“You are not Balderich von Adler.”
“That is correct.”
“The name on this is Balderich von Adler. I cannot help you.”
“Commander von Adler will not be able to answer your summons. I am here to take his place.” The newcomer stood ram-rod straight, staring directly ahead, fixing his one-eyed gaze on the wall behind. Jack Morrison considered him thoughtfully. The stance suggested uncertainty and awkwardness but that could surely not be the case.
The man was enormous, not just in terms of height which had to be verging on seven feet, but also across the shoulders. Muscles that had become well-toned through years of training in the Crusader armour had possibly developed sentience. The physique was more than obvious through the relatively thin fabric of the uniform that he wore. Physically, he was very like Morrison’s friend, Balderich von Adler. But this younger man lacked von Adler’s bearing. Where the leader of the Crusaders had exuded an air of nobility, this man had that all-too-familiar air of rawness to him. Tested in battle, yes, no doubt. But tested in the ways of the world? Less likely.
“You fought with him.” It was a statement, not a question and for the first time, Reinhardt Wilhelm turned his head so that he was looking directly at Morrison. “At Eichenwalde.”
“Ja,” said Wilhelm. “Yes. I fought with him. He was more than my commander. He was my friend. He was mein Lehrer. My teacher. My mentor?” Morrison picked up on the question and correctly understood what Wilhelm was asking for. He nodded that the man had the right word and allowed him to continue. “And now he is dead because of my arrogance. My hubris. It is my shame to bear and it was his dying wish that I come here in his place.”
He reached up and touched a finger to his eye. The injury was still healing and the iris had turned milky white. “I have been recovering and re-training, otherwise I would have been here much sooner. You required a representative of the Crusaders and here I am.”
“I am truly sorry for your loss. Balderich was a good man.” Morrison meant every word. The loss of the Crusaders at the Battle of Eichenwalde had hit the world hard, despite having been a success. On paper, at least. For every battle against the Omnics that they won, the propaganda machine glossed casually over the human cost.
“He was a great man. I know I am not worthy to take his place, but take his place I must. There is no other, Commander Morrison. No more Crusaders. All gone.” He snapped his fingers. “Over the course of a single battle, my entire unit was wiped out. I am all that is left. I am here to represent Germany, to represent the Crusaders and more than anything else, to represent Balderich von Adler.”
“Talk a lot, don’t you?” Morrison was unused to such loquaciousness. The unit was still in its infancy and his new colleagues – barring Reyes, who he had known before – were largely suspicious and unsure of one another. Relationships were still very much in the forming stage and throwing this man, larger than life and twice as talkative, into the mix could be disruptive beyond measure.
To his surprise, Wilhelm threw his head back and laughed. “I am in love with the sound of my own voice, I am told. After a beer or three, that will be even more the case.” There was warmth in his tone and Morrison could not help but smile. “You are stuck with me, Commander Morrison. Tell me I am denied entry to your unit and I will follow you everywhere until you go quite mad.”
Morrison actually believed that the big German was quite capable of making good on such a threat.
He turned the medallion over in his hand and stared once again at the name engraved on its surface. He didn’t know this man. He had not been screened or assessed by the authorities for suitable entry into the Overwatch programme. And yet… here he was.
“What do you hope to bring to Overwatch?” Morrison held up a finger. “Don’t think that’s an invitation,” he warned. “I’m asking out of my own curiosity.”
“I can fight,” Wilhelm responded with a shrug of his huge shoulders. “I can fight well and I am a protector. I am strong and resilient. I do not claim to be the world’s cleverest man, but I have the ability to see the bright side in most situations.”
“And can you follow orders?”
Wilhelm was quiet for a few moments. Morrison recognised the expression. It was a moment of recall. Whatever had happened at Eichenwalde had left its indelible mark on the man before him. What he said next would be critical.
Then the former Crusader sighed heavily and sat down on the chair he’d refused to take on arrival. It creaked alarmingly beneath his weight, but did not collapse.
“Well?” Morrison pushed for a reply.
“Yes, I can follow orders. I have… been foolish in the past. But I have learned a hard lesson and if I do not put those learnings into practice, then von Adler’s death will have been for absolutely nothing. There is no Crusader unit any longer, Commander. I am a hero and an outcast in the same breath. I come from a line of protectors stretching back generations. If I cannot fulfil that role, then what am I for?”
There was such quiet acceptance in the man’s speech. Morrison, whose mind had been made up several minutes before Wilhelm had begun to set out his plea, simply nodded.
“I have to say that this is unprecedented,” he said, his tone stern. “I am unsure…” He got no further. Wilhelm interrupted him.
“Will you at least consider me as a lesser alternative to von Adler? I cannot sit by and watch when I can bring myself to the fight.” The determination was admirable. Damn it all, the man was admirable. It was hard not to be impressed by his sheer bulk and physical presence and the driving determination that had brought him from Germany to Morrison’s office. “Please, Commander Morrison. Let me do this.”
“You help us, we help you?”
“Precisely.” That wicked, infectious grin was back on Wilhelm’s face once again and Morrison shook his head to keep from smiling.
“Alright, Reinhardt. We’ll trial it. See how it goes. See if you’re a fit with the rest of the team. But you will have to prove that my trust in you is well-founded.”
“Danke, Commander!” Wilhelm leaped to his feet and clasped Morrison’s hand across the desk. Morrison felt the crushing pain as though he’d caught his fingers in a vice and winced ever so slightly. “Thank you! I promise you that you will not be disappointed with this decision!”
“I hope not,” said Morrison, grimly. “I really do.”