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i hate the taste, but i carry on believin'

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He’s run ragged and tired, shakes like a cornered animal who’s seen too much death in too little time, and when the man seated across from him speaks he snarls and tenses and does not let on anything that would give him away. More than anything he just wants freedom, ever since the first time he killed a man, ever since the first time he dropped everything and ran from the law. But freedom is not an easy thing to have. Not without strings.

“It’s your choice,” Gabriel Reyes says, too calmly, in a way that makes McCree want to rip out of his restraints and break a few fingers.

“I ain’t doing shit for Overwatch scum like you,” McCree rasps, pulling against the cuffs against his wrists until red welts cut into his skin. He remembers his friends on the night of the sting operation. He remembers blood. Reyes just looks down at him impassively, a block of immoveable stone.

“Who said anything about Overwatch?” he says, and McCree starts.

“I’ve seen your face in the newscasts,” he spits, “in the papers, big damned heroes, you think folks like yourself own the world—“

Reyes’ eyes harden. He moves fast; McCree can’t stop him when he grabs a fistful of his hair and slams his face into the hard table. McCree jerks and coughs, the taste of hot copper flooding his mouth, flecks of blood on the table – his nose must be broken again – and with his hands trapped under his chest he can’t get the leverage to push himself back up.

Reyes leans in close, eyes hard as steel. “Listen to me, you two-bit thug,” he breathes, and McCree glares back up at him, eyes bright with anger and pain, heart thudding in his chest. “This is the only second chance anyone is ever going to give in your entire miserable life. You think your chances get much better than this? No. After what you’ve done, there’s not a single person out there who gives a damn if you stay here for the rest of your life and rot. But there’s still potential in you, and if you take my offer you could get back out there. You could do something good for once, something that actually matters.” Reyes releases McCree, who sits up sharply, blood in his mouth, blood dripping down his chin. “You got a problem with Overwatch? Fine. But if you take my offer, you won’t be answering to them. You’ll be answering directly to me.”

McCree spits on the table. “I won’t be your pawn,” he says hoarsely.

“No,” Reyes says, and when he smiles, it is not kind. “You’ll be my student.”

 

 

 

They take away his Peacekeeper, which doesn’t surprise him. What does surprise him is when they immediately hand him another gun; sleek, semi-automatic, and deceptively heavy in his hand. Definitely not one of the standard issue pulse rifles that the Overwatch agents favor.

“Shooting range is that way,” says the bored woman behind the armory counter, “Training starts immediately. Try not to shoot yourself or anyone else and we should be good, yeah?” 

McCree raises his eyebrows, and wonders, not for the first time, if this was somehow a mistake. Surely someone must have given him the wrong level of clearance, or mistaken him for someone else, or underestimated how much damage he can do with a gun and something to shoot at.

“Ma’am, you know I’m a convicted criminal, right?” he says.

The woman snaps her bubblegum. “What, you think that makes you special or something?”

McCree just grunts.

 

 

 

The holo-targets flicker into existence in intervals, dotting the range with glowing orbs that dissolve into nothingness upon each successful shot. McCree was known in the Deadlock Gang for being a sharpshooter with anything that spits bullets, but the longer he stands at the range – sweat dripping down his back despite the cool underground air, targets blinking out one by one in front of him – the more he misses his trusty six-shooter. It was all he had left of his old life. Something he should’ve gotten used to missing by now.

“Your arm is dropping,” Reyes murmurs, one hand heavy on his shoulder, voice too close to his ear. McCree straightens, breathes out, ignores the broad warmth of Reyes’ hand, the way he hasn’t moved it away for the past ten minutes, solid, scrutinizing—

--he hits the next target dead on.

 

 

 

“Dropping in ten!” Reyes shouts over his shoulder, over the rush of the wind and crashing of the cold ocean waves. The hangar of the Blackwatch carrier shakes like a leaf in a storm as they lock into position above the cargo ship far below. Later, McCree plays the moment back like a snapshot: Reyes, focus narrowed on the landing below, two shotguns strapped at his back and a knife in each boot, facing away from him, takes the plunge without a moment of hesitation. It’s a funny thing that McCree can’t remember what he thinking in the moments after; he must have followed Reyes down, because he was loyal to the mission, or because he trusted his commander, or perhaps because he believed in the man himself?

The important part is, he followed him down.

 

 

 

He stops listening to the newscasts, because the newscasts are not the truth he is looking for, and if he’s being honest, he’s not even sure what’s true anymore these days, except for what Reyes says to him when nobody else can hear, and they’re not killing the wrong people if he says they aren’t, are they? He falls into his role. He is trying to be good, now. He tells himself this every day.

 

 

 

“Let me stitch you up,” Reyes offers, and by now he should know that he doesn’t really have to ask for permission because McCree never says no, because he’s his man if he’s anyone’s, but McCree rather likes that he asks anyway.

McCree pulls his shirt up as Reyes fetches the thread, and he tries to stay still and quiet, eyes dropping down as Reyes’ hand passes over the criss-cross of scars on his chest. And every time it seems strange that Reyes could have hands so calloused yet so gentle, but if there’s anything McCree has learned is that movement should be deliberate and that means—well.

“Good work today, agent,” Reyes murmurs. McCree pauses, stuck on that word – agent – because even though he’s been in Blackwatch for months, it’s still comes as a shock, as a revelation, every time he hears it. He is made to be an agent, isn’t he, in a way he is never made to be a hero, or maybe it is simply too late for him to learn heroics now and he’s just got to make do with what he’s got.

“Thank you, sir,” McCree says, the last word falling out of his mouth too easily, and holds still as the needle passes through his skin, slowly, steadily, carefully.

He lays in bed later that night, remembering the way those calloused hands felt on his neck, chest, waist. He doesn’t fall asleep for a long time.

 

  

 

When he wakes, it’s in a hospital bed and there’s an empty space where his left arm should be and a phantom pain that rattles his head, leaving him breathless and dizzy.

“He said it would hurt,” he croaks, “but not like this, never like this.” There’s a question in Angela Ziegler’s eyes and he shakes his head like a dog shaking off water, cannot meet her eyes which are too kind and too full of pity, because there are just some things she’s better off not knowing.

 

 

 

“Somethin’ ain’t right with Overwatch,” McCree says, tugging his hat down over his eyes, and he watches the way Reyes looks up slowly, mouth twisting, and then, then he knows.