Light bumping around in the nearby kitchen woke her at first, but for a minute, she tried not to move, keeping her eyes closed and hoping whatever the noises were would cease. She wanted to go back to sleep. Her hamstring had different ideas for her, though, and started twisting – cramping from being folded up for so long. She didn’t know how long she’d been laying there, all she knew was that she wanted to keep laying there. Her muscles ached from overexertion and lack of proper diet. The gears of her mind started whirring and clicking together as the hum of her chronal accelerator brought her still sleepy mind to the surface.
She stretched, hamstring protesting indignantly, and grunted as she sat up. Her face felt like it had been nicely buffed with sandpaper from laying on the godawful recliner Winston had once dragged up. The hideous maroon monster sat in the corner of what was once a living room but now housed stackable cots, a semi-functional steel table that served as a mobile operating table, two other recliners, a couch, and a television. The furniture was a mish mosh of secondhand castaways, repurposed and sometimes reupholstered for the developing safehouses. Winston was a proud scientist. He would never admit the struggle of rebuilding an empire from scratch.
The television blinked on. “Hello, Lena.”
“Hey, Athena.” Lena rubbed her sleepy eyes, digging sleepy goop out of the corners.
“Did you rest well? I detect lower iron levels in your blood. You should probably t-”
“Caffeine first. Talking later.” Her throat felt scratchy.
The television, showing only Athena’s logo, somehow looked amused and blinked off. Lena shuffled to the kitchen, rubbing her face.
“Hello, sleepyhead.” A lightly accented voice came from behind an open refrigerator door, and Angela Ziegler stood, holding two cheeses and some apples. She kicked the door closed and set her things on the kitchen’s island. “How are you feeling?”
Lena gave Angela a shifty look. “Why is everyone here such a morning person?” She fluffed her hair and scratched at her exposed leg. “Mind putting the kettle on?”
Angela smiled pleasantly and hummed along to some unknown tune, grabbing Lena’s sky blue kettle off of a rack and filling it with water. “Should I even ask how long you were running around before you showed up here last night?”
Lena plopped down in one of the chairs opposite of Angela. “You shouldn’t, but I’m sure you already know.” She cast a glace toward the monitor in the kitchen. Athena blinked on for only a second and blinked away again. That AI had a sense of humor. “Tea first, lecture later. I beg of you.” She cracked her stiff neck a few times. “How long was I out?”
Angela looked over at the clock on the wall behind Lena. “You’ve been here for about eighteen hours. You've been sleeping for the last sixteen or so.”
Lena’s blood ran cold and her jaw went slack. A flare of anger flashed in her chest. “Why did you let me sleep that long, Angela?” She felt like crying. “I’ve wasted so much time ! I can’t afford to waste all this time!” She stood, her chair squalling against the tile.
Angela went around the island and gently pushed Lena back in her chair. “Sit. You’re going to spend some time not running around. Believe it or not, we’re all worried about you. Now, what kind of tea do you want?” A smug edge touched Angela’s tone.
“Have mercy on me, Ang.”Angela’s dainty nose wrinkled. She hated that pun.
Lena sighed and gave her a pointed look. “What’s best for a headache , then?”
“If I were choosing your tea, it would be a tranquilizer, but chamomile and peppermint would be fitting for your current state.” Angela stood on her toes to pluck two neat boxes of still-wrapped tea. She peeled off the cellophane just as the water began whistling. “You need to take a break, Lena. That’s my professional opinion. I know you haven’t been assigned anything, so before you claim a secret mission , I’ve already confirmed with Winston that you have none. Whatever you’re hunting… Whoever you’re hunting… It can’t be worth dying over.”
Lena watched as Angela pulled out two mismatched cups from the cabinet over the stove, plopped in the teabags, and poured steaming water in both cups. Angela took the cup with flowers. Lena took the cup with polka dots. Angela looked distastefully at the apples and cheese beside her. She’d apparently lost her appetite.
Lena tried to put on a brave face, feeling the exhaustion coloring the undertone of her words. “It’s just some personal business, love. It’s nothing major.”
Angela nearly snarled – a rare oddity for her. “’Nothing major ,’ you say. Coming home battered, bruised, bloodied, and exhausted is nothing major . Lena, you’re out there killing yourself over nothing major . Give me a break. Give yourself a break. Even I take a break every now and then.”
Her matronly miasma pulsed with near physical tangibility, but her professional eyes scanned Lena’s face, inevitably noting the heavy circles under her eyes. In a flash, Angela turned off her professional side and returned to the loving woman everyone knew, but that flash of determination Lena had seen more than once on a battlefield. That look in her eye showed up when she was trying to keep someone on the brink of death alive . Lena softened at that realization. Angela just wanted to keep her safe and in one piece.
“I’ll take today off,” Lena grumbled.
Angela’s eyes analyzed the seated woman carefully before she nodded, almost to herself it seemed.
Lena cleared her throat and looked around, picking up her teacup. “So how many of us are here?”
The older woman leaned on the island and sighed, seeming grateful for the change of subject. The woman wouldn’t push too terribly hard for Lena to divulge her purposes, but eventually, if Lena knew anything about her, she would get her answers. “Aleksandra and Mei arrived late last night after you left the med…” She trailed off mid-word, a sad, nostalgic look in her eyes. Lena interpreted the look quickly. Angela nearly called the metal slab in the general sleeping area her Med-Bay. “After I got you patched up. Hana’s here, of course, but Winston left because of something like there being ‘too many operatives in one place.’” She waved her hands around and rolled her eyes. “Something about it being a security risk . He still treats everything like old times, but perhaps, it is for the better to be overly cautious.”
Lena snorted. How very like Winston. He still tried to keep up the almost nonexistent protocol left behind by Overwatch. That was one of the top rules at the time. When meeting outside of team assigned activity or Overwatch headquarters, limit agents to five or less.
She started to take a sip from her still piping hot cup and Angela gave her another stern glare. “Drinking tea less than five minutes after you brew increases chances for mouth and throat cancer.”
Lena lowered her cup, smiling a little. Angela was such a… mom . Sure, she was a fierce adversary, a miracle working doctor and surgeon, and a battle hardened soldier, but she cared deeply. She loved deeply. Sometimes her deliveries weren’t the best, and sometimes her words came out too harsh, but no matter what she said, everyone knew it came from a good place.
“I’m going to be lucky to make it a few years ,” Lena quipped back, knocking on her chronal accelerator. “If this baby even has a bad minute , I might never come back. I’m not exactly worried about cancer .”
Angela did not smile. “As long as I am here, though, I will try to protect you from the potential horrors of this world.”
Lena never talked much about her time Between, after the plane accident, but Angela knew that it was an alien experience – and not the kind of alien experience you'd see in the movies. It was an experience beyond explanation. Lena still had nightmares about not existing.
“I love you too, mum.”
The worn corners of Angela’s mouth raised, her angelic aura feeling incredibly potent. “I do love you, lilla gumman. ”
Little darling . Angela, for all her motherly inclinations, rarely used terms of endearment; in fact, the only one she consistently used them for was Hana. Hana felt like everyone’s younger sibling, or for Angela, one of her many adopted children.
“Hey, scrubs, are you finished clogging up the kitchen? This soldier needs some grub.” Hana Song’s smug voice came from the second doorway into the kitchen, nearest to the front door. She slouched against the frame, looking down at both Lena and Angela with a grin fit to match the Cheshire cat. She dressed similarly to the other two, a black t-shirt and some shorts, but instead of being plain knit, her shirt boasted a very large, very yellow Pikachu with great bold letters underneath – Pokémon! The little “o” was shaped like a pokéball. She schlepped into the room and began rummaging through the fridge, only to settle for Angela’s abandoned apples and cheese. “I’m starved.”
Angela propped her chin on her hand. “Yes, do help yourself, child.”
A memory of how Lena, Angela, and Hana had first started working together in a few “vigilante” missions in Korea rose in Lena’s mind. Well, they had been vigilante missions for Lena and Angela. After Winston had initiated the recall, Angela had tried to coax Hana to take leave from the military to join them to help out, but Hana had resisted. She was living the life. Lena had ended up coaxing Hana into it with a dare. A silly thing, maybe, but it worked better on the girl than Angela’s heartfelt plea.
Hana wasn’t an asshole. She was just… smug. She tended to look like some tiny, Korean James Bond when she spoke; sometimes, Lena wanted to smack that smarmy grin right off her face, but Hana was really just a kid. It got too easy to forget that sometimes. Besides, Hana was downright sincere and kindhearted at her core. War had made her grow up fast, but she still hadn’t gone through all her settling down.
Hell , Lena thought to herself. If I had been some big hotshot like that at her age, my head would be twice as big. But she had been one of the best pilots so young, and look where that had gotten her. She was now a washed up vigilante, never mind a former Overwatch agent, who was little more than a ticking timebomb and running on borrowed space-time. The feeling that someday her time would run out breathed down her neck in her every waking moment. It’s why Angela called her reckless. She didn’t have time to waste because the next second she could be thrown into a kabillion pieces.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a hefty hand on her shoulder. “What bothers you, little pup?”
Lena hadn’t noticed Aleksandra and Mei come through. The moderately sized kitchen felt smaller with five people in it. “Hiya, love. Didn’t notice you come through.” Mei sat next to Lena, chewing on her thumbnail and scrolling her phone. Some environmental article showed its mice type on her screen. Lena turned her attention back to Zarya. “What’s a load of cuties like you doing in a place like this?”
Zarya laughed her booming laugh and went to the coffee pot, fixing herself a few tablespoons of the darkest ground bean Lena had ever laid eyes on. Lena noticed that Zarya’s tag was on the wrong side of her shirt… rather, her shirt was on inside out. “Are you trying to flirt with me, little pup? Do you try to make me blush?” Lena felt her cheeks turn as pink as Zarya’s hair. “I am Russian. I make you blush.”
Lena turned her attention to Mei. “Mei, what do you like to eat?”
Mei’s eyes didn’t move from her screen, and she didn’t reply right away. She finished her article and pushed up her glasses before turning her attention to Lena. “I like… not meat.” It was not unusual for Mei to be quiet unless she was talking about science stuff, which mostly went over Lena’s head. She thought a second, chewing on her bottom lip now. “I, uh, I like soups?”
Zarya came around with a cup of coffee that looked like motor oil and kissed Mei’s forehead. “My kitten eats rabbit food.” Mei’s cheeks turned a light pink, and she looked down.
Lena regretted taking a sip of tea just before Zarya spoke. It almost came out of her nose at approximately a hundred kilometers per hour. She made a great effort to swallow her drink before laughing.
Even Angela smiled, sipping her tea, but said, “Mei deserves decent food. Lena, if you want to be the chef today to stay busy, I’ll go get some money for the store.”
Zarya set her cup on the counter daintily, addressing Angela. “I want something substantial, my doe.”
Zarya’s pet names sometimes didn’t make sense, but everyone had a pet name. An animal based pet name. Maybe it was a Russian thing.
Once, Zarya called Winston “Ape,” to which, Lena keenly remembered, the air nearly got sucked out of the room in terrified gasps. Everyone watched Winston carefully, who stared into the Busty Russian’s eyes in a challenge. She rose to it, bringing her face closer to his.
“I make no apologies about what I am, human.” His words came out hard and flat.
Lena remembered feeling the need to run as far away as possible to avoid the fight and the fallout, but instead, the two had a very long arm wrestling match, per Zarya’s request. She’d gone away beaten and sulking. The next day, though, the two sat around drinking Russian made beers – Zarya affectionately calling him “ape” and Winston calling her a “mongrel.”
They never said what had happened between them.
It remained one of the biggest mysteries to them all.
A clattering noise jolted her from her reverie. Hana’s outraged and exasperated voice cut through the rest of the mental fog. “Oh my god , that shitty hand just cost me my streak .”
Zarya giggled and ruffled Hana’s hair. “It is alright, grumpy bunny. You will reign victorious in another match, I am sure.”
Hana smiled up at Zarya and punched her in the arm lightly.
Lena turned her attention back to Angela, who set her cup in the sink and started walking to her room’s door, just across from the kitchen. “Hey, Ang, don’t worry about the money. I could use something to do in my free time.”
Angela looked back with a raised eyebrow. “Would you like help?”
That was her kind way of asking if Lena needed supervision.
“Nah, love, I just want to do something nice for everyone. I’ll be good. I even have some soups in mind.”
Angela turned the knob on her door. “You know what day it is?”
Lena nodded solemnly.
The older woman considered the answer for a moment, and in a quiet voice, asked, “Can you get me some booze?”