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Watching You Run Into the High Noon Sun

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     It took five days, after the last gunshot faded from the air, to wade through the mess of bringing down the Deadlock Gang. Casualties were high, but fatalities were low, mostly on the Deadlock side. Gabriel Reyes, running on three days of less than four hours of sleep, plowed through the interrogations and reports on little more than coffee, raw willpower, and a constant but low-heat hatred for the bureaucrats at Overwatch who demanded impossible results and averted their eyes from what he had to do to achieve them.

    He stood in front of the door that separated him from the last prisoner and looked at the painfully empty file in his hand. Whoever ran the primary interrogation got very little out of the prisoner, not even a name. The only note mentioned that the prisoner’s weapon matched bullets taken from half a dozen wounded Blackwatch agents, none fatal.

    Gabriel sighed. He needed a solid eight hours, a sandwich the size of Reinhardt’s hammer, and more intensive medical treatment than a few stolen minutes with a biotic emitter. One more prisoner to question, and then he could ship the bastard off to a max security cell, never to darken his doorstep again.

    One more.

    He opened the door.

    Stopped. Stared.

    Swore.

    He turned around and closed the door behind him. Counted backwards from ten. Inhaled. Exhaled. Thought of something besides the incandescent, hellish rage boiling up from the depths of his chest like the birth of a star.

    Five, four, three, two, one.

    He opened the door again and met the stubborn stare of the bloodied kid handcuffed to the table.

    “You eaten?” He asked, but the way the kid swayed answered for him. Gabriel grunted and turned around again, storming into the hall to grab the first mobile body he could get his hands on.

    For years afterwards, the junior agent swore that Reyes’ eyes glowed red when he grabbed him out of the supply train.

    “I need as much food as you can get your hands on and a clean set of clothes, sized as small as you can get them. I need them in Cell Ten, and I need them three days ago,” snarled Reyes. “And give me the name of the booking officer who didn’t have the goddamn wits to tell me I have a goddamn minor in custody.”

    “Sir?” The junior agent squeaked. Reyes looked ready to tear someone’s throat out with his teeth.

    “Now, agent!”


    Reyes marched the prisoner to the bathrooms and let him do his business and make a perfunctory attempt at scrubbing down. The kid practically swam in the uniform the agent dug up, but at least he looked less like he crawled out of a grave.

    “What’s your name, kid?” Gabriel asked, putting one sandwich on the table and watching the boy’s eyes follow it, hawk-like. The boy said nothing. His stomach growled, and his face crumpled in a scowl, but he held his tongue. Gabriel pushed the sandwich closer, then leaned back. The boy hesitated. His gaze lifted slowly to meet Gabriel’s. Something cold and hard lived behind those eyes, something made to survive. Only years of training and enhanced reflexes let Gabriel catch the flicker of motion as the kid snatched the sandwich and dragged it under the table, out of sight.

    Gabriel smiled. He did not possess a nice smile; he knew this, and he used it most often as a weapon. The boy recognized this and went still.

    “I can wait,” Gabriel said, waving accommodatingly. The boy held his eyes another moment, two, before his resolve finally broke, and he tore into his food like a wild animal. Gabriel watched every bite like it told him the secrets the boy wouldn’t say.

    “I’m not telling you anything,” said the boy when the sandwich was gone and he could smile a feral smile without losing any.

    “Look, kid—“ Gabriel started.

    “I’m not a kid. I’m seventeen!”

    “Bullshit.”

    “Bullshit yourself. I’m seventeen, and I may be short but I can shoot better than half your damn team.”

    “Only half, Firecracker?” Gabriel found himself taunting. The young man (boy— child — practically an infant, screamed Gabriel’s inner thoughts) sneered back at him.

    “Didn’t have time to reload,” he shrugged. Gabriel made a show of checking the file.

    “Says here you only got them in the legs.”

    The boy’s face twisted to an expression caught between pride, guilt, and that cold survivor’s stare.

    “Wasn’t no damn point in killing them,” he said. “The other half of your team was too good. Weren’t all gonna make it out. I thought, maybe slowing y'all down, at least I could get away.” He snorted. “But nope, the rest of y'all were just that damned good.”

    “You aimed for their legs?” Gabriel’s eyebrow arched despite his attempt to stay impassive.

    “I aimed for their knees.” The boy smiled, a mirror of the smile Gabriel wore a moment earlier. A predator’s smile, savage and strong. “Bad enough to knock ‘em down and keep ‘em down. Just because I ain’t killing them don’t mean I want them getting back up and shooting at me.”

    Gabriel made a mental note to check in with the medic.

    “You are one piece of work, Firecracker.”

    “Thank you kindly, sir.”

    “You’re gonna go to prison for the rest of your life, you know that, right?”

    “The handcuffs were sort of a tip-off, yeah.”

    “Your pals aren’t gonna protect you now. You’re on your own.”

    “That does seem to be the case, sir. Now that you mention it.”

    “Why don’t you make this a little easier on yourself, kid?”

    “Easier ain’t gonna get me anything any better, sir.” He spat out the last word, making it more of a curse than several more offensive words Gabriel had heard soldiers say. “If I had my druthers, I’d’ve gone down fighting rather than just wait for some ratbag to try something funny in jail.”

    “You could cut a deal.”

    The boy laughed. Gabriel had heard many horrible things, often coming from horrible people or horrible times, but the sound of his laugh still settled in his bones like a chill.

    “What for?” The boy slumped back in his chair, the very picture of indolent resignation. “All I’m good for is puttin’ bullets in other people. I’d just end up right back here, or, if I’m lucky, on a morgue slab. No sir, no thank you.”

    The idea came, not in a sudden burst of inspiration, but slow and deliberately, woven together by threads of the boy’s words. Gabriel smiled again, and the wild thing behind the boy’s eyes flinched to see it.

    “What if I could give you another option, Firecracker?” Gabriel purred. The kid’s face shut down, cold and hard.

    “I’d rather die.”

    Gabriel sputtered as he caught up to the boy’s train of thought.

    “God, no!” He recoiled, composure shattered. “What kind of operation do you think I run?”

    “How the hell am I supposed to know? I’ve been in here five fucking days!”

    “An oversight for which, I assure you, someone is going to pay.” Gabriel tossed him another sandwich and didn’t bother with the power play, burying his face in his hands in dismay. He listened to the boy eat for a minute before looking up. It would have been comical, in other circumstances, just how much of the sandwich he tried to cram into his mouth at once.

    “Hell, kid, chew and swallow before you choke.” Gabriel muttered. “No one’s going to take your food. There’s plenty more where that came from, and I can wait.” He leaned back and let the tension drain out of his shoulders. The boy watched him suspiciously, but Gabriel just sighed. The exhaustion of the last week crept in, reminding him how long it had been since he last slept.

    His eyes closed.

    The boy shifted.

    “Don’t even think about it.” Gabriel threw another sandwich at his head with unerring accuracy.

    “Can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?” The kid gave him a hangdog grin that made him look even younger.

    “I can, and I do.” Gabriel growled. The boy shrugged philosophically and started on the third sandwich, though this time at a more reasonable pace. “Come work for me, Firecracker. Join Blackwatch instead of going to jail.”

    The boy stared.

    “Work for you?” He gaped. “Join Blackwatch?”

    “You said all you were good for was putting bullets in other people. Well, there’s a shit ton of bad people out who need bullets in them, and that’s what my team does. I need good shots, like some asshole kid who can fan the hammer and take out the knees of six of my operatives at once.” Gabriel watched the boy’s face carefully and felt vindicated as he saw serious consideration there. “You join my team, you join me, and I’ll vouch for you. No one will take you to prison without taking me too. No one will shoot you in the back without shooting through me first. No one will leave you behind enemy lines because I will fucking come back for you, as long as you’re breathing.

    “You join, you’ll be out of prison. You’ll have a job that actually helps people. Maybe it won’t wash the blood off your hands, but at least you’ll know the new blood isn’t innocent. Maybe you’ll still end up on a morgue slab, but at least you’ll go down fighting on the right side.” Gabriel gave him a minute to let the words settle in. “I walk out of here alone, and they’re going to put you away forever. You walk out of here with me, and you’ve got a future. What will it be, Firecracker?”

    “Jesse,” said the boy.

    “Hmm?”

    “My name’s Jesse McCree, boss.”

Chapter Text

THEN



    It was a good thing Gabriel wasn’t expecting immediate obedience from Jesse McCree, because the boy’s rebellious streak seemed to run to the core of his very being. He was everything he seemed in the interrogation room, only more intensely: a short, mouthy, walking bad attitude with a sharp eye and a mean left straight. More than once, the shouts of “What did you just say?” or “Why don’t you say that to my face, you—“ interrupted Gabriel’s lunch, and he had to drag McCree off, often by the collar if not in an actual headlock. Gabriel had no illusions about the kinds of agents he tended to get in Blackwatch, but there was only so much in-fighting a body could handle before it started to grate on the nerves.

    “What am I going to do with you, Firecracker? You can’t get into these punch-ups every damn day.” Gabriel sighed.

    Jesse sunk into his chair under the weight of Gabriel’s hand on his shoulder.

    “Sorry, Boss,” he mumbled, “but they were calling me Deadlock trash, and—“

    Gabriel held up his hand to forestall the exact string of invectives in case it reignited Jesse’s temper. To his surprise, the young man lapsed into a silent pout.

    “There’s a short list of times I’ll allow a punch-out over name-calling,” Gabriel said, and ticked off the reasons on his fingers. “Racism, sexism, orientation and presentation slurs. Anything else, you suck it up, or you fight back with your own words. Understand?”

    Jesse nodded, but his stoicism was short-lived.

    “But I ain’t Deadlock anymore,” he protested. “I’m Blackwatch now, same as them!”

    Gabriel laughed. Like his smile, it wasn’t gentle or kind. Jesse bristled to hear it.

    “Firecracker, every last one of us is toting some sort of old allegiance in our past. Some organization or another fucked us over, and we were just the ones too tough to die of it. Most of us don’t wear it plain as day.” He flicked the collar of Jesse’s leather coat and gestured to the rest of his outfit.  In less than a month, the boy had already torn both knees in his standard-issue pants, attached chains to his belt, and managed to get three bloodstains and a bullet hole in his shirt. Gabriel had a brief flash of pity for the quartermaster trying to keep clothes in Jesse’s size. The poor man probably couldn’t wait until the boy hit his growth spurt.

    “Deadlock’s dead,” Jesse’s jaw set in a stubborn jut that reminded Gabriel far too much of the man he saw in the mirror every morning. “You brought it down, and any ties I had got cut when they didn’t come for me. I’m Blackwatch now, Boss. Yours and nobody else’s.”

    “That loyal streak is going to get you killed one day, Firecracker.”

    Jesse shrugged, his inner predator looking out through his hooded eyes.

    “I’m only loyal as long as you are,” he said coolly. “You hold up your end of the deal, and I’ll hold up mine.”

    Gabriel felt the urge to point out that it was less a ‘deal’ and more an extortion, but he buried that urge with ruthless pragmatism. Whatever the kid had to tell himself to get through the day, Gabriel had already made similar lies a hundred times worse. He stared at the young man a minute more, and then allowed himself a deeper, more resigned sigh.

    “All right, Firecracker, I didn’t want to have to teach you this like this, but I think I got a fix for you. You probably won’t like it much, and it’s not easy, but it ought to stop this Deadlock shit.”

    Jesse’s posture didn’t change, but his eyes lit up. Damn, but they gave him away every time.

    “Yeah, Boss?”

    “Follow me.”

    He led Jesse deeper into their base, past the training rooms and barracks, past the weapons lockers and even the little-used cleaning closet, into the storage units. The quartermaster’s pet project sprawled before them, a dozen doors labeled things like, “Japan -  Salaryman to Executive”, “Egypt - Defense Forces and Assorted Paramilitary”, and “America - Hollywood Icons”.

    “Boss?” Jesse asked, pausing at a label reading, “Honeypot - Interrogation ONLY, NOT Assassination”.

    “People call you Deadlock because that’s what they see,” Gabriel said. “You want to change how they act around you? Change what they see. Give them something else to look at that fills their every thought of you and they’ll forget what you were before. It’ll take commitment, but you can build a persona big enough to wipe out any legacy.” It was hard not to sound bitter, so he didn’t even try. It didn’t take much effort at all to erase Gabriel Reyes, leader of Overwatch during the Omnic Crisis. How hard could it be to erase a skinny little sharpshooter?

    “I’m not sure what you mean, Boss,” said Jesse, edgy from the sharpness of Gabriel’s tone.

    “These doors,” said Gabriel, “lead to rooms containing everything a Blackwatch agent needs to successfully disguise themselves for a mission. Costume, dialect guide, regional notes, whatever. You can use them to make yourself into someone else. Put away the Deadlock. Who do you want to be when you grow up, kid?”

    Jesse’s gaze swung back over the doors, an expression on his face much like the one he wore when he was about to fan the hammer. Gabriel caught the line of his sight that lingered the longest.

    Well, that would make things a little simpler.

    Gabriel nudged open the “America - Hollywood Icons” door and disappeared inside a moment. He resurfaced carrying a dusty, battered Stetson.

    “What the hell,” Jesse stared. Gabriel plopped the hat on his head and tugged the brim down over his eyes.

    “You don’t get much more iconic than the cowboy.” He said. Jesse pushed the hat up, his expression incredulous.

    “Boss?”

    “Change what they see, Firecracker. You can’t change what you’ve done, but if you put up a big enough front, they’ll never look past it to know better.”

 



NOW


 

    Jesse McCree is in Santa Fe when the Recall goes out. To be more accurate, he’s about twenty miles out of Santa Fe, laying low after a job done well in all the worst ways. There’s one less bad guy in the world. Some people just had to go and do things the hard way, even when McCree tries to be reasonable. He doesn’t much care for the hard way, these days. Bounties are never quite as lucrative for a corpse, and there’s all those extra questions the authorities like to ask that give them time to run across the price on his own head. McCree generally stops asking questions if the answer to “are they shooting at me” turns out to be “yes”.
    
    Truth be told, he’s not quite sure why he kept the old comm after… well. After. Sentiment, he guesses. Sentiment’s as likely as not to get him killed, though. All someone has to do is hack through Gabriel’s old — defunct, really — encryptions to reactivate the GPS that Blackwatch agents turned off, and then anyone who cared to collect his bounty knows where to go to get him. Still, no one’s come yet; at least, no one following the comm.

    He jolts out of his chair when he hears the old familiar chirp. His muscles remember the sound as a call to action, and, his heart especially, they have all been waiting to hear this sound for years. He steels himself before checking, but it’s not enough to prevent the plummeting disappointment when he sees that it’s an all-agent video notification.

    “RECALL,” reads the file subject.

    McCree puts the comm down. It’s not the message he’s waiting for, not from the very short list of people he has clearance to answer. He walks into the kitchenette of the tiny, run-down motel room he’s using as a temporary base. He gets a beer. Cracks it open. Drinks.

    He reminds himself that there’s no point in waiting for the summons from dead men and picks up the comm again. Whatever the message is, it ought to be good for a laugh.

    It is, the first time. He’s forgotten how endearing Winston is, how earnest and idealistic. It brings an honest smile to his face for the first time in months, and this one he doesn’t have to pay for in spilled blood.

 

    That’s probably why he watches the video again. And then again a third time.

    “We have to do something,” Winston urges, and McCree feels his heart clench and lurch into his throat.

    He puts the comm down. He finishes his beer, but it sits unpleasantly in his stomach, much the same way his thoughts churn in his head. His nerves sing with fire and lightning until he has to get up and pace or combust on the spot. He beats out a staccato rhythm against his leg with his prosthetic hand; the other itches for the comfort of his gun grip. He reaches for the comm again, draws up short, and freezes.

    Winston’s words echo in his ears, and he drawls them out in hope of excising them.

    “We have to do something,” he says, pushing the emphasis back to the last syllable.

    McCree picks up the comm and answers the call.


    He gives an ETA of three weeks. Winston is overjoyed to get a response and only politely inquires about the delay.

    “If it’s transport that’s the issue, I can bring one of the shuttles,” he offers.

    “I doubt you’ll want to send one of those big ol’ air tanks out to the middle of nowhere to pick up a wanted man,” McCree drawls. Winston makes some kind of stuttering denial that that’s not the case, but McCree knows exactly what his head is worth down to the after-taxes dime.

    “Three weeks,” he says. “I’ve got some business to finish up, anyhow.”

    That’s a lie, but it’s a lie told for Winston’s comfort, and if there’s anything Blackwatch taught him that didn’t involve killing, it’s the value of what people need to hear.

    Winston assures him that they’ll make arrangements, and McCree just hums agreeably before hanging up.

    Arrangements, Winston said, as if he didn’t know exactly where McCree’s bounty got started. As if he didn’t know exactly where McCree got started.

    Well, the gorilla always was a bit of a soft touch. All that malarky about ‘family’. Ah, what the hell. Even a shepherd needs a good sheep dog.

    McCree packs. It doesn’t take long - bounty hunters on the run don’t get to accumulate much in the way of worldly possessions, and he’ll have to ship Peacekeeper through some of his less legitimate connections. Hopping a train across country is one thing; Gibraltar is across the damn ocean, and Europe has its own snares for McCree. As much as he hates to part from his beloved six-shooter, it draws attention he can’t afford to weather.

    His other prize possession is easier to hide - a pearl-handled straight razor looks right at home in any man’s shaving kit, which can be taken in checked luggage. The razor will only draw attention from someone with as keen an eye as McCree. It requires more scrutiny than an air-safety officer is willing to apply to their daily drudgery to notice that the razor has never been used.

    McCree hangs on to the promises made to him that no one ever fills.

    The rest of his preparations are routine, if not easy. He washes and folds the serape, puts it and his hat in a box with some kitschy New Mexico souvenirs to disguise their importance, and ships the whole mess to the same safe house he’ll use to pick up Peacekeeper. He slaps a decal patch on his prosthetic to hide his iconic paint job. He picks up an off-the rack suit from a consignment shop and some low-power, thick-framed reading glasses from a drugstore. Then he goes and gets a shave.

    “Clean-shaven, please,” he tells the barber with false joy. “She says she’ll have me back!” She, in this case, is Overwatch, but he needs to tell the man something to explain the state of his beard, and the pearl-handled razor in his kit is still waiting on a dead man’s promise.

 


    Jesse McCree boards a commercial flight to Granada under the name Gabriel A. Morrison, which is his favorite false identity for sentimental reasons. Nobody bats an eye.

    They look at him and see just another low-level American businessman: cheap suit, hair slicked back, outdated prosthetic, slouching blearily onto the red-eye flight his company picked because it’s cheaper. There are a dozen others in similar states on the same plane. No one sees him at all.


    McCree lands in Spain two days after Winston’s call. His five o’clock shadow hasn’t even come in properly yet. He takes his time in the city. Uneasy as he feels without his gun by his side, he makes sure to take the proper precautions against scrutiny. American tourists stand out on their own but easily blur together with others of their kind. When he’s sure he’s not being tailed, he heads for his safe house.

    The accoutrements of The Cowboy wait for him in secure packages. He inspects everything, just in case. The kind of people willing to smuggle firearms across international borders are not, he knows from experience, above selling out a client for the right price. Bad business doesn’t always matter to a high enough bounty.   

    He doesn’t kit himself out immediately, but he’s glad to have Peacekeeper at his hip again to counterbalance the weight of the razor on his other side. One is a reminder of the past, the other a tool to shape the future.

    Within the week he sets up camp near Gibraltar, watching the old base like a hawk outside a rabbit warren. Watchpoints have several lines of defense, but it’s unlikely they’ve updated them since the Fall, and he knows them well enough to stay undetectable. He notes the small signs of life that steadily grow.

    More agents answer Winston’s call than McCree expected, given the gorilla’s willingness to take him back into the fold. McCree has a brief moment of paranoia, wondering if perhaps Winston intends to fund a more legitimate operation with the money from his bounty, but he waits it out.

    Like everything else in his life, the moment passes.

    He waits out the second week. The passage of time settles him. His beard grows back in slowly and slightly uneven, giving him the rough, wild look of his wanted poster again. The pearl-handled razor waits for its broken promise as he builds up his dossier of reconnaissance.

    Lena’s back. So’s Reinhardt, and Angela, and Torbjörn, too. There’s new faces, some of them rather famous for such a clandestine operation. That puts the gnawing doubt back in his head; there’s no way this can stay quiet. Someone in power has to know, but why keep silent?

    It eats at McCree for nearly the entirety of the third week. Winston sends a cautious message asking if he’s okay, if he needs an extraction. McCree ignores it.
    
    Finally, he gives in. His beard’s back. He’s got his gun, his serape, and his hat. Aside from the possibility the whole thing is an elaborate trap or a time bomb of a bad idea, there’s no reason to not follow through.

    Besides, he came all this way.

    McCree saunters into range of Athena’s scanners at high noon on the last day of the third week.

    The Cowboy is back in the saddle.

Chapter Text

THEN



    Gabriel never saw someone take so instantly and intensely poorly to another human being as Jesse took to Jack. In retrospect, he probably should have predicted that Jesse’s strangely specific loyalty, proclaimed only weeks before in Gabriel’s office, would not mesh with the regulations and hierarchy of the rest of the system. It was Blackwatch, though, and Gabriel was frequently surprised by any display of genuine allegiance. Jesse’s adamant announcement that he was Gabriel’s agent seemed, at first glance, just another reminder that it was Gabriel’s whim that kept him tethered to the agency and nothing more.

    So when Jack Morrison came down from his ivory tower to talk to Gabriel about some mission gone horrifically wrong, the last thing Gabriel expected was for the little firecracker to come riding to his defense.

    
    Gabriel almost missed Jesse’s entrance to the office, quite a feat considering the boy’s blossoming ‘Cowboy’ motif was nearly as loud as his mouth. But a thirty-hour op and four hours combined travel time on top of the unscheduled meeting did not put Gabriel in the most aware state of mind, so it was Jack who noticed Jesse first when the young man sauntered through the door mid-recrimination about the purpose of covert ops.

    “Yes, soldier?” Jack turned to face the intruder, and Gabriel watched Jesse’s eyes turn cold even as the boy plastered a wide, empty smile on his face. Jesse tossed a wrapped sandwich onto Gabriel’s desk and stuck his thumbs through his belt loops. He did not turn to acknowledge Jack at all.

    “Hey, Boss, I was gonna start a pot of coffee. Wanted to check if you were gonna hit the sack after this, or if you wanted in.” Jesse drawled. Gabriel raised an eyebrow.

    “Aren’t you supposed to be in medical?” He asked. Jesse’s smile took a distinctive turn towards the shit-eating kind.

    “Aww, Boss, it’s just a couple of nicks—“

    “Your commanding officer asked you a question.” Jack frowned. Jesse’s smile bypassed shit-eating and took a detour through shit-starting before vanishing entirely.

    “Sir?” The word hung on Jesse’s lips like venom.

    “If your C.O. tells you to go to medical, soldier, then you go.” Jack’s tone bordered on concerned, which was the only reason Gabriel didn’t chuck him out of the office for commandeering his troops, but Jesse didn’t recognize the sound. The lonely survivor behind Jesse’s eyes reared up like a wild stallion, defensive and dangerous. His spine straightened slightly, and his stance opened up into something loosely resembling parade rest. He lifted his hand in a lazy salute.

    Few Blackwatch agents followed proper military protocol - few Overwatch agents bothered outside of the scrutiny of the U.N. - but there was something about Jesse’s demeanor that screamed of defiance.

    “Sir,” he said, and the word was definitely toxic, “yes, sir.”

    Gabriel saw Jesse’s eyes flicker over to him, a silent question.

    “Go to medical, Firecracker. I’ll get your report once I’m done with Commander Morrison.”

    Jesse relaxed slightly at that, turning to give Gabriel a more genuine - if even more inexpertly executed - salute.

    “You got it, Boss.”


    It was Jesse’s special word for Gabriel: name, rank, and various pronouns as needed.

    “Hey, Boss…”

    “Boss says—“

    “I’ll take it to Boss—“

    Most people stopped paying attention to it, but Jack loved his regulations, and even on his best days it gave the Strike Commander a little twitch to hear the Blackwatch Commander addressed so casually.

    “McCree, he’s your commanding officer!”

    “Yes, sir. No mistaking that, sir. Boss is boss.”

    Jesse, for his part, took a special delight in winding up Jack. Gabriel found it hilarious, but it took every ounce of his willpower to keep it off his face and under the mask of Hard-As-Nails-Reyes. From the quick, mischievous grins Jesse shot him every time Jack’s back was turned, he guessed he didn’t do as good of a job of it as he thought.     

    “You’re letting him get away with too much,” Jack protested to Gabriel after Jesse scurried away. “He’s like a puppy; he needs discipline!”

    Gabriel stared back across the desk and tried to look like he gave a damn what Jack thought of Jesse. From the frustrated lines on Jack’s face, he didn’t do a very good job of that, either.

    “Jack, I’ve got six teams made up of murderers, thieves, and madmen that you and the U.N. deemed too useful to lock up or execute. There’s less than five agents out of the lot of them that I’d leave even in charge of my lunch. If that ‘puppy’, as you call him, isn’t actually pissing on my boots, I’m fucking elated. ‘Cause he’s not a ‘puppy’, Jack. He’s a fucking wolf, and what keeps him in line is that he thinks this is his pack. So I’ll be pack to him. Better to run with the wolf than from him.”

    Jack sat back, looking thoughtful in the silence. For a moment, actual grief and concern clouded the golden boy’s demeanor.

    “I don’t know how you do it, Gabe,” he said, radiating earnestness.

    Gabriel pursed his lips so he didn’t have to admit that there were days he didn’t know either.


    Eventually, most of the venom bled out of Jesse’s pseudo-subordinate drawl, but the bite remained, sharp as ever, especially when Jack found something new to nag him about.

    “Boss, you gotta get Morrison off my back,” Jesse complained not long after he finally hit his growth spurt and started closing the height difference between himself and his commander.

    Gabriel just raised an eyebrow at the bottle in Jesse’s hand.

    “That better be the vitamin drink medical gave you,” he said, “and not a beer. It really better not be one of Reinhardt’s special imported beers, because I spent two weeks listening to him rhapsodize about them and how much he missed them before Amari found a case.”

    Jesse looked at the bottle in question, sighed, and put it on Gabriel’s desk. Gabriel reached into the mini-fridge behind him and got one of the aforementioned vitamin drinks. Apparently there was not much difference in the nutritional requirements of an SEP-alumni and a teenage boy who shot up six inches practically over night.

    “Boss,” Jesse pouted. Gabriel drank the beer. It was definitely Reinhardt’s. He’d have dispose of the evidence later.

    “Drinking age is twenty-one, Firecracker.” He grinned around the lip of the bottle.

    “Yeah, in America, not here.” Jesse sulked.

    “You’ll thank me when you’re older and not stuck shooting out kneecaps ‘cause you’re too short to see any higher.”

    Jesse glowered.

    “I can shoot plenty high right now.”

    “Yeah, yeah. What’d Morrison do that’s got you in here this time?”

    “He’s on my back about my beard.”

    Gabriel laughed out loud. Jesse slumped.

    “Aww, c’mon, Boss!”

    “What beard? There’s peaches with more fuzz than you.”

    “Boss.”

    “Drink your vitamins.”

    Jesse’s expression was practically murderous, but Gabriel folded his hands and waited him out. There was no sign of Jesse’s inner hunter, and the younger man caved easily, cracking open the drink and chugging it.

    “I’ll get Morrison to back off.” Gabriel said. “Torbjörn and Reinhardt both get to wear full beards, and he’s never complained about mine. Just because you’re a little patchy—“

    “BOSS.”

    “—is no reason to give you grief. Shit, kid, do you even know how to shave?”

    Jesse blinked.

    “Uh, yeah? You just take the razor and…” he gestured vaguely in the direction of his face, “whatever you don’t want, right?”

    Gabriel gaped.

    “Okay, I take it back. You are not fucking allowed to shave until someone teaches you. ‘Just take the razor and…’ you’re gonna slit your own damn throat, that’s what you’ll do. For crying out loud. No, don’t start with your sass, between the two of us, I’m the only one who’s actually got a razor.”

    “I’ve got a razor,” Jesse said sullenly, already resigned to taking the Pyrrhic victory.

    “Is it plastic?” Gabriel asked flatly. Jesse didn’t answer. Gabriel massaged the bridge of his nose against a headache. “I’ll talk to Morrison. Get out of my office, Firecracker, and don’t touch the fucking ‘razor’.”


    A week later, Gabriel cornered Jesse outside the barracks and handed him a slim, heavy case.

    “Boss?” Jesse hefted the package cautiously, eyes sparkling with curiosity.

    “When you actually have something to use it on,” Gabriel said, “I’ll teach you how.”

    Jesse opened the case, revealing a pearl-handled straight razor. It was well-crafted, with a smooth-action hinge, a comfortable weight, and a glossy grip. He stared at it like he’d never seen anything like it in his entire life, and self-recrimination and indecision sank their jaws into Gabriel. What right did he have to give the gift? Jesse was young, but he wasn’t actually a child, and that was no real basis for a bond—

    Then Jesse looked up, and his eyes glistened with held-back tears.

    “Thank you, Boss,” he said quietly. “Nobody ever gave me anything so nice before.”

    Gabriel bit back the knee-jerk incredulity. Of course the kid wouldn’t have gotten presents in Deadlock. That operation didn’t give anything that it didn’t steal back later, with interest.

    “Well, Firecracker,” he said instead, “this can be a lesson for you. Don’t undertake any task without the proper equipment. Learn the right way first. You can improvise later, but you gotta make your foundation strong.”

    Jesse’s hand closed over the handle, almost reverently.

    “You got it, Boss.”



NOW


 

    To say that meeting Soldier: 76 is a bit of a shock is about as terrible of an understatement as saying that the ocean is a little damp, or that the vast vacuum of space has some elbow room.

   Winston practically vibrates with excitement as he introduces McCree to the gathering members of the new team. McCree patiently keeps a friendly smile on his face as if he hasn’t spent the last two weeks monitoring their comings and goings, their passages into town, and the discrete supply trains being set up. The truly new arrivals don’t know him beyond Winston’s polite description of “a former member of the old Overwatch”. Torbjörn, Reinhardt, and Lena never cared what it was McCree did on the other side of the ‘watch; they’re just overjoyed to be back, to be together, to be doing something.

    It isn’t until he comes face to visor-covered-face with Jack Morrison that McCree feels his composure even come close to slipping. He’d been prepared for the weight of familiarity. This is more like a gut shot from a rifle.

    Hell, he’s taken bullets with less kick than this.

    Under the shadow of his hat brim, he studies Winston and the so-called Soldier:76. There’s no doubt in his mind that the man is the fallen leader of Overwatch, and from the strain in Winston’s smile, the gorilla knows him, too.

    “Soldier:76 is a vigilante who recently operated in Dorado,” Winston says in the distinct cant of someone whose words are coming out faster than their social filter can catch them. “Not that far from your part of the world, eh, McCree?”

    McCree manages to hold his easy smile in place, but it no longer meets his eyes.

    “Not that far at all,” he drawls, offering his hand. “Small world, isn’t it, friend? Funny I never run into you before.”

    Although everyone else in the room speaks English, only he and 76 have the mid-and-western American-specific background to catch the colloquial quirk in his speech: cowboys don’t often use the term ‘friend’ in a friendly manner. Drawn out the way McCree does it, like the hiss of steel and leather, it’s an invitation and a challenge.

    Soldier:76 meets him head-on and shakes his hand. Two boulders could not meet with more force, neither man giving an inch. If Jack blinks, McCree can’t see it behind the red lens.

    “I work alone,” 76 rasps. “Don’t go much in for the fancy shenanigans you young punks do these days.”

    McCree’s smile starts to fray, and Winston intercedes before they can actually try to break each others’ fingers. He wraps a massive arm around McCree’s shoulders and drags him away.

    “There are others, too, oh, let me introduce you to Mei. She was in the science division the first time around, I don’t think you met her then.”

    The immediate crisis averted, McCree sinks back into the smooth Southern Charmer persona he’s spent years crafting. He can run it on auto-pilot if need be, and sometimes, this time, it needs be.

    He smiles and nods his way through the remaining introductions and then excuses himself with a gesture to his cigarillo, unlit in deference to the lungs of the non-smokers.

    Angela gives him a look that means he’ll be sitting through a lecture on the dangers of tobacco in the near future, but it’s the only excuse that will immediately get him some fresh air and privacy, so he just grins and heads outside.


    He’s not running. Running would mean he’s afraid, and the only thing he fears is an itchy trigger finger. He takes long strides through the base, covering ground that is, though not specifically familiar to him, similar enough that he doesn’t have to look too hard where he’s going. The joy of the military’s lack of creativity is that most of the Watchpoints had a template layout. He climbs some stairs, crosses a skywalk, and comes to a stop on the roof of the base of the satellite tower, facing the sea.  

    The breeze is cool and smells of the salt water lapping at the rocks below. By now the sun hangs low in the sky, tinting the canvas of the clouds gold and pink.

    McCree inhales it all - sky and sea - to cool the embers in his chest where his heart threatens to burn. He steeled himself for reunions, even for the possibility of betrayal, but not for the reopening of a wound seven years deep, and it feels like he’s bleeding out kerosene in a room full of lit candles.

    He forces himself to sit down. There’s turmoil in his head, an earthquake in his heart, and if he keeps walking now, he’s liable to just walk away all together. He did not take the time, energy, and expense to get over here just to chicken out because Jack Fucking Morrison—

    No, no. Calm, he tells himself. He’s a professional. Think of it like a job. Think of it like a job full of independent contractors, each one with their own levers and baggage that he doesn’t have to touch if he doesn’t want to.

    It’s just a job. A job that can help people. A job that won’t wash the blood off his hands, but this time—

    This time he’s got no one backing him. The new kids are untried, and the old guard is untrustworthy.

    He can almost imagine Reyes scoffing at him, arms crossed and brows drawn together.

    “Come on, Firecracker, Reinhardt’s about as open book as you can get. And Lena? You don’t trust Little Miss Ray of Fucking Sunshine?

    “You didn’t,” thinks Jesse, thumbing the edge of his old comm. “You told me not to answer to anyone who wasn’t you or Jack.”

    “Yeah,” his imagined Boss sighs. “And look how well that turned out.

    McCree pockets his comm. Winston promised a new one to link him to the new team. McCree keeps the old one for sentimental value, and for the promise that he broke.
    
    The fire dies in him, leaving only the warm ashes of resignation and the determination to finish what he starts. He hauls himself upright and turns around —

    only to freeze in his tracks.

    There’s a man perched on the actual satellite tower above him. Just sitting there, silently, wearing what looks like traditional Japanese clothing. The stranger’s body faces the sunset, but he watches McCree back, non-plussed. He seems so utterly at ease that McCree is actually unsure whether or not to draw his gun and call in the intruder, shattering every response Reyes drummed into his head from the age of seventeen to thirty.

    The sun starts setting properly now, painting the stranger’s blue clothes and tattoo with gold and crimson. He smirks, a quicksilver thing, gone just as fast as it arrives.

    “I did not think it possible for one who dresses so loudly to be so still and quiet for so long,” he says. McCree’s gut twists into an anxious knot.

    “How long’ve you been up there?” He demands suspiciously. He doesn’t have any record of this person coming to the base, and that makes him even more nervous than being snuck up on.

    The man shrugs.

    “I come up here to meditate. You were no intrusion.”

    “I was no— wait, were you there the whole damn time?”

    “It is quiet up here. If you can be quiet again, I see no reason why we cannot share. There are precious few places on base like it.”

    “Share?! Now look, you, I don’t know who you are, but—“ McCree cuts himself off at the sound of incoming footsteps, fast and heavy. His hand hovers over his gun; out of the corner of his eye, he sees the stranger reach for something too. Then he hears someone scaling the side of the tower.

    “Brother!” calls Genji, even before he pops over the side. “I have the most wonderful news— Oh! McCree!”

    McCree’s hand falls away from Peacekeeper. His jaw falls open. He almost falls off the tower, especially once Genji bounds forwards and tackles him in a hug.

    “Oof!” McCree feels his ribs creak under his tensing muscles. He can’t remember the last time he was so close to another person, and his body aches for lacking the memory. “Ease up there, Genji, I ain’t as young as I used to be.” His eyes flicker up to the stranger, whose expression is wistful until he catches McCree looking. Then he settles into stoicism.

    “McCree, I didn't know you were coming back!” Genji says, pulling him back to safer ground.

    “I’ve been here since high noon. Where the hell have you been?”

    “I have been trying to track a suspicious character. My brother helped Winston create a stronger perimeter scanner, and two days ago we detected someone who may be paying the base to much attention.”

    “New system?” McCree’s smile becomes a little more forced as he remembers exactly where he was and when. “Two days ago?”

    “Yes, my brother’s arrows can use sound waves to detect enemy motion, even through walls. Winston was able to apply it to the perimeter scanners to enhance our defenses.”

    “Well, that’s just —“ McCree stops himself; he’s not caught, but he can see that the stranger flinches every time Genji says, “my brother”. “Have you got more than one brother, Genji?”

    Genji steps back, one hand clasped around McCree’s wrist to keep it in place.

    “Jesse McCree, this is my brother, Shimada Hanzo,” he says carefully, as if he expects McCree to fly off the handle. Some part of McCree realizes that, seven years ago, it might have been a possibility. Nine, and it would practically have been a certainty.

    Now, McCree just stares, measuring the man’s life in the twilight. He sees grief in the tension of his muscles, guilt in the set of his shoulders, little scars from fights made in carelessness not because of lack of skill, but because the body isn’t worth sparing. He sees a man who spills blood: some he regrets, and some he does not.

    Genji’s grip tightens, and he steps into McCree’s line of sight. He’s seen first hand what can happen when McCree stares too long. Even though he’s misreading the look, what he decides to do about it is just as telling.

    “I have forgiven my brother,” Genji says in a low, urgent tone. “He has come to Overwatch to seek redemption.”

    McCree turns the full weight of his gaze on the cyborg, trying to read into the minute clues of his posture what he can’t see in the helmet. It drags past the duration of McCree’s DeadEye, which he realizes when Genji suddenly relaxes.

    “Well, he’s picked a fine place to do it,” McCree says, peaceably. He lifts his hand to wave. Hanzo offers a small nod in lieu of a bow, which will send him toppling off the tower. The man stares without making eye contact, and McCree can practically see him folding into himself like origami: intricate, elegant, and impossible to unfold without tearing.

    “Jesse—“ Genji starts, but McCree claps him on the shoulder.

    “I’ll leave you two to whatever you were were going to say before I so rudely interrupted.” He gives them both a lazy smile, the one Genji remembers that McCree hasn’t made genuinely in years. “Genji, we’ll catch up later. Shimada-san, I hope that offer to share is still open?”

    Hanzo startles to be directly and properly addressed, but he nods again with something that’s either starlight or hope twinkling in his eyes.

    “As long as you can be quiet,” he says, smirking again.

    McCree tips his hat; he’s not going to give up the best view on base and undisturbed moments just because someone else is doing the same twenty feet up.

    He’s a cowboy, not an idiot.

Chapter Text

THEN:



    Shimada Genji came to Overwatch in pieces, and if he wasn’t careful, he was going to leave the same way. Bets on who took him out first varied across the bases, but the oldest members of the combined ‘Watches had a distinct feeling of deja vu.
 

   A short, mouthy, angry scrapper focused on offense? Now where had they seen that before…
    
 

   Within three hours of Genji’s introduction to Blackwatch, Gabriel had both him and Jesse in the chairs on the other side of his desk, looking for all the world like a pair of chastised schoolboys. Jesse, being more flesh and blood than Genji, showed his damage more prominently, but there were tell-tale scuffs and a certain stiffness to the cyborg’s posture that said the cowboy gave as good as he got.

    “I thought we were past this stage, Firecracker.” Gabriel sighed.

    “It wasn’t my fault!” Jesse protested. “I was just minding my own business, and along comes the new guy, and all I did was say ‘howdy’, and he just gave me this look like I killed his kin, and I asked him if he was lookin’ for your office, then he started tossing around fightin’ words! I didn’t start nothing!”

    Genji made a sound that was either an incidental steam vent, or a snort. Jesse glared at him, regardless.

    “Did not start anything,” Genji sneered. “Can you not even speak your own language?”

    Jesse snarled back a string of expletives in Japanese that made Gabriel realize the boy paid more attention to the quartermaster’s cultural notes than he thought. Genji reeled in surprise, but only for a moment, and the retort he made cut about as well as his sword.  

    “That’s enough!” Gabriel shouted, and both the younger men flinched. “Why are you two knuckleheads fighting in my halls?”

    Jesse opened his mouth. Gabriel held up a warning finger.

    “Ten words or less, Firecracker.”

    Jesse closed his mouth. He rolled his eyes ceiling-wards and gave it deeper consideration. Genji snickered when he started counting on his fingers. Gabriel asked any listening higher powers for patience. Jesse grinned. Gabriel steeled himself for the worst.

    “He’s got family issues, and I don’t wanna fuck you.” He held up a finger to punctuate each word and looked obscenely proud of himself for hitting quota.

    Gabriel dropped his face to his palm.

    “What? No, don’t repeat that. I don’t think I can survive hearing it a second time.”

    Jesse shrugged.

    “Sorry, Boss, I mean, you got great legs, but you’re a lot older than me, and that’s kind of weird seein’ as how you brought me into the ‘Watch. Ain’t a healthy power balance, you know?”

    Gabriel growled.

    “You are walking a fine line, Firecracker.”

    “Shimada here implied I’m not on the list for my sharpshooting skills, if you know what I mean,” Jesse drawled.

    Gabriel turned expectantly to Genji, who shrank back instinctively from the massive wall of authoritative disappointment Gabriel presented.

    “And why did you say that?” He prompted, internally on the edge of a screaming crisis at how his life reached the point of mediating arguments between a cowboy and a cyborg.

    Genji held out longer than Gabriel expected, but eventually even he squirmed.

    “He would not shut up,” Genji admitted. Jesse bristled, but Genji continued. “He just kept saying how great you were, how good the team is, and bragging about your shared accomplishments. Then he asked what I can do.”

    “I was just trying to be neighborly,” Jesse grumbled. Gabriel turned The Look on him.

    “You wouldn’t know neighborly if it bit you in the ass,” he said without heat. “Your neighbors have all been Blackwatch for the last eleven years. Normal neighbors don’t do the kinds of shit we do.” Jesse sank deeper into his chair.

    Gabriel tried to think of what Jack or Ana would do in this situation. Neither Genji nor Jesse were actually children anymore, but there were definitely times when their unconventional upbringings showed through. Ana would probably make them talk it all out, probably over Tea. Jack would do it by the book, citing regulations about interpersonal conflict and then sending them to different units.

    Gabriel was neither of them, so he dragged Genji and Jesse off to the gym and made them suit up for the bio-feedback training exercises. He put the medical staff on high alert, too.

    “Your goal,” he said as he fiddled with the controls, “is to have the least amount of points.”

    “Boss?” Jesse asked warily.

    “I’ve set all the bots to hostile, maximum aggro. If they hit Genji, it’s a point for McCree, and vice versa. If you want to win, you make damn sure those bots don’t hit your partner.”

    “Aww, Boss—“

    “Commander—“

    “For every point on the board,” Gabriel said louder, “I’m increasing the damage you take from the feedback kit. You screw around here and you’re going to feel it in the morning.”

    “Boss, how long—“

    “Until you two get this out of your system, Firecracker. Do I make myself clear?”

    “Crystal.”

    “Yes, sir.” Genji’s sullen response elicited a twitch in Gabriel’s temple. All these years and dozens of other recruits  later, and the word still sounded like an insult after Jesse got through with it.

    “Good. Then get started.”


    The first session went… ‘poorly’ was a kind word for it, but ‘as expected’ seemed too pessimistic. Genji and Jesse had a combined score of forty-three, and even though training bots only inflicted the pain of an injury rather than the injury itself, pain was enough to knock both of them down a peg or six.

    The young doctor with the fire in her eyes had some choice words for Gabriel, not all of them in English, but he just waited until the two were back on their feet and then reset the program.

    The second session totaled twenty-one points. The third totaled seven. By the fifth, they were down to two, and the invectives they hurled at each other were fond rather than fractious. Gabriel started randomizing the program, introducing friendly ally bots and neutral hostage bots. Sometimes he picked up training guns himself and stepped into the fray, operating as both enemy and ally.

    “Shimada, watch those deflects. Friendly fire is no one’s friend.”

    “Quit charging into the middle of the melee, McCree.”

    “Shimada, what did I tell you about those damn deflections?”

    “Watch your back, Firecracker. Your blindspot is right—“ a shot directly between the shoulders — “there!”

    Jesse staggered.

    “How the hell am I supposed to avoid that?” He snapped.

    “Either keep your back to the wall, or get a teammate to cover it. I’ve been holding your six ’til now, but you shouldn’t get complacent.”

    “All these years you hold a man’s back, and you don’t think to mention it earlier? Boss.”

    Gabriel shrugged.

    “Never came up before. When I’ve got your six, you’ve got mine. Not a long list of people I want back there, and it just keeps getting shorter. Now, Shimada here’s got all your temper from back then and none of that nice little cool down, isn’t that right, Shimada?”

    Genji answered in Japanese, under his breath.

    “I’ll have you know my mother was a saint,” said Gabriel, who also saw fit to brush up on his language skills. “And just for that…” He fired a decoy shot, which Genji deflected, but Gabriel rolled around to fire at his back. Jesse slid in between them just before Gabriel pulled the trigger, taking the hit point blank for a feedback intensity set to ‘shotgun’.

    Gabriel lowered his training gun and waited for Jesse to catch his breath.

    “One day, Firecracker, one day it’s going to get you killed.”

    “Thought that… was the… point — not to let… my partner… take the hit.” Jesse ground out between gasps.

    “Better ways to do it. Try those flashbangs for an interrupt.”

    Genji said nothing at the time, but when Gabriel tried the same maneuver on Jesse three weeks later, the cyborg was right between them, deflecting the blow.

    Angela, the doctor most frequently on their case, developed a reoccurring twitch when the three of them rolled into medical at the same time, drunk on adrenaline and endorphins.


    They were the terror of Blackwatch, a whirling dervish of destruction that carved swathes through whatever stood in their way. Even Jack and Ana were impressed. For one brief moment, it seemed like Gabriel was grounded again.

    Then Overwatch started swiping Genji back for missions, and Jesse’s pack started to fall apart.


    
NOW:


 

    The new team exhausts him, and not just because of the indefatigability of the youth that joins them on the frontline. The young people are just friendly; it’s only polite for them to extend invitations to meals and the other recreational activities they come up with to fill the downtime living on a supposedly abandoned military base. McCree declines multiple invitations from Hana, Lúcio, Mei, and even Junkrat before they simply stop asking.

    The original Overwatch members are worse, looking for the energy and arrogance they remember in him and finding the desert stillness instead. He tries to pull up some of the cocky one-liners and cheesy parting shots, but silence and solitude bonded to his bones since his leaving, and a few lines are not enough to completely divert the questions in their eyes.

    It’s easier to tip his hat, politely say, “evening ma’am”, and step out of Angela’s way than to ask her about the latest advances in her research. It’s more comfortable to excuse himself for a smoke than to listen to Lena’s excited re-telling of her team-up with Winston at the museum. It’s less draining to train by himself than to be handed one of Reinhardt’s imported beers, be dragged into his circle, and sit through the older man’s tales of the glory days while the familiar taste of the drink sours with his memories. And anything is better than spending more than a minute in the same room as Jack Morrison.


    Genji is perhaps both the hardest and easiest to handle. On the one hand, he knew Jesse the best of any of the survivors: Gabriel’s training made them almost as deadly a combination as Gabriel and Jesse, and that kind of teamwork requires knowing a partner through and through. No one else knows exactly the lengths to which he will go when pushed.

    On the other hand, Genji is not the same hothead McCree remembers, either. Genji tries to explain it - something about an Omnic monk, accepting one’s self, and finding inner peace — but McCree can barely hear him over the ringing in his ears.

    Whatever’s left of ‘Jesse’ in him is happy for the man who was his friend; everything else is McCree, and he hears one more person who let him go and left him behind.

    Surely, McCree thinks, a man who can hunt down his AWOL brother could have found a moment to look up an old friend after the fall of their old workplace. It’s not as if McCree avoided Japan, after all.


    Genji’s newfound calm means that they do not, in fact, often cross paths. McCree knows, because he makes it his business to know, that Genji spends most of his time training or in meditation, either with his brother or the Omnic monk. It takes little effort to arrange to be elsewhere on base where he doesn’t have to see how readily life moves on around him.

    It’s just a job, McCree tells himself when the ache of loneliness starts to stir in his numbed bones. Mei and Hana start making plans for a barbecue dinner. They glance at him, murmur something about Americans and grills, but he keeps his hat tipped down and his eyes hooded enough that he looks like he’s sleeping. There’s no point in doing family dinners. They wouldn’t keep his company if they knew about Blackwatch and Deadlock, and he doesn’t need to let it hurt him when he sees the looks on their faces when they eventually find out.

    Hana and Mei eventually turn their attention elsewhere.


    It’s just a job, he tells himself as Junkrat chatters at him about engineering and firearms and explosives. While part of him wants to see what could happen if he let Junkrat fiddle with his weapons, the rest of him staunchly remembers that the only partner he can count on these days is Peacekeeper, and a surge of protective, possessive fury rolls through him like a summer storm.

    “I prefer to keep things professional,” he says coolly. Junkrat stammers an apology and ambles off to ramble at Roadhog instead. McCree has the vaguest feeling like he might have kicked a dog, but he packs it away with the inconvenient seedlings of attachment. He won’t make the mistake of caring again.

    Junkrat doesn’t ask a second time.


    It’s just a job, he tells himself when team training starts and he has to plot a battlefield map in real time while keeping track of friendly forces in addition to hostile ones for the first time in years. He has to remember that Roadhog is a tank, but sticks to Junkrat’s side, and that neither of them will answer to anything but their callsigns. He has to remember that Hanzo is a strong defensive force, but as a sniper, he’s rarely stationed on point. He has to remember that Lúcio moves too fast for him to follow but still needs back-up, that Mercy keeps tagging along behind Pharah in ariel assaults, and that Hana’s MEKA can and will be evacuated to self-destruct. They’re all a little reckless — it’s mandatory, in this job — but aside from a handful, most of them lack the blood-thirsty background to anticipate the worst dirty moves the enemy can make.

    McCree knows. Genji knows. Jack knows. They keep their eyes open for those moments and intercede when they can.

    Hanzo knows. McCree can see it in the way the man positions himself on perches: back to the wall, angled for optimum range of vision, eyes always darting around for a flanking force to get by the frontline. It’s the face of a man who doesn’t think the line will hold, and that his position will be overrun without backup.

    McCree takes great efforts to bury that same expression in the mirror every morning.


    It’s just a job. Don’t make it personal. Don’t get attached.
    Everyone leaves, and he doesn’t know how many more broken promises he can carry.

    He tells himself this as he climbs back to the satellite tower at sunset, muscles aching from the day’s training. Lúcio skated by him to get to Hana after she had to evacuate the MEKA, but the younger man didn’t notice a hostile bot on his left, forcing McCree to leave his defendable choke point to keep him from getting hit. It left him open to a flanking bot of his own. The robot shot him in the back, and the ancient feedback system shorted out, burning through his shirt. Lúcio never even noticed, but Jack did, and the stinging recrimination of, “watch your back” was a worse pain than the shot or the electrocution.

    McCree bit his tongue and walked away, then.

    His feet always bring him to the tower and the sunset and the silent man twenty feet above him.
    

    McCree tips his hat to Hanzo before he sits down. Hanzo gives him an answering nod, and the two of them settle into their respective silences, watching the horizon.

    Eventually, McCree takes out his hip flask, kept solely for the purposes of self-medication. The last thing he needs is to be loopy and loose-lipped on Angela’s pain-killers. She never did seem to forget anything he said while under the influence of heavy medication, and these days that seems a worse prospect than an actual interrogation.

    He unscrews the lid, only to find up a rolled up note in place of his whiskey.

    ‘No alcohol! -A,’ reads the paper. ‘Come to me for meds.’

    McCree crumples it one handedly and shoves it back into his pocket. He exhales slowly, feeling the burn stretch and scrape under the weight of his shirt and serape.

    Something soft and vaguely metallic pads up behind him, and he turns around to see Hanzo holding out the gourd from his belt.  

    “Sake,” he says, nodding to McCree’s empty flask.

    McCree hesitates. He searches Hanzo’s face for any sign of pity or misplaced camaraderie, but Hanzo is impassive. It is the simple state of the universe: Angela takes the alcohol, and Hanzo provides it.

    “Thank you,” he says, and he takes a sip. Hanzo sits down next to him, and together they slowly drain the bottle.


    They spend many sunsets up there, sharing sake and whiskey and saying nothing at all. The season turns cooler. Hanzo pulls up his sleeve, and McCree wraps his serape more tightly. They sit closer together, sometimes near enough that McCree can feel the warmth of the other man, never quite touching, but close enough it begins to thaw the memory of how to share space with another person.

    McCree has lived so long with his ghosts that he can’t remember the heat of living. It intoxicates him more than any whiskey, or sake, or any other form of alcohol they can think of to test. He doesn’t let himself get addicted, though. Too soon, winter will steal this from him as well, and he has starved for contact before.

    He knows all too well that, at the end of the day, the cowboy rides into the sunset alone. 

Chapter Text

THEN:


 

    Gabriel knew something was wrong because Jesse was quiet. The younger man was capable of silence when it suited him or when a mission required it, but there was a natural liveliness to his state that muted when he grew thoughtful or maudlin. Left to his own devices, he tended to wander. He always came back, but this time Gabriel didn’t have the luxury of allowing the boy his distractions. They shipped out in the morning, and he needed his Firecracker on his A game, not ambling all over the base.

    He dragged Jesse into his office and turned on a scrambler, something he feared was becoming a necessity rather than paranoia. He did not sit Jesse down on the other side of the desk, but instead dropped his hands to the younger man’s shoulders.

    “All right, out with it.” He said.

    “Boss?”

    “What’s got your head in the clouds?”

    “Boss—“

    “You almost walked into a door today.”

    “Well, we got an awful lot of them…”

    “Firecracker. Jesse.”

    Jesse squirmed.

    “Morrison said we were going to the U.N. ceremony.”

    “You and me? Yeah, they’re dragging us with the proper Overwatch crew. So?”

    “I’m not… I don’t… I’m not…”

    Gabriel watched silently as distress carved lines into Jesse’s normally relaxed face. He gestured for the younger man to take a deep breath. Jesse did, though it sounded disturbingly close to a sob.

    “I don’t belong there. I ain’t a hero like the rest of y’all.” He said. “Jack said I oughta take credit for my accomplishments and show ‘em you can’t let a bad beginning keep you down, but… I ain’t like Lena, or Ana, or all of them. Not even like you, Boss. They dropped you in this shit, but me, I been here the whole time. I can’t go to their fancy party and pretend I’m a white hat. I ain’t that good a pretender.”

    Gabriel’s grip on Jesse’s shoulders tightened as he fought down his first instinct, which was to cuff the younger man upside the head and shout, “Are you stupid or just oblivious?”

    “You’re not falling for your own press, huh?” He said. Jesse snorted.

    “C’mon, Boss. You and me both know I’m only good for puttin’ bullets—“

    Gabriel’s hands moved up to Jesse’s face, forcing him to look him in the eye.

    “I’m proud of you.” He said. Jesse’s eyes widened. “You’re a survivor, and you came through a lot of shit. Lots of us survivors aren’t such good guys when we do that. You made bad choices, but you also made good ones, and the most important one is that you’re here, right now. You never tried to sneak away, sell me out, or shoot me in the back, and don’t think I haven’t noticed the opportunities.”

    “Boss, I wouldn’t—“

    “I know, Firecracker. I know. Somewhere along the lines, you scraped off all that shit and found a heart of gold in you.”

    “That doesn’t change what I did!” Jesse hissed, jerking backwards. “All the shit I did with Deadlock? No amount of heroics is going to undo that or make up for it.”

    “Oh really?” Gabriel asked, carefully neutral. “Then why do it?”

    “‘Cause it’s the right fucking thing to do!” Jesse snapped.

    Gabriel nodded.

    “Yeah, it is. And that’s why you belong in the damn U.N. ceremony.”

    Jesse choked on his frustration, and Gabriel dragged him into what could loosely be called a hug.

    “It’s all right, Firecracker. We’ll get you a nice suit.”



NOW:



    If Jack Morrison being alive is a gut shot, Ana Amari turning up is a knife in the back. She’s been dead longer, and by the necessity of surviving grief, his memories of her are blurred and faded. He cannot recall the individual meals where she made sure he had seconds and thirds, or when exactly she showed him that particular stretch to keep his wrists limber during long shoot-outs, or even the cadence of her voice when she spoke Arabic. He knows she fed him, and that she taught him. He knows the words in Arabic, but can’t remember how to pronounce them. All these things are locked away, too old and painful to be of any use during his long exile.

    They come flooding back when she shows up at the Watchpoint.

    There are questions, oh so many questions. There are tears, and smiles, and even curt words. There is admiration and awe and a little bit of anger, outrage and disbelief, and grudging but genuine joy.

    McCree feels none of it, or maybe all of it. It happens so fast, one minute he’s waiting for a briefing and the next he’s staring at an old ghost, one more reminder of ‘the good old days’ untainted by the fall but still tarnished by the long silence.

    He might be in shock. He can’t tell.

    Ana looks over the heads of the crowd around her, her arms wrapped around her daughter — her real child, mutters the voice in the back of his head that’s starting to sound like a bitter and twisted version of Gabriel, her real child who looks happy, but not surprised — and she tries to catch his gaze.

    McCree stands up, turns on his heel, and walks out of the room.

    Behind him, Hanzo rises and follows.


    Beyond the walls of the Watchpoint proper, the world and its ways stretch in front of McCree. The breeze immediately fills his lungs with much needed air, and the open sky feels more like an embrace than any he’s had from mortal arms. McCree breathes deep and starts walking.

    Hanzo follows.
    

    McCree is a fast draw, but not a sprinter. He walks with a steady pace, long legs making up in stride what he lacks in raw speed, and a mile marker falls into the distance behind him. He says nothing, looks no further around him than where he places his feet, and keeps walking.

    Hanzo follows.
    

    Eventually, he runs out of land. He sinks to his knees in the sand and stares at the surf. Some later time, he’ll probably regret going as far as the beach. Maybe when he’s dumping sand out of his boots, or when the salt clings to his chaps. Maybe not.

    Hanzo follows, hesitating only briefly, but he sits beside him in the end.


    McCree’s shoulders shake. His breath comes ragged, not from the exertion of the trek, but because he can no longer outpace his thoughts. Neither man speaks for the longest time. After the silence stretches through comfortable, past companionable, and back into oppressive, McCree sighs.

    “I heard somewhere a man can only show his tears to his Mama,” he says, not quite laughing. “I don’t have one, ‘cept Mother Nature, so…”

    Hanzo turns his head slightly to regard the cowboy. The hat shadows his face, masking any traces of tears. Hanzo says nothing.

    “It’s just toxic masculinity bullcrap, anyhow.” McCree lifts his head and scrubs at his face. “I just— I gotta get gone before I open my mouth and say something I’ll regret, you know?”

    “I regret my actions more than my words,” says Hanzo. His hands clench into fists on his knees.

    “Yeah, I guess you would,” McCree murmurs, and before Hanzo can take offense or feel the bite of guilt, he continues, “You seem like the kind of person who thinks through every word before it gets anywhere close to your mouth.”

    “I must,” Hanzo replies dryly, “until one of you besides my brother learns Japanese.”

    McCree lets out a weak laugh, but keeps his cards up his sleeve and his fluency under his hat. They lapse back into silence. Hanzo waits. McCree is the stillness of the desert under the blazing sun, but eventually night will fall, and the things that hide from the light of day will resurface.

    All things must pass, and Hanzo passes his sake gourd. McCree holds onto it like a lifeline and doesn’t drink.

    “I suppose I should just be happy they’re alive,” he says. “Lost a lot of good people over the years.”

    “Being alive does not mean they are not lost to you,” Hanzo’s voice is distant. Fragile.

    “True. True. At least… At least Genji did come back for you, right? I mean, I know it took a while, but he was in a real messed up head-place.”

    Hanzo gives him a look that transcends language; skepticism is nigh universal. McCree leans back and huffs.

    “They didn’t come back for me. Dunno what they came to Overwatch for, but it sure as hell wasn’t me.”

    Hanzo waits.

    “I think… the worst part is, with both of them alive, I got a conundrum.” He looked up at the vault of the heavens above, watching painted clouds roll across the rose gold field. It looked warmer than he felt; the cold in him was deeper than the chill of autumn or the wind off the sea could touch. “There’s another one— I want him to be alive so bad. If they survived, why can’t he? If he’s not… it’s not fair. And if he is…”

    “Why did he not come back for you?” Hanzo inquires. His expression is nuanced, on the edge of breaking and holding strong at the same time. McCree nods. “… a lover?”

    “Oh, hell no.” McCree’s tension snaps. “Oh— and all his — hell no. Hell no.” McCree winces, laughs, and shudders at the same time. “I mean, I’ve heard of ‘hot for teacher’, but— no. He had this thing for— never mind, that’s just a tragedy now that I think about it. Hell. Sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh, it’s just that Genji said pretty much the same thing when we first met. I’m sorry, Shimada-san.”  


    “Hanzo,” Hanzo says. “You may call me by my name.”

    McCree’s smile freezes, but he rolls right along.

    “I guess you better call me Jesse, then.”

    Hanzo’s eyes are sharper than any McCree has had to deal with in recent years.

    “I will address you how you wish to be addressed,” he says, “be it first name, surname, callsign, or some ridiculous nickname only Americans understand.”

    “What, really?”

    “We will get very little satisfaction in this life, save that of a necessary job that never ends.” Hanzo shrugs, somehow turning the gesture graceful. “I will not further burden you with something so easily rectified. I cannot give you back what you have lost. I can do this.”

    McCree’s insides twist into knots.

    “That’s… that’s mighty fine of you, Hanzo. Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

THEN:



    There were twelve Blackwatch teams, and they gnawed at Gabriel’s sanity every waking moment. Seventy-two active agents. It was a force that commanded attention, that made its presence felt and known wherever it went.

    He didn’t want it to.

    Gabriel hated it. He hated it with every fiber of his being, and that hatred reflected back from uncaring or outright malicious operatives.

    Jesse sat in Gabriel’s office with the door closed and three kinds of scramblers for privacy, watching his titan fall apart.

    “Boss, you gotta get Jack to get rid of these guys,” he said.

    “Firecracker, that is the last thing I can do,” Gabriel growled, his head in his his hands. “You know what happens if I go to Jack and tell him I can’t do this? That I can’t handle them? They’ll take it away from me. I’ve got you, and I’ve got Shimada when we can steal him back, but that’s all I’ve got in this whole shit-hole who I can trust to watch my back. Not even a single unit. You’re all I’ve got, and they will take you away from me and put you under the command of some crackpot who should’ve caught the business end of a bullet years ago.”

    “They can’t take me anywhere,” Jesse said. “I told you, I’m your huckleberry.”

    Gabriel lifted his head.

    “What the ever-loving fuck.”

    Jesse scratched at his patchy beard, still not enough for Gabriel to tell him to break out the pearl-handled razor.

    “A bit much?”

    “Where did you even hear that? What the hell does it mean?”

    “Dialect guide said it was something like, “I’m the man for the job”,” Jesse shrugged. “Point stands, Boss. I go where you go. You wanna blow this popsicle stand, just say the word. I’m right behind you.”

    Gabriel studied the young man in front of him as if looking at him for the first time. It wasn’t the same kind of hard assessing stare as it had been years ago in the interrogation room, bribing a boy with sandwiches, but it was just as intense.

    “What did I ever do to deserve you, Firecracker?” He asked softly.

    “Well, you know, I think saving the world was a pretty good start,” Jesse grinned.

    Gabriel sighed. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.

    “You could go.” Deathly silence answered him. “You paid your dues. Hell, you’ve been here longer than you ever were with Deadlock. What if I told you to get out while you still can?”

    Jesse said nothing, and Gabriel opened his eyes.

    Incandescent rage illuminated the young man; his shoulders trembled, his teeth bared, eyes bright as if tears would fall should he breathe wrong, but inside that fragile cage of flesh and bone was the wrath of the sun itself.

    “The hell, Boss? What the hell?” He growled. “That’s a hell of a thing for you to say to me. What the hell, Boss?”

    “Hear me out, and then if you want to throw a tantrum, you can go to town.” Gabriel pulled a file out from under the false bottom of his desk drawer. He spread the pages across the desktop: names and dates and records of action, the assorted and easily forgotten detritus of a dozen lives too powerful to remember to properly clean up after themselves. “I’m not ready to give up on this thing just yet. I helped build it, so it’s my responsibility to clean it up. There’s some serious shit going on, and it needs to be taken seriously. I’ve got agents I’ve never seen, running ops I never planned, in places I never heard of. Someone’s set this up so I can’t even control this piece of the operation they gave me.”

    “What are you going to do about it, Boss?”

    Gabriel smiled his most blood-thirsty smile.

    “I”m going to kill them, Firecracker, that’s what I’m going to do.” He swept the files back into the folder with a snort. “No one ever remembers to check for hard copy, these days.”

    “All right, then, who do we hit?”

    “That’s where this gets ugly.” Gabriel’s grin faded. “I don’t know how far this corruption goes. This,” he gestured to the file, “is only the tip of the iceberg. If this shit starts hitting the fan…”

    “Boss, no.”

    “I want someone on the outside that I can trust.” Gabriel said quietly. “Right now, that list is down to you and me. I need someone out there who can set up what we need if everything goes south, someone who can get weapons, safe houses, and possibly get us the hell out of Dodge. If this goes all the way to the top… well. We’ll be running for the rest of our very short lives and trying to take as many of them with us as we can when we go.”

    “Boss,” Jesse pleaded. “Who’ll have your back if you send me away?”

    “Jack, I hope.” It was almost a whisper. “If I’ve still got Jack, we’ll be solid. The three of us could take another Omnic Crisis.”

    “And if you don’t?” Jesse demanded. “What if he’s in on it?”

    Gabriel hesitated.

    “He wouldn’t,” he said, but even he didn’t sound completely convinced.

    “You’re telling me he just left you here with the rest of us mad dogs all these years on accident?”

    Gabriel slammed his hand on the table.

    “Don’t,” he growled. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. If Jack’s still on the side of the right, then you’re going to have to drop this damn grudge of yours.”

    Jesse said nothing for a moment.

    “All right, Boss,” he said, standing up. “If you want me out there, I’ll go. But… Boss?”

    “Yes, Firecracker?”

    “You said, “if”. “If” you still got Jack.”

    “I know, Firecracker. I know.”

 



NOW:



    The London fog is thick and acrid, dropping visibility down to an arm’s length in King’s Row. McCree hates this place: hates the weather, hates the atmosphere of hatred and violence, hates the way the twisty little alleys tangle with the clashing and anachronistic architecture to offer an infinite combination of hiding holes and sniper perches. He hates the memories it brings, memories of one of his first Blackwatch ops.

    Reyes stationed him on the payload and took the rest of the force to clear the way, including the team tank. When Jesse protested, Gabriel insisted that he needed someone with ‘a better eye’ on the payload.

    Halfway through that op, the comms went dead, and Jesse spent the most nerve-wracking seven minutes of his life clinging to the side of the truck, trying to catch the faintest trace of his team or the enemy movements. Neither showed until he reached the destination, when Gabriel leapt off a pallet of crates and clapped him on the shoulder for a job well done.

    To this day, McCree denies that he screamed and tried to shoot his commanding officer, though the official after-action medical report would show one unaccounted for bruise, were it not heavily redacted.

    A man as sharp as Gabriel Reyes should have known better than to startle an armed agent after putting him in hostile territory with enemy snipers and soldiers, McCree thinks.

    

    Winston lacks Gabriel’s military experience, so McCree is a little more likely to forgive him for repeating history and leaving him on the payload this mission. Providing he doesn’t get his head blown off by Talon’s expert sniper, that is.

    Somewhere in the London fog, the rest of the team rushes to clear the way to the checkpoint, leaving McCree to clean up any stragglers who manage to find their way to the truck. Hanzo scouts ahead. Mei cuts down some of the alternate routes. Jack, Zarya, and Lúcio clear the center. At least, that was the plan. It’s been ages since any of them checked in, following a blitz of distortion, cursing, and eventual silence. For all McCree knows, he’s the only one left.


    He hates this plan.

    He hates King’s Row.

    He hates Overwatch, for one brief instant.


    It’s just a job, he thinks, trying to crush the dismay at the thought of familiar lives being snuffed out.

    All he has to do is stick to the payload.

   

    A flicker of movement electrifies his nerves. He swings around, only to see a cat scamper deeper into the fog. His heart refuses to slow down.


    He should be able to hear something. This isn’t a highly trained black-ops group. The only one on the entire team who has any idea what the word ‘stealth’ means is Hanzo. If not 76’s helix rockets or the crack of Mei’s ice walls, he should at least be able to hear Lúcio’s music.

    All he hears is the sound of the truck.

    All he sees is King’s Row, and all its inglorious death traps as the fog finally gives way and rain pours down in sheets.

 


    It’s just a job, he tells himself. Just stay with the payload.

    By yourself.

    In the middle of the street.

    Where anyone can flank you because you can’t hear a damn thing over the sound of the rain on the cobblestones.


    They’re counting on him to move the payload.

    He’s counting on them to—

    
    To what? Watch his back? There’s no one at his back, not Genji, not Jack, not Ana, not—

    He’s on his own.

    Just like always, he’s left behind.

    
    Silence strangles him where he stands. The payload drifts a little ahead of him and slows to a stop.

    He hears footsteps somewhere in the darkness, but the labyrinth of alleys makes it impossible for him to pin down. He turns, makes a full circle, looks everywhere for any sign of a foe.

    He realizes, under the imagined burn of a sight’s light on his back, that he stopped considering the possibility of it being an ally. He doesn’t even think of those people as ‘friends’.

    His gut roils, but his blood sings. He thinks he hears a safety being clicked off. He tries to press against the payload truck, but it scoots forward when he gets near. He can see that, where he stands, he’s a perfect target for no less than seven sniper spots. There’s probably more.


    “It’s just a job”, he tells himself, and then, in that dark, bitter voice that sounds like Gabriel when his world started falling apart, “it’s not worth your life.”

 

   McCree breaks away from the payload, dashing for a nearby alley. He just needs to do a quick assessment, just to see what’s going on, just to make sure that he’s not in the crosshairs of some sniper’s scope.

    He needs to—

     He passes through a cloud, dark, not gray like the mist, and strangely cold. He starts to turn.

    Too slow.

    He gets an eyeful of black leather, a glimpse of white bone, and a world of fire and pain.
    

    The shotgun roar echoes in the alley, and McCree falls to the wet cobbles, bleeding. Pellets cracked through his armor, not enough to kill, but plenty to bring him down. He forces his eyes open; he’s no coward. If he could catch his breath, he would lose it again; he didn’t expect to see the Grim Reaper holding two shotguns.

    One heavy black boot prods him in the ribs. McCree howls a curse and tries to choke it back down. One shotgun pushes his hat off his head, the other nudges his chin up. McCree looks Death in the face.

    “Oh, Firecracker,” says Death, “what have I told you about watching your back?”


    McCree dies.

    McCree dies, because there is no way a human being can survive the supernova and black hole combination of hope and despair that rips through him, tearing down every wall and every mask he’s ever used to defend himself. There’s no way a single organism can contain all the joy, all the rage, all the sorrow, all at once. There is no way he can endure all that and still be alive.

    But he is.

 
    “Boss?” Jesse croaks, staring up at the figure in black and smoke.

    “Should have stayed with your payload,” the figure purrs, and Jesse tries to repress a shiver. He remembers the sound of Gabriel Reyes gloating.

    “Boss—“ He tries to push himself up. Fails. “Gabriel—“

    “It’s Reaper, now,” he growls. Jesse shakes his head, vision blurring from pain or from tears. He no longer cares which it is.

    “Boss, you’re alive?”

    “No,” says Reaper curtly. “I should have figured you’d go crawling back when they called.”

    Rage burns through the agony. Seven years of waiting have built ample fuel, and the mocking voice with its bitter words are both ignition and accelerant.

    “You didn’t call!” McCree roars, hauling himself up on wrath alone. Reaper steps back from the first surge, but quickly takes control of the situation as McCree’s knees buckle. Clawed fingers close over McCree’s throat.

    “Would you have answered a dead man?” Reaper holds him up effortlessly, almost choking him.

    “That’s a hell of a thing to say to me, Boss.” Darkness flickers across Jesse’s eyes, but he can’t tell if it’s the lack of air or Reaper’s strange powers.

    Reaper’s grip doesn’t relax much, but it’s enough for him to steal a breath.

    “You answered the Recall.”

    “I had to do something. I want to help people, Boss.”


    Reaper growls.

    “Not these people.” He rips off his mask, revealing a nightmare of smoke and bone, decay and darkness. “They did this to me. They left me to die. Don’t be their dog of war. Come with me.”

    “Boss— your — you’re with—“

    “Talon? It’s just a job.”

    “It’s a job that hurts people!”

    “And this one doesn’t?” Reaper snorts. “The patch changed, kid, but the job’s always been the same.”

    The suffocating embers of his temper flare as Jesse rallies one more time. He latches onto Reaper’s wrist in a vise-like grip and ignores the fresh warmth of more blood down his back as he tears his wounds further open.

    “No. No it wasn’t, not always. We did good work. We helped people!”

    “Not good enough.” Reaper snarls. “You want to help someone, Firecracker? Help me.”

    “Boss—“

 

    A streak of light blurs around them, rattling the cobbles with the sheer volume of the accompanying music. Lúcio is a shooting star, trailing luminescence like wishes as he circles three times before Reaper manages to snag him by the collar.


    “Another one of your new friends?” Reaper sneers. “And what can you do, boy?”


    “Couple of things, really. First, I can bring the noise.” Lúcio beams cheekily and holds up what looks like a long stick. McCree’s eyes slide down and catch sight of familiar fletching: it’s one of Hanzo’s sonic arrows. “Secondly, I bring the dragons.”


    Distantly, McCree hears the barest echoes of Hanzo’s summons. More immediately, he hears the dragons roaring as they speed through the streets and pass straight through walls. Lúcio raises his blaster and shoves Reaper back with a solid wave of sound. McCree drops to the ground. His boots slip in puddles of rain mixed with his blood. His knees buckle, and he lands on his back. Pain shatters him. He grasps at consciousness, desperate and aching as it slips through his fingers like the black mist and ichor that into which Reaper disappears.

 

    He reaches.

 

    He falls.

 


    Darkness.

Chapter Text

 
THEN:


 

    The bounty on Jesse McCree’s head started out at ten million dollars, and it went out a month after he resigned. What was less commonly known was that the first ten million was offered by Overwatch.

    Gabriel was livid.

    “Keep your head down,” he growled over the comm, on a line as secure as he could possibly make it. “This can’t be a coincidence. I’ll talk to Jack.”

    “Boss, be careful.”

    “I will. If he’s still— If he’s on our side, I'll let him know how to contact you. If you don’t hear from him…”

    “He’s off the list.”

    “Yeah. One way or another, I’ll talk to you soon. Watch your back, Firecracker.”

    “I hear you, Boss.”


    It was the last time Jesse and Gabriel spoke.

    
    Gabriel stormed into the Switzerland base in enough of a temper that agents scattered at the very sight of his black-clad form. He burst into Jack’s office and glowered at the three suits sitting in front of the Strike-Commander’s desk until they swept up their papers and scurried away like rats from a sinking ship.

    “Gabe, what the hell?” Jack asked, standing up. Gabriel shut and locked the door. He closed the blinds, drew the curtains, and even shut the AC vents. He set scramblers strategically through the room. Then, and only then, did he put the file on Jack’s desk.

    Jack turned to follow the motion, and that was why he never saw the left hook coming.

    Gabriel’s fist plowed into Jack’s face. Jack rolled back to his feet in a defensive position, but Gabriel put his palms down on the desktop, showing he was done.

    “What the hell yourself, Jack? Ten million dollars on McCree’s head? Are you out of your goddamn mind?”

    “I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Jack said, rubbing his jaw.

    “Then take it back!”

    “Gabe, that’s not my call—“

    “Not your call? Not your call?! What part of a bounty on a member of your organization’s head is not your call? You know what kind of people go after ten million? They aren’t the kind who bring their targets back alive!”

    “The bureau said he’s been AWOL for a month—“

    “He resigned. It’s not like he walked out on a mission!”

    “I never got any paperwork—“

    “I’m going to murder every last one of those goddamn pencil pushers—“

    “Gabe, you can’t shoot the staff—“

    “Why not? They’re going to shoot our boy!”

    “Excuse me? Our boy? You’re the one who brought him in—“

    “And you’re the one who made him vulnerable!” Gabriel grabbed Jack by the lapels of his coat and hauled him in close. “You tamed a wolf, you asshole, and you brought him to the U.N. ceremony and made him feel like he belonged. You can’t turn a wolf into a dog for your war and then dump him outside when you’re done with him! Do you know what happens to lone wolves? They starve, Jack. If you’re lucky, they just starve. If you’re not, they go crazy and come back to rip your throat out.”

    “You’re not making any sense.”

    “Let me spell it out for you, then.” Gabriel snarled. “That is my boy. Someone is trying to kill him. I’m asking for your help to stop them.”

    Jack hesitated.

    “I can’t go against a U.N. sanctioned decision, Gabe. I’m sure this is all just a big misunderstanding. Why don’t you sit down and call him in, and I’ll just get—“

    “Jack.” The words crawled out of Gabriel’s throat like they were made of ground glass and held together in a knot of barbed wire. “Please.”

    Jack hesitated longer.

    “It’s the damn United Nations. I’m sorry.”

    Gabriel’s heart shattered, and the heat of his blossoming fury fused it back together in a jagged mess.

    “Do you want me to beg for his life? Is that what it will take?” His anger warped his voice and made it taunting, twisted his face into a sneer.

    “You’d never beg for anything.” Jack mistook his friend’s tone for hyperbole. He quickly realized, staring into Gabriel’s dark eyes, that it was deadly sincerity.

    “You’re right,” he said, graveside soft. “I don’t beg. I give ultimatums. You take that price off his head, or I’ll fucking walk, too. We’ll see what kind of dough they cough up for my corpse when they ‘lose the paperwork’.”

    “Gabe, you’re overreacting—“

    “This whole thing reeks, Jack, and if you’re not willing to clean it up—“

    Gabriel never got to finish his threat. At that moment, explosions ripped through the building, and the floor dropped out from under them in fire and stone.

    The commanders fell.


    Overwatch burned.


    Half a world a way, a lone wolf saw the news and howled.



NOW:



    McCree wakes up to shouting. ‘Wakes up’ is a generous term for the slow, hazy trickle of consciousness that laps at his awareness like the last spring in the desert. The sounds warble and make no sense at first, and it takes him a while to realize he’s heavily medicated.

    Bits of conversation above his head begin to filter in.

    “Mission” and “payload” seem familiar. “Talon” gets caught in a confounding lack of context. “Reaper” makes no sense at all. “Back” and “blood” and “boss” seem very important, but he can’t quite think why—

    His eyes open. His body tries to move, but it’s like swimming through molasses. He has no coordination, no strength. He thrashes, or he tries to, anyway. He’s on his stomach. His prosthetic is gone, and his remaining arm is cuffed to the railing of a gurney.

    “Hey, man, it’s okay, just chill out,” Lúcio urges him. “We’ll get you to Angela soon. I don’t wanna try anything while you still have shot in you, okay?”

    “What—“ He tries to mumble. “What’d you do… to me?”

    “I just gave you something to help with the pain.”

    “Pain—?” McCree tries again to sit up. Something refuses to cooperate between his brain and his body and — oh, right. The cuff.

    “Yeah, pain. You got shot pretty badly, remember?”

    “Shot… Boss is… none of them are— Boss!”

    The uneasy silence from Lúcio triggers a distant sense of alarm, something he feels ought to be more intense. Someone else shifts in a creak of leather, just outside of McCree’s fuzzy range of vision.

    “Yeah,” says Soldier:76. “About that. Don’t much like hearing you call a Talon agent ‘Boss’, McCree.”

    Cinder bursts into flame under the drowsy, downy weight of the drugs. He forces himself to focus until he can feel the pain. It makes him come alive in a twist of muscle and blood and lead.

    “Well, Jack,” he bites out, “if you weren’t so damn old that your memory was going, you’d remember I only ever called one person ‘Boss’, and it sure as Hell wasn’t you.”

    Jack stiffens.

    “McCree, buddy, you gotta stop, your back is all messed up—“

    “Yeah, that’ll happen when everyone goes and leaves you for dead.” The word tumble out of his mouth unbidden. He couldn’t even stop them if he could think far enough ahead to want to. “I mean, goddamn, Jack, if you wanted my bounty so bad, you coulda had the decency to shoot me in the front, face to face!”

    “I don’t want your bounty, McCree.” Jack says tersely. Behind them, frantic whispers and raised voices tell McCree they aren’t alone.

    “You could have fooled me!” He laughs, a hollow, hungry sound, and rattles the handcuff chain. “After all, you put it there in the first place, didn’t you, Strike-Commander?”

    The raised voices, previously intensifying, suddenly stop.

    “You want to shut up now, Jesse.”

    “No, no I do not, sir!” He spits out the last word like a mouthful of poison. “You don’t get to tell me to shut up! I waited, and I waited, and not a one of you goddamn son of a bitches ever called! He told me — he told me if he still had you, the three of us could take on another Crisis! He told me you’d call— and what do I hear instead? You died! Amari first, and you, and Boss—“ McCree chokes on his own breath; the strange clarity of pain fractures and oozes under the medicated fog, begins to sink back down, and the words scrabble out like drowning victims. “He went to you for help. He trusted you, you bastard, and you couldn’t even have the decency to die with him. Oh, what did you do to him? What the hell did you do?”

    “To who?” Jack’s voice is tense enough to snap.

    “To Gabriel! Who do you think? He’s so messed up…”

    “That was Gabe?”

    “I ain’t been talking about the Easter Bunny!”

    “Jesse—“

    “No! No, no, no, no! Don’t call me that!” His head spins. Too much. It’s all too much. Too much pain, too much conflicting information in the subtext. “Y’all were dead. Ain’t no one got my back.”

    He doesn’t hear footsteps, but a hand covers his, cool and calloused. Something sharp jabs into his arm, and he feels the burn of an injection.

    “We have your back, McCree.” Hanzo says softly. “I have your back.”

    McCree blearily tries to focus on him, but exhaustion weighs him down. He sinks.

    “You’ll just leave too,” he mumbles. The fingers around his hand tighten. “Everyone does. They go, and they go away, and they don’t… they don’t call me back. When the job’s done…”

    “You were called back.” Hanzo insists. “You answered the Recall, remember?”

    “I did,” he murmurs, equal parts awe and regret. “I answered. Boss told me — Gabriel said don’t answer anyone but him or Jack. I promised. I broke my word. Jack never called. Winston did. I thought — can’t keep a promise to dead men, right? ‘Cept none of them are dead. They just didn’t want me.”

    Jesse’s eyes droop, muscles going slack with the sedatives.

    “It’s just a job,” he slurs. “I don’t want to get left behind again.”

    “You won’t,” Hanzo promises.

    The last thought McCree has before the darkness takes him under again is a whimsy: in what form will he carry this broken promise?

Chapter Text

THEN:



    Jesse lost a lot of things when Overwatch fell. He lost the chance to clear his name and get the bounty off his head. He lost the resources to uncover the conspiracy that brought down the organization that had been home. He lost his old friends, all caught up between their own grief and his survivor’s fear that any one of them could have been involved in the explosion.

    He lost Gabriel.

    Everything shattered in the moment he saw Gabriel’s name on the list of the dead. It didn’t even get its own slide, not like Jack Morrison. It just listed him between Rey, Callie and Rodriguez, Martin. Reyes, Gabriel.

    Jesse felt his breath go out of him all at once, and his mind raced through denial and bargaining and anger, leaving him cold. There would be no mention of Blackwatch or its surly commander, only a report of another dead body finally identified. Gabriel’s lessons were painfully accurate: people “knew” what they saw, and no one had seen Gabriel Reyes in so long that he was just a name on a page.

    All that remained of his legacy was Jesse.

    Jesse lost Gabriel, and with him, he lost the world.

    
    He lost his arm a month later, in a stupid firefight with some low-life bounty hunters who were just scummy enough not to care that they went after a ‘notorious criminal’ in the middle of a crowded shopping center. Jesse did his best to keep the fight contained; he’d only been passing through, trying to take advantage of the anonymity found in high traffic. It was sheer bad luck he was recognized at all, and it only compounded as he tried to evacuate a little kid caught in the crossfire. His split focus cost him, and he took three bullets just below the elbow when his back was turned.

    Gabriel would have been able to give him cover fire. Gabriel would have had his back.

    He realized, in that moment of blinding pain, that he was truly on his own.

    
    McCree murdered six men that day, according to the news. No one mentioned the life he saved, or the cost he paid in his own blood for the last grim lesson Gabriel taught him.


    Jesse lost a lot of things, when Overwatch fell, including himself.

 



NOW:



    McCree wakes up with the familiar ache of newly healed flesh, the hallmark of Angela’s Caduceus equipment. His head feels clearer, still a little fuzzy, but from sleep, not drugs. His prosthetic rests on the table on the same side it would be used, irritatingly unreachable with his good arm still cuffed to the bed railing.

    Perhaps most surprisingly, Hanzo sits at his bedside, lightly dozing. The archer looks no less stern in his rest than he does conscious, but his presence at all baffles McCree regardless of his demeanor.

    McCree opens his mouth and finds it dry as a desert. He rasps his first attempt at speech, which still rouses Hanzo as effectively as a gunshot. The man snaps to attention as if he’d never been asleep.

    Hanzo pours him a glass of water, puts a straw in it, and helps him take small sips until McCree feels refreshed enough to talk.

    “What happened?” He asks.

    “I was hoping you could tell me.” Hanzo arches an eyebrow. “All I know is what I heard from the others after I sent the dragons to you.”

    “What—“ McCree stops as memories come flooding back. The mission. The masked man. The gunshot. McCree tries to reach for his back and hits the limit of the cuff with a scowl. “Damn it, Jack.”

    “Soldier:76 insisted.” Hanzo says, disdain dripping from his sibilants. “He has some concerns.”

    “Oh, I’ll give him something to be concerned about, all right.” McCree grumbles. “You wouldn’t happen to have a paperclip or anything on you, would you?”

    Hanzo shakes his head, but the beginning of a smirk pulls at his lips. He reaches into one of the pouches at his belt and removes a roll of black fabric, which he unrolls to reveal a set of lock picks.

    “If I may?” He offers. McCree nods, and Hanzo sets to work. In the few seconds it takes him to pop the lock, a wave of fondness washes over McCree. He can’t stop it anymore than he could stop the tide, but he’ll save worrying about that for after he’s got the open sky over his head once more.

    Getting out the door is an adventure in and of itself; pants are treacherous, and McCree knows whatever dignity he had in Hanzo’s eyes must be long gone. Still, Hanzo stays, helps him dress, and put on his prosthetic again without a word.

    It isn’t until they cross out to the comm tower skywalk that he says, “Soldier:76 told me to alert him when you awoke.”

    McCree looks around. There’s no sign of Jack Morrison out here, only the rooftop where he and Hanzo share their many sunsets.

    “Oh?” He asks, settling down.

    “I did not see fit to disabuse him of my intentions,” Hanzo shrugs. “Though the doctor has forbidden me quite explicitly from offering you alcohol for the next several days.”

    “Yeah, it don’t do to get on Angela’s bad side,” McCree sighs.

    
    They watch the waves for a few minutes, comfortable in their own little kind of normality.

    “You spoke more when they gave you medicine,” Hanzo breaks the silence at last in a careful and elegant execution. McCree tenses. The mission plays through his memory like a video, but everything gets distorted around the time the dragons show up. He knows, vaguely, that he yelled a lot, mostly at Jack. The rest is… fuzzy.

    “I. Uh. I don’t have the best reaction to painkillers,” he admits as dread grows roots through his gut. “Look, if I said something that offended you—“

    Hanzo fixes him with a look that demands silence so politely but absolutely that it doesn’t even occur to him to continue objecting.

    “I am not offended,” Hanzo says. “I cannot say the same for Soldier:76, but you held… special anger for him.”

    McCree loses the fight not to bury his face in his hands. All his efforts to remain professional, or at least to keep his damage contained to himself, all wasted because of stupid drugs. He groans.

    “You will have to discuss it with him eventually,” says Hanzo, “but I thought you might like a chance to compose yourself first.”

    McCree lifts his gaze to the sunset on the sea. The golden glittering atop the waves dissolves the knots of his internal organs, and after a few minutes he feels like he can breathe again.

    The warmth of the body beside him turns to a solid presence as Hanzo leans closer. Their shoulders touch. McCree turns his head to stare at the point of contact and finds the archer watching him with the same intensity he gives his targets.

    “I do not claim to understand what happened in your past,” he says, “and I do not put any pressure on you to tell me. Whatever shadows haunt your back, you will not face them alone anymore.”

    McCree’s heart stops. The blood drains from his face — he’s faintly sure it’s left his body all together. His mouth hangs slack.

    “You can’t say that,” he manages to gasp out. Hanzo’s eyes flicker across the pattern of sun-kissed freckles over McCree’s nose and cheeks that few have ever been close enough to notice.

    “Can I not?” He muses. “You are part of a team, again. Reluctantly, it seems at times, but you are here. I am here.”

    Whatever expression McCree wears on his own face, it’s enough to cause a flicker of doubt on Hanzo’s.

    “It occurs to me that I may not have expressed myself plainly enough for you,” he says. “Americans are so much more… forward.”

    “Huh?” says McCree, off balance and fighting something so insidiously foreign it must be hope.

    “I have enjoyed the time we spend together,” Hanzo sounds… cautious, every word as carefully chosen as the feathers fletching his arrows. “I thought you did as well.”

    “It’s…” McCree flounders for a word to describe what the slow, patient attention does to his ability to be around other people again. Refreshing? Revitalizing? The closest thing to resurrection he’s felt that doesn’t actually involve blood loss? “…Fine.”

    “Fine,” Hanzo repeats with a faint frown.

    “Nice, even,” McCree offers him a smile, but that just seems to drain the confidence from him faster.

    “Nice.” Hanzo says this to himself, gaze falling away.

    McCree feels a gaping hole open up in his chest to have put that look on Hanzo’s face, and for one brief instant he wonders how anyone could have slipped past his defenses to make that wound. But that’s the thing about Hanzo, isn’t it?

    “You’re always here,” he blurts out. He tells himself it’s leftover painkillers, even though it’s almost certainly not. He knows what he needs to hear to get through this.

    Hanzo raises his head, halfway redrawn into his perfect composure. McCree’s words spill out gracelessly in comparison. It gnaws at him to see the traces of another’s vulnerability.

    “You’ve always just been… I dunno, around, and that was okay — no, I mean, I didn’t have to—“ McCree takes a deep, steadying breath. “I like it. When you’re here. I like it just fine. You’re just about the only one who doesn’t…” He gestures helplessly, unable to catch the right words. “You don’t see what I try to put up. You just see me. You have even since before I actually came back.”

    Hanzo’s eyes narrow.

    “You were the suspicious character we detected on the sonar,” he realizes.

    “I… yeah, that was me. I was doing recon. Wanted to know what I’d be getting myself into, if I joined up again.” Strangely, it’s like a weight he’s never noticed is gently lifted from his shoulders. “Didn’t manage to catch hide nor hair of you or Genji the whole time, though.”

    “How long were you watching?” Hanzo asks.

    “Near about two weeks.”

    Hanzo nods. “I did much the same when Genji approached me to come with him.” McCree raises an eyebrow, and Hanzo actually gives him a sheepish smile. “I only arrived a few days before you. Genji found me and yelled at me to commit to a decision.”

    “I’m glad he did,” McCree says. He’s surprised to find how genuine the words feel.

    “So am I,” says Hanzo before sobering. “We have much in common. Perhaps that is why you ‘like it’.”

    “I guess I never thought about it,” McCree admits. Hanzo turns towards him again. McCree catches the moment that Hanzo notices something beyond them, but the archer is calm, unconcerned even, so he doesn’t turn around to check.

    That surprises him, and he’s uncomfortable to be surprised.

    “Then think about it.” Hanzo’s hand hovers over McCree’s, a silent request for permission that McCree finds himself granting with a slow nod. He watches, wide-eyed, as Hanzo smiles and closes the distance between them again.

    
    Jesse’s fingers burn from the short, gentle grip Hanzo gives them.


    Someone clears their throat behind McCree. He tenses up automatically, and Hanzo sighs and gets to his feet.

    “It appears our escape has not gone unnoticed,” he says. McCree turns around and sees Ana standing there wearing a bemused expression. “You will not have him so easily.” Hanzo’s tone is exaggeratedly formal, almost melodramatic.

    “I could still send you off to nap time, pup.” Ana smirks back. “Besides, your brother is looking for you. I may have sent him down to the other end of the base by mistake.”

    Hanzo winces, and it hits McCree like a hyper-train: they’re joking with each other.

    The air goes out of him in an instant, and something hollow and hungry takes its place, too vast to be ignored or denied.

    He misses this.

    He wants it.

    He needs it.

    Hanzo crouches beside McCree again, brushing their fingers together.

    “I fear I am bested,” he says. “Will you allow me this chance to gather reinforcements? I will return.” He makes sure to meet McCree’s eyes. “I swear it.”

    McCree swallows.

    “You better go collect your brother,” he says. “Amari’s likely to have sent him all the way down to the Spanish border.”

    Hanzo’s smile is genuine; it opens his whole face, transforming sharp lines into softer curves. Jesse finds himself smiling back.

    Ana clears her throat again, and Hanzo, a thirty-eight-year-old assassin-turned-hero, actually rolls his eyes before giving Jesse’s hand one last squeeze and climbing down the side of the comm tower.

 

    
    When it’s just the two of them left on the roof, McCree stares at Ana through Jesse’s eyes, watchful and wary. Thus far he’s managed to stay away from her by virtue of being teamed up with Hanzo and Lúcio, who fill the needs for sniper and healer on a squad, and by being as aware of his space as possible to avoid both of the previously-thought-to-be-dead commanders.

    Now he has nowhere to run, and probably couldn’t make it very far even if he did.


    Ana sits down near him, leaving enough space that she doesn’t appear overly familiar.

    Years and years of silence stretch between them as the sun slips away. McCree wishes he had his serape and hat, both for the physical comfort and the psychological armor they represent, but they’re wherever the rest of his gear ended up.

    Finally, Ana sighs.

    “What a fine mess we are in when we can’t even talk to one another,” she says. McCree reaches for the comforting lie and finds himself with nothing but empty air. He’s too raw and still yearning. He can’t even find the bitterness in the midst of his longing.

    “I don’t know what to say.” His voice comes out gruff and grudging, and he immediately regrets speaking at all.

    “That’s not what I heard,” Ana smiles sadly. “According to Jack, anyway.”

    McCree winces.

    “God damn whatever concoction it is Angela put in those med kits.” He grumbles.

    “Language,” Ana scolds him automatically, and then catches herself. She takes a fortifying breath. “I’m sorry we weren’t there for you in a way you could see when you needed us.”

    “We?” McCree asks. “You and Jack?”

    “We worked… concurrently, sometimes overlapping,” she says. “He didn’t know about me for years, until well after the Fall. At the time, it seemed… safer to work in secrecy.”

    McCree wants his hat to pull over his eyes. He wants to bury his face behind his serape or the smoke of a cigarillo. He wants anything he can use to distance himself from this moment. At the same time, here is the release of the tension he’s carried since grief transformed into something crueler, and with it comes a euphoria that makes his head swim.

    “I know that feeling,” he says.

    “It’s difficult to see the big picture through a scope,” says Ana. “Jack and I, we had our sights on the enemy in front of us, and did not see the ones creeping up behind.”

    “Gabriel caught ‘em, but it was too late.” McCree says. “We were already surrounded, and—“ It occurs to him that he’s never spoken of this to another person before, and his breath hitches. “He got me out.”

    “He did.”

    “He got me out, and now he’s—“

    “I know.”

    “Seven years, Ana! Seven years, and you were all dead!”

    “And now we are here.”

    “You could have called.”

    “We could have. We didn’t. At the time, it seemed sensible. Right, even. Perhaps it seemed the same to him. Or perhaps… perhaps he did not want you to see what he became.”

    McCree remembers burning eyes and a loneliness so familiar in the words his former mentor spoke: “Help me.” He shudders, earning him a twinge from his healed back.

    “Maybe.”

    Ana huffs.

    “And you, Mister Sixty-Million-Dollar-Bounty, you could not stay out of trouble either!” She fixes him with a sharp glare. “I turned down three contracts on you, and took out four others who did not!”

    “You didn’t have to,” he says reflexively, and her frown turns into an outright scowl.

    “Jesse McCree, when you are well, I am going to have you run laps around the entirety of the Rock of Gibraltar,” she snaps, and when he doesn’t flinch, she softens. “Come back to us now. Come home.”

    “I can’t.” He growls. His heart smolders in his empty chest. “It’s been too long. I can’t forget— Gabriel said—“

    “So you’re going to him, then?”

    “No!” He shouts. “I’m not going anywhere!”

    “And that’s the problem, isn’t it?” She muses aloud. “You aren’t going anywhere. You’re still back there, waiting for a call.”

    McCree exhales, harsh and hollow.

    “This isn’t Blackwatch, Jesse. It’s not even the last Overwatch. You know this.”

    “I don’t,” he insists stubbornly. He’s not ready to fall. Tear away the trappings of the cowboy, of the covert-ops, of the gang rebel, and underneath everything there is the survivor, wild-eyed and wild-hearted. He’s been tamed before and has the scars to show for it.

    Ana raises an eyebrow.

    “The boy on the skates. Lúcio. What side does he favor?”

    “Right,” McCree says, instantly though thrown by the change of subject. “He doesn’t check his left side, even though his hand is free.”  

    “The little girl—“

    “Hana? Don’t let her catch you calling her that. She’s nineteen— older than when I started.”

    “Where is she in Formation Delta?”

    “Winston puts her on the point, but she always rushes out for the enemy’s camp as soon as we take an objective.”

    “Jamison’s biggest weakness?”

    “Poor traction.”

    “Zarya’s best partner?”

    “Mei, if you need to clear a room real fast. Lúcio, if you want to get somewhere real fast and make sure you’re still in one piece when you get there.”

    “And, without orders contrariwise, where will Satya be two minutes into an op?”

    “Putting up the last part of the shield matrix on the tank or defender closest to the objective. She’s gotta wait for her—“

    “—cool down, yes, I know.” Ana pauses. “And so do you.”

    “Of course I know, it’s my job.”

    “And what do they know of you?”

    McCree falls silent, the hunter in him hearing the bone-crack of a sprung trap.

    “You can do your job, as you put it, because you know them. You might know them better if you opened yourself up to it, but as is, they don’t know you. And so they cannot do their job towards you. They don’t know how to protect you because you won’t let them.”

    McCree closes his eyes. He feels like he’s died and come back a dozen times, each time leaving a little more of himself in the underworld. Maybe he has.

    “I’m tired,” he says. It’s so much heavier than two small words.

    “Let’s get you inside.” Ana climbs to her feet. It’s almost absurd, her helping him to do the same when he is so much bigger than her, but they make the slow descent back into the base one step at a time. He leans on the wall, and she lets him, ever watchful, tugging gently at his arm to turn this way or that.

    He notices quickly that they’re not heading back to Medical.

    “Ana, no,” he groans.

    “Better to get it all done at once,” she pats his chest. “You two have put this off far too long as is.”

    McCree shudders, but Ana opens the door to the meeting room, bringing him once more face to visor-covered face with Jack Morrison.

Chapter Text

NOW:



    Jack Morrison sits at the table and stares at a small object in his hands. It takes McCree a moment longer for his vision to focus enough to realize it’s his razor. The pearl handle looks inordinately bright against the dark leather of Jack’s gloves.

    Pure possessive fury hits McCree like lightning, banishing exhaustion like shadows from the strike. Ana’s hands press harder on him as his muscles tense.

    “Don’t make me threaten you with a nap now,” she chides him. “Jack, don’t you dare keep him up late.”

    Jack puts the razor on the table as Ana helps McCree sit in the chair next to him. McCree keeps himself from reaching for it; it would give less comfort to hold it than it would temptation to use it as a weapon.

    Then, to McCree’s horror, Ana leaves.

    Jack and McCree stare at each other impassively. The digital clock on the wall doesn’t tick or beep, allowing time to take on a viscous density.

    “I remember when Gabe bought this for you,” Jack says at last. “He went around for days muttering about it. ‘It has to have weight, Jack. It’s got to be something he can feel has value.’ He almost went with blued steel, but I told him it would look less like just another a weapon if it was pearl.”

    McCree jolts as if he’d been punched.

    “It’s gotten dull,” Jack notes.

    “He promised he’d teach me how to use it one day. Never got around to it.”

    “Are you telling me the only reason you’ve got that… that… overgrowth on your face is because no one ever taught you to shave?” Jack demands, incredulous.

    “This from the man in a mask,” McCree growls.

    In response, Jack takes off the visor and mouth guard. McCree sees his unfocused, too-pale blue eyes for the first time.

    “I lost most of my vision in the explosion,” Jack explains. “The visor compensates for it, but right now, we gotta have a talk, and I need you to be able to see that what I’m telling you is true.”

    McCree’s mouth screws up into a grimace.

    “You don’t have to do that.”

    “If you can honestly tell me you don’t read every damn twitch of a man’s face to see when he’s bluffing you, I’ll eat your damn hat.” Jack snorts. McCree says nothing. “That’s what I thought. Now. I can’t get any kind of read on you like this.”

    “There ain’t nothing to read.”

    “Feel free to say ‘no’, but I’d like to hold your pulse point so I can get some idea of how you’re doing.”

    “You’re assuming I ain’t going to tell you, sir.”

    “McCree, the only times you’ve ever given me a completely straight answer since you were seventeen were when you were flying high on pain meds.”

    McCree can’t really argue with that, so he sticks his arm out. Jack pulls off his gloves and wraps his fingers around McCree’s wrist. He waits a minute, adjusting to the rhythm of the heartbeat below his thumb. Then he inhales slowly.

    “The last time Gabe and I talked,” he says in a voice made low and rough by aged grief, “was about your bounty.”

    McCree is careful to hold still, but Jack’s fingers on his veins pick up the subtle jump of his pulse. The older man’s expression softens slightly. “He wanted me to get it dropped. I said I couldn’t go against the U.N.”

    “Figures,” McCree grunts.

    “I never saw anything about you resigning,” says Jack. “No paperwork, no memos, no mention, not even a blip in the databases. Gabe was always so busy with some project—“

    “He was trying to root out the rats in Blackwatch.”

    Jack’s mouth compressed into a thin, pained line.

    “He should have dumped the lot of them and started over with just you and Genji,” he mutters. McCree’s blood runs like ice: cold, and not at all.

    “He didn’t think you’d let him.” McCree’s voice is a traitor and a coward, abandoning him to the past.

    “I used to hold out hope that Blackwatch could do for others what it did for you,” Jack says, rusted by his disappointment. “That’s why I never insisted he dump any of them. But by God, if he’d ever said the word… I thought he knew what he was doing. If he’d asked, I would have given him the gun myself.”

    “You’d let him clear house, but you wouldn’t get the bounty off my head?” McCree says thinly. Jack’s nostalgia slips under a much older, much more familiar annoyance.

    “I couldn’t damn well just go on TV and make an announcement to disregard it,” he growls. “The suits didn’t actually have to wait for my approval to put it out, and we were already getting so much attention from the rest of the Blackwatch scandal that I couldn’t split what little support we had.”

    “Right.” McCree’s heart does uneven jumps, and Jack’s expression falls minutely.

    “I would have tried to get it cleared up. I know it doesn’t mean much now, and between Gabe’s melodrama and the damn explosion, I never got a chance, but I would have tried to get you clear.”

    “I guess we’ll never know.” McCree says faintly. He can’t find the anger that’s fed his survivor for so long; he reaches, and his hands come back full of ashes instead of coals.

    Jack nods, and despite the lines on his face and the white of his hair, it’s only now that he actually looks old.

    “Guess not,” he sighs.

    “Are we done here?” McCree asks, voice steady where his pulse is not. Jack frowns.

    “No. You said we didn’t call you back.”

    “I must have said a lot of things,” McCree mutters.

    “You did,” Jack nods. “About Gabe, and about me and Ana, and… other things.”

    The tendons in McCree’s forearm pop with his tension. Jack presses his thumb gently against them.

    “Well, you don’t need to pay it any mind,” McCree grunts.

    “Gabe didn’t get a chance to tell me he was still in contact with you,” Jack says, causing one last paranoid knife to slip under McCree’s ribs. “When we talked — that last time, he was so damn mad, he clocked me right off the bat. Started ranting something about lone wolves and dogs. It… didn’t make much sense back then. Now… well. After that, he threatened to quit, saying something about corruption, but before he could explain… everything exploded.”

    Jack rubs at the scars on his face. His gaze seems distant, this time because of memory rather than injury.

    “I know — Jesse, I know you’ve got no reason to believe me, and that it doesn’t fix… well, anything, but I owed you the truth. So. There you have it. I’m sorry, Jesse. That’s all I’ve got for you.”


    McCree doesn’t know what to say to that.

    He wishes he had some kind of snappy retort, something biting to satisfy the vengeful growl in the back of his head that sounds too much like Reaper.

    He wishes he had something comforting to say, something to ease the obvious pain of a man he once almost admired.

    He wishes he felt something — anything — be it anger or forgiveness, commiseration or spite, as long as it had some kind of energy to it.

    Instead, he just feels tired. First Ana, now Jack… The wellspring of fortitude that carries him through his lonely desert life has run dry, and he lays parched on the edge of the sea.

    Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

    He stands up, pulling his arm back from Jack’s grip. Jack fumbles for his visor; McCree isn’t kind enough to help him with it, but he waits until it’s clicked back into place before he actually steps away.

    “Are we done?” He asks again. His voice sounds hollow, cavernous in his exhaustion. What’s visible of Jack’s brow creases in dismay, or possibly in anger.

    “Yeah,” says Jack, just as drained. “I guess we are.”

    McCree picks up his razor. Jack tenses, but doesn’t reach for his weapon.

    “Are you going to ask me if I’m going back to Boss, too?” McCree holds the razor thoughtfully. The grip slowly warms in his palm.

    “Do you want me to?”

    “What I want’s never really mattered here, has it?”

    Jack slumps, then straightens. He shoulders the mantle of the perfect soldier once more. McCree watches the weight of ages past fall behind the front.

    “Get back to medical,” Soldier:76 grunts at him. “Doc’s going to have your hide.”

    McCree nods and slips the razor into his pocket. He gets almost to the door before he stops.

    “Jack?”

    “Yes?”

    “If… If you could get him back…”

    “You think that’s a possibility?”

    “I don’t know.” Jesse answers. “I ain’t done too well with hope thus far, but I paid for all my wishes up front, and, one way or another, they mostly came true. So, I have to ask you. If I go after him — not with him, but for him—“

    “I’ve got your back.” Jack says immediately.

    McCree exhales slowly. He nods again.

    
    He walks out the door. Both Shimada brothers recline against the wall facing him, trying to look like patient sentries and yet somehow coming across more like eavesdropping children. They stand as he approaches and wordlessly each take an arm.

    He’s forgotten what it feels like to lean on other people.

    He realizes, some ways down the hall, that Genji is speaking to him.

    “Hmm? Sorry. Must’ve dozed off there a moment.”

    “Only you could fall asleep while walking to bed,” Genji shakes his head.

    “He has had a busy day,” Hanzo says in his defense. “In the few short hours he has been awake, he has had many important conversations. Haven’t you, McCree?”

    Hanzo catches his eye: steady, solid, warm. Always there.

    “Call me Jesse.”

Chapter Text

THEN (Future):




    It takes months of careful preparation to reach this point. Months of little steps, small gestures, and slow progress. He can be patient as long as he’s getting somewhere, and it’s easy to see it pay off. More than that, it’s… fun.

    He likes seeing the look of surprise on Hana’s face when he starts leaving snacks by her set-up during long streams.

    He likes the giggle in Mei’s voice when he gets her to tell him about the emoji-faced floating… ice-maker thing… she kept with her.

    He likes listening to Lúcio’s remixes, and games of “can Zarya lift it?” and “what did Junkrat blow up now?” and commiserating with Roadhog over the results of both games.

    He likes sparring with Genji again, drinking Reinhardt’s imported beer and Ana’s tar-like black tea, and even jogging with Lena around the Rock, though she does laps around him.


    He likes sitting quietly with Zenyatta on sunny mornings as Bastion putters around in its little makeshift garden feeding birds, and he likes sneaking midnight peanut-butter sandwiches with Winston, and he likes lunches where Angela, Satya, and Torbjörn all protest loudly against Jack’s inability to season food.

    He doesn’t like helping Fareeha organize old photos; the pain of the past is sharpest when he has to see how happy they all used to be, but he does like the fond softness to her eyes as her fingers linger over glossy pictures.

    He likes Hanzo… He likes Hanzo.
    

    Slowly, he starts to feel like he’s come home.
    

    Getting the others to trust him, to trust that his plan will work and is worthwhile, is another matter entirely.

    He needs the team’s backing if his plan has any hope of working. He needs to trust that they’ll be in place when he needs them to be, and that they’ll hold position, and that they’ll stick as close to the plan as any battlefield allows. It's one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.

    It probably helps that he’s the one in the hot spot. If everything goes wrong, it’s his neck first on the line. Even if everything goes right, he’ll be the one paying for it.

 

Step One: Locate The Target

        He takes initiative to be involved in every Talon-related mission they field, and any that have even so much as a mention of the possibility that Reaper might show up. He puts the pattern together, piece by piece, connecting the dots with Jack to give them unparalleled insight into their target’s mind.

 

Step Two: Assess the Situation

    He takes a lot of damage in this step, not all of it intentional. He comes back from missions bloody, with broken bones, and a few times he nearly dies from some other bastards’ lucky shots, but his back stays clean.

 

Step Three: Lay the Trap

    There are a few ways it can play out. By virtue of the nature of the two organizations, it’s not possible to reliably lure Talon into action, so the plan needs to be able to sprung on a moment’s notice and slipped into the existing tactics they have for response calls. They're ready, when it happens.

 

Step Four: Set the Bait

    With both McCree and Soldier:76 on the field, Reaper’s attention is guaranteed. He goes after Soldier first, but McCree intercepts, flanking as a distraction while Mei cuts him off.

    “Hey Boss,” yells McCree as he chucks a flashbang at the back of Reaper’s head. “Watch your back!”

 


Step Five: Spring It

    Reaper lets out a frustrated roar and rounds on him with both shotguns.

    “You damn ingrate!” He snarls, firing wildly.

    Jesse is the calm of Death Valley at high noon - anything that moves, dies. He lifts his gun, pulls the trigger…

    … and fires into the sky. Reaper does not. Shots tear through McCree, once, twice, three times, and he falls. Shoulder, chest, and leg. Nearly enough to kill him. Nearly, but not quite.

    It takes some effort, and if he survives, he’ll surely regret it, but Jesse falls to his knees instead of onto his back. Reaper drops his current shotguns with a clatter. Jesse tries not to wince.


    “Too slow,” Reaper purrs. “Any last words, Firecracker?”

    Jesse stares at the figure looming over him and smiles weakly.

    “Yeah, Boss. Sorry, Boss. I broke my promise.” His hand moves discretely at his side, hidden under the serape.

    “Sorry’s not going to save you for picking them over me.”

    “Not that promise.” The pain of his wounds is nearly blinding, but he lashes out, pearl-handled razor in hand, blade open to sink into the unprotected flesh under Reaper’s shoulder guard. Reaper howls in shock, but something else behind him is even louder.

    The glowing dragons of the Shimada clan spiral through the ice wall and tear into Reaper, rending him before he can turn to smoke. Reaper falls, mangled and half-mist, but not moving. The dragons fade away.


    Jesse crawls over to him leaving a trail of blood in his wake. Gabriel glowers at him through his broken mask. His eyes are crimson and burning. Jesse doesn’t care. He collapses beside his mentor-turned-villain and tries to catch his breath.

    “You just stabbed me with the fucking razor I gave you,” Gabriel snarls.

    “Yeah. Yeah, I did.” Jesse pants. “Maybe if you’d shown me how to use it, I coulda treated it right.”

    The gravelly rumble that comes from Gabriel’s shredded chest may or may not be a laugh. Already he starts to pull himself back together.

    Jesse has no such skill.

    Instead, he slings his bloody arm across the other man.

    “Come work with me, Boss.” He gasps. He’s having a harder time getting air than he’d like.

    “Work with you?” Gabriel sneers. “Join Overwatch?”

    “It ain’t like the last time. There’s no U.N., just us. Justice. Heh. We can help people again. We can be what we were supposed to be.”

    “Dogs of war?”

    “Heroes, Boss. We can be heroes again. ‘The patch changed, but the job’s still the same’, remember?”  

    “It’s too late for that, Firecracker. I made my bed. I just have to find someone who can bury me in it.”

    Jesse grips at Gabriel’s coat, which is slick and smoke at the same time. The rasp of his breathing borders on keening.

    “You join Overwatch, you join me, and I’ll vouch for you,” he says. “No one will take you to prison without taking me too. No one will shoot you in the back without shooting through me first. No one will leave you behind enemy lines or under a collapsed building because I will come back for you as long as I’m breathing.

    “Maybe it won’t wash the blood off our hands, but at least we’ll know the blood isn’t innocent. Maybe we’ll all end up on morgue slabs, but at least we’ll go down on the right side.”


    Gabriel’s laugh this time is a horrific sound, and it riles the cold, cunning thing that has kept Jesse alive longer than luck or skill. Jesse tamps it back down with no small effort and his fingers tangled in cloth that keeps trying to disintegrate, but holds firm as long as he does.

    “I didn’t leave you behind,” Jesse murmurs steadily into the mist. “I’m right here. I got lost a while, but I’m here. We’re going to get you help, Boss. You come on home now.”

    “We?” Gabriel snorts. “You drag me back any other way than in handcuffs and they aren’t going to let you keep calling it ‘home’.”

    “The handcuffs are mandatory,” says Jack as he walks around the crumbling ice wall and drops a biotic emitter next to Jesse’s head. “We made Jesse wear them too, when he first found you, but if you’re really coming back, we’ll take ‘em off again.”

    Gabriel rallies with a growl deep in his throat.

    “You put your own dog in chains, Jack?”

    “Just until I was sure he wasn’t going to bite my throat out.” Jack shrugs.

    Gabriel bares his teeth.

    Jesse nearly howls in frustration.

    “Boss,” he says, “I waited seven years for you to call, and you never did. So this is me, calling you back. Come back home now.”

    Gabriel is silent long enough that Jesse’s heart starts to sink, and the survivor in him notes the difference in their recovery. He will not be able to stop Gabriel from leaving.

    Finally, finally, Gabriel says:

    “I’m not calling you Boss.”

Chapter Text

SOON:


 

    He comes to, sometime later, once more on a gurney. Hanzo sits at his side as usual, their fingers just touching through the railing of the bed. On the other side is Gabriel, handcuffed, but home.

    Jesse smiles and goes back to sleep.