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A Holiday Spirit

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“Throw this.”

The knife buried itself in the training drone. It yelped obligingly. Dr. Ziegler reached over, adjusted the plate on Genji’s arm. She slid three more blades into the slots.

“Try three at once.” She stepped back.

Three green blurs immediately followed. The second training drone went “Hey!”

“How does it feel?” asked Dr. Ziegler.

Genji sank back into a ready position. “It catches here,” he said, turning his metal hand to show her the exposed slot between his middle and index finger. Dr. Lindholm hadn’t finished designing his new armor plating to hide the spring mechanism. “And it ...tickles.”

“Hm. I’ve dialed the sensitivity back while your nerves adjust to it the new prosthetic. It might be an input issue,” Dr. Ziegler bit her lip in thought.  “Or it could be catching on itself ...would you show me?”

He held out the arm.

“Move like you are throwing something.”

He flicked his wrist. A sharp, vicious motion. He did it just a half foot away from her face, but Dr. Ziegler didn’t flinch at all.

“Oh yes,” she said, leaning back, “I see where it’s catching. I think one of the springs is a little loose. Here, let me--”

He stood as still as the training drones. Her hair was piled into a messy bun on top of her head. He studiously watched it sway while she worked on him. Then, after a second, she placed another item in his hand.

“Now try this,” she said, smiling.

Genji raised his wrist. He paused.

“This,” he said, turning it between his fingers. The motion was clumsier than he would have liked. “This is not one of the new knives.”

The envelope was red with a gold trim. In another life, he would have felt the thick texture of it under his fingers. In another life it would have had some nominal scent. Like gingerbread. Or peppermint.

In this one he held it and waited for an explanation.

“Open it,” said Dr. Zeigler.

Genji did. He made sure to use his new fingers. She watched the way he moved his wrist very carefully. He only ripped the letter inside at the corner. It was better than his earlier tests. The letter was written in English. He could read the first two lines, but not the rest.

“It’s an invitation,” said Dr. Ziegler. “The Overwatch holiday party is this weekend. We would love it if you’d come. It’s your first with us.”

The first one where he wasn’t in a hospital bed, anyway. Genji stared at the card for a long time. He tried, with some difficulty, to run his mechanical thumb across the gold foil pressed into the edges.

It caught halfway in the motion.

“Thank you, Dr. Ziegler,” he said, returning the letter. “But my body is not complete. I would prefer that your efforts not be wasted.”

Dr. Ziegler’s eyes went dark, but understanding.

“Of course, Genji,” she said, and didn’t press.

 

The next year Dr. Ziegler included Genji on an email chain discussing decorations for the annual party, which would occur on December 19th. Genji read them on his new visor, one which projected Overwatch emails directly into his vision. He could dictate a response if he liked. He opted instead to close the e-mail and return to practicing sword forms with his newly reforged sword. Dr. Ziegler didn’t mention it again.

He was practicing those forms. They did not come to him as they once did. There was a time once when they flowed like water. Now they were like loading up a playlist on music player. One sequence. Then the next. Then the next. 

An evening not long after that, Dr. Ziegler stumbled through the doors of the training hall, wearing a blue and gold mini-dress with a pair of angel wings.

“Ah, Genji," said Dr. Ziegler, “I thought I might find you here.”

“Dr. Ziegler,” said Genji, sheathing his sword in a motion that was almost fluid enough to his liking. “You are…colorful.”

She didn’t fluster.  Her cheeks were already red.

“Do you like it?” she asked, doing a half twirl so the ends of the skirt spun out. It was a less-than-calculated risk--she was holding a covered plate. “Gabriel helped me with it.  He loves this sort of thing but I’m afraid I may have been a little extra demanding this year-- Oh, but he was an ABSOLUTE gentleman about it, I promise.”

‘Gabriel’ was Commander Reyes. Genji had worked with him on an assassination mission in Okinawa, last summer. He’d ordered Genji to slit a man’s throat. Genji had obliged without question.

“I brought you some cake,” said Dr. Ziegler. “Won’t you take a break?”

Genji checked the time and date on his visor. December 19th, 11:45 pm.

“I see,” he said.  He sat down across from her. She joined him, smoothing down the hem of her skirt. It was a bit short.

“I checked all the ingredients,” she said, as he removed his mask. “It should be fine. I asked Reinhardt to modify the recipe a little. Is it alright?”

“Yes,” said Genji, carefully, with his new jaw.  He’d had it replaced a month ago.

“Can you taste it?”

“A little,” reported Genji dutifully, without intonation.

“Oh, good,” said Dr. Ziegler, visibly relieved. “I promise, we’ll work on that-- ah, but here I am. Being so formal. It is good to see you, Genji. Happy holidays.”

He looked at his plate a long time before he set it down and asked: “Why are you here?”

Dr. Ziegler paused. She rearranged her legs under her, tugging nervously at the hem of her little dress.

“I hope it is not too pushy,” she said, “but I was worried you might spend the night alone.”


The year after that, Dr. Ziegler did not attend the holiday party at all. There’d been an incident involving an island fortress in the pacific. It had been the size of a small country and it could float. Genji had delivered the plans to disable it, but they’d come at the cost of both his artificial legs.

The damage was extensive enough Lindholm and Ziegler had had to design all new ports. Which meant a new set of neural connections, which meant a new set of calibrations. Which meant new stress tests.

“Any pain?” she asked. His room in the medical wing had a window. Snow was piling out on the walkway. The lead grey sea battered the side of the watchpoints.

“Some,” he said.

“Rate it from 1 to 10,” said Zeigler.

Genji considered. “8,” he said.

Her eyes went big.

“Oh,” she said, automatically adding two more ratings on top of that--because Genji always understated everything. “Then it’s dialed up much too high--”

She fiddled with his thigh. Genji exhaled. He hadn’t realized he’d had breath to hold. She looked up, flushed and apologetic. Her ponytail was slightly crooked. She’d been awake for nearly three days.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, quietly. “I should have realized.”

He hadn’t, either. “I am fine, Dr. Ziegler.”

“You shouldn’t have to be used to this,” she said, firmly. She had her ambitions. She finished dialing down the sensitivity in his inputs and sat back, scrubbing at her eyes.  She checked the time. “....I owe you a better gift than this. Let me treat you to some hot chocolate, once we’re done. I’ve got a nice stash of it in my office.”

The heel of her palm stopped over one eye, as though she’d grown too tired to know where to move it next.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, in that pause, hating the reverb in his voice.

She looked back at him.

“Oh. It’s fine, I don’t have to celebrate Christmas. I’m not religious…” she started, automatically, but stopped herself as the gesture sunk in. “But thank you.”

She reached over and squeezed his hand. The one that was still real. He could almost feel her fingers through his exosuit. She started to turn her attention back to his legs, back to the expected silence he usually stuck to, but he tightened his fingers. She paused, not expecting the catch.

“I used to,” he said. “Celebrate.”

“Did you?” Dr. Ziegler froze, loathe to cut him off. It was the most he’d brought himself to say in some time. “What did you do?”

“I would go out,” he said, “To clubs. Or restaurants. Some place that was not my family’s compound.”

Dr. Ziegler knew better than to ask what his family did.

“A night on the town, in other words,” she said, instead, eyes bright with a sudden interest. She didn’t look quite so muddled by exhaustion. “Did you spend it with anyone?”

“Yes.”

“Anyone special?”

“Yes,” he said.

“What was her name?”

“Eh…”

“Or his name,” added Dr. Ziegler, quickly.

Genji considered this question very carefully.

“There are a lot of special people,” he concluded.

She stared at him as though she had not heard him correctly.  Then she covered her mouth and laughed.

“I take it it was not an especially religious holiday for you,” she said, kicking a foot with very real delight.

“No,” said Genji, “It was not. It is a little different. I would…”  And then he found he couldn’t continue. Her face was suddenly very animated in the fake lights, and the life he spoke of all at once seemed so long ago it might as well have belonged to a stranger.

“You would…?”

“The tendon is catching in the back,” he said, instead of finishing the thought. He meant his new right leg. The painful brightness faded from Dr. Ziegler’s face. Professionalism returned, a cool mask. A distance that brought both relief and a sense of profound loss. She leaned over to lift his knee. She got back to work.



Five years later, Angela Ziegler did not have time to think much about the holidays. She’d changed jobs, she’d been deployed in a warzone along the Korean border, it had been a bad flare-up in Omnic hostility, and she’d nearly forgotten it was December at all. Her only reminder had been when the government sent a group of MEKA pilots to throw a party for the refugees at the camp where she was stationed.

It brightened the mood surprisingly. The children all laughed at the huge mechas. The machines danced and wore lights and silly hats. One of the pilots--a young woman named Hana Song-- showed them how to play vintage video games on the big screens.  It was all filmed for posterity, but it was worth it to see the children to forget about the war for just an evening.

The pilots didn’t look much older.

In the end, Angela Ziegler took her leave early, to check in on the medical tent and run inventory for the upcoming requisitions requests. She checked the portable refrigerators. She checked the cabinets. She checked her exosuit. She found her tablet on the desk, meaning to note down her tally and check for any new patient information.

A feather covered the tablet, tucked into the corner of the screen. It shook loose when she lifted it, nearly blew off and out of the tent. Angela grabbed it without thinking. She held it, half crumpled in her fist.

“Ah,” she said, turning quickly. “Is that…”

No one next to her desk. But the shadow that dropped in front of her bowed politely.

“Merry Christmas,” said the ninja, his voice rich with amusement. He straightened with a toss of his sash, “Angela.”

“Genji!” cried Angela, shocked and truly delighted.  She put the crumpled feather in her pencil holder, alongside ten others just like it. “You really came.”

“How could I not?” he said. “Your letter was full of such sincerity. I would be remiss to leave it unanswered!”

“Sincerity,” laughed Angela. He sounded like a prince when he put it like that. “More like exhaustion. Our resources have been limited. And my other optons are…”

“Illegal?” offered Genji. He’d been contacted by the new Overwatch, too.

“Complicated,” said Angela, diplomatically. She hadn’t deleted the recall notification from her phone. Not just yet, anyway. “I much prefer this solution. I appreciate you and your master’s help. And the company. It’s been so long.”

“Too long,” he agreed, and threw himself with great energy into a seated position on one of the empty cots. It was fortunate that her office had gone mostly unused. They were quite alone. With a flashing flick of his wrist, he produced an object from the chamber in his forearm. Not a knife, which is what those were made for, but rather…. “Here.”

“...a candy cane?” Indeed it was. Angela took it and turned it over in her hands. “These get sticky. You really shouldn’t put them in there.

“It was worth it,” declared Genji, with great relish and little shame. He did, however, let her check the mechanism for catches. Or perhaps little pieces of peppermint. She found none.

“I’m glad to see you’re well,” said Angela, holding his arm. “Let me at least return the favor. We have cocoa. Would you like some?”

He did. He removed his mask. They drank it together in the medical tent, while outside the mechas danced. It was too warm for snow, but sometimes the lights from the MEKA streaked across the tent flap. It looked enough like it. Angela curved her hands around her mug and smiled into the steam. She watched Genji out of the corner of her eye.

“I’m glad to see you,” she said, “I’m sorry I don’t have cake.”

“I am in the company of a beautiful woman,” said Genji. “I have no regrets.”

“You fiend,” said Angela. She swatted his armored shoulder, but the pink in her cheeks had nothing to do with her drink. “Do you say that to all your dates?”

“Yes. My master is quite flattered by it,” said Genji, “But with you, I mean something else. We celebrate Christmas differently in Japan. Did you know?”

“A little,” said Angela, softly, “But you never did tell me the rest.”

“Hm,” said Genji, head tilted in distant recollection. “Then I’ve been remiss. I should fix that. Ask me again.”

Angela put down her mug and smoothed back her hair.

“Genji,” she said, after a moment, “How do you celebrate Christmas?”

He touched her chin. He used his right hand. Despite everything, the metal was warm. 

“May I show you?” he asked.

She covered his hand with her own. “Yes.”

When he leaned over to kiss her, she met him halfway there.