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A Losing Combination

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I.

Jesse hadn’t been sure what to expect when he was led through the Shimada castle to its master, but he was relieved that he’d actually bothered to wear matching socks in the morning. Being barefoot in public was surprisingly uncomfortable. Security had eyeballed him disapprovingly as he’d yanked his boots off where indicated, and then they had carefully aligned Jesse’s boots in a neat parallel row under the step along their own when he’d left them where he’d shucked them. Could’ve lined them up against a ruler, that’s how neat it got.

This was turning out to be a thoroughly depressing op.

Even the castle was depressing. Everything seemed so… stark. Now Jesse hadn’t, all right, been expecting something right out of a Godfather set, with severed horse heads or whatever strewn across the furniture, but many of the rooms seemed empty but for a carefully positioned painting and a piece of furniture or two. It seemed so full of… nothing. Jesse had spent most of the first bit of his life in a gang, and the second bit in another gang, albeit UN-sanctioned, and both said gang HQs tended to be rowdy, violent and thick with testosterone. And the walls! Jesse didn’t get the point of paper walls. Who the hell still used paper nowadays anyhow?

Still. Jesse’s mama had (tried) to bring him up to be a polite boy: though, to be fair, she’d given up on ‘good’ and on ‘nice’ along the line through no real fault of her own, rest her soul. “Looks nice,” Jesse confided with Security. “I like the get up. Very minimal. Kinda zen.”

Security didn’t bother to respond. Typical. Clearly they didn’t teach you much in the way of repartee in meathead grunt school nowadays. There were four of them, all in identical suit and tie and slicked back hair.

Instead of another mostly empty room or some sort of fuck-off CEO office, Jesse found himself led out into a balcony. Below was a vast sea of brilliant pink, shuddering delicate flakes into the air under the breeze. A solitary man leaned against a pillar in the corner, aggressively smoking a cigarette. He wasn’t tall, but the give of the black coat that he had draped loosely over his shoulders hinted at powerfully built shoulders. Under his coat, folded white cuffs revealed the end of some intricate tattoo down his left arm, dragons tangling over clouds and angular spokes, scaled bodies looping down corded muscle. He was fitted with elegant, birdlike prosthetic legs, shaped like steel boots, mostly hidden under tailored trousers. He had thick, lustrous dark hair that he wore past his shoulders like a mane, and as he turned to look at them, all catlike grace, his narrowed dark eyes seemed to hold the glittering, indifferent cruelty of a hunting cat.

At a tip of his head, Security faded away quietly into the room behind them. Jesse fought the urge to duck out of line of sight, plastering what he hoped was a friendly grin on his mug instead. Extending a hand, he ambled over. “You the boss?”

Bossman eyeballed Jesse’s hand until he dropped it. “You have come highly recommended, Mister McCree.” Hanzo—it had to be Hanzo Shimada—had only a faint, elegant accent.

“Hope so. I try t’please.”

Hanzo studied Jesse, not even bothering to hide it. “You will find that working in Japan is very different.”

“Don’t doubt it. Kinda like it so far though. And I’ve worked jobs across the world. Ain’t made one bit of difference to me.”

“Do you know what you are here for?”

Jesse scratched behind his ear, a little thrown. This, right here, was why Jesse fucking hated going undercover. Talk, talk, talk. Usually, Jesse got bored very quickly, and when Jesse got bored, his trigger finger tended to get itchy. Besides, they’d confiscated his goddamned gun. That was a downright depressing thing to do to a man, that was.

“I’m here as hired muscle, yeah?”

“Yes,” Hanzo said disdainfully. “‘Hired muscle’. What do you know about me?”

“You’re uh, Hanzo Shimada, boss of the Shimada clan,” Jesse said promptly. “You guys run Hanamura and all the rackets around it for miles. Gamblin’, brothels, drugs, the lot. You’re nowhere on the scale of the Yamaguchi-gumi, but you’ve had a decent gig goin’, and you really don’t appreciate other outfits trying’na muscle in.”

“So far you have proved to me that you’re capable of reading what’s publicly available about me on the net. What else?”

Jesse had read Hanzo’s full file, of course, including all that business about murdering his own kin. He knew precisely how old Hanzo was, and how he had lost both his legs, and where. He knew exactly how long the Shimada Clan had been in business, and when it had decided to go masterless, and why. He knew the modern scope of the Shimada Clan’s criminal empire. Hell, Jesse even knew where and when Hanzo had buried his old man, where he’d buried the brother he had killed. But he couldn’t exactly volunteer any of that to his new boss.

Ah, what the hell. Jesse had always done best when shooting from the hip. “Seems to me like you’re probably the most dangerous guy I’ve met in this place so far.”

“Flattery bores me. As does stating the obvious.”

“Most bosses I’ve met won’t let a hired killer get this close to them. Seems like you’re real confident for a reason.”

“You aren’t armed.”

“Sure about that?” If Jesse wanted to, his prosthetic hand could probably leave dents on solid steel, especially after Ziegler’s tinkering.

This got Jesse a considering look, but little else. Hanzo was as opaque as ever, turning back to look at the garden, as though in dismissal. Jesse tried not to scowl. If he’d just fucked up his interview, he was going to seriously cop it from Reyes. And with Morrison so interested in pesky shit like proof and justifiable intervention and evidence, sneakily lopping the head off the dragon before finding something linking him to the Omnic underground was probably not going to cut it. Yet.

“Do you know Jiro Sasaki?”

“Current Number Two of the Sato-gumi.” That had been in the brief. “You guys are havin’ a border shake-up.”

“That ‘shake-up’ cost me eight men.” Hanzo breathed out an acrid cloud of smoke. “I think that Sasaki-san may not be much longer for this world.”

“What’s the payoff?”

Hanzo grimaced and named a figure, one which although was not particularly high, at least wasn’t insultingly low, either. “Of course,” Hanzo added, “if you get caught, the police will not be so impolite as to tie you to me.”

“Pretty big hit for that kinda money.”

“Second thoughts?”

“Little bit,” Jesse said blandly. “Ain’t gonna lie, m’startin’ to wonder whether all this was even worth my plane ticket.”

“You do not come that highly recommended,” Hanzo shot back, though he smiled, very faintly, mirthless. “Should you not prove to be incompetent, however, I anticipate that there will be… follow-on matters.”

Good enough for the op. “Right then. I’m off. Do I get my kit back?”

“Takahashi will return your belongings to you at the gate.” Hanzo made a dismissive flick of his wrist, and Jesse tried not to feel instinctively annoyed, even as he retreated. An op was an op. Even if Reyes had to have been smoking something mental to have assigned Jesse to a godsdamned undercover op.

1.0.

Jesse McCree did not turn out to be completely incompetent, which was always a nice surprise. For a man who seemed to favour dressing like an extra from a period Western, Jesse had somehow managed to lose Hanzo once they were out of the Shimada territories and past the Sato-gumi’s boundaries. The dragons twisted under Hanzo’s flesh, attuned to his unease. His saikō-komon had not approved of using a total outsider against the Sato-gumi, and originally, Hanzo had only agreed to meet Jesse out of courtesy. The supplier, after all, had proven to be useful before.

Now Hanzo was not entirely sure why he had sent Jesse after Jiro Sasaki despite his misgivings. He balanced himself on the edge of the roof of the apartment block, out of the line of sight of the closest sentry post, waiting.

Kumicho.” Hanzo’s earpiece crackled quietly to life. “We’ve found the tracking device. The American changed his clothes.”

Hanzo scowled. And he had thought that arranging for the tracker to be clipped onto the sole of one of Jesse’s ridiculously noisy boots would be good enough. Clearly Jesse understood the meaning of stealth after all. “Find him. But don’t intervene.”

An arrow took care of the sentry, and Hanzo ghosted noiselessly over the narrow gap between rooftops, wary of traps. Security was good, but imperfect. Clearly, the Sato-gumi were getting lax: it had been weeks since the border skirmish. Perhaps they thought that there would be no reprisals. In a way, that was true: pure revenge was not the Shimada way. Dragons did not understand vengeance, but they understood necessity, and the intrusion into the dragonlands could not be tolerated.

The sound of a gunshot shattered the midnight silence. Hanzo froze, turning sharply towards the sound—had Jesse been really so unsubtle as to use his gun—then he flinched again. Two more loud bangs, one after another, in different directions. Firecracker sounds. Below, the streets burst into chaos, civilians closing their windows in clattering waves, Sato-gumi patrols hollering in alarm as they raced past in different directions, sirens. Somewhere, an alarm, pealing, then more, breaching the night with violence.

“Endo, Arai, observe. The rest of you, withdraw.” No sense in getting caught up in this mess.

The way back was tense, though the Sato-gumi were in disarray, their security posts abandoned, their men milling in the streets. The dragons twisted against his bones, scenting death on the wind, hungry, but Hanzo murmured absently to them and rubbed his arm, grimacing. One kill hadn’t been enough for them tonight, and they made their displeasure felt, twisting just under his skin, hot to the touch. It put him in a poor mood by the time Hanzo crossed back into Hanamura.

Kumicho, the tracker is on the move. McCree will be crossing into Ogawa Dori in ten minutes.”

“Good. Withdraw.” Hanzo slipped over the roof of a temple and leaped out into empty space, landing with only an inch to spare on the roof of an apartment block. He reached the street in question with just enough time to spare, waiting on the roof of the Hanamura bookshop.

Kumicho.” It was Arai. “Jiro Sasaki is dead. Someone put a pillow over his face and shot him through it.”

“Only one death?”

“Two deaths. The pillow muffled the first, but the second shot killed his bodyguard. It seems that the bodyguard walked into the bedroom unannounced after McCree shot Sasaki and was killed for it.”

“The other two disturbances were rigged flashbang grenades, set on a timer,” Endo added. “They must have allowed McCree to flee the compound.”

Hanzo nodded absently to himself. “Withdraw.” Jesse was coming down the street, but without his usual swagger. He still had his hat, but he was masked, and dressed in sober grays and blacks, soft-shoed, a large duffel bag slung over a shoulder. As Hanzo watched, Jesse ambled all the way past the bookshop before pausing, looking over his shoulder. The man had decent instincts.

“I know you guys are still watchin’ me,” Jesse said out aloud. He sounded amused. “Do I pass?”

Hanzo hesitated, but only for a second, then he took himself down to street level, deftly navigating window sills and pipes. Jesse tipped up his hat in surprise, tugging down his mask. His stare was entirely impertinent, tracking the length of the dragon tattoo and back up to Hanzo’s partly bared chest. “I uh, like the new get up. Kimono, right? Looks good on you, boss.”

That didn’t deserve to be dignified with an answer. “Your work is barely adequate.”

“Ooh,” Jesse clapped a hand over his heart. “You sure know how to hurt a man.” He grinned, all defiant mischief, so much like the chaos he had just loosed behind him. The dragons uncoiled against each other approvingly, and Jesse blinked, openmouthed, even as Hanzo hastily rubbed at his arm, trying to coax the dragons back into his flesh. They weren’t usually this restless in company. “Holy shit,” Jesse said slowly. “The hell was that?”

“It is none of your concern.”

“All right, all right, no need to bite my head off.” Jesse raised his hands palms up in mock surrender. “I getcha.”

“Walk with me.” In the dragons’ current mood, Hanzo was going to have to stay awake until they slept, anyway, or it was possible that they would accidentally ruin more than another yukata, without his will to leash them away from fire.

“I got who you told me to.” Jesse fell easily into step. “You got a problem with my work?”

“Grenades and guns? I thought I was hiring a professional.”

“Ouch. Hey, boss. Job got done. Granted, I knocked out his security, thought he was out for the count, but that knucklehead woke up real quick. Plan was to set off the flashbangs and just get away clean. Still, you didn’t exactly tell me that you wanted it done some other way,” Jesse pointed out. “Hell, if you’d told me that you wanted me to kill him by hangin’ him by the balls from his window or somethin’ more ‘professional’, I could’a done that instead. Happy to please.”

“Are you?” That had come out sharper than Hanzo had intended. The dragons had infected him with their temper.

Instead of recoiling, Jesse merely shot Hanzo another impertinent, appraising look. “Sure.” Jesse smirked, all smoky promise. “Whatever you want, boss.”

“You shouldn’t be so quick to make stupid promises,” Hanzo scoffed, keeping a tight hold on his temper. The dragons hissed against his bones, briefly numbing his arm, though they subsided when he kneaded his arm just above his elbow. “I could have told you to shoot yourself.”

“You could’ve,” Jesse agreed. “But I got a feelin’ that you’re the sorta guy who hates a damned waste, and me shootin’ myself is gonna make one hell of a mess, eh?”

That smug mischief. Hanzo clenched his hands, willing the dragons down, even as they stirred in serpentine amusement around his bones. They had always been fond of fellow predators.

“That’s a cool trick,” Jesse said curiously. Clearly Hanzo hadn’t been entirely successful. “You’re not wearing a deck, so it can’t be a hologram. I ain’t ever seen the like.”

“I would’ve been surprised if you had.” Hanzo said flatly.

Jesse wasn’t intimidated in the least. “I did hear a lot of other things about you and your clan,” he said brightly. “But back then, I didn’t want to come off as a bit of a fruitloop.”

“Rest assured, that impression was duly made through other means.” Hanzo stared pointedly at Jesse’s old-fashioned holsters.

“Says the dude in the samurai-archer getup,” Jesse shot back, grinning impishly. “Not that I’m dissin’ it. I like it.”

“So you have said.”

“But moving along,” Jesse persisted, “I heard that you guys used to be ninjas. Like. Real ninjas. Running over the rooftops in black PJs, shuriken, the lot.”

“Your concept of what constitutes a ninja is predictably misinformed.”

“Looks like I got the rooftop bit right.” They were at the side gate to the castle now, and his men were quick to let them through. Jesse wandered right up to the edge of the raked stone garden, hands folded behind his back. “Y’know, I grew up in a house that was half the size of this here garden.”

“I know.” Jesse’s file had been meticulous where his early life was concerned, though he had vanished after Overwatch had taken down the Deadlock Gang. According to the supplier, Jesse had gone to ground, working covertly as a bounty hunter. He looked the sort. “You may continue to have the use of your guest room. Payment for your work tonight will be made into your account.” Hanzo started to head towards the main wing of the castle, only to realize that Jesse was still at his heels. “Yes?” he inquired, testily.

“Where I’m from,” Jesse said, with an ingratiating grin, “We usually celebrate a done an’ dusted job with a drink.”

“We have sake, shochu and whisky. Talk to one of the staff.”

“I meant a drink, darlin’, as in, you, me, a bar—”

“I think not,” Hanzo cut in icily, his temper finally fraying. “Good night, Mister McCree.” He stormed back to his chambers, annoyed enough that clan members scrambled hastily to get out of his way, the dragons heaving their coils up and around his skin, rumbling, hungry. Only when he was alone did it occur belatedly to Hanzo that he could just have told Jesse to leave. The man was precisely the kind of trouble that Hanzo usually had the sense to avoid.

Tomorrow. He’ll get rid of Jesse tomorrow.