“Up and at ’em, sunshine.”
You resisted the overwhelming urge to scream and bury your head beneath the scratchy regulation covers of your single-person bunk. You didn’t need your clock to tell you that your commanding officer was waking you up five minutes earlier than you’d set your alarm for, and you certainly didn’t need the sun to tell you it hadn’t yet risen.
“Yes, sir,” you replied groggily. Your eyes burned as you tried to blink the sleep away.
The days had been blurring together as of late; you hoped you would’ve gotten used to the routine by now, but each new day was somehow more tiring than the one that came before it. You could feel the familiar pressure of an exhaustion-induced headache building in the back of your skull and you tried your hardest to will it away, like you did every morning for the past month and a half. You didn’t have time for bullshit like this, not when there was training that needed completion.
You were Overwatch’s newest recruit.
A competent military engineer, you were shortlisted not only for your specialized work in the field of evacuation technology, but also for your vast experience in developing emergency transportation for civilians in areas of war and natural disaster. As impressive as it may have sounded, when stacked against super-geniuses, world-renowned talents, and seasoned fighters who had single-handedly taken more lives than you’d saved, you were ultimately placed 24th in a massive waiting list of possible recruits, and you figured your chances of joining the newly-reformed international peacekeeping initiative were slim to none.
You were only here now because every single one of your predecessors had dropped out of the program within the first few weeks of training.
Now, you understood why.
“I don’t have all day,” the man in your doorway barked, his voice sharper than before.
“Sir, yes, sir,” you repeated, more awake this time.
Satisfied with the tone of your answer, he gave you a grunt of acknowledgement and left the room so you could get ready to face the day.
As the team’s most recent initiate, you were currently on probation. Your position with Overwatch wasn’t permanent until you survived the highly-specialized, highly-intense training regimen Winston had designed for you. Not only did you have to work on new tech proposals for the team, but you were also expected to simultaneously endure six weeks of boot camp hell with Soldier 76 in the little spare time you had.
You found out quite quickly that the old man didn’t stop.
Early morning jogs became routine regardless of daylight or weather. Much of your time together was spent combing through international stationed sites like obstacle courses. He seldom repeated himself, so you had to pay close attention to every lesson he gave you, every bit of tactical advice and every detailed discussion involving tech you’d find on the field. You never ran on more than three hours’ sleep at a time, and most of your waking hours were filled with him barking orders about how your best just wasn’t good enough.
Your work was suffering, you were suffering, but Overwatch was comprised of extraordinary individuals, and the organization needed to know you had the endurance to perform under less-than-ideal conditions. You knew you weren’t being trained so much as you were being tested to see if you could keep up.
That, however, wasn’t the biggest problem.
The biggest problem lied with the sleep-deprived madness creeping into the edges of your better judgement. The biggest problem lied within the quiet moments, the moments you could feel his eyes on you during training, the moments he would adjust your aim or correct your stance and the physical contact would make your breath catch in your throat. You’d zone out when he spoke, sometimes, and you’d let his voice wash over you; he’d lean over your shoulder to point something out, and his scent, warm and undeniably masculine, would dizzy you into delirium. You’d steal glances while jogging through the various landscapes, with your lungs filled with exhaustion and pre-dawn chill, and you’d listen to him breathing hard by your side, just imagining what that would sound like up close, past your ear, against your skin.
No, this was just the fatigue talking.
It had to be.
The whole thing culminated one memorable day, after you returned to base following an extended early jog beneath the overbearing desert heat. You were trying not to inhale the contents of your water bottle; meanwhile, aside from a trickle of sweat running down his forehead, 76 hardly seemed bothered.
He tugged down the zipper of his jacket and slid the leather from his shoulders.
A tight black t-shirt hugged his taut form in the exact way you found yourself wishing you could. The sleeves were snug around his sculpted arms, and the way the muscles of his chest strained against the fabric left little to the imagination. He looked so strong, like it would be nothing for him to just pick you up and—
“Like what you see?” he asked, half-amused.
“What was that, sir?” you replied, the false obliviousness rolling coolly off your tongue. “I think I just fell asleep with my eyes open.”
And he chuckled in reply—such a rich, resonant sound.
“Hang in there, private. I’m almost through with you.”
His hand rested on your shoulder, heavy and reassuring, as he walked past you.
Your stomach flipped.
Fuck, you didn’t need this.
You needed sleep.
The training bot’s head exploded under the charged beam of your microfusion rifle, and the landed hit filled you with an odd sense of pride and satisfaction.
Somewhere between your morning runs and your evening drills, you managed to meet Winston’s technology proposal deadline and engineer a weapon for yourself. The secondary stage of Winston’s training regimen focused on improving handling and marksmanship with your new creation; the end goal, of course, being to display your capability of landing consistent shots on the automated bots around the training field.
Your firearm was built from hard-light technology you developed for search-and-rescue missions, primarily used from a distance to assist evacuation agents on the ground or at sea. Although not significantly larger than any standard-issue rifle, the internal components made the firearm incredibly dense and difficult to carry: your aim with the rifle itself was fine, but you could only hold the damn thing up for a couple of seconds at a time before your arms gave out.
This was what you built, and this was what you had to work with.
After seeing you drop your gun for what must have felt like the thousandth time, 76 became fed up with your inept ambling; he suggested weight training to help you better handle your firearm, and ’suggestions’ from him were more direct orders than anything.
(Did he have to be standing there the entire time, though?)
“Chest up,” Zarya said sternly, snapping you from your reverie. “Feet farther apart. Don’t round your back, you will hurt yourself.”
With your hands wrapped around the length of steel bar in front of you, you kept pressure on your heels as you curled your arms and lifted the weights with all the mediocre strength you could muster. You’d seen Zarya do this in-person with more than quintuple the weight attached, and you couldn’t help but feel weak and pathetic with someone as amazing as her by your side.
“I—is all this really necessary?” you asked, voice wavering from the effort.
76 quirked an eyebrow, keeping his arms folded as he oversaw your training from nearby. “You can barely lift your own cannon, recruit, what do you think?”
“I think if I had more time, I could rework the blueprints to lighten the internal loa—”
“Rifle is not the problem,” Zarya interrupted. “You are the problem.”
Sighing, you nodded. If you took your time constraints into consideration, it was faster to change yourself than it was to redevelop your own tech.
“You’re receiving strength training from a world-class athlete,” 76 said loudly, “I wouldn’t complain if I were you.”
Seeming amused as she looked you over, Zarya placed her hands on her hips. “I will send you my coaching fee once you stop dropping your gun all over yourself, yes?”
“Do not call me that, mishka, we are the same age.”
“Just keep up with Zarya’s training,” 76 continued, “and the problem will fix itself. You’ve come a long way since we started.”
He didn’t give as much weight to the words as you did, you knew that, but you couldn’t stop your heart from fluttering inside your chest at the gentle bit of praise. It was the first nice thing he’d said about you since you met him several weeks ago, after all.
You nodded, trying to hide your reaction. “Thank you, sir. That’s very kind of you to say.”
“I’m not being kind, I’m just stating the facts.”
“Couldn’t have come this far without your help.” You set the weights down and rubbed your hands. You had to turn away quick, or else he might catch you blushing. “You’re an excellent mentor.”
“Then look me in the eyes and say that again.”
His biting tone made you freeze.
He thought you were being sarcastic.
The mere implication of him not taking your first compliment as seriously as you took his filled you with enough courage to face him and will away the shades of red threatening to rise in your cheeks.
Unblinking, you stared straight up into the glowing red panel of his visor, where his eyes would be. “You are an excellent mentor, sir.”
“Mentor’s only as good as his student,” he said without a moment’s hesitation, and he had the gall to sound playful. “Thanks for not making me look bad.”
“You’re welcome,” you replied, dimly.
Your face felt as if it were on fire.
You muttered something about needing to refill your water bottle and shuffled to the far side of the room without another word.
Zarya waited until you were out of earshot before she spoke up. “I think they like you, Soldier.”
“I’m not here to be liked,” he said sharply. “That being said, there’s no harm in building strong relationships with the new recruits. Good for morale.”
“Ah, for morale. Maybe is better that way.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t get what you’re trying to say.”
After a moment of silence, Zarya bellowed her laughter and patted his back, hard, and the force of her hand felt like a goddamn bear paw clapping against his spine.
Her reaction was just patronizing enough to make her implications loud and clear.
Safe to say, they were ridiculous.
You were military. Showing respect for those above your station was an attitude drilled into you since day one of basic training. Sure, you were one of the first of the new candidates he had trained who didn’t take success for granted—who, unlike the others, had to work their ass off due to their lack of natural talent, and in turn had a profound appreciation for every small victory they had. But in the end, you were just another recruit. You weren’t the first person to look up to him, and you wouldn’t be the last. It was dangerous to confuse subordination with affection. Besides, you were too young, too fetching for that.
Far too fetching.
He watched you loosen up across the room as you got ready for your next set. You were taking a moment to catch your breath, your skin still slightly flushed from training. He hadn’t noticed before now, but you’d taken to his regimen quite well over the past few weeks, building lean muscle that accentuated your build. Your hair was tied back, as it always was. He’d never seen you with it down, he realized, and he briefly wondered how you’d react if he asked to pull that band out of your hair himself.
That was inappropriate.
“I’ve gotta go,” 76 growled, quite suddenly. “Take care of them for me, will you?”
“Give me the week.” Zarya waved her hand at 76, shooing him away. “Forget puny laser gun, they will be able to carry you after I am done with them.”
76 chose to remove himself from the situation before he gave that image too much thought.