“I still don’t think this is a good idea.”
Winston peered at him from over his glasses. Hanzo was still learning to read the gorilla’s expressions, but he could make an educated guess that this one was irritated. “We’ve been over this. The mission requires agents who understand this sort of thing and who know how to be discreet. If you have a candidate better qualified than yourself or Agent McCree, do send them my way.”
Hanzo clenched his jaw and looked back over the brief. Genji came to mind. Hanzo could accept that danger came with working for Overwatch, but he wouldn’t volunteer his brother, even if it meant taking this job. Anyhow, the mission would put them in some tiny town in the state of Tennessee. Who knew how well a cyborg might blend in there? Still, he had no desire to take on a mission that sent him so far, with an unknown end date, with no way to see Genji or assure his safety in the meantime. “I have never been to America,” he said; he knew it was a flimsy excuse, but he had to try it.
“McCree has, and you’re fluent in English. He can handle the customs and any Spanish language issues, but he needs someone qualified to watch his back. And someone who is, ah, familiar with smuggling operations.” Winston added this with something like a grimace, as if it were distasteful to admit.
“I see,” Hanzo said slowly.
“Do you have some problem working with Agent McCree?” Winston asked.
Hanzo did, but it didn’t seem to be the sort of problem that would be persuasive to Winston. It had little to do with McCree’s professionalism. They got along well enough on the occasions they’d worked together, but their interactions rarely extended beyond training simulations.
It had more to do with who McCree was: Genji’s close friend, a better brother to him than Hanzo had ever been.
“You are sending me away with a mission partner I have barely trained with. And I sincerely doubt discretion is part of his skillset.” Hanzo did his best not to sneer here; it was not Winston’s fault exactly that Overwatch had so few choices.
Winston laughed, plainly surprised, then he shook his head. “It is. Perhaps you should review your partner’s file before you ship out.”
Embarrassed, Hanzo glared back down at the tablet. He could likely still refuse, but he had promised Genji he would try, and he was out of excuses. All things considered, Hanzo supposed he could think of worse people than McCree to have on a two-person job. He had at least seen the man shoot before, and he could admit to a begrudging respect for his skill. Perhaps Hanzo could speed the mission along, if McCree would cooperate. He sighed and thought again of his promise to Genji that he would commit himself to Overwatch. “When do we leave?”
He spoke to McCree once regarding the mission before they left, in a conference room during their briefing. McCree and Winston gave him some minor advice to prepare for an excursion of this nature, and Hanzo was otherwise left to his own devices. Trusted, Genji assured him, to finish preparing on his own.
The trip over was easy, if long. Doctors Ziegler and Zhou tagged along, to be dropped off later for another excursion in Boston. Their company was pleasant enough, and they kept McCree happily distracted from trying to talk to Hanzo. Hanzo spent much of his time in the cockpit, letting Lena’s friendly chatter wash over him in between bouts of sleep.
They were dropped off in Tennessee, which Hanzo fast realized was a humid, sweltering place this time of year. McCree drove them into town, fiddling with the truck’s radio until some hopelessly twangy music rang through. The drive was not a terrifically long one, but McCree filled the silence; it seemed the flights had taken their toll on his patience.
“Winston says you’ve never been to the States,” McCree said.
Hanzo only looked his way for a moment, calculating, before he turned his eyes back to the road. “That is what I told him, yes.”
“So you did lie.” McCree sounded more amused than accusatory.
Hanzo had no answer to that. Now that they were here, it seemed pointless to dissemble. “I did.”
“’Cause you didn’t wanna do this mission.” It was not a question; McCree knew he’d tried to wiggle out of this. Hanzo sighed, and McCree asked, “Why? Didn’t wanna work with me?” His tone was teasing, but when Hanzo didn’t answer, McCree let out a long, heavy breath. “Not tryin’ to pry into your business. Just think it’s a good time to clear the air, if any needs clearin’.”
Trapped as he was in the car, Hanzo had limited options for his reply. He thought again about his promise to Genji that he would try to get along. “I did not wish to take a job so far away from my brother. Not so soon, and not—” Hanzo risked a glance at McCree, who only looked intent on the road, jaw set tight “—perhaps not with an… unknown quantity.”
McCree seemed to find something about that funny, although the noise that left him sounded thoughtful. “Nervous about makin’ new friends?” McCree asked, but he seemed to struggle to sell this one as light-hearted.
“Is that what you hope to be?”
“Don’t really care, long as we can get the job done. It’ll go better if we aren’t both miserable, though. Better than that if it’s actually kinda fun.” McCree scratched a hand through his beard, and Hanzo couldn’t decide if it was a nervous tic or not. “So: friendly, at least. For the mission and my sanity, if nothin’ else.”
It seemed genuine. McCree’s answer hinted at some misgivings, but he was straightforward enough. “I find it difficult to believe you wish to work with me,” Hanzo admitted.
McCree said nothing for a moment, then he asked, “You gonna try it again?”
“What?” Hanzo asked, though the cold shock inside him suggested the answer before he heard it.
“What you did to Genji. You gonna try it again?”
“No,” Hanzo said, too stunned to formulate a stronger answer. The question itself didn’t surprise him, only that it had taken this long for someone in Overwatch to ask it so directly, to ask it here and now. They usually talked around it or avoided the topic altogether. Even Winston, even upon Hanzo’s recruitment.
“Then yeah, I can work with you. If it turns out you’re lyin’ about that, you and I’ll have problems. Until then, well.” McCree’s mouth pulled wryly to one side right before he shoved the end of an unlit cigar between his teeth. “I wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Hanzo didn’t know whether he was supposed to laugh or not. But it was strangely refreshing, even with the lingering threat. If nothing else, he now knew exactly where McCree stood on the issue. Perhaps McCree’s plan to clear the air was a good one. Hanzo thought about that, and about the way McCree had waited, ambushed him here in the truck where there was no other distraction or means of escape, and he considered that perhaps McCree was cleverer than he’d given him credit for.
True to his more typical demeanor, McCree rolled his window down, lit his cigar, and changed the topic to much lighter fare for the rest of the drive. To his own surprise, Hanzo even found himself responding from time to time, lulled nearly into a sense of complacency by McCree’s easy manner and friendly talk.
The safehouse was a literal house right on the edge of town, a tiny, worn thing with a single bedroom. A single bed, which Hanzo chose to put out of his mind in favor of taking in the rest of their surroundings. Save for the kitchen, whose flaking wallpaper displayed a bizarre blend of fruits and blue flowers, the house’s walls were almost uniformly a bland, yellowy beige, textured as though to hide the shoddy craftmanship beneath. Most of the rooms were decorated with cheap prints of cowboys.
“Well, would you look at that,” McCree said with a laugh, dropping his duffel bag onto the bedroom’s creaky rocking chair.
“I’m sure you feel right at home,” Hanzo said wryly, carefully pulling his bow free of its case to inspect it after the journey.
“I think you’re tryin’ to offend me, and you have, but not the way you think.” McCree sounded amused. Hanzo couldn’t help but glance his way, but he didn’t ask questions. McCree explained anyway. “I’m still a thousand miles from home,” he said. “This is the South, but it ain’t my kinda south.”
Hanzo nodded as if he’d understood. A thousand miles, though. He’d look it up in his tablet later, unsure if it was a turn of phrase or literal. But the U.S. was enormous. It was almost unsettling to think about.
They lingered in the house for a time, checking their weapons and the house’s security. “How you wanna deal with the bed situation?” McCree asked, standing in the middle of the dusty kitchen. Having checked the faucet already, he was now testing the buttons on the stove and other appliances. “Don’t mind takin’ the couch.” He glanced up at Hanzo with a grin and a wiggle of his eyebrows. “Or snugglin’, if that’s your thing.”
Hanzo felt himself stiffen instinctively and had to immediately force himself to relax. “We can take turns. On the couch.”
He half expected McCree to argue with him, but McCree only shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
There was this too. Genji had insisted they might get along, if Hanzo allowed the opportunity. He could imagine his brother had told McCree much the same. Hanzo was not unwilling to try, and he was more than capable of being professional about it however successful the rest might be, but McCree flirted as though it were second nature.
It was by turns charming and irritating. A game Hanzo’d more than once considered taking him up on — had taken him up on, when McCree had caught him off guard — and the ease with which he fell into it was troubling if he let himself think too long on it. McCree was easy to get along with, even if it sometimes seemed deliberately crafted to be that way.
With an ocean between here and the Watchpoint, Hanzo wondered if it would remain easy. He wondered, too, whether that was something he should worry about.
There was a diner within walking distance of the safehouse and a biker bar just down the road. It seemed likely that a gang in the area would frequent either of the two. There were other places in town to investigate, but McCree declared with a growling stomach that they should start with the diner.
The linoleum felt sticky under Hanzo’s boots, grimy from the years in a way that no amount of cleaning could fix. The few patrons stared as they walked in, and Hanzo felt strangely self-conscious. He had done his best to take some of McCree’s advice to heart, bought cheap, fitted jeans and a pair of workman’s boots and scuffed them all to add some authenticity. But it was hot, and he hadn’t bothered to wear more than the plain black t-shirt. He saw them staring at his tattoo and at his face, and he felt, keenly, the sense that he didn’t belong here.
McCree moved from behind him as if he noticed none of these things, swaggering even here, to grab a seat at a nearby table. Hanzo only followed, and the patrons mostly turned back to their meals. Two young women in the corner continued to stare; they seemed to think themselves subtle, but Hanzo kept catching it. They giggled to each other, and he flushed to realize he’d imagined them briefly as potential threats.
Their server got on well with McCree. He’d mentioned in passing that older women had always liked him, and Sharon was no different, took to his flirting with a fine blend of skeptical and charmed. “Don’t mind the looks,” she said. “We don’t often get your type comin’ through here.”
“And what’s our type?” McCree asked, grinning up at her.
“I’m sure those gals over there’d love to know,” Sharon said with a laugh. “You boys hang around a while, you’ll hafta wave ’em off with a stick. Nothin’ but trouble.” She was smiling though, and she left with their order.
The silence between them was, if not amiable, at least not unpleasant. It seemed McCree wasn’t going to break it, for once, and Hanzo was grateful enough for it that he caught himself nearly smiling at Sharon when she brought their coffees. When Hanzo looked back, McCree was watching him. “What?”
“Nothin’, just funny seein’ you outta your element.” Hanzo didn’t care to inquire further what he meant by that. McCree took a sip of the coffee and looked surprised enough that Hanzo hesitated on drinking his own. “It’s good,” he said.
Hanzo sipped his and found it to be true. “That surprises you?”
McCree laughed. “Guess you haven’t eaten at a place like this before. Greasy spoon coffee only ever tastes like heaven or boiled dirt, nothin’ in between.”
Hanzo snorted, took another sip. He had never been much for coffee, so he supposed he didn’t have the palate to know the difference. “I’ll take your word for it.”
They enjoyed their coffee quietly until Sharon returned with the food. Hanzo’s plate had plain toast and two eggs. It had seemed the simplest option on the menu, but the fried eggs practically swam in oil, and he poked at them warily. McCree seemed to have no such misgivings; he poured a veritable lake of syrup over his waffles and ate them with noises that made Hanzo’s face heat up. “Must you?” he asked primly, and McCree swallowed his mouthful of food.
“Sorry, ’s been a long time since I had waffles. And these are great.” He raised his voice. “These are great, Sharon!” Hanzo wanted to shrink into his seat. Nothing about McCree right now matched up to Winston’s insistence on discretion. McCree clearly saw his embarrassment but only grinned at him and took a bite of bacon. “You wanna try some?”
“You are a menace,” Hanzo said, ignoring the question.
“You don’t get to judge. I’m hungry, and I love waffles.” Hanzo only looked back, nibbled on his toast. McCree watched him for a second. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had ’em.”
Hanzo sighed. “I haven’t.” His father had not been keen on sweet foods or anything else declared unfit for a healthy body, and waffles had been far from Hanzo’s biggest priority when he began to shed those old habits.
“You’re kidding.” Hanzo shook his head. McCree sawed at the pile with his knife, then shoved his fork at Hanzo, syrup dripping on the table between them. When Hanzo only stared, McCree stabbed the fork in his direction. “You gotta try it now.”
Hanzo really didn’t need him to continue making a scene. He leaned over the table and took a bite. McCree’s eyes went a little wide, and Hanzo realized belatedly he’d probably meant for Hanzo to take the fork. He backed up, chewing, and McCree snatched his hand away. Hanzo wiped syrup from his bottom lip, licked it off the tip of his finger, and McCree looked studiously at his plate.
McCree cleared his throat. “Your verdict?”
“It’s good,” Hanzo said with a shrug.
“That’s all? You’re hopeless, I’m tellin’ you.” McCree sighed, and he went back to his food. But Hanzo shoved his plate of eggs aside and ordered his own waffles, and McCree gave him a funny, lopsided grin.
They wandered later in the day, took in the shops and restaurants downtown. Many of the buildings were ancient brick and huge windows full of glass that had begun to warp; it was all weathered and crumbling like the house, like the diner and the roads they’d come in on. Nothing about the place suggested it might be home to a gang, but Hanzo supposed an outsider might have thought the same about Hanamura, if for different reasons.
They went to the biker bar that night, and Hanzo found he fit in better there than at the diner, but they found little more than they had elsewhere. They each drank just enough to blend in. They got no real leads, but McCree made one of the bartenders laugh, got friendly enough to get a further feel for the town.
The house after wasn’t as awkward as it seemed it should have been. Hanzo showered, rinsing off the smell of the old bar and feeling curiously self-conscious with the knowledge that McCree was somewhere nearby. He dressed and found McCree at the kitchen table humming some song to himself while he polished his gun, the whole thing disassembled in tidy pieces. McCree acknowledged him with only a grunt, too focused, and Hanzo went back to bed and resolutely did not think about the tender deftness of McCree’s hands.
In the morning, while McCree jogged and showered, Hanzo checked the morning news for any hints of local gang activity. When McCree emerged from the bathroom, it was in far fewer layers than usual, his undershirt clinging valiantly to his still-damp skin. Hanzo stared harder at the tablet. At least McCree had put on proper pants, though the denim was worn in places and tight enough across his thighs that it made Hanzo slightly irritable.
For breakfast, they went back to the diner, where Sharon greeted them as before. McCree smirked when Hanzo ordered waffles again.
“And what are you two gettin’ into today?” she asked.
“Little sight-seeing, maybe a little trouble,” McCree answered, and she laughed.
“Got your hands full with this one, don’t you?” she asked Hanzo, who could only smile and nod, not entirely certain how the question was meant.
Sharon asked them what they were doing in town. “Just takin’ a nice vacation before it gets too hot,” McCree answered. “City life gets under my skin after a while.”
“I hear that,” she said with a laugh. “Y’all get to take vacations together often?”
Something about the way she asked it grabbed Hanzo’s attention again, but it was McCree who answered. “Not as much as we’d like to, that’s for sure. But he’s real into old towns like these. Just loves his antiques.”
Hanzo shot him a glare. This was not the cover story they’d discussed. “One of us has to have some taste,” he said. Sharon laughed at them both.
“You two are cute as a button.”
McCree beamed at her then winked at Hanzo, who saved his answering glare until Sharon had walked away. “I don’t believe that was necessary.”
McCree only shrugged. “Gotta roll with it sometimes,” he said. It itched at Hanzo, but he didn’t argue. Couldn’t, in public like this. Whatever Sharon saw, it was best to be those men. They’d be more forgettable, in the end. Still, when McCree asked, “Could you pass the syrup, buttercup?” Hanzo slid it hard enough across the table that it knocked McCree’s half-drunk coffee into his lap. He worked very hard to look concerned about it, too.
Hanzo had to stare into his plate of waffles while McCree scrubbed at his wet pants, but it was nonetheless worth it to hear him complain about chafing all the way back to the house.
After McCree got cleaned up again, dressed himself in another pair of jeans no less obscene than the first, Hanzo confronted him. “You changed our cover story. Without asking.”
“She saw what she did, and arguin’ the point was gonna stick out,” McCree said with a shrug.
“I’m not unaware of how to do this job,” Hanzo said. “But we are partners, are we not?”
McCree stared at him for a moment then, as if assessing him. “We are,” he answered slowly.
“Then you do not get to make decisions for both of us.”
McCree looked as though he meant to argue then thought better of it. The measuring look did not go away. “Fair enough,” he said. “I’m more used to workin’ alone, but I can do better to run it by you first. You gotta be willing to improvise though.”
Hanzo had to work to unclench his jaw. Although McCree’s condescension to tell Hanzo how to do his job grated, his willingness to concede the point was an unexpected olive branch. “Of course,” Hanzo said. After a moment, he smirked, and he enjoyed the way McCree tried to hide his squirming. “I hope you don’t find that dating me was a mistake.”
They did indeed decide to go to the antique stores. Partly it seemed necessary for the cover McCree had so blithely changed, but partly, too, it made sense to look into everything they could, particularly locations that might have large storage capacities. He wandered through one musty shop, trailed fingers over some “authentic” Japanese antiques.
McCree smiled at him a little funny, hands in his pockets. “Enjoyin’ yourself, darlin’?” he asked, and Hanzo found himself irritated to realize that he might be.
“These are cheap. Manufactured for Westerners who don’t know any better. Overpriced.” Still, he ran a finger down a cabinet door, traced the lines of the branches carved into it.
“Pardon?” came a voice, and he turned, found a young white woman staring at him, her arms crossed. “You got a problem with the merchandise?”
Hanzo felt embarrassed, caught out as he was. McCree came to his rescue. “No insult meant, ma’am. But he knows his stuff.”
“Some kind of appraiser?” She looked skeptical.
“I grew up in a very… traditional household. I’ve seen the real thing.” She seemed to relax a little. “You may have been misled about these items.”
She hummed to herself. “You think they’re fake?”
He looked at the one under his hand again. “Not fake. Mass produced. This piece can’t be more than twenty years old.”
She nodded, looked thoughtful. “That’s been here since before I took over. Pop never did do enough research. I’ll have to call in a real appraiser, I guess. ’Til then, you mind tellin’ me if I got anything that is authentic?”
Hanzo walked her through the pieces, pointed out and translated the labels for different factories throughout Japan — in lucky cases — and elsewhere that marked her pieces as mass produced. She took it surprisingly well, laughing when he translated some of the writing as only rubbish, some jumbled unrelated words and some entirely made up. There were others that were harder to identify, but he could still share the sense that they hadn’t been handcrafted and certainly had not earned the respect of age. But they did find a tea bowl, shot through with gold where it had been cracked before. He told her to double her asking rate on that one.
McCree wore that funny smile as they left, and Hanzo enjoyed watching it falter briefly when he slung an arm around McCree’s waist. “A better boyfriend would have bought me that bowl,” Hanzo said.
“Well shit, sugar, I didn’t know it was like that.” He sounded as though he weren’t entirely sure of himself, for once. “You didn’t ask.”
“I shouldn’t have to,” Hanzo insisted, made himself sound as petulant as his pride would allow, and McCree let out a chuckle.
“I’ll make it up to you. Dinner’s on me.”
The restaurant might have been some form of payback: it was a big place with giant antlers mounted on the walls, where there weren’t entire animal heads. McCree got a massive steak that made Hanzo a little sick to think about and introduced him to the concept of sweet, cold tea. Hanzo took one sip and refused to drink it, declared it an abomination and watched in horror as McCree drained both their glasses.
He was surprised to find that he enjoyed himself, although he supposed he should not have been by now. Out of the Watchpoint and unburdened by the intense focus on their larger directive, McCree was funny, if sometimes incomprehensible. He was sharp and direct, a little disarming. He made it easy to forget how easily he could kill a man.
“Well, ain’t that a sight,” McCree said, looking right at him. Hanzo felt his hand tense a little on his fork, a bite of fish halfway to his mouth. He realized he’d been smiling. “You in a good mood for once?”
“I’m sure it will pass if you continue talking.”
“Hell of a way to talk to the love of your life,” McCree said with a smirk.
“I never said I loved you for your wit.”
“Ouch. You callin’ me dumb?” McCree’s eyes went wide with feigned injury.
Hanzo could feel the smile on his face, struggling to break free even as he tried to school it to something more stern. “If you have to ask… Well. It’s a good thing you’re pretty.”
For the barest second, McCree looked genuinely surprised, which Hanzo suspected he only caught because he’d just seen the false version. Then McCree snorted at him and went back to his food, although he kept glancing back at Hanzo with a tiny smile on his face. It seemed almost smug. But he looked up once more, and his expression snapped suddenly into something far more serious. He tapped his metal hand on the table, drew Hanzo’s attention, and jerked his chin almost imperceptibly.
Hanzo risked a quick glance over his shoulder at the men McCree had indicated. There were three of them, dressed like the bikers in the bar, but they had no qualms about walking around armed. Subtle, Hanzo huffed quietly to himself. They walked to the back of the restaurant, didn’t seem to notice Hanzo and McCree. The two of them weren’t the only patrons watching anyway, and they were far less conspicuous about it than the others.
The men disappeared through some door marked Employees Only, and Hanzo relaxed a little. Some kind of backroom deal then, maybe just a shakedown for the owner of the restaurant. Whatever they were doing, they weren’t going to put on a big show here.
“They got some fine food here,” McCree said, made a show of stretching and patting his stomach. “Think we could try this place again?”
Hanzo crept around the back of the restaurant, but he only found an off-duty waiter enjoying a smoke break. He watched for a moment, breathed through his mouth to avoid the stench of the nearby dumpster, but he saw nothing else useful. He made his way back around, a different way than he’d come, and found McCree loitering outside the restaurant, finishing off a smoke.
“You find your wallet alright, darlin’? Took you a minute.”
There were people out on the sidewalks, throwing passing glances their way. Hanzo pulled out his wallet and waved it at McCree. On a whim, he then plucked the cigar from McCree’s mouth, watching McCree’s eyes widen while he slowly took a drag. When he was finished, he asked, “Did you remember where you parked the car?” McCree nodded mutely.
They didn’t follow the gang members, but McCree had seen their car, memorized the details. It was a lead, at least.
Back at the house, McCree tried to get him to play a guessing game: extortion or a cover for their shipments? Hanzo shrugged. “Why not both?” He described how they had done it in Hanamura sometimes, used the supply room under the ramen shop to stash smaller crates of guns among the food stores.
McCree seemed to find the answer funny, then suggested they try the bar again. They did, and McCree talked Hanzo into a game of darts while they waited. He did better than Hanzo expected, even when Hanzo pressed up on his toes to rest his chin on McCree’s shoulder; McCree still lost, but he accepted it gracefully. The men from the restaurant did show up, but they only drank and kept to themselves at a table in the corner.
Hanzo and McCree snugged up to the bar, turned so they could eye the crowd. They kept up the appearance of idle chatter, and McCree kept his hip wedged up against Hanzo’s, one arm draped over his shoulder. He remained that way, a warm presence dedicated to trying to one-up Hanzo, until a woman approached the bar. She was petite, with blonde curls tumbling over her suntanned shoulders. Hanzo couldn’t place her age well, but she wasn’t young, exactly.
She eyed McCree, and Hanzo felt something like anger spike in his stomach. It had no right to be there; he blamed the cheap whiskey and set the glass down immediately. “Aren’t you a tall drink of water?” she cooed.
McCree let go of Hanzo and leaned back against the bar, gave her a slow smile. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Have I seen you around before? You look familiar.” She continued to eye McCree over her drink. Hanzo couldn’t tell if it was a line or not.
“We were here last night.”
“I wasn’t. Think I would’ve noticed you.”
“Ah, well. Been told I got one of those faces.” McCree scratched a hand through his beard, then stuck it out. “Name’s John.”
She took it, lingered too long. “Natalie. And your friend?”
“Boyfriend,” Hanzo corrected. He didn’t offer his hand.
“I see,” she answered slowly, but her smirk didn’t fade. “Can I buy you boys a drink?” Hanzo could feel her smile crawling unpleasantly under his skin.
“How ’bout a rain check?” McCree asked, flashed her another little grin. “We were just about to head out.”
She excused herself, plainly disappointed, and Hanzo felt relieved, and annoyed that it had bothered him so. They paid for their drinks and left, but not before they saw her move to sit with the gang members they’d been tailing. Hanzo told himself he’d known it in his gut, and the rest had only been the whiskey.