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Apple of My Eye

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The moon was high in the summer sky. The crickets gently chirped outside in the courtyard. Hanae stood in the doorway of her parent’s bedroom, the room still and dark. She remained silent and cold, her eyes taking in the violent scene in front of her. She firmly kept her hand over her brother’s eyes, her other hand holding his shoulder. Though she appeared calm, she took in short breaths. She tried to assess the situation.

“I’m so sorry this has happened, Hanae.” Her uncle said as he placed his hand on her shoulder, “We are searching the grounds now for whoever did this.”

“Who found them?” She asked, turning her face away from the image.

“Genji did.” Hanae grit her teeth at the statement, “I am sure I know who did this, Hanae. We will hunt them down for their crimes against our family.”

“Yes.” Was all she said. Her uncle continued to talk, but she zoned him out. Something wasn’t right. Something was very wrong with the situation. Things just didn’t add up. “And we’ll have to speed up the ceremony-,”

That caught her attention.

“Ceremony? But…now isn’t the time…that would be in poor taste-,”

“It’s the perfect time. Together with your cousin, we will keep the family from falling apart.” He said knowingly, “It is something we must do right away.”

That sent off red flags. And quickly, as her uncle turned away from her and went to assess the damage, different thoughts came into her mind. And different conclusions. She wasn’t blind, and she wasn’t an idiot. She could see what was happening, and where it would go. As she looked down at her little brother, his body shaking slightly, she knew what they had to do. They had to leave. They had to leave tonight.

 

3 weeks later…

 

Hanae frowned as she looked at the identical items in her hands. In her left hand was a cute, Japanese snack that featured a laughing panda. It was on sale. In her right was a cute, Japanese snack with a laughing panda. It was not on sale.

She held the two boxes closely to her face. They were both green with white bubble letters. She turned the boxes upside down and read the codes. Even the codes were the same!

“They’re identical.”

“See, the left is on sale because of the small dent on the back. Someone dropped the box during shipment, so the entire load is on sale.” Hanae looked over to her co-worker and raised her eyebrows.

“Then why did our boss give me the damaged and undamaged ones to put out at the same time?” Her co-worker shrugged.

“Guess he thought you’d figure it out.”

Hanae let out an annoyed sigh and put the sale sticker on the left box. She continued to frown. She thought getting a job at a Japanese market would be easy. It turns out it was a lot more…annoying than previously imagined.

“How many boxes do I have to put out?” She asked. The girl beside her looked off to the cash.

“I think all of them.”

“How many is that.”

“About…20.”

“20?!” Hanae gawked, “But there are 100 boxes in each one! How will I fit them on the shelf?!” Her co-worker shrugged.

“I don’t know.” Hanae let out another frustrated noise.

“The boss is-,”

“Coming!” Her co-worker hissed. Hanae put the boxes down and put a smile on her face.

Good morning, boss.” She said in Japanese with a bow. The 30 year old Japanese American man crossed his arms at her. He replied in the same language.

Shimada. Your brother is acting up again.”

Is he? I’m very sorry.” She said with another bow.

I don’t mind you bringing him to work, but he keeps bothering the other customers. If you can’t keep him quiet, I must insist you put him in a daycare.” The man said. Hanae bowed her head.

I’m very sorry. I’ll go to him now.”

My father is putting a lot on the line by hiring you. Please, don’t make him regret his decision.”

I won’t. I’m sorry again.”

Very well.” He then turned to Hanae’s young co-worker, “Ms. Song.” He said, switching back to English.

“Boss.” Song said with a nod. The man then turned and walked back the way he came. “What was that about?”

“Genji is upset.”

“Again?”

“Can you please-,”

“I’ll take care of the boxes, no problem.” The girl said with a wave.

“Thank you.” Hanae was about to leave when the other girl stopped her.

“Why does he call you that, anyway?”

“Call me what?”

“Shimada. I thought you said your last name was Shimizu.”

“It is. He just...it’s a joke between us.” Song crossed her arms.

“Sounds like a weird joke.”

“It’s a Japanese thing.” Hana Song shrugged.

“Fair enough.”

“I’ll come back as soon as I talk to Genji.” Hane then hurried off towards her brother.

The market was set up into 4 parts. To the far right was a cheap, Japanese restaurant complete with old green chairs, rickety tables, and a single Japanese water painting for some extra flair. Beside that was the bakery, which had also seen better days. Next to that was the convenience shop which sold snacks, stationaries and other small items. And finally, the last part was a beauty store/pharmacy. This had been Hanae’s place of work for the past week. It had taken a while to get used to (and she was still getting used to it), but it was a safe place for her and her brother, so she didn’t complain. She wasn’t used to working retail- or working AMERICAN retail- but when she moved to the foreign country it was the only job that was willing to hire her.

A week ago, she had come into the market just to have a small taste of back home. The boss’s father had been working and had immediately taken a liking to her. It was Genji who then let it slip what their actual last name was. The man recognized their family name immediately, which meant he knew exactly who they were and what their family did.

And yet, for some reason after knowing that, he offered her a job. It was under the table pay, but he didn’t ask questions and gave her as many hours as she could take, so really it was ideal. She also thought she could bring her 5-year-old brother with her and just let him play around while she worked. But…that didn’t seem to be the case.

Hanae followed the sound of screaming and found her brother in the old restaurant, his little face red with anger and his little hands hitting the table. She rushed over to him and crouched down.

Genji! Genji- shhhhh. Remember, you can’t yell here. You’re being too loud-,” She said in Japanese

I want to go home!” He yelled. Hanae hushed him again and looked over at the two other customers. They looked at her before turning back to their meals.

Genji, I told you, we can’t go home-,”

No! Home!” He screamed and whined. Hanae shushed him a third time and gave him a stern expression.

Genji, you have to quiet down or my boss will be very angry.” Genji quieted a little and looked at her, tears brimming in his eyes.

There’s nothing here! I just sit here! I want to go…” He began to sniffle. Hanae sighed and pulled him into a hug.

I know. I know Genji. But I can’t leave you in the apartment.” She began stroking his hair, “And you get to play with Song-chan and Zhou-chan-,”

They’re busy. Like you.” He sniffled. She pulled away slightly and looked at him.

I’m sorry, Genji. But I’m doing the best I can. Why don’t you play with Soba?”

No. I always play with Soba.” He said, referring to the green, stuffed dragon beside him. Hanae sighed again and looked around once more. The couple talked amongst themselves, but beside them was her boss. He just gave her a look before walking off.

I’m sorry, Genji. I’ll be done soon. Then we can play.”

But I want to play now.” He whimpered. Hanae stroked his hair again and tried to smile. “Don’t go, Onee-san.” He sniffled.

I have to. But I’ll be done soon. Ok? Can you try to be quiet until then?” Genji rubbed his eyes and nodded. “That’s a good boy. I’ll be back.” She gave him another quick hug before going back to the (many) boxes that awaited her.

 

An hour later, she was told to cover the cash shift in the restaurant. She wasn’t overly fond of the cash shifts, since she still wasn’t confident with the machines, but it did allow her to watch Genji and talk to him, so that was a plus. As she walked over she saw Genji sitting in his usual spot, but someone was sitting with him. Hanae frowned. A random American man was sitting across from her brother and talking to him. Genji was laughing at something the man said. Hanae swiftly walked up to them. They both looked up as she approached.

“Can I help you?” She asked the man. He smiled up at her and pointed his thumb at Genji.

“Hey! You must be Onisan! Yur his sister, right?” Hanae opened her mouth to respond, but he continued talking, “The name’s Jesse McCree.” He said, offering her his hand, “I was just fixin’ some stuff when I got talkin’ to yur brother over here.”

He talks funny!” Genji said with delight. Hanae hesitantly took his hand and shook it.

“Hello, Mr. McCree. I am Hanae Shimizu. May I ask why you are talking to my brother?”

“Aw, well I was takin’ a break from fixin’ the sink in the back- I fix a’lotta stuff here- when yur brother asked me about my hat,” He said, tipping his (stupid, ridiculous, crime against fashion) cowboy hat, “So I came on over and we got talkin’.” She could hardly follow his thick (stupid) accent as he spoke, “You new here? ‘Cuz, I come here a lot and I ain’t never seen hide nor tail of either yah.” He asked, flashing her a smile.

Hanae remained frozen as she tried to process his English. Lord, who taught him how to speak? He kept dropping letters for no reason, and his grammar was horrific. Wasn’t he American? Shouldn’t he speak proper English? And yet, she felt as if her English was better than his.

“Yes. We are new.” She said quickly.

“What department you work?”

“You mean, what department do I work in?” She corrected, “I work in many departments.”

“Like what?”

“What do you do, Mr. McCree? Do you always fix the sinks? Or do you prefer to approach young, unattended children when adults aren’t around?” She asked, her voice strained. He gave her a hard smile.

“I’m a general contractor. I come here to fix a lot of things. I also like the food here, so yes, I do come here often. But no, I don’t make a habit of speakin’ to unattended children.”

“So, this is…?” She asked, motioning to him and Genji.

“This is me bein’ friendly to a new face. ‘sides, the kid seemed bored outta’ his tree.” Genji giggled at the saying.

He’s really funny, one-san. We were speaking English-,”

About what? What was he saying to you?” She asked in Japanese. Jesse watched the two speak to each other, ultimately lost at what they were saying.

He asked me about Soba, and about-,”

“Hey! Jesse!” Someone called out. Hanae turned to see her co-worker, Song, coming up to them.

“Hey! Hana! How you doin’?”

“Good. I see you’ve met the two newest members of our club.” Song said, motioning to Hanae, “You two getting along?” She asked, smirking to her co-worker.

“…Yes.” Hanae said, “Jesse was just asking Genji and I personal questions.” She gave McCree a small glare.

“And Ms. Shimizu was just bein’ a peach-,”

Excuse me?” Hanae snapped.

“Shimizu, calm down. He said peach, like…the fruit.” Song said. Hanae curled her fingers and crossed her arms.

“…Forgive me. I misunderstood you because of your abhorrent accent.” Song laughed.

“Wow, shots fired.”

“It’s fine. I was just goin’ anyway.” Jesse bit back. He got up, turned to Genji, and gave the boy a softer expression, “I’ll see you later, kiddo.” He smiled before he turned back to the women. “Ladies.” He said with a curt nod. He then walked past them and out of the restaurant. Song chuckled.

“Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t like him.”

“I can’t stand idiots,” She growled, “Especially ones that are too interested in Genji.”

“Relax. Jesse’s a good guy. He’s not some creep, believe me.” Song said with a grin.

“…As long as I don’t see him again, it’s fine.” Song snorted.

“Yeah…that’s not happening.”

 

Her co-worker had been right. The next day, she saw Jesse talking to her brother again. She was going to give him a ‘piece of her mind’, but she was on cash in the bakery and there had been a long line up. By the time she was able to leave, he was gone. She had asked Genji what Jesse wanted, but Genji said Jesse had just told him funny stories. Genji had really liked the stories. He liked them so much that he only talked about them on the bus ride home.

McCree showed up the next day, and the day after that. But whenever he showed up, it seemed Hanae had her hands full and couldn’t confront him. And every time she was finally able to go back to Genji, the man was gone. She approached her boss about it.

I don’t like that man talking to my brother.”

’That man’ fixes things in exchange for a little money and lunch. He’s a loyal customer and has helped my father through all sorts of things.” Her boss said sternly, “Besides, he keeps your brother quiet. You should ask him to come more often if he’s going to distract him!”

Her co-workers also vouched for Jesse, saying he helped people out on several occasions.

Jesse didn’t come during the weekend, but when she saw him again on Monday, she dropped what she was doing and stormed over. The man was directing Genji as the boy traced out letters in a children’s workbook.

“What are you doing here?!” She snarled. The two looked up at her with surprise.

“I was just helpin’ him with English-,” McCree said as he motioned to the book.

“I don’t want you to help him with anything, especially English.”

“Listen, I’m teachin’ him proper English if that’s what yur worried about.”

“No- no I worry about a grown man spending time with my little brother.” She said as she loomed over him. Jesse put up his hands in defence.

“Hey, I’m just tryin’ to help. ‘Sides, were in public. I ain’t tryin’ to be alone with him or nothin’-,”

“Then leave him alone-,”

“Listen,” He said while pointing his finger at her, “You leave yur brother here with no one lookin’ after him. You leave him here with nothin’ to do, as if he’s just gonna sit around and wait for 8 hours.” He lowered his hand, “I’m just tryin’ to help.” Hanae slammed her hand against the table and leaned into him.

“Shouldn’t you be fixing something? -,”

“And shouldn’t yur brother be in school? He says you’ve been here over two weeks, and ain’t no one teachin’ him English. What, you think he’s just gonna’ absorb it?”

“Don’t lecture me on how to raise my brother. You have no idea who I am-,”

“I think yur a woman who’s workin’ a low payin’ job, whose family can’t pay for child care so yur forced to bring yur brother to work.” He said. She drew back slightly at the comment. He gave a short sigh, “Listen, I don’t wana’ fight you. I wana’ help. I know what it’s like bein’ behind in school. He’s already at a disadvantage because he doesn’t know English and is new to this country.” Jesse’s expression softened, “I’m not sayin’ yur a bad sister. I just think yur too busy to teach him. I ain’t gonna be here for yur whole shift, but on break I can teach him a little-,”

“Get out.”

“’scuse me?” He asked. She leaned closer and bared her teeth.

“Get. Out.”

He was surprised at first, but then he frowned and looked away.

“Fine.” He reached over to the space beside him and pulled out several children’s books on literacy and math. He then turned back to Hanae, “Keep ‘em. You can find more at the dollar store.” He then got up and moved past her, “But you gotta’ accept help from someone eventually.” She turned and glared daggers into him. He looked past her and smiled at Genji.

“Bye, Bucko.” He said with a wave. Genji waved back.

“Bye bye, Jesse-kun!” Jesse then turned, nodded at Hanae, and walked away. She watched him leave with a frown. “Sister…are you mad at Jesse?” Hanae didn’t answer. She just watched Jesse walk away.

 

She was sure that would be the last of him. She was sure she’d never have to deal with his stupid accent or stupid hat again. But the next day, the very next day, she saw him patching up a wall in the kitchen.

And she lost it.

“What are you doing here?!” She snarled. Jesse jumped and turned around. He gave her a confused look before shrugging.

“Darlin’, I work here.”

“DON’T call me- I mean why are you here?” She asked again, pinching the bridge of her nose. Jesse looked around awkwardly.

“Uh…again, I work here.”

“I don’t think you understand,” She said as she walked up to him, “When I told you to get out, I meant get out.”

“And I hear yah loud and clear. I’ll leave yur brother alone.” He rolled his eyes and tried to get back to work. She grabbed his shoulder and turned him around.

“Hey now-,”

“I don’t want you here.”

“Listen,” He said, putting down his tool, “I respect you and yur wishes. I won’t talk to Genji no more. But this?” He said, motioning to the wall, “This is my job.”

“Don’t you have other jobs?”

“Well, yeah-,”

“Then go do them.” He looked at her, and she looked back. He narrowed his eyes slightly.

“So, you want me to just leave my job-,”

“If you respect me, then you’ll leave. I don’t want you anywhere near my brother. And I don’t want you anywhere near me.” She gave him a dark expression, “I don’t like you Jesse McCree. And you don’t want me as your enemy.”

He looked at her as she stared him down. They stayed in silence as he thought things over. Finally, he spoke.

“Fine. I’ll go. Just give me an hour to finish this up.” He said, motioning towards the wall. She continued to glare at him, “Well, I can’t just leave in the middle of somethin’!” He said. She stayed in his personal bubble a moment longer before moving back. She crossed her arms and watched as he hesitantly picked up his tool and went back to work. After a moment he turned to her again, “Ain’t you got somethin’ better to do?” He asked.

She scoffed, turned around, and left.

That was it. Surely, that was the last time she would ever see Jesse McCree.

 

And surprisingly, Jesse actually did stop coming to the market. Hanae was genuinely impressed. For the first week, she half expected to see Jesse sneaking around the back rooms or talking to her brother again. But she never saw him. He actually stopped coming.

Genji whined in the beginning and constantly asked when Jesse would come back (even after he was told Jesse wasn’t coming back). Hanae had assumed Genji would move on within a day, but after a week of his whining and crying, Hanae began to feel she acted a bit too brash. Song would look at Hanae whenever Genji started crying and give her a look saying, ‘well, this is what you wanted’. After another week her boss noticed Jesse’s absence.

Did you say something to Jesse?” He said after pulling Hanae off to the side. She shook her head.

Not really-,”

Because the kitchen staff remember you fighting with him. He needs to come in to put in a new floor, but he keeps saying he’s too busy. What did you say to him?”

Nothing.”

This better not come back to you, Shimada. I know my father employed you, but if you drove out our contractor AND our customer, I’ll fire you.” He said firmly. Hanae just nodded her head.

I understand.”

 

After a month, Genji had begun to settle down, but he was still hard to handle during her shifts. She had been sent home three times because he refused to calm down and was upsetting other customers. Hanae rubbed the bridge of her nose. She couldn’t afford to lose this job. THEY couldn’t afford to lose this job. She looked back to the sauces in front of her. She and Genji were at the grocery store, trying to plan some meals on their measly budget. She could feel the lightness of her wallet. They only had $25 for the week. For two people. And she couldn’t keep relying on cheap, unhealthy meals. It was making her sick and didn’t help her constant exhaustion.

She sighed and continued down the aisle, Genji in tow. What she wouldn’t give for some fresh meat. Or some handmade noodles. But their lives had changed, drastically, and times called to be practical. She had to prioritize. Food, clothing, and shelter were what they needed. They could hardly pay rent, and they only had two outfits each. But food…food was vital. She sighed as she walked away from the sauces. They could live without soy sauce. They had salt at home. Salt was enough. She turned left out of the aisle and was looking longingly at the meat section when a familiar face caught her eye. There, staring with great prejudice at a pack of ground turkey, was Jesse McCree. Hanae froze for a moment, not really knowing what to do. She was about to turn away and walk in the opposite direction when the most horrific thing happened.

They made eye contact.

Hanae clenched her teeth. She didn’t want a confrontation. What if he came over to talk to her? What would she even say? I’m sorry I told you off? I’m sorry I thought you were a predator? Thank you for not coming back to the restaurant? Hanae frowned. She wasn’t exactly sorry about those things. But she did admittedly feel bad for telling him to never come back. She honestly didn’t expect him to keep his promise, and the fact that he did made her feel a kind of respect towards him. If he was a dangerous person, he probably would have tried to contact her (or worse, Genji) over the past month.

Jesse stared at her only for a moment, before giving her a nod of acknowledgement and turning away. She let out a breath. Again, he didn’t try to initiate contact. He respected her boundaries. She respected that.

And again, she felt a bit bad for sending him away.

Genji pulled her out of her thoughts when he suddenly called out.

“Jesse-kun!” He said excitedly. Jesse looked behind him, gave a little smile and wave, and then booked it into the baking aisle. Hanae smiled. Good. She wasn’t up to explaining to Genji why-

Genji let go of her hand and ran after the man.

“Genji!” Hanae hissed as she tried to grab him, but he quickly ran off and disappeared into the baking section. The woman quietly swore as she ran after him. When she turned into the aisle, she could see Genji hugging Jesse’s legs. The man had dropped his shopping basket and was holding his hands up awkwardly, not knowing if he should pull the child off of him or not. He looked up to Hanae and gave her a sheepish look.

“Sorry, he just, uh, kind of grabbed me-,”

“Why did you go?! I sad! I have books read!” Genji said to him while holding the other man’s pants and shaking the fabric. Jesse smiled at the child and shrugged.

“Sorry, kiddo. I was mighty busy. Off saving the world and all.”

“You come again? Like, tomorrow? Come tomorrow!” Genji said as he bounced up and down. Jesse looked up at Hanae and gave an awkward smile.

“Sorry, big guy,” He said, looking back at Genji, “But I can’t. I have a lot of things to do.”

“But Jesse-kun….” Genji whined. Jesse chuckled and went to pat Genji on the hand before he thought better of it and put his hand in his pocket.

“Sorry, kiddo. That’s just how things are. Now, you go on back to yur sister. You two have shoppin’ to do.” Jesse said. Genji looked back at his sister.

“Onee-san. Please.” He whined. Hanae sighed and stepped closer.

“Genji, Mr. McCree is very busy-,”

Sister, please!” Genji said in their mother tongue.

Genji, don’t be difficult.” She said in Japanese. She sighed again and looked up at the taller man, “I’m sorry. Genji isn’t normally so…he doesn’t hug people this often.”

“It’s ok.” Jesse chuckled. And then a silence fell between them. Some American 80’s song played awkwardly in the background as she looked the man over. Genji looked up between them, not knowing if he should speak of not. Finally, Hanae spoke.

“Thank you,” She said, looking off to the display of boxed cakes to her left, “For respecting what I said. I expected you to come back and get angry with me.”

“Naw, I wouldn’t do that. I know yur just protectin’ yur brother. I’d probably feel the same if some random guy was hangin’ out with my brother or sister.” He said, giving a shrug.

“Nevertheless, thank you. I feel as if I have…misjudged your character,” She said. A small idea popped into her head, but she immediately disregarded it. Inviting him to dinner would be a good way to apologize and determine what he was like. Perhaps he could help distract Genji while she was busy working (and it would be nice for Genji to focus on someone else for a change). But, she couldn’t invite him to dinner. She didn’t have any money to go out to eat, and she couldn’t invite him to their apartment (since that would only humiliate her). She stood for a moment thinking before she finally spoke. “Perhaps we could get coffee, and…get to know one another.” Jesse looked surprised before he furrowed his brows in confusion.

“Uh, you sure? You don’t have to.”

“Please,” She said, waving her free hand, “I insist.”

“Uh, ok. And by gettin’ coffee to get to know each other, yah mean gettin’ coffee to know each other, right? Like, not gettin’ coffee to learn more ‘bout each other, right?” He said with a confused expression. Hanae mirrored his confused look.

“What? You just said the same thing twice.”

“Well now, there’s two people gettin’ to know each other to know each other, like, work and family. And then there’s two people gettin’ to know each other like, how do you feel ‘bout morals and recyclin’.” Jesse said, trailing off as he looked to her. “I just want to know you don’t mean you wana’ know how I feel ‘bout recyclin’.” She tilted her head.

It was like he was speaking a totally different language.

“I mean the three of us can go to a coffee shop and drink our choice of beverages. I don’t see how that can mean anything else.” She said, giving him an odd look. Maybe getting to know him better was a bad idea. She forgot he was an idiot.

Jesse laughed and nodded his head.

“Ok, good. That’s what I meant.”

“Ok…when are you free? I don’t work on Wednesdays, so that would be a good day for me.” She said.

“Yeah, I’m free Wednesday around 3:00.”

“Good. We will meet you at the coffee shop by my work at 3:00 on Wednesday.” Hanae said curtly. She then held her hand out to Genji, “Come Genji, we’re going home now.”

“But…Jesse.” He said, looking back at the man.

“Don’t worry, bud. I’ll see you Wednesday.” He said with a smile. Genji frowned and reluctantly let go.

“But that’s Wednesday.” He muttered sadly. Hanae reached down and grabbed his hand before nodding to Jesse.

“Thank you, Mr. McCree. I will see you then.”

“Uh, yeah. See you then.” He said, a little stunned. And with that Hanae booked it to the cash line, her heart and head pounding. Alright. That was enough forced interaction for one day.

 

 

Wednesday had finally come, and Hanae was ready to force herself to interact with Genji’s annoying, horribly spoken, man friend. Her fingers tapped on her thighs as she listened to the chattering on the bus. This would be fine. Coffee was fine. She and Genji would talk to Jesse, maybe for half an hour (or, god forbid, an hour) and then go back home. And then…she would probably see him at the market, but she wouldn’t bother him. And he wouldn’t bother her. She would let him help Genji with English (since it seemed to be something he was passionate about) and she would interact with him as little as possible. That way, Genji would be happy and occupied, Jesse wouldn’t grate on her nerves, and she could do her damn job for once.

They rounded the corner to her work and Hanae pushed the ‘stop’ button.

She wanted to know more about McCree, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be close to him. They would become acquaintances, interact when necessary, and ignore each other the rest of the time.

Just the way Hanae liked it.

When the bus stopped, she led Genji off and walked towards the small coffee shop. It was a rather cute café that sold Japanese and American drinks. She had gone only once with her co-workers before deciding it was too out of her price range. That was why they wouldn’t get anything today, they would just have water.

McCree was already inside when they walked through the door. He was a bit of an eye sore amongst the older couples and students. He had a big, stupid grin on his face and had the same, stupid hat on his head. She felt somewhat embarrassed when he waved at them to come to his booth.

“Howdy! How’r ya’ll doin’?” He asked, his accent grating on Hanae’s ears.

“We’re fine, thank you.”

“Hi Jesse-kun!” Genji sang as he let go of his sister’s hand and hugged the man. Jesse chuckled and gave Genji a pat on the head.

“Good ta see you, partner.” Hanae sat down but was surprised when Genji tried to sit beside Jesse.

“Genji-,”

I want to sit with Jesse.” Genji said to his sister. Hanae tried to reach out for him, but Jesse waved her off.

“It’s fine.” He then turned to Genji, “I guess you wana’ sit with me, huh?”

“Yeah.” Genji said with a smile.

“Alright. But first, we gotta’ get somethin’ to drink.” Genji moved out of the way as Jesse moved out of the booth. “You want anythin’? My treat.”

“Water is fine, thank you.”

“Just water? You don’t want somethin’ a bit more excitin? You don’t gotta have coffee. They have lot’sa good tea-,”

“Water will do. Thank you, McCree.” Jesse shrugged and turned to Genji.

“What do you want, buckaroo?”

“Sweets!”

Genji, we’re not getting anything. Sit down-,”

But, I really want sweets-,”

“I can pay for him, no trouble,” Jesse said, interrupting in English.

“I can’t let you do that-,”

“Naw, I insist! Consider it a, thank you, for given me a second chance.” He smiled. Hanae eyed him suspiciously for a moment before giving in.

“Fine…but please, don’t buy him too many sweets. He won’t sleep if he eats too much.”

“Deal.” He said with a thumbs up. “Come on, Genji.” He said while holding out his hand. Genji took his hand and walked towards the counter, looking back and waving to his sister.

 

They came back with a medium coffee, a hot chocolate, a couple of pastries, and Genmaicha tea. Jesse placed the tea in front of Hanae before sitting down.

“…I asked for water.” She said blankly.

“Yeah, but, Genji said you’d like green tea instead, so I got’chya that.” He said while moving over for Genji. She looked down at the tea before giving Jesse a suspicious look. Jesse’s smile turned into a frown, “What? Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t drug it or nothin’.” Hanae quickly picked up the tea and held it to her mouth.

“I didn’t say anything.” She said before taking a delicate sip. Genji began eating the pastries as Jesse began the conversation.

“So, what do you want to know ‘bout me?” He asked with a grin. Hanae gently put her tea down.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from New Mexico, down south; grew up in the desert. You?”

“I come from Japan.” She said simply. He waited a moment for her to continue. “It’s beside Korea.”

“Yeah…I know. How’d you end up here?”

“How did you end up here?”

“Oooh, don’t much like talkin’ bout yurself, do you?” Jesse picked up his coffee and took a sip, “I came here for work. I used to work for the government, then I quit and became a contractor,” He thumbed the rim of his coffee, “Did you come here for work? Family?”

“We came for personal reasons.” Hanae crossed her hands on the table, “What did you do for the government?”

“See, now, I get the feelin’ you don’t wana’ get to know each other as much as just get to know me,” Jesse said with a grin, “Cuz this’s feelin’ more like an interview than a conversation.”

“Call it what you will. I simply have many questions I’d like you to answer.” Jesse smirked as he leaned back.

“I didn’t know you were so interested in me.”

“I’m interested in every man who takes a personal interest in educating my brother.” She picked up her tea and took another sip, “Now, what did you do for the government?”

And so, they continued. Hanae asked questions, Jesse answered. Sometimes he would ask a few questions back, and sometimes she would respond, but overall she grilled him for as much information as was socially acceptable.

He grew up in New Mexico. His father died when he was young, and so he was raised by his single mother. When he was 13 he joined a gang and left his family. At 17 he was arrested for ‘criminal affairs’ and was given the option of working for the government or going to jail. He worked for the government until he was 25, then he left to begin a career as a contractor.

She also found out useless information, like the fact that he seemed to be obsessed with westerns and liked girls with ‘spunk’.

“And I gotta say, darlin’, you gotta lot of--,”

“If this is an attempt to flirt with me, I will break you,” She stared at him over her tea, “Physically and mentally.” Jesse held up his hands in defence.

“Alright. Good to know.”

Genji was surprisingly quiet throughout most of the conversation (interview). He sipped on his hot chocolate and chewed on the pastries, but he spent most of his time just staring at Jesse. Hanae figured it was the man’s strange appearance that mesmerised her brother. He was also, possibly, going deaf from listening to Jesse’s ear numbing accent.

Jesse was in the middle of explaining a time his friend got them lost in a coal mine when his phone dinged.

“One sec,” He said as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. He gawked for a moment before looking at her.

“Damn! We’ve been talkin’ for hours! I gotta’ go. I should’a left an hour ago.”

“What? But it’s only,” Hanae got a good look at his phone and saw the time. It was 6 o’clock. They had been talking for 3 hours.

3 HOURS.

“Sorry, but I gotta’ go.” He said before looking to Genji, “Sorry kiddo, but you gotta scoot. I need to get to work.” Genji frowned at his friend.

“Aw, Jesse-kun…”

“No can do kiddo. I gotta’ run. Now scootch.” He bumped Genji with his hip and Genji moved over and out of the booth. Jesse stood and looked at Hanae.

“Listen, it’s been fun. We should do this again.” She gawked at him before closing her mouth.

“But, all I did was ask you questions-,”

“And I like talkin’! Sides, ya’ll make me laugh. Yur a couple of characters, that’s for sure. Hey!” He said after snapping his fingers, “You should come over to my place. I’ll make you dinner and we can talk more.”

“What? But, we’ve spent enough time together-,”

“Yeah, and then I can grill you on yur life.” He chuckled. Hanae shook her head.

“That is very nice of you, McCree, but it’s not necess-,”

“I wana go! Go to Jesse-kun’s!” Genji piped up. Jesse smiled at the boy.

“Yeah, I’ll make you somethin’ good to eat, and then we can play some games.”

“Yeah!”

“No!” Jesse and Genji looked at Hanae. Her face flushed as she coughed into her hand, “No, that isn’t necessary. Thank you, McCree. You have done more than enough-,”

“But…Jesse-kun’s house!” Genji whined.

“No, Genji-,”

“Jess-e’s house. Jess-e’s house.” Jesse began to chant. Genji quickly mimicked the man and the two began bouncing slightly to their tune.

“No, Genji I’m not-“

“Jess-e’s house! Jess-e’s house!” They said, their chants getting louder. Hanae grit her teeth.

“McCree!”

“Jess-e’s house! Jess-,”

“Fine! Fine. We’ll come for dinner.” She snapped. Both Jesse and Genji threw their hands in the air and ‘yayed’ before Jesse chuckled at Genji.

“Alright, how ‘bout Friday? 6:30?” He asked Hanae. She sighed and leaned her elbows on the table.

“Fine.” She said flatly. He gave her a broad grin.

“Alrighty! See yah then!” He turned to Genji one last time, “See yah, buckaroo!”

“Bye, bukaloo!” Genji giggled. Jesse gave one final smile before swiftly leaving the café. Hanae slowly let her face fall into her hands. Everything was far worse than she had imagined.

Jesse wasn’t some pervert.

No. He was an insufferable child.

She groaned loudly as Genji sat across from her, still chanting quietly to himself.

Somehow, she would get through Friday. Somehow.

 

Friday came. Hanae couldn’t find anyone to give her a shift that evening, so she was forced to go with Genji to Jesse’s house. Unfortunately, the bus didn’t break down, so they got to the small apartment building on time. Even more unfortunately, she didn’t break her legs going up the stairs, so they arrived at his door quickly enough.

Jesse had answered the door with his ‘howdys’ and ‘ya’lls’ and other horrific English expressions.

It was awful. It was all awful.

When they finally put their coats and shoes away, Jesse led them into the kitchen (which was four steps from the front door)…….(it was a small apartment).

Hanae looked at the pot of…meat stew? She looked at the pot on the stove.

“It’s chilli.” Jesse said, as if reading her mind. She wrinkled her nose but maintained a neutral expression. Genji stood on his tip toes trying to see what was in the pot.

“It’s chilly? Like, cold?” He asked. Jesse chuckled.

“Naw, it’s the name of the food. Look,” Jesse put the wooden spoon on the counter and reached down. He picked Genji up and held him so he could look inside the pot. Genji grinned at the food.

“It’s weird! Why it have dirt?” Genji giggled. Jesse repositioned Genji so he could hold him better.

“Well, that’s ‘cuz dirt’s REAL good for you.”

“No!” Genji giggled.

“Yup! If it’s good enough for worms, it’s good enough for us! That’s what I always say!” Jesse tilted his head at Genji, “What? Don’t you want to be a worm?”

“NO!” Genji yelled and giggled as he hit Jesse in the chest.

“No?! But all this dirt is gonna go to waste!” Jesse said, as if offended by the boy. Genji broke into a giggling fit which made Jesse smile. Hanae came closer to investigate the pot.

“It’s…not actually dirt, is-,”

“No, it ain’t dirt!” Jesse said while giving Hanae an odd look, “I’m just jokin’ around. It’s just spices an’ beans an’ other stuff. You’ll like it. It’s my specialty.” He said. Hanae gave a small shrug and walked out of the tiny kitchen. There was a desk along the right wall, and a wooden table with two chairs on the far wall. It was a very small space. To her left was the living room, which then led back to the front entrance, creating a kind of circle in the apartment.

Jesse put Genji down and moved to the cupboard to get out some bowls.

“It’s ready when you are. Grab a seat.” Jesse called out. Hanae looked at the two chairs, and then at Jesse.

“There aren’t enough chairs.”

“I just figured we’d eat on the couch.” He said, poking his head around the corner. Hanae frowned, but Genji laughed and jumped onto the sofa.

“Yeah! Let’s eat! Eat here!” Genji yelled. Hanae quickly moved to her brother and shushed at him.

You’re making too much noise. Remember, we are guests.” She said. Genji stopped jumping and frowned. He gave Hanae a stubborn look, but she didn’t back down. After a moment she moved closer and loomed over him, her presence reminding him that this wasn’t a battle he wanted to get into. The boy gave a little whine before sitting down normally on the sofa. Hanae gave a small smile and sat down beside him. “Thank you, Genji.”

“Onee-san is no fun.” He said. Hanae chuckled under her breath and ruffled his hair. Genji swatted her hand away and whined again.

“Ok, here you go. Careful, it’s hot.” Jesse said as he came up to them with two bowls of chilli. Hanae looked down at the ‘chilli’. As if it wasn’t odd enough, Jesse had sprinkled shredded cheese over it. She planted a smile on her face and bowed her head.

“Thank you, McCree.”

“You know, you can just call me Jesse. I don’t mind.”

“No, that’s alright.” She said as Jesse made his way back to the kitchen.

“It’s just...no one calls me McCree but my old boss, so it’s a little,” Jesse came back into the room with his own chilli (which was smothered in cheese), “weird.”

“I understand, but in my culture, first names are reserved for people who are close to each other.” She said. Jesse sat down on the other side of the couch and gave a small nod.

“Well, if it makes you feel better-,”

“Thank you, Jesse!” Genji cried, his face already covered in sauce. Jesse laughed.

“No problem, partner.” He said. Hanae slowly took a spoonful of the food, blew on it, and hesitantly put it in her mouth. She cringed at the temperature, but it quickly became cool enough to chew. It was full of…different flavors. She wasn’t really used to this kind of food at all. It was spicy, and the texture was a little weird, but overall it was good. She gave a small nod towards Jesse.

“You like it?” He asked, his eyes bright.

“Yes. It’s alright.”

“Alright?! Aw, I deserve better than that! Come on, Ha- er- Shimizu. I bet you can think of a better word.” The man said. Hanae gave a soft chuckle.

“Adequate would also work.”

“See, now yur just yankin’ my chain-“

“What’s meat?” Genji asked, interrupting Jesse. The man turned his attention to the boy.

“You mean ‘the’ meat?”

“Yeah! The meat.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Jesse said, eating another spoonful, “It’s squirrel.” Genji laughed while Hanae almost chocked on her food.

“No, it isn’t!” Genji laughed as Jesse wagged his spoon at him.

“Sure is! I hunt ‘em and make ‘em into chilli!” Jesse said with a grin, “I lay peanuts on the patio, and when a squirrel comes up I GRAB IT-,” He made a snatching gesture with his hand, “And I THROW it in the pot of chilli!” He gestured wildly with his spoon, a bit of chilli flying off and hitting the ground. Genji screamed in laughter and almost knocked over his own bowl of food.

“N-NO! Y-You-,” But then Genji gave into a laughing fit. Jesse smiled and looked up to Hanae, who gave him a horrified expression. He immediately frowned.

“Is this ACTUALLY squirrel-,” Hanae began, but she was interrupted by Jesse.

“Darlin’, you gotta stop thinkin’ I’m tellin’ the truth. ‘Makes me a little offended you think I hunt wild squirrel on my balcony.” He said while furrowing his brow. Hanae felt her face flush. She was about to defend herself when Jesse held up a hand, “It’s fine. I know you still ain’t used to how we do things ‘round here. It’s just,” He put down his hand and softened his expression, “Our cultures aren’t so different, you know? Lot’s of things that’r weird in Japan are probably weird here too.” He smiled at her, but she only responded with a neutral expression. Genji interrupted them when he settled down and pulled on Jesse’s sleeve.

“Jesse.” He said.

“What’s up, kiddo?”’

“I really like your hamster soup.” Jesse stared at Genji for a moment before breaking out in laughter. Genji smiled as Jesse shook his head and continued to laugh.

“It- it ain’t, I said SQUIRREL Genji! Not- a hamster is-,” And then he broke into laughter once more. Hanae looked on, trying to understand this strange man, when her phone rang. She pulled it out of her pocket and frowned when she saw the caller ID.

“Can I use your balcony?” She asked quickly. Jesse nodded and motioned towards the sliding doors. Hanae answered the phone and quickly slipped outside, closing the door behind her. Jesse and Genji could hear her muffled Japanese from behind the doors.

 

Jesse finally calmed his laughter and gave Genji a grin.

“Well, I’m glad you like it. I’ll make it again for you sometime.” He said. Genji gave a bright, wide smile.

“Yeah!” Genji said before going back to shoveling the food in his mouth. Jesse smiled on at the boy. Genji was a good kid. A little hyper active…or, very hyper active. Jesse wondered how his sister was able to handle the boy. She didn’t seem to mention living with family, and she didn’t have a ring. Maybe she was living with a boyfriend? Or she had family in the city who was helping her out? Jesse looked out to the balcony, where Hanae seemed to be in a serious conversation. Since they met, he had felt something was going on with her and Genji. But he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He was pulled out of his thoughts when Genji tugged on his sleeve again.

“Yeah?” He asked as Genji presented to him his empty bowl.

“More, please.” He said. Jesse rose his eyebrows at the display.

“Already? And you want more? Sheesh, ‘never knew kids ate so much.” He said, taking Genji’s bowl and going back to the kitchen. He filled up the bowl with another scoop of chilli and sprinkled some more cheese on top before coming back, “I didn’t know yur body could hold so much food.” He said almost in awe. Genji happily took the bowl from Jesse and began to eat again. The American folded his arms. “Jeez, kid, when was the last time you ate?” He chuckled.

“Breakfast.” Genji replied. Jesse frowned slightly.

“What, yur sister forget to feed you lunch?”

“No,” Genji shook his head, “I don’t eat lunch.”

“Aw, kid, yah gotta’ eat lunch. You don’t get hungry?”

“Yeah, I get hungry!” Genji pouted, “But there’s no food.”

“You mean, no food that you like.” Jesse said with a smug expression.

“No! No food!” Genji hit his chilli with his spoon angrily, “In home, I had snacks. In America…no snacks. No lunch, no breakfast…” Genji’s pout soon turned into a sad expression, “I hate here. I don’t like America.” He said sadly. Jesse frowned, his brows furrowing as he tried to make sense of the situation.

“Genji,” He began, “Who do you live with?”

“Onee-san.”

“No one else?” He asked. Genji shook his head. “What about your family? Where is your family?” Genji left his spoon in his chilli and held onto the bowl, “Are they back in Japan?” Jesse asked, but Genji just gripped his bowl, his eyes beginning to shine with tears. “Do you know-,”

“I- I…no t-talk.” Genji hiccupped, a tear rolling down his face. Jesse reached out to pat Genji’s back. But as soon as he touched him Genji broke down and began to cry.

“Aw, kiddo, I’m sorry-,” Jesse said before Genji began to wail. Jesse quickly put his bowl and Genji’s on the ground and then scooped the boy up in his arms. He rocked the boy gently and cooed to him as Genji cried. Hanae raced in from the balcony and was immediately in front of Jesse.

“What’s wrong?!” She asked, but Jesse just gave her a confused expression. She reached out to grab Genji, but the boy swatted her hand away and continued to cry. Hanae frowned and tried again but was only met with the same result. So, she got on her knees and quietly said something to him in Japanese. Jesse watched on as Genji cried out his response. Hanae furrowed her brows and said something else, her tone slightly strained. Genji shook his head and clung to Jesse’s shirt. She said something firmly and reached out to him, but Genji suddenly turned to her and screamed something in her face. Hanae gave a look as if he had struck her. Genji then turned back to Jesse and continued to cry into his arms. Jesse looked between the two, not knowing what to do in the uncomfortable situation. Hanae slowly stood, then walked into the kitchen. Jesse watched on and listened, but all he could hear were Genji’s muffled cries in his shirt. He waited, but Hanae stayed beyond his sight. So, he did what he could and went back to comforting Genji. He rocked him in his arms and spoke softly to him. He tried singing little songs to calm the boy down. But Genji was inconsolable. So, Jesse just had to wait and let the boy cry until he tired himself out.

There was a clock on the wall that let Jesse know the time. Fifteen minutes went by, and then half an hour. Hanae stayed in the kitchen and out of Jesse’s sight, doing who knows what. Jesse continued to wait. After forty-five minutes, Genji had fallen asleep. Jesse let out a sigh as he listened to the silence of his apartment. He wondered if he should check on Hanae, but he couldn’t risk waking Genji. So, he continued to wait. Five minutes later, Hanae emerged from the kitchen. She looked calm, but Jesse could tell from the slight red around her eyes that she had been crying. She took in a breath, then spoke.

“I’m sorry about this.”

“It’s fine.” He said quietly.

“It’s really not,” She responded before coming up to him, “We have been terrible guests.”

“You’re not the worst guests I’ve ever had.” He said while trying to smile. Hanae let a smile appear and disappear from her face.

“We should go.”

“You don’t have to-,”

“We must. I have work tomorrow.” She said as she reached out for Genji. Jesse looked down at the boy before giving a sigh and handing him over to Hanae. He stood and followed her to the front door.

“You should come over again.” He said as she slipped her feet into her shoes. She looked to him and looked away again.

“You’ve done enough.”

“No, really. I like having you two over.” She looked back at him.

“We ate your food and then my brother proceeded to cry for an hour. I don’t see how that’s good company-,” She said, looking away.

“No, no it’s fine! Really, I love cookin’ and-,”

“We’ll see, McCree.” She said with a sigh. As she put her hand on the door knob Jesse quickly grabbed the door. She looked at him with a tired expression, “Please, McCree, I have-,”

“But you didn’t eat yur dinner! At least let me pack it up-,”

“McCree…”

“Or take some for Genji. He liked it-,”

“McCree.” She said firmly. Jesse stopped and looked at her sad and exhausted face. “I,” Her voice cracked for a moment, so she stopped and held her breath. After a few seconds she tried again, “I just want to go home.” She said, visibly fighting back emotions. Jesse slumped slightly but let go of the door. He took a step back as she opened the door and walked through the doorway.

“Hanae- uh- Shimizu,” He said. She turned to him and gave a soft sigh, “If you ever need anythin’, really, anythin’, just let me know. We’re friends…kinda. And…I want to help.” He said, his voice trailing off. Hanae gave a sad smile and bowed her head.

“Goodnight McCree.” And with that, she turned around and left. Her purse around her shoulder and her exhausted brother in her arms. Jesse watched her leave until she was out of sight before he closed the door. He sighed and leaned his forehead against the cool wood. And he tried not to think about her.

Chapter Text

After the ‘incident’, Hanae didn’t see Jesse for four days. He didn’t show up at her work like he normally did, and she didn’t see him fixing anything in the back rooms. Genji was pretty upset about the whole thing, and she worried that Jesse was turned off by Genji’s outburst. So, naturally, she was surprised when someone knocked on her door at 7pm and it turned out to be Jesse.

“Howdy!” He said brightly while flashing a smile. Hanae swore under her breath and closed the door halfway. She didn’t want him to see their pathetic little apartment. She didn’t want anyone to see it.

“Jesse, what are you doing here?!” She hissed, tired and frustrated from a long day of work (and generally not liking surprises).

“Hey Shimizu. Well, it’s just the darndest’ thing,” He said, not noticing her angry tone, “I was grocery shoppin’, and I bought too much stuff! See, I’m still not used to livin’ alone, so I usually buy too much food. I just aint’ used to cookin’ for one.” He lifted some of the grocery bags in his hands, “So, anyway, I was thinkin’, instead of just returnin’ it, I should give it to someone. And you and Genji live close by, so I thought, why not ask you?” He continued to give her a bright smile. She narrowed her eyes.

“How do you know where I live?”

“Hana told me.” He said. Hanae looked at Jesse, then at the food, then back at Jesse. Her mouth formed into a thin line.

“No, thank you.” She said. Jesse’s face immediately fell.

“Wh-No, thank you?”

“Yes. We have enough food. But thank you for thinking of us.” She said politely. Jesse lowered his arms and gave her a confused expression.

“But, uh, I thought…well, everyone likes free food.”

“It is very kind of you, but we are not in need of ‘free food’.” She said, a slight edge to her voice. Jesse put the grocery bags on the floor.

“It’s not- just, at least take a bag,” He said, looking at the food and then up at her, “I literally bought too much. I ain’t jokin’.”

“We’re fine.”

“But I thought-,”

“You thought wrong.” She growled. Jesse furrowed his brows.

“Listen, Shimizu, I’m just tryin’ to help-,” He said. Instantly, Hanae moved out of her apartment, shut the door behind her, and leaned into the man.

“We do not need your handouts, Jesse McCree.” She snapped. Jesse gave a slight glare.

“They ain’t handouts-,”

“Then what is this?” She hissed, motioning towards the groceries. Jesse crossed his arms.

“It’s help from a friend. Or, what, we aren’t friends? ‘cuz I thought, what with you two eatin’ at my house, and me pretty much teaching your brother English and Math, that we were friends.”  Hanae hissed out some air and turned her face from him.

“We…are somewhat friends-,”

“Then let me help you.” He said in a low voice. Hanae snapped her attention back at him.

“I don’t need-,”

“So, what?” Jesse asked, motioning at her apartment, “You want yur brother to go hungry?”

“No!”

“Then take the food!”

“No!” She spat. Jesse pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Why are you so stubborn,” He looked back at her, “If you’d just put yur pride aside-,” They were both interrupted when the door suddenly opened. Genji looked at them before bursting into a big smile.

“Jesse!” He yelled. And just like that, Jesse McCree was all smiles again.

“Hey partner! How’s my favourite little buckaroo?” He asked, kneeling down and opening his arms. Genji giggled and ran into Jesse’s arms and gave him a big hug.

“Good!” The boy sang. He pulled away from the man and looked at the groceries. “Why you have many food?” He asked. Jesse looked at Genji for a moment, then looked up at Hanae. And he gave her a look. A look that told her it was her decision what was going to happen. Hanae crossed her arms and tapped her bicep with her fingers. After a moment she spoke.

Jesse bought too much food, so he’s giving some to us as a treat-,”

“YAY!” Genji screamed before giving Jesse another hug. He gave him a big squeeze before pulling back slightly, “Good too many foods!” He smiled. Jesse smiled back.

“Glad to hear it.” Jesse gave Genji one last hug before he stood up. He motioned at the bags to his left, “Those are for you. Let me know if you don’t like anythin’, or if you want something’ else-,”

“You’re implying this will be a regular thing? You giving us ‘free food’?” Hanae asked, her arms still crossed. Jesse looked her straight in the eyes.

“Only if you-, no, wait,” He corrected himself before looking at Genji, “Only if he wants it to be.” The man looked back at the woman, “If you want to go hungry? Fine. Have it your way. But don’t drag him into whatever pride issues you got goin’ on.” Hanae frowned at him as he gave a thumbs up to Genji. “I’ll see you later, ok?”

“Ok! See you later, Jesse!” Genji chirped. McCree picked up his own grocery bags and began to walk down the hall, but he stopped and turned back to them.

“I’ll see you soon, Shimizu.” He called out. Hanae gave a sigh and looked away.

“Yes, McCree. I suppose we’ll see each other soon.” Jesse gave a nod and then strode off with his half of the groceries. Hanae watched him leave. She didn’t understand McCree. She didn’t like that he was helping them. If life had taught her anything, it was that there was no such thing as ‘free favors’. If someone gave you something, they wanted something back.

She just didn’t know what he wanted back.

 “There’s so much! Look! Panda snacks!” Genji said happily while digging through the bags. Hanae gave him a soft smile and crouched down.

Alright. Let’s bring these inside and put them away. Then, we’ll plan something nice for dinner.”

“OK!” Genji yelled. And as Hanae picked up the bags and brought them inside, she tried to ignore the conflicting feelings in her gut.

 

 

To Hanae’s horror, it had become a regular thing- Jesse bringing groceries. She told him they had enough, or that he shouldn’t buy so much, but she couldn’t bring herself to flat out tell him to stop coming. She couldn’t after seeing her brother so happy about it. So, it became a regular occurrence in their lives. On Tuesdays, at around 7pm, Jesse would knock on their door and drop off some groceries. At first it was ingredients Hanae wasn’t used to, like Mexican spices and American name brands. But after two weeks, someone must have spoken to him, because he began bringing familiar Japanese ingredients (which helped, somewhat. Except for the fact that Hanae had never learned to cook, so that in itself was a barrier). By the fifth week, Jesse was bringing food he didn’t know or recognize.

Like usual, a knock came at the door. Hanae looked up from her book and sighed.

“Genji-,” She began, but her brother had already raced to the door and opened it.

“Jesse!”

“Hey, kiddo! How are you?” The man asked.

“Good.” Genji sang.

“Great. Well, I got yur food here.” He said, “Do you want me to bring it in?” He asked through the doorway. Hanae frowned and got up. He asked that every single time. And every time she had told him he wasn’t allowed inside.

“It’s fine, Jesse,” She said with a sigh, “I’ll bring them in.”

“You know, sugar, I’m not tryin’ to invite myself in. I just wana’ help-,”

“And a great help you are, McCree.” Hanae said as she came up to the half open door, “And I thought I told you not to refer to me in cute nick names.” She said. Jesse chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Sorry. No disrespect. ‘ts just a habit.”

“Well, please try to remember.” She said. She opened the door a little more and began to pick up the groceries and place them in her apartment. Jesse watched as she did so, but he didn’t speak. Which was strange because normally she couldn’t get him to shut up.

After she brought the last bag in she looked up to the man.

“Thank you, McCree.”

“No problem!” He beamed. Hanae grabbed the door and looked down at Genji.

“Say goodbye, Genji.”

“Bye Genji.” Genji waved. Hanae rolled her eyes slightly.

“Goodbye, McCree.” She said. And she was about to close the door when he grabbed it and held it a little open. Hanae immediately glared at him.

“Uh- sorry,” He said (while still holding the door), “I was just wonderin’ if you two wanted to do somethin’ this weekend.” He began. Hanae continued to glare at him.

“Like what?”

“Like- ok, first, you gotta stop glarin’ at me like that. I ain’t askin’ you for blood,” He said, returning her firm look. Hanae let out a breath and softened her expression. Jesse gave a slight smile and continued, “So, I was thinkin’ we could go-,”

“No.” Hanae said. Jesse gawked at her before responding.

“You didn’t even let me finish!”

“We’re busy.” She said curtly.

“No, we’re not.” Genji corrected. Hanae shushed her brother.

“So, I was thinkin’,” Jesse pressed on, “That we could go to the zoo.” Hanae glared again, but her brother let out a scream and wiggled through the doorway out into the hallway.

“The zoo?! Really?!” Genji asked. Jesse laughed and nodded to the boy.

“Sure thing! They’ve got all sort’sa animals! They’ve got zebras and snakes, and little monkeys too!” Jesse said, crouching down and tickling Genji at the last part. Genji giggled and grabbed Jesse’s shirt.

“I wana’ go!” He said before turning to his sister. “I wana’ go!!”

“No, Genji, we don’t have the money-,”

“Naw, it’s fine. I’ll pay!” Jesse said happily. Hanae gave him a hard look.

“No. You have been too kind already.” She gave an angry sigh and grabbed her arm, “I already need to pay you back for the food.”

“Aw, naw! You don’t gotta’ pay me back! Free is free, honey bee.” He said before catching himself, “Uh- Shimizu.”

“I want to GO!” Genji screamed. Hanae crossed her arms.

“No, Genji! It’s too much-,” She began, but she was interrupted when Genji got on his knees and clasped his hands together.

Please! Please, please, please!” He begged.

No! Genji-,” She tried to reason. Genji gave her a shocked expression.

But I said please!!!” He cried. Hanae shushed her brother again. He was being too loud, and she didn’t need the neighbours complaining again.

“Genji-,”

“Shimizu, it’ll be fine, I promise.” Jesse said as he stood up, “Cross my heart, hope to die.” He said while tracing an X over his heart. Hanae bit her lip and looked at her pleading brother. Then at the enthusiastic American. After a moment of hesitation, she sighed, put her face in her hands, and spoke.

“Fine.” She moaned. Genji squealed with delight and hugged his sister.

“THANK YOU!” He screamed. She shushed him for a third time and took her head out of her hands to look at Jesse.

“What day and what time?” She asked with a tired voice. Jesse grinned at her.

“Saturday, 8 o’clock. It’ll be a breeze, promise!” He said, snapping his fingers. Hanae rubbed her face.

“Ok. Fine. Please, just…just go.” She sighed while leading Genji back inside.

“Alright!” He looked to Genji and gave him a thumbs up, “See you then, kiddo!”

“SEE YOU THEN!” Genji screamed again. And then Hanae shut the door in Jesse’s face.

 

 

Jesse had come at exactly 8 o’clock. Like always, he was wearing his usual attire of jeans, a casual jacket, and his hat. Genji had opened the door in excitement and quickly went into the hallway. Hanae came slowly behind him, her eyes slightly unfocused and her head pounding.

“Oh, darlin’, did you get much sleep last night?” Jesse asked as she exited her apartment and locked the door.

“It’s fine.” She mumbled. Jesse chuckled.

“You don’t have to worry yur pretty little head over me. I told you this would be easier than findin’ a pig in mud.” He said. Hanae just stared ahead, not processing his weird expressions. In all honesty, she was incredibly tired. She had worked two double shifts to get the day off and hadn’t slept well that night. Rent was due, and she had gotten her water bill the day before. It was a lot to think about. Not to mention the twisting knot in her stomach that kept repeating she had to pay Jesse back.

It kept nagging at her as they made their way out of the apartment and over to Jesse’s car. She tried not to stumble over her own feet. She was just so horribly tired.

She was so tired that she didn’t hear whatever Jesse was talking about, and she was so tired that she didn’t make any comments about his old truck. She was so tired that, as soon as she sat down, she had fallen asleep and slept the entire way to the zoo. She hadn’t realized she had fallen asleep until Genji had gently shaken her shoulder.

“Onee-san, we’re here.” He whispered. Hanae blinked slowly and looked around.

“Oh…oh, right.” She mumbled while sitting up in her seat. She stretched and tried to rub out the kink out of her neck.

“Yah know, darlin’, you can sleep in the car if you want.” Jesse said calmly while reaching out for her shoulder. She pulled away from his touch and shook her head.

“No, no it’s fine.” She said. She unbuckled her seat belt and got out of the car, not wanting to dwell on the subject. Jesse and Genji followed behind her and soon they were at the front gates. Jesse had paid for all their tickets (shrugging off her suggestion that she at least pay for herself) and they went inside. Genji and Jesse mostly talked to each other, which suited Hanae just fine. She was just…exhausted. They went to see the lions and antelopes. They saw the big snakes and colourful birds. Hanae went with the motions. She tried not to look at Jesse. Every time she saw him she just saw money. The money she owed. And her father’s voice saying nothing’s for free.

About two hours later, they had made their way into a large, humid building. Hanae sat down on a bench outside the spider exhibit. Genji was looking in awe at a wolf spider when Jesse sat down beside her.

“You ok, darl-,” He stopped himself, “Shimizu? You seem real tired.” He said softly.

“I am.” She sighed. “But, it’s fine.”

“You keep sayin’ that, but I don’t think it’s fine.” He said. She rubbed her face and tried to relax. She tried to calm the knots in her stomach. She tried to ease her anxiety. But when she felt his fingers touch hers she yanked her hand away from his and the knots in her stomach snapped. He pulled his hand away.

“Sorry, I just thought-,”

“Don’t touch me.” She said quickly, giving him a hard look. But by the expression on his face, she could tell that her reaction had wounded him, so she gave a small sigh and apologized. “I’m sorry.”

“No! No it’s- I understand. Hana told me touching is real weird in Japan. I should’a remembered.” He said. A silence fell between them. She covered her eyes with her hand, and so didn’t notice Jesse looking at her and waiting for her to say something. She just remained silent, trying not to think, but to just breath. After a moment, she heard keys. She withdrew her hand from her eyes and looked down to see Jesse giving her his keys. She looked at him, confused. “Why don’t’cha go sleep in the car? You don’t gotta’ be here. I’ll take Genj around a bit more, then we’ll come back.” He continued to hold out his keys, so she took them from him. “I’m sorry, Shimizu. I should’a known you were too tired. I know I can be a might…pushy.” He said gently. She rubbed her face. There was another silence before she took in a breath and spoke.

“Thank you, McCree. I think I’ll go sleep.” She said simply. She then stood and began to walk away.

“Uh- I can walk you to-,” But he was interrupted by her shaking her head. She could hear him sigh as she continued to walk away. She also heard Genji asking Jesse where she was going. She knew Genji would be ok. She trusted Jesse enough to be alone with Genji and take care of him.

But she didn’t trust Jesse much farther than that.

As soon as she got to the car, put the seat down and laid down, she was out. And she dreamed.

 

 

“Father! Father, look!” Hanae exclaimed as she came up to him. Her father looked up from his writing and smiled at her.

“What is it?”

“I have a new hairpin, look! Isn’t it pretty?” Hanae twirled around in an attempt to show it off. Her father let out a long breath and put his pen down.

“It is very pretty. Who gave it to you?”

“A friend.” She smiled.

“I see.” He then motioned for her to come to him, so she did. He lifted her onto his lap and allowed her to get comfortable before speaking.

“Why did your friend give you a hairpin, Hanae?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged, “Because we’re friends.”

“I see.” He let out a small sigh, “Hanae, it seems I must teach you another lesson.” Hanae sat up tall and tried to make a serious expression. Lessons were always important. Especially if they were from father. “Nothing in this life is free, Hanae. When people give you something, they want something back.” Hanae pouted.

“Like what?”

“Like gifts or…friendship or other things. But when someone gives you something, they want something in return.” Hanae nodded slowly, trying to understand. “So, your friend gave you this pin. What do you think they want back?”

“A…a different hairpin?” She asked hesitantly, always afraid to give the wrong answer. Her father nodded slightly.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps she wants you to be friends.” Hanae smiled, “But, that is not always a good thing, my dear.” Hanae pouted again.

“But why? Friends are good.”

“Yes. But some people want to be friends so they can…take advantage of others. Do you know what that means?” Hanae shook her head, “It means they want to take what you have, and hurt you. So, maybe your friend gave you this hairpin to be friends,” He said, touching the pin on her head, “Or, perhaps they want to take something from you and hurt you.” Hanae gasped.

“But…how do I know which one?”

“It is always best to assume the worst, my dear. If you think that this friend actually wants to hurt you, and they don’t, then you will be safe. But if you think they want to be friends and then they hurt you…well…that would be very bad, wouldn’t it.” Hanae nodded, “So, it’s best to be cautious. Remember Hanae, you cannot trust outsiders. Our family is very special, and outsiders want to take what we have.” Hanae nodded quickly, “You should trust me, and your mother. And if you’re ever unsure, just ask us, and we will show you the right way.” Hanae’s lip quivered as she felt her eyes water.

“But…what if my friend hurts me?” Her father immediately pulled her into a hug.

“I would never let that happen, my dear. No one will hurt you.”

Hanae held onto her father and soaked in his warmth and safety. She breathed in his familiar scent of ink and cologne. As long as he was here, she would be safe. As long as he was around, nothing would harm her.

 

 

Hanae awoke to someone shaking her. She blinked and took in the sun that pooled in through the windows. Where was she again? Who was shaking her? Was it father?

 “Onee-san. Time to wake up.” Genji sang. Hanae moaned and slowly blinked her eyes open. They were in their apartment parking lot. That’s right. Mother and father were gone. She was in America with Genji. And…she was in a car. Why were they in a car? Who’s car? Oh, Jesse’s car. She turned to him and hardly took in his concerned expression. She yawned and slowly unbuckled herself.

“Thank you, McCree.” She mumbled.

“Hey.” He said, a little too loudly, and she looked up at him. “I’ll help you get to yur apartment.”

“No, I-,”

“Don’t fight me on this, Shimizu.” He said firmly. She sighed, too tired to argue. So, she let him get out and open her door, but she didn’t let him hold her up. Her head was fuzzy, and her movements were sluggish. When they finally got up to the eighth floor, she stumbled down the hallway and practically fell against the wall beside her door. She tried three times to put her key in the lock before Jesse gently pulled the key out of her hand and unlocked the door. She blinked slowly and looked at him.

“Thanks.” She mumbled again.

“Darlin’, I’m real worried about’cha.” He said, motioning for Genji to go inside. She shrugged and moved to go inside, but he softly grabbed her shoulder and kept her in place. He was surprised when she didn’t fight back. “I think you need to take tomorrow off, sugar.” Hanae opened her mouth to speak, but only a sigh came out. She could feel herself shutting down on the spot. Jesse waited for her to respond before speaking again. “Take tomorrow off. If yur worried about money, I can-,”

“Stop, just…just stop.” She sighed. She leaned against the wall and out of his touch, “I’m tired of your handouts, McCree. I’m tired of…,” She motioned at the two of them, “This. It’s too much-,”

“I told you, I ain’t givin’ handouts-,” He began, but she held up her one hand and covered her eyes with the other.

“I’m too tired to fight you, Jesse.” She sighed again. His lips twitched in a smile, but it immediately fell away. He took a breath and came closer.

“Hanae, I ain’t doin’ this out of pity. It’s cause we’re friends-,”

“You keep saying that,” She said, with just a touch of energy in her voice, “But what do you want? Everyone wants something.”

“I don’t want nothin’-“

“Yes you-,”

“No, I don’t.” He said firmly. Hanae clenched her teeth. She took a few steadying breaths. And she decided she was done with this. If he wanted to play this game, fine. She would play this stupid game and get it over with.

“…Let’s have dinner at your house. On Wednesday.” She said bluntly. Jesse immediately stepped back from her.

“…what?”

“We’re having dinner.” She said, pulling her hand away and facing him dead on. With her last bit of energy, she would get through this. She would set things straight with him and move on with her life.

“Uh…ok. That’s a little out’ta left field-,” He began.

“Yes, or no?” She asked. He gave her a weird look.

“Yes, but uh, you sure yur doin’ alright? Yur actin’ mighty strange-,”

“Ok. 6:30. I’ll see you then.” She said, pushing herself off the wall and through her front door.

“Uh- ok but- you sure ‘bout this? We don’t have’to-,” But, like usual, she shut the door in his face.

Once inside, she moved to the small living area by the window. Genji seemed to be playing with some new toy, but Hanae couldn’t bring herself to look. She had used the last bit of energy she had on Jesse. So, she walked to the corner of the room and laid down. She could hear Genji asking her what was wrong, but it was too late. Her eyes fluttered shut and her body relaxed, her brother’s concerned voice ringing in her ears.

 

She had slept until the next afternoon. She had missed work without meaning to, so she had to call her boss and explain why she didn’t show. It was rough. She needed the job. She couldn’t get another one. Her boss was understandably angry, but his father was there and reasoned with him that he had been working her too hard. Hanae thanked them for understanding, but she felt like a failure. She had also failed her little brother. When she had awoken he had broken out into tears and cried into her arms, explaining that he thought she wouldn’t wake up.

Like their parents.

 It had taken a long time to console him. She had spent the rest of the day trying to make it up to him. They went to the park and they had a nice meal. And Hanae tried not to think too much about Jesse and money and favors.

When Genji had fallen asleep, she sat on the floor and went over her plan. She tried to remember the things her mother and father had taught her. If she had only followed their ways, she wouldn’t be in this situation. She would be the head of her family. She would have ultimate power and would be able to have anything she wanted. She wouldn’t be cold and alone. She wouldn’t owe anyone anything. But she had failed them, as she always did, and so she had to clean up her own mess. So, she laid out her plan. She weaved her web around Jesse McCree. She planned her words and actions, and she detailed everything she needed to do to gain victory.

She went to work the next day. Genji had played rather quietly in his usual booth, and Jesse came to help Genji with math. He had tried to speak to her on several occasions, but she kept shutting him down. The thought of Wednesday already bothered her. She didn’t need anymore reminders.

That Tuesday night, he had come with groceries like usual. And once again, he tried to discuss things with her. But she just thanked him, told him she’d see him tomorrow, and closed the door.

Are you mad at Jesse?” Genji had asked over dinner.

No, Genji.”

He said he thinks you’re mad at him.”

Jesse and I just have adult things to talk about, that’s all.” She said. Genji hummed but dropped the subject.

When she awoke on Wednesday, she felt a little sick. But it was nothing she couldn’t handle. She had managed to pay the water bill and rent. Now there was only one last major issue to deal with.

She spent the day with Genji, helping him with English and Japanese. As the day wore on, she began to feel uneasy about her plan. As she stood in front of the bathroom mirror that evening, she tried to reason with the tension in her gut. Everything was fine. It would all go according to plan. Her mother had successfully manipulated a multitude of men. And her mother had taught her everything she knew. Back in Japan, Hanae had grown up with people wrapped around her finger. She was a Shimada. Everyone eventually bent to her will. And Jesse would too.

She reminded herself that Jesse wasn’t really her friend. He was helpful, sure, but he was only helpful because he wanted something from her. She didn’t have friends, not really. And it was better that way. It was a lot easier to justify breaking a deceitful man than an honest friend.

Her stomach flipped as she drew the (borrowed) eyeliner across her eyelid. She tried not to look so angry. This was the first time she wore second hand clothes, and it honestly bothered her. Growing up with the ability to afford any brand of clothing had certainly warped any ideas she had about used clothing. She tried to ignore how the dress didn’t fit as perfectly as it should (as it would if she had bought it for herself). She let out a long breath. She would deal with it. She would make the most of the cheap, borrowed make up and the cheap, borrowed dress. She was nothing if not adaptable.

 

She arrived at Jesse’s apartment a little before 6:30pm. She restrained herself from crossing her arms and hugging her jacket from the cold. They were getting further into the fall season, and the temperature was dropping. Even the apartment hallway was cool.

After a moment, Jesse opened the door with a smile.

“He-eeeeeey……” He said, his voice trailing off. He looked her over and laughed awkwardly, “Were we supposed to get dressed up?” He asked, looking at her dress. She gave a smile and shook her head.

“No, I just thought it would be nice to wear something less casual.” She said. He gave a slightly awkward chuckle.

“Well, you look real nice.” He said while moving out of the way. She walked inside, but he didn’t immediately close the door. He looked out into the hallway, then back at Hanae. “Uh, where’s Genji?” He asked. She began taking off her shoes.

“A friend is baby sitting him.” She said simply, not looking up at him. Jesse looked at her, then at the hallway, then back at her before slowly closing the door.

“Oh…well, I kinda made dinner for three…” He said.

“It’s fine. I’ll take some home for him,” She said, standing at full height again, “If that’s alright with you.” She looked him up and down. He leaned slightly back and gave her a weird look.

“Uh, sure. Yeah,” He paused, as if waiting for her to say something, before continuing, “Anyway, the food’s almost done.” He said while walking past her, “You want anything to drink?”

“Water is fine.” She said, eyeing the refrigerator.

“You sure?” He asked, going to the refrigerator and pulling out a beer. She kept her face soft and nodded.

“Yes, thank you.” He shrugged and opened his beer before preparing a glass of water for her. She narrowed her eyes when he turned away. Was he trying to get her to let her guard down? It would make sense. She guessed that, without Genji, he would probably resort to his typical self. A self she hadn’t seen yet. She noted to keep her guard up. He was probably smarter than he let on.

When he turned back to her, she gave him a smile.

“Thank you.”

“No problem.” He then went to the stove and crouched down to look in the oven, “I’d give it a minute more.” He said to no one in particular. He then stood and smiled at her. “You had the day off, right? How was it? You and Genji do anythin’?”

“I helped him with English and we went to the park. The usual.” She sipped her water and glanced away.

“That’s nice. It’ll be good when he’s finally able to go to school.” Jesse sighed. Hanae continued to look off.

“Yes, it will.” She took another sip. Jesse still didn’t know the extent of their situation.

And she would keep it that way.

She had been warned enough about people like him. People who acted nice but showed their real colours later down the road. She could handle people who told her off and demanded things from her. At least she knew where they stood. It was the people who lied about it that she didn’t trust. That was why she had to be careful around Jesse McCree.

They were ‘friends’ to an extent, but she wasn’t about to let him continue doing her favors only for him to ask for the bill when she least expected it. Or when she couldn’t pay.

That was why she was here. She would negotiate a time of payment. When she could pay. With money. She clenched her jaw and watched him put on his oven mitts. She wasn’t going to let him continue to think she would give him anything else.

 

Jesse placed the roast on top of the oven and turned to speak to Hanae, but she had her back to him. She stood there for a moment before walking to the small table and sitting down. She wore a cool smile. But her eyes…something was wrong. As he got out the plates and put vegetables on them, he tried to reason out the situation. She was acting strange. Why was she suddenly being…nice to him? Maybe she had asked to come over because she was finally going to open up about something?

He wouldn’t mind. He would prefer it. At least then they could be honest about each other and know what was going on.

But everything was too…weird. Her dress was formal and her make up was just…

She was already a beautiful woman, but with that make up, it just emphasised her delicate yet strong features.

He frowned. He didn’t like the weird signals she was sending. When the roast had rested enough, he cut into it and gave them both a portion. He then brought their two plates to the small table.

“This here is my mama’s roast beef recipe.” He said, placing her plate in front of her, “I hope you don’t mind it a little bloody. I can cook it more if you want.”

“No, it looks wonderful. Thank you, Jesse.” She said, her lips curled, and her eyes fixed on him. He gave a little cough, then sat down with his own plate.

“Well, uh, enjoy.”

 

She waited for McCree to take a bite before she dared to eat her dinner. She had to make sure it was safe. They ate in relative silence. It seemed that they were both waiting for the other to speak. And whenever Jesse would look up at her, she would give a little, playful smile, and he would look back at his food. As she ate she grew more and more impatient. She didn’t like dragging things on or playing games. And she didn’t like his innocent act. So, after a while, she decided to bite the bullet and start.

“I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve been doing lately.” She began. Jesse opened his mouth to say something, but she rose her hand to silence him, “You have been of great help to Genji and I, and you must know I appreciate everything you have done.”

“Aw shucks, you don’t gotta say that. I‘m just doin’ what’s right.” He said while rubbing the back of his neck. She held back her anger at his comment.

“I’m sure you are.” She then downcast her eyes and pretended to give a worried sigh, “I just wonder how I will pay you back.”

“Aw, I already said, you don’t gotta’ pay me back.” He chuckled while shaking his head. She shook her own head.

“No, I must insist, Jesse. I was raised to return favors-,”

“Really, it’s fine.” He said again. This time, he laid his hand down on the table. She looked at it for a moment before humming and reaching out with her own hand.

“I just ask for a little time, Jesse.” She began, her fingers touching his. He jerked away for a moment, not expecting the touch, but then calmed when her fingers traced themselves over his hand. “When I get a better job, I will be more than happy to return the money. I can take you out to eat, or buy you something nice,” She slowly rolled over his hand and ran her fingers down his palm, “I promise, when I get a better job. I just need a little time.” She then fluttered her eyes and gave him a warm, soft smile. He gazed at their hands, as if mesmerised, before he suddenly pulled his hand away and laughed.

“What? Aw, naw, uh- really! It’s fine. You don’t gotta’ worry ‘bout gettin’ a nice job. It’s my pleasure. Helpin’ you and Genji. Really.” He rambled, his face flushed from their contact. Her smile fell slightly.

“So…you will not wait.” She asked slowly. He laughed again with nervous energy.

“No- its- I don’t want- it’s fine! Really! Honestly. It’s fine.” He said. His laughter died down into chuckles as she stared down at the table. For the briefest of moments, she gave a pained expression, but it was quickly replaced by a calm, cool one. She waited for him to stop laughing and put his hands back on the table. After he did, she looked into his eyes. He looked back at her, a smile still on his face from laughter, but it soon started to fall into a more serious expression. She gave a soft sigh before reaching to him with both hands. She took his large hand in her right while her left ran over his wrist and up his arm.

“Well, I-,” She was immediately interrupted when he yanked his hand out of hers and stood, his chair screeching against the floor. He held his wrist, as if she had burned him, and gave her a hard, serious expression.

“Ok, I don’t know what the hell is goin’ on, but you can go ahead and stop.” He said in a low tone. She looked up at him before looking away.

“There’s nothing-,”

“’Cuz yur sendin’ me a WHOLE lot of mixed signals, and I don’t know what to make of ‘em.” He interrupted. “Most of the time you act like you hardly tolerate me, which, ok, fine- but TODAY you show up all smiles and dressed to the nines and like- like-,” He then motioned at her, as if that explained everything, “And I don’t much like where this is goin’!”

“So, you don’t like me.” She said as more of a statement than a question. Jesse looked off.

“I didn’t say that.” He said a bit more softly. She looked at him, really looked at him, and when his eyes met hers again she stood from her chair and walked over to him. He looked shocked when she came into his personal space, reached up to him and-

She paused halfway. She gritted her teeth. She balled her hand into a fist, and then slammed her fist on the table. He jumped as she let out a deep, harsh sigh and sat down.

There was a long pause before she spoke.

“I can’t give you anything else.”

“…Ok?”

“No, I can’t-,” She gave a frustrated growl, “I can’t GIVE you anything else!”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“You know-,”

“No! I don’t! Yur talkin’ about what you can’t give- and I don’t even know what you mean! What can’t you give? What are we talkin’ about?!”

“The money Jesse!” She said as she motioned at him, “The money I owe you! I have to repay you-,”

“No! You don’t-,”

“I do!” She emphasized, “And I can only pay you in money! I can’t GIVE you anything else!”

“I-,” He squinted his eyes at her, twisted his head a little, then shook his head, “I-Alright, listen-, I don’t much LIKE what yur implyin’. ‘Cuz it sounds like yur implyin’ I’m someone I ain’t-,”

“I j-,”

“’Cuz I ain’t the kind of guy to take advantage of a lady, not to mention a friend. So, whatever it is yur implyin’, you can just go ahead and stop. SECOND of all,” He pointed at her, “I told you once, and I’ll tell you a MILLION times- I don’t WANT NOTHIN’ from you. There is nothin’ you HAVE that I WANT. Actually, no, that ain’t true,” He suddenly came up to her, “You know what I want? I want you to be HAPPY for once. I want you to stop bein’ all tired and pissed off all the time, and I want you to ENJOY life for a change. You know how you can repay me? Say thank you and mean it. And when I fall on hard times YOU can help ME. Ok? ‘Cuz that’s what friends DO. We HELP each other. And we’re friends, ain’t we?”

She nodded.

“Then we’re good. No more talk about payin’ back or money or WHATEVER, alright? We’re good. We’re even.” He shuffled over to her seat and plopped down, the chair squeaking under his sudden weight. He then tilted his head back and sighed. “I need somethin’ a whole lot stiffer than a beer when I’m with you, that’s for sure.”

Hanae took some steadying breaths. Her stomach untangled itself and she felt slightly light headed. She hadn’t expected this. She hadn’t planned for this outcome.

“…Thank you, Jesse.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“No, really,” He tilted his head forward and looked at her, “Thank you.” She said softly. He looked at her and took in her relaxed shoulders, and her soft expression, and he felt like he was actually seeing Hanae for the first time. He was silent for a moment before he suddenly broke out into laughter. Hanae jumped at the change in mood and watched as he threw his head back in laughter, then bent forward and covered his face with his hands, giving out an angry, frustrated moan. He dragged his hand down his face before looking back at her.

“Right.” Was all he said. She shifted uncomfortably.

“Should…I be concerned?”

“Nah, it’s nothin’.” He sat up and looked down at their (slightly warm) food. There was a long pause before he spoke, “Hey,” He said, turning back to her.

“Yes?”

“I got Findin’ Nemo on my laptop. What’s say you and I get Genji and watch it.”

“…What’s ‘nemo’?”

“No, see, it’s about this fish…you know what? Never mind, you’ll figure it out when we watch it.” He got up and tucked the chair in, “How ‘bout we pack up the food, wash the dishes, and blow dodge.” He said, giving her a smirk. She smiled back.

“Sure. I love blowing dodge.”

He let out a loud, curt laugh, and grabbed their plates.

“Alright. You wana’ clean or pack the food?”

“I’ll clean.” And with that, they quickly packed up their food (with extra for Genji) into Tupperware containers and quickly washed the dishes. It was…peaceful and actually pleasant.

It was 7:30 by the time they got to Song’s place.

“Hey!” The teen said as she opened the door, “How’s- oh man, oh- don’t tell me you had a date with JESSE.” She laughed. Hanae crossed her arms.

“It wasn’t a date. And I didn’t-,”

“She was freaking out when she called me.” Song said to Jesse, “Saying how I had to take care of Genji while she ‘took care of business’.” She then turned to Hanae, “Girl, I would have given you something better to wear if I knew you were going to his place. Jesse totally isn’t into that kind of dress. He’s more like-,”

“MUCH as I like talkin’ ‘bout ME,” He interrupted, “We’re here to pick up Genji.”

“Then what?”

“Then none of yur dang business, that’s what-,”

“Jesse-kun!” They collectively heard Genji cry from inside. There was the sound of little feet hitting the floor and suddenly Genji came out of the house.

“Hey kiddo!” Jesse laughed as he scooped Genji up and lifted him into the air. Hanae and Song watched before the teen turned to the woman.

“So, must have been a crummy date if you guys are here so early-,”

“It wasn’t a date, and it was FINE.”

“Guess you two ‘took care of business’, huh?” Song said with a wink.

“Yes, as in, actual business, not- stop winking!”

“Did that official business involve you two making out?”

“No! Shut up!” Hanae hissed. Song laughed as Jesse put Genji back on the ground.

“Alright, buckaroo, go put yur coat and shoes on. We’re gonna go watch a movie.”

“Yay! Movie!” Genji scurried back into the house to get his things. Song leaned against the doorway.

“Movie night, huh? Don’t try anything funny in the dark, Jesse.”

“Darlin’, I think any man who tries somethin’ funny on Hanae is crusin’ for a bruisin’.”

“Is that an insult?” They both looked at Hanae who gave them a confused expression.

“Don’t worry, Jesse can explain it to you,” There was a pause, “He can probably explain other stuff too.” Song said while wiggling her eyebrows. Jesse then proceeded to take of his hat and repeatably swat at the teen. Song laughed and slapped it away while Hanae watched on.

Finally, Genji came out with his coat and shoes on (and with his trusted plush dragon in his arms).

“Thank you, Song-chan!” Genji sang.

“I’ll see you later, Genji-kun.” She laughed. Genji waved frantically before Jesse scooped him up and flung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Genji squealed and laughed as Jesse and Hanae waved goodbye, “Have fun!” Hana called out. Jesse waved her off with his free hand and walked back to his car. After Genji was secure and Hanae was inside, he got in and drove off.

 

Genji was already getting sleepy when they came back to their apartment.

“You tired, kiddo?” Jesse asked as Hanae unlocked their apartment door. Genji shook his head. “You sure you don’t wana go to bed?” The boy shook his head again and squeezed the man’s hand.

“No…” He mumbled. Jesse chuckled as Hanae opened the door. She turned to him and he froze for a moment.

“Uh, I can just leave you guys the laptop-,”

“No, it’s ok. You can come in for a bit.”

“If it makes you uncomfortable-,”

“No, no…I’ve just…never had anyone over.” She looked off to the side for a moment before taking a breath and walking in, “It’s…very small.” She said as she switched on the light. Jesse stepped through the doorway.

She wasn’t kidding.

It was a bachelor apartment. To his right was a small kitchen, and to his left was a closet. There was a small amount of counterspace that disconnected the kitchen from the rest of the room. And the rest of the room was just…bare space. There weren’t any chairs. There was basically nothing. There was a small, black coffee table pushed to the side, and that was it. Not even a bed.

“Um, it’s just-,”

“I know…” She sighed as she closed the door.

“No! Just…where do you sleep?” He asked. Hanae moved past McCree and opened the closet. Their small amount of clothes sat neatly piled on some towels, and to the far left he could see they both only had 1 extra pair of shoes. Hanae pulled out a large futon. She walked to the clear space and set it up while Genji helped by taking out their two pillows. He then walked over to the bed and laid down, letting out a long yawn. Jesse rubbed his arm. “I see.” Was all he said. She gave a soft smile and came back to him.

“I didn’t want anyone to see what our apartment looked like because it’s so empty. Genji and I aren’t used to this. We come from…a very large home.” Jesse nodded. “But…we’re friends and,” She sighed, “I feel you would eventually see this place anyway. So, it’s best to ‘ripen the Band-Aid’, as they say.” He paused and slowly tilted his head.

“Pardon.”

“Ripen the Band-Aid.”

“You mean…rip off the Band-Aid?” He smirked.

“Is…” Her eyes widened slightly, “That makes so much more sense!” She looked back at him, “I thought it was such a stupid expression! Band-Aid’s don’t ripen! They’re not fruit!” Jesse chuckled and shook his head.

“Anyway, let’s say we watch this before Genji falls asleep.” He said while removing his coat and shoes. He handed Hanae the laptop and she brought it over to the bed. Jesse followed and they both sat down. She gave him back his laptop and he opened it up, but then his phone suddenly chimed. He pulled it out and began to reply when Hanae got a good look at the computer screen. It seemed that Jesse had been working with numbers when he last used the laptop. She stared at the document which held a list of estimated costs, purchases, income and expenses. She only needed to look at it for a second to know the numbers were off. When Jesse put his phone away, she spoke up.

“What is this?”

“What, this? Nothin’, just business stuff. I work on my own, so I gotta keep track of what I make and what I spend.”

“Do you…ever have trouble with it?”

“Actually, yeah,” He said while crossing his arms, “I don’t know much ‘bout ownin’ a business. Never went to business school or nothin’, so I’ve been workin’ on what others have told me. I’m sure I’m doin’ it right, but I keep losin’ money. It’s like…I don’t know where it goes.” He furrowed his brow, “It’s more complicated than I thought it’d be. And don’t even get me STARTED on taxes.” It took a moment before a small smile began to form on Hanae’s face.

“You know…I was often put in charge of my family’s finances. My father had me calculate our costs and income to make sure we were making a profit,” She glanced over at him, “I could help you, if you want.” He immediately turned to her with a large grin on his face.

“Really? Yeah, if you don’t mind! Hell, I’ve been strugglin’ with it for a while and I wouldn’t mind a second opinion.” He chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. She gave a confident smile.

“I am positive I can help you budget your money and make a more suitable profit.”

“Aw, thanks, darlin’. But if yur gonna do this, I gotta pay you.”

“Consider the groceries payment.” She said. He shook his head.

“That ain’t enough. How ‘bout groceries and a little extra?”

“…We can discuss details later. It’s getting late, so we should watch the movie...” Hanae looked to Genji and Jesse followed her eyes. There the boy was, passed out on the bed and curled into a little ball. They smiled and turned back to each other.

“So much for movie night.”

“Another time.”

“Guess so. Oh! You gotta phone?” He asked while pulling out his own.

“Yes-,”

“We should exchange numbers! I’ve been meanin’ to ask but…uh…well you always seem kind of peeved with me.” She rose her eyebrows, “Uh, like, ticked off.” She quirked her brow, “Like, angry. You seem angry with me.”

“You are a lot to take in at times.” She said with a smile. He smiled and tapped some buttons on is phone.

“What’s yur number?” She recited it to him, and he quickly added it in before sending her a text with his own number. “There. That way, if either of us need anythin’, we can text.” He smiled and stood up, “We should talk about what yur payment will be.” He moved to the door and began to put his shoes on.

“I’d like that. Will you be working at the market tomorrow?”

“Sure am.”

“Then why don’t we discuss it during my break?” Jesse flashed her a smile before he reached for his coat and put it on.

“A lunch meeting sounds just dandy.”

“Then I’ll text you my break time.” She said without thinking. She paused before adding, “But, just so you know, I don’t text very often, Jesse.”

“Then I guess I’ll just savor yur messages all the more.” He said with a dramatic sigh. She smiled and opened the door for him.

“Thank you again…for everything Jesse. I mean it.”

“No problem. And you know, if yur ever in a pinch, I can baby sit Genji for a bit.” He said as he walked through the door.

“I will keep that in mind.” He turned around and they looked at one another. The thick, disgusting feeling in her stomach was gone and replaced with something much lighter and softer. It made her feel calm and…content.

“Thank you, Jesse. I’ll see you soon.” He smiled at her.

“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.” He snapped his fingers into a finger gun before smiling and walking away. She stuck her head out the doorway and watched him leave. She waited until he was gone before she shut the door and leaned her forehead against the cool wood. And she tried not to think about him.

Chapter Text

After that night, Hanae considered Jesse a …somewhat friend.  

Hanae had a rather complicated way of categorizing the people in her life and where they stood. There were ‘employees’ (people she could give a job to and expect it to get done), ‘people with similar goals’ (classmates, family members, other mob bosses), and ‘enemies’ (rivaling gangs, the police etc.). Then there were different levels in each category. For example, there were simple employees (like people who did her laundry) or there were ‘advanced’ employees (people she knew could fix a…delicate situation and not ask questions). Sometimes, people with similar goals were just people who worked with her (like Hana). Other times it would be people she was close to, like her father. And then enemies were just…well, her deciding how big of a threat they were.

At first, Jesse was an enemy. Then, she saw him as a kind of employee (if he wanted to buy her groceries and baby sit her brother, fine. It meant he worked for her). Now, he was somewhere between an ‘employee’ and ‘a person with similar goals’. He did do things for her, but they were more out of kindness then reward. And they seemed to share the goal of wanting what was best for her brother (and keeping her pathetic excuse of a family together). Because of this, she would say he was, somewhat, of a friend.

But she was very strict with ‘friends’. She liked to know what she could about them and in return they were on a need to know basis with her information. She decided how much they knew and how close they were. If she wanted them closer, she would bring them closer. If she wanted space, they would gladly give it to her. She didn’t ‘open up’ to people. She didn’t even ‘open up’ to her mother or father. The only people she really ‘opened up’ to were her cousins, and that was just a handful of people.

In general, she was strict with her relationships and she was always in control.

Jesse, however, seemed to have an entirely different sorting system with relationships and he certainly had a different definition of what ‘friends’ were.

For example, Hanae talked to friends when she needed to. That was that.

Jesse, however, talked to friends all the time. Every day in fact. And Hanae found this out when he spoke to her every day. And not just every day, but every time he saw her.

So now, instead of just nodding to each other in acknowledgement, he tried to start a conversation with her.

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

“Hey Hanae.”

“Hello, McCree.” She nodded, walking past him.

“Hey! I thought we were on a first name basis.” She stopped and turned around to see him smile, “What happened to callin’ me Jesse?”

“We’re at work. It’s more professional…and I don’t want people to get the wrong impression.”

“And what impression would that be?” He asked with a grin. She gave him a funny look.

“You know what.” There was a pause. After a few seconds of silence, Hanae determined the conversation was over, so she turned around again.

“You think of a price for yur work yet?” She turned to him again, slightly frustrated at the interruption. They had met already to discuss what kind of work she had to do, but they weren’t able to agree on a price. McCree wanted to give too much, and Hanae wasn’t about to be paid with ‘pity money’.

“I stand by my price. You should be happy I’m not charging more.”

“Yeah but, it ain’t enough for food and clothes.”

“I don’t need clothes.” She huffed. Jesse grinned again.

“Don’t wanna’ burst yur bubble, babe, but you’ve been wearin’ the same three shirts the whole time I’ve known yah.” Hanae flushed slightly, “I think you deserve a new shirt at least-,”

“Are we done here? Unlike you, I have a job to do.” Jesse shrugged and smiled. Hanae let out a huff, turned around, and began to walk away when Jesse spoke again.

“I also see you only have one pair of pants-,”

“Goodbye, McCree.”

“Not that they don’t look good-,” Hanae immediately excited through the nearest door.

The interaction was…embarrassing. It reminded her why she always needed to be in control of a conversation.

And yet, he talked to her the next day too.

“What kind of gum is that?” Jesse asked as he walked up behind her. She was kneeling on the ground and putting some Japanese gum into little bins.

“It’s strawberry.” She said flatly. There was silence, and Hanae let out a happy breath because that meant Jesse had left. So, he made her jump when he spoke again.

“I’m a cherry man myself. Not one for grape or apple.”

“Fascinating.” Hanae mumbled as she put the last of the gum away. Jesse backed up so she could stand and she began to break down the shipping box.

“What about you? What’s yur poison.”

“I’m not a fan of gum.”

“Really? Could’da fooled me. I took you as a mint kind of gal-,”

“Can I help you, McCree?” She asked flatly as she looked up at him. Jesse was standing in a very casual way, his thumbs looped through his jean hoops. And he was chewing something.

It’s gum, isn’t it.

“Got some mint myself. Thought you might like some.” She gave him an unimpressed look.

“No, McCree, I don’t want your gum.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Cause I got truck load-,”

“McCree, I’m trying to do my job. So, can you please stop distracting me?” She walked past him towards the back rooms, and she heard his footsteps behind her.

“You sayin’ I’m distractin’?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I knew I was devilishly handsome, but-,”

“It’s not your-,” She stopped and spun around, causing him to almost crash into her, “McCree, I’m serious, I’m doing my job. So, please, do yours.”

“I did. Just waitin’ for stuff to dry-,”

“Then go bother Genji. I’m busy.” She turned around again and walked away.

“Puttin’ out gum don’t seem like hard work-,”

“GoodBYE, McCree!” She hollered as she went into the back rooms.

And it happened again and again. He would pop up randomly during her shift and talk to her about nothing. And when he wasn’t at her work, he would text her during her shift and ask her how she was, followed by more nonsense and pointless conversation. At least with text messages she would just stop texting back, but it was harder to shove him off during conversation.

“You fond of that brand?” Jesse asked, catching her examining a new kind of mascara. She refused to look at him while she spoke.

“I was when I could afford it, yes.” Jesse sighed.

“If you’d just let me pay you the right amount, you could buy some.”

“I have set my price.”

“And when are you gonna help me with my numbers, anyway?” He asked as she put the mascara away and began to walk out of the beauty store.

“When we agree on a price.”

“But you won’t agree to my price!”

“Then you better agree to mine, or else I’m not looking at your numbers.”

“See, now yur just bein’ stubborn.” She walked faster, but he was able to keep up with her. “And when are you and Genj gonna come over again? I’ve offered twice-,”

“We’re busy and I’m tired.”

“Yeah, but, you can’t say no forever.” Hanae clenched her hands as she walked through the convenience store. Customers moved out of her way as she stormed towards the restaurant. “And Genj would like it. Or, hey! Why don’t we have dinner at yur place?” Hanae remained silent as they moved into the restaurant. “I can cook, if yur tired-,” Hanae stopped by Genji’s table and turned to Jesse.

“If you’re bored, play with Genji and stop bothering me.”

“Aw, Hanae-,”

“GOODBYE, McCREE.” She emphasised as she stormed back towards the beauty store to DO HER DAMN JOB.

 

For two (sweet, beautiful) days, Jesse worked at a different location. So, Hanae just ignored his texts. She already had one male that demanded her attention, and she certainly didn’t need another.

But then he showed up again. It was 1:00 pm and Hanae was just about to go on lunch. She was counting the inventory of pencils (dear god, so many pencils) when a familiar voice graded on her ears.

“Well howdy, sunshine.” Hanae ignored him. “What you up to? Countin’ pencils? I’ll tell yah now, that’s a hell of a lotta pencils.” She continued to ignore him. Jesse leaned against the shelves casually, “I just finished fixin’ the kitchen sink, if yur wonderin’. I’ll tell yah, I’ve worked with dirty stuff before, but ain’t nothin’ like decloggin’ a restaurant’s kitchen sink. You never know what you’ll find down there.” He chuckled, “Besides rotten food and garbage, found myself a spoon, someone’s ring, and a big ol’ stick.” He flashed her a grin, “Don’t know who thought shovin’ a stick down there would be a good idea, but there you go-,”

“Don’t you have something BETTER to do?” Hanae snapped. Jesse shrugged, unaffected by her anger.

“Not really. I’m takin’ my break actually. Hana told me yurs was comin’ up, so I figured we could-,”

“I’d prefer to have my break ALONE, McCree.”

“You mean, alone with yur brother?” She turned to him.

“YES.” She seethed. Jesse tilted his head at her, finally catching onto her frustration.

“You know, sometimes I get the feelin’ you don’t care for me much-,”

“McCREE-,” Hanae let out a frustrated sigh and ran her hand down her face, “I appreciate everything you do for Genji and I. You have made our lives easier, and for that I will always be grateful. And I appreciate that you take time to teach Genji. But I am WORKING.”

“Yeah, but yur goin’ on break soon-,”

“So I can be ALONE. I need to be ALONE, McCree. Everyday I work and exhaust myself so I can take care of my brother, and when I am not working I’m literally taking care of my brother! I am always busy.” Jesse crossed his arms.

“Sure, that’s why I come by to chat. I figure you could use a distraction-,”

“But I don’t want a distraction. I want to do my job. I don’t want or need to talk to you everyday! Once a week is fine, and even then!-,”

“But we’re friends-,”

“We are! But that doesn’t mean we have to talk everyday.”

“Jesse!” The two looked over to her boss who was walking quickly towards them. “Stop flirting with my employees and do your job!” Jesse chuckled and tipped his hat.

“I ain’t flirtin’, just talkin’ with a friend-,”

“You can flirt on your own time. Stop distracting my staff.” The older man said as he stood towards Jesse. Surprisingly, even though he was shorter than Jesse, he still had a presence of intimidation. Jesse chuckled again.

“Ain’t no harm-,”

“You know, I don’t pay these people to socialise with you. And I don’t pay you to socialise with them. Understand?” Jesse frowned slightly.

“Listen, we’re on lunch-,”

“Then go eat your lunch.” The boss looked at Hanae, “Hanae, I need a word.” Hanae immediately shot a glare at Jesse and he gave a sheepish smile. He shrugged as if to say, ‘sorry I got you in trouble’, but she just glared until he took his leave. Once Jesse was out of earshot, her boss spoke.

“Is he bothering you?” He asked. Hanae sighed slightly.

“Yes. But I don’t think he means too-,”

“No, is he bothering you. Is he harassing you.” Hanae raised her eyebrows.

“Not, no, he’s not harassing me-,”

“Because you need to tell me if he says or does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.” He crossed his arms, “I know Jesse is a good worker, but I’ve seen him bothering you for the past two weeks, and it didn’t look like you were enjoying it.”

“I…wasn’t. But, I can handle it-,”

“I can talk to him if you want.”

“No. No, I’ll talk to him. Thank you though.” Hanae was surprised by her boss’ concern. He nodded at her.

“Alright. Well, let me know if anything comes up.” He then left and quickly went back to the manager’s office.

 

Jesse gave a concerned look when she came to his and Genji’s table with her food.

“You ok? Did you get in trouble?” Hanae let out a soft sigh.

“No, but I will in the future if you keep bothering me.” She opened up her lunch and began to eat her vegetables.

“Sorry. I just, you know, I like chattin’ with you.”

“And that’s fine, but you shouldn’t do it every single day.” Hanae chewed on her food before speaking, “I need space, Jesse. I’ve never had a friendship where I talked to that person everyday.” Jesse nodded slowly, “And if you need to talk to me, please have a reason! I don’t like text messages that aren’t important. I’m busy during work and busy with Genji after work and…when I have a little time on my own I just want to rest. I don’t want to be texting with you all the time.” Jesse frowned a little.

“…sorry, darlin’,” He chuckled, “Guess that’s just how I treat my friends.”

“Well, please, treat our friendship differently. And PLEASE stop calling me cute names.” Jesse grinned.

“I thought you secretly liked it?”

“I don’t.”

“See, now that, I disagree on. You love the nicknames, I can tell.”

“Don’t put words in my mouth, McCree.” Jesse chuckled under his breath and pushed his food around with a fork.

“…Alright. I’ll try to lay off. BUT,” He pointed his fork at her, “In return, you could try to be a little nicer to me. I’ve seen that yur capable of bein’ all sweet and smiles but most of the time yur full of piss and vinegar.” Hanae scrunched up her face.

“That’s disgusting. And I act like that because I have a full time job with minimum wage. Oh, and I’m raising my brother.” She said pointedly. Genji ignored the two of them as he coloured his book of insects. Jesse rested his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand.

“Alright. I’ll stop botherin’ you so much, and you try to be nicer. Deal?”

“I promise nothing.”

“Deal.”

 

Jesse kept his promise of giving her space. So, two weeks later she agreed to meet at his apartment, so they could go over his numbers. Genji stood on a chair and slowly washed the vegetables while Jesse chopped them. Hanae sat just outside the kitchen at Jesse’s small table. He had opened his laptop and shown her all his documents for the past year. He also allowed her to browse around his online bank account (which she said was stupid because he shouldn’t trust her with that sort of thing, but he shrugged and said if he was missing money she’d be the first suspect). As Hanae listened to Genji wash and Jesse chop, she noticed an odd pattern in Jesse’s spending. And that was that he hardly bought anything.

She had expected to open his visa and debit statements to see a whole list of unnecessary purchases, like electronics and games and clothes. Instead, most of his transactions were on food and work. He seemed to buy alcohol often, but it wasn’t often enough (or expensive enough) to make her concerned. He also received money on a monthly basis from the government (‘from my old job’ he had said).

So, she looked at his invoices. How much was he being paid for each job? And that’s where she saw the problem. She squinted at the invoices.

“Jesse?”

“Hm?” He called from the kitchen.

“How many hours do you usually work?”

“Depends on the job.”

“What about this job?” Jesse stepped out of the kitchen and looked over her shoulder.

“Uh, that was ‘bout, 9 hours overall.” Hanae quickly calculated the average in her head and-,

“Did you tell them the price before you did your work?”

“’course.”

“Then why did you sell yourself short?” She asked, turning to him in confusion. Jesse looked down at her.

“I don’t think I did.”

“Jesse, if you worked 9 hours for this job, then you worked $11.20 an hour.” Jesse squinted at the papers.

“You sure? Thought it was more than that-,”

“Yes, I’m sure. And here, for this job! With how much you charged this should be a 3 hour job. How long did it take?” Jesse hesitated.

“7 hours-,”

“7 HOURS?!” Hanae turned in her chair, “Jesse, you’re not overspending! You’re not charging enough! I’ve researched how much general contractor make, and you should be making a lot more than this.”

“Well, I mean, they pay for the parts-,”

“But they also have to pay for labour! They have to pay you for the time you spend doing the job!” Hanae picked up the papers and looked back at him, “Didn’t you calculate how much you would charge an hour before you started your own business?”

“Well, I…” Jesse stood up and rubbed the back of his neck, “I mean, I change it for different folks. Some people can’t afford a lot-,”

“But they should at least pay you more than minimum wage! The only reason you have money is because you get it from the government and you hardly spend it!”

“Jesse, I cleaned!” Genji called out.

“Just a sec, Genj!” Jesse looked back at her.

“Can you figure out how much I should be chargin’?”

“Of course.”

“Ok, figure that out, then I’ll-,”

“I cut veggies now!”

“NO!” They yelled in unison as Jesse raced back into the kitchen and grabbed the knife out of Genji’s hand. Hanae sighed and looked back at the numbers and tried to focus as Jesse and Genji squabbled in the background.

 

Later, after dinner, Genji was watching a dinosaur show while Jesse and Hanae sat at his table.

“What about my current jobs?”

“I wouldn’t suggest changing the price on them, but in the future, you should charge the amount I recommended.”

“But, I often do a lot of work for the same folks.”

“Then tell them why you need to charge more. You can’t keep charging the same low amount. If you do, your going to go into debt if something major happens.” Jesse nodded solemnly.

“They ain’t gonna like that.”

“Well, they can find someone else then.” Hanae leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. Jesse sighed and also leaned back while resting his arm on the table. Hanae looked at Jesse and took in his image for just a moment. Though they had discovered a major problem, he seemed relaxed and rather content with the whole matter. It never stopped amazing her how laid back he was about everything. Yes, she had seen him get angry, but in general he seemed to just go with the motions. She wondered how someone could live without controlling everything in their life; how they could just leave things and let them happen as they go. It was...perplexing. He was perplexing.

She then glanced down at his hand on the table. It looked like it always did, but just looking at it made her think back to that time they were alone. She thought about how his hand felt in her own. She remembered how rough his skin was, and her own fingers twitched as she remembered the feeling. His skin had felt chapped and dry and damaged. She wondered if she took his hand now, if it would feel the same as before.

She then wondered if she should recommend a moisturizer.

She glanced up and found that Jesse had been staring at her. When their eyes met he gave a sly grin.

“What’cha thinkin’ ‘bout?”

“Nothing.” She said a bit too quickly.

“You thinkin’ ‘bout that time you tried to seduce me-,”

“I wasn’t trying to seduce you.” She scoffed, “I was trying to persuade you-,”

“By holding my hand?” Hanae tilted her head away.

“Don’t question my methods.” He kept staring at her before he motioned with his hand. She glanced back at him, “What?”

“Give me yur hand.”

“Why?”

“Just give it.”

“No. There’s no reason-,”

“Come on, don’t be a negative Nancy. Just give me yur hand.” Hanae huffed, rolled her eyes slightly, and turned back to face him. A moment later she placed her hand in his. He reached out with his other hand and examined her own. After a moment he began rotating it and spreading out her fingers. She didn’t say anything as he maneuvered her. It didn’t feel bad, it was actually kind of nice. His hands felt strong and warm as they explored her own. But its purpose was completely lost on her.

“Yur hands are so small.” He said finally.

“So I have been told.”

“And their so soft. I didn’t think you bought moisturizer.”

“I don’t. There’s a free bottle at work I use before and after shifts.”

“Must be a good brand.”

“It is.” They fell back into a silence. Genji’s show chattered in the background as the two adults took in one another’s presence. After a moment, Jesse stopped examining her hand and just held it in his own, his two large hands encompassing her small one. It was a weird feeling, whatever was going on. She liked the feel of Jesse’s hand on her own, but she also understood the social implications it had. And her stomach felt a mixture of lightness and dread. The longer they held hands, the stronger her feelings grew and the sicker she felt. Hanae dared to look back at Jesse and found he had been staring at her the whole time. When she met his eyes, she quickly withdrew her hand and held it.

“I think Genji and I should go now.” She muttered. Jesse withdrew his own hands and nodded.

“Yeah. Its getting’ late.”

“Thank you, again, for dinner.” She said as she and Jesse stood up.

“No problem. Is this gonna be a reward every time I give you space?” He grinned. Hanae snorted and went to Genji, ignoring Jesse’s question.

“Time to go, Genji.” She said softly. Genji looked up from the screen and frowned.

“Can’t we stay a little longer?”

“No. It’s almost bed time, and I work tomorrow.” Genji nodded sadly and stood up. They moved towards the front door and began putting their coats and shoes on.

“It’s gettin’ mighty cold out there. Before you know it, it’ll start snowin’.” Jesse said unenthusiastically. Hanae looked up from her shoes in surprise.

“You don’t like the snow?”

“Hanae, I grew up in the desert. First time I saw snow I was 18. Didn’t like it then, don’t like it now.”

“Then why do you live here?” Jesse looked away from her and shrugged.

“There’s more work here.” She nodded.

“What about your family?”

“Ma’s back home- Hey, do you need a ride?” He asked suddenly (though, she didn’t miss the fact that he had changed the subject). She shook her head as she helped Genji put his jacket on.

“It’s fine. It’s just a 10 minute bus ride.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Really, it’s fine.” She said. To be honest, she didn’t want to spend any more time with Jesse today. Their interaction today was…odd, and it was having a weird affect on her. She just needed space.

“Alright. Well, in the future, let me know if you need a lift. Especially when it starts snowin’. I don’t mind drivin’ you two home or pickin’ you up.”

“Like a taxi?” Hanae smirked when she zipped up her coat, “And how much would the fare be?”

“…how ‘bout a stick of cherry gum?” He grinned. Hanae snorted and opened the door.

“I’ll consider it,” She ushered Genji through the door, “Have a good night, McCree.”

“Night, Hanae.” He gave her one last smile and she gave one last nod, and then she left. And as she walked down the hallway, a part of her wanted to look back at him.

And a part of her really didn’t.

 

Their friendship played on her mind as time went by. It was a weird, funny friendship. But it was also very strange. Jesse was a very warm, caring person, but he was also loud and sometimes hard to understand. Like, why was he so trusting of people? And what attracted him to her? Even as official (kind of) friends, she would still shut him down at times or tell him to give her space. So, why did he want to spend time with her, or even talk to her, at all?

“Why are you friends with me?” She asked one day while they were eating lunch together. Jesse shrugged.

“You sayin’ you don’t like us bein’ friends?”

“McCree, I’m not exactly nice to you-,”

“That’s an understatement.”

“And I know I’m not the…warmest person.” She picked at her cooked broccoli with her chopsticks, “And you’re…much the opposite, to say the least. It doesn’t really make sense that we’re friends.”

“Yeah, I’ll admit, our friendship’s a little odd…but I still like it.”

“But why?” Jesse shrugged.

“I think yur interestin’. Yur sure different from most gals I’ve met. And I don’t mind too much that yur straight to the point. ‘Makes talkin’ to you a bit easier. Lot’sa girls expect’cha to read their minds. Also,” He shrugged again, “We have more in common than you think.” Hanae nodded along. “What about you?”

“Hm?”

“Like you said, you ain’t exactly warm to me. Sometimes I think yur gonna’ kick me to the curb. Sometimes I wonder if yur just talkin’ to me for kicks.” Hanae shuffled her broccoli around as she thought. She furrowed her brows in concentration. Why did she keep Jesse as a friend? Sure, he helped with Genji, but if she was truly desperate she could find some other solution. She could also find some other way of getting free food. So, why did she keep up her friendship with him? She went over her thoughts until she finally looked up at him and gave the slightest smirk.

“I tolerate you.”

There was a long silence before Jesse burst out laughing. Hanae chuckled under her breath.

“Wh-What kind of answer is that?! You tolerate me? The hell does that even mean?” Hanae shrugged as she grinned.

“It means what I said. I can’t handle most people. I hardly tolerate others. But you,” She finally plucked up a piece of broccoli, “I can somewhat tolerate more than other people.” Jesse laughed again.

“That- that is one of the most backhanded compliments I have EVER received.” He said, his laughter dying down. Hanae continued to grin to herself.

“Also,” Hanae shrugged, “You make me laugh,” She paused, “On occasion.”

“No one has ever said that they just tolerate me.”

“Believe me, it is one of my highest compliments-,”

“Oh, I believe you! Dear lord, what does that mean if you LIKE someone? Have you ever liked anyone?”

“I have.”

“And?”

“It was exhausting.” Jesse laughed a bit more.

“Alright. What about love? You only insult loved ones once a day or what?” Hanae’s grin began to fade.

“No. No that’s…I don’t know. It’s different with family.” Jesse shook his head.

“Naw, I didn’t mean family. Like, love someone, fancy someone, you know?” Hanae looked off to the side and gave a small shrug.

“I don’t know.” Jesse rose his eyebrows.

“You don’t know? Really? How old are you, if you don’t mind my askin’?”

“I’m 24-,”

24! Yur younger than me?!”

“How old are you?” She asked, looking back at him.

“I ain’t 24, that’s for sure!” Jesse pointed his fork at her, “24, and you don’t know if you’ve ever been in love.”

“No.”

“You can’t think of a single person? Someone you’ve fancied?” Hanae hesitated before speaking

 “I have…’fancied’ someone before, yes.” Jesse smiled and leaned in on his elbows.

“Who?”

“You obviously wouldn’t know him- and stop pointing with your eating utensil, it’s rude.” Jesse put down his fork.

“What’s he like? Where’d you meet ‘im?” Hanae leaned back against her chair.

“I don’t see why I have to give you details.” She nodded towards him, “What about you? Have you ever been in love? Have you ever ‘fancied’ someone?”

“I know yur tryin’ to shift the spotlight on me,” He said with a grin, “But alright. I don’t mind talkin’ ‘bout it.” Jesse picked up his fork again and stabbed a piece of green pepper, “I did fancy someone. Fancied a lotta people, actually. Was even engaged once.” Hanae rose her eyebrows.

“Really? When?”

“Long time ago.” He ate the pepper and chewed for a moment, “I was 16.” Hanae snorted.

“Engaged at 16? I didn’t think that was common here.”

“It ain’t.” Jesse sighed dramatically, “But I was young and in love. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“What happened?” Hanae asked curiously.

“I was all head over heels for her. Didn’t think too hard on nothin’, just figured I was in love and that was that. I ignored a lotta red flags. I got too emotional.” He closed his eyes and shrugged, “One day we’re engaged, next day she leaves without a word, just a note.” Hanae listened intently as Jesse spoke.

“What did it say?”

“So long, it’s been fun, all that. It wouldn’t have hurt so much if she didn’t take my cash and half my stuff with her.” Jesse frowned, “Even took my dog.”

Hanae held back from laughing.

“I’m…sorry to hear that.”

“Jokes on her, that dog was ancient. And mean.” He tilted his neck to the side which let out a small crack. “Good riddins is what I say.” Hanae gave a very small smile.

“At least you didn’t marry her.” Jesse nodded. He then leaned forward into the table again.

“That’s my story. So, what about you? What was so great about that chico that he got into yur good books?” Hanae remained with her back against her chair. She tapped her index finger against her bicep and mauled over her personal information. Was it worth it to tell Jesse? What would the repercussions be? He didn’t know anyone from her past life, and he never would, so she didn’t need to worry about him talking to others. And it was hardly information he could use against her. She tapped her bicep and closed her eyes.

“He wasn’t afraid of me.”

“That’s surprisin’.” Jesse snorted.

“I mean…he didn’t treat me differently.” Hanae opened her eyes, “I come from a very influential family, so, most people in my life have been kind or friendly out of fear. Everyone always treated me differently. But he just…treated me like a normal person.” Her lips curved slightly, “He wasn’t afraid to disagree with me. He wasn’t afraid to give his opinion.” She thought back to the days of her youth. She thought back to her tireless training and exhausting studies. And she remembered the times her cousin challenged her. Not out of spite, or for power, but to better understand one another. She remembered when they debated over the proper way to figure out an equation, or when they mauled over the pros and cons of letting outsiders into the family.

She remembered going for walks in the family garden and explaining to him the benefits of exploring nature. And she remembered him explaining the benefits of technology. And how they debated and discussed tradition vs. modernization and which was truly better.

She remembered fondly the time when they were late for a gathering and he insisted she didn’t have to wear a kimono because she didn’t need to impress anyone, and she insisted she did because she had to give a good impression.

Hanae smiled and chuckled to herself.

“One time-,” And then she stopped. Jesse was staring at her intently, his body leaned in, so he could hear every word. She suddenly remembered where she was, and who she was talking to. She immediately let go of her smile, “Nevermind.”

“What? No! I wana’ hear it-,” Hanae frowned.

“That was a long time ago.” She looked away and pushed the thoughts from her mind. It was a long time ago. And that time had passed. And her cousin had changed. And she was here now, and that’s what mattered.

“What’s he doin’ now?”

And like the flowing water of a stream, or rocks tumbling down a mountain, she spoke fluently and without thought.

“We were supposed to be married.”

She caught herself too late. She tried to suck the words back in, to push those thoughts and feelings down, but it was no use because her words were already air born. Jesse widened his eyes and she drew a sharp breath. He continued to stare in shock as she pulled herself together and forced her walls back up. She immediately packed up her food.

“My lunch is over.” As soon as she said those words, Jesse snapped out of his surprise.

“No, it ain’t! Aw, come on! We were makin’ progress!”

“I have to go now.” Hanae stood and put her bento box in her lunch bag, “Genji, be good for Jesse. I’ll be back again for my next break.”

“K.” Genji mumbled while colouring his insect book.

“Aw, Hanae, don’t go. I didn’t mean to offend yah.” Hanae huffed.

“There are just some things that shouldn’t be discussed. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Hanae then turned and began to walk away.

“It’s like three steps forward and two steps back with you!” Jesse lightly hollered behind her. Hanae ignored him and went back to work.

 

She scolded herself for the rest of the day and tried to understand why she slipped up- twice. That night, when Genji was fast asleep, she sat seiza on their floor and closed her eyes. She focused and meditated on her actions and their consequences. She searched for each broken piece of her barriers, and she firmly sewed them back shut. She was reminded as to why she didn’t have many- or any- friends. Everyone was a liability. Back home, she was in an environment where people knew that, so they kept their distance. They knew she couldn’t get involved. They respected her distance. But here…these people expected her to just let them walk into her life. And Jesse…

She should know better. She had already learned in the past what friendships like his led to. Heartache, humiliation… betrayal. She knew this when she met with him for coffee that day, and she knew this when she agreed to go to his house for dinner. She knew it at the zoo, she knew it when she saw him at work, and outside of work, and when he texted her or talked to her or interacted with her. She knew it. She had lived it.

And yet, she kept letting him get closer and closer. Step by step, this outsider was chipping away at her outer core. And sure, she would shut him down, but she didn’t send him away. She didn’t shut him out of her life.

Why?

She reasoned that she was exhausted. She couldn’t think as clearly or hold herself together as well. She reasoned that accepting his help was a logical choice. Humiliating, but logical. She reasoned that it was nice to just talk to someone sometimes. She reasoned he helped her forget her loneliness and pain.

But she knew that if she kept interacting with him, he would slowly dig deeper and deeper into her life. Into her. And then when she needed him most, he would be gone.

I try to keep my distance, but Genji always wants to spend time with him.

Couldn’t she just deny Genji?

But then he would throw a fit, and it’s so exhausting to take care of him when he’s like that.

So, she would rather compromise her new life to satisfy her brother’s social needs?

I didn’t say that.

Was she just making excuses?

I never make excuses.

Maybe she beginning to fa-

Absolutely NOT.

She opened her eyes with a scowl. Jesse McCree would not be her downfall. She just had to tread carefully. She…didn’t have to stop their interactions. She just had to stay on guard. She just had to be careful.

 

And she was careful. And she did stay on guard. But it was hard to keep Jesse at an arm’s length when she was being pushed to her limit physically and mentally. The weeks wore on her. The weather got colder and so did her apartment. Soon, she was snuggling with her brother not to comfort him, but because he was a source of warmth. The days dragged on and so did the nights. Jesse made comments about it every now and again.

“You doin’ alright, Hanae?”

“You ain’t lookin’ too swell, sunshine.”

“Don’t’cha think you might wana take a day off?”

He got especially worried when she collapsed at work one day. Her manager had to bring her to the break room and assure people that she didn’t need an ambulance. He wanted her to go home. She tried to reason with him, to say she could finish the shift, but he refused to let her stay. The look of pity in her co-worker’s eyes made her sick.

Winter came. She and Genji would go to Jesse’s every now and again so she could work on his numbers. And she did do the work that she had to, but during the rest of the visit she would sleep on his couch. Normally, she wouldn’t dare let herself be in such a vulnerable position. But Jesse’s house was always so warm, and his couch was firm yet soft.

It was during one of these visits, and during one of these naps, that she began to stir back into consciousness. She didn’t know what woke her, but her brain slowly readjusted and connected to the world around her. She was on Jesse’s couch, a blanket placed on top of her (probably by Jesse). She was facing the couch, her back to the rest of the room. As she slowly became conscious, she could hear Genji and Jesse talking to one another.

“Does that make you sad?” Jesse asked. There was silence from Genji. “Yeah, that makes me sad too.” There was a pause before Jesse spoke again, “You know, when my Pa died, I was sad when I thought about him. But you know what cheered me up?” She couldn’t hear Genji’s response, “I’d think of a happy memory. Like, when Pa taught me how to ride a horse. Or when we went out huntin’ lizards together. Do you understand?” No response, “And then I take that memory, and I hold it real close to my heart. And I hold on till it makes me all warm inside.” Jesse paused, “Can you think of a happy memory with your Ma and Pa? A happy time?” Hanae could hardly hear her brother’s response. “See, that’s nice. Now, let’s take that, and hold it close to yur heart. Like this.” There was a long pause, “There you go. Does that feel a little better?”

“Yeah.”

“Glad to hear it… You wana’ talk about yur ma and pa?”

“Onee-san say I can’t talk to other people. Just onee-san.”

“Well, I don’t think she’ll mind if you talk to me. We’re friends.”

But Hanae did mind. She minded because Genji was too young to understand the repercussions his words would have. So, she clawed and fought against her urge to sleep. It tried to suck her back in, but she pulled and yanked herself into conciseness.

“Oba-san…he liked bugs. We look for bugs in trees.” Hanae took in sharp breaths as she tried to open her eyes and move her body, “Onee-san too. We all look for bugs in trees. And Oka-san warm. She hug me. And warm.” Hanae fluttered her eyes open and gave a soft groan. Her limbs felt as if they were made of led, “Oka-san liked drawing. She liked painting. She teach me paint. And I paint the wall.” Genji made a heartbreaking noise, as if he wanted to giggle, but it just came out as a whimper. “Onee-san mad, but Oba-san laugh. Oka-san mad, but Oba-san laugh and she laugh too and everyone laugh.” Another pathetic, small whimper came out of her brother. Hanae managed to loll her head and drag her legs out over the couch. “Now, no laugh. Now no one laugh.” Genji took in a shaky breath, “I was walking to Oka-san and Oba-san. I had bad dream. And their door open, so I go. An-and a m-man-,” Genji sobbed, “And O-oba-oba-san and Ok-oka-san…”

Hanae shot up at the noise of her brother’s cries. Her instincts kicked in as her body immediately rebooted and forced her awake. She was up in an instant and racing towards Genji, but before she could reach him, Jesse picked the boy up and held him in his lap.

“It’s ok, buddy. You can cry. Cryin’s good.” He cooed as Genji sobbed in his arms. Hanae stood in front of him, but Jesse didn’t look up at her. He just hugged his little friend and rested his head on his. Hanae wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what. It was weird for someone else to be comforting her brother. Her eyes caught on the papers on the table. The picture in front of McCree was poorly drawn in crayon. It had a picture of a stick family and stick animals. It was green and blue and yellow. But the paper in front of Genji’s chair…

There were two stick people, both with long black hair. They had their eyes and mouths closed. And the entire piece of paper was covered in red scribbles. There were large red blobs and long red streaks ripped across the page. Hanae’s stomach dropped as she stared at the picture.

“Will you die?” The boy whimpered. Jesse’s eyes shot open and he stared directly at Hanae. She let out a soft breath and crouched before Genji.

You know what I told you. People, animals, flowers…everything dies one day, Genji.”

Will Jesse die?”

Yes.”

Will you die?”

“…yes.” The boy let out a soft whimper and buried his face into Jesse’s shirt, his tears wetting the fabric. Jesse continued to rest his head on Genji’s as he rocked the boy back and forth.

“Please, don’t die Jesse. Please.” The boy hiccupped. Hanae stared up at the man and waited to interrupt or correct him. But what he said surprised her.

“I promise I’ll try, Genji. But sometimes, bad things happen.” The boy shook his head.

“No…”

“But I’ll be in yur heart, Genj. Just like yur Oba-san and Oka-san are.” Jesse pulled away slightly, so he could look into the boy’s eyes. “And one day, we’ll see the people we love again.”

“W-when?”

“No one knows when, Genji. But one day. One day in the future.” He held Genji’s chin and wiped the boy’s cheek. He gave him a gentle smile, “For now, you just gotta be patient. Do you think you can do that?” Genji hiccupped again and gave a little nod, “Good boy.” Jesse pulled him close again and kissed his head. “Yur a good boy, Genji. Yur a good boy.” Hanae remained silent as she watched Jesse and her brother. She knew that now wasn’t the time to speak, so she instead reached out and took Genji’s little hand in her own. The boy began to cry again. So, Hanae moved slightly and sat down in front of them. And the three stayed like for some time, the two adults holding and comforting the child as he cried out his agony and frustration.

 

Just like before, Genji fell asleep in Jesse’s arms. After a bit of time, Jesse shifted his weight to show that he was going to get up. Hanae slowly stood and stepped out of the way so he could stand. He then got up, and without looking at her, took the boy to his bedroom. Hanae followed and watched in silence as Jesse brought the boy into his cluttered room and tucked him into the large bed. He then sat down beside him, his hand gently stroking Genji’s hair. A thick silence began to fill the room. Outside, Hanae could faintly hear the crows calling to one another in the cold. The sun was setting. And Jesse sat by Genji, still stroking his hair.

Hanae waited for him to speak. She knew he would speak. He no doubt had questions and concerns about what had just happened. She readied herself for his onslaught of questions. Her muscles tensed, and she awaited the moment he would stand before her and try to break down her walls again.

‘Oh, Hanae, what happened? You poor, innocent girl. You and Genji have been through so much.’

‘No, no, don’t deny it. Please, bare your soul and pain. It’s the right thing to do.’

‘Tell me all about your family. Tell me all about the murder of your parents. You can trust me, Hanae. I’d never betray you, Hanae.’

Hanae narrowed her hostile eyes. She wouldn’t let him break her. She wouldn’t let him anywhere near her. She knew that as soon as he came to her, she would shut down the conversation. And then she would take her brother and leave, and never talk about this again. She waited as the crows called, but Jesse remained silent and still didn’t look at her.

The silence wore on. Hanae watched Jesse watch Genji. The boy slept soundly as the man continued to slowly stroke his hair. Jesse had to have known she was standing in the doorway. But he still didn’t acknowledge her. He just watched her brother. Hanae curled her fingers. What were his intentions? What did he gain from this silence? What did he expect would happen?

The silence wore on. Hanae watched Jesse watch Genji. She didn’t know how much time had passed. The room had grown dark and her eyes had to adjust. Jesse stopped stroking Genji’s hair but kept his hand on his head. Hanae began to fidget. Normally, she couldn’t get Jesse to stop talking, so why did he choose now to be silent?

The silence wore on. Time continued to move. Hanae could see the streaks of moonlight cutting into the room. She shifted her weight. Jesse sat motionless, never once looking to her. She could hardly hear his breathing. Could he possibly have fallen asleep sitting up? What a ridiculous notion. She clenched her jaw.

The silence wore on. He was just SITTING there. Why wouldn’t he speak? Hanae clung to her sleeves, her teeth biting down on her lips. What was he thinking? Did he want her to come to him? Did he just expect her to break down in tears and beg for his attention? Did he expect her to curl up in his arms like her brother? Like some weak, wounded child? She almost spat at the thought.

The silence wore on. She wasn’t going to crack. She refused to go to him, and if he refused to go to her, then that was fine. Hanae could wait. She could wait forever.

The silence wore on.

She cracked.

“Say something.” She suddenly demanded. Jesse was silent a moment longer.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Something. Anything.” He shrugged and still didn’t look at her.

“Not much to say.” Hanae gnashed her teeth.

“Aren’t you going to ask what happened to my parents? Aren’t you going to berate me with questions about my family? About my brother?”

“The situation speaks for itself. I can read red crayon just fine.” Jesse fell back into silence, but Hanae was sick of the silence. So, she came up and stood directly in front of him, her eyes full of anger and hostility.

“You aren’t going to demand answers from me?” She drew her lips into a thin line, “So, you ask me endless questions about my preference of gum, but you don’t ask anything about my family?” Jesse remained silent. And he didn’t look at her, “Why are you so quiet!?” He stared at Genji, his eyes sad, and his lips mute. He didn’t glance at her, or speak to her, or acknowledge her. “Look at me.” She growled. He ignored her. “Jesse.” She warned, but he kept his eyes away. “LOOK at me!” She snapped. He whipped his head around to look at her, and his face was full of pain and rage-

“What do you want me to say?!” He whispered harshly, “I’m sorry your parents were murdered? I’m sorry your brother obviously has some kind of PTSD?! I’m sorry you haven’t gotten counselling for him, never the less YURSELF?!” He sat up taller, “Hell, Hanae! Is that the reason you came here?! You took yur brother and jumped ship?! You can’t deal with this kind of thing alone! Have you gone to the police? Does anyone know about this?!” He growled at her, “But I ain’t gonna ask those questions because I figured you didn’t want to talk about it.” He quickly looked her up and down, “But from the way yur berating me, I figure you actually do.” He took in a breath, “Have you spoken to anyone about this?”

“I don’t need to speak to anyone about this. This is my problem and I’ll fix it!”

“HOW?!” He whispered harshly, “Yur hardly keepin’ you and Genji afloat! How are you gonna’ fix this!? Are you in danger? What if that man comes after you?!”

“I know that man. And as long as my family doesn’t know where I am, he won’t either.” She growled, “I shouldn’t even be talking to you about this-,”

“You brought it up! It’s obviously eating at you, and you ain’t talkin’ to anyone else about it!” His eyes became slightly softer as he clenched his fist, “This ain’t the kind of thing you handle alone, Hanae.”

“And what would you know of it?” She spat.

“I know plenty!”

“How?”

“Because I’ve been there.” He hissed. He got up and stood in front of her, and for a moment she realised she had forgotten how much taller he was than her. But she remained firm in her place, and she stared into his painful eyes, “I lived in a gang since I was 13. It wasn’t no kids thing. I worked with grown men who saw people as objects and toys.” He shoved his thumb towards his chest, “I robbed banks and smuggled drugs. And you don’t think there was no killin’ in my life? I’ve seen murder. I’ve seen people get shot. I’ve seen my friends get shot.  My best friend was shot. So, don’t,” He pointed at her, “tell me I don’t know! Cuz I know plenty.”

And then they just stood there, the silence suddenly overtaking them once more. Jesse tried to calm his hard breathing as Hanae looked at him, then at her brother. She was angry, and she wanted to yell at Jesse, but she didn’t know what to yell at him. She didn’t even know why she would yell at him. The reason she was so upset was because Jesse was obviously trying to pry into her life-,

But he was right. She was the one that brought it up.

She stared at her brother as his chest rose up and down. She stared at the child she had helped raise since birth. Her lips formed into a thin line.

“This kind of life isn’t fit for a child.” She simply said. And just like that, the fire in Jesse’s eyes burnt out, and his rage deflated. He looked over at Genji and took a deep breath.

“No. It’s not.”

There was a pause as they just stared at her brother and his innocent image. He slept so peacefully, like there wasn’t a care in the world. Hanae wondered if there was ever a time she was like that, when she wasn’t angry or tired or afraid. When she was just at peace. She tried to think back, but she just couldn’t bring anything up.

Jesse turned back to her, the anger and fierceness from before gone. Now he just looked…tired. And sad. He motioned with his head to leave the room so, after once last glance at her brother, the two of them left. Jesse shut the door quietly behind them and walked to the kitchen. She followed him and was surprised when he took out two glasses and poured them both some water. She glanced at the fridge, which obviously held Jesse’s beer, and also thought back to his alcohol bill. She took the water when he offered it to her.

“Don’t people normally drink alcohol in these situations?” She asked as she took a drink. Jesse practically chugged his water and let out an ‘aah’ when he finished.

“I’m tryin’ this new thing called, ‘not using alcohol as a coping mechanism’. Works wonders, so I’m told.” Hanae leaned against the counter.

“And…how is that going?”

“You tell me.” He said, motioning towards his recycling bin. Sure enough, it had a fair number of bottles in it. Not enough to be concerned, but still a fair number. She looked back at him, “It’s a step by step process. Some days you win some, some days you lose some. Point is, you gotta’ keep workin’ at it.” She squinted at him.

“You’re an alcoholic?”

“Never said that.” Jesse said as he poured himself another glass. He then went silent and casually leaned against the fridge. They stood there, casually leaning against the counter and fridge, but they didn’t speak. When Jesse broke eye contact, so did she, and she looked off to the wall in front of her. The stove was there, it’s burners obviously old and well used. The back splash had grease stains that had been caked on a long time ago, and on the stove top were bits of rice left over from a meal. The wall behind the stove was plain and white, but when Hanae squinted closely, she could make out a few red spots. It was no doubt from a spaghetti sauce. The colour was too light to be blood.

And for the first time in a long time, it bothered Hanae that she knew what dried blood looked like. It bothered her that she was raised in a violent environment. It bothered her that her 5 year old brother knew what it meant for one person to kill another.

For the first time in a long time, Hanae wasn’t proud of her family name.

She took a sip from her water as she fell deeper into her thoughts. Wasn’t that one of the reasons she left? Because she wasn’t proud of a family who would kill their own? Because she began to question what her entire life was leading to? Because she realized that she didn’t want that kind of future for her brother?

And where was she now? Where did she stand? She had always been the first born, set to inherit the family empire. She trained and learned from a young age how to hurt others. All her studies were to aid her in negotiating with drug lords and weapons dealers.

But now, sucked away from that world, what was she? Just some immigrant trying to get by? Just another face in the crowd? Who was she?

Who am I?

A splitting headache suddenly ripped her apart. She almost dropped her glass as the pain tore through her mind. She let out a loud hiss and put her glass down before holding her head.

“Hey, you ok?” Jesse asked. She closed her eyes and tried to shut out the ringing and bright lights.

“Yes-,” She gripped harder as she felt the room spinning around her. Her left hand shot out and grabbed the counter as she tried to steady herself. Jesse was immediately beside her.

“What’s happenin’? You don’t look so good.” Hanae tried to say that she was fine, she just needed a moment, but that would require opening her mouth, which seemed like a bad idea with the new wave of nausea hitting her. So, she just let out a pained moan and clung to the counter. “Do you need some medicine?” Hanae took in a sharp breath and gave a slight nod. “Ok, you hang tight.” He then immediately ran to the bathroom. She could hear him fumbling around as he tried to find some medicine amongst various objects. Finally, he rushed back to her and put a pill in her hand. She took it and some of the water he gave her. She tried to take a deep breath and steady herself. “I think you need to lie down.” She gave a small nod and he led her to the couch. In the very back of her mind, she told herself she couldn’t lie down. What if he had done this to her? Was it something in the water? But she saw him drink the same water as her, and she had the water with her the whole time. Could it have been food? But she hardly ate today-,

She stopped her thoughts as another wave of nausea rolled around. Jesse helped her sit down as her body began to shake. She felt hot. And her head HURT.

“Hanae-,” She flinched at the volume of his voice, so he spoke more softly, “Hanae, do you need a doctor?” She gave her head the faintest of shakes, “Cuz I think you need a doctor.” She lifted her hand and shook it ‘no’. “You’ve been workin’ double shifts again, haven’t you?” She didn’t reply, “What did you eat today? Did you eat dinner before you came here?” Her hand motioned ‘no’, “What about lunch?”

‘no’.

“Breakfast?”

‘no’.

“Did you eat at all today?” She hesitated before she signed to him.

‘no’.

He let out a frustrated breath.

“Hanae, you gotta’ eat. It ain’t enough to just feed Genji, you gotta feed yurself- and don’t give me none of that ‘I can’t afford it’. I told you if you needed more food to just ask.” Hanae’s body shook uncontrollably. “If you don’t take care for yurself then yur gonna crash, and then who’ll take care of yur brother?”

I can’t protect Genji.

“You gotta take care of you too.”

If I don’t work enough, I can’t protect him. If I was stronger, I could handle the work.

“Listen, I know you got tomorrow off, but take another day off. Just rest.”

If I was stronger, my brother wouldn’t cry.

“I can take care of Genji if yur worried about it. He can come with me on a job, or we can all just hang out here-,”

If I was stronger, my parents wouldn’t be dead.

She then proceeded to vomit all over the floor.

 

The rest of the night was a blur. Exhausted, humiliated, and mentally pushed to her edge, Hanae could only recall getting sick in Jesse’s bathroom while he held her hair. And then she had the hazy memory of him tucking her into the couch.

And then everything went black.

Chapter Text

The next day was a blur. Night melted into day, which flowed into night once more. Hanae came in and out of consciousness and time seemed to hold no meaning. It was hard for her to determine what was a dream and what was real. Was she in Japan with her family, cooped up in her room to soften her illness? Or was she in Jesse’s house being nursed back to health?

Different situations played out before her eyes in her dreams.

 

It was time for training, but she found it hard to get out of bed. She was a strong student and a diligent worker. So, why couldn’t she sleep in for one day? Just one?

People talked in the hallway as she sighed and rolled over in bed. She enjoyed kendo and archery. She always had. But today she just wasn’t up to it. She was tired and sore all over. Maybe she could pretend to be sick? Or maybe-

 

She was at the summer festival, the hot night air causing her yukata to stick to her skin. It was muggy and warm as she looked up at the stars. They were so much brighter than usual. Her cousin sat by her, playing his latest game on his tablet.

“Why did you even bring that thing?” Hanae asked. Her cousin looked at her.

“Because these events are boring. I have better things to do.” She gave a sigh and looked again at the stars.

“Don’t you want to appreciate the night sky?” Her cousin shrugged and went back to playing.

“I’ve seen the night a dozen times. It’s nothing new.”

“Well, I think-,”

 

She was on a cold, hard floor and her face stuck to the tiles. She shivered as her body gave a painful jerk reaction to the chill. A deep voice spoke soothingly as strong hands gently grabbed her and lifted her up. The person held her, but who they were she didn’t know. Her head pounded as her throat burned. She opened her eyes and tried to focus, but the images before her shifted and blurred-

 

Hanae watched as the koi lapped up the few pellets she tossed into the pond. The wooden bridge above them wasn’t so high up that she couldn’t appreciate their colourful bodies and excited antics. She smiled softly as Boaba, the grandfather fish, pushed into the crowd and looked up at her. She tossed a few more pellets to him and watched as he greedily ate them up. She knew she spoiled him, but he held a special place in her heart. While the others always came when she had food, Boaba would follow her around the pond regardless if she had treats for him. His bright orange and red face gleamed as he seemed to smile up at her. She always felt safe at the pond. Somehow, it was here she felt like she could be herself.

“So,” A familiar voice said as someone walked across the bridge, “A son has been born to the Shimada clan.” Hanae watched as Boaba swam in a circle, showing off in hopes of getting more food. Touma leaned his back against the railing and looked at her, “What are you going to do?” Hanae leaned her forearms against the thick, wooden railing and watched the fish as they slowly began to calm and disperse.

“There’s nothing to do.” She said simply.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” He asked. She continued to watch the fish, “It means Genji will take over for your father, not you.”

“Or you.” Hanae said quickly, her eyes moving away from the fish to look at her cousin. She kept her breathing and face calm as she observed him. Her own inner chaos aside, how did Touma feel? Was he as worried and confused as her?

Touma shrugged.

“You know I’ve never wanted to take over the family.” She remained silent at his comment. He tilted his head to the side and cracked his neck, “Guess this means our engagement will be dissolved-,”

“We have been bound since birth. A single child cannot undue years of promises.”

“You and I both know the only reason we’re engaged is because of a loophole,” Her cousin sighed, “It was the only way your father could guarantee his blood would continue to lead the family. My father would have a higher position of power, and Sojiro would still have a strong influence on everything.” Hanae chewed on her lip as she looked back to the pond. The other fish had left, but Boaba stayed by the bridge, his long tailing lazily pushing him along as he swam nearby. Hanae clenched her fists.

“This changes nothing.”

“This changes everything.”-

 

Her mother wet a cloth and ran the damp fabric over her face and neck. Hanae gave a small moan as she opened her eyes.

“…mother?” She asked softly. Her mother set the damp cloth aside and smoother Hanae’s hair.

“Yes, darling, I’m here.”

“Where…what are you doing?”

“What? Am I not allowed to care for my daughter?” She asked as she sat up. Hanae blinked and gave her a confused look.

“But…the maids always care for me.”

“And today, I decided to care for you.”

 

“You don’t have to raise your voice.” Hanae said. Kai, her helper, protector and friend, ripped the helmet from his head, his long hair sticking to his sweaty skin.

“Yes, I do. It’s the only way he’ll LISTEN.”

“How was he supposed to know there would be double the bags?”

“That’s the POINT, Shimada-san! He’s not SUPPOSED to know. It’s a simulation! Life is unpredictable!” He slammed his helmet onto the dirty table, “And don’t defend him. He doesn’t need your protection.” She took a few breaths, trying to stay calm in the heat. Sweat trickled down her back as she spoke.

“His plan made sense. If Harumi and Aki had been stronger and faster-,”

“But they AREN’T.” He took a step closer, “He KNEW they couldn’t handle that much cargo. He KNEW it would weigh them down!”

“But-,”

“Would YOU have tried to take all the bags? Would you have risked 2 of your men when you only had 5?!” Hanae kept her mouth shut. She looked away, but when he came to stand right before her, she looked up at him. “This was a simulation, Hanae. And all of his team died.” He softened his eyes, “Including you.”

 

She was at a resort, somewhere cold, but she didn’t know where. She was sitting on the floor in the traditional hotel room as Harumi braided her hair.

“This is my special braid, Hanae-chan. Men can’t resist it.” Hanae watched patiently as the girl weaved her hair in and out, “My boyfriend said he loves it when I do my hair like this. It’s a secret weapon.” She giggled.

“I’m telling you a braid won’t work. You have to be assertive. That’s what men like,” Fuyuko sighed as she flipped through another page of her magazine, “That and skin. They like it when you show some skin.”

“I told you, I’m not wearing that skirt. It’s so short I might as well walk around in my underwear.” Hanae said. Her cousin rolled her eyes.

“It’s not that bad.”

“Well, I’m not wearing it.” Hanae huffed. Her cousin put her magazine down.

“Listen, Hanae-,”-

 

She was in a strange room with strange smells. Hanae shifted on the too soft bed as someone spoke to her. She looked up at the strange blond woman and frowned. Who was she? What was she saying?

“-medications-“ Was all Hanae could make out. She closed her eyes and gave a soft moan. She was too tired to talk. She was too tired to think. A deep voice suddenly came into the room. Her eyes fluttered up as she tried to see whoever spoke. The strange man was tall.

“Touma?” She asked wearily. Touma spoke to her in a voice too deep, and then the room darkened and her mind slipped away.

 

She stood against the wall, a small drink in her hand as she watched the others dance to the slow music. A part of her envied them, especially the women. She watched as their partners doted on them and showered them with attention. If Hanae wanted, she have any one of the men. If Hanae wanted, she could have any man in this room. But she didn’t want any man in this room. She only wanted one. And he was terribly late, like usual.

“Where is he?” Kai’s familiar voice asked. Hanae took another sip of her drink.

“Who?” She asked innocently. Kai frowned (or, frowned more).

“Your cousin.” He said. She swirled her drink around in its glass.

“I have many cousins-,”

Touma. Where is Touma.” She continued to watch her drink as she swirled it around. The red liquid whirled and almost spilled out, but she kept the liquid in the glass. It was rather pretty, with the smooth lights reflecting it. “Where is he?”

“Busy.” She sighed. He clenched his jaw.  

“Really? He’s too busy to come to Harumi’s engagement party?” Hanae stopped swirling her drink and took a sip.

“He’s only a little late.”

“A little late?” -

 

Hanae stood tall as the short woman altered her sleek, red gown.

“This will be one of my best works yet.” The woman promised as she winked at Hanae in the mirror. Hanae didn’t comment. She much preferred a traditional kimono to these too tight western dresses. But, if it would make Touma look at her, she would wear it. She would wear anything.

“Genji, no!” Hanae looked to her left to see Genji barreling towards her. Or, as fast as a toddler could barrel. He giggled gleefully as he ran towards Hanae, his hands outstretched.

“Onee-san!” He squealed as he raced up. Hanae immediately turned to him (which caused the seamstress to yelp in surprise). She crouched down and grabbed Genji’s little sticky hands.

“Genji-,”

“Onee-san!”

“No, Genji. This dress has pins in it. It could hurt you.” But her brother only laughed and bounced his arms up and down. A maid rushed up to them.

“I’m so sorry, Shimada-san. He wanted to see you, but he got away from me-,”

“It’s fine.” Hanae said quickly. She let out a slight sigh as she looked down at her little brother. He was a handful…he had always been a handful. He was-,

 

Two people far away argued with one another. Hanae tried to listen in to the words, but it was no use. They were too muffled and distorted. Her head pounded as she opened her mouth. Water. She needed water. She opened her bleary eyes, expecting to see a maid standing by, but there was no one. She furrowed her brows. What was her maid doing? She better not have sneaked out to flirt with the gardener again. Hanae was only willing to forgive her once for such incompetence. She tried to speak, but only a soft whimper came out. She focused her energy on speaking, but it was just too hard. Her eyes fluttered shut as she tried to will the water to her.

And then, it was quiet.

 

That night (and the next day) had been slow for Jesse. At first, he helped Hanae by holding back her hair and rubbing her back as she got sick in the bathroom. After a half an hour, it seemed like she had gotten it out of her system, so Jesse had helped her up and back to the couch. But right before she sat down, she vomited again, and so they went right back to their routine in the bathroom.

Jesse went through the motions again, holding her hair and rubbing her back, until she finished once more. He asked her if she felt like she was done, and she mumbled a response. He then tried to help her up, but she collapsed onto the floor with a loud ‘thud’. He called to her and tried to get her to respond, but it seemed that her body and mind were too tired to keep going. So, after apologizing in advance, he picked her up and brought her back to the couch. He tucked her in, said goodnight, then got to cleaning the mess that had been made.

By then, it was 2 in the morning. He checked her temperature and rubbed her face and neck down with a cold cloth after he realized she had a fever. He decided he’d text his doctor friend at first light, but he’d just have to wait until then. So, he spent the rest of the night wetting Hanae’s towel and checking her temperature. The night dragged on.

At 5 in the morning, he decided it was late (early?) enough to text Angela. She was there within the hour.

After giving her a brief rundown on Hanae’s condition, Angela did a few basic tests and tried to ask Hanae some questions (though, she was mostly unresponsive). Afterwards, she asked Jesse for a change of clothes and to carry Hanae to the bathroom (where Angela then changed her and gave her a cool wipe down). Genji woke up around this time, and so, after comforting him and helping to get him some breakfast, Jesse carried Hanae to his bedroom and tucked her into bed.

 

It was weird seeing her in one of his t-shirts. It was so big on her, it was practically a dress. And it felt weird carrying her. He knew she would never allow it if she were awake.

 

 

“How is she?” Jesse finally asked once he and Angela left the room.

“She’s alright. As long as you keep an eye on her, she’ll be ok.”

“Any idea what’s wrong?”

“From the way you describe it, it sounds to me like exhaustion. The body can only take so much stress physically and mentally, so it simply decided that if she didn’t take a break, it would make her take one.” Jesse nodded.

“So, what should I do?”

“I suggest a week of bedrest. And don’t do anything that might cause her stress-,”

“If I’m gonna take care of her for a week, I think she’s gonna be stressed no matter what I do.” Angela grinned at him.

“You’ll be taking care of her? I thought you would send her home.” Jesse shrugged and looked away.

“She ain’t got no one to take care of her. Plus, she’s got her brother to take care of…figure she’d get better sooner if I helped.” Angela chuckled and patted Jesse on the arm.

“You’re too sweet, Jesse. I hope she appreciates it.” Jesse grinned.

“She won’t.” He chuckled. “But someone’s gotta’ do it.” Angela smiled, but it quickly faded into a more serious expression.

“I told Jack-,”

What?!”

“Listen, she wasn’t on file-,”

“I told you not to tell Morrison!” Angela crossed her arms.

“As I recall, you told me not to tell Reyes, so I didn’t-,”

“But Morrison tells Reyes everything! They always have their Thursday gossip group with Amari!” Jesse grabbed his hair. “There’s a reason I didn’t want him knowing about this-,”

“Jesse, I had to check her medical history but when I went into the database there was no record of her. So, I asked Jack to check-,”

“I didn’t need you to check!”

 

“Well I did in case I had to prescribe medicine! Now, keep your voice down.” She scolded. Jesse scowled as she continued, “Jack told me there isn’t any file on her, period. She’s not in the system. As far as the government knows, she doesn’t exist.” Jesse growled and ran his hands down his face. “Jesse, she’s an illegal immigrant-,”

“Yeah, yeah, I guessed as much, which is why-,” He pulled his hands down, “I didn’t want Reyes to know! No doubt he’s gonna go callin’ on my door, askin’ why I got some alien holed up in my house!” Jesse gave a frustrated noise and rubbed his face, “This isn’t helping reduce stress!”

“Be quiet!” Angela scolded again. Jesse frowned and gave her a weak glare. “Jesse, whatever is going on between you and this woman isn’t any of my business, however,” Angela motioned towards Hanae, “It is my business if someone needs medical attention. I’m concerned because if something happens to her, I doubt she’ll go to the hospital. And that could cause serious issues.” Jesse sighed.

“I know. I just…it’s not my place. I’m not even supposed to know. She never told me.” He glanced off into his bedroom, “She ain’t got nobody. She’s all alone here…I just…I remember that feelin’, you know?” Angela nodded.

“I know Jesse, but she has to get her papers in order, or do something.”

“She’ll…we’ll figure somethin’ out. But for now,” He pointed at his friend, “You gotta keep yur mouth shut.”

“I promise to be quiet if it doesn’t involve medical concerns. But if she gets worse, I’m taking her to the hospital. I don’t care what you say Jesse, this woman’s health comes before everything else.” Jesse frowned, but didn’t respond. He knew he would lose the battle if he fought her on this. “Now,” Angela turned and walked towards the front door, “I have to go to work. Like I said, keep an eye on her fever. She should be feeling better soon, but she should remain in bed and rest as much as possible.”

“Alright.” Jesse followed Angela and looked through the kitchen to his small table. Genji sat there, his spoon in his hand and his cereal soggy as he stared wide eyed at Angela. “Hey bud, you wana say goodbye to Angel?” Jesse called out softly. Genji blushed and shook his head, averting his eyes from the woman. Jesse turned back to Angela. “He normally isn’t so shy.”

“It’s alright, children are often shy around doctors.” Jesse chuckled.

“I don’t think you bein’ a doctor is why he’s actin’ all shy.” Angela chuckled as she put on her coat and boots. She stood once more and gave Jesse a serious expression.

“One week of bedrest. And if she gets worse, you have to call me Jesse. Don’t try to do this yourself.” Jesse sighed.

“Yeah, alright…I get it.” Angela’s face softened.

“Good.” She opened the door and gave Jesse one last smile, “You’re a good friend Jesse, and a good man.” Jesse rubbed the back of his neck.

“Aw, shoot, get out of here before you make me blush.” She smiled, gave a little wave to Genji, then left. After he closed the door behind her, he took a moment to think about his next steps. And he tried to predict what was going to happen next.

 

 

Not four hours later was there a knock at the door. Specifically, three loud, hard knocks. Jesse frowned as he looked up from his building project with Genji. The boy looked up, then looked at Jesse.

“Jesse, knock knock.” Genji said. Jesse sighed, recognizing the knocks and debating if he should even bother opening the door. Genji tilted his head. “Jesse, knock knock.” He said again.

“Yeah, yeah I know kiddo. It’s just-,”

“McCree! Open the door.” After a moment’s hesitation, Jesse sighed, got up, and slowly made his way to the door. He glanced off towards his bedroom door, double checking that it was closed before he greeted the newcomer. He knew exactly who it was. He opened the door to see his old boss, a tray of two coffees in one hand and a box of donuts in the other.

“Hey.” Was all Jesse said.

“Hey.” Reyes responded, “Mind if I come in?”

“Yes.”

“But I come bearing gifts.” Reyes said with a grin.

“I’m busy. Come back later.” Jesse went to close the door, but Gabriel stuck his boot in the door frame to prevent it from closing. Jesse opened the door again with a frown.

“That anyway to treat your old boss, Jesse?” Jesse focused on his words as he spoke, knowing full well that Reyes could easily catch him if he took a misstep in the conversation.

“Look, I’m tired. I’ve got the day off, so I was plannin’ on sleepin’ in-,”

“You came to the door pretty fast for someone sleeping in. And look at those clothes,” Reyes nodded towards Jesse’s outfit, “You sleep in your jeans, mijo?”

“I fell asleep on the couch.”

“Your bed occupied?”

“I was drunk-,”

“Seem pretty sober to me-,”

“I’m tired Reyes. I don’t want to do this right now.” Jesse sighed as he rubbed his face.

“There a reason your tired? Stayed up late trying to save the world again?”

“No, I just-,”

“Let me guess, took another poor soul under your wing-,”

“Listen,” Jesse pointed at the older man, “You better watch it-,”

“I call it like it is, Jesse-,”

“I don’t-,”

“Jesse?” Genji called out from in the apartment. Reyes rose his eyebrows as McCree tried to maintain his poker face. He hoped beyond hope that Genji would just play with his toys and not come to the door. Reyes nodded beyond Jesse.

“Who’s that?”

“No one.”

“No one? Sounds like someone-,”

“It ain’t any of yur business-,”

“Kid, your life is my business.” Reyes said flatly, “Sounds to me like your babysi-,” Reyes stopped mid sentence, “Well, hey there.” Jesse stared down in horror at Genji, who had walked up to them and was standing beside Jesse. Genji gave a shy smile.

“Hi.”

“And what’s your name?” The man asked sweetly. Genji swayed back and forth.

“Genji.”

“Genji who?”

“Genji Shim-,”

“Genji, why don’t you go play with yur toys.” Jesse interrupted. But Genji just grabbed his pant leg and shook his head.

“It fall down.”

“’Then build it again-,”

“Fall down... and I smell food.” Genji smiled at the newcomer. “What in the box?” Reyes grinned slyly at Jesse as he shoved the tray of coffees into the other man’s hands. He then crouched down and opened the box.

“I brought all kinds of donuts. Do you like donuts, Genji?” Genji nodded quickly and reached for one, but Reyes suddenly snapped the lid shut. “You can have one if you tell-,”

“Bribin’ children now, Gabe? Thought you were above that.” Reyes looked up at Jesse for a moment, remaining silent, then broke out into a smug grin. Jesse didn’t understand until Reyes opened his mouth.

  “Where is your sister?”

  “She’s in-,”

“Since when the hell did you start speakin’ Japanese?!” Jesse gawked as Genji pointed.

“-the bedroom.”

“Genji, don’t talk to him!”

  “Is she sick?”

  “She’s very tired.”

“Gabe, I’m serious! He’s just a kid, don’t-,”

Where are your parents?”

The bad man make them dead-,” Jesse shoved the coffee back in Gabe’s hands and scooped up Genji. He then held his hand over the boy’s mouth.

“The hell is wrong with you! You can’t interrogate a child!” He then looked at the boy, “What did he ask you? What did you tell him?” But Genji just giggled, thinking it was a game. Reyes rose with a victorious smile. He moved the box so the lid flopped open and offered it to Genji.

Good boy, Genji. Go on, kid, take your pick.” Genji smiled and grabbed a vanilla donut with sprinkles. He then happily ate it as he watched the two adults bicker.

“That was low, Gabe-,”

“Kid, you should know by now that not much is beneath me. Now, mind if I come in? I have a few questions for Genji’s…sister.”

“Absolutely not.” Jesse stressed as he blocked the doorway with his body, “Yur not allowed. She’s sick, and Angel specifically said she can’t take too much stress.” Reyes chuckled darkly.

“Jesse, I promise it’s just a few questions. How hard can it be-,”

“I know you, and I know how you work, Reyes.”

“Jesse-,”

“I worked like that too, if you remember. Now, get out of here.”

“Jess-,”

“I’m serious, Reyes-,”

“Jesse, down.” Genji interrupted. Jesse huffed and placed the boy down, who ran off to the bedroom.

“Come on, kid. You know I’m going to question her sooner or later. Better now, right-,”

“She’s sick, Reyes. She can hardly speak, never the less answer-,” Jesse paused for a moment before he glared at the other man, “Oh, I get it, get the information while she’s vulnerable.” Reyes sighed and gave a shrug.

 “Ok, you caught me. Good job-,”

“You dirty, rotten-,”

“And now with the name calling?”

“Jesse!” Both men stopped as Genji ran out of the bedroom, “Jesse! Onee-san no good. Onee-san hot, hot.” Jesse paused for only a moment, unsure if he should move, before he gave in to his panic and raced to the bedroom. When he came in, Hanae was tossing and turning in bed. She was sweating and speaking frantically in Japanese.

“Damn!” He hissed as he came up beside her. He quickly took off her towelette, dipped it in the nearby ice water, and rubbed her face and neck once more. She continued to mutter, her expression pained as Jesse felt the heat coming off her. “Why you gotta get worse after Angel left? Why couldn’t you- aw, come on, Hanae.” He muttered, soaking the rag once more. He felt Genji standing beside him, staring as his sister spoke in their mother tongue.

“She talking about Touma. Aw, Onee-san,” Genji took his sister’s hand, “Touma not here. Touma home.”

“Who’s Touma?” Jesse whipped his head to see Gabriel leaning against the door frame. Genji looked at the man but stayed quiet.

 “Damn it, Reyes. Just get out of here!” Jesse hissed angrily as he wiped Hanae’s face once more. Hanae’s eyes fluttered open as she weakly grabbed Jesse’s wrist.

“Jesse…” She said softly. Jesse quickly turned back to her and leaned closer.

“Yes? What is it?”

“You can’t…be here. Father will…” She lulled her head and closed her eyes, “You…have to…leave-,”

“Darlin’, you ain’t in Japan no more. Yur at my place.” She shook her head at him.

“You have…you have to go…they’ll kill…” Her eyes opened slowly once more. She then paused and just looked at him, which gave Jesse an unnerving feeling.

“Darlin’. Hey. You with me?” He asked. But she just continued to stare. After a few seconds she let out a long sigh and reached out to him, cupping his cheek in her hand. He remained still, taking in the warmth of her hand, before she let her hand fall to the bed and let out a small moan. She lulled her head once more and spoke painfully in Japanese. Whatever she said, Genji seemed distressed by it, because he grabbed her hand in both of his and spoke out to her.

Jesse tried to do the best he could. He repeatedly dunked her face towel in the ice water and wiped the sweat from her face, neck, collar bone and arms. He spoke softly to her, trying to reassure her that she was safe, and that she just needed to rest. Genji also spoke to her, pleading to her in their mother tongue. After a couple of minutes, she seemed to calm down, and after a few more minutes she fell back into a deep sleep. Jesse let out a sigh as he stood up and rubbed his back. He turned to Genji, about to ask him what she was saying, when Reyes caught his eyes once more.

How had he forgotten the man was there?

Jesse gave him a dark look, which Reyes matched with a calm expression. After a full 30 seconds of staring at one another, Gabriel let out a sigh and moved off of the door frame.

“Fine. I’ll talk to her later.”

“Not later. You don’t talk to her ever-,” Reyes sent him a harsh look.

“Watch it, Jesse.” The man then walked out of sight. Jesse followed him to the front door, hardly noticing one of the coffees and the box of donuts in the kitchen. Gabriel unlocked the front door and turned to his former employee. “I want you to be careful, kid. She’s not who you think she is.” Jesse maintained his dark look. Reyes sighed. “Listen, it’s cute, what you got going on here. I get it. It’s like you got a wife and kid suddenly. It’s a nice little set up.”

“She’s not my-,” Reyes suddenly gave Jesse a cold look.

“But you can’t play house forever, Jess. Sooner or later, she and the boy are going to leave your house. And that’s when we’ll talk.” Reyes chuckled, “Unless your planning on keeping her here forever.”

“It’s times like this I remember why I quit.” Reyes shrugged and opened the door.

“See you soon, kiddo. Try to keep your family together till then.”

“Shut up, Reyes.” Jesse said coldly. Reyes chuckled, shrugged again, and then left, closing the door behind him.

 

Jesse tried not to think of Gabriel’s words throughout the day. He played with Genji, cooked some lunch, checked on Hanae frequently, and overall tried to distract himself. When Genji wasn’t playing with Jesse, he would sit on the floor by Hanae and play with his toys there. It was late afternoon when Jesse came in on Genji holding his sister’s hand. He went up to the boy.

“You doin’ ok, kiddo?” Genji looked up at Jesse and nodded. Jesse looked over at Hanae, taking in her weak form and pale skin. He then went up to her and felt her forehead with his hand.

“Well, she’s not burnin’ up, so that’s good.” He withdrew his hand and looked back at Genji, who looked intently at his sister. Jesse sighed and, after a moment, walked away from the bed and sat on the floor. He motioned for Genji to come and sit beside him. When he did, Jesse wrapped his arm around the boy. “I know yur probably real scared about yur sister, but she’s goin’ to be ok, Genj. We just gotta take care of her.” Genji nodded. “We gotta be real strong too. Are you strong, Genji?” Genji shrugged. “Aw, sure you are. I don’t know a stronger five-year-old than you.” The boy gave a little smile. “So, you just hold on, Genj. We’ll fix yur sister right up. Before you know it, she’ll be right as rain.”

“Right as rain.” Genji echoed. They then sat in silence for a few minutes. Genji reached out and grabbed two little toy cars, all the while staying in Jesse’s arm. He then began to roll the cars up and down his legs, making acceleration and crashing noises. Jesse mauled over the words in his mouth before he spoke them.

“Hey, uh, Genj.” Genji nodded but focused on his toys. “Who’s Touma?”

“Onee-san’s boyfriend.” Genji said, not missing a beat. Jesse nodded slowly.

“He here? In America?”

“No. He in Japan.” Jesse nodded again.

“Was…he going to marry yur sister?” Genji nodded as he flew his cars in the air. Jesse sighed, not quite knowing how to feel about the whole thing. Genji then sighed too and put his cars down. He frowned.

“I miss Touma.” He mumbled. Jesse rose his eyebrows.

“Really? You, uh, liked Touma?” Genji turned to him and smiled, nodding his head.

“Uh-huh. Touma fun! We play games, and he has computer, and we catch bugs!” Genji smiled, “Touma catched big bug! And he scared Onee-san!” He mimicked a shocked expression, then laughed, “And Touma play Totoro.” Jesse quirked his brow.

“Totoro? What’s a Totoro?” Genji gasped slightly.

“Totoro! Jesse knows! Totoro.” The boy motioned aimlessness, “To-to-ro!”

“I don’t- Genj, I don’t know Totoro. Is that an instrument?” Genji gave a small giggle.

“No! Jesse, no. Totoro. You know.” He then began to sing a little song. He said Totoro in a little tune, and then started singing in Japanese-,

From the bed, they could hear Hanae weakly singing along. Jesse sprang up and rushed to her side. Genji scrambled up beside him. The woman looked up at Jesse and gave him a little smile.

“I love that movie.” She said softly. Genji clambered onto the bed and squished himself beside her. She gave a weak chuckle, “Do you want to watch Totoro, Genji?” She asked. Genji nodded frantically.

“I miss Totoro!” He said as he snuggled beside her. She smiled.

“Me too.”

“How you feelin’?” Jesse asked quietly. She blinked a few times.

“I’m…tired. Where are we?”

“Yur at my place. You passed out and…you had a mighty bad fever.” Hanae blinked a few more times.

Really? I don’t remember…no…we were talking and…” She let out a loud sigh and closed her eyes. “I…apologize, Jesse-,”

“Don’t apologize! It ain’t nothin’, darlin’.” Hanae opened her eyes halfway.

“I’m sorry to trouble you. I don’t know how this happened…” She rolled her head to the side as Jesse shook his head.

“Ain’t no trouble. And uh, a doctor came by-,” She turned to him once more, “And she said you should rest for a week.” Hanae nodded.

“What about work-,”

“Don’t you worry about that. I already texted Hana to tell yur boss.” He interrupted. She furrowed her brows for a moment, trying to concentrate but after a moment her face relaxed again.

“Oh…” Was all she said. Jesse was silent for a moment, surprised at her passiveness. He figured she must have been so tired she couldn’t fully comprehend the situation.

“And, uh…I figured you and Genj should stay at my place, so I can take care of you two.” Hanae squinted slightly.

“But…Jesse-,”

“No point fightin it, darlin’. Yur stayin’ here.” He said with a chuckle. And surprisingly, she didn’t fight him, or get angry, or try to get out of it. Instead she just gave him a warm, tired smile.

“Thank you, Jesse.” She practically whispered. He took in her beautiful smile for the briefest moment before focusing back on their conversation.

“Aw, ain’t nothin’, sweet pea. And listen,” He gently took her soft hand in his own, “Don’t you go worryin’ bout Genji. We’re gonna have ourselves a good ol’ time. You just stay here rest, get yur strength back.” Hanae gave a relieved sigh.

“Thank you.” His face flushed slightly.

“Ain’t nothin’, honey bee.” The room fell silent, save for Genji’s soft humming. Hanae looked up at Jesse, with her soft smile and calm eyes. And he looked down at her, and he took in how beautiful she was when she wasn’t stressed beyond measure. Had she always been that beautiful? He didn’t remember her smile shining so brightly…

He coughed awkwardly and broke eye contact (though he still held her hand).

“Well, uh- oh!” He then looked at Genji, “How’s bout we watch that Totoro thing? You said it was a movie, right?”

“Yeah! Totoro!” Genji said, jumping up.

“Ok- listen! Genj, you gotta be gentle. Yur sister’s restin’.” Genji sat down again.

“Yes, sorry.”

“I’d love to see that movie again.” Hanae said softly. Jesse gave a gentle smile.

“Well, alright. You two get comfortable, and I’ll get the laptop.” Genji nodded as he moved over his sister and snuggled up against her other side. He wrapped her arm around him and laid his head against her chest.

Jesse was quick to get the laptop, and after an awkward moment of climbing over Hanae, he got to the other side and laid out. He swiftly turned the laptop on, got the movie, and placed it on Genji’s little legs.

“That hurt at all, Genj?” Genji sook his head. But Jesse put a pillow underneath it, just in case. He then pressed play and watched as Genji lit up with excitement. A few minutes into the movie, Genji pulled Jesse closer and was soon able to snuggle against Hanae and him. Jesse let out a soft chuckle as Genji continued to watch the movie. A few more minutes passed, and Jesse looked to Hanae to see her fast asleep. She had a smile on her face though. And the whole situation just…it felt nice.

It felt right.

 

 

The next day, Jesse and Genji ate breakfast and decided to make plans for the week. Jesse was able to take a few days off, and on the days he had to work Hana said she could sub for him. It would be nice having a woman help out, since there were certain tasks Jesse just couldn’t do.

“So, whadd’ya wana do, Genj?” Jesse asked as he took a bite of his toast. Genji munched on his cereal and swung his legs back and forth.

“I dunno.”

“You can’t think of anything?” Genji thought for a moment.

“The zoo?” Genji looked up with a smile.

“Uh, sorry kiddo. It’s a bit too chilly for the zoo. How’s bout somethin’ inside?” Jesse chuckled. Genji looked up in thought.

“Mmmmm….”

“Well, I saw in the paper that kids are free at the museum this week. Does that sound like fun? I’m not much of a museum man myself, but I think it’ll be fun lookin’ at the dinosaurs they got there. You like dinosaurs, Genji?” Genji nodded quickly, “Alright. So, we got one down. What else?” They then spent the next little while thinking about different things to do. They decided to go to the museum as well as the park, McDonald’s and the toy store (though, that was actually going to be a trip to buy Genji and Hanae some clothes).

Once they finished their breakfast the two got to working tidying up (though Jesse did most of the cleaning). They then went to tell Hanae their plans.

“The museum?” Hanae asked quietly. Genji nodded while his sister gave a gentle smile. “You might make me jealous. I’ve wanted to go there for some time.” She blinked slowly and looked at Jesse, “Please, keep an eye on him. He likes to run off.”

“Yeah, I figured. Don’t worry though, it’ll just be the two of us, so he ain’t gonna leave my side.” Jesse then gave her a thumbs up. She gave a light, breathy chuckle.

“Alright. Genji,” She said, addressing her brother once more, “Be good for Jesse. No screaming.”

No screaming.” Genji repeated.

And no running.” Genji looked at the floor.

No running.” He mumbled. Hanae reached out and patted his head.

Make me proud, Genji.” The boy nodded.

“You sure you’ll be alright here?”

“Yes. I think I’ll just sleep.”

“Ok. Well, I got yur water right on the bedstand. But if anythin’ comes up, just text me or Hana. We’ll come a runnin’.”

“Thank you, Jesse.” She closed her eyes, “Now, go have fun.

 

 

The museum wasn’t too crowded, seeing as it was the middle of the day on a weekday. There wasn’t even a line to get their tickets. Once they got inside, Jesse took Genji’s hand and walked towards the first exhibit. It featured old antiques and clothes from ancient Japan, China, and other east Asian countries. At first, Genji didn’t seem very interested, since he quickly went from one artifact to the other, only giving each a brief glance. He did, however, get excited when he saw a large mural of two dragons fighting. He immediately called for Jesse to come over and began to (try) to tell him the story about them. Jesse read the information plaque that hung beside it.

“The dragons of the North and South wind, huh?” He said. Genji grinned and pointed at them.

“Father tell story! Every night, story! The dragons fight. They’re brothers. And blue dragon, BAM!” Genji hit his hands together, “And green dragon, oh nooo!” He then pretended to fall down, “And blue dragon sad. And he meet man. And man say, you need be man. Come with me.” Genji smiled brightly at Jesse, who grinned back.

“Well, that’s quiet the tale you got there. What happened to the blue dragon?” Genji shrugged, “Was his brother dead?” Genji shrugged again. “Huh…well…it’s an interestin’ story, that’s for sure.”

Genji continued to talk about the dragons throughout the rest of the exhibit. After a while, it seemed he was more interested in talking about it than looking at the artifacts. So, after a few more minutes, they moved on to the other ancient civilizations.

Genji’s interest perked up again in the section about ancient Egypt (and he laughed at the naked statues in the ancient Rome and Greek sections). He still breezed by most of the items, only giving each a glance before moving on to the next. It was hard for Jesse just to keep up with the boy. On a few occasions he had to tell Genji to slow down so he could at least read a quick summery on a few artifacts.

The next exhibit was the dinosaurs, which Genji was really interested in. He would point to each one and ask Jesse what the name of it was. After going through a few, Jesse asked Genji what sound the T-Rex made.

“ROWR!” Genji fake yelled. Jesse chuckled and shook his head.

“I think you mean, ‘ROAR’!” Jesse fake yelled back. Genji pouted.

“No! No, ROAR. It’s ROWR! And hiisssssss.” Jesse laughed.

“What! He don’t hiss! He ain’t no snake!”

“HIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSS.” Genji hissed again. He then angled his hands like a dinosaur and began to stomp around, hissing to the right and left. Jesse continued to laugh.

“Genji! Dinosaurs don’t hiss!” Genji turned back at Jesse and hissed at him. He then pretended to bite him. Jesse jumped back. “Whow there! I don’t wana’ be no T-rex lunch.” Genji giggled and stomped towards the raptor fossils, hissing along the way.

 

 

Finally, they got to the animal exhibit. It had all kinds of different taxidermized animals on display. They had different animals in different poses and positions. Some were pretending to be in the desert, others were flying in the air. They also had a live ant colony that allowed people to see inside an anthill. Jesse enjoyed telling Genji about the time he was bit by a rattle snake, and Genji tried to tell a story about his father possibly fighting off a bear.

To the far left was a mock cave, which they went into after some time. At first it was rather bright, but it got much darker the further they walked in. The pre-recorded voice told them all about insects that lived in the caves (and sometimes shone lights on sculptures of the insects sitting on the nearby walls). Genji enjoyed touching the fake insects, giggling, and jumping away as if they had scared him. They went further into the mock cave, and there, in the darkness, was a large floor to ceiling window. It was dark and hard to see, but when they looked closely, they could make out moving things on the ceiling.

“Jesse, what those?” Genji asked as he squeezed Jesse’s hand.

“Those are bats, Genj.”

“Bats.”

“Yup. They’re…like birds. You know, they eat bugs and fruit…and they fly around at night.” Genji pressed his hands and nose against the glass and stared up at the creatures. As if on que, two flew off from the ceiling and decided to hang on a large branch instead. Genji jumped and pointed at them.

“Jesse!”

“Yeah! Yeah I saw.” Jesse crouched down. “I like bats. Do you like bats?” Genji nodded. “You know, buckaroo, I used to see a lot of bats back home in New Mexico.” Genji hummed in acknowledgment as he continued to watch the bats. “There was this one time I was walkin’ back home in the dark.” Jesse leaned a little closer, “It was around midnight, and it was really dark. Just like in ‘ere. I could hardly see in front of me.” Genji looked over at Jesse, “And then, I heard something just over my head.” Jesse made a motion, and Genji watched him intently. “I looked around, but there wasn’t nothin’ there.” Jesse looked around, “So I went on walkin’. Then, AGAIN!” Jesse swooped his hand over Genji’s head, and the boy gave a little giggle, “Something FLEW right over me! And it took my hat clean off!” Jesse motioned, “So I said, ‘Hey! Cut that out!”

“Cut that out!” Genji echoed.

“And there was silence…no one said anythin’, cuz no one was there.” Jesse looked around, and this time Genji did too. They looked around in the dark room, their eyes adjusting to the poor lighting as Jesse leaned closer again. “Then, when I was lookin’ off, a GIANT, HAIRY BAT SWOOPED down!” Jesse threw out his arms and Genji let out a little yelp as he stared wide eyed at his friend, “And then he started TICKLIN’ ME!” Jesse yelled as he grabbed Genji and started tickling him. Genji let out a screech of laughter and fell down, his body squirming around as he laughed and giggled.

“No! N-No bat! Jesse- haha- no!”

“Yes bat! Everybody knows bats are the worst ticklers out there!” Jesse laughed evilly as he continued to tickle the boy. Genji laughed and kicked and held his sides as he giggled and writhed around. Finally, Jesse drew away and laughed, giving Genji some time to settle down. The boy continued to giggle as he slowly got up.

“Jesse’s silly,” Genji giggled as he covered his mouth, “Bats no tickle.”

“They do to. Cross my heart, hope to die.” Jesse said, holding one hand over his heart and the other up for an oath. Genji continued to giggle as Jesse got up and reached out for his hand. “Alright, come on bucko, we wouldn’t want these bats breakin’ out and start ticklin’ us.” Genji giggled gleefully as he took Jesse’s hand and followed him out of the cave.

 

 

They spent quiet a bit of time at the museum, but when Genji began getting a little cranky, Jesse took that as a sign that it was time to go. Before they left, they went into the small gift shop and looked around.

“Alright Genji. You can get <em>one</em> thing- BUT it can’t be anything to pricy.”

“Pricy.”

“Er, too much money. Little money, ok?” Genji nodded.

“Ok. Little money.” Jesse then let go of his hand and followed the boy to the toy section. There were little plastic dinosaurs and large plush penguins. There were small board games and little chess sets. Jesse browsed through the stock of children’s books. It didn’t seem to be categorized by age since the story books were mixed in with Nat Geo Wild books. Jesse picked up a hardcover book.

“Jesse.” Genji piped up.

“Found somethin’ already?” Jesse asked as he looked down at the boy. Genji smiled at Jesse and held up a small bat plush. It had small, pointy ears and a cute little face. Its wings had pieces of Velcro on them so it could keep it’s wings open or closed. Genji smiled and tried to tickle Jesse with the bat.

“Tickle tickle!” The boy giggled. Jesse chuckled and gently took the plush. He looked it over (and looked at the price) and decided it was decent enough.

“You want this? You sure?” Genji nodded quickly.

“Mmm-hmm!”

“Alrighty, you hold on to it till we get to the counter, alright?” Genji nodded again and grabbed Jesse’s hand, his eyes focused on his new friend. Jesse looked down at the book in his hand and grinned. He knew he said one thing…but…he did say one thing for Genji. It wouldn’t hurt if he got his own gift.

 

 

Later in the afternoon, Genji showed off his toy bat to his sister.

“Fwoosh!” Genji said as he made the bat fly around. Hanae smiled at her brother.

It’s a very nice bat, Genji.”

Jesse and I saw many bats. And we saw snakes! And a bear! It was HUGE!” Genji lifted his hands above his head, “It was as big as the one father saw!” Hanae nodded along. “And we saw dinosaurs. They were really, really big! And I went on Jesse’s shoulders, and we still weren’t as big as the dinosaurs!”

It sounds like you had fun.” Genji nodded quickly. “I’m glad.”

I like Jesse.” Genji said as he crawled onto the bed and sat beside his sister. Hanae smiled gently and reached up to stroke his hair.

I know.”

Do we live with Jesse now?” Hanae let out a sigh and shook her head.

No, Genji. We’ll be here for a week. Then we’ll go home.”

But I like it here.” Genji swung his legs back and forth, “Jesse’s house is warm, and I like his bed. And everyday we can see Jesse.” Genji smiled, “Jesse can be our big brother.”

No, Genji. We can’t live with Jesse.”

Why not?”

It’s complicated, Genji. Adults can’t always live together. Things get complicated when they do.” Genji shrugged.

Not compli-co-…hard. We can live here with Jesse. And if it’s too small, we can move to a big house. And Jesse can cook, and we can play everyday- and we can watch TV!” Genji smiled and bounced slightly. Hanae continued to shake her head.

No, Genji. We can’t. It’s not allowed.” Genji stopped bouncing.

Why?

Because…Jesse is a boy, and I’m a girl. Remember how I wasn’t allowed to live with Touma because we weren’t married?” Genji nodded, “It’s the same. Jesse and I aren’t married, so we can’t live together. Those are the rules." Genji swung his legs and thought for a moment before piping up again.

Then...maybe you and Jesse get married?”

Genji, I’m not going to marry Jesse.”

But why?”

Because it’s not right."

But then we can live here!”

  “People don’t just-,”

  “And we can play everyday!-,”

NO.” Hanae stressed, “Genji, it’s too complicated for you to understand. But Jesse and I can't get married, and we can't live with him.” Genji pouted and hung his head. Hanae let out a deep breath and closed her eyes. The conversation had taken a lot out of her. When she opened her eyes again she saw Genji getting a little teary eyed. She sighed and stroked his cheek. “Genji, I’m sorry you don’t understand now. But you’ll understand when you’re older. Just, please…listen to me when I say we can’t live with Jesse, ok?” Genji gave a little sniffle. “Ok?”

Ok…” Genji mumbled.

Come here.” She said gently. Genji sniffled again and crawled up beside his sister. She wrapped her arms tightly around him and rubbed her cheek into his hair. “Things will get better, Genji. One day, we’ll live in a nice warm house, and we’ll have lots of warm food and clothes. And everyday you’ll get to play outside. We just have to be patient. Remember what mother said?”

True patience con-con…bears…-,”

True patience consists of bearing what is unbearable.” Genji nodded slowly, “We just have to be strong.” She rubbed his arms and held him close, “One day, Genji. Things will be better. One day.”

They stayed like that for some time. The two of them wrapped in each other’s arms, trying to understand their lives and situation.

 

 

 

That night, Genji asked Jesse to tuck him into bed.

“That’s a little hard, kiddo. I mean…yur sister’s sleepin’.” Jesse whispered as Genji got into bed.

“It’s ok. She sleeping. And we can be quiet.” Genji whispered back. The boy got under the covers and laid down beside his sleeping sister. He smiled up at Jesse, who gave a little sigh.

“Alright. But we gotta be quiet. You promise?” Genji nodded quickly.

“Promise! Promise!” The boy whispered.

“Ok.” Jesse waited a moment, “So, how’s this work? You want me to tell you a story? Or read a book?”

“A book!” Genji whispered. Jesse crossed his arms.

“Well…I haven’t rented any kids books yet…all I got is some Michael Crichton and…” Jesse scratched his chin, looked off, then held up his finger. “Give me a sec.” He left the room for only a moment before coming back, a medium, hard cover book in his hands. Genji sat up in interest as Jesse gave a smile. “I bought it at the museum. Thought I’d give it to you later but,” He showed the cover of the book, which had an impressive display of bats.

“Bat book!” Genji gasped happily. Jesse grinned.

“Yeah! But…uh…” He scratched his chin again, “Don’t know if it’s much for a bedtime story,” He opened it and flipped through some pages, “It’s more facts than an actual story…”

“Bat book! Bat book!” Genji whispered excitedly. Jesse chuckled.

“Alright. Bat book it is. Now you lay down and get settled.” Genji did so as Jesse left and brought one of his wooden chairs into the room. He got comfortable as Genji snuggled into the covers. “Ok…bat book…” Jesse opened the cover and read the first few lines. “…you sure you want this? It really is just information ‘bout bats…it ain’t no story-,”

“Bat book!” Genji whispered gleefully. So, Jesse shrugged and began to read.

“What is a bat? Some people say they’re devilish creatures, while others say they bring good fortune. But what are bats, really? Simply put, bats are mammals that can fly.” Jesse held up the book and pointed to a few pictures, “See, there’s a whole load of bats. They, uh, got wings for hands.” Genji nodded as Jesse continued, “The smallest bat is the Kitti horn nosed bat, which is ‘bout 23-33 mm. The largest bats are flying fox bats, which have a wingspan of 5 feet and 7 inches.” Jesse whistled, “Damn, that’s a big bat.” He then continued on. Every now and again he would show Genji the pictures in the book or give some commentary on what he thought. Genji listened intently as he focused on the sound of Jesse’s voice. He didn’t understand what was being said, but he enjoyed the warmth and energy that came when Jesse spoke. The boy smiled as Jesse continued on. “Bats are vital to the eco system, as they help to pollinate flowers and spread seeds-,”

“Jesse?”

“Yeah, kiddo?”

“Why you can't marry Onee-san?” Jesse immediately went silent and stared at Genji.

“…what?”

“Onee-san said you two no married.”

“Uh…yeah. We…uh…we ain’t married, Genj.” The boy sat up.

“I said I want to live with Jesse, but Onee-san said no because no married.” Jesse squinted at the boy.

“You mean…because me and yur sister ain’t married?” Genji nodded, “Well…yeah. We ain’t. And uh…I mean, I live here.”

“But…why can we no live here?”

“Because,” Jesse frowned, “Kiddo…it takes a lot to move in with someone. I mean, I’m close to yur sister but…we ain’t close enough to live together.” Jesse closed the book, “Some people don’t mind livin’ together. It suit’s ‘em just fine. But, uh, I’m pretty old school, Genj. I don’t wana’ live with a girl ‘till we’re married. I already tried livin’ with women before hand and it, uh…it gets complicated.” Genji pouted.

“I don’t understand.”

“Genj, we all can’t just start livin' together-,”

“Then marry Onee-san.” Jesse sighed.

“Genj, I can’t just…marry yur sister. I mean… we aren’t even datin’, and even if we were, marriage is a big step.” Genji clutched the blankets.

“But…I wana live with Jesse.” He said sadly. Jesse put the book down and came over to the bed.

“And I would love havin’ you around, kiddo. But…it just can’t happen, Genji.”

“Jesse’s house is warm, and many food, and toys, and TV…” The boy looked up at Jesse with wet eyes, “And Jesse…”

“Aw,” Jesse sat on the edge of the bed and reached out to stroke Genji’s head, “I’m sorry kiddo. I’d love to have you here…but…well, you can visit whenever you want.” A stream of tears fell down the boy’s face.

“Not same…”

“Aw, I know, bucko. But my hands are tied. This is just the way things are.” Genji sniffled as Jesse tried to wipe his tears away, “But you know, we’ll still be friends, Genj. You, me, and yur sister. And we still have a whole week together. Remember? We’re gonna go to the library, and McDonald’s…and we’ll play bats and Totoro…that’ll be fun, right?” Genji gave a little nod, “So cheer up. Plus, I ain’t goin’ anywhere. So, if you ever need me, I’ll be around, ok?” Genji nodded again. “Ok…” Jesse continued to stroke the boy’s head. Genji sniffled and then suddenly crawled out of bed and into Jesse’s lap. The man wrapped his arm’s around the boy as Genji curled up in his arms.

“I love you, Jesse.” Genji sniffled. Jesse sighed.

“I love you too, kiddo.”

And they stayed like that for some time, wrapped in each other’s arms. And they thought about their situation, and their future.

 

 

 

After Genji fell asleep, Jesse tucked him back into bed and closed the door behind him. The apartment was dark, save for the light that pooled in from the window. Jesse navigated his way around his furniture, having long memorized the layout of his home. When he got to the kitchen, he opened the fridge and got a single beer. It would be ok if he just had one for the night. He popped off the top, took a sip, and leaned back against the kitchen counter, looking out the far window as he did so. A steady snowfall had begun sometime while he was talking to Genji, and it seemed to continue on. Jesse watched the snow as he slowly sipped his drink.

Getting married…

He tried to empty his head as he watched the snow in the darkness, but it kept going back to that single point. Being in a relationship with Hanae. Having Genji be a part of his family. Gabe’s words from before echoed in his mind as he tried to push away the topic.

It was pointless to think about. They weren’t even dating. And even if they were dating, Hanae seemed like the type who needed a long time to adjust to a relationship. Besides, they had a relationship of trust, and friendship.

But what else?

There isn’t anything else.

Wasn’t there something going on between them? Lately, he had been spending more and more time with Genji and his sister. And Hanae was beginning to trust him more and more. And it wasn’t like he had other women coming to his apartment constantly. And it wasn’t like he spent this much time talking to or thinking about other women.

It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is what she thinks.

But what did he think? He took another sip of his drink and frowned. He didn’t like where this topic was going. He had been avoiding it for some time. What did he think of Hanae? Who was she to him?

A friend.

And?

Someone who's been dealt a bad hand.

And?

He didn’t want to go there. He didn’t want to maul over his feelings. But it was an unavoidable issue, especially since she was going to be staying in his home for a week. So, who was she? What did he think of her?

She’s independent, and hates asking for help. She gets ticked off easily and always needs space. She hardly ever opens up, and when she does she's quick to cut you off again.

And?

She’s incredibly loyal, and patient. She always puts her brother first and has worked herself sick trying to provide a good life for him. She’s funny, and strong, and reliable. And when she does let her walls down, and when she does open up, she’s warm and gentle. And she knows how life works. And she knows what it’s like to love someone and lose them. And she’s trying to change.

Just like how he worked on changing all those years ago. The effort and strain he went through to get past the pride, and addiction, and violence.

He put his beer down and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

  And she’s beautiful.

He was sure she wasn’t this beautiful before. But something had changed.

Something changed in her.

Or had something changed in him?

He let out a deep sigh and rubbed his face. He stayed quiet for some time, the moonlight cascading light shadows across the kitchen floor.

So, that’s it. That’s that.

There was no use ignoring it any longer.

He had feelings for her.

And they were beginning to run deep.

Chapter Text

Hanae’s father loved telling stories. Throughout her life, Hanae could remember countless times her father would speak to her about different fables and adventures. Usually, she could understand the life lesson, but sometimes she needed help finding it. Often, her father would relate fables and stories while she sat beside her mother, hanging on to every word he said. Her father knew many stories from ancient Japan to modern times. But one of his favourite stories to tell wasn’t of old monks or ancient warriors. It was of the first time he met her mother.

“I will always remember the sound of your mother’s Koto.” He would begin, “My cousins and I were at the small theater just on the edge of town. They had gone to find seats while I wandered off.” He would look off as he remembered the scene, “I had never seen the inners of the theater, so I decided to see if there was anything interesting there. And as I walked, I found myself in the back rooms of the theater. Strangely, there wasn’t anyone else around. I was totally alone in those dark, cluttered rooms. And then I heard it, a single Koto singing softly in the darkness. It was such a sweet, melancholy sound.” Her father would pause.

“I was never one to enjoy the theater much. There was always something more important to do. But when I heard that Koto, it was like I was put under a spell. And the music pulled me in, and I followed it right until I came to a very small room.”

“And mother was there.” Hanae would say. Her father would smile.

“Yes. There your mother was, alone, playing that beautiful instrument. The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she would be my wife. I knew I had to have her.” He then would chuckle, “Your mother was very quiet. In my youth, women were always coming to me and begging for my attention. But not your mother. As soon as she saw me, she stopped playing and got up to leave. I asked her for her name, but she refused to tell me. She was so quiet and elegant.” He would smile, “Finally, she told me her family’s name, and before I could say another word, she was gone.”

Hanae’s mother would remain silent during the whole story. She never interrupted or gave a word.

“I spent weeks hunting her down. I only had a name to work with, but it turns out there were many Akazawa’s in our city. I knew I had finally come to the right home when I heard her playing the Koto again. I knew only your mother could make that beautiful sound. It was as if she was calling out to me, like she knew I was looking for her. I demanded to be let in, and I followed the music once more. And once more, it led me to your mother. It was that night I asked her father for permission to court her.”

Hanae would smile at the look on her father’s face. He always told the story with warmth and pride. And he would always look so lovingly towards her mother.

“We were wed within a year. And then, finally, she was mine.”

And every time he finished the story, he would stand up, come to her mother, and give her a warm kiss.

“And I only adore you more and more throughout our years together.” Her mother would blush and smile.

“And I fall deeper in love with you, my love.” Hanae’s mother would say.

It was a warm memory for Hanae. And it was a scene that played out often in her childhood.

So, as she grew, she would imagine a future like her mother’s. Sure, Hanae didn’t need to find a husband, she was already engaged to her cousin, but she would still imagine the time they would fall in love. Perhaps she would play the Koto, and her cousin would also be drawn to her.

It was a reason she loved playing the instrument. She would play and play, calling out for a love to find her.

 

Hanae slept. Another day passed.

On Thursday, Jesse took Genji to McDonald’s.

“Alright, bud, you can get anythin’ from the kid’s menu.” Jesse said as he leaned down and pointed to the sign behind the cashier. Genji squinted at the pictures and hummed. The McDonald’s was fairly empty, with only a few customers here and there. At the back were a couple of moms chatting while their children played in the play gym. The cashier waited patiently as Genji decided.

“What you eat, Jesse?” He asked curiously.

“Well, I’m gonna get a hamburger.” Genji smiled at him, “Is that what you want, a hamburger?” Genji nodded and hugged his plush dragon, “Alright. We’ll get you one.” Jesse stood once more and relayed his order to the cashier, paid, and then led Genji to the side so they could wait. Genji looked around curiously at the different colours and lights. “Did you have McDonald’s back home?” Jesse asked as Genji eyed the toy display. The boy nodded. “Did you like it?”

“Daddy said McDonald’s dirty.” Genji said, looking back at Jesse. Jesse smiled and crossed his arms.

“Well, that ain’t true. These are fine establishments.”

“And Onee-san don’t eat because she said it make you fat.”

“What!” Jesse put his hands on his hips, “That ain’t true! I eat McDonald’s all the time, and I ain’t fat.”

Genji looked up at Jesse, then looked at Jesse’s stomach and chest before looking back at him once more.

“…a little fat-,”

“I ain’t fat! I’m a big man is all.” Genji lifted his hand and patted Jesse’s stomach.

“A little fat!” He giggled as he started hitting Jesse’s stomach. Jesse gawked and covered himself.

“I’ll have you know my doctor says I’m perfectly healthy!” Genji giggled happily and tried to hit Jesse’s stomach again, but the man pushed his hands away. The two then fell into a game of Genji trying to touch Jesse’s stomach with Jesse acting as goalie. The cashier had to interrupt them to let them know their food was ready.

 

Genji seemed to enjoy his burger, since he didn’t speak much during their meal. He was happy to be eating ‘what Jesse eats’ and even copied the way the man held his burger. He was also happy with his free toy of a small, plush dog.

“Soba, you have new friend!” Genji said as he began playing with the toys. Jesse grabbed their empty wrappers, crumpled them into balls, and put them on their tray.

“Alright, Genj, time to play in the ball pit.” Genji looked up from his toys.

“Ball pit?”

“Yeah, the play gym.” Jesse nodded towards the play area, “We’ve finished eating, so you can run around a play a bit, if you want.” Genji looked at the play area and immediately his eyes lit up. He clung his toys to his chest and wiggled out of the booth before racing towards the play gym. “Don’t run!” Jesse hollered as he tossed out their trash and put the tray away. Genji was surveying the area and the different children when Jesse came up behind him. “Alright, you want me to hold Soba and the puppy while you play?” Genji shook his head. “They could get lost if you take ‘em in there.” Genji frowned and looked up at Jesse.

“No…” He whined slightly.

“Do you want ‘em to get lost?”

“No…” He mumbled.

“Then hand ‘em over.” Genji shook his head and body as he looked back at the play area.

“No, Jesse….” He whined again. Jesse sighed.

“Alright,” He crouched down, “how ‘bout you take puppy, but leave Soba with me. That way, if you lose puppy, you still have Soba.” Genji, still refusing to look at Jesse, shook his head. “Soba will be nice and safe with me. You don’t wana lose Soba, do you?” Genji shook his head again.

“No…”

“Alright. I’ll take Soba,” Jesse said as he gently grabbed the plush and began to pull it away, “And you take puppy in to play.” He continued to pull gently until Soba fell out of Genji’s hands and into his own. Genji stared at the play gym and watched the different children play. “Ok, have fun.” Jesse then stood up. Genji stared at the tunnel that led into the play area and walked towards it. He stopped just before it and turned to his friend.

“Jesse…Jesse come.” Genji said as he motioned to the tunnel.

“No can do, partner. Play area’s for kids, not adults.” Jesse chuckled, “’sides, that tunnel ain’t big enough for me.” Genji looked at the tunnel again.

“Because Jesse fat-,”

“I ain’t fat!”

“Fat, fat…Jesse…fat...” Genji began to sing as he crawled into the tunnel and went to the other side. Jesse sighed and crossed his arms. He would have to talk to Hanae about Genji’s manners later.

He sat at one of the nearby chairs and watched Genji survey the area. After a moment, another little boy came up to him. They talked briefly before they held hands and ran to the ball pit. Jesse smiled to himself.

“How old is he?” Jesse turned to a woman who was sitting with a stroller by her side.

“Pardon?”

“How old is he?”

“Oh, uh, he’s five.” The woman nodded and smiled.

“I remember that age. Enjoy it while you can.” Jesse looked at her, and then at the children in the play ground.

“Uh, how old is yur’s?”

“I have a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old.”

“The terrible 2’s.” Another woman said. Jesse looked to his left, and there sat three other women. In fact, there were five women sitting near him. “Mine just got out of that stage. It was a nightmare.” She said.

“I wouldn’t mind so much if she didn’t choose to always throw a fit in public. I can hardly go out and do anything without her getting upset.” The first woman said.

“What is your son’s background, if you don’t mind me asking?” A woman in a purple hijab asked.

“Oh, he’s Japanese-, NO- uh- he ain’t mine!” Jesse waved his hand, “Naw, my friend is real sick, so I’m takin’ care of him in the meantime. You know, helpin’ out.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet.” The first woman said.

“Yeah, she’s holed up at my place. I’ve been tryin’ to take care of her while also carin’ for Genji.” He chuckled, “Never knew kids were such a handful-,”

“You’re taking care of her AND looking after her son? Where’s her husband?”

“Oh- no! She’s-,”

“Let me guess,” Said the fourth woman in a red jacket, “Young mom. Her husband took off, left her with his kid, and hardly comes and sees him-,”

“Carol, that doesn’t happen to everyone.” The first woman said. ‘Carol’ snorted.

“Happens more often than you think-,”

“She’s not married- Genji is her little brother.” Jesse interrupted. The women looked at each other.

“And she’s raising him?” Jesse nodded, “It’s so sweet of you to help out-,”

“Really, it ain’t nothin’. ‘s just the right thing to do.” He said with a slight blush. The women looked at each other again.

“Seriously? My husband hardly helps out that much.” The second woman said.

“I know. Every Friday my husband has to go on a ski trip. Every Friday! Even when I was sick as a dog, he didn’t stay to help take care of the children. He just got up at 4 am and left me to take care of them and myself!”

“You’re a good man to help out your friend.” The woman in the hijab said.

“You sure you aren’t more than friends?” The second woman said as she wiggled her eyebrows. Jesse’s face got slightly redder.

“Naw, she uh, no. She don’t feel that way-,”

“What about you?”

“Are you sure? Have you asked her?” Jesse rubbed the back of his neck.

“Uh- I mean- we ain’t talked about it. But, uh, I think it’s best not to get into it. She, uh, has a lot goin’ on.”

“Leave the poor man alone. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t want to talk about it.” The first woman said. They all went quiet for a moment before Carol spoke.

“How do you feel about her?”

“Really, Carol? What did I just say? Leave the poor man alone.” The first woman sighed.  Jesse let out a breathy chuckle.

“I…well, I mean, that ain’t somethin’ I’ve really…talked about. We’ve only known each other for a few months and all…”

“Oh, dear, you can tell us. We keep secrets all the time.” Jesse considered the second woman’s words. At first, he completely rejected the idea of talking about his relationships with complete strangers, but then he began to feel a bit more comfortable with the idea that he would probably never see these women again. They waited in silence until he spoke.

“She, um…I’ve been helpin’ her out for a while now. At first, I didn’t like her much. She’s…pretty cold towards most people, and she’s got a lot of anger in her.” Some of the women nodded, “But, slowly we got talkin’, and I figured she’s like that ‘cuz she’s so wiped from carin’ for her brother all the time. And,” He shrugged, “She’s probably gone through some rough stuff. And I get that ‘cuz I’ve been through some rough patches too.” He leaned back in his chair as the women listened intently, “She’s been helpin’ me with numbers- I’ve got a small business- and I see her at work…” He looked off, “I think, I started feelin’ somethin’ when she was helpin’ her brother. We were at work, and Genji was startin’ to throw a fit. And he’s thrown fits before, but just…the way she handled it.” He tilted his head, “She was so patient and gentle with him. And she didn’t ignore him, she listened to why he was cryin’, but she didn’t just give in to it. She explained why he couldn’t have his way, and she helped him understand…I don’t know,” He shrugged again, “I just, I remember lookin’ at her and thinkin’ ‘That’s what I want in a wife. I want someone like that.’ And I thought, ‘Hanae’s gonna make a fine wife’. And then it just…kind of clicked together.” He looked down, “I ain’t sayin’ I wanna get married right away- There’s still stuff I don’t know about her, and we ain’t even datin’…but…” There was a long pause before he gave a bittersweet chuckle, “And I just love her brother. I love that kid to bits. He’s so fun and energetic and sweet. And he’s been through a lot, but he’s tryin’ his best to help out.” Jesse laughed, “You know, I gave him three dollars the other day for a treat, and you know what he did? He said he was gonna give it to his sister, cuz they don’t have a lot of money. He said he wanted her to have somethin’ nice.” Jesse smiled to himself, “If that’s not just the sweetest thing…” He smiled warmly at the memory before looking up at the women. They stared at him with wide eyes, and the one in the scarf was- was she crying?

“That is just…the sweetest, most endearing thing-,”

“Boy, if you were older, and I wasn’t married-,”

“Hiba, are you seriously crying?” Jesse blushed at himself.

“I’m sorry, it’s just…that’s so lovely.” The woman said, wiping her left eye. He opened his mouth to speak again, but suddenly someone screamed.

Or…Genji screamed.

Jesse and the mothers all turned to the play gym, where Genji and the boy from before were each pulling on a toy. The two boys bickered and yelled at each other as Jesse and Carol stood up.

“Genji!” Jesse said, not recognizing the toy in the boy’s hands, “Don’t fight!”

“Mine!” The other boy yelled.

“NO! I WANT!” Genji screamed. Jesse walked closer to the glass and crossed his arms.

“Genji! It ain’t yur toy! Give it back to the other boy-,”

“NO!” Genji yelled, continuing to pull on the plush. The other woman tried to reason with her son, who was also beginning to throw a fit.

“Genji,” Jesse warned, “You give him back that toy right now.”

“No!”

“Genji…”

“NO!”

“Genji! If you don’t give that toy back right now, we’re leavin’.” Genji looked over at Jesse and paused only for a moment before resuming his tug of war.

“NO!” He said again. Jesse put his hands on his hips.

“I’m gonna count to 3! 1…” Genji shook his head, “2….” The other boy screamed at Genji, “3!”

“You can’t come in! You fat!” Genji cried out. But, he hadn’t accounted for the large door that allowed adults into the play area. Jesse stormed over as Genji let go of the toy and screamed again. And he was about to run too, but he didn’t account for how quick Jesse was, and before he knew it he was scooped up in the man’s arms.

“NO!” Genji screeched and kicked as Jesse flung the boy over his shoulder.

“Alright! We’re goin’ home. NOW.”

NO!” Genji screamed as loudly as he could. Jesse just let out an angry sigh as he left the play pen, gave a nod to the mothers (who gave a knowing nod back) and went straight to his car. Genji punched, kicked and flailed as Jesse strapped him into his kid’s chair, and he howled and screeched the entire way home.

When they finally got back to the apartment (which was the longest 9 minutes of Jesse’s life) Jesse promptly turned off the car, got out, slammed the door shut, and let out a frustrated, angry sound through grit teeth. He clenched his fists and toes and bit down as hard as he could on his teeth. He then forced himself to take deep, chilly breaths of the cold air. As he breathed in, his nose flared and stung from the cold, and as he breathed out he closed his eyes. He had to be calm. He breathed in.

Genji was just a child. A child who had recently experienced trauma (and wasn’t getting therapy for it). Naturally, he would be a bit messed up.

He breathed out.

Children don’t know how to express extreme emotions. They don’t have enough experience or a big enough vocabulary to calmly explain how they feel. So, all they could do was give into their bodily needs of screaming. Something that Jesse felt like doing RIGHT NOW.

He breathed in.

It wasn’t Genji’s fault. He didn’t mean to upset Jesse. He wasn’t trying to push his buttons. He was just a child.

He breathed out.

Jesse was the adult. He had to be the patient one. He had to be the one to show Genji how to properly handle extreme emotions.

In the background, Genji continued to screech in the car. Jesse rubbed his face and let out a sigh. He would simply have to wait until Genji stopped.

 

After some time, the screaming stopped. Jesse took a deep breath of the frigid air and looked inside the car. Sure enough, Genji had screamed himself out and had finally fallen asleep. Jesse closed his eyes and took in another deep breath, reminding himself that he needed to be calm when the boy awoke.

He slowly opened the car door and, after undoing the child seat locks, scooped Genji out of the chair. He awkwardly held the boy in his arms as he locked the car and walked back into the apartment. Fortunately for him, Genji was out like a light and didn’t stir. When they got to his apartment, Jesse awkwardly removed his shoes before going to the couch and laying Genji down. Slowly and methodically, the took Genji’s hat, mitts, and coat off before tucking him in for a nap. He then put the child’s outer clothing away before doing so for his own.

Even though Genji had stopped screaming, the whole ordeal still left Jesse’s nerves on edge. It had been a while since he had heard so much screaming, and it reminded him of some memories he’d rather forget. His hands shook slightly as he ran them through his hair, and he took another deep breath. He had to calm down. He had to ease his nerves. He glanced at the fridge but then looked away. He knew as soon as he tasted alcohol he might not be able to stop. So, he instead quietly made his way to his bedroom. He opened the door to see Hanae peacefully asleep. That was good. He didn’t want to wake her.

Softly, he tip toed to his nightstand and opened one of the drawers. He removed a few books before popping off the bottom and revealing his secret stash of cigarettes.

Popeye candy cigarettes, to be exact.

He took a half empty box and his old broken lighter before he replaced everything again. He glanced at Hanae, made sure she was sleeping, then moved to sit on the side of the bed. The mattress shifted ever so slightly under his weight, but Hanae made no sound or movement, so he figured she wasn’t disturbed.

With shaking hands, he opened the candy box and pulled out a long, white stick. He held it between his fingers and held it to his lips before bringing up his broken lighter and opening the lid. No fire came out, but he imagined it licking and burning up the edge of a real cigarette. He imagined the burning as the tabaco lit up and flared. He pretended to take a breath in and imagined the sweet smoke filling his mouth and lungs. He shut his eyes, put the lighter down, removed the stick from his lips, and let out a long breath. Immediately, his muscles began to unwind, and his nerves began to relax. He knew it didn’t actually fix the craving. He knew it was all just a trick, but it did ease the pain ever so slightly. And for that, it was worth the little show he put on. He brought the candy stick back up to his mouth and nibbled on the end, enjoying the deep, sugary taste on his tongue. He then glanced over at Hanae, who was still oblivious to everything.

She was laying on her back, her one arm laying by her head as her other arm stretched out onto her stomach. She looked calm and peaceful. It was a new look on her. He continued to stare before he removed the ‘cigarette’ from his lips once more.

“You know, I haven’t smoked in over a year and a half. But you and yur brother are pushing it.” He mumbled with a smile. She remained still as only her chest moved from her deep breathing. “You gotta’ teach yur brother some manners. You wouldn’t believe the tantrum he threw today. I’ve never seen anythin’ like it.” He brought the stick back to his mouth and nibbled on the end again. “I guess I can’t be too hard on him though. He’s been through a lot. Both of you have.” He looked off and stared at his old dresser that stood against the wall. It was tattered and worn and some of the paint was already chipping. He’d probably have to repaint it at some point. He took in a breath and exhaled, imaging waves of smoke escaping from his lips. “You know, I don’t much mind takin’ care of you two. It’s kinda nice.” He said as he brought the stick back to his lips and nibbled it once more. “I mean, I’ve spent so much time hurtin’ people, it’s nice to help for a change.” He leaned back and looked up at the ceiling,

“I thought things would change, you know, when I started workin’ for the government. I thought I’d do some good for a change. But…they just wanted me for my shootin’ skills.” He grinned in a sad way, “Same job, different boss.” He leaned his forearm on his leg and rested his chin in his hand. “But I wanted to change…And the government didn’t help with that.” He drew the candy stick away, “It’s why I quit workin’ for them. I didn’t wana’ hurt nobody no more. I wanted to help. And I figured, I ain’t really helpin’ people by hurtin’ people. The violence don’t end…it just keeps goin’ and goin’. And the real bad guys don’t get put in prison. They always get away…” He looked back at the old dresser, “I became a contractor, so I could build things. I was tired of tearin’ down, I wanted to build up for a change.” He glanced back at Hanae, “And I think yur like that too. I think yur tired of all the fightin’. I think you wana change…and I wana help you with that.” Hanae rolled her head over, but other than that she gave no response. He gave a gentle smile,

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen after all of this is over. But…it’d be nice if things changed between us…just a bit.” His smile faded as he looked at her, “I wish I knew what you were thinkin’. Yur a hard gal to read…and I still don’t know where I stand with’yah.” He was tempted to reach out and grab her hand. He wanted to feel her small, soft hand enclosed in his own. But he also knew it was wrong to take advantage of the fact that she couldn’t pull away. So, he took the pent-up energy he felt and stood, deciding it was best to leave before he did something foolish. “Well…you just rest up.” He said awkwardly before he left the room. He figured he’d make plans for work, or quietly watch tv, or…something. Just something to distract himself.

 

When she opened her eyes, she was back in her room in Japan. She glanced around, confused at her surroundings. The room was the way it had always been, simple and clean, but something was off. She blinked her eyes and looked around. She gazed at the large painting on the far wall that depicted koi fish in a pond. She took in the scent of cherry blossoms and spring. She could feel the breeze blowing in from the courtyard. She blinked a few times and let out a soft breath. Her mattress was firm and strong beneath her, and her covers were soft and warm. She could tell she was sick from the way her head and body ached. She looked to the window to her right and watched a bird flutter onto a branch outside. It gave her a curious look before calling out to it’s friends. Somewhere in the distance, a bird sang back.

“Awake yet?” Hanae looked to her left to see her old friend. He sat crossed legged, his hands clenching a PlayStation controller as his eyes fixated themselves on what was in front of him. He had his usual shaggy, black hair and thin rimmed glasses. He wore their school uniform, though his shirt was slightly wrinkled and his tie undone. He looked a bit younger than she remembered, his face gentler and his lip missing its usual scar.

“Touma?” She asked, “What are you doing?” Her fiancé shrugged.

“Auntie said you were sick and that I should take care of you.” He said, his eyes not looking at her. She followed his gaze to the television where, sure enough, he was playing a video game.

“And what a fine job you are doing.” She said. He gave a small smirk.

“I mean, it’s not like I can do much. All you have to do is take medicine, right? But I know they would just get on my back if I said I couldn’t do anything, so I figured I’d just stay here and pretend I’m helping.” She nodded and felt the inside of her dry mouth. She looked around for some water and found that Touma was drinking out of a glass.

“May I have some of your water?” She asked. He grinned.

“It’s actually your water.” He said as he passed it towards her, still not taking his eyes from the screen. She reached out but was just shy of getting the glass.

“Could you…” She shuffled to grab the glass, but Touma made no movement to help her. She internally rolled her eyes as she leaned towards him and finally grabbed the glass. She took a few gulps and looked at what he was doing. He was playing a strategy game, no doubt because she was there. Touma had always been a video game nerd, but he only played certain games. He focused on puzzle and strategy games, things that forced him to think. He was never one for shooting games (unless it involved a lot of strategy). She watched as he moved a group of scouts around the map to discover new land and find a good place to build a city. His scouts quickly found another empire, and a picture of Augustus Cesar appeared on the screen. Touma let out a long sigh as he looked through his options to reply to August’s greeting.

“What do you think?” He asked, “Should I attack and get it over with while we’re both still in the early years? Or should I wait?”

“How big is your army?”

“It’s decent enough…”

“Decent enough to take on Augustus Cesar?” She asked. Touma clicked his tongue.

“Maybe he’ll be peaceful-,”

“Please, he’s Augusts Cesar. He’ll kill you the first chance he gets.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“I don’t much get the point of this game.” A third voice spoke. Hanae turned to her right to see Jesse, also sitting crossed legged, with his eyes glued to the screen, “You supposed to take over the world or what?”

“It’s a strategy game,” Hanae explained, “You play as a civilization that grows and develops with time. There are other famous civilizations and leaders around you too. The goal is to win, which can be done by being the most cultural, technologically advanced-,”

“Or by taking over the world?”

“…yes.”

“Hm.” Was all Jesse said.

“What, you didn’t have video games in your backwater town?” Touma asked.

“Not much time or money for video games. Most I played was at a friend’s house…We had a few arcade games in the hideout when I was in Deadlock, and I played a bit with others when I worked for the government but overall…I gotta say, I don’t know much.”

“Your missing out. You should have gotten your parents to buy you a PlayStation or something. They’re not that expensive.”

“Me and Ma didn’t have much…” Jesse said, his voice heavy, but Touma just shrugged him off. Hanae rolled over so she could face Jesse.

“What did you like do to? When you were younger?” Jesse smiled.

“Well, I liked playin’ with the animals. I mean, I was technically doin’ chores, but I liked helpin’ out. I also liked explorin’- though, I couldn’t do that a whole lot as a kid. Even I wasn’t stupid enough to just wander off into the desert.” Hanae nodded slowly as she watched his eyes light up, “Ma and Pa even had a few horses. I mean, we only owned two, but we took care of a few for some rich folks in another town.” He smiled, “My favourite was Kit. He was this beautiful horse with brown and black hair. He wasn’t one of ours, but the owner let me ride him and take care of him. We got along real well.” He looked off, “Before I had moved in with the gang, I’d take him out camping. We’d go off, just the two of us, and set up a nice little camp not too far from the reserve. My Granddaddy is an elder there, so sometimes we’d go and visit him.” Hanae closed her eyes and tried to picture the image. A younger Jesse with a beautiful, graceful horse. The two of them out in the desert night, a small campfire providing them with a bit of light in the dark.

“I don’t really like horses.” Touma interrupted, “I mean, they’re nice animals, but aren’t they kind of obsolete at this point? We don’t need them to travel or farm.”

“True, but ain’t nothin’ like ridin’ a horse. And you make a bond-,”

“Yeah, that’s great, but if I want to go somewhere, I’m taking a car.” Touma almost looked up from the screen, “And isn’t it kind of weird to just go off into the desert? What if you run out of water?”

“You go prepared. And you don’t just wander off- you stick to a path and know yur surroundings.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s how people die-,”

“Being ill prepared is how people die.” Jesse interrupted. Touma shrugged again. Jesse gave him a look before looking back to Hanae and softening his look. “What about you, darlin’? What did you do for fun?” Hanae smiled.

“I was always training, so I didn’t have much time for personal pleasures…though, I didn’t mind. It was, and is, an honour to train to lead my family.” She let out a small breath, “But, when I do have time to myself…I like to do calligraphy…I also like to walk around the gardens. I especially love the pond we have.” She looked to Jesse and gave him a soft smile, “I’ll show you, when I’m feeling better.” Jesse smiled back.

“Well, I’d say that just sounds grand, don’t it Genji?” Genji (who had suddenly appeared sitting in front of Jesse) grinned.

“I like the frogs!” The boy said. Jesse and Hanae chuckled. Out in the courtyard she could hear someone playing an instrument.

“There a lot of frogs by yur pond?” Jesse asked. Genji nodded and moved to sit in Jesse’s lap.

“Uh-huh. And ducks…and fish! Onee-san likes the fish!” Hanae smiled warmly at her brother.

“You like fish, huh? Never tagged you as a fish gal.” Jesse grinned. Hanae let out a single chuckle. The music in the courtyard grew louder.

“If you ever lose Hanae, the first place you check is the pond.” Touma mumbled. Hanae turned over to look back at her cousin. His hair was trimmed, and he had a goatee. He no longer wore his school uniform, but instead wore dark jeans and a dark dress shirt. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses as he spoke with his scarred lips. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found her there.” He said, the cigarette in his mouth bouncing as he spoke. Hanae frowned.

“I thought we agreed you wouldn’t smoke in my room.” She said. And finally, FINALLY, he looked at her.

“But the window’s open.”

“Touma.” She said. He frowned.

“It ain’t good to smoke near kids.” Jesse piped in.

“Nobody asked you.” Her cousin said, a glare clear under his sunglasses. Hanae was about to speak up again when the room began to spin, and the images around her started to blur and fade.

“Well, I’m tellin’ you to put it out.”

“Make me-,” The room swirled and blended together as the music from the courtyard called out to her and pulled her back. She fought against it, not understanding where it was taking her, until she felt her mind come back to reality.

 

She took a breath. Music and voices filled her ears. Something soft but firm was under her, and she could feel a thick blanket over her body. She blinked her eyes open and found a television in front of her. But not the one in her house…who’s TV was it? She tried to think when the voices suddenly clicked in her head. It was Jesse and Genji. She was at Jesse’s place. She was sick. She was…not in bed…so, she must be on the couch.

She moved her body to sit up slightly to look around. To her left, near the ‘dinning room’ table, was Jesse and Genji. Genji was sitting on a blanket on the floor while Jesse sat in one of the wooden chairs, a guitar in his hands. Jesse sang a song and strummed along while Genji tried to sing along with him (though, he seemed to only remember every fifth word and would suddenly shout it out before mumbling the words he didn’t know). It was something about a spider and rain…

Hanae watched the two interact. Though Genji had his back to her, she could tell by his bouncing that he was enjoying himself. He wore Jesse’s hat on his head (which was too big) and kept readjusting it every time it fell over his eyes. And Jesse…Jesse was beaming.

The man gave a final strum while Genji clapped his hands.

“Well, I’d say with a bit more practice we’ll have this song down yet.” Jesse said with a grin. Genji giggled and stood up, his hands reaching out for the guitar.

“I play!” He said, but Jesse held firmly onto the instrument.

“Sorry, Bucko, but guitars are for big kids.” Genji gave a small whine, “But, I can teach you a bit if you want.”

“Ok!”

“Alright. But not today. Today, we gotta get our song down for Onee-sa-, well, hey there.” Jesse looked to Hanae with surprise before he broke out into a smile, “Howr’ya feelin’? We were just talkin’ about you.” Hanae rubbed some sleep out of her eyes and yawned.

“I’m alright, thank you.” She then lifted her arms above her head and stretched her muscles. Genji quickly came up to her and put his hands on the couch.

Jesse and I were singing a song! We’re gonna sing it to you later!” He said happily. Hanae smiled.

“That’s very nice of you, Genji.”

“It was Jesse’s idea.

“What are you two talkin’ about over there?” Jesse said playfully.

“Nothing.” Genji giggled. Jesse got up and put the guitar on the table before walking up to them.

“Nothin’, huh?” He asked as he came up to Genji. The boy nodded quickly.

“Uh-huh.”

“Well then…” There was silence as Genji and Hanae looked up at Jesse’s tall stature. Genji giggled again as Jesse put his hands on his hips. He looked the boy over, gave Hanae a mischievous look, then suddenly grabbed Genji and threw him into the air. Genji shrieked in delight as Jesse caught him and spun him around. The boy laughed as Jesse made airplane noises and flew him around (Jesse’s hat flying off in the process). After a moment of flying, he made descending noises before gently placing Genji on Hanae’s legs. Genji giggled and clapped his hands as Jesse picked up his hat from the floor.

“You need anythin’, Hanae? Like, water, or tea?” He asked as he dusted off his hat.

“Water, if it isn’t too much trouble.” Jesse shot a finger gun at her and smiled.

“One water, comin’ right up.”

“And juice!” Genji said.

“No juice for you, buckaroo. It’s almost bed time.”

“Juice! Apple juice!” Genji called out. Jesse shook his head and went into the kitchen, not bothering to respond. Hanae turned her attention to her little brother and began to lightly kick her legs up and down to help him with his bouncing.

You are full of beans today.” She sighed with a smile. Genji began to do a little dance with his bouncing. “What day is it today, Genji?”

“Friday.”

“Mm. And what did you do today?”

“We played a lot today. We played cars, and we went to the park- and I hit Jesse with snowball!” Genji laughed and dramatically fell over, “I hit him in the face! And he threw a snowball back! And we had snowball fight! And then we swing on swings, and we make snow people…” Genji continued to prattle on, not caring if his sister paid attention or not. Hanae smiled to herself. It was nice seeing Genji so happy and care free. Ever since they left Japan, his usual playfulness and positive attitude became muted. Even when Hanae would play with Genji one on one, he still quickly became grumpy or whiny. It seemed that, with Jesse, he was reverting back to his usual self.

You really like Jesse, don’t you?” She asked. Genji gave her a wide smiled and quickly nodded.

“Uh-huh! Jesse is my best friend!” Genji then threw his arms in the air, “He plays cars, and sentai warrior, and we play forts…and we sing, and he lets me help cook!” Genji bounced along, “He said he’ll take me to see bats in the desert! And we’ll ride on horsies and catch lizards and bugs!” Genji smiled, “And he said you can come too, Onee-san! But, you don’t have to catch bugs.” Genji giggled mischievously.

Meanwhile, Hanae felt a heavy weight in her heart. Genji’s statement had…surprised her. But it shouldn’t have. Of course he had grown attached to Jesse. Of course he considered the man his closest companion. Jesse was one of the main, recurring people in his life here, and Jesse often looked after him when Hanae was busy or tired. And…Hanae was probably boring to Genji because she often just wanted to sleep and didn’t have the energy to play compared to Jesse, who was always ready.

For as long as she had known him, Jesse had given Genji a positive experience whenever they were together. Genji had learned that, if Jesse was there, he would have fun, happy experiences. Jesse was positive reinforcement for Genji.

But what happens when Jesse leaves?

She frowned, not wanting to think about the topic. In the end, everyone left. In the end, nothing was really tying Jesse to them except their friendship. But friendships could easily be broken. And sometimes people left because of general circumstances. So, what happens when Jesse decides to leave? How will Genji handle another loved one being ripped out of his life?

“Here you go, Sugar.” Hanae blinked and was ripped out of her thoughts of Jesse by Jesse. He held a glass of water out to her with a smile. “Hope it ain’t too cold. If you want hot water, you just let me know.”

“Yes, thank you.” Hanae said with a slow nod. Jesse went back to the kitchen and quickly returned with another glass of water and a bowl of strawberries.

“Stromberries!” Genji said happily as Jesse passed him the bowl.

“Yep, got some strawberries just for you, kiddo.” He then went to get one of the wooden chairs, but Genji called out to him.

“Jesse, sit here! Here!” Genji patted the couch. Jesse turned to him and gave him a funny look.

“Sorry kiddo, but there ain’t any room.”

“Yes is! It is.” Genji then put his bowl of strawberries on the small space beside him before he shimmied off the couch. He then walked up to Hanae and tried to pull her up. “Sit up. Jesse wants to sit too.” Hanae frowned slightly.

Genji. What did father say when he asked someone to do something?” Genji looked at his sister and hesitated before speaking.

Do it, or I shall send the dogs-,” Hanae barked out a laugh and quickly covered her mouth, restraining the laughter in her throat.

No! No, he said please.” She said, trying to be serious. Genji let out an ‘ooooh’ and nodded before giving Hanae a little bow.

Please sit up so Jesse can sit too.” Hanae nodded and moved so she was sitting up, her legs outstretched in front of her.

Alright. Thank you, Genji.

“Thanks you, Onee-san.” Genji sang as he looked back as Jesse, “Jesse! Now you sit! We all sit.” Jesse chuckled and gave a small shrug as he came back to the couch and sat in the small available space (after picking up the bowl of course). Genji wiggled onto the couch and sat down on his sister’s legs. Jesse then passed the bowl back to Genji and turned on the television.

“What d’yah wanna watch?” Jesse asked as the screen came on. Hanae shrugged.

“Anything is fine.” She said. He nodded and flipped through the channels before settling on a home improvement show. The three watched the screen as the people on the show seemed to have no idea what they were doing. Genji happily snacked on his strawberries as Jesse rose his eyebrows (no doubt at the horrible decision the people made of cutting a hole in the wall before measuring). Hanae’s thoughts drifted back to her dreams and, as she mauled them over, some questions came to her. “Jesse?”

“Hm?”

“Did you ever have horses, where you grew up?” Jesse nodded at her, his eyes staying on the screen.

“Sure did. Most of ‘em belonged to rich folks, we just took care of them. They were real nice though.”

“Was one named Kit?” Jesse turned his head to her, his eyes breaking contact from the screen.

“Yeah, actually.”

“And…is your grandfather Native American?”

“Yeah, actually…though I don’t recall tellin’ you that.” Jesse scratched his chin, “I mean…I told Genji about all that a few days ago…but I thought,” Jesse gave her a bit of a surprised look. “I thought you were sleepin’.” He then gave her a sly grin, “Does this mean you’ve only been pretendin’ to sleep this whole time? Cuz, I gotta admit, I think I’ve said stuff I didn’t want you to hear.” Hanae gave a slight grin in return.

“Like what?” Jesse then pointed at her.

“Ah, naw. I ain’t fallin’ for that. Either you tell me what you heard, or I’m gonna assume you didn’t hear at all.” Hanae smiled and allowed a few seconds to pass. She thought over her words before she spoke.

“I had a dream that you told me.” She let out a soft sigh and looked off, “Genji was there, and…so was a friend of mine. It was a strange dream.” She looked back at Jesse, who gave her a wide grin.

“You sayin’ you’ve been dreamin’ of me?” He covered his mouth and mocked giggled, “Aw, shucks, yur gonna make me blush.” She promptly kicked him lightly and Genji laughed as he bounced up.

“It’s only because you haven’t been leaving me alone. You’re always showing up-,”

“Sounds like you must be thinkin’ of me a lot if I’m showin’ up in yur dreams.”

“Do I show up in your dreams?” She asked, trying to deflect the attention. And it worked, because Jesse’s playful smile dropped as he averted his eyes.

“No. That’d be weird.” He looked back at the television.

“It isn’t weird for friends to dream of each other.” Jesse remained silent, “Ah, I see. You can give teasing, but you are unable to take it-,” Jesse suddenly looked at her again.

“Naw! I just- no, Genji,” Genji was reaching up with his tiny, sticky, filthy hands and trying to shove a strawberry into Jesse’s mouth, “No- Genji I don’t want it- stop!”

“Jesse, eat! Eat! You like strawberry!”

“No I-,” Jesse lightly grabbed Genji’s hands and held them still, “No. Stop.” He said firmly. Genji let out a small whine, but Jesse continued to hold his hands. After a few seconds, Genji relaxed.

“Ok…” He said in a sulking tone.

“Ok. Thank you, Genji.” Jesse said as he let go of Genji’s hands. Genji mumbled a response as he grabbed some more strawberries and shoved them into his mouth. “What, uh, happened in yur dream, anyway?”

“We were back at my home, in my room. My friend was playing a video game, and you were telling me about your life back home.” She smiled, “Also, I know your switching topics, but I’ll allow it because I don’t mind.” Jesse let out a soft chuckle, “Honestly, it was a bit of a boring dream.”

“Sounds nice to me. Most of my dreams are stressful as hell. Wish I had a boring dream every now and again.”

“What do you dream about?” She asked curiously. Jesse stretched his arm over the back of the couch and looked on towards the television.

“Mostly the past. Workin’ in the gang or in the government. Some are memories…some are just dreams.” A small frown covered Jesse’s mouth, “Sometimes they wake me up. Sometimes they don’t.” He shrugged, “But, it’s been like that for a long time.” Hanae nodded.

“I’m…sorry to hear that.” He glanced over at her.

“Do you…dream about yur family? Or…about some of the bad stuff?” He asked, glancing her way. Hanae mauled over his question. She did dream of her family. And she did dream of some of the less pleasant moments of her life. But she doubted it was similar to what Jesse experienced.

“My bad dreams- or…nightmares, are usually of my years in high school and post secondary. I was under a lot of stress and there were…unplanned events that unfolded.” Jesse turned to her, giving her his full attention.

“Like what?”

Like rejection.

“Just…unplanned events.” Jesse nodded, catching on that she didn’t want to talk about it. He wanted to know more. He wanted to know if she still dreamt of her parents…and her fiancé. But he knew she probably wasn’t ready to talk about that kind of thing, so he let the subject drop. A silence settled between them as the television prattled on.

Jesse looked down at Hanae’s feet, which were pressed firmly against his leg (and were covered by the blanket). He let out a small grin as he leaned over to Genji and whispered something in his ear. Hanae ignored them as she continued to watch the television. Jesse grinned at Genji and held up three fingers. Genji covered his mouth to repress his giggles.

Jesse held up two fingers. Genji looked to Hanae to see if she was paying attention.

Jesse held up one finger. Genji broke out into a wide grin.

Jesse suddenly tossed the blanket off of Hanae’s feet as he and Genji dove in to tickle her. As soon as their fingers touched her feet, she let out a loud yelp of surprise.

And then promptly kicked Jesse in the face, causing the bowl of strawberries to fly into the air.

“What is WRONG with you!” She yelled as Genji tumbled onto her chest and Jesse held his face. For a moment, she lost her anger and worried she had seriously hurt Jesse (since his eyes were tearing up). That is, until she noticed he was laughing so hard he wasn’t making any noise. The anger quickly came back. “Why would you do that! You can’t just, just touch someone’s feet!” She gasped, her heart beating quickly at the surprise. Jesse finally took in a breath and gave voice to his laughter as a tear streamed down his face.

“I-I can’t-,” He gasped, “I c-can’t believe you K-KICKED me!” He gasped again and wiped his tear away. Genji continued to laugh as he hugged his sister.

“Onee-san! You like tickle!”

“No! No, I don’t like tickles, Genji.” She said sternly. But the two continued to laugh joyfully and soon, Hanae couldn’t help but allow her anger to slip away. She crossed her arms. “Honestly. And look at the mess you made.” She huffed, motioning at the empty bowl in her lap and the few strawberries that lay around her. Jesse let out a few more laughs before he calmed down enough to speak.

“Aw, sorry, Hanae. I didn’t mean to tick you off. I just, you gotta admit, that was real funny.” He said, his eyes beaming.

She took in his flushed face, and his heavy breathing, and his joyful eyes, and she couldn’t help but look away and give a ghost of a smile.

“A little…” Was all she said. He chuckled, grabbed her toes, and wiggled them. She kicked him in the thigh and glared. “Don’t.” He let go and lifted his hands in the air innocently.

“Alright, alright. I’ll knock it off.” He then grabbed the blanket and put it back over her feet. “There, now yur safe and sound.” Hanae huffed in reply and looked back at the television as Genji snuggled up beside her. Jesse chuckled again, got up, picked up the bowl and fallen strawberries, and went to the kitchen. Hanae let out a breath of air. She didn’t know what she was going to do with these two.

She honestly didn’t.

 

When she went back to bed and fell asleep, she had strange dreams once more. Her parents, Genji, and herself were catching bugs in the nearby forest. Kai stood on guard by the trees as they made their way into a meadow. At one point, she found a mantis standing on a blade of grass. She gently picked it up and went to show Genji, but instead of her brother, Touma was nearby. She went to show him, but he was too busy on his phone to notice. Hanae sighed, put the mantis back on the grass, and watched as it left her hand to go onto another’s hand. She looked up to see Jesse, giving her a boyish grin.

“And here I thought you didn’t like bugs, Honey Bee.”

The meadow spun and blurred together until she opened her eyes.

 

The first thing she noticed was the darkness of the room. Was it still nighttime? The second thing she noticed was her thirst. She felt her tongue push against her parched mouth as she tried to summon some moisture. She rolled her head to see if her water glass was full, but, surprisingly, it wasn’t there. She furrowed her brows for a moment. Had Jesse taken it away to fill it again?

Possibly.

Should she wait for him to get back? She tried to swallow but found her mouth too dry. No, she had to get something to drink right away. So, she willed herself to sit up. She looked at the door and frowned. Walking would be an entirely different issue. She gave a sigh and built up her strength and confidence before pushing her legs over the side of the bed. She waited a moment before forcing her body up. Her body ached at the simple movement, but her need for water pressed her forward. She walked slowly towards the door, her feet shuffling slightly against the wood floors. Finally, she got to the doorway and pulled the door back, exiting into the tiny hall. It took her a moment to catch her breath before she looked on towards the kitchen. The apartment was dark overall, but a tiny light did shine from her destination. She shuffled across the floor and paused to glance at the couch. There, Genji was sleeping, his little body curled up like a cat under the covers. She took a moment to rest before moving once more. Her lips gave a small smile as she came around to the opening of the kitchen. She took a deep breath and leaned against the counter, taking a few more breaths as she eased her shaking limbs. Water. All she wanted was water. Was that really so much to ask for?

“How you holdin’ up?” She looked up to see Jesse at the other end of the kitchen. He gave her a concerned look and came up to her. “You look real tired.”

“I am.” She said with a breathy chuckle, “But, I was thirsty.”

“Darlin’, I told you to just holler if you needed somethin’. Don’t go pushin’ yurself.” Hanae gave a hint of a smile.

“I can’t lay in bed all day. Besides, I could use the exercise.” Jesse chuckled in return.

“You call that exercise? You hardly went 20 steps.” Hanae grinned. The man returned the smile and took a glass out of the cupboard. He proceeded to fill it with water and gave it to her, and she quickly gulped down the liquid. There was a moment of silence before Jesse spoke again. “How are you, really?”

“I’m…ok.” She said with a slow nod, “I’m…’hanging in there’.” She said, the room spinning slightly. There was some noise from far away, but she ignored it to look at Jesse, “How are you?”

“Aw, darlin’, I’m peachy keen so long as yur around.” She chuckled again.

“Don’t flatter me. I’m hardly what people would consider a good guest.”

“Now, that just ain’t true.” He said softly. She let out a breath and focused on the counter. Again, she heard some sort of noise in the background, but when Jesse touched her hair, she immediately jumped and turned to him. “I think yur a fine guest,” He said as he pushed some hair behind her ear, “Yur quiet, and you don’t complain about the food.” He chuckled “And yur mighty cute to boot.” She blushed slightly but surprisingly didn’t swat his hand away. Instead she just let his fingers trail along her hair and back to him.

“A sick guest wouldn’t stay in your home.” She said quietly. He hummed as he rubbed the ends of her hair between his fingers.

“Then I guess yur more of a patient than a guest.” He murmured. She let out a long breath as he looked up into her eyes. “I know you’ve been workin’ hard, tryin’ to care for Genji and make a life here. And I know yur tired…you must be real tired of livin’ this way.” She let out a soft sigh.

“Yes.”

“You don’t gotta’ live this way.” He said softly, his eyes looking back at her hair in his hands. She shook her head slightly.

“I have to. I can’t go back to my family.” He let out a soft breath, looked back into her eyes, then lifted his hand up to touch her cheek.

“I’m not sayin’ that.” He murmured again. She sighed and closed her eyes, his fingertips warm on her skin. His presence left for a moment, and then returned when he wrapped his arms around her. She felt him squeeze her close as her arms became trapped between their bodies. But it wasn’t uncomfortable. And she didn’t hit him or scold him. She didn’t even feel panicked, she didn’t feel the fear that came after letting her guard down. She just felt…calm. She felt content in a way.

And stable. She felt stable.

“You don’t gotta go back to yur family.” He said softly into her ear. She leaned her head against him and felt the rise and fall of his chest. “We-,”

“Don’t.” Was all she said, and yet he understood. Another silence fell between them as they took in one another’s presence. She leaned her tired body against him and allowed him to hold her up. 

 “Hanae.”

“Mmm.” She hummed, not wanting the interruption.

“Hanae.”

“Yes, Jesse?”

“Wake up.”

 

She jerked out of sleep as she felt a pain shoot up her arm. She hissed and grabbed her bicep, her mind immediately awake as the pain seared through her arm and body.

“Morning, sunshine.” Someone said in a deep, mocking voice. Hanae looked up to see an unfamiliar man sitting on the side of the bed. He had deep, tanned skin and dark facial hair. Strangely, he wore a black beanie on his head. It was after noticing this that she noticed the lack of warmth beside her. Her eyes went wide, and she sat up and looked around, desperate to find her brother-

Genji

“Who are you- where is my brother?!” She hissed, her body hot and clammy from her sweat inducing dream. The man sighed and put something into a duffle bag on the floor.

“Relax, Shimada, your brother is with Jesse.” Hanae stared at him, her eyes wide and accusing, “They’re out getting ice cream. They’re fine. Trust me-,”

“Who are you?” She glared. He gave her a bored, unamused look.

“Who do you think?” He asked. She looked over his turtle neck, and thick pants, and combat boots. She looked over the knife hidden on his left bicep and the gun half hidden under his shirt.

“You’re either from my family…or the government.” He gave her a small smile.

“Good job.” He gave a short, harsh chuckle, “To be honest, I’m surprised you’re surprised. I thought someone of your background would be able to smell me a mile away.”

“I’m sick. My senses have been muted.” She replied cooly. He gave her a look that said, ‘Sure. Keep telling yourself that.’ “Why are you here?”

“Why do you think I’m here?” Hanae crossed her arms.

“I am not an idiot. If you know so much, you’ll know this type of interrogation style is beneath me.” She said. The man nodded and reached back into the duffle bag.

“Yeah, I thought so, which is why I brought an old friend to loosen your tongue.” He then held up an empty syringe. Hanae sat up straighter and looked to her left arm, where she had felt the pain. Sure enough, a small bead of blood had formed on the spot she had been injected. She looked up and stared daggers into him as he shrugged. “Hey, I’m just doing my job.”

“Then I refuse to speak.”

“Ok, sure. But you and I both know how this works. I’m going to keep pressing your buttons until you crack and when you do, all that information is just going to come right out. So, how about we skip the unnecessary parts and you just tell me why you think I’m here.”

“Well, if you wanted me dead you would have done it by now, so I know that’s not it.” She grit her teeth, “And you aren’t acting like a worker for my family. So, I’ll guess you’re with the United States government.”

“Good job.” His face hardened, “Now, why are you here?”

“Jesse is-,”

“I don’t care about Jesse. I mean why are you here in my country?” He said in a hard voice. She sat tall, though her posture began to waver slightly. She clenched her jaw and tried to remain silent as she quickly tried to figure out who the man was. He gave her a moment before he spoke again, “A Shimada of your class wouldn’t go to another country without escorts and body guards. And she certainly wouldn’t be living in the dump you are- don’t look surprised, of course I know where you live.” He leaned in slightly, “So, I want to know why the heir to the biggest crime family in Japan is suddenly holed up in my country.”

“You know why.” Her jaw shook as she spoke, “If you know so much about me, you know what happened.”

“What, so you got spooked and fled the country?” She kept her glare steady as he snorted, “You fled without any of your guards or money? Please,” He gave her an unimpressed look, “Unlike your boyfriend, I’m not an idiot.” She narrowed her eyes.

“I will not take kindly to someone speaking ill of my fiancé.” He deadpanned.

“I meant Jesse-,” Her face immediately flushed.

“Jesse is NOT-,” He held up his hand.

“Please, spare me the drama. I frankly don’t care if you want to cheat on your fiancé with an American-,”

“I AM NOT-,” She snarled, but he interrupted her once more.

“I just want to know why you’re here. Because you know what I think?” He pointed at her, “I think you’re a spy sent here to gain information.”

“A spy? Please.” She scoffed.

“Why else would a high ranked Shimada pretend to be poor in another country? And go by a different name?” He tilted his head, “And you want me to buy it’s a coincidence you’ve gotten all chummy with a former agent?”

“I don’t know what Jesse did for the government,” She hissed, “And it has nothing to do with me. He is simply helping-,”

“Yeah…’helping’-,”

“If you ask anyone, they’ll tell you he has always initiated contact. I don’t go to him, he comes to me-,”

“I don’t see you pushing him away.” She paused for only a second before continuing.

“I am not in a position to turn down help.”

“I don’t see it that way-,”

“Then check your sources-,”

“You want to know what I see? I see a dumb, love struck teenager whose too eager to play hero for a cold, calculating, spoiled princes-,”

“You are WRONG!” She snapped, trying to control her anger. It must have been the drug, and the lack of energy, and exhaustion, because normally she would easily be able to defend herself from such an attack.

“I’m not falling for-,” Suddenly there was a short, sharp buzzing noise. Both parties stopped and listened for a moment before the noise stopped. The man quickly looked at his watch, swore, then got up. “Ok, listen. Here’s the point,” He said, snatching up his duffle bag, “I don’t want you near Jesse, and I don’t want you in my country, so, whatever you’re up to, it ends today.”

“I am doing nothing wrong.” She snarled as he shouldered the strap.

“I don’t care what you’re doing. I just want you out. You have two weeks.” He adjusted the bag, “Then, I’m coming after you. And I will find you, and I will bring you in.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Deadly. In fact, I’d bring you in today if it weren’t for Jesse. So, say your goodbyes, let him down gently, then get back into the hole you crawled out of.” He glared at her.

And she glared at him.

And as he turned to leave she spoke.

“You keep mentioning Jesse. Do you know him?” She asked. The man stopped but didn’t turn to her. And in a split second, she made a connection, “You know him personally, don’t you?” The man paused for only a moment, but it was enough to let her know she had hit a nerve. “You must be close, if you’re so worried about my being involved…but your too old to be a former co-worker.” She narrowed her eyes, “If you’re so close, you do know he’ll be furious that you broke into his apartment to drug me.” The man looked at her and maintained a neutral expression, but she saw through it. She grinned at him, “Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell him-,”

“You breath one word of this, and our deal is off the table.” He said, his voice dark and hard, “You talk to him, and I’m going to take you in the way I should. And I’ll interrogate you the way I should.” Her grin immediately disappeared to a stony expression. He held up his index and middle finger, “Two weeks. Get out.” And with that, he was gone, his body swiftly moving out of the room and out of sight.

 

She had seriously debated telling Jesse when he got home that Saturday afternoon. At first, she found the whole thing ridiculous. But then again, her inside sources did say they were having more trouble than usual getting her citizenship. And if the man was older than Jesse, knew him from the government, and had the authority to break into people’s homes and illegally interrogate them, then she should take him seriously. She remained quiet as she laid on the couch, Jesse at the other end and Genji playing on the floor. Jesse talked on and on, but she didn’t interrupt him. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to think.

Two weeks.

How could she leave in two weeks? Where would she go?

And as she stressed and tried to think of a solution, she didn’t notice her phone beeping in the other room. It was her boss texting her from work.

5:15

Hanae, please pick up your phone. I need to talk to you immediately.

5:19

Someone from the government came by. He knew your last name.

5:23

He threatened to bring my father in for questioning. My mother is very upset. Please pick up your phone.

5:26

I can’t protect you if it means putting my family at risk. I’m sorry Hanae, but I can’t employ you here anymore. It’s too dangerous.

5:28

I’ll have Jesse bring you your things. You can’t come here anymore. It’s too risky.

5:29

You have my condolences.

 

 

Chapter Text

Hanae was 13 when she became a woman. Her body was already beginning to change, but that summer she had moved onto the next stage of womanhood. The female servants giggled and gave her advice, some even giving her small gifts. Hanae was very proud. She didn’t do anything, but she knew this meant she was finally becoming an adult.

Late summer came, and so did the time for Touma to move onto her family’s grounds. He had always lived in a neighboring city, but the family decided it would be best if he lived in Hanamura, so he could learn from Sojiro and train to take his place one day.

It was Late August, and Touma was set to arrive in three days. Hanae felt excited and nervous all at once. She knew she had to get along with Touma since they would be wed. And she did get along with him from the times they did interact. But now, she knew she was expected to draw close to him. She admitted to her female cousins that she was slightly gitty, having her fiancé move into her family home. She wondered if he would bring her gifts. And at night, she would dream of them drawing close, and she would dream of him following the sound of her Koto.

Hanae sat in her room, watching her reflection as her mother brushed her hair. She tried not to smile or act childish at the thought of Touma.

“Do you think he’ll bring me anything?”

“No doubt he will.” Her mother assured her.

“I wonder if it’ll be jewellery…or poetry. I’ve told him how much I enjoy poetry.” Her mother hummed as she brushed her daughter’s hair. “I know it’ll take time, everyone has told me, but I know we will soon grow to love one another.” Hanae blushed slightly, “I have been working hard to learn to be a good wife, and I hope he sees that. I’ve asked the servant girls what he thinks of me, but they won’t tell me anything.”

“Hanae?”

“Yes?”

“Why do you think we have engaged you to your cousin?” Hanae sat up tall.

“To continue the family name.”

“And what future do you see with Touma?” Hanae smiled.

“We will carry on the family legacy, and together we will help our family to grow stronger,” She paused for a moment and blushed slightly, “And…I hope we come to love one another. The way you and father have.” Her mother hummed again as she stopped brushing Hanae’s hair and put the hair brush down.

“Hanae, you are becoming an adult and are taking the next step into your life. I believe it is finally time I told you the secrets of being a woman.” Hanae gave a wide smile but hurried to suppress her excitement. It wasn’t proper to get too excited about something. So, she gave a happy nod to her mother. Mrs. Shimada looked into the mirror as she placed her hands on Hanae’s shoulders.

“It is not our place to have love, but to ensnare it.” Hanae remained silent as she listened. “We are not the ones who are blessed with love in our lives. We do not marry someone because we love or expect to love them. That is not our purpose.” Her mother gently squeezed Hanae’s shoulders, “Our purpose is to ensure safety and stability for our families. We must marry to bring honour and glory to the family name as well as bring strong, healthy children into the family.” Hanae frowned slightly but nodded.

“But…we can fall in love to-,”

“That is not our purpose. And you will only bring pain upon yourself if you expect to fall in love with the man you marry.” Hanae’s frown became more obvious. She looked up at her mother.

“But, you and father-,”

“Why do you think I married your father, Hanae?” Hanae paused for a moment.

“Because you loved him.”

“I married your father for his title.” Mrs. Shimada let out a slow breath, “My family was in debt. My father had gambled away our fortune and property. Not many people knew, but we were in a desperate situation. It was my job, as their only daughter, to ensure a safe future for them. I did not go to that theater by chance, Hanae. I knew the Shimada clan would be there, and I knew that if I could entice one of the young men, I would guarantee my family’s future.”  Hanae stared wide eyed as her mother continued, “I was supposed to meet with the Shimada clan after the show, but your father found me while I was playing a Koto- something I often did to calm my nerves. I purposely didn’t speak, and I made sure to make him beg me for my name. And then, I waited. Everyday, I would play the same song on the Koto. I knew that if I played, your father would find me again, and that it would strike a chord in his heart.

And it did. But I still worked hard during our courtship. I carefully weaved my actions and words, so your father would fall further in love with me and choose me as his bride. And it worked.” Her mother stroked her hair, “Your father helped my parents regain their dignity, he has given me comfort and safety, and most of all, he has provided and cared for my child.”

Hanae continued to stare, shocked, at her mother. Her lips quivered slightly as she thought back to the story her father would tell. And how he always admitted his unwavering love for her mother.

“Do you love father?” She asked after a moment. Her mother waited before answering.

“I care for your father. I care for your father very deeply. But, I am not in love with him. I was never in love with him.”

Hanae could feel the moment her heart broke inside her. She stared at her broken down image. She stared at the reality of who she was.

“I tell you this now to warn you, Hanae. Don’t expect to fall in love with Touma. You will probably never love him. However,” Her mother squeezed her shoulders again, “You must make him favor you. He is the best option you have for glorifying our family and keeping this family stable. If he were to develop feelings for another woman and break off your engagement, it would be disastrous for this family.” Hanae turned to her mother.

“But, he can’t! Father said we can never break our engagement-,”

“You cannot break the engagement. But he can.”

“But-,”

“Did you think your father was single when he found me? The heir to the most powerful family in Japan? He was engaged. But then he found me, and he chose me over her. Don’t be that woman, Hanae. Don’t lose your future to someone else.” Hanae stared down at her lap, and then looked back at the reflection.

“But…what if he doesn’t-,”

“He will. We shall guarantee it.” Her mother’s eyes softened as she saw the turmoil within her daughter, “Don’t worry, Hanae. Your aunts and I are experienced. Your family wants this engagement to work.” Hanae looked down at her lap again.

“…will I ever be in love?”

“…perhaps. But probably not with your husband.” Hanae felt another stab in her heart. Her mother stroked her hair once more and sighed.

“I am so glad to have you, Hanae. But at times, I wish I had bore a son, if only so you would not have to know this pain. I wish you could be free to choose whom you pleased for marriage, but…this is the curse of our sex. We must do what is right for our family.” Her mother sighed again, “And I know I don’t have to tell you not to relate any of this to your father. He wouldn’t understand. His kind never do.” Hanae nodded slowly, her heart breaking piece by piece.

 

 

She found herself in an odd cycle. Her body was tired and wanted her to sleep, but the stress from her new situation kept her awake. This just made her more tired. And around and around it went. Jesse had immediately known something was wrong by her sudden, extreme need to be alone, but he didn’t know why until her boss called him in to pick up her things. He tried arguing with the man as to why she was suddenly let go, but her boss refused to talk about it and simply told him if he wanted to know so badly, he should ask her.

So, he did.

He had just returned to the apartment, a small, reusable bag in his hand. Hanae was laying on the couch resting while Genji played with some toys on the floor. Jesse placed the bag on the table and went up to Hanae. He could tell she was awake from her breathing and the look on her face.

“So…” He began. She opened her tired eyes and gave him her attention, “You wana’ explain what all this is about?” He said, pointing him thumb behind him to the bag. Hanae let out a long sigh and looked away.

“Not really.” She mumbled.

“Cuz this is a big friggin deal.” She continued to look away. When she didn’t respond, he took it upon himself to sit at the end of the couch by her feet. “You wana tell me what happened?”

“No.” Jesse frowned.

“…I’d like to know what happened.”

So would I.

She thought. Jesse tried again.

“Is your boss mad at you because you had to take so many days off?”

“No.”

“Has he been bullying you?”

“No.”

“Is it because of Genji?”

“No.” She gave him an annoyed look, “I don’t want to talk about it Jesse. I lost my job. Let’s leave it at that-,”

“See, normally I would leave it at that. But seein’ as this is yur only source of income, you can’t blame me for bein’ a tad concerned.” Hanae gave an annoyed sigh and looked at Genji. She was beginning to regret resting on the couch that day. “You got a plan?” She looked back at him.

“This doesn’t concern you Jesse-,”

“Like hell it don’t concern me! I’ve been helpin’ you for a while now and I know you make next to nothin’! How are you gonna pay rent? Or keep yurselves healthy?”

“I’ll figure it out.” She said, crossing her arms.

“No, we’ll figure it out.”

“I don’t need-,”

“Yes, you do-,”

“No, I don’t.” She said sternly, “You do too much, Jesse. I can’t keep relying on you. I have to do things on my own.”

“But we can work together!” He reasoned, “We can look for jobs together-,”

“I can’t look for a job-,”

“Why-,”

“It isn’t that simple, Jesse!” She barked. Genji looked up at them with concern and put down his toy. Hanae sighed and reached out for him, so he got up and walked over to her. She stroked his hair. “I’m sorry for yelling. Jesse and I are just talking about something important.” She said as she wrapped her arms around her brother. He mumbled something into her arm. “Hm?”

No fighting…” He said a little louder. Hanae nodded and gently squeezed him.

We’re not fighting, Genji. It’s just adult things…” Genji gave a little whine, “Go back to playing. We’ll try to keep it down.”

“Ok…” Genji mumbled as he walked back to his toys. After a moment, Hanae looked to Jesse and found he had been staring the whole time. She let out a breath through her nose. He continued to look at her a moment longer before he spoke.

“Is it cause yur illegal?” Hanae scrunched her face for a second in confusion.

“What?”

“An illegal immigrant. Is that why you can’t get a job?” Hanae frowned but didn’t speak. He let out a cross between a sigh and a chuckle. “Yeah. Figured as much. Girl like you should have a better job than bein’ a store worker.” Hanae looked over at Genji again. Another moment passed before Jesse spoke again. “I can help.”

“How?” She said with an apparent lack of hope in her voice.

“I can help you get citizenship. I know people, we can figure something out.” She continued to frown. She knew it wasn’t that simple, and since she only had two weeks she doubted Jesse could help her get her paper work in line even with his connections. And even if he could, she doubted the man from the government would allow it. “Is this why you’ve been sulkin’?” She gave a small nod.

“I’m…just trying to find a solution.” Jesse lightly placed his hand on the blankets over her feet.

“I can help.” He said softly, but she just sighed.

“Perhaps…” Was all she said, too tired to carry on the conversation.

Jesse tried to pick up the conversation twice more after that, but she was at a point where she could hardly think straight, so he let it go. The rest of the evening was fairly silent with Hanae dwelling on her own thoughts.

 

The rest of the week seemed to drag on for Hanae. She slept, but she always woke up more tired than before, and Jesse tried to help, but his helping usually involved a lot of energy and intense conversations she wasn’t ready to have.

She finally got a hold of her ‘sponsor’ the day before she had to leave Jesse’s apartment.

Hello?” A familiar voice asked.

Where have you been!? I’ve been trying to call you for the past 2 days!” She hissed quietly. Jesse and Genji were in the main room watching television.

I apologize. I’ve been busy-,”

I’m about to be kicked out of the country, and you have been ‘busy’?! You should be busy getting my paperwork through! What happened to it being ready two weeks ago?”

“Listen, Shimada-san, there were some unexpected…delays-,”

“I know! If you remember, you promised citizenship for me and my brother in early October! Now we’re in December, and I want to know WHAT’S HAPPENING.” She snarled.

The American systems have been very difficult to hack, and you didn’t give me enough money to pay people to look the other way. I’m doing the best I can!-“

“Then why has a government official found me and told me my brother and I need to LEAVE in 2 weeks?” The man on the other end swore, and Hanae tightened her grip on the phone.

They must have caught on after the first card was denied.” Hanae pinched the bridge of her nose.

I don’t- I don’t care.” She took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “I need you to get me and my brother citizenship NOW. I only have two weeks before they are going to hunt us down and do who knows what…” The man on the other end was silent, “Well? How soon can you do it?

Shimada-san…If they’ve already found you and your brother, we can’t forge fake citizenship. If the government knows you’re here illegally, they’ll catch on that something’s wrong when your suddenly given citizenship. If they look into it close enough, they’ll know its forged.” Hanae stared at the wall in front of her, and it took her a second to compose herself and try again.

I don’t care what it takes. Just fix this-,”

“The only person I know who can fix this is hard to get in contact with. And, to be honest, you can’t afford her-,”

“Give me her information. I’ll work something out-,”

“Shimada-san, you CAN’T afford her.” Hanae gripped the phone.

Then what CAN I do?” She growled. The man on the other end went silent. And he was silent for far too long before he spoke.

Move to another country-,”

“I can’t just MOVE-,”

“To be honest, you can’t stay here.” She bit her lip and concentrated on the wall in front of her.

…Where would I go? I have Genji-,”

“Mexico. It’ll be cheaper to smuggle you in there.” Hanae rubbed her hand down her face.

And how cheap is cheap?” He went silent again. Hanae let out a soft growl. After thirty seconds she barked at him.

Speak!”

“I don’t know. I can’t help you with this anymore. If the government is monitoring you closely, they may catch onto my involvement-,”

“I PAID you to help me settle my brother and I into a new country, and I’m GOING to get what I paid for!-,”

“You PAID me to get you citizenship. And that failed! I did my money’s worth! Anything beyond this is just favors, and to be honest, I do not owe you so much that I am willing to risk my livelihood!”

How can you SAY that!” Hanae gawked, “The Shimada family has been loyal to you for-,”

“A family you are no longer a part of! Just helping you has put me in enough trouble as it is! I have helped you as much as I can, but I’m finished with this. You must work this out on your own-,”

“Don’t you DARE-,”

“As of now our contract is over. Goodbye Shimada-san. Please, don’t contact me again.” And with that he hung up. She held her mouth open in shock as she pulled the phone away and stared down at it. That was it? That’s all she got? She was counting on her employee to work things out with the government. And now…

And she had PAID him to get her citizenship! The NERVE to bail on an incomplete job! Her father would have NEVER stood for this-

“Hey, Hanae?” Hanae’s head whipped up to see Jesse standing in the doorway. She blinked at him before realizing she had to respond.

“Ah, yes?”

“Genji and I are gonna have some ice cream. You want any?” She blinked again, still bewildered by everything that was happening. Slowly, she shook her head, and Jesse nodded at her. “Alright. More for us then.” He turned to go but stopped and suddenly turned to her again. “Everythin’ alright? You look white as a sheet.” She looked into his soft eyes and wondered how he could be so carefree about things.

“Yes…everything is fine.” Jesse looked her up and down.

“Alright…well, it if ain’t you let ol’ Jesse know, alright?” Hanae nodded and he cracked a smile. “Good.” He then walked away, and Hanae could hear him talking to Genji about their frozen treat. Her eyes lingered on the door a moment longer before she looked back at her phone.

She couldn’t stay.

They couldn’t stay.

What was she going to do?

 

The time finally came for Hanae and Genji to leave Jesse’s apartment. Hanae had hoped it would be a quick goodbye since she had a lot to work out, but Jesse kept making up reasons why they should stay a little longer.

“Why you gotta leave now? Why not stay for lunch? I was gonna make something nice.”

So, they stayed for lunch.

“You don’t have to leave so soon. You can stay to watch Genji’s sentai show before you go.”

So, they stayed to watch the show.

“You know, I was gonna make a lot of food for dinner, so-,”

“Enough.” Hanae said, holding up her hand. It was their third time putting on their winter clothes and getting ready for the door, and she would be damned if there was going to be a fourth. “I appreciate everything you have done, Jesse, but I must insist we leave. I have many matters to attend to and the longer we stay the less time I have.”

“Well, yeah, but-,”

“Really, we must go.” She said, grabbing the door knob.

“I really don’t mind drivin’ you home, if you want.” Jesse said, giving her a charming smile. However, at this point, Hanae was becoming immune to it.

“You have done so much already. I cannot possibly ask this of you. I insist we take the bus.”

“I want car with Jesse…” Genji whined as he looked up to her. Hanae frowned.

“No, Genji, we can’t-,”

“I don’t mind-,”

“Well, I DO mind.” She promptly opened the door and stepped through. She knew this probably wasn’t’ the goodbye he was expecting. For everything he had done, he deserved a warm goodbye with gentle words…and perhaps a soft touch of hands-

But now was not the time.

She had only a few days to decide the future of her and her brother. She didn’t have time to think or dwell on Jesse McCree.

Said man pouted at her and leaned against the doorway.

“Well, if you gotta go…I can’t stop yah.”

“Stay…” Genji whined, this time a little louder. Hanae let out a gruff, her patience wearing thin from stress and lack of sleep.

“I cannot thank you enough, Jesse, but we must go. I have matters to attend to. I shall thank you properly another time.”

“Ok, well…” He lingered, taking a long moment to give her a soft look. She returned it with a hard one, not having time for his childish games of emotion and touch.

“Goodbye, Jesse.” She said, promptly cutting off whatever he was going to say. And with that, she took Genji’s hand, and quickly made her way down the hallway and out the door. She didn’t look back. She couldn’t look back. All she could do was look ahead.

 

When Hanae and Genji returned to their small apartment it was (predictably) cold. Hanae looked on at her sad little home. Whereas Jesse’s apartment was warm and bright, her apartment was dark and frigid. His was filled with personality, memories and affection. Hers was empty and loveless. She tried not to sigh as Genji walked inside and looked up at her.

It’s cold.” He whined. She nodded as she took off her scarf.

I know, Genji. We’ll just have to sleep with our jackets on.”

Why is our home cold and Jesse warm?” He asked as she crouched down and helped take off his little boots.

Because Jesse can afford heat. We don’t have a lot of money right now.”

Oh…” There was a pause, “Why can’t we have more money?”

I’m trying, Genji, but it takes time.”

Why?”

Because money isn’t simple.”

“Why don’t we ask Touma for money?” Genji asked. Hanae looked up at him with tired eyes.

“Because we don’t talk to Touma anymore, remember? We don’t talk to the family.”

But why?”

Because they’re bad.”

But why?”

Because.”

Because why-,”

Genji.” She cut him off with a stern look, “You’re too young to understand. But you have to trust me. Our family is bad now, so we can’t ask them for money.” Genji looked up at her with sad eyes, and she softened her expression. “Now, no more talk of money. Let’s make some dinner to warm up.”

“Jesse made dinner…” Genji sulked, and Hanae decided to let the comment go. It wasn’t worth fighting with Genji. He was just a child and didn’t understand what was really happening. She went to the kitchen to prepare a warm meal while Genji slowly made his way to the closet. She watched as he struggled pulling out their futon, but he managed to set it up along with the comforter. He then got in and pulled out his bat plush from inside his coat. She watched as he talked softly to it, and she wondered how she was going to protect him.

 

That night, she laid in her cold bed, hugging her brother and staring at the blank wall. Things were desperate. She tried to steady her breaths as she went over the (very few) options in her mind.

She could leave the country. She could try to get in touch with an underground network in Canada…however, she didn’t have the money. And she didn’t know how she was going to make that kind of money in two weeks. So that option was probably out.

She could escape to Mexico. Her pathetic amount of money could at least get her there. But she didn’t speak the first language, and she was unsure if there was a big enough Japanese population for her to blend in. Not to mention the fact that the Shimada clan had heavy ties to Los Muertos, the Mexican gang that had members in basically every city. If she couldn’t blend in fast enough, she was sure to be found out.

She could try to get a sponsor here. But the man from the government probably wouldn’t allow that. He did tell her to get out.

And then there was the least favourable option.

She could get Genji to Canada or Mexico. She could somehow scrape together enough to get him into another country. She could drop him off at a police station. Maybe, just maybe, they’d put him into the adoption system. He could find a new family. And she…well…

There would only be one place left for her. Prison…or death. And she wasn’t overly fond of the idea of going to prison.

At the very back of her mind, something itched and ached, but she didn’t really want to acknowledge it. However, after going over her four (incredibly pathetic) options, she decided to bite the bullet and look over the fifth option.

She could marry an American.

She had heard of such a thing a while back while at work. Her coworkers had been talking about a famous court case of a foreign man who married an American woman for citizenship. They then wanted to divorce after only three months. Apparently, that wasn’t allowed. When she had asked her coworkers about it, they had told her that anyone who married an American was given citizenship.

But the process could be tricky.

Apparently, it was illegal to marry an American simply for the reason of getting a green card. However, if she married someone with influence, they could possibly override that. It was an appealing option because it meant she and Genji could stay in America. They may even be able to stay in the same city (which would be nice for Genji). They would have food, clothing and shelter. They would be taken care of. However, it also had some terrible downsides. What kind of man would she end up with? If a man would be willing to agree to marry her within two weeks (or, now, 11 days) he probably wasn’t the kind of man she wanted to be with. It would mean he would be marrying her solely on her looks and etiquette.

Not that she wasn’t used to the idea of being in a loveless marriage. She had prepared for it most of her life. However, in the Shimada clan she was guaranteed a degree of power and respect. As an influential man’s trophy wife, she could most likely guarantee a life of humiliation and loneliness. Not to mention he would probably divorce her once a younger woman came along (though, he would still have to pay child support…).

Having chewed and mauled over this new option, she wasn’t very fond of the idea of a life of humiliation and misery. But, then again, her happiness didn’t matter in the end. What mattered was protecting her family, and her family was Genji. Would Genji be happy? Maybe the man would favour Genji and treat him fairly. Maybe he would dote on him and come to care for him.

Maybe he’d be like Jesse.

Hanae huffed and rolled over. But he wouldn’t be Jesse, so there was no use comparing.

 

Hanae continued to go over her options. She carefully weighed their pros and cons, not caring how late (or early) she had to think it over. What mattered was finding the best option as soon as possible. So, she thought and calculated and tried to spin her web.

But she just kept coming up short.

There were too many unknowns. And too many risky probabilities. It was highly probable that she couldn’t afford Canada. It was highly probable she would be found in Mexico. It was highly probable she would be denied a sponsor and would be taken to jail. It was highly probable that Genji would be sent back to Japan.

It was highly probably she wouldn’t be able to find someone to marry her. Or the government would immediately stop them. Or the man would turn out to be abusive and cruel. Or he would only take her in to sell her back to her family.

There was still an itching at the back of her mind, and as the hours wore on it got worse. It scratched the back door at first, then it tapped and flicked. After four hours it began to lightly knock, and by the seventh hour it was becoming rather persistent. She kept the door locked and focused on what was important. She ignored it as she tried to lay out her plan, but as time ticked away she realized they all seemed to end poorly. There was no solid plan. None of them were strong enough to put any weight behind.

The door of her mind banged loudly, and she closed her eyes, trying to concentrate. She just had to focus. She could find the solution if she focused.

But when the first rays of morning split into her small home and brought light to her eyes, she finally gave in. Exhausted, she opened the door.

What about Jesse.

What about Jesse?

If she married him-,

I can’t believe I’m thinking of this-,

She could stay in America. And she could stay in this area.

Yes, but the government wouldn’t be happy, especially the man who threatened me. He probably wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of me marrying his…whatever Jesse was to him.

But if she got Jesse on her side, he could fight for her to stay. If the man from the government cared so much about him, then he’d probably be willing to at least listen to Jesse.

It would never work.

It could. It was more likely to work than marrying a random American man.

Jesse would never agree to it.

But he liked her.

She paused, the thought sinking in. Of course he liked her. It was possible he even favoured her. It was obvious, from the way he spoke to her and acted around her. She doubted he loved her, but she at least could bet he held some sort of positive feelings for her.

She could use that.

I…don’t want to use him. I shouldn’t take advantage of that.

But if he did care for her, wouldn’t he be happy that she chose him instead of some other man?

That doesn’t mean he’ll always favour me. He’ll probably get tired of me at some point.

She could handle that. She could work around it.

It’s so risky…

He loves Genji, and Genji loves him. Think of how ecstatic Genji would be if he found out Jesse was going to be a permanent part of their lives. She could have her doubts that Jesse would continue to feel for her, but she could guarantee Jesse would never abandon Genji.

He does love Genji.

What was the best option for Genji? To move to another country and get found out? To be shipped back to Japan? To gamble a potentially disastrous relationship with some American man? Or to be with Jesse? Jesse would care for Genji. He had already proven that to her. He was sure to take care of Genji not only physically, but emotionally. And Genji would grow up being loved.

And if Jesse got tired of her…

He might leave her. Later, he might decide she wasn’t worth the trouble. But she felt he would always be there for Genji. And if things got troubled she could always…remove herself from the equation.

The sun shone brightly outside and reflected off the bright, fresh snow.

She could marry Jesse.

That was her best option.

 

She spent the rest of her day going over her proposed option. As she made breakfast and tried to warm her hands by the stove, she tried to think of every possible pro and con of being with Jesse. As she washed the rice, she questioned if she could handle living with him. As she poured the rice and water into the rice cooker, she pondered if they would make a suitable couple. And, as she turned it on, she thought of what living with Jesse would be like.

She tried to think it over while she prepared the leftover soup Jesse had given them.

Well, she did just live with Jesse for a week, so she had some kind of concept of what his lifestyle was like. Granted, she was asleep most of the time, but the times she was awake they got along well enough. His home seemed clean (cluttered, but not dirty), and he was a decent cook. They had some entertainment interests in common, and he didn’t seem to mind watching family friendly movies and shows with Genji.

Hanae rubbed her hands over the soup, soaking in the warm steam.

They also seemed to agree on child rearing. He was kind to Genji, but he would still discipline her brother if he acted out too much (something she believed was necessary). Jesse never swore in front of Genji, and he made an effort to make his home child friendly (keeping the knives far from the counter edge, putting plugs in the outlets…). He even went so far as to buy some used toys to keep at his apartment whenever Genji came over. She smiled as she remembered Genji’s eyes light up at the building blocks and firetruck.

The rice cooker popped, informing her it was finished. She looked to Genji and found he was still asleep. It was only 5:30 after all. So, she put her rice in a broken bowl and her soup in another. She stood by the oven, taking in the heat from the stovetop as she ate.

There were still things she needed to know about Jesse. She was very traditional in some ways, and she wasn’t sure if he shared those traditions and values. Also, she wasn’t used to interacting with Jesse when Genji wasn’t around. She thought back to the soft touches of their hands coming together. Normally, she wasn’t comfortable with touching. She wasn’t fond of hugs, and any form of physical contact in public seemed indecent in her opinion. What about Jesse? Would he push her to hold hands in public? Or hug? Would he respect her boundaries?

She continued to think while she ate. There were so many things to go over and meditate on, however, most of them she had to discuss with Jesse.

If she even was going to ask for his help.

She took a sip of her soup and sighed. She would spend the day thinking it over and decide if it truly was her best option. She could only spare a day on it because she had to move quickly. She took another sip and tried to suppress the anxiety swelling in her stomach.

 

The day went by, and as the time wore on the idea of marrying Jesse became more and more appealing. Or…at least…the least awful.

But there was another matter she had to address. What would her parents think of Jesse? Of course, they were dead at this point, so it wasn’t like she could directly ask them. However, she still felt a need to think deeply about their opinions. All her life, her parents had had control over her marriage mate. For the year Touma was banished, her mother and father had actually selected suitors for her to court. And she actually did spend time with a few (since her father was so sure Touma would fail his test to return to the family).

She thought of her former suitors and compared them to Jesse. Would he parents put him in the same category as them? Would her parents even consider him as an option?

Simply thoughts weren’t enough. She had to deeply meditate on such an important matter. So, when Genji had fallen asleep, she knelt down in her usual sieza position and began taking deep breaths. She relaxed her muscled and calmed her mind as she tuned out the rest of the world. And she swam deep into her mind to achieve her task and goal.

Her parents.

What would they do? What would they say?

She reflected back on their characteristics and values. She reflected on the way they spoke and held themselves. She meditated on the kind of people they were. On how they treated her. And she imagined herself back in her family’s meeting room. She thought of her mother and father sitting in front of her, their backs tall and their expressions neutral. She thought of her father’s sharp, intimidating features, and she thought of her mother’s curves and knowing smile.

She imagined herself sitting in front of them as they looked over a portrait, just like they had long ago. But this time, it was not the portrait of a young, powerful son of a wealthy Japanese ally. It was a portrait of Jesse.

What kind of portrait would it be?

It would be the best portrait of him.

When did he look his best?

When he’s holding Genji.

She imagined her parents looking the picture up and down. They would murmur to one another as they examined it. No doubt her father would speak first.

What exactly does he do?”

“He’s a contractor-,”

“A carpenter?”

“No, he does all kinds of projects to fix and build homes-,”

“A blue collared job.” Her mother would hum.

And how much does he make?”

“Enough for provide for Genji and I.” Her father would stroke his goatee.

“And where did he go to school?” Hanae would lower her eyes.

He didn’t go to college or university-,”

“He doesn’t even have a higher education? Hanae, honestly.” Her mother would scold. Her father would remain calm and collected.

“Was he working at the time?”

“Yes. He used to be in a large gang, but he was later recruited by the government.”

“Doing what?”

“I…don’t know. I believe he worked as an agent of some sort.” She would say. Her father would hum.

“Any medical history?”

“He is healthy, as far as I know.”

“As far as you know…” Her father would echo, “And I doubt you have the time or resources to find out?”

“Yes. I am…unable to find that information at this time.” Her mother and father would whisper something to one another. But then Hanae would speak.

Genji is very fond of him. I can tell Jesse cares for him deeply.”

Well, that is a plus I suppose…” Her mother would say. They would then go silent and look over the portrait once more. After a few moments, her father would look up at her.

Do you trust him?”

“…yes.”

“You hesitated.”

“You told me never to trust outsiders. I’m still…adjusting to Jesse.” Her father would nod. “But, I know he has a very strong moral code. And he is a very honorable man. He took care of Genji and nursed me back to health for an entire week.” Her parents would nod, “And he doesn’t know exactly who I am, so there is no doubt his intentions are pure and are not out of greed.”

And what do you think of him?” Her father would ask. Her mother would scoff at him.

“That is hardly a priority-,”

“But, it is still important.” He would turn back to Hanae, “What do you think of him?” Hanae would wait and choose her words carefully before speaking.

I…care for him. He is very tolerable. And I have grown to trust him more than any other outsider.”

“And are you willing to marry him? You know you cannot change your mind, once you swear yourself to someone – as a Shimada- you cannot go back on your word.” Her father would say. Hanae would bow her head.

“Yes. I am willing to dedicate myself to him if it means the security and safety of my family.” Her father would nod, and perhaps her mother would smile. There would be a pause in conversation before her father would let out a breath.

Well, he isn’t my first choice, but…I think your American will do as a suitable husband.” Her mother would nod.

“I do wish you would do better, Hanae, but with your limited time and resources…this is your best option.” Her father would then smile.

“And he seems like a strong man…and handsome too.” Her father would grin. “Don’t you agree, my love?”

“I’m sure he will give us beautiful grandchildren.” Her mother would say, the edge of her mouth twitching to become a smile.

Really, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve always been fond of Americans.” He would grin at her mother, “Really. I didn’t think Hanae would inherit that from you.” Her mother would playfully swat her husband. He would chuckle. “Don’t you remember the American man your father wanted you to marry?

Of course I remember.” Her mother would hum.

“Your father was so dead set that you two should marry- even though you clearly favored me. If it weren’t for my family name, I don’t think your father would have given you up.” Hanae’s mother would then lean against her husband.

But here we are.

Indeed. Here we are. And our daughter is about to marry an American.” Her father would chuckle, “What is this world coming to?” He would turn his attention back to Hanae, “Hanae, you have my blessing. Be sure to make him see why he must agree to this.” Hanae would nod, “And be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. If he becomes disagreeable, you must leave immediately. You can make your plans on the way. Your first priority should be Genji.” Hanae would nod again and bow low to her parents.

“Thank you, mother, father.”

“Go in peace, Hanae. You know what you must do.”

Hanae slowly opened her eyes. Yes. She knew what she had to do.

 

 

The next day, at exactly 10:15 am, Hanae texted Jesse.

10:15

Hello Jesse. How are you? I hope you are well. Would you be available to come over tonight for dinner? I wish to speak to you about a certain matter.

She took in a gulp of air, held her breath, then pressed send.

And then she waited. Would he text back right away? Normally he was quick to-,

10:16

Mornin! I’m doing peachy keen. How are you and Genj? Hope you ain’t too cold. I’d love to have dinner. I work till 5, so anytime after that would be good.

Hanae let out a breath she didn’t know she held in.

10:16

Would 6 o’clock be alright with you?

10:17

Sure! Should I bring anything?

10:17

Just yourself. Thank you.

 

 

There was a knock at the door at 6:03pm. Hanae took two deep breaths and steadied her nerves. She had just gotten the ingredients out to make instant beef curry when he came to the door.

“I’ll get it!” Genji yelled as he clamoured out from under the comforter and ran for the door. He swung it open and smiled up at his friend. “Jesse!”

“Hey, buckaroo!” The man swept Genji up and gave him a big hug. “How are you?”

“…good.” Genji mumbled as he hugged him back.

“Aw, you don’t sound too- LORDY!” Jesse clung Genji to him as he quickly turned to Hanae, “It is FREEZIN in here! The hell is goin’ on?” Hanae sighed as she rubbed her hands.

“The heat isn’t very good-,”

“It ain’t ON.”

“I’ve called the landlord, but he said he can’t do anything. That’s why Genji and I are wearing our winter jackets.”

“It’s cold.” Genji mumbled as he nuzzled into Jesse. Jesse hugged him close.

“Aw, baby boy…” He said, rocking Genji back and forth for a moment. He then looked back at Hanae. “We ain’t eatin’ here.”

“What-,”

“It’s colder than a butcher’s freezer in here. You’ve been livin’ in this? I’m surprised you haven’t caught a cold already.” He motioned with his head towards the door. “Pack it up, sugar, we’re goin’ somewhere warmer.”

“I…well-,” Jesse walked up to her and shook his head.

“It ain’t yur fault. But you shouldn’t live in this. Come on, you and Genj can warm up at my place. I’ll cook dinner.” Hanae gave a slight sigh and looked at her instant curry mix. Jesse gave her a small smile. “Listen, you can keep that for another time. Tonight, I’ll cook-,”

“You’ve done so much already-,”

“Well,” Jesse grinned, “You can just pay me back with a big ol’ meal some other time. I know yur keepin’ tabs and all.” Hanae waited a moment before reluctantly giving into a small smile.

“…Alright.”

 

 

It was much warmer at Jesse’s apartment. Hanae could feel the warm blood rushing back into her fingers as she rubbed them together. Jesse led Hanae and Genji to the couch and left for a moment before returning with a blanket and his comforter. He laid the blanket over their legs and wrapped the comforter around their bodies.

“There! Snug as a bug, I say!”

“Bug!” Genji echoed as Jesse walked to the small bin by the patio door. It was the bin he usually kept Genji’s toys in. Genji peaked up in curiosity.

“So, guess what buddy?” Jesse asked as he opened the lid, “I was talkin’ with an old friend, and he had a nice toy set his kids had grown out of, and he wanted to know if you wanted it.”

“Ok!” Genji exclaimed as he wiggled off the couch and headed towards Jesse, the blanket now wrapped around over his head and body.

“Well, hold yur horses! I ain’t said what it is yet.” Jesse chuckled. He reached into the bin and pulled out a big box. Genji smiled and jittered with excitement as Jesse placed the box on the floor. Genji immediately went to open it, but he stopped midway and looked up at Jesse. He then looked at Hanae before he spoke.

“Um…Can…open it?” He asked, turning back to Jesse. The man smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair.

“Aw, course you can, kiddo. Thanks for askin’.” Genji smiled again and tore the lid off the box. There were different lengths of wood with patterns on them, and each end looked like a puzzle piece. He didn’t understand what it was at first until he saw the little red train.

“WHOW!” He said dramatically as the blanket fell to the floor, and he lifted up the small, wooden train. “I LIKE! It’s…um…I like…um…-,”

“It’s a train, Genji.”

“TRAIN! I LIKE TRAIN!” Genji jumped up and down and rushed to his sister. “Look! Look!”

“Yes, I see, Genji.” Hanae chuckled, “It’s very nice.”

“And you get to build the tracks, see, Genji?” Jesse spoke, gaining Genji’s attention once more. Genji tilted his head as he watched Jesse take one wooden piece and attach it to another. He attached a third before placing a little green train on top.

Genji dropped his train and grabbed his hair, his mouth making a giant ‘O’.

“OH MY GOSH!” He then threw down his hands, “IT A TRAIN!”

Jesse let out a loud, hearty laugh as the boy rushed over and examined the wooden tracks. He quickly began taking them out of the box and tried to put them together. Jesse continued to laugh as Hanae got up, walked over, and picked up the blanket before placing it back on Genji.

“What do you say to Jesse, Genji?” She asked. Genji looked at Jesse and beamed.

“Thank you, Jesse!” He sang before getting up and giving the man a hug. Jesse continued to chuckle as he hugged Genji back.

“Aw, your welcome, kiddo. I thought you’d like it.”

“I like very much.”

“You mean, you like it very much?” Jesse asked while correcting him. Genji nodded, “Well, that’s just swell.” The boy looked back to his sister.

Can I please play?” He asked. Hanae nodded.

Ok. Just remember you can’t play during dinner, alright?”

“Ok.” Genji sang again. He then began picking up the pieces once more and tried putting them together. The two adults watched for a moment before looking at one another.

“So, I was thinkin’ of omelettes for dinner. How’s that sound?” Jesse asked Hanae. She nodded in approval. “Alright, I’ll get everythin’ together.”

 

“So, what did you wana’ talk about?” Jesse asked her as he began to cut up some green onions. Hanae let out a small sigh as she cracked the eggs into a bowl.

“It is something we should discuss after dinner.”

“Is it that serious?” He asked with a smile. It faded at Hanae’s silence. “Ah…alright.” They were quiet for a moment before Jesse spoke again. “Is it about losin’ yur job?”

“Somewhat…”

“Cuz, I’ve told you before, I can help. I was even thinkin’, since you already work for me, you could maybe just…do stuff around the apartm-,” Hanae put the shells down and turned to Jesse.

“No. I am not going to be your employee Jesse. I cannot possibly do enough work to warrant enough money to pay rent and buy food.” Jesse put down his knife.

“I can think of things you could do ‘round the house-,”

“No, Jesse.” She put the egg shells aside and picked up a fork. “Besides…I think it is best I don’t work for you.” She said as she began beating the eggs.

“Why?” Jesse asked as he turned fully to her. She remained quiet as she focused on beating the eggs. “You think I’d be a bad boss?” She didn’t answer. “I mean, I can’t give you benefits, but I can give you days off.”

“I’m not going to be your maid.” Hanae mumbled.

“Then you don’t gotta work around the apartment. You could help me with buildin’ stuff-,” She looked up at him.

“Jesse, I have no building experience-,”

“I could teach you-,”

“And I don’t want building experience… and we both know I can’t legally work for you.” It was Jesse’s turn to be silent. “If the government found out, you could possibly go to jail.” Jesse opened his mouth to speak, but then he closed it again and looked down at the chopped vegetables. Hanae gave a gentle sigh. “We’ll…discuss things after dinner. For now, let’s focus on cooking, please.” Jesse huffed slightly and after a moment picked up the knife again.

“Alright. After dinner then.”

 

Dinner went off without a hitch. Jesse and Hanae had managed to focus on cooking the food, and soon all three of them were eating on the couch. Genji asked if they could please watch a children’s show while they ate, so the adults were stuck watching a show about dinosaurs while Genji happily ate and sang along. Hanae didn’t mind too much. To be honest, her thoughts were far away. She was too focused on what she was going to say to Jesse. She watched the clock with anxiety as she tried to think of the best way of introducing the topic. She knew she had to tell him about her deadline, but should she mention the man from the government? How much did Jesse already know? And should she tell him her other options too?

What if Jesse flat out refused her? What if he was offended she would try to take advantage of the system? What if he felt she was taking advantage of him? Her stomach knotted itself. She could afford to lose a lot of things, but at this point in time, she couldn’t afford to lose Jesse- or his assistance. He had become a kind of lifeline for her and Genji. So, what if he broke off their friendship? And what if he informed the man from the government?

She had planned to leave immediately if Jesse reacted negatively. At home, she already had her and Genji’s essentials packed into two bags, so they could leave at a moments notice. She had all her money bundled up. If the worst possible outcome occurred, she and Genji would flee to Mexico. And that meant they would possibly be leaving tonight.

She took a few shaky breaths, her stomach refusing to take another piece of food.

“You ok, sugar?” Hanae snapped back to reality and looked at Jesse, who gave her a concerned look. “You’ve barely touched yur food.” She looked down at her plate where she had only taken two small bites of her omelette.

“Yes…I’m just not very hungry.” Jesse hummed in disapproval and looked over at Genji. He waited a moment before speaking to him.

“Hey, bud. You finished?” Genji looked up at Jesse and nodded. “Alright. How ‘bout me and yur sister clean up while you watch tv.” Genji nodded again happily and went back to watching the show. Jesse took Genji’s plate, then looked over at Hanae. His expression was surprisingly serious as he motioned with his head towards the kitchen. Hanae took a deep breath, then nodded. So, they got up and made their way to the other room. She tried to calm her racing heart as she placed her plate beside the sink and looked over at Jesse. Surprisingly, he wasn’t looking at her. In fact, he seemed to be avoiding eye contact. She continued to watch him as he took out a Tupperware container, packed up her omelette, and put it in the fridge. He then went on to scrape off the plates and fill the sink with water. He continued to look elsewhere as he spoke. “From yur expression, I’m guessin’ it ain’t good news.” She remained quiet as he put the dishes in the sink, put some soap on a sponge, and began to wash them. After cleaning one plate, he finally looked over at her. His expression was serious with a bit of surprise. He looked her up and down, waiting for her to speak, but when she continued to be silent, he turned and went back to washing the dishes. “Take yur time.”

Hanae opened her mouth to speak many times, but each time the words would die in her throat. What was wrong with her? She had brought up much more difficult topics to much more dangerous men, so why was is hard to speak to him?

It was probably the bitter taste of failure and humiliation that killed the words in her mouth. Her failure to take care of her family. The humiliation of begging to be taken care of. Finally, after a few moments she managed to spit the first words out.

“I have to leave. In two weeks.” The words seemed to fly and bounce off Jesse as he gave no reaction to her comment. He looked over his shoulder at her.

“That it? Well, shoot. Where you goin’? How long?” He then turned to her, a towel in one hand and a wet dish in the other, “You need me to babysit, or what?” He looked at her innocently as she struggled to breath through the thick lump in her throat. She shook her head. “Genji goin’ with you? Alright. If you need to borrow cash, that’s fine.” She shook her head again. He began to slow down while drying the dish. “…Where you goin’?” She crossed her arms and dug her feet into the ground. She could feel her eyes beginning to water ever so slightly. She would absolutely kill herself if she gave way to tears in front of him. She was already pathetic enough as it was, but crying? Weeping would be the death of her. So, she clenched her jaw and looked at him. “…how long you gonna’ be gone?” She continued to stare. “…When you comin’ back?”

She stared. He froze.

“You…ain’t comin’ back…are you?” She shook her head. He furrowed his brows at her and gave her a strong look, as if he was trying to read the situation from her body language alone. “You runnin’ from someone?”

“I-,” She forced herself to cough, shook her head, then spoke through grit teeth, “I can’t stay. The,” She coughed again, “The government is kicking me out.” Her words wavered slightly, but her stance remained firm and strong. He put the towel and dry dish on the counter.

“Did they contact you?”

“Yes.”

“Is that why you got fired.” She flexed her fingers and toes.

“Yes.”

“When did they contact you? How? Did they send someone?” She pressed her lips firmly together as Jesse stared at her dead on. However, she would not waver. She simply remained silent. He let out a noise between a growl and a sigh and leaned his back against the counter. “So…yur just goin’ then? Where?”

“Mexico-,”

“Mexico?! Really?” He narrowed his eyes at her, “There might be people associated with whoever killed yur parents down there. You sure it’s safe for Genji? You have contacts there?” He stared her down, but she refused the shrink before his gaze. He tilted his head, “You sure you gotta’ go? There’s gotta be a better way then just high tailin’ it to Mexico. Can’t you declare refugee statues or somethin’?”

And this was when she came to a cross road. She could keep her story the way it was. She could stick with the idea of just going to Mexico. She could keep her pride, part with Jesse on good terms, and hope for the best in a new country. It would save her from humiliation and pain.

Or, she could go through with her plan. Admit there was only one way for her to stay in the United States. She could throw herself at the mercy of her friend. She could humiliate herself and lose face in order to save her brother.

So, she had to ask herself. What was more important to her? Her pride? Or her brother?

Of course, she knew the answer.

“There is.”

“There’s what?”

“…another way.” She looked off to the floor, not able to bring herself to look him in the eyes at this point. He crossed his arms.

“Well, shoot! It’s gotta be better than rootin’ up and movin’.” She grit her teeth, built up her words, then spat them violently onto the floor.

“I could get married.” The words tasted putrid in her mouth. Only now, saying it out loud, did she realize how horrible it sounded. Selling herself off like some cheap piece of jewelry. She gripped her arms but stood tall. She would at least keep what little shred of dignity she had left. Jesse widened his eyes in surprise.

“Married? Married to who?” The words seemed to sink in as he straightened his back, “Who you gonna’- you only got two weeks!” Her gaze stayed fixed on the floor as his voice rose slightly, “Hell, Hanae! You can’t just marry some stranger! There’s no tellin’ what kind of man you’d end up with! What if he turns out to be some killer or- or worse!” He pointed at her, “That ain’t an option! That’s too damn dangerous and risky.” She could hear his feelings change with the pitch of his voice. “Unless you got someone in mind.” His voice wavered for only a millisecond. “You already talk about this with someone? Do I know him? How do you know he’s any good?!”

“Yes.”

“Yes what?”

“I…have someone in mind.”

“Who?” He stood closer to her now, his eyes burrowing into her. However, she waited a long, pregnant moment before she finally looked up at him. He clenched his jaw, and for the first time in a while she saw his anger. “Who. Who is it?” But she remained silent. Because her jaw just couldn’t work right, and because she needed him to figure it out. It would somehow be less painful if he said it, not her. He took a step towards her, his form overshadowing hers as the hurt and jealousy showed on his face. “Hanae. Who is it?” She remained silent. He came a little closer. Now, she tilted her head slightly to look up at him. He grit his teeth and let out an angry breath. “Damn it, if you’ve got some man in yur life, you gotta’ tell me! It ain’t right, us spendin’ time like this. If you’ve got a man, we shouldn’t be so close. It ain’t right.” She stayed quiet. He narrowed his eyes. “Well! If yur-,”

“It’s you.”

“What?”

“It’s you.”

“What’s me?” Hanae gave him a small glare, her own frustration and pain building up.

“You. I was going to- that’s why I came here, Jesse. I wanted to ask you.” His expression immediately changed to surprise and confusion as he tried to process her words. She could tell by the look on his face the exact moments he put the different pieces together. He opened his mouth, closed it, then looked away as blood began to rush to his face.

“Yur…askin’ me to marry you-,”

“Yes.” She said curtly. She was beginning to get tired with this social game they had to play. On one hand, she wanted to just spit everything out, but on the other hand she wanted to wait and hope the pain would lessen with time. Jesse took a deep breath.

“That’s…a tall order.” He said as he rubbed the back of his neck.

“Yes.”

“You,” He looked at her again, his eyes much softer than before, “You, uh…think this through?”

“Yes.” Hanae clenched her hands.

“Oh.” He gave a light cough and continued, “I mean, I’m flattered and all but…we’ve only known each other a few months,” Hanae sucked in a breath as her stomach fell, “and we ain’t even datin’.”

There it was again. Bitter rejection.

She mentally grabbed the slipping threads of herself and yanked them as hard as she could, trying to pull herself together again. She tried to stand straighter, to hold her head higher. She had to at least try to make this work. She looked at him and tried to soften her hard expression.

“I assure you, I would be an excellent wife.” Jesse seemed taken aback by the comment.

“I…don’t doubt that.”

“I am very organized, and I always maintain a clean and healthy environment. As you know, I can cook many things, and I am willing to learn more. I am disciplined with my money, and I assure you I am not the kind of woman to put my wish for material possessions above the happiness of my family.” Jesse shifted uncomfortably as she continued, “I promise you I will always be loyal, I will never stray from you. And having Genji, I am very familiar with child rearing-,”

“It ain’t- I’m not askin’ for yur resume, Hanae.” He crossed his arms, “And there’s a lot more to marriage than just…cookin’ and makin’ money. You gotta look out for each other-,”

“I can do that-,”

“And you gotta’ care for each other-,”

“I promise I will care for you-,”

“And you gotta’ love each other.” She remained silent at that comment. Jesse rubbed his face. “’sides, I ain’t the kinda man who’d get married to just get divorced later.” He looked at her again, “If I’m marryin’ someone, it’s for life.” Hanae nodded. “So, we can’t get married just so you can divorce me later.”

“I know. I do not intend to.” Jesse looked at her with a surprised expression once more, “When a Shimada marries, we marry for life.” Jesse looked at her with wide eyes (surprisingly, unfazed by her use of a different last name).

“So,” He pointed at her, “You ain’t talkin’ short term? Yur talkin’, like, a life long commitment.”

“Correct.”

“Like, actual, bon-a-fide marriage. No tricks. The real deal.”

“Yes.” He stood up straighter, covered his mouth with his hand, before sliding it down his chin.

“So, yur basically askin’ me to be yur life partner.” Hanae let out a small, defeated sigh.

“Yes.” She said, much softer this time. Jesse grabbed his hair, looked off at the ceiling, then let out an awkward, strained chuckle. He looked back at her, opened his mouth lightly to speak, but then closed it again as he looked off to catch his words. After a brief moment, he spoke once more.

“That’s…a hell’va commitment, Hanae.”

“I know.”

“Marriage ain’t somthin’ you just do on a Friday night. You gotta’ plan it out. And you gotta plan out yur life too-,”

“We can figure it out-,”

“But, there’s so much…we don’t know ‘bout each other. Like, I don’t know,” I looked off and waved his hand lightly, “What kind of house do you like? Or apartments? Or…”

“Where do I stand on the issue of recycling?” For a moment, his usual grin spread across his face as he looked back at her.

“Yeah.” He chuckled. The laugh quickly faded away, along with his smile. “Listen, Hanae. I want to help you. I do-,”

“But you can’t.” She said flatly.

“But I want to.” He said. She looked away and forced herself to only let out a small breath. There was another pause between them, this one much heavier than the ones before. Hanae painfully tried to maintain a neutral expression as Jesse stared at her, as if trying to memorize her features. Suddenly, he lifted his hand and reached out to touch her face. He moved in towards her as he spoke. “I’m sorry.”

She swiftly evaded his touch.

“It’s fine. It was a silly thought, anyway.” She continued to look away from him, refusing to look at the pity and other uncomfortable expressions on his face. She continued to hold her head high as she forced her body to be still and strong. He dropped his hand but remained close to her.

“Hanae…” He said softly. She forced herself to look up at him and was slightly surprised at the amount of pain on his face. Apparently, her coldness had hurt him more than she thought. But that was understandable.

It was probably a reason why things wouldn’t work out between them.

“We should probably go.” She said, trying to keep her voice light and airy. “Thank you for dinner, and for having us over.” She looked away again, “Your kindness is appreciated.”

“Hanae-,” He moved closer as if to hold her against him, but she swiftly moved out of the way and moved towards the door.

“Things will only become awkward if we stay any longer.” She glanced back at him.

He looked as if she had struck him.

He looked betrayed and

Rejected.

But it was only fair. If he rejected her, she had the right to reject him too.

She moved out of the kitchen, so she could see Genji.

Genji, we’re going now.” Genji looked up from the television and pouted.

But I want to stay.”

We can’t. Jesse has work in the morning. Now, be good and say goodbye to Jesse.” Genji whined a little but nodded and slid off the couch. He very slowly made his way over to his sister and looked up behind her to where Jesse stood.

“Bye Jesse.” He mumbled. When Jesse remained silent, Hanae turned around to him. He was looking at Genji, his expression torn and pained. She tried to ignore him and her own bundled feelings as she got Genji’s jacket from the closet.

Jesse snatched it out of her hand.

“I’m driving you home.” He stated. She turned away again to get her own jacket.

“That isn’t necessary, we’ll-,”

“It wasn’t a question.” Hanae quickly turned to him again, surprised by his sudden firmness. But this time he didn’t look at her. Instead, he crouched down and helped Genji put on his jacket. “You want me to drive you home, right, Genji?” He asked softly. Genji nodded and gave a little yawn. Jesse proceeded to get Genji’s boots on while Hanae put on her own jacket and boots. Finally, Jesse quickly put on his own winter clothing before scooping Genji up and grabbing his car keys. He didn’t say anything to Hanae. He didn’t even look at her. He just walked out the door, waited for her to get out, before locking it and walking away.

He didn’t wait for her.

 

The car ride was quiet, the most quiet it had ever been. The snow fell in large flakes creating blobs of white and water over the windshield. The streets were fairly empty, save for a car or two passing by. Every now and then, Hanae would look over at Jesse and watch the streetlights dance across his face. He seemed deep in thought as he concentrated on the road ahead. In the darkness and random flashes of orange light, she couldn’t quite tell if his lips were quivering or if his eyes were slightly red and watered. The light was too low, and it played tricks with her eyes the longer she looked at him. Sometimes she would catch herself staring too long and would look away, back out the windows of spattered black and whites. It was a long car ride.

They finally pulled into her dark parking lot. One of the lights had died early that week, so the whole area was half hidden in darkness and snow. Jesse killed the engine and sat there for a moment staring out the front window. Hanae glanced at him, and for a moment he looked back at her and their eyes met. She took a breath in, a sudden urge to speak over taking her, but it washed away again when Jesse turned away and got out of the car. He walked around to the side to get Genji as she took her time unbuckling and getting out. Again, Jesse softly picked up her sleeping brother in his arms. And again, he didn’t wait for her as he walked towards her apartment. She watched and followed as Jesse whispered things to her brother while he slept. He stopped at the outside door and waited as she came up with the keys.

He suddenly spoke, his voice breaking their agreed upon silence.

“When you gonna’ leave?”

“Soon.”

“How soon?” She opened the door and walked through, not answering his question. This time he followed her and as they moved up the flight of stairs his steps became notably slower and slower. He almost dragged his feet as he carried Genji down the hallway to the last door on the left. Hanae got there first and unlocked the door as Jesse finally came up behind her. She opened the door and walked in before turning back towards him. He stared at her, his body ready to move forward and into her apartment.

But she refused to let him in.

He let out a soft breath and looked at her, his expression breaking away into pain once more. But she refused to move, so he eventually handed over her brother. She pulled Genji close and readjusted him in her arms as she waited for Jesse to leave. He stood awkwardly before her, his hands not quite knowing what to do. He looked at the doorway, then down the hall, then closed his eyes and let out another breath.

“You gonna tell me when yur gonna go?” He finally asked. She remained silent. He gave a sad grin, “Or am I gonna’ have to come knockin’ every day to see if yur still here?”

She didn’t answer.

He rubbed the back of his neck.

“To be honest, I kinda thought…” He looked off again, “Things would be different.”

She was quiet.

“Kinda thought…” He let out a small laugh. It was wet and forced, “Well, didn’t expect to hear you’d be leavin’ so soon.”

She stared at him.

“I, uh,” He tried to swallow, “I’ve got some family in Mexico, actually. So, if yur goin’ down there, I can try to help you out.” He looked back at her, a smidge of hope in his expression. But her own look shot him down. He let out another breath. “I just…” He shrugged, “I kinda thought thing’s turn out different, you know-,”

“Me too.” He winced at her words. There she went again, cutting him down. But she didn’t know what else do to. It was how she was raised. If someone hurts you, you hurt them back. She clenched her teeth. It didn’t satisfy her though. It didn’t ease the turmoil within her. Cutting him down only seemed to hurt both of them even more.

“Well,” He forced a cough, “I guess…I’ll see you around.”

“Yes.” He tried to grin at her.

“Don’t you go leavin’ before I get to say goodbye.” His smile wavered as she stared at him, ready to slice at him again if he tried anything. He moved towards her and reached out like before.

“Don’t.” Was all she said. So, he looked away from her and to her brother.

“I’ll see you around, kiddo.” He whispered as he stroked Genji’s hair. He then bobbed down slightly, took Genji’s head, and placed a firm kiss on top. He petted his hair slowly, twice more before he pulled away again. Hanae firmly held her brother as her body ached. She wanted Jesse to hold her too and tell her things would be ok. But she refused to let him get that close. She had to cut him off now, before things got more complicated.

Jesse stood up again and smiled sadly at her.

“Guess I’ll see you around too.” He said. She looked away.

“Goodbye, Jesse.” She said, her energy draining as she spoke.

“You mean, see you soon.” She paused, let out a breath, and closed her eyes.

“Goodbye.” She repeated softly. He continued to stand there, but she refused to look up at him. She didn’t want to see the look on his face. So instead, she moved away, and pushed the door closed with her body. She held her back against the door and listened. Her apartment was dark and silent, save for her own soft breaths. After a minute, she finally heard his footsteps walking away from her door. She held Genji close and snuggled her head against him.

It was fine. It was for the best.

At least now she had a definite answer. She had her conclusion. And the situation was nothing new to her. People came and went from her life all the time. Allies, friends, family…Everyone eventually went away. That was simply the way of life.

She knew she and Jesse would eventually part ways one day, she just didn’t expect it to be so soon. But it really was for the best. It was better to cut their ties now when their friendship was still developing, compared to when it had blossomed and grown.

And it was best to nip their growing feelings in the bud, whatever those feelings were.

So, she removed Genji’s winter clothes, and her own, and she set about preparing her updated plan as she changed her brother and got him into bed.

They would go to Mexico. They would travel far enough from the border that the American government couldn’t find them, and then they’d settle somewhere close enough to the city, so they could get resources, but not be spotted.

She went to their small closet and pulled out their two bags. She checked the limited items of basic clothing, food, and first aid supplies. As far as travel bags went, they were fairly pathetic. She let out a breath as she dug through her own bag, counting and recounting her items. She then moved onto Genji’s small bag. She had told him to only bring what was important, so he of course filled it with things that were unnecessary. She had to repack his bag that day because it was filled with candy, all his shirts and no socks. She went over his new list of items, triple checking she had his necessities. She rummaged around the small clothes and granola bars. He had running shoes, his hat, his toothbrush- though it only reminded her that Genji would continue to grow, and thus need new cloths once more. Where was she going to buy that? And how much would it cost? Her little money was already dwindling, and then there was the fact that she didn’t speak Spanish, so finding a job, or even just navigating the country was going to be a challenge-

She absentmindedly wrapped her fingers around something soft and ripped it out of the bag, ready to throw it away for being unnecessary.

It was a little bat plush.

Genji’s toy-

No

The toy Jesse gave to Genji.

Hanae stared at it as it looked up at her with its little black eyes and pointed ears. She slowly ran her thumb over it as it smiled up at her, its fur soft and wet-

She looked on with bewilderment for a moment, not possibly comprehending how it could be wet, until she realized it came from her.

She was crying.

She opened her mouth to whisper her surprise, but what came out instead was a wet, chocked sob. She slapper her hand over her mouth as her chest convulsed and she heaved in a breath, only to cough out a sob once more. She scampered up and fled to the bathroom, not wanting to wake Genji to her sudden outburst as she closed the door behind her and rested her hands on the counter. She tried to breath, to be calm, but every time she opened her mouth her body would betray her with wretched cries once more. And it was getting worse. The more it broke thorough, the worse it got, like water breaking through a dam. Hot tears began to pour down her face as she quickly snatched the bathroom towel and shoved it in her mouth. It was disgusting, but it would suffice to muffle her cries to an extent.

She bit down and shut her eyes. Why was she so upset? Of course, Jesse rejected her. And she didn’t blame him! Asking him to marry her after only knowing one another for a few months was a ludicrous idea to begin with, and she wondered if she would even agree if the roles were reversed. She didn’t blame him for saying no. She took in another shaky breath.

Why was she crying?

She hadn’t cried like this since her parents died, and that was because they were ripped out of her life so soon. Because she wouldn’t see them again.

She bit down harder.

It was the same with Jesse.

She was never going to see him again.

They both knew what she was going to do. She was going to run away, like she had done before, and try to forget everything again.

But she didn’t know if she could do it a second time.

She let out another sob and clenched the counter, her tears burning her face.

She had left everything to come here. She left the familiarity, and the warmth, and the safety of her home all because the people she cared about had been violently ripped away from her.

And here she was again, leaving her second shelter. But this cold apartment wasn’t her home, nor was it familiar or safe. No, the warmth and familiarly she had found was with Jesse. What little joy she had gotten from this place were from him. And now, he was also being ripped from her life, and so was the warmth that came with him.

She grabbed her hair and wept bitterly.

She wept over the cruelty of this life for always taking away the people she cared about.

She wept over the lost childhood of her brother.

She wept over what had been, what might have been, and what was occurring.

And she wept over Jesse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was 3am.

Hanae was laying in her bed, curled around her brother for warmth as she lingered somewhere between sleep and consciousness.

Thick snowflakes danced and bundled together outside her window.

Suddenly, there was a knock.

And then three more, hurried knocks.

Hanae blinked, unsure if she was awake when the knocks became soft and consistent.

Was it that door at the back of her mind? What was it knocking about this time?

“Leave me be.” She mumbled as she rubbed her tired face against the pillow.

But the knocking persisted.

And it got slightly louder.

It was only after a minute of straight knocking that her eyes shot open, her mind realizing she was indeed awake and the knocking was coming from her front door.

She scrambled up, her body wavering and unbalanced from her incoherent thoughts.

She didn’t have time to think. She didn’t worry who it was, or if it was the government to get her.

She just instinctively knew that, if the door knocks, you answer.

She stumbled in the darkness, falling against the closet before she fell against the door, undid the lock, and opened it.

Dirty orange light spilled into her apartment as she blinked and adjusted to the light. She squinted with confusion at the tired, rumpled man before her.

“Jesse?” She croaked. He immediately cut her off.

“We could get a fiancé visa.” He said quickly, the words spilling together so fast that she could hardly translate what he said. She continued to squint at him, her mind and body sure she was actually still asleep.

“….What?”

“It’s a visa for couples; for people who are dating a foreigner. You get a fiancé visa, and yur partner gets to stay in America for three months, and then you gotta’ get married.” She slowly blinked at him, “It means you could stay here for a while, Hanae.” She tilted her head and he let out an anxious breath, “It means you and Genji can stay for three more months! You don’t gotta go!” She blinked again.

“…What?” She woke up slightly when he suddenly grabbed her shoulders.

“It means we can see each other for three months! We can- we can date and do the normal stuff couples do! And if it works out, and we figure we make a good match, we can go through with it.” He shook her slightly, “We can get married!” She blinked more rapidly at his words.

“Wh…we can?” He broke into a smile as she began to catch on.

“Yeah! You don’t gotta leave now! You and Genji can stay, and we’ll figure things out, and we got enough time to figure out if marriage really is the best thing for us-,”

“But…what if we find out it isn’t?” She asked, her brain still struggling to follow along. His smile got bigger.

“That’s the best part! We got time to plan! If things go south, and we figure we’d make a bad match, we got time to plan you and Genj goin’ to Mexico! I got family there- they can set you up! I can take some time off work and help you get settled down there. Either way, you and Genji will be safe. Isn’t that great!” He asked with glee. She nodded slowly.

“…yes…?” He immediately pulled her into a tight hug, and they were both surprised when she didn’t fight it or pull away.

Maybe she was too tired, or she didn’t mind, or maybe she actually wanted some form of comfort.

Either way, she found herself held up comfortably in his arms.

“This way, everythin’ is gonna’ be fine, Hanae. You and Genji are goin’ to be safe. Yur gonna’ be fine.” He squeezed her and let out a relieved sigh, “You don’t gotta go.”

I don’t have to go.

She closed her eyes and leaned into his warmth.

Was this a dream? Maybe it was.

But it was a nice dream, and Hanae figured, with everything she had gone through, she was allowed to have a nice dream.

So, she moved her arms and hugged him back.

She would allow herself a nice dream, just this once.

Just once.

Chapter Text

The diner they went to was small and homey. Random country knick knacks lined the shelves on the walls, as well as pictures of faithful customers. The kitchen was visible from the tables, and Hanae could make out when the orders were ringed through and put on the service window. She watched the chefs work, wondering when their food would arrive (and what it would taste like). Hanae had never had an American breakfast before, so she was curious as to the taste. Jesse took a sip of his coffee.

“So, first things first, I think we gotta’ lay down some ground rules.” Jesse said as he put his cup down. Hanae directed her attention back to him.

“I agree.” She said, slightly surprised that he was more serious than usual.

“Good.” He held up his index finger, “Rule 1, we gotta let each other know if somethin’ is wrong.”

“Such as?”

“Such as annoyances and things that bother us. Like, you gotta’ tell me if I’m oversteppin’ any boundaries, and I’m gonna’ let you know if yur bein’ too cold.” Hanae nodded. That was reasonable enough.

“Alright. Rule 2?”

“No sleepin’ over.” Hanae raised her eyebrow at Jesse as he gave a light cough, “We, uh, well, I think we agree that we wana’ keep things clean between us.”

“Of course.” She took a sip of her orange juice. Obviously nothing was going to happen between them. They were friends. She didn’t even see him that way.

“Well, I just wana’ be clear in case either of us is, you know…tempted to-,”

“Believe me,” Hanae chuckled, “I won’t be tempted.” She smiled at him as he frowned at her. He then crossed his arms.

“You cut deep, Hanae. You cut real deep.”

“Anymore rules?” She asked, interrupting him

“Yeah. We gotta’ let each other know as soon as possible if we’re gonna’ go through with this or not. I don’t want to go the three months and be lookin’ forward to a wedding just so you can tell me it ain’t workin’ out.” Jesse pointed at her, “If you make up yur mind early, you gotta’ tell me. Whether you wana’ stay or go. We need to know as soon as possible.”

“Alright.” Hanae nodded, “And I expect you to tell me the same.” Jesse blinked as his face began to slightly redden.

“Well, uh, I’m pretty sure I know where I’ll stand in three months but…” He coughed again, “Yeah, if it obviously won’t work then I’ll let you know.” Hanae nodded again and sipped her juice. There was a moment of silence before Hanae spoke up.

“Is that all?”

“Basically. We still got time to figure most stuff out.”

“Then, I wish to give my own rules.” She said. Jesse smirked.

“Alright. Shoot.” Hanae held up her finger.

“No touching.” Jesse frowned at her and gave her an odd look, “What?”

“Well…I mean, we’re gonna’ be engaged- we ARE engaged. We can’t do that and not touch at all-,”

“You said no sleep overs-,”

“Ok, sleepovers and touchin’ are COMPLETLEY different.” Hanae quirked a brow.

“How?”

“Well,” Jesse looked up at the ceiling, “Sleep overs are…well…you know,” He shrugged, “But touchin’ is about holdin’ hands and huggin’ each other.” He looked back at her, “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. That’s clean.” Hanae shifted in her seat.

“Hmmm.”

“And, technically, we’ve already been touchin’ hands- which you started, by the way-,” He then flashed her a grin, “and, if I remember correctly, you didn’t argue when we were huggin’ last night-,”

“Don’t say that so loudly.” Hanae grumbled as the heat crept up her neck.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with huggin’, Hanae.” Hanae huffed and Jesse gave a small sigh. “Alright, how about we only hold hands or hug once in a blue moon?” Hanae gave him a confused look, “Sometimes. We do it sometimes.”

“I’d rather never do it-,”

“And if I had my way, I’d never let yur hand go.” Hanae’s brows shot up as he leaned back and gave a small smile, “So, sometimes sounds like a nice compromise.” A brief silence overtook them as Hanae shifted uncomfortably.

“Why…why would you want to hold my hand that often?” She asked. Jesse gave her a look like he couldn’t comprehend her question.

“What do you mean ‘why’?”

“I mean…for what purpose?” Jesse leaned forward.

“For the purpose of, we’re engaged.” He then gave a teasing smile, “Plus, yur hands are real soft and warm. And they’re so little when I hold em’, like they fit just right-,”

“That’s a little indecent.” Hanae whispered harshly as her face blazed. He scoffed.

“I’m talkin’ about yur hands. If there was ever a decent part of your body, it’d be-,”

“It doesn’t matter where-,” Jesse sat up.

“Of course it does!”

“I got some chocolate chip pancakes.” Hanae and Jesse both turned to the server who had suddenly appeared. Jesse smiled at her while Hanae avoided her gaze.

“Yup, that’s for the little guy.” Jesse motioned to Genji as the woman sat down the plate.

“I also have western omelette,” Hanae nodded to her, “And the house special.”

“That’s me.” Jesse said with a smile. The woman sat down their food and gave them a nod.

“If you need anything, let me know.”

“Thank you kindly.” Jesse said as he picked up his knife and fork. The woman nodded again and walked off. As Hanae gently picked up her knife and fork she watched as Jesse ripped the sausages on his plate apart. She frowned, and looked to Genji, who was doing the same with his pancakes. Both tore into their food, their elbows out and at weird angles. Jesse looked up at her as he shoved some sausage into his mouth. “Hm?” He asked while chewing.

“I thought, since we would be dining at an establishment, you would be more aware of your…table manners.” Jesse swallowed his food and slowed his knife and fork to a stop.

“Well, I mean, my manners ain’t that bad…and I’m real hungry.” Hanae gave him a cool stare. He gave a small sigh and reigned in his elbows. When he took up his knife and fork again, he slowly cut his food and ate it. Hanae gave a small, victorious smile.

“Thank you.” Jesse gave another small sigh.

“I mean, if this is gonna’ be the rest of my life, I don’t know if- hey,” Jesse bumped Genji with his elbow, “Slow down, kiddo. If you eat too fast, you’ll choke.”

“Chocolate!” Genji smiled up at Jesse, his mouth smothered with the sweet substance. Jesse half scowled, half chuckled as he picked up a napkin and wiped the child’s face clean. Genji giggled.

“We just can’t take you anywhere, can we, bucko?” Jesse grinned. Genji giggled in response and continued eating. Jesse turned back to his plate and began constructing a bacon sandwich when Hanae spoke.

“So, what is the…plan? Moving forward.” She asked as she took a smile bite of her food. Jesse stacked strips of bacon on a buttered piece of toast while he spoke.

“Well, first things first. We gotta get to a government office ASAP and register yur new visa.” He put a final strip of bacon on the piece of toast, “I’ve contacted some friends in high places, so you’ll be covered until yur approved for the fiancé visa. Then, we’ll probably have a few interviews, someone will pop by now and then to make sure we’re in a relationship,” He shrugged as he put a slice of toast on top, “Then it’s smooth sailin’ to the weddin’.” Hanae frowned as he took a large bite.

“How are you so sure they’ll give me a new visa? The government was strict when they told me to leave-,”

“Mm-,” He swallowed, “We’ll be fine. All we have to do is be honest.”

“Be honest?” Hanae put her fork down, “Jesse, how could we possibly be honest with them? We’re trying to take advantage of the syst-,”

“Naw, see, we ain’t.” Jesse held up a finger and put his sandwich down. “If we were plannin’ on gettin’ divorced in a few years, then we’d be screwing the system. But if we’re plannin’ on makin’ this a life time deal, then we’re just like anyone else wantin’ to get married.”

“But it isn’t exactly our first choice. And our circumstances-,”

“What about arranged marriages? They’re legal here. And the two parties aren’t always thrilled about their options. See, that’s the thing about this marriage. We’re both choosin’ to do it. If both parties consent, and it’s for honourable reasons, then the government can’t find any fault.”

“But we’re just friends. When they find out we don’t-,”

“We care about each other, don’t we?”

“Well, yes.”

“And we both wana’ raise Genji.” Hanae felt her neck heat up.

“Yes.”

“Then I don’t see how we’re so different from other couples. I know a lot of people who got married for less honourable reasons.” Jesse picked up his sandwich again and took another bite. Hanae allowed him to savor the flavour as she tried to process what they were going to do. “Listen,” Jesse said after swallowing, “My plan is to be honest because we can’t fool them into thinking we’re madly in love with one another. I mean, I could pull it off,” He looked Hanae up and down, “But you…”

“Yes, yes. I understand.”

“So, I figure, we be honest- well, as honest as possible. I’ll tell them we’ve been spendin’ a lot of time together lately. Then, the other day, you said you were being deported. I asked when you’d come back, you said you didn’t know when they’d give you another visa-yadda yadda-  I was so heart broken at the thought of never seeing you again that I proposed.” He smiled, “And you were over the moon because you didn’t wanna’ leave my side. And that’s how we got here.” He nodded, “It’s full proof.” He said before taking another bite of his sandwich. Hanae drummed her fingers on the counter.

“It’s a nice story, but there are still too many loose ends. What happens when they ask us how we met? I can’t exactly tell them I was working.”

“Well, yur gonna.” He said, taking another bite. Hanae gave him a look.

“Jesse, that directly violates my travel visa.” Jesse huffed as he finished chewing.

“Well, we can’t exactly hide the fact you were workin’. The government already found out and questioned yur boss. It’d be stupid for us to try and backtrack and say you were volunteerin’ or somethin’. Naw, we gotta be honest. You tell them you were workin’ to support you and yur brother. You might be charged,-“

“I will be charged-,” Hanae ground out.

But it’s better to tell the truth they know than try to lie and get caught. Besides, they’ll go easy on you once you prove you were dirt poor and trying to feed yur starving brother.” Jesse shrugged, “If we’re lucky, we can fight to get you doin’ some community service or something.” Hanae suddenly leaned forward and whispered harshly.

“Yes, and then I’ll be in the system, Jesse. I can’t be in the system-,”

“Honey, yur already in the system.” He whispered back.

“But not as-,” She paused and bit her lip, looking away from him. He stared directly at her.

“It’s because of yur name, isn’t it? Because of yur last name.” Hanae quickly looked back at him, a mildly shocked expression on her face. He let out a breath, “Darlin’, I know you ain’t a Shimizu.” He gave her a soft expression, “I know yur a Shimada.” Her hand immediately clenched around her napkin as her look hardened. But he continued to look at her with his gentle eyes. She slowly moved back into her chair and gave him a cold look.

“Then, you know who I really am.” He nodded, “And you know what my family does.” He glanced away and nodded again, “Then, you know what my family is capable of if they find me.” She hissed. Jesse looked back at her, his eyes hardening slightly at her anger.

“You may not like it, but you’ve been put in the system as a Shimada-,”

“By who?” She sneered.

“I don’t know-,”

“Yes, you do. It was your friend. Or you.” She said, her voice dripping with venom. Jesse immediately met her fierce stare with his own and leaned closer.

“Listen, I don’t know who, but I sure as hell don’t appreciate you accusing me of stabbing you in the back. In case you don’t remember, I’m literally putting my neck on the line for you- or did you forget that I could go to jail for helping you.” She narrowed her eyes before he gave a frustrated noise and tore his eyes from hers, “Damn it, Hanae. You’d think after all this time- after everything I’ve done for you, you’d show me some fricken’ respect.” He looked back at her, “I thought I’d gained yur trust by now.” He narrowed his own eyes, “Because, now you listen here,” He jabbed his finger at her, “I AIN’T gonna marry a woman who doesn’t trust me or respect me, you got that? If this is how things are gonna be, then you better tell me now, so we can scrap this whole thing and get you down to Mexico.” He gave her a hard look, and at first she glared at him. But her expression began to soften as she thought back to the things Jesse had done for her.

But something didn’t sit right. How long had he known she was a Shimada? Was that the reason he was helping her? Or was he gaining her trust so he could hand her over to her family when the time came.

“Well?” He asked. She paused. How could she trust him? How could she be sure.

But it was Jesse. Her eyes flickered up to him and her cold interior warmed slightly.

But, it’s Jesse.

“Alright.” She mumbled while looking away.

“…alright what?” He asked, his voice cracking slightly. She sighed.

“We’ll go through with everything.” She paused again, and this time he gave her enough time to think and collect herself. After a long moment she spoke, “I…apologize if I seem harsh. It’s just…difficult to trust people in my current situation.”

“I know.” She looked up once again to see his gentle expression. But this time it was lined with pain. “I know it’s hard, Hanae,” He mumbled as he reached out for her hand. She didn’t pull away as he encased it in his own. “I just…I can’t do this if you don’t trust me. It hurts when you accuse me and say you don’t trust me.” He slowly rubbed her knuckles with his thumb, “And, I know it’ll take time before I earn yur full trust, but I just…I need you to work with me, not against me.” He leaned in closer, “I’m not the enemy, Hanae.” She looked away and gave a soft nod.

“I know.” She whispered.

“Then, please, trust me-,”

“I’m trying-,” Someone cleared their throat, and Hanae look up to see the waitress with an amused expression. Hanae’s face blazed as she quickly yanked her hand away from Jesse’s (which wasn’t easy, since he seemed to want to hang on).

“Just wanted to know if you needed extra napkins. Your little boy seems to be going to town on those pancakes.” Hanae looked to Genji, whose hands and face were covered in chocolate. Hanae then turned towards the booth, somehow hoping that, if she didn’t see the people around her, they wouldn’t see her. Jesse cleared his throat.

“That’d be great. We’d appreciate that.” He said, his voice even and normal.

 

Hanae continued the rest of the meal in general silence, allowing Jesse to take over and talk (one of the things he was best at). He talked about the different things the three of them could do together for fun. He talked about them spending evenings together. He talked about how soon they should plan the wedding. He asked when wanted to look at housing.

“Another thing.” He said, putting his fork down to finish his meal, “We gotta’ talk about where we’ll be livin’.” Hanae poked her food around, “Because I don’t want you two livin’ in yur apartment anymore. It’s too cold, and it’s a dangerous neighbourhood. I don’t want either of you gettin’ sick or in trouble.” Hanae briefly looked up from her food, “Now, we ain’t gonna get you a new apartment or nothin’, cause that’s too expensive,” She looked back at her food, “But, I was thinkin’ you could move into my apartment-,” Her eyes shot up, “While I crashed at a friend’s house.” Her shoulders relaxed.

“…Are you sure?” Jesse smiled, happy to finally get a response out of her.

“Sure I’m sure. It’s a nice place, and it can fit you two. Plus, then we only gotta worry about payin’ for one place instead of two.”

“But…will your friend be ok with it? It’ll be three months before we live together.”

“Aw, don’t worry about it,” Jesse waved her off, “We already talked it over. She’s fine with it.” Hanae waited a moment.

“…She?”

“She.” Jesse chuckled, “Don’t go gettin’ jealous. She’s an old boss. More like a mom than anythin’ else.” He took a sip of his coffee, “Besides, she said it’ll help her out. She’s gotta’ go on some,” Jesse paused for only a second, “Work trips in the next two months, but she doesn’t wanna’ leave her daughter alone. Pharah’s 16, but it’d still be nice if someone else was home with her. Plus, she can babysit when you and I go out and get to know each other better.” He wiggled his eye brows.

“Are you sure she doesn’t-,”

“Like a date-,”

“Yes, I got that.” Hanae took in a deep breath, “Are you positive she doesn’t mind?”

“Yup.” Jesse nodded.

“Alright.” Hanae paused as she processed the information given to her. Slowly, she began to speak, “You say the woman is a former boss of yours. She wouldn’t happen to work for the government, would she?” Jesse smiled.

“Sure does.”

Figures.

“And we can trust her?”

“Sure can! Hell, she’s the one vouching for us to get yur fiancé visa. We owe her big for the favor she’s pullin’, so when you meet her you gotta’ promise to be nice.” Hanae twitched slightly.

“When I meet her.”

“Yup.”

“Which would be when exactly?” Jesse took another sip of his coffee.

“Well, she’s busy right now, so I’d say in a few days time. I was thinkin’ of havin’ her over, but I also want you to meet the whole family, so I was gonna’ ask if we could meet at her place.” Hanae drummed her fingers lightly on the table.

“Hm.” She thought for a moment before deciding, “That sounds fine. It will give us a few days to plan and get everything in order.” Jesse cocked a grin.

“Now, I know what yur thinkin’.” Hanae took a sip from her juice.

“Hm?”

“You don’t gotta’ be so nervous.” His grin spread. Hanae put her juice down.

“I think it’s reasonable to be a bit precautious. After all, if she is vouching for me, I should make sure our first meeting is-,”

“I know it’s a big step meetin’ someone who’s like family to me, but you don’t gotta get all scared.” He leaned his elbows on the table and rested his chin in his hand. “I think it’s cute.”

Hanae waited a beat.

“Jesse. I’m not ‘nervous’. And I’m not ‘nervous’ about meeting someone who is ‘like’ your mother. I’m simply cautious-,”

“I’d be pretty nervous too.” Jesse said, his volume overtaking her speech, “I can’t imagine what it would be like meetin’ yur parents. Yur pa was a legend. He’d probably skin me alive for even lookin’ at you.” Hanae stopped.

Was. He was a legend.

“He wouldn’t skin you.”

“No?”

“He’d probably break your legs.” She joked, but there was a hint of sadness there.

“Oh! Well! If it’s just my legs.” Jesse shrugged dramatically, “I’m sure that’s just the ol’ Shimada welcome.”

“He wasn’t a cruel man.” She said, looking at the table, remembering her father’s face. His strong demeaner. His confident smile.

“Didn’t say he was. But, most men get a bit violent if a man comes a callin’ on their baby girl.” Jesse crossed his arms and smiled, “Yur dad ever scare off any boys?” Hanae leaned back in the booth.

“I was engaged at a young age, so most men knew to leave me alone. But, there were one or two who tried to convince my father to break the engagement.” She held a small smile, “And after Touma left-,” She immediately stopped. Jesse sat still, his body language relaxed and his face gentle. He didn’t edge her on or look uncomfortable. He just waited for her to speak. She glanced over at Genji (who was being unusually quiet) and watched as he coloured in a paper about dinosaurs. She took in a breath.

Should she talk about Touma?

She looked at Jesse again.

Did it matter? Jesse must know something about her family. And they were going to be wed.

Jesse was replacing Touma.

Touma was now her ex. Her past.

She leaned her head to the side and let out a deep breath before continuing.

“After Touma left for a year, father opened up to the possibility of other suitors. There weren’t many men- mother and father were very particular- but there were a few that seemed to ‘make the cut’.” She breathed in and out, “Father was very traditional about it.” A smile slipped onto her lips, “He had professional photographs of the men taken and had all their resumes. He had his men interview them rigorously before they were even allowed to meet me.”

“Sounds tough.”

“It was.” She chuckled, “The interview process was used to weed out anyone who wasn’t completely serious. I never saw the interviews, but I heard they were stressful.”

“And you didn’t mind?” Jesse asked, nodding his head, “Yur parents choosing your husband.”

“I had a choice.” Hanae lifted her head, “They found 4 suitable suitors, and I was allowed to pick from the 4.”

“Doesn’t sound like that much of a choice…” Jesse mumbled. Hanae snorted.

“You sound like Touma.” Jesse’s eyes shot up. “He was always going on that I didn’t have a choice. When we were engaged, he was adamant that it was unfair for us to be bound without our consent. And when he came back after a year, he was furious I still wasn’t given a complete choice in a husband.”

“Huh…” Jesse scratched his beard, “To be honest, I uh…kinda figured yur ex- fiancé was kind of a dirt bag. But he sounds some what …reasonable.” Hanae shook her head.

“Touma wasn’t a dirt bag. He was very adamant about people’s rights and equality in the system. He was…is a very modern thinker for our family.”

“Really…” Jesse mumbled, his surprise obvious.

“Yes…” Her smile began to fad as she thought more about her ex fiancé. Her ex friend. His ruthless betrayal. The change of his return.

“Do you think yur parents would have liked me?” Jesse asked, pulling her out of her thoughts. She blinked, glad for the change of course, and gave a larger smile.

“Well, I don’t know if you would be their FIRST choice-,”

“But, I’d have a shot?” His eyes went large. Hanae laughed lightly.

“Well, maybe not a few years ago, but currently, I think they would approve of our marriage.” Jesse beamed.

“You really think so?”

“Yes. You are a very honourable man, Jesse. And though you may not have the…financial or social status the clan typically seeks in a marriage, you are honest and loyal.” Hanae nodded, “And my father held those things above all else.”

“Well, hell.” Jesse smiled, “I’m glad I would have gotten’ yur father’s blessin’. If he were around, I’d sure talk to him before takin’ you away.” He gave a mischievous grin, “Though, I don’t know if I would have listened if he said no.”

“Um…Jesse?” A tiny voice squeaked. Both adults looked to Genji, who had finished colouring his paper. “I need more dinasars.” Jesse ruffled Genji’s hair (which Genji protested loudly against).

“Alright, bucko. How about we get goin’ instead? We gotta move you into my place.” Genji perked up immediately.

“Jesse’s house? Warm? And tv?”

“All the tv you want, bucko.”

“Yay!” Genji got up and bounced. Jesse laughed and held on to him as Genji jumped into his lap. “Why? Are you big brother?” Jesse beamed up at Hanae, then looked back at Genji.

“Actually, yur sister and I are gettin’ married.” Genji furrowed his brows for a moment before realizing what the word meant. He gasped dramatically.

“Married? Like, kiss kiss?” Jesse gave a hearty laugh.

“Not yet, but I sure hope so!”

“Married!” Genji scrambled out of Jesse’s lap and climbed onto the table before the man could grab him. “We going married! MARRIED! SISTER AND JESSE! KISS KISS!” Genji screamed. The entire restaurant stopped and looked directly at them. Hanae swore, tried to grab her brother and not die of embarrassment while Jesse laughed until he cried.

 

 

It didn’t take them long to move into Jesse’s place. After all, Hanae and Genji were already packed up from the day before (Jesse didn’t say anything when he saw her bags packed and ready to go). They took the rest of their small belongings (the comforter, her small, mismatched collection of three bowls and three plates, etc.) and immediately went to Jesse’s apartment. Genji was more than happy to move away. He gleefully helped pack and unpack into his new home.

“Jesse. Jesse!” The man turned to the boy, who held his dragon and bat toy close to his heart. “Where I put Soba and Batty?” Genji asked, his body bouncing on the spot. Jesse smiled.

“Well, how about you put them in the bedroom on the bed. That way you’ll know where they are.”

“Mmm. Yes. Ok.” Genji nodded and bounced off to the bedroom. Jesse grinned at the boy and looked back to Hanae, who was unpacking her small travel pack onto the couch.

“I’m glad he’s taken to the place. I was worried he might not like the change.”

“Well, it’s warm,” Hanae said as she laid out her very small amount of clothing, “And it is your apartment, so it reminds him of you.” She looked up for a moment. “He’s very fond of you.” Jesse smiled warmly at her.

“I know. I’m fond of him too.”

“Mm.” She hummed, going back to unpacking.

“So, I figure I’ll pack up my clothes and such and give you room to put your stuff away. That sound good?” Hanae nodded. She looked at him again with a tight smile.

“Not that I have much to put away.”

“We’ll change that.” Jesse said, crossing his arms.

“You don’t have to.” Hanae looked back to her small number of belongings.

“Sure I do.  A man’s gotta provide for his own. Besides,” He lightly put his hand on her shoulder, “You’ll get a job soon enough, and then we’ll both be providin’ for this family.”

Family.

They were a family now.

She fought against shrugging his hand away and instead tried to focus on his gentle touch and warm hand. She tried to breath deeply and calm herself. To bite down the bitter failure of her situation.

“I…I will get a job soon.” She didn’t look at him, “And then I will pay you back-,”

“We talked about this. You don’t gotta’ pay me back. We’re in this together now.” He let out a breath, “And really…you don’t gotta’ get a job if you don’t want. You could raise Genji and the children full time.” Her breath caught, “It’s somethin’ we gotta’ talk about. Where you see yourself in this family. What role you wana’ play.” His voice became softer as his thumb drew gentle circles on her shoulder. She remained still and unmoving before she caught her breath again and slowly turned to him.

“…children?” He tilted his head.

“Well, yeah. We’re gonna’ have kids, ain’t we?” A look of concern crossed his face at her sudden silence, “You…you do want children, right?”

“Well, I’m not…opposed but…we’re not even sure if we will wed-,”

“I know, but, if we do,” He placed his other hand on her other shoulder, “If we do get married. I want to have children, Hanae. But…it’s kind of a two person deal-,”

“We already have Genji-,”

“We do. But I’d like more kids.” She swallowed.

“Now?” He cringed.

“Not-well no, not right now but sometime, yeah.” She blinked a few times. She tried to imagine children. Children with Jesse.

What would their children be like?

“I don’t…I didn’t think we would,” She opened and closed her fists, “I thought this would be more of a partnership.” He squinted slightly.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we wouldn’t…” Her eyes darted away, trying to find the words.

Or a distraction.

A distraction would be even better.

When nothing came, she looked back to Jesse, who awaited her answer.

“I thought we would be like busi-,”

There was a sudden knock at the door.

“There’s someone at the door.” She blurted, but Jesse just stared at her, his hands fixed on her shoulders. He squinted at her, as if trying to read her thoughts when there was another knock. “Jesse, someone’s at the door.”

“I get door!” Genji yelled. That seemed to knock Jesse back to the present, because he blinked and looked around.

“Uh- Genji, I’ll get it-,” Jesse began, but the boy had already unlocked the door and opened it.

“Oh.” The boy said, “Ok, bye bye.” He then closed the door. Jesse rushed over to the door and grabbed the handle.

“Genji, why’d you close it?”

“I don’t know ladies.” He said, as if it was completely obvious. Jesse opened the door again and let out a surprised noise.

“Amari?” He said. Hanae moved towards the door so she could see their visitor. It was a woman. A beautiful woman with tanned skin and black hair. She had a tattoo under one of her eyes and an amused expression on her face. Beside her stood a young woman with similar features.

“You sound surprised, dear.” Amari said.

“I- well, I thought you were out of town-,”

“Things changed last moment. You know how Gabriel can be.” She pushed a plate of what seemed to be little pastries into his hands, “Here. A welcome gift for you and your bride.”

“I, uh, thanks.” He took the plate and moved aside. The two women walked in as the younger flashed Genji a smile.

“Hey buddy. What’s your name?” The younger woman asked. Genji, overtaken by a sudden bout of shyness, hid behind Jesse’s leg and mumbled something. The young woman chuckled, “Aw, don’t be shy.”

“He normally isn’t shy, Pharah. Normally he’s screaming and-,”

“Jesse, aren’t you going to introduce us to your fiancé? It’s rude not to, you know.” The woman scolded lightly. Jesse nodded.

“Right. Yeah. Hanae, this is Ana and Pharah Amari. Ana’s my former boss, and Pharah is her daughter.”

“Hey.” Pharah nodded.

“A pleasure to meet you.” Ana said.

“And Ana, this is my fiancé, Hanae.” Hanae gave a respectful bow.

“The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Amari.” She said, her voice low and respectful. When she lifted herself up out of the bow, she maintained a strong but delicate stance. She clasped her hands together in front of her to indicate calmness, but also to show she was on guard. Outside, she exhibited gentleness and grace.

Inside, she felt fear and chaos.

This was Jesse’s former boss? This was the woman from the government? But, they weren’t supposed to meet for days. She didn’t have time to plan her course of attack. She didn’t have enough time to research and strategize. To build her web. Ana Amari smiled, but her eyes shot through Hanae’s very being. This woman was fully aware of what she was doing. She had deliberately caught Hanae off guard.

“I’m so happy to finally meet you, dear. Jesse has told me so much about you.” Hanae gave a smile.

“Good things, I hope.”

“Of course.” The woman nodded. She then looked back at Jesse. “Fareeha, help Jesse put the food away, and be sure the little one gets some.”

“Sure.” Pharah practically shoved Jesse into the kitchen. Ana then began walking up to Hanae.

“I realize I have come at a bad time, so I won’t be long. I just wanted to say hello and finally meet the woman Jesse has been talking about.” Ana smiled and stopped right in front of Hanae. Normally, Hanae would have stepped back, but she knew this was a power game, so she maintained her stance.

“I thank you for coming. And thank you for the food. We greatly appreciate it.”

“Oh, it is no trouble, dear.” Ana waved lightly. “And how are you adjusting?”

“I’m doing fine. The apartment is nice-,”

“Yes, it is nice. But how are you adjusting to a relationship with Jesse? Are things going well?” She smiled. Hanae took in a light breath. She was about to simply say it was good, but then she realized she didn’t know what this woman knew. She didn’t know how much Jesse had told her. Did she know the full extent as to why they were getting married? Was she in league with the man from the government? Hanae adjusted her gaze, making her pause seem as if it was due to shyness.

“It’s good. Jesse is very sweet, and he has been very good to me. I only hope I can repay him for his kindness.”

“I will give you some advice, dear. Relationships are not about giving for repayment. They are about giving for love- not expecting anything in return.” Anna nodded. Hanae gave a slight bow.

“Thank you. I appreciate any advice you may give me.” Hanae then looked the woman dead in the eyes, “It will help for when Jesse and I are married.” She said it calmly, but with the underlying message clear. Ana Amari would not stop her from marrying Jesse.

Ana smiled, then chuckled and shook her head.

“Alright, let’s move on to the task at hand.” Hanae dropped her smile.

“Yes, lets.”

“I came because I wanted to make something clear, Ms. Shimada,” Hanae tensed, “I am not out to break you and Jesse apart.” Hanae blinked, mildly surprised, but maintained a neutral expression.

“Oh?”

“No. I don’t want to get in the way of whatever the two of you are doing. I’m simply looking out for Jesse.” Ana nodded towards the kitchen, “He and Fareeha are close, and I have made it my duty to look out for him. But, like all children, a parent must know when to let go.” She gave a slight sigh, “If Jesse chooses to marry you, I will not stop him. I simply wish to get to know you better.” Hanae released the tension in her shoulders. She was still on guard, but the words had surprised her.

“You wish to see if I’m ‘good enough’?”

“I wish to know the woman marrying my boy.” Amari smiled, “Which is why I’m helping you get your visa, dear. I want us all to get to know each other well before we tie our lives together.” Hanae nodded slowly, “Besides,” Ana sighed again, “I know what it’s like being in a new country with a young child. It isn’t easy. Especially when the language and culture are so new.”

“You weren’t born here?” Ana laughed.

“Oh no! No dear. I moved here when Fareeha was just a baby. My husband and I were given work, so we moved here.” Hanae gave her a look of respect.

“Your English is impeccable.” Ana laughed again.

“Flattery will get you no where, dear. Now, let’s agree to be friends.” She held out her hand. Hanae took it and shook it firmly before Ana pulled her closer, “And I need someone to watch Jesse when I’m not around. He can be quite troublesome, you know. Can you do that for me?” Hanae huffed a laugh.

“I think I can try.”

“Very good.” Ana winked, “Now, I want you to try my baklava before you go. It is a family recipe, you know.” Ana walked towards the kitchen and Hanae followed, “I can show you the recipe if you want- children!” Ana gasped. Hanae hurried behind her to see Jesse and Genji shoving the pastries into their mouths. She looked at the plate. Half the desserts were gone.

Jesse shot up and saluted out of instinct. He then pointed at Pharah the exact same time Pharah pointed at him.

“It was Pharah-,”

“It was Jesse-,”

“Both of you! Honestly!”

“Mom, look! He’s still shoving two into his face!” Jesse immediately shoved them into his mouth and began chewing.

“I dow mow wa yo awkin aout.” Jesse chewed. Meanwhile, Genji stood by, happily sucking on the sweet treat.

“Mom, Jesse’s being a bad role model.” Pharah said while Jesse crossed his arms and swallowed.

“As the man of this house, I’m allowed to- umph!” Pharah wacked him in the face with a dish cloth.

“Yeah, some man-,”

“Children PLEASE!” The two stopped and looked at Ana. She crossed her arms.

“I give you the simple task of giving a child a treat, and this is what happens? Clearly, neither of you are as responsible as I thought.”

“Mooommm.” Pharah whined.

“If this is how you’re going to behave in my house, Jesse, I suggest you find someplace else to live.” Jesse avoided eye contact, like a child trying to find an escape, “Jesse!”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jesse saluted again, “Sorry. I was just-,”

“I don’t want to hear it.” That shut Jesse up. Hanae figured she should take notes. “Now, you’re going to stop fooling around and help your fiancé and her child get comfortable, understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And, Fareeha,” Pharah looked at her mother with slight fear in her eyes. Ana crossed her arms. “You will be on bathroom duty for the next two weeks-,”

“Aw! Mom!-,”

“Along with Jesse-,”

“AW! Mom!-,”

“Enough!” They went silent. “Now, we have some simple matters to discuss before we go on our way.” She nodded towards the door, “I brought some papers I need you both to sign. I was able to get you an interview the day after tomorrow, so I need you to bring in those papers. And we need to go over what you will say.” Hanae raised her eyebrows.

“You got us an interview that soon?”

“Yes. I was able to convince them this was a special case.” Ana turned to her, “Now, I am going to give you some sample questions you can review with Jesse. It’s important you both have the same story.”

“That won’t be a problem.” Jesse said, his tone becoming serious.

“Good,” Ana nodded, “You two will have to show your very best,” She looked at Hanae, “Especially you, Ms. Shimada.”

 

 

“Ms. Shimada?”

Hanae jolted at the sudden noise. She blinked at the man in front of her.

“I’m sorry. What were you saying?”

This was her first interview for her fiancé visa. She sat in an small room with two large windows facing the city. Across from her sat a thin man with glasses and a tall, muscular woman with short hair. It was late morning, and she was alone with the two others. Jesse was outside in the waiting area (having already been interviewed), and Genji was in a different room for children going through his own interview (one which she and Jesse were not allowed to be present for). Her stomach clenched at the idea of Genji on his own. She tried not to panic at the things he might say. She had to focus on her own interview. This discussion would determine her future in this country.

“I asked why you came here with a travel visa if you intended to work.” Hanae calmed her breathing and tried to control her anxiety over the situation.

“I thought I would have enough money to live in this country for a few months until I figured out where my brother and I could go. However, I had to spend most of my finances on travel and documentation.”

Which wasn’t a lie, she just didn’t mention that most of the money went towards fake citizenship.

“And yet, you seem to have moved into an apartment only 4 days after arriving here.” The man said as he glanced down at his information. She let out a calm breath.

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you stay at a hotel? Or a motel?” He asked, looking over his glasses at her.

“I had limited money, and if I stayed at a hotel I would be listed as one of their guests. As my document says, I have been trying to maintain a low profile due to…complications in my family.” The man looked down at the document again and frowned.

“Yes, something you don’t really care to elaborate on.” Hanae maintained a confident posture.

“The right people are aware of my circumstances. I have been told it is in my legal right to not discuss my family situation in detail.” He gave a small sigh and put the paper down.

“Yes, I am aware. However, this process would go by more smoothly if we knew the whole situation.”

“Then, I am afraid this will take longer than expected. My apologies.” She held his gaze for a long moment. Finally, he broke eye contact and gave an annoyed grunt. The woman spoke up, obviously taking over.

“You have said that you have known Jesse for some time, yes?” She said in a heavy Russian accent.

“Yes.” She nodded. “Jesse has been a very good friend- and fiancé.” She quickly corrected. The woman nodded knowingly.

“He is very taken with you. He was very enthusiastic during his interview.” The woman gave a firm nod, “He is happy man.” Hanae smiled.

“Yes. He is.”

“But you do not seem as happy, my friend.” The woman said. Hanae maintained her smile.

“Yes, well, Jesse is an energetic man, while I-,”

“To say you seem less than thrilled about marrying him would be an understatement.” The man grunted, leaning his elbow on the table. His partner ignored him and looked to Hanae, looking at her to continue.

“Yes, as I was saying, Jesse is a very energetic man while I am rather…calm. I am happy about everything, I assure you. I just have different ways of showing it.”

“If anything, you seem very political about the whole thing.” Hanae suppressed a twitch at the man’s statement.

“I assure you, I am very genuine.”

“What do you like about your Jesse?” The woman asked, giving her a nice smile. Hanae looked to the woman, happy to address the more positive of the two.

“I like his disposition. It is nice to be with someone who has a good outlook on life. And we agree on many topics, which is good. He is very humours -,”

Again,” The man sighed, “This all seems very scripted, Ms. Shimada.”

“Ms. Shimada,” The woman leaned on the table and gave her a warm but strong look. “What do you love about Mr. McCree.” Hanae paused for only a moment before resuming.

“Well, as I was saying, he is very funny and-,”

“No, please,” The woman interrupted her by holding up her hand. She then lifted her index finger, “What is the first thing you love about this man? The most important thing?”

Hanae pressed her lips together to keep herself from immediately responding. This question was important, she could tell. As quickly as she could, she went over Jesse’s different traits. What was the best quality to present? Surely there was one that was the right answer. Which answer presented them both in the best light?

“Ms. Shimada,” The woman interrupted again. Hanae blinked and focused on her. “I do not want you to think. I want you to speak. The first thing you think of. What is it?”

“He…well he is…nice-,”

“No, the first thing.”

“He, uh-,” The woman lightly hit the table.

“No. The first thing you think of.”

“Er- he- uh-,”

The first thing.”

“He loves my brother.” Hanae said immediately. The woman rose her eyebrows, but remained quiet. Hanae let out a breath as she collected her words to elaborate. “He…he has always been good to my brother. Genji is,” She looked away for a moment before looking back, “He is the most important thing to me. I would do anything for my brother, and Jesse knows that. And Jesse wants to put Genji first too. When we first knew each other, he would always pester me about Genji.” Hanae’s lips twitched in a smile, “He wanted to make sure Genji was getting schooling and eating right.” The woman across the table nodded along. Hanae gave a soft chuckle, “He was so adamant about Genji eating right that he started buying our groceries every Tuesday. I was horrified at first because, well, it was somewhat humiliating, but it made Genji so happy. And knowing my brother had good food to eat took a lot off my mind.”

“Jesse did mention he helped a bit with your food bill…” The woman picked up her pen, “But I was not aware it was every week.”

“Yes, unfortunately, my job didn’t pay a lot, so food was scarce. If Jesse didn’t start buying our food, I don’t know what I would have done.” The woman wrote something down before looking back up at Hanae. “And this is how you got to know Jesse better? Because he brought you food?”

“Yes,” Hanae coughed slightly, “We began spending more time together at work and on days off. After some time, Genji and I began going to Jesse’s apartment regularly so Jesse and Genji could play while I rested.” The woman nodded and smiled.

“Yes, working and taking care of a little one is a lot of work.” She wrote something else down, “So, you let Jesse babysit Genji?”

“In a sense, yes.” Hanae reached up and adjusted her bangs, “It was nice knowing I could trust Genji to Jesse. Just being able to rest was a big help.”

“Is there anything else Jesse did for you?” Hanae sat up a little taller. She knew it was important to stress how important it was for her to stay with Jesse.

“Yes. He tutored Genji and took him to the park. He’s also bought Genji and I some spare clothes, and the other day he bought Genji some new winter boots- his feet have been growing.” She smiled, “And I’m sure Jesse has told you of the time he cared for me when I was sick.” The woman nodded. “Jesse was of great help then, and he still is. I deeply value my relationship with Jesse. He is important to me.” The woman nodded again and wrote something down.

“It’s sounds like he is very special to you.”

“He is.” Hanae said, giving a warm and confident smile. This interview had been easier than she thought-,

“And how long have you two been sleeping together?” The man asked.

Hanae inhaled sharply.

“Mark! You do not ask like that.” The woman pointed at Hanae, “She is a lady. You need tact.”

“It’s an important question.” The woman rolled her eyes and grumbled something in slavic before looking back to Hanae.

“I apologize for my co-worker. He is unaware of how to address a woman.” Now it was the man who rolled his eyes. Hanae tried to collect herself as she looked at the woman.

“We- Jesse and I, are not in…that kind of a relationship.” She regained her confident posture and rested her hands on her lap. She should have expected such a question. Though, if they had talked to Jesse, they would have known all this by now.

“Really? Most people have ‘that kind of relationships’ now a days-,”

“Yes, well, Jesse and I have agreed to a more, traditional courtship.” Hanae stressed as politely as possible.

“How traditional, may I ask?” Hanae lightly scratched her left hand.

“We hold hands and hug on occasion.”

“No kissing?”

“No.” She stressed, heat rising from her collar. The other two remained quiet, waiting for her to elaborate. She gave a light cough, “Jesse would prefer a relationship with more…physical contact. I would not.” She closed her eyes for a moment, “It is something we disagree on.”

“Do you disagree about it often?”

“Enough.”

“I see.” The man and woman both wrote something down.

“And how do the disagreements begin? Does he step over the line, or make you uncomfortable in some way?”

“No.” Not really. “Well, you see-,” Hanae paused a moment to collect her thoughts before she spoke again, “I am not overly fond of any form of physical contact. The only person I don’t mind having physical contact with is my brother.”

“So, you’re saying you don’t like physical contact with Mr. McCree because you don’t like any contact, not because of him specifically.” Hanae smiled.

“Precisely.”

The interviewers proceeded to ask her some more questions. They asked about the condition of her old apartment and the way she used to live. They asked about any close relationships and who they could contact to verify her character. They also tried to ask some questions about her family, but Hanae was absolutely silent when it came to that subject.

Finally, after some time, the interviewers thanked her for her time and allowed her to leave the room. She walked over to Jesse, who looked up at her with expectant eyes.

“How’d it go?”

“Well, I think.” Hanae smiled, “I believe I answered their questions thoroughly.”

“That’s good.” Jesse said as he glanced around the room. Hanae sat down beside him and looked around, trying to steady her sudden anxiety.

“Where’s Genji?”

“He’s still in there.” Hanae tensed and took a deep breath.

“How long has it been now?”

“Over an hour.”

“I don’t like this.”

“I know.” He said, shifting closer to her, “But we have to trust that he’ll say the right things. Besides, Genji doesn’t really understand what’s going on. He can’t say much.” He mumbled.

“Then why has it been an hour?” She whispered. Just then, a tall woman walked out of the room Genji was in and went straight into the room Hanae had just come out of. Hanae tried not to react, or panic at the sight of several folders going with the woman.

“It’s fine.” Jesse soothed, his thumb gently running over her hand. She flicked it away with annoyance.

“It is not fine.”

“Well, worryin’ isn’t gonna’ help none-,”

“What if Genji said something about my family-,”

“What could he say? He doesn’t exactly know what yur family does, Hanae. And he ain’t exactly smart enough to catch on to our situation.” Hanae paused.

“Still…”

They fell into silence. Several minutes passed before Hanae’s interview room door opened. The woman carrying the folders left the room again, and this time the male interviewer from before left as well. Hanae felt a small bit of calm wash over her before her female interviewer looked out the door.

“Ms. Shimada, may I speak to you for a moment?” Hanae plastered a smile onto her face.

“Certainly.”

“Don’t worry-,” Hanae rose and quickly went to the room.

She had to put distance between her and Jesse before she hit him.

Hanae went in to the room and allowed the woman to close the door behind her. She walked for the single chair in front of her but was surprised when the woman pulled a chair from behind the desk and dragged it over. She made the chairs face each before motioning to them.

“Please, sit.” Hanae gave the woman a neutral look before she cautiously sat down. The woman sat across from her and gave a small smile.

Perhaps this was a trick. Maybe this was a secret second interview they had for suspected illegal immigrants. Maybe they would try to get her guard down and make her slip up. Hanae readied herself for whatever onslaught she had to face.

“Ms. Shimada,” The woman began, “I am sorry to bother you again.”

“It’s fine, ma’am.”

“Please, call me Zarya.” The woman’s expression became more serious, “I need you to know that this part of interview is not being recorded.” Hanae sat up straighter.

“Alright.”

“My co-worker and I have gone over our notes, and we agree that your answers and tone are…unsettling.” Hanae resisted the urge to twitch, “We agree that you and Jesse have clearly scripted your part of the interview- and I am surprised we noticed. You seem like woman who can talk way out of anything.” The woman tilted her head forward ever to slightly, “So, it means you are very nervous- very, very nervous. Which means, you are keeping secrets.” Hanae could feel her heart picking up pace, but she willed her breathing to be steady and calm.

“I assure you-,” The woman held up her hand, stopping her.

“Please,” She lowered her hand, “My co-worker and I agree on this.” She leaned back ever so slightly, “He believes you are trying to take advantage of system. He believes you are tricking Mr. McCree, and that you will divorce him once you have your green card.” Hanae swallowed, “This is what he believes. I, however, disagree.” The woman allowed a short silence to follow before continuing, “You know, people think our job is to catch people who try to scam Americans. And, yes, it happens. But it is not our purpose. Our purpose is to protect people.” The woman folded her hands together and leaned her elbows on her legs, “Ms. Shimada. I need you to be honest.” She took a breath, “Is Mr. McCree abusing you?”

Hanae almost burst out into laughter.

The extreme tension that had wound her up almost sprung free as the question washed over her and knocked her (figuratively) to the ground.

Jesse? Abuse her?

JESSE? Abuse HER?

As if he would try anything. She was in complete control of their relationship and they BOTH knew it.

If anything, she was taking full advantage of HIM.

Hanae stopped herself from reacting so outrageously and instead coughed into her hand.

“Excuse me?” She half coughed, half chuckled. But the woman gave her a serious expression.

“Is he controlling you, Ms. Shimada?”

“Jesse?” Hanae disguised a laugh as a cough, “No, no. I don’t know if Jesse is capable of such a thing.”

“He cannot hear you in here. This is between us.”

“No. Jesse isn’t- he’s not doing anything of that sort.” The woman looked down at her own hands and gave a long sigh before reaching over the desk and grabbing her notebook.

“Your coworkers said you first seemed bothered by Jesse- very bothered. However, you soon accepted him- I believe this was around time he began buying you food?”

Hanae paused, another protest on her lips. She stopped and blinked.

“Well, yes.”

“And he continued to buy food- your only source of food- is what you said.”

“Yes…” The woman flipped to another page.

“He then would buy your brother books-,”

“Cheap books-,”

“And would have you over to his apartment. Your reason for going- as stated by you- is because he was providing hot meal and you are not good at cooking.”

Hanae’s mouth began to go dry.

“Well….um…yes.”

“Then, you began visiting his apartment because he offered you job of doing his book keeping- which, he says, paid more than your other job-,”

“Yes.”

“The other job that worked you so hard, you would sleep during your visits to his house.” The woman flipped another page, “You then told us you fell- mysteriously- ill for a week and were ‘forced’ to stay at his house-,”

“I was worked too hard. I had exhaustion.”

“Did you go to doctor? Can you prove that?”

“I…well- his friend visited, and she is a doctor-,”

“Mr. McCree then said he cared for you and your brother the entire week. He bought your brother toys, clothes, treats, and took him to places you could never afford to go.” She gave a slight pause, “To point that your brother refused to go home and had to be coaxed. After this, Mr. McCree has continued to pay for your clothes and food and NOW has moved you into his apartment. So, Mr. McCree is currently paying for all basic needs. Is that correct, Ms. Shimada?”

Hanae stared at the woman, somewhat shocked by how it all sounded. She blinked.

“Yes.”

The woman looked up from her notebook.

“You say you spend almost all time with Jesse. You spend no time with co-workers or other friends. You are not part of any clubs or groups- which you say is because you don’t have money- which makes me wonder why Jesse will pay for so much but will not pay for social activities- and now Jesse has become your only contact with society.” She paused, “You have no contact with your family, or friends. Jesse has become everything to you. Everything but your brother, who seems to adore Jesse and, in his report, is very adamant that you marry each other. Tell me,” The woman leaned back, “Did Genji want you to be in relationship with Mr. McCree before or AFTER he spent entire week with the man.”

Hanae opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again.

“After.”

“I see.”

“But, Jesse isn’t taking advantage of me-,” Hanae said, jumping in, “If he were, he’d be adamant we live together immediately-,”

“Many people are not so obviously manipulative until their partners cannot escape.”

“And Genji has always loved Jesse. He wanted us to marry so we could all live together.”

“Something he thought of on his own?”

“Yes.” There was a pause as both woman stared at each other. The other woman than gave another short sigh and moved the folders on the desk to reveal a tablet. She grabbed it and began tapping it.

“You know your brother was just interviewed?”

“Yes.”

“His caretaker wanted to show us this immediately. I want you to watch it- without interruption- and then explain.”

Hanae leaned forward, determined to get everything straightened out. The woman held the tablet before her. A video started that showed Genji sitting on a red carpet and playing with a truck.

What’s your name?” Someone said in Japanese.

Hanae cursed. She didn’t know they had a translator with them.

“Genji.” Zarya fast forwarded to around the middle of the interview.

 

Genji held a male, ken doll in one hand and a red car in the other.

-about Jesse.” An adult voice said. Genji ignored them and tried to sit the (much larger) doll on the car. “Genji? What did sister say about Jesse?”

She said, ‘I like Jesse’”

Like, or love?” Genji shrugged.

Did she say that to you?”

She said I tell you she likes Jesse.”

Do YOU think she likes Jesse?” Genji shrugged again.

Yeah…”

Does she like him a lot? Is she happy she’s marrying Jesse?” Genji smiled.

Jesse happy. Jesse said he’s really, really happy.”

Yes, we know. You told us Jesse is very happy. Is sister very happy?” Genji stopped his playing and looked up.

Um….no…um…so so. She’s so so happy.” The translator gave a knowing ‘ah’ sound. He then quickly translated into English what was said. “Genji?”

“Hm?” The boy didn’t even look up.

Genji, I’m going to give you this doll. We’re going to put the car down now-,”

“Nooooo.” Genji whined.

Just for a little bit.” The man took away the car and gave Genji a black haired barbie doll. “Now, we’re going to play ‘home’, ok?”

“Ok.” Genji perked up, completely forgetting about the car.

Ok. This doll,” The man shook the male ken doll, “Is Jesse, and this doll,” He pointed at the female barbie doll, “Is sister. Ok?”

“Ok!”

“Ok. When you and-“

But where’s Genji?” The boy looked around frantically, “Oh! Oh, ok.” He bolted up and ran out off screen before returning just as quickly with a fuzzy gorilla. “Ok.”

“Ok, so that’s Genji?”

“Yes. Yes, Genji.”

“Ok,” The translator went back to speaking, “Now, when you and sister go to Jesse’s house,” The man picked up the gorilla and lightly took the Hanae doll from Genji’s hand. He then had them both pretend to walk up to the Jesse doll, “You say, ‘Hello Jesse! How-“

“No.”

“Yes Genji-“ Genji violently grabbed the dolls from the man.

NO!” He then held them exactly where the man held them, “English. We speak English.”

“Ohhh…ok.” The man gently grabbed the dolls again, “So, they say, ‘Hello Jesse!’.”

“Hello Hanae, hello Genji!” Genji sang as he helped the Jesse doll pick up the Genji doll, “Hi Buckaroo. Buckaroo. Whoooow.” Genji then spun them around.”

Ok. What does sister do?” Genji looked up from his dolls, then put the ‘Genji’ doll down. He reached over for the Hanae doll and lightly took her from the man.

“Hi Jesse.” Genji said in a high pitched voice, “Hi Hanae. In, in. Food.” The Jesse doll said. Genji then put them beside him and brought the Genji doll over. “Let’s cook! Cook, cook! Genji, you wash veggies. But NOOOOOO cut. NOOOO cutting.” Genji looked up at the translator and gave him a stern look, “NO cut.” He wagged his finger at him. The translator chuckled and nodded.

Ok. So, Genji doesn’t cut the vegetables?”

“No.” Genji moved the dolls around and made general kitchen noises.

Does sister and Jesse cook? Or just sister?

Everyone cook.” The translator looked above the camera.

“He’s says they all cook together.”

“Ask him what Jesse and his sister do while cooking.” The translator turned back to Jesse.

“What do sister and Jesse do? Do they talk?”

“Yeah.”

“Do they…..hold hands?” Genji smiled and shook his head.

Noooo.

Do they….hug?”

“Noooooooooo.”

Do they….kiss?” Genji looked up and laughed at the man.

NO! No kissing! Jesse and sister no kissing!”

“Not ever? Never ever?

EWW! No! Not ever ever!” The translator laughed with Genji, then looked up at the camera, his tone not matching his smile.

“He says they never show affection while cooking. It sounds like they don’t show affection in general.”

“Ask him how close they are when they cook.”

“Genji?” The boy was back to playing with the dolls, “Genji? How close are Jesse and sister when they cook? Do they stand really, REALLY close? Or are they far, far away?” Genji giggled.

No- um- well- um- the kitchen’s small. So, um, it’s small. But sometimes sister is here,” Genji moved the Hanae doll away from the other two, “Or here,” he moved her again, “And then Jesse is behind sister.” Genji moved the Jesse doll’s arms over the other doll's, “And he says, ‘Sugar, pumpkin, peach, stromberry, I help.’ And sister says, “No!” Genji shook the Hanae doll and moved the Jesse doll away, “And Jesse laugh.”

The translator hummed.

“What did he say?”

He said Jesse gets close to her and she tells him to stop.”

Time for dinner!” Genji sang as he moved the dolls in front of him. He made loud eating noises and smacked his lips, “’MMM! So good!’ ‘Yes! So good!’ ‘I like!’” He made the three dolls bounce around, then moved them again.

Where are they now?”

Now, we watch tv, and I play.” Genji sat the two dolls beside each other and moved the gorilla doll to the side. He then began to make the gorilla doll dance.

What do Jesse and sister do?”

“Um, talk. And watch tv.” Genji began humming to himself.

What do they say?” Genji stopped humming and looked up at the translator, annoyed at the questions.

They talk and watch tv.”

“But what do they say?” Genji frowned, then gave an annoyed sigh and grabbed the two dolls.

“’Food good!’ and ‘You work.’ And ‘no money, yes money.’” Genji then paused and furrowed his brow, as if trying to think. He waited a moment before smiling and grabbing the Jesse doll’s arm, “Then, Jesse goes, ‘tickle tickle!’” The boy said, paying no mind as to where the Jesse doll’s hand touched the other doll’s body. “And then, “NO! NO! STOP!” Genji whacked the female doll against the male doll. “Then, ‘Sugar, baby, sweets, treats, tickle tickle!’” Genji lightly hit the Jesse doll over the Hanae doll. “And sister, ‘BAD! NO! NO TICKLE! STOP!’” Genji whacked the Hanae doll against the Jesse doll again.

Oh…so, sister is unhappy?” Genji continued to hit the dolls against each other. He frowned.

Not happy.” Genji shook his head as his brows furrowed. “Not not happy. I’m not happy.”

“Genji? Why are you not happy?” Genji ignored the man and began hitting the dolls more forcefully.

“No! No stop! Stop! No no! NO! NO!” Genji began to yell angrily. He kept hitting the dolls over and over and over again.

Genji? Why are-,”

“STOP! JESSE NO! STOP!” Genji smashed Hanae doll against the Jesse doll before slamming the two dolls into each other. He hit them harder and harder, their plastic bodies making loud noises when smashed together. The translator tried to grab them, but Genji let out a scream and hit them as hard as he could, “NO! STOP IT! STOP! NO! PLEASE! DON’T HURT ME!” His yells turned into screams as he violently slammed the dolls against each other and onto the floor. He beat them viciously and screamed before he hurled the two dolls away and roared at them. He then pounded his fists on the floor and broke down crying. “MAMA! PAPA! PLEASE! MAMA!” He wailed, large, hot tears pouring down his face. He threw himself to the floor and screamed while violently thrashing around before the translator grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug. He then looked furiously at whoever manned the camera.

“I don’t think I need to translate that.”

 

The video ended. Hanae held her hand over her mouth, her breathing shallow and her head light. She then looked up at the woman.

Zarya stared.

 

Chapter Text

Jesse sat in an isolated room, his hands cuffed and his body forced into a chair. He sat at a table while facing a guard. An armed guard. Who was giving him one hell of a look.

Isolated room. Cuffs. Guard with a gun close to his hip.

It was just like old times.

McCree grit his teeth as he attempted to take calming breaths to control his temper. They were accusing him of abuse. Of hitting Hanae. In fact, MORE than hitting her. The things the woman accused him of disgusted him. He would NEVER do that to someone.

But he couldn’t ignore the video.

He closed his eyes and saw the images flash in his mind. Of Genji losing control and beating the dolls until they broke.

He sighed.

How else could they interpret that?

But that had never happened. So, what was Genji mimicking? Where had he gotten the idea that Jesse beat Hanae, or worse? Jesse tried to calm his anger. He shouldn’t be focusing on the accusations against him. He should focus on why Genji had acted out. He should try to understand what happened.

Meanwhile, across the office space, Hanae sat in a room of her own. Though she wasn’t cuffed and watched by an armed guard, she still felt like a prisoner.

“Ms. Shimada, we’re trying to do what’s best for Genji-,”

“What’s best for Genji is to be with me.” Hanae spat, “He shouldn’t be alone. He needs me.” She ran her fingers through her hair, “This is ridiculous. I already told you, Jesse hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s been good to me- to us-,”

“Then why-,”

“I don’t know why Genji said those things!” Hanae growled, “But it never happened. Look at me! Do I look abused to you? I don’t have any marks on me.”

“We found scars-,”

Old scars. It’s obvious I-just-,” Hanae took a deep breath, “Just let me see Genji! He shouldn’t be alone.”

“That cool demeanour sure has slipped.” The man from earlier said. Hanae turned to see him enter the room. He looked to the other agent, “He’s not budging. And he’s calling in some government official.” The guard swore under his breath.

“Well, I don’t care who he calls. He’s not leaving until we get this straightened out.” Hanae glared hard at the man as he gave her an angry look.

“Ms. Shimada, you should know we’ve done research on your family. And the fact you want to marry a former drug smuggler is certainly raising some alarms-,”

“I’ve told you a thousand times. I separated from my family.” Hanae willed herself to maintain eye contact, to not break down, “And Jesse is a different man.”

“Do you know what he used to do-,”

“I don’t care-,”

“He and his little friends had one of the strongest gangs down south. They did all sorts of things. Smuggled weapons, drugs…” There was a pause, “They killed a whole lotta people too. Sometimes for fun.”

But she was strong. She kept eye contact. She maintained her strength.

“He ever tell you he’s been charged with domestic abuse before? It wasn’t pretty.”

She broke eye contact.

There was silence again.

“If we find out there’s something more going on here…that Genji is in danger. We won’t hesitate to take him-,”

“If you even touch him, I will kill you.” She said, her words icy and cold. The man shrugged.

“And now we see your true colours.” He turned for the door, “Your family isn’t here to bail you out this time.” And with that, he left. The guard in front of Hanae mumbled something, got up, and also left, leaving Hanae alone in the room. Hanae leaned her elbows on the table, her fingers tugging her hair. She had never been so helpless. She had never felt so powerless.

 

The room was too bright and too loud. All the lights were on, and they were bright, bright lights so they hurt his eyes. And the adults kept whispering, but not whispering and it hurt his ears. And his head hurt. And inside hurt.

Genji held the brown teddy bear close to his body. Though it wasn’t Soba, it was still soft and made him feel less icky inside.

He rocked the bear back and forth and told it it was ok. But it wasn’t ok. After Genji got very mad and very sad and not good, the adults gave him hugs and juice. But he didn’t want their hugs and juice. He wanted Onee-san and Jesse, and maybe strawberry milk (not apple juice). He cried lots until finally Onee-san came, but she was upset. And everyone was upset. And Genji said he wanted Jesse too, but the Japanese man said he couldn’t see Jesse. And Genji heard one man say Jesse was bad. But Jesse wasn’t bad.

And everything was confusing and icky and sticky and dark. Onee-san asked why he hit the dolls and he said he didn’t know. And the big woman said Jesse should go away and Genji tried to say no but no one would listen. Then they took Onee-san away, and Genji cried but she didn’t come. And then he cried for Jesse, but he didn’t come.

And Genji cried, but no one gave him a hug or gave him food or juice. And Genji cried until he just didn’t want to cry anymore.

And now he was sitting in the corner with the bear. His bear. This was his bear now. He was Bear-kun, and he listened to Genji and agreed the English adults were bad. And Bear-kun said, “Genji, it’s ok. It’s ok.” But Genji said, “No. Not ok.” And Bear-kun patted Genji’s hand and said, “Don’t cry, Genji. It’s ok.” And Genji said, “No! It’s not ok. I want Onee-san, and Jesse…and Soba.”

Who is Soba?” Bear-kun asked nicely. Genji sniffed his nose.

Soba is my friend. Soba is good friend. I miss Soba.” Bear-kun patted Genji’s face with his fluffy paw.

I’m sorry, Genji. Aw…aw…” Genji sniffed again.

I want Onee-san and Jesse….and I want…I want….shhhhhh. shhhhhhh.”

What, what?” Bear-kun asked.

No, no Bear-kun,” Genji shook his head and waved his finger, “We don’t talk about them. They are gone. Gone away. Dead. Dead, dead.” Genji felt his eyes get really hot and he felt his crying tears, but he sniffed and shook his head. “No.” He pointed at Bear-kun. And he scolded him. “No crying. No crying. Onee-san don’t like crying.” But he felt his crying tears fall down his face. And then he was mad. Because it was bad. No good. Bad, bad. And he shook Bear-kun, “I said, no crying! NO! Bad!” He shake shake Bear-kun, but Bear-kun was silent. And then the mad, bad inside Genji felt like sad, bad. And dark, dark. And Genji hugged Bear-kun.

Sorry. I’m sorry, Bear-kun.” He rocked them back and forth, “Shhhhh. Shhhhhhh.” He said to Bear-kun, because Bear-kun wasn’t allowed to cry. And maybe if Genji said ‘shhh’ like Onee-san, then Bear-kun would stop. But Bear-kun cried. And Genji was worried Onee-san would get mad because Bear-kun was crying, so Genji kept Bear-kun quiet and in the corner.

And he went back and forth.

Back and forth.

Back and forth.

Back and forth.

Lots.

Lots, lots.

And then he felt someone beside him, but Genji didn’t look up because Bear-kun was still crying and maybe it was Onee-san and she would be mad.

“Hello, Genji.” Someone said. Genji ignored him. He had to help Bear-kun. “My name is Zenyatta. Who is this?” The man said in English. Genji rocked back and forth. “Is this your friend?”

Back and forth.

“I ---- had a bear friend, when I live--- up in ------. He was a ----- bear. Not a toy bear.” Genji slowed down and listened. A bear friend? A real bear friend? “Me and the ---- -----, my friends, ------ him in the -----. His name was ------.” Genji listened closely, trying to pick up the words he knew. “He was a nice bear. But, we didn’t hug him.” Genji turned and looked at the man, a new man. He was funny because he had no hair.

“Did…nt. No? No hug?” The man nodded.

“That’s right. No hug. He was a little bear. We ----- he had -------, but they ------ him ------. So, he live--- in the ----. Do you know ----? Many trees. He liked people. He was friendly.” Genji looked inside his head and tried to see the bear. A little bear. A friendly little bear.

“Was he furry?”

“He was very furry! And do you know how he said hello?” Genji shook his head.

“He would say, ‘rawr’.” The man moved his hand like a paw, and he sounded funny. He sounded like the little bear would sound. Genji laughed small. He saw a picture in his head of the little bear, but with the man’s voice, and he say ‘rawr’. Genji little laughed.

“Rawr.” He copied. The man nodded.

“And when he was mad, do you know what he said?” Genji smiled and shook his head, but he knew.

“RAWR!” The man said. Genji was surprised and laughed. And then he put his hands up like a big bear.

“RAWR!” He said. The man laughed and nodded. Genji liked the bear man. He was funny.

“You sound ----- like a bear. That was very good.” Genji smiled again. He then held up Bear-kun and said loud.

“RAWR!” The man jumped, and then he laughed. And Genji laughed. The man smiled and pointed at Bear-kun.

“What is his name?”

“Bear-kun.” Genji said. He moved Bear-kun’s paw so he waved hello. The man waved back.

“It’s nice to meet you, Bear-kun.” Bear-kun nodded. “Does Bear-kun live with you?”

“No. He is friend here.” Genji explained.

“Do you have an animal friend --- home?” Genji smiled and nodded. “Who is he, or she?”

“Soba!” Genji thought, “And Batty. Batty too.”

“Do you play ----- them?” The man asked. Genji nodded.

“Yes. Yes play.”

“Do you and Jesse play?”

“Yup! We play.”

“And do you and Jesse ----?” Genji stared at the man, “-----? It is playing. Like this.” The man gently took Bear-kun and threw him in the air. Then he pet his head and wrestled. Genji smiled.

“Yes. Yes! Jesse and I resell.” The man nodded.

“And, do you ------ hit?” Genji didn’t understand.

“Yes?”

“Ok. Do you know what hitting is, Genji?” Genji nodded and hit the man in the arm. He gasped and pet his arm.

“Genji! You are strong!” Genji smiled, because he was strong.

“Yes, that is hit. Is this hit?” The man hit Genji with his finger. Genji laughed and nodded. “Is this hit?” The man little pushed Genji, and Genji laughed. And he little pushed the man.

“Yes.”

“Is this hit?” The man then clapped his hands. Genji nodded a lot.

“Yes. Yes. All hit.” The man nodded and went ‘hmmmmm’.

“You know, Genji, in English, this-,” The man little hit Genji with his finger, “Is touch. And this,” He little pushed Genji, “Is push. This,” He hit his knee and it made a loud sound, “Is hit.” Genji tried to think think and nodded. He tried to remember. “So, this is touch.” The man touched Genji.

“Touch.”

“And this is push.” He little pushed Genji.

“Push.”

“Yes. Very good. ---, when Onee-san and Jesse play, do they touch, push, or hit? ---- me.” The man then waved a little to come. Genji little pushed him and little laughed. And he had a little movie in his mind of Jesse touching Onee-san, and Onee-san pushing Jesse. And they laughed.

“Ah, so they push.”

“Little push.”

“Yes, a little push.”

“And laugh. They laugh.” Genji said. The man nodded.

“Oh…so no hit?” Genji shook his head.

“No hit.” And then the man went ‘hmmmmm’ again.

“Genji, do you remember when you hit the dolls?” Genji felt a little sad. He nodded. “Inside, was it good or bad?”

“Bad.”

“What colour was inside?” Genji frowned. He didn’t know the colour of inside. Or- yes he did know the colour of inside. When mother and father were dead, there was red inside. And red outside. Genji felt scared and hugged Bear-kun.

“Red inside.” The man nodded. But Genji wasn’t happy he was right. The man then had a paper and colours.

“Genji, can you draw inside? When you hit the dolls?” Genji wasn’t happy. He didn’t want to draw. So, he looked at his new friend, but his new friend smiled, and Genji didn’t want to make his new friend sad, so he took the paper and looked at the colours.

What colours?

What picture?

Genji took the red, because he was red inside, and he made a red line. And then he made more red lines. No circles. Lots of red lines. He made lots of red lines. And then he made some green lines, because inside was no good and bad and sick. And there was no yellow, or pink, or blue, or purple. And no orange. And then Genji took the black and made some big, black lines. And then he was done. He looked up to his friend, and his friend smiled.

“That’s a very good drawing, Genji.” But Genji didn’t feel happy. He felt cold. And his friend went ‘hmmmm’. And he said, “What is red, Genji?” Genji looked confused. “When you feel red inside. Is it angry red?” Genji shook his head no. “Is it sad red?” Genji said no, but the man didn’t hear. “Is it scared red?” Genji hugged bear-kun closer. He didn’t like thinking of the red. All the red.

His new friend didn’t say anything. He sat and went ‘hmmmmm’. Then he got paper and a red marker and drew a big circle.

“-----my brother -----, I was sad. Do you know ----?” Genji moved his head no. “It ----- not here. Do you know ‘dead’?” Genji nodded. He didn’t like dead. “When my brother dead, I was very sad.” Genji’s new friend took a piece of paper and a black marker and drew a circle. And then he made black around the circle. Genji watched as the man made blue lines and then red lines. And outside the circle was black black, but inside was blue and red. Then, he held up his picture. “I felt this when my brother -----.” Genji frowned and felt sad. And then he pat his friend’s arm because he was probably sad too.

“Aw…” Genji said. He looked up at his friend, “Why your brother dead?” Genji’s friend looked at Genji. Then he came close and whispered.

“A bad man hurt my brother. So, my brother dead.” Genji hugged Bear-kun close and tried not to think of the bad man. Maybe it was the same bad man who made his parents red. Genji looked around at the other adults who were far away. He didn’t want them to hear him. They might tell Onee-san and she would get mad.

“Where is the bad man?” Genji said quiet quiet.

“He’s -----. He’s not here.” His friend said quiet. Genji pet Bear-kun, so he wouldn’t be scared. He felt his new friend was smart. If he said the bad man wasn’t here, then he was gone. But Genji was still sad. He looked again at the adults to make sure they were far, far away. Then he whispered to his friend.

“The bad man hurt Oka-san and Otou-san. He make them dead.”

Oh no!” Said Bear-kun. So, Genji hugged Bear-kun. Genji’s friend nodded and said ‘hmmmmm’.

“I’m sorry, Genji. That must be very ------.”

“I hate the bad man.” Genji said.

“Me too.” His friend nodded. And then he stopped talking, but he pat pat Genji’s hand. Genji moved closer so he, Bear-kun and his new friend could sit close. “My brother is ------ far away, but I think ------ him. ---------, when someone dies, they go into the --------. And people ------ them. Are your parents’ ------- close? Can you ------- them?” Genji looked at his friend, then at Bear-kun, and he thought really hard. He didn’t understand. But his parents weren’t close. They were far away. They were far, far away.

Genji felt his crying tears coming back. He sniffed and sniffed, but they came.

“It’s ok, Genji. You can cry.” Genji sniffed again and looked for Onee-san. But she was gone. So, he hugged Bear-kun and let his crying tears wet his face. He sniffed again.

And he sniffed again.

And then he sniffed again.

“O-otou-san and Oka-s-san are f-far away,” He sniffed, “They’re in the garbage.” His friend hugged Genji.

“Garbage? Do you mean the -----?”

“No!” Genji said, mad and sad because his friend spoke English and Genji was saying good English, “Garbage! Th-they’re in the garbage!” Genji’s friend then looked at Genji.

“Why are they in the garbage, Genji?” And then Genji felt mad because his friend was an adult and adults KNEW dead go in garbage! And Genji went ‘huff’ because he had to tell his friend who should know. Because his friend’s brother was also in the garbage.

“Because dead go in garbage!” Genji gave a big, big frown, “I see dead bird, and uncle said it go in garbage because dead go in garbage. EVERYONE know dead go in garbage!” And then Genji sniffed. But Genji’s friend wasn’t mad.

“Genji, your uncle is wrong.”

“No wrong!”

“Genji, dead ----- don’t go in garbage. People, animals…birds and bees and lizards. They don’t go in the garbage. Garbage goes in the garbage.” Genji held Bear-kun close. And the tried to think. Did Otou-san say dead go in garbage? Otou-san knew everything. Uncle knew a lot too, but not as much as Otou-san. But, he did see Onee-san put a spider in the garbage.

“Spiders? Do spiders go in garbage?”

“…Some people ---- bugs in the garbage, but people don’t go in the garbage, Genji. I promise.” Genji tried to think think.

“No garbage…where is Otou-san and Oka-san?” He think think again, and he remember Jesse, “Jesse said sleeping. But, where sleeping? Not sleeping in garbage?”

“No, Genji,” His friend pat his arm, “They ----- sleeping in the garbage. Some people are in the -----. Do you know what that means? It means dirt.” Genji nodded, “Some people are -----. They ---- --------. Like…fire. They ------ fire. But they ------- hurt. It is good fire. You sister ----- know.” And then Genji move away because not good.

“No! No. Onee-san no. We no talk. No Otou-san, no Oka-san.” Genji frowned, “You no talk to Onee-san! She mad-,”

“Ok, ok, Genji.”

“Good.” And then it was no words, and quiet. And Genji hold Bear-kun and he think, Otou-san and Oka-san not in garbage? Then where? Where are they sleeping? Could he visit them? Could he wake them up?

Genji’s friend looked at his picture and frowned.

“You know, Genji, when I feel bad, do you know what I do?”

“No.”

“I take my bad feel---,” His friend folded his paper picture. And he folded and folded until it was a plane, “And I make them go away.” And then the plane went ‘fwooosh’ and it flew away. And Genji smiled, “And I feel a little better.”

“Me too! Me too!” Genji bounced and gave his picture to his friend. And then his friend folded it and folded it and made a plane. And then gave the plane to Genji, and Genji made it go ‘fwooooosh’ and it hit the wall. And Genji laughed.

“Very good, Genji! You are very strong.” And Genji smiled because he was very strong.

But then his friend got up and stood tall tall.

“Thank you for talk--- to me Genji. It was very fun. I’m going to talk to-,”

“No! No go!” And Genji got up and grabbed his arm because he was going to leave and not come back like Jesse and Onee-san. And maybe he’d never come back. And maybe they’d never come back. Just like Otou-san and Oka-san. “No! Please no go!” But Genji’s friend smiled.

“Ok. You can come ---- me.” And he held out his hand and Genji take his hand and they walk to the adults. And Genji didn’t know what they were saying but he didn’t care because he wasn’t alone.

And his friend talk and the English men talk and everyone talk. And then Genji and his friend left the no good very bad scary room. And there were lots of people. And Genji stayed close to his friend because everyone was very big and some of them were scary. And there was the big woman who said Jesse was no good. And Genji’s friend talk and she talk and lots of people talk. And he was bored but it was ok because he wasn’t alone in the very bad scary room.

And then Genji and his friend walk more. And then they went into another room. And then Genji look up and Jesse!

“JESSE!” Genji said very loud. And Jesse got down and opened his arms really big- because Jesse was really big- and Genji ran ran and Jesse picked him up and gave him a BIG hug. And then Genji cried big, big crying tears but he didn’t care because Jesse never got mad at his crying tears. And Jesse hugged him and said ‘shhh’ and hold him close and give him kisses and Genji felt better.

And the Onee-san came and she hug Genji and both Jesse and Onee-san hug Genji and Genji was sad but also really happy. And he was really tired and needed a nap.

 

Hanae was so emotional she hardly noticed the other man until he spoke.

“Hello, Ms. Shimada, and Mr. McCree. My name is Zenyatta. I’m a psychologist here.” He gave them a smile before turning to Hanae. “Ms. Shimada, may I have a moment of your time?” Hanae immediately looked at Jesse, but the man was so engrossed with Genji he probably didn’t even know he was being spoken to. Reluctantly, she slowly let go and moved with the man a little ways from her brother.

“Yes?”

“Ms. Shimada, I’m concerned about your brother. I believe his outbursts and strong emotions are linked to the death of his parents.” Hanae frowned at him as the man gave a reassuring smile, “Don’t worry. What Genji said to me is strictly between us.” His smile then faded slightly, “May I ask, how have you grieved for your parents.” Hanae crossed her arms.

“We had to leave the night they…passed. We weren’t able to go to the funeral.”

“One does not need a funeral to grieve, though, it does help.” He gestured lightly, “What I mean is, how have you been talking about your parents passing with Genji? Do you speak of fond memories? Have you discussed the night of their passing?”

“We don’t talk about my parents much,” Hanae frowned further, “And I don’t wish to discuss their ‘passing’ with him because it is a very hard memory for him.” The man nodded and hummed.

“Yes, when the people we love are taken by violence, it is always a hard topic to breach, especially with a child. Tell me, have you taken any steps in mourning?”

“How so?” She said flatly.

“Well, such as finding a way to say goodbye. Going through the steps of anger and sadness in order to find acceptance-,”

“Like I said, we don’t talk about my parents very often.” The man hummed again (which was quickly becoming an annoyance).

“…In my years of work, I have found that few problems are solved by avoiding them-,”

“I’ve been a little busy making enough money so we have enough food and shelter. I feel that staving off starvation takes priority over grieving.” Hanae bristled. The man quickly held up his hand in peace.

“Of course. I’m not saying you’re doing your job improperly, Ms. Shimada.” Hanae glared, “However, I think that now may be the time for Genji to open up and discuss his feelings on the topics of his parents.” Hanae flexed her fingers.

“Genji is too young to talk about such things. It would only upset him.”

“Yes, such talk can be upsetting. However, sometimes it is good to be upset. It is good to let out our anger and frustration in order to accept our situation in life.” Hanae opened her mouth to retort, but the man held his hands up in a peaceful gesture, “Please, Ms. Shimada. I’m not here to fight you. I simply, like you, want to help your brother. I have found that children who do not grieve properly end up with very…negative repercussions in the future.” Hanae glared, but the man continued to speak softly, “He could grow up to be very traumatized. If he doesn’t learn now how to deal with death, he won’t be able to handle it in the future. And if something were to happen to you, or your fiancé, I don’t think he would mentally be able to take it. It could force him into…very unfavourable circumstances.” Hanae uncrossed and crossed her arms again before chewing at her lip. Finally, after a moment, she spoke.

“What do you propose?”

“That Genji has therapy,” Hanae scoffed, “This is not something he can handle on his own. He has experienced something horrific, Ms. Shimada, and he is not naturally born with the ability to deal with it. If he were to break his legs, would you take him to a doctor?” She stared at him, “I am a doctor for those who have experienced trauma. Like a doctor, I have studied for many years to help people heal.” He clasped his hands together, “You have done a good job with your brother, Ms. Shimada. He is a very loving, kind boy. However, you are not equipped with the right tools to fix a broken leg.” Hanae looked back at her brother, who still clung for life to Jesse. She sighed and looked away.

“I’ll…consider it.”

“I insist.” A silence filled the air. Zenyatta smiled, “Here. Take my card. We can contact one another in a few days.” He looked off to Jesse and Genji, “For now, it’s best you spend time with Genji.” Hanae nodded slowly as she took his card. She was about to turn to go when he spoke again, “And Ms. Shimada?” She turned back, “We will contact one another to make an appointment. Alright?” Hanae nodded again, “Good. Thank you.” And with that, the man gave a small wave to Genji and left.

Hanae walked back to Jesse and Genji. Jesse was rocking Genji back and forth as the boy rested in his arms. Hanae came up to them and stroked Genji’s hair. After a moment, she spoke.

“What happened?”

“I called a friend to vouch for me. He’s real high up, so he was able to sort things out.” Jesse nodded to the man who was walking away, “Apparently, he got a shrink to come in and talk to Genji. He was able to confirm that it’s all been a misunderstanding.”

“Good.” Hanae sighed as she leaned in and rested her face against the back of her brother. She felt Jesse touch her arm with his finger.

“It’s been a long day, sugar.”

“Yes.”

“I think it’s best for everyone if we went home.”

“Please.” Hanae sighed.

“Alright.”

 

When they finally got back to the apartment, everyone was quiet. Genji was tired, Hanae was silent, and Jesse was deep in thought.

It had been a long time since he had felt like that. Since he felt like he had a family. The threat of having both Genji and Hanae ripped from his life had shaken him to his core. And then, holding Hanae and Genji in his arms, having them safe and sound, he had felt complete. Whole. It felt like things were finally going to be alright.

He hadn’t felt like that since the night before his best friend died.

Before his mother left him.

Before his father died.

He watched as Hanae picked Genji up in her arms and took him to bed. What would happen to them? What if Hanae chose to leave for Mexico? What if the Gabe cracked down and took her away? What if they were deported back to Japan?

What if her family found her?

What if she ran away?

There were too many what ifs.

Sure, they were engaged. But that didn’t offer any real security. It didn’t tie her to him. It didn’t tie Genji to him. In one simple moment, his budding new family could be taken from him. His home in tatters. Jesse stood in the doorway and watched as Hanae tucked her brother into bed. He watched the boy sleep, his worries far away. How long could he really protect them? How long could he keep them here? With him?

He turned and went towards the kitchen. He was thirsty. The whole situation left a bad taste in his mouth. But as he poured himself a glass and yearned desperately for something stronger, his thoughts plagued him. Everything was too uncertain. He had been lying to himself this whole time. Their situation was much more fragile than he had ever imagined. So, how could he fix it? How could he make it secure?

He knew. He always knew. But if he came on too strong, he could scare her away.

An image of Hanae taking Genji and leaving flashed across his mind.

Of coming home to an empty house and a lousy note.

Jesse grit his teeth. That wouldn’t happen again. He wouldn’t let this slip through his fingers again.

When he had held Hanae in his arms, he had felt her comfort. He had felt her ease. He knew she must have felt the same way in that moment. She must have realized how close they had come to losing each other. And if she was feeling what he felt, then she wouldn’t want it to disappear. But Hanae was finicky. And protective. He didn’t know how long her walls would remain down before they shot up again. He had to act quickly.

He had to act now.

“Jesse.” He turned to the open doorway, and there she was in all her uncertain glory. She stood still, not touching the walls as she seemed to take him in. Her normally piercing eyes seemed weaker, her posture unsure. She even broke eye contact for a moment, unsure on how to proceed. She was showing him her vulnerability. Something she had never allowed herself to do. So, he took a step towards her. She swayed ever so slightly. He reached out and held her arm, firmly but gently. He steadied her. He kept her grounded.

She looked up at him with those beautiful brown eyes. She was always so confident and strong. She was always in control. But now, he could see her breaking. He could see her struggling to keep everything in order.

He opened his mouth to tell her everything. About how she had become his family. How he couldn’t lose her or Genji. How he wouldn’t let them be taken away. But he just couldn’t find his voice as he looked into her eyes. He found himself becoming lost. Her eyes held something he couldn’t put into words. Something he understood. Something they both felt and shared.

Fear.

They were afraid.

He reached out and cupped her face in his hand. She was warm to the touch, much warmer than he had ever imagined. He thought she would be cold, like her expressions. Like her feelings.

Her small hand reached up and held his hand.

“Marry me.” He breathed. He didn’t need to say more. She understood.

“Yes.” She said softly. His thumb gently rubbed against her cheek. Her skin was so soft.

“When?” He said, trying not to lose himself in her eyes once more.

“Tomorrow.” She whispered. He snapped back to reality and let out a small chuckle.

“That’s…” He lost his smile, “Darlin’, that’s a might soon. We gotta get the papers and rings…” She slowly closed her eyes, then gently moved forward and leaned against his chest.

“Please.” She murmured. She rested her arms against him and leaned fully into his weight. He wrapped his larger arms around her small frame in return. He rested his head on top of hers and felt the coming and going of her breath.

“…Alright.” He said. He took a steadying breath and held her closer, their breathing becoming even. And he held her. He’d hold her as long as she allowed. And that turned out to be quite a long time.

 

 

Hanae awoke the next morning to the sound of her phone. Her mind was soft and hazy as she rolled over and blindly reached around for the technology. She finally grabbed it and squinted at the screen with her sleepy eyes. She could hardly read the number before she answered it.

“Hello?” She yawned.

“Hey, sweet pea.” Said a familiar voice.

“Jesse?”

“Hey. So, an old contact of mine agreed to take some time to marry us today.” Hanae rubbed her tired eyes and sat up.

“Oh.” Was all her brain could come up with.

“Yeah. So, Anna agreed we can use her place. She’s gonna dress it up while I get our marriage licence.”

“Good…that’s...good.”

“Right. So, what I need you to do is get what you need. Like, a dress and uh…make up. Whatever you need.” Hanae forced herself to get up as she tried to process the information. A dress. For a wedding? A wedding dress? Her wedding dress.

Her wedding…

Her wedding!

Today!

“You mean- we’re getting married today?” She asked, her mind suddenly snapping to attention. Jesse chuckled nervously on the other end.

“Uh- yeah! That’s what you wanted, right?” There was a brief silence, “I mean…if uh…you wanna wait a bit longer-,”

“No! No. Today is fine. Today will work.” She said as she rushed to the dresser to get changed. She was getting married. She needed so many things. They needed food and-guests! Who was coming? And what would she wear? What would Jesse wear?! Would he wear his hat to the ceremony?! “What-I- ok. What do you need-,”

“I’ve got what I need, sugar. You just worry about you-,”

“But what will you wear-,”

“Aw, honey pie, you don’t gotta worry about that-,”

“No but-,”

“Listen. You just gotta go get yurself somethin’ nice. Alright? Oh! And get a ring! A cheap one. We can get the real ones tomorrow, after we’re…we’re married.” He then gave a very, what she could only describe as, a redneck chuckle.

I’m marrying this. This is what I’m marrying.

“What about money?”

“I left my visa on the counter. I actually have a place in mind, but if you don’t like anything there you can go to a different store. Whatever makes you happy.” Hanae took a moment to think.

“And Mrs. Amari is alright with this?”

“Yeah. We talked it out. She’s got our back, no problem-,”

“What about the government?”

“Well, see, I figure we can sort that out when they find out-hey! No!” There was a slight commotion on the other end as Jesse bickered with someone. There was a brief argument before a female voice came on the line.

“Hey, Ms. Shimada. It’s Pharah. I’m going to skip school so mom and I can take you dress shopping-,”

“You ain’t skippin’ school!” Jesse yelled in the background.

“I’m almost a grown woman, Jesse! Don’t tell me what to do!”

“Just because I dropped out of high school doesn’t mean you should too!” He barked. Hanae sighed as she finished changing.

She was marrying a high school drop out.

Wonderful.

“You can’t just send her off to find her own wedding dress! She needs other women there! It’s tradition. Tell him, mom!” There was a slight pause.

“Jesse. It’s tradition.” Mrs. Amari said from far away.

“Anna! We got things to do-,”

“Don’t you start with me, Jesse McCree.” Hanae carried the phone out the bedroom as she went to the kitchen to make some tea.

They certainly sounded like a family.

“Dear? It’s Anna.”

“Hello, Mrs. Amari.” Hanae greeted.

“Hello. Fareeha and I will come by to pick you up. Something like this shouldn’t be done alone.” Hanae turned on the kettle and looked off to Genji, who was quietly playing with blocks by the dining table.

“Alright.”

“Is an hour good for you?”

“Yes…thank you.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure, dear. Now, here’s Jesse.” There was a shuffling on the other end before a familiar, masculine voice came through.

“Hey.” He said, sounding slightly defeated.

“Hello again.” Hanae said, giving a small smile despite herself. There was a moment of silence before Hanae spoke up.

“Are you sure about this, Jesse?”

“Listen, you said you wanted this ASAP. If you’re gettin’ cold feet we can-,”

“No, Jesse. Are you sure about this?” There was silence on the other end before he spoke.

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.” He said deeply. Hanae sucked in a breath, held it, then let it out. Yes. They had to do this. To stay together. To keep Genji. To secure her future.

“Alright.”

 

 

Sure enough, the Amari’s were there in an hour, and soon the three of them (plus Genji) were on their way to the dress store.

Hanae tried to think of what dress options would be best as Genji bounced in the seat beside her. Maybe a slim cut dress? Or a ball gown? Jesse seemed like the sort who would like a traditional western dress. And she was basically wearing it for him, after all.

She briefly thought back to her old wedding plans. How she wanted to wear her mother’s wedding kimono, but Touma would have none of it. He wanted her in a western dress. He always preferred western things. He had selected a tight, long dress with over the top embroidery and jewels. It was very flashy. Hanae didn’t care for it, but Touma liked it. And the purpose of the wedding was to be bound to him so…

Hanae closed her eyes. Any dress would do, really. It wasn’t about the dress. It was about Jesse, or, really, it was about Genji. If she legally bound herself to Jesse today, she could keep Genji. They could stay together. She would have an extra layer of safety.

No more cold nights. No more skipping meals. No more dirty clothes with holes in them.

Genji would grow up safe and well fed. He would grow up loved.

And that was all Hanae ever wanted. That’s all she needed to be happy.

“We’re almost there.” Anna said as she turned another corner. Hanae opened her eyes and looked around. She didn’t see any dress boutiques. In fact, the stores seemed little and squished together. Anna finally pulled into a small parking lot and they all got out. As Anna paid for parking, Hanae looked around. She still didn’t see a wedding dress shop.

“Are you sure this is the right place?”

“This is the address Jesse gave me.” Anna said with a reassuring smile. Hanae took Genji’s hand, and together they followed Mrs. Amari down 2 blocks to an unassuming clothing store. Hanae looked at the sign with skepticism. ‘Joy across the world’.

Anna led the way and walked into the store. It was small and rather cramped, with different clothes hung on the wall. A woman in dress pants and a blazer poked her head up from the cash.

“Hello.” She said with a smile.

“Hello. My friend called earlier. Jesse McCree?” The woman’s face lit up.

“Oh, yes! Of course. Come this way.” She walked around the desk and walked towards an opening at the back of the store. Hanae followed while looking at the different clothes. They certainly were…different. There were all sorts of colours and shapes and styles. Nothing really matched. It looked like the store didn’t even have a theme. Hanae was fairly unimpressed until they entered through the doorway into a smaller, brightly lit room. The clothing lined against the walls were all beautiful and strange. There were beautiful, Indian saris and beaded tribal dresses. Hanae walked over to one long, white dress with a collar of golden beads.

“Ah, yes. That is a traditional Egyptian dress. We received it two months ago. It’s very nice.”

“What are all these dresses? What kind of store is this?” Hanae asked as she turned to the woman. The woman smiled.

“We have lots of clothes from all over the world, but we specialize in traditional, international dresses. Some are donated while others are bought.” The woman motioned to a few Chinese dresses, “Our owner moved here when she was younger and couldn’t find any dresses from her home country. So, she made this place. We try to help those who miss the styles of their home but can’t afford to order it or go home to buy it.” The woman motioned to the far wall, “The man who called said you were looking for a kimono.” Hanae’s heart fluttered as she desperately looked to the far wall, trying to find something familiar.

“…yes.”

“We have a few.” The woman said as she walked to the far wall and moved some dresses aside. Hanae stared at the selection they had. It was small, true, but there were multiple kimonos. There was a light blue one with cranes, and a red one with fireworks. But the one that stood out the most was the white one. Hanae immediately went to it and felt the fabric between her fingers. “Ah, yes. Unfortunately, that’s the only traditional wedding kimono we have. But the other kimonos are still very good.” Hanae only half listened as she gently took it off the rack and held it in front of her. It was white. Pure white. A real Shiromuku wedding kimono. And though she could feel the fabric was not of the highest quality (nothing like her top of the line kimono’s at home) it was still a shadow of her mother’s own wedding kimono. A shadow, yes, but still very similar.

“Do you…” Hanae took a breath, “Do you have the belt and-,”

“Yes,” The woman interrupted, “It was donated with most of the traditional features. An older woman donated it a few years ago. It was her wedding dress when she married her husband 40 years ago.” Hanae felt her eyes prick with tears. She had given up wanting a traditional dress years ago. She had given up hope for her values when Touma had expressed his distaste for all things Japanese. For her culture.

She had given up on familiar things when she fled from her country and lived as a stranger abroad.

She had given up on a part of who she was when she met Jesse. When she agreed to wed him.

And now she was here. In a strange country with a strange groom. And she could look just like her mother on her wedding day. She could keep the tradition.

She could keep a part of herself.

 

 

It was Hanae’s first time seeing the Amari household, but she wasn’t able to take in any details as she was whisked upstairs. She found herself in, what she assumed to be, Mrs. Amari’s bedroom. It was a fair sized room, with a large bed and vanity. It was decorated with different objects Hanae assumed to be from Egypt. It had a very…homey feel to it.

Hanae sat on a chair by the vanity as her surprise guest carefully applied eyeshadow.

“Isn’t today a school day, Hana Song?” Hanae asked her friend.

“As if I would miss your wedding day.” Hana scoffed as she moved on to applying eye liner.

“You know…though it’s been a while since I’ve owned makeup, I still know how to apply it myself.”

“Yeah, but you’re probably all rusty by now. We can’t have you wearing uneven lipstick for Jesse.”

“I doubt he’d notice.”

“Probably not. Have you seen him?” Hana grinned mischievously, “He’s sweating buckets.” She put the eyeliner down and surveyed her work.

“Really? I don’t see why he’s so nervous.”

“He somehow convinced you to marry him. Of course he’s nervous. He’s afraid you’re going to bail.” Hana began rummaging around her make up bag.

“Pardon? Why would I- what’s bail?”

“You know, leave suddenly. Run away.”

“Oh.”

“He’s got serious issues about women ditching him.” Hana mumbled as she practically stuck her face in her bag.

“I know his old fiancé…’ditched’ him.”

“Yeah, and every other woman, and his mom- I thought I brought my blush brush. Where is it?”

“His mom?” Hanae asked. Hana looked up at her.

“Yeah. You should ask him about it. Anyway, how have things been- other than you getting married?”

“Things have been…good.” Hanae said. They continued to chat about their lives ever since Hanae got fired. Apparently, her coworkers were still angry at her boss for firing her, since she was a single woman raising a child. But oddly enough, he had been asking about her. Apparently, he felt bad about it too.

Getting her kimono on was a bit of a struggle, as Hana and Pharah had to look up youtube videos of how to help her into her dress. Though it took longer than usual, they did eventually help Hanae dress with the appropriate folds and such. Hanae looked at herself in the mirror when it was finished. The make up was simple, but elegant. Hana had helped put her hair up and gave her a lovely clip with flowers and small jewels. Her dress lacked the traditional sword, box and head piece, but it was still beautiful. She folded her hands together and gave a soft sigh. All things considered, she looked fairly good for an impromptu wedding.

Actually…she looked better than she though she would on her wedding day to Touma. At least now she had a say in her overall appearance.

“HELLO, LADIES!” A large, European man boomed as he entered the room. Hanae literally screamed and whirled around. Hana and Pharah burst into laughter as the (very tall, very large) man laughed along. “Forgive me, Jesse’s bride! I only came to see if you were ready.” He said (again, in a loud voice). Hanae clenched her heart and let out a shaky breath, her face showing her anger at the situation.

“Perhaps you could do so more quietly next time.” She let out a harsh breath. “Sir.” The man stopped laughing and gave her a bit of a sheepish look.

“Ah, yes. I’m sorry. I’m just so excited, you know.”

“We all are.” Hanae said in a very unexcited tone. The man let out an awkward chuckle.

“Well,” He gave a large smile, “We are ready for you downstairs. Jesse is as excited as a dog in a butcher shop! Or, should I say, your groom is excited.” He said with a wink. Hanae let out a breath.

“Yes, well, I am ready as well.” She took another breath, “If you wish, you can tell the others I will be down shortly.”

“Wunderbar! We will wait and try to calm down Jesse.” The man winked again, then left, closing the door behind him. Hanae sighed as Pharah and Hana looked to her.

“…Who was that?” She asked.

“Oh, that’s my mom’s friend. He’s nice, just really loud.” Pharah smiled. Hanae nodded.

“Indeed.” The three looked at each other for a moment.

“Well, I’m ready when you are.” Hana said. Pharah nodded.

“Uh, should we go before you? Like, lead you down? Is there even music?” The young woman asked. Hanae shook her head.

“No, this is not so formal. Please, go downstairs with the others. I’ll be there shortly.” Hana shrugged.

“Alright. If you need anything, let us know-,”

“Or, if you change your mind, I can sneak you out the back.” Pharah said with a wink. Hanae smiled back.

“I’m fine, thank you.” Both girls then left, leaving Hanae alone in the room. She stared at herself in the mirror one last time.

So, this was it. Her whole life had been leading up to her wedding day. Ever since she was small, her head had been filled with stories of how her wedding day should be. Her aunts and cousins told her about the ceremonies and guests and food. How many days had she trained to be a good wife? How many nights had she dreamed of her wedding to Touma? And now, she was here.

This was her wedding.

This is where it would all end.

 

 

As Hanae descended the stairs, noting the flowers that lined the railing, she thought again of her old wedding plans. It was hard not to. Her whole life she had been preparing for marriage to Touma. And it had almost happened. The flowers were ordered. The invitations sent out. The venue chosen. It was to be the grandest party her family had since her mother and father were wed. And now…she had this.

Hanae turned to the room on her right and stood in the doorway. The living room had been decorated as best it could, with a table and couch being moved to the side. At the far end was a large, long bookcase that held endless books and trinkets. A tall, blond man stood just in front of the bookcase, with Jesse to his right. Jesse stared at her with wide eyes, his breath seeming to catch in his throat.

Hanae slowly walked towards the men. Instead of a bouquet bursting with flowers, she had a small collection of roses. Instead of a large, open ceremony on her family grounds, she was in a living room. And instead of being surrounded by friends and family, she was surrounded by strangers.

“You…you look beautiful” Jesse said quietly as he fidgeted with his hands.

“Thank you.” Hanae said softly as she came up and stood beside him. She did have to be thankful that Jesse hadn’t shown up wearing some ridiculous get up. Though it wasn’t a tuxedo, his suit was clean and well pressed.  And he had a little rose pinned to his jacket that matched her own.

“Uh- Hanae. This is Jackie McCree-,”

“No, Jesse.” The blond man said, “It’s Jack Morrison. You’re McCree.”

Right! Right.” Jesse laughed nervously. Morrison put a strong hand on his shoulder.

“Breath, McCree.”

“Right! Breath. Ok.” Jesse said as he tried to take a deep breath. Hanae watched in mild amusement. She had never seen Jesse so nervous. It was flattering, in a way.

“Alright,” Jack began, “We’re all here today to witness the union of Hanae Shimada and Jesse McCree.” Jack looked to Hanae, “Unfortunately, I have to make this short because I have a mountain of paper work to do.”

“That’s fine.” Hanae mumbled.

“Marriage is a beautiful union formed from the deepest bonds,” The man said, reading from a small book, “We have gathered to witness this bond between these two people.” He looked up, “The rings?” Ana tapped Genji, who looked up and then scurried over. He reached deep into his pocket with one hand while his other held Soba. After a moment, he pulled out two cheap rings. “Thank you.” Morrison said with a smile. Genji smiled back. Morrison gave Hanae’s ring to Jesse.

“Jesse McCree. Repeat after me-,”

“I do-,”

“We’re not there yet.” Jack mumbled.

“Sorry.”

“I, Jesse McCree.”

“I, Jesse Morrison-,”

“Jesse!” The man snapped. Jesse jumped, “Focus!”

“I’m sorry!”

“I, Jesse McCree!” Morrison said forcefully.

“I, Jesse McCree!” Jesse mimicked.

“Take you, Hanae Shimada.

“Take you, Hanae Shimada!”

“To be my wife.”

“To be my wife!”

“To have and to hold.”

“To hold and have and hold-,” Jack slammed his book shut.

“You know what? Forget it. Just, give her the ring.” Jesse took Hanae’s delicate hand in his large, shaking one and tried to slip on the right. However, his hands were shaking so bad that he couldn’t get it on, so Hanae had to help him guide it onto her finger. Jack looked back to Hanae. “Hanae, repeat after-,”

“I, Hanae Shimada, take you, Jesse McCree, to be my husband.” She said as she took Jesse’s large hand in her own. “To have and to hold, to love and cherish, for the rest of our days, until death do us part.” She then slipped the ring onto his finger.

“Thank you.” Jack looked back to Jesse, “Ok, Jesse. This part is easy. Do you, Jesse McCree-,”

“I do-,”

“We’re not there yet.” Jack ground out.

“Sorry.”

“Do you, Jesse McCree, take this woman as your wife? To love and to cherish for the rest of your days?” There was a brief silence as the room listened. And then the silence continued. “Jesse. You’re supposed to-,”

“I do.”

“I swear to god, Jesse.” Jack mumbled as he looked to Hanae, “And do you, Hanae Shimada, take Jesse McCree as your husband? To love and to cherish for the rest of your days?”

“I do.”

“Then if no one can find a reason as to why these two should not be wed,” Jack looked to the very back of the room. He waited just a second before continuing, “By the power given to me by the United State Government, I declare you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.” Hanae let out a breath as she looked to Jesse. She had been preparing for this part. A simple peck and-

Jesse grabbed her face and crashed his lips into hers.

She stood there, stunned, as he firmly kept his lips on her own. As kisses go, she had worse. It was just…incredibly sudden. Hanae hardly had time to register the feeling before Jesse pulled away, a massive smile on his face.

“Alright,” He laughed before turning to everyone, “Alright! I did it! We’re married!” The few people in the room clapped as Genji jumped up and down beside Jesse.

“Jesse! Jesse! We married!”

“We sure are, buckaroo!” Jesse hollered as he scooped Genji up and threw him in the air. Genji broke into a giggling fit as Jesse twirled him around and held him close.

“Well, that was…a wedding.” Hana said as she patted Hanae’s back. Hanae jolted, her body still stunned from what had happened.

“What? Uh, yes.”

“That was one heck of a kiss.” Hana grinned as Pharah and her mother came over.

“It looked awful.” Pharah said with amusement.

“It was…” Hanae blinked, trying to understand what just happened. “It was something.”

 

Her dinner was a mixture of different take out. Apparently, Ana and her (friend? Husband? Partner?) got food from a variety of restaurants. There was Italian pasta, as well as fresh, middle eastern bread and sushi.

“We didn’t know what you liked, so we decided to get a few different things.” Ana smiled as she handed an empty plate to Hanae. The food sat on the counter, and Hanae had to admit she was happy that at least Ana had the decency to remove them from their take out containers and put them on nice plates. Hanae put some pasta and bread on her plate while also taking some sushi. She could just tell from the look of it that it wasn’t the high grade sushi and maki she was accustomed to, but then again, she hadn’t had sushi in months, so at this point she was willing to eat almost anything.

They all sat around a large, oval dining table. The large European man (Rageheart? Rainheart?) sat at the head of the table while Ana sat at the other end. Hanae sat with Jess, with Genji between them as Hana and Pharah took seats beside each other.

The conversation was fine. Hanae was once again thankful for Jesse’s energetic, talkative energy as he took most of the attention away from her. With the wedding done (and having gone by in a flash) she felt…odd. Like she didn’t feel well. Like something was wrong. Thankfully, Jesse either picked up on it (or was overly excited and just wanted to talk) because he took over the conversation.

“What will you do for a honeymoon?” Hana asked as she stared at Hanae with a grin.

“Well, I was thinkin’ maybe we could visit my family down south. It’ll be a surprise for my cousins to hear I’m married, and I’d like my granddaddy to meet my new wife.” Jesse said with a smile, “I think Genji would like it. We got a farm down there, so he can play with the animals, and we can show him what farm life is like, right buddy?” He asked as he looked to the boy. Genji smiled at Jesse and nodded. “Atta boy.” Jesse said as he ruffled the boy’s hair.

Hanae sighed as she tried to push the negative feelings out of her. What was wrong? Surely, she made the right decision. Now, Genji would be safe. Now they were secure in this country. They would be taken care of. So why did she feel so…sad? So…empty?

“Would you like some more water, dear?” Anna asked softly as Jesse continued to prattle on in the background. Hanae looked up, not having realized she had been staring at her food the entire time.

“Oh, my apologies. Uh…yes.”

“Alright, I’ll-,”

“No, please, I’ll get it.” Hanae said as she placed her napkin on the table and stood.

“Please, I can-,”

“No, really. I’m ok. I can get it.” Ana opened her mouth to protest, but stopped when she looked at Hanae’s face. Slowly, she nodded.

“Alright. Well, if you need anything else, dear, let me know. The glasses are to the left of the sink.”

“Thank you.” And with that, she made her way into the kitchen.

 

 

It wasn’t as quiet as she would have liked, but the kitchen did offer her some sort of privacy. Hanae took a deep breath as she held onto the counter. What was wrong with her? Why was she feeling like this? She moved to the cupboard to the left and opened the door. She then reached up for a glass, but it was slightly out of her reach. As she leaned up on her toes, a large, tanned hand came into view and grabbed it for her. Hanae let out a disappointed breath.

“Here.” Jesse said as he handed her the glass. She mumbled a thanks as she got herself some tap water. “You holdin’ up ok, sugar?” Jesse asked as he leaned against the counter. Hanae took a sip of water before answering.

“Yes. I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem fine.” He said softly. Hanae didn’t know what to say. She really wasn’t in the mood to talk, so she just shrugged.

“…If yur havin’ second thoughts, we can scrap the whole thing. I don’t think Morrison has registered us into the system yet, so-,”

“No, it’s not…it’s not that.” She shook her head, “We made the right decision.”

“Alright…” He said as he leaned both arms against the counter. He was silent for a moment before he spoke again, “You nervous?”

“About what?”

“About tonight.” Hanae looked at him with tired eyes. Sometimes she just didn’t understand his thought process.

“Why would I be nervous about tonight?” She asked flatly. Jesse looked away from her as pink bloomed onto his cheeks.

“Cause…well…cause it’s our weddin’ night.” He said, looking back to her again. But it didn’t register. Why would-

She dropped her glass into the sink as heat shot up her neck and face. Tonight! Of course! She hadn’t even thought of- what would- she couldn’t-

Hanae’s hand shot to her mouth as she looked back at Jesse and quickly shook her head.

“I…I forgot.” She croaked, her throat suddenly beginning to swell. She opened her mouth to speak again, but Jesse held up his hand to stop her.

“It’s alright. To be honest, I thought that’s why you were actin’ like a wet cat. But either way,” He looked away again as he rubbed the back of his neck, “I was thinkin’…since, you know…I mean, today was the first time we’ve kissed and, well, it wasn’t…” He looked to her again and sighed, “I know you wana take things real slow, and I get that. So, I was thinkin’ that, for a while, maybe I could sleep on the couch?” He crossed his arms and leaned his hip against the counter, “Then, when we get a bigger place, we can sleep in the same bed but just…you know…” He waved his hand gently, “We don’t gotta’ do nothin’.”

Hanae looked at him with a surprised expression. She had consciously put the thought of being together away. It was just something too stressful to think about. But now…

He was going to leave her be?

She blinked slowly and examined his expression. Was he joking? Surly it would be a terrible joke. He could be lying…but he hadn’t lied to her before.

“But…won’t that be hard for you?” She asked. He shrugged.

“I mean, kind of, but tough beans. If you wana’ take things slow, then I gotta’ respect that.”

“But you’re my husband now. You can do whatever you want. I don’t get to choose anymore.” He squinted at her, as if not understanding her words, before he tilted his head.

“…No. That’s…Hanae, it’s because yur my wife that I have to respect you. I mean, a man should respect his partner but, once yur married, that’s the one you gotta’ respect the most. If I want things to move faster, that’s too bad for me. Marriage is a partnership. You gotta’ work together.”

“Oh.” Was all she said. Jesse leaned away from the counter.

“Is that what you believe? That a man can do whatever he wants to his wife?” She paused before speaking.

“It’s…that’s the way it is in my family.”

“So, Touma- or whoever you married- could just do anything, whether you agreed or not?” Hanae looked down at the sink. He made it sound like it wasn’t normal. “Hanae, look at me.” She looked up, “A husband should always love and respect for his wife, just as a wife should always love and respect her husband. If one says they aren’t comfortable with somethin’, then the other has to listen.” Hanae looked away for a moment. Was that true? But in her family, things were different. Her father always had the last say over her mother, and they seemed fine. “Hanae?” She blinked and looked back at him. “Did Touma or…any of yur suitors ever over step their boundaries with you? Because they were in line to be yur husband? Did they think it was their right or…somethin?” Hanae looked away and thought about her life back home. Yes, there were times when she had felt uncomfortable, but no one had ever done anything horrible.

Her one suitor tried something foolish, but he was an idiot (and, as it turns out, much weaker than her). She frowned. There was also that time a few months ago with Touma. But he was just…

Well…

It wasn’t like she was abused or anything.

He just…

Well, she did get frightened at one point, but she knew she could beat him in a fist fight. And Kai had suddenly showed up, so everything was fine.

“I…that’s just…the way things are in my family.” She said softly. Jesse gave a sad sigh.

“Well…things are gonna’ be different between us.”

“Ok.” Was all she said. They stood in silence as the sounds of the dining room came down the hallway. After a moment, Jesse slowly reached out to her with one hand.

“Can I…” He motioned with his other hand. She examined him for a moment before giving a small nod. Slowly, he took her into his arms and gently held her. It wasn’t like other times they had hugged. Other times, Jesse had held her gently but firmly, like he was holding her up. But this time, he was barely touching her, his arms light against her body.

“I swear to you, darlin’, I ain’t ever gonna hurt you.” He whispered. “Even if you wanna just hold hands for the rest of our lives. I’ll never disrespect you.” He said softly and quietly. She closed her eyes as she listened to his voice and felt the rumble of his chest as he spoke.

“Thank you.” Hanae whispered.

And they stayed like that for a while. As the minutes ticked by, Hanae tried to assess the different emotions settling into her heart. She still felt a little empty, but not as much as before. And Jesse’s promise had certainly put her unconscious thoughts at ease.

She listened to the beat of his heart as he took each breath. And she felt him let each breath go as he leaned his head atop of hers. It was funny. Though she didn’t like physical contact, she couldn’t deny that Jesse McCree gave excellent hugs.

“Uh, sorry.” Pharah suddenly said. Hanae immediately pulled away from Jesse, who kept one arm around her.

“Yeah?” He asked.

“Uh, Genji’s getting kind of tired. Mom wants to know if you want us to put him to bed here.” Pharah said.

“Alright.” Jesse looked to Hanae, “I mean, the night’s still young, but we can head home if you want.” Hanae shook her head.

“No. I’ll head home. You stay here and enjoy yourself.”

“Aw, darlin’-,”

“I’m serious. Won’t you do something after this? To celebrate with your friends?” Hanae asked. Jesse looked away for a moment.

“I mean, Rein did offer to meet up with some guys for a few drinks,” He looked back at her, “But I don’t gotta’ go. I can-,”

“Go, enjoy yourself.” Hanae said as she moved away from him. “I’ll be fine.”

“But, sugar bee-,” He said as he took a step towards her.

“Jesse, really. I’m fine.” Hanae said with a tired smile, “I just…it would be nice to have some time…to think. I’d like to be alone for a little bit.” Jesse frowned, looked to Pharah, then back at Hanae.

“But…I don’t really want you to be alone on yur wedding night.”

“Please, Jesse,” Hanae reached out and gently touched his shoulder, “I would…appreciate it if I had some time to myself.” Jesse gave her a concerned look and waited for a moment before he nodded.

“Alright…if that’s what you want…”

“It is.”

“Ok. Well, at least let me drive you home.”

“Mom said she could drive,” Pharah said, “Since you’ve been drinking, Jesse.”

“I had one beer.” He said. Pharah frowned.

“Drinking and driving, Jesse? You’re a terrible role model-,”

“I had one beer an hour ago! And I’ve been eating since then! I’m fine to-,”

“MOM! Jesse wants to drink and drive!” Pharah hollered down the hallway. Jesse rushed up to Pharah and grabbed her shoulder.

“Don’t YELL that-,”

“Jesse McCree! If you even think of-,”

“I’ve had one beer!” Jesse yelled. They all heard a chair screech against the floor as someone stomped towards them. Jesse swore under his breath as Ana stormed into the room.

“What is happening here?” She asked.

“Jesse was-,”

“I was just gonna drive Hanae and Genji home! I didn’t-,”

“Jesse, you’ve been drinking-,”

“ONE BEER-,”

“TWO beers.” Ana corrected, “And not the American sewage water you’re used to drinking. Reinhart let you have some of his German beer.” Jesse crossed his arms.

“That don’t mean nothin’.” He scoffed. Ana turned to Hanae and smiled.

“Dear, I will drive you home.” She then turned to Pharah, “You finish your dinner with Miss Song and clean up when you’re finished.”

“Aw, mom…” Pharah sighed as Ana turned to Jesse.

“You finish your meal with Reinhart, then make your plans for the night. Don’t worry about your new family. I’ll get them home safe.” Ana said with a firm smile. Jesse sighed.

“…I ain’t gonna win, am I?”

“No.” Jesse sighed again before turning to Hanae.

“Well…I’ll help get Genji all ready. Do you wana…get changed before you go?” He asked as he looked at her beautiful kimono again. Hanae lightly shook her head.

“No. I would like to wear it a bit longer, if I could.”

“Ok. Well, I’ll get Genji.” Jesse said, the look in his eyes asking her to change her mind.

“Thank you.” Was all she said before she turned and left the room.

 

 

“You’re being very quiet, dear.” Ana said as Hanae watched the world go by. The light snow outside gave the world a soft, pure look. Hanae shivered slightly in her winter jacket.

“I’m fine.”

“Hmm.” Ana said. She came up to an intersection and slowed for the red light. “Do you want to talk about it?” Hanae frowned slightly.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“A lot happened today.”

“…yes.” Hanae said, the memories of the day flashed before her. The fear that took her that morning, the pure joy of finding a wedding dress like her mother’s, the chaos of coming back to the house, the sad excuse for a wedding… “It’s finished now.” She mumbled. Ana nodded. Silence filled the car as they watched the snow outside. Eventually, the light turned green and she began to speed the car up again.

“You know,” Ana said after a moment, “My wedding day was a strange experience for me.” She waited to see if Hanae would respond, but she chose to look out the window. Ana continued anyway. “Of course, I was happy to marry Sam. But a part of me married him so I could go somewhere else. I love my home country, but some things are…difficult for a woman like me. Sam offered an out.” Hanae continued to look out the window but was slightly intrigued by the conversation. “It’s strange when your wedding day comes and goes. All my life, I  was told it would be one of the happiest days of my life. But then, it came and went. And I remember feeling…a little lost.” Hanae turned to Ms. Amari and stared at her before looking out the front window. Silence filled the car once more as Ana drove, Genji slept, and Hanae watched the snow.

She wasn’t supposed to be married in the snow. Her mother said it would be bad for her health.

“All my life…” Hanae said softly, “Everyone would tell me what my wedding would be like. And when I attended one, my friends and family would ask if my own would be like it…” Hanae looked out the side window, “Even when I became a young woman, my training changed from that of combat and fighting to tea ceremonies and being a good wife.” She stared at her reflection in the glass, “And when I asked about life after the ceremony, I was told I was to help lead my family. That I would be a key piece in keeping our clan harmonious and at peace.” She looked at her own, sad brown eyes. “But now…everything’s changed.” Strange, that she felt so sad. There was nothing to be sad about, really. “I wonder…what is my life now? Where do I go from here?”

She looked out the front window and watched the snow fall. She watched the quiet world shut down for the night.

“My life…holds no meaning now.” Hanae said as tears pricked the corners of her eyes, “I have accomplished what I was meant to do.” She looked down at her lap, where her snow white kimono met her dark, winter jacket. “Now I am just…a wife.” She looked back out the side window and watched as silent tears spilled down her face. Her lip trembled, but she wouldn’t openly cry in this woman’s presence. “I’m not even a Shimada anymore…” She whispered. She suddenly felt warm fingers lightly rest on her left hand. Hanae turned to Ana, but the woman just stared ahead and focused on the road ahead. She didn’t say anything.

She didn’t need to say anything.

And that’s all Hanae really needed.

Chapter Text

Jesse sat on the rickety old lawn chair as he took a drag of his cigarette. In front of him, for as far as the eye could see, was desert. Endless sand, rocks, and if you’re lucky, a little vegetation. The sun sat low on the horizon and was already changing the sky into a beautiful hue of pink and orange. The chair creaked as he relaxed more. No matter the crap going on in his life, he always appreciated a desert sunset. A door opened and shut behind him before he heard soft footsteps on the rotten old deck.

“I knew I’d find you out here.” His little desert rose said. Jesse blew out a long line of smoke as he continued to watch the sun.

“T’s been a long day,” He drawled, “Just wanted to ease up before the hit tonight.” He sucked on the cigarette again and puffed out the smoke.

“Do you have to go tonight?” She whined. “I thought we were going to spend time together.” He only half listened as he watched the nature around him. “And you said you might take me out.” He could hear her frown, he could practically see it in his mind. There was a moment of silence before he felt her soft fingers brush his arm, “I thought we could have some fun. Just you and me.” He ignored her. She huffed loudly before walking in front of him.

“Hey!” He said, as if she had walked in front of his favourite show. She rolled her eyes, then plopped down on his lap.

“You’re being mean.” She pouted, her left hand snaking around his neck as her right dug her fingers into his hair. He frowned at her.

“I already told you I had’da job tonight.”

“Then skip the job.”

“Ashe would kill me.” His girl rolled her eyes again.

“She doesn’t call the shots, Jesse.”

“She does when she’s footing the bill.” Jesse said pointedly. The girl sighed dramatically.

“Sometimes I think you like her more than me.” She said with a little pout. Jesse frowned further.

“Don’t talk to me about jealousy, Sombra. Not after I caught you necking that punk-,”

“Jesse, that was weeks ago!”

“It was four days ago.” He growled. She wrapped her arm around his neck and leaned against him.

“You just won’t let that go, will you?” She asked, mocking sadness.

“A girl otta be faithful to her man. What you did-,”

“Jesse, I told you, it’s just what girls do.” She said as she began to draw circles on his chest with her finger. “We just always need attention-,”

“I give you plenty of attention-,” He snapped.

“And we like it when our men get all protective.” She leaned up so she could look him in the eyes. “Like when you came in and beat up Todd because he was kissing me-,”

“Or when I beat up Jeff, or Antonio, or that punk from Los Muertos!” Jesse said, his voice rising with his anger, “When will you stop kissin’ men behind my back?! It makes me crazy!”

“I know.” Sombra said with a smile. “That’s why I do it.”

He suddenly grabbed her arms as he sat up and gave her a harsh, rage filled look.

“This ain’t no game, Sombra. One of these days, a man’s gonna end up dead ‘cuz of you.” Her smile grew.

“Oh, I know you wouldn’t do that-,”

“Don’t push me, woman!” He snarled, his grip tightening. Her smile disappeared as she furrowed her brows.

“Jesse, stop it.” She said plainly, as if she caught him eating her leftovers.

“I’ll stop when you stop!” He hissed.

“You’re being childish.”

“No, you’re being childish!” He hissed loudly. She tried getting her arms free, but his grip tightened until it was painful. Her expression then turned serious as she observed the rage in his face. He took a breath. “YOU-,” But he was silenced when her lips quickly made contact with his own. His grip immediately loosened as he tried to pull back to speak again. But she followed him and continued to seek out his lips. Moments passed before he let go of her altogether. Only then did she pull away. Jesse took a shaky breath as he slowly opened his eyes to see her own. Her brown eyes held power and control, and maybe a hint of mirth. He tried to take a deep breath to speak. “My life ain’t a game.” He said, his voice hoarse with emotion. He grabbed her again, but this time his touch was soft and gentle. “Either take me or leave me, Sombra. Let me move on. But don’t- don’t play with me.” He whispered, the tears evident in his voice. “I’m not a toy. You can’t just put me on a string and drag me along.”

“Aw, baby.” She said soothingly, but whether she was serious or was mocking him, he couldn’t tell. She leaned in and gave him a soft, small kiss before pulling away. “You know I love you.” She said as she lightly poked his nose.

No, you don’t.

His heart ached.

She slowly got up and sauntered past him.

“If you’re going on that job tonight, I’ll simply have to find someone else to entertain me.” She sighed.

“Sombra, please…” He begged, but it was no use. She was already through the door and back in the hide out. He gave a heavy, wet sigh as he leaned his elbows on his knees and placed his face in his hands. She was driving him mad. How could one girl possibly give him so much joy while also giving him so much pain. A few minutes passed before he heard footsteps again. Maybe she was back to flaunt her new plans in front of him. Maybe she already had another man, and he’d have to go into his routine of finding her and knocking the man’s teeth in.

“She’s playing you like a fiddle, Jesse.” Ashe sighed as she stood beside him. He sighed too. He knew it. He knew it to well. But he just couldn’t let go.

 

 

Jesse sat at his small desk, his only light being the little lamp at his side. In the living room, only a few feet away, Genji slept soundly on his futon. In the bedroom was Hanae, who also made no noise. The small apartment was quiet. It was 3:14 in the morning. The world was dark and quiet with most of its inhabitants sleeping. But not Jesse McCree.

A dream had woken up. Or…a nightmare. Most dreams about his old fiancé were nightmares. But that was common in his life. He had his usual routine of waking up drenched in sweat, getting a change of clothes, and eating a small snack before trying to sleep again. The only difference was, now he had to make sure he didn’t wake anyone up. He had been able to sneak into the bedroom to get a new set of pajamas, but he had almost woken up Genji when he turned on the bathroom light to change. Genji rolled over and went back to sleep though, so everything was fine.

By now, Jesse was munching on some peanut butter toast, trying to focus his tired eyes in the light. Normally, he’d be watching something on his laptop. Normally, he didn’t have a five year old a few feet away.

And normally, he wouldn’t have a wife in the next room.

So, today wasn’t normal.

Jesse stared down at the paper in front of him as he twirled the pen in his hand. This night (Morning? Day?) he was making a list. He was planning. He didn’t have time to watch videos because he had a very important puzzle to solve.

How to make his wife fall in love with him.

It sounded simple. It should have been simple. In most cases, it wasn’t even an issue. But here he was, in a marriage of convenience with the woman he cared deeply about, while she….well, at least she considered Jesse a friend (at worst an ally).

He had written some of the most basic ideas. Take her to dinner. Buy her flowers. Go somewhere romantic. But, so far, his list was more on how to make her like him, not love him.

How did one go about making someone fall in love with them? Was it even possible? He figured such things couldn’t be forced, but Hanae seemed to be moving in the right direction with him, so it didn’t seem like such a stretch…

He wrote, ‘spoil’ before crossing it out. Material possessions didn’t equate with love. However, she did grow up in a very rich family, so material things probably did mean something to her.

Jesse sighed as he leaned back in his chair and looked up to the shadowed ceiling.

Memories of his wedding night came back to him as he thought about all the advice his friends gave him. How Jack had told him to put her before work, and Rein had suggested not forgetting the little things. But it was what Gabe said that stood out.

 

“You can’t afford her.”

“Excuse me?” Jesse said as he turned away from the bar. There stood his former mentor, black hoodie and all. Jesse put his beer down with a frown, “Afford who?”

“Your wife.” Gabe nodded at him, “She’s a rich girl, Jesse. You have to buy her love, which is something I don’t think you can afford.”

“I don’t recall inviting you.” Jesse frowned.

“I invited myself.”

“That’s not how it works.”

“If you thought I’d miss your wedding, Mijo, you’re wrong.” Gabe said as he approached the bar and signaled for a beer.

“Gabe, glad you made it.” Jack said with a smile as he nodded towards the man. Jesse continued to frown.

“Well, you did miss it. It’s over now. You can’t stop it-,”

“Oh, I didn’t miss it, kid. I was there. I saw everything.” Gabe smirked, “Nice kiss, by the way. Real smooth.”

“No, you weren’t. Where the hell could you have been hiding? We were in the damn living room!”

“Like I always taught you, Jess. The best place to hide is in plain sight.” The bartender handed Reyes a beer, which he gladly took a sip of.

“Like hell. What, were you in the couch or somethin’?”

“He was hiding by the doorway.” Jack nodded, “I figured you knew.”

“What?! How did you-,”

“Everyone was busy looking at Jack, kid. I stood there for the whole ceremony and no one bothered to look. I thought you’d at least give me a glance.” Gabe smiled, “At least Jack saw me.”

“I knew you’d show up. I knew you couldn’t bare watching your little chick leave the nest.” Jack said with a grin. Both Gabe and Jesse frowned at him. Jesse then took another swig of his beer and turned back to Gabe.

“Why are you even here, Reyes? It’s all over with.”

“Came to talk…and give you some advice.”

“Advice.” Jesse snorted, “Like I need relationship advice from you. Your marriage ended in divorce.”

“Then why take advice from Captain America over there?” Gabe nodded towards Jack, “He’s single. At least I was married.”

“That’s because Jack is married.” Jesse smiled, “To his job.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Jack sighed. Jesse leaned against the counter.

“Seriously, though, why are you here? I thought you would have tried to stop the wedding. It was kind of the reason it was so rushed.” Jesse said, mumbling the last part.

“Because,” Gabe said, “I did some digging…and I did some thinking.” He glanced around them to make sure no one was listening, “At first, I thought it was just a ploy…that Sojiro was actually alive, but…I saw the pictures of the bodies. He’s dead. And with him dead, Hanae is the new leader of the Shimada empire,” He took a breath, “Even if she, for whatever reason, wanted information from our government, now would not be the time to try something. Her family is in a civil war right now, with different family members fighting for the position of leader. If Hanae was still connected with her family, she wouldn’t be here.” He glanced over at Jesse, “And she would never marry an outsider. I knew that, if she actually married you, she’d be throwing away her chance of taking over the family again. Her family would never accept her as the leader if she had a different family name. Especially an American family name.” Gabe nodded, “I had to see for myself if she would legally take your name. When she went through with the wedding, I knew things weren’t as I thought. I knew she actually had to be on the run from her family…” He leaned against the counter. “Which brings me to another point.” Gabe said as he looked back at Jesse, “With Hanae officially cutting herself from her family, she has become a very…valuable informant. If she would be willing to talk-,”

“We’re not discussing this.” Jesse snapped at he looked back to the bar.

“I’m just saying-,”

“No, Gabe.”

“Jesse, for once in your stupid life listen to me,” Gabe said in a low voice as he leaned in towards the other man, “Her family is in chaos. Multiple members have already been reported to be killing each other, and it won’t be long before the Japanese government is able to take them out all together.” Gabe glanced at Jack before looking back at Jesse, “With them gone, there is going to be a huge void in the Japanese black market. Other clans are going to start fighting to be number one. If Hanae could give us her family’s main contacts- their smuggling locations, we could-,” Jesse quickly turned to Gabe, his face close enough that their noses almost touched.

“No, you listen. My wife- my new wife- is already going through hell trying to adjust to everything. The last thing she needs is to have an emotional breakdown after snitching on her family- whom she didn’t leave by choice.” Jesse hissed.

“I don’t care about her feelings, Jesse. I care about saving the lives of innocent people. If we gave the Japanese government the information they needed, they could-,”

“It’s not happening-,”

“Will you-,”

No.” Gabe snatched Jesse by his collar and yanked him up.

Listen brat,” Gabe hissed in Spanish, “We’re talking about people’s lives. I thought the whole reason you quit your job was because you didn’t want any more people dying.”

“That’s different.” Jesse growled back as he glared at his former mentor, “And I need to think of what’s best for my wife- my family. I’m done being involved with crime- WE’RE done being involved in it. I won’t have my son-,”

“He ISN’T your SON, Jesse!” Gabe snarled as he shook him.

MY SON will NOT grow up knowing violence. I’m going to raise him right.” Jesse grabbed Gabe’s hand and shoved him off, “And if you WANT to be a part of my life, then you’ll DROP all of this.” Jesse spat. Gabe’s hot look turned cool as he dropped his hand and crossed his arms.

“It’s nice, you know, the three of us spending time together,” Jack said as he leaned his elbow on the bar and his head in his hand, “Reminds me of old times.”

“I’ll pay her.” Reyes said. Jesse opened his mouth to tell the man off once more, but then he shut it. It was pointless to keep arguing with Reyes. Once he had an idea, he clung to it like a dog on steak. He dug his teeth in and wouldn’t let go until he got what he wanted. They had worked together for so long Jesse knew Reyes wouldn’t let it go.

Just like he knew Jack Morrison wasn’t physically capable of not singing along to a John Denver song.

“COUNTY ROADS!” Jesse bellowed as Gabe physically jumped in surprised, “TAKE ME HOME, TO THE PLACE, I BELONG!” He sang along to the music in the background. Jack immediately joined in.

“WEST VIRGINA, MOUNTAIN MOMMA, TAKE ME HOME, DOWN COUNTRY ROADS!” Jack belted.

“Damn it, Jesse, I’m serious!” Gabe shouted as the two continued to sing. Soon, others in the bar joined in. And soon, Gabe sat down in defeat as all the people in the bar began to sing together. Jesse smiled as he lifted his beer. Gabe might know a lot, but Jesse had a trick or two up his sleeve too.

 

 

It was the day after their wedding. Hanae had awoken to giggles and stifled laughter. The sun was fully up, and Jesse and Genji had already eaten breakfast. Jesse had gotten up with Genji and had let her sleep in. She couldn’t remember the last time she really slept in.

The day had been…good. A tad awkward, but good. The three of them went to the park and played games. Genji had seemed so happy, so Hanae was happy. It was later that Jesse suggested he and Hanae go on their first official date as a married couple. Hanae didn’t protest- it was best that she get used to Jesse acting romantic towards her. Genji did protest a bit, but soon he was won over to going to Ana’s house with promises of baklava and a movie.

Jesse had decided on taking Hanae to a restaurant. A very nice restaurant. As they pulled into the parking lot, Hanae wondered if it was just slightly out of their budget. But Jesse had picked it, so she decided it must be alright.

The first thing Hanae noticed about the restaurant was its décor. The owner had obviously done research about traditional sushi restaurants in Japan because the layout and furniture were on point. Of course, being in America, customers sat on chairs instead of on the floor, and the servers didn’t wear traditional clothing, but overall it was very well done. Hanae smiled at the warm reminder of home and took note of the different art pieces.

Jesse went up to the reception desk to get their reservation while she looked around. The restaurant was busy- very busy. It seemed that it was a popular place to eat. And many of the customers were wearing nicer clothes. She was glad Jesse had told her to dress up for their official date.

Jesse came up beside her as a host gestured towards them.

“This way, please.” Hanae and Jesse followed through the noisy restaurant as the woman led them towards the back. Hanae glanced to the left, where sliding doors blocked off private rooms from the rest of the patrons. She couldn’t help as an old part of her scowled at not getting the best table. But she pushed the feelings down. She should appreciate they were eating in such a nice place.

Finally, they arrived at a section of booths, each having a bit of privacy from the other. Jesse motioned for her to sit first and, after she slid inside, he sat across from her.

“Your server will be with you in a moment.”

“Thank you.” Hanae nodded, and the host left. She took a moment to appreciate the fine wood and craftsmanship of the small booth before her eyes fell on Jesse. He was smiling at her.

“How do yah like it?”

“It’s very nice.”

“Is it much like the fancy restaurants in Japan?”

“Somewhat,” Hanae hummed, “But a much ‘fancier’ restaurant would make their workers wear better clothing, and it wouldn’t be as available to the public.”

“To be honest, I ain’t never been to a real fancy restaurant before.” Jesse said as he scratched his beard, “So, I’ll have to take yur word on it.” Hanae hummed in reply. A silence fell between them as they both looked around the booth. Hanae found it strange that Jesse was being so quiet. He rarely let silence fall between them unless it was warranted. A time or two they had even fallen into a comfortable silence. But this was…awkward. Hanae shifted uncomfortably. Should she say something? She didn’t really know what to talk about.

Thankfully, their server arrived.

“Hello,” She bowed, “I’ll be your server this evening. To begin, can I get you both something to drink?”

 

“I guess Touma must have taken you to some fancy restaurants, huh?” Jesse said as he took a sip of his Sapporo. Hanae warmed her hands as she held her tea.

“Rarely.” She said. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to talk about Touma. Or if she should. Did one usually talk about their ex while on a date?

“Really? Then, uh…where’d you two go on dates? If yah don’t mind my askin’…” Hanae gave him a quizzled look and he shrugged, “I guess I just wana’ know what I’m competin’ against.” Hanae let out a small breath and thought.

And thought.

Did it matter at this point how much she disclosed? Jesse already knew so much. And they were already married, so did it really matter?

“He…didn’t take me out very often. Typically, if we were on a date, it was because he was pressured by our parents to take me somewhere. Usually, if we spent time together it was as friends, not…” She mumbled the rest. Jesse furrowed his brows.

“What, was he shy or somethin’?” Hanae looked up and gave him an unamused expression. Did she really have to come out and say it?

“Touma…he didn’t favor me. He never had romantic feelings for me. In fact, he never wanted to marry me. It was only when he came back after a year away that he suddenly wanted to get married. And even then, it wasn’t because he cared for me.” Hanae looked down at her reflection in her tea. She didn’t enjoy reliving those memories. The embarrassment and humiliation of seeking out someone who didn’t want her. Of being engaged to a man who didn’t care. And then, of course, there was the time he betrayed her in front of her family and elders…

“What, did he have a mental issue or somethin’?” She looked back at Jesse and found him giving her a confused, angry expression. “How could he not want to marry you? You’d been engaged since children. What, was he stupid?”

“No, he’s actually very intelligent-,”

“Don’t sound like it if he brushed off a woman like you. Was he- well I mean,” Jesse scratched his neck, “Does he, uh, prefer the company of men?”

“No, no, it wasn’t like that.” She said, waving him off.

“You sure? I mean, I can’t think of a straight man who would say no to you.” He said. She cracked a small smile.

“Thank you, but I can assure you that Touma prefers women. He,” Her small grin turned into a frown, “He made that quite clear.” Jesse sat silently, waiting for her to continue, but she didn’t. After a moment, he spoke.

“So, what did you two do for fun?”

“We did homework-,”

“Dear lord.” Jesse mumbled as Hanae continued.

“And we used to train together, before my family decided to change tactics.” Jesse leaned back.

“Change tactics?” Hanae let out a breath.

“Yes. We used to train together in kendo and karate. We also did some archery- though, I was much better at it than him. But my family soon realized he wasn’t taking to me, so they decided to change my training to be more…feminine.” Jesse rose a single brow at her. She sighed, “You know, training to be a good wife.”

“And what does that involve?”

“Performing tea ceremonies, knowing the best fashion, make up, among other things…”

“And did you like it?” He asked.

“I…it wasn’t bad. It was actually nice doing activities that were more geared towards my sex. But, Touma didn’t care. It wasn’t that he was attracted to strong women or gentle women. He just wasn’t attracted to me.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.” Hanae mumbled, not enjoying the memories that were coming back. Jesse gave her a moment to process before he spoke again.

“I know we’ve talked about this before. But…why did you love him? If he didn’t return your feelings and ignored you.”

“He didn’t ignore me. He just…” Hanae looked off towards the rest of the restaurant. “He treated me like I was normal. He didn’t give me attention because he wanted to impress my father or gain influence. It’s almost…” She thought for a moment before speaking, “It’s almost as if I loved him because he didn’t care about me. I was just so…normal to him. Everyone else in my life gave me special attention- but they never showed me how they really felt. Most people either feared me or tried to gain my favour so they could gain power in the family. Even my one cousin, who was like a friend, still feared me a little. But Touma just…he didn’t care about my position of power, or my influence. I was just…just Hanae. He didn’t need to impress me. And I just…” She looked back at Jesse, “So, when he did give me attention, I knew it was genuine. When he did smile at me, it was real. And I just thought…maybe one day, he’d grow to love me. And that love would be real.” She looked away again, “But in the end-,”

“I have your food.” Both Jesse and Hanae looked over to see their waitress. Both fell silent as they allowed her to place their orders in front of them. When she finally left, Jesse gave her a sympathetic look.

“That sounds rough, sugar.”

“It was…but…it’s over now.” She took a deep breath and tried to smile, “Touma is gone. And now I am married, so-,”

“Married to someone who does care for you.” Jesse interrupted as he placed his hand halfway between them, “Hanae, you must know how much I care about you. And I don’t give a damn about power or-,”

“I know.”

“I want you to be happy. I genuinely care about you. I…” He looked at her before glancing down at his hand. She followed his eyes before looking up to meet his again. There was a pause as Jesse waited. He waited for her to place her hand over his. He waited to feel her gentle fingers and soft palm so he could hold her and let her know how he felt.

But she didn’t give her hand. She kept her hands clasped underneath the table. Jesse waited a moment longer. She looked into his eyes before looking away. Not now. She just couldn’t right now. Jesse waited a little longer before he retracted his hand.

“Well, I just wanted you to know that…” He said with a bittersweet smile.

“Thank you…” She said. There was a slight, awkward silence before Jesse picked up his chopsticks.

“Well, let’s not let the food get cold-or, uh, warm.” He smiled at her, and she gave a small smile back. She should be thankful that he was trying.

 

Like usual, Jesse seemed to take a hint and switched the conversation to something less emotional. And like usual, he picked up that she wanted him to talk while she listened.

It was something Hanae had become increasingly thankful for. It was comforting to know she didn’t have to tell him to switch conversations, and it was nice having someone talk while she listened. And Jesse was quite the storyteller. She was becoming accustomed to his strange stories about different adventures he went on. No matter the topic, Jesse had a tale to tell.

And he was quite funny too.

“So, I said, ‘Listen, I don’t know any French, so you have to help me out.’” Jesse said as he gave her a smile, “I said, ‘I need to seem like one of the people, you know? I need to be able to say something that makes me look like a local’. And Gerard says, ‘Ok, listen, I’ll teach you this one phrase. Everyone in France uses it.’” He chuckled, “And I learned it, darlin’. I memorized the whole damn thing. So then, I go to Paris with this other agent. And we’re talking shop, but whenever a local comes by, I say that phrase, and the other agent and I smile and laugh. But the thing was, everyone kept giving me a weird look. So, I knew something was off.” Jesse grinned, “So, we finish the mission and go group up. And this French agent is walking with us to the shelter, and while we’re walking we pass these thugs, so I say my saying again. And the French agent, he turns to me and says all loud, ‘excuse me?’”

“What did you say?” Hanae asked while leaning in.

“Turns out, the whole time I was saying, ‘I was too much woman for him to handle.’” Hanae snorted and covered her mouth as she giggled. Jesse chuckled in return, “So now, half of damn Paris thinks I’m a woman- a real ugly one.”

“Wh-why would your friend do that? You’re not supposed to stand out on a mission.”

“Honestly, he said he didn’t think I’d do it because I knew too much Spanish. He thought I’d figure it out. But…well, I just trusted him too much. I thought it sounded off, but I figured I just translated it wrong.”

“Well, Jesse, I think you would make a lovely woman.” Hanae said with a smile.

“Why, thank you kindly.”

“Mm, minus the beard.” She said as she stroked her chin, “It’s a little…”

“Hairy. It’s hairy.

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ll keep that in mind the next time I have to go under cover.” They both chuckled and fell into a comfortable silence. Hanae smiled to Jesse and herself. Tonight was going quite well. In fact, she couldn’t recall a better date. The last ‘date’ she went on was when Touma insisted she accompany him to some computer convention. And even then, he ditched her after an hour. And that was before he left for a year. Little did she know what would happen only a few months later.

Hanae frowned at her thoughts. Just a few months later and he dragged her through the mud. The crushing humiliation, though it was only a bit over a year old, still burned like a fresh wound. She could still feel it bleed from time to time. It wasn’t just that someone had betrayed her, but that her friend did…the man she loved…

Why did she ever love Touma? Truly? What did he do to-

“You ok, honeybee?” Hanae looked up to see Jesse with a concerned expression, “You suddenly got real sad.”

“Oh. No, it’s…I apologize. I just…started to think of something…” She said, trailing off as she looked away. Jesse waited a moment before he leaned his elbows on the table.

“You wana’ talk about it?”

“…No.”

“You sure?” She looked at him again. And she saw his soft eyes and softer expression. And she felt the usual pain and hurt, but there was also something warm there. Something warming her heart.

In all honesty, she wanted to talk. She had never discussed her feeling on the incident with anyone. Once everything was over, her family moved on as if nothing happened, so she did too. But at night, when the room was dark and silent, the pain and humiliation would come back with a vengeance.

It might be nice…to let go. Just a little. It might be nice to have someone hold onto it too. But it had to be someone she trusted. Did she trust Jesse?

She watched as he continued to wait patiently for her answer.

Not entirely. Not completely. Not yet. But, he couldn’t use the information against her. And it wouldn’t harm anyone to tell him.

“…Over a year ago, Touma did something…” Jesse’s eyes immediately hardened.

“Like what?” He asked, his voice suddenly harsh.

“No, not like…It’s not what you think.” His eyes softened a bit as she folded her arms and collected her thoughts. “He…he humiliated me. In front of my family. He…” She cleared her throat, her mouth suddenly parched, “That’s why he left for a year. He was banished. He wasn’t supposed to come back.” Jesse listened patiently. When she stopped he leaned in slightly.

“Are you comfortable telling me what happened?”

“…Where do I even start?” She mumbled.

“Starting from the beginning usually helps.” Jesse said softly. Hanae nodded and took a breath.

“It was…my parents had been married for some time, so the family held a big anniversary party…”

 

It was a warm summer evening. Friends and family from all over had gathered at the Shimada castle to congratulate Sojiro and his wife on 25 successful years of marriage. Of course, the servants had pulled out all the stops for such a special occasion. The buildings were adorned with fresh flowers and bright, paper lanterns hung from lines that crisscrossed around the property. All the women wore their most expensive and luxurious dresses while the men wore a variety of kimonos and tuxedos. Hanae’s mother wore her best kimono along with fresh flowers braided into her hair. She looked as young and beautiful as ever. Hanae had spent hours being prepped with her cousins as they had their own hair and make up done. As Hanae walked down the hallway to the gardens, she looked at her cousin Harumi. The young woman wore a beautiful kimono of red, white and gold. Red and orange flowers blossomed and grew forth as they ran up her dress. And in her hair was a large chrysanthemum flower. Her cousin looked at her.

“I really envy your dress, Hanae.” The other woman pouted.

“Really? I envy yours. It is very beautiful.”

“Yes,” Harumi sighed, “But I wish I could wear more western dresses, like you. I like traditional clothing, but it’d be nice to change things up sometimes.”

“Western dresses aren’t as great as you think.” Hanae mumbled as she looked down at her own red dress. It was form fitting with a layer of red, flowery lace falling farther than the line of the dress. It was nice, but it wasn’t what Hanae wanted. Her mother and aunts had picked the dress to hopefully catch Touma’s eye but already Hanae knew Touma wouldn’t care.

He never cared.

As they made their way out to the gardens, Hanae’s cousins began to disperse one by one. The older ones, like Harumi, went off to find their husbands and dates, while the younger ones grouped off to find food and gossip. Hanae let out a soft sigh as she walked around. Of course, she was expected to find her own date, but she knew it was a waste of time. Touma wouldn’t be there that early, and he wouldn’t be waiting around for her. She would simply have to wait a while before finding him at the food tables or talking to his friends. She greeted different guests and held a few short conversations as she made her rounds. After a time, she grew bored and decided to find Harumi again. The girl didn’t play a massive role in the family, but she was good at making Hanae laugh, and her husband was agreeable.

Hanae checked different parts of the garden before going back inside. She checked the buffet room and ballroom but came up empty. She was just walking by the entrance to ask Kai if he had seen them when she caught sight of Touma. She stopped dead in her tracks. She watched as Touma handed his jacket to one of the servants. And then he handed over someone else’s jacket. A woman’s jacket. A woman who was holding his arm.

Hanae blinked, willing herself to move and berating herself for being foolish. It didn’t mean anything. It couldn’t mean anything. Touma was just being totally ignorant of how things worked socially, as usual. She frowned as Touma made eye contact with her and walked over.

“Hanae, how are you?” He asked. Hanae put on a smile and nodded to him and his guest.

“Very well. It’s nice of you to come so early to the party.” She then turned her attention to the other woman, “And who is your friend?”

“This is Maya, a friend from university.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The woman bowed, a heavy accent on her tongue.

British.

“A pleasure to meet you too.” Hanae said as she bowed (slightly) in return, “Why don’t we introduce you to some of the others. I’m sure they’d be glad to meet a friend of Touma’s. And then, Touma and I can discuss some things.”

“I think it’s best we stay together.” Touma said, nodding towards his friend, “I don’t want Maya to get lost.”

“Of course,” Hanae said, her smile straining ever so slightly, “But it might be best if you two had a…touch of distance. People might wrongly assume you’re together.”

“We are together.” Touma said flatly. Hanae looked at him, trying to gauge his expression, “We came here together, so we should stay together.”

“I meant…” Hanae began, “Perhaps it would be best if you were not so…close. People might perceive that she is your date.”

“She is my date.” He said. Hanae forced a chuckle and a smile.

“That’s funny, Touma, but you see, it can’t be true because I am your date.” She stressed. Maya looked between the two, lost to the conversation as Touma stood his ground.

“I don’t recall you asking me to be your date.”

“I don’t need-,”

“And we didn’t arrive together, Hanae. So, really, Maya is my date.”

“Touma.” She warned.

“There’s still time to find you a date if you need one. I’m sure one of the men-,”

Touma-,”

“-would love to be your date. If you just-,”

Touma!” She growled quietly as she took a step closer, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m doing what I want for once.” He whispered.

“What can this possibly accomplish? Why are you doing this-,”

“Because I’m tired of being pushed into things I don’t want to do. I’m tired of acting. Our engagement is a sham, Hanae-,”

“Don’t you-,”

“And it’s ending today. I’m going to finally set us free of this ridiculous promise our fathers made.” He stood tall and took a step around Hanae, “Now, if you don’t mind,” He said at a regular volume, “Maya has never seen the gardens, and I think she’d enjoy it.”

“Don’t!” Hanae growled as she grabbed his arm, her heart racing, “You can’t be serious.”

“Of course, I’m serious.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m being serious, Hanae. I’m going to introduce Maya as my date.”

“You,” Her eyes widened as her stomach dropped, “You can’t actually do this.”

“I intend to. Now, let go.” He said, trying to shake her off. She strengthened her grip as she searched his eyes.

“Are you angry at me? Is that why you’re doing this? Or did something-,”

“I already told you. I’m done with this charade. Now, let me go and get this over with.”

“You can’t.” Hanae said, her hot anger giving way to icy fear and dread. “Touma, if you go out there and others see you-,”

“They’ll know our engagement is over.”

“Exactly!”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Touma,” She said, her body beginning to shake, “This will ruin me. If you go out there with this woman, you’ll ruin me. Please,” She begged, “Don’t do this.”

“It’s the only way.” He sighed.

“No. There are other ways-,”

“Is everything ok? What’s wrong?” Maya asked.

“My cousin is just upset about something.” Touma said quickly before giving his arm a violent shake. Hanae let go and clung her hands together.

“Touma, Touma, please-,”

“Come on, Maya.” He then turned and began walking down the hallway.

“Touma!” Hanae said, her voice louder and more desperate than she intended. She immediately covered her mouth and watched as Maya turned and gave her a concerned look while Touma kept walking.

He didn’t bother to look back.

Hanae took short, shaky breaths as she tried to calm herself. She had to make a plan. But she didn’t have time.

“Miss? Are you alright?” Hanae whipped around to see one of the servants behind her. She then looked past him to see the numerous guests who had come in, their jackets still in their hands as they stared at her and the scene that had just unfolded. Hanae straightened her spine and removed her hand from her mouth.

“I’m fine, thank you. If you’ll excuse me.” She then walked away as quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself. She had to think. She had to stop Touma. But how? And how could he do this to her? Why was he doing this? If he went through with this…

No one will want me, that’s what will happen. And father-

What will father and mother- mother! What will mother think!?

Her stomach fell as panic began to set in. But she couldn’t panic. She had to keep a level head. She had to stop Touma, or everything she had worked towards in her life would be for nothing. Her future would be destroyed!

She made her way into the buffet room and immediately grabbed the first beverage she could find. She didn’t care what it was. She had to drink something to calm herself before anything else. She downed the liquid, wincing at the wine as it poured down her throat.

“Hanae?” She twitched and turned to Harumi who was in the middle of preparing a plate, “Are you ok?” A second went by before her cousin became alarmed, “What happened? What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing. What happened?” Hanae grinded her teeth.

“It’s…Touma,” She spat, her shaking hands putting the empty glass down, “He’s…he brought another woman with him.”

“What do you mean?” Harumi said, coming closer.

“He…he brought a date. He came with a woman.”

“What is he, insane?!” Harumi hissed. Hanae shook her head as her cousin put her plate away and guided Hanae out of the room, “Ok. First, we have to figure things out, and get you somewhere private-,”

“What’s wrong?” Harumi’s husband, Taka, asked as he quickly caught up to them and matched their pace.

“It’s Touma,” Harumi explained, “He brought a date with him to the party.” Taka raised his eyebrows and whistled.

Damn.” He said. Hanae let out a frustrated breath, “Sorry. What can I do?”

“You can punch him in his smug little face! That’s what you can do!” Harumi hissed again as she led Hanae down the hallways of their home. Finally, they came to a sitting room and hid inside, “Taka, get Hanae some water. And don’t tell anyone about this.”

“On it.” He said as he quickly left. Harumi helped Hanae sit down.

“It’s going to be ok, Hanae. We just have to figure something out-,”

“I just…I don’t understand.” She said as she began to rub her temples. “Sure, he’d complain about our engagement…but I never thought he’d do something like this.”

“None of us did. No one could see this coming.” Harumi gently stroked Hanae’s hand as she crouched in front of her, “But Touma is- UGH!” She said in frustration, “He’s always been so oblivious to people’s feelings! I know he’s done some stupid things, but THIS! I can’t believe him!” Harumi then continued to rant and vent her frustration as Hanae half listened. Fear and panic were already taking their tole and overwhelming her, clouding her thoughts. It was getting harder and harder to concentrate. But she had to think! There had to be some way out of this. Perhaps she could act like it was all a joke? Or she could pretend she didn’t know about it and let father deal with it. What was the best course of action? What led to the best possible outcome?

“Uh, Hanae?” Taka asked as he slid the door open. Hanae looked up as he gave her a nervous look, “Your, um, your father has called an emergency meeting.”

Her heart dropped.

“Good!” Harumi said as she stood up, “Maybe now Sojiro-san can finally beat some sense into him!” She nodded to Hanae, “Let’s go.”

“Harumi, it’s an emergency meeting. You can’t come.”

“What? Why?”

“Because it’s for the higher ups.”

“You’re just an accountant! Why can you go?!”

“Because they need me in case any issues about finances comes up!”

“You’re not even a Shimada!”

“That doesn’t- listen, Sojiro put me in charge of finances. So, I have to go to the meeting. Now, you stay here-,”

“I’m not staying here!”

“Then just, go do something while we get this sorted out!”

“This is ridiculous.” Harumi huffed as she looked at Hanae, “I should be there to help you.”

“Babe, you have never been to one of these meetings. I don’t know why you think you’d suddenly be allowed to go now.” Her husband said as he came to Hanae’s side.

“Whatever…just…promise me you’ll kick Touma’s teeth in.”

“I’ll do my best. Come on, Hanae. We need to hurry.” Hanae nodded, slowly got up and followed Taka out of the room. A part of her wouldn’t mind if Harumi came. She could be a welcome distraction in the chaos. And seeing her argue with the elders would be hilarious. But another part of her said it would be a waste. The girl couldn’t actually do anything. And this was Hanae’s problem. She had to deal with it on her own.

 

 

Walking to the grand meeting room felt like walking to her death sentence. But she wouldn’t panic. She had to stay in control. She couldn’t lose this battle, no matter what. But as a servant slid the door open for her and she stepped in to see the elders (and various other men of the family), her heart trembled. How was she supposed to win a fight when she didn’t really know about the battle?

“Hanae, thank you for coming so quickly.” Her father said at the head of the table. The other elders sat seiza around it while other men and guards stood to the side. Hanae took her place at the end of the table and tried not to stare at all those who had gathered. Not only were the elders there, but so too were some of her male cousins, along with extra guards. It seemed anyone with some importance in the family had been quickly gathered. Hanae only briefly glanced at her mother, who no doubt insisted on being present.

The room was quite except for a few people murmuring to each other. Hanae tried desperately to think, but she didn’t know all the variables. How was she supposed to plan success when she didn’t know all the influencing factors? What role did all these other men play? And who was Maya? Surly she knew who the Shimada’s were, and if so, why would she agree to be Touma’s date unless she had her own agenda?

The doors slid open, and Touma and Maya walked in. Touma maintained a calm expression, which was opposite to Maya, who seemed completely caught off guard. They walked towards Hanae, and Touma motioned for Maya to sit. He had Maya sit between them. Hanae tried to take deep breaths.

He won’t even sit beside me.

Coward.

The muttering ceased and the room grew quiet. Sojiro stared across the table at the three young people.

“So, Touma, it seems you have brought my wife and I a special engagement gift.” Sojiro said calmly, “Is this true.”

“Yes.” Touma said, his head held high. There was a long pause before Sojiro spoke again.

“And, what would it be?”

“I’ve decided to give your daughter her life back. I’m ending my engagement with Hanae.” The men around the room looked at one another, but no one besides Sojiro spoke.

“I see.” He nodded, “So, you decided to declare this news on the evening of my wedding anniversary. A day dedicated to the union of my beloved wife and I. And you decided to declare this news during a party we have been planning for months. Where all our investors and allies have gathered.”

“I-,” Touma began.

“It’s quite poetic,” Sojiro interrupted, “To end your promised union with my daughter on the anniversary my wife and I bound our lives together. I guess there is something quite ironic in all this. And then there’s the fact that you brought your,” He paused for a moment, “Woman into my home and flounced her around. Yes…yes, I see.” Sojiro nodded. He paused for a moment before speaking again, “What I fail to see is why you couldn’t have talked to me about this, instead of being dramatic and creating a scene.”

“I didn’t create a scene.” Touma scoffed.

“You brought your prostitute into my home-,”

“She-,”

“And broke off your engagement by humiliating my daughter. I dare say, is that not creating a scene? What do you think?” Sojiro looked to his right hand man, Kai, who stood by patiently, “Is that creating a scene?”

“I believe it is, my lord.” Kai replied darkly.

“This was the only way you would listen.” Touma spoke, his voice raised, “I’ve told you before that I didn’t want to marry Hanae, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”

“Because you are in an arranged engagement, boy. That’s the meaning of arranged. It means you don’t get to choose.

“You were in an arranged marriage, and you married someone different! How is this situation different than that?” He scoffed. Hanae looked across the room at Taka, who mirrored her inner feelings of uncertainty. Nobody spoke like that to her father. Not even her mother.

“Because,” Sojiro chuckled, “My wife was proper, education, talented, and came from a very influential family.” He said as he laid his hand upon his wife’s, “Our marriage helped tip the balance in Osaka during our war with the Watanabe clan.” He smiled warmly at his wife as she lowered her eyes shyly in response, “And, most of all, I had the blessing of our two families.” He took a moment to appreciate her before he turned his eyes back to Touma, “You, on the other hand, have chosen a random university student as a ‘girlfriend’. One who seems to lack the language skills and etiquette to survive in this family. And she’s not even Japanese.” Sojiro scoffed, “She’s not even Asian.”

“The rules of our family clearly state that I can end my engagement. As the man, I can choose whether my marriage to Hanae is what’s best for the family, and it’s not.”

“Really? And why is that?”

“Because Hanae and I would make a terrible couple. We may be friends, but that doesn’t mean we would be good marriage mates.” Touma then looked at her, “And this marriage isn’t what’s best for Hanae. She’s too traditional. My modern ways would bother her too much.” He then motioned at her, “And if you asked her, I’m sure she’d tell you that she secretly doesn’t want to marry me either. She’s only been agreeing with you because she’s too afraid to speak out.” Touma said as his voice grew, “Tell them Hanae. Do you really want a husband who’s so different than you? Who doesn’t even want to inherit the family name? I don’t want anything to do with the future they’ve planned out for me, and I know you don’t either. Tell them!”

Hanae looked forward, her eyes locked with her mother’s.

“Tell them you don’t want to marry me!” She remained silent. Touma motioned at the room as he stared holes into her, “You know it wouldn’t work. We’ve never been romantic with each other. Do you want that too? A loveless marriage? Just tell them you won’t marry me!” He said a bit more desperately. After a moment of her silence he spoke again, “You don’t even love me! Isn’t that what women want from a marriage? You know I don’t love you, and I know you don’t love me! So just tell them.”

Hanae closed her eyes.

“Tell them!”

She took a breath and exhaled as small tears made their way down her face. She clenched her jaw and willed them to stop, but they continued to pour. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. She wanted to tell Touma to shut up and be quiet, but she knew she couldn’t speak. Her throat hurt too much. And if she did speak, she knew it would be the final crack that would open the damn to her feelings, and she would be nothing but a sobbing mess.

So, she focused on her breathing. And she tried to keep what little dignity she had.

Suddenly, someone clapped very slowly. Hanae winced at the harsh sound as she opened her eyes to see her father. He lowered his hands and spoke.

“That was quite the speech. And well done. Not only have you humiliated my daughter publicly, but you have also managed to humiliate her in front of her teachers, mentors, family and parents. That is quite the feat to do in only an hour. I dare say I couldn’t demolish someone’s dignity in such a short time and to so many people. Quite impressive.”

“…We’re getting off topic.” Touma said. Another tear ran down Hanae’s face. Another tear Touma completely ignored.

“Yes, I guess we are.”

“I want Maya as my wife.” Hanae could hardly feel the punch to her stomach. The stab in her heart.

“Well, you can’t have Maya as your wife.” Sojiro said.

“Fine. Then I’ll marry Hanae, but Maya will be my mistress.” Hanae sucked in a breath. It was getting harder to breath.

“You are not allowed a mistress, Touma. The head of the clan hasn’t been allowed a mistress since the 1800’s. Its to prevent bastard children, but you would know that if you had an ounce of intelligence-,”

“You’re saying you’ve never had a mistress? I highly doubt that.” Sojiro narrowed his eyes at Touma, “I’m sure in 25 years of marriage you’ve gotten bored. There are plenty of younger women-,”

“How dare you even-,” Sojiro snarled, but his wife gently touched his arm and whispered something in his ear. He calmed, but directed a heated glare at Touma, “No. I have never been unfaithful to my wife. The fact that you question my loyalty and devotion insults me.”

“Fine, but-,”

“You can’t-,”

“Listen, I-,”

“Don’t interrupt me-,”

“All I want-,”

“You may not have a mistress, Touma!” Sojiro boomed. “And this foolishness finishes now! I have given you too many chances as it is! You shall have my daughter, or you shall be punished for your disobedience.” Sojiro narrowed his eyes, “Now, what is your choice, boy.”

There was a heavy silence as Touma and Sojiro stared at one another. Hanae felt nauseous and weak, but she had to remain where she was. She couldn’t show any more weakness. She dared to look at the girl beside her, who trembled in place. No doubt she didn’t understand the language, but she understood the body language and tone well enough.

“Well?” Sojiro barked. Touma looked to Maya, who seemed terrified, and took her hand.

“Fine. I know a solution that will work for everyone.” He looked to Sojiro, “I shall marry Maya,” He then turned to Hanae and gave a mischievous smile, “And Hanae shall be my mistress.”

Bile rose up Hanae’s throat, and she was quick to cover her mouth. She couldn’t let herself get sick-

Everything happened at once.

Someone flew down the table and suddenly Touma screamed and fell back. The others rushed to restrain Sojiro, who wielded his katana that bore Touma’s blood.

“UNHAND ME!” Sojiro roared as the elders shouted reason to him. For a second, Hanae thought she was screaming before she realized it was Maya. Hanae quickly scrambled away to see Touma. Was he dead? Did her father cut his throat?

But it seemed that Sojiro had missed on purpose, because blood flowed from Touma’s face, not his neck. And he certainly made enough noise for a living person.

“KAI!” Sojiro roared above the crowd, “I WANT HIS HEAD.”

“With PLEASURE, my lord!” Kai called out as he unsheathed his sword and ran towards Touma. Other guards blocked Touma as her uncle grabbed a hold of Kai.

“You can’t! He’s my son! You can’t-,”

SOJIRO-SAN is the head, NOT YOU.”

“I COMMAND YOU-,” Her uncle began, but Kai shoved him off.

“Your commands mean NOTHING TO ME!”

Hanae watched in wonder as people screamed and struggled. There was so much noise and chaos. And yet, she didn’t feel fear or agitation. She just felt…cold. And empty.

ENOUGH!” A feminine voice cried out. The men immediately stopped and looked back to Hanae’s mother, who stood proudly at the head of the table. “Darling, we cannot kill Touma.”

“My love-,” He began, but she held up her hand.

“Your father would roll in his grave if he knew you had killed his grandson. Kai, put your sword away.” The man reluctantly did as she said, “Though Touma deserves something far, far worse than death for what he has done to our daughter,” She said darkly, looking to the man lying on the floor, “We simply cannot kill him. We need another solution.”

 

 

“And that solution was banishment.” Jesse said after a moment of silence. Hanae nodded.

“Father wanted to banish him completely, but uncle begged that Touma be allowed to come back. So, father and the elders decided he should be banished for a year to the fishing docks. If, by then, he didn’t appreciate his role in our family, he would be permanently cut off.” Jesse raised his brows.

“So…they sent him fishing?” He asked. Hanae wanted to give a small smile, but her tale was too raw and fresh.

“He was sent to the coast to work on fishing boats to smuggle equipment and drugs. His name was changed, and no one knew he was connected to our family. Father told the men in charge that Touma was just another lost youth who wanted some quick cash. Uncle begged that Touma be given money, but he was given nothing. He worked for his money. He worked for his food.” Hanae glanced up to see Jesse listening intently. She gave a small sigh, “I didn’t hear from him for a year. He wasn’t allowed to contact me. Father was so sure he’d never come back that he began seeking out a different husband for me. But then…a year later, in the middle of the night, Touma came back.”

“He earned his way back in.” Jesse said. Hanae nodded.

“Apparently he had become a hard worker and a good strategist. Uncle brought him back to present him to the elders once more. And Touma…he was different. He was…he was driven.” Hanae looked down at her cooling tea and thought back to that night. She remembered being groggy and still half asleep when one of her maids came to tell her Touma was back. Hanae had dressed quickly and ran to the main building, hopeful and frightened at the same time as she tried to imagine what Touma would be like now. He was on his way to speak to the elders when she ran into him.

She didn’t expect an apology. She didn’t even expect much recognition. She knew he would give her one of his grins and make some stupid joke about the lack of civilization in the small fishing village. She knew he would laugh and talk about how bored he’d been.

So, when he swiftly came up to her and touched her face and grabbed her hand, he had stunned her. And his words were shockingly soft and…emotional.

 

“He told me we would be married in a month.”  She said softly. Jesse’s eyebrows shot up as he lifted his chin out of his hand.

“Really? Just like that he wanted to marry you?”

“Just like that…” She said, still stunned from the memory. Jesse was silent a moment before speaking again.

“Did you…were you happy? How…how long ago was that?” He asked, his face showing concern and something else Hanae couldn’t pinpoint.

“It was only a few months before I came here. And… I was happy for a moment…but Touma had betrayed me, I didn’t trust him. And…he had changed.” She swallowed hard, the truth hard to take in, “He…I….” She took a small breath, “I was no longer Hanae to him.” Jesse tilted his head, “He didn’t see me as a friend anymore. He saw me as Sojiro’s daughter.” The two of them fell silent as the words sunk in. Though the noise of the restaurant was loud, it seemed that their space was quiet and removed. Hanae simply stared into her tea, not knowing where to go next. Her hands grasped her tea, but by now it had gone cold, so she couldn’t absorb any comforting warmth.

Her mind flittered between memories. Of the elders accepting Touma back with open arms. Of Touma taking on more responsibilities in the family. Of her father’s growing mistrust.

Of Touma’s empty words.

She was snatched back to the present when she felt a warmth on her fingers. She blinked to see the tips of Jesse’s strong, calloused fingers touching her own. She allowed the touch for a moment before she hesitantly let go of her cup. As she moved her hand away, Jesse gently drew it into his own.

His hands were warm and rough.

And familiar.

She tried to take in the warmth. She closed her eyes and tried to let it sooth her tired soul.

“He lied to me.” She said softly, her eyes still closed as she watched the memories play in her mind, “He promised me strength and harmony. He promised me love,” Her voice cracked slightly, “But it was a lie. I knew it was all a lie.” Slowly she opened her stinging eyes, “Touma was many things. But he was never a liar.” Jesse remained silent, but his eyes told her he had so much to say. His warm hand brought her back to the present. His calloused fingers reminded her of where she was. And he looked at her with such emotion that it alarmed her. She wasn’t used to that look. That look was always given to others, but never to her.

He opened his mouth twice to speak, but each time he closed it again. Finally, he slowly reached out with his other hand and fully enclosed her hand in his own. He then brought her hand to his lips and gave her a gentle kiss. She stared at him, mesmerized by the action as he unfurled her fingers and kissed their tips. He then brought her hand away and softly messaged her muscles and skin. And then he raised his eyes to meet hers, and he gave her that look again. A look no one had ever given her. It wasn’t hunger, or pride, or cunning. It was compassionate. It was something from deep within his heart. Her heart sped up as she felt the warmth from her hand radiate throughout her body. Her chest swelled with something, she just didn’t know what. He looked down to her hand before looking up once more.

“Hanae.” And just like that, the spell was broken. She snatched her hand away, the soft, warm sensation becoming violent and hot. She held her hand as if she was burned and looked around, trying to find what danger had put her in a panic. Jesse gave a small sigh and retracted his own hands. “Darlin’,” Her attention snapped back to him as his expression changed to sad and tired, “I think it’s time we head home.”

 

A week passed. Then another. Slowly their little family got into a mangled routine. Jesse would awake and feed Genji while also getting ready for work. Then he’d wake Hanae before he left so she could care for the boy. She would spend the day with Genji- taking him to the park or the library- while also doing her own work. Jesse had put her in charge of searching for a new house. ‘Nothing fancy’ he had said, ‘But something we can live in for some time. A good investment.’ She had agreed and began her search. So far, most of the nicer homes had been out of their price range. There were some that were alright but needed renovation (which Jesse didn’t mind, but Hanae would prefer less work). In the evening, Jesse would come home and the family would cook and eat together. They’d take turns in who bathed Genji before they got him ready for bed. They would tuck him into bed in the bedroom before spending a bit of time on their own watching TV. It was…nice.

Hanae could tell Jesse was holding himself back when they watched television together. She could tell he wanted to sit closer and maybe hold her, but he kept a respectable distance and was civil. A time or two, she had allowed Jesse to put his arm behind her and sit close, but that was on a rare occasion.

Honestly, she was impressed by his willpower. Slowly, inch by inch, her respect for him grew, and so did her trust.

So, they continued their routine. By the second week, Hanae was already feeling more at ease in their small apartment. It was nice having a steady schedule. And it was nice that Jesse let her sleep in (for some reason she had been very tired and…a little sad lately).

Near the end of the second week, Jesse took her out shopping while Hana babysat Genji.

They had been standing in Sephora, looking at make up, for over half an hour. Hanae sighed in frustration as Jesse scratched his beard.

“Ok, so, we’ve got it down to a few brands-,”

“This would be easier if you gave me a budget.” Hanae hissed. He frowned at her and crossed his arms.

“Don’t start getting sassy with me, sweet pea. It ain’t my fault you don’t know how to buy make up-,”

“I know how to buy it, fool. I’m just used to buying the most expensive one.” Jesse suddenly pointed at her, his expression serious.

“Don’t call me a fool.” He warned. She frowned, looked at his finger, then back at him, “I’m serious, Hanae. If we’re gonna fall into name calling, we’re leaving. I’m being real damn patient here-,”

“I know, I know…” Hanae sighed as she rubbed her eyes, “I just- it shouldn’t be complicated, Jesse.”

“I agree.”

“So, let’s just go to the grocery store and buy the cheapest ones.” Hanae said, looking back at him, “It’s simple.”

“No, I told you, we ain’t doin’ that.” Jesse said, “We can afford to buy you decent things. You don’t have to live on $1.00 lipstick. And I heard real cheap make up ain’t healthy.” He said, tapping his open palm in emphasis, “So, we’re gonna buy something middle line-,”

“But I don’t know how to buy middle line, Jesse! I only know the highest end products or the cheapest! I don’t know-,” She stopped as she noticed a few people around them staring. She took a breath and lowered her voice, “You buy it. You pick it out. I’ll be fine with-,”

“No. I am not choosing your make up. You’re a free woman, and you should choose what makes you happy. I’m not so controlling that-,”

“I don’t care-,”

“But I do-,”

Will you just-,”

“No!”

“Fine!” She grabbed an item (she didn’t know what, and she didn’t care) and threw it into their little basket. “There! Now we can LEAVE!”

“No!” Jesse said as he tore it out of the basket and tossed it back on the shelf, “You didn’t choose it! You just grabbed it so we can get out of here! I want you to choose somethin’ you like.” Hanae suddenly got very close to him and glared into his brown eyes.

“You are infuriating, Jesse McCree.” She hissed lowly, “You waste my time.” Jesse glared back, his eyes heated and angry as he made himself stand taller. But so did she. And even though she wasn’t anywhere near his height, she knew how to be just as intimidating. She narrowed her eyes, daring him to talk back, daring him to-

Damn you’re so beautiful when you’re angry.” He sighed, happily (which, in itself was infuriating) as his eyes immediately softened. “I could just kiss you right now.” Hanae shoved him away with a growl as she turned back to the aisle.

“You’re impossible-,”

“I love how feisty you get.”

“Jesse? Jesse McCree?” Both looked to the left where, only a few feet away, a woman stood. She had beautiful tanned skin and long, black hair. She glanced at Jesse, then at Hanae as she rose her eyebrow. “I hope I am not…interrupting something.” She said with a slight accent. Jesse gave a small sigh.

“No, uh, no yur not, Ms. Vaswani.” He looked to Hanae, “Hanae, this is Satya Vaswani, a…I guess former co-worker. We’ve worked on a few houses together. Ms. Vaswani, this is my wife, Hanae.” He said as he motioned towards Hanae. The Japanese woman took a quick breath and masked her anger with a smile.

“A pleasure to you, Ms. Vaswani.” Hanae said with a bow. The woman bowed in return before walking up to them.

“The pleasure is mine.” She said to Hanae before turning to Jesse, “What brings you here? I never thought I’d find you in such a nice store.” She said. Jesse gave her a bit of a weird look as Hanae tried to determine if the woman was being sarcastic or not. When she didn’t say anything more, Jesse spoke.

“Uh, we’re here buying Hanae make up. She doesn’t- hey- oh!” Jesse grabbed Ms. Vaswani’s shoulder (and she immediately shoved him off). “Could you help us?! Could you help Hanae? We don’t know what we’re doing-,”

“We don’t need help.” Hanae said quickly, but Jesse ignored her.

“See, she’s not used to buying mediocre make up and-,” He was interrupted by Hanae’s elbow slamming into his stomach. He coughed as Hanae took over.

“What my husband means is, I am not used to these…western brands, and I’m having trouble determining which is the best to buy for its price.”

“I see.” Satya nodded as she looked at the make up beside Hanae, “Yes, I had that problem when I moved here. It was difficult finding the Indian brands I was so used to and switching make up is never easy.”

“Thank you.” Hanae stressed as she sent a look at Jesse. He merely shrugged.

“Well, could you help her- us- could you help us out?” He asked. Satya looked at her watch before looking back at them.

“Yes. I have time. I can help you.” She said as she looked around. “But, first things first, what is your budget?” She asked Hanae. Hanae crossed her arms.

“We don’t have one.”

“What? What do you mean you don’t have one. One must always have a budget for such things.” Satya said (as if she were personally offended). Hanae widened her eyes as she uncrossed her arms.

“Yes- Yes! That’s what I said!” Hanae nodded, “But he won’t listen!”

“Honestly, Jesse,” Satya said with disapproval, “One must make a budget when shopping. It’s only proper.”

“Ok, ok.” Jesse said as he held up his hands in surrender, “Fine. You win. The budget is…uh…$15-,”

“$15?! What! Do you expect her to fish it out of the DUMPSTER?!” Satya gasped as she held her heart. Jesse rolled his eyes.

“Fine! $150-,”

“$150?! Are you MAD?! We’re not buying GOLD, Jesse McCree!” Satya gasped louder. “What is wrong with you?!”

“Dear lord…” Jesse groaned as he ran his hand down his face. He then gave a loud sigh, pulled out his wallet, grabbed his visa card, and shoved it at Hanae. “Take it. Figure out a budget. I don’t care.”

“But Jesse-,” Hanae said as she fumbled for the card.

You know the finances. You know what we can spend towards this. I’m going to the outdoors shop to look at fishing equipment. I’m going to talk to the old man there about camping for an hour and forget all about this.” He immediately began to walk away, “And don’t forget to buy shampoo and bathroom stuff!” He hollered behind him as he walked away.

“Jesse!” Hanae called out. But it was too late. He already walked out the door and ran out of sight. She sighed and looked to Satya.

“I…apologize-,”

“It’s fine.” Satya said as she waved the problem away, “He would only get in the way. Now, let’s talk about what is truly important.” She turned back to the aisle that displayed mascara, and below it, facial cream. “First. What do you use to wash your face?”

“Well,” Hanae said as she put Jesse’s card in her back pocket. “I used to have a long skin routine but…now I just use soap.” Satya laughed lightly as she looked to Hanae. Hanae did not laugh. Satya stopped laughing.

“…Oh, you poor woman.” She said as she reached out to pat Hanae’s shoulder, then decided last second to not do so and retracted her hand, “I will help you.” She said, with determination in her eyes.

And help her she did.

When they left the beauty store, they had all the items Hanae deemed necessary. Though, they didn’t have as much as Hanae would have bought back in Japan, but she did have what she wanted. And after that they bought some bathroom products as well as a few other beauty items from the drug store.

 

 

She and Ms. Vaswani spent some time talking after that. They wandered the mall as they got better acquainted with one another. Satya was an architect and interior designer and had worked with Jesse on a number of projects. She happily showed pictures of her work as she talked about the process of picking the right wood flooring and such. Hanae was impressed. The woman had fine taste. They were discussing the kind of house Hanae wanted to buy when they ran into Jesse.

“Oh, hey. You ladies done?”

“We’ve been done for a while.” Hanae said before motioning towards the small bag in his hand. “Did you get something?”

“What, this? Oh, I just wanted to get some different fishing lures for when Genji and I go fishing this summer.” He grinned, “Does Genji know how to fish?” Hanae thought for a moment.

“I…don’t know.”

“Well, he’s gonna’ learn. It’ll be a good bonding experience.”

“Jesse, I don’t think you have to worry about bonding with Genji. You’re already very close.”

“Well, still…” His voice trailed off. The three stared at one another before Jesse cleared his throat. “Well, do you need anything else while we’re here?”

“I don’t think so…”

“What about here.” Satya said as she motioned to a store beside them. Hanae looked over. It was a woman’s store specializing in sleepwear and…other womanly garments. Hanae thought for a moment. The last time she bought such a thing was a while ago, and it had been the cheapest thing she could find. She nodded quickly.

“Yes, I think that would be-,” She turned back to Satya and Jesse, took one look at Jesse’s expression and-, “No.”

“But- I didn’t even say anything!” Jesse said. Hanae glared at him.

“I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no.”

“But-,”

“No.”

“I just-,”

No.” She said firmly. Jesse gave a deep sigh, quickly giving up on the losing battle.

“Ok, ok, fine. I’ll just…wait out here.” He mumbled. He sulked over to the bench, but brightened for a moment when Hanae came over-

And gave him her shopping bags.

He sighed again as he took her bags and sat down on the bench. He gave her a sullen expression as she nodded to him, then left with Satya to go in the store.

Time passed, Jesse played on his phone, and eventually the women came back. Jesse looked up as they approached him and looked at the nice little shopping bag in Hanae’s hands. He looked at it, then looked up at her.

“Can I at least look in the bag?” He sighed.

“Absolutely not.”

“Fine.” He said as he got up slowly. Hanae turned to Satya.

“Thank you for all your help today. I very much appreciate it.”

“It was no trouble.” Satya said, waving her off. There was a moment of silence before they both spoke at the same time.

“I hope you find a house-,”

“Good luck with your job-,” They both stopped talking and looked at one another awkwardly.

 

Jesse stared at them and waited. And waited. It was almost painful watching them say goodbye. He could tell they wanted to say more, to spend more time together, but they didn’t know how to go about it. Jesse sighed inwardly. He and Satya hadn’t…always seen eye to eye. She was a bit too…on point and judgmental for his taste. But she seemed to get along well with Hanae, and it was would be nice if Hanae had friends who weren’t just his friends…

He ground his teeth for a moment.

The things I do for this woman.

“Hey,” Jesse began in a happy voice as he came up beside Hanae, “Hanae and I are looking for a new house, and we’d love to have another opinion on what place to get.” He said, even though he did NOT want another opinion, “How about you two exchange phone numbers and get in touch?” He brightened his smile, “You could even go see houses together when I’m too busy to go.”

The two women immediately brightened.

“Yes, that would be lovely.” Satya said with a smile, “I’d love to teach you about the different architecture of this area- and we could talk about decorating together.”

“Yes! That…would be very nice.” Hanae said with a smile.

Lord help me. Jesse thought.

“Great! It’s decided then.” Jesse said as he physically nudged Hanae towards Satya. The two chittered and chattered as they exchanged phone numbers and information. By the end, both woman wore a large smile as they went their separate ways. As Hanae and Jesse walked, and Hanae talked all about her new friend, Jesse forced himself to smile.

To be honest, he didn’t like sharing Hanae. He wanted to keep her attention to himself. But he also knew he had to let go, in a sense. He wasn’t the same controlling, jealous boy he used to be. He had changed.

Or…he hoped.

 

A couple of days later, Jesse told Hanae he had a surprise for her and Genji. Hanae was intrigued, especially when he said they had to go in the car to see it. She asked where they were going multiple times, but he just smiled at her and reminded her it was a secret. It was only when they were pulling into the parking lot that she began to understand.

“A Japanese garden?” She asked as she stepped out of the car. It was a surprisingly warm day for winter and the sun was high in the sky. She looked out to the grand gateway that was constructed in a traditional Japanese fashion. Based on the bamboo used for the fence and the archway, it seemed to certainly seem like a garden she would see back home.

“Somethin’ like that.” Jesse said as he helped Genji out of his child seat. Hanae peered through the gate at the traditional buildings in the near distance. She had heard there was a small Japanese garden in the city. She wanted to bring Genji on a number of occasions, but she had always been too busy (and too broke) to go. She walked closer to the fence to get a better look when Jesse called to her.

“Come on, we can go inside.” Hanae followed Jesse and Genji as they moved for the gate.

“It is a nice day today, but we can’t stay out for too long.”

“I know. So I thought we could also check out inside.” He motioned towards one of the closer buildings. “This is the Japanese cultural centre. I heard they have a small museum and different culture classes. Figured you might want to check it out and, you know…” He shrugged, “Maybe sign Genji up for a class or somethin’.” He said almost shyly. A warm smile spread across Hanae’s face. She had been worrying about Genji losing his heritage while in America, but she had never expressed it especially to Jesse.

But somehow he caught on.

“I’d like that Jesse.” She said softly. He looked to her and smiled back.

“Yeah, I figured you might.” He said with a soft smile. A part of Hanae fluttered- or, was it anxiety? Something flickered in her. It was weird, but also kind of warm. It wasn’t…it wasn’t a bad feeling. Just kind of funny and different. She felt warm- a warmness towards Jesse, of all things. As they walked side by side, she glanced down at his hand and she had the oddest feeling. She had some sort of pull- and urge to touch his hand. Just to let him know she appreciated his gesture. That she was…proud of him in a way.

With a slow movement, she tentatively reached out and brushed her gloved fingers against his bare hand. Immediately Jesse looked to her, and the smile that broke out onto his face could rival the sun. He was beaming and bright.

And blinding.

She instinctively jerked her hand away, but it was too late. In one quick motion he snatched her hand and held it in his own. She gave him a slight frown.

“You started it. Now you gotta’ live with it.” He said happily. She gave him a half hearted huff as they walked closer to the building. Normally she would have yanked her hand away. But…Jesse’s hand wasn’t so bad.

For now.

 

When they got inside, Hanae moved to the small information desk to the left. She tugged at her hand, but then noticed that Jesse was still hanging on.

“Jesse…I need my hand.”

“But…I kind of like holdin’ yur hand.” He pouted. She huffed and pulled again.

“Jesse.” She said simply.

“Can we hold hands again later?” He asked. She looked at him, then their intwined hands, then him again.

“…Maybe.” She said after a long moment. Jesse shrugged.

“Probably the best answer I’m gonna’ get.” He said as he let her hand go. Hanae ignored him as she went to ask about the facility. The hallway to the left lead to a small museum of different Japanese artifacts and artwork while the hallway at the front led to different activity rooms (such as a small dojo and other rooms where clubs and classes were held). And to the far left was the hallway leading to the offices. The three made their way into the small museum, which was more like another hallway with different side rooms.

“Jesse! Jesse, look!” Genji bounced as he pointed into one room. Jesse tried to see what Genji was pointing at as the boy hopped around, but Hanae immediately tuned them out. Something in the opposite room caught her eye. Genji quickly led Jesse away, and instead of following them, Hanae walked towards the object that held her eye.

It was a koto.

 A very fine koto.

Hanae stared at the koto that sat to the side of the room. It had an elegant design and was obviously kept in good condition. She smiled as she came up to it. She could tell it was an instrument that had played recently, based on the strings and slight marks on it. It wasn’t an antique to be kept behind glass, it was something to be played and enjoyed. She looked on in envy at the instrument. Not too long ago she had been playing on her koto back home. How she missed playing that instrument. It was beautiful and made specially for her. Her heart ached as she thought of her mother’s koto. Hanae had been promised to inherit it when her mother passed. Now, she would never see it again. A Koto that had been passed down through her mother’s family, now gone. Sold, or worse destroyed. She gave a small sigh. Oh, how she missed playing.

“Do you play?” Her head shot up as she looked over to an older woman in traditional clothing. It took Hanae a moment to register the comment before she spoke.

“Yes.” The woman smiled.

“A woman who worked here used to play. But she’s moved on now.” The old woman nodded to the instrument, “You can play if you want.”

“Oh, no! No, I couldn’t.”

“Please. It would make me happy to hear that instrument again.” Hanae shook her head.

“No, I couldn’t possibly-,”

“Please, I miss the music from it. It’s something that’s meant to be played.”

“I-,”

“Please.” Hanae stopped arguing and looked down to the instrument. She waited a moment before speaking again.

“If…it isn’t too much trouble-,”

“No trouble at all! I’d love to hear the koto again. My grandmother used to play. And it’s nice to have music while I clean.” The woman said with a toothy grin. Hanae smiled back and nodded.

“Alright…thank you.” She said with a bow. The other woman bowed in return before turning back to the shelves, a small duster in hand.

Hanae took the seat behind the koto and quickly found the finger picks sitting at the side. She put them on before hovering her hands above the board. What would she play? Well, the first thing to do was to warm up. She gently touched and plucked the strings as she went through her routine of basic notes. She could play this part in her sleep. The simple, familiar notes sounded as she closed her eyes. After a moment, she settled her hands, took a breath, and allowed her fingers to move. The familiar melody of Sakura Sakura began to play as she moved her fingers across the board.

Her father had always loved this song. He always asked Hanae’s mother to play, and once Hanae had become skilled enough, he asked her as well. It was something special she had with her father. Though he could be cold and calculating, he was also warm. And she always saw that when she played for him. When Hanae played, he always came by to request she play his favourite song. And he would sit by the window, no matter the season, and stare out at the garden. And he would close his eyes and think whatever thoughts a man of such responsibility had. And when it was over, he would rise, give her nose a small pinch, and leave. When he stepped through those doors, he became his cold self again.

But when she played, his heart softened.

It was how her mother had won her father’s love. And it was how Hanae was given her father’s love. And secretly, when Hanae played and her father sat by the window, Hanae would imagine Touma where her father sat. And she’d imagine him looking out thoughtfully to the garden.

And she’d imagine him rising at the end of her song. But instead of a playful pinch, he’d give her a sweet, gentle kiss. And then, when he left, he would become the man he had to be. Hard. Cold. Strong.

But in that room, alone with her and the koto, he would be gentle and soft and warm.

“It’s beautiful.” She heard a deep voice say. Hanae opened her eyes and continued to play.

“Thank you. It’s my father’s favourite song.” She said, her fingers plucking the strings. Jesse smiled.

“I never knew you played an instrument.” He said. Hanae smiled.

“It never came up.” She shrugged. Jesse listened a little longer before speaking again.

“How did you learn to play?”

“My mother taught me, along with other teachers.” The music danced around the room as she spoke, “My mother loves…loved to play.” Her smile turned slightly mournful before she brightened up again, “It was how my parents met.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” Her smile grew as she thought of her father’s favourite story, “My father was visiting a theater when he heard music being played. He found my mother, but she ran away before he could learn anything about her.” Hanae’s smile beamed as she thought of her parents. “My father searched everywhere for her, until one day he heard her playing. My father raced to the house, and he demanded he meet the woman playing.” She chuckled, “My grandfather was shocked, but after persuasion, he allowed my father to court my mother.” She thought of her father retelling the story over and over. Of his deep rooted love. And of her mother’s presence. Her mother’s support.

Her mother’s cunningness hidden behind her shy smile.

Her mother’s love, a lie, a sham.

Hanae’s eyes burned.

“She always said her koto stole his love. That when he heard her song, he would be entranced and come to her.” Her throat tightened as she let out a shaky breath, “And I…I always thought my song would lead Touma to me…but,” She chuckled and shrugged, “He never came.”

“Well, I hear you loud and clear.” Hanae’s head shot up and her fingers stopped. The music hung in the air as she tried to make sense of him. What did he mean? Or did he-

Suddenly he was right in front of her. And suddenly his warm hands were on her face as he leaned down, his breath tickling her skin as his lips-

“JESSE!” Genji hollered. And as suddenly as he came, he was gone. Hanae only had to blink, and suddenly Jesse was walking to the other end of the room where Genji beckoned him. Hanae blinked a few more times. What just happened? What did he do? Did he just kiss her? Or- was he going to kiss her? She brought her fingers to her lips. They tingled, but she didn’t think from actual contact. Maybe because he had come so close. Heat blazed off her face and neck as she quickly looked around. Had anyone noticed?

The older woman from before had her back to Hanae and continued to dust the shelves. Did she see? No, she didn’t see, her back was turned.

Hanae continued to touch her lips as her heart pounded in her chest. He had almost kissed her. Surly that went against his agreement to keep away from her. So, she should be mad…right? But she didn’t feel mad. She didn’t really know what she felt. Was she…happy? Did she…

Did she want him to kiss her?

Her face, which she didn’t think could possibly become hotter, blazed like the August sun. She quickly stood and removed her fingers from her lips. No, no she didn’t want Jesse to kiss her. That was silly. She wasn’t there yet. She didn’t know if she would ever be there. She had resigned herself to a loveless marriage. She took a few deep breaths and calmed. No…she was just confused, that’s all. All the talk of Touma and love had made her yern for something she didn’t really need or want. She let out a small sigh of relief as she looked over to the older woman. In that moment, the woman turned around to look at Hanae. Hanae gave her a small smile, which the older woman returned. The older woman than came up to her.

“You play beautifully, dear.”

“Thank you.”

“And your husband is a fine piece of work. Those muscles,” The woman fanned herself, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you already have a baby on the way.” She then gave a large toothy smile before laughing and merrily walking off.

Meanwhile, Hanae slapped her face into her hands to hide her embarrassment.