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Against the Eastern Gates of Paradise

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Ashe swept her hand over the thin, papery sheet covering her cell’s cot, momentarily indulging the part of her that wanted to cry at the thought of such unsatisfactory sleeping arrangements when her own bed was only a few miles away. They’d been charged almost immediately after being arrested, and the judge had insisted that neither of them be granted bail this time, finally wising up to her ability to pay any price so that she and Jesse could walk away laughing, heading back to digs far more comfortable and indulgent than a government salary could provide. That, or they’d finally gotten into serious trouble. She knew it was the latter.

The job was supposed to be a sure thing. Collins, with all of his experience, had assured them that it’d be as easy as a bank robbery could be. Ashe should’ve known better than to listen to him, remembered the years he’d spent in prison after getting caught instead of trusting in his confidence. Still, she’d agreed that he and Mariana would handle the computers, and that Ashe and Jesse would guard the lobby. A hundred thousand credits apiece, instantly transferred into the accounts Mariana’s friend from back home had set up for them. It wasn’t much to Ashe, of course, but the notoriety they were bound to generate was worth so much more. It was high time the Deadlock Rebels were taken seriously as a player in the region. They’d been too small-time, too cautious until now. Ashe was ready for the power play.

But the cops had shown up earlier than expected, and Jesse, ever eager to show off at the expense of the law, let his itchy trigger finger get the better of him. Ashe had no choice but to shoot too, then, until they were looking at three dead officers, two more wounded, inconvenient graze wounds on their own arms, and dozens of terrified hostages. She’d grabbed Jesse by the elbow and dragged him out a side door with no plan as to where they’d run to, and sure enough it didn’t take long before their victims’ buddies caught up with them. Now here they were, at the county jail, sitting in holding cells on opposite sides of a hallway, two sets of iron bars between them.

Jesse was already lounging on his bunk, his hands behind his head and his hat over his face, looking entirely unbothered by the situation. Ashe stared at him as she sat down on her own thin mattress, puzzled even after all this time by his adaptability. It had been over two years since he’d tried to rob her and instead wound up moving into one of the mansion’s many empty bedrooms, but he’d still not developed Ashe’s dependence on the finer things. He’d given her some line about it once: “Your spoon was silver; mine was plastic, probably fished outta the trash at McDonalds.” She shifted her weight, trying to find the least uncomfortable position the cot would afford, and frowned at the wave of jealousy she felt at how that difference, which neither of them had asked for or could control, left her weak in moments like these while Jesse could sleep easy enough.

She shouldn’t have been surprised that he could either hear her movements or sense the simmering frustration emanating from her across the gap between their cells. Without even opening his eyes, he called out in a voice that rang more mocking than concerned: “You alright over there, Your Highness?”

Had she been a more thoughtful woman, Ashe might’ve realized that Jesse wasn’t actually angry with her, but instead blamed himself. She might’ve accepted that Collins had probably known this was the likely outcome and seized an opportunity to relieve himself of the inconvenience of the kids he’d chosen to partner up with. She might’ve recognized that she should be grateful none of hostages died, even if the dead pigs were enough to earn her a life sentence on their own. She might’ve even set her mind to work to devise a plan to let Jesse plead out, to save him some jail time or even get him tried as a minor.

But Elizabeth Caledonia Ashe, with all the wisdom that nearly twenty years of privilege and bad behavior could ensure, was not yet a thoughtful woman. All she could focus on was how badly she wanted a drink and a bath. She settled in on her side, looking outward from her cell, and tucked her knees into her chest. She almost let herself cry, instead squeezing her eyes shut tight in an effort to will herself out of this mess.

“I’m just peachy,” she muttered after too long a pause, and Jesse chuckled bitterly to himself.

He sat up, back against the wall and legs stretched in front of him, looking her in the eye as he shifted his hat back onto his head. “Can’t say for sure, but I’m guessin’ the beds will at least be a little better at the places they’re sending us tomorrow. They’d better be, if we’ll be sleepin’ on ‘em for the next 30 years.” His voice only wavered a little as he said it, and the corner of his mouth twitched in a forced attempt at a smile. He meant it as a joke, of course, maybe one that could calm both their nerves. Always trying to be brave, always trying to help her do the same. That was Jesse.

She had to meet him halfway, or at least had to try, so even as she couldn’t bring herself to sit up, she held his gaze and set her jaw. Her voice was like a low growl, her determination audibly underwritten by resentment at their present situation. “Listen here, you can’t think like that right now. We’ve got the best lawyers in Texas workin’ for us, and Collins and Mariana have probably already cooked up some kind of scheme to bust us out. One way or another, we’ll be back home in time for Fourth of July fireworks.” Jesse dipped his head and rubbed at his eyes, and at the sight Ashe felt the sting of tears well up in her own. She blinked hard but wouldn’t look away from him. “I promise you.”

They sat in silence after that, the emptiness of their holding cells and the distance between them a stark reminder that, rich or poor, neither of them had much of anything besides each other. Come morning, though, he’d be shipped off to juvie and she’d go to the women’s prison; they couldn’t stay in the sheriff’s lockup for the next six months awaiting trial. He’ll probably be fine, Ashe considered. Jesse didn’t put up with anyone’s shit, and she’d seen him take a beating that would’ve felled grown men twice his size.

I’m not gonna make it to 21, though. Even if the other inmates learned she wouldn’t be as easy a target as she looked, the guards would have no problem allowing ‘accidents’ to happen to a cop killer, let alone one who came from the kind of family she did.

She swallowed hard and looked up at the florescent lights of the hallway. Three years of committing crimes, a year and a half with the gang – she considered that maybe she’d just been playing pretend the entire time, dressing up in a costume that she could take off at the end of the day. Sure, she had a knack for identifying a mark, planning a job, hot-wiring hovercars and bikes, shooting a rifle… but which of those carefully honed skills would help her now? Collins had spent over a year telling her she was insufferable, a dictatorial drama queen who never really led, just barked orders. Jesse had always come back with the retort that Collins was full of shit, that if he was such a good leader he would’ve been able to organize a crew himself without having to find two kids to do the bulk of the work. But tonight, with Collins presumably running free 200 miles away while those kids who were so damn smart cried themselves to sleep in their jail cells, Ashe couldn’t bring herself to believe it.

After a time, she heard faint snores from Jesse’s cell. She rolled over on the cot to stare at the grey cinderblock wall behind her in the hopes that it could lull her to sleep as well. Steadying her breath, she finally closed her eyes and drifted off.

~

She couldn’t be sure how long she’d been out, but Ashe awoke to the sound of heavy footsteps approaching from the hallway. There must’ve been a shift change since they’d been brought in – an officer she didn’t recognize strode up to Jesse’s cell and loudly slammed his hand against the bars. Jesse jolted upright, and Ashe could see his unconscious groping under the thin pillow as though he’d find Peacekeeper there. The cop laughed disdainfully as Jesse got his bearings, then moved to unlock the cell door.

“C’mon, McCree. Got someone here who wants to talk to you. Or he might wanna beat the shit out of ya, honestly not sure, but the sheriff says you gotta go one way or the other.” He entered the cell and held up a set of cuffs. Bleary-eyed, Jesse held out his wrists without any resistance.

Ashe was on her feet immediately. “You can’t talk to him without his lawyer present!” she yelled in angry desperation. “I know our rights and he doesn’t gotta talk to y’all without counsel!”

The officer’s surprise seemed genuine, but when he turned to look at her Ashe found nothing but amusement in his eyes.

“What do you think this is, girlie, the 30’s? We don’t gotta give you kids shit, whether you can pay for it or not. Besides,” he grabbed the chain between Jesse’s wrists and yanked. “His new friend is someone real special. More power than even your daddy could buy.” With a snicker, the officer dragged Jesse down the hall and around a corner, out of Ashe’s sight.

She screamed back after them, attempting to rattle the bars of her own cell gate. “YOU DON’T GOTTA TELL ‘EM ANYTHING, MCCREE!” She sighed in exasperation and eventually let herself return to her cot, flopping down on it to wait for him to come back.

With no clock and no windows visible from her cell, Ashe couldn’t measure the time as it passed. Whether it really had been hours or her anxiety had slowed time to a standstill, she felt she’d been waiting forever before she first stood to pace.

By the second time she abandoned the bunk, she’d convinced herself that Jesse was probably never coming back.

It wasn’t until her fifth set of laps around the six-by-six cage that she heard two sets of footsteps in the hallway.

Jesse had a funny look on his face as the deputy walked him back to his cell. He stared at Ashe, clearly considering his words, as his cuffs came off and the barred gate slid shut. It made her nervous; what had happened? Who had he talked to? Clearly, he didn’t want to say much in front of the deputy, who was now opening Ashe’s cell and holding the cuffs out to her.

“C’mon, your turn.”

She stood her ground, fists clenched and glued to her sides. Until she knew what was going on, she wasn’t about to go anywhere. The officer grabbed her, his grip too strong and his glee at finally having an excuse to rough her up a bit apparent. She snarled as she struggled against him, but he managed to slap the cuffs on her wrists all the same.

Finally, as the deputy dragged her down the hall, McCree spoke up. “Just do what he says, Ashe.”

  


 

“You read the whole file? And you’re still sure you want her?”

“Have you ever known me to be anything but thorough? I know who she is and what she can do. I’m confident she’ll be useful.”

What she can do, hmm? Not what she’s done?

“Hmph. Jack’s gonna want my head for this, you know. You’d better hope I can come up with some good arguments on the flight back, or else I’ll be sure to take you down with me when he turns me over to the UN.”

“‘No one left behind.’ A man of your word, for better or for worse.”

“Heh, wouldn’t be the first time that’s gotten me into trouble. Or you, for that matter.”

“No, it wouldn’t be.”

Not in the mood for jokes, I see.

“I know it’s late there. Get some rest. Chances are, you’re gonna have a much bigger hassle than me on your hands before you know it.”

“I look forward to the challenge, Commander.”

With a soft click, the line disconnected, and Gabe pulled the phone away from his ear. He looked down at the styrofoam cup of lukewarm coffee that sat on the table in front of him and let out a soft groan. He’d hoped to have wrapped things up here hours ago, to have swung through a drive thru on the way back to his motel, to be eating greasy fries and watching trash TV, lying on the shitty mattress with no intention of going anywhere else for the rest of the night. He didn’t get trips like these often enough anymore, time spent alone to turn off his brain for even just a few hours, to indulge in the few distinctly American vices he’d given up years ago. But now it seemed that his evening, just like his entire day, was to be spent in the delightful company of megalomaniacal local cops and dirt bag teenagers. At least the station was a refuge from the oppressive Texas heat; he’d had to put his hoodie back on to feel comfortable in the air conditioned building. 

“Thanks for saving the fuckin’ world, Reyes,” he muttered to no one.

He heard the door to the interrogation room open and peered through the one-way glass as Nelson brought the second kid in and shoved her toward the metal chair. She looked about ready to spit in his face as she sat, the white of her teeth standing in stark contrast to the persistent red stain on her snarling lips. While the deputy fixed her cuffs to the table, though, the girl turned her gaze straight toward Gabe as though she could actually see him. It was enough to make him chuckle – the boy had tried to play it tough too, had kept his cool much longer than Gabe had expected. This one, though, was coming on too strong, working herself up before she even knew what this meeting was. She’d be easy to break.

Nelson left the room, and Gabe let her sit for a few minutes, studying her face. He’d hoped he wouldn’t have even had to meet with this one, could just get the younger kid talking and wrap things up nice and neat. Of course, that was before he realized that what he came here to do and what he’d leave having done were two wildly different things, that he wasn’t just going to send these kids to prison and call it a day. Unlike the first one, though, Gabe didn’t feel much sympathy at all for this girl. He knew who she was and that she had no excuse for the choices she’d made. She never broke that stare, though, even without any certainty that someone was on the other side of the glass to see it. This had better be worth it, he thought as he sighed, picked up his coffee and the case file, and opened the door to where she sat.

At this point, Gabe had no need to read the information from his notes, but he pretended to anyway. “Elizabeth Ashe. Age 19, official address outta University Park, but you’ve been living out here in Donley County for the last two years. Family’s got land, it seems, and lots of it.” He glanced up at her, found her eyes fixed on him even more intensely than before, now that she had someone in particular to look at. They unsettled him a bit; more crimson than brown, unlike anything he’d ever seen in someone without enhancements, and her file suggested she hadn’t had any work done. There was practically no chance that she’d opted for some back-alley job, not when she could afford actual surgeons and artists.

“Previous charges include B&E’s, armed robbery, assault on an officer, resisting arrest, possession of unlicensed firearms… and vandalism? Must’ve been the kid’s fault, seems a bit reckless for someone as ambitious as yourself.” Her eyebrow twitched and her teeth ground together at the mention of her partner in crime. Gabe wasn’t surprised, given how the kid had reacted to a similar implication in their earlier conversation.

He circled the table to stand behind her, and finally she let him leave her line of sight, instead focusing her gaze on her own clenched fists. “You’ve always got a plan, don’t you, for how each job fits into the bigger picture. At least you did, until yesterday. Things didn’t go the way you’d planned them, not at all.” He leaned down to speak directly in her ear, lowering his voice as though their conversation wasn’t being recorded for the sheriff’s records as well as his own.

“Who fired the first shot, Ashe? The sheriff’s guys say it was you, but that seems out of character for a thief who’s normally so calculating.” There was no hiding the smugness in his voice; it didn’t matter if she answered the question, which he knew she wouldn’t, because he’d made an unspoken threat that he was sure would force her hand.

“I don’t have to tell you anything,” she growled, still staring at her cuffed hands. “And I want my goddamn lawyer.”

He couldn’t help but laugh; both of these kids had been lying, cheating, stealing, and killing without any indication of a second thought, but now they’d both shown how truly naïve they were about the way this world worked. Ashe turned to look at him, a desperate frustration written across her face.

“Surprised your friend didn’t tell you: those rules haven’t mattered for years, and even if they did, they don’t apply to me. I’m no cop.” He flashed her a smile that was both playful and menacing, stifling an urge to laugh as she visibly cycled from confusion to fear and back to anger. He strode around the table again to sit down across from her, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest to emphasize just how much he was enjoying this discussion. “Don’t tell me you don’t recognize me either? I really should’ve demanded a better spot in the posters, I could’ve held my own next to those pretty boys Wilhelm and Morrison.”

The joke had been for his own enjoyment; he hadn’t expected her to catch on right away. But those dark red eyes went wide with understanding, and he was torn between annoyance that he’d ruined his own introduction and a begrudging appreciation for how quickly she’d connected the dots, an awareness he hadn’t expected even knowing what he did about her.

He also hadn’t expected her to respond, but she spoke in a whisper that still managed to ring of distrust and resentment and maybe, perhaps, reverent fear. “You’re Overwatch.”

“Commander Gabriel Reyes, at your service.” He flashed that grin again, and Ashe actually winced. “Well, not at your service, you’re a damn dirty criminal. But you know what I mean.”

This was fun now, almost as good as his fast food and bad television. He’d conducted plenty of interrogations over the last few years, but the stakes were always too high to relax into the work like this. But there was no way for him to lose this game; while he wouldn’t have chosen this kid as his opponent, there was little chance she’d be stupid enough to pass on cutting a deal just because he’d fucked with her a bit before making an offer.

He paused for a moment, though, to think of Jack. He probably wouldn’t care for Gabe’s approach, but he’d either be too mad about the bigger matter at hand to deliver a lecture about professionalism, or he’d never hear the tapes at all. And besides, wasn’t this exactly the kind of thing he’d been tasked with? Questioning a suspect, no matter the precise… methods involved, would always require a different touch than the meetings with bureaucrats that fell to the Strike Commander. Gabe had been given the freedom from official oversight for a reason, and he was glad for it.

Ashe’s voice, steelier now after a moment to collect herself, brought his attention back to the interrogation room. “If I didn’t recognize your face, I wouldn’t believe you. Why would Overwatch be concerned with a couple of kids who had a run in with the cops in Nowhere, Texas? Aren’t you supposed to be fightin’ off the aliens or the anarchists or whoever’s threatening to take over the world today?” The way she studied Gabe’s face suggested that her sarcasm was just a front, that the question was an earnest one.

He shrugged. “A menace to society is a menace to society.” This time, there was no stopping the chuckle that rumbled in his chest as he watched Ashe’s face grow red with frustration at not getting a straight answer. “And maybe the sheriff’s an old Army buddy I owed a favor. He’s real sick of you Deadlock assholes, you know? Especially you, Princess.”

“I knew he was incompetent, but having to call on a leader of the international military police to take care of some small time robbers really is something else.” She wasn’t smiling, not really, but Gabe could see that she enjoyed the idea that she’d been too much for the local guys to manage. “I s’pose you wanna know where Collins is, then. He’d be the one y’all are looking for.”

Trying to take control of her own interrogation was a downright plucky move, a clever way of earning points on the test Ashe didn’t even know she was taking, but she’d started down a dangerous path by implying she’d sell out one of her crew. She hadn’t exactly impressed Gabe, but she also hadn’t waved any red flags in his face until now. The girl was clearly smart, feisty, and by all accounts plenty capable with weapons and tech. She was also arrogant, and angry, and entitled. But Gabe’s decision about her hung almost exclusively on something else entirely.

His eyes narrowed, and he leaned forward, eager for her to give him a reason to make a deal. “Well, Elizabeth, that depends. What is it you’re looking for?”

She paused for a moment, but never looked away from his face. It was clear she knew what she wanted to say, but she bit her lip as though giving voice to her demands scared her more than she wanted to let on. Gabe realized, for the first time since she’d been brought into the room, just how young she was to be gambling like this, especially against a house that couldn’t lose. A part of him wanted her to swing for the fences, ask for everything and then some; another part wanted to see some humility, maybe even some remorse for the stealing and the killing. But really, there was only one right answer.

“I want immunity on the robbery charges,” she spoke slowly, as though one wrong word could seal her fate here and now. Gabe supposed it could, especially as she paused, leaving him to wonder if there’d be more. The moment that passed before she spoke again felt like a full minute, when really it had only been enough time for her to inhale, puffing up her chest and squaring her shoulders. “And I want McCree cleared of all of his charges.”

Bingo.

Gabe was admittedly a little bit surprised, but he schooled his face into skepticism rather than relief. “You wanna take the heat for this mess so the kid can walk? What if I told you he turned on you so quick it gave me whiplash? Didn’t seem to have a second thought about it, so long as I could help him out.”

He couldn’t manage to keep his expression neutral when she actually smiled at him, a self-satisfied smirk that broke into a dry laugh that was downright cocky. It was off-putting, not because he’d been caught in his bluff, but because it quickly reminded him of just what kind of jackass she was. “Then I’d call you a liar.”

He stood, leaning as far over the table as he could to cut a form he knew was intimidating to even the most hardened criminals. “Who fired the first shot, Ashe?”

She knew the game now, she had to know. A lie for a lie. In any other context, it’d be damning for her to take the blame. But today, she’d get what she wanted, and so would Gabe, if she proved herself loyal to the ones who had her back. She never looked away from him.

“I did.”

 


 

 

As Reyes explained how he could bypass any local law enforcement he wanted, how he had looked at Jesse and thought he couldn’t send a kid like that to prison, how Jesse had replied that he wouldn’t go anywhere without Ashe, all she could hear was a ringing in her ears. She’d just confessed to something she hadn’t done, something she thought would cost her 20 some years of her life at least, making peace with it in that moment as the right thing to do for once. Finding out, then, that it hadn’t mattered, that Jesse’s loyalty to her had ensured she could walk out of this station and into a new life, was like having the entire earth disappear from underneath her, leaving her falling and floating in space all at once. She pressed her feet into the floor, clenched her hands to dig her nails into the meat of her palms, and tried to focus on Reyes’ voice to bring herself back down to solid ground.

He was facing away from her now, his words bouncing off the reflective surface of the room’s one-way glass window. “You’ll be on probation for a long time, of course, can’t just have any old failed bank robber tasked with international security work. But we’ll train you, the best training you could ever get. The UN’s promised Overwatch any and all resources we need, and that’s only the beginning. I can get my hands on just ab-“

“I’m sorry, but this is all a little much. Could you explain again what, exactly, it is you’re proposin’ I join?” When he glanced over his shoulder, she couldn’t help but feel sheepish in the admission that she hadn’t listened more closely. He sighed and ran a hand over his short hair.

“Don’t make me regret my offer because you can’t pay attention. I can’t say much here, but I’ve been building a covert ops task force within Overwatch. A group capable of gathering intel, and then some. Recruitment’s been hard, for reasons that I’m sure you can imagine. It’s unconventional, but let’s just say that you and the kid have piqued my interest. It’d be a shame to let you rot in prison instead of putting your skills to better use.”

She spoke slowly, overemphasizing her disbelief in his story. “You want me and McCree to become secret agents and help you save the world… because we can shoot?”

“Because he can shoot,” Reyes corrected her. “And because you can plan a job and drive a bargain.” He looked above and past her, like there was more he could say but adamantly didn’t want to. She let out a breath, not quite a laugh nor a sigh, to signal that she wasn’t entirely convinced, and his attention returned. “I also wouldn’t call it ‘saving the world.’ Whole damn planet’s too complicated for that kind of talk.” She nodded back at him, slightly more certain that he was someone she could follow.

Getting comfortable, even just a little bit, was a mistake, though. His eyes went dark as he leaned forward once again, as he had while questioning her, and his voice was icy. She instinctually leaned away as best she could, her hands still chained to the table.

“And let me be clear – this isn’t an act of charity. You come with me, you’re still doing time for your sins. Our work is hard work, dangerous work, thankless work. Far from a ‘get out of jail free’ card or a trip to some resort. You wanna join my crew? I own your ass for however many years I think it takes until you’ve paid up in full. You’d better not forget it, because I sure as hell won’t." 

Ashe could hear nothing over her own heartbeat pounding in her ears, and she wondered if Reyes could hear it as well. He’d finally been straightforward with her, and while she appreciated the honesty, it scared her. Had he given Jesse the same speech? She couldn’t imagine Jesse swallowing his pride and bowing down to such a threat, whether it was the smart thing to do or not. 

“Yes sir,” she replied curtly with a quick nod and a glance at her hands.

Reyes turned away from her again, headed to the door he’d entered through. “We have an understanding, then. You’ll have to wait while I have a quick chat with the local boys here, but then we’ll go pick up your things and get the hell outta Dodge. I’d say you’ve got about 20 minutes to change your mind, so you be sure to think long and hard about what you want for your next 15 years.”

As he exited, the deputy who’d brought her from her cell reappeared. For as uncertain as she felt, she found relief in how visibly deflated his ego was now, enjoying the way that he shuffled over to detach her cuffs from the table. There was no surprise that he left them on as he led her back to the holding cells; Ashe had a feeling that it’d be a long while before she was left unsupervised again, now that Reyes had a say in such things.

Jesse jumped to his feet when he saw her round the corner. She almost laughed at his face, eyes wide with hope and his mouth contorted into a grimace that suggested he was bracing himself for the worst. Instead, though, she turned her glare toward the deputy as he shoved her gently back into her cell, unchained her wrists, and slid the gate closed. Once he was out of sight, she looked back to McCree, her face still bearing the kind of vague anger she usually defaulted to.

“What the hell kind of trouble have you gotten us into this time, Jesse?”

It had seemed impossible that his eyes could go any wider than they already were, but they did. He opened his mouth to respond but for once couldn’t seem to find the words, and his tanned face flushed slightly. He managed to scoff and blurt out an exasperated “Me??” before she broke, her laugh downright giddy now that she’d finally let herself relax into the realization that they weren’t going to prison. Jesse dropped onto his cot and dragged his hands over his face, far less amused with Ashe’s reaction than she was.

“Jesus, Ashe.” He stared at her in disbelief, just shaking his head as she laughed even harder now. It was nerves, of that she was well aware, but there was a comfort in the way it let her mind go blank, even if only for a moment. She sat down too, drawing deep breaths between giggles in an effort to regain her composure. Jesse tried again: “So you said yes, then?” 

Ashe was not accustomed to displays of fondness or affection, but she could feel her eyes narrow in some new kind of way, shaped by the movement of her cheeks as she smiled without abandon. “You know this is almost definitely a huge mistake, right?” It was a mistake she wasn’t going to question too hard today, though, and unsurprisingly it didn’t seem Jesse was going to either. He sighed in relief and smiled back at her, finally finding the humor in it and letting out a chuckle of his own.

“Yeah, a mistake for Overwatch. If this Reyes had half a brain cell, he’d’ve realized splittin’ us up woulda been the right choice.”

There was something unreadable in his expression, a flicker of what almost looked like sheepishness as he scratched a hand over the edge of his jaw right below his ear. For the first time, Ashe was glad to see him indulge the bad habit, a clear tell to anyone who knew how to look. She’d admonished him for it over and over, but now she took it as a sign that he might not be as arrogant and stupid as he sounded. There was a lot that was uncertain at this point, but Ashe was confident that underestimating Reyes would be the fastest way to turn their new lives into a hellish kind of servitude, if not something worse.

It felt like a good time to shift the subject a bit. “I’ve got the feeling the beds wherever he’s gonna take us are still gonna be worse than the ones back at the house.” She laid back on the cot, pulling her feet up as she shifted, her eyes on the ceiling so she didn’t have to look at him.

“It’ll be nice to not have to worry about runnin’ into your parents whenever I go to make a sandwich, though.” Jesse’s voice was somber, but Ashe’s laugh in response was genuine. She hadn’t even thought about that bit yet, the part where this unexpected offer would keep her out of two very different prisons.

They fell silent then, and while she couldn’t be certain that Jesse was feeling the same, Ashe was relieved to have some time to think, just as Reyes had instructed. There was no coming back from this, from breaking what might have been her number one rule within the fledgling gang: don’t work with the law. Then there was the matter of Reyes’ warning, that this wasn’t going to be easy, might even be worse than serving time in some ways. But if there was one thing Ashe felt confident about, it’s that Overwatch would be a refuge from the boredom she’d been trying to outrun these last few years, and the feeling that her life was destined to be determined by the demands of the family business and her terrible parents and, eventually, some equally terrible husband. Whatever Jesse’s reasoning for accepting Reyes’ offer, she knew her own, and reflecting on it only strengthened her conviction that ‘yes’ had been the right answer.

Two sets of heavy footsteps grew louder, and Ashe sat up in anticipation. Their friend the deputy, with his tail between his legs, unlocked her cell first. She made sure it was clear she was mocking him when she thanked him, and she could feel Reyes’ glare even as she refused to meet it. When Jesse was out of his cell too, the deputy just turned and walked away from them wordlessly. 

“C’mon. I’ve spent enough time in this dump,” Reyes muttered, turning to lead them down the hallway in the opposite direction from where the deputy had just gone. Ashe couldn’t agree more, and she strode after him without a second thought. The way Jesse hung back was obvious, though, and they didn’t make it far before Reyes turned around looking annoyed and short-tempered. “What now, kid?”

Jesse clenched his fists and inhaled as though he were about to make some kind of counter offer now that he was no longer under lock and key. Ashe’s heartbeat echoed through her ears again as she panicked, considering that he might really say something to screw this up already.

“Are we gonna get our guns back?” Jesse was trying his hardest to look confident, but now that she watched them together, Ashe realized he was intimidated by Reyes too, if in his own way. “They’re both family heirlooms, and while this one’s got more than enough of that kind of crap,” he gestured to her with a jerky nod of his head, “mine’s the only thing I have left from my Papa." 

Reyes blinked in what Ashe read as both disbelief and, shockingly, tenderness, and then he chuckled softly and dipped his head.

“Sure, kid, if they mean that much to you. I’ve seen ‘em though, and I can promise you we’ve got weapons from this century for you back at HQ.”

Satisfied with the answer, Jesse just nodded at him, and they continued on down the hallway, toward their guns and their new lives. 

 


 

 

Gabriel Reyes had shit taste in music. Jesse had gone to turn the dial on the hovercar’s stereo, but Reyes slapped his hand away, and now they were all stuck listening to some unintelligible screaming and tuneless guitars as they made their way to the ranch. Arms folded across his chest, Jesse grumbled and figured it was inevitable. No old man, not even one who looked like that and had a powerful job and knew all sorts of ways to kill a man, had good taste in music. It wouldn’t be so bad, he thought, if there was much of anything to look at out the window, but all that passed were the same fields and cattle and white crosses on the side of the road that he’d been looking at for the last two years.

He glanced sideways at Reyes, who’d peeled off his sweatshirt as soon as they’d reached the car. His broad shoulders and muscular arms were noticeably too big for the cramped space of the driver’s seat now that he was down to a black t-shirt. As he drove, he nodded along with what Jesse presumed must be the beat of the music.

He didn’t know what to make of the man. When they’d dragged him into that room, he was certain he wouldn’t break no matter what they did to him. But before long, Reyes was looking at him with not pity, exactly, but something in his eyes that worked its way into the cracks in Jesse’s walls. Next thing he realized, he was making a deal with a man who, for all Jesse knew, could be the devil himself. He wanted to trust him, though, even if there really wasn’t much choice.

Ashe wasn’t helping things, of course. Sure, he’d never seen her be friendly toward anyone besides himself, BOB, and Mariana, but he wished she wasn’t so quiet and cold right now. Peering over his shoulder to look into the backseat, he found her studying her left forearm, running her other hand over the tattoo she’d gotten only months before. He smiled softly and looked at his own. For once, the spur of the moment idea had been Ashe’s, though it had occurred to him that maybe she’d only pretended it was a lark. Either way, now it seemed the ink had been a bit premature. He still liked it, though.

Reyes’ voice, gruff and too loud in an effort to be heard over the music, broke the silence. “You kids hungry?” When neither of them said anything, he muttered to himself so softly that Jesse could barely make it out. “Dumb question.” Before long, Reyes was turning the wheel, taking them off the highway and into the drive thru of a restaurant Ashe had previously refused to even consider each time Jesse asked. He looked back at her once again, this time to find her already staring at him in preemptive annoyance, and he took extra enjoyment in grinning back at her smugly.

Reyes relayed their orders to the screen, his eyes going wide with regret and mild disgust as Jesse requested three different kinds of cheeseburgers and a milkshake. When Ashe halfheartedly asked for just a sweet tea and a small order of French fries, though, Jesse noticed concern flickering across Reyes’ face before he sighed, resigned to the consequences of his own generous offer. Bags were distributed, and the sounds of paper wrappers crinkling and straws scraping against plastic lids filled the car as they made their way back to the main road.

Soon the manor loomed large ahead of them, the sprawling gardens flanking the side road they’d turned off onto. The car slowed more than it really needed to, and Jesse looked up to see Reyes with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. He couldn’t help but laugh, and when Reyes turned, he just shrugged. “Now ya see why I tried to rob her, huh?”

Ashe scoffed from the backseat. “Way I remember it, you couldn’t’ve been tryin’ very hard. Crashed through a window in the middle of the day, no mask, no plan. Just your gun and your stupid spurs.”

“Shh!” He grinned at Ashe, then up at Reyes, his voice an exaggerated whisper. “You’re embarrassing me in front of the boss!”

The car came to a stop at the apex of the driveway’s turnaround, and Reyes rolled his eyes. “No lollygagging now, we get in, you get your stuff, and we leave. Got a long flight ahead of us tonight. And remember, we’ll give you uniforms and all the gear you need, so don’t go overboard. One bag each.” He pulled the keys from the ignition, and they all mobilized as though on cue.

Ashe moved fastest, striding through the door in perfect time as it swung open to reveal BOB, his faceplate looking no different than ever but nevertheless clearly emoting his confusion as she blew past him without a word. Noticing Reyes’ skepticism at the towering Omnic’s presence, Jesse figured an introduction was in order.

“Uh, this is BOB. Stands for Big Omnic Butler. He’s swell,” Jesse looked up at BOB’s faceplate with genuine affection. “Takes real good care of Ashe and me when we need it. Not that we need it a lot, but you know what I mean. BOB, this is Commander Reyes.” Reyes nodded curtly and stepped into the house. BOB still looked confused, but he shut the door behind them and did not follow when Jesse led Reyes up the grand staircase that stood in the foyer.

Jesse’s bedroom was the smallest in the house, but even at that he hadn’t managed to fill up the space with much. When Ashe had offered to let him stay for a while, and then again when it had become apparent that he had no plans to leave, she’d encouraged Jesse to make himself at home. But even after Deadlock had picked up some momentum and the money started coming in, even with Ashe’s cavalier willingness to hand over credit chips for something she’d noticed Jesse look over for too long in a store, he was unaccustomed to the idea of accumulating things.

He grabbed a black duffle bag from the closet, turning it upside-down to shake out anything he might’ve left in it the last time he’d taken it with on a trip to the Gorge. A few spent casings and a handful of M&Ms fell out, and he promptly scooped them up from the floor and dropped them into his trash can. Reyes stood awkwardly in the corner, watching him closely, and Jesse grew annoyed at the idea that the Commander trusted him less than Ashe to pack without supervision.

A few shirts from his closet, a notebook from his desk, and Peacekeeper’s cleaning kit didn’t take up much space in the bag. Jesse looked around the room at a loss for ideas about what else he might bring with him before pulling the red blanket, the one with the golden pattern around the edges, off his bed and folding it carefully.

Reyes started to balk from his corner. “We’ve got blankets in the dorms, you know, you really don’t need to-” Jesse just held a hand up to silence him, not caring whether Reyes stopped out of some kind of respect for his boundaries or disbelief at the presumptuous gesture.

“Go ahead and make fun of me, but I’m bringin’ it with. Mi mamá la hizo.

“¿La extrañas?” Reyes kept his voice low, like if he spoke any louder he’d say more than he intended.

Jesse nodded silently. He didn’t want to talk about it, especially not before he gave himself a proper chance to think about it first. Instead, he tucked the blanket into the bag, then ducked across the hallway to the bathroom to grab his toothbrush and the razor he was sure he’d truly need any day now.

The sounds of hangers shuffling in a closet and Ashe’s frustrated grumbling had been barely audible at first, but now they could not be ignored. Her room was at the end of the hallway, and Reyes looked downright disgusted at the size of the space when they walked in to find Ashe, surrounded by a mountain of clothing, shoes, and handbags.

“Jesus Christ, Tex, I said one bag!”

She didn’t take a breath or look up at them before hissing back in frustration. “Oh yeah, I’ll just grab my favorite hoodie and blue jeans and call it good, can’t imagine what else I’d need or want, movin’ to Europe.”

Jesse stifled a laugh, the humor not in Ashe’s attitude or words but in her sheer idiocy. At the sound, she flushed brightly but stood her ground.

If Reyes had been even mildly amused by their antics earlier in the day, his patience for them had run out. He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut, inhaling loudly in an effort to collect himself before speaking. “I told you before,” he growled, “this isn’t some vacation. You’ll be lucky if you have more than a footlocker and a single drawer for your things while living in the barracks. If something’s necessary for the job, we’ll provide it. If it’s not, then it’s not necessary for your life anymore.”

Ashe’s head hung in what was less likely to be shame than disappointment, but she managed to grumble out a soft “yes sir.” Reaching into the mess around her, she plucked out a single pink handbag, a couple of crisp, white blouses, and as many of her favorite ties as she could grasp. From her dressing table, she shoveled powders, creams, and pencils into one of the pockets of her monogrammed luggage. Reyes tore his gaze away from a poster that hung on the wall, the one that featured Ana Amari with smaller, more distant images of the rest of the Crisis-era Overwatch Strike Team, just in time to stop Ashe from stuffing a tablet into the bag.

“You’ll be issued secure tech, can’t risk any breaches.” 

Ashe rolled her eyes petulantly but put the tablet back on her bedside table. Instead, she reached into the table’s drawer and pulled out a notebook much like Jesse’s own journal. Digging further through the clutter, she withdrew a single, printed photograph; Jesse recognized it, a memento from the earliest days of the gang that showed the two of them and BOB playing poker over drinks and smokes. She slid it between the pages of the notebook, which she then tossed into the suitcase. Finally, she grabbed her favorite hat from the back of a chair and stuffed it onto her head. She looked up at Reyes as though she’d been defeated.

“I’m ready.”

They filed down the stairs and stood awkwardly in the foyer for a moment before Reyes spoke again. “Do you… need to let anyone know you’re leaving?” He was looking at Ashe; Jesse tried to not feel injured at the implication that he wouldn’t have anyone to say goodbye to, even if it was true. 

Ashe sighed, set her suitcase down, and trudged toward the parlor, both Jesse and Reyes trailing behind her. To her surprise and Jesse’s, they found her mother in the large room, laid out on the tufted sofa Ashe insisted on calling a chaise longue. A bottle of gin, a martini glass, and several neat lines of white powder were arranged on the coffee table she’d dragged close to her seat. 

“Glad you’re here, Mama,” Ashe called out, a spiteful edge on her voice suggesting that she didn’t really mean it. Mrs. Ashe opened her eyes lazily, making no effort to move from her reclined pose. “I’m leavin.’ Got a job. Won’t be back for a while, if ever.”

Squinting at her daughter as though she’d just spoken another language, Mrs. Ashe sat silently for a long moment, and Jesse felt his own cheeks flush on Ashe’s behalf. This was embarrassing, something he knew she wouldn’t want Reyes to witness.

“You’re not takin’ the butler, are you?”

Jesse could see Ashe’s shoulders fall, knew that no matter how many years of this kind of shit she endured, her parents’ complete disinterest in her would always hurt. “No Mama,” she said quietly. “BOB’s stayin’ here.”

“Good.” Mrs. Ashe nodded and then closed her eyes again, unmoved by her daughter's farewell.

Ashe turned and brushed past Jesse and Reyes, who was staring at his boots. Once they were all safely out of the room, Jesse looked up at Reyes to explain: “Lizzie’s mama sucks, that’s for sure. But I’d take her any day over her daddy. He’s an angry son of bitch. Last time he saw me here, nearly broke my arm. And I got off easy that day.” He glanced at Ashe quickly, glad to see she had turned her head away from them both. Eye contact would have felt worse. She hadn’t had to talk about these things for a long time, let alone with someone she’d just met. Reyes looked appropriately uneasy, though, and nodded silently in affirmation. 

The moment was broken up by the heavy thudding of BOB’s footsteps as he entered the room, two of his gigantic fingers clutching the handle of Ashe’s suitcase. Jesse hadn’t considered that the moment could get worse, but he realized that it was about to.

He’d only seen Ashe cry once before, in the drunken aftermath of her first arrest. He cared about her more than any other friend he’d ever had, but watching her façade crumble into unchecked vulnerability had made Jesse want to skip town that night. Now, he was torn between the same impulse and his own sadness at the thought of saying goodbye to BOB. He’d grown fond of the omnic, considered him as much family as Ashe herself.

Reyes excused himself now – “I’ll, uh, go start the car” – and left them for the first time since springing them from their holding cells. Ashe hadn’t moved, just stood there nodding at BOB as mascara-stained tears began to run down her cheeks. Jesse clenched his jaw and moved toward BOB, pulling him into a hug. It was uncomfortable, given that BOB was made entirely of metal and had a tendency to not recognize his own strength, but as Jesse felt the air pressing out of his lungs, he could only squeeze him tighter.

“See ya around, big guy.” BOB let him go, and Jesse picked up his bag. Patting Ashe on the shoulder as he passed, he let himself out into the warm night air.

Reyes was leaning against the car, smoking a cigarette. As Jesse approached, he held out the pack and his lighter, and Jesse gladly accepted the offer.

“A terrible habit,” Reyes grunted. “You’re young, should quit before you do too much damage.”

Jesse lit up and took a long drag, contemplating the curls of smoke as he exhaled. “Got no clue how long I’ll be around, might as well enjoy it all now.” Reyes looked at him as though his honest fatalism disturbed him. Jesse couldn’t imagine why – he knew the man had watched too many young people die to be particularly affected now by the thought of a kid accepting his own mortality. Hell, he knew Reyes had nearly been one of those dead young men. Maybe that was the problem. Rather than dwell on the discomfiting subject, though, Jesse asked what he figured was an unrelated question: “You didn’t come to the states just to help deal with Deadlock, did you? Why were you even here?”

Reyes smiled ruefully and flicked the ashes away from his cigarette. “Visiting my family. My wife and daughters live in Los Angeles. So do my mom and sisters. I don’t get vacations often, so when I do I come back to see them.”

“They gonna move to Europe, too?” Jesse immediately regretted the question and attempted to backtrack. “Sorry, that’s none of my business.”

“Nah, it’s fine. I hope they do. Military HQ’s not really any place for toddlers, though, and my wife’s got a good job at UCLA. It’s a lot to ask.”

“Hmm.” Jesse was glad for the smoke, an excuse to avoid talking further. He looked up at the night sky, visualized the imaginary lines connecting the constellations. There was more light pollution here, as close to Amarillo as they were, but otherwise he’d found that the stars looked the same as they had back home. He wondered what they’d look like wherever they were headed next.

The front door closed loudly, and the heels of Ashe’s boots clomped against the porch steps as she made her way toward them. She looked terrible, Jesse considered, so he offered her his half-smoked cigarette. With a grateful look, she took it from him and clearly relished in the hit of nicotine. Reyes, still visibly uncomfortable with how emotional the night had become, stubbed his own out against the hood of the car, then reached through an open window to stuff the butt inside one of the fast food bags that held their garbage. Ashe smoked quickly, almost like her life depended on it, and Reyes extended the bag to her. Instead, she threw the butt onto the driveway and ground it out with the ball of her foot. Jesse understood, and spit on the concrete in a show of solidarity.

They put their bags in the trunk and settled back in for the drive to the airport. Now Jesse was thankful for the music, even if it was terrible. The noise kept their conspicuous lack of conversation from growing awkward, especially as Ashe moped in the backseat.

A little over an hour later, they arrived at a rundown former Air Force base. Jesse knew lots of facilities like this had been abandoned as the Omnic Crisis forced the U.S. to restructure its military, but it was jarring to see how unkempt the space had become. Still, the runway was apparently in good enough working order to land and take off, judging by the presence of the small jet that Reyes led them toward. As they approached the plane, a uniformed woman emerged from a nearby jeep and walked up to Reyes, who silently handed her the keys to the car they’d been driving before embarking up the steps into the cabin. Jesse stared at her sunglasses, which seemed ridiculous given the hour, in an effort to avoid staring at her cybernetic arm. He’d never seen a prosthetic so nice, its plates and subtle lighting demonstrative of high quality care. At the feeling of Ashe’s elbow jabbed into his ribs, he snapped back to attention and climbed the narrow staircase.

He and Ashe settled into two seats next to each other. Reyes sat facing them, a wide table separating the two sets of seats. He pulled out a tablet and began tapping at the screen rapidly as though to signal to Jesse and Ashe that he had no interest in conversation. After the pilot announced that they’d be taking off momentarily, however, Ashe spoke up, her voice meeker than Jesse’d ever heard it.

“How long is the trip?”

Reyes glanced up, surprised to hear her voice. The corner of his mouth twitched up into a sympathetic, if small, smile.

“About six hours.”

Ashe let out a soft laugh of relief. “I thought you said it’d be a long flight. I expected ten.”

Reyes shrugged amiably. “Guess I’ve gotten spoiled. There are perks to this work, you know. High speed jets and such.” It was clearly an effort at reassurance; by the way Ashe’s entire body seemed to relax, Jesse guessed it had worked. “I’m sure you kids are exhausted. The seats aren’t the best, but try to get some sleep.”

Neither of them needed to be told twice. Jesse pulled his hat down over his eyes and stretched his legs out in front of him. As he drifted off, he felt Ashe rest her head against his shoulder, and he smiled to himself.

~

“Where are we? What time is it?”

Ashe’s voice held no particular urgency, but still Jesse woke with a start. The sunrise had begun to filter in above the horizon, bathing them all in a warm, orange glow.

Reyes looked up from his tablet. It seemed he hadn’t been sleeping at all, but he still didn’t appear fatigued. Jesse frowned at the thought; it didn’t seem normal, was one more thing about this guy he wanted to figure out.

“We’re still over the Atlantic, but it’s about 6 AM. Wheels down should be in another hour and a half.”

Ashe smiled softly and looked up at Jesse. “Happy birthday,” she said as sweetly as he’d ever heard her speak. He chuckled and grinned down at her, throwing his arm over her shoulders. She leaned back into his chest and closed her eyes. She’d had a far worse day than he had, but still Ashe was the one to remember that he’d be turning 17 once the next had begun.

“Thanks,” he muttered, giving in to his own heavy eyelids. He had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into, he realized, but at least they’d face it together. Jesse’d always believed that his strongest, most fundamental instinct was flight, to run at the first sign of smoke. He was glad he hadn’t given in this time, that he’d met Reyes’ deal with an ultimatum of his own. Maybe he was growing up; maybe this was what family really meant. Either way, the knowledge that they weren’t alone was enough to soothe two jaded kids, enough to let them rest easy for the moment.

Chapter Text

The morning sun, cutting through purple sky like a crimson blade, lit the hallways of Overwatch Headquarters with a warm glow. From the day they’d moved the organization into the base, Gabe had found this to be yet another disingenuous touch, illuminating the outer ring of offices and conference rooms that protected Overwatch’s inner workings from both external attacks and public view. No one whose access was limited to these offices, or even worse, the atria and memorial installations that were specifically designed to draw in tourists, could be blamed for not realizing all that had been kept hidden. Still, the sun’s rays could only extend so far into the circular compound, and Gabe’s work, the real work of Overwatch, had to take place beyond their reach.

As he strode into the first in a line of offices that would eventually lead him to Jack, Gabe resolutely stared straight ahead. He trained his eyes on the door behind the receptionist’s desk instead of acknowledging the young man who had just arrived for another day of transferring calls and scheduling meetings. It wasn’t his fault, Gabe supposed, that the Strike Commander’s calendar was an unruly and ever-shifting monster. But the kid had been hired months ago, and he still didn’t understand that there were a few people in the building who didn’t need an appointment or permission to show themselves into Jack’s office at any moment.

Sure enough, the receptionist’s blustering began as soon as he saw Gabe headed for the door to the inner offices. Without dignifying his overzealousness by looking at him, Gabe held up one hand as though the gesture could pacify the trademark anxiety of a low-level bureaucratic administrator. “I called ahead,” he growled as he swung the heavy door open. Gabe was here to argue with the Strike Commander, not his receptionist.

On the other side of another long hallway and another heavy door, Jack sat at his desk, his face buried in his hands. He didn’t look up when Gabe entered, giving the impression, however temporary, that he might actually be asleep while sitting there, exhausted by the mess of paperwork that covered the glass desktop beneath his elbows. But when Ana, perched in an oversized armchair in the corner of the room, revealed herself to Gabe by clearing her throat loudly, it became immediately apparent that Jack was, in fact, wide awake. He lifted his head and looked at Gabe with such exhaustion that it was almost impossible to not pity him for being tasked with managing such a motley crew of headstrong officers and agents. Almost. Gabe did not pity him. He’d told him this was how it would be.

“Where are they?”

Gabe moved to the second armchair, settling in with a perfectly calculated casualness that he knew Ana and Jack could both see right through but that nevertheless felt necessary. “Conference Room 233B. Told ‘em Athena’s watching. Reinhardt’s waiting outside the door in case they try to make a break for it anyway.”

Why are they here, Gabriel?” To anyone who didn’t know Jack Morrison, his voice would have sounded tired, disappointed, everything such people might expect him to be given the situation Gabe had created. But Gabe heard the desperation, the hope he failed to choke down that the answer would be something he could work with. That he wouldn’t have to file any paperwork. That he wouldn’t have to reprimand his best friend, his-

But talking with Jack was always better than retreating inward. “Per your orders, Blackwatch recruitment is to be conducted at my discretion. I discerned that bringing these two on board was the right call.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed, and his voice wavered with frustration. “For whom, exactly? For Overwatch? For these juvenile delinquents you’ve taken a shine to? For you, and your conscience?” He leaned forward, not to cut any kind of intimidating figure (he knew that didn’t work on Gabe), but as though closing the gap between them even by a few inches could yield a more suitable, and maybe a more truthful, answer.

Gabe felt both warmth and tightness creep through his chest, as though his heart and lungs were in a standoff for the territory. Only Jack could do this to him, and only Jack would try.

“Careful, Jack,” Ana warned from her seat. Gabe, unsure what about the interjection surprised him, couldn’t help but glance at her. She was watching Jack, one eyebrow raised, her arms crossed in front of her chest. Undoubtedly, the two of them had discussed the situation before Gabe got back to base, he’d expected that much. But her tone was almost scolding, one he rarely heard when the matter at hand was just work. Of course, between the three of them, it had been a long time since work was really ever ‘just work.’ They’d lost too many friends, killed too many people, saved each other’s lives too many times to ever put the job aside. This wasn’t about any of those things, though, and neither was Ana’s cryptic suggestion that Jack tread lightly.

Sitting back in his chair, Jack’s stare met Ana’s, and Gabe could see the gears working behind his eyes, the nearly imperceptible way he ground his molars together on the right side of his mouth. He was trying to exercise restraint, to listen to whatever advice Ana had given him before Gabe arrived. But when it came to Gabe, of course, Jack had never been very disciplined.

He sighed and turned back to Gabe. “I know it’s been hard, lately, with Cynthia and the girls. I can tell you’re struggling with it, hoped the trip home might help. But this kind of thing… Gabe, there are procedures and processes and laws, we can’t just pull kids who tried to rob a bank out of jail and give them jobs!”

Gabe could only blink for a moment as he processed all that Jack had just said, all that he had implied. He heard Ana click her tongue from beside him, saw her shaking her head out of the corner of his eye. So, this was what she didn’t want him to do, Gabe thought. For once, it felt like Ana was on his side. Vindicated, he gave into his growing frustration.

This has nothing to do with my family, Jack,” he barked. “How dare you suggest that I can’t keep my work separate from my personal life?” The exaggerated slump in Jack’s shoulders as he realized this meeting was going to end in a shouting match wasn’t enough to stop Gabe. He’d gotten Gabe’s meaning, every layer of it.

Gabe stood, squaring his shoulders, knowing full well that Jack never listened more carefully than in the moments when he felt Gabe had breached the protocol of institutional hierarchy, when he felt challenged by what technically constituted insubordination. Maybe a day would come when Jack Morrison, Overwatch Strike Commander, would truly see himself as the boss, the one in charge of all his officers. But they both knew that even if he held rank over Gabe now, Jack still deferred to him, still secretly believed that Gabe should be the one calling the shots. Still couldn’t say no to him, not in any way that really mattered. Still couldn’t ignore him.

“Never mind the fact that these ‘kids’ are both young adults, the same age we were when we enlisted.” Gabe’s voice was low, barely more than a growl. He was glad he’d had the foresight to edit McCree’s papers a bit, and he made a mental note to double check that he hadn’t missed any documentation. “Never mind the fact that they’re both talented, whip smart, exactly the kind of recruits Blackwatch has needed. Never mind the fact that I’m fairly certain a couple of young wannabe gangsters out of Bumfuck, Texas are probably as unlikely to be compromised as anyone we’ve ever even considered hiring!”

Jack gave him a pleading glance as he spoke more rapidly, his volume rising again. “Gabe…” But there was no stopping him.

“All of that aside, it is both incorrect and thoroughly unprofessional, Strike Commander, for you to suggest that my decision-making is hindered by my having children. That being a father has made me unable to act as a commanding officer.” Gabe sighed, tired of the fight more quickly than he’d realized he would be. “You have no right.”

They stood there, on opposite sides of Jack’s desk, staring each other down. There was so much more that Gabe could say, could accuse Jack of, but now was not the moment. He was trying his hand at being a professional, after all.

Ana stood. Reaching across the desk, she patted Jack on his cheek. When he looked into her eyes, she muttered, without any satisfaction: “I told you so.” Then she turned to leave, reaching up to give Gabe’s shoulder a squeeze as she passed.

When Jack finally looked back up into his eyes with such sincerity it seemed he was begging for forgiveness, Gabe turned and left as well.

 


 

Somewhere in the back of Ashe’s mind, she was concerned that yawning as Reyes lectured them about a series of rules for living on base, each a more transparent attempt at avoiding either litigation or sexually transmitted infections than the previous, might be rude. He clearly wasn’t enjoying this part of their orientation much either, so she could almost feel for him, almost want to make it a little easier. But between her jet lag, her boredom, and her increasingly horrified awareness that she’d actually traded a jail cell for military service, there was little room in her brain for charitable thoughts about her new commander. So, she yawned, though of course she covered her mouth and feigned apologetic embarrassment. She’d been raised by abusive and neglectful millionaires, not wolves.

Reyes looked like he was about to reprimand her before he paused, slumped his shoulders a bit, and sighed. “Ah fuck it,” he muttered. “We’ll have to do this all over again, you know, gotta get through all this shit and then test you on it.” From the corner of her eye, Ashe saw Jesse mouthing thanks a lot at her. “But maybe we’ve all had enough of the bureaucratic stuff for today.” Reyes ran a hand over his head as though by instinct, a habit left over from a day when he’d had enough hair to comb his fingers through it.

“So… we can go?” Jesse’d already gotten to his feet, his plastic chair sliding backward across the tile floor. He clearly wanted a smoke, had been chewing on his pen through Reyes’ entire presentation.

“Well kid, you’re coming with me. Turns out, the big boss wants to see for himself that you can, in fact, shoot that ridiculous gun of yours. So, you’d better not embarrass me, or I’ll ship you back to Podunk County Jail quicker than you can say ‘yeehaw.’” Jesse’s eyes lit up at the challenge, an opportunity to show off just how good he was at the thing he loved most. Pushing herself to her feet, Ashe chuckled, pleased they’d have a new audience for their trick shots. BOB had always been endlessly supportive, of course, but it was hard for him to be truly impressed with displays he’d seen time and again.

Reyes cleared his throat awkwardly. “You’re, uh. You’re staying here, Tex. I’ll call for your, uh, supervisor to come get you, start showing you the ropes of what you’ll be doing.” He spoke quickly, like if he finished talking before she could protest, there’d be no room for an argument.

Ashe felt her heart sink into her belly, and the buzzing that had clouded her thoughts as Reyes interrogated her returned to her ears. She could see Jesse throw his bag back down onto the table in front of him, watched him raise a pointed finger to Reyes’ face.

“You said we wouldn’t be split up!” he yelled, his eagerness to impress his new bosses having evaporated as though he were boiling inside.

Reyes, to his credit, kept his cool. “And here you both are. But I never said you’d be working together.” He looked back at Ashe, clearly saw the frustration and embarrassment written in red across her face. “I even told Bitsy here we were picking you two up for different reasons. Guess I figured you understood that meant you’d be doing different jobs.”

Waving a hand at them as though it could fan away the emotions she’d already shown, Ashe found her voice. “’s fine, Jess. You’re the better shot anyhow. Go show ‘em, so I don’t even have to consider followin’ you back to Texas.” The anger in Jesse’s eyes softened as he met her gaze, and she couldn’t help but smile weakly at him. “I’m sure I’ll make a great secretary, or whatever it is our Commander’s got planned for me.”

Rolling his eyes, Reyes put a hand on Jesse’s shoulder to turn him towards the door. “Jesus, you’re a drama queen,” he muttered as they filed out the door, refusing to dignify her attitude with any kind of explanation. Jesse looked back mournfully, and Ashe nodded back at him in encouragement. Once they were gone, the heavy wooden door closed behind them with a ‘click,’ she sat back down and buried her face in her hands.

Sure, Reyes had said that he wasn’t interested in her as a shooter. But Ashe hadn’t taken that to mean that she wouldn’t get to prove herself anyhow. She was here as a concession to the demands of a recruit they’d actually wanted. It wasn’t the first time she’d found herself in such a situation, of course; she’d spent her whole life as a concession, or an afterthought, or an inconvenient tag-along that needed to be dealt with and kept occupied. Didn’t ease the sting of it, though. Especially not now, after she’d worked so hard with Deadlock to prove that she could hold her own, could earn her keep, could make her own name. Coming from Reyes, it was even more humiliating; she’d mistaken the way he spoke to her for some kind of respect for her skills or her smarts. Instead, it seemed he’d decided she wasn’t worthy of working for him, had to send her elsewhere to be someone else’s problem. 

Her wallowing was cut short by the twist of the doorknob and the confident, sharp ‘click’ of expensive leather shoes striding toward her. She looked up and was admittedly taken aback by the man who stood above her, his dark eyes scrutinizing her coldly, his dark hair meticulously styled, his dark, well-tailored suit unique amongst what she’d seen Overwatch employees wearing in her brief time on base. He was familiar, not in that they’d ever met before, but because Ashe could already tell that they were alike, cut from the same opulent cloth. Two days ago, that would have been reason enough for her to distrust him; in this moment, however, it inspired a wary curiosity. He was handsome, intelligent, ambitious, capable of as much violence as any of his colleagues, and confident enough to wear all of that on his sleeve, to broadcast it to an ex-con-turned-employee he’d just met. Ashe was only confident that she was looking at a dangerous man, a realization she’d had too many times for her own comfort lately.

After looking her over for what felt like hours, his mouth ticked upward slightly into a curious, rather than disdainful, smirk, his thin moustache somehow suggesting his accent before he even spoke.

“Elizabeth Ashe, I presume. My name is Gérard Lacroix. Welcome to Blackwatch.”

 


 

Jesse pretended not to notice Ashe’s disgust at how quickly he ate. He was hungry, had worked up an appetite at the shooting range and the gym, and he wasn’t gonna let her guilt him for taking full advantage of the free grub. Not that he hadn’t been eating for free at her house for the last two years, but still. Some habits were hard to break, and he was a growing boy. Way he figured, he wasn’t gonna get to look like Reyes or Morrison without fueling up and working out and then doing it all over again the next day.

An overcooked piece of macaroni, dripping with cheese sauce, fell from his fork. He paused to chew and think on what Ashe had just said.

“Tradecraft?” He swallowed, then put his fork down before Ashe could scold him for talking with his mouth full. “Not gonna lie, I’ve got no clue what that is.”

Her eyes went wide with excitement, and she leaned closer. “Spy stuff. Surveillance, secret communications, handling agents and planning ops. Someone’s gotta get everything ready for you guys to go in, do your job, and get out.”

It was no wonder her mood had changed so dramatically in the few hours they’d been apart. It didn’t sound too different from what she’d always loved most about the gang – the planning, the prep, staking out sites and identifying their marks. She was smart, enjoyed a good puzzle or attending to all the minute details of a plan. But Jesse wondered to himself how long it’d take her to start missing the thrill of the heist itself, of a clean escape or a good old-fashioned shootout.

She grinned at him in the way she always did when she was flying high – she bared her teeth a little too hungrily for it to be considered a normal smile – before taking a sip of her soda and stabbing her fork at the vegetables on her plate. “Gérard says they might even have some field jobs for me, high society events that none of the military folks around here could infiltrate.”

Her excitement to rub elbows with European elites wounded him a bit. “I thought you hated other rich people.”

“Well yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know ‘em like the back of my own hand. And besides, this isn’t Texas, it’s Europe. Folks here have real taste, real class.”

Jesse rolled his eyes and went back to his macaroni. “Yeah you’ll fit right in then, sugar.” He hadn’t wanted things to change, that’s why he made Reyes promise he’d bring Ashe with too. The two of them had been a team against what felt like the entire fuckin’ world back in Deadlock. Even with Collins and Mariana around, there was nobody who had his back like Ashe did, and no one else he would’ve taken a bullet for. She never made him feel like she thought she was better than him just because she was rich – no, she made it clear that it was because she figured she was smarter and a natural leader and a budding entrepreneur of sorts. Jesse’d admired her confidence since the first time they spoke, though, so he’d never much minded that she had a bossy streak longer than the highways he’d hitchhiked out of New Mexico. But now he did mind the idea that she might find more of her kind here. Might not need him anymore, might forget about him or, worse, become ashamed of him. 

If she’d noticed his tone, she ignored it. “Don’t act like you’re not thrilled to be here too. I see you lookin’ at Reyes with those stars in your eyes, you can’t wait to get to work for him, can you?” She raised her eyebrows and Jesse figured she was probably implying more than he wanted to get into at the moment. But she was right. Maybe on both counts. Before he could think on it too long, she asked, “How’d the shootin’ go?”

His mouth pulled into a sideways smile and he leaned back, very much at his leisure getting to brag about his own performance. “You shoulda seen ‘em, Ashe. Reyes and Jack fuckin' Morrison, in the flesh, standing there tryin’ to look unimpressed, all puffed up like this.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest and scowled dramatically, narrowing his eyes to scrutinize an imagined recruit before him. The grin quickly broke back across his face, though. “And then I blew through the first round of targets faster than anyone had ever done it. Miss Athena told me so, when I was done. Did a few more rounds, they got harder as they went on, but judgin’ by Reyes’ face, I’d say I did alright. Old man looked like he’d-”

Jesse nearly dropped his fork when he realized that the woman he’d noticed over Ashe’s shoulder was approaching their table, and that she wasn’t just ‘some woman.’ Thankfully, she reached them before Ashe could turn around, looking down at him from behind her chair. When she spoke, Jesse could see Ashe’s eyes go wide and her face flush red in his peripheral vision.

“McCree?” She asked, though it wasn’t a question. He nodded mutely. “Captain Ana Amari. I hear you put on quite a show at the target range today.”

Ashe was still frozen, but in his momentary panic Jesse could have sworn he saw her eyes go just a little bit wider, as though urging him to respond.

“Well, that’s a mighty fine compliment coming from you, ma’am, thank you.”

Amari’s eyes narrowed. She was like a hawk discerning whether the scrawny prey below her was worth the energy expenditure. Jesse was immediately certain he’d done something wrong.

“It wasn’t coming from me. I haven’t seen you shoot yet. Though I doubt I’d have appraised your performance quite as highly as Commander Reyes did. Years of favoring those shotguns has left his… hmm, discernment less precise than those of us who still have to shoot for accuracy.” 

Jesse watched as Ashe suppressed a laugh, opting instead to meet his gaze and silently mouth “Oh my god.” He felt a burning flush rise in his cheeks, clenching his jaw as he looked back up to Amari. He could have sworn she smirked, but it was so quick Jesse could have imagined it.

“You’ll show me what you can do tomorrow. 0800, same range as today. Be ready to work – even if you’re as good as Gabriel says, there’ll still be much to learn.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”

She glanced down at Ashe, who hadn’t shifted even a centimeter in her seat. The smirk appeared again, lingered a little longer this time as her eyes flicked back to McCree. Then she nodded sharply and left as abruptly as she’d arrived.

As her footsteps faded, Ashe covered her face with her hands, her entire body shaking with her nervous laughter. Jesse flung a piece of macaroni at her and immediately forgot his nerves as he watched her frantically try to pull the noodle and cheese out of her hair.

 


 

Gabe took a long drag on his cigarette as he watched Ashe shut down McCree’s best efforts to start a food fight from the conference room that overlooked the mess hall. There wasn’t supposed to be any smoking allowed inside the base, but he had enough pull with Athena to get her to look the other way and run the air purifiers just a little bit more powerfully in here for the time being. Gérard, the damned Frenchman, was always glad to be able to light up without having to trek outside. Gabe wondered if that’s why he’d made a point to befriend the one officer with the habit.

“What the hell have I done, Lacroix?”

A flask appeared beside him, pulled from Gérard’s breast pocket. Gabe took a swig and sighed. The question meant more than Gérard would know, but right now all of his regrets circled around the two kids sitting 50 feet away, looking like they belonged in a high school lunch room instead of an international military base.

“I think you have found the future of this organization, Gabriel. Blackwatch, yes, and Overwatch as a whole.” He met Gérard’s eyes, searching for the sarcasm in his deadpan delivery. There wasn’t any to find.

The moment felt heavy, but only because Gabe believed that Gérard may be right. There was hope, there, but far more fear than he’d anticipated.

So, he laughed, a low chuckle that he allowed to grow into an uncontrolled roar. He heard Gérard snicker as he pressed the flask to his lips. Glad we can both see the humor in this.

Gabe caught his breath and wiped at his eyes, then put his cigarette back to his lips. “Dios mío,” he whispered before inhaling. The room was quiet again, but lighter now. “We’d better start praying for some better angels, then.”