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Hang the Fool

Chapter Text

It begins at night. Under cover of glowing synthetic lights, the base sits still and quiet. The Watchpoint at Gibraltar is carved out of a massive cliffside, its innards shielded in a monument of stone. In the summertime the weather is balmy; the reedy whine of wind coming down the crag mingles with the buzz of coastal birds. The ship channel has reopened since the base was shut down. The big tankers drone past the cliff late in the evening, moving seamlessly across the watery horizon, elongated bodies cutting past the lighthouse gleaming in the strait.

Jesse McCree watches the path of an orange cargo ship sailing off the coast. He’s standing on the second-story walkway outside of Winston’s lab, having a smoke, enjoying the purple view as the last licks of sunset dwindle from the sky. The trail from his cigarillo is rich, heady. If Dr. Ziegler catches the scent, she’ll chide him for the filthy habit.

She’ll chide him and he’ll be glad. Jesse spent five years after the fall of Overwatch with Mercy’s voice lingering at the back of his mind, soft among the chorus of hundreds more that are nested in his memories. He pulls her out and replays her like an old voice message, a sound clip on loop: how are you feeling today, McCree? How is your arm? How is your eye? Sometimes it offers questions he knows she’s never asked, blurring together with inquiries and words from long-lost faces. How do you shoot? How do you ride? How did you do today?

The drifter life is lonely. On the road, in his hideouts, along the weary trails he took to keep himself alive, Jesse McCree picked up habits that have kept him alive -- and, more importantly, kept him functioning. Kept him sane. He can last out on the long haul without human interaction for days at a time, now that he knows how to keep his thoughts close and the voices closer.

It’s been three weeks since Winston’s recall. The agents who answered agreed to regroup at Gibraltar. The dormitories are small, cramped, a little tumbled; Jesse’s room was filled with boxes of discarded equipment and had the tell-tale signs of mice. Two days of sanitation ‘bots and elbow grease got the place cleaned up, but the air still feels musty in the evening, unaccustomed to being breathed. Winston had some trouble getting the Watchpoint secure again after a surprise attack from Talon. Athena’s diagnostic repair took a solid seventy-two hours; he’s still concerned that some of her sectors will have to be quarantined until they can acquire some clean drives. But once the messages started coming in, Winston had to act fast. Accommodations had to be made. There were so many more replies than he expected.

And McCree arrived: weary, soot-stained, rumpled and worn out from the trans-Atlantic haul. He’d been hiding out south of Knoxville, holed up in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains, biding his time until was sure he’d lost the bounty hunters that caught his trail down in Atlanta. Then there came the call. Jesse played it cool, tried not to sound too enthusiastic, rumbled some pleasantries to Winston (and a bombastic Lena, who Winston linked into the call) and assured them he’d be there if he could oblige himself to travel. He hopped the nearest airbus out of Greensboro (or, to be precise: an insulated storage container in the airbus’ massive cargo bay). From Charles de Gaulle spaceport in Paris to Madrid by skipper jet, from Madrid to Málaga by hypertrain, from Málaga to Gibraltar by the back of freighter trucks and the occasional rideshare that did not mind his sparse, twangy Spanish and preferred his credit chips instead -- he made it to the Watchpoint. His left arm needed maintenance; the rest of him needed a shower.

Lena did not mind that he stunk. She leapt to hug him; she laughed so loud it made his ears ring; she bounded back to Winston who knuckled him in the shoulder. Then Reinhardt, who roped him into a big, bellowing crush.

“My favorite people are together once again!” boomed the knight after he let Jesse go. “Brigitte has missed you, she will be glad to see you still have your hat.”

“Glad I still got it, too,” Jesse mused, unaware that he was smiling until his cheeks began to hurt.

One by one, they began to return. Angela arrived three days after McCree. The reunion was pure elation; the sound of tears and peals of laughter lured him to the dormitory foyer, bright noises that made McCree shiver when they touched his ears. Seeing her was almost as overwhelming as hearing. Years after signing up with Blackwatch after the Deadlock sting, the awe had yet to fade that Overwatch had managed to hire what most of the populace might mistake for an actual angel. Religion had left Jesse McCree decades ago -- or, perhaps it was more accurate to say that he’d left it instead -- but the irony of his greeting didn’t dampen its warmth.

“Reckon I’ve seen the light,” he rasped when the doctor came darting for his arms. “How’re you doin’, doc? Been a dog’s age since I seen that lovely face.”

“McCree,” was all she could say for the first few seconds of their embrace, sighing, pulling away to laugh as he respectfully took off his hat. “You are still wearing it!”

“Wearing what?”

Angela beamed; her smile flashed white. “Your hat!”

Funny: maybe it was a German thing.

“Gonna be a hard day and night that makes me hang it up, doc,” he replied, stepping back from Angela so that Tracer could accost her with chatter and cheer. Angela looked good: groomed, glowing and golden-haired. Not a strand out of place. Hardly a spot on her ivory coat and slacks.

Was it also a German thing to simply not age? She did not look a day older than the last time he saw her. Five years and not so much as a wrinkle. McCree pondered over this long after Angela left to freshen up the medbay; he decided not to bring it up again, lest he offend. It wasn’t polite to question a lady’s age or appearance. Better to silently owe it to genetics. After all, there was a more important thing to consider: Angela was Swiss, not German.

Is Swiss. McCree looks out over the water from the walkway again, corrects himself, forces himself to focus on another ship drifting down the channel. Angela is Swiss, she is no longer a concept in past-tense. She is real again; so is Reinhardt; so is Tracer and so is Winston and so is gruff old Torbjorn.

And Genji, who drifts into McCree’s thoughts just as the lighthouse beacon flashes. The cyborg had returned to Gibraltar only to leave three days later. Though he greeted his old comrades with genuine warmth, Genji’s return to the Watchpoint had been a diversion, an interruption to crucial business. He was summoned to the Shambali monastery and had to get there as soon as possible. He assured everyone that he would return in a week’s time, hopefully with his beloved mentor in tow. Zenyatta would be a valuable asset to the members of Overwatch; they would do well under his guidance, and he would revel in the opportunity to behold the reconciliation of some of the world’s finest heroes.

Reconciliation. A strange choice of words, maybe a questionable one. McCree chews on the inside of his lip as he watches a few striped gulls rise on the sea breeze.

There is certainly a lot of reconciling that needs to happen between now and whatever Winston has planned for Overwatch’s return. Three weeks have not passed between the recalled agents without a bevy of questions, curiosities and inquiries -- many of which are met by glum dismissals or outright silence. Everyone wants answers, and no one who has them wants to deliver. Mercy keeps her lips sealed tight. She’s the first person Jesse would waylay for the truth of what he’s missed. At this hour, she’s holed up in her medbay; she’s got a lot of work to do and a slim window in which to finish. Jesse could wander down to her floor with coffee or hot chocolate; he could fake injury or malfunctioning prosthetic; he could go nosing into her office like a peccary pig, hunting her down for honesty, sniffing for the story.

The story of Jack and Gabe: the strike commander, the Blackwatch lead, the brothers-in-arms that brought down the house in Switzerland and blasted a metaphorical crater, wide as a gulf, in Jesse McCree’s faith that true heroes never died.

He blows out a plume of smoke. He almost laughs.

“Catch phrase,” he murmurs softly, and he decides that tonight he’ll leave Angela alone.

The lighthouse beacon flashes two more times -- slow, languid beats of light. Far below the tarmac, the waves crash against the rocks. The lavender sky is rapidly sweeping to indigo, soon to darken into a swath of starry black.

He’s got time. Impatience will do him no good; there’s no need to scrap for answers just yet, not when everyone is in the process of coming back around. Jesse taps ash off his cigarillo and reassures himself that he’s a man skilled in the art of waiting. The ballad of Jack and Gabe -- no, it’s sure to be a lament, morose, a tale of dust and devastation -- will play out soon. At least he’s here to hear it. At least he’s here, he tells himself, and the voice he pulls from the back of his head is softer than Angela’s -- deeper, darker, like smoke. The rasp of a woman with dark eyes and darker hair, framing a brown face with an aquiline nose. He hasn’t seen her in years, but if he listens to the breeze long enough he can convince himself she never left. At least you are here -- at least, at least.

McCree slowly takes his cigarillo from his mouth and pinches it between forefinger and thumb, lowering his prosthetic hand to the railing.

Crackling chatter bursts from the gulls. From the corner of his eye McCree sees a shower of pebbles cascading off the cliffs to his left. He looks up and sees the man; the bow he’s wielding; the arrow nocked and drawn.

A hundred feet away, suddenly: there he is.

A beat passes. The archer on the rocks has not moved; it’s as if he’s part of the escarpment, rigid and still, knees crouched and muscles knotted. In the dim light Jesse can see the contours of the man’s armor: metal from toe to knee, black fabric at his thighs, something vaguely resembling a coat clenched at a twisted waist. A shadow from the crag obscures the archer’s face. Waving from his back is a strip of cloth -- pale white, washed of color by the gloam -- whipping like a pennant.

And Jesse McCree realizes he has been a dead fellow for several seconds now, unaware of it. His fate suspended between life and death by a string, pulled taut by this statuesque killer, a figure edging out of the stone in the trappings of a ghost.

Another beat. The gulls are gone.

It ends quickly. There is no opportunity to shout. He forgets the voices; he forgets Angela and Jack and Gabe. He thinks of Amari only when his right hand draws a loaded Peacekeeper from its hip holster. The barrel does not gleam for the lack of light. McCree cocks the hammer. He aims with his heart. He pulls the trigger with his soul.

His shot misses. Jesse reels from the recoil and jams back the hammer. The first arrow whistles, landing with a thwack ; the second makes no sound, only pain. Jesse goes down to a knee and rolls with the arrow shaft sticking out of his left elbow; his boot crunches his dropped cigarillo; he gasps, pushes off the railing, skids out of sight back into the laboratory foyer. He collides with a tray of beeping instruments and sends them scattering, crashing across the metal floor.

Athena is there before he can thumb the comm clipped to his right ear.

“Agent McCree,” rolls the low synthetic voice, seemingly from everywhere at once. “Report your status.”

“We got an assassin,” is all Jesse can bark, scrabbling to get up, spurs scratching on the floor plates as he grips the skin above his prosthetic arm. “We got an assassin, sniper, cliffside. I’m hit.”

Alarms blare across the foyer. Peals of electronic distress jolt McCree with a sudden adrenaline rush; the pain shooting from his arm dulls to a hot streak as his instincts kick into gear. He’s on his feet and cocking Peacekeeper and flanking the doorway to check the walkway. Light from the strobes illuminates the place where he was shot with glowing red stripes. From the edge of the doorframe, he can just barely see the cliffside. He is ready to fire; all he needs is a sight.

The archer is gone.

“McCree!” rumbles a voice over his comm. It’s Winston, panting and thumping; he must be running. “What’s your location?”

Jesse ducks back inside. He’s trying to hold his left arm stiff. The arrow shot clean through; he can see the metal head sticking out the other side of his elbow. The shaft waggles in his line of sight, bouncing almost merrily as he braces the wall. Jesse takes in a deep breath and feels his vision swim as his eyes focus on the sloped edge of the fletching. It’s smooth, trimmed -- cream-colored, like the feather off a duck.

His hat skids forward on his brow, and that’s when he realizes the first arrow is lodged in its brim.

“East side,” he replies. “Facing the ship channel, my left arm’s been hit, watch your entry!”

Athena’s emblem brightens to life on a viewscreen hanging in the foyer corner. Blue light from her display glows incongruous against the wild red strobes.

“I’ve located the intruder,” she states clearly. “They’ve disengaged from proximity and they’re heading up the cliff.”

Winston grunts over the comm. “Up? How? Rappel gear? A harness?”

Athena’s emblem flashes. “They appear to be climbing with their hands.”

McCree flings his hat aside with a flick of his right wrist. He spits, pinches the arrow shaft an inch above the plume and snaps off the fletching. “Great, we got ourselves a billy-goat that thinks he’s Robin Hood.” He mumbles through gritted teeth. “What marvels o’ modern science they gonna come up with next?”

“I’m here,” chimes Angela, her up-link whirring to life on the comm line. “What’s your status? Who is injured? Where are they?”

“It’s McCree,” Winston replies. “I’m in range.”

Sure enough: the ape is thumping through the swinging foyer doors. He snorts at the smell of blood and gunpowder and nearly tramples right over McCree’s discarded hat.

His golden eyes grow large at the sight of the broken arrow in McCree’s left arm.

“An archer,” he rumbles.

“Sniped by the Hunger Games,” Jesse growls, lifting his arm wielding Peacekeeper parallel to the doorway. “What’s the best way to get up the cliff?”

Winston shuffles forward; he’s on edge, tense and snuffing. “Jet pack or rocket boosters. The slope is too steep to scale without gear or a harness, and it’s slow going up the ridge. Angela’s suit could go from point to point, but she’d need someone on the ridge facing to hop from. It’s a hard climb.” He looks at McCree’s arm again and grimaces. “We need to get you to medbay now, that could be toxic.”

Jesse lumbers forward. Winston is right, but he's loathe to retreat. “I missed. Drew and fired, but I missed the sucker. Lighting was bad.”

“Tracer here!” Lena rings out over the comm. “Sorry I’m late tapping in, loves, I heard the alarms and started scanning the cargo bays. No signs of intruders here, nor on any of the launchpads.”

Winston thumbs his comm. “That was a fast check.”

“Agent Tracer’s reconnaissance confirmed,” Athena adds. “The intruder has cleared from my sensors. I cannot track them. They must have cleared the cliff.”

“REINHARDT ONLINE!” booms the knight; Winston and McCree simultaneously wince at his volume, ducking their heads. “WHERE IS THE INTRUDER? I’M HEADING TO THE FRONT LOADING BAY!”

“Just a tick!” Tracer is nigh laughing. “Already checked those, big guy!”

Jesse tries to say something, but the soft plip, plip of blood dripping to the floor off his elbow distracts him from radioing into his comm.

“Mercy, McCree’s en route to medbay,” Winston says over the comm. He drags his knuckles over the doorway keypad and slides shut the door the walkway. The alarms cease blaring; outside, the strobes continue to lick the Watchpoint walls and scaffolding with neon-red stripes. “He’s been hit by an arrow, we need to make sure it’s not poisoned.”

“An arrow!” Tracer pipes. “Well, then! That's some specialty of sniper.”

McCree pushes off the wall, still clutching his left bicep. His elbow throbs and pulses with pain.  The wound is close to the lip where his prosthetic begins. Any lower and it might have gotten lodged in metal plating. Any higher and he might have been able to reach toss a flashbang. But the spot where it landed has pinched his entire arm rigid, useless. He can cock Peacekeeper with his right thumb, but his balance is thrown off. His stance is badly off-kilter.

McCree’s thoughts fuzz out, circling around a singular conviction. Four words beat in his brain like the thudding tattoo of his heart: clever fella. Good shot.

“Copy that,” Angela calls across the comm. “I’m prepped and ready to receive McCree. Don’t worry, Jesse.” She sounds so confident. “We’ll get it out and have you patched up in no time.”

“I am sweeping the perimeter!” Reinhardt bellows. “Le-na! You should join me! Ha-ha! If this rock-climber makes another appearance, we will have them brought in, in no time!”

“On it, big man!” Tracer’s perky voice fades off the comm. McCree and Winston hear a distant clanking, like the impact of two heavy things colliding in rhythm. But Winston will not dawdle any longer; he buffers McCree as the gunslinger starts to push down the corridor.

The ape picks up McCree’s hat -- still speared through the brim by a pale, gleaming arrow -- and lumbers after him.

Clever fella. Good shot. Clever fella. Good shot.

----

It takes Angela Ziegler thirty minutes to get the arrow out of Jesse McCree. Reinhardt and Tracer find no further evidence of the attacker; Winston spends most of the half-hour scanning through surveillance data in hopes of getting a better look at the would-be assassin. McCree watches the ape as he types furiously on Angela’s console, pausing only to adjust his glasses and scratch beneath his nose.

Just like old times again, he thinks numbly through a paradoxical haze of stress and sudden calm.

“Just like old times,” Angela says aloud, surprising him. She speaks borderline sing-song, a light yet harried tone befitting a physician who is both fond and exasperated of her patient. “You know, in the years since I last sewed you up, I think you have gotten a bit more tan.”

“That Albuquerque sun,” McCree drawls. Were he less tense, he might smirk. “Turn you brown as a berry if you don’t watch out.”

“Yes, well.” She tilts her head, tossing a strand of hair off her safety glasses. “You still use SPF, I hope.” She ties off the last stitch. “Thirty-five or better, you can’t be too careful when it comes to sun exposure.”

McCree bites back a laugh -- it’s a warm feeling, if only a little nonplussed. Mercy just wedged an arrow shaft out of his arm with a head the length of a shot glass, and here she is, ragging on him. About sunscreen, of all things.

“You know me, doc,” Jesse says wryly. “I always follow your orders. Wouldn’t dream of doin’ wrong by ‘em.”

“Of course. Hold very still now.” Her scissors whisper and click, clinking on the medical tray when she sets them aside. Primly she presses her gloved fingertips into the skin above his bicep. “How does this feel? Any pain?”

“No ma’am.” Jesse is reclining on the exam table, his left arm outstretched for ease of Angela’s work. “Not even a tingle.”

“Good.” She smiles. “The local anaesthetic will wear off in about an hour, you will probably want something for the pain. But you can’t take too much. We’ll have to schedule a small surgery to repair the tendon once the swelling goes down.” She rips open a packet of cleaning wipes and pulls her stool closer to the table. “Hopefully I can do it this week.”

Jesse sighs. His head hurts; it feels like the start of a migraine is thumping behind his eyes. “Ain’t even been back a month and already gettin’ cut open.”

Angela clucks her tongue. “Nonsense.” She sits with her heels slotted against the stool ring and starts to dab blood off his skin. “I would rather you view it that our first injury since recall is one I can easily fix. No shattered bone, for an arrowhead that large. I would call it a miracle. It could have been a much worse wound.”

Winston grunts from the console. “This is really weird.”

“What is?” McCree asks.

“The surveillance cams and the sensors aren’t showing any disruptions,” Winston answers. “Nothing, not even a shadow. No footprints, no movements. It’s entirely possible this fellow came directly down the cliff face, completely out of sight.”

“How d’you reckon one does that?”

“Well, with a harness or gear, he’d have to have anchor points,” Winston continues, gesturing to the screen. “But to set one up, he would’ve had to stay in one place long enough to get picked up by a sensor drone. Athena has them run outdoor scans every fifteen minutes. Unless you’ve got pretty snazzy tech, it’d be real tough to get points and a rappelling line in that fast, and then drop down to shoot at you and get back out.”

McCree wiggles his left foot. His spurs jingle. Part of him wants to admit embarrassment. It’s not like him to get caught off guard, much less miss a shot. Sure, the lighting might have been bad -- but he’s taken further shots in worse weather and still been a dead-eye. Lying supine on this exam table, McCree feels vulnerable, awkward. Angela made him take off his belts and holster; she’s got his shirt sleeve hiked to his shoulder; she would kill him before she allowed him to smoke here. He shifts uncomfortably. “I dunno how long he was standin’ there, truth be told. He wasn’t in my line o’ sight.”

“If he was there to kill you, there’s no telling,” Winston mutters.

Jesse’s eyes drift to Angela, who is silent as she wipes down his prosthetic arm casing. “What d’you think, doc?”

Angela’s pink lips pinch into a tight line. She looks attuned to her task -- too attuned, as if she’s purposefully focusing so she can’t pay heed to the conversation. “I am trying to figure it out.”

“Well surely he didn’t just shimmy down the rocks like a lizard,” McCree drawls, brows furrowing. “I only got a look at him in bad lighting -- I mean, if it were even a him. Didn’t look partic’larly tall, coulda been a lady. Dunno though. They had a strong stance. May’ve had prosthetics on their legs. I mean -- they had that arrow drawn, aimed, lookin’ like a statue almost.” His head lolls back against the table padding. “Almost like he was part of the rock itself.”

“Agents Tracer and Reinhardt are suspending their search,” Athena chimes in overhead. “I will keep threat levels elevated and switch sensor monitoring to shorter intervals for the next forty-eight hours.”

Winston grumbles. “Do you have enough disk space to record that much?”

“No.” Athena’s display glimmers. “But if you’d like, I can refresh the feeds every eight hours and delete the cache to make room. You will have to monitor the readouts for any hits, Winston. I’d advise you set up a surveillance shift with another agent so you don’t miss any potential sightings.”

McCree sighs. “I’ll help. Ain’t gonna be able to sleep, watchin’ cameras ‘s gonna be the closest I’ll get to relaxin’ for the next two days, anyway.”

“I insist that you rest,” Angela interrupts. “Constant vigilance is detrimental to your brainwaves and can interrupt the healing process.” She rotates her stool with a swing of her heels. “Winston, get Lena to assist you, or Torbjorn.”

“Jesse can help.” Winston shrugs. “It’s like he said, you just sit around and watch camera feeds for a few hours. Nothing physical.”

“Gimme some time to catch up on my shows,” McCree rasps, grinning weakly. “Ain’t had time to veg out for a coupla months now, doc, don’t deny a man his leisure time.”

Angela narrows her cool eyes at McCree. “I’ll deny you a local anaesthetic when I take your stitches out next time. Bitte. ” She tosses the soiled wipes in an antiseptic bin and snaps off her gloves. “Let me get you something for when it wears off.”

She rises and crosses the room, and that’s when she sees the hat on the table, resting on his folded red serape, skewered by a shaft and plume. Angela pauses. She wanders to the hat, picks it up, holds it by the brim in her small pale hands.

“They shot your hat,” she says softly.

Jesse tucks his chin to his collar so he can lift his head. “Uh-huh.”

“They were aiming for your head, then,” Angela continues, closing her fingertips around the arrow shaft just above the fletching. “But they missed.”

Winston scratches beneath his ear. “They hit him with the second arrow, though.”

“They aimed for his arm,” says Angela, narrowing her blue eyes at the arrow fletching, running her fingertip against the eggshell plume. “They hit a soft spot but they didn’t break bone. They meant for it to go through muscle.”

“They meant for it?” Winston repeats. He’s close to scowling. “Does that mean they meant to miss with the first shot?”

“I think she means to say,” Jesse says, “that she doesn’t think he was shootin’ to kill.” He is scowling; his face goes dark, grim, dreading the depth of the situation on which Mercy is ruminating. “From that distance, and with me not payin’ attention, he coulda put those arrows through me any-which-way he pleased, if that was what he was wantin’.”

“You shot at him,” Angela adds. “And then he shot at you.”

Winston harumphs. “So Jesse shot first.”

McCree snorts. “I shot first.”

“Even with you firing first,” Angela interjects, “he did not want to kill you. Not even in self-defense. These arrows were well-aimed. He was more inclined to get away, and he did, as you can see.” She peers hard at the arrow shaft, as if searching for something in particular -- a hint, a sign. “I do not think this was an assassin. I do not think it was someone who came to harm.”

Winston snorts. “Well, he also certainly didn’t come to play nice, Doctor Ziegler.”

“If I’d never shot, there’s no tellin’ if he would’ve, either,” McCree sighs. “It ain’t worth debating. Fellow was armed and ready to fire. However he got down to that ledge, however he got out -- don’t matter at this point. We oughtta find him and figure out what he was doin’ here.”

“I agree.” Angela sets the hat down on the folded serape. She does not turn back to face Winston or McCree. She goes quiet; Winston resumes flipping through camera screens; McCree thunks the back of his head against the exam table cushion and shuts his eyes to suppress his headache. She lets the low hum of the electrical cabinets powering the medical equipment overtake the room before she decides, finally, to speak. “I think I know who we should ask about him first.”

McCree opens one eye. He wets his lips with the tip of his tongue. “Where’sat?”

“His brother.”

Winston looks up. McCree sits forward. Athena’s A-shaped emblem flickers with interest on her screen. McCree feels like his heart has edged up into his throat.

All eyes and sensors have drawn to Dr. Ziegler, who has turned around with the expression of a woman lost in thought. A sad and wistful look touches the corners of her eyes; Jesse has seen her wear similar faces before, many times -- usually when she’s worn out from her work. But this glumness is new. He viewed it just this week.

The same look she gave him when he asked about Jack and Gabe.

“His brother?” Winston hoots in reply, his face contorting in a frown.

Angela flicks a pale lock of hair from her forehead.

“Yes,” she answers finally. “Or, as you know him: Genji.”