“No. Absolutely not.”
Reinhardt’s ham fist slammed down on the table and the machine parts jumped a clear four inches into the air before clattering back to the surface. He scowled and looked across the table at the young woman. She met his uni-glower calmly and even had the audacity to smile with indulgent affection.
“No,” he repeated, although there was slightly less conviction in his tone. “Absolutely…”
“Reinhardt, I know you mean ‘absolutely’,” she interjected, cheerfully – the way she did most things. There was an incorrigible side to Brigitte Lindholm that even adversity did not seem to supress. At least she wasn’t as infernally cheery as Lena Oxton, whose never-ending energy was exhausting. And there he was, thinking of Overwatch again…
“Nein, honigbiene,” he said, a tone of desperation creeping in as he used the term of endearment he’d adopted for her not long after becoming her godfather. Honeybee. It suited her, too: Brigitte was always busy, working on this thing or that thing or the other thing and he had, over the years, encouraged her. Now that was coming back to boot him quite squarely in the posterior. “It is too dangerous to…”
He’d chosen his words poorly. He could tell by the way her eyes hardened suddenly. “I am not afraid.”
“I know that, schatzi, I know. But…”
“I know your armour better than you do.”
“I have managed without…”
“Why manage without when you can have assistance? Trust me, Reinhardt. I know you look at me and see that baby girl pulling your beard, but I grew up.”
Yes. She’d certainly done that. Torbjorn had related to his friend over dinner the previous night just how he had already had to interpose himself between Brigitte and a number of would-be suitors. She attracted the sort of element who weretaken in at first by her pretty face and who later succumbed to her extraordinary ability to drink them under the table.
“Bees,” Torbjorn had said, sadly, “around a honeypot.”
Yes, Brigitte had certainly grown up. She was no longer a child, but a young woman. As gifted and stubborn as her father, as warm-hearted and compassionate as her mother and, he reluctantly conceded, apparently as fearless as her godfather.
And as foolhardy?
It was Ana’s voice in the back of his mind and a small smile quirked his lips upward. Brigitte’s moment of anger had subsided and she sighed heavily. “When I was nine years old, I asked you a question. You wouldn’t tell me the answer. You said you’d explain one day when I was old enough to truly understand. Do you remember what it was?”
Why don’t the Crusaders protect us any more?
Yes, he remembered. He put his hand briefly over his eyes and drew a shuddering sigh. He’d not wanted to explain to a child why it was that after the battle at Eichenwalde, the Crusaders had fallen apart. After Balderich’s death – a death he still carried the weight of responsibility for – the protectors had fallen away one by one, returning to their own lives. He’d taken Balderich’s place on the Overwatch team…
“Then tell me.”
He let his hand drop and stared down at the table. In a low voice, so soft that she had to strain to hear him, he began to relate the answer to a question she’d asked so many years ago. When he was done, when the words finally passed his lips and into the air, he could not look up at her. He was afraid to see the disgust in her eyes. Brigitte was the daughter he had never had; the child he had indulged outrageously. He’d known how to handle her when she’d been a child. It was easy. But this woman… she was different. The child had been an extension of Torbjorn and Ingrid. Now she was a person in her own right.
Reinhardt had never understood women. Looked like that wasn’t about to change.
The silence stretched out. Aeons passed. Ice ages came and went, but nobody noticed.
I have lost her. The sense of grief was profound. He coughed to cover the moment of emotion and made to stand. “I should go.”
“Reinhardt… sit down.”
Alarmed at her tone, he sat. She nodded firmly, then absently stroked the cheek of the cat who had jumped up onto the table and who was winding itself around her hand with feline joy. She studied her godfather intently and he shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. All these years, you’ve filled me with stories of honour and chivalry… of heroes and valour. Of how honesty is the only true way forward. Have you really carried this around all these years? What did you think I would do?”
He looked up then, his single bright, blue eye clouded with emotion. “That you would be angry. That I would lose you.That you will hate me for the fool I was.” He shuddered. “That is why I never told you the full story. You are everything to me. Your father, your mother, you and your siblings… the closest I have to family. You wouldn’t see me as a hero any more. Just… just as a man with flaws and secrets.” Even as he said the words, he resented their selfishness.
“Oh, Reinhardt…” She moved from her side of the table to stand in front of him. The cat came as well, tripping lightly over the cluttered debris on the table. It leaped lightly from the table and sat on Reinhardt’s lap, treadling happily until it was comfortable before curling up in the big man’s lap.
Brigitte took his hand in her own smaller one and squeezed gently. “You still are a hero. Haven’t you and Papa taught me that accepting your flaws is all part of becoming who you’re meant to be?”
“Yes, but a man died because…”
“You’re making a chicken out of a feather,” she said, quoting her father’s nonsense with such ease that the big man could not help but smile. “You’ve told me stories of Balderich before. He would be proud of what you achieved. Of all the people you helped when you served with Overwatch. And if you are going to crash around the world without direction, attempting to redeem yourself because of a poor choice you made in your youth, you are going to need an engineer. So let me come with you. Let me learn what it is to be a true hero. Flaws and all.”
A wave of affection washed over him and he squeezed her hand back. She was a gifted engineer, that was absolutely fair. She’d already worked on – and even improved – elements of his aging Crusader armour. She was bold. She was self-assured. She was…
“My squire,” he said, suddenly.
“You can be my squire! Responsible for my armour.”
“And for you as well, I expect.”
He ignored that.
“Do we have a deal, then?” Torbjorn would object, he could see it already, but that was an argument for later. Brigitte studied him for a moment, then shook his hand firmly.
She threw her arms around his neck, much as she had done when she’d been a child and hugged him. “You won’t regret it, Reinhardt, I promise you.”
“No,” he said, amiably, “but you might.”