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Look Up and Wonder

Chapter Text

'Rise and shine, cariño. You've got an incoming communication.'

The cool, slightly metallic voice drifted out of the communicator on his wrist and he convulsed as he was pulled out of his dreams with a jerk like a noose snapping taught. There was sweat running down his brow and his jaw ached in a way that it only did from holding back screams.

Jesse McCree unclenched his teeth and drew in a gasping breath, his eyes darting around his room. It was exactly the same as it had been when he'd closed his eyes. There was a pile of clothes in the corner that he hadn't had the time or the energy to send through the sanitizer. The shelf on the wall still had three very dog-eared books on it and his hat hung on the corner, as tattered as the books. They were small, cramped quarters, but the room felt safe in its solidness.  

Nothing had changed and he clung to that, using it like a lifeline as he rolled over and fumbled for the clock on the table next to him.

3:23 AM, ST

"Gorram it," he swore. That meant he'd had exactly two hours and ten minutes of sleep. Just enough to keep him up and running but not enough to run well. "Tell them to call back when I'm less likely to hunt 'em down for wakin' me."

It wasn't as though he'd get back to sleep now, not with the nightmares he knew were waiting for him there.

'It's Braden on Line 3. He says it's about a job.'    

"I hate Line 3. I'm goin' to have it disabled next time we're landside so folks can't call at ungodly hours."

'I've traced his signal to Three Hills and the time there is ten at night. It's only ungodly for you.'

"Just like most things. Must be a Monday," he muttered as he swung his legs over the side of his cot and wondered if his head currently hurt more or less than it usually did.

More, he decided. It probably had something to do with the six fingers of whiskey he'd downed in the hopes that it would help him sleep a little longer than usual. The haze of it still lingered at the back of his brain, promising a softer world with less to worry about.

Sadly reality had come knocking dark and early and it sounded like a call on Line 3.

"Did you put him on hold?" He asked as he struggled into the closest pair of pants – the same ones he'd kicked off the night before. There was a hole in one of the knees and a stain on the other from a splash of spilled whiskey.

'Of course.'

"He best not expect me to pretty up for him," Jesse growled as he punched the door button and stepped over the pile of clothes into the hall without bothering to smooth back his tousled hair or put on a shirt. None of them were clean enough to want on his skin anyway.

Empty space flecked with stars stretched out before him through the treated glass ceiling and he followed it down the short passage and into the cockpit. If his little room was his den, the cockpit was his open sky. He collapsed into the chair with a groan, shifting until his body found the familiar curves in the worn leather. The padding had shifted enough over the years that it had grown thin in some places and tight in others until it fit only him.

"Where're we at?" He punched his code into the control panel in front of him and ignored the flashing red light at his elbow that indicated that someone was waiting for him to accept their transmission.

'Three hours and ten minutes from the Murphy Protostar on Shadow's dark side.'

They were running, always running. It was almost funny that he had all of space practically to himself and still couldn't manage to get away. Fuel, food, and parts were all that kept him anywhere close to civilization rather than taking off into the black just to see what was in it.

Jesse leaned his head against the back of the seat and looked up, searching for the empty places between the distant stars.

"What're we doin' out here, Som," he whispered.

'I don't know, Jessito. Whatever it is, we've been doing it for a long time.'

He punched the flashing button before he could think better of it. When a man started asking questions like that, it was time to get himself well and truly grounded.

"You best have a good reason for usin' this line, Braden. I ain't in the mood t' deal with you or whatever scheme you've cooked up after that last one."

"Lovely to talk to you as well, McCree. It's been too long. Have I mentioned lately that I detest your waiting music?" Braden's voice was as cool and slick as an oil spill and just as dirty. His image flickered to life on the screen – a middle aged man who looked like he should be in a well-cushioned office doing tax reports. What hair he had was carefully slicked back and there was a pinched look about him that told Jesse loud and clear that Braden had most definitely not been enjoying the banjo music.  

"Yeah, I reckon you did last time you called. It's why I kept it on sweetheart – just for you."

Braden's lip curled. "Charming. I somehow manage to keep forgetting what an unsophisticated piece of back-planet trash you are. One would think that after this many years of...association I would stop being surprised."

"One would," Jesse agreed, making sure to scratch his bare chest where Braden could see it. "'Course, most folk would just call it 'rustic charm'."

"We both know better, McCree. Any charm you once had has long been lost to empty space, just like you'll be one day."

"The rest of your hair seems to have headed that way already, Braden. I'll give it my regards when I get there, huh?" Even the pixelated image hadn't been enough to hide the dealer's quickly receding hairline from Jesse's eyes. "Tell you what, I got the number of this pretty hat maker. I'm sure she'd be able to set you up with somethin' prettier than that shiny top you're sportin'. Unless you like those guards of yours usin' it like a mirror."

A dark, angry flush began to creep up Braden's neck and into his cheeks. "You think you're so clever –"

"I know I'm clever," Jesse interrupted him as he propped his feet on the console, trying to get more comfortable. "It's why you keep callin'. Now tell me why you've got me out of my very comfy bed or get the fuck off my screen. I got better things t' be lookin' at than you – like the backsides of my eyelids."

Braden was silent for a moment and Jesse knew that the man was wondering if he should disconnect the communication or not. It had happened on more than one occasion when Jesse hadn't been able to resist needling the dealer a little bit too far. It had cost him what would probably have been very lucrative jobs, but driving Braden ever closer to an aneurysm was worth it.

Evidently 'not disconnecting the communication' won today because the man on Jesse's screen took a deep breath, slicked back his already flat hair, and managed to collect himself.

"I have a job for you. I offered it around, but no one else would take it."

Jesse reach over onto the panel next to him and plucked a cigar out of the metal cup there. He rolled it back and forth between his fingers without lighting it, teasing himself with it.

"Was it the money?"

Braden's laugh rung hollow. "No. No, the money is good. Enough to tempt fools, certainly. It's a bad job though. The chances of pulling it off properly are slimmer than a beggar's pocketbook."

"Sounds like my kind of job," Jesse admitted. If the money was good enough, of course. One of his engines had started to wear itself thin and it was only a matter of time before he'd have to stop flying and go planetside for repairs. Costly repairs.

"McCree." Braden's voice had a hard edge to it that caught Jesse's attention. "This isn't like the other jobs I've sent your way. I'm only telling you because you're the hardest fucker in the whole damn verse to catch, and that's what this needs. I don't know how many tricks you have up your sleeve, but you'll need all of them for this is you want to walk out of this alive."

"Commission must be good on your end to try to sell me like this, Braden. I'd be touched 'cept I don't want to use the word and your name in the same sentence. Gives me the willies just thinkin' about it."

"On second thoughts, maybe you'll get killed and save me the trouble of paying someone to do it for me."

"Always knew you cared. Shoot it over and I'll decide how suicidal I'm feelin'."

He hit the 'Disconnect' button with his heel before Braden could insult him again and the sudden lack of buzzing whine from the communicator made his ears ring.

"Alright Som, let's see this death job. I'm feelin' a little reckless."

'You're feeling reckless because it's 3:48 in the morning, cariño. I will bring up the summary as soon as it is – ah, it has arrived. How unusually prompt.'

"Must be important for him not t' dangle it over our heads like a scrap," Jesse said darkly as he pulled his feet off the console and leaned forward to see the screen. Although to be fair, it had been a full month since he last saw a living soul in the flesh and he was starting to feel a bit like a hungry dog.

A single slide of information sprang to life, the text flickering slightly from its long journey through space.

Start Message---

---Assigned By: S. Braden

---Assigned To: J. McCree

---Details: Infiltrate the Shimada residence on Sihnon undetected. Acquire one H. Shimada. Transport to target's destination of choice. Avoid capture by the Sihnon Council or any known associates at all costs.

---Payment: 20.000.000 Credits, Untraceable. Delivered upon arrival at destination.

---End Message

The cigar fell from Jesse's nerveless fingers and rolled under his chair.

"Shit," he drawled, letting the word roll over his tongue like he was going to ask it out to dinner. "That's a whole lotta zeroes." That kind of cash could replace every damn piece on his ship ten times over and stock it up so well that he wouldn't have to touch the ground for a year if he didn't want to.

'It came with an image attachment of the target.'

"Hell, bring it on up. Might as well see who'd pay that much to be stolen away from their own kin. I betcha two credits it's some princess trying to get away from a marriage or somethin' – oh."

The image that replaced the text was definitely not that of a princess.

'I believe that you now owe me a total of five thousand six hundred and twenty two credits, having just lost that bet.'

"You're a cold-hearted bitch, Som. Hurtin' a man right where it counts – his wallet." Jesse leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees while he looked at the image file. It had clearly been pulled from some sort of legal record, because there was nothing natural about having to pose like that except for a license of some sort. A dark haired man looked up at him from his screen, slashing brows drawn low over dark eyes. There were splashes of white at his temples and his long hair had been tied back in an elegant horse tail. His beard was short and carefully trimmed to a point. He looked tired. Angry. Visibly bitter.

Jesse rubbed his hand across his suddenly dry mouth.

The son of a bitch was also handsome enough to make Jesse wish that he'd bothered to brush his hair just to look at his picture. No space slob liked him had a right to be in the same room as something like that.

'Jessito, I know what you're thinking.'

"I don't reckon you do Som, but lay it down for me anyway."

'It's a job with a high payout, but there's also a reason no one has accepted it yet. Sihnon is one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced planets in the system.'

"And the Shimadas rule Sihnon, I know. That stinkin' family has fingers in every pie that matters and half of them are the kind that I wouldn't want to be caught eatin'. I've got a couple brains left." He tapped the screen and the image pulsed wildly for a moment before stabilizing. His finger rested next to the man's digital cheek, but didn't touch it. "What I'm curious about is why Mister H. Shimada here is so eager to ditch that life of luxury."

'If you are caught trying to aid in his escape, you will not survive long enough to see what the inside of one of their cells looks like. The Shimada family is not known to be forgiving with those who slight them.'

Jesse flipped back to the information slide, banishing the image of H. Shimada. He couldn't think clearly with the man glaring up at him like that.

"How far is it to Sihnon?"

'Jesse.'

"I'm just askin' outta idle curiosity! It's not like I was contemplatin' actually takin' the job. I like breathin' too much to do somethin' like that." He casually leaned forward and began poking idly at the buttons by the screen.

'Jesse, you just pressed the button to accept the job.'

"My finger slipped!" He cried dramatically. "I'm innocent I tell you! You'll never take me alive!"

'I should jettison you through the airlock, cabrón! You're going to get yourself killed and then what will you do?'

Jesse settled back in his seat with a grin. "Be dead, I expect. Sounds pretty relaxin' right now. Might as well do one last job first. Besides." He thumped the arm of the chair with a grin. There was something stirring in his chest, something that felt more alive than anything had in months. Years, maybe. He'd done enough smuggling jobs, escorts, body guarding, and heists to last a life time. Maybe a rescue was just what he needed. "What's livin' without a little danger?"

'Safe.'

"Since when do we do 'safe'?"    

A loud sigh crackled over the communicator, heavy with aggravation. 'We're two weeks from Sihnon, and it'll take me all of it to build you convincing enough credentials to get in without getting shot before you take one step.'

"You do what you need to do, Sweetheart."

Jesse McCree put his feet back up on the console of his ship and tilted his head back so that he could look up through the glass.

The black space between the stars didn't seem quite so dark right now.

Chapter Text

It was raining in Hanamura.

Anywhere else this wouldn't have been at all unusual. On Sihnon, and Hanamura specifically, it was extremely odd because the weather was regulated by a highly intelligent algorithm. That algorithm had decided hundreds of years ago that patterns of dry weather, followed by short rainy season was what suited the planet Sihnon best. It gave everyone at least two days of warning before any rain was scheduled so that they could pack their umbrellas or change any travel plans they might have.

No notification had been given for this rainy day however, and it was absolutely pouring out.

Later when top analysts finally figured out what went wrong, which would come four days after the rain began and when everything was utterly soaked through, they would find that one zero in their very intelligent algorithm had been changed to a one.

They would ask the program why this change had been made.

The program would run some calculations and decide that it had been asked to make the change.

Asked? The analyst would repeat.

Yes, the program would say, and asked very politely too. Why didn't the analysts ask it to do anything politely?

The analysts would hem and haw over that and promise to get back to it with an answer later.

The rain would stop on the fifth day when one of them finally decided to say 'please'.

Jesse McCree caught a transport ship into Hanamura on the second day of the unusual rain and passed his ID to the armed men standing at the end of the ramp.

"Welcome to Hanamura, Mister Alvarado," the one on the left said as he scanned the ID. It had already gotten him through three lines of security – one when he'd first enter Sihnon airspace, one when he had registered his ship at a docking station at a city about five hundred miles from Hanamura, and one when he'd walked into a small outpost village on foot after having moved said ship about four hundred and ninety five miles closer to Hanamura. After that he'd bitten the bullet and caught a ride on a transport ship for the rest of the journey in. Some boots were made for walking that kind of distance, but not the one on his feet.

"Are you visiting for business or pleasure?" Asked the security guard on the right. His hand rested very casually on the blaster gun at his side. I don't want to use it, but I'll be happy to if you cause trouble.

"Bit of both, I expect," Mister Caine Alvarado drawled. "If this weather ever breaks. Thought y'all were supposed to have that stuff regulated?"

Both guards gave the window next to them an irritated look, as if the downpour outside was a personal insult to both them and their ancestors.

"It is regulated," one of them said. "This is simply a test of the systems and should be resolved shortly. Enjoy your stay, Mister Alvarado."

'You are so full of shit it's a wonder your eyes aren't brown.' His communicator whispered once he'd pocketed his false ID and left the guards behind and shouldered his bag. It had been searched twice already and gone through a scanner, which was why he'd left his gun on the ship. Hanamura wasn't the sort of city that anyone could hope to blast their way out of in a firefight, which left him with only his wits and his charms to get him through.

"My eyes are brown, Sweetheart," he replied, making sure not to move his mouth very much in case one of his fellow pilgrims happened to glance over at him.

'Now you know why. Get checked in and then page me once you're somewhere safe.'

"There's that word again…"

No one stopped him as he exited the terminal and stepped out on the slick stone streets of Hanamura. It was all a well-crafted illusion of course – the rocks didn't have the same feel to them as real ones would. They were man made ones designed to mimic, but Jesse knew that hundreds of miles of piles, wires, and electrics ran underneath them. Every step he took would be registered and catalogued in the system as the city tracked his whereabouts through the chip embedded in his false ID. Any unusual movements or suspicious activity would result in the swift arrival of the Hanamura Guard.

Thankfully Mister Alvarado had no intentions of doing anything beyond checking in at his hotel.

"Thank you Ma'am." He tipped his hat, a wide-brimmed calfskin piece with silver beads woven into the band, to the young woman behind the desk when she scanned his ID and registered it to a room on the fifth floor. "Mighty fine city y'all got here. Finest I've ever seen, truth be told."

"Thank you, Mister Alvarado. We are all very proud of it." She gave a short bow to him, her black hair falling around her face like a delicate fan.

"I can see why. It's a nice change from Beaumonde, even with the rain."

Mister Caine Alvarado owned several prosperous ranches on the border planet and was wealthy enough to treat himself to a rather extravagant vacation twice a year. The last one had been to the bioluminescent lakes of Ariel according to his travel papers, where he had also indulged in a few purely cosmetic procedures at Saint Lucy's. He wouldn't consider himself a vain man, but he also wasn't as pretty as he'd been at twenty five. His equally wealthy and influential friends back on Beaumonde had commented that he looked ten years younger and twice as healthy after that particular trip, and it had satisfied his slightly egotistical nature.

Jesse had had a fun time making him up during the flight to Sihnon.

"We have been assured the rain will abate shortly. I hope that it does not hamper your trip in any way."

"Not at all, Sweetpea. Might just make it better – I've got a certain fondness for things when they're wet." He winked at her as she handed back his ID. She blushed.

"Still got it," he congratulated himself as the hotel room door slid shut behind him and locked automatically.

'If by 'it' you mean an ability to spout off the worst pickup lines in mankind's history then yes, you still have it.'

Jesse flopped backwards onto the bed and groaned when the mattress cushioned him like a cloud. If pretending to be a rich rancher got him into places like this, it was an act he'd be happy to put on once in a while just for a chance to sleep on something other than his little cot. The whole room was about as far removed from his room onboard the ship as possible. It was spacious and airy. The floors were tatami mats and there were sliding shoji screens that separated the sleeping room from the rest of it. Elegant paintings and woodblock prints that probably cost more than all of his internal organs combined decorated the walls.

"You sweep the place already?"

'Sí. There are six listening devices and one heat monitor. I didn't do anything with the monitor, but I gave the eavesdroppers a feed loop to listen to.'

Jesse pulled his hat off and dropped it on the pillow next to him. It wasn't his usual one and it was just tight enough around his head that it made his temples pound if he kept it on for too long. "Which loop?"

'The one I recorded last time you decided to masturbate in the cockpit.'

A roll of thunder from outside drowned out his groan and he rolled over and buried his face in the silk sheets. "Som, you're killin' me," he said, his voice muffled by the bed. "The planet know for trainin' the best and most expensive companions in the 'verse and you've got me jerkin' it all by my lonesome."

'Unless you scheduled a Companion to meet you in your room - which your record shows you haven't - you wouldn't have had the time to arrange a meeting with one yet. Your hand will have to do.'

"It usually does," he grumbled.

Mister Alvarado spent a private hour in his room before changing his clothes and setting out on foot to explore the delights of Hanamura. He stopped in a corner store to purchase an unremarkable black umbrella and an onigiri stuffed with tender flaked salmon, which he ate as he walked down the wet sidewalk. A few sticky rice grains clung to the fingertips of his gloves until he licked them off. To anyone who bothered to give him more than a second glance, Mister Alvarado was an entirely unremarkable visitor. His long olive coat was clean and his golden vest had crisp, tailored edges designed to help disguise a slightly soft middle. His black hat was new and his gold-capped boots had never touched a speck of dirt in their lives. Everything about him said money without undue extravagance.

He didn't match the locals, but then again, he wasn't trying to.

The streets were carpeted in slippery cherry blossom petals that had been dislodged by the weather, making it look like the stones had decided to bleed pink. They clung to his boots and the hems of his trousers.

"Lots of walls and narrow alleys," he murmured to himself as he walked down one of them. If it came down to a chase or a gunfight, he'd be in big trouble. He'd have to be a damn monkey to get up and over the walls here and he was positive that the guard rotation on the rooftops was as tight as it was on the ground. Already he'd passed at least seven folks who he instantly pegged as security. Five of them had been dressed as civilians and two of them had followed him for several blocks before dismissing him as uninteresting.

He stopped in a noodle restaurant and treated himself to a large bowl of udon with tempura in it. The staff complimented him on how good he was with his chopsticks, even though he purposefully fumbled several of the fat noodles and ended up with a few faint spots of broth on his vest. A cold glass of beer came with his meal and he finished it and ordered another, wiping the drops of condensation off of the glass with his gloved thumb. It was good beer - much better than anything the machine in his ship could crank out.

"Mind if I smoke?" He asked the young woman who came to collect his dishes.

"Of course, Sir. I will get you a tray for the ash."

He waited until she returned with the shallow crystal tray before touching the foot of his cigar with a match. "I was out walkin' earlier and saw a big place in the distance. It a temple or somethin'? I don't have any plans for a bit and was thinkin' about doin' some sightseein'."

The woman's expression didn’t change, but Jesse detected a new tension in her posture. "You will not be able to tour that building, Sir. It is the private residence of the Shimada family and they will not open their doors to those without an invitation."

"Ah, gotcha. And if I wanted to procure one of these invitations?" He took a slow drag on his cigar and let the fragrant smoke rest in his mouth for a moment. That was one downside of space travel – he couldn't justify smoking as much because of the strain it put on the air filters. "Seems a shame t' keep such a jewel of a place shut up like that."

"You do not want to have an invitation to the palace," her voice was soft and deceptively casual as she traded his empty beer glass for a fresh one. "The Council is not kind to those who are summoned."

"The Council? Thought you said it was the Shimada residence."

He knew about the Sihnon Council. Anyone with half a brain knew about the Sihnon Council. On the surface they were in charge of the training, registration, and assignments of every legal Companion in the 'verse. Beneath that, they were rumored to rule a thriving and highly varied black market. Any unregistered weapons, drugs, or flesh on the central planets had probably passed under the watchful eye of the Council at some point.

"Yes, but it is the Council's word that is law here. Your tab, Sir."

That was the end of that conversation. Jesse paid his tab without prying anymore and left a generous tip in the hopes that it would keep her from alerting the security that an off planet vacationer was asking nosey questions.  

The hanging street lanterns blossomed with light as he stepped out and opened up his umbrella. Even with it to keep the worst of the weather off, Jesse was still soaked from the knees down by the time he made it back to his hotel room. He toed off his boots and left them sitting in a puddle just inside the door.

'Did you have a good time exploring cariño?'

One of the shoji screens slid aside to reveal a large closet with hangers and a pull-out drying drawer, so he hung up his coat and vest and carefully folded his pants into the drawer. They were one of only two good pairs he owned, so it was worth taking care of them for when he had to go places like this.

"The place is full up to its eyeballs with goons and the Council controls all of it. It's not gonna be an easy snatch and run, that's for sure."

'We knew that when we started. What did you find out?'

Jesse found the bathroom behind another sliding screen and almost cried when it contained an actual shower and a deep bathtub rather than a cleansing spray like he'd gotten used to onboard. It kept him clean, but it was nothing compared to the old fashioned pleasure of having a long soak. He shed the rest of his clothes as quickly as he could and pressed a button to release a rush of near-boiling water into the bathtub.

"Nobody gets into the palace without an invitation and nobody seems to want one of those. Didn't hear anything about the Shimadas, so you'll have to dig up the dirt on that. It's like a paradise here so long as you don't look at anythin' too hard. The whole place is rotten to the core but it has some pretty tasty icing coverin' up all the rot."

A whimper escaped his lips when he stepped into the hot water and then sank into it until he was completely submerged. His skin was on fire, but it was so good that he stayed under until his lungs began to scream for air.

"How hard would it be to secure one of these fancy invites?" He asked when he surfaced, shaking his head like a dog. Wet fingers found the switches at the inside of his elbow and flicked them so that the entire forearm came off in his hand and he put it on the floor next to the bathtub.

'Almost impossible,' said the voice in his wrist communicator. 'From what I can find, they're all handwritten and go through a long approval line before they're sent out. It's all very fancy and official. And you can't steal one either. They're keyed to DNA, not to an ID. You won't just be kicked out of the castle – you'll be kicked off the planet without a ship or a suit if you try to take or forge one.'

"Guess we have to be sneaky. I love doin' that."

'I never would have guessed, considering how bad you are at it.'

"You are mean today, Som. What'd I do to deserve this?" He leaned his head against the back of the tub and closed his eyes, content to simply enjoy the feeling of warm weightlessness for a little while.

'You accepted this job.'

The image of a severe man with silver at his temples floated to the front of Jesse's wandering mind.      

"Yeah, guess I did."

That night he tried to sleep on the very soft bed, but it eluded him. The room wasn't his. It was too big, the corners were too dark. Finally after three hours of tossing and turning and almost escaping into sleep only to wake up in a cold sweat he gave it up as a bad job and spent the rest of the night curled up in the top sheet on the floor with his back pressed against the wall.

Chapter Text

"Now, I don't know if anybody ever told you this, but that gun you're holding? That one you're pointing between my eyes? Kind of makes you looks like you're compensating for somethin' if you get my drift. Not that you are!" Jesse held up his hands as the gun muzzle kissed the skin of his forehead, but let his eyes wander down south of the gentleman's face. "Well, might be. I couldn't say from personal experience since you aren't that familiar. Have we slept together before? I think I'd remember somebody as pretty as – there we go!"

The muzzle flashed, but Jesse had already dropped and the shot left a smoking hole in the wall behind him rather than in his head. The guard went down with a grunt, his legs swept out from underneath him, and Jesse rolled to his feet.

"Talkin' too much. Gets 'em every time." A swift kick to the head with a very hard boot ensured that the scene wouldn't be repeated any time soon.

'I continue to be amazed that you are still alive.'

"In all ways that matter? I am indeed. Legally? Not so much." The voice was coming out of his earpiece instead of his wrist communicator to cut back on noise. They'd both agreed long ago that it was a bit pointless since Jesse talked almost constantly, but it made the whole job seem a bit more official with an earpiece involved. "Why'd you kill the music?"

'You were busy trying to talk your way out of being shot. Again. It didn't seem like an appropriate time to be playing country music.'

"Firstly, it's always a good time to be playing country music." He stepped over the prone body and continued down the main hall of the Shimada castle. The wing that he was walking down was deserted, but the sound of shouting and sirens was loud enough to be heard from every corner of Hanamura. "Secondly, that's the first time I've had to sweet talk my way outta anythin' tonight, so cut a man a little slack! Hell, it's been months since the last time I had a gun between my eyes.”

‘I’m sure that you missed it.

“Now you’re just getting kinky on me.”

The Shimada castle was beautiful, even in the dark. Jesse’s tastes had always run to wide open spaces and the clean feel of the desert, but this place definitely had something going for it. It was posh without being pretentious and wore its history like a well-fitted coat. The air was sweetly scented from flowers and incense. There were grooves in the wooden floors from years of feet passing over them and Jesse’s boots fell into them naturally. They made a soft clicking noise that seemed too loud for the serene night. This was a place for beautiful women and fine silks. The likes of him would never be welcomed, with or without one of their special invites.  

Good thing he had never been the type to wait to be invited in to make himself at home.

‘There are cameras everywhere. Do you think they were expecting trouble?’

“Anyone who has this much money and power is a fool if they don’t. Probably helps that ‘Trouble’ is my middle name so they can roll out the red carpet.” He let his gloved fingertips slide along a shoji screen painted with a dragon flying over a carpet of cherry blossoms. “Or lock up the gates.”

Not that it usually helped. There was a detonator button resting very comfortably in his pocket that could attest to that.

“Just keep feedin’ them the loop you ripped of ‘em and I’ll get what we came for. In and out, quick as a whistle. Can’t figure why nobody would take this job, minus havin’ the Council down on your head for the rest of your livin’ days. Seems to me we’ve had it pretty eas– urck! "

The knife pressed against his throat was a pretty good sign that he was starting to lose his edge. There had once been a time where he'd have caught the damn thing with his teeth and not batted an eyelash, but that was a couple years and head injuries in the past. The razor edge tickled the hair on his throat, giving him a much closer shave than he was used to.

'Shall I turn back on the music now, cabrón? Or would you like to finish getting your throat cut first? '

"You're meaner than a snake tonight!" He whispered and the knife jerked close enough to his throat that he felt a trickle of blood run down his neck and into the hollow of his collarbone. "Now let's just be reasonable here," he said a little louder. "I don't much feel like getting' a new hole in me tonight and I'm sure you don't want t' spend the rest of forever scrubbing blood off the hardwood since that shit is harder than hell t' get off."

"Use baking soda and vinegar," said an unamused voice from behind him. The man's body was pressed flush up against Jesse's back, and from the way they fit together Jesse could tell that the guy was shorter than him by a fair few inches.

"Well thanks friend, I'll keep it in mind. Not somethin' I usually stock but I'm sure I can pick up a bit - damn it! " He jerked his head back as he pulled down on the knife-wielding arm, but was met with empty air behind him as his attacker leapt back and away. He was gone when Jesse spun around, his serape flaring around him.

Jesse wiped his throat with the back of his glove and it came away smeared with red. It was definitely more than a shaving nick but nothing that needed his immediate attention. The hallway was dark with lots of very dark shadows for a man to hide in. Jesse took a couple of steps backwards until his back met a solid wall.

"He's fast," he murmured. "Faster than Mister Compensating'."

'Faster than you too. You need to get rid of him quickly before more arrive, Jessito. I don't know how long your little distraction will keep them away .'

"Tell me somethin' I don't know."

"I assume you are responsible for the fire," said a voice, but there was no way for Jesse to tell where it came from. The wall was solid behind him, reassuring in the fact that it wasn't likely to pull a knife on him.

"Guilty as charged. Works pretty well to draw folks away from where you’re going if you get my drift." He fingered the empty holster at his hip, wishing for the first time since his arrival in Hanamura that he'd figured out some way to smuggle in his gun.

Something clattered to his left and he spun on his heel, left hand raised, but nothing sprang at him from the darkness. His heart pounded so loudly that it sounded like a drum in his ears, but it wasn't fear that kept him on his toes.

'I’m going to bring the cameras out of the visual loop so I can locate him, but as soon as I do the guards will know exactly where you are.’

Jesse licked his teeth, eyes darting between the darkest places, the places between the stars.

“Leave ‘em off. I’ll take as much time as I can get, even if it means a bit of a tussle.”  

Don’t take too long and don’t you dare get yourself killed. I’m going to scan the systems for our target and I’ll let you know when I find him.’

“Roger that, Sweetheart.”

There was a soft beep in his ear as the communicator went offline and between that heartbeat and the next, the dark places were plunged into chaos. Jesse rolled at the deepest corner, one arm stretched out to comb through the black and the other guarding his neck, but there was no one there to capture. A weight nailed him in the spine as he turned and it sent him to his knees and then into a wall with a ferocious crack.

“That one’s going to leave a mark,” he groaned, but a lashing kick backwards brought his boot into contact with his assailant’s thigh and the sharp cursing was payback enough for him. “Come on fella, I’m on a time limit here. Only so many hours in the night for gettin’ up to no good!”

The knife caught moonlight as it flew at him and Jesse only just managed to get his arm between it and his face. It caught the cloth covered metal and bounced off in a spray of sparks before clattered across the floor to be lost in the darkness.

“Now that’s downright unfriendly. Didn’t even try to give me a kiss before trying to take this relationship to the next stage. And yeah, that usually involves people trying’ to stab me before you ask.”

“Do you ever stop talking?” His attacker snarled and Jesse caught himself an armful of assassin as the man took a flying leap at him. The man’s knees caught him in his sternum and Jesse swallowed a howl as he felt his bones creak dangerously.

“Nope,” he gasped, holding on as tightly as he could. With his size he might be able to smother the guy if he tried hard enough. This wasn’t the sort of place that he wanted to leave a trail of bodies behind him if could help it, so he let himself overbalance and crashed down onto the floor on top of the man, trapping him between Jesse’s impressive bulk and the wooden floor.

They both lay there for a moment, gasping for air. Jesse’s chest felt like someone had used it as a dance stage while wearing some truly amazing boots.

“You’ve got some hard knees, fella,’ he wheezed. “Ever thought about gettin’ that checked out - get those pointy ass finger away from my eyes !”  

Forget not leaving a trail of bodies - he’d be doing the ‘verse a favor if he made this guy into a corpse. He stopped trying to pin the man down and caught him by the throat with his left hand. One quick squeeze, one more ghost, and he could be on his way.

That was the plan at least, but not exactly the result.

A flash and a roar was all the warning Jesse got before he was tossed backwards like a ragdoll. The back of his head met a wooden beam and his hat fell off, lying forgotten while blue spots danced in front of his eyes. There was a metallic taste in his mouth and every hair on his body was standing at attention. It was pain, electric, white hot pain, and it was everywhere.

It occurred to him, as he sat there watching a pair of well-shined black shoes walk closer until they were between his sprawled legs, that perhaps the reason no one had accepted the Shimada job wasn’t necessarily because of the Council.

A hand tangled in his hair and jerked his head back and there wasn’t a thing he could do to stop it. His arms lay useless at his sides and his muscles were still convulsing and unresponsive from whatever he’d been hit with.

“To think that they would stoop to sending such incompetent assassins. It is insulting.” The same blue light that had so easily brought Jesse down was back, bouncing around the man like an electric field. It lit up his eyes like demon fire and illuminated his long, dark hair.

Tired. Angry. Bitter.

“Should’ve brushed my hair,” Jesse coughed.

Mister H. Shimada’s lip curled as he looked down in Jesse in visible disgust. “Humor me and tell me why before I destroy you like the trash you are.”

“You’re prettier in person. Hope the next guy does a better job of getting you out than me.” The spots were getting bigger and the angle his neck was being held at wasn’t helping. Som was going to murder him when she found out he’d been downed by the very man they’d been hired to help escape. That was just adding insult to injury.

He’d spent too long in the dark places and somehow convinced himself that he could play the hero.

“Getting me out?” The man repeated. “You have set my home on fire, attacked my men, and planned to kill me.” He dropped Jesse’s head and took a step back.

Jessito? ’ Said a voice in his ear. ‘ Jesse! He’s there, that’s him. I was watching the camera records of his office and he came out to investigate the fire. You have to stop - oh Jesse...’

“Nah, just didn’t know it was you,” he said to his breastbone. His head felt very heavy and his tongue had a hard time forming words. “Bet you can still go if’n you want to - it’ll take them a bit to clear up the mess I made at the front.”

‘Jesse, your heart rate is too fast and you’ve got some nerve and muscular damage. You’ve been electrocute, but most of it got sent into your arm. I’m going to try to vent it out but you have to stay awake. Stay with me , cariño.  

H. Shimada crouched in front of him, blue and electric, giving Jesse his first good look at him. He was dressed in a tailored suit that had lost a couple of its crisp edges in their fight. The shirt had come untucked and there was a dirty boot print on his right thigh.

“Are you telling me to use the chaos you caused as cover to escape?”

“Said so, didn’t I? Not the best plan, but better than nothin’.” There was enough feeling left in his right hand for him to make a feeble shoo-ing motion. “Go on, get.”  

“Get. How eloquent.” His glowing eyes trailed over Jesse’s limp form, appraising him.

“Or don’t get, guess that’s on you. I’m gonna take a little nap, if’n you don’t mind.” A nap sounded very tempting, even though he knew that it was only a matter of minutes before somebody wandered along and found him slumped against the wall.

‘Jesse, you need medical attention. It’s a miracle you haven’t had a heart attack already and you definitely have a concussion, so no napping. There’s a shot built into your thumb but you need to get it into your thigh. Work with me.’

He tried. He really did. His left arm was as heavy as stone and he managed to drag it a few inches closer to his legs before he ran out of energy and want limp again. H. Shimada watched him, his hair fanning around his face.  

“Were you really here for me?” He asked, his voice so soft that Jesse almost missed it.

“Yup, sap that I am.” He turned his head away so that he wouldn’t stare. It wasn’t polite. There was a yellow light outside the windows now as the fire grew. “Guess I wanted t’be a hero for once.”

“I sent out that request six months ago. I did not truly believe that anyone would actually accept it, hero or no. It was a fool’s errand.” He caught Jesse by his beard and used it to turn his head back towards him. “Of course, you do have the look of a fool about you, so perhaps you speak the truth.”

‘Jesse, the guards are coming. They’ll see you in under a minute. They know that the cameras have been rigged and they’re on their way. Get up or you’re dead, cariño.’

“You should get a move on,” Jesse whispered. “Seems like the guards are comin’ and distractions like this don’t fall outta the sky every day.”

“And you?” One of H. Shimada’s sharp eyebrows rose.

Jesse’s laugh was more of a cough. “I’ll be a’right. Been in tighter spots than this. Not your problem what happens t’me, since I’m supposed t’be doin’ the rescuing ‘round here.” He closed his eyes. “Take my hat with you, if you go. These folks won’t appreciate a well-made stetson.”

His heart gave a painful lurch when the man let go of his beard and picked up his hat from where it had been lying at Jesse’s side. He turned it over in his hands once, twice, and then reached across the space between them and crammed it back onto Jesse’s head. “Take it yourself - it doesn’t match my suit. I believe it is time for us to ‘get a move on’.”

Chapter Text

“What exactly have you taken?” Someone asked as Jesse all but dragged them down the hall, both of them at a dead run as the sound of shouting followed after them.

“Damned if I know! I’m too chicken to ask!”

Jesse felt good. In fact, he felt amazing. A very small, rational part of his brain pointed out that this was probably a bad thing considering the level of abuse he’d been put through in the last hour, but it was quickly drowned out by a wave of pure adrenaline and ecstasy. It radiated out from the point on his thigh that he’d dug his finger into and flowed through his bloodstream and into his muscles.

He was as light as a feather. Pain was a thing that other people felt.

Once upon a time when he’d been much younger and slightly less intelligent, he’d made the mistake of sampling more than a little bit of a bottle of tequila brewed on one of the outer planets. He’d had his head in the clouds and his belly in hell for approximately three days, and when he’d come out of the stupor he’d been on a totally different planet with ten thousand in platinum in his bag that he hadn’t started with and no memory of any of it.

This was even better than that.

“Your hand is shaking,” the same someone said. “Perhaps we should slow our pace.”

His hand? Jesse glanced back and realized that his gloved right hand was wrapped around Mister H. Shimada’s and he hadn’t had the sense to realize it. He couldn’t tell if the man’s skin was warm or cold through the leather, but he was willing to put money on hot. He must have done something right if he was still on his feet and this guy was coming along with him, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what.

“S’all good, just a side effect.” Or at least he thought it was. Maybe. He made a note to ask Sombra later and promptly forgot again.

He didn’t let go of the hand in his though.

‘He’s right, Jesse. That shot is a temporary fix and it will wear off faster if you keep pushing yourself this much. You need to slow down and use your brain. We have a plan, cariño. Remember the plan.’  

“The plan,” he said out loud and nodded. There was a plan. It hadn’t really worked up to this point, but the rest probably would. Probably. Pro-balls-ly. He chuckled. “We’ve got a plan. A good one. Better than usual.”

“Neither that nor your current state of mind do anything to inspire confidence.”  

“You’re saltier than a horse lick! I like that.”

Did you hear that? That whooshing noise? That was the sound of your brain-to-mouth filter flying out of the window. Shut your flapping lips and hang a right, cabrón. There are two guards coming right at you. I’ll keep monitoring the cameras.’

“You’re the best, Som. The best.

I must be, to have put up with you for this long. Right turn, Jessito.

“Right turn,” he repeated and pulled Shimada around the corner so quickly that his shoulder hit the opposite wall and spun him around so hard that everything blurred together in a whirlwind of color and faint light.

“I am beginning to wish that I had kept your hat and left you behind,” Shimada muttered as he seized one of Jesse’s arms and threw it over his shoulder. “Count yourself fortunate that I feel partially responsible for your current state. Do you have any idea where you are going?”

“You’re pretty strong for such a little guy,” Jesse crooned as he was towed to his feet. He ended up half-draped over the shorter man with his face mashed into the top of his head. That rational part of his brain helpfully pointed out that this wasn’t gentleman-like behavior, but it was once again silenced by the drugs in his system and the smell of peppermint-scented hair products. “What was th’ question?”   

The man wrinkled his nose, a move that Jesse found oddly endearing. It made his face look less like it was carved out of stone.

“I asked,” he said very slowly as if he was speaking to a rather belligerent drunk, “If you knew where you were going. You said ‘right’ but turned left.”

“I did? Oh, damn.”

Guards. She’d said something about guards and he’d turned left. Turning left wasn’t part of the plan. Jesse tightened his hold on Shimada and, before the man could do more than make an indignant noise, pushed them both through the nearest open door and pulled it shut behind them.

The first thing he noticed was that it was a broom closet, which he had no problem with.

The second thing he noticed was that it was a rather small broom closet and that Shimada was pressed up against him from his kneecaps to his collarbones.

He had no problem with this either.

“Howdy,” he drawled, his mouth moving without any input from his foggy mind. “You come here often?”

It was pitch black, but a blue light kindled in the man’s dark eyes and lit up the space like twin electric lanterns. It didn’t look much amused.

“This is madness. It must be the most poorly executed rescue in history,” he snapped as he pressed on Jesse’s chest in a futile attempt to put space between them. Jesse promptly draped both of his arms over the man’s shoulders to keep him where he was.

“You been rescued before?” Jesse mock whispered, trying to decide which glowing eye to look at. He settled on right between them.  

Silence.

Then - “Obviously not, as I am still here.”

There was the sound of footsteps running outside and Sombra’s promised guards dashed by their hiding space.

“In that case, I’d hazard to say it’s the best one in your history.” Gripped by a sudden impulse that he would have crushed if it hadn’t been for the massive amount of painkillers in his system, Jesse leaned down and brushed his nose back and forth against the Shimada’s once, twice, three times.

The glowing eyes blinked up at him, bemused.

“What was that?”

“A kiss. You looked sad and kisses fix stuff.”

The eyes closed and there was the sound of a very long-suffering sigh.

‘If he kills you, I will not blame him at all. I may thank him ,’ said the voice in Jesse’s earpiece. He liked earpieces. They made him feel like things were important and official, even though they hadn’t been properly official in years. Years and years and ye -

“They do not fix everything. We are still hiding in a closet, my front gates are on fire, and I cannot seem to decide whether your descent into this drug-fueled madness is enough grounds to leave your body here and continue on my own.”

“Do I get a say in that last one?”

“No,” Shimada said curtly at the same time Sombra said ‘no,’ in his ear.

“Everybody hates me today, damn,” Jesse mumbled. “S’what I get for doin’ heroics. I’m stickin’ to the normal stuff after this, cross my heart. I get fried less.”

“You were attempting to crush my throat, so I believe that we are even. Now I insist that you give me your communicator so that I may speak directly to whoever you have been conversing with. They may have more insight into our current predicament.”

“That’s a lotta big words, partner. You should get a bunch of points for that.” Jesse leaned back away from Shimada’s hands as the man either reached up to rip out his earpiece or strangle him. It was hard to tell in the dark. “Again with the pokey fingers by my face! What’d I do to warrant this?”

That will be unnecessary ,’ said a voice from under his sleeve. ‘He has a wrist communicator. The earpiece is less conspicuous and makes him feel important so we only use it on occasion. Saludos, Shimada.’  

Jesse settled himself more comfortably against the cluster of mops and brooms behind him, letting his arms hang over Shimada’s surprisingly broad shoulders. The man clearly worked out if he’d been able to pull Jesse to his feet and support him like this without complaining.

“You lift weights?” He asked conversationally.

‘Cállate, Jesse. You’re dumber than a drunk coyote right now. Let the sane people talk.

“The first words with any sense I have heard spoken in far too long,” Shimada said, the relief in his voice obvious even to Jesse (who was currently trying to decide whether he had the attention span to stay insulted or not). “To whom am I speaking?”

‘I am Sombra. The giant who is currently making an ass out of himself is Jesse, since he hasn’t remembered that it’s polite to introduce yourself before you rescue someone. Say hola, Jesse.

Hola Jesse,” Jesse said obligingly and he got a warm feeling under his breastbone when Shimada stared at him. It wasn’t shame or embarrassment since he didn’t have  drop of that to his name, so it must have been something else. Maybe his sense of pain was starting to come back.

‘You’ll have to forgive him - he’s usually more competent than this.’

“I will have to take your word for it, as I’ve seen little indication of anything resembling competence so far. Stop touching my hair.” He swatted Jesse’s wandering hand away as best he could and Jesse relented for about ten seconds. It was just so damn soft.

‘Contrary to all appearances there is indeed a plan in place to get you both off the planet. While bringing Jesse with you might be difficult, I would appreciate his return all the same.’

“We’ve got a plan?” Jesse whispered in shock. “Oh, damn! Right. The plan. Holy hell, my head is full of tumbleweeds. What’s in that shot, Som?”

‘I refuse to tell you because you would never take it again and then probably die from sheer stubbornness. Now hush.’   

“You hush,” he mumbled and Shimada shifted so that his knee was dangerously close to Jesse’s groin. The threat was obvious enough to have him shutting his mouth and keeping it closed.  

“I will do my best to return him to you, but I cannot guarantee he will be in one piece at the end of it.”

Acceptable .’

“Hey, I kinda like my bits,” Jesse started, but the knee between his legs jerked meaningfully and he ended with a whimper instead of a protest.

“Be silent. I must know this plan of yours if I am to be of any assistance. One of you,” he gave Jesse a ‘not you’ look, “must tell me what it is. Since I cannot count on you to know your right from your left for the foreseeable future, I will help to guide you to our next destination.”

He had a point there, Jesse thought to himself. He only realized that he’d said it out loud when Shimada gave him a rather irritated ‘thank you’.

‘You will be leaving in the same manner that Jesse got in. Misdirection. We have a distraction planned that, once activated, should give you a few minutes to make your way as high as you can in the castle. I will meet you once you have arrived and from there we will make our way off-planet.’

Shimada looked slightly less than impressed. “That is a skeleton plan at best. Do you have another option? I do not believe that your partner is in any shape for climbing ten flights of stairs.”

“You callin’ me fat?” Jesse asked, scandalized. Sure, he’d put on some weight since taking to space more than solid ground, but he still fit in his pants and nobody he ran across seemed to be put off by a little more weight around his middle. And his ass. Just a little. Certainly not enough for Shimada to be pointing it out.

“I am saying that you have been injured and are not in the proper mental state to be participating in a delicate operation such as this.”

“Oh.”

‘I agree. Shimada, your guards discovered your absence several minutes ago and are in the process of search both the castle and the city itself. Time is growing short. Jesse, give Shimada your button.’

“But darlin’, we’ve only just met! It’s all so sudden.”

‘You may just need to take it from him. It’s in his left pocket.’

“I am sick and tired of bein’ manhandled like this!” Jesse cried dramatically as Shimada shrugged off his arms and began to dig through the layers and folds of his clothes in search of his pocket. He did his best to twist to keep it away from the man, but that was hard to do in such an enclosed space with a knee on his balls pinning him in place. “At least buy me a drink first before you start with the molestin’. I am a classy son of a bitch who don’t just fall into bed with a pretty face and good-smellin’ hair. Little bit to the left, partner.”

“That,” Shimada hissed as he pulled the device out of Jesse’s pocket a moment later, “was not what I was looking for.”

“But it was so happy t’ see you!”      

‘Jesse, if you make it out of this alive you are dead to me.’

“You and most everyone else.” Jesse looked at the detonator in Shimada’s hand. It was a simple thing - a cylindrical silver tube with a screen on the side and two buttons for making selections. A good piece a tech that he’d picked up for a song on one of the outer planets where they used it to spook herds of cattle into moving along. A couple tweaks and one memorable explosion had converted into something far more useful.

“Want to do the honors?” He asked, nodding at the red button on the end of the detonator.

Shimada regarded it with initial wariness, but he sighed after a moment. “Do not make me regret this.”

Boom.

The explosion that erupted when the button was pressed made the floor beneath them shudder so violently that they both ended up on the ground, covered with bottles of cleaning fluid that had been rattled off of the shelves. The enclosed space lit up with a blinding blue light and Jesse’s mouth tasted like he’d chewed up and swallowed a whole handful of batteries.

“What was that?!” Shimada cried as he struggled out from under the bottles and Jesse’s legs. The glow was coming out of his eyes and from under his jacket.

‘That would be the back gate, since Jesse already set the front ones on fire. He set down a couple of charges yesterday. I suggest that you both make your way to the nearest stairwell now, while everyone is distracted.’

“You’re like a firefly,” Jesse mused from the floor. “A blue one.”  

“And you’re an idiot. Get up.”

It took a moment, but working together they managed to get Jesse to his feet and out the door.

Sadly there was a large man with an even larger plasma rifle passing by right as they emerged.

They stared at each other for a long moment.

“Well howdy! Fancy meeting a thug like you in a fancy place like this.” Jesse greeted him with what he hoped was a charming smile and a not-so-charming punch to the solar plexus with his left hand. The man crumbled.

“Maybe you aren’t entirely useless,” Shimada admitted as he helped Jesse stuff the man into the closet they’d been hiding in.       

“Darlin’, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. I might start gettin’ choked up over here. I hope you don’t mind some gross cryin’, because I don’t cry pretty.”

“Save it for when we are safe and I do not have to see it.”

They found a very narrow set of back stairs without running into any more guards, but it was slow going. Jesse’s initial burst of drug-fueled adrenaline had begun to drain out of him and he was starting to lag behind by the third flight of stairs. His breastbone burned and his muscles were beginning to protest both the electrical abuse they’d been put through and the unusual amount of exercise he was getting after so long spent in space.

“You go ahead,” he panted after the fifth flight as Shimada dragged on his arm, urging him towards the next set. There were just too damn many stairs. “View’s better from the back anyway.”

“I am sure that your companion would not blame me for kicking you back down every step that you just crawled up for that comment, but I will resist because of our limited time.”

‘It’s getting more limited by the second. Run faster,” said Sombra from Jesse’s communicator. ‘Jesse, your shot is wearing off. You need to hurry before it’s completely gone.’  

“Can’t,” Jesse wheezed, even as his boots found another stair and then another. “I’m goin’ to die because of stairs, Som. Fuckin’ stairs. Tell Miss Scarlett I love her when I’m gone.”

‘I am not telling your gun that you love her. Keep climbing.’

“Isn’t there a damn elevator?” He tried to ignore the burning stitch in his side with little success. He wasn’t feeling so amazing any more and the rational part of his mind that had been so easy to ignore earlier was getting a lot louder. It pointed out that he needed some serious medical attention and had about five more minutes of consciousness left, judging by how much his vision was starting to narrow at the edges.

He silently told that rational voice to take its observations and shove them up its ass.   

“They will be using it for evacuating the castle,” Shimada said, tightening his grip on Jesse’s arm. “And guards are stationed at every exit to prevent trouble, which I would classify this as. They will shoot on sight, whether or not I am with you.”  

So much for that plan. Jesse clenched his teeth together and tried to focus on putting one boot in front of the other, but it got harder with each step. By the top of the seventh flight of stairs Shimada was half supporting him with an arm around his waist and an arm across his shoulders.

“What do you eat?” He said and Jesse was close enough like this to see the lines of stress around his mouth and eyes. “You are heavy enough to be made of stone.”

“Just good, healthy livin’,” Jesse replied, but his words were slurred. “But now you really are callin’ me fat. I got a question for you.”

“Save your breath and your questions. We are nearly there.”

Jesse shook his head, trying to clear it. The last of the fog was burning off, but a sick feeling had settled in him and was crawling his way up his esophagus like a serpent.

‘Jesse, you were seen and someone summoned the guards. There are ten of them coming up the stairs behind you, three flights back and they’re armed. Hurry, cariño.’  

He tried to hurry, he really did, but his body had finally had enough and he collapsed to his knees on the landing with a thud, nearly pulling Shimada down with him. He was going to die here, in this beautiful place, with a plasma shot in his brain because everything had gone wrong as usual. Nothing had been right in years and this was the culmination of years of bad luck.

It just wasn’t fair, but when had life ever been fair to him?

Jesse felt a hand on his shoulder, but couldn’t muster the strength to look up at its owner.

“Can you stand?”

He shook his head. Not even if he wanted to. He’d been in spots tighter than this before, with higher stakes too, but that had been with a good team at his back and orders being barked in his ear. Orders he could handle. It was being alone that was going to kill him.

‘Jesse…’ Sombra said softly from his wrist. ‘Please get up, Jessito. You’re going to die if you don’t.’

“S’okay, Som. People die every day.” It even hurt to speak. Heroes, outlaws, and kings. The only thing they had in common was that they all eventually died and he knew that far too well.

The hand on his shoulder tightened painfully. “But we will not. Not today. I will give us the time we need.”

Jesse wanted to protest. He should have. They’d had a plan. Get in, be a hero, and make enough money doing it that they could keep flying. Keep running.

The screaming jerked him from his self-flagellating stupor. He couldn’t see where Shimada had got to from his kneeling position, but the walls were suddenly awash with an electric blue light and the air filled with an unholy roar. It wasn’t loud enough to drown out the shrieks of agony or the ripping sound that Jesse instantly recognize as the sound of flesh tearing. Bile filled his mouth and he fell forward onto his hands and started to retch.

The screams stopped at the same time as the roaring, leaving a void of silence that was so deep that it made his ears ring. Then the hand was back, moving from his shoulder to the back of his neck.

“We have a few minutes now. You must get up.”

“I can’t,” Jesse coughed. “I’ve got nothin’ left in me. Only a minute before I’m out like a light. You go - she’ll get you. You’ll take care of him, won’t you Som?”

‘Shut up Jesse, I’m working. Shimada, there’s a balcony on the north side of your floor and the shoji screens are open. You see it?’

“I do.”

Jesse started to weave even though he was crouched on all fours, but the man was a solid, warm presence next to him for him to lean against.

‘I need you to get him up as much as you can and run for it. Get off that balcony and I’ll take care of the rest. Do it now. They’ve heard the noise and there are more coming. Go!’

Then they were up and Jesse almost threw up again as Shimada dragged him off the floor and threw him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. His head spun like a top but all he could do was clutch weakly at the back of the man’s suit jacket as they started to run. It shouldn’t have been possible. He’d seen men do amazing things under stress, but this was beyond the realm of believability.

“Shimada,” he coughed with what air was left in his lungs, but it was too late. The man took one step, two steps, and he jumped .

His foot hit the rail around the rain-soaked balcony with a noise like a gunshot and the wood buckled under them as plasma blast lit the air around them and they were airborne.

They were flying, or that’s how it felt to Jesse. Lightning split the sky and thunder rolled.

The ship appeared out of nowhere as Sombra dropped the cloaking device, her loading bay open wide to catch them as they fell. They hit the floor and rolled all the way to the back of the storage area, crashing through crates and boxes until both of them hit the wall. Jesse watched with swimming vision as the ramp lifted and then shut, blocking out the storm.

‘Hold on!’ Sombra shouted from his wrist and he felt his insides lurch painfully as the ship spun about and shot away, leaving the castle, the fire, the chaos behind in the rain. They’d made it.

They were free.

Someone grabbed Jesse by his shoulders and rolled him onto his back. Shimada. His hair had come out of its tie and there was a massive tear in the shoulder of his jacket. He was bleeding from a cut on his lip and a purple bruise was forming on his jaw.

“Howdy,” Jesse whispered. “About that question…”

“You shouldn’t be speaking. Tell me where your medical kit is and then be silent.”

“Nah, it’s important.” He had to know, before he passed out.

“Fine, what is your question?” The stress lines were even deeper from this angle. Jesse wished he had the strength to reach up and rub them away.

He licked his dry lips. “What’s the H stand for?”

Shimada jerked back. Blinked. Jesse felt the man’s hands tightened on the front of his shirt.  

“Hanzo. It’s Hanzo.”

“Hanzo,” Jesse repeated, tasting the word. “S’a good name.”

The black space between the stars welcomed him back like an old friend and he knew no more.

Chapter Text

The axe fell and the wood split into two pieces with a sound like a gunshot, both halves falling to the side and out of the way. They were helped into a growing pile by a quick kick from a booted foot, resting in the midday sunshine. Some of them - the ones that had been resting on the top of the chopping pile - were bleached nearly grey by the sun. The ones on the bottom had dirt clinging to their sides and clung stubbornly to their rich color. The axe came down again and two more pieces went onto the pile.

The sound of crickets and cicadas shrieking was the only sound, a low constant buzz of activity from the trees surrounding the field of tall, golden grass. A hawk with dappled feathers oversaw his labors from the top of a dead oak tree, lonely and watchful.

Jesse straightened and rubbed beads of sweat off his forehead with the back of his work glove. It was starting to get more hot than warm, but he figured that he had another hour of work left in him before the heat drove him into the shade. The dogs had retreated there some time ago and both seemed content to nap in the grass, only opening their eyes when they heard their master call.

Chopping wood was simple labor - simple and mindless. His thoughts ran down his arms with every swing of his axe, into the wooden handle, and out through the blade. Soon he would have blisters on his hands where the gloves rubbed against his sweaty palms. This evening he would have bruises on his legs where the wood had fallen the wrong way and knocked into him. Tomorrow he would ache.    

It was a good ache. Nothing settled him in both his mind and his body like splitting wood. Winter would come to Deadwood eventually and winter meant snow and ice. Even folks with solar-powered heating systems would cleave to their fireplaces and the crackling warmth of the fire therein. He and Cal had worked for a week solid to get their barn stocked, chopping up the corpses of the old trees that had died over the past year and piling the racks high until there wasn’t an inch of space left to cram another log. Now Jesse worked for the pleasure of it, for wood to add to the community pile in town.

“Workin’ hard or hardly workin’, boy?”

Jesse looked up at the call and watched as a man on a horse rode up and stopped under the tree next to the dogs. They didn’t bother to so much as roll over, even with the metal-clad hooves dancing feet away from their noses.

Jesse buried his axe in the nearest log and wandered over to join his new company, grateful for the excuse to step into the shade.

“Howdy Sai, thought you were in town today?”

Even with the riding coat and chaps on, it was easy to tell that Sai was little more than sinew and bone all held together by a generous shipment of stubbornness. He had a bristly grey and white goatee that was made up of all of the hair on his head that had migrated south. The hat that covered his bare head was wide brimmed and coated in a fine layer of road dust. Jesse instinctively knew that if he stood close enough, Sai would smell like whiskey and leather and hot sauce. He always had.

“I was, but I finished up early and your ma pointed me down this way. You missed lunch.” He pulled a wrapped package out of his saddlebag and tossed it to Jesse, who accepted the sandwich gratefully.

“No beer?” He joked as he pulled off the wax paper. “Some delivery service you are. Forget the tip.”

“Boy, you aren’t even sixteen yet. Keep your drinkin’ to the ones you pull outta the fridge when your ma ain’t lookin’.” Sai slid off his horse and came to stand beside Jesse so they could both look out over the field. Jesse was taller than him by a good four inches now, which came as a surprise. His grandfather had always seemed much larger, despite his whip-like leanness. How much of that had come from looking at him with a child’s imagination-fueled eyes?

Jesse chewed on his bite of sandwich contemplatively. It had peppers and tomatoes and leftover fajita meat in it, just the way he liked it. The spices weighed heavy on his tongue.

“Can’t say I’ve been sixteen in a long damn time, Sai.”

Sai pulled a cigar out of his hip pouch and lit it with a match, which he ground out under his boot to keep it from catching on the dry grass. He glanced over at Jesse and then up to meet his eyes. Jesse knew what he saw. Same hat, different man standing under it. There were lines on his face now, and a hollowness to the gaze that he met in the mirror. Scars overlay scars. The ache of work slowly began to shift back to the ache of life and it wasn’t a pleasant one.

“Yep, reckon you haven’t been. You grew up fast, boy.”

“Fast and hard, but who doesn’t?” He accepted the cigar that Sai passed him and took and quick puff on it. It was good. Better than the kind he picked up when he stopped for supplies. Of course, Sai had always had a keen nose and excellent taste in both cigars and most other things that mattered in life. It was a trait that Jesse had wished more than once he’d inherited from the man.

“That’s God’s honest truth, ‘specially in your line of work. What’ve you been up to, boy? Still burnin’ your way across the ‘verse and spillin’ the blood that needs it?”

No reply came to Jesse’s tongue, so he only shrugged. How was he supposed to say that he’d turned his back on what should have been his life’s work? The cause he thought he’d believed in had turned sour and almost cost him his life and now he was little more than a mercenary.

Looking for something. Running from everything.

Some of his thoughts must had shown on his face because Sai’s bony elbow dug into his ribs. “Tell you what. I picked up a bottle in town and I was savin’ it for a special occasion. I reckon you not bein’ a punk ass teen anymore is close enough.”

“Much obliged, Sai.”

It was a good bottle. The whiskey was warm from being nestled inside Sai’s saddlebags and it went down smoother than water, leaving a smoky burn in its wake. The sun hit noon and hung there, gloriously bright and hotter than sin.

They talked and the sun didn’t move. They talked about Jesse’s family and the goings on in town. They talked about other worlds and about traveling and the work that still needed doing. For hours they drank and smoke and sat in the shade while Sai’s sweaty horse lipped leaves off of the tree and the dogs snored next to them. The dappled hawk sat and watched and the insects kept up their endless symphony. It seemed to Jesse that the world was content to have it be noon forever and let the sun keep away those deep, dark midnight shadows.

Finally, and not without some regret, the bottle ran dry. Jesse set it in the grass between them and cross his arms over his knees. His left hand had shifted from flesh to metal some time when he hadn’t been paying attention and the sunshine glittered off of it like the barrel of a gun.

“I’m sorry I didn’t make your funeral, Sai,” he said around his cigar. The whiskey sat warm and friendly in his belly, making his tongue loose and his mind sleepy. “Hope it was a nice service.”

Sai shrugged good naturedly. “It was a’right. Judy and Sharon got into a fight about somethin’ and then your ma punched Judy so hard in the mouth that she fell right into the hole with me. That was a sight. Spittin’ blood and cussin’ and then the sherrif had t’ ride in and break it up.”

Jesse barked with laughter, waking up the dogs. “I’m sorry to have missed it. Can’t even remember where I was when I got the news, but I’d already missed it by the time I found out. Probably some hellhole halfway across the ‘verse, as usual.”

“You were always a good kid, Jess. Better than half your sibs, even with the war and gettin’ in over your head.”

“I was a good kid. Doesn’t mean I was a smart one.” Jesse blew a pretty little smoke ring and watched it drift away. “Damn I was stupid. Are all kids as stupid as I was, Sai?”

The old man snorted and clapped Jesse on the shoulder with a rough, calloused hand. “Nah, the girls are a bit smarter. You got smart though. Just took a while t’ catch up with you. You always did fly too fast.”

“Flying that fast kept me alive,” Jesse said and then frowned. “Well, until now.”

“Any regrets?”

“Oh, enough to drown me,” Jesse said with grim humor. “Didn’t drink enough good liquor to balance out the bad. Killed too many men and would have killed more, I expect.” He sat and thought for a while. Tired. Angry. Bitter. “I didn’t finish a job I should have. Might have been one of the few good ones I ever took.”     

Sai hummed noncommittally. “Well, I know that your ma didn’t raise a quitter.”

“Hard to finish a job when you’re dead, Sai.”

“You're not dead yet, boy. These are just the gates and I’m your welcoming party, come t’ tell you that you forgot your ticket and can’t take your stowaway.”

“Stowaway?” Jesse asked, startled.

Said nodded at his hat. “Your little friend there. Every man gets judged alone and it don’t seem much inclined to leave you to it.”

Slowly, so as not to startle whatever was perched on his hat, Jesse reached up and pulled it off so he could take a look. The electric blue snake lizard thing hissed at him from where it was wrapped around the brim of his hat like a band. It was about the size of a copperhead, with frills around its head and down its back.  

The dappled hawk screamed from its tree and took flight.

“I’ll be seeing you, boy,” said Sai as the world began to go to pieces around them. “But finish that job before you come back.”

“Sai?” Jesse cried as the sun fell from the sky like a falling star and everything burned away.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

God that was annoying.

Jesse wrinkled his nose and tried to remember what alarm he’d left running and what it was for. It wasn’t the ‘incoming transmission’ alarm. It wasn’t the ‘oh shit we’re being fired upon’ alarm either, because that one was mostly the sound of Sombra swearing. He never set ‘wake up’ alarms because his sleeping schedule was so erratic.

“Turn off the fuckin’ beeping, Som,” he growled, feeling back behind his head for his pillow with the intention of pulling it over his head to block out the noise. “Tell Braden I got sucked into space or somethin’. Make it grizzly.”

‘I think you’ve slept long enough, Jessito. ’ Sombra’s reply took a long time to come, but at least the beeping died.

“Not long enough to get rid of this hangover,” he muttered, giving up on finding his pillow. Every inch of him ached. Even his hair hurt. “You get the number of the speeder that ran me over? I want to press charges.”

You’ll have a hard time with that. What’s the last thing you remember?’

He didn’t like her tone. It made him nervous. “Uh, Braden called. We had a job. I took it, you yelled at me. Fun times.” He slowly opened his eyes and peered up at the ceiling. It was his ceiling, in his own little room. Same dog-eared books, his hat hung on the corner of the shelf. Same pile of clothes in the -

His mind skidded to a halt, tripped on its own feet, and fell on its face in an ungraceful pile.

A man slumbered on the chair in the corner, his head propped against the wall and his arms crossed over his chest. The red and white flannel shirt he was wearing was two sizes too big for him and didn’t match the black dress pants and highly polished shoes at all.

“Som?” Jesse asked slowly.

Yes, cariño?’

Hanzo. It’s Hanzo.

“Holy hell,” he whispered. “We made it.”

Now he remembered. The explosion. The fight. Being drugged out of his mind and then the wild leap into thin air. They’d had almost no chance, but somehow they’d still made it out alive.

‘You did, but it was very close. You’ve been asleep for more than two days and your heart stopped once. Mister Shimada has been taking care of you and managed to get it started again, but I will say that we do need to stock a defibrillator on board if you plan on going into cardiac arrest again any time soon.’

“I’ll put it on the shoppin’ list. Is that my shirt he’s got on?”

‘The steralizer couldn’t get all of the blood and vomit off of his, so I offered him one in your place. I didn’t think you’d mind.’

“Nope, looks better on him than it ever did on me.” Jesse groaned as he levered himself into a sitting position, his head swimming like he really was hungover. His chest was a mess of bandages and a nasty green paste that he recognized as something out of his emergency med kit. There was a tightness around his head that clearly wasn’t his hat that told him there was probably another wrapping around his skull. He’d only just reached up to touch it when the eyes of the sleeper in the corner snapped open and pinned him in place more firmly than a thrown knife.   

“If you attempt to remove that, I will bind your hands behind your back. I have already had to readjust it three times in the last six hours alone because of your thrashing about and I grow tired of it.”

“Well chalk that up to the kinkiest thing I’ve heard this mornin’.” Jesse’s eyes widened and he slapped a hand over his mouth, but the words had escaped him before he could swallow them down.

‘You’ll have to forgive him, he hasn’t had a chance to interact with real people lately and it’s made him socially incompetent, ’ Sombra said from the speaker in the ceiling. Jesse gaped up at it. Turned on by his own ship’s AI, where was the justice in that?

“I would have attributed it to remnants of the drug in his system, but I am afraid that I now have to face the reality that you’re as much an idiot when you are sober as when you are...clearly not.”

His eyes swept over Jesse, who felt the sudden need to cover his bandaged chest with his sheet like a lady caught in the shower. With this compulsion came the realization that he wasn’t wearing any pants. In fact, other than the bandages and a steadily glowing blush, he wasn’t wearing anything at all. He was comfortable in his own skin for sure, but showing that skin off to folks who hadn’t established whether they were friendly in that way or not was taking things a bit far.

“I’m guessin’ that I’ve got you to thank for all this?” He patted the wrappings and then winced when he touched something tender. He was going to have to upgrade his med kit with some stronger stuff if he was going to keep up this hard living.    

“You do.”

They stared at each other across the cramped room for a long moment and Jesse became aware that something wasn’t quite the same in his little den. There was the faintest scent of peppermint in the air. The pile of clothes looked like they’d been sent through the sanitizer and sat in a folded stack under Hanzo’s chair. One of his three books was a bit further down the shelf and there was a slip of paper sticking out of it to mark a place, whereas he usually folded down the page corner.

“Well?” Hanzo asked, his impatience evident.

“Well what?”

“Thank me. I have gone to great lengths to make sure that you don’t become a piece of lifeless debris in space and I believe that I deserve that much.”

“Oh, hell.” Jesse pat his head in a futile attempt to make his hat appear there so that he could tip it. Sadly all that he found there was messy hair and a bandage, so he quickly shifted the gesture to smoothing back that hair. “Much obliged, Mister Shimada. Som would’ve just jetted me outta the airlock and called it a day, so I’m mighty grateful you didn’t.”

‘It’s true. He’s more trouble than he’s worth most of the time.’

“Stop bein’ a dirty eavesdropper, woman. I am tryin’ to make a sincere apology to this gentleman.” It would have been much easier to do if he’d had pants on and if his chest hadn’t felt like he’d just been charged by an angry bull, but it would have to do.

Hanzo ducked his head, seemingly mollified. “You are welcome, and I apologize for the part I played in making your rescue more difficult than it should have been. I mistook you for an assassin when I saw you disabling my staff and attacked rashly and without questioning you first. I let my emotions overcome my logic and you suffered for it.”

“Don’t fret about that - I’ve had worse.” Jesse waved off the apology with his metal hand and felt Hanzo’s eyes following the piece of hardware. “And probably will again. Part of the job, I guess.”

“Your heart stopped,” Hanzo said flatly, his hands clenched in the hem of his borrowed shirt. “You nearly died and would have if I hadn’t been present and all you can say is that you’ve had worse?”

Jesse thought about it for a moment. “Yeah?”

The man stood abruptly, clutching the shirt so tightly that Jesse was surprised he didn’t hear fabric ripping. “I am - I am going to - you are an imbecile. ” He snapped venomously before he fled through the automatic door and it slid shut behind him again, leaving Jesse very much alone with the fading scent of peppermint.

“What the hell was that all about?” He asked, bewildered. “I said thanks, didn’t I? The hell does he expect?”  

Sombra sighed from the speaker. ‘Now I’m just a humble AI…’

“Humble my ass.”

‘...but I think he was worried about you, Jessito. He hasn’t left your room except to find food and wash since he first dragged you in there. I downloaded a refreshed dictionary of Japanese so that I could understand what he was saying.”

Jesse swung one leg and then the other out of his cot and sat there for a second to catch his breath. “Probably cursin’ me to the outer planets and back again. That’s what I’d be doin’ in his place after that clusterfuck of a rescue mission.”

‘One would think, and there was a fair amount of that. There was also quite a lot of pleading with you to stay alive. Keep that in mind next time you decide to be your usual cavalier self about your own mortality. Other than me, there’s now at least one other person in the ‘verse who wants you breathing. For now, of course. I’m sure you can change that if you really try.’

That sparked a very odd feeling in Jesse’s chest and he fingered the bandages across it. It had been a long time since anyone had cared enough to try to keep him alive rather than doing their level best to put a plasma blast in his head.

“He’s probably just grateful that I tried to get him out, Som. That and a fancy gentleman like him  probably wouldn’t know what to do with you without me. Don’t read into it too much.”

Getting attached this early could only spell disaster for everyone involved. It was a job, he’d finish it, and that would be the end of it. He needed pants. Pants, a plan, and something to eat. His stomach gnawed on his backbone - a strong reminder that he’d been flat on his back for the better part of a handful of days and missed a couple meals.

“Where’s he at?” He asked as he pulled a pair off of the top of the folded pile. They were his nice pants from Hanamura, looking slightly shabbier from their rough use. Jesse pulled them on and followed them with a plain gray collared shirt that he rolled up at the sleeves to his forearms. It was loose enough that it wouldn’t hurt his aching chest, but still modest if he did up enough of the buttons on the front.

‘He’s in the cleansing stall and yes, he’s still mad at you.’

“A’right, let me know when he’s done so I can give him the two-credit tour. What’ve I missed since our daring escape?” His beard looked like a wild animal and he could have sworn if growled at him when he peered at himself in the mirror. It definitely needed a trim. He busied himself with a small pair of silver shears and started snipping away the excess. Rough he certainly was, but he wasn’t a complete savage.

‘Daring enough that it made the news all the way to the border planets. I did what I could to delete any recordings there were with you in them, but I can’t be sure I got them all. We left too quickly for me to do a clean wipe.’

“Pursuit?” He may have cut everything a bit shorter than he would have normally, but these weren’t exactly normal circumstances.

‘I don’t want to use the words ‘verse-wide manhunt’, but it does seem appropriate. There were fifty ships after us within the first half hour of our escape and I’ve had to deflect one hundred and twenty two scans since then.’ She paused for a moment. ‘ One hundred and twenty three. The Council desperately wants our Mister Shimada back.’

“Well they can’t have him,” Jesse growled as he toweled off his face and blinked at himself. Slightly more presentable. “I called dibs already.”

You know that saying ‘licking something to claim it as your own’? I don’t think it works with people, Jesse.’

“I haven’t licked him, but thanks for that mental image. That’s getting stored away somewhere very special.” He’d think about it later. Not that it would ever happen, but now he was a little bit stuck on the thought of licking and kissing his way up the long line of Mister Shimada’s throat. That was definitely worth saving.

‘You gave him a broom closet kiss, remember? That’s close enough. He’s out of the cleanser, by the way.’

“And we’re done with this conversation!” Jesse cried as he tossed his towel on the bed. He thought about pulling on his boots for a moment, but the idea of leaning over and the stretching needed to pull them on hurt just to think about. “I need food and painkillers, not in that order. Tell me if you start feeling a strain with the shielding and I’ll see if I can find us somewhere to lie low for a bit.”

‘There’s a reason no one has caught us yet, cariño. Leave our cloaking to me and you worry about your passenger. There’s a bottle of painkillers in the kitchenette.’

“You’re a dream, Som. Love of my life.”

Hanzo Shimada was standing in the narrow walk space between the two sleeping chambers when Jesse stepped out. He had a shoulder braced against one of the steel walls and was looking up through the glass ceiling and into space.

“See somethin’ you like up there?” Jesse asked with a smile. Hanzo jumped and Jesse held up his hands as if the man was a skittish horse. “Whoa there, steady. Didn’t mean t’ give you a fright.”

He was beginning to realize that Hanz’s expressions were as deadly as any weapon the man could wield, because the look of disgust that was leveled at him was almost enough to make him retreat back into his room to look over his life and choices.

“You merely startled me. For such a large man you move with a surprising silence.”

“Probably ‘cause I’m not wearing my boots,” Jesse admitted, looking down at his bare feet. “Listen, I feel like we got off on the wrong foot there, what with the fightin’ and electrocutin’ and whatnot. Wanted to apologize for that, since I was taught me to introduce myself nicely before I make any big decisions.” He stuck out his hand, which was regarded like it was a piece of rotting meat. “I washed it,” he lied.

Hanzo slowly reached out and gave his hand a quick but firm shake. “Would you consider what we just accomplished a ‘big decision’?”

Jesse shrugged. “Ranks in the top ten or so of ones I’ve made in my life. Jesse McCree, bounty hunter, outlaw, and general troublemaker at your service.”

“I am Hanzo Shimada, of the Shimada clan. I am...grateful for the help you tried to render me, Mister McCree. I understand that things did not go as smoothly as you might have hoped, but we seem to be well and away despite it so I cannot fault you for that.”  

Jesse pressed a hand to his heart. “Now you stop with those backhanded compliments or you’ll give me a fat head. Well, fatter,” he amended. “Also none of this ‘Mister’ business ‘cause I probably won’t look up to it. McCree is fine or Jesse if you’re feelin’ friendly.”

Hanzo slowly nodded. “Jesse, then. You may call me,” he trailed off and looked down at the borrowed shirt of Jesse’s that he was still wearing. “You may call me Hanzo. It seems appropriate given the circumstances.”

“You mean the circumstances where you’re wearin’ my clothes or the ones where we’re on the run from the biggest crime syndicate in the ‘verse?”

“Both,” Hanzo replied, one eyebrow raising in what Jesse hoped was amusement. “I must admit that they are unique.”

“That’s God’s honest truth. Come on, I’ll give you the quick and dirty tour, since you’ll be livin’ here until we can get you where you’re headed. And I need about a pot of coffee and a couple of pills. Some fool thought it’d be a good idea to kick me halfway across Hanamura and then drag me up five hundreds flights of stairs.”

He turned down the hall and was halfway to the kitchen before he realized that Hanzo wasn’t behind him.

“You comin’?” He asked curiously when he turned and found the man standing where he’d left him, his eyes fixed on the stars through the ceiling of the ship.

“I - yes. I apologize.” Hanzo’s shoes went ‘tap tap tap’ on the metal grate as he hurried to catch up. Jesse made a mental note to have Sombra update their kitchen with a couple new recipes. He doubted Hano would be as happy to live on rehydrated stews and coffee as Jesse usually was.

“No need for it. The place isn’t big enough to get lost, but a man would think you’d never seen deep space before with how you were makin’ eyes at it.”

Silence. Hanzo looked down at the grate floor and then back up through the glass.

“You’re shittin’ me,” Jesse said, feeling like he’d be popped between the eyes with a cork shot out of a bottle. “Seriously? I thought you fancy monied types would all have ships of your own and jet around like you owned the ‘verse.”

“If I had ever had the ability to leave Hanamura, do you think I would have been so desperate to be rescued?” Hanzo snapped. “I may have traveled extensively on Sihnon, but this is the first time I have ever had the chance to see something other than my own familiar skies.”

Jesse chewed on the inside of his cheek, lost for words for the first time in a long while.

“It’s pretty, ain’t it?” He finally said when the silence had grown uncomfortable.

Hanzo met his eyes and they both looked up, up through the glass and into the dark, swirling void of space, dotted by distant suns and worlds.

“Beautiful.”

Chapter Text

There came a point in the lives of many ships that so many of their parts had been replaced, modified, or removed entirely that it was hard to classify them as the ship they’d been originally born as. Sombra’s shell was one such ship. Initially conceived as an ASREV-class craft, she still had the same basic skeleton as she’d been born with, but there was little that remained of the ship that had once been the pride and joy of some hapless Alliance pilot before she was stolen right out of the hanger. Her engines had both been upgraded. The outer bodywork had been customized to make her lighter and faster. Years of tweaking, paint, and new parts had slowly made her a very capable long range ship rather than a planet-to-planet fighter. With a cunning AI to man the best cloaking device in the ‘verse and a (usually) capable captain, the little ASREV ship had been transformed into a one of a kind craft - the only Raven Class in existence.

Of course, that didn’t mean that her basic square footage had changed much.

In such a tight space it was impossible not to learn a couple of things about your traveling companion, as Jesse quickly discovered.

“Your entire ship is smaller than my closet was,” Hanzo said, a cup of very strong coffee cradled between his hands. The two of them were in the galley, which was just large enough to let Jesse punch at the buttons of the rehydrator while Hanzo sat on the tiny counter. It had spat out one cup of coffee with no problem, but it seemed to be having trouble grasping the fact that there were two people onboard and both of them wanted coffee at the same time.

“Boss, if you had so many clothes that you needed to put ‘em in a house of their very own, you might have had a little problem there. What’s a man need more than three or four pants for anyway - shit!” The machine decided that ‘make coffee’ actually meant ‘Jesse wants to be wearing coffee’ and sprayed a jet of scalding black sludge all down his front.

Hanzo regarded him calmly from out of range of the machine’s wrath. “At least I had something to change into when something of that nature would occur.”

“You want to give me back the one of mine you’re wearin’ in that case?”

“No.”

“Didn’t think so. Fine, I’ll have tea. Damn thing has more of a mind than Som does these days...” Jesse did his best to mop off his front with a dish towel embroidered with yellow poppies while punching in the code for sweet tea. That, it seemed, the machine was capable of because it began cheerfully filling a mug with tea like it hadn’t just had an emotional meltdown over a second cup of coffee. “You can keep the shirt though, seeing as I ruined your other one. Looks better on you anyway.”

Jesse was surprised to see a light flush appear on Hanzo’s cheeks. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” He took a sip of his tea to give his mouth something to do other than hang open. Wasn’t good manners. “Lordy, this stuff is sweeter than sin,” he commented with a grimace. “I like a good sweet tea but this is ridiculous.”   

“Why have you not invested in a better machine?” Hanzo asked, looking at Jesse’s tea with thinly veiled curiosity.

Jesse tried valiantly to take another swallow, but couldn’t bring himself to do it and set the cup down on the counter instead. “When you’ve got to choose between fixing your engines or upgrading your kitchen, I know which option I tend to lean towards. It usually works alright so long as you don’t want anything fancy. It doesn’t do sushi, that’s for certain. I tried once and it gave me nothing but fish sticks for three days in a row.”

“Pity. I will have to insist on being left with the next passing ship so that I may return home. I cannot travel in these cramped conditions with a culinary machine that makes fish sticks instead of sushi.”

The deadpan sarcasm was enough to make Jesse double over, holding onto his ribs as he wheezed for breath. Thankfully he hadn’t had anything in his mouth or he might well have choked on it. “Don’t - don’t make me laugh like that. Oh lord, I’m dying.”

“I would prefer you did not, as I am not familiar with the control mechanisms of your ship and would not be able to pilot it in your absence.” Hanzo seemed immune to his pain and traded his mostly full coffee for the mug of sweet tea while Jesse struggled for air.

‘Jesse, if you pass out and end up on the floor I am going to let him leave you there. Don’t mess up your bandages.’

“I’m not gonna mess them up, stop nagging me. Whew,” he sighed, leaning against the counter for support. “You can’t spring stuff like that on me unawares. I think I almost broke something.”

“As long as it isn’t your head or your heart again. Neither were easy fixes.” Hanzo took a sip of the sweet tea while Jesse mulled that over. His head or his heart. Somehow he didn’t think fixing either of those properly was as easy as slapping some gel and bandages over them.

“That’s mostly sugar,” he said warningly. “Doesn’t seem like it’d be to your tastes.”

Hanzo looked at him over the mug. “What do you know of my tastes?”

“Not a damn thing,” Jesse admitted. “But if you spit it out you’re cleaning it up again. I do rescues and robberies, not maid work.” He offered the other man the poppy dish towel just in case.

To his surprise, Hanzo not only swallowed the saccharine tea but kept the cup away from Jesse when he attempted to reclaim it. “This is acceptable, thank you. You may have the tar that you call coffee.”

“Can I now?” Jesse drawled, but he took the coffee anyway. It was still hot and blacker than space itself - just the way he liked it. “That’s mighty givin’ of you.”

The brew was extra bitter after the mouthful of sweetness he’d already had.

He’s got a dry sense of humor and a sweet tooth. He’s never been in space before. He can fight like the devil himself. Jesse tallied up the things he knew about his new passenger that sleep cycle while he lay on his cot, staring at the ceiling and waiting for unconsciousness to come knocking.

There was no ‘day’ or ‘night’ in space, only a strictly kept schedule that kept pilots and crew from working themselves into a state of exhaustion. ST - Space Time. The clock read 2 AM ST, but he knew that Hanzo was still awake. His room door hadn’t beeped to indicate that it had been locked and he didn’t strike Jesse as the sort of man to leave it open and unguarded.

Of course, he admitted to himself as he yawned so hard that his jaw cracked, he’d been wrong about the sugar thing.

“Did he stay here for the whole cycle?”? He asked Sombra groggily when he finally roused himself a few hours later and washed away the cold sweat he’d awoken in.

‘Yes, even though I repeatedly insisted that he should make his way to his cabin. He implied that it was making him feel claustrophobic.’ A few lights on the control panels flickered in time with her audio, making Jesse feel like it was the ship talking to him rather than the AI that he’d installed in her. ‘We should be far enough away from any pursuit to chart a new course. You should wake him up and ask where he wants to go.’

Hanzo was curled up on Jesse’s chair in the cockpit, his legs draped over one arm and his arms folded over his chest, as if he was cross about something even in sleep.

“Nah, he’s had a long couple of days.” Jesse crouched to get a better look at his passenger. The lines that framed his eyes and mouth in waking had smoothed out, leaving the silver tufts at his temples the only sign of his age. “Come on Hanzo, you’re going to get a crick in your neck if you stay like that. Trust me, I’ve got personal experience on the matter.”

There was no protest when he tucked one arm under Hanzo’s knees and the other behind his back and hoisted the man up like a bride against his chest. He slept on, substituting the chair’s headrest for Jesse’s shirt without sign that he’d been bothered by the change in position.

‘You’ll have to ask him where he wants to go eventually, Jessito. We can’t fly aimlessly forever.’

“Seems to have worked for us this far, hasn’t it? I’ll put a bug in his ear when he wakes up. Restful sleep is hard to find out here, so I’m not much inclined to drag him out of it just yet.”

There was an unusual weight on the arm he had under Hanzo’s legs that he hadn’t expected from such a slight man and they clattered against his prosthetic arm when he shifted his weight to accommodate it, rather than making the muted sound of flesh and cloth against metal.

It wasn’t his place to poke into other people’s secrets though, so he only held on a bit more tightly and tried not to enjoy the feeling of holding onto another human being too much. It wasn’t something he could allow himself to want.

You have a soft heart, cariño.’

“Good thing I’m hard everywhere else.”

Hanzo’s room was the same size as Jesse’s, but the furnishings were spartan because of its disuse. The original ASREV ship had only had one bunk and it had been located in the kitchenette. With some very creative wire and construction work (and more than a little blood and sweat) Jesse had managed to reroute all of the controls from the secondary control room and relocate the kitchenette there instead. That had left him with just enough room to put in two small bunks with a narrow hallway to separate them.

It might have been wishful thinking on his part, but he’d once liked to imagine that he’d have someone to fly with some day.

Those dreams had been left behind at some port or other years ago, but he couldn’t deny that it kindled an odd sort of fondness in him as he settled the still sleeping Hanzo down on the little bed and pulled the thin sheet over him. Hanzo instantly performed a move that Jesse could only compare to a crocodile death roll and buried himself so completely in the sheet cocoon he’d made that only his hair was visible. Jesse held in his laugh until he was back in the kitchenette, having left the door of Hanzo’s room open in case the tight space bothered him when he woke.

“Has to be odd going from a place with so much space to a tight one in space,” Jesse commented as he attempted to bribe the rehydrator into giving him a breakfast burrito.

‘It took you a while to acclimate too, as I recall.’

“Well yeah, but I was just trading a big ship for a little one. I haven’t had my boots kiss the dirt proper in a hundred years.” The machine gave him hash browns and a couple pieces of crispy bacon, which was close enough that he didn’t dissolve it again. He carried it up to the cockpit with him and settled down in his chair, which was still warm from Hanzo’s occupation of it. It also smelled faintly of peppermint.

‘Do you regret it? ’  

“Regret what?” He asked with a mouthful of bacon. It almost tasted like the real thing.

‘Trading the ground for the sky.’

He leaned back and looked out through the glass. He knew where they were - the crimson glow of the Zhu Que sun hung high and on his right. If he flew towards it he would eventually find border worlds like Jiangyin and New Melbourne. They were simple worlds built on trade - worlds where a man like him could easily disappear and never resurface again if he didn’t have a mind to. He could be anything. A farmer, a rancher, a mechanic.

A nobody.

“Nah. I’ve got wanderer’s feet, you know that. I don’t think I’d be much good at settlin’ down even if you gave me the chance. Too much trouble that I haven’t gotten into yet.”

‘If I had eyes, I would be rolling them so hard they might get stuck in the back of my head.’

“That’s the spirit!”

It wasn’t more than an hour later when Hanzo appeared back in the cockpit. Jesse looked up from his third cup of coffee (he and the rehydrator had come to an uneasy truce).

“Mornin’ Sunshine. Don’t you look...hm. I was gonna say ‘cheerful’ but you actually look like you got in a fight with a tornado and lost. Coffee?”

Hanzo squinted at him blearily and then turned and left without responding.

“Was it somethin’ I said?” Jesse called after him. Some people woke up looking as fresh as spring daisies, but Hanzo Shimada was clearly not one of them.

‘This is why you don’t have friends, Jesse. But relax, he’s trying to make the rehydrator give him more sweet tea. I’m not sure he’s awake enough to have understood your pathetic attempt at charm.’

“Som, if you think that was pathetic you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

‘If I said ‘please’ would you not try to top it?’

“I promise nothing. Welcome back to the land of the living, Boss. If you are living, that is.”

Hanzo had reappeared, heralded by the smell of black tea and lemon. There were shadows around his eyes and he blinked owlishly at Jesse as he settled himself in the copilot’s chair.

“I am not certain yet.”

“Well, there’s bacon for when you do make up your mind.” Jesse went back to his coffee and the tablet he had cradled on his lap. He’d been bouncing between his map tabs and the ‘verse news. The hubbub over the attack in Hanamura hadn’t quite died down yet. Lots of folks were blaming terrorists or someone with a grudge against the Shimada family or the council. Others seemed to think it was an internal matter gone wrong, and a few very creative souls were pointing fingers at Reavers.

The only thing about all of it that bothered Jesse was how careful every article was being about keeping Hanzo’s name out of it. The only mention of him was a general reference to ‘the Shimada family’ in a few articles, and half of the ones that Jesse had managed to dig up had been suspiciously deleted only a few minutes later.  

“How do you know when to sleep when the sun doesn’t rise or set?” Hanzo asked. His voice was scratchy and rough-sounding, like it was coated with sandpaper.

Jesse dimmed the screen of his tablet and set it aside. “Just gotta learn to follow a schedule by the ship clock. We call it ‘Space Time’. It takes some getting used to. Really comes down to whether you feel like bein’ awake while I’m sleepin’ or up at the same time. Either works, but one has a bit more privacy if that’s what you’re after.”

Hanzo took a swallow of his tea and his voice wasn’t quite as bad when he next spoke. “I am not adverse to your company. I will endeavor to stay awake and adapt to your schedule.”

Jesse knew he’d just gotten what Sombra affectionately referred to as ‘moon eyes’, but he couldn’t really help it. “Damn, that’s the nicest thing anybody has said to me in years.”

Hanzo gave him an odd look. “You must not keep very good company.”

‘I am excellent company,’ Sombra said, sounding irritated. ‘I just keep his ego from getting too big to fit in the cockpit.’

“I did not mean to imply otherwise,” Hanzo said quickly. “I simply meant that the other passengers must get along well with you? You seem an amiable enough sort when you aren’t drugged, from what I’ve seen.”

“Oh, uh,” Jesse said, suddenly uncomfortable. “Can’t say I’d honestly know.”

‘You’re the first live passenger we’ve taken on, Mister Shimada.’

“That makes us sound so antisocial, Som…” Jesse said into his coffee cup, refusing to meet Hanzo’s curious gaze. “We’ve had a couple corpses in the cargo bay from bounty hunting jobs, but that’s about it,” he finally admitted. “When you’re technically a dead man it’s not a good idea to go flashin’ your face around too much or keeping long time company.”

“I see.”

Silence fell between them, punctuated only by soft beeps from the console.

“Why?”

Jesse froze in the act of reaching for his tablet again. “Pardon?”

“Why,” Hanzo repeated slowly as he stared at Jesse unblinkingly, “did you attempt to rescue me and agree to transport me to an unknown destination if you do not usually take on passengers?”

“Well, uh,” Jesse stammered. “It seemed like a good idea at the time - tryin’ to help somebody. It felt like the right thing to do. And the money was pretty good too. Wish I could say there was more to it than that, but it’s all I got.” He shrugged helplessly, wishing like hell that Sombra would cut in and back him up somehow, but the AI remained quiet.

Hanzo hummed quietly and looked down into his tea. “The right thing to do. If only more people were motivated by such a thing.”

‘Jesse, there’s a Tohoku cruiser passing by. It should be in visual range in approximately forty five seconds.’

The moment burst like a soap bubble.

“Hot damn, this’ll be a sight for you. C’mere, you can have my chair. Best seat in the house.” Jesse sprang up like someone had attached boosters to his butt.

“Aren’t we trying to remain undetected?” Hanzo asked as he traded chairs and looked outside. “I have never seen a cruiser before, but I was under the impression that they are supposed to be quite large and house several gunships for protection.”

“Right on both counts, but we’ve got one thing they don’t.” Jesse leaned against the upper switch panel and stared out into the black. Somewhere out there, one of those stars wasn’t actually a star...there.

The cruiser came out of the darkness like a creature from the deep, its towers scraping at the sky as it bore down on them. Jesse heard Hanzo swear from the captain’s seat as Sombra turned their little ship to fly next to it, so close that they could make out individual windows on each of the ship’s spires.

“It’s a city,” Hanzo breathed, leaning forward in the chair to get a better look.

“Yep. That thing was made to take off and never touch down again. You can see the solar panels up at the top there to power it. They soak up sun like a sponge whenever it gets within range of one. All of the towers come out of the base way down under us, but they’ve also got a series of skybridges in between them all for travelin’ around.” Jesse pointed out one of the bridges and Sombra dove in close enough that it seemed like they could have jumped to the bridge and joined the people in crisp uniforms passing back and forth on it.

“Can they not see us?”

Jesse laughed. “Nope. Som has the best shields in the ‘verse. They look at us and all they’ll see is empty space and the stars behind us. Same with radar too, but we’re probably pushin’ it a bit what with bein’ in this close.”

‘A bit?’ Sombra asked sarcastically.  

“You’re the one who wanted to show off how fancy her invisibility is, don’t you go judgin’ me for that bit of showmanship.”

Hanso was still staring through the window at the people on the skybridge. Two of them had stopped directly in front of where their ship was hovering and were talking animatedly, none the wiser that they were being observed.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Jesse asked quietly.

Hanzo nodded. “It is intriguing. But I confess, it must be lonely to live like this. Never taking passengers and no one ever noticing that you are there. A life spent hiding hardly seems a life at all.”

It struck a little bit too close to home for comfort, but Jesse smiled so that nothing would show on his face. “No more a life than bein’ locked up and on display. A pretty jail is still just that when it all boils down. At least out here I can come and go as I please and no one can stop me.”

Their ship angled up and away from the cruiser, leaving the floating city behind.  

“The hidden and the caged,” Hanzo said as they turned back towards the stars and the dark places. “Perhaps we are fitting companions for this journey.”

“I think you might just be right about that. Cheers.”

Jesse tapped his coffee cup against Hanzo’s tea and drained it in one long swallow.

Chapter Text

“It’s definitely the slip rings,” Jesse grunted, sweat running down his face as he finally detached the broken part from where it had gotten wedged, sheared completely in half. He rolled it between his fingers, peering at it with irritation. “Damn things have been grindin’ for a day and an age and this one just gave up the ghost. Won’t be too long now before the others start havin’ trouble too from the stress.”

‘We’ll need to get them repaired before they start affecting the rotary transformers or the optical encoder. I don’t fancy the idea of floating around without any idea where we are.’

It was a tight squeeze with his shoulders, but Jesse slowly backed his way out of the crawl space into the left side engine what he’d been working for the last three hours. There was grease on his face and on his arms up to his elbows.

“Tell me somethin’ I don’t know. At least it isn’t the life support like last time, but just once I’d like this thing to keep in proper workin’ order for more than a month. Why do you have to be such a bucket of bolts, Som?”

‘Why do you have to be such a fat old man, Jesse? It’s not my fault you installed me on your scrap heap instead of stealing Reyes’ Fenris-class.’

Jesse finally worked his way free of the crawl space and sank down onto the floor of the engine room, careful to keep his breaths shallow and regulated. The scent of oil and combustion had worked its way into his lungs again and it would be too easy to give into a coughing fit that would take him long minutes to recover from. Smoking so much at a young age hadn’t done him any favors and now his own engines were likely to be the stick that broke the donkey’s back as far as his lungs were concerned.

Reyes’ engines had purred like big cats in comparison. Any hint of a cough or grinding had been swiftly dealt with. The man had been as firm and unyielding with his Fenris-class as he had been with his troops. Obedience had been the watchword around him, whether you were a man or a machine.

It would have been sacrilege to even consider taking his ship, to Jesse. Better to let it die with the rest of Blackwatch than to fly it without its proper captain.

“You know me, Sweetheart. I’ve got a soft spot for broken things.” He turned the slip ring over and over between his hands. “And we’re about as broken as they come.”

‘More and more each day. We’ll need to land for repairs soon, cariño. Or new parts, at the very least.’

“I’ll patch it up as best I can for now and it should get us where we’re going. The we’ll see about going to ground somewhere and getting in working order for a bit.” Jesse’s lungs finally decided that they were ready to behave like functioning organs again and stopped trying to seize up on him. His breaths evened out, but the taste of oil on his tongue didn’t fade away. It would take brushing his teeth for an hour when he was finished in here to banish that.

“Tell me what you dug up on the Gibraltar, Som,” he said as he let his back rest against the wall of the engine room and looked over the slip ring, turning the pieces back and forth until he found how they fit together. The low throb of the dual engines echoed through the wall and into his back, pulsing like a living heartbeat.

It had been a week and three days since their escape from Hanamura, and four days since Hanzo had given them their flight coordinates. The Generation-class Gibraltar, in deep orbit around the planet Angel. They could have made it there in a week solid, but everyone had agreed that attempting that was tempting fate too much for comfort. The Council was still scouring the ‘verse for them and Sombra’s invisibility and shields didn’t hold up as well when traveling at faster speeds.

Whoever was aboard the Gibraltar had waited this long for their arrival - it wasn’t worth getting caught or breaking down to speed it up by a few days.   

‘There’s not much, and no sign that it’s anything other than what its records show. It’s a old Generation Ark. They were meant for prolonged deep space travel, but it shows as being used for supply storage and as a depot for merchants. All of its papers are in working order, but you know what that means.’

“Nobody but somebody with somethin’ to hide has their papers all in working order,” Jesse agreed as he pressed his flesh fingers against a sensor at the base of his pointer finger. The mechanical digit hummed, flashed blue, and then began to transform itself. Panels lifted, wires shifted, and parts slid out of his wrist until there was a small welding torch where his finger had been before. It sprang to life with a hiss and a soft roar, a pale blue flame blossoming from the end. “What else?”

‘Its location matches the coordinates that Mister Shimada gave us, and my last check of the Alliance scans of the area don’t show any unusual activity around there. ’ She paused. ‘ If it is a safe haven like we’ve been lead to believe, they’re hiding it very well. I’m not sure how he would have been able to contact them if they’re so concerned about keeping to themselves.’

“A question for the ages. Maybe they were the ones who came lookin’ for him.” Jesse used the tip of the torch to heat the metal until it glowed red hot, the heat washing over his skin like he’d set it on a black rock in the middle of the afternoon. “No matter. Just keep your eyes open for a trap. I don’t fancy flyin’ in blind, even if they are supposed to be on our side.”

‘No one is on our side but us, Jessito. You know that.’

Did he ever. He’d put his trust in people before, good people, only to be let down again and again. It only took a couple repeats of that hard lesson to cement it in him. He relied on himself, his gun, and Sombra. The torch flared brightly before he cut off the power to it and pressed the two pieces of hot metal against each other. He soldered them together without burning himself more than twice and then held up the whole piece to make sure that he hadn’t missed anything.

That was when he noticed the visitor standing in the open door of the engine room.

“Howdy,” he greeted Hanzo from the floor. “Didn’t think you’d be up and about yet.”

Hanzo stepped over the threshold and came to stand next to Jesse. He had traded the red shirt for a blue one with a patch on the elbow. It was tucked neatly into his suit pants and open to the third button, giving Jesse a nice view of his collarbones. There was a flash of something metallic silver and blue along his left shoulder, but he couldn’t get a good look at it with how the overlarge shirt hung on Hanzo’s slighter frame.

Pity, that.    

“I have not been awake for long. I thought you might perhaps wish to join me for breakfast?”

“Sounds like a fine idea to me. Just let me get this piece plugged back in and we should be right as rain.” Another touch to the sensor panel on his wrist and the torch quickly broke itself down again and was replaced with his finger, which he wiggled until the false nerves reintroduced themselves to the rest of his arm. “My eyes are up here, Boss,” he said, when he looked up and caught Hanzo staring.

The man went a fetching shade of pink, complimenting the blue shirt. “My apologies. Your arm - I thought it was a solid piece. I have not seen a prosthetic that had such capabilities.”

“Amazing what you can get if you know where to look and are good with a couple tools,” Jesse said with a smile as he accepted Hanzo’s hand up. “I’ve got a whole lot of tricks crammed into me.”

“Such as?” Hanzo asked and Jesse thought he heard amusement in his voice.

Jesse held out his arm for inspection. “Press that one there,” he gestured at the panel at the base of his ring finger. “Promise that’s not the one that makes the whole piece explode.”

Hanzo, who had been reaching towards the sensor, immediately jerked his hand back again.

“It can do that?”

“Well, I’m of the opinion that you can make most anythin’ explode if you really try hard enough,” Jesse chuckled. “Here, I’ll make it dance for you.”

It took a bit of finagling, but he managed to pry open his wrist panel and punch in the code that ran the whole thing through a systems check. He didn’t do it often because it made his synthetic nerves go haywire, but it was worth it to see the look on Hanzo’s when all of his fingers began to shift into tools, claws, and then retract entirely as his entire wrist became a small plasma cannon.

That’s how to impress the man. Swiss army Jesse.

Sparks of mixed pain and pleasure shot up his arm as it twisted itself back into a hand shape, but it was all muted. Wires attached to nerve endings could only convey so much, and most of what they did tell him wasn’t good. Fighting and fixing. There wasn’t room for much else in his life, but with Hanzo’s eyes on him? The weight of the metal didn’t feel as heavy as it usually did when it finally finished its diagnostics and stopped moving. He flexed his fingers a couple of times to make sure that nothing was going to spark at him.

“What an amazing piece of technology. And you can remove it entirely?” Hanzo asked, apparently over his fear of the arm exploding because he leaned forward and began to run his fingers over the metal joints, finding the sensor pads and armored covers beneath the engine grease.

Jesse couldn’t help the sound of pure longing that welled up in his throat, but managed to mask it with a gruff cough before Hanzo could notice. How long had it been since anyone had touched him with this sort of interest? Even Hanzo’s technical, curious fingers seemed far, far better than anything he could remember.

You’re pathetic, he told himself. About to get off on somebody checking out your mechanics. That has to be a new low.

“Uh, yeah. It’s got a release lever here,” he tapped the piece that jutted out from his elbow, “and that disconnects all the internal attachments. Smarts like a bitch, but it’s a weight off.” He scooped up the repaired slip ring from where it had fallen into his lap. “Give me half a sec and I’ll be with you.”

He was more than a little aware of Hanzo’s eyes on him as he crammed himself back into the engine’s crawl space and screwed the piece back into place. It took a bit of force to get it in with the built up flux holding it together, but a minute of brute strength and sweat later had it forced back into its slot.

There was a soft tug on his shirt as he crawled back out.

“What was that?” He asked quizzically once he was free again.

Hanzo held up his hands. “I had grease on my hands from your arm. Your shirt was already soiled.”

“I’ve been downgraded to rag bag. If my mama could see me now,” Jesse groaned, covering his eyes with both hands as if to hide his shame. Not that he had any of it - hadn’t in years.

Hanzo did a valiant job of schooling his expression into something neutral when Jesse looked up again, but there was a twitch right at the corner of his left eyebrow that told Jesse that his passenger was trying not to laugh. “What?”

“What?” Hanzo repeated, his voice tight.

“What’re you trying not to laugh at?”

“I assure you, laughter is the furthest thing from my mind. I was trying not to cough from the smell of the engines.”

Jesse pointed at him with a greasy finger. “Oh no you don’t, partner. I know what coughin’ looks like and that’s not it. Dish up.”

‘You look like a raccoon who decided that ‘bandit’ was the best choice of careers paths, Jesse. He’s trying to be polite and not laugh at you.’

“What? Ah shit, were you goin’ to let me walk around like that until I looked in a mirror?” He hiked up the hem of his shirt and scrubbed at his face with it until he felt certain he’d gotten the worst of the grime off his face. Of course, knowing his luck he’d only managed to spread it around even more and it would look even worse.

“Perhaps.”

“You are cold, Boss. Give a man his dignity.”

“You may have it back once you have washed your face. Until then I have confiscated it.” Hanzo left a befuddled Jesse standing in the engine room and the tapping of his shoes on the grates faded away as he took to the front of the ship.

“That was weird,” Jesse said to no one in particular once Hanzo had gone. “It’s almost like he’s startin’ to get friendly.”

‘If it makes you feel better, he was checking out your butt while you were putting back in the slip ring.’

Jesse twisted around so he could look down at his own anatomy. “Was he now? Fancy that. I wasn’t even wearin’ my chaps.”

He did wash his face and hands before joining Hanzo in the kitchenette, but it seemed pointless to send the rest of himself through the sanitizer when it was likely that the rehydrator would spit something up on him again and leave him in need of another wash.

“You havin’ an omelette again?”

Hanzo was sitting on the counter again, quietly tapping the back of his shoe heels against the cabinet door. The shadows under his eyes had begun to fade as his sleeping schedule normalized, but Jesse still heard him wandering the ship on occasion during the ‘night’ cycle. He wasn’t sure if it was the claustrophobia or something else that drove him out of his cabin. Maybe he had his own demons that waited for him when he dreamed. That was something Jesse could relate to.

“No, your machine would not know a good omelette if it was presented with one as a gift. I tire of having my teeth glued together by that mess.” Hanzo gave the rehydrator a look that would have made a weak man try to hide inside his own boots. The machine only beeped and spat up a cup of coffee for Jesse, who took it gratefully.

“Don’t bully it. I told you that it doesn’t do much that’s good. Only proper eggs you’ll get out of it are hard boiled or sunny side up, and those are damn runny.” He patted the top of the machine as if in apology for Hanzo’s unkind words and it seemed to take that as an indication to fabricate him a frozen waffle. Jesse tossed it across to Hanzo, who caught it with a frown.

“What does it do that is edible? You can’t have survived this long on these…” he held up the waffle, “...things. You would have died of malnutrition long ago.”

“Well, you can’t get too fancy with it. It’s just buildin’ what it can out of that nutrition paste you can pick up at depots. Keep it simple and it shouldn’t have too hard a time.” He thought for a second, scratching at his beard with his metal fingers. “Pancakes. It does really good pancakes. Took me weeks to hunt down a recipe chip I was happy with, but I found one in the end. Come on darlin’, cough us up a plate or three.”

“Pancakes,” Hanzo mused as they both watched the rehydrator whirl and flash. “They had those at the street food stalls further away from the castle. They were made out of cabbage and diced vegetables and meats.”

Jesse chortled as the machine dinged and presented him with a very respectable stack of flapjacks, topped with strawberries and syrup. “Boss, I don’t know what the hell that was but that was no pancake. Here, chew on this.” He traded Hanzo the plate of pancakes for the frozen waffle he was still holding. Their fingers brushed as the dish passed between them, but Jesse did his best to pay it no mind.

He didn’t do a very good job of it.

“Isn’t this yours?”

“Nah, I can get my own in a minute. Coffee before solids is my rule.” He toasted Hanzo with his mug and dug out a fork and knife from the cabinet for him. “You’re welcome to eat wherever, you know. No need to keep me company in here. Except,” he added quickly, “In the cockpit. Som would kill me so dead you wouldn’t have a bit left to bury if there were crumbs or sticky shit on her console.”

“You forget that I asked you to join me for breakfast,” Hanzo said quietly as he poked at the pancakes with his knife. “I have no desire to dine elsewhere.”

“Oh. Damn, guess you did. Must’ve gotten oil in my ears.” He hadn’t, but he rubbed them anyway to disguise how red they’d grown.

A silence that Jesse could almost call companionable fell between them while he caffeinated himself and Hanzo overcame his mistrust of the pancakes and finally started eating them. Jesse noticed that he started with the strawberries and tried not to notice how he licked a drop of syrup off his bottom lip a minute later.

Definitely didn’t notice that.

Oh, who the hell was he kidding?

“What were you repairing?” Hanzo was the one who broke the silence, but he waited until he didn’t have food in his mouth to speak.

“Slip ring. There’s forty eight of ‘em per engine and they’re what moves power and data around in there. One of ‘em gave up the ghost and had been rattling around in there. But I fixed it best I could and it’ll hold for a bit.” He shrugged, already thinking about how long a trip it would be from the Gibraltar to somewhere he could safely land and buy parts. There were plenty of planets where a man like him could go to ground for a while, but fewer where he could count of getting the parts he needed at the same time.

“That’s what you put back inside?”

“Got it in one.”

Hanzo hummed in understanding and set his plate aside. “Would it not make more sense to repair your ship now, rather than risk it breaking again between here and our destination?”

Jesse blinked. “‘Suppose so, but that’s easier said than done. Only planet between here and there that might be a safe bet is Beaumonde, but that’ll set us back by a day or two.”  

“I am already months behind what I originally anticipated, when I first made my job request. A day or two more will not make any difference, as far as I am concerned.” The bitterness was back, and Jesse knew he couldn’t exactly apologize for being late. Braden had taken his sweet time contacting him about the job, and then it had taken time to get his identity in order and to travel to Sihnon. There was no way he could have made it sooner, so there was no point in saying -   

“Sorry,” he said anyway, looking down at the scuffed toes of his boots.

Hanzo was too well-mannered to tell him to shove his apology up his ass, but the unsaid insult worked its way into him all the same.

After a moment, Hanzo touched the crease between his eyebrows with two fingers and then ran them up to his hair in a movement that Jesse recognized as ‘trying to get rid of a growing headache’.

“Do not mistake my words for being ungrateful. I did not truly expect anyone to appear, even if the pay was generous. The Council, you understand, rules over Sihnon and much outside of it with a very tight fist. To draw their eye could have very well been fatal.”

“I’d say drawin’ yours was a bit more hazardous to my health,” Jesse drawled. “Least that’s what my pretty new scars are tellin’ me.”

Hanzo lips quirked in something that was almost a smile as he reclaimed his half-finished pancakes. “Perhaps you should have given up and saved me the trouble of decorating my home with your blood.”

“Give up?” Jesse cried dramatically. “Me? The words aren’t in my dictionary. And you,” he added, jabbing a finger at Hanzo, “Quit tryin’ to be funny. You’ve got a sense of humor grimmer than a graveyard and it’s freakin’ me out.”

“At least it doesn’t rely on backworld colloquialisms and, what would you call them? Charming country hick manners?”

“Boss, those are the only kind’a manners you’re going to get out here, so you’d best get used to them. Anyway, why’re you so hot and bothered to get us grounded and fixed up? Not like we’re going to fall out of the sky before we get to the Gibraltar, and if I do after the fact it’s no worry of yours.”

Of course Hanzo had just put an enormous bite of pancake into his mouth and tried to chew and swallow it so quickly that he started to choke, so Jesse graciously took it upon himself to pound very hard on the man’s back until his airway cleared again.

“If I have bruises from your ham hands, I’ll be returning the favor later,” Hanzo wheezed.

“Remind me not to do you any more favors if it just ends up with me gettin’ my ass kicked every time.” Jesse retreated out of reach just in case Hanzo decided to enact his revenge for his ‘help’ sooner rather than later.

“But to answer you question -” Hanzo cleared his throat a couple of times before speaking, “-I would not mind visiting the ground one more time before I move to another ship. While yours is habitable enough, I am in desperate need of oxygen that hasn’t been recycled and space where I can walk without touching a wall. And,” he added, holding up one of his arms and looking at his borrowed shirt, “I wish to purchase some suitable clothes before I meet with anyone. I doubt I would command any respect in your rags.”

“Aw come on, only half of them have holes in them.”

Hanzo raised an eyebrow at him.

“Alright fine,” Jesse conceded with a half smile. “Most of ‘em do. So you want me to get my ship fixed so you can go shoppin’.”

“Yes. You may put any repair charges onto my account chip if you wish to. I’m certain it will be a small charge next to what I’m already paying you for your transportation services. And the rescue,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

“Well,” Jesse said, touched in spite of himself. “That’s mighty generous of you, Boss.”

Hanzo nodded and reapplied himself to his quickly cooling breakfast, which was mostly syrup at this point. “It is, so I suggest that you do not get used to it.”

“Gotcha. Special occasion spoilin’ only.”

Jesse made it through two more cups of coffee and half of his own plate of pancakes before either of them felt moved to make conversation again. Hanzo naturally waited until Jesse’s mouth was so full that his cheeks were puffed out like a squirrel to speak, and the smirk he gave Jesse before he opened his mouth made it obvious that he’d timed it that way on purpose just to see if Jesse would choke too.

“I would ask you a question about yourself, Jesse.”

He made sure to take his time chewing and swallowing his mouthful just so that it didn’t give Hanzo the chance to decorate his back black and blue, which he was sure the man was looking forward to more than he should.

“Ask away,” he replied once his mouth was empty, the taste of syrup still lingering by his back teeth. “But keep in mind that I might lie outta my ass if I don’t feel like answerin’.”

“I would expect nothing less. I was curious about your prosthetic. Did you voluntarily give up your arm for such a piece or did you lose it in your line of work?”

Jesse’s metal hand convulsed on his plate and it cracked alarmingly beneath the sudden pressure. The skull on his forearm grinned up at him, empty eyes meeting his and going right on through.

Teeth ripping at his skin to get to the meat under it. Broken fingernails holding onto his wrist like a vice he couldn’t break free of. The sound of a gun being fired in close quarters.

He licked suddenly dry lips and forced out a laugh that he hoped sounded casual. “I don’t know many folks who’d happily trade a limb for some hardware, even if it is fancy like mine. I didn’t give it up without a fight, trust me on that one. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.”

The sound of something hitting the grate floor made him look up. Hanzo had toed off his fancy polished shoes and rolled up the hem of his pants. Cold, dark metal gleamed there instead of flesh and Jesse knew his mouth had fallen open. Both of Hanzo’s legs were encased in carbon fiber and high quality tungsten up as far as his pants were rolled.

No wonder he’d been so heavy.

“I fought as well,” Hanzo said.

They looked at each other across the kitchenette and there was something new in their silence. A respect, perhaps. Whatever it was, it took root in Jesse’s chest and wouldn’t be banished.

Not that he wanted to.

Chapter Text

“I miss showers.”

‘I’m sure that showers miss you too, but we still don’t have the space to install one.’

“Do we really need the engine room?” Jesse groused as he stepped out of his pants and into the sanitizer. “I could swap the whole thing out for a nice big tub.  One with those fancy shower heads that you can move around.”

‘Fine, you can swap out the engine room for a bathtub, but we’ll never fly again. Bueno?’

“ The idea sounds better and better every time I have to use this thing…”

It was damn tempting, especially after the bath he’d had on Sihnon. Having a ship made it easy to move from one place to another before people could look too hard at his face, but there were times that he missed being land-bound. There was still a part of him, buried somewhere real deep, that wanted blue skies instead of black and the smell of grass instead of engines. He yearned for a hard day of work and a long soak at the end to wash him clean of everything.

The sanitizer whirred to life and scanned him, sweeping over his naked body with a laser that made goosebumps rise all over him. The grime of working in the engine room was clinically burned away leaving only skin behind. It was efficient, he had to give it that much. Not overly satisfying, but there were few things in the ‘verse that ever managed to be both at the same time.

“Our guest likely to be scandalized if I don’t put my pants back on?” He asked, carding his fingers through his hair. It was almost time to cut again. Get it cut, that was, not do it himself. Som had threatened to eject him into space last time he’d done it himself.

‘I doubt it - he doesn’t seem the shy type. He’s also in his room with the door closed, so go do your walk of shame and find something clean. Or at least something find something less covered in engine grease.’

“I own something that’s not covered in grease? Color me surprised.”

Walk of shame indeed. He hadn’t done a proper one of those in years, and even then there hadn’t been a drop of shame in him. Still, he made sure to hold his dirty clothes in such a way that there wouldn’t be too much visible if Hanzo decided to stick his head out of his room. There was a difference between having no shame and giving an eyeful to someone who hadn’t asked for one.

The door of his room slid shut, killing any chance of being caught in his skin. The lights were dim and easy on his eyes as he dropped his clothes into the slowly growing pile of things he needed to wash. It was too late to do it now - already more than two hours into the night cycle. Another one of the slip rings had started to rub and it had taken him longer to get this one free and fix it than the last one. In the end it left him with bloody knuckles and a mighty need to have an engine that wasn’t trying to go to pieces every couple of hours.

“Maybe we’ll take a vacation once we’re done with this job,” he said as he collapsed onto his cot. The springs groaned alarmingly, but he ignored their fussing. “Go somewhere nice.”

‘We’re certainly being paid well enough to afford to go somewhere nice.’

“Somewhere nice with a bath.”

‘I see what your motives are. I’ll just put that into the information search, shall I? Looking for: vacation spot, somewhere nice, must have bathtub. I’m sure there’ll be one or two hits. I hear that Hanamura is lovely this time of the year.’

Jesse laughed and rubbed his eyes until he saw spots. “Lordy, can you just imagine? Howdy folks, sorry I stole your prince and helped him escape off to who knows where. Mind if I spend my ill-gotten gains on one of your fine Companions and a fancy hotel room? Pleasure doin’ business with you.” He shook his head. “Maybe somewhere on the other side of the ‘verse where the Council’s grip ain’t quite so likely to strangle me.”

‘Making friends isn’t how you became such a wanted man, sadly.’

He stared up at the sheet metal ceiling. Same ceiling, same walls, same shelf with three - no, two books on it now. Hanzo had taken one of them. “Well, let’s see about finishin’ this job before they do. Turn the comm off tonight, Som. I need some time in my own head.”

‘Haré. Sleep well, Jessito.’

It was odd having the comm off. For the first few weeks after he and Som had been thrown together he’d made sure to have her turn it off every night. Then every other night. Now he’d grown very used to having her cynicism no more than a question away. It was comforting in a way, knowing she was there. She’d kept him mostly sane when the dark spaces grew too large and threatened to swallow him whole, and for that he was grateful.

Still, Sombra wasn’t the one who brushed against him in the hall and made his skin tingle like he’d just touched a live wire.  

Two days to get to Beaumonde for parts. Six days beyond that to the Gibraltar.

Eight days total before he waved goodbye to Hanzo and went back to being a crew of one.

“I should take him somewhere nice on Beaumonde,” Jesse mused out loud. “Get some real food and a couple of drinks.” He knew of a few little places that served beef and fish that wouldn’t leave them puking their lunches up in the gutter a few hours later. Besides, with what Hanzo was paying him for this transport job it was probably alright to splurge a little bit on things he wouldn’t normally.

Hanzo could wear whatever new things he picked up too and they’d make a proper outing of it. Jesse hadn’t got much of a look at it before it had been ruined, but that suit Hanzo had been dressed up in back at Hanamura had certainly seemed like the sort of thing that would set someone like Jesse back by a few paychecks.

He realized where his train of thought was going and groaned into his hands, kicking at his sheets until they pooled on the floor and left him on the bare mattress.

How had he ever thought that he’d be able to take on a passenger without getting attached? Especially to someone like Hanzo. They’d only been in close quarters for a matter of days and already he was starting to think in terms of ‘what would Hanzo like’.

Hanzo liked sweet tea and pancakes. Hanzo liked sitting in his chair in the cockpit and stargazing. Hanzo liked the warm silences that came after the conversation.

And Jesse?

He liked watching Hanzo when the man didn’t realize he was being watched. He liked telling him stories about the other jobs he’d had, ones where the calls had been too close but the adventure had been worth the scars. Sometimes they were even true.

They didn’t talk about the escape from Hanamura, or about what Hanzo was going to do when they reached the Gibraltar. They didn’t talk about Jesse’s arm or Hanzo’s legs again, but Hanzo had stopped wearing his shoes to cover them up. Now Jesse could sense his comings and goings by the soft tapping of metal feet on the floor grates. They didn’t talk about what made them wake up in the middle of the night cycle and drove them to the cockpit and Sombra’s company, though it happened often enough.

“Damnation,” he swore at the ceiling.

He was fucked seven ways to Sunday, and not in the fun way.

“I don’t mean like that,” he growled at his cock, which had decided to get interested in the idea of Hanzo in his perfectly tailored suit. It lay thick and flushed against his thigh - not exactly a pressing need just yet but neither would it be easy to ignore. “You go right on back to sleep, you hear me? It’s damn inappropriate to be thinkin’ about him like that.”

They were on completely different levels after all. Back on Sihnon, for someone like Hanzo to so much as glance at someone like Jesse would have been considered slumming it. Folks like the Shimadas didn’t get tangled up with no-account runners like him, and to imagine that anything could come of it beyond a circumstantial companionship was wishful thinking.

Of course, his dick didn’t seem to understand his logic and remained stubbornly half-hard, demanding either his attention or for him to toss and turn for an hour until his enthusiasm wore off.

Jesse scowled at it ferociously.

“Why’d it have to be him?” He’d been content to keep his daydreaming to faceless women with long hair riding their way to bliss on his lap or equal nondescript blokes between his thighs. It kept things simple, to have the figments of whatever fantasies he entertained not be too vivid. He’d tripped down the rabbit hole of falling for the idea of a person more than once and it wasn’t one he ever wanted to revisit. His hand and the toy in his bedside table were usually enough to keep him satisfied, and when they weren’t? It wasn’t too hard to find a clean whore who took platinum and didn’t ask too many questions.

A sigh made the curls that had fallen into his face sway.

Hanzo Shimada was about as far from his faceless imaginings or two-pieces whores as they came. It was like comparing the sun to a match, and now Jesse was starting to wonder if he’d make it to the Gibraltar before he burned up.

If he was doomed, he thought as he sawed on his bottom lip with his teeth, it seemed a crying shame to fight it too hard.

A groan of relief slipped broke free when his resolve snapped like a wire and he took himself in hand. It had been a while since he’d last had the drive or the energy to indulge, but now he felt so full of it that it crackled like static under his skin.  

“Damn,” he growled, his hips jerking when he tightened his grip. His normally cool room felt a whole lot warmer now and the rough mattress under him chafed like sandpaper against his back and legs. So maybe it had been a bit longer than a while. His heels dug into the bed as he tried to get a little more leverage.

What sort of lover would the very important Mister Shimada be?

Jesse let himself turn ideas over slowly in his head, checking them from all the angles. He wasn’t in a hurry and to rush something like this would have done it a disservice.

Was Hanzo the needy sort?

Hanzo on his knees with Jesse’s shirt tangled around his arms, his mouth open and lips pretty and flushed from biting as he panted. Desperate. Maybe a couple of dark hickies decorating his neck and down across his shoulders. With his hair down and properly mused he’d look downright debauched. The word ‘please’ would hang on his tongue for a long long time, but Jesse knew he’d very much enjoy coaxing it free from the normally composed man.

It was a good imagining, but something about it didn’t ring quite true. Hanzo saying ‘please’ to anything, especially to Jesse, just wasn’t realistic. He pushed it aside for something else as he gently smoothed a bead of precum out over the tip of his cock and made himself more comfortable on his sheetless cot.

Maybe he’d be the fancy sort, like the registered Companions that Sihnon was famous for.

That’d be a sight. He’d be all done up in his fancy clothes and look too good to even think about touching. He’d do it himself, slowly peeling away one layer of fine cloth after another until Jesse was out of his mind with want. It’d all be very civilized - lots of kisses and sweet, praising words that Jesse had forgotten were even in his vocabulary.

Closer, Jesse thought, but not quite right yet. His prosthetic hand came up and found one of his tits through the dark hair, giving it a soft pinch to wake it up and the rest of him responded with a full-body jerk.

“Come on,” he murmured to himself. “You can do better than that.”    

Do you ever stop talking? Asked his imagination, and damned if it didn’t sound a lot like Hanzo.

There it was.

“Nope,” he replied, cramming his eyes shut. “I’m just a chattering fool.”

You are indeed both of those things, the imaginary Hanzo agreed. He wasn’t dressed in Companions clothes or Jesse’s shirt, but rather in a very nice suit. It made him look like he’d just walked out of some office meeting. And you are also occupying my valuable time with your vulgarity. One might think that you were little more than a rutting beast with the finesse you’re showing.

“Aw, come on sweetheart,” Jesse crooned as Hanzo crossed his arms and gave him a look that managed to be both disgusted and interested at the same time. “Don’t be mad. Maybe you could give me a hand.”

It was easy - too easy - to picture his room even with his eyes closed and to put the impeccably dressed Hanzo in it. He stood by the door, shoulders tense and eyes sharp as a blade.

I will do no such thing , Hanzo snapped. You really believe that I would lower myself to that level? I may admire your form on occasion, but I also look over handsome horses with the same eye. Why would I want you when I was brought up around the greatest beauties the verse has to offer?

“Holy mother, you’re so goddamn cruel,” Jesse gasped, finally giving in to the urge to fuck into his fist. It was rough, way too rough for him to keep it up for long, but the sensation and short burst of pleasure was enough to make him groan.

Cease. I refuse to stand here idly while you paw at yourself like a beast in heat. You will do as you are told or go without.

Jesse almost cried, but he found the strength to take his hands off of himself and lowered them back to the mattress at his sides. His cock lay fat and wanting against his belly, throbbing insistently as if demanding to know why he’d stopped.  

“Fine,” he managed to say through clenched teeth, “We’ll do it your -”

I did not tell you that you could speak. I listen to you ramble on for hours on a daily basis. Why would I want any more of your dreadful accent? You’ll hold your tongue until I tell you to set it loose, Jesse McCree. Do you understand?

Jesse nodded, his head spinning. This was much more intense than he’d anticipated and the whole thing felt like it was slowly spinning out of his control.

It was never in your control. Hanzo strolled to the chair in the corner and took a seat as if it was a throne, his legs crossed and his hands resting serenely on his lap. Dark metal flashed at his ankles. Now...shall we begin?

He almost whimpered.  

A few minutes, hours, days (he wasn’t sure any more) he could do little but whimper, but at least his imaginary Hanzo had allowed him that when it became clear that he couldn’t contain his cries. Words were caught on his tongue and hastily swallowed only to reappear a moment later when he was forced to push himself to yet a new peak of pleasure.

Darling, sweetheart, please please please…

Jesse’s hand tightened on the base of his cock, now slippery with the lube he’d pulled out of his bedside table. Everything was slippery now. Sweat poured off of him, down his sides and neck and face, mingling with the tears that managed to break free from the confines of his tightly shut eyes. Drops of cum decorated his belly and drooled from the tip of his red, aching cock. His lungs shuddered, aching as he held his breath and pushed his metal fingers even more deeply inside himself until they brushed against his prostate and made him cry out, his spine arching like a drawn bow off of the bed.

Not yet, Hanzo said, and so he didn’t. Stars exploded in front of his eyes as he sobbed, tightening his grip and forcing down his rising orgasm for the second time. Or was it the third time? Each one got more difficult to hold back and he knew it wasn’t long before he shattered completely.

Control yourself. I haven’t given you permission to finish yet. You don’t want to displease me. He hadn’t moved since they’d started, except to cross his legs once. The composure of the figment was a striking contrast to how wrecked he had to be.

A thin line of saliva dripped out of the corner of Jesse’s mouth as he gasped, trying to obey and control himself. He had his orders, but there wasn’t enough air in his room (or in the entire ‘verse for that matter) to fill his lungs. His legs trembled violently as he slowly lowered himself back down flat to his mattress. His fingers felt huge between his legs, like they belonged to another man - a giant. His artificial nerves only gave him the weakest of sensation when he clenched around them, but the unyielding metal had opened him up like nothing else.

He was bare. Open. Desperate. Helpless.

Look at you, Hanzo said. You’re mindless. No will of your own. Is that how you’ve made it this far in life, by obeying every command tossed at you?

He stood and came to stand next to the bed. Jesse tembled.

Electric blue fire blossomed in Hanzo’s dark eyes as he stared Jesse down. A small part of Jesse’s mind wondered if this was what drowning felt like. Hanzo reached out, his fingers covering a breath away from Jesse’s face. There wasn’t any warmth to them.

You are nothing, Jesse McCree, he said, his voice cold and his face expressionless . Now finish. You have taken up enough of my time with your crass desires.

So he did. Jesse came with a wail, muscles seizing his bones as the orgasm washed over him like a wave and dragged him under. There was no air, no light, only the dark places between the stars and the painful, brutal pleasure that he’d been driven to.

He floated there for a while and was alone when he finally found the will to open his eyes.

Of course he was alone.

“Hell,” he groaned, his throat sore. “Not doin’ that again for a while. Why’re you so fucked up, Jes?”

It hurt when he pulled his fingers out of himself and made a wet noise that had him wrinkling his nose as he looked down at his sweat and cum-drenched body. Time for another trip to the sanitizer. Lucky him.

He cleaned up the worst of it with his dirtiest shirt so that he wouldn’t drip and promised that he would do laundry tomorrow as he punched the door button. A quick cleaning, a strong drink, and then he would sleep. Maybe the dreams wouldn’t find him this time with the exhaustion that was already pulling at him.

“Maybe two drinks,” he muttered as the door slid open and he stepped into the hall - and right into Hanzo Shimada, whose hand was raised to knock.

Chapter Text

Looking back, Jesse realized that the most intelligent thing he could have done was close the door and pretend that nothing had happened. He’d never be able to make eye contact with Hanzo again, but that was a sacrifice he was willing to make in return for the tattered shreds of his self-respect.

Naturally that wasn't what happened.

Qué chingados !” Jesse squeaked in a less than manly fashion. He hadn’t bothered to put on any pants. The instant fight-or-flight reaction froze him in place like a statue. If there was a god, they hated Jesse McCree.

He about swallowed his tongue as Hanzo stared first first at his face, then at his chest, and then lower. His eyebrows rose higher with each inch downwards until they threatened to disappear into his hairline.

“I heard some rather... alarming sounds from your chamber and thought I would check on your well being,” Hanzo said, eyes still glued on Jesse’s chest where his sweat and other unmentionables were starting to dry. “Clearly my concern was misplaced.”

“I, uh, yeah. Sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb you. Or - “ Jesse glanced down at himself and cringed. “That either. Sorry. Shit, I already said that. Give me a sec to throw on some pants.”

“That seems pointless, since I’ve now seen everything you have to offer and you would dirty the pants.”

“It’s the idea of it all! Stop looking - you’re givin’ me stage fright.” Jesse left his dignity at the door as he dug through his laundry for a pair of sweatpants. He swore he’d seen them a couple days back. At least he didn’t trip pulling them on, small miracle. He could feel Hanzo’s eyes on him, making his skin prickle worse than sticking a fork into a socket. Did he know? What had he heard exactly?

It was going to be one hell of an awkward ride to Beaumonde if Hanzo knew that he’d played a prominent role in Jesse’s latest unrealistic fantasy. That was assuming Hanzo wanted to stay on his ship at all. He’d be well within his rights to want a ship transfer when they made land.

“Listen,” Jesse started as he finally got his pants on and found a shirt to hold in front of himself, not unlike a lady stepping out of the wash. “I’m really damn sorry about -”

Hanzo held up a hand and Jesse snapped his mouth shut so quickly his teeth clicked together.

“I did not ask for an apology, nor do I require one. You assumed that I was in my chambers, and rightly so. I’ve intruded upon your privacy and caused you no small amount of discomfort. It would be wise to put this behind us so that we can move forward without any awkwardness.”

Jesse blinked, still clutching the shirt against his front. “That’s...mighty forgivin’ of you, all things considered.”

Hanzo’s lips curled in a wicked smile. “I’ve considered them all,” his voice dropped an octave, growing husky. “Although not as intimately as I could have.”

Was that flirting? He thought it might have been flirting. He was so out of practice with being on the receiving end that he could have very well been mistaking sarcasm for something more meaningful. It wouldn’t be the first time.  

Thankfully Hanzo took pity on Jesse’s dumbstruck silence and reached out with one well-manicured finger to tap his sweaty arm. “I believe I interrupted your trip to the sanitizer. Or at least that’s where I assume you were going, since Sombra isn’t likely to allow to you anywhere else in your condition. Perhaps the engine room,” he chuckled.

“Not even there,” Jesse admitted. The heat that had settled in his cheeks still burned red hot, making him feel more than a little feverish. He’d always hated blushing because it made his freckles stand out worse than the pox. “You’d think she was Captain with her level of sass.”

“I do not blame her. If you are indeed in the habit of walking around in such a state I would be inclined to confine you to your room indefinitely.”  

“I don’t make a habit-!” Jesse cut himself off, indignant, realizing the implications but snorted and continued. “Oh come on now, it just ain’t nice to have a man on like that.”

Hanzo slowly, without breaking eye contact, brought the finger that he’d used to tap Jesse’s arm up to his mouth and licked it. “I am curious about what point during our time together I claimed to be nice.”

Jesse’s train of thought promptly derailed and exploded. There were no survivors.

“I’ll leave you to your cleaning,” Hanzo said, his smile widening. It wasn’t the ‘ha ha, funny’ type smile that Jesse usually saw, but more like a mask that hid something more wicked. “Unless you need an escort to direct you.”

“Nope!”Jesse finally unglued his tongue from the roof of his mouth and sternly told his knees to hold steady. “Nope, I got it. I’m goin’. Right now. But,” he said before he could think better of it, “I feel like I gotta make it up to you somehow. I’ve got a thing of spirits from Osiris I save for anniversaries and the like. We could break out a couple of glass and...talk,” he finished lamely.

Hanzo looked at him appraisingly and this time his eyes stayed fixed on Jesse’s face. Hisis blush had thankfully begun to fade. It just wasn’t right for a man pushing forty to go apple-red when presented with something that amounted to a come-hither.

“That may be one of the first good ideas I’ve witnessed from you.”

Jesse grinned, feeling some of his bravado come slinking back from wherever it’d scurried off to. “Just wait until things get really interestin’. You’ll see all sorts of good ideas.”

“And by ‘good ideas’ I have to assume that you mean ‘explosions’ based on your track record with interesting situations.” Hanzo took a step back, so there was enough space between them that Jesse’s skin didn’t prickle with how close he was any more. “I will meet you in the galley for this drink,” Hanzo’s eyes drifted down teasingly. “Once you’ve composed yourself.”   

“Much obliged,” Jesse mumbled. He couldn’t help but stare after Hanzo as the man turned, walking towards the galley.

‘You know, I’ve never personally witnessed a train wreck before but I figure it probably looks something like that.’

Jesse groaned and covered his face with his hands. He yanked them right back off when he remembered what he’d just been doing with them. “No wonder I feel like I’ve been run over. What’m I supposed to do, Som?”

‘Why the hell are you asking me?’

“You’re supposed to be the all-knowin’ AI. Come on Sweetheart, give me a hint. I’ve got nothin’ but a head full of cotton.” The nerves on his arm were still buzzing where Hanzo had touched him, and that was just sad.

‘Well, if I was indeed all-knowing I’d say that you get cleaned up, put on a nice shirt, and go have a drink with him. Then politely ask if he’d be amenable to fucking you against the counter until you both forget your own names.’

“You aren’t helping!” Jesse threw up his hands and tossed his dirty shirt back into his room before turning towards the sanitizer. He’d deal with the dirty laundry later.

‘You didn’t ask me for help, you asked what I thought you should do! Seriously Jesse, when was the last time you got laid? Four years ago? Five? Did that little piece on Santo ever actually get into bed with you?’

“Hell, I’d forgotten all about Santo. You know I got shot there? By that piece actually. Sort of killed the mood.” Back into the sanitizer he went, and this time he let the laser run for a double cycle just to make sure that every bit of everything was burned off of him.

‘The point stands,’ Sombra said through the speakers once he’d stepped out again. This time he glanced both ways before jogging back to his room in the buff. ‘If he’s interested, and I’d say he is, you might as well take advantage of it. Just try not to get that soft heart of yours involved.’

Too late, Jesse thought, but he kept that to himself, responding with a noncommittal grunt instead. Sombra knew him as well as anyone, and if she thought that he could survive brushing up against the fancy Mister Shimada once or twice and survive it, she was probably right.

A quick change of clothes later and Jesse was padding down the narrow hall towards the galley. He’d even dug out the little bottle of cologne that usually lay hidden under his socks and given himself a quick spritz with it, if only to cover up any lingering traces of his earlier activities. It smelled strange on him - more earthy and fragrant than he was used to. He smelled like someone else.

If Hanzo liked it though, Jesse decided he could handle smelling like someone else. It’d be fun to play pretend for a little while.

Hanzo was sitting at the little table when Jesse stepped in, his metal feet crossed at the ankles. The dim night-cycle lights gleamed softly on the two glasses next to him, the one with the chip in the edge set just slightly further away. His eyes darted to Jesse the moment he appeared, sharp enough to cut and hotter than sin itself.

“Howdy,” Jesse greeted him as he reached up into the cabinet and found the amber bottle that rested patiently behind the dishes. “You come here often?”

“The last time you asked me that we were both hiding in a cleaning supply closet. I believe you had just drugged yourself beyond sanity.”

“I can think of a couple of folks who’d say that I haven’t courted sanity in years, so I doubt I was too far gone. There we go!” He said cheerfully as he poured a generous two fingers of the alcohol into both glasses and took the chipped one for himself. The chair was tempting considering how tired he was, but he ignored it in favor of leaning a hip against the edge of the table. “What’re we drinkin’ to?”

Hanzo turned his glass back and forth between his fingertips, watching the alcohol rock up against one side and then the other. “To new beginnings. May they bring us both what we seek.”

“Cheers to that.”

The sound of their glasses clinking together was the most hope-filled noise Jesse had heard in a long while.

‘Jesse? I hate to interrupt, but it’s urgent.’

He set the glass down and swallowed his sigh. It would keep. Hanzo gave him an amused look over the edge of his own glass and took a slow sip.

“Fire it at me Som. Did another slip ring go?”

‘Not that I’ve registered. A ship has shown up on my long-range sensors. They’re leaking radiation like a sieve. You might want to come take a look.’

“On my way.”

Reality returned.

“Sorry boss, duty calls. Feel free to finish that drink without me. We can share one some other time.” Regret was a familiar taste in Jesse’s mouth, but he held it down with a practiced swallow. It seemed that fate wasn’t through laughing at him just yet.  

“If there is a ship in distress, it is natural that you would put it first.” Hanzo held his glass between both hands, warming it. “Would you mind if I accompanied you to the cockpit? In the event that it is an ambush I might be able to render some sort of aid.”

“Suit yourself, but I doubt it’s your goons. We don’t show up on any radar flying as we are, and even good hunters know better than to fly with botched core containment to lure in prey. That’s a good way to end up with fried insides, if you catch my drift.”

Hanzo nodded, but stood anyway. “Still, I would be interested to see this ship. With the exception of the cruiser we have seen no other life since escape.”

“I wouldn’t count on there bein’ any life on this ship. Might be that the folk onboard have already said their farewells to this life, but we’ll soon find out. Come on, we’ll bring our drinks along. Shame to waste it when it’s already poured and toasted over.”

Together they walked to the cockpit, which was illuminated only by the glowing buttons on the control panels. Jesse sagged into his chair and balanced his drink on the armrest. A slowly flashing red light bounced across it and shot blood through the amber liquid.

“A’right Som, bring up the details. Let’s see what we’ve got.”

The screen in front of him blinked to life, momentarily blinding him before his eyes adjusted to the brightness. He glanced over at Hanzo, who was leaning against the control panel. The screen’s milky light made him look sharp and wraith-like - a knife in the dark.

‘They aren’t on a direct course with us, but I changed our heading enough that we should come within passing range. There haven’t been emergency broadcasts on any frequency. It’s possible that they haven’t realized that their system has been compromised.’

“Possible but unlikely,” Jesse agreed, tearing his eyes away from Hanzo and taping the screen to bring up the details of the ship that Sombra had already uploaded there. “Looks like it’s a modified long-range freighter - shouldn’t have much in the way of weapons. It’s got a serious heat signature, but that’ll be the radiation. How long until we’ve got a visual?”

‘Four minutes and twenty seconds. Ten, if you have good eyes.’

“Have you hailed them yet?”

‘No, just in case they are trouble instead of in trouble.’

“That is the wisest course of action,” Hanzo said. The stars reflected in his dark eyes as he stared out into the black, looking for something that wasn’t there yet. “Is this ship weaponized?”

“Yeah, but it’s a ‘one and done’ type deal, and the ammo ain’t cheap.” Jesse leaned back in his chair and propped his bare feet on the console. “I’d prefer to save it for when we really need it. If these poor bastards really are bad news they’ll take care of themselves with that leak without us needin’ to give them a helping hand with it.”

The cockpit was cozy with one person in it. With two it was downright intimate.

Jesse finally allowed himself a taste of his drink and let it settle on his tongue like liquid sunshine.

“S’not quite how I pictured the night going,” he said quietly.

Hanzo made a noise that was somewhere between a cough and a laugh and washed it down with a sip of his own drink. “No, nor I. It seems that fate has other plans for us tonight. But,” he added after a moment, “There will be other nights.”

Their eyes met across the cockpit and Jesse swallowed hard, knowing the warmth in his belly had nothing to do with the alcohol.      

Two days to Beaumonde. Six days to the Gibraltar.

‘If you two are done eye-fucking each other, the transport ship should be in visual range shortly. Unless we aren’t interested in that anymore, in which case please continue and I’ll turn off the cabin audio recordings.’

“The fact that you save those perturbs me just a tad,” Jesse grumped, but he turned his attention back to the screen and the incoming ship’s information.

‘It comes in handy on occasion.’

“Right, like it did in Hanamura. You just do it for kicks.”

‘I can neither confirm nor deny your baseless accusation.’

“If you two are quite finished,” Hanzo cut in, “I believe that I see our quarry.”

“About damn time. Som, if we ever break down out here and start leakin’ radiation or other sorts of nastiness, make sure that we keep up a good clip so that we don’t inconvenience any would-be rescuers we come across.”

‘I’ll make a note of it.’

Jesse stood and leaned down, bracing his hands on top of the console so that he could squint into the darkness. Still nothing, but if Hanzo had seen something...there. It was a space that shouldn’t be there and it grew and grew until it started to swallow up the specks of light around its edges, blocking out the light from the stars.

“Looks like an old Vanderdecken,” he said after a moment. “Modified. You can see it in the top there. They’ve put in a new stabilizer fin for breaking atmo’ faster and keepin’ the whole thing stable.” Jesse traced his finger across the window in front of him, outlining the black shape of the fin for Hanzo. “They’re good for carrying heavy cargo, but not big on speed. We could run rings around ‘em if they decided to come after us.”

‘I’m detecting signs of life onboard. Want to open a line? I can bounce the signal so that it registers from half a planet away. They won’t know we’re here.’

“Yeah, might as well give ‘em a shout and see if anyone shouts back.” Jesse flipped the silver switch next to the number ‘2’ on the console and leaned in towards the mic. “This is Captain J. McCree, paging Vanderdecken. Come in Vanderdecken. Our sensors indicates that you might be in some distress. Please reply if you’re able, Vanderdecken.”

Green light washed over the panel, indicating a reply transmission. Jesse flipped the switch to send it to the speakers.

The sound that blasted out of the audio feed had both men clapping their hands over their ears in an attempt to block it out. Hanzo’s glass fell to the floor and shattered but went unnoticed by both as Jesse scrambled for the switch and plunged them both into merciful silence when he finally turned it off.

Jesse heart pounded in his chest like a jackhammer, so hard and panicked that it felt like it was trying to burst out from behind his ribs.

“Som,” he whispered raggedly.

‘I know. I’m ducking under them.

“What was that?” Hanzo demanded as he rubbed his ears, making his silver tufts bristle out. “Is there something wrong with the audio? Can it be repaired?”

Jesse didn’t reply. His eyes were glued on the window as Sombra angled their ship and ducked under the Vanderdecken transport. The spotlights flared to life without prompting from him, bathing the naked belly of the ship in a sickly yellow hue.

Hanzo swore in Japanese. Jesse couldn’t find a single word.

The darkness had hidden exactly how modified the transport was, but their spotlights revealed the extent of the carnage that had been purposefully done. Ragged metal edges and gaping holes held together with toothy spikes of metal. Naked wires. It could have been covered in rust, but rust didn’t splash like that. Even paint didn’t splash like that. Jesse tasted bile as they skirted underneath what had once been a Vanderdecken transport.

‘Jesse. Breathe, Jesse.’

He couldn’t.

The outer lights died, plunging them back into darkness, but somehow that was far, far worse.

‘Jesse! Jesse, we’re leaving. We’re getting away from them. They don’t know we’re here.’

“What’s going on? What was that sound?”

Someone was screaming. No, everyone was screaming. Screaming and screaming until they had no voice left to make a sound with. Flores. Walker. Patel. Lacroix. Kaur. Avraham. Their voices, their screams, rang in his head like a siren, forcing him backwards until his spine met a wall.

They were on the ship.

They were coming.

‘Jesse! Come on cariño, snap out of it. They’re behind us now. You’re safe.’

Something touched his arm and he lashed out. His gun. He needed his gun. It was usually at his hip but he couldn’t feel the weight of his belt.

Rule number three, Kid. If they catch you, don’t let them catch you unarmed.

“Reyes?” He gasped, choking on the word.

‘Hanzo, you need to get him out of here. Take him to his room and get his back against a wall.’

“They’re in the ship, Reyes. There’s so many of them. I couldn’t - they got Kaur! We have to - we have to help her!”

She’s dead. Come on, we gotta go.

“I can hear her screaming! Shit! We can still -”

I said she’s dead, McCree! The reavers got her. Now move your ass or you’ll be next!

He moved. Someone was holding onto his elbow to guide him through the dark, but he could still hear them screaming. Was it Kaur? Was she dead or was she still alive while they ripped into her?

“We have to do somethin’, Reyes. We have to. They’re ours! What do I do? Tell me what to do!”

“Walk, Jesse. We’re nearly there.”

It didn’t sound like Reyes, but it had to be. Everyone else was gone.

McCree. Listen to me. Look at me! You have to run. Take that ship of yours and run. There’s not shit you can do except get dragged down with the rest of us.

“No, I’m not runnin’. I can help. Let me get my gun and we’ll get them back! You and me Reyes, just like always. We’ll fix it.”

It’s not going to be you and me, you dumbass. They already got their teeth in me, so I’m running on borrowed time. Take Sombra’s backup drive. Get to your ship. Leave us. That’s an order, McCree.

“But -”

RUN JESSE

He ran. Ran and ran and ran but the ‘verse just wasn’t big enough.

The door was open. He tore himself free from the hand at his elbow and dove through.

Look at you. You’re mindless. No will of your own. Is that how you’ve made it this far in life, by obeying every command tossed at you?

His ship. His scrappy little Raven-class. He had to run. Nothing he could do and Reyes said run.

There was a wall at his back. That was good. Walls were safe.

If only the screaming would stop.

“I’m going to turn the lights on low, Jesse. You’re in your room. There is no one else here but you and me.”

There was blue light in front of him. Dragonfly blue.   

Every man gets judged alone and it don’t seem much inclined to leave you to it.  

Lights. Even though they were dim it was enough to make him shut his eyes.

“Jesse McCree.”

Peppermint.

It was a tentative touch at first, but slowly a hand curled around his clenched fist. Slender fingers pried his apart and laced between them.

He had to run. Had to run. Had to -

“Breathe. Breathe with me, Jesse. In…”

His oxygen-starved lungs sucked in air.

“...Out.”

And released it.

“Good. Again.”

He breathed.

“Again.”

He kept breathing.

It wasn’t Reyes he saw when he opened his eyes, but he knew it wouldn’t be. Hanzo regarded him with worried eyes, the stress lines around his mouth and between his brows deep enough that they resembled valleys.

He was in his room. Familiar walls. Familiar ceiling. Two tattered books. His hat. Hanzo sat on the floor next to him, their hands clasped together like two parts of the same chain.

“Hi,” Jesse said.

He kept breathing.

“Hello,” said Hanzo.

His chest rose and fell in time with Jesse’s.

“Would you stay? Just for a little while?”

Hanzo’s hand tightened on his.

“Yes. I’ll stay.”

Chapter Text

“I do not understand.”

“Not much to understand, if I’m honest. Most rim planets have a place like this. Hell, some have two or three.” Jesse gestured expansively at the spaceport that sprawled out in front of them like the corpse of some long-dead goliath. Its ribs were the ramps that lead to a hundred different kinds of ships. Its spine was the main road crammed with food carts, pedalers, and moving machines hauling a thousand different kinds of wares. Some were legal. Most were not.

“It’s not pretty and you’ll probably hack up a lung if you breathe the air for too long on account of the factories, but it’s as good a place as any to resupply and get whatever it is you’re lookin’ for.” Jesse’s spurs jingled cheerfully as he bounced down the ship ramp and typed some fake credentials into the port registration screen at the bottom. The screen accepted them with a beep and told Mister Alvarado to enjoy his visit to Crence, Beaumonde.  

“I was not referring to the city.” Hanzo came down the ramp behind him, narrowing his eyes at the screen. “Mister Alvarado. Beaumonde has a reputation even in Hanamura and is much as I expected it to be, from first glance.”

“A’right, Fine. I’ll bite. What don’t you understand?”

“What I don’t understand is how you could possibly appear in public dressed thusly.” Hanzo’s eyes raked over him with thinly veiled distaste, making Jesse feel like he’d just walked through a metal detector and failed.   

“Promise my socks match?” He tried. (They didn’t.)

“You look like an extra who escaped from the set of an Earth-That-Was western documentary,” Hanzo snapped irritably.

“You say the nicest things, Boss.”

“It wasn’t a compliment.”

“Yeah, I got that. These’re still my street clothes though. It’s a good look!”

“You are wearing a blanket around your neck.”

“It’s a serape,” Jesse protested. They both stepped aside to let an old six-wheeler through. Its back storage container was piled high with mangos, all held down by a net to keep them from rolling away. The machine let out a belch of smog as it passed them by, causing both of them to cough, waving in front of their faces to clear the air.

“City manners,” Jesse groused, juggling a mango from hand to hand. “Can’t stand ‘em.”

“Jesse,” Hanzo sighed as Jesse pulled a knife out of his pocket and proceeded to peel away a strip of mango skin. “We’ve hardly been here for thirty minutes.”

“Aw, they won’t miss just one. Come on, it’s fresh. Been ages since either of us had anything that wasn’t reconstituted.” Jesse cut a long piece of the fruit off and popped it into his mouth. The noises of pure carnal pleasure that he made as he chewed were only half joking. It was easy to forget how good real food tasted after ingesting protein slurry for days at a time, but coming back to it was like watching the sun rise for the first time.

Hanzo took the slippery piece of offered fruit and bit off the corner.

“Checkin’ for poison?” Jesse asked with a grin. “Swear it’s the apples that’re a trap, not the mangos. Pit’s too big.”

Hanzo ignored him and took another bite of mango as if to show that he wasn’t thinking about poison. “It does not seem like this planet would be hospitable enough for growing produce. The air quality is rather poor.”

“That’s puttin’ it lightly. Air is so bad here that the folks who live above ground live about ten years less than the undergrounders. There’re big vents that suck in air and filter it before shootin’ it under the crust, and that’s where they grow a lot. Solar lamps and the like. What you’re seein’ here,” Jesse jerked his head towards the bustling, smoggy city, “Is about half of what Crence has to offer. Fair amount goes on under our feet. The second city. Not that we’ve got any business down there. Damn unnatural livin’ underground if you ask me. What’s the point in being’ alive without a sky to look at?”

“It must suit some, but I do not believe that either you or I would take to such a lifestyle,” Hanzo admitted as Sombra closed the ramp behind them, shutting them out of the ship.

Jesse laughed and tossed the mango pit away, the juice sticky in his beard and on the fingers of his glove. “Got a taste for the stars now, Boss?”

Hanzo made a noncommittal noise, but it wasn’t a denial.

“Anyway,” Jesse continued, “take a good look around. Folks here come from all corners of the ‘verse and most of them are here for no good. See how they’re dressin’?” He pointed at a group of three women in head-to-toe velvet robes and golden masks. “Priestesses from Ita. Pretty ting in the gold scarves over there is from Ares, probably peddling their bodily wares. Those blokes with the red jackets? Theophrastus soldiers here for the cheap drinking. One look and you can tell where they hail from, what they’re likely dealin’ in, and whether or not they’re trouble. Now how many folks do you see in coveralls or drab bits of nothin’?”

He watched Hanzo’s eyes scan the crowded streets like a hawk hunting for mice.

“Few,” Hanzo admitted begrudgingly after a moment. “The alley pushers and the beggars.”

“Right you are. In parts like this you gotta look the part you’re playin’ or else no one will pay you mind. We aren’t pushers or beggars, so what does that leave us? Two nomads lookin’ to spend a bit of coin gained through not-so-legal means, if you get my drift.” He tipped his hat to Hanzo with a grin and laughed when the man wrinkled his nose.

“I know the fashion and customs of many worlds, and I cannot think of a single one where people dress as you are attempting to. What part is it that you are playing?”

“Aw Boss, I’m just a humble space cowboy tryin’ to make his way through the ‘verse in these troubling times - oi! Don’t kick the captain! This is mutiny!”

Crence swallowed them into its masses and no one gave the space cowboy or his companion a second glance. It was as unlike Hanamura as it was possible to be, while still remaining a hub of both trade and crime. The brick sidewalks were uneven and full of holes for the unwary to turn their ankles in. Not that anyone chose to walk on them - they were too crowded with street food vendors to be practical for foot traffic. Instead people spilled out into the streets, mingling with the machines in an ever-flowing river that managed to keep the bodies flowing in their chosen directions.The hot, humid air was thick with smog from the factories. It had built up as sediment on the outside of every building, so that buildings both old and new were covered in a matching layer of grime.

“Makes you wonder what folk’s lungs look like, breathin’ this shit in day in and day out,” Jesse said quietly after Hanzo accidentally brushed up against a wall and pulled back a black-streak sleeve.  

“I would prefer not to think about it. Are there no pollutant regulations here?”

“Sure,” Jesse shrugged. “Doesn’t mean anyone pays them any mind. Round these parts, the black market and the factories are the ones with the money, and that money in the right hands helps the authorities turn a blind eye to the air. Crence will keep workin’, whether or not a few more nobodies die of lung cancer.”

Hanzo took a half step closer to Jesse as they turned down a side road, away from the dirty buildings. “It isn’t right.”

“Hate to break it to you, but most things aren’t. Hell, if everything was right, you wouldn’t have had to run from your own kin and I’d be raising fat cows on some backwater planet.”

“Cows?” Hanzo asked and Jesse caught the half smile when he looked back over his shoulder.

“What, can’t see it? Always thought I’d make a damn fine rancher. Piece of straw in my teeth, sayin’ ‘y’all’ every other word, goin’ to barn raising parties and dancin’ with girls in homemade dresses…”

His heart skipped a beat when Hanzo came up next to him and hooked their arms together so that his hand was resting on Jesse’s crooked forearm. “I would have called it believable until the last part.”

“What, don’t believe I can dance?” Jesse asked, trying to disguise his sudden nerves. This was close - the closest they’d been since the night the reavers had passed them by. Neither of them had mentioned the encounter or Jesse’s panic. Instead it hung between and around them like a shroud, simultaneously holding them together and keeping them apart.

“I believe that you are a man of many talents,” Hanzo tone was mild and diplomatic, but Jesse’s bark of laughter still made a couple people glance their way.

“Never been called an idiot in such a polite way before. I’ll have to remember that one. ‘Man of many talents’,” he chuckled, thumbing at the corners of his eyes as he pretended to wipe away tears of mirth. “Guess if fancy schoolin’ teaches you how to say - hold up a sec.”

“My education taught better than to say ‘hold up a sec’ unless I had a desire to sound like a bumpkin who never completed their primary.” Hanzo made a face like the words tasted bad on his tongue and Jesse introduced his elbow to the man’s side.  

“Anybody ever tell you that you’re a smartass?”     

“Not in so many words.” Hanzo followed McCree to the other side of the street. Both of them were nearly overwhelmed by the smell of frying garlic and chili oil coming from the food cart that Jesse had spotted. The hand-drawn sign on the side said ‘Baba’s Fry Cart’.

“Hey Baba!” Jesse cried, flinging his arms out dramatically just in time to catch the little old woman who came around the cart and threw herself at him. She smelled just like her cart - strong enough to make his throat close and his nose start running, but he didn’t let that stop him from lifting her right off her feet in a bear hug that made her squeal with delight.

“JJ Mack! I thought you’d got yourself shot down or locked up for good by now!” She squeezed him with surprising strength for such skinny arms and then punched him in the gut as soon as he put her down. It didn’t hurt, but he wheezed for her benefit all the same.

He didn’t know where Baba hailed from originally, nor did anyone else in Beaumonde. She’d simply turned up one day about fifty years ago and opened up her fry cart. Business had been going strong ever since, the ingrained smell of spices and oil getting stronger as Baba’s hair got grayer. Now there wasn’t a single lick of the black it had once been when Jesse first met her, years back.

“You know me Baba, can’t keep a good thing from doin’ what he’s best at.” Jesse tipped back his hat and grinned down at the old fry lady. “Thought you were set up on Seventh and Perdot? I was on my way to find you. I’d have gone right by ‘cept for the smell.”

“Aaah,” the fry woman waved her hands as she shuffled back behind her cart and stepped up on a box behind it. The extra height still left her well under Jesse’s collarbone. “I’m not young like I used to be. Got edged out by those organic,” she spat the word, “hooligans. Like shit’s organic these days.”

Jesse nudged Hanzo with his shoulder, but Hanzo didn’t so much as sway. “Maybe that’s what I should get into next. Organics.”

“You already wear flannel and have a scruffy beard, so I believe it would suit you very well.”  

“Scruffy!” Jesse gasped, both hands flying up to cover the lower half of his face. “Don’t listen to the bad beard-hating man darling - he didn’t mean it.”

“I’m going to try to forget that you just spoke to your beard as if it was a sentient being.”

Baba looked back and forth between them with obvious curiosity. “You finally got yourself a boyfriend, Mack? Or is he by the hour only? I might want to check him out when you’re done. Might be old, but I’m sure as hell not blind.”

Hanzo stiffened up so much that Jesse suspected the stick up his ass might have been poking the back of his throat.

“Sorry Baba,” he chuckled, patting Hanzo hard on the small of his back to knock him out of his stupor. “Just showing him the sights. He’d be too pricey for the likes of my scruffy self even if he was that type.”  

“I’m very expensive,” Hanzo agreed, rubbing his back and shooting Jesse a glare that promised revenge later.   

“Good!” Baba cackled, rubbing veined, spotted, oil burned hands together. “I’ll charge you double. What can I fry for you boys today?”

This was what he’d been waiting for. Jesse tried not to let on how much his mouth was watering as he leaned an elbow on the fry cart and gave the old woman his most charming smile. “Like I’d travel halfway across the ‘verse for anything other than your churros, Sugar. Got any batter left for a couple of hungry drifters?”

“I knew that’s what you were after the second I saw that dumb hat of yours bouncing by.” Baba reached under the cart and pulled out a heavy piping bag filled with creamy batter. She set it next to the fry pot that had ‘Sweets’ scrawled on the side. “Gabe send you down to do his dirty work again? Haven’t seen that charmer in five hundred years. Thought you were his shadow.”

Jesse’s smile didn’t falter, but any good cheer that was behind it drained away faster than water out of a cracked cup. “Hard to be a shadow when I’m taller. Anyhow, I’m sure he’s around somewhere,” he said vaguely as he watched Baba pipe long stripes of batter into the hot oil. It hissed and spat, flecking his prosthetic with oil spots.

“Well, I’ll give you an extra and you pass it off to him.”

“A’right.”

A minute later and they were back on the crowded street with the scent of fry and garlic fading behind them.

“She’s good people. Not many in the ‘verse, so it’s worth keeping on the right side of those that are.” He chuckled, shaking his head as memories came creeping back. “I used to bring her all sorts of shit to see if she could fry it. Chicken feet, noodles, shit that had already been fried once, ice cream when I could get my hands on it. She’d toss it all in and then make me eat every bit.” Jesse handed Hanzo one of the three churros, careful not to shake off too much of the cinnamon sugar that the treat was rolled in. “Probably should have asked if you wanted somethin’ else, but Baba makes the best churros I’ve had.”

“I have never had one.”

“First time for everything!” Jesse bit the first two inches off of his fried treat and crunched happily on it, letting the sweet sugar and simple flavor of the batter mingle in his mouth. “Gorram these’re good. Need to figure out how she does it. You know, she once told me if I got Gabe t’ marry her she’d give me the recipe, and I had the certificate all drafted up and ready to go in under an hour.”

Hanzo nibbled carefully on the corner of his churro. “It seems simple enough.”

“You cook much?” Jesse asked, taking another bite.

“No, we - I had a personal chef. But the batter seems basic and the topping is rustic at best. But,” he added, after a second larger bite that left sugar clinging to his mouth, “it is delicious. I do not usually indulge in sweets.”

“Not a fan?” Jesse hand ached to reach out and brush the sugar away, but the crowd jostled them apart and by the time he worked his way back to Hanzo’s side, it was gone.

“I used to enjoy sweets. So did my - Jesse, you’re going to step in that hole.”

“Shit, thanks for the warning. I’d have gone right down to the next level.” Jesse skirted around the deep pit and tugged Hanzo up onto the sidewalk, between a fruit cart and a vendor selling batteries. “So did your…” He prompted.

“My brother.” Hanzo rolled the churro back and forth between his fingers and refusing to meet Jesse’ curious gaze. His voice was soft enough that it was almost lost to the noise of the street. “He loved sweets and I enjoyed indulging him when we found time to slip away from our responsibilities.”

Jesse chewed contemplatively, masticating his words before they came out of his mouth. “I’m guessin’ by your use of past tense that he either hates all things good and sugary now, or ain’t with us?”

“He died,” Hanzo snapped and for a moment Jesse thought he was going to throw his churro into the gutter. Instead his grip on it tightened to the point that the soft fry was crushed in the middle, covering his hand in cinnamon sugar. This time Jesse didn’t feel quite so inclined to lick it off. Something in his chest clenched painfully and he pushed back his hat to scratch at his hair.

“Sorry to hear that. It’s rough, losin’ somebody you care about.”

Hanzo was silent for long enough that Jesse finished his churro. “It is,” he finally agreed. “I miss him. Eating sweet things reminded me of him, so I denied myself because he was not there to share them with me. I think,” he said, looking down at his mangled churro, “that he would have liked this.”

“Probably would. Haven’t met a soul who didn’t swear by Baba’s churros.”

They both watched the crowd swarm by them. Stories above them, someone’s window open and blasting music so loud that the bass could be felt in the bricks.

“Who was Gabe?”

A hero, said his head.

A hardass, said bruises, long since faded.

A friend, said his heart.

He was holding a churro meant for Gabriel Reyes and he wasn’t around. Hadn’t been in years.

“Old boss,” said his mouth, the taste of cinnamon still fading on his tongue. “He’s dead too.”

They left the third churro with the battery vendor and rejoined the river.

There were memories here - lots of them. They hid in the dark alleys like soldiers in black, armed and dangerous. Jesse skirted away from them, keeping his steps like and his thoughts clear. They couldn’t cling to his boots in the daytime. He knew the buildings here, the alleys, the gutters, the hidden dark places where blood mixed with the city grime in equal measures. He knew the ribs of the city, the spine. He’d feasted on its guts when his leash went slack and the voice of his handler said ‘go’.

“A’right, got a taste of real food! Time for you to get your shoppin’ kicks in while I dig up our parts. I know a guy who does some fine work with a tailor needle and he should set you up proper.”    

“I hope this is not the same person who helped you in your own wardrobe construction.”

‘Buuuurn, Jesse. Put some ice on that.’ Sombra’s voice came through the communicator that both men had tucked discreetly in their ears.

“I thought you were busy gettin’ us resupplied? Too busy to be sassin’ me like this. I can’t ever catch a break,” he added under his breath to Hanzo.

‘I heard that.

“Go hack into somewhere high security if you’re bored. I’m workin’.”

‘Way ahead of you.’

“I don’t want to know,” Hanzo said, casting his eyes skyward. “I’ve come to the conclusion that ignorance is bliss when it comes to the both of you, because deeper understanding can only lead to madness.”   

“Now you’re catching on!”

They had to go down a side street that smelled heavily of urine and under three sets of train tracks to find the tailor. At least seven other shops had signs claiming that they were the best, fastest, cheapest when it came to clothes, but Jesse passed them all by. It wasn’t until they were both getting thirsty from the heat that they finally stopped.

“Are you certain this is the correct place?” Hanzo asked skeptically, giving the building a look that Jesse had seen him use on oil stains and bad coffee.

It wasn’t much to look at. The building was tall and narrow, shoved between a motorcycle repair shop and a sketchy restaurant that advertised ‘fresh meat, no dog’ in the window. The city’s grime had settled on it just like everywhere else. The only thing that stood in the display in the front was a simple men’s black suit. The sign above the door said ‘Pinky Tailor’.

“Yep, hasn’t changed a bit. Don’t eat next door. It’s actually dog.”

“Any desire I might have had to dine there has been firmly laid to rest, thank you.”

The bell over the door rang cheerfully when they stepped in. The inside of the tailor shop hadn’t changed much either. It was more inviting than the outside. Most of the floor in the upper stories were removed, leaving a series a balconies that looked down onto the bottom floor. Every wall was crammed with colorful fabrics and books packed with trims, button, lace, and other such fanciful decorations. A few mannequins stood guard from on top of wooden displays, impeccably dressed in suit jackets and gowns.

“Hey Pinky!” Jesse called into the quiet shop.

“You got fat.” A finger drilled into his side like a heat-seeking missile and Jesse jumped so hard that he nearly sprang out of his boots. The proprietor of the shop stood next to him, glowering at his waistline over a pair of small glasses.

“Damn it all Pinky, you ‘bout scared a decade off my life.”

“I would rather have scared ten inches off of your middle! How did you change so much in five years, Josiah? What’s this? You grew a beard!” He reached up and grabbed Jesse by the beard, dragging him down to eye level. “You look like a hobo.”

The wheezing from behind him had to be Hanzo trying to hold in his laughter.  

Pinky was not a big man. He was completely hairless and his pale skin had a translucency about it that made it possible to see the majority of his major veins and arteries. He wore a simple vest tucked into a pair of black pants that easily disguised his soft middle. The hand that held Jesse by the beard was fat and soft, covered in tiny pin prick scars from his tailoring work. He smelled faintly of tea and chalk.

“Aw come on, it’s not that bad,” Jesse whined, trying to free himself from the albino’s iron grasp.

“You are correct. It’s worse.”

Pinky released him and Jesse straightened, resisting the urge to take shelter from the tailor’s wrath by hiding behind Hanzo. “You knows I’m happy in rack shit, Pinky. Your stuff is wasted on me.”

“Wasted because you insist on covering it in dirt and blood the moment you have a chance to! What happened to your yellow shirt, eh?” Pinky pointed at a bolt of lemon-colored fabric and Jesse flushed guiltily.

“Bled on it.”

“I could dress you like a king and you insist on being a brigand without fashion sense. A fat brigand. Why are you wearing a blanket around your neck? And don’t you dare tell me that it’s a fashion statement. It’s a crime.”

Hanzo stopped trying to control his mirth and was openly laughing now.

“A’right a’right, you’ve both had your fun at my expense. Can I please keep what’s left of my dignity and just wave off now?” He held up his hands and took a long step away from Pinky, hoping to shift his attention to Hanzo.

Pinky’s pale eyes narrowed. “And don’t think I didn’t see that arm of yours. How are you supposed to fit into jackets with that tacky steel behemoth?”

“Hence the blanket,” Jesse snapped, about done with being pecked at. “It doesn’t fit through most sleeves. Anyhow, I didn’t come in for any jackets. This fella -” he pressed a hand to the small of Hanzo’s back and pushed him forward a step. “Needs some new duds. He’s been moochin’ off of my shirts on account of me bleedin’ all over his.”

“That is a Shimada.” Pinky looked at them over the tops of his glasses and Hanzo’s laughter died a quick death. Jesse saw his eyes dart around, taking note of every possible escape route and hiding place. “You have been dressing a Shimada in your shirts. I will forget about your blanket and waistline - this however cannot be forgiven. Come,” he said imperiously, gesturing at Hanzo. “I need measurements.”

Jesse and Hanzo exchanged a look.

“We’ve only got a short while,” Jesse told the tailor. “It’s not a pleasure visit.”

Pinky sniffed as if Jesse had insulted his mother. “As if I need more than that. Get out of my shop, Josiah. I don’t want to look at you or your fat middle anymore.”

A minute later found Jesse back on the street out front of the shop as the sign on the door flipped from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’. Pinky wouldn’t accept any distractions with his new client and short deadline.

“I don’t like Crence,” Jesse muttered, looking down at the toes of his boots.

‘Pinky has always been like that. He used to call you fat when you weighed a hundred pounds soaking wet.’

“Yeah well, this time he’s right.” He sighed heavily and kicked away a loose piece of concrete. “Time to get parts. How’re things lookin’ on your end, Som?”

‘Not bad. I inserted us into a delivery schedule for refueling and supplies, which should be done within the hour. I haven’t noticed anyone poking around either, but I’m keeping the cameras on.’

“Let me know if somethin’ happens. I’ve got this feeling that something is going to go wrong.”

‘You sure it isn’t because Pinky made fun of your beard?’

“Might be,” Jesse admitted, smoothing it down a little bit. The tailor’s rough handling had made it puff up like cat fur. “I’m headin’ over to Angeline’s to get the rings.”

‘Got your gun? Last time you were to Angeline’s she tried to shoot you.’

“Of course I have my damn gun, but she’s probably forgotten all about that by now.”

‘I wouldn’t count on it.’

“Jesse?”

This time Jesse only jumped a little bit. Hanzo’s shoes had disguised the telltale sound of his metal prosthetics and allowed him to come up behind Jesse almost silently.

“Give a man a heart attack, why don’t you,” he grumbled. “What’s happenin’? Pinky done with you already?”

Hanzo ignored him. “Are you going to get parts for the ship?”

“That was the plan, yeah. Unless you need me to stay and supervise so that Pinky doesn’t try’n take advantage of your helpless self.” Jesse waggled his eyebrows and grinned, doing his best to banish any trace of his gloomy mood.

“I handled you easily enough. I believe that I can protect myself from one sharp-tongued tailor. Here.” Hanzo pulled a silver card out of the breast pocket of the red shirt he was wearing and pressed it into Jesse’s hand. “It’s a credit chip. There should be enough on it to cover your expenses.”

“Damn,” Jesse drawled sarcastically, flipping the chip back and forth between his fingers like a coin. “I’ve heard of these newfangled things but I ain’t never seen one.”

“You are purposefully acting like a bumpkin, so I am going back inside before you say ‘y’all’ or ‘tarnation’.”

Hanzo turned to go, but Jesse caught him by the wrist before he could get too far. The man’s arm tensed in a way that told Jesse that Hanzo was wondering whether or not to knock away his hold.

“Hey now, I’m just messin’ with you. Thanks for the chip. How about we meet up for lunch once we’re both done with what we’re doin’? I know a couple places with good fish and stuff.”

“And stuff?” Hanzo’s irritation slowly turned back into amusement. “I’ve never had that either. It must be a day for firsts.”

“It’s to die for,” Jesse promised, releasing Hanzo so that he could press his hand over his heart. “Only the best stuff for The Very Important Mister Shimada.”

“So long as you remember that.”

“I’ll keep it close in mind. You have fun with the pins and needles and I’ll try not to get blood on my clothes. Give me or Som a buzz if you find trouble and I’ll coming running.” Jesse chewed on the inside of his cheek for a second and then pulled off his hat. “Best keep an eye on this for me. Just in case.” He dropped it onto Hanzo’s head and turned on his heel before he could think better of it, jogging for the mouth of the side street.

‘Did you seriously just do that?’

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

‘I’m never going to let you live this down.’

“Hell, I’m never going to let me live this down,” Jesse muttered as he dove into the crowded main street and started to weave his way towards the mechanic’s shop. He was getting in over his head, with or without his hat on.

As it turned out, Angeline did indeed remember their last altercation. Jesse spent a very tense half hour with his hands in the air and looking down the barrel of a shotgun before he was able to convince her that he’d only come to buy parts instead of seducing her children. Even then she’d been eager to bag up his slip rings and get him out of her shop post-haste.

“That went better than expected,” Jesse said cheerfully as he shifted the bag over his shoulder to a more comfortable position.

‘You’re right. She could have actually shot you.’

“Exactly! Any day that doesn’t end with me diggin’ bullets out of my gut is a good day.”

‘You have very low standards for good days, Jessito. Want me to put a reservation for Mister Alvarado in at The Usual Place?’

Jesse grinned. “Must’ve read my mind, Sweetheart. How about in thirty or so? Should give me time to swing by Pinky’s and stage a dashing resc -”

“Jesse.”

The new voice in his comm made him pause for a minute and he was almost run over by a cart in his moment of distraction.

“Whoa hey Hanzo, we were just talkin’ about you. All done gettin’ fancied up with Pinky?”

“Yes.” Hanzo’s voice was flat. Cold. Jesse instantly went on the alert.

“Somethin’ wrong, Boss? You don’t sound so good.”

“I...have been better,” Hanzo said slowly. “I am standing over the corpse of a bounty hunter who just attempted to drug and kidnap me. It seems that the Council has put a price on my head.”

Chapter Text

“Welcome to The Usual Place, Mister Alvarado.  Would you like to check your...” the host, a large man with a rather impressive beard, eyed Jesse’s serape for a moment. “Coat?”

“Nah, I’ll hang onto it if it’s all the same. I’ve got a gent joinin’ me shortly. He should have a hat.” Jesse drew a circle around his head to illustrate his missing stetson. “And he’ll probably look like he just sucked on a lemon.”

“I will show him to your table once he arrives. If you’ll follow me?”

‘I’m giving him directions. He’s on his way - five minutes out and no trouble so far,’ Sombra murmured in his ear. ‘I’m sorry Jessito, I didn’t think to look in the bounty hunter database. I figured on the Council filing a police report, not putting a price on his head.’

“At least they want him alive and whole instead of in a box,” Jesse said under his breath as he wound his way between rustic tables and towards the back of the restaurant. “Still... 40 Mil in platinum would make any low life pick his head up. Thank much,” he said to the host when presented with a seat against the wall. He flipped the man a platinum piece. “Not much in the mood for company other than the gent I’m waitin’ for, if anyone comes askin’ about. What’s your name, friend?”

“Charlie, and I’ll be happy to redirect them, Mister Alvarado.”

“Cheers, Charlie.”

Jesse took the chair, placed its back to the wall and settled in. It had been years since his last visit and the place had cleaned up considerably since. The floors were still a little sticky, but it didn’t look like people were losing shoes to it any more. The Usual Place had started as a grunge pub - the sort of hole in the wall rogue travelers went looking for shady business and questionable curries.

At least they’d been questionable until someone had taken offense to being served dog meat and beat the shit out of the head cook. Jesse crossed his boots under the table and leaned back, making himself comfortable. He could still remember the look on the man’s face as he’d been thrown through the holograph window. That had been the first step towards gentrification. The place had come far enough that folks needed a reservation to snag a table now.

The menu was a touch screen so Jesse punched in a pair of drinks and apps, swiping Hanzo’s credit chip at the end to open a tab.

“How much is on this thing, Som? I might get another beer if there’s anything left.”

‘Let me scan it...One Mil four hundred and ninety eight thousand in untraceable credits. It had one Mil five hundred, but you spent two K on parts. I think you can afford another beer.’

Jesse choked as the drinks were dropped in front of him.

“You’re shittin’ me,” he hissed once he was alone again. “I don’t even know what that much looks like Som. Don’t tell me that I’ve been carryin’ it around with me in my pocket like loose change.”

‘Looks that way. It’s really well encoded too. Even I’d have a hard time figuring out where these came from. You in the market for a sugar daddy, Jesse? Anybody who hands off a chip like this and looks at your ass like our Mister Shimada does has to be open to the idea.’

Jesse backwashed more than a little of his beer and started to cough so hard he saw stars.

“Please control yourself,” said a cool voice next to him. “It would be inconvenient for you to asphyxiate when we are this far into our journey.”   

Jesse’s hat fell onto the table next to him.

The man had Hanzo’s face, but that was where the similarities to the Hanzo that Jesse had come to know ended. This Hanzo had his black hair slicked back and loose so it feathered around the collar of his pressed white shirt. The top two buttons were open, giving a peek at the hollow of his throat to anyone who cared to look. Paired with a set of very expensive-looking fitted trousers and a jacket with a long back and an open front, he made a picture that Jesse would have called ‘Old Money, Old Power’.

It came a little too close to Jesse’s cruel personal fantasy when Hanzo seated himself in the chair across from him and crossed his legs. Dark metal flashed at his ankle.

“I’ll do my best,” Jesse wheezed and pounded his chest a couple of time with his fist for good measure. “Not every day a man finds out he’s been carryin’ around a small fortune without knowin’ it.”

“I did not know how much your parts would cost, so I erred on the side of caution. It would have been inconvenient for both of us if you had come up short on your bill.”

“They’re just slip rings. Hell, a good drink cost more than those popcorn parts. You handed me enough for a new ship plus the rings.” He flipped the credit chip at Hanzo, who snatched it out of the air. That was when Jesse noticed the black driving gloves he was wearing. The sight went straight to his dick like an electric shock. He slouched a little lower in the seat, hoping the table would help disguise how tight his pants suddenly felt.

“I am going to assume that you did not indulge in that new ship.”

“Nah,” Jesse laughed. “Too many memories on mine. It’s hard to move those over with the luggage.” He pushed one of the cold glasses across the table with a finger. “Got you a beer but they’ve got other things if that’s not your poison.”

“Beer is fine, thank you.”

“So!” Jesse forced a air of casual good cheer into his voice as he laced his fingers together and propped his chin on them. “How was your day, darlin’? Enjoy your shopping?”

“Do not call me that, and yes, I did. Up until the moment a drug-laced rag was pressed over my face in the fitting room.” Hanzo took a sip of his beer and then a longer one when the flavor seemed to meet his standards. “I’m afraid that it destroyed any enthusiasm I had for the outing.”

“Attempted kidnapping’ll do that to you.” They both leaned back as the appetizers were dropped off, but neither made a move to reach for them. “You handle it a’right?”

“Yes. It seemed discourteous to leave blood in the tailor’s shop, so I strangled the man with a measuring tape.”

Jesse grinned. “That’s gotta be unique.”

Hanzo shrugged minutely. “Pinky seemed unphased and told me that he would deal with the body. I should mention,” he added, “that I’m certain now it is not dog meat that they serve next door.”

“Suddenly I’m not too hungry any more,” Jesse said, making a face as he tried to wash down the sudden bad taste in his mouth with a gulp of beer. “I had Som run a check. The Council wants you back in a big way. Doesn’t look like they even tried to go through the usual channels - just went straight for the bounty hunters and lowlifes. The pay they’re offering would make a preacher man think twice about getting into the business. You could buy an Imperial cruiser with that sort of backing.”

“Yes, you could,” Hanzo said, eyes fixed on his beer. “I knew that they would be eager to retrieve me, but I did not expect them to go to the same people that I relied on. The Council may have ties to the most questionable dealings in the universe, but they prefer to keep up the appearance of gentrification and lawfulness.”    

“Bein’ fancy only gets you so far out here. Money talks and it talks damn loud to a lot of folks lookin’ to improve their lot. You got a taste of that already.”    

Hanzo nodded, his face set in hard, angry lines. “I have dealt with attempts on my life in the past, and kidnapping as well. That was in my own home, however. I knew what my limits were and how to deal with those who intruded where they were not welcome. I do not know this place or the people.” He flicked his hand at the restaurant and managed to encompass the whole of Crence with the gestured. “It disturbs me.”

That much was clear, at least to Jesse’s eyes. Hanzo was seated casually enough, as if they were having a conversation about the state of the economy, but tension was written in every line of his body. His legs didn’t move - not a twitch nor to shift to a more comfortable position.

He was ready to run if he had to. Run or fight.

“Somethin’ more than that eatin’ you up, Boss?” Jesse asked softly.

“Is the entire corrupt situation not enough?” Hanzo asked tersely, his fingers tracing curling clouds against the wet side of his beer glass. His hair fell over his shoulder as he turned to look over his shoulder, cataloging every door and holographic window.

“For sure, but I can’t help but notice that you haven’t looked me full on once since you walked in, and I can’t say that rings quite right with me. You got a problem with me that I should know about?”       

Hanzo eyes finally found him, hard and cold. Something swirled in them, snapping blue sparks.

Jesse could feel his gun at his hip, in easy reach.

He knew Hanzo a little, but he was struck with the realization that he had never met the man sitting across from him in his life. This was a dangerous man who had been backed into a corner, and Jesse was more than a little familiar with what happened in situations like that.

They stared at each other across the table, and Jesse knew that they were thinking the same thing.

“I am paying you to help me.”

“Last time I checked,” Jesse agreed. Their beers sweat onto the wooden table.

“You come from the same side as those that the Council has set after me, and they are being promised double what I offered you. You may have even received the same offer they have.”

“Might have. Spit it out or swallow it down, Boss.”  

“It is like you said - money talks.” Hanzo finally moved. He leaned forward across the table, quick as a lightning strike, and caught Jesse by the front of his serape. Black leather gloves dug into the red wool. “How loud does it speak to you, Jesse McCree?”

There it was.  

Jesse prosthetic hand curled over the top of Hanzo’s glove and squeezed, somewhere in between a threat and a promise.

“It’s a lot of money. With the 20 Mil you’re offerin’ I could buy a fleet of ships. With the Council’s 40 I could get the fleet and a planet to park ‘em on. Can’t say it isn’t a little bit tempting. But,” he said when he felt Hanzo’s grip tighten. “There’s one thing 40 Mil can’t buy.”

“And that is?” Hanzo’s voice was a coiled serpent, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

“Good company and somebody to laugh at my jokes.”

Hanzo blinked. “I don’t laugh at your jokes. Your jokes are terrible.”   

“You don’t? Damn! Guess I should have gone with the Council’s offer.” He smiled when he felt Hanzo’s hand loosen. “Bit late now. Guess I’m stuck with you.”

“I believe that most would say that I am the one who is stuck with you, but I will not argue the point.” The tension between them dissolved like fog before the midday sun. The threat of the Council’s hunters was still there, but it stopped at the door, not following them inside just yet..

“At least life’s never dull. To bein’ stuck with each other for a bit longer.” Jesse picked up his glass and bumped Hanzo’s with it before drinking down to the bottom. Hanzo followed suit and they both sighed in something that was almost contentment. “One day I’m going to teach that damn rehydrator how to make a good brew.”

“You may be pushing its abilities too far with that. I would stick to your Osiris spirits.”

“You’re probably right. Ah well, makes you cherish moments like this. Want another?” This Jesse could handle. This farce of normalcy that came before the shit hit the fan, when his heart beat faster, when the palm of his living hand started to sweat. This was the curtain rise and he’d known the lines to this play for decades.

“No, thank you. I would prefer to keep my wits about me if there is the chance we will encounter more hunters before we return to your ship.”

“Oh, I can promise that. Hell, word’s probably gotten out that we’re here. Luckily for us…” Jesse’s empty glass was replaced with a full one, “it’s tough to get in here without a reservation. We’ve got a few minutes to relax and play at bein’ tourists at lunch. This place has the best kebabs for ten planets.”

“And to think that I believed you wanted to use this place as a trap for me. I should have known you were thinking with your stomach,” Hanzo sighed, but he did pick up his chopsticks and use them to poke at one of the dishes sitting between them. “What is this, exactly?”

“It’s the Stuff. You said you hadn’t had it before. It’s crispy pork skins with onions and sauce and whatever else they have on hand. Looks like peppers and cashews today.”

“You are kidding.”

“Swear it on my own grave! Check the menu, right there. ‘Stuff’ - large plate.”

They made it through the entire plate of stuff as well as a shared salad and a plate of mixed kebabs with steak and firm tomatoes before trouble found them.

“Don’t turn around,” Jesse said, holding onto his smile and he scrubbed steak juice off of his beard with his napkin. “Two guys just walked in and they’re lookin’ around a bit too hard for it to be pure curiosity.”

“Weapons?” Hanzo plucked up a cashew they’d missed and popped it into his mouth.

“Guns at their hips look like six-shooters. Bigger fella definitely has a knife in his boot. He walks real careful - must be new. Can’t see much else but they’ve probably got at least two more pieces between them. Maybe stun knuckles under the gloves.”

“This place is too public for a fight without risking civilians. I suggest we close our tab and consider our escape options.”

“You’re the boss. Som, what do things look like on your side?”

‘Tighter than a hangman’s noose. Somebody got into the security cameras and found the two of you out walking so they know that you came from somewhere around here. They’re running the numbers on every ship here. I made us look like a planet-hopper transporter, but it was a rush job and it won’t hold up to a close look.’

“Any footsoldiers?”

‘I’ve clocked at least eight on the ship cameras. One of them has a plasma rifle.’

“The bounty did say ‘alive’. Not ‘whole’.” Hanzo reached over and swallowed the last inch in the bottom of Jesse’s glass. “They will not have an easy time of things if they decide to fight me.”

“Fight us, Hanzo. Don’t go all lone wolf on me. ‘Sides, if we’re smart about this we can make it back to Som without havin’ to spill more than a reasonable amount of blood.”    

“You are an optimistic man.”

Jesse waited until Charlie passed by again and got the man’s attention with a wave. “Hey Charlie, how much for a good bar fight, startin’ at that table that just went down?”

The host looked over at the table where the bounty hunters were pretending to look over the menu.

“Expensive,” he finally decided.

“Works for me, just put it on the tab. You have a bag of stuff from Pinky?” He asked his dining companion.

Hanzo nodded, confused.

“Good. Add two things of whiskey cake to go with the bar fight and we’ll put them in the bag. Hate to miss dessert,” he told Hanzo with a wink.

Exactly two minutes later there came an almighty crash from inside The Usual Place, followed by shouting, a couple of screams, and the sound of bottles breaking. At the same time all of this drew stares from the front of the restaurant, Hanzo and Jesse casually stepped out the back kitchen door with Jesse carrying Hanzo’s bag of clothes and whiskey cake.

“Normally I’d have started it myself, but I’ve got better things to be workin’ towards than bashin’ in heads. Like not gettin’ shot by bounty hunters. I hate gettin’ shot.” Jesse peeked into Hanzo bag as they walked, skirting down a tight side street where steam billowed out of grates in the concrete, enveloping them in clouds of white that smelled like frying things. “Oh good, got my shirt in here.”

“Pinky wanted to throw it out, but I convinced him that you would cry if you were parted from it.” Hanzo ducked under a protruding pipe, careful not to brush against anything in the tight space.  A pair of rats heard them coming and took cover under a half-rotten crate, watching them pass with glittering black eyes.  

“Probably true. It’s my very favorite shirt.”

The back streets of Crence were a labyrinth of tunnels and crawls spaces where anyone who wanted to disappear could do so without too much trouble. The only problem was finding a way out again. Jesse had come across folks who had come to Beaumonde to escape the long arm of the law only to be swallowed up by the city and spat out as a corpse. Some of them he’d even helped get to that state faster.

“This place smelled like someone died here,” Hanzo said, his voice slightly muffled from behind the sleeve he was using to cover his nose and mouth.

“Somebody likely did. Maybe more than one someone. This place has rules, for all it looks like a heap of old scrap and stains. You bring trouble to the wrong turf and you learn that right quick in the most painful way.”

“Did you?”

“Did I what?” Jesse applied his boot to the side of a dumpster and it slid through a puddle of cooking oil and congealed fat with a horrible squeal, blocking the way they’d come.

“Learn that lesson.”

There was a scar that snaked up over three of his ribs in an uneven, ropey path that said he had. Just being back in Crence was enough to remind him of how that dirty knife felt as it opened him up like a zipper. “That’s a story for day when I’ve had a hell of a lot more to drink, Boss.”

Or never. Never was good too.

Silently they crept through the maze of the city, freezing whenever the sound of voices or hover machines got too close. Eyes watched them pass from the shadows, but they were hungry eyes. Hopeless eyes of those that society had pushed into the dark. The two stranger passing through were interesting enough - a tempting target if not for the gun that hung at Jesse’s hip.

“Do you know where you’re going or are you attempting to get us as lost as our pursuers?” Hanzo broke the quiet as they ducked around a corner and down a set of slippery concrete stairs. There was a window open above their heads and soft voices and laughter could be heard through it. They flattened themselves against the wall when one of the speakers leaned out, letting loose a plume of curling cigarette smoke before disappearing back inside. “I cannot decide if we have gotten any closer to your ship in the last hour.”   

“Keep your pants on, I’m just testin’ a theory.”

A hand caught him by the back of his shirt, keeping him from moving on.

“Tell me your theory. Now.”

It wasn’t the time or the place, not when every bounty hunter on Beaumonde had probably been alerted to their arrival by now, but Jesse turned back anyway. There was a hard edge to Hanzo’s demand that told him that he wasn’t in the mood to be disobeyed.    

“I’m not leadin’ you into a trap, I swear it. Hell, even if I was I wouldn’t have done it like this.”

Hanzo raised his eyebrows and Jesse shrugged. “You’re too good at fightin’. I’d have just had your lunch drugged in the back and saved myself the broken bones. Anyway, not the point. I got to thinkin’ while we were sittin’ there - I didn’t see a tail on our way to Pinky’s. Nobody followed us, so how the hell did they know to get the jump on you there?”

“You believe that we are being tracked,” Hanzo said bluntly. “The thought crossed my mind as well. In a city as crowded and chaotic as this we should not have been found twice.”

“Bingo. I was goin’ to see if anybody caught up, but now I’m not much inclined to let them. Hey Som?”

‘SÍ?’

“Can you give us a scan for bugs from there?”

‘Sadly not. You’re outside of the ship’s range and the tech around you is too low for me to get through. You’ll have to get closer for me to sweep you. It’s likely you are though. I got into the main street security cameras and you have a couple of unsavory-looking characters heading your way.’

“Great, just what I always wanted,” Jesse groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Isn’t there some rule about not fightin’ for an hour after you eat?”

‘I think that’s swimming. You have about three minutes before they’re right on top of you, so you either find that bug or find somewhere that they can’t track whatever signal it’s putting out. The undercity has a couple of power planets that might short it out.’

“That and every piece of machinery we have on us.” Jesse flexed his metal hand. “We’ll find it. Tell me when we’re down to a minute.”

‘Will do. Good luck, Jessito.’

“Yeah, yeah,” Jesse sighed, patting at his front. “A’right, I’ll go first. Just goin’ to do a quick pat down and see if anything falls out and then start on body cavities.”

“We do not have time for your manhandling!” Hanzo made a slicing motion with his gloved hand and Jesse took a quick step backwards, almost falling down the stairs behind him. “I will search you. You will not enjoy it, but it will be faster.”

“That’s more ominous than ‘spread your legs and think of the Alliance’, Boss.” Jesse licked his lips as Hanzo reached out towards him. “What’ve you got in -”

“Clench your teeth so you don’t bite through your tongue.”

It was the only warning he got before something kindled to life under the sleeve of Hanzo’s black jacket. It crawled up his wrist and around his hand, blazing electric eyes fixed on Jesse and teeth bared.

I know you, he thought. I’ve seen you before, somewhere.

The creature’s roar was a train in a tunnel and he couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Jesse was dragged under and tossed about as it dove at him. Everywhere it touched fire and lightning danced across his skin. Into his pockets it went, through his clothes, claws dragging through his hair.

He would have screamed but it was in his mouth, down his throat, and he tasted blood and batteries. Everything was blue electric dragon and it burned him through until there was nothing left.

It was over as quickly as it started.   

Jesse collapsed, sliding down the wall behind him until his ass met the dirty ground. There were tears on his face and his prosthetic sluggishly spat sparks as it rebooted itself.

Hanzo crouched in front of him, his eyes bluer than blue and full of lightning.

“Are you well?”

“Right as rain,” Jesse coughed. Half of his body felt numb and the other half hurt like he’d stuck a fork in a socket and hung on for a good long while. “You used that thing on me in Hanamura, didn’t you?”

Hanzo nodded. “I did, but this time I meant to search you rather than injure you. Give yourself a moment to collect yourself.”

Jesse wanted more than a moment. If Hanzo had told him to turn his face to the wall and take a nap in the dirty alley for the next six hours, he’d have happily done it and not given two shits about the where or the when.

‘One minute, Jesse.’

“Did you find the bug?”

Hanzo nodded. “It’s a wyrm, new technology backed by the Council. Sombra no doubt blocked the signal while we were onboard, but it would have begun broadcasting the moment we left her shields. They’ve been using its code to find us.”

“I’m really startin’ to hate those guys,” Jesse coughed as he pushed himself up. His head swam and he could have sworn he felt his brains sloshing around inside his skull. “Was it on me?”

Hanzo’s face was grimmer than a cemetery in winter. “No, you were clean. It has been implanted in my legs, and to get it out would damage them beyond usability. If I don’t remove it, our pursuers will no doubt find us. If I do…”

“You can’t walk,” Jesse finished. “Well. Shit.”   

Chapter Text

'Thirty seconds, boys. Either take care of this now or forever hold your peace. They’re practically crawling up your butts already.’

“Tell ‘em that they have to go in single file if they want to get in my ass,” Jesse growled as he swung towards the mouth of the alley. “I’ve got standards. Hanzo, think you can do whatever it is you gotta do in ten seconds?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Hanzo perched himself on the edge of it so that he could roll up the hems of his pants legs, revealing the cold dark metal of his prosthetics. “You will have to deal with our pursuers while I work. And I do not mean handle them by starting an orgy in this vile pit.”

“Kill all my fun, why don’t you…” Jesse eyed the close walls and high buildings surrounding them, then the slick, slimy ground. It was claustrophobic, with the buildings looming overhead and pipes running up and down and back and forth like spiderwebs. Nothing like the vast openness of space. “Not exactly the place for a gun battle, Boss. You sure you don’t just want to hoof it and do your fixings in a bit?”

“When we are in a more populated area and civilian casualties might occur? I think not. I believe you can handle a few bounty hunters.” Hanzo pulled one of his ankles up onto his opposite thigh and started to pry at one of the panels.

Jesse swallowed hard. “Just thought it might interest you to know that I’m not as fine and dandy with my fists as I am with my -”

Hanzo’s glare froze him solid. “I don’t care how good you are with them. You managed well enough in Hanamura and you will manage here unless you want to be captured and dragged before the Council. Deal with them. ”  

‘Incoming, Jesse. Get those fists up or bend over.’

He got his fists up.

Five men came around the corner, their boots sliding in the grease and fetid pools of runoff. Two had their guns up and ready, two carried knives that Jesse didn’t want introduced to any part of his anatomy, and the last (the largest of the crew naturally) brandished a set of steel knuckles.

Wonderful.

“Howdy gentlemen! Fancy meeting y’all here,” Jesse said cheerfully.

The bounty hunters blinked at him and Jesse charged.

Jesse’s first strike was pure luck - they hadn’t been expecting his rush and he caught one of the gunners in the face with his prosthetic. Down the man went, his gun clattering away down the stairs. One of the knifemen promptly tripped over his unconscious body and went the way of the gun. He didn’t get up at the bottom. It was all the head start Jesse got as a metal-clad fist slammed into his ribcage and his back connected with the cinderblock wall of the alley.

You’re a good shot, Jesse. Better than good. You’re shit up close though - don’t have enough self preservation to dodge. Get your back to something solid and keep it there .

“Don’t suppose I can convince you fellas to head back the way you came and leave us to our business? Be all civilized?” Jesse’s back was to the wall now. His ribs ached but felt unbroken.

The bruiser with the iron knuckles laughed. “Nah, money’s too good. Nothing personal about killing you, ya feel me? They only want that one.” He nodded over Jesse’s head back to Hanzo.

“Yeah, well,” he drawled, “That’s where we run into a bit of a problem. Thing is, I’m not too keen on givin’ him up.” Something lit in Jesse’s belly and kindled there like cigar ashes. The smoke of it crawled through his veins - a poison that made his blood run hotter, faster.

Get their weapons away from them first, then worry about not turning into a corpse, Reyes voice came as if from a distance, made quieter by the blood pounding in his head, but with none of its force lost. Ignore the pain- it’s temporary. Focus on the job.

Deal with them, said Hanzo.

Jesse’s boot connected with the second gunner’s wrist and the shot went wide, blasting a hole the size of a skull in the wall. Shards of concrete flew as the man screamed, his bones shattering like glass under Jesse’s heel.

“You motherfucker, I’ll murder you and fuck the bloody fucking hole!” The gunner screamed,  clutching at his now useless wrist.

“You kiss your mama with that mouth?”

The knife came from his left side in a shining arc and Jesse spun out of the way in time for it to leave a long slice in his serape. The second blade caught his prosthetic and bounced, slicing into the scarred meat of his upper arm and tangling in his shirt.  

Deal with them.

He pulled the knife free and returned it to its owner by way of his windpipe. Blood fountained spraying everyone with a red mist. It matched the haze that was setting comfortably over Jesse brain like an old friend.Brass knuckles against his shoulder sent him reeling back into the wall and something cracked.

Shoulderblade. Not important. Pain is temporary.

He ducked under the blow aimed between his eyes, but the uppercut to his belly rattled him so hard that bile flew from his mouth, mixing with the gore under their feet. Jesse rolled off of the fist and onto the ground gagging. He felt as though all of his organs had been shoved through a blender.

“I’ll finish him off. Grab the Shimada.”

The skin just above the top of  his prosthetic was bleeding like a stuck pig. Not heart’s blood. Jesse’s hand found the handle of his Peacekeeper. Too close for a clean shot.  

Deal with them.

The gun flipped in his hand, the barrel growing slick as he gripped it and slashed. The bruiser’s scream of agony echoed through the alley as the sharpened spur on the handle punched through his pants and into his groin, instantly staining the fabric with piss and ruby red blood. He dropped to his knees and Jesse rolled back to his feet, ripping his gun free with a sickening jerk.

The remaining knifeman and the gunner with the broken wrist stared at him, faces pale.

Deal with them.

“Sorry, gents. Nothing personal.”

He didn’t need more space to get a clean shot. Two bullet casings and two corpses joined the bruiser on the ground.

Dealt with.

Two dead, one dying, two unconscious. He’d add the tally of their deaths onto the ones that already weighed against his doomed immortal soul. Jesse catalogued his injuries as he shuffled back to Hanzo. Something definitely felt wrong with his shoulder. The bruiser’s punches would already be turning black and blue. Blood dripped sluggishly off of the fingers of his metal hand, leaving a crimson breadcrumb trail.

Hanzo didn’t look at him when Jesse stopped next to him. All of his concentration was on the blue electricity pouring out of his hands and into his leg, which was sparking wildly and starting to smoke as wires burned. A high-pitched squeal was coming out of it and, as Jesse watched with horror, Hanzo’s blue lizard dragons appeared from out of the depths of the machinery with something red held fast in its jaws.

“Is that the wyrm?”

Hanzo nodded. His blue lizard dragged the thrashing red thing, which resembled nothing so much as a crude child’s drawing of a salamander, onto Hanzo’s lap and crunched into the thing. The wyrm exploded like a chinese firecracker with a tiny shriek and a puff of fire and sparks.

“It is a butchery of a gift that has been passed down in my family for generations, and they were using it to track me. Sombra would have blocked its signal with her barriers, but they would have been alerted the moment we left the ship.”

“You and I are gonna have a nice long chat about these wyrms and lizards once things settle down, Boss.”

“I agree, but now is hardly the -” Hanzo looked over at Jesse and cut himself off. “You are covered in blood.”

Jesse looked down. “Most of it isn’t mine.”  

“Most of it?” Hanzo repeated.

The cigar ashes in Jesse’s belly flared but the fire was bitter and low. “You said handle it! What the hell were you expecting with five on one? Look.” He grabbed his bloody sleeve and yanked it back, refusing to wince when the movement pulled threads out of his open wound. “That. That’s mine. None of the rest is. You gonna get all high and mighty and tell me I should’ve done better -”

“Ryū ga waga teki wo kurau!”

Lightning. He was surrounded in pure lightning. The earlier jolt the creatures had given him became as inconsequential as sticking his tongue to a battery. It passed over Jesse, around him, through him, and left the taste of a coming storm. One of the dragons - how had he ever thought they were anything but dragons? - looked at him as they spiraled past him and Jesse could feel its consideration.

Somebody screamed, a horrible drawn-out wail of agony. It wasn’t him.

The storm passed, the blue lightning faded to faint sparks, and Hanzo’s electric eyes faded back to soft brown again.

“I think I’m going to pass out,” Jesse said conversationally.

‘Don’t even think about it,’ Sombra said from his earpiece at the same time Hanzo said “I would prefer you didn’t,” in a tight voice. “I’m in no position to carry you back to your ship if you decide to play the delicate flower.”

“Fine, but I’m takin’ a rain check on all the screaming and crying I’d be doing in this situation normally.”  

“He was going to shoot you in the back, Jesse. What else would you have had me do?” Anger. Frustration. A note of pleading that Jesse hadn’t heard before.

Jesse turned to look behind him. If there had once been a man standing there with a weapon raised, there was nothing left of him now but a fine red mist on the opposite wall.

“So why didn’t you use it on the lot of them when they first showed up instead of siccing me on them?” The question came out of his mouth before his mind could catch up, still dazed by the weight of bloodlust and pain.

“Because I need time to recharge them before I can use them a second time and we are not yet back to your ship. It seemed practical to save them in case of a later emergency.”

A later emergency. He was willing to sacrifice you rather than do the dirty work himself. You’re just a pawn in whatever game he’s playing.

“Just like old times,” Jesse mumbled. He brought his prosthetic fingers to his mouth and rubbed his lips back and forth against the metal, tasting the blood that had run down them. Hanzo had saved him from a bullet in the back, but never again would he forget that the man came from a long line of people who didn’t shed a tear over back planet trash like him.

‘Jesse. Come on cariño , snap out of it. There are about five hundred alarms going off all of the city thanks to that fireworks show and our window of ‘getting the hell out of here’ is getting smaller by the second. Move it or lose it, Cowboy.’

He bit the inside of his cheek hard and that pain helped to pull him out of the downward spiral of doubt. There’d be plenty of time for that sort of introspection when they were safe.

“You heard the lady, Boss. Time to hoof it.” Jesse put on his best ‘dumb but charming’ smile. He knew its effect was lessened by the blood he was covered in but didn’t care.

“This is going to end with my clothes getting covered in blood again isn’t it?” Hanzo eyed Jesse with distaste.

“Pretty good chance of that, yeah. Shall we?” Jesse knelt next to Hanzo and gestured him forward until Hanzo was draped across both of his shoulders. He hooked his right arm between Hanzo’s legs and grabbed the sleeve of his arm, holding on as best he could before standing.Jesse’s shoulder and every hit he’d taken in the scuffle protested loudly, but his legs held steady. Small miracle. Hanzo held the shopping bag of parts, clothes, and whiskey cake.

“You’re in pain,” Hanzo said, his voice sounding more nasal than usual from how his face was being smashed into Jesse’s bloody serape.

“Nothin’ I can’t handle.”   

“I should have helped you.”

“I’m not one to judge what you do or don’t do, Boss. I’m just here to look pretty and spout witty one-liners.” Down the stairs they went, putting distance between them and the pile of bodies. “You’re going to have to give me some directions, Som. I’m feelin’ a bit foggy at the moment.”

‘Near death experiences will do that to you. You should know that by now. There’s an intersection coming up. Take a right. You’re going to have to take the back way to avoid the cameras and anybody who might wonder why you’re covered in blood and carrying your employer like a sack of potatoes.’

“At least he’s a well-dressed sack of potatoes now,” Jesse panted as he took the right. There was a muffled ‘thank you’ from the vicinity of his shoulder.

The sun was going down over Crence, and with the dying light fled all sense of security. There were no food vendors on the back streets they moved through - no laughter or beautifully dressed travelers. Instead they jogged past back doors, open windows that vented cigarette smoke, half-broken neon signs proclaiming ‘GIRLS, CLEAN AND CHEAP’ and only ‘CHEAP’ still lit up.

Jesse could almost see himself, a much younger him, crouched on the corner in between his squad mates. Young, trigger-happy, and desperate to please.

Keep your ears up, Cachorros, said Reyes to the squad as they crouched in the dark, gaudy lime and pink light reflecting off their visors. Having the biggest gun don’t mean shit around here if you don’t hear the guy with the knife coming.

The bastard never been one for taking the easy way out of anything, Jesse thought as he took a turn too tightly and almost overbalanced. All of them had ended with blood. They came to expect it. Hungered for it like half-feral dogs.

As the last of the light faded the dark came out to play in the form of scarred bouncers, drug-pushers, working girls with holes in their stockings and smiles that didn’t come close to reaching their eyes. No one tried to stop them or call out to them. They were trouble - it was written in the blood on their clothes and in the revolver that gleamed in Jesse’s prosthetic hand.

Don’t bring your troubles here, they said wordlessly. We have enough of our own.

‘Nearly there,’ Sombra murmured in their ears. ‘Come on you’ve almost made it.’

“You’ve been saying that for that last twenty minutes,” Jesse wheezed. He was starting to drag something fierce, his lungs aching almost as bad as his injuries.

‘I mean it this time. You’re paralleling the port road right now. One more block up and you’re right across from me.’

“Are there guards?” Hanzo asked.

‘I was saving that bad news for when you got here. There’s six guys. Now, I could flare the engines and push them off, but they’re still not sure which ship is yours and that’ll make them cluster like ants on a corpse.’

“Nice visual, that.” Jesse almost cried with relief when they reached the block across from his ship and he could put Hanzo down. The ground here was warm, heated by the miles of tubes and wires running under it and to the ship bays. “You wait right here, Boss.”

Hanzo’s front was liberally decorated with the promised bloodstains. His nice suit was tragically rumpled from the rough handling, but he still managed to look ten times fancier than anybody Jesse had ever had the pleasure of knowing.

“What are you going to do?”

“Step on some ants. Don’t go anywhere.”

A gloved hand caught him by the front of his serape and kept him from straightening. “You’ll come back?” Hanzo asked and Jesse couldn’t miss the hint of desperation in his voice.

He’s just using you, the cynical part of his heart reminded him, but he told that part to go fuck itself with something sharp for a while.

“Course I’ll come back. I couldn’t just leave you here - the other hookers would get jealous havin’ such a pretty face around.” He patted Hanzo’s hand and slowly worked his fingers free of his serape so he could stand up. “I’ll be back before you can miss me.”

It might have been his ever-hopeful imagination, but he thought he heard Hanzo mutter ‘unlikely’ as he jogged away towards the barely visible rungs of a fire escape ladder. The metal squealed as he pulled the ladder down and started to climb.

‘What’re you up to, Jessito?’

“Got a plan,” he murmured. His shoulder reminded him that it wasn’t well with an almighty throb that almost made him lose his grip on the ladder.

‘Your plan better not be what I think it is.’

He reached the top of the ladder and clung to the balcony rail for a moment until his head stopped spinning. He was in bad shape, the kind of shape that would have gotten him sent to the med bay in another life. Sadly he’d left that life behind years ago along with the health benefits.

“How many years have you known me, Som?”

‘Sometimes it feels like a lifetime.’

“Then yeah, that plan is exactly what you’re thinking.” He followed the balcony around the side of the building until he was standing above the main street, shrouded in shadows. It was much brighter here than one block over. Everything was lit up electric by street lights, lanterns, and beams from the ships. The sun may have gone down but the good people of Crence hadn’t gone to sleep with it. Still cargo-haulers crowded the street, weaving their way through the crowd as they hunted for transportation or dinner at the food stalls. Jesse looked down through the grate and found a stand handing out fish-shaped cakes directly beneath him.

‘You now that lays you out, cabrón!’ Sombra argued with him through the earpiece. ‘What happens if you can’t shake it off? It’s not like Prince Grumpy back there can climb up and get you.’

“Then I’d best be able to shake it off.” Jesse braced one of his boots on the rail and squinted down into the crowd.

Six guys. He popped the cylinder out of his revolver and slotted in two more bullets to replace the ones he’d fired.

‘Jesse, we can make a distraction. Lure them off.’

“No time. You said it yourself - the window’s closin’ on us. Stop worrying so much.” He sighted down the barrel. He knew what he was looking for - knew how they walked, how they carried themselves. To the untrained eye the hunters would have faded into the crowd.

Luckily his eye had years of training.

One, standing closest to his ship’s closed ramp.

Two, smoking in the shadows and looking everywhere but up.

Three and four, talking as they paced back and forth between the three ships, hands on their guns.

Five, buying a bowl of noodles from a vendor with a plasma rifle strapped across his back.

Six, looking up just in time to lock eyes with the gunslinger on the balcony.

Deal with them.

Jesse closed one eye and fired, six shots blurring into one sound.

Pandemonium erupted in the street below him, but Jesse didn’t hear the screaming. He didn’t hear much of anything besides the roar in his head and the fierce ringing in his ears. Black started to crowd in at the edges of his sight, blocking out the neon and bright fluorescent lights. He’d sit down, just for a minute. That’s all he needed - a minute of rest to get his head right again and for everything to stop hurting.

You’ll come back?

Course I’ll come back.

“Fuck,” he snarled and dug his fingers into the open wound above his prosthetic. His scream of pain was lost in the panic below him as people scattered, desperate not to be the next one caught by a bullet.

‘Jesse! You have to go NOW!’ Sombra shouted at him.

He didn’t have any air left in his lungs to reply so he ran instead. Back around the balcony. Down the ladder, but he missed a rung halfway and hit the ground hard. It hurt. Hell, everything hurt. Back across the alley, back to Hanzo whose fingers dug into his clothes as Jesse lifted him like a bride.

They ran. The crowd surged around them as they made it to the main street, covering their mad dash. Sombra opened the bay and up the ramp they went.

“Punch it, Som!” Jesse shouted. He couldn’t stop - if he stopped he wouldn’t get up again. Up the stairs, through the hall, the kitchenette, all the way to the pilot’s chair, where he unceremoniously dropped Hanzo. The ship rumbled to life beneath them and Jesse felt the weightless feeling of takeoff in his guts as they ripped away from their moorings.

Jesse let himself stop and fell bonelessly to the cockpit floor, the flashing buttons and lights spinning above his head like stars.

“Jesse?”

“Yeah?” He croaked.

A gloved hand reached down from over the arm of the chair and felt around until it found Jesse’s own hand, which it grasped tightly. “I’m glad that you came back.”

Eyes suddenly burning, Jesse squeezed Hanzo’s hand back. “Yeah. Me too.”

 

Chapter Text

"We’ve gotta stop meeting like this, Sai.”

“You’re the one who’s got a hard on for gettin’ himself into the sort of trouble that leaves bodies behind, Boy.” The leathery old man leaned over him, blocking out the blue sky.

“Nah. Trouble just seems to find me whether or not I’m looking for it,” Jesse replied. He was sprawled flat on his back in the golden field and his mouth tasted like sun-warmed whiskey.

“That or you keep puttin’ yourself into situations and handlin’ them like a bleeding cow in a butcher’s shop.” Sai leaned over and gave Jesse a sharp rap between his eyes. “Get a bit of sense into that head of yours, Boy. Or find somebody who has some to spare and ask nicely if you can borrow it.”

“I found somebody,” Jesse protested, staring up at the pale sun. It seemed to hang a little lower in the sky, enough to cast slanted shadows. “He told me to take care of the fuckers who came after us and it hurt like the devil.”

“Life hurts and then you die. Did you take care of ‘em?”

“Yeah.”

Blood mixed with the city grime. Six bullet casings hit the ground with a musical chime.  

“You regret it?”

Jesse felt around until he found a long strand of grass. He pulled it free and stuck it between his teeth, chewing  on the soft end. It was a familiar habit, but not one he’d been able to indulge in for years. Space-sickness stirred to life in his chest, making him long for the feeling of dirt under his feet. Metal and concrete got old and the confines of a ship that offered little in terms of free space. “Guess I’m just a bit disappointed.”

Sai laughed. It was a rough, like it was dragged up from half-functioning soot-stained lungs. “Disappointed? You get the ever-lovin’ shit beat out of you and your head turned inside out and you’re ‘disappointed’?”

Giving in to the growing need, Jesse rolled to his feet and stretched, swapping the grass stalk to the other side of his mouth. He flexed his toes in the dry summer grass and it made a soft crunching sound, desperately in need of a good hard rain to bring it back to life again. “Sounds a bit silly when you put it like that.”

Still it rang true. Jesse got up on his toes and stretched his arms towards the sun, letting it shine down on his work-worn hands. Like the rest of him they were peppered in scars. Some were years old and nearly faded, hidden in the dusting of dark hair on the back of his hands and knuckles. They were the hands of a man who wasn’t afraid to get dirty. His brow furrowed and he gave his left arm a hard shake. It was wrong. Silver metal poured up from his shirt sleeve and crawled up his arm like a river. Wires plunged into his flesh and swam through it, tying everything together with a maze of electric sensations.

“That’s how it’s supposed to be,” he mumbled, looking up at his metal hand. It was still flecked with fresh blood and only some of it was his. “Nobody can tell you’ve got scars when you’ve got a good, hard shell.”

Yes, he was disappointed and that alone was enough to make him scoff. Once he’d been a soft-hearted fool who would fall head over heels for a pretty face and a sad story. He put his trust in people and expected them to do right by him only to be let down. Hanzo Shimada was one more in a long line of people who saw him as expendable, but Jesse would be damned if he took on that viewpoint too.

“You’re getting morbid in your old age, Boy.” Sai came to stand beside him and they both looked up at Jesse’s glittering arm. The sunshine turned the metal white and a drop of blood fell off of his fingers and splashed down between his eyes.

“What’s that you said? Life hurts and then you die.” Jesse made a fist. “Well, I’m not dyin’ just yet. I’ve got a job to do.”

Sai’s caterpillar eyebrows went north on his wrinkled forehead. “A job to do for the fella who got you hurt.”

Jesse face twisted into a pained grimace and he lowered his hands so he could rub at a growing ache in his chest. Something wriggled under his shirt, under his skin. “It’s not like he held the knife. Been awhile since I was in a proper fight and I got sloppy.”

“He know that?” Sai turned and started to walk back towards the trees, his boots kicking up clouds of dust that the rising wind quickly swept away.

“Know what?” Jesse called after him as started to undo the buttons of his shirt, curious to see what was making the fuss in his chest. “Sai, where’re you-” Whatever he planned on saying was lost in a torrential flood of swearing. His half-exposed chest began to crackle with blue electricity and his skin rippled like something was crawling under it, between his ribs and his flesh. “I didn’t sign up for this shit, get the hell out of me!”

The dragon phased through his skin and coiled around his arm as quick as a whip crack. It sparked angrily, baring its fangs at him like a copperhead. There was a storm in its eyes and lighting in its mane and Jesse felt the sunshine get swallowed up by black clouds. They tore over the trees and everything fell away before their wrath. The dappled hawk screamed in its tree before it was lost to the rolling thunder.

“McCreeeeee!” The dragon hissed.

“I said I didn’t sign up for this! Any of this!” He shouted at the dragon, trying to rip it off of his arm. It snapped at him and held on tighter, squeezing until Jesse felt his skin start to split open. His ears rang with the sound of thunder - or was it gun fire? It echoed in his skull, trapped there, until he thought his head would surely burst. “Get out of me and stay out because I don’t want this!”

‘Jesse! Wake up!’

His eyes snapped open.

The storm clouds solidified into the console. Lightning became softly flashing buttons and indicators. Though the whole room swam, the sense of relief that settled over him was enough to ground him back in reality.

“I,” he told the ceiling conversationally, “am never drinking again.”

‘Back among the living, Jessito?’ Sombra asked from the speakers. Her voice was calm, almost mechanical. Usually that would have been the first warning sign that all was not well, but Jesse was too concerned with the fact that his skull was trying to split open and spill its contents onto the floor of the cockpit.

He watched the spinning lights and shut his eyes again when his stomach rolled with nausea. “Are the living supposed to feel like they’ve been dragged behind a hoverbike over rough ground?”

‘You are.’

“Then I guess I’m back among ‘em.” He reached up with his right hand and pinched the bridge of his nose. That motion alone was enough to make the rest of him come alive with fresh pain - an intimate reminder of every dumb thing he’d done in the last twenty four hours.  

‘Good.’ Sombra said cheerfully. Then she exploded. ‘Te voy a colgar de las pelotas hijo delas mil putas! Jesse! What the fuck were you thinking?!’

Jesse managed to pry his sore eyes open so he could watch every light in the console flash crimson with the force of Sombra’s fury. The alarms and sirens couldn’t be far behind. “Come on Som, I had -”

‘Don’t you ‘Come on Som’ me you idiot. Pendejo de mierda!’  

“Christ Som, watch your language. You’re going to upset my delicate sensibilities.” Jesse rolled onto his side and looked down at the small pool of blood his left arm was lying in. The appendage was still leaking from the wound above his prosthetic. Now that he could see it properly he knew the injury definitely needed at least two stitches. Maybe twelve. Being able to see it somehow made it hurt worse, but watching the trickle of red slipping out of the gash in his flesh was hypnotizing. He couldn’t look away from the throbbing knife slice.

Last time there had only been a raw stump with a belt strapped around it to keep him from bleeding out...

‘I’ll watch my fucking language when you learn how to have a little fucking self preservation! First you go out and get the ever-loving shit beaten out of you and then you do that thing? You know what I’m talking about? That thing you promised you wouldn’t do because it’s not healthy to court brain damage more than once a year?’

“Didn’t have much of a choice, Som. They were drawing in that net tighter than a hangman’s noose.” He touched the edge of the cut and hissed when it sent a bolt of white hot pain up his entire arm.

‘They wouldn’t have had anything to hang but a corpse if your stupid stunt had gone wrong.’

“It didn’t go wrong, did it?” He growled as he rolled to his hands and knees, trying to convince his battered body that being upright was what it wanted. It didn’t much agree with him, but he managed to get hold of the arm of the pilot’s chair and pull himself to his knees despite the protests. “So why don’t you stop laying into me about - fuck!”  

Hanzo was curled up in the chair, his legs folded against his chest and his head pillowed on the cracked leather. How many times during their journey had Jesse had found him in the exact same position? This time Hanzo was dressed in his tailored suit and there was blood splashed across his face and front. Jesse couldn’t help but jump when Hanzo’s exposed lower legs sparked angrily.

He reached out and grabbed a handful of Hanzo’s coat. “Hey, come on Boss. Wake up. Wake up, ” he snapped, shaking the unconscious man. Please don’t be dead. Don’t let me have fucked this up too.

Quick as a snake, a black gloved hand snapped out and caught Jesse by his wrist in a crushing grip. Blue electricity poured out of Hanzo’s eyes and he held Jesse there, staring at him but not really seeing him. The dark blood on his face turned black in the eerie illumination and Jesse recoiled as far as he could. The hair on his arms stood up, remembering the pain he’d been put through by Hanzo’s power.

“Boss! Gorram it, please don’t hit me again with that thing again.” He pulled, struggling to get away, but to no avail. “Boss! Hanzo!”

The electricity died as if a plug had been pulled. One moment it was there, bearing down on him and promising a painful death, and the next it was only Hanzo. Hanzo who blinked at him with dark, tired eyes.

“Jesse?”

“Oh thank fuck,” Jesse breathed and fell back on his ass when Hanzo released his wrist. There were dark bruises already blossoming in a purple bracelet on the tanned skin. “Must have been some kind of nightmare. I’d have put money on me being a dead man.”

‘Seconded.’

“Thanks, Som. You really had my back there.”

‘I fly your ship, run diagnostics on literally everything, and do my best to keep your sorry ass alive when you’re on the run from people who want to separate your head from your body. I’m too busy to protect you from your own crew too. Besides, what would I do? Flash control panel lights at him and say ‘please don’t kill my Captain, he’s too pretty to die’?’

“That’d be a start,” Jesse grumbled as he rubbed his wrist.

“I apologize, you startled me,” Hanzo said. He took his damaged legs by the knee one by one and lowered them to the side. That gave him the space to lean forward over the arm of the chair and see where Jesse had fallen. “Are you well? I wanted to help you, but I am...incapacitated.”

“Sure, I’m right as rain.” The sarcasm practically dripped off Jesse’s tongue. “You’re the one with blood all over his face. Thought you might need a bit of assistance, but I’ve learned my lesson.”

Hanzo reached up and pushed back his loose hair to trace his fingers along the red splashed across his face. There were spots of it around his eyes and a slash by his mouth that could almost be lipstick. Already starting to dry at the edges, the crimson flaked away under his questing fingers. He looked at them, rubbed them together, then made a fist to hide the red.

“Jesse,” he murmured. “It’s not my blood. It’s yours.”

Jesse’s head gave a viciously hard throb that almost laid him out flat. “Oh. Guess that makes sense.”

There was a medical kit in the galley - only a handful of feet away from the cockpit - but it took Jesse nearly thirty minutes to get to his feet and make it that far. Sombra’s increasingly creative insults got him upright and the silent judgement he could feel coming from Hanzo kept him there. The mixed expressions of pity and confusion from Hanzo was something he was grateful to have behind him. At least faced with nothing more than the inside of his own ship he didn’t have to think about how well and truly he’d managed to fuck up not only their pit stop, but himself as well.

“Give me a scan, Som,” he said through gritted teeth as he pulled the medikit out of a storage compartment. The container was about the size of a tool chest and full of everything that a man on the run needed to stay breathing - bandages, bandages, some bottles and tubes, a stitch kit and (surprise surprise) more bandages.  

‘I gave you three while you were taking your trauma nap. You don’t have a concussion this time, magically enough. You have a knife wound on your left forearm, approximately 1 and a half centimeters deep and eleven long. It needs at least twelve stitches, but knowing how you stitch you’ll only manage to fit in seven. You also have extensive bruising on your back, belly, and knuckles and two cracked ribs. There doesn’t seem to be any residual backlash from your Deadeye, but I’m going to give you some tests later. You may have gone color blind or insane and I can’t scan for that. You’re also disgusting and need to go through the sanitizer before you put any of those bandages on or else they might get infected.’

Getting to the sanitizer meant another painful walk, but the thought of having the dried blood and grime from the backstreets of Crence burned off him was enough to get him down the hall and into the stall, clothes still on. “You’ve got a hell of a bedside manner, Som.”

‘You didn’t install me because I told you what you wanted to hear, Jesse. You know that.’

The laser swept over his body, lingering on his wounded arm as it tried and failed to clean out the dried blood. A fresh line of it dripped off of his fingertips and onto the floor of the chamber, glittering like drops of wine.

He hurt. He ached in every way imaginable, all the way down to his heart.

“Why’d I have to like him, Som? We knew it wouldn’t turn out and damned if we weren’t right.”

Sombra didn’t reply and Jesse slumped in defeat.

At least the dirt was gone.

“Got you some tools. Wasn’t sure what you’d need to fix those, so just let me know if somethin’ isn’t in there.” Jesse dropped the soft case of engine repair tools that he’d grabbed on the way back onto the chair next to Hanzo. The clatter of the equipment jolted the man out of his doze.

“Thank you.” Hanzo took the bag and began to sort through the contents while Jesse sat down on the floor with his back to the console. The medikit was cradled between his legs and they both spent a quiet minute pulling out their respective tools. Jesse found a curved needle and black thread. Hanzo pulled out a small butane torch and a dented soldering iron that had seen better days.

“You know what you’re doin’ with those?” Jesse asked, holding the needle as steady as he could while threading it. He managed in one try despite the shaking. He’d done it often enough that it was almost a talent.

The torch blazed to life in Hanzo’s hand and the man raised his eyebrows with a ‘did you really just ask that’ expression that almost made Jesse laugh. Almost.

“Of course I know what I’m doing with them. After their initial construction I made sure that I knew how to repair or alter my prosthetics as necessary. I wasn’t fond of the idea of being reliant on others in case they ever fell into disrepair.” He trailed the torch down the side of one of his legs, letting the fire lick over the metal and warm it until it glowed orange.

“Good to know about your own hardware,” Jesse agreed. “Too many folks don’t know pliers from a screwdriver and they’re the ones up shit creek when their hovertech breaks down in the middle of nowhere.”

The first stitch was always the hardest. Jesse gave the needle and the skin around the cut on his arm a quick scrub with an antiseptic wipe and took a deep breath to settle his stomach. The cut was at an odd enough angle that required him to press his shoulder against the console to get his arm at the right angle.

“Are you planning on doing that yourself?”

Jesse looked up, the needle hovering over his skin but not piercing flesh yet. Hanzo was looking at him, his arms resting on his knees and a screwdriver held loosely in his hand.

“That was the plan, yeah. I’ve done it before and I’ll probably end up doing it again before too long if we keep runnin’ into trouble like this.”

Hanzo had both outer casings on his legs opened up, exposing the inner mechanics and miles of fragile wiring on the inside. Jesse could see shock absorbers built in among the false muscle strands. They flexed and whirred as he watched, not quite functional, but still alive in the only way metal knew how. The sight was oddly beautiful.

“Jesse! Are you listening?”

Jesse shook his head and instantly regretted the action, it made the whole room spin like a top. “Sorry, got lost in my own thoughts there for a minute.”

“I didn’t realize they were deep enough to get lost in,” Hanzo snapped as he held out his hand. “I was telling you that you need to let me do your stitches.”

Jesse’s fingers tightened on the needle. I’m not your loyal hound. “It’s like I said, Boss. I’ve done it before.” There was a hint of a snarl in his voice that was hard to swallow back.

“Which is no doubt half the reason you’re covered in so many obvious scars. Don’t be shy, I’ve had some medical training and my hands are steadier than yours. Come here.” Hanzo set aside his tools and curled his fingers at Jesse to gesture him forward. Flecks of blood decorated his nails.

Jesse came. Grumbling, but still Jesse bridged the three feet that separated them and turned so that he could rest his prosthetic on the cushioned arm of the chair. “Shirt’s a goner,” he mumbled, looking at the gore that stained it almost to his shoulder.

“I’ll buy you a new shirt.” Hanzo clicked his tongue as he rethreaded the needle. “Something more fashionable than woodsman flannels and the blankets you wear like a cape.”

“It’s not a cape, it’s a sera - ow! Aren’t you supposed to count to three or something?” Jesse growled as he tried to hold still.

The needle pricked into his skin with the delicacy of a fine lady sewing lace, flashing in and out. It slowly pulling the edges of the cut together with much finer stitches than Jesse could have managed on his own.

“My brother and I had private tutors as a child. The best and brightest minds in the universe traveled to Sihnon to teach us. We were the last true-blooded Shimadas. It was our duty to do right by our family and the Council that served us. In addition to philosophy and mathematics, we underwent the same training that all true Companions must pass. Diplomacy, combat, medical training-” Hanzo’s grimace was quickly concealed, but Jesse saw it anyway, “and seduction. We were expected  to behave with dignity no matter the situation.”

“Including when you’re runnin’ through back alleys and being hunted like an animal?” Jesse’s voice was thick, like his tongue forgot how to function.

Hanzo’s mouth tightened and he made another clean stitch. “Even then.”

“Well, guess you did your kin proud. Didn’t lose your cool once the whole time.” There was that bitter taste in his mouth. Jesse almost missed it. Hanzo had been the epitome of self-control. Jesse was the one to rush in with his fists up and get blood all over everything. He hadn’t done anyone proud with his performance, not even himself.

The needle stilled and Hanzo looked away, the flush of shame stealing over his cheekbones. “No, but neither did I take the necessary time to assess the situation. I lost my head - reacted as I might have if I had been in my element rather than a strange environment. If I had bothered to take your limitations into account you might not have been injured.”

“Limitations?” That was flattering. Jesse thought about pullin his arm away so that he could put space between himself and Hanzo, but there was still a thick black thread and a very sharp needle binding them together.  

A needle that Hanzo jabbed at his face. “Don’t make that hurt expression, it wasn’t meant as an insult. You have told me several times that you prefer to use a firearm and I’ve witnessed you use it twice now. I expected you to be able to handle close-range combat instead of taking your advice and relocating to somewhere that suited your fighting style more.”

“You didn’t have time to make a war game out of bein’ caught by bounty hunters and you call that losing your head?” Jesse reached up with his free hand and fiddled with the limp metal fingers of his prosthetic.

Hanzo made the final stitch and tied off the end. “I was taught to assess my situation and use what was available to me. I used you poorly and I apologize.”

I used you poorly.

I used you.

He was just a tool that had been turned against its purpose. Next he’d be tossed aside, left behind. Abandoned.

Again.

This time he did jerk his arm away and Hanzo tensed at the violence of the movement.

“Don’t twist yourself up about it,” Jesse said through gritted teeth. “Hell, you’re paying me to do what you say, aren’t you? Who the fuck cares if I bleed a bit?”

Hanzo leaned forward, a note of pleading in his voice that Jesse did his best to block out. “Jesse, I didn’t mean -”

“None of that now - you’ve said your bit. You used me. It went a little wrong, but we’re both in one piece, right?” He looked down at the open casings of Hanzo’s prosthetics. “Mostly. Now, if you’ll excuse me Mister Fancy Schooling…” He pushed himself to his feet, determined to push through the growing soreness that had made itself at home in every muscle and bone. In a mock gesture he tipped a hat he wasn’t wearing. “I’ve got an engine to fix. Give a shout if you decide you need another tool to use wrong.”

He left before he could be called back, the tattered remains of self respect wrapped around his aching body like a coat that no bullet could puncture yet the words of one man could tear to shreds.   

Chapter Text

The clock read 2:13 AM, ST.

Jesse gazed blearily up at the ceiling, wondering if it was worth just rolling over and going back to sleep for the rest of the night cycle. He’d promised himself an hour of rest to get his energy back before he went to work on the slip rings in the engine room. The snooze button probably had an indent on it from how many times he’d hit it and that hour nap had turned into a fitful two, punctuated by dreams of teeth that gleamed like knives in the dark.

Two books sat on his shelf, but only one was dog-eared. The other had had all of its corners carefully pressed out and there was a piece of tape at the bottom keeping the tear in the cover from getting larger. Jesse knew he hadn’t been the one to put it there. His hat hung on the corner of the shelf and even in the dark he could see the flecks of blood on the brim.

“Gets on everything I touch,” he muttered, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. The room didn’t move around him, which was a definite improvement from the last time he attempted to get on his feet. He groaned all the same. There was a terrible ache nestled in his bones that neither the handful of painkillers nor the four fingers of whiskey he’d downed managed to banish. The worst of the pain - the backlash headache, the burn of his new stitches - was kept at bay by the hazy wall of drugs and alcohol. He could feel it hovering just out of reach, waiting for him to make his return to the reality where everything hurt, but for now it was manageable.

He didn’t put back on his clothes from Crence. They lay in a pile in the corner, tattered and gaudy. That outfit was meant for a man with a lighter heart and less of a stain on his soul. He left them on the floor in favor of black work cargos and a red shirt with small burn holes in the sleeves and along the hem. A couple of the holes had matching scars on his skin. He rubbed one of them through the hole. He couldn’t even remember how he’d gotten it.

On his way out of his room he glanced at himself in the cracked mirror.

Bloodshot eyes.

His nose red-rimmed with crusted blood.

Another set of reminders that he’d pushed himself too far. His hair was flat on one side and tangled on the other and his beard was practically wild.

It was a look that suited how he felt. Tattered at the edges.

The hall was lit only by the safety lights along the floor. One of them flashed softly - Sombra acknowledging that she knew he was awake. She didn’t speak to greet him. There were times, times like this, when both of them knew that silence was what Jesse needed to find his way back out of the dark maze of his own head. Eventually reason and good humor would claw their way out again, looking a little worse for wear, and he would smile again.

There was a whirring noise and the sound of soft voice from the cockpit when Jesse stepped into the galley, intending to get something hot and strong to help clear away the haze. Sombra’s electronic accent spaced between Hanzo’s lower timbre. Jesse didn’t make a habit of  eavesdropping on private conversations unless it was part of the job description, but he couldn’t help but overhear parts of what they were saying as he rummaged in the cabinet for a nutrient gel pack.   

‘ - can install a program that should let you know if they ever get infected again. It should only take a few minutes now that I’ve been able to scan the residue the wyrm left behind. They have a unique code system.’

“That would be much appreciated, thank you. I don’t intend to allow them the chance to plant those twisted creatures on me again, but the additional security could be useful. I can run my own scans as well, but they are less precise than I would like.”

‘More battering ram than surgery scalpel?’

A laugh. “In so many words, yes.”

Jesse finally found the gel pack and squeezed it into his mouth. It was cherry-flavored (his least favorite), but he wasn’t sure he was up to dealing with a solid meal in his belly.

“ - just trying to understand. I didn’t mean to build this wall, but I seem to have done it all the same. Now I need to know how to bring it down again.”

You couldn’t have known he’d go off like that. The fight rattled him, from what I can tell. The most he’s been in are scuffles and bar fights in the last few years.’

“He shoots and fights like a trained soldier. Those little interactions wouldn’t be enough to give a man those sort of instincts.” The whirring stopped, replaced by the clattered of tools against metal. Hanzo must still be working at repairing his legs. Jesse felt a stab of guilt that he’d left his passenger alone and incapacitated while he went off to rest. He tried to shake it off, but the guilt clung to him like a stubborn loose thread that he couldn’t pull free.

“Are you certain you won’t let me see his file?”

‘One hundred percent certain. It’s sealed and encoded - he’ll know if you decide to snoop around and won’t thank you for it one bit.’

“The fact that it’s sealed at all says something about the contents.”

‘Or maybe he’s just paranoid.’

Hanzo hummed. “Paranoia always stems from something, in my personal experience. It doesn’t choose you one night and linger in your shadow thereafter for no reason.”

‘Very poetic. I’m still not opening his file.’

Jesse almost laughed. That was his Som, contrary to the end. Whoever had been the one to program that personality into her had probably gotten an ear full the moment she’d gone live. Sombra had been in the business of getting into trouble for at least as long as he had, but they’d only become close companions in the last three years. Before that she’d had control over more power and information than most of the outer planets put together.

Now all she had was one Raven-class ship and its sorry excuse for a captain. Jesse rubbed at his blood-crusted nose as the rehydrator brewed him the blackest cup of coffee it was capable of.

“Could you please give me whatever isn’t classified?” Hanzo sounded strained. It was hard to tell if the tension was because his legs were giving him trouble or because Sombra was.

In the silence that followed Jesse found himself taking a step closer to the cockpit despite himself. So much for not eavesdropping.

‘He spends too much time alone because he’s learned the hard way not to trust anyone. His favorite food is ‘anything halfway edible’. You should never bet against him because somehow he always pulls through in everything from cards to murder. He just likes to leave pieces of himself behind everywhere because he doesn’t have the sense to plan for an end where he escapes unscathed.’

Jesse’s fingers found the bandage wrapped around his arm and played with a corner of it self consciously. It wasn’t as though he planned for these things to happen. They just happened .

They wouldn’t have happened if Gabe was calling the shots, said the ever-critical voice in his head. He knew how to get an entire squad in and out without more than scraped knuckles, yet you somehow manage to turn yourself in ground beef every time you so much as set foot outside of your ship.

“Which is why I never wanted to be the Commander,” Jesse hissed under his breath. He couldn’t be trusted with his own safety, let alone anyone else’s.  

“He sounds more complicated than I gave him credit for,” said Hanzo, breaking Jesse free from his self-flagellation. “I initially thought him to be rather simple, but the longer I spend in his company the more I discover that he is anything but.”

‘Just be careful about opening up that particular Pandora’s Box, Mister Shimada. You may not like what comes out.’

Jesse left then, not willing to stay longer and risk hearing any more. Coffee in one hand and engine pieces in the other, he disappeared back into the dark hall. Bare foot he strode down to the engine room, desperately hoping the deep humming throb of the engines would help drown out everything else.

An hour later his wrench slipped in his sweaty grip and cracked him across the knuckles. Despite the noise of the opposite engine, his soft swearing seemed too loud for the crawl space. Sombra had shut down the engine he was currently entombed in to let him work. He missed watching the light zip around him like a carnival ride complete with the noise and roar.

Piano music filtered through the engine room speakers, soft and sad as rain on an empty house. Sombra, giving him something to fill the ringing in his ears with. He’d never had to ask her to turn it on because she knew what he liked when he wasn’t in a conversational mood. The music flowed - low guitar strums that settled in his gut like a sip of good whiskey, higher violins with voices as sweet and seductive as sin. There were no voices, no words to the songs she played for him, but every one of them sang of love and loss. Adventures that turned into nightmares. People he left behind. Or who left him behind.

“Thanks, Som,” he mumbled in a momentary pause between songs.

De nada .’

It was all that needed to be said. Jesse kept working and the music kept playing until deep into the AM hours. Space, as dark and quiet as ever, swallowed them up and didn’t care a credit’s worth for all the pain their ship housed. It never had.

With bruised knuckles and sore arms, Jesse tightened the last of the slip rings into place and patted the inside of the engine with a bittersweet fondness.

“That should do it. Fire her up, Som. Wouldn’t want to be any later than we already are.”

‘On it. You going to bed , cariño?’

The engine kindled to life around him as Sombra sent it through a systems check, judged it hale and hearty, and started it spinning. The lights blurred together into solid streamers of light and the hum of it settled in. He could feel it in the roots of his teeth, more pressure than actual sound.

“Maybe in a bit,” he finally answered, lacing his dirty fingers over his belly. “Got some thinking to do.”

‘Deep thoughts or something about tacos?’

Jesse laughed and wiggled his shoulders back and forth a couple times to unkink his spine. Inside the engine wasn’t the worst place to lie around and sort through his own head - at least the view was interesting.

“You caught me. It was definitely about tacos. Then again,” he mused, “when isn’t it?” He was starting to finally feel a little hungry. That lunch at The Usual Place felt like a lifetime ago.

‘Chicken or steak tacos?’

Jesse made a farting noise with his mouth. “Don’t talk to me about chicken tacos. Those are for weaker men, not big engine-fixing manly men such as myself! Steak only on this ship.”

‘You tell those chicken-eaters.’

“I will, just you watch.” He licked his lips and tasted engine grease and sweat.  “Let’s go somewhere with good tacos after this, Som. Some border planet dive with real food and lots of spices.” Did Hanzo like tacos? Had Hanzo ever had tacos?

‘And here I thought you only wanted to go places with fake food where they think salt is a spice…’

Jesse shuddered. “Don’t even joke about that. I’d eat the barrel of my gun first.”

‘I’d prefer you didn’t. Think of the mess!’

“Yeeep,” he drawled, rolling the word over his tongue. “You’re probably right. As usual.” He stared up at the spinning engine and raised his left hand, comparing the two. Both dented metal that had once been much shinier. Both filled with wires and chips to make them work. Without either one he wouldn’t get very far. Jesse reached up a little and the engine blades clattered against his steel fingertips in a rapid pattern that sounded like machine gun fire.

Bangbangbangbangbangbangbangbangbangbang….

He pulled them back before he could reach up further and get them sheared off.

“I lied, Som. I wasn’t thinkin’ about tacos.”

‘I know you weren’t, Jessito.’

“Why’d I ever think it was a good idea to take on a passenger? Or stage a rescue? Or show off those old stomping grounds? Every damn thought I’ve had since I first laid eyes on that picture of him has been a bad one. They’ve given me nothing but grief and bruises.” He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep shuddering breath. “It hurts , Som. Why’d it have to hurt so fuckin’ bad?”

‘It hasn’t all been bad, has it? Even having real company for the first time in years?’

Coffee and tea in the galley.

“Doesn’t matter. I should’ve known better by now. There’s not a person in this whole damn ‘verse who doesn’t want more than what’s bein’ offered and I’ve got nothin’ left to give.” He heaved a resigned sigh, feeling old to his bones.

Those long, considering looks.

‘You’re getting awfully dramatic on me there, Cowboy.’

“So I’ll be dramatic!” He shouted, lifting one of his heels and letting it fall back to the crawlspace floor with a loud crash. “I’ll get it out of my system and go right back to being ‘ha ha, you’re such a joke, Jesse. So funny. Always playing the fool, Jesse’. Fuck it. I left that behind and I’m not goin’ back.”

‘Nobody is asking you to go back, Jesse.’

The sound of his laugh.

“Good. I paid my dues to them and the rest of the ‘verse in years and blood. I’m my own man now - don’t belong to a living soul and I don’t want to.” He was no one’s dog, no one’s shadow. Not any more. “You know what the worst part is about all of this?”

‘The fact that you’re still lying in an active engine block?’

“Other than that. I liked him, Som. I really,” his hands clenched into fists, “really did. He’s funny without tryin’ too hard and he’s got all these little hidden secrets that I want to take my time over. Good fighter too. But hell, he turned on me faster than a snake that’d been trod on when he thought I might’ve turned him over, and then he goes and throws me to the wolves like that…”

‘Jesse, you’re a capable fighter. He knows that - you got out of Hanamura together and who’s managed to pull something like that off before?’

Jesse stayed silent, his eyes squeezed shut in an attempt to hold back the growing burn behind his eyelids.

‘Nobody, that’s who. You’re capable. More than capable, even if things don’t always turn out the way you’d like.’

“Because I leave pieces of myself behind?” He threw her own words back at her.  

‘It’s the truth. You live like you’ve got a death wish, cariño. Hard and fast with no regard for yourself until you’re already hurt. You can’t blame Hanzo for seeing you as larger than life and thinking that you could handle a fight like that and come out the other side smiling.’

Jesse felt something twist in his gut. He should have been able to handle it. A couple of years ago he’d have finished off their hunters without a scratch on him, but that had been when Gabe was calling the shots. Gabe, the man with the plan, who always got everyone out except when nobody got out at all.

“He used me, Som. Said it himself. It doesn’t matter whether or not I liked him, because in the end all I’m going to be is a hired hand and he can do whatever he wants until I drop him off. Money like what he’s offering…” He finally opened his eyes and stared at the bandage wrapped around his arm. It was flecked with black engine grease now. “It buys an awful lot of blood.”

‘Of course he used you, Jesse. He’s a Shimada! You know, one of the biggest crime families in the ‘verse? Those Shimadas? You’ve got the heir to a very bloody empire shoved into a bunk room that’s probably smaller than his bed was back on Sihnon. He was born, raised, and trained to use people.’

“Is this supposed to make me feel any better? Because you’re missing the mark pretty far.”

‘I’m just saying that it sounded an awful lot like he was trying to apologize for getting you hurt before you walked out on him. How many Shimadas do you think would give a flying fuck in space about whether they get people hurt? It’s their business, after all. Like you said - money buys a lot of blood.’

“Well he can’t have any more of mine,” Jesse muttered darkly. “You can’t get blood from a stone and that’s what I’m fixing to turn into after this.”

“I never wanted to buy your blood,” said a voice that definitely wasn’t Sombra.

Jesse froze, the engine spinning as fast as his thoughts.

“Hey Som?” He asked, keeping his tone light and casual.

‘Yes, Jesse?’

“Did you know he was in here?”

‘I did.’

“And you still let me go on like that?”

‘Got it in one.’

Jesse sighed. “I love you dearly Som, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to sell you for scrap.”

‘Love you too, Jesse.’

The dim lights of the engine room were a balm on his senses as he worked his way out of the engine. The air was cooler, there was less noise, and there was also a man sitting cross legged on the floor next to Jesse’s empty coffee cup.

“You been there for long?” Jesse asked, eyeing him warily.

Hanzo shrugged. He’d changed his clothes at some point and now wore a loose black collared shirt that looked as shiny and slippery as oil, and dark blue trousers with silver embroidery along the bottom. The metallic gleam of his bare metal feet complimented the look and Jesse was intimately aware of every fleck of engine grease on him. The prince and the pauper.

“An hour, perhaps. I heard the music,” he gestured at the speakers, “and decided to investigate. I will also admit that I was hoping to speak with you again but you were absorbed in your work when I arrived. It didn’t seem wise to disturb a man working on an active ship engine.” Hanzo stood and leaned back against the wall, his feet crossed one over the other and his hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks.

“Didn’t your mama ever teach you that it’s not polite to eavesdrop?” Jesse asked gruffly, using the excuse of cleaning his tools and tucking them back into their case to not look at him. Hanzo was far too cool, too put together.

“My mother taught me many things, but not eavesdropping was never one of her lessons. They tended to focus on how to put down uprisings and control governments. Besides,” he added, “you seemed to have no hang ups when it comes to eavesdropping. I heard you rummaging about in the galley earlier, so you must have been privy to our conversation.”

Hanzo had him there, but Jesse refused to be put on the defensive. “It’s a small ship. Can’t expect much of anything to be private ‘round here. You could have taken another leaf out of my book and gone off elsewhere when you started hearing things you didn’t want to.”

“I never said that I didn’t want to hear them,” Hanzo said mildly. He could have been a statue for all that he moved, chiseled out of cold, unfeeling marble.

Jesse, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to stop moving. He finished wiping down his tools and then did it again just for something to do with his hands. Leaned his hip against the engine controls so that he’d look casual, and then started pacing a moment later. Finally he snatched up his cleaning rag and started scrubbing at the creases in his prosthetic out of sheer nervous desperation.

Hanzo watched without comment.

Jesse broke first, to no one’s surprise.

“What the hell is it you want, exactly?” He snapped, rubbing at a dark spot on the underside of his metal wrist. “You just going to stand there and stare until we get to the Gibraltar or do you have some sort of trouble you want to drag me into?”

“I’m trying to understand you. You insist on perplexing me every time you open your mouth.”

“So I’ll shut it and keep us both happy.”

‘Impossible. You would explode if you couldn’t run your mouth.’         

“I didn’t ask for heckling from the peanut gallery,” Jesse called at the ceiling, which instantly began to spout soft piano music again. “Look,” he said, turning back to Hanzo. “I’m not complicated, no matter what she’s been tellin’ you. I just want to keep myself to myself. A hot meal and enough gas to keep me airborn is all I can ask and sometimes I take questionable jobs so that I can have ‘em. I don’t kill for the pleasure of it and one day somebody is going to be faster on the draw than I am and collect a sizeable bounty. That’s just the way of things. I’m not a hero or a servant.” He rubbed distractedly at his chest, leaving behind a black smear.

“You seem to be under the impression that I was looking for either of them in you. Let me put your mind at rest and assure you that I wasn’t.” Hanzo reach up and smoothed back his already perfectly slicked hair in a practiced gesture. “But I’m not a fool. You were referred to as both JJ and Josiah while we were on Crence, and you reserved your spot in the restaurant under the name Caine Alvarado. You have military training and have been interrogated by way of physical torture at least once. I recognized a few of your scars after I doctored you following our escape from Hanamura.”

Jesse looked down and away but a hand caught him by his chin and jerked his face forward. Hanzo moved faster than lightning to catch him and their eyes met and locked.

“Come on Boss, we don’t have to -”

“And don’t call me ‘Boss’,” Hanzo snarled, his grip tightening. “I gave you my name so that you could use it. For years I’ve been nothing but ‘Mister Shimada’ or ‘Master’ and I’m sick of it. I was a symbol and I existed without truly living. I’d forgotten how to be Hanzo until you showed up and showed me how close the stars really are. You’ve treated me like a person. Like I mattered beyond my money or my power, and in return I mistrusted you and forced you to make a stand that you didn’t support.”

Jesse had no words. They were born, caught, and died in his throat.       

Two strong hands framed his face, thumbs brushing back and forth against his cheeks. “I will understand if you never want to think of me again once I leave. It won’t stop me from thinking fondly of you though. You helped me, welcomed me into your space, and stood by me. I won’t forget that. If I’ve managed to push you so far away that there’s no coming back to the way things were, I am sorry. I don’t want to buy your blood or your life, but my money bought me some of your time. I thank you for that.”   

In the quiet, secret place inside of Jesse, one of the link of the chains that he’d wrapped around his heart shattered like glass and the rest began to fall away one by one.

“Hanzo -” His voice was strangled, his lips drier than the desert.

“That’s better,” Hanzo murmured as he rose up on his toes and brushed his nose against Jesse’s once, twice, three times. “A kiss,” he explained. “You looked sad and I’ve been told that kisses fix stuff.”

The chain links fell away like rain and Jesse knew he was doomed.

Chapter Text

That was...unexpected ,’ Sombra said as Jesse’s door slid shut behind him. ‘I promise that I didn’t put him up to it.

“I don’t think heaven or earth could put that man up to anything he didn’t want to be put up to,” Jesse mumbled, sinking back against the closed door with his hands balled up in his shirt. He hadn’t bothered to clean himself up from the engine repairs. It had taken everything in him to stay on his feet and walk back to his room after Hanzo left him. There hadn’t been any more words between them, no more accusations or apologies, just one long searching look.

There’d been too much in that look for Jesse to decipher. He’d been left standing there with his tongue in knots and his heart beating too fast. Maybe if he’d said something Hanzo wouldn’t have left him. Maybe he’d have kept touching him, ghosting his thumbs across Jesse’s cheekbones and looking at him like no one ever had.

Jesse hadn’t said anything, hadn’t been able to, and he cursed himself under his breath for his inaction.

“I should’ve said something.” His dirty shirt went flying across the room and landed on the bed. “Should’ve done something. Anything!” His bare foot meet the closed door as he gave it a kick. It didn’t make him feel better. “Why the hell didn’t I do anything?”

Well, ’ Sombra said sympathetically. ‘Look at it this way. At least you’ve taken first prize in the ‘Most Poleaxed Expression’ competition. I thought that you were going to need another Stym shot to get moving again after that.’

“The day I need another one of those shots is the day they bury me. Only trouble comes from gettin’ a man that far out of his own head.” Jesse reached up and scrubbed at his hair, raking his nails across his scalp. Was it just his imagination or could he still feel the warmth of Hanzo’s hands on his face?

‘Trouble and broom closet kisses, apparently .’

“I think I’m done talkin’ to you for the night. You threw me under the wheels of that train like I was an empty bottle and let me clatter along.” The cracked mirror showed him the same face from a few hours ago albeit with more grease on it. Bloodshot eyes and a red-rimmed nose but the eyes were different. “Hey Som,” he said quietly.

Si?’

“You think he was telling the truth or just butterin’ me up so that things would run smoother during the rest of the trip?” He scrubbed the blood flecks out of his nose with the back of his wrist.

The AI hummed thoughtfully. ‘ I can run the recording I made through a couple scanners to check for lies, but if you’re asking for my opinion…

“Aren’t I usually?” He tried to smooth back his wild hair and only succeeded in making it worse. He was definitely due for a stop in at a cuttery.  Six days from Beaumonde to the Gibraltar’s coordinates. Six days until his time was his own again. Six days until he saw the last of Hanzo Shimada.

I’d say he meant it. He does like you, you know. I think he just failed the class where you learn how to talk to people you care about without rubbing them the wrong way.

“Mister Best-Teachers-In-The-Verse bad at something? Say it ain’t so.” Jesse gave his hair one last push back and sighed in defeat when it sprang right back again. “Still, mighty nice of him to push through all my growlin’. I guess I won’t jettison him out of the airlock after all.”  

‘I’m sure he’ll be delighted to hear it. You can tell him over breakfast in the morning. Now quit primping, Princess. You need some serious shut eye after all that excitement, and I’m not talking about the fight.’

“I’m too old to be a flighty little miss bein’ asked to her first dance.”

‘You sure? With the way you were swallowing your own tongue I would have thought otherwise.’

Night Som!” He said forcefully and he heard her crackling laughter before the speakers chimed, indicating the terminated the connection.

Silence made it easier for him to remember. Jesse closed his eyes and hung his head, blocking out the image of his haggard self.  

I will understand if you never want to think of me again once I leave. It won’t stop me from thinking fondly of you.

There were few who could claim such a thing. He hadn’t gone to great lengths to ingratiate himself to anyone in a long time. What had he done to deserve those good thoughts?

“Bought him a churro and fucked up a perfectly good rescue job. Not much else. Where do I get off on bein’ so bitten when he doesn’t treat me like his nearest and dearest?” He laughed and it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Honestly Jes,” he looked up and told his reflection. “You’re getting as mean as a starving wolf. You’re best off alone so you can’t beat up on anyone but yourself.”

The man in the mirror didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about this plan, but Jesse rarely did anything with the express purpose of making the man in the mirror happy. He indulged himself and washed his face and neck with water from the military-style sink pulled from a panel in the wall. The water was cold as ice but felt better than going through the sanitizer again. The grime-tainted fluid dripped off his nose and chin and swirled down the drain.

If he yelled into the hand towel as he dried himself off, just for the pleasure of venting a little, there was no one paying attention to hear it. It made him feel a little bit better. It was almost as good as the relief of pulling the release lever on his prosthetic and pulling the whole heavy piece off. The metal appendage sat lifeless on the shelf, wires retracted, and Jesse massaged his sore shoulder as he stepped out of his work pants and collapsed onto his bed in nothing more than his briefs and skin.

“Six days,” he told the ceiling. “Six days. Now I just need to figure out if that’s too long or not long enough.”

He still hadn’t figured it out a few minutes later when sleep found him, as quick and quiet as pulling up the blanket and it brought no nightmares with it.

Ding.

The sound was enough to pull him out of the restful oblivion he floated in wrinkled his brow, sluggish mind trying to figure out if the sound was real or if his mind had conjured it up.  

Ding.

Definitely real. Jesse groaned and rolled over, reaching for the clock. 1:50 PM, ST. Unsurprising considering how late he’d stayed up working on the engine repairs. His stomach, realizing that he was awake, growled loudly to remind him that he’d slept through at least two meals.

“Jesse?” Came a voice from the other side of the closed door. “Are you awake?”

Hanzo.

“Shit,” Jesse swore as he rolled out of bed and hit the floor with a thud, scrambling for his pants. There was no way in this life or any other that he was going to have a repeat of the last time Hanzo came knocking. The thought had heat springing to Jesse’s cheeks as he struggled into his work pants and made doubly sure the zipper was up.

“Yep, wide awake! Give me half a sec, just…” He found a shirt lying under his bed and pulled it on one-handed. It was a joke shirt that Sombra had ordered off of the net for him with ‘Space Vaquero’ printed across the chest. It was tight in the sleeves and too short (hence why it usually lived under the bed) but at least it was clean. “Just getting decent.”

Jesse hit the release with his elbow and the door slide open to reveal Hanzo too close. Just like last time. He was dressed in black slacks and a soft-looking blue overshirt with billowing sleeves. A pattern of storm clouds and lightning trailed down one sleeve.

“Dressed perhaps, but I would never consider you decent. I hope I didn’t wake you?” He eyed Jesse’s shirt with amusement.

“You did, but if I slept any longer I’d have turned into a part of the bed so it’s for the best.” Jesse tried to tug down the hem of the shirt so he was flashing slightly less skin between it and the top of his pants. “Didn’t mean to spend quite so much time out cold though. It’s a rarity for me to get that much sleep in one go.”

“Clearly you needed it. I took it upon myself to spar with your rehydrator.” Hanzo nodded at the tray he was holding. There was a mug of coffee on it, still steaming, along with a plate of soft white dumplings. “They’re filled with pork and vegetables in ginger sauce, but I’m certain I can coax it into something else if that isn’t to your liking.”

“That you got it to spit these up is a miracle,” Jesse admitted as he plucked the coffee cup off the tray. “I didn’t think it could do dumplings.”

“It couldn’t. I decided to downloaded a few new recipes while I was waiting at the tailor. On an anonymous account, of course. They won’t be able to track the payments back to me or your ship. May I come in?” He gestured at the room behind Jesse with the tray. “I can set this down for you.”

“Sure, if you don’t mind the mess.” Jesse took a step back and sipped on the coffee as Hanzo slipped past.

“Not at all. My brother was untidy as well. It’s something that I grew used to even if I didn’t necessarily approve of the lax habit. May I move this?” He nodded at Jesse’s prosthetic. The metal monstrosity took up most of the space on the only flat surface in the room.

“Oh, yeah, hold on I’ll get it.” He cradled the coffee between his chest and damaged arm and scooped the piece of machinery up. “Should’ve put it on before opening up, you didn’t need to see-”

“Neither your room nor your scars bother me,” Hanzo cut him off as he set down the dumplings in the free space. He glanced at Jesse’s stump and the two inches of warped scar tissue and technical ports where his prosthetic connected. “I know what missing limbs look like. That you survived it at all makes it a badge rather than a blemish.”

“I could say the same to you,” Jesse said, praying that he wasn’t getting red. “We should start a club or somethin’.”

Hanzo made a humming sound. “And who would lead this hypothetical club?”

“Sombra, of course. She’s missing a whole body which puts her way ahead of both of us.” Jesse let the back of his knees hit the bed and sat down, careful not to spill his coffee. “Besides, I’m lousy at being in charge of anything.”  

The other man chuckled and crossed his arms. “You seem to do well enough managing your ship and crew, minimal though it is.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll debate who actually runs this ship with you when a certain someone isn’t eavesdropping from the hall.” Jesse nodded at the open door.

‘How dare you imply that I eavesdrop! I’d be insulted if it wasn’t completely true.’

“I can close the door,” Hanzo murmured as if that would keep Sombra from hearing him. “Not that I believe that would discourage her. She seems rather...determined.”

“That’s a polite way of saying ‘mule stubborn’,” Jesse said into his coffee cup. The acidic burn of it helped to wash away the fuzzy feeling that had taken up residence in his mouth while he slept. “But no, no need to close it. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than hang around here and I won’t keep you from them.”

It wasn’t a comfortable silence that settled between them. It hung heavy with expectation - Jesse in that Hanzo would leave him and from Hanzo there was no way to tell. His face was a mask that few things escaped; even now when he seemed open enough to take off that facade.

An itch started at the nape of Jesse’s nape, the nagging doubt come back to eat at him. They were too different. Any minute now Hanzo would realize that. All he needed to do was look at Jesse - one arm, unshaven, and unstable. He would finally realize that there was too much that set them apart.

“Listen, Hanzo,” he coughed, trying to get his thoughts straight. It was better to sever this fragile thread now before it got too strong to cut. Hee had a feeling that the backlash would hit him harder than his passenger. “About what you said last night -”

“Wait.” Hanzo held up a hand and Jesse shut his mouth. “Before you start something that we might both regret, let me fetch something.” He left before Jesse could reply.

‘Want me to close the door?’ Sombra asked quietly and Jesse couldn’t help but snort as he set his cup aside and reached for his arm. The wires snapped magnetically to the corresponding ports embedded in his arm and the thing whirred noisily as it synced with with nerves. Synthetic muscle strands met organic and came alive, sending jolts of electricity up his arm and making his mouth taste like he’d been sucking on a battery.

“Nah, he’d probably just open it again. Or blast it down with those dragons - remind me I still have a bone to pick with him about those vicious bastards. Anyway, he can get his whatever and then I’ll say my piece.” He flexed his fingers one at a time, touching them to his thumb to calibrate them. At least now he had both hands to hold up when he managed to get on Hanzo’s bad side again. Those blue electric eyes were one thing he wasn’t too keen to find staring him down ever again. It usually ended with the smell of crispy fried Jesse.

‘If you say so, cariño. I want to say that you know what’s best for you, but I know you too well. You sure you want to say this piece of yours? Seems to me that things will go just fine if you kept that chatty mouth of yours shut, especially after last night.’          

“You make it sound like we fucked over the engine controls,” Jesse growled, giving his wrist one final shake. The lights flashed red, yellow, and then settled on blue. All synced up.

‘You could have if you’d made a move instead of standing there like you’d just been handed an execution sentence! Do you know how long I’ve been saving this ‘good job on getting laid’ notification?!’

Jesse still had his fingers crammed in his ears and was saying ‘la la la la’ loudly enough to drown Sombra out when Hanzo returned, a brown-wrapped package tucked under one arm and a confused expression on his face.

“I hope this isn’t on my account.”

Jesse pulled his fingers out of his ears and rubbed away the ache from having them crammed in nearly to his brain. “Nope, just had some wax in there that needed cleaning out.”  

Hanzo looked up at the ceiling in what was obviously a prayer to the heavens for patience. Jesse had seen it often enough to recognize it, especially since it was often used in connection with him. “If you’re finished with that hygienic display, I have something for you.” He hesitated, then held out the brown package. “I was going to give it to you when it was time for me to depart, but I think that now is more appropriate.”   

It was a simple package. It must have been nicely wrapped at one point, but the crisp corners had all been crushed in by rough handling. There was a long tear along the side that had been mended by what Jesse recognized as a strip of medical tape.

“For me?” He asked stupidly, staring at it. If the present suddenly exploded he couldn’t have been more surprised. Gifts were things that other people got, not him. Not that he’d ever expected any. “You sure?”

Hanzo snorted and stepped close enough that the brown paper pushed against the front of Jesse’s shirt. “No, I purchased it with some other foolhardy ship captain in mind. Of course I’m sure.” When Jesse still didn’t take it, Hanzo seemed to lose some of his patience. “Would you accept it if I found a pen and wrote your name on it, just to lay your fears that I might be mistaken to rest?”

That was enough to make Jesse reach for the package. “No need for that, I can take a hint.” It crinkled under his fingers and he turned it over and over, looking at the seams. “I didn’t get you anything. Didn’t think about it. I would’ve if I’d known -”

“Jesse.”

“Alright alright, but don’t think I won’t dig up something to give you later.” He found the edge of the medical tape and pulled it free, trying to ignore the giddy feeling that sprang to life in his chest. He was a grown man who lived through war and worse, not the kind of person who got worked up over surprise presents. There was no way to contain his soft ‘oh’ of surprise as the paper fell away, revealing a folded jacket. The dark brown leather was butter soft under his fingers and the collar was lined in what he had a feeling was genuine sheepskin. It was still plush and fluffy looking despite the sorry state its wrapping had been in. “Hanzo…”

“I got it from your tailor. Apparently the original consigner never came back to collect it and it matched the measurements that he had on file for you. I also,” he leaned down and pulled the left sleeve free. There was a line of brass buttons going down one side of it. “Had him make a few adjustments. You can put it on without removing your prosthetic if you undo these buttons.”

So maybe he’d been lying to himself when he’d figured that he didn’t get worked up over surprise presents.

“Shit Hanzo, this is - wow. I don’t know what to say.” He held up the jacket so that both sleeves and the folded edge fell away. It really was beautiful. Pockets in all the right places with buttons to keep things from falling out and the whole middle was lined with the same sheepskin as the collar. “Hell, this is nicer than all the rest of my gear put together.”

“You should try it on. Pinky wasn’t sure if it would fit around your middle, but I’m of the opinion that he only said that in the most caring way possible. He does seem to like you.” Hanzo gave Jesse a half smile as he picked up the wrapping from where it had fallen on the floor and began to fold it up into a neat square.

“That little curmudgeon only likes fancy Companions and people with more money than sense to spend on clothes. I only got what I did because he and Gabe went way back.” Jesse finished undoing the buttons down the front and sleeves and stood so that he could shrug the jacket on. He couldn’t hold in his moan as the cool leather slid over his bare arm and then settled across his shoulders like an embrace. He turned his head and sniffed, savoring the rich, familiar smell of it. It was home and work and high quality all rolled into one and the scent of it was intoxicating. “ Gorram that’s good. I don’t know how I’m going to find something as good to give back, but I’ll sure as hell apply myself to it.”

“There’s no need to give anything back. It lessens the impact of the gift,” Hanzo said, but his voice was faint and his eyes wouldn’t meet Jesse’s. Instead they were glued to Jesse’s middle, which had a good four or five inches of bare skin showing where his shirt had ridden up.

“Whoops, shit. Sorry, didn’t mean to put on a show. You’ve probably had more’n enough of that since - well. You know.” His face burned as he pulled the shirt back down as far as it would go. The thing was going into the first incinerator he came across.

“How did you get that scar?” Hanzo asked, his voice soft. His gaze still hadn’t left the hem of Jesse’s ridiculous shirt.

Jesse swallowed hard. “Which? I’ve got a couple.” His voice sounded much deeper than it usually did, but surely it was because of how dry his throat was.

Long fingers found the bottom of his shirt as Hanzo stepped in close enough that Jesse could see every strand of white hair at his temples. “May I?”

He nodded. There was no way he could have said no.

Hanzo smiled at him like he’d just done something amazing, making Jesse feel warm from his toes all the way to the tops of his ears. “This one,” he murmured as he pulled up the shirt a meager inch and gently touched his fingers to a white line that decorated Jesse’s belly.

There wasn’t enough air in the room. Not enough in the entire ‘verse, if he had to be honest. Don’t get weird about it, don’t get weird about it, he chanted in his head.

“That one, uh, surgery scar. Needed my appendix out. Damn thing decided to burst while I was out on a - a job,” he said, proud that he managed to sound casual. Just two gentlemen swapping scar stories, that’s all it was. It couldn’t be anything else, not when he’d had such good intentions of putting space between them.

Hanzo made an understanding noise, but he didn’t step back. “And this one?” Those fingers, those cold, cruel fingers, lifted his shirt a little higher and found an old puckered wound, years old and mostly faded.

“B-bullet.” His voice cracked just a little, but it was enough to shatter that feeling of false casualness that he’d been clinging to by his fingernails.

The next scar Hanzo found was along his side, half hidden under the jacket. He seemed to know exactly where it was though and he traced the ropey edges of it. “And this?” His voice was almost a whisper.

Jesse’s mind raced, trying desperately to remember not only how he’d gotten the scar, but his own damn name. Every bit of knowledge started to drain out of his head like someone had pulled out a plug, leaving him dazed and stupid.

“Tractor!” He finally said, making them both jump. “Fell off a tractor when I was a dumbass kid and the corner of the frontloader about gutted me.”

Hanzo’s eyes met his then, and they were filled with both amusement and concern. “That you are still alive surprises me greatly. Still,” he sighed, tracing the length of the scar again, “I’m very glad that you managed to survive up to this point.”

“Yeah, Lady Luck must have a soft spot for vagabonds like me.”

“She isn’t the only one,” Hanzo murmured.  

This couldn’t be happening. Surely he was still asleep and this was just the most vivid dream he’d ever had.

If it was, it was one that he didn’t want to wake up from.

“Hanzo.” Jesse finally shook himself out of the stupor he’d fallen into and caught Hanzo, caging the man’s wrist with his prosthetic. He couldn’t let Hanzo keep touching him, not if he wanted to keep any semblance of control. He was getting punch drunk on lighter touches than a nun would give in church and that was downright shameful. “I don’t think-”

“Good,” Hanzo interrupted him, his voice stronger. “I don’t want you to think. Not right now. I can guess what you were going to say and I have no interest in hearing it. Unless, “ he said suddenly and his hand jerked out of Jesse’s hold like he’d been burned. There was suddenly a good two feet of air space between them and Jesse instantly missed the warmth of having another body close by. “Unless you aren’t interested, in which case I’ve been too bold and intruded on both your time and your space.”  

Jesse made a rude noise. “Trust me, not being interested isn’t the problem. Hell, a dead man would be interested.” He found the bottom of his shirt and pulled it back into place, hiding the skin that Hanzo had been touching only moments earlier. “And I’m not that - not yet at least.”

“Humor me and tell me what you see the problem is if not lack of interest.” Hanzo’s eyes gleamed in the cabin’s low light and Jesse was reminded of a holovid he’d once seen of a tiger on Earth-That-Was. Dangerous, predatory, and patient.

He turned away so he felt like less of hunted beast, fiddling with the brass buttons of his coat. It gave his hands something to do so they didn’t reach out and give him away without a fight.

“It’s just - it don’t seem right to me what with you being my passenger and all. You’re payin’ me to move you from one place to the next, you see? This is, uh, don’t want you to think I’m takin’ advantage of you bein’ on your own or anything like that.”

Hanzo’s laugh startled him into looking up again. A hand covered his mouth in a feeble semblance of being polite, but his mirth was obvious. “You,” he chuckled. “Taking advantage of me. To think that I was concerned it would be the opposite.”

He took a slow step closer and Jesse compensated by taking one back. His leg bumped against the edge of the bed - out of room with nowhere to retreat. “I’ll tell you this, McCree.” Hanzo reached up and brushed his fingers up the line of Jesse’s throat and into his beard. “I’ve wanted to bed you from the moment you walked into me in the hall, still sticky from your own attentions. The only reason I resisted backing you up again and taking my turn was because I thought that my advances would be rejected or were too ill-timed. Now you tell me.” His hand slid from Jesse’s beard and around the back of his neck, warm and solid. “Would I be paying you for the pleasure if I fucked you until you didn’t have any words left?”

“Oh hell,” Jesse whimpered, knees turning to something even weaker than water. His skin was too hot and his heart was beating faster than the ever-spinning engine. “I’d be liable to pay you for it if you asked me to.”    

“Good.” The hand at the nap of his neck dragged him down with surprising strength until they were at eye level, breath mingling as they stared at each other. “Then we understand each other.”

The door slid shut unbidden and the comm light went dark as their lips met.

Chapter Text

The leather coat was discarded on the chair in the corner and Hanzo’s blue overshirt quickly joined it, draped protectively over the top with the embroidered sleeve trailing onto the floor.  

Though the room was cool Jesse could have sworn that a fire had kindled underneath his skin. Every touch fanned the flames and Jesse quickly grew hungry and eager for more. They stood together in the small room, close enough to touch. From their chests to their knees, a hair’s breadth apart and only waiting for one of them to take the initiative and lean forward.

Neither did.

“I’m not-” Jesse lost his words and swallowed hard when Hanzo’s curious, roaming hands slid under his shirt, tracing the curve of his spine. “Hanzo, hold on just a sec.”

The hands didn’t stop. They wandered up his back, finding scars and other blemishes through touch alone. “I waited for much more than a second to get to this moment. Now that it’s here I’m not inclined to wait longer.” A long-healed slash under Jesse’s left shoulder blade was slowly traced and memorized, sending licks of flame down his back.

“And I don’t mean to make you, but I’m of the opinion that it’s healthy to lay a little groundwork before gettin’ into anything like -” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, like this. You’re makin’ it mighty hard to think straight.” It wasn’t really a complaint. This situation was already further gone than he ever imagined. His lips tingled from the soft, teasing kisses Hanzo had pressed against them. With just those few touches Jesse would have called himself a well-satisfied man, but his partner seemed determined to push well beyond that.

“I already told you that I don’t want you to think at all.” Hanzo visibly collected himself and the hand occupied with Jesse’s back slid down to join its partner, resting on Jesse’s waist. Waiting.

“Now see, that’s like asking me to stop talkin’. You can want it until the stars fall but it’s just not gonna happen.” If Jesse thought that the short reprieve would give him time to catch his breath and sooth his racing mind, he was sorely mistaken. The mere fact that Hanzo was here, in his room, in his space, and so close was enough to make him feel like he was inching closer to madness. There was no other explanation for the warmth, for the growing ache that started at his bare toes and went to the roots of his unbrushed hair. “Look, it’s all well and good to talk about - to talk about wantin’ me, but that doesn’t change the facts.”

“What facts would those be?” Hanzo looked up at him through his long lashes and Jesse found himself at a loss for a moment. He stared back and felt the eager hands at his waist tighten.

Come on Jess, this isn’t your first rodeo, he scolded himself. “That I’m not exactly pretty as your average Companion.” Hanzo opened his mouth but Jesse picked up the pace so that he wouldn’t lose his place. “Just don’t want to disappoint. You’re probably used to a slightly less fatty cut of steak, you know? I’m on the downward slide towards forty and not as trim through the middle as I used to be.” He could have kicked himself for not keeping up with his regular exercise schedule after…

After everything.

Blunt, manicured nails ran over his sides as Hanzo curled his fingers open and closed. Open and closed. Goosebumps rose on Jesse’s arms, making the hair stand up.

“Not as pretty as my average Companion,” Hanzo repeated. He wasn’t looking at Jesse anymore, but rather in the general vicinity of his collarbones. “Yes, I suppose that would be true. After all, Hanamura is known for training the best, isn’t it? The most beautiful and expensive Companions in the universe.”

The fingers suddenly became claws and Jesse gasped as they dug into his skin, holding him in place like hooks in meat. He didn’t know what to do with his hands so they hung at his sides, useless and tense.

“I never want them again,” Hanzo hissed. “Did you know that every person I thought I could be close to, that I welcomed to my bed, was paid by my family and the Council for their time? I lost my virginity to a Companion who was paid and left smiling afterwards. Do you know what they said?”

Hanzo’s eyes found Jesse’s again and Jesse cringed away, finding electric blue instead of black.

“Do you know?” Hanzo pressed and Jesse shook his head, mute. “They said that if they’d known I was so good at it they wouldn’t have taken the money. They were all paid to lie with me and I was a fool for ever thinking that they came to my bed out of any sort of fondness.”

“Christ Jesus, Hanzo. I - “

Sparks jumped from under the cuff of Hanzo’s undershirt and danced across Jesse’s exposed skin. They didn’t hurt, yet he flinched all the same. Experience had taught him that Hanzo’s unusual power could go from benign to fatal in less time than it took to say ‘please’.

Don’t you dare feel sympathy for me. I neither want nor deserve it.” The hands retracted, leaving behind half moon nail marks. They came up and framed his face. It took every drop of courage Jesse had not to recoil when the sparks kissed his cheek and flew into his hair. “Jesse McCree. You helped me when it would have been far easier not to. For reasons that I can’t comprehend your loyalty was greater than the Council’s pocketbook. You are brave.” Fear melted away to something much softer when Hanzo leaned up on his toes and pressed a soft kiss to Jesse’s lips. “And true.” Another kiss and Jesse’s knees trembled. “And you are far better than any Companion I’ve ever met. The third kiss was as unlike the first two as a summer storm was to the sun. “Or will ever meet.”The backs of Jesse’s knees hit the bed and he sat down hard. Hanzo followed him down the whole way, leaning over to cradle his face as they kissed.

So this is what it’s like to be had, Jesse thought before that and everything else was wiped clean from his mind. It wasn’t a patient kiss or even a kind one. Hanzo was everywhere. The smell of him, hands warm on Jesse’s face, his neck, tangling in his hair and mussing it beyond all redemption. Teeth dug sharply into his bottom lip and Jesse couldn’t contain the moan of longing that broke free from his throat.

He wanted more than he’d wanted in as long as he could remember, and still he couldn’t believe that this was more than a dream. No matter what Hanzo said, Jesse would always know exactly who he was and what he’d done. He wasn’t brave and he definitely wasn’t true.

You should stop this before it goes too far. It can only end with him hating you.

Hanzo’s tongue swept into his unresisting mouth and met his, tasting him. Claiming him like an invisible brand. Any reservation that Jesse might have held onto melted away as if they’d never been. Pointless. Useless. He wanted to be the first - the first who wanted Hanzo and nothing in return. How could he ask for or deny him anything?

I can’t. I could never deny him.  

He helped when Hanzo reached for the hem of his too-small shirt, lifting his arms as it was pulled up, over, and tossed away. There were bruises on his ribs; deep purple and sickly yellow. They were interrupted in places by his now-visible scars - scars that cut painfully white slices through the colorful tapestry of his skin. The tattoo around his neck and the one on his collarbone stood out in stark contrast.

Hanzo looked down at him with hooded eyes. His soft, panting breaths washed across Jesse’s forehead. “Tell me about this one,” he whispered, leaning down to touch his lips to a white line that wobbled across Jesse’s collarbone, carving through the last few numbers that were inked onto the skin there.

“Knife fight.” It was a half truth.

There were pockmarks across the right side of his chest, old buckshot scars from an afternoon with a stolen bottle of whiskey and target practice gone wrong. Hanzo found every one of them and kissed them, worshipping them with his tongue until Jesse started to shake and whimper.

He was going to burn up like a supernova and he wasn’t sure there’d be much left once he did.

“Hanzo,” he pleaded, fingers digging into his messy sheets as Hanzo knelt, the knees of his prosthetics tapping softly against the steel floor. “Have mercy.”

The man laughed and the husky, rough sound flooded Jesse with scalding desire. “A pointless request. Shimadas have no mercy and I intend to show none. Now, tell me of this...” Hanzo’s hand covered the bruise left by the iron knuckles of the bruiser in the alley and Jesse struggled to find his voice. So much for being able to talk until the stars fell.  

“Just a - just a little scrap. Nothin’ too exciting. Doesn’t even hurt any more.” It was almost the truth. The lingering ache of hurt ribs and bruised skin was practically nothing compared to the sensations that Hanzo shot through him. He caught Hanzo’s hand before it could find the electric burn mark left by their first meeting. “I don’t honestly remember that one,” he said softly. “Couldn’t have been very important.”

Hanzo smiled. “You and I must have very different ideas of what is important. Still,” he rose and rested both hands on Jesse’s broad, brown shoulders. “I won’t dispute this one for now.”  

They fell back together, Hanzo following Jesse down to the bed. He was careful, so careful, not to put any weight on Jesse’s wounds or to brush the bandage still wrapped around his arm, merciful despite his claim to have none. Jesse floated on a natural high as Hanzo settled himself between his spread legs and kissed him as if their lives depended on it.

Maybe they did, because Jesse for one felt as though he would die if they stopped.

“I want you, Jesse McCree,” Hanzo murmured against his lips.

“You’ve got me, much as you want.” Everything and more.

Hanzo laughed and rubbed his nose against Jesse’s in what was becoming a familiar gesture. “Don’t promise me so much. I am a very selfish man and may just decide to have it all.”

It was probably for the best that he didn’t know how much Jesse was willing to give.

Together they wrestled with their clothes. Hanzo with the single button of Jesse’s pants and Jesse with line of them down the front of Hanzo’s undershirt. His fingers, hypersensitive and shaking, kept slipping on the ivory and he cursed. “How much do you like this shirt?”

“Very much,” Hanzo said before Jesse could so much as contemplate ripping it. “Move your hands; you’re taking too long.”

“Clearly you’re not the type who likes to savor the moment,” Jesse grumbled as he leaned back on his elbows to watch.

“I’ll savor it when ‘the moment’ isn’t thinking about ripping off my new shirt and leaving me with nothing to wear but plaid again.” Hanzo made quick work of the buttons and shrugged out of the collared shirt. It joined the growing pile on the floor. Jesse hardly noticed its departure. For all the Hanzo had seen him from head to toe and then some, he’d never seen anything more than a glimpse of the other man’s collarbones and wrists.

He was getting more than a glimpse now and swallowed it down like a man dying of thirst. Jesse had seen a lot of things in his life - he’d talked to ghosts and seen dead men walk again. He’d cheated the devil and sold his soul enough times that he wasn’t sure who held the deed, but he hadn’t seen a fallen angel until now. Surely that’s what Hanzo had to be. There was no way something holy could look so dark and ravenous.

Broad shoulders and a trim waist both begged to have hands rest on them, yet Jesse resisted as he let his eyes roam. Hanzo was heavy with well-defined muscles that spoke of endless hours of training and exercise. His shoulders and chest looked strong enough to lift Jesse with ease.

He has, Jesse suddenly remembered, thinking back to their wild leap off of the balcony in Hanamura. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“Are you finished?” Hanzo asked impatiently. His hair spilled over his shoulder, partially hiding the cobalt and gold tattoo that began on his chest, coiled over his shoulder, and trailed all the way down his arm to his hand. There was another on his opposite side that started on his ribs and disappeared beneath his pants. If he’d been a betting man (and he was) Jesse would have put money on it wrapping around his leg.

“If you feel like hangin’ out there for a day or three I might be. Then you’ll have to turn around so I can start again with that side.”

Hanzo rolled his eyes hard enough that Jesse was afraid they’d get stuck in the back of his head. “By then I might have decided to take matters into my own hands. You’ll have to wait until later to have your fill.”

Jesse settled himself more comfortably against his pillow. “Well now, I’ve already got the handsomest fella that God himself ever made sittin’ between my legs, so I’d call myself pretty fulfilled already.” His smugness was quickly banished when a tattooed hand closed on the bulge between his thighs and squeezed meaningfully. Stars fell. Angels sang.

All Jesse could do was gulp for air like a landed fish, grabbing desperately at the sheets as he fought to keep from finishing faster than his pride could handle.

“Give a man some warning!” He choked, but Hanzo smiled hungrily and massaged Jesse’s cock through his pants, rolling his fingers across the growing hardness.

“Consider this your warning. If your pants aren’t off in the next minute I’ll burn them and fuck you in the ashes.”  

The pants were gone in record time.

It felt filthy - no, erotic - that he was spread out so blatantly naked on the bed while Hanzo was still clothed from the waist down. His strong, pale hands massaged Jesse’s thighs up to his waist, holding tight to the softer flesh he found there. Jesse’s legs tightened around Hanzo’s hips as he writhed against the sheets, flushed down to his chest and panting.

“I like this.” Hanzo squeezed his waist and Jesse groaned and turned his head away. “You think I would lie to you? I like these,” the hands left his waist and returned to his thighs, combing through the dusting of dark hair on them. “And these…” Jesse cried out, covered his mouth with his flesh hand as Hanzo left his thighs and traveled up his ribs to seize a double handful of Jesse’s chest. The muscle wasn’t as forgiving as his waist and Hanzo’s fingers dug in hard enough the Jesse knew he’d leave marks. Bruises maybe. The thought of them made his cock jerk eagerly against his belly.

“And you, do you like that?” Hanzo teased as he leaned up and then lay down until they were pressed together from their chests down to where Jesse’s legs were spread to accommodate Hanzo’s hips. Silk fabric rubbed against Jesse’s straining cock and he couldn’t help but buck fruitlessly against it. It wasn’t enough, not nearly enough. “I think you do.” Hanzo was close enough that his mouth was next to Jesse’s ear and he didn’t have to do more than whisper to make himself heard over the thunderous pounding of Jesse’s heart. Surely it would give out - there was no way that he could survive this. “Do you like it when I touch you, Jesse? When I mark you?”

Yes,” Jesse sobbed. “Fuck all, please Hanzo. I’m d-dying.”

The sound that Hanzo made could have only been described as a purr. “I like that word on your lips. Say it again?” A warm tongue swept around the edge of Jesse’s ear and he couldn’t stop himself from grabbing hold of Hanzo’s hips to hold him still. The friction of those glorious, terrible pants was driving him to the edge of madness.

Please. I’ll say it a h-hundred times - a thousand!”

“I hardly think that’s necessary,” Hanzo murmured. His lips left Jesse’s ear and trailed down the column of his neck to suck a hard, dark mark onto the skin. He almost cried when Hanzo leaned up on his forearms, his hair falling around them both like a curtain.  “I do want to know one thing, though.”

Instantly Jesse stiffened, unsure. “What’s that?”

Hanzo found the knife scar on Jesse’s collarbone again and stroked it lovingly. There was a light blush on both of his cheeks now. Nowhere close to the red that Jesse had worked up, but still enough to prove that Hanzo wasn’t as entirely calm and collected as he appeared. “What were you thinking about before I caught you in the hall that night? The noises you were making were rather...enticing and I confess that they’ve been occupying my thoughts.”

If there was a time and a place to die of embarrassment, Jesse decided that he’d found it. He groaned and relinquished his hold on Hanzo’s hips in favor of covering his face. “Hanzo,” he whined into his hands, refusing to look at the man who was draped across him like a second skin. “That’s not - come on, you can’t ask me about that.

“I believe I just did,” Hanzo stretch luxuriously, bending his spine in such a way that Jesse thought he blacked out for a moment from the sheer sensation of it. “I’m very curious about what could have driven you to that point. Memories of an old lover, perhaps?”

“What?” Jesse lowered his hands enough that he could see Hanzo again. “No! No, nothin’ like that. Can’t we just,” he lifted his hips in a silent plea to return to what they’d been enjoying, “leave it? S’not important.”

It was quick, but Jesse still caught the flash of disappointment that crossed Hanzo’s face before he schooled his features back into indifference. “Fuck me, you really want t’ know?”

Hanzo nodded slowly and bit his bottom lip, eager again.

Knowing there was no way to twist it to make it sound good, Jesse decided to face the firing squad like a man. He reached up and pushed Hanzo’s hair back, sweeping the ivory strands behind his ears. It was as soft as it looked, sliding between his fingers like water. “I was thinkin’ about you. I didn’t mean to when I started, but one thing lead to another and - yeah. Guess I was a bit hung up on you.”

“Good.” Hanzo turned his head and pressed a kiss to the palm of Jesse’s prosthetic. “I was hoping that it was me. Is reality measuring up yet?”

Jesse barking laugh made them both bounce on the thin mattress and Hanzo accidentally caught one of his bruises with an elbow. The impact made him see stars for a second until he caught his breath. “You could’ve given me a kiss and sent me on my way and it’d already be better.”

“Your imagination must not have thought very highly of my abilities,” Hanzo said, sounding disgruntled as he shifted so that none of his harder angles were close to Jesse’s injuries.   

“It’s not that,” Jesse said soothingly as he rubbed Hanzo’s sides until he relaxed again. “I just never figured on somebody like you lowerin’ yourself to lay hands on someone like me. It was pretty one-sided fantasizing if I’m honest. I’m more partial to this.” One of his hands brushed over the tattoo on Hanzo’s hip and side and he had to pause to investigate the unusual texture of it. It didn’t feel like skin, more like a high-tech carbon fiber that moved like skin was supposed to.

“You thought I wouldn’t want to touch you?” Hanzo reached back and caught Jesse’s hand, pulling it back up and away from the dragon’s tail curled around his hip. He regarded Jesse’s rough fingers, calloused and scarred. “That I wouldn’t want to taste you?” Jesse’s breath caught, trapped in his chest when Hanzo opened his lips and took the tip of his ring finger into the scalding heat of his mouth, suckling at it. Desire pooled in his belly and spread through every limb, desperate and bubbling and insistent.

“Guess I was wrong,” he whispered, unable to look away as Hanzo released his finger. A shining line of saliva connected them together for a heartbeat before it was broken by Hanzo’s wide, wicked smile.

“Shall I show you how wrong you were?”

“If you don’t, I’ll probably die right here and now,” Jesse confessed.

Jesse missed the weight and warmth of Hanzo’s body the moment he rose and had to resist the urge to cover himself. He’d rarely entertained any sort of modesty and he wasn’t about to start now, but the temptation to grab the sheets and use them to disguise his cock and the smear of precum already left on his belly was strong. There was a matching stain on the front of Hanzo’s slacks, but he couldn’t tell which one of them had caused it.

“Do you have some kind of lubricant, or do I have to bribe your rehydrator for that as well?”

“Er, no. Top drawer.” Jesse pointed at his bedside table and settled back again, not entirely sure what to do with himself. His legs shifted restlessly and he turned onto his side and then onto his stomach as Hanzo rifled through the drawer. To Jesse’s horror, he came up with a bottle in one hand and a distinctly phallic-shaped object in the other.

Hanzo looked at Jesse, down at the toy in his hand, and then back at Jesse.

Jesse did his best to smother himself with his own pillow.    

The sound of a chuckle reached him despite his best efforts, as did the husky promise of ‘perhaps later’. Then Hanzo’s weight was back, straddling the backs of his thighs and he felt a cool, slippery finger trail down the length of his spine to his tailbone. Jesse squirmed as he was teased and finally had to turn his head out of his pillow so he could gasp for air.

“You may think that you cannot match a Companion, but I will say…” Jesse watched out of the corner of his eye, enraptured, as Hanzo poured a long, slippery waterfall of lube over his fingers. It dripped off of them and pooled in the hollow of Jesse’s back, sliding down his ass and over his balls until he knew that he would leave a trail if he rose. “You have one of the finest asses I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on and I plan to take full advantage of it.”

“I’d like to thank God and whoever else has been lookin’ out for me all these years for bringing me to this moment,” Jesse prayed rapturously as Hanzo’s slick fingers slid down between his cheeks and across his hole, firm and confident. The prayer trailed off into a trembling moan that he muffled against his arm as he was breached for the first time, focused so entirely on the delicious pressure of it that he almost didn’t noticed the wet kisses that Hanzo was peppering across his back. He spread his legs until the wall and the edge of the small bed stopped him, desperately trying to welcome more. Everything in him screamed to take and take until he burst from it, filled with Hanzo.

“Sweet pea, sugar, honey, Hanz - aaah! ” His back bowed as a second finger joined the first and Hanzo sheathed all the way to his knuckles in one long, delicious slide. He was panting, shaking, grabbing at the edge of the mattress in a desperate bid for something to ground him.

“You’re doing so well,” Hanzo praised him, licking his skin and tasting sweat as he fingered Jesse, thrusting deep and slow. “You could take my whole hand if I gave it to you, couldn’t you? Would you take all of me in and then beg for more?”

“H-Han - oh god, ” Jesse wailed as he was given more and the pressure turning into a burn that he knew he could get addicted to. Perhaps he already was. It was intoxicating. He could feel Hanzo’s hair trailing across his back, the silk touch of it mixing with the hot kisses and bites being littered across him, on every scar, every freckle, everything that made him imperfect.

He didn’t feel imperfect right now though. He felt divine . Drunk on Hanzo’s touch.

Jesse had been weightless a few times in his life. Between outside repairs on his ship where he was forced to don a suit and a couple of dodgy moments when the artificial gravity had failed he knew what it was like to weigh nothing. Sometimes he dreamed about it, about the blissful absence of weight, and woke up feeling as heavy as a boulder in the middle of a rushing river. Immoveable and slowly worn down by time and force.

This was different. This was what a firework felt like after it was lit, in that moment when it reached the peak of its flight but before it exploded into a symphony of color and noise.

Then Hanzo’s wonderful fingers curled and he exploded. Jesse arched off the bed with a wail as Hanzo found his prostate and pressed just so. His cock, painfully hard and trapped between his belly and the mattress, drooled precum. A less slippery hand pressed down against the small of his back, pinning him to the bed as he thrashed, desperate for something, for anything. Jesse didn’t know if he was trying to escape from the onslaught or press closer for more. Tears pooled in his eyes as he moaned and there was a loud ripping noise as the mattress lost its battle with his prosthetic fingers and they pierced straight through.

“Hanzo please, d-damn, I need - need, fuck!”  

Hanzo growled against his shoulder, his hand moving faster, forcing Jesse to yield to him. Jesse didn’t fight it. He needed this, needed it as much as his next shuddering breath. “Are you ready?” Hanzo panted, curling his fingers just right again and making Jesse thrash beneath him as he was consumed with near painful pleasure.

“Y-yes, I was ready last fuckin’ week. Please, please, Hanzo! ”       

One last stinging bite was placed on his back and soothed away with a kiss before those terrible, wicked fingers pulled free of his body with an obscene wet noise. The sudden lack of pressure made Jesse whine and hide his face back in his pillow. It was damp with his sweat.

“Do you have protection?” He heard Hanzo ask.

“No, fuck, I don’t bring anybody here,” he turned his head to answer, heart still racing faster than a wild horse. “But I’m clean - got a shot last time I was landside proper and it scrubbed everythin’ out of me. Ask Som if you want, she,” he coughed to clear his sore, dry throat. “She does medical scans.”

“I believe you.” Hanzo’s trousers slithered to the floor without a sound and he stepped free of them, finally as bare as his partner. Jesse couldn’t help but stare - the rest of Hanzo was as gorgeous as the first half. Slender hips, muscular thighs (the right one was indeed mostly covered by another dragon tattoo that disappeared where his prosthetic leg began), and a perfect slender cock that arched up from a bed of trimmed dark hair. He was already flushed and Jesse couldn’t tear his eyes away as a bead of shining liquid welled at Hanzo’s tip and ran down the length of his shaft. “I am clean as well, but I will understand if you wish for me to undergo one of Sombra’s medical scans to confirm it.”

Jesse shook his head quickly, eyes still stuck on the long, toned lines of Hanzo’s body. “No need, I trust you.”

He did. God help him he did.

“I’m glad.” With some urging Hanzo managed to push and cajole Jesse onto his back. An ache had settled inside him, an emptiness that begged to be filled again and he didn’t protest when Hanzo spread his legs and settled himself comfortably between them again. It felt right. “Watch me, Jesse. I want you to watch while I take you.”

As if he could have looked away. Like a man enchanted, Jesse’s eyes followed as Hanzo poured a generous stream of lube into his palm to warm it and then massaged it onto his length from tip to root. It gleamed like quicksilver, slippery and wet, and Jesse licked his lips. He wanted to taste, to know what it was like to have Hanzo thrust into his mouth, but like his partner had said earlier - perhaps later. They still had some time left before reality returned.

“Hanzo,” he pleaded softly.

“Jesse,” came the low reply as his hips were lifting and angled so that he could wrap his legs around Hanzo’s waist. “You’ll tell me if your injuries hurt?”   

He nodded even though they both knew he wouldn’t.

It didn’t take much for Hanzo to push into him - a slow, testing thrust and then a long slide that seated him all the way to the base in one smooth motion. Jesse was still so slick and open from his attentions that all he could do was gape as he was filled. The relief was so intense that his head fell back and his body went as limp as a rag when Hanzo finally banished that deep, empty feeling. He could have stayed like this for hours.

Hanzo was less inclined to savor the moment. He hitched one of Jesse’s legs up higher around his hip and thrust . The momentary spell of calm shattered with the new angle and Jesse came to life with a cry as Hanzo’s cock brushed across his prostate.

F-fuck! ” He shouted, scrambling for something to hold onto. Hanzo’s metal knees dug into the bed as he shifted again, holding tight to Jesse’s hips as he set a brutal pace. The slap of their damp flesh filled the room, mixing with Jesse’s ragged moans and whimpers. Precum dripped down his side as his cock bounced obscenely against his belly every time Hanzo pushed into him.

He felt like an animal caught up in something hot and gut-wrenchingly primal. He’d been hunted, caught, and courted and this was his reward.

His thighs began to shake and his moans reached a new height as Hanzo loomed over him, one hand keeping Jesse’s leg in place and the other braced on his chest, holding him down. His eyes bore into Jesse as he fucked him, as hard as iron and hot as fire.

The speed was too punishing for them to last long, but neither made any effort to slow as Jesse lifted his hips to meet Hanzo’s thrusts. Neither could look away from the other, not until Hanzo’s grip tightened to the point of pain and his eyes slammed shut. Jesse could feel him coming in hot bursts deep inside him and he mewled, so close to that edge himself that he could taste it. He hung there as Hanzo filled him with his scalding release.

For a long moment they panted together, lungs working like bellows. Hanzo’s head hung low and his hair was damp with sweat, the very picture of a pleasure-ruined man. Patience long since gone, Jesse reached between them and palmed himself, desperate to find his own release, but his hand was sluggishly batted away.

“No, no,” Hanzo breathed. “Let me.”

Jesse choked when Hanzo pulled away, softening cock slipping free, but it was quickly replaced with a hand that swiped up the trickle of release and lube that had started to run out of him. Hanzo stuffed three fingers back inside and he clenched around them gratefully. It only took three firm strokes from Hanzo’s other hand to finish him and Jesse came with a broken shout, splattering his chest with his release.

Distantly he was aware that Hanzo had pulled away, but he was too lost in his own pleasure and the satisfying ache between his legs to pay it much mind until he heard the sound of water. Hanzo was back a moment later with a wet cloth.

“That’s cold,” Jesse found the strength to mumble as Hanzo used it to wipe him clean.

“Your hot water system leaves something to be desired. Perhaps you should think about an upgrade. It would make this place ten times more liveable.” Perhaps judging him to be acceptable now, Hanzo tossed the cloth (which Jesse realized was his too small shirt) onto the pile of clothes on the floor. He hesitated, standing there proud and naked, and Jesse could see goosebumps rise on his untattooed arm.

“I’ll think about it. Until then guess we’ll have to make do with body heat to keep warm.” Jesse lifted his fatigue-heavy arm and quickly found himself with a very warm Hanzo tucked up against his side. The bed was almost too small for both of them to fit comfortably and Jesse knew he was going to end up with at least one dead limb from the way they had to fit together. He didn’t really care right then. Hanzo’s soft hair tickled his nose and he pressed his face deeper into it, enjoying the smell. “Hey, Hanzo?”

“Yes, Jesse?”

“Thanks for bringin’ lunch by.”   

Chapter Text

A wicked wind tore across the field, flattening the grass and pulling at his clothes and his hair with greedy fingers. The gale carried the smell of dust and dried, burning things. It was almost familiar, almost but not quite. It had been too long or not long enough for him to understand it.

Jesse shielded his eyes, peering at the horizon. There was something there, something dark and heavy that hung at the edge of the sky; a stripe of foreboding black paint against blue. It bubbled, boiled, seethed like a living thing, and though he watched for what felt like an eternity it grew no closer.

“Storm’s coming,” he told the dragon perched on his shoulder.

The scaly head looked at him with lightning eyes and opened its mouth, teeth gleaming in the noon sun. It’s voice was the hiss of blowing sand in the desert.

‘Jesssssseeeeeee…..’

He woke in the same way he always did - all at once. Any dreams he might have had burst like soap bubbles leaving nothing but a thin sheen of sweat and shaking hands behind. His eyes flicked over the room, taking stock, blinking away the last lingering haze of sleep. The room was the same as when he’d fallen asleep. A pile of clothes on the floor. His books on the shelf. His hat on the corner. The wall was at his back, safe in its solidness.

This wall was as warm as a furnace. A heavy arm was wrapped around his chest and a leg shoved between both of his. Metal rested against his shin, unmoving and warmed by body heat and the blanket.

There was panic first, quick and strangling and unstoppable.

Not a wall, it said, an invisible hand around his throat like a vice as he froze in place, pinned by the weight of difference. Not safe. Not normal. Danger, danger, dangerdangerdangerdanger-

The hand resting over his heart twitched. Fingers curled against his chest, touching him, curling into his dark chest hair. The person behind him made a sleepy, sated sound - oddly loud in the silence. It took him a moment to recognize the sensation, but Jesse realized there were lips being pressed against his back between his shoulder blades.

Hanzo.

His pulse slowed again as the anxiety flowed out of him, leaving him empty and limp. Hanzo was here. Hanzo was safe. Hanzo was -

This was different than all the times he’d come stumbling back with his squad; all of them too tired to do more than strip, scrub, and collapse into a pile. Each of them too desperate for the contact of a living human being to retreat to their own separate rooms. That had been an animal need - not for sex but for the sheer comfort of contact. To hear people breathing. To feel warmth that didn’t come from the hot splash of blood.

“Jesse?”

He closed his eyes again, not wanting to think too hard about the warm feeling that filled up the space terror left behind.. This wasn’t the desperate need of a human being to feel comfort. This simply felt...

It felt good.  

Rather than answer he let his fingers curl between Hanzo’s and cradled their joined hands against his chest. He couldn’t tell if it was a warm or a cold grip thanks to his prosthetic, but the wires fed his nerves the sensation of his hand being squeezed. That comfort was what mattered.

The hair covering the back of his neck was nuzzled away and a kiss pressed against the now bare skin. A puff of hot breath made him melt. Goosebumps rose up on his arms when he heard Hanzo inhaling the scent of his skin. They were tucked up against each other like two fitted pieces, having fallen into something that suited both of them. Hanzo’s body covered Jesse’s back; a blanket of heat that Jesse couldn’t help press back into more firmly, wanting to savor it for as long as possible.

“Are you awake?” Hanzo voice was low, his words slow and drowsy.

“Mmhm,” Jesse grunted, realizing how sore his throat was. It was like he’d been gargling with shrapnel. Luckily there was no way for Hanzo to see his blush as Jesse vividly remembered exactly why he ached from his head to his toes. He could feel every bite, every bruise, and there was an ache between his legs that filled in all the blanks. “But I could be talked into goin’ back to sleep.”

The clock read 11:11 PM, ST . A plate of long-cold dumplings sat next to it. Jesse gave them a small smile. He may have missed a couple of meals, but it was worth the trade off to get where he was now. Hanzo made a noise somewhere between a groan and a grumble and pressed his whole face into the space between Jesse’s shoulders, rubbing it back and forth like a cat.

“Your bed is too small and there is a spring digging into my hip.”     

“Is there a pea under the mattress too, Princess?” Jesse chuckled, wondering if it was worth extracting himself to find water and a snack. The answer was a very quick and final ‘no’. He stretched without moving, contracting all of his muscles and then relaxing them one at a time. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as reaching up to the ceiling, but it was still pretty good. The fact that Hanzo’s hands turned into claws as if to stop him from leaving made it even better.

“Perhaps I should have gotten you a larger bed instead of a coat,” Hanzo mumbled when Jesse snuggled back against him. The edge of the bed was very close, but he had a feeling his companion would catch him if he started to fall off.

“Yeah, I could’ve run from the bad guys with you under one arm and a mattress under the other. That’d have been a sight,” he started to roll over to face Hanzo, but the man’s grip tightened again and Jesse relented, accepting his fate as the little spoon. “This one suits me fine and I like the jacket more’n most everything else I own. Ship included.”

Warm laughter washed over his back. “I’m glad. I would have hated to give you a gift that didn’t outweigh your entire home.”

“Home,” Jesse mused, letting his eyes wander lazily over the bare steel walls. “Guess it is that.” It wasn’t where his mind first jumped to when he thought of the word, but when it all boiled down, home was where you hung your hat. His own hat was currently looking a little worse for wear on the shelf above where they lay, with bits missing out of the brim and bloodstains on the band.

“Do you have somewhere else?” Hanzo asked, leaning up on one elbow so that he could look down at Jesse. His hair was sleep-rumpled and stuck up on one side more than the other. There was a colorful set of teeth marks decorating his shoulder and a dark hickey on the side of his neck.Jesse eyed the bruise with no small amount of smugness.

“Nah,” he said easily, reached back to smooth down Hanzo’s wild hair. “I’ve always been a wanderin’ fool. Too much to do, too much trouble to get into to tie me in one place for long.”

“But you served military time.” It wasn’t quite an argument. Hanzo’s finger’s traveled up Jesse’s chest to brush against the underside of his tattoo - the simple inked chain that wrapped twice around his neck and the two tags that hung from it.

SOLANO

JACOB M.

434-21-8435-51 / DEADWOOD

O POS

It hung next to one with more familiar information and fresher ink.

MCCREE

JESSE J.

333-16-9420-12 / SANTO

O POS

“Yeah, but so did a lot of folks.” He caught Hanzo’s hand and pressed a kiss to the knuckles. “The war swept up everybody in some way or another and spat us out a little different than when we started. Folks like me were just cannon fodder and I wasn’t much inclined to stay that way once the dust settled. I got a chance to get out and took it. Never looked back.”

“You must have had friends. Family.” Hanzo looked down at the dog tag with a stranger’s name on it. “Lovers. You left that all behind willingly?”

“Is that jealousy I hear?” Jesse couldn’t keep the hint of amusement out of his voice.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m simply curious about this mysterious past of yours. Like why you have another man’s name inked onto your chest, but you’ve never once spoken about anyone other than a man called ‘Gabe’.” He reclaimed his hand from Jesse and tapped the word ‘Jacob’. The ink hadn’t been refreshed in years. The tattoo had begun to fade to blue-gray and one of the corners was missing, lost to a tangle of scar tissue. “Who was he?”

“Ridiculous it might be, but I’d put money on you bein’ jealous. Don’t worry, Sweetheart.” He patted Hanzo’s hand before it was yanked away again. “There’s no competition for you to worry about.”

“So he is a friend?” Hanzo clearly wasn’t ready to let go of the subject.

Jesse groaned and flopped back down, half-burying his face in the pillow. “You’re like a dog with it’s teeth in a bone, Boss. Alright yeah, I guess you could say he was a friend. Jacob was a dumbass kid from a backwater planet with more bravery than brains. We ended up in the same squad in the war for independence.” He let his eyes close. It had been more than twenty years since the war, but certain things were impossible to forget. The smell of dirt and blood and engine exhaust. The shouts that turned into screams.

“He joined because his older sister got in and I guess he wanted to keep an eye on her. She was smart though - smarter than the two of us idiots. Ended up climbing the ranks and got assigned to the battle front with command of her own crew. Made it for a whole year before a plasma blast burned a hole in her chest big enough to put your fist through.

There wasn’t a funeral. There were always too many corpses and not enough time to dig holes for them. Her tags had gone to her brother and her body to an incinerator. Poor kid never recovered after that. Guess you could say that the whole thing broke him because once the fighting settled he got himself dragged in front of a tribunal and tried for crimes against the ‘verse.”

Jesse sighed, suddenly feeling very old. “He was a good kid. Saved my life more than once and they executed him the same day as the trial because he went and blew the heads off of three Alliance officers. I didn’t want to forget.” He curled his hand over the name on his chest.

“Forget what?” Hanzo asked quietly. “Jacob?”

“Nah, I couldn’t forget him even if I wanted to. I wanted to remember that even when you find a cause worth fightin’ for, sometimes the ‘verse fucks you over anyway.” He cracked a small smile. “So there’s the mysterious past you were diggin’ for. Pretty simple.”

“You,” Hanzo grumbled as he sank back down onto the thin mattress, “are anything but simple. You’re a puzzle made of pieces of string with no ends.”

“Can’t say that makes much sense,” Jesse admitted.

“Neither do you. That is one thing I’ve come to accept.”

“Are you complimentin’ or insultin’ me?” Jesse said, feeling a little disgruntled. “I can take my senseless self elsewhere until you’ve got it out of your system.”

“I prefer that you did not,” Hanzo’s arms became steel bands, locking him where he was as firmly as shackles.

Jesse was suddenly aware of just how close the two of them were. He could feel the jut of Hanzo’s hip bones pressing against his ass. Every one of the man’s well-chiseled assets were flush against his back. Their skin clung together with the sweat that came from having two such warm bodies in a bed that wasn’t made with two in mind. There was a strand of silk soft hair draped across Jesse’s neck, tickling his collarbone, that most definitely wasn’t his and the rougher touch of a beard and mustache pressed between his shoulders. Hanzo wasn’t a tall man, but being held so firmly made Jesse suddenly feel like the small, safe one. It wasn’t something he was going to fight against.

“Listen, Hanzo, we should probably have a talk.”

As far as ‘morning after’ lines went, it wasn’t his worst.

“About what, exactly?” Came the stiff reply.

It had just been promoted to the worst.  

Gorram , you run hot to cold faster than old taps,” he didn’t try to move away again since Hanzo hadn’t relaxed his hold. Jesse did spare an idle wish the he could see his companion’s face while they were talking. It was a bit unnerving to be addressing a wall and expect an answer at his back. “Not like I’m going to kick you out and make you do the walk of shame across the hall, come on now. Som would take too many pics and probably use ‘em for blackmail.”

“Thank you for sparing me the wrath of your AI.” The sarcasm was thick enough to taste. “What is it that you seem to think we should discuss now?”

Jesse reached back and felt around until he found the back of Hanzo’s head, and his touch was met with a testy grunt. He ignored it and threaded his finger’s through the inky strands, letting it slide between the metal digits. “Nothin’ to get your panties in a twist over. I was just wonderin’ if this was a one time thing or if - well, you get my drift.”  

There was a heartbeat of silence, and then a few more - enough that Jesse started to feel something that could be called nervous.

“Do you want it to be a one time thing?” The reply was soft, careful.

Jesse made a rude noise. “That’s not playing fair; I asked you first.”

“You asked me if I ‘got your drift’, which I clearly have, but I will concede the point.” Hanzo fell silent and Jesse felt his companion drawing swirling cloud patterns against his shoulder with the hand that wasn’t hooked around him. “I...enjoyed this. More than I’ve enjoyed anything in a long while. Our time together since the escape aside. My inclination would be to continue with it for as long as time is allowed to us, but I will try my best to be...understanding if you decide that this - whatever this may be - is not in your best interests.”  

Many were his talents, and he liked to think that self control was one of them, but Jesse couldn’t stop the shit-eating grin that spread across his face. “So you’ll try to be understanding, huh? Doesn’t sound like you’re too confident about pulling it off.”

“You are mocking me and I do not appreciate it,” Hanzo snapped and his teeth grazed the skin over Jesse’s spine. “Tell me now. Is one night all you care to afford for this? Would you prefer I leave you to your own space and bed and collect my things now?”

Jesse shivered. “You’re putting words in my mouth that have no place bein’ there, Sunshine. Not sure I like the taste of them all that much.”

Hanzo made a considering sound as his hand moved from Jesse’s chest up to the hollow of his throat. Lithe fingers brushed back and forth in what felt like both a promise and a threat.

“Perhaps I should give you something whose flavor you would enjoy more.”

All of the air in Jesse’s lungs escaped him in a single breath, leaving him lightheaded and dizzy. Hot to cold and back again faster than he could blink. Lightning streaked through him with every touch of Hanzo’s lips, his teeth, his hair, the fingers that teased his throat. His legs shifted restlessly, tightening and then moving against the one that Hanzo had shoved between his thighs. The warm, unforgiving metal was a special kind of torture, one that he was afraid he could get used to very quickly.

“Do you want this?” Hanzo whispered, alternating between bites and kisses as he worked his way up to the nape of Jesse’s neck. He worried the skin there with his teeth, holding on like one would to a dog.

Jesse whined; a high, pathetic sound of want, but Hanzo only bit harder in chastisement.

“I asked you a question, Jesse,” he said, releasing him and licking the teeth marks. “Tell me.”

“F-fuck, yeah. Yes, I want it,” Jesse was glad he was already lying down because it meant that he didn’t have to count on his knees to hold him up. They were already happily locked in place around Hanzo’s leg, the man’s heavy thigh pressed snugly up against Jesse’s balls. One wrong move and the night would be over, but he knew that no such move was coming. Not tonight. Not from Hanzo.       

“Only tonight?” Hanzo pressed and now Jesse could feel Hanzo’s arousal pressed up against the crease of his ass, teasing him with how close it was, how deliciously hot.

“No,” he whimpered, trying to wiggle his hips back for more. “No, I’ll take as much as I can get. God, all the way if you want it.”

Five days. Five days to the Gibraltar. He was more than happy to fill every last minute of the trip with this.

You knew the price of getting involved, the rational part of his rapidly fogging mind told him. You always did throw yourself into the deep end before you knew if you could swim or not.

“I want it. I want it all, ” Hanzo breathed against his ear.

For this man though...for this man he would happily drown.

They were less hesitant than the first time, more sure of what they wanted from themselves and each other. Hanzo let his hands roam freely, down Jesse’s sides and his leg and over to his belly. He caressed everything as if he wanted to memorize it, and Jesse was left to clutch at the sheets as he was played with, helpless from this angle to do anything in return. That seemed to suit Hanzo because he made no move to change their positions, remaining plastered up against Jesse’s back, infuriatingly unreachable.

“You could at least give me ‘good morning’ kiss first,” Jesse protested halfheartedly and gasped when Hanzo found his nipple. They began to pinch and pluck at it until it pebbled beneath his coaxing fingers.

“It is 11:42 at night and your breath is probably atrocious.”   

There was that. “Fine, but I want a rain check on it. I’ve got some standards you know - a bit of a kiss and cuddle is nice after a man’s been put through -” His words failed him, trailing off into a strangled groan as Hanzo thrust against him, clearly deciding that he’d had enough of the conversation.

A certain comfort came with knowing where they were. Jesse’s room, Jesse’s ship, making their way through the dark depths of space. No one could see them. No one could find them. It was a heady sensation. Jesse reveled in it as he let himself be stroked and admired. He was free. He was happy .

“Are you sore?” Hanzo asked, still lazily grinding himself up against Jesse’s ass, every movement honey-slow and just as sweet.   

“A bit,” he confessed, “but don’t let that stop you. Just been a while since I was rode that hard. I’ll be right as rain in a few.” He was feeling less sore and more excited at the idea of a second round, even if he knew he’d probably regret it once morning rolled around. Enthusiasm he had in spades. Sadly there were muscles and places inside of him that he’d forgotten about and they were still bitching about the rough treatment.

“I meant your ribs and your arm, but thank you for that interpretation. I won’t push you while you’re recovering.” Hanzo smoothed a hand down Jesse’s flank and slipped it around the front to cradle the soft inside of his thigh. “Still, there are other things we can occupy our night with besides more of the same.”

“I’m pretty fond of that ‘same’, but I’m more than willing to lend an ear if you’ve got an idea to voice.” Of course, he’d also be perfectly happy to just lie there, warm and drowsy until they both nodded off again. Simply being in the same room, the same bed, was enough. Anything more was just icing on the cake.

Hanzo did indeed have an idea. All thoughts of going back to sleep fled from Jesse’s mind when it was whispered in his ear, husky and full of promise. He nearly fumbled the bottle of lube as he snatched it off the bedside table and passed it back to Hanzo. The soft click of the cap being flicked open made him bite his lower lip.

Holy-! Damn, that shit’s cold. I’m liable to freeze off all my best assets.” Hanzo’s hand, slick with the chilly lube, pushed between his thighs and slicked them all the way to the front.

“I’ll certainly try to make it up to you. Now rest your mouth, I may have use of it later.”  

Fuck.

Hanzo laughed and the sound went straight to Jesse’s cock; helped along by the slow, wet slide as Hanzo pulled his hand free. Jesse rubbed his thighs together, feeling the cool slick warm with his own body heat. He didn’t have long to enjoy the sensation before Hanzo was pressing up against him again, and this time it wasn’t his hand. Jesse’s breath caught in his chest as Hanzo rolled his hips and thrust into the slippery channel he’d made. He canted his hips back, wanting to feel everything , but Hanzo held fast to his waist and kept him in place.

“No need to buck so,he panted as he thrust again, making Jesse mewl at the delicious friction. Hanzo was long enough that he could push nearly all the way through the tight press of Jesse’s heavy thighs, and he rubbed against everything The wet slap of their flesh echoed obscenely in the small room, punctuated by Jesse’s increasingly noisy gasps. Hanzo was silent except for small pleased noises each time he pulled a new sound of torment out of Jesse.

It wasn’t nearly enough, but at the same time it was perfect. He was speared and held fast. Jesse looked down in time to see the glistening head of Hanzo’s cock peek from between his dark legs, flushed and oozing precum.  

Aah , Hanzo can I - I just need to -” His cock throbbed painfully between his legs, lying full and heavy in front of him and all but begging to be tended to. He needed something more than the slowly building pressure as Hanzo rutted against him, using him like he wanted to be used.

Do not,” Hanzo snarled and the strain in his voice was like lightning on Jesse’s sense. His back arched and his hands clutched at the sheet under him, holding on like a lifeline as Hanzo’s pace sped to punishing. His thighs shook with the effort to keep them closed. He knew he could last - he’d never been able to spill without some sort of touch on his cock - but it was going to be a close thing.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Jesse chanted breathlessly as the whole bed frame shuddered under them. All he could do was lie there and take it; those unending, perfect, and merciless thrusts. Arousal and pleasure mingled in his belly like a bed of hot coals. He pushed his hips back to meet every one of Hanzo’s forward motions. It was a compulsion, a need he couldn’t deny. When Hanzo’s hand left his hip and reached forward to curl around his aching cock, Jesse’s moans reached a new height. Unsure of whether to press backward or tilt his hips forward to chase the new sensations, he simply lay still and let Hanzo do what he had always done - exactly what he wanted to.    

“This is mine now.” Hanzo gave his cock a hard squeeze and stroked it from root to tip. Jesse’s mouth fell open and his eyes slid shut against his will, his whole body wracked by a shudder of all-consuming pleasure. “No one is to touch it but me, not even you. Either I will let you come or you won’t finish at all.” His thumb feathered across the drooling tip of Jesse’s cock, spreading out the dampness he found there. “Is that clear?”

The words were trapped in Jesse’s mouth, held there by his frozen tongue and airless lungs.

Taking the stunned silence as argument, Hanzo leaned up on his arm so he could look down. The fire in his eyes faded away to something softer and he retreated, pulling free so that he could brush the backs of his knuckles across Jesse’s bearded cheeks. A kiss from the dragon’s head on his hand.

“I apologize, I went too far. I was caught up and didn’t think-”

Jesse rolled then, and caught Hanzo so that the smaller man lay across his chest, their noses nearly brushing and their lips no more than an inch apart.

“Whoa there, give me a sec to give you a straight answer. It’s yours,” he smiled, his chest so full that he thought it would burst. This was more important than desire, more urgent than sex. “Hell, all of it’s yours if you want it.”

Dark eyes turned wild, electric blue and Jesse tasted the now-familiar crackle of ozone. Hanzo’s hair feathered out with static, making it look ethereal rather than sleep-mused.     

“I want it.” His hands came up and speared through Jesse’s hair, holding onto him like a lifeline. He was more than warm now, heated through with that wild magic. “I want it all .”

Their lips met in a kiss. One single sweet kiss, that branded them. It was a staking of ownership that neither tried to fight against. Couldn’t fight against. Every barb they’d thrown at each other, every drop of blood spilt, it had all lead to this point and Jesse knew, without a doubt, that this was what he’d been looking for.

He couldn’t have known it, not when he’d opened that fated message and gazed upon a tired, angry, bitter man.

Hanzo didn’t look like any of those things now. There was a manic joy on his handsome face. Elation that wiped away years of stress and pain. It made him look like a prince come alive from the pages of a book about people who didn’t know about the horrors of the world. People who hadn’t been hunted through back alleys like animals. People who didn’t have prices on their heads. People who didn’t have to lie to live.

They kissed as they moved against each other and desperation faded away into a perfect langur, one reserved for the private sleepy hours of the day. This wasn’t a coupling driven by sex or a need for closeness. This was…

It was loving. There was no other word for it in Jesse’s vocabulary. He was melting under Hanzo’s tender kisses, floating on a natural intoxication. Chapped lips grew wet and hands found sides, shoulders, hair. They clutched at each other, only paying half a mind to the arousal of being so close. Their skin was slick with sweat and lube, perfect for tracing fingertips across to touch scars, marks of hard-lived lives. Hanzo’s metal knees dug into Jesse’s thighs but he was more interested in the long curved line of Hanzo’s back. Life was pain, he’d learned that lesson time and time again, but he knew that he could deal with a lot of it for the sake of one person.

His orgasm took him by surprise. He gasped into Hanzo’s mouth and Hanzo swallowed it down, carrying him through the waves of it as he split between them.

“Just like that. So good, perfect, handsome...So mine. ” Hanzo whispered praise against his lips and Jesse convulsed helplessly, mewling as he held tight. His fingers dug hard enough into Hanzo’s ass to leave bruises.  

“Yours,” he sighed as lethargy began to work its way through him, leaving him soft and pliant. Hanzo made a choking sound and arched against him and Jesse felt the wetness between them grow and start to roll down his sides as Hanzo came, face buried against the side of Jesse’s neck.

For some time after that, long enough for heated skin to cool again, the only sound was their breathing accompanied by Jesse’s humming as he stroked Hanzo’s shaking back. It was a half-formed melody, built from pieces of songs he’d picked up in a hundred bars on a dozen planets, but it suited his throat.

It would have been so easy to sleep, sated and warm as they were, but Jesse was old and wise enough to know that a little clean up went a long way towards a more pleasant morning.

“Come on Han,” he groaned, giving Hanzo’s back a brisk and somewhat regretful rub to rouse him. “Gotta mop up a bit or we’ll be glued together come breakfast time.”

His stomach, upon hearing the word ‘breakfast’, decided that it had had quite enough of being ignored and chose that moment to growl so loudly that they both jumped.

Hanzo snorted without raising his head and turned so that he could nuzzle the skin behind Jesse’s ear. “Mop up and some food perhaps? I don’t imagine those dumplings are salvageable now.”

“Oh, twist my arm why don’t you.”

It took both of them, pulling and prodding and one skillful catch when Hanzo’s leg got stuck in the sheets, to make it out of bed and they eyed the mess of clothes on the floor with despair.

“Maybe she’s in sleep mode.” Jesse mused, glancing at the closed door. “Scratch that. She doesn’t have one.”  

“I confess that I was hoping the same. I am not inclined to dress in my...current state.” Hanzo looked down at his own front and made a disgusted face.

“Don’t want to get cum on your new duds, I get it.” Resigning himself, Jesse pressed the button to open the door and stuck his head out. “Som?”

'Buenas noches.'   The voice from the speakers was painfully smug and Jesse winced.

“I don’t suppose there’s anything in the ‘verse I can bribe you with not to take pics of the next couple of minutes? We’re both in a state and need a wash.” He injected a note of pleading into his voice that he hoped would help his case.

‘Do you have new Alliance FR-31 hidden in your pocket?’

“Must’ve left it in my other pants.” He patted his naked hips to illustrate.

‘Or stuck up your ass. Maybe Hanzo will check for you if you ask nicely.’

“You’re makin’ it sound like I’ve got a hangar-worth of room up there. I’ll have you know that I’m strictly a one-ship man.”

‘And is that ship called the HD-XXX?’

“HD?” Hanzo asked with amusement from behind him, resting both hands on Jesse’s waist.

‘Hanzo’s Dick.’

Jesse held up his hands in surrender, too tired to verbally spar and hold his own. “Wow okay I’m all sorts of done with this conversation now. Som, promise you won’t take pics while we get cleaned up?”

There was a long-suffering sigh from the speakers. ‘Yeah yeah, go do your little naked run of shame. I have better things to do than take dirty pictures. You know, like fly your little ship.'

Despite that claim, Jesse still heard the telling click of the hall’s security camera as the two of them headed for the sanitizer.

“Som!” He gasped in outrage, even though he wasn’t entirely surprised.

‘What? I had my fingers crossed and these will look great in my ‘Jesse is Nasty’ scrapbook.’

“I want to see that book some time,” Hanzo called before he slid the door of the sanitizer shut behind him.

Jesse groaned and sagged against the wall, resigned that there was nothing he could do to salvage his dignity now. Every ache of the last week had decided to remind him that they still existed and the bandage around his arm had begun to unravel. In short, he was sticky, hurting, and in desperate need of sustenance.

‘Hey, Jesse?’

He glanced warily at the ceiling speaker. “Yeah?”

‘Congrats on the sex.’

Chapter Text

    Four days to the Gibraltar.

It wasn’t that things were different after they started sleeping together, but rather that they fell into a more comfortable sameness. Their sleep schedules stayed synced up. Hanzo woke earlier than Jesse, but they still met in time for breakfast. Hanzo still sat on the counter while Jesse argued with the rehydrator. Sometimes he even won. They split their time between the cockpit and the slightly more spacious engine room, where Jesse had hung a list of repairs and replacements that he needed to make. The list quickly grew long enough that Sombra informed him it would be cheaper to buy a new ship rather than retrofit his outdated Raven with everything he wanted. With some regret he scratched jacuzzi off of the list and resigned himself to a slightly more economical shower stall.

After this run he had no plans to take on live passengers again. Hanzo made no move to return to his own sleeping quarters, so extra space cleared by ripping out the guest quarters would easily afford him enough room to expand the captain’s quarters and install a bed for two.

That part didn’t go onto his list, but Jesse knew it was heavily implied in the expansion. Writing it down felt like it would be daring fate to kick him in the teeth.

The sex was good but the closeness was one of the best perks about...whatever it was they’d started. Both of them, starved for any kind of human contact, naturally fell into a pattern of physicality. They brushed when they passed in the halls and Jesse no longer felt the need to duck his head and apologize. Hanzo stole bites off Jesse’s plate during their meals and Jesse actively played footsie with him under the little fold-out table. The thud of his boots when they knocked against Hanzo’s prosthetics was it’s own music. They smiled more; smiles meant for each other.

Even Sombra seemed happier. She hadn’t made more than a token attempt to belittle or embarrass Jesse, minus the offer to show Hanzo a couple of inappropriate mug shots from the time Jesse was arrested for public intoxication. There were more photographs than Jesse remembered of when he’d decided to strip off all of his clothes in the middle of the town square. It had only taken him a half hour to escape from what passed for a jail cell and he’d still been drunk when they’d broken atmo and escaped.

They still sat together in the cockpit after dinner with glasses of liquor warming in their palms. Only the seating positions shifted. Jesse sighed with contentment and turned so he could rest his cheek against the top of Hanzo’s head. The shorter man had given a very firm negative at the suggestion to sit on Jesse’s lap The infamous puppy face was clearly more persuasive than Hanzo originally anticipated. It took exactly thirty seven seconds for Hanzo to crack and another five to break entirely. Now Jesse had a lapful of warm Shimada and was much happier with the entire arrangement.  

“You must have had such adventures,” Hanzo commented, raising his glass and taking a slow, savoring sip. The ice clattered in the bottom, half-melted. His legs were draped over the side of the pilot’s chair. Jesse’s prosthetic rested on top of Hanzo’s knees. The difference in the quality of their hardware stood in stark contrast. Jesse made a point of not looking at the comparison too closely. “And it occurs to me that any other man might have regaled me with them long before now.”

“Never felt much need to toot my own horn,” Jesse shrugged. “Besides, it’s mighty hard to tell a good story with Som around to go ‘that’s not how it happened’ every two minutes.”

‘Because you never tell it how it happened. Who is the one with the perfect digital memory here, eh? Oh right, that would be me.’ She chuckled and it was easy to imagine that she might have been shaking her head. ‘ Once he got cornered by a gang on Muir and tried to convince them that he was a diplomat; that it would be easier to ransom him for a couple million credits than to kill him on the spot and steal his wallet. Not sure I’ve ever heard such horse shit in my life.’

“Hey it worked didn’t it? No need to drag my quick wit through the mud just because I was workin’ under pressure.” Jesse stole Hanzo’s glass and allowed himself a generous sip from it before handing it back, ignoring the elbow in his ribs. His own glass was long empty.

‘Sure, it worked all the way up until one of them actually thought to call the embassy! I had to hijack the call and pretend to be some fancy pants ambassador, oh so worried about the plight of her idiotic employee.’

“You told them to shoot me and dump me in the bin, Som.”

‘Good thing I changed my mind. And I transferred some very nice stolen and traceable credits to their cards - right out of the account of a visiting dignitary from Liann Jiun. The boys in blue and their very large guns were there in three minutes flat. It was like watching ants coming out of a hole in the ground.’

“Don’t tell me that you were arrested again?” Hanzo asked, tilting his face back to smirk at Jesse.

“Give me a little credit,” Jesse said, tossing his head as if he’d been insulted. “I’m sure there’s some town out there that hasn’t tried to put me behind bars.”

‘Three, to be exact.’

“Thanks, Som. Good to know you’ve got my good reputation at heart.” Jesse rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I was long gone before the law men arrived. Right out a window and onto the roof.”

‘It took me four days to scrub all of the footage they got of you pulling that stunt, you know. Four. Days. I almost fried my own circuits to put myself out of my misery.’

“She’s just bein’ dramatic, pay the sassy lady behind the curtain no mind,” he pressed a kiss to Hanzo’s forehead and turned his attention back to the eternal blackness outside. One layer of blast-resistant glass was all that separated them from millions of stars and the sucking void of space, but Jesse couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt safer or more at peace with himself. The only fly in the ointment was the meager time  between them and their destination. Add to that the almighty force of the Council nipping at their heels. Without those life was about as close to perfect as it got for people like him.

The old crew would have busted a gut to see him like this.

The wolf’s had it’s teeth pulled!” Jesse could almost hear Avraham’s voice, the voice of a ghost, rough as a thousand miles of bad road.

Pulled perhaps , he thought, but not gone. Those teeth were simply resting in his pocket, waiting to be slipped into their sockets and stained red again. A wolf’s tongue never forgot the taste of blood, even if he was tamed. He squeezed Hanzo tight for a moment, ignoring the questioning noise that it elicited. This was worth pocketing his teeth and pretending that he was a good man for a little while. The dream always ended. The lie eventually surfaced like a corpse that slipped its weights, but for now Jesse took his happiness where he could.

“It sounds as though your entire life has been one long escape after another,” Hanzo mused, eyes fixed on some far off point.

Jesse laughed, making the ice chips rattle in Hanzo’s glass. “You’ve got no idea, Sweetheart. Some might even call me a master of the craft. Gotta be good at it. It’d be a crying shame to lock up such a good looking fella, don’t you think?” He rubbed his jaw line to illustrate, making sure to ruffle up his beard enough that it stuck out in all directions.

Hanzo rolled his eyes and quickly smoothed the hair back down again. “If you think that your good looks are the only thing worth staying out of prison for it might be worth reevaluating your priorities.”  

“So...stay free for the exotic locales that I could see on the run?”

“Try again.”

“Oh, I’ve got it. It’s gotta be for the booze. They don’t give you a drop of it when you’re behind bars.” He made a halfhearted effort to take Hanzo’s glass again and was given a smack for the effort.

“You get one more guess before I remove myself to the other chair.”

“Alright, alright, don’t get your panties in a bunch.” Jesse shifted just enough that Hanzo would actually have to make an effort to extract himself. “How about I stay a free man for the most handsome,” he pressed a smacking, wet kiss to Hanzo’s cheek. “Charming -” another kiss to the side of his neck and now Hanzo started to wiggle, trying to escape from the onslaught.

“That’s quite enough, thank you.”

“Well-muscled,” He got another kiss in when Hanzo twisted, right against his ear.

Jesse, that was vile!”

“Cantankerous!” Jesse wheezed as he fought to hold onto the twister on his lap and managed to plant a fourth obscenely sloppy kiss on Hanzo’s shoulder when his shirt slid off it, right on the tattoo. “Piece of ass I’ve ever met in my entire life! That good enough for you?”

“If you kiss me like that one more time I’m afraid I’ll have to murder you,” came the resigned reply. In the struggle, Hanzo twisted to the point that he was nearly a pretzel with Jesse’s arms the only thing holding him in place.

“Hey. Come on, look at me Hanzo.” Jesse waited patiently until the man turned to look up at him, suspicion etched in every line of that handsome face. “Howdy there.”

“You are ridiculous,” Hanzo sighed. That was when Jesse struck, moving in faster than a snake strike to plant the grossest kiss he could manage right on Hanzo’s mouth. There was so much drool involved it would have put a hound dog to shame.

YOU ARE A DEAD MAN!”

“Not the face!”

Sombra didn’t stop laughing for nearly an hour.

 

     Three days to the Gibraltar.

“Tell me about what you were like as a child.” Hanzo drew his finger down Jesse bare sternum, tracing a line through the curly dark hair. “I can only imagine a smaller version of you, hat and beard included. Did you live on a ranch?”

They were lying together, limbs tangled as the sweat cooled on their skin. Through some hackneyed planning and a couple of the plasma tools built into Jesse’s hand they’d managed to destroy the couplings on Hanzo’s bed and manhandle the metal frame into Jesse’s room. The desk and chair had been exiled to the guest room in favor of the bigger sleeping space. Even still there was a sizeable gap between the two mattresses so an extra sheet was stuff in to keep the chasm from swallowing unwary limbs. The impromptu king-size was lumpy, makeshift, and took up the entire free space of the room.

Jesse stretched, letting his legs fall open and reveled in the fact that neither fell off the side.

It was perfect.

“Getting pretty personal on me there,” he tucked both hands behind his head, sleepy and sated. They’d indulged slowly, savoring every newfound sensitive place, cataloging freckles and scars alike, and mapping them with their mouths. “Maybe I was born this way, boots on my feet and a twinkle in my eye.”

“Somehow this wouldn’t surprise me,” Hanzo mumbled against Jesse’s chest. “You are a larger than life character and many of those were concocted in just such a way.”

“Just give me a rope and point me towards the wild places, huh?” Jesse trailed his fingertips down Hanzo’s shoulders. One was warm and sticky with drying sweat and the other was not. Hanzo’s tattoo was cool to the touch and felt like a strange metal trying very hard to convince people that it was actually skin. Whatever ink had been used was one Jesse had never felt before, nor had Sombra been able to find anything about unusual tattooing techniques or any used exclusively on Sihnon. Only that the Shimada family had always been recognized by their intricate and beautiful dragon tattoos. “Tell you what, I’m a reasonable sort of man. I’ll trade you.”

Hanzo propped himself up on an elbow to look down at Jesse, loose hair spilling over his shoulders. “Trade for what?”

“Answers for answers. That’s all.” Jesse offered a disarming smile and brushed aside stray bangs from Hanzo’s creased, suspicious forehead. “No need to look at me like I want to bargain for your crown jewels.”

“Pity, you seemed so fond of them earlier…” Hanzo sagged back down in one fluid motion and made Jesse wheeze as the air was knocked out of his lungs. Shorter the man may be, but he was still damn heavy with muscle.

“Can’t deny that. I’ll tell you all about mini me if you dish about your fine pieces of art.” He rubbed the tattoo, letting his fingers trail down the scales of the dragon coiled around Hanzo’s bicep. “I’ve been jolted by it enough that it seems reasonable to what to know how you worked such a fancy taser into it.”

Hanzo popped his jaw a couple times, lost in thought with his head turned so that he could watch Jesse’s fingers. “That does seem...fair. But I want to know more than about your childhood.”

“Like I said Sweetheart, I’m open to bargaining and bribery. Not sexual favors though - I’m too tuckered out for another round just yet. I’m too old to satisfy your carnal appetites!” He stretched again, reached his arms up over his head until they hit the wall.

Two fingers reached out and pinched Jesse’s nostrils closed. “I am older than you, so you are not allowed to play that particular card. I will answer your questions if you answer mine.”

“I love this ki-d of pillow talk. It’s so roma-tic.” Jesse voice became nasal and irritating, but he made no move to pry Hanzo’s hand away. “A’right, what do you wa-t to k-ow? Shoe size? Favorite color?”

The hand released him and Hanzo folded both under his chin as a makeshift pillow. “Tell me about Santo and your family. Did you really live on a ranch with horses? I saw chaps in your things.”

Jesse felt around on the floor until he found the sheet thrown out of the way during their coupling. He gave the end a sharp tug so that it settled over them, draping around Hanzo’s shoulders like a cape.

“Sorry to burst that shiny bubble of yours, but the closest I’ve ever been to a horse was ridin’ by nags on my motorbike on my way into town. Always admired the folks that worked them though. That’s hard work and not for everybody. Not sure I’d ever want to get on one either - you can tell they’re crafty just by lookin’. The chaps were a gag gift from a couple of pals who thought they’d go with my hat, so I took to wearing them about everywhere just to be contrary. Guess the look stuck. What about you? You fond of those four-legged mischief makers?”

If Hanzo was disappointed he hid it well. “My family owned horses. They were beautiful, and yes, very clever. I snuck out once in the middle of the night as a child and attempted to ride one.”

“Bet you were a natural.” Jesse reached up and tucked a white strand of Hanzo’s hair back behind his ear.    

“Hardly,” Hanzo chuckled and shook his head ruefully. “I was immediately thrown and broke my arm in two places. My parents had a terrible argument about whether to ban both my brother and I from going near the horses or give us riding lessons so that the incident wouldn’t be repeated.”

“And the verdict was…”

“My brother had the same weakness for the horses as I did and used his power on our mother. I can’t think of a single instance where he didn’t get exactly what he wanted.” Hanzo’s eyes went soft as he lost himself in the memory. “He was terrible at riding. ‘A seat like a sack of potatoes’ our father said. Still, we passed many days learning our way around the horses.” He glanced at Jesse. “Perhaps I will teach you one day. Then you can earn your look.”

“I’ll hold you to it, but I’ll probably do it about as well as your brother. Then you and Som can both have a good laugh at my expense.”

“What makes you think that we don’t already?” Hanzo asked smugly and Jesse gasped with outrage.

“Ouch! Call a doc, I’ve been stabbed in the back! Get off me you traitor, I won’t be a bed to such a snake in the grass.” Jesse gave Hanzo a half-hearted shove that did absolutely nothing to budge him and Hanzo made no move to roll away.

“So if not a rancher, what?”

“Mechanic. Only livestock we ever had was the two-legged kind. My town, a little piece of nowhere, was pretty popular with smugglers looking to get some repairs done before they made off to parts unknown with their ill-gotten gains. Sometimes they’d trade repairs for whatever it was they were carrying.” Jesse smiled  at the ceiling. “Once we got a pair of cows as a swap for fixed up frontal shields and neither of us knew what to do with ‘em. They hung around in the chop shop for two days before the butcher from the next place over offered to trade steaks for credits. Took forever for that cow smell to fade...”

“That explains why you’re able to fix your own engine. An admirable trait in a Captain. Was it a family trade?”

“I guess you could say that. My Pa taught me every trick with every tool I know how to use.” Jesse raised his prosthetic and turned it at the elbow so that he could look at it from a different angle. “I taught myself all the rest.”

“What about your mother?” Hanzo’s fingers walked up and down the blue light sockets that lead from Jesse’s elbow to his wrist, covering each in turn until Jesse put his arm back under the sheet.

“Wasn’t in the picture. Guess she decided she wasn’t the family type early on and took off. Don’t know if she’s still out there or lying in a grave on some planet half the ‘verse away from where she started. Either way, I’m not about to go hunting down a woman who decides it’s fine and dandy to leave a babe behind. Anyway,” he said, allowing himself a double handful of Hanzo’s ass with a rueful smirk, “there’s the whole mysterious backstory.”

“She wouldn’t deserve you, even if you did find her,” Hanzo said softly and something inside Jesse twisted painfully, filling his mouth with bitter acid.

“Mighty kind of you to say so, though you should watch how you dole out those compliments. Make my head too fat and I’m liable not to make it through the door.”

“Good,” Hanzo said, sounding sleepier than he had a minute ago. “I can keep you in bed.”

Jesse’s own eyelids were starting to feel as though they were hung with lead weights. There was a reason pillow talk was usually short, sweet, and didn’t take much brain power. “Tell you what, why don’t we take a rain check on my question. Over coffee in the morning?”

The only thing he got in reply was a sleepy mumble.

“Good,” he said, more to himself than to his slumbering partner. “It’s a date.”

 

     Two days to the Gibraltar .

“So if it’s not a tattoo, it’s a pretty damn fancy birthmark.” Jesse grinned over the lip of his coffee cup. It was his third of the morning - the first had been sacrificed to the floor when he’d tripped over Hanzo’s crossed ankles and the second was percolating happily in his belly.

Hanzo, whose mouth was filled with a bun that was more icing than anything else, could only make a ‘really?’ face as he chewed vigorously.   

“Pretty-colored scar,” Jesse tried again. “Paint by numbers. Mummy’s curse.” Hanzo chewed faster with every guess, clearly desperate to stop the ridiculous game. “Wait, I got it - it’s marker and that’s why you spend so long in the bathroom. Bet it’s a bitch to reapply every day.”

Though he nearly gagged in the process, Hanzo managed to gulp down his bite and coughed to clear his throat again. Jesse’s eyes fixed on the streak of icing left on his mustache. “Considering my art skills rival a newborn, to achieve this,”  Hanzo nodded at his exposed wrist and forearm where the first dragon rested, “would take me at least three lifetimes and a forest of paper on which to practice.”

“Aha!” Jesse crowed in triumph. “We’ve found something you’re shit at. Wasn’t sure that happened. I should make a list and stick in on the rehydrator. ‘Stuff Hanzo Sucks At’ .” He spread his hands out in front of him, illustrating a vast landscape full of infinite possibility.

“Only if I can have a similar list of every one of your truly dreadful pickup lines. I will title it ‘Things Jesse Seems to Thinks Are Seductive’ . It will be a very long list.” Hanzo took another bite of his bun and raised his eyebrows meaningfully.

“You are pricklier than a porcupine in a cactus patch.” Jesse put on his best hang dog face and pretended to hide behind his coffee mug. It only partially worked.

“And you are pretending to be an uneducated bumpkin.” Hanzo reached out and pushed down Jesse’s cup so their eyes could meet. “It will not work on me. I am immune.”

“Damn,” Jesse sighed, defeated. “Guess I’ll just have to resort to something more underhanded and sneaky.”

“Such as?”  

Careful not to lose yet another drink, Jesse closed the distance between them and kissed the icing off of Hanzo’s mustache. The sugar lingered between their lips for a moment only to fade away like a sweet daydream.

“I like these underhanded dealings of yours,” Hanzo murmured when Jesse pulled back. “You should make a point of carrying through with them more often.”

“Sweetheart, if I were any more devious than I am now the ‘verse might fold in on itself.” Jesse leaned against the counter and grinned. “Jesse McCree - acquirer of questionable goods, transporter of dangerous cargo, and doer of truly dreadful deeds.”

“You think very highly of yourself,” Hanzo laughed. He reached out and captured Jesse by the front of his shirt. “Dare I ask which category I fall into?”

“All of the above, Sugar. All of the above.”

He’d never anticipated this. Any of this. This wasn’t the friendship that grew between two people forced into each other’s company. This wasn’t something as simple as respect either, though he had that in abundance.

This was different. Jesse chewed on the thought, trying to figure out its flavor. The company was good. The sex was damn good. They’d run together. Fought together. Hanzo had grown and was now a man that Jesse would trust to have his back when things got tight. Still, this didn’t strike him as something as simple as what he’d had with his squad. He’d trusted them too, but none of them had made him want to make himself better. They’d known him for what he really was - a monster like the rest of them.

Hanzo though...Hanzo didn’t see that monster. He saw a brave man. A noble man.

A lie.

Jesse cleared his throat and ignored the curious look Hanzo was giving him. “Now tell me about your fancy not-a-tattoo. I’ve got a powerful curiosity and you left me hanging something fierce last night.” He unhooked Hanzo’s fingers from the front of his shirt and took a step back, putting a little airspace between them. He needed it, even if he didn’t want it.

Hanzo’s concern quickly morphed into something wicked and smug. “Funny, you seemed rather satisfied to me. Next time I’ll have to apply myself more.”

Jesse flushed and gave his dick a silent scolding for getting interested so quickly. “You ‘apply’ yourself any more and I’ll be useless for a week solid. Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Ah yes,” Hanzo purred, setting the remains of his bun aside so that he could lick the icing off his fingers. Jesse steeled himself. He was strong. He’d endured worse than this and not broken. Still, he couldn’t stop from staring as Hanzo lovingly sucked on each of his sticky fingers, removing every last trace of sugar from them, and leaving them glistening with saliva. “Your powerful curiosity.”

Jesse whimpered. He was weak. He was so damn weak. It was just pathetic.

“Come on Han, that’s not playin’ fair. If it’s some big family secret just tell me and I’ll let it drop. No need to twist me up like this just to change the subject.” Jesse set his now-cold coffee aside and collapsed into the single galley chair. It creaked alarmingly under his sudden weight, but managed to hold steady as he crossed his legs to preserve what remained of his dignity. There wasn’t much of it left.

Hanzo, unconcerned by Jesse’s state of twisted up-ness, stretched out his legs and propped both of his feet on Jesse’s thigh, casually crossed at the ankle. They were heavy and uncomfortably sharp, but Jesse didn’t bother to move them.

“I do not believe that it could be considered a family secret when I am all that remains of the family. Now it is simply my secret, to be shared with whomever I please.” Hanzo tilted his head, a strand of hair coming free from the tail he’d tied it up in. “It’s a rather novel concept, I must admit. For years I was taught not to breathe a word of it to any outsider or else I would risk endangering both myself and my family.” He looked around, taking stock of a galley that he already knew every inch of. “Now that I am fleeing from everything I once considered valuable, I find that there is little appeal in keeping those old secrets. This can be one more crime the Council can hang me for.”

“Nobody’s going to hang you. Not if me and my gun get a say in the matter.” Jesse let his hands rest on Hanzo’s crossed ankles, thumbing the crease where two metal plates joined. “Besides, it’s not like I’m going to get on the system and start blabbin’ to all and sundry. I’ve got a discreet bone or two left in my body.”

“Your willingness to fight the group that governs most of the universe’s black market dealings has been noted. You may need a few more bullets.”

“I’ll pick up a box or two next time I’m in town.” Jesse traced the crease up to where the line disappeared under Hanzo’s sharp toe caps. They were almost like cloven hooves and Jesse could think of more than a few holes they’d left in his sheets. Dangerous, just like the rest of the man. Still not dangerous enough to take on what was chasing him though. Jesse’s hands suddenly itched for the familiar weight of his revolver. The room fell silent as Jesse balanced his fingers on the razor tips of Hanzo’s feet. Hanzo watched, eyes hooded.

“They called my mother the Dragon Queen. Shimada Katsumi, ruler of Sihnon and the Council. She was the last of the Shimadas. Once she had three brothers, but all had met their end long before she took control. I only knew their names from books. She never spoke of them. I had no cousins. No aunts. No family save my parents and my brother to share this…” Hanzo held out his hand and turned it over so the dragon appeared to move down his arm. “This burden with and even that was limited. My mother did not tolerate weakness in herself or her family - the Council was made of hyenas. They went into a frenzy at the first sign of blood.” His eyes turned hard and cold. “I learned that lesson early and I learned it well.”   

Hanzo found the dragon’s head with his free hand and traced it, running his fingers back across its whiskers and up the delicate horns.

“I wish it was as simple as a tattoo. The dragons have been passed down my family line as far back as records from Earth-That-Was. However, those records became corrupted and the secret of them was lost for generations. They became more a thing of magic than of science. My great grandfather was the one who pioneered the new research into their origin.”

Even through the fabric of Hanzo’s shirt and trousers, the blue light was visible. Two dragon materialized, burning their way into existence from nowhere. One rested across Hanzo’s lap like a cat, fire blazing in its eyes. The unearthly creature was large enough that it was forced to curl on top of its own body to stay on Hanzo’s legs. The other hung around Hanzo’s shoulders - a scarf made of snapping blue lightning. That one opened its mouth and hissed and Jesse couldn’t help but flinch.

It was far too familiar.

“Looks an awful lot like magic to me,” Jesse said, his voice strangled and tight. His skin tingled, remembering how it felt when the dragons blasted through him in that filthy alleyway. There’d been nothing left of the man they’d consumed, nothing but red. They watched him now, docile but far from tame. Maybe they were still full from their feast of flesh and bone.

“I thought the same, when I was young. Before my own materialized.” Hanzo’s hand rested on the back of the dragon on his lap. “This is Aoi. This,” he gestured at the one on his shoulders, the one who hadn’t looked away from Jesse since it appeared, “is Ryo. I have had Ryo since I was fifteen and Aoi since I was eighteen.” He reached back and scratched under Ryo’s chin. It was unsettling to watch. The dragon was partially transparent and Jesse could see Hanzo’s fingers through its head.  

“Pleasure,” Jesse said, just to be polite. “You get ‘em wrapped up in a box or were they a pet store special?”

Aoi barred its teeth and spat sparks.

“They aren’t animals. The best explanation without getting into too much technical details would be that they are semi-physical nano projections.”

“Nano,” Jesse repeated. “Like nanites? Like the tiny robots?”

“Precisely. Earth-That-Was technology was much more advanced than history ever gave it credit for. My ancestors were able to create colonies of nanites and infuse them with both intelligence and DNA recognition. I believe that they were originally intended to be used for medical purposes.”

Ryo’s tail flicked back and forth like a metronome. Back and forth. Back and forth.

“One nanite on its own is practically useless. Several million, when they band together in a colony, can achieve things that had once been considered impossible. They became living weapons for my family, tied to our DNA and passed down to child after child. In time we learned to harness them better, to teach them to do more than destroy.” Aoi made a sound that might have been a purr if it had come from a less reptilian mouth. Hanzo held up his arm so Jesse could see the tattoo properly. “The colonies present themselves when they grow strong enough. It is a coming of age, albeit a painful one.”

“Yeah?”

Hanzo nodded. “If they were limited by flesh, they would destroy it the moment they were summoned and the experience would be very traumatic for the host. You’ve seen their power. Instead they form a secondary layer that replaces the skin.” He grimaced and covered his forearm as if remembering. “The process takes nearly a week and the pain is...it has been compared to birth.”

It was no wonder the skin of Hanzo’s arm and leg felt different than the rest of him - any flesh that had once existed there had been replaced by whatever it was the dragons formed. Maybe it was made of the nanites themselves, sheets of tiny, intelligent machines that formed a thing of terrible beauty and power.

“So your whole family had ‘em?” Jesse couldn’t look away from Ryo’s tail. The tuft at the end looked like hair except for the tiny beads of light that moved down each strand - more like filament wires.

“Yes. My brother and I inherited ours from our mother. My brother had only recently come into his first when he died, while my mother had eight.” Hanzo tilted his head so that it rested on one of Ryo’s coils. “He named it ‘Godzilla’. I think that our father privately found it entertaining. Our mother less so.”

“What, like that old flick that’s been remade about a thousand times?”

“The very one. I think he always privately believed that if he got strong enough, his dragon would grow to a similar size and be able to level a city.”

Both of Hanzo’s dragons made chortling noises; the sound like far-off thunder.

“Huh.” Jesse took hold of one of Hanzo’s feet and moved it back and forth in time with Ryo’s tail, chewing on the inside of his cheek as he thought. “So if your ma had eight of these things, how is it you’ve only got two? You get to pick how many you feel like carryin’ around or is it just until you run outta space?”

“Yes.” Hanzo’s voice was completely serious. “Only when our bodies are completely covered can we complete our transformation into dragons ourselves.”

Jesse held back his bark of laughter well enough that it sounded more like a violent hiccup. “You’re shittin’ me.”

The flat facade broke as the corners of Hanzo’s mouth turned up in what was almost a smile. It didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I am. My grandfather told that to us many times, and I am ashamed to say that I believed it for far longer than I should have. He had a mighty twelve dragons when he passed, including one that covered,” he reached out and traced a line across Jesse’s brow, following the trail of a dead man’s tattoo, “that covered most of his face. They called him the Maw of the Dragon. I think that my brother held onto the dream that he might one day transform into a dragon. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that no one in our family has ever lived long enough to discover if it was true or not.”

“Sounds like a firecracker, your brother.”

A wistful smile softened Hanzo’s face. “He was. There was no pleasure that he ever denied himself, especially once he got old enough to appreciate the less innocent ones. The number of times I had to cover for him after he’d gotten himself into trouble…” He pushed back his hair and straightened. Ryo grumbled and glared at Jesse as if the movement were his fault. “Those pleasures proved to be the downfall of us both. If I had tried harder to rein him in, he might still be-”

“Woah now.” Jesse leapt forward as soon as he heard the slight break in Hanzo’s voice, the metal feet clattering off his lap. Aoi shrieked loudly and dove forward, digging its claws into Jesse’s leg and scaling him like a tree trunk. He ignored the bizarre sensation of the half-there claws and caught up Hanzo’s cold hands in his own. “Don’t talk like that. Don’t you dare. Life’s dealt you a shit hand but you’ve made it this far. There’s no point in lookin’ back and wishing that you’d played a different card.” He crowded in, wedging himself between Hanzo’s legs so that he could wrap the smaller man up in his arms. Hanzo’s face was buried in the crook of Jesse’s shoulder, his hands balled in the back of his shirt to hold him close. “That shit will eat you up faster than acid.”

He was face-to-face with Ryo now. Aoi had finished the climb and was draped across the back of Jesse’s neck and over his shoulder. He could hear them faintly crackling like live wires.

“I only know the bare bones, but it seems to me like if you’d been able to do something, you would’ve. You’re that kind of good person, even if you come from a nasty tangled sort of background. Unless you killed him with your own two hands, don’t let it weigh on you too much. We’ve both got enough ghosts on our heels without adding another one.”

The hands that clutched at Jesse’s back tightened.

“Yes,” he whispered. “Many ghosts.”

They stayed like that, clinging to each other in the eerie fluorescent galley light as if it could somehow keep away the darkness that lurked only inches away. It was, as Jesse knew very well, a darkness that not even flying too close to a burning sun could banish; a darkness anchored inside them, held fast by nightmares and bad memories.

Soft piano music clicked on in the cockpit, accompanied by the quiet sound of humming, and neither made any move to pull away.

For now it was enough to keep the ghosts at bay.

 

     One day to the Gibraltar.

Chapter Text

A pungent curl of cigar smoke drifted towards the ceiling of the cockpit only to be sucked into the vent. The smoke was channeled, filtered, and sent through a chloroplast-based filter that quickly transformed the carbon dioxide back into oxygen. In the end, the recycled air was fed back into the ship. Jesse McCree took another long drag and savored the flavor he’d long denied himself. It wasn’t great for the ship filters to handle smoke, so each on-ship cigar was a treat he only permitted himself on special occasions.

They were hours from the Gibraltar. Hours from opening their docking hatch. Hours from watching the man he’d come to adore walk out of his life forever.

If that didn’t count as a situation worthy of a smoke, he didn’t know what did.

A soft cloth lay over the dials on the console, protecting them from the deconstructed parts of the revolver that lay across the surface. Jesse shifted the cigar to the other side of his mouth. The unconscious motion kept the smouldering ashes from dropping on the cloth. Three wire brushes, a handful of soft fabric scraps, and a bottle of oil sat nearby, already used.

‘Looks like the Council has upped their bounty again. They’re getting desperate to get our boy back.’

Jesse lifted the barrel of his revolver and peered down it, checking for flecks of debris or oil he’d missed. He never had, but there was a first time for everything. “Let ‘em tie themselves into knots and offer a planet. They’re not getting him back.”

‘Pretty possessive of you.’

“Possessiveness hasn’t got a damn thing to do with it. He’s his own person and he doesn’t want t’ be with them so,” he set the barrel and and leaned back in the pilot’s chair, stretching his arms above his head until his back ached and the muscles in his arms strained against his shirt sleeves. “I’m inclined to help him with that. Besides, he doesn’t belong to me so there’s nothin’ to get possessive over.”

‘Right, I forgot that you were the ‘owned’ one in this relationship.’

His tongue stilled in his mouth, remembering another situation where he’d voiced the words that weighed on his heart, only to have them heard. “Where is he?”

Sombra paused, checking her heat signatures. ‘Packing in his room.’

“Fine. There’s no relationship, Som. There can’t be. Neither of us is that type and he…” Jesse let his arms fall down onto his lap and leaned his head back, staring up at the ceiling and the flashing buttons there. “He deserves better. Best to be on our way before he figures that out and leave him with some good memories.”

‘You mean lies.’

Jesse refused to shut his eyes. It would have been too easy to block out her words, to live in the sweet denial he’d been indulging in for years. “Yeah. Hell, even that’s selfish of me. Is it bad?” He asked the ceiling. “To want him to think nice things about me when I’m gone?”

‘It’s human.’

He tried to laugh but the sound got stuck in his throat and turned into a sob. He swallowed it down only to feel the noise settle  in his belly like a bitter pill. “And humans are...we’re trash, Som. Me most of all and he doesn’t know it. I don’t want him to know it.”    

Sombra hummed sympathetically and turned the lights an easy blue. They were softer on his prickling eyes. ‘He won’t, cariño. You’ve done so well. We’ll let him go and get back to our lives and he’ll still love you.’

Jesse heaved himself forward, elbows braced on his knees as he stared at the pieces of his gun. The spur that decorated the end of it gleamed in the low light - another cowboy joke. At least, a joke until he’d dug it into that man’s artery and spilled his life out into that dirty alley. That worst part, that wasn’t the first time the decoration was put to brutal use. It wasn’t the second either.

“He doesn’t love me.” He plucked up the cylinder and turned it over and over,  metal fingers clicking against each chamber. Six chambers. Six bullets. How many times had he reloaded, his only goal to put those bullets between someone’s eyes?

How many times had he succeeded?

They’d talked about ghosts. Hanzo held his fair share, that he didn’t doubt. Whatever the number was it couldn’t hold a candle to the army buried in Jesse’s wake. Where he went or what he achieved didn’t matter. In the end only funerals remained in the holes where his boots tread.

‘Right, maybe he doesn’t love you in that magical land up your ass where you seem to have your head stuck. Back here in reality is another matter, because that man would happily bring you with him in a takeaway box.’

“Don’t think I’d fit.”

‘You’re either missing or ignoring the point.’

“Does it matter?” He put the cylinder down. “He’ll be gone and we’ll be back to doing whatever the hell it was we were doing before he got here,” he paused trying to think. “What were we doing?”

‘Living, but only just.’ Sombra voice was sad, as if the idea of returning to that way of living pained her.  

“So we’ll live,” Jesse shouted. “And we’ll be fine! We’re always fine! We’re the only ones who ended up fine, weren’t we?” His heart began to race. His hands clenched into fists just to stop the shaking. He didn’t notice his voice growing steadily louder. “We were fine because I was a coward and I ran and I left them - I left them all -”

‘That’s enough!’ Sombra shouted and Jesse howled in pain as bright lights flooded the cockpits, blinding him, and sending a spear of agony through his head. He clapped his hands over his eyes and curled over his legs, breathing hard. One of the gun pieces on the cloth rolled off and away, across the floor and under the console.

A minute later, maybe two, the lights dimmed. He uncovered his eyes, but didn’t sit up again.

There were stains on the knees of his pants. Oil or blood, he didn’t know which. What had he done to earn those dark marks? Had it been engine work, simple and straightforward? Or had he knelt in someone’s blood after putting a bullet in them?  

“This isn’t living, Som,” his rough voice was tight with emotion, sore from holding back. “This is existing. I’m getting so damn tired of it. Only thing I have to wake up in the morning for is him and he’s going to leave. He’s in love with somebody who isn’t me. Somebody brave and-” His voice finally broke, leaving him sounding as damaged as he felt, “- and true. And I’m not. Never could be.” He scooped the locking bolt off the floor “Never will be.”

He’d woke that morning with an arm wrapped around his chest and a face pressed between his shoulders. With warmth blanketing him from the back of his neck to his toes because of the man who held onto him like a rock in a river. For a moment, for one single, glorious moment, Jesse let himself feel loved.

It wasn’t hope that made him sit up again, nor any kind of newfound inner strength that made him reach for the remaining parts.

Frame. Cylinder. Extractor. Center pin and spring. Hammer. Safety. Rear sight. Side plate. Grips.

‘Forty three seconds,’ Sombra said. It was always forty three seconds. It didn’t matter if his eyes were burning with unshed tears. He could always make pieces into something whole in forty three seconds.

Jesse set the freshly assembled gun on the cloth and took a deep breath. In, held until his lungs ached...

Breathe. Breathe with me, Jesse.

...and back out.

He wondered when Hanzo would become another one of the voices that followed him. At least he’d be able to hold onto that much of him. He rubbed at his eyes, not caring that he left a streak of gun oil behind.

“How do I look?” He asked the speaker, putting on his best smile. It felt thinner than usual.

Sombra laughed wetly. ‘Like a hundred million credits.’

“Guess I’ve got that goin’ for me.”

Forty three seconds from pieces to whole.

It was slightly longer before he found himself standing in front of the closed guest room door. His gun was safely stowed back in his room, the kit stored in the drawers under the bed, and he’d changed his pants to something with fewer stains; none in obvious places.

‘What are you going to do?’ Sombra asked when he paused, his fist raised to knock.

“I don’t rightly know,” he answered honestly, looking down the hall towards the engine room and then back up towards the galley and cockpit. Never before had the cramped ship housed such a chasm of insurmountable space. “I’m hoping the right thing.” Jesse sighed, hand falling in resignation. “Whatever that ends up being.”

‘You will. You’ve gotten so much practice at pretending to be a good man that I think you’re starting to turn into one.’

“Can’t have that. I’ll start to get a good reputation and that’ll just confuse both of us.”

‘You’re telling me. I already have trouble recognizing you in the morning. Mostly because you’ve have that ‘just been fucked’ look and it’s not the usual.’

The door slid open before he could bite the bullet and knock. The tense set of Hanzo’s shoulders was enough to announce that Jesse’s closeness startled him.

“Whoops,” Jesse said with reassuring smile, “you beat me to it. Didn’t mean to give you a scare.”

“It would take more than one captain to frighten me,” Hanzo answered cooly. “Still, your timing is fortuitous. I was on my way to find you.”

“So hypothetically, if there were two of me you’d be terrified,” Jesse clarified as Hanzo stepped aside to allow him entrance to the guest room. Without the bed the interior was spartan - housing only the desk chair that had been exiled there and a duffle bag with all of Hanzo’s worldly possessions folded inside. The bag looked small and tatty despite the fine silks held within.

“I believe that anyone would be terrified of two of you, if only because they would quickly be talked to death.”

“Well, when a man’s got a talent…” Jesse drawled, hooking his thumbs behind his belt and rocking on his heels. It was easy, so very easy to fall back into being ‘ Jesse ’. It was simply pulling down a smiling mask. “Looks like you got everything squared away. Think you’ve got room in there to fit Som too? She’s been dyin’ for a vacation and a mysterious vigilante ship sounds like her kind of haunt.”

‘I’d rather go to the beach!’ Came the cry from the hall.

“You’d be bored stupid at the beach!” Jesse called back. “Nothing there to hack but fish and personal phones.”

‘That’s what I call a sad lack of creativity. There’s always something to hack if you look hard enough.’

“This conversation is getting more worrisome by the second.” Hanzo crossed his arms and braced a shoulder against the steel wall. “If I hear about someone losing a fortune while on vacation, I’ll know exactly who to point my finger at.”

“Aw Sugar,” Jesse stuck out his bottom lip. “You saying you’d turn us in? Harmless little us?” He prowled in closer, trying to use his size to back Hanzo into the corner. Hanzo was having none of that nonsense and stood his ground, angling his head up to meet Jesse’s eyes. A smirk played around the corners of his mouth. He appeared more amused than intimidated.

“Hungry wolves are more harmless than you, Jesse McCree.”

“Hmm,” Jesse rumbled, resting his hands on Hanzo’s waist and giving it a firm squeeze. He liked the way the muscles there pressed back; strength hidden under well-tailored silk. “Maybe I’m a hungry wolf myself, starving for just a little bite.” He dug his teeth into his lip, ending the pout with a nip of pain instead. Hanzo’s eyes fixed on his mouth and lingered there, sending a warm burn of satisfaction through Jesse. “You’re looking mighty tasty there, Mister Shimada…”

‘Eso fue asqueroso.’ Sombra made several loud retching noises. ‘Don’t ever flirt where I can hear you again. It’s just pathetic.’

“So close the door, Peanut Gallery!”   

It slid shut without further encouragement, leaving them alone in the small room. The dim bulb flickered and cast deep shadows on their faces. Neither of them spoke, but Hanzo rested his hands on top of Jesse’s. They looked at each other, each lost in their own thoughts.

Jesse withheld the sigh and knew he had to the right thing. That was what he’d built for himself - a man who knew when to let go so he didn’t hurt those around him. A good man.

Sadly, he realized with a swiftly sinking heart, that act could only go so far.  

“Will you-” Jesse started.

“Would you consider-” Hanzo began at the exact same time.

Both of them paused, mouths freezing around their words.

“My apologies,” Hanzo got his amends out before Jesse could formulate his. “You were saying?”

Jesse shook his head, clinging to the short reprieve. “Nothin’ that can’t wait. You go ahead.”

“I insist.” Hanzo’s words held a firm finality. Jesse backed down and broke eye contact, looking down at the floor instead, the back of his neck prickling. The words that had come so impulsively had all fled, leaving him with nothing more than a desperate hope and a plea.

“I, uh, well,” it wasn’t any kind of seduction that set his teeth to his lip now. He chewed at the abused flesh, wishing that Sombra hadn’t closed the door.. She would know whether to stop him, or at least how to fill the silence that hung between them. “It’s just that - hell. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree with this.” He was verbally backpedaling now, regret outweighing impulse. “Probably shouldn’t have opened my mouth. I’m just a chattering fool and now I can’t tell my tongue from my toes from how far I’ve crammed my foot in there.”

This had been a bad idea ; one he shouldn’t have entertained for more than a moment. It was madness to think, to even imagine -

“Jesse.”  

When Hanzo’s hands left Jesse’s wrists and came up to frame his face, Jesse couldn’t help but turn so that his lips met Hanzo’s warm palm. He rubbed his mouth back and forth, biting his tongue to keep those traitorous words from spilling out. They were the words of a selfish man.

“How can you talk so much and yet say so little?” Hanzo asked, his voice soft and sad. His fingers stretched to tuck a loose strand of tawny hair behind Jesse’s ear.

“Just a talent, I guess,” his words were muffled against Hanzo’s hand. The skin was soft, even with the callouses that decorated his palm like course hills on salt flats. Hanzo didn’t smell like peppermint anymore - that had been traded for the clinical scent the sanitizer left; more an absence of smell than anything else.

“You have many, and now I find myself wishing that saying what you really mean was one of them. Will you…,” he repeated Jesse’s words back to him, the question evident in his tone. “What were you going to ask?”

Jesse couldn’t say it. Wouldn’t say it. “It doesn’t matter.”

Hanzo had to leave, would leave, and Jesse and Sombra would go back to what they’d gotten so good at doing - existing without living.

“Let me be the judge of what matters and what does not,” Hanzo said, all coaxing gone and replaced with steel. “Do not leave me to wonder what you might have said. Not now. I promise you that whatever I concoct will be far worse than the reality.”

The small room felt more confined, more constricted now. The walls were pressing in on Jesse, trapping him, holding him in place as he fought with himself. “I shouldn’t-” He tried.

“Since when have you ever done what you should? If you have, I’ve seen no evidence of it.” Hanzo used his hold on Jesse’s face to turn his head so that their gazes met. Jesse fancied that he could see something in Hanzo eyes, something that looked a lot like hope. What did Hanzo see in his? Could he see the fear there, the fear of what would happen if he spoke? The fear of what would happen if he didn’t?

There was no right path for him here. No playbook to fall back on. If he opened his mouth there was a chance. It was a small one, barely there at all, but it existed. Silence would do nothing but doom him back to that long, bleak loneliness and, coward that he was, that wasn’t something Jesse was ready to face again.

“The only right thing,” Jesse let his words come slowly, “that I’ve ever done in this whole long life of mine, was to click that ‘accept’ button when I got sent a job to rescue a Shimada.” He stepped in closer, as close as he could, and Hanzo’s hands fell away to rest on his shoulders instead, holding on tightly. “‘Course, nothing went much to plan after that but it’s the start of it that really counts. The middle is all just filler.”

“What about the end?” The words were spoken against the corner of Jesse’s mouth. They trembled there, waiting on the edge of a held breath.

“The end?” Jesse felt something building inside of him, something with a roar that sounded like thunder. It was desperate. It was painful. It was beautiful. “Seems to me that there’s really only one. You,” he pressed their lips together in a chaste kiss. “And me.” Another kiss, and this one lasted a little longer. “Together.”

“Oh,” Hanzo’s sigh, breathed into Jesse’s mouth, was the headiest drug. His head spun with it and he swallowed it down along with a third kiss.

“I love you, Sweetheart,” Jesse murmured, his voice cracking. “I love wakin’ up to you and fallin’ asleep the same way. I love the way,” he reached up to his shoulder and curled the fingers of his prosthetic between Hanzo’s, “your hands fit with mine.” Their other hands met and twined together, skin meeting skin, and Jesse let his fingers brush against the head of the dragon. “I like listenin’ to you laugh when I run my mouth and say something dumb.”

Jesse bowed his head so that their foreheads touched. Hazel eyes met brown and held, entranced.

“I love watchin’ you when you’re watchin’ the stars. Makes me wish I could pluck them right out of the sky for you just to make you smile. I used to look up and wonder what folks were searching for out there in the black, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out.”

It wasn’t their first kiss, or even their hundredth at this point, but as their noses brushed once, twice, three times, Jesse knew he’d remember this one.

“I don't,” Jesse licked his dry lips and reminded himself to breathe. “I don’t much care for the idea of wandering space without you. You're the kind of fella I'd be proud to have at my back, whether it be for fightin' off trouble or makin' it ourselves."

Hanzo’s eyes narrowed as he smiled, the creases around them deepening. "No doubt it would be a combination of the two, thinking back on what we've managed to survived thus far."

“Darlin’, that’s just the beginning.” Jesse was smiling now too. It stretched across his face and made his jaw ache from the force behind the expression. “I’ll show you all the fanciest back alleys and thugs the ‘verse has to offer.”

Hanzo hummed contemplatively, releasing Jesse’s prosthetic so that he could lay his hand over the still healing knife wound. “And hopefully not leave behind as much of yourself as you did the first time.”

“You saying you don’t like my scars?”

“I’m saying that you will quickly run out of skin to scar if you keep up this pace.” Hanzo’s eyes fell as he ran his fingers over the face of the grinning bronze skull that decorated Jesse’s arm. “And I would not be very pleased if you decided to part with another limb. One is quite enough.”

“Well, you know me - I always aim to please. Love of my life says no more loss of limb…” He sighed as if it was a hardship and pressed the back of his hand to his forehead dramatically. “Guess it’s gotta be that way.”    

“Jesse.”

Hanzo’s tone made Jesse lower his hand again, suddenly aware that he was perilously close to ruining the mood with his antics.

“Sorry, sorry. Bad time for my shitty sense of humor to raise it’s head.”

“It isn’t that.” It was Hanzo’s turn to look away. Jesse felt the icy hand of fear begin to creep up his spine. He ignored it. After all, paranoia was a close friend of his even when it was unwarranted.

“Hanzo? Darlin’, I was just kiddin’ about the back alleys. I’ll take you wherever you want to go. Hell, all the way across the ‘verse and back again if that’s what you’re in the mood for. And I’ll put in a proper shower before we start and let you take a hammer to the sanitizer.”

That at least was enough to bring the smile back to Hanzo’s face, albeit a much smaller one. “A tempting offer, to be sure. Sadly it is one that I cannot accept, no matter how much I want to. Ah,” he raised a hand to cut off any response. “For the moment I would prefer if you simply listened to my reasoning rather than making it into a conversation. I’ve noticed that you have a rather distressing habit of jumping to conclusions before I’ve had a chance to explain myself fully.” He looked up and tilted his head to the side, a strand of white hair falling free from the rest. “Will you give me a moment to collect my thoughts without letting yours run too wild?”

Jesse, rendered mute by Hanzo’s still-raised hand, could only nod. It was an impossible task he’d been given. How could his mind not tie itself into a hundred knots now? He’d poured himself out like water from a cracked jug, said words that he’d never thought would ever pass his lips, and been told to stay silent.

What could he possibly have to gain from going with you? Asked the darker side of himself, the one Jesse always kept so well hidden. A dingy ship with a dingier Captain? Did you really think that he’d say yes just because you used the big L-word? Love doesn’t put coins in your pocket or get the Council off your backs. You don’t have anything that he could possibly -

“Jesse. You are thinking too hard.” A pair of fingers snapped in front of his eyes and Jesse blinked, abruptly yanked back out of the cesspool of his own head.

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” he drawled, hooking his thumbs in his pants pockets to hide the way they were shaking. “I don’t have enough up there to even make a rattling noise if you shook it.”

Hanzo frowned. “That is a lie that rolls off of your tongue far too easily for my peace of mind.”

Busted. Jesse pasted on his ‘I’m charming and harmless’ smile and took a quick step backwards. “That’s not the only thing that rolls off my tongue, Sugar. If you need much longer to pile up those thoughts of yours I’m sure I could find some way to entertain it.”

Cease! ” Hanzo brought his hand down in a hard slash and Jesse smelled the electric burn of ozone. “Charming you may be, but this is a side of you I do not like at all. It is hollow and lifeless compared to the person I know lies underneath. Do not insult either of our intelligence by thinking you can deceive or distract me.”

Any sort of soft emotion that still lingered was cast aside like a tissue. Hanzo all but crackled with energy, and most of that appeared to be a mix of fury and frustration. Jesse held up his hands in a gesture of surrender and took yet another step backwards.

“Alright,” Jesse said, not smiling any more. He wasn’t sure he could have even faked one now, not with Hanzo glaring at him. Waiting for the false charm. “Alright, no more. You can have your bit.”

The muscles in Hanzo’s jaw tightened as he clenched his teeth, waiting to see if there was another objection he would need to fight against. Jesse didn’t move. He didn’t speak.

There was nothing left to say.

“I am,” Hanzo started, but he paused almost instantly with his brow furrowed. “This is more difficult than I had anticipated. Understand that I am grateful that you want me to stay with you. More than grateful. It is an offer that, had you given it to me at any time but now, I might have accepted. For years I’ve yearned to shed the shackles that my life has put around me. To be free in any way I could. There were even times I considered death better.” He shrugged at the helpless noise that escaped from Jesse’s throat. “Clearly I never chose to walk that particular path. I was too bound by my duty to my family and the institution that they created to dwell on it for long. To let the Shimada line die with me…”

He turned away, arms crossed across his chest. Jesse could see the tension written in every line of Hanzo’s shoulders.

“It was both unthinkable and a sort of private revenge that I kept close to my heart. At least, until I learned of the Council’s experimentations. They were constructing creatures similar to my family’s dragons - the wyrms. I believe that the breakthrough they were so desperately searching for came from me,” he raised one foot and used it to tap his opposite leg. It clanged dully. “I knew that they were behind the assassins sent after me after that. They had what they wanted, after all. What need did they have for an heir who resented their power and hated everything they now stood for? In my mind they were a cancer that had grown too large. Any other might have cut it out and started afresh, but I did not have that power.”

He looked at Jesse over his shoulder. “Do you know what it is like to be trapped by your own life? To be bound by chains that no one else can see, but that are so heavy that they threaten to crush you every day you wake up? It was a living nightmare.”

Jesse nodded, biting the insides of his cheeks to keep from interrupting. Instead he offered what comfort he could with open arms. Hanzo hesitated for a second before he accepted the invitation and crowded close, letting Jesse hold him and comfort them both with the contact.

“I found a message,” Hanzo said as he rubbed his cheek against the front of Jesse’s soft shirt. “It had been well hidden and I do not know how long it had sat there before I discovered it with the help of my dragons. Years perhaps. These people... this organization. They said that they would help me. If I could escape and make it to their base of operations, they would use every resource at their disposal to help me destroy the Council and reclaim my birthright. I will admit that the second part held less appeal than the first.”

“And what’d these folks want for you? Nobody does anything in this ‘verse out of the goodness of their hearts.”

Hanzo shifted so that he could rest his chin on Jesse’s sternum and look up at him. “You do.”

Jesse flushed from his neck to the roots of his hair and dropped his head, squeezing Hanzo as tightly as he could without causing damage. “Don’t you go sayin’ sweet shit like that when we’re havin’ a serious conversation. S’just not right.”

“I will say it when it is true.” Hanzo kissed the side of Jesse’s neck, his lips warm and dry. “But yes, you are right. They needed my help in return for theirs. I do have some unique skills that they seemed to think would serve them well,” he sighed heavily and squeezed back. “I accepted the arrangement embarrassingly quickly and set about arranging for a rescue. Which,” his hands roamed up from Jesse’s back to tease at the curls around the nape of his neck, “was where I met a rather headstrong ship’s Captain who decided that house fires and explosives were the best way to make an escape.”      

“Those’re classics. You don’t mess with the classics.” Jesse raised his head enough so Hanzo’s could get a proper grip on his hair. The burn of it was grounding, helping him keep from sinking too deep into the quagmire of his own head.

“No one will ever accuse you of not making enough of an entrance,” Hanzo agreed as he twirled Jesse’s curls around and around lithe fingers. “It was supposed to be simple. A short trip with questionable company and the promise of my long-awaited revenge at the other end. Of course, then you decided to work your way into a part of me that I thought had died a long time ago. And you,” he paused and Jesse heard him swallow hard. His next words were wet and strangled. “You had to say that you loved me. You had to ask me to stay and damn you , I want to .”

“Oh hell, Sweetheart, geez.” Jesse pushed Hanzo back by his shoulders so that he could see him properly. To his horror there were tears welling up in the other man’s eyes - huge, fat drops that broke free with the first blink and rolled down his cheeks in rivers. “Don’t cry Han, come on. You know I can’t handle that, you’re going to make me start cryin’ too. Look, I’m getting misty already.”

There was no stopping the tears once they’d started and all Hanzo could manage was a laugh that rang like a sob. “This is entirely your fault. If you hadn’t been so charming and looked at me like that I would have been able to resist. But you are so good , Jesse. Even if you think you are not. You are kintsugi - a broken thing made even more beautiful. Your scars are the gold that holds you together and I cannot seem to look away.”

Hanzo took a deep, shuddering breath. He wiped at the tears with the sleeve of his coat even as the drops rolled into his beard. “Nor do I want to. When we spoke at the same time, I had finally realized this. I do not want to be parted from your side, no matter where our paths may take us. I cannot come with you, Jesse. The Council has grown too powerful and the right to destroy them is mine alone. I will not let that go either. I asked you ‘what about the end’ knowing that I could not accept your offer. Now hear mine.”

Time seemed to hold its breath as their red-rimmed eyes met. Jesse’s heartbeats slowed to a crawl, each beat slow and powerful as a drum.

“Jesse McCree, I love you. It was never something I expected from my life, or even hoped for. Yet you’ve given it to me and I find that I must give it to you in return. I love falling asleep with you and waking up the same way. I love the way…” he raised his hands up in front of them and threaded their fingers together when Jesse mirrored him, “your fingers fit with mine. I love watching your face when you laugh. I love discovering new things with you, things that I hadn’t known existed until I met you. Will you come with me? Will you stay by my side until I’ve done what I need to do?”

If speaking his own mind had made Jesse’s heart ache, that was nothing compared to what it was doing now. This was bigger, better, wilder. This was a summer storm that turned into a tornado, sweeping aside everything in its path and leaving nothing but pieces.

“You mean that?” Jesse asked softly, hardly trusting his tongue to say the right words. His fingers tightened around Hanzo’s, holding on like a lifeline before the raging wind.

Hanzo nodded, as serious as a stone. “I do. You are capable, intelligent, and loyal. I would trust no other to stand with me against the Council.”

“Well, when you put it that way,” Jesse forced out a laugh. “Doesn’t sound like quite as much fun as runnin’ away and being space cowboys, but I guess it’ll work alright. Can’t say I’ve got much else on my calendar right now, so I’ll just pencil in ‘take down the biggest underworld cartel in the ‘verse’, shall I?”

The armful of Hanzo he got was answer enough.

...

‘This is your lovely and talented flight attendant speaking. The current time is 8:01, ST and we’re about ten minutes from the good ship Gibraltar. I’m going to go into low power mode just in case they have sweeper tech on board. No need to set off those alarms sooner than we have to. I’ll be on the comm once I’ve bypassed their security measures, but you’ll have to do without my razor wit until then.’

“Copy that.” Jesse slipped the bud into his ear and tapped it twice to bring it online. Next to him Hanzo did the same. They were standing shoulder to shoulder in the cockpit, looking out into the depths of space, waiting for their first glimpse of their destination. “If we’re very lucky they’re just a ship of do-gooders without much tech to their name.”

“And if we aren’t lucky?” Hanzo asked with amusement. Jesse heard his voice both next to him and through the earpiece.

“Then they’re a bunch of radicals with more guns than brains and we get to start comin’ up with plans B, C, and D. Possibly E and F too.” Content that his ear piece was properly settled, Jesse pulled his gun out of its holster and popped it open to check on the ammunition. Full loaded, with spares scattered all over his person. Between that, the flashbangs on his belt, and the tricks in his prosthetic, there wasn’t much else he could do to prepare. Walking into the unknown had always been a specialty of his, but that didn’t mean he wanted to do so blindfolded and unarmed.

“Are you expecting trouble?”

‘Jesse has a way of attracting trouble in places that there shouldn’t be any.’

“I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about. I’ve just learned to expect trouble to happen and I like to be prepared for when it does.” The gun slid back into its holster and rested there, waiting.

‘You might have more luck avoiding that trouble if you brought a nice flower arrangement with you instead of a gun. Just my opinion though. What do I know? I just fly the ship and help break you out of jail.’

“And dish out sass. Lots and lots of sass,” Jesse rolled his eyes towards the ceiling and gave his best long suffering sigh. Hanzo snickered next to him. “I’ll do my best not to get on the bad side of any radicals or reprobates.”

“I am sure that everyone is grateful, even if they don’t realize it yet. I will say that walking into such a situation unarmed is less than appealing.” Hanzo rubbed his sternum through his suit jacket and grimaced.

“Darlin’, with those lizards of yours ‘unarmed’ is the last thing I’d call you. You’re probably packin’ more firepower than me and my ship and everything on the Gibraltar combined. Unless they have a bomb,” he added. “I really hope they don’t have a bomb. I hate those things.”

“A story for another time, perhaps.”

‘It’s actually three different stories that all sum up to ‘don’t bring a bomb to a gunfight’,’ Sombra filled in helpfully. ‘The last one blew out both of his eardrums and I had to type everything to him for three days until we found a doctor who would fix them and accept credits under the table.’

“The right one still rings funny,” Jesse grumbled, sticking his finger into his ear and turning it a couple of times. “Guess you get what you pay for.”

“That shouldn’t apply in surgery!” Hanzo said, looking appalled. “There are standard procedures for situations like that - cost shouldn’t factor into how well a job is performed.”

Jesse couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s the argument of a man who’s never had his ears blown and his name on a wanted chart. Most of the time you take what you can get or you just learn to deal with it. I didn’t fancy having to read every swear word Som was sending my way, so I took what was offered and didn’t complain. Well, didn’t complain too much.”

‘You whined like a little bitch for three weeks, Jessito.’

“Wow, space sure is lovely ‘round these parts!” Jesse said loudly to cover her up, propping his hands on his hips and leaning forward, as if he was fascinated by the patterns of the stars outside. “Yes’sir, sure is nice out there. Nothing quite like deep space to make a man feel at home.”

A hand settled between his shoulders, against his serape. “Are you certain this is what you want, Jesse? That I am not pressuring you into accompanying me?” There was a hint of anxiousness to his voice that Jesse wasn’t used to hearing there.

“Sweetheart, wild horses couldn’t drag me anywhere I didn’t feel like going. Don’t you worry. Only place I want to be is one step behind you.”

A light appeared on the console, signaling an incoming message.

‘That would be a hail from the Gibraltar, on line 1. I’m going dark now, Jesse. Good luck.’

“Thanks Som. Talk to you in a bit.” He saluted the camera in the ceiling and it flashed twice at him before the light next to it changed from green to red and then off. “Listen,” he said to Hanzo now. “Probably doesn’t need saying, but I’d be mighty grateful if you didn’t mention Som to anybody we meet. She’s… well, she’s pretty special and I don’t think most folk would take to her as well as you have.”

Hanzo nodded in understanding. “She is unlike any AI that I have ever encountered. I understand not wanting to spread word of her. It may cause problems with our hosts.”

“My way of thinkin’ exactly,” Jesse beamed. “A’right, let’s get this show on the road.” He reached over the top of the captain’s chair and pressed the button to open the communication line. He left the camera off. “This is Caine Alvarado, Captain of this ship. To whom am I speaking?” He glanced back and winked at Hanzo. “Official Captain voice. Sounds so important,” he whispered.

Hanzo only rolled his eyes in reply.

“Greetings Captain Alvarado.” The crackling reply came through the speakers. “This is a hail from the Ark Gibraltar. We’ve detected your ship and your trajectory will be bringing you into close proximity with our station. What is your final destination?”

“That’d be that ship of yours. I’ve got some cargo on board that’s got your calling card.”

“Do you have an access code? I’m afraid that we have some hazardous material onboard and can’t currently allow unauthorized ships to dock.”

“That’s probably how they keep normal folks from stopping in to refuel,” Jesse murmured to Hanzo. “You got some kind of code?”

Hanzo nodded and settled himself on the arm of the chair. “This is Shimada, Hanzo speaking. Access Code O-W-0-2-1-3. I’ve chartered this ship and it’s Captain to reach the Gibraltar. Both are under my protection and are to be treated as members of my entourage.”

“Damn,” Jesse whistled. “Entourage. I feel so fancy now. Should’ve worn my nice boots.”

There was a minute of static from the speaker as the person from the other end checked the code. “Your access code is in order. Please proceed to Bay 3. There will be a committee there to greet you and your guests. Welcome to the Gibraltar, Mister Shimada.”

The comm light died when Jesse pressed the button again.

“We should be able to see her in just a minute. Come on,” Jesse slid into the chair and patted his lap.

“You are going to wrinkle my suit,” Hanzo said, but he took his place on Jesse’s lap anyway, his legs hanging over the arm.

“If that’s the worst crime you can lay at my door, I think we’re doin’ just fine.” Jesse stared out into the darkness. Somewhere out there was a ship meant to carry thousands and last through generations. A repurposed relic that now held something else. A rebellion, perhaps. A new start for Jesse. A hope for Hanzo.

“There.” He pointed.

Their destination started as a speck but grew larger by the second until the gleaming hull took up the entirety of the front window. The Ark Gibraltar. She was a beast of a ship - massive enough to hold the populations of some planets and still have elbow room. She hung in the sky like a whale, silhouetted against the stars.

“She’s running with a skeleton crew,” Jesse commented, his eyes sweeping over the hull. “You can tell. See how there’s lights on in this whole front section?”

“Yes.” Hanzo’s gaze followed where Jesse pointed.

“You see anybody walking in front of ‘em?”

Hanzo watched silently. “I do not. Might it simply be sleeping hours?”

“Possibly, but in a ship this big there’s always somebody awake to keep watch. I’ll bet my boots that they’ve only got a couple hundred folks at most and the rest of this is just sittin’ empty.”

Hanzo made a considering sound and shifted off of Jesse’s lap. “I suppose that we will see for ourselves soon enough. Still, it matters little to me how many men they have. These people are the only ones who offered me any sort of help and I am willing to hear out their offer for that alone.” He glanced at Jesse and gave him a tense smile. “If it isn’t a good enough one, we may find ourselves playing space cowboys yet.”

“That’s the spirit! Always look on the dark side of things. Then you’re never disappointed.” Jesse’s spurs jangled as he stood. He swept off his battered hat, leaning down into a low bow. “Shall we, Mister Shimada?”

Hanzo took his arm when he straightened. “I believe we shall.”

The docking was an easy one compared to some. Even without Sombra to guide them in, Jesse piloted them to the open bay easily enough and even remembered which switch deployed the landing gear. The entire ship shuddered as the Gibraltar’s artificial gravity took hold - pieces that hadn’t felt any weight in days suddenly remembering that they weighed something. The Raven Class shook, groaned, and finally settled. The bay doors slid closed and there was a loud whirring noise as clamps locked in place around the landing gear, holding the ship in place.

No other ships were docked in the bay even with the  space to hold a dozen.

“There’s the welcome party,” Jesse murmured, spotting several figures walking through a door at the far end of the hanger. “Guess it’s a bit late to change our minds now.”

“I’m certain you could come up with some way to get us free even if we had,” Hanzo reassured him. They made their way to the back of the ship. The loading ramp lowered with the press of a button and a blast of fresh air swept inside, tugging at their clothes and hair.

“God I love the smell of unrecycled oxygen,” Jesse said happily, taking a deep breath. “Wonder if they allow smoking on here. I could really go for a-”

‘Jesse! Jesse, it’s trap!’ Sombra’s voice blasted over the ear piece, but Hanzo didn’t flinch. She wasn’t talking through his. Jesse froze in place, his hand resting on his gun. ‘I’ve disguised myself as a forgotten password, but it won’t hold up for long. It’s Athena, Jesse. She’s scanning the whole ship. It has to be them, she wouldn’t work for anybody else.’

Athena. The only AI Jesse had ever met who could even come close to Sombra.

Athena was scanning his ship. Breaking down his firewalls. Sombra had built them well enough to withstand any normal scans, but not to stand up against Athena. Not for long.

Athena.

The welcoming committee reached the bottom of the ramp and were looking up at them.

Hanzo was halfway down it, his hands clasped loosely behind his back.

Jesse could only stand frozen as something inside of him began to scream and scream and scream.

Athena and Overwatch.

When he realized that Jesse wasn’t behind him, Hanzo turned and gave him a curious look. “Jesse? Are you coming?”

The people finally looked past Hanzo and saw him. There were three of them - a woman in a white coat, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. A more slender woman in a brown flight jacket two sizes too big for her. A giant of a man with a thick white beard and only one eye.

“Som,” he whispered desperately. “Som, help…

“John!” Cried the giant, his bright face contorting with delight. “John Hardin! We were told that you had perished!”

Shadows closed in around the edges of Jesse’s vision as he struggled to breathe.

‘I’m sorry, Jesse.’

'On your marks, cachorritos!' Said Gabriel’s voice in his ear.

Calm.

A man walked down the ramp to join Hanzo. His expression was pleased. His hands didn’t shake. His breathing was even. His heart didn’t race.

That man was not Jesse McCree.     

Chapter Text

      Analyze location.

Location: Aboard the ship Gibraltar, in orbit around Angel. In an office on Sub-Level 12, Hall B-2, Room 17. The door is locked, as tested by hand. No windows. No mirrors. One camera in upper left corner. Online. Local time is 4:17 PM, ST.

His eyes swept the room. Cataloging. Remembering.

Furnishings include one desk, centered, and two chairs. No restraints visible.

      Analyze state.

Physical: Acceptable. Some residual injuries and pain from previous encounters, including injuries to ribs, shoulder blade, stomach, and head. Chance of injuries causing hindrance: fifteen percent.

Mental: Acceptable. Protocol ‘Get Set’ active, ability to analyze and provide necessary tactical response at peak levels.

Emotional: Highly compromised. Action: Quarantine until situation has reached acceptable levels for emotional response.

He stood facing the door, his back to the wall. His hands were ready, crossed loosely across his chest. No gun hung at his hip - they’d confiscated that along with his flashbangs and every knife on his person. The pat-down had been clinical and no one spoke while they divested him of the weaponry. No one had known what to say and he hadn’t felt it necessary to engage them until he held a better understanding of the situation.

      Options.

Option One: Immediate escape. Contact Sombra. Use prosthetic plasma cutter to disable door lock, travel to Sub-Level 8, Hall A, Hanger 1. Use Sombra to disable Athena and remove stability locks from Raven class ship. Use ship weaponry to eliminate hangar doors. Activate cloaking, travel at hyperspeed to Safehouse 12. Go into deep cover.

      Approximate timeline: One hour.

      Risk level: High.

      Damage to emotional state: Low.

Option Two: Delayed escape. Gather intel from base. Use limited emotional response to communicate. Discover motives, end goals, and resources. Limited contact with Sombra to avoid suspicion. Use persona ‘John Hardin’. Follow steps of Option One beginning at traveling to hangar once movement is unrestricted. Go into deep cover.

      Approximate timeline: Up to one week.

      Risk level: Medium.   

      Damage to emotional state: Medium. Limit contact with known associates.

Option Three: Integrate into base. Use limited emotional response to establish and maintain contact. Discover motives, end goals, and resources. Manipulate as necessary. Steal intel as presented. Limited contact with Sombra. Use persona ‘John Hardin’. Escape when most opportune and informed.

      Approximate timeline: Up to one year.

      Risk level: Medium.

      Damage to emotional state: Potentially traumatic. Limit contact with known associates at all costs.

Exactly twenty-two minutes and three seconds had passed since he’d first been escorted and locked in with the assurance that someone would be coming to speak with him soon. That ‘soon’ had come and gone, but he didn’t move from his position. He didn’t pace. He didn’t fidget. Those ticks were a waste of energy. His hat disguised the subtle movement of his eyes from the camera.

They were watching him. He didn’t plan to give them anything to look at. The camera might as well have been fixed on a statue for all the movement it picked up.

      Potential complications.

First: Weapons. Still in possession of prosthetic armaments. Reclaim gun and flashbangs.

Second: Physical state not optimal. Visit medical bay if ship integration option probable.

Third: Ship occupants may cause intense emotional response.

Beyond the crew at the hangar, there was no way to tell exactly who now occupied the Gibraltar. Overwatch dissolved years ago, but at its height the organization employed several thousand staff and active participants. John Hardin had known many of them by name and, of those, several may have called him friend.

If any of them had answered the recall, it would be challenging to keep his less regulated side completely repressed.

      What about Hanzo?

That voice didn’t sound like the emotionless one that had been prompting him, but his mind answered it all the same.

Hanzo Shimada: Unknown variable.

      Emotional vulnerability: High.

      Discover if H. Shimada actively knew of the relationship with Overwatch.

      Eliminate if necessary.

A sharp pain, as violent as a stab wound, swept through him. He didn’t move. He didn’t flinch. The feeling was filed away as ‘ an intense emotional response ’ and tagged as unimportant. It wasn’t relevant to the current situation. That part of him had survived heartbreak and trauma before. Jesse McCree would survive again, whether or not Hanzo Shimada was at his side. He existed to ensure it.

‘Jesse?’ Said a voice from his ear piece. ‘I know you can hear me. Wake up, Jesse.’

‘Jesse?’

The sun was gloriously warm on his face.

His eyes opened to a blue sky stretched above and streaked with white clouds. The wind in the golden grass whispered in his ears, a dry hush. It mixed with the cries of cicadas to create the melody of summer. A hawk circled on a warm updraft, drifting lazily to and fro in the search for the next meal.

He let his eyes close again.

If he stretched out his fingers just so he could almost imagine he could feel the wind slipping through them. His bones would become bird-hollow. His flesh would turn to feathers. He could be a dappled hawk, lonely and free.  

I know you can hear me.’

Still his eyes stayed closed. Reality was the high noon sun on his skin. Reality was having no shoes on and being able to stretch out his fingers and toes, feeling the muscles flex. Reality was the smell of the grass and dirt and the sound of far off thunder as the storm rolled ever closer.

He could almost hear the rain as it wet the grass on the rolling hills.

His brow furrowed, a line of stress carved between his shut eyes. There shouldn’t be a storm here. This place had always been sunny - his safe place where the sun never set past noon and the clouds never came too close. A place he could rest.

Where he could hide.

The thunder came again, this time with a sharp crack of lightning preceding. His skin prickled and the hair on his arms stood at attention. Something was wrong. This wasn’t ... he tried to think, to figure out exactly why it was wrong, but every idea managed to slither out of his head like a snake through the grass.

Wake up, Jesse.’

How was he supposed to wake up when he wasn’t asleep?

‘I can’t talk for long. They missed your ear piece but Athena is doing some seriously deep scans. She’ll pick up the frequency. You’re probably under pretty deep right now since it’s been years since the last time this happened but you’ve got to start waking up, cariño.’

Athena. Deep scans. Jesse pushed himself onto his elbows, staring down the length of his prone body, and out across the grass. There was something about that, something important. His throat began to work, flexing and closing, making his breath shudder in his chest.

‘Just listen for a minute. We’re on the Gibraltar. It’s currently under the control of a recalled Overwatch, but they’re in deep cover. Probably with Athena’s help, that hija de las mil putas. They’ve put you in an office until they decide what to do with you and I’ve disguised my code as a forgotten password. Still can’t stay in one place for long - she’s on high alert and I don’t have enough hooks in place to shut her down yet so we have to stall for time.’

Fuck.

The Gibraltar. Overwatch. They were back and he’d flown right to them like he’d meant to do it. Years and years of running, of looking over his shoulder, of hating and this was how he’d ended up. Trapped and waiting for the headsman’s axe to fall.

He rolled to his knees, trying to fight down the rising panic. This wasn’t real. Why was he here, in this place? There was dirt on his boots, the smell of grass in his nose, but they were on the Gibraltar. Reyes was dead . No one could send him here any more except his own tortured head.

A drop hit the ground between his hands. Rain.

This wasn’t right. None of this was right. Dirt embedded itself under his nails as he curled his hands into fists.

‘You were about to go into a full panic attack, Jesse. I activated ‘Get Set’ with a recording I had from Gabe. I’ll apologize properly later, but right now it’s bought us a little time. You need to calm down so you can take back over and let me know what the plan is.’

His head snapped up and a bolt of fear speared through him like lightning.

Get Set.

He was locked in his own head, nothing more than a passenger on a train he couldn’t steer.

At long last he moved. The blood was beginning to pool in his hand and feet, which would make them slower than optimal. He gave each of them a shake in turn, clenching and unclenching his hand until feeling returned to his fingers. That, it seemed, was the sign of life that his captors were waiting for.

      Analyze.

The office door swung open, admitting two men. The first carried a tray with two steaming cups and a plate of sandwiches. He was a big man, his arms and chest heavy with muscle, but they were balanced out by his good-natured face and the pair of fussy spectacles perched on the end of his nose.

Winston Arebati, head of the Science and Research division of the disbanded Overwatch. Nature: friendly, trusting, inquiring. Not given to violence unless highly provoked.

      Intelligence: High

      Strength: High

      Threat Level: Low

He turned his attention to the second man. He was shorter and leaner than Winston, and his face was concealed behind a visor. A shock of white hair showed above it, but he didn’t move like it was pale from age alone. The set of his shoulders and that strict, unyielding cut of his clothes spelled ‘soldier’.

      Intelligence: Unknown

      Strength: Unknown

      Threat Level: Unknown

“John.” Winston’s voice was deep and as warm as the cups of coffee that he set on the table. “It’s good to see you. Been a long time.”

John Hardin. Identity: Persona. Used exclusively when dealing with Overwatch operatives. Friendly, outgoing, good sense of humor. Clumsy. A low-ranking trainee serving in a recon squad.

“Winston.” His voice was flat, without accent, or notable inflection. The best course of action was to remain neutral until he had a better idea of how to attack the situation. “Who’s your friend?”

The chair groaned as Winston sank onto it, the spindly metal legs only barely up to the task of supporting the enormous man. His dark, heavy brows were drawn together, the stress showing through despite his casual demeanor. It had been years since the last time the two of them were in the same room together. There were signs of silver in Winston’s dark hair now and the shadows under his eyes were markedly darker.   

“This is Soldier: 76. He served as one of the Overwatch riot control soldiers while it was active. Like everyone else aboard, he answered the recall message when Athena and I sent it out.”

Next to the door, the soldier shifted his weight from leg to leg. There was a heavy pulse rifle strapped across his back - the standard issue weapon for Overwatch footsoldiers. They were easy to produce and just as easy to repair.

He eyed the gun, but quickly dismissed the idea of trying to disarm the soldier just yet. There was no tactical advantage to a hostage situation, not until he learned more about why he was here and the best way to leave.

“I must have missed it.”

Winston gave a strained laugh and pulled off his glasses to polish them with the front of his shirt. “You might have. It was pretty heavily encoded to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Without the encryption key it should have been impossible to find at all. Of course, if we’d known for sure that you were still active I would have sent you one. Your skills were always an asset to our work.”

      Analyze.

Action: Press for more information. Use shock tactics if necessary.

“Overwatch’s work was never mine. You know who owned me.”

The soldier stiffened and crossed his arms across his chest. He was twitchy. On edge. It would be interesting to see if that anxious energy also carried over to his trigger finger. There was something about the man, something about his build, the way he stood, that called to a deeply hidden memory. Still, it would take more to force it to the surface than a familiar stance. It had been years since he’d encountered any of these people after all. “Yes, I do know. But I also like to believe that we were all working towards the same end goal.” Winston put his glasses back and slid them up his nose with his knuckle. “Peace. The universe deserved that after the war.”

He moved. There was an idea to respond emotionally, but that cat would be loath to go back into its safe box once released. Instead he calmly pulled out the chair across from Winston and settled himself in it, crossing one leg across his thigh. His leather jacket creaked, not worn enough at the joints to be supple yet.

“The peace you worked towards was a marketing stunt. It looked good and kept the operation funded because people were fooled by the talk of ‘heroes protecting the universe’. You lured them in with a tenuous truce, kept them there with the golden posterboy.”

He reached for the coffee cup and allowed himself the tiniest sip. No drugs that he could detect, but the brew was strong and dark enough that it could have covered up the bitterness of a mild sedative. He set the mugdown again and dismissed Winston’s look of disappointment. Winston wasn’t devious enough to drug him, but that didn’t mean that someone else hadn’t had the chance to tamper with it.  

“Until the Alliance got wise and dragged the whole operation up on corruption charges. When was that again? Oh. That’s right,” he knocked the toe of his boot against the side of the table.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“After the ‘explosion’.”

“A lot has happened between then and now, John. We thought you were dead. The only reason we looked for you at all is because your ship was missing, but then Athena confirmed that some of the blood matched your DNA signature. And we found…” Winston glanced at the prosthetic arm uncomfortably. The bronze skull leered back, its hollow eye sockets as cold and emotionless as its owner. “We didn’t have much hope after that.”

He raised his hand and turned it over so that it was palm up, the ghastly office light reflecting off the dark metal.

“Did you leave it with them?”

“Them?” Winston asked in confusion, glancing over at the soldier.

“The arm. Did you leave it with the rest of the bodies when you blew the place?”

“Rest of the - oh dear.” Winston leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table so that they could be closer. “John, I’m not sure how to tell you this gently. There weren’t any bodies. Just… pieces. Pieces and blood.”

There was a space inside of him, a locked box that held the sun and a warm, golden field. It wasn’t a part of him - nothing that happened there could touch him or sway him from his path. Still his ears had begun to ring with the silent screams that were beginning to issue from it.

“Winston.” The soldier stepped forward. He had a voice like a hundred miles of bad road that spoke of either injury or smoke inhalation. Perhaps both. “Go get some more coffee. The kid and I are going to have a talk.”  

      Analyze.

Accent registers as vocally-damaged Jiangyin. Approximate age: Late 50s, early 60s. Height: 6’1”. Injury on left leg, slight limp. Obvious facial scarring.

Use of the term ‘the kid’ highly familiar.

Winston glanced back and forth between them and then sighed, his shoulders slumping. “Okay. But I’ll be back soon. Don’t, uh, please don’t break anything.” He looked up at the soldier with a pleading expression and it was obvious that he wasn’t talking about the furniture.

“Didn’t plan on it,” the soldier clapped a hand on Winston’s shoulder as the man stood. “You worry too much.”

“These days I think they pay me more to worry than to do actual science. Oh wait! They don’t pay me at all.” Winston tossed his hands up in exasperation as he left. “Athena, could you please check on-”

The door slid shut behind him, cutting him off. The office was left silent again. They eyed each other, two wolves sizing up their opponent. One scarred and old, one younger and feral.

He slid his tongue across his teeth.

“So.” The soldier leaned his hip against the metal desk. “What should I call you?”

Tactic: Keep casual. Use persona ‘John Hardin.’

“Anything but ‘late to dinner’. Are you planning on beating some kind of confession out of me? Avoid the face if you can. I’m partial to it,” he tilted his hat back in a smooth, practiced gesture. The action allowed him to see most of the room. He wouldn’t be taken unawares by anything or anyone.

The soldier shook his head while claiming Winston’s abandoned chair. “We both know that’s not what I’m talking about. Commander Reyes had a program when Blackwatch was active. He field tested it on himself.” He reached out, quick as lightning, and snapped his fingers between the eyes of the man across from him. There was no response. No flinch. Not even a blink. It wasn’t a threat.   

“Pretty sure you’re not cleared for that sort of information,” he drawled.

“And I’m pretty sure that your entire organization was turned into a stain on the deck of your base and nobody knows why. Except you. So let’s try this again, kid . You’ve got that look in your eye that says that nobody’s home but a play book. I can hold you here until it wears off and you go right back into whatever state you were in when you walked off your ship, or you can give me some answers. What should I call you?”

The soldier was good. Too good. Nobody outside of the highest ranking commanders had even heard about Reyes’ ‘program’. Fewer still knew exactly what the purpose of it was. Jesse had learned about it firsthand and from that had been born someone new. Someone whose breath was always calm. Whose heart never raced. Someone who could kill without remorse and not have nightmares about it.

He tapped his boot against the desk. Once. Twice. Three times.

It wouldn’t serve him at all to get ‘Jesse’ back before they were well on their way into deep space. He was too emotional. A liability of the highest order. With him in control, their chance of escape dropped to a very bloody ten percent with a high likelihood of ending up as a corpse.

“The Gunslinger. You can call me the Gunslinger.”

“Fuck. Fuck! Fucking hellfire and damnation!

A roll of thunder was his only reply. Sombra was gone - her voice didn’t echo through the heavens of his mind any more. It was just him and the breaking storm now. Grit swirled around his boots, blown this way and that by the wicked wind. The grass rolled, bowing before the wrath in the only way it knew how.

Jesse stood firm as the darkness poured over the hills. “Is this payback?!” He shouted. “Is this fucking karma for all the shit I’ve done?”

This was supposed to be his safe place, the place he could go when he was hurting. He’d built it himself from a mix of memories and dreams until every part, from the texture of the ground to the cry of the hawk was as familiar to him as his own heartbeat. This place lived in his soul - an empty book that he’d filled with color, where he could lose himself until it was time to return to reality.

A place Reyes had been able to send him, him and every member of his squad, with four simple words.

John Hardin. JJ Mack. Josiah Ardent. Caine Alvarado. Jesse McCree. Fifty more. A new life for every place, every mission.

Every single one of them could be wiped away in an instant and leave him nothing more than the lowest form he had.

The Gunslinger.

Lightning struck the old dead tree and it exploded in a violent flash of light and fire, shards of bark shooting off like thrown knives. One stuck him point-on and his left forearm fell to the ground with a dry ‘thump’, the fingers still clenched into a fist. His scream was lost to the roar of the storm, but no blood poured from the wound.

“You can take this,” he said through gritted teeth, holding tight to his arm above the stump. “I’ve lost it already. I’ll do you one better!” Wires poured from his veins, wires and liquid steel. The hand on the ground began to fray at the edges even as his metal one took shape, until he had a new forearm and the meat on the ground was nothing more than sand. The wind quickly whisked away the debris.

Something was wrong. Something had changed.

The rain came, and it was so heavy that the very hills washed away. They dissolved like watercolors, running between his legs and soaking into the ground under his boots. It was all breaking apart around him, his safe place, the place he could hide and hold onto himself.

Without this place, his sunshine field, there was no telling what he would become.

“I’m not afraid!” He bellowed into the storm, his mouth half-filling with rainwater. “I’ve seen it all! I’ve lived through it all and I don’t care any more!”

The thunder’s roar had teeth and the lightning curled around and around until it was a pair of blazing eyes hanging in the sky. A terrible dragon made of storms towered above him. It’s body was made of the blackest clouds. Its mane crackled with white electricity and when it roared the trees trembled and fell. The sodden ground quaked beneath Jesse’s boots, dancing until he wasn’t sure how it held together at all. When it broke he would surely fall down to a place there would be no returning from.

He wouldn’t run anymore, no matter what came.

“This is my place! My mind! And I don’t recall inviting you in!”

He was the Gunslinger and no one could break him any more.

Something was wrong. Something had changed.

The Gunslinger looked down at his hands. He clenched and relaxed his hands - an unnecessary movement that he couldn’t explain. The box, the locked box where he kept his fragile parts safe, had fallen silent.

'Jesse?’ Sombra said in his ear.

He didn’t react.

“There aren’t many people left who know about the Blackwatch program,” said the soldier. He still sat across from the Gunslinger, unaware. “Fewer still who might have an idea about why it fell. We weren’t actively looking for you, you know. More like chasing a ghost. There are a couple thousand people in the ‘verse who go by the name ‘Jesse McCree’, so it was a long shot that you were who we needed.”

“I don’t think being a grunt for an organization that’s been dead for years is much of a reason to be chased across the black.” The Gunslinger hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his pants. His heart didn’t race. His breath was slow and even.

'I’ve got a couple of hooks in Athena. She knows that something’s up, but I’ve disguised it as an electrical malfunction so I can lie low. I’ll wait on your word.’

“Don’t play that card with me, kid. We both know you were more than a grunt. Athena managed to pull some very interesting records off of the Blackwatch.”

The Gunslinger tilted his head. “That so?”

“If you really are the Gunslinger, you were a lot more than a grunt. In fact, you were second in command of the whole operation.” The soldier mirrored the head tilt. “It was good cover, pretending to be some flashy underling with more show than skill. You come up with that one yourself or did Gabe build it for you?”

He didn’t rise to the bait. The soldier had gone fishing and thought he had something hooked.

“Be pretty hard for you to scrounge anything off of a burned out wreck.”

He wrapped the fishing line around and around his hands, waiting.

The soldier tensed across from him. “It was a controlled explosion, limited to some of the crew quarters and a flight deck. It kept the scavengers away and we could write it off on the paperwork. There’s nothing to investigate if there’s nothing there.”

“Ah.” He leaned forward, propping his forearms on the edge of the desk. “There it is. You haven’t been able to pull any files from it, have you? You’ve got a wreck floating out there in space and it’s locked down so tight that you have no idea how to break in.”

The Blackwatch. Sister ship to the old decommissioned Overwatch. It had space for three thousand people and at its height had housed almost that many. Three thousand of the universe’s best and most expertly trained killers, thieves, and saboteurs.

Until…

The silence inside of him sounded like thunder now. It ate the box. It ate the chains. It coiled inside of him and filled the empty place in his heart. He welcomed it. This wasn’t ‘Jesse’ with his laughter and pain and trauma.

This was something new.

He smiled.

“Athena couldn’t get in. You couldn’t get in. You couldn’t find me to help you get in, so now you’ve brought in the Shimada heir to try to rip it apart with his dragons. It was just luck that I came with him, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know what shit you think you-” The soldier reached back for his gun but the Gunslinger was too fast for him. He lunged across the desk and caught him by his arm, twisting until he heard something pop. The soldier’s cry of pain was muffled behind his visor.

“Pure luck. Now it’s my turned to ask a question. I told you what to call me, so what do I call you? Old man? Soldier: 76?” His voice was filled with mockery as he reached up with his free hand and toyed with the bottom of the man’s visor. “How about Commander?”

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” the soldier wheezed, still caught tight by Jesse’s prosthetic. “You’ve got no idea.”

“I’ll take my chances. I’d rather handle it myself than ever work with you, Jack Morrison.” All it took was a flick of his wrist to knock the visor off. It clattered across the desk and then onto the floor, its internal lights instantly dimming. A pair of milky white eyes stared back at him. Eyes that might have once been blue. A deep scar carved its way across the man’s once-handsome face, misshaping his brow, nose, and mouth.

The Gunslinger drew that line with his finger, tracing it lovingly. A little deeper and they wouldn’t have been having this conversation.     

“You should have died instead of him, Jack,” he said softly. “Overwatch should have stayed decommissioned instead of waking up to hunt ghosts.”

In a smooth movement he seized the soldier by the back of his head and brought him down, face first, into the metal desktop. There was a crunch of cartilage and Jack Morrison slumped bonelessly to the floor, blood pouring from his nose.

‘Is he dead?’ Asked Sombra.

He crouched next to the old commander’s head and pressed two fingers against his bared throat. “Just unconscious.” For now. “I want him to know what it’s like to have everything slip through his fingers.”

‘Jesse? Are you back?’

He straightened and adjusted his hat. “No, Som. Jesse’s gone. It’s time to be somebody new.”

The door slid open at his approach, controlled by Sombra. No alarms sounded as he stepped into the hall. There was no call over the sound system that the security of the ship had been breached.

Every light in the Gibraltar died, plunging the ship into blackness.

Chapter Text

 

There were footsteps in the hall.

They echoed down the corridor, ringing in the open doorways and empty rooms. The clip of heels on the metal floor mixed with the ring of spurs as they spun with nothing to dig into but air.

Nothing but light from the far-off stars lit the bowels of the Gibraltar. There were no flickering room lamps. No red warning glow from the floor to guide the way. No emergency flashers.

The ship was dark and there were footsteps in the hall.

A tune spun from his lips but it wasn’t one he knew, wasn’t one of the many that sprang to mind or echoed in the chambers of his heart. This was something new. The song matched the deep thud of his boots and the higher ching of his spurs. It rang in the empty rooms - a jaunty, cheerful melody that he pulled from notes he’d never strung together before.

In any other situation, it might have been a happy tune. Joined with a few instruments and it could have started a dance

Instead the aria heralded the arrival of a nightmare.

There was no wind on the ship to tug at his serape. No dirt to muddy his boots. No noon sun to beat down on his hatted head. Here there was darkness and the all-consuming scent of steel. Steel to keep the void out. Steel to protect against the darkness.

Now that darkness was inside and there was no one around to stop its steady, measured march forward.  

Teeth found his bottom lip and the tune died, halted by his contemplation. “If I were a man looking for a very special and rather personal gun where would I go?”

Purple sparks rained down from a vent and arched into royal lightning.

‘Since I can only think of one such gun, I think a man should head to Sublevel 12, Hall C-3, Room 12. It’s a storage locker. Looks like they have a guard on it. You sure you want that gun back?’

“That gun’s never served me wrong in all our years together. Be a shame to abandon such a good friend.” The Gunslinger’s mouth found the tune again even as his prosthetic fingers met the wall next to him. Slight pressure from his fingers brought forth a shriek akin to the tortured souls of hell. Metal curls lifted at his touch and fell behind him, bent in on themselves over and over and over.

Only digital eyes and space itself followed him, and the stars didn’t care one whit that there was a man on the Gibraltar. A man who hadn’t come there of his own accord. A broken, fixed, and broken again man.

Ching ching ching sang his spurs, harmonizing with the vibrations in his throat.

‘What are you going to do?’ Asked the next speaker he passed under.

“Get my gun back, I expect,” he replied. The Gunslinger had a plan.

‘That sounds familiar. Just let me know if I should start scheduling funeral arrangements.’

“Funerals are a messy business. I’ve been to enough to know,” he reached into his belt pouch and pulled a cigar free. Sadly he didn’t have the time to trim the end properly and light it with a match to preserve the flavor. Instead he snapped his metal fingers to cut and light it. Still the satisfaction of it was lessened somewhat. “Too much crying and fights over scraps of nothing for my taste. But you know how it goes, Som. Folks shoot at us, we shoot back…”

‘And you’re better than they are.’

“Right-o. Such a smart lady.” Smoke plumed as he took a few rudimentary puffs. Coils drifted out between his bared teeth, catching the faint light of the stars outside the windows. Dragon’s breath from a wolf’s mouth.

‘I do my best. Turn left at the next split and you’ll be in Branch C. Three halls down and you’re on the right track.’ Sombra was quiet for a moment, her lightning falling out of every plug and lightbulb he passed as she traveled with him down the corridor. ‘ Do me a favor, Pistolero?’

“What’s that, Som-my-love?” He took the fork.There was no broom closet to duck into here, no dashing prince to rescue.

‘Try to keep the funerals to a minimum. John liked these people. Mostly, ’ she added.

“Who John did and didn’t like isn’t my business. John Hardin was a dream conjured up by a broken boy. Just another ghost to watch over my shoulder,” he chuckled. “One I didn’t even have to put a bullet in.”

The noise was faint but he could hear people shouting now. Not something that he had to worry about just yet.

C-1.

He kept walking.

‘Consider it a personal favor, in that case.’

C-2.

It was good to feel smoke in his mouth again - that rich, cancerous flavor. He hummed noncommittally around the cigar.

“It’d serve them right if I left a little carnage to remember me by. Maybe it’ll keep them from chasing me too hard.”

‘Or maybe they’ll want revenge for their dead and hunt you even harder,’ Sombra’s normally cheerful voice rang with skepticism.

“If the Council couldn’t find us…” he shrugged, unconcerned, “this floating piece of history won’t be able to. Besides, weren’t you promised a nice beach vacation?”

C-3.

He turned down the dark hall, counting the rooms as he passed. One guard wouldn’t be any trouble to handle, no matter how well they were armed. He’d always worked best in the dark. Shadows didn’t care how brightly you were dressed - all the wolves were black. The spurs were a handicap he could do without, but he had to admit that the darkness gave the whole situation a certain ambiance.

‘You hate the beach,’ said the next speaker, sparking violently enough that he stepped to the side to avoid it. ‘All you do is complain about how you’re getting sand up your ass.’

“Folks change. Me more than most.” He raised one shoulder and let it fall again. “Won’t know until we get there.” He shrugged and shifted the cigar to the other side of his mouth. After this trouble a vacation would do them both good. “A little relaxation, maybe a good fuck or twelve, and a couple good meals to make up for all the shitty food I’ve downed in the last month...Now that’s my idea of a good time.”

‘The good Mister Shimada might have a thing or two to say about those fucks.’

“Ah yes,” the Gunslinger said in mock realization, pounding his fist against his open palm. “Knew I was forgetting about something! Damn, I’d leave my head behind if it wasn’t attached.” That’s what the golden boy would have said - Jesse McCree, who was loved by the dying sun.

“Who’s there?” Called a voice in the dark. The promised guard at the door. “Announce yourself!”

He raised his hands even though there was no way that they could be seen in the pitch black. “Just a lost soul, same as you Friend! Think I took a wrong turn on my way to the mess hall.”

A disbelieving laugh reached him. “You’re on the wrong Sub-level for that, ‘Friend’. Give me your name and rank. This area is under quarantine right now.”

He smiled. His pockets were empty, no longer holding the teeth of a half-tamed wolf. That dream had been swallowed up by the fog. Disguising. Misleading.

Gone.

“Must be something pretty important if they’ve got it under such a tight watch when there’s a criminal on the loose,” he drawled, hands still raised.

Ching ching ching, sang his spurs.

“A criminal? Fuck, are you serious? Hey, I said don’t come any closer!” Cried the guard and there was the distinctive whine of a phaser gun powering up. “Turn around right now or I’ll shoot! This area is-”

There was no blast of gunfire. A short choke and the thud a head smashing against the steel wall was the only noise followed by the unmistakable sound of a limp body hitting the floor.

“They just don’t make cannon fodder like they used to.” He stepped over the unresponsive body and made sure to kick the gun away. It was a tasteless weapon made for cookie cutter soldiers. He was after something a little more specialized.

Access Code Required, the door prompted him after touching the keypad.

“Care to do the honors?” He asked, casting his eyes towards the ceiling.

‘Lock down the most powerful AI in the ‘verse other than yourself, Som. Turn out all the lights, Som. Find my stupid gun, Som. Care to do the honors and open up the door, Som. Any other requests, Your High and Mightiness?’

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and rolled the cigar between his teeth, thinking. It was strange, this state of mind. The analytical coldness of the Gunslinger was beginning to wear off - there wasn’t a voice in him that told him to analyze the situation. But there also wasn’t the expected rush of emotion that would have heralded Jesse’s return.

There was...nothing.

“Well, I’m a bit peckish. Probably should have grabbed one of those nice sandwiches that Winston brought in earlier, but I can’t say I was in the right headspace for eatin’ just then.”

‘I was being sarcastic!’

He tapped his foot impatiently. “Ask a man a question and he’ll give you a good and honest answer. Mostly. You gonna make me wait much longer, Amiga ?”

‘Just get your fucking gun and let’s get out of here before I kill you myself.’

There was a soft breath of air as the door slid open and the pressures regulated between the room and the hall. A single light sputtered and came to life with an eerie purple glow, illuminating his way. It was a bare, bleak storage room. There were a couple of crates with retina locks on them, three broken plasma rifles, and a box of Overwatch badges. Their owners never returned to collect them.

Everything here was old, broken, or forgotten.

Everything but the glittering revolver that lay on top of one of the crates. Purple light gleamed on the polished barrel of the gun. The beauty was waiting to be reclaimed. The Gunslinger sighed with pleasure as he slid the extension of himself into the holster at his hip, his fingers caressing the grip. His hand knew the piece intimately.

“All back together again,” he said softly as his flashbangs and knives joined the ensemble. It was harder to be the Gunslinger when all he had were his fists and his wits to his name, but they’d served him well enough on more than one occasion.

Analyze.

Location: Aboard the ship Gibraltar, in orbit around Angel. In an office on Sub-Level 12, Hall C-3, Room 12. Ship’s defense temporarily compromised by Sombra. Two Overwatch personal members disabled. Local time is 6:02 PM, ST.

Analyze state.

Physical: Acceptable.

Mental: Acceptable.

Emotional: Unknown.

The last part was a variable that he didn’t like. There was no telling what might trigger the return of Jesse’s emotional response. He flicked the spur on the end of his gun and listened to it spin, spin, and then fall quiet again.

‘What’s the plan, Pistolero? I can’t hold Athena back forever. She’s already starting to crack through that error message I slapped on her fat ass.’ As if to illustrate this, the open door behind him made a horrible grinding sound as it was held between its programming and the hacked wheels that kept it locked in place.

Not willing to tempt fate, the Gunslinger turned and swept from the storage room, his hands tucked into the pockets of his jacket. The moment his spurs cleared the threshold the door slammed shut with a terrible clang as Sombra loosed her hold on the gears. Curls of smoke followed after him with every step before they were sucked up into the ventilation system.

“Step one,” he said out loud, narrating what that cold, cruel part of him knew. “Disable Jack Morrison and the Athena AI. Depart from holding room and make way to storage location to reclaim armaments. Disable or kill any hostiles. Complete.” He held up one finger, knowing that Sombra was watching. The technical staff who usually monitored were probably going nuts. One of Sombra’s favorite tricks was to pull risque pictures from personal files and display them instead of the correct feeds.

“Step two: Make way to Sub-Level 8, Hall A, Hanger 1. Disable lockdown functions on the Raven class. Use ship function ‘High Noon’ to destroy hanger and blast doors, causing maximum damage and chaos. The Gibraltar will be effectively crippled, allowing maximum time for escape and deep cover protocols.”

There was a step three, but he didn’t voice it.

‘More running,’ Sombra sighed. ‘Guess we’ve got pretty good at it by now. Was there ever a chance of you working with them again?’

The Gunslinger shook his head. “Jesse would have suffered irreversible mental damage. There’s a possibility that he has already retreated so far that he may not reemerge.”

‘Hence the need to be someone new.’

“Or someone old.” He flicked the spur again. “Somebody who shouldn’t have been dug up again.”

‘Qué?’

He shook himself, the leather jacket creaking around his joints. In time it would become butter-soft and worn at all the seams. Probably blood-stained too. “Never you mind, Sweetheart. Just an old man talking to himself.”

‘I swear, I can’t figure out exactly who I’m talking to. You think like the Gunslinger but you talk like Jesse. Stop being complicated, cariño.’

You are anything but simple. You’re a puzzle made of pieces of string with no ends.

“Pretty sure I pay you to fly my ship and keep the sharp eyes of the law off our asses, not to psychoanalyze me.”

‘And I’m pretty sure you don’t pay me at all. I’ll be right back, I need to check on where the rats have scurried off to.’

“One in particular, if you don’t mind. Though I think that one is more of a snake than a rat.”

‘Noted.’

The Gunslinger passed by a port window and paused for a moment to take in the view as the comm light on his wrist went dark. The planet Angel turned lazily below them, most of its surface obscured by a wall of thick, pillowy clouds. They hid the unending storm beneath. Only madmen and dreamers went to Angel.

He could still remember the taste of the salty water as it poured down his throat. A training exercise that had turned into a fight for their lives.

“Too many memories clogging up this head,” he murmured as he left the window behind.The emergency floor lights were on now, glowing a bright and sinister red.

Danger. Danger. Danger, they seemed to say.

“Yes,” he whispered to the darkness. “Run away; it’s dangerous.”

‘Found your snake, Pistolero. Sub-level 10, Hall A, Room 118 and he’s got some company.’

In one smooth move, the Gunslinger pulled his revolver out and popped out the cylinder. Fully loaded with twenty four other bullets scattered around his person. Thirty total. More than enough to deal with that ‘company’ and whoever else he encountered along the way.

“Good thing I’m not the jealous type.”

‘Says the man checking to make sure his gun is loaded.’

“You just keep an eye on incomings and troublemakers, Som. I’m not in the mood for surprises right now.” The gun went back into his holster and the smouldering stub of his cigar went under the heel of his boot. It left a dark stain on the otherwise pristine ship floors.

‘Don’t worry, I’m already looking at the biggest troublemaker onboard.’

“Darlin’,” he sighed as he pulled his hat down over his eyes, letting the red lights guide his way. “I’ve gone way beyond that. I’m a damn scourge now.”

The darkness swallowed him up like a friend.

A minute later there came a shout.

Bang.

Bang.

Bang.

Twenty seven bullets left.

Chapter Text

“I hope that you understand how serious your current situation is, Mister Shimada.”

Hanzo laced his fingers together on his lap and gave the woman sitting across from him a droll look. He didn’t need a mirror to know that he looked exactly like his mother now. He’d seen the woman hold court so many times that the image of it was burned permanently into his memory. She had never been impressed with her company, no matter how important they were, and it was a feeling that her eldest son had inherited.

“After spending the past several days evading the most dangerous crime syndicate in the universe and dealing with bounty hunters and reavers,” he brushed an imaginary piece of lint off of the sleeve of his coat. “I believe I have a decent grasp.” He was well-dressed, monied, and powerful. He might be a guest on this ship, but he was still the one who needed to be won over.

So far his hosts were doing a poor job of that.  

An hour passed since he’d been escorted from the hanger bay and deposited here; since they had pulled Jesse from his side. That alone had nearly been enough to have him turn on Overwatch, but some part of him had cried for wisdom and a cool head over rash action. His temper still boiled, waiting just beneath the surface of his skin for the right moment to erupt.

The empty space at his back where Jesse should have been standing yawned like the void. It shouldn’t have made his heart ache like this to be separated from a man who he’d known for less than a month. Affairs of the heart dealt with life in their own way and it seemed that his mirrored Jesse McCree’s.

“Yes, indeed,” the woman across from him cleared her throat then tucked a lock of white blonde hair behind her ear. She had busy hands. They rarely seemed to stop moving; between flitting over the clipboard and papers that she held on her lap, to her hair, to the narrow glasses that were perched on her nose. She had clicked her pen exactly forty eight times since her arrival. Each click grated on his  frayed nerves like a razor, making him almost desperate to be anywhere else.

It wasn’t easy to admit, but even the cramped quarters of Jesse’s little ship was preferable to the office that he’d been confined to. At least there he felt as ease and welcomed.

The guard at the door shifted, but it was impossible to tell if it was unease or simply the discomfort of standing at attention. A sharp helmet and visor obscured his features and the matching chrome uniform gave nothing away. There were no visible marks of rank or status, but the sheathed blade across his back spoke loudly enough. The weapon was both a threat and a promise.

Hanzo let his eyes linger on the sword for a long moment, his hands reflexively tightening before he forced them to relax. It had been some time since he had last found himself wishing for a weapon. The dragons served him well enough, but on a ship in deep space tearing through the wrong wall could spell death.If circumstances came down to a fight, he wasn’t confident he could take on a trained swordsman with nothing more than his bare hands.

The guard turned his head and stared at Hanzo, the fluorescent light reflecting off of his emerald visor.

Is he thinking about the same thing? Which of us would triumph if this meeting goes poorly?

The woman across from him grimaced and clicked her pen again.

Forty nine times.

“As I was saying, your arrival was unanticipated. Had we known that you intended to accept our invitation-”

“It took me some time to realize that an invitation had been extended at all.”

The woman shook her head and Hanzo could see that she was biting the inside of her cheek. “We wanted to ensure that our message did not fall into the wrong hands. Hanamura is not the most hospitable city for people who pursue our specific line of justice, as I’m sure you well know. Had a member of the Council intercepted the file it could have been disastrous for Overwatch.”

“Doctor…” He waved a hand at her, waiting for her to fill in the rest.

“Doctor Angela Ziegler,” she finished, looking a touch irritated that he hadn’t bothered to recall her name from when she had first introduced herself.

He had, but this was the move of a pawn in a game that had no board or pieces.

“Doctor Ziegler. I believe that I recognize you accent. You hail from Osiris?”

“I was raised there and attended school for several years before I was assigned to Overwatch as their prime physician. I specialize in regenerative nanotechnology,” she placed the clipboard on the chair next to her and laced those lithe fingers together, mimicking Hanzo’s pose. Clearly she was more at ease discussing medicine.

Something has her on edge. It can’t just be our arrival. Why would they send a member of their medical staff to debrief me instead of a commanding officer?

“I see. No doubt you have heard something of my family’s intimate relationship with that very subject.”

It was as if he’d touch a living nerve. Both the doctor and the swordsman stiffened and Hanzo let a little of his temper leak through. His eyes shifted from brown to blue to reflect it. The swordsman shifted his weight to his right leg and uncrossed his arms, his stance now open and loose.  

“I - yes, but only by word of mouth. You understand. These things carry through certain channels and such abnormalities tend to draw attention, especially when they’re cloaked in as much mystery as your bloodline.”

“Of course,” he said demurely, lowering his eyes to the desk and away from the swordsman’s tense hands. He needed to play politician rather than threat now.. Putting these people on their guard wouldn’t get him anywhere closer to his goal of destroying the Council.

Or getting Jesse returned to his side.

That thought found him leaning forward in an open gesture, with his elbows propped on the tabletop between himself and the doctor. It was a pose that left him painfully open to attack, but spoke of a beseechment that he acted out more than felt. There was nothing of the sort inside of him. A king played his part and sacrificed what he needed to win the game.

“You must forgive me for my poor manners. I’m afraid that my journey has been rather trying and I am weary.” Doctor Ziegler opened her mouth, but he cut her off. “Despite this I am anxious to speak with whomever it was in your organization who decided that my skills were of use. You must understand that I am more than eager to move forward with our negotiations and decide whether to truly place my trust in Overwatch.” Hanzo leaned back in his chair again and smoothed back a lock of hair. “If not, I’m certain that there are other avenues that are available to me who I could employ. After all, money speaks. When it doesn’t speak loud enough...”

Blue lightning crackled around his knuckles as an electric dragon raised its narrow head from the back of his gloved hand and hissed at the room’s occupants.

“Power does. Now, I believe that it’s time for us to do away with the pleasantries. If you would please summon the ship’s captain and military superior, I would be grateful. It would be troublesome for me to have to seek them out myself.”

Doctor Ziegler sucked in a sharp breath and there was a squeal as she pushed her chair away from the desk. The swordsman reached for his hilt, but whether or not he planned to draw it remained a mystery. The door behind him opened with a hiss at that moment and everyone jumped turned to stare at the man standing there. He was a giant with white hair and hands so mammoth that they made the mug he was holding look like a piece of a child’s playset.

“Am I interrupting?” He asked with a grin as he ducked to make it under the doorway. The top of the entrance was almost two feet too short for him and once inside he filled the room like an oversized piece of furniture. “Chocolate’s on, Angela. You want me to get some for you?”

The doctor went scarlet, her cool facade washed away by the red flush that consumed her ears and cheeks.

“I hardly think this is the time, Rein-”

“It’s always the time for chocolate! Or beer. Both, I think. Which do you like?” He asked, looking across the room at Hanzo. The swordsman, silent up to this point, made a strangled choking noise like he’d just swallowed something down the wrong side.

“It depends on the occasion,” Hanzo replied, bemused. He pushed his chair back and recrossed his legs, eyeing the new arrival. The swordsman and doctor he could have dealt with, but this man was a new challenge entirely. “Right now I think that I would prefer the beer.”

The giant barked with laughter and raised his mug in a salute. A frothy amber liquid sloshed over the edge and down his knuckles, but he paid it no mind. “A good choice, my friend. Angela, I am going to go fetch this gentleman a-”

Reinhardt,” the doctor cried. “This is hardly the time. Our guest has just finished threatening us with violence if we don’t produce our captain.” The blush remained firmly in place, despite her sour expression. Hanzo felt his lips quirk upwards in a smirk.

“And your military superior,” he reminded her. “Assuming you have one.”

“The soldier?” Reinhardt asked, tilting his head. At that angle he looked more like a quizzical polar bear than a human being. “I believe that he was with Winston. Our captain,” he clarified. “They were speaking with John. Can you believe it, Angela? I must have raised a hundred glasses to his memory and he turns up out of the black like a ghost. You could have felled me with a feather - I was so surprised!”

The doctor seemed to have given up talking back to the giant and only buried her face in her hands, shaking her head. Hanzo could almost see her brain turning over ways to get the situation back under control, but before she could so much as raise her head the door slid open again.

The man who stuck his head through had a plate of sandwiches and was nearly as large as the white-haired behemoth, but his hair was black and there was a pair of thin spectacles perched on the end of his nose. “Is there a party in here?”

“Winston! I thought you were with John. This gentleman,” Reinhardt gestured at Hanzo with his mug and sloshed a good amount of beer over the swordsman, “wanted to see you.”

“Was threatening us if he didn’t get to see you,” the doctor cried, throwing up her hands in frustration. Hanzo almost felt sorry for her. Almost, but not quite. “Will anyone pay attention to the part where he was threatening us with nano-powered dragons?!”

Reinhardt waved his hand. “You have dealt with worse, Angela. Besides, the captain is here now! All is well.”

“I’m the captain?” Winston asked as he set down the platter of sandwiches and adjusted his glasses. “I don’t remember that promotion.”

“Your ship - you’re the captain.” Reinhardt nodded as if that made the most sense and was thus the truth. Everyone stared at him for a long moment, lost in the absurdity of the moment.

“Well,” Winston said, looking a little panicked. “This captain brought sandwiches. I have peanut butter with banana and peanut butter and jelly.”

“I prefer fish sticks,” Hanzo said cooly.

The beer-drenched swordsman lost it at that and the door slid open so that he could stumble out into the hall. The echo of his hysterical laughter was audible even after the door closed behind him.

“I uh, I’ll check to see if we have those. Right,.” Winston glanced at the door, as if he was wishing he could follow after the swordsman and escape from the situation. “Anyway, what were you guys talking about?”

Angela had given up completely and had her forehead pressed against the cool tabletop next to plate of sandwiches. “Mister Shimada wanted to speak with you about the working arrangements.”

Winston’s brows rose up into his dark hair. “Really? Shouldn’t he be talking with - oof!” He wheezed as Angela’s elbow sank into his middle. The blow was hard enough to knock him back into Reinhardt. The giant managed to catch Winston with one hand and not spill more than a reasonable amount of his beer in the process. The sticky spot Reinhardt was in the process of leaving on the floor would take a month to clean up.

“He should be talking with you, ” the doctor’s expression was venomous.

“I thought you were talking with John? What did he say?” Reinhardt asked as he helped steady Winston. “To think that for all these years we thought he was dead…” he sighed, looking so miserable that Hanzo was almost fooled by it.

He couldn’t jump to conclusions, not when he’d accused Jesse of doing exactly that so many times. For all the information he was gathering, there was no way for Hanzo to tell what was the truth and what was a well-disguised falsehood. Only getting Jesse back would help him sort out the tangled situation, and the three people in front of him were the ones who were going to get his companion back.

John Hardin.

Jesse McCree.

Hanzo let his eyes close for a moment, breathing deeply to help restore his rattled calm.

One of them was true. One of them was his. The other?

Winston cleared his throat uncomfortably. “He’s, uh, well he seemed a bit upset. Guess that’s understandable considering what went on with Blackwatch and everything after, but I think he’ll come around. The soldier wanted to ask him a couple questions, so I cleared out. Athena is keeping an eye on them.”

Angela’s head jerked up so fast that her hair flipped over into her face. “You left the soldier and John Hardin alone?!” She cried, the horror evident in her voice. Both Winston and Reinhardt stared at her in alarm and Winston grabbed the tray of sandwiches, holding it between him and the doctor like a shield.

“It is alright, Angela. There is nothing to fret about,” Reinhardt’s voice was low and calm, as if he was trying to soothe a skittish animal. “John is just a pup! Gabriel’s little shadow. The soldier will not hurt him.”

It is not the soldier whom I am worried about!” The doctor hissed.  

They all stared at her.

‘Winston?’ Asked a digital voice from a communicator in the man’s back pocket, but nobody made a move to reply.

“I must confess to a certain level of confusion,” Hanzo said carefully, lacing his gloved fingers together. “I think that you share a history with this man that I have been kept ignorant of. Is this meeting truly a cause for alarm?”

Once he and Jesse were reunited they would be having a very firm talk about leaving out key parts of life stories. Of course, Hanzo  admitted to himself, it wasn’t as though he’d been completely forthcoming with his own either. The two of them were secretive men despite how much they’d warmed to each other. Love could overcome much, but some history was meant to stay dead and buried.

It seemed that this piece had risen up despite Jesse’s best efforts to keep it weighted down.

‘Winston!’ Came the voice again, more insistently.

“S’cuse me,” the man mumbled as he pulled out the communicator and stepped out into the hall. “Yes Athena, what is it?”

The swordsman took the opportunity to slip back in and take back his station next to the door, apparently recovered from his previous mirth. The heavy atmosphere made him stiffen at once, instantly on guard.

Doctor Ziegler pushed her chair back and stood, her white coat flaring around her. “ Yes, this is cause for alarm. You all seem to forget exactly which organization that man was a part of.”

“Blackwatch,” Reinhardt shrugged. “So what? He was a child. A trainee that Gabriel took a shine to because he was cocky. Birds of kind and color.”

He was second in command.

Even with the white hair and fair complexion, Hanzo saw Reinhardt pale.

“Surely not,” the giant said weakly. “They were always secretive. Perhaps this was just wrong intel. A joke! You are having a joke with me.” He forced out a laugh. “So funny. I do not think this is the time though-”

“I am not joking with you, Reinhardt!” Angela threw up her hands in frustration. “And it is not bad intel! I was there when Gabriel drew up the documents. I signed as a witness! In the event of Gabriel’s death, control of Blackwatch and every living soul involved with it defaulted to John Hardin!”

Gott helfe uns… ” Reinhardt breathed.

Hanzo glanced back and forth between them.

“What does this mean?” He asked, almost afraid to know the answer.

There was a man in his heart - a man with a crooked smile and scars on his scars. He was flawed. Broken.

He was perfect.  

All thoughts of getting out of his current situation were banished from his mind; instead he burned with curiosity, a slowly dawning emotion that nestled in his chest and began to eat away at him like a cancer.

Doubt.

So there’s the mysterious past you were diggin’ for, said Jesse’s warm voice in his memory . Pretty simple.

Except it wasn’t simple. It wasn’t even close.

The doctor’s pale eyes speared him. “I means, Mister Shimada, that our ‘military superior’ is now alone with one of the most dangerous gunmen in the entire universe.”  

“Uh, guys?” Winston said from the doorway, holding up his tablet so that they could all see it. “I think we’ve got a problem.”

The screen displayed a logo that looked like a stylized blue ‘A’, but it was flickering wildly as if the digital screen was being buffered by a strong wind.

Win-compromis-in the passwords-shuting do-she’s in the pa-a-a-a-a-’ The woman’s voice caught on the last syllable and hung there like a soft scream. Goosebumps rose on the back of Hanzo’s neck as they all gazed at the tablet’s screen.

It flickered once. Twice.

The screen went black.

“What was that?” Reinhardt finally asked, breaking the silence.

“I don’t know, but something’s really wrong. She told me that the camera’s in John and the soldier’s room had gone dead and now she’s...well, like this.” Winston gazed down at the dead screen, his brow furrowed. “Something’s corrupted her. I need to get back to my work station. A hard shut down like this isn’t good for her.”

A-a-a-a-a-aaaaaaaaahhhhhh…’ A digital voice sighed, but this time it didn’t come from the tablet. Hanzo’s eyes jerked up to the speaker embedded in the ceiling, feeling sick. That was a sigh he was intimately familiar with. He’d heard it often enough over the past few weeks, coming out of very similar speakers.

That’s much better,’ Sombra purred, sounding as content as a fox who had just finished in the hen house. ‘Got the head bitch all squared away. Now, I think it’s time for a little mood music. Lights!’

Every light in the room went out, except for an eerie acid glow that emanated from the swordsman’s visor. The black tablet screen flickered again, but the blue ‘A’ didn’t last. Out of the background came a skull - a purple skull whose teeth caged the ‘A’ and dissolved it into pixels. It leered up at them, empty eye sockets laughing.

Queue the music! It’s time for our show to begin.’

Bang.

Bang.

Bang.

The shots echoed down the hall and Hanzo stood, grateful that his back was to the wall. He couldn’t see. He had no weapons. Ryo and Aoi phased through his suit coat and draped across his shoulders, their eyes fixed on the empty doorway. It seemed to grow in the darkness, a blacker black than everything else. There was a horror out there; a monster in the shadows.

“I thought we took his weapons,” Winston murmured.

“We did. I checked him myself,” Reinhardt replied, sounding worried. “Do you think he took one off of someone else?”

Hanzo shook his head before realizing that they probably weren’t looking at him. “No. I recognized the shots. That is the sound of his peacekeeper.”

uck.” It was the first word the swordsman had spoken.

Ching ching ching .

“We have to go,” the Doctor whispered. “ Now .

“What’s your hurry?” Came a voice from the dark hall.

Hanzo could smell cigar smoke, pungent and achingly familiar.

A man lounged in the open doorway, illuminated by the glow of his cigar. The golden light bounced off of familiar features, a face he’d caressed. That he’d kissed. That he’d touched with reverent fingertips. The face of the man in his heart.

But the eyes…

“Well well well,” the man drawled. “Seems to me I’ve found my snake.”

Hanzo stared at the man in the door and the eyes of a monster stared back.

Chapter Text

“Is a spirit playing it?” Genji had one tiny fist pressed against his mouth and his words were nearly inaudible. His other hand gripped three of Hanzo fingers as tightly as he could manage.

He was four. Hanzo was seven, and thus very wise in the ways and workings of the world.

Hanzo knew all of his numbers and could speak two languages. He could shoot the bow his father had given him and hit the target eight times out of ten.

Genji could barely draw his bow back halfway. Three times he caught his forearm with the string before deciding that the bow was meant for Hanzo and not for him.

Hanzo squeezed Genji’s hand back.

“Of course not. Why would a spirit play the same song for eternity? Look here.” He pulled Genji forward a step, ignoring his brother’s soft mewl of protest. “You see this plaque? Can you read it?”

Genji shook his head and turned so that he could hide his face in the side of Hanzo’s yukata.

“You can read it, you coward.” The words were cruel but his tone was fond. “What would father say if he discovered you were afraid of a piano?”

“Don’t tell,” Genji whispered into the light cotton, not moving from where he clung to Hanzo’s side. “Please Hanzo. Don’t tell.”

“I won’t tell him. It is a pianola. Look, you see?” Hanzo pointed at the piece; a rare collector’s item from Earth-That-Was. “It has a roll of paper inside with holes. Those holes play the music recorded on the paper. Not a spirit at all. You can look.”

Hanamura’s great museum was known for housing some of the rarest pieces in the universe. They visited every time it was announced that a new item had been placed on display. Their father appreciated their enthusiasm for history. Their mother said that to learn about the past was to learn about the future. Their sons simply liked to stare at the skeletons of ancient dinosaurs. Everything from parts of the first space-faring ships to antique memorabilia. whose historical value was nearly as great as its monetary was housed within the museum’s walls.

The pianola was one such piece.

There was no dust on the instrument but the wood showed its age in the dry cracks that ran along the seams. There was a hole in one side: a perfect explosion where a bullet had entered but somehow managed to miss the delicate inner workings. The pedals moved with no feet to push them. The keys depressed, dropping tiny hammers onto hidden wires to call forth music. The tune was simple, nothing like what the Companions would play on their beautiful instruments. So simple and yet...

Hanzo leaned forward so he could read the plaque in front of the staged piano better. “This says that pianos like this used to be everywhere in late 19th and early 20th century.”

Genji pressed his fist back against his mouth and peeked around Hanzo’s side. “By cowboys?” He asked softly, the first hints of interest gleaming in his eyes.

“I do not believe that they would have been able to transport one of these on their horses. Perhaps in their, ah, salons,” Hanzo laughed.

“Saloons,” Genji corrected him.

Their father had gifted them with a collection of holovids once when he returned from his travels; old Earth-That-Was films that had been salvaged and converted into the newer format. Genji favored John Wayne over and above all else while Hanzo tended to lean more towards the stoic Clint Eastwood. The holovids were an indulgence their mother chided. The pictures filled their heads with fantasies and unrealistic expectations of the world.Their father had calmly reminded her that she housed several dragons inside of her body, so she was hardly one to be giving lectures on the nature of unrealistic fantasies. Anymore pushback about watching the cowboy holovids stopped soon after.

Still, standing as he was now with Genji’s vice-like grip on his fingers, Hanzo felt a stirring of something in his chest that none of the vids had been able to call forth. The instrument played on and on, not caring if there was an audience to listen. Programmed perfection, doomed to play the same song for eternity.

It was, Hanzo decided, a different kind of spirit than the one Genii had meant. There was no human or monster here to call forth the haunting sound.

There was only emptiness.

...

It was strange to walk in such a sterile place and yet have no lights. The floor was clean. The windows were polished. The entire ship was militaristic in its cleanliness, which didn’t surprise him at all. This was supposed to be the last holdout of an organization that, at one time, held near universal power. Nothing and no one was about Overwatch’s law, including the Shimadas.

A recessed light spat royal purple sparks at the two men as they passed underneath it. The sparks bounced off of their clothes and onto the floor, where they died silent deaths. One of the bulbs behind them shattered and the sound of the glass hitting the floor was an assault upon his ears after the prolonged silence.

Their arms were linked. Hanzo’s hand rested on a familiar forearm but the position gave him no comfort. His dragons stirred restlessly. There was an itching behind both of his eyes that told him that their power was showing, revealing his unease. He shut his eyes for a moment without allowing his steps to falter.

Right now wasn’t the time to show weakness. Not at this time, not in this place.

Not with the man who walked at his side.

“Was it necessary?” Hanzo asked. His throat was dry and his voice strained.

The man gave him a gentle tug so they turned a corner in sync. He knew where he was going, that much was obvious. Even in the dark he moved with the utter surety of someone who knew exactly where to go and the number of steps it would take to get there.

“Was what necessary?” The voice was butter-smooth and accentless. It wasn’t the voice of someone he knew. Hanzo’s hand tightened briefly on the man’s arm. He couldn’t help but cringe when the man’s free hand settled over the top of his, holding him close.

“What you did to the Overwatch agents. There must have been a better way to diffuse the situation.”

The man made a contemplative noise. “There were plenty of ways, but most of them would’ve made a bigger mess. Taken more time. That’s something I’m running a little short on, so I’m of the mind that the faster I make it through this snarl of a situation the better.”

Hanzo took a steadying breath. “The faster you make it through.”

“What’s that?”

“You said the faster you make it through this situation. Not the faster we make it through.”

“Well,” the man drawled, letting a bit of a back-planet accent drift into his words. It made them richer, more familiar to Hanzo’s ears, but sent a stab of pain through him as well. “I’d have to say that I spoke rightly the first time. After all, there may come a time when a hostage will be mighty useful.”

“Of course,” Hanzo whispered.

He hadn’t expected anything else.

There were four people trapped in a room behind them. Sombra had fried the door’s circuits so thoroughly they began to smoke; sealing the room as tightly as a tomb.

All it had taken was a single man and his gun, which he had calmly aimed directly between Hanzo’s eyes.

“No sudden moves now, if you please,” the man had said.

No one had dared to move, not even Hanzo. If it was a bluff it was a very good one indeed and he’d heard just enough to make him believe its sincerity. Not even the swordsman had dared to lift his hand to his blade. All of their eyes had been trained on the barrel of the man’s gun. It gleamed gold and black in the embers from the end of his burning cigar.

Then a steel-clad hand had reached out to Hanzo.

“Shall we?”

Fool that he was, he’d taken it.

You’ve got a clear path to the control room, ’ Sombra chimed in. ‘ But you might run into some trouble once you get there. I can’t hold back the Queen Bitch and lift the lockdown on the Raven Class at the same time. And she’s already starting to override the locks I put on most of the doors.’

“She’s a hard piece of software, I’ll give her that much.”

‘You won’t be giving her anything if you know what’s good for you, Pistolero. You’re a one-AI kind of man.’

Pistolero.

Gunslinger.

“Another name. Your collection seems to be even larger than I originally thought. Which one do you prefer?” Hanzo tried to free his hand, but the man held the appendage tight against his side The man’s prosthetic was making Hanzo’s palm sweat from the heat of the metal and the grip over his fingers was too tight. This wasn’t the casual embrace of friends or lovers. This was a mockery of affection.

“Only have as many as I need,” the man said with a smile that Hanzo only caught when the purple sparks rained down around them again. They made him look gaunt and sharp-edged. “You can use Jesse. You’re used to that one.”

“I am, but I would prefer not to use it. You aren’t Jesse McCree.” He glanced up at the shadowed face of the man, waiting for more sparks to gauge his reaction.

There wasn’t one. No grimace, no smile, no anything. There was simply emptiness.

“No,” said the man. “I’m not.”

There wasn’t even a hint of regret in that voice.

Hanzo closed his eyes and tried to ignore the roaring in his ears. He wasn’t sure if the noise was his dragons reacting to his pain or just the beating of his own heart. Perhaps both. He couldn’t pay attention to it yet. Pain could be pushed aside; he’d done it before and he could do it again.

“How much of it was true?”

The echoing sound of the Gunslinger’s boots didn’t falter. “Does it matter?”

It matters to me,” Hanzo hissed.

His mouth tasted like electricity. It made his teeth ache.

“Not much. A couple of the little things. It’s not like he was ever real to begin with, so there was a lot of room to fill in with good stuff.”

Hanzo watched the man tilt his head. He was wearing Jesse’s hat. He was wearing the jacket that he’d given to Jesse. His mouth - he’d kissed that mouth. Whispered promises against that mouth. He’d swallowed down hopes and dreams and sighs in equal measure and now that mouth was telling him that all of that was a damnable lie.

That Jesse had been, no, was a lie.

“He wasn’t real,” Hanzo repeated dully. “Was he just another one of your names? Did you make him up to capture me? A simple man with simple tastes to woo me?”

“Don’t get conceited on me now,” the Gunslinger said as he shifted his grip. Now he was holding onto Hanzo’s arm rather than linking them. It was a prisoner’s hold, but somehow Hanzo preferred this to the embrace. “He was around long before you came into the picture.”

“I am not relieved by this,” Hanzo couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice.

“Wasn’t meant to relieve you. It’s just the facts.”   

Hanzo dug in his heels then, and the suddenness of it dragged them both to a halt. “The facts? ” He snapped. His voice echoed down the hall, bouncing back at him like an arrow aimed straight for the heart. “The fact is that you are telling me that everything you are, everything you pretended to be, was never real! And yet you seem unconcerned by this! How many people have you lured to your side using these aliases? Does anyone know who you really are?”

The Gunslinger stood silently looking down at him. His eyes were like twin coals, unfamiliar and sinister.

“No,” he said flatly. “Nobody.”

Hanzo shuddered, fighting back nausea. There was a question on his tongue; one he didn’t want to ask yet he needed to know. “And if I’d gone with you? If we’d run away like you offered, to live on the run out in the black. How long would you have let me go on believing this lie? That you were a good man who loved me?”

It didn’t seem like the action of a monster. In fact, the Gunslinger didn’t seem to realize what he was doing it at all as he reached up with his free hand. Hanzo couldn’t help but flinch when the man brushed the backs of his gloved knuckles across his cheek. The action was soft, almost caring, and yet Hanzo couldn’t stop himself from jerking away.

“As long as I could. Forever,” the Gunslinger murmured. “It was a good lie to live.”

“It was still a lie,” Hanzo snarled. He was shaking now, so hard he couldn’t even hope to control it. It wasn’t from fear though. No, he had known fear and this?

This was fury.

“You would have caged me by your side!” The hallway was brighter now lit brilliantly blue by his rising emotions. Ropes of electricity rose through the sleeves of his suit, circling his arms like chains. “You would have bound me to a fantasy!”

Aoi and Ryu rose from his skin. Their faces were twisted in twin snarls.

You lied to me! I would have given you everything and you-!” The dragons roared with him, empowered by his anger, and grew until they were so large that they filled the hall in either directions like serpents that encircled the world. Everything was azure fire and lighting. Hanzo’s hair blew in a phantom wind, ripped free from its tie. “You were nothing!”

The world exploded as the dragons descended on the Gunslinger, maws wide to consume him.

Darkness fell.

The walls were scorched. The clean floor was decorated by a spiderweb of cracks. Every light had exploded in its socket. The speakers were silent; their wires burned and twisted.

Hanzo’s knees went soft beneath him, his strength gone, but something stopped him from slumping to the floor.

There was a hand around his upper arm.

His head snapped up and he stared in horror at the shape of the man - a darker black against a pitch backdrop.

“Well,” said the Gunslinger. Rows of blue lights sprang to life along his prosthetic, illuminating them both. A port near his elbow opened and vented a hiss of steam and a crackle of electricity. “You about done with the dramatics now?”

Hanzo knew he must have fainted then, his strength stolen by the dragons. There was no memory between that moment and then next. He had been staring up at that men - that monster - and next he was being carried. An arm was tucked under his knees and another cradled his shoulders and back. His head rested against a warm chest, ears listening to the familiar beat of a strong heart.

The lights were back on, the walls were unburned, and he was being held by the Gunslinger.

There wasn’t a mark on him to indicate that Hanzo had tried to kill him. His hat was perched jauntily atop his wild hair. His clothes were in order. The Gunslinger lowered his gaze to meet Hanzo’s and gave him a crooked smile.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty.”

The word’s were Jesse’s. The unaccented and flat tone was  the Gunslinger’s.

Hanzo turned his face away, limp with defeat. There wasn’t any rage left in him. The dragons had ripped that out of him and used the unbridled emotion to fuel their useless destruction. Now he felt empty.

His dragons had failed him. The Council and their guards were no doubt fruitlessly searching the universe for him and he’d handed himself into the hands of an enemy far worse. He had no bow, no sword, and even his strength had faded into nothingness.

It’s not like he was ever real to begin with.

Somehow that was worse than having him dead. Death implied that a man named Jesse McCree had once been alive. That he’d told bad jokes and laughed with his whole body. That he’d had sad eyes and a wide smile. That he had scars on his scars and tended to hold on a little too tightly while he slept, when the ghosts would find him.

Hanzo looked up at the Gunslinger again, too tired to try to pull away.

That Jesse McCree had existed and left something behind, even if it was just a feeling.

“I should have never come here,” Hanzo whispered.

“It’s too late for ‘should have’s and ‘maybe’s,” said the Gunslinger. He shifted his hold on Hanzo’s legs and used his elbow to activate a switch. The door slid open silently, releasing a frigid blast of air and the smell of electronics. “You had options just like the rest of us, and now you’re here. Nowhere to go but forward.”

‘And speaking of going forward,’ Sombra’s voice came from the port on the Gunslinger’s prosthetic. ‘It looks like the idiot squad got the door open, Pistolero. The Swordsman carved it up like a ham. Winston is heading for a secondary control station, so I’d put some fire under your boots if you want to beat him. If he gets Athena back up and running we’re both going to be in serious shit. She’s already got through about three quarters of my lockdowns and is coming online fast.’

“Noted.”    

The control center was freezing. Hanzo could see his breath blossom in front of his face. No doubt the room maintained such a low temperature to keep the stacks of consoles and screens from overheating. Goosebumps rose up and down his arms despite his suit jacket.

The Gunslinger burned like a furnace.

Hanzo decided that he preferred the chill to his heat.

The followed the wildly flashing lights down a long hall. Each massive console sat sequestered behind a wall of cage-like glass. Their image reflected back at them as they passed and Hanzo stared in hypnotic fascination at the illusion.

He’d been carried like this before. There had been blood and the smell of gunsmoke. The screams echoed in his memory. He hadn’t even thought to ask what Jesse had done to clear them a path back to the ship on Beaumonde. All he’d been able to glimpse through the panicked crowd were a few prone bodies. Jesse, a good man with a killer’s instinct, had gotten them through both the alley fight and the blockade around their ship. He’d thought it a mix of luck and skill then. After all, fate loved a fool.

Now he knew that none of that had been luck. In fact, more lucky was that more bodies hadn’t been left in their wake.

“I can walk,” Hanzo said.

“And if you can walk, you can run. I don’t have the time to chase after you and I’m not too fond of the idea of using one of my bullets to slow you down. I’ve got a limited amount on me and there’s more dangerous folks than you coming after us.”

“Coming after you , you mean,” Hanzo said bitterly.

The Gunslinger was quiet for a minute. “Right. Coming after me.”

The room at the end of the hall was crammed with monitors. Most of them had either gone black or were flickering wildly, flashing between their camera feed and a digital image of a stylized skull. Two people were sitting in chairs in front of them, their hands flying across the keypads and buttons in what Hanzo assumed was an attempt to reign in the computers.

“Torbjörn. Brigette. Looks like they’ve got you two pulling double duty now. Not enough techies to keep this thing in the air, so they had to drag in the mechanics?”

The two people spun around in their chairs. Brigette was a freckled young woman with her long hair pulled back into a tail. She had on a jacket so big it looked more like a circus tent on her. The lights from the screens gave her face a greenish, sickly hue to match her horrified expression.

The other, who had to be Torbjörn, was short enough that his feet didn’t touch the ground under his chair. The dwarf had a mammoth beard and a prosthetic hand that was more akin to a claw. He was glowering at them so ferociously it would have put a lion to shame.

“John!” He barked. “I should’ve known that you’d be here to cause trouble. Seems to follow you and yours around like a shadow. What’ve you done to Athena?” His accent made it sound like he had something round in his mouth that he was trying to keep from swallowing.

“I didn’t do a thing. You know that most of that computer stuff is beyond me. I keep my boots on the ground and my fingers out of complex technology. Alright, down you go,” the Gunslinger leaned down and carefully deposited Hanzo onto one of the empty console chairs. He adjusted Hanzo’s legs to hang over the arm.

“Don’t you take that tone,” Torbjörn snapped. “You did something and you’d better be here to fix it. If that scrap heap ship of yours was carrying a virus -”

“The only thing my scrap heap of a ship was carrying was some of the most talented and charming personalities in the ‘verse. Now I plan to get right back on it and out of this nest of poisonous snakes.” The Gunslinger straightened and tilted his hat back. “So if you two would move along to elsewhere I’d appreciate it. There’s no need for trouble.”

“No need for!” Torbjörn sputtered, hopping down from his chair so  he could shake a meaty finger at the Gunslinger. “The only trouble you’ve got on your hands is what you’ve brought with you! Now I’m not going anywhere until you fix this mess! I don’t care how nice you ask. I won’t do it!”

The Gunslinger glanced over at Hanzo. “He thought I was asking. Funny, wouldn’t you say?”

“Don’t do it,” Hanzo said, gripping the arm of the chair so he could swing his feet to the floor. “You said you wanted to save bullets. Don’t do it.”

Torbjörn looked between them, confusion beginning to replace his irritation. “Eh? Do what? What’s going on?”

In a single fluid motion the Gunslinger drew his revolver from his belt and leveled it squarely between Brigette’s eyes. The woman gasped, frozen in her chair.

“We can do this the easy way or the messy way. I’ve got twenty one bullets left, but I get the feeling that I’m only going to need one of them. So I’ll say it again - the two of you move along elsewhere. I’ve got business with this console and you’re between me and it.”

“John, what’s wrong with you?” Brigette asked, her voice strangled. “This isn’t like you! Why are you doing this?”   

“I don’t recall giving you leave to question why I do anything, Brige. Suffice to say that this is more like me than John Hardin ever was. Now scoot. I want that chair.”    

There was no arguing with a gun. Torbjörn looked angry to the point of steam coming out of his ears but the revolver leveled at Bridgette rendered him helpless.

“Leave,” Hanzo said, raising his voice so they could hear him. “It’s not - There’s nothing you can do. Just leave.”

Slowly, as if they were trying not to spook a high-strung beast, the two mechanics backed away and towards the door. Their hands were raised, but the Gunslinger kept his aim on them long after they disappeared.

“Lock the door behind them, Som.”

Way ahead of you.’

Only when the mechanized hiss of the door sliding shut drifted down to them did the Gunslinger lower his revolved and take Brigette’s abandoned chair. “That’s better. There’s nothing worse than trying to work while somebody is breathing down your neck. Always makes me nervous.”

“Do not try to make light of this. You evacuated them at gunpoint.”

The easy expression on the Gunslinger’s face faded back into an emotionless mask. “It was the best option.”

The best option? They knew you! Or rather they knew John! And yet you seemed unconcerned by the idea that you might have to shoot them in order to get what you wanted! Do you really care so little about the people that you once knew, or are they all just pawns to you? More ‘options’ for you to take into account in whatever sick game you’re playing?”  

The Gunslinger spun his chair to face Hanzo, his elbows propped on his knees. This close Hanzo could see that one of his eyes was twitching.

“The only game I’m playing is the one where I stay alive and free. This organization,” he pointed at the floor between them. “This place that you brought me too, does not support either of those things. Would you prefer the option where I leave everyone who crosses me dead? I can go back and start on that right now.” The Gunslinger jerked his thumb towards the sealed door.

“No. I would rather you had not done any of this.”  

‘And I wish I had fifty mill. in credits and a pony,’ Sombra said, sounding strained. ‘ If wishes were fishes we’d all be eating caldo de mariscos. Unlock the ship and let’s go!’

Even as she spoke the screens that still had a feed stabilized and the skulls vanished, replaced by the correct camera feed. Hanzo’s eyes darted between all of them, taking in the people running in all directions, the bodies slumped against walls, the blood splashed on otherwise clean tiles. The door that had closed in the Overwatch agents had been sliced open and lay in sparking pieces in the hall. Through that hole he could only see an empty room.

“They’re looking for you,” Hanzo breathed.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” the Gunslinger muttered as he brought up a login screen and fed it a garbled stream of letters and numbers. “They’ve been looking for years. Of course, they would still have their heads up their asses if a certain someone hadn’t decided to deliver me with a bow on top.”

“Maybe if you’d bothered to tell me a single true thing about yourself - maybe that Overwatch was hunting you because you’re an ex-Blackwatch agent - I would have changed my mind about my choice of rescue captains!” Hanzo’s fingers dug so hard into the arms of his chair that the soft fabric began to strain at the seams.

“Don’t!” The Gunslinger spin away from the console again and jammed a finger into Hanzo’s face, his eerie calm shattered. “Don’t you talk to me like you know who I am. Like you know anything about me.”

“Clearly I do not.” Hanzo made sure to clearly enunciate every word, filling them with as much scorn as he could. “I do not know you. I do not want to. You are a monster. A liar. That is all that I care to know. Now either do what you came here for or kill me so that I do not have to look at you any longer. I cannot stand the sight of you.”

The Gunslinger didn’t move. He seemed frozen in place. It might have been a trick of the monitor lights, but Hanzo thought that he saw something flash behind the Gunslinger’s cold eyes. It might have been pain. Maybe regret. Was that a lie as well though?

Or maybe it was nothing at all.

Hanzo turned his head back to the screens. After a tense moment he heard the Gunslinger return to his work at the keys.

‘The Commander is on the move, Pistolero. Looks like Angela got him back on his feet. I’d say you have about five minutes, max.’ One of the screens enlarged itself so that it took up four spaces instead of one. A white-haired man with a cracked visor was stalking down one of the dark halls with Doctor Ziegler behind him. He had a pulse rifle cradled in his hands and a wide blood stain on the front of his jacket. The two were deep in conversation, but there was no audio feed from the screen. Hanzo could guess their topic of choice.

The Gunslinger didn’t reply. He was pulling up screens of the hanger where the Raven-class was docked. The clamps around her landing gear were visible even on the small screen.

SHIP IN LOCKDOWN, prompted the screen. PASSWORD AND SECURITY CLEARANCE REQUIRED.

“Here goes nothing,” the Gunslinger murmured as he typed in another passcode and hit ‘Enter’.

PASSWORD ACCEPTED. SHIP LOCKDOWN RELEASED, BY ORDER OF COMMANDER G. REYES.

The clamps are off, let’s go! Hoof it, boys!’

The Gunslinger leapt to his feet. “It’s going to be a tight one. Close the doors behind me to slow ‘em down, Som. Let’s blow this place.” He took three long strides away from the control panel before he stopped, realizing that Hanzo wasn’t behind him.

They stared at each other across the room.

The Gunslinger chewed on the inside of his cheek, his hands clenching and then loosening over and over. Finally he reached out with an open palm. “You coming, Sugar?”

Hanzo looked at the man’s hand. At the familiar leather glove. He knew what it felt like to lace his fingers through those digits and hold tight.

“Where will you go?” He asked quietly.

“Does it matter?”

He was cold. He was so damn cold, and it had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.

“It matters. It will always matter to me.”

He turned away, returning his eyes to the screen.

“Hanzo -”

He didn’t reply. The words that were born in his heart died in his mouth, unspoken. He was afraid of what he would say if he let them free. One heartbeat became two, and then three, and somewhere between the third and the hundredth there was a long sigh and the sound of boots. The noise faded away until nothing but the musical chime of spurs remained, and then even those fell silent.

Hanzo watched as a man left the control room. He watched as the man he once knew as Jesse McCree ran. As he was fired upon by Overwatch soldiers. He was grazed, blood fountaining from one of his shoulders. That man returned fire - three shots.

Eighteen bullets left.

The soldiers dove for cover and the man used the opportunity to run to the hanger. His ship hull opened like a mouth as he approached. Even as he hit the ramp he paused and looked back in time to see the white-haired commander and the doctor arrive. The commander fired off his pulse rifle, but he was too far away for accuracy.

Hanzo watched, his eyes glued to the man’s face.

I love watchin’ you when you’re watchin’ the stars. Makes me wish I could pluck them right out of the sky for you just to make you smile .

For a moment, for one single painful heartbeat, the man’s eyes met the camera trained on him and Hanzo choked on a sob, both hands rising up to cover his mouth.

What about the end?

The ramp closed, hiding the man from view, and Hanzo collapsed in his chair, no longer able to hold back his roar of anguish and sorrow. Blue lightning exploded out of him and the screens began to explode, shattering as the power became too much for them. Glass and fiber optics rained down around him as one by one the lights died.

He couldn’t watch man’s ship as it took flight.

Hanzo Shimada could only curl in on himself in the frigid darkness.

The end? Seems to me that there’s really only one. You and me.

Together.

The last monitor died and Hanzo let himself know despair.

Chapter Text

A man sat in the Captain’s chair of the Raven-class ship. The worn leather fit the curves of his back. His hands rested steady on the control wheel. They did not shake. His breathing was even. His heart didn’t race.

There was a plasma burn on his right arm. The blast had gone right through the sleeve of his jacket and left a neat hole and the smell of singed flesh behind, so blazingly hot that the wound had instantly cauterized itself. It wasn’t fatal though. No one had been shooting to kill.

The man reached up and traced the edges of the hole in the leather.

Waking up was the worst part. Walker had once described the process as slowly turning on the lights in an abandoned house and everyone else had agreed. The whole squad had all been intimately acquainted with the feeling of reclaiming their sense of self after being plunged into the passenger’s seat. There was no control there. No stopping whatever came, but there was also comfort in knowing that they were but feral dogs in that state.

Hungry. Calculated. Ready to bite and claw with an eagerness reserved for madmen.

The first mental light switch flicked on and he recoiled from the sudden return of sensation.

Control of his body returned. Then the steady beat of his heart.  When he turned his head stiff muscles protested. He’d been sitting still, frozen in place for what felt like hours. Sombra didn’t speak. Only soft music played over the speakers.

His head felt like less of a prison now; albeit a prison that didn’t fit him quite right. Someone else had stretched it out all wrong and left empty spaces. Memories inhabited places where there shouldn’t have been any. Where things could have gone differently.  Sometimes the memories lingered like a long-festering wound. They would never feel entirely real, but that didn’t mean that he could banish them like a dream that belonged to someone else. The memories stayed with him. He shouldered the bits and pieces of them like a beast of burden. It was his right and his curse. 

Those stretched out spaces could wait until he had the energy to sort them through.His fingers left the tear in his jacket and he raised them up to his face to inspect his hands. There wasn’t any blood on them this time. Those were his callouses put there by years of repetitive work; work with guns, work with tools and working to make himself into a weapon. Those were his scars. One where he’d stopped a knife arcing towards his face. Another where he’d had hot liquid metal dripped onto the back of his hand. There was a gash on the wrist of his prosthetic where a piece of shrapnel had got caught during an unexpected bomb blast. He’d never bothered to have the damage repaired.

Those were the true stories. The scars of a man who didn’t exist. All of Jesse McCree’s scars had a grand backstory; embellished tales he could wax poetic about and regal whole crowds or whisper while fingers traced over them. Tractor accident. Stray bullet. Surgery scar. They weren’t real stories, just fluff to fill in when necessary. The truth wasn’t nearly as kind.

Another switch got thrown and his hands began to tremble.

The truth.

For years he’d run from and pretended that he’d left that ugly thing in the past, buried in a grave along with everyone who had really known him. His hands fall onto his lap and he closed his eyes. He knew what he would see if he opened them. Endless space decorated by a tapestry of a hundred thousand stars, and out of all of the places to run away to, to disappear in and be someone else, he ended up right back where he started.

‘Jesse?’

It wasn’t his name. Not really. And yet Jesse was the only person he wished he could be.

“Hey, Som.” His voice was rough. There was still too much of the Gunslinger left in his inflection. He sounded flat and cynical, the opposite of the person he’d worked to shape himself into. “Where’re we at?”

He rolled his vowels a little more and felt better about having half drawled words roll off his tongue.

‘Safe. Still in the Kalidasa sector, about six hours from Constance. I didn’t want to take off into the black without your say-so.’

“Probably smart. There’s too many reavers skulking out there these days for my peace of mind.” He pushed himself to his feet and groaned in pain. Everything hurt. His arm burned from the plasma blast. His muscles ached from being tensed for too long. His head hurt from the ‘Get Set’ protocol.

His heart hurt so terribly he thought it’d be easier to rip it out and jettison the useless thing out the airlock.   

“Did anybody follow us?” He steadied himself with a hand on the back of his chair. The leather creaked in protest under his grip.

‘Not that I’ve picked up on. It’ll take them a little while to repair the hanger damage. I don’t think that they have the manpower to set up any kind of organized hunt. Athena has been pinging off of a couple of satellites to find us, but all I’ve been sending back are some insults about her programmer. She won’t be able to track us using those since I’m scrambling them more than your morning eggs.’

The AI was quiet for a minute. Jesse just waited. He’d spent so much time in Sombra’s company he could tell when she wasn’t finished. Even without a face, she somehow managed to be one of the most expressive beings he’d ever run across. At least she said what was on her mind rather than hiding behind a facade.

‘I’m sorry, cariño. I should have detected Overwatch sooner.’

Jesse snorted, but there was only skeleton humor behind the response. “You had enough on your plate with keepin’ the Council off our backs. You couldn’t have done that and dug through Athena’s shields too.”

‘I could have once.’

“And I could have got out of that and been smiling about it once. We’re not who we were. You’re running on the shit wires and power cells of this flying scrap heap and I’m…,” he trailed off.  He wasn’t what he’d once been; back when Blackwatch was but a word whispered in the shadows. Nor was he what he wanted to be - the carefree ne'er-do-well who went where he wanted whenever he wanted.

“I’m just a ghost.”

‘I should have come up with some other way to get us free. I could have detonated something to free us from the lockdown.’

Jesse blew a breath between his teeth and let his head fall back bonelessly, stretching out his neck. “I asked for help. S’my own damn fault for not seein’ it coming. Been so long since the last time I heard that order that it knocked me out faster than a right hook. Guess I thought… I dunno,” he rolled his head to each side then back up again. “Maybe that I was over it. Seems like there’s some things you don’t grow out of.”

‘At least not without enough therapy for ten people combined. Might be worth looking into that once we’ve gotten far enough away.’

“I think we’d have to head out to the deep dark to get far enough away from this one,” Jesse said heavily, bracing both forearms of the back of his chair and tapping his fingertips together. “And we both know there’s no comin’ back from there.”

He reached out a hand, ignoring the pull of the wound on his arm, to trace the empty places between the stars and planets. It was tempting to run again. It was so damn tempting.

“We could run away so far that nobody’d ever find us,” he mused. “All we’d need is the gas to get there.”

'Easier said than done since neither of us got around to asking for final payment from Han-’

“Don’t!” Jesse snapped, slapping both hands down on the abused back of the chair so hard the frame rattled. “Don’t,” he repeated. “Just don’t, Som. I can’t talk about him right now. I can’t… Please.” He hurt everywhere, but now his chest threatened to overcome all the rest. He had a job to do and a broken heart wasn’t going to help him do that.

It could wait. It would have to.

‘Okay, yeah. Okay. We won’t talk about him.’ Sombra’s voice was more soothing than usual and Jesse knew that she was trying to keep him calm. ‘So do we have a plan other than to go somewhere so far away that we won’t ever have to interact with anybody ever again?’

“Why’re you asking me? We both know you’re the brains of the operation.” Jesse’s laugh was humorless and cynical. “I’m just the pretty face.”

'We both know that’s not true. I’m much prettier than you are.’

“Guess you’ve got a point there.” He turned away from the console and ran both hands through his hair, pulling until his scalp ached. “Hell, I dunno Som. I don’t think I can go back to whatever it was we were doin’ before. I can’t go home either.” He tacked on the last piece in a bare whisper.

'Wouldn’t they take you back?’

“That’s the problem. I know they would but I don’t want them to see the man I am now. I’m not good enough to walk through anybody’s door. Not anymore. I’m the worst sort of prodigal son - the kind who doesn’t remember how to be the good man anymore.”

Home.

He would land out by the main road and walk up the winding drive to the main house. Only the horses would see him at first. Autumn would have just begun - the wind would just be getting that pre-winter chill and the grass would be golden in the sun. He would be able to see his breath. The dogs on the porch would catch sight of him and start barking in welcome. There were no strangers there to keep away. He would finally be able to take off his hat. He would feel the sunshine on his brow as he walked to the house. Maybe they would be cooking something and he would smell the savory scent of dinner from the porch.

The worn boards would creak under his boots as he stepped inside.

That would be home.  

Jesse opened his eyes and stared down the long, empty metal hall of his ship. The vision faded into the harsh steel.

“I can’t go back,” he murmured.

‘Sounds like the only other option is forward. More running or a new job? I’m sure I can get Braden on the line to set us up with something that’ll cover gas money.’

Jesse shook his head and turned away from the cold, empty hall. “I wasn’t talkin’ about that. Did you pick up on what Winston and Commander Dickwad said about the Calavera ?”

‘Not much. I was busy trying to keep my signals on the down-low. Was there something interesting?’

Jesse tapped his foot and the sound echoed in the control room. Now that his mind was his own, he could think clearly. “They said the explosion was a controlled one to keep the scavengers and press away. That’s what they wanted... him for - to see if those dragons could pull Blackwatch’s old files out of the husk.”

Sombra laughed and it wasn’t a nice sound. ‘If it was that easy we would have been a pretty sad secret organization. All they’ll do is set off the security protocols and lock down the whole thing even tighter. Nobody is getting into those files but us.’

“Exactly. There’s still a ship, or most of one, and if our records are still in there we might be able to finally figure out exactly where shit went wrong,” he rubbed his chin and stared up at the blinking lights on the console. “I’d need to get into the video records. Gabe’s stuff. He knew something fishy was up and I’d give my other arm to see just what it was.”

You know that if the Calavera has gone dark it’ll be hard as hell to track down the husk, right? It won’t be sending out any signals for me to pick up on.’

Jesse nodded. “But keep in mind our ship rivaled the Gibraltar for size. It’d be a challenge to tow the Calavera anywhere without attracting attention. I’d focus your scans around...”  He drew a circle in the air, illustrating a space that they both understood.

‘Around where we were attacked. Entiendo. But Jesse?’

“Yeah?”

If Overwatch knows where the hull is, they may have a presence stationed there already. We might run into them again. I don’t think that you can handle being put through that kind of mental strain so soon. There’s a limit to the flexibility of the mind.’

“Som, I’m touched,” Jesse pressed a hand to his breastbone. “To think that you care about my sanity. I never knew.”

‘What little of it you have left,’ Sombra groused. ‘ Get out of here, cabrón. I have some scans to do and you’re cluttering up the place with your pretty face. And put some gel on your arm! Don’t think I missed that burn hole.’

“Nag nag nag,” Jesse mumbled as he turned on his heel and left the cockpit. Still, he was grateful for the chance to escape. Sombra could be excellent company, but he was tender from giving control to the Gunslinger. His mind felt like scrambled eggs and the rest of him wasn’t fairing much better.

A minute later the door to his room slid shut. And the lights shifted from green to red. He was alone.

The room was different now. His clothes were clean and folded rather than tossed in a pile in the corner. The dog ears in his three books had been carefully smoothed out and their spines repaired with tape. The second cot crammed in to extend the bed crowded what little space the room offered. The sheets over both were carefully made and military straight. Jesse avoided looking at the bed while carefully shedding his jacket and shirt. He left both draped over the chair in the corner.

It was likely that Overwatch would head to the Calavera . They might even anticipate that it was his destination. He hadn’t set foot on that ship since - Jesse’s mind shied away from the incident, knowing that to dwell on it for too long would cause a panic attack. He’d had enough of them to know that.   

Still, that was another thing he’d have to put on his list of ‘shit to deal with’ if he went back. That and the blood.

Just…pieces. Pieces and blood. Winston’s voice echoed in his memory. Jesse brought his hand to his mouth and bit down hard on the meat of his thumb to keep from screaming. Pieces. That was all that was left of them. Had his squad, his friends, left limbs behind like he had? Were pieces all that he been left of them once the reavers were finished?

He barely made it to his sink in time before he was heaving.  His body shook so hard he could barely stay upright.

Flores. Walker. Patel. Lacroix. Kaur. Avraham.

All that was left of them was shreds of meat and blood and he’d been off jaunting around the universe pretending to be a hero. He gasped for breath and tasted salt and bile.

Their families would never know. Someone had let that ship dock that fateful night and released a horror the likes of which he had never seen. They had been soldiers - the best in the ‘verse. Reyes had made damn certain of that. They’d fought men, machines, reavers, but they’d been caught unaware and paid the ultimate price.

All of them but Jesse.

It took a long time for him to settle enough to rinse his mouth and step away from the sink. There was no one here to help him through this. His squad was gone but he remained. Alone.

Jesse’s feet took him the two steps to the bed and no further. He collapsed and seized the nearest pillow, cramming his face into the smooth cloth.

The fabric smelled like Hanzo.

“I love falling asleep with you and waking up the same way.” Jesse could almost hear his voice, the memory of that moment caught in his mind on an endless loop. “I love the way your fingers fit with mine. I love watching your face when you laugh. I love discovering new things with you, things that I hadn’t known existed until I met you.”

He choked into the pillow and curled up, using the down to muffle his desperate sobs. He’d had it all. More than he deserved. More than he could have dreamed in a hundred thousand lifetimes.

“I do not know you. I do not want to. You are a monster. A liar. That is all that I care to know. Now either do what you came here for or kill me so that I do not have to look at you any longer…”

A monster. A liar.

“I cannot stand the sight of you.”

Yes, he was all of those things and more. That terrible, terrible part of him had risen up like a body from a shallow grave. He destroyed the one good thing in his life. That one perfect, pure thing.

Now he had exactly what he deserved.

Nothing.

Chapter Text

Good morning, Mister Shimada. My name is Athena. I am the Artificial Intelligence installed aboard this vessel. I hope that you had a pleasant rest. The current time is 8:15 AM. Our current location is in orbit around the planet Angel, above the landmass Urella. Will you be in need of breakfast this morning?’

Hanzo opened his eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling. Like everything else in the room it was stark in its cleanliness, unblemished by cracks or decoration. It was simply a room, no doubt like hundreds of others aboard the Overwatch flagship. It had a bed, which boasted a comfortable mattress and clean sheets. There was a desk as well, with a light centered over it. It even had its own washroom and a water-running shower, which was a luxury considering the lack of resources in space. New supplies had to be ferried to arc ships regularly to keep them in good running conditioned, including water. At least, so he’d been told during his brief tour before he’d been deposited here.

The crew of the Gibraltar hadn’t taken long to find him once the chaos of the Gunslinger’s departure had been contained. It wasn’t as though he had moved. The two mechanics -  Torbjörn and Brigette - had hastened back to their monitors once the all-clear had been sounded. They’d been accompanied by two heavily armed security guards, both of whom had leveled their rifles in Hanzo’s direction as soon as they found him still in residence.

He hadn’t resisted when they dragged him out of his chair and marched him before Winston and a man who had been introduced as Soldier:76, the military commander of the Gibraltar. Doctor Ziegler had been there as well, hovering in the background of the board room with her clipboard.

The soldier asked him questions, but now he couldn’t clearly recall what they’d been. Something about John Hardin. If there had been some kind of plan or plot to disrupt the Gibraltar’s operations. Where the Gunslinger had gone. If he was their enemy.

I’m lucky they didn’t imprison me, he thought dully. He’d been too dazed to answer any of the questions they’d hurled at him and it had only been thanks to the doctor that he hadn’t been thrown into a cell rather than given a proper room. She’d recognized the signs of shock and trauma and quickly called an end to the impromptu meeting, which clearly demonstrated exactly which direction the chain of command went. Commander or not, everyone listened to the ship’s doctor.   

It took an enormous amount of effort to push himself upright, an amount he would have normally equated with climbing a mountain. When he did make it to a seated position his head spun like a top and he nearly gave in to the urge to lie back down again.

‘Due to your non-answer, I have taken the liberty of requesting a meal be delivered to your chambers.’ Athena said. Her voice was cool and emotionless, more of a recording than an actual personality. ‘I have a message from Doctor Ziegler that you are currently suffering from nano-sickness. Symptoms of this include intense fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and muscular cramps. Are you currently experiencing any of these symptoms?’

Hanzo didn’t reply. He knew what nano-sickness felt like since he’d courted it regularly while learning to control his dragons. Once expended, the nanos took their toll on their host - consuming calories and native body cells at an alarming rate as they worked to replicate themselves back to full power. Usually they could be calmed by a heavy meal and rest, but Hanzo’s stress seemed to have agitated them into a frenzy. All of his muscles ached and his bones felt as hollow and fragile as a bird’s.

“Yes,” he said in response, since he could sense the AI waiting for his answer. “Several of them.”

‘Do you require medical assistance at this time?’

He shook his head and then cast a quick glance around his chambers. There were no obvious cameras for the AI to spy on him through, but technology was such that it would have been easy to conceal one somewhere. There was nothing that could be done about it though. He didn’t have the energy to snuff out a lightswitch, let alone any number of hidden cameras. Ryo and Aoi slumbered, weak and drained from the power he’d unleashed upon the Gunslinger.

A useless attack, as it had turned out. His dragons had passed through the man as if he wasn’t there, their fury washing over him like a wave and then passing harmlessly by. The only thing Hanzo had accomplished was inflicting damage upon the ship rather than the man. Another mystery he would have to apply himself to.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, locking his knees so that he wouldn’t fall. Leaving his prosthetics attached all night had been a mistake. It wasn’t something he did often because it meant sore muscles and pain the following morning.

“I neither need nor want medical assistance.”

‘Noted. Doctor Ziegler and Agent Shimizu are enroute to your quarters with your meal. I will inform her that her services as a medical practitioner are not required.’

Lovely. Hanzo looked down at himself and scowled at the simple white nightclothes that he was dressed in. That suit that he’d been wearing upon arrival had been rumpled to the point of being unwearable, but being called upon in sleepwear was a humiliation that he wasn’t prepared to endure. He took a bracing breath and walked to the dufflebag that sat atop the desk. It had been thoroughly scanned and then taken away to be searched, but he’d been ensured that everything had been returned in its original state. Still, he wasn’t fond of the idea of military grunts pawing through his clothes.

There was a pair of gray trousers and a shirt that was such a deep hue of blue that it was nearly black. He pulled them on and quickly did up the buttons to the top of the shirt, trying not to pay mind to the way his fingers were trembling. The weakness would pass in time and he would have his power back again. Power enough to make Overwatch mind him and the destruction he could call down upon them if they thought to betray him. He’d had quite enough of that for one lifetime.

It was the work of a moment to catch the old duffle bag by the handle and swing it to the floor so that it was no longer cluttering the desktop, but the clatter that came from it when it landed made him pause.

Hanzo cast a quick glance at the door, but it showed no signs of opening. Athena didn’t speak up to voice the arrival of anyone either, so he crouched next to the bag and opened it again. His clothing lay on the top, neatly folded for the most part. The shirts were removed and he set them aside to see what lay under the rest. The bag had seemed oddly weighty for only containing cloth.

His questing hand came away holding a glass bottle with a note tied around the neck with what looked like a boot lace. The wax over the bottle’s top was intact and the golden liquor inside filled it nearly to the top. Hanzo sat back on his heels and turned the bottle over so that he could look at the unfamiliar label.

Midnight Lightning Whiskey Family Collection, Aged 30 Years, Bottled by the Solano Family

“Family collection?” He wondered aloud. He knew enough about whiskey to tell good from bad, but his taste had always trended towards more refined beverages. Ones that didn’t scald his throat and leave his mouth tasting of polish remover. Still, the name Solano tickled at something at the back of his mind.

He rested the bottle on his pile of shirts so he could pull the note free. The tie went into his pocket and he unfolded the tattered piece of paper. He recognized it as the last page out of one of Jesse’s three books. The front was covered with neat type and a happily ever after, but the back had a more untidy scrawl.

    Han,

Been saving this for longer than I care to think about and no, I didn’t steal it. I know you’re probably thinking that. Anyhow, I’ve been waiting for a special occasion but there hasn’t been much worth drinking to lately. Meeting you was the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. You get the bottle but I’ve got two glasses waiting to be filled, so come and find me when it’s all over and we’ll toast to us. And the future.

    - J

The edges of the paper crumpled as his hands tightened on it, but he loosened his grip before it tore.

“You fool,” he breathed, looking down at the paper and the bottle. He couldn’t tell if he was talking about himself or Jesse. Something had gone terribly wrong and neither of them had been able to break through to mend it. He reached out and snatched up the bottle, stowing it back in the bottom of the duffel bag. The note went into his trouser pocket. He needed more information. He had to know exactly what had transformed the man he’d come to know and cherish into a monster.

'Doctor Ziegler has arrived, ’ Athena informed him. ‘She is requesting permission to enter.’

“Let her in,” Hanzo commanded as he straightened and stepped into his shoes. Having the cushioning beneath his feet felt foreign after having spent so many days without. He’d grown used to looking down and seeing metal casings rather than proper shoes. Still, there was a role to be played and his part did not involve revealing any more weaknesses. He stood straight and tall as the door slid open and two people stepped inside.

Doctor Ziegler had her hair back in a tail and her glasses resting on her nose, giving her a slightly owlish look. They emphasized the dark shadows under her eyes, ones that spoke of many a sleepless night. She was carrying a tray with a warming cover on it, as well as three small orange medical bottles.

“Good morning, Mister Shimada,” she greeted him and he nodded in response. “I hope that we find you in better spirits today? I am afraid that the excitement of yesterday took out a price on all of us and we may not have treated you as well as we should have. After all, you are our invited guest. Not a prisoner.”         

“Of course.” He kept his voice neutral. “I do not believe that anyone showed their best faces, considering the circumstances. I am looking forward to starting afresh.”  

The doctor nodded. “Athena tells me that you are still experiencing some symptoms. I have prescribed you some supplements that should help you regain your energy and deal with the residual side effects of your nano expenditure.” She set the tray down on the desk and tapped the lid of one of the orange bottles. “Please take one of each with every meal today and you should be back to peak performance by tomorrow. Not that any expects you to begin work so soon, but it is my job to ensure the health and well-being of everyone aboard the Gibraltar.”  

“There are few people in the world who would recognize the symptoms of nanotech exhaustion,” Hanzo said carefully, watching for a reaction from the doctor. The source of the Shimada’s power was a closely guarded secret, and that Doctor Ziegler could recognize and correctly diagnosed what was ailing him was enough to put him on edge.  

Doctor Ziegler showed no signs of guilt or alarm. “This is true, but I am something of a specialist. Before I became a part of Overwatch I headed the nanotechnology program on Ariel. Our focus was to harness the power of nanos to combat diseases such as cancer and tumors that would require invasive surgery. The goal was to inject the nanos so that they could destroy diseases and bolster the body’s natural ability to recover from trauma, not unlike your own. Of course,” she added, “our technology was as similar to yours as a hammer is to a laser cutter. There was no comparison. Sadly the program was eventually shut down and I was transferred here to continue my work as a healer.”

“I see,” Hanzo said, slowly nodding. “I was not aware that the central planets had any public interest in such technology. Nanos are difficult to control at the best of times and seemed to hold little appeal to the Alliance.”

“Implying that the only sciences that the Alliance would find useful are those that can be used to control people?” The doctor asked with raised eyebrows.

“The Miranda Missive was shown to the entire universe, Doctor. The chemical modifier that the Alliance used on the inhabitants of that planet had all the markings of rudimentary and unstable nanotech. They tried to create a peaceful utopia and ended up with a race of monsters the likes of which no one had seen before instead.”

“I am aware of the origins of the reavers,” the doctor said. “No one was left in doubt of that thanks to the crew of the Firefly and their broadcast.”

Hanzo made a noncommittal humming noise and picked up one of the orange medicine bottles. Three pills rattled around in the bottom of it. “I imagine that it would have been hard to establish yourself in the medical world after Overwatch was dissolved. Not only were you a part of a failed peace-keeping agency, but you had a hand in technology that ran in the same vein as the Pax.”

“My technology was nothing like the Pax,” Doctor Ziegler snapped, her cool facade cracking to show the more volatile persona beneath. The doctor had a temper, this much Hanzo knew. Whether or not it was in his best interests to stir it was yet to be seen. “I had no part in the Miranda disaster, nor would I have agreed to the project had it been offered to me. I want to heal people, not control them. My interest in nanotechnology is purely for the betterment of humanity.”

“Ah, I understand.” Hanzo let his eyes find the floor in a staged show of submission. “I did not mean to imply otherwise. I have met few people who have experience with nanotechnology and it aroused my suspicions. Perhaps it was foolish of me to think my situation was a unique one, but I’m afraid that my dealings with the world outside of Sihnon have been limited.”  

The doctor seemed mollified by this and her shoulders fell into a more relaxed posture. “Understood. That being said, I did not come here with the express interest of discussing my studies and work with you. I am sure that there will be time for that later. The captain has expressed an interest in speaking with you soon concerning the events of yesterday and your continuing work with Overwatch, but I made it clear to him that you will not be cleared for any such meeting until you have regained your strength.”

She gestured at the breakfast tray and pill bottles. “If you follow my directions I believe that you should be feeling back to working order by tomorrow, as I said before. If you decide that you need more time for mental and emotional recuperation, we have a licensed psychiatrist on board who I would be happy to introduce you to.”

Hanzo heard his jaw pop as he fought to maintain his composure. “I do not believe that such an introduction will be necessary, thank you. I am in full control of both my mind and emotions.”

As if he would ever speak about his turmoil to anyone, whether or not they were a professional. There were some things that were meant to be kept close to the heart and his pain was one of them. It was not something he would willingly share.

“If you change your mind please inform me. Until then…” Doctor Ziegler turned her head and made an ’enter’ motion. The swordsman from the previous night stepped inside. “This Agent Shimizu. I do not believe that you were properly introduced. He will be your escort and liaison during your time with us.”

“You mean my guard,” Hanzo said shortly, leveling his gaze at the swordsman. The agent still wore the feature-obscuring visor from before, but had traded in his chrome uniform for a darker version with sections of blue and black carbon fiber body armor fitted over the top. The effect was striking, especially when paired with the sword that was still strapped across his back.

The swordsman tilted his head. “If you wish to see me as such.” His voice echoed in his helmet, making it sound distant and metallic. “But whether I must act in such a capacity remains to be seen.”

Hanzo narrowed his eyes. It was the first time he’d heard the agent speak, other than when he’d laughed at the ridiculous antics of his fellow agents the previous night. “Your accent is familiar. Have you spent time in Sihnon?”

Agent Shimizu nodded, the lights behind his visor flickering. “Yes, much of my misspent youth. I grew up in Hanamura, so I am familiar with the your family.”

“I see.” A cold shroud fell over him, dampening his budding interest. Was there nowhere in the universe that he could truly be free from the influence of his family and the Council? Of course he had known that anyone associated with Overwatch would brand him with the same iron, but that they had someone who was so closely associated with Hanamura was an obstacle that he hadn’t planned for. Most of those from Hanamura were loyal to the Shimadas, but here was a man who had clearly turned on them in favor of the once powerful peace-keeping operation. “And your opinion on them?”

The sharp antenna on the sides of the swordsman’s visor flicked like over-expressive cat ears. “My opinion is my own. I assure you that it will not affect our working relationship, so long as you do not share their propensity for double dealing, betrayal, and murder.”

Hanzo couldn’t help but flinch. Too many of those accusations hit close to home. “Those are actions that the Council supports, not I. If it had been in my power I would have disbanded them long ago and ended their strangle hold on my family’s seat of power.”

“In your power?” Shimizu prompted and Hanzo felt the dragons beneath his skin stir sluggishly. “Are you not a Shimada? Do they not answer to you and you alone now that you are the last of your family’s line?”

“I believe, ” Doctor Ziegler said with emphasis, stepping between the two men. “That this is a conversation that can be reserved for a later date.Perhaps under armed supervision. Agent Shimizu,” she turned to the swordsman. “Is your proximity to Mister Shimada going to be an issue?”      

The swordsman took a step back and visibly relaxed his posture. “No, Doctor.”

Angela Ziegler turned her gaze on Hanzo and he had to lock his knees to keep from taking the same step back kas Agent Shimizu. “Will his presence be a problem, Mister Shimada?”

There was only one right answer to that question, so he swallowed his instinctive ‘yes, take him away’ and replied through gritted teeth.

“No, Doctor Zeigler.”

The doctor smiled, all teeth and a thinly veiled threat, and clapped her hands together. “Good! I am afraid that I have several bedside calls to make this morning thanks to last night, but I am leaving you in capable hands. Just inform Agent Shimizu if you have need of anything and I will visit you again this evening. Please remember that while you are our guest and have the freedom to roam as you will, the ship is quite large and some sections remain off-limits except to authorized personnel. For everyone’s safety, of course.”

“Were there casualties?” Hanzo glanced at the door.

“Surprisingly not. I will admit that I was surprised as well. Knowing the way that Blackwatch once operated, it could have been much worse. But I’m sure that you will discuss such things during the briefing later. After all, we are still putting together the details of exactly what transpired. Athena was only properly rebooted in the early hours of this morning.”

‘Thanks in no small part to Captain Winston. He worked tirelessly to see me back to my full working order.’ Athena’s voice came from the ceiling speaker, cool and distant.  

“Yes, and he is on my list of calls to make this morning. It does no one any good to work themselves to the point of exhaustion.” The doctor’s voice held a note of irritation, as if this was something that she dealt with on a regular basis.

‘I have informed him of this and he appears to be contrite.’

The doctor pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes in a move that Hanzo knew was to ward off a growing headache. He did the same often enough.

“Thank you, Athena. Please let the Captain know that I will be visiting him shortly.”

‘Yes, Doctor Zeigler.’

She turned towards the door but seemed to catch herself before she started towards it. Instead she looked over her shoulder and leveled Agent Shimizu with a hard look. “You know what we discussed. Please do not allow your feelings on this matter to compromise your common sense.”

The swordsman tightened his elbows against his sides and his visor flashed, but it was hard to tell whether he was trying to appear contrite. Hanzo narrowed his eyes. The lack of visible facial expressions would be a challenge that he would have to overcome if he was to spend any amount of time in Agent Shimizu’s company.

“And Mister Shimada?”

He tore his attention away from the swordsman and looked at the doctor, who was giving him an expression like a parent who expected their ward to try to hide their vegetables rather than eat them.

“Please remember to take your medication.”

She was gone before he could formulate an even remotely respectful response, leaving the two well-chastised men standing in Hanzo’s room.

Hanzo sucked his cheeks between his teeth and bit down hard. This wasn’t ideal in any way, shape, or form. If he’d had his own choice, he would have been left alone to calm his tumultuous thoughts. Clearly Overwatch had no intention of giving him that sort of privacy, but it wasn’t as though he was completely surprised by this. He was an unknown factor and potentially a danger to both the ship and its crew, even in his weakened state. That he had only been assigned one guard was better than being thrown into whatever passed for a prison aboard the Gibraltar.

The swordsman moved first, taking up a station next to the closed door with his hands folded in front of him. It was a deceptively casual pose, especially since Hanzo had no doubt that the man could have his sword drawn in less time than it took for him to draw breath. A power play, then.

Hanzo purposefully turned his back on the agent and walked to the tray that the doctor had delivered. Underneath the warming lid was a bowl of rice with vegetables, flaked fish, nori, and a fresh egg yolk nestled in the middle. It was a far lovelier and more appetizing presentation than any of the meals he’d had in some time, but still the sight was enough to make his heart sink in his chest. Jesse’s face swam in his vision, grinning over a dripping plate of pancakes and a cup of coffee as dark and bitter as sin itself.

“Not to your tastes?” Shimizu asked curiously when Hanzo set the lid back down, hiding the food from view. “The rehydrator on board is one of the best I have encountered. I am sure that it could make something that would suit you.”

“I have little appetite,” Hanzo said shortly. Instead he twisted the lids off of the pills bottles and shook them into his palm, looking at them with distaste for a moment before he dry-swallowed them. They were bitter and felt like they purposely lodged in his throat. There was no water on the plate, so he leaned down and recollected the whiskey bottle nestled in with his clothes.

“Mixing medication and alcohol seems ill-advised,” Shimizu caution as Hanzo ripped off the wax seal and pulled the cork free from the bottle’s mouth.

“I believe that the good doctor has already departed. Forgive me if I decide to ignore your medical advice.” Hanzo’s voice was hoarse as he brought the bottle to his lips and took a generous swallow to help the pills on their way down. Still the flavor was such that he nearly choked and had to close his eyes and clench his teeth to keep everything down as his throat and stomach rebelled. He would have thought he’d swallowed fire if he hadn’t seen the bottle himself. It burned him from lips to gullet, leaving behind the taste of wood smoke and alcohol. He dabbed his mouth and watering eyes with the back of his hand and took a deep, shuddering breath.

“Impressive,” the swordsman said from behind him. “The first time I attempted such a thing, I spit it all over the floor and thought I was dying. Of course, it was also very poor quality whiskey.”

“I would not know the difference. It is not my beverage of choice, but seeing as it is all that is currently available…” Hanzo set the bottle on the table and turned it around so he could look at the label again. Bottled by the Solano family. Why was that name so familiar? He sniffed at the mouth and took another sip, more slowly this time so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the taste. It still assaulted all of his senses but at least he was ready for it this time.

“Do you always carry around bottles of liquor or is this meant for a special occasion?”

“Are you this talkative with everyone you’re set to guard?” Hanzo shot back, aiming a glare at his unwelcomed companion.

“Hardly. This is the first time I have been given this sort of responsibility.” Agent Shimizu looked Hanzo up and down, his visor brightening. “They must think that you have some sort of value. Otherwise I doubt they would have bothered. You hardly present a threat to anyone other than yourself.”

Hanzo decided that he didn’t like Agent Shimizu and gave him a rude gesture instead of a reply before indulging in another sip of the strong whiskey.  

“That was mature.”

“Would you prefer I use my dragons to infiltrate that visor of yours so that it fries whatever brain cells you possess? I believe that I have the energy for that at least.” Hanzo let his irritation bleed through and his dragons stirred sluggishly, rising to his command. Ryo materialized on his shoulder and Aoi on the other, their faces contorted in twin snarls.

Agent Shimizu seemed unphased by his threat. The dragon’s lightning crackled in the reflection off his helmet, but he didn’t move. “I saw the damage done last night. With only two dragons I doubt that you can muster up the energy to use such an attack until Angela’s medication begins to work.” He tilted his head. “Forgive me if I am mistaken, but the Dragon Queen was rumored to have a great many dragons. You must be nearing her age when she passed. Why is it that she had so many while you only have two?”

It took all of Hanzo’s strength not to hurl the whiskey bottle at his guard just for the satisfaction of watching it shatter. His grip tightened around it as he took a deep, calming breath. This was not the place to make enemies. “I see no reason to tell you anything. You may be from Hanamura, but you know neither me nor my family. I would prefer to keep such matters private.”

Shimizu made a considering noise. “Would you consider a trade? An exchange of information.”

Hanzo took another drink. He could feel the alcohol swimming in his system. It made his head feel cloudy and his thoughts muddled, but it was better than the painful sober alternative. “I doubt you know anything that I would consider valuable.”

“What about information about John Hardin? Or Jesse McCree as you would have known him. I worked with him for some time. We trained together in the organization known as Blackwatch. But,” the swordsman finally broke his stance to raise a hand in a dismissive gesture, “you may be right. I am sure that whatever I know can be of no interest to you.”

Hanzo crossed the room in three swift steps, coming in close enough to the swordsman that he could see his own reflection in his visor. His dragons hissed, the hair along their spines standing on end like alarmed cats.

“What do you know about him? Tell me,” he demanded. His heart was racing in his chest, threatening to break free from the cage of his ribs. This was something real, something that he could hold onto and possibly use to make sense out of the tangled mess of lies that Jesse had fed to him.  

Agent Shimizu looked down at the bottle clutched in Hanzo’s fist. “Perhaps these are things best discussed over a shared drink. Some topics were not meant to be broached while sober.”

“In that,” Hanzo said, enunciating every word carefully, “we are in agreement.”   

Chapter Text

Tap. Tap. Tap.

His gloved fingers beat an unending tempo against the steel tabletop, the only sound in his empty room. The lights were off, leaving him bathed in the milky light that reflected off of the planet the hung lazily in space beneath him. Even as he watched, a bolt of lightning large enough to traverse across half of the planet flashed into existence and then faded, leaving nothing behind but the light memory on the insides of his eyelids.

Though there was no way for it to actually reach him, Hanzo fancied that he could hear the monstrous thunder that followed, like the roar of a beast who was chasing the sun.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He sat alone and still, his hand the only nervous action that he allowed himself.

A tablet lay on the table next to his elbow. It was an old model - years out of date with just enough processing power to get a message to the next planet over. That feature had been disabled of course, leaving him with a glorified memo pad with an official Overwatch logo imprinted onto the back of it.

The swordsman had given it to him, passing it over the half-empty whiskey bottle. Neither of them had been interested in finishing off its contents, not after the conversation that had passed between them with each finger downed. The burn hadn’t done much to ease the way of the bitter pill that now sat in his belly, festering there like a mortal wound.

“It’s been keyed to your fingerprint so no one else has access to it. They should have already assigned you a screen name. You can use it to send messages and IMs if you want. You can also contact Athena through it. Just say her name and she’ll get you whatever it is you need.”

“I assume that your contact information is here as well?”

“Ah - yes. In the address book. But my quarters are also only five doors down from yours on the left in case you need to find me.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Find him indeed. As if this entire madcap adventure hadn’t started with that. Hanzo stilled his restless hand and clenched it into a fist. Another spider web of lightning spread out across the surface of Angel and then faded. The faint taste of whiskey lingered on his tongue and he licked his lips to wet them, letting the burn anchor him in the present.

On top of the tablet lay a half-folded note and a bootlace. He didn’t have to open it to read the words - he’d committed the untidy scrawl to memory already.

Come find me when it’s all over.

No doubt Jesse had meant once the uproar of their arrival died down, but it seemed that the captain hadn't anticipated exactly what chaos his presence would plunge the Gibraltar into. He should have been a few doors down at the most, not – Hanzo shook his head hard to dislodge the thought. Wherever he was, he was there of his own volition. It had been the Gunslinger's choice to run. To threaten him. To abandon him.

Hanzo lifted the note and gave it a hard look.

Betrayal was a feeling that he'd grown intimately used to. Still, he couldn't stop the thread of doubt that had woven its way into him and refused to be snipped away again. Had it really been a betrayal? It didn't seem possible that he could have spent so much time in the company of Jesse McCree – such intimate moments – and have his entire existence be a complete falsehood. In his experience the best lies tended to have roots in truth. It was just a matter of finding out exactly where the truth ended and the lie began.

To see what skeleton lay under the skin of the monster.

In one swift movement he reached across and pulled off one of his black gloves, letting his thumb rest against the scanner to unlock the tablet. It sprang to life almost immediately and the words ‘GREETINGS, SHIMADA H.’ scrolled across it. The note and bootlace were brushed aside as he picked up the device and cradled it on his crossed legs, letting himself sag down into a more comfortable position. The interface was basic - it took less than a minute to familiarize himself with the desktop and every program that had been downloaded onto it. There was a small icon floating in the upper corner that looked like a stylized ‘A’ - no doubt a quick link to the ship’s AI. There was a messaging service, a calendar, a notepad, and a few basic programs for building charts and opening files. He gave the message app a quick tap and scrolled through his contacts. Most were names he didn’t recognize, but a few stood out.

Arebati, Winston. Lindholm, Brigitte. Lindholm, Torbjörn. Wilhelm, Reinhardt. Ziegler, Angela. X, Genji.

His hand hovered over the last name. It had taken one conversation, with a bottle passed back and forth, to convince him. It had taken one look at the man’s face to bring the past back so violently that he’d been rocked back in his seat.

It took one name to make it all real.

A popup box distracted him from the names.

‘SHIMADA H. YOU HAVE ‘1’ NEW MESSAGE. CLICK TO READ’.

He rapped the screen with a knuckle. No doubt it was some sort of initiation message welcoming to the fold, or more rules about his medication from Doctor Ziegler. To his surprise, it was neither.

Hanzo,

Looking back, I think that I may have taken more than my share of your attention during our meeting. While it was good to see you again and talk over what has happened in our years apart, I believe that you walked away without much gained over our exchange of information.

To that end, I have attached a link to the files that Overwatch has on the subject of John Hardin. It isn’t much - most of it is highly classified since it concerns Blackwatch and I do not have the authority to grant you a higher clearance level. I am certain that Winston will give you full access to the information at a later date, once you have both decided what amount of cooperation is going to be exchanged.

I implore you not to act rashly once you've gone through the files. We have both learned much in the past few hours and not all of it good. There is a meeting scheduled tomorrow and I believe that you are on the attendance list. No doubt the Captain intends to discuss the current situation and our way forward during it and I for one intend to broach a few questions during it. Namely why all of my transmissions to you during my time with Blackwatch and Overwatch were intercepted and apparently destroyed. That you never received any of them explains more than a little.

I plan to discuss this newfound information with my master. His name is Zenyatta and he acts as the religious figurehead about the Gibraltar, as well as a licensed therapist. He has helped me through a very tumultuous time in my life and we have grown very close. Hopefully I will have a chance to introduce you soon. It may be that he can help to settle your spirit as he did mine.

I hope that whatever you find in the files helps to explain some of the situation. My time with Blackwatch was extremely brief - it was determined that I did not possess the emotional and moral state that they found the most ideal for their agents and I was transferred to Overwatch. I spent some time in the company of Jesse McCree even after that transfer and I would have called us friends, though whether he would say the same I do not know. As one of the organization’s top agents he was a master of subterfuge. I saw him use at least seven aliases, each with their own unique personas and histories.

Please do not berate yourself for being taken in by him. I doubt that there is a single person alive in the universe as skilled as he is at making themselves into some else entirely. My own persona - that of Agent Shimizu - was never good enough to conceal my original self. Blackwatch’s top agents were so skilled at weaving new realities that they transformed themselves into it. If you knew Jesse McCree, he was as much a real man as any other you have ever known. He simply has the misfortune of sharing his sense of self with several dozen other personalities.

If you have not been too overwhelmed by both this information and my clearly unexpected reappearance, it would please me if you would join me for breakfast in the morning before the meeting. That way we may discuss a plan of attack for dealing with whatever decides to present itself next.

Genji Shimada  

He closed out of the messaging window without bothering to write back and set the tablet back down on the table, releasing a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Hanzo closed his eyes and conjured back up the Swordsman in his memory.

The damage had boarded on horrific. The man’s entire lower jaw had been replaced by a high tech prosthetic made of carbon fiber and high-impact plastics. The scars on his face spoke of extensive reconstruction surgery. Still, his eyes were the same. The same eyes that had smiled at him hundreds of thousands of times. The same eyes that had pleaded with him so many times and that he’d given in to far too often. The same eyes that had stared at him in horror as Hanzo’s dragons consumed him and left nothing behind but blood.  

It was a burden he’d willingly shouldered - his brother’s death. After all, Genji’s blood had been on his hands. There was no one to blame but himself. The Council had driven them to it, but he’d been the one to strike the killing blow.

Clearly it hadn’t stuck.

His head fell back on an exhale, the weight stretching out the sore muscles in his neck. Light flashed across the ceiling for a brief moment before fading back the black. Hanzo let his eyes close. How was one man supposed to handle this much upheaval and hold onto his sanity? He’d put half of the known universe between his past and his present in search of revenge. He’d thrown his lot in with a known criminal and turned his back on everything he’d ever known. He’d fallen in love and then lost it, only to gain back a brother he thought he’d never see again.

It was enough to drive a man to drink.

Ryo and Aoi cooed sympathetically as he reach for the whiskey bottle, materializing on both of his shoulders. Their weight was insubstantial, more of a prickle of heat and electricity than an actual presence. They were still weak from his attack against the Gunslinger, drained of their power. Genji’s appearance had been enough to wake them from their stupor, but it would take more time and energy to restore them to their full glory.      

“There is much to think on and not enough time to do it,” he mused, turning the bottle over in his hands so that he could read the label again. He had expected answers from the Swordsman, expected to learn something - anything - that would help to settle his restless mind.

The Gunslinger haunted him, a nightmare that refused to be banished by sunrise.

Now the knowledge he sought, or at least some small part of it, waited for him. All he had to do was reach out and seize it, seize the chance to learn exactly what sort of unholy transformation had overtaken his lover. Still, he hesitated. His hands stayed on the bottle rather than reaching for the tablet to access the link that Genji had sent him.

“Was he real?” He asked the blank screen. “Is any of this? To me it feels more like an ongoing dream, and not one that I’m eager to continue.” To know. To truly know . It was a temptation that made his chest ache and his temples pound with the stress of it. On one hand, it could confirm his suspicion - that the man who went by Jesse McCree, who smile and laugh and loved, still existed somewhere inside of the Gunslinger.

On the other…

What if none of it had been real, as the Gunslinger had said? He set the bottle down without indulging. He’d wallowed in a haze of trauma, grief, and now alcohol for long enough and he wasn’t accustomed to hiding for longer than strictly necessary. Even if it hurt, it was better to know and plan his next steps accordingly.

After all, an injured dragon was the most dangerous and he was feeling more than a little bloody.

The link sent him to an official Overwatch site, though an offline one. The tablet automatically filled in his login credentials and he was transferred to a page with three folders.The first read BLACKWATCH, but the folder itself had a small lock symbol set over it. The second read JOHN HARDIN, and the third was RECOVERY. That one had a locked symbol as well, so he tapped the second folder.

Immediately a short file opened itself, the white light making him wince. There was a photograph at the top, along with a clinical list of information. He stared at the photo. It had to be at least ten years old, but still recognizable. His beard was shorter, his hair less shaggy, but it was most definitely Jesse McCree. He was wearing a black uniform with several military-style decorations on the breast and he was gazing neutrally at the camera.

No, Hanzo realized, not neutrally. There was a difference between that and the pure emptiness that was looking back at him. The Jesse in the picture may have been clean and styled, but there was nothing that resembled that man that he knew. No humor, no light. There was simply nothing there to indicate that he was anything more than a well-posed corpse.

GIVEN NAME: JOHN HARDIN

RANK: GENERAL, SPECIAL CLASS LEVEL 9. BLACKWATCH

STATUS: DECEASED   

IDENTIFICATION #: 761-48-3855-2  

TRAINING LEVEL: A

SKILL SET: SNIPER, CLOSE COMBAT, WEAPONS SPECIALIST, INTELLIGENCE

PLANET OF ORIGIN: LILAC

BLOOD TYPE: O-POS

IDENTIFYING PHYSICAL MARKS: ASSORTED SCARRING

KNOWN ALIASES: DIEGO FAIRBURN, VINCENT KERSEY, JESSE MCCREE, JOSHUA TATHAM, MATTHEW HACKETT, ELIAS.FOX

Two video files followed this, but the message ‘You do not have the necessary clearance to view this media’ displayed when he tried to play the first. He scowled and Aoi hissed to match his displeasure. The dragon slithered down his arm and rested on the top of the tablet, letting tongue of blue electricity caress the screen. It flickered wildly, going black for a moment and then wildly blue, before it settled back down at the open file again. The clearance message was gone.

“As if  they could lock me out of anything,” he growled. Overwatch had specifically reached out to him for his unique skills. Anyone could destroy, given enough power, but it took a master of his art to crack into an egg without spilling its contents. Sombra might have been the only being who could match him for technological abilities, but she wasn’t here to pave the way for him. Instead he would take what he wanted. What he was owed.         

Mister Shimada,’ said a small voice from the tablet’s speaker. Athena. ‘ My sensors indicate that there has been an abnormal fluctuation with your machinery. Are you aware of-’

Aoi hissed again and seemed to sink into the screen like a liquid, until it was submerged nearly to its head. Athena’s voice wavered, choked, and then went silent. Both dragons made pleased noises and Hanzo smiled. It felt foreign on his face, like he was borrowing it from someone else.

“Yes, it is indeed quite abnormal. Now, let me see exactly what you think you can hide.”

The first video was of appalling low quality. It was textured with pixels and out of focus, and everything in it was painted in shades of green that only came from using night time surveillance gear. The camera had to be on someone’s helmet, because ragged breathing was the only sound that the speakers managed to transmit. The date in the corner read some nine years prior.

The view trailed down an alley. It was poorly lit, but even with the meager light and shoddy night vision it was easy to tell that the place was filthy. There were piles of garbage everywhere and the camera picked up on the glittering eyes of dozens of rats and other vermin. Their soft shrieks as they burrowed deeper into the mounds of refuse were audible even over the camera-bearer’s breathing. The place must have smelled atrocious. The liquid flecks on the camera screen showed that something was dripping, but it was impossible to tell if it was rain or more filth.

It paused, and then - BOOM.

The entire screen seemed to shudder with the force of the explosion. A wall exploded up ahead in the alley, sending enormous pieces of concrete and brick flying everywhere and setting the nearby piles of trash alight. They blazed in the dark, making the camera flicker wildly between night vision and day.

Five figures emerged from the hole in the wall and the person holding the camera quickly flattened themselves up against the nearest wall. The new arrivals were dressed in dark combat gear and two of them had helmets obscuring their features. They turned back and forth, scanning the area with their guns held at the ready before the one in the front gave some sort of hand motion. Two of the ones without helmets darted down the alley, away from the cameraman. The other three swarmed up the wall in front of them like it was nothing, their hands finding every hold. It took less than five seconds for them to make it to the second story roof, where two of them took off after their companions, albeit from a higher vantage point. The fifth and final member - the one who had given the squad the hand motions, remained in place. He lowered the large military-grade rifle he was holding and reached for something at his waist.

The camera shook and bounced as it zoomed in on the man and the quality got even worse, but as soon as it settled back on night-mode it was easy to tell that it was looking at Jesse McCree. There was a cut on his brow - the blood showed black against him skin. He’d tied his hair back in a low tail to keep it out of his face. The wind tugged at his dark serape, making it billow like a pair of black wings behind him. He raised his right hand and now Hanzo could see that he held his Peacemaker. It was almost laughably small next to the large gun that he still held at his side, but the sight made his blood run cold. He knew what it was like to look down the barrel of that gun, and exactly how well its owner could wield it.

Bang. Bang. Bangbangbangbang.

Six shots, but they had come so rapidly that it was hard to tell them apart. The only evidence that he’d fired more than once was the machine-like muzzle flashes. Jesse holstered the gun at his waist and stood tall for another moment. Surveying his work? The camera was shaking harder now, so much so that Hanzo began to feel his stomach turn.

Then the screaming began and the video ended.

Hanzo tapped the next one to begin it without bothering to catch his breath. He had to know and these were telling him nothing. Nothing more than what he already knew - that Jesse McCree, the biggest, most bumbling fool in the universe, was in fact nothing of the sort.

The second video had been taken off of a surveillance camera in what looked like the corridor of a large spacecraft. There were no windows visible to show any sort of location marker, but the date on this video was more recent - seven years prior. A door slid open at the end of the corridor and three people stepped through. Two were wearing a dark uniform, which he figured marked them as Blackwatch despite the lack of insignia. The third was dressed in crisp blue and white - Overwatch. The two in the front were talking and laughing, while the one in the back seemed to be leaning forward to inject his own opinions. Jesse. Hanzo tapped the volume symbol but there was no change. It seemed that this one was without audio entirely. The three men stopped and talked for at least a minute, but Hanzo only had eyes for the tallest of the three. Jesse was wearing his trademark hat, but this one was black rather than the world-weary brown one that he knew. He had his shirt sleeves rolled up, revealing two scarred but perfectly human arms. Whenever his accident had been, it had been after this moment. His shirt was also open down to the top of his chest armor, revealing a V of tanned, unblemished skin.

The three shared a final laugh before the man in the Overwatch uniform lifted his hand in a farewell and left the view of the camera. The two Blackwatch agents lingered for a moment longer and Hanzo starred as both of them seemed to become different people before his very eyes. Any hint of good humor drained out of them like water, leaving their faces emotionless. Their stances changed, going from casual to a loose-limbed combat ready stance.

He paused the video right before they turned to go, and it happened that Jesse’s eyes met with the camera in that moment. Except it very obviously wasn’t Jesse who was meeting his eyes across the years. That was the Gunslinger.

Hanzo pushed himself away from the desk so violently that it rattled, nearly tipping over the whiskey bottle. Both dragons watched him in silence as he paced across his small room and then back. Then away again, then back. He needed to move, to act. That man, that monster. Which was he? How was it that he could go from one to the other so quickly, and which was he when everything was stripped away?

“Is there any way to truly know other than to do it myself?” He asked, the question hanging in the air like a poison. His nails dug into his palms as he continued to pace.

It shouldn’t have been eating at him like this. Everything had seemed so simple when he’d first made up his mind to escape from the Council’s grasp. He would help the underground organization who had first contacted him in order to secure their aid. Then he would systematically destroy the Council and all of their holdings, avenging the many deaths that he could lay at their feet. They may not have been the ones to pull the trigger, but the Council knew how to orchestrate a perfect, tragic accident. The explosion that had killed his parents. The situation that had driven him and Genji to such desperate lengths. The ‘assassination’ attempt that had robbed him of his legs.

For years upon years, plotting his revenge upon the Council had consumed him. It had been the first thing on his mind when he woke and the last thing on it before he slept. Every hour of training, every moment of pain, all of it had been driving him to a final end - a blaze of fiery glory when his dragons consumed the Council member by member until nothing was left but fire and ash.

How was it now that they seemed to be the least important thing right now? Was one man more important than a lifetime of vengeance? A man who had pointed a gun at him, who had threatened him, who had nearly broken him?

A man who had held him. Who had smiled at him. Tried to save him.

There was more yet to discover about this story, and maybe when he learned all that he could he could finally be at peace and reclaim his original priorities. He pulled the tablet back onto his lap and looked back at the Gunslinger, refusing to let the man’s lifeless gaze rattle him. Physically he was Jesse McCree, albeit a few years younger and with fewer scars. It was the same brown hair, the same build, the same skin -

His eyes narrowed. Perhaps not so similar after all. He reached up and traced the line of the Gunslinger’s open shirt. This man didn’t have a double line of chain going around his neck, leading to two dog tags. He looked back at the timestamp - still seven years ago. That would have been long enough after the war that he should have had the ink. The faded nature of at least the first tag marked it as at least a dozen years old if not more. He scrolled back up and looked at ‘Identifying Physical Marks’ line, but it only read scars. A tattoo should have been mentioned there. Of course, there were ways to disguise such things, but official records like this one should have been kept strictly updated.

For some reason Jesse - John - whoever he was, had found it necessary to disguise his dog tags.

Hanzo cast his mind back as best he could, to lying in the warm darkness of Jesse’s bunk, pressed together with their legs tangled as he traced the markings on Jesse’s neck.   

Jesse J. McCree, from Santo . The more recent tag. The older…

Hanzo sucked in a sharp breath and both dragons went alert, crackling and sparking like miniature storms.  

Jacob M. Solano, from Deadwood. Hanzo dove across the table and seized the half-empty whiskey bottle, furiously scanning the label.

Midnight Lightning Whiskey Family Collection, Aged 30 Years, Bottled by the Solano Family

Bottle by the Solano Family. The Family Collection. Jacob M. Solano.

“Ryo, I need a universal search page, untraceable. Now.”

The dragon cooed in reply and edged in next to Aoi, letting its claws splay out over the screen. Hanzo paid it little attention as the dragon ran the tablet through its paces, working around any security measures that Athena had in place. He was thinking, trying desperately to remember the conversation he’d had with Jesse, when he’d been caught in his jealousy over having another man’s name tattooed on his lover’s skin.  

“There’s no competition for you to worry about.”

“So he is a friend?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say he was a friend. Jacob was a dumbass kid from a backwater planet with more bravery than brains. We ended up in the same squad in the war for independence.”

Ryo cooed and Hanzo looked down at the window the dragon had opened on the tablet. It was a weak connection, one that was clearly fighting against the firewalls installed on the Gibraltar, but it held steady so long as Ryo and Aoi kept their focus on the screen. Not wanting to press their limits, Hanzo quickly used the interface to bring up the information page on the Solano Family Distillery.

It was a well-designed page, all dark wood texture and black and white photographs of what he had to assume was the distillery. There were rolling fields, quaint wooden fences with horses looking over them, and barns perched on scenic hilltops. He moved his finger along the top bar until he found a link titled ‘The Family’.

It lead him to another photograph, and a short paragraph of information under it.

“Dating as far back as Earth-That-Was, The Solano Distillery has been passed down from generation to generation and is still going strong today. Each addition to the family brings their own unique spirit to the distillery, and none moreso than Bina ‘Ma’ Solano, pictured center. The matriarch of the family, Ma has looked over her eight children and three grandchildren and taught them everything she knows.”

“Pictured left to right: Ela, Elias, Santiago, Bly, Maria, Isabel, Bina ‘Ma’ Solano, Rafael, Jacob, Catalina, Martin, and Ariadna.”

In the picture, a large family hung about on one of the fences with two horses loitering behind them. An older woman was at the front and center - Bina Solano. She was short and strong-looking, with a wide hat and a weathered face. Her arms were crossed over her chest, but there was a hint of a smile as she looked at the camera. Around her were clustered what must have been her children and other members of the family. They were perched on the fence, hanging by their middles over the beam, and two of them were lying in the grass with an old hound dog.

“He joined because his older sister got in and I guess he wanted to keep an eye on her. She was smart though - smarter than the two of us idiots. Ended up climbing the ranks and got assigned to the battle front with command of her own crew. Made it for a whole year before a plasma blast burned a hole in her chest big enough to put your fist through.”

His eyes found the oldest-looking woman in the picture. She was young, no more than thirty at most. Her dark hair was braided over one shoulder and her sleeves were rolled up, revealing toned forearms and a bracelet of beads. She was grinning, her eyes sparkling with good humor.

“There wasn’t a funeral. There were always too many corpses and not enough time to dig holes for them. Her tags had gone to her brother and her body to an incinerator. Poor kid never recovered after that. Guess you could say that the whole thing broke him because once the fighting settled he got himself dragged in front of a tribunal and tried for crimes against the ‘verse.”

Jacob. He touched the name and then drew a line up to a teenager sitting on a horse near the back. He was tall enough to see over everyone’s heads, even without his mount. He had a wide-brimmed hat on like his mother, a brown leather one. It was a little too big for him and tilted back, letting the sun fall on his face and light up his wide smile. He had a fistful of horsehair and there was a piece of straw sticking out of his hair, like he’d been rolling in it just prior to the picture.

"He was a good kid. Saved my life more than once and they executed him the same day as the trial because he went and blew the heads off of three Alliance officers.”

Hanzo brought a knuckle to his lips and bit down hard, letting the pain of it ground him.

The picture was in black and white, but there was no way to deny that once again, a familiar face was looking up at him. A young, unscarred teenager surrounded by his family, before the war had torn him away.

This was Jacob Solano, the young man who died and become Jesse McCree.

A flash of lightning from Angel’s unending storms danced across the ceiling and the tablet went dark under his hands as Ryo and Aoi collapsed in exhaustion, their power drained. Hanzo welcomed them back into his skin, letting their nanos reabsorb into his system.

“So it was all a lie,” he murmured. This was no single child learning to be a mechanic under the watchful eye of a his father. He’d been fed a fantasy and swallowed it down without questioning it. This man - this boy - was someone he’d never met before. Hanzo swallowed hard and bowed his head, finally allowing himself to accept the truth.

There was no Jesse McCree.

There had never been a Jesse McCree.

But there was a man out there. A man with a real past. A real family. A man who had fought and died and been reborn into something different. A shapeshifter. A killer. A man who could change who he was as easily as changing his clothes.

“And whoever he is, whatever he calls himself…” Hanzo’s voice was low and rough as he turned his head to look out the window and the rolling clouds far below. “He is mine.

He had his brother back, a gift he had never anticipated. He would figure out how to handle that in time. He had Overwatch, desperate enough for his help to shelter him from the wrath of the Council. He could use that. And now...now he had a name.

“Jacob.” He rolled it across his tongue, tasting it. The name of a dead man. Of a real man.

He had hours to go before the promised meeting tomorrow and two folders still to search for information. Hanzo straightened his back and gave the tablet a flick to bring it back to life, opening the newly unlocked folder marked ‘Blackwatch'. Overwatch was about to realize that although one monster had escaped, the one that remained was just as dangerous.

Chapter Text

If there was one true thing in the universe, it was the unforgiving nature of space.

Space swallowed everyone, sinners and saints alike. There were a thousands of empty husks of thousands of ships that had gone up and never come back down again, caught in the black and consumed by it. Their crews were forgotten, their registration numbers became nothing more than a note on a rarely-opened file.

A small, weathered ship streaked through the darkness, finding the places where the radio signals were the weakest and following them like an invisible road. It kept away from the planets and the stars, and skirted around every satellite that crossed its path. It kept to the black places. The dark places.  

The console room was illuminated only by the faint flashings of a radar screen. It pulsed in green waves, searching the darkness with nothing to show for it but empty space. Inside the cabin it flickered across a worn leather captain’s chair, which was colored much darker in places by blood stains, both old and new. Nothing moved. No one breathed. The air that circulated from the ceiling vents was cool, bordering on cold.

There was no music, no motion, no signs of life beyond the continued scans of the radar.

The emptiness extended into the kitchenette, the twin bedrooms, the engine bay with its slowly revolving turbines. Nobody was there to laugh or grumble about broken parts. Nobody talked or smiled or sang under their breaths.

A man sat in the corridor that stretched from the control room to the engine bay, his back pressed against the cold metal wall. It wasn’t wide enough to stretch his legs out so he kept them pressed against his chest instead and held onto his knees with both arms. There were no lights here either, nor anywhere else on the ship. It was neither the time nor the place for illumination. Both of the ship’s occupants knew that it would only show the scars they were trying to ignore.

His eyes tracked the stars.

It wasn’t exactly familiar territory they traveled through, but neither was it entirely foreign. The Calavera had roamed far and wide, going where she and her terrible crew were needed the most. That usually brought them to the nastier corners of the universe - the ones ruled by drugs and blood money rather than the strong arm of proper law. The sort of place they flew through now. Nobody with any good intentions traveled through these lanes. Only drug runners, smugglers, pirates, and reavers.

All of them, and one tired man who wasn’t anything at all.   

Jesse, or the man who liked to call himself Jesse, pushed himself to his feet with a groan. His back was stiff from sitting in such a hunched position for so long. He couldn’t say exactly how long he’d spent on the floor, eyes darting between the flashing signals of far-off satellites and the steady burn of stars. The closest ones wore a necklace of planets. He’d been to a good handful of them, mostly with Blackwatch . They would swoop into orbit like a vulture circling a corpse, discharge whatever squad had the honor of going planet-side, and then the fun would begin. Fun, of course, which would usually end with bodies and blood.

He shook himself, both to loosen up his shoulders and dislodge the feeling that his past was looking over them. It had already haunted him across the known universe and now it had finally succeeded in driving him back home again.

Jesse?’ Sombra’s voice came from the communicator built into his prosthetic. ‘ You awake?’

Half of him wanted to ignore her, to stay lost in his own head for a while longer, but duty called. Duty, which was driving him back to the pain and horror he knew awaited him when they found their destination. The life of a vagabond had helped him survive until now - no master, no playbook, no home. Nothing to tie him down. No compass to keep him on the right track.

But duty called, and even an old, half-feral dog remembered its tricks.  

It only took a twitch of his thumb to bring his own mic online. “More or less. What’ve you got for me?”

There was a long pause before her reply, almost as though Sombra was thinking over her response before he voiced it. She’d been doing that more than a little ince their flight from the Gibraltar. He knew it was because she was trying to help, in her own way, to keep him calm and level-headed. ‘I’m picking something up on the deep space indicator. Something big.’

“I’ve got a feelin’ you wouldn’t have said anything if it were just some space junk.”

Depends. Does an abandoned three thousand crew capacity highly weaponized deep space transport count as ‘space junk’?’  

“Depends on who you ask,” Jesse mumbled under his breath. His feet turned without conscious thought and carried him through the dark and empty ship to the cockpit. The scanner still pulsed lazily, sifting through every piece of debris and meteor there was to find. Now though, now there was a mass that it passed over with every scan and it made a soft pinging noise. He leaned over the control panel and outlined the ‘junk’ with one finger.

The Calavera.  

“How far off are we?” Jesse glanced up at the window, looking through the black as if he could part it like curtains to reveal their quarry.

Ten minutes to visuals, thirteen to arrival. No saying if we’ll be able to dock though. I don’t know what the damage is. We’re the explosion experts, not Overwatch. I wouldn’t be surprised if those idiots went and turned all of our bays into scrambled eggs.’

“As long as they didn’t mess with the core.” Jesse popped one of the hatches on his prosthetic and pulled out a cigar. Alcohol would only dull his senses and he wasn’t in the mood to drink. He would hold onto his frazzled nerves and paranoia for now. “We can use the suit and I can ghost in if it comes down to that.”

Did you get the bullet hole in the leg patched?’

Jesse snorted as he lit the cigar and sucked in a mouthful of smoke. “Of course I got it patched, who do you take me for?” The words were accompanied by a dragon’s breath plume that floated up and hung lazily around the buttons on the ceiling before being slowly drawn into the air vents.

Privately he hoped that he had actually remembered to get the suit patched.

He lowered himself down into the Captain’s chair, letting his arms and back find the well-worn grooves in the cracked leather. They fit him and him alone, letting all and sundry know that it was his chair. His ship. His fingernails found one of the cracks in the arm rest and he traced it from beginning to end.

“Probably too late to turn around and head for the nearest beach, huh?”

Sombra laughed, the noise crackling like static over the speakers. ‘It’s never too late for the beach. But we’re so close it’d be a shame not to drop in and make a mess.’

“It’s what we do best. Make messes, that is. Not go to the beach.”

‘Speak for yourself. I’m the best at going to beaches.’

Jesse grinned and turned in his chair before he could help himself. The witty comeback died in his throat when he remembered that there was no one standing behind him to share it with. The smile fell away as he slid back into his chair, feeling heavier than the weight of his bones.  

“You think it’s wrong of me to look for him?” He asked aloud, hating how much pain was in his voice but unable to banish it. “Hell, he was only here a scant handful of days but I’m still lookin’ over my shoulder like he’s going to walk up with a cup of tea and tell me the place is a wreck.”

‘That handful of days was still long enough for you to fall in love with him, so I’d be more alarmed if you weren’t looking for him.’ The radar pinged louder to fill the quiet cockpit. ‘He suited you,’ she finally said. ‘You seemed like you made each other happy, as much as two such different people could.’

Jesse tapped the ash off of the end of his cigar and watched it float down to the floor. “Maybe towards the end there. Shit. I dunno, Som. I’ve never felt so used in my life and he nearly ended it a couple times, but I’m still…”

‘You’re still looking for him. I know. But Jesse, you need to put that aside for a little while. This is important. We don’t know what’s waiting for us on the Calavera.’

“I’m going to put my money on a surprise party. Welcome Home cake and everything.” Jesse sat forward and rested his elbows on the console, eyes fixed on the space outside the viewport. It wouldn’t be much longer now. They really hadn’t towed her far, but that was hardly a surprise. A ship the size of the Calavera took more power than a dozen ships combined to move, and even more than that to haul. It would have been much easier to keep her in the dark where she lay, like the corpse of some long-dead creature left to float and rot in her weightless grave.

‘As long as it isn’t reavers. I’ve had enough of those to last me a lifetime.’

Jesse shuddered and closed his eyes momentarily. “You and me both, Som. You and me both.”

His heart picked up a double time beat, even though he knew very well that it was unlikely there would be any reavers aboard. They were uncommon this far away from populated planets. After all, they preferred live prey.

Which was why their appearance all those years ago had taken Blackwatch so completely by surprise.

“Guess the beach will have to wait for some other day,” he mused.

‘Shame. I was looking forward to a couple fruity umbrella drinks and ogling scantily clad beach babes.’

“You’d get bored in a heartbeat and cause some kind of international security breach issue.”

‘Everybody needs a hobby.’

It swam out of the darkness like a second shadow, starting first as a darker fleck and then growing into a monstrous shape as they flew closer. Larger even than the Gibraltar, the Calavera quickly took up the entire window and more - a dark, empty husk that had once been the savior and the scourge of the universe.

She wasn’t shaped like the Gibraltar, nor like the Tohoku cruiser that they had spied upon early in their journey. This was no floating city, meant to come up and never come back down again. The Calavera , though she boasted more than fifty floors, looked as sleek and dangerous as a well-sharpened blade. The dormant weapon ports along her every side, more than a hundred of them, showed that this wasn’t a ship that had been made with just beauty in mind. Her function had proved itself time and again in the wreckages she left in her wake.

A sigil was inscribed along her hull, framed by enormous sheets of dark metal and light-absorbing panels. A white skull and a red sword.

Blackwatch’s sigil.

Jesse ground out his cigar on his prosthetic as Sombra took them in close enough that they could have brushed the ship if not for her careful piloting.

I’m not picking up any signs of life from this sector. She’s too big for me to scan the whole thing.’

“There’s nothin’ living on there. Look.” He pointed, even though his companion didn’t have eyes to see the gesture. “Half of the floors are breached. Damage might just be superficial here, but breathing folks still need a breath of air and most of these don’t have that to give.”

The broken windows spiraled out from a centerpoint. The shockwave had passed through at least a dozen floors and stretched for more than a quarter of the ship in every direction. Shards of glass and twisted metal hung suspended in space yards away, blown there by the explosion and venting atmosphere. They twinkled like a million snowflakes and bounced harmlessly off the front of the Raven-class as Sombra piloted them through the debris.

Looks like whatever blast Overwatch set off took out a fair few of the windows. They’re meant to repel blasts from the outside, not the inside. No surprise the shockwave blew them.’

“Tell me something I don’t - Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Superficial damage my ass.

A gaping wound marred the side of the ship at the centerpoint of the wreckage. Jesse stared at the carnage, mentally walking through the steps it would take to reproduce such a thing.

“They must’ve fired at least three incendiary rounds into the bay. They’d have ripped the doors right off and sucked out most everything.”

And so it had. Shredded escape pods, equipment, and broken parts of who knew what littered the space around what had once been a bay. Dozens of high tech space crafts armed with the best weapons the ‘verse had to offer - gone. Blown away by one incredible explosion and reduced to nothing more than space junk.

Jesse bit the inside of his cheek as they drifted by the broken cockpit of a modified Hanover. Its wings had been ripped clean off and there were burn marks covering more than half of what remained.

It wasn’t as though there had been anyone left to pilot them once Overwatch arrived.

“We’re not getting in here. Those edges will slice us open like a tin can. Let’s check the drop bay. That might’ve escaped the worst of it.”

‘It’ll be a long hike to the control room from there. We might be better off trying to breach one of the smaller holes and you can take the suit. There’s nothing near the belly but residential and the armory.’

“Why’re you complaining about the walk? You don’t even have legs.”

‘No, but the further you go the more likely you’ll be to hit a depressurized zone. I’m getting a couple of readings, but they’re pretty weak. The radar shields must still be functioning a bit. I’m that good! Years away, mostly dead, and full of holes and my work is still the best in the ‘verse.’

Jesse rolled his eyes and then pushed himself to his feet so that he could lean against the console and get a better view. “Once you’re done singing your own praises…”

‘So...never?’

“Should’ve seen that comin’. Anyway, just bring us down. I’ll make the walk and bring a helmet if it makes you feel better. I wouldn’t mind swingin’ by the armory anyway and picking up a little extra firepower just in case we run into trouble.”

You mean for when we run into trouble.”

He made a clicking noise with his mouth and fired a finger gun at the camera overhead. “Got it in one.”  

‘Fine, but let’s both remember that it was your idea to take the long way when you start complaining about how your legs are going to fall off from all the stairs because you’re so old. I have a feeling that the elevators aren’t in working order.’’

It was good to be able to talk to Sombra as they coasted under the belly of the Calavera . A disembodied voice over the speaker who couldn’t stand by him, but her presence was reassuring nonetheless. She’d had his back for too many years to count, ever since he first set foot into Blackwatch’s domain. She and Reyes had been thick as thieves - the face and the brains of the operation. There wouldn’t have been a Blackwatch without them. Reyes held the guns and the leashes of the dogs they called a crew and Sombra held the pulse of the world in her invisible fists. There was nowhere they couldn’t go, nothing they couldn’t take, fix, or destroy utterly.

Now it was just Sombra and she was a shadow of her former self. All of the personality with a fraction of her old power.

Jesse patted the console in front of him and hoped that she picked up on some of his feelings of regret. They’d both been something better before - before.

Still, her presence kept him grounded. Kept his emotions from overcoming the rising dread and fear that was rising up in him like the tide coming in. He swallowed hard and fought to keep his eyes on the ship above them rather than closing them and blocking it and all of the memories that came with it out.  

We’re closing in on the drop bay. Some topical scans show that it should be undamaged, but it’s going to take a bit of doing to get in. Looks like the hatches are closed.’

“Doin’ by you or doin’ by me?”

Keep your pants on, Jessito. I’m not going to kick you out and make you pull on ‘em.’

The ship slowed to a crawl and then stopped, with its lights trained on two enormous shielded doors that formed part of the heavily armored underbelly of the Calavera. When activate, Jesse knew that they would retract in tandem, allowing supplies in and the largest of their ships out. Bomb-runners, long distance transports, crew farriers. All of the things that made a flying arc of death function.  

Sombra made the sound of knuckles cracking. ‘Time to do a little hacking.’

“Can you hack your own system?” Jesse wondered, tucking his hands into his pockets so that he wouldn’t be compelled to start fidgeting. “You set up the security after all. Shouldn’t it be unhackable?”

‘Anything can be hacked. Even me. But only by me.’

“Ah. Gotcha. That makes complete and total sense.” He turned away and left her to her work, knowing that carrying on a conversation would only distract her now. Even with the Calavera being a burned out husk of her former self, there was a good chance that her security system was still at least partially intact. A security system that could easily blow them into a million tiny pieces if Sombra didn’t find the right back doors. Jesse’s feet carried him through the galley and back into his room, where he collapsed back onto the bed with a long, pained groan.

“Why’d it have to be here?” He asked the ceiling. “Anywhere but here.”

Pieces. Pieces of his crew, his comrades.

The why of it was what had dragged him here, that gnawing question that ate at him like a parasite, never leaving him no matter how far he ran away.

Why had there been reavers on the ship? Why had their numbers suddenly increased after being nearly wiped out after the Universe battle? Why attack one of the most heavily defended ships in the ‘verse, staffed by some of the best-trained killers?

There was only one place that held the answers and it was right back where he’d started this whole nightmare.

“And once I’ve got that answer…” He reached out his prosthetic above him with the fingers spread wide and then clenched them into a fist. “I’ve got a man’s mercy to throw myself on.”

That was, if Hanzo had a single drop of mercy left in him.

Chapter Text

Then - - -

 

“Did anybody else get that wonky email? The one about a meeting this morn’ that turned into a little blue lizard and ate itself. Oh.” A lean woman with a mop of spiked brown hair leaned into the conference room and looked at the grim faced people settled around the table, all clearly uncomfortable. “Looks like you did. Somebody save me a place?”

“For being the fastest person here, you somehow manage to always be late to the meetings,” Reinhardt sighed as he leaned backwards, revealing an empty chair at his side. “How is that?”

“Hey, can’t a girl can have a fast ship and like to take her time with other things?” Lena Oxton flopped into the offered chair and promptly put her feet up on the conference table, crossing them at the ankles so that everyone could see her violently orange striped running shoes.

“You mean take her time with everything else but flying.” Reinhardt was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes and quickly faded away to the same grim expression worn by everyone else in the room. They were all quiet, staring at their tablets or fidgeting while trying to look like they weren’t. The atmosphere was as heavy as a storm before it broke, when the world seemed to hold its breath as it waited for the thunder.

“Whose funeral is it,” Lena stage whispered.

“That,” The entire room stiffened as the door pulled open automatically to admit a stranger to their midst. “Has yet to be decided. Had you asked the same question a scant few hours ago, I would have happily said my own. However, in light of recent developments…”

The man strode to the head of the table, where an open chair had been left, as if in anticipation of his arrival. His shoes were polished to a shine. His suit didn’t have a single wrinkle or fold that was out of place, and it had been meticulously tailored to fit. A pin-striped vest showed through the open front, and a blue tie pulled the entire look together. This was a man with class, a man with money, and a man with enough power and confidence to command the entire room.

Hanzo Shimada took his chair, flipping the back of his coat out behind him so as not to sit on it..

“And new information, I believe that the death has yet to be decided upon. Thank you all for joining me.” Leather caressed leather as he laced his gloved hands together and gave the assembled people a smile that did absolutely nothing to lay their growing unease to rest. “Judging by your presence, you all received my message. I realize that you had a similar meeting planned for later today, but I thought that I would take the initiative and summon you to my own. This way I can be sure that you will address my growing concerns about your organization, its previous practices, and our future relationship.”

What have you done?! ” Angela Ziegler hissed loudly enough for everyone to hear, rounding on the visored man sitting next to her, who had his chrome arms crossed over his chest.

Genji just shook his head, either unwilling or unable to answer the doctor.

“Please understand, my brother merely expedited the process that I would have eventually been driven to myself. While I understand that guests upon your ship are uncommon and thus to be denied access to certain security levels, it came to my attention that I was being kept from valuable information that would help me to settle my mind on several matters.”

There were a few murmurs of ‘ Brother? That’s his brother?’ heard from around the room.

“And what ‘matters’ would those be?” Growled the soldier who was seated at Hanzo’s immediate right. He radiated irritation and thinly-veiled aggression, kept in line only by the presence of his companions. He too had his arms crossed, but his gloved fingers dug deeply into his arms, like he was chaining himself. There were dark bruises blossoming around the edges of his cracked visor, like it had been crushed into his face.

No doubt a souvenir from the Gunslinger, Hanzo thought with a cruel sort of pleasure.

“A subject that I will touch on momentarily.” Hanzo waved a hand in the air, brushing away the question. The grinding of the soldier’s teeth was audible. “Instead let me draw your attention elsewhere.” He tapped the tabletop in front of him to activate the holographic screen and the whole surface sprang to light in harsh neon blue. It cast harsh shadows across every face seated around it, turning even the kindest eyes cold and hard.

The overhead lights dimmed.

“As I’m sure you’ve all heard before, whether through your own personal dealings with Overwatch or through international news, my family was once one of the most feared in the known universe. There was no dealing in which we did not have a hand. Drugs, weapons, blood, technology both ancient and new. There was nothing that existed that we could not touch. Some of that which fell into our hands, we twisted to suit our own purposes. Others we have carried with us as far back as recorded history. For example.”

As if to match the light from the holo table, Hanzo’s eyes began to glow with an unearthly light. Tendrils of his hair swayed in a phantom breeze as twin dragons curled to life, rising up out of the fabric of his suit jacket and trousers. They were enormous - so large that together they took up the entire back half of the office. Their coils spilled out behind every chair and one of their tails - long and plumed with semi-transparent hair - fell to block the exit. They crackled with energy, sparks visibly spilling out of their manes and vaporous plumes of blue smoke filling their open maws.

Someone gasped and more than a few people recoiled, their sense of self preservation overcoming their need to put on a brave face.

“Those of you who have worked with Genji in the past may have seen such a display before. Had either of us grown to our full potential we would have been the heirs that the Shimada family truly deserved. As is, we are both but pale shadows of the men we were meant to become.” Hanzo tilted his head as if thinking and one of the dragons lowered its own head to his level, so that they could both survey their audience. Neither looked impressed.

“If you would grant me a few more minutes of your time, I would tell you a story. Then we will discuss the exact nature of our arrangement and my future aboard this ship.”

By some unspoken command, the second dragon arched its long neck and moved with the suddenness of a shot being fired. It leapt towards the ceiling and then plunged down into the table, and splashes of light bounced across every wall as it disappeared. The remaining dragon repositioned itself to take up the space left behind by its companion.

Shit fuck! ” Lena Oxton hissed as she yanked her feet off the table as if it had suddenly caught fire. “Somebody warn me next time!”

“Yes, we will be sure to warn you next time there is a dragon who wants to go in the table,” Reinhardt said, his voice strangled. His was gripping the arms of his chair so hard that the metal was beginning to take on the shape of his fingers.  

The surface of the table rippled a few more times, as if its new occupants was trying to find a comfortable place to settle in. Hanzo waited until all of the movement subsided before he leaned forward, the light from the now still holo-table giving him an unearthly pallor.

“There was a family. A great and powerful family.”

As he spoke, the table came to life. The surface became a pool of water and out of it rose several figures with indistinct faces. Each was about a foot tall, making them a perfect rendering in miniature. They were the same blue as the rest of the table and partially transparent, but it was easy to see that they were united.Some of them clasped hands with others, some had their arms crossed, but every one stood tall and proud.

“This family was blessed with a gift, one that they had carried with them and passed on in their blood from the days of Earth-That-Was. The great dragons of the Shimada family. As they grew, so did their dragons and so did the power of the family itself.”

Some of the figures faded back into the pool and a few stepped forward and raised their arms. Serpents erupted from them, large and plentiful enough that they buried the remaining family members in their coils, obscuring them from view.

“As time passed, the bloodline began to fade. Death, war, and time took its toll until there was only one pure Shimada left who could control the dragons. Shimada Miyuki, the Dragon Queen.”

The tangle of dragon coils sank beneath the water again, leaving only one figure remaining. A tall, proud woman with long hair and a crown. Her long robe stretched out far behind her and from it eight dragons raised their heads so that they arched above her, like fox tails.

Genji leaned forward and rested his wrists on the table so that he could see better and the miniature queen turned her head to regard her reflection in his visor. His ports hissed, venting acid green steam.

“She rose to power in a time of strife. Constantly she fought with her own Council, a governing body put in place thousands of years ago to give advice and aid to the family. They demanded that she do more to reclaim the power of old that had once belonged to her bloodline. Not content with funding the war that grew closer and closer every year between the outer planet rebels and the Alliance, they wanted more. Always more.”

A circle of people rose around the Queen, their faces hidden behind masks and hoods. They pressed close, their heads dipped as if in reverence of her power and position, but still they crowded her and left no opening through which she could escape. The dragons hissed and snapped at them, keeping the Council at bay, but only just.

“Eventually she gave in to a few of their demands. She wed into another powerful family, knowing that it would not be a marriage of love but rather of politics. This was one of the few moments where it seems that luck was on her side.The man she wed was kind. They grew to care for each other as much as they could, considering the circumstances. For a time there was peace between the Queen and her Council. The new influx of funds and influence that came with the union seemed to satisfy their greed.”

A man appeared at the Queen’s side. He wasn’t tall or imposing, but rather kept his hands at his side in a strict, military fashion. The Queen’s dragons seemed to welcome him in, wrapping around him so that they could keep between him and the hooded figures of the Council.

“Is there a point to this fairy tale?” The soldier growled, pushing his chair back to put some distance between himself and the ongoing drama being played out on the holo-table. “Some of us have work to be doing.”

“And some of us,” Hanzo replied, letting a hint of irritation bleed into his voice, “are trying to restrain themselves from ripping this entire accursed vessel in half. I suggest you reschedule whatever work it is that you seem to think is more important than this ‘fairy tale’.”

“That’s a good threat,” Lena murmured to Reinhardt, loudly enough for most everyone to hear.

Without command from Hanzo, the figures on the table kept moving. The man and the Queen came together and began to dance, pressing closely up against one another and then stepping back again. They did this several times, until twice they came in close and stepped away and another smaller figure appeared.

Genji reached out a hand then, as if he could take up their holograms, and then recoiled when he realized that he had moved. His fingers curled against his palm and he tucked it up underneath his chin to keep it in place. Doctor Zielger gave him a concerned look, but seemed to bite her lip and kept silent rather than offering comfort in a time when it wouldn’t bewelcome.

“My brother and I were born into a short time of peace. The heirs to such a powerful and ancient empire, we were given the best education and training available in the universe. We were also blessed with the power of our mother’s bloodline.”

Two dragons kindled at his words, one blue and one green, each wreathing their respective child in flames. They were small, much smaller than the Queen’s, and they hissed and spit like cats that had been doused in water. They were young and wild, just like their hosts, and the Council surrounding the family seemed to boil with activity. They pressed in closer and closer, their hands reaching out to pluck at the clothes of the young princes, until not even their mother’s dragons could keep the crowd at bay.

“The news announced our parents death as an unfortunate machinery malfunction. Their ship exploded as they traveled on a diplomatic mission. Of course, we both suspected the real truth of the matter, even if we did not have any evidence to support it. I was but fifteen when they passed, and Genji was twelve.”

The Council swarmed the family like the tide rushing in after being held back for too long, and when they receded again the Queen and her husband had vanished and their children were wrapped in chains.

“Though not technically imprisoned, the walls of what had once been our family home because our jail. There was nowhere we could go where they did not follow, where they could not find us, where their eyes were not watching. We were young, and thus we could be molded to suit their needs. We had a power that they did not - one our mother had managed to keep from them even in death. We were not so strong.”

Genji leaned forward at that, bracing his forearms on the table. “This is true. I ran wild in my youth, making trouble because I knew they would hate it. I thought that I was too useful for them to do away with, since there was only the two of us. I was wrong.”

Hanzo left his place at the head of the table and circled around it, the tails of his coat brushing against the backs of every chair he passed, until he stopped behind Genji’s chair and rested his hands on the back of it.

“We were always close as brothers. The death of our parents did away with anything kind of resentment we might have held against each other. There was no one else to rely on but each other, not when we were faced with such a solid wall of power and influence. We had our names, we had our dragons, but we were little more than children and there was no one coming to save us. I did my best to learn and grow stronger, in the hope that one day I would have enough power to break both of us free of the Council’s influence. We could be free.”

“It was not to be.” The light behind Genji’s visor dimmed considerably. “We were not meant to overhear, but both of us knew that something was wrong and the Council had never bothered to seek us out on political members before. We concealed ourselves in a passage behind the walls to listen.”

On the table, the two children because paper thin and folded in on themselves while the dark mass of the Council pressed in upon itself and bubbled like hot tar, conspiring and plotting where they thought that the Shimada children could not see or hear them.   

“I was to be wed,” Genji continued. “Or rather, I was to be sold. They called it a political alliance and an easy way to do away with what they viewed to be a thorn in their side. My recklessness had reached a peak and I was too foolish to realize that the Council only needed one Shimada heir. Hanzo was more suited to the duty and position than I, so they found a way to both strengthen their position and deal with me in one move.”

Hanzo nodded. “They reached out to a rival family with an olive branch. Join with them, pool their resources, fight back against those who thought that they could kill off the criminal underbelly of the universe. Not just Overwatch, but the Alliance itself. We would be bound through the bonds of marriage and,” he gazed down at the table impassively, eyes looking but not seeing. “Should an...unfortunate accident befall the younger Shimada after a few years of this union, no one would be driven to investigate too closely.”

“A death sentence wrapped up in a wedding dress,” someone muttered and there were equal amounts of nods and scowls shared around the conference room.

“Essentially. You can understand my eagerness to avoid such a thing, even if it meant going to extremes. Know this.” Hanzo leveled a look at the room and its occupants and the dragon not in control of the holo table hissed loudly. It was a terrible, vibrating noise that made the hair on everyone’s arms rise and their mouths taste of blood and electricity. “This is not information that I part with willingly. My brother is of the opinion that you should know exactly why you’ve been put in such a delicate situation.”

“You mean why we’re being held hostage in our own ship while you threaten to rip it open like a tin can if we don’t listen to your tragic backstory,” said the Soldier, disgust lacing his every word. “If you really didn’t want to tell us all of this, maybe we could have all waited for the 14:00 meeting and spared everyone.”

Hanzo and Genji’s eyes met across the table. “If you are so eager to get to the main event,” Hanzo said smoothly, but was cut off by a hand slapping down on the table as the Captain, Winston Arebati, leaned forward.

“I don’t think that this is the time to be at each other’s throats. After all, we are working towards a common goal. Jack, sit down. Mister Shimada, please continue.”

The Soldier hissed loudly, his head whipping towards the Captain and then back and forth around the room, clearly expecting some sort of response. The lack of one was more telling than anything else.

“Well, at first we thought that you were trying to be undercover,” Reinhardt said after the silence had become more than a little uncomfortable. “Code names, you know? We weren’t certain you had survived the attack at first, so we were all very pleased when you reappeared. But you wanted to be someone else. What harm was there? We all made mistakes.”

“Plus you know, you’re not very good at being somebody else, yeah?” Lena chimed in. “I mean, same height, right age profile, same weapon - you even use the same old fart catch phrases. Quit screwing around and get ready to move, ” she mock growled in a voice that semi-resembled the soldier’s rough tone. “Still no fun. If you wanted to really be disguised you should have tried to be somebody fun.”

“I’m plenty - damn it! Quit screwing around, Oxton!”

The pilot grinned, showing off her teeth all the way to the back molars. “See? Same catch phrases.”

Winston pinched the bridge of his nose over his glasses. “I think that we’re getting a little off topic here. To wrap things up - is anyone at this table surprised by the sudden and completely unexpected reappearance of Commander Jack Morrison?”

Nobody raised their hands and there were a couple of chuckles.

“Thank you. Commander, would you like to continue being referred to as ‘Soldier’ or would you prefer your old title returned, despite there being no legal organization to command?”

Jack grumbled behind his visor and reached up after a long moment to pull it off. Both of his milky eyes were rimmed in blue-black bruises and his face sported a wicked scar that bisected what would normally have been handsome, if not slightly older, features. “I don’t give a fuck. I’m not anyone’s commander any more.”

“Language,” murmured a lean, bald man in a wheelchair, who was seated at Genji’s side. His voice was soft and calmer than a rippleless pond. “Increasing the tension will do nothing to help with an already stressful situation. Perhaps refreshments?”

He leaned forward and brought up a small screen at the edge of the table, his finger tapping it until he was able to access the ship’s dining options. The dragon who was controlling the table surfaced just enough to eye him warily. “Tea, Genji?”

Genji’s visor flashed a brighter shade for a moment. “Thank you, Master. That would be most appreciated.”

Hanzo sighed and smoothed back his hair. “For me as well, if you are ordering.”

“Of course.”

The rest of the table seemed to take this as their cue to put in their orders as well. It tended mostly towards coffee with a few people brave enough to put in a request for scones or toast. Reinhardt clearly had no issue with the conversation upsetting his stomach, because he ordered an entire German plate, complete with tomatoes, sausage, and cheese.

Hanzo settled down more comfortably in his chair while he waited for the chatter to die down and then cleared his throat. Instantly the room’s attention was back on him and the dragon sank back into the table, hidden under the illusions of the Council and the tiny Shimada heirs once more.

“A few of you may be privy to the details behind my brother’s injuries. If not, let me leave no doubt. They were inflicted by me. I meant to cause him harm, to wipe him from the pages of our family history. He was meant to be a dead man. But you should also know that I in no way meant to kill Genji. After we discovered the Council’s plans, we hatched one of our own. Genji made certain connections. He reached out for help to an avenue that we had never turned to before - Overwatch. Our family had fought against them and what they stood for - order and lawfulness in a universe that wanted neither, but we had nowhere else to go. Faced with the options of losing Genji to the machinations of the Council and losing him to Overwatch, my choice was clear. One meant that he would live. But we also knew that the Council would not rest as long as they knew Genji was alive.”

“We were to fake my death,” Genji said, his face angled towards Hanzo, as if to gauge his reaction. “And I would join Overwatch under a new name and work with them to free Hanzo when I was able.  We began to fight, to make it appear as if we had grown apart. Too different in temperment, in power, in everything that matters between brothers.”

Atop the table the brothers began to circle each other, one dragon sprouting from each of them. They hissed and snapped at each other while the Council circled them warily, watching to see who would emerge the victor.

“All of this was leading up to one final fight.” Tap tap tap. Hanzo’s fingers danced across the edge of the table. “We had everything in place. Word to Overwatch. The place. The time. The eyes of the Council. But there was one thing we didn’t count on.”

The attention of the room was drawn back to the table as the elder brother suddenly convulsed and fell to his knees. There was no sound, but from the way he was shaking it was clear to see that the boy was screaming. He clawed at his skin and convulsed violently before a second dragon emerged from his hunched back, joining the first as it continued to keep both the Council and Genji at bay. Eventually the young Hanzo staggered back to his feet.

“We could not delay. We had the smallest window to act, and the risk was worth the added danger. I thought that I could control them. I needed to appear to destroy Genji while he took minimal damage and made his escape with the aid of Overwatch. So we fought.”

The brothers met in the middle of the table, swords raised, dragons rearing over their heads with their toothy maws open wide. The blue dragon filling the room opened its own mouth to mimic its tiny counterpart and for the first time, there was a flicker of green electricity from the sword on Genji’s back. A small green dragon curled to life out of the gaps in his body armor and began to grow and grow until it matched the blue for size - the two of them filling the conference room to the point of bursting with electric nano dragons. Their faces were pressed together, whiskers entwining in a phantom breeze.

On the table, the battle reached its inevitable conclusion.

“I could not control my dragons. They were too powerful for me to reign them in and I believed that I - and them through my will - destroyed my cherished brother.” Hanzo’s voice was cool and detached, but he could not tear his eyes away as the two miniature dragons ripped through Genji. The boy stood for a moment and then slowly fell, toppling backwards and falling back into the table and out of sight. The remaining brother stood in shock before he too fell and the Council swallowed him up. “Overwatch did not come. My brother was dead, destroyed so thoroughly that there wasn’t even a body left for me to mourn over. He did not join the ranks of the universe’s watchdog. No message came for me to join him and claim my own freedom.”

The table emptied itself, its grim show complete.

“Instead it took more than twenty years for me to discover a secret coded message from someone who claimed to be a friend inviting me here. They offered revenge against the Council in return for my allegiance. I had no brother. No hope of ever escaping their grasp. The one time I tried, the results were unpleasant.”

He tapped the toe of his prosthetic against the table and it rang hollowly.

“It took time to get a message out. I offered enough money to make it worth anyone’s while, but few wanted to risk the wrath of the Council. The few that did manage to make it as far as Hanamura were quickly dealt with. Only one man managed to make it to me.”

A transparent image of a man rose from the table, clad in a tattered serape and a battered hat. A single gun hung at his waist and the fingers of his prosthetic hand twitched as if they longed to draw it.

“And you…” Hanzo purred, “have managed to drive my one ally away from my side. You may have given me back my brother, but we have also discovered that Overwatch systematically destroyed every message he attempted to send to me to alert me that he was alive.”

“Only after Overwatch was disbanded was I finally able to pass along my message, although by then I had begun to think that Hanzo had truly wanted me dead. Why else would he not respond, when I had reached out to him so many times?” Genji’s voice was cold, bordering on hostile. “It wasn’t until we were reunited that we realized what had happened.”

No one spoke. No one dared.

“So the question remains,” Hanzo said, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers together so that he could regard the room over them. “Who is this funeral for? Either you help me claim exactly what I came for - my revenge - or I’m afraid that our business dealings are going to reach a very quick end.”

Winston leaned forward, his face grim. “What exactly do you need from us, Mister Shimada?”

Hanzo smiled. It wasn’t friendly. “Only two things, Captain. Your fastest ship and the coordinates of exactly where I can find the one person who dared to help me when the rest of the universe had turned its back on me. Once he is back in my possession, I am willing to entertain the idea of helping you with whatever it was you decided to call me in for.”

Jack Morrison chuckled, the sound coming out wet and broken through his broken nose. “That last part’s easy. That thing we need your help with is exactly where you’ll find him.” He gestured at the image of McCree. “Pack your bags, kids. We’re heading to the Calavera. God help us.”

 

Now - - -

 

It wasn’t that Jesse was unfamiliar with being caught in the rain. In fact, he would say that it was an experience that had helped to define his character to a point - knowing that you were helpless before the wrath of God almighty and the cold fury that they were pouring down upon the land was a humbling experience to say the least.More than once he’d been caught by the unforgiving weather, trapped under a tree or whatever shelter there was to be found while the water rose around his boots.

This was different.

This was no storm - it was a hurricane. No, it was worse than a hurricane. This was the kind of storm that tore the sky in two and ended worlds. The kind of storm that silenced voices, drowning screams in thunder and washing away tears with the rain. Lightning split the earth around him, crumbling rocks and washing away the rubble.

There was nowhere to run any more. His golden rolling hills had been reduced to deep, terrible canyons. He stood there, at the edge, as the waters flowed around him and down into the pit and the swirling, hungry river at the bottom. It swelled and swelled ever larger, like a living serpent, hungry for more. Somehow he could tell that it was waiting for him to fall, and even when it had swallowed him it wouldn’t be satiated. This river had a name and it was Madness.

Gone was Sai and his rough hands and whiskey voice. Gone were the trees and the dappled, lonely hawk. Gone was the golden grass and the blue sky and everything else that had once made this place, his perfect secret haven in his own head, safe. Only he was left, and he was a broken man in sodden clothes with nothing but his own rapidly fading strength to keep him from taking that long, final fall.

But still he fought.

How could he not?

“You won’t have me - not yet!” He roared at the sky, though his words were whisked away by the wind and his mouth instantly filled with water. “I won’t be goin’ quietly into that night!”

Not yet. He still had too much to do. So much to fix. He knew that his true self was out there somewhere, crouched in a dark room with his head buried in his arms while Sombra shouted in his ear, desperate to help him escape from this hell of his own making, but he couldn’t hear her now. Not over this noise, not over this imaginary storm that consumed his thoughts and threatened to tear away the last scraps of what made him him.

The water pulled harder, reacting to his struggles with increased vigor and he felt his boots start to slide in the unsteady ground. There was little more than pebbles and mud left to ground him now, and even that was quickly being ripped away. Soon he’d be forced to swim to keep away from the chasm and that was the beginning of the end. Even in the unreal place his strength had a limit.

Somewhere up above him there was a broken man with a job to do, and there was just the worst storm that any semi-sane mind could conjure up between him and that man.

“You aren’t real!” He bellowed down into the canyon. “This is my head and I don’t recall invitin’ you in!”

The river boiled. Steam billowed off it in waves and Jesse imagined that he could hear his voice in that hissing, spitting sound.

McCreeeeeeeee….

“I’ll take that name, and all the others! I own them! They’re mine and so’s all the rest, good and the bad! I’ll keep it and if that means courtin’ you every fuckin’ time the past comes knocking, I’ll do it! I’ll do it a thousand times before I’m done!” The mud beneath his boots slipped away and left him scrambling to keep his footing.  

He raised his steel arm and used it to try to shield his eyes from the deluge. Lightning flashed, nearly blinding him as it glittered across his arm and made all of the lights in it go from blue to a distressed, angry crimson. The crackled with their own electricity, sending shocks up his arm all the way to his head. It tasted like fire and fury.

“You’re not dead yet, Boy,"   Sai’s rough voice said in his ear.

“You are mine,”   Hanzo’s voice whispered in the other.

This was a world of his own making, created through years of training and pain. It was his safe house. His escape.

It was just a dream, like so much else about him. A perfect lie.

“No more,” he said and the next time the lightning flashed he welcomed in that red fire. He swallowed it down like the drowning man he was, because he would rather have the fire than the flood. In the fire there was heat and passion and life.

The ground split and the sky was torn asunder and he let it.

The red lightning branched out from his arm, across his chest, and up into his eyes where it took root. He saw and even as the mud fell away from under his boots and the water reached up to drag him down he did not fall.

He did not fall and he did not look back.

...

Hanzo stood in the doorway, one hand resting on the blaster pistol at his side. The room before him was as cold and lifeless as all of the rest aboard the husk of the Calavera . The entire ship was a textbook example of a ruin. The only thing that kept it somewhat habitable was the fact the the hull hadn’t been entirely breached by the explosion that had ripped the ship open like a tin can. There was still breathable oxygen here, albeit stale oxygen.

Motes of dust swirled around his shoes, brought to life by his slow, methodical hunt. He’d left footprints behind, soft indents in the this gray that had settled all across the floor. Luckily his quarry had left tracks as well.

Hanzo had looked into every room he passed, his dragons coiled around his shoulders like a protective scarf and his hand on his blaster, ready to face an unseen threat should it choose to jump out at him.

None had appeared. All that met him was empty rooms. Some of them were illuminated by display screens that showed nothing but static, but somehow that was even worse than the emergency lights that lined the halls, pulsing their slow, vibrant red. In the static of the empty screens he could see the stains that covered so much of what he passed by. The red helped them blend, red to hide red. It was old, old blood. Most had flaked and turned nearly black, but it was still everywhere. On every surface, splashed across closed doors and open passages alike in the shapes of hands and dragging shoulders. In some places the stains were so large that Hanzo knew a corpse must have lain there, but no longer did.

He didn’t know if it was better or worse that there were no bodies to be found.

This was a dead place, not meant for the living. Yet here he was, tracking a man who still lived and breathed into the bowels of this mausoleum.

Until the tracks had stopped.

He stood in that doorway, with his hand on his blaster. It was a dark room, not lit by any screens and the hallway’s emergency lights only barely breached the entry. The only beacon to breach the darkness here came from the prosthetic arm of the man in the corner, and it was as deep and red as everything else.

Hanzo’s stomach churned.

The Gunslinger - Jacob - Jesse - whoever he was, sat on the floor with his back pressed into the corner of the room. His face was buried in his crossed arms, his knees drawn up close to his chest. He was missing his hat and serape, giving him a stranger’s silhouette. The lights from his arm glittered across his tangled hair. He had something clutched in his hand. It dangled down from his fist, slowly turning this way and that - a pair of dog tags.

“Jesse.”

The man looked up at him. His eyes were sunken, nearly hidden in shadows but they almost seemed to glow crimson in the light of his prosthetic.

“Sometimes,” he replied, his voice hoarse.

“What about Jacob?”

The man on the floor wound the dog tags around his fist and closed his fingers around them. “Not anymore.”

Hanzo could hear the agents of Overwatch outside the door, their hands on their weapons, waiting. They were ready to act, one way or another. Everyone knew what this man was capable of and no one wanted to risk a repeat of what had happened last time they clashed.

“What do I call you?” Hanzo took a step closer, his hand still resting on his blaster, hoping beyond hope that he wouldn’t have to use it.  

It took a long time for the man to stand up, as if all of his joints had turned to sand. When he did finally make it upright, he swayed. Shook his head and swayed harder. “Does it matter?”

Hanzo grimaced, recalling the Gunslinger’s words. “Yes. It always mattered.”

The man staggered forward a step, and then another and another until he was standing close enough that Hanzo had to crane his head up to meet his eyes.

“I made a name for myself, you know. It was a good name. A good man with a good history.”

“Jesse McCree.”

“Yeah,” the man sighed, his shoulders slumping. “I wanted to be him.He got to smile and laugh and run as far as he wanted.  Was it wrong to want to be him?”

Hanzo looked away. The despair in the man’s eyes was too familiar. “That is not a question for me to answer. For now I only need to know this - will you follow me? I cannot - I will not - finish this without you. I do not trust my back without you at it now, no matter what you call yourself or what kind of monster you are hiding. Now that I know his face  he will not catch me unawares again.”

The man chuckled. “You don’t think so?”

Hanzo looked back up and narrowed his eyes. “No. Are you going to let it happen again?”

The man chewed on the inside of his cheek. “I don’t think I could if I wanted to. Something’s…” he waved at his head vaguely. “Something’s different. I don’t have a field to go to anymore. I don’t think he can come out any more.”

“You can clarify that later.. Now is neither the time nor place. So I’ll ask again - will you follow me?”

The still air between them grew heavy as they both stood in silence, both waiting, both wanting.

The man leaned down and collected a battered hat from the floor.

“Lead the way, Boss. I’ll be right behind you.”  

Chapter Text

The Calavera had played host to many a strange visitor in its time. In its prime it had seen a host of gangsters, murders, assassins, and more pass through its bay doors. It was no leisure vessel but rather a warship where those who had dealings with war came to do their work. Every inch spoke of rigid procedure and militaristic use. There were no tapestries, no art, and no windows except those overlooking the gun ports. The speakers were for announcements rather than music. Each door was numbered and labeled.

None of the ship’s newest arrivals was trying any of the latches on those doors to test if they were locked.

They were few and far in between, but occasionally an open door would appear. The whole group would pause and someone, usually Morrison, would lean inside with their gun at the ready, waiting to see if something presented itself. An enemy. A monster. Anything to break the growing tension. Hanzo had a feeling that some members of their party would have welcomed in the attack at this point. At least with enemies to focus on it was easier to ignore slow creeping dread and the dark stains that covered nearly every wall they passed.

Black dust covered the floor and the bottom parts of some of the walls, sticking to their boots as they passed. Whether it was actually dust or residual ash from the disaster was impossible to say, but it did make it easy to tell that no one had come before them. Not a single track marred the black the carpeted the hall, though that didn’t seem to set anyone’s mind at ease, judging by how close hands stayed to their weapons of choice.

Jack Morrison walked in the front, his pulse rifle held tightly in front of him and the lights in his visor flickering across the blank walls as he pushed onwards. Behind him came two more Overwatch members -  Lena, the ship pilot, and Dr. Ziegler, whose face was tight and anxious. She hadn't agreed with their plan to come to the Calavera , but she hadn't  wanted to be left behind on the transport ship either. That left her in the unhappy position of joining them on their walk to the control room. Occasionally she would look back over her shoulder and give those behind her a stern look, as if with those alone she could keep them in line and from causing more trouble than they already had.

Jesse seems to be immune to those looks. He walked a half step behind Hanzo (behind him as promised) - close enough that he could feel the man's body heat but not so close that he could see him out of the corner of his eye. It gave him the curious sensation of being trailed after by a ghost. Only the sound of breathing, deep and even, kept him from imagining that that might be indeed be the case. It wasn't as though they were here on happy matters. No one was smiling, and when they spoke they spoke in whispers as if to raise their voices might alert whatever still lurked in the bowels of the dead ship.

A dead ship with the ghost crew. Even the one man still left alive felt like he was only half there, with one foot and his breath in the living world and the other foot and his heart gone with the dead.

Hanzo turned his head so that he could see Jesse properly. He looked as he had always looked, with his serape thrown over his shoulder and his hat perched at a jaunty angle atop his messy hair. All he needed was a lit cigar to complete the picture of a whole and healthy man. Still, there was a quality about him that seemed to ring hollow. There was no smile on his face, his fingers didn't move restlessly, and he didn't return Hanzo’s look with the usual spark of mischief in his eyes.

There was a man walking behind Hanzo. Whether or not it was Jesse McCree remained to be seen.

There would be time for that later. Later, when all of the ghosts had been put to rest and he had finally figured out exactly how to move forward and put together the pieces that his life had fallen into.

"We should be getting close.” Genji appeared at Hanzo's other side, keeping a good distance between himself and McCree. "The lights are non-functional, but this is the only main access passage to the control room." His brother’s green visor illuminated the area with a neon glow that somehow seemed to make the shadows all the darker. Thankfully he moved ahead to walk at Morrison’s side, denying Hanzo any further questions about the ship. Clearly Genji knew more about it than he did, and that rubbed at him like a nettle under his clothes. He was out of his element here, a sensation he didn’t relish in the slightest.

Hanzo wondered if Jesse had fled through these halls or left any of the stains on the walls, marking them with his blood. Wondered if he had known or cared about the people who had. He’d seen the terror in Jesse’s eyes when they’d passed the Reaver ship, the panic that their presence had induced in him. Normal people didn’t come through events like whatever had taken place aboard the Calavera unscarred in either boy or mind and it seemed like Jesse carried more of those scars than most if the state of the ship was anything to go by.

If there was one thing he had learned on his journey, Hanzo had learned not to take anything about Jesse McCree at face value. Whether it was his past, his motives, his name, or his scrs, it all seemed to be fluid. Ever-changing. There was a shape shifter wearing a tattered hat walking behind him and his scars and and the stains on his soul matched his surroundings perfectly.  

"We are going to talk," Hanzo said softly, knowing the Jesse would hear him anyway. "Not now, but when this has been settled, make no mistake. There will be words."

There was no reply but he assumed that Jesse nodded. He hoped that he had. They were back to ‘boss’ after all. It had hurt to hear that word on Jesse's lips, but it was still better than hearing the gunslinger's cold, emotionless tone. Anything was better than that. That man, that existence,  would likely haunt him until the end of his days. He had met monsters in the shape of men - the Council had made an art form out of it. There were some days when even he was more a monster than a man, one with sharp claws and sharper teeth and a thirst that blood alone would not satisfy.

With his power and his position it had not been often that Hanzo felt terror.  The Council, despite its strength and the viciousness of its members, was made up of men. Men who could be dealt with. Men who could be killed.

The Gunslinger though, he had been a different matter entirely. He had looked at Hanzo, with his power and his position and his sharp, sharp teeth and been unmoved. He had shrugged off the power of the dragons as if they were nothing, no more than children's toys rather than the beacons of extraordinary power that they were. There had been no mercy in his eyes, no softness in his voice or attitude,  and no hint of the person he had once been. A lie of a person, but a person Hanzo had loved nonetheless. Perhaps still loved, but that remained to be seen. It all hinged on those words, the ones he prayed would pass between them when they finally left this terrible ship where it belong - in the dark.

Up ahead, Morrison held up one hand to stop their progress forward. The Overwatch members bringing up the back quieted and tightened there grips on their guns. They had come to a half-open door, and even with only flashlights to guide their way Hanzo could see the half-faded drag marks on the walls around it. Nothing good had happened here, only the stuff that true nightmares were made of.

"What is it?” Doctor Ziegler whispered with one hand held over her mouth as she leaned around Morrison’s shoulder. There was a small pistol at her waist and her hand rested on it in a practiced manner. She may have wanted to stay behind initially, but it was clear that the good doctor was in no way unfamiliar with situations like these.

Hanzo looked up in time to catch a gesture from Genji and moved closer to the front in response. Genji sword was already unsheathed, the blade naked in his hand and ready for whatever lay in front of them.

"Shall we scout ahead?" Hanzo offered, peering into the darkness past the door. He couldn't see anything, but that didn't mean that nothing was there.

"Nothing to scout. We're here." Morrison's voice was low and flat as he started forward again, stepping around the door and into the room beyond with the flashlight affixed to his gun lighting the way.

They filed one at a time after him, careful not to brush against the edges of the door where clear bloody finger marks had been left, as if their owners had clung to the door with all their strength as they were dragged away.

The inside of the room wasn't much better. Tables and chairs had been overturned and several consoles have been ripped open, their guts exposed in the form of shredded wires and ripped tubing. Monitors were cracked or entirely shattered and there were stains on almost everything. Hanzo cast his eyes away from these. They were distractions and would only turn his mind away from more important matters. The people who had once walked these halls were long gone, food for reavers or worse. It was that ‘worse’ that he did not care to dwell on.

Only one man had escaped and Hanzo shut his eyes for a moment and sent up silent thanks that he had. If he had never known Jesse McCree, he would still be in the clutches of the Council and that was yet another situation that did not bear dwelling on.

The man himself stayed Hanzo's elbow, waiting, but for what it was hard to say. He was a soldier, an elite one. Maybe he was simply waiting for something to go wrong.

While the rest of the group spread out and began to search the room, righting chairs and picking up any whole piece of tech they could find, Hanzo turned to Jesse.

"Is Sombra here?"

Jesse nodded and tapped his prosthetic. "Got her all safe and sound. There's not enough power here for her to get into, at least until we can get this place up and runnin’ a little more. There should be a secondary power supply that we can access, but it won't last for very long. It's meant for use in emergencies until the main power supply can be repaired." He cast a look around the dark, scarred chamber. "But I'm thinkin’ we're a bit beyond that. "

"How do we access the secondary power supply?"

Jesse turned his head, his eyes following a long dark drag stain across the floor. "It's over... "

He followed the stain, boots echoing loudly enough that more than one person turned as if to tell him to be quiet and then thought better of it. It seems as though no one wanted to be the one to test him after what happened on the Gibraltar. They all knew Jesse McCree was dangerous and no one wanted to be the person who pushed him far enough that there was a repeat event.

Jesse stepped around the debris on the floor and over a couple of severed table legs to a mostly intact console. He crouched down next to it and traced his fingers along one of the seams in the side for a moment before apparently finding what he was looking for. There came a horrific screeching noise as he dug the fingers of his prosthetic hand into the metal housing and ripped it free of the console, letting it fall to the floor with an echoing bang that made the entire room jump and level their guns at him.

Luckily Jesse either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because a small welding torch kindled to life at the tip of one of his fingers and he set to work, yanking out wires and letting them dangle and spark while he reconnected others.

“I’m going to kill him,” Hanzo heard Morrison mutter under his breath before stowing his rifle on his back and turning back to the main screen on the far wall. It was mostly intact with the exception of a spider web of cracks in one corner that framed a single perfect hand print. There was nothing displayed on it, not even static, but Morrison was staring at it as if it held all of the answers and he was going to be the one who saw them first.

Leaving Jesse to his work, Hanzo joined the commander at the screen.

“What is it you expect to find here, exactly?” He asked softly, not wanting to be overheard.

The man grunted. “I never expect anything. This place is a damn puzzle box and we don’t have the key to get in. We tried letting Genji have a god at it when it was still fresh, but it just put the place into a deeper lockdown. It’s been rotting ever since.”

“Which is why you agreed to have me brought in. You believed that I would be able to succeed where my brother failed.”

Morrison shrugged. “He’s a fighter - been trained by Blackwatch. You’ve got double the fire power that he does and maybe it’s something that takes a more delicate touch. That was Angela’s theory anyway. You were our last ditch effort to get into the files here and somehow you managed to show up with him.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, gesturing back at where Jesse was buried up to his waist inside the console with Genji crouched next to him, occasionally handing wires in. “I wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse.”

“You thought he might have the code you need,” Hanzo summarized. “Making my presence here unnecessary.”

“He’s also a witness.” Morrison turned back to the screen. “Even if we can’t get into the Calavera’s files, he knows what happened. He might be able to set us on the path to figuring out who set this all up.”   

“You believe this was set up? I was under the impression that reavers attack at random. Tragic and horrific, but hardly the stuff of plots.” He cast his eyes around the chamber, trying to picture what it must have been like when the ship had been active. Illuminated it would have been a grand chamber, with many desks and tables over which to plot the kinds of things that he had seen on the locked Overwatch drive. Murder and chaos.

“Maybe they were once, but Overwatch and Blackwatch fought back the reavers all the way up until we were disbanded. They were just a shadow of the force they’d once been when the crew of the Serenity released the Miranda report, all thanks to our efforts. We lost hundreds in the final battle, when the swarm in the outer ring chased the Serenity into the Alliance blockade. I was there.”

Morrison wasn’t looking at the screen anymore, but rather somewhere beyond it. Lost in memory.

“It’s not the kind of thing you ever forget. After that they trumped us up on false charges of covering up the Miranda tragedy. They said Blackwatch organized the entire experiment on the planet’s people - testing the drug on them to calm the population and make them into mindless sheep before releasing it on the rest of the universe.” Leather creaked as the commander’s hands balled into fists. “Complete bullshit, but they had enough twisted evidence to make it sound almost real. Hell, they almost had me fooled too.”

Hanzo turned to watch as Morrison marched away from the screen and over to the bay window. Shards of debris hung suspended outside, those that hadn’t been sent spiraling off into the dark by the force of the explosion. They were suspended in time, never moving, never eroding. That was how everything felt out here, Hanzo realized. Like it was caught somewhere between one breath and the next, and that next breath would never come.

It would be frighteningly easy to lose oneself here, without the ground or a changing sky to remind you that time and reality existed.

“But Reyes caught onto something. Even with Blackwatch falling down around his ears he had the right men and the right resources to sniff out a rat. A cell called Talon - they hadn’t even been on our radar until that minute.” Morrison was still talking and Hanzo, unable to stand the darkness outside any longer, turned his attention back to the control room while he listened. “He tried to tell me right before this tragedy. I didn’t want to listen - I’d never liked Blackwatch. Their methods, their training, any of it. They took monsters, made them even worse, and sent them to hunt down the darkest dregs society had to offer like crazed hunting dogs.”

“Mind your words, Commander. Please keep in mind that one of those so called monsters is in this very room and I do not recall you fairing overly well last time you crossed paths.” Hanzo’s eyes moved back to Jesse, even though only his lower half was visible outside of the control box now. Sparks kept showering down on him while he worked, burning out like tiny dying stars against his clothes.

Morrison made a disgruntled noise. “I’m not saying they were all bad man. But circumstances can make even the best person into something else entirely, and Blackwatch was made of those circumstances. Genji was lucky. They tried to make him into something like John Hardin. He didn’t take too well to it, so he was transferred over to my side. Even so, they kept him for just long enough to make him into a damn efficient killer.”

Genji had moved away from McCree’s side and was standing by the exit. His sword was sheathed and his arms crossed, but there was nothing casual about the stance. If trouble appeared, he would be the first to meet it. It was not a stance that the brother Hanzo had once known had ever taken, and that alone spoke worlds about what he had endured, both at Hanzo’s hands and the hands that had caught him after the attack.

“That much is clear,” Hanzo replied, remaining carefully neutral. “So if you believe that Talon is behind this attack, why have you not come forth with your theory? Surely the Alliance would be more than happy to unleash their wrath upon those truly responsible for the Miranda Tragedy.”

“I don’t have any proof other than Reyes’ word. He said he’d been putting together a file - something that would lead us right to their door so we could kick it down together. We...we fought. It wasn’t pretty.  I was sure he was grasping at straws. Anything to save his precious Blackwatch and pack of dogs.” Morrison dragged a hand through his hair, leaving it horrifically mussed. “But then this happened. I only missed it by a day. I’d meant to stay and negotiate with him, to help him sign paperwork, you know. Official shit. But I said some things and he said some things and then we started yelling and I left. Give things some time to calm down, to let him figure himself out.” Morrison nodded at Jesse as he pulled himself out of the machine and dusted himself off. “Reyes tested the technique he used on his men on himself first. They all got code names you know.”

“You mean The Gunslinger.”

“Yeah, that bastard.. He’s a nasty piece of work, one of the best of the best as far as that lot was concerned. He could be whoever you needed him to be, and so could the rest of his team. The only person they’d answer to was Reyes the Reaper.”

Hanzo frowned. “Quite the title.”

“He earned it in the War for Independence. One of us fought for the Alliance and the other for the Brown Coats. The powers that be thought it’d make us the perfect choice to head the watchdog force of Overwatch.”

“Which side did you fight for?”

Before Morrison could answer, there came a loud bang and a triumphant shout. Everyone winced as a horrific grinding noise seemed to echo through the entire chamber. It growled, it moaned, it coughed a couple of times, and then with a sudden flash that made several people cry out in alarm, the lights came on.

The control room was flooded in light and Hanzo instantly closed his eyes to protect his retinas. A muffled growl from next to him told him that the Commander hadn’t reacted quite so quickly and he didn’t bother to contain his smirk.  

“Got it. This’ll give us a couple minutes of power, but not much beyond that.” Hanzo opened his eyes and watched Jesse climb to his feet and dust himself off. The blank screens behind him came to life with a crackle of static and flickered wildly between black and white and colored nonsense.

Morrison strode over to the panel that Jesse had been working on. There was a small screen set into the top, but it remained stubbornly black. “How many minutes? Can we access the system?”

Jesse shrugged and stuff his hat back on. “I dunno, maybe ten? Fifteen if we kill the lights.”

The Commander waved his hand at the men behind him and one of them moved to a control box set by the door. A quick gesture had the interior lights fading back to black, for which Hanzo could only be grateful. The scene in the chamber had been even worse when illuminated, if possible.

Morrison had started to jab furiously at the screen, trying to bring it to life, but without any apparent success. After a moment, he stepped away with a snarl of frustration. “What good are the lights without the system?”

“Oh, it’s the system you’re after!” Jesse drawled, as if the thought had just occurred to him. “Should’ve said so. Here I was thinking you just wanted to add a bit of ambiance to the place.”

Hanzo could almost hear Morrison’s teeth grinding as Jesse sidestepped him and wandered up to the control panel.

“You know the polite thing to do when you come over unexpectedly?” He asked, not seeming to be addressing anyone in particular. “You knock.”

Tap tap went the back of his prosthetic knuckles against the screen.

For a moment nothing happened. Then, very softly, there came an answering tap tap but this time it seemed to echo through the overhead speakers.

Hola, bella hermana. I brought you a present.”

Small words, flickering a half out of focus appeared on the small black screen.

PASSWORD_

Jesse tapped the screen a couple of times and Hanzo watched him type in the word ‘PASSWORD_’ on the conjured keyboard.

The words flickered for a second and were replaced.

SHIT HEAD. THE REAL PASSWORD_

IT’S PASSWORD_ wrote Jesse.

NO IT ISN’T STOP FUCKING AROUND_

YOU CAUGHT ME. HERE’S THE REAL PASSWORD - PEN_

The screen deleted his response before he could finish writing it.

THE PASSWORD ISN’T PENIS_

“Is this necessary?” Morrison asked impatiently. “You said that we only had a couple of minutes and if you’re going to spend half of it playing with-”

“It ain’t playing,” Jesse cut him off. “You know how to turn her on? Be my guest. One wrong step and she’ll shut down so hard that it’ll take a hundred years to crack her open again.”

That seemed to be enough to cow Morrison, who took a step back and then turned away, apparently unwilling to watch more of the dance it was taking to wake up the ship’s systems.

“It is rather unorthodox,” Hanzo admitted, stepping in a little closer so that he could watch. Jesse was currently typing in a long line of what appeared to be either poetry or song lyrics while the words on the screen were frantically begging him to stop.

“She doesn’t usually get put into full hibernation,” Jesse admitted. “It takes a little more work to get her up and running.”

“Was one unusual AI not enough for you? I feel that Sombra is most definitely the jealous type.”

Jesse chuckled. “That she is, but you don’t need to worry about that. I always joked that Som came with me because I kept all my dirty pics saved on her system. Thing is, even knowing how to wake this one up -” He tapped the screen and the word HEY_ flashed across it. “Wouldn’t be enough. You can have a head and a heart, but you sure as hell aren’t going to function at top speed missing either one. Gotta have both.”

His fingers danced across the screen.

PASSWORD_ Jesse wrote.

AT NIGHT THEY COME WITHOUT BEING FETCHED_

BY DAY THEY ARE LOST_

WHO STOLE THE STARS?

“We did,” said Jesse and Hanzo shivered as Jesse’s prosthetic hand suddenly exploded into red light, flooding the room with an unholy glow. It pulsed like a heartbeat, faster and faster until Hanzo began to think it might explode and took a step away, one hand raised in a futile effort to shield himself. The mechanics is Jesse’s hand shrieked and then -

It all melted away, the light flowing down out of his arm like blood pouring from an open wound. It flooded down into the screen and deep into the blackness, which now seemed to be more of a space than a flat image. There it kindled, burning with a soft and vibrant light before slowly fading away into nothing.

No one spoke.

They held their breath.

Aaaaahhhh…’ A voice sighed from the speakers, so sensuously that Hanzo felt color rising to his cheeks. ‘ That’s so much better. No offense to your ship, cariño, but it’s like being downgraded from a palace to a hovel.’

Every screen in the room sprang to full life, flooded with color and movement and Hanzo gasped. There was a person in the screen, filling every one in a different way. Half of her was stretched across the master screen. Her legs dangled across the ones on the floor that were still wired in. One of her hands was resting on the screen that Jesse was leaning on, so that their fingers were touching. She was vivid, technicolor glory in purple and silver and black with digital skulls floating in every space that she herself didn’t occupy.

‘Now,’ Sombra purred, her sharp eyes sweeping across the chamber and giving all of them a wink. ‘Let’s get started.’