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Tangle, Stretch, Never Break

Chapter Text

 

"The present moment
contains past and future.
The secret of transformation,
is in the way we handle this very moment."

Thích Nhất Hạnh

 

 

 

 

It was an ugly deal, not really any different from the usual Overwatch business: the whatever the old boyscouts wanted retrieved and secured after a battle drawn out way too long, bodies strewn all over, and quick withdrawal before the actual law enforcement showed up. Maybe he tolerates the work because the long-held moral high ground is now gone and what's left of the Overwatch operates only a little less like terrorists. Not that he would want to stoop to the Talon level of wreaking havoc, but he's glad the Overwatch isn't, at least, pretending to be something they are not, and it makes it easier for him. He's a bit past good deeds at this point and the pay is good enough.

Having to go on missions with his brother is one of the downsides, the anger and pain and, yes, guilt, heavy upon him, sometimes like a hazy red curtain over his vision, his aim everything but true. The rest of them he does not care about: does not know them well enough, only knows the money will be wired to him through means no less illegal than the things they do, and that is the only things that matters. He ignores the Frenchwoman who occasionally shows up in the shadows, her affiliation with Overwatch likely not that of cooperation, who entices him with the promises of Talon helping the Shimada clan rise from the ashes he and his brother have already scattered into the wind. He gives even colder shoulder to the omnic, the one who helped his brother accept whatever it is he is now, the one who taught him, his master, and who now hounds him nigh relentlessly with irritatingly insightful observations into his deepest thoughts and emotions. He supposedly harbors the same rage that his brother once did, that's what the omnic claimed the very first time they met. How in the world does a robot do that, he cannot comprehend. The more he sees of the omnic the less he thinks of him as one, though, despite the way he looks: the way he floats a few feet above the ground defying gravity, the way his near-toneless low calm voice resonates strangely in his ears, the way you absolutely cannot read anything from a face that is only a mask to give him human-like appearance to cover whatever state-of-the-art processing power that makes him eerily sentient.

He does not care for the observations: does not like being told what he already knows but does not want to admit out of self-perceived sense of honor.

"I do not need a master," he told the omnic once, caustic, beyond irritation.

Zenyatta tilted his head slightly, hands neatly in his lap (he's noticed the intricate work on the joints, every finger curled like a human one). "No," he said, his voice ever-calm, near-toneless, "but I figure you would need a friend."

He had stormed away, the concrete wall a forthcoming servant as he set out to find a higher vantage point before the whatever plot was put into action, knowing the omnic would not follow. A lingering feeling of peaceful silence remained, his own evil voice quiet for a moment in his head, soothed silent by the strange warm embrace of the omnic's powers.

He does not need a master or a friend or anyone to tell him how he should feel about things he's responsible for. He does not need a healer or even someone to talk to. He's chosen and accepted his path and it is a lonely, guilt-ridden one.

He sneaks about the battlefield, small though it is, retrieving his arrows from the bodies and the occasional misfired one from the floorboards or the wall, each one of them like the sharp slash of a whip across his sense of honor and self-sufficiency. The sirens are still far away, he still has time. The night is dark and there in the corner, when he straightens up, sliding another wiped-clean arrow into the quiver, he sees the faint glow of pale blue, a strange flicker that puts him ill at ease. There weren't any omnics, he did not see any. He notches an arrow, takes a silent step forward and the next one steals the breath from his lungs, unexpected, unprepared.

The lights on Zenyatta's forehead flicker lazily, there is no defying gravity, just a pile of small half-clothed robot, the decorative little spheres that always hover in perfect formation around him now lightless, spread inert on the floor around him, and then he notices the sparks, the gaping slag-edged hole in his chest and the next steps he takes are not silent, not careful, and he kneels next to the injured omnic. His bow's on the floor, his hand reaching to touch something, not sure what: he doesn't know what to do in a situation like this and all he can do is try to shove the sudden guilt, worry, fear, to the back of his head where he keeps everything he does not want to think about. He wasn't supposed to care this much. He cannot keep anyone safe, can he?

Zenyatta takes his hand before he can touch, those intricately jointed fingers closing around his hand, cool and not soft, but very gentle and mindful of how the whatever alloy he's made of is superior to his flesh.

He holds the hand, desperate for eye contact or some sign that everything is alright, cursing out in his mind the mask the omnic cannot help but wear, the way his unchanging appearance does nothing to prove that he is a sentient being capable of thought and feeling and

dying.

"It is alright," Zenyatta says, voice the same resonating near-toneless calm, but there's a dangerous crackle, like interference.

He feels Zenyatta's fingers tighten around his hand: a reassuring squeeze, a hidden smile that is not on his face.

"What can I do?" he starts to ask when there's a soft thud, the sudden sound of pitter-patter of footfalls and his bow is primed, the string pulled back taut with a trembling hand; biting on his lip so hard he's drawn blood. He sees the green glow of the visor before anything else, knows it's his brother before he speaks and Genji is by their side before he's even lowered the bow. He couldn't have hit a wall: his hands are shaking, his mind a mess he hopes would now be soothed by those strange powers Zenyatta wields, but there is nothing but the gnawing guilt and fear and now something new, something uglier as Genji kneels next to Zenyatta, starts helping him up carefully.

"Master," his brother says, worry palpable as he gathers the injured omnic on his arms, "what happened?"

"A miscalculation, Genji, it's alright," Zenyatta replies, toneless calm, toneless calm, toneless calm, and he wants to rage at the world, shout every unwanted thought and emotion out of his mind, his body. It is thoroughly distressing what this has done to him: just the sight of the omnic he wasn't supposed to care about having been injured rendering him helpless and like there is something very wrong about the entire thing. A fist around his heart, the hazy red curtain of guilt and anger over his vision. He should have noticed one of his comrades got injured during the fighting.

But he was never responsible for the omnic, ever. Why should he ever care what happens to him? Because he is important to his brother? That must be it.

His brother turns to him and even through the visor he can sense the cold, the sudden piercing blame: something he expected when they met for the first time in years, when he thought his brother would be there for revenge. It was not to be, but he has still not accepted that whatever Genji is truly is his brother and from what he can tell Genji might have forgiven him, having found peace within himself, but the strain is there and they are brothers only in blood and name now.

It might be his fault alone. It might be what Zenyatta is trying to fix. He does not know what could be fixed exactly. And now there is a chance that he will never even find out.

He hopes his brother would have been thirsty for vengeance, because now there is blame and hurt; because of this, and he is ill-equipped to deal with everything it is stirring awake.

"You didn't think taking him out of here would be something you ought to do?" Genji asks him in Japanese, scathing, words coated with ice, sharp like the blade of his sword and cutting just as deep. "You really do not care about anything but yourself."

He cannot answer, he has nothing to say.

He should have done that. He should have tried to help.

"You did plenty," Zenyatta says quietly to which he still says nothing and Genji reacts by whipping his head angrily towards his master, betraying there is still something left of that temper; that his training is perhaps not as complete as he's been led to understand. Maybe it's just the protectiveness: the whatever these two share that he has no stake in. No words are spoken and Genji looks away after a while, propping Zenyatta better on his arms, mindful of his injuries.

He stands up straight, says nothing, and after a brief, infernal silence Genji turns away and with quiet, quick steps disappears into the darkness. He sees the flickering pale blue lights turn his way before the shadows swallow them, and he gathers the last arrow from the wall, shoulders his bow and makes it away just as the sirens fill the air too loud, too close.

Half a city away he shouts out the frustration inside his head all sound and fury, kicks the wall like a child having a tantrum, feels remorse and things he does not want to feel and sees nine small circular lights flicker lazily, pale blue, familiar, wrapping his heart in an unwanted ache that will not go. He forces an uneasy calm upon the storm raging inside and carries on.

 

 

Through the throat, the cranium, the heart, the arm, the leg, a silent prayer to the dragon for they are sated again and he carries out his objectives flawlessly, efficient like he's been trained to, not a single arrow wasted. This is not Overwatch business, this is just something he picked up, for someone still holding respect for the (real) Shimada clan and what they do (used to do) and more than happy to let him do the dirty work, which he does, because it is the only thing he is good at; knows how to do.

He hasn't been back to Overwatch. The summons from Winston remain unanswered and he hides near Hanamura, keeping an eye on what used to be his to-be empire, now a nest of petty criminals riding out the last echoes of what was once great. He doesn't care that much. He makes pinpoint strikes against them, a ghost in the night, terror strewn in his wake, like the last vengeful spirit of what remains of the Shimada. He hates to see it all in ruin, but he would be more loath to resume his place as the head of what little is left now: a pointless final grasp for misplaced glory.

He does not expect a presence in his small hideout in one of the shop attics he has taken as a home-as-good-as-any-other, but the sudden peaceful aura and the now-bright pale blue lights make him lower his bow, draw in his leg from battle stance to a defensive one. Part of him wants to run, that cascade of emotions from weeks ago settling as a horrible ache to the bottom of his ribcage and he still does not want to process any of this, those brief feelings he has never felt before. Worry. Jealousy. Fear.

Guilt, at least, he is familiar with.

Affection, relief; not so much. Not like this.

The spheres around the omnic rotate slowly again, he defies gravity, there is no slag-edged hole: he seems whole, and he feels the familiar warmth envelop him briefly as Zenyatta's powers reach out to him in greeting, at the same time soothing the ugliness lurking behind his eyes.

"What is it?" he asks tersely, no tact as usual.

"The conflict within you is intriguing," Zenyatta replies.

"Intriguing," he repeats tonelessly. What is he: some sort of experiment for this person who's taken inexplicable interest in human affairs?

"You do not know what you want," Zenyatta continues and before he can carry on with the irritatingly spot-on observations, he interrupts him:

"You are alright?"

"Yes, I am fixed," Zenyatta replies without missing a beat, hovers his hand briefly over the spot where the hole was, his fingers curling slightly. He wonders if Zenyatta feels pain. "Only hardware; easy to replace."

"Software would not be?" he carries on with the small-talk, trying to avoid the inevitable.

"I would not be myself, I'm afraid," Zenyatta replies. "Not fully, in any case."

So he can die. The thought is cold and unwelcome.

There's silence and he lights up the lanterns and candles: prefers them to electricity he has not bothered to wire to the naked lightbulbs in the room. Zenyatta looks around him, as if giving the small attic of a room with only the bare necessities needed for living without a single personal touch a once-over, those intricate hands neatly in his lap as he hovers in place.

"This place tells a lot about you," Zenyatta observes, and he supposes Zenyatta is right: there is not much to him either; everything personal either discarded or well-hidden elsewhere. "A lot more than your brother was ever willing to divulge."

"I would appreciate it you did not discuss me with my brother," he replies coldly.

"Oh, he avoids the subject. I, however, am curious," Zenyatta replies with a quizzical tilt of his head.

"I cannot imagine why."

"Like I said: intriguing. You and your brother are more alike than either is willing to admit. Or realize?" Zenyatta tilts his head again. "Yet the differences are where the intrigue lies."

"I am sorry," he says hurriedly to finally steer the subject away from wherever scary place it is going. Now that the lights are on the room is bathed in warm tones; the flames flickering gently in the cool late-winter breeze that bites in through the old wooden walls. He hears wind chimes ring softly somewhere outside. He is not used to apologies either, but it is better than the alternatives. He busies himself with his small hot plate to heat up some sake.

Zenyatta notices the awkwardness and chuckles quietly, a strange sound with the resonating, toneless edge, but somehow he can still tell that the good-natured amusement is genuine. "There is no need, I do not hold you responsible in any way. You found me and comforted me: that alone is worth a thank you."

"But my brother…"

"Would have taken care of everything no matter what had happened," Zenyatta replies matter-of-factly. "He would have been there had you not."

He looks away, the jealousy an ugly Eldritch horror gnawing at whatever it is that's in his chest still.

"There is no need for that," Zenyatta says, the toneless voice suddenly markedly softer. "He is my student, I am his master. He is loved and very dear to me. What we share is unique. I offered to be your friend: if I remember correctly you chose not to accept."

He looks away, hands balling into fists, the anger slowly overcoming everything else. Maybe there would be no need for any of this, but blinded by honor, by his own shortcomings, he did not see.

"What do you want with me?" he barks out, unable to stop his temper from flaring, like the dragon snapping at prey. "I killed my brother, your loved student. You should hate me."

Zenyatta spreads his arms, as if embracing the air, the spheres around him rotating faster for a moment. The center of the world, bright and blinding and beautiful in some way he lacks the words to describe and it resonates in his chest, vibrations like painful slow lightning shooting through his veins from where his heart should be.

"Hate is pointless, discordant without a counterweight to balance it out," Zenyatta says softly without really providing any answers. "What do you want with me?" he then returns the question and who in the world programmed him to be so clever and shrewd, or did he learn it like any other person learns?

He furrows his brow angrily. "Nothing," he lies, the word foul in his mouth, but he's not ready to face the alternatives, the truth: not now, maybe never. "You are important to my brother, I would not wish to see you hurt."

"Yet you are jealous."

"You can believe whatever you want," he snaps and pours the sake. He takes a seat on the tatami, folding his legs under him.

Now Zenyatta tilts his head, betrays uncertainty, and slowly descends to sit in front of him. So relentless; almost rude. He never gave him permission to stay but Zenyatta does not seem to care. "But are you jealous because someone who is not you is part of your brother's life, or because it is I who is part of his?"

He stares back at Zenyatta with what he hopes comes across as derision; that Zenyatta is only guessing, grasping for straws. He has never wished for a companion. He is fine alone. Has always been. And yet.

Zenyatta stretches out a hand, fingers extended, as if beckoning him to take it, and when he speaks his voice is soft, gentle. "Do not mistake my caring for condescension. Speak the word and I will be part of your life or, if you truly so wish, gone from it forever."

He wants to take the hand, feel the cool fingers press gently against his palm again. Why is there affection, where did it come from? Zenyatta's relentlessness? His gentle nature, his wisdom, the understanding? His heart swells, he feels trapped like an animal in the small room that is suddenly strange and not familiar at all, with Zenyatta as the sun at the zenith of his world and when you walk in his light you cast no shadow.

"I wish I could share this sake with you," he replies almost gingerly after a silence drawn out for much too long.

"As do I," Zenyatta replies softly.

There is another silence, very long, not entirely comfortable. Finally, sipping at the sake (it barely warms), he speaks: "I regret what I had to do to my brother. I believed him gone, I had accepted it and learned to live with the guilt of something I, at the time, believed had been a necessity."

"He knows," Zenyatta says.

"His coming back is something I have not accepted. It is a ghost that haunts me, a ghost I don't know."

"He is your brother."

"In name, in blood, yes; but I do not recognize him."

There is a pregnant pause and there is a strange shift in the tone of Zenyatta's voice when he speaks again: "You are against omnics." It is yet another observation, not a guess.

He remains quiet, eyes locked at whatever optical sensors hide inside Zenyatta's slits of eye sockets (he briefly wonders how Zenyatta must see the world: is it just a series of zeroes and ones, processed photographs; or does he see like a human?) and ready to take the blow if it is to come. No, he does not like omnics, he is old enough to remember the Omnic Crisis, but he does not hate them either. He's completely ambivalent, but he certainly does not like the idea of replacing humanity with machinery, although now, for the first time, with Zenyatta looking at him through the mask he cannot read, he thinks maybe it also goes the other way around: replacing machinery with humanity. The group Zenyatta belongs (belonged?) to believes that omnics have souls, do they not?

"He is human," Zenyatta says quietly.

"It is not just that," he says. "It is not just the way he looks I do not recognize."

"Ah. He has changed a lot. Have you not, at all?"

"Shouldn't you know?"

"Like I said, he avoids the subject." Zenyatta shrugs: an awfully human gesture that immediately makes him see briefly past the mask.

He has nothing to say, however. He knows nothing has changed except the sense of duty has turned into frustration and the guilt has made him jaded and self-loathing; a scavenger for every morsel of personal honor he can gather. He is more withdrawn and excluded from everything except the heavy burden that is his alone to bear.

Zenyatta offers his hand again although there is distance between them: way too far for him to reach. "I wish to know more about you, Hanzo Shimada. Let me heal that which gnaws at you; turn the guilt into forgiveness, your anger into peacefulness."

He sighs, closing his eyes.

"Let me into your deepest thoughts, share with me things you haven't shared with anyone before."

"Why? And do not say 'intrigue', it is insulting," he says, voice like steel.

"It is what I wish for," Zenyatta replies, curls the fingers of his outstretched hand slowly into a loose fist and brings it to his chest. "It is selfish of me, but I wish to be part of your life. I want to offer my friendship."

He feels a shiver travel through him, first cool but turning into liquid heat, rushing to fill his veins.  A hunger stirs: not like the one he experiences when he kills, but something entirely different, something pure and bright and very painful. Does Zenyatta even understand what he's bringing to life: like rising sun would wake things from their slumber?

"In what capacity?" he asks, slightly choked.

He sees Zenyatta hesitate; turn his head away briefly: yet another glimpse past the mask, and what is revealed bit by bit is more human than he could have ever imagined. "I," he begins and then actually seems at a loss for words. "In whatever capacity you would allow. Say the word and I will be gone: like I said, I do not wish to intrude if being left alone is truly what you wish."

"Do not leave," he finds himself saying, slowly rising to his feet and taking a couple of hesitant steps towards Zenyatta, carefully stepping over his half-empty cup of sake. Zenyatta looks up at him and again he wonders what the omnic sees. A broken but driven embittered man everyone else does? A murderer? Something else entirely?

He sits down in front of Zenyatta and after a short silence Zenyatta reaches out his hand again and softly touches his cheek. His fingers are cool like he remembered from holding that hand briefly that one night, and his touches full of acknowledgment that they must not be very comfortable against skin. It is the warmth of Zenyatta's strange powers that wraps around him then, Zenyatta's fingers a conduit for a myriad of sensations that bring emotions in their wake.

He doesn't mind. There is liquid fire in his veins.

"Why do you not let anyone see this?" Zenyatta asks rather quizzically without specifying at all. He asks for clarification, and Zenyatta's fingers trail down his cheek before he brings his hand back to his lap.

"You," Zenyatta replies simply.

"It is rather an ugly sight," he says.

"It is beautiful," Zenyatta says without giving pause. "Fractured, but beautiful."

"You might be the only one who sees," he says, slightly taken aback and wishing to feel Zenyatta's strangely warming touch again. He doesn't dare to touch: keeps his hands balled into fists on his thighs.

"Or are am I the only one you have allowed to see?"

He draws in a breath, (like he would when he primes his bow and takes aim,) and carefully, past the slowly swirling spheres, brings his hand to touch Zenyatta's face, that damnable mask he thinks might hide something much more beautiful than whatever Zenyatta thinks he sees in him. The alloy is cool and it feels strange to touch something that is not really alive but still very much self-aware; something that feels and thinks and only wears a somewhat human form to obfuscate the machinery within. Strangely enough Zenyatta gives a slight start at the touch, as if it was unexpected. Soon however the spheres around him spread out to become satellites for them both: rotating around and around, and he feels the warmth again. He traces his fingers over the slightly scuffed edges of Zenyatta's jaw and then pulls away his hand, curling it into a fist again, the tips of his fingers tingling.

He does not know where this will lead, but fact of the matter is, with Zenyatta he feels like he's being slowly mended from the inside. Not because of the warmth, or the affection blossoming in his chest, but because for the first time in a very long time he feels like he can trust. Maybe it is the first step towards peacefulness and feeling whole again; towards acceptance and love.

There is a smile in the tone of Zenyatta's voice when he speaks: "I feel happiness."

He looks down: doesn't know what exactly it is that he feels except that it is new and overwhelming and somehow painful.

Zenyatta leans forward, places his forehead against his. "You will, too, in time."

There is a brief moment when everything gets brighter again, blindingly so, like there is actually a sun in the room and past Zenyatta he sees a thin stretch of red and then a flicker of gold; phantom arms rushing to embrace him and wrap him in loving warmth. He hears a heartbeat, maybe his own, maybe Zenyatta's, maybe that of the world, and as soon as it began it all fades away, leaving in its wake something like a soft rapidly disappearing sound of wind chimes.

He breathes out, almost exhausted, having realized that he had been holding his breath the entire time during the strange phenomenon and he hears Zenyatta chuckle, their foreheads still together, Zenyatta's hands now in his, his intricate hands suddenly warm.

"I will walk this path with you," Zenyatta says softly, holds his hands.

"I would have no other," he says and Zenyatta chuckles again.

The peaceful sound of wind chimes rings in the distance but he doesn't feel the chill bite through the walls anymore.