Twenty-eight and a half hours, Mei counted with a sigh. Twenty-nine if you counted the briefing beforehand. Thirty if you counted from when they’d been awoken to prepare. This mission had been a doozy. Everyone was exhausted, on edge, the walls that usually kept them civil and professional gradually crumbling down. Everyone showed their exhaustion in different ways, some of them more… audibly than others.
“So anyways, as I was saying, there was this one heist, ya see… you’re gonna love this one…”
Lena caught Mei-Ling’s eye and made an exaggeratedly bored expression. Mei tried to stifle her laughter, not wanting him to catch on and think she was laughing at one of his awful jokes. Shifting her gaze back to their teammate, Mei was relieved to see that he hadn’t noticed at all. He was still talking, gesticulating excitedly and laughing at himself.
“Never seen so many jewels in my life.You’d like ‘em, sheilas, verrrrry pretty things…”
Mei glanced back at Lena who was rolling her eyes now. She pursed her lips to keep from giggling. Neither of them knew why Junkrat had decided to start regaling them with his long-winded stories whenever they were assigned together on a job, but it had only been a couple of months and both of them were already sick of it. Mei really was trying her very best to be patient and understanding with the junker, but his giggle, his crass expressions, his total and complete lack of basic social skills, all of it had started to annoy her. Particularly on a mission like this, one that had already proven challenging in so many more important ways. Mei heaved a sigh of relief when Morrison appeared, swatting Junkrat on the side of the head and pointing him towards their defense point.
“Stop screwing around and prepare our defenses!” Morrison growled, “You’ve got to earn your keep, Fawkes.”
Junkrat grinned, thumbing the release on one of his steel traps. “With pleasure, mate!”
Lena and Mei watched him go, still cackling to himself as he hobbled out of earshot. Lena heaved a sigh of relief.
“I wonder,” she postulated, “which one of us he thinks he’s trying to flirt with!”
Mei let out a peal of laughter that caught in her throat when she heard another voice, deep and wheezing, burst into laughter behind them. She turned to see the larger man, Roadhog (no, she tried to correct herself, Roadhog was an outlandish name, his name was Mako Rutledge), beating a huge fist against his chest as he laughed and coughed in succession.
“Oh!” Mei exclaimed in surprise, “Sorry, Mr. Rutledge. We didn’t realize you could hear us!” And it was true; for such a large man, Roadhog could be quiet as a mouse when he wanted to, provided his breathing remained steady and even.
The man kept on laughing for a good while, even taking a deep inhale from one of his healing cannisters before he replied.
“Jamison,” he wheezed, replacing the cannister on his harness, “doesn’t flirt.” He chuckled again, deep in his throat. “He wants to be friends with you people.”
Mei’s throat clenched, realizing perhaps that they had been cruel. She stole a glance at Lena, who seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“We’ll make it up to him, Hog,” she exclaimed.
“We didn’t intend to come off as insensitive.” Mei whispered nervously. Roadhog just grunted and turned away. Morrison returned, holding one hand to his com unit and listening intently.
“Thirty seconds.” he muttered to the small team that had gathered, “Be ready.”
“Oi! Lena-bean!” Junkrat hollered, scuttling out of a side-street and cupping his hands towards them, “When can I tinker with one of those pulse-bombs?”
Lena’s face contorted in indecision before she replied, fixing a competitive grin on her face.
“Trap us more Talon agents than I immobilize with my bomb, and I’ll let ya!”
Even from across the courtyard, Mei could see Junkrat’s face break out into an enormous grin. “You’re on, Mate!” He hollered, giggling and hobbling off to prepare. Lena looked at Mei and shrugged.
“Here they come.” Morrison announced, and Tracer grinned.
“Let’s get ‘em!”
The mission was a resounding success, though not without its losses. Mei was nursing her fair share of bruises, and Snowball had taken a knock to the head that left her unable to fly straight. The machine whirred pitifully as Mei pressed her recall button, resolving to fix it once she’d gotten some sleep. Lena fared even worse, rubbing the back of her neck and wincing, complaining of whiplash. She’d had a run in with that woman, Widowmaker, that had left her in a sour mood. Everyone on the mission was tired, bruised, and more than ready to return to the base. Everyone, that is, except for Junkrat.
“At my count,” he loudly announced, dancing a silly jig as they boarded the shuttle, “My traps caught us six Talon agents, while your pulse bomb only immobilized…” he thrust his grin into Lena’s face, waggling his eyebrows and tittering under his breath. “Three!” He burst into a loud peal of laughter, clenching his fists and shaking his head mirthfully. Lena grunted and tried to push past him into the shuttle; Junkrat stopped her with a proud stance and a lanky arm.
“Ah ah ah,” he scolded, “Me treasure, Lena-bean!”
“Piss off!” She mumbled, pushing past him. Junkrat’s face fell, chin quivering as he followed her into the shuttle.
“But we… we had a deal, mate!”
Roadhog, who had already strapped into his extra-large seat, was staring, unmoving, at Mei. Or at least she supposed he was; it was impossible to tell behind his mask. She gulped and leaned over as Lena collapsed in the seat next to her.
“Lena… we promised…”
Lena sighed, burying her face in her hands and massaging the back of her neck before straightening up.
“Fine,” she announced, “I’ll let you have a look at it when we get back to base. But here’re my conditions:”
Junkrat listened intently, hunched over in the seat across from them, barely able to contain his excitement. Lena held up three fingers.
“First, no making modifications. Next, you’ve got to put it back together when you’re through with it. And finally…” she squinted and leaned back in her seat, drinking in the junker’s anticipation, “You have to shower first.”
Junkrat’s mouth fell open. He turned to Roadhog. “A shower? For that? Hoggy, have you ever heard such a thing?”
Roadhog grunted and crossed his arms. Junkrat sighed. “I suppose you’re right. You’ve got a deal, mate.”
“Great,” Lena moaned, “And don’t talk so loud on the ride back, I’m exhausted.”
Junkrat whined and looked at Roadhog again, who shrugged and whispered something to his companion. Just then, the engines started up, drowning out most of the quiet conversation between the junkers. Mei watched as Junkrat straightened up, flabbergasted, and exclaimed over the din, “Flirt with ‘er? Hoggy, you know I never…”
Mei jumped as Roadhog caught her gaze once more. She looked away and shrugged, adjusting her earbuds into place and starting her playlist. She closed her eyes, still able to hear Junkrat’s muted protests over the engines and music.
The girls showered quickly when they reached the base. Mei was falling asleep on her feet, and Lena didn’t fare much better, but the younger one insisted on getting the job done quickly so they could lock themselves in their shared room before Junkrat could bother them any more. Lena begrudgingly left one of her pulse-bombs on Junkrat’s workbench and taped a note to the door - “Gone to bed. Left DISARMED bomb in the workshop. NO MODIFICATIONS.” before shutting it and locking it behind them. She grumbled before collapsing into bed, and Mei was quick to do the same.
She was disoriented when Snowball’s alarm blared at three in the morning. Mei sat up blearily, trying to reach the remote controller to switch off the sound before Lena awoke. Snowball was flashing a green alert light, meaning something had malfunctioned with her equipment in the lab. Mei was always on call to see to equipment errors, but she wished that just this one night she could have slept in peace. She pulled on her bathrobe and slippers and slipped out of their apartment, padding quietly down the hallway towards the lab.
Luckily, the malfunction was just a short circuit on one of her backup machines. Mei flipped the breakers and rebooted the thing before standing up to stretch. She yawned, switched off the light, and was about to return to bed when she heard shuffling next door.
The light was on in the workshop, and as she approached she heard sniffling, whining, and the muttered ravings of a familiar voice.
“Can’t even fix it, ya drongo, what good are ya, mate?”
Mei slowly pushed open the workshop door and crept inside. Junkrat was sprawled on his belly across the dusty floor, surrounded by tiny pieces of metal and tools. His mechanical hand clenched tightly around a screwdriver, his flesh one gripping a pair of small components that matched the scrap littering the floor. Mei watched as he tried, hands shaking, to attach the pieces together, but the assembly shattered apart in his hands and scattered across the floor. Junkrat shrieked and punched the floor with his prosthetic, burying his face in his hands and pulling at his thinning hair.
“Junk- Jamison?” Mei whispered, but the junker didn’t answer, continuing to mutter to himself.
“Them sheilas ain’t never gonna like ya now, mate, can’t do anythin’ right can ya? Supposed to be the expert, but look at ya! Can’t fix yer own mess!”
Mei knelt down on the dusty floor, still keeping a careful distance in case of an outburst. “Jamison,” she said again, louder this time, “What’s the matter?”
Junkrat’s eyes flew open and met hers. Mei was shocked to find them red and bloodshot, brimming with tears, He stared at her, quivering behind his hands, before hiding his face in the floor.
“Fuck,” he whispered, slamming his fist into the floor. “Fuck!” Then he was shaking, sobbing, punching the floor again and again as Mei watched, sputtering and helpless.
“I’m, I’m going to get Mr. Rutledge!” she stammered as she backed away and raced down the hallway towards the older man’s quarters. She rapped on the door timidly.
“Mr. Rutledge?” She called. When nobody answered, she tried again, louder. “Mr. Rutledge!”
The door flew open before her, revealing a face she didn’t recognize. Mei stammered for a moment before realizing that this was Mr. Rutledge, his face maskless and heavy with sleep. He grunted as if to question her presence before coughing into his fist.
“It’s Junkr- it’s Jamison!” she sputtered, “Something’s wrong-”
But Roadhog was already pushing through the doorway, wrapping his own enormous robe around his belly and striding down the hallway. She followed at a quick gait.
“Where?” the large man growled.
“In the workshop,” she answered, “He’s very upset, and he’s - “
Roadhog held out a hand to quiet her. Mei looked down, pursing her lips in embarrassment. She vaguely noticed that Mr. Rutledge was wearing a very fluffy pair of pink slippers. Little pig faces decorated the toes, and little pink tails protruded from the heels. She followed the slippers as they strode down the hall and across the common area to the working rooms. They could hear Junkrat’s snivelling as they approached, Roadhog’s huffing becoming more agitated as the sounds grew louder.
Mr. Rutledge flung open the workshop doors and stopped in his tracks, taking in the sight before him. Mei watched as he knelt gently in the dust before his friend. She stood back in the doorway, unsure of what to do.
“Junkrat,” Mr. Rutledge murmured, gently leaning towards the man in the dust. “Jamison. Jamison.”
Jamison tilted his head and looked into the eyes of his partner. His bottom lip was quivering, his face streaked with tears.
“Hoggy,” he moaned pitifully, pushing himself up until he was cross-legged on the floor. “I was just try’na fix the damn thing, but I can’t… I bloody can’t…”
And then the big man was holding Jamison in his arms, rubbing soothing circles across his back with an enormous hand. Jamison sobbed into his shoulder. Mei thought she should leave, but she froze when she noticed Mr. Rutledge press his lips firmly to the top of Jamison’s head.
They stayed that way for a long moment before Junkrat withdrew from his partner’s embrace. He gazed up at Roadhog with bloodshot eyes, sighing deeply.
“‘M bloody useless,” he mumbled, “Some genius I turned out to be, eh Hoggy? I thought they were startin’ to like me…”
Roadhog was still for a long moment. The sound of Jamison’s heavy breaths filled the room.
“Two fuckin’ days on this stupid bloody job and nothin’ to fuckin’ show for it, can’t even get ‘em to laugh at my jokes…”
“Why is it,” the larger man huffed after a moment, “do you think that Lena and Mei-Ling do not like your stories?”
“I dunno,” Junkrat snivelled, wiping his dripping nose on his arm. “Cause I’m a stupid fuckin drongo?”
Roadhog grunted and shook his head.
“They don’t like them,” he intoned slowly, deliberately, “Because they’re abominable.”
There was a long, quiet pause. Then Junkrat’s face broke into a grin.
“A-BOMB-inable?” He cackled in peals of giddy laughter. “That’s fuckin’ brilliant, Hog…” And then Jamison had seized his friend’s face in his hands, planting a kiss on Mr. Rutledge’s full lips.
Mei gulped. Oh, she thought, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks, Oh!
She turned away, realizing that it was far past her cue to leave, only pausing when she heard Junkrat’s muffled whimpers shatter into hitching breaths. When she turned to look, the junker had crumbled in on himself, dissolving into tears once more.
“I can’t fix it, Hoggy, I’ve been at it for hours and I can’t bloody fix it…” he gasped, trailing off and burying his face in his hands, “I’m so tired, I’m so bloody tired…”
Roadhog huffed and hoisted himself onto his feet, crouching before his friend.
“Take care of the bomb in the morning,” he rumbled.
“I can’t, Hog, I promised them girls, I can’t leave it like this…”
But Roadhog was wrapping his arms around Jamison’s waist, hoisting him to his feet and lifting him like a child. Jamison clung to the larger man’s shoulders, burying his streaming eyes into Roadhog’s soft bathrobe.
“Take care of the bomb in the morning,” Mr. Rutledge repeated, “Take care of Jamison now.”
Junkrat whimpered. Roadhog turned to leave and stopped short when he saw Mei, still standing there. Her face flushed hot and she wanted to avert her eyes, but Mr. Rutledge’s gaze, unfiltered by the mask, held hers for a long moment. She flashed him an awkward grin and a mouthed, “Sorry!” before he sighed and moved again.
“Take care of Jamison now…” he repeated, and Mei wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or to himself. She followed the pair down the hallway and back towards the dormitories, this time letting Mr. Rutledge’s naturally longer strides move them farther and farther ahead of her. They had already retired to Mr. Rutledge’s quarters by the time she caught up with them, and Mei could hear Junkrat’s hitching sobs, louder again now, from behind the closed door. She whimpered and shook her head, padding once more back to her own room.
The next morning, (or rather, early afternoon, after everyone had taken some well-deserved rest), Morrison assembled them in the training yard for exercises. Everyone was in a brighter mood; Mei and Lena were conversing jovially with Hana when the lanky junker sauntered towards them.
“Oh bother, what does he want now?” Lena rolled her eyes. “Oi, Junkman! You got my pulse-bomb?”
Jamison shrugged and shook his head. Mei noticed that his eyes were still a little red, dark circles emerging beneath them. “Nah, couldn’t stare at that thing anymore,” he smiled, “Gonna patch ‘er up and get ‘er back to ya tomorrow, if ya don’t mind.”
Lena blinked confusedly. “Oh! I meant did you find it! Where I left it on your workbench?”
“Yeah, yeah…” he trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck with his gloved hand. “Got to tinkerin’ a bit last night, actually… ‘s got some mad fuckin’ bits in there - sorry, for the language, Miss Mei... ”
Mei shot Jamison what she thought was an understanding look. The junker glanced at her and grinned awkwardly, still rubbing his neck. “Couldn’t sleep, I s’pose,” he continued, “Oi, anyone want to ‘ear a joke?”
Lena began her characteristic eye roll, but Mei gasped and threw her hands in the air, “Yay!” she clapped, hoping Lena’s reaction had gone unnoticed..
“Well,” Junkrat squinted, stealing a glance over his shoulder where Mr. Rutledge stood, “You won’t believe the joke ‘ol pig face over there told me the other day.” Mei was delighted to catch the - was that flirtatious - wink that Jamison sent in the older man’s direction. Mr. Rutledge didn’t respond. “Roadhog?” Jamison questioned, craning his neck over his shoulder and cocking his head to the side.
Mr. Rutledge grunted before he spoke. “Do you ever shut up?” he huffed, strolling away from the younger group.
Jamison giggled and turned back to the girls, his characteristic grin painted across his face. Whatever unknown communications had transpired between the pair, Mei thought, they had put Junkrat’s mood back right where it belonged, just off-center of completely mad.
“Anyway,” he continued, hunching over and grinning conspiratorially, “Ol’ Hog reckons he knows why you sheilas don’ like my stories…”