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At first McCree thought he was seeing things.

 

The hour was late, late enough even the good Doctor Ziegler was long gone to bed, and Jesse himself had been awake for nigh on forty hours straight. The corridor he was ambling down, the one that led to the Watchpoint kitchen, was dark, lit only by the faint blue glow of the emergency strip lights that ran along the walls. With these things considered it wasn't too far a leap to assume the flash of movement he caught from the corner of his eye was just an illusion. A side effect of his tired, Deadeye-strained mind.

 

But McCree had grown to be… let’s say a cautious type, so he stopped, rubbed his eyes, looked with more attention. And it wasn't just his vision playing tricks; there it was again, the blue light flickering off something pale that shifted in the shadows, something that grew and coalesced into a mass of pure, white fur.

 

Jesse stared.

 

The wolf – for that's what it was, a huge, white wolf, sprawled out in front of the kitchen doors – raised its head, and stared right back at him. In the dim light its eyes were glowing gold.Even if there were any chance of an arctic wolf somehow getting into the Watchpoint under Athena's nose, those eyes would have given away this creature's identity immediately. The sort of analytical intelligence that burned in them belonged to no mere animal.

 

Jesse straightened, tucking his serape up closer around his neck, and cleared his throat. “Howdy there,” he offered.

 

The wolf didn't reply. The fur around its neck bristled into spikes, and the dark edges of its muzzle curled with the threat of a snarl, exposing the tips of a great number of sharply pointed teeth.

 

It was mighty unusual to meet a daemon without meeting the person they belonged with. It had been a mighty long while since Jesse'd had to make nice with a new daemon, too. A long while since he'd been in the position to care. You could say he was out of practice.

 

He took a testing step forward. In response the wolf tucked its legs closer under its body and raised to a ready crouch, its muscles seized with the tension of a predator intending to strike, and all the while its growl deepened, a low warning that rumbled like approaching thunder in the still air between them.

 

Then the kitchen doors slid open, and McCree's suspicions were confirmed.

 

He'd known from talking to Genji that Overwatch had recently gained a pair of new recruits, that the erstwhile scion of the Shimada Clan had finally deigned to accept the invitation Genji had so graciously gone out on a limb to offer him. Jesse'd been harboring vague fantasies of giving the man a piece of his mind, real friendly-like, when – if – he ever showed, but (ain't it just the way of things) of course he had to be away on a mission when Shimada actually turned up. If he didn't know better (he wasn't yet that paranoid) he'd be tempted to wonder if the man hadn't planned it that way, because right at that moment, at that late hour in the dark, Jesse was plain exhausted. He wanted nothing more than a hot toddy to calm himself down, to shake off the lingering cortisol enough to actually sleep, and much as he might've liked to he couldn't muster up even a spark of the protective anger he'd been so righteously nurturing.

 

Besides, Shimada looked… wary and suspicious, yes, even without the growling wolf standing guard before him to give away his emotional state. But it was more than that. He looked like he'd picked a fight with Morpheus and lost. His sharp eyes were underlined with deep dark circles, his hair looked like it'd had fingers run through it plenty but hadn’t seen a comb in days, and his broad hands were clutching a steaming mug of tea in a white-knuckle grip. Pale wisps of vapor drifted up around his tense, handsome face.

 

It was a strange juxtaposition. McCree never imagined the first time he met Genji's would-be murderer, the man would be in his sweatpants and slippers.

 

Another sleepless soul, just like him, passing by in the night. It was enough to make Jesse feel an odd sense of camaraderie. He raised his palms and put on a small smile. “Pardon me, didn't mean to spook either of y'all,” he said. “You done in the kitchen?”

 

“Yes,” said Hanzo Shimada.

 

And that was the end of it. Shimada touched the top of the wolf's head with the tips of his fingers, murmured something to them in low Japanese, gave a stiff nod to Jesse, and left. The daemon followed, crowding Shimada near the wall in order to give Jesse a wide enough berth, sticking so close to the man's side it was a miracle Shimada didn't trip.

 

Jesse watched them go until even the wolf's bright white fur was swallowed up by the darkness.

 

“Huh,” he muttered to himself, petting his collar. “Well now, ain't that somethin' else.”

 


 

It was harder for McCree to hold on to his remaining misgivings once he saw the Shimada daemons together.

 

The wolf – Fuyushiko was her name – and Genji's Ikuen had taken to cautious play whenever the whole Watchpoint gathered for team training. They were both still a little hesitant, always taking a moment to size each other up first; nevertheless, the two daemons were leagues more comfortable with each other than their human counterparts, who had to force themselves awkwardly and painfully through any words than didn't pertain to the exercises.

 

It was… sad, was what it was. Watching the two daemons, McCree could almost picture how the men must have been as boys. They'd been close, once. To have lost that…

 

Well, Jesse’d been an only child. What would he know?

 

Being a bystander to the brothers' uncomfortable tension didn't stop him chuckling when the sparrowhawk dive-bombed the wolf, scruffing up her fur with her talons so it looked like she was wearing an uneven mohawk. Somehow she made even that look good.

 

They sure made a handsome pair: Shimada had a build like if Robin Hood had been an Olympian god, with a face that would be fit for a catwalk if it weren't so surly, and the wolf was equally striking if not more so. If anything she seemed in better condition than him; her fur was lustrous and healthy where, even after a month had passed, Hanzo had a vibe about him that was just as tired and worn down as he’d looked the night McCree first bumped into him. Not that it affected his performance – in training the both of them were graceful and strong, keeping up easily with Genji and his hawk.

 

It seemed unfair that a man who was capable of the things Hanzo had done could have such a fine daemon. On one hand it did make a certain kind of sense: wolves, big cats and the like were supposedly common settled forms for daemons when their humans had what you might call 'leadership qualities' – and if nothing else, Hanzo had been groomed from birth to lead.

 

But then, by that logic, Reyes had said more than once he thought Jesse had what it took to take over Reyes' position one day, despite the fact that if you judged by stereotype…

 

(Some folks might say McCree wouldn't be the most trustworthy type. Some folks might even be right.)

 

A wolf, though… that implied certain things, didn't it? Wolves were generally social animals, loyal, with close-knit family bonds. Not what McCree would have associated with Hanzo, not at all, and yet…

 

There was a thrum of fascination, a twin echo of his own, resonating in that deep, still place within the marrow of his mind. McCree adjusted his serape and watched the wolf's attempts to catch Ikuen's tailfeathers.

 

Perhaps he stood there staring too long. Fuyushiko was still standoffish around him, though there'd been no more growling since that first night, but she had the same preternatural awareness as the brothers themselves. Didn't take her long to shake off Ikuen and pin McCree down with those golden glowing eyes.

 

Hanzo broke off his stilted conversation with Genji and followed her gaze. His own eyes were a dark gray-brown but just as intense as his wolf's as he scrutinized McCree, up and down, lingering on his gun, his metal arm, his hat. The slight sneer on his face didn't give away a hint of his conclusions.

 

“Is your daemon not going to join us?” he asked.

 

As soon as the word 'daemon' left his lips, Genji noticeably stiffened. Hanzo glanced across at him, paused, took a breath, and looked at McCree.

 

McCree's smile felt like a grimace. “Don't think so, friend.”

 

“...I see.” Hanzo's brow furrowed. His eyes flicked to Genji, to Jesse, back to Genji, who said nothing. “I-”

 

“Don't worry about it,” McCree interrupted.

 

Ikuen, bless her heart, broke the silence that had fallen by taking that moment to pretend to dive-bomb McCree, scratching at his metal arm with her talons. Relieved for the out McCree grinned, sure to keep his arm outstretched and head ducked to avoid the stretch of her buffeting wings – Genji started egging her on, and for a moment it all felt so familiar McCree couldn't help the laugh that spilled out of him.

 

When he glanced up both Hanzo and Fuyushiko were watching him. They had their heads tilted to the side in an identical fashion, a true matching pair – he wouldn't dare say, but it was pretty darn cute. Jesse bit the inside of his cheek and hid his face under the shadow of his hat brim.

 

Eventually Winston called everyone together to organize into groups. Genji went over to Zenyatta and Angela, and it was instant, the change that came over Hanzo. McCree watched from the corner of his eye as the walls came up, as Hanzo's posture drew in and he crossed his arms. Fuyushiko turned back into glue and stuck herself close to his heel.

 

If was as if, without Genji and Ikuen, neither of them felt they belonged. Like maybe they had no right to. So they set themselves apart, a self-fulfilling prophecy: the man reluctant to talk; the wolf reluctant to spar or play or interact at all with anyone except Ikuen – not even Reinhardt's massive Leonberger, who was possibly the friendliest daemon McCree had ever met. If they kept this up they were only condemning themselves to a solitary existence.

 

A shiver tickled the base of his neck and trailed down his spine. He shifted his shoulders, readjusted the folds of his serape.

 

It seemed lonely.

 

After all, what was a wolf without a pack?

 


 

Jesse was fucked. Not in the good way, either.

 

Wasn't the first time he'd stared death in the face through the muzzle of a gun. Far from it. Never did get any easier. He just wished he wasn't down on his knees in the dirt this time around, cornered like some common beast.

 

His head was spinning, blood hot on his forehead and stinging in his eyes. His gun arm sent blistering fire through his veins if he so much as twitched it –broken radius, most likely. And the Talon piece of shit who’d got the drop on him was raising his weapon for another shot--

 

He closed his eyes. There was no being quicker this time. Stay safe? Sorry, Fareeha. Didn't seem like he was gonna be able to keep that promise after all. 

 

The finger drew in on the trigger

 

the blast of the gunshot echoed in his ears –

 

--and then came a growl, ferocious, a scream, fearful, a second of wailing agony that cut off with a strangled choke.

 

Then silence.

 

McCree's breath whistled from his dry mouth. Gingerly he lifted his prosthetic and patted his chest; no new holes in his breastplate, nor his head. Goddamn lucky son-of-a-gun. He cracked open his eyes once more.

 

The asshole was lying a few feet away in a pool of blood, and Fuyushiko was stood above him, her hackles raised and muzzle dripping red. The man had fallen with his back to McCree; he couldn't see the state of his throat. He doubted it was pretty.

 

He tore his gaze away, stared at Fuyushiko instead as she turned to him, claws clicking on the cement. Casually she licked her chops. Her teeth were carmine, too.

 

McCree swallowed. “Thanks,” he managed to get out, voice thin as a reed.

 

The wolf dipped her head. “You are welcome,” she said. Though they'd worked on the same team for a while now, it was the first time she'd spoken to him directly. Her voice was low like Hanzo's, but it was smoother than his, more flowing where his was so often a rough bark. Funny really, if you thought about it. Or maybe not.

 

She stepped closer, hovered a pace away as Jesse braced himself against the wall and struggled to his feet.

 

“You're injured.”

 

“Happens sometimes,” McCree gasped. “Don't you worry 'bout me, I'll be fine.” He put his hand to his bleeding head and winced, blinking away the black spots in his vision “...Probably could do with a crutch, though. Where's Hanzo?”

 

“He is on his way.”

 

“Right, right.” No, hold up, something about that wasn’t right. “Wait – he ain't nearby?”

 

Fuyushiko glanced at him sidelong. After a moment, she said succinctly, “The bond can be stretched.”

 

Thrumming pressure tightened around McCree's throat. He clutched at his serape. “It can, yeah, but–”

 

“We did what was necessary,” she interrupted. “Worry about yourself, McCree.”

 

She turned her back on him and trotted ahead, but McCree noticed how she hung around, keeping him in her peripheral vision for the few minutes it took for Hanzo to finally appear.

 

He quickly scanned McCree over as he marched up, and scowled. “You're injured.”

 

Like daemon, like human. McCree's patience was running out as his nausea grew. “Oh really?” he drawled. “Hadn’t noticed, thank you very much.”

 

“You're welcome,” Hanzo replied. He ignored McCree's snort, wasting no time in pulling McCree's one still functioning arm over his broad shoulder.

 

"You didn’t need to come fetch me," McCree muttered. It was petulant, he knew, but for some reason he was suddenly feeling rather embarrassed. "I can manage just fine–”

 

"If you want me to leave you I will,” Hanzo said dryly.

 

Fuyushiko said something in low Japanese, and Hanzo's lips twitched.

 

Jesse licked his own lips. "What’d she say?" He looked over at Fuyushiko. “Are you talkin’ shit?”

 

Neither of them replied. Hanzo only flicked his eyes in a quick roll and gripped Jesse's metal wrist tight. “Can you walk?”

 

“If you keep me upright I think I can manage puttin' one foot in front of the other.” McCree leaned more of his weight into Hanzo's side. “Just don't hold it against me if I end up faintin' on you.”

 

Hanzo let out a soft snort, a rumble in his throat that could have been a laugh.

 

Fuyushiko led the way, deftly routing them around their enemies as Hanzo helped Jesse limp back to the dropship. If he'd been more cognizant Jesse might've made some comment on his strength, given how he was hauling Jesse's bulk about with impressive ease, but as it was he was becoming increasingly woozy and could barely respond when Hanzo started asking him questions. Fuyushiko was the one who had to fill Hanzo in on what had happened.

 

Mercy met them at the dropship. McCree let her fuss to her satisfaction – not that he was in a state to do much else.

  

By the time it occurred to him to offer a more sincere thank you to his pair of saviors, Fuyushiko and Hanzo had already gone.

 


 

“He is over here.”

 

Jesse glanced over his shoulder to see Fuyushiko's fluffy white head peering down at him from the top of the cliff, some ten feet above him. A moment later Hanzo's face appeared next to hers, wearing his customary frown.

 

“So this is where you disappeared to,” he said.

 

Jesse shrugged and took another puff of his cigarillo. “Wasn't exactly in the mood for socializin',” he muttered.

 

“Hm.” Hanzo made a quick assessment of the cliff and the five-foot-or-so deep shelf Jesse'd set himself down on. “Does this mean our company is unwelcome?”

 

Jesse waved an arm. “Free country, ain't it? Grab a seat, join the party.”

 

Hanzo made swinging over the edge of a clifftop look as easy as getting out of bed. He was down and standing by Jesse's side with a second of graceful movement, then he widened his stance and held out his arms, and smoothly caught all one hundred-something pounds of wolf when she leapt off after him.

 

They settled down on the ledge next to Jesse, Fuyushiko between them with her head on Hanzo's thigh, and looked out over the bay. The shadows of the high clouds chased each other over the glittering surface of the white-tipped waves.

 

“Beautiful, is it not?” Hanzo said quietly.

 

“Mn, sure is.”

 

“How did you get up here?”

 

Jesse pointed out the small door disguised in the rockface. “Maintenance access for the drone ports on this side of the cliff,” he explained. “First time I was stationed here I figured out this was the best place to come for some peace and quiet; nowadays I'm pretty sure only Athena knows it's here. Maybe Winston. No one else seems keen on exploring every nook and cranny of this place – save for you ninja types.”

 

A small smile flickered over Hanzo's face, though it disappeared just as quick. He licked his lips, then said, “Genji told me what happened.”

 

Jesse heaved a sigh. “Did he now.”

 

“It is true, then.”

 

“Wish I could say otherwise, Hanzo, I really do. But there's no mistaking – those were his tactics, his guns, his voice–” He cut off, sucked in a mouthful of hot smoke, hissed it out through his teeth. “Yeah, it was him. Only difference was that – that Halloween costume get-up he was wearin'. Not to mention him bein' on the wrong fuckin' side.”

 

And no Estella.

 

“…And no Estella.”

 

Hanzo tilted his head. “His daemon, I presume.”

 

“A panther. She was…” Lovely. “…Yeah. She was lovely.” With Hanzo watching and Fuyushiko's ears alert, twisted to listen to him, Jesse was suddenly overcome with the desire to tell them, to finally put into words the things he'd always kept to himself. Those thoughts he hadn't ever shared, not even with Reyes himself. Especially not with Reyes.

 

He could share some of it, at least. “The thing about Estella was she always kept her cool,” he told them. “Even when Reyes got pissed off, she would be calm, though her sense o' humor was even more wicked than his. And she was always right there in the thick of it with us. Dragged my sorry ass from the jaws of death more than once. When shit went wrong – and it happened more than I'd like to admit, in Blackwatch – it kinda felt like… like you could survive anything, so long as she was on your team. And boy was she something to witness in action. Most beautiful daemon I ever saw.” He glanced at the wolf. “Present company excluded, of course.” On cue Fuyushiko and Hanzo both snorted, identical sounds of derision, and for the first time in twenty four hours Jesse found he could smile.

 

A current of deep, cold dread pulled him back down and swiftly had him sober. “But if Reyes is back, and Estella isn't…”

 

Hanzo's breath hitched. The broad, square hand that had been resting on Fuyushiko's flank buried itself in the thick ruff of fur around her neck, cradling her head against his thigh. “Such a thing…” he whispered, “I cannot imagine it. I cannot bear to.”

 

Jesse hummed. “Don't think most people could.”

 

Hanzo was staring out at the waves and didn't seem to hear him. “I have been told that I – almost succeeded. In – ah, severing, the bond. Between my brother and his daemon. I never – even then, I never intended to – I would never have–”

 

His mouth snapped shut. He covered it with his free palm, shook his head. “You do not need to hear this. Especially not now.”

 

Jesse said nothing. He couldn't – his throat was stuck, blocked with visceral, gut-wrenching horror at the loss of such a vital thing. He pulled his serape close and cupped his neck.

 

Fuyshiko pushed her nose into Hanzo's palm. “Ikuen is alive,” she said quietly. “Genji is alive. Our siblings came back to us.”

 

“Yes. Yes, you are right.”

 

She licked gently at his chin. Hanzo lowered his head, pressed their foreheads together and buried his face into her fur.

 

Jesse looked away. He told himself the twist in his chest was discomfort at playing witness to an intimate moment between a man and his daemon, but if he was honest, he knew in his heart it was jealousy. Unreasonable jealousy at that. Though directed at what precisely, he couldn't have said.

 

After a minute Hanzo peered at Jesse, just a flash of those dark eyes visible over Fuyushiko's white fur. Jesse wondered what he was thinking. What he saw, when he looked at Jesse like that. A man alone, with nothing and no one at his side, nothing and no one held in his arms or perched on his shoulder, only glaring empty space all around him. What kind of man did he believe Jesse to be? What conclusions had he made about his soul?  

 

They said things about folks without daemons. There were plenty of old moralizing fables about people born without one – and a fair few horror stories, too – though real life accounts were so rare and sparsely documented it was debatable how much truth they held. Outside of hearsay, in the real world… separation from a living daemon happened through trauma. Terrible accidents. The cruelest kinds of murder. Warfare. A tool of genocide.

 

Such a loss couldn't be anything but violent. Most didn't survive beyond the initial shock of separation. Those that did…

 

“McCree?”

 

Jesse blinked. Hanzo was frowning at him like he'd had to repeat his name more than once. “Hm? Sorry darlin', I ain't bein' good company, am I? Kinda out of it, to be honest with you.”

 

“Understandable. You have a lot to process.” Hanzo gestured again; while Jesse was spacing out he'd unfastened the gourd from his belt, and was now holding it out. “I was going to offer you this, but perhaps I ought not?”

 

“God, Hanzo,” Jesse groaned, putting a hand to his chest. “Let me share and I swear I'll be forever in your debt.”

 

Hanzo scoffed. “There's no need for dramatics.” He uncorked the gourd and handed it over. “And while it is pleasing to be treated with the appropriate level of reverence, there is really no need to call me a god.”

 

It was a dumb joke, a forced attempt to lighten the mood, but Jesse could appreciate the effort. They ended up passing the drink back and forth, the long fur of Fuyushiko's tail brushing Jesse's leg, and spoke of lighter things.

 


 

No one really knew where daemons came from, though of course there were plenty of theories. Why were they an existence unique to humans? Whatever your view, facts were that most folks had one soul split into two bodies; that's just how the world worked.

 

The Shimadas weren't 'most folks'. They had passengers.

 

McCree had seen the dragons before, of course – Hanzo's blue twins had changed the tides of a fair few missions, and McCree had already become acquainted with Genji's green friend back in Blackwatch (though, thankfully, he'd never gotten near enough to get in her way). Recently, if you were quiet and kept an eye out, you might even see small, translucent ribbons of blue and green around the Watchpoint, dancing around Ikuen and Fuyushiko as they played.

 

He'd never met any of the dragons face-to-face, fullsize and up-close.

 

He was second on the scene after Hanzo's distress beacon blared over the comms. Hanzo was out cold, slumped in a bloodied heap against a wall, arrows spilled from his quiver around him. Arcs of eye-searing blue electricity writhed and twisted from his arm, and circling him were his dragons, phasing through the ground and walls in a sinuous wall of threatening death that shielded him entirely from reach. Fuyushiko was pressed tight against his side, snarling fiercely, her ears pinned back to her skull and her eyes wild. Her white fur was stained with red.

 

The air was thick with pressure, crackling with the energy of three souls all determined to protect their human host.

 

“I can't reach him,” Mercy said briskly as soon as McCree arrived. She was clutching her Caduceus staff tight in both hands. “I need to get close enough to stabilize him but they won't let me near, and I cannot make them listen or understand–”

 

She broke off. McCree gripped her shoulder and stepped forward. He didn't know the dragons, but Fuyushiko... maybe there was enough of Hanzo's awareness in her for Jesse to be able to get through.

 

He crouched down just outside the reach of the swirling dragons and took off his hat. “Fuyushiko,” he called, “it's me, McCree. Jesse. You know me, right?” Fuyushiko's gold eyes were fixed on him; slowly, her growl started to taper off. “Please, sweetheart, I know you're hurtin',” Jesse pleaded. “But you're safe now, I promise. Hanzo's safe. We want to help you. If you an' your buddies could just let us close--”

 

He took a risk, reached out – and one of the dragons darted closer to take a warning snap at his prosthetic hand. The aggression set off Fuyushiko's growling again, dashing Jesse's building hope on the hard ground.

 

Perhaps it was because of all the things he'd held back, all the things he'd kept hidden, that she couldn't trust him, didn't even recognize him in her wild, feral state. She only half knew him, after all. Whatever the cause, it felt to Jesse like that night months ago when they first met. Like she couldn't hear him at all.

 

Her fear made his heart ache.

 

In the end they were damn lucky Genji was on the mission with them.It was only because he could call his own dragon that Hanzo's reluctantly calmed. They let Ikuen slip in close, where she spoke to Fuyushiko in murmured assurances too quiet to hear, and finally coaxed her into allowing Mercy to tend to Hanzo.

Jesse stood aside and watched, unable to help.

 

They got Hanzo sedated and secured on the dropship back to Gibraltar, the glow of biotics keeping his bullet wounds from bleeding out. Fuyushiko curled up in the corner behind his stretcher. She was whimpering, probably confused and in pain, poor thing. Ikuen hopped over, nestled into her side and stretched a wing over her back – a mirror of Genji, who was sitting by his brother's side, holding his hand.

 

Jesse wanted to go over and join them. Hanzo's other hand looked so empty, pale and so still where it lay limp. There were twin longings in his heart; wanting to touch skin, to touch fur.

 

He did neither. There were too many people around; he didn't want to do anything that would garner strange looks, or invite any questions or gossip. These new, young members of Overwatch 2.0 didn't know him very well, though he'd been plenty friendly – he didn't want to change their blandly amiable view of him or encourage any of his own unshakable anxieties about what they might think. So all he did was sit there.

 

When it came down to it, he was a coward.

 

He reached for his neck, cupped the warm shape close. Focused on the tiny thrum of a heartbeat beneath his palm and closed his eyes, shutting out the rest of the world.

 

 

 

Hanzo was released from surgery four hours later.

 

It was good news, Mercy told the gathered group when she reappeared, tired but with a satisfied softness in her expression: there’d been no complications, by all expectations Hanzo would make a full recovery, and he should be ready for visitors tomorrow once he'd slept off the sedation and had enough rest.

 

Genji and Ikuen were the only ones who slipped into the room after Angela to sit with their siblings. Everyone else, able to unwind now their comrade was alright, dispersed and went their separate ways.

 

McCree traipsed back to his room. He stripped, had a long, hot shower that washed off the grime but did little for the stress, then lay naked on his back on his bed, in the dark.

 

A cool, dry weight, familiar to him as a heartbeat, settled on his sternum.

 

I wanted to touch her. To be allowed as close to her as Ikuen.

 

Jesse let out a slow breath and closed his eyes. “Yeah. I know.”

 

I don't think I've ever felt this way.

 

He smiled. “Not even with Estella?”

 

...That was different.

 

“I know, I know, I'm only teasin'.” He stroked the tip of one finger down the little bumps and ridges, finding comfort in the familiar roughness against his skin. “We're in deep this time, huh?”

 

When he brought his hand back up for another stroke his companion nudged into his hand with his upturned snout.

 

...Do you think...we ever could?

 

Vague though the question was Jesse knew precisely what was meant.

 

The offering of a Touch was the ultimate act of trust. It was, quite literally, to put your soul in the grasp of another person.

 

When he was a child they’d agreed it would never happen again. It had only happened once: a man at the foster home had grabbed what was never his to touch in a furious rage, an attempt to ‘discipline’ Jesse by establishing total control. It was the first time Jesse’s other half, the half outside himself, took the form he came to favor. Sharp fangs to pierce deep into the man’s hand; a sleek, flexible body that twisted and slipped from his hold.

 

Once was enough. Never again, they’d agreed. No one would dare violate them like that again. No one would have that kind of power over them ever again.

 

Neither of them ever thought they'd end up like this.

 

He let out a long sigh. “I don't know. It's a nice dream, that's for sure. Maybe one day.”

 

I think we could, his companion encouraged. I know I don't like people but I don't think he would judge-

 

“What're you sayin'? You're the life of the party!”

 

If by that you mean I'm an antisocial bastard, then yeah, sure. Point is... I like Hanzo. He's... different from the others. A good fit. Don't you agree?

 

“..Mm.”

 

I don't wanna be caught in this limbo anymore. I want to make a decision. Before another incident like today's happens and we lose our chance.

 

“Alright, alright, I know. You're right.” Jesse sank back into the pillow with a groan and crossed his arms over his face.

 

He admired Hanzo, honestly. Deeply admired him. Hanzo had made so many strides in his recovery; he'd faced down his considerable mistakes to come here, made the tremendous effort to reconcile with his brother, even though Jesse doesn't doubt he'd rather have laid down and died – he'd made himself vulnerable, and in doing so opened up enough to become one of the greatest friends Jesse had ever had. And Jesse? Jesse had been too much a coward to pay him the same courtesy. Not even close.

 

I want him to know us, came the quiet murmur, and Jesse's heart squeezed.

 

“..Yeah. Me too.”

 

 

 

It was evening the next day by the time he managed to pluck up the courage to head down to where Hanzo was sequestered in medbay. He knocked quietly and poked his head round the door. “Hey. Mind if I come in?”

 

Fuyushiko looked up. She was curled up at the foot of Hanzo's bed, looking far cleaner and calmer than she had when Jesse last saw her, though the muscle around her eyes and mouth was still tense. “McCree. Please, enter.”

 

Jesse closed the door behind him, and it was only then he realized Hanzo was asleep. The grim set of his face was smoothed out, into a serenity that made him look far younger and almost unbearably sweet. Jesse clenched his fists and looked away. “Maybe I should come back later, if he's still restin',” he said to Fuyushiko.

 

She lay her head back down on her paws. “No need,” she said. “He will wake again soon, and he will be glad to see you when he does. You may stay.”

 

“O-oh. Okay, can't argue with an invitation like that.” Jesse pulled up the chair next to the bed and sat down. Much as he wished to he couldn't bring himself to touch Hanzo's hand, not when the other man was unaware, so he rested his hands at the edge of the mattress and weaved his fingers together.

 

The wolf watched him, gold eyes fixed on his face. Slowly, she shifted her head, closing the distance until the damp black tip of her nose was mere inches from his hands. Her eyes slipped half closed. Jesse's heart was beating fast, as fast as the excited vibration he could feel against his collarbone. His prosthetic was nearest her; gingerly, he extended his metal fingers for her to scent. Her nose twitched as she did so, the warm puff of her breath blooming a cloud on the cool metal.

 

And then she lightly touched her nose to the tips of his outstretched fingers.

 

It wasn't a Touch, her form against Jesse's skin. He couldn't feel anything from it, not of Hanzo's daemon nor the man himself. No sensations or emotions or bare whispers of thoughts.But even the suggestion of that kind of intimacy had him feeling weak and overcome.

 

Casual as you please, like she wasn't affected at all, Fuyushiko yawned. One white fluffy ear flicked and she lay her head back down, close enough Jesse could still feel her breath.

 

The silence was comfortable. Jesse hadn’t spent much time with Fuyushiko alone, but it seemed natural to share the space with her like this, even with Hanzo asleep. And though her human was defenseless she was comfortable enough to relax right there in touching distance of Jesse, as if she was an extension of him instead of Hanzo. If a stranger walked into the room right then, they might even assume she was Jesse's daemon.

 

She trusts you.

 

What a strange, unlikely thing.

 

After a few minutes she broke the quiet by letting out a sigh. “I would like to meet you, one day,” she murmured.

 

Jesse stiffened. He pulled a tight grin. “You have met me, darlin'.”

 

She tilted her head, looked at him with a gaze that didn't seem like it had ever wavered. “Not all of you.”

 

“…No. Guess that's true.”

 

“May I ask why?”

 

Jesse's heart was blocking his throat too much to speak.

 

As far back as he could remember people had looked at him different. For being a war orphan, for being a dumb foster kid, for having a daemon that kept flitting indecisively between forms that were always small and liked to hide – later, for being a street rat, a repeat juvenile offender, the founder of a gang.

 

His daemon finally Settled at fifteen, the first time Jesse killed a man for a reason that wasn't purely survival. An informant had given them vital information for one of Deadlock's first major heists – Jesse said thank you, and smiled, then shot the man point-blank, just to clean up loose ends.His daemon had been coiled around the shoulder of Jesse's gun arm. From that point on he never changed again.

 

A real snake in the grass, that was him.

  

It suited the reputation Jesse was building for himself. People saw the rattle on the end of the tail, the venomous fangs, and took them as warning enough to keep a wide berth.

 

Even when he was picked up by the 'good guys' in shining blue – or rather, by their shadows – it didn't really change. He was plagued by the feeling that, save for a chosen precious few, most people only acted friendly to his face. They would work with him, but didn't really trust him. For one reason or another – sometimes for reasons that were true, but just as often for things they'd already decided for themselves – they made assumptions about the kind of man he was, and condemned him for it, regardless of the truth.

 

There was a certain kind of power that came from people paying you the same kinda mind they gave the dirt. Jesse was already used to crawling around in it, after all. Still, he got into the habit in Blackwatch of keeping his daemon hidden, unless he could be of use in a mission. Not being identifiable in that way made disguises and infiltration easier, and it had the added benefit of making them both feel safer – if they kept close, there was less chance of being grabbed again, or separated.And if anyone ever looked at Jesse funny for apparently not having a daemon at all – well, better to be scorned or feared for something you knew wasn't true than for something that was, something innate and natural that you couldn't control.

 

It was only years later that he realized how much he hated it. And god, did he hate it. hated people looking at him and deciding they knew everything there was to know about him. Writing him off at a glance, just like that.

 

Once Settled a daemon would never again. Snakes shed their skin, but couldn't change their form. So what was Jesse supposed to do? Was he supposed to forever be the same person now that he was at fifteen? It didn't seem fair. So much had changed since then.

 

“It is easier sometimes, to be silent,” said Fuyushiko. “To keep things which are important hidden, known only to yourself. This we understand. But perhaps… perhaps not all chances will be squandered.” She looked over at her human, rested a large paw on the shape of his leg beneath the sheets. “We acted on hope, coming here. Hope alone. And for the first time in many, many years, we found that hope fulfilled.”

 

Hope, huh? I might like how that sounds, Jess.

 

Hanzo's soul was lying in arm's reach, watching him patiently with eyes that noticed more than most. She was a pure white wolf, the daemon of a leader, of someone noble and worthy. But Hanzo had dirty hands, just like Jesse. He'd made terrible choices – just like Jesse. Hanzo knew that life was messy and complicated, that things weren't always black and white. Could Jesse not trust him? He was tired of holding back. Of not having. He'd been so lonely, and he wanted--

 

They both wanted.

 

Wool shifted as the weight around his neck unwound from its snug, dry embrace. It uncurled from his shoulders, slid down from under the fold of his serape and into the light.

 

Fuyushiko lay still, so still she barely seemed to be breathing, her ears pricked upright and bright eyes fixed on the movement.

 

And for the first time in a long, long while, Sháńdíín, Jesse's partner from birth, the outward expression of his soul, came forward to greet another daemon.

 

Fuyushiko bowed her head. “Hello,” she whispered, half breathless.

 

Sháńdíín coiled on Jesse's hands. He was a pale sandy brown, mottled with cloudy white stripes, and on the smaller side for a rattlesnake at roughly a foot and a half long. He had to rear up high so his head was level with Fuyushiko's. “Howdy there. Pleasure to finally meet you.” They'd grown accustomed to the habit of conversing in their heads; Sháńdíín's spoken voice was even raspier than Jesse remembered.

 

Fuyushiko licked her chops and smiled.“Yoroshiku.” There was a faint swushing noise as her tail started twitching eagerly against the bedcovers. “My name is Fuyushiko. What is yours?”

 

“Sháńdíín, at your service.” Thin tongue flickering with excitement, Sháńdíín slithered forward between Fuyushiko's outstretched paws.

 

I like her. Jesse, I really...

 

Jesse so preoccupied with them greeting each other that he didn't notice Hanzo stir until a warm, callused hand lay over his.

 

He jolted at the touch. “Hanzo! H-Hey, how're you feelin'? You okay?”

 

Hanzo hummed. He rolled his shoulders and made a small noise. “Stiff. But I have been worse.” His heavy-lidded eyes slipped from Jesse over to the two daemons, who were so wrapped up in each other they didn't seem to have realized Hanzo had awoken.“So... this is your daemon. Sháńdíín? Did I say that right?”

 

Jesse's throat was so dry it was hard to swallow. “That's right, yeah.”

 

Hanzo watched the two daemons for a moment more before he turned back to Jesse. And then he did something that made Jesse's already overloaded heart feel like it would give out: he smiled, a wide, soft smile that bloomed slowly across his lips like flower petals unfurling to greet the sun.

 

“I am glad to see him,” he said quietly.

 

Jesse fidgeted, full of anxious energy. “You ain't--”

 

Hanzo raised a brow. "I am not… what?"

 

Jesse shook his head. The snake and the wolf scented each other, Sháńdíín's tongue tasting the air, before slowly bumping noses. Fuyushiko gave Sháńdíín's neck a careful, gentle lap of her tongue. Jesse felt the dry rasp of it deep inside, sending warmth right through him like a hot soothing drink on a cold evening, and quick though the motion was it lingered like the fuzz of static electricity. He shivered.

 

Hanzo's thumb rubbed briefly over Jesse's knuckles before he let go of his hand. "Has Genji told you about our mother?" he asked.

 

"Don't think he's ever mentioned her," Jesse said truthfully, clearing his throat. "Why?"

 

"Ah. So you did not know…” Hanzo wound his fingers together over his stomach. “Her daemon was aodaishō, a Japanese rat snake."

 

“...Oh?”

 

"Mm. An albino one, like the snakes of Iwakuni. It was regarded as quite auspicious. One of the reasons the clan Elders approved of my father's wish to marry her.” His lips twitched. “Father used to keep one of the skin sheds in his wallet. An old superstition, supposed to bring wealth and fortune. Mother would always tease him for it.”

 

Maybe it was just the painkillers keeping him placid, but he seemed so unsurprised at the reveal of Jesse's daemon. It was almost as if he'd had this little factoid pre-prepared to wheel out. Jesse squinted at him. “Did you already know? Figure it out somehow?”

 

Hanzo shook his head. “I did not, no. However, I did suspect your daemon might be unconventional – it is unusual to meet someone new and not be introduced to their daemon as well. Even daemons that are small or shy and prefer to keep hidden will usually come out to offer a name. For a time I wondered if you did not have one at all.”

 

For sake of Jesse's sanity it was probably best not to ask, but... “What would you have done, if I didn't?”

 

Hanzo was silent for moment. “I do not believe I would have acted differently, though it is impossible to say for certain. No – my opinions of you were formed entirely on your actions as a man. And the more I got to know you the more you proved yourself a decent man. Daemon or no.”

 

“And if it were an act? That's what they say about folks without daemons, you know. They got no souls, so they got no feelings. Can only pretend to be like people.”

 

“Then you would still have made the choice to be the way you are.”

 

“...Can't argue with that, I guess,” Jesse conceded, though part of him wanted to. He couldn't decide whether he was pleased or oddly uncomfortable that Hanzo was reacting so well, so accepting.

 

“In fact, I have only ever met one person whose so-called treacherous daemon matched their behavior,” Hanzo continued. “That was my Great-Uncle Saburō. He had a mukade, and she was a creature just as duplicitous and scheming as he proved himself to be. You are nothing like them.”

 

The two daemons were watching them now. Sháńdíín was glancing between both of them like following a tennis match, but Fuyushiko's gold eyes were fixed on Jesse.

 

“Are you ashamed?” she asked.

 

Jesse gaped at her. “No, I ain't ashamed,” he drawled, indignant. “The hell did that come from?”

 

She lifted her nose. “You seem very determined to diminish your soul in the eyes of others.”

 

“That ain't it,” Sháńdíín interjected. “We were proud when I settled.”

 

“And yet you hide. Even here.”

 

Sháńdíín's rattle shivered against Jesse's wrist. “Survival. Became a habit.”

 

“It ain't fair, but some things don't do much good for a man's public image,” Jesse added.

 

Hanzo raised a brow. “You have a sixty million dollar bounty.”

 

Jesse shrugged. His cheeks felt hot. “We ain't ashamed,” he insisted.

 

“Hm. No, perhaps not. And yet, it is still easier to hide, is it not, than to face the judgement of those who do not understand of what they speak. Regardless-” Hanzo dipped his head toward Sháńdíín. “My friend. It is an honor to meet you.”

 

Sháńdíín dipped his head in return. “Likewise.”

 

Hanzo smiled at him, then tipped his head back into his pillow, rolling slightly so he could still look at Jesse. His eyes were growing heavy. “I understand survival,” he said. “I understand regrets. However.” His hand reached out to Jesse. “McCree. Jesse. Do something for me.”

 

Jesse swallowed. He closed the distance and linked their fingers together. “Yeah?”

 

“He is part of you,” Hanzo said lowly, “and just as lovely as the rest. Don't keep hiding yourself away.” He gave a small, close-lidded smile, eyes curving into crescents under his lashes. “I like very much what I see.”

 


 

The hour was late; the corridor was dark.

 

Tonight there was no white wolf guarding the door to the kitchen – she was back in their room, curled up at the foot of their bed. Hanzo had still been sound asleep when Jesse crept out. Getting some well-deserved rest, Jesse thought fondly, heart full on the image of his partner's face softened by sleep. If one of them had to be affected by bad dreams tonight he was glad it was him.

 

He was halfway through making a hot cup of chamomile tea – a habit he'd picked up from Hanzo – when he heard the click of claws on the floor, faint but growing closer. He found himself smiling.Fuyushiko could walk as silent as a ghost when she so chose. If he could hear her approach, it meant she was deliberately making noise so she didn't spook him.

 

He still couldn't hear Hanzo, but a few moments later a soft shape bumped up against the backs of his legs, warm through the fabric of his pajama pants, and another moment after that an equally warmhand came to rest on his shoulder.Stirred from his doze, Sháńdíín lazily slipped out from his perch under Jesse's tshirt collar and poked his nose out to say hi.

 

“Hoped you might still be sleepin',” said Jesse.

 

“I was.” Hanzo's arms wrapped around his waist. He tucked his chin over Jesse's unoccupied shoulder. “Fuyushiko was restless, however.”

 

Jesse glanced down at the wolf sitting at his feet, who had propped her head against his hip just like her human. “You feelin' alright, sweetheart?”

 

Gold eyes peered up at him. “Perhaps we should be asking that question of you.”

 

Jesse exchanged a glance with Sháńdíín. “Don't worry yourself about us, darlin',” he said. “We're okay. Just the usual shit, you know?”

 

Hanzo's broad, strong hand petted a slow circle over his stomach. He nuzzled lazily into Jesse's neck, pressed a soft, dry kiss under the corner of his jaw.

 

All at once Jesse's interest in his tea abandoned him for something much more compelling. He dropped the spoon into his cup with a clink, shuffled around in Hanzo's arms and cupped his partner's sharp, handsome face between his palms. You could see Hanzo's improvement just by glancing at him; he looked so much healthier than he had all those months ago, well-rested and at ease. Happiness glowed behind his eyes, radiated from his sleepy smile.

 

Jesse's heart trembled. He brought Hanzo in for a proper hello.

 

It was a slow, languid, lingering sort of kiss. When Jesse drew back Hanzo's eyes were still closed, dark lashes brushing his cheeks, his lips parted and shining. He was beautiful. Irresistible. Jesse couldn't help but kiss him again – and again, and again – wet little dips of kisses that made Hanzo hum pleased sounds into his mouth.

 

Hanzo's arms looped around his waist, pressing them together hips to stomach to chest. Jesse wrapped one arm around Hanzo's shoulders, lifted the other to cradle the back of his head in his hand. He rubbed slow circles with his thumb, the bristles of Hanzo's freshly shaven undercut prickling the sensitive skin.

 

The kiss deepened; Hanzo made a small, sleepy whine of surprise when Jesse's tongue swept between his lips, rolling slow against his own. Jesse answered with his own low moan and held Hanzo closer. He was hyper-conscious of Fuyushiko's weight on his leg, of the way she was brushing her cheek almost cat-like against his thigh. He and Hanzo were about as close as it was possible to be without risking public indecency and a stern lecture (or potential blackmail) from Athena, but Jesse wanted somehow to deepen the connection between them. A profound, primal instinct was urging him to reach out and he was barely holding it back; he could tell that Sháńdíín was the same by the rattle vibrating between his shoulderblades.

 

Hanzo was right there. It would take nothing for Sháńdíín to reach out.

 

The offering of Touch was the ultimate act of trust. Never again, they'd agreed. But that was a long time ago; there was none of the fear now.

 

It was as though all four of them were sharing the same thought. The moment Jesse and Sháńdíín decided, hearts and minds aligned for what they wished for most, Hanzo paused and looked up, and Fuyushiko fell still. Sháńdíín reared up from his anchor around Jesse's shoulder, Hanzo following his every move. Jesse held his breath. Slowly, Hanzo lifted one hand from Jesse's hip and held it out toward Sháńdíín, palm up, fingers loosely curled. Sháńdíín scented the air. He shifted closer, and the forked tip of his delicate tongue quivered against Hanzo's skin.

 

There was a sensation like hot rain pattering on Jesse's skin, all over. And then Sháńdíín's eyes closed and he pushed his wide head into the circle of Hanzo's fingers, nestling his ridged snout into the cup of his palm.

 

All the air in Jesse's lungs escaped him. He gasped, his knees suddenly weak; if it weren't for the counter at his back to hold him up he would've collapsed.

 

Each inch Sháńdíín wound up Hanzo's arm felt like a caress along Jesse's nervous system. And he wasn't the only one; by the time the snake reached his shoulder Hanzo was panting and shivering in Jesse's clutching grasp, his eyes wide and unfocused. He lowered his head, touched his brow to Sháńdíín's nose. A breathless laugh shook from him as Sháńdíín's tongue tickled his cheek.

 

The sensation was indescribable. Intense as all the times Jesse'd ever been electrocuted combined, except it was good. Like a heart attack but it felt right.He was aware of Hanzo like they were inhabiting the same physical space, their atoms fused together; felt so full of electricity it was like Hanzo's dragons were flowing into him, too. Like Hanzo's skin was pressed directly against his heart.Blindly he flailed out with his right hand, hoping to find something to tether him in the storm – and his ungloved skin bumped into a warm, damp nose.

 

He froze. There was – heat, against his knuckles. Damp. The lap of a rough tongue. Then – beautiful softness, fur like silk brushing between the lengths of his petrified fingers, 'til he met the tufts of fluffy, pointed ears.

 

“Oh, shit,” Jesse groaned, as Hanzo keened and leant into him with all his weight. His arm spasmed, his fingers sinking further into thick, deep fur. “Oh, oh, holy...

 

His knees finally buckled and gave up beneath him. He slid down the counter to the floor, Hanzo a puddle in his lap.

 

Hanzo lifted his shaking arm and stroked down the length of Sháńdíín's body. Sháńdíín was now securely coiled around Hanzo's shoulders, the way he usually was around Jesse's; he rubbed up along Hanzo's neck, pressed his face into Hanzo's beard, his cheek. The tears that had been gathering in Hanzo's wide eyes slipped free, falling in drops that shimmered on his scales. Fuyushiko licked Jesse's forearm, nudged his elbow so she had room to curl up beneath it, and made herself comfortable in the curve of his side. She rested her head on his collar, lapping the salt that had dripped into his beard, and rumbled a low note of contentment.

 

Jesse gripped the heated fur of her flank and held on for dear life.

 

His heart in Hanzo's hands, and Hanzo's in his.

 

Alone together in the hushed and tender dark, reality passed on by without them. Eventually Hanzo stirred. When he looked up his eyes were red-rimmed and shining wet, and brimming with affection.

 

“Howdy there,” Jesse croaked, and Hanzo's eyes creased almost closed as he burst out into helpless laughter. His ribs stuttered and hitched against Jesse's chest, and wow – Jesse could feel the volume of the fondness that fed it, clear as if it were his own. No illusions, or tricks of his mind. Only a well so deep he couldn't make out the bottom, overflowing from Hanzo into him.

 

Hanzo was cradling Sháńdíín close with one hand. He reached up to stroke Jesse's beard with the other, brought him in close so their foreheads touched. “Hello,” he whispered. “My love. It is so nice to meet you.”