You levelled your gaze in the bathroom mirror as you adjusted the fit of your uniform. The wrinkles within the fabric smoothed out beneath your firm palming, nary a button nor strap out of place.
You had recently returned from a covert operation in France, successfully capturing Amélie Lacroix and bringing her into Overwatch custody. During the course of the mission, however, you learned the true identity of your Commander. Not only was the late, great Jack Morrison alive and kicking, but so was his ex-partner, Gabriel Reyes, an Overwatch-leader-turned-international-terrorist in possession of biotech you didn’t believe humankind would be capable of inventing within your lifetime. To add insult to injury, shortly after you returned to base, Soldier 76—no, Morrison—stepped down as your commanding officer without so much as a single word of warning.
A laundry list of recent events.
Had you forgotten anything?
Athena delivered your request to meet him at sundown, and you took his subsequent silence as an agreement.
There was no planning to your conversation this time, no flowcharts or emergency courses of action. Your dialogue would be directed by the worry in your bones, the weariness brought on by Amélie’s murderous gaze, by Reaper’s aura of death, by the feel of Morrison’s blood pouring down the front of you as you carried him back to the dropship.
With one final adjustment to your jacket, you crouched down and laced up your combat boots.
You dressed like you were on a mission.
That’s precisely what this was.
The training grounds felt familiar in a way little else did. The mechanical hum of bots reached your ears and gave you a boost of adrenaline, preparing you for intense drills, the preemptive rush almost pavlovian. This was where you first hauled out the gun you built, the one you could barely lift on your own. This was where you trained, where you improved your endurance, your strength, and your aim. Just yesterday, a few floors up from where you stood now, was where you got drunk and tossed bottles for McCree to pick out of the air with his revolver.
This was where it started, and this was where it would end, one way or another.
Another deep breath to steel yourself as you rounded the corner.
You almost didn’t recognize him.
Clad in cargo pants and a plain black t-shirt, Morrison leaned against the metal barrier bordering the cliff’s edge, keeping his back to you as he looked out over the landscape. No jacket or visor, no mask or pretense—just him and his presence, whole.
“Thank you for meeting me,” he said, not turning to face you.
You did not reply.
His voice had a warm clarity you hadn’t heard unhindered by the mask since you sat back-to-back on the hotel room floor in France.
It felt like such a long time ago.
(Him and his damn frozen burritos.)
Your thoughts poured in with varying levels of patience, filtered through the consideration of how many emotions you would let yourself bring to the conversation. You had questions, many questions, questions you made a point not to plan beforehand because he did not deserve the courtesy of your organization. As frustrated as you were, you had to maintain composure, as revealing how much his actions had affected you would have compromised your position. These mistakes were his to resolve, after all. Not yours.
Keeping an arm’s length from him, you approached his side, gripping the railing with both hands.
“I’m sorry,” he said at once.
You kept your tone even. “Do you know what you’re apologizing for?”
“Too many things to count.” He breathed out, slow and deep. “I warned you that I—”
“Don’t turn this on me.”
“I didn’t mean to,” he replied, coolly. “I’m bad at this, Reader. I didn’t used to be, but I’m a few years out of practice.”
He was trying to be placating, you could tell, but the informality of his tone only served to annoy you. “Why are we here, Commander Morrison?”
He bristled at the sound of his name; it sounded so foreign, so distant on your tongue. “I stepped down as your reporting officer.”
An unfamiliar emotion—unfamiliar to you, at least—flickered across his face. The sudden set of his jaw, the slightest tug of a grimace at the corner of his mouth, both subtle traces of annoyance, but as his every microexpression was new to you, any reaction he let slip may as well have been spelled out before your eyes. It was satisfying, in a way, to see something other than the cherry-red vacancy of his visor across his face.
“I wanted to be the one to tell you, so you would at least know why.” His brows drew together in that old, familiar way they did when they still peeked up above his mask. “I stepped down so we could talk. Any questions you have, I’ll answer them the best I can. No secrecy. No bullshit.”
“You had to step down to do that?”
“I don’t make the rules anymore, Reader. I just play by them.”
The implication was not lost on you.
As a Commander within the organization, it went without saying he couldn’t speak openly because of his position. You were still new to Overwatch, and he was given orders to restrict what information you had access to; without him as your direct superior, however, he no longer had any obligation to stand in your way. Regardless of what Morrison told you today, Strike Commander Oxton was going to be under the impression you left this conversation knowing more than you should.
So you figured you might as well ask whatever the hell you want.
For a moment, Morrison looked surprised, as if that wasn’t the question he’d been expecting. “She’s in secure holding. Angela’s trying to figure out how to reverse what Talon’s done to her.”
“But she’s safe?” you pressed. “We’re not...interrogating her, or anything?”
“No,” he assured. “She’s been a prisoner of war for over a decade—Lena’s putting everything we have into her care. As a matter of fact, Amélie...” Hesitance gave him pause as he reconsidered his phrasing. “She asked about you the other day. ‘The one from Quebec.’ Wanted to know how you were doing.”
(Amélie was looking for you, too?)
Blindsided by the revelation, you were sure your expression of bewilderment had already given you away. No use trying to lie about it, now.
“We...had a few words on the ship,” you said, dismissively.
“That wasn’t on your mission report.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
You volunteered no further information. To your relief, he decided not to push.
Not right now, at least.
“I think she wants to talk to you,” was all he said.
“...can I do that?”
“Don’t see why not. Make sure you’re on Angela’s good side before you go asking her for favours, though. Take it from me.”
(Memories of you and McCree breaking into Dr. Ziegler’s office flashed through your mind, and you hoped you were half as stealthy then as you would have been if you were sober.)
After the events of Le Havre, you felt responsible for Amélie’s well-being; although she was in more-than-capable hands, that didn’t mean she wasn’t being harmed. Who had the final say in what was best for her, anyway? Had anyone asked her what she wanted, or did her condition render her incapable of providing informed consent? Did the countless attempts to reverse Talon’s procedure cause her any pain?
Would she even tell you if it did?
Weary, you dragged a hand down the front of your face to reorient yourself, covering your mouth as you stared out at the view beyond the training facility. Ice floes drifted at the foot of the distant mountains, the rocky landscape carving jagged edges into the horizon.
“You chased Reyes after we promised not to be reckless,” you mumbled into your hand, sounding bored.
“I did,” he replied. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m your strategist. I’m your escape plan. Not communicating your change of objective was stupid as hell.”
“You put both of our lives in jeopardy.”
“I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you.”
“You know, agreeing with me still takes all the fun out of standing up to you.”
“But you’ve gotten so good at it.”
You sneered. As quick as he’d always been to own up to his mistakes, acknowledgement alone wouldn’t be enough, this time. “I’m going to need more than that, Commander.”
“My intel had Reyes on a different continent at the time of our mission,” he explained. “I wanted to make sure we hadn’t been compromised, but it was my chasing him that ended up compromising us. He let himself be seen because he knew I’d follow. I should have known better.”
“Couldn’t just rack up the sighting to bad intel?”
He shook his head. “The intel I had on him’s never been bad before.”
“Really?” you said, incredulous. “Who’s your source?”
“Once in a while,” he sighed, “she’ll find me and tell me where he is, what he’s up to, where he’s going. Thinks that counts as me being indebted to her. I told her it doesn’t. That’s why she contacted you in Romania. She knew I wouldn’t take the algorithm, so she got you involved to grab it for me.”
You thought it over for a moment. “Then why lie about Reaper not being in France?”
“Maybe to prove how much I’ve relied on her intel up until now. Maybe just for the hell of it. I’ve learned to stop trying to rationalize her motives a long time ago—whatever they are, they’re for her own benefit. No one else’s.”
Everyone was connected in one way or another, you realized. By virtue of being an agent of Overwatch, you were just as much a part of this tangled web of complicated pasts and ulterior motives as anyone else was, like it or not—and like or not, you’d entered this game at a disadvantage, as everyone involved seemed to have some history with one another you were forced to learn about on the fly.
The most pressing question of all leapt from your throat, quicker than you could think to contain it. “Was I the only one who didn’t know?”
You knew the answer, of course—McCree had told you the previous day—but you wanted to hear it from him, if only to test the waters of his honesty.
And he nodded again.
“You were the first recruit we picked up after we got the team back together,” he said. “Everyone here’s from the old days, or related to someone from the old days. When I came back into the picture as Soldier 76…the rest of the world may have had no idea who I was, but they did. How could they not? We were family.”
“Was that why you liked having me around?” You felt your grip on the railing bar tighten. “Because I was the only one who didn’t know?”
His face fell.
“It wasn’t the only reason,” he said, “but it was a reason.”
(No bullshit, indeed.)
You weren’t sure if you had a right to be as frustrated as you felt. His identity was his own to protect, after all; as hard as it was to admit, he never owed you the truth. Even so, you felt like an idiot. You hated being caught off-guard. You hated not knowing all the facts.
McCree’s words rang through your thoughts, clear as day.
So are you mad at him for not tellin’ you, or mad at yourself for not figurin’ it out sooner?
From the corner of your eye, you noticed Morrison shift his weight, leaning heavier against the railing as he folded his hands together.
“I’m sorry you found out the way you did.” His voice was soft, but earnest. “I put on the mask to separate the man I am now from the man I used to be. You didn’t know who that was, but you took my lead, anyway. Spoke with me. Enjoyed my company. It...made me feel new again. I was afraid I was starting to consider you in ways I shouldn’t.”
“I’m pushing thirty, Commander, you can stop treating me like a child.”
“That doesn’t make the problems go away. I’m not your boss anymore, but I’m twice your age and I still have rank on you. There’s a difference in power dynamics, in experience—you might not see it as taking advantage, but that’s exactly what makes it dangerous.”
“I know,” you snapped in frustration, running a hand through your hair. “I know it does. How do you think I felt, crushing on my superior like some kind of tired cliché? I’ve gotten this far in my career without ever—I thought I was better than that. I tried to convince myself out of it. I thought working by your side would be enough.”
“But it wasn’t, was it?”
Your stomach sank. He hadn’t sounded accusatory, but somber, almost sympathetic.
“And by the time you realized it wouldn’t be enough,” he continued, “it was too late to say anything. Not without undermining all you’ve done and making it seem like your emotions were the only thing keeping you around.”
You watched him stare down at his hands, as if the words he was searching for were held somewhere between his fingertips.
“You’re smart. Tenacious. Diligent. If I were to...if I did anything that might’ve suggested I brought you on for a reason other than you deserving to be here—”
“I know I deserve to be here,” you interrupted. “Had my doubts for a while, but that was before I saved your ass.”
He chuckled, and the sound was music to your ears.
His striking blue eyes shifted to glance in your direction, the remnants of his laughter lingering in his smirk. “Guess there’s nothing stopping me now then, is there?”
“...stopping you from what?”
“There’s another reason I stepped down, Reader.” Wavering under the intensity of your gaze, he was no longer quite looking you in the eye. “I don’t want command over you, anymore. I don’t see you as my subordinate. I haven’t for a while.”
You had to keep yourself from trembling. “What am I to you, then?”
“An equal,” he said. “A partner.”
The bottom of your stomach fell out and shattered, filling your insides with slivers of ice as something dense and panicked tightened within your chest. There that word was again. ‘Partner.’ What he hadn’t had since he went rogue. What Winston once said Morrison had always been training you up to be. Your mind grew overwhelmed with the memory of a clawed, shadowed stature and a dark voice and a life-changing chance once gambled on.
How could you ever measure up?
“I’m not Reyes, Commander,” you whispered.
“I never wanted you to be.”
Vulnerability weighed upon his shoulders, the likes of which you’d never seen him bear, before. The gears in his head were turning, you could tell, thinking of you, and of him, and of where you would go from here. His eyes alone were so expressive, you noticed—a stark contrast from the statuesque carbon-fiber stoicism you were used to. You hadn’t realized how much the mask was hiding until it was off.
Maybe that was why he wore it so much.
“I’ve betrayed your trust,” he said, firmly. “I know that. I would like to work on getting it back, if you’ll let me.”
From where you once placed him on a pedestal, recent events had cast him in a lower, imperfect, more mortal light. The man you once idolized stood before you, nearly wringing his hands in anticipation, as human as you’d ever seen him. You respected him more, but you revered him less. You figured that was a good thing.
It was then when he looked away from you, returning his gaze to the absence of answers held within his barren palms.
So you gave him one.
Reaching to cross your forearm over one of his own, you wove your fingers between his, your silent gesture unapologetic and sure.
His hand curled back around yours at once, like a reflex.
He laughed quietly in disbelief. “Didn’t think I’d get a chance to feel this way about anyone, again.”
You felt him run a thumb across your fingers, the gentle motion making your breath catch in your chest. You glanced up at him; though he’d kept his voice steady, his eyes were glazing over, and the unexpected reaction decimated what remained of your resolve. The warm smile he gave you wrinkled the corners of his eyes, his expression giving you the briefest glimpse into a man many years younger.
“Truth is,” he beamed, “I’m crazy about you, sweetheart.”
You felt your heart seize within your chest.
The weight of his words collapsed on you all at once. It was you who made him feel hope, you who affected him so profoundly, you who made him question what he once swore off for the sake of self-preservation. You’d imagined him confessing before, but no amount of idle thoughts and private daydreams would prepare you for hearing the words out loud.
There was something settled behind his eyes, as well—something unsettling you couldn’t ignore. This was a man who didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, who made a career out of staying level-headed in the toughest of situations, and here he was before you, absolutely terrified. The last time he gambled on something like this, life and circumstance dealt him a poor hand; now, all these years later, he wanted to try again.
It was only when he brushed a finger to your cheek did you realize you were crying.
He breathed another small laugh, shaking a few of his own tears loose from the corners of his eyes. He could see you replaying his words inside your head—he could always tell when you were overthinking—and he squeezed your hand tighter to let you know how much he’d meant it.
You wanted to hold him close, to burrow deep inside his chest, to reach straight into his heart and fix whatever it was that made him so goddamn scared. But he would have to let you, first. You couldn’t do that if he continued keeping you guessing.
“Stop isolating yourself when things go wrong,” you said, the first on your list of ground rules. “You did it after Romania. You did it after Le Havre. I don’t need to know everything, but you need to stop disappearing on me.”
He nodded with total understanding. “Force of habit from going solo. I’ll work on it.”
“And I need you to talk to me more,” you continued. “If we’re doing this, you can’t keep me wondering where your head’s at.”
“You got it. That does go both ways, you know,” he teased.
“Hey, I never said I was any good at this, either.”
You gave him a sly smile and wiped your eyes on the back of your sleeve. Earlier that day, you didn’t think you would be standing in full uniform before your casually-dressed Commander, the two of you recovering from tears as he took orders for what he could do to restore your trust in him. A rare opportunity, indeed.
It would be a shame if you didn’t take advantage.
“...one more thing.”
You levelled his eyes again. “Do you really want to be with me?”
He didn’t shy away from you, this time. “I do.”
You let go of his hand and took a few slow steps backwards, sliding away until your fingertips broke contact.
You hoped the smirk you gave him was half as playful sober as it would have been if you were drunk.
His look of confusion turned to surprise, then to determined understanding as he watched you walk away.
There had been a resolve in his voice, a finality, the kind that made you realize he would move mountains for you if you so much as wished it.
You had issued him a challenge. It was his turn to give chase.
And he was all too happy to comply.