“We should be nearing the town soon, Sir.” The soldier looked and sounded tired, slumped over in the saddle. It was a look the rest of the entourage shared--Hanzo’s punishing pace for the past week and a half had taken its toll on all of them. They understood the stakes though. “Do you want us to keep going or stop for the night?”
Hanzo looked at the encroaching twilight on the horizon. “Let’s keep going. I wish for a proper bed tonight.”
The nearby soldiers gave half-hearted cheers. Inns were in short supply on the route they had taken, and campsites hadn’t always been in the most comfortable of locations.
Underneath him Hanzo’s mare shifted restlessly, sensing the change in everyone’s mood. He soothed her with a few pats then urged her into a trot.
There was more than one sigh of relief when the small village appeared over the crest of a hill. They had been following farmland for the past several miles, and more than a few of his entourage had snatched some of the more edible --and available-- crops along the way. Judging by the state of the road Hanzo figured they rarely had travelers, which allowed them to be more confident when planting fruit trees along what seemed to be the only street in and out of town.
During his research into the area Hanzo found very little. The reports, being a decade old, had only mentioned that they did very little in exports. Most of the produce seemed to go back into the community; it failed to mention the fruit trees, and the farmlands had certainly expanded since. He shuddered at the thought of how much work would go into a proper census.
Still, there was a certain charm to the little cluster of buildings, nestled between rolling green hills and a plethora of the aforementioned fruit trees. Greenhill had been negligible on paper, so it was nice to see that even though the trip was important, Hanzo wasn’t walking into a dusty, tumbleweed infested ghost town.
“Form a perimeter,” Hanzo said. “We’ll be here for a few days, at most.”
A few people played rock-paper-scissors to determine who would be first watch, and who would get first dibs on a proper bath. A few grumbles and good natured taunts later, half the group split away to set up their temporary camps, and Hanzo continued with the remaining four.
A faint tune grew louder as they approached, which turned into a merry, fast paced song that spilled out of the open doors of the only inn. The raucous laughter that accompanied it indicated that despite the sleepy appearance of Greenhill, it was anything but.
“Won’t be happy if we kick them out,” a soldier observed.
Hanzo bit back a sigh. “No choice in the matter. If word gets around, we put everything at risk. I’d rather risk the wrath of a few farmers than those of the Regent and Ana.”
The man grunted in agreement, then everyone swung off their horses. One led the horses off to the stables, the other three heading into the inn followed by Hanzo.
At first no one seemed to notice them, lost in their conversation and poker games. Then, like a wave, a hush fell over the villagers, leaving everyone staring in nervous fear.
Hanzo barely noticed, for his entire attention was on the man behind the bar.
He was exactly like the reports said. Tall, wild brown hair and tanned skin, brown eyes, an unfortunate broken nose. Hanzo grimaced as he noticed the most important thing: the unfortunate metal left arm, the skull decal grinning mockingly at him. The man didn’t notice, his eyes looking over Hanzo and his entourage sharply. They gleamed at him from under the brim of his ridiculous hat. “Welcome to our humble inn,” he drawled, seemingly unconcerned by his visitors. “What’ll you be having?”
The words snapped the soldiers to attention, and they quickly began herding people out. The man watched them with sharp eyes, quietly cleaning his bar and murmuring to the serving girls. They looked nervous as they flitted around and gathered tankards and plates, but soon enough they had taken all the dirty dishes to the back to be washed.
Two soldiers took guard by the door while the others went to secure the other exits. Hanzo strode to the bar as soon as he received the all clear.
“Jesse McCree, I presume?” Hanzo asked.
The man nodded cautiously. “Speaking.”
“You received our letter?”
“Yes.” His expression didn’t change.
Hanzo frowned. “Well then, we have some work. You certainly look the part, and we can wave the nose away as an unfortunate accident.”
McCree frowned. “Hey now--”
Hanzo interrupted him, looking him up and down critically. “Your complexion is, thankfully, close enough that we only need a little makeup to cover the blemishes. Your eye color is wrong, but the ambassadors won’t recognize that detail. I’ll also have to hire a language tutor-- your accent is atrocious. We’ll have to do something about your clothes and, of course, the arm.” McCree clutched it to his chest with a wounded look. “I’m sure Ms. Vaswani will be able to come up with something to disguise it.”
Affront turned to indignation. “There’s nothing wrong with my arm!”
“Other than the fact that it is a prosthetic?” Hanzo retorted. McCree opened his mouth to argue, but Hanzo cut him off. “Regardless, with some dedication and hard work-- a lot of hard work-- we can make this work.”
“Make what work?” McCree finally asked, annoyed. “You come into my Inn, scare off all my customers, and make senseless demands without giving me the courtesy to know what’s up other than a letter of your impending arrival?”
Hanzo crossed his arms. “The Crown Prince has disappeared. You are an almost exact copy of him, so you will be taking his place.”
McCree stared at him, brown eyes unblinking. Hanzo stared just as intently back.
McCree burst out laughing.
“You want to make me into a Prince?” The laughter grew in volume, tears pricking in his eyes. “Rub shoulders with royalty, pretend I’m rich and snobby--” He was giggling too much to speak.
“I’m not going to make you into a Prince, Mister McCree.” Hanzo sighed. “I’m going to make you into an idiot.”
Hanzo tries to convince McCree to go along with his plan
It was common knowledge throughout the kingdom that the Crown Prince was as dumb as a box of rocks.
When Hanzo had been chosen as his retainer, he had been delighted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He had been raised to advise, care for, and manage the future King’s schedule and life, and the day he met his charge should have been one of the best moments of his life.
Instead, he had been greeted by a kid a year his junior who, upon seeing the stuffed wolf Hanzo presented, screamed, “Is that a deer?”
Hanzo had looked at the wolf in confusion, looked at the Prince, then looked at his father.
“Good luck, Son,” Sojiro had sighed.
Hanzo had promptly dubbed it his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Now twenty-five, he had grown immune to the Prince’s chronic idiocy. No one knew where it came from-- the Regent, Reinhardt Wilhelm who was a cousin three times removed on the Queen’s side, had merely shook his head when Hanzo inquired.
Genji, once-page to Knight Commander Morrison, had been privy to every one of Hanzo’s complaints growing up. Now a fully-fledged knight, he had even more time to listen to Hanzo complain. Or torment him.
“How many new grey hairs today?” Genji had called from across the practice yard.
There had been a crash and a cat’s angry howl from the storage shed. “I’m okay!” the Prince had called out.
Hanzo had given his brother a sour look. “At least three.”
The Prince had emerged with a practice sword and a pleased expression. Hanzo’d eyed the heavily blunted edges and wondered if they would need another trip to the hospital this week.
Thankfully a guard had rushed over before the Prince could start his weekly sword practice. “Your highness! You are needed by the Reagent immediately! It is urgent!”
The Prince had looked at Hanzo, who gave a quiet prayer of thanks and waved him on. If he was lucky he could have a few hours with a cup of tea and a book.
In hindsight, he should have known that he was cursed when he was able to go to sleep early. A pounding at his door just before dawn had awoken him, and he’d opened it to see a terrified maid.
“The crown Prince has gone missing, Sir.”
By the end of the day, Hanzo had exhausted his extensive and heretofore secret repertoire of swear words.
When Hanzo came downstairs the next day, McCree was already behind the counter doing an inventory on his liquors. “Breakfast’ll be ready in ten,” he said but otherwise didn’t acknowledge Hanzo.
He hesitated slightly before stopping in front of the bar. “You’re up early.”
“Need to be when there’s guests. Otherwise I’m sleeping in till two.”
It made sense, Hanzo supposed. With his patrons being farmers, they wouldn’t arrive until after sunset. A nocturnal lifestyle was necessary.
Yet another thing that he needed to work on, he assumed. McCree hadn’t actually responded to his proposition yet.
“So,” McCree finally said as Hanzo physically restrained himself from bothering the man. “The Prince has gone missing, eh?”
“Not so loud,” Hanzo hissed. McCree merely raised an eyebrow and gestured vaguely at the empty room; Hanzo scowled. “But yes. Normally we wouldn’t be as worried, as he has... Ah... wandered off before. But there is a trade agreement on the line that we need him for, and if we don’t have a Prince at the end of six months…”
“You miss out on valuable imports of metals and other raw materials that we need,” McCree finished. At Hanzo’s astonished look he chuckled. “What, don’t think my backwater village knows what’s going on? Farmers are horrible gossips; the weekly market’s real currency is news from other villages. It didn’t take long for word from the capital to make its way here. We may not have those fancy comm devices you capital folk have, but we still know what’s going on.”
“Not even a radio?” Hanzo asked, perturbed.
“Mostly just use it for music,” he replied, and Hanzo remembered the tune from last night.
There was an awkward silence before McCree finally sighed and leaned into the countertop. “Listen, I’ll be honest. I wanted to throw you out and declare I want nothing to do with politics. Ain’t my thing, you know?” He looked at Hanzo, his eyes glittering. “But I realized that I was being selfish. I love this inn, I love my village, but I’m bored here. A trip to the capital, meeting new people, getting paid to act stupid? I’ll never forgive myself if I turn down the adventure I’ve always wanted.”
Hanzo was amused despite himself. “I imagine nothing particularly exciting happens here.”
McCree grinned. “Oh, we have the occasional squabble. John stole my rooster, Henry’s been infringing on my property, Barbs stole the recipe to my grandmother’s shepherd's pie. Usually have to play judge and jury on those episodes, since this is the only place people gather. Used to have a church, but the pastor went mad and burnt the place down. People ‘round here are convinced the land is cursed, so they never did rebuild.”
“So you have three jobs in one,” Hanzo replied.
McCree shrugged. “Someone’s gotta do it. Used to be my dad, when he was still calling himself a knight and the de facto mayor. Ever since he retired, though, and decided to travel the world, I’ve pretty much become the sole voice of reason ‘round here.”
Hanzo tilted his head. “Your father is a knight?”
“Used to be. Doesn’t talk much about which king he served before he left. Taught me how to use a sword and gun, though, and thanks to him I can handle the worst of the drunkards.”
“You continue to impress.” Hanzo’s eyes lingered on McCree’s arms-- they certainly looked strong.
“Thought you were looking for an idiot, not a swordsman.” McCree smirked.
They were interrupted when the door leading to the kitchen opened, and one of the serving girls poked her head out. “Jesse, your tortillas are burning.”
The innkeeper swore and rushed into the kitchen. Hanzo blinked at his abrupt departure.
A second later McCree raced back into the dining room. “Breakfast will still be on time, don’t worry. Just sit with your friends over there and I’ll bring it right out.”
Hanzo was about to ask him what he meant when McCree vanished once more. Hanzo turned, startled to see half of his escorts sitting at one of the tables.
Bayless raised his coffee cup. “Morning, boss.”
“How long have you been up?” Hanzo asked, walking over and trying to suppress his embarrassment.
“Came down a few minutes after you,” Kimiko answered. “Captain came by and woke us up, said we needed to eat before rotation.”
“We’ll be lucky to finish since you were flirting and distracting the cook,” Sarioglu added dryly.
Hanzo bristled, wondering how on earth he had missed all that. “I was not--”
The door to the kitchen banged open and McCree emerged, wheeling a large cart covered with food. “Figured you lot could afford the royal treatment,” he called out. “Eat up, there’s more where this came from.”
The soldiers swarmed the table, coming back with plates heaping with pancakes, eggs, and other unidentifiable items. Hanzo approached more cautiously, hoping against hope that there’d be rice.
McCree eyed him. “I have one question for you.”
“What is it?”
“How soon do I start?”
McCree shrugged. “Said I wanted the adventure, didn’t I? At the least it’ll make a good story.”
Hanzo looked at the food, spying the small bowl he needed. “Cook like this for me every day and we can get started immediately.”
“Ingredients may vary,” McCree said warmly. “But deal.”
They shook on it, and Hanzo couldn’t help but match McCree’s excited grin.
Jesse's tutelage begin and he learns an important lesson.
Hanzo falls harder.
On the way back to the palace, the guards were more than happy to share stories of the Prince’s strange behavior. McCree ate it up, asking questions, attempting to mime out some of the more outlandish stories. They failed spectacularly- McCree couldn’t wrap his head around how anyone could ignore common sense so blatantly.
Hanzo took notes on McCree’s behaviour and, just like everyone else, was effortlessly charmed by the man’s good humor and appeal. It was hard not to be; he was polite, and helpful, and always ready with a quip or a joke. Only Hanzo seemed to notice that McCree didn’t talk about himself and changed the subject if his past was brought up. Not entirely concerning, but it meant that McCree was smarter than he let on. The ability to naturally redirect conversations wasn’t easy, and the man made it seem as natural as breathing. Hanzo made a note to watch him closer, a fact he wasn’t too terribly upset about.
It had taken two extra days to get on the road back to the capital. McCree was adamant about ensuring that his inn was looked after, and ended up leaving it in the hands of his head serving girl. “It’ll be a good dowry if nothing else,” McCree had commented. He also left something for his father, packed his bags, and told his loyal patrons the news: “Got some inheritance from a distant relative, need me in the capital to get it squared away.” They were sad to see him go but excited for him, and after saddling up his horse he joined them on the road.
The horse was an old nag named Dandelion who was used to pulling carts and not long-distance travel, so they took more breaks than Hanzo wanted and went at a slower pace when they were travelling. Hanzo didn’t hold it against him, although he was antsy to get back home and start McCree’s formal education.
True to his word, though, McCree helped cook dinner every night, oftentimes using ingredients found around them that Hanzo would have never looked twice at. They were simple but hardy, better than the jerky and cheeses they normally survived on and twice as filling. The Captain joked that they would gain at least five pounds by the time they returned, and Hanzo secretly agreed.
Despite his popularity with the soldiers, though, McCree stayed near Hanzo and listened to what he had to say. It was a relief-- most of his life had been spent putting out metaphorical fires and being ignored, so to have someone’s undivided attention stroked his dormant ego more than he wanted to admit.
“So,” McCree asked one night, about six days into the trip. Most of the soldiers had gone to bed, the few who remained awake scrubbing plates or squatting behind bushes. Per Hanzo’s request, they had already started calling McCree ‘Your Highness’ and ‘My liege’, not only to get McCree acclimatized to the greeting, but also to get them into the habit so that they didn’t slip once at the castle. McCree still looked uncomfortable with the greetings, but was at least regularly responding to them now. “What all will be expected of me when we reach the capital?”
Hanzo shrugged. “Honestly, until the delegation arrives, not much. The royal wing is restricted to all but the most loyal or discreet staff, so your situation is restricted knowledge. Most of your day will be spent in training: dancing, etiquette, and the like. The crown Prince may be dumber than a brick, but even he knows things that he has been trained in since birth. He’s actually quite talented on the dancefloor.”
“Not much for dancing unless it’s the simple kind,” McCree hummed.
Hanzo scoffed. “I’ve seen what you consider dancing Mister McCree, and that’s just stomping and twirling. But,” he held up a hand as McCree started to protest, “We’ll probably stick to the waltz. Once you learn the steps, it is quite simple.”
“Simple,” McCree said dubiously, but obligingly held his hands up when prompted.
It became clear very quickly that McCree had the spatial and bodily awareness to be a good dance partner, and the agility needed for more nuanced dances as a result of his professed weapons training, but he lacked the knowledge of social dancing. He picked the moves up quickly but was clearly counting his steps.
“The good thing is that you don’t have to put too much effort into the conversation,” Hanzo said once McCree gave up after stumbling one too many times. “Just prattle on about a random object-- say, a flower-- for a few minutes. Your partner will be more concerned with making a good impression and will agree with anything you say.”
“So I could say the sky was lovely shade of yellow?”
Hanzo let out a surprised laugh. “Yes, and no one would think twice about it.”
“How idiotic is the Prince, really?” McCree asked.
Hanzo sighed. “Words cannot do him justice. He is extremely gullible, cannot be trusted with sharp objects, and never remembers the difference between right and left. He’s left handed, by the way.”
“Good.” That was another weight off Hanzo’s mind. “One time, while playing with one of the castle’s cats, he got his head stuck trying to follow it through the iron bars of the gate.”
“Yes. He thought he could crawl through the bars like the cat. He was eighteen at the time.”
McCree winced. “I have my work cut out for me, huh?”
Hanzo took a moment to consider. “It won’t be easy,” he admitted. “Even though he isn’t the brightest person, he puts people at ease. His enthusiasm and earnestness are genuine, and whatever he says, you know it’s the truth. He doesn’t have the capacity for deception. Regent Reinhardt may rule the country, but everyone knows his heart belongs back in Germany and that as soon as the Prince accepts the crown, he will leave.”
He only had six years left. Kings traditionally took the crown at age thirty, though they were usually married with kids by then. Hanzo had been searching for potential spouses, but with the Prince’s current unfortunate situation and the relatively low-level interest in the kingdom…
Perhaps it was a good thing, in the long run. McCree might be able to fool dignitaries with enough practice, but never a spouse or a betrothed.
“Should be fun, at least,” McCree said cheerily before he bedded down for the night. “Never thought I’d get to be paid for being stupid!”
Hanzo sighed. Maybe the two had more in common than he first thought.
Eventually, Hanzo gave in to the insistent need to ensure that McCree was prepared for his role. Officially, his training was to be conducted at the castle, to make sure that all parties were comfortable with what was expected of them. But Hanzo couldn’t help but worry, and with all the ways that this scheme could end up horribly wrong, he started McCree’s education a little over a week into their travel.
“We’ll start with the basics,” Hanzo said as their horses walked side-by-side on the road. “Proper titles for the various nobility.”
“How many are there?” McCree asked.
“Several. And since there will be foreign dignitaries, you’ll have to know those as well.”
McCree was attentive, listening as Hanzo spoke and asking relevant and insightful questions. Hanzo couldn’t help but be delighted with the attention.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like his job. Hanzo loved challenges, and looking after the crown Prince was the greatest challenge he could have been given. It was just that he also wanted acknowledgement that he was good at his job and that he wasn’t just a babysitter, that he knew what he was doing when it came to ensuring the future of not only the Prince, but the kingdom as well.
After all, the Shimadas had been the retainers to the royal line since the beginning. To fail at his job would let down not only the kingdom, but the generations of family before him.
They stopped for lunch eventually to give the horses a break and to stretch their legs, a few of the guards continuing a card game that they had started last night. McCree took his customary seat next to Hanzo, picking at his meal.
“We’ll be arriving in another week right?” McCree asked.
“If all goes to plan, yes,” Hanzo replied. “I plan on arriving early in the morning to avoid attention, but we might have to wait until nightfall. I wish we could take the main roads, but--”
“You don’t want to draw any extra attention, I know,” McCree continued. “But… can I ask a favor?”
“Of course, Mister McCree, ” Hanzo said, surprised. “Anything.”
“Can you just call me Jesse?” Hanzo must have had an odd look on his face, because McCree hunched in on himself with a hesitant smile. “Pretty soon I’ll have people treating me like someone I’m not. I’m going to have to pretend to be someone important, and if I mess up, I could put the entire kingdom at risk. I…” He waved his hands, a frustrated look on his face. “I haven’t even really started yet and already I’m worried I’m going to mess up. So just… can you call me Jesse? At least until we get to the castle.”
Hanzo was surprised by his question, but at the same time… he understood. “Of course,” he said. “It is the least I can do.”
McCree-- Jesse-- relaxed considerably and gave a warm grin that made Hanzo fight back a shudder. “Thanks. It’s probably stupid, but-”
“Jesse.” Hanzo placed a hand on his shoulder. Underneath his palm, muscle shifted pleasantly. “It is nothing. We are both risking… well, everything, to pull this off. If this makes it easier on you, then I will do it.”
“Thanks, Hanzo.” Jesse’s grin softened. “So. What will we learn today?”
They were a day away from the castle when the first hiccup happened.
This close to the castle, it was hard to avoid detection. They could travel at night, but it was suspicious, and the last thing they needed was unwanted attention.
Dressed in borrowed, ill-fitting clothes from the Prince’s wardrobe, Jesse was already on edge, fidgeting and avoiding eye contact with the people on the road. Even his horse was getting fed up with him, shying away from sudden movements and prancing in alarm every time Jesse twitched. Hanzo kept sending him sharp glances, which calmed him for only a short while before the twitching started once more.
Hanzo had begun to hope that they could get away with the deception, until someone approached their camp that night, beelining straight for Jesse.
How they got past the guards remained a mystery, but there was no deterring the man walking determinedly through the small camp.
Hanzo was teaching Jesse basic elocution; apparently he knew enough from mimicking his father’s speech, but he was raised with farmers as his playmates and neighbors, and had trouble shaking the heavier tones of his accent.
At the guards’ shouts of alarm, both teacher and pupil looked at what was causing the commotion, and Jesse inhaled sharply at the man held at swordpoint. “What’s going on?” he asked, alarmed.
“Trespasser,” Hanzo said. “How did they--”
“Your majesty!” the man cried out. “Your majesty, please, my family is starving!”
Hanzo frowned sharply as he approached. “You know that approaching his majesty outside of hearings is illegal. You could very well die for this. Leave now, and you may be forgiven.”
He startled at Jesse’s hand on his arm. “Hanzo, he’s desperate. We should--”
“We shall do nothing,” Hanzo snapped, bustling Jesse away. “Guards, deal with him.”
As the guards hauled the man away, Hanzo turned to see Jesse looking outraged. “What the hell, Hanzo?” he demanded. “The man just wanted--”
“McCree,” Hanzo interrupted sternly. The name came out harsher than he meant to, and after taking a breath to calm himself he tried again. “Jesse, you don’t yet know anything about the duties of a Prince. We get thousands of people with those same words, the same pleas. Perhaps some of them are true. Many are not. But what he wants does not matter; I am more concerned with what the man saw.”
Hanzo raised an eyebrow. “Do you not think you would tell someone if you saw a prominent public figure with a metallic limb where he didn’t have one before and speaking as though he didn’t have the highest paid teachers in the kingdom since he was able to talk?”
Jesse seemed to realize what he was saying and wilted. “Oh.”
Hanzo hesitated, then gently laid a hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “You didn’t know.”
Jesse peeked at him from behind his bangs; the look was effortlessly charming. “Sorry.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” He gave his shoulder a squeeze, then let go. “You aren’t alone in this, Jesse, and you are allowed mistakes. It’s how you learn.”
“Pretty disastrous consequences if I don’t,” Jesse muttered, but before Hanzo could reply he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay. Let’s get back to it; the sooner we get to the castle, the quicker we can be in safer territory.”
For a second, he looked so painfully like the Prince Hanzo desperately wished his charge could be- solid, unwavering, determined. Hanzo’s breath caught slightly before he cleared his throat, hoping that Jesse didn’t notice. “A wise decision.”
They packed up quickly and rode through the night, Hanzo’s caution put aside for expediency. They reached their destination just at dawn, the towering fortress on the hill casting ominous shadows on the town below.
Jesse was looking at it with an unreadable expression, and Hanzo watched him quietly.
Finally, he nodded sharply. “I’m ready.”
They rode through the gates, and Hanzo hoped that he meant what he said.
Zarya decides to test Jesse's worthiness, and Hanzo gets surprised in more ways than one
Here was the thing Hanzo did not tell Jesse: there was more on the line than a trade agreement.
It was the most important part of the meeting, but it was also the beginning of an alliance. The Empire to the North was undergoing reorganization. Resources were being shifted, troops moved, towns quietly evacuated. Spymaster Amari said her network was sending back rumors of expansion, and their small kingdom was important in technological development. Emperor Ogundimu would certainly have his sights set on acquiring their research, and Hanzo knew that he could not let that happen.
Thankfully, very few knew how critical this treaty was, lessening the risk of Jesse finding out. It still didn’t lessen Hanzo’s stress levels.
Yet he was slightly put at ease when all the reports from Jesse’s tutors praised his work ethic and intelligence. He had never seen Satya cry, but he was certain she was tempted to when Jesse called her ‘ma’am’ and didn’t touch her cloth samples without explicit permission.
The only exception was Ana- Jesse was extremely polite and gracious, but he had a problem with authority. Not in the traditional sense, but his go-to response for an argument was a headlock or bare-knuckled fighting. A result of the rowdy patrons of his inn, no doubt, but she was determined to instill some instinct of self-preservation. He seemed to take quickly to the lessons on mind games, much to Hanzo’s alarm.
On the morning of the second week, Hanzo was cornered by Training Master Zarya. Despite the warm weather, the Knight was in full battle gear and was quite an intimidating sight as she leaned over a seated Hanzo. “You are training a fake Prince and didn’t inform me?” she demanded. “Bring him to my grounds. I will see if he’s worthy.”
Hanzo took a moment to consider his words. “I don’t want him broken before he has a chance to prove himself,” he finally mustered.
Zarya let out a ‘ha!’ at his words and clapped a hand on Hanzo’s shoulder. He felt the chair beneath him groan in protest at the force. “If I break him, you shouldn’t have picked him. My grounds, at five. I’ll make sure we’re alone.” She marched off, barking out orders at some nosy pages, and Hanzo was at least relieved at her uncharacteristic show of secrecy.
Still, he owed it to Jesse to ensure that she didn’t run him too ragged. And he alerted Angela. Better safe than sorry.
Sadly, informing Angela meant that she informed her trainee Lucio, who informed Hana, who of course let Genji know. By the time Hanzo arrived at the field, a small but steadily growing crowd was already circling the arena. He let out a small groan of despair.
“What part of be discreet does no one understand?” he hissed at Genji.
His brother shrugged, slurping nonchalantly at some horribly bright green drink Hana was handing out. “Don’t worry, inner circle only. No one will tell. I think.”
“You think?” Hanzo hissed.
“Pretty sure. I mean, Lena’s here, so no guarantees.”
Hanzo turned the force of his glare to the young pilot, who squeaked and hid behind some red-headed girl. Hanzo vaguely remembered that she worked in the kitchens.
Lena was spared when Knight-Commander Morrison showed up with Fareeha in tow. “Alright you lot, get back to work,” he barked. “Last I checked this wasn’t a social area.”
“Aww, c’mon, Dad,” Hana whined.
Jack didn’t seeme impressed as he looked at his foster daughter. “Get out of here, kid. I know you have a meeting in an hour to go over those blueprints of yours.”
Grumbling, the crowd dispersed, and Hanzo heaved a sigh of relief. Genji chuckled. “Relax, most of them just thought Zarya was initiating some rookie and wanted to see the beat-down.”
“I am still blaming you,” Hanzo said without any real heat. Still, his brother did not leave, instead climbing the fence to get a better view up top.
“Genji Shimada, get down before you break your neck!” Angela screeched.
Genji blew his girlfriend a kiss, deliberately ignoring her order.
Zarya arrived a moment later, a slightly dazed Jesse in tow. No doubt he had experienced what everyone referred to as the ‘Zarya effect’- intimidation and awe, followed by a strange mix of fear and determination. At least she had the foresight to find a chestplate that fit him, his sleeves rolled up in the warm weather, showing off his well-toned arms. Hanzo glanced over them distractedly before stifling a laugh. He still wore the cowboy hat.
Jesse’s eyes found Hanzo’s, and he immediately brightened. He hurried over, ignoring Zarya’s offended sniff, and grabbed Hanzo’s hands. “Please save me,” he said sincerely. “I might be good, but she looks like she could crush me with her little toe. And she won’t let me use a gun!”
Hanzo glanced over at Zarya. She hefted her broadsword with one hand, twirling it like a baton.
“Good luck,” Hanzo said solemnly and pushed Jesse into the arena.
It wasn’t a complete disaster. It was clear the sword wasn’t Jesse’s preferred weapon, but he was still quick on his feet when the situation called for it. He also certainly had stamina (and Hanzo really wished he didn’t keep returning to that thought) but the sheer power behind Zarya’s swings wore him down. It seemed like it would be an easy win for Zarya-- but there was a bang, then a flash, and McCree suddenly had his sword at Zarya’s neck.
He tipped his hat at her. “Sorry for the surprise, but you didn’t ban flashbangs, ma’am.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Zarya let out a hearty laugh.
“I like you,” she said, and everyone let out a sigh of relief.
Hanzo picked out the fine trembling in Jesse’s muscles and hurried onto the field. “Well, now that you are satisfied, I need to get him back to his tutors,” he said. “This no doubt put him behind on his lessons, and Ms. Vaswani does not like for her schedule to be inconvenienced. I will ensure his borrowed equipment gets returned, but for now, we must go.”
Genji shouted after him, but Hanzo didn’t stop, quickly leading Jesse back to the castle and into one of the private training rooms. After ensuring the door was locked, he turned to the other man, intent on making sure he was alright, only to be swept into a hug.
Hanzo froze, unsure what to do, before he realized the trembling wasn’t due to an injury or exhaustion- Jesse was laughing. “I haven’t had a good fight in ages!” he crowed. “Thought for sure she had me a few times, but Dad always told me to keep an ace up my sleeve. Of all the things he taught me, I’m glad that stuck!”
Despite the impropriety, Hanzo hesitantly returned the gesture. “I am glad to see you are not harmed.”
Jesse pulled back slightly to give him a roguish grin. “Worried about me?”
Yes, Hanzo thought. Instead he said, “It would take too much time to find another replacement.”
Jesse chuckled. “If you say so. I’ve been meaning to ask, though. I have a free hour tomorrow, you want to get lunch? I have some more questions the tutors can’t answer.”
Hanzo was curious. “Of course. Have a guard escort you to my quarters. I’ll have lunch sent to us.”
“Lookin’ forward to it.”
Hanzo had planned Jesse’s schedule down to the last second, so it was no surprise when there was a knock on his door at precisely twelve. What was a surprise was Jesse himself, wearing something other than flannel.
At first, he had a moment of pure confusion. The man on the other side of the door was the exact replica of the Prince, down to the clothing and posture. Then the man raised his left hand to tip a hat that wasn’t there, and Hanzo realized that it was Jesse.
“I see Ms. Vaswani has finished your wardrobe,” Hanzo said as he looked over the cream and blue fabric. Despite his shaken nerves, he was pleased with the work. It was identical to the Prince’s own set of clothing, tailored to fit. It was too bad Satya was only doing this as a favor to him; she really could become famous as a clothing designer.
“Arrived this morning,” Jesse said. “I have more clothes than I know what to do with, and she said something about formal attire before leaving. This is pretty damn formal already.”
Hanzo hummed as he guided Jesse over to the couches in the sitting area. “She means the clothes you are to wear while our guests are here,” he replied. “Surely she mentioned this?”
“I mostly just went to a happy place while she made me into her living dress up doll,” Jesse admitted.
Hanzo shrugged as he fetched the meal from his kitchenette. “No matter, it isn’t of importance right now. Here-- I had the kitchen make your favorite.”
Jesse’s eyes lit up as he saw the plate of chorizo, beans, and rice. “You spoil me.”
“Just wait till you see dessert,” Hanzo said, thinking about how hard it was to find decent churros in the capital. He ended up giving in to his pride and asking Genji, who had shown up twenty minutes ago with a suspicious brown bag and a shit-eating grin, but he had given Hanzo minimal grief about it.
They carried on with easy conversation, Jesse talking about his lessons with delight, and Hanzo clarifying some issues that Jesse had. When Hanzo revealed the churros, Jesse exclaimed in glee, devouring them in an instant. Hanzo wondered about the last time Jesse had any; he made a silent promise to himself to update the kitchen’s recipes.
“I need to repay you,” Jesse said earnestly once the plates were cleaned and cleared away. His suit jacket had been tossed onto a nearby chair, the shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows.“I know finding this ain’t easy, and it must have been expensive.”
“Not at all,” Hanzo said, but Jesse shook his head.
“Naw, I promised you I’d cook for you, didn’t I? Haven’t been doing it lately on account of how busy I’ve been, but I’ll do it here soon, promise.” He grinned. “Assuming Ms. Amari lends me the use of my hands.”
Hanzo blinked. “Beg pardon?”
“She got tired of me breaking the zip-ties in an effort to keep my hands still, so whenever I’m ‘off-duty’, so to speak, I have handcuffs.” He reached into his pocket and twirled them around his finger. “Didn’t have the heart to tell her I can pick locks, too.”
Hanzo tried and failed to ignore the feeling in his gut as he watched Jesse handle the gleaming silver devices. Spirits help him, this would not end well if he allowed himself to nurse this… whatever is was that had developed. Jesse would be gone in less than a year; they both had their parts to play, and nowhere did that include Hanzo’s own feelings on the matter. “What else did your dad teach you?” Hanzo asked in an effort to distract himself from those sobering thoughts.
Jesse chuckled. “Naw, didn’t teach me this. Ran with a rough crowd when I was younger till he knocked some sense into me. Caught me pickpocketing and decided to give me a job instead. Happy he did, cause I would be six feet under by now if he hadn’t.” He put the handcuffs away and leaned casually into the couch, sprawled out contentedly. His socked feet kicked up on the arm rest. “Never imagined it’d lead me to here.”
“Living in the lap of luxury and pretending to not know the ABCs?” Hanzo asked, amused.
He missed the slight hesitation in Jesse’s answer. “A-yup. There are worse things in life.”
“Hmph.” Seeing the other man’s smile, Hanzo decided to be fully honest with himself and Jesse for once. “You ended up being a better gamble than I could have imagined, so I am pleased to see that you are content as well.”
They were on the cusp of something, Hanzo was sure-- Jesse’s expression had shifted to one of intent, and he opened his mouth to say something, when Ana knocked and swiftly entered the room.
“I am sorry to interrupt, boys, but it is time for Jesse’s lessons,” she said. She gave him a sharp look, and Jesse sheepishly stood from the couch and gathered his wayward clothing, now slightly rumpled. “Hanzo,” she said, giving a nod and a slight smile before whisking her pupil away.
Hanzo blinked at the space Jesse had once occupied, paused, then heaved a sigh before gathering the empty plates to return them to the kitchens. He felt off-kilter, like there was something he was missing, and the world wouldn’t right itself until he figured out what it was.
So distracted in figuring it out, he never noticed the clock quietly tick over to three in the afternoon.
Genji upholds the annoying younger brother status. There's a lot of flirting.
I was so caught up in reading all the new fics I forgot to update my own.
The lunches became a recurring event before Hanzo realized it.
It started out as a way to keep track of Jesse’s progress, but it quickly evolved into… something else. Hanzo wasn’t sure what, but it was nice. Jesse even cooked for him sometimes, and Hanzo wasn’t too proud to say those days were his favorite.
“Dating,” Genji said as they watched Jesse practice ballroom dancing with Amelie. “It’s called dating.”
Hanzo scoffed. “We are not dating.”
“Let’s see…” Genji held up a hand and started to tick points off with his fingers. “Recurring time and place, just the two of you, conversation that has nothing to do with business, enjoying each other’s company, time getting away from you both, and being a sad, mopey gay puddle when he isn’t paying atten-Ow!”
“I am not a mopey gay puddle,” Hanzo said mildly as Genji rubbed his shoulder.
“You are a mopey gay.” Genji was quicker on his feet this time.
“Besides,” Hanzo added, quieter, “He’s going to be gone in three months. I cannot abandon my position, even if the Prince is still missing.”
Genji sobered. The missing Prince was still a weight on everyone’s mind-- the soldiers had lost the trail in the forest surrounding the castle, and no one had seen or heard anything since. Ana’s spy network, usually able to find even the smallest of needles in the largest of haystacks, had also come up empty. It seemed he had vanished into thin air.
A part of Hanzo wondered if the Prince had secretly been conning them all along. Then he remembered that this was the man who spent three hours trying to pick up the moon’s reflection in the garden pond because he thought it was the real thing.
Not to mention that he still needed color-coordinated socks and shoes lest he put them on the wrong feet. And even then, he still sometimes managed it. Not even the most dedicated of con men would do that.
“Hanzo, you’re twenty five, you’re too young to sacrifice your happiness,” Genji finally said. “Remember what you told me when I was angsting over Angie?”
Hanzo sighed. “If there was no risk, there would be no reward.”
“No, that’s what you said after chugging a bottle of hot sauce for twenty dollars and had to get your stomach pumped,” Genji pointed out. Hanzo nodded in remembrance. Good times. “You said you’d ask her out yourself if I stalled any longer.”
“Are you saying you’ll dump the good doctor for him?”
“Hell no! Threesome.”
This time Hanzo managed to get his brother in a headlock.
Genji shrieked and flailed, but Hanzo gracefully dodged every one of his brother’s counterstrikes. Only when Genji finally yielded did Hanzo drop him to the floor.
He looked up to see both Jesse and Amelie staring at them, the former in amusement, and the latter with cold disdain. “Are you done?” she asked.
Hanzo nudged Genji with his foot and he let out a pathetic groan. “My apologies for the gremlin. We won’t interrupt again.”
She sniffed, then went back to critiquing Jesse on his footwork.
Genji gave Hanzo a baleful glare. “Still a sad gay puddle.”
“And yet, you’re the one on the floor.”
Fareeha caught up to Hanzo as he was leaving his study, a stack of books in his arms to return to the expansive library. With Jesse in tutoring and his charge still AWOL, Hanzo had taken advantage of the free time more than he wanted to admit, if only to try to ignore the stress he was under. The librarian was probably fed up with him at this point.
“You got a second?” Fareeha asked, taking half of Hanzo’s burden. “Just wanted to talk about the new guy.”
Hanzo glanced around surreptitiously, but finding them alone, relaxed slightly. “Do you have concerns?”
She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Not really. Satya’s been keeping me updated on his progress, and she actually seems to like him. My issue is what’s going to happen after.”
Hanzo’s chest tightened. “Indeed.” He awkwardly shuffled his books. “I have wondered the same thing.”
“It’s not like we can just drop him off back home, thank him for his service to the crown, and pretend this never happened,” she sighed. “He’s making friends here, and honestly? I’d trust him with the crown over the actual Prince.” At Hanzo’s sharp look she held up her free hand. “I’m not going against my vow, Hanzo. I’m the Prince’s Shield, and I uphold that seriously. I’m just saying that when this is over, there’s going to be far too many loose ends for us to deal with.”
“I know.” They were quiet until they reached the library door. “If he wants to stay, I will not tell him no.”
“Will not, or cannot?” Fareeha asked, knowingly.
Hanzo didn’t take the bait. He might have a short temper, but he was smarter than that. “I just fear what will happen if the Prince isn’t found.”
Fareeha sobered. “I’m heading out again tomorrow to continue the search. Mom thinks she has a lead down South, something about an old friend that she only just resumed contact with. With all the trouble from the Empire, her spare agents are sent elsewhere, so I volunteered.”
“Good luck,” Hanzo said sincerely. “And please, if you need Genji’s help, bring him with you. We both know I’ll appreciate his absence.”
Fareeha laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
With the books returned, Hanzo took a detour to Jesse’s current class. The deadline was fast approaching, and Hanzo would rest easier seeing Jesse’s progress for himself instead of through reports. He was with Ana again, although Hanzo was surprised to find them in the garden drinking tea instead of going over the various names of the lesser nobility. Then again, Ana had mentioned that Jesse was learning faster than anticipated. Perhaps they had finished early?
“Hanzo! Kind of you to join us,” Ana said. Jesse jerked in surprise then turned to face him, a beaming smile spreading across his face. Hanzo was helpless in the face of it. “Pull up a seat, we were just taking a break.”
Jesse lifted his cup. “She’s introducing me to the proper way to make tea.”
Hanzo scoffed. “There’s only one way to make tea, and this isn’t it.” He glanced at Ana’s outraged face. “She does make excellent coffee, however.”
“I’ll convert you yet, young man,” Ana threatened.
“Still doesn’t beat a good shot of bourbon,” Jesse mused. “Ana refuses to let me know where this place keeps their liquor.”
Hanzo frowned. “She was right to, if that is your drink of choice,” he said. “Only those with an unsophisticated taste enjoys that swill. Sake is far more refined a drink.”
“Drunk is drunk, Han, no matter how you get there,” Jesse grinned. “And I prefer a bit more bite before the finish line.”
Hanzo barely noticed one of Ana’s messengers quietly approach the table. “If it’s a bite you want, there’s better ways of getting it. The palace war dogs, for example.”
Jesse’s hand flew over his heart as he feigned hurtful outrage. “To think, all this time, you wished me harm!”
“Why else would I put you through the torture of Ana’s history lessons?” Hanzo smirked.
He shuddered in reply. “She invited Reinhardt to the lesson once. I have never heard a man so enthusiastic about bloodshed.”
“He used to be a knight himself before he was brought in to be Regent. He’s happy to talk about his glory days and will go on for hours if you let him.”
Jesse winced. “Yeah, no, I’d rather have Satya poke me with needles all day than do that again. At least all she talks about is her girlfriend and her work as an architect when she’s not telling me to stay still.”
“Fareeha does much of the same.” Hanzo poured them both another cup of tea. “We have two months left, Jesse. Do you think you’ll be ready?”
“Ana says my accent is passable,” he said, shrugging. “And Amelie says that I need to be more clumsy when dancing, which is annoying to us both, honestly. She wants to make me perfect, but since I’m supposed to be imperfect--”
Without thinking, Hanzo says, “Perhaps, when this is all over, you can get proper lessons from her.”
Jesse’s face goes blank, and Hanzo immediately panics. What was he thinking? How could Jesse possibly want to stay here when he has a home elsewhere? Why would he ask Jesse to stay for dancing lessons when he really meant--
“So long as you save me a dance during the banquet.”
Hanzo’s eyes snapped to Jesse’s. The man looked… vulnerable wasn’t the right word. Hesitant? Unsure? It was the small smile that went straight to Hanzo’s gut though, curling there, warm and soft.
“Sorry boys, I had to deal with some urgent business.” Ana’s voice cut through Hanzo’s thoughts, and he and Jesse both jumped as the spymaster slid back into her seat. Hanzo hadn’t even noticed her leaving. “What were we talking about?”
“The pros and cons of various teas,” Jesse replied instantly, as if Hanzo’s heart currently wasn’t in the process of combusting. “Hanzo here thinks matcha is the end all be all.”
Ana turned to look at him expectantly, and Hanzo cleared his throat. “It is healthy for you. And anything is better than this so-called sweet tea.”
“It’s a classic!”
Ana hummed. “Well, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to improve your knowledge on certain matters, Jesse. I’ll have a tea sampler arranged for tomorrow. And for the record, you are both wrong: it is karkade.”
“Then why aren’t we drinking it now?” Hanzo quipped, smirking over his cup.
Jesse snorted, but Ana didn’t look fazed. “Didn’t want to upset our guest’s delicate palate.”
“Hey! I once chugged a bottle of hot sauce for twenty bucks, ain’t nothing delicate about me,” Jesse protested. Hanzo stared at him, starry-eyed, for once not caring if someone saw.
“I’m trying to make you delicate, you oaf,” Ana said. “Now, since Hanzo is here, we might as well go over what you’ve learned. What are the names of the primary nobility in the country and the names of their children?”
Jesse groaned, but obediently did as he was told. By the end Hanzo was impressed-- he even mispronounced them like the Prince did, down to the strange inflection on Lord Gibraltar’s heir. Satisfied, Ana dismissed him for the day, asking Hanzo to keep him entertained so she could catch up on some work.
“What’s there to do for fun around here?” Jesse asked as soon as she left.
“We have nightclubs, bars, and the movies,” Hanzo replied. “Unfortunately the theater is shut down due to a fire. Since we can’t expose you to the public right now, however-”
“Yeah, yeah, I getcha,” Jesse sighed. “Normally I would play video games with Hana, but I’m tired of her kicking my ass every time. I’m just feeling… restless, you know?”
Hanzo did know. The librarian had finally made good on her threat and banned him for the next week, so he had taken to pacing in his room. Normally he would have wandered the gardens, but with the gardeners hard at work preparing for the delegation’s arrival...
An idea came to him as he looked at the trees beyond the palace. “Come with me. I think I have a solution.”
Hanzo and Jesse take a break. Things happen. Mistakes are made.
This is my favorite chapter
The Prince’s personal horse was a quiet mare he named Butterfly, who didn’t spook easily, never went faster than a trot, and was extraordinarily patient with her squirmy rider.
Hanzo didn’t even glance at her as he led Jesse to a specific stall.
“This is Dick.” Hanzo’s gesture was aborted when he had to dodge the horse’s threatening bite. “He’ll be your ride for the day.”
“Name’s accurate,” Jesse commented. The stallion flattened his ears at his approach.
“He is short tempered because he hasn’t been exercised in a while,” Hanzo said. “All the stablehands are terrified of him.”
Jesse cooed at the horse. “Aw, you’re just misunderstood, aren’t ya? Hey!” He stepped back as the horse lunged for his hand. “None of that now, ya hear me?”
Hanzo left Jesse wrangling the stallion to go into his own horse’s stall. Sakura pricked her ears forward upon seeing him, giving him a gentle whinny and lipping at his pocket. “Never could get one past you,” he said, pulling out the sugar cubes he had stashed there.
It was quick work getting her brushed and saddled, and he checked to see how Jesse was getting along. To his surprise the horse was tolerating him, tail flicking irritably as Jesse brushed him, but otherwise cooperating.
“There we go, boy,” Jesse cooed. “That’s right, you’re just grumpy because you can’t find anyone to treat you right. Don’t worry, I’ll treat you with the respect a beautiful creature like you deserves.”
Amused, Hanzo asked, “You know he can’t understand you, right?”
Jesse merely smiled. “Don’t matter, he knows the intent. Don’t you, buddy?” He pat the horse’s flank, and Dick snorted, shaking his mane. “That’s right. You tell him.”
Hanzo fished a carrot out of his pocket and held it out. Dick flicked his ears suspiciously but finally reached forward and snapped the treat up. Jesse hummed as he finished, turning to Hanzo. “Where’s my tack?”
“I burned it,” Hanzo replied seriously. At Jesse’s look he smirked. “It’s in storage, and will be returned to you if you wish. But I thought you would appreciate some new gear.”
Wide-eyed, Jesse looked at the gear set up beside the stall. “Han…”
He waved away Jesse’s next words. “Think nothing of it. I was planning on gifting this to you before you… well. That is to say, I felt it necessary to thank you for what you are doing for us, and this was what I decided on.”
Wordlessly, Jesse inspected the warm brown saddle, running his hands over the shiny new leather. He traced the design, fingers lingering over desert flowers and cacti, the filigree in between. His tan saddle blanket, repaired and cleaned, was inspected next, and he finally turned to Hanzo with a gentle expression.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, and Hanzo only nodded in response.
Dick only tried biting Jesse once throughout the saddling process, but accepted the bit surprisingly well. Perhaps he had realized that he was indeed going outside the barn, because his ears were pointed forward, alert, and he was shifting impatiently in the stall, grunting when Jesse triple-checked to ensure everything was properly tightened. Hanzo and Sakura waited patiently in the hallway, Sakura nosing at the stray pieces of hay on the floor.
When Jesse finally guided his horse out of the stall, Hanzo led them out of the barn and towards the path leading to the forest. A few stablehands did a double take and ran to get distance between them and the stallion, which caused Jesse to snort. “That terrified, huh?”
“Extremely. Your horse was a gift from a local dignitary-- in hindsight we figured he just wanted to get rid of him, but he has a good lineage, and to do anything other than care for him would be an insult, not only to the horse but his previous owner.”
Jesse patted the horse’s neck in sympathy. “I feel ya, buddy.”
It was a good thing Jesse was dressed down and that everyone kept a wide berth of his horse, because otherwise Hanzo was worried that someone would realize Jesse’s similarity to the Prince. Still, it took until they were in the forest proper for him to relax, and turn to Jesse with a grin.
“I have a proposition.”
“It have anything to do with that suspicious saddlebag?”
“Not yet. See that fallen log?” At Jesse’s nod he continued. “After that, the path is relatively clear, and widens until it reaches a field. As soon as we pass the rock on the left after the log, I challenge you to a race.”
“I’m intrigued. What’s in it if I win?”
Hanzo considered. “Winner’s choice, I suppose. Well?”
“I’m in.” His grip on the reins tightened, and Dick snorted, sensing the tension in the reins. “Where’s the finish line?”
“The creek at the far side of the field. Ready?”
Jesse beamed, and the horses quickly picked their way over the log. Hanzo shifted in the saddle, and Sakura’s ears pricked forward-- she knew what was coming. “Go!”
Sakura immediately leapt forward, reacting to Hanzo’s light touches. She was bred to be a race horse, after all.
Jesse let out a whoop, and he heard the pounding of the stallion’s hooves behind them. Sakura did too, and her rhythm intensified, still competitive.
Hanzo kept the lead until the river came into view. He saw a blur of black out of the corner of his eye, and even though he leaned forward to let Sakura know she needed to put on a burst of speed, Jesse and his horse breezed past them and jumped nimbly over the river.
He led Sakura in a wide loop to let her slow down naturally before approaching Jesse, both rider and horse both somehow exuding smugness. Hanzo narrowed his eyes. “Beginner’s luck.”
“Nah, think we have a connection,” Jesse said, patting his horse’s neck. “In fact, I think I was meant to ride Dick.”
Hanzo promptly shoved him off the saddle.
The horses grazed as Jesse and Hanzo enjoyed a small bottle of whiskey between them. Hanzo had taken a detour to the kitchen to procure it, and Jesse had nearly squealed when he saw it. Ana would probably have their heads later, but it was worth it to see Jesse’s smile.
“And here I thought you were only focused on duty and honor,” Jesse teased when they were both pleasantly buzzed.
“Contrary to popular belief I can have fun,” Hanzo retorted. “Genji’s antics are nothing compared to my heyday.”
“Listen to this man at the ripe old age of twenty five,” Jesse said dramatically. Hanzo playfully shoved him, and Jesse slung an arm over his shoulders, tugging him closer. “A quarter of a century on this here earth, he’s a certified wise man.”
“I’m a glorified babysitter on most days. Of course I needed to let loose every so often,” Hanzo shrugged. Jesse was unreasonably warm; Hanzo snuggled closer unintentionally. “Genji’s had to drag me out of more bars than I’ve done for him.”
Jesse hummed, his thumb stroking Hanzo’s shoulder. “You’ll have to tell me stories some time.”
“I don’t remember most of them,” Hanzo admitted, and Jesse let out a laugh.
Hanzo passed the bottle back to Jesse, who stared at it for a moment, rotating it slowly in his hand. He had a faraway look in his eyes, and Hanzo left him to his thoughts. He recognized a man who was considering something important.
After a moment Jesse put the bottle aside and looked at Hanzo intently. “Han, I need to tell you something.”
Hanzo tilted his head, but the determination Jesse seemed to have fled quickly-- a blush colored his cheeks, and he gave a rueful chuckle. “Aw, hell. You’re too damn cute,” he said, and before Hanzo could even begin to process those words, Jesse leaned forward and kissed him.
All thought fled. Jesse was using his arm to pull Hanzo closer, his lips soft against his own. A confused sound erupted from him-- Jesse pulled back slightly, eyes soft. “Been wanting to do that for a while now,” he admitted softly.
Hanzo’s brain was sending out distress signals and satisfaction in equal tones, overlaid with confusion and the need to seek Jesse out for… something. He didn’t know what. This was new territory. His life hadn’t allowed for romance. He hadn’t allowed for romance. And Jesse was going to leave after all this, was going to go back to his bar and his inn and his simple life and Hanzo was… he was going to be…
“I can’t do this,” Hanzo said in a panic. Jesse’s face fell. Hanzo wanted to correct himself, to explain that he couldn’t give his heart to a man who would only leave him behind, but the words got tangled up inside. At his continued silence Jesse’s expression closed off. He pulled away, leaving Hanzo grasping for his warmth.
No, Hanzo wanted to wail. Come back. Let me explain. But his body remained frozen, and the words refused to form.
“Sorry about that. Guess I thought… well, I was wrong. We should probably be heading back anyway,” Jesse finally said, and Hanzo flinched. His tone was perfectly neutral-- a gentleman to the last, letting Hanzo off gracefully. “It’s getting late.”
Mouth dry, Hanzo could only mutely stand and make his way over to Sakura.
The ride back was tense, Jesse trailing behind as Hanzo led the way back. They didn’t speak, and Hanzo could feel Jesse’s eyes burning into him the entire trip back. Hanzo tried finding something, anything, to say, but his own fear paralyzed him and his insecurities trapped him.
Hanzo finally spoke when they were back at the stables. “I’ll take care of the horses,” he croaked, and Jesse only gave him a long look before nodding sharply. He turned on his heel and left, back perfectly straight, and Hanzo felt like crying.
Dick nipped at Hanzo’s shoulder, and he didn’t even feel the sting. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “You don’t have to tell me again.”
Heart breaking, he led the horses into their stalls, burying his face into Sakura’s neck briefly. He was going to need a lot of sake to get over this.
Hanzo is stubborn and refuses to admit what he already knows. Thankfully he has good friends.
“You did WHAT?” Genji shrieked.
Hanzo winced. Angela, sitting next to Genji on the couch, soldiered through. She was probably used to his outbursts by now.
“I panicked,” Hanzo said miserably. “I didn’t know what to say, so I just… didn’t say anything.”
Genji looked disgusted. “Your dream cowboy kissed you-- don’t give me that look, if you liked the poncy polished type you’d be married ten times over by now-- and all you can say is you panicked?”
Angela interjected. “Don’t be too harsh, Genji. If I remember right, the first time we kissed, you hid in the bathroom and refused to come out until Hanzo fetched you.”
“That was different,” Genji insisted. “And besides, we’re talking about Hanzo’s monumental fuck up.”
“Not much different. Drama runs in your family.” Angela reached over and gave Hanzo’s hand a squeeze. “I’m sure Jesse will understand if you just explain it to him.”
Hanzo hung his head. “I’ve tried. He’s avoiding me.”
In the two weeks since the disastrous outing, Hanzo hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Jesse. Reports were positive as always, but every time he tried to seek the man out, it turned out his lesson had let out early, or had been moved. Eventually he had taken the hint.
When Genji replied, he was surprisingly calm. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, Hanzo. You both like each other, and honestly, you’ve been happier these past few months than you have in years. Things will work out.”
Hanzo hoped so and tried not to panic.
He was panicking.
Tomorrow was the day the foreign ambassadors would arrive. Two days ago, Jesse had shown up during the monthly hearings, and according to all reports, had done perfectly. Hanzo, unfortunately, hadn’t been able to attend, instead locked in a room with Ana going over the treaty and preparing for any arguments or counteroffers. The test run might have been a success, but that was only for two hours. Jesse had to survive who knew how many weeks. Of course, with Hanzo’s luck, the Prince would show up in the middle of everything and blow the entire affair wide open.
It didn’t help that Hanzo still hadn’t seen Jesse once during the previous weeks. Occasionally he’d hear him somewhere, or catch him turning a corner, but even if Hanzo could unglue his feet from the floor or muster up the courage to chase after him, he’d be long gone. He had considered going to his room and demanding entry, but at this point, well- he was being a little petty, perhaps. If Jesse was going to act a child after being rejected, then Hanzo could ignore him too.
It didn’t really help heal his heart, but at least it kept him busy trying to avoid it.
Ana seemed to understand, at least, supplying him with all the caffeine and arguments he needed to keep himself distracted. When he did allow himself to sleep, it was often short and dreamless before he pulled himself together to do the same all over again.
He had to make sure that this went perfect. Had to trust in Jesse, had to trust in Reinhardt, Ana, and the cohort of advisors.
Thankfully, there was no shortage of work to be had. Reinhardt had gotten news that Leah Lindholm had gone into labor, and had taken off to see that both mother and newly born godchild was in good health. He had expressed regret for piling Hanzo with more work, but Hanzo waved him off. The Lindholms and Reinhardt had been friends for years, even before he was given the crown. It would be cruel to deny the man a short visit when he had ruled fairly (if reluctantly) for years with no break.
Genji found him arguing with the poor librarian over the amount of books he was trying to check out and promptly dragged him out the door. “You need to calm down,” Genji said and wrestled him to Zenyatta’s suite.
The monk looked surprised to see them. To be fair, Hanzo rarely had business with the monastery’s ambassador, so the Shimadas crashing into his parlor was an alarming sight. “Did something happen in the spiritual plane that I wasn’t aware of?” he asked, amused.
“Genji has gone mad,” Hanzo snapped, still trying to get out of his brother’s chokehold. He must have been training with Zarya.
Zenyatta nodded serenely. “I see. Well, since the Iris is at peace and you are here, perhaps you’d like to join me for meditation? I was just about to start.”
“I have work-” Hanzo yelped as Genji dropped him.
“We would love to join you,” Genji said over Hanzo’s protests. Hanzo growled and lunged for Genji’s legs. The knight neatly sidestepped and swiftly sat on Hanzo when he tried to get up. “Ignore him.”
“I hate you,” Hanzo seethed as he attempted to struggle out from under Genji. “You are going to wake up and find out your clothes have been replaced with nylon, just you wait--”
Zenyatta pulled them apart and escorted them to separate cushions. “Now, if you match your breathing with mine--”
As much as he hated to admit it, the meditation did help. An hour later he felt immensely better. It didn’t stop the worry. But he could at least handle it better.
Ana wasn’t in the small office they had commandeered, but a warm cup of tea welcomed him. He took a grateful sip and realized that for all intents and purposes their work was done. Probably had been, if he was being honest; the treaty was as ironclad as they could make it without the delegation’s input.
His shoulders sagged. Now he had to go thank Genji for pulling him out of his own head again. He was going to be insufferable.
As he wandered from the room, cup of tea still in hand, he also wondered if Ana hadn’t intervened. She had borne the brunt of his stress and micro management like a saint, and in hindsight, she had suggested the library. He knew they meddled because they cared, but they could stand to meddle a little less sometimes.
There was a boisterous laugh nearby coming from a partially open door-- Hanzo’s entire body seized as he recognized it as Jesse’s. His traitorous heart lurched, and it was all he could do to stop himself from running full tilt towards him.
He could vaguely hear Satya speaking, and Hanzo realized they must be doing the final fitting for Jesse’s formal wear. Hanzo could vaguely remember approving a design-- something blue?-- during the haze of research, but trying to think of it now, he came up blank. A part of him wanted to see if he could catch a glimpse, but Jesse seemed to be doing fine without him there.
In the end, he fled before they realized he was there. He wouldn’t know what to say anyway, and even if he was admittedly pining, it was better this way. Jesse needed someone who could be there for him.
Besides, this treaty was more important than his love life, or lack thereof. Without it they were vulnerable to Emperor Ogundimu. He was not going to ruin everyone’s hard work.
He could mourn later. Right now, he had a job to do.
Hours later, Hanzo awoke with a gasp. He could still feel McCree’s hands on his body, his mouth against his own. The dream faded with every ragged inhale, but the sensation lingered.
With a groan, Hanzo pressed his face into the pillow and kicked the covers off his suddenly overheated skin. He had to face it: he was screwed.
The ambassadors arrive, and Hanzo comes to a realization.
The ambassador’s delegation arrived at ten in the morning, the royal guards and eager citizens lining the streets. Banners, streamers, flags, and a disturbing amount of confetti decorated the path, and the foreign guests looked bemused at the attention. Considering the most exciting thing that had happened in the last two years was when it snowed for the first time in what seemed to be a decade, Hanzo couldn’t blame the citizens for the excuse to throw a party.
Hanzo bowed when they made it to the castle gates, and as he greeted them various castle staff descended upon their luggage and whisked it away to their rooms. There was a full schedule ahead of them before they even began the talks tomorrow-- brunch, a brief tour of the facilities, lunch where they would be introduced to the members of the talks, an hour to rest in their rooms before a tour of the city (including a discreet list of addresses for the more popular nightlife destinations), dinner in an upscale restaurant with an accompanying show, and then a return to the castle to relax and talk amongst themselves to strategize before bed.
Thankfully, Hanzo would not be with them the entire time- he would be in attendance during lunch to accompany Jesse, but that was it. Ana, Reinhardt, Jack, his squire Lena, and various others would keep them entertained and guarded during the rest of the day.
“It is an honor to have you here,” Hanzo said as he greeted them. “I am Shimada Hanzo, retainer to His Highness, Crown Prince James Jeffrey Jarron Montague Mackery, and advisor to Regent Reinhardt Wilhelm. He wishes he could greet you, but he was called away yesterday to meet his godchild. He will be here tomorrow for the talks, however.”
“Gérard Lacroix, ambassador for Her Majesty Merembe Nsimbi.” One man stepped forward. His bow was elegant and perfectly straight; Hanzo imagined Amelie would be crying with joy if she could see. Hm. That was an idea… “I sincerely hope that our two kingdoms will leave as allies as well as friends. And please, send along my congratulations as soon as you are able. Children are to be cherished.”
“As do I, and I will certainly pass your message along.” Hanzo gestured. “Please, you are no doubt hungry from your journey. We have a small brunch ready for you in the garden, or we can send it to your rooms if you prefer.”
Gérard gave a small smile. “Now, we both know how these things go, monsieur. All I request is that you give us a copy of our itinerary. You no doubt have this all planned, no?”
Hanzo laughed. “Indeed we do. I’ll have someone deliver it to you shortly. For now, enjoy your food. And don’t judge the spread too harshly-- the cook took ‘welcoming’ too far and tried her hand at more… niche recipes.”
Gérard winced. “I will keep that in mind.”
Jesse took that moment to crash the party, quite literally. He ran full tilt into them, smacking right into Hanzo. “Hanzo! Hanzo, I heard we have visitors! This is so exciting”
It was… surreal. He looked exactly like the Prince-- to his accent, his gait, the way he held himself. It took everything in him to hold his flinch. This wasn’t Jesse; this was a puppet. He should have been happy, but it just felt wrong. “Your majesty, may I introduce you to Gérard Lacroix and company? They will be our guests for the foreseeable future.”
Jesse’s eyes widened, and he whirled on Lacroix. “Oh! I am excited to meet you! I have so many questions. They said you came here on a boat-- why would you need a boat to cross a pond? They aren’t that big, you could’ve just walked around it. The one in the garden is only five feet across, and that one is huge.”
Hanzo could sympathize with Lacroix’s confused expression. “My apologies. His Highness heard you were from ‘across the pond’, and he took that literally. James, if you would tell Amelie that Ana is looking for her?” Jesse nodded enthusiastically and took off, tripping over his own feet.
Thankfully the delegation still seemed a little shellshocked from Jesse’s greeting, and the trip to the small garden off the courtyard was made in silence. He introduced Ana and her entourage, who took the delegation well in hand, allowing Hanzo to sneak off.
Genji was waiting just inside the castle, and took one look at Hanzo’s queasy expression. “You okay?” he asked.
Hanzo nodded, a little mechanically. “It will take some getting used to.”
“It’ll work out,” Genji reassured. “Come on, Angela cooked some taiyaki in celebration. You want to join us?”
“You hate taiyaki,” Hanzo pointed out, but he followed his brother to his suite.
Angela and Genji stacked his plate high and kept the conversation steered firmly away from politics and cowboys. It worked just as well as they intended, to the point where Hanzo was almost late to lunch. No one seemed to notice, drawn more towards Jesse gesticulating wildly in the corner as he talked to Jack, who looked like he was trying to escape. Lena and Hana were nearby, snickering at Jack’s imprisonment.
Gérard and Amelie were deep in conversation at the fireplace, heads bent together as they laughed softly over something, speaking in their native tongue. Ana and Zarya were discussing the strategy of snowball fights, with Satya manipulating hard light to imitate their described terrain and defenses. Zenyatta was making a circuit of the room, imparting blessing of the Iris seemingly at random.
Other nobility were mingling around the room, some talking with the visiting ambassadors, and others judging the room and whispering. Hanzo assessed and took the smart route: he joined Ana and Zarya.
It didn’t take long for lunch to be called. Jesse bounced to the head of the table, insisting that Gérard sit next to him, and demanded stories of home. It was rather smart of him, Hanzo admitted, thought he had no doubt the desire to know was genuine. Still, it kept Gérard talking and Jesse listened in rapt attention and asked silly-- but genuine-- questions. He could tell that Lacroix was charmed despite himself.
Zarya eyed Hanzo’s untouched plate. “You need to eat more, get some meat on your bones.”
Hanzo flushed. “Genji bribed me with taiyaki earlier and I ate more than I should.”
“Hm. Sweets. Not good for you. You going to eat that?”
He swapped her empty plate for his full one. Zarya happily dug in.
The remaining three courses went much of the same, with Hanzo picking at his food and discreetly sharing with Zarya, when he wasn’t occasionally drawn into conversation with Ana or Satya. Jesse had eventually left Lacroix alone to converse with another dignitary, who Hanzo had identified as Singh. He had studiously avoided making eye contact with Hanzo the entire time.
Ana whisked Jesse away as soon as lunch was over, and the visitors followed shortly after. Hanzo tried not to make it too obvious he was moping as he headed to the gardens to wallow in his misery.
Satya intercepted him. “Come, you are going to keep me company,” she ordered, and Hanzo had no choice but to follow her to her suite. To his chagrin it was even cleaner than his own, a combination of Satya’s orderliness and Fareeha’s military career. He sat uneasily on the edge of the pristine white sofa, warily watching as she moved around the kitchen.
“You are not very good at hiding your feelings,” she started, and Hanzo stiffened.
“Do not know you, so just think of you as a helicopter parent,” she reassured him. Hanzo relaxed, at least until she continued speaking. “But to the rest of us you are a lovesick fool.”
Hanzo scowled. “I am not lovesick.” Satya stared. He caved. “Maybe a little bit.”
She brought him a cup of tea, and he took it out more for something to do with his hands than actual need. “I suggest that you figure out what you want, and act on it before it’s too late,” she advised. “Worst case scenario, he turns you down, and you can heal sooner rather than later. Best case, you are disgustingly happy.”
“Maybe he won’t.” Satya took a delicate sip. “Hanzo, your entire job is making others happy. Making the Prince happy, making your friends happy, making the kingdom happy. Is it such a crime to make sure you are happy as well?”
His hands were shaking, Hanzo realized. He willed them still, but it didn’t work. “I’m… scared,” he admitted. “Do you know the success rate of first time relationships? Not to mention that I asked him here to maintain a lie. What if he resents me for that? What happens if the Prince comes back? My entire life has been dedicated to watching after him, I barely have time for myself, let alone a partner.”
“Hanzo.” Satya’s voice was firm. “Before Fareeha and I got together, you told me that happiness, even temporary, is worth it in the end. Why wouldn’t your happiness work the same way?”
Her words hit him like a ten pound truck covered in bells and whistles.
There wasn’t anything stopping him.
He had hid been devoted to duty for so long he hadn’t even realized that he started using it as a shield. The only thing stopping him was himself-- his own insecurities, his own demons. Maybe things with Jesse would work out. Maybe it wouldn’t. His duty wasn’t something to hide behind and his happiness was not defined by other people. All he needed to do was reach for it.
“I’m an idiot,” he realized.
“Not an idiot,” Satya assured. “Just a little dense.”
Hanzo placed the tea down on the coffee table. “Thank you,” he said. “I feel better now.”
She gave a pleased little smile. “Good. I was hoping that would work.” Her expression turned stern. “Now that I’m done playing life coach, I will have you know that I’m turning in my two weeks notice.”
He snorted. “You weren’t getting paid.”
“You’re right, I wasn’t. You are lucky that I trained everyone at the firm so well.” She took a sip of her tea. “Designing clothes was never a career. The Iris knows Fareeha needs my help since she can’t dress well to save her life, but she’s the exception.”
“Did the time off at least give you the inspiration you were looking for for your next project?”
Satya’s eyes gleamed. “It did. There’s an old school that has been overcrowded and underfunded due to Vishkar. It’s only my public duty to help them out. And with Miss Song’s help I improved my hardlight systems, so building a new school will be easy.”
Interested, Hanzo leaned closer. “Really? What are your plans?”
She whipped out her computer. “It’s actually in a prime location, but the original designers had no concept of elegance or space utilization. It just… sprawls out like an amoeba. If I get rid of these wings here and add a second floor, and utilize natural lighting…”
When they realized their argument over the entrance arch wasn’t going anywhere-- Satya argued Hanzo’s design had no concept of elegance, Hanzo said hers wasn’t structurally sound-- they decided to break for dinner. At her door he hesitated. “Thank you again,” he said sincerely. “I needed a break.”
Satya nodded. “Of course. And as Fareeha would say, ‘Go get him, Tiger’.”
He squinted. “Please don’t tell me that’s one her pet names for you.”
“As if I would tell you,” Satya retorted, but her cheeks were a little pink.
Hanzo plots, Jesse performs, and they finally come together.
Hanzo saw Jesse very little over the ensuing weeks, but that was fine. It gave him time to think, plan, and more importantly, tease.
The first time they saw each other after his and Satya’s conversation, Hanzo made it a point to make eye contact with Jesse. He could sense the other man’s confusion, but Hanzo merely smiled. “Looking immaculate, your highness,” he said, and then, when the others couldn’t see, the smile turned into a smirk and his eyes traced down his figure. Jesse missed a question asked him, but thankfully no one seemed too put out.
Hanzo kept it up-- flirty looks, an accidental touch when handing Jesse something, suggestive comments that caused Jesse’s face to turn a delightful shade of red. Hanzo even arranged for small gifts-- the churros from their first lunch, a small figurine of a horse that looked like Dick, a stuffed bear with a cowboy hat. Hanzo was delighted when Jesse brought the bear with him to the meeting the next day, pretending it was an advisor and deferring all questions that were asked him to the bear.
Other than the occasional looks and double entendres, however, Hanzo devoted most of his time to the treaty. While he wasn’t an official advisor-- Reinhardt had people more qualified that were in charge of ensuring the terms were fair-- Hanzo was charismatic in his own way. His years spent wrangling the Prince translated eerily well to caring for twelve odd politicians, mostly by ensuring that they were fed and watered at regular intervals. And if voices started to escalate, he’d send someone in to break up the tension. There were hiccups, of course-- Lacroix was smarter than Hanzo had anticipated, and he had a way with words that even Genji would be jealous of-- but Hanzo was proud that at the end of every day progress was made and nothing had been broken yet.
All in all, it took three weeks for the initial terms to be laid out and agreed upon. Lacroix would take back the treaty in two days to see if his Queen would accept the terms, at which point they would either arrange for a return trip or sign. Jesse had already written the forged signature on it, complete with a smiley face and a few hearts alongside Reinhardt’s more blocky print. Hanzo finally relaxed, and was able to look forward to the ball set for tomorrow evening.
Thankfully, the day started perfectly: with Genji screaming in horror.
“Hanzo! How could you!” he wailed. In his arms was a pile of paisley in ugly browns and black nylon shorts. He was wearing what seemed to be Angela’s bathrobe, and nothing else. “Do you want me to look like an old man? Do you want me to be a fashion disaster?”
Hanzo smirked. “I believe you once said you could rock anything that came off a hanger.”
“Any hanger would be insulted to have this! Hanzo! This shirt is puke green!”
“Matches your hair then,” Hanzo replied, and shut the door on Genji’s horrified expression.
His brother pounded on the door for a few more minutes before sulking off. Hanzo spent a blissful half hour in the bathtub instead, indulging in a soak. There weren’t any plans for the morning, and when he finally toweled off and wrapped himself in a silk robe, there was breakfast waiting for him on the kitchen table, as well as the expensive coffee that Ana only brought out for special occasions.
There was a note on the tray as well from said spymaster. Be sure to be at the ball no later than five.
Hanzo rolled his eyes. As if he would be anything but punctual.
The formal wear had been delivered three days ago, a navy blue three piece suit that Hanzo had fallen in love with months ago. The tie was hand painted silk-- black with a golden dragon winding down it. The waistcoat had subtle gold threaded through it that shone when the light hit it right, and the golden buttons had the dragon ouroboros featured on his family crest. It fit him like a second skin, and the black silk shirt just completed the look.
Periodically, his room was invaded by others as he took the day off to lounge. Angela came by to give him a long suffering look and to politely ask where he had hidden Genji’s clothes. Hanzo said they would be returned tomorrow, and she didn’t bother asking more questions but did warn Hanzo that Genji was plotting. Zenyatta visited to pass on news that the Iris had given him a good feeling about tonight (which Hanzo took with a grain of salt), and finally, Ana swung by to ensure once again that Hanzo would arrive on time. When Hanzo asked after Jesse, Ana merely smirked and sent him a wink that answered nothing and left him with more questions.
Still, when five o'clock came, he was walking into the ballroom, dressed to impress. Eyes lingered; smiles widened. But Hanzo didn’t pay attention. The person he wanted to see wasn’t there.
Genji found him moping by the punch bowl. “You realize you explicitly trained him to be fashionably late, right?” Genji asked. “This is your fault.”
“It’s six,” Hanzo grumbled. “He should be here by now.”
“The party has barely gotten started,” Genji scoffed. “Our honored guests only just arrived, Reinhardt hasn’t started with tales from the good old days, Zenyatta hasn’t been asked to juggle, and Ana hasn’t dragged anyone to their beds yet.”
Hanzo sighed. “And you haven’t fallen into the punch bowl.”
“I was six! And you pushed me!”
They were interrupted by a courtier’s daughter asking Hanzo to dance. Not wanting to step on any toes, he accepted. It started a chain reaction as he was passed from partner to partner, making small talk and fending off invites to various luncheons, parties, and once, a wedding date. Whether he was invited to be the groom or simply a guest was never clarified.
Finally he managed to escape and hide by the buffet table, and Ana found him carefully piling a plate with cheese, meat, and crackers. “Reached your limit?”
“Not quite.” Swiftly, he started assembling little sandwiches, plucking a few grapes and adding them to his plate as well. “The company leaves something to be desired, but at least the music is good.”
“Seeking out specific company by any chance?” Ana asked, knowingly.
Hanzo sighed, but gave a rueful smile. “I’ve been told a lot lately that I’ve been particularly transparent when it comes to, well…” he shrugged.
Ana gave him a soft smile. “It’s not a bad thing.”
“No. But it might be too late.” Admitting it put a bad taste in his mouth, but he had spent too long lying to himself.
He was in the middle of making an another excuse why he couldn’t dance when a smooth voice cut in. “Mind if I interrupt?”
Heart pounding loudly in his chest, Hanzo turned to see Jesse standing next to them. Whatever Hanzo was about to say died on his tongue.
Jesse looked… stunning. He was wearing a black suit with subtle gold pinstripes, a navy waistcoat that matched Hanzo’s suit and a gold tie with a black wolf painted on. Black leather gloves covered his hand and disguised the prosthetic. A navy cape-- serape, Hanzo remembered from one of their lunch discussions -- outlined in gold covered his shoulders, and the royal seal was sewn into it in prominent gold thread. A golden brooch clipped the serape in place, and Hanzo almost choked when he realized what was etched into it.
The Shimada ouroboros.
Helpless, Hanzo accepted Jesse’s hand and allowed himself to be whisked onto the dance floor.
Everyone else melted away. It was just the two of them, dancing to some song that Hanzo should have recognized. Jesse easily led them around the floor, eyes never leaving Hanzo. It was too much, too fast, after being starved for Jesse’s attention for so long. Brain on autopilot, he blurted out, “This isn’t in character.”
Jesse chuckled. “I’ve just spent the past hour trying to convince people that we needed to start a karaoke competition, and it was actually the lovely Mr. Lacroix who suggested I rescue you. Like a good puppy I decided to fetch.” His smile grew lazy, and his voice dropped, making Hanzo shiver. “And the prize was worth it.”
“I thought you wanted nothing to do with me,” Hanzo admitted.
Jesse hummed and gripped him a little tighter. “I want everything to do with you, sweetheart. Just learned my lesson in the field, is all.”
Shame started to coil up Hanzo’s spine, but Jesse squeezed his hand. “None of that, now. I knew I jumped the gun. But… now that we’ve had time to think, and, ah… consider…”
At Jesse’s hesitance, Hanzo realized two important things. One: unlike Hanzo, Jesse had always been honest with him about his intentions. And two: this would end in under twenty four hours. Everyone had been right-- he had nothing to lose by pursuing Jesse, and everything to gain. With this in mind, Hanzo stopped the dance in the middle of the floor. “Follow me.”
Confused, Jesse let Hanzo guide him through still dancing couples. One of them was Gérard and Amelie, both lost to the world as they glided seemingly on air. Hanzo stifled a smile.
He led Jesse outside to the gardens, where small twinkling lights had been threaded through the bushes and trees. They sat on a bench underneath a huckleberry tree, hidden by shadows and greenery, a small fountain nearby covering their quiet movements and words.
“When the delegation leaves tomorrow, I want you to stay,” Hanzo said. “I don’t care if our ruse is exposed, I don’t care if the Prince doesn’t come back-- I just don’t want you to leave.”
Jesse’s eyes softened, and he cupped Hanzo’s face. “There’s nothing that can keep me from you now, Han,” he said. “Is that what’s been holding you back?”
“That and my own idiocy.” He never had been good at admitting when he was wrong, but with Jesse, it was easier than he had thought. “I have never… done this before. My happiness was always sacrificed for the greater good.”
Jesse’s thumb was rubbing over Hanzo’s cheekbone distractedly. “Genji’s mentioned as much. I just remember when I first saw ya-- stiff as a rod, yet your eyes were so sad. I knew immediately I’d follow them anywhere.”
Hanzo leaned into Jesse’s touch, his own hands mirroring Jesse’s. “Even if I have trouble with my words?”
Jesse chuckled. “Even then.”
Hanzo used his hands to pull Jesse closer, pressing their foreheads together. His hands moved to tangle into Jesse’s hair. “I don’t know anything about love, Jesse, but I promise you I’ll try.”
Jesse’s smile was sweet. “You saying you love me, Han?”
Hanzo considered. The party was but a hazy memory in this quiet corner. All that mattered was Jesse, solid and warm in front of him. “How could l not?” He finally asked, voice soft.
This time when Jesse kissed him, Hanzo didn’t pull away.
What is lost is found
I was gonna wait till Friday to post this, but I have a test in two hours and my anxiety is getting the better of me so I needed the distraction. Hope y'all enjoy the finale!
A sequel IS in the works, titled 'to win a dragon', and will feature a previously mentioned emperor.
The day the delegation was to leave dawned bright and clear, not a cloud in the sky. Hanzo stretched under the covers, smiling as Jesse grumbled and pulled the covers tighter. “Castle life has spoiled you,” Hanzo murmured, smirking as Jesse glared at him.
“It was the farmers who got up at the ass crack of dawn, not me,” Jesse grumbled, reaching out to pull Hanzo closer. He went willingly, tucking into Jesse’s warmth. “Besides, I’ve got you right where I want you.”
“I suppose that is a plus,” Hanzo agreed, and sighed happily into Jesse’s skin.
It had been easier than he’d thought, sneaking away from the party. The gardens had been empty, and the few people they did see were otherwise occupied. They had shared kisses back to Jesse’s rooms, where they had fallen asleep cuddling and whispering to one another. Now their finery was reduced to a crumpled heap on the floor, Hanzo dressed only in his boxers and one of Jesse’s old flannels, Jesse in old sweatpants. They needed to get up, get dressed, prepare for saying goodbye to the ambassadors, but Hanzo was reluctant to move from the bubble they had created.
Jesse took the matter out of Hanzo’s hands by heaving a sigh and pressing a kiss to the top of Hanzo’s head. “We need to get up,” he grunted, giving Hanzo one final squeeze before rolling out of bed.
Hanzo grumbled but followed suit, padding around the bed to wrap his arms around Jesse, who was digging through his closet. “Han, it’s getting late,” he said, amused. “You need to get ready.”
“Don’t want to,” he muttered, but he reluctantly pulled away.
Jesse handed him a blue button-down. “Here. Wear this. It’ll match your suit pants, at least, so people won’t immediately recognize you doing the walk of shame.”
“No shame,” Hanzo said, pressing a quick kiss to Jesse’s surprised face before hurrying to the bathroom to try and tame his hair. He needed to shower, but he knew if he did so here he’d just keep delaying the inevitable.
Jesse was folding Hanzo’s clothes when he finally emerged. “I’ll have Ana send them to you later,” he said. “See you in a bit?”
Hanzo sighed and stepped into Jesse’s embrace. “Of course.” With a great deal of effort he pulled away, moving quickly to his room.
Unfortunately, Genji was waiting for him.
“Did you camp outside my door?” Hanzo demanded, and stepped on Genji’s stomach to cross the threshold. The green-haired knight let out a wheezing sound, but was still quick enough to grab the door before Hanzo slammed it.
“Just wanted to check on you,” he said after he caught his breath, still lying on the ground. Hanzo ignored him and began stripping, beelining for the shower. “Looks like you had fun!” Genji shouted after him.
Hanzo flipped him off before getting the bathroom door between them. Genji was still there when he was done, of course, but at least now Hanzo felt more human.
“So…” Genji started with, dragging out the ‘o’ and wiggling his eyebrows. “Did you get lucky?”
“We did not have sex,” Hanzo said sternly, before finally letting his smile break free. “But we are together now.”
“Ha!” Genji crowed. “I win the pot!”
“You bet on my love life?” Hanzo sulked.
“Course we did. It was painful watching you two dance around each other; at least this way we could have some fun. Lena’s gonna be mad-- she thought you would fling yourself at Jesse the day he left, confessing your undying love like some harlequin romance maiden.”
Hanzo made a face. “At least split the earnings with me.”
“No way! I’m getting Angela some new jewelry. She’s had the same set for a decade now.”
Hanzo smirked. “Does this new jewelry contain a ring, by chance?”
Genji looked shifty, and Hanzo pressed his victory. “Perhaps I should start a betting pool on when you are going to get engaged. Let’s see, I put money on your anniversary next month, with you taking her to that fancy pasta place, with the ring in the bottom of her champagne glass--”
Genji bolted for the door. “I just remembered I have to be somewhere. Bye!”
Hanzo laughed. Genji’s wild spirit may have settled with Angela’s influence, but he knew his little brother was nowhere close to settling down. Genji always seemed to forget that Hanzo could dish back whatever was thrown at him.
The front courtyard was a madhouse as people ran to and fro preparing the ambassador’s horses and carriages. A small mountain of luggage waited by the steps to be loaded, and the visiting soldiers chatted amicably with the knights as they traded last minute fighting tips and styles. Zarya was happily winning a last minute arm wrestling contest, a crowd gathered around and cheered. Even Knight Commander Morrison looked on with a small smile, amused at the soldier’s false hopes at winning.
Lacroix shook Hanzo’s hand, a smile on his face. “I must say, this whole journey went a lot better than expected,” he said. “Her Majesty will be pleased with these terms, I’m sure.”
“We look forward to working together,” Hanzo said sincerely. “On behalf of King Regent Reinhardt, I must say--”
“Hanzo! I’m back!”
A very familiar screech froze the words coming out of Hanzo’s mouth.
There, in the middle of the chaos of the courtyard, was The Prince. The actual Prince.
He was dressed in a plain white shirt and brown pants, but it was undeniably his charge. “You would not believe the adventure I had!” he exclaimed, marching towards them, oblivious to the silence that had fallen over everyone.
Jesse took the moment to appear, eyes wide. “What in the world--”
“Brother!” the Prince shrieked and flung himself at Jesse. “I found you!”
“Found me?” Jesse asked, bewildered. “Why-- Hanzo, what is going on?”
“Was hoping you’d tell me that,” a new voice cut in.
Everyone’s heads whipped around to see a man striding towards them, dressed in severe black gear, two swords gleaming on his hip. He was dark skinned with shorn hair and a powerful stride, but there was an amused smile on his face. “Here I was thinking my fool of a son had fallen into a river and knocked himself out, only to realize that I had the wrong idiot all along.”
“Dad?” Jesse asked, at the same time Knight Commander Morrison shouted “Gabe?”
Heads swiveled again. “Oh, hey babe,” Gabe said casually. “What’s up?”
“What’s up?” Jack demanded. He stalked forward, hands clenched into fists. “Gabe, it’s been thirty years! And that’s all you got to say?”
“I did send you letters,” Gabe pouted, looking very much like a sulking child. Hanzo looked between him and Jesse-- the resemblance was uncanny.
“What letters? I never got any damn--”
Lena piped up. “Yes you did.” Jack whirled on her, and while she shrunk back a bit, she continued. “You just never checked your mailbox, and when I told you about them, you ignored me.”
Jack stared at her, stunned. Hanzo felt much the same.
Gabe laughed, and heads turned back towards him. “You never change, Jackie.”
“You don’t get to call me that--”
They were interrupted by Reinhardt’s booming voice. “Will someone tell me what’s going on here?”
The Prince perked up, finally letting go of Jesse, who had been trying to escape the entire time. “Uncle!” he said cheerily. “Look! I found my brother!”
“I’m not your brother!” Jesse hollered.
Reinhardt looked astounded. “What? But only three people should know about that-- how did you--”
“Hanzo, please tell me you know what is going on,” Jesse begged.
Fareeha, hidden by some horses until now, started laughing.
Reinhardt cleared his throat. “It, ah, appears the long lost Prince has been right under our noses the entire time.”
Hanzo blinked rapidly, looking between a still arguing Gabe and Jack, a laughing Fareeha, a bewildered Lacroix, and a pleased-as-punch crown Prince. “What long lost Prince?” he asked.
Reinhardt looked… embarrassed? “When the Prince was seven, he had a twin.” Hanzo realized the age: it was a year before he became the Prince’s retainer. “The royal family was en route to their summer home, when bandits attacked the caravan. The attack was repelled, but when it was over the Queen realized one of the twins had gone missing in the chaos. They searched for him to no avail, and thought that one of the bandits had kidnapped him. No ransom ever came, nor did any dead child matching the missing Prince’s description ever turn up. His parents believed him alive until they died.”
“I heard Ana talking about a man matching my description one night and went out to look for him,” the Prince said happily. “And look! I found him!”
Jesse flushed. “I’m an orphan, there’s no way--”
“Actually, you are.”
The crowd looked again to Gabe. He was leaning casually against a red-faced Morrison. Hanzo quickly decided he didn’t want to know. “Remember when I found you wandering the desert as a kid, crying because you were lost? Said your last name was McCree because you couldn’t pronounce your real one right. Took me years to put two and two together, but when I did, I had to get proof. Contacted Ana and voila, here you are.”
Hanzo turned accusing eyes to the spymaster, who was standing next to Reinhardt. She shrugged. “When you showed up with Jesse, Hanzo, I figured everything would turn out all right. Only sent Fareeha after Gabe because he somehow ended up with a Prince yet again. Guess you’re a magnet to royalty, old friend.”
“You knew all this time?” Hanzo demanded, ignoring Jesse’s awed ‘goddamn’.
“Course I did. Wouldn’t be a very good spymaster otherwise,” Ana replied primly.
Jesse blinked and turned to Gabe. “Wait. When you said you used to be a knight--”
Gabe smiled. “Served under your parents, before I became a mercenary. Palace life was too stuffy after a while. Tried to get this one here to join me, but apparently he doesn’t believe in the post office.”
“We have email for a reason,” Morrison hissed.
Gabe shrugged. “You know signal beyond the city is shit.”
“Gabe, I swear by the Iris--”
They started arguing again.
“Now let me get this straight,” Lacroix demanded, and Hanzo stiffened. He had forgotten the man was even there. “The real Prince went missing before we arrived, so you brought in a duplicate, to, I assume, pretend he was the Prince so you wouldn’t jeopardize the treaty. It turns out he really is a Prince, just ran away as a child, and no one knew until now?”
The Prince clapped his hands in delight. “And I found him!”
“No you didn’t,” Jesse muttered, side stepping another hug.
Reinhardt nodded solemnly. “We are sorry for the deception, good sir, but at the time--”
Lacroix started laughing.
Hanzo and Jesse shared an alarmed look, but Lacroix merely shook his head. “No one will believe this!” he hooted. “Oh, the others will be jealous they were not here to witness this.”
“You aren’t mad?” Jesse asked, hesitantly.
Gérard gave a large smile. “Why should I be? A Prince was still there to sign, even if he didn’t know he was one. And honestly, everything makes a lot more sense in hindsight.” He winked. “You two make a handsome couple, by the by.”
Hanzo flushed as Jesse let out a startled laugh. “Well then, sir, it was an honor to meet you, even if it was under slightly false pretenses.”
“And I you. Say, you wouldn’t happen to have seen the beautiful Ms. Guillard around, have you? She promised we’d see each other before I left.”
When the chaos had died down and the delegation left with all the pomp and ceremony that was earlier delayed, the crown Prince had been safely deposited in his quarters, and Gabe and the Knight-Commander had mysteriously disappeared, Jesse and Hanzo sat with Ana and Reinhardt to get answers.
“I don’t understand how this happened,” Jesse admitted, clinging to Hanzo’s hand like his life depended on it. “You’d think I’d remember growing up in a castle.”
“Your family was attacked and you ran away thinking you were going to die,” Ana pointed out. “It’s not hard to assume that the trauma blocked you from remembering, especially since you were so young. You probably assumed everyone was dead, and that stuck with you as you grew.”
Reinhardt hung his head apologetically. “The Prince-- I mean, your brother-- must have overheard us talking the night he disappeared. You know better than anyone how he gets ideas, Hanzo. His heart was in the right place, even if he doesn’t know how to follow it properly.”
Jesse shook his head. “It’s… a little hard to get my head around,” he admitted. “Me, actually a Prince? I grew up on the road, all this time I coulda had--” he paused, then exhaled harshly. Hanzo squeezed his hand. “Sounds too good to be true.”
“You’re here now,” Ana said. “That’s what matters.”
“I vaguely remember there being another child,” Hanzo admitted. “But as I grew older I just assumed I was misremembering. They were -- are -- practically identical, after all. Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“The King and Queen kept it under wraps,” Reinhardt said. “If anyone found out Jesse was missing, they could find him first instead. They had the best intentions, but didn’t go about it the best way.”
“Sounds familiar,” Hanzo muttered, thinking darkly about his charge. A thought struck him. “Wait. Does that mean Jesse could possibly inherit the throne instead?”
Reinhardt and Ana shared a contemplative look. “That depends,” she said. “Technically, Jesse is the younger sibling by a good hour, and while the Prince is…. Air headed, he isn’t a danger. If we find a good woman with a good head on her shoulders, all should be well.”
Jesse turned anxious eyes to Hanzo. “This won’t change anything, will it?”
“Jesse, no,” Hanzo said emphatically. His free hand cupped his cheek. “Nothing has changed. You’re just… a little bit richer, now.”
“I don’t care about that,” he protested, then paused. “Uh… how much richer?”
Ana’s laugh was warm. “We’ll let you boys be. You no doubt have a lot to talk about.”
They barely noticed the two leaving, Jesse crowding Hanzo as soon as the door closed. “That was real, right?” He asked, still sounding bewildered. “I really didn’t hit my head and will wake up with Gabe yelling about my stupidity?”
Hanzo chuckled and pressed his lips to Jesse. “Does that feel like a dream?” he asked.
Jesse’s eyes glowed brighter than any star. “Dunno, you might have to do it again, just to make sure.”
Hanzo smiled. “Of course, whatever your highness wishes.”
“Oh my god,” Jesse spluttered. “Han, no.”
“Fine.” He nuzzled close to Jesse’s ear and whispered, “Whatever you desire, my love.”
Jesse sighed. “Yeah. That’s better. I love you too, Han.”
There was still things to do. Hanzo needed to ensure the Prince was well after his journey, get Gabe’s explanation on what happened when the Prince when missing, and probably explain to the castle just what had happened now that the cat had been let out of the bag. But that could wait until tomorrow. For now, he had Jesse, warm and solid in his arms.