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Withered Stems

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It started on a warm winter's night and ended all the same. It had begun just like every other-Lena had made tea, Reinhardt was reminiscing about old stories, and Jesse was trying to change the luck of his losing hand. It was a damn good night. Or had been. Hell, he didn't even know how they'd gone from relaxing in the mess hall with each other to standing around the archer's room in tense disbelief. Try as he might, he couldn't remember how they'd gotten from point A to B-it'd just sort of happened.

To start off, it wasn't unusual for their archer to skip their little get togethers. Hanzo was a private person, didn't like anyone sticking around too closely, and it was easy to forget he was there most of the time. The man was good at blending in and preferred to be looked over rather than looked at. Typically any inquiry to hang out was always met with some excuse from training to meditation. It was better to give Hanzo his space and wait till the man desired companionship rather than just freely give it. Especially when their archer was in a damn tizzy. So, no, it wasn't out of the ordinary at all that the man hadn't shown up at all that night.

Or any of the other nights prior.

The last time he'd talked with Hanzo had been just around a week ago. The man had some nasty hack and Jesse was downright terrified of catching it. It hadn't been a long conversation at all. He'd made some joke about placing Hanzo in quarantine and received one of those rare laughs in return before the coughing took over. With Jesse trying to avoiding all chances of getting sick and Hanzo looking all the world as though he were right on the edge of keeling over then and there... Well, no one could really fault them if they'd only shared a smile and went about their ways, right?

It wasn't his fault that he hadn't noticed right off the bat. He could be blamed for not realizing it then and there that some was wrong. Even if there had been no banter, no huffs or scoffs, and certainly no insults. It wasn't like him staying to talk longer would have changed anything, right?

Right?

That didn't stop Jesse from fixating on it. He picked through their conversation again for the hundredth time that night. Dissecting it as if tearing it apart would give him relief that would take the gnawing anxiety away from his core. It just made it worse. All Jesse could think about were all the damn little 'what ifs' that came with the guilt. The thoughts that screamed at him for not noticing or not doing anything more. They ran through his head constantly; creating scenarios that would have changed the outcome and kept Hanzo Shimada alive. Of course it was too late to go thinking about all of that now. The man was dead and each time he reminded himself of this little bitch of a fact only made the weight of it all that more heavy.

It wasn't like this was anything new. He'd dealt with the death of close friends before. He knew what it was like to see someone one day and then come across their lifeless body the next. He'd learned long ago back in the good ol' days with Blackwatch just how easy it was for the needle to drop. It'd become an expectation with that line of work, but this was different because it was Hanzo Shimada. He hadn't just been some friendly stranger, familiar acquaintance, or budding recruit. He'd been family-his family-and Jesse fucking failed him.

Just like he had with the rest of them.

Sinking back into his chair with a bottle of the meanest liquor he could find, Jesse let the thoughts of grief and guilt crawl their way under his skin like a damn bug. He knew without a doubt that this was something that'd haunt him forever. Just like Reyes' voice did whenever he wandered through the old corridors of the base. Fuck. It'd be just like that, wouldn't it? Always a phantom memory picking at the corner of his thoughts, rearing its ugly head to batter down his walls and make him vulnerable without his consent. He'd never be able to enter the training rooms without hearing the sharp thwack of Hanzo's arrows, never be able to go sit atop the cliffs without thinking about the conversations they'd once had up there, and he'd never have someone just a hair's breadth away from kicking his ass for his stupidity. There wouldn't be anyone to call him a foolish cowboy and berate him for his mistakes out of concern and frustration and-God damn-wasn't that going to be the hardest thing to deal with?

Or maybe it would be the image of Hanzo's dead body? How he'd looked crumpled on the ground surrounded by petals and blood, his hair like a halo around his face, and his eyes so... Empty. As though they had finally lost their sharp distrusting edge and softened into something with a more youthful peace. In any other situation, McCree would have been able to relax at the memory of them. He knew without a doubt that in some alternate universe out there, Hanzo would look up at him rather than stare blankly through him. The archer would tell him off for loitering like a vagrant and he'd be able to breathe easy again. Instead, he had this one to deal with; one where resting would be a constant struggle, where it didn't matter what he did because the sleep would never come, and that the ceiling would never get any more interesting. A universe where he hadn't fallen onto an old coping technique of self loathing and bitter whiskey.

He'd just needed something to distract himself with, something to take the pressure of the anxiety away temporarily. Getting drunk seemed to be the easiest choice and the quickest one. It wasn't like he didn't have access to any of it. He always had a bottle stored away for nights where the nightmares seemed too real and the pain of a mission settled too deep. No one would fault him for giving in given the circumstances. If they did, well they could just fuck off. At least he'd finally have some solace this way. Some way to keep himself from reliving the experience every time he closed his damn eyes. Drinking left him dulled to his senses, hazy to his thoughts, and if he had enough... Then the liquid could burn the eerie chill that'd settled into his bones away with some artificial warmth.

Releasing a shaky sigh, Jesse dropped the bottle away from his mouth and used his other hand to drag his fingers through his shaggy locks. His unsteady drunken steps seemed so loud within the obnoxious quiet of the halls. Each step just a another nail in the coffin of reality the closer he came to Hanzo's room until he stood right in front of it. The metal door was a flimsy barrier between the bleak truth and what was left of his composure.

If he just turned around... He could ignore it. He could act like Hanzo was right on the other side, alive and pissy as all hell that a drunkard was interrupting his beauty rest. They'd laugh about it a week or month from now and everything would be fine. It'd be okay if he just left.

The door opened instead.

He took a clumsy step forward and then another until he found himself in the center of the room. Surrounded by darkness now, there wasn't anything to shield the man from the vicious thoughts battering against his skull demanding his attention. They pointed out how wrong it felt to be in this room alone without its owner. How wrong it was to see the room so clean after such a grim scene just hours prior. The floors had been completely scrubbed of their prior gore. There were no more petals now, no more stains of blood bathing everything in sight crimson. All that was left was sterile finality

 

Fuck. He'd actually lost a friend, hadn't he? Hanzo had gone off and been the first one to die, all because of his God damn stubbornness. Anger filled Jesse then, crashing into him like the salty tides of the sea. It waved over the sensitive composure he had, eroding away at him until he was nothing but jagged and sharp. He didn't know how-didn't remember even doing it-but the bottle ended up smashed against the wall and the brunet found himself crumpled on the ground. The anger evaporated into self loathing all too quickly and Jesse found himself withering in place.

His momma had always told him that all wounds heal in time but fuck if they weren't a bitch in the beginning. The numbness, the anger, the constant questions of 'what if,' and loneliness would go away. They'd scab over and then eventually scar. He just had to be patient. Just had to focus on getting through the day, establish a new routine and not think about the man that used to snark at him while they shot at targets. Couldn't dare think about their competitions of drinking, of shooting, of sheer stubbornness. Thinking about it only made it all hurt more and Jesse was done hurting.

Turning from the mess he made, McCree leaned back against the wall to simmer in his grief. He stayed there for a long while just allowing his emotions to fester and rise repeatedly. Just like the ocean waves against the cliffs holding Gibraltar up. He wasn't entirely certain how long he'd been sitting there; judging by how he felt, it could've been hours. Could also have just been mere minutes made to appear longer because of how damn drunk he was. Time just seemed to slip through his fingers and soon the headache that'd been threatening to push into his awareness was right there.

It brought everything else along with it and threatened to pull him under. He already felt like he was suffocating, but that didn't matter, now did it? Life wasn't merciful, even to those that deserved it and Jesse McCree sure as hell didn't deserve it. Perhaps that's why it decided to deal him that one last blow? It'd decided that he hadn't had enough just yet-decided that it could pull him along a bit longer before destroying him right then and there. All with a petal.

He couldn't be faulted for not seeing it the first time he'd entered the room. Not with how drunk he'd been. And it was such a small thing to begin with, resting alone in the darkness, just waiting for someone to find it. He gingerly picked it up, holding the brittle thing as though it might disappear if he held it too roughly. Watching it with bleary and watery eyes, McCree felt the tide finally pull him under. It overwhelmed him, bringing everything back into perspective.

McCree grasped onto the worn fabric of his serape, clutching it as though it were the only thing keeping him afloat. He brought it close to his face, burying himself in the familiarity and warmth in an attempt to shield the world from his tears. As though the fabric could bring forth enough comfort to calm the quaking of his shoulders or the trembling his sobs left behind.

"Ya damn selfish fool, Shimada." He breathed, the bitterness and grief heavy within his voice, forcing the words to come out rasping and desperate.

"Ya damnfool."