Time travel: a hop, a skip, and an undignified sprawl through time and space by unrefined technology. Akande’s stomach was not a fan. His right shoulder twinged from the brunt of their landing, and his head was throbbing. Grimacing, he tightly palmed the back of his neck.
He strongly suspected that device was not designed to transport more than one.
“We're still here,” Akande scowled and climbed to his feet. The sun was slowly sinking behind the tallest of Rialto’s coastline, the Teatro Bel Canto casting long shadows over the canals. Looking in the direction of the Galleria D’arte Omnica, his mind’s eye watched the latest shipment that would drop at the service entry. His hands flexed at his sides, restless.
If anyone would know exactly how far back they had traveled, it would be her .
“This is as far as it would go.” Tracer sounded distracted. A few paces behind on the docks, she frowned at the glowing device strapped to her chest. “There's something wrong.”
“We don't have long,” Akande reminded her, voice edged with irritation.
Tracer fiddled with something in the chronal accelerator’s iris, despite Akande’s glower. No one ignored him, and certainly not in favor of toying with some stupid piece of machinery.
“Do they call it a chronal accelerator because you’re always running late?” Akande snarled, looming over her shoulder. She flinched and danced out of reach, no doubt disinterested in reliving how easily he could make a glitch of her.
“Don’t talk to me.” Tracer’s look was gratifying: disgusted, but wary. Her hands fell to her sides, clenching. “And no.”
“Just tell me if it worked.”
Tracer’s expression narrowed with spite, and she was halfway down the alley in the next blink, rushing ahead with a burst of light. “I don't have to tell you a thing.”
Is that what she thought?
The former pilot yelped as Akande landed before her, time-worn stones of the plaza crumbling under the force.
They didn't have time for this.
Akande straightened, lording every last inch of his stature over her petite frame. Tracer fell into a defensive posture, eyes wild, gloves fisted.
“Tell me,” he rumbled. If Tracer tried to obstruct him again, he would make a smear of her across the city. “Is he alive?”
Had they made it? Did they make it back in time?
Tracer's mouth thinned, stubborn jaw clenching.
At last, “If I tell you, is he gonna stay that way?”
Akande’s shoulders loosened. “Tell me where , and I will guarantee he does.”
Some of that anxiety dropped from Tracer’s face, pinching to suspicion. When her fists lowered, Akande could have removed her head from her shoulders with a single blow – a lesson for her folly.
“Why?” Her voice bled with caution – and what might have been sympathy – and he knew that she was remembering Akande on his knees, hands bloodied, shaking and human.
Akande had been asking himself the same question for months.
“You’re new at this, so I’ll explain it to you–”
A chair scraped back from the grand oak table, the jarring, ugly sound splitting the somber propriety of Talon's Rialto council room.
“Forgive me, Mister Ogundimu, but I'm not the one who needs to be refreshed.” Sanjay Korpal smiled up at him with the placid ease of a manager waiting to patronise a petulant customer. “I've been doing this for seven years. I know what happens next.”
In his Vishkar uniform, he looked like one of Moira’s understudies, but only half as bright. Making an appearance at a council meeting in the uniform of his day job? Amateur.
Moira smirked at Korpal’s side, hiding her amusement behind hands folded in contemplation.
Akande threw his masque disguise on the table. “I was on this council when you were begging at your mother's knee.”
Korpal inclined his head, smile unwavering. “My ideas are fresh. You have been in high security isolation for almost a decade. We did fine without you. You're a footnote, Mister Ogundimu. And neither Talon nor the world needs you anymore.”
Not even his funding?
Akande sneered at the insubordination, but unease stirred in his gut.
The heads of his fellow council remained bowed under an air of disinterest. Beside him, Reaper’s claws drummed on the table; light and sharp, but unconcerned. At the table’s other end, Maximilien adjusted the cables beneath his wrist cuffs as though waiting for the dispute to resolve itself.
Did no one have anything to say to put this pup in his place?
A snort of amusement drew his attention to Moira. She pushed back in her chair, raising an eyebrow at the young man by her side. Her smirk was wide as she shared a look with Akande; she at least understood.
Sanjay Korpal was already dead. He just didn’t know it yet.
The first time Akande saw Lúcio Correia dos Santos, he stood in Akande’s arena: at the heart of a fighting pit, gleaming from the exertion of his contest. Beneath the bright lights in the abandoned sugar mill, Lúcio rose from his knees over his fallen opponent, and the referee took his wrist.
Months later, Akande would still remember how the earth trembled when Lúcio’s fist was thrust into the air. The crowd leaped, screaming, stamping their feet where they huddled in plastic chairs, crowded against the ring’s boundary, standing on boxes and storage containers, each desperate to share in their champion’s triumph. A haze of dust thickened the air, kicked up by worn sandals and polished boots. Akande felt their joyful roar like a boom of thunder; it resonated deep within his chest: a force of nature, enthralled and satisfied.
Rio had come to celebrate her hero’s return, and Lúcio had sated her hunger.
And so, Akande’s first and lasting impression of the infamous thorn in Vishkar’s side was a fierce capoeirista and a vivacious champion. Not the musical, hockey-punting nuisance his colleagues had painted.
Time slowed as the hard lines of Lúcio’s form eased with victory, hand still held high. He tilted his head back, eyes closing in bliss with a broad smile, and basked in the tide buoying him from all sides. The crowd’s love was ferocious.
Lúcio! Lúcio! Lúcio!
From his vantage in the long shadows against the concrete wall, Akande watched and breathed with him. Sympathetic pride swelled in his chest. For Lúcio in this moment, the world would fall away. Time would slow, blood roaring in his ears, every sense amplified. Another challenge confronted – and conquered. Akande knew this moment well.
Or he had, once upon a time.
Lúcio pressed both hands to his lips and pointed back to the crowd, hands lifting in appeal. The air electrified as he met their eyes, seeking each and every one of those who had come to see, test, and support him. “This is not my strength, but yours, my Rio! Rio por Rio para sempre! ”
The crowd’s volume was deafening. The atmosphere in this underground ring spoke for itself, but still… Akande tilted his head in study.
This was the man giving his associates a hard time?
How much power could the man pack into a such a small form? His build spoke of tight core strength and agility. The ceaseless adoration of the crowd could not have been earned lightly. Unfortunate for Akande that he only arrived in time to witness the moment of Lúcio’s homecoming glory.
Akande’s fingers tightened against his bicep, arms folded over his chest. He considered all the possible consequence of the sudden prospect dangling before him.
The crowd parted around Akande like water – as it always had and always would, he mused smugly. Even here, a world away from the continent, people knew to get out of his way.
Lúcio was laughing and grasping the shoulder of his competitor in solidarity when the roar of the crowd turned into bemused whoops, and then cheers of growing excitement.
He only looked mildly surprised when he turned and found a new challenger in his ring.
In his rich mahogany suit and dress shoes, Akande knew he was not dressed for this. But he was always fit to contest.
Lúcio sharply appraised him from his bald head to the gleaming brown Italian leather of his shoes. His dark eyes brightened with challenge. “Looking to pay tribute?”
Ah, a champion who thought they knew their worth. His favorite.
Akande smirked, blood thrumming with anticipation. From across the arena, Lúcio searched his face and slowly, ever so slowly, returned that smile. Hungry. Ready.
Without a word, Akande reached up and pulled the tie loose from his collar.
The crowd screamed and Lúcio’s previous competitor cleared the ring.
Later, Akande would muse that seven years in cramped high security had not been kind to his cardio regime. His mind was still sharp, but his body had dulled with confinement.
It was the only explanation.
Without any marking of his rank, it had been impossible to gauge Lúcio’s martial ability. Once he started moving, it was immediately obvious that Akande’s superior height was going to be a disadvantage.
While Akande often employed his strength, it made him top-heavy. He compensated with speed. He had been fast, even before the enhancements.
Lúcio was faster.
In a moment, the capoeirista was arching through the air, and Akande had surged to meet him, redirect his momentum and introduce him to the ground he hugged so close – but it was a feint. Akande’s world exploded in pain from his knee as it tried to bend sideways from a sudden impact. He buckled, a sharp blow slammed across his chest and he was tumbled on his back before he even realised Lúcio had dropped.
He blinked up at the turmoil of clouds billowing past the full moon beyond the open roof. Dust puffed in his face from the force of his own landing. He coughed, winded.
The crowd erupted in euphoria, and Akande’s ears rang, stunned.
What had just happened?
A silhouette fell across his face, blocking the harshest of the lights. Long, thick dreadlocks swayed around Lúcio’s shoulders, every bared inch of his chest gleaming with sweat.
It was difficult not to stare. Although Lúcio was playing it cool for their spectators, Akande could tell their brawl had pushed him, too. His chest heaved deep and slow to control his breaths. His hands betrayed a slight tremor, still primed on adrenaline.
Still gasping, winded, Akande glared back at the young man’s nonchalant shrug. Peering down at him, Lúcio’s mouth quirked in a cheeky grin. “Sub-optimal.”
Akande’s vision went white.
Him? Him? Nobody in his life had ever deigned to call Doomfist – to call Akande Ogundimu – anything less than… any… sub-optimal?
No winded lungs were going to keep him from reclaiming his dignity. Growling, he strained to push up on his elbows. A foot planted on his bare chest, a sharp heel digging into his sternum. Akande grasped weakly at that wrapped ankle, and fell back with a grunt.
Lúcio leaned down on his knee, dark eyes intense. “I dunno who you are or who sent you,” he purred, “But thank you for giving my people a good show.”
Akande’s ears rang. The outrage! This man didn’t know who–
He grunted in discomfort at the added weight suddenly pressing on his lungs.
“Now get out,” Lúcio snarled, searching his face. “Eu não quero esses ovos na minha bunda.”
Akande would have had a lot to say to that if he had reclaimed his breath.
If the air hadn’t split with the sudden explosion of gunfire.
One moment Lúcio was leaning over him; in the next, Akande was sucking in wheezing gasps of air. Lúcio was barking orders, rushing with the tide of the crowd, corralling them to safety. He left Akande sprawled on his back in the dirt. Despite the humiliation and indignity, Akande had to admit it had been a long time since someone had surprised him so completely.
"The shipment arrives in three days," Akande motioned to the sprawl of Rialto on their overhead projections, highlighting the narrow back lanes of traffic that would be their route. "Before night, if we're lucky. You can never tell with Italians."
Reclined at the table of their mobile carrier, Lacroix snorted a delicate laugh. Akande almost reminded her that her countrymen's reputation for punctuality was just as poor.
"It will arrive with the gallery's regular resupply of food and wine for their restaurant. Your job is to guide the team who will secure our arms and escort it to headquarters. No engagement. Watch their path. Report ahead and keep the way clear."
Boots kicked up on the table, Lacroix pulled a bored look of distaste. "An escort?" Gloved fingers drummed the neck of the rifle tucked against her side, polished and gleaming.
"A scout," he corrected her.
It was only her loyalty that stopped her from rolling her eyes so hard they fell out of her head.
He would find her another mission after this. Something sophisticated to satisfy her restlessness. It had been long months since Mondatta's death. Lacroix was itching to challenge herself again. Akande sympathised – he had picked his team because they were exactly the sort of people who could not remain idle, who took initiative and were resourceful.
But they could stand to learn some respect.
"Very well," Lacroix was sickly smooth in her deference, rising to her feet. Widow's Kiss hoisted against her side, barrel pointed low. "But if anyone stands in their way–"
Akande sternly pointed with two fingers, pinning those words in flight before she could assert the rest. Lacroix's gaze narrowed with her light scowl.
"Reconnaissance," Akande declared. "We can't afford to attract more attention here and now." Not when so much of the council were peering at him sideways as though they were re-assessing his place at the table. The successful delivery of these arms would go a long way to restoring the status quo. "It’s a simple operation. Let the others deal with it quietly. That's why we're paying them. Understood?"
Lacroix blinked slowly, golden eyes assessing the projection of Rialto between them. And then, as she so often concurred, "The enemies of Talon will be eliminated."
It wasn't until later, Akande realised that wasn't strictly a "yes".
What had Akande been thinking?
This was beneath him – seeking an audience of Lúcio's crew.
They peered from their windows of concrete and corrugated iron roof apartments, leaned in their doorways snapping gum and folding their laundry. One young woman with a pen in the thick dreads of her hair scowled at him over her glasses, and murmured to the child at her knee. That little girl took off running down the narrow alley, disappearing around the corner where a broken water pipe was trickling a steady stream the length of the entire block. It gurgled to an end down a choked drain where Akande stood at the mouth of the alley, surveying the entry of so many homes stacked upon each other.
Which one hid Lúcio?
As one, they looked at him like he was a peasant come to pay tribute. They would not be exposing Lúcio. These were more than crew; they were families living in one of the safest favelas Rio had seen in decades.
But protecting against neighbourhood violence was not the same as opposing the demolition path of Korpal's plans.
“Tell him I would speak with him,” Akande again told the woman. She seemed to be the one in the lead, stopping him with little more than a cautious greeting, unsmiling when he had entered the alley. “It's about the ones in the white towers.”
“Vishkar?” she raised an eyebrow, impatient. And with Lúcio at their lead, it was no surprise they would be unafraid to say that name or meet the eye of someone with Akande’s stature, unflinching.
He left those streets with no promise that his request would come to anything, but that was often the way of these things.
He found the answer hours later, emerging from a cafe in one of the border towns at the edge of Vishkar’s redevelopment.
Lúcio waited, leaning against his transport – an understated rental intended to draw less attention when leaving the clean lines of the asphalt. It was impossible to say how long Lúcio had been waiting: arms crossed, reflective visor down, his clothes in shades of a deep, bruised dusk. Lúcio looked at ease without looking bored, and he was dressed like any of Rio’s young up and coming professionals, riding the fastest wave of fashion and technology.
This was the DJ. With his sleeveless vest exposing the defined muscle of his arms, it wasn’t hard to believe he was the same man who flattened Akande on his back.
His expression was neutral when he caught sight of Akande. “You here for Vishkar?”
“No.” Akande held his distance, studying him. There was a new bandage on his left upper arm and fading bruises low on his collar. Akande subtly inclined his head. “And yes.”
“Aw, you're one of those,” Lúcio cracked into a quiet laugh, arms falling to his sides. He pushed off Akande's dark sedan. It was a subtle adjustment, coming to an easy rest with a wider stance, careful not to broadcast that he was prepared to fight. Too bad Akande had studied such tells all his life. “Still deciding if the contract’s worth it?”
Two million in British pounds – not for Lúcio’s head, but re-appropriation of the hardware he had stolen. Meanwhile, Vishkar also challenged him in court under more legal guises.
It was impressive that Lúcio even knew about that contract.
“I’m not a mercenary.”
Lúcio hummed in consideration, scanning the length of him in his casual suit – Akande had dressed down since this man threw him into the dirt. “Walking into my favela and asking for me by name….” Pushing his visor back into his dreadlocks, his head canted to the side, smile curling slow and suggestive, “Didn’t think so. Unless you’re a real sucker for punishment.”
Akande found it impossible not to return Lúcio’s knowing smile. “I believe we share a common thorn. And I think you might know it, too. But your friends do not.” He gestured with open palms to the pale stone plaza around them and Lúcio's lack of an entourage. “You waited until I left your favela to speak with me.”
Lúcio’s expression fell, his shoulders dropping with exaggerated disappointment. “Ugh, you really are here on business.”
‘Time with me is never wasted’ , Akande wanted to assure him, but thought better of it. All good things had their own time. “Come.” He stepped back, showing the path to the white tiled cafe with its wooden furnishings and flowered creeping vine. Neutral. Public. “Let's talk.”
Lúcio cocked his head, assessing the option and shook his head, mouth downturned. “Too late in the day for French bread. It’s lunchtime. If you’re buying, I’ll hear you out.” He nodded across the lane where a churrascaria was firing up its grills, the smell of barbecued meat wafting thick and smoky into the street.
At the mere suggestion, Akande’s mouth watered, his stomach perking up at the vastly better option. “Good choice.”
Lúcio shrugged it off and allowed the larger man to fall in step with him. “I know.”
In the end, securing Lúcio's interest only took a name.
“You’re not the only one who can research,” Lúcio challenged, pushing his cutlery to the side as he finished his meal. Bruised knuckles brushed a smear of juice from the corner of his mouth, an innocent gesture. Akande caught himself staring.
A miniature holo-projection rose from the band on Lúcio’s wrist and Akande found himself looking instead at a scowling figure of himself seven years ago on the streets of Numbani. He tilted his head. It never occurred to him that he had put on some weight since the incident.
“Is that you?” Lúcio asked, watching his face.
Akande brought out his own tablet from the inner pocket of his jacket, a discreet device. He laid it flat on the table, countering with another picture – not of Lúcio, but a hard light engineer with a politely bland expression. All mirth and smugness drained from Lúcio’s face as he stared down at Sanjay Korpal’s profile. His features hardened into the purest expression of loathing Akande had seen in long years, the air around him electrifying, sharp and cold.
Akande wondered if Lúcio realised how attractive he looked like that, how many others even knew their hero was capable of such an expression.
“I don’t like this man,” Akande declared, and leaned his chin on his hand against the churrascaria’s bar, trying not to smile.
Lúcio glanced at him with suspicion and drew the tablet close with a careful touch. Reading quickly, he scrolled through the intel Akande had compiled. It was a delight to watch the wheels turn in his head. At last, Lúcio hummed in his throat with a slow, crooked smile. He turned to Akande in his chair, body language opening.
Translations (Brazillian Portuguese):
Rio por Rio para sempre! // Rio for Rio forever!
Eu não quero esses ovos na minha bunda // I’m tired of rich people (thanks, Mika)
Chapter 2: Recursion
Recursion: the art of defining something (at least partly) in terms of itself, by self-invocation and repetition. While this apparently defines an infinite number of instances, it is often done in such a way that no loop or infinite chain of references can occur.
For all of Akande’s pride in strength and cunning, for all his guile, patience, and steel-gilded promises securing Talon's interests over the years, it was often a bullet that addressed the worst of their problems. No one was faster than a speeding bullet. Not Akande, thrust by the fusion power of his gauntlet. Not even Tracer, who raced time itself.
Did Lúcio ever consider that his life could end that way? Storming at the head of a revolution and often skating into the crossfire of intergang firefights... it must have crossed his mind.
The first time Lúcio died in front of him, Akande kept moving under a fugue of disbelief. Watching his head snap back at the force of the shot... it felt unreal. Which meant the outcome was still malleable. Akande could fix this. He had to. He still had plans for the DJ.
The second time Lúcio died, Akande was close enough that the blood spray struck him across the face. He had run the calculations in his head a dozen times, ensured the locations of every known asset, counted every second. But that building headache clouded his focus, making him stagger with shocks of pain from his nape to his heels. There were too many vectors to account for, only the two of them, and still that bullet found its mark.
“Get down, you bloody idiot!” Tracer tackled him out of his stunned halt as the explosion of gunfire filled the air: crossfire. Multiple agents.
Akande buckled at the surprising force of the tiny Englishwoman driving her elbow into his lower back at full momentum. They stumbled toward the alley’s cover.
They needed answers.
The third time the rifle boomed off the walls of Rialto’s plaza, certainty sank like a stone to the pit of his stomach. This was happening.
For the third time, they were too slow.
Crouched by Lúcio's prone form, Akande bit his tongue and focused on the familiar make and model of the bullet round he had pulled free. Not the unnatural angle of Lúcio's knee kicked out in his own blood, nor the small crater Akande had only cracked wider in his skull.
At his back watching their retreat, Tracer’s voice was brittle. “It’s her… isn't it?”
Slumping back into the shadows of their cover, he handed over the round. It dripped, warm with blood in the transfer to Tracer’s gloved palm. Akande scowled against the tightening in his throat and flicked his wrist, spraying her leggings in a wide spatter.
She squawked, recoiling with a dark look. Huffing a laugh under his breath, it was almost enough to distract him from the splitting pain at the base of his skull. He didn't like the warmth in his face, too close to a fever. Tightening his jaw, he tilted his head until the bones of his neck cracked. For a moment, it muted the headache, but the dizzying tension remained.
Beside him, Tracer’s mouth was grim, examining the bloodied round in her hands.
Akande had signed the approvals for enough of those stockpiles to recognise the ammunition.
Lúcio frowned at him over blueprints spread across the small dining table in Akande's beachside hotel room in Copacabana. It had become their defacto planning headquarters, despite their failure to agree on actual plans.
"No," he said.
Anticipating the resistance, Akande still bowled ahead. "I'm giving them to you."
"Hey, we're not an army! I'm not sending my people in like foot soldiers!"
"They would go, if you asked them to."
Lúcio gaped at him in wide-eyed disbelief. "What do you think this is?"
“This is a war,” Akande shook his head with a scoff. Why didn’t Lúcio understand? “Don’t be naive–”
“This is not Numbani!” Lúcio all but shouted, looming over the disaster of their plans, his gaze alight. His palm slammed down on the maps, covering the South-East portion of the city. “ This is my home ! Even before the Crisis, Rio rarely knew peace, but we made our own lives. We know where we come from… we know who we come from,” Lúcio somehow made his words a threat as he held Akande’s gaze, but it only pleased him more, chest warming with a rush of... pride. “Fighting is our last resort. And we are not expendable.”
Ah, there he was: the leader of the revolution.
And through all the discomfiting uncertainty of the long weeks that had brought him here, Akande was finally sure of one thing – Lúcio Correia dos Santos was something special. What a delight… what an honour to witness him. For someone who wanted to steer his people from war, he belonged on a war council.
Akande indulged his outburst, gentling his tone, “What would you suggest?”
Lúcio drew in a deep, steadying breath as he righted himself. He barely needed a pause, gesturing once more to the southeast.
"If Vishkar is being welcomed back in the lower hills, it's because they're offering something people need. Security. Probably shelter, hell – food. Education. Jobs. Not everyone remembers the curfews. Some people were never touched by the arrests.”
Mouth tightening, Lúcio leaned in and Akande couldn’t help but follow, bowing his head, drawn forward as the other man held his eye.
“There are still people in this city who don’t believe they were using us as cheap labour… and worse,” Lúcio shook his head, briefly closing his eyes. “In the hills, we survive. You have no idea how bad it got between the gangs after they salvaged Vishkar's tech."
Akande shrugged a shoulder and gestured to the proposal in the manila folder Lúcio had discarded to his right. "That's why I'm offering you arms."
"To paint a bigger target on our backs," Lúcio sneered. "You'd have us all killed. Are you sure Vishkar didn’t send you?"
Akande snorted in disdain. "You think you can charm them from a fight? When the other side holds the larger weapons, they have no reason to listen to you! You obviously know nothing about these sort of people."
"Well." Lúcio drew back, reaching deep into a pocket of his loose pants. "I know them better than I know you." He threw something small and rectangular down on the table between them.
Akande leaned in.
Photographs. Old style, tangible. Impossible to hack.
Of him and Lúcio.
Akande thumbed through to another, and felt his stomach plummet.
There, looking like a long telescoped capture on a late afternoon, sat Akande and Korpal. The photo looked like it had been taken in Korpal's Rio office. Akande recalled the one time he had set foot on those grounds. The day he decided Korpal could not be removed by his own hand.
The day he met Lúcio.
Akande stared down at the photo, blood turned to ice in his veins but the gears in his mind already turning, the calculations running at hyperspeed.
How could he spin this, use it to his advantage? How much could he manipulate this situation? What could be gained? Who had done this… who could gain from it? Why? Why now?
Lúcio's smiling face mocked him from behind the glossy sheen of the photo. The way they leaned into each other seemed so conspiratorial, implied so much more than there had ever been between them.
"I knew you were a liar," Lúcio accused, voice rising. "You must have known I'd find out."
Not the first mistake he had made since Lúcio entered his life. He snarled, throwing down the incriminating evidence.
"We are known to each other, but I assure you, I have more to lose if word spreads of my arrangement with you."
Lúcio scoffed with an incredulous bark of laughter, parroting, "' Arrangement. '"
He couldn't believe he had to appeal to this tiny, annoyingly attractive– Akande's jaw tightened. "He is not my ally."
"And I am?"
Akande glowered, studying him properly for the first time since setting eyes on him in that abandoned sugar mill. "You're right. You are a liability, and this is a waste of my time."
The moment those words left him, he felt odd and just a little bit sick with the unexpected feeling of how their wake churned uneasily in his chest.
"Then why are you still here!?" Lúcio spat.
‘Why are you still here?’
It was a long shot – Lúcio had openly rebuffed him before – but Akande had little else to answer with.
Akande was not particularly prone to moments of insanity, but his mind seemed to disconnect from his body and he thought of how easily the other man could kick him in the mouth, even as he leaned across the small table and caught him with a hand around the back of his neck.
Lúcio yelped and threw out both hands for balance. Maps, photos, and manila folders scattered to the floor. A protest was already forming on his lips–
Akande leaned down, tipped his face, and caught his mouth in a kiss.
Lúcio went stiff with shock. Small hands curled around his shoulders, holding just long enough to convince him that maybe this would work.
Thumbs dug harshly into the pressure points under his clavicle. Pain skittered across his nerves and whited out his vision, his pectoral muscles spasmed and stole his breath. Winded and half blind, Akande stumbled back half a step, releasing him.
"You arrogant bastard! " Lúcio’s voice was a confusing mix of soft wonder, fiery annoyance, and something rich and husky. Akande absolutely wanted to hear more. Pushing himself up from his involuntary sprawl over the table, Lúcio stared at Akande, bewildered. "It never even occurred to you that maybe I'm not attrac–"
Lúcio startled, his face caught within Akande’s large hands. His surprised protest muffled in the soft crush of their mouths and his hands shot up to grasp at Akande’s wrists. Honestly, Akande expected more of a fight. Ignoring the pain still dancing along his spine and the threat of more, he knew he was opening himself to attack when he slowed.
Beneath his hands, Lúcio shivered. Was it fear? Desire?
His lips caressed Lúcio's in a sweet dance that only brought a small huff of resistance. When Akande ended it – far too soon for his own liking – he drew back barely enough to see Lúcio's eyes just starting to lose focus, lips glistening in the low light.
Breath mingling in the humid night, they stared at each other. Lúcio was kneeling atop the table, papers strewn to the floor. Akande got the distinct impression that he was being measured yet again. For the first time in his life, it was distinctly uncomfortable because... because–
Realisation struck him cold, tightening his chest.
Why did he care about Lúcio’s assessment? Since when?
But Lúcio had finally made up his mind, and some of that tension eased in Akande’s chest as Lúcio’s mouth curled in a weird little half smile that spoke of shared secrets.
"You're lucky I have a thing for big egos," His voice dropped low and smoky, rich as rum cake and twice as decadent.
God, what Akande would do to hear more of that voice.
He was pleasantly surprised when Lúcio used the grip on his wrists to drag him back down into a searing kiss that blanked his mind. He was slow to catch on to the new pace, and harsh teeth set into his lower lip, tugging.
"Come on," Lúcio purred between teasing nips, "You can do better than that."
With a throaty growl, Akande curled his hands around those voluptuous thighs and lifted the smaller man, turning and pinning him to the wall without ever breaking that sweet, tortuous kiss. Lúcio grunted at the impact, his legs wrapping firmly around Akande's waist. His feet dug into the small of Akande’s back, earning a rumbling moan as Lúcio rocked himself against the hard muscles of his abdomen. Lúcio was so much smaller than him, but no easy conquest. Clutching tight, Akande crowded him closer, harder against that wall – and gasped when the vice of those powerful legs hitched his breath.
Lúcio was laughing against his mouth, blunt fingers scraping over his scalp, then dragging down the chrome scales following the vertebrae at his nape.
Many long minutes passed before they finally broke apart, chests heaving with each breath. Akande's lips felt almost raw, but still he wanted more.
He buried his face in the curve of Lúcio’s neck, nosed an inconvenient dread out of the way to trail hot, hungry kisses along that tempting line of flesh. “Tell me what you want,” he whispered with a voice gone gravelly, almost too rough to understand.
“What do I want?” Lúcio echoed with a small laugh. “Want you to quit playin’.”
“Playing?” Akande drew back to look into his face, frowning. He swallowed, throat dry as he searched Lúcio’s lazy expression of bliss. Heart thundering in his chest, he willed his voice to be steady, “Is this a game?”
Lúcio's expression was everything he'd imagined it would be in this moment (and he had imagined so often on lazy, early mornings sprawled out alone in bed): swollen lips parted and glistening, flushed and still panting. His heavy gaze searched Akande’s face. “I don't know. Is it ?”
Akande just stared, uncertain where this was going and hating every second of his confusion. He was not accustomed to this.
“The ball's in your court, but you're not takin’ the shot.” Lúcio closed the scant distance between them and sucked the delicate skin of Akande's neck. He shivered as Lúcio dragged his tongue up and lightly nipped his ear. In that thick, buttered-rum voice, he purred, “You don’t have to hold back with me. Take me to bed .”
Hours later, Akande lay awake in thought.
Sprawled in sleep beside him, Lúcio looked uncharacteristically sweet, features softened in the faint moonlight. He looked young, unburdened.
It would be prudent to wake him. Every minute they were together increased the risk of being caught.
Curling around that sleeping form, Akande breathed in the softly sweet scent of coconut oil from his hair. He pressed a kiss to Lúcio's temple and tried to ignore the warmth coiling through his chest. A shaky breath eased from his lips and he clung tighter.
When all this began, Lúcio was a means to remove an obstacle. Then, a personal challenge; a conquest, but also an opportunity to tarnish that golden light, leave a mark that would taint all that naive righteousness. Maybe even see if he could be turned.
Akande supposed he had left a mark after all, but the reverse was also true. Lúcio’s golden light had snaked its way into him and lit up corners of his soul long forgotten.
It was only here, in darkness and solitude, that he could admit it, even to himself.
And here it would have to stay.
He still had his mission, his goals. He could allow nothing to stand in his way.
Not even Lúcio.
The swirl of colours receded from his vision like an ebbing tide sluicing away from the shore. Akande fell forward, clutching the balustrade to ground himself while his stomach continued to trip and lunge through time. Choking back the rising bile, he forced himself to stand. He could be ill later. For now there simply wasn't time.
When his eyes finally deigned to focus on the girl, she looked as green as Akande felt. Tracer kneeled on the smooth stone and dry-heaved for several long moments before looking up at him with an expression of pain and fear that was far too familiar.
"I assume," Akande began with a dignified tone, ruined a moment later by a hacking cough. Swallowing thickly, he growled in disgust as the unwelcome taste of that thrice damned canal flooded his mouth. "I assume this is not normal behavior for your– device."
Tracer shook her head, limp brown locks hanging in her eyes. "I've never been stuck in the stream for so long before. Even when you–" A bitter look soured her face for a fleeting moment. She glanced away. "We have to stop."
"I cannot stop until I succeed." At her flinch, Akande released a long, weary breath and tried again, softening his tone. "You know what's at stake."
Finally regaining her strength, Tracer stood on shaky legs to face him. "I can't promise it will work again. We could both be lost in time. Forever!"
Standing resolute, Akande held her stare, eyes narrowing. The lake reflected the sunset in glimmers across the pilot’s profile, white lashing over the heat of her glare.
“Did you know Lúcio was going home after this mission?” she asked, sharply.
In the shadow of Rialto’s ornate stone heritage, their vantage provided the best sight lines of both the approach from the Galleria D'arte Omnica and their retreat over the canals.
Heart drumming, Akande flexed the barrels of his left hand cannon and surveyed the waterways, biting his tongue.
Steady. Control. Do not react.
He exhaled shakily with the reassuring snick of darts reloading within his knuckles. The flank routes of the Western alley and the green parade would not deceive them this time.
Tracer continued in his silence. “He collected all the evidence he needed. He was going to bring his father’s killers to justice.”
Akande raised an eyebrow, halting mid-count of the tables in the alfresco cafe across the plaza – he was sure he counted five last time
“I swear, I’ll get justice for Lúcio and his father if it’s the last bloody thing I do,” Tracer’s voice sounded tight and closer at his back. Akande barely turned his head, warning her away with the depth of his scowl. She had finally learned how poorly that would end for her. “Vishkar will answer for what it's done. Lúcio’s worth a thousand thousand of men like Sanjay.”
Akande frowned, finally turning from his kneel on the balcony.
What did she mean Sanjay ? Sanjay Korpal?
Goggles pushed up into the short thick of her hair, Tracer’s bright eyes stared him down, shoulders tall, undaunted. It was the only opportunity the former pilot would have to look at him from an equal height.
Akande couldn’t wrap his head around her admission… Sanjay? Eager to please, paper-pushing, best in seminar Sanjay ? Killed Lúcio’s father?
How had that not appeared in his intelligence? But then… how had someone secured those photos and delivered them to Lucio’s hand?
A cold possibility gripped his chest: had Sanjay known that Akande was moving against him? Had he learned about Akande… and Lucio?
It’s always the quiet ones.
Moira had warned him.
“Focus on the mission,” he muttered, turning back to the water and half-expecting her to strike him in the back of his head.
‘Do you always have to be such an asshole?’
Closing his eyes, he exhaled slowly to clear the phantom of Lúcio in his ears. This woman was his ally, however briefly, despite all the reasons she had to leave him.
Gentling his voice, he tried again, “I am not Vishkar,” he looked back, finding deep unhappiness in her face. His chest ached in sympathy. He was feeling it, too. “And our interests are more aligned thank you think.”
It was a long moment before Tracer shook her head in despair, and her voice trembled, “You’re not the only one with someone to lose if we don’t fix this.”
It was an olive branch that felt like an accusation. Akande had dragged them both into this. But if she was searching for a sign of resignation, she would not find it.
Akande could not stop once his mind was set. He didn’t know how.
“You're a horrible person.”
A chuckle rumbled in Akande's chest as he leaned down into Lúcio's personal space. The DJ's jaw was set, teeth clenched as he fought his own desire, the glint of defiance in his eyes a glimpse of the fire that sparked a revolution.
“You always sound so surprised when you say that.” He nosed at the curls behind Lúcio's ear and licked teasingly across his fluttering pulse.
“Well. I live in hope, but you keep disappointing me.”
Surprised, Akande pulled back to look in his eyes. Lúcio wasn't smiling. Was he really that naive? “Then you must adjust your expectations.”
Lúcio searched his face, frowning. “That you could change into a decent human?”
“And subvert God's perfection?” Akande appraised himself with a small smile, earning a startled laugh. Lúcio shook his head, bemused.
“God, I hate you.” His voice was already dropping into that low, husky timbre that had drawn Akande to him that first night. The words stung, but the fingers that curled into his shirt and held him close spoke a softer truth.
“Good,” Akande murmured, sucking a bruise into the delicate skin beneath his lips. Lúcio gasped as Akande’s hands slid under his thighs and lifted, pressing him bodily to the cold concrete wall. “That just makes this better.”
Dragging himself from that teasing exploration, he glanced to the narrow shadows that barely concealed them, falling across his shoulders. Tucked away in a half-hidden alley between the edge of the favela and the pale white gleam of Vishkar's latest skyscraper was hardly the place for this. Just down the street, thumping bass and the dull roar of voices echoed from a block party, a celebration for driving Vishkar from the eastern hills. How long until the revellers noticed their hero was gone?
Voice pitched low, Akande pressed, “You’re sure no one saw you?”
“I do actually have some idea what I’m doing, you know.” A playful smirk danced across Lúcio’s lips as he climbed higher into Akande’s lap, arms wrapping around his neck like he belonged there.
Akande curled his hands around those delectable thighs and tugged him even closer, then hesitated. “If we’re caught–” Soft lips pressed against his, silencing his protests.
Month after month, Akande was the one who kept returning. But every time, Lúcio welcomed him back.
“Have you thought about... what happens after?”
Akande dragged his eyes from the soft clouds reflected in the canal, pausing dozens of mental calculations to level Tracer with his disinterested gaze.
“After you save him? Where do you factor in?”
After? He blinked through the aura clouding his vision, trying to process her words. He hadn’t even had the luxury of considering an ‘after’. But now that he thought about it…. He groaned, pressing the heel of one hand against his gut at the unsettling – and by now all too familiar – churn of nausea.
Would Lúcio welcome him back? He had been labouring so hard to undo this horrible mistake but… what if he succeeded? Would he still be part of Lúcio’s life?
They didn’t part on the best terms.
‘You're everything he truly despises. Your beliefs hurt his people. And he loves them more than anything.’
That familiar sourness surged within, and he pushed down those unwelcome thoughts. The bitter realization that he was fighting so hard for something that never really existed sat like lead on the back of his tongue. “It doesn't matter.”
“Of course it matters!”
Akande blinked in surprise, following the streak of light that materialised into the short spitfire of a nuisance across the plaza. Huddled to the long shadows of the multi-storey cafe, Lena ‘Tracer’ Oxton unfortunately had little trouble keeping pace with him. No wonder Lúcio enjoyed her company.
“He must have meant a lot to you,” he murmured.
For a moment he let himself remember. That easy smile, that infectious laughter. A shaky sigh tickling his ear. The salty-savory taste of his skin at the end of a humid summer day. Warm flesh beneath his lips.
What if he could have that every day? What if he could keep it? What if–
“I know why I’m here, but you?”
He could feel the heat of the glare she threw in his direction atop the gallery’s balcony. “That wasn’t you threatening my life if I didn’t help?”
He snorted under his breath. “The first time. After that?”
The pointed silence felt hostile, drawing on long enough that Akande didn’t think she would humour him with an answer. At last, Tracer’s long sigh shuddered through the comms. “We’ve lost a lot of good people. The world needs heroes like Mondatta and Lúcio… but soldiers like me are a dime a dozen.”
The admission was surprising. Akande squinted at the vague outline of the former pilot huddled against the shadows, some trick of his mind imagining her shoulders drawn tight.
“More time jumpers hidden in your ranks?”
Akande sucked a sharp sound behind his teeth, a tic of skepticism. “More comrades stupid enough to come at me twice?”
Tracer’s groaned, trailing into a stubborn sigh. “Oh, shut it. You don’t understand.”
To value your life less than others? No, he didn’t.
But to endure regret?
Akande huffed quietly under his breath, mouth tugging in a humourless smile. “I understand.” A familiar glimmer of laser red lanced over the water. His shoulders stiffened and he straightened from his perch against the polished marble pillar. "Possible target sighted. Get off this channel."
"What? It's too early!"
It was too early. They were supposed to have more time. But time was the entire problem.
"They're moving. Stay back."
“I’m heading in! Go after the shooter.”
Akande growled, jaw grinding. “I said–”
The line beeped as Tracer left the channel and Akande watched her silhouette eclipse into a blur of light.
This was not the plan. This was why he did not work with amateurs. To even tolerate the company of former Overwatch agents, he had fallen too far. He shook his head, focusing on the objective.
In the rose gold dusk over Rialto, a lone gondola emerged, the customary omnic alone steering from its stern. Akande faltered, waiting for another figure to emerge from its empty cargo, or a second boat to follow. He leaned forward, scanning the length of the canal within his vantage. Had he made a mistake?
Shaking his head, he let his shoulders drop and widened his stance, gauging the distance to the balcony across the canal. By now, this jump was muscle memory.
His feet had barely left the platform, when the shot rang out.
The charge from his gauntlet shorted out in his shock. The edge of the balcony caught him low in the ribs. Black spots bloomed in his vision with the sickening crunch, and he had just registered he was falling when the water cracked across his shoulders like a whip. His head snapped forward. After the gasp, he breathed in on instinct. Water flooded his nose and mouth. Coughing and spluttering, his body throbbed with the pain in his side.
He was sinking.
Light glimmered through the green-gold murk of the canal, and an instinctual part of Akande was repulsed to be swallowing such filth. If only he wasn’t still sinking. Drowning.
His side flared with pain when he tried to raise his arm, but the gauntlet drew him down to the dark as sure as an anchor. His lungs protested, trying to expel the water even as they sucked more down, and he gagged.
No, no , not like this.
The comms piece beeped to life in his ear. By some miracle it had survived the fall with him.
“They got him, t-they got him– again, you bastard, this is all your fault–” Tracer was sobbing.
He wasn't supposed to be there. He should never, never have been there.
Akande closed a hand low around his throbbing ribs.
Not like this.
The gauntlet was difficult to detach, but he felt two tonnes lighter once it fell away, quickly swallowed by the depths beneath his feet. Akande kicked hard, favouring his injured side. The instant his head broke the surface was a delirious relief, too weak for victory. He did not reply to Tracer until he had dragged himself to dry land and heaved an unhealthy amount of Rialto’s canals from his lungs.
His voice was still shaking when he reactivated his comms, “Very well. Again.”
“Forever is a long time.”
Akande gazed across the room, taking in the sight of Lúcio standing near the window overlooking Rio’s deep valley, silhouetted against the cool light of dawn. So long they had avoided windows, tried not to be seen, but in this secluded place with the jungle enshrouding them, there was little reason to hide.
“You think I can’t commit?” Akande was careful to keep his voice light, playful. He would not reflect Lúcio’s grim sadness. To do so would allow the other man’s doubt to control them both.
He would not be steered from his chosen path, especially not by fear and distrust.
“I think you’re an opportunist. You always put yourself first.” The eyes that glanced back at Akande were full of worry and doubt. Brows furrowed and lips pursed, Lúcio looked much older and far too serious.
“Of course I do.” Stay calm, deflect. Don’t take the bait. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“What will you do? When our paths cross, out there, and you face me on the battlefield? What happens then?” Familiar bitterness filled those gorgeous brown eyes, their spark dulled but the embers still burning, waiting for the proper kindling to set them alight again.
Akande hesitated, too busy calculating tactics and potential outcomes to find the words it would take to make Lúcio stay.
Lúcio’s heavy sigh answered for him. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Akande was still standing there, staring out into the burgeoning light of day, long after Lúcio left.
Chapter 3: Reversion
Reversion: n. A return to a former condition, belief, or interest.
n. A turning away or in the opposite direction; a reversal.
We've added one last part after this, epilogue to follow.
“Monsieur,” Lacroix murmured, her voice filling the void between stone and oak of the Rialto offices. “We have company.”
Sighing, Akande lowered his quarterly reports from Ogundimu Prostheses to bring up the feed of Lacroix’s visor-mounted camera. He should not have been looking at affairs from the business while overseeing a mission, but his recent distractions had disrupted… well, every routine.
His board of directors were the latest to loudly complain, so there he was in the control room of Talon’s museum offices, trusting his agents to ferry a simple load of arms and alcohol a few hundred metres.
Some instinct made him nervous as he summoned Lacroix’s feed, a flip in his stomach he hadn’t endured since–
“No,” he exhaled, the image crystalising into focus. He had paid for his team to be equipped with the very best, so there was no disputing the footage of the small squad obstructing the path of delivery.
Among them, a very short and familiar figure with a high ponytail of dreadlocks.
The audio crackled and Akande straightened in alert. “What was that?”
Black. The video feed went dark. A pale notification emblazoned across the central console and his breath caught in his chest.
“Lacroix!” Akande barked, already prompting the connection manually, hands flying over controls. “Give me an update!”
The sniper hummed a note curling with interest. “We have received new orders. Back up is en route. We are to engage.”
No. Lúcio was out there, the stubborn, infuriating– this was the heart of Talon's nest. He was surrounded.
Akande leaned in to the microphone of the console, grip tightening on its edge. “Belay those orders, it's broad daylight!”
“You have been relieved from this mission, Monsieur,” Lacroix said softly, confirming what he had already dreaded. He heard the metallic snick of her grapple hook deploying as she repositioned. The thought made his stomach twist in knots, pulse racing.
He turned and headed for his gauntlet mounted on the wall. “Lacroix, where are you?”
“I will address our enemies,” Like she meant it to comfort him, not knowing how her promise only made his knees weaken.
“Where are you?”
“Adieu,” and the line clipped silent.
Lúcio collapsed back against the bed with a heavy sigh and a hum of satisfaction. Gleaming with sweat, the smooth plane of his stomach was slick with evidence of an enjoyable evening, and he snuggled back into the plush duvet. A pleasant end to a grueling tour across the world.
Beside him, Akande stretched like a contented cat, arching his back and rolling his shoulders as the last of far too much tension fled his body. It felt like so much longer than a few weeks since their last encounter. So many words had been left unspoken, but when they finally came together again half a world away, their bodies led the way. Lúcio was the key to some part of Akande – something vital that his pride would not allow him to inspect too closely.
He curled, pressing against Lúcio’s side as their bodies cooled. Dragging the sheet over them both, he drew the corner up to softly wipe at the drying mess on Lúcio’s stomach.
Watching his lover from so close, Akande could see the exact moment the afterglow started to fade. The placid smile slid from Lúcio’s face, and a telling crease formed between his brows.
Lúcio turned to him, eyes dull, expression grim.
Akande’s breath caught under that mournful gaze. Only pain followed when Lúcio looked at him like that.
“This was a mistake.”
And there it was. Something twisted cruelly in Akande’s gut.
He pushed the feeling down, stuffed it into the box with all the other emotions he had been repressing since meeting this amazing, infuriating man.
Armoring himself with his most charming smile, Akande leaned close, staring into dolent brown eyes. “You’d prefer to be on top next time, then?” He brushed a kiss to Lúcio’s shoulder, let himself have a moment – just one more blessed moment – breathing in his lover’s scent, memorizing the texture of skin beneath his lips.
But Lúcio dragged himself away, pushing up onto his side to mirror Akande. “We can’t keep doing this. I can’t do this.”
I can’t do this. The memory of that bitter morning filled Akande’s mind: the sight of Lúcio walking away without a backward glance, the damning indecision that followed. Should he chase after him? Should he just let go?
Why should I be the one to grovel?
“Yet here we are.” Akande’s voice still held all the smugness of a man who knew he was right. If only anything in his head or heart could match it.
Lúcio rolled his eyes and flopped onto his back again, staring at the colorful fluorescent lights softly streaking across the ceiling. Emotions roiled across his face like clouds in a storm. He seemed to be debating what to say. The distant hum of voices echoed from Lijiang’s night market far below.
Lúcio’s fingers plucked idly at the pristine Egyptian cotton, a manifestation of his need to tear at anything that reminded him of Vishkar. The glow from a video advertisement on a neighboring skyscraper filtered in through the sheer curtains, offering a soft backlight that left him looking ethereal.
“Tell me about Rialto.”
Akande froze at the words.
Damn. He knew better than to leave his phone alone in the room with someone as smart and resourceful as Lúcio.
He was getting sloppy.
Had gotten sloppy.
Every wall flung hastily into place, each breath carefully measured, he stared blankly down at his lover. “It’s gorgeous this time of year,” he answered smoothly, that easy smile never wavering.
Lúcio glanced at him, scoffing at the flippant answer. “I’ll bet,” he responded flatly. His eyes flicked across Akande’s face, gauging his expression, his body language. The advertisement outside shifted, bathing the room in fiery orange, tiny flecks of blue flitting across the walls as the animation played. “What’s there?”
“Well, I’ve heard the Galleria D’arte–”
“For you,” he ground the words out, body tensing like he expected a fight. “What’s in it for you?”
Finally letting the smile drop, Akande conceded, just a little: “It’s just business.”
“Prosthetics, then?” Voice still flat, unbelieving. “If I call the company, they’ll confirm that. Right?”
The silence that followed was damning, but what could he say? Lúcio knew him too well, could see through his deceptions. If he’d been thinking clearly, he would have remembered the company were unobliged and disinclined to disclose their activities to non-shareholders, even ones so renowned as Lúcio Correia dos Santos.
When had Akande become so vulnerable?
Lúcio huffed an empty laugh. “Right. So what is it really? You steal something? Weapons? Drugs? ”
Indignation settled into Akande's blood, the comforting heat of it easing some of the sting of the accusation. “You can't possibly believe that I would stoop to such–”
“I believe you'd do anything, if it got you what you want.” He sat up, caught in the sheets that tangled around him like a shield.
As if there was anything left to hide.
He scowled down at Akande. “Prove me wrong.”
Cradling the small body in his arms, Akande threw his head back and screamed, a desperate, broken sound of rage and grief. When he opened his eyes, his vision was blurred with tears and red with fury.
Gingerly he laid that limp body on the bloody ground and numbly closed the eyes now staring blankly at the sky.
Why was his hand shaking?
The footsteps barely registered before he lashed out, carelessly flinging away whoever dared to approach him now. Now, of all times! Ally or enemy, it mattered little.
Why did his chest hurt?
More footsteps, voices that sounded too far away to be real, too broken to be understood. He lashed out again.
Just keep fighting. Don’t think. Don’t feel.
A flash, too fast to track. No green– not the cyborg. Then it must be–
The time traveller!
Another flash came toward him. So fast. But not too fast, not even with Akande on his knees. He had proven that before. He pushed away the feelings clogging his head, held his breath, and counted. His hand darted out with deadly precision, closing low around the leather harness of her chronal accelerator. She was yanked close before she could blink away again.
This child had learned nothing.
The harness twisted in Akande’s fist, cruel and tight. “Take me back!”
Tracer’s wide eyes had filled with tears, a poor facsimile of the black pain and rage eating Akande from within. Her teeth clenched as she fought for breath.
“How could you? ”
The former pilot flexed her wrist, but Akande knocked the gun away before it could spring into her hand. The small pistol flew and disappeared beneath the dark waters of Rialto’s canal with a demure splash.
“Take me back!” he shook her hard enough she gasped, clutching at the second hand Akande fisted in her collar. Her feet left the ground. She weighed even less than Lúcio.
Akande’s throat threatened to close around the rock that had formed at its base. He felt he might choke on his next words as they cracked on his tongue, “We have to fix it.”
“F-fix… fix it!? He’s dead! You killed him!”
Not Akande. But what would she know?
He snarled, teeth bared, “And you can travel through time!”
Her face went slack, mouth dropping open. Her large eyes flicked to the bloodied figure on the ground beside them.
“I can, but– not....” Her expression fell, stricken. “You killed him!” Small hands shoved against his chest with ineffective strength. “You killed him!”
Akande leaned in and Tracer’s eyes went impossibly wider as she shrank within his grip, shoulders hunched.
“You will take us back or you will join him.”
The acrid stench of burning hair and worse seared his nose and clogged his throat as the afterimage of flames scorched into his retinas. Even when he closed his eyes, Akande saw a lingering echo of his love burning alive. That ragged scream had gone on far too long, giving voice to untold agony until, finally, silenced by blessed death.
Spat onto his hands and knees by the time stream, Akande shuddered, sick and horrified. He could still hear it. Wondered if the memory of it would ever fade.
Had that been real?
Head ringing, his vision awash in smears of irregular colour, his entire frame pulsed with pain. His stomach heaved, but he gagged; there was nothing left to yield in his gut.
When had they last eaten? That carafe of water he lifted from the riverside cafe… had he just imagined that?
He stared at his hands bracing him on the same tiles that had risen up to meet him time and time again. How many times now?
“Please,” Tracer begged, voice wrecked with emotion. She had curled into a ball in the shadows of the bridge, shaking with arms and legs tucked in tight. It wasn’t until this moment, Akande realised her leggings were torn at the knees. The arms of her jacket looked seared from a close call with laser rounds. Her hair was a matted mess, but her face was the worst of all – smeared with the filth of their repeated trials, exhausted and anguished. “Please, no more.” Her broken sob echoed off the unforgiving stone, and the merry crackles of the fire still raged in Akande’s ears, offering a cruel chorus to her plea. “We’re just making it worse.”
If ever there had been a time when Akande wished he were truly as unfeeling as he pretended to be, this was it.
Dizzy and half-blind, Akande tripped on uneven stones he was certain had long ago crumbled underfoot, stumbling onto the terrace he had come to associate with everything painful and awful in the world.
The sun was drifting toward the horizon – for the tenth or thousandth time – gleaming golden, the clouds just starting to take on the glorious pinks and oranges he had now seen too many times to appreciate.
From the stone passageway across the terrace to his right, Akande could hear the echo of music growing louder. He could practically feel the sniper lining up in the distance, imagined Lacroix's perfect posture and disinterested gaze as she kneeled in her perch.
In the back of his mind, he counted down the seconds.
I don't want to see this again.
Lúcio burst from the passageway, hand to his ear, relaying some message into his comms. The bright smile on his face spoke of camaraderie, and for the first time Akande wondered if Lúcio was genuinely happy with Overwatch.
For just a second, he let himself imagine the sort of good Lúcio could do in the world, the sort of future he could have. Protecting his city from people like Sanjay. People like Akande. Rejecting weapons, he was part of a tidal change surging the globe through music and goodwill. And, despite the efforts of people like Akande and Sanjay, it was working.
Maybe someone, some day would finally take it away from Lúcio. But it would not be him.
A split second.
That was the span of Akande’s clarity, a tinny realisation resonating from his bones with the same soul-shuddering inexorability of falling through the time stream. The fog of pain and futility lifted, and he understood.
All this time they had been trying to save Lúcio, to prevent a death. But maybe Death could not be denied.
He glanced back at his impromptu partner in time, huddled in the bridge’s shadows. “Does that device on your arm record?”
Tracer glanced at the comms screen on her armoured gloves. She squinted at him. “What?”
He extended his hand, waiting. She started fumbling at the clasp, but he shook his head. Reached down further. “Your hand.”
She was still frowning, dark eyes tired and suspicious as he pulled her to her feet. His large hands dwarfed her shoulders. On her chest, the chronal accelerator sputtered. It might have been his imagination, but she seemed less substantial for just a moment, pale – almost transparent – swaying on her feet.
“Lena, was it?”
“Oxton,” she corrected, eyes averting low. She gently nudged his hands away.
For all they had endured together, there was no undoing what Akande had done to her. The tired, stubborn cut of her jaw made him smile. “Your ancestors kept oxen. I see their resilience in you.” Carefully, he took her arm with the comms on her gauntlet. “Do you believe in things like karma?”
Finally understanding what he was doing, she took over, the screen alighting at the touch of her command. It was a miracle it had survived the abuse of their repeated landings.
“I think the universe balances out,” she said, softly, “In the end.”
He nodded. Each one of them met their justice in the end.
She glanced up at him, furtive and hesitant. At his frown, she cleared her throat, “Did he– did he know you were in love with him?”
Such a girl.
He rolled his eyes, sucked a sound of exasperation behind his teeth and pushed her aside.
At least, that’s what he would have done three turns ago of her accelerator.
But three turns later, he had lost his gauntlet, and he would never unlearn the horror that twisted in his chest watching his love fold and break under the weight of his death fall.
If he didn’t love Lúcio by now, why had he endured all of this?
Shaking his head, Akande shrugged, slow and leaden. “Who could say?”
“Have you thought about... what happens after?”
What happens... is he lives. Those who fall- their names will be forgotten.
Akande had always heard that people see their lives flash before their eyes in the moments before death, but Akande only saw Lúcio, eyes alight with laughter. A lifetime of conflict and accomplishment, distilled down to a single moment of pure, blissful, ignorant happiness.
Those who rise up–
Startled, those hard light skates skidded off the stone arch of the passageway. Whirling in his fall, Lúcio raised his sonic amplifier.
Their gazes met for the briefest of moments.
Lúcio grasped the hand that had shoved him. His eyes widened in startled recognition as he fell to the cobble.
The shot rang out, nearly deafening.
Akande's hulking form paused – poised in perfect balance as a stream of red spilled from his temple – and toppled forward like a marionette whose strings had been cut.
Lúcio's voice was gone, his words the faintest breath, barely heard in the sudden quiet.
“No,” he denied more firmly, pushing himself upright on his skates.
His heart jumped in his throat. Lurching forward, he reached out, grasping at empty air.
“No! ” he cried out, crossing the short distance to that crumpled form.
He knelt and heaved the body over, beyond worrying about hurting him further. The damage was done.
He turned his music up as loud as it could go, echoing across the stones. At their backs, across the bridge, the air erupted in gunfire.
He tore a strip from Akande's shirt and wrapped it around his head, the fabric soaking deep red almost immediately. He added another and another, belatedly realizing that he was apologizing to the limp form for ruining his clothes.
“Lúcio….” Lena’s voice was soft and hesitant.
Lúcio shook his head, finding her leaned against the brick pillars for support. She looked a wreck. Her expression was resigned… crestfallen.
“He can't die,” he declared, a thread of hysteria woven into his voice. He turned back to Akande. “Do you hear me? You can't die. You can't!” He shoved hard at that powerful, unmoving shoulder, tears streaming down his face.
“Lúcio, we have to go. They're still after you; we can't stay here.” Lena’s voice was gentle but firm.
“Conflict makes you stronger, right?” he continued, pleading with that too-still form. “And you've never backed down from a fight. You're too stubborn to just give up.” Lúcio shook his head, too fast for too long. His friend’s hand closed over his shoulder, squeezing.
“I’m sorry. Please trust me,” Lena urged, leaning close against his back. “We worked too hard for you to live.”
He strained back to search her face, weakly grasping the hand on his shoulder.
What did she mean?
She was already pulling him to his feet with arms around his torso in a half-hold, half-embrace. He clung on, stupefied. His skates skidded in the thick pool of blood already forming beneath Akande’s head. He sobbed, reaching down.
Lena tugged in denial, “We have to run,” and dragged him back. “Now.”
Four months later
Sanjay Korpal had not enjoyed his week.
The development project in Dorado was stalled. Again . LumériCo were nervous to renew their contract with a company rumoured to be liquidating stock. Which was a complete fabrication, and once he found the journalist who spread that lie, they would never print another word again.
But negotiations for the projects in Jordan, Wellington, and Cairns were also sidetracked.
Someone had placed the lead architects of the Jordan plant on secondment to another project. The delay was costing them thousands by the day. Someone would lose their job for this.
And then the wrong materials had been ordered for the load-bearing foundations in Wellington, and would not pass the city’s stringent earthquake-proof standards. An incredibly expensive, rookie mistake.
In Cairns, the indigenous population were leading protests, arguing Vishkar’s proposed cityscape had been cited for sacred ancestral land. And the protests were winning.
Didn’t Sanjay employ people to clear these obstacles for their better world order?
“Symmetra,” he summoned, for the second time in a minute.
Silence hummed back through the comms line.
Frowning, he tilted his wrist, checking the health of the connection on the device’s interface, perfectly fitted over the uniform of his forearm. All indicators were green. Why wasn’t she answering?
“Symmetra. I have work for you.”
Where was that girl?
The door hissed shut at his back and Dorado’s weak glow from the window illuminated the modest space of his temporary office in Castillo. He scowled, taking in the ramshackled city under the shroud of night: squat terracotta boxes pockmarked on the mountainside. No sequence. No order in their form. Why did people find this charming?
The LumériCo plant was the only beacon of progress on this primitive lip of the coast. Even Rio de Janeiro was a kinder sight by comparison with its steel and white pillars of Vishkar’s redevelopment.
When Sanjay removed Ogundimu from the equation all those months ago, it was with the promise his successor would keep the funds flowing. A bitter scowl twisted Sanjay’s mouth, thinking on the weasel of a man who now sat at Talon’s table representing Ogundimu Prostheses.
It wasn’t until Akande Ogundimu was gone that Sanjay could appreciate how much influence the man had wrought, even from behind a maximum security barrier. Ogundimu’s successor was a civil servant appointed by the company’s board of directors. He inspired neither fear nor awe, and without subservience or loyalty, the absence of Doomfist’s guiding presence was keenly felt in the tension unraveling the council.
Sanjay was not foolish enough to overlook cause and effect: with Doomfist’s death, the wolves descended on Sanjay’s house. Simple beasts who, with their small bites, had slowly cleaved the connective tissue from Talon’s larger tapestry. A masterpiece that required all its artisans working in shared - if uneasy - mission. It was a vision of which, not long ago, Ogundimu had shared part as a key architect.
Had Doomfist been the only threat keeping the lurking wolves in check?
Sinking into the chair behind his desk, Sanjay slowly deflated with a weary groan and shut his eyes, brow tightly pinched.
Startling upright, he whirled, heart pounding. His hand flew to the panic button under his desk.
On the low cabinets that had previously held the projection of the Wellington model, that infernal DJ kicked back in a relaxed slouch, nodding at Sanjay’s straying hand.
“Oh, that won’t work,” Lúcio chastised, tucking one of his heels up beneath him. His gloved hand gestured from corner to corner of Sanjay’s dimmed sanctuary. Muted, neon magenta leads of light trailed from his knuckles to a thick strap on his bicep. At his back, the wall pulsed in slow washes of that sickly, purple light. “We’re in our own cone of silence here. I had some help. Sonic amplifiers, dampeners… it’s kind of our thing in the family.”
Sanjay stared at the thief on his perch. His shock soured and he pushed down the instinctual question he demanded be answered. It was clear how Lúcio had infiltrated his office: those same wolves, whoever they were, prying apart his beautiful constructions from the inside. Throwing the doors wide and unwatched.
It had been long months since Sanjay last caught sight or sound of Lúcio Correia dos Santos. After Rialto, the audio medic had gone underground, disappearing from the public scene and off their intelligence networks. Not even the social media train of devoted followers could turn up a hint of their beloved DJ.
All word on Sanjay’s mark had officially gone dark. Someone was keeping him well hidden and safe. After two months passed, Sanjay’s attentions had turned elsewhere, and the situation with Lúcio downgraded to ‘monitoring’.
Clearly, Sanjay had not been the only one planning.
The engineer sat back in his chair. It swayed with the gentle spring of its ergonomic design. He threw his arms wide. “I’m sure you’ve been waiting for this day a long time.”
Lúcio’s bright gaze sharpened, his smile thinning, cold. “You have no idea.”
Sanjay returned the sneer. “Come to return the property you stole?”
A predictable scowl darkened those famously bright features. Lúcio was a child, so easy to play. Let his masses of vapid, adoring followers believe he was just a musician, just a martial artist with a cause. Vishkar’s security logs showed that Lúcio was a simple criminal.
“Can’t steal what’s already yours.”
Sanjay rolled his eyes. “Such a simpleton, that’s not how patents and corporate property work.” God, why was he the one who had to field the rabble today? “Everything your father created while in our employment was owned by the company. He knew that. It’s in the standard terms of every contract.”
Lúcio’s expression shifted, coy and smug. “Yeah, I admit I’m not one for legal stuff, but…..” He glanced down to his heel, idly thumbing the knuckles of his other hand. “I used to know a guy. Last thing he did before he died was leave me this video. It was, damn….” Lúcio shook his head in frustration, gaze faraway. “Short. You know, he’s about to die and he leaves me the name of… a dancer. And a filedrive with a lot about you. The second part made sense, but the first….” Lúcio’s expression turned incredulous. “I thought, His last moments and he wants to pad out the dancers for my tour? I took a better look at her credentials. It started to make sense.”
Watching Lúcio slide off the cabinet to his feet, Sanjay swallowed, throat suddenly dry. If Ogundimu had truly handed over a cache of intelligence to this terrorist… the scope of what he had been privy to with his council level access could very well be damning.
But if that were true, why had Lúcio waited so long? Akande Ogundimu died months ago.
“She’d heard of me. Didn’t want anything to do with me or ‘my kind’ when I met her,” Lúcio laughed, sharp and dry. “Called me all kinds of names. And she was right: she didn’t owe me anything.”
Sanjay watched the DJ’s smile tilt into a crooked smirk. Dread sunk like a stone in his chest.
“But I showed her that drive. And, boy, she had a real bone to pick with you.”
The door to his office hissed open. In the violet and pearl of her architech uniform, the glare of his prodigy, Satya Vaswani, pinned Sanjay to his seat. Her expression was hard as stone, eyes burning like coal. He had never seen that particular look on her face. The hard line of her mouth did not bode well for him.
“Sanjay,” she greeted, voice flat.
He stole a glance to Lúcio who had not even spared a look for the newcomer, as though Satya had been expected. Could it be? Sanjay looked back at his protégé still poised over the threshold and noted with some relief that she had not brought her photon projector. Would Satya really have allied herself with this ruffian?
He slid his usual, placid smile in place.
“Satya, at last,” he rose from his seat, straightening his uniform. “We have an intruder. Please call security and inform the authorities. We’ll be relieving him of his stolen Vishkar property.”
Lúcio snorted a laugh under his breath.
Satya’s measured strides closed the distance of his office, her misdirected ire never straying from his face. Her hands folded over her front as she had countless times before, standing at attention before his desk. “I have come to remove an intruder. The role you have performed in league with terrorists insults everything this company stands for.”
Sanjay felt a deep scowl pull at his mouth. “Mind your accusations, girl. You’d do better than to trust the intelligence of a criminal.”
The hard line of Satya’s mouth turned down in her own scowl. “This intelligence is not from him, but you.” Her prosthetic hand flexed like a flower coming into bloom, and an HUD materialised in the space between them. Documents were thrown up, cascading in panels. They looked like emails and purchase orders, flying too fast for him to scrutinise.
“Fabricated.” It was easy enough to stick his standard email signature at the bottom of a few screenshots.
“Verified,” Satya corrected. A still image overlaid the documents, shimmering into motion as a video of surveillance quality. Sanjay recognised the city skyline of Rio de Janeiro in the background. They watched as the favela complex exploded in a plume of gold and black, pale reflections washing over Lúcio and Satya’s faces. Screams and car alarms rang from the video’s audio, clipping to abrupt silence. Satya glowered at him through the transparent HUD. “And you lied to me.”
She was doing a remarkable job of holding eye contact today.
“Is this the path for your better world?” Lúcio muttered.
“You’ve made me an accomplice.” Satya’s hard stare finally cracked, gazing at the frozen image, expression contrite. “And you knew . There were people in that building.”
Lúcio gestured to the array of documents. “This trail shows you ordered a survey of the prospective building site, tallying population and demographics of our people. You guys developed blueprints of the favela. You knew the right places to bring the building down. Made the whole zone unsafe. You started demolition before the job was even yours. And you used charges from one of your other projects. You Vishkar are so obnoxious you don’t trust anybody else to do the job right.”
Satya shook her head, voice firm. “This price is too high, Sanjay. You will resign your position for the honour of this company.”
A laugh escaped him before he could help himself. “ Honour? You still don’t understand why this company exists, Satya. The work you performed for us. The price of building a better world is paid in sacrifice. Reborn from the ashes! If not me, someone else would have made that same call in Rio! Your hands are not clean of this, either.”
Satya straightened and turned to Lúcio, raising an eyebrow. “I think that’s sufficient for an admission. Don’t you?”
Lúcio glanced out the window, gaze faraway. Eventually, he tapped the side of his visor like he was listening to another conversation. A slow smile spread on his lips. “Apparently. Yeah.”
Sanjay looked between them, realisation dawning as his mind spun. How foolish he had been. He snarled, but Satya did not draw back at his pointed finger. “You’re also culpable, Satya.”
Lúcio folded his arms, rocking back on his heels. “Ever heard of immunity?”
“This will never stick.”
“Oh, it will,” Satya promised in that same tone that brokered the birth of cities.
Footsteps pounded the hallway and Sanjay startled as his office filled with omnics and humans flashing badges saying Interpol and Polícia Federal . Five they were in total, some sporting flags on their badges from Mexico and Brazil.
“Sanjay Korpal,” one of the federal officers from Brazil stepped forward, a petite woman in a navy suit with a high ponytail. “You're under arrest for the bombing of Calado Holdings in Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro, and the deaths of 48 civilians."
All those months ago, when Satya finally had all the evidence before her, she had trembled in her chair of Alejandra’s bakery with the same silent rage simmering beneath Lúcio’s skin.
Lúcio had shared what Tracer implored as Lúcio had clung to her in Rialto, blind with grief. “They won’t get away with this. But we’re going to do it the right way.”
In the end, all that time and patience was worth it to watch Sanjay marched before television crews, cuffed and sputtering indignities.
“It is not justice for your father, but it is justice,” Satya apologised, once they had been excused by the authorities for the evening.
The breeze washing up from Dorado's shore was cool and damp. Lúcio rubbed his arms self-consciously and tried to feel grateful.
“For a lot of people. Not just him.” He managed a weak smile. “Thank you for confronting him. We couldn't have got his admission without you.”
Satya nodded in acknowledgement, hands folded before her. Before the low stone wall, she glanced to the coastline. “Order is restored. But thanks are also due to your source. Without that drive, I would still be none the wiser.”
Lúcio's throat tightened. “Yeah. Yeah, he was… he did all right. In the end.”
When his silence stretched on, Satya bowed her head kindly. “I am sorry for your loss.”
He barked a hoarse laugh. “I.... “ He sighed, shoulders deflating. “Thanks. I'm sorry your boss turned out so bad. You should take his place.”
Satya hummed in consideration. “Possibly.” Her nose lifted imperiously, chest pushing out, long arms stretching behind her back. “I am more than qualified. I'm still deciding.”
“If you should take the job?”
“... If I should stay. Sanjay’s words are troubling. We have begun dismantling the projects we found contestable, but I doubt Sanjay was the only one in Vishkar who thought as he did.”
Lúcio hesitated, watching her wring her fingers nervously. “I've got a friend you should meet. She passed me the filedrive. You two… I think you’d have a lot to talk about.”
“More ruffians?” Satya glanced at him from the corner of her eye, mouth curved in a sharp smile. “Very well.”
Lena looked even worse than Lúcio remembered: skin wan, face gaunt. Her eyes were shadowed with exhaustion as she leaned her chin on her hand with a tired smile, the grey London sky at her back. Her new shock of bleached blond hair didn't help her washed out appearance on Lúcio's video call.
“I wish I coulda been there to help,” her voice cracked with a cough and she cleared her throat. “I knew you could do it.”
Lúcio nodded, feeling numb in the cold, dark quiet of his Mexico apartment. Tomorrow, he would return for Brazil to help with the prosecution of Sanjay’s case.
“It’s done,” he repeated, though it didn’t feel any more real the second time he said it, nor even for sharing it with the only other person who could appreciate the scope of what they had done.
Lena and Akande had braved time more than once to save him so he could take down Sanjay himself. It was a staggering thing to wrap his head around. They thought Lúcio had to be the one to do it, as Akande had always intended. They were wrong, of course – it had cost Akande his life.
And now, it was taking Lena’s, too.
“How are you feeling?” Lena asked gently, and Lúcio laughed, loud and abrupt.
“Awful.” He smiled, watching his friend’s face crinkle with a knowing smile like it was their private joke. “You?”
Lena nodded, coughing, low and wet in her chest. “Awful.” She pulled a tartan blanket tighter around her shoulders – one of Emily’s, Lúcio guessed. “Winston says it could be any day now. I've settled everything. Aren't too many affairs while one of us is still here. As far as the law is concerned, it’s not really death. I’m okay,” she hushed before Lúcio could apologise for the umpteenth time. Her voice was gentle and at peace, “I’m okay.”
The phone’s camera tilted and he caught sight of the pair of women chasing each other in the park beyond the picnic blanket. Emily’s flame red hair was instantly recognisable, and Lúcio was sure there could be no sound as distinct as Lena’s bright laugh.
It was still surreal seeing two Lena Oxtons.
His Lena, the one travelled and worn, cracked a smile watching the pair of them. “I’m with good people. I won’t be alone when it happens.”
Lúcio sagged, the ever-present ache swelling in his chest again. “I can never repay you.”
Lena’s eyes squinted with the depth of her smile. The tip of her tongue peeked from her lips, coaxing him to smile. “You already have. Sanjay is one less monster out there.”
It didn’t make Lúcio feel any better while he watched his friend waste away to the literal ravages of time.
“I wish I was there,” he murmured.
“And I'd give you a bi-ii-ii-ii-ig hug!” she snuggled tighter into her blanket, image shaking as she jostled the phone. Her look softened, dark eyes searching. “Do you… are you sleeping any better?”
He almost regretted telling her about his nightmares, but she was the only one who could hear he dreamed about a man who terrified the rest of the world without flinching. How he would hear a car engine backfire and abruptly find himself in Rialto, shoulder throbbing as he hit the pavement, shoved to safety.
Shrugging, he reached behind to flick on the small lamp by the bed, fumbling with the switch. “Sometimes.”
“Do you still see him when you're awake?”
Lúcio bit his tongue, squinting in the lamp’s sudden glare. “Sometimes.”
“It will get better,” she soothed. Lúcio couldn't bear to look at his phone and see the sympathy in her face. It was a relief when her voice brightened, shaking the somber air, “So, what's this about a new friend?”
Lúcio bit the inside of his cheek. “Well… I thought maybe you two could talk to Satya about some options. She’s the one who really brought Sanjay down. She’s looking for some direction.”
“She’s made a bloody good start. I'd love to meet any friends of yours, love. Oi!” Lena was leaning back, waving an arm at her company the next time Lúcio looked. “Number two! Borrow you for a minute?” As her counterpart bounded over, Lena gave him a bracing smile. “You too, you know? Whenever you’re ready… you’ll always have a place with us. If you want it.”
His smile felt thin, but he nodded anyway.
The clock crawled over to 4:39am.
“Lúcio….” The voice echoed in the silence of his apartment, and Lúcio cupped his hands around the phone.
He squinted at the unlikely sight of Akande and Lena crowded side-by-side and exchanging a look: her encouraging, him weary. Akande sighed, bloodshot gaze returning to the camera.
“If we succeed... go home. Please, go home. Forget about,” he glanced away, waving a hand to the beautiful sunset backdrop of Rialto, “All of… this .”
Lúcio had lost count of how many times he had watched this video. Each time, his chest tightened hearing the weight of resignation in Akande’s voice. Learning that of all the people the man compelled to rise up, Lúcio was the one exception he wanted to take cover.
Beside the giant, Lena’s expression was sympathetic, her voice firm, “You know he can't.”
Lúcio shoved the phone beneath his pillow and buried his face in his hands, expression screwed up tight. He had to stop rewatching it. Without this video, it would have been impossible to believe Lena’s crazy story – working with Doomfist, braving the whirlwind of time over and over just to save him.
Both of them, giving their lives for him. In simple math, it wasn’t worth it: two for one. Why did they have to do it? Why?
He had rewatched the video at first to convince himself Lena’s story was real. Then, to find Satya. To remind himself why he had to continue. And finally, because it was the only goodbye he would ever get.
But it didn't help him sleep.
And he had to stop.
“If we succeed….”
His eyes squeezed shut, the muffled video looping beneath the crush of his pillow. He could almost believe Akande was just a room away as he pulled the blanket over his head.
“Go home. Please, go home.”
Rio was always calmer at the close of its last flights for the evening. Lúcio preferred flying under the cover of night, and returning to his home city was no exception.
He liked the quiet murmur of the airport compared to the harried rush of its activity during the day. As always, someone had tipped the media about his arrival, but at night they were a smaller crowd and easier to avoid.
It helped that the airport staff allowed him to use the service routes once he passed security and immigration. Slipping the paparazzi was easy, but once he emerged on the other side, the night loomed large and long ahead of him, his chest tightening from an unexpected source.
Home had too many hands waiting to pull him in close, too many who would ask after his welfare, had he eaten, and why had he stayed away so long?
“At last,” he could hear them already. “Finally, you’re home.”
Eyes slipping shut, he imagined the soft scent of his aunt’s perfume; people who loved him better than he deserved, murmuring love and pride in his ear. His eyes burned imagining his mother’s arms around him, her relief so acute his heart would break.
“It’s over,” she would praise the Lord, and the guilt would crush his heart.
Rialto had shown him it was only the beginning.
His feet led him away from the path home and steered him until sand spilled into his shoes, waves of the Atlantic hissing and foaming ahead. Dropping his duffel bag at the shallow rise of a dune, he sank to his haunches in the sand, slumping with a heavy sigh, arms stretched out on bent knees.
Small and high in the sky, the moon was a shy sliver embanked by grey of a recent storm. Lúcio watched the clouds roll and drag in the unseasonably warm summer wind. Every summer had been hotter than the last, one of the few constants he could depend on.
Despite the humidity that clung to his skin and the heat baked into the beach, it was still beautiful. Open ocean and clean sands, a novelty in this age.
Lúcio had always wanted to bring Akande here. He imagined it in the most indulgent moments: to be seen in public with someone he’d learned to care about against all reason.
Whoever said there was no harm in dreaming… how did they explain this feeling now? It hurt. Months later, it still hurt.
He would make Sanjay hurt for it, too.
“You should have killed him,” a new voice said.
Lúcio smiled, unsurprised, and shook his head. “I'm not like you.”
He was accustomed to Akande in his head, always urging him to be more selfish, more ruthless – a comfort and a torment that had followed him for months.
Soft laughter hummed in the air, tensing his shoulders. “A pity. Though I doubt the world could survive two of me for long.”
Lúcio’s laughter ground to a chuckle, bitter and watery.
The voice continued, undeterred by his silence. “I imagine my way might have made him a martyr instead, and added another warrant to your ever-growing list.”
His eyes burned with the fresh blur of tears, mind concocting the perfect shape, size and strength of Akande’s hand when it reached out in his periphery. The illusion of warmth rose at his back with a heavy sigh above him, so familiar, so --
The hand closed firm and solid on his shoulder.
He jumped a foot in the air and the gulls squawked, taking flight at his panicked screech.
“What the -- what?” He shoved the offending hand off and whirled, almost losing his footing in the sand, wobbled, toppling backwards. He stared, numbed with shock. “What?”
A firm grip caught his elbow, steadying him upright from his bluster.
Kneeling before him on the dune crest, the man loomed, his look searching, hands spread in uncertain question. “All right?”
The spectre was chilling; he looked like Akande. He sounded and moved like Akande, the soft frown pinching the man’s face in an expression so familiar, Lúcio’s heart constricted and shrank. Damn, that was a good simulation.
“All--?” His voice quavered behind a brittle veil of anger and lashed out, shoving the man so hard in the chest that he fell on his ass in the sand. “What are you?” Lúcio shouted, charging in to shove him again, prepared to put this imposter on his back. “Who are you?”
The other man grunted in shock, hands raised to brace against the assault. “Stop, stop -- it’s me!” and it was pitch perfect the way he recoiled, swearing with a blended glare of concern and exasperation.
Lúcio just flew at him harder, pummeling raised arms and shoulders hunched in defence. “Who are you?” his voice cracked in rage. He dove for the man’s throat, searching for the edges of a mask or whatever projected that illusion. “Take off that face!”
His hands were caught and he tried to yank free, but was seized tight.
Thrashing, Lúcio was pulled in for his effort, and that stern voice gentled; insistent.
Terror gripped him as his heart clenched, racing. He wouldn’t look. That voice was too accurate, and the hands on his wrists too careful. Lúcio couldn’t look into his face, torn between the fear of what he would or wouldn’t find.
Dragged in close against a broad, muscled chest, he stiffened. A thick arm wrapped around his back.
“I’m sorry,” the other whispered.
It was the first hint of shame Lúcio had ever heard from him. He buckled on the edge of a sob, knees folding beneath him.
“I’m sorry,” the words were buried in his locs, then his temple, against the shell of his ear, again and again. Hands cupped his face, thumbs smearing his tears, wiping them from his face. He caught the faint scent of Akande's usual aftershave, but with a tinny undertone from his cybernetic enhancements. “I’m sorry.”
“No,” Lúcio shook, throat tight. “No, you’re… no….”
You’re not alive. You died. You died.
The flesh beneath his hands was real. The cybernetic joints and augmentations were just as he remembered: chrome latches reinforcing the man’s jaw and Adam’s apple, the hands around his clicking and softly whirring as those fine joints adjusted their hold. The hood of the man’s shirt covered the bright red markers that would have glowed at his temple and shoulder like a beacon in the dark.
It felt like something had broken in Lúcio’s mind and split him right down the middle. A hand tucked behind his head and he gratefully buried his face in the cotton of their thick, muscled shoulder.
The one holding Lúcio was real, warm and alive. And more than the face he wore, he felt like-- he smelled like Akande. Lúcio clung on tightly, a mess.
“Ọkan mi. You know me.”
Pulling back, Lúcio couldn’t imagine how gross he must have looked in that moment--face flushed, wet and blubbering, but hands tipped his chin and then he was being kissed. Even that felt like an apology, the other man firmly pressed against his front, holding him tight as he trembled.
“I wanted to tell you so many times,” Akande confessed when Lúcio had finally calmed to hiccuping breaths, and was kissed again, “So many times.” He shook his head with regret. “I’m their key witness.”
Lúcio frowned. Their?
“They made me agree: until Sanjay was brought in, I was dead to the world. Even you. Your small friend told me to disappear. She showed me proof…” Akande glanced away, gaze distant and confused. “That strange phenomenon…. You did see me die,” the hand stroked Lúcio’s cheek again, as though Akande couldn’t help himself, “Actually, you saw him die. I was here first. And I lived.”
Lúcio stared, struggling to process what the other man was trying to tell him.
A key witness? Lúcio’s “small friend”?
An image flashed before his eyes: his two Lenas smiling at him from their video call. One from the present, the other many times cycled back from the future.
He finally lifted his eyes and met Akande’s worried gaze. He felt hands frame his face again and Akande searched him, desperate for some kind of recognition. “Ọkan mi… .?”
He buried his face in the man’s neck, too overwhelmed to speak. His hands dug into Akande’s back.
He thought Akande was dead. Lúcio knew he’d been dead.
But here he was, arms wrapped around him, secure and just as tight.
“I didn’t know if you wanted to see me,” the words fell hushed, and Lucio frowned, pulling back to look into his face. Akande sighed, looking distracted as he idly palmed the small shoulders under his hands, unable to stop touching. “I have to go back to their safehouse. I knew… I know you’d want to do this the right way, but I… I hoped you’d kill him. And if you didn’t. I didn’t want you finding out about me at the trial.”
Lúcio was livid… and numb. But maybe that was relief. All this time… and Lena had known?
Oh, someone was gonna get it.
His fingers curled hard into the larger man’s shoulderblades. “You let… I thought you died.”
The arms around him briefly squeezed, warm hand dropping to palm circles low on his back. The guilt rolled off the larger man in waves. “It was necessary.”
Lúcio scowled, eyes still wet. “I’m so fucking mad.”
Akande’s gaze fell, tense. “I understand.”
“All this time,” Lúcio growled, shaking his head. “You let me think you were dead.”
Akande moved to speak, but Lúcio cut him off, tone harsh.
“And then you just turn up. In the middle of the night. You think you can kiss me and it makes up for all these fucking months --” He shoved Akande hard in the chest, and Akande flinched, pulling his hands back. Good. Good. “I mourned for you! I even reached out to your family, but I couldn’t let-- they couldn’t know it was me. And did you know? They’ve disowned you! I was the only one….”
Lúcio shook his head, throwing his hands up in disbelief. He stole a glance to the endless, black tides as though their surge could give him strength, clarity, any kind of handle on the situation.
Akande stared at him, expression guilty and lost.
“Do you know what that’s like?” Lúcio’s voice shook, but he persevered, holding onto the outrage. “Mourning someone... when you can't tell anyone? I told… I told Lena, but-- she… she knew! And she didn’t say anything! ”
Akande’s voice was quiet. “She couldn’t. Neither could I.”
Lúcio snarled, punching him hard in the shoulder, and Akande shrank back further down the dune. “Do you have any idea what the last few months have been like? Sanjay’s dogs I had to outrun, all the people I had to push away? I needed you!”
On his knees, Akande’s face fell, hands fisting at his sides and Lúcio’s heart broke all over again to see him upset. It was not fair.
“I needed you.”
Akande didn’t get to be upset. Lúcio was the one who had mourned, Lúcio was the one… he was not going to feel bad for Akande. Except…
He angrily swiped the fresh tears escaping. “Are you crying?”
Akande’s jaw ticked and he sniffed in a very telling way, lines of his neck tensing as he swallowed thickly. “You have every right to be angry.”
Lúcio glared because, yes. Yes, he did.
But his chest ached watching the uncharacteristic vulnerability crowd Akande’s shoulders. Completely unlike the obnoxious warlord who had dragged Lúcio across the war table in that hotel all those months ago, cloying and entitled, but even then… there’d been something uncertain about him.
It hadn’t taken Lúcio long to realise that Doomfist was more sensitive than anyone realised. And how could they? When would they have had the chance? How many people had this man let close enough to see?
Eyes raising to Lúcio’s, Akande's expression was painfully uncertain, his voice barely audible. “Do you still need me?”
There. There was the man he’d fallen in love with. It had been so long since Lúcio had seen him. His mouth twisted in an involuntary scowl at the sharp wrench within his chest. He shook his head in frustration with himself. “You make me so mad.”
Akande’s shoulders dropped and his eyes dimmed. His face fell. “I understand.”
Lúcio’s heart skipped a beat, realising he had been misunderstood when Akande looked around, expression stony, and began to rise.
“Oof!” The larger man tumbled on his back, unable to catch himself under the weight of the one who had tackled him around the chest. Coughing at the sand stirred up, tentative hands settled on his shoulders. “Lúcio?”
“Of course,” Lúcio mumbled into the man’s shirt, breathing him in; weak with the tension that seeped from his shoulders at the familiar scent.
Face buried in his chest, Lúcio’s arms tightened around him. “Of course I need you.”
He felt the moment Akande understood, muscles abruptly loosening with relief. Lúcio squeaked at the strong arms that closed around him like a vice and felt Akande’s face press against the crown of his hair.
“I love you,” Akande breathed, hushed.
Lúcio stilled, tilting up to stare. “What?”
Akande held his gaze, gentle touch on his cheek. The earnesty in Akande’s eyes was intense and humbling, and Lúcio felt stripped. “I love you.”
Awed, he couldn’t break away. His breath left him in a rush, searching Akande’s face, but he didn’t find any hint of deceit and he hadn’t expected to. “Wow.”
Akande arched a skeptical eyebrow.
Lúcio blinked rapidly, mumbling in his embarrassment. “Uh, I mean--”
A finger gently pressed against his lips. “You don’t have to.”
Something soft and warm was unfolding in Lúcio’s chest, soothing the edge of the bitter ache that had taken root over the last few months. “I know,” he murmured, taking that hand in his and pressing a kiss to the long life line that arched round Akande’s thumb. He held that warm palm against his cheek. “But I do. Love you.”
Akande shuddered with a sound of relief. “Thank you,” Then almost sounding like an afterthought, said, “For Sanjay.”
Lúcio smiled, a tug at the corner of his mouth. “I didn’t do it for you.”
Not only for you.
Akande chuckled under his breath. “I’m proud of you anyway.”
That warmth bloomed in Lucio’s chest and he smiled wider. “Me, too. He’s going away for life.”
“I’m going to help,” Akande insisted, and his earlier words came rushing back.
Lucio nodded slowly, entangling their fingers together against his cheek. “But you’re going back to a safehouse?”
“Can you tell me where?”
And Lucio laughed, because he never thought he would live to hear that sort of conflict in the man’s voice.
“No, don’t tell me,” Lucio reassured him. “Just… when this is all over. You’re coming home with me.”
Akande’s mouth quirked in a smile. “Am I?”
“I’m not asking.”
Akande’s laughter was quiet and precious. “Can you believe that less than a year ago, you were telling me to get out of your city?”
“And you’re gonna help me,” Lucio informed him, completely ignoring the tangent.
Akande sighed, but instead of weary, the sound was soft and pleased, and Lucio tipped his face up when Akande leaned in for a final kiss; a grateful benediction, “As you wish.”
And what is the best revenge, but to live and live well.
This is the second time Bellsy has faked out on Akande's death. Third time is the charm. Brace yourself, big man.
The magenta lighting of Lúcio’s usual green or yellow crossfading ability is a reference to his Reverse Amp talent from Heroes of the Storm (slowing enemies and inflicting damage over time).