanzo reached for his second arrow, Jesse observed that his hand was gloved with black leather, although the two smallest fingers were cut out. Was it for better grip? Scrutinizing Hanzo’s motions as he drew back a second time (snick), Jesse decided that his guess was correct.
Vaguely, he wished he could see Hanzo’s face while he fired. Did he close one eye? Both eyes open? Snick. Did it matter? How did he aim at a distance? What was his maximum firing range? Where was the best place to shoot a target with an arrow? Was there enough force to clear through the body, snick, or did it lodge itself in the bone and sinew? Why did he only use a plasma rifle during training exercises rather than this bow? Didn’t Genji say that he and his brother both learned the art of the sword? Wouldn’t Hanzo be similarly skilled with a sword if that were the case? Why settle for distance combat snick?
“Are you ill?”
Jesse blinked, emerging from his mental withdrawal, suddenly aware that Hanzo was staring at him again. Jesse raised his brows.
Taking it as an invitation to expound, Hanzo continued: “You have never allowed silence to linger when talking would do.”
Jesse chuckled and pushed himself off the doorway, walking up to lane three, leaning past a perturbed Hanzo to tap on the panel. Two arrows protruded from the target’s head, where eyes might be on a living person and the other three were all closely arrayed on the chest. Jesse whistled. “Pretty handy with that bow.”
Hanzo only stared, expression caught somewhere between affronted and horrified.
Raising his hands up and retreating a few steps from the archer, Jesse smiled wryly. “Easy there, didn’t know you were so sensitive to compliments.”
Hanzo scoffed. “I must be hallucinating. Jesse McCree does not deliver compliments.”
“Aw, don’t be like that. Anyone on base would tell you I’m a charmin’ guy.”
“Perhaps anyone who is not me would agree.” Hanzo tapped his way through the panel, activating the pulley system that brought the target to the front.
“Yeah, I’ve been an ass to you.”
Hanzo snorted, pulling his arrows from the target’s backing. “Is that supposed to be an apology?”
Jesse smirked. “I’d have to be sorry for it to be an apology. Nah, I’m just acknowledgin’ how I’ve been actin’.”
One arrow was stubbornly embedded in the target and Hanzo was wiggling it up and down, trying to extract it without damaging the arrowhead. “Is this your new hobby? Pretending to be nice? For what purpose? I know that you hate me still. I am not deceived.”
Jesse returned to his post on the doorway, leaning back and propping one foot on the wall. “Hate’s a strong word.”
“And yet I do not feel mistaken in using it.”
“Maybe you should.”
Hanzo looked behind him, still trying to unearth his last arrow, eyes incredulous. “Are you nothing more than a stray dog? I feed you and now I have a mutt’s loyalty?”
“Hey now, I object to that!”
“What, do you imagine yourself to be a pedigree hound? Allow me to guess. Malinois?”
“Huh? Nah, no doubt in my mind that I’d be a mangy mutt. I meant the loyalty. At most it’s a very strong preference that you don’t die anytime soon. Did anyone ever tell you that you could open up a five star restaurant?”
“You would be my only customer.” With a final tug, the arrow pulled free from the target.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Hanzo, busy peering closely at his arrow for damage, didn’t bother looking up. “That is indeed how I meant it.”
“Damn, don’t spare my feelin’s none.”
“That was my intention, yes.”
Jesse couldn’t help it. He started laughing. Without really knowing why, it began as a small chuckle, but at the sight of Hanzo’s indignant face he could only laugh harder. After a moment of shocked silence, Hanzo turned his head to the side with a huff. There was no fooling Jesse, though, he saw his mouth twitch in a smile. Jesse wiped the moisture from his eyes.
“Ah, I needed that. Thanks for the laugh, Han.”
Shit, had he offended him? Angela always got pissy about nicknames, too. He shortens everybody’s name, it wasn’t anything personal! He looked over at Hanzo, but he seemed bemused rather than angry. Oh, good. A fight would’ve really dampened his good mood.
“Han, Hanzo, whatever.”
Hanzo smirked. “Is two syllables too much for you?”
“Har-har. You gonna be in here much longer? I’ve been inventoryin’ the arms room and testin’ all the weapons. You’ll need ear pro if you don’t plan on visitin’ Doc. Fair warnin’, she hates treatin’ tinnitus.”
“Yeah, ear protection. Y’know, keeps your ears from ringin’.”
Jesse swore he could see Hanzo filing away the new phrase in his mental dictionary. “Ah. I thought “pro” meant expert.”
“It does, I was just shortenin’ ‘protection’ to ‘pro’. It might be a military thing, I don’t know where I picked up half the words in my vocabulary.”
“That seems to be the case for your entire language.”
Chuckle. “Yeah, ain’t that the truth.”
“You said Dr. Ziegler dislikes treating tinnitus?”
Jesse thought it was odd that out of the whole ‘please get out so I can get back to work or put in some damn ear plugs’ conversation, that was what Hanzo picked out of it. Generous soul he was, he answered anyway.
“Yeah, she gets real mean about it. Almost as mean as she gets about my smokin’. Says it’s a waste of resources for a self-inflicted injury or some such.”
“I see.” Hanzo was downright stalling now, putting his arrows away one at a time, carefully inspecting each one. What was he working up to? Not turning away from his task, Hanzo continued to study his arrows when he spoke. “Do you know of Eichenwald?”
“Eichenwald?” He tried racking his brain, but all it could provide him was a hazy memory filled with companionable cheers, the taste of beer, and… bratwurst? “Uh, no, can’t say that I do.”
Hanzo glanced up sharply. Jesse didn’t understand his reaction. Was he concerned? Angry? “It was a German town, one of the last to fall in the Crisis. It was declared radioactive. Surely you know something?”
“Oh, the one where they lost the Crusader Battalion! I know a little bit, I s’pose. Mostly from Reinhardt’s stories.” Which would explain why the memory was so hazy. And also the bratwurst.
“I heard a rumor that it is no longer radioactive.” Hanzo said this with a strange inflection, as if he was trying to emphasize some hidden significance. Jesse had no idea what he was driving at.
“Really? I thought that they weren’t gonna let anyone test it for a few more years.”
“As did I.” Hanzo returned his attention to his bow, carefully unstringing it. “So, Blackwatch had no interest in Eichenwald?”
How the fuck was he supposed to know? It’s not like they ran every mission past him before teams went after them and god only knew what the intel shop tracked. “Well, it’s not like I know everything about Blackwatch, but I can’t imagine why we’d care about it. There’s nothin’ of interest there.”
Hanzo snapped his bow’s case shut. “Except for two Crusader suits.”
“What? Really? Does Winston know about this?” This could solve a large chunk of their problems, why would Hanzo just sit on this kind of informa--
“Yes, Dr. Ziegler and I informed him earlier this week.”
Oh. “Well then why were you pickin’ my brain about it?”
“I was not sure if there might be any Blackwatch-related information I could be passing on to Winston.”
Jesse’s brows knit together, suspicion and confusion warring for dominance. “I’m sure Doc would’ve mentioned it.”
Hanzo shrugged casually. “It never hurts to be certain.” Jesse continued to study him, as if he had suddenly gained the power to see into a man’s soul in the past three minutes. Apparently unfazed, Hanzo shouldered his bow case and took a step forward before pausing. “Can I assist you in inventorying?”
The newest flare of suspicion quickly died as Jesse’s inner opportunist cackled. “Well, I think that would depend.”
Blissfully unaware of Jesse’s less-than-benign intentions, Hanzo indulged in a sardonic smile. “On what?”
Jesse swept his arm towards the back wall of the arms room, where an entire rack of weapons rested. It was the one rack that Jesse had aggressively avoided so far, saving the most work-intensive, least rewarding, and probably non-functioning weapons for last. A feral grin split across his face, delighted when Hanzo’s expression shifted from pleased to guarded.
“How good are you at cleanin’ plasma weapons?”
“Good evening, everyone!” Winston shouted from the head of the table, effectively silencing the other agents and officially beginning their weekly meeting. “I hope everyone had a great weekend.”
Hanzo scowled deeply, rubbing his thumb along the small burns on his hands. Across the table, he could see McCree grinning wolfishly. Fifteen plasma weapons this weekend. Fifteen. McCree had disappeared after the fifth, abandoning Hanzo to finish cleaning the weapons in silence. The silence he didn’t mind, the shorted circuitry in the rifles he did.
“Excellent. First order of business, welcome back to the Watchpoint, Lena!”
Lena grinned, waving at the table. For the sake of friendliness, Hanzo attempted to smile in return. Considering her uneasy expression, he could guess that he was less than successful.
Addressing the group at large, Winston continued. “Remember, if you need to leave the Watchpoint for business or family needs you are perfectly within rights to do so, but I would also appreciate a heads-up so I can plan around your absence. I’m tracking that Mr. Lindholm will be taking vacation soon?”
Torbjörn nodded. “Aye, twenty-fifth anniversary with the wife. I’ll be gone until September. If you have any mechanical problems with the base, Brigitte can handle it. If you need to call me, don’t.”
“Uh, okay. Anyone else planning on taking leave?”
No response. Hanzo supposed it made sense. There wasn’t much reason to leave this early into the Recall. August didn’t really have any large holidays, and most of Overwatch felt comfortable enough here at the Watchpoint. He glanced at Genji, sitting beside him, and wondered if his brother would ever get around to planning that romantic retreat with Dr. Ziegler.
“Alright. Next point of order, staffing.” Winston removed his glasses and leaned back in his oversized chair. “It has been brought to my attention that Overwatch could be much more efficient if I didn’t ahem ‘hoard the administrative duties like I hoard peanut butter’.” On the other side of a snickering Genji, Dr. Ziegler maintained a mask of innocent interest. “So, if anyone would like to volunteer their services, please let me know.”
“Well,” Lena twirled her stylus thoughtfully. “What did you have in mind, big guy?”
“Uh, well, someone to help me budget or plan operations with me would be great. I’m already using Athena to keep track of most things on base, including schedules and finances, so it’s not really a critical need—“
“Winston,” Dr. Ziegler said warningly. “It is a critical need.”
“Yes, Dr. Ziegler,” he grumbled. “Well, I’ve never really organized an administrative staff before. I have some ideas, but I’m also open to suggestions.”
“We could follow a military model!” Reinhardt said. Hanzo nodded silently, sure that using a Yakuza framework would be frowned upon, no matter how effective it was. However a military organized its staff would likely be sufficient.
Winston slid his glasses back on, stylus poised above his tablet. “Um, what exactly does that entail?”
“That’d depend on the size of the unit,” McCree said, leaning back in his chair with his hat in his hand. If only Hanzo had seated himself closer to the irritating man, he could have nudged his chair just enough to tip it over. “For the record, you can count this as my contribution because ain’t no way in hell I’m doin’ staff time again.”
Hanzo huffed quietly. Lazy.
“Anyway, we’re the size of a squad, but we have the logistical need of a company and we don’t have the support units to provide that. Normally, the staff’s divided up into shops, so we’ve got personnel, which handles leave and pay and such. Intel, which we can probably leave in Athena’s hands—uh, servers—operations, which means plannin’ current and future missions with an overall strategy. Supply defines itself, of course. Commo, the communications section that handles secure channels and makin’ sure we can talk. And uh, let’s see I know I’m forgettin’ one…” He snapped his fingers. “Maintenance!”
Winston nodded as he scribbled notes on his tablet. “This seems like a good base to start from. Can anyone think of any other positions that we might need?”
“Perhaps I could officially take a post as Overwatch chaplain?” Zenyatta suggested.
“Of course! Thank you, Zenyatta.”
Dr. Ziegler raised her hand. “I must insist that medical operations remain separate from the day-to-day operations. I maintain my own inventory of medical supplies and all records are confidential. I can forward any supply requests that use Overwatch funds through whoever volunteers to be the supply officer, but I’d much rather keep oversight of my practice.”
“I think that sounds reasonable,” Winston agreed.
“Of course you do,” Torbjörn muttered sourly. There were a couple of murmurs around the table and Brigitte rolled her eyes. Dr. Ziegler and Torbjörn’s enmity was still very much alive.
Winston sighed. “Is there anything you’d like to add, Torbjörn?”
“Yes, divvying up the staff is all well and good, but who will watch over them?”
“I don’t think that the staff will need anyone to hold their hand,” Winston said evenly. “We are all adults here and volunteers on top of that. I’m sure everyone will do their part.”
“It’s not about capability,” Torbjörn insisted, “it’s coordination and accountability. The supply officer will need to know from the personnel officer how many agents will be at the Watchpoint in a given month so they can order the right amount of food.”
“He has a point!” Reinhardt exclaimed. “A staff is headed up by an executive officer, the second in command to the commanding officer.”
“Okay, then I’ll add those positions to the list.” Winston looked down at his tablet. “I think we have more positions than we do people.”
Down the table, McCree had pulled his hat low over his face, either ignoring the conversation or napping. Hanzo smirked. “Perhaps McCree would not mind doubling up on a position?” McCree flipped his hat up, mouth agape. It was difficult to keep the laughter out of his voice. “I am sure that as a veteran member, he could bring valuable experience.”
McCree pointed at him menacingly. “You shut your mouth!”
“So, what are we looking at, big guy?” Lena interrupted cheerfully.
“Uh, let’s see, we have commanding officer and executive officer… I think I’ll keep those positions. They’re pretty similar and it would help the transition for everyone going into a new role if I was there to guide the process. Uh, unless there are any objections?” No one seemed willing to step into the role themselves, so there was a round of nods and indifferent shrugs. “Then we have medical officer and chaplain as positions that are also already filled by Dr. Ziegler and Zenyatta, respectively. I guess I’ll keep intel with Athena and myself?”
Dr. Ziegler had her fingers pressed to her temples. “Winston, the point of building a staff is so you’d have fewer responsibilities.
“It’d mostly be Athena! I just have to read her reports every day.”
“I swear I will have her monitor your sleep schedule if you start slipping, do not think that I won’t!”
“I promise I’ll get help if it gets bad, but honestly, Dr. Ziegler, it’s one of my favorite parts about running Overwatch. It’s no trouble.”
Dr. Ziegler nodded briskly. “I am only giving you fair warning.”
“Right, okay, so the positions left available are personnel officer, operations, supply, comms, and maintenance.”
“Well, I’m already doing maintenance,” Torbjörn said. “So you could just make it official.”
Winston frowned. “But you’re going on leave.”
“Brigitte’s my deputy mechanic. The way this dump is falling apart, it’s a two-person job anyway.”
“Alright. Anyone else?”
Hanzo straightened in his seat, mentally encouraging himself to take the personnel job. He probably had more experience than anyone else in this room thanks to his duties in the clan. He opened his mouth and took a deep breath--
“If no one objects, I would be happy to assist as personnel officer.” Zenyatta volunteered.
“You are already chaplain,” Hanzo protested.
Zenyatta inclined his head in acknowledgment. “I feel that involving myself in the daily lives of Overwatch would only serve to benefit my duties as chaplain, and vice versa.”
“Very well.” Hanzo said reluctantly. He didn’t want to challenge Zenyatta further. Even if he was the more qualified candidate, he did not want to give Genji the impression that he held a grudge against his mentor. “Then I would like to volunteer as supply officer.”
“Excellent! We are only missing a communications officer right now. Any takers?”
Hanzo shook his head, content to do his supply job to the best of his ability. Not to mention, he had no expertise in networks or secure channels or whatever it was a communications officer handled. Everyone else seemed to share similar sentiments, for no one spoke into the silence for a good minute.
“Well, this is a good start anyway. As long as we don’t break what we already have for comms, I think we should be fine. So, the only thing we have left on the agenda is Reinhardt’s armor.”
Reinhardt promptly hung his head and rubbed the back of his neck. Brigitte crossed her arms defensively. “What about it?”
“Well, as you said, Brigitte, it’s non-mission capable. So I’ve been looking into alternatives--”
“There are no alternatives to a Crusader suit,” she interrupted. “No knock-offs or generic brands. Either you have a suit that works, or you have a disaster waiting to happen.”
Winston nodded, ignoring her aggressive tone. “You’re absolutely right. That’s why I’ve been looking for alternatives to buying a suit. As we are all aware by now, there are very few functioning suits left in existence and even fewer that are up for sale. The ones for sale cost more than any of us would be able to afford. Unless we are willing to buy an oversized riot shield for Reinhardt, we’d have to accept his new role as a rifleman.” Reinhardt’s chair rattled as he gave an exaggerated shudder. “That is why I believe we should mount a mission to Eichenwald.”
“…Eichenwald?” Reinhardt whispered reverently. “The Eichenwald?”
“I know of no other,” Winston said with a grin.
“I’d be honored to walk the hallowed grounds of the Battalion’s last stand! To see the very halls where they—“
“Woah, wait!” Brigitte cut in. “Eichenwald is a DMZ. It’s completely off limits and more importantly, completely radioactive!” Hanzo inhaled sharply through his nose. “Unless Dr. Ziegler has some magic pill that can counter lethal amounts of exposure to that stuff, there’s no way anyone’s going to be able to secure any armor in there. If there’s armor in there.”
Hanzo turned his head right, zeroing in on Dr. Ziegler. She had insisted that this was common knowledge.
“What do you mean ‘if’?” Dr. Ziegler demanded. “You are the one who insisted that there are two suits in the DMZ!”
“Yeah,” Brigitte scoffed, “they’re assumed to be in the DMZ because that’s where the last owners died, probably while they were wearing them. No one has been able to account for them by checking in, because, again, deadly levels of radiation.”
“I think you’ll find that the rumors of lethal environmental hazards in Eichenwald are highly exaggerated,” Dr. Ziegler sniffed. “They sent a team to survey the remains of Eichenwald three years ago.” She held up a thick stack of papers. Hanzo narrowed his eyes. He’d like to read through those. “What they found and collected was classified, obviously, but I have the study of the team’s post-mission recovery report to prove that they were there at least. The medical ailments were all negligible.”
“Grew a second head negligible or life-long cancer negligible?”
“Neither,” Dr. Ziegler bit out. “Of the twelve person team, all made complete recoveries within two days, except for one who contracted a common viral infection and recovered within a week. For whatever reason, radioactivity levels have decayed much more rapidly than scientific models had predicted. Why the German government has not lifted the DMZ status on the region, I cannot say, except that it works to our distinct advantage.”
“And how did our darling Dr. Ziegler come by all of this information, hm?” Torbjörn asked. Slowly, so as to not draw attention to himself, Hanzo leaned forward on his forearms to better see Dr. Ziegler’s reaction.
She threw the papers on the table in front of her, lips curled in disgust. “Not this again! I just told you that I have a medical study on the team’s recovery. It was published three years ago in a German medical journal—“
“So you’re saying that every doctor in Germany knows that Eichenwald is safe?” Torbjörn sneered. “And somehow no one has figured it out?”
“No. Yes? I don’t know!” Dr. Ziegler leaned back in her chair, two fingers pressed on her temple. “I was in Numbani at the time of its release and I don’t keep an eye on German politics because, if you care to remember, I am Swiss.”
Jesse’s relaxed baritone stemmed Torbjörn’s biting retort. “Alright, settle down now. Don’t need a fight in the war room.”
“All I’m saying,” Torbjörn said slowly, “is that it seems very convenient that Dr. Ziegler happens to come to the rescue every time Overwatch has a problem.”
Privately, Hanzo was inclined to agree. However, it was certainly plausible that she was telling the truth. If she had managed to acquire a medical file detailing a successful mission to Eichenwald without difficulty—and he had every intention of getting his own hands on that report—then it would be reasonable for her to assume that the information was at least publicly available.
“And all I’m sayin’ is it seems incredibly ungrateful to spit in the face of the one gal who keeps managin’ to pull our asses out of the fire! She told you where she got her information, she even printed out a copy for you, and you’re still bein’ an ass! You make it sound as if you’d be happier if we couldn’t find a replacement for Reinhardt’s suit at all.”
“That’s not what I’m—bah, forget it.” Torbjörn brushed his beard down in irritation. “What’s the plan for Eichenwald?”
Winston coughed, swiping at his tablet. “The general idea is that we send a team on the Lark to search for and secure a suit of armor. There is no expected hostile interaction and it shouldn’t even take a whole day, since it’s only an hour flight. Lena, how many people could you fit on the Lark, accounting for the space that two suits would need?”
“Er,” Startled at being addressed unexpectedly, Lena nearly tipped her chair over in an attempt to sit up straight. “Let’s see. I can seat eight, but I don’t really have cargo space and the real snag is weight distribution. Don’t want to bank left and then lose control when there’s too much weight on one side, yeah? So I’ve got room for six, but I’d rather only take four.”
“I see. And we’ll need mechanical expertise, so that takes up two slots already.”
Torbjörn squinted at Winston. “I hope those two are Brigitte and Reinhardt. Unless you want to wait until I’m back from my anniversary trip.”
“Uh, yes. Um, unless that’d be a problem, Lena?”
She looked at Reinhardt speculatively. “Think you can make it for a two-hour ride, love?”
“Of course! I could stand on my head that long!”
She grinned. “That’s good enough for me!”
“Okay,” Winston nodded, “that means we have two seats left. Who wants to go on a field trip?”
McCree laughed. “You know, I think I’ll wait for the one to Chernobyl.”
Hanzo considered volunteering—as McCree had said, he would need to ‘earn his keep’ in the organization—but Dr. Ziegler spoke up. “Wasn’t one of our ‘lessons learned’ from the Antarctica mission that we would have a medical plan for every mission? One of those seats should go to someone with first aid skills.”
“Is that your way of saying you want to go?” Winston asked hopefully.
“Ah, no.” She blushed lightly. “I can’t. My lab work for my latest dissertation will be going through its critical stages for the next two weeks. I have to check it hourly. I can automate Athena to do that for me, but if anything happens, I need to be able to manually fix it within thirty minutes. It’s too fragile to leave unattended.”
Hanzo hummed softly in contemplation. Is that how she was compensating her time professionally while she was here?
“I could go,” Zenyatta volunteered. “I have learned much from Dr. Ziegler these past weeks. I feel that I am proficient enough to provide medical assistance.”
Faced with an entire day in the omnic’s company, Hanzo resolved to volunteer for the next mission. Although, he supposed Genji would appreciate it if he made a true effort to start a cordial relationship with--
“I will accompany you, master.”
Well. Perhaps next time.
Winston smiled broadly, long canines glinting in the office light. “Excellent! That’s a full roster. We’ll meet up tomorrow to make sure everything is ready for the mission. If we don’t need to order any equipment, we can send you out as early as Wednesday! Barring any questions or concerns, I think that’s all for this week’s meeting.” Winston looked around the table expectantly, but the team remained silent. “Alright then. Have a good night everyone!”
Chapter 15: Ruins
“Rein, look,” Brigitte said quietly, tapping Reinhardt’s shoulder repeatedly. “That’s Stuttgart below us.”
Reinhardt shifted uncomfortably in his seat, trying to maneuver his massive frame in the restrictive space to better see out the window. “It will not be long before we arrive at Eichenwald.” He murmured.
Genji peered closely at Reinhardt’s face. He had been unusually subdued the entire flight, and the longer they were in the air, the more solemn he appeared. It was both fascinating and concerning. Reinhardt had retired before Genji joined the Overwatch team, but all the legends surrounding the Crusader involved his enthusiastic battle prowess. From what Genji had seen these recent months where he had become personally acquainted with Reinhardt, those legends were true. There hadn’t been a single instance of morose memories taking hold or somber stories of fallen soldiers. Even during his epic recounting of battles where eighty percent of his unit died, Reinhardt somehow managed to convey a sense of envious pride for those who had the honor of dying with hammer in hand.
⟪Msater, I am concerned for our large friend.⟫
From the seat in front of him, Zenyatta turned and replied in perfect Japanese. ⟪What troubles you, my student?⟫
⟪I have never seen him so serious.⟫
⟪Hm. Are we not traveling to the final stand of his battalion? I would think it reasonable for our friend to feel sadness weigh upon his soul.⟫
⟪Yes, Master. Still, it is uncharacteristic.⟫
⟪Then we shall keep a close eye. Now, we should switch to a language our companions can understand. It is rude to exclude them so.⟫
“Of course, Master.”
“Reinhardt,” Zenyatta said, drawing the silver-haired warrior’s attention. “I do not see you often on base. I am pleased that I have this opportunity to know you better.”
Reinhardt laughed, short and forceful instead of its usual warm, full peals. “What would you like to know of me?”
“Well, since I am the chaplain, do you have a spiritual tradition? Only if you are comfortable discussing it.”
“Spiritual tradition? Of course! I worship every day in the church of iron,” Reinhardt winked with his bad eye, the milky white orb disappearing behind his scarred eyelid briefly.
…Which appeared to escape Zenyatta’s notice entirely. “Oh?” he asked curiously. “I am unfamiliar with such a faith.”
Behind Reinhardt, Brigitte snickered quietly, which normally wouldn’t be a good sign to Genji, but she had been acting oddly on the flight as well. Less-than-benign laughter was much more in character for her.
“Alas! Few are. Ever-advancing technology turns the devoted away from the rack.”
The light glinted off from Zenyatta’s head as he tilted it slightly in concern. “The… rack?” Zenyatta asked.
“Master, he is referring to—“
“Yes! The rack!” Reinhardt interrupted, his one eye glittering with mischief. “The true altar of the church of iron. When one enters the rack, all worldly cares fall away and the divine spirit of gains consumes you! Be not tempted by the false god of cardio who would lead you not into glory of form but shrink the sacred temple of your soul.”
Genji rolled his eyes. “The gym, Master. He is talking about going to the gym.”
Zenyatta paused, and for a split second, Genji worried that Reinhardt’s false religion had offended him. But then Zenyatta chuckled, and Genji rebuked himself for even considering that his master would surrender his composure over an innocent joke.
“That is quite the analogy, Reinhardt. Your good humor must be a valuable commodity for the team.”
“Anything for Overwatch!” He boomed, although his customary smile beneath his beard seemed a little strained.
Genji glanced at his Master, anxious to see if he was the only one picking up on Reinhardt’s mood. The soft blue lights of Zenyatta’s photoreceptors pulsed gently and his orbs rotated a slow, steady pace, empathy and calm radiating out from his master.
“Rein.” Brigitte’s voice was so soft that Genji likely wouldn’t have heard it without his enhancements. He knew for a fact that Reinhardt didn’t hear it, but Brigitte’s small hand on his bicep turned his attention to her.
“I think that’s the DMZ below us.”
Reinhardt leaned over her to peer out the window.
Curious, Genji peeked out his own window to view the ground far below. It seemed that they had already begun their descent some time ago, as it was easier to make out roads and houses than Genji would have otherwise expected. He stared at the rolling hills beneath them, trying to discern what made Brigitte believe they were in the DMZ. There were still clear signs of civilization beneath them. Maybe she could only see it on her side? Lena didn’t like it when they moved around the cabin while she was flying, but she probably wouldn’t notice if he—
The thought died in its place.
The residential area had suddenly dropped away, a large swath of land cleared of all vegetation and life cut through the landscape, winding around what was undoubtedly the DMZ. The boundary clearing had to be at least half a click wide for it to be so clearly visible from this high up. On the other side of the boundary, a wildly overgrown forest stretched for miles, undulating with the terrain until it all speared into the sky on a range of mountains.
There were bald patches in the forest every so often, typically littered with the enormous carcasses of nuclear-powered Rhodes Machines. Though they seemed to be only metallic specks through the window, Genji knew that the colossal machines stood several stories tall when operable. Thankfully, he had only seen one in the Omnic Crisis Museum in Tokyo, gutted of all processors and with welded joints, ensuring the monstrous weapons never again stalked across the land spewing death and destruction.
Ahead of them, in the foothills of the mountains, one particularly ambitious hill stood higher than its brethren. Stone buildings lined the hill, partially obstructed from view by trees, and above even the tallest tree, a castle crowned the brow of the hill—the famed Eichenwald Castle.
Genji stole a glance at Reinhardt, not surprised to see the veteran’s face shadowed with dark emotion. Reinhardt looked up at him sharply and the air in Genji’s lungs froze, immobile with terror, mind clamoring in alarm because Death had returned, come to reclaim him after it missed him the first time, Death did not pass over souls twice He would not spare him over another year or another day He wouldn’t be satisfied until he lay in his grave—
Genji blinked and the spell broke. Reinhardt was peering closely at him, but his eyes were warm and concerned rather than frigid and vicious. He sucked in a breath and turned away from Reinhardt, eyes wide behind his faceplate. A hand fell on his shoulder and Genji jumped in his seat, head snapping up to see Zenyatta looking down at him.
“Are you unwell, my student?”
The cold still clung to his lungs. Genji swallowed forcefully and then laughed as naturally as he could. “Of course, Master Zenyatta. I am merely anxious to begin our mission.”
“I see.” His master intoned.
It used to be that Genji thought his skills at deception were far above Zenyatta’s skills of detection, but over the years with the Shambali, he learned that Zenyatta was simply allowing him space and privacy. Master never pressed unless invited.
The overhead speakers beeped, signaling a pilot’s announcement. “Morning, loves! Make sure you’re buckled in, we’re going to be touching down in the town square in ten minutes. Tracer out!”
Genji leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, still trying to sort out his emotions from Reinhardt’s scare. Is that how the enemies of the Crusader Battalion felt beneath the blow of hammers? Did their hearts beat and stutter like that in their final moments, before their bones shattered and organs ruptured? When Hanzo had nearly killed him, it was not the same. There was no premonition of death, no inkling of just how close he was to breaking Hanzo’s tenuous control over his righteous anger until it had already snapped, until Hanzo’s blade began to glow, until his own scream melded with the dragons.
The Lark shuddered as it touched down on German soil, breaking Genji out of his memories. He quickly undid his seatbelt and moved to stand at the door, very eager to escape the thoughts that seemed to fill the small plane.
Brigitte rolled her eyes at him. “Sit down, Genji. The plane’s not on fire.”
“Who’s trying to set my plane on fire?” Lena asked as she ducked into the main cabin area, cheerily grinning at her passengers. Her eyes settled on Genji, the only one already standing. “Eager much? I didn’t think my flying was that bad.” She moved so quick it almost seemed as if she teleported to his side—a possibility given her chronal accelerator—but Genji knew it was her natural speed from the lack of her tell-tale afterimage. She elbowed him in the ribs. “I charge extra for barrel rolls!” She giggled infectiously and Genji joined, smiling fondly at her. “Right, I’ll just undo the latch real quick—“
Several people shouted at once, Zenyatta’s “Wait!” cut across by Brigitte’s “No!” and both drowned out by Reinhardt’s “Lena!”. As for Genji, he settled for pinning her arm against the cabin wall.
“Uh,” she began, wide brown eyes flicking between the other four. “Was it something I said?”
“Miss Oxton,” Zenyatta said calmly yet urgently. “Did you take readings from the Geigermeter?”
“Oh, is that what this is about?” She grinned and flipped her bangs out of her eyes. “Of course! First thing I checked when we landed.” Genji breathed a sigh of relief and released her arm. He really did not enjoy being the responsible one. “Just because I fly birds doesn’t make me birdbrained! Eh? Geddit?”
Brigitte had settled into a sour scowl. “We agreed before we left that you were supposed to tell us what the readings were. Winston said it at least five times in the mission brief!”
Lena tilted her head and cocked her hip. “Huh. You know, now that you mention it, I think he did say something about that…”
Disbelief and outrage formed on Brigitte’s face, mottling it an unseemly red. Genji watched Reinhardt place a hand on her shoulder in the guise of using her for support to stand. She pitched forward under his weight and though she glared up at her mentor, Brigitte didn’t say anything further about Lena’s lapse.
Crouching over so that his head didn’t punch through the roof of the plane, Reinhardt chuckled good-humoredly. “Ah, no harm, no fowl. Now, let’s get that door open! Old Reinhardt needs to stretch his joints.”
Lena winked and mock saluted him. “Right away, captain!”
Genji stepped back from the door so Lena could unlatch it and lower the air stair. Despite himself, he held his breath when the door finally lowered, morning sunlight and fresh air rushing into the cabin space. There was a moment where no one moved and time hung suspended.
“So,” Genji said, drawing out the syllable. “Since no one is choking on their own lungs, I suppose it is safe to go outside?”
Reinhardt chuckled and exited the plane, Brigitte shadowing him closely. Not willing to wait even another moment, Genji leapt out after him, barely registering Lena saying “Right, guess I’ll just stay here then…”
Even though it was late morning, the smell of dew hung heavy in the air. Maybe it had rained recently, as it was still somewhat overcast. Genji sprinted at the nearest building, feet and hands gaining easy traction on the stone facades and scaling to the second-floor balcony easily. With the height advantage, it was much easier to survey his surroundings. Genji balked at the sight of the Lark, wedged tightly between an old clock tower and several storefronts. A few meters in either direction while she was landing and Lena would have clipped the Lark’s wings in the best case scenario. He tapped his comm.
“I think you parked a little crooked, Lena.”
“Oh, sod off,” Lena laughed. “Landing is the most fun I get out of these missions.”
Chuckling, he released the comm and took a moment to better orient himself to the land. The terrain sloped down and away in front of him and to his right, which meant he was facing down the mountain on the south side. To his left should be the castle… he turned and craned his head up, trying to see over the ancient wall that surrounded the center-most part of the city-- not that it much resembled a city anymore. Trees and other shrubbery grew up between cracks in pavement, moss hugged the dark corners of buildings, and birds roosted in the tire wells of abandoned cars. The air wasn’t stale like he would expect of an abandoned city, but fresh and clean. All the damage he could see was easily attributed to a decade without maintenance rather than being the last stand in a war.
…Didn’t he climb up here for a reason? Right, castle. Even after repositioning himself on the balcony, he could only make out a few roofs above them, and none seemed to be of the castle variety. Not that western castles shared many features with the one he grew up in. He snorted lightly. Attentiveness was never his strongest attribute, but he didn’t normally fall into the past so often. Reliving memories of childhood with Hanzo must have been stirring the dust in those rarely visited parts of his mind.
“Genji,” Master’s voice called up to him. Not quite loud enough to be a shout, but emphasized enough to give Genji the distinct impression that Master had been calling his name for a while. He leapt down from the balcony, tucking himself into a roll before ending on his feet in front of his master.
“Did you see anything concerning from your perch, little sparrow?”
“No, Master. It is very quiet.”
Nearby, Reinhardt turned in a slow circle, his eye tracing over the remnants of Eichenwald with a fond smile. “This town was never noisy, but I cannot say it was ever this quiet. No matter if it was a weekend or workday or holiday, life always beat in the heart of Eichenwald.”
“Yeah, well,” Brigitte said, picking at a bullet hole in the side of a building. “Seems pretty dead now.”
Reinhardt’s face fell as he eyed a yawning gap in a storefront, whatever wares they sold long gone from the display. Genji watched him pensively. Was Reinhardt here in the city during the final fight? Was he among the few Crusaders to survive the firefight long enough to evacuate with the citizens? Or had he already joined Overwatch?
“Perhaps you are simply searching for the wrong form of life.” Genji said encouragingly. His words were meant for Reinhardt, who nodded at him in gratitude, but he was surprised to see Brigitte glaring at him.
“Whatever. Let’s get going.” She shouldered her backpack and trudged to the massive double doors of the city’s wall. The doors were at least three times her height, so it was no surprise that even when she braced both hands against the door and heaved against it, the solid wood did little more than creak.
Reinhardt gripped her shoulder in his usual comforting manner. “If the doors held during the siege, I do not think that we will be its downfall. We’ll have to go in through the side entrances.”
Brigitte kicked at the door. Genji cocked his head at the display. Shows of frustration and anger weren’t uncommon for her, but that’s normally what they were— shows. The closest he had ever seen her to being genuinely angry was when Reinhardt broke his armor, and even then it was overshadowed by her fear and concern for his wellbeing.
“Lot of good it did Eichenwald,” She spat. “Who puts side entrances in a stupid wall anyway?” She turned to march to the nearest entrance, but Reinhardt instead steered her by the shoulder to face the opposite direction. “Rein! Stop messing around, the castle is the other way.”
“Of course it is, fraulein,” he chortled as she swiped at his hand unhappily. “I was only hoping that we could visit the tavern before we went to work.”
“I do not think that such an establishment would still be operating,” Zenyatta said.
“Oh, it’s not,” Reinhardt agreed, his eyes taking on a faraway glaze, “but it was home to so many good memories… I would like to see it, just one more time.”
“Ugh, fine, let’s just go somewhere,” Brigitte ducked out from Reinhardt’s grip and disappeared behind the Lark on her way down the hill, her mentor not far behind her.
Genji shared a look with Master. “I am no longer concerned only for our large friend.”
“Hm. I worry for them both as well. It would be best not to let them wander off alone.”
Adjusting his robe, Master followed in the other pair’s footsteps. Genji darted after him, pattering around the Lark, only to nearly fall into a large crater in the cobblestone road. He teetered on the edge before leaping backwards, broken pieces of brick trickling down the slope of the crater onto the mangled mess of metal in the center.
Genji broke his gaze away from the OR14 to reassess his surroundings. On the side that they disembarked from the Lark, the stores were mostly intact, although windows were missing and doors were broken away from their hinges. The only real suggestion of a past war were walls pockmarked with bullet holes.
It was not so on this side of the Lark.
The broad road was littered with dead omnics; OR14s, B73s, Slicer models, and even a Spyder tank were strewn across the square. The smaller units and the B73s were covered in soft blankets of grass and moss, but the larger units were surrounded by patches of barren and blackened dirt. Master bowed his head over the crater and murmured a short prayer.
“I would be careful not to let the others see you when you pray, Master.”
“Compassion for those that would do us harm is a valuable skill to learn and practice.”
“I do not think they would see it as compassion.”
“All the more reason to walk the path, so others may follow.” With that, Master straightened, orbs spinning somewhat faster than usual, and continued down the road.
Genji shrugged mentally. He remembered when the elder monks gossiped amongst themselves after his placement, how a stubborn student could only be matched by an even more stubborn teacher.
As he made his way down the avenue to the tavern, Genji was careful to avoid any of the bots surrounded by scorched earth. Even though the Geigermeter’s readings were as low as when they left Gibraltar, he had no desire to pick up any residual radiation from the carcasses. It was a stroke of disturbed genius on the God Programs’ part to install spheres of radioactive waste inside their soldiers, designed to crack open when the bot died. It was only towards the end of the Crisis that they started doing it, when it was clear that humanity wasn’t going to die quietly.
He eyed the Spyder tank taking up most of the road beneath an archway. The dead zone extended three meters in any direction from the bot. Did the others just squeeze by the tank? Yeah, he’d rather climb over one of the buildings. He scrambled up the side of a shop—it looked like it might have been a modernized tech shop when the city still existed, but it was now painfully outmoded—and onto the roof, careful to test his weight on the exposed crossbeams before sprinting across. The entire far side of the building was rubble, making it easy to scale down using the many hand and footholds the crumbling edifice provided.
“Genji!” Reinhardt shouted up at him. Genji scanned the ruins for him, disconcerted when the giant man wasn’t immediately obvious. “Over here!” Then Genji spotted him, already in a wooden, lodge-like building on the edge of the cliff, calling out from where a window used to be.
“I will be right over!” He called back, not bothering to use his comm for so short a distance. “Is Master Zenyatta with you?”
Reinhardt ducked his head into the building and shouted unintelligibly before reemerging. “Yes, he is here!”
Genji gave a thumbs up and began picking his way across the ruined road to the building Reinhardt was in—probably the tavern.
“Nipping out to the pub on the job, are we?” Lena said as she materialized beside Genji. He leapt into the air with a small yelp, changing direction last minute to make it seem as if he was trying to jump over a small Splicer.
“It is cheating when you can teleport!” He accused as she giggled madly. Wait. Why was she here? “…Lena?”
“Yes, love?” She asked, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Aren’t you supposed to be watching the ship?”
“Eh,” she shrugged. “Unless someone installed a pilot AI while I wasn’t looking, I’m pretty sure the Lark will still be there when we finish up.”
“I thought the point was so you could monitor the air traffic channel to make sure no one was planning to investigate the private jet flying suspiciously close to the DMZ.”
“That’s why I patched the channel into my comm!” She pointed to the small white headphone in her ear. “Now I can do my job and have fun with—er, I mean help you out, too!” He stared at her, weighing his options. “Please?” She asked, her brown eyes widening beseechingly. “I never get to have fun on these missions.”
The responsible thing to do would be to make her about face and march her back to the Lark, leaving her to do her job like they planned in the mission meeting the day before, just like Winston had laid it out to them.
He shrugged. “Seems reasonable to me. Come on, the others are inside.”
She squealed, pumping a fist in the air before darting through the doors, the blue streak of her afterimage trailing after her. Genji followed close behind her, his visor rapidly adjusting to the darkness of the entryway and then the brightness of the tavern proper. It was dilapidated, of course, with upturned tables and chairs, animal droppings in the corners and bird nests in the high rafters. Trophy heads of stags and boar stared sightlessly from the walls.
Genji shuddered and rolled his shoulders, trying to shake off the spirit of desolation. He could only imagine how Reinhardt must feel, seeing one of his favorite places reduced to--
“Lena! I did not know you were coming with us.” Reinhardt swept her up into his arms in an enthusiastic hug, her feet not even touching the floor, grinning widely. “Ah, I can still remember how it used to be! Food, beer, music!” He extended one arm, his hand still holding Lena’s, as he began to waltz about the small dance floor. “I would come here every night in my youth, eager to lose myself in the eyes of a beautiful barmaid.” He waggled his eyebrows at his dance partner and she laughed.
In the corner, Brigitte scoffed. Genji glanced at her, seeing her bent over an old newspaper.
Undeterred, Reinhardt chuckled and set Lena down on her feet. “Yes, that was how the barmaid felt as well. I wish you could see this place as I remember it. It was always full of such warmth! Here, this wall used to be entirely glass, but even in the winter it was never cold because this fireplace was always burning. You could sit on this bench and sip warm beer as you watched the snow fall on the forest below.” Reinhardt paused at the open end of the building.
Genji looked around the gutted tavern, trying to imagine it as Reinhardt described. It was harder than he thought it would be, when even the handles for the tap beer were cracked and faded. He padded behind the bar, experimentally pulling on the taps. Nothing came out, of course, not that he expected anything to happen.
To his left, he heard Master speak. “What is this plaque for, Reinhardt?”
Reinhardt gasped. “I can’t believe it’s still here!” He extended his huge hand, reverently touching the oak plaque. “Every junior Crusader dreamed of earning their place on here. It was the mark of a true warrior and the highest honor!”
“Sounds impressive,” Genji said. “Are you on there?”
“Ha! But of course!” Reinhardt proudly pointed out a name about two thirds of the way down. Genji leaned forward, trying to make out the words. The names were easy, but he didn’t know enough German to be able to read the rest.
Lena appeared at his elbow. “What do you have to do to get your name up there? Win a hundred battles?”
“Save a hundred people?” Zenyatta guessed.
“Wrestle a bear?” Genji asked.
“Lose a limb?” Brigitte muttered. Reinhardt frowned at her, concern clear on his face, but she didn’t look up from her newspaper.
He turned back to the others, a smile already in place. “Even better! We had to conquer the Five-Tusked Boar!”
Genji grinned. “Ha! I was closest.”
“Not quite, my friend! The tusks were hollowed out horns that could hold a whole liter of beer. You had to drink five tusks’ worth in ninety minutes!”
“Aw,” Lena pouted, “I thought you actually wrestled a boar. That’s not nearly as cool.”
“Are you sure, Lena?” Genji prodded her with his elbow. “I am fairly sure that is more beer than I have blood in my body.” Lena’s face crumpled in disgust as she made a retching sound.
“Ugh! Now I’m imagining Rein drinking blood instead of beer!”
Zenyatta chuckled. “Who was the first to defeat the Five-Tusked Boar?”
Reinhardt’s face softened as he swiped the dust off the first name. “Baldrich von Alder. He was my master and mentor, the one who raised me through the ranks of the Crusader Battalion! He won the challenge before he even joined the German Army. He was born here, you know! And he died here.”
Genji glanced up sharply, expecting to find Reinhardt’s face full of sorrow, but the white-haired soldier was only smiling fondly.
“Yeah,” Brigitte interjected, finally rising from her chair. “Most of the people who lived here died here. There was a whole battle about it. Maybe you missed it.”
Reinhardt winced. “Fraulein…”
“Hey!” An indignant Lena stepped in front of Brigitte’s path. “Maybe you should show a bit of respect, yeah? He fought a whole war for us! You can’t just blame a whole town on him—a town where most of his friends died fighting to save.” Lena paled, quickly glancing back at Reinhardt to see if she had crossed a line.
Perhaps it was Brigitte she should have looked to.
“Well they didn’t do a very good job, did they?” She snarled, her braided ponytail swinging as she bore down on Lena. Normally Brigitte didn’t seem very tall, as she was always in the company of Reinhardt, but as she towered over the much shorter Lena, Genji realized she was nearly two meters tall herself. “Maybe they were too busy worrying about getting the most glorious death to remember the people who actually lived here! The Crusaders holed themselves up in that stupid castle and left everyone else to rot.”
Lena leaned back from Brigitte’s aggression, but remained steadfast. “How would you know—“
“Miss Oxton, Miss Lindholm!” Master placed a hand on each of their shoulders, gently prying them apart. While Lena had the grace to look embarrassed, Brigitte threw his hand off and snatched her bag from the table.
“Whatever, let’s just go. We actually have a job to do, in case you forgot.” This time, it was Master who stood in her way. She glared at him. “Move.”
“I do not think that would be a skillful action on my part,” Master said, every other orb spinning rapidly. “You are distressed. Continuing our mission can wait until we ensure your wellbeing.”
Brigitte rolled her eyes. “Ugh, Rein, tell him to back off.”
Confused, she turned to face him. “Rein!” He tucked his chin and slowly shook his head. “Oh, this is just perfect. Way to stick up for me.”
“Brigitte, I am worried for you.” He approached the other side of the table, picking a chair up from the ground and tentatively testing his weight on it before sitting. His arm swept out, gesturing her to sit. Brigitte crossed her arms. “Please, fraulein?”
With a tch, she plopped herself back into her chair, unslinging her backpack and letting it drop beside her.
Genji shifted his weight from one foot to another. “Do you want us to leave, Master?”
Master hummed. “I think that would be up to Miss Lindholm.”
Brigitte glared at Master again before grumbling, “I don’t care.”
Master seated himself beside Brigitte. On the other side of the table, Lena made to sit next to Reinhardt until Genji softly suggested that he sit there instead, not eager to encourage another explosive interaction between the two women.
“I noticed on our flight here,” Zenyatta began, “that you were both very much out of sorts. Grief, sadness, and anger are all reasonable and normal reactions when visiting a place so charged with personal meaning. Everyone has their own way of dealing with these emotions and I would encourage you both to use whatever method that suits you best. However,” Here Zenyatta fixed Brigitte with a stern look. She held his gaze evenly, but Genji could see her arms shift as she fidgeted with her hands. “Using your teammates as targets for these emotions is unacceptable.”
Brigitte looked away.
“Fraulein, we are here for you. You do not have to fight this battle alone.” Genji glanced at Reinhardt. Calling what amounted to a temper tantrum ‘fighting a battle’ was a little melodramatic in his opinion, but that was Reinhardt for you. “We fight with you, not against you.”
“Yes, fine, I get it!” She said, throwing up her arms. “I was in the wrong, I was being a bitch, I’m sorry. I promise not to do it again. Is that enough?” She pinned Reinhardt with her eyes. He frowned, but didn’t protest.
“Are you sure you don’t want to discuss this more?” Master asked.
Brigitte nodded shortly, her braid jumping with the movement.
He dipped his head, his necklace of orbs revolving around him once. “Well, if Reinhardt feels this is sufficient and you have no desire to talk further, then I see no sense in delaying our mission further.”
“Finally.” Once more, she stood from the table and once more, she swung her bag onto her shoulders. “I’m going outside. It smells like rotting wood in here.”
“Well, that was lovely,” Lena said sarcastically.
Genji privately agreed. Brigitte’s behavior reminded him of his younger self, during his Blackwatch days and he was not particularly eager to revisit those memories. “I suppose we should move on,” he said. “There is nothing for us here.”
“Yes,” Reinhardt agreed, “I do not wish to leave Brigitte alone for too long.”
The group stood, the sound of chairs scraping against the wood floors was almost forlorn, as if the tavern was sad to see its only patrons in years leaving its hall once more. As they walked to the door, Genji glanced at the wall and paused. “Reinhardt?”
“Did you want to bring the plaque with you?”
Reinhardt walked back to Genji, squinting at the oak and brass plaque. Then, he smiled. “No. Those names belong in this hall. It is a testament to their lives, of the joy and the sorrows the Crusaders shared in this tavern. It is a memorial for the glory days. I will not be the one to tear it down.”
Genji eyed the plaque critically, turning the words over in his mind. “The glory days are not dead, Reinhardt.”
Reinhardt smiled again, but it was sadder this time. It was perhaps the first time since they had landed that Reinhardt had seemed mournful. “Ah, maybe not for you, my young friend. But for them?” Reinhardt nodded at the plaque. “The glory days died long ago.” Reinhardt brushed his thumb across the first name one last time before straightening his shoulders and walking out of the tavern, his boots thudding loudly in the quiet. Genji looked at the plaque again, frowning at the only other name without dirt smudging the letters.
Reinhardt Wilhelm 11 APRIL 2027
“Winston? You in here?” Jesse called out into the cavernous lab.
As usual, with no carpet, curtains, or paintings to absorb the sound, the bare walls coldly echoed his voice back to him. It sounded so… lifeless. Jesse shuddered, shifting his hat further up on his head to see better. He didn’t know how Winston could stand living in here. Despite the bright sunshine streaming in through the windows, there was no sign of him. Odd, considering the man—gorilla, whatever—had just messaged him to pick up his ammo from the lab.
He turned on his heel to investigate other parts of the base. Maybe Winston was in the kitchen.
Jesse whipped around, hand instinctively moving to Peacekeeper’s pommel before he could process that he knew the unexpected voice. Sure enough, Hanzo stared down at him imperiously from the second level of the lab.
“Winston is currently assisting Dr. Ziegler.”
Well, damn. That explained why Winston wasn’t in here. Suppose he could go knock on Doc’s door, but that carried a risk if they were working on something… delicate. “What’s he helpin’ Doc with?”
“Dr. Ziegler’s experiment requires near-constant supervision. Winston is watching it while she rests and eats.”
Which meant that Winston wouldn’t be able to give him his ammo until Doc was done sleeping. Jesse sighed, not bothering to hiding his disappointment. Nothing like finding out Christmas had been postponed. “Mighty kind of him.”
Hanzo’s lips twitched in an aborted smile. Amazing the man didn’t bloat with all that emotional constipation. “Yes, I am sure that he takes no pleasure in switching roles with Dr. Ziegler.”
Jesse snorted. “The hell he doesn’t! I bet he’s havin’ the time of his damn life lordin’ over her—“ He paused, trying to figure out just why Hanzo was looking more smug by the minute. “Woah there, were you bein’ sarcastic?” The smug look evaporated as Jesse laughed. “Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit! I never thought I’d see the day. Hanzo Shimada has a sense of humor.”
“Your sayings are so…crass,” Hanzo said, mouth twisted in distaste. “Is there something I can assist you with, McCree, or may I return to my work?”
The hell kind of work is Hanzo doing in Winston’s lab? “I s’pose that depends. Did Winston mention anythin’ about a shipment comin’ in for me?” And then Jesse could swear that the atmosphere around Hanzo shifted.
It morphed from cold apathy—the air had felt heavy, but taut—to calculating interest without any discernible physical change in body or posture. It was like looking at one of those pictures that was both an old and a young woman, as long as you squinted your eyes and tilted your head and Jesse—poker champion and self-proclaimed master of body language—had no idea how he did that. There was no way in hell he was going to let that fly.
“The munitions order? He did. I have the shipment up here, if you would like to collect it.” Hanzo gestured behind him with tight but clean motions.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Jesse said absently as he climbed the stairs, making sure to keep Hanzo in his field of vision. He blinked as he realized what he was doing—looked like breaking down all of Hanzo’s twitches and habits was going to be his new pet project. Weren’t any rifles left to clean anyway. “What’re you workin’ on in here?”
Now, if it were Jesse answering the question, he would’ve shrugged as he talked. Creating an air of ease and casualness was damn near automatic for him because it communicated a sense of ‘this is normal’, ‘ain’t nothin’ strange goin’ on here’, ‘pay no mind to the man behind the curtain’. That kind of attitude went a long way in having others think you’re supposed to be there, rather than a stow-away who dodged the ticket master twice on the way to the train carriage with a bar he was too young to be in.
Hanzo, though, did nothing. He remained completely, almost preternaturally, still. It was weird, but it wasn’t a problem. Silence could mean just as much as words in a conversation.
“If you would recall” –And shit, Jesse already forgot what question Hanzo was supposed to be answering-- “I volunteered to be the logistics officer at the meeting.” As he made it to the second floor, Hanzo opened the door and lead him through Winston’s poorly organized office. “I have been inventorying current assets and evaluating our budget. Deliveries also fall under my purview, which is why I have your ammunition.”
Hanzo motioned with his arm at the wooden box. Just like last time, he used his right arm, extended straight, hand open but fingers pressed together and slightly angled. So stuffy and proper. Jesse bet he’d never get sent to Blackwatch’s ‘cultural reeducation’ class for pointing at shit with his thumb.
“Huh. Fancy that.” Jesse perched himself on the desk—weird that it was clear enough to sit on, Winston usually had papers stacked everywhere—and pried the small crate open, keeping Hanzo in his peripherals.
A number of smaller cardboard boxes were stacked inside, cushioned with sawdust. He pulled his hat from his head, hanging it on the corner of a monitor before he took the first box off the top and opened the flap, grinning at the prospect of shiny, new bullets. “Now ain’t that a pretty sight?” Jesse said with a wink as he held out his prize to Hanzo, half out of boredom, half out of an impish desire to throw him off balance.
Hanzo blinked before eyeing Jesse warily. “You have a curious definition of beauty,” he said slowly.
Well that wasn’t as entertaining as he hoped it be. Eh, he’d get him next time. “I figure most folks do.”
“Hm.” That was it. Flippant acknowledgment and clear dismissal wrapped up into one hum. Rude. “I would suggest you inventory your ammunition before signing for it. I counted one hundred, but I suppose that it is possible that I miscounted.”
“Sign for it? Damn, you’re takin’ this seriously.” He pulled out all of the cardboard boxes and found that there were ten. Awesome, there just needed to be ten bullets in each one. Easy counting.
“As I do most things.”
Jesse glanced back up from his bullets, but Hanzo had already seated himself at his desk, hunched over paperwork with a pair of glasses perched on his nose. Whatever, wasn’t no sweat of his back if His Highness didn’t feel like holding a damn convers—hold the fuck up. Glasses?
“Aren’t you supposed to be a sniper?”
“I am.” Hanzo didn’t look up, scratching a note on his tablet with his stylus. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re wearin’ glasses.”
“Yes,” Hanzo said with only the barest hint of exasperation. “They are reading glasses. I am farsighted.”
“I thought only old folk wore reading glasses.” Oh, now, that got an irritated look. Just a glance, really, barely even a movement with his head, just Hanzo’s eyes snapping on to him with obvious irritation. Jesse smiled sharply. Jackpot.
“How very observant of you,” Hanzo said dryly.
Jesse scooted on the desk a few inches, just enough to lean over and lightly punch Hanzo on the shoulder. Hanzo looked up at him in askance. “Aw, c’mon Han, I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. You look great for nearly fifty!”
Alright, so Jesse knew damn well that Hanzo was only three years older than Genji, and therefore only two years older than Jesse’s thirty-five. If it weren’t for the white hair at his temples, Hanzo would easily pass for a twenty-something. A pretty fit twenty-something, at that. Wasn’t going to stop him, though.
“Fifty—I am thirty-seven!” Interestingly, despite his obvious outrage Hanzo didn’t blush. At least, not on his face. Jesse could see the slight red flush tinging his neck from beneath his long-sleeved shirt. Jesse victoriously took a mental note before pushing him further.
“Oh, I get it,” Jesse whispered conspiratorially. “And how long have you been thirty-seven?”
“What is that supposed to—since March!” The red was slowly growing more intense, climbing up the column of his neck. It was like watching a thermometer! Shit, he could already feel the air charging up.
“Look, there ain’t no shame in gettin’ older. Everyone does, sooner or later. Reinhardt’s more youthful than half of the young folk I know! No offense meant.”
“Offense? Why would I take offense?”
“Well, ‘cause you’re in the sooner rather than later group.”
Up until then, Hanzo’s shoulders had steadily tensed, arms and legs gathering closer to his center of mass as if he were anticipating a fight at any moment—which was entirely possible, if Hanzo wanted to start something. It was about half the reason Jesse had subtly angled the desk between him and Hanzo, just for that extra barrier of protection. But then, all a sudden, the tension and the anticipation just disappeared. Evaporated. As if that electric feel to the air never even existed. Without any perceptible shift in posture or even breathing, the whole atmosphere around Hanzo just changed. How the hell did he do that?!
“Very funny, McCree,” Hanzo said in a tone that made it clear he found it anything but. “Finish your inventory so you can sign and leave me in peace.”
Disconcerted, Jesse didn’t bother being difficult, opting to instead count through his boxes as he puzzled over the mystery. He only made it through another three boxes before he was interrupted.
“Olympus, this is Tracer.”
Jesse looked up to see Lena’s profile picture on the computer screen. A map of Europe was in the same window, a dot flashing over where Jesse knew Eichenwald to be.
Hanzo pressed a button on the keyboard. “Tracer, this is Olympus.”
“Wha—Is that you, Hanzo? Where’s Winston?”
Hanzo closed his eyes and Jesse could practically see him counting to ten. “Tracer, I know that this is a secure channel, but you might at least try to maintain operational security.”
“Er, my bad. What’s your call sign again?”
“It is Storm.” Jesse started scooting closer to the workstation again, curious about Lena’s report. “Tesla is currently assisting Mercy. He left me to monitor the channel while he is occupied.”
“Alright, then! Just calling in to say that we landed in Eich—er, I mean, at the objective. The readings are fine and the team’s already disembarked. We’ll call in again in an hour or when Don Quixote finds his new windmill, whichever comes first.”
“That is a good copy, Tracer, thank—“
Jesse quickly leaned over and batted Hanzo’s arm away to press the button himself, ignoring Hanzo’s indignant stare. “Does Reinhardt know you’re callin’ him that?”
“Jesse!” Lena squealed.
Hanzo huffed. “Does no one practice proper protocol?”
“What’re you doing cooped up with Storm, love? You two finally getting along?”
Jesse glanced at Hanzo and wow he didn’t know someone could look so threatening in reading glasses. “Sure, somethin’ like that.”
Hanzo shoved Jesse away from the microphone button, sliding him across the desk and almost to the floor if Jesse hadn’t caught himself. “He was actually just leaving, as he has finished inventorying his new equipment. Thank you for checking in, Tracer. Olympus, out.”
“No, wait--!” Jesse frowned as Hanzo ended the call. “…You know she’s not gonna stay in the Lark, now, right?”
“What do you mean?” Hanzo was refusing to look in his direction, making quite a show of paying very close attention to the reports on his desk. “The mission brief said that she must remain with the aircraft and monitor the channels. We should not have idle chatter on official channels.”
“Except Lena has the attention span of a sugar glider. The only reason she didn’t start an arctic expedition last mission is because Winston had her on the line the whole time.”
Finally, Hanzo looked up from his report, but only to stare at the monitor in thought. …Or something. It was like trying to interpret modern dance or some shit. He’d need a damn dictionary to get a read on this man.
“…Is it too late to call her back?”
Hanzo sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Now that one was a motion Jesse was familiar with, even if Hanzo didn’t seem to openly acknowledge frustration unless it was with himself. Or maybe he just didn’t acknowledge it in front of Jesse? Also an interesting thought.
“Don’t feel bad, Han, plenty of old folks are outta practice with their social graces.” Jesse didn’t bother holding back a laugh when Hanzo glared up at him from over the rim of his reading glasses.
“Agents McCree and Shimada?” Jesse looked up in surprise at the ethereal feminine voice coming from the ceiling.
“Athena? How’s it goin’, sugarplum?”
“It is going well, Agent McCree. Winston advised me to inform you that there is an unauthorized individual at the main gate.”
Jesse frowned. “A what now?”
“Unauthorized as in, a mail delivery service?” Hanzo asked thoughtfully. “The next delivery is not scheduled until next Thursday.”
“Negative. The individual appears to be unarmed, although scans report high levels of artificial alterations.”
Hanzo pulled his glasses from his face, placing them gently on the desk. “Artificial alterations…?”
“She means metal bits,” Jesse said, wiggling the fingers of his prosthetic arm. “So, what, does Winston want us to bring out a shotgun and tell ‘em to get off our lawn?”
“That will not be necessary, Agent McCree. Winston merely directed that someone investigate the individual and discourage further exploration.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound like he was sayin’ no to a shotgun.”
Hanzo tched. “McCree, please. We will be right out, Athena. Is he at the main gate?”
“That is correct.”
“Wait a minute, we? Why do I gotta go?”
“She said both our names, McCree.”
“Yeah, but I got a sixty million bounty on my head. Can’t exactly go loan sugar to the neighbors, let alone advertise my good looks to mysterious strangers.”
“Then stay out of sight and provide backup as necessary.” Hanzo stood and pushed his chair into the desk, wasting no time in exiting the office.
“I didn’t even finish countin’ my new bullets,” he pouted, frowning at his crate.
“Okay, okay, fine!” He shouted, snatching his hat from the monitor and tugging it on his head. “Don’t get your britches in a bunch.”
Hanzo tugged at his sleeve as he strode confidently through the Watchpoint’s main gate, eyeing the lone man standing in the road. He was young, certainly no older than twenty-five, dressed in vivid yellows and greens, which contrasted well with his darker skin. His smile was broad as he waved at Hanzo, teeth extremely white.
“Can you see ‘em?” McCree’s voice asked over the comm in his ear.
“Yes, I can see him.”
“He look dangerous?”
Hanzo swept a critical eye over the stranger, noting his large, lime-green backpack and the strange contraption encasing his legs. It was possible that there were weapons concealed within the backpack, but it would take time to retrieve, so there was little threat. The extensive metal encasing his legs—that must be the ‘artificial alterations’ Athena referred to—may possibly be fitted for combat purposes. From what he could tell at this distance, it seemed to be some sort of brace that ended in skates. Skates with hard-light blades, at that, Hanzo realized as the man started to glide up the road towards him, cheery blue light sparking underneath his feet.
“It is not immediately clear,” Hanzo muttered to McCree. Raising his voice, “Hello. I noticed that you have been out here for quite some time. Are you lost?”
The young man didn’t frown, per se, but his smile wasn’t quite as broad as it was a moment before. He opened his mouth and fast syllables spilled out, rapid and rhythmic. Hanzo hummed unhappily. He didn’t recognize the language, although he thought it wouldn’t be out of place in the markets of Gibraltar—not that that narrowed it down by much.
“Do you speak English?”
The young man laughed. “Not good, no. Speak Português, Español.”
Hanzo nodded and raised a finger as a signal to wait and tapped on his comm with his other hand. “He does not speak English or any other language I am familiar with. I think he may be a local. Possibly a backpacker.”
“D’you know what he does speak?”
“Portuguese and Spanish. Unless Winston or perhaps Dr. Ziegler can—“
“Won’t need to break out the brains, I can speak Spanish just fine.”
“Is it wise to expose yourself to a stranger?”
“Ha, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that! Might be able to pay off my bounty.”
“Ease up, Han, I’m sure it won’t—“
Hanzo turned, realizing he was hearing McCree’s voice through the air instead of his ear piece, to see McCree frozen mid-step at the gate, eyes wide.
“Holy shit. Lúcio?” His gaze snapped to Hanzo. “You didn’t tell me we had an international pop star on our doorstep!”
Confused, Hanzo turned to the young man, who was still grinning blissfully. He certainly did not look like someone of global fame. He looked back at McCree. “Come again?”
The young man skated closer, hand extended, perpetual smile still friendly. “Hello!” He said in lightly accented, if somewhat nasal, English. “My name is Lúcio Correia dos Santos! Pleasure to… ah…” He paused and tilted his head, his high tail of dreadlocks swaying with the motion. “Ah! Pleasure to meet you!”
When Hanzo only stared at Lúcio’s hand in confusion, Jesse shoved his way between the two, enthusiastically shaking the pop star’s hand. ⟪M’name’s Jesse McCree. Said you speak Spanish?⟫
Lúcio’s eyes lit up. ⟪Yeah, I do! And Portuguese as well, but it looks like the Brazilian variety is pretty different from these Europeans.⟫
Jesse laughed. ⟪Yeah, gotta be careful with all these regional variations, especially in Spanish. This one time in Colombia—⟫
“McCree. What is he doing here? Who is he?”
“Who is he? Was it you or me that spent the past decade in hidin’? This is Lúcio! The Lúcio!” At Hanzo’s blank look, Jesse nearly groaned and pointed at the symbol on Lúcio’s shirt—a minimalistic cartoon frog head with headphones. “The DJ? First Brazilian artist to reach double platinum?” Hanzo shook his head. “Ugh, Genji would know.”
“Do not be so dramatic. If he is so famous, what is he doing here? And alone at that? It seems suspicious.”
“You and Torbjorn are gettin’ more alike every day.” Jesse turned back to Lúcio. ⟪What brings you out here to Gibraltar? Especially way up here? Are you on tour or somethin’?⟫
⟪Nah, my world tour actually just ended a few weeks ago, but I was feeling a bit restless. Wanted to do more than music, you know? Gotta find that inspiration in the world.⟫
⟪What, so like, you just seein’ the sights? Workin’ out that bit of wanderlust?⟫
⟪Oh, no, more like social activism.⟫
⟪Yeah, that makes sense. Hero of Río, out to spread love and hope to the world? Somethin’ like that?⟫
⟪That sums it up pretty good!⟫
⟪Still don’t answer why you’re out in Gibraltar of all places. Ain’t much happens on this little island.⟫
Lúcio laughed and Jesse could feel his cheeks ache as he smiled in response. Damn, this kid was infectious! ⟪Hey, I didn’t pick the base for the Recall⟫
Even as alarm seized his brain, Jesse was sure not to let his smile drop. His stomach didn’t take the same precautions. ⟪The… Recall?⟫
⟪Yeah! One of your agents filled me in on all the details. I always looked up to Overwatch when I was a kid. Doing my part to make the world a better place just seems like the right thing to do, y’know?⟫
“What! How could he know that we are here?”
Jesse lifted his hat briefly, running his other hand through his hair. “Look, I dunno Han. I’ll just… keep him occupied in the kitchen. Make sure he don’t bolt or nothin’, I just need you to go grab Winston—“
“There is no need,” The gorilla himself announced, ambling towards them at a rapid pace. “Athena informed me that the two of you let our, um, guest into the base?”
“He knows Overwatch is operatin’ out of here!” Jesse hissed, conscious that Lúcio was just on the other side of the door. “We couldn’t just let him go.”
“What? How did he know we were here?”
“That was my sentiment as well,” Hanzo commented dryly.
“This is a critical data breach. We may have to relocate our entire base!”
“Hold up, it may not be that bad. Let’s just… talk to him, alright? Figure out who exactly sold us out and work from there. For all we know, Genji is just pulling a prank.”
“And risk Dr. Ziegler’s wrath?” Winston snorted. “That seems statistically unlikely.”
“I was tryin’ to be optimistic.”
“Try harder.” Hanzo ordered.
The trio entered the common kitchen-slash-dining area to find Lúcio sitting cheerily at the table, looking around with a level of wonderment inappropriate for the simple kitchen. At the sound of the door opening, he turned, already grinning, before his eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. ⟪Is that a gorilla?⟫
At the same time, Winston gasped “Is that Lúcio?”
Jesse grinned at Hanzo. “See? He’s not even from this planet and he knows about Lúcio!” Hanzo ignored him. Remembering what Lúcio said, Jesse cleared his throat discreetly. “You, uh, don’t speak Spanish, do you Winston?”
“No, my lingual education did have a considerable focus on Latin, however, since—“
“Sounds good, I’ll translate.” Jesse pulled out a chair from the table, spinning it on a leg so he could rest his arms on the back before switching to Spanish. ⟪Yup, he is in fact a gorilla. From the moon, no less. Think he’d prefer it if you referred to him as a scientist, though.⟫ Jesse aimed a charming wink at the Brazilian. ⟪His name is Winston and he’s got a few questions for you.⟫
Jesse casually removed his hat and dropped it carefully on the table, trying to decide how to phrase his line of investigation. He didn’t want Lúcio to panic or think something’s wrong, although either reaction was probably warranted. ⟪So we’re pleased as punch to see you here, but we think you were chattin’ with one of the agents we lost contact with. Winston was curious how you knew to come out here to Gibraltar.⟫
⟪Well, like I said earlier, I just got off my world tour and I was anxious to do something with myself. I was worn out from the road, though, I wasn’t ready for a charity tour or anything like that. Of course, I always try to help out around my community, but I felt like I just wasn’t doing as much as I could be doing—as I should be doing. You get that?⟫
⟪Yeah, I’m followin’. Lemme translate real fast.⟫ He looked back at the other two. “I asked him how he found out about the Recall, and so far he’s just told me that it was after his world tour ended.”
“That is awfully little for how much he spoke,” Hanzo said suspiciously, eyes narrowed.
“I’m summarizin’!” To Lúcio, ⟪Please, continue.⟫
⟪Yeah, so, I was poking around online looking for volunteer opportunities with the Peace Corps and stuff, but nothing was really resonating with me. Then, out of nowhere, I get an email from one of your agents! Said that you guys had been watching me since the revolt against Vishkar and thought I had what it takes to join up! I was really amazed because I thought Overwatch had got shut down—⟫
⟪Woah, wait, hold up. Who sent you the email?⟫
⟪Oh, I don’t know their name, said they had to use a code phrase for security reasons—which I totally understand, you guys don’t want just anybody showing up and crowding up the place! They called themselves Shadow, if that means anything to you.⟫
Fuck. Of course it fucking meant something to him. Fucking Sombra, the mystery profile on the Blackwatch server.
Jesse was careful to allow only a moderate amount of surprise and confusion show, mindful that completely shutting down was just as big a tell as any other. He quickly went through his options: tell Winston everything about Blackwatch? Out of the question. Tell Winston about the Sombra profile? Can’t without exposing Blackwatch. Sombra was likely a deactivated Blackwatch agent who received the Recall along with everyone else and decided to act as an unofficial recruiter. Not that it wasn’t fucking suspicious as hell, but he needed time to group up with Team Pretend We’re Not Associated with Blackwatch before making any drastic calls. Guess that left playing the fool. Gotta love the classics.
“So, sounds like Lúcio got an email from an anonymous source who called themselves Shadow,” He drawled, twisting slightly to address Winston. “Said they were an agent. You know anyone who goes by that?”
“Shadow?” Winston asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Uh, no. I don’t know any agents who go by that. Although since so many went into hiding after the Fall, I suppose it’s not impossible.” Good ol’ Winston, always jumping to the right conclusions. “We could ask Athena.”
Hearing her cue, the AI spoke from the ceiling. “Athena online. What is your request, Winston?”
“Do we have any records of agents by the call sign Shadow? Or alias, I suppose. Specifically the agents who received a Recall invitation.”
Jesse had to force himself to breathe as they waited for Athena to complete her database search.
“Negative.” Shit. Was that good news or bad news for Overwatch? “There are no recorded aliases or call signs under the name ‘Shadow’. Shall I expand the search to agents outside of the Recall?”
To Jesse’s surprise, it was Hanzo that answered. “That will not be necessary. If they did not receive an invitation to the Recall, they could not have known about it.”
Winston nodded his agreement before looking at Jesse. “Is this Shadow the one who told him about Gibraltar?”
⟪Was Shadow the one who gave you all the contact info?⟫ Jesse relayed.
⟪Yeah,⟫ Lúcio nodded, his tail bouncing with the rhythm.
“He said yes.”
Winston leveled an unimpressed look at him. “I may not be able to speak fluent Spanish, McCree, but I can tell the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’.”
“What do we tell him?” Hanzo asked. “It is too much of a security risk to accept him into our ranks.”
“Yeah,” Jesse laughed, “cause you came with good recommendations.”
“I did not have a choice in the matter!”
“I see your concern, Hanzo,” Winston interrupted gently, “but McCree also has a point. We need the manpower.”
“Is that what I said?” Jesse asked.
“Plus, it’d be just as large a security risk to put him back out on the street.”
“I really don’t think that’s what I said.”
Hanzo pinched the bridge of his nose. “Winston, are you only saying this because you wish to have a pop star on our team?”
“No!” Winston’s eyes immediately darted away from the others in the kitchen, looking at anything that wasn’t Hanzo. Jesse cleared his throat, and Winston grumbled. “…maybe a little.”
Shaking his head, Jesse held his hands up. “Alright, let’s be reasonable folks, we can’t just have him on as a chef or some such, he needs to actually have a skill set if we wanna take him on.”
Hanzo’s lip curled in a sneer. “What skill set could a musician have that is appropriate for combat? Does he intend to sing our enemies to sleep?”
⟪Ah, excuse me.⟫
Jesse spun to face his guest, mentally slapping himself for ignoring the kid. ⟪Woops, sorry Lúcio, I didn’t mean to be rude. See, there’s a bit of a snag. Shadow didn’t exactly, uh, give us a heads up that you were headed our way. We didn’t have any time to update your file. We know the basics, of course, and you certainly got the charm and charisma of a natural leader.⟫
“McCree,” Hanzo asked apprehensively. “What are you telling him?”
“Let a man work!” He tossed over his shoulder before pressing on. ⟪But there’s a few things you oughta know before we formally accept you, in the interest in full disclosure. First, we aren’t exactly…endorsed. The Petras Act is still in full effect. We’re workin’ to make the world a better place, but it’s behind the scene work. If you’re hopin’ to use this as a promo, then you’d best walk now.⟫
Lúcio grinned again—not that it really ever turned to a frown, this kid just worked in degrees of a smile—and puffed his chest out proudly. ⟪You think I didn’t know that coming here? Being illegal is how I know you’re serious! Throwing Vishkar out of the favelas wasn’t ‘endorsed’, either.⟫
Well that’s a healthy view of the legal system. Jesse smiled mischievously. ⟪I see you’re a man after my own heart.⟫ Lúcio beamed. ⟪Here’s the other bit you need to know: we’re workin’ bare bones. The more streamlined we keep ourselves, the easier it is to stay under the radar. So what sets you apart from all our other applicants?⟫
Tilting his head, Lúcio’s smile became a little more confused, a little more unsure of himself. That’s it, take the bait. This is an interview for a job, not hobby activism. ⟪Um, I lead the Revolt in Río.⟫
Jesse nodded seriously. ⟪Yeah, that was a hell of a thing to see on the holoscreen. Not to play it down, but honestly? That kind of experience is the baseline. What I need to know is what skills you have. Where would you fit on our team of fighters?⟫
And then he was beaming again. ⟪Oh, that’s what you meant! I’m an audio medic.⟫
⟪An audio what now?⟫
⟪I’ll show you!⟫ Lúcio stood—kind of glided, really, with his skates—from his seat, and snatched his pack from the floor. Hanzo was immediately advancing on him, clear threat on his face. Lúcio froze before smiling apologetically at Jesse. ⟪Sorry, should have given you a heads up, huh? My kit is in my bag. Is it okay if I dig it out?⟫
Jesse inclined his head, meaningfully tilting his head at Hanzo the second Lúcio turned back to his bag.
Hanzo took a few stilted steps back, still extremely tense. “McCree, what’s going on?”
“I’m interviewing him.” Jesse said calmly, eyes never leaving the kid.
“We are not accepting volunteers!” Hanzo hissed. The air was beginning to feel heavy again. Tense. Coiled.
Jesse frowned sharply, but didn’t allow his eyes to shift away from Lúcio. “Who died and elected you leader of this outfit?”
Disgruntled, Hanzo turned to Winston. “You cannot seriously be contemplating accepting some… celebrity into Overwatch?”
“Well,” Winston said, shifting on his knuckles. “It’s not like he hasn’t seen some form of combat before.”
“I do not think a mobs of, of,” Hanzo tossed a hand in the air, struggling for words. “Of fangirls qualifies.”
Jesse spoke up, painfully aware of the tense atmosphere. He couldn’t afford to give Lúcio any hint that they weren’t a united front. “Hanzo, aren’t you familiar with the Vishkar Revolt?”
“No!” He spat.
Jesse finally allowed himself to glance away from the kid, startled at Hanzo’s behavior. The man in question had closed his eyes, breathing through his nose. When he opened them again, his voice was much steadier, although no less dangerous. At least it didn’t feel like a hurricane was bearing down on them anymore.
“Should I be?”
“It was all over the news,” Jesse explained, training his focus on Lúcio again. “The residents of the Río favelas organized a protest against Vishkar Corporation’s policies—“
“Wait,” Hanzo commanded. “Perhaps I know it by a different name. Were these the Riots of Río? When the people of the illegal communities decided that they did not want running water and electricity provided by the government?”
“It was a little more complicated than that. The government had contracted Vishkar to do all the improvements, and they ended up issuing quite a few local ordinances that made life difficult for the people.”
Hanzo huffed. “Such as the curfew? It was an active construction zone. It was for their safety, not suppression.” In his peripherals, Jesse could see Hanzo gesture sharply at Lúcio, who was fiddling with some sort of Bluetooth speaker. He could feel the tension building between them again. “And you are telling me this man was supposedly involved?”
“More like the leader.”
“Even worse! If he has such an intrinsic disregard for authority, he has no place in joining us. What if he decides to announce Overwatch’s return because of some minor offense? What if—“ Hanzo cut himself off, confusion warring with his righteous anger before fading into a serene smile.
Well that was a funny thing. Jesse turned around to find Lúcio holding a large speaker in his hands. Music filled the air, replacing the angry electricity surrounding Hanzo with an easy joy. A steady pulsing beat seemed to thrum through his bones and soothe the aches in his joints. It was nice. Lúcio pointed at it excitedly and Jesse smiled back dopily. So nice. The DJ laughed and switched off the speaker. Jesse was disappointed to find the calm, warm feeling slipping away with the sound.
Then he froze. Did that… what was that? “Did y’all feel that?” He asked aloud.
“I… yes?” Hanzo said uncertainly, looking disturbed.
Lúcio fiddled with his speaker shyly, still smiling softly. ⟪I kind of, uh, liberated this tech from Vishkar. Well, I got their prototype anyway. They installed a bunch of speakers like this around the favelas and would play recordings of whatever new rule they invented for the day.⟫ He looked up at Jesse, dark eyes serious for the first time. ⟪They wanted to control people through sound! It was awful, watching little kids and our elders follow every instruction to the letter without a thought. Some of us were more resistant to it, so we destroyed all the ones we could get our hands on. I kept one though. Don’t get me wrong, what Vishkar did was messed up, but I thought, what if I didn’t try to control peoples thought? What if I could use it to help people feel better?⟫
Jesse’s eyes widened, connecting the dots. ⟪You doped us up with sound waves? What makes you think controllin’ folk’s emotions is better than controllin’ their thoughts?⟫
⟪Well, I ask permission, for one thing. It’s no different than giving people medicine when they’re sick. Here, I can play a song that’ll make you feel like you could climb a mountain!⟫
“He says he could play another song, make us feel like champions. Y’all okay with that?”
“Oh, absolutely!” Winston agreed, inner scientist eagerly eyeing the new technology. Hanzo narrowed his eyes, but grunted his assent.
“Alright. ⟪Let’s hear it, then.⟫ Lúcio hit a button on the speaker and a song different than the serene tune before played out.
He… he knew this song. It was one Jesse had heard on Lúcio’s hit album, although hearing it on his tinny headphones paled in comparison to what he was experiencing now. On his headphones, it was catchy and upbeat, good enough to make it to his workout playlist. Through this speaker, it was a thrill ride, it was riding a half-tamed mustang, it was free falling without a parachute! Adrenaline pumped through his veins and every breath felt like victory, tasted like glory, sounded like his next chance. He could do damn near anything he set his mind to, he could fight through any pain, triumph over any obstacle, conquer—
The song clicked off, and Jesse blinked into the silence. Beside him, Hanzo shook his head slowly, eyes wide.
“Fascinating!” Winston enthused.
⟪That’s pretty impressive.⟫ Jesse said cautiously, still trying to wrap his mind around his manipulated emotions.
⟪Thanks! I’ve been experimenting a lot about what sounds produce what emotions and reactions. The one you just heard? It actually accelerates the oxygenation process in your body!⟫ Lúcio bounced on his skates, grinning madly. ⟪You can run longer, lift more, all sorts of stuff! That’s why I call myself an audio medic.⟫
Jesse nodded slowly. ⟪Wouldn’t it affect anyone in hearing range?⟫
Lúcio paused. ⟪Ah, yeah. It’s not as big a drawback as it sounds like, though! The effectiveness drops off pretty rapidly the further you get from my speaker. More than ten meters away from me and you’ll only get to listen to my great tunes instead of getting the extra benefits. So, maybe not so good for hand-to-hand fights, but medics aren’t really front line material anyway, you know?⟫
⟪Wow, that’s… really amazing Lúcio. Lemme talk to my associates real quick.⟫ He shot Lúcio a reassuring smile and slowly turned to the other two. “We gotta keep him.”
“After that display?” Hanzo asked sharply, apparently recovered from his shock.
“Yes, quite riveting!” Winston enthused. “Excellent use of auditory science. Uh, I can’t say I can hypothesize any combat application, though.”
“Think about it,” Jesse encouraged. “This kid has found a way to influence emotions with nothing but sound. Can you imagine what he could do with that?”
Shadows gathered on Hanzo’s face. “Inspire blood thirst and have us turn on each other?”
Jesse rolled his eyes. “You’re a real ray of sunshine, you know that? Tactically, this could be a huge boon. He could single handedly provide crowd control if we needed to operate in an urban environment.”
“Or produce hundreds of casualties by inducing cardiac arrest.”
Jesse threw one arm in the air, the other still slung around the chair back. “I’m not sayin’ we let him loose on the populace! Obviously, we’d have Doc check out his tech and make sure it’s… well, it’s probably not legal. But not dangerous, at least! She’s a pacifist, so you know she won’t let it fly if it’s shady.”
“…Does this contraption fly as well?”
Fuckin’ idioms. “Dammit, I mean she won’t give it her approval if she thinks it might hurt someone.”
Hanzo shifted on his feet, eyes traveling from Lúcio to the speaker to Jesse in a cycle. “I am deeply uncomfortable with this.”
Winston cleared his throat. “I think I agree with McCree. This is simply too large an opportunity to ignore. Um, let’s get Dr. Ziegler to check it out before we say he’s officially accepted.” Jesse rose an eyebrow at Winston. If he was gonna make excuses, he’d best take ownership of it. “Just to verify his health. And, um, his invention.”
Jesse held Winston’s gaze for a few moments longer, until he decided that the gorilla wasn’t bluffing. Not like Winston could lie his way out of a paper bag anyway. “Alrighty then. If you’re sure.” He picked his hat up from the table, placing it on his head with a sly grin. Lúcio tilted his head with a confused smile.
⟪So, how would you like to meet our resident doctor?⟫
I know this story choice might raise questions so I figure I'd preemptively answer it-- Lucio's VA is one of the few who doesn't know his character's native language so I thought it'd be cheeky to have Lucio not automatically speak English.
Chapter 17: Rally
“What’s the story with the castle?” Lena asked, craning her head back in an attempt to view the top of the castle over the wall.
Genji tried to follow her line of sight as well, but he could only see the tallest of turrets peeking over the buildings in front of them. He returned his focus to stepping through the metal carnage on the road, knowing that they would all have a much better view of the castle once they reached the main bridge.
“What would you like to know?” Reinhardt asked from the front of the group.
“Like, how old is it? Why was it built? How did the Crusaders end up all the way out here when Stuttgart is so close?”
“Heh, I know some of those answers, but I am rusty on my history. I think it was rebuilt in the late eighteen hundreds—“
“That’s it? It looks way older!”
“Some of it is! The oldest parts of the castle were built before even the original crusaders. It is why the outside looks as it does, stacked like a wedding cake! The older ones were much more, ah, what’s the word? Like Torbjörn?”
“Angry? Grouchy?” Lena asked, winking at Reinhardt. Next to Genji—and therefore behind Lena—Brigitte glared at her.
“Perhaps Reinhardt was thinking of ‘stocky’,” Zenyatta suggested politely.
“Er, yes, stocky,” Reinhradt agreed awkwardly.“Short, but broad and powerful! I think its original purpose was as a residence, but it was shared between several lords. They could not afford to build it on their own, you see. It was a common practice at the time. I do not know much of the history between its construction and when the Bavarian Palace Department inherited the land in the early two-thousands. It was not much more than a tourist destination until the BPD agreed to loan it to the German military in the winters. The Crusaders used it as a training post, not because we needed a castle, but because the terrain made training much more worthwhile! We would have to run up and down the mountain in full armor.”
“Did you really?” Lena asked. “I’m getting worn out just climbing this bit of hill!”
She wasn’t kidding. The past hundred meters had been so steep, Genji wondered how vehicles could even drive it. Of course, the road probably existed before cars did. Still, he could hardly imagine running up and down the entire mountain. …Okay, he could, but he didn’t want to. Especially not with an extra seventy kilograms of plate armor.
Reinhardt laughed. “It was not my favorite exercise. We came here every winter for five years, until the Crisis broke out. Not so great a need for training when you are earning combat experience every day.” He kicked at a couple of Splicer units in the road, causing them to skitter several meters to the side. “Just around this bend and you will witness Eichenwald Castle in all her glory!”
Not willing to wait, Lena blinked away, blue light tracing her path, and reappeared at the top of the hill. “Wow!”
“Aren’t you from England?” Brigitte asked, giving a quick hop to readjust the pack on her shoulders. “These ruins can’t possibly be the best you’ve ever seen.”
“Just because I can appreciate historical significance doesn’t mean—“
“Miss Oxton,” the warning in Zenyatta’s tone was evident.
Genji chuckled as he finally cleared the crest of the hill. To his right, Eichenwald Castle towered above them. Accustomed to the dignified wooden castles and glass skyscrapers of his homeland, Genji had trouble understanding how such heavy gray stone could stand without crushing itself under its own weight. Moss and ivy crawled up the sides of the castle, tentatively wrapping around the few narrow windows. Some sections of the ramparts were damaged, broken stone long fallen away. It was most obvious on the right side of the castle, of course, as it was the side that faced the only avenue of approach. A stone bridge arched across a deep gorge, leading up to the castle’s main entrance. High above them, an eagle wheeled through the sky.
Having his fill of the view, Genji looked at the group around him. They had all paused, stopped in their tracks to admire the scene. Brigitte looked grim, but Reinhardt’s eyes were glittering with unmistakable joy. Strangely, Lena wasn’t facing the castle. He peered over her shoulder only to recoil at the flash of bright light.
“Oh! Sorry, Genji, didn’t know you’d want in on the selfie. Wanna have another go?”
“No, that is fine Lena. I am sure you got my good side with that one. Ah, you’re not going to post that anywhere, are you?”
“Nah, Winston would have my head if I blew our cover. I was just going to upload it to Athena’s servers, so we have some memories to look back on when we make it big!”
“I see. Perhaps we should take a group photo, in that case.”
“That is a wonderful idea!” Reinhardt boomed.
“Is this a vacation or a mission?” Brigitte nearly shouted, digging her heels into the ground as Reinhardt attempted to herd her to the rest of the group.
Master hummed. “It may be in our best interests to complete our objective before taking photos.”
“Nonsense, Master! We are simply cataloging our progress.”
Lena giggled and darted over a pile of rubble. She climbed to the top before carefully balancing her phone between two rocks. “Okay, bunch up!”
Easily the tallest of the group, Reinhardt stood behind everyone. Master stood directly in front of him, beckoning Brigitte to stand closer on his left. Genji took his own space beside Master, looking expectantly at the camera.
“Oh, wait, everyone shift to the left. No, my left! More… more… little bit more… perfect! Okay, three second timer, everyone ready?” She tapped her phone and raced back to the group, coming to a sudden halt beside Genji. “Cheers!”
Just as the countdown nearly hit zero, Genji quickly moved his hand behind Master’s head, throwing up rabbit ears. Lena likewise struck a pose, shooting finger guns at the camera. Genji couldn’t see Brigitte out the side of his visor, but he could hear her surprised shout. They held themselves like that for a moment until Lena raced back to the camera. She gave them all a thumbs up, beaming. “Looks excellent! Thanks everybody!”
“Okay, seriously, no more detours or distractions!” Brigitte demanded, yelling over her shoulder as she made her way across the bridge. “We’re marching right through the doors of that castle, grabbing any armor left lying around, and leaving.”
“As you wish, fraulein!” Reinhardt shouted cheerfully, leading the rest of their group across the bridge. Lena zipped ahead to the monstrous slabs of wood that served as the doors of the castle before dashing back to Master’s side.
It was easier said than done to actually walk through the entrance. At a glance, Genji could see that the doors, which were only a fraction smaller than the city gate’s, had been shattered apart at the bottom by what must have been an immensely powerful battering ram. The upper third of the doors still held, meters above their heads, but it was the mountain of debris beneath it that currently blocked their path.
“Er, any side entrances to this one?” Lena asked.
“Perhaps,” Reinhardt replied thoughtfully. “They may be in no better condition than this.”
“I could scout from the top of the pile,” Genji suggested, sizing up the wreckage. “Once I have an initial visual, we could decide whether there may be anything of value inside.”
Reinhardt chuckled. “Oh, he is in there, to be sure!” Genji turned to look up questioningly at Reinhardt, but didn’t get the chance to press his curiosity. “Be careful while climbing. I would not want your guardian angel to become an avenging angel.”
Genji huffed a laugh. “She would not actually harm me.”
“I believe Reinhardt is concerned about his own well-being if you were to come to harm,” Master intoned. “Quite rightfully, I’m afraid.”
Genji opened his mouth to protest that Angela was too much of a pacifist, but Lena interjected first.
“Yeah,” she agreed, “Doc can be a right terror when her patients are at stake! I can only imagine what she’d feel if someone she loved got hurt.”
Well. Genji supposed he had to concede that point. She may not fight with violence, but Angela was an expert at making other’s lives a living hell if they got in the way of her doing the Right Thing.
Ignoring the beginnings of a grumble from an impatient Brigitte, Genji tested his weight carefully on the massive pile of rubble in the doorway before scaling it. Pieces of stone and shards of wood trickled down as he climbed. He doubted the pile would hold under Reinhardt’s weight, or even Brigitte’s and it was too steep and precarious for Lena or Zenyatta, but at least from here he could get a better idea of the condition inside the castle.
It was dark. Beams of sunlight that pierced the wounded ceiling only served to intensify the shadows clinging to the hidden corners and deep recesses of the castle. His attuned sensors could pick up the high-pitched chirps of bats in the rafters and the quiet skittering of rodents along the stone floors. There was even the steady wet drip of water echoing in the cavernous halls, but his sight could provide no visual cues. He tapped his visor, scrolling through the optic overlay options until shapes emerged from the darkness and colors receded from the world. Now he could see through gloom.
In addition to the bats napping the day away and the rodents busily exploring, he could now see what amounted to a mass grave of omnic remains. Every single type of omnic produced during the Crisis seemed to be present, in every single state imaginable. One Spyder tank looked like it had walked off the production line only yesterday, barring the fading paint, but it was sprawled over a bastion unit that was partly melted and entirely scorched. Most units were in some state of partial or complete destruction and disassembly, to the point that it was impossible to tell which metal appendages belonged to any given omnic. It was… somewhat nauseating, if Genji were honest with himself. Which he rarely was without prompting.
“There must have been quite the battle here!” he exclaimed.
It was Reinhardt who called back up. “Yes, this is the site of the Crusader’s Last Stand. So many of the battalion perished in the fighting that it was forced into disbandment.”
Genji returned his gaze to the dead omnics, finally recognizing the scorched, crushed, and melted metal as damage caused by Crusader war hammers. Even for a battalion sized element, though, there seemed too many dead omnics. How could anything survive an onslaught against this many war machines?
“Is there a path?” Brigitte shouted.
Ah. Yes. How were they going to explore the castle when so many probably-radioactive corpses littered the floors?
“I am… not sure.” Genji admitted. He turned briefly, flinching at the bright outdoors before his visor automatically adjusted. “I cannot see the ground for the number of omnic bodies. I do not know if it is possible.”
Beneath him, the team was silent. If they were like Genji, they were feeling the frustration of traveling so far and being so close to the answer to their problems, and still having it impossibly out of reach. Fortunately, they were not like Genji.
Brigitte sighed. “Guess we should go get the Geigermeter. We should see what level of radiation we’re dealing with before building any solutions. It might be that we’re making a chicken out of a feather and there’s no radiation at all. Or vice versa and we’re dead within the month.”
“Oh, real inspiring.” Lena said sarcastically.
Once again, Master ended the fight before it could begin. “Perhaps I can volunteer myself to obtain the readings? I will not suffer from radiation in the same way that humans do.”
“Master, is that wise? It can still cause you great harm.”
Brigitte scoffed. “You can’t possibly be comparing skin melting from bones and a little fried circuitry, can you?”
“It is not ‘a little fried circuitry’,” Genji bit back, incensed. “That is his body!” And more than half of Genji’s own body, at this point.
Master lifted his hand. “Radiation can cause great harm to all beings. However, it will still cause me the least harm out of us all. Unless anyone has a better recourse, I believe that this is the most skillful approach.”
Here, Master gave a pointed look at Genji, who sighed noisily. “Very well, Master.”
Lena, who had been watching the exchange, gave a cheeky salute. “I’ll go grab the thing, then. Back in a flash!” And then she was gone, literally leaving a flash of blue behind. The team looked at each other with a look of ‘what can you do’ as they settled in for the doubtlessly short wait. Sure enough, not even a full minute had passed before Lena had returned, huffing and puffing. “That… mountain… is a… real… killer!” She gasped out, limply holding out the Geigermeter for Master to take.
“You are tired after that small hill?” Reinhardt asked in shock. “We shall have to double our leg workouts!”
The response was a unanimous and immediate, “NO”, with the exception of Master, who only chuckled. Not for the first time, Genji enviously wondered why the doctors hadn’t skipped installing pain receptors in his robotic appendages.
“Peace, everyone,” Msater said over the protests, turning the Geigermeter on, “I am sure Reinhardt only has your best interests at heart. Genji, do you see any alternative entrances from your perch? I am not sure if I could overcome this obstacle.”
Pausing to allow his visor to readjust to the dark, Genji peered at the lighter areas of the scene. Most of the light came from the partially-collapsed ceiling, but there were a few pools of light to his left that didn’t have an obvious source. “There may be an opening somewhere to our left?” He said uncertainly.
Heavy footsteps as Reinhardt left to investigate. “Yes! There is a hole in the wall here!”
Master hummed happily and departed from Genji’s line of sight. Choosing to remain on the pile of rubble, Genji relied on his ears as he waited for his master to enter the castle. A steady, slow beeping indicated low radiation readings from the Geigermeter. The sound was muffled for a moment before reemerging clearer, accompanied by Master’s shadow on the wall. Master had entered the castle, Reinhardt following at a safe distance.
Behind Genji, he heard a scoff from Brigitte. He turned to see Lena mocking the other woman. With a sinking feeling, he realized that the only diplomatic peacemaker among them was currently exploring a radioactive wasteland. As Brigitte stomped up to Lena, he suddenly wished he had volunteered to explore the castle instead.
“Knock it off!” Brigitte said, leaning threateningly over the much smaller Lena.
“You knock it off!” Lena demanded as she pushed both hands against Brigitte to knock her back. Brigitte hardly even swayed at the effort. “You’ve been acting a right tosser since I landed us!”
“And you’ve been a snarky bitch!”
“Ah, ladies?” Genji asked uncertainly. They both looked up at him in irritation. Shit. He didn’t know how to prevent fights. He started fights. Or finished them! With more fighting! This was the exact opposite of his skill set! And Iris have mercy they were still looking at him. Genji mentally scrambled for something to say. What would Master Zenyatta do? “Why don’t we talk about our issues maturely, and without insults?”
“She is my issue!” And it was really quite funny that they said it at the same time, along with the looks of disgust they threw at each other for daring to have the same thought.
“Ah, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Genji tried.
Lena put her hands on her hips and cocked them to one side. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Because we are on the journey to resolving this anger. And it begins with, ah, the single step. Of talking with respect.” Brigitte’s eyebrows were raised skeptically and even Lena didn’t seem impressed. He sighed in frustration.
Well. There was always Commander Reyes’ philosophy.
“Fine, fight it out if you must. However, you will work out all your aggression here. Do it however you like, I will not stop you, but you only have until Master Zenyatta returns. Then these unprofessional actions will stop for good. Use your time wisely.” With that, he turned, pointedly searching for Master’s return. He could see his master carefully picking a path through the remains, pointing at which omnics were safe for Reinhardt to move. Who knew how long it would take them to finish the job. Genji worriedly looked over his shoulder.
Brigitte and Lena had squared off, slowly circling, each completely focused on their opponent. Privately, Genji had no idea how Lena could hope to challenge Brigitte. Not only was Brigitte taller and heavier, she was also significantly stronger than Lena. Stronger than most of the Overwatch team, in fact, with the exception of Reinhardt and Winston. Granted, Lena was much faster, but her attacks would amount to little more than rapid annoyances.
Perhaps Lena realized this as she sized up Brigitte, because she stopped her circling. “I don’t want to fight you, Brigitte” she announced.
Brigitte stood tall, her braid swaying with the movement. “Because you know you’ll lose?”
“Because it won’t solve anything!” Lena ruffled her hair in frustration, causing her already unruly hair to take on a wild look. “I… You’re right. I haven’t been fair to you. I can see that you’re really affected by visiting this place. It was… wrong of me to provoke you. But it’s like Zenyatta said! It’s okay to be upset! It’s not okay to take it out on us, your team! We’re here to help.”
Brigitte narrowed her eyes. “My team? Is that how I’m supposed to feel? With the way you’ve been acting?”
“Well… No, you’re right, I haven’t been a good teammate to you today.” This seemed to mollify Brigitte, whose shoulders finally relaxed a tiny fraction. Lena distractedly blew a lock of errant hair away from her eyes before continuing. “You’ve got to realize, though, you’re not the only one to be affected by the Crisis, visiting here especially. It… brings up a lot of sour memories. It was a rough time for all of us.”
Immediately, Genji knew it was the wrong thing to say. The furious fire in Brigitte’s eyes that had dulled to annoyed embers blazed back to life.
“A ‘bad time’? For all of us?” Brigitte sneered. “What about you, Oxton? Little miss minister’s daughter got shipped out into the countryside during the Crisis, didn’t she?”
Lena made an outraged sound. “Miss minister’s daugh-- You’re bringing my mum into this?!”
Brigitte barreled on, ignoring Lena. “Did you even see a bot in your safe little children’s home? Did your porridge go cold if you played outside for too long?” She shook her head and tutted. “Poor, poor, Lena Oxton. I can’t imagine the horrors you must have witnessed.”
“That’s uncalled for! I didn’t ask to be a child during the Crisis! I didn’t ask to be shipped away from my family so I could spend every night wondering if I’d wake up an orphan. You’re acting like I should have got it worse, but guess what? It wouldn’t make my feelings more valid! Especially compared to you. Can you even remember the Crisis?”
Brigitte stiffened. Her breath became heavy and uneven, as if she were trying to control a simmering rage just beneath the surface. Lena took a wary step back.
“You’re right.” Brigitte began. “I can’t remember the Crisis. I can’t remember which of these houses I used to live in. I can’t remember my aunt, or my two cousins. I can’t remember what this city looked like before the attack.” Brigitte’s voice had started small, but grew with each word until she was nearly shouting. “But I can remember the screams. And I can remember my mother’s cries after she watched her sister die. I. Was. Here!”
The silence was deafening.
That was it it. The keystone. The unexpected missing piece for the puzzle of Brigitte. Of course, it made perfect sense given her behavior, but still….
Lena’s brows drew in confusion, then shot up as she understood. “Here…? You were in Eichenwald during the attack?”
“I don’t stutter.”
“But.. you and Torbjörn are Swedish?”
“Papa was off fighting in Overwatch, so my mom moved here with my aunt. It was supposed to be safer than home.”
Still trying to process, Lena’s eyelids fluttered as she blinked rapidly. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t know--”
Brigitte cut her off with a snarl. “What, you need to know if someone’s been through a horrific experience before you treat them well?” Her lip curled. “Classy.”
“That’s not fair,” Lena said softly. “I knew to be worried for Reinhardt. None of us knew why you were so… upset. If you had just told us, we could’ve looked out for you, too.”
“I don’t want to be looked after,” Brigitte said dismissively.
“What we want and what we need aren’t always the same thing, love.”
Just like that, Brigitte’s anger returned. “Well then I don’t need to be looked after.”
“Why not?” Lena asked gently. “We could all use someone watching our six. Even someone as strong as Reinhardt.”
“I’m supposed to be the one watching out! I’ve been watching out for Rein-- for years now!”
“And you don’t think he watches out for you?”
Brigitte paused. “It’s not the same.”
“Maybe more than you think.” There was a brief silence as Brigitte considered her words. “Besides. I know how vigilant you have to be for a guy like Reinhardt.” Lena chuckled, but sobered quickly. “Can you really look out for him right now? I’m not saying you’re incapable,” she said quickly before Brigitte could rally. “I know you can still do it. I’m just saying that… maybe you could use an extra hand when you’ve got a full plate.” Lena finished.
The gap in their conversation grew larger and larger. Brigitte surrendered no hint about her thoughts, only staring at Lena with a hard expression. Lena eventually raised her hands in appeasement. “If the answer’s no, that’s fine, I’m just trying to help.”
Another beat passed before Brigitte sighed. “…I guess you are, aren’t you?”
“Heh, emphasis on ‘trying’.” Lena gave a lopsided smile, then returned to her contrite expression. “Sorry for buggering it up before.”
Brigitte thrust out her hand abruptly, startling Lena. She barked a short laugh and gave a small smile that went miles to soften her features. “It’s behind us, Oxton.” Beaming, Lena recovered from her fright to enthusiastically shake Brigitte’s hand.
“I guess this makes us best friends forever!”
“Ugh, don’t push it,” but Brigitte was still smiling.
“See?” Genji asked smugly, incapable of resisting the urge to tease. He may have also been secretly, intensely relieved that no one had a black eye. Maybe. “That was not so hard, was it?”
Brigitte rolled her eyes. Already back to her old self, he could see. “Like you had a role in this.”
“I facilitated your reconciliation, did I not?” He glanced behind as he spoke, looking for any sign of Master or Reinhardt. They had turned a corner roughly halfway through the fight and had not yet returned, but Genji wasn’t concerned yet.
“You literally told us to fight it out!” Lena laughed.
“Ah, and see the great gains we have made this day! Clearly, my skill as a mediator is self-evident.”
“Clearly,” Brigitte agreed in a deadpan.
The euphoria of reconciliation slowly waned as the wait for Master and Reinhardt drew longer and longer. Brigitte lounged on a large, flat rock, napping in the warm sunlight. Compared to her tightly strung countenance earlier in the day, she was the picture of peace. In contrast, Lena seemed to be losing her mind.
“Are they back yet?” Lena groaned.
Genji fruitlessly rubbed the armor over his temples, wishing he was hanging out with Angela or Jesse so he would be comfortable removing his faceplate at least. “Not since you asked me thirty seconds ago,” he eventually responded.
“It hadn’t been thirty seconds! It was sixty-one, I counted!”
“Be quiet, Lena,” Brigitte grumbled from her sunspot.
Silence reigned for exactly twenty-three seconds. “Oi, Brigitte, you know some history about Eichenwald, right? Or at least something about the battle? You wanna talk about it?”
Brigitte’s eyes snapped open into a glare. “Absolutely not.”
“I was only asking!” Lena said quickly, hands shooting into the air.
And so it went. Genji and Brigitte desperately trying to enjoy the peaceful afternoon and Lena doing her best to stay sane. There was a five minute period when HQ called for a status report, and it may have lasted longer if whoever was on the other end of the call didn’t try to prod Lena back onto the Lark.
“What’s that? Get chrk back on chrrrk? I think chrk losing you, I chrk.” Lena tapped twice on the comm in her ear, ending the conversation.
“Seriously?” Brigitte deadpanned.
“What?” Lena asked with the barest attempt at innocence.
“You finally had someone who wanted to talk to you and you hang up on them?”
“Well, yeah. I hate being cooped up in the Lark! Besides, Hanzo’s a terrible conversationalist.”
“She does have a point,” Genji said absentmindedly. Then he sat up. “Wait, you were speaking with my brother?”
Of course, it’s the moment they found a tolerable way of passing the time that the waiting ended.
“We have returned!” Reinhardt’s shout echoed in the castle behind Genji, but easily carried to the outside.
“Finally!” Brigitte said, climbing to her feet and dusting off her clothes.
“Lena, you said it was Hanzo who called from base?”
“What? Oh, yeah. He answered earlier, too.”
“He has been on comms all day?”
Master’s peaceful, chiming voice interrupted Lena’s reply. “We bear excellent news,” he announced. “The radiation levels throughout castle Eichenwald are low enough for safe travel. Only a few units had radiation significant enough to merit avoidance, but they are far from our path.”
“Perfect!” Lena said, already hovering by the entrance to the castle. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go, then!”
“Just a moment,” Master placed a hand on her shoulder to keep her from dashing into the ruins. “Reinhardt wished to have a moment with Brigitte. We can afford them the time and space.”
Lena sighed, but accepted that the exploration would be postponed for a few minutes, choosing to comm back to HQ with an update.
Genji took his eyes off his master to confirm that Reinhardt and Brigitte had stepped away from the group. It was a little disconcerting to see Reinhardt’s mouth move but not hear his booming voice. Self-consciously, Genji tapped on his auditory sensor just to make sure there wasn’t a malfunction. It buzzed appropriately, which left Genji to stare at the stunningly quiet duo in bemusement.
“It seems that Reinhardt is informing Brigitte about the armor we found in the throne room,” Master observed, seeing the woman in question smile broadly as she spoke to her godfather. “It was in startlingly good condition, especially considering how many dead omnics were piled around it. Balderich von Alder died bravely.”
Zenyatta tilted his head slightly, floating orbs whirring as he continued to observe the pair. “What is this? Has Brigitte has found peace in the short time I have been gone? Such an enjoyable surprise!” He chuckled, the synthesizer for his voice giving it a pleasant, vibrating undertone. “If only my absence solved so many problems.”
“It was nothing like that, Master! You were here, in a way.” Internally, Genji was preening at the prospect of receiving praise.
“Oh?” He could hear the new curiosity in his master’s voice. “How do you mean?”
“I encouraged them to talk through their problems,” Genji said. “Just as you would have.” It failed miserably, of course, but Master Zenyatta did not need to know that.
“As I would have? How curious. I was contemplating having them simply ‘fight it out’, as you would say.”
Master laughed at his reaction. “When as young, emotional, and vulnerable as our friend is, simply airing out grievances is often the shortest path to peace, even if one acquires a few bruises in the process. After all, when the problem is lack of communication, actions can take the place of words.”
Genji spluttered. “But, Master, you never allowed me to fight it out!”
“You were already fighting everyone, my student, whether or not they had caused you harm or meant you ill. If I allowed you to ‘fight it out’, you would never finish. Even if you challenged every soul in the world, it would not win you peace as long as your true grievance was with yourself.”
There was nothing to say to that, as it was the truth. He would count it as one of his most cherished blessings to have met Master— the other being Angela, of course. He dipped his head respectfully. “You always know how to humble me when I need it most, master.”
Master laughed again. “With pride as large as yours, any time I humble you is a time you need it most.”
“A bitter truth to swallow,” Genji replied with a little annoyance. No need to kick a ninja while he’s down.
“Do not fret, Genji. Even occasionally shadowed by pride, you are still the brightest pupil I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.”
Genji glowed with the unexpected compliment until he realized the joke. “…I am the only pupil you’ve ever taught.”
“Are we ready to delve once more into the breach?” Reinhardt said, entirely too loud for one not even three meters away.
Lena materialized before the group. “I’m ready when you are!”
“Then onward! Into the belly of the beast, where we shall encounter and conquer many a monster! Only the bravest of hearts can beat strongly in the face of such terror!”
Brigitte snorted, whereas Lena was nothing but sparkling eyes. “Onward ho! For honor!”
“For glory!” Brigitte shouted.
Reinhardt swept them into one arm each before finishing the cheer. “For Overwatch!”