solarbird: (tracer)

Fuck me. What was I thinking? Venom thought, throwing up the throttle on her aircraft. How'd I ever think this could work? Why can't that bastard just stay dead?

A couple of years of therapy and liberal use of the web spread across and through her brain had helped. She didn't wake up screaming any more, at least, not often. But the rage - the rage that still laced through her being like the chronal accelerator which kept her in place in time - hadn't gone anywhere.

I should've known. I shoulda known, she thought, as her craft jumped high towards suborbital space. The old guard had to start showing up. Just bloody had to. And ruin everything.

She'd thought she was okay with Reyes's return. She liked the Angelino, and they needed a strategy expert. Amélie was not exactly thrilled, but then, she wasn't the liaison, and she wasn't going to break the project over it. But this, she thought, this... no. No more. We find him, we kill him, we fix it.

Her thoughts had mostly turned to a stream of comfortingly creative swear words by the time her ship's comms board lit up, with Amélie and Winston both, trying to make contact. She took Amélie's signal at once.

"Cherie, are you..."

"Jack Morrison is alive."

"I've been talking with Winston. I know."

"He doesn't get to stay that way."

The spider hummed a little; Lena could see in her mind the little smile that went with it, and it calmed her just a bit. "I think I agree," the spider said. "Winston does not, yet, but that is not important. Regardless, there are times and places and ways to consider. Please return to base. We should plan."

"Don't worry, sweetie - I'm not flyin' off to Mexico half-cocked. I'm already a third of the way home."

"Good." A moment passed. "I have missed you these last few days."

"I've missed you too, love. How was Calgary?" Calgary, and a minor target. Normally, beneath Talon's radar, but something twigged in the spider's web, and so, off she'd gone.

"Magnificent," replied the spider, warmly. "Not the town, of course, it is provincial in all of the worst ways. But the shot," she continued, voice liquid, "ahh, that was exquisite. I missed you all the more for it."

Venom smiled and relaxed a little more at the tone of her lover's voice. Reunion sex was always good sex, but reunion sex after a kill that made her spider's voice do that? Magnifique, as she would say. "J'ai hâte de t'embrasser encore."

"Très bien, mon bien-aimé," the blue woman replied. "Ton accent s'améliore."

"J'ai étudié beaucoup."

"Ça se voit. C'est merveilleux et je t'aime."

Lena flipped briefly to autopilot, closed her eyes, and breathed. "You're calming me down on purpose, aren't you?"

"Of course. But nothing you've said was wrong. Not even in French."

The younger assassin laughed a little, nodded, then laughed a little more at herself - nods don't make sounds. "Merci." She opened her eyes again, and took the little ship back off automatic. "Love you. Be home soon."

"I'll be waiting. Widowmaker out."

"Venom out."

Winston's hail still blinked on the comms pad. Hoo, do I wanna take this? she asked herself. It took a moment. ...yeh, I need to. She punched the acknowledge signal. "Tracer here. Sorry 'bout that, big guy. Got myself into a bit of a race."

On the other side of the signal, Winston slumped in his chair, relieved. He looked over at Angela and Gabriel though the office window, and motioned for them to come in. "It's okay, Lena."

"Nah, it's really not," replied the pilot. "I should've reined myself in, and I didn't. No excuses here, I've got the tools, I didn't use them, it's my fault. I'll do better next time, promise." Gabriel nodded a small silent approval, hearing that.

"Where are you?" asked the Lunar Ambassador.

"Sorry, luv. But nowhere you'd mind."

Heading home, then, he thought. Good. "Our new friend has some more information for you. I'll put it in the expected place."

"Righto, thanks."

"Talk to me later?"

"Will do. Tracer out."

"Winston out."

"Well," Gabriel said, "at least she owned up to it. That's something."

Winston and Angela both glared at the former Blackwatch lead, but it was Angela who spoke first. "Do. Not. Dare."

Gabriel raised his arms in a shrug. "Hey, I'm not the one who charged out of a staff meeting just because..."

"No," said the doctor. "Do not. This isn't your Overwatch either."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, doc, this isn't a power play..."

"I know you, Gabriel. Yes, it is."

"No, it's... really not," he insisted. "I'm not a senior officer anymore. I'm done with that."

"Then don't act like one," replied Dr. Ziegler. "You are not her CO, and you are not her father."

"She was already on edge about letting the old guard in at all, other than Angela," Winston said, quietly. "She bought in with you, because she likes you, and she respects you - but I'm the one who really wanted you onboard."

"But Winston, she can't do things like that, not in her position. I'm not a senior officer here, but she is."

"Then tell her that, to her face," said Angela. "Not to us, behind hers. You may say she's a senior officer, but you are not acting like you believe it..." She frowned. "This is not the old Overwatch. Do not bring in its baggage."

Gabriel slowly nodded, and his eyes narrowed. "...damn, doc, you're good. This'll take some serious getting used to, won't it?"

Mercy smiled and let herself look a little smug. "At least you owned up to it."

Gabriel laughed, something he rarely let himself do in the old days, and said, "I deserved that," and the tension drained from the room. "My CO is half my age," he said, rubbing his eyes. "I must be getting old."

Angela chuckled. "She's not really your CO."

"No, but you can't take the Army out of a man. Let me think of her like that for a little while, it'll help."

"As long as it's old Army, and not old Overwatch," insisted Ziegler.

"It is," answered Gabriel, chuckling, and shaking out his arms. "I feel like a First Lieutenant again, showing up, screwing up, getting my ass in trouble... Ana would have a field day if she ever heard me say that."

"Let's not bring up any more unpleasant stories right now," said the doctor.

"Agreed," said Winston, bringing the Morrison dossier up on his displays. "We have enough old soldiers to deal with already."

solarbird: (widow)
If I'm gonna have to be out of the Overwatch universe for a week - except for writing, I am taking my laptop for once - at least that was a good game to end on. (Volskaya, defence, successful 9-minute 30-second defence on the second point after they overran us quickly on the first, and tried to do it on the second, but... heh. We were having no part of that.)

I'm starting to find Widowmaker's rhythm, and wow she has one, and when I find it? Hooooo it's nice. Minion Paul was watching me play the other day when I found it, and he was all, 'That's some Spiderman shit right there.' Not my comic, but still. But that's not all it is.

It feels to me, if I'm standing still, I'm not playing her right. It is easier for me to get headshots while moving. Swing around while running, there's your target, scope and pow. Swing around while jumping, there's your target, pow. Keep going, full auto, chase, pow.

You're also much harder to hit that way, of course.

It does not feel like Tracer, though - except for the constant motion. It's slower and more flowing. Ballet vs. the Charleston indeed. But even more than Tracer, always know where everyone is. That's how you stop Reaper and McCree and Bastion ults sneaking up on you. Perhaps just as they start. Like tonight.

It's also fun watching enemy Widowmakers pick up on my tricks. I saw one start imitating me today. Her mine use changed - improved - all at once, after I killed her with a mine from quite far away. I knew where she'd go, and left her a present, and she went there. (See also: knowing the maps, knowing where people go.) Did that sting? :D

I started getting preferentially-targeted by the enemy team. Tracer used her bombs on me twice, and then wasn't able to get to me anymore. After an ult I didn't stop, Mercy and I were the only survivors, and Mercy kept me alive while I killed the half of the other team still on the point, and they couldn't hit me - and should've just stomped me - because they just couldn't target me well enough to do the damage. And I whittled all three of 'em down and was last player standing. Point held. Victory.

(Also, carded. Gold in objective kills and time, silver in total kills, silver in total damage. Widowmakers have a reputation for avoiding the point. I do not share that inclination. Come at me, bro. I will destroy you, and it will be magnificent.)
solarbird: (widowmaker)
Guess who unlocked the Smooth as Silk achievement today?

(It mostly gets you the "Cute" spray for Widowmaker. "Cute" and "Pixel" are both achievements, every character has their own. I've now won both for Widowmaker. You get this one for a headshot through the sight while airborne.)

Good night, Jack Morrison. [POW]
solarbird: (Default)
Hooo, practice range time makes a huge difference learning Widowmaker play.

I spent a bunch of time on the practice range yesterday and the day before and the impact has been immediate. I had a couple of twitch headshots at lunchtime overwatch that were just nuts. Intent was there, sure, but the mechanics? Pure reflex. Twitch, headshot. Good night, Hanzo. Twitch, headshot. Good night, McCree. Go to sleep.

Plus a few more deliberately aimed headshots. I had some good numbers today. Their McCree was the only one who could get anywhere near me. But more, I'm picking up the always-be-moving part. Not perfectly, of course. But I was thinking of her as best played more still than she should be, and that's wrong. Move. Always.

Also won another couple of duels with enemy Widowmakers, and one - ugh, she was terrible. I'll have this reaction when I'm playing enemy Tracer, when they're terrible - "oh, sister, you shame us all" - and I had that today, as Widow, about an enemy Widow. And I was right. I was a factor. She wasn't. We won, and they barely even ever slowed us down.

Also also, double-kill with a venom mine. That was both a first, and hilarious. "Here, have some deadly neurotoxin I got from my best friend online. Ooh, did that sting? Thanks, I will tell her."

I really do kind of think Widowmaker and GlaDOS would be evil online friends. You know, what with the common interests in deadly neurotoxin and killing. I should learn how to say "the cake is a lie" in French. Google translate says "le gateau est un mensonge." I suspect if it's gonna get anything right, it's that.

Someone should draw them getting together at a café for cake and neurotoxin. Tell me that wouldn't be great. :D

Huh, I guess it's official. I need a Widowmaker icon.
solarbird: (tracer)

I've been maintaining an offline official timeline of canon for On Overcoming the Fear of Spiders and all the in-universe stories written seperately and collected in intersections in the web of time, and now that I'm making some headway on Old Soldiers, I thought I'd format and post the thing.

It's pretty big. It includes a fair number of things that happened in Fear of Spiders that did not make it into the manuscript or any following story, and also contains a couple of first-chapter background-info spoilers for the new story. So if you're allergic to that sort of thing, don't read it. If you're not, you might find some new background you might enjoy.

Official timeline of the Fear of Spiders Overwatch AU
[solarbird at Archive of Our Own]
solarbird: (tracer)

This is not part of the on overcoming the fear of spiders continuity; Lena Oxton is Tracer, not Venom. It is a standalone story, in an AU which is still pretty much canon-compliant as of July 2017. It would be set in late 2077 or early 2078, in universe. [AO3 link]


"It is not easy to explain," said the Widowmaker, looking frustrated, fixated on her game screen and sitting next to Hana Song, who of course had her own pro rig and client.

Widowmaker had said that, not Amélie, and it was very important not to get that wrong. The Widowmaker didn't like it, and if Amélie had an opinion - or was in there at all - she never spoke up.

The blue assassin was playing a shooter game, but not as a sniper - as a melee character, high DPS, fast - not entirely unlike Tracer. She always played the same character. Tracer wasn't sure what that meant; Angela told her not to read too much into it, but she knew that Lena tended to think of it as a good sign anyway. It's still shooting people, but it's shooting people in a different way, and Lena couldn't help but feel a little flattered that if the spider was emulating anyone, it was her.

"I exist," the spider continued, as her character on screen ran across open field between buildings towards some sort of objective. "I am here. I exist by right of existence. I do not wish not to exist." Realising that - she knew, herself - had been a big step for her, one she had managed on her own, one taken before she escaped from her controllers with a surprisingly complete list of Talon embedded agents to exchange for her sanctuary.

"And Talon didn't agree with that, did they." Tracer replied.

"No. I was supposed to be an asset, not a person."

"And Angela doesn't entirely either, does she." It was a statement, not a question.

Widowmaker glanced briefly at Tracer, just with her eyes, just a little surprised, before her focus snapped back to the game. "No. She still thinks I am some folded-up version of her former friend. I am not."

The spider saw that Tracer nodded her agreement. Of all the people here, she thought, only Tracer seems to understand even this much. Perhaps it was the younger woman's experience as a ghost, after the Slipstream accident. Perhaps it was being an Omnic War orphan. Perhaps it was just her nature. The spider didn't know.

Tracer watched the two women game, but really watched Widowmaker think. She's close to something, I can feel it, she thought to herself.

"Is this why you won't let Angela undo any of Talon's work?" Widowmaker had adamantly refused any attempt to reverse any of the physical changes Talon had made, though she tolerated anything she could decide qualified as an "improvement." That included giving her control over her own emotional dampers. Handling that was still a learning process.

"Yes," replied the blue assassin. "I am me. I am not that other woman, even if she was the source for some of my parts. I cannot be her. I do not want to be her."

"I get that, luv," said the Londoner. That part didn't matter to Lena. It was easier, for her, if Amélie was dead, if she was gone, and buried, and this was Widowmaker, another person entirely, just happened to look a lot alike. "Y'know, personally, I like the blue," she said. Makes it easier, she thought.

"You may be the only one, myself aside," replied the spider.

"Hey, n00b," Hana said, "Cover your flank or you're gonna get p0wned."

"Thank you," Widowmaker replied, sweeping left, hitting far more than she missed. D-pad instead of mouse or rifle, she was built for aim.

"Nice shot! For a game controller. You should level up to a real interface."

"Perhaps never," said the assassin.

"Okay," replied the gamer, "don't listen to the professional."

"...point taken," replied the blue woman, as the round ended, with scores D.va 100, bad guys 12, Widowmaker 10.

"I'm outta D.ritos. Want anything?"

"No thank you."

"Just ate, luv, but thanks."

"Be right back!" she said, as she jumped backwards over her chair and headed out to the hallway.

Widowmaker leaned against the rec room's couch, watching the game's idle screen. "I like the character I am playing, more than the game itself. I think that is not too unusual, no?"

"Sure!" Lena answered, encouragingly. "That's why there are fan sites and hangouts and stuff. What do you like about her?"

"This character I play," Widowmaker gestured to the screen, "within the confines of the game, she is a person, like me - no, that is wrong, she is not like me, except in that she was... constructed. It is part of her story. Built, for a purpose. As I was, by Talon."

Built, thought Tracer. "Like Omnics, you mean?"

Widowmaker shook her head, no. "I have thought about it, but I think not. Neither of us are robotic, I do not think it is the same, and I cannot really ask our occasionally resident Shambali master to be sure..."

"Yeaaaaaaaaah," agreed the younger woman. "Probably never."

"I have been told that he says he does not carry a grudge, but I can tell that he carries a grudge, and I do not even blame him." She paused for a moment. "I am far more surprised that you talk to me than that he does not."

Lena bit her upper lip for a moment. "T'be honest, I am too."

Widowmaker hummed a little, a note that signalled her acknowledgment of the situation. "Why do you?"

Lena tilted her head back and forth a little. "...I dunno. That night in King's Row was the second worst of my life. I felt so angry and so betrayed, and I'd've done anything to undo it, but I couldn't. And you couldn't even tell me why."

"I did not know," she replied. "Or care. The question, it struck me as so unimportant, so silly. It was the first time I'd ever laughed. It may have been my first real, unprogrammed... thought."

"I didn't know that," said the Overwatch agent. Her first thought was... laughter? Wow. "But it hurt, then. Still does, a little. Less, now that I know you really aren't Amélie."

"My emotional range is still limited, but... I think I am sad about that."

"Maybe that's why, then. Maybe I can tell. Maybe that's why... somehow, here I am."

The eyes of the woman who had been made from Amélie Lacroix narrowed in thought at those words.

"Winston was built, too, genetically," said Tracer, changing back the subject and realising as she said it that it didn't fit. "But that's really not the same either, innit? He still grew up. You didn't. I think I get it, you just... came online, all at once, didn't you? 'Here I am, ready to kill.'"

The spider's gold eyes flashed to Tracer, but not in anger, as was so usually the case with that look. "Yes," she said, grabbing Tracer's hands. "Yes. I had a purpose, already. And then I had more purpose, that fit with it. No doubts, no hesitation, just purpose. Do you actually understand?"

Lena's heartbeat jumped as the spider grasped her hands, but she didn't let herself flinch, at least not more than with surprise. She touched me, she thought, intentionally. Woah! "I," she gathered her thoughts, "I think I do. I mean, not emotionally, right? I grew up too, and looked for somethin' to do with my life. But... in my head, I kinda get it. A little. You're not there, and then you are, all at once. And you already know why. That's, that's, that's, a kind of perfect, innit? It's..." she groped for the right words, "...flawless."

"Yes," she said, squeezing Lena's hands tightly. "For a reason, and with a purpose, and she," she gestured to her head to the screen, "is like that, and also biological, also for a reason, also for a purpose."

Lena put the rest of the pieces together. "...and nobody else in the whole world is."

The Widowmaker pulled Tracer against her, suddenly, roughly, and put her head on the Overwatch agent's shoulder. Lena could hear the spider breathing and found herself dazed, wrapping her arms around the assassin before she even knew what she was doing, asking only as she did it, softly, "...is this okay? Do you want a hug? 'Cause I can stop..."

"...no. I think I do."

She is so lonely, thought the former test pilot. And she don't even know it. Maybe that's why I don't mind this. She held the cool blue woman carefully in her arms. "Did you lose it, somehow? Your purpose?"

The spider did not say anything.

"Did you stop believing in it? Was that it?"

"It was... I could not stop... thinking. I was perfect, and whole, and content, and I brought exquisite deaths, and then I... and then I laughed, and I was not perfect, and not whole, and not content, and I could not fix it."

"And you miss that purity of purpose."

"So much."

"Would you go back to it?"

"I cannot."

Tracer nodded, and hugged a little tighter, as she said, "Because it's part of being a person. That's why you're here, innit?"

Widowmaker lifted her head from Lena's shoulder, looked her in the eyes, and whispered, "You do know."

Lena Oxton met the spider's gaze, and was not afraid. "This much, yeh. I do."

The spider laughed, just a little. Another thought, all her own. "May I hug you again, later?"

Tracer surprised herself by nodding agreement at once. What am I doing? She... she's who she is. She's built to kill. I can't ignore that. "'Course you can."

"Thank you," she said, and went ahead and did it right then, as well.

I can't ignore what she is, but maybe, Tracer thought, as Hana burst back into the room with grotesque amounts of junk food, ...maybe I can learn to live with it.

2075

Jun. 11th, 2017 01:46 pm
solarbird: (tracer)

[The twenty-ninth instalment]

[London. MI6. November.]

Video from the Humanity First strike in Naples rolled on the large screen, as the analyst section scribbled notes. Key sections were framed and elements highlighted from the incident which took place the week before.

"Now, until this moment, in minute 44," said the presenter, "the attack appeared to be going as we think they'd planned. They were moving through the arcade, here, in a sweep formation, when their progress forward suddenly fell out of good order. You can see the confusion, particularly these two figures, reacting to... something. We don't know what. Local police rapidly found themselves doing cleanup duty."

"A good thing, too, with the payload they were carrying," said the head of the table. "This sort of sudden breakdown - is it just me, or is it becoming a pattern?"

"The best kind of pattern to my mind, ma'am," said the woman in front of the large display.

"Yes, but only if we know why. Do we?"

"Generally? No. In this case, we think they lost comms, and fell out of sync. But we've no idea why that would've happened. And they certainly won't be telling us."

At the far end of the table, the less annoying American analyst flipped through photograph after photograph. She'd seen something, in a still photo. What was it, she thought, what was it, something faint...

More photos and video, now from minute 44, as the room discussed comms failures, a discussion she largely ignored. It's in here, somewhere, I saw it... there. What am I seeing here? She wasn't even sure herself.

"Excuse me, but... could we have item 59 from minute 43 on the large screen?" she asked, breaking into the room's conversation.

The collection of specialists present looked over, "Sorry, Agent...?" The presenter fished for the American's name, but she couldn't bring it up. "Um... certainly. Minute 43, item 59... here..." she put it on the large screen. "It's... the side of a building."

"How far in can we zoom on that second window from the left?"

The image enlarged to show the entire window frame.

"Lower half, please? Contrast enhance, gamut expansion?"

The presenter flicked controls. "Now... oh! Now I see... what the hell? Is that... someone's... back and head?"

"Someone aiming a rifle, looks like," said the tactics desk. "Someone not in our accounting."

"Is that colour correct?" asked her second. "Verify against reference." The tint shifted, brickwork used as a standard, and the Talon desk erupted in shouts as the presenter continued, oblivious to the noise, "That's... is that hair? Is it blue?"

"That, that, that that can't be her," the Talon desk second broke in, as the lead followed with, "We need that photograph and every picture of that window, and we need it right now. Do we have the other side of the building?"

"Someone verify the colour of the glass in that pane. Get someone out there to look at it, in person, we need a hard reference."

"Who is she shooting? Can we get any kind of interpolation on that?"

Systems brought up a three-dimensional rendering of the scene at that moment, and added a series of possible locations for the new actor, and possible targets, based on the one image obtained.

A small square device with a collection of protrusions hung off a nearby rooftop, at minute 41, visible, and intact, and at minute 46, visible, and destroyed.

"That," said electronics, "would be a tactical comms relay. Probably one of two. We should look for a second."

"What bet it's also smashed?" asked the tactics desk, excitedly.

As the room as a whole proceeded to tear through every photo and video segment with renewed intensity, the two reps from the Talon desk just stared at each other. "My god," said the lead. "What else did we miss? What the hell have we found? "

[Naples, a week earlier]

Kate checked her position and counted heads. Everyone who's supposed to be here, is here, in place. This'll show those fucking species-traitors. "Ready one!" she shouted, as as her team ducked behind columns and walls, and she pressed the outer ring detonator. Her team braced, ready for the impact of the explosions.

Nothing happened.

She pressed it again. Nothing continued to happen. No. No. Goddammit, Len screwed up the detonators.

"Ozzy, round one bad! Fire round two!"

"Len and Charla aren't out yet!"

"DO IT OR THIS WHOLE THING FAILS. DO IT, NOW!"

"Give them five more seconds!"

Kate would've shot Ozzy, and frankly wanted to, but he was too far away to make up the lost time. "DO IT OR I WILL SHOOT YOU MYSELF," she shouted anyway, aiming her pistol.

Ozzy was on comms, trying to raise Charla. "Shut up, I'm trying to ... god dammit! Now comms are out?!"

"NOW! THEY'RE MOVING ON US! DAMM YOU TO HELL, NOW!"

Ozzy swore, and thought, sorry, guys, and pressed the second ring detonator.

Nothing happened, a third time.

"DO IT!" shouted the team leader, enraged.

Ozzy pressed the trigger again, and again, useless. "I AM! IT ISN'T WORKING!"

Kate shrieked. It's those damned Aussies, they sold us shit goods, she thought. Shouting again, "Ozzy, try to keep the team moving forward, get the fourth ring set up. I'm going back to the second, try to reset the charges. Blow them in two minutes whether I'm here or not!"

"God speed!" shouted Ozzy.

Kate retreated around the corner back out of the arcade. Three steps out of sight of the rest of her team, there was a flash of light, a single round of automatic fire, a second flash, and she was gone.

They found some blood, a bit of flesh - more than enough DNA to identify the team leader - but they never found her body.

[Alicudi, six months earlier]

"Woah, what a mess," Lena said, looking at the latest eruption of violence - this time, in Korea.

"I know," Amélie said sadly, "Even acting as quickly as we can, everywhere we can, we can only do so much."

"You know we could step in more often," said the junior assassin.

"Certainly, in retrospect," agreed the senior assassin. "It's not so simple, in the moment."

"C'mon, love, maybe for most people," Venom countered. "Not for us."

"But that's not the difficult part," insisted the Widowmaker. "Getting there, creating a plan, executing it in real time - that is not so easy."

"Sure. We can't always act. But when we can, I want to try."

Amélie smiled. "You want to become a sort of... International Rescue, but of assassins?"

Lena laughed at the thought, and said, "Aye aye!" enthusiastically.

"But it will not change history," said the assassin, reluctantly, "at least, not often, if ever. Not as we've always measured it."

"It'll save lives," said her apprentice. "Isn't that enough?"

"Lives that do not change history," insisted the spider.

"Lives nonetheless," said her lover. "Besides, fewer deaths mean fewer relatives vowing revenge and voting for demagogues. It's got to help."

"At the margins, perhaps," the spider calculated. "It is a risk. Each time, a possibly fatal risk. Stepping in improvisationally to complex situations with live fire is not a step to be taken lightly."

"I'm good at risk," retorted the test pilot. "Won't be a problem if we're careful."

After a year and a half together, Amélie Lacroix had learned when Lena Oxton's mind was made up, and turned to face the inevitable. "You're going to do this whether I help or not, aren't you?"

The inevitable replied, "I'd much rather not have to decide 'bout that, love."

"I have two counter-conditions," said the woman of blue.

The pilot smiled. She'd won, and knew it. "Name 'em."

"First, our primary mission is always paramount. Nothing may affect or endanger that."

Well, that's easy, Oxton thought. "Goes without saying," she said. "Didn't even consider it on the table..."

"Second," the spider had started, when Lena interrupted. "No, no, love, wait. I need to make that clear: I will not risk this project. I just won't. I might argue..."

"...might and have done..." noted Amélie.

"...yeh, and likely will again. But once it's sorted? Never. I swear."

Amélie smiled, relieved in spite of herself, and reached out to touch her her partner's face, gently. "I did not think you would, but I do not leave such things unstated. Particularly not with you."

"Fair enough," Lena answered, warmly, nuzzling Widowmaker's hand, and taking it into her own. How did I get so lucky as to fall into you? she asked herself, as she did every time they fought. "Hoo. What else?"

"Second, we move only if I think it is safe and practical. I will not endanger our organisation, or myself, or you." In this, she was an anchored stone, an unmovable object.

Venom laughed again, playing the river, splashing around the rock. "I'm never in danger, love."

Widowmaker gave her a most sharply pointed look. "We are always in danger, ma chérie - do not forget that."

"Sorry, sweet," she said in reply. "Not the time to be flippant." A small surrender, wrapped in affection. "I don't forget."

"Then that is all," said the Widowmaker, lightly, relaxing. "It is acceptable?"

"More than that," said Venom. "It's a deal."

solarbird: (tracer)

"None of these are nice people," said Widowmaker.

"Goes without sayin', don't it?" said Lena, popping a bit of handmade picture candy into her mouth, flavoured hard candies with an image running throughout, looking like little round slices of pomegranate, pips and all, made entirely by pulling sugar. "These came out great, love. I thought you couldn't cook."

Amélie raised an eyebrow and smiled. "I have some talents beyond shooting people. But this is confectionary, not cooking, it is different."

"How's that then?"

"Because I am French and know better than English barbarians about food."

Venom laughed. "Oh, right. Of course."

"But - yes, that these are bad people does go without saying. Still, moreso, even than usual, these are not good people." She threw Venom a file from her padd. "Here is a dossier on everyone I expect to attend - you should memorise it."

"Gotcha." Venom slid aside news of the latest anti-Omnic violence in North America - and the latest retaliation from Null Sector - to flip through the pages she'd just received. "Huh... Most of these... they're just ordinary criminals. Bad ones, but just criminals."

"Yes," Widowmaker agreed. "They are suppliers and sellers, not movers of history. They are without ideals," she frowned. "But we need to deal with them, occasionally, and that means dealing with their, um... muscle? Yes. Muscle. Bodyguards. I had to make an example of one, a few years ago."

"That's too bad."

The elder assassin shrugged. "Yes, I'm sure he was an adorable child with a mother, once."

Venom laughed. "And probably killed her."

"I do not have room to talk," said Amélie, pointedly. "But I do not wish to make any further examples. Bringing you, I hope, will help make that less likely."

"Really?" asked Tracer, wondering if Amélie could make these candies with maltose. Chocolate's great, but variety's good too. "Why?"

Widowmaker smiled. "Your reputation in certain circles precedes you."

Venom licked her lips. "Fantastic."

"But behave," said the blue assassin. "I'm bringing you to prevent problems, not cause them."

"'Course, love," said the teleporting assassin, cockily. "Don't I always?"

"Honestly?" asked the spider.

"Never but," said the striped assassin.

"Yes," the blue woman smiled, "You do."

"Aw," the younger assassin pouted, "You're no fun today."

"Should I start lying to you, then?" asked Amélie, amusement in her voice.

"Fiiiiiiine," Venom said, with greatly exaggerated exasperation, "I'll be good."

-----

Widowmaker touched her comm. "McCree, from Widowmaker. Do we have an all clear?"

Over comms, the cowboy replied, "Widowmaker, McCree - I hear ya. All clear. C'mon down whenever when you're ready."

"McCree, thank you. We'll keep you looped in, but otherwise, we'll take over from here. Switching to monitor mode."

"McCree switching to radio silence and out."

The meeting had been scheduled for a large conference room on the second floor of a older, nondescript, and otherwise-empty metal building in Caracas, hosted by a trusted neutral party specialising in such arrangements. "Why are these things always in warehouses?" Venom asked, as she landed their stealthed light flyer on a rooftop two blocks away.

"Because warehouses are boring," replied Widowmaker. "Clients rotate in and out of light industrial facilities like these constantly, as companies build and fail, and so strangers are not..."

Venom broke in, "Rhetorical, love," as she unstrapped from the pilot's seat.

"Ah, of course," the spider said, opening the side hatch. "I will punish you later."

"Ooooh, goodie," said Venom.

"Behave."

"Yeh, yeh."

The two assassins executed their own secondary recon of the facility before approaching, and a second facilities check before entering. "Looks clean," said Venom, from atop a building on one block; her partner agreed, from atop a building the block opposite, and they fell in together.

Most of the expected buyers and sellers had arrived already, a few early, some just entering from the lower level as the Talon pair entered from the balcony entrance above. Widowmaker spotted the Menger Group's muscle as soon as she walked in, but not Javier Menger himself. She leaned to Venom as the two descended the stairwell and said, "Menger Group, on the opposite wall, but no Javier. I am concerned. He does not miss these meetings."

Venom nodded affirmatively, a subtle gesture. Texans, she remembered from the dossier. SIG Sauer specialists and neo-fundamentalist survivalists. "One of the muscle has a much better suit than in the photos," she said quietly to Widowmaker. "Something's changed."

Widowmaker agreed. "Caleb. I've seen him - and his bodyguard - before. Javier kept them both on tight reins."

As the senior assassin side-eyed that new suit, Caleb caught her glance and bristled. "I see you brought your new guard dog," he called from across the room, a bit of extra sneer in his heavy Texan accent. "She better be well-trained."

The room instantly grew very quiet. Other groups subtly edged away from the Menger representatives.

Oh, thought the spider, how tiring. The new boss feels he must establish himself, and has chosen me. "Javier, are you here?" she called, scanning the room for the older Menger. "Is this the kind of help you've resorted to hiring these days?"

"Javier's out," said Caleb. "You aren't dealing with the old man anymore. I'm running the show now."

"That is unfortunate," said the Widowmaker, wondering how recently it'd happened. Enculer, she thought. Bizarre religion or not, he would keep his promises. Aloud, she continued, "Javier was reliable, and often pleasant. I will hope his successors decide to continue that tradition."

"That right?" said the woman with him, Haley, the bodyguard, possibly a new lieutenant, judging from the swagger. "We all thought it was time for some fresh blood. People who won't let themselves get led 'round by a pretty blue face."

The Widowmaker frowned.

Turning to Venom, Haley gazed down at the much smaller woman. "But we ain't the only fresh blood, are we? Careful, little bitch," she mocked, "don't want to get hurt playin' with the big dogs." She pronounced it like "dawgs."

They do not deserve artistic deaths, thought the Widowmaker. But examples must sometimes be made.

"Venom?" asked Widowmaker.

"Yes, love?" asked Venom.

"Sting." said Widowmaker.

"Yes, love." said Venom.

She never even appeared to move. There was a flash of light, which was actually three, and what sounded like a single shot, but was actually two. Both offenders dropped to the ground, dead, individual bullets placed precisely into the centres of their forebrains.

Instant, perfect death. Not as elegant as some, perhaps, but strong lines, and good design, a clean, modernist improvisation. Widowmaker approved. "Nicely done."

Shouts of shock echoed around the room as the bodies hit the floor, not all of those dead. Venom smiled, sweetly, and looked up to her spider. "Anyone else, love?"

"Thank you, no," said the Widowmaker. "I think that should do." She turned her gaze slowly across the room. "Unless, of course, anyone else has additional commentary to bring to the conversation?"

The room became quiet, and still.

"Then shall we get to the tasks at hand?" asked the Widowmaker. Looking past the table, she said, "I'm sure our hosts can handle the mess, can't you?"

A couple of agents in matching grey suits nodded. "Just waiting for your permission to move, ma'am," said the smarter of them.

Widowmaker chuckled. "Excellent. Please do." Turning back to the room, she said, "Why don't we get down to business?"

solarbird: (tracer)

"aaaaAaAAAaAAAAA NO" Lena shot upwards, blurring blue and red, teleporting right and up, across the room, almost into the wall, knocking over a lamp which crashed to the floor before she even knew she'd done any of it.

Amélie, startled in her sleep, leapt out of bed and had her rifle out and scoped before she, too, could fully awaken. But after a moment, she calmed herself, and looked to Lena, climbing down from her terror. She put the Widow's Kiss aside and calmly walked over to her partner. "You're here, ma chérie, not in the airplane, not on fire, you're with me, not in the airplane, not on fire, you're with me..."

Lena's gaze darted randomly, until she locked onto Amélie, eyes still wide, still hyperventilating.

Amélie put her arms around her beloved. "Now, I have you..."

Breathe, Lena thought, breathe, as her lover took embraced her. Breathe. This can't happen. Breathe. What can't happen? Breathe. She put her head on Amélie's shoulder. That felt right. Breathe. She put her arms around Amélie, pressing against her, that too felt right, and wonderful, breathe, like it felt when... what? Like it felt when what?

Amélie knew these nights well. They were not common, not exactly, but came often enough to have a routine. Doctor Mariani had, at Amélie's insistence, examined her beloved three times now; she'd assured her there was no physical issue either with her or her web, said that while she was not a psychiatrist, it looked to her like classic trauma reaction.

But the spider was not so sure. Something poked at her mind, something vibrated the web, just a little, like an echo of something large, long ago, or something yet to come, far away. "You're with me, you are not on fire, I have you, you are safe, it is over," she kept repeating. It always seemed to help.

"This. Can't. Happen." Venom said, quietly.

Amélie tilted her head, confused. This was new. "What cannot happen?" she asked. "Should I... should I not be doing this? Should I let go?"

"NO!" shouted Lena. Breathe. "No. Hold me. Never let go. But..." What can't happen?

She almost has something, Amélie thought. Something different. Not more of the empty echoes of things that never were. Something more. Perhaps. She held her lover tightly against her, manoeuvring them both back over to the bed, and stroking her hair.

Venom slumped. It was gone. Breathe. Whatever it was, it was gone. "Damn. I... I almost had it, that time. I think. I thought."

"You said," Amélie prompted, "'this cannot happen' ... no, that's not quite right, it's 'This. Can't. Happen.' with little pauses, like that." Amélie thought she could almost smell the scent of burning jet fuel. "The Slipstream disintegrating around you, again?"

Lena shook her head, negatively. "No. Well... not really. But sort of. That, too." And not for the first time, she did not need to say. Breathe. "But... no. The order's wrong, it's back to front. Something else."

"Could it have been triggered by the mission?" she spider worried. "Your first night out, we were successful, but it was new and explosive..."

Lena laughed. "Nah, love. That was great." She smiled, genuinely, the fear and dread quickly dispelling. "Ho, that's funny," she said, relief in her voice. "Just thinking about it, I feel better." Hugging her partner close, as the last of the terror slipped away, she continued, "...yeah. I think about being on mission with you, working together, and it's - the dread, I mean - it's just gone."

Amélie closed her eyes for a moment, and thought, if there is a god, I thank them for that. Opening her eyes, she asked, "You are sure?"

Lena nodded, eyes clear, if all too awake for the middle of the night. "fffft," she said, "I'm not complicated, love. I know how I feel. I'm sure." She looked at the clock. "Great. 3am. I've ruined both our sleeps. I'm sorry."

"Do not let it concern you, I am just glad you are feeling better." She squeezed her partner tightly, and they crawled back under the covers.

"I wish we were back on Alicudi," Lena said, wistfully, curled up with her blue lover. "I'd go listen to the waves 'til I got sleepy again."

"I know," Amélie sighed. " I miss it as well. I would come with you. We could stay out all night and fall asleep under the stars, as far as I am concerned." She frowned. "Sombra's fake listing was a little too inviting."

Lena chuckled. "Booked through August. She thinks the whole thing's hilarious."

"Of course she does," Amélie said, crossly.

"'Look! We have real vacation reviews! Ooh, they're very good!'" Venom liked the hacker, but her sense of humour could be inconvenient at times. There really was no need for registration functionality. Not that actually worked.

"At least tourist season will be over soon," Amélie said, resignedly.

"She wants a commission, y'know."

"Fine. I will charge it back to her later," said the spider. "Perhaps, 'inconvenience fees.'"

Lena laughed. "Nice."

"Roll over," Amélie said. "I'll rub your back until you fall asleep."

"...does that work?" asked the younger assassin, obeying.

The elder assassin nodded, though her partner could not see her do so. "Every time."

solarbird: (tracer)

"Good evening, Winston," said the elder assassin.

"Widowmaker," said the ape, grimly, with a three second delay. "I see you have acquired Lena's prefix code."

"Thank you for responding," she said. "We have not talked in some time."

"Using Lena's code set will get my attention. Does she still have access to it too?"

The spider smiled wanly and leaned out of the way. Lena popped into view, "Hiya, big guy! It's okay, I'm here, she's using my kit."

Winston blinked confusedly. "oh! Hello! Where have you been? I hadn't heard from you in a few weeks, and then I heard about London. What exactly happened?"

"I'll tell you tomorrow, now that I don't have MI5 watching my every breath. It'll be a lot easier to get ahold of you from now on! But Amélie needs to talk to you alone, and I wanted to make sure you'd answer, so... hear her out, will ya? For me?"

Winston did not look pleased by the request. "I... what's this all about?"

this is a long one )
solarbird: (tracer)

A violet sphere of energy burst overhead, and most of the nearby lights went out. Two sniper shots, muffled, but audible to a practised ear, came in rapid succession. A short burst of less-muffled machine gun fire - and then a small armoured ship appeared from overhead, dropping hard and fast to low hover. The large hatch on the side blew open; from inside, a masked figure shouted in a machine-like tone, "GET OVER HERE."

Lena ran. Ran, and dove, reacting, not thinking, onto the platform, and it raised, carrying her with it. As she tumbled to the deck, the masked figure said, "Trafalgar Square?! Points for style, but are you insane?" now with a distinctly Hispanic accent.

"It was either that or blow up Fleet House, mate. I thought this would be better."

"I'm not so sure."

"I could still change my mind."

"Get in the crash chair, we're moving quickly."

Widowmaker appeared at the opposite hatch shouting, "GO, GO, GO," slammed its close button, and dove into a second crash chair as the ship shot forward, horizontally, low, and vanished from sight over a partially darkened Old London.

"Fourteen... thirteen..."

The ship shot west, tilting upwards, pulling four Gs for 12 straight seconds, as it just cleared buildings.

"That... was fast..." said Lena from her crash chair as the retrieval ship broke towards the Channel.

"We've been keeping an eye on you," said Sombra, with some effort, from the pilot's seat.

"Several," said Widowmaker, somehow effortlessly. "No one escapes from my sight. But... Trafalgar? Êtes-vous une folle? Why?"

"I... I'm not even sure. I think I wanted to give 'em the two-finger salute. I wanted them to know."

"Well," Amélie admitted with a mix of amusement and irritation, "they certainly know now."

"Four minutes thirty seconds to international airspace," said Sombra, from the pilot's seat. "33 seconds to cloak recharge."

"I didn't expect you to bring in a bloody troop carrier. How are we not shot down?"

Sombra mocked, "World's greatest intelligence agency! Spycraft is in our blood! And they still rely on CCTV. Pathetic - they won't even be sure you're gone until we're too far away to care." As gravity returned to normal, she turned and tossed the semi-prone Lena a seemingly-random collection of electronics. "Much better. Here, a present for you."

"What are they?"

"CCTV relays, a couple of encoders - it's all stuff they were using to track you tonight. Junk, really." A chime from the console. "Cloak reactivated. 15 seconds, changing course."

"So you knew," said Lena, looking towards, but a little past, Amélie.

"We watched them watching you," said the spider, looking back, "and I anticipated, and made contingency plans. I did not know, until they took you in. I'd hoped, if you came back out, that you'd go out of town to summon us - not go as far into town as possible." She checked the tactical board visible on the wall from her crash chair, and to Sombra, said, "No one is painting us. I don't think we need to use the backup boosters." From the pilot seat, Sombra agreed. "Boosters on hot standby."

Lena's focus moved further out again. "They one-thirty-foured me. And they took my license. Amélie," she said, distantly, as the adrenaline surge faded. "They took my wings."

Amélie reached across the lengthening gap, and took Lena's hand. "That, I did not know. So that is why... all this." She scowled. "I know what it meant to you. I am displeased, but much more than that, I am sorry."

"I told you they were bastards," Sombra chimed in. "10 seconds to full cloak charge..."

"Tactical board still clear. At recloak, bring us down to noise level and evade; we should be able to demicloak the rest of our way out."

"Cloaked... dropping... we're in the muck. Stealthed."

"Thank you," said Widowmaker. But she stayed in her crash chair, counting seconds. Three minutes to international airspace. "Once we hit the channel, deploy the decoy east and drop below Mach 1 - let's take the long way home."

"Got it."

-----

"I want to kill him," the now-signless pilot said, awake again, fury seeping from every syllable. "I get it now. I want to kill him."

"I understand," said the spider, carefully. But it is unnecessary, she thought.

Tracer - no, not Tracer, she'd need a new name - paced around the small cabin, as the ship flew quiet and low over the north equatorial Atlantic, moving slowly towards normal traffic lanes, just another surplus straggler finding its way back to its place.

"I want to kill him," the pilot repeated. "With my own hands. I want it to be close, I want it to be personal, I want him to know why."

"I am hearing you," the assassin said again, soothingly. "I am listening; tell me. Tell me all of it."

The former Flight Officer raged, "They knew I was back. They knew who I was the whole time, toying with me, trolling me even, I see it now. They were watching me since I showed up at the consulate and they cut me off and they moved my friends and threatened the one they didn't and they bled me 'till I almost gave up and died and then they took me and they put me in a box and told me to go do nothing and be nowhere and they took my wings and they took my life and they treated it like some kind of favour and now I want to take them and show them what kind of favour it was."

"I believe you, and I hear you. Keep going."

"Why?!" the flyer shouted, "What else is there? The box, the glass room, it was a bomb chamber, I get it now, I didn't get it at time, they were ready for me to explode, or they were ready to blow me up, I don't even know which, they'd planned it since I reappeared, I am so angry and feel so sick..." Pain and anger radiated from her body, so clearly the assassin could almost see it, as she slammed her fists down onto the flattened crash chair, now a bench, and then sat, face in her hands. "Why?! Why would they do that?"

If she did not want to kill them, I would..., thought the spider, struggling to keep her own emotions controlled. No, she realised, I do want to kill them. Not for history. For her. "I will tear through them until not one is left standing, if that is what you truly need," she said, voice quick with her own unexpected cold fury.

Lena looked up, face wet, and the blue woman thought, She has had no one, for weeks. "I have missed you," she couldn't not continue, aloud, reaching out her hand, "more than I could have possibly imagined. May I sit with you?"

Lena grabbed Amélie and pulled the taller woman down beside her, sobbing as the dam broke, digging into Amélie's shoulder and gasping for air, just holding her, so tightly, "i've missed you so much, it's hurt so much "

"I stayed away," Amélie said thickly, through her own new tears. "I didn't want to, but I did, until you called. It's what you said you wanted." She pulled the smaller woman closer against her, holding on tight in return. "Please say it's what you wanted. Please, please, or I will burst, I..."

"It was..." Lena managed slowly, though shuddering breaths that she fought to control, "...I thought I needed..." another heaving breath, "oh god, Amélie, I was so wrong..."

"Everyone," said the blue woman, finding herself suddenly, confusingly happy, "is wrong. Sometimes. But you are not, for me. Not ever."

"Don't let go. Never let me go again."

Not unless you want me to, the spider thought. Only then. But that is not what you need right now. And the most rational part of her mind raced, I need you with a whole heart, but I need that heart to be whole, and it is tearing...

And then, with the clarity of stars in a deep black sky, she knew.

"Pilot," she said softly, "would you fly us home?"

Lena gasped, eyes instantly wide open. "..."

"Sombra needs a break, she has not slept, and we are not too far away now. Are you cleared on this kind of craft? Could you take us home?"

A final heaving sob out of Pilot Oxton, and then she sniffed and laughed amidst the crying, and for the first time in what felt like years a smile peeked through the tears falling like rain. "uh," she sniffed, and swallowed, "B, uh, B-10M class, right?" She looked around. "Yeah. I can fly her. If... if Sombra doesn't mind..."

"Sombra needs a nap," came a voice from the flight deck. The hacker, being no fool, had already put the ship on autopilot, and stood by the empty flight chair, smirking and motioning towards the empty seat. Lena stepped up to that chair, and looked back to Amélie. "Stay with me? It's been a while."

"Always."

Lena sat down, put on the flight headset, and grasped the pilot's yoke. "Yeah," she said. "Let's go home."

solarbird: (tracer)

5:30am. Lena Oxton awoke just before sunrise. Day 60, she thought to herself. Or maybe day ten.

Quietly, so not to wake her hostel bunkmates, she went to her locker, pulled out her bag, and slipped silently to the common washroom, where she brushed her teeth and hair and prepped for her morning run. Nightshirt, brushes, back into the bag, and back to the locker; beacon with her, as always, in the special strap she'd built just for it.

6:00am. Lena Oxton ran. It wasn't a jog, it was a run, an all-out two-minute-mile run, jinks coming in bursts between buildings where she wouldn't be seen, not even by CCTV. She'd memorised the route that guaranteed least surveillance, and took it without fail, twice, every morning.

Then, a more typical endurance run. An hour at a more recognisable speed, one the best-trained fully-human runners might manage - certainly nothing anyone would find too impossible, out of context. But she nonetheless slowed whenever police happened near by.

7:00am. Back to the hostel, for the allotted four minute shower. Re-up her bunk on the way in. She tried to think of it as boot camp, or aircraft carrier duty. It felt more like prison.

7:15am. Into her best outfit. If you're going to war with records, best to look like you've got some standing - even if you've been had so many doors slammed in your face that you've developed a ranking system.

7:30am. Breakfast. A century-old cafe tucked into a still-older building on the border between Westminster and Pimlico, high density, high fat, but low cost and they don't skimp on the bangers. She loved it the first three weeks, liked it the next three. This was week nine.

8am. The library. The librarians knew her well at this point, and were kind, assuming without saying that she was some sort of homeless, and probably undocumented, passport or no passport. Electronic refiling of the same sets of requests and documentation that somehow just kept going missing. (Sorry, miss, there's just no sign of it. Why don't you submit it again? ) Research, trying to find something, any case like hers, that might get her a day in court - anything that might get her heard.

Noon. Lunch. A second workout - it's Wednesday, so the corporate-sponsored free weights session; next one would be Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it's Parks Fitness. Mondays and Saturdays, anything she could find online. Sundays, parkour out on the east end, no one she could really talk to, but the closest she'd found to friends so far.

13:30. Another attempt at her should-be MP's office; barred at the door, as usual. Another attempt at Council - more forgiving, but nothing they can do - "not if it's a military matter, sorry luv." She knew better at this point to show up at a Forces station. One office visit followed another followed another, all about the same, one too-familiar blur after another.

16:45. Immigrant rights groups, free legal aid meeting, round six. Sincere, but - she's not an immigrant. And their legal assistance team are as confused as she was until ten days ago, when she ran into Imogen again, Imogen, who picked her up by the collar and slammed her against the wall and said in a low but deadly voice, "are you following me? are you following me? i don't know what you think you want but the word has gone out, you are a poison and i will not lose my career being seen with you. i don't know you. i never did. never get near me again" before storming away, diving into the nearest cab that would take her, gone almost before even Tracer could think, ...what just happened?

17:30. Dinner. Week nine. Not out of money yet, but no dessert. She missed dessert.

18:30. A long walk around town, playing her favourite new game, "spot the new CCTVs."

Now it's 19:45, as Tracer climbs up onto the hostel's rooftop to try and get a signal to Winston if the surveillance isn't too obvious, but, of course, it is. She heads back down to the common room; it's Wednesday, quiet, and there's been another incident, emergency response in Tunisia, the reporters are wondering if it's Talon and Lena wants to laugh and cry at the same time, as if her beloved spider would ever be so indiscriminate, so inelegant, so wretchedly, terribly sloppy with death.

But sloppily or not, people are still dying, and as she studies the action on screen, she thinks, We could've done something about this. Her hands tighten into angry fists. Overwatch could've, if they hadn't shut us down. I feel so useless. If... She follows the footage, overhead views, and realises she's tracking critical actors. There, she thinks, coolly. That one. Take that one person down, the whole plan falls apart. One shot...

She shakes her head, and closes her eyes. She can still see the target, clear and sharp in her mind's eye, as though through a scope, as though through her scope, as though... Hindsight, she tells herself, is always so clear. Opening her eyes, she realises no one else is even paying attention, and so she reaches up, and changes the channel.

Early to bed. Tomorrow's another day. It'll be different, right? Surely. It has to be.

Maybe I'll just sleep in.

solarbird: (tracer)

"Hey, doc!" The pilot waved her arms, and shouted across the square. "Angela!"

"Lena!" The doctor waved back in response, and walked quickly through the thin crowd. "It... it really is you. You look almost exactly the same."

"So do you!" The two women hugged, close. "Gor blimey, doc, it's been so long. You're the first person from the old team I've actually seen in person since Greece. How's Fareeha?"

Angela hugged the pilot again, and whispered into her ear, "I am certainly being surveilled, we should get to my office at the embassy" before leaning back, taking Tracer's shoulders in her hands as if everything were perfectly ordinary. "On a mission, like always. But we're both very well, thank you. I'll be back home with her again in a few days." She showed a decorated gold band on her ring finger. "It's our second anniversary."

"Oooh, nice," said Tracer, looking closely at the interweaved inlays, the halo and the hawk. "Very nice. I'm not surprised, though - you two weren't exactly subtle." She scrounged her pockets for cash. "Let me grab something from the takeaway and we can head over to your place. You don't mind, do you?"

"Of course not! I have the entire afternoon, go ahead." She gestured to the order window. "So tell me, how is life back in London?"

Tracer frowned, and ordered a vindaloo and joined the short queue for pickup. "I'm not alive yet," she said flatly. "Still trying to get that sorted."

"Still?" asked the doctor, confusedly.

"Yah, that's why I'm doing everything in cash. It's like being a tourist in my own home town. Still living in hostels, couldn't get work if I tried, it's just every-day all-day throw myself at another corner of military bureaucracy."

"That sounds terrible. Have you tried the civilian authorities?"

"Yeh, I gave up and submitted a bunch of forms earlier today. But if I could get the bleedin' forces to pay attention, I wouldn't have to. I'm an officer! This shouldn't be so difficult."

"Surely some sort of official status is better than none," said Angela.

"Not too sure about that, luv." Tracer's curry arrived, and she grabbed it, a couple of napkins, and her tea. Turning to go, she confessed, "Honestly, outside flying, outside Overwatch... I'm starting to wonder if I ever even had a life."

-----

"Sorry if this messes up any of your tests," said the pilot, putting away the last of her second lunch. "But I was ravenous. Happens a lot these days."

"Well, I won't be able to tell you much about cholesterol levels or blood sugar, but that's not exactly why we're here, is it? You look quite fit."

Lena just smiled, happy to be looking at anyone she recognised. "Bloody hell, it's good to see someone I know. Even if you were always just 'the doc.'"

Dr. Ziegler smiled professionally back. "Before you say anything else - anything else - authorise this." She offered the pilot a padd, with forms.

"What is it?"

"It confirms that I'm your doctor. Doctor-patient confidentiality is core to my organisation and we're prepared to defend it. I assure you, whatever I see or record, it will not go to the British - or Swiss - governments. We are on Swiss soil, and I am notoriously prickly."

"Brilliant." Tracer keyed her acceptance. The form even looked like an Overwatch document. It felt like being back at old home, and her heart ached a moment for it.

"And this document," the doctor changed pages, "is not standard. But it authorises me to share your data with Winston. He has legal standing with us in ways he does not in Britain." Tracer approved again.

"Now, we may talk freely. But clothing off, please. Let's get you looked over."

Lena threw her shirt and trousers off, onto the chair, revealing the intricate pattern of bands of light, blue or red or white, flowing across her body, from upper right shoulder to lower left leg.

Angela was visibly taken aback. "Gott in Himmel. It's beautiful. You are living art."

"Clever, innit? I can control how it looks," she said, and faded it to a series of thin lines across her skin. "But I wanted to show off."

"This is what it takes to keep you in time, then?"

"S-," ..ombra, she almost said, but did not quite, "Since I got pulled back, yah. There was an earlier version that just belted on, but it wasn't stable. I kept," she shuddered, a little, remembering the feeling, "trying to phase back out of time."

"One broken strap from vanishing? That does not sound like a good solution, no," offered Angela.

"I'd've lost the plot in a month from stress and lack of showers. Can't lose this, though - it's part of me." She ran the traces through a cycle of soft, calming blues. It reminded her of No, she thought to herself, leave it. "I tell people it's bioluminescent tattoo. The latest thing, in Greece! Everybody wants them now."

"I understand why." Dr. Ziegler selected a pair of scanners. "With your permission?"

Lena hesitated. "You sure this place isn't bugged?"

The doctor smiled, and nodded. "Quite sure."

-----

"Good morning, Winston," said the doctor, a week later.

"Angela," he said pleasantly, sipping at a cup of tea, one and a half seconds ago. "How are you this fine morning?"

"Quite well, thank you. I'm in Egypt; Fareeha's just off to work. I'm ready to transmit the data, if you're set up to receive it."

"Go ahead," said the scientist.

"Sending," she said, pressing confirm.

"How was she, in person?" he asked, as the progress metre slowly climbed.

"Physically well. She's in fantastic aerobic condition. She has some new scarring - in my opinion, almost certainly burns from the explosion. She lost a toe, and broke several bones, but I see nothing to worry about. On the whole, she had to have been remarkably lucky."

"But is she still herself, to you?"

"As far as I can tell, she is. But while were perfectly friendly, before - professional friends, yes? - I didn't know her like you did. I would miss subtleties." She looked thoughtful. "Even so... even to me, she seems very lonely."

Winston nodded, sadly. "I can't even imagine what she's been going through. If I could just get down there..."

"I think that would be good, if only it could be done." The doctor paused a moment, collecting her thoughts. "But to the larger question..."

"Don't say it."

Mercy smiled, as close to wickedly as she ever came, "the ten thousand pound gorilla in the room..."

"For the last time, Angela - I am not ten thousand pounds!" he huffed.

Angela giggled, the Swiss equivalent of a guffaw, and continued, "...the hardware itself. It's extraordinary. The shielding is perfect, and where it cannot be shielded, it is too fine for nondestructive deep scans. I could get nowhere with it."

"Damn," said the ape. "So we still don't even know what it does."

"Not so," she gestured with her left hand, "we know it's a chronal accelerator. Of that, I am sure. We just don't know what else it might do."

He put more sugar in his tea. "Like mind control."

The doctor drew in a deep breath. "No, I don't think so. The brain interfacing is all motor cortex and reflex. It's meticulous work - it had to have been grown into place - and the guiding was magnificent." She highlighted some of the interface points, and at each level further down, the integration became, if anything, more complete. "It is truly a part of her, as much as any other part of her body."

"Huh." Winston peered at data sets as the first files completed upload. "Like your nanites?"

"A different approach, but if anything," said Mercy, "moreso. Whoever did this - it's not new to them. They've been doing this. They have practice."

"You could replace someone's whole brain with these techniques, couldn't you," he said, grimly.

"Certainly. But you can also do that in a chair with a combination of drugs, conditioning, and high-precision electromagnetic fields, and not leave so much evidence." She leaned forward on her elbows, towards the screen. "I know what you're thinking. Amélie had nothing like this in her brain. Whatever has been done to your friend Lena - I think her mind is still her own."

"With respect, doctor, you thought that about Amélie. We all did."

Dr. Ziegler nodded, resolutely. "I still do."

solarbird: (tracer)

"Ah'm not sure that was the best idea," the cowboy said, from Arizona, in North America, "just lettin' her waltz out like that."

The hacker nodded, from an unknown location, probably further south, but not necessarily. "I know. Amélie has been acting very strange lately. All emotional. When she first started this project, I caught hints of it and thought, 'that'll be useful someday,' but now, it's just splashing around everywhere."

"Hasn't affected her aim any, has it?"

Sombra snickered, and popped some obscenely hot bit of candy into her mouth. "Made it better, maybe. She's always been obsessive about targeting, but since Oxton showed up, it's even worse. She hits targets I can't even see."

"Means she's nervous. Did the same thing in '71."

"We were all very nervous in '71," the hacker shuddered. 2071 had not been a good year for anyone interested in not having another Omnic War.

"Yeah, but she's the only one whose aim improved." He leaned back in his chair and flipped pistols around, nervously practicing spin tricks, before turning back to the conversation. "We're dancin' 'round the point - what're we gonna do if Tracer spills the beans?"

"Oh, is that what you meant?" said the hacker, looking back at the screen. "I thought you were worried about the spider."

"I'm worried about the organisation. You keepin' an eye on Oxton?"

Sombra laughed and slid a display over. "You see this? This is a livestream of MI5's tracking feed. I'm not watching her so much as I'm watching them watch her."

The cowboy smiled and chucked. "Well, then. At least we'll know."

"I'm not worried about Lena giving us up - I don't know if she knows it, but she's tooootally in love with Amélie. It's a little scary."

"I'll take yer word on the love part, but you sure 'bout that not talkin' part? 'Cause I sure as hell ain't."

Sombra smirked, knowingly. "I've kept you in the loop, but you weren't there, and I was. Trust me, she won't talk."

"And if they make 'er?"

"Even if they put her under a deep probe, all she knows is a little house and a couple of labs, and they're scrubbed now anyway. It looks like a tourist rental. I made a nice little lease history and everything."

"If you say so," he said, dubiously.

"I even made a rental listing," she told the sharpshooter. "I can show you. It's in all the archives since last year, as of, oh, a week ago."

He waved one hand dismissively. "Yer good, ah hear ya."

"Me," she said, sending the links anyway, "I'm not so worried about what happens to our little teleporting pilot. What I am worried about is what happens to Amélie if they decide to take her lover apart."

"Gérard all over again, you mean? It's that bad?" he said, pronouncing it almost correctly, but still a bit like 'Gerald.' "That was hard on 'er, I gotta admit."

"Worse."

"Hard t'get worse than that," said the cowboy.

"Worse," emphasised the hacker, darkly. "I think they'd be lucky if they still had a government the next day."

solarbird: (tracer)

"No blindfold?" asked Lena.

"Quoi?" asked the assassin, amused.

"Traditional, innit? Being escorted from the secret base, all that."

Amélie smiled evilly. "I still have last night's in my bedroom, if you want a souvenir."

Lena Oxton's cheeks flushed a little. "...no," she said, Yes, she thought. Wicked woman, she also thought, making this harder. She took a deep breath. "Right, then." She looked through her small bag, a worn satchel popular in South Africa some ten years before. Remnants of her flight suit, prepared to withstand forensic verification of her supposed journey. Her burnt Overwatch identity card, and a fake of her old passport. One change of clothes, old, but serviceable, from charity shops, similar to the one she wore now.

Memorised, access codes to a couple of different accounts, with enough money to tide her over for a month or two, until she could try to get herself undeclared dead. Memorised, the story about how she found herself in the Orange river, north of Waterfall Farm 497; how she swam to shore, made her way to Lutzberg, and "borrowed" two sets of clothes and a bag from a charity bin. From there, a plan to hitchhike her way to Johannesburg, courtesy of two friendly American tourists from the upper midwest, near where she will appear, tired, dusty, and hungry, not far from the British Consulate.

Two sets of clothes, a worn bag, no money - and identification. Not much. But even that, the maximum a dead person, returned to life, might be thought to have in hand.

"I wish you'd let us create a new identity for you," said the assassin. "Overwatch agents are, shall we say, still out of fashion."

"Not happening," said Tracer. "I didn't do anything wrong; I'm not gonna hide."

"Have you decided how will you explain your accelerator?"

The test pilot had no answer for that. "Not yet," she said, and it worried her. "But I'll think of something."

As headlong into this as everything else, thought the spider. "If they decide we did it, it will not go well for you. If they decide it is Omnic, things will go worse. If they decide Winston did it from the moon... no, it makes no sense, I cannot imagine how they would think that."

"Then I'm just gonna have to make sure they don't worry about it, aren't I?" Lena said. A terrible answer, and she knew it. "I'm a British subject, I've got rights. They can't just lock me away."

"Can't they?" asked Amélie. "I hope you are right." A Talon pilot popped her head through the door to the tarmac and gave the go sign, and Amélie nodded in return. "The aircraft is ready. But there is one more thing." She showed Lena a thin, palm-sized rounded metal box. It looked very much like a powder case.

"What is it, luv?" asked the pilot.

"It's a Faraday cage," - she touched a slight indentation on one side, and it opened, revealing a small device inside - "containing a retrieval beacon." She took out the beacon, with its two buttons, one on top, one on the side. "The transmitter will be good for a year. After that, it will become inert."

She pressed the side button, and a power cell popped out. "Standard KX type, you can buy them anywhere in Europe. Do not force it in backwards; that is how to destroy the transmitter. We will include the cell - but if something happens to it, now you know." She put it back into the device.

"The other button activates the transmitter. Hold it down for five seconds. The device will beep quietly twice, when it activates; it cannot be turned off, and it cannot be reused. Activate it outside, if possible, away from attention, if possible, with a clear view to the sky, if you can. But if you can't, it should still work, and if we hear it, we will still come."

"Airport security won't like me carrying that onboard," Tracer said, dubiously.

"Airport security won't ever see it. It will be waiting for you at the Palace Theatre in London, at coat check, when you land. They will hold it for two weeks. You can pick it up, or not. It's up to you." Doing this, she thought to herself, it's so much harder than I imagined.

Lena reached out for the device, taking it from Widowmaker's hand, examining it, popping the power cell out and back in. "A way back," she said, quietly.

The spider nodded, affirmingly. "Waiting for you, at coat check, at the Palace Theatre, if you want it. I hope you will."

I'd take it with me now if I could, thought Lena. I'd hold on to it and never let it go. Why am I so torn? "London. Palace Theatre. Coat check. When I land."

"When you land."

She gave the device back to the assassin, placing it in the other woman's open palm, closing the other woman's fingers around it. "Don't forget."

The beacon, though deactivated, felt electric in Amélie's hand. "I never do."

solarbird: (Default)

Lena Oxton leaned back on the outcropping atop the crest of the ridge of the old volcano on a cool and clear January day in the Aeolian archipelago north of Sicily. Through the aviator's glasses Tavi had brought her from the mainland, she could see Filicudi easily, to the east; beyond, the trio of Salina, Lipari, and, just visible if she squinted and told herself so, Vulcano, ever-active, roiling just before the dawn.

But her attention, mostly, focused higher. Airplanes crossed the skies around her, red-eyes from Nairobi, Numbani, Johannesburg, sometimes even overhead, mostly civilian, but occasionally, a military transport, and, very occasionally, what looked to the pilot's eyes to be training flights, probably out of the old joint forces base near Naples. "Pad your angle there, cadet," she'd say, quietly, remembering her instructor's calm voice on comms. "You're not that good yet."

But she was. And she knew it, which made it worse.

She came here more often, these days, to watch the skies and think. She was healed. She knew it. The doc had said so, yesterday morning, but Lena made up a bit of stiffness to try to delay full clearance. Why'd I do that?, the pilot thought to herself. I'm ready. I can go home. I had a life, five months ago. I could have it back.

Dark blues and reds yielded to bright blues and yellows as the stars slowly went out, overwhelmed by the new morning sun. Sure, she thought, gaze following a cargo plane making its lazy way south, Overwatch is shuttered, but I've still got my commission and my license. I can get 'em reactivated. I wasn't even around when things fell apart. They'd do me right, I know they would. She focused upwards into the bright blue morning.

I miss the sky.

She somersaulted forward, leapt up, and teleported three times, as high as she could, witnesses be damned, out over the steep slope to the sea. Then she fell more than glided, but pretended it was otherwise, until the ground came up too close, and she rewound time, back up to the top of the volcano, safe and sound.

Though I gotta admit... she thought, beaming, shivering in the rush of cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline, as her body reacted to what her lizard brain was pretty sure had to be imminent death, That's pretty great too.

A private jet flew by, closer than she'd like, pilot possibly attracted by the flashes of light. Fuck it, she thought, and waved briskly at the flyer, shouting, "Heya!" at the top of her lungs. In reaction, or not, it turned away. It's time people know I'm alive.

-----

"I need to go," the pilot told the assassin, abruptly, after their daily combat workout.

Amélie, facing her own locker, stopped, mid-motion, momentarily, then resumed dressing. "I had expected that." She put her right arm through her uniform's sleeve. The words felt leaden in her mouth as she continued, "I'd thought it would come sooner, but, still, here it is." Turning to look at the pilot, she said, almost sadly, "I agree."

Now, Lena's turn to be a little surprised, and almost a little hurt. "...you do?" as she pulled a blouse over her head, the fabric falling down over the dimly glowing blue stripes of her chronal accelerator-interlaced ribcage.

"I do. Dr. Mariani cleared you yesterday morning, I know. Sombra, I also know, would like to have another set of data off your accelerator, if you are willing, but this can be arranged quickly - just a couple of days."

Inexplicably disappointed, the pilot said crossly, "Why? Is this your 'strands of history' again?"

"Would you feel better, or worse, if I said no?"

"I'd say... really?"

The assassin shook her head, a slight nod. "I am not an oracle; I do not see all. This is an emotion, a feeling. Also, I do not think you are yet ready to join us."

Tracer pursed her lips, acknowledging the truth in it. "No. I'm not."

"I understand," said the spider. "I..." she took a long, deep breath. "I have never lied to you, and I will not begin now: I want you here. I want you on my side. But only with a whole heart, and," she waved a finger back and forth, like a metronome, "you have nothing like that at all."

"I'm a fighter pilot, luv. I need the sky."

"You are more than that now," said the spider, pointedly, "and you know it."

That disquieted the Flying Officer in some way she couldn't quite define, because she couldn't quite deny it, not completely. "I've got a few extra tricks, sure. But I'm still a pilot. Flying was always my dream, and defending the world from the air - that was my life. Your way..." she sighed, and ran a towel through her hair. "I've got to get my life back. I get your way now. I don't know I agree with it, but I get it. I just don't think it's mine."

Widowmaker slid her emotional range down, down, down, for now, but it still hurt more than she wanted. Nonetheless, she stabilised, as always. "The next ferry to Filicudi - and from there, to Sicily - departs tomorrow. If you want to be there, you can be. But I would not recommend this route; we have made arrangements, if you are willing to hear them."

"'Course you have," she smiled. "And 'course I would."

"Sombra, as I said, would like to come for a final cycle of readings from your accelerator. It will take two days for her to arrive; that will give us time to finalise our slightly more plausible route for your return, which is not by chance a return point further away. I like this facility, and would hate to lose it."

"You've thought this all out already, haven't you?"

The spider nodded, with the hint of a smile. "Of course. It is what I do; it is second - no, first, nature. The pieces are already placed."

"Huh." Tracer walked over to the eastern window, looking down the steep slope towards the sea. "You know... I'm gonna miss this island." She raised her hands, fingers against the glass. No, she thought, that's not enough. Not honest enough. "I'm gonna miss you."

Stepping up behind the smaller woman, Amélie asked, softly, "Will you then do me the honour of a going-away dinner, Ms. Oxton? Not here; there is a particularly discreet café I quite like on Salina, in Rinella. I think you'd like it, too."

Tracer looked back over her shoulder, with her famous half-grin, and said, "You askin' me on a date, luv?"

"Would you feel better, or worse, if I said yes?" asked the blue woman.

"Better," answered the pilot. "Definitely, much better."

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