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It’s high noon in Giza.

Jesse McCree doesn’t know why these people want what they’re guarding, but they sure do. He’s lined three of them in his sights. The speedy one, Lucio, vaulting over a pile of stones, the one who ribbed him about songs about trucks. The pink-haired one, Zarya, who seems oblivious to her imminent death, shouting for joy as she lobs hunks of exotic matter at his teammates. The boss man himself, 76, he can hear yelling over the roar of gunfire to get behind cover. From McCree’s vantage point, they have no escape. Egypt is close enough to his element that he feels like he could shoot the legs off a flea. Despite the stifling heat and blinding sun, he’s cool as a cucumber, and he raises his gun to take their lives--

--a fourth opponent rounds the corner of a half-built wall.

Jesse regains his balance as his hyperfocus falters for half a second. The newcomer stands out like an ink stain against the yellow sands. Slim, carbon fiber calves, a tattoo-clad arm, long, gold ribbon holding back his hair. He spots McCree in a heartbeat, lifts his bow, pulls the string.

He has the prettiest eyes that McCree’s ever seen.

But he has a job to do, so he pulls the trigger. Caught mid-stride, Lucio collapses, boneless, tumbling to a stop in the dirt. Zarya drops like a ton of bricks on top of her particle cannon. 76 isn’t far behind, clutching his belly as if he can hold his dwindling life inside.

McCree nails newbie number four right between that gorgeous gaze, but an instant death is slower than trained reflexes. The arrow flies -- sunlight glints off its alloy head--

He ducks it, and instead of taking off his frontal lobe, it snatches his hat away.

He turns, following its path. Zenyatta casually floats up to where the arrow has embedded in a column, and carefully dislodges his hat. McCree laughs, taking deep breaths of relief.

“We got cowboys and Indians out here!” he cries, “Move up!”

- - -

Hanzo respawns with a headache, feeling his temple and half-expecting at least a scar. He finds nothing but smooth skin. The system works perfectly, though how it works precisely is a mystery shrouded in technobabble. Initially skeptical about treating his life so nonchalantly, trusting computers to replicate him at a moment’s notice, he supposes it’s better than the alternative. He hasn’t been replaced by a robot. If he cuts himself, he bleeds. He feels like himself and has all his memories.

Even if respawn glitched, he wouldn’t forget the cowboy.

It’s 2052. He’s wandered the entire world, from jungles of concrete to frozen wasteland to endless fields of grain, and he’s never, ever seen a real cowboy. The closest he’s come since getting his brains blown out were advertisements for shoes and cigarettes on billboards accompanying highways. If he delves farther back, he recalls the ancient films his father used to play, the elder Shimada fancying himself a renegade of the highest caliber. Father would watch hours of shootouts and quick draws, then swagger into the gardens for target practice. Some of them would beg for forgiveness before he killed them.

It was an ugly time. The cowboy represents bad. Hanzo is doing good.

“Next time I see McCree,” Zarya bellows, charging for the door while respawn fixes her last few molecules back in place, “I am going to stuff ratty blanket down throat until he chokes!”

Well. Now Hanzo has an arrow with his name on it.

- - -

Volskaya Industries. McCree doesn’t know it personally -- yet -- but the name leaves a bad taste in many a mouth. Once a hive of omnic activity, multiple assaults have rendered it all but empty.

“If I ran things, this place’d be a pile of debris,” Junkrat complains. His gait goes clok-tink-clok-tink across the floor. “But noooo, boss lady says there’s still value here. Value my charbroiled arse! The only real treasure’s stuff you kin hold in yer hands!”

“Hold yer horses,” McCree replies, “You owe Miss Mercy your hide a dozen times over. You owe respawn even more. There’s code in this here complex that’ll boost the system’s efficiency two hundred percent.” Possibly. Much like a certain archer, the nitty-gritty details behind resurrection escape him. “It’ll do everyone good. The other side just don’t know it yet.”

Junkrat mulls this over, then shrugs, cocking his head. “Hey, mate, s’long as I live to blow things up another day, it’s all gravy.”

That’s as good an answer as McCree’s going to get. “Roger that.” They’re drifting too close to enemy territory. Squinting against the glare of sunlit snow, he spots a rolling thundercloud behind thick glass. He smirks. “Fall back to the point. Tell everyone to pony up. Storm’s comin’.”

“I have no bloody idea what you just said. I’ll tell ‘em to git ready,” Junkrat says. He leaves a quivering bear trap and a giggle behind him.

- - -

“They do not know what they toy with,” Zarya barks, “This facility churned out omnics by the dozen. Who is to say its programs will work on us? Who is to say it is not trap? Who is to say we will not wake up one day and find twenty Reapers breathing down our necks?”

“That’d be one heck of a light show,” Lucio offers.

Hanzo half-listens to the Russian’s pep talk, preferring to scan the terrain outside. If joining Overwatch has done anything for him, it’s let him keep traveling. He can roll with being shipped from desert sands to icy taiga in the span of a few days -- it’s nothing he hasn’t done before--

The cowboy who saunters up to the gate takes him by surprise, however. Just a little. He tips his hat, leaning against the glass. “Howdy, partner.”

Hanzo doesn’t lift his bow. The gate won’t open until it’s good and ready. He can still hear his voice, though muffled. “McCree,” the archer ventures.

The cowboy’s eyes widen, and so does his grin. “How ‘bout that! My reputation precedes me, don’t it?”

“You shot me in the head.”

“You came back, dint’cha? And not a hair outta place. Is the gray real, or is it dye? I ain’t shamin’ ya, either way it makes ya look handsome. Dignified. Like royalty, almost.”

This has to be some sort of psychological warfare. It’s true, Hanzo’s information is stored in Overwatch HQ, readily available to anyone in the organization. But there are some secrets he keeps to himself. Some skeletons under tight padlocks. Either McCree is fucking with him or he’s a fantastic shot in more ways than one. His grip tightens on his bow, skin crawling at the cowboy’s pure disrespect. “I am not here to flirt with you,” he growls, “I am here to kill you.”

“So am I. These things happen from time to time. There’s a disagreement, it heats up, someone pulls a gun or a punch or some kinda technological whachamacallit on someone else, Overwatch splinters into factions and we murder each other until someone wins.” McCree shrugs. “Best way to vent, am I right?”

Now Hanzo feels goosebumps in his stomach. He tries not to think about it. Blames it on the cold. “I joined Overwatch to begin anew. I refuse to believe such an organization would fall to civil war.”

McCree’s eyes soften, smile shrinks. “Aw, honey, you got no idea.”

“McCree!” Zarya charges the gate, face twisted in anger. She lifts her particle cannon as if to beat him to death through the glass. “Remember Giza? You broke my streak, you rat!”

“Well now’s yer chance to get it back!” The cowboy tips his hat again, cheer restored in the space of a second. “Ain’t nothin’ personal. You know that, right? We’ll be back at home sippin’ beers together in no time.”

Hanzo doesn’t realize Zarya’s speaking to him until she catches his eye. Her scowl is as frigid as the event horizon twirling in her weapon. “Do not listen. This is game to him. He cares nothing for consequences of battle. Only a gambler betting on sides.”

“Don’t scare the greenhorn! I’m just tryin’ to show ‘im the lay of the land!”

The intercom counts down: five, four... The archer nocks his bow, meets McCree’s gaze. He notes the cowboy’s hand hovers next to his holster. “I am Shimada Hanzo,” he says, “I am the island. I am the mountain. I bow to no one.”

“Can I at least get a smile?” McCree asks.

The gates open. Jesse draws his gun. Hanzo lets his arrow fly. Though Zarya’s shield is up, it isn’t needed. The arrow nails McCree in the head. The archer stares down the light fading from his eyes, the few spastic steps of a malfunctioning brain before it gives up the ghost. His corpse soon vanishes as respawn hauls him away.

Zarya gives Hanzo an amused smirk. “Welcome to team, comrade. Now keep up!”

- - -

McCree wants Hanzo to like him. He really does. Asking if he’s related to Genji Shimada, therefore, is a terrible move.

He asks in the middle of combat over control of Lijiang Tower in China. It isn’t as if he hasn’t carried out conversations during a firefight before. He simply wasn’t expecting Hanzo, a mid-range sniper, a master assassin, to march up to his face, break his nose, wrap his arms around his neck and snap it like a toothpick.

Now that McCree has experienced firsthand what those muscles can do, he wants to know Hanzo more than ever.

“Didn’t realize there was bad blood between ya,” he shouts, peeking out from cover. An arrow whizzes past his nose. Its wake ruffles his beard.

Hanzo threads another, lets it fly preemptively in case it catches the cowboy off-guard. Though he hears his teammates fighting and dying all around him, he only cares about killing McCree. Again. And again. “Do not presume to know what you do not understand!”

“I’m a fast learner, just give me a chance!” Jesse listens for footsteps coming closer. “You know I’m only human, dont’cha? Bit more than what some of our compatriots can say!”

“You grin when you kill me.”

Now! McCree bursts from behind shelter and aims for Hanzo’s leg. The bullet ricochets off his alloy kneecap, but the force is enough to stagger him. The arrow he looses catches the cowboy in the shoulder, barbed head fanning out and anchoring itself in his flesh. Ignoring the pain, he punches Hanzo for good measure -- the sound of his jaw breaking a rush of heady satisfaction -- grabs him by the throat, steel squeezing his windpipe shut. The archer writhes against him, struggling -- Jesse feels another arrow against his belly--

“Cuz I know you come back for me, sugar.”

McCree throws him off the tower. As his scream fades, he moves on. That will give his team enough time to capture the point.

- - -

Hanzo does. Over. And over. Ten times, twenty times, thirty -- hounding him is his highest priority. He makes an art form of it, finding ways to flank him, to emerge from the weirdest angles and the worst times, always with an arrow hungry for its target. When he lets up, he hunts down McCree’s teammates, slaying them where Jesse will see his kills. He can see them through walls. He can mow down three of them in a hail of splintering flechettes. And not once does his composure break. Not once does he betray what’s going through his mind while carving them apart.

The cowboy starts to think Hanzo may be a little unhinged.

Hollywood, California. News broke that Goldshire Studios successfully produced their next generation of film technology, capable of capturing the smallest detail. 76, ever the tactician, knew they’d come for it. The more accurate respawn is, the better. That’s something they can all get behind. But there is a difference between sharing new inventions and stealing them.

McCree has some old habits he just can’t shake.

Defense has holed up in a sound stage filming a disaster movie, which is appropriate, as they are getting creamed. Jesse feels a little awkward walking toward a downed airplane, acrid smoke and flames pumped to turn the stage into the ruins of a terminal. He tips his hat back, breathing in the scent of destruction.

He isn’t surprised to see Hanzo emerge from spawn, wind machines rustling his ribbon. Grinning, he lifts his gun. Whatever the archer’s yelling, it won’t matter with lead in his brains. Besides, it isn’t even in English--

The dragons explode from nowhere, bearing down on him like twin freight trains. The bottom of McCree’s stomach drops out in shock. Mighty fine special effects, he thinks wildly, but the way they soar over him -- through him -- is entirely real. They’re cooking him alive, dual whirlwinds of heat and light and unimaginable pain. Their roars echo in his mind long after they pass. Then he realizes that’s no monstrous bellow, but the rending of steel, the rumble of concrete. Through the twirling blue, he sees Hanzo running at him, bow ready to finish the job.

A dragon brushes a propane tank.

The resulting explosion rocks the entire studio. McCree is thrown to the ground, ears ringing. Hanzo stumbles, cement cracking under his feet. He follows a growing fissure as it races up a wall, dislodging pipes, scaffolding crashing down. More explosions rip huge chunks out of the set as additional canisters are smashed and cut open. Pieces of roof the size of cars plummet around him, shrapnel breaking off on impact and slicing into him like knives.

Above him, twisted metal shrieks as the airplane breaks free of its supports, and he knows there is no escape. The entire stage comes down in a fiery wreck. McCree curls into a ball until the worst of it is over. The airplane’s nose is directly over him, protecting him from the falling ceiling, and in front of him is Hanzo’s bow.

Hanzo himself is buckling under the weight of the plane’s engine. Hands clasping the edges, he grits his teeth at the blades hanging mere inches away from his face. McCree can hear the gyros in the archer’s prosthetic legs complaining as he barely -- just barely -- holds off his doom.

There’s no time to think. Scrambling to his feet, Jesse makes a running tackle, wrapping his arms around Hanzo’s waist. The engine falls, wing shearing as the plane’s body drops the last few feet to the earth. Debris settles around them, glass from the windows like dewdrops on their bodies.

McCree feels barbecued, hair singed and guts churning, but the man beneath him, though winded, is breathing. He can live with that.

And then Peacekeeper’s safety clicks off, barrel against the side of his head.

Hanzo, face coated with blood, body covered in dozens of lacerations and punctures, has his gun.

McCree gives him one thing: he doesn’t give up. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he mutters.

“You--” Hanzo coughs, throat lined with dust. “You would respawn.”

Jesse considers. “I would. But your respawn’s in a million tiny pieces. You wanna die alone?”

That’s certainly a possibility. Hanzo has died so many times in the past week that the thought of not coming back is strange. Prickly. Wayward heir to illegal weapons trade empire found suffocated in collapsed studio, reads the newspaper article in his mind. Packed in a tomb of rock and rebar like a sardine. No one heard his screams.

He throws the gun away, grunting as his arm protests. Everything hurts.

McCree rolls off him, lies on his back as he catches his breath. The plane’s fuselage has enveloped them like a cocoon, chairs thrown across the length of it and oxygen masks dangling. Hanzo drags himself into a sitting position, cringing as fresh pain courses through him. For a moment, neither man moves, nursing their various wounds.

Jesse looks up when Hanzo spits. A gob of blood sluices along his boot. Nestled in its midst: a tooth.

“You’re a real piece of work, y’know that?”

Crimson trickles past his lips as Hanzo speaks. “You have shown me nothing but disrespect from the moment we met.” Even talking is uncomfortable. He chooses his words carefully. “You do not know the meaning of honor.”

The last thing McCree feels right now is amicable, but he puts a lid on his growing anger. He rests his hands on his chest to prevent them from balling into fists. “What do you think I did just there, ya moron? You ain’t a pile of mush. You deserve a better death than that.” He gestures at the plane. “Than this.”

“You would rather kill me yourself,” Hanzo grumbles, “Watch me die at the hands of your teammates.”

Hell yeah!” Jesse winces, side twinging. He didn’t mean to say that so loud. “You said it yourself, partner. At the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. These things happen. Things. Plural. They come and they go. We don’t take these so serious because they’re big, mean training exercises. We commend bravery. We judge weakness. If another Omnic Crisis raises its ugly head, who’d you want defendin’ ya? A buncha complacent assholes, or hardened veterans?”

It is at that moment Hanzo realizes he is profoundly lonely. Wandering the world solo, only interacting with people for blood money -- he has no idea how to act in an organization. A team. Zarya’s smile, Lucio’s laughter, 76′s commands. McCree’s disrespect. All attempts to make him one of their own.

For a sniper, how could he be so blind?

Hanzo buries his head in his arms, clutching his legs.

Some time passes. McCree thinks the glass in his lungs don’t ache as bad. “Hey. You cryin’? S’okay if you cry. I won’t tell a soul.”

“Be quiet,” Hanzo snaps.

The cowboy nods to himself. “Works for me.”

- - -

It takes rescue groups four hours to dig them out. Jesse insists they help Hanzo first.

“Shoulda seen him liftin’ an entire goddamn turbine. Looked like a regular Japanese Hercules.”

- - -

Gibraltar. Sunset.

The code recovered from Volskaya Industries, decrypted by Helix Security Systems, refined with programming by Lucheng Interstellar, and run on software from Goldshire Studios is in alpha. Tests on rats show promise, but Winston swears not to ramp up experiments until the code is examined from every angle and known inside and out. In any case, Hanzo is exempt from registry into the infant system until he’s in top shape again.

The warmth feels good on his skin in a patchwork sort of way. He’s a kaleidoscope of bandages, bruises, and blue hues, but it could have been worse. A pile of mush, he muses, chuckling as he raises his flask of sake.

“Somethin’ I said?”

He can tell it’s McCree just from the click of his spurs. The cowboy sits next to him without asking permission. He too is a map of stitches and scars, one eye swollen shut. He pops the cap on a bottle of beer and asks, “How you holdin’ up?”

Hanzo grins.

The bottle freezes halfway to Jesse’s lips. He isn’t sure if it’s the spontaneity or the intimate knowledge that one of those pearly whites is fake that lodges his heart in his throat. Whatever it is, he has to chug half his drink to make it descend again. “I like you better when you’re frownin’.”

This only makes Hanzo’s grin wider.

“Truly,” McCree continues, “You give a wolf a run for his money.”

“Taking my howls into consideration?”

The cowboy prays to whatever god will hear him that Hanzo mistakes the red creeping onto his cheeks for sunlight. “I -- beg pardon?”

“China. Six bullets into my abdomen. Quite painful.”

“Aw yeah. Right. That happened indeed.” Down goes the rest of his beer.

Hanzo sips his sake before speaking again. “I have reached a conclusion regarding Overwatch.”

“Yeah?”

“You are all lunatics.”

Jesse laughs. “Said the pot to the kettle.”

The archer’s brows narrow. “What?”

“It means you belong here. You’re among like minds. Even if you tend to splatter ‘em all over the walls.” McCree can feel his composure piecing itself back together. Leaning back in an exaggerated sprawl, he reaches into a satchel at his belt for a cigar, lights it up.

Hanzo feigns nonchalance, scoffing. “I suppose. I have only been here a week. Killed you only fifty times. There is no harm in staying longer.”

McCree takes a long drag, exhales a gray plume. “More like forty times, partner.”

“I do not need my bow to make it fifty-one right here, right now.”

The cowboy smiles. Even half-blind, he notes the confidence in Hanzo’s eyes. The drive. It’s the prettiest thing he’s ever seen.

“Sugar, I’d keep comin’ back for more.”