It started, as many things both started and ended in Overwatch, with something of a bang.
That was slightly under-descriptive; later, Jesse would look back and use words like “fiery goddamn clusterfuck,” but he’d been somewhat more restrained at the time.
It was supposed to be a routine recon mission. They’d been casing Talon hideouts in several major cities - a lot of them had been duds, but this one was looking good. Besides, a mission to Ilios sounded like exactly the type of mission Jesse wanted to enjoy, even if it wasn’t exactly as nice as he’d expected it to be.
There wasn’t too much time to enjoy the sunshine and the surf and the perfectly blue sky, not when they had to be on alert, but he’d still gotten to drag Hanzo down to the beach, and frankly that made most of the waiting around worth it, especially since Genji had made it a personal mission to ensure his brother ended up in the water and oh, he had succeeded. Hanzo looked like a put-out wet cat, and he hadn’t appreciated anyone’s laughter, but Jesse liked to think he’d soothed at least some of his sweetheart’s hurt with a few well-placed kisses and a reminder that Jesse found him as handsome as ever.
He’d been hesitant, when he first heard about the Recall -- Jesse McCree had never been a part of Overwatch proper, only of Blackwatch, and he knew plenty of Overwatch’s vaunted heroes looked down on its black ops branch.
Besides, he’d left for a reason, a damned good one, and the whole fucking organization had blown up not long after he’d left, fairly literally.
Six months on, though, he was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. That it had dropped him right in Hanzo Shimada’s lap helped, sure, but mostly it was that as soon as he’d stepped through the doors at Watchpoint: Gibraltar, he’d been nearly knocked off his feet by an enthusiastic hug from Lena Oxton, which did a lot to settle a man’s worries about not being wanted, and that everything they were doing was as aboveboard as a group of vigilantes could be.
This particular mission was him, the Shimadas, Lena, and Lúcio just in case anything went too spectacularly wrong. Jesse doubted the medic would be necessary; the likelihood that they’d be doing any more than recon wasn’t good.
The plan, as he understood, was to drop off the information they’d gathered with the local cops, wait a few days to make sure everything was mopped up, and then get gone. Much cleaner and neater than Blackwatch. Much fewer bodies, on the whole.
He took a seat on the balcony of the little house they’d holed up in, owned by an older woman whose eyes had shone with delight when she welcomed them in, who had called them ήρωες, which had made Hanzo still for a long moment and Lena beam as bright as the sun.
(Greek wasn’t one of the several languages Jesse knew; he’d never needed it in Blackwatch, so he never picked it up. Hanzo told him what she called them meant heroes, and that had left a smile on his face for a damned long time afterwards. Heroes. Damn, they really were, weren’t they? Quite a change from the days gone by.)
It was a nice place to be; he could lean over the balcony railing and have a cigar and get a decent view of the little house Talon had holed itself up in. He couldn’t guess what they wanted with Ilios, really; its largest attractions were its ruins, and Talon had never seemed the graverobbing types, though maybe they were expanding to artifact smuggling. Lord only knew where they got their money, anyway.
Guessing at Talon’s motives seemed like a game of roulette anyway, what with attacks ascribed to them not seeming to have any real connection beyond “cause as much damage as possible.”
He took a long drag of his cigar, let out a huff of frustration, and flicked on his ear-cuff communicator.
“Hanzo, darlin’, you’ve got a better vantage point than me,” he could just barely make out the archer’s shape, crouched on a rooftop a few houses away, and only because he was looking for it, “we got anything goin’ on down there?”
“No movement that I can see,” Hanzo replied, “nor has there been any for quite some time. It is...strange.”
That was certainly true. The little house was usually fairly active, with people coming and going at all hours - an unfortunate number of whom were people Jesse recognized. It was how he’d pegged it for certain as Talon in the first place. There were a hell of a lot of old Blackwatch faces poking around somewhere old Blackwatch faces had no damned reason to be.
“Do you think they suspect we are here?” Genji asked. Jesse took a particularly long drag on his cigar, weighing possibilities in order of likelihood.
“Can’t say no outta hand,” he admitted. “Lúcio and Lena have pretty recognizable faces, an’ enough of the people out here are ex-Blackwatch that we can’t write off that they spotted me, but runnin’ ain’t never been Talon’s style. If they’d made us, I suspect they’dve brought a fight to us rather than goin’ to ground. Takin’ out Overwatch seems pretty high priority.”
“Genji and I can go in for a closer look?” Lena offered, and Jesse gave it long consideration. He was, for the most part, running this op - which meant all their lives were his responsibility. It also meant calls like this were down to him, and he wasn’t sure he liked that.
“Alright, but be careful, and get back if you think you might be spotted. I know y’all can be subtle, but once somebody gets a look at you, the time-travelin’ poster girl and the green cyborg ninja dude ain’t exactly our most deniable assets, so watch yourselves.” He said, finally.
“You got it!” Lena said, and Genji gave a quick “acknowledged”. Jesse had to give them credit - even knowing he should be looking, he barely caught the green and blue blurs that were the two of them moving into position.
“I cannot see any activity through the window - as best I can tell, this room is empty,” Genji said.
“Same over here! D’you think they really did pack up and run?” Lena asked. Jesse frowned.
“Go in and investigate. Hanzo and I’ll catch up, if they’re gone we gotta find what we can and’ then get the hell out ourselves ‘fore someone decides they actually care about the PETRAS act.” Jesse said, and then he stubbed out his cigar on the ashtray their hostess had generously provided. “Lúcio, hang back here, we’ll call you if we need you,” he said.
“Gotcha,” Lúcio replied, though he sounded distracted. Probably working on a new song, if Jesse had to take a guess, which was fine - unless things went absurdly sideways, they’d be fine without him.
He took a moment to judge the distance between the balcony and the ground - not far - and vaulted himself over, landing in the careful parkour crouch Gabriel had taught him years before. It didn’t exactly stop the rattling in his joints, but it did lessen it.
For a moment, he started to consider that he was getting too old for this action hero shit, and then he remembered Reinhardt, over sixty and still swinging his hammer around, and felt a little guilty for even considering it.
He didn’t have to glance up to know that Hanzo was on his way; he just trusted that the archer would be there, and that he would take the most dramatic route to get there - in this case, via rooftops. Jesse admired his dedication to style, honestly.
He made it to one of the side windows and started jimmying it open with tools he carried as a force of habit, ingrained by years of less-than-legal activity. There was the light tap of metal soles on concrete, and Hanzo was next to him, politely waiting without comment while Jesse worked the lock and popped the window open.
Jesse supposed Hanzo had stopped being surprised at his proficiency for criminal activity when he’d casually pickpocketed a mark mid-conversation, lifting the identifiers they needed to get into an event being threatened by Talon.
Shimmying in through the window would have been a lot easier if he were still seventeen, but he made it, and with only one slightly derisive but somehow affectionate snort from the man waiting outside. Hanzo slid in with significantly more grace, and Jesse gave him a long, silent look, daring him to offer comment. Instead, the archer began to search the room they were in - a room conspicuously empty of people but full of bunk beds - and Jesse turned his attention to the task at hand as well. If Talon was using the Blackwatch playbook to the degree he thought they were, there wouldn’t be much to find - never bring anything personal on a mission, Gabe had said, over and over - but there was no reason not to look. Maybe Talon was sloppier than Blackwatch.
“Anything?” He asked over the comms.
“Nothing yet,” Genji replied, and Lena chimed in with an affirmation. “This building appears to have been abandoned in a hurry, however.”
“That’s what I’m seeing, too,” Lena agreed. Jesse frowned. How could Talon have cleared out without any of them seeing?
“Look for any kind of secret passageways,” Hanzo suggested. “I cannot imagine they escaped any other way.”
Jesse hummed acknowledgement, inhaling. Something smelled faintly off, and he wasn’t sure what it was - another thing to look into.
“Not everywhere is Shimada Castle,” Genji said, “just because we grew up in a house with a thousand secret passageways does not mean every house is built that way.”
“This house has been inhabited by a terrorist organization, it is not inconceivable that they added some,” Hanzo shot back, but there was no real bite - it was good to see affectionate, brotherly teasing between the two men, if you asked Jesse.
“I mean, it isn’t the worst idea,” Lena chimed in, and Genji groaned.
“You have all seen too many movies,” he said, but Jesse could hear him gently rapping at the wall.
“Anybody smell anything odd?” Lena asked. “I can’t put my finger on it, but…”
“Yeah,” Jesse said, and he glanced back to see Hanzo frowning.
“Something is not right,” he agreed, finally.
“...You would be right about that,” Genji said, and there was a horrified edge to his voice. “I found Talon. Apparently there is someone who likes them less than we do. I am in the back room, off the kitchen - you all should see this.”
Jesse immediately abandoned his search, and met the rest of the team in the room Genji had called them to.
It was a mess - in the absolute worst sense of the word. There were bodies all across the room - clearly there had been some kind of fight, and Talon had lost.
The room looked like they’d been using it for planning, set up with a table, and there were pushpins scattered on the floor - whoever had attacked them had taken a lot with them, but there were a few tablets left, and Genji scooped them and the remaining scattered papers up. Lena was frozen with horror in the doorway; Hanzo was scanning the room with the expression of a man who had seen this type of thing far, far too many times.
The thing that drew Jesse’s eyes and held them, though, was the writing on the far wall, directly across from the door, utterly unmissable - graffiti, sloppy and black, obviously added by whoever had done this.
HOPE RIDES ALONE, it read. A simple statement, but a strange one.
“The hell did you find?” Lúcio’s voice crackled over the comm, and Lena started very obviously.
“Someone took care of our Talon problem,” Jesse said, “pretty, uh, thoroughly.”
“Shit,” Lúcio said, and Jesse couldn’t help but agree.
“Thoroughly and efficiently,” Hanzo said, stepping further into the room and then stopping, letting out a soft string of words in Japanese that, if Jesse had to guess, were probably not at all polite. “We need to move.” He didn’t bother to explain verbally, just gestured to a corner, where there was a stack of papers slowly smoldering, and Jesse realized what he had been smelling. Smoke. Just faintly, but present enough.
There were long, wet lines leading away from the pile of kindling, and that was the other smell. Kerosene.
“Shit, this place is gonna go up like a bottle rocket,” he said, and that was enough to get everyone going and outside.
“I’ll get the local fire department,” Lena said, and she was blinking off before Jesse could so much as say “good idea.”
It didn’t take long, once they were out, for the place to catch completely, and by the time Lena got back with the fire brigade, there was smoke pouring out of every window. Lúcio met them there, and stood by in horrified awe as the flames climbed higher, and by the time the blaze was put out, Jesse was sure there would be little left to find.
“Hell,” Jesse breathed. “That’s...one way to clean that up.”
Lena shook her head.
“It’s not right. They should’ve been arrested - and that fire could have spread, the only reason it didn’t is that we were there!” She said. “People could have been hurt!”
“It’s just not right,” Lúcio said, shaking his head. “Nobody deserves this. Not even Talon.”
Privately, Jesse thought of Ana Amari and Gabriel Reyes and Jack Morrison and Amelie Lacroix, dead at Talon’s hands - even if Amelie’s death had come a little differently - and he disagreed.
Out loud, all he said was “we’ll have to call Winston. He needs to hear about this.”
His mind kept circling back to the graffitied message. Hope rides alone. What the hell could it mean? Was it a promise, a warning? A threat? Who was it meant for? Talon? Overwatch? Someone else?
He hated having so many questions, without even the beginning bits of answers. It left a bad taste in his mouth, not knowing things, especially not knowing if there was a potential new threat to Overwatch lurking behind those angry words.
“Too many questions,” Hanzo said, and Jesse made a noise of agreement. Too many questions. Not enough answers. Nothing they could do, today, but that didn’t stop it from
“We’ll find our answers,” he said, and he wished he was as certain as he made himself sound. “Come on, ain’t nothing we can do here. Let’s go call Winston - we need to let him know someone just started their own little war.”
He turned his back on the smouldering wreck of the Talon safehouse, and hoped that the next time he saw those words - because he wasn’t stupid enough to imagine this was a one and done incident, you didn’t kill a whole terrorist cell and burn down their hideout for a one-off - they’d come with a hell of a lot more than just a bunch of corpses and a fire.