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    Once upon a time, a wicked sorcerer cut out his heart and sealed it away. He hid it in a needle, put the needle in an egg, put the egg in a duck, put the duck inside a rabbit, and put the rabbit in a box on an island at the end of the world. So long as his heart was safe, nothing could kill him. Or so the legends say, anyway.

    Nowadays, people know what a silly story that was. Nobody bothers with rabbits anymore.




    It’s the politeness that gives people pause. Jesse McCree may be an unflappable gunslinger with uncanny aim and the Devil’s own luck, but the world has its share of stoics and sharpshooters, and one more is nothing special. People take note, however, when the cold-eyed, stone-faced outlaw stops to hold open a door or goes out of his way to help senior citizens cross the street. He doesn’t seem to give any thought to offering to help carry any load that can be shared, or to step out of the way when someone is heading towards him in a narrow hall. He says “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” even on the battlefield, even to his enemies.

    There are plenty of people with blood on their hands, but the polite one is the most worrisome of all.


    Hanzo is wary of McCree at first; the man somehow reminds him too much of the deceptive formality of the clan, all cunning little games hidden behind masks of cordiality. And yet, as clever as McCree slowly reveals himself to be over many missions, there never appears an ulterior motive for his attention. He never calls in favors, never leverages his assistance for later repayment, never draws attention to any of the countless things he does to help out. Hanzo very nearly cracks and demands to know his game, but someone else hits their limit first.

    “Oi, what’s your angle?” The lanky Australian known as Junkrat does not usually bother to stand up straight, but when he does, he towers over even the powerfully built McCree.

    “Angle?” McCree asks, unperturbed by the attempted loom. “Ain’t got one.” Junkrat peers at him and twists comically to try and read his face.

    “So you just, what, get a kick out of standing here waiting for me and Roadie to go through? Just because?”

    McCree shrugs.

    “Don’t see any reason not to,” he says. “I was here. I could do it. So I did.”

    Junkrat’s examination intensifies. Eventually, however, he accepts the gunslinger’s cool explanation and stalks off through the aforementioned open door. Roadhog pauses to lean down and poke McCree in the chest with one slab of a finger, just under his collarbone. His mask is as unreadable as McCree’s face. Neither man speaks, but there is a distinct atmosphere of a Tense Understanding and a Circumspect Truce. Roadhog follows Junkrat, and McCree turns to Hanzo.

    “After you.”


    It turns out that’s always McCree’s explanation for doing something: “I was here. I could do it. So I did.”

    That’s not to say he’s thoughtless, or even reckless; he simply thinks fast and makes his judgments without hesitating or deliberating. His course of action remains uncluttered by doubts or fears, leaving only the path before him.

    Hanzo misses having that surety, though he does not miss what it allowed allowed him to do. He keeps an eye on McCree anyway, because that kind of certainty is a dangerous thing to leave unchecked. Surely one of these days the man will decide that it’s more expedient to his goals to leave a wounded teammate behind, or lose track of those who are fighting alongside him.

    And yet…

        And yet…


    The constant, deliberate kindness-- for what else could his deeds be called-- seems to check McCree for him. McCree can’t leave anyone behind if he’s holding the door for them. Though his face never shows any feeling for the team one way or the other, his actions would lend other evidence.

    McCree knows the names of every person on D.Va’s MEKA crew. He asks after them every time he sees her. He keeps abreast of the happenings of their lives like a television show.

    McCree listens to each of Lúcio’s albums. He doesn’t seem to particularly enjoy them, but he doesn’t seem to dislike them, either. Instead, he praises the DJ for the joy his music brings others.

    McCree delivers peanut butter sandwiches to Winston, coffee to Mercy, hot chocolate to Mei, and good German beer to Reinhardt. Hanzo has never seen him consume any of those except coffee, and even that was a different brew.

    For all his observations, it takes a shot to the chest for Hanzo to realize what McCree’s real “angle” is. A bullet tears through McCree’s breastplate with enough force that it even punches through the other side. Hanzo finds himself calling out the gunslinger’s name in surprise, but there’s no fountain of blood, no flood of hot, red life pouring out.

    McCree stands back up and rights his hat, and then he fires back.

    “Rude,” he mutters and moves to cover as if he had not been the victim of a through-and-through. The rush of battle proceeds, and Hanzo doesn’t have a chance to go after him, but he doesn’t forget. Instead, when everything is over, he corners McCree in the hangar.

    “You were shot.”

    “Most of us were,” says McCree, nodding to the bandage on Hanzo’s shoulder. The team tends to save biotics for real emergencies, and little grazes like the one Hanzo sports are allowed to heal naturally. “I can wait until Doc’s seen to the others and had some rest. I’m not going anywhere.”

    Hanzo stares incredulously. His eyes drop to McCree’s chest where the drape of the serape hangs lower than usual to hide the hole. He brushes the cloth aside; there, as he expected, is the neat round hole. No blood. Just darkness.

    He looks up into McCree’s unflinching face and realizes it, then.

    “You have no heart.”

    McCree nods slowly.

    “I do, but it’s buried in a box somewhere in the middle of nowhere,” he says.

    Hanzo takes a step back, and the first flicker of something crosses McCree’s face. It’s an empty look, the desolate longing of a place once warm and now barren.

    “You performed the Koschei.”

    Every practitioner worth their salt knows of the Koschei Rite, which has the dubious honor of sitting just below “opening a portal to the Realms of Perpetual Madness” on the U.N.’s List of Restricted Magics. Hanzo, worth his salt and the salt of several others, also knows that such a restriction doesn’t stop people from attempting it anymore than the portal ban keeps people from worshipping tentacle-adorned eldritch entities. He recoils from the man in front of him who cut out his own heart for a kind of twisted immortality.

    And yet...

        And yet…


    McCree does not fit the archetype of the Heartless. The lack of reaction to things suddenly makes sense, but his polite bearing and considerate behavior become even more baffling. From where does such kindness spring, if not from the heart?

    “It’s okay,” says McCree. “You don’t have to hold back on my account. I ain’t got any feelings to hurt.”

    There, too, is another conundrum. Why make that offer? Is it in sarcasm? Can a heartless man even use sarcasm?

    McCree sees Hanzo’s confusion and holds up his hands.

    “Really,” he says. “I understand. I suspect I wouldn’t much care for me if I were you either.”

    “How are you… like this?” Hanzo asks.

    “Got picked for a ‘special program’ back in Blackwatch,” he says, which isn’t what Hanzo meant at all, but it’s too late to correct him. “Turns out it was one of those secret conspiracy ones. Reyes was pissed as hell when he found out, but hey, at least I survived. The other six didn’t.”

    “You did not do this to yourself?”

    McCree shrugs. He does that a lot, Hanzo notices.

    “I mean. I got the gist of it when they explained it, but military folk are damn good at selling dumb ideas, and I wasn’t as clever as I thought I was back then.”

    Hanzo cannot find a way to ask McCree if the people who did the Rite to him may have somehow screwed it up. It’s rare enough to find manners in their line of work, but among the Heartless, such a thing is practically unheard of.

    McCree seems to think that’s the end of the conversation, probably because Hanzo has stopped talking and is instead just staring dumbly at him. McCree walks off before Hanzo thinks to call him back.


    After that, Hanzo watches McCree even more intently, as if his eyes can crack open the gunslinger’s hollow chest and root around inside for answers. McCree continues on as if that’s normal, and in truth, for him, it may be. Under this scrutiny, Hanzo notices that phrase pop up again and again.

    “I was there. I could do it. So I did.”

    Picking up Pharah’s favorite carryout after she has a bad mission and a hard landing. “I was in the neighborhood.”

    Going out to grab the latest release of Genji’s favorite corner-store soap-opera-esque show. “Might as well, since I’m there.”

    Gathering up Hanzo’s arrows during an op, delivering them to him at the end. “Thought I’d save you the trip.”

    Why? ” Hanzo asks, confused beyond decorum. “What difference does it make to you?”

    “None,” says McCree, careless and cold as a winter’s morning, and yet somehow still as bright as sunlight reflecting on the snow. “But it matters to y’all, so... why not?” He taps on his chest; the breastplate thunks solidly. “I can’t care, but I can be here and do stuff for you. That’ll have to do in place of the genuine thing.”

    There it is again, that empty, longing look, the distant memory of summer that makes something twist sympathetically in Hanzo’s stomach.

    “Do you… want it back?” he asks. McCree focuses all his attention on Hanzo for one brief moment.

    “No one’s ever asked me that before,” he says. “You’ll probably want a drink for this part. Here, come with me.” McCree ushers Hanzo to an overlook and hands him his hip flask. Hanzo wrinkles his nose because McCree’s usual “taste” in whiskey is capable of doubling as paint thinner, what with flavor making little difference to him. Still, if McCree thinks Hanzo will need a drink, Hanzo will not go into the conversation sober. He sips at the “whiskey” and waits for McCree to start speaking. McCree takes his time, blowing a stream of smoke from his cigar into the wind.

    “You ever missed a step going down the stairs?” he asks. Hanzo nods. “You know that moment before you hit ground and it’s just you and the open air, and you know there ought to be something under you… but there’s not, and you don’t want anything in the whole world except that step?” Hanzo is slower to nod this time, having to parse out the meaning from the poetry. “That’s what it’s like; I know there ought to be some kind of feeling, but I don’t have it.” McCree gives a helpless gesture. “Even if I could get down to where it’s stashed safely and get it back, I haven't found a way to undo the Koschei, just a way to end it. And I ain’t keen on dying.”

    “I see,” says Hanzo, going through what he remembers of various counterspells. Mirror wards only work at the point of casting, and most forms of curse-breaking have to be specially tailored to the curse in question. Does the Koschei Rite even count as a curse, or is it merely an advanced form of necromancy? For the first time, Hanzo regrets specializing in spirits. The dragons are powerful and prideful, demanding much focus he could have spread across other fields. There has to be some way to help McCree, some way to pay him back for the kindness he’s shown when, by all theories of magic, such kindnesses should have been the very last thing on his mind. However, short of something like a divine miracle or True Love’s Kiss, he can’t recall anything that would work. Hanzo knows too much of gods to expect any help from them, and he’s too old to still believe in True Love’s Kiss.


    The habit of watching McCree, once a duty born of caution, evolves into a hobby, a pleasant pastime that brings him new joys like a surprise delivery service. He learns things about McCree in those moments that he never does in months and months of rooftop meetings.

    McCree has a collection of tacky Western knick-knacks. He purchased exactly none of them-- they are all gifts. Whenever anyone sees anything with cowboy hats, spurs, cacti, or horses, they purchase it and come running to him, as excited as children no matter who it is presenting the gift. McCree always examines it closely and finds something to praise: the fit, the color, the dynamic pose. He keeps all of them.

    McCree is somewhat ambidextrous. His left hand, though a prosthetic, is still his dominant side for several reflexive moves. He catches a plate that slides off the shelf when Lúcio tries to grab a bowl from the higher shelf. In combat, he throws that arm up to intercept a knife meant for Hanzo’s back, snagging the blade out the air with practiced grace.
    McCree makes a wonderful pillow, and he arranges himself to make comfortable whoever is lucky enough to fall asleep on him. Hanzo witnesses this many times, with everyone from Hana to Torbjörn. Even Hanzo ends up curled against McCree’s shoulder after one long mission and twenty-five hours of straight consciousness. That first time he’s too surprised to enjoy it, but afterwards he finds he enjoys the man’s faint warmth, the subtle scent of smoke, and the softness to the meat of his arm or his thigh.

    “You should have woken me,” Hanzo says after he all but passes out on McCree while McCree himself has a dislocated shoulder. “You are injured.”

    “Doesn’t hurt me,” McCree replies. “Besides, you need the rest. Even I can see you’ve been working yourself too hard. We need you here, with us.”

    Something flips in Hanzo’s chest, doing complicated acrobatics the likes of which Hanzo only belatedly identifies.

    Oh , he realizes that night in his room as he lies in his cold bed, missing the warmth and weight beside him. I’m in love with McCree.

   

    The realization brings him no comfort. How could it? He’s in love with a Heartless man. He asks himself, why McCree? It’s ludicrous to think that anyone could ever regard Hanzo with a kind eye, but for his heart to set its mark on someone who was literally incapable of requiting him…

    And yet…

        And yet…

McCree does give him attention, is patient with him, and extends kindnesses to him even with the knowledge of what he’s done. Hanzo is hardly the type to pine, but he finds himself addicted to McCree's companionship. Better to choke on empty dreams than starve on loneliness.

    Hanzo continues to meet with McCree, sometimes two or three times a week, in whatever little nooks they can steal for quiet contemplation of their preferred alcohols. Hanzo’s silent affections refuse to be stifled, and instead feed like wildfire everytime McCree adjusts his posture so that the edge of his shoulder won’t dig into the pressure point at Hanzo’s temple. Despite moving back outdoors when warmer weather returns, more often than not, McCree refrains from smoking.

    “No point in both of us smelling like an ashtray,” he says with a shrug. “Not when you usually smell like pine and mint.”

    Hanzo thinks McCree’s casual compliments may just be the death of him.



Elsewhere…

    Just beyond the broken down garage closest to the Route 66’s Panorama Diner is a cheesy, fake alien landing-themed tourist trap. It’s been closed for years, slowly sinking from memory, decaying into a safety hazard. The two people inside, however, have no reason to fear the danger. They have no fear at all.

    Reaper stands in front of a plaster alien made by someone who never saw the inside of a real octopus but had an overactive imagination and too many cheap nachos before bedtime. He regards the softening artificial stone between the fake bones, and he traces his claws down the span of three hands.

    “There,” he says. “Dig.”

    Sombra raises an eyebrow.

    “I don’t do hardware,” she replies. Reaper fixes her with a look, the mask doing nothing to obscure his cold glare.

    “Dig,” he repeats. It’s almost a threat. He claws at the spot, marking it with a shallow ‘X’ that would have been deeper had his hand not disintegrated halfway through.

    Sombra rolls her eyes and picks up the shovel.

    “I’m adding this to your tab,” she says. Reaper inclines his head. He pays her back immediately, because debts are dangerous even to the Heartless, and what Sombra values is easy for him to produce.

    “You think you’re safe because you made your heart data and moved it online where no mortal hands can touch it,” he warns her. “Because you think you’re the best, no one can beat you.”

    “I am the best,” Sombra retorts, throwing some dirt at him. It goes through him, hitting the wall behind him instead. He ignores it.

    “It won’t matter. When they come after you-- and they always come-- they’ll do it in waves. They’ll wear you down. The cost of being the best is having to prove yourself every time, and they will make you pay it over and and over. They won’t need the best. They won’t even need the good. They just need to last, and to be lucky.”

    “Sounds like the voice of experience,” she clicks her tongue.

    “Yes,” he says, and his cold honesty would shock her if she was on a wifi signal strong enough to reach her own heart. “When they come for you, if they get lucky… make sure you destroy it yourself. Don’t leave anything behind for them to use.”

    He speaks, of course, of the twisted metal dog tags hidden somewhere in Talon headquarters where he cannot reach. Sombra knows the blackened metal discs, has gotten close enough to see the names of two different men on them, but she can’t steal them without giving away what she knows, and she has no reason to risk herself for him.

    It’s no surprise that Talon will one day try to bring her to heel the way they have him, but Reyes was a tactical mastermind when he was alive, and his insight into what path they’ll take is useful. The debt is paid.

    “So what about this one?” She lifts a security box out of the dirt. The lock offers a laughable attempt at resistance, outdated decades ago compared to her enhancements. Reaper looms over her shoulder as she cracks it open.

    Inside is a single bullet. It looks ordinary at first glance; simple metal and complex chemicals. To skilled eyes it’s slightly too much: too bright, too sharp, like a high-definition image compared to the old standard.

    Inside the bullet is the essence of a human heart-- not the biological organ that pumps blood, but the piece of the soul that connects to life’s impermanence and gives meaning and measure to every moment. In some ways, it is the very thing that makes a human being human instead of another bipedal mammal.

    The heart tempts them both, even though they are well aware that a stolen heart can never fill the holes in their chests.

    Reaper reaches down and takes the box from the earth.

    “I’ll do what I should have done when I found out,” he says, no real regret, just clinical acknowledgement.

    Sombra whistles. If she had a better connection, she might feel sorry for the gunslinger, but she doesn’t, so she can’t.




    Hanzo is on the very bottom of what is a colloquially called “a shit day”. It starts before he wakes, when McCree finds him on the couch with a crick in his neck in the morning from trying to combat insomnia with movies. It continues through an argument with Genji; worse, Hanzo doesn’t even seem to know what the argument was about, only that he ends up red-faced and moderately nauseated, almost running into McCree as he flees for the bathroom. It escalates through a bad mission, where the enemy sniper gets a bead on Hanzo early on and spends the entire assault griefing him, once going so far as to assassinate him as he steps out of the respawn room. Unlike McCree, who shrugs off lethal damage with little more than a muttered comment, Hanzo has to spend six-to-ten seconds each time getting his body restructured by the respawn technology, a process which is frequently more painful than the injury that necessitates its use. The few times he even makes it past the door, he loses whatever progress he makes across the field whenever he dies. McCree just gets up and keeps walking.

    The team manages to complete the mission, partly because McCree can make it across the field to an advantageous position with the sniper’s attention distracted, but he knows that Hanzo takes his inability to get to the payload as a lack of contribution to the mission. On top of that, the enemy also shot Hanzo’s sake gourd, and respawn did not restore it.

    Mercy apparently has Thoughts on the amount of alcohol consumed by the team.

McCree remembers, however, from his earliest days, how desperate he once was to numb the feeling of his failures. Hanzo has already trained hard enough to hurt himself, and McCree can’t offer him soft hands and clever words, which leaves only the drink. McCree can provide that.

Hanzo knows the truth about McCree’s heart, but still treats him like a regular person. It’s not common knowledge around the base; he does a good enough job of being cordial that most folk don’t look at him too long, lest they find out where that cordiality ends. Still, Hanzo knows, and if anything, he’s come to treat McCree more like a regular person. If McCree could still feel touched, he would. He wishes he could.

    Hanzo sits on the ocean-side veranda, atop the communications tower at sunset, prepared to attempt to get drunk on nothing more than misery and twilight. McCree is careful to let his spurs jingle as he approaches; he can be just as quiet as Hanzo or Genji, should he have a mind to be, but tonight his steps are deliberate, giving Hanzo plenty of time to get up and leave if he truly wants to be alone.

    Hanzo stays put.

    McCree settles next to him and passes him a bottle. Hanzo’s eyebrows lift as he recognizes the label of his favorite sake, a brand not commonly found in the area. McCree ordered it specifically. The consideration makes Hanzo’s throat close up.

    McCree sits beside him until the sun is just a glimmer on the horizon. Stars twinkle in the darkening sky. They don’t do his face justice the way sunlight does. McCree, Hanzo thinks, is almost a perfect manifestation of the phrase “sun-kissed”. Hanzo wishes he could kiss McCree, too, or at least stop staring at him like a besotted fool. At least McCree is kind enough not to call him out on his attention.

    The chill of evening creeps in. Hanzo finds himself leaning closer to McCree. The man is cooler to touch than a living man should be, but compared to the cold of night, he’s a bonfire. McCree shifts subtly for Hanzo’s comfort. The small kindness nearly breaks Hanzo’s weary and battered heart.

    “Thank you,” he says, voice rough and raw from the day’s stress.

    “You’re welcome.” McCree answers automatically. “What for?”

    Hanzo swallows so the word “everything” can’t claw out of his throat.

    “I am… glad to have met you,” he says instead. “It is a good thing that you returned to Overwatch.”

    “Well, I think it’s a good thing you joined up too,” says McCree. “Today’s mess aside, you look a lot better now than you did when you first showed up. Got some color back in your cheeks.”

    Said cheeks turn steadily red at being noticed.

    “You are a good man, McCree.” Because he is leaning on McCree’s side, Hanzo can feel McCree tense, just the slightest bit.

    “I don’t know about all that,” he says evenly, but perhaps not as resolutely as he has been in the past. McCree doesn’t doubt, doesn’t worry about lies or illusions, but sometimes even his absolute certainty… simply doesn’t know.

    “May I hold you?” Hanzo asks because the night is cold, he is weary, and the thought of returning to his empty bed and spending the rest of his life pining after a Heartless man may just break him. It is nothing less than he deserves; frankly, it’s a far better fate than he expected, but today… after everything else… he just isn’t strong enough.

    McCree shuffles around, opening his arms with a familiar shrug.

    “If you want?” he says, still locked in that confusion as to why Hanzo would ask such a thing of him . But Hanzo is warm in a way that McCree is not, and Hanzo needs warmth in a way that McCree does not, and McCree can’t properly miss being warm, but the memory of it is a sharp plummet with no end in sight.

Hanzo folds against McCree’s chest, and heavy arms wrap around him. He locks his arms around McCree’s waist, breaths in the faded scent of sun-heat and smoke, and focuses on the texture of the worn brown shirt beneath his cheek so he doesn’t fixate on the lack of a heartbeat.

    “Thank you for this indulgence,” he murmurs. McCree licks his lips, reaches up and strokes the back of Hanzo’s head. Hugs aren’t supposed to be an indulgence; they’re a necessity. He remembers his worst days, the final days before he let them take his heart, and he remembers wishing for someone to hold him. He had wished so badly to feel some kind of touch other than violence. He can’t imagine how long Hanzo may have had to live with that same feeling, only without the false relief of the Koschei Rite. He can’t imagine how strong someone would have to be to survive, how much it must have hurt.

    He can’t take away that pain. He wants to, but he can’t.

    Instead, he can do this.

    “Anytime,” he murmurs.

    “You should not make such an offer,” Hanzo replies. “Anytime could be any time, to those who would ask it. I have burdened you enough already, and you have made so many accomodations for me.” Hanzo’s breath starts to catch in his throat, but he can’t yet force himself to let go of McCree.

    McCree does not let go of Hanzo, either.

    “I know what I’m about,” he says.

    “But I am selfishly wasting your time--” Hanzo bites his lip, steels his heart, and lets go. McCree reels him back in as he tries to slide away.

    “You asked for a hug, and you’re getting one,” he says. “My time is my time, and I say how it’s best spent. If I think it’s best spent with you, then it ain’t wasted. If I say you’re welcome to have a hug at any time, then by thunder you can wake me up at two in the damn morning. It ain’t like I’m going to get mad at you, even if if I had a heart.”

    “You may not have a heart, but you have a kind soul,” says Hanzo, closing his eyes and easing back into the embrace. “One of the kindest I have ever encountered. It would be easy for you to be cruel, or even cold, but instead you are admirable.”

    McCree makes a sound like he accidentally swallowed his tongue.

    “I’m just… here. Doing stuff,” he chokes. “You’re the one that’s trying to be a better person. That’s so much more important than someone just… being there. I can’t… if you need a hug, or someone to drink with, or even just to sit with you… I can do that. You deserve more, but I can do that much.”

    “You have chosen to be good and helpful. That is not an insignificant decision, no matter how much you try to dismiss it. Many could. Some would. You did.” Hanzo wraps his arms around McCree again, as if he could press close enough for his heart to beat for both of them. “Though you are Heartless, you have a remarkable soul, and that is something to be admired. That is…” Would it matter, if he told him? McCree isn’t likely to judge him for it. McCree isn’t likely to think anything of it at all. Surely it would be better to speak it, let it fade in the open, and finally mourn what could not be than to let it twist and die inside. “That is something I love about you.” Hanzo’s voice drops to a whisper, shocked by his own audacity, but it’s too late to try and take it back. “I love you. I truly do. You are enough for me exactly as you are.”

    Jesse’s shoulders begin to shake. His hands tighten in Hanzo’s gi . The emptiness inside him depressurizes, leaving him too hot, too cold, an explosive vacuum, all at the same time.

    “No,” he says. “It’s not enough. It’s not fair. You’re giving me this wonderful thing… I ain’t got nothing for you in return. I want to… I want to be able to… and I can’t, and it’s not fair.” He draws in a shuddering breath. “I want to love you back.”

    It’s more than Hanzo ever hoped for, a metaphorical rope thrown over the uncrossable chasm between them. He leans back just enough that he can see Jesse’s face, can touch the edge of his jaw with trembling fingers. Jesse’s eyes are focused but damp-looking, and as he watches, water beads up on his lashes.

    “Perhaps you do, in your own way,” Hanzo murmurs. The water overflows, spilling down his cheek in what would be tears for any normal human. And yet, how could they be anything else? In the months and months they have known each other, Hanzo has never seen the man so much as rub at his eyes to get dust out of them. And yet now he cries?

    “You want to love me back.” Hanzo echoes thoughtfully. “That would be enough--”

    “It’s not. It’s not! I mean, I wanna, gods…” Jesse’s eyes are wide, and his words fall from his lips like a tumble down the stairs: jerky and painful and awkward and unstoppable. “I wanna be able to make you smile and laugh, and I wanna be able to make you feel better when you’re hurting, and I wanna listen to your stories about Hanamura and the dumb shit you and Genji used to do, and I wanna find a way to make you laugh about it instead of letting it drag you down.” He scrubs at his face distractedly. The pressure in his chest  tightens, the hollow place no longer numb, but aching. “I wanna find new dumb shit to do with you, and old dumb shit we can do again, and shit that ain’t dumb at all. And all I can do is just… be here… like a fucking rock or something, ‘cause I was a dumbass and let them cut out my heart so I could be a better Blackwatch agent!”

    Everything pours out of McCree in a torrent, and each wish quickens Hanzo’s heartbeat until it pounds in his ears. The air tastes crisp, cool, and full of energy, like lightning about to strike. It makes the skin under his tattoo itch and twitch. His mouth goes dry, and he strangles on hope.

    “We could try,” he rasps. McCree freezes, allowing Hanzo to reach up and cup his face. Hanzo gently wipes away the tears tracking down McCree’s cheeks. “I want to try.”

    McCree’s brows furrow together. In his eyes, the universe shatters, dies, fuses back together, and is reborn. He covers Hanzo’s hands with his own, heat slowly seeping into him, thawing the memory of the necessity of breath.

    “I don’t want to hurt you, sweetheart,” he whispers. “That’s… that’s the last thing I want.”

    “It... is possible,” Hanzo admits. He pulls Jesse closer so that he can rest their foreheads together. “Is that not a risk everyone takes? And even if it should come to pass… it would be better than never having tried at all.”

    “I guess…” Jesse closes his eyes, attempting to stem the tide of fresh tears. “I don’t… I don’t know what to do here, Hanzo. It’s been years and years since I felt anything.” His confusion sounds genuine, and it twists Hanzo’s heart to hear it. How long has he lived like this? How distant is the memory?

    “Follow my lead,” Hanzo says. “Open your eyes and lean in. I wish to kiss you.”

    Jesse obeys without hesitation. Lashes damp and eyes still watery, he is, at his core, still resolute where and when he needs to be.

    “You do not have to say it back, now or ever, but I want you to know: I love you, dearly.” Hanzo closes the distance between them with a chaste kiss. It tastes like lightning, like sunshine, like the birth of stars.



    The universe begins with a bang. Light and heat explode behind Jesse’s eyes, and he witnesses the beginning and the end. An unfamiliar rhythm pounds behind his ribs, thundering through his head, while Hanzo’s words echo between each pulse. I love you. I love you. I love you.

    I love you, dearly.

    Please, he prays to whatever gods will listen to a faithless, heartless fool such as himself. Please let me love him.

    The beating intensifies, shaking him down to the core.




Elsewhere…

    Reaper puts the box on the table and pours a measure of bourbon. He can’t feel regret or even dread for what he’s about to do, but there are years of service and loyalty somewhere in their past, and that must be acknowledged.

    Sombra sucks on her teeth. The atmosphere is heavy with the sense of “for your own good”, a phrase she doesn’t care for at all on her best days, and she shuts off her connection to her heart before it can get too uncomfortable.

    “You’re really going to do it?” she asks.

    “Better this than Ogundimu finding it.” Reaper pulls out one of his shotguns. “Better destroyed than enslaved. I owe him.”

    He levels the gun at the bullet, but before he can pull the trigger, his target explodes in golden flames that throw him back ten feet and into a wall.

    Sombra reconnects to her heart just long enough to get some curiosity.

    “That’s probably not good, is it?”

    Reaper grunts and gets to his feet. He can’t care either way, but if he could…

    Well. He remembers hope.




    Hanzo pulls back from their first kiss to catch his breath. The static in his skin crackles and dances, and beneath his hands Jesse’s face feels flushed with warmth. Hanzo leans in to it, welcomes it with a second kiss. A third. A fourth. A fifth.

    Jesse chases each one, refusing to break without a fight. Hanzo can’t help but chuckle as Jesse follows him. He leans away, teasing, until he’s almost reclining, but Jesse doesn’t give up, just climbs over him. Hanzo gives him a moment to reorient himself, but Jesse plows ahead, taking the initiative with the kissing.

    Empty space demands filling. Empty lungs, empty arms, the empty inches between them. Jesse seems determined to occupy it all, and Hanzo is overjoyed to receive him.

    “How wonderful,” Hanzo hums, running his hands through Jesse’s hair. How soft he is, how close. How much happiness Jesse brings him… his… boyfriend? Lover? Partner?

    “I suppose you are my partner now?”

    Jesse smiles. Really smiles, the kind of eye-crinkling, breathless smile that’s never been on his face before. He gasps a little laugh and ducks his head to Hanzo’s shoulder. Jesse is warm and heavy.

    “If you’ll have me,” he sighs. Happily .

    Suddenly, Hanzo recognizes the new strangeness to Jesse’s voice. The even, unchanging tone has a lilt. Has vitality. Has emotion .

    Hanzo sits up, lifting Jesse with him. The expression on the man’s face is as blindingly brilliant as the sun breaking through after a month of rain, and as warm as the first wind of spring heralding the end of winter. It’s all Hanzo can do to hold on to his new partner and try to find words to voice his questions.

    “Jesse,” he ventures, “how do you feel about this? About us?”

    “I’ll try to be good to you, darling,” Jesse says. His tone is thinner, nervous. “I know I miss some things on account of… you know… but I’ll pay attention. I won’t give you a reason to hurt.”

    “That is not exactly what I asked.” Hanzo lays his hand over Jesse’s chest. “How do you feel?”

    Jesse inhales, and his brows screw together in confusion.

    “I don’t understand,” he says. He glances down to Hanzo’s hand, where Hanzo can feel the heat of him through his shirt and the relentless rhythm beneath his fingertips. Jesse freezes as realization dawns on him. “I… I feel... I feel .”

    Hanzo has seen gods and miracles and neither of the compare to this. Jesse’s heart has been restored. There is no denying it now. Some vital essence has returned to him, and in spades.

    Was it the dragons? Some flaw of the original ritual? The sheer force of Jesse’s will? Or…

    Hanzo’s face goes pink and he stops himself before he dares consider True Love’s Kiss. Jesse trembles against him, and little bubbles of laughter float free of his throat. A smile carves its way onto his face, intent of making up for long overdue laugh lines.

    “Did you--?” he asks, then gives up and just chuckles. He kisses Hanzo again, taking his time and savoring the moment. “Darling,” he murmurs, “I love you dearly.”

    “Say it again,” Hanzo requests. “Please. I love you so much… I want to hear you again.” He nuzzles into Jesse’s neck where he can feel the constant, steady pulse against his cheek. Jesse responds with equal tenderness, kissing his way down Hanzo’s jaw, his throat, his cheek, and back to his lips once more.

    “Darling. Sweetheart. Beloved .” Jesse smiles into each kiss, and Hanzo smiles back. “I love you with all my heart.”

    And Hanzo knows it to be true.