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Silver Mists and Superstitions

Chapter Text

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jesse McCree sighed. Then he scrubbed his face with both hands.

Uncaring of his frustration, the radio cheerfully continued, “- makes the third reported attack on livestock in the past two months. Authorities say that they still have not been able to find the culprit and urge civilians to remain indoors after sunset .”

McCree jabbed his finger at the radio dial, his hand slipping and turning it louder before he managed to get it to turn off. In the abrupt silence of the cab of his truck, he sighed again. His radio crackled. “ McCree, this is Woodward, over .”

“It just gets better ,” McCree muttered to himself, shifting in his seat and extending a leg to reach for his radio. He hated Woodward, or hated him as much as McCree was capable of hating someone. Woodward was the kind of person that picked at everything, especially if he knew that it was sensitive.

How he became a dispatcher was beyond McCree but he didn’t tend to dwell on it; it would only lead to more headaches that he didn’t need.

“This is McCree,” he said into the radio. Through the windshield of his truck, he could see the veterinarians looking over the carcasses strewn over the grass nearby like a bunch of toys a child hadn’t cleaned up. “Over.”

The radio crackled for longer than it should have taken Woodward to speak. It made his already-pounding head throb and he dug around the glove box for a bottle of ibuprofen. “ You got another one, cowboy ,” Woodward said, surprisingly grim and straight to the point. Usually there was more teasing, more roundabout questions and minefields that McCree had to maneuver around; perhaps there was a supervisor or someone else with him this time. “ The Lacroix farm .” He gave the address.

McCree grunted. “I’ll clean up here and head on out, over.”

Sooner ,” Woodward said grimly. “ Lights on–it ain’t livestock this time.

Swearing, McCree clipped the radio on his belt and scrambled out of the car.

There was a larger crowd around the Lacroix farm and they parted grimly when they heard the eerie sounds of his sirens echoing off the trees.

A state trooper – not in her usual spot and outside her territory–leaned against her truck with her arms crossed over her chest. She chewed on a stick of gum and there was a greasy line beneath her nose; her breast pocket bulged from the menthol stick shoved in it.

“Hey,” the trooper said grimly as he pulled up beside her and climbed out, slinging his equipment bag over a shoulder. (It was tragically missing his good camera, which he had foolishly let Jones borrow; he had yet to see it back.) She fished around in her pocket and offered him a stick of gum and the menthol stick. “It’s bad,” she cautioned.

McCree made a face. “What’re you doing here, Ree?” he asked quietly as he unwrapped the stick and popped it in his mouth.

“Visiting Dad,” she said just as quietly, and he nodded. “But people mind a badge and a shiny car so until backup can swing on up I’ll give you some crowd control.”

“Much appreciated,” McCree told her quietly, making a face as some of the greasy menthol stick clumped in his moustache. “D’you have any idea what’s up?”

Fareeha shrugged. “It’s bad,” she repeated. “Poor thing was torn apart.”

The crowd was eerily silent as they watched him trudge up the hill. Another officer met him just beyond the trees, prepared similarly with menthol sticks and gum. “Getting spread thin,” he called in greeting. Fareeha nodded and returned to her car.

“You hear that?” Officer Powell asked.

McCree looked around. The trees whistled; branches cracked.

“Nothing,” the officer said, answering his own question. “Not a bird or anything out – not even the crows.”

Looking up, McCree realized that he was right: the sky was clear and blue, darkened neither by clouds nor by the wings of carrion birds. “Well how ‘bout that.”

“Body’s been out for a while,” Powell continued, squinting his eyes up the hill. “But nothing’s touched it.” he spat on the grass in front of him and then smacked his gum.

“Ree says it’s bad,” McCree said as he approached his fellow officer.

Powell snorted. “ Bad ain’t the word for it,” he grumbled. Officer Amari was a regular around the station and often updated them on the comings-and-goings of things on “her” stretch of road between their small town of Redstone Gap and the neighboring town of Blue Hills. While Powell didn’t necessarily like her, he didn’t need to.

“Well,” McCree said. “Let’s see it, then.”

Sighing, Powell fished out another stick of gum and shoved it in his mouth. “Let’s go,” he said, clearly displeased. As he led the way, McCree watched uneasily as Powell loosened the gun in his holster.

“What’s up?” McCree asked, doing the same.

Powell shook his head. “Nothing,” he said.  “Just…last time I walked up I thought I saw a dog or something. A big one.” At the top of the hill he looked around at the trees ringing it and grunted. “Ah! There.”

Following his finger, McCree almost didn’t see it until it moved, shifting in place. “Think it belonged to him?” McCree asked. “That why it’s there?”

Grumbling, Powell looked like he was about to spit again but thought better of it. “Dunno,” he said. “But something ain’t right with it.”

McCree took a few steps toward the dog and watched its ears prick forward attentively. It didn’t move but the flash of teeth and tongue disappeared as it stopped its cheerful panting and closed its mouth. He couldn’t quite make out much more than that, the rest of its body being in the shade, but he was certain that it was dark in color, blending in with the dark wood of the pine tree it lay beneath.

He whistled and clapped his hands. “C’mere, bud,” he called. The dog tossed its head stubbornly and didn’t move. “We’re probably gonna have to catch it,” he told Powell.

“Already called it in,” Powell assured him. “Vicky is on her way with the wagon.”

McCree grunted. “You’re right,” he agreed. “It’s a big one. Must be domestic – it ain’t afraid.”

“Yeah,” Powell grumbled, sounding strangely reluctant. “Body’s this way.”

He followed Powell along the gravel path at the top of the hill to a small shed. Unlike the rest of the hill he’d seen, this part showed signs of battle. Large swathes of dirt and gravel were torn up, leading in a curling path into the trees away from the dog. More ground was torn up around the shed as if something had been digging as it tried to reach whoever was inside.

Pulling out his camera, he snapped a few quick pictures. While it wasn’t as nice as those fancy Nikons, it took nice enough pictures in a pinch and was what he had on him until Jones could return his goddamn camera.

Only when he had taken enough pictures to his satisfaction of the line of destruction did he approach the shed. It was an old wooden thing, painted with the stereotypical red and white paint of farm buildings. Pieces were falling apart, leading McCree to believe it was an equipment shed.

As he was raising his camera to his face to take a picture, he realized that part of the damage had been done recently: the newer wood shone through the cracked and peeling paint, dark brown against black and red and white. There were scratches too, which left behind long shavings of wood and paint that were caught amongst the blades of grass.

He took pictures of all of these, stepping carefully to avoid further contamination of the scene. The ground was torn up around the shed as well, as if something – or multiple somethings – had circled it often, prodding and digging at the dirt at its base. He found a few pockets of dirt that looked almost large enough for a wild dog to get through and traces of thick red hair caught in the splinters of the boards.

Leaning in, he snapped a few pictures of the hairs and belatedly began laying out markers. He carefully picked up the hairs with a pair of tweezers and dropped in a plastic evidence bag. There was mud in the bottom of the groove of dug dirt and he placed another marker, snapped another picture, and took another sample of it.

Powell didn’t say anything, staying well out of his way, his face shiny with sweat. His eyes were trained on the dog and occasionally, as if unable to bear the unnatural silence, he gave updates.

“It’s rolling around.”

“It’s sitting up.”

“It lay back down.”

McCree ignored him for the most part, focused on taking pictures. He placed rulers beside markings for scale, placed markers, took pictures, collected samples of dark mud and thick red hair. There were scratches in the wood nearly up to the roof – as if the dogs (and he was fairly certain it was dogs, or maybe wolves) had jumped up at the windows. The poor bastard had probably tried climbing out through them, aiming for the roof where the wolves couldn’t get to him. Their claws drew clean, deep furrows in the wood and he dutifully took pictures of all of the ones he could see.

He circled back around to the door. It was a sturdy thing that strangely enough, didn’t show any major signs of splintering or fraturing.

“There ain’t even flies,” McCree muttered and took a handful of pictures of the doorway.

It took him awhile to realize just what was wrong and he lowered his camera to look closer. The door and the doorway were both old, the door made up of two panels that could be shut into a single piece by a vertical iron bolt. McCree almost didn’t see it; the rust on the bolt rendered it the same color as the rest of the door but by the looks of it, it and its bracket were still strong.

Two more bolts held each panel of the door to the frame—both of them were open, clear marks drawn into the wood and rusted metal telling McCree that they had also been opened recently. Probably by the victim, the poor kid, as he tried to hide from whatever animal was chasing him.

Both the door and the doorway were old but didn’t show major damage, like large animals running into it. As with the other walls and panels there were fresh scratches in the wood but not deep enough for it to give way and let in the animals that had attacked.

The problem was that both panels of the door were open, and McCree shivered.

That meant that the door had been opened .

But dogs could be very clever—service dogs were trained to open doors all the time. McCree looked at the inside of the frame. There were no splintered marks save for a fresh groove dragged into the lock on the inside of the door. Just one: only the top half of the door had been bolted shut, but that had been fine for an animal attack.

At least...until someone had maybe opened the door. But that was just a hunch, and the sheriff hated hunches.

McCree hissed out a breath as he thought. It seemed that both panels had been closed—it would make sense if an animal attacked but now they were open and there was a clear track in the rust and in the wood to show that the bolt had been moved. He doubted the kid had opened it.

Careful of where he stepped, McCree entered the shack and looked at the inside of the door frame, at the bolts holding the halves of the door shut from the inside. Strangely enough there were bolts on the inside that mirrored the other ones that McCree had seen on the outside of the door—like those bolts, there was evidence that they had been opened recently. But it was probably the kid locking himself in the shack.

Still, both the bolts and the wood around them were whole. From past experience, there were theories that McCree could draw that in this case he didn’t like at all: someone had opened the door .

At first McCree brushed it off as the kid thinking that the animals had left and had opened the door too soon but something was nagging at him and he stepped back outside into the fresh air to think it through. “The dog?” he asked Powell absently.

“Just sitting there,” the other officer replied. “Ain’t moved in a while. Ears pricked up when you walked in the shack though.”

McCree nodded absently, lost in thought. He reviewed what he knew:

  1. The two panels that formed the door—an upper piece and a lower piece—were held together into a single unit by a large vertical bolt. There were two bolts holding each panel shut to the frame, one on each panel and on each side for a total of five bolts on the door. Excessive in his opinion but perhaps that was the way things were done, here.
  2. Only a few of the bolts showed evidence of being opened recently: one on the inside of the upper panel, one each to the panels on the outside, and the bolt that held the panels together.
  3. The door frame was whole and though the door was scratched, it wasn’t in poor enough condition that the animal or animals had entered that way.
  4. Though there seemed to be areas where the animal or animals had dug beneath the walls, there didn’t seem to be any evidence that they had entered that way.

He went back and checked, just to be sure.

“I need a smoke,” McCree said thoughtfully though he didn’t dare light up. The nicotine cravings were hitting pretty hard but McCree was used to ignoring them for a case.

Shaking his head, he walked back into the shed to finish his investigation. There were muddy tracks which he took pictures of and then put a ruler beside them for scale. He wasn’t much of a tracker but he thought they looked like dog prints—but big ones. Wolves, maybe?

He stepped further in and in a corner he found the body. Or what was left of it.

The poor kid was almost unrecognizable, his entire body torn apart and splayed all around the corner of the shed. The smell of blood and death was almost a physical presence now and McCree was glad for the menthol and the gum.

Holding his breath McCree took his pictures as quickly as he dared, laying out markers and paper rulers to show scale. He guessed that there were at least two, maybe as many as four creatures tearing at the poor kid whose bloodied face was left lolling limply on his neck, rigor mortis having long since given way. But then again, he wasn’t a tracker and that was for other people to figure out.

Shaking his head, McCree was just stepping out of the shed into clearer air when it struck him.

For the door to have been left the way it was, with both panels hanging crookedly on their hinges, the vertical bolt outside would have to have been opened first.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, imagining the scene in his mind’s eye. His real eyes burned and his throat felt like it was filled with ash.

The boy ran, his face a mask of terror as he scrambled up the hill. He would go for the old shack—it used to be his grandfather’s, built by the man himself before arthritis took his hands and dementia his mind.

Behind him he could hear the sounds—sounds that he had never heard before in the forest but ones that he knew he needed to flee from nonetheless. He scrambled up the hill, huffing and puffing and ran face-first into the door.

He fumbled with the bolts, hauling open the ones holding the door shut and then scrambling inside. The boy pulled the door closed and managed to get the bottom bolt shut when something slammed into it. He was crying now, fumbling in the ink-black darkness of the shed for the next bolt.

Something outside screamed.

Terrified, he scrambled back into the middle of the shed, knowing that he should close the last bolt but unable to form the courage to search for the door again.

All around him he could hear noises. Grunts and growls and angry snarls. He heard bodies throwing themselves against the walls and he held his breath each time, so sure that the walls would come tumbling down but each time they held firm.

He fumbled around for something—a weapon of some kind, a light, anything—but found nothing.

Beneath the walls he could hear digging and snarling and terrible noises.

Then he remembered the high window. He could probably open it, maybe get out on the roof and call for help. He managed to reach it, finding the wooden panels with his fingertips.

As soon as he opened it there was snarling and he heard and felt something on the other side of the wall jump at his grasping hands.

Crying he stumbled back. Maybe when the sun rose they would run away. At the very least some one would realize that he had snuck out. Someone would come looking for him.

Then he heard the last sound that he had wanted to hear: he heard the bolt open.

McCree blinked.

The midmorning sunlight seemed extra-bright after the darkness of the shed; his head pounded with the beginnings of a migraine. Powell was looking at him, concerned. “Just clearing my head,” he said vaguely as he walked stiffly over to the other officer.

“That dog’s not right,” Powell said. “Ain’t moved an inch, now.”

McCree grunted and popped another stick of gum. “Rabies?”

“Doesn’t seem right,” Powell said and squinted. “But maybe. It doesn’t look too thin though.”

“Maybe it just smells the blood,” McCree guessed.

“The world can smell the blood but no one else is here,” Powell pointed out. “No birds, no flies, nothing but the damn dog. Might be a lone wolf. Kicked out of its pack.” He grunted.

McCree nodded absently as he thought. The chill from his wild imagination hadn’t vanished even in the sunlight. He almost thought that he could feel the dog’s eyes boring into him. The door was opened , he thought to himself. Someone had been there. He took a deep breath.

This was more than just an animal attack. He could feel it with a strange kind of surety all the way to the heart of his bones.

He took another deep breath. Someone had been there .

Someone had opened the door.

Chapter Text

McCree sat on the thought until he was back at the station. He invited himself into the sheriff’s office and closed the door behind him.

Sheriff Galbraith was an older man that looked like a crazy old prospector but his eyes were as steady as ever. Seeing McCree close and lock the door, his bushy white eyebrows rose toward his hairline. “My,” he said in a voice that was surprisingly light; he looked like he should have a low, raspy voice with a heavy Texas accent. As if he had walked out of a time machine from the Wild West. “Detective McCree, what will people think?”

He must have seen something in McCree’s eyes because the amusement in his hazel eyes faded and he sat up straighter. “What is it?”

“I know how you feel about hunches,” McCree said. “But…let me tell you what I found.”

Sheriff Galbraith nodded and McCree plugged his flash drive into the TV on the wall, picking up the remote. For good measure he closed the blinds as well.

He queued up the first picture.

“Hunches ain’t good— aren’t —good for detective work,” McCree admitted. “But this one was itching at me and it is much clearer with this one. It don’t look like animal attacks. At least, not just animal attacks. It looks like someone’s there with them.”

For a long time Sheriff Galbraith just sat there, thoughtfully running his fingers through his bushy moustache and beard. He sighed. “I was afraid of this,” he admitted. “Since the second attack. Something about it didn’t sit right—it didn’t seem like animals.” He sighed gustily. “Thank you, Detective,” he said after a long moment of silence. “This…I need to decide how to handle this.”

“I want to be involved,” McCree said quickly. “It’s itching at me something fierce.”

Sheriff Galbraith stared at him, his eyes sharp enough that McCree felt pinned to the wall like a bug in a display case. “As much as I can,” he said at last. “Things are different here. People might start to talk—not that they haven’t already! But people will be suspicious of a newcomer on a case like this, especially since it came up so soon after they arrived.”

Making a face, McCree nodded. “I gotcha.”

“I do want you on it,” Sheriff Galbraith told him. “I have the feeling that…well, call it a hunch but I think you will be best suited for it. Especially after Deadlocks.”

McCree felt his heart sink into his stomach. “Boss…”

“It’s okay,” Sheriff Galbraith told him gently. “And I’m sorry to bring it up and whatever…baggage that may come with it.” he leaned forward like something out of a cop show, his voice dropping. “But you and I both know that you are best suited for it. Look at my guys—superstitious lot they are, used to small towns. Not that they lived their entire lives under a rock, but…” he shrugged helplessly. “We understand death here, but it’s a different kind of death.”

For a moment both of them were silent.

At last, Sheriff Galbraith sat up straight with a grunt. “Good work,” he said. “Give me that flash drive—you have your own copies of the pictures, right? Good. Keep it close; be very careful with it, and be very careful of what you tell people. I know you know that, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat.”

“Thanks, boss,” McCree said softly as he stood.

“Take a break,” Sheriff Galbraith advised. “I know you made two stops today.”

McCree hesitated at the door. “Did you hear anything about the dog?” he asked. “The one at the scene?”

“It was gone by the time Vicky got there,” Sheriff Galbraith replied. “Powell said that it seemed like it had disappeared into thin air.” He snorted. “The forest does that,” he said enigmatically. “It protects its own—just like we do.”

Unsure of what to make of that, McCree nodded and left.

He found Fareeha, this time out of her uniform, in the local diner.

“I zoned out again,” McCree said as he slid into a seat across from her. His head ached as if in reminder. “Plain burger and a water please, Carol,” he called to the waitress when she looked at him with raised ginger brows.

Fareeha frowned at him. “That’s not good,” she said. “Especially…” she paused meaningfully.

“Something’s not right,” McCree said. “Can’t put my finger on it.” he didn’t say anything else. This wasn’t a cop show where cases were discussed in the middle of public areas, especially the diner which was a hub of gossip.

He could almost hear Carol’s disappointed sigh.

They talked about innocent things and not on the nagging feeling that McCree was missing something. “The Sheriff gave me the rest of the day off,” he said as they were walking out the door. Seeing Carol and Scott, the cook, looking, he waved goodbye to them. Scott waved his spatula while Carol nodded curtly. “Wanna go for a walk?”

Fareeha squinted at him. “Where?”

From her tone she already guessed. McCree shrugged innocently. “Just…around.”

“Jess,” she said quietly.

“I got bear spray,” McCree assured her. “It won’t be so bad. It’s a park!”

Shaking her head, Fareeha climbed in his truck with him—her own being elsewhere as she wasn’t on duty—and said, “I don’t like this, Jess.” She continued to repeat her woes as they climbed out of the truck at the park and more as they walked into the forest.

There was at least another hiker there, judging by the truck in the parking lot, and McCree nudged Fareeha’s arm.

“Relax,” he said though he was the opposite, tense and nervous as they walked further down the path. “It’ll be fine,” he added as they lost sight of the parking lot and the safety of their car.

The trees were eerily silent as they walked without even the comfort of the sounds of the forest. No birds sang, no bugs hummed; there was nothing but the sound of trees and the hissing of wind through the trees.

McCree jumped when Fareeha grabbed his arm. Looking where she was pointing, he found a very large dog. Even though it was exactly what he was hoping to find he jumped, swearing.

It was enormous!

“Oh shit,” he heard Fareeha whisper next to him. “Jess, it’s a wolf .”

McCree swallowed. The wolf watched them with golden eyes and then lay down in the middle of the path with a low whine. “I saw it at the scene,” he whispered. Carefully he reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out his camera, snapping a few pictures of the wolf.

“Maybe it was hungry,” Fareeha hissed and looked around. “They’re pack hunters—Jess, we need to go!”

Shaking his head, McCree wiggled out of her hold and took a few steps. Immediately the wolf’s head went up, its ears perking. It wagged its tail.

When he took a few more steps it trotted off the path and stopping, looking back at him.

“No,” Fareeha hissed. “Don’t you dare .”

“I gotta,” McCree hissed back. “You know I gotta.”

“No you don’t.”

But McCree was already walking, pausing to take a picture of where the wolf was leading them. Digging into his bag, he found a strip of neon tape which he tied to a tree. Looking up, he found that the wolf had moved again, further into the trees. It kneaded the ground with its front paws and seemed more agitated.

McCree took a few more steps after it and it got up and moved a few feet away. It whined when he took a step back.

“I can’t believe you,” Fareeha hissed and he jumped. “Like hell I’m going back to Mom and telling her I lost you.”

Having her along offered him more comfort than she knew. He offered her a shaky smile, not taking his eyes off the wolf.

They followed it deeper into the woods, pausing every once in a while to tie off a trail maker so they wouldn’t lose their way. Eventually the wolf was nearly beside itself, bouncing impatiently if they paused.

It whined now, tossing its head and its pace quickened. At the next clearing it broke into a run and stopped. It lay down beside a pile of dirt and whined.

“Jess,” Fareeha whispered. “Look.” She was pointing but McCree had already seen it.

A boot was sticking out of the dirt.

“Amélie Guillard,” Sheriff Galbraith said grimly as soon as McCree closed the door behind him. “From Clay Creek. About an hour north,” he added. “Doc seems to think she and the Lacroix kid died around the same time.”

McCree sighed. “And the dog?”

Sheriff Galbraith regarded him for a long time, his jaw working beneath his bushy moustache. “Boy,” he said at last. “I suggest you drop that last detail.”

“Is it okay, at least?” McCree asked in a small voice.

For another long moment McCree thought that the sheriff wouldn’t answer. “He ran away,” he said at last. “Lost him in the woods. Wherever he is, he’s with the Wolf now.”

McCree knew better than to ask so he didn’t; that’s the way things were around here. The Wolf held a lot of things.

“It was the same one I saw at the crime scene,” McCree admitted. “Or I think it was.”

“I told you to take a break.”

McCree shrugged. “I did. Went to the diner—you can ask Carol—but I needed the fresh air.”

The sheriff sighed. “Don’t think much about it,” he advised. “The dog, I mean.”

“Ree said it was a wolf.”

Another long moment of silence. “Don’t think much about it,” the sheriff repeated.

“I just feel bad,” McCree admitted softly. “It clearly loved her. Enough to stick around and take me to her.”

For a long moment Sheriff Galbraith seemed to chew on that. “Jesse,” he said very quietly. Then he sighed. “More people are getting involved,” Sheriff Galbraith said. “The other towns nearby have been reporting similar attacks and deaths. They’ve been escalating. But the Guillard girl brought in attention we don’t want. Sheriff Morrison will be coming in—and boy, trust me when I say that it might be best that you take a bit of a holiday while he’s here.”

“You know me,” McCree murmured to the sheriff. “You know I can’t do that.”

Sheriff Galbraith snorted. “We mountain towns…we’d always had our own way of doing things,” he told McCree. “It might seem strange to an outsider and it might seem…overly superstitious.”

“What kind of strange?” McCree asked. “Like a ‘huh, that’s weird’ kind of strange or a du-na-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner -” here he pretended to play the banjo, “-kind of weird?”

“Hard to say,” Sheriff Galbraith admitted, to McCree’s surprise. “Kind of both.” He sighed as he stood. “Look…have you read up on the local lore? I recommend it. ‘Specially the White Wolf.”

McCree snorted. “I’d heard of the White Wolf,” he said and it was only half of a lie. In the area of their isolated little towns in the mountains, the White Wolf was everywhere. A white paw print with a gold or yellow border was a common motif in shop windows and on the local crafts. “Some Lenape belief of a guardian of the forest.”

Sheriff Galbraith shook his head. “Bit more than that,” he said enigmatically. “But yes.”

“Why you bringing it up?” McCree asked suspiciously. “Just a bit of local lore.”

Crooking his finger at him, Sheriff Galbraith took a step closer. “Not to some,” he said very quietly. “And the wolves are sacred to the Wolf as you can imagine. They say he lives near Clay Creek.”

“Where the Guillard girl is from,” McCree said grimly.

Sheriff Galbraith nodded. “And Sheriff Morrison.” McCree nodded his understanding. “Not to say that they are all superstitious cult worshippers but they tend to get intense. So drop the wolf for now—a random hiker in the woods found the body, not you. And while Sheriff Morrison is here, make yourself scarce. Perhaps even read up on the Wolf.”

Nodding, McCree left.

“The White Wolf?” Ana asked when he brought it up later. She and her husband, Reinhardt, ran the one and only touristy spot in town that served both as a pit stop and as a souvenir shop. “I mean, they say we’re in his territory but we’re at the outskirts. Not many people coming through want to hear about the Wolf and learn that the best place to visit is 45 minutes away.”

McCree shrugged. He knew better than to talk to her about the case. Not that he thought that she’d blab, but he also didn’t want to upset her too much with the grisly details.

Reinhardt might, though. Not because he was sharing gossip, but because he didn’t ever seem to understand the concept of an Inside Voice. He always seemed to be shouting and McCree was fairly certain that it was because he was HH even though McCree had never heard him ask anyone to repeat themselves, ever.

“We might have a few books,” Ana said thoughtfully. “I’ll see if we have something in the back.”

McCree waved it off. “I’ll check the library,” he promised. “Or the Internet. I really wanted to ask you though.” Ana’s silver brows rose toward her hairline. “You tell the best stories,” he admitted. “I wanted to hear if you had anything to say about it.”

“Him,” Ana corrected absently. “They say the Wolf is male.” She got up to make more tea and McCree wiggled eagerly in his seat. He hadn’t been lying when he said that Ana told the best stories. “I’ll tell you the story as I heard it told to me,” Ana said as she sat back down across from him with a weary sigh. “I haven’t seen it written or told this way anywhere else but I trust my source.”

“Who was your source?” McCree asked, fiddling with his mug.

Ana offered him a mysterious smile. “Someone who had seen him,” she whispered.

The boy slipped through the trees. “Hush, Lizzie,” he hissed to the pitbull at his side.

Lizzie just whined, her ears pressed flat and her tail tucked between her legs. He had never seen her shake the way she was shaking now, her eyes wide as she stared at the forest around them.

Sighing, the boy reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a strip of homemade jerky. Normally Lizzie would have been ecstatic to receive the treat but now she just held it nervously in her mouth and trembled.

He had never seen Lizzie react like this, not even the time a cougar had wandered through the backyard. “It’s okay, Liz,” he whispered to her, running his hands over her blocky head and bulky shoulders. “Just a little further then we can go home.”

Lizzie looked up at him, trust in her eyes, and the boy sighed, throwing his arms around her big neck.

The Wolf had rules that everyone in town knew; the biggest was not to go into the woods after dark . If you do not follow the others, the elders always cautioned , follow this one. Never go into the woods after dark.

It was a different kind of darkness so the boy could understand the elders’ fears. With each step it felt as if he walked into a void where no light had ever touched. Not even the light of the moon and stars seemed to touch the ground here and yet he knew better.

These were the woods by the schoolyard though. How many years had the boy played here, in the wide meadows before the trees and the tall grass at its edge? How often had they run into the woods by themselves to play hide and seek among the trees, breathing in the smell of pine and resin? How often had they raced to the Knobby Tree, an ancient thing so covered in enormous burls that they were almost platforms?

How often had they climbed the burls into the air, ascending them like a spiral staircase built for a giant until their teachers yelled at them to climb back down?

He knew these woods and yet under the moonlight it felt like stepping into a whole new world, entirely.

And at his side, Lizzie was terrified.

Behind him he could still hear the hushed voices of his friends that had egged them on. Run in and touch the Knobby Tree , they had said. The I dare you was silent, was too childish for the boy and his friends anymore, but it was still there.

“Almost there,” the boy assured Lizzie. “Just to the Knobby Tree.”

Lizzie trembled as the boy stood up again and lifted his small flashlight. It felt woefully inadequate in the darkness which seemed to absorb it into itself, lighting only a small portion of the path in front of him.

“Look,” the boy whispered breathlessly to Lizzie, feeling as if speaking any louder would make it worse. “It’s right there.”

He could just see the first ugly burl in the too-bright light of his flashlight just ahead of them. Lizzie whined around her jerky treat but followed after him obediently.

It was only another five yards to the Knobby Tree and the boy triumphantly patted the first ugly burl. Tucking his flashlight into his mouth, the boy pulled out his pocket knife and scraped off a piece of its bark.

Get the bark, he chanted to himself, then get out. Get the bark, then get out. He thought that from now on he would listen to the elders. He promised himself not to let his pride get the better of him from then on. He wasn’t about to do this ever again—his hair was probably white now, from fear!

So caught up in his thoughts, he scared himself badly enough that his knife jumped and nicked the side of his when Lizzie screamed .

The boy was immediately filled with fear and instinctively ducked, dropping his knife and flashlight. He had never heard her make such a terrible sound and his insides all turned to ice.

Something flew low over his head and the boy turned to keep it in view. What emerged from the darkness, lit by the harsh light of his flashlight where it had fallen in the dirt was something out of a nightmare. It seemed to have a dozen grasping hands tipped in a dozen grasping claws, a thousand red eyes that glowed like hellfire and a hundred mouths lined with fangs like shadows.

Lizzie screamed at it and spinning, the boy raced toward the edge of the clearing, running toward the schoolyard.

He hoped.

Behind him he could hear Lizzie’s terrible cries and the brays of his friends’ hounds and realized that he had run in the wrong direction, was running off the path and deeper into the ink-dark forest. He couldn’t stop though, his feet and his mind were too gone on the primal fear, the urge to runrunrunrunaway runawayrunaway . Tripping over a root, he cried and fell, slamming hard into the ground where he lay, winded and struggling to breathe.

There was a wild scream that shook the trees and seemed to tear into his soul and he closed his eyes.

The next thing he knew the world was the hazy grey-silver of dawn and he could just barely see the trees around him through the morning mist. At first he thought that the glow in front of him was from a lantern but slowly lifting his head the boy realized that the glow came from a person that shone with soft golden light as comforting as the sunrise from the markings on his face and arm.

Around him, the forest was silent.

“Lizzie?” he called, pushing himself upright and crying out when pain shot through his face and arms and chest. He coughed. “Lizzie?” it only came out as a croak but Lizzie should have been there beside him.

He turned back to the man and saw that two wolves lay on the ground behind him. The man was watching him with golden eyes, the same kind you would see on a wolf.

“You are lucky I found you, little one,” the man said at last. “You might have been lost, otherwise.”

The boy licked his lips, tasting mud and clay and blood. “Lizzie?” he asked plaintively.

“She is with me,” the man said. “But you should not be. Come: let us get you home.”

With the man’s help he was able to get to his feet. The man guided him through the trees on a path that only he could see and blindly the boy followed.

“Is Lizzie okay?” the boy asked as the trees gave way to another clearing that opened to town. Beyond it he could see his house and couldn’t find it in him to be afraid of the man.

“She is with me, now,” the man said again and stopped at the edge of the trees. “Go home. I will wait here until you are safe.”

Unable to even find it in himself to thank the man, the boy shuffled across the meadow and climbed the steps to the front door. With his hand on the knob, he turned back to look at the trees to wave goodbye to the man.

A man didn’t stand there but a wolf so large that it would tower over the boy had he been standing beside it. All white, it bore the same golden markings and wild golden eyes that the man had. Beside it the bushes moved and the same two wolves he had seen with the man emerged, sitting on either side of the great wolf.

The White Wolf.

Then the door was yanked open and his crying mother yanked him inside and he didn’t see what became of the Wolf.

Six days later, in the same way that all dogs in that town sometimes did, a young bitch emerged from the trees and walked up to the door. The boy opened the door and saw her but it wasn’t Lizzie. She held a bag in her mouth and placed it at his feet.

In it was his pocket knife, a strip of bark from the Knobby Tree, a flashlight, and an uneaten piece of jerky.

For hours after Ana had told him the story, McCree could feel the chill down in his bones.

She swore it was true, that she heard it from a good source but she refused to tell him who it was or how she had met them.

“Do you think she died?” McCree asked later that night as they cleaned up for dinner. “Lizzie. The dog in the story.”

Ana shrugged. “The Wolf told the boy that she was with him,” she said. “So I suspect she did.”

“That’s…” McCree struggled for the word. “That’s so sad.”

“She died protecting him,” Ana said gently. “I think she would have been more upset if she had lived and he had not.”

McCree thought hard about her words and that night he dreamt of wolves.

Their howling songs were broken by the sound of his phone just as dawn was beginning to break. “ Take a break, ” Sheriff Galbraith told him without preamble. There was something in his voice that made McCree shiver, now wide awake. “ A week. Relax. Go see the sights. Do something so that you can come back to the case with a fresh look at everything.

As much as it stung McCree knew that he was trying to tell him something so he agreed. “Maybe I’ll go up north,” he suggested. “Hear what all this fuss about the White Wolf is about. Can you believe that I’ve been here for so long and I haven’t been there?”

Go and be careful ,” Sheriff Galbraith said. “ There are things in these woods.

A few hours later he had borrowed Ana’s Jeep and was driving, as he said, north toward the White Wolf’s town.

The drive, while beautiful, was boring .

Much of the mountains were obscured by early morning fog and mist, making it feel like an adventure into the primordial jungle of some far-off land. The fact that he was driving a Jeep…well he wasn’t sure if it made things better or worse.

Even his GPS seemed to conspire against him and he realized as he pulled in to the first town he encountered that it had taken him west rather than north .

“That happens,” the unusually friendly gas station attendant said when he stopped for gas. He pulled open one of the local road maps that drooped over the wire frame of a brochure display. The back was nearly completely faded from the sun, a further testament to how long it had hung there, and it was covered in a thick layer of grey dust.

“Y’all’s be wanting north, eh?” he tapped the map. “We are here . Don’t go listening to the GPS now, they don’t know the roads like we do.” He traced a finger along a winding red line. “Take this one here. Small road but it’s paved. It’ll be a bit bumpy with a lot of hills. Once you get to this road, just keep on it until you reach your town. It goes right to it.”

“I’ll take that map,” McCree said and reached for his wallet. “And a few bags of snacks.”

The attendant rang him up as he deposited his choices on the counter. “You’re not from around here,” he said as if attempting to make small talk. He sounded weirdly excited.

“I fear that is obvious,” McCree joked. “But I live in Red’s Gap.”

“Ah,” the attendant said as if that explained everything. He reached behind the counter and put a small plastic baggie on the counter with McCree’s stuff. “Just in case,” he said with a friendly wink. “Homemade. You can eat it if you’d like but make sure you keep some on the side. You never know when some might come in handy and it’s good to bribe the dogs.”

With a slow nod, McCree scooped up his stuff, thanked the attendant, and walked back to his car.

“Hey!” McCree turned and found the attendant leaning out the door, a frown on his face. “Be careful, hear? The mountains…” he shook his head. “Just be careful. Drive safe. And don’t forget to bribe the dogs. Especially the wolves.”

Nodding again, McCree got in his car and began driving. The attendant stood in the doorway of the store, as stiff and awkward as a store mannequin, and McCree shivered, turning out of the driveway faster than was perhaps necessary. Down the road he pulled over and checked the bag, shivering when he found that it held a handful of sticks of homemade jerky. Unbidden, Ana’s story of the boy and his dog came to his mind and he hurriedly closed the bag and put it aside.

He followed the attendant’s directions, taking a moment to plot his course before getting back on the road. Soon it felt as if the world were swallowed by mountains and fog once more.

Chapter Text

McCree pressed his lips in a hard line as he crested yet another hill. The road was more like a roller coaster, lifting up and down in steep slopes and passing through areas so dark with trees that McCree had to drive slowly with his brights on just to see. In those areas it was foggy, the mist captured by the interlocking boughs of the trees and protected against the warmth of the sun.

He felt like he was in a horror movie when the trees eclipsed the sun and couldn’t help the nervous shiver each time or the sigh of relief when he made it out the other side.

There was a rest stop at the top of the next rise and McCree took a break there, sitting on the rock wall and eating a bag of chips as he stared out over the valley. In the distance he could see the faint silver line of the road and traced it back as far as he could see.

Pulling out his map, he consulted it. The mistake, he reflected, was that the map was flat and didn’t show topography. It was also faded as hell, some of the markings nearly invisible except for the blood-red line of the road and a few names of larger towns.

Using a knuckle he measured the distance and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. What was supposed to be an hour-long trip was going on a three-hour ordeal. He checked the sky and then his watch. At this rate he had the feeling that by the time he got to the town it would be the middle of dinner rush.

Laughing to himself, he popped another chip in his mouth.

The wolf still bothered him.

So did the case.

The boy’s death still grated on him, as did the realization that someone had been there. It was a serial killer, not an animal attack. (Or rather they were paired together rather than being separate incidents.)

Of course that didn’t sit well with him, especially being taken off the case for a few days. He could tell it grated on the sheriff too but there was a good reason he sent McCree away, or so McCree had to believe.

The other problem was that these were small towns where everyone knew each other, could probably trace their comings and goings back for hundreds of years. Every victim was a friend or a neighbor or a cousin and so was every suspect.

And sometimes the bonds of blood and friendship ran deeper than the need for justice.

The thought curdled something in his stomach and he sighed. He was glad that he packed all of his case notes because something told him that he would spend a lot of time perusing them. In addition to learning about the White Wolf, of course.

He couldn’t lie that the thought intrigued him.

In this area, the White Wolf was treated less like a cryptid like the Jersey Devil or Bigfoot and more like a local celebrity that often visited. After Ana’s story he had looked more into it but didn’t find much. These were small towns in the middle of the mountains, after all. These things were better passed through word of mouth than through the internet.

Still, he did manage to find a few interesting posts about festivals honoring the White Wolf and pictures of the town showed statues dedicated to him. He wondered if there were touristy things, like White Wolf hikes or White Wolf cookies and such. How often would he see things like that?

But again…this was a small mountain town in the middle of nowhere. He couldn’t imagine that they got a whole lot of tourists visiting.

“Won’t know until I get there,” McCree said to himself and got to his feet. Dusting his jeans off he climbed into the car and turned the key.

The engine wouldn’t turn over.

He tried again.

And again.

Eventually he had to give up and he sighed. He twisted the key and sighed when the display lit up—so he still had battery power, but what was wrong with the engine?

Getting out of his car he popped the hood and for a moment stood looking at the engine. “The fuck did I think I’d know anything about this?” he asked the engine who didn’t answer.

Still, he checked the oil levels (at a good level according to the dipstick, and it didn’t smell bad so it had been changed recently), the…coolant? Was that coolant? He didn’t know, it was a semi-transparent jug with bright orange liquid. The level was between the two tick marks on the side so he ignored that as well. The washer fluid was still high which…that didn’t affect shit.

Rolling his eyes, McCree closed the hood and pressed it shut until he heard it latch. He wasn’t looking forward to telling Ana that he broke her Jeep.

He dug around his bags for his vape pen. A quick sniff told him that the syrup was Swedish Fish and he shrugged, taking a deep drag. He used to have a bad habit, smoking a pack a day, sometimes more on tough cases back in the city. Once he moved, once he realized how much that job had been fucking him up, he had weaned himself with the vape pen.

It still wasn’t the same, didn’t have the same weight or heft, but McCree was nothing if not a stubborn bastard. In some ways it helped that he could have a flavor other than charcoal in his mouth during and after smoking, but it didn’t help his pride that he usually smelled like cotton candy or, on occasion, a bakery.

The plus side was that he could cut back on his nicotine and now he only smoked the pen when he needed to think, when he wanted the illusion of smoking without indulging in his nicotine vice.

He watched the smoke linger and then fade.

At this rate he’d be walking through the night to get to town, and going back was somewhat worse as he was fairly certain that he was nearly to his destination. He sighed and consulting the map again, squinting to find the silver path of the road as it wound around the mountainside.

It looked flat the rest of the way, without those weird drops or periods of intense darkness beneath the boughs of the trees. Taking another long hit of the vape pen, McCree blew smoke out of his nose and halfheartedly checked his phone.

No service, of course.

Nodding to himself he took another hit and tucked the phone away. He’d wait here for a while just in case someone came by, he decided.

As soon as he thought it, he shook his head in disgust. There was only one road in this area, if the map was to be believed—if anyone passed, they would see his car.

But as he sat and waited, watched the time tick by, he wondered if he would see anyone else—if anyone else even used this road.

“Can’t just sit here all night,” he muttered, tucking his vape pen away. He had worn out the battery and didn’t feel like changing it or plugging it into the Jeep to charge it. Climbing into the Jeep he tried to start it again and found that even the battery seemed to have died.

He sighed.

“Guess I’m walking.” He consulted the map again and measured the distance again with his knuckle. “Only a few miles more.”

A few miles was nothing.

He packed his snacks in a bag, tucked his duffel bags into the foot wells, and raided his emergency kit for a hand-crank flashlight just in case. After checking everything again, he closed and locked all of the doors and set off.

The walk was a nice one and there was a wide enough dirt path beside the road for him to walk comfortably. Here the air was thinner than he was used to and he guessed that Red’s Gap was further down the mountain than he had expected but it was…nice.

He occasionally encountered pockets of mist that brushed against his legs like cold, grasping hands. To his relief there weren’t any major hills or divots and he thought he made good time along the roads.

About an hour into his hike he heard a sound in the woods beside him and he stopped to look. There was nothing there, at least not to his eyes and he cursed at himself for being overly paranoid. At the same time he couldn’t shake the eerie feeling that was clinging to his back and shivering down his spine.

He began walking faster.

Now he didn’t dare stop for breaks, scenic or otherwise. Now he didn’t stop to consult the map, he just continued on.

The noises continued, rustles and bumps and snaps of branches; scraping and rumbling and rattling.

It got darker and McCree could feel cold sweat prickling the skin between his shoulders, making his palms clammy and his mouth dry.

Behind him he heard another sound, this one far more welcome.

He turned and froze. Lit from behind by the approaching headlights of a motorcycle was a tall shape that…well, McCree had no basis of comparison, no way to describe what he saw. Ana’s words and the story she told came to mind: a dozen grasping hands with a dozen grasping claws, a thousand eyes that glowed like hellfire and a hundred mouths lined with fangs like shadows .

Then the mist dissipated and McCree laughed to himself, realizing that it had just been the play of shadows on the mist as it rolled past and he waved his hand to get the motorcyclist’s attention.

It was just a trick of the light, McCree repeated to himself, still unable to shake the clammy sweat on his palms. And the noises had just been animals in the woods. But it had seemed to turn, had seemed to run off into the shadows as the motorcycle approached.

The cyclist slowed to a stop in front of him, their face unreadable behind the tinted visor of his helmet. Two dogs that McCree hadn’t noticed before, who had apparently been running beside the motorcycle, skidded to as top and shoved their great furry heads into McCree’s hands and thighs and crotch, panting and wagging their tails hard enough that their entire bodies were wiggling.

“Yuki, Ame; down,” the cyclist said, lifting a gloved hand to flip the visor up. With whines the dogs—some kind of husky or malamute, McCree thought—the dogs sat. Then they jumped up excitedly and ran off into the woods. “Hnn,” the cyclist muttered, watching them. Then he turned back to McCree. “What are you doing out here alone?”

“Car broke down,” McCree said sheepishly. “I don’t suppose you know how close the nearest town is, do you?”

The cyclist snorted. “You would have been better off sitting in your car,” he said and shook his head. “Hop on, I’ll take you to town and we can get a truck to tow your car.”

McCree hesitantly eyed the motorcycle. It was a Kawasaki or some other kind of sports motorcycle, would mean that he’d have to plaster himself to the cyclist’s back. Not that he was against it, far from it! But he was concerned at how… okay with it that he would be.

Still, the alternative was to spend the night out here so he threw a leg over the back and slid astride the thing. The cyclist turned and adjusted his legs by pulling his knees into place. His eyes crinkled as he turned back around to look at McCree. “Hang on,” he said, tugging McCree closer until McCree’s chest was plastered against his back.

He tried not to moan when he felt the planes of the man’s back move. He was certain he did whimper when the man tugged his legs closer, nearly grinding his crotch into the man’s tailbone, probably pulled him far closer than was strictly necessary.

“Much better,” the cyclist said and flipped his visor down. “Hang on.”

He revved the engine and the dogs came running back. Revving the engine again, the man accelerated.

McCree pressed his face between the man’s shoulder blades, breathing in the smell of leather and cologne and an earthy sort of smell that made him shiver. It was wild and primal and stirred something in McCree that made him gasp, burying his face closer to the cyclist’s back. The rumbling of the engine didn’t help and if he was in a better mind, if his breath wasn’t stolen by the thin mountain air as it rushed past, he would be mortified.

Soon the wild roar of the wind and engine died down and McCree dared to look up. Night was falling and the cyclist angled the bike to travel down a packed dirt road lined with solar lights toward a large farmstead.

Sitting up straighter, McCree gasped. The farmstead and the large cabin was cupped in a valley and ringed with small creeks and valleys cut by rain. There were paddocks with large animals though they were too far away for McCree to tell what kind.

“This is called the Wolf’s Lodge,” the cyclist said over his shoulder. “You can stay here for the night and then we can see what we can do about your car in the morning.”

The dogs burst out of the trees, their thick coats covered in twigs and leaves as they cavorted around them, dodging in and out and around the lights, loping easily beside the cycle.

“Wow,” McCree said in a croaked whisper.

As they approached he heard a terrible cacophony of noise—and then they were swamped by dogs of all sizes. He saw a Xolotl dog among huskies and retrievers and Labradors and pitbulls all vying for attention. Seeing him they held back though their tails still wagged eagerly.

The motorcyclist took them the rest of the way down the hill, across the wooden bridge, and up to the front door of the homestead. Then he brought the motorcycle to a stop, bracing it with his foot and turning the engine off.

McCree realized how close he was to the motorcyclist, he was pressed against him from knee to neck, and swallowed hard. “S-sorry,” he said and the man chuckled. He reached up and pulled off his helmet, revealing white-silver hair that cascaded down his back.

A small part of him wondered where he had hidden his hair and how it looked so perfect as soon as he pulled off his helmet; the rest of him was too busy staring, lost in the man’s eyes.

“It’s alright,” the man said, his voice rumbling through his back and into McCree. “Take your time.”

The door to the cabin opened and a dark-skinned man stepped out. “Hanzo!” he called, seeing the man. “Oh,” he added when he saw McCree.

Remembering himself, the other man’s presence like a splash of cold water, McCree shakily threw his leg over the back of the cycle. It was probably just his imagination but he thought that the man sighed in disappointment.

“Lúcio,” the man said. “If you would be so kind as to get our guest settled? He’ll be spending the night with us and tomorrow he needs to go into town to talk about getting a tow truck for his car.”

With a last heated look at McCree, the man started the cycle and rode it around it around back. The dogs followed in an enormous pack, baying and howling in excitement.

The man on the steps, apparently named Lúcio, ran down them and yelled after the motorcyclist, “Put your helmet on, you young idiot!” Something that baffled McCree since by his judge, the motorcyclist was older than Lúcio. Lúcio smiled at McCree and scrubbing his hands on his jeans, held one out for him to shake. “Hi,” he said. “My name is Lúcio. Well, I suppose technically I’m Dr . Lúcio, but just Lúcio is fine.”

McCree looked him over before taking his hand. The man was thin but it was a lean kind of thin with brown skin and dreads held back by a large scarf. He had a friendly smile that immediately had something tight in his chest uncurling. “Detective- ah, just McCree is fine.”

Lúcio’s brows rose. “Detective?” he asked teasingly. “Ah, come in, the nights get cold here even in the middle of summer.” His eyes flicked past McCree’s shoulders and his smile twitched. Returning to him, it seemed more genuine. “And Hanzo says I’m to make you up a room. Have you had dinner yet?”

“I’m here on vacation,” McCree said firmly. “So just ‘McCree’ is fine. Or ‘Jesse’—just ‘Jesse’.”

The doctor led him into the foyer of the cabin and waited for him to take his shoes off in the mud room, tucking them at his gesture to a series of wooden cubbies on the sides. Lúcio showed him how to pull the sliding wooden screens over them— so the dogs don’t get them , he explained with a laugh.

Then Lúcio led him into the foyer and McCree stopped, his eyes wide. “Some lodge,” he said a little weakly.

Lúcio laughed. “Yup! Hanzo built it himself. Nice, isn’t it?” He gestured across the large living room with its vaulted ceilings toward a spacious kitchen area. A portion of the living area was depressed and filled with large couches around a large fireplace. The floor there was covered with comfortable-looking rugs and what may be real animal skins though given the current fashion of faux fur rugs, McCree couldn’t be sure. Unlike what he half expected, there weren’t hunting trophies lining the walls.

“The dining room is this way,” Lúcio added. “Dinner is just about ready. Once Hanzo puts the bike away and settles the dogs, we can eat.”

“Are all of those dogs his?” McCree asked, looking around as he blindly followed Lúcio.

“Watch your step,” Lúcio cautioned. “Not all of them are his. He does a lot of training so the people in town bring their animals to him. He does the special kinds of tricks—service dogs, special hunting dogs, that kind of thing. Horses too.”

Lúcio led them into a large dining room already set with steaming plates of food. There was another dog there, nearly hidden in the corner, and it looked up when it saw Lúcio and McCree enter.

“Stay,” Lúcio told it. It heaved a sigh and put its head back down. It gave McCree begging eyes and wagged its tail but made no other move. “He’s friendly but sometimes can be a bit too friendly if you’re not used to it.”

“Can I say hello?” McCree asked tentatively. Dogs were never really his thing but he liked them well enough, especially when they were as happy and wiggly as this one seemed to be. At Lúcio’s nod, he held out both hands out to the dog whose tail began wagging harder.

Lúcio told the dog something in a language that McCree didn’t recognize. It sounded like a command.

Immediately the dog stood up and trotted over to McCree. He was clearly happy, prancing on his paws and wagging his tail so hard that his entire body moved but he didn’t jump and he didn’t slobber all over McCree’s face and hands. Almost daintily he sniffed McCree’s outstretched palms, then nudged his wet nose over the back of them, then wiggled closer and hopped but didn’t try to jump up and lick McCree’s face, something he greatly appreciated as that was his least favorite thing about dogs.

“His name is Lily,” Lúcio said and shrugged when McCree turned to look at him. “Don’t ask.”

A door that McCree had only distantly noticed opened and in walked Hanzo and the two dogs with him. Now that he could see them clearly, McCree realized that they were wolves, or had at least some wolf blood in them.

He stood up quickly and Lily whined.

Hanzo ran his hands through his silver hair, shaking out the helmet head as he stripped in the mud room, taking his leather biking jacket off and hanging the helmet on a peg nearby. He murmured something to the wolf dogs at his side and they trotted over to a mat at the edge of the mud room, rubbing their paws over them before entering.

The dogs didn’t seem very interested in McCree and detoured to go to Lúcio who patted their heads fondly.

But McCree forgot to be worried about the wolf dogs when he got a better look at the mysterious Hanzo. He was shorter than McCree was himself but even one of his arms was nearly twice the size of McCree’s and he wasn’t one to slack on the muscles of the arm at the gym. The thick muscles followed to his chest which strained against the tight-fitting shirt he had worn beneath his biking leathers.

An enormous and intricate sleeve tattoo of a coiled dragon slipped out from beneath the sleeve of his left arm, each coil and loop highlighted in gold as if lit by the sun peeking from behind the storm clouds that also decorated the tattoo. McCree wondered how far that ink went and if it scarred, if it would be rough and ridged beneath his lips.

God , he wanted to find out.

Hanzo smiled at him and McCree felt his insides turn to jelly. He had a nice smile and piercings for days, two above his right eyebrow, snake bites on his lip, and double piercings in each ear. At first McCree had thought that he bleached his long white hair but even as he thought that McCree could see the flecks of darker grey and silver among the almost perfect white strands—perhaps he had greyed at an early age, then. He didn’t look to be that much older than McCree himself was, if that.

Pulling a hair tie from around one of his large wrists, he finger-combed his hair into a quick topknot, revealing the undercut that had been hidden beneath the veil of his hair. McCree thought that he whimpered—actually whimpered.

Hanzo’s eyes—a shade of brown so light that they were nearly as gold as his wolf dogs’ eyes—lingered on McCree for a moment; he winked and then turned to Lúcio. “It smells amazing,” he said. “What’s on the menu?”

“Miss Martha gave me a venison stew recipe,” Lúcio said. “Thought I’d try it. There are potato dumplings in there, too.”

“I’ll have to take mine to go,” Hanzo said, sounding regretful. “One of the horses is about to give birth.”

Lúcio perked up. “Is Daisy finally about to pop?” Then he frowned. “Shouldn’t I go out there? As the vet?”

Hanzo ducked into a room that McCree hadn’t noticed before and returned with an arm full of towels. The wolf dogs trotted over and took a few daintily from him. Holding their burdens high so that they wouldn’t drag on the ground, they trotted back outside. “No,” Hanzo told Lúcio gently. “I will manage well enough and it’s getting dark out.”

Both of them looked toward the windows and nodded. “I’ll close up, then,” Lúcio said. To McCree, he said, “Why don’t you sit down, Just Jesse, and make yourself a bowl. I’ll just be drawing the blinds on the windows.”

“I can help,” McCree protested even as his stomach grumbled. Hanzo gave him a smirk and one last wink before leaving.

Lúcio laughed. “Most of them are closed already,” he said. “I just have a few more.” He looked at Lily, whose ears were pricked forward. “ Metta .” The dog sat. “I just fed him,” Lúcio added to McCree with a crooked smile. “So don’t believe his soulful eyes.”

Slowly McCree sat. Lily didn’t move though he tracked his motions with his eyes. He sighed and McCree laughed. “You beggar,” he teased.

McCree stood again to look at the food. There was the stew that Lúcio had referenced and also a steaming basket full of white rice and a few slices of some kind of roasted tenderloin. From the color and cook on the meat, McCree guessed it was probably deer as well, something he was starting to get used to.

It seemed that a lot of people in these rural mountain towns did a lot of hunting. When he first moved, he wasn’t used to the gamey flavor of venison and wild boar but Reinhardt and Ana’s cooking brought him around to it.

There were also dinner rolls glazed with honey, a surprising thing to see, and platters of roasted vegetables. He helped himself, wondering who else was staying here to eat. There seemed to be too much food for just two people.

“Hanzo makes the bread every night,” Lúcio said as he returned. “Free, Lily.”

The dog hopped excitedly and wagging his tail hard enough that his whole body wiggled once more, he ducked under the table. To McCree’s surprise he didn’t beg and didn’t run his cold nose along McCree’s legs or feet. After ducking under and around the table Lily returned to his corner and curled up.

“I bake it every afternoon for dinner,” Lúcio continued, spooning a healthy portion for himself. “The vegetables are from the garden out back. Hanzo brought down the deer the other day with Yuki and Ame. Most of it is frozen for winter but I thought that we could enjoy some stew now.”

The bread was very good, sweeter than he expected but not overbearingly so. It made a good sandwich with the venison tenderloin and roasted squash and he probably ate more than he should have. McCree helped Lúcio clean up, setting aside some food for Hanzo, and sighed when Lúcio led him to a room.

“I’ll bring you some extra clothes if you’d like to change,” Lúcio said cheerfully. “I think some of Hanzo’s stuff might fit you across the chest…and you’re about as leggy as me so I’ll bring you some pajama pants.”

He was gone before McCree could thank him and he turned back to his room. It was a second-floor thing larger than the entirety of the apartment he had rented when he had lived in the city. In one corner was a large dresser carved of some kind of wood with paw print motifs marching around the sides. One of the doors opened into a walk-in closet; another was a full bath with a shower and a large tub that made McCree involuntarily groan.

When was the last time he had a long soak? Maybe not ever.

Lúcio knocked on the door and he jumped. For a wooden lodge it was surprisingly quiet.

“I got you some stuff,” Lúcio said cheerfully. “Just more comfortable stuff to sleep in. We can do your laundry tomorrow morning if you would like.” He handed the bundle of clothes over to McCree and he realized that it included a plush towel and a robe. “Feel free to use the bathroom and the tub,” he continued. “I don’t think we’ve ever run out of hot water here which,” he laughed. “Doesn’t seem possible sometimes.” He pointed down the hall. “I’m just down there if you need anything.”

McCree leaned out of the door to follow his finger, seeing a few more doors. More guests, then, even if they hadn’t come downstairs for dinner. Or maybe they were just out.

“Thank you,” he said quietly and Lúcio waved it off.

“It’s nothing,” Lúcio told him gently. “Have a good night.” Snapping his fingers at Lily, Lúcio walked down the hallway. Lily gave McCree a silly canine grin as he passed, following in Lúcio’s shadow.

He closed the door behind him and bit his lip against his eagerness for the idea of a long soak in the bath.

McCree woke up later with a gasp, the water sloshing around in the tub. The lovely heat that had lulled him to sleep had left and now it was just room temperature.

Making a face, he drained the tub and rinsed off, glad that he had showered before soaking. His hair was almost dry too but it was in that clumpy stage that he hated. Finding a hair tie on the counter he pulled his hair back and pulled on some of the clothes that Lúcio had brought over.

The flannel pajama pants fit his hips but his thighs strained the fabric and the legs were too short; the shirt fit him much better in comparison and advertised a local festival that McCree vaguely recognized as one he saw online that celebrated the White Wolf.

Feeling strangely restless, McCree cracked open his bedroom door. The upstairs was dark but he saw the kitchen light downstairs and he remembered the honey-glazed rolls.

Creeping downstairs he nearly yelled and woke up the entire lodge when he found the dogs. Big ones. They were the pair that had followed Hanzo and had run beside the motorcycle earlier that day. Up close, much closer than he had when Hanzo walked inside, he could appreciate their size.

Each paw was as large as his hand. Standing beside him, the wolf’s shoulder would come up to his pelvis, no small feat considering his height. One them lifted its head and looked at him with icy blue eyes. Then it yawned, baring its fangs and long pink tongue, and with a grumble put its head back down.

“That is Ame,” a voice behind him said and he jumped. Hanzo was standing at the railing, an enigmatic smile on his face. “The other is Yuki.”

McCree pressed his hand to his chest. “Damn, you scared me.”

“My apologies,” the other man said, tilting his head to the side as he regarded McCree. “I just came in and was about to have dinner. Will you join me?”

“I was just coming down to see if there were any rolls left,” McCree admitted. “Lúcio said you made them.”

Hanzo’s smile widened and he gestured for McCree to walk beside him toward the kitchen. “Yes,” he said. His voice was quiet now, having an almost hypnotic quality as he drew McCree along with him. “I prepare the dough every night and I also start the mix for the biscuits.”

To his surprise, Hanzo brought out more than enough food to feed the both of them and laid out plates and cutlery for them both. “I don’t need to eat much,” he said hurriedly.

“No trouble,” Hanzo told him. “Would you like anything heated up? I was just going to eat everything cold.”

“I just wanted a roll,” McCree admitted and Hanzo passed him the basket as well as a dish of cold butter. “Thank you.”

Hanzo smiled and they ate in silence for a while. The other man ate as if he were ravenous and McCree was sure he was, considering how late it had to be.

“So…how was the horse? Is it okay?”

The other man nodded and swallowed his mouthful. “She and her baby are fine and healthy. If you would like I will show them to you tomorrow.”

McCree smiled. “I would like that.”

It felt like a dream, sitting next to Hanzo at the dining room table. Everything had that kind of hazy quality and Hanzo’s golden eyes were hypnotic and seemed to draw him ever closer. Belatedly, McCree realized that he really was leaning closer, more than was mannerly, and Hanzo was in return.

He opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to find the words to say but coming up blank each time. Hanzo’s eyes flicked down to McCree’s lips and back to meet McCree’s gaze with a sly smile.

“Is this presumptuous of me?” he asked.

McCree shook his head. Then he caught himself— play it cool, Jess— and gave the roguish smile he could muster despite the heady feeling he was getting from Hanzo’s confident smile. “Or is it presumptuous of me? ” he teased back. “Shouldn’t you be eating?”

“I find myself hungering for something else,” Hanzo shot back though his hands began making another sandwich, layering it with the venison tenderloin and roasted vegetables.

Swallowing hard, McCree bit into a roll to keep from saying something stupid. Hanzo watched him as he ate, quickly but neatly, and made another sandwich. It might have been his fifth but McCree had lost count, too distracted by the bob of Hanzo’s throat.

At last Hanzo stood and gathered their plates, seeming to lean deliberately close to do so, far too close but McCree wasn’t complaining. Then Hanzo pulled away, walking into the kitchen and looking coquettishly over his shoulder at McCree.

McCree stood and stalked after him, sliding his hands on Hanzo’s hip as he pressed close. He dipped his head into Hanzo’s shoulder, mouthing at the cloth stretched tight over his broad shoulders. “Am I reading too much into this?”

Putting the plates down in the sink, Hanzo turned and looped his arms around McCree’s neck. “Am I ?” he shot back.

Feeling strangely inebriated, as if drunk on Hanzo’s mere proximity, McCree dipped his head closer.

Kissing Hanzo was electric. McCree could feel the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

When the other man pulled back, his eyes seemed to almost shine like polished gold. “Shall we take this upstairs?”

McCree’s mouth went dry. “I’d love nothing more,” he said in a cracked whisper.

Smirking, pleased and playful, Hanzo wiggled his fingers into the waistband of McCree’s borrowed pajamas and dragged him out of the kitchen.

After a word to his big dogs who grunted and rolled over, Hanzo dragged McCree upstairs. As soon as the door was closed behind him, McCree was shoved against the it and his mouth claimed.

Groaning, McCree yanked closer and basked in the simple feeling of being pressed somewhere, being manhandled like he weighed nothing. Or perhaps Hanzo was simply that strong . Look at him—he looked like he could lift McCree like he weighed nothing.

The thought was hotter than it had any right to be and McCree groaned into the kiss again. Hanzo was all hard planes of muscle and hair that felt like silk.

No, that wasn’t right. He was sweaty, smelled like ozone and stale leather and their dinner. Hanzo’s hair was still slightly damp from the sweat accumulated beneath his helmet as he rode but despite the slight chill on his skin from the cooler evening temperatures, he felt like a furnace, burning away at McCree.

He would be consumed by Hanzo in a thousand ways and it still would not be enough.

When Hanzo pulled away, his amber eyes nearly completely swallowed by his pupil, McCree felt wrecked already, his lips hot and swollen from being so thoroughly claimed by Hanzo’s eager mouth. The other man grinned, his face flushed.

McCree was glad that Hanzo also seemed affected, was breathing hard as well because if he hadn’t, McCree would have been hurt, would have felt like he had to up his game.

“Come,” Hanzo said and McCree swallowed, already close to it. From Hanzo’s girn, he seemed to know this.

Hanzo wiggled into the belt loops of McCree’s jeans and tugged him toward the large bed. This was clearly Hanzo’s room but McCree wouldn’t even find it in himself to look around, too distracted by Hanzo, Hanzo, Hanzo to care about anything, anymore.

“Fuck,” McCree breathed.

The look that Hanzo gave him in return was amused and teasing and sent hot shivers down his spine to pool in his dick. "That's the idea, isn't it?"

How the fuck someone pulling out the ribbon in their hair could be sexy was beyond McCree but perhaps it was just a quirk of Hanzo's hotness. Was that a thing?

God, the blood was running south so fast that thoughts were difficult.

"Will you join me?" Hanzo asked, carefully setting the ribbon down to the side and pulling off his shirt. "Or will this be entirely one-sided?" He licked his lips, his eyes bright and golden and sharp enough in their intensity to cut. "I think that can be arranged, but it would certainly be much more interesting with you here."

Growling, McCree chased after him, his hands coming up to trace over Hanzo's cut stomach and slide around his waist. He yanked Hanzo close and dipped his head to kiss him.

Hanzo gave back as good as he got, nipping at McCree's lips and fighting for dominance in their kiss. McCree's hands roamed, tracing up the smooth curves of his back, sliding over the other man's rough trousers, gripping the globes of his ass with a moan of appreciation.

"Something you like?" Hanzo asked, sounding annoyingly put together if a little out of breath.

McCree growled. "Yes," he hissed. He let his hands slide around Hanzo's hips to paw at his pelvis, searching for the hot bulge he knew had to be there.

Growling himself, Hanzo batted McCree's hands away and grabbed at his shirt. "Take this off," he hissed. "Before you lose it."

With a heated look McCree obeyed, yanking the shirt over his head and tossing it away. He reached a hand up to straighten his hair and brush it out of his eyes but stopped when he caught sight of Hanzo, reclining on the bed with his legs half spread.

He was mostly naked now, his pants tossed on the side to reveal his legs which looked just as muscular as the rest of him and McCree made a low, needy sound in the back of his throat.

Hanzo like this looked like he was carved from marble, like he was some kind of Greek statue. His long white-silver hair spread out around his head like a corona, his piercings glittering as he smiled at McCree.

He stretched and McCree felt his mouth run dry. "What's the matter?" he asked. "Rethinking the idea of a solo show?" With a grin Hanzo's hand slid down his chest, his fingers lingering for a moment on the piercings in his nipples, before sliding down his hips to the waistband of his boxers. Just beyond his fingers there was a bulge that strained against the fabric and a large wet spot at its tip. "That's a shame," Hanzo continued. "I had liked the idea of you participating."

"The mouth on you," McCree hissed, taking two large steps and kneeling on the bed between Hanzo's splayed legs. He leaned down and kissed Hanzo hard, grinning when instead of relaxing into the bed Hanzo fought back. "I like my lovers with a little bite."

Something in Hanzo's eyes flashed and he grinned. "I'm glad," he said and rolled them over so that he straddled McCree's waist. "I like my lovers with a little kick, too. Although I would much rather that they stop staring and actually do something ."

Grinning, McCree rolled them again, straddling Hanzo's thighs. The seam of his pants brushed against Hanzo's thigh and with a groan McCree rocked his hips into the friction.

"Take off your pants," Hanzo growled, his eyes flashing. Now his pupils had enlarged so that they were nearly swallowing the gold of his irises.

Licking his lips McCree obeyed, fumbling with his belt and pants and shimmying backwards, off and to the side of Hanzo's legs, to shove his pants and socks and boxers down and off.

Then Hanzo was straddling him, his knees bumping against McCree's armpits. McCree could feel the heat from Hanzo's body resting on his chest, the weight of his balls and could see the way his cock strained against the front of his boxers.

"Fuck," he breathed and rested both hands on Hanzo's thighs, letting them slide up to the waistband of his boxers. He swallowed hard, his eyes on the bulge in the cotton before looking up at Hanzo.

Hanzo's face was flushed, his eyes dark with lust. He grinned and clicked his tongue. "You're taking so long,"

"Can you blame me?" McCree asked. "Fuck, you're like carved marble. Like a statue. Michelangelo's David."

"And I will be just as old by the time you make up your mind to do something."

McCree let his hands slide up Hanzo's legs, running his thumb along the sensitive skin on the inside of his thighs. He pushed up the legs of Hanzo's boxers as far as he dared, revealing the thatch of white-silver hair at the base of his cock and the curves of his balls. The motion also pulled the thin cotton tight against Hanzo's straining cock and McCree's mouth watered.

"Damn," he breathed. "Maybe not Michelangelo's David. Much more beautiful."

Hanzo snorted and swung his leg over McCree's body. With a surprised and somewhat mournful sound McCree reached for him but he batted McCree's hands away and walked to the bedside table.

"I thought that might get your attention," Hanzo said, sounding amused. He showed two wrapped condoms to McCree and wiggled them, smiling smugly when McCree fell still, his eyes wide. "And that as well."

Putting the condoms on the bed, Hanzo shimmied out of his boxers and settled between McCree's legs, spreading them and hiking them up on his thighs.

"You're going to kill me," McCree breathed.

"Nothing so terrible," Hanzo said, reaching for a condom and sliding it briskly on McCree's cock. Checking the fit and that the base was fully snug against McCree, Hanzo's other hand palmed McCree's heavy balls, rolling them gently in his palm and fingers and toying with the sensitive stretch of skin that lay behind it.

Closing his eyes, McCree bucked his hips into Hanzo's hands. "Fuck. It's been a while."

"I can tell," Hanzo said not unkindly. "And for me as well. I look forward to this."

Leaning forward, Hanzo folded McCree nearly in half, making his back protest but the hungry kiss he pressed and bit into McCree's lips made it worth it.


His back would probably have Opinions of that come morning.

Then Hanzo was gone and McCree opened his eyes in surprise, searing for his lover. He found Hanzo further down, his lips level with McCree's cock. One hand held it firmly by the base and the other still played with his balls and ran his knuckles teasingly against McCree's perineum. Seeing him looking, Hanzo smiled, winked, and sucked the tip of McCree's cock into his mouth.

Groaning, McCree let his head fall back.

How long had it been? Fucking years?

His hands automatically shot down to Hanzo's hair, not pulling or pushing him just touching, running his fingers through it, grounding himself against the gentle suction, the press of his lips, the heat and vibrations as Hanzo hummed and slowly worked his way down.

Hanzo hummed again, working at what wasn't in his mouth. His tongue was wicked, pressing against the tender spot beneath the head of McCree's cock and swirling around the head. He bobbed his head in time with his hand, working more and more of that cock in his mouth.

Fisting his hands in Hanzo's hair, McCree whined. "Wait, waitwaitwait-"

He whined when Hanzo pulled back, his hand still playing with McCree's balls while the other clenched around the base of his cock to hold back his climax.

McCree whined again when he cracked his eyes open and saw Hanzo, his hair a tangled mess from McCree's hands running through it, his lips swollen and his beard sticky with saliva. His eyes though, were wild and hungry and just a little cruel in the best kind of way. With the hand that had been playing with McCree's balls, Hanzo swiped at his lips with the back of his hand.

"Fuck," McCree breathed, struggling to catch his breath. "Fuck."

"I wonder what kind of sounds I can get you to make," Hanzo said thoughtfully.

Mccree swallowed back a whine. "No," he said. "I...I want."

Leaning down, Hanzo let go of the base of McCree's cock, caging his head instead. He kissed McCree as if he starved, his lips tasting like latex but at this point McCree didn't care.

Being honest, he probably wouldn't have cared either way.

"I want you in my mouth too," McCree managed to gasp out and then flinched. Such poor dirty talk.

Hanzo seemed amused by it, leaning down and nipping at McCree's neck. "You want me in your mouth?" he echoed. "What part of me? That feels like an important distinction."

"Don't tease me, darlin'," McCree complained.

He gasped when Hanzo tweaked a nipple meanly. "Tell me what you want," he said, his golden  eyes hypnotic in the dim light of his room.

"You," McCree told him stubbornly.

"For now you have me," Hanzo purred, his eyes half-lidded as he pulled back. His cock lay heavy against McCree's hips, hard and uncut and leaking precome into the messy tangles of McCree's pubic hair. Seeing the direction of McCree's gaze, Hanzo smiled and lifted his cock, letting it fall lightly against McCree's pelvis. "Like what you see?"

McCree made a strangled noise. "Yes," he breathed. His eyes darted up to Hanzo's. "In my mouth."

Hanzo snorted but he seemed to be done with teasing; he reached over to the other condom. Not breaking eye contact with McCree he ripped it open with his teeth and slid it on his own hard cock, giving it a long stroke when he was done.

"How...?" McCree asked slowly before he was manhandled, picked up and made to straddle Hanzo's face.

Then Hanzo's mouth was back on him, his sinful tongue doing terrible things to McCree's self control. Gasping, McCree's hips twitched, jerked, shoved deeper into Hanzo's throat.

"Sorry," McCree gasped. "Sorry..."

But Hanzo only growled, his hands pressing bruises into his ass as he yanked McCree's hips forward so that his cock bumped deeper into his throat.

McCree gasped and jerked his hips forward, closing his eyes at the sublime feel of Hanzo's throat working around his length. He thrust his hips again in a smooth glide, trembling with effort as he tried not to shove his dick harder and deeper, to hear Hanzo gag around the fat tip of his cock.

It was almost frustrating, in the basest of ways, that Hanzo didn't. He yanked McCree deeper, harder, urged him to fuck his throat and McCree did, rutting into Hanzo's face like a wild animal.

He sounded like one too, his voice rough as he grunted and gasped and groaned. Hanzo's throat felt heavenly, clenching beautifully around his cock and the pleased hums and gagging noises made McCree lightheaded.

At the last minute McCree remembered Hanzo's own stiff cock and only because of a particularly excited thrust that had it nudge into his cheek, the smell of latex and musk overpowering his senses for a brief moment.

It took some fumbling before McCree could get it angled right to slide it into his mouth but when he did Hanzo howled around his cock, his hips jerking.

McCree adjusted his stance, shoving his cock deep into Hanzo's throat just to feel it ripple around him as he shifted his knees and pressed his hands down on Hanzo's hips, keeping them still and in place. Then he sucked it down, filled his mouth with just the tip and toyed with the sensitive tip with tongue and lips.

He eased his hips back, nearly pulling out completely so he could let Hanzo catch his breath and was rewarded with the sound of his ragged breaths and the low noises he made in his throat.

God, but his cock. McCree sucked at it, wishing that there wasn't a layer of latex between him and the monster in his mouth. He wondered what it would taste like, if it would taste as musky as he hoped. If it would fill his mouth, would overflow, when Hanzo came.

"More," Hanzo said in a raspy voice, sounding utterly wrecked. He grabbed McCree's hips and yanked him down, working his lips against the base of McCree's cock as his throat clenched around his sensitive tip.

McCree nearly screamed, would have if not for Hanzo's cock in his mouth. He pulled back, gasping against the base. "Fuck," he breathed. "Babe, I'm close-fuck!"

He rocketed straight to the edge as Hanzo yanked his hips down, urged them into a rough rhythm of fucking his throat. McCree buried his face against Hanzo's hips, against the neatly-trimmed silver-white pubes at the base of Hanzo's cock. Belatedly he realized that he was babbling, combinations of "fuck" and "Hanzo" and "close".

With a final gasp he came, his vision going hazy at the edges as he released...fuck, what felt like years of pent-up stress. Hanzo swallowed around him as if he drank him down, continuing to work him until McCree was whimpering with overstimulation, his legs trembling with exhaustion.

"Fuck," McCree breathed as Hanzo just about lifted him bodily, just about bench pressing his hips up. His softening cock popped out of his mouth with a lewd sound and McCree whined, letting himself be manhandled by Hanzo into laying on the bed next to him.

Hanzo's cock was still hard, flushed and leaking into the condom. Leaning over McCree, his face buried in McCree's abdomen, Hanzo's hand worked his own cock, the wet sounds making his cock twitch in sleepy interest.

"Here," McCree said, his hand fumbling down past Hanzo's shoulders, felt the frantic motion of Hanzo's hand. "Here, come here." He dragged Hanzo up into a lazy kiss as his knuckles found Hanzo's cock. "Come on," he said as his fingers looped around the tip. "Come on, babe."

With a broken sound Hanzo shuddered, his eyes going hazy as he came. McCree pressed lazy kisses to his slack face, worked the tip of his cock through orgasm until Hanzo made a quiet sound, overstimulated.

For a long moment Hanzo let his head rest in the crook of McCree's neck, his breath hot and irregular against his skin. McCree let it, running a weak hand through Hanzo's starlight hair even as his cock began softening in the condom, threatening to make even more of a mess.

But Hanzo seemed to sense this, pushing himself to his feet and wobbling off into the attached bathroom. As he turned on the light McCree noticed an enormous tattoo that crossed his back, slid down his arms, curled down over the globes of his ass (magnificent that they were), and along the outsides of his thighs to his knees.

How he had missed that was beyond him but now as Hanzo drifted out of sight he admired them, how the graceful arcs accentuated his muscles and the abstract motifs they seemed to represent. He thought he saw a wolf or perhaps some kind of bird or snake but it was hard to tell as post-coital bliss sank deeper into his bones.

Hanzo returned, disappointingly dressed in another pair of boxers that did little to hide his slowly-softening cock and McCree's sleepy eyes lingered on his chest and the way that his golden tattoos framed his collarbones and hung over his chest like a mantle.

He yelped when Hanzo tossed a roll of paper towels at him, his light brown eyes amused. "Urinating after intercourse is healthy," he somehow managed to say with a straight face.

McCree groaned but obeyed, wobbling over to the bathroom to clean up. Now was the most awkward part...did he leave? Did he stay?

Would asking what Hanzo preferred be awkward?

He lingered in the bathroom for as long as he could before taking a deep breath and heading back out to the bedroom. Seeing him in the doorway, Hanzo looked up and smiled. It made his face seem years younger, made him seem more McCree's age though he was fairly certain that he and Hanzo were already the same age.

A thought for later.

"You are welcome to stay or go as you desire," he said. His eyes seemed golden now as his smile turned sly. "If you wake up early enough, we might even have a round two."

McCree couldn't help his almost needy whine but tried to play it off, tried to play it cool. But damn him for knowing just what he did to McCree.

He winked at Hanzo. "Only if I get to be the little spoon," he joked.

"Done," Hanzo said, leaving McCree momentarily stunned. He tugged down the covers of the bed. "Well?" he asked when McCree didn't move.

Heart rising in his throat with an emotion he didn't want to think about much less put a name to, McCree hurried over.

Chapter Text

McCree woke the next day, pleasantly sore, to an empty bed.

Something curdled low in his gut until he saw the curled slip of paper on the pillow next to him it said in neat script:

Come downstairs for breakfast when you’re ready.


Smiling despite himself, McCree slowly pushed himself to his feet and set about getting ready.

Hanzo’s room was luxurious but not ridiculously so. The floor was covered in soft carpet and still had the appearance of a raw wood interior as did the rest of the house. Now that it was morning the curtains were open and McCree went to them.

He wasn’t too surprised to find that he couldn’t open them—even in Red’s Gap the windows tended to be more decorative than practical for opening. It was a local superstition that apparently existed here as well.

That and closing all of the curtains after dark.

But he had gotten somewhat used to the strange quirks of these mountain towns and didn’t think too much of it.

Instead he hobbled to the bathroom and took a shower, luxuriating in the hot water as it eased his sore muscles. He wondered if he could score a Round 2 with Hanzo later, but that chance was probably gone if the other man had already gotten out of bed and left to do Mountain Lodge Chores (whatever they may be).

The primal part of him enjoyed the little stings as water and soap got into the bites and scratches on his back and stomach and he shivered in remembrance.

Eventually he climbed out of the shower, dried off on fluffy towels that smelled like cedar, and got dressed in his borrowed clothes. He wandered his way back to his own room and dressed quickly, putting everything back to sorts as we could manage.

He found Lúcio in the kitchen Lily and a Xolo dog, watching mournfully from beneath the table. Seeing him they both made soft wuff s in greeting and wagged their tails. Seeing him, Lúcio grinned. “Good morning!”

McCree smiled. “Good morning.”

“How did you sleep? Breakfast should be ready shortly and then we’ll go into town and see about getting a tow truck for your car.”

Swallowing the disappointment that he wouldn’t be riding behind Hanzo on his motorcycle again, McCree tried to shrug as nonchalantly as possible. “The bed was very comfortable. Very warm.”

So was the company.

As if he heard that last comment, Lúcio looked up with a sly smile but mercifully didn’t say anything. McCree wondered for a heart-stopping moment if he had somehow heard and looked away. “You…uh…don’t have any coffee by chance, do you?”

“Yup,” Lúcio said cheerfully. “On the table. I’ll get you a mug. If you take cream then we have some in the fridge.”

Trying to hold his blush, McCree poured himself a mug of coffee—perfectly dark with a strong, surprisingly nutty smell. “What flavor is this?”

Lúcio glanced over. “Just a regular dark roast,” he said. “Hanzo has his own way of doing things, though. Steeps it in water for a few days and then heats it up in the morning.”

“Cold brew,” McCree said automatically. “I saw a lot of it in the city.”

“I don’t miss the city very often, but I do sometimes miss the coffee.”

Curious, McCree leaned against the kitchen counter and watched Lúcio fuss with the stove and sink. “Where were you from? Which city?” he blinked. “And do you need any help, there?”

Lúcio shot him a grin. “How good are your knife skills? Think you can chop some vegetables for omelets?”

How are your knife skills, boy? A voice from the past echoed.

McCree gave a shaky smile. “Well enough,” he said. “But everything might be a little uneven.”

A chef’s knife doesn’t have the same weight as a switchblade. A switchblade doesn’t have the same heft as a hunting knife. You need to pick your battles because only one of these are easy to carry around. You never-

The Xolo head butted his knee and surprised, McCree looked down at it. It peered up at him, its thin, patchy fur giving it a diseased appearance, and gave him a happy canine grin, its tongue flopping out of its mouth.

Leaning down, McCree offered the back of his hand for the dog to sniff and it did so, butting its cold nose against his knuckles before leaning into it.

“It’s unusual that Kuma is so affectionate,” a voice said behind McCree and he jumped, spilling some of his coffee. “I suppose he has taken a liking to you.” the person the voice belonged to came into view and McCree gulped when he saw that it was Hanzo. The shirt he wore had cut sleeves to such a degree that it could hardly be called a shirt at all and revealed his muscles and the strange tattoo on his left arm. His hair was pulled back in a topknot, damp with sweat, and yet somehow still looked like something out of a modeling shoot.

McCree swallowed around a dry throat as the wolves—Yuki and Ame, he remembered belatedly—followed the man in.

“Just in time,” Lúcio said from the kitchen. “You can help me make the biscuits.”

Hanzo smiled ruefully. “My apologies, Lú,” he said. His almost-golden eyes were coy as they met McCree’s. “I got distracted.”

From the kitchen, Lúcio groaned theatrically. “I’m going to pretend that you meant that you were distracted by a horse giving birth .”

Feeling strangely like a blushing maiden, McCree looked down and saw the Xolo dog rubbing at the spilled coffee on the floor with a small dish towel. Putting his coffee on the counter, McCree knelt to help it. “Aren’t you clever?” he asked it quietly, hesitantly putting a hand on its strange-looking skin.

Hanzo moved over and past him, into the kitchen; a few minutes later he could hear a knife working through vegetables and breathed a sigh. The Xolo dog, apparently called Kuma, nudged its face and cold nose against his palms. He clenched his fists, trying to stop them from shaking, and took a deep breath.

With soulful eyes Kuma lay down, stretched its entire body out and unable to help himself, McCree reached out to stroke its pointed nose and narrow forehead, the fine and wiry hairs there rasping against his palm. Kuma’s tail wagged and it nudged its head into McCree’s hand.

From the kitchen, McCree could hear Lúcio and Hanzo talking in a language that wasn’t English. A few words sounded like Spanish but the accents were wrong and there were strange inflections. Perhaps another dialect of Spanish?

He played with Kuma for a few minutes more, relaxing to the steady sound of Hanzo chopping vegetables, of the sizzle of something on the stove, and the pleased little sounds that Kuma made in the back of its throat. When his knees began to ache he sat down on his butt and Kuma wiggled so that its head was in his lap.

What felt like only a moment later, he looked up to find Hanzo looking down at him with a tender smile on his face. “Are you ready for breakfast?” he asked. “The biscuits will be a few minutes more but right now everything else is ready.”

“Oh,” McCree said and Kuma sighed. “Yes, I’m sorry.”

Hanzo held out a hand to help him up and Kuma wiggled away, the picture of canine despair at having its— his , McCree mentally corrected after glancing back at the dog—new playmate taken away. Blushing, McCree took the offered hand and was pulled hard enough to stand too close to Hanzo.

“Don’t be,” Hanzo murmured softly. “Sometimes we all need to take a break.”

Then he was gone, having turned and walked back toward the dining room. Yuki glanced over at McCree and he swore that the wolf seemed reproachful before turning and trotting into the dining room as well. Grabbing his coffee, McCree found a place at the table across from Lúcio and they all sat down to eat.

The meal was eaten in silence but it wasn’t awkward. All four dogs curled up in a corner nearby, Kuma’s eyes resting on McCree.

“I’m surprised that they don’t beg,” McCree said as he watched them.

“Hanzo is a very good trainer,” Lúcio said with a laugh as the white-haired man stood and walked into the kitchen. “He’s just good at everything.”

Hanzo snorted. “Not everything,” he said. “Just most things.”

“And he’s terribly vain. He takes hours to get ready for anything and spends more money on personal care products than I do on dog food or medical supplies.”

The look that Hanzo shot Lúcio was distinctly not amused and McCree watched as Lúcio stuck his tongue out. “For that,” Hanzo said, bringing over a steaming tray of biscuits. “You don’t get a biscuit right out of the oven.”

“I’ve survived without your biscuits for almost thirty years,” Lúcio retorted. “I think I can survive a morning without one.”

Hanzo served them and plopped an enormous biscuit on McCree’s plate. A moment later he was back with a basting brush and a small jar which he used to slather something on the top. “Honey and butter,” Hanzo said. “Do you want preserves with your biscuit?”

Both men grinned when he made a high, whining sound—not unlike a dog—at how much food was put in front of him.

After breakfast Hanzo went back outside, taking Yuki and Ame with him. “He comforts with food,” Lúcio explained when the other man was gone. “He was telling me that he was very concerned when he saw you walking alone as it was getting dark. There are things in these woods that you don’t want to encounter.”

McCree frowned. “A lot of people have been telling me that,” he admitted as he helped to load the dishwasher.

“These mountains are old,” Lúcio told him. “Things that people would rather forget live unseen in the trees.” They both looked out of the kitchen window. McCree could see the grassy fields, a few horses, and a few dogs running around. To the side he could see the edges of a garden and a shallow creek lined with rocks as it rushed past.

Beyond were the dark smears of the trees, a grey and green haze like a lurking shadow at the edges of the field.

McCree could see Hanzo interacting with a horse and its baby (foal? Calf? What were baby horses called?) and figured that it was probably the one that he had missed dinner for.

“Things in this area are… different ,” Lúcio said quietly.

Curious, McCree looked at him. “A lot of people have told me that, too,” he said. “And that the trees have their own life.”

Lúcio nodded, still looking out of the window. It was a pose and a gesture that McCree had seen many times. He wondered, even though he would never ask, what had happened to Lúcio that put that kind of haze in his eyes.

“Were you traveling through?” Lúcio asked after a moment. He began scrubbing down the pots and pans that wouldn’t go in the dishwasher. “Or were you planning on staying in Clay Creek?”

McCree shrugged, not commenting on the abrupt subject change. “I got a week off from work,” he said. “Thought that I’d check out the whole White Wolf business.”

“Ah,” Lúcio said. “Are you staying in town?”

“If they’d have me. This was all kind of last-minute.”

Lúcio glanced at him. “I see,” he said.

“Speaking of,” McCree said. “How much do I owe for the room? I realized that I should have asked last night.”

“What do you mean?”

McCree made a vague gesture with a dish towel as Lúcio handed him pan to dry. “You know,” he said. “How much do you charge per night? I didn’t really check in here and it was nice of you to let me stay but I want to be sure I at least pay for everything.”

Bracing his elbows on the edge of the sink, Lúcio hung his head so that his dreads nearly touched the water.

“And,” McCree said slowly, wondering what he was saying wrong. “If there are no rooms in town, if I could come back and rent a room here.”

Lúcio sighed. “Wolf Lodge?” he asked the water in the sink.


The doctor nodded and with a soapy hand opened the kitchen window, yelling something out in the language from earlier. It startled the baby horse (whatever it was called) and both it and its mother darted away from Hanzo who turned to peer at Lúcio.

Hanzo yelled something back and made an exaggerated motion as if to say “what do you want me to do?”

Grumbling, Lúcio closed the window. “The town calls this place the Wolf Lodge as a joke,” Lúcio explained to McCree tiredly. “This is Hanzo’s house.” Lúcio sighed. “Not a bed-and-breakfast.”

For a long moment McCree processed that. “Oh,” he said weakly.


They cleaned dishes in awkward silence. Kuma snorted, sounding strangely amused, as if he were laughing. “Well,” Lúcio said as they finished up and he rinsed the sink of suds and leftover food. “I’m sure Hanzo wouldn’t mind if you want to come back regardless,” he said with a pained look on his face. “ I certainly don’t mind and neither do the dogs, it seems.”

In unison they looked at Kuma and Lily who wore relaxed canine grins.

McCree cleared his throat. “I’d…hate to impose.”

“Not an imposition. A bit out of the way for the town, but there are nice hiking trails nearby. They are among the safer ones, too.” Lúcio dried his hands. “Whenever you’re ready we can head into town and see what we can do about your car. I need to go into town, anyway.”

He led McCree outside to the truck and found Hanzo already there, zipping his leathers on and packing a little covered carrier on the back of his bike. “Take Kuma with you,” Hanzo told Lúcio.

With a last wink at McCree, he slid his helmet on.

“I feel like I’m being chaperoned,” McCree observed a few minutes into the drive with Lúcio. Hanzo rode on his motorcycle just ahead of them, Yuki and Ame running on the path beside the road. In the backseat of the truck, Kuma and Lily sat, their tongues lolling out as they stuck their heads out the windows.

Lúcio grinned but his grip tightened on the wheel as they drove through a patch of mist that clung to the shadows of the trees. “Something like that,” Lúcio agreed. “See, this area is still somewhat wild. Every family has at least a dog with them to ward off animal attacks.”

“There’s been a lot of those lately,” McCree said, forcing his tone to remain even. As if he were discussing the weather.

The doctor next to him hummed in agreement as they drove through another patch of mist. Once they were through, McCree saw that Yuki and Ame had disappeared and that Lily and Kuma were both alert, their relaxed expressions gone as their ears pricked forward alertly, scanning the trees around the road.

Ahead of them, Hanzo glanced over his shoulder at them and slowed down, moving slowly to drive up beside Lúcio’s window. He made a few gestures that Lúcio seemed to understand; the doctor nodded and McCree twisted in his seat to watch Hanzo brake again to fall behind them before he turned the handlebars of his cycle sharply.

Hanzo disappeared into the trees and McCree could hear howling.

“Where’s he going?” McCree asked. “What happened?”

“He heard something on the radio,” Lúcio said smoothly enough that McCree was sure that it was a lie. “Went to go check it out.”

In the backseat, McCree could hear Kuma’s low growls and saw that his eyes were trained outside as if searching for something. The truck jerked as Lúcio pressed on the gas, the engine whining louder as they climbed up another hill.

The town of Clay Creek was typically called Wolf Creek as motifs of the Wolf were supposedly as prevalent as aliens in Roswell. McCree wasn’t quite sure what to expect but…this certainly wasn’t it.

The roads in and out of town were guarded by large gate-like structures that looked more reminiscent of Japanese temple gates than anything you’d see in the middle of nowhere in the mountains this far from Japan. Like trees they rose with shapes carved into their sides, polished by time and care by the town.

McCree couldn’t quite recognize their shapes, whatever faces there (if any) worn away enough that they were only blind eyes and gasping mouths. On the lintel that connected the two great poles was a wooden carving not unlike what he’d expect to see in China: a long dragon, its bird-like talons extended as if to grasp at something beyond it.

But instead of a dragon it was a wolf, its tail arched so that its reared neck and head and tail seemed to emulate the moon.

Aside from the gates, the town seemed much like Red’s Gap. There were a lot of bumper stickers with the Wolf’s white paw and every shop window had the white paw outlined in gold.

Though still clearly uneasy about something, Lúcio pointed out some of the major sights. Tourism wasn’t really a thing this far in the mountains but every once in a while an adventurous group would wander through wanting tours.

Lúcio advised that if he wanted a hiking tour, to not trust just anyone. At the very least he should talk to Lúcio and Hanzo and take Kuma with him.

He pointed out the grocery, the only hotel in town, the pet store, the diner, the park. As McCree would expect from someone living in such a small town he had stories for each, describing a corned beef hash dish at the diner or that time a kid had thought that the hotel was haunted and had tried to use a Ouija board to summon the spirits.

“The forest is plenty haunted enough,” Lúcio said with a laugh. “We don’t need a demon on top of it.”

He pointed out the “recreation center” that doubled as a movie theatre and a local hangout for teenagers. It had a basketball court and a weight room as well.

“People merge things here,” Lúcio said. “Sometimes they don’t go well together but what’s the alternative?”

After a few turns, Lúcio parked in front of a dilapidated building and let the dogs out. Kuma stuck to McCree’s side, much to his surprise, falling into his shadow off his right heel as he followed Lúcio to the store.

“Dogs are allowed in most buildings,” Lúcio added over his shoulder. Lily was in his shadow as well, the picture of ease.

Inside they found an older man in a faded gingham shirt. His hair was all white and one blue eye was a few shades lighter than the other. At first McCree thought that he was That Guy, the stereotypical old man that looked like he was always sucking on a lemon, but then he turned his face more into the dim yellow light and McCree could see the pale scar that pulled his mouth down.

“Lúcio,” he said, his eyes lingering on McCree before turning away. He had a rough voice that sounded as if his lungs were made of tough leather. “Trouble?”

Lúcio shrugged. “Just a bit,” he said. “Have you heard from Hanzo?”

A strange expression crossed the other man’s face. “Heard howling,” he said. “But the world’s heard the howling.”

That seemed to satisfy Lúcio and he relaxed. “This is Just Jesse,” he said, gesturing to McCree. “He ran into some trouble with his car last night.” McCree was fixed with a hard look with eyes like ice. “Just Jesse, this is Jack.”

“What’s wrong with your car, Just Jesse?” the man called Jack asked. There was a clicking sound behind the counter and a large dog peeked out. It was a pitbull, its fur grey in such a way that it almost looked lavender.

McCree shrugged. “Hell if I know,” he said ruefully. “Ain’t the best at cars.” He cleared his throat. “But I took a break at the rest stop and when I tried to start it again, it wouldn’t go.”

“Would the engine turn over?”

Again, McCree shrugged. “I don’t know what that means,” he admitted.

“When you turned the key, did the engine just click and not start?” McCree nodded. “Radio go on?” McCree nodded again. “Then the next time you tried, the battery was dead?”

Tilting his head to the side, McCree peered at the man. “This happen often?”

“Only in this area.” Jack grunted as he got to his feet and came out from behind the counter. “Let’s go get it,” he said. Then he squinted at Lúcio. “You coming with us, too?”

“Only if you need me to keep you from killing him,” Lúcio replied. “I need to stock up on supplies. Hanzo’s saying it’s going to be a rough few days in our corner, so I’m going to get what I can today.”

Jack grunted again. “Come on,” he said to McCree. “You can come with me to get your car or you can hang out with Lúcio. It’d probably be best if you came along, though.”

He didn’t wait for McCree to respond, walking quickly out a side door and pausing just long enough to hold it open for the dog.

“Man of few words, huh?” McCree asked Lúcio who shrugged.

“Jack’s always been like that,” Lúcio admitted. “At least as far as I could tell. He takes protecting the town seriously. There are only so many police officers here, you know. Even less than Red’s Gap, I’d guess.” He looked seriously at McCree. “Will you be okay, though? If you don’t want to go with him, you don’t have to.”

McCree shrugged though he turned Lúcio’s words over and over in his head as he followed the other man out of the small shop. Somewhere nearby he could hear a large engine turn over.

“I’ve dealt with worse,” he assured Lúcio.

The other man peered at him and then nodded. “Okay,” he said dubiously. “Keep Kuma with you, though. As long as you’re here, at least. You never know what you’d run into in these woods.”

“Wolves?” McCree joked.

Lúcio nodded solemnly. “Those are the least of your problems. Kuma at least can help and when you’re about to leave, he’ll find his way back to Hanzo. They always do.” He grinned suddenly, a little sly. “You’re welcome to stay with us, too,” he added. “I know Hanzo would be happy to have you.” McCree blushed. “But if you have any issue, just ask anyone to call me or Hanzo,” he added seriously. “They know how to get a hold of us.”

With a final wave, Lúcio jumped back in the truck, Lily hopping in the bed, and he drove away.

The sound of another engine drew close and Jack pulled up in a large tow truck that looked to be more rust than metal. Or perhaps that was just the paint job: plain and brown with the words MORRISON TOWING on the side. In the backseat, the dog he had seen leaned out, its tongue lolling happily.

“Well?” Jack asked grumpily. “Get in.”

McCree climbed into the cab and jumped when Kuma jumped in his lap. With a grunt, Jack lowered the armrest between the chairs and jerked a thumb in the back; Kuma scrambled through the gap to sit beside the big pitbull already there. The two of them touched noses and then moved to their separate windows.

“I’m surprised that the goblin likes you,” Jack said gruffly as he shifted the car into gear. It groaned and shuddered so terribly that McCree was afraid that it would fall apart before it moved forward. “He hates just about everybody except Hanzo. Won’t let anyone come near him.”


McCree looked behind him at the dog who, oblivious, had stuck his nose out the open window in the back. “Really?”

“Not even Lúcio,” Jack confirmed. “Ugly as sin with a personality to match. Like a shaved ball sack.” He snorted. “Now, where’s your car?”

“There was a lookout,” McCree remembered. “Past the Wolf Lodge.”

Jack snorted. “Coming from the south?” he asked. “From Redstone?”

It took McCree a moment to translate that in his head. Though most tended to call it Red’s Gap, the town was actually called Redstone Gap. Everyone in the town called it Red’s Gap but those passing through called it by its formal and proper name from whatever map or GPS they had found it on. The older ones and some neighboring towns called it Redstone.

“Yes,” McCree said slowly.

“I was just there the other day,” Jack said, looking at McCree out of the corner of his eye. “Visiting a friend.”

McCree kept his mouth shut. He remembered Ana saying that a friend had been coming to visit.

He also remembered that Sheriff Galbraith had told him that a sheriff had been coming from Clay Creek to discuss. Galbraith had called him Morrison .

But that was hardly unusual. Morrison seemed like a common enough name and these small mountain towns meant that people sometimes wore multiple hats. So a sheriff could also be a tow truck driver.

McCree swallowed and tried not to project his nervousness. If he was right, then this was exactly the person that Sheriff Galbraith told him to avoid. “Small world,” he said instead.  

Jack grunted but said nothing more as they drove out of town. “Most people know better than to come up the south road,” he said gruffly. “When you go back, make sure you go west or east and then south. These woods are dangerous and the direct south route most dangerous of all.”

“My GPS kept taking me weird places,” McCree admitted. “I stopped by a gas station and they suggested I take that road.”

“Well now you know,” Jack said. “Don’t take that road.”

They drove in silence for a while. “I wonder if Hanzo is still out here,” McCree wondered to kill the silence. Even the radio was quiet, turned off. There was no CD or cassette playing and no other sound save for the rushing of wind from the rear windows being open. “He started riding with us earlier today but veered off.”

“Great,” Jack muttered. His knuckles turned white as he tightly gripped the wheel.

It was another few bends and stomach-churning drops that McCree didn’t remember walking or riding with Hanzo before they came across the lookout that had McCree’s car.

“That’s my friend’s Jeep,” Jack said as he pulled to a stop, turning to peer at McCree.

“Ana let me borrow it,” McCree told him.

Jack grunted. “So you’re that kid.” He looked in the backseat and McCree was spared his intense, ice-like glare. Both dogs were staring out the same window, their ears pricked forward. “Stay here,” he told McCree gruffly. He jabbed a finger first at McCree and then down toward the car. “In the car. Right here. Stay.”

Feeling much like a dog McCree frowned but obeyed, watching as Jack opened the back door to let the pitbull out. Kuma stayed behind, his ears and eyes alert as he looked around at the surrounding trees.

Twisting in his seat, McCree watched the other dog circle his Jeep, Jack standing back out of its way. Then the dog snorted, sneezed, and returned to Jack, its short fur standing up on end. He leaned down to scratch behind its blocky head, murmuring quietly to it.

Jack returned to the tow truck and held out a hand to McCree. “Keys.” When McCree handed them over, he closed the door again and walked to the Jeep and shifted it into neutral. Feeling quite useless, McCree watched as he pushed the car back, adjusted it so that he could get the tow rig under it, and then moved his truck in place.

“Do you need help?” McCree asked hesitantly.

“I got it,” Jack said shortly as he parked the car and lowered the rig. “Stay in here.”

Twiddling his thumbs, McCree settled lower in his seat, a little sullenly.

Jack got back in the car a few moments later and then they were off again. The dogs were still tense, staring out at the passing trees as if they could see something in them. They relaxed as soon as they passed a turnoff that McCree recognized as belonging to Hanzo’s house, their tongues lolling out and their tails wagging.

Leaning to look in the side-view mirror McCree thought he saw something like a many-legged creature cross the road but it was probably only a patch of mist.

Jack didn’t charge him much to tow the truck and aside from a few other pleasantries drove off without speaking much more.

He seemed strangely rattled and McCree knew better than to bring it up. Jack seemed like the proud sort so bringing it up would make things worse before it got better.

But he did tell McCree that Kuma didn’t need a collar. A Xolo dog like him was distinct; everyone knew he belonged to Hanzo so he could wander around as he liked.

The mechanic in town was a woman by the name of Satya; her dog, as McCree was learning to look for, was one of those dogs that had the reversed fur on its spine and it wagged its tail when it saw McCree.

Satya was as short and curt as Jack was, but it was in a very business-forward sort of way. And by the way she didn’t quite meet his eyes told more of a tale than her very awkward refusal to shake his hand. She asked him very direct questions and though she seemed surprised that he didn’t understand what she was asking, she made no fuss about backing down and explaining them in smaller words and concepts that he could.

She had him stay around for a few minutes while she read the computer on the Jeep and did a quick inspection of the car. After giving him a proposed list of fixes (color-coded in a rather intimidating way) and receiving his approval or denial of them, she gave him an estimated time, priced it, and sent him on his way with a promise to call him when it was done or if she ran into a snag.

Again she didn’t shake his hand but gave him an almost shy little smile, just a little tic of the corner of her lips, as he left, Kuma once more in his shadow.

“You’re very well-behaved,” he told the Xolo dog and as if understanding that he had done good Kuma gave a good-natured grin up at him. “Shall we see if the pet store has any treats for you?”

Kuma’s ears ticked forward at treats .

For a while McCree wandered the streets. There were a few small shops and a small daycare with glass windows. Peeking in, McCree saw a bunch of children playing with four dogs while two teachers looked on.

“What a strange place,” McCree told Kuma quietly.

Most of the people he saw on the street also had dogs; only a few of them were on leashes. When he got to the park, he could see as many dogs watching the children as he could see parents. There were dogs like sentinels at the outdoor seating areas for the diner. Seeing him pass, their ears pricked forward but like well-trained service dogs they didn’t otherwise budge.

Coming upon the pet store, McCree paused with his hand on the door, looking down at Kuma whose tail was wagging excitedly. “Are you allowed in here?” he wondered. Then he saw a “Pets Welcome” sign and shrugged, opening the door.

There was a young woman behind the counter who brightened upon seeing McCree. “Kuma!” she exclaimed in surprise when she saw the dog at his heel. She looked thoughtfully at McCree. “Kuma doesn’t approach just anyone, you know.”

“So I’ve heard,” McCree said. “I just thought…I’d get him a treat or something. Since he seems to be following me all around.”

The woman grinned and came out from behind the counter. “He’s just doing what he was ordered to do,” she said and walked to a nearby glass jar. Beside him, Kuma was nearly beside himself with excitement, wagging his tail hard enough to make his whole body wiggle. “These are his favorite, I think,” she said. “At least of the treats that aren’t from Hanzo himself.”

She handed the treat to him. It was a piece of jerky and he almost dropped it, remembering Ana’s story.

Remembering the strange, many-legged mist-creature he had seen. But it had just been the mist…


He found Lúcio as he was loading the back of the truck with supplies, mostly canned things. “Hey!” Lúcio said brightly when he saw McCree, dusting his hands and leaning against the tailgate. “How’d things go?”

“Er…Jack and I went to get the car and then we dropped it off at the mechanic’s.”

Lúcio’s brow crinkled. “I hope it was Satya’s?”

“There are two in this tiny-ass town?”

The frown that made Lúcio’s face seem far older disappeared as he laughed. “Two,” he said. “But Satya’s better for the cars and trucks. The Junkers are better for salvaging. They can fix things in a pinch but it’s best not to visit them if you can help it.”

McCree shrugged. “Satya gave me an estimated time,” he said. “And hopefully I’ll be on my way.” He scratched his nose, looking around. No one else was out. “Question though…is that all Jack does? Just the towing?”

Lúcio frowned. “We all do more than one thing,” he said. “You need to, with a town this small. Jack’s also the sheriff.”

“Ah,” McCree said.

Sheriff Galbraith was going to kill him.

“He’s been on edge lately,” Lúcio continued, seemingly oblivious. “Those deaths in the neighboring towns have been concerning. Hanzo isn’t really predicting that bad of a winter so if the animals are reacting already…” he shook his head. He glanced at McCree and smiled ruefully. “But look at me, talking about work stuff when you’re on vacation. Hop in, I’ll give you a ride.”

Lúcio was kind enough to give him a ride back to Satya’s and strangely enough opted to wait outside for McCree. “We never really got along,” he explained vaguely. “I try not to hold grudges and I’m pretty sure that she is incapable of it, but it’s hard to let go sometimes, you know?”

Nodding, McCree walked in. Satya seemed strangely agitated, an enormous change from the calm and collected woman he had met with when he dropped Ana’s Jeep off. The dog at her side seemed similarly agitated, pacing behind the counter. It stilled when they walked in, its ears pricking forward and it gave a little wag of its tail.

Seeing him, Satya murmured to the dog who groaned in a very human-like way and lay down. “I had to order parts,” Satya told him, her lips curled in displeasure and her eyes burning a hole in the wall beside McCree’s ear. They flicked to meet McCree’s for a fraction of a second and then darted away to the computer behind her desk. “It will be delayed one more day. The Junkers got them to expedite it at no additional charge so it will be delivered early tomorrow morning.”

“I was planning to stay in the area for a few days,” McCree told her. “I got a bit distracted or I would have gone to check out the hotel and book a room.” He laughed nervously. “As long as, a few days from now, I can make it back to Red’s Gap.”

Satya frowned but McCree didn’t think it was necessarily at him. “Red’s Gap?” she echoed to herself. The dog in the corner grunted and she glanced at it then back at McCree. “I will have it ready tomorrow,” she said. “By noon at the very latest, unless something goes wrong with shipping. So far in the mountains, it sometimes does.”

“What was wrong with it?” McCree asked tentatively.

“I had thought that I was replacing a small part instead of the whole thing,” Satya replied. “It looks like an animal had gotten to it.”

This time it was McCree’s turn to frown. “That doesn’t sound good.” Satya’s eyes lifted and this time held his. “I was sitting just a few feet away. Was it a squirrel or something?”

Satya’s lips thinned. Her eyes still held his, intense in a way that he knew wasn’t quite her intention. “Bigger,” she said at last. “Much bigger.”

“She said it’ll be ready tomorrow by noon,” McCree told Lúcio when he left the shop, his belongings he had taken from Ana’s Jeep car slung over his shoulders. “She had to order extra parts. Something apparently took a nibble on it.”

Lúcio frowned. “That’s not good.”

“Well, I was going to stay in the area for a few days,” McCree said with a shrug. “It’s not a huge deal so long as I stay in town. Everything seems to be within walking distance.”

“Yeah,” Lúcio agreed. “Just don’t go out after sunset and you’re golden.”

McCree blinked. “Not even for dinner?” Lúcio shook his head solemnly. “Huh.”

“Alternatively,” the other man said with a sly smile. “You can come back and stay another night with us. I’m sure Hanzo wouldn’t mind.” McCree found himself blushing, opening and closing his mouth as he tried to find a way to respond. “And I need to come back into town tomorrow morning so I can totally drop you off. Then you can do your own thing in the morning, or whatever sightseeing you want to do.”

“It’s tempting,” McCree admitted. For a lot of reasons. “Are you sure Hanzo wouldn’t mind?”

Lúcio laughed. “The opposite, I’m sure,” he said. “Don’t play coy, man.” He jerked his thumb toward the truck. “Come on, get in.”

They drove for a bit until McCree asked the other man to stop by the enormous carved gate.

“Local legend says that the Wolf put them there,” Lúcio said as they both climbed out. “One at every road leading out of town but none quite as large as this one. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

McCree nodded wordlessly, staring up at each great column. As he had noted before time had weathered away some of the detail but up close McCree could see that they were wolves. Their eyes were painted gold, their mouths white, and a few had fading red paint along their cheeks and eyes.

“Well, it wasn’t quite the Wolf,” Lúcio amended, sticking his hands in his pockets. “But the man they said would become the Wolf.”

Frowning, McCree thought back to the book he had borrowed from Ana. He hadn’t gotten very far in it but perhaps he should read more. “The Wolf is a man?” then he thought of the story Ana had told him of the boy in the woods and the man that led him out. “Or is he a wolf?”

“Both,” Lúcio said quietly. “They say that he can move back and forth between Wolf and Man with the ability to speak to all manner of wild beast. The first settlers of this mountain were plagued by the animals of the mountain until he came and quieted them. He trained their dogs to be their companions and defenders and now their descendants still protect the descendants of those first settlers.”

McCree scratched at his beard. “Where did the man come from?” he asked.

“No one knows. I’m not sure he told anyone.”

McCree laughed and wiggled his fingers. “Mysterious,” he said. “I got a book in my bag somewhere about it.”

“We have more at the Lodge,” Lúcio said with a laugh. “And I’m sure Hanzo has a bunch of stories he could share.” He watched as McCree dug out his camera and took pictures of the totems and the little plaque next to it.

“This wasn’t quite what I had expected,” McCree admitted as they left town.

Lúcio glanced at him, a smile ticking up the corner of his mouth. “Oh?”

“I don’t know what I expected. Maybe something like Roswell.”

The car jerked as Lúcio threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, Roswell! You should ask Hanzo how his trip there went! Too hot for him, the poor thing.”

McCree shrugged. “Never been,” he admitted. “My Mamá and Papá moved when I was really young. Too young to remember.” Lúcio clicked his tongue sympathetically. “There was this gang. More like a terrorist group, really. They were growing real large in the area and even though Papá wanted to stay and fight he didn’t want to leave Mamá and I behind without him. So we all packed up and left.”

“Sucks, man,” Lúcio said. “That why you became a detective?”

“Yup,” McCree admitted. “Wanted to be just like Papá.”

Lúcio snorted. “But you guys lived in Roswell ?”

Now feeling silly for spilling out his story like some kind of cheesy monologuing villain in a comic book, McCree shook his head. “Santa Fe,” he said. “But every time I say I was born in New Mexico someone asks about Roswell.”

Huffing a laugh, Lúcio shook his head. “Grew up in Brazil,” he told McCree. “Toyed with being a musician and I did some of that on the side to pay for school. Managed to get enough to get my mom and my sisters out of the favelas and we all moved to the US. Here musicians are a dime a dozen but I still made some good tips when I performed on the streets. Went to med school and-” he gestured vaguely to the trees around them. “-here I am.”

McCree nodded awkwardly and they fell into silence as they drove. “There’s a lot of mist here,” he grumbled as they drove through a patch. “It’s so creepy.”

“I know,” Lúcio groaned. “But these trees are old and so are the mountains. They say a lot of things that man has no name for grow here.” He glanced at McCree. “That’s why you don’t go out at night. You never know what you might find.”

Unable to help himself, McCree shivered. He thought about the boy and his dog and the monster he had seen.

Chapter Text

Just as they had before, their arrival was heralded by the baying of what sounded like a hundred dogs. They all ran down the road and lined its sides, bouncing and barking excitedly. They seemed just as excited to see McCree this time, swirling around him and wagging their tails though they didn’t jump on him, just butted their faces and noses into his knees and thighs.

He helped Lúcio carry the groceries in through a door on the side that led to an enormous pantry filled with canned goods. Most of them appeared to be sauces or pickles or jams and preserves and McCree stared around in awe.

“Hanzo makes cheese, too,” Lúcio whispered to McCree. “And jerky. And ages meat. He’s a freak.”

Laughing, Lúcio ducked out as McCree continued to stare. None of the dogs walked in here, clustered around the doorway. Even Kuma was there, peering around the corner with his floppy ears perked forward.

“Oh,” Lúcio said breezily from the car as he handed the wolf dogs and Lily more bags. “They do that. Hanzo’s got them well trained. They don’t go in the pantry though, so you will need to take the bags from them. For the smaller things in bags it’ll be easier. We’ll get Hanzo to deal with the larger pallets of things.”

Despite Lúcio’s protests, McCree carried a few of the pallets of cleaning supplies and empty mason jars and such while the dogs trotted beside him, carrying their own burdens. After setting the heavy stuff down in the pantry, McCree returned to the doorway to collect their smaller bags and put them aside.

Lúcio ducked into the pantry and waved away his help so he stayed outside with the dogs, cautiously petting the wolf dogs and telling them and Lily how good they were for helping. They gave him silly canine grins and wiggled against him as they solicited scritches and caresses.

Remembering the jerky the attendant at the gas station had given him, he dug around in his bags and pulled them out. Turning he found that the wolf dogs’ grins had faded and their ears had swiveled back.

Not that McCree was fluent in the language of dogs but he wasn’t sure that the swivel was a bad thing so he wiggled a hand into the bag and pulled out a piece which he offered to the dogs. Lily, wagging his tail, approached but one of the wolf dogs knocked him aside.

Both of them had their ears flat to their skulls, their lips peeled back in snarls.

Unsure of what to do against such large dogs if they chose to behave aggressively, McCree very slowly backed away.

“What’s wrong?” he heard Hanzo ask and the crunch of gravel and the slurp of mud as he approached. He knew better than to turn his eyes away from the dogs but they had taken their attention off of him, their ears pressed back.

McCree realized that their tails were tucked between their legs and their fur was fluffed out. They whined as Hanzo approached and hid behind his legs.

“I tried to give them a treat,” McCree said. “For helping.”

Hanzo frowned and held out his hand. McCree gave him the piece of jerky which he looked over and then held out to the wolf dogs. To McCree’s astonishment they both whimpered and then snarled, swiveling back and forth between the emotions as they hid further behind Hanzo’s legs.

The other man knelt—quite bravely or perhaps stupidly, in McCree’s humble opinion—and spoke to them in a quiet voice. They butted their furry heads against his face and shoulders, their ears pinned back. It was almost as if they spoke back to him, making low grunting and groaning and whining noises and Hanzo listened as if he understood.

At last, as their conference seemed to come to a close, Hanzo nodded and stood up. He held the strip of jerky up to his face, inspected it, and then gestured toward McCree. “Where did you get this?” he asked.

“Sorry,” McCree said, rubbing the back of his head. “Should I not have done it?”

There was an odd expression on Hanzo’s face. “Where did you get this?” Hanzo asked again.

McCree gestured vaguely. “A gas station attendant gave it to me,” he said. “Got a bit lost coming up from Red’s Gap and stopped to get some gas. The attendant said…well, I suppose that’s what I get for trusting a seedy gas station. I’m real sorry.”

“Hnn,” Hanzo said and held out his hand. “Do you have the rest of it?” McCree handed the bag over and Hanzo tucked the strip back in and closed the bag tightly. “I don’t even know where to begin,” Hanzo said slowly. He lifted the bag in his hands. “This is poisoned. And where did you say you saw this gas station?”

“Over the mountain?” McCree asked, trying to remember the name of the town it had been near. “Down the road you found me on, hang a right, and then it’s a little thing on the side of the road.”

Hanzo looked at him thoughtfully, an unreadable expression on his face. “It does not do well to trust places like that,” he said.

“Well, they gave me directions,” McCree said. “And a little map. I was a bit turned around and my GPS kept taking me in weird directions.”

“There is no direct route from Red’s Gap to Clay Creek,” Hanzo said. “And no one comes over the road in the direction I had found you so I had wondered why you went that way.”

Digging around in his bag and then slapping down his pockets, McCree pulled out the map and spread it over the hood of the truck. He squinted to find the roads and Hanzo leaned helpfully over, pointing out Red’s Gap and then Clay Creek.

“You’re off-course,” he said gruffly. “Your GPS probably took you here, right?” he traced a red line that wound east and then west again as it snaked north. Shortly before the little dot that marked Clay Creek it veered west and branched off into a few smaller roads that arched northwest. He traced a convoluted path of a few small roads that would eventually lead him north and then east and then south to Clay Creek.

McCree carefully traced the bends and tapped the main road before it curved westward. “It was just off here,” he remembered. “There was this tiny little exit and a little gas station sign I could see just off it.” He shrugged. “I was feeling a bit hungry and I fancied a snack. They gave me the jerky there, said it was good to give to the dogs ‘just in case’, and gave me the map and some directions.”

For a long moment Hanzo said nothing. “There is a reason that almost no one goes on those roads,” he said at last. “Likely he played on your…lack of knowledge of the area.”

Outsider . It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it even indirectly like this, but it still hurt to hear it in Hanzo’s low voice.

As if he read his mind, Hanzo’s golden eyes flicked to him. “Very few people know why,” he explained. “And this map is very old, probably made around the time the road as first built. No one goes on it so the newer versions and most GPS systems will ignore it. But a local would know better than to take you that way—and a local would know better than to give you tainted meat.”

Lúcio came out of the pantry and found them frowning over the map. “What’s wrong?” he asked as he came over.

“I need to go,” Hanzo said. “I’m taking the truck.”

Sighing as if he were put out rather than annoyed, Lúcio tossed the keys at Hanzo. “Will you unload the pet food when you get back?” He looked at McCree as Hanzo opened the tailgate and whistled; Yuki and Ame hopped in. “Do you have everything out of the truck? Speak now because once Hanzo’s gone it’ll be hard to get him back.”

Confused, McCree looked back and forth between Hanzo and Lúcio. “No, I-”

The roar of the engine cut him off and Hanzo backed quickly out of the driveway; the dogs lounging there scattered, their tails wagging. They chased the truck for a bit and then returned to their relaxation.

“Why not take the motorcycle?” McCree asked.

Lúcio shrugged with a strangely guilty look on his face. “What’s gotten him so worked up?” he asked. “Come on, I’ll make us some sandwiches to hold us over until dinner.”

The other man listened as he pulled out materials for sandwiches. “Tainted meat?” he asked, sounding rightfully alarmed. “Did he say how?”

McCree shook his head guiltily. “I feel bad,” he admitted. “It was dumb of me-”

But Lúcio was already shaking his head. “Better you tested it on Yuki and Ame than eating it yourself,” he said seriously. “I don’t know what was wrong with it but I’m glad it was something they could sense.”

“What’s gotten him so worked up?”

Lúcio shrugged. “He kind of does his own thing,” he admitted. “Half the time I’m not even sure what he does. But if it sent him speeding off like that, it must be pretty important.”

They ate in silence for a while, lingering on their own thoughts. The good food sat like cold lead in his stomach, guilt eating away at him that he had potentially nearly killed Hanzo’s dogs.

As if sensing the downward spiral of his mood, Lúcio nudged him as they were cleaning up. “Come on, wanna see a baby horse? She needs a checkup and I could use an extra set of hands.”

It was late and McCree and Lúcio were about to clean up their dinner when they heard Lúcio’s truck pull into the driveway.

The back door opened and Hanzo, followed by his dogs, walked in as if a dark cloud hung over them. “You look like you have a burr caught in your tail,” Lúcio said though his cheerful voice fell flat into the foul mood lingering over Hanzo.

Hanzo made himself a heaping plate of food and sat down tiredly. “I’ll clean up,” Hanzo told Lúcio who nodded. “You all go to bed.”

Biting his lip, McCree obeyed at Lúcio’s nod. Kuma followed him upstairs and lay across the doorway.

Even taking a hot shower didn’t relax McCree, nor did the luxury of another long soak. He felt like what he thought animals might feel before a coming storm: like ants crawled beneath his skin, like he could smell the lightning in the air as it raced on currents beyond that he could feel.

The guilt churned there too, hastening the storm along.

He killed some time trying to look at pictures from the case but he couldn’t focus. Instead he opened the book he borrowed from Lúcio about the Wolf.

The Wolf came from across the ocean.

He had been born a human, to human parents. Their spirit animal was the wolf and the bird and the serpent and for generations their family had been blessed by speed and strength and power beyond that of a normal human.

The Wolf had a brother, The Sparrow, who was quick and headstrong and did as he pleased because he was the jewel of the family while The Wolf worked.

Frustrated at being caged, The Sparrow broke free and ran away while The Wolf chased after him, begging him to return to his cage.

“The world is not full of joy,” The Wolf begged. “The world is dark and terrible and you do not have claws or fangs or venom to protect yourself.”

“But I have my wings,” The Sparrow yelled back as he flew faster than The Wolf could run. “And I have my sharp eyes. I shall be fine!”

A demon had caught The Sparrow’s eye as he sat in his gilded cage and upon breaking free he ran to it, intending to kill it and prove himself to his brother and family to be more than just the pretty bird they named him.

“Demon,” The Sparrow yelled at the lair where the demon hid. It was filled with the possessions of those it had devoured: toys and clothes and tools and weapons. “I call upon you to fight me!”

“With what shall you fight me?” the demon asked from the lair. “Little Sparrow? You do not have fangs like the wolf nor venom like the serpent nor talons like the eagle. How shall I not gobble you up where you stand?”

“I am more clever than you,” The Sparrow replied. “And I can fly as you cannot. So I shall fight you and you shall die by my hands.”

But the demon was clever as well. “If you were truly clever then you would have brought a wolf with you to protect your pretty feathers and servants to feed you in the wilds. You would have hunters to bring you delicious food and cooks to cook it for you as you explore the world for the first time beyond your cage.”

This made The Sparrow angry. “I am more than the jewel of my family!” he told the demon.

“If you are, then why are you here alone?” the demon asked. “Why did you have to escape your family to come here to speak with me?”

The Sparrow had no answer for him. “Come out here, demon,” he cried. “Come out here and fight me and accept your fate.”

“Have your clever eyes seen this?” the demon mocked him. “Have you truly seen my demise by the hands of one who has never held a weapon?”

“I hold a weapon before you,” The Sparrow said. “Yet you choose to be fearful and to deny me like a coward.”

“Perhaps I am not even in this lair,” the demon said. “Perhaps you have been led astray with your clever eyes?”

The Sparrow had never experienced doubt; no one had questioned him before so he paused.

“Ah, little Sparrow,” the demon laughed and struck.

The demon didn’t attack from the lair but from the trees behind The Sparrow and pinned his quick wings to his body so that he could not fly away. The Sparrow fought but without fangs like the wolf nor venom like the serpent nor talons like the eagle he could do nothing as the demon spread like a spider web over him. It sank beneath its feathers and into his skin and seeped into his bones like a parasite.

The Sparrow struggled but could not free himself so he cried out in fear for his brother who heard his cries and came to his rescue.

But The Wolf was young too, and though he had fangs he did not have the experience of their parents and struggled to fight the demon off of his brother.

“Begone!” The Wolf cried. “Begone from my brother who you have corrupted, begone from this land and return to the darkness where you dwell, begone!”

He cried this three more times and on the fourth, the number of death, the demon cried and released The Sparrow who was badly injured from the ordeal.

The Wolf was afraid for his brother so he did not chase the demon. He knelt beside The Sparrow and saw that his wings and legs were broken and that he was dying. Desperate, he found a doll in the lair of the demon and bound The Sparrow’s spirit so that it would not escape to the land of the dead where The Wolf could not bring him back.

Gathering his brother, he sought the aid of a witch.

He begged the witch on bended knee to save his brother and she obliged him—for a price.

She took from him his humanity to return what The Sparrow had lost so that he was like a beast, himself. Then she took more of his humanity, the one that bound him to a mortal life as payment for her work.

Ashamed at what he had done and the price he had paid for the life of his brother, the jewel of the family, The Wolf stayed only long enough to ensure his payment had not been in vain before he fled across the ocean.

McCree put the book down and sighed when he looked at the time.

His veins still felt like they flowed with lightning so he dressed in a pair of sweats and crept downstairs to see if there were more of the sweet buns or perhaps some of the steaks and veggies from dinner.

Instead he found Hanzo washing the dishes and putting them in the rack to dry.

“Fancy meeting you here,” McCree said and Hanzo turned his head to smile tiredly at him.

“Indeed,” he said, his ghostly white lashes fluttering. “What will people think?”

Perhaps a bit boldly McCree stepped up behind him, watching the way the big muscles of his back and arms and neck jumped beneath his touch. “Whatever they like,” he replied. “Is this…okay?”

Hanzo sighed as McCree’s arms looped gently around his waist and relaxed against McCree’s chest, his hands stilling. “Perfect.”

“I’m…sorry about earlier,” McCree said, his beard rasping against Hanzo’s skin. “I feel bad—terrible—that I almost poisoned your dogs.”

“Yuki and Ame are fine,” Hanzo assured him, turning off the water and turning in McCree’s loose embrace. “They were able to detect that there was something wrong with the meat.” He looped his arms around McCree’s neck and pressed closer so that they were joined from chest to knee. His arms up to his wrists were damp, warm from the hot water he was using to wash the dishes, but in the evening air it was rapidly cooling, making the fine hairs on the back of McCree’s neck stand on end. “But if you would like to show how sorry you are and reassure me, then I will not say ‘no.’”

McCree sighed and leaned closer, pressing his forehead to Hanzo’s. “You’re mocking me,” he teased. “I was genuinely worried, darlin’.”

So close, Hanzo’s eyes seemed as gold as ever, more than just amber or light brown and his hair seemed whiter than silver, like bleached bone. Pressed against him, McCree could feel how he shivered, got to watch his lashes flutter.

“You like that?” he asked. “Me callin’ you darlin’?”

Hanzo grinned and leaned in, capturing McCree’s lips in a hungry kiss. “Why don’t you test that theory?” he asked when they parted, lips swollen as they panted. Hanzo stepped back and with a glance over his shoulder at McCree, walked toward the stairs. Grinning himself, McCree followed.

Things were very different this time around. Hanzo was hungrier, his eyes wilder as he loomed over McCree.

“Darlin’,” McCree hissed and Hanzo gritted his teeth, leaning in to suck a dark mark into McCree’s collarbone. “Darlin’!” His hands jumped up, one to grip Hanzo’s shoulder, the other to tangle in his hair and yank him closer.

He could feel Hanzo shiver and tugged at the fingers tangled in his hair just to hear the feral snarl he got in response.

“You like that, huh?” McCree asked breathlessly as Hanzo nipped at the dark mark he sucked and pulled away. “Me pulling your pretty hair?” His lips went dry. “‘Cause I like it when you mark me up, babe.”

He made a high noise when Hanzo found another spot to mark, yanking down the collar of his shirt to do so. It would probably stretch it, maybe even completely ruin the shirt, but McCree couldn’t find it in him to care when he felt the prick of Hanzo’s teeth and the light touches of his tongue against his skin.

“Fuck, babe,” he hissed. “Let me...let me…” he yanked at Hanzo’s hair, tried to pull him away, and received a growl in return. It sent heat straight to his dick and McCree hissed, suddenly light-headed. “Lemme take off my shirt.”

Hanzo pulled away, licking his lips like some kind of wild predator, his eyes dark with want and McCree whimpered again, unable to do anything but lay there passively as Hanzo loomed over him. “Well?” Hanzo demanded. “Will you get undressed or will I have to do that for you?”

He pulled back when McCree began writhing in bed and undressed in what was probably the least sexy way possible. But it got results and soon McCree was naked and Hanzo was on him again, claiming his mouth like he had a right to it, like he sought to devour McCree and with a wounded sound McCree let him, tipping his head back to bare his throat.

“You tempt me,” Hanzo growled against McCree’s jugular.

“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” McCree shot back. “You are temptation incarnate. If only you would undress.”

With a sly smirk Hanzo pulled back and yanked his shirt over his head. Even having seen it before the sight took McCree’s breath away and he stopped Hanzo’s work on his pants to ran his hands over his chest, tracing the golden swirls and tempestuous flight of his tattoos.

“Damn,” McCree breathed. “Ain’t spent enough time on this the last time around.” He rolled them both and Hanzo let him, sprawling out on the bed with his hair around his head like a silver corona. “Damn you’re a sight.”

“I hope you’re going to do more than look,” Hanzo teased, his eyes dark with desire. “Because I have plans for you.”

McCree hissed, running his hands over the swells of muscle over Hanzo’s chest, his rough fingertips brushing against the scars. “I’ve never…” he sucked in a breath. “Damn, this is gorgeous, darlin’.”

“Not as gorgeous as you sitting in my lap.”

Eyes wide, McCree looked guiltily at Hanzo. “Ah...I don’t...uh…” he swallowed. “Hope it...won’t be—”

Hanzo ran his hands up McCree’s thighs. “You don’t bottom?”

Surprisingly, there wasn’t any trace of mockery in Hanzo’s voice and that gave McCree the courage to nod. “Yeah, sorry,” he said. “Ain’t never...I’d never bottomed before.”

“Do you want to try?” Hanzo asked and though his eyes were dark with lust, his hands on McCree’s thighs were soothing. “Or would you rather do something else?”

McCree’s heart sank. “You only a top, too?” he asked.

The smirk that Hanzo gave him in return was predatory. “Oh, no,” he said and licked his lips. “I’m quite... open .”

McCree shivered at the implication, his mouth suddenly dry. “Are you now?” he asked in a cracked voice.

“But I would very much love to introduce you to this if you are willing,” Hanzo continued. “If you are not, then...well there are other things we can be doing.”

Swallowing, McCree rocked down against Hanzo’s belly. One of his big hands slid down to wrap around McCree’s cock and he gasped, eyes falling shut. “It’s hard to think when you got your hand on me,” McCree said in a cracking voice.

Hanzo’s hand was rough, not quite slick enough to be comfortable but not yet painful. Tipping his head down, McCree watched as his foreskin was tugged over his flushed and leaking head, clear dribbles of precome leaking out and down Hanzo’s knuckles.

“Is this too distracting?” Hanzo asked, sounding amused. He let go for a brief moment before touching McCree again, his thumb rubbing teasingly over McCree’s frenum, slipping in the thick slick still oozing from the tip.

McCree tried to say something clever but all that came out was a thick “muh” but that was fine so long as Hanzo kept smiling up at him and his hand kept moving.

“Condoms in the drawer there,” Hanzo said abruptly, letting go of McCree’s cock and bracing his hands on his hips. “Get one.” He paused meaningfully. “Maybe two.” McCree groaned.

He rose to his knees, his thighs trembling, and reached for the handle of the drawer. At the same time, Hanzo lifted his upper body, pulled in a perfect crunch, to catch one of McCree’s nipples between his lips.

McCree gave an embarrassingly loud moan, nearly collapsing completely on Hanzo if he didn’t bring his hands up to support McCree’s weight as much as it was to drag him closer. Hanzo’s clever lips plucked at his nipples, his pierced tongue laving at them in a way that had McCree trembling, his quest forgotten.

“The condoms,” Hanzo reminded him as if reading his thoughts. “Or did you not wish to continue?”

“Now that ain’t fair,” McCree protested, his voice cracking when Hanzo bit at the skin just above his nipple. With a trembling hand he yanked open the drawer, nearly pulling it completely out of its tracks, and shoved his hand inside.

Hanzo chuckled when he nearly threw the entire string of condoms at him. “Eager,” he teased, but his pupils were blown wide and he seemed just as eager as McCree was.

“I’ll show you eager,” McCree growled and lunged forward to claim Hanzo’s lips again.

The great orb of the moon was just clearing the tops of the trees and all was quiet.

It made the girl’s hair on her arms stand on end as she walked around her silent house.

There should be more noises. Owls coming out in the night, animals of the forest moving about their lives, bugs crying out. But it was silent.

All was silent and the girl knew that it wasn’t good.

“Sasha,” she whispered into the darkness and heard the quiet clicks of the dog’s claws walking over the tile toward her. When she felt Sasha’s shaggy shoulders against her leg, she bit her lip nervously. Sasha, who she had known for years, who had always been steady and calm, was trembling.

Leaning down, she pressed both hands into the long fur on Sasha’s shoulders. “Sasha,” she whispered again. “The amulet, Sasha.”

The dog guided her through the house. She didn’t need it but with the shades drawn and unable to see Sasha, she didn’t want to trip over her companion.

They had just slipped into the girl’s room when they both heard the sound of shattering glass. Sasha snarled and the yelped; the girl felt her suddenly disappear from beneath her hands.

Crying, she made it three steps into her room, her arm outstretched toward the amulet on her dresser when something grabbed her. Many somethings grabbed her and dragged her back toward the door.

Twisting, she looked into the darkness and cried out.

She saw eyes. Red eyes that glowed like hellfire, dozens of them illuminating their many mouths with dripping fangs. Many grasping hands held her and dragged her toward the largest mouth of all which opened and opened and opened…

McCree shot upright in bed, dripping with cold sweat as he stared at the walls of an unfamiliar bedroom. His ears were ringing but as the bed shifted next to him, he realized that it was a phone.

“Hello?” Hanzo said, his back to McCree. A pause and he could hear the muffled voice of whoever was on the phone. “ What?

Whatever he had heard had Hanzo jumping up in bed, still gloriously naked. Shone through some of the curtains and Hanzo yanked one open, revealing the early dawn light.

He walked to the dresser and yanked a drawer open, dressing quickly in a way that McCree recognized, having done so before on the…on the case . Instinct spurred him into motion and he scrambled out of bed, yanking on his boxers and jeans as quickly as he could manage.

“I will be right there,” he said.

The phone beeped as McCree was just pulling on his shirt and when his head made it through the hole he found that Hanzo was looking at him.

“There has been an incident,” Hanzo said. “I need to go.”

“I’m going, too,” McCree said as he struggled his socks on.

A strange look crossed Hanzo’s face. “No.”

“Yes,” McCree retorted. “Even if I have to run after you.”

Hanzo shook his head and left. “You are not. This doesn’t concern you.”

Lúcio drowsily poked his head out one of the doors as McCree ran out of Hanzo’s bedroom. “Whazzat?” he asked blearily.

“Sophie Mills,” Hanzo said. “Morrison called me.”

That seemed to mean something to Lúcio for he ducked back in his room and came out a few seconds later, yanking a shirt over his head and dressed in flannel pajamas.

“I’m taking the truck again,” Hanzo was saying.

“And I’m going, too,” McCree repeated. When Hanzo turned, a frown on his face, McCree blurted, “I’m a detective.”

A strange kind of silence fell over the two of them. “I see,” Hanzo said, his mouth set in a disapproving line. He whistled and Yuki and Ame scrambled out of the couch pit in the living room. “By all means, detective .”

The way he said the word made McCree realized what he must think and his stomach sank. “Way to go,” Lúcio muttered to him as he puttered around in the fridge. He emerged with a plastic bin of leftovers which he divvied up into two smaller containers. These he shoved in a bag with utensils and then into McCree’s hands. “You better hurry before he leaves without you.”

Yuki and Ame were in the bed of the truck and Hanzo was just climbing in when McCree stumbled out the front door, his shoes still untied and his backpack hanging upside down by a strap on his back. He scrambled into the truck as Hanzo started it without looking at him and putting it in gear.

The drive was filled with an awkward silence that McCree, strangely cowed, didn’t dare break. He stared down at the food in his lap and wondered if he should eat or if he would puke it up at the scene. If it was anything like the boy’s, then it would be a gory mess. But speaking of messes…

“Should…you be bringing your dogs to a crime scene?” McCree asked before he could stop himself.

“Should you be sleeping with your informant?” Hanzo asked coldly and McCree fell silent.

“I…that wasn’t my intention.”

Hanzo said nothing as he drove. They made it to town, moving through the carved wooden gate before Hanzo turned away from the town center and out another set of decorative gates. It was another twenty-minute drive before Hanzo turned off the main road. If Hanzo hadn’t known the way, McCree didn’t think he’d have ever found the house and its secretive little driveway hidden by two almost comically wide pines and a clever bend in the road.

There was a plain white truck that had seen better days and a beat-up car whose wheel wells were showing rust in strangely artistic patterns. Hanzo shifted the car in park and McCree wondered at the lack of yellow tape before shaking his head. It was still early and news had not yet had time to spread. Besides, Clay Creek was smaller than Red’s Gap, or at least seemed to be.

Hanzo got out of the car and said something that McCree didn’t catch; the truck bounced as Yuki and Ame bounded out of the bed and loped off into the woods. McCree scrambled out of the truck, tucked the food that had been shoved into his hands on the seat, and closed the door.

Jack was frowning at him. “Sightseeing?” he asked, the scar across his face becoming more pronounced.

“A detective,” Hanzo said in a terrifyingly toneless voice. “Apparently.”

McCree flinched. “I’m supposed to be on vacation,” he said weakly as he dug around in his bag for his camera. “But I’m the one attached to the case in Red’s Gap. Redstone,” he added, remembering that the other day Jack had called it by its other name.

The two men exchanged glances and Hanzo walked up the gravel walkway toward the rusted car. His eyes trained nervously on Jack and his big dog that sat beside him, McCree scrambled after Hanzo.

With an unreadable look, Hanzo stopped him from bulling past. “You will ruin the prints,” he said gruffly and knelt.

It was just a patch of gravel, or so McCree thought and said so, a little stung at the way he was being treated. Again, like an outsider.

“It’s amazing that any crimes can be solved with sharp eyes like that.”

McCree flinched. Perhaps he had deserved that. He bit his lip and watched as Hanzo seemed to read something in the gravel that only he could see.

Hanzo pointed at something and looked pointedly at McCree until he took a picture of the spot even though he didn’t see what was so interesting. Feeling like he had been demoted to some kind of sad technician or intern, McCree followed Hanzo around as he made a circuit of the house, taking pictures of things that McCree couldn’t quite figure out.

The ring of trees surrounding the house.

The silhouette of the roofline against the trees.

Their cars as seen from the corner of the house.

Trying to tamp down his growing annoyance, McCree looked around. The house was a small one-story thing and McCree would bet that it had a basement or cellar like a lot of the houses in this area seemed to. Ana had tried to explain it once. Something about insulation. McCree still didn’t quite get it.

On a small bump-out there was a shattered window and wall, the raw wood stark against the faded paint covering it. It was as if someone had taken one of those big construction vehicles with the bucket claw and tore into the side of it.

Detritus was scattered all over the yard, huge splinters of wood and shards of glass tinged in red.

“Look,” McCree said as Hanzo approached the hole in the house. “I-”

“Perhaps this is not the time to discuss it,” Hanzo said, cutting him off. He poked his head into the house and looked around.

When he made a thoughtful sound, McCree carefully came up next to him and snapped a few pictures of the damage to the inside. The couch, which seemed to have been in front of the hole in the wall, was pushed back, great gauges torn into the upholstery deep enough that McCree could see the wooden bones of it. In the shadow where it had once lain was a layer of dust that had escaped the broom and vacuum and a scattering of a few pet toys that had been lost and kicked underneath.

McCree took a picture of these and made a mental note to ask Jack who animal control was and if they could find the animal that had surely escaped. He didn’t want to think of the alternative, that the poor creature had died.

Aside from the damage to the couch and the glass coffee table which had shattered, none of the other furniture that he could see appeared to have been damaged. Hanzo grunted and once McCree had stepped back from taking pictures, stepped up into the house.

McCree winced at the crunch of glass beneath Hanzo’s boots and followed suit, taking pictures of their passage just in case. Inside and without the cool mountain air and the smell of pine around him, he could smell the blood.

He grimaced. Blood and death and the kind of things that were released from the body upon death. If Hanzo was bothered he gave no sign of it, standing in the middle of the living room and looking around as if deciding where to begin.

“I, uh, got a menthol stick in here somewhere,” McCree muttered, digging around in his bag.

“Don’t bother,” Hanzo said gruffly. “And if you intend to use it, you may as well leave.”

Scowling, McCree lifted a pack of gum, popping one in his mouth. Hanzo said nothing though his nose twitched. He turned away, looking up.

Following his gaze, McCree nearly dropped the stick of gum from his mouth. Now that Hanzo’s eyes had drawn him to it, McCree realized that the walls and ceiling and floor were all scraped up, grooves cut into wood and drywall and plaster as if a hundred hands had clawed at them.

Looking around he realized that the walls around the hole in the house also had these markings, as if the hundreds of people that had to have caused them had dragged themselves inside. McCree took pictures of all of them around the hole in the wall, on the ceiling, on the path down the hall and stopped, looking at Hanzo.

“What did this?”

Hanzo frowned and didn’t answer, stepping down the hallway where the smell of blood and death was stronger, almost like a physical presence.

Instinctively McCree wanted to balk. Going further would be coming face-to-face with mortality, with death, with the idea that all creatures died.

But McCree had seen death before. He had seen it a hundred times. He had seen it claim humans of all shapes and sizes and ages. Death did not discriminate, unlike humans in life. Death claimed all and he had seen what was left of its rampage.

He stepped after Hanzo, walking off-center as he took pictures of the grooves torn in the center of the hallway. Blood had seeped into the damaged wood and it traveled like roads on a map down the hall. Some had caught on the edges of frames and glass that had been torn from the walls to shatter on the ground and trailed smears of red.

Hanzo stopped at the end of the hallway and let McCree go first to take pictures without his big shoulders getting in the way. McCree had seen a lot of death but this still made him stop in his tracks, nearly made him drop his camera.

From the pictures on the walls the victim was female but it was hard to tell with how destroyed the body was. Blood was sprayed on the walls and ceiling, dripping in sticky red lines and had soaked into the carpet and bedsheets and the clothes in the closet. Chunks of flesh dotted these areas too, as if parts of the body had been thrown in a meat grinder or a wood chipper.

Swallowing hard, McCree snapped pictures of the entryway, the pooled blood, the way it had soaked into the carpet. He eased himself in and took pictures of each wall, of the surfaces of the dresser and desk and bed, of the ceiling fan and the condition of the walls.

He stepped carefully around the body and the puddle of blood, making a face when the carpet still squelched beneath his feet. Hanzo followed in his shadow, careful not to get in his way. They both picked their way around chunks of…person, as if she had simply exploded outward in a hundred little chunks.

Cautiously he voiced this out loud to Hanzo. “No smell of sulfur or gunpowder,” he said.

As if anything could be smelled over the miasma of blood and death.

“And no burn marks from an ignition of anything,” Hanzo continued.

He carefully approached the body and knelt beside it. “Blades or claws,” he said decisively, cocking his head this way and that to peer at the body. “Deep enough to cut bone.”

McCree snorted. “Claws? Like an animal attack?”

“Some animals have claws large enough to do this kind of damage,” Hanzo said distractedly. “Bears, for one. But a bear didn’t do this.”

He stood with a grunt and walked to the curtains, which had been closed.

Opening them, Hanzo revealed more blood but this wasn’t a careless splatter. It was a deliberate pattern, as if someone had used blood like paint to draw a symbol on the glass in the shape of a bird.

McCree took a picture of it. “A person, then?” he asked. “How did you know what was there?”

Hanzo didn’t respond and looking over at him, McCree realized with a start that his jaw was clenched tightly, his lips peeled back almost in a snarl. His nostrils were flaring and his eyes flicked to McCree.

Then he blinked and the feral light in them faded so quickly that McCree almost thought that he had imagined it.

Shaking his head, Hanzo slipped back out into the hallway. McCree followed and noticed the bathroom across the hallway at the same time that Hanzo did.

Hanzo ducked out of the way and McCree snapped a few pictures of the half-open door before Hanzo opened it. “I had wondered,” Hanzo said softly. He flicked on the light, the bulb casting gentle light over the scene.

A golden retriever lay motionless, its face and muzzle covered in bloody scratches and its ribs bent disturbingly to tell the tale how it died. McCree took a few quick pictures of the walls and the dog and the way that blood seeped from its mouth into the bath rug.

Hanzo sighed and knelt beside the dog, gently running a gentle hand through the dog’s fur. “Oh, Sasha,” he murmured.

McCree swallowed, his stomach churning. “Wait,” he said. “Sasha?”

“I trained her, myself,” Hanzo said. “Sophie Mills is legally blind and has epilepsy. Sasha was her assistance dog that helped her get around and keep track of her seizures. I was concerned when I only saw Sophie Mills but not Sasha. Now I guess I know what happened.”

Swallowing hard, McCree considered telling Hanzo, someone he just met, about his dream. How crazy it must seem but he remembered the woman’s hushed words. How she ordered Sasha to take her to the bedroom. Perhaps it had been dark in his dream because she was mostly blind?

But that thought would mean that he had seen some kind of premonition . That he had somehow dreamed this up.

“I smell burning,” Hanzo said. “You’re thinking too hard.” His voice was teasing but there wasn’t the warmth that had been there the night before. He had said something similar shortly before they had fallen in bed together.

Hanzo walked out, leaving McCree behind with a dead dog.

Unsure, McCree bit his lip. He remembered the…vision?...of Gérard Lacroix. It had just been a hunch but there had been too many details for it.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was beginning to get used to the smell again. Of blood, death. Just like the… the case . He had felt like he reeked of it wherever he went, as if the average citizen on the street could smell the stench of it as he walked past.

When he opened his eyes again, the dog was whole again and sitting in the shower. She watched him with eyes that glowed white and gold and gave him a canine grin. Then she jumped out of the tub toward the hallway where she met Sophie Mills who looked distrustfully at McCree. Her lips moved but McCree could hear nothing.

Then they both turned as if called by someone else that McCree couldn’t hear and walked away.

McCree followed them, leaving behind the bodies as he carefully crept through the damaged house and back to the hole in the wall. Sophie Mills looked at him, her eyes glowing in gold and white like her dog’s, and pointed toward the trees.

He murmured thanks to her as he hopped out of the house, his words as a grunt when he landed. Jack and Hanzo looked at him, having been talking outside of the hole in the wall. The scowl that wasn’t quite on Jack’s face as he spoke to Hanzo returned when he caught sight of McCree.

“And what does the big-shot detective think?” he asked.

McCree glanced between Hanzo and Jack. “Ain’t much of a big-shot,” he said, trying to keep the frustration from his voice. It was like being in Red’s Gap all over again, back when he had first moved there. He got a lot of questions like that, as if he came expecting to be some kind of Jesus figure, come to show the backwater hicks the light of Justice.

“That was low,” Hanzo said, much to McCree’s surprise.

Further to his surprise, Jack looked down and away as if chastened. The dog at his feet lowered its ears and looked down submissively.

Ignoring that (knowing that if he brought attention to it, it would only further put him in the sheriff’s poor graces), McCree pointed toward the trees where he had imagined a ghost to have pointed. “I was just going to take a look at the trees.”

God, that sounded like a piss-poor excuse.

Hanzo nodded and Jack turned and walked away. “What was that about?” McCree asked Hanzo quietly. “I know he doesn’t like me but…”

“Have you ever noticed that people in these quiet mountain towns are suspicious of outsiders?” Hanzo asked. “Perhaps it is an instinctual fear. After all, many outsiders bring things with them that they don’t always intend to bring with them. Or sometimes they bring something that is not in the best interest of those they share it with.”

Unsure quite why that upset him, McCree scowled. “You saying I did this?”

Hanzo looked at him. “No,” he said. “Just that a newcomer showing up and a murder happening all at once has people talking. Jackie doesn’t like that kind of talk in town.”

That made McCree stop in his tracks as Hanzo continued on through the large yard toward the tree line. What must this look like? If this death was anything like the ones he had seen in Red’s Gap, then that means that the killer, animal or human, had moved.

Obviously it was coincidence that it moved with McCree—there had been a delay of two days, after all—but what must that look like to Jack? Rumor in Red’s Gap had been that Clay Creek didn’t fear wild animals. Even Lúcio had said that it was because of all of the dogs they kept with them to prevent attacks. Sheriff Galbraith had said that there were no reported attacks in Clay Creek itself or in the areas that were under their jurisdiction that would match the description of what Red’s Gap and Blue Hills had been experiencing for the past few months.

McCree ran to catch up to Hanzo. “Wait,” he hissed and moved to stand in front of Hanzo. “You think I did this?”

There was an unreadable look on Hanzo’s face and McCree felt his gut turn to ice. It was like staring back into a statue of an old god. Then Hanzo blinked and that wild light like molten gold seemed to disappear in a moment to be replaced with his light brown eyes. He smiled but it was strained.

“My judgment of people is not perfect,” he said almost gently. “But I do not believe that you are at fault for this. People will trust my judgment on this but that will not stop them from talking or worrying.”

McCree followed quietly and wondered again if he should tell Hanzo about what he thought he had seen in the house. And what he had seen at another crime scene, and the one before that.

His head hurt, a headache that pressed at the sockets of his eyes and in the connection between spine and skull. It felt like his head was full of pine needles and pine cones that poked and rattled around with each step.

No, he decided. He barely knew the man. There was no reason to treat him like his therapist and no reason to give him cause to have him committed.

He was crazy, of that he was sure. The dead didn’t walk and talk and stare at him with judging eyes that glowed as if lit from behind. They didn’t point him to their killer and they didn’t show him their last few terrifying moments before death.

Hanzo stopped at the edge of the trees as the yard gave way to dense bushes and conifers. There was a rustling further in the woods but before McCree could become too alarmed Yuki and Ame burst from the bushes, their thick fur covered in dirt and leaves.

They looked oddly at McCree, their heads cocked to the side, before going to Hanzo and sitting in front of him as if giving their reports. Hanzo put his hands on their heads and then gave them each a piece of jerky from his pockets. Their tongues lolling out cheerfully, they darted along the edge of the clearing at Hanzo’s murmured words, weaving in and out of the trees.

McCree looked into the forest. “I don’t know what I’m looking for,” he admitted.

“Perhaps, then, we are looking in the wrong manner,” Hanzo said. He pointed to where Yuki and Ame had burst from the bushes. “They are thick and strong enough that while Yuki and Ame did some damage, they didn’t do a lot.”

McCree looked at the bushes. They just looked like bushes to him but he nodded in agreement anyway.

“So if someone came this way, then we would not see anything in this way.” Hanzo backed up a few steps and looked up. McCree followed his pointed finger. There were broken branches higher up and deep gouges that had been drawn in the wood.

Even as far away as McCree and Hanzo stood, he could see that it still dripped with golden sap.

“What kind of animal has large enough claws to tear apart a house and a person like that and climbs in the trees?” McCree demanded.

Hanzo held out his hand. “Give me your camera.” When McCree gripped it tightly and was about to refuse, Hanzo looked down, quirking a silver brow at him. “Or do you think you can climb that high?”

Pursing his lips, McCree switched out the memory card. “More space for you,” McCree lied. Hanzo clearly didn’t buy it but didn’t say anything, tucking the camera in the bag that McCree offered him and slinging it over his big shoulders.

Watching Hanzo climb was an almost religious experience. The shirt he wore pulled tight over his muscles and the angle meant that McCree got a lovely view of his ass.

He wished that Hanzo hadn’t taken the camera so he could take pictures.

(Because he was pretty sure that after this morning, Hanzo wouldn’t want him anywhere near his house, much less his bed and truly, Hanzo’s ass was a work of art .)

It seemed like McCree blinked and Hanzo had climbed ten feet; another blink and he was thirty feet in the air and had straddled a branch to peer at the broken ones. Utterly fearless, he clung to the tree with just his legs as he leaned his upper body back to take pictures of every angle.

Meanwhile, McCree was beside himself just watching him.

There was howling somewhere to McCree’s left and he jumped; above him, Hanzo contorted himself in some bizarre way to look over at something. As deft as a gymnast Hanzo scrambled down and was beside McCree again in a move that was more fall than climb.

If McCree had been watching closely, his stomach would have been cramping in worry.

“That was Ame,” Hanzo said, handing the camera back to McCree.

McCree jogged after Hanzo as they moved around the house to a garden area. There had once been pens of chickens (judging by the chicken wire and feathers) and some kind of small animal. Both enclosures had been torn apart and its inhabitants killed.

They found Ame lying flat on the ground though the wolf dog’s tail wagged as they approached. Hanzo murmured and Ame jumped up.

“Ame was signaling,” Hanzo said though McCree didn’t ask. He knelt down beside where Ame was lying and the wolf dog lay beside him, stretching out to their full length.

Unable to help himself, McCree took a picture and then knelt on Hanzo’s other side.

“Prints,” Hanzo said shortly, pointing at an indentation in the ground that to McCree looked the same as everything else. Still, McCree took pictures and then again, at Hanzo’s insistence, with his hand next to it for scale since McCree didn’t have a ruler in his bag.

But to be fair, he hadn’t really expected to be on the case again while he was supposed to be on vacation.

“They go back into the forest,” Hanzo said as he stepped over them and walked to the chicken fence, gesturing for McCree to come over.

“I feel like I’m just your camera boy,” McCree said and winced that it sounded halfway to a complaint.

Hanzo looked at him with an unreadable expression. “I would have Jackie follow me otherwise,” he said at last. “He has my camera.”

Biting his lip to keep from saying anything stupid in response, McCree looked at the wire of the fence. “Red fur,” he said.

“Yes,” Hanzo agreed. “That’s what I had been looking at.”

McCree opened his mouth to say that he had found red fur at the other site and then closed it, not sure if he should disclose that information to a civilian.

“There had been red fur at a few of the other scenes,” Hanzo said, deliberately casual. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at McCree. “Even just the animal deaths. They are related.”

Biting his lip, McCree carefully focused the camera and took a picture of the tufts of fur clinging to the wire. He jumped when Hanzo voiced an ear-piercing whistle that seemed to be swallowed by the forest behind McCree.

A moment later, Jack and his dog came around the corner. Seeing the ruins of the pens, Jack clicked his tongue. “Ain’t that a bitch.”

“Sophie Mills had two goats and five chickens,” Hanzo said. “I only see one chicken left.” He stepped into the pen and lifted a pile of feathers between two fingers. “Bit in half.”

McCree took a picture of the destroyed bird. The packed dirt of the chicken pen hid any footprints but there were a few areas where blood had softened the ground and captured pieces of footprints or talons from the chickens as they ran.

“She must have heard the racket,” he said to Hanzo. “I can’t imagine how she couldn’t have.”

Jack snorted. “Unless they died before she got home,” he said dismissively. “Could have just been a bear.”

“Or a wolf.”

Immediately Jack shook his head. “It wouldn’t have been a wolf.”

But Hanzo had a thoughtful frown on his face. “It’s not impossible,” he said slowly. “Unlikely but not impossible.”

Jack looked scandalized. “But wolves don’t attack here. Not Clay Creek.”

“Just because they don’t doesn’t mean that they can’t ,” Hanzo said almost gently. “I’ll have to look into it later.”

Jack gave McCree another foul look but said nothing more. He looked at his watch. “Time’s up, soon,” he said and Hanzo nodded.

Jerking his head at McCree to follow him, Hanzo walked back to the truck. “What did he mean ‘time’s up soon’?” McCree asked suspiciously.

Hanzo whistled sharply and the wolves came bounding back, leaping into the bed of the truck as Hanzo climbed in the cab. “Exactly what it sounds like,” Hanzo told him. “Jackie was kind enough to give us time to look at the scene and now he needs to do his job.” When McCree was in the car, he shifted it in reverse and backed down the driveway.

Soon they were on their way down the road.

“So…” McCree said slowly. “What you’re saying…is that we just ruined a crime scene?”

Hanzo shrugged. “I’ll drop you off back at the lodge,” he said. “There are other places that I need to go. I handle the things in the forest; Jackie handles the things in town.”

“This is another death, isn’t it?” McCree asked quietly. “Just like the ones in Blue Hills and Redstone.”

He watched Hanzo’s jaw tighten slightly. “Yes,” he said tensely. “It is.”

McCree leaned toward Hanzo. “Then I want in.” Hanzo’s eyes flicked to him. “Look. I’m the detective in charge of the case in Red’s Gap.”

“This isn’t Red’s Gap.”

“No, but it’s a connected case,” McCree argued.

Hanzo turned his head to him as they drove into the town again; he turned the wheel and they ducked back out of the town limits on the road toward Hanzo’s home. “You do not have jurisdiction here,” he said. “Jackie hasn’t agreed to that merger, yet.”

“I’m in charge of it in Red’s,” McCree repeated.

“And you do not have jurisdiction here,” Hanzo said evenly. “And the sheriff of this region has not agreed to a…collaboration with the other towns just yet. So why should I take you on a dangerous hunt like this?”

Unsure of what to say to that, McCree fell silent. He looked at his camera. “I have the pictures.”

“Jackie will take more with my camera. And I have what I need to do my search.”

McCree said nothing else, sitting in sullen silence as they returned to Wolf Lodge. The dogs didn’t greet them in the driveway but sat, alert and wary around the house as if guarding it. The only dog that ran to greet them was Kuma, who charged at McCree, whining as he snuffled his nose along McCree’s knees and whined.

“Hey, buddy,” he said weakly, leaning down to scratch at the dog’s patchy fur.

The main door slammed open and just like the first day McCree had arrived, Lúcio ran out. “Hanzo!” he exclaimed.

“Are you going into town, today?” Hanzo asked the man.

“I have an appointment in an hour,” Lúcio said with a nod.

Hanzo’s lips thinned. “Be careful,” he said. “Take Lily and Tamago. At the least.”

“That bad?”

Sighing, Hanzo tossed the keys to the truck at Lúcio. “That bad,” he agreed. “I’m-”

“Going to go inside and eat breakfast,” Lúcio interrupted firmly. “You haven’t eaten, even though I packed you something.” He looked between Hanzo and McCree. “I packed your bags for a forest hunt,” he added. “And I pulled Kaze and Silver out with their gear.”

Hanzo frowned at him. “I’m going alone.”

Seeing what Lúcio had given him, McCree said, “Like hell you are!”

With a foul look at him, Hanzo climbed the steps into the house. Lúcio waited until the door had closed behind him and said very quietly, bobbing the car keys in his hand so that they rattled, “He’s worried about you. And you hurt him to imply that you were only here for information.” He caught his keys and gestured toward the house. “Get inside. Eat something, and then you can go with him.”

McCree hurried in, just in case Hanzo decided to leave without him, and found him sullenly eating at the dining room table. Conveniently, Lúcio stayed outside.

“Look,” McCree said to Hanzo. “I…I want to at least clear this up between us.”

Hanzo gave him a hard, unreadable look. “There is nothing to clear up,” he said and took a bite of food.

“There is,” McCree insisted and sat cautiously. He made himself a plate of food out of the leftovers that were out. There was a shallow dish of steamed tortillas that looked hand-pressed and bowls of condiments. Breakfast burritos, then. “Look, I…didn’t come here to cause trouble.”

“And yet trouble followed.”

McCree looked down guiltily. He thought back to… the case . He thought of the little girl. Before he moved to Red’s Gap, his coworkers had called her his Blair Roche. “It always does,” he said, surprising himself.

When he looked up again he found Hanzo watching him thoughtfully as he chewed. Hanzo took another big bite of food and said nothing. Waiting.

“It occurred to me what this must look like to you,” McCree said. “But I swear …this hadn’t been my intention. Any of it. It must look like I…came to you…for reasons that were not why…” he fiddled with his plate. “It was all coincidence. Very bizarre coincidence. I really did come here to learn about the Wolf. Gal—the sheriff in Red’s Gap told me to take some time off.”

Hanzo didn’t look convinced. “In the middle of a case.”

“He didn’t think the sheriff here would give it up and wasn’t sure how any of the other sheriffs would react to…you know… an outsider handling a case like this.”

The other man snorted. When McCree peeked at him again, he was dishing himself more food. But Hanzo said nothing.

“He called me the other morning,” McCree added. “Suggested I take some time off while everything blows over. Gave me a full week.”

Hanzo’s eyes flicked to him. “That’s a long time,” he said neutrally.

“I thought I’d stay in the area. I hadn’t been up to Clay Creek yet so I thought…well, it’s supposed to be a local landmark, especially for the Wolf so.” McCree shrugged helplessly. “That’s the whole of it. I was going to work on the case too. Make up some notes.” It sounded weak even to his own ears.

“Eat,” Hanzo said. “I refuse to deal with you fainting.” Hopeful, McCree looked up at him. “You’re lucky that Lúcio decided to take your side,” he added gruffly. “I hope you know how to ride.”

McCree didn’t, but he imagined that it couldn’t be too hard, right? In a better mood, McCree made himself a plate.

“Don’t eat too much,” Hanzo cautioned him. “It’ll be a long trip.”

It won’t be too bad, McCree chanted to himself as Hanzo stood and put his plate away. He lifted one of the packs by the door and inspected it, pulling out a long glove and some kind of leather arm band thing. The glove went on one hand and was, weirdly enough, missing a few fingers; the arm band went on his other arm, the pad of it on the inside of his arm.

Once he was finished with his breakfast, McCree put his dishes in the sink and walked up to the packs by the door. Hanzo handed him one in an absent kind of way and he winced when he felt how heavy it was. It wasn’t even a real backpack , but a pair of square bags joined by a strip of leather.

Hanzo slung another set of bags over his shoulder, these looking larger and heavier and McCree cautiously followed suit and then followed him out the door.

Chapter Text

That…proved to be a very poor decision on his part.

The horse he rode, who Hanzo said was called Silver, didn’t seem to match its name and seemed just as displeased to have McCree on its back as McCree was to be there. Its gait was rough and jerky and jolted him as he sat. The stirrups didn’t feel right and McCree didn’t know what to do with his hands or the leather reins so he tried to imitate Hanzo, folding them in one hand which rested on the weird lump on the front of the saddle; his other hand hung loose but McCree couldn’t bear to do that so he clung tightly to the saddle with a white-knuckled grip and grit his teeth.

Hanzo rode with an ease that McCree envied and his horse, who he said was named Kaze, carried his bags at the back of the saddle, leaving room for the dangerous-looking bow that Hanzo held in his free hand. Arrows were hung over the handle on the front of the saddle and McCree wondered why he didn’t carry a gun instead.

The horses walked in a rough and ponderous gait across the meadow surrounding Hanzo’s house until they reached a small trail at the edges of the trees. Yuki and Ame emerged from the grass followed by, much to McCree’s surprise, Kuma.

“I’m surprised you decided to join us,” Hanzo told the Xolo dog. He looked at McCree. “We got a bit to go to reach the area of the forest by Sophie Mills’ house,” he said. Clicking his tongue against his teeth and nudging his horse with his heels, he shot forward with the dogs on his heels.

Seeing the other horse go, Silver’s ears flicked forward and McCree gripped the saddle tightly as his horse shot forward too.

He was jolted and jostled and rattled around as Silver ran and he clenched his teeth, clung with desperate intensity to the horse with legs and both hands, and struggled to keep his eyes open. There were low-hanging branches and a few that had fallen into the trail.

Ahead of them, Kaze jumped one and desperate to not be airborne McCree yanked Silver’s reins. It grunted, its head twisting on its long neck to alleviate the pressure on its mouth and swerved to avoid the branches. They scratched at McCree’s legs and the horse’s heaving sides and the horse grunted.

McCree lost track of how long he clung desperately to Silver’s back before the horse slowed and stop. He thought that maybe someone had said something. Eventually he looked up with wide eyes and found Hanzo frowning at him.

“You said you could ride ,” Hanzo said. He was standing on the ground in front of Silver, its reins held in one of his hands.

“Yes,” McCree snapped. “But you didn’t ask me what !”

Hanzo’s brows furrowed. “What?”

“Yes, what.” McCree’s legs trembled. His entire body trembled except his voice. “You didn’t ask me what I could ride.”

He watched Hanzo’s lips twitch. Hanzo lifted the reins over Silver’s head and let it hang down. McCree thought that he felt the horse sigh beneath him. Gently Hanzo helped McCree down and eased him, as if he weighed little, to sit on a nearby log.

Immediately Kuma was next to him, nudging his grotesque head into his lap, nudging his nose into McCree’s stomach.

Hanzo sighed. He opened a bottle of water and handed it to McCree. “If I had known, I would have gone slower,” he grumbled. “Or found a way to leave you behind.”

Scowling up at the man, McCree took the water and looked around. Hanzo had stopped them in the middle of a large clearing cut in half by a shallow river. A cluster of rocks, worn smooth by water and time, formed a small pool that led to a small waterfall that burbled happily nearby. Bleached by the sun, if that was indeed how rocks worked, they almost looked like the bones of an enormous giant.

With McCree settled, Hanzo gathered the reins of their mounts and led them to the river to drink. It took McCree a while to be able to push himself to his feet and when he walked it was with a shaky, bow-legged shuffle as he came up to Hanzo and the horses.

If he thought Silver was bad, Kaze seemed worse . When it caught sight of McCree the horse’s great haunches rippled and it lifted a hind leg as if prepared to kick. It snorted when Hanzo murmured to it and looking strangely…sulky for a horse it lowered its leg.

“We have a ways to go, yet,” Hanzo said roughly. He checked the sun, shading his eyes against the glare and McCree was once more struck with how unfairly handsome he was. “We got a good start this morning but I don’t want to be out in the woods at night.” He looked at McCree and it must have been the light but his eyes looked like molten gold, like the eyes of his wolf dog. “Do you still want to continue?”

The thought of getting back on that monster of an animal was nauseating but McCree was nothing if not determined. He set his mouth and nodded.

Hanzo had to help him back in the saddle, first by taking Silver to a rock nearby and then by heaving McCree bodily into the saddle. He swung effortlessly on Kaze’s back and gathered the reins. McCree scrambled to mimic him though he clung to the front of the saddle with his left hand with a white-knuckled grip.

Whistling, Hanzo called to the dogs that had been staring intently at the little waterfall and led them deeper down the trail. This time they didn’t go so fast but the horse’s run beneath him was bumpy and had McCree bouncing everywhere so hard that he thought that his teeth would vibrate right out of his skull.

Looking over at the other man, McCree grimaced when he realized that Hanzo didn’t seem bothered by it. Of course not, because he was probably used to it.

But he also sat in the saddle like he had been born in it, moving just as seamlessly as if he were a centaur, as if he were one with the horse and all of those romanticized drivels of horseback riding that McCree had always heard about.

Hanzo looked over at him as Silver came abreast of them on the wide path and he grimaced. “You sit terribly,” he said.

If he wasn’t being jostled and bounced around so much, McCree would have stuck his tongue out.

Shaking his head, Hanzo sighed. “We’re going to go a little faster,” he said. “It’ll be smoother.” Before McCree could respond, Hanzo clicked his tongue and both horses’ ears picked up. There was a jolt and then Silver lunged forward.

And…to his surprise McCree found that it was much smoother. It reminded him of what he imagined was a motion like being on a ship, a smooth glide up and forward, an almost rocking motion.

He still clung tightly with both hands to the saddle but it was much smoother and it didn’t rattle his teeth quite as much. Looking over at Hanzo, he found him already looking at McCree, his eyes bright and gold, his face flushed.

McCree was suddenly breathless. Love at first sight wasn’t a thing, not for him, but this came pretty damn close.

After what felt like only a minute but also like it had been hours, Hanzo slowed them down to that rough jog and then to a walk. “Give her her head,” Hanzo said to McCree. “Loosen your grip on the reins.”

It took a few tries for McCree to release the tension in his hand enough to obey and was rewarded with another flushed smile. He realized that they were both breathing hard. “I’d never done that before,” McCree admitted breathlessly. “It’s a lot of work.”

A moment later the dogs burst through the bushes nearby, panting merrily with their tails a-wagging. “That’s nothing,” Hanzo said with a laugh. “We’re going much slower than I normally would. But we made good time, still.” He shaded his eyes and looked up at the sky. “Better than I had expected when we stopped at the Wolf’s stream, to be honest.”  

“Wolf’s stream?” McCree echoed.

“It’s what people around here call it,” Hanzo said with a shrug. “That waterfall? They say that it’s blessed by the Wolf.”

McCree considered that. “Is it?” Hanzo snorted and McCree laughed. “I found this book in the lodge,” he said. “Well, Lúcio found it and loaned it to me.”


“It was stories about the Wolf,” McCree told him. “I read one or two last night but…”

Hanzo shrugged. “There are a lot of stories,” he said with an odd note in his voice.

Suddenly aware of how uncomfortable Hanzo was, McCree reached a shaky hand down to pat Silver’s neck. It turned and looked back at him and he grimaced at the tacky feeling of sweat. “Is the Wolf supposed to be magical or something? Or is it just like a big wolf?” he thought back to the story he read of human parents and a bird brother. “Or something else?”

For a long moment Hanzo didn’t say anything. “The stories tend to vary,” he said at last. “There are a lot out there. Some say that he is a man that turns into a wolf-”

“Like a werewolf,” McCree suggested.

Hanzo nodded. “Like a werewolf,” he agreed awkwardly. “Some say that he is just a big wolf that the founders of the town had found once. Perhaps it had been injured and became the town’s pet and the local Native tribe had made the totems in town rather than the Wolf himself even though totems aren’t native to this region.” He shrugged. “No one seems to agree; it seems that everyone has a different story.”

“That seems weird,” McCree said. “Usually cryptids like that—like Mothman or Bigfoot—are at least consistent.”

“The consistency in the Wolf stories are in their sightings,” Hanzo told him. “And how he appears: as a large white wolf with golden eyes.”

McCree wrinkled his nose. “I heard a story,” he offered. “My friend over in Red’s Gap told it to me. She said that he appeared as a man and when the traveler looked back he was a wolf.”

“I’m surprised that such stories have made it to Redstone,” Hanzo said mildly. “You usually hear stories like that in Clay’s.”

He watched Hanzo tug on his horse’s reins and Silver stopped as well without prompting from McCree. Not that he’d been in the area for very long, not even a full year at this point, but he’d never heard that variation of Clay Creek. He supposed it made sense, though; he’d yet to see a lot of clay creeks in the area.

Hanzo swung a leg over the back of Kaze’s saddle and dropped to the ground. As McCree watched, he pulled off the mess of leather on the front of Kaze’s face and hung it by the hook on the saddle, the reins coiled high and tight. “I don’t like the idea of them not being able to run away if they need to,” Hanzo explained to McCree though he didn’t say anything about it.

Not that McCree could tell what was weird or not.

Though Hanzo’s words implied that there was something in these woods worth running from. That there was something out there that had gotten to his horses before.

McCree said nothing and when Hanzo walked next to him, gingerly began lifting a leg over Silver’s back. The stirrup wobbled, no doubt as a result of his imperfect footing and shaking leg, and McCree yelled as he fell over backwards, only to be caught by Hanzo.

“There are other ways for you to sweep me off my feet, you know,” McCree quipped before he could stop himself.

Hanzo grinned. “I’m sure there are,” he said. “But this is not the time for that.”

Gingerly, as if he weighed nothing, Hanzo set him down on his feet and held on to him while he got the strength back in his legs. They were still wobbly and he felt as if the world was still rocking, but it wasn’t as bad as it was during their first stop.


While McCree clung to the saddle to steady himself, Hanzo went about doing the same thing to Silver’s harness that he had done to Kaze’s: removing it, stroking the horse’s forehead affectionately, and attaching it to the saddle. Then Hanzo went about taking off the gear.

He packed a light backpack with bottles of water and granola bars, a small first-aid kit that McCree hoped they wouldn’t need, a length of light nylon rope neatly bound in a coil, a covered tube that looked like one you would use to transport large files or posters on a strap that he slung across his big shoulders, a quiver of arrows that he strapped to his thigh and hips, and a large stick that as McCree watched, turned into a large bow as Hanzo strung it.

Hanzo handed the backpack to McCree. “This is yours,” he said and then tested the string of his bow. McCree’s mouth went dry when he drew it effortlessly and now understood the gear that Hanzo had put on in the house. The two padded fingers of the strange glove on Hanzo’s right hand protected him from the string as he drew it; the padding on his left arm kept the string from hitting his arm.

“Okay,” McCree said a little weakly when Hanzo looked back at him. “What’s that for?”

“Just in case.”

McCree frowned. “In case what?” Hanzo shrugged in what was probably the least reassuring way he could have done.

As if sensing that thought, Hanzo grinned. “Don’t worry,” he teased. “I’ll protect you from the big, scary forest.”

Flushing, McCree dug around in the bags on the saddle for his camera and slung it around his neck. “No guns, though?” he regretted not packing his piece but to be fair, he hardly expected to be on duty while on vacation.

Hanzo shrugged. “I’m an old soul,” he said. “Are you ready?” McCree shook his legs out, took a sip of water, and then nodded.

Hiking with Hanzo was…well it was a big blow to the ego. Even though McCree’s legs were notably longer than Hanzo’s, the other man easily showed him his heels. He climbed nimbly up rough terrain as easily as the wolf dogs that flanked him, and moved quickly and soundlessly through the forest.

Meanwhile, McCree stumbled, tripped, slipped, and slid his way around. Kuma walked beside him, his tongue lolling out and making little grumbling noises that sounded encouraging when McCree paused.

“Never asked,” McCree said as they crested a ridge. Now that they weren’t climbing he was having an easier time of it and could walk beside Hanzo on the wide path. “But where are we going?”

Hanzo smiled at him. His cheeks were flushed again, his eyes bright. This really was his element, McCree realized. He was at home here, as if this was where he was always meant to be. As if something had been missing that he had found in the forest.

“Well,” Hanzo said almost coyly, tilting his head to the side. He looked as mischievous as his wolf dogs. “Whatever had attacked Sophie Mills had come from the forest. No one has hunting dogs like Yuki and Ame so we are going around to look in the forest for the rest of the trail.”

McCree blinked and squinted through the trees. A few wisps of mist and fog clung to the trees in the valleys but he could see no indication that they were near any sort of civilization. For a moment he thought he saw something, a person and her dog, in the mists but when he looked back it was gone.

“We’re near the house?” McCree asked.

Hanzo eyed the sun, measured it with his hands, and then pointed off to McCree’s left. “There’s a dip here,” he said and made a motion with his hand that McCree took to emulate the terrain. “Then another rise-” this hand tipped up, “-and then another dip which flattens out gradually.” He pointed slightly behind them, still to McCree’s left. “And town is back that way.”

McCree took a few quick pictures even though he wasn’t sure he’d be able to tell the difference and then turned back to Hanzo. He and his dogs were looking off to their left, staring intently at the mists as if he saw something in there. As if he had hallucinated the same thing that McCree had.

Hanzo’s mouth tightened and he looked away. He smiled at McCree. “Come on. We still have a ways to go.”

Fortunately this time “a ways” wasn’t as far as it had been before and as they crested the next shallow ridge Yuki and Ame gave low whuff s. Immediately Hanzo drew an arrow and put it to the string though he didn’t draw his bow. McCree froze.

Hanzo murmured something to Yuki and Ame who darted off into the trees and brush. Higher on the ridge, McCree could see the narrow, nearly-invisible path they traveled down the hill before one of them (he thought it was Ame, but he still couldn’t quite tell the difference between them yet despite their wildly different coloring) broke off and disappeared into the brush while the other continued along the path.

Then the wolf dog on the trail stopped and put their nose to the ground. When Hanzo gave a low, trilling whistle, it circled the spot and lay down.

Looking for Kuma, McCree realized that he had stopped right in front of McCree, his legs braced as if expecting something to come out of the forest. Following his gaze, McCree looked off into the trees. Three figures—no, four —stood in a neat line. Two were teenagers, one an older woman; the fourth was a dog. They stared at McCree and Kuma but didn’t move.

It was only a matter of time. First they would stare and then they would come closer and closer until their presence was stifling. Their eyes would stare blankly, accusingly, at him as they begged in a hundred voices for their stolen Justice.

Then McCree blinked and realized that Hanzo was looking at him and Kuma was licking his hand. “Are you ready?” Hanzo asked. There was an odd note in his voice that for now McCree ignored.

“Yeah,” he said in a rough voice.

They followed the path down toward the wolf dog that lay in the middle of it. It was a smooth path barely wide enough for the big dog to lay down so they had to walk single-file toward it. Hanzo went first by unspoken agreement since it was his dog.

McCree peered over Hanzo’s shoulder as he knelt and shivered. The ground was torn up with deep raking marks that looked like raking talons. In its midst were bear tracks and McCree took out his camera to take pictures.

“Is there a bear out here?” he asked as he snapped a few pictures.

“It’s not a bear,” Hanzo said quietly. “Those aren’t bear tracks.”

The path of destruction from the not-a-bear was disturbingly large, perhaps ten feet wide, and tore through bushes and trees. The air around it was filled with the spicy scent of weeping sap. McCree carefully took as many pictures as he could, kneeling down to take pictures on either side of the narrow path.

“What made these tracks?” McCree asked quietly, unsure to pinpoint exactly why he should be so quiet.

“Back up,” Hanzo hissed. “Back to the main trail. Go.”

McCree went, turning around and walking quickly up. Kuma wiggled past him and stood guard at the top of the ridge, his spine and ears held stiff as he stared off into the forest.

Looking back toward Hanzo, he saw him draw his bow and aim it.

Right over his shoulder.

McCree yelled and jumped aside as the arrow shrieked toward him. Suddenly Kuma was over him, nudging him back to his feet as something roared.

Hanzo grabbed him by the back of his collar, hauling him to his feet and nearly dragging him down the ravine. “Run,” he hissed and behind them, McCree could hear the sound of muted roaring and canine snarls.

They ran, half falling down the loose leaves and dirt and moss and stone. McCree fell a few times but each time Hanzo grabbed him and hauled him to his feet. A few times he just about carried him with one arm but that must have been adrenaline.

Behind them, something roared and groaned as if the world were falling apart and McCree felt his stomach turn icy with fear. They burst through the last few trees into the clearing where the horses were, the whites all around their eyes as they stood still and trembled.

Silver reared a little when they emerged and Kaze…McCree didn’t know, it roared , pawing at the ground with its hooves. It wanted gone and McCree wanted gone too.

Then Hanzo grabbed him by the belt and threw him on Kaze’s back despite his protests. “Kuma!” Hanzo yelled and the dog leaped into his arms.

“Wait-” McCree said as Kuma was shoved into his lap. The dog was trembling, his ears pinned back and his black lips peeled back to show his teeth.

The trees cracked and McCree turned to look. Through the thick bushes he could see the white flares of the wolf dogs as they attacked something. They were snarling, jumping and darting and running around something.

Silver screamed and bolted and Kaze seemed ready to bolt as well but was stopped by the fact that Hanzo was standing in front of it. Turning, McCree realized that Hanzo was tying a knot. The man tugged tighter and McCree felt the ropes close around his legs and arms, binding him and Kuma to the saddle.

The thing in the trees screamed again and Kaze hopped; Hanzo whirled and in a motion that was nearly too quick to track drew an arrow and fired. Hanzo turned back to them, met McCree’s eyes for a split second and then stepped aside, out of Kaze’s way.

“Kaze!” he ordered. “Run! Fly!”

“Wait!” McCree yelled and then there was no breath for him to yell. Bound to the saddle, he was dragged along for the ride as Kaze just about flew down the path. “Hanzo!”

Behind them the forest echoed with roars and screams.

Breathing hard and foamy with sweat, Kaze didn’t stop until it crossed what Hanzo had called the Wolf’s stream. There Lúcio was waiting on the back of a horse that was spotted like a cow. Silver was beside him, looking just as exhausted as Kaze.

“McCree!” Lúcio cried and vaulted off the back of the horse, running to Kaze. He ran his hands over Kaze’s nose and cheeks and then looked up at McCree and the rope that bound him to the saddle. “What happened?”

Breathless, McCree shook his head. “He threw me up here,” he said through gasping breaths. “There was something…a bear I think.”

An odd look crossed Lúcio’s face and he nodded. “Come on,” he said as much to Kaze as McCree. “Let’s get you guys home and cooled down.”

The horses followed Lúcio as if he were some kind of pied piper, their heads low with exhaustion. McCree twisted in the saddle, his legs and stomach cramping. Even though he wasn’t actively trying to stay in the saddle it had still hurt as if he had and his arms were tense from gripping Kuma and the saddle with a white-knuckled grip.

McCree was nearly asleep, as odd as the notion was, when they broke through the trees around the lodge. A veritable army of dogs ran to greet them, circling the horses’ feet though careful to not get too close.

He realized that Lúcio was riding beside him and he looked over blearily. “What happened?” Lúcio asked gently. “Where’s Hanzo?”

“We should have waited for him,” McCree realized.

“Hanzo is fine, he has Yuki and Ame,” Lúcio said though McCree could tell that he was still worried. “You said that a bear attacked?”

McCree shook his head. “I don’t know what it was,” he admitted. “I didn’t see it.” He remembered the screaming arrow, the pained shriek. “But Hanzo shot it. At least once.”

The other man didn’t quite look reassured. “Hanzo’s a good shot,” he said, sounding as if he were reassuring himself as much as he was McCree. “And he has the wolves with him. He’ll be fine.”

McCree’s limbs felt like overcooked noodles and Lúcio had to catch him as he tried to climb out of the saddle. With Kuma in his lap, McCree was propped against the nearby fence as Lúcio wrestled the ropes and rest of the gear off the horses. Kaze’s saddle was propped next to Silver’s saddle on the fence nearby, reeking of animal sweat and leather. The blankets protecting their coats from the hard leather edges, soaked through with sweat, were hung over the fence to dry.

The cow-print horse’s gear wasn’t sweat-soaked but it received the same treatment. All three horses stood where they were left as Lúcio walked into a small shed, returning with a hose.

It was simple and domestic and McCree watched tiredly, feeling much like a scarecrow propped up by the fence, as Lúcio went through the motions of caring for the horses. Kuma leaned, warm and reassuring, against his side.

For something to do, McCree pet the Xolo dog who looked at him with a silly canine grin. “Will he be okay?” McCree asked, hating how weak he had been.

“Yeah,” Lúcio said immediately. “He’ll be fine.”

They were quiet again, save for the sound of the horses walking and the sound of water hitting the concrete as Lúcio washed the sweat from their bodies. McCree looked in embarrassment when Lúcio casually reached beneath Kaze’s belly and touched…

…well, he’d rather not think about it.

“It was a bear,” McCree said, unsure if he was trying to convince or reassure himself. “What if he’s hurt?”

“He’ll be fine,” Lúcio repeated and McCree didn’t want to look to see if he was out from between Kaze’s legs. “It won’t be the first bear he’s wrestled.”

“It’s a very long way. Shouldn’t we send someone after him? Go back?”

He looked over in time for him to see Lúcio look up at the sky. The doctor measured the sun with his fingers and then shook his head. “It’ll be dark, soon,” he said. “You don’t want to be out in the dark. Not in these woods.”

McCree could understand. It was much the same in Red’s Gap even though they had more farms and less forest. The night was all-consuming and brought with it a primal chill that seemed to only exist in these mountains.

“Hanzo will be fine,” Lúcio repeated firmly and looking over, McCree realized that he was trembling as he brushed Kaze, his lips pressed thin.

Gently shooing Kuma out of his lap, McCree levered himself to his feet and winced when his muscles protested. Just a little longer , he promised them silently. Then I’ll take a nice long soak.

“Show me what to do?” McCree asked and Lúcio looked glad for the additional distraction.

It was hard going and his muscles protested vehemently but Silver deserved every second of attention and he gave it to…it. Her? Lord, he didn’t even know and didn’t want to check but Lúcio called her a ‘her’…he thought. He took a while, his arms still aching his legs still wobbly but he murmured praises to her the entire time. Under Lúcio’s direction he rinsed her off, cleaned off the sweat and loose hairs, then rubbed her dry with soft towels and, hilariously, a squeegee almost like he would use on his car.

“I wouldn’t rinse them like this,” Lúcio said. “But they’re covered in sweat and I’ll put the blankets on them tonight.” Every few minutes he looked back at the treeline as if expecting Hanzo to walk through at any moment. McCree couldn’t help but do the same.

To kill the time, Lúcio showed McCree the new filly (because that was what was baby female horses were called, McCree learned) and her proud momma and then showed him the rest of the stables and how to bed the horses down for the night.

“You’re exhausted,” Lúcio said when the sun began approaching the trees. “Come on, let’s get you some food and then you can shower and go to sleep.”

So reminded, McCree realized that he was tired, sore, and tacky with fear-sweat. He made a face. He probably reeked but if Lúcio was bothered by it he gave no sign. “Maybe a shower first,” he said delicately.

Lúcio smiled. “Sure! How about you go in and soak? Leave your door unlocked and I’ll bring you up a tray of food so you don’t have to come back down.”

“That sounds amazing ,” McCree breathed with feeling and Lúcio gave him a ragged grin.

“Dinner will be ready in fifteen, twenty minutes.”

Kuma followed close beside him as he dragged him up the steps and lay down in his doorway when he shuffled into his room. His gear was tossed in a corner of the room, his camera set down with more decorum on the desk.

He left a trail of clothes in the bathroom as he undressed and winced as his own odors reached him. Lúcio was a saint for bearing it without saying anything.

While waiting for the hot bath to run, he ducked into the separate shower to wash off the mud and fear-sweat still clinging to him. Soon the bathroom was filled with steam that rolled like moving clouds over every available space.

The sound of the water beating on his skin and thundering against the tile and glass of the shower was soothing, much like the sound of rain, and McCree found himself cautiously relaxing. As the water heated to near unbearable levels he felt his muscles begin to relax too and McCree sighed.

It was a bear , he told himself.

He still wasn’t so sure. Something had screamed .

Then he snorted to himself. No, the Nazgûl had not been in the middle of the forest.

But it sounded like them , his traitorous mind retorted. It had shrieked. It wasn’t a bear. Bears don’t make that sound .

“It’s not like we know what bears sound like,” McCree growled out loud to himself and reached for the soap. “We’re city boys, remember?” then he huffed a laugh to himself. “Look at me, talking to myself in fucking plurals.”

There was a loofa that judging by the tag still hanging from it was relatively new and he snatched it up. It felt like he needed a brillo pad, some steel wool maybe, or a power washer to be clean again, but since none of those things were in the shower, the loofa would have to do.

He scrubbed and scrubbed at his skin until he thought he might scrub it right off, the water turning it bright red like some kind of fleshy, hairy lobster. All he could think of was Hanzo.

How Hanzo had seen the thing, had been so in tune with the forest and his dogs that he had seen it before it could sneak up on McCree.

How Hanzo had nearly carried him down the ridge as if he weighed as much as a sack of potatoes. Had thrown him on Kaze’s back, tied him and Kuma to the saddle, and sent them off without him.

McCree thought, even knowing that it was a romantic thing to think, that if he had turned around, he would have seen Hanzo watching him go. Realistically he knew that likely Hanzo had turned as soon as Kaze had started moving, had returned his attention to the fight.

He knew that even Lúcio was worried and that made guilt eat away at him. He should have packed his gun. He should have stayed.

What if Hanzo was injured? All alone in the middle of the woods?

Would the wolf dogs fetch help for him? Would they lie beside him and keep him warm? Hanzo seemed like he had an almost otherworldly bond with his dogs, even the little army of dogs at his home. Or was it that McCree didn’t know what the bond between working dog and handler looked like?

He had seen the K-9 units in the cities, how attentive they were to each other. And a few times, back in the hazy days of his childhood, he had seen the sheepdogs and herding dogs lying just inside the fences of their charges, but none of them seemed to have the… intelligence in their eyes like Hanzo’s dogs did.

Even the highly-trained K-9s and other service dogs he had seen didn’t act like Kuma.

He scrubbed soap into his hair and beard and felt bad that he was using so much of it, making a mental note to buy more soap in town or at least give Lúcio money to do so. It took four washes for him to finally feel clean enough to leave and when he did the bathroom seemed full of clouds.

Everything was slick where the steam had touched but McCree could care less. He cracked open the door to his bedroom to let out some of the steam and shuffled to the bath. This time he didn’t add any fancy oils or soaps. Just water, gloriously hot water, and he hissed as he slid in.

Tucking his head against the little head rest, McCree sighed and closed his eyes.

There was a girl he didn’t recognize in front of him. Her eyes were replaced by lights that glowed in white and gold fire.

“It knows you’re here, now,” she scolded.

The fires in her eyes turned red and she grinned, her mouth opening wider, wider, wider. “And I’m hungry.”

McCree jolted awake, sloshing the cooling water in the tub all over the floor. Then he yelped at the painful way his muscles tugged.

He was trembling. Just exhaustion , he scolded himself. Leaning over, he opened the plug in the drain and levered himself to his feet.

After a quick, cursory drying with one of the towels, McCree shuffled into his room and found a large plate of food on the desk. Flopping in the chair McCree only managed a few tired bites before shuffling over to the bed and collapsing on it.

He woke to a knock on the door and groaned, rolling over. Everything hurt. He felt like a strip of jerky that had been dried to be as hard as a rock.

There was another knock on the door and groaning again, McCree shoved himself to his feet. He felt bowlegged and never before had he really understood what that meant. Every step hurt and every motion to pull on a shirt and a pair of boxers made him bite his lips in pain.

Hanzo was on the other side of the door, a large tray of food in his hands. He blinked when he saw McCree. “You look like shit.”

“You are a piece of shit,” McCree croaked. “Is that coffee?” he asked hopefully.

“Just water for you,” Hanzo told him. “May I come in?”

McCree shuffled out of the way and watched as Hanzo put the tray down on the desk. “When did you get back?” he asked. “What happened?”

“I’m sorry,” Hanzo murmured and McCree blinked, not expecting that. “I put you in danger and you were almost hurt.” He looked over McCree. “You are hurt.”

Hanzo grabbed McCree’s arm and traced his fingers along plum and green bruises and bright red rashes from where the ropes had dug in and rubbed against his skin.

“I don’t even feel it,” McCree said. “Everything else hurts so much.”

That was the wrong thing to say; Hanzo’s lips thinned, his eyes darkening. “I’m sorry,” the other man said with an explosive sigh. “I didn’t mean for you to hurt like this.”

“Sit with me,” McCree said, shuffling to the desk chair. He sighed as he sank down, leaning down to press his thumbs into the tight muscles on the insides of his thighs.

Grunting, Hanzo batted his hands away. “Let me,” he said and McCree groaned, fighting against the instinct to tense up when Hanzo pressed a thumb hard into the tight muscle. Without remorse Hanzo dug his thumbs in, running up and down his thighs from knee to hip in what was probably the unsexist massage that McCree had ever received. “I have some ointment you can rub on this,” Hanzo said as he was finishing up. “And I’ll find some ointments for your cuts and bruises, too.”

McCree caught his arm as he turned to leave. “What happened? You never answered.”

“Are you asking as the man or the detective?”

“I think I deserve to know the truth. I’m asking as someone that had been tied to a horse and sent away with something screaming in the woods.”

Hanzo looked away. “A wild animal attacked,” he said. “And I fought it off. The wolves and I walked back.”

“You must have been walking all night,” McCree said, fighting to keep his voice as neutral as possible. “When did you get in?”

“I flagged someone down on the road and they gave me a ride into town. I stayed over with Jackie and he gave me a ride down here this morning.”

McCree leaned back even though the muscles in his stomach protested. So much for being in shape. His stomach grumbled but he ignored it. “Why are you lying to me?”

His lips turned down, Hanzo turned back to look back at him. “Why should I tell you the truth?”

Then he was gone, closing the door behind him. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, McCree sat up and tucked in.

Lúcio was downstairs washing up and grinned when he caught sight of McCree. “You’re walking like an old man,” he teased.

“I feel like one,” McCree told him. “How long was I out?”

The other man shrugged. “A while, but you were tired,” he said. Dropping the dishes in the sink, he looked out the window in time to see Hanzo swinging into Kaze’s saddle, his bow strung and arrows hanging from the front of the saddle.

“Where is he going?” McCree asked and Lúcio followed his gaze. “Didn’t he just get back?”

Lúcio shrugged. “I’ve given up asking him questions,” he admitted as a small pack of dogs followed Hanzo across the meadow. “I doubt we’ll see him again until later tonight.”

“Isn’t it dangerous?” McCree asked as Hanzo disappeared into the trees. “He just said that something attacked him.”

“Most likely he’s going to go and check on it,” Lúcio told him. “Make sure it’s not hurt too badly or if it is, giving it a mercy kill. I used to worry for him all the time, but I’ve since given up. He’s been doing this for a long time. He’ll be fine.”

There was a knock on the door and Lúcio quickly dried his hands. McCree took over as the other man walked into the other room. He struggled to hear what was being said but recognized Jack’s gruff voice.

“-just missed him,” Lúcio was saying as they walked into the kitchen and McCree pretended he hadn’t been paying attention. “He just went off into the woods. I can probably send Lily after him if you need him right now.”

Jack grunted and McCree could feel his eyes boring into the back of his head. “I heard you were the one in charge of the case in Redstone.”

Where Jack couldn’t see it, McCree made a face. He shook his hands free of suds, turned off the water, and turned around. “For now,” he said. “At least, that was my impression when I left.”

Lúcio glanced back and forth between them, shrugged helplessly, and made himself scarce. Outside the dogs barked as he went to join them and through the kitchen window McCree could see him walking toward the horses. The cow-print horse that yesterday Lúcio had called a piebald trotted up to the fence and shoved her face into the man’s stomach, as affectionate as a dog.

“What brings you here, then?” Jack pressed and looking at him, McCree saw that his arms were crossed over his chest. His pitbull also seemed to be frowning up at McCree.

“Vacation,” McCree replied. “The Sheriff thought it might be a bit rough for me to be on a case again so soon after…” he trailed off.

As he half-suspected, Jack—wearing the hat of Sheriff Morrison now—nodded. “So why assign you to the case if he’s concerned about your mental health?” he shook his head. “And why have you come to Clay’s?”

Another regional name, probably. McCree made a mental note of it.

“I heard about the Wolf,” McCree said evenly. “So I thought I’d go and see the legend for myself. And Sheriff Galbraith wanted me out of everyone’s hair while the sheriffs convened. Perhaps he was afraid of me making a scene.”

Sheriff Morrison side-eyed him. His frown deepened, making the scar on his face more pronounced. “I find it awfully convenient that the killings made a jump to Clay’s as soon as you show up.”

“If you think I killed that girl then I’m afraid you’re quite mistaken,” McCree said, feeling a low flush of heat rising beneath his skin.

The sheriff’s fingers drummed along his arm. “I’m here to speak to Hanzo,” he said. “But since you’re still here, I may as well take you in for questioning.”

Suddenly Kuma sat up and moved between them, head held low as he snarled.

The door opened and Lúcio walked in, a curious kind of frown on his face. Lily bullied past him and joined Kuma between McCree and Sheriff Morrison. “What’s wrong, Jack?”

Sheriff Morrison’s frown deepened and McCree hazarded a glance down at his pitbull. Strangely enough it had flopped down on its belly, its head down, but it didn’t look like it had laid down to relax.

Lúcio looked back and forth between McCree and the sheriff, a frown on his face. “Spit it out, Jack,” he said, his tone colder. “Go ahead and tell me what’s going on.”

“Sheriff business,” Morrison said just as coldly. “It doesn’t concern you.”

McCree knew better than to say anything but he looked cautiously down at Kuma. An uncollared dog that was displaying aggressive tendencies was never a good thing. Especially to the sheriff.

“It does concern me,” Lúcio said. “If Lily and Kuma are reacting like this. Or do you not trust Hanzo?”

He gathered that was a low blow because Morrison flinched. “You know I trust him,” he said. “But you know how this looks.”

Lúcio jutted his chin out. “I will vouch for him. The dogs threw in their lots. So will Hanzo; I sent Tatsu after him.” McCree looked out the kitchen window in time to see Hanzo and his small pack of dogs emerge from the trees like some kind of vengeful god.

McCree jumped when Kuma tipped his head back and howled; Lily joined in a second later and the sheriff gave a full-body flinch. The door opened a minute later and Hanzo walked in, his eyes blazing gold and his hair like burnished silver as it hung from his high ponytail. His bow was strapped around his chest, quivers of arrows on either thigh.

“What’s wrong?” Hanzo asked as Yuki and Ame wiggled into the kitchen, their ears pricked forward. Another dog that McCree didn’t recognize followed in Hanzo’s shadow, nudging Lúcio’s hip until he reached down to pet it. “Did you need me, Jackie?”

That name again. Jackie.

McCree wondered but didn’t want to ask.

“I wanted to ask Mr. McCree here some questions,” Sheriff Morrison said but still looked almost like a kid being scolded by an adult. “I find it remarkably suspicious that he shows up and-”

Hanzo held up a hand and Morrison’s jaw snapped shut with a grimace. “I will vouch for him,” Hanzo said simply. “And I had meant to speak with you as well. Will you join me outside?”

With a final glance at McCree, the sheriff followed him out; the entourage of dogs wandered through the door in their wake, leaving Lúcio, McCree, Kuma, and Lily behind. “Good timing,” Lúcio breathed, miming wiping sweat from his brow. “Jack means well but he can be a bit…distrustful.”

“It’s too early for this,” McCree said weakly.

Lúcio looked at him with concern. “Are you okay?” he asked seriously. “I know that you went through a lot with Hanzo yesterday and then there was the Sophie Mills house. Do you…need something?”

Taking a deep breath, McCree leaned against the counter. “I will be,” he said with a heavy sigh. “Just…” he shrugged. “I could use a vacation from this vacation.”

He looked outside. Sheriff Morrison and Hanzo were talking, the sheriff’s dog lying prostrate on the ground while Yuki and Ame loomed over it. It was similar to the way that Hanzo seemed to loom over Morrison even though he was a good five inches shorter.

“You seem to have it rough,” Lúcio agreed. “I’m sorry that your vacation has been so…”

“Eventful?” McCree suggested.

Lúcio grinned. “Come on, let’s give them a moment.”

“I’ll…go back to my room and clean up a bit,” McCree said, following Lúcio out of the kitchen. “And take a look at some of the photos I took.” Waving to Lúcio, McCree did as he said, climbing painfully up the stairs and dipping into his room to set up his things.

He needed to take a deep breath before he could open the picture files. Finding a notepad for his thoughts and doodles, McCree settled in for a long afternoon.

An undetermined amount of time later, he heard a knock and looked up to find Hanzo in the doorway. He was still dressed in whatever hunting gear he had been wearing; his bow scraped against the doorframe as he leaned in.

“Oh,” McCree said awkwardly. “Hey.”

“I apologize for Jackie,” Hanzo murmured.

McCree shrugged. “It’s fair. I’m an outsider here and in the area in general.”

“But that doesn’t mean that he has the right to accuse someone—who is my guest—in my own house,” Hanzo replied. “He knows better than that.”

Curious, McCree peered at the other man. “What, are you the mayor or something? I think that’s how the justice system works.”

Hanzo shrugged. “I’ve known him since he was a boy,” he said. “In that time, he’s come to trust me. I won’t say that I know better than him because that is unfair, but he knows that I don’t invite just anyone into my home.”

“I was just walking along the side of the road when you met me,” McCree pointed out. “You certainly did let ‘just anyone’ in your home.”

Hanzo didn’t seem to have an answer for that, or at least an answer that he was willing to share. Instead he said, “Jackie can get…perhaps a bit too into his job. He takes protecting people very seriously.”

“You don’t?” McCree shot back.

“That is different.”

Leaning back in his chair, McCree regarded Hanzo thoughtfully. “I feel like I’m missing something.” Hanzo didn’t reply. “Tell me, Hanzo…” he trailed off, not even sure what he was asking.

He knew that Hanzo was lying about something, but not about what. At the same time, deep down in his gut in some kind of instinctive way, he knew that whatever it might look like Hanzo was, without a shadow of a doubt, there to help.

In the afternoon sun, Hanzo’s eyes were golden. An odd look crossed his face.

McCree just watched him, taking in his appearance. He looked like something out of a play or some kind of adventure movie with his quivers of arrows, the bow strung across his chest. Unlike what McCree would have expected he didn’t wear camouflage as if he were hunting but instead a plain quilted green canvas jacket with a black trim.

“There are things in the woods,” Hanzo said at last. “Dangerous things. Things that you would think me crazy to put name to. So, I ask that you do not as no matter what you may think of me…I do not want you to think I am so crazy.” McCree closed his mouth and mimed zipping his lips shut, locking them, and throwing away the key. “You could say that I am a…game warden of sorts. I work with hunting dogs and horses and all manner of beast.”

McCree frowned at Hanzo. “I see.”

A lot of things fell into place at that even though he couldn’t help but run wild with his theories. Things that you would think me crazy to put name to .

Like the Wolf? He wanted to ask. Are you a Wolf hunter? Like Bigfoot? Like Mothman? Like the Jersey Devil? Are those things in the woods too? Perhaps having a little tea party with the bogeyman?

But why the bow and arrows? He wanted to know. Why not a proper rifle or even a tranquilizer dart? If he was the kind of hunter to want to capture his rare finds alive .

Or maybe the forest was like that suicide forest in Japan. The one they called the sea of trees. Maybe it was haunted and that’s what Hanzo was talking about. Was he a demon hunter? A witch? McCree almost wanted to laugh. Like those old anime cartoons.

He didn’t say any of this, though. “Alright,” he said instead of all of the mocking questions he wanted to ask. “And what is killing everyone? Do you know?”

Hanzo was tellingly silent.

McCree leaned forward. “It would be obstruction of justice if you deny me.”

“Do you ask me as the man or the detective?”

“Does it matter?”

Hanzo turned and walked away and McCree scrambled to chase after him, tripping over himself as his aching legs remembered their pain. When he made it downstairs, he found that Hanzo had gone outside and was taking the gear off of Kaze’s back.


The other man turned and looked at him. “Don’t,” Hanzo said as he lifted the saddle and its woven pad off of the horse’s back. He ducked into a nearby shed and McCree followed, finding it full of saddles and harnesses.

“Hanzo, wait,” McCree protested, hobbling after Hanzo. “It’s not…I didn’t…”

Hanzo laid the saddle on a hook with the horse’s name and laid the blanket over the back. “You didn’t what?” he asked bitterly.

He brushed past McCree and he caught Hanzo’s arm in his. “Hanzo, please,” McCree said quietly. “I’m just…”

Stepping closer, Hanzo pressed his face into McCree’s space. “You just what?” he asked quietly. “You think I’m mad. That’s fine. But I draw the line where you believe that you have power over me. You may try to claim that but you will be very wrong.”

“I’m just trying-”

The look on Hanzo’s face silenced him. “There are different ways to go about it,” Hanzo said.

After a few long minutes in the shed, McCree walked back into the house. Lúcio filled the silence cheerfully, catching McCree up on the things that he’d missed while sleeping.

Sheriff Morrison had made the formal announcement of Sophie Mills’ death but everyone already knew that in this small mountain town. The sheriff had reminded everyone that no one should go out after dark—a kind of curfew, Lúcio explained. No one that lived in the town ever went out after dark and discouraged their few guests to do so. No one opened the door after dark and everyone kept the windows shut tight.

Lúcio added that Satya found him while he had been in town running errands. McCree’s car was ready but she had heard that he had been busy and was fine with holding on to the Jeep for a while.

Dinner was served early but still filled with awkward silence that Lúcio struggled valiantly to fill. McCree hardly looked up from his plate and Hanzo stonily ignored him if he did. The dogs dozed nearby.

“Thank you for dinner,” Hanzo said as he stood. He ate more than McCree and Lúcio did, combined, and still finished before the two of them.

“Are you going out?” Lúcio asked quietly.

Hanzo nodded and picked up his bow and arrows, which he had tucked next to the door. Yuki and Ame looked up and got to their feet. They lingered near the door and stretched, their tails wagging.

“When will you be back?” McCree asked quietly. Hanzo shook his head, strung his bow, and left. When the door closed behind Hanzo, McCree let his head hang.

“I don’t know what you’ve done,” Lúcio said thoughtfully. “But you fucked up good, man.”

McCree glared at him. “I asked questions.”

“Hanzo likes answering questions. What else did you do?”

Feeling inexplicably guilty, McCree looked away. “I don’t know.”

Lúcio sighed through his nose. “Well, I suppose it can’t all be you,” he said, quite unhelpfully. “He’s been on edge for the past few months. He’s really upset about the killings.”

“They only started the other day,” McCree protested.

The other man sighed. “There have been more killings,” Lúcio admitted. “Not human ones so you wouldn’t have noticed them. It’s Hanzo’s job to. He’s found a lot of mutilated corpses, animals killed out of season. It’s all been escalating.”

McCree thought that over as they put the dishes in the sink. “Lúcio,” he said slowly as he looked out the window. Hanzo disappeared into the trees with Yuki and Ame. “Where is Hanzo going?”

Lúcio looked up but there was no sign of Hanzo through the dense trees. “Hunting,” Lúcio replied. “You guys encountered something. He wants to check it out further.”

“No one goes into the forest,” McCree said slowly. “Especially not at night.”

“It’s what Hanzo does.”

McCree frowned. “Why at night?”

“I can’t tell you,” Lúcio said with a shrug. “Hunting isn’t my thing, even the kind of hunting that Hanzo does as a ranger.”

“I feel like I’m missing something,” McCree said, frustrated. The setting sun turned the trees amber and purple and a particularly ominous shade of gray-green. Beneath the shade of the trees, the world grew darker and darker.

Lúcio shrugged. “Small towns,” he explained. “You know how they are.”

“But they’re not supposed to be,” McCree protested. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I know,” Lúcio said sympathetically. “But…well, think about it this way. You know those gates we passed in town?” McCree nodded. “They say that no one settled on these mountains before, despite the abundance of livable land. The winters are cold here but not terrible and yet when settlers first came they were perplexed. The local tribes said that the mountains were haunted. They had lived in this area for centuries and had learned how to read the world around them and they tried to pass this on to the white settlers but they were ignored.

“The first year more than half of the settlers had been killed. The local tribes still refused to step foot on the mountain even when the settlers begged for help from them. One tribe brought their shaman before the mountain and met with the stubborn settlers that thought that the world would bend to their whim if only they were determined enough.

“The shaman warned them that the mountain had teeth and claws and that it would be best if they left; the settlers scoffed at him. The shaman warned them that they would only feed something that grew in the darkness if they lingered and the settlers mocked him for his naivety. The world belonged to them, a gift from their foreign God who gave them dominion over it.” McCree winced. “They did not speak with the shaman again but determined to help them, they say that the shaman summoned the Wolf and begged him to help these foolish settlers so that not all of them may lose their souls to the mountain.

“That is why, many say, that the Wolf helps the town. One of many reasons. At first people were reticent. The Wolf was a pagan creature, the spawn of the devil that wore the skin of a wolf and had dominion over wild beasts. They would not listen to the devil for fear of temptation and cast him from their town.

“Soon only a few remained and they were too desperate to be proud. The Wolf returned and drew a barrier around them. They say that the local tribes at the base of the mountain helped to carve the Gates and that The Wolf himself strapped himself to the sledge that carried them up the mountain.” Lúcio laughed mirthlessly. “Like Jesus carrying his cross. It had always made me laugh. There is a legend in town of the great Wolf dragging the Gate into town, animals of every shape and size helping. Bears and wolves and foxes and deer all pulled and pushed.

“The town scoffed when they saw it and were afraid. They almost burned and killed The Wolf and the Gate but they remembered their desperation. As soon as the Gate was erected and the smaller totems placed around town, the attacks stopped.

“When the town tried to thank the tribes they refused and said instead to thank The Wolf, not the voices that called him to the rescue of those that thought they were better than the wisdom of those that had been there before.”

McCree made a face. “I’m not saying that I know better than anyone here,” he protested.

Lúcio turned and looked at him. “Are you?” he asked quietly. “Here you come—yes, on vacation, I know—but the moment there is something that piques your interest you try to bully your way into control.” McCree winced. “Hanzo was kind enough to step in on your behalf and get Morrison to back off but for how long will that last? He has a lot of sway in the community but there is only so much he can do. Each time you try to force your way in to gain control of something you don’t understand you alienate those around you. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions…where does your road lead?” sighing, Lúcio shook water from his hands and dried them on a nearby dish rag. “It’s getting dark, I’m going to put everyone to rest and close the windows.”

McCree watched him walk out the door and across the yard. The horses followed him eagerly, as if they too feared the coming darkness. The dogs were settled in an indoor kennel and only need a whistle for all of them to run toward their sleeping areas.

Drying his own hands, McCree walked back upstairs and sat back down in front of the computer. He had a lot of thinking to do.

Chapter Text

Hanzo didn’t return.

It was dark out and Hanzo still hadn’t returned.

McCree sat with Kuma downstairs in front of the gas fireplace. The dog sat on his knees while he lay reclined, staring up at the vaulted wooden ceilings and tried to practice his apology to Hanzo.

“Hanzo’s still not back,” McCree said to Kuma who huffed as if he understood. “I’m worried.” Kuma shifted when he moved his legs, sitting up and checking the time. 10:00 PM. He looked at Kuma. “I’m going to look for him.”

Kuma whined and circled him, clearly trying to herd McCree back as he grabbed his shoes from their cubby near the front door and approached the back door.

“It’s okay,” McCree assured him. “I’m just gonna go out into the meadows.”

He quietly unlocked the back door while Kuma tugged at his jeans, low whines rising in his throat. But despite his clear distress, Kuma still followed McCree into the night which was lit by the fat moon as it hung in the cloudless sky. This far away from the lights of the city the sky was awash with a wonder of silver stars that cascaded like glitter across the sky.

At his side, Kuma trembled and he leaned down to stroke the dog’s shoulder. Gently grabbing McCree’s hand in his mouth, Kuma looked up at McCree and sighed. He tugged McCree toward a small shed just off the back porch and pawed quietly at the door.

McCree opened the shed and through the bright light of the moon realized that it was a supply shed. He found a small electric lantern and clicked it on, walking along the walls to find it filled with hunting rifles. There were bows and arrows too, and a small section in the back that upon approaching, McCree realized was for putting the feathers on arrows.

He backed away from that section and back to the guns. None of them were really ones that he could operate with one hand but he supposed that a handgun against a bear might not be the most effective. So he settled on a shotgun and found boxes of buckshot which he loaded into cartridges with more stuffed in his pockets. Kuma followed him like a shadow, trembling visibly.

“You don’t have to go with me,” McCree found himself telling Kuma who gave him a disapproving look.

Still, Kuma was with him as he walked across the meadow and as he approached the dark edge of the trees, McCree was glad for it. Holding his lantern high above his head, McCree looked into the trees.

There was almost no visibility and he could only see maybe at the most ten feet ahead before the darkness seemed to swallow the dim golden light of the electric lantern. He looked down at Kuma whose ears were pricked forward, swiveling as he took in the sounds of the forest. The dog looked up at him and gave a soft wuff .

“I’m glad you’re with me, buddy,” he said softly. “Means a lot.” Adjusting his hold on the handle of the lantern and the heavy shotgun, McCree stepped into the forest.

After a few steps he felt as if he had stepped into another world. The world seemed to fall silent and everything in him zeroed in on the dark forest around him. “I always wanted to be an astronaut,” he told Kuma. “If only I’d’a known all I gotta do was walk in the woods, here.”

Kuma sneezed and with a wan smile, McCree stepped further in.

“I don’t suppose you can track Hanzo, huh?” Kuma looked up at him and sneezed again. He put his nose to the ground, sniffed around and then edged forward before stopping to look back reproachfully at McCree as if to say, I’m here because of you , buddy, so you better stick close.

Swallowing his unease, McCree glanced over his shoulder at the path they had just come down. The moonlight in the meadow seemed ever brighter, almost looked as bright as high noon in comparison to the ink-black darkness beneath the trees.

Kuma whined and nudged McCree’s knee.

“Yeah,” McCree said as he turned back around. “Let’s go.”

He followed Kuma deeper into the trees, stopping when the Xolo dog stopped and moving on again when he carefully moved forward.

“Wait,” he said to Kuma and the dog stopped, turning to look up at him. “Um…bear with me.” He fumbled with the lantern and clicked it off.

Instead of standing in darkness he stood on top of a hill that overlooked a small paddock. Red-tinged mud sucked at his boots and the smell of copper hung heavily in the air; the sun was just cresting the nearby trees.

“What are you doing here?”

McCree turned and leaned forward to peer into the open doors of the shed. Gérard Lacroix ’s body was lying against the wall, just as it had the other morning when McCree had been called to the scene.

He jumped when the body moved; the head lolled as if it tried to look at McCree. The empty sockets of his eyes glowed with white and gold fire. “What are you doing here?” the body asked. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Where am I?” McCree dared to ask. “What’s going on?”

“You need to leave,” the body insisted. Its voice grew louder and louder until it was shouting. “You need to leave. You shouldn’t be here. You need to leave. YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!”

A warm body bumped into his leg and McCree jumped. He clicked the light back on and shuddered, cold and dripping with fear-sweat, as he took a few deep breaths.

Kuma was whimpering, his ears pricked as he looked around. As if he saw something. Swallowing hard, McCree watched the dog’s head and turned to face what he looked at, readying his shotgun.

Then he heard the noise. There was a groaning of wood, a crackle of branches, and the sound of something very large breathing.


Kuma’s head jerked and McCree turned with it. A dark shape stood behind them on the dirt path just outside of the circle of light cast by the lantern.

And it stood between McCree and the open meadow.

McCree swallowed and carefully lowered the shotgun, hooking his fingers through the handle of the lantern. The light trembled as his hand shook and caught on the metallic gleam of animal eyes. He watched the animal, or whatever it was, turn its head back and forth and heard it sniffing the air.

It made a sound like wood groaning and then it snarled. Its eyes, as silver as the moon, very slowly turned toward McCree. It sniffed again and roared .

Then it moved, lunged faster than McCree expected it to move toward him. With a yell, McCree fired the shotgun and grunted when the kickback sent fire up his arm. In the silence of the forest the roar of the shotgun was deafening but it was dwarfed by the scream of the animal.

“Run!” he yelled to Kuma and the dog darted off to their left. McCree followed, struggling to keep sight of the shadow-colored dog in the darkness of the forest. Behind him he could hear the creature scream and then heard its great heaving breaths and the sounds of breaking branches.

McCree didn’t dare look back, bolting after Kuma. He had no idea how he kept running and how he stayed ahead of the bear or whatever it was chasing him but he somehow did and managed to stay upright. The ground was made slippery with fallen leaves and footing unreliable for the tangle of roots protruding from the ground, but McCree managed to dodge them somehow.

He burst into a clearing and his heart nearly stopped. Open ground meant that whatever was behind him could move faster.

There was a cluster of rocks that almost seemed to glow silver in the moonlight and McCree scrambled up as fast and as high as he could. He cocked the shotgun and waited.

The trees where he had burst from were still and silent. After the darkness of the trees the meadow seemed too bright and to save the battery McCree flicked it off.

Behind him water rushed and McCree hazarded a glance, realizing that he was at the waterfall he had seen the other day with Hanzo, but that was impossible. He had moved in and out of the trees, off a path that was not the one that he should have been on, and had run himself, not on the back of a horse. It had taken them some time of running on horseback to get here and yet McCree had done so in only a few minutes while running on his own two legs.

He turned back around and found that the trees had moved. There was something in the shadows.

Kuma trembled next to him, the only sign of a growl in the subtle vibrations against McCree’s leg as he leaned against him. McCree took a knee and braced the shotgun more firmly against his shoulder.

The wind whistled through the trees.

The small waterfall bubbled behind him.

The stone was cold beneath his knees.

McCree’s breath shuddered. He blinked.

He was outside of a house he recognized as the one that belonged to Sophie Mills only this time there wasn’t a giant gaping hole in the side. Or perhaps there was and he just didn’t see it; he was leaning against the little fence that surrounded a small garden that McCree hadn’t seen before.

Sophie’s dog, Sasha, was staring right at him.

“Why am I here?” McCree asked.

Sophie had been kneeling, her back toward him, and at the sound of his voice she turned and stared. She looked horrified but it was hard to tell, her eyes filled with that same white and gold light that everyone in these waking nightmares seemed to have.

McCree held his head in his hands and rubbed at his eyes, his temples as pain stabbed through them. “Relapses,” he said. “It’s only a hallucination. I need to talk to my shrink again.”

He didn’t like the psychiatrists. They either looked at him like he was crazy or like he was a bug under a microscope, interesting as a subject rather than as a person that suffered.

When he pulled his hands away, Sophie was standing. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Sorry,” McCree said. “I swear I’m trying to wake up.”

“You shouldn’t be here,” Sophie insisted. Her voice began to rise, her eyes widening as if in fear. “You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here. YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE.”

Then, as if her voice were cut short by shears she was silent and still. McCree was abruptly aware of the sound of the forest behind him. Of the groaning of trees, the whistle of the wind through the branches, of the feeling of Something Else behind him.

Sophie stared but not at McCree. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. “It is here.”

McCree blinked and found that something had stepped out of the forest. He focused on the creature and not the throbbing headache that beat insistently against his skull.

It stood just inside the ring of trees, bipedal in an unnatural way. At first McCree thought it was a bear but it was too thin and its limbs and neck too long and too awkward. It had enormous eyes as pale silver as the moon and a snout…

My, what big eyes you have, McCree thought crazily to himself, biting back a hysterical laugh when he realized that…it was a wolf.

Or wolf-like. At least its face.

Its torso was flat in the front like a person’s and its belly was curved in as if it were starving. Even in the unreliable light of the moon it looked like little more than a fur-covered skeleton.

The creature stood in the middle of the clearing, too far away for McCree to effectively shoot, its silver eyes roving the trees as if searching. McCree couldn’t hear its breaths over the sound of the waterfall but watched its emaciated sides heaving as it took deep breaths, scenting the air.

As it turned its face toward McCree he realized that it was blind and was hunting by scent. He hoped that the scent of the water, whatever it may smell to this creature, hid his and Kuma’s scents.

It turned away, hunched over and McCree saw a half-formed tail, nearly hairless, sticking out of where a tail should be, connected to a line of skin pressed taut over the ridges of its spine. Trembling he watched, taking in as many details of the grotesque creature as he could.

He realized that its back and neck and shoulders were shaped oddly and sat strangely elongated on its spine. As the creature turned in a circuit, systematically searching the air for their trail, McCree realized why. Hidden in the folds of flesh and dark fur that had once covered a larger body was a human face that stared blankly, just as blind as the enormous eyes on the wolf-like snout.

Everything sat strangely because it was as if a wolf’s head and shoulders were perched on the back of a human’s, as if it were slowly absorbing the body of some poor bastard that had wandered too far into the forest.

McCree couldn’t help the horrified whimper and tensed when the creature’s ears perked up. The creature snapped its head and both of its grotesque faces toward McCree and snarled. Its forearms, tipped in paws that looked like it were halfway between the paws of a wolf and the grasping hands of a man, clenched.

At his side, Kuma howled suddenly and McCree jumped, his heart nearly leaping out of his chest. The sudden noise sent searing pain shooting through him, his temples still throbbing from the hallucination.

“Kuma, no!” he screamed as the Xolo dog leaped forward, lunging at the creature just as it began to charge.

He watched in horror as they collided. Kuma’s comparatively smaller size did little against the creature, which already stood taller than McCree but his snarling jaws grasped at the loose skin around its neck and hung on.

The creature screamed with two mouths and two voices, a chorus that sent shivers down McCree’s spine and sweat to his brow. It was a struggle to not drop the shotgun and clutch his head and tears sprung to his eyes at the agony. They were still too far away for McCree to shoot effectively and most importantly to McCree, Kuma was in the way .

With another scream the creature grasped Kuma’s body in its half-formed claws and ripped him away, flinging him toward the trees. Kuma hit the ground with a yelp and McCree lifted the shotgun again.

But the creature was focused on Kuma now, the one that made the most noise as he scrambled to his feet. His claws scraped along the ground and grass and he snarled where he had once been silent, circling around the creature.

McCree realized that Kuma was leading it away from him , growling and snapping and barking as it backed away from the waterfall where they had taken refuge.

Feeling eyes on him, McCree turned on the balls of his feet and raised his shotgun and froze. There was something else in the clearing with them, clinging like some kind of enormous, mutated spider.

It was grey-silver like smoke, like the clinging mists that lurked beneath the trees in the forest, but it was hard to tell any detail further than that. Parts of it moved as if unconsciously, wisping and curling like it was natural, but the rest of it remained motionless in the way that fog and mist were not. At its heart it seemed almost solid, extending outward in a gradient until it was as fine as gauze.

Something seemed to form in the nebulous shape, a long tendril that started off nearly invisible against the trees but grew darker and darker. Lights seemed to bloom in its strange body and along the mists that wisped off of it. Blues and golds and oranges and pinks and greens like the aurora shimmered over its body.

The tendril grew larger and extended toward McCree. A dark mouth like a gash formed in it and then eyes formed, red as embers. Ana’s words came back to him.

A dozen grasping hands with a dozen grasping claws, a thousand eyes that glowed like hellfire and a hundred mouths lined with fangs like shadows .

McCree raised his shotgun and the mouth that had formed with teeth like obsidian grinned wide. More ember-like eyes seemed to rise to the surface of some viscous grey-silver liquid and they stared at McCree from a dozen different angles.

The longer McCree stared the more the creature seemed to solidify into some kind of shape. Like a many-armed spider it clung to the trees with grasping hands tipped with long claws like sharpened bits of obsidian. Its eyes dotted its body like the stars in the sky in reverse, glowing like hellish fire.

Swallowing hard, McCree raised the shotgun and shifted his finger to the trigger.

The creature grinned, its mouths opening wider and wider. A moment later McCree heard a sound like a scream and something struck him, knocking him off his feet. Pain exploded in his arm and he screamed.

His shot went wide as he struck the stone, his breath rushing out of his lungs. When he blinked white spots from his eyes he found the wolf-creature with his arm in its jaws.

Screaming, McCree struggled and tried to turn his shotgun into the creature’s chest. He screamed again when the eyes of the creature, now completely consumed by hellfire like the eyes of the ghostly creature in the trees, bored into him. The face in the creature’s neck screamed like a human, like it was terrified and in pain, and cold sweat made McCree’s hands slippery.

No, that was blood. With a muffled shriek the wolf head shook its head, its teeth still buried in McCree’s arm.

There was an audible snap as McCree’s shoulder dislocated and he screamed again.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a black streak race across the ground. Kuma leaped at the wolf creature but was swept out of the air by one of the tree-creature’s grasping arms. The dog yelped and shrieked as he was flung away.

McCree stared into the eyes of the beast and screamed with it as an arrow buried itself in one of its eyes.

His arm was dropped as the wolf-beast threw its head back with a cry and then it was gone, bowled over by another shape. Another loomed over McCree, pressed low, protectively, over McCree.

The monster in the trees screeched, made a sound like a hundred gongs and cymbals crashing. There was a flare of brilliant golden light that light up the clearing like the middle of day and the many-limbed creature scrambled out of the way.

Then Hanzo was kneeling over McCree, an arrow on the string of his bow. His eyes and markings on his skin like sweeping brush strokes glowed with golden fire. A strand of it curled around the arrow in his hand like a lively snake.

He yelled something in a voice like thunder and drew his bow. McCree closed his eyes against the brilliance and when he opened his eyes again, he had to blink spots from his eyes.

“McCree,” Hanzo breathed and a hand cupped his cheek.

“Kuma,” McCree mumbled. “Where is Kuma?”

Hanzo turned his head and an afterimage of white fur and pointed ears followed his head as if he wore the pelt of a wolf like a hooded cape. He said something that McCree could hardly hear through the ringing of his ears. Then he turned back and there was a clatter as he put his bow down on the rocks.

“Be at rest,” Hanzo said. “Kuma is with me. But you…we need to get you to a doctor.”

McCree sighed and looked up past Hanzo at the brightness of the stars and the unflinching gaze of the moon. He felt Hanzo doing something, felt something wrapping around his elbow and pulling tight but it was a secondary thing.

He blinked and three faces stood over him; their eyes all glowed with white and gold light.

“Oh no,” the boy said. McCree recognized him as the boy from the shed, what had started the whole terrible story. For the love of him, he couldn’t remember his name…

The girl beside the boy wrung her hands. “Do you think he will be okay?”

“It’s hard to tell,” the woman next to her said.

Something grabbed McCree’s chin and he blinked into Hanzo’s glowing eyes. “You need to stay awake,” he said urgently. “Stay awake, McCree, you’re losing blood.”

“You are ,” McCree managed to mumble, his lips feeling strangely rubbery. “Fur.”

An odd look crossed Hanzo’s face. “You need to listen to me,” he said, his eyes as gold as his wolf dog’s. Somewhere nearby a wolf howled; a moment later a hundred voices picked up the cry somewhere else in the forest. “Do you remember how to ride?”

“I can ride,” McCree said fuzzily. “Not horses.”

“We will go over the mountain,” Hanzo told him with a strange kind of intensity. “We will go where no man dare tread but I will be with you.”

It was the last thing that McCree remembered with any kind of clarity. He thought that he fell in and out of consciousness but he wasn’t sure. Blood loss was a hell of a thing.

He remembered Hanzo lifting him. The cloak on his shoulders seemed to glow in the moonlight.

He remembered hearing a voice exclaiming in surprise and fear. He remembered being loaded on something only because it made pain flare in his arm and shoulder. His legs were wrapped around something and thick fur tickled his hand, his uninjured one, as arms wrapped around him to hold him in place.

A few times he thought he opened his eyes but he wasn’t sure.

He heard a voice beside his ear whispering what sounded like prayers. “Hanzo,” the voice said. “Faster, we need to go faster.”

It must have been a dream but he remembered the head of a wolf beneath him. It wasn’t a horse and wolves did not get that large, did not get large enough to be ridden as easily as a horse. The world whipped past them as they ran.

Clearest in his mind was the soft golden light of the hospital and the sound of automatic doors opening. He opened his eyes and watched a few people running away, back into the open doors. He groaned when his shoulder was jostled and again when he was gently laid on the ground.

It was an odd thing to remember the rock that was digging into his back.

A voice was saying above him, “He’s still breathing, you can see he’s still breathing, he’s fine, he’ll be fine,” in a mantra, over and over again. Someone was propping his head up.

The mantra stopped and there was a low sound behind him, like the whine of a dog.

It was too loud to be a dog but his head felt like it was full of cotton. Pain still rattled up his arm.

“He’s breathing, Hanzo,” the voice continued. “Can you hear him? He’s breathing, he’s fine.”

Something stepped into view: an enormous wolf. Its fur caught the golden light of the hospital lights and held it so that it shone with the brilliance of the sun. McCree met and held its eyes. Its canine face was twisted in a very human expression of worry and in an instant McCree recognized those eyes.

They were Hanzo’s eyes.

McCree reached out and pressed his hand against the wolf’s—no, The Wolf’s —big nose. He whined again.

He didn’t know if he said anything or what exactly happened afterwards, just that he shared that moment with the Wolf— with Hanzo —and then everything went black.

There was a man sitting next to his bed. “You should really learn to control that,” he said in a thick brogue though McCree couldn’t tell if it was Irish or Scottish.

He opened his mouth and coughed, his tongue feeling like sandpaper. He coughed and coughed and coughed.

“Back in the day,” the man said almost conversationally. “Coughing like that would get you locked up. Everyone was afraid.” He sounded wistful.

McCree smacked his lips, tried to get moisture back into his mouth. There was a remote on the bed next to him and he propped himself up. The man watched McCree as he nearly spilled the cup of water beside his bed.

“You could’a helped me,” McCree growled.

“I really could not,” the man replied. “I’m just visiting.”

McCree made a face and decided to ignore it. “Where am I? Who are you?”

The man scratched his throat. “The hospital,” he said as if that wasn’t obvious. “In Kindling.”

It was a town that McCree didn’t recognize and he frowned. “Kindling?”

“I don’t know what other names there might be.”

McCree sighed and took another long sip of water. “What happened?”

“You were brought to a hospital in Claymore. When you were stable enough to move, they brought you here.” The man coughed and pulled out a handkerchief from a pocket which he used to dab at his lips. As he watched, McCree realized that the man seemed oddly muted, as if he saw the man through an old lens in shades of black and white. McCree had thought that the man appeared odd because of the light streaming in through the window behind him but in pulling away the handkerchief, McCree saw that it was spotted with red that was stark against the muted tone that he saw the man in.

For a long moment McCree stared. The man’s lips were stained red and he suddenly looked very tired. Without saying anything more, the man stood and walked out the door. As he passed the threshold, someone walked in—someone walked right through the man .

The person was Ana and with a cry she ran to his side. “Jesse!”

“Hey,” McCree said awkwardly. “Um…where am I?”

McCree sat quietly late at night. Exhaustion tugged at his eyelids but he couldn’t sleep. Ana told him the whole story as she knew it.

How he had been brought in to the hospital in Clay Creek which in all honesty was more of a very upscale clinic than a “hospital”. As soon as he had been stabilized and the sun had crested the mountains, he had been rushed over the mountain to the larger hospital in Red’s Gap.

Ana had some things to say about that and McCree had found him saying, “That’s how things are done in these mountains.”

“I know,” Ana had snapped and then sighed, her voice shaky. Reinhardt rested a big hand on her shoulder and she put her hand over his. “But that doesn’t make things right. You could have died while they waited.”

He knew deep down that Hanzo would not let him die but he didn’t say that.

The doctors had broken the news to him, or perhaps the man that sat beside his bed, but somehow he wasn’t surprised that his left arm was gone all the way to the shoulder. It almost felt like it didn’t matter and chalked it up to the drugs.

Ana asked a few questions.

What happened? He didn’t know .

(He thought about the monster like smoke and spiderwebs in the trees, of a ghost story made real and a blind wolf with a man’s face, and the pained howl of a dog. He thought of the scream of an arrow and the forest lit up in golden light as bright as the sun and knew that he could say nothing of it.)

You don’t remember how you lost your arm? No. He just remembers waking up.

(Mostly true. He remembered Kuma trying to stop him and then encouraging him to arm himself. He remembered the dog pressing against his leg and then leading him to the Wolf’s creek in the shadows of the forest. He remembers raising his gun, remembers the hellish glow of the blind creature’s eyes and the snap of its jaws around his elbow.)

Ana hammered questions at him until Reinhardt stopped her. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know .

He closed his eyes and slept again.

The man was back beside his bed when he woke up again. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Dr. O’Deorain,” the man replied. “I study…I stud ied deadly diseases.”

McCree knew the word for that but it hovered just out of reach. “Epidemiologist?”

“Close,” Dr. O’Deorain said but didn’t offer the correct answer.

“Why…” McCree licked his lips. “Are you my doctor?”

Dr. O’Deorain hesitated. “No,” he said at last. “I am not. Just a visitor.” He got up and walked away.

McCree slept.

He woke up.

The police and forest rangers asked him questions.

The doctors poked and prodded him and the nurses helped him learn to function with one arm.

He was released from the hospital into Ana and Reinhardt’s care. Sheriff Galbraith visited him and granted him medical leave.

Even after only a few days of being in Clay Creek, somehow the presence of the dogs had become so commonplace that not seeing them in Red’s Gap was jarring. He wondered about Kuma.

He got a chance to ask the questions that were still weighing on him when Lúcio made an unexpected visit.

Lúcio stood on the porch, Lily at his side, with his bags. “Hey,” he said, sounding remarkably subdued. There were dark circles beneath his eyes and he looked like he had lost weight in the few days since McCree had seen him last. “I brought your stuff.”

For a long moment McCree was tempted, rather petulantly, to close the door on his face. But Ana would literally kill him and Lúcio looked so tired that he opened the door for the other man to come inside.

Lúcio picked up the bags and with a murmured order to Lily who immediately lay down on the porch, walked into the living room. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to come sooner,” Lúcio said, sounding just as tired as he sounded. “Things have been…rough back in Clay’s.”

“Did something happen?” McCree asked a bit snidely.

“More animal deaths,” Lúcio said, not rising to the bait. “A cow, a few goats, a handful of dogs. More were mauled; a bunch had to be put down, they were injured so bad. Everyone’s in an uproar.” He ran a tired hand through his dreadlocks, making the charms at the end of them click together like rattling bones. “I’d been hopping all over the place making house calls and this is the first time I’d been able to step away.”

McCree fell silent, regretting his anger. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Can I get you something? Coffee? Tea?”

The other man took a deep breath. “No, no thank you,” Lúcio said. “Maybe just a glass of water, please. And a moment of your time. There’s another reason I came over.”

Ominous but McCree didn’t tell the other man his thoughts. “Have a seat,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

It was refreshing that Lúcio didn’t try to coddle him but perhaps he was just that tired. He looked ready to fall asleep as he slumped into the couch but still carefully put McCree’s bags down nearby.

Fortunately getting a glass of water was no issue and he soon brought it back out. Lúcio roused long enough to find a coaster and put it beneath the glass with a murmur of thanks. “Got a ride in with Jack,” he said. “The Powers That Be are having their big boy talk.”

McCree hesitated, a thousand questions battering the backs of his teeth as Lúcio took a long drink of water. He put the glass down with a sigh. “Is Kuma okay?”

Lúcio’s face twisted. “He’s with the Wolf, now,” he said enigmatically.

“What does that mean?” McCree asked quietly. Lúcio’s expression was bleak and McCree looked away. He took a deep breath. “And…”

“That is a question for Hanzo,” Lúcio said. “If it is what I think you are asking.”

McCree looked up at Lúcio. “He’s the Wolf, isn’t he?” the other man looked nervously at the kitchen and then the hallway. “Ana and Rein are both out. It’s just me this afternoon.”

The other man didn’t look reassured but he sighed and nodded. “He is.”

Sitting down in the couch across the small living room, McCree sighed. “That’s why…” he gestured vaguely to his hair.

“No, he’s just old,” Lúcio said with a weak laugh. “But…he’s never really answered a lot of my own questions. He may answer more for you, though. I just…” he shrugged helplessly. “I just help with the dogs. And once upon a time I had been attacked by the demon in the forest, too.”

McCree looked sharply at Lúcio. “You have?”

The man reached for the glass and drank deeply. He nodded. “It wanted something from me. Something that I could give it but it would come at great cost. It held me down and…and sucked it out of me when I wouldn’t give it freely.” He shook his head and shivered. “Hanzo saved me but I shudder to think about what could have happened if he had not been there.”

For a long moment McCree considered that. “What is it?”

Lúcio shook his head. “Hanzo never told me and I was too afraid to ask. All I know is that it’s a demon that’s been here for…” he hissed out a breath, shaking his head again. “I don’t know how long. I don’t even know that Hanzo knows.”

“Years?” McCree guessed. “So it can’t be the reason for the animal deaths.”

The other man made a face. “Many years,” he said. “Many, many years. Enough years that the First Nation tribes knew to stay off the mountain. ‘

McCree processed that. “So…it’s clearly violent.”


“Then why haven’t there been more deaths?” realization hit him. “Hanzo.”

Lúcio nodded grimly. “They call him the guardian of the mountain and have for as long as anyone can remember.”

“Who was before him?” McCree asked. “Is it passed down?”

Lúcio gave him an odd look. “No,” he said slowly. “There has only been Hanzo.” He pulled out his phone and dug around in it for a few minutes before standing and handing it over to McCree.

There were scanned pictures, the kind you’d see on historic sites or other such things where the pictures were degrading. He could see at the edges of the scan, that time and fire and water had already begun to whittle away at the photo.

It was the picture of a man with black hair and carrying a longbow that was just about taller than he was. He looked markedly different than the others standing around him both in his manner of dress and in his features and McCree swallowed.

At Lúcio’s gesture he flipped through more.

Hanzo drawing his great bow while others watched.

Hanzo with a pack of dogs around him.

He looked up at Lúcio. “Hana and I have been helping with the restoration efforts,” Lúcio told him. “In this modern day and age, news can travel fast. You can imagine why it is better that some pictures just disappear, right?”

McCree swallowed. “How old is he?”

Lúcio hesitated. “That’s a question better for him,” he said gently. “I don’t know, myself; I’d never asked, but…that picture is from the early 1800’s, as far as I could tell.”

Silence reigned awkwardly between them for a while. McCree put the phone down on the table and walked into the kitchen. He came back with a pitcher of water and poured more for Lúcio.

He sat back down and put his head in his hands.

hand .

McCree sighed and looked up at Lúcio. “So you’re telling me…” he swallowed. “This is crazy,” he breathed.

“Believe me,” Lúcio said dryly with a humorless laugh. “I know. I know.”

In the driveway McCree could hear the loud rumble of a truck; on the porch, Lily gave two short barks and was answered by two more.

“That will be Jack,” Lúcio said. “Time for me to go.” He smiled a little shakily. “Hanzo will be happy to know that you’re…well I wouldn’t say okay but at least not bedridden.”

McCree jumped to his feet. “Will…” he licked his lips. “Will he visit?”

An odd look crossed Lúcio’s face. “He cannot leave the area at the moment,” he said apologetically. “I hardly see him anymore. But…I will pass on your message. Maybe that will calm him down.”

“Is he okay?” he asked, suddenly worried.

Lúcio hesitated. “Physically, yes,” he admitted. “But he feels guilty. And he’s very worried about what’s going on. I think it would do him good to see you.”

That warmed McCree despite everything. “Thank you for bringing my stuff back,” McCree said.

The other man smiled tiredly. “Thanks for seeing me,” he said. “And I’ll tell Hanzo you were asking after him. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to hear that. Oh,” he paused halfway down the stairs. “Don’t…don’t go into the woods, don’t go out after dark. At all.” He shook his head. “That thing in the woods? It wanted you. It wanted you real bad and I don’t want to know what it might mean if it gets you.”

McCree frowned. “That’s…”

“I know,” Lúcio said hurriedly. “But…” he gestured helplessly. “Just…for a bit. Please.”

Vague . He had meant to say vague but he still nodded and waved to Lúcio and then Jack as they all departed.

He closed and locked the door and sat down hard on the couch. He had a lot of thinking to do.

At some point he must have fallen asleep because he opened his eyes to the open sky ringed by tall pine trees.

When he sat up, he found that he had two arms—another sign of a dream. He looked up and found a large green serpent standing in front of him. No…he squinted. It was a dragon, a bright green dragon in shades of jade and emerald and evergreen, lay coiled like a giant pile of polished jewels.

He stared at it and it stared right back.

As he watched, it got to its feet and disappeared like mist in the sun.

But there was another mist lingering in the trees behind it. The mist gained shape, solidified at its heart, and split into a dozen grasping arms tipped with grasping claws. Like some kind of terrible pox eyes rose to the surface and opened, glowing red as embers, red as hellfire.

A wide mouth opened in a wide grin. The mouth opened, revealing rows and rows of teeth like shattered glass.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

I am hunger, the thing responded, to McCree’s surprise. I am starvation. I am fear and hate. I am the darkness in the trees and the whispers in the shadows.

McCree swiped his hands on his pants, scrubbing it of the sweat that had gathered. “What do you want?”

The monster reached forward and golden light exploded from the trees. The ring of trees glowed with the brilliance of the sun and McCree covered his eyes with a yell. He traps me here, the creature cried. And I hunger.

“I don’t believe you.”

Why do you think I remain? The monster asked. I can give you power and riches. I can show you the future. I have the power to change the lives of humans for the better. Through the mists of its body, a young girl took shape.

McCree would know her anywhere.

I can give you the power to change lives like hers, the creature purred. And yet I am bound here, trapped in this tormented prison. It shifted, splitting off from the image of the girl. She could not get her justice. She did not live her full life. You can save others. I can help you save others.

“And your dog?” McCree demanded.

I gave him the power he sought, the creature said. But the White Wolf blinded him and trapped him in this prison with me. Now he suffers and is hunted cruelly by the White Wolf while I try to care for him.

“He attacked me,” McCree remembered. “He charged at me.”

He was only trying to figure out what you are, the creature purred, voice as smooth as silk and sweet as honey. It sent shivers down McCree’s spine. And then you shot him. Would you not become defensive, too? Something entering your home and attacking you when you are vulnerable?

There was a low sound to his right and he turned. Kuma sat a few feet away from him, his eyes glowing with gold and white light. In his mouth was a knife which he held gingerly by the plain hilt.

McCree blinked and then he woke up.

Jack and Lúcio had brought a bag full of Hanzo’s honey rolls and even cold and at least a day old they were delicious.

“I got Hermann to let me borrow their car,” Reinhardt said as he put down a large skillet of eggs and sausage. “So we can go and get the car today.”

Ana nodded. “I imagine the mechanic is unhappy about it clogging his lot.”

“I don’t think so,” McCree admitted. “ She didn’t seem to have a whole lot of customers to take up all of the spots. When I talked to her about extending the car’s visit she didn’t seem too bothered by it and didn’t give me a timeline.”

“A female mechanic?” Ana asked, surprised.

“Does it matter?”

Reinhardt shrugged. “Good for her,” he said. “Torbjörn’s daughter—his youngest, Brigitte, you remember her, right? She’s a mechanic. Or was until she got apprenticed.”

“I didn’t say it was bad,” Ana protested. “Just not expected.”

They ate in silence for a while. “I want to go along,” McCree said as they began to clean up.

Ana’s face pinched. “Are you sure?”

Was he? He hesitated for a moment. “Yes,” he decided.

Before leaving he went to his room and found the map that he had gotten at the strange gas station. Then he sat in the backseat while Reinhardt carefully bent himself into the tiny car he had borrowed.

McCree watched the little blue icon on their GPS as they drove along. Unlike his, Ana’s didn’t waver in its path and directed them steadily along the northbound road.

After a moment of hesitation he told them about his meeting with the gas station attendant and how he had given McCree a bag of jerky that turned out to be tainted.

“Jesse!” Ana exclaimed. “Are you okay? Did you eat any?”

“No,” McCree assured her. “No, I’m fine.”

Ana didn’t look convinced and even Reinhardt was looking at him in the rear-view mirror, his good eye worried. “You need to be more careful,” she scolded him. “I shouldn’t have let you go on alone.”

“I’m nearly forty, Ana,” McCree said with a wry laugh. “I can take care of myself.” She looked pointedly at the pinned-up sleeve that hid the stump of McCree’s shoulder. “Oh, please,” he said. “You both lost an eye and I lost an arm. It’s fine.”

It wasn’t, though. McCree could tell, somehow. As they drove he swore he felt eyes on him as they passed the dark trees.

He hoped it was his imagination.

They came the way that Hanzo and Lúcio had said that all people came, driving north past Clay Creek and then gradually making their way east and then back down south on a convoluted set of roads and exits and jug handles before they entered the town itself.

Having come from the south and east in the direction of Hanzo’s house, McCree had never seen the main gates. If he had thought that the gates that led to the Wolf Lodge were grand and resplendent, it had nothing on the main gates.

They stood like great monoliths, seemingly poured of concrete that had bleached in the sun or some kind of white rock or wood the two wolves stared out like great sentinels into the surrounding trees. McCree could see a plaque, much like the one he had seen with Lúcio the last time he had stopped to look, but they drove on before McCree could call for them to stop.

For a while they drove around, taking in the sights of the town until McCree got a feel for where they were and was able to direct Reinhardt to Satya’s shop.

“I’m glad to see that you are well,” Satya said as he walked into the shop. Her eyes flicked down to his missing arm. “Tragic.”

McCree shrugged. “At least I’m alive,” he said and Satya nodded serenely. The dog in the corner looked at McCree with a strange intensity. “I’m here to pick up the Jeep. So sorry it took us so long.”

“Yes,” Satya said, her voice as flat as ever. “I am so crowded that I was about to have it impounded.”

It was almost a joke and McCree could tell that she meant it as one when she tilted her head slightly as if waiting for a response. “Perfect,” McCree assured her and he watched her shoulders shift slightly in what he thought might be relief. “We’ll take it off your hands, please.”

To his surprise, Satya only handed over the keys and a receipt slip that read PAID IN FULL. “Lúcio paid,” Satya explained. “On Hanzo’s behalf.”

“Who did?” Ana asked with a frown.

“Lúcio paid on Hanzo’s behalf,” Satya repeated, enunciating each consonant. “What part of that did you not understand?”

McCree lifted a hand placatingly. “Just the ‘why’,” he told Satya with what he hoped was a winning smile. “Which we’ll take up with Lúcio when we see him later.”

For a long moment Satya regarded them, a frown on her face. Her dog continued to stare intently at McCree. “Today is the day he picks up food for the kennel,” she said at last. “You may still find him at the pet shop.”

Thanking her and waving to her suspicious dog, McCree ushered Reinhardt and Ana out. “What was that?” Ana demanded. “Why is someone else paying for your car?”

“Hold off on your noble pride,” Reinhardt said with a booming laugh. A dog across the street, walking with a teenager that looked like they might be ditching school, looked over at them. It seemed strangely suspicious of them and nudged into the teenager next to it; without looking, the teen hurried past.

Clicking her tongue, Ana took the keys from McCree. “ I will drive,” she informed him. “Is there a park where we can stow the cars?”

McCree stared after the pair as they hurried away. Then he shook his head and smiled at Ana. “I think I know one.”

The park, it turned out, was just across the street from the pet shop and McCree was glad to see Lúcio through the window. McCree swallowed as he walked across the street, very much remembering that the last time he had walked through the doors, Kuma had been following him like a little shadow.

Lúcio and the girl behind the counter both looked up at the sound of the bell and grinned when they saw McCree. “Detective!” the girl behind the counter cried. Lily scrambled to his feet and ran over to McCree, his tail wagging so enthusiastically that his entire body moved with it. Smiling, McCree leaned down to scratch behind his ears; so reassured, Lily went off to greet Ana and Reinhardt. A few moments later he was stretched out on his back while four hands scratched his belly, a canine look of bliss on his face.

“I told you,” Lúcio told the girl with a tense laugh. “He’s too stubborn to die.”

The girl stuck her tongue out at Lúcio and turning, caught sight of McCree’s missing sleeve. Her hands pressed against her face. “Oh no! Are you okay?”

“He’s missing his arm, how ‘okay’ can he be?” Ana said dryly.

“You, hush,” McCree hissed at her and she rolled her good eye at him. “Don’t listen to her,” he told the girl. “I’m fine, really. Just…getting used to missing something.” He wiggled his arm, making the sleeve flap comically.

Neither Lúcio nor the girl looked mollified.

“Where’s Kuma?” the girl asked in a poor attempt at changing the subject.

Lúcio winced and said before McCree could answer, “He’s with the Wolf, now.”

The girl looked horrified. “Oh,” Reinhardt boomed. “That’s terrible!”

“Am I the only one that doesn’t know what that means?” McCree grumbled.

“City boy,” Ana teased halfheartedly. “Here they say that the Wolf is the patron spirit of dogs. If a dog is ‘with the Wolf’, it’s like saying that they were taken to a farm upstate.”

McCree frowned. “Kuma’s…”

Lúcio looked away and nodded. “Sorry, man,” he said softly.

Suddenly feeling dizzy, McCree looked down. “Oh.”

He remembered his vivid dreams of the Xolo dog and how his eyes had blazed with white and gold light. Thinking more about that would only be opening up a whole other can of worms, though. Believing even for a moment that Kuma was dead he had somehow…what, that he had been somehow seeing dead things?

I see dead people and all that?

The mere thought of it was ridiculous and yet McCree couldn’t help but remember what had chased him out of the city in the first place. He had thought that it had just been his guilt, the close air of the city and the terrible things that he had seen as a detective.

He had thought the empty-eyed apparition of the broken little girl had just been a manifestation of his own failure to catch the… people that had done such terrible things.

But he hadn’t really been seeing a dead dog, right? He had only been dreaming of the companion that had shadowed him during his short visit before his accident.

That was it; he had to believe that.

“Here.” A small had shoved a bottle of some bright-colored liquid into his chest and his arms automatically lifted to catch it. Only one hand did and McCree was abruptly reminded of how off-balance he was without his arm. “You’re looking a little pale. I think you need the sugar.”

There was some kind of script along the sides that McCree couldn’t read. Maybe Korean or Japanese. Reinhardt was perusing the aisles, conspicuously not looking at McCree; a moment later he could hear the big German man cry out in glee at something he found.

“Reinhardt, no!” even if Ana had meant to stay behind, had wanted to confront McCree about it, she turned and darted off down the aisle that Reinhardt had disappeared down.

The girl looked after them, clearly wondering if she should be concerned, and rolled her eyes. “Rabbits, probably,” she said. “I brought Min today. He’s a Flemish.”

McCree nodded as if it meant something to him, and eyed the drink again.

“Here, let me,” the girl said but despite her words held out her hand instead of taking the bottle from him. It was a relief to have the offer there instead of having her take it directly from him. “I’ve known a few others that had something lopped off,” she said a bit too casually as he handed the bottle to her. “Factories, accidents, combat. It happens. It sucks, but it does.” What McCree had originally thought was a basket of tissue paper moved and made a low, raspy sound. “Oh, hush, Meka.”

Briskly, the girl cracked open the bottle and handed it back to him, open. Lúcio leaned against the counter, watching as the contents of the basket shifted, wobbled, and emerged.

“That is an ugly cat,” McCree blurted when he realized what he was looking at. Two large ears that seemed too big for its flesh-colored head. Four legs that seemed disproportionately long and what seemed to be too many folds and rolls of skin for such a relatively small creature. Its face looked worried as it turned its goblin-like face toward him, its whiskers short and jagged like bristles of dried weeds. “That…that is a cat, right?”

The cat looked just as offended as Hana did. Like a grumpy old man. It narrowed its eyes. “Rrroww,” it said in a voice that seemed far too deep for it.

“Oh, don’t you be mean to Meka,” the girl said. When she held out her arms, the creature bunched its long, wrinkly limbs beneath it and jumped. “And you,” she said to the cat as she cradled it in her arms. “Don’t be such a grumpy pants.”

“He’s not wearing pants,” McCree said flatly. “He’s not wearing anything.”

Lúcio snorted. “At least he’s neutered,” he muttered. When McCree looked at him in horror, he shrugged. “Trust me, dude. There’s a surprising amount of things that fur hides.”

The girl giggled and played with the folds of flesh-colored skin over the goblin creature in her arms. It put up with it, staring at McCree with unblinking blue eyes.

Shaking his head, McCree took a sip of his drink. Lúcio and the girl made small talk, the cat occasionally chiming in as if he understood what was being discussed. They talked about Miss Martha’s chocolate shop and how she was trying to make a white chocolate wolf that tasted ‘less yucky’ and about the change in seasons and the chill beginning to blow through.

McCree finished his drink and put it down. “I’m actually here to see Hanzo,” he told Lúcio in a break in the conversation.

Both the girl and Lúcio stopped immediately, turning to look at him with near-identical expressions of quiet suspicion.

“Why?” the girl demanded.

Lúcio held up a hand. “To be honest, I thought you’d never want to see him again,” he said very quietly.

“I have questions,” McCree said, voice dropping to a low hiss.

The girl looked back and forth between them before shaking her head. “C’mon, Meka,” she told the cat. “Let’s make sure that Min isn’t terrorizing our guests.”

When she was gone, Lúcio scowled at McCree. “That’s just…dude, do you know…” he made a low noise of frustration, running a hand through his thick dreadlocks. “On one hand, Hanzo would be glad to see you,” he told McCree flatly, far more serious than McCree had ever seen him. “I think seeing you would be great for him. On the other…” he took a step closer. “It wanted you. You get that, right? You coming here, back into the middle of its territory, means that you are so much closer in its grasp.”

McCree took a step closer. “Lúcio,” he said very quietly. “What is going on?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lúcio told him just as quietly. “You should just try to forget it.”

Lifting the remains of his left arm, he let the sleeve flop between them. “Don’t think I can do that.”

Lúcio shook his head, his dreadlocks swinging. “Look. That’s not for me to tell because I don’t even know, myself. Hanzo refuses to talk about it—I’m not sure he’s said even a word since…” Lúcio’s eyes dropped down to McCree’s arms pointedly. “I think you deserve to know, too, but you being here…it’s putting you in danger.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“You couldn’t,” Lúcio said before McCree could say anything more. “Not here, not in these woods, and certainly not against…against that . Kuma died because of it. He died doing what he was trained to do, yes, and he chose to be there with you, but you not understanding the stakes led to his death.”

“And who prevented me from knowing the truth?” McCree demanded, his voice rising hotly.

Lúcio’s eyes narrowed. “His blood is on my hands too,” Lúcio informed him in a frigid whisper. “Don’t make this about yourself because it’s not. It’s so much bigger and you don’t even know it. That thing out there? It hasn’t moved this much in years . Hanzo’s terrified. So you can forgive us if we thought that you could live without some babying.”

He stepped back and Lily jumped between them, walking in tight circles around Lúcio’s knees until he knelt and scratched behind the dog’s ears. They were quiet for a while, enough that they could hear Reinhardt, Ana, and Hana talking near the back of the store. Lily’s breathing sounded obnoxiously loud and McCree sighed.


“No, you’re right,” Lúcio said quietly. “We should have been paying more attention. Maybe we’re just too used to dealing with people that know.” He sighed.

McCree swallowed. “Look,” he said very quietly, slowly kneeling. He wobbled, unbalanced by his lack of an arm, and gritted his teeth when his knee hit the ground a little too hard. “I need to know. You said it: I’m involved. Somehow. For some reason, that thing wants me. It…I saw it.” He licked his lips. “God, you’re gonna think I’m crazy but I did. I dreamt it in the trees, watching me. Now…I don’t…I don’t know if I’m ready to know but at this point I can’t afford the luxury of trying to stay safe. I need to know what’s going on, if only to know how to protect myself.” He looked in the direction that Ana and Reinhardt had gone.

When he turned back, he found that Lúcio was frowning at him. Then he nodded.

There were a few downed trees and broken branches on the road, their new wood stark against the dark pavement and the darkness of the forest itself.

Now McCree could appreciate the fear that had been obvious in Lúcio’s behavior on the first day in the area. Now the forest held a thousand secrets, each shadow having the potential to leap up and devour.

“This looks like a good road to take back,” Reinhardt said as they drove. “It’s newer than the other one.”

“No,” Ana said dismissively before McCree could speak up. “They call it the haunted road for a reason.”

To his surprise, Reinhardt merely nodded and continued to drive. “Why?” McCree found himself asking as the very last hints of town disappeared behind them.

Both of them looked at him, Ana in the rear-view and Reinhardt by turning his great head. “I keep forgetting that you’re not from around here,” Reinhardt teased. “City boy.”

“An old story,” Ana said dismissively. “Kind of like Centralia.”

“Was that the coal town?” Reinhardt wondered.

Ana slapped him and Reinhardt gave a big, booming laugh. “Stop interrupting. Yes, Centralia is the coal town. A trash fire set an exposed coal vein on fire and then it went underground.” McCree winced. “It opened sinkholes and destroyed roads and poisoned the air. Eventually the state had to invoke eminent domain and formally evict everyone, it was getting that bad.”

“Did that happen here?” McCree asked though he thought he knew the answer.

Reinhardt hummed. “Not really,” he admitted. “They had a lot of difficulty getting the funding and approval and workers to do the road. I’m not sure who approved the road in the end, but they had to call in an out-of-state contractor—big money. Taxes in the area rose. Everyone was angry.”

“They used to say that the work was haunted, even the out-of-towners,” Ana continued, just as McCree had feared. “They heard voices and swore that the trees moved. At first they thought it was just local kids playing a prank. There are a lot of stories about how there was a lot of mist and smoke, more than there should have been and that was why a lot of people thought that the digging might have opened something. Maybe some equipment had sparked a coal seam in the area.”

Both of them shrugged almost in unison.

“So what was it?” McCree asked a little impatiently.

“No one knows,” Ana admitted. “They built the road and left but none of the locals use it. In fact, I heard a lot of rumors that people in the town at the base of the road close or gate it off, or just hide it completely. I think I heard of a lawsuit a few years back about someone at the base of the road actually tearing it up so that cars couldn’t go over it.”

That wasn’t true, McCree knew. A cold shiver ran up his spine. He had gone up that road.

It was whole.

What was correct was what was on the road.

The smoke. The whispers.

He swallowed hard when he realized just how close he had been to being attacked that first night. The mist behind him hadn’t been mist ; he had seen something behind him, something that had been chased away by Hanzo and his dogs.

What Hanzo had been doing on the trail was beyond him, but now that he knew what was out there, he was glad that he had been. Something that he knew he needed to thank Hanzo for.

He had a lot to thank Hanzo for and it made guilt curl low in his gut.

The rest of the ride was spent in silence broken only by the dim hiss of tires on the pavement.

“Oh my,” Ana said and McCree peered between the front seats. Just past the turn for the Wolf Lodge was a great pile of mud and trees that blocked the road. “Must have been a landslide.”

“Maybe,” Reinhardt said doubtfully. “But there hasn’t been a lot of rain lately.”

“You forget that they’re higher up, here,” Ana chided as they slowed to a stop near the turn. “Maybe they caught some rain that we didn’t.”

They looked at the landslide for a while longer and McCree swallowed. There were some enormous trees in that pile and he couldn’t imagine the kind of damage that had to have been done by them.

Or what kind of force it would have taken for them to fall.

Did it hurt Hanzo? He wondered. Is that why he had been missing or hiding?

The worse thought was that this was somehow a result of Hanzo’s guilt. It was perhaps a bit prideful of McCree to think that but from what he knew of Hanzo, he knew that the other man— The Wolf —took things very serious and very personally.

Just look at the way he had looked down at McCree in front of the clinic.

McCree swallowed and Ana made the turn down into the little valley of Wolf Lodge.

“Wow!” Reinhardt exclaimed, craning his head to peer past Ana.

Ana shoved him back with a laugh. “No! Get out of the way, I can’t see!”

“I’d heard of this place,” Reinhardt boomed excitedly. “The Wolf Lodge used to have one of the best restaurants in the area! It was a vacation destination.”

Hanzo must’ve had kittens , McCree found himself thinking. All those people in his area with a monster in the trees? Nope. He stifled a burst of near-hysterical laughter.

As always, a sea of excited dogs greeted them, much to Reinhardt’s glee.

“Great,” Ana said as she climbed out of the car, though her tone was fond. “He’s going to beg me for a puppy now.”

Lúcio grinned. “Then I will not tell you that most of them are up for adoption.”

Never before had McCree been so aware of absence as he was at that moment. As dogs of every color nudged cold noses into his hands he still found himself looking for a smear of shadow with a little white tuft like a crown.

There was a howl from the fields and McCree instinctively looked over, tensing up in preparation though to fight or flee he didn’t know. Two large shapes nearly flew over the grass and leaped over the fence right at him.

“Jesse!” Ana cried, terrified, but Yuki and Ame didn’t jump on him, merely butting their big bodies excitedly against him, running faces and heads over thighs and hips and waist as if making sure for themselves that he was alright.

Throat tight, McCree held out his one remaining hand and they both seemed to fight over it, the one that he thought was Yuki resting his (?) head on it before Ame butted him away and put her head down.

Though they had been, at best, indifferent to him before now they were excited, clearly gleeful at his presence and it made the knot in his throat tighten. Murmuring to them he knelt, let them run their wet noses over his face and through his hair, letting out a surprised yelp when one of them stuck their cold nose in his ear and sneezed.

Both wolves—for they were clearly wolves and one of them may have been the one he had seen in Red’s Gap at the start of this whole thing—inspected him from head to toe, making low grumbling noises in the back of their throats.

“Those are wolves, aren’t they?” he heard Ana ask tightly. “Wolves that you let roam free?”

“Hanzo raised them from babies himself,” Lúcio explained. “I won’t say they’re domesticated, that’s not how things work, but they’re friendly enough.”

Yuki and Ame would probably have continued inspecting him from head to toe if Lúcio didn’t chase them away with a laugh. The wolves snorted and then darted off, running through the fields.

“Aren’t you worried that they’ll eat the livestock?” Ana fretted.

“They won’t hunt if they’re not hungry,” Lúcio told her. “The livestock will be fine. Why don’t you all come inside?”

The interior of the Lodge was just as McCree remembered and he quickly divested himself of his shoes so that he could go and stand in the middle of the large living area.

“Wow!” Reinhardt boomed behind him as he stepped through. “This is gorgeous! I had heard that the Wolf Lodge but I’ve never been able to get here!”

Lúcio laughed as he ushered them toward the dining room. “Those must be old stories—we don’t have many visitors, these days.”

“You didn’t tell me that while I was here,” McCree complained.

“You didn’t ask; you were too busy making eyes at Hanzo.”

Ana and Reinhardt laughed and McCree groaned. “I thought you were on my side.”

“I was until the sexual tension was so thick that I could cut it with a knife,” Lúcio said dryly.

“Although,” Ana said. “That was the reason why we’re here. The nice lady at the mechanic’s shop—what was her name, Jesse?” She didn’t wait for an answer and continued, “Well, she told us that you paid for the car on behalf of Hanzo.”

Lúcio nodded. “I did,” he said mildly.

“I would like to speak with Hanzo regarding this issue,” Ana told him stiffly. “From what I’ve heard it sounds like-”

“Ana, no,” McCree protested, his face going bright red.

Reinhardt cleared his throat. “We want to thank him,” he said delicately. “And discuss…why. Or rather…his intentions.”

Horrified, McCree covered his face with his hand. “Guys,” he said weakly.

“No,” Lúcio said, sounding amused. “I suppose that is fair. But if you really don’t want to participate in what is starting to sound like a glorified shovel talk, you are welcome to go out back. I’m not sure you ever got to see the filly—the first night he was here, one of our horses gave birth,” Lúcio interrupted himself to explain. “Go and see her, save yourself the embarrassment.”

There was something else in Lúcio’s eyes, a message that McCree couldn’t quite read past go!

Grumbling, he grabbed his shoes from the mudroom in the front of the house and obeyed, feeling an annoying sense of déjà vu. He was immediately joined by Yuki and Ame when he stepped out the back door and as he reached down to pat them on their heads, realized that they seemed to have been waiting for him near the horse paddock. This time they didn’t quite swarm him and only circled him eagerly, their tails wagging gleefully.

“How much do you understand me?” McCree asked, leaning down to give one of them a scratch across their big backs. The one he thought was Ame sneezed. “Well, I’m looking for Hanzo. Can you help me find him? I’m guessing since you’re here that he’s around, maybe hiding nearby?”

Maybe-Ame sneezed again and darted off, hopping over the fence to the horse paddock; Maybe-Yuki snorted and wiggled between the slats of the fence, turning to look expectantly at McCree from the other side.

“Alright,” he said, groaning as he bent to step through, himself. Off-balance he almost fell if he didn’t catch himself on the fence, grunting as he pulled himself back to his feet. “Ta-da!” The wolf didn’t look as impressed as he would have like and McCree rolled his eyes at it. “Alright, smartass. Lead the way.”

With the wolf by his side he walked through the horse paddock though he was nervous around such big animals. They were all clustered on the side near the house, conspicuously the farthest places from the dark line of the forest.

“That’s not good, is it?” McCree asked the wolf next to him. “Something’s out there—really out there. The animals know it.”

Of course, the wolf didn’t respond, continuing to walk next to him toward the barn. As they passed the horses they all looked up at him, their ears pricked forward in interest; a few of them backed away and when he looked at them fully they broke and ran away for a few paces, whirling to a stop to watch him warily.

But they didn’t bite and they didn’t kick so McCree couldn’t really complain. And looking down, he saw the wolf at his side watching them warily.

“Thanks,” he told it softly and it huffed at him.

The wolf led him into the barn and he paused just inside the doors for his eyes to get used to the change in light. There were windows high in the rafters to let light in so it wasn’t quite as dim as he almost expected it to be.

Each side was lined with rows of open stalls and poking his head in one, McCree found that as expected they were lined with hay and each had their own little trough of water and a food bin. He assumed that was for the days that the horses couldn’t be let out into the pasture or something. Were they fed in addition or did they just the mow the grass in the pasture?

The wolf huffed from further down the barn and McCree laughed. “I’m comin’,” he said and followed the sound of the wolf down the long row of stalls.

There were another set of doors at the back of the barn which were locked and barred, supported by large pieces of timber like some kind of castle gate. Nearby there were large bales of hay stacked on the ground and a few pitchforks on the side to move them around as needed.

In one of these large bays was an enormous white form and startled, McCree froze.

It was a wolf— The Wolf, in fact.

McCree swallowed around an instinctive knot of fear that rose in his throat because this wolf? This wolf made Yuki and Ame look like chihuahuas next to a Great Dane.

But he knew that.

He remembered riding The Wolf like a horse. That had happened.

Slowly he knelt beside The Wolf—beside Hanzo and stared in awe. His paws were the size of dinner plates—larger, probably; his head was easily as big as McCree’s torso.

As he knelt he was aware of a sharp smell that hung in the air around The Wolf. It was sharp and burned McCree’s nose in a familiar way.


Looking around, McCree noticed the large trough off to the side, looking as if it had been removed from one of the stalls to serve another purpose. There were patches of loose hay covering empty bottles; the hot puffs of breath from Hanzo’s half-open mouth reeked of alcohol and regret and McCree sighed.

One of Hanzo’s ears twitched.

Unsure of what to do, McCree leaned closer. “Hey,” he said. “Hanzo.”

With a low groan, Hanzo’s enormous head shifted in the straw and looking around, McCree realized that Yuki and Ame were nowhere to be found.

“Fat load of help you were,” he muttered but mentally apologized. They had led him to Hanzo, at least.

Looking around, he found a spigot and a hose nearby. It took some effort but McCree was able to change the setting on the head to a hard stream and holding it between his knees, he turned the spigot on, half hoping that Hanzo would wake up at the noise.

Hanzo only snorted, grunted, and sighed.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” McCree told the sleeping wolf.

He stayed a good distance away in case Hanzo would be too startled and lash out and aimed the hose at him.

While he was pretty good with his service gun, the awkward stream of water was an entirely new beast. He had meant to aim for somewhere neutral, Hanzo’s neck, but instead missed and struck him in the eye and mouth instead.

With a choked sound The Wolf choked, grunted, and stumbled drunkenly to his feet, coughing. He was wobbly, still clearly drunk, and pinned his ears back as he looked for the source of the water.

Terrified despite himself McCree stood his ground, locking his knees so that their shaking wouldn’t unbalance him. Hanzo, while standing in this form, was enormous , even taller than McCree had anticipated. He stood taller than most of the horses and with his head lowered and his head pinned, his golden eyes seemed to stare right into McCree’s soul.

But his eyes were hazy and Hanzo was swaying in place, his forelegs braced as he fought his obvious nausea.

“Hey,” McCree said and watched those ears swivel toward him. Hanzo lifted his head slightly, blinking owlishly at McCree. His eyes were unfocused but he wasn’t growling for snarling; when he shook water off his fur it made him wobble, off balance, and McCree took a cautious step forward. “Hey, gorgeous,” he said and internally kicked himself for the pet name.

Hanzo wobbled and closed his eyes, his head lowering until his nose nearly touched the floor.

Still cautious, McCree took another step forward, bringing him within range of Hanzo’s jaws should he decide to attack. A small part of him scoffed at that; he knew deep down in his bones that Hanzo would never attack him like this. Not on purpose.

Very carefully, McCree took another step forward and extended his hand, placing it on the enormous spot between Hanzo’s hazy golden eyes.

“Hey,” he said softly, swallowing hard. Hanzo’s fur was soft, luxuriously so, which McCree knew had to be ridiculous. He could still feel the grit, could see the dirt and dust and other forest gunk that had gotten caught in the fine white fur.

Hanzo was shaking, downright trembling, his eyes sliding tightly shut as if afraid.

Bravely McCree took another step forward, Hanzo’s nose bumping into his knee. “Hey,” he said again. “God, you’re beautiful. Will you look at me, gorgeous?”

The enormous wolf turned away.

“Hey,” McCree said a little more forcefully, stepping fully into the wolf’s space, his good hand tangling in the thick fur around the wolf’s neck. Hanzo froze, his ears pinned down but not back, not angrily; his eyes were squeezed shut in very human pain. “Hey,” McCree said again, softer, and moved to press his face into the thick fur around Hanzo’s neck. It smelled like the forest, as if it were as much a part of Hanzo as his fur: like musty leaves and sharp pine resin, like the cold night air and the dew on the grass.

It also smelled like Hanzo: that spicy smell like fresh-cut wood that he had learned to associate with him, like sweat and musk of man and animal.

It smelled like the memories of nights spent tangled together.

It smelled like alcohol, sharp and pungent in the air, lingering fumes from the open bottles and what remained in the nearby trough. It smelled like despair and regret and McCree buried his face deeper into the wolf’s shoulder.

Hanzo was shaking and very slowly sank down until he was lying down. He nudged McCree closer into his side, rolled over and tugged McCree closer with a paw larger than most dinner plates. At this point McCree didn’t know which one of them was comforting or being comforted but perhaps it didn’t matter so much.

Beneath his cheek he could feel the steady gallop of Hanzo’s heart and the even draws of his lungs as he breathed.

Chapter Text

He came to some undetermined amount of time later as Hanzo shifted and seemed to shrink in on himself, his fur splitting and receding like the tide until it was only a skin.

Beneath it was Hanzo in the form that McCree was most familiar with, though there were a few differences.

McCree ran his hands over Hanzo’s lower lip, brushed his fingers over his brow and the curve of his ears where there had been piercings before. There were little indentations and small scars as if they had closed over.

“I need to take them out when I shift,” Hanzo said, his voice raspy. His lips were cracked and dry and there were charcoal smudges beneath his eyes. “If I rush and shift with them in, it’s not a problem but…” he shrugged.

For a long moment all McCree could do was stare. “Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes,” he said a little weakly, running his good thumb along Hanzo’s cheek.

Half-closing his eyes, Hanzo tipped his head into the touch. “I’m glad to see that you’re okay,” he said softly. “Lúcio told me you were but…”

“You could have visited,” McCree said softly but Hanzo shook his head.

“I can’t leave the area. Not now. Not with it loose in the forest.” Hanzo sighed and closed his eyes as if in shame.

McCree swallowed. “Han,” he said softly. “What is it. What is out there?”

For a long moment McCree was afraid that Hanzo wouldn’t answer. “It is a demon,” he said at last, sounding old and tired. If all of the stories of the Wolf were true then he was.

“How long have you been here?” McCree asked. “How long have you been fighting it? Was there another Wolf or was it always you?”

Hanzo opened his eyes which shone as wild and golden as a wolf’s. “Does it matter?” he asked quietly. “It is my burden to bear.”

Rolling his eyes, McCree moved closer, making a face at the scratchy hay.

“No,” Hanzo protested quietly. “I’m sure I don’t smell…”

McCree bumped him with his fist and tugged Hanzo to rest his head against his chest as he rolled on his back. “That’s fine,” he said, knowing that his back was going to be aching from the hard ground but not caring, at least for now. He sighed. “Just…I needed to know that you were okay.”

He needed to know a lot more things but now was not the time to bring it up. Now was the time to just bask in Hanzo’s presence.

Hanzo yanked himself back and loomed over him, his long silver-white hair falling in a curtain around them. The tattoos on his arms appeared to glow with a faint light and McCree lifted his hand to run his fingers gently over them. “You wanted to be sure that I was alright?” he demanded, his face a mask of tragedy and his golden eyes wet. “McCree…you almost died!

Reaching down, McCree tugged Hanzo’s thigh, gloriously bare and decorated only with those golden tattoos, to straddle his waist so that Hanzo hovered over him. He ran his hands through the wolfskin still clinging to Hanzo’s back and shoulders as if reluctant to let go.

It was a pose they had found themselves in often but every other time it had been with significantly less clothes.

“But I didn’t,” McCree said stubbornly, running his hand soothingly up and down Hanzo’s side and along his shoulder while the stump of his other arm bumped against Hanzo’s elbow. “I’m right here. I’m still alive.”

He didn’t say that he was alright because he wasn’t, he really wasn’t. When this all blew over, when he didn’t have something else to haunt his thoughts (like the Wolf, like the demon, like Kuma; like Hanzo’s kisses and the feeling of his hands running through his hair) he really would not be okay.

But for now he could indulge in this and hope that Hanzo didn’t notice just how broken he was.

Hanzo let his head fall further, his face crumbling as he pressed his forehead against McCree’s and shook. “I had never been so scared,” Hanzo admitted. “I heard the dogs yelling and then we could hear you and Kuma…I don’t think I’d ever run so fast, not in my human form. Not like that. I was afraid that I would only arrive to find that you had died.”

“I’m sorry,” McCree said roughly, staring up into Hanzo’s golden eyes. “I’m sorry about Kuma.”

The other man gave a watery chuckle. “Kuma made his choice and he chose you,” he said softly, his voice thick with the beginning of tears. “I am sorry to have seen him go, he was among the bravest and most loyal that I have ever worked with, but he made his choice.” He cupped McCree’s cheek. “I’d be more upset if I had lost you.”

McCree swallowed, the weight of Hanzo’s words really sinking in. He tilted his head into Hanzo’s hands and when that wasn’t enough, let his side up Hanzo’s back. His palm found Hanzo’s cheek, his thumb brushing against the bags beneath Hanzo’s eyes, before it slipped behind Hanzo to tangle in his silver hair. McCree drew Hanzo down into a soft kiss and Hanzo went willingly, eagerly.

It wasn’t sex and for these brief moments they couldn’t pretend that it was. Not when Hanzo was trembling the way he was, his thighs clenching McCree’s waist tightly as if afraid that he would disappear. Not when McCree could hear Hanzo’s hands clenching into fists in the hay around his head and how he pressed his whole body more desperately against McCree’s.

The kiss was just that—a kiss—but this time there wasn’t lust behind it. There was a kind of desperation, a sense of relief as their lips moved against each other’s and Hanzo made soft noises in the back of his throat.

When they parted they were both breathing hard and Hanzo’s white lashes were clumped with tears. “I was so scared,” he breathed and McCree swallowed. Hanzo had always seemed so untouchable, as unaffected by most things as a marble statue and cut like one too. Now he seemed almost out of character, too soft and broken to be Hanzo.

A brief thread of doubt wiggled its way into McCree’s mind that perhaps this was just an act or perhaps this wasn’t Hanzo at all.

Swallowing hard, McCree lifted his hand and cupped Hanzo’s cheek. “I have questions,” he said. “A lot of them.” He watched Hanzo’s face intently.

It wavered for a moment and then he seemed to steel himself, swallowing heard. He nodded. “Yes,” he said softly. “That is fair. I suppose I owe you answers.”

Hanzo got to his feet and held out a hand to McCree. They walked hand-in-hand down the aisle of the barn and out into the paddock.  Several horses came over to greet Hanzo, shoving their noses at him with nervous glances toward the forest behind them. “I know you’re not used to them,” Hanzo said almost apologetically. His voice was still tight, the muscles along his shoulders and back bunched. “But they’re scared.”

“Why?” McCree asked. “Oh.”

The tension in Hanzo’s shoulders didn’t ease and he said nothing more, stroking the noses of the horses that came over. To McCree’s private relief they turned and trotted away, returning to their grazing. He followed in Hanzo’s footsteps as they made it to the gate and nearly ran into the other man—Wolf?—when he stopped suddenly.

He turned to McCree, his mouth set in a thin line and his eyes golden and wild. “Who is in my house?” Hanzo asked.

Being honest, McCree had completely forgotten about Ana and Reinhardt. “Oh,” he said. “My friends…Ana and Reinhardt.”

Hanzo’s eyes were cold and hard as gold coins and for a moment he looked angry enough that McCree felt a curl of fear flash through his belly.

Then Hanzo pulled the skin off his shoulders, wrapping it instead around his waist to hide his nudity though he was careful to keep the legs and tail and head of the skin from dragging on the ground. “This will not be good,” he said seemingly to himself before opening the gate in the paddock fence and gesturing for McCree to go ahead of him.

Yuki and Ame greeted them excitedly, swirling around the two of them with wagging tails and lolling tongues. The wolves whirled around in alarm when the door was kicked open and Ana came stomping out.

“Ana,” Hanzo said quietly.

McCree’s friend made a sharp motion with her hands. “No, don’t you dare ‘Ana’ me!” Then, much to McCree’s astonishment, she threw herself at Hanzo, hitting his chest with both of her fists before falling still, pressing her face against his chest. She was shaking. “I thought you were dead, you bastard,” she said in a thick voice that McCree had never heard her use.

“Ana,” Hanzo said softly, nervously lifting a hand to cup Ana’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.” His other hand tightened on the wolfskin around his hips. “It was not my intention to hurt you.”

Ana shoved him away. “I mourned you,” she snapped and shoved him again. “I thought you were dead!

“Ana,” Hanzo tried again.

“No,” she snapped, turning away from him and began stomping back up toward the house. “No, you had your chance, you’re dead to me. Literally dead.”

Hanzo sighed but didn’t say anything. “So…” McCree said into the air.

But Hanzo wasn’t listening. He and both wolves had gone still, turning to face the dark smudge of trees. McCree followed suit and sucked in a breath just as the horses seemed to catch wind of something amiss. They screamed, rearing and charging for the barn.

“Get inside,” Hanzo said tightly and McCree watched in horror as the wolf pelt around his waist moved. Hanzo turned to him, shifting the pelt back into place. “Go!” he snapped and a moment later was a wolf, bounding in an enormous leap over the paddock gate.

Howling, Yuki and Ame followed with a pack of large dogs on their heels. A hand grabbed him and jumping, McCree realized that it was Ana and she was yanking him back with a grip that would leave bruises.

“Get inside,” she hissed.

He yanked his hand out of her grip. “The horses!” he told her and ran, vaulting over the gate before she could catch up to him.

“Jesse!” he could hear her yell but didn’t dare turn back.

The thundering of the horses’ hooves rang in his ears and despite the terror of being trampled beneath them they stayed away from him. Only a few remained, the older ones that weren’t as fast as the rest of the herd, and the littlest with her mamá.

He jogged beside them, keeping up with the baby’s awkward and stumbling gait. The doors were on sliding tracks and when he shoved his weight against them they moved, groaning, toward the closed position. “Get in, get in!” he yelled at the mamá and her baby and ducked in after them, pulling the doors closed behind them. There was an enormous bar on the inside and he tugged that into place, locking everything up.

Locking him in a dark barn with a bunch of loose horses.

Swallowing, McCree looked around and found that an eerie sense of order had fallen upon the horses. Each one of them stood calmly in a stall as if they had been placed there. Even the mamá and her baby had gone; the mamá chewed a mouthful of hay while the baby nursed.

“Ain’t right,” McCree muttered. “I could use a light.”

A dog appeared down the aisle and McCree was about to walk toward it when he realized two things.

One: it was Kuma, his tail wagging happily as if excited to see him. Kuma ran in short little circles, approaching him and then turning back as if to say come here, over here!

Two: unlike every other time he had seen Kuma, his eyes weren’t glowing.

And, he realized as he suddenly understood the feeling of Wrongness that hung in the air of the barn, Kuma didn’t look quite right.

He thought of Kuma, imagined the dog in his mind’s eye as he tried not to let his fear show. The Xolo dog had been dark with a hint of flesh tone peeking through. He’d had a little tuft of white on his head and markings on his feet that made it look like he had instead jumped in white and beige paint. The one on his right side had been higher than the right.

The vision in front of him was different. Its colors seemed muted, more beige than white, and the white patch was on its ears not its head; it had none of the markings on its feet and McCree wondered if it had been because the trail had been muddy that night.

“I don’t know what you are,” he told the vision as bravely as he could. “But you ain’t Kuma.”

The dog stopped and looked at him. Is this form not pleasing to you, Seer?

McCree swallowed. “No,” he said, hoping that he didn’t sound as terrified as he felt.

The dog changed, shifting like boiling molasses. It grew taller and stood on its hind legs; color washed in like the tide and then Hanzo, gloriously naked, stood in front of him. How about this one? Not-Hanzo’s face split into a smirk that was too wide for its face.

Was it weird that McCree could not recognize Hanzo's dick? And was it weird that whatever lay between the false Hanzo's legs looked just plain weird, as if recreated by someone who didn't know how anatomy worked? Yuck.

"Who are you?" McCree demanded. "What do you want?"

The false Hanzo held out its hands. Come and see, it said in the same voice from his dream. Take my hand and I will show you.

“No,” McCree said, taking a step back toward the doors. “What are you doing here? What do you want?”

The false Hanzo walked forward but it looked more like a marionette walking, moving stiffly and traveling further that it should have per step. Come and see, the thing said. Come and see, come and see.

“Psst!” he heard a voice say and turned slightly. There was a girl with eyes that spilled over with white and gold fire that waved to him from the ladder leading to the loft. “Hurry!” she said. At the top of the ladder he could see Kuma, the “real” Kuma, looking back and forth between McCree and the false Hanzo that was wobbling along like a child’s doll.

With another glance at the false Hanzo, McCree turned and bolted for the ladder.


He scrambled up as quickly as he could with one arm, glad that it seemed to be more of a very steep stairway than an actual ladder because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to climb it when down an arm. The strange girl scrambled up as quick as a monkey and was joined by two other teenagers in the loft. All of them had gold and white lights in their eyes and wrung their hands as they stared over his shoulder at the false-Hanzo.

“It cannot see you very well,” one of them, who he recognized as Gérard Lacroix, the kid in the shed. “Not in here where the Wolf’s wards. You need to hide.”

Kuma snarled over the edge of the ladder as the false Hanzo dissolved into something else. It looked like someone else that McCree didn’t recognize, a teenager with muddy hair and torn, dirty clothes. “Oh no,” the teenaged girl said. “That’s Akande!”

“Don’t say anything!” the boy cautioned when McCree opened his mouth. “It will hear you!” McCree shut his mouth and slowly knelt near the ladder. “You can pull it up if you want, it can only hear you.” McCree shook his head, hoping that it conveyed that he couldn’t pull up the ladder access with only one arm, and turned his head back to the lower levels.

The creature stalked around the eerily quiet barn, passing horses that stood eerily still in their stalls. It was hard to take seriously something that moved like a child playing dolls, bouncing up and down the aisles. But perhaps to whatever this creature was, the guises it wore it was like playing dolls.

Kuma settled beside him but McCree couldn’t feel him. His heart rose in his throat and he reached out to touch the dog. I’m sorry, he wanted to say, but he carefully kept his mouth shut.

Below them the creature screamed and McCree held his breath against the urge to scream, trembling as sweat beaded on his head. He peeked over the edge again and found that the creature had taken the form of a very familiar little girl.

Come down! The creature screamed in a voice that did not belong to a human child. Come down! I’m looking for you, Dead Eye! I will find you and devour you and break free of this prison. I will find those you love and I will devour them to so that their souls may find no rest and their ghosts will haunt these trees for eternity.

McCree swallowed hard, shaking, and Kuma pressed harder against his side. He felt hands on him and turned to find that the little girl that had called him to the loft was pressing a comforting hand to his shoulder. When she saw that McCree was looking,she pressed a finger to her lips and McCree nodded, miming zipping up his lips and locking them.

The other teens came over too. “It’s hungry,” the girl, Amélie Guillard, said in a quiet voice. McCree preferred seeing her this way, even if seeing someone with lights for eyes was terrifying. At least she had the appearance of life, unlike the last time that McCree had seen her, buried in the forest. “It’s desperate. You’re making it desperate.”

He had so many questions on the tip of his tongue and McCree had to physically press his hand against his own lips to keep from asking them.

Beneath them, the creature screamed again, bringing more fear-sweat to McCree’s face. It dissolved into a nebulous shape once more, almost like the cocoons of spider silk and eyes bubbled to the surface, swirling around like…like…

Any analogy was food related and McCree was reluctant to put the thought to words for fear of never being able to eat anything ever again.

“God,” Amélie Guillard said. “That’s disgusting. What is that?”

McCree was glad that he wasn’t the only one wondering it. “A demon,” the little girl said. “A very powerful one.”

“No shit?” Amélie Guillard asked.

At the same time, Gérard Lacroix said, “Man, that’s not a demon. They’re red and have horns and hooves right? Carry a pitchfork?”

Like an enormous spider with far too many limbs the nebulous shape of the demon scrambled around the barn. Why isn’t it climbing? He wondered. It had been in the trees the last time he had seen it but now it remained on the ground.

There was another cry but McCree realized after a moment that the sound didn’t come from the creature but from outside . Beside him, Kuma’s ears perked up and he threw his head back with a wild howl.

McCree realized that it wasn’t just a cry—it was a Wolf’s howl!

“Quick!” the little girl said, tugging on his sleeve. “To the windows!”

McCree followed her pointed finger and scrambled to his feet, running along the loft to the cracked windows. He wondered what they were for as each one was almost large enough for him to stand in, had always wondered because the stereotypical barns always seemed to have them, but at that point it didn’t matter because they opened with a nudge from his arm and he could see the grass moving as a dozen large dogs raced through the paddock toward the barn. Ahead of them was the Wolf—was Hanzo —and never before had he been so glad to see him.

“Look out!” Amélie Guillard screamed and McCree turned in time to see the demons’ clawed hands grope over the edge of the loft.

Clutching one enormous leaf of the window, McCree thought a fervent prayer and stepped out into open air, his truncated arm waving and wobbling as his toes sought purchase on the wooden braces on the inside of the leaf. The hinges creaked and groaned ominously and McCree prayed—again, silently—that it wouldn’t break.

At least, not when he was on it.

He bit back a whimper when he heard the kids in the loft screaming, “look out, look out, look out!” four hands found the edges of the window and McCree saw the obsidian claws dig into the wood, heard the creak as it was strained.

The hinges groaned again and the leaf of the window moved and McCree with it. He bit his lips, sucking in a breath as he braced himself against the pain of his fingers being smashed against the side of the barn.

But the window just wobbled and swung him through the air slow enough that he could awkwardly kick a foot out to keep from having his fingers broken. He looked out toward the dogs and found Hanzo approaching.

Waving his stump, McCree tried to frantically signal Hanzo and bit back a whimper of relief when he saw the Wolf adjust his course to run right toward McCree and the side of the barn where he hung.

He sucked in a terrified breath when the motion—and his leg against the barn wall—started pushing him toward the window and toward the demon that now waited there. Great gashes had opened up in the cloudy form of its body but as they moved McCree realized that they weren’t gashes but enormous mouths lined with teeth like broken glass. A dozen scarlet eyes that glowed like embers were trained on him as he began swinging back toward the demon.

Well, well, the demon said with a Cheshire grin. Thought you could hide?

Finding a grip for his toes on the door, McCree thought a prayer and shoved away. He fell for a few terrifying seconds, unable to look away as the demon reached for him with a half dozen arms and then he struck something between his shoulders. His head snapped back and he thought he heard a sharp crack as the wind was shoved out of him.

Whatever he had hit moved and he realized as he felt fur brushing against his skin, that it was Hanzo who had caught him. He shot his arm out to catch himself as Hanzo rolled with him, breaking his fall further but enough damage had been done that McCree lay where he landed, gasping for breath.

Hanzo scrambled to loom over him, crouched protectively over his prone body. McCree wheezed, struggling to catch his breath.

Something must have happened because the next thing he knows, Hanzo is gently nudging him with his big nose and Lúcio’s hands were on his face. He rolled his head toward Hanzo. “Hey,” he said weakly. “Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes?”

“I don’t know if we can move him,” Lúcio told the Wolf. “His back might be broken. Moving him might leave him paralyzed.”

“You need to move,” Amélie Guillard said, appearing nearby. McCree rolled his head away from Hanzo and Lúcio to look at her. “You need to get inside and the Wolf needs to renew his wards!” she jabbed a finger at Hanzo. “You need to get safe so he can do his duty!”

Kuma sat beside him and rested his head on his paws. “You gonna tell me to move too?” he asked Kuma. “Ow, my chest hurts.”

“Don’t move,” Lúcio told him sternly.

“You’re not gonna die, you big baby,” Gérard Lacroix said, appearing next to Amélie Guillard. “Cracked ribs won’t kill you!”

The little girl shrugged. “That’s how I died.”

McCree groaned. “Please just stop bickering.”

“Excuse me for not wanting you to be paralyzed,” Lúcio said tightly.

“I was kicked by a horse,” the little girl said at the same time.

McCree groaned. “No, not you,” he said as he realized that now they would think he was crazy. He gestured vaguely to the shapes around them. “Them.” He blinked and they seemed to fizzle in and out like a TV with poor reception. “They’re saying that it’s only cracked ribs.”

It felt like McCree blinked and Hanzo was human again and beautifully naked. His eyes were golden again and his long white hair hung down his back. “It doesn’t matter,” he was saying, kneeling on McCree’s other side. “We need to move him.”

Amélie Guillard appeared, kneeling over McCree’s face and he jumped in surprise then yelped in pain as his apparently cracked ribs protested. “Tell the Wolf it’s the northern boundary,” she said, her glowing eyes seeming hard as lasers. “The demon is losing control of its pet and it’s making north along the mountains where it’s from.” McCree blinked at her. “Tell him!”

McCree lolled his head toward Hanzo but got distracted . “Is that your wolf, Hanzo, or are you just happy to see me?”

The look that Hanzo gave him told him just how unamused he was. McCree still laughed though it hurt his ribs.

“TELL HIM!” Amélie Guillard yelled. Her voice began to sound distorted like a B-grade horror movie poltergeist. “He needs to go!”

McCree blinked up at Hanzo. “She says that you need to go north. The…I don’t know what but something is making north as fast as it can. Trying to run away I think. Says that it’s trying to get back to where it came from.”

Above him, Hanzo and Lúcio traded glances. After an apparently wordless conversation, Hanzo stood and whistled sharply. He turned away and ran off into the woods as a Wolf, his pack running after him.

“Come on,” Lúcio said with an odd look on his face. “Come on, get up, we need to get you inside.”

McCree groaned as he was helped to his feet, his breath coming in short, shallow gasps that were more painful when sitting upright. Each step sent pain shooting through his ribs and he instead focused on moving his legs, putting one foot in front of the other and continuing until he reached the house.

As soon as the door was open Ana tried to hug McCree but Reinhardt held her back. “Easy,” Lúcio said. “He might have broken ribs.”

“They are broken,” the little girl complained from the kitchen. “I know they are, I can see them.”

McCree turned his head toward her, beyond done with all of this bullshit. “You. Hush.”

“Where’s the Wolf?” Ana asked worriedly.

“Going north,” Lúcio replied. “For what, I don’t know, but he’s off to make sure that everything isn’t falling apart.”

Ana shook her head as she helped Lúcio sit McCree down on one of the couches. “Why are his eyes like that?” she asked, looking over McCree’s head at Lúcio. “Have you seen this before?”


“What?” McCree demanded.

The ghost of the little girl sat on the mantle above the fireplace, kicking her legs; Kuma was sniffing at the ashes of the fire in the big stone hearth. “You need to rest,” the girl said. “We’ll still be here when you wake up. Death isn’t the end.”

His head hurt.

His eyes burned.

God don’t get him started on his ribs.

Gérard Lacroix appeared. “I did what I could,” he said apologetically. “Until we can get you to a doctor, at least. Or a doctor to you. It’s gonna hurt more.”

Oh, it did.

It was so much worse. He clenched his teeth and tried to relax, tried to keep his muscles from tensing up and making the pain worse.

“Where’s the other girl?” McCree hissed through his teeth.

“She’s with the Wolf,” Gérard Lacroix said.

Above him, he could hear Ana and Lúcio talking. “Drink,” Ana said, supporting McCree’s head with one hand and holding a cup with the other.

“Oh, good,” he heard the little girl say.

The world spun but Kuma was there, sitting on his knees. The dog lay down and rested his head on McCree’s belly.

It was ridiculous, McCree thought as his eyes grew heavier. How quickly he had gotten used to seeing ghosts, how quickly he had accepted the presence of the many-armed demon chasing after him, and yet the strangest thing was that he thought he heard Kuma speak.

Sleep well .

“So, what?” McCree heard as he woke up. “Are you going to leave him behind like you did me?”

“I didn’t want to leave you,” Hanzo replied from somewhere closer to McCree.

But it seemed that Ana would not be turned denied. “Did it not occur to you how much pain you felt me in?”

“I know,” Hanzo said softly, sounding immeasurably tired. “I thought of it every day. Just like I thought of every wrong thing I’ve ever done in all my years. Do you think that you have regrets? Imagine living as long as I have. Imagine the weight that rests on my shoulders. Blood and death and the weight of knowing that death is not the end.”

There was a rustle of cloth. Ana sighed. “Hanzo I…”

“I know,” Hanzo told her. “We are all hurting. And now you are involved in this.”

A long pause. “That’s why you sent me away,” Ana said softly. “That’s why you turned me away and let me think you were dead. Hanzo, I-” she cut herself off. A moment later McCree heard her walk across the wooden floor; the door closed.

“I have a long history with Ana Amari,” Hanzo said. “Good moments. Bad moments. It ended poorly for the both of us. You can ask if you want. I will not lie to you.”

McCree peeked an eye open, relieved that the shades seemed to be drawn. He was in what he recognized as Hanzo’s room and now that he wasn’t distracted by wandering hands and hot kisses, he realized that the headboard was carved with the image of wolves and dragons.

Movement caught his eye and swallowed hard when he saw the muscles ripple along Hanzo’s back and side as he turned to pour him a glass of water. “Damn,” he managed to croak. “Ain’t that a sight to wake up to.”

“I am fortunate that you did wake up,” Hanzo said with a tense kind of smile. “Would you like some water?”

McCree nodded emphatically and Hanzo helped him to sit up enough to drink, giving him an eyeful—Hanzo was once more naked though this time the wolf pelt he had worn around was tucked over the back of a chair.

“What happened?” he managed to ask when he was done. “And not that I’m complaining sugar, by why are you still naked?”

Hanzo shrugged. “Does it bother you?”

“You know it doesn’t,” McCree pointed out. “Least, not in a bad way.”

Nodding, Hanzo stood, giving McCree a lovely view of his chest and abs. He wore a bandage around one shoulder to his elbow and there was a bandage on his forehead. McCree tried not to stare as Hanzo walked to the dresser and tugged on a pair of boxers, much to McCree’s disappointment.

There were long scratches along his back and shoulders that had McCree wincing.

“What happened?” he asked, struggling to sit up. “Han…”

Hanzo turned and smiled tightly. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I heal quickly.” He returned to McCree’s bedside and sat back down on the chair beside him. “As for the rest, I am ashamed to say that I let them get the best of me.” He made a face. “I let the pup lure me deep into the woods where we fought and only as my pack caught up and their howls reached my ears did I realize that you were in danger.”

“To be fair,” McCree said weakly. “I didn’t expect to lock myself in the barn!”

He got an odd look for that. “Yes,” he agreed. “Why did you?”

McCree opened his mouth and then shut it again. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I just…ran.”

For a long moment Hanzo stared at him with disturbing intensity, a glare that seemed to be matched by the wolf pelt on the chair next to him. At last he shook his head. “That is not a good sign,” he said ruefully. “None of this is good.” He peered at McCree. “Come morning, I must insist that you, Ana, and Reinhardt, leave this area. I will follow you as far as I can to make sure you get free of its influence but you need to leave.”

“Now hold up,” McCree said hotly, shoving himself upright.

It made so much more sense. McCree reached for Hanzo but something cold and brittle in Hanzo’s eyes stopped him. “You are here because of me ,” Hanzo told him. “You are injured because of me . You would have died were it not for the dogs. I almost didn’t make it in time .” His face told volumes of how he felt.

It made so much more sense.

McCree carefully pushed himself into a sitting position, amazed that he didn't hurt as badly as he thought he would, but ignored that in favor of watching Hanzo's face. "Hey, now," he said, reaching out on reflex with his truncated arm.

He came up short and saw how Hanzo's face fell even more.

"Hey now," he said sternly, sitting up fully and reaching out with his other arm to cup Hanzo's cheek. He was alarmed to find it wet. "Oh, Hanzo," he breathed.

Hanzo lifted a hand and pressed McCree's against his cheek, tipping his head into the touch. "'Oh' you say," Hanzo whispered. "Is my pain that trivial to you?"

"That ain't what I meant and you know it," McCree snapped. "Han..."

"I meant what I said," Hanzo told him, pressing closer into McCree's touch once more before pulling away to stand. "You and your guests will spend the night here—I refuse to allow you to travel in the dark—and then you will leave."

McCree closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see Hanzo leave. He felt the bed dip next to him and he reached out with a hand, at this point not surprised to feel the tuft of fur on top of Kuma's head. He opened his eyes anyway, just in case, and was weirdly reassured to see his eyes glowing with gold and white fire.

"I don't suppose you could help me?" McCree asked. "How I do make him trust me again?"

Kuma nudged his head into McCree's hand and rolled over, kicking his legs in the air.

"No, I don't think that showing him my dick would be of much help."

The dog rolled over and gave him a disgusted look.

"Maybe he's right," McCree mused, scratching behind Kuma's ears. The dog grumbled and rested his head on McCree's knee. "Maybe I should just leave but...hell, you know I can't." He looked at Kuma. "What was that thing in the forest?"

Kuma lifted his lips and bared a fang and growled.

"Yeah, I know it's bad." Kuma huffed, sounding annoyed. "What do I do about it?"

Grumbling Kuma got to his feet and jumped off the bed. He seemed to disappear and then reappear at the door, looking expectantly at him.

"You leaving me too?"

Kuma sneezed and if there was ever a way to say "fuck you" in dog, McCree figured that that would be it. He trotted to McCree, tugged on the covers, and then trotted back to the door.

Groaning, McCree pulled the covers off his legs and swung them over the edge of the bed. "You want me to follow you? That it?" He wobbled a little on his feet but after the bout of dizziness passed he shuffled toward Kuma.

He was dressed at least, clearly in Hanzo's clothes, and he wondered where his stuff was. But he was clothed and at that moment, that was what mattered because Kuma passed right through the closed door and if he had needed more evidence of what he had been seeing, well, there it was.

McCree took a deep breath and opened the door. The hallway was empty except for Kuma who sat a few doors down. He could hear voices coming from down the stairs—Reinhardt's big boom, Ana's Angry Voice—and McCree grimaced, hoping that Hanzo hadn't gotten caught up in that.

"What is it?" he asked Kuma, shuffling down the hall after him. Kuma sneezed, turned in a circle, and disappeared through the door.

Biting his lip, McCree pushed it open and found Lúcio sitting in front of a computer. Kuma was nowhere to be found but Lily was on his feet, his nose twitching.

"Jesse!" Lúcio exclaimed, seemingly torn between being surprised and pleased. "Should you be out of bed so soon?"

McCree made a face. "Whether I should or not is no matter," he muttered. "Hanzo has decided that I should leave."

"Not now, I hope," Lúcio said, his brows furrowing as he checked the time. "It'll be dark by the time you get to town!"

"Nah," McCree assured him. "He offered to let us stay until morning then he told me that I better skedaddle."

Lúcio breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good," he said a little weakly. "Because if not I would have to kick his ass." He gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk from him. "Sit, you must still be tired."

With a heavy sigh of relief McCree obeyed. "So I've got questions," he said.

"I'm sure you do," Lúcio said, making a face. "And it's only fair that you get answers but...I'm not sure how much I can tell you. I'll try to, of course."

McCree nodded and saw Lily jerk to look over in the corner. Kuma sat there, as innocent as you please. "When you say that an animal is with the Wolf..."

Lúcio frowned. "I don't know how to break this to you, but..." he sighed and ran a hand through his dreads.

"I know Kuma's dead," McCree said. "But I want to know why I'm seeing him around. Is it because of Hanzo?"

An odd look crossed Lúcio's face. "You're what?"

"So that's not normal, then?"

"No," Lúcio said slowly. "That's not normal." He looked around. "Is he here? Right now?"

McCree nodded. "I think maybe Lily can see him? He's over in that corner there." Lúcio looked over but didn't seem to see him as McCree suspected, craning his head this way and that but turning to look back at McCree with exasperation. "Thing is, I don't know if it's me or Hanzo."

For a long moment Lúcio regarded him, drumming his fingers on the table. "Hanzo has a name for the thing in the forest," he said at last. "I don't know if it's the thing's actual name or if it's just what Hanzo calls it. But he said that he's encountered it before—I don't know if you read that book I gave you." McCree nodded. "It went after his brother, a powerful seer, back when they were children in Japan."

"How long ago was that?" McCree asked.

Lúcio shook his head. "It's hard to say. I'm not sure that even Hanzo knows. Not to mention that I'm sure there were different ways to mark years in Japan and the rest of the world." McCree nodded, making a face. "From what I've gathered though, he's been in America for quite some time. At least a hundred, maybe even two hundred years."

"So he's been fighting it since then? That's..."

The other man nodded. "He insists that he has it under control, but I feel like he only barely has it contained."

McCree frowned at him. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because if you can see the dead, then I think I know why it's after you."

Surprised, McCree recoiled. "What?"

Lúcio nodded. "It makes a lot of sense. For as long as I've been here, I'd never seen it come so close to the Lodge before. Hanzo has it warded five ways to Sunday and yet it still came for you. It caused a distracted with its pet and then it went for you."

McCree frowned. "Did he catch it?" he asked. "The...thing's pet? The one that was running?"

"I don't know. He won't talk to me about it, but perhaps with good reason. I hadn't reacted favorably the last time he did." Lúcio made a face. "To be fair, I wasn't ready for those truths but Hanzo had also warned me. He doesn't talk about it to me anymore." He shook his head. "But that's neither here nor there."

McCree thought that over. "Back to Japan," he said. "And why you think that it's after me."

"Well," Lúcio said slowly. "According to what Hanzo told me, it was after his brother who I said was a powerful seer." he waited for McCree to nod in understanding. "It's not much but I know that it seems to want...special people. It went after me because...well, this is gonna sound weird..."

" seeing a dead dog," McCree said flatly. "And a giant man-wolf bit off my arm. Think I can handle a little 'weird'."

Lúcio made a face. "Fair. I got a bit of....magic, I guess. Just a little bit—a seed, Hanzo calls it. Well, it wanted me and tried to get me."

He fell silent for a moment and McCree didn’t say anything, seeing how Lúcio’s hands clenched in his lap as he relived a horror that only he could see. Lily went over, resting his head on Lúcio’s lap.

“Sorry,” Lúcio said with a shaky breath. “It’s…it was rough, you know?”

“I can imagine,” McCree said as gently as he was able to. Suddenly he wanted to yell at Lúcio— I lost my arm, tell me how it was rough! —but you could never weigh one person’s pain against another’s so he bit his tongue and was ashamed at himself for his selfishness. “But you’re still here now.”

Lúcio gave him a wobbly smile. “Yeah,” he agreed. “And I’m sorry…it must seem horribly insensitive given…” he gestured vaguely at McCree’s arm. “It’s just…remember I told you? About moving to the US?” McCree nodded slowly, vaguely remembering a story like that. “Well it was almost like magic. Hanzo said that he had seen it before, a kind of shamanism with music. Thing is, I came here for inspiration and left with barely any of my…magic.” He gave a bitter little laugh. “It was like I was sucked dry. I’d never felt anything like that before. Like a little kid sucking out all of the juice from their Capri-Sun until there was nothing left. I almost couldn’t move. I could hear it in my mind whispering…” he shook his head. “That’s when Hanzo found me. He got back some of my magic but he couldn’t restore it all.” He shrugged.

There was more to the story, McCree was certain. He wanted to know it all even though it wasn’t his place to ask. Even though it clearly hurt Lúcio to say what he had already.

It was rude but McCree wanted to demand to know what that had to do with anything. What Lúcio’s attack had to do with McCree’s since unlike Lúcio, he didn’t have any sort of magic.

( Look at me , he thought wryly to himself. Thinking of magic when there must clearly be a logical explanation for all of this . But then he thought of Kuma and his glowing eyes, and the children in the barn, two of which he had seen lying pale and motionless before he had made his trip to Clay Creek. He felt the first stirrings of doubt but pushed it aside for now.)

As if sensing his thoughts, Lúcio shook his head and dug around in the drawers of his desk. “I can’t tell you,” he said. “Well, I can but it won’t be as effective. But I can show you; to those that can see it, it’s obvious. Hold on.” He got up and walked into a little half bath in the back, clattering around in the drawers and cabinets.

Kuma trotted over but backed away when Lily moved to stand between the bathroom door and the ghostly dog. Snorting, Kuma returned to McCree’s side and nudged his paw into his leg as if to say, well, comfort me!

With a slight smile McCree obeyed, scratching the dog behind the ears. It was like running his hand through mist and yet somehow, he could feel the bristles of his short fur against his palm. Perhaps it was best he didn’t think about it.

“Here.” McCree jumped when a handheld mirror was held out to him. “Look to wherever Kuma might be sitting which…I’m guessing is right next to you. Then look at him and look at your eyes.”

Rolling his eyes, McCree gestured to Kuma. “Go stand in that corner so I can see you better.” Lily leapt out of the way, running to hide behind Lúcio’s legs with his tail tucked. “Sorry Lily.” To Lúcio he said, “What, I’m guessing I won’t see him in the mirror?”

“I’m not entirely certain. It seems to vary.”

That wasn’t very reassuring and he told Lúcio so, receiving a crooked smile in reply. McCree sighed and turning his back to Kuma lifted the mirror so that he could see over his shoulder.

There was nothing in the corner, of course.

He sighed and was about to look away when he frowned and looked closer. No, there was a faint outline like something out of a Rorschach test. It seemed to move and writhe and then coalesced into a singular shape the longer he stared at it. The shadow darkened but the specifics of it—of Kuma—never seemed to fully coalesce.

“Look at your eyes,” Lúcio said quietly and McCree jumped, surprised. “Quick, look.”

Swallowing hard, McCree tilted the mirror toward himself and nearly dropped it. His eyes were bloodshot and red, now, his pupils glowing like…well, there was a name for it but the shock of it had chased it out of his head. They seemed to reflect light like the eyeshine of a wild animal in shades of copper and orange and fiery red.

He blinked and it was gone, only the tiniest hint of light left in his eyes. Shaking, he put the mirror down in his lap and looked at Lúcio. “What was that?” he hissed.

Immediately Kuma was next to him, nudging his cool nose against McCree’s hand and thigh, pawing at his leg. Kuma licked at McCree’s knuckles until he turned his hand over, cupped Kuma’s head in his palm.

Lúcio shook his head. “Some people have it,” he said with a heavy sigh. “Some don’t. It’s not always an indication and it’s not always a huge thing. Like Hanzo’s eyes. You’ve seen them change color, I’m sure.”

“I…” McCree stopped and thought. “His eyes are…”

“What color are his eyes?” Lúcio asked gently.

McCree thought. “Brown,” he said. “They’re…they’re brown, right? No one has yellow eyes.”

“Don’t let him hear you say that,” Lúcio laughed though it sounded a little forced. “He hates that word— yellow . He’d tell you it’s gold. But it varies, doesn’t it? It goes back and forth: sometimes his eyes look normal and sometimes he looks as wild as his wolves.”

They fell silent for a moment. Lúcio stood and reached into a mini fridge in the corner and pulled out a bottle of water and some kind of soda. When offered, McCree took the soda and holding it between his knees, cracked the cap open.

He had the feeling he’d need the sugar and told Lúcio so.

“It’s a lot to take in,” Lúcio said with a sympathetic nod.

McCree swallowed hard. “Yeah.” He took a long sip until the carbonation burned too badly and then put the bottle down. “Is…does that mean…what does it mean. The eye thing?”

“It’s hard to say,” Lúcio admitted. “And depending on who you ask, you’d always get different answers. The best explanation I’ve heard is that eyes are the window to the soul and will sometimes reflect…I don’t know… that .”

Thinking back to the encounter in the barn, at the children he’d seen, McCree nodded.

“It’s…this is going to sound fucking insane,” McCee said and Lúcio gave him a mirthless smile. “Yeah, yeah, I know but…I’d been… seeing things. Not just Kuma.”

Lúcio nodded. “What kind of things?”

But that was touching on something still too painful. Still, he felt like it was needed. Kuma nudged his hand as if in agreement. “Back…when I was in the city. There was a serial killer. I…I thought the case would break me before I could break it. So many times I thought about quitting. The force, the case, all of it. I wanted nothing to do with it anymore. The bodies felt like they were suffocating me and the blood like it was drowning me.” He looked down at his hands. Hand . Singular. “I started dreaming, then. At first I thought it was just my guilt; then I thought I was going crazy. I kept seeing children. They were screaming, crying. And none of them had eyes.” He nodded down at Kuma. “Like him.”

Instinctively Lúcio followed his nod and made a face when he remembered that he couldn’t also see Kuma. “That must have been rough.”

McCree barked a harsh laugh. “I thought I was going crazy,” he repeated. “I thought it was breaking me, that it was my guilt coming back to haunt me. Perhaps a little bit of it was. Almost all of them went away when we caught the…killers. One of them stuck around. Just kind of followed me around. It was enough to get me to pack up and leave.”

“And then you fell right into another pile of bodies,” Lúcio said sympathetically. “Damn that sucks.”

McCree took a shaky breath and another long sip of whatever soda was in his hands. At that point it didn’t matter. “I at least had a bit of a break,” he said. “But yes. Livestock murders first—that was easy enough. Livestock aren’t people. Then…then it was this kid.”

He jumped when he heard a knock on the door. “Busy today,” Lúcio said dryly. “Come in.”

Hanzo poked his head in and didn’t seem surprised to see McCree sitting there. Yuki and Ame wiggled in, stopping and looking at the area that Kuma sat, their heads cocked adorably to the side. Hanzo also glanced in that direction, his lips pulling in a frown, and now that McCree thought to look— really look—he was able to see exactly when Hanzo’s eyes slid from human to wolf, from light brown like whiskey to amber like a wolf’s.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Hanzo said stiffly, dragging his gaze from the space that Kuma occupied up to Lúcio. “Just wanted to let you know that-”

“Guests tonight,” Lúcio finished for him. “Dinner, places to stay, that sort of thing. Lily and I will get to that in a bit. I assume you’re going on patrol soon?”

Hanzo glanced at McCree almost guiltily. “Yes,” he said curtly. “I find it tiresome to be yelled at.”

“It’s not like you didn’t deserve it,” Lúcio pointed out. “But Han, before you leave, I think you’d better make up some more amulets. Pull out the big guns.”

The white-haired man looked surprised at that. “Amulets? Why?”

“Well, if the thing in the woods is that adamant about getting Jess, then perhaps he should have extra protection?” Lúcio asked pointedly. “Considering the most recent attack on him was on your property ?”

Hanzo frowned. “I’ll consult with Efi,” he said. “I’m sure she saw what happened if it was in the barn.”

“She’s dead, right?” McCree blurted. “Bout yea tall,” he put the soda down and measured out the little girl’s height in the air. “Um…black hair?” remembering the argument over cracked ribs, added, “died from broken ribs or something?”

Yuki and Ame both looked up at him with frightening intelligence, their ears pricked forward. Hanzo frowned. “That is why I’m suggesting the amulets,” Lúcio said somberly. “I think he sees the dead.”

For a long moment Hanzo said nothing. Then he nodded once and left. Yuki and Ame lingered, peering at McCree with unnerving intelligence. Then they turned and left. Ame (or, McCree thought it was Ame) turned and gripping the doorknob in its teeth, closed the door behind them.

“I’ve been around them for years,” Lúcio said into the awkward silence left by their departure. “And yet they still sometimes make me feel…uncomfortable.”

McCree frowned. “They’re not like Hanzo, are they?”

Lúcio immediately shook his head. “No, no. Their mother or grandmother ran with Hanzo when he spent more time as a wolf than a man. I think a poacher got them but Hanzo won’t say. I just know that one day Hanzo wandered back with two pups with their eyes barely open and all of a sudden I was helping him raise them.” He shrugged. “I used to ask—jokingly of course—if they were his but that makes him uncomfortable. Also, not that I want to think of it, but have you seen him? That poor she-wolf.”

It took McCree a moment to process the joke and when he did he snorted soda out of his nose and spent a few minutes coughing, trying not to spill his soda.

“I think they’re just very smart,” Lúcio continued when McCree had calmed down, handing him a crumpled handful of paper towels which he accepted with a croaked word of thanks. “And used to being around people. And…well Hanzo’s magic works differently than mine or yours. I think.” He shook his head. “He doesn’t like to talk about it—he might for you if you ask, though. But I kind of think that…I don’t know, it kind of leaks out of him. The dogs we have that have been with him for years are far more intelligent than most other dogs I’ve seen. Lily here,” he reached down to pat the dog on the head. “He was a rescue. Got him just over a year ago. Not as smart as some of the others.”

McCree frowned. “That book you let me borrow. About the Wolf.” Lúcio nodded when he hesitated for a moment too long. “Who wrote that?”

“I did. With Hanzo’s permission. Well, I wrote it without his permission and published with. Changed a few details, tweaked a few things. Made it seem more like it was a story told by someone other than the literal source. Why?”

It was a strange thought, one that hadn’t yet fully formed in his head so McCree shrugged. “Just a thought. When I make sense of it I’ll tell you.” He took another sip of his soda, bracing himself for more questions.

But Lúcio only nodded agreeably. “Fair enough.”

“I do want to know…what…” he gestured vaguely to his face. “Means. And amulets and seeing the dead.”

Lúcio nodded. “Well…how much of that book have you read?’

“Just a little,” McCree admitted. “I was…a little busy.”

Lúcio gave him a knowing smirk. “I bet you were,” he teased and then shuddered. “Eew. I don’t want to think about that—no offense, man.” McCree made a face but Lúcio continued before he could protest. “But Hanzo came to the US…well, in short he was ashamed of what happened to his brother who was a very powerful seer, coddled by his family for his gifts. One day, his brother—he never told me his name—ran away and was determined to show that he could take care of himself.”

“And something took care of him instead,” McCree finished grimly.

“And something took care of him instead,” Lúcio agreed. “But not quite. Hanzo was able to save him at great cost to himself. He found a witch that…well, Hanzo is vague about it but I think that part of the reason why he is so old is because of the witch—the necromancer.” Lúcio fidgeted in his seat and Lily grumbled, moving to put his head in Lúcio’s lap. “I don’t know who followed who—or whom, whatever. But somehow Hanzo and whatever attacked his brother both ended up here.”

McCree frowned. “Mighty coincidental don’t you think? Quite… lucky .”

“I’d been wondering about that, too,” Lúcio agreed. “It’s like that riddle: what came first, the chicken or the egg? Only it’s who came first: Hanzo or the monster?” he sighed. “But in the long run it doesn’t much matter. They’re both here and they’ve both been locked in this battle for…” he huffed a long, thoughtful sigh. “I don’t know, a couple hundred years? Hanzo’s kept it contained but I think he’s getting tired. That or the game’s changed. Things were never this bad, or so I’ve gathered.”

McCree thought about what the ghost of Amélie Guillard had said. “One of the…I don’t know, spirits…the ones I saw in the barn. She said that it had a pet. Could that be what had changed?”

“Perhaps,” Lúcio said thoughtfully. “I’ll have to ask Hanzo…but I’ve never heard of it attacking people like it has—and I’ve never heard of it acting with someone else.” He sighed. “In fact, it’s important enough to bring it up now. Hopefully we hadn’t missed him leaving.”

McCree followed, dragging his soda along only because it had been in his hand. He nearly tripped over his feet when he caught sight of the ghosts of Amélie Guillard and Gérard Lacroix.

“Did you tell them?” the boy demanded.

“Hush,” Amélie Guillard hissed, slapping the boy in the chest. McCree blinked and they both appeared to him as they had died. She turned her mutilated face, skin pale and blush and her eyelashes dusted with dirt. “He’s talking to Efi in the barn. If you hurry you can make it easier for him—and catch him before he leaves!

Swallowing hard, McCree turned away and saw Lúcio looking up at him from the bottom of the stairs. “You okay?” he asked.

McCree swallowed again and eyed the stairs. “He’s in the barn,” he told Lúcio. “If we hurry we can catch him.”

“I’ll tell Efi to make him wait,” Gérard Lacroix said from behind McCree.

“Be careful going down the steps!” the girl hissed. McCree shoved the bottle between his teeth and used his hand to grip the railing, walking down the steps slowly. His ribs didn’t hurt but his entire body felt stiff like dried leather. “You’re just going to make it worse if you break all your bones again.”

No one likes a nag , McCree tried to say around the mouth of the bottle clenched in his teeth but it came out an unintelligible mess. Kuma appeared at the bottom of the stairs and laughed.

“Jesse!” Ana said, stepping through Kuma as she caught sight of McCree on the steps. “You shouldn’t be out of bed!”

McCree clung to the railing as Ana darted over. She took the bottle from his mouth. “I gotta go to the barn,” he told her urgently.

“You need to rest!” Ana argued. “Reinhardt!”

The big man appeared from the direction of the living room. “What is it?” he asked.

“Jesse needs to get back to bed, he’s being difficult,” Ana told him.

“No,” McCree said stubbornly.

At the same time, he heard Amélie Guillard say, “Is he part bear? How can he be so large and not be?”

Amélie , I think he is the definition of ‘bear’—ow!”

“I need to get to the barn,” he told Reinhardt. “It’s important.”

“You need to rest,” Ana fussed. “It’s getting dark.”

Reinhardt grunted and carefully scooped McCree into his arms. “The barn, you say?”


The big man looked down at Ana. “If he is out of bed and insisting, then perhaps it is important,” he told Ana gently. “And if not, then this way he won’t tire himself out. We’ll be careful.”

Ana swore to herself in Arabic but followed along, fussing over the two of them and opening doors as needed.

“Do you think he’d carry me too?” Amélie Guillard asked, pretending to swoon.


McCree looked over Reinhardt’s shoulder and saw the two of them following. There was another ghost with them, too: the blind woman whose crime scene McCree had visited with Hanzo. She was silent and though she had been blind in life she appeared to be able to see now, following along seemingly without trouble though she didn’t offer any commentary.

Just as they were reaching the path to the barn, McCree saw Hanzo striding purposefully toward them, Lúcio trotting along in his wake, speaking quickly in a language that McCree realized must be Brazilian Portuguese.

“That’s a shame,” the woman whose name McCree couldn’t remember said, speaking for the first time. “He’s wearing clothes.”

McCree disguised a laugh as a cough which made Reinhardt and Ana look at him in concern.

“Back inside,” Hanzo told them sternly when they were within earshot. The ghost of the little girl appeared behind him, trotting along in his wake.

Something in his stormy expression kept Reinhardt and Ana silent and they all hurried inside. Reinhardt settled McCree on one of the couches and Ana handed him the soda before they both settled on the loveseat. Hanzo sat on the coffee table in front of McCree, his eyes as wild and golden as a wolf’s.

“Lúcio tells me that you have information for me,” he said, all business.

McCree struggled to prop himself up, throwing his legs over the side of the couch. “I might,” he agreed. “I don’t know myself.”

“You told me to search the northern territories.” Hanzo’s eyes held an almost palpable weight. “Why?”

“A girl told me,” McCree replied, ears burning hot at how ridiculous it must sound. “A dead girl. Guillard. I think she had a wolf with her too.”

There was a shift in Hanzo’s eyes. “Amélie. Middle child. Ballet dancer. First of George’s children with his new wife. Her dog’s name was Pixie.” He sounded like he was just reporting the facts but by now McCree understood the shape of things now. Hanzo had likely been there. Had probably known her personally, known her family, trained her dog.

“I called her Pix,” the girl whispered in McCree’s ear. Young woman. “I begged my mom for her and the Wolf almost refused but Pix wanted me too.”

McCree swallowed. “She called her Pix. Her parents didn’t want her but she begged for Pix. You almost turned her down too but Pix wanted her back.”

For a long moment Hanzo was quiet. He leaned closer, bracing his elbows on his knees. “Tell me about Efi.” His eyes seemed to glow and golden markings appeared beneath them, tracing along his collarbones.

“He’s ridiculous,” the little girl muttered, appearing behind Hanzo. McCree realized that after seeing her trotting after the Wolf, he hadn’t seen the girl again until she appeared behind Hanzo. “Tell him he’s being stupid, Seer. Tell him that we just talked about this in the barn and I hate it when he does stupid things like this. He’s only wasting time!”

“What do we have but time?” the Guillard girl murmured.

McCree’s head hurt. Hanzo leaned closer, his eyes concerned. “They’re arguing,” he said, annoyed with how weak his voice sounded. “It’s…irritating.”

“I’ll use you like a puppet, don’t think I won’t,” the girl, Efi, snapped. “Tell him he’s being stupid.”

“Um…she wants me to tell you that you’re being stupid,” McCree told Hanzo. “And that you already discussed this. She is also threatening to use me like a puppet but I’m not sure how.”

Hanzo snorted. “I suppose you could call her a poltergeist,” he said, his eyes somehow both concerned and amused. Perhaps one of them was just wishful thinking on McCree’s part. “Sje’s sticking around just for spite at this point and I’ve given up trying to get rid of her.”

“You suck at it anyway.”

“Now,” Hanzo said seriously. “We must do something about this. Lúcio is correct that you are spilling magic everywhere—something that we cannot have. Lúcio, would you be so kind as to fetch my book?” he stood up and the air seemed to crackle around him with arcane energy.

Is it weird if it made his…yeah, it probably was and McCree swallowed. How badly he wanted to tug down Hanzo’s pants, to press kisses to his sharp hip bones, to bury his nose…

He swallowed hard and forced himself to look anywhere but at the shape he imagined was Hanzo’s dick through his pants.

“What is going on?” Ana demanded. “I think we’ve been patient enough. And don’t think I’m done with you!”

“Ana,” Reinhardt said softly, reaching for her arm.

She yanked away. “No, Reinhardt,” he said. “I’ve had enough of this and since none of you will say anything, I will.”

“Now is not the time for that-” Hanzo began.

“And if I let you have your way then it never will be!” Ana cried. “Hanzo, I spent years thinking you dead. Now you show up and I find out that you’re the reason that Jesse lost his arm! And that you’re essentially immortal? And that you’re the White Wolf? Why don’t you explain that—explain why I should trust you now.”

Lúcio cleared his throat. “I’ll get that book and boil some water,” he said awkwardly.

“Do you think they had a fling?” the Guillard girl asked in a whisper.

Gérard Lacroix snorted. “Oh, they totally fucked.”

“Some quiet would be appreciated,” McCree said, squeezing his eyes shut. Oh yeah, he definitely didn’t need to hear that.

Or to think that…

…oh God he was going to throw up.

Hanzo reacted quickly, shoving a decorative vase under McCree’s chin as he threw up. His heaving made his headache pound harder, more insistently until it felt like thumbs were digging hard into his temples and his eye sockets and at the base of his skull. As if his entire head was held in a vise that was slowly tightening.

“Breathe,” someone said and a broad hand pressed gently on the back of his neck. Ice seemed to spread from where it touched his skin, sinking into vein and muscle and bone. It pressed away the pain and seemed to scour it away, leaving behind a sensation that reminded McCree, strangely enough, of IcyHot. “It never gets easy and perhaps Hanzo should have taken better care of you. But he was always one to shoulder more responsibility than he really needed to. Ah. There you go.”

Then the hand and the voice were gone.

When he lifted his head only the living was in the room and the dead were nowhere to be found.

Not even Kuma.

Dinner was an intensely awkward affair.

Despite the fact that the debilitating pain that had keeled McCree over had disappeared—along with his ability to see and hear the dead—Hanzo still made up a noxious green concoction that looked like some kind of gross sludge pulled from the nearest culvert. Strangely enough it tasted good and Lúcio laughed at his face when he realized this. Feeling much better already, McCree tucked into the food with gusto, his stomach reminding him that he hadn’t eaten much of anything all day.

“Are we going to address the elephant in the room?” Reinhardt asked delicately.

“Which elephant, dear?” Ana asked through gritted teeth. “The fact that the man I thought was dead is here eating with us, the fact that he is apparently immortal , or—” she cut herself off with a frustrated noise.

“Did it occur to you,” Hanzo said slowly, his lips turned down in a frown. “That perhaps that was intentional? That you were not meant to know?”

Ana slammed both fists down on the table, making the cutlery jump. McCree fumbled to catch his plate and cursed when he missed, the edge slapping his stump as it fell. “I got it,” Lúcio said, getting to his feet and walking in the kitchen.

“I’ll help,” McCree said quickly and used the excuse to escape.

Lúcio took him into the hallway to a small utility closet. “There’s a closer one,” he said. “But I thought that they might need some privacy.”

Remembering the gossiping of the ghosts, McCree asked hesitantly, “Were they…?”

Lúcio shrugged. “Maybe? I don’t think so, though. From what I know of him, Hanzo doesn’t have very many flings. And…” he scratched his nose. “Ah…almost none of them have been women. A few he’d rescued from the woods late at night, but none of them…well, none of them had made the dogs howl if you know what I mean.”

He could almost excuse that as a regional euphemism if it weren’t for the blush on Lúcio’s dark skin.

“What…do you mean?” he asked, almost not sure if he wanted to know or not.  

Lúcio cleared his throat. “Ah, well…Hanzo has…a particularly close bond with his dogs. Especially the ones that’ve been around him a lot. So…well…” he cleared his throat again. “When you two were… occupied …well, the dogs reacted. Um…vigorously.”

When the meaning of his words sank in, McCree’s face turned bright red. “Oh.”

“Yes,” Lúcio said, clearing his throat again. “Well…that…hasn’t happened in a long time, if ever, that I’ve been here. That doesn’t mean that Hanzo hasn’t…um… taken company before, of any gender, but just that I haven’t seen him. But I don’t think that he did… that with Ana.”

For a long moment they stood awkwardly in the hallway before McCree snorted. “Look at us,” he said a little faintly. “Two grown men not even able to talk about…”

Lúcio gave a high little laugh that sounded half hysterical. “Yeah. Well…for what it’s worth I don’t think that Hanzo had a relationship like that with Ana.”

“That…helps. It’s obviously not…at all relevant to anything but…” McCree rubbed the back of his head.

The other man turned to look at him fully. “It’s relevant,” he said gently, sounding much more confident. “It’s relevant because you want it—and Hanzo does too. For what it’s worth…I think you should talk to him about it. Don’t let him tell you it doesn’t matter, don’t let him brush it off or bring up some silly reasons why he can’t be happy. You both deserve to be happy.”

Surprised at the heat in Lúcio’s voice, McCree paused. “I don’t think it’s like that,” he said slowly.

Lúcio snorted. “I think it is,” he said. “And I think it’s important.” He tugged the dustpan and broom out from the closet. “Come on. Let’s go make sure that they haven’t killed each other.”

He was hungry.

Everything hurt—everything burned as if a thousand ants were biting his skin.

He was hungry and he was angry .

The demon mocked his pain with a thousand mouths lined with poisonous smiles. It made sure he was good and hungry so that he was desperate for anything; it made sure that he was angry enough that the tiniest thing would set him off.

He still couldn’t bring himself to eat though.

The demon’s voice was constantly in his ears. He couldn’t shut it out.

At this point he didn’t even remember his name, where he came from, who he was. Just that he was a monster of his own doing, of his own greed.

It was hollow consolation—truly no consolation at all.

His hunger gnawed at his spine and was fuel for his anger—at himself, at the demon. He couldn’t sleep, could only wander the darkness of the forest. He couldn’t see because the demon had taken that from him too. He’d only earn his eyes back for as long as the demon saw fit to give it to him.

He was hungry .

He was angry.

Throwing his head back, he screamed to the stars but all he heard in reply was the echo of his own agonized howl and the mocking laughter of the demon.

Chapter Text

McCree woke and lay for a moment, staring up at the ceiling. “What was that?” he asked into the echoing silence of his room.

With a groan he got to his feet and pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. There was no one in the hall and Hanzo’s door was closed.

Something told him that the Wolf wasn’t in his room, anyway.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, he found Kuma sitting in front of him. His tail wagged hesitantly and McCree held out a hand for him to sniff. “I need to find Hanzo,” he whispered to it.

Kuma gave him a look and McCree made a face back at him.

“I promise I won’t do anything stupid,” he whispered. “But I need to find him. It’s important.”

The dog shook himself, gave him another unamused look but began trotting toward the stairs. McCree crept after him, wincing every time a floorboard creaked and groaned beneath his weight. But no one seemed to wake up and McCree followed the faintly glowing form of the dog to the back door.

Kuma whined, stepping between him and the door when he moved to open it. “Is he outside?” Kuma nodded, seeming reluctant to answer even that. “Is he in the yard?” Kuma seemed to scowl at him. “I won’t go far, but if he’s just in the yard I need to see him. Please, Kuma.”

He opened the door and Kuma sighed but let him pass. McCree had the feeling that he couldn’t really do much to stop him anyway and he knelt in the open doorway, cupping Kuma’s face with his good hand. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I know how you feel about it. I promise I won’t do anything stupid.”

The look that Kuma gave him could only be interpreted as disbelieving but he nudged his nose into McCree’s hand and followed him out the door.

Yuki and Ame greeted him as he climbed down the steps, trotting in a circle around him before loping back to Hanzo who stood in his Wolf form by the paddock gate. His white fur seemed to shine like starlight and an ear flicked toward McCree as he approached.

“Damn you’re huge,” McCree blurted as he approached Hanzo. “I mean, I knew you were but this is the first time I’m actually seeing you like this.” Hanzo turned his head to look at McCree, looking almost guilty. “Don’t worry sweet,” McCree murmured. “Just…gimme a second to bask in your beauty.”

Hanzo’s ears swiveled back and he looked reproachfully at McCree.

All thoughts of his strange dream left him as he reached a hand out tentatively. “May I?”

For a long moment Hanzo just watched him, unnerving in a creature so large. Sitting as he was, his shoulder was at the same height as McCree’s and he had to be the size of a tall horse when standing. Certainly large enough to carry two grown men (albeit with one missing an arm) over the mountain.

His fur was white like pearl and seemed to shine with the light of the moon, but perhaps McCree was a bit biased.

At last Hanzo sighed and twisted his back into McCree’s hand so that it sank into his thick fur. He turned his big head—easily as large as McCree’s torso—back toward the forest.

He wasn’t sure what he expected: perhaps Hanzo’s fur would be as soft as clouds or smooth as silk but it was fur, albeit on an animal larger than he was used to. Not that he was calling Hanzo an animal but…well, he was still a wolf and his fur was thick and coarse despite its brilliance.

The two of them twitched at the sound of something echoing in the trees, a high cry that sounded part wolfsong and part human scream.

“That’s what woke me up,” McCree whispered into the cool air. Grumbling, Hanzo looped an enormous paw around his shoulders and tugged him against his chest and belly where it was warmer. McCree turned and pressed his face into the thick ruff around Hanzo’s neck. He smelled like animal but also like the pine trees and the forest and the cool night air and McCree inhaled it greedily.

Hanzo grumbled low in his throat and McCree looped a hand under his neck, scratching at his ruff.

“I had this dream,” he told Hanzo quietly. “It was…unnerving. But it had something to do with those cries. It’s a person, I think.” Hanzo huffed as if in agreement. “He’s in pain. He doesn’t want to be there. The demon torments him and starves him so that he’s more susceptible to…” he huffed out a breath. “I don’t know. To something .”

Stiffening, Hanzo turned to look at McCree with a single golden eye. Are you sure? He seemed to ask.

As if he had spoken, McCree shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But…well I’ve had a few dreams like this. I dreamt of the girl—Sophie, I think her name was—just before we went to the site. And…well, it’s happened before. You know… before .”

Hanzo moved away from him and he felt colder as he was scrutinized by both of the Wolf’s golden eyes. Then the Wolf shivered and Hanzo emerged from beneath the skin, beautiful and—oh God, he was naked again. McCree kept his eyes stubbornly on Hanzo’s face.

He moved the wolf head to the side so that he could look at McCree. His eyes were still wild and gold and the marks beneath his eyes were present and glowing, making him look like some old forest god.

And he was, wasn’t he? McCree mused to himself. He was old, that much he had already admitted. Old and magical and a guardian of the forest. What was a short human life to his? Look at Ana—whatever their relationship had been (and God he hoped it hadn’t been romantic or worse, sexual) she had aged and he had not.

How long was a human life to Hanzo’s?

How many people had he watched be born, grow up, grow old, die?

How lonely must he be?

Hanzo stepped closer, his eyes terrifying in their intensity. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“No,” McCree said. “I don’t…I don’t even know what’s going on but…” he hesitated and slowly told Hanzo about his dream in detail. He told Hanzo of the hunger and the pain and the fear and the revulsion. The self-hate and the fear, the hatred of his own greed.

Hanzo listened, his eyes as sharp as an owl’s as they bore into McCree. When he was done Hanzo turned away to look broodingly toward the dark forest. McCree thought he could see the mists hiding among the branches move but he couldn’t tell if it was a demon or just a natural occurrence.

“I will need to look into this,” Hanzo said at last. “This makes for ill hearing.” He turned back to McCree. “Go back inside,” he said more gently. “Go back to sleep if you can.”

McCree caught his arm as he turned to leave. “Wait,” he said belatedly and then realized that he had no idea what he wanted to tell Hanzo. He opened and closed his mouth a few times but the words wouldn’t come.

Slowly Hanzo lifted McCree’s hand in one of his own. “Later,” he murmured against McCree’s knuckles. His eyes were sad. “It can wait.”

“You promise?” McCree blurted.

Hanzo smiled. “I promise. Go inside, now.”

He waited until McCree was in the doorway before shifting. As McCree closed and locked the door and shifted the curtains from the window to watch, Hanzo shifted into his Wolf form and raced for the dark trees.

McCree closed the windows and sighed. Turning, he walked back to Hanzo’s room to wait.

He woke to the feeling of lips and warm metal brushing against his skin. When he opened his eyes he found Hanzo staring up at him with warm amber-brown eyes.

Is this not what you want? A voice asked and McCree jumped, looking around. There was a dark stain above the bed that grew a mouth to grin down at him with obsidian fangs. I can give this to you.

McCree looked down and realized that Hanzo’s eyes were blank, his smile too loose to be natural. “No.” he said, horrified.

It was enough to wake him up, dripping sweat, as Hanzo opened the door.

“Go back to sleep,” Hanzo said roughly, seemingly not surprised to see McCree there. He shuffled into the attached bathroom, his wolfskin bundled in his arms. One of his arms seemed to hang strangely. A moment later McCree could hear the sound of the shower running.

Taking a deep breath, McCree kicked the covers off and chased after him, ducking into the bathroom. The door was ajar and McCree pushed it open gently, unsurprised but still startled to see the skin neatly folded on the hamper.

Taking a deep breath, McCree walked up to the shower door (oh he had such lovely memories of the inside of that shower but now was not the time for that) and knocked lightly. Hanzo didn’t look up, didn’t turn toward him. It looked like he was asleep, his head bowed into the water.

“Can I come in?” McCree asked hesitantly. “Hanzo?”

The hazy image through the shower door turned its head. “If you want,” Hanzo said neutrally and McCree tugged off his clothes, awkward with only one hand, before opening the door and stepping in.

He sucked in a breath when he saw Hanzo. There were dark bruises along his back and shoulders and angry red scratches along his sides and arms. Mud clung to his feet and there were leaves and other such detritus stuck in his long hair. One of his arms was indeed hanging strangely and McCree could see the way his shoulder blade bulged and twisted that it was dislocated if not outright broken.

“What happened?” McCree breathed, taking a cautious step forward, his hand outstretched. “Oh, Hanzo…”

Hanzo flinched and McCree yanked his hand back in surprise; the Wolf sucked in a pained breath as the muscles of his skin and back seemed to move like writhing snakes. It centered around Hanzo’s shoulder and he sucked in short, pained breaths as the bone seemed to move on its one; the tattoos there glowed, golden and beautiful and terrible.

Steeling himself, McCree touched Hanzo’s waist, wrapping his hand around to press against Hanzo’s stomach soothingly. “It’s okay,” he breathed, not knowing if it was the truth. “Hey, breathe with me, okay?”

It was a struggle to breath evenly when he could see Hanzo’s skin literally crawling, the muscles and bones moving as if they had a mind of their own, as if they were being moved by an army of ants beneath his skin. But Hanzo matched his breath to McCree’s and he stepped around to Hanzo’s front, pressing one of Hanzo’s hands to his chest. He cupped Hanzo’s face with his good hand, tipping it up to press their foreheads together.

There was a disturbing crunch and Hanzo sucked in a pained breath and then exhaled through his clenched teeth. McCree looked down and saw that his previously injured shoulder looked almost normal if a bit swollen.

“What happened?” McCree breathed.

Hanzo made a face and seeing gooseflesh rise on his skin McCree stepped out of the way of the water, watching the way it beaded on his skin. “I went to find your monster.” He made another face. “I found it.”

“I hope you won,” McCree said, something low curling in his gut.

Slowly, as if afraid of his response, Hanzo cupped McCree’s cheek. “If I had lost, then I would not be here,” he told McCree gently. “And I am not so young a pup to be taken by this…creature. No, I am injured because I was trying not to kill it.”

McCree blinked. “Why not?” he demanded hotly. “You let it live? That…whatever it is in the trees is hurting it—Hanzo, it’s killed people!

An odd look crossed Hanzo’s face. “Do you kill the bear defending her cubs or reprimand the hunter who put them in danger?”

“I…what?” McCree blinked, surprised at the strange phrase. He shivered in the cool air of the bathroom and Hanzo turned him so that they both shared the hot spray.

“If a hunter is attacked by a bear for being between her and her cubs, do you blame the hunter or the bear?” Hanzo asked. “If he is mauled and says ‘ I stepped between a bear and her cubs, I wasn’t being careful ’ do you hunt the bear down and kill it or do you become more careful of bears in the area?”

McCree scowled. “That’s different,” he said. “ This is different.”

“It’s the same.”

Gritting his teeth, McCree scowled down at Hanzo. “A bear didn’t attack someone,” he snapped. “That thing tore people apart.”

“Do you know why or does it not matter to you?” McCree ground his teeth until his jaw hurt and Hanzo continued, “Did it occur to you, did it sink in that perhaps this creature in the woods, the one of flesh and bone and teeth and claw…did it occur to you that perhaps he is doing this against his will? You told me that the demon in the trees is hurting it, is starving it, and so I went out into the woods to search for it and learn for myself. Had you not told me, I would have killed it on sight.”

Suddenly cold, McCree shivered. “Perhaps it deserves death.”

“I will give it to him if he asks it of me,” Hanzo replied. “But I am not the judge nor jury nor executioner and that is not my decision to make.”

McCree scowled. “I don’t like the idea of it running around out there,” he began and fell silent when Hanzo’s eyes flashed gold.

“Nor I,” Hanzo informed him. “But until I know why the demon in the trees is able to work this magic and how it came to curse him, then I will stay my hand and my fangs. I will offer him mercy that he had not been given by the demon and if he instead chooses death then I shall grant it.” He leaned close to McCree. “He is suffering and since his suffering befell him on my watch it is my duty to understand why and how and to bear that burden of guilt on my shoulders. Your idea, be it fueled by mercy or revenge or justice, has merit but it addresses the symptom and not the cause.”

For a long moment the only sound was the rushing of water and the patter of it against the tiles. McCree huffed and looked away, unable to keep Hanzo’s gaze. Instead he watched the water sluice along the tiles, taking away bits of leaves and mud. Hanzo’s skin seemed to glow with it from the flecks of stone like glitter in the mud commonly found in the mountains.

Then Hanzo sighed, his stiff posture relaxing until his arms and head hung tiredly. “I do not want to talk about this anymore,” he said, sounding almost defeated. “Stay or go, I do not mind the company, but…at this moment these are not thoughts that I wish to dwell on.”

Cautiously McCree stepped forward, resting a hand (rather boldly, he thought) over Hanzo’s heart. Then he lifted it and cupped Hanzo’s chin, turning his head up to look into McCree’s eyes. “When was the last time you slept?” he asked. “Or ate?”

“The pups and I caught a deer,” Hanzo murmured, leaning into McCree’s touch. “I think…the day before last. Or yesterday. It’s hard to tell.”

McCree frowned. “And as a human? When did you eat? Sleep? Hanzo, you can’t keep going on like this.”

“I ate last night with you,” Hanzo replied. “As much as I could, anyway.”

Right. Ana’s lecture and maybe even just her presence must have done terrible things to Hanzo’s strange sense of guilt and duty. Not that McCree was one to talk, anyway—just look where his sense of guilt and duty had led him.

He clicked his tongue. “Come on,” he said briskly. “Let’s get you cleaned up and then off to bed so you can get some sleep. Then we’ll get some food into you.”

Hanzo yawned like a dog, his lips pulling back and his tongue curling and unable to help himself, McCree tapped it with a finger. The Wolf—god or man or whatever he may be—blepped just like any other animal, thoroughly ruining whatever weight his reproachful look might have had.

“Come on,” McCree wheedled, his mouth dry and something like disgust—with himself, never with Hanzo—coiling low in his gut as he stepped closer to Hanzo. “I’ll help clean you off and if you’re still not tired, I think there’s something I can do to help.”

To his surprise Hanzo stiffened and stepped back despite his body’s clear interest. His lips were curled downward in a cross between human and canine disgust. “No,” he growled. “If that is your only reason for offering… that then don’t bother.” He leaned close. “I prefer my partners willing to be with me —not to indulge in such things to try to get something out of me or by some means to an end. If that is so unpleasant to you, then you may as well leave.”

McCree blinked at him in surprise. “That…” he swallowed hard. “That ain’t what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean?” Hanzo asked a little bitterly, turning away from McCree. He bent and McCree tried not to stare at his ass because despite being in the shower this was actually a serious conversation.

It was a very nice ass though.

Hanzo grunted, seemingly oblivious to McCree’s struggle. He lathered up his long hair with a sigh and McCree stepped close to help as well as he could with only one hand.

“I don’t know,” McCree admitted. “For the sake of honesty…I really don’t.” he sighed and leaned forward, resting his head against Hanzo’s sudsy shoulder. “I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what’s going on…there’s so much I’m confused about and…it’s frightening, you know?”

After a long moment Hanzo sighed, his shoulders relaxing as he put his arms down. He turned around to face McCree again with a tired sigh. “Are you afraid of me?”

McCree gave a shaky laugh. “Of all the things I’m afraid of, somehow you’re not one of them.”

For a long moment Hanzo watched McCree, his eyes gradually sliding back to a shade of light brown. Now he looked more human and less like a god and something in McCree’s stomach curdled at that thought.

“Then what are you afraid of?” Hanzo asked. “You look terrified.”

McCree gave a shaky laugh. “Everything, at this point,” he admitted. “I’m jumping at every shadow and every whisper thinking it’s coming back for me. I’m jumping at every spiderweb and every little movement in the corners of my eyes. And…” he swallowed hard. “I’m looking at you and I’m thinking…”

How can a human love a god? He wanted to ask.

Hanzo cupped his face in both of his hands, looking intently at McCree. Slowly he leaned forward so that their noses brushed, standing on his toes to make up for their height difference.

Unable to help himself and knowing that this way only leads to a broken heart, McCree leaned in and gently kissed Hanzo. Just like the kiss in the barn it was chaste though the edge of desperation and affirmation had passed. Now their lips just moved against each other and McCree tugged Hanzo closer so that they were pressed against each other from chest to knee.

“Does that scare you?” Hanzo asked in a whisper so quiet that it was almost drowned out by the rush of the shower.

McCree swallowed, unwilling to open his eyes and see what expression Hanzo wore on his face. Instead he pressed his face forward, their noses bumping until he could rest his forehead against Hanzo’s, chasing him down until their foreheads were pressed together. “It terrifies me,” he admitted in a whisper.

He could feel Hanzo nod, his big arms coming up to hold McCree’s waist, run a hand up and down the dip of his spine just for the sake of touch. Hanzo let out a shaky breath that puffed, warm and humid, against his lips. “It scares me, too.”

They stole kisses, soft little things that left them shaking with something other than arousal, as McCree helped Hanzo clean himself off. He didn’t need the help but it made them both feel better for the extra hand and if McCree could verify for himself with a rough hand against every inch of Hanzo’s skin that he was here and he was alive, then all the better.

It took some coaxing but soon Hanzo was asleep on the bed and with the Wolf’s dirty pelt over his shoulders, McCree went out in search of a brush and maybe some soft soap to clean the fur.

When he opened the door he jumped when he saw that he had a small audience who all yelled in shock at seeing him mostly naked. They covered their glowing eyes, even Kuma (the traitor), and McCree leaned against the door frame, his hand pressed to his chest over his thundering heart.

“Don’t scare me like that,” he hissed to them. If he wasn’t so surprised at their presence, he would marvel at how quickly he got used to speaking to the dead.

“Why are you naked?” Amélie Guillard demanded, her hands still pressed over her eyes.

McCree snorted and eased himself out of Hanzo’s room, closing the door behind him. “Where have you been?” he asked them. “And why are you judging me for my choice of clothes? It’s not like I can button a shirt!”

The little girl, Efi, made a rude noise at that. She disappeared and McCree could faintly see her reappear downstairs. “I wasn’t expecting so much hair,” Gérard Lacroix moaned.

Ignoring them, McCree stepped past them toward the stairs. “You can either complain or you can help me.” Kuma appeared at the base of the stairs and he gave the dog a crooked smile. “I need to find a brush for this,” he whispered, nodding at the pelt over his shoulders. “And maybe get some food for Hanzo.”

Kuma sneezed and shook himself before trotting away. When he got to the bottom of the stairs McCree followed him into a side room that looked like a doctor’s office.

“What is this place?” he whispered to Kuma who sneezed and trotted to a large mat in the corner. On the wall was a digital pad that read “000.000 lbs”. Next to it was a picture of three dogs of various shapes. Someone had scribbled over the drawing of the largest one so that the dog more resembled a balloon with a dog’s head and tail, crossed out “obese”, and wrote “chonky boi”.

Looking around, McCree realized that what he thought was a poorly-designed wall was simply a literal wall of dog food. Kuma trotted confidently over the scale, seemingly amused that it couldn’t weigh him, before ducking through the door of what looked like a utility closet.

McCree opened the door and found it to be a very large supply closet with large racks of various kinds of food and gear for the caring of animals. He found Kuma sitting beside a rack with labelled hooks and bins and found that they had brushes, leashes, and harnesses for Yuki, Ame, Kuma, Lily, and a few other dogs. In the corner McCree found one for Hanzo which made him laugh.

He dug around and found a bunch of odds and ends and four different types of brushes which made him snort. Taking the whole bin, he snuck back out and climbed back upstairs with the pelt and the brushes.

Amélie Guillard was scowling at him from the couch. “You need to-”

“Humans need to rest,” McCree told her in a whisper. “Living ones still need to sleep.”

The ghost scowled at him. “You’re running out of time.”

“Running out of time for what?” She stomped her foot like a child throwing a tantrum. McCree looked down at Kuma. “Do you know what she’s talking about?” Kuma sneezed. “Right. How very helpful.”

McCree opened the door to Hanzo’s room and took a step.

And then another.

And another.

Each time he stepped the threshold seemed to slide backwards so that he was only walking in place. Through the door he could see Hanzo sleeping, his long silver hair spread out haphazardly over the pillows, leaving damp spots on the bedding. In McCree’s absence he had kicked off some of the blankets and one of his legs stuck out, giving McCree a glimpse of the golden swirls of his tattoos up to his hip. One of his hands had wiggled out as well, reaching into the space in the bed next to him.

Perhaps it was just wishful thinking but McCree thought that Hanzo had been reaching for him.

Annoyed, McCree tried to take another step but the threshold—and as a result Hanzo—slipped back once more. He turned toward Amélie Guillard who had crossed her arms over her chest at the base of the stairs. “Are you doing this?” he hissed and then paused. He turned to Kuma who stood, unmoving beside him. “Kuma?”

The dog didn’t move, didn’t breathe, his head tilted down.

(Did he breathe? McCree didn’t know anymore.)

He leaned down and peered closer at Kuma who still didn’t move. “Kuma?”

Turning, McCree looked down the stairs again and noticed a little bit of mist near the railing halfway up the stairs, recoiling before he realized that it wasn’t moving and that it had a definite shape, like a person. It almost looked like Gérard Lacroix and McCree squinted down at it, seeing the same distinct bump of his nose, too large and too awkward in his young face.

It was Gérard Lacroix caught in a moment, neither here nor there.

McCree turned back to Kuma and found that the dog still hadn’t moved. Turning again, he stared hard at Hanzo and found that he wasn’t moving either, not even the slight rise and fall of his back and side as he breathed.

Sensing eyes on him, he swallowed hard and turned.

A dragon was squeezed into the hallway behind him, watching him with green eyes. It looked as if it had been carved from some kind of green stone, each part of its body from horns to mane to eyes to scales, all the same shade of pale green.

McCree swallowed and turned fully to face it but before he could say anything, it spoke.   "Seer," it said, sounding amused. Its voice was like the howling of a wind in a winter storm and the crack of trees as it sank beneath the weight of snow and ice. "Why are you up so late with a stolen pelt over your shoulders?"

Nervous, McCree lifted a hand to touch the skin. The Wolf's head was over his shoulder as if it leaned on him, as if it watched the vision of the dragon as well. "Stay away from me," he warned the demon. "I don't know how you got in here-"

"Hanzo wards against dangers," the dragon interrupted. It lifted a foreleg and twisted its head down to scratch behind its jaw. "But not all of them and it is of no consequence to me. I see that you are resting well since earlier."

McCree scowled. "Why does that matter to you?"

The dragon snorted. "Oh, please. Surely Hanzo has told you of me, yes?" It craned its head to look past McCree and recoiled as if slapped. "Ugh! I did not need to see that much skin." It tossed its head disgustedly (and McCree had the feeling that this vision was a bit of a drama queen). "You may tell Hanzo that I am on my way," the demon told him imperiously. "And I bring someone that will be willing to help. Oh. And tell him that he's an idiot and that I will tell him that as well as soon as I get there."

"Why should I tell him that?" McCree demanded. "Who are you?"

The vision blinked, an odd thing to see. It cocked its head to the side. "Oh," it said as if surprised. It shifted, condensing into a tight coil that smoothed into a large sphere. A round head emerged with an audible pop that seemed too ridiculous to be taken seriously. The head formed a beak and two eyes.

McCree imagined that whatever bird creature the vision had taken the form of would be a lot cuter if it was its proper size. Assuming its proper size was smaller than McCree's hand and not the size of a person, of course.

"Helpful," McCree snapped, thoroughly done with all of this nonsense. "Begone, demon, before I force you." He of course had no idea how he would do this, not with how tired he was, but if he must he would do.... something .

Even the demon seemed amused. "And how would you do know, I don't even know your name. Perhaps I should have started with that. Is it Eastwood, cowboy? It's hard to tell when you see the things that I do."

It was hard to take what was basically a giant bird seriously.

"Why should I give you my name?" McCree snapped. "I'm sick and tired of this. You sent your lapdog after me and he bit off my arm ." He waved his stump. "No. I am done. I am completely and utterly done with this."

Turning his back on the vision—because he was convinced now that it wasn't real, that the demon wasn't really present—he turned and started walking in the direction of Hanzo's room. He gritted his teeth and kept walking even as the threshold slipped back and back and back.

"You're a stubborn thing, aren't you?" the vision asked behind him and McCree glanced back. Instead of a giant bird that filled the hallway a man stood there, seemingly carved out of the same green stone that the bird and dragon had been carved from.

At least McCree thought it was a man. It was hard to tell because the demon clearly didn't know how human anatomy worked, as he had learned in the barn. But this image's limbs all seemed reasonably proportioned and the textures of its clothing seemed realistic enough. It occurred to McCree that perhaps his bar was set a little low for judging the realism of a demon's mocking forms.

The fucking thing was wearing garters, though, and McCree wasn't sure how serious he could take it.

It looked almost mechanical or as if it wore armor but it was difficult to tell when it seemed carved out of living stone. He could see that it had a wide belt with a few large beads hanging from the edges that reminded McCree of rosary beads. A strip of cloth hooked over a shoulder with more swaddled around his head and face, obscuring it except for his eyes.

Like a mask it hid the lower half of his face except for his eyes. It was as if the veil had been peeled back and McCree could see beyond whatever stony covering was over its body.

He had skin like a man, lined from age and laughter. His eyes, though. They had that same hellish glow in them like McCree had seen in his own. His were closer to orange and were slowly receding before McCree's eyes.

"You have a spine," the vision said and the veil over the lower half of his face moved appropriately. "I like that. A very good match for my brother. The ones he chose before always rolled over too easily."

Then McCree blinked and the hallway was back to normal and Gérard Lacroix appeared halfway up the stairs and Kuma turned his head to look up at McCree.

McCree swallowed hard and walked into Hanzo's room, still trembling from the encounter. Seven words echoed in his head, rattling around in his skull.

A very good match for my brother .

A very good match for my brother.

He sat down at the edge of the bed, tugging the pelt into his lap with a shaking hand. Kuma whined, jumping up on the bed near the pelt. Next to him, Hanzo stirred.

Reaching into the bin, McCree tugged out a brush—he didn't know which, couldn't remember because he wasn't even paying attention anymore, focusing only on the seven words in his head.

A very good match for my brother.

Next to him Hanzo stirred and rolled over. His eyes, golden now, and shining as if lit from within, blinked open, shifting a little before finding McCree's.

McCree wondered if he would ever get used to those little smiles, the way that Hanzo's entire face seemed to light up. Now it was in a way that McCree had never seen before, his silver eyelashes fluttering, a side of his face red and textured from being pressed into the bed sheets.

"What's wrong?" he asked, propping himself up on his elbows. He looked unfairly like some kind of erotic painting, his silver hair streaming over his shoulders, hanging light a waterfall of moonlight. Hanzo turned his head and looked toward the corner of the bed where Kuma stood, his legs braced. "Kuma says you're upset?"

Surprised, McCree looked at Hanzo. "You can see him?"

Hanzo was not perturbed by this line of questioning and seemed much more awake now, pushing himself into a full upright position. His eyes flicked down to the pelt in McCree's lap and then up to McCree. "What's wrong?"

"I didn't wanna wake you," McCree said quietly. "But...something happened."

He outlined the events of the hallway and how everything seemed to have frozen in place, for the moment leaving out the words that were still rattling around in his head.

A very good match for my brother .

Hanzo listened intently, not saying anything about McCree's apparently spiral downward into insanity. "I have never heard of the demon doing that," he said, probably the most unreassuring thing that McCree could have expected to hear. He tilted his head to the side, his eyes sliding half-closed. "Please stop. That is...distracting."

Surprised, McCree blinked and realized that he had been rubbing the pelt behind the ears, scratching its neck and head as if it were alive. Just to see what would happen he scratched behind its right ear and watched as Hanzo tilted his head in that direction as if soliciting more pets.

Clearing his throat, McCree stopped. "Sorry. I...didn't realize.."

Hanzo's face twisted into an odd expression and he reached over to tug the skin into his lap. "It's...fine," he said then cleared his throat. "Back to business, not certain that projection like that is within the demon's abilities."

For a long moment McCree weighed his next words, debating how to ask his next question and which question to ask. It felt like his head was buzzing with them, mixing around with the phrase that the vision had said until everything was a jumbled mess in his mind.

"Hanzo," he said slowly and hesitantly reached out for one of Hanzo's hands. " tell me what's going on?"

Hanzo's lips pulled down, twisting his hand to hold McCree's in his own. He wasn't quite looking McCree in the eyes, instead looking at their hands. After a long moment, Hanzo sighed. "Where do you want me to start?"

"With your brother," McCree blurted. He swallowed. "Lú said that the demon first went after your brother. What happened?"

For a long moment McCree was almost afraid that Hanzo would refuse to answer. At last he muttered something to himself under his breath and looked up at McCree. "I am a coward," he said, his lips twisting downward into a frown. "I don't want to answer you, you deserve an answer—an honest answer."

McCree edged closer, lifting Hanzo's hand to his lips where he kissed the Wolf's knuckles. He leaned forward and cupped Hanzo's chin in his hands. "If this thing is after me so bad," he said softly. "I think I need to know."

Closing his eyes, Hanzo nodded. "I'm a coward," he repeated. "I will tell you—of course I will tell you but..." he took a shaky breath, closing his eyes. "I am a coward." He took a deep breath and before McCree could say anything said in a rush, "It happened a...few hundred years by my guess. It's hard to tell because I didn't have the counting for it, it's been so long. Two hundred years? Three hundred?" he shook his head ruefully. "I...was older than my brother, the heir to inherit the family business, so to speak—as things were done in that time."

"You were...hunters?" McCree guessed, trying to remember the story he read, what felt like decades ago. "Monster hunters?"

Hanzo's face twisted. "Something like that," he agreed. "We had a different name for it, but that's essentially what we were. My brother showed signs of being a powerful Seer very young but then again, we all knew what to look for. Seers ran in our bloodline and my family had been so disappointed that I was not one as well." He made a face and McCree bit back a smile. Even after however many years, Hanzo was still clearly a little bitter about this.

Feeling his back and thighs beginning to ache, he tugged the bin of brushes against the headboard and settled there. Without prompting, Hanzo shifted as well and allowed McCree to tug the pelt into his lap.

"Little siblings, huh?" McCree asked, rolling his eyes.

Hanzo huffed a little laugh. “He was the treasured son,” he murmured as if speaking to the skin on his lap. Perhaps it was also a kind of hypnosis—the pleasant feeling of someone brushing their hands through your hair.

McCree made sure to keep his strokes on the skin slow and gentle, or as gentle as he could manage while trying to get dirt and mud out. Little piles of dirt fell and he reflected that this was perhaps a terrible place to do this, but he didn’t dare move or suggest that they shift their position, just in case it would scare Hanzo into not telling his story.

“But you were the heir,” McCree pointed out and Hanzo made a noise in disagreement.

“I was simply the first son,” he said simply but his head ducked with a little smile. The kind associated to nostalgia and pleasant memories. “The real treasure of my family was my brother. He was the kind of Seer that was most prized, probably what you would think of if I called someone a Seer—he could see the future. The skill was limited and came with a price, as all things do. It made him insufferable.”

McCree couldn’t help a small snort. “I bet it made hiding Christmas presents from him a special kind of hell.”

He was rewarded with a slight smile from Hanzo and McCree swore that the pelt smiled too, the corners of its open mouth, albeit missing its jaw, twitching. When he looked again it was as still and lifeless as ever, its glass eyes staring out into nothing. “We didn’t celebrate Christmas,” Hanzo corrected quietly. “Foreigners were few and far between in our little corner of the world, but the sentiment is still correct. It was hard to hide anything from him, growing up. Worse was sometimes he would See something else in his future and want that instead, would get himself so excited only to be disappointed at the reality.”

McCree snorted. “Spoiled brat?”

“You have no idea,” Hanzo said with a nostalgic laugh. “He was so spoiled, but he was the prize of our line. It did not matter that I was the heir or a…prodigy, I suppose…in my skills. Genji was the Seer and I was just…” he shrugged.

They lapsed into silence for a while and McCree lifted one of the legs of the pelt, adjusting the way it sat across his lap and bracing it against his thigh so that he could brush out the clumps of mud. “What was it like?” he asked. “Do you know?”

Hanzo made a thoughtful noise. “I suppose a good translation of what he once told me,” he began slowly and McCree had to wonder what it must be like for Hanzo. He wondered if modern Japanese was the same that Hanzo knew from whenever he was from, if it was a struggle. Were his memories still intact? Or did he forget, did they grow hazy with age?

Or were these memories too precious that he clung to them and too painful to forget? Because McCree did remember that Hanzo’s story of his brother had ended in tragedy, though he couldn’t imagine how a vision could cross time.

He also couldn’t imagine Seeing the future. He had no idea what to think.

“I suppose a good analogy was that it was like a puzzle,” Hanzo said at last, reaching over to hold the skin still while McCree brushed the clumps of mud out. It made their knuckles bump together, making something soft and warm curl low in his gut. “A puzzle with many pieces dumped out on the table. He couldn’t see the picture it was supposed to form but he could see the pieces and could guess how they fit together. Sometimes our actions could change the puzzle but…sometimes Genji had a hard time predicting it. He said that it was like someone had replaced the old puzzle with something that looked similar.”

McCree considered that. “You called me a Seer,” he said. “But…I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. Anything like that.”

“Nor would I expect two Seers to manifest their gift the same way,” Hanzo replied. “Just as no two people are alike, no two Seers have the same gift. I’ve heard of reading bones and scrying in tea—they serve as the focus for one’s power and it can be taught among Seers, yes, but not all Seers have the…” he seemed to struggle for words for a moment, frowning down at the pelt. “Ability. Some See the future, some See, the present, and some See the past. No two are alike.”

“So I can look into a crystal ball?” McCree joked. “And that would work?”

Hanzo huffed a little laugh as McCree had hoped (having belatedly realized that his question may be taken poorly) and shook his head. “Not you, I don’t think,” he said. “You are a Seer that I…well, I haven’t met a Seer quite like you.”

“Aw, shucks, darlin’,” McCree teased, leaning over to bump the shoulder of his truncated arm against Hanzo’s. He fell silent when he saw Hanzo’s eyes, a more human shade of light brown, flick down to the stump. Something cold settled in his stomach as he saw Hanzo’s eyes shift to amber. He cleared his throat. “I…uh…if you come on my other side, you…you don’t have to look at it. If it upsets you.”

Hanzo’s golden stare, swirling like molten metal, lifted to look at McCree. His eyes softened and gently he lifted a hand to cup McCree’s bicep hesitantly. “It upsets me,” he agreed softly. “Because I should have protected you; because you should not have lost it when you were under my protection.” He moved to kneel next to McCree, lifting a calloused hand to cup McCree’s cheek. “That is a guilt that I will live with for the rest of my…very long life.”

Surprised, McCree sighed and putting the brush down by his knee, McCree lifted a hand to tug him down for a soft kiss. “Hey,” he said softly. “I was the one dumb enough to break the rule and leave after dark. Kuma was ready to kill me.”

That didn’t seem to help and Hanzo continued to tremble. McCree sighed. “Look,” he said. “You can’t account for human stupidity. I would think that you’d know that by now.”

Yet again his joke fell flat and Hanzo leaned against him, pressing his forehead to McCree’s.

McCree nudged the pelt aside, feeling the chill in the air after being warmed by the pelt, and tugged Hanzo into his lap. Despite being much wider across the shoulders, Hanzo seemed to fit just right against him, like two puzzle pieces clicking together.

He felt his heart skip a beat and hoped that Hanzo didn’t notice. Leaning close, McCre pressed a kiss to Hanzo’s cheek with a gentle smile, tangling the fingers of their hands together; he wrapped his stump around Hanzo’s side and swallowed hard when he felt Hanzo very gently touch the rounded end.

After a long moment of heavy silence, McCree cleared his throat. “So…what kind of Seer do you think I am?” he asked. “The ‘special’ kind?”

His mouth went dry when Hanzo lifted their tangled fingers and pressed a kiss to McCree’s knuckles almost shyly. “Very special,” he agreed. “Both…to me…and as a Seer.” He cleared his throat and McCree could see his blush spreading along his ears and neck and shoulders and leaned in to press a kiss to one of the shaved sides of Hanzo’s skull, pleased when the he shivered. “Stop it.”

Hanzo didn’t sound particularly angry, and McCree smiled against Hanzo’s silver hair. “You’re special to me, too.”

“You’re distracting me,” Hanzo complained but didn’t sound particularly upset. Nevertheless, McCree pulled back and squeezed their tangled fingers. Hanzo cleared his throat and peeking over his shoulder, McCree could see that something else was interested in the kisses as well but ignored it.

For the moment.

But God was it distracting.

“Most Seers see things that are there: future, past, or present, they are all tangible things,” Hanzo explained. “They exist, have existed, or will exist. The dead…it’s hard to explain but they do not. A lot of Seers can sense the dead, but they cannot see them outright. They can sense enough that their minds can make up a shape—a lot of people have that innate sense in them that lets them…hmm…I suppose see things differently. Without their eyes.” He huffed. “I’m not doing a good job of explaining this.”

McCree shrugged. “So it’s weird that I actually See the dead—really see them instead of whatever my mind makes up?”

Sighing, Hanzo leaned back further, unaware that he was now making it very hard for McCree to pay attention to his words. “Yes,” he agreed. “And you do more than just See them, if I’m led to believe. I can hear the dead that chose not to pass on, but it requires a lot of work in ritual and even then, it’s like listening to radio static, I suppose. You? A Seer of the dead? You don’t have that trouble. You can see and hear and sometimes touch them as if they were there before you.” Hanzo paused. “I had heard it described that Seers have one foot in the human world and another in the world of spirits. Cliché, yes; but it is…not far from the truth. Only you, and Seers like you? Your foot is in the world of the dead, instead.”

“And that I’m a Seer…the demon wants me?” McCree made a face. “That didn’t make sense. Don’t laugh, I’m a bit distracted,” he complained when Hanzo chuckled.

McCree looked away, toward the desk in a corner. “I remember some of the story,” he said. “Your brother ran away and found a demon who he picked a fight with.”

“He did,” Hanzo said neutrally. “And it…it nearly killed him. In some ways it did because Genji…well, the Genji I knew died that day.”

Genji. He had a name, now.


“Hanzo,” McCree said slowly. “What…happened?”

In his arms, Hanzo tensed up. Then he relaxed with a heavy sigh. “I promised you, didn’t I?” he asked rhetorically and sighed again. “Genji, like all spoiled children, wanted more and were furious when he was told that he needed to stay safe. One day he stole some gear and enough provision, he thought, for a journey to find a demon.

“There had been a demon in the area that we were all aware of. I had been banned from the meetings that discussed it—it was quarry for a more advanced hunter than I was. They were scared, and their fear in turn scared me.” Hanzo sighed. “Genji claimed that he Saw the demon and that it had to be him that faced it down. Alone. Of course, the elders scoffed.” Hanzo paused and gave a bitter little laugh. “So he took things into his own hands. I’m…lucky that he had taken my gear or no one would have known.”

Hanzo took a shaky breath and McCree leaned closer, pressing a kiss to the shaved sides of his head. Even after all these years it clearly hurt for him to say. McCree resisted the urge to ask him just how bad it was, had been before. How terrible must it have been to live with this.

The other thought was more concerning but one that McCree was struggling to keep from jumping to the forefront of his thoughts: how old is Hanzo and how much longer will he live? Will he out-live McCree?

But those were thoughts for another day or better yet, never.

"You saw that he had snuck off," McCree said instead. "And gave chase."

"Naturally," Hanzo replied. "He is... was my little brother. He was the pride of our clan and naive of the difficulties of the world. I feared that he would be punished so I went after him alone."

McCree didn't ask for more specifics. He didn't ask how Hanzo did this or if he had the wolf pelt back then or if his brother shapeshifted into a giant bird like the story seemed to imply.

(What had the story called him? Hawk? Eagle? McCree couldn't remember.)

"I barely managed to save him," Hanzo whispered. "Everything that he was...the demon had nearly consumed it all. I still dream of it, even after all of these years. He looked like a broken doll stretched out like that. The demon devoured him with a hundred mouths, held him down with a dozen mouths, and grinned smugly at me with dozens more."

McCree hugged him tight before he realized just what was happening, pressing his face against the side of Hanzo's head as he shook. "You did it though," McCree whispered. "You saved him though...right?"

He wondered suddenly if that had been a lie; if Hanzo had simply given Lúcio a happy ending to write.

But Hanzo was nodding. "Yes," he said. "I did. It nearly got me as well but I managed to fight it off." He swallowed. “Genji almost didn’t make it and…more than the precious gem of our family, he was my brother and I should have been watching him.”

“How old was he?” McCree asked gently. “How old were you ?”

For a long moment Hanzo didn’t answer, trembling in McCree’s arms. McCree hugged him tightly, pressing kisses to the shaved sides of Hanzo’s skull. He felt guilty for demanding this knowledge and a few times had been halfway to opening his mouth to take back the request when the vision’s words echoed in his head again.

A very good match for my brother .

“I was…” Hanzo huffed. “I don’t even know,” he admitted. “In my twenties, maybe? It’s hard to tell—it’s been so long. Genji was only a few years younger than me.”

McCree blinked. He had thought that Genji had been much younger. But such were the ways of the youth—didn’t McCree know that! It was just a shame that Genji’s youthful pride had ended poorly for him.

“He was dying in my arms,” Hanzo whispered. “I was desperate and I…well, I had known the dark arts, the dark magics that my family had whispered about in the night. He may have been a foolish child but I was even more the fool. I found a doll and bound Genji’s spirit to it so that he could not escape this world and I carried him to the Witch.” He took a deep breath. “I…I told her that I would give her anything if only she brought my brother back. And she did.”

McCree pressed a kiss to Hanzo’s cheek. “But he survived, right?”

“He did,” Hanzo agreed, sounding exhausted. “He lived; he healed. But his memory didn’t. Healthy again I found myself in the company of a man that didn’t know who I was or what had happened. He could not fathom…” Hanzo swallowed. “His powers didn’t return. Perhaps it was a small blessing because if it had, then the demon would have hunted him again. The demon that I had failed to kill.”

McCree considered telling Hanzo about his vision.

But he only saw the dead...right?

But the dead had glowing eyes and this vision hadn’t.

Unsure, McCree said nothing.

“I left,” Hanzo sighed, falling limply back against McCree as if the story took a lot out of him. McCree was certain that it had and he would never complain about being able to hold Hanzo close, anyway. “The Witch was fond enough of him and though her work was in the dark arts she…well, she was not cruel and she would mind him well enough. I left him to live the rest of his days without someone who would imply to him that he was missing something of himself and with someone that would appreciate him as he deserved.”

Hanzo sighed again. “I was hardly the Hanzo that had left the clan, anyway. The price to bring him back and return his soul to his body was…” he looked down at the pelt nearby and McCree followed his gaze thoughtfully. “Genji had always said since we were children that he saw me running with the paws of the Wolf. That I would run through the trees, wild, and take the shape of a man as I pleased. Our parents saw this as a good omen and a sign of the approval of the wild spirits in our area.”

Realization hit McCree and his mouth went dry.

“Our family is prone to long life,” Hanzo continued softly. “But not so long a life as I’ve had. I’ve aged, yes, but I’ve also lived far longer than that of my eldest mentor.”

McCree swallowed. “Is…are you…is that why…?” he cleared his throat, wondering how to ask the question. “The condoms?” he managed to squeak.

For a long moment Hanzo was silent. Then his back tensed and McCree was ready for an elbow to the gut, for him to become angry, but Hanzo heaved forward with a concerning wheezing noise. His back shook and just as McCree was beginning to wonder if he was having a seizure or a heart attack, Hanzo leaned back, nearly cracking the back of his skull against McCree’s nose.

The bastard was laughing!

Tears were streaming down his face and the wheezing sound was because he couldn’t breathe around his laughter. Huffing a little sourly, McCree leaned back against the headboard, looking at the slope of Hanzo’s back, the ridges of his spine, the slightly raised portions of his enormous tattoo.

Despite his slight irritation, it was a hypnotic sight and the movement of Hanzo’s muscles made the tattoo seem to move and shift and unable to help himself McCree reached out, tracing his fingers along the swirls and dots.

Hanzo turned and for a moment McCree thought that he had insulted him but when he faced McCree he saw that Hanzo was wiping tears from his eyes, a grin on his face. “I tell you a whole, sad story about how I lost my brother,” he said around deep breaths and wheezes. “I tell you just how long I have been chasing this demon, how I was cursed to walk as wolf and man…and all you can ask about is if that is why we used condoms while we had sex?”

When phrased like that, McCree felt silly. “When you phrase it like that,” he said dryly. “I sound pretty foolish, don’t I? And selfish.”

Reaching out, Hanzo hesitantly cupped McCree’s chin as if this revelation would have scared him away. It scared him for a lot of reasons but McCree had always been selfish and he would take what he could while he still could. He leaned his head into Hanzo’s touch, turning to kiss Hanzo’s wrist.

“You can’t blame me, though,” he teased. “I’d hate to accidentally turn into a wolf in the middle of, say, a staff meeting.”

Hanzo rose up on his knees, looming over McCree. Bracing his arms against the headboard, Hanzo leaned down. “Are you afraid of the big bad wolf?”

It was a struggle to keep his eyes on Hanzo’s. Really, they should be discussing different things. But there was an edge of desperation in Hanzo’s eyes that had little to do with arousal alone.

They needed this break and they needed the break to laugh.

“My,” McCree purred, his voice halting and hitching around a laugh. “What big eyes you have, Mr. Wolf.” His hand lifted, brushing against Hanzo’s sparse, silver chest hair. He dragged it down slowly. “My, Mr. Wolf, what a lovely belly you have.”

Hanzo tilted his head to the side. “Is that what you’re looking at?” he teased, wiggling his hips. “Truly? My belly ?” His cock, filling with blood between his legs, bobbed enticingly.

Looking up at him, McCree smirked. His hand slid lower to wrap around Hanzo’s cock

They dozed for a while, sticky with drying sweat and…other stuff that McCree didn’t want to think about. After a quick shower, Hanzo and McCree went downstairs and began making dinner, bumping their hips and shoulders against each other.

Hanzo showed him how to make his famous rolls and while they waited for it to rise Hanzo pressed McCree against a nearby counter and kissed him senseless.

It progressed from there because of course it did, their hands wandering greedily. Pressed against the counter as he was, McCree's ass, which seemed to be a bit of a fixation for Hanzo, was annoyingly out of reach so Hanzo had to get creative. His hands slid up McCree's back, pawing at it before sliding down and hooking his fingers beneath the hem.

Much to McCree's annoyance, Hanzo didn't remove it fully, instead wiggling his hands up McCree's back between skin and shirt, his callouses sending shivers and sparks of pleasure down McCree's spine.

Heat pooled low in his gut and he rolled his hips, gasping into Hanzo's hungry kisses as his erection ground against Hanzo's.

McCree could feel Hanzo's smirk as he nibbled at McCree's lower lip, tugging it with him while he pulled away. Letting his eyes flutter open, McCree gasped. Hanzo's eyes were like molten gold and almost seemed to shine.

He had seen Hanzo up close like this multiple times. He had seen the look in Hanzo's eyes, that hungry stare but now, knowing what Hanzo was, it sent shivers down his spine. Hanzo looked ready to devour him and nothing turned him on more.

"What?" Hanzo asked in a breathless whisper. His lips were shiny and swollen, his cheeks flushed.

"Fuck," McCree hissed, pawing at Hanzo's hip with his good hand, his stump bumping against Hanzo's ribs. He rolled his hips again and Hanzo rocked his forward, giving McCree something to rut against.

Sighing, McCree let his head fall, pressing his cheek against Hanzo's. "No lube," Hanzo teased. "No fucking right now."

McCree hissed. "You bastard."

"I assure you that my parents were married."

Growling, McCree tangled his fingers in Hanzo's hair and yanked his head back for a biting kiss. Hanzo purred against his mouth, pleased. "Enough sass from you," McCree growled. "I got better things in mind for that mouth of yours."

Hanzo smirked and slowly slid down to his knees in front of McCree.

Truthfully that hadn't been what McCree had intended—he had meant that he would rather have Hanzo kissing him again—but he of course was not about to turn down what Hanzo was teasing now.

Leaning forward, his golden eyes trained on McCree's face, Hanzo pressed a kiss to McCree's hips. He mouthed at the bulge there, tracing the shape of McCree's growing erection.

Hissing, McCree let his head fall forward, his hand coming to rest on Hanzo's head, his fingers tangling in Hanzo's long silver hair. Staring up at him, Hanzo pressed his lips against the sensitive head, tilting his cheek into McCree's hips.

"Damn," McCree muttered. "I don't know how much more of this I can take, sweetheart."

Hanzo smirked, a sight that was hell on McCree's libido. "No?" His hands slipped up McCree's legs and fumbled with the button and zip.

"Sweet," McCree hissed through his teeth when his fingers worked the button open and wiggled his hands in, rubbing at the base of Mccree's cock with his fingertips. "Oh, fuck."

"Is this what you had in mind for my mouth?" Hanzo asked, his eyes now resting on where his fingers disappeared into McCree's clothes, at the peeks of flesh he could see around the zipper and the slit in McCree's boxers. "Is this what you wanted?"

McCree made a choked noise as Hanzo worked open the slit of McCree's boxers and fished out his cock. "I don't think that I'll ever get tired of this," Hanzo whispered, cupping McCree's cock in his hand and pressing teasing kisses to the base of it. His lips nudged the sharp edges of the zipper into McCree's hips and he hissed when the teeth caught on his pubic hair.

"Wait," McCree hissed, shaking his hand free of Hanzo's hair and moving instead to nudge at the waistband of his jeans and boxers. "Wait, sweetheart, wait."

"I don't want to wait," Hanzo hissed, his eyes flashing gold.

Still he pulled back just enough for McCree to shove at the waistband of his jeans and boxers again. Growling, Hanzo slapped McCree's hand away and tugged his pants down just enough to free his cock. He let it settle just below the curve of his ass and over his thighs, thoroughly hobbling him.

McCree hissed when the teeth of the zipper bumped against his flushed cock but the sting was soothed immediately by Hanoz's lips. He pressed kisses along the shaft, lipping at the vein on the underside while his fingers toyed with the foreskin.

With a hungry sound, Hanzo lapped at the tip, his lips sticky with McCree's pre-come. McCree's legs nearly gave out as he gasped. Hanzo braced him with one hand, making an annoyed sound when his hand was impeded by the jeans and boxers around McCree's thighs.

"Oh shit, baby," McCree gasped when Hanzo took the tip into his mouth, sucking gently as he worked at the sensitive head with his tongue. McCree's cock bumped against the ridges of his palate and Hanzo hummed, sealing his lips around McCree's shaft. "Fuck."

Hanzo's eyes opened and despite his lips being otherwise occupied, he still managed to look pleased with himself. His tongue was wicked, tracing the underside of McCree's cock and the vein there.

Humming, Hanzo pulled back and sucked little kisses along McCree's shaft, one hand supporting McCree's weight while the other kneaded eagerly into his trembling thighs, pressing almost hard enough to bruise.

God, but McCree wanted Hanzo to bruise him, to press those memories into his skin. When all was said and done, when he was forced to leave Hanzo, he wanted those memories. Perhaps it was unhealthy (no, it absolutely was), but he wanted scars, he wanted something to remember Hanzo by.

He shuddered when Hanzo's wicked mouth returned to his cock, his spit-slick lips parting to take it into his mouth again. This time he lingered at the tip for a few moments, his throat and tongue working, before he slid down until his lips were pressed to the base.

"Hanzo!" McCree gasped, his voice breaking halfway through. His legs trembled and Hanzo's fingers pressed harder into his thigh, steadying him enough until his hand could instead shift along to grip McCree's ass, pressing bruises there as well. "Oh, fuck. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck."

Hanzo hummed, swallowing around McCree's cock and he shouted—or would have if all the breath hadn't been stolen from him. Instead all that came out was a strangled squeak and a breathless gasp.

His hand pawed at Hanzo's head and he shuddered. If it weren't for Hanzo's grip on him, he would have fallen over.

"Fuck, babe," McCree hissed. "I'm not gonna last."

Hanzo pulled back, sucking gently to prolong the feeling. He lapped at McCree's leaking head, his tongue catching on McCree's foreskin before pulling off completely and looking up at McCree. His face was flushed, his lips shiny and swollen, and God , McCree didn't know how to handle such an amazing sight.

His legs trembled, his feet slipping against the floor of the kitchen.

Then Hanzo smiled and McCree's stomach did flips. "You don't need to last," he assured McCree, his voice raspy. Then he licked his lips and smirked. "Unless you want to, of course.We still have some time left to wait for the dough to rise. Perhaps you should wait and let me keep your mind off the passage of time."

McCree whimpered. "Fuck," he hissed. "Babe..."

Humming, Hanzo pressed another kiss to the tip of McCree's flushed cock, smearing pre-come all over his lips. He groaned and sucked the tip back into his mouth, using his lips and tongue to nudge at McCree's foreskin, already peeled back.

Pressing McCree's hips firmer against the counter so that the edges of it dug into his back, Hanzo opened his mouth and swallowed him down again. McCree buried his hand in Hanzo's hair with a strangled gasp. He probably pulled too hard, was too rough on Hanzo's scalp, but he couldn't think of it at the time. His entire world had been narrowed down to the split of Hanzo's lips around his cock, that wicked tongue of his, the wet clicking of Hanzo's throat as he swallowed around him.

Hanzo moaned, his eyes watering. The vibrations made McCree give a breathless gasp, his legs trembling even worse. "I'm close," McCree breathed, watching Hanzo's golden eyes flick up toward his. "Oh fuck, I'm close, I'm close-" he whined when Hanzo yanked McCree's hips closer.

Orgasm hit him like a punch to his gut and he bent over as he came, doubled over Hanzo's head. When the rush of blood faded from his ears he realized that he could hear the wet click of Hanzo's throat as he swallowed.

When McCree whimpered in overstimulation, Hanzo pulled back. Feeling as if he had just run a marathon, McCree squeezed his eyes shut and focused on his breathing and trying to regain feeling in his legs.


After a few minutes McCree opened his eyes again and stared down at Hanzo. He was a vision, kneeling in the middle of the kitchen, the sunlight streaming in through the curtains giving his hair the same glow as the stars.

Hanzo looked far too pleased with himself, but considering that McCree thought that he had sucked his soul out through his dick, it was probably fair for him to be as pleased as he was.

“God,” McCree breathed before he could stop his fool mouth. “I think I love you.”

Eyes wide, Hanzo looked up at him.

And continued to stare, unblinking.

McCree sighed.

The jade man was back, his hands folded in front of his face and his eyes closed as if in prayer for patience or brain bleach. “I did not need to see that.”

“Then why are you spyin’?” McCree snapped back, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I’m not spying,” the man complained. “I try to go out of my way to help-”

McCree cut him off. “Why should I believe you? You haven’t spoken with Hanzo for literally centuries.”

“Only two!”

“The number doesn’t matter!” McCree yelled and the man seemed taken aback.

Then the man, Genji, scowled. “I don’t need to explain myself to you.”

“No, you don’t,” McCree growled. “You need to explain yourself to Hanzo . You need to look him in the eyes and tell him that you have a good reason to let him suffer like this for all of these years.”

The proud line of Genji’s shoulders disappeared as he slumped. “I know,” he said quietly. “I know. I…” he looked down at his hands. “Immortality sucks.”

McCree snorted. “Don’t care,” he said flatly. “What do you want?”

Clearly seeing that he wasn’t about to get any sympathy from McCree, Genji sighed. “Okay, the whys and why-nots and the wheres and the whens don’t matter,” he said. “Not…not right now.”

“That’s between you and Hanzo,” McCree agreed.

Genji swallowed and nodded. “If he doesn’t literally kill me.” McCree shrugged. “Yeah, I know. Thing is ? You two need to stay safe. The demon is angry and it is hungry and I think it knows I’m on my way. You being there is a carrot dangled on the string; the both of us there? Would be like a whole cart of them left unattended. It will fight like it’s never fought before. The towns—shit, what do you call them? Kindling? Claytown? They’re going to be overrun. The demon won’t rest until it gets what it wants and…” Genji made a helpless gesture.

“We need to warn them,” McCree said grimly.

“What’s this ‘we’ shit?” Genji asked. You and my brother are staying put where it’s safe.”

It was fair that Genji might not know how bull-headed McCree was but he couldn’t imagine that he would think that Hanzo would imply let that slide?


McCree shook his head. “No can do, Gen—can I…nah, fuck it, I’m calling you ‘Gen’ now. Thing is? This is our home. These are our friends. You can just fuck off if you think we’re not protecting them.” Something occurred to him and he scowled at the space in front of the refrigerator, wondering if it would work or if he was just straining himself needlessly.

As if summoned—just as McCree had hoped she would be—Amélie Guillard appeared. She was in a pitiful state, her hair tangled and dirty and full of bits of leaves and dirt, her skin pale and slack in death. Seeing her, Genji shrieked and Amélie looked startled that someone else had seen her.

The edges of their universe, whatever kind of dumb fuck astral projection shit, went hazy before solidifying. Genji’s hands were pressed over the veil over his face where is mouth would be.

Amélie looked at him for a while before turning to McCree. Somehow her glowing eyes were reassuring—perhaps it was because he was growing used to her. Despite only being all of around sixteen or seventeen she was the kind of person that seemed on top of their shit.

God, McCree had never been like that at her age.

But she seemed to know what was going on and he had a question for her.

“Amélie,” he said. “When we were in the barn you saw something.”

“Yeah,” she said dryly. “It was a bigass demon and it nearly fucking killed you.”

McCree snorted. “Well you said a name.”

She frowned. “Akande,” she said. “Akande Ogundimu.”

“See,” McCree said slowly. “It took Hanzo’s shape—makes sense since he has apparently always been around, right? But why would it have Akande’s shape?”

Amélie figured it out before Genji did, her hands pressed against her mouth in shock.

“The demon has a pet,” McCree told Genji. “It fucking bit my arm off and I remembered seeing…” he shuddered. “It had a face in its neck. Amélie…” he hesitated. “Do you remember how you died?”

Immediately she closed off, her arms wrapping around her stomach as she tipped her head down. “I…try not to think about it,” she said softly. “Something chased me through the trees. I don’t know if it got to Gérard or not. Pix was out of her mind, going crazy.”

“Who is Pix?” Genji wondered.

They ignored him. “And then something grabbed me and I died.” Amélie shuddered.

“What were you doing in the woods?” McCree pressed. “You and Gérard?”

Amélie shrugged. “Our friend…Akande. Akande was backpacking with a bunch of friends. He was supposed to be hitting our town soon but he was running late. So even though it was dark we went looking for him.”

“How late was he running? How did you know his plans?” McCree thought hard and fast.

Genji coughed. “This is all fascinating,” he said dryly. “But why don’t you go ahead and make Hanzo summon her again for your questioning? Don’t borrow my time because I don’t have much more to give.”

Amélie scowled at him, propping her hands on her hips. “It’s a good lead,” McCree agreed. “But it can wait a bit. Whatever mumbo-jumbo you’re doing, you can end it because I have a lot of talks that I need to have with a lot of people.” He felt a headache coming on. “And a lot of Advil to take.”

“Yes,” Genji drawled. “We’ll be there in two days.”

The vision began to grow hazy. “By the way, I see the dead. And Gen? I fucked your brother.”

He could hear Genji swearing fitfully as time seemed to start again. Amélie remained where she stood by the refrigerator and Hanzo blinked up at him.

Suddenly remembering where he had left off when Genji had so rudely interrupted, McCree’s amusement faded. “Seems like adult talk,” Amélie observed. “I’ll…be anywhere but here.” McCree made a face at her when she disappeared and Hanzo twisted on his knees to look at the refrigerator.

“Sorry,” McCree murmured, cupping Hanzo’s cheek and turning him back around. “Lots of things just happened but most importantly…” he drew Hanzo up to his feet. McCree cleared his throat. “I meant what I said, though. I think I love you.”

More than think. He was fairly certain that this was some form of love.

Sex and lust? Absolutely.

But love? It was certainly there, moving just beneath the surface of everything that McCree did. The feeling was a constant presence, a constant whisper in his ear of Hanzo, Hanzo, Hanzo . The world seemed brighter in his presence and everything seemed to fall in place when he was near like two pieces of the same puzzle fitting together.

Like they were meant to be.

The thought of destiny was terrifying, that something or someone out there had set McCree on a preordained path like a toy train on its track but…

Hanzo looked down. “I…”

“You don’t have to say anything,” McCree assured him, content to hold him close. “You don’t have to return it.” The thought that Hanzo might not love him back ached like a physical pain. He pressed a kiss to Hanzo’s hair. “Unfortunately…” he made a face. “We will need to put that on hold, for now. I got news. Big news; and a lead.”

Hanzo slowly looked up, his eyes shining a little too wetly. He took a deep, shaky breath. “Yes, that talk is for later. Much later. I love you too but I…” he trailed off. Then Hanzo shook his head. “Later,” he said decisively. He pulled back. “Everyone will wake up soon. I’ll get breakfast going and when everyone is awake, we can talk about your big news.”

McCree hesitated but helped Hanzo gather things for breakfast. He deliberated for a long moment before sighing and putting a hand on one of Hanzo’s to stop him. “Han,” he began and paused. He swallowed. “I should tell you this first. It’s only right.” Hanzo turned to face him and McCree swallowed hard. “The visions I had? Remember?” Hanzo nodded, his face twisting in concern. “It was another Seer,” McCree blurted. “Apparently a very powerful one. He’s on his way here, he’ll be here in two days. Han, I’m serious, please sit down…it’s Genji.”

Chapter Text

“Akande’s that kind of guy that likes adventuring,” Amélie Guillard said, casting nervous glances at Hanzo who was nearly catatonic. McCree couldn’t exactly blame him, having found out after literally hundreds of years that the brother you thought should have been dead was still alive.

That he had regained his memories.

He couldn’t imagine what had been going through Hanzo’s mind.

“He’s the stereotype of what you think of a high school jock,” Amélie Guillard added and McCree translated for the table around bites of breakfast scramble. “His family is well enough off to get him private tutoring and coaching. They take regular vacations to go skiing and snowboarding and mountain climbing all over the world. Gérard and I somehow get close to him—all of the cheerleaders were so jealous, you should have seen!

“Like something out of a high school drama,” McCree laughed.

Amélie nodded. “He and a bunch of friends were going hiking through the mountains. I didn’t know them, they were the kids of his parents’ friends and I’m not sure he knew them too well, either. But he was going through this area and they planned to stay nearby and stock up.”

“In these mountains, you never want to be in the trees after dark,” Lúcio said as he scooped his egg scramble into a tortilla.

Though he couldn’t see her, Amélie shrugged. “They weren’t from around here,” she said simply. “They weren’t afraid of the worlds between the trees. But in this section they weren’t doing much hiking in the open woods. It was mostly on the trails which, while they’re not the safest, they’re at least protected by the Wolf.” She shook her head. “But the day he was supposed to come by came and went. He’d hit Gérard first and then they’d drive up to me—Gérard was ready to borrow his parents’ van and drive them all up here. When they were ready to move on, my dad would let me borrow his truck and I’d drop them further north. Out of the cursed mountains.”

Lúcio cast a glance at Hanzo who ate mechanically and wasn’t showing any signs of listening to the conversation around him. “Hanzo has the mountain warded pretty well,” he said slowly. “To my understanding, at least.”

“Not well enough,” Reinhardt said gently. “The killings had reached Red’s Gap.”

“It may have started there,” McCree said thoughtfully. “But I’m not sure. I’d need to access the case files.” He sighed. “I’m not even sure I’m on the case anymore since I’m technically on medical leave.” He wiggled his amputated arm. A thought occurred to him and he made a face. “Actually, I’m not even sure who is involved in this case. The day I first came here, the sheriffs were all meeting to discuss the case.”

Lúcio shrugged. “Well, we can always ask Morrison,” he pointed out. “He’ll tell Hanzo if he asks but…well, Hanzo will need to do the asking.”

They all looked at Hanzo who didn’t seem to hear them.

McCree turned to Reinhardt and Ana. “You are both taking this…rather well.”

Reinhardt smiled ruefully. “I have seen my fair share of unexplained things,” the big man said. “My cell phone is one of them. But like my cell phone, it only takes a moment of adjustment before I am used to it. While this is a problem that involves me, I have the feeling that I—that we ,” he added, putting a hand on Ana’s beside him. “Are not a part of the solution.”

“That is a terrible way to put it,” Lúcio said flatly.

“If you need us, we will be here,” Ana told them. “We will do what you need us to do but…I have the feeling that we are not meant to be a part of this. Whatever battle may happen, whether as dramatic as that may sound or not, it doesn’t seem to me that Reinhardt and I…”

Hanzo stirred. “No,” he said quietly, speaking for the first time. “You’re right. This isn’t your battle. This should be my battle and mine alone but…” he made a face. “I am not strong enough.”

With a sympathetic sound, Ana reached over and put a hand on Hanzo’s wrist. A worm of doubt wiggled its way into McCree’s heart. Had she said the same three words, once upon a time, to Hanzo?

God, what must it be like? To see his current boy toy next to an old flame, to see the proof that no matter what Hanzo did they would age and he would not?

Sadness hit him like a blow to the gut. How they must have looked with each other! McCree had seen pictures of Ana in her youth and next to Hanzo, hanging off of one of his large arms? They must have been such a beautiful couple.

“You had always been shit at that,” Ana said, her voice wavering. “Do you remember that time that we had gone to Nevada? And you didn’t want to ask for help to put sunscreen on your back?”

Reinhardt snorted. “Ana,” he said gently. “I don’t think banishing a demon is the same as getting a sunburn on your back, albeit in a perfect circle where you can’t reach.”

“The point is,” Ana told him a little testily. “It took you a good twenty years but you finally managed to ask for help.”

“Pictures,” Lúcio murmured.

“That was before the time of cameras,” Reinhardt replied with a broad smirk. “We’re just that old.”

Lúcio snorted. “Hanzo literally is.”

They all fell silent though it was slightly less awkward. Hanzo cleared his throat and reached for more eggs and sausage. “I will speak to Jackie about this and about the case. After much thought…I think it will be best if I make a visit to Redstone. I do not want to leave this area as it is but…”

“Wait.” McCree frowned, the edges of a thought brushing his mind. He sprinkled more cheese on his tortilla as he thought. “It wants me, right? Why don’t we…I don’t know…bring it with us?”

Hanzo looked at him like he was insane but Ana nodded thoughtfully. “I see,” she said. “Let me and Reinhardt go ahead and make preparations for you. That way you have somewhere safe to stay if it is too close.”

“No,” Hanzo said, looking pained.

“Listen,” McCree told him. “I ride on your back through the woods.”

Lúcio snorted into his coffee, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like, “not the first thing he’s ridden.”

They ignored him. “We go over the mountain, right through its territory and then to Red’s Gap, right? It’ll be there while we speak to Sheriff Galbraith.”

Though he still looked unhappy, Hanzo nodded. “It’s dangerous.”

“I can show you where we were,” Amélie said and McCree jumped, having forgotten about her. “And where we were supposed to meet.”

Lúcio nodded when McCree translated. “You need to talk to Morrison first,” he pointed out. “Then make the trip over.”

“We’ll leave after breakfast,” Ana said after a meaningful look at Reinhardt. “And speak to Sheriff Galbraith.”

McCree made a face. “I’m not sure he’d believe you.”

But Ana smiled thinly. “Oh,” Reinhardt assured him with a booming laugh. “He will. We will make sure of it. We will have his schedule clear for you to meet him…shall we say tonight? Tomorrow?”

“Not at night,” Hanzo and Lúcio said immediately.

“It’s not safe at night,” Hanzo explained. “Once the sun goes down, it gets stronger.”

Ana nodded. “Tomorrow morning. Around lunchtime?”

“Do you really think it’s Akande?” Amélie asked, walking around to McCree’s side. “Do you think it…got to him somehow?”

McCree shook his head. “I don’t know what to think,” he told her gently. “But I find it odd that you were not able to meet up with your friend, that he was so late to begin with, and that the demon tried to lure me that way.” He looked around. “Where’s Gérard?”

“I don’t know,” Amélie said a little testily. “I swear, it seems that all I’ve done when I’m living or dead is watch after him.”

“Maybe we should have the Sheriff check for missing persons’ reports,” Ana suggested when McCree explained what had happened. “If there is indeed only one animal running with this demon then perhaps only one of the group had been taken. If something untoward had happened, then the rest of the group might be aware of it and may have reported it.”

Unless they were dead, too , McCree thought but didn’t say.

Hanzo nodded in agreement. “It won’t hurt,” he decided. They didn’t talk much more during breakfast and McCree was pleased to see Hanzo’s appetite return. He bumped Hanzo’s arm a few times and was rewarded with a soft smile in return.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Hanzo murmured as they walked upstairs to change.

McCree swallowed. “Is it…about earlier.” Hanzo nodded. “Han…you don’t gotta say it back.”

“That’s not it,” Hanzo said quietly as they walked into his bedroom, closing the door behind them. One of the dogs must have been following because McCree heard them groan and sneeze at the door. “You realize…McCree— Jesse , I’m over two hundred years old?”

Sighing, McCree cautiously approached, cupping Hanzo’s face with his good hand. “I know,” he said softly. “You’ve outlived a hundred other lovers and will outlive a hundred more I’m sure.”

“I will live to see you grow old,” Hanzo said, closing his eyes. “As I have with a hundred other friends. I’ve watched people since they were children, grow to be adults with spouses and children of their own; I’ve watched their children grow up and marry and have children. I’ve lost count of how many generations I’ve seen in this town and I try not to think of how many more generations I will see.”

McCree leaned in and Hanzo tipped his head back for a kiss. “And you will see me grow old,” McCree repeated softly. “Old and infirm. My hair will become as silver as yours but I will be far uglier.”

Closing his eyes, Hanzo tipped his face into McCree’s hand. “The problem isn’t that I love you back. I do; I love you so intensely that it scares me because I do not know if I have the strength to watch you grow old and infirm.”

Bittersweet news. McCree nodded. “I hear you, pumpkin,” he said softly. “Just…give me this much at least: let me be with you until this thing is dead for good.”

“I’m not sure that it can be,” Hanzo admitted quietly. “I’ve tried for so long…”

McCree snorted. “That’s the devil talking,” he said flatly. “This thing can be beat. I’m sick of it—I can’t imagine how you must feel about it. It can be beat, we’re going to find out how, and we’re going to get rid of it.” He leaned in close and Hanzo let him, let him steal another soft kiss. “And then…” his voice cracked. “And then I’ll be out of your hair. You don’t need to see me ever again.”

Sighing, Hanzo turned his head away. “I don’t want it to be like this.”

“I don’t either,” McCree agreed, leaning in for another kiss. Hanzo clung desperately to him, shaking like a leaf. “But that’s just how things are sometimes. We don’t always get the things we want.”

“How are you okay with this?”

McCree shrugged. “I ain’t,” he said baldly. “But this whole thing ain’t just about me. So come on—we got a bit more in us.” He lifted Hanzo’s hand and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “And we got a demon to kill. We got a sheriff to talk to—two sheriffs. We don’t got time to deal with this. For now…”

“For now I have you,” Hanzo whispered, tipping his face up for another kiss which McCree gave. “And you have me.”

Swallowing hard, McCree nodded. “Yeah.”

Jack didn’t look happy to see them but more likely he was just unhappy to see McCree .

“Forest business,” Hanzo explained and the displeased frown on the sheriff’s deepened.

“You gonna explain to me why your wards are slipping?” Jack growled. “Why my people here are dying?”

Hanzo sat down as if he owned the office and McCree was momentarily stunned by his gall. But perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised. Hanzo was very old, after all, and by his own admission had watched a lot of people in this town grow up, grow old, live their lives. He had a level of familiarity with them that was unprecedented.

“They are my people, too,” Hanzo pointed out. “Jackie, the game has changed. The mist is still trapped but there is another player.”

Sheriff Morrison snorted. “Is that it? Just another person?” He sat in his chair and flicked his eyes up to McCree. “What, are you gonna just stand there and stare?”

Scowling, McCree sat beside Hanzo.

“It’s not just another person,” Hanzo explained. “And it’s very dangerous.”

“No more than the mists,” Sheriff Morrison said dismissively.

Hanzo frowned. “More, in some ways,” he said.

“It’s hungry,” McCree said, earning a foul look from the sheriff. “The thing in the trees—the mists, or whatever—starves it, hurts it. Then when it has a target, it is released and it is angry .”

Sheriff Morrison sighed. “Look,” he said in an overly patient way that had McCree scowling. “This all sounds… crazy . I’m sure that if I explain to everyone that something is loose in the woods all you’re going to get is more people going hunting.”

“That is exactly what we don’t need!” McCree exclaimed before he could stop himself.

The sheriff pinned him with a dark look. “The mountain has never been one to rise up against us,” he told McCree. “And I find it awfully convenient that it started up right when you moved here.”

“You think that I did it?” McCree snarled. Hanzo put a hand on his shoulder and he subsided with a scowl.

Sheriff Morrison’s eyes lingered heavily on Hanzo’s hand and where it rested familiarly on McCree’s shoulder. “You’re biased,” he told Hanzo flatly.

“I’m right,” Hanzo replied. “And so is he. Do you want to know more or will you enjoy living and wallowing in your ignorance?”

For a moment the sheriff gave a very impressive impression of a fish, eyes wide in surprise and mouth opening and closing as he struggled to find the words to say. “Excuse me?”

“Ever since you were young you didn’t want to know,” Hanzo said smoothly, as if he hadn’t just stung the bear. “You always chose to cover your ears when I tried to reveal the truth of the world you choose to ensconce yourself in. I will always give you this choice and I will always abide by it but this also comes with the understanding that you will let me have my way to do what I must.”

His eyes, light brown for their trip into town, flashed golden.

Sheriff Morrison gritted his teeth. “All these years,” he hissed. “I’ve let you have your way. I’ve let you have your pull in the area; I’ve let you do as you please.”

“Because you wished to deny the truth: that something walks in the forests.”

McCree felt that familiar prickle in his eyes, like the muscles twitched, and he turned to find a dog appear in the corner. Its eyes glowed with white and gold light and McCree breathed a soft sigh of relief, half afraid that the demon in the trees would try to imitate a ghost again.

The dog’s ears pricked up and it trotted over to McCree, shoving its big, blocky head into his lap with a whine. Hanzo turned his head as if he could see it and then frowned.

Carefully moving his hand so that the sheriff wouldn’t see and ask awkward questions, McCree reached for the dog’s collar and flicked the tag toward him.


Driven by some strange kind of instinct, McCree lifted his hand and placed it on [Lizzie]’s big, blocky head.

She did not want to go.

She did not want to follow.

Every instinct in her was telling her to run, to grab Her Boy’s arm and drag him out; to scruff him like an unruly puppy and take him where it was safe.

She remembered the taunts and the jeers. They meant nothing to her but she knew that Her Boy was proud and that he took each and every one to heart. She despaired; this she could not protect him from.

Her Boy stepped further into the trees and though she was terrified, she followed. In the darkness of the trees she was nearly blind, her world illuminated by the pale light from the device in Her Boy’s hand, but she could hear . Oh she could hear the trees around her, heard the movements of trees and animals and the cries of bugs and owls as they moved about their dark kingdom.

Turning, Her Boy patted her head soothingly. It was not okay; this was not okay.

But she would not leave Her Boy.

McCree blinked a tear from his eye. Lizzie stared up at him and dimly he could hear Hanzo and Sheriff Morrison saying something. “Something only he would know,” he whispered and the dog closed her glowing eyes.

He put his hand back on Lizzie’s head.

“She’s so ugly!”

The bow was itchy around her neck. The Boy that would be hers twisted his face around. He was just a pup.

“I don’t like her. I want another one!” That was mean, but he was just a pup. He just liked to make noises and scream.

“If you want to be a police officer, you need a police officer’s dog,” someone said.

The Boy stomped his feet and McCree realized belatedly that this was a young Morrison. “I don’t want to be a police officer!”

“Don’t you want to be just like daddy?” a woman asked.

The Boy kicked and stomped. “NO!”

McCree blinked and lifted his head to look at the adult form of the boy from the vision. “You didn’t want to be a police officer. And at first you didn’t want Lizzie.”

He hazarded a glance at Hanzo whose lips twitched. McCree wondered if Hanzo had been present; if he remembered this.

“You thought she was ugly,” McCree added. “Your father was a police officer too. Someone told you that if you wanted to be a police officer, you needed to have a police officer’s dog.”

He peeked at Sheriff Morrison who stared at him with an unreadable look on his face.

McCree licked his lips nervously. “She didn’t want to go into the forest with you,” he said softly. “When you went to the tree. She knew that as soon as the kids dared you to, you would walk into the forest so she followed to keep you safe. Even though everything in her was screaming to run away.”

There was a long moment of silence. Lizzie nudged his hand and he obliged, scratching her behind her ears and behind the blocky edge of her skull; she rewarded him with a silly grin.

“You saw something that night,” McCree said boldly. “Like mist. Like a spider. It stared at you and you stared back. It took Lizzie from you because you couldn’t resist a dare.”

Sheriff Morrison exploded to his feet. “You dare-”

Swallowing, McCree stared stubbornly up at him. “Yes,” he said. “I dare. I dare because you don’t see them begging for help. Lizzie sits here because she knows something. I think she’s always been there, hiding in the shadows in the corner of your eyes.”

For a long moment Morrison said nothing, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. He turned to Hanzo. “I’d listened to your advice for all of my adult life,” he said, pointedly ignoring McCree. “I’ve done a thousand things that I shouldn’t do, broken laws, abused my power because you asked me to . All I see from you is the times you come to me and ask for more, always more.” He pressed his lips shut and shook his head. “No longer. I hereby charge you with obstruction of justice and will put you under arrest.”

Hanzo rose smoothly to his feet, his eyes shining bright gold. “Arrest me, then.” He held out both hands and McCree watched, gobsmacked, as Morrison slapped a pair of handcuffs messily around his wrists. If they were too tight (and McCree was certain that they were), Hanzo showed no sign.

With a sharp motion, Hanzo snapped the cuffs.

(And that shouldn’t have been as hot as it was.)

“You have arrested me,” Hanzo said while McCree and the sheriff stared in shock. “And now we shall be leaving.” He nodded to McCree. “Shall we?” When McCree stood, Hanzo grabbed him by the elbow and walked briskly out of the office, the remains of the handcuffs still hanging from his wrists.

“Will that…what…?” McCree looked back at the office, finding Morrison staring through the window at them.

Hanzo shrugged. “Do you want to stay around and find out?”

“We were supposed to-”

“I know,” Hanzo said calmly. “Get in the truck.”

Wanting to protest, McCree obeyed, scrambling awkwardly in. No one came for them as Hanzo started the truck—perhaps in a town this small there weren’t many police officers, McCree wasn’t sure—and no one chased them as he pulled out of the driveway or into the road. Morrison glared at them from the window and McCree craned his head to watch until he could no longer see the sheriff.

“Do you…often do this?”

Hanzo shrugged. “I do admit that I throw my fair share of tantrums,” he admitted. “I haven’t thrown one in a few decades, though. They used to joke that it was a rite of passage. I can’t imagine that Jackie finds it at all amusing.”

“Why do you call him that?” McCree asked. “Jackie?”

“I’ve known him since he was very small,” Hanzo said, sounding amused. “If you ask Lizzie, she could probably tell you, though I admit that I haven’t heard her very far from Jackie’s side. I should probably change my naming of him—it’s very disrespectful of me to call him a childhood name when he is the authority of the law in this town—but he will always be the little cornsilk boy. I could tell you a thousand embarrassing baby stories of everyone in town.”

McCree snorted. “You’re so old.”

Next to him, Hanzo barked a rough laugh. “I am,” he agreed and turned the truck into another driveway.

“The auto repair shop?” McCree asked as he fumbled with the seatbelt and climbed out.

Hanzo gave him an enigmatic smile but didn’t answer, leading the way inside. He took McCree behind the counter and into a room in the back that looked to be a staff lounge even though he was pretty sure that Satya more or less worked alone.

But he didn’t know. He barely knew her.

He paused to greet Lily who sat outside the door. The dog seemed glad to see them, wiggling in place until Hanzo murmured what McCree assumed was the command for him to move from his post. Lily trotted over to McCree, snuffling his hands and knees eagerly. The dog’s nose lingered at his side where the ghost of Lizzie had rested her big, blocky head, and McCree wondered if he could somehow smell that.

Lily trotted over to Hanzo who patted his head and opened the door.

“Are we late?” Hanzo asked as he ushered McCree into the cramped room. There was a dilapidated table, clearly wobbly from a bent leg with a poorly applied piece of folded paper under it to stabilize it, that supported Styrofoam cups of coffee and tea, each labeled with permanent marker.

The girl from the pet shop sat in a corner, the wrinkled monstrosity of a cat perched on her shoulders like some kind of strange, fleshy boa. Her nose was red and she sniffled, a few crumpled tissues on the table in front of her. Satya leaned against the counter, her dog pressed against her legs as if to form a barrier between her and the rest of the room. Her eyes darted around from person to person while she fiddled with the beads of her bracelet. Lúcio was also there, despite his claims that he and Satya didn’t get along. He sat near her, a little speaker next to him playing soft music to fill the silence of the room.

Well, relative silence. There were two other people there that McCree had never met. One of them looked as large as Reinhardt in girth but was shorter, giving him the appearance of being wider than he was tall.

(McCree immediately felt bad for that thought.)

The other flitted around, as nervous and frenetic as a butterfly, matching the trembling dog at his side. At first McCree thought it was a greyhound because it had that same kind of lean appearance. Perhaps it was. McCree didn’t know dogs very well.

Seeing him, the dog yowled and spun in nervous circles around the nervous man who stopped his nervous twitching long enough to look at the door.

“Precisely on time,” Satya said, her eyes flicking toward them and away. She fiddled with her bracelet before dropping her hands. “Tea? Water?”

“Coffee?” the nervous man asked with a Cheshire grin. He cackled. “Just started a new pot, should be done in a few minutes.”

The big man snorted. “No more,” he growled to the nervous man. “Too much already.”

“Water, please,” Hanzo murmured. “Is everyone here?”

Lúcio nodded. “Ana and Reinhardt are probably over the mountain by now. And judging by the handcuffs around your wrists, Morrison won’t be joining us.”

The girl from the pet store made a rude noise. “He’s such a stick in the mud.”

“He is only upholding order,” Satya protested, putting two cups of water on the table for Hanzo and McCree. A pitcher of water with a filter followed, making the table wobble dangerously. Everyone lunged for their cups.

Hanzo waved it off. “We do not have his…cooperation.”

The nervous man cackled. “Alright,” he said excitedly, clapping his hands and rubbing them together eagerly. The dog at his feet jumped and spun in nervous circles again. “Oh, baby, I’m sorry.” He knelt and was immediately swarmed by the dog who wagged its tail hard enough that its entire body wiggled.

“Spoiled,” the big man grumbled, but he sounded fond.

“Spoiled rotten,” the nervous man agreed with a cackle. He stood and murmured a command to the dog. “Don’t think we’ve met. Jamison. Jamison Fawkes. Dr. Jamison if you want to be fancy, but don’t bother.”

He didn’t look like much of a doctor of anything, but McCree didn’t say that. Jamison looked more like some kind of addict searching for his next fix, but perhaps he had just had too much caffeine.

Fawkes jerked a thumb at the big man. “That there’s Roadie.”

“Mako,” the man grunted.

Nodding, McCree shook their hands. The girl in the corner waved and then sneezed; the cat creature on her shoulders wobbled and made a low, gurgling noise in protest.

“That’s Hana,” Lúcio explained. “She’s allergic to dogs.”

Hana sneezed again and fumbled for a clean tissue to wipe her nose. The cat scrambled down her shoulders to the table, arching its back when it wobbled precariously. Seeing McCree watching it, it hissed and batted at one of Hana’s used tissues.

“What’s he saying?” Hana demanded.

Hanzo snorted. “He says that you’re disgusting.” Hana flipped the cat off. “So Jackie won’t be helping us.”

“I could have told you that,” Hana complained.

“It would be against his best interest,” Satya pointed out. “It could be disastrous to his career.”

Hanzo shrugged, utterly unrepentant. “Which is why I gave him an out. He will not assist us and of all of the sheriffs in the area, he is—was—our greatest ally in this.”

“That just means that we can have a bit more fun,” Fawkes said with a manic giggle. “Just leave it up to me and Roadie.”

Hana frowned. “That’s…probably a bad idea. No, but really. You can’t just willy-nilly break into law enforcement buildings!”

“It’s not breaking in if we have work to be doing there anyway,” Fawkes protested. “Server upgrades, plumbing fixes. I kept telling them, didn’t I Roadie? They’re going to be up shit’s creek come winter when everything freezes. Pipes not insulated, leaks already there—their crawlspace regularly floods! Tell me that’s normal.”

The nervous dog spun in circles and Hanzo glanced down at it. The dog stopped and raced up to Hanzo, twining around his legs like a gigantic, nervous cat. “Rat problems as well,” Hanzo said, his eyes flaring gold for a moment. It was bright enough that they almost seemed as bright as the ghosts McCree had seen and he rubbed his eyes. “Insects. The municipal building is a dilapidated mess.”

“Yes!” Fawkes exclaimed, jabbing a finger into the air. “All municipal buildings are, they always seem to be a…” he glanced at Satya and Hana and seemed to rethink his phrasing. “…a mess. But this one is particularly bad. And I heard that there was some issue on the [Ghost Road]?” he shook his head. “Convenient.”

Hana rolled her eyes. “Junkrat here does a lot of the fixes around town,” she explained to McCree. “So everyone tells him their problems. Leaky sinks, leaky roofs, fallen trees, he has a hand in all of it.”

“Were you attacked, too?” Mako asked, his gruff voice cutting through the chatter. Everyone turned to look at him expectantly.

McCree hesitated and lifted his injured arm. “Yeah,” he admitted. “You could say that.”

They all turned to Hanzo. “This hasn’t happened for as long as I can think of,” Fawkes said, sounding much more serious. “And you know me, mate—I read the old records for fun!”

Lúcio shook his head. “I hadn’t seen anything like this, either,” he agreed. “The…the mists don’t go into town—the markers keep it out. Even the houses on the outskirts have their markers that keep the mist out.”

Shaking his head, Hanzo reached into a pocket of the bag that held his pelt and pulled out a necklace which he put on the table. Everyone sucked in a breath and McCree leaned close to get a better look at it.

It was a simple silver necklace with a carved wooden pendant in the shape of a howling wolf. As he squinted at it, he could make out little flickers of gold along the curved lines that emulated the wolf’s thick ruff.

“Hanzo puts magic into them,” Lúcio explained when he saw McCree’s confused look. “The motifs you see in town are part magical talisman, part for decoration. That’s why there aren’t any attacks in town—the talismans keep the mists out.”

Hanzo cleared his throat. “This was among my first definitive hints that the mists aren’t alone in this game, that it found a new player. I found this one in the trees by [Sophie Miller]’s house. The creature came in, tore out the talisman, neutralized it somehow, and let the mists in.”

Behind the table, the wall seemed to move and McCree turned to look at it, frowning. Amélie stepped through with an annoyed huff, her eyes glowing like beacons. “There you are,” she fussed. “I swear, I leave you alone for only a few minutes!”

The nervous dog yipped and spun in circles again until Hanzo knelt beside it. His eyes flashed gold again. “What are you doing?” McCree blurted.

“You can probably See it easier than I can,” Satya murmured. “I need special glasses, but it looks like a flash of light in his eyes, correct? He is Speaking to Whip.”

Hanzo looked up at McCree thoughtfully. “I’ve Spoken to my pack in his presence before,” he told Satya. “Have you noticed it then?” he asked McCree, who shook his head. “This is the first time?” McCree nodded.

They both turned expectantly to Satya who frowned, looking down and away from them. “Each Seer’s gift manifests differently. Sometimes gifts are constantly changing.” From her tone, McCree took to mean that hers had been that way. Given what he knew of her, he figured that it might be a source of constant annoyance for her to have something like that constantly shifting.

He could relate.

Lúcio cleared his throat delicately. “So…the talismans. That’s why it’s attacked here.”

Leaning back in his chair, Mako grunted. “Lost two ewes,” he grumbled. “Torn apart.”

“Yeah,” Fawkes agreed. “I’ll check the fences when we get back. Don’t worry, I’ll take Whip with me.” McCree personally thought that if anything happened, the poor dog would die of terror, but he didn’t say anything. “See if the talismans have failed. So do you know? What it is?”

Hanzo made a face. “At first we didn’t,” he admitted. “The wolves and I followed a track in the forest. I’ve met a lot of creatures—”

“Ooooold,” Hana teased.

Hanzo ignored her. “—but this one? It didn’t smell quite right. McCree…ah…he was actually the one to have found it.”

Making a face, McCree waved his arm again. “It fucking bit my arm off.” Everyone winced. “And it killed Kuma.”

Hanzo nodded. “Our plan right now is to get to Red’s,” he said. “Maybe see if we can divert either the mists or its pet so it’s not so much of a problem but…” he shook his head.

“It’s hungry,” McCree added. “I don’t know about the…uh, the mists, but the thing with it? It’s hungry. It’s starved; it’s angry

“What is it?” Hana asked quietly.

Hanzo and McCree traded glances. “We don’t know yet,” Hanzo admitted. “But I know what I saw.”

Mako shifted out of the way, knocking into the table with a thigh that without exaggeration, may have been as large around as McCree’s waist. The table rattled, the pitcher sliding along the surface before Hana caught it.

Satya pressed her hands to the table and blue sand seemed to bloom from her hands, growing and growing into a sizeable pile in front of her. She nodded at Hanzo.

“It stood on two legs,” Hanzo said and the pile of sand leaped up, swirling to life into a rough approximation of a bipedal form.

“Hunched back, off balance on two legs but its hind was too long for its fore,” McCree added and watched in awe as the sand shifted, now roughly resembling a bear. McCree swallowed and glanced at Hanzo who nodded at him to continue.

Swallowing again, McCree approached the table and the miniature form. “You can touch it,” Satya told him and he nodded.

“It had a longer neck,” he said. “Like it was wearing a wolfskin.” He gently nudged the figure and Satya had it move in accordance to his direction. “Oops, too much.” They eased the neck back from its ridiculous length. “Hyena shoulders—kind of slumped.”

Hanzo nodded. “Kind of a hyena’s build, slope-backed but mostly bipedal. Large claws. It bit me a few times as well and not that it’s a very important detail, but it has a remarkable grip.”

Everyone winced.

“It has two faces,” McCree added and he could feel Hanzo’s eyes on him.

He also had everyone else’s attention with single-minded focus. “Excuse me?” Hana squeaked and then sneezed.

“I remember seeing it,” McCree said. “It’s…” he reached out and tapped the underside of the image’s neck. “It has a bigger neck, almost like a horse. Shaggier. There was a screaming face there.”

The ghost of Amélie Guillard leaped forward, flying through the table to get right into McCree’s face. “What did it look like? What kind of face?”

McCree swallowed. In her distress she appeared as she died and as she lay in the forest waiting for someone to find her, covered in dirt and loam in an attempt at giving her dignity.

Hanzo held up a hand and the entire table fell silent. He looked troubled. “I have fought this creature many times,” he said, a strange note in his voice. It was raspy, as if he was sick; it was as if a wolf spoke in his voice. “With fang and claw and bow. I have not seen this.” He sighed heavily, his golden eyes closing. “Not to say that it hasn’t happened that way. And it seems to me that this creature does not appear to me the way it appears to you.”

Leaning forward, Hanzo drew on the table with a finger that glowed with golden light. The image of the creature that appeared was similar to what McCree had created with Satya: big, sloped shoulders, long claws, an awkward neck and a strangely-shaped face. The muscle and skin over the skull appeared bloated and swollen, its eyes too large, but its long jaws were almost comically narrowed on its face. Unlike McCree’s dim memories of the creature, Hanzo’s image bore thick fur in odd patches of golden-brown and rust.

“Could it be a Seer thing?” Hana asked, looking back and forth between Satya’s image and Hanzo’s.

“Hanzo…I can’t tell if it’s you or what it looks like but it looks dumb.”

“Its teeth and claws are real enough,” Hanzo said dryly. “For all it’s unfortunately-shaped.”

McCree squinted at the creature that Hanzo had created. “Is that what you see?”

“An approximation. I haven’t seen it in my human form and as a Wolf my color vision is…not the best.”

He resisted the urge to ask if Hanzo saw in black and white as a Wolf. Those kinds of questions could come later. “This is going to sound crazy…” he let his voice trail off, his mind racing.

The big man, Mako, grunted. “It doesn’t already?” Jamison asked with a wild cackle.

“Amélie,” McCree said slowly. “What school did you go to?”

He couldn’t see the ghost’s expression. He wasn’t even sure if she was visible. “ Valley Run .”

“Go Hawks,” Lúcio murmured when McCree translated.

There went that idea. But Hana tilted her head to the side. “That boy,” she said slowly. “The one that is missing—maybe. Did he go to Valley too?”

He went to a private school further north, ” Amélie said impatiently and McCree translated. “ What does that have to do with the price of peas in Persia?

Hanzo frowned and nodded. “We need to speak to Sheriff Galbraith,” he decided at last, like a judge deciding on the verdict of a guilty man.

“Roadie and I got a service call in a half hour,” Jamison said. The dog at his feet spun in yet another nervous circle. “We’ll see what we can find.”

Meka, the hairless cat, yowled. “Hush, you,” Hana said, scooping him into her arms. He shoved a paw in her face. “I guess we should start making more amulets, huh?”

“Amulets?” McCree asked, surprised.

Hana shrugged. “Well, if there’s gonna be more danger, we need to renew the wards. That means more amulets.”

“Do you have any ready now?” Hanzo asked.

Satya nodded. “I have a store of the ones that you activated last week.”

“While we’re in Red’s we’ll renew some of the wards on the outskirts and distribute new amulets,” Hanzo said grimly. “Meanwhile—”

“Yes, yes,” Hana interrupted, waving the hand that wasn’t holding Meka. “We’ll make more.” She sneezed and Meka wiggled in her arms.

Satya wrinkled her nose, getting to her feet. “I will get the amulets for you.” With her dog on her heels, she slipped out of the small room.

Lúcio clapped his hands once. “Alright, I’ll get’cha both to one of the lookout points and send you on your way.”

“We will probably stay over,” Hanzo warned. “You can expect us back tomorrow.” Nodding at everyone, Hanzo swept out of the room. McCree followed, feeling quite like a lost puppy.

He waited with Lúcio in the front of the shop for Satya to return with a small leather pouch, much like a fanny pack, which she handed to Lúcio. If they didn’t like each other as Lúcio had once claimed, McCree saw almost no sign of it. Thanking Satya for her hospitality, McCree followed Lúcio out to the truck and watched as Hanzo peered into the bag.

Hanzo whistled, the bag apparently passing his inspection,  and the wolves jumped into the back of the truck. To McCree’s surprise Hanzo joined them there, nodding curtly at McCree to climb in the cab with Lúcio.

“He’s scared in his own way,” Lúcio told him quietly. “Don’t pay him any mind.”

Aware that Hanzo could probably still hear them, McCree focused on buckling his seatbelt. “I don’t blame him,” he said at last. He could see Amélie Guillard standing at the edge of the street, her arms crossed. Like a broken screen she flickered, switching back and forth between looking alive and looking as McCree had found her body. “This is all terrifying.”

“Yes,” Lúcio replied. “But he doesn’t have to be a bitch about it.”

At the lookout, they found a couple standing beside the enormous carved posts, staring out into the dark forest. They were local to the area as evidenced by the unleashed dogs at their sides and though McCree didn’t recognize them, they seemed to know Hanzo and Lúcio.

“Hey Doc,” Lúcio said as he climbed out of the cab. Lily followed, trotting over to greet the dogs while Yuki and Ame stuck close to Hanzo. “What brings you here?”

The woman, who Lúcio called Doc, looked at McCree with the same suspicion that everyone did. She was a petite thing, her eyes as clear and hard as ice. “I remember you,” she said, her eyes lingering on McCree’s missing arm. “I’m surprised that you’re here.”

There were a thousand different meanings behind her words. McCree shrugged. “I’m not one to sit to the side when there’s things to be done.”

Doc’s cold eyes didn’t melt, the stubborn frown on her face deepening slightly. She turned to Hanzo. “I thought I told you to let him go.”

“There is such thing as free will,” Hanzo said mildly.

The man, who had been silent until then, snorted. He was dark-skinned and built like a brick shithouse. From the slight greying of his hair and the crows feet at the corners of his eyes he wasn’t as young as he once was but if he felt it, he didn’t show it. There were scars on his face, giving him a severe expression like he was sneering.

“You are going to get him killed,” Doc snapped.

The man snorted again. “He doesn’t need any help getting himself killed.”

McCree scowled at him, a retort hot on his tongue when an enormous—and familiar—pelt seemed to appear in Hanzo’s hands, which had definitely been empty a moment before. Doc’s eyes widened, flicking from McCree to the pelt and back.

“You had better get back,” Hanzo told them as if talking about the weather but McCree could see the little tic of his mouth as if he were amused. “The dark will come early tonight.”

The man looked at the pelt in Hanzo’s hands and then at McCree and Lúcio, not making a secret of it like Doc seemed to try to.

“To be fair,” Lúcio said. “ He was the one that wanted to come here. Hanzo never called him.”

Doc scowled at the vet who shrugged. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Nope. But that’s what I gotta tell myself when I think of what might happen.”

Hanzo sighed. Yuki and Ame trotted off to the edge of the lookout, their noses to the wind. “Turn in soon,” he told Doc and the man firmly. “Stay in town, it might be better. Stay where it’s safe and warded.”

The man snorted. “Is that why Jack’s walking around like someone shoved a pine cone up his ass?” McCree winced at the mental image and out of the corner of his eye, he could see Lúcio doing the same. Doc looked unimpressed.

“Something like that,” Hanzo replied evenly. “I may have also broken his handcuffs.”

The man threw his head back and laughed. “Once he gets over his fright he’ll skin you for that.”

“If he can stop getting a hard-on,” Hanzo said dryly. “That hero worship has not diminished.”

Doc wrinkled her nose. “What are you doing?” she glanced at McCree.

“You can trust him Ange,” Lúcio said quietly. “He’s involved now.”

McCree realized belatedly that “Doc” was probably a nickname—and judging by her look at his arm, she was a doctor, perhaps even one of the ones that had saved his life.

To be fair, it had been a long day.

Hanzo shook his head. “Town will be quieter,” he told the man and Ange. “But don’t trust it. There are things in the forest.”

Both Ange and the man made a face. “I’ll make inquiries,” the man said, much more businesslike now. He straightened, his back military-straight, and McCree wondered who he was. “Quiet-like. Make a few suggestions.”

“It will be dark early,” Hanzo murmured, tipping his head to look up at the sky, and McCree wondered what he was missing—because he knew that he had to be missing something. “I would suggest moving quickly.”

The man snorted. “I’ll kick Jackie’s ass and we’ll get to going.”

Cold hands touched McCree and he jumped. It was only Amélie Guillard, her hands as cold and clammy as a corpse’s. “ Will you tell him I’m sorry?

For what? McCree tried to think at her, but it seemed that whatever magic bullshit was going on with him didn’t work that way.

Amélie tugged on his arm again, insistently. “ Please? Will you please tell him that for me? ” she made a sound like a sob but it was hard to tell when he couldn’t see her eyes. “ I’m sorry.

It was one thing to tell such things to Lúcio or Hanzo but another to advertise to others that he sees and hears the dead. Yuki turned her head back and looked right at Amélie Guillard, then at McCree as if to say, well? Are you going to tell them?

We fought, ” Amélie Guillard said, seeming to understand that he needed more than just “Amélie Guillard says she’s sorry.” “ I said some terrible things to him. I told him that the only reason he isn’t the sheriff is because he’s an outsider that’s more likely to do harm than good. ” She paused. “ And I told him that his dog was too gimpy to do anything.

McCree looked at the dog near the man and found that it was in rather sorry-looking shape. An ear was tattered and its tail seemed like it had broken and healed wrong. It was missing a foreleg and there was a hint of silver around its muzzle. But its eyes were sharp, almost wild, and scars drew bald patches over its eye and muzzle and neck.

You think of all the things that you could have done but didn’t when you’re dead, ” Amélie Guillard said miserably. “ I was terrible to him—I was always terrible to him. And he gave me more chances than I should have.

Hanzo was looking oddly at McCree. “Is something wrong?”

Please tell him I’m sorry, ” Amélie Guillard said. “ I didn’t mean it but I did. I shouldn’t have ever said any of those things to him.

“You were young and stupid,” McCree told her gently, unable to help it. “I’m sure he doesn’t hold it against you.” When he turned to look at the pair, he—unsurprisingly—found them looking at him oddly.

His name is Reyes, ” Amélie Guillard told him. “ Gabriel Reyes. We used to call him Mama Bird. Or Jefe. Boss Man. Depending on what kind of mood he was in. He’s the deputy. ” She tugged on his arm. “Please. Will you tell him?

The grass rustled. Kuma appeared in what was once an empty spot. He watched them solemnly.

It was one thing to want to do such a thing—to pass on a message, to play telephone for them that was dead. He didn’t mind it on the surface, especially for one such as Amélie Guillard. But it was another to make his mouth move, make his voice work, to open his mouth and say, hey, I see the dead and so-and-so has a message for you .

“Amélie Guillard,” he said, his voice a little strangled in his nervousness. He looked at Hanzo instead, whose eyes were filled with understanding. They were brown now, but still as beautiful as when they were golden. “She’s upset.”

Hanzo shifted the pelt in his hands and rested it on his head like a mask. The wolf’s muzzle rested over his head like the bill of a baseball cap. He lifted McCree’s free hand in his. “What is she upset about?”

“Amélie Guillard is dead,” the man that Amélie had called Reyes said flatly. There was an oddly brittle note in his voice.

McCree swallowed and kept his eyes stubbornly on Hanzo. “She is,” he agreed. “She says that she’s sorry.”

I was an ass ,” Amélie Guillard whispered and McCree passed on the message. He refused to look away from Hanzo to see what kind of judgment or disgust lay in Reyes’s eyes. “ I said terrible things and I know they’re not true. I know that you really do care.

Amélie Guillard released him and Hanzo patted McCree’s hands. He thought that she had gone to Reyes—or maybe even just disappeared altogether—but he didn’t dare look away from Hanzo.

“One can hardly fault the youth for their hot-tempered words,” Reyes said at last. “I have never held it against her, nor will I do so anytime soon.” When McCree looked at Reyes in surprise, the other man barked a rough laugh. “I seen some shit, kid. The bullshit that goes on in this town? In the woods? Yeah, that might be a bit new, but at the end of the day…” he shrugged. “If you see ghosts, you see ghosts, and that’s not my problem. What is my problem, is the living.”

It was brusque and McCree wanted to take him to task for it, especially given that Amélie Guillard was still there but Ange was nodding too. He knew they were right but…

Thank you, ” Amélie Guillard told him quietly. “ I feel lighter knowing that he knows .” Alarmed, he turned to look at her. She looked like she was living now, though her eyes still shone with lights. She smiled. “ I’m still going to stay around—I’d love to see that bastard dead.

“What is she saying?” Hanzo asked gently.

Tell him to move his furry ass, ” Amélie Guillard said. “ The shadows are moving.

Hanzo nodded when McCree passed the message on. “It is time to go.”

McCree watched Reyes’s face and eyes harden—time for business. He whistled for his dog and it trotted to its side. “I gotta talk to Jackie first. Keep him off the Junkers before Mako strings him up. Good hunting, Wolf.”

The woman, Ange, scowled. She jabbed a finger at McCree. “If you die…” she left the threat hanging in the air, glared at Hanzo, and stalked off. Her dog followed.

“We’ve spent enough time here,” Hanzo said regretfully. “Time for business—Amélie is right, we need to move.”

He’d already seen Hanzo transform but it still felt new every time. It was more sudden than he expected it to be as well, as if he were expecting some slow, painful process.

All told it took only a few seconds before an enormous Wolf large enough for him to ride stood before him. Lúcio dug for something in his car and pulled out a coil of rope. “So you can hang on,” he explained as he tossed it over and around Hanzo’s large body.

It was different to see Hanzo like this, somehow. He had seen him as the Wolf twice already, maybe even more times, but it was the middle of the day.

“Wow,” he breathed, digging his fingers into his thick fur at his shoulders. Lúcio fiddled with the crude rope harness, looping it around Hanzo’s neck and his ribs behind his forelegs. “Darlin’ you’re beautiful .”

Hanzo snorted and without looking McCree knew that Lúcio was rolling his eyes. Mercifully he didn’t say anything.

Moving around to Hanzo’s face, McCree looked up at Hanzo’s golden eyes. “I mean it,” he whispered, ignoring that Lúcio could probably still hear him. Leaning in, he pressed a kiss to Hanzo’s wet nose, rested his forehead against Hanzo’s snout.

“All set,” Lúcio said, clearing his throat awkwardly. “You guys better get going.”  

Huffing, Hanzo bent his forelegs and Lúcio helped McCree to scramble astride his back and strap the bag of amulets around his waist. He tucked his legs into the ropes around Hanzo’s ribs and clung tightly to the rope around his neck. “Okay,” he said a little shakily. “I’m ready.” He gulped. “I think.”

Hanzo stood and walked to the edge of the trees. “Safe hunting,” Lúcio called after them.

Barking a sound that might have been a laugh, Hanzo began trotting into the trees. Yuki and Ame loped along beside them, their tongues lolling out in canine glee.

The ride was awkward, bouncing, and reminded McCree uncomfortably of that terrifying ride through the forest while tied to a horse’s back. He clung to Hanzo’s shoulders with his knees tight enough that he could feel it all the way in his navel—he would be walking bow-legged for sure, if he could even walk after this—and held the rope in a white-knuckled grip.

Hanzo flicked his ears back to him and evened out his jogging pace into a smooth lope. Yipping with glee, the wolves followed, galloping beside Hanzo’s much larger strides.

The trees whipped by, the branches slapping McCree as they passed, and McCree couldn’t help but wonder if there was something following them.

Something flashed on the ground and McCree looked down. Kuma ran beside Hanzo, keeping up effortlessly. He looked up at Hanzo with his glowing eyes and gave him a grin as if to say isn’t this fun?

McCree wasn’t sure how much time passed but soon Hanzo slowed into a jerky trot and then a brisk walk, panting. The wolves slowed as well, looking much more winded. “Are we there yet?” McCree asked, squinting into the trees ahead.

Below him, Hanzo’s sides jerked and he seemed to laugh.

They came to a stream and Hanzo sniffed it before sticking his nose in to drink. Yuki and Ame did the same, drinking eagerly. McCree was surprised how exhausted he was already—he’d forgotten how much work riding was. As he struggled to catch his breath, McCree looked around at the small clearing.

A few rocks were bunched along the banks of the little stream and Kuma climbed some of these, looking around. “Hanzo, is this another of those blessed places?” McCree asked, watching Kuma. Hanzo grumbled and McCree grinned wryly down at Hanzo, who had turned his head to look at him. “Yeah, I forgot. Sorry.”

Kuma was looking at him from the rock now, his ears pricked forward. There was something in his mouth and leaning over to look, McCree nearly fell off of Hanzo’s back if he had not sidestepped to catch him.

“Sorry,” McCree said, looking down at Hanzo who gave a very un-Wolf-like scowl. “Don’t do that or your face will freeze like that.” Hanzo snorted and turned away as if to say, fine, fall off my back, see if I care . When McCree turned to look at Kuma, he found that the dog was gone.

No, he was on the other side of the little stream, watching them all with his head cocked as if they were all fascinating little things.

“Hanzo,” McCree said very slowly. “I need to talk to you about Kuma later.” Kuma’s face split into a canine grin.

The Wolf groaned and stretched. He seemed to confer with the wolves who wagged their tails happily. Hanzo looked back at McCree as if to say get ready . Then they were off again.

Soon McCree’s legs grew too tired to cling so tightly to Hanzo’s sides and he began to relax against his will, finding that the ropes around his legs kept him fastened quite securely. And that if he bounced along with Hanzo when he jogged and rocked with him when he loped along, the ride was much smoother.

That was another thing to talk to Hanzo about later. He planned a whole thing in his head, too: why didn’t you tell me that riding could be so easy?

Just as McCree was beginning to enjoy the trip, Hanzo stopped, his head coming straight up. Gérard Lacroix was sprinting toward them through the trees where fog was beginning to gather, his head down and his arms and legs working furiously as he sprinted through trees and bushes.

They’re coming! ” he cried as he approached. “ Run!

If it wasn’t for his death grip on the rope harness and the fact that his legs were tangled in it, McCree would have fallen off. Hanzo bunched his muscles and ran .

This was a different kind of running.

This was a fear-charged run, this was a sprint.

Yuki and Ame galloped beside them, their happy expressions disappearing in favor of focusing on getting away from the gathering mist.

In the branches of a tree ahead of them, Kuma appeared. There was something in his mouth again; it looked like some kind of knife.

He disappeared as they passed; Kuma appeared again, the knife held in his jaws.

Behind them, McCree could hear crashing, snapping branches, the groaning of wood and branches. He didn’t dare look back.

The fog rolled in behind them, turning his peripherals hazy. He wanted to squeeze his eyes shut but he couldn’t. His heart in his throat, McCree clung to Hanzo.

He’d seen a lot in his time. He’d seen blood and gore, he’d seen serial killers and their victims; he’d seen real human evil in the world but this? This scared him.

This wasn’t human evil but it was like it. This was hunger, as it had said, as it had called itself.

One of the wolves began to fall behind and Hanzo slowed his speed for it. McCree thought it was Yuki and that he really should learn their names.

“Jump,” he told the lagging wolf breathlessly. Hanzo ducked his head and it managed to scramble on his shoulders, settling in front of McCree who rested his stump over its shoulders to steady it. For a breathless second McCree let go of the rope to use his good hand to tug the wolf closer as it panted in clear exhaustion. “Come on,” he whispered to it, scratching its ruff before grabbing the harness again as Hanzo began to climb a bluff. “Rest up.”

The other wolf began to lag too and McCree found himself juggling two wolves in front of him. If Hanzo was bothered by it he didn’t show it—in fact, he seemed to be going faster.

“NO!” the demon’s voice screamed behind them.

Something else screamed in two voices.

With a last grunt of effort Hanzo crested the next rise and the wolves wiggled down to the ground. One of them tripped and rolled, bouncing back to its feet where it shook itself. McCree twisted to look behind them and found that the mist stopped as if it had been cut with a knife.

There was something else there, the very thing that had ripped off his arm. It stood, hunched over, just as ugly as McCree remembered.

He made a low noise in his throat and Hanzo turned to look at it as well. When the creature stepped forward, it run into something like blue glass that flared in honeycombed patterns of bright white and blue light.

The creature yowled, its mouth opening too-wide to scream. Though it seemed to sting it, it only seemed to enrage it for it threw itself at the glasslike barrier, clawing at it, drawing brilliant sparks.

Hanzo turned and began trotting away as McCree watched it. There was no sign of that second screaming face he had seen and its hair seemed thicker, shaggier.

Turning back, he found that Kuma had joined them again. Again he had something in his mouth and since they weren’t flying through the trees McCree could see that it was indeed a knife, an old-looking dagger in a small leather sheath.

The wolves followed as behind them, the creature screamed again.

Ana had water out for the wolves when they arrived and she and Reinhardt carefully helped McCree down from Hanzo’s shoulders. “Rest,” she urged them both. McCree’s legs buckled and Reinhardt held him up. “The sheriff isn’t expecting you for another hour.”

Sighing gustily, Hanzo lay down and his wolves joined him, curling up beside him. “We got some food,” Reinhardt said, mercifully quiet. “And there is water. Rest.”

“I’ll get some blankets.”

Reinhardt helped McCree to sit against Hanzo’s enormous side and the Wolf turned his head to press his cold nose against McCree’s knee. “I’m fine,” he assured Hanzo. “Though I got some questions.” Hanzo snorted, sounding amused. “I know, big surprise.”

His hand was shaking when he dug his fingers into Hanzo’s thick fur and he whined, looking concerned. “Nah, I’m just tired,” McCree assured him. “Ain’t used to riding.” Hanzo snorted. “I saw Kuma again—I kept seeing him when we were running. Well, when you were running.” He paused and thought. “I think he’s trying to tell me something.”

Hanzo shrugged. “You said you talked to him before,” McCree remembered. “Can you translate?”

Sighing, Hanzo’s form shifted and began to shrink. Yuki and Ame groaned, the wolves looking at McCree like they knew that he was the reason that they lost their pillow, before wiggling over. The one that McCree thought was Yuki lifted its head into his lap and sighed happily; Ame curled up on Hanzo’s other side as he tugged the pelt over his lap to hide his nudity.

Frustratingly, Hanzo didn’t seem too exhausted from their run through the mountains.

“I cannot speak with the dead,” Hanzo said. “But Kuma is…I will admit that Kuma has always been a strange dog.”

“You said that you spoke to him,” McCree repeated stubbornly.

Hanzo shrugged. “Something like that. Animals do not speak like people, McCree. Even if I were able to ‘speak’ to him again, it would not be the explanation you are looking for.”

He opened his mouth to tell him that he heard Kuma speak—speak like a human—before but was suddenly unsure. Was it a dream? It could have been.

“What was that thing?” McCree asked instead. “Over the ridge?”

Hanzo chuckled. “That was Satya looking out for us.”

McCree thought back to the wall of glass and the flares of light. “What was it?”

“Exactly what you might think it was,” Hanzo replied. “In one of the amulets she gave you, she put a protective spell. If the demon and its pet got too close, then the barrier would activate to buy us time.”

“It’s not permanent?” McCree asked.

Hanzo shook his head. “It’s very draining on her,” he said ruefully. “The barrier collapsed maybe about a minute afterwards.”

“It’s still after us?” Hanzo nodded. McCree leaned against his shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“The run was not difficult for me. It was harder on Yuki and Ame.”

The wolf in McCree’s lap opened its eyes. It peered up at McCree and then Hanzo before closing its eyes again. As far as McCree could tell, it fell asleep and he rested a hand between its ears, petting its thick fur. It sighed in sleepy contentment, nudging its snout into McCree’s belly.

When McCree looked up, he found Hanzo smiling softly at him. “We need to work on your riding though,” he teased. There was an undertone of suggestion there, Hanzo’s voice pitched low.

McCree shivered. “Later,” McCree promised. “When all this is done you can show me how to properly ride .”

Leaning in, careful to not dislodge the wolf in McCree’s lap, Hanzo kissed him. It was soft and sweet and McCree felt his heart stutter. “Yes,” Hanzo said, sounding strangely sad. “Later.”

They were interrupted as Ana came out, a bundle of cloth in her hands. “As I thought,” she said disapprovingly. “You’re naked. Of course.” She threw the clothes at Hanzo’s face. The wolf in McCree’s lap sighed. “Put some clothes on and come inside. The dogs too.”

“Wolves,” McCree and Hanzo corrected her in unison. They traded grins.

Ana rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Bring them inside and we’ll get some food in you.”

McCree helped the wolves to their feet, scratching behind their ears and giving Hanzo a moment of privacy as he dressed. Not that he needed it—they’d seen each other naked plenty of times—but McCree didn’t want to take chances of temptation.

He looked up in time to see the wolf pelt disappear from Hanzo’s hands as if it had never been there. “Where does that go?” he asked curiously.

“Magic,” Hanzo said dryly. “It’s…difficult to explain.”

McCree shrugged. “Keep your secrets,” he teased, taking the sting from his words by nudging Hanzo with his hip. His legs buckled and Hanzo caught him. “Why, Mr. Hanzo, sweeping me off my feet yet again.” He put the back of his hand to his forehead like the maiden on a convenience store romance novel. Realizing something, he looked up at Hanzo. “I just realized. I’m not sure I know your last name, Mr. Wolf.”


Leaning in, testing his luck, McCree nearly embarrassed himself when his legs buckled. Hanzo’s arms tightened around him and then Hanzo bent, scooping him up bridal style. Infuriatingly, he didn’t seem particularly bothered by McCree’s weight.

“Why, Mr. Shimada,” McCree teased.

“Keep it in your pants, Jess.” Ana had returned. “Come inside, rest up, and then we’ll speak to the sheriff.”

Hanzo carried him inside, the wolves following. Once he was set gently on the couch, the wolf that had apparently taken a liking to him settled itself between his legs, resting its big head on his thigh. Sighing, it seemed to fall asleep like that, sitting up with its big shoulders between McCree’s knees.

There was an odd look on Hanzo’s face when McCree looked up. “She likes you,” he said, sounding relieved—at odds with the strange look on his face.

He walked away, following Ana into the kitchen, and returned a moment later with Reinhardt, each carrying a tray of food. McCree’s mouth watered. There were large bowls of hummus and baba ganoush and fresh pita and roti from one of the local bakeries. Ana had splurged a bit as well and got them dolmas (though McCree didn’t care much for them, especially the cold ones that had a sharp bite of vinegar) and a watermelon salad served with a hard cheese and thin cuts of mint.

Reinhardt’s tray had burgers and the toppings to customize them.

“Eat,” Ana said impatiently as Hanzo and Reinhardt struggled to settle their trays on the small coffee table in front of McCree. “And you —drink!” She shoved a lukewarm mug of tea into his hand and McCree made a face at the smell. Another one of Ana’s noxious mixtures. She must have seen the look on his face and the stubborn set of his mouth because her frown deepened and her good eye blazed, daring him to argue.

Holding his breath, McCree gulped down as much of the mixture as he could. It was minty—he imagined that could feel the tingling in his throat and belly as it went down—and spiced heavily with cinnamon and peppercorn. Despite the smell, sulfurous like a swamp, it tasted like some of her better chai blends and McCree sighed.

The tingling seemed to spread from his belly, lingering in his groin and thighs and the sore muscles in his shoulders and arms. He sighed and smacked his lips. “It…is it weird that it tastes yellow?”

Hanzo wrinkled his nose and McCree wondered what it smelled like to him . “One of Angela’s recipes?” he asked Ana dryly.

“With some adjustment on my end,” Ana agreed. “Brilliant she may be, but her brews leave much to be desired. If she didn’t live with the deputy, I’d say that she’d long since starved.”

“It’s not weird that it tastes yellow,” Hanzo told McCree, pulling four of the large burgers on his plate. One he smeared with hummus, another with baba ganoush, and covered all three with feta, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes. “Angela’s brews usually taste like what they smell. Worse, sometimes. But they do help.”

McCree carefully reached for a plate, trying not to disturb the wolf in his lap, and when she grumbled he patted her quickly. “You may need to move,” he told her gently. “I only got one hand to eat so I’m gonna need my lap for my plate.”

The wolf whined and peeked up at him with begging eyes but she moved readily enough, stretching and moving off to the side with her sibling. They curled up and went to sleep.

“Are they hungry?” Reinhardt asked Hanzo as he took an enormous bite of his burger.

Hanzo chewed and shook his head. “Your cooking got better,” he told Ana dryly.

Much to McCree’s surprise, Ana blushed. “Reinhardt grilled them.”

“But you mixed the burger,” Reinhardt protested. “I cannot let her near flame but the raw stuff she does just fine with!” he added with a wide grin at Hanzo, laughing when Ana slapped his chest.

McCree realized that those three had a history together—a history where McCree was not involved, where he was an outsider. Given how old Hanzo was…well, this would be considered robbing the cradle to an alarming extent. Ducking his head, he made his plate as the others talked around him about places and people that came before McCree’s time.

He stuffed his mouth with food to keep from saying anything stupid and kept his head down. Eventually the wolves woke up from their nap—or rested enough to be hungry—and came to make begging eyes at Hanzo. The one that had napped on him came to McCree’s side and he slipped her a chunk of his burger.

Hanzo snorted and sat down on the couch next to McCree. “You’re going to spoil her.”

Looking around, McCree realized that no one else was in the room. “And you don’t?” he shot back.

“That’s different,” he was told with a wry smile. “It’s me. Are you trying to steal my darling away from me?”

The wolf—the normal wolf, the wolf that should be wild but didn’t seem to be—made a soft awoo that made McCree grin down at her. He pat her head as she stared up at him with begging eyes. Making eye contact with Hanzo, he slipped her a large chunk of the hard cheese served with the salad; the wolf made a soft yuck sound but ate it anyway.

Hanzo laughed, golden marks shining on his face in the late afternoon sunlight streaming in through the curtains. “If she has transferred her loyalty to you, then perhaps I shall have to keep you around if only to keep my companion as well!”

There was something brittle in Hanzo’s eyes that McCree wondered about. He didn’t have time to ask anything about that because Ana and Reinhardt returned, each carrying large serving dishes full of cubed meat and darker chunks of organ meat.

Both wolves looked suspiciously at the dishes before looking at Hanzo; when he nodded, the wolf not near McCree trotted over and tucked in. “You, too,” Hanzo told the wolf with McCree with a laugh. The wolf sighed up at McCree who patted her head.

With a last sight she trotted over to the other bowl and began to eat.

“Do you think it took the bait?” Reinhardt asked in an uncharacteristically small voice.

Reinhardt was scared , McCree realized. He was too, but he had seen the creature—more than once—and its pet had eaten his arm.

“It has followed us,” Hanzo assured them. “Not here, not yet, but it knows that we aren’t in Clay’s. It’s hunting us.”

Reinhardt nodded quietly and McCree couldn’t blame him for his unease. The rest of the meal was eaten in silence, broken only by Ana gently teasing Hanzo for eating twice as much as anyone else at the table. The wolves napped, one of them coming up to lay her head on McCree’s shoe.

They all looked toward the door at the sound of tires on gravel. A moment later, Sheriff Galbraith came up to the screen door and knocked.

“Please forgive me for being a little impatient,” the sheriff said, his eyes twinkling with amusement despite his seriousness.

Hanzo stood smoothly, all business, and McCree was glad that his plate was in his lap. He shoved a piece of bread in his mouth, more than was mannerly, to distract himself from Hanzo’s ass. “Hello, Sheriff,” Hanzo said politely.

“Come in,” Ana called a moment later. “The door’s open.”

McCree watched as the sheriff opened the door and stepped inside. After his time in Red’s, it was strange to see someone without a dog. He looked down at the wolf at his feet, finding her head up, peering closely at the sheriff.

“Oh,” the sheriff said, seeing the wolves watching him. “Those be large doggies.”

The wolf at McCree’s feet snorted; she put her chin on the couch next to McCree and stared up at him with begging eyes until he pet her. Looking up, he found the sheriff staring at him. “Howdy, boss.”

The sheriff’s bushy moustache twitched. “We’ll leave you guys to your privacy,” Ana said. “Let us know if you want more food.” She and Reinhardt left, collecting the empty dishes and a moment later they could hear the sound of their car starting up.

“I had not intended to kick Ana out of her own home,” Hanzo said ruefully, sitting on the couch.

Sheriff Galbraith looked at McCree. “You git going, too,” he said gruffly.

McCree was saved from arguing back by Hanzo’s hand on his knee. “He needs to be here, too,” Hanzo said grimly. “He has the most at stake here.”

For a long moment the sheriff looked between them and the hand that Hanzo held on McCree’s knee. “Well,” he said slowly. “I have no idea where to go from here. But it must be important if Ana threatened to kidnap me to speak with you. Even more so if you are here and not in Clay’s, in your own home and territory.”

“These mountains are all my territory,” Hanzo replied. “I stay in Clay’s for the demon there. The one that walks the trees at night and the reason that you all wear amulets and trinkets that hold it back.”

Absentmindedly, the sheriff lifted a hand to his badge: the symbol of the police force featured a white wolf in the trees. It was something that McCree had never considered but he said nothing: this wasn’t his conversation.

“So the monster in the trees is real, then?” the sheriff asked grimly. He didn’t sound surprised. Hanzo nodded and he sighed. “I had hoped it was—it would be much easier to believe in real human evil without thinking of the supernatural that defies natural law, but…perhaps that is too much to wish for.” He shook his head. “What do you need of me? It must be important if you are here without Morrison.”

“Sit down,” Hanzo told him, gesturing to the armchair nearby. “Make a plate if you would like.”

“Ana made baba,” McCree said around a mouthful of food and the sheriff’s eyes lit up. The sheriff made a polite plate of food and sat down, crossing his ankles in front of him.

Hanzo sat down next to McCree and picked up another burger. As he did, McCree watched his tattoos move—the one on his left arm, a blue dragon, faded away into his skin to be replaced with the golden swoops and swirls that McCree saw when he did his magic and when he emerged from his Wolf pelt. Looking at his face, McCree realized that Hanzo’s eyes were golden and the marks on his face were also back. He looked wild and magical and McCree felt his heart stutter in his chest.

Now was not the time for thinking of things like love and lust and forever.

“The demon in the forest has been here for as long as I have,” Hanzo said grimly. “Perhaps even longer. It has preyed on many before I managed to trap it in the forest but now…now there is something that it wants. Something that has the potential to allow it to break free of its bindings.”

The sheriff dipped a piece of pita in the hummus and ate it. When he had finished chewing, he asked, “What does it want?”

Hanzo hesitated. “It wants McCree.”

“An outsider.”

It stung, coming from the sheriff who had always been friendly to him, and the wolf next to him peeked an eye open at him. When he patted her head, she sighed and closed her eye again.

“A very powerful Seer,” Hanzo said. “Another way to put it is this: each time it feeds, it gains power.” Hanzo paused until the sheriff nodded. In the air above the table, an image formed in soft golden light. McCree made a face. It was the demon, trailing wisps of things like steam and fog.

One of its hands reached out and out and out and picked up a person, reeling it in to one of its many horrible mouths. A mark above the image appeared: +1.

Another arm reached out and pulled in another struggling person; the person was devoured and another “+1” appeared above it.

The sheriff was frowning. “I’m guessing that Jess ain’t a plus one, then.”

Hanzo shook his head grimly. The image changed: the demons arms extended in every direction until it looked like an enormous spider web. Someone faced off against it: a young man with a longsword and a long ribbon that trailed from his hair. It reminded McCree—the stance, the look of defiance, the sway of the hair ribbon in a wind that McCree couldn’t feel—of an old samurai movie.

Hanzo’s face was grim; the demon in the image flew toward the man with the sword as if shot from a cannon. It wrapped a dozen clawed hands around him and drew him closer to its many terrible mouths. The man was consumed: above the image of the demon, +50 appeared.

The demon grew more arms.

It grew darker.

It began to take on a solid form.

A new image formed: the solid form of the demon walked on its many, many limbs, resembling some form of terrible centipede. The ground beneath its feet began to dry up, the plants and trees beginning to shrivel up and die. Its many arms shot out and brought things to its terrible body: birds and rabbits and deer, humans and dogs and cats. Each were consumed.

The demon grew bigger.

The dead space around it began to grow.

“If the demon gets McCree,” Hanzo said grimly. “If the demon consumes him, it will kill everything. It will consume everything, take the strength and growing power of plants. Every green thing it touches will die and every animal and human will be consumed.

With a Seer like McCree, it will be able to…it will consume his knowledge, his ability. He will see and hear everything that McCree can.”

The image changed. Hanzo squared off against the demon. Sheriff Galbraith was there too, and Jack Morrison, Ana, Reinhardt, Reyes, Hana, Satya, Jamison, and Mako.

Hanzo fired an arrow that crackled with lightning. It brushed harmlessly off the demon just as the gunfire laid down by the policemen flew through its body. Hanzo was devoured, as was the group that stood against it.

The demon grew solid.

Death raced ahead of it.

McCree felt a tug, as if someone pulled at his hair to get his attention. Opening his mouth to ask what was going on, McCree blinked and found himself Somewhere Else.

The Green Man—Genji Shimada, Hanzo’s brother—was sitting at a table, his feet propped up rudely. There was someone with him, a man with no face. But that wasn’t true, he just didn’t have a human face: where features would be it was flat, and there was a square of nine blue dots where eyes and nose and mouth would be.

“Genji,” the faceless man chided gently. His featureless face rippled as if it were a cloth mask.

Hanzo’s brother looked up, saw McCree and lifted the jade-green mask off the lower half of his face to reveal flesh-colored lips and skin. His eyes remained covered. “Do you know how hard it is to get plane tickets?” he demands.

“Oh no, you poor thing,” McCree said sarcastically, deciding that he wasn’t particularly entertained by the idea of being dragged around at someone else’s beck and call. Especially not for someone to whine at him.

He made a mental note to ask Hanzo just how spoiled his little brother was.

Genji ignored him, gesturing to something held in his hands that McCree couldn’t see. “They’re so expensive! And do you know how much a rental car costs? Why do you have to live so far away from an airport?”

The faceless man turned to McCree. “Hello,” he said politely. “I’m sorry.”

In a corner, Kuma appeared. The faceless man looked at the dog and then back at McCree. His brows seemed to be raised, though it was difficult to tell.

“Yeah,” McCree decided. “I think I’m done here.”

Genji looked surprised, an interesting feat given that half his face was covered. “I think not!”

Shaking his head, McCree stood, feeling as if he had been sitting there for hours rather than minutes, seconds. The faceless man watched McCree, his head cocked to the side as if finding him fascinating; Genji frowned.

“If you find this so difficult, call a travel agent,” McCree told Genji. “And stop calling me to whine. It was bad enough that you kept showing up and letting me think you were something I should actually be concerned about but this is getting ridiculous. Some of us have responsibilities.”

Feeling as if he were wading through knee-deep water, McCree walked toward Kuma who watched him. “You say that as if I don’t,” Genji said softly, sounding hurt.

McCree snorted. “ I’m not the one dragging someone hither and yon just to whine.”

“He is right,” the faceless man told Genji, much to McCree’s surprise. “It is a waste of your powers and a drain on…” he inclined his head toward McCree and he realized that he wasn’t sure if either of them knew his name. “Strength that he will need to fight the demon. Time that he needs to prepare.” The faceless man turned toward McCree. Eyes appeared on his face, starting as thin lines of light before expanding to something less mechanical, less like slits cut into a piece of metal.

He reminded McCree of the dead, whose eyes seemed to have been replaced by lights.

Only his lights were ever-shifting shades of green-blue-indigo-violet. It reminded McCree of the sea from the darkest depths to the shallowest lagoons to the kelp forests and—

The faceless man—who seemed to be melting like wax held too close to a flame—blinked his glowing eyes and McCree was released from his strange thrall.

“He’ll do,” a voice seemed to thunder, making McCree’s ears ring and his bones ache.

He had the feeling that there was a response that he couldn’t hear, that he wasn’t aware of.

“Master?” Genji asked.

The faceless man nodded once. Genji relaxed.

Shaking his head, McCree turned to Kuma. “Stay or go as you like, but I’m done here.”

Genji scowled at him. When McCree turned, he found that the green man had removed another chink of his jade armor to reveal the rest of his face. Where Hanzo’s eyes glowed golden, Genji’s glowed orange, like the great orb of the sun as it set. His face was scarred, his lips ragged and uneven, but even with that McCree could still see enough resemblance to see that this was indeed a relative of Hanzo’s.

“I could make you stay,” Genji threatened.

McCree snorted. “Do it,” he grumbled. “And gag me while you’re at it because I’ll tell you every naughty thing I’ve done to Hanzo. No brother I know would like to hear such a thing.” He looked at Kuma again. “I’m leaving now.”

Kuma fell into step beside him. He was tempted to look back but knew that he shouldn’t.


“This is all getting very tiring,” he told Kuma who laughed in a human voice.

Hanzo was looking at him strangely. “Are you okay?”

Sighing, McCree lifted a hand to rub his forehead. His eyes hurt, his skull pounded, and, “when we finally meet your brother, I’m going to have words for him.” Opening his eyes, he found the wolf at his feet staring up at him. She seemed calm for all her fur was standing on end, making her look more like a gigantic Pomeranian than a proper wolf. “I’m sorry, did I scare you?”

The wolf whined and licked his hand when he reached down toward her.

“What happened?” Sheriff Galbraith asked. His sharp blue eyes shot nervously between the wolf, McCree, and Hanzo as if unsure who to focus on. He shrugged when McCree looked at him. “One second you were fine the next you were sitting so straight it was like you had a piece o’ rebar jammed down your spine.”

Hanzo looked a strange mix of amused and concerned. “You just stared off into space. Who was speaking to you?”

The sheriff frowned and McCree looked away so he wouldn’t see his judgment. Hanzo’s eyes were golden now, encouraging. His brother’s eyes were like the sunset but Hanzo’s was like sunshine and he let himself bask in the light for a moment.

He ruined the moment when he said, “Your brother is a little shit.”

Hanzo blinked. “I wouldn’t know.”

“Brother?” the sheriff was beginning to look frustrated, now. McCree couldn’t blame him. “I’m sorry, honored Wolf, but I must admit to being—”

“It’s understandable,” Hanzo assured him. “My apologies for…popcorning around. A moment longer, please.” The sheriff grumbled, not seeming particularly annoyed for the moment, and nodded. “What does my…brother have to say?”

McCree smiled at the little hitch in Hanzo’s voice. As if speaking of Genji was simultaneously wonderful and terrible at once. As if afraid that this was all a terrible joke.

“He’s whining about airfare. Nothing important happened. I got to meet…” he trailed off, thinking of the faceless man. How his featureless face had begun to melt without losing its shape. How his eyes glowed like the dead’s and yet not.

That bone-shaking voice, full of amusement.

“I don’t know who it was,” McCree said slowly. “But Genji called him ‘Master’.”

Hanzo frowned and McCree could read a lot of things in his cautious face. They were similar to what McCree had been thinking, as well: everything he knew about Genji was so headstrong, full of fire. What kind of man would inspire him to call him “master” with such reverence?

“It doesn’t matter,” McCree decided. “Not right now.” He stood and the wolf at his feet sighed. “Sorry,” he told her. To Hanzo more than the sheriff, he said, “I’m sorry but…it made me think. I need to try something.”

For a long moment there was silence. By some unseen signal, the wolf at McCree’s feet stood up. “Take Ame with you,” Hanzo said. “And be safe.”

McCree nodded and walked into the kitchen where he found that Ana had covered each window with a small window decal of a white paw. Wind chimes sang their soft notes from the porch—an excessive amount but McCree would bet that a lot of them were “blessed” or some such.

He turned and as expected, found Kuma standing in the middle of the dining room. “Is it safe here?” Kuma nodded.

Pulling out one of the chairs, he sat down with a sigh. Kuma disappeared and reappeared on the table in front of McCree.

“It’s a good thing that Ana probably can’t see you,” he informed the dog who opened his jaws in a silent laugh. “I only say ‘probably’ because Ana knows all. Though I’m sure you aren’t afraid of her.” Kuma sat. Ame groaned and sat beside McCree’s chair. He took a deep breath. “Alright,” he said to nobody in particular. “Let’s try this.”

In the other room, he could hear Hanzo and the sheriff speaking in low tones. The windchimes sang from the porch. Beyond the yard, the wind rustled the trees.

McCree looked at Kuma.

The world was different. There was no world, just emptiness on all sides. He stood on air, on nothingness, and somehow there was still “up” and “down”.

Kuma was with him.

“Where are we?” McCree asked and his voice seemed to echo strangely. Kuma grinned at him. “And I bet you can’t speak, because that would be too easy.”

He looked around. It was disorienting to have no idea where he was and yet still feel solid… something under his feet. When he faced Kuma again, he found that the dog held the dagger in his mouth again. He placed it at his feet and put a paw on it.

“I’ve seen you with that before. What is it?”

The dagger moved through the air as if lifted by invisible hands. A shape formed behind it, around it: a silhouette of a man. He drew the dagger with a flourish. The silhouette stared at McCree with a single eye—his right—that glowed as red as hellfire.

McCree approached the silhouette. Another silhouette appeared beside it: a woman holding a spear that was a foot taller than her. Again there were only two clear features of the image: the spear and her glowing red eye.

Another silhouette appeared: a man holding a flat club with what looked like thin shards of obsidian fastened to it.

Another: a woman holding a short spear.

A man with a dagger.

A woman with a rapier.

A man with a flintlock pistol.

A woman with a Winchester rifle.

A man with a pocket watch.

They appeared to him, moving past him as if on a conveyor belt. Man, woman, man, woman. The only distinguishing features were the item they held and their glowing red eye.

Slowly the line of people stopped; the last woman held a pair of knitting needles. Her silhouette seemed familiar and McCree squinted, taking a hesitant step closer.

McCree stopped, his heart squeezing. “I should not have lost them,” the woman mourned. “ Mijo , where had they gone?”

Memory surfaced. He was a child again, watching his mamá knit in their small house. They were playing a game, something silly that McCree barely remembered. It had no point and yet he remembered the both of them laughing over it for hours.

“Four!” the image of his younger self said, throwing up his hands. He had no toys to play with, no books to color. The ground was bare; there was only the Knitting Game.

Mamá knit four stitches and stopped. “How many do I have left?”

McCree watched as his younger self thought, his tongue sticking out from between his crooked teeth. “Seven,” he decided.

“Are you sure , mijo ?” M amá asked.

McCree ignored his younger self and stared at his mother, moving to kneel beside her. She turned her head as if she saw him and her eye flared red for just a moment. She smiled at him, as softly as she stared at his younger self.

“If I lose count, then papá’s scarf will end up lumpy,” the vision of his mother said, not looking away from where McCree stood.

His younger self squealed. “It’s seven! Siete!

“Then seven we shall count,” mamá said. She smiled at McCree—right at him.

He turned away and found Kuma sitting beside his younger self. “Can she see me?”

Kuma said nothing. He got up and walked across the bare living room of their small apartment. The furniture was mismatched, old. McCree remembered that the couch itched and smelled no matter how cold it got but it was soft enough that lying down was an instant sentence to a deep sleep.

Loathe to leave his mother, McCree stared at her. She was much younger now than in his last memory as she counted the purled stitches with his younger self.

He realized belatedly that the numbers weren’t in English or Spanish but he didn’t remember speaking any other languages.

Still, even that wasn’t enough to deter him just yet. His mother’s face wasn’t as creased, her hair not as limp and grey. She wasn’t yet as exhausted, as lonely.

Her love had not yet died.

“What number do you want to start with next?” his mamá asked when she finished up the row, holding it up for them all to see.

The scene paused; everything froze in place. Kuma scowled at McCree.

“Okay, sorry,” McCree said and hurried over to Kuma. His ears pinned. “What? I don’t know what you want.” Kuma lifted a lip to bare a tooth. He sighed. “Through this door?” He grabbed the door that Kuma stood beside, a utility closet with a broken door, and opened it—beyond was a room that should not have been. McCree poked his head inside and yelped when he felt hands—human, or something like it—shove him through.

He opened his eyes. Kuma was gone.

His eyes burned and he gasped, blinking furiously as tears began to flow. It felt as if someone had poured soap into them, prickling and burning.

Ana, Sheriff Galbraith, and Hanzo sat at the table with him. At his feet Ame lifted her head and gave a soft awoo . She licked his hand until feeling returned to them and he could pet her even as his eyes streamed with painful tears.

Seeing that he was “awake”, Hanzo immediately stood and walked over. Seeming to confer with Ame in unreadable looks, Hanzo took McCree’s hand and rubbed it briskly as if it were cold. Pins and needles—he had pins and needles, his limbs aching as if they had fallen asleep. Ana disappeared into the kitchen.

“How long?” he croaked as Hanzo handed him a napkin which he used to dab at his eyes.

Sheriff Galbraith regarded him, rubbing his moustache thoughtfully. His eyes were thoughtful but not judgmental, not disapproving.

Not pitying.

“Hard to tell,” Hanzo told him. Behind him, Amélie appeared. She wrung her hands. “Each Seer’s different. For you it could have been years; for us, it was only a half hour.”

McCree’s mouth was dry, his tongue feeling like it stuck to his palate. Ana returned with a mug of tea that glittered yellow like oil over its surface.

Frowning, McCree stared down at the liquid. He squinted, angled his head this way and that.

“Herbal tea,” Ana told him with an odd note in her voice. “With a little extra oomph in it.”

Hanzo helped to steady the mug but once McCree took a sip he wasn’t needed and stepped back. Ame rubbed her face against McCree’s left leg while Hanzo worked at his right, easing away the prickling feeling of sleeping limbs. With each sip McCree felt stronger—as if he was being filled with liquid strength.

“If you sold this, you’d make a fortune,” McCree gasped when he was done.

Ana’s smile was thin and mirthless. “It doesn’t always work,” she said, and her tone warned him to leave well enough alone.

“What did you say the kid’s name was?” Sheriff Galbraith asked, squinting at the small monitor of his laptop. He must have taken it from his car at some point when McCree was out of it. Seeing McCree’s curious look, he said, “When we had a…ah, meeting of the minds I suppose, we all pooled together our information into a single sheet.” He gestured to his laptop. “It’s a lot to sift through even though we’re small mountain towns. Parking tickets, traffic violations…and each town does it different. But I found notes about missing persons’ reports.”

Hanzo looked up and frowned. “I don’t remember that in the report,” he said a little reproachfully.

The sheriff shrugged. “The time stamp on this one is later than our meeting,” he commented. “I think someone updated it.”

“And didn’t tell everyone?”

Again, the sheriff shrugged. “There’s lots of reasons for it,” McCree pointed out. “The people putting together the list are only human. Maybe the file was misplaced, maybe nobody thought it was important. Maybe someone was embarrassed that they didn’t include it in the first draft and didn’t want to draw attention to it.”

Hanzo snorted but said nothing more. He stood and walked into the kitchen with Ana, returning with a plate of burgers. “Reinhardt’s grilling out back,” he said brusquely. “I sent Yuki with him to make sure that he stays safe,” he added when McCree’s insides clenched. “I don’t sense the demon nearby. It’s almost refreshing.”

McCree had more questions but the sight of the burgers—piled high with toppings—made his stomach gurgle. “I just ate,” he protested.

“You used a lot of energy,” Ana replied, to his surprise. “You need to renew it.” When he looked at her, she tapped her covered eye and he fell silent.

Hanzo handed McCree a plate and he dug in, getting burger grease all over his hand and not caring. Reinhardt wandered in as if afraid of what he would find, and grinned when he saw McCree eating. “Perfect timing!” he put down a plate of stuffed peppers, Yuki following in his shadow. There was grease around the wolf’s whiskers which he was licking away quickly. Ame sighed at McCree’s feet.

“You will become fat and round like a cow,” Hanzo told Yuki who snorted. Ame made a sound like a laugh. Hanzo turned back to the sheriff. “What’s this about a missing person’s report?”

Is it Akande? ” Amélie asked.

McCree took another bite of his burger and she scowled at him. Perhaps he shouldn’t be annoying the dead like he was but at the moment he couldn’t find it in him to care. He would feel guilty later—the dead deserved their secrets—but the frustration that he felt with Kuma (who clearly returned the sentiment judging by his lack of presence) and his hunger made him irritable.

“It says here that a few weeks ago, a group of backpackers going along the Appalachians—probably following the Trail, even if they’re ridiculously off-course—wandered into Blue Hills.” McCree looked up—that was where Fareeha lived and the long, lonely stretch of road between Red’s and Blue Hills was along her territory. “One was admitted to the hospital there for a severe infection, another visited the ER for a wrenched knee.” Sheriff Galbraith snorted. “Fool kid won’t be playing on it anytime soon, it looks like. They reported their friend missing.”

Amélie darted over, closer to McCree. “ Backpackers?

Go see for yourself, McCree thought to her. This time she seemed to hear him; she scowled at him as McCree took another enormous bite of his burger.

“But Blue Hills is a little out of your way, isn’t it?” the sheriff asked Hanzo.

“It’s still in my territory,” Hanzo replied. “I suppose I will have to pay a visit there. Yes,” he added when McCree tried to say something. “I will take you with me as well.”

The sheriff peered at McCree. “Is that wise?” he asked Hanzo and seemed to hesitate.

Ana had no such problems. “You will do no such thing,” she hissed.

“Guys, I’m right here,” McCree protested. “And I want to go.”

Hanzo nodded once to him. “I’m sure that regardless of what happens you’ll try to find a way to follow me.” McCree took another bite of his burger and didn’t answer. “You know he will,” he pointed out to Ana who scowled at Hanzo. “And I actually do need him with me,” he added to Sheriff Galbraith who looked like he sucked on a lemon. “No place is safe for him.”

“What if he left?” the sheriff asked. “Or would the demon still chase him?”

“It was a thought that I had considered,” Hanzo conceded and McCree looked at him, feeling betrayed. “It would be safer for him—yes, McCree, I know you’re still here and you do have your own voice.” Hanzo gave McCree a tight smile. “I, personally, would love it if he were to leave but for how long? What right do I have to tell him to leave? No, he does have his own voice and he is free to make his own choices.”

Sheriff Galbraith snorted. “You’re going to give me cavities. You need to think of the greater good.”

As if a switch had been flipped, Hanzo suddenly seemed ten feet tall. McCree’s mouth went dry and he nearly choked on his hamburger. “Do not lecture me on the greater good ,” Hanzo said, for once sounding as old as he must have been. For once he didn’t seem like a man the same age as McCree; now he seemed like a god.

But that was silly and McCree berated himself for it. There were no such things as gods.

But there are demons , a traitorous voice whispered. He ignored it and reached for another burger.

“It just seems,” Sheriff Galbraith said slowly, bold or perhaps foolish. McCree thought it must be the former, for the sheriff was most definitely not the latter. “That you are putting everyone’s lives at risk.”

Hanzo hummed. “Perhaps,” he agreed. “But I am no god to decide that my will is greater than anyone else’s; I am no king to make laws. I can tell McCree to leave but I cannot demand it. This is his home as much as mine.”

“Spare me,” the sheriff said dryly. “You’ve been here longer.”

But Hanzo was shaking his head, clearly done with the conversation. He turned to McCree. “We don’t have time to go down to Blue Hills today,” he said before McCree could ask. “And the wolves are tired. If we wake up early tomorrow and get what we need to get accomplished here, then we can. It might not be wise.”

Might not be wise? ” Amélie demanded hotly. She was looking a little dead-er when McCree looked up at her. “Might not be wise? This could be your biggest break!

McCree nodded. “Yes, or it could be a waste of time.” He looked at Hanzo and then the sheriff. “I saw it, or part of it. If the missing kid the hikers reported is the same one, then we may have our answer.”

“We are not strictly under a time limit,” Hanzo said thoughtfully. “We could do both. It just depends on…” Hanzo inclined his head toward McCree. “The wolves wouldn’t be up to it. They have fantastic endurance but not at the speeds we will need to go to escape the demon.”

Grumbling under his breath, the sheriff turned back to his computer. If Hanzo heard what he said, he gave no sign of it. “How did they escape every other time?” McCree asked, honestly curious.

“I distracted them,” Hanzo said, sounding amused. “And the demon has little interest in little pests like them, even knowing that they are my companions.” At McCree’s feet, Ame wagged her tail. “While I fought the demon, and later its pet, the wolves got a head start.”

McCree nodded and Hanzo served him a stuffed pepper. He made a face but ate it anyway. His stomach was slowly uncurling, slowly starting to feel normal again.

“A-kun-de,” the sheriff said abruptly and they both looked up at him. Amélie’s nose wrinkled. “Oh God, I’m not sure how to say that name.”

Hanzo snorted. “Akande Ogundimu,” he said grimly.

“Yes,” the sheriff said slowly. His eyes narrowed. “You know him?”

Slowly, McCree nodded. Amélie buried her face in her hands. “What else does it say about him?” McCree asked.

The sheriff gave him a stern look, as if to remind him that he was in charge, but obligingly read, “Age 20, black hair, brown eyes. Took a few years’ sabbatical from high school, going to start at Harvard next year. Track star—he led the Red Wolves to the state champions last year. I remember the stories. Kid’s a beast: hammer, javelin, discus, long jump, high jump, hurdles, pole vaulting.” The sheriff shook his head and leaned away from his computer. “Apparently he’s real big in the athlete world—qualified for all of them somehow but he picked and chose what he did for the championships. Even then he scored so high that he was pretty much the one that…why are you looking at me like that?”

McCree wasn’t looking at the sheriff so much anymore, but at Amélie’s horrified face. She had thought the same thing as he, had the same realization.

“Kuma,” he said sharply and the dog appeared in the kitchen, an almost human-like frown on his face. “I would like to have a word with you.”

Amélie looked back and forth between them. “ Whatever you think he is, ” she said slowly. “ I recommend going with caution.

Opening his mouth to respond, McCree found himself yanked Elsewhere.

Wheezing, McCree found himself on his knees, struggling to catch his breath. He looked up and found Kuma in front of him—enormous, towering over him. McCree gasped—like this, Kuma was as tall as a house and frowned down at him.

He scrambled to his feet, only coming as high as Kuma’s chest; standing, he would only need to tilt his head to walk beneath Kuma’s barrel. His eyes glowed as bright as a lighthouse’s flame and McCree looked away.

Kuma snorted and McCree was taken up by a great gust of wind that threw him head over heels a few yards back. When he pushed himself to his knees again, Kuma was normal sized and wasn’t frowning quite so ferociously. Somehow he knew that he had been scolded and he flushed bright red.

Then the dog looked off to McCree’s left and following his line of sight, McCree turned as well. There was a very familiar statue there, in bronze: a woman in a flowing dress, holding a sword in one hand and a set of scales aloft in the other. Her eyes were covered because Lady Justice was blind.

The statue moved; Lady Justice looked around, her scale wobbling. Blood, too bright and too red against the bronze metal of her cheeks, flowed from beneath her blindfold. She took two great steps and then she was in front of McCree.

“Beware,” she said in a voice like a thousand falling nails. “The price may be too high.” With a great crash her sword fell from her hands. She brought the scales closer so that they hung in front of McCree.

Miniature cyclones appeared on each stand. When they disappeared, figures had taken their place. To McCree’s right was the image of Hanzo embracing him as they rocked quietly to music that only they could hear; to McCree’s left he saw himself alone, on his knees, with his hands over his eyes as if he wept.

But the image shifted and the vision of himself lifted his head. His eyes were gone and red light like fire shone through; his hands were soaked in blood and more streaked down his face like tears.

“Is it worth it?” Lady Justice demanded. “Is he worth it?”

Lady Justice lifted her blindfold away. Her eyes were gone, the metal of her skin behaving like flesh and blood and hanging in jagged strings of damaged tissue that shone wetly like something out of a horror movie. The sockets of her eyes were empty, darker than dark and seemed to go on and on into oblivion.

McCree blinked and opened his mouth to scream. A cold metal hand clasped over his mouth.

He gasped, doubling over in his seat, his eyes squeezed shut.

Hands reached for him and he shook, trying to get out of their grip. The yelp of a dog—high and hurt—snapped him out of it. “Easy,” Hanzo breathed in his ear and McCree shook.

“I made more tea,” Ana said.

Distantly, he heard the sheriff say, “Is he okay? Should I call a doctor?”

“No,” a booming voice said—Reinhardt. He said nothing more, uncharacteristically short.

He felt cold. The lingering sensation of Lady Justice’s hands were on him. Like metal left out in the rain, cold and clammy.

His eyes burned.

“Can you open your eyes?” Hanzo asked quietly, voice calm and collected. It was his arms that held McCree still, his hands that gripped McCree’s arm and his hand.

McCree shook his head. No. He couldn’t. He never wanted to open his eyes again.

Poor timing, a voice like the sea said. Open your eyes, Seer. No harm shall come of you.

It hurt.

Something touched his head. It was wet and slimy, and smelled like kelp forest and the briny sea. He sucked in a deep breath that filled his lungs with bitterly cold air that had never felt the warmth of the sun.

He opened his eyes.

Hanzo was holding him, his eyes glowing gold and the markings on his face and hands glowing golden. There was a thread of the gold fire in Ana’s eye, thrumming just beneath her exposed skin like veins; the gold light wasn’t in Sheriff Galbraith or Reinhardt.

My, you are wild, are you not? The voice asked, sounding amused. It pounded and thundered in his skull like the waves against the shore. Against sea cliffs studded with screaming gulls. You must learn temperance or you will be consumed.

He shook in Hanzo’s arms. The voice was terrifying and the vision was still there in his mind’s eye, as bright as if Lady Justice still stood before him.

She was a warning, the voice told him.

His jaw was locked, teeth shut as if glued together. Who are you? He wanted to ask. A warning of what? How did you know? How did you find me?

Humans are always so curious, the voice said, sounding amused.

McCree’s stomach turned to slush. Is this what it felt like to be in the clutches of the demon?

The voice returned, sharper, like the choppy waves in a sea storm. I AM NO DEMON.

Something pinched his leg uncomfortably, then harder. McCree gasped; the voice like the sea was gone and his leg was held tightly in Ame’s jaws. Her big eyes stared up at him and her fur stood on end until she once more resembled an enormous Pomeranian. She was trembling.

He blinked, shaking, and was aware of Hanzo’s hand on his chest, golden light burning but not consuming it. He could feel it against his skin though, cool like a gentle breeze, like a summer storm come to lift the clinging heat from the air. It was like a living thing, fluttering against him and he reached up to touch it before remembering that his arm was no longer there.

Ame whined and released his leg. It wasn’t bleeding but there were dimpled marks where her fangs had dug in. Yuki was nowhere to be found.

“W-wh…” McCree’s mouth refused to work.

“Hush,” Ana said, her voice wavering. Her dark skin was pale and ashen. “Here, drink.”

It was another tea. Hanzo didn’t let go of him and McCree realized that he had been yanked into Hanzo’s lap, that he sat there, legs over one side and his back braced against one of Hanzo’s arms, which was wrapped around his waist.

Golden light shimmered like oil on the surface of the tea. He drank deeply and choked. Gasping, he drank more until it was gone. At this point, he didn’t care how it smelled or tasted.

“He needs to rest,” Hanzo said and the golden fires—magic?—disappeared.

“What happened?” the sheriff demanded.

“Is he okay?” Ana asked. Reinhardt wrapped an arm around her.

He could tell that Hanzo was saying something but the deep-cold-dark-ocean voice came back. You will be safe. Shimada Hanzo will protect you.

How do you know him? McCree asked, feeling like a drop of water to the ocean.

He saved my student, the voice replied. And placed him on the path to meet me. Now we are on the path to meet, ourselves. I look forward to it.

Kuma appeared, his ears pinned.

The voice chuckled. Mind the lessons the gods teach.

There are no gods , McCree wanted to scream. The voice chuckled again, not mockingly.

“I’ll take him,” Hanzo said and lifted McCree. “He’ll sleep for a long time and I’ll leave the wolves to guard him. In the meantime, there are things I must do. Sheriff?”

His eyes were closed, McCree realized. And he was asleep.

Chapter Text

He woke up to an empty stomach and an ache all over his body. When he turned his head he found that the warmth coming from all sides was from a heavy quilt resting over him; the furnaces were from Yuki and Ame curled up on either side of him.

Seeing him awake, Ame whined, here tail beginning to wag, and leaned close to—very gently—lick at his chin. Her movement woke Yuki who peered at him from his other side before getting up. He stretched, yawned, and trotted out the open door.

“How long I been out?” McCree asked, voice rough. Ame, of course, couldn’t answer. She helped him to pull the quilt off and sat beside him as he struggled to sit up.

Hands helped him and then piled pillows behind him to prop him up. Upright, he was aware of his stomach-clenching hunger and his throat which felt as dry and cracked as the desert.

“Drink,” Ana said gently as Reinhardt turned on the dimmer switch, lighting the room comfortably for his tired eyes. It was pomegranate juice which made his mouth feel stickier, but McCree drank it down nonetheless; Ana filled his glass with water from a pitcher on the nightstand and he drank that too.

Reinhardt watched solemnly from the doorway. Shaking his head, he turned and left.

“Don’t mind him,” Ana told McCree. “This is strange to all of us.”

McCree’s stomach growled and they both laughed. “Hanzo?” McCree asked hopefully.

“Doing Wolfly things,” Ana said wryly. “I believe he had spoken to the sheriff and went back to the station with him.”

Ame watched them both from the foot of the bed. Her tail wagged when she saw McCree looking at her. “I thought that they didn’t leave his side.”

“The male sulked,” Ana said dryly. “But when the female jumped on your bed he joined her.”

“Yuki,” McCree said slowly. “I think that’s the male’s name. This is Ame. Right?” Ame’s tail wagged harder.

Ana smiled. “He should be back soon. Reinhardt is making dinner.”

Nervously, McCree picked at the seams of the quilt. It was one that he had seen in Ana and Reinhardt’s room before, folded reverently on the chest at the foot of the bed. “Do you…know what’s happening?”

Ana put a hand over McCree’s. “To an extent,” she agreed. “A very limited extent, but…” she sighed. “I suppose I should tell you—you have a right to know.”

Intrigued, McCree sat up a little straighter even though he still felt incredibly weak. Ana told the best stories. Seeing his reaction, Ana tutted. “It’s not much of a story. I met Hanzo a long time ago in Egypt. Before you ask, his hair was still grey.”

Personally, McCree would call it white , white as fresh snow and as beautiful as the moonlight, but he knew better than to interrupt.

“My family ran a small herbalist shop—teas, traditional remedies, that sort of thing. He came in one day when I was visiting because he sensed something.” She laughed privately to herself. “His Arabic was atrocious but he didn’t need my parents to speak English, a good thing because they didn’t. The entire time he was watching me . I was almost afraid that he fancied me. Not that I couldn’t take care of myself, but his eyes were very intense and…” she laughed. “I had thought that I was crazy because I thought that I had seen his eyes turn yellow!”

McCree could relate. He and Ana shared grins. “They’re gold more often now,” McCree realized. “Do you think that it’s because of the demon?”

The look Ana gave him told him that she thought that he was quite obtuse. “I think it’s for you ,” she told him dryly. “Don’t interrupt.

“Just as I was planning on telling him to get out of there, I realized that he wasn’t even really looking at me , but at the ingredients that I was working with.” She held up her hands and in an echo of the vision that McCree had seen in the kitchen, he could see the faintest traces of golden light, as fine as spider silk, fluttering just beneath her skin. It was a there-and-gone-again glimmer like oil on water and McCree was fascinated by it. “I had a small gift,” Ana said in a soft voice. “I had been influencing the teas for as long as I had been working with them—that’s why the teas that I made always sold best.”

McCree looked down at his hand. It was plain, looking as they always had: a little dry, calloused, scarred. Was it in his hands? Would it be in his eyes?

Did he have the fire?

“Hanzo talked to me about it. He can be subtle when he puts his mind to it,” Ana continued with a laugh. “It was years before I figured out why he would watch me so closely. He calls it a ‘seed’. It’s just a little bit—minor magics, stuff that he said that his family would have turned their nose up at.” She smiled sadly, looking down at her hands. “He and I traveled around the world. He showed me everyone that I had overlooked, myself, who had those little magics that everyone had dismissed.”

McCree was tempted to ask if they had been in a relationship but he couldn’t make the words form. He swallowed hard and looked down at his hand again.

But Ana’s eye had always been very sharp. “We loved each other very much,” she said wickedly and let the words fall between them for a long moment before adding, “we were almost as close as blood. Not like siblings, but the kind of friends that went beyond that. He showed me my power and I gave him someone to talk to as we traveled.” Her smile faded and she shook her head. “And then he died, or so I thought. What wonderful or terrible chance that we settled so close together.”

McCree let the silence between them stretch. “He’s been fighting this demon for so long,” he said slowly. “I thought he couldn’t leave?”

“That is a question for Hanzo.”

Right. McCree opened and closed his hand and watched skin and muscle move. “Ana,” he said very slowly. “I think I saw something. I mean…I did see something but…” Ana waited him out. She poured him another glass of water and he drank deeply.

He carefully told her the vision that he had. Kuma’s scolding and his mother and the Knitting Game. The knife and the people that had passed before him.

The voice; the message.

Are there gods?” he asked, voice cracking. “Am I going mad?”

Ana frowned. “That is not a question for me,” she said slowly and reached out to pat McCree’s hand. “There are demons and spirits, so perhaps there are gods as well. Or perhaps they are as they are, as we are—just magic users worshipped as gods. Perhaps they are like Hanzo, very old.” She shook her head. “Tell Hanzo about that message,” she advised.

McCree looked down. “I don’t need him thinking—”

“You’ve faced down demons together,” Ana interrupted. “You’ve watched him transform into a Wolf and back. I don’t think this will make him think you’re mad.” She smiled suddenly. “Or if he thinks you mad, it is for an entirely different reason. He is most likely baffled that you are still with him—he likes to think that he doesn’t deserve human companionship.”

Surprised, McCree protested, “But Lúcio—”

Ana laughed. “Look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t believe that he bullied Hanzo into letting him stay. Just as I did—just as I’m sure you have, in your own way.” He didn’t have an answer for that so he shut his mouth. Ana patted his hand. “Hanzo believes that he doesn’t deserve nice things, it’s something I’ve always known about him. It’s something I’ve come to understand about why we…split.”

“You thought he was dead,” McCree remembered.

Her smile faded. “There had been something in the forest with us,” she said grimly. “Something chasing us. I thought that it had gotten Hanzo—there was so much blood. Now I wonder what had happened but I suppose I’m content in not knowing.”

McCree decided that it was time to change the subject. “How long was I out?”

“About three hours,” Ana told him. “Are you up to coming to the dining room for dinner?”

“I will even if it kills me.” They both winced. “Bad choice of words.”

Ame’s head shot up, her ears pricked forward, and McCree felt his stomach sink. Was it the demon? Was it the…wolf thing? Then Ame’s tail began to wag and she gave a soft awoo!

A moment later Hanzo poked his head in, once more in his human disguise albeit without his many piercings. McCree found, quite ridiculously, that he almost missed them. His long silver-white hair was fastened, by all things, by two decorative hair sticks and he wore a well-fitted flannel and a pair of skinny jeans.

He looked like a hipster and McCree’s gut hurt as he tried not to laugh. All that was missing was the glasses and as if sensing his amusement, Hanzo smiled at McCree. “I’m glad to see you awake,” he said. “Although with a nurse like Ana I’m not sure why I should be worried.”

Ana smiled. “I’ll go and help Reinhardt, give you two a minute to talk.”

McCree tried not to be disappointed when Hanzo shook his head. “I need to walk the property,” he said regretfully. “I came back later than I wanted to. The darkness is this demon’s strength and I don’t like the idea of it being able to come any closer than it already has.”

“Is it nearby?” Ana asked, sounding understandably alarmed.

Hanzo shook his head. “Just close enough for me to sense. It’s very angry that Satya had slowed it down.” Hanzo made a hand-gesture to Ame who huffed and put her head back down with a low, disappointed whine.

“I believe there is a conversation that you need to have with Jesse,” Ana told him sternly.

“I also need to ward this place,” Hanzo replied. He smiled tensely at McCree. “If she feels the need to step in then it must be important but this is also a priority. It is something that I must do or risk us all at night when the demon is most active.”

McCree frowned. “It chased us in the day.”

“Which is why I am particularly concerned,” Hanzo said grimly. “It is not inactive but it tends not to do much. That it chased us so vigorously makes me very concerned. Which is why I must ward this place as well as I am able to. I will be back in a few minutes and then we can talk.”

Ana looked dissatisfied but McCree nodded. Yuki peeked past Hanzo’s legs into the room and then followed Hanzo. Ame whined, looked at McCree, and then jumped off the bed to follow.

“I want to watch,” McCree told Ana.

She looked like she was about to protest but only sighed. She poured him a cup of something—it looked like more pomegranate juice—and handed it to him. “I don’t like boosting you this much,” she said grimly. “You’ll feel the effects of it later—a hard crash, almost like withdrawal, while your body catches up to the strength I’ve given it—but right now you can’t afford much leisure, it seems.”

He drank it down and made a face at the too-sweet taste but when he handed the cup back to Ana, he felt much better, as if he had just woken from a nap. Merely groggy instead of exhausted like he now knew he will feel after each vision. She helped him to his feet and walked beside him as he shuffled out into the living room, through the dining room, and then out the back door to the porch.

“Wow,” McCree breathed and Ana looked at him, clearly confused. “Can’t you see it?”

Ana shook her head. “I see the idiot carrying around a big bag of salt. He better not ruin my gardens.” She paused. “What do you see?”

For a while McCree watched. Yuki and Ame followed behind Hanzo as he slowly walked along the edges of the trees ringing Ana and Reinhardt’s property. There was a hole cut in the plastic of the bag of salt and a thin stream of it fell behind him as he walked, leaving behind a thin aqua-colored trail in his wake. Yuki and Ame walked on either side of the line, their eyes looking up at Hanzo’s back with a strangely single-minded focus.

Following them was an entire procession of dogs. McCree blinked. Dogs of every shape and size and age, old and young and missing limbs and eyes and ears, whole and in pieces, they followed him. None of them were solid, instead appearing as if made the golden mist that trailed from Hanzo and his two wolves.

They were not the dead that McCree had been seeing, they were dogs made of golden mist—one of them paused to look at him and its eyes were whole; he could see it blink at them.

“Dogs,” McCree whispered. “And wolves.” There was a moose too, towering over all of them like some eldritch beast. Or he thought it was a moose, it was hard to tell; it seemed too large for the picture and parts of its head and back disappeared as if they had been cut off by a frame that McCree couldn’t see.

Ana squinted beside him. “I only see the ones he has. There are more?”

“Not here,” McCree told her. “They aren’t living ones. I don’t know if they’re dead, either.”

The slow procession of golden animals passed. He saw weasels and turkeys and wolves and foxes in that same golden glow, all following the line of salt that Hanzo laid down. There were deer and—holy shit that was a bear .

Kuma appeared beside them, sitting on the steps to watch the procession; McCree ignored him in favor of watching the parade of ghosts. It was as beautiful as it was terrifying, but he was too exhausted to feel afraid.

Habibi ,” Ana hissed and her hand on his arm was almost painfully tight. “Are you okay?”

McCree shook his head. “It’s just…beautiful. I wish you could see it.” He cleared his throat, scrubbed the tears from his eyes, and began pointing out to Ana the things he could see. The moose. The bear. Wolves and foxes. Dogs and cats. A cat that he thought was a puma but he thought it was far too small to be such a fearsome predator.

“Wow,” Ana breathed. “I hadn’t realized…”

There were two more animals that followed at the very end of the parade: a cat sitting tall and regal while it rode on the back of a lioness.

McCree sucked in a breath and Ana looked at him, concerned. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Hanzo stop, put down the empty bag of salt, and pick up another one. He moved to make another circuit around the property with his long procession of ghostly animals.

The cats, though...

The cats were clearly not from him for they looked real , albeit transparent. The cat was pale grey with strange spots along its back and watched McCree with golden eyes; the lioness was enormous and battle-scarred, lifting her head to stare at McCree as well. Then they both seemed to smile; the lioness trotted along the line of salt, her head down as if following a scent.

McCree stumbled down the steps, watching as the lioness turned the corner around the house and passed out of view. He ran toward Hanzo and his golden procession who didn’t seem to hear or see him. McCree ran along the side of the house, looking for the lioness and—

--didn’t find her or the cat that had been riding on her back.

Ana caught up to him. “What’s wrong?” she demanded.

“I thought I saw something.” McCree stared down the line of salt, looking ridiculous in shades of pink and blue. A crow cawed from the trees and McCree flinched, suddenly very aware that he was stupidly out in the open. He and Ana hurried back to the porch, lingering near the open back door as they watch Hanzo pass them.

Hanzo returned a few minutes later, looking surprised to see them waiting for him. “Did you see it?” McCree demanded sharper than he intended to. “Did you see them?”

“They’re approaching but still far away,” Hanzo assured him and McCree realized that Hanzo thought that he was talking about the demon and its pet. “Regardless, let’s not invite trouble by lingering outside.” He drew them both inside, trading looks with Ana around McCree who scowled.

“A lioness and a cat were following you,” McCree snapped. “Forgive me for being concerned.”

Hanzo frowned. “There was nobody with me,” he said but he sounded unsure. “Just Yuki and Ame and the forest. The cat perhaps could have been one of mine, but the lioness surely wasn’t. I would remember feeling her.”

“They looked different,” McCree told him. “Everything else—the moose, the bear, the dogs, all of them—were gold but these looked real. Like they were right there only…only I could see right through them.”

For a long moment, Hanzo didn’t say anything, standing beside the door. Then he turned and began shutting the curtains. Kuma appeared and sat beside McCree who reached down and patted his head.

“Who is with you now?” Hanzo asked thoughtfully.

McCree scowled, not liking the change in topic, but answered anyway. “Kuma.”

“As I thought,” Hanzo said absently and went into the kitchen. He was immediately kicked out by Reinhardt and much like a miffed cat, Hanzo walked into the living room. Yuki followed but Ame nudged her head into McCree’s knee. She stared distrustfully where Kuma sat and shook her head, grumbling in the back of her throat until McCree leaned down and patted her head.

When he looked in the living room, he found Hanzo kneeling on the ground, his hands on his thighs and his eyes closed. Kuma snorted.

“Typical,” Ana said disgustedly, her hands on her hips. More gently, she said, “I don’t think it’s because he’s trying to get out of talking to you—he just thinks he’s found something more important.”

McCree made a face. “He may have,” he protested halfheartedly.

“He wouldn’t know,” was the tart reply.

Reinhardt emerged from the kitchen. “Dinner is ready,” he said, oddly subdued. He glanced at Hanzo. “Will he be joining us?”

“When he wakes up,” Ana said disgustedly. She scrubbed her hands on her jeans and stalked off to the dining room. McCree and Reinhardt exchanged shrugs and followed in her wake—as they always had—into the kitchen.

Ame joined McCree, curling up at his feet. He and Reinhardt were impressed that she didn’t beg for food though she was obviously happy to take the scraps offered to her. Even Ana participated and in the end Reinhardt made Yuki and Ame each a bowl of stew.

As they were getting ready to clean up, Hanzo joined them, looking exhausted. Despite her earlier frustration with him, Ana made him an enormous bowl of soup and shoved him into a chair. Reinhardt dished more into his bowl twice more as he continued to eat steadily.

“Thank you,” Hanzo said as he finished off the last of his bowl and stopped Reinhardt from serving him more. “I had not realized how hungry I was.”

“Must’ve been big,” McCree commented.

Hanzo smiled tiredly up at him and McCree realized the innuendo. He flushed but Hanzo merely said seriously, “something like that. Doing a ward like that is…taxing.”

Remembering the golden animals, McCree blurted, “Who was with you?”

“Yuki and Ame, of course,” Hanzo answered with a small frown. “They give me their strength which helps me to boost the barriers I laid down.”

Reinhardt looked at them. “I’m going to close the last few windows,” he said and fled.

“This is all very strange to him,” Ana said gently as she sat down at the table with them. “Magic is all fine and good in another’s home but when it’s your own, it feels different. It doesn’t help that he is beginning to question the stories that they told in his family—of dragons and knights. You should ask him when this is all over, Hanzo. The tales are fantastic!”

Hanzo smiled thinly. “Perhaps I will.” He turned to McCree. “You asked who was with me. Why?”

“You asked who was with me ,” McCree countered. “And you went all…weird when I said that Kuma was here. Why?”

For a long moment Hanzo was silent but it was a thoughtful kind of silence as if he struggled to find a way to put the concept into words. “That is difficult to explain,” he said slowly, sounding more as a warning than a reluctance to explain. “You’ve heard the phrase though, right? So-and-so is with the Wolf?” Hanzo didn’t wait for either of them to nod but continued. “Certain…creatures—never humans—are tied to me. Somehow. They linger sometimes. I don’t See them—I’m no Seer, nor does my training or my magic cover that aspect of power—but they’re there. Sometimes…they will help.”

“Energy,” Ana realized.

Hanzo nodded. “Energy. They can—and sometimes do—give me power but I use it sparingly.” He made a face. “Too much is…not good and tends to draw the wrong kind of attention.”

“They were golden,” McCree said. “When I Saw them. Like gold mist in the shape of animals, or like gold dust had been poured over them.”

“I’ve never seen them, myself,” Hanzo admitted. “I can feel them and use their strength but little else.” He smiled thinly. “I can ‘talk’ to them as well, but it’s rudimentary things—animals do not quite have the language that humans do, so it’s impossible for us to understand each other completely.”

They lapsed into silence. Ana got up to make tea.

“There were a lot of animals,” McCree said slowly, edging around the topic of the strange lioness and the cat.

“They are angry,” Hanzo replied. “They sense that I am as well.” He paused. “They are the ones hunted by the demon and its pet. It is not a natural part of life and death and they are…to say that they are angry is really an understatement.”

He and McCree traded mirthless grins.

“The forest must be full of ghosts for you,” Ana commented from the kitchen.

“Not as much as you think,” Hanzo assured her. “And yet…” he shook his head. “I’ve been here a long time. My ghosts are of my own making. Very rarely do actual ghosts want to stay around.”

McCree thought of the little girl’s spirit in the barn, who said that she was killed by a horse. He thought of Amélie and Gérard and the ghost that only sometimes showed up, the woman Sophie Mills. He thought of the little girl that haunted him in the city and wondered if she had been real—if she had moved on by now.

“Efi Oladele is an exception,” Hanzo added dryly as if reading McCree’s thoughts. “She has lingered for fifty years. She says she prefers it in my barn. I have no idea why.”

“You can hear them too,” McCree remembered.

“Not easily. It requires rituals and sigils and chanting and it all gives me a headache. Efi can communicate herself well enough if she feels the need.”

McCree wondered if she threw tantrums—she seemed rather young—or if being closer to sixty or so would have given her maturity. He stopped that train of thought before he fell down that particular rabbit’s hole.

Instead, McCree said, “I saw something with you. Something else. All of your animals looked like they…I don’t know, were made of dust or something. Gold dust. Like pollen. But then there were two others—they didn’t like the rest.” He hesitated. “And…there was my vision so I’m beginning to wonder.”

Hanzo watched him solemnly. He nodded and reached out to pat the back of McCree’s hand. He leaned back when Ana came back with the tea kettle and three mugs hanging by their handles from her other hand. There was no golden light in the tea when she poured it. McCree knew better than to mention it and thanked her for the cup of tea.

“Will you tell me what you saw?” Hanzo asked gently.

Taking a deep breath, McCree very slowly told him. Told him about Genji complaining, of the faceless man whose face began to melt like wax. He told Hanzo about following Kuma and appearing in a place without a top or bottom, of endless white and Kuma in front of him. Of the string of featureless silhouettes and the items they held in their hands and one glowing eye.

How the vision had stopped on his mother.

Hanzo listened intently and—McCree was glad that he did not ask any questions. He didn’t know what expression that Hanzo wore as he listened—McCree kept his face down, watching the surface of his tea and the wisps of steam that still rose from it.

He skipped over too much about the vision with his mother except to tell Hanzo that it almost seemed that she had seen him there. “I’m not sure if that was added, though,” McCree hurried to explain. “I’m not sure if that was a memory or just a vision.”

“Did your mother knit often?” Hanzo asked gently.

McCree swallowed a lump in his throat. “All the time,” he said, peeking up at Hanzo and then looking away before he could catch a glimpse of his expression. “I have a lot of memories of her just…sitting there. Knitting. I’d join her sometimes and we’d sit together.”

Hanzo nodded. “What else did Kuma show you?”

Relieved enough to be lightheaded, McCree told Hanzo about waking up the first time around. Of asking Kuma again and being “scolded”—Hanzo chuckled and McCree mustered a weak smile for him. It hadn’t been a mocking laugh, but sympathetic.

Hanzo’s hand was warm when he rested it on McCree’s wrist and the callouses of his thumb caught on McCree’s knuckles. The contact was enough to give McCree the courage to go on.

He told Hanzo of Lady Justice and her bleeding eyes and the voice that sounded like the sea, of the clammy hands that touched him and his words. Mind the messages the gods give you.

McCree did not tell him about what Lady Justice asked him—if Hanzo was worth it. That was for him and him alone.

For a long moment Hanzo was silent though his thumb rubbed soothingly against McCree’s knuckles. He lifted his hand and took a deep drink of his tea but Hanzo’s hand did not return and he sighed inwardly.

When he got the courage to look up, he found Hanzo frowning thoughtfully at his own tea. “On one hand,” Ana said, breaking the heavy silence. “I am disinclined to believe in gods but…” she shrugged.

Hanzo’s lips curled upwards in a smile as if he couldn’t help it. It faded a moment later. “You had seen…things defying logic when we traveled,” he pointed out. “But that could be explained away. This is beyond you. It is terrifying.”

Taking a deep breath, McCree asked the question on his mind before he could convince himself otherwise. “ Are there gods?”

Hanzo seemed to hesitate. “There are…two outside right now.” McCree sucked in a breath. “You saw them following me.”

“The lioness and the cat,” McCree breathed. “They were gods?” Hanzo nodded. “Gods are normally human-shaped, right?”

“It depends on the god—and what they are the god of.”

McCree closed his lips against a hysterical laugh. “So the god of cats and lionesses are here? Cats I can see, but lionesses?”

“I’ve met a few lionesses in my time,” Hanzo said dryly. “I have been in this area for…several decades. There are circuses that occasionally pass through. But no, they are not animal gods and they were not here for me . Not wholly, anyway.”

He looked up in time to see Hanzo look pointedly at Ana. “Me?” she asked, surprised.

“It seems that they are amused by you,” Hanzo told her dryly. “They also told me a few…concerning things.”

McCree felt hope rise in his chest. “Will they help against the demon?”

Dread filled his chest when Hanzo shook his head. “They cannot do much. ‘Boost’ my protective barrier? Yes. Actively participate…not so much.” He made a face. “More or less—and this is what they told me—this is our problem.”

“How?” Ana demanded. “How is this our problem?”

Hanzo shrugged. “It’s long and complicated.”

“Hanzo. There are gods in my backyard,” Ana snapped. “I think I’m entitled to some information!”

“Of course you are. It’s just…difficult for me to explain.”

McCree saw the look cross Hanzo’s face before Ana did. “It has to do with Genji, doesn’t it?”

Hanzo nodded grimly as Ana seemed to understand. “Oh.”

“When Genji went up against the demon, it was just that—a demon.” Hanzo shook his head. “Genji must have done something, cast some spell, that fed it more power. Perhaps when it…” Hanzo’s throat bobbed. Even after so long it still clearly hurt him to speak of it. McCree reached out and put a hand on the back of Hanzo’s; he flipped his hand over and tangled their fingers together. He squeezed them once.

“It’s hard to explain,” Hanzo said, his nose wrinkling. “I…I don’t know if anyone knows where demons come from, not truly. It’s not like…there isn’t just heaven or hell and demons—or angels—aren’t the child of in which plane they were born in. They’re created, manufactured—or so they used to tell me.”

Ana drummed her fingertips on the table thoughtfully. “So they’re not created by gods? Is that what you’re saying? They’re not the children of gods or the spirits of those that had died?”

“It’s complicated,” Hanzo sighed. “And it’s difficult to explain when there are so many vague definitions!” he sighed again. “For now, we will define a ghost as a human or animal that has died and lingers in the world of the living. When humans die, they can choose to stay behind—though I’m not sure if it’s permanent or if that can change. They do not need energy to continue living but rather they are the energy of what-had-been. Do you follow?”

“Like a carbon copy,” McCree suggested. “You write a message on one page that after being torn away, appears on the next.”

Hanzo nodded in agreement. “Those are ghosts: people or animals that are made of pure energy from when they were living. And we’ll use that example of the carbon paper here. When they die, the top paper—representing their physical body—is ripped away, leaving behind the copy—the ghost. Sometimes the whole thing is destroyed if they chose not to stay around, as if someone had crumpled up both pieces of paper and threw it away. If they are given more energy—or if someone draws over them in ink on that carbon paper—then they are almost human again. Almost because they are still not the original drawing.”

“Those are ghosts,” Ana said slowly. “But what comes after? Given more energy?”

“It’s an imperfect example. They are just a different type of ghost but they lack the…ah… meat sack that humans do.” As he clearly meant them to, Ana and McCree laughed. Hanzo gave them a wan smile. “Well, that would be kind of the poltergeists you see in movies or when people scream about real-life hauntings. Sometimes , instead of tracing over the carbon paper, something is drawn on top instead—so it’s not quite a ghost anymore.”

Ana frowned. “Then who is the artist? The gods?”

“It’s an imperfect example,” Hanzo repeated grimly, making a face. “Because consider this: why are there so many gods? Not from a theology perspective, of course. Why are there so many gods?”

McCree shrugged when Ana didn’t answer right away. “Humans found the unknown and needed an explanation.” He made a face. “When you say that out loud, that sounds terrible and washes away cultural significance. But most will say that it’s a way to rationalize fear and to appease what man can’t control. Right?”

“Exactly,” Hanzo said grimly. “From the basest of expressions—and of course removing all cultural significance of any of it.” He made a face. “So in that way, gods are the creations of man, are they not?”

Ana frowned. “But gods created man—according to legend.”

“Thought exercises like this can go on forever,” Hanzo said dryly. “It would be a question of ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’ You won’t get anywhere with thoughts like that. From a scientific— strictly scientific perspective—humans were the result of evolution and in turn they created their own gods.”

“And animals?” McCree asked.

Hanzo smiled grimly. “Animals also have their own gods. Just because they don’t have a culture or society or language as humans understand it does not mean that it does not exist for them. So, we have innumerable gods. What ties them all together?”

There was silence in the kitchen as they carefully considered Hanzo’s question. There was the Greek god of war Ares but Huītzilōpōchtli for the Aztecs and Odin for the Norse …well, he couldn’t think of other variables and parallels. But all gods were different: there were gods of lightning and love and war and death. Some gods were specific and some vague. But that was the point of them—they explained the unexplainable.

“Belief,” Ana realized. “Gods are varied. There Anubis the god of the underworld and Hades who is the same a continent away. But some cultures don’t have an underworld so even there it doesn’t match there. There are gods of war and love and luck, of oceans and mountains…gods are so varied but…”

Hanzo nodded. “Belief. From belief gods are born and gods are killed.”

Unseen by anyone else, Kuma appeared in the middle of the table. McCree suspected that he was very much not a dog—or at least was no longer one, perhaps just taking the form of Kuma. As if hearing that thought, Kuma smiled in a way that dogs did not smile.

Not without a hefty dose of photoshop, McCree mentally amended.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” McCree asked, looking at Kuma. “The demon…it’s not becoming a demon anymore, is it? It’s becoming something else—or has been for some time. The turning point was the kid…what was his name?”

“Akande,” Hanzo murmured. “Akande Ogundimu.”

McCree nodded, not looking away from Kuma’s glowing eyes. He focused on those instead of the unnatural smile on his canine lips. “I have a hunch. He did something to Akande, who had gone into his grasp. It…I don’t know, made a deal with him, corrupted him, whatever.”

“It’s capable of magic,” Hanzo said thoughtfully. “To an extent. But I had sufficiently weakened it over the years it’s been trapped.”

McCree nodded. “Maybe it’s been saving itself, maybe…we don’t know and we can’t ask the fucker. Then a lost kid comes across it and it…I don’t know, it does something, turns him into that monster. It starves him, we know that much—it beats him, drives him mad so that he’s almost uncontrollable and extremely violent when he’s unleashed.”

“It creates its own legend,” Ana realized. “Not only can it find a way around the wards, it uses its new toy to sow fear—and belief.”

“The…it sends Akande out through the barriers I have,” Hanzo said grimly. “Because they’re not for the physical, they’re for the demon itself. Akande finds and destroys the talismans and while it’s at it, it starts killing.”

McCree frowned at Hanzo. “Down south, in Redstone…the animal killings.”

“Most farms have the heaviest protections,” Hanzo said grimly. “It’s easy enough to make stickers and have them blessed, have them go out on cars and shop windows. But the farms? That’s a lot of land out there.”

“The livestock deaths.” McCree nodded. “Maybe Akande got loose; maybe they were still figuring things out. But that’s where it started. That’s why it started. Fear.”

They fell silent. McCree continued to watch Kuma. “People became afraid of the forest. The more it was feared, the more power it got from it—if that’s how that works. People here know the woods but it was rapidly becoming worse. This was not what they’ve experienced. They know that the Wolf protects them but in this day and age, faith works differently.”

“I’ve been renewing the barriers,” Hanzo said thoughtfully. “I’ve been preparing for when it gets out but…that’s not what it wants anymore. If it stays , it gets more power.”

McCree swallowed. “It’s no longer just about me.”

But Hanzo was shaking his head. “No, I am certain that it does want you. I just don’t know why.”

“Wait,” Ana said, holding up both hands. McCree sipped from his lukewarm tea and made a face. He drained the mug and held Hanzo’s hand again. Kuma tipped his head down and looked at their tangled fingers and seemed amused by it. “You were talking about ghosts and humans and gods. One begets the other and on and on in a circle.”

“Ouroboros,” McCree murmured. “The serpent that eats its own tail. Cyclical,” he added when they all looked at him.

Ana nodded, her lips pinched in a frown. “If gods and ghosts and humans are all made of each other, where are demons?”

Gods-that-never-were, a voice whispered and McCree stiffened. Or gods-that-are.

“I heard that,” Hanzo whispered.

It is not often that I speak, the voice whispered. It was darkness, it was cold, it was the land away from the sun.

Ana looked sharply at them. “Heard what?” she demanded.

Spoken language is limiting, the voice continued. To some, demons and angels and Man and god are all the same.

“To whom are we speaking?” Hanzo asked, making a hand gesture at Ana to be quiet for a moment. She looked annoyed but fell silent.

Kuma turned his head to look at Hanzo. I am not The Hungry One. The Devourer. Though it looked like Hanzo wanted to argue, he held his tongue. Kuma looked at McCree. Spoken language is limiting, the voice repeated. And mind the Deep One’s words.

Then Kuma—or the god that looked like him—left. McCree could feel himself shaking. Standing, Hanzo poured them all more tea. In the kettle, it had stayed warm and it steamed faintly as Hanzo filled McCree’s mug.

“Drink,” Hanzo told McCree and helped him to steady the mug to do so. “We had the…honor of speaking to god.”

McCree wasn’t sure that he would call it an honor , but he said nothing and drank his tea. His mind raced; he had a headache that the tea soothed but only a little.

“Gods and ghosts and demons,” Ana said, sounding exhausted and disgusted when Hanzo finished explaining the limited information that they were provided.

“Oh my,” Hanzo murmured and earned a foul look from Ana.

She shook her head. “I feel too old for this. I’m not, but this is making me feel it.”

Hanzo smiled thinly but said nothing.

“This is a bit much.” McCree sighed. “Let’s…okay. So we know—or guess—that this kid, Akande, somehow earned himself a promotion to minion of a demon. The demon is using him to spread fear and gain power. It still somehow wants me. Is that the long and short of it?” He waved his hand. “Ignoring the whys and wheres and hows, that’s what we have, right?”

Ana sighed. “Jesse’s right,” she told Hanzo. “The rest doesn’t matter much. We know just enough.”

“Not all of it,” Hanzo replied. “We need to go south to Blue Hills and find out what happened to Akande. We need to speak to the sheriffs of the area, tell them to keep everyone inside.”

“What you need to do is go to bed,” Ana told him sternly. “You’re running on fumes, don’t think I don’t see it, Hanzo. You both are. Rest. You know what you need to know for now—and you know that it needs to die.”

Hanzo sighed. “We need—”

“Sleep,” Ana interrupted. “Don’t make me drug you.”

Sighing, Hanzo looked at McCree, then at the closed windows. “It’s barely past sunset.”

“And you were running around all day doing all kinds of magic.”

McCree yawned. Until she mentioned it, he hadn’t realized how exhausted he was. “I want to know more but I don’t feel like arguing,” he admitted.

“Rein and I will clean up and we’ll make you two breakfast tomorrow—we went into town and got a bunch of supplies so we’re set.” Ana stood. “Akande can and will wait for tomorrow. Right now we’re safe and that’s what matters.” Her face and voice softened. “You’ve both figured out a large chunk of what is going on and from there you can figure out how to beat it.”

Hanzo sighed again. “I hate that you’re right.” He tugged on McCree’s arm. “Come on.”

Bidding an exhausted goodnight to Ana, McCree followed Hanzo into his room and they both collapsed on the bed. It was a novel thing, to be there without first having sex, but it was nice to bury his face into Hanzo’s chest, to tangle their legs together.

“Sleep,” Hanzo breathed. “We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”

McCree had intended to speak to Hanzo more—there was so much more to say—but he felt too tired to do anything. He wrapped his good arm around Hanzo and closed his eyes.

He and Hanzo were in the bare room of their little house. This time his past self wasn’t there.

His mother sat in the chair and knit; a scarf grew steadily from her swaying needles. “Jess , ” his mother said, looking up from her knitting. Her eyes appeared as if on fire, glowing red and gold. She looked at Hanzo and then back at Jesse. “ Well? Are you going to introduce us?

“This is a dream,” McCree said flatly.

Hanzo had been looking at something else but turned. “Don’t be rude,” he said, sounding frustratingly amused. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. McCree. My name is Hanzo.” He even bowed.

McCree’s mother looked amused. “An interesting thing to think that you are dreaming,” she commented. It was hard to tell when her eyes looked like fire, but McCree somehow knew that she was now looking at him. “ Ven acá, come here, boy.” He obeyed quickly and she paused in her knitting to look up at him. She sighed as he knelt in front of her. Tucking a knuckle under his chin, she tilted his head this way and that. “Yes, you’ve been overdoing it, you silly boy. Did Skinner not teach you anything?”


This had to be a dream. Only dreams could be this nonsensical.

Mamá’s eyes narrowed. “Skinner. Did that damned creature leave you alone?” she huffed. “The next time I see him I will have to give him a piece of my mind.” Helplessly, McCree shrugged. Mamá sighed and sat back in her chair. “You get headaches, yes? And your eyes burn like you got soap in them. You silly thing, don’t look so hard for them—if they want to speak with you, they will make themselves known.” She picked up her knitting again and arranged the scarf in her lap so that it draped down one of her legs.

The knitting needles seemed to glow in the dim light of the bare living room. Hanzo walked around, looking at the bare walls, at the floor but it wasn’t with the air of someone trying to pretend that he wasn’t there—it was as if he was actually seeing something.

“Hmm,” Mamá said, watching him. “Personally, I prefer him to Skinner.” She turned back to McCree. “Speaking of, go in your old room, you remember where? I hope that damn thing is in there to speak to you. If not, I may kill him myself.”

McCree stood and watched her knit for a while. Seemingly at random she switched the type of stitch she did and he wondered if she was playing the Knitting Game by herself. He wondered who Skinner was.

He looked at Hanzo who was inspecting the walls. Seeing him looking, he smiled quickly. “Cute place.”

“It’s not much,” Mamá said without looking up. “But it’s home.”

Clearing his throat, McCree said, “I’ll…go to my room I guess…?” Hanzo’s eyes laughed but he said nothing.

“As much as I’d love to have you here, you really should,” Mamá said, sounding honestly regretful. She looked up at them and McCree realized that the tracks on her face were from tears. “I’m so happy to see you well, mijo . I’ve been so scared for you. But seeing you like this…it gives me hope.”

Leaning over, McCree pressed a kiss to her forehead and then her cheek. “I’ve missed you.”

Mamá sniffed. “I won’t keep you. There’s a reason you’re here. Go on. See if Skinner is there.”

With a final look at his mother, McCree waved to Hanzo and led him toward the hallway. “This is your memory,” Hanzo said very quietly. “And yet it’s not. It’s very strange.”

“What do you mean?” McCree whispered back, pausing with his hand on his bedroom door. There was a construction paper drawing taped crookedly to the peeling paint, depicting a boy and some kind of four-legged animal—perhaps a cat judging by the way the tail was pointed straight in the air.

“The edges of the room and where the walls meet the ceiling, where young-you would not have looked, are hazy,” Hanzo told him. “The world outside isn’t specific to any one season. There is a tree with red leaves like they’re ready to fall but the tree across the street is covered in snow. There is no grass in your yard and no snow.”

McCree looked back at his mother who continued to knit. She didn’t turn around to face them. He shook his head.

“And who is Skinner? Is that your father?” Hanzo wondered.

“No, papá’s name was…” McCree squinted as he tried to remember. “Indrid.”

Hanzo’s lips twitched. He muttered something that sounded like ‘of course it was’ and McCree shook his head. Turning the handle, McCree opened the door to his childhood bedroom.

There was nobody there. The bed was messy and more construction paper drawings were taped to the walls. Milk crates served as a dresser and separated all of young McCree’s clothes.

Hanzo walked to look at the pictures while McCree let himself bask in the nostalgia. “McCree,” Hanzo said quietly and he looked over, not sure that he’d ever heard Hanzo sound so shaken.

Two steps took McCree up next to Hanzo. It was a picture on orange paper that had been bent and creased and ripped a little before it had been hung up. There was the green chair that mamá sat in, and there was young-McCree sitting in front of her with his hands in the air. Mam á was knitting and her needles were drawn in white: a zigzag in yellow was the scarf she was knitting and lines radiating outward showed that it glowed.

There was a dog that sat beside young-McCree, drawn in black and grey crayon.

Its eyes were white and yellow and lines radiating outward showed that they were glowing.

It had a white paw and a zigzag tuft of white fur on its head.

At the bottom of the page were the words written by a young boy: MAMA  + ME + SKINR .

The faintest hint of dawn’s light was just filtering in through the windows when McCree woke up. He yelped when he fell off the bed and a moment later Hanzo poked his head over the edge, a tense smile on his lips.

“Yeah, yeah, yuck it up,” McCree grumbled without heat. He licked his lips. “Did you…?”

Hanzo nodded grimly and McCree sucked in a breath. “Your mother seems like a lovely woman.” Something in Hanzo’s face softened and he helped McCree off the floor and into bed once more, tugging him close.

“I think it runs in the family,” McCree whispered in a shaky voice, nose and lips mashed against Hanzo’s chest. “Why don’t you have chest hair? I swear, you go between having no body hair to being covered in fur with nothing in between. It’s not fair.”

“I hope that’s not all you’re upset about,” Hanzo said mildly, running a hand up and down McCree’s back. He realized belatedly that he was shaking and that Hanzo’s chest was wet—McCree was crying .

He wrapped his stump arm around Hanzo’s waist and said nothing as he tried to muffle his sobs. Hanzo rolled on his back, tugging McCree closer, and ran his fingers through McCree’s hair. “I’m sorry,” McCree managed to gasp out. “It’s just…it feels so weird to see her again.”

“For what it’s worth,” Hanzo said softly. “I think she could see you too.”

McCree hiccupped embarrassingly and Hanzo kissed his forehead when he looked up. “I’m not sure if that’s reassuring or not.”

“I’m not very good at ‘reassuring’.”

Despite himself, McCree gave a watery chuckle. “Fuck,” he breathed. “I know that it was important—not just because it was seeing Mamá again but…that’s all I can think about.”

“Tell me about her?”

McCree hesitated but, in the end, decided that there was no harm in it. “Papá was a police officer. There was gang activity back in Santa Fe—where we were originally from. It was getting’ so bad that Papá packed us up and left. It killed him but it was a losin’ battle and he didn’t want to leave me an’ Mamá without him. He had to start all over again in the big city but he was a hard worker and was risin’ through the ranks.”

“So you followed in your father’s footsteps,” Hanzo said softly and looking up, McCree found him smiling down at him.

“Yeah,” McCree said softly. “It killed mamá to think…” he swallowed hard. “He was killed while on duty. Stopped to help a stranded motorist and got shot for his troubles.”

Hanzo’s hand paused. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said softly.

“The motorist was just some drunk college student,” McCree said. Once he had been bitter about it but time had dulled that pain just enough for it to be bearable. “Who thought that he was about to be mugged. Tripping on drugs and booze and a little trigger-happy with his gun. Left Mamá all alone with me. I was…like…I think I was six, maybe seven.”

He remembered the funeral. It was just him and mamá and the officers from the precinct. Even so young he knew that his father hadn’t been liked but their loyalties had lain deeper than that and so those that could be spared from duty were there.

He remembered mamá crying. Her eyes had been red and swollen for weeks. Even as young as he had been, he had wondered if she would throw herself in the grave with papá’s casket. He remembered thinking that if she did, he wasn’t sure if he’d have the tears to cry for her; he’d felt spent, used up, like a towel all wrung out.

It had been up to mamá to raise him. Her eyes were always red.

His memories were interrupted when Hanzo pressed another kiss to his forehead. “So young,” he murmured. “And still you joined the police force?”

“I tried the military but it didn’t feel right,” McCree told him weakly. He swiped at his face with his other hand and made a face at the tears and snot that he wiped away. Hanzo wordlessly offered him a box of tissues. “So I joined the police force. Scared mamá shitless.”

“I have the feeling that there were few things that your mother was really scared about,” Hanzo told him. “She seems like a brave woman.”

McCree chuckled weakly. “She had to be. She raised me all by her lonesome. Still don’t know how she did it.”

“All mothers are magic.”

For a long moment they lay there, tangled together while McCree’s silent tears faded. His hiccups remained and Hanzo kissed the tip of his nose with a smile. “Don’t laugh,” McCree told him sternly but ruined it by hiccupping mid-word.

“Never,” Hanzo promised though his eyes danced with mirth.

They lay in silence once more, Hanzo tracing shapes into McCree’s back. “I think the…Seeing thing runs in my family,” McCree blurted.

“Such gifts sometimes do,” Hanzo replied evenly. “I had thought yours might.”

McCree swallowed. “That vision of all the people.”

“When I realized the extent—that we know of—of your powers, I had suspected it. As soon as you told me of that particular vision, I was far more certain of it.”

“It doesn’t follow a pattern,” McCree protested. “Not a logical one.”

Hanzo shrugged. “Logic cannot be applied easily to magic.” McCree remembered that to an extent, Hanzo had known of such things all his life. To him, this probably wasn’t quite as weird as it was to McCree. “Sometimes it’s just a silly pattern that in terms of things like genetics, makes absolutely no sense. You’ll only hurt yourself to think too much into it.”

“So if I have a daughter the gift will pass to her?” McCree demanded. “What if I only have a son? What if I don’t have kids at all?”

Again, frustratingly, Hanzo shrugged. “The family…ah… blessing would find a way, I’m sure. Or it will die. Such things are strange that way. If you decide to call someone your daughter, it may pass on to her—it all varies.”

McCree scowled. “And what do you think of that ‘Skinner’?”

For a long moment Hanzo didn’t answer. “I had always sensed something odd about Kuma,” he said at last. He still sounded so frustratingly calm about it all, but McCree supposed that it was easier for him to be.

It wasn’t happening to him .

It wasn’t his family.

But that wasn’t fair. It was Hanzo’s family too, wrapped up in the larger picture: it had been his family hunting the demon, his brother nearly killed, it was his home that was being attacked. He was the most at risk, risking his life to bring this thing down, to contain it; had been for decades . Maybe even centuries .

“It works…differently each time,” Hanzo said slowly, and McCree realized that he wasn’t being difficult—he had just been thinking. “There are many ways for gifts like these to manifest and many definitions of gods. It could be that at some point, a god joined your family—or your family were worshipped as gods. I’ve seen cases where a particular family found something—a meteor, for example—and believed that it was a gift from the gods enough that they became godly.”

McCree thought to the images of the people that Kuma had shown him—or should he call him Skinner? All of them had carried something: swords, spears, daggers, pocket watches, knitting needles…was that what it was? Some mystical artifact found once upon a time?

He asked Hanzo who shrugged. “It’s odd that it changes shapes so much,” he said enigmatically. “The next time Kuma offers it to you, maybe you should ask him.”

“I did ,” McCree said, frustrated. “I think,” he amended.

Hanzo hummed. “Your mother…what was hers? When you saw her in that vision—you did see her, right?—what was the item she held?”

“Her knitting needles,” McCree said immediately. He had remembered them: they had been shiny, made of some kind of dark material and textured strangely. As a child he liked to touch them because they always felt warm and a few times he had tried, under her guidance, to knit but each time it hadn’t worked.

He scrambled up, ignoring Hanzo’s wheeze when he leaned most of his weight on Hanzo’s belly. “I need to talk to my mother.”

“Past-viewing is a dangerous thing,” Hanzo said breathlessly. McCree shifted his weight and Hanzo sucked in a breath, rubbing at his stomach absently.

“I’d done it before,” McCree said stubbornly.

“By yourself or with the help of another?”

McCree scowled and looked away. “I need to try.”

Beneath him, Hanzo sighed and ran his hands over McCree’s shoulders. “Past-viewing is dangerous,” he repeated gently. “I’ve seen it happen. It will eat away at your power until you are empty and when that is gone, it will take your life. I’d rather see you die of old age than withering away in a matter of seconds.”

The reminder that Hanzo will outlive him crashed over him like ice water. That, more than anything, made his resolve waver. “Then I will speak to Kuma—or Skinner, whatever he calls himself—and ask him to take me back again.”

Hanzo sighed. Then he lifted his head—a moment later McCree could hear the same thing he did: the pounding of footsteps. The door was kicked open, leaving a dent in the drywall as the handle slammed into the opposite wall.

“What the hell?” Ana demanded. She continued her tirade in Arabic—Egyptian? What language did she grow up speaking? McCree realized that he didn’t know; maybe he could ask Hanzo, who (probably) wouldn’t be disappointed or laugh at him. McCree twisted around to look at the door and found Ana already dressed for the day. “Never mind. Hanzo—did you see the backyard?”

McCree leaned back as Hanzo rolled smoothly to his feet and reached for his clothes. Swearing at him, Ana disappeared from the doorway and McCree smirked though it faded fast. It took a lot to fluster Ana, and even more to upset her. Hanzo’s nudity was probably just the icing on the cake of something Really Bad in the yard.

He hurried to get dressed as well and Hanzo was nice enough to help him when he got tangled in his excitement. They found Yuki and Ame sitting upright, staring intently at the back door. Reinhardt looked uneasy as he stood in the kitchen, eye on the curtains drawn over the window there, as if afraid that something would leap at him.

“Stay back,” Hanzo warned McCree and Ana. He nodded at the wolves who approached the door with him.

McCree watched, his heart in his throat as he watched Hanzo slip out the door, closing it quickly behind him. Kuma appeared beside him and he looked down at the…whatever he was, god or dog or…whatever. “We’re having a nice long talk, you and I,” he informed Kuma who sneezed at him.

The door opened and he looked up. Hanzo’s face seemed pale. “It’s safe,” he told McCree. “Just don’t go near the salt lines.”

Remembering that Hanzo had drew multicolored lines in rock salt the night before, McCree nodded and followed him out the backdoor. On the porch, he looked at the trees and gasped.

Every tree that ringed their house was covered in enormous scratches that bled great globs of golden sap. The smell of resin hung heavily in the air and McCree watched the wolves trot a circuit around the property while Hanzo stood barefoot in the yard, looking at the damage.

“The demon was here,” Hanzo said as McCree joined him. “And its pet.”

“I thought that Akande could get through your wards,” McCree said, turning toward Hanzo.

Hanzo smiled grimly. “Only the ones that I put down before I knew that he was a player in this game. Since then, I have changed my formulas. This barrier stopped everything—except the gods, it seems.”

Looking where Hanzo was looking, McCree saw the lioness and Kuma sitting off to the side. He followed Hanzo’s lead when he bowed. The grey cat appeared behind the lioness and trotted over and wound around Hanzo’s ankles. Obligingly, he took a knee and offered her a hand to sniff.

Hanzo sighed when she bit him and McCree stifled a laugh. Then the cat and lioness turned and trotted back into the forest where they disappeared as soon as they crossed Hanzo’s salt line. Kuma remained, looking very amused.

Nervous, McCree looked at Hanzo’s hand and found that the god-cat had left behind a bleeding wound. “Cats,” Hanzo said, shaking his head though he didn’t sound particularly disgusted. He laughed suddenly and shook his head at McCree when he opened his mouth to ask. “She was kind enough to tell me that the demon is furious that I had caught on to its trick with the barrier.”

McCree carefully approached the edge of the salt circle with Hanzo and looked where he pointed. The dried bushes and stacks of branches, while broken, had caught on something: tufts of reddish fur.

“I remember seeing hair like that at the crime scene,” McCree remembered. “For the Lacroix boy.”

He jumped when the mentioned ghost appeared in the bushes, his arms crossed. “ Gérard, please, ” he drawled. “ Can we enter, now?

“We can talk just fine like this,” McCree pointed out, just in case it was a trap. It was fair—though Gérard appeared as he should, McCree hadn’t really interacted with him too much. In fact, he was surprised to see Gérard at all—normally it was Amélie that did all of the talking.

Gérard made a face but Amélie appeared next to him and he fell silent. She eyed the salt line and the markings on the trees. “ Eventful night?

“Something like that,” McCree agreed. Hanzo left him to it when Ame joined McCree. Yuki followed Hanzo as they walked the property, surveying the damage.

He is, how do you say it? A tall drink of water, that one, ” Gérard commented, looking after Hanzo.

Amélie seemed to roll her eyes at McCree—but of course it was hard to tell, because she didn’t appear to McCree with eyes to roll—and shook her head. “ Always thinking with your dick.

If he was insulted by that, Gérard didn’t show it. He shrugged, holding out his arms. “ I’m a ghost— we’re ghosts. I’m going to be trapped as a horny teenager forever, probably.

Ignoring him, Amélie turned back to McCree. “ It’s good to see you safe.

“Likewise,” McCree agreed. “Did you see what happened?”

Both ghosts immediately shook their heads. “ It’s hard to be near the demon, ” Gérard said softly. He wrapped both arms around himself. “ Or its pet, knowing it’s Akande.

“I’m sure that’s difficult,” McCree agreed gently. It must have been terrible on both of them to know that their friend had been the one to kill them. It was probably worse knowing that their friend was still suffering. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry.”

It’s like two magnets, ” Amélie explained. “ It’s like it’s pushing us away.

“You didn’t seem to have that problem in the barn.”

Well, I don’t think it knew that you could see us.

McCree considered that. “Can it see you ?”

Both ghosts shrugged. “ Maybe? It’s hard to tell. It’s not like it speaks to us.

“You don’t want it to,” McCree told them with a shiver. Both of them cocked their heads at him curiously but neither asked. “Do you know where it is right now?”

Only by wandering around and finding out where we can’t go, ” Amélie said with a shrug. “ And even though Red’s is small, that’s still a lot of ground to cover. Especially in the trees.

Gérard kicked the dirt and eyed the salt circle. “ Will your friend take down the circle?

Even Amélie looked at him strangely. McCree pretended to ignore it though the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. “Probably not anytime soon,” he said neutrally. “We’ll probably get breakfast and then leave.”


Amélie frowned. “ Don’t answer that, ” she advised. “ You never know who’s listening.

We’d know if the demon was nearby, ” Gérard protested. “ And Akande probably wouldn’t linger. He’s angry all the time. As he is now, he can’t be patient to lie in wait—not that he was particularly patient in life, either.

McCree nodded absently. He kept his expression neutral. “We’re planning on leaving this area completely. Hanzo will take me to the edge of his territory this afternoon. I got bus tickets to head back to the city. It’s too dangerous for me here in these woods.”

Why would you leave? ” Gérard demanded.

Amélie turned slowly to look at Gérard. There was suspicion all over her face but it went neutral when Gérard turned to look at her as if for support. “ Don’t you think we deserve justice? ” Amélie asked sharply and out of the corner of his eyes he saw her cross her fingers on the side away from Gérard.

“You’re beyond my help,” McCree told them. “I can’t help the dead.”

Gérard sneered at him but not before McCree saw the panic in his face. “ So you’re going to let us rot here?

“I assume you’ve been buried already,” McCree pointed out. “And rotting is just another part of life.”

The salt line flared and just like the barrier from Satya, white light crackled along the surface where Gérard’s hands touched it. “ Don’t you dare leave!

He has the right to, ” Amélie told him hotly. She was beginning to look worried. “ But we also deserve justice! ” It was tacked on like an afterthought but fortunately Gérard didn’t seem to notice.

What good is a cop if he won’t help? ” he mocked.

Frankly, McCree was glad that he hadn’t had the dubious honor of speaking with Gérard more often. He much preferred Amélie’s cold logic. Ame nudged McCree’s hand and he looked down at her, patting her head. She leaned into his leg and he realized that her ears were pinned as she stared in the direction of the two ghosts.

“Ain’t a cop,” McCree murmured. “Not until I get another arm.”

Gérard sneered. “ Then what good are you?

“I’m a bit out of my league, kid,” McCree replied, gradually donning the stereotype of the cop that would make Gérard angrier. He just hoped that anger didn’t feed a ghost’s strength. “I don’t see what you think I can do. Don’t know why you thought I was some kind of savior for you.”

At his side, Ame whined. Her eyes flicked up to McCree and then back toward the ghosts. She knew something was wrong, too—McCree only hoped that she could tell Hanzo somehow.

Gérard slapped at the barrier again. McCree wondered if Hanzo could “feel” it. He thought that Hanzo might because Yuki came running, fangs bared.

Don’t you leave us, ” Gérard howled, slapping the barrier again. Lights crackled along the surface but it held.

Gérard! ” Amélie moved toward him, pulling him back by the arm.

The other ghost shoved her off as Yuki skidded to a stop by McCree, head down and moving to put himself between McCree and the edge of the salt circle. Ame did the same. Both of them resembled puff balls, their fur standing almost comically on end.

He’s going to leave us! ” Gérard cried and McCree began to doubt himself. “ Like they always leave us! You know we can’t trust anyone. We never could.

Amélie reached for him again. “ Gérard…

He shoved her off and she tripped backwards through one of the piles of dead branches. A moment later her head popped up through them and she looked as she had when McCree found her, pale and bruised and covered in mud and leaves.

Gérard held his head in his hands. Suddenly he was as McCree had first seen him, bloody and bloated in the morning sun, barely resembling a human being. McCree could only tell where his eyes were because they still glowed. His stomach rolled.

Look at me ,” Gérard demanded. “ Look at what you’ve done to me. Don’t you think I deserve justice?

McCree jumped when he felt Hanzo’s hand on his back, whipping his head away from the terrible sight. “What’s wrong?” Hanzo asked, his eyes hard as stone.

“Gérard doesn’t like that we’re leaving,” McCree said, hoping that Hanzo caught on to his lie. “He seems to think that I should stay and fight.”

Something shifted in Hanzo’s face that McCree couldn’t place. “Would he have you die here?”

Dying isn’t so bad, ” Gérard said from somewhere in the bloody ruin of his face. He seemed to be calming down, though his hands still rested on the barrier. “ You’ll see. You’d be able to stay with your boy toy there, forever.

Amélie snorted. “ Living beats dying ,” she grumbled.

Why are you leaving? ” Gérard asked, ignoring Amélie.

Because it’s right, ” Amélie retorted, sidling along to stand beside the other teen. “ Deny the demon what it wants. Let it starve here.

Gérard spun toward her. “ It is hunger, ” he said in eerie echo of McCree’s dreams. “ It won’t die, not when there are so many to feed it.

“I’m going to help Ana with breakfast,” Hanzo murmured to McCree. “Come inside when you’re ready. We’ll check the battery on the Jeep and then get going. We have a long way to go to get out of my territory.” Bless him.

Hanzo made a hand signal that ended with a snap; Yuki peeled away though clearly reluctant, leaving Ame behind with McCree. She was shaking visibly.

Gérard seemed to perk up at that; the gory mess disappeared behind whatever seeming gave him the appearance of life. “ So you are leaving today.

It doesn’t matter what he does, ” Amélie told him tartly. “ We’re stuck here. We can’t go with him.

That was news but McCree didn’t let his surprise show. He wondered if Hanzo knew this as well but probably not—McCree didn’t think that ghosts were very high on Hanzo’s radar, not when he had more pressing issues to address.

Gérard turned to scowl at Amélie. “ For how long? ” he demanded. “ We could follow him, I bet.

We’ve tried.

Not hard enough, ” Gérard argued. “ I bet we could do it. The barriers are weak enough. If Akande can get through, so can we!

Amélie frowned. “ We are incorporeal, ” she reminded him. “We , like the demon, are held by the Wolf’s bindings.

Not for long, ” Gérard told her, turning to face her. “ Either we rot away here or…what? What happens to us? Are we just going to be trapped here, forever? I won’t be trapped or an eternity like that until everyone has forgotten me, until I’m a faceless person that died in an unknown shed in an abandoned field! ” he turned to McCree. “ When are you going? Where? I want to go, too.”

For a long moment, McCree watched the two ghosts. “We’re leaving town later tonight,” McCree said. “I’m going back to the city. Maybe to stay, this time. Now that I know that I’m not going crazy.”

Gérard paced like a caged animal. “ You cannot leave, ” he growled. “ You cannot leave! You won’t make it!

“I’m sure I can outrun Akande and the demon,” McCree said evenly. “I doubt they could keep up with a truck.”

They kept up with the sheriff just fine, ” Gérard sneered. McCree felt his stomach drop into his soles. “ And they will consume you. Gobble you up. The wolf will dine on your body. And you’ll just be another ghost in the trees.

McCree looked past Gérard and found more figures there. The mist was rolling in. Amélie seemed to notice the same thing because she grabbed Gérard. “ Don’t! ” to McCree, she said, “Go!”

He needed no more prompting. He sprinted for the house just as Reinhardt opened the door—he must have been watching for McCree. “To the front,” Reinhardt said as McCree and Ame skidded through.

Hanzo was kitted out in, of all things, a saddle. The straps had been let down and reinforced with ratchet straps; Yuki was already in a bag on Hanzo’s shoulders and Ana held another one for Ame. Seeing them, Hanzo bent his forelegs and McCree vaulted inelegantly into the saddle, finding that there was a loop fastened to the front of the saddle to wrap around his waist and keep him there.

A moment later, Ana slung the bag that Ame was in astride Hanzo’s back, clipping it to the edge of the saddle. “What about you?” McCree demanded. “You’re leaving, right?”

We will watch over them, a voice said and McCree turned to find the not-quite-ghost-but-maybe-god cat sitting on the mailbox. The lioness was beside her. Old we may be, but I have fondness for the one Ana. She will be safe.

“And Reinhardt?” McCree asked sharply.

The lioness bared her fearsome teeth as Hanzo got to his feet. “Go,” Ana said insistently. “We will be fine.” Hanzo turned his head and pressed it gently to Ana’s cheek as if in goodbye; she patted his enormous snout.

Don’t ask stupid questions, the lioness said. Go!

As if Hanzo heard—perhaps he could—he went. They flew down the road, gravel kicking up in their wake as Hanzo ran. McCree tried to look back but he was jolted and jostled and tweaked something in his back that made him curse. He turned back around as Hanzo continued to run in the early morning sunlight as the forest behind them was filled with screams.

Hanzo walked cautiously into the clearing and McCree’s breath hitched.

It used to be a nice house. The sheriff and his wife used to have a sizeable garden and they used their cellar to store pickles and preserves. When McCree first moved to Redstone the sheriff had given him jars of tomato sauce—they were some of the best that McCree had ever tried. Earlier that year McCree and some of the other officers had gone over to help them paint the house. Mrs. Galbraith had stuffed them all with food: venison stew and roasted goose cut paper-thin in a sandwich piled high with it. Everyone had gone home with leftovers by the time they were all done.

Now the house was leveled, the pit that served as the cellar all that remained.

Figures appeared in the tall grass: shapeless things whose eyes blazed with gold and white light. Ghosts, or something like them with only the barest hint of humanity left. Maybe they were, as all horror stories seemed to go, from the nearby graveyard where time had worn away the names of their headstones; maybe they were the forgotten dead.

He did not see the sheriff or his wife among their number—McCree was certain that they would appear differently than the lumps that stood before Hanzo.

Beneath him, Hanzo whined and without thinking, McCree patted his shoulder. “I don’t see them among the dead here,” McCree whispered to him. “So they’re alive. I think.”

Hanzo stepped forward into the clearing, his ears pricked forward alertly. McCree could feel his sides moving as he sniffed. In front of him, Yuki whined and McCree patted his shoulder.

They were silent as they circled the property, the wolves all lifting their noses to the wind as they scented the air. Then Hanzo snorted, turned, and loped off toward town.

“Are you sure this is wise?” McCree asked, trying not to bite his tongue. Hanzo’s easy lope was smoother than the few horses he’s ridden but it still felt like his teeth would rattle out of his mouth. “Just…running into town on the main road?”

Hanzo didn’t respond, not that McCree expected him to. Yuki turned his head and gave McCree a canine grin as the trees whipped past. Soon the trees gave way to grassy yards and houses.

Nobody was out. Mr. Smith usually was on his porch scowling at everyone but today his rocker was empty; Verne and Irene were typically in their “farm” (really just a large garden on their property) tending to their plants no matter the time of year but today they weren’t there.

McCree felt uneasy. These mountain peoples were particular, were set in their habits—what had happened here to break them of the things they always did for as long as McCree had noticed, and likely beyond?

Never before had the trees, lingering at the slopes of the mountains and well beyond the few houses lining the road, felt so ominous.

Hanzo loped down the road as if he belonged there, jumping smoothly over a truck parked in the middle of the road. Soon they were running along the main buildings in town, which lay as quiet and deserted as the houses they had passed along the way.

McCree grunted when Hanzo slowed to a bouncing jog and then to a walk as they neared the police station. “What happened?”

Beneath him, Hanzo grunted as if to remind him that he couldn’t answer. Yuki yipped, his tail wagging and they all turned to look at him. Sheriff Galbraith walked out of the station, dressed in a rumpled shirt and a bulletproof vest. He was armed with a pump-action shotgun and his usual on-duty gear.

“They’re all in the community center,” he said gruffly. “Ways I see it, the wards are stronger in town than in the outskirts. I pulled rank and got it done.”

McCree sighed, relief making him giddy. “How did you manage to convince Sean?” he wanted to know. “And Kim. You know how stubborn they are.”

The sheriff’s moustache bristled as he smiled. He winked at McCree. “I got my ways. You forget how small we are here.”

“I ain’t forgot how fucking stubborn,” McCree muttered and the sheriff barked a laugh.

“Boy,” he said, shaking his head. “I know the Wolf ain’t a horse but you sit terribly .”

McCree made a face. “I’ve only been on a horse twice in my life.” Beneath him, Hanzo huffed in what sounded like a laugh. “Hush, you.”

“Now’s not the time to talk about it,” the sheriff wisely said. “Thing is, I got my ways in dealin’ with my people. I got the outskirts of town to come in, put them up in Holly’s for a night or two. I got my guys moving in squads to set up the amulets to boost the markers, just like you told me to.” Hanzo nodded. “Now, git before it follows you here.” The sheriff hesitated and took a few steps toward McCree. Hanzo didn’t move, let him come close to put a hand on McCree’s leg. “You cause all sorts’a trouble, huh?” he asked, his eyes wistful.

“I try not to,” McCree mumbled. He hoped that this wasn’t the last time he saw the sheriff.

Sheriff Galbraith smiled, making his eyes crinkle. “You got bigger fish to fry—a bigger role to play. Time was, I wished for this kind of excitement; now I know enough to know not to envy you and your adventure.” He patted McCree’s leg and looked at Hanzo. Shaking his head, he looked up at McCree. “I was about to say ‘Wolf look after you’, but…”

“Wolf look after you” was a common phrase in the area, especially for those that weren’t particularly religious. It had seemed odd before but now that Hanzo— The White Wolf —was literally here, in the flesh, it seemed utterly ridiculous.

Hanzo snorted. Lights glimmered along his face and shoulders. Then they could hear him as if he spoke beside them, or the sheriff could—to McCree, the voice was just as thunderous as Genji’s, as the deep-ocean-voice. “The faith in me is much appreciated.”

“Fuck,” the sheriff said with a nervous laugh. “Nearly made me wet myself.”

“How embarrassing.”

The sheriff barked a rough laugh. He made a rude gesture at Hanzo. “Wolf, bite your tail,” he grumbled, though his eyes laughed. It was another common phrase in the area, much like “fuck you” for the old timers whose family had been in the area for decades upon decades.

Hanzo laughed and then settled. “Be safe, sheriff. And…thank you.”

The man shook his head, face turning pink. “I lived my whole life wonderin’ if I’d ever see The Wolf. Then I became sheriff and I met a strange man that everyone claimed…and now I get to see the Wolf in front of me and I’m only a supporting character.” He laughed. “This is so far beyond me that I’m almost glad that fate passed me by. Thank you , Wolf. For keeping us safe, for…for everything. I’ll hold down my end as I told you, don’t you worry.” He looked up at McCree and smiled as he stepped back toward the steps of the station.

Looking up, McCree found that an audience had gathered. There were officers that turned up their nose at him, called him a ‘city boy’ and ‘big shot’ like they were the worst insults. He saw the receptionists, more mussed than he’d ever seen them, clearly having been pulled out of bed. They all watched, gathered somberly on the steps. Their eyes flicked from Hanzo, from the White Wolf of all the stories they had heard from parents and grandparents and great-grandparents—whose mark they had seen all over town, whose home lay only an hour’s drive north, to McCree.

To the outsider that sat astride his back on an ill-fitting saddle. To them, what must McCree look like? Like some kind of outsider that came in to swoop in and save the hillbillies in the mountains? His stomach turned.

Sheriff Galbraith backed up toward them, away from the Wolf and McCree. “Good hunting.”

Hanzo turned and they began running again. Those lingering thoughts weighed on him so much that McCree forgot to be afraid as they left Redstone Gap and disappeared into the forest.

Hanzo slowed as the sun was just clearing the jagged mountain peaks, panting. He sniffed at a bubbling creek and began drinking in earnest. McCree’s stomach remembered that it hadn’t eaten breakfast and growled.

“Thinking with your stomach again?” Hanzo teased.

“Hush, you.”

“At least it’s not your dick. Only imagine how bruised it would be while it sat up there. Truly a shame.”

McCree blushed. “Why, would you kiss it better?”


Shaking his head, McCree looked around. Mist was clinging to the trees and nervous sweat prickled along his spine. “Hanzo?”

“It’s just mist. For now.”

McCree swallowed. “Don’t know that I’ll ever be able to look at mist or fog the same, ever again.”

Hanzo didn’t answer. He finished drinking, stretched his legs, and backed up. “Hang on.”

Then they were running again, jumping the creek and moving on. Yuki and Ame seemed to enjoy it, panting as they rode along in their bags. “Why aren’t they running? Don’t you take them around all the time?”

“The demon and its pet rarely chase me, even though it is quite… cross with me. If we go past our usual boundaries, they either take the forest route while I drive or they ride with me. Now the demon is after me and by extension, them. I can outrun them, but they cannot.”

McCree’s stomach lurched. He told himself it was just because Hanzo jumped over a fallen log. “When I was sleeping, where did you go?”

“I went with Sheriff Galbraith to the station in Red’s,” Hanzo replied. “We discussed the issue in-depth. I considered going to search out what happened to Akande in Blue Hills but…well, I didn’t for a lot of reasons.”

They were quiet for a while. Hanzo climbed a ridge and paused, turning to let McCree get a look at the world. In the distance he thought he could see the edges of Redstone Gap, or at least where the trees had been cleared for housing. Perhaps it was only wishful thinking.

The trees formed a thick evergreen carpet and in the dark pockets where the sun had not yet reached, mist hung like an ominous silvery cloud.

Hanzo’s ears pricked forward. “Are they following us?”

“Yes…and no.”


Hanzo snorted. “I can hear Akande moving. You cannot see him, but I can—he’s off to our right. The demon…is still in Red’s.”

McCree’s stomach turned to ice. “What?”

“It’s cultivating fear,” Hanzo observed. “It was never this desperate.”

Remembering Gérard’s words and his own visions with the demon, McCree said, “Maybe it’s both? It told me…and Gérard told me, that it’s hunger. I think that’s just what it is.”

“Starvation,” Hanzo murmured. “And greed. And power hungry. A demon to appeal to those.” He made a disgusted noise.

They sat and watched the sunlight creep over the trees as they whistled and swayed in the wind. Hanzo’s breath began to slow.

“Does the saddle hurt you?”

“It’s not comfortable but it’s better this way.” McCree leaned down and ran his fingers through Hanzo’s ruff. “Stop that. You’re distracting me.” He sounded amused more than scolding, turning his head to look up at Hanzo. “They’re moving,” Hanzo said suddenly, his head turning back toward Redstone. “So should we.”

McCree swallowed a lump in his throat. “Do you think they’re all okay?”

“We can check later,” Hanzo promised. “I will scry—if it is within your power, I will show you how to, as well—and check in on them. For now, we need to run.”

Taking a deep breath, McCree gripped the front of the saddle as Hanzo turned and ran.

Chapter Text

Hanzo slowed when they reached the Wolf’s Creek, pausing to drink. “You can let Yuki and Ame down, now.”

“Is it safe?” McCree asked though he was already working at the ties to the bags.

“Safe enough,” Hanzo said as the clearing was suddenly filled with baying dogs. They ran around Hanzo’s legs excitedly, coming close to sniff his enormous paws with a few brave souls rearing up to sniff at McCree’s feet.

First Yuki, then Ame dropped down to the ground. They shook themselves, tails wagging, and nosed the other dogs that came up to them. Looking around, McCree found Kuma standing on the rock nearby—where the dog Kuma had died. It held the dagger in its mouth.

Hanzo turned toward his home and began walking. As a tree passed between them and Kuma, the dog—or god, or spirit, whatever—disappeared.

“I saw Kuma again.”

“I’m not surprised. If it is his spirit that lingers, he died here. If it is a god…well, they seem to come and go as they please.” Hanzo sounded annoyed and McCree wondered if before this, Hanzo had spoken to gods.

Hanzo trotted along the trail, his excited dogs following. When they emerged from the trees toward the lodge, Hanzo’s steps faltered. McCree sighed, a sentiment echoed by Hanzo.

“This is the closest thing I’ve had to a home in…probably two hundred years. It’s always nice return to it.”

Swallowing hard, McCree nodded even though Hanzo couldn’t see it. It was dangerous but…he was beginning to think of this place as “home” as well.

It was a terrifying thought.

A burst of light traveled through the long grass of the horse’s paddock and the ghost of the little girl—Efi, he thought her name was—appeared next to them. “ You were gone long enough! ” she scolded. “ Things are a mess! Everything’s a mess! That woman’s spells have messed up the barn!

McCree looked down at her. “What woman’s spells?” to Hanzo, he said, “The girl? Efi I think? She says that someone messed up the barn.”

Pausing, Hanzo turned toward the barn. “You’ll live,” he said gruffly, though not without affection.

The girl squinted up at McCree. “You suck at riding.”

“Thanks,” McCree said dryly. “It’s not exactly a pastime I had indulged in before now.”

Scowling, the girl followed them across the paddock, seemingly having no trouble keeping up. “The orisha will help,” she told them. “She likes us so she will help when the time comes.”

McCree had no idea what that meant so he ignored it, sighing when Hanzo rocked to a stop by the back door. It burst open and Hana tumbled out, followed by Meka. She immediately turned around, sneezing, and raced back into the house.

She pushed past Jamie and Mako, who had to contort himself to get out. “What are you all doing here?” McCree blurted, surprised as more people emerged.

“Things have gotten worse,” Jamie said cheerfully. “C’mon, let’s get you down—you have the worst posture, don’t he, Roadie? C’mon Roadie, help him down and don’t worry Hanzo, I’ll help you outta that saddle.”

In the end Hanzo had to kneel and Mako wrapped his big hands—almost comically large, almost big enough to wrap all the way around McCree’s waist—around him and physically lifted him out of the saddle. Lúcio came running, fiddling with something in his hands.

“I got him,” Mako grunted. “Open the door.”

“I can walk,” McCree protested even though his legs felt weaker than cooked noodles. Mako just laughed and hauled him inside, setting him down on the couch with a surprising amount of gentleness. He found Hana and Meka also there, as well as Satya; he and Mako had passed her dog in the kitchen, he remembered.

“You look like shit,” Hana said and sneezed. “Ugh! You smell like dog!”

A moment later, Hanzo walked in. His wolf pelt was wrapped around his hips to hide his nudity. “I felt the spells you laid out.”

Satya smiled slightly. “They are temporary,” she said regretfully. “But Mako and Jamison were able to help me amplify it to keep everything out until you returned.”

“Still. You did very well.” Hanzo frowned at everyone else in the living room. It was large enough that it was far from being crowded, but it was still more people than McCree had ever seen in the lodge at once. “Now…why is everyone here?”

Hana sneezed. “Satya and I were here to make amulets. We were baking some in the kiln when everyone else showed up.”

“Mako and I were carving a few, too,” Jamison said cheerfully. “And we got the information you needed. Unless the other sheriffs were more helpful?”

Hanzo nodded. “We learned that the missing boy’s name is Akande—and we are certain that he is what is now in the forests.”

There was a heavy silence in the room. McCree cleared his throat. “One of the ghosts is working with the demon.”

All heads immediately turned to him. Hana sucked in a deep breath. “Why would anyone work with the demon?” Jamison wondered. Mako grunted.

“Freedom,” Lúcio said quietly. He suddenly sounded exhausted, drooped in his seat like a marionette whose strings had been cut. “Power. Fame. Whatever you are weak for. It will whisper things to you until it’s all you hear, all you think about. And then, when you are weak, it consumes you.”

“Which ghost?” Hanzo asked McCree quietly.

Satya tilted her head to the side. Light glittered around her fingertips, crackled in her eyes and in the charms dangling from her ears. “Does it matter?”

“In the grand scheme of things: no,” Hanzo said gently before McCree could make a fool of himself. “To me, it does.” Satya looked away. Hanzo turned back to McCree.

“I don’t know for sure,” McCree hurried to explain. “But I’m really sure. It’s a hunch but…”

“For Seers, ‘hunches’ are rarely more than just that,” Hana told him gently. Meka made a sound like he was being strangled. “I believe someone once explained it to me as ‘an innate wisdom’.” Hanzo snorted; clearly it had been him.

McCree looked down at his hand. “It was the boy—Gérard. He was acting strange—he’s never been really…chatty. But he showed up at the edge of the barrier this morning.” He briefly sketched out what had happened as well as he could remember it.

Gérard yelling. Him pushing Amélie through the fallen branches.

More yelling. Hitting the barrier.

Seeing the fog rolling in.

“Do you sense it nearby?” Hana asked Hanzo worriedly.

“It’s in the area,” Hanzo said grimly. “It’s finally followed us from Red’s.”

Everyone frowned in almost identical looks of concern. McCree would have laughed if it was something to really be amused by.

“What do you mean ‘finally’?” Satya asked sharply.

Hanzo hesitated. “This will sound…crazy.”

Jamison cackled. “Okay. So she —” he jabbed a finger at Satya and cast her an apologetic look. “—Satya here, lovely woman that she is, she makes things out of light. Hard light that you can see through but still touch and move. It’s there , in your hand, but it’s weightless, transparent, and blue .”

“You say that like blue is the worst of it,” Hana said dryly and Satya’s lips twitched. “Like it being blue is the most unbelievable.”

Jamison jabbed a finger at Hana and turned to Hanzo. “ She does sparklers—shiny things. Flashes like gunpowder and fireworks. You trained her to make sure that she didn’t burn everything down!” Jamison jabbed a finger at Lúcio. “ He will literally sing and your boo-boos go away. And he —”

Mako caught his hand. “Enough,” he grunted.

“Yeah,” Hana rolled her eyes. Her fingers wiggled and a few little sparks (like fireworks, as Jamison said) fluttered from her fingertips. “We get it.” She smiled at Hanzo. “He’s right, though. At this point, crazy is almost normal for us. So hit us with it. What’s going on? What did you learn?”

For a long moment Hanzo still hesitated. McCree could relate—even thinking the words in his head sounded…ridiculous. Insane.

So McCree said, “We had a discussion about theology and came to a few…interesting conclusions. Such as why it keeps the kid—Akande—on such a tight leash.” Hanzo nodded but didn’t interrupt and McCree swallowed. “It’s a part of fear. That’s why it lingered in Red’s so long despite us being pretty close by. It was sowing fear. Maybe it needs Akande to be close for it to keep…I don’t know, brainwashing him, but he’s also keeping him to a…limited area so to speak.”

“The forest is already a source of fear and respect, especially in this area,” Hanzo said quietly. “Here, nobody goes outside after sunset.”

“Unless you’re a tourist or a stupid kid,” Jamison muttered. Most of the others around the room nodded in quiet agreement.

Hanzo inclined his head. “Point being is that in this area—in the forests around Red’s, Clay’s, and Blue Hills—there is a healthy fear of something in the woods.”

“Because there is something there,” Lúcio pointed out. “Even though not everyone knows that.”

McCree leaned forward and nearly fell over. His muscles from the chest down felt terrifyingly weak and he almost wished for one of Ana’s draughts despite her warnings. Lúcio smiled and mouthed ‘ later ’; McCree nodded.

“Well that means that it has a limited area of…effect, I suppose. But that’s fine because everyone here knows it, right?” McCree opened and closed his hand. “ Everyone here believes of the thing in the forest.”

“Saturation point,” Satya said and everyone looked blankly at her. “The stage where no more of a substance can be absorbed or dissolved.”

Hana snapped her fingers. “Maximum capacity! A sponge that can’t take any more water, or when no more sugar can dissolve in lemonade and you’re left with a gritty goop at the bottom of the pitcher.”

“Oddly specific,” Mako muttered. Hana, as if completely unafraid of the enormous man, stuck her tongue out at him. He rasped a laugh.

Jamison clapped his hands excitedly. “Yes! A limited area means that fear is more prevalent here—like those horror movies that happens in those small towns! Nobody’s ever heard of XYZ monster or ghost or urban legend until they go to some place on the left ass cheek of nowhere. There everybody knows and everyone is afraid and respectful of whatever it is that’s there—it has power there, so why should they have to expand?”

“In Clay’s, everyone knows that there is something out there,” Hanzo agreed. “In Red’s they’re less afraid; even less in Blue Hills. But in each place, even a little hint will be enough to secure their belief.”

Hanzo trailed off and McCree took the plunge for him. “It comes down to belief—”

“‘On Earth, as it is in Heaven’, to quote the Bible,” Hanzo added. “Or: ‘as above, so below’.”

Satya’s brows knit. She held up a hand to stop them from continuing as she thought. “You’re talking about gods,” she said quietly.

“Gods are given shape and power and life by the belief of mortals,” Hanzo said into the suddenly-silent living room. Suddenly, the crackling of the fire in the enormous hearth seemed louder and more ominous. “I have been thinking since we last discussed this at Ana’s house—an old friend of mine,” he explained when Hana opened her mouth to ask.

“Oh, what kind of ‘old friend’?” she teased.

Hanzo ignored her. “In Roman mythology, men cannot be gods—and they cannot become gods for gods and men are not the same—but if a man has done something so remarkable, some say that he must have been a god all along, albeit one that had worn the guise of a human for a human lifespan.”

“So we can’t worship Gandhi and have him be a god,” Jamison said with a nod.

Hanzo smiled thinly. “But he can ,” he said, leaning forward.

“Ah!” Satya said quietly. “I see. It is not him —Gandhi, in this example. It is not the Gandhi that was in life, but the idea that comes back as a god.”

“Exactly,” Hanzo said grimly. “But that is…I’m not sure that’s how it works. Not with people.”

The fire popped. Satya’s lips were pressed thin; she seemed to understand where this conversation was going, seemed to have already put the thought into words.

Everyone else was silent, letting it sink in.

“You’re saying,” Mako said very slowly. “That the hungry demon is a god.”

“No,” Lúcio said immediately.

“No,” Hanzo said at the same time. Then he added, “not yet.”

McCree blinked.

He was at the table with Genji and the blank-faced man again.

As above, so below, the faceless man said with the voice of the deep sea that McCree had heard earlier. How very clever.

“Have you ever heard of such a thing?” Genji asked the faceless man.

McCree stood. “Not this again.”

The faceless man turned toward him. I tried to talk him out of it.

“You had already had that conversation,” Genji said, sounding like a petulant child. “And I wanted to talk to you.”

McCree scrubbed his hand over his face. “ Now what do you want?”

Putting a hand to his chest, Genji feigned hurt. “You say that this isn’t important!”

“I have yet to find out,” McCree growled. “And the last time you pulled this, you wanted to complain. Do you have more useful information?”

The faceless man seemed amused. His face seemed to melt again, leaving long tendrils to hang from his chin. When they moved, McCree began to wonder. Genji was able to find a way to transport us there, he said. But it may take some time. They are so slow .

“How long?” McCree demanded. “It’s getting worse!

Genji shrugged. “Hard to say.”

Two days, the faceless man said at the same time.

McCree scowled. “We don’t have that time!”

“That’s why we’re going to be prepared so that when we get there, we can fight,” Genji said grimly. “But that means that you need to be prepared, too.”

“How?” McCree demanded. “We’ve been prepared.”

As he said, he wasn’t sure if they were. They were still talking.

The faceless man put a hand to his face as if he was hiding a smile; the tendrils like tentacles along his jaw wiggled. McCree wondered what he really looked like.

Genji sighed impatiently. “Tell my idiot brother to remember the sigils we used to learn,” he grumbled. “The one to bind . He’s done ones to repel I think, around the edges of his territory, where he has the demon trapped. But now he needs to bind it. To keep it in a limited space so that when I get there, we can banish it.”

“I don’t think it’s that easy,” McCree warned. “I think it’s far too strong for something so simple.”

Genji waved a hand dismissively. “No, it should be fine. Hanzo’s very good at his spells. He was always such a nerd.”

(Privately McCree thought it was something different. That Hanzo had been trying to prove himself as good as the family jewel, the sought-after Seer in his little brother. He said none of this out loud, though; it was not his place.)

Properly done, binding spells can do a lot, the faceless man observed. But gods are another breed, so to speak. It can be very difficult to do such a thing.

“He’ll need help,” McCree suggested. The faceless man nodded. “I don’t know if anyone can help him. Is there…are there rules for magical compatibility?”

The faceless man nodded. McCree wasn’t sure how he could tell, but he thought that he looked pleased. Ask the orisha .

That meant nothing to McCree but he didn’t say so out loud. He turned to Genji and found him fiddling with his phone. “Are we boring you?” he demanded.

Genji looked up. “Are you done? I don’t do magic—the only powers I’d ever had was my Sight. Magic is beyond me…at least anything past the theoretical stages.”

Shaking his head, McCree stood. “Thank you,” he told the faceless man. “What…can I call you?”

He seemed to smile. Somehow. The tendrils along his jaw wiggled as if waving at McCree. A few had blended together so that instead of a dozen thin tendrils, he had a handful of thicker ones.

It reminded McCree of Cthulhu but he wasn’t about to say anything about it.

Knowing his luck, it would be true.

Genji calls me “Zen”, he said. It will do well enough for a name. I’ve found that my name is either unpronounceable or causes madness, which I’m sure you’d like to avoid.

“Yes,” McCree said faintly. He cleared his throat. “Well, thank you, Zen.”

See you in a few days, Zen said serenely, waving. I look forward to actually meeting you.

Turning, McCree found that Kuma had returned and was waiting at the edge of that reality. He sneezed at Zen who laughed.

“Thank you,” McCree said again over his shoulder as he hurried toward Kuma.

“Wait,” he heard behind him, the world and voices faded away.

Then there was only him and Kuma in the white space. “Can I see my mother again?” he asked the might-not-be-a-dog. “And are you Skinner?”

Kuma seemed to laugh.

They appeared in the small house. It was cold outside and the fire crackled in the fireplace. A blanket-wrapped form slept in the golden light it cast.

His mother was knitting in her chair and looked up; her eyes were blazing, glowing red and gold like fire. “Sit down,” she told McCree and he obeyed. “I don’t want to hurt my neck staring up at you. Estás tan alto . How old are you?”

McCree looked at Kuma and when he looked back at his mother, he found that she was looking at him too.

“Skinner, or whatever you call yourself,” she said, the amusement gone from her voice. “What have you done to my boy?”

“He hasn’t done anything,” McCree protested.

Kuma—or Skinner, whatever his name was—sneezed.

“You know him,” McCree said when it was clear that Kuma wasn’t about to answer.

Mamá snorted. “Of course I know him,” she grumbled. “He visited me, too, but didn’t take on that form. He was a little horse. Un poni gordito .” Kuma grunted. “And he appeared to my father as a lizard and his mother as a spider. On and on and on.”

“You never told me,” McCree said quietly.

“Of course not,” she said softly. “I had never seen your gift manifest. I had hoped that you were the first to be free of it.” She sighed. “But divine blood is nothing to shake a stick at, I suppose.”

McCree sucked in a breath. “Divine blood?” he waved his hands—he had two here, it was strange—around as if to chase away bad thoughts. “Wait. Gods don’t exist. They’re just…imaginary friends for adults.”

Behind him, Kuma laughed. It sounded almost human but when he turned, he found the dog on his back, legs splayed and warming his ass by the fire. Disgusted, McCree turned back to his mother who paused in her knitting.

“It’s complicated,” mamá said, making a face. She finished a row, inspected her stitches, and stretched her fingers before beginning another. “It’s this whole complicated thing. A god can’t be created without a human but humans believe that they came from gods who they created. It’s a mess and it always gave me a headache. Skinner tried to explain it to me once and I had a migraine for weeks .”

McCree considered that. “So how can I have divine blood?”

“It’s complicated,” mamá repeated dryly. “A god lay with a mortal, some thing. Or a mortal was deified somewhere down our line.”

Thinking, McCree watched her knit. Her needles flashed with red and gold shimmers of magic. He had always thought knitting to be magic—perhaps it was, in a way.

“I feel like I’ve been given a hundred pieces for a puzzle of over a thousand. Like, a fucking ten thousand-piece puzzle. Million-piece puzzle.”

Mamá clicked her tongue. “Language.” She finished a row and began another.

“Point stands,” McCree argued. “I don’t…I don’t know what I’ve been given. I feel like I’ve been given three thousand pieces of the sky when I only need a hundred.”

“You just don’t see the picture on the box,” mamá agreed grimly. “Fortunately, I’ve never had something so…exciting happen to me. My gift was for peace and protection.”

McCree considered that. He thought of all of the vague shapes of people he had seen all in a line. Many had carried weapons; some had carried other things, like pocket watches.

Or knitting needles.

“What do I do?” McCree asked, eyes on the scarf that his mother was knitting. “I don’t…I feel so lost.”

“That I cannot answer,” mamá said quietly, pausing in her knitting. She smiled softly at him. “Your path is your own. But Skinner must have brought you here for a reason.”

McCree swallowed. “This is real, then?” Mamá nodded. He swallowed. “I must be missing something.”

“What have you learned so far?”

He watched mamá knit for a moment. “Skinner is a god or…something. Imaginary friend.”

“Aren’t imaginary friends a form of god to children?” Mamá smiled softly, looking at the sleeping bundle in front of the fire. “Even ones as annoying as Skinner.” McCree didn’t turn his head to see how, but he heard Kuma blow a raspberry at mamá.

“So Skinner—or Kuma, whatever—is a god of some kind. Now I know that I have…‘divine blood’ or what have you. I know that you can see me and…Kuma’s been bringing me here for a reason. I’m missing something.” McCree sighed, pulling his legs up to his chest and wrapping his arms around his knees.

Mamá finished her scarf and pulled her needles out of the final loops.

McCree frowned.

She held up the scarf in both hands with a smile. “It’s not as personal as the ones we make,” she said ruefully. “But it’s at least pretty. And your papa needs more protections—things have been getting dangerous in his world. I like to give him whatever help I can.”

As she inspected her work, McCree looked around. Reinhardt crocheted sometimes, and Ana once tried to knit but had failed in spectacular fashion, resulting in a Gordian knot of yarn.

He realized that he had never seen mamá adjust her yarn, had not seen her untangle things, pull more from a skein, or tie off her knitting. He’d never seen her with a scissors and hadn’t ever seen her go to a store to get yarn or other such things.

She had never gotten other kinds of needles in any other design.

Though her scarves and hats and mittens and socks and all other thing she knitted had been in every shape and color and weight that she needed, she had never had to change anything, had never had to change colors.

Because there was no yarn.

Had there ever been?

McCree turned to Kuma and found that he had stood up and was watching him intently now. The house faded and they were left alone in an expanse of emptiness.

“Is that what you wanted me to see?” McCree demanded. “All this time? That she wasn’t using yarn?” he shoved himself to his feet but Kuma seemed to grow in size as well so that his eyes were still level with McCree’s as he stood. “I thought it would be something useful.

He was missing an arm again and he threw his remaining one in the air. Kuma tilted his head to the side as if he couldn’t understand this strange human thing that McCree was doing.

“Do you even speak?” McCree demanded, his headache coming back. “Are you just dragging me around because you find it amusing?

Kuma snorted and a gust of wind knocked McCree back on his ass. When he looked up, Kuma seemed to be frowning, but not angrily.

Just disappointed.

“I’ve had it with all of this,” McCree snapped up at him. “Make up your mind what you want of me!”

An image formed around them, Kuma taking them elsewhere.

It was a meadow lit by the moonlight. A creek bisected it, topped with a tumble of pale rocks. A man and a dog stood on the rocks; a monster stared at them from the meadow and another clung like an enormous spider from the nearby trees.

The scene was frozen in time and McCree—after looking at Kuma for confirmation and receiving a nod—stepped forward.

Now that his vision was changed, so to speak, McCree could look at the monster that Akande had become. Akande was still enormously tall, his shoulders still sloped in a terrible mix between a human and canine form. He was still thin and starved, his ribs and hip bones jutting out from his sparse fur.

As Hanzo had described in Satya’s garage, his fur was strange mixes of gold and maroon in bizarre patches that didn’t look natural; his head was blocky and swollen, as were his hands and feet.

His blind, milky eyes were enormous.

Despite his jagged teeth resembling long shards of broken glass jutting from his gums, despite his claws resembling small blades rather than anything natural, he was almost…comical. Like a man in a cheap costume at a haunted house.

“Will you show me what happened to him?” McCree asked and found that Kuma wasn’t beside him.

He did see Hanzo, though, frozen in a moment. Hanzo’s eyes and the markings on his arms and face glowed golden; his face was a mask of terror as he ran, one of his arms reaching for an arrow. Yuki and Ame ran beside him, legs extended in a flat-out run.

Turning back around, McCree put a hand to his chin and thought.

The light he had seen must have been Hanzo. Someone had screamed and then the clearing had been filled with echoing roars and bright light that had made the demon shriek.

“What are you trying to show me?” McCree demanded.

Then he saw a man in the woods, his body obscured by the darkness between the trees. All that were clearly visible were his bare feet, which faced backwards.

McCree swallowed hard. Most mortals shudder to look upon me, whatever god stood in the trees said. He had a snout and pointed ears—they reminded McCree of the Egyptian god Anubis, but he didn’t think that the god had backwards-facing feet.

“I don’t even know what’s going on anymore,” McCree replied. “I don’t even know if I’m imagining this.”

That seemed to amuse the god. Would you have imagined me as I am now?

McCree made a face. “Who are you? Do you expect me to bow to you?” The god seemed to shrug. “Why are you here? Why are you telling me this now?”

The god seemed to shrug again. You were doing well enough without me, he said simply. And you stopped believing in me after a while.

“Are you Skinner? Or Kuma?”

I am both and neither. I am a god. Your mother chose to see me as a pony; for you, it was a hairless dog like the one you saw in your favorite movie as a child.

McCree considered that. “Are you my ancestor?”


“I don’t know why I’m relieved, but I am,” McCree admitted.

It would be rather odd. The god seemed amused.

McCree waved his hand to the clearing and the frozen scene around them. “So why bring me here?”

Suddenly everything was moving. Akande killed Kuma. Past-him lifted his gun.

Akande lunged Past-him had his arm eaten; Hanzo screamed and the world was suddenly full of blue light.

But things were different now. The demon dodged the arcs of blue light that spilled from Hanzo’s bow and lunged for Akande who still held McCree in his jaws. Its many hands wrapped around McCree and drew him, screaming, to one of its many hungry jaws which yawned open wider and wider…

McCree felt his stomach turn as he watched the vision of himself be consumed. Whatever god or spirit was in charge of the vision was cruel enough to show the way the demon’s jaws gnashed, the way McCree’s blood and viscera sprayed and coated its obsidian teeth. He could hear himself screaming and then the crunch that signified his end.

He watched helplessly as the demon swelled and shot out a dozen of its arms. It caught Yuki and Ame first, then Akande, then Hanzo who kept firing his arrows at the monster.

They passed helplessly through it, as if the demon were made of fog, and McCree could see that Hanzo was becoming more and more afraid. He fought even as the demon dragged the wolves closer.

Yuki and Ame passed into two of its gaping jaws; then Akande who howled and fought but was ultimately consumed. McCree turned away, refused to watch the vision of Hanzo’s death.

He turned back at the eerie cry of the demon. It grew, larger and larger, until it was visible above the trees. It screamed again in triumph and then began reaching into the sky, its hands glowing with white and silver light.

The demon began drawing shapes from the sky, from the trees. McCree saw Amélie and Gérard, then the tiny shape of Efi from Hanzo’s barn. Then came Lúcio and the horses, then all of Hanzo’s dogs. As the demon ate, it grew larger and larger and its dozens of arms became hundreds. They stretched into infinity and brought more to its hundreds of jaws and thousands of gnashing obsidian teeth: Ana and Reinhardt, Sheriff Morrison, Satya, Jamison and Mako, Hana and Meka, Fareeha.

He recognized people from the city, too: his old duty sergeant, his old team. The little girl, Elizabeth, who haunted his dreams.

McCree fell to his knees, his hand shaking as he held it to his mouth. Before him was a behemoth with unmatched hunger.

Look up, the god in the trees said and McCree did.

The arms that the demon reached into the sky brought down glowing forms whose eyes shone with an otherworldly light: McCree recognized the cat and lioness pair from Ana’s house, a host of Egyptian gods, a feathered serpent.

Looking down, McCree saw that the demon’s arms passed through the ground and brought up more treasures. A thin man and a woman who trailed little red seeds from her hands as she was pulled up, an enormous crocodile who held a set of scales in its jaws a dog-headed man with backwards feet...

McCree gasped and swayed in his seat. Strong arms caught him and eased him to the cushions; someone put a cool cloth over his forehead and eyes and McCree sighed. There was mint and lemongrass in it and it tingled on his face, easing the bone-deep ache that echoed around his skull like a troupe of musicians was using it as a drum.

“Ana’s much better at it than I am,” Lúcio said ruefully. “But I can do small herbal remedies.”

His voice briefly made the ache in McCree’s head worse before it eased. Lúcio began to hum and McCree sighed when his shoulders began to relax, the tension there fading away.

“What time is it?” McCree croaked.

“Your vision only lasted a few minutes that we could tell,” Hanzo told him softly.

McCree reached his good hand out and found Hanzo’s chest—he was lying with his head in Hanzo’s lap, and it had been Hanzo’s hands that had caught him. “I would like to murder your brother.”

“I’ve thought him dead for many years. I’m sure I won’t notice.”

Unable to stop himself, McCree barked a laugh and whined when it sent a stab of pain up his spine. The imagined drummers on his skull tap-tap-tapped away. “I also have a bone to pick with a few other deities. But I did find out that your brother will be arriving in a few days.”

“Somehow that isn’t reassuring,” Hanzo said dryly. “But I suppose that we now have time to prepare.”

McCree hummed. With Hanzo’s warning, he closed his eyes as the wrap over his eyes was flipped over. He mulled over his vision.

“There is a lot to unpack,” he told Hanzo though he hadn’t asked. Hanzo hummed and put his hand over McCree’s; he realized belatedly that it was still on his chest. Beneath his hand, he could feel the steady thunder of Hanzo’s heartbeat. “Genji has a companion that he’s bringing along. I think he might be…I don’t know, maybe a god? Or a very strong spirit? Maybe something like the demon here, that is just a very powerful something .”

“You don’t know what it was?” McCree jumped and hissed as pain rattled up his skull but it was much less, thanks to Lúcio’s strange singing. “Sorry,” Hana said a lot softer.

McCree described what the faceless man looked like, of his voice that was like the roaring sea and the crushing depths of the abyss; he described his melting face and the way that the “drips” formed into tentacles.

“Kinky,” Hana commented.

Making a face, McCree turned slightly toward Hanzo again. “I saw my mother again. I know who Skinner is. Kind of.” Hanzo gently squeezed McCree’s hand. “He’s a god, or maybe a spirit. I suppose he’s a kind of family heirloom because mamá said that she saw him too, but not in the same shape—and he told me later that I designed him after a movie I liked as a kid.”

Hana giggled. “So he’s like an imaginary friend that you inherited? What an inheritance, huh?”

“Another thing,” McCree said quietly and hesitated. “I don’t know where it stands but…my mother used to knit. She was always knitting but…I just realized that she would knit without yarn.”

“What would she use?” Hana asked, sounding honestly curious. “Rope? Twine? Hair? Spaghetti? I saw a funny picture about a grandma accidentally knitting something when she tried to use chopsticks once.”

Hanzo chuckled. “She had some of the strongest protection spells I had ever seen,” he murmured.

“It was her knitting needles,” McCree remembered. “I’d seen something else too—I think…whatever this is was transferred back and forth. Um…from father to daughter and then to son. The ones I saw had weapons but then a few began having things like pocket watches and then mamá’s knitting needles.”

“They had a remarkable amount of magic,” Hanzo agreed. “So it sounds like each gift had manifested for a different person as something they would need.”

McCree made a face. “I don’t know who’d need knitting needles , but I guess.”

“I suppose that each form had its benefits,” Hanzo said vaguely. “And when she knitted, she was able to put spells of protection into what she made. Among other things, I’m sure.”

“We always had hats and scarves and gloves,” McCree remembered. “And the were always so warm and they never ripped or stained. That stopped though…”

Hana made a soft sound as Lúcio stopped singing. Rolling his neck, McCree realized that his aches weren’t gone , but they were well enough that he was able to sit up and take the wet towel off of his eyes. Hana and Meka sat in one of the chairs nearby, while Hanzo and Lúcio shared the couch with McCree. There was no sign of Mako, Jamison, or Satya.

“Take it easy,” Lúcio advised. “And go to sleep early tonight. I’ll start dinner.” He got up and left.

Hana made a face. “He never likes any of the fun stuff,” she complained. “But after he was nearly gobbled up, I guess that’s fair.” They ignored her.

“I know why all the gods are suddenly so interested,” McCree said before anyone could ask about knitting. He had a suspicion but that was for him to unpack later.

That was something for him to speak with Kuma about.


Much, much later.

“It’s what the big guy called it—the hungry demon. I think that’s all it is, just hunger,” McCree continued quickly.

Hana hummed. “I would have thought it would be greed.”

“But greed is a kind of hunger,” Hanzo countered. “And so is the need for more power.” He nodded encouragingly at McCree. “The gods are concerned because of that, aren’t they?”

“I don’t know if there are other gods of hunger or starvation,” McCree said carefully. “But…if there are I’d guess that they’re the god of something else—something that would temper that hunger. I don’t think that this demon has that. I think it only hungers.”

He thought back to the visions he’d had of the monster. I am hungry, it had roared at him. I hunger.

“A thousand gods over a thousand civilizations must have had hunger gods,” Hana argued. “Like you said. I’m sure that having another isn’t an issue.”

Hanzo cleared his throat. “Let me rephrase,” he said more patiently than McCree thought he could manage at this point. “This demon hungers—we’ve established that. It wants to consume . Right now it is trapped here and I keep it from hurting people.” He made a face. “I failed with Akande—hikers rarely wander through these woods so I wasn’t as vigilant as I should have been. But instead of consuming him , he…allowed him to be an agent of his own consumption. Whatever he offered Akande—immortality, power, who knows—he allowed Akande to be an agent of its hunger by indulging in his own .”

“A minion,” Hana exclaimed.

“A minion,” Hanzo agreed with a grave nod. “But the demon is still hungry—it had its ‘food’ recently, but it hungers still. When will it stop?”

Hana considered that. “When it’s not hungry,” she said. “But the demon is hunger. So it won’t stop, will it?”

Hanzo and McCree shook their heads gravely. “It will consume the world and everything on it. From there, it will pass to the world beyond worlds,” McCree said, his voice feeling strangely echoey. He wasn’t sure he liked it but he couldn’t stop. His mouth and a voice not quite his continued, “It will consume the lingering spirits and the demons like it. All that do battle against it will fail for it is a god and it is hungry—and hunger cannot be killed, only sated. So it will reach into the skies and the rivers and the trees, into the heavens and underworlds of every god and devour them as well.”

He blinked and he found that Hana and Hanzo were looking at him oddly; he didn’t blame them, it felt odd, too.

It felt like someone had a hand around his throat. He thought that he could feel each finger, tipped in a claw.

Hanzo was frowning, his eyes glowing golden. Looking at Hana, McCree realized that she was sparking, crackles of light and flame glittering along her fingertips; Meka was on the arm of the chair next to her, out of the way if Hana decided to move and out of the way of the light show in her hands. He grunted when he saw McCree looking at him and offered a raspy meow.

“That’s what you showed me,” McCree said, guessing at who was using him to speak. “Of what might have happened—of what would happen if it got me. Or, I assume, any powerful Seer.” It felt strange. As he spoke, he could feel his throat moving against a bony hand, or he thought he could. It was a sensation that he hoped to never feel again.

My apologies, not-god-child, Skinner said to McCree alone, sounding wickedly amused.

“Nobody likes a smartass.”

Skinner laughed and McCree thought that it was a good thing that the god was amused. He’d hate it if the god smote him. I will do no such thing. Your line has ever been full of fire. I’d never been quite so entertained.


May I? the god asked this time and McCree grumbled but agreed. Skinner said through him, “I showed Jesse McCree what it would look like. The demon is hunger and the gods that bother to concern themselves with human affairs are worried.”

“Where do gods live?” Hana asked. “And I thought that gods were created by humans. How can they not be bothered?”

“Going off-topic,” Hanzo murmured, but Skinner seemed to be in a difficult mood.

“Gods are created by those that believe—they do not have to be human.” Skinner pulled McCree’s face into a smile. “A fish in the river may create its own god so long as it believes. They may worship and place their offerings as they go about their life and when the gods do battle, they send down floods of water and mud so thick that a fish cannot breathe and their civilization is wiped out. Humans call these lahars but to the fish that dreamed the god, that passed on its religion to those that would listen, who passed on its belief in gods of earth and gods of water, it is the work of gods, who are nature, and if they spoke this language, they would have their own name for it.”

Hana made a motion with her hands like her head exploded. “Fish have a religion?”

“That is a discussion for later,” Hanzo said firmly. Hana made a face at him. “Are the gods are getting involved?”

Skinner shook McCree’s head. “We cannot as we are, for we are—as Jesse McCree sometimes says—imaginary friends. There are things we can do, like strengthen protections already in place—”

“Like you did at Ana’s house,” Hanzo murmured and Skinner nodded McCree’s head. “But you cannot step in and, say, kill Akande or the demon for us.”

“I am a lesser god, as things go,” Skinner said, amused. “But even the mighty Sekhmet or Ares or Huītzilōpōchtli at the height of their reins, could not strike down a mortal. For us it would be like trying to catch the wind—as it would be for you to kill us by your weapons.”

Hana snorted. “If you believe hard enough…”

“Gods can be killed by belief,” Skinner agreed. “But no matter how many sacrifices, how many pray and believe in the god, they cannot be struck down by us; just as you cannot take a knife to me.”

McCree thought of the knife from his visions. “There is a knife though.”

“It was wielded by your mother and her father before her, on and on through grandmother and father and daughter and son,” Skinner agreed. “It was gifted to your many-times-great ancestor who passed it down through the years.”

Hanzo leaned forward. “That’s how McCree’s mother could knit without yarn,” he said. “How she made protections. She protected her family and whoever held the cloth to them.”

Skinner pulled McCree’s face into a frown. “She did,” he agreed through McCree. “Until one day the needles were stolen from her.”

My father died, McCree thought. Because he didn’t have the protection that she gave him.

I had stolen the needles. He could remember it with terrible clarity. He took them to play swords with one of his friends; his friend had dropped the needle in his hand and it had rolled into a storm drain. Rather than take the remaining needle home and admit to his guilt, McCree had thrown the other one in the storm drain as well.

It was not your fault, Skinner told him gently. You were a child.

McCree’s hand clenched, his nails digging crescents into his palm. “And this knife?” he asked, his voice wavering. “Where is it now?”

You were not ready for it before, Skinner observed. You will not know what form it will take for you.

McCree swallowed. “No,” he said out loud. Then hesitated. But whatever it is, it helped my mamá protect my papá. I don’t know what it will do but this might help me protect them.

For a long moment everyone in the room was silent, even Hana who seemed to be bursting with questions. Distantly, they could hear Lúcio open the back door and lean out to call those outside in for dinner. With the door open they could hear the dogs barking and running around and the distant call of a horse.

It may not be given to you to protect, Skinner said at last. It wasn’t hesitant or questioning, just matter-of-fact. An ominous warning. That may not be the destiny that the knife wants through you.

McCree gritted his teeth and clenched his fist tighter. He hoped it was sweat in his palm and not blood. Destiny is what I make of the hand I’m given, he said stubbornly. Gods do not preordain things no matter how much we want to believe they do.

Another long moment of silence and then Skinner laughed. I like you, he said and as surely as if McCree watched him leave, he knew that Skinner was gone.

He slumped forward with a gasp. Everything tingled and he felt Hanzo put a large hand on the back of his neck. “I like Skinner,” McCree said roughly. “But I would like very much to not have that happen again.”

Hanzo laughed weakly and tugged him close, pressing his nose into McCree’s hair. He could feel the Wolf trembling and McCree realized that he had been scared —whether for McCree or of Skinner, he couldn’t tell. Turning, he buried his face in Hanzo’s chest. “I’m sorry I scared you,” he whispered.

Heavy footsteps had them all looking up; Mako scowled as he looked around. He sniffed the air like a hound. A mean-looking boar the size of a medium-sized dog followed, its snout twitching as it sniffed the air as well. McCree felt his stomach churn at the look of those sharp tusks and his hand clenched in Hanzo’s shirt.

“It smells like god in here,” Mako growled. He turned and walked away. “Dinner’s ready,” he called over his shoulder. The boar stared at them with beady eyes before turning and following.

“I wonder what ‘god’ smells like,” Hana said faintly.

Hanzo shrugged. “It’s hard to describe.” Hana stuck her tongue out at them.

“I’m going to ask,” she decided and stood. “C’mon, Meka.” The cat gave a garbled meow and jumped on her shoulder as she passed.

When she left, McCree realized that she had been trying to give them privacy. Hanzo pulled McCree into his lap and wrapped both arms tight around his waist. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly. “Being touched by gods is…unnerving.”

McCree laughed. “Do you have a doll? I’d like to show you where the mean old god touched me.” Hanzo’s laugh was brittle and didn’t quite reach his eyes. Testing his luck, McCree leaned down and kissed Hanzo who sighed and let his golden eyes slide shut. “I’m…fine. I think. Just…tired.”

“I’m glad,” Hanzo whispered. “I’m scared,” he admitted quietly. “It’s one thing to know that the demon is out there but now knowing the stakes?”

Leaning close, McCree pressed his forehead against Hanzo’s. “Sometimes our best comes out in the bleakest times,” he said quietly.

“I’m afraid of failing,” Hanzo admitted. “I’m afraid that the demon will consume you—or Genji. I’m afraid of what will happen, that I might be the reason for it breaking out.”

Having nothing to say to that, McCree leaned down and kissed Hanzo instead. He could get used to this, he thought. It was dangerous—Hanzo would live forever while McCree slowly wasted away with time.

But for now, he let himself enjoy this: the warmth of Hanzo’s hands, the taste of his kisses. It was all something out of a romance novel, something too ridiculous for real life, but McCree couldn’t find it in himself to be annoyed by it.

Someone cleared their throat nearby and McCree wanted to groan. When Hanzo blinked up at him, surprised and a little confused, he realized what had happened and McCree did groan. “Go away.”

You asked for the knife, Skinner said with wicked humor. But I have the feeling that it won’t be what you choose to stab with.

“Nobody likes a smartass,” McCree grumbled and turned his head.

Skinner appeared as Kuma once more, sitting on the cushions next to them. In his mouth was the dagger. Somehow it looked like he was smirking. If I was human I suppose I could not blame you in your taste. He is quite pretty.

“Hush,” McCree snapped. Hanzo’s hands rested on his hips and he felt grounded through the touch. He gestured to the knife in Skinner’s mouth. “Is that it, then?”

Yes. If you choose to take it from me, then it is yours, Skinner told him gravely. It will be yours until you pass on in which time it will return to me until its next host.

McCree swallowed and rested his hand on one of Hanzo’s. He was silent beneath McCree, didn’t complain that McCree was speaking to someone that he couldn’t hear. His quiet support gave McCree the strength to ask, “What if I don’t have a daughter?”

It is not literal, Skinner said dryly. Whatever that meant. It is a god in its own right, a tool to be used for a purpose. Once that purpose is complete, then it will leave.

He considered that. “So…”

Fate and destiny are not true things, but sometimes things happen for a reason, Skinner told him gently. The knife passed itself on to you when you took it from your mother. I took it back because you were not ready and could not understand the implications of this…burden.

McCree trembled. He bit back what he really wanted to say. That these gods, uncaring of human feelings, had sentenced his father to death.

If Skinner could hear that, he said nothing of it, just watched McCree calmly. The knife was held in his jaws, just within reach; McCree just needed to reach out and take it from him.

“I’m scared,” he admitted to Skinner.

You should be, was the reply. It was blunt and matter-of-fact, with a note of sympathy. It is one thing to accept the things that happen to you but another thing to reach out and accept this kind of responsibility. This means more than what it had meant to your mother.

“I hope it won’t be knitting needles,” McCree joked weakly. “I don’t know how to knit.”

The idea of you knitting is an amusing one, Skinner told him dryly and this time McCree was able to laugh weakly.

McCree’s hand shook as he reached for the hilt of the knife in Skinner’s mouth. He paused before touching it. “What do you think will happen?”

I think that it will reveal itself to you in its own time, Skinner said with surprising gentility. I think —for I do not know these things—I think that it will be of great help to you. Whether it will kill or protect, I do not know.

He looked at Skinner’s face and found it inscrutable. Carefully he wrapped his fingers around the hilt and Skinner opened his mouth.

His arm dropped beneath the weight of the blade and he grunted—it was heavier than he thought! “Thank you,” he said softly.

You say that as if I’m leaving forever, Skinner said dryly. I will be around, but not to watch you stab . He winked and was gone.

“He called me pretty,” Hanzo said just as dryly. “I like to think I’m not.”

McCree looked down at Hanzo in surprise. “You heard that?”

“Every word,” Hanzo replied and smiled up at McCree. “It seems that the god wanted me to know this as well. What did he give you?”

He held the knife between them, turning it over in his hand. It had a plain leather sheath with intricate designs burned into it. The hilt looked to be carved bone, wrapped with leather strips worn flat by many hands holding it.

Tucking the sheath under his left arm, he carefully drew the blade. It was shiny black stone, edges rippled from being…cut? Shaved? McCree wasn’t sure what it was called.

“A fine blade,” Hanzo said appreciatively.

“I wouldn’t know what to look for,” McCree admitted.

Hanzo smiled. “It looks like obsidian,” he said, peering at the stone. “Volcanic glass. Known for its sharp edges, so be careful. Don’t want you to lose any more body parts. Especially those that you might stab me with.”

Groaning, McCree struggled to tuck the knife back in its sheath. “You two are the worst.”

“I’d hope not.” Hanzo flashed him a smile that made his stomach do somersaults. “Come. Let’s go to dinner.”

Dinner was an interesting event. Mako eyed the blade when McCree held it out for him to see but refused to touch it; the boar in his shadow hissed and it took McCree some time for his breathing to calm.

(Jamison assured him that the boar, whose name was apparently Buttercup, wouldn’t hurt him and seeing how unsure McCree was, Mako sent it outside. He felt bad but the gesture was appreciated.)

“God-touched items should stay in the hands the gods intended,” Mako grumbled, which was probably the longest sentence that McCree had ever heard him say. Jamison and Hana gave nearly-identical pouting looks—clearly they had been hoping to hold the knife as well. “I’ll make you a belt for it,” Mako grunted and McCree nodded.

“Is it going to stay as a knife?” Lúcio asked curiously as he carried out the hot dishes of food. Satya helped him and peered curiously at the knife but didn’t seem very interested in it. She went back into the kitchen.

McCree shrugged. “I think that Skinner said that it will change to what I need it.”

“So you need a knife?” Jamison asked, raising his tattered eyebrows. “That don’t sound very…practical.”

Hanzo served McCree a healthy portion of food. “Eat,” he said firmly. “You used a lot of energy today. We have a tea for you to drink and then you’ll go to bed early.”

“I didn’t do most of it,” McCree protested even as his stomach growled with hunger. He sat down and fumbled for his fork. Hanzo continued to scoop food, giving him heaping portions of venison, barbecued chicken, roasted and grilled vegetables, mashed potatoes, and some of his sweet loaves slathered with butter.

“Are you going to serve us, too?” Hana asked with begging eyes.

“I see nothing wrong with your hands,” Hanzo retorted, though his lips curled upward in a smile. He began heaping his own plate with food, settling next to McCree to keep a sharp eye on him while he ate.

Satya and Lúcio continued to carry out dishes from the kitchen. Mako ate as much as Hanzo did, unsurprising given his bulk, and Hanzo watched to make sure that McCree was eating.

Not that it was needed because once he tasted Lúcio’s cooking, he couldn’t stop himself from shoveling more food into his mouth.

Hana talked about how many amulets that they had all made, the meanings of all of it passing way over McCree’s head but he listened out of curiosity. Something bothered him, like he was forgetting something.

Was he?

McCree blinked and straightened. “Hanzo!” Hanzo’s head snapped toward him, his eyes glowing golden with alarm. “What do you know about binding spells?”

“Only the basics,” Hanzo said after a long pause. “I left before I could learn anything more advanced.”

“Do you remember the spell?” McCree pressed. “Genji seemed to think it was important.”

Jamison frowned. “Who’s Genji?” Hana shushed him impatiently and continued eating, watching them like this was of great interest to her. Like this was some kind of daytime drama.

Hanzo ignored her. “I know of a few,” he said slowly. “I’m not sure that any of them are up to holding the demon, though.”

“That was the other thing,” McCree told him. “The…the faceless man I saw. He said to ask someone for help but…I don’t remember what it was—who it was.” He scowled down at his plate and bit into a piece of venison. It gave way beneath his teeth and he sighed—normally people would love to have such a tender cut of meat but now it was less than satisfying. “I think it started with an ‘o’.”

Lúcio tossed something at the table and Hanzo caught it. “Ask the orange?” he teased but his smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“I doubt the spirits of the fruit trees would appreciate the joke,” Satya said, sounding scolding but her lips also twitched. She sat down on McCree’s other side, tucked as far from everyone else as she could. “Hanzo, isn’t your power rooted in the earth?”

Hanzo shrugged. “It depends on who you ask,” he said dryly. “Some of my power seems to come from this place—the pine trees and the mists. But some of my power comes from…” he trailed off and cocked his head to the side. “The orisha . You’re talking about her.”

McCree felt a chill run down his spine. “I think that’s what he said.”

“What is that?” Hana demanded.

“I don’t know if she’ll help,” Hanzo said cautiously. He fiddled with the napkin next to him then took another bite of food. McCree thought it looked like he was trying to hurry through his meal and likewise he hurried.

There was no way he was going to miss this. Hanzo seemed to sense this—he cast McCree a disapproving look but otherwise said nothing to deter him.

McCree was glad; he didn’t want to argue with Hanzo. He itched for action, even though with his missing arm, he was probably more of a liability.

The thought saddened him and he looked down at his stump. He’d been doing so well to forget what had happened and yet…

“Before you go and visit the orisha ,” Satya said and McCree looked up at her in surprise. “I have something for you. Jamison and I were working on it today; I hope that it wasn’t presumptuous of me.”

McCree looked at Hanzo who shrugged. “The orisha doesn’t sleep,” he said enigmatically.

Satya said something to Hanzo in a language that McCree didn’t recognize; Hanzo looked surprised and gave a weak smile. Seeing McCree looking at him, Hanzo shook his head.

Scowling, McCree began eating again.

“I’m going to need salt,” Hanzo told the table at large.

Mako gave a toothy grin that had too many teeth; Jamison cackled. “Figured that was the least we could do,” Jamison said. “We got an entire pallet of it for ya. Probably enough to fill the whole horse meadow.”

“Funny you should say that,” Hanzo said a little too casually. “I intend to.”

“Dude,” Lúcio breathed. “The scope of that…”

McCree looked around in confusion. “What?”

“My brother’s intention is for me to drop the barriers around my home,” Hanzo said to the room at large. Some looked surprised—clearly they knew Hanzo’s history—but nobody interrupted him. “And for me to trap it in place with a binding circle.”

Mako grunted. “Yeah, Roadie’s right,” Jamison said as if that had been an entire sentence. “That thing’s big!

“Hence the need for a lot of salt.” Hana clapped her hands and rubbed them together gleefully.

Hanzo nodded. “Satya—”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hana interrupted. “Satya and I are on it. And Lú will clear the horsies into the barn.”

“Probably move them to another pasture,” Lúcio murmured. “With a few dogs I can drive them down to one of the minor pastures—there’s a relatively well-fortified barn there where the kid probably won’t be able to get to them.”

Hanzo nodded. “Take more than a few dogs,” he said grimly. “I’ll speak to them later and make sure they know what to do.”

“I’ll go too,” Mako grunted and Hanzo nodded. Lúcio nodded, looking equal parts relieved and terrified.

“My goal is to have the circle done tomorrow,” Hanzo told the table. “It’s a lot of work but I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”

McCree nodded. “I was told that Genji and…whoever is with him will be here in two days. I doubt they’ll get here sooner and if anything, they’ll get here later .”

“I doubt we have that kind of time,” Hanzo pointed out grimly. “We cannot leave Red’s as it is and as the demon grows stronger…”

“You’re afraid that it will break through the barrier,” Satya said quietly. Hanzo nodded and Satya frowned. “I want to be…upset. But it is a very valid concern. It is better to be prepared for the inevitability than to be surprised.”

Jamison scratched his chin. “A part of me wants to go with Roadie,” he admitted. Mako grunted. “I hate bein’ apart, yannow? But I think I’m best served here. Guessin’ it’d be good on me to make you some of them arrows you like.”

“I don’t know in what form I will be fighting it,” Hanzo cautioned.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jamison said, digging a pinkie finger in his ear. “I got that. I’ll make something up for ya. Think I got enough scrap here to work with.”

Hanzo stood, taking his plate with him. “Take your time,” he told McCree. “I’ll wait for you.”

“He’s probably going to talk to the dogs,” Lúcio assured McCree. “If he says he’ll wait for you, he will wait for you.”

McCree hesitated. “Does he really speak to the dogs?” he asked in a small voice.

“Animals,” Mako grunted. “All kinds.”

He wasn’t sure why he was surprised…or unnerved by it. Of all the things he had seen thus far, this should have been one of the tamer ones. At this point he wasn’t bothered by Hanzo changing into a wolf; it’s that he could speak to them that made him uneasy.

Suddenly he lost his appetite.

Satya whisked away his plate and he sighed as he followed her down the hall. There were more areas of the enormous lodge that he hadn’t explored, and Satya drew him toward one of the first-story rooms.

It was a small workroom, floored in concrete with cinderblock walls—good thing it seemed, because McCree could see soot marks traveling along the concrete and he winced at the thought of the lodge burning down. Satya gestured for him to sit on a nearby stool and went to fetch a large box.

“I apologize if this is presumptuous of me,” Satya murmured, looking down at the box. “I know that not everyone…” she hesitated and then held out the box. “You may lift the lid off and tell me what you think.”

Nervously, almost afraid that whatever was inside would bite, McCree thumbed open the lid—a simple cover, like a shoebox—and tugged it aside. With a nervous look at Sayta he leaned forward and looked inside.

There was an arm inside.

A human arm, recreated in metal and wires.

“It is crude,” Satya hurried to explain, somehow still sounding calm and dignified. “But for the purposes of this…it would suffice. Jamison and I layered it with as many protections as we could think of.”

McCree stared down at the arm in awe. “You made this?”

“It was a simple matter,” Satya told him. “And it is…far more basic than I would have desired—and ugly.” Her lip curled slightly before smoothing out.

Cautiously McCree reached out to touch the arm. It was bulky the way prototypes usually were but when he lifted it—with Satya’s nod—it wasn’t as heavy as he expected it to be.

“We counterweighted it as well as we could estimate,” Satya told him, putting the box down. She brought her hands up to the arm, careful not to touch McCree. It bent smoothly in her hand, rotating like a real arm might. “There are places that we could add or remove weight if needed.”

“Why?” McCree blurted, confused.

Satya’s lips twitched. “To keep you from being off-balance,” she explained. “We didn’t know how much your arm may have weighed.” She hesitated. “Do…you want to try it on?”

Swallowing hard, McCree nodded. He couldn’t rightfully say why he hadn’t worn his hospital-issued prosthetic, even given the go-ahead by the doctors. Perhaps it was because it looked too much like a mannequin’s arm, perhaps because it felt too flimsy. This had heft, and there was a dark promise in the metal reinforcements on those knuckles.

Satya showed him how it connected to his stump, how it would connect to the port at the base of his arm. He didn’t like to see the puckered skin there, hated staring at the pink lines of scars; it was better to keep the silicone “cap” over it.

He forced himself to watch, now.

Satya’s fingers twitched when she touched him but aside from a tick to her frown, she worked through it, connecting the arm to the port. A deft twist that McCree almost didn’t feel had the arm connecting; he gasped as static filled his mind and then receded.

It felt like his arm had fallen asleep and he was only now “waking” it up.

“Lift both hands,” Satya told him, going through the motions herself. McCree’s eyes dropped to her prosthetic hand and then looked away. He obeyed, his left hand shaking as he bent his elbows, turned his hands— both of them —to face him. “Twist out.” Satya turned her forearms so that her palms faced McCree; he did likewise.

“It…this is amazing.”

It seemed that Satya couldn’t help the little twitch of a smile. She seemed pleased. “It is not anything special.”

McCree swallowed. “Heck, I’d commission a better arm from you later.”

If they all made it out of this , was thought but not said.

Satya seemed to hear it. She nodded regardless. “Later. Touch your thumbs to your fingers.” She demonstrated, touching her thumbs to each of her fingers down the line from pinkie to pointer and back.

Concentrating, McCree obeyed. When his left hand was a little clumsier than his right, Satya asked to see it and instructed him to look away as she opened a panel in his arm. She fiddled with something, closed the panel, and had him try again.

They continued through such exercises and calibrations until Satya decided that he was done. She handed him a cleaning cloth, mild cleaning solution, and instructions for its care. The particular model she had made wasn’t the most waterproof—rain and taking it into the shower should be fine, but she was adamant that it not be submerged if possible…something about water spells messing with the protection spells or some such.

McCree didn’t understand it entirely but still listened dutifully.

He could sleep in it but she recommended that he wait until he was more used to it—for the first few days, take it off before bed. She showed him how to take it off and put it back on.

This was a temporary arm , she emphasized. It wasn’t meant for extended wear. This was to defeat the demon and if he wanted a similar arm after, then she would make him one.

McCree was tearing up when he thanked her. She handed him a box of tissues but otherwise ignored his wavering voice. When he left her workroom, he found Ame waiting for him.

The wolf lifted her head and wagged her tail happily when she saw him and got to her feet, stretching and yawning. She trotted over and sniffed his new arm.

Kneeling, McCree wrapped his arms around her shoulders and buried his face in her fur. She smelled musty and truly not that pleasant, but he needed the soft feeling of her thick ruff on his face while he got himself together.

Ame wagged her tail and he looked up to find Hanzo. He gave McCree a soft smile that made something in his chest flip-flop. “Do you need a minute?”

McCree swallowed thickly and Ame nosed his face, licking his cheeks clean. Hanzo was kind enough to ignore that he was clearly tearing up, holding out a hand to pull McCree to his feet.

“Yeah,” McCree said, chuckling when Hanzo tugged him closer and buried his face in Hanzo’s neck. “I just…”

Hanzo hummed, running a hand up and down McCree’s back. “Take your time.”

“Thank you,” McCree murmured into Hanzo’s neck.

“For giving you a minute?” Hanzo asked, sounding amused.

“No,” McCree said, his throat tight. “For everything.”

Hanzo said nothing but his arms wrapped around McCree and tugged him closer. They stood in the hallway like that, in front of Satya’s workshop, basking in each other’s presence for a moment longer.

Despite his earlier eagerness, McCree begged off of visiting the orisha . Hanzo assured him that he would be fine to go alone, and that McCree should get his rest while he could. Ominous but it was appreciated.

He had a lot to think about.

Chapter Text

The door opened and Hanzo blinked, as if surprised to find him there. McCree felt doubt churn in his stomach.

“I had almost expected you to be in your own room,” Hanzo said. Perhaps it was wishful thinking but McCree didn’t think he sounded displeased to find him there. Still…

“I can leave if you would like?”

Hanzo shook his head and stepped in, closing the door behind him. “Only if you wish to be alone. I am happy to see you in my bed.” Hanzo moved to the showers and paused. “Would you like to join me?”

Swallowing, McCree stood and followed him in, sliding off his boxers and stepping into the hot spray of the shower. He was almost relieved that Hanzo didn’t seem too interested in anything more than getting clean.

At the same time he wondered what he had done wrong. Did Hanzo not like him anymore?

It was a silly thought—Hanzo had invited him in the shower, hadn’t he? And hadn’t he made it clear that he was pleased to see McCree in his bed?

Yes, a traitorous part of his mind whispered. But for what? Sex?

He jumped when a warm hand cupped his cheek and he blinked his eyes open, his lashes feeling waterlogged from the spray of the showerheads, to look down at Hanzo. His eyes were brown now—a normal, human brown if a little light—and Hanzo smiled tentatively.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “You look…unwell.”

McCree swallowed. “No, just…a lot on my mind.”

“It has been a long few days,” Hanzo agreed, his eyes searching McCree’s. “I know that I’m someone you have only just met a month ago,” he said slowly. “But if you need to talk—or want to—I…I am willing to listen.”

Closing his eyes, McCree tipped his face into Hanzo’s hand and pressed a kiss to the palm. He tugged Hanzo closer—cautiously because of the slick tile of the shower—and pressed his forehead to Hanzo’s. “I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Sometimes it’s easier just to start and backtrack.”

McCree smiled. He sighed. “Not…here. In bed?”

His eyes blinked open when Hanzo leaned in and gave him a gentle—and chaste—kiss. He looked so unsure but his voice was steady when he said, “of course.”

Leaning close, McCree kissed Hanzo and the Wolf sighed into it, relaxing more against McCree’s body. “It isn’t this,” McCree murmured. “Not entirely. It’s about something else. This is on my mind, though.”



Would McCree be a lingering ghost like Efi? Like Amélie and Gérard? Could he live like that?

“God, but I think I might love you,” McCree murmured, eyes shut against Hanzo’s reaction, against the spray of the shower. “And it’s almost as terrifying as the demon.”

He could feel the puff of breath against his lips as Hanzo sighed. “It’s terrifying—love, that is. Love is…it is consuming. It binds you as if you were chained.”

“You sound like you speak from experience,” McCree said, trying to hide how his heart fell.

Hanzo laughed and his other hand came up to cradle McCree’s face. His thumbs brushed the skin under McCree’s eyes and he cautiously leaned in. “Something like that,” he murmured.

With a soft sound, McCree pulled Hanzo closer, and basked in the simple feeling of a gentle kiss, of gentle hands touching him. There was no pressure, no urging for sex: just the simple pleasures of the closeness of another.

“Come on,” Hanzo sighed at last against McCree’s lips. “To bed.”

McCree followed, drying himself off with a towel while Hanzo did the same. He followed Hanzo into the other room and found Hanzo’s Wolf skin on the chair once more. “I didn’t see you carry it in,” he commented.

“It does that,” Hanzo said dryly and McCree eyed the empty eye sockets, the glittering white fangs. Somehow instead of being afraid, he was reassured by its presence.

Instead of feeling as if he were being watched, as if the skin were a voyeur or a chaperone that made sure that they weren’t doing anything untoward, it felt as if it were simply a part of Hanzo there as well.

“What would happen if I put it on?” McCree asked half-jokingly. “Would I turn into a wolf as well?”

Hanzo cocked his head to the side, so much like one of his many dogs that McCree found himself smiling, just a little bit. “Nobody has wanted to try it on,” he said in a strange voice. “But I suppose that if you did, nothing would happen. It is my skin, an extension of myself.”

“But you need to put it on to transform?” McCree pressed.

An odd look crossed Hanzo’s face. “Yes,” he agreed.

McCree slid into bed with Hanzo, wincing and adjusting himself when he landed wrong, before leaning close to press a kiss to Hanzo’s throat. “I ain’t gonna steal it,” he promised. “Was just curious.”

Sighing, Hanzo relaxed into McCree’s loose hold, tipping his head back to bare more of his throat. Given the space, McCree leaned close and traced his nose and lips against the pulse there, against the curve of Hanzo’s jaw before dropping to press a kiss to Hanzo’s collarbones.

“You’re distracting me,” McCree accused.

“Not on purpose,” Hanzo replied, his throat rumbling beneath McCree’s touch. “As I said, I will not force you to do anything—that includes speaking of what is on your mind.”

McCree made a face and pulled back. Hanzo’s face was flushed, his pupils large; a peek down showed his dick swelling, half-hard against the crease of where hip met thigh. Hands caught McCree’s chin and tipped his head up to look at Hanzo again.

“Don’t,” Hanzo said kindly. “That’s not important right now.” His lips twisted into a smirk. “I can’t help that I like the feel of your mouth on my throat.”

McCree smiled crookedly. “Is that a wolf thing?” he teased.

“It’s a me thing,” Hanzo replied dryly. “I had always liked teeth in my throat.” His hands twisted and cupped McCree’s cheek in his warm palm. “And I am always happy to bare my throat to you—Wolf or not.”

Twisting his head, McCree pressed a kiss to Hanzo’s palm. He let Hanzo draw him closer, into a chaste kiss, and then to lie down in the curl of Hanzo’s arm. “I think I know how my father died,” McCree blurted into the swell of muscle on Hanzo’s chest, his lips brushing against the raised skin of his tattoo.

He wondered how long ago Hanzo had gotten the tattoo—was it recent?

Was it done before the modern tattoo gun, with a hammer and a sharp needle?

If he thought about the tattoos and the raised scars, it was easier to talk. Hanzo’s breathing was slow and steady, and his heartbeat, when McCree put his hand on Hanzo’s chest, drummed steadily on. “I was thinking about how my father died.”

“Was it a mystery?” Hanzo asked gently.

McCree shook his head. “He was shot while on duty,” he said, his fingers tracing the scars near his face with a finger. “Got shot while helping a driver, or so I thought. But now I wonder.”

For a moment Hanzo was silent. “You think it has to do with Skinner.”

Swallowing, McCree nodded. “I stole mamá’s knitting needles. My friend and I played pirates with them and we had a battle in the streets. We lost them and papá died.”

He could remember coming home from school and being grabbed by mamá. She asked if he knew where the needles were. She was crying—and McCree had never seen her cry. He was scared—and lied.

He lied and lied and lied and mamá kept crying.

That night he found out that she had been so frantic because papá had been in the hospital. He had been shot.

The next day he didn’t go to school—he and mamá were in the hospital. He had been holding papá’s hand when the machines screamed and went quiet.

Hanzo’s arm squeezed him tightly, a half-hug.

“I wonder if I hadn’t stolen those needles,” McCree said, his voice wavering. He buried his face in Hanzo’s chest. Hanzo rolled over and tugged him closer, tangling their legs together. “I wonder if he’d still be alive.”

“Maybe,” Hanzo agreed. “Or maybe not. We can never know.” McCree felt a soft pressure to his hairline; Hanzo had kissed him, gently. He shuddered as he breathed, on the edge of breaking down in ragged sobs. Hanzo ran his free hand up and down McCree’s back, soothing, gentle. “Skinner told you that the needles chose you.”

“I wish they hadn’t,” McCree muttered. “I wish this had never happened.” Hanzo hummed in agreement and pressed another kiss to McCree’s forehead. “I feel guilty.”

Immediately McCree felt worse. Hanzo must know all of this.

He must have had a wound like this for decades . Swallowing hard, McCree looked up at Hanzo, blinking eyes whose lashes were clumped with tears. He must be a sight but Hanzo only lifted a hand, thumbing away his tears and cupping McCree’s cheek in his hand again.

When McCree opened his mouth, Hanzo shook his head with a sad smile. “It’s okay,” he said gently. “I’ve made my peace with it. It took me…” he hissed out a breath between his teeth. “… years , decades. Almost an entire century for me to even think of him without feeling so guilty that I thought it would drown me. But…” he rubbed his thumb under McCree’s eye, drawing him in for a kiss made salty by McCree’s tears. “…as they say, this too shall pass.”

“I hope it doesn’t take me that long,” McCree said with a watery chuckle.

Hanzo smiled. “I hope it doesn’t take you so long, either,” he murmured. “Is this what has been weighing on you?”

Shamefaced, McCree nodded. “I know I can’t undo it but…”

“Skinner’s vision was just that—a vision,” Hanzo said warningly. “The past has happened and the present can never return to it.”

Even if McCree had been thinking of it, Hanzo’s tired tone would have stopped him—or he thought it would have. It was weary and there was a lifetime of stories in his sad eyes.

“I wasn’t thinkin’ that,” McCree assured him. “Just wondered if he could show me papá one more time.”

Hanzo hummed. “I do not know the extent of his powers,” he cautioned. “He might not be able to—but you could always ask him.”

Sighing, McCree tilted his face into Hanzo’s hand and kissed his wrist. “Thank you.”

The smile he was given was thin and brittle, but it was still there. “Of course.”

Leaning close, McCree gently kissed Hanzo, who sighed against him and tugged him closer. “I love you,” McCree breathed.

At first McCree thought that Hanzo wouldn’t say anything. There was something broken and hurting in Hanzo’s eyes; perhaps he was thinking of the same things that McCree had thought of when he first walked in.

Then it softened, the edges less sharp, and Hanzo breathed against McCree’s lips, “I love you too.”

McCree woke when the bed shifted.

“Sleep,” Hanzo murmured. “We have a long day ahead of us. I need to start preparations with the sun.”

Groaning, McCree reached out for Hanzo. “No,” he mumbled petulantly.

Hanzo pressed a kiss to McCree’s cheek. “Sleep,” he told McCree with a quiet laugh. “I’ll have someone wake you up for breakfast.”

“Let me go with you,” McCree groaned, eyes barely opened. Through a crack in the dark curtains, the palest rays of the sunrise touched on Hanzo’s silver hair, making it blaze in his bleary eyes.

“Go back to sleep,” Hanzo said a third time and kissed McCree’s eyelids and then his nose, and then his slack lips. “It’s too early for you to be awake.”

It’s too early for you to be awake, too , McCree tried to say, but when he opened his mouth, he found himself slipping back down into sleep.

An undetermined time later, a large paw nudged his shoulder. When that produced no response, a cold nose pressed against McCree’s throat.

With a yelp he shot upright, bringing a hand to his throat. He glared down at Ame who wagged her tail with a silly canine grin. “Did Hanzo send you?”

She gave him a look that clearly said, don’t ask stupid questions .

Shaking his head, he tapped her nose and laughed when her eyes crossed to watch his finger. “Alright, I’m out of bed, okay?”

Ame gave a very quiet huff as if to say, you’re still sitting in bed.

Groaning, McCree threw the blankets back and threw himself to his feet. “Happy?” he asked, spreading his arms—both arms, both whole or mostly thanks to Satya’s gift. Ame pranced in place and laughing, he scratched her thick ruff and shuffled toward the bathroom, gently closing the door in her face.

Business done and teeth brushed, he opened the door to find Ame lying in front of it. She wagged her tail hesitantly and he smiled down at her. “Come on, go to breakfast. I need to get changed.”

She shot to her feet and trotted to the desk nearby, sitting in front of it. Looking over her shoulder at him, Ame pointed her nose at the desk as if to say, see? Look at what I see!

Grumbling at dogs that were smarter than their own good, McCree stepped toward the desk and found a plain leather belt with a device like a strangely-shaped holster. Picking it up, he inspected it and found that the holster could move and just because he could he slid it back and forth along the belt.

Ame gave a low wuff and stood on her hind legs, resting her enormous paws on the desk. She looked over her shoulder at McCree and dipped her nose to point at something else.

It was the knife that Skinner had given him and McCree made a face—until he realized that the strange holster was exactly what Mako had promised. The knife felt almost warm when McCree picked it up and he nearly dropped it.

Whining, Ame backed up, her ears down and her head bowed; her tail was tucked tightly between her legs. McCree swallowed. He wasn’t sure he had ever seen her react this way.

The knife seemed innocuous enough and he drew it again just to be sure. Ame hopped back, her fur standing on end.

“Poor thing,” McCree said to her. “You don’t like things like this, huh?” shaking his head, he sheathed the obsidian blade again and noticed something crawling on his prosthetic arm.

It wasn’t a thing , but something like ink. It flowed over the panels of his new arm, finding a home on the piece over his forearm. As he watched, frozen in surprise, it pooled there, moving lazily along like some kind of strange lava lamp.

Then it stretched out toward his wrist again; teeth then eyes formed and soon a stylized skull was grinning back at him, like something he would expect to see out of some backroad biker gang. A red cross fared across the leering skull’s eye, coming together as if it the thing winked at McCree; it slowly faded, leaving the garish white skull behind.

He thought he could hear a laugh that sounded almost human and instinctively knew that it was Skinner, or Kuma, or whatever he called himself.

“Nobody likes a smartass!” McCree yelled, not caring who heard. He only received another laugh in reply and muttering about gods who thought too highly of themselves, McCree carefully slipped the belt and holster on. “Regardless,” he told Ame in a quieter tone. “It’s a nice holster. I’ll have to thank Mako.”

Though she was still clearly rattled, Ame gave a soft wuff in agreement.

“I don’t know what he expects me to do,” McCree grumbled, tucking his shirt into his jeans and buttoning it. How much quicker now that he had two arms again, although a part of him was somehow a little annoyed to have two working arms again, when he had gotten used to getting around with only one. “Stab the thing?” he shook his head to dispel those strange thoughts—of stabbing a smoke monster and of being unhappy with two arms—and looked at Ame. “Well? Do I pass muster?”

Ame snorted and trotted to the door, tugging it open and standing just outside. Her tail gave a hesitant wag.

Patting the holster—and almost wishing for his service gun—McCree walked out and down the stairs. He was met with the heavy smell of cooking: sausages and bacon and eggs and Hanzo’s sweet rolls.

“Look who’s finally up!” Hana giggled. “And look at you, how dashing! Like an outlaw, pew pew! ” she made finger guns with both hands, shooting at McCree.

Shaking his head, McCree let his right hand fall to the holster. “I don’t know,” he drawled. “Feels an awful lot like I’m bringin’ a knife to a gunfight.”

But the thing he drew from the holster wasn’t a knife.

And it wasn’t his service weapon.

It was a revolver, decorated ostentatiously with a little spur on its butt. He spun it in his hands with the familiarity of long use—as if he had always known this revolver, had always known the weight and heft and how to twist his wrist just so to send it spinning around his finger by the trigger guard. It fell into his palm with a satisfying thump and all felt right in the world with the gun in his hand.

He looked up. Only Mako seemed unsurprised, drinking from a disturbingly large mug that looked like it was filled with something more resembling sludge or tar than coffee. “Good,” Satya said after a long moment. “You can go and bring Hanzo inside. If he doesn’t eat, he will not be strong.”

“That’s ominous,” Hana complained.

At the same time, Lúcio said, “Go and bring that idiot inside.”

Shaking his head, McCree flipped the revolver into the holster and walked toward the back door. He found Hanzo easily at the very center of the clearing in the middle of what used to be the horse meadow. Now the grass was gone, bare earth in its place.

An enormous pile of grass clippings were piled in a corner. Despite the brisk morning breeze, it didn’t move.

Swallowing, McCree began to walk toward Hanzo.

Hanzo was kneeling, his knees together and his hands on his palms. His head was bowed as if in deep meditation; as McCree approached, he began to see other shapes with Hanzo: dogs and elk and deer, foxes and birds and horses.

The entire menagerie that had followed Hanzo around Ana’s property was there was well, sitting and waiting. They sat in the many swirls and spires of the enormous design, their glowing eyes all trained on Hanzo.

Pausing, McCree took in the sight. If he needed any other sign that Hanzo was otherworldly...this was it. Shaking his head, McCree carefully approached, his thoughts on breakfast and holding Hanzo’s hand beneath the table, and bumping shoulders against him as they sat next to each other.

He didn’t notice the gathering mist.

Skinner appeared in the meadow in front of him as he moved toward Hanzo. “The demon has been busy.”

Before McCree could ask what that meant, movement caught his eye at the edge of the clearing. The demon swirled like mist, like an enormous tornado as it touched the barrier. Lights flared where its many hands touched the barely-visible wall.

Heart in his throat, McCree yelled, “Hanzo!”

Hanzo had been sitting in eerie stillness, golden light following the path of salt swirling away from him in beautiful whorls. Yuki and the other ghostly dogs sat in attendance, more of the golden light of Hanzo’s magic lifting off of them to join the sparkling trails. Hearing his name, Hanzo’s head snapped up; Yuki snarled and the golden light fluttered.

Seeing him aware, McCree turned and sprinted for the house as the demon began to batter at the barrier, its many arms rowing so that it was constantly swinging and striking.

The flares of light and sparks from the barrier were dimming.

Yanking open the door, he found the kitchen in chaos. Satya was unconscious, a thin line of blood trailing from her nose. “The demon’s attacking,” McCree said grimly. “Whatever time we thought we had is now up.”

Mako and Jamison got to their feet first. “The workshop,” Jamison said as if that explained everything. They both rushed off.

Turning, McCree looked for Ame and found that she had joined the silent vigil with Hanzo and the ghost dogs. The golden light of their magic was reaching the ends of the vast circle.

The demon battered at the barrier again and again. Trees flared with color as the barrier began to give out.

“LOOK!” a hundred voices commanded.

McCree obeyed and saw a shape emerging from the trees. It ran into the barrier there and shrieked as if in pain. Akande had come, had been summoned.

Now that he knew what to look for, McCree could see through all of it as if they were transparent layers. He saw Akande the boy in a torn hoodie. It had some kind of logo on it, no doubt the mascot of his school—probably where the demon had gotten its inspiration from, what it used to create the twisted creature that Akande had become.

He saw Akande the monster as he had seen him in the clearing the first time: an enormous slope-backed creature whose mouth was full of jagged teeth and whose claws were as long as small knives. The second face in the shaggy neck was still screaming and McCree now recognized it for Akande’s face as he cried for something—for death, for mercy, he didn’t know.

He saw what everyone else saw: the swollen canine face and body, the too-large eyes, the patches of fur that didn’t grow right. McCree almost expected to think it cartoonish but seeing him like this, it was only grotesque.

Turning, he found that there was a line of gods: the feathered serpent, the dog-faced god with backwards feet that McCree now knew was one form of Skinner, the jackal-faced Anubis, two women with cat faces—one a striped house cat, one a lioness—a pale man and a woman that stood beside him whose palms were filled with seeds as red as blood. There were more, all watching in silent vigil, but they were ghosts that watched him with their lamplight eyes.

“I could use the help,” McCree told the host of gods that had lined up to watch. There were others that began to appear, ones he had no name for, and more that he couldn’t see but only had the sense that they were there. “ We could use the help.”

“You don’t need us,” the gods said in a hundred voices that rattled McCree to his bones.

“You had never needed us,” Skinner said, much gentler. “You have always taken your own path. Now you have the gifts at your disposal. It is up to you.”

The gods turned their heads toward Akande as the barrier shattered .

McCree swore and reached for his gun. At the same time, the demon shrieked.


At the new voice, McCree turned. Something else had formed in the horse’s meadow, made of twining grass and roots. Its skin crawled, seemed to keep moving so that it was hard to get a good idea of what it looked like. He could see four legs and a large torso, a horned face. The ghost-child Efi stood on its back and waved when she saw McCree looking.

The new creature had created a barrier that the demon was now pressed against. It flickered. “Hurry!” Efi cried.

McCree bolted for Hanzo and stumbled through the glowing lines of salt. “Hurry,” he whispered urgently into Hanzo’s ear. “Satya’s barrier broke.”

“Almost,” Hanzo whispered back. “Tell everyone.”

“Already did.”

McCree was surprised when Hanzo laughed. “Good.”

“Akande is coming,” McCree hissed, fumbling for his gun.

“Watch,” Hanzo replied. “And be quiet for a moment. I need to finish this.”

Akande shrieked and charged, his enormous milky eyes trained at Efi and the strange creature—it didn’t even seem to notice Hanzo and McCree.

Suddenly an enormous line shot out and caught Akande by the neck. It was a chain, attached to a barbed hook.

At its other end, Mako yanked the chain and Akande spun out of control before he dug his claws into the ground and fought the pull. With a wild cackle, Jamison spun, something held in one hand against his neck; as he threw it through the air, McCree realized that he had been using a shot-putter’s stance with an extra flourish to lob a ball the size of both of McCree’s fists at Akande.

It exploded upon impact and Akande shrieked.

“Always so loud,” Hanzo muttered next to McCree. The light was traveling around the final circle at the very edge of the enormous sigil.

The demon was getting around the plant-creature’s barrier; it, with Efi on its back, was backing up away from the demon as its many arms began reaching around the shield.

The gods and ghosts continued to watch in silent vigil.

“Not enough, not enough,” Hanzo was muttering at McCree’s legs. Akande roared and turned to face Mako and Jamison. “I don’t have enough, even with the orisha , even with the wolves…”

McCree remembered that Zen had said something about magical compatibilities. He swallowed. “Can you take some from me?”

“I will give blood if necessary,” Hanzo muttered, not seeming to hear McCree. “An arm or…or…”

The gods watched.

The ghosts moved. The ones that approached McCree were older, their features worn away by time as if they had been marble statues. They reached with featureless hands and turned their featureless faces to him. “We’re here,” they said in a hundred voices. “Use us.

Everywhere they touched McCree, they burned —no, he burned. He gasped and the mountain air—cool this early in the morning, without the sun to warm it—felt like a shock of ice to his lungs.

“Hanzo,” McCree croaked and opened his eyes.

The world was simultaneously ablaze and dim save for a few shapes. Akande blazed as if made of fire and so did the demon; it was as if they were miniature suns.

“Hanzo,” McCree breathed and fell to his knees. He groped blindly for the dark shape that was Hanzo. “Hanzo, Hanzo.”

The dead whispered. “It killed us, it killed us, it killed us.”

He found Hanzo’s shoulder, his elbows.

Something was moving beneath Hanzo’s skin. It rippled and spun, as if an enormous snake lay there, coiling and coiling like a spring ready to release. Beneath his fingers it felt like static, prickling and crackling against his skin.

Hanzo gasped and it was like the floodgates opened. Something moved through McCree too, through the places on his palms where he connected to Hanzo. The salt circle flared, each crystal glowing as if made of starlight. McCree could feel the static and the lightning in the air; it made his hair and Hanzo’s stand on end, lift upward as if blown by an imaginary gust of wind.

Somewhere, something screamed.

McCree opened his eyes. The world was dust and ash except for the glowing points Akande’s eyes. The monster; the tortured man.

He was crying.

“Save him,” a voice whispered.

McCree swallowed. He knew what he’d see if he turned. The world slowed; Akande moved as if through molasses, pulling against the hook as Mako tried to drag him closer, yanked on the chain to keep him off balanced and focused on them and not on Hanzo and McCree, not on the orisha and the ghost that rode on her back.

“I should kill him. I can kill him, but I don’t have bullets in my gun.”

“You should save him.” He didn’t want to argue with the spirit but she continued, “he’s suffering.”

The little girl walked around. Unlike everyone in this ashy world, she seemed to be moving just fine. She was dressed just as he remembered, in white stockings and black buckled shoes, a little white dress with ribbons shaped into roses and flowers and crawling vines. One of the pink satin sashes that tied her dress shut was ripped, the other hanging free; the missing tie was still hanging loosely around her neck but mercifully this vision of her didn’t have the swollen, bruised neck and face that she had when he had first seen her.

She looked like just another little girl, albeit one whose eyes glowed with otherworldly light.

“Will you be his judge? To weigh his fate?” she asked in her child’s voice. “Or will you save him?”

McCree looked at Akande. “Death would be merciful. It’s been torturing him.”

“Will you live with that on your soul? Killing him when you could save him?”

The transparent vision of Akande—Akande the teenager, the young adult; the track star, the man that deserved better than this fate—held his head in his hands.

“Look at him,” McCree said. “He’s suffering.”

“He is, but he could be saved. You can break the hold the demon has on him and he can live as he had.”

McCree shook his head. “He’ll never be the same,” he said with a surety that surprised him. “I don’t know how long he’s been like that, but I think he’s been aware of everything that the demon made him do. Given the choice I’m not sure he wants that kind of life with those kinds of memories.”

“Is that a choice for you to make?” the girl asked. McCree wondered if she was like Kuma—if she only appeared as a child. She sounded too old to be the little girl he was haunted by.

“Are you going to help me or not?” he asked, looking past her to Akande. “I have no bullets in my gun.”

“You don’t need them,” was the reply. “You will see.”

Swallowing, McCree stood and reached for the gun at his hip. He drew it and felt hands on his arm, tugging it in the right direction; he didn’t need to look to know that it was pointed toward Akande’s glowing form.

A bullet between the eyes, if Peacekeeper shot bullets.

It was an instinctive knowledge, the same kind of knowledge that had him twirling the gun earlier; the same way that his mother knew how to knit protections with it, and how her grandfather knew, and on and on back to the first of their line. Did they all have names?

Yes , he knew with a surety that should have been terrifying but wasn’t. And Peacekeeper was his .

This time he was ready when the burning came back. Time resumed as suddenly as if a bubble had popped; Akande turned his head toward McCree and Hanzo and shrieked as if in pain, as if it hurt to look at McCree.

Fire , McCree thought and Peacekeeper did with a mighty roar. There was a recoil that felt like it would have ripped McCree’s other arm off, like it should have but didn’t.

The hands of the many ghosts surrounding him stopped it.

Akande screamed and the enormous shape fell; the shape that was now his ghost continued to weep where the great, grotesque body lay.

He turned. The demon had gotten around the orisha ’s shield and held Efi and the orisha in two of its enormous arms. It was pulling up the great system of roots that the orisha had set down, slowly but surely drawing it toward one of its many hungry mouths.

It moved quickly, as if sucked toward them; its mouths opened and opened and opened, its clawed hands reaching for them.

In McCree’s eyes it blazed and the hands that aimed Peacekeeper felt unsure, wobbling.

“Let me,” a familiar voice whispered and familiar hands wrapped around McCree’s waist, moved to press against his chest. “It isn’t only humans that had been killed.”

With Hanzo’s hands on his skin, McCree could hear everything ; while the animals that had joined with Hanzo had no hands to move the gun he still felt them aim it—aim him .

Different energy filled him this time: instead of heat, of fire as bright as the sun, this was cold and gusty but just as full of light. This was a storm: he was the fire and Hanzo was the lightning and Peacekeeper was the thunder

Hanzo roared something and McCree felt the things that had been moving beneath his skin. It moved beneath his now, traveled from Hanzo into McCree where they touched; they moved, swirled up his chest and around both of his arms down to Peacekeeper.

FIRE , they both roared without words and then there was light.

Peacekeeper blew a yawning hole in the middle of the demon’s mist-like body with a bullet that wasn’t there. The demon shattered as if it had been sprayed with buckshot, its edges fraying; the lights that followed— the spirits that moved beneath Hanzo’s skin —devoured the rest.

They were wolves, and McCree didn’t know why he expected anything else. Spectral wolves, enormous in size and blurred as they raced in a swirling arc that defied all logic, all pretense of physics and reality, into the demon.

McCree blinked and the terrible brightness was gone; the demon was gone. There was only him and Hanzo in the middle of an enormous salt circle that glowed like the essence of starlight. The trees were silent and the last forlorn sounds of the demon’s dying shriek echoed back from the misty mountains.

He took a deep breath, opened his mouth to speak, and fainted.

The little girl met him when he opened his eyes. There was mamá and papá, and Gérard and Amélie and Akande who was still weeping; there were more, thousands that lingered in the background, faceless by time. There were wolves and goats and chickens and dogs, horses, elk, and bears; every living creature that had been devoured by the hungry demon.

“What are you doing here?” he asked his parents dumbly.

Mamá was crying. “Oh, mijo , I’m so proud of you.”

He swallowed. Mamá only cried when papá died. “What happened? Did I die?”

The little girl giggled, sounding like a child for once. “No, silly. The doggie won’t let you die.”

Doggie? Hanzo! He shot up and groaned when his head spun. “You aren’t dead,” mamá said, dabbing at her eyes with the edge of a sleeve. “They just wanted to thank you.”

McCree looked at all of the ghosts. Some were faceless, their features lost to time—he had seen them earlier; they had filled him with fire the first time.

He stared at them for a while and then as one—they and the animals—turned and left, disappearing into mist.

“They moved on,” the little girl said with a giggle.

“They went into the light,” papá added and patted the girl’s head.

Mamá sniffled. “We should be moving on, too.” She cupped his face in both of her hands. “ Estoy muy orgulloso de ti .”

“Ma?” McCree asked, sensing that they were about to leave. “What were your needles called? What was their name?”

Mamá smiled. “Heartstring.”

McCree opened his eyes.

He was still in the meadow and the air smelled that peculiar kind of freshness that came after the rains had scrubbed the world clean. The brilliance of the salt circle had faded and now they were as they had been: chunks of colored rock salt in garish hues of pink and orange and blue and yellow.

(McCree wasn’t sure if the salt had been yellow or if it had been the result of an awkward accident by one of Hanzo’s dogs.)

His knees buckled and Hanzo caught him, easing him to the ground. Hanzo’s hands were shaking and McCree was glad that he wasn’t the only one that felt wrung out.

“Fuck,” McCree said eloquently and bit his tongue.

Hanzo laughed.

From the house, someone cried, “Hanzo!”

“Sleep,” Hanzo advised, looking ready to pass out, himself.

“Only with you,” McCree wanted to say, thought he said, but in the end he wasn’t sure. His eyes rolled up in his head and he fell backwards.

“Drink,” familiar voice said as he lifted a hand toward the cool towel that covered his eyes. Enormous hands helped him to sit up enough to drink.

It was an herbal tea, cut with fruit juices that made it cloyingly sweet and…was that whiskey ?

“Sleep,” the voice said and he obeyed as the big hands lay him back down.

A man met him in the middle of the woods, his arms full of sticks.

Akande looked younger now, less struck with grief. He was joking with his friends as he approached the light of the fire.

His ghost stood beside McCree, staring into the golden glow of the campsite. “The Wolf came here while you slept,” the ghost told him. He had an accent—it sounded almost British, his consonants sharp. “Nigeria,” he explained as if he had heard McCree speak out loud. “I was born and raised there and came here when I was young. Somehow I had never lost the accent—perhaps because my parents still have theirs.”

“Hanzo came here?” McCree asked.

Akande nodded. The vision of his past self dumped the wood in a messy pile and laughed at a joke that one of his friends told—perhaps some good-natured ribbing. Around them, the forest was growing dark.

The mist in the trees was growing.

“He came to visit. Set up a nice altar for me, left a few offerings. He apologized for what had happened. It was very touching.” Despite his words, he didn’t sound too pleased.

He just sounded tired.

McCree could understand. “Awful nice of him.”

“I don’t want to be remembered,” Akande said abruptly. The teens in the scene all laughed at a joke that they didn’t hear. “Can you ask him to…get rid of it?”

“Of course. He’s a stubborn pain in the ass but I think I can convince him to.”

Akande laughed mirthlessly. “This was my last night, I think,” he said after a long moment of thoughtful silence. “We were all laughing and the fog began setting in. We thought it was just clouds. Max stood up and spun around in it and we laughed. He was too drunk and flopped over and nearly caught himself on fire.”

“I don’t think I can look at mist or clouds the same way ever again,” McCree agreed.

“Yeah.” They watched as the teenager that McCree guessed was Max stood up and did just as Akande had said. The teenagers all laughed as he fell and a big burly one—a football player, maybe—stood up quickly and slapped the fire on Max’s arms out.

From the way that Max complained, the slaps hurt. Everyone laughed.

“It struck when we all went to sleep,” Akande said in a choked voice. “We all ran. Did they all escape?”

“I don’t know,” McCree said honestly. “I heard that at least a few of them did, though.”

Akande nodded. “That’s…good.”

The scene changed. Akande was alone, his sweatshirt torn and muddy. The Red Wolves logo seemed to glow in McCree’s vision and the demon was stretched above him in the trees like some kind of enormous, terrible spider’s web. The Akande in the vision didn’t seem to notice it. “It turned you into your mascot.”

“I was hungry,” Akande said miserably. “And cold. It promised me warmth and food. It promised me the strength to get out of the forest, to see my friends again.” He shook his head. “I kept thinking…I kept thinking that they’d find me but I knew that the forests here are so large. I was so scared. So alone. That thing promised me that I’d never be alone.”

McCree made a face. It had kept its promise, McCree thought but didn’t say.

“It fed on my hunger,” Akande continued. “It fed on my fear and hunger. I became strong…and then I began to go blind. It led me through the trees and mocked me. Everything hurt…but I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t weak.” He choked. “And I killed my friends.”

The scene changed. They were on the hill in the pasture as Gérard ran. The creature that Akande had become was hot on his heels.

McCree saw everything as it had happened—it was the same as his vision. Looking toward the trees, McCree saw the wolfdog Pix staring at the shed as the body was found. He watched himself climb the hill with Officer Powell and begin to take pictures of the scene.

Turning, McCree looked at Pix.

But it wasn’t Pix—it was Ame. Her eyes glowed with golden light and McCree knew somehow that Hanzo was watching through her eyes. Ame got up and left and suddenly they were in the trees.

“How can they forgive me?” Akande asked miserably. He sat on a nearby rock and hung his head.

McCree shrugged. “Ain’t for me to answer,” he said apologetically. “I don’t think they hold it against you, though. I think they know that you weren’t in your right mind.”

“I killed a lot,” Akande whispered. “I remember everyone— that thing gave me my sight back for them.”

They were quiet for a long moment.

“What happens now?” Akande asked.

“I don’t know,” McCree admitted. “I think you’re the one in charge here.”

Akande laughed mirthlessly. “Do I go into the light? To hell? Where do people like me go?”

“I think you make your own light,” McCree suggested. “That’s what’s been happening here, right? You’ve been moving us here.”

Akande looked at him for a long moment, his expression unreadable. The world shimmered and disappeared. They stood in the middle of an enormous stadium adorned in maroon and gold. People ran around the track or jumped or threw hammers and discuses and shotputs and javelins in caged-off areas; announcers yelled, crowds cheered, and guns popped to start races.

McCree was alone—Akande had a long pole in his hand and was in line to pole vault. He still looked tired.

“I’m sorry I killed you,” McCree said quietly.

He seemed to hear and turned to look at McCree. “I’m glad,” he replied.

McCree smiled weakly. “I’ll take my leave. You seem to have it well in hand.”

“I guess,” Akande said dubiously. “If there’s a way for me to never remember anything, I’d love to know it.”

“You will learn sooner than I, I think,” McCree replied. “But if I find anything out, I’ll let you know.”

Akande’s smile was weak. It was his turn. “Thank you.”

McCree had the sense that now at least, he could leave whenever he wanted to. He stuck around just long enough to watch Akande compete for a few jumps, sucking in a breath as he watched the pole bend and bend and bend and spring him into the air and over the marker.

He cheered and when Akande began to smile again, he turned and found a little girl waiting for him.

She held out one hand, the other pressed to her mouth; she was sucking her thumb. This time her dress was whole, her satin sash tied behind her back in a neat bow. “You don’t want to move on, too?”

The girl pulled her thumb away and smiled, revealing a gap between her front two teeth. “Nope,” she said in a high child’s voice. “I like it with you—you gave me justice.”

McCree made a face and took her hand; she tugged on his arm and they were in the middle of the meadow. “You had been haunting me, right? I hadn’t been going crazy?”

The girl shrugged.

McCree woke up, a cool cloth still over his eyes, and wished that people would just give him a straight answer.

Peeling off the cloth, McCree found that a Skinner—in Kuma’s form—was lying on the coffee table next to him, one leg in the air while he cleaned his balls. Groaning, McCree let the cloth fall back down. “I didn’t need to see that.”

“At least you have eyes to see that with,” Skinner commented, sounding amused. “Besides—gods are only adult imaginary friends, isn’t that what you said? You it was you that imagined me to be doing this. As above, so below.”

McCree swore at him and Skinner laughed. “What are you still doing here? I thought you’d have gone back to wherever gods live.”

“Well, the demon is gone,” Skinner agreed. “But I thought I’d give you a bit of closure and a bit of warning that your job isn’t done.”

McCree swore again.

Skinner laughed. “Nothing so terrible as the demon,” he assured McCree. “But there are other things out there. You are very powerful—even more so than your Wolf and his brother. There are a lot of things out there that would hunger for you.” He paused and when McCree peeked to see if he had gone, he found that he was only scratching at his neck with a hind leg. “No, there is other work out there for you.”

“Is this my destiny ?” McCree demanded crossly.

“As above, so below,” Skinner said enigmatically then added, “Only if you believe it to be.”

McCree swore; Skinner laughed again. “What’s your name?” he asked. “Your actual name?”

“I have many,” Skinner said. “And I’m not being a smartass. I am a god of your family, fashioned after another god of their ancestors—and as you know, I appeared differently to everyone that carries this gift.” He barked—an actual bark, like the dog-shape he wore—a laugh. “If you can call it that. It is a heavy burden to bear.” Skinner sneezed. “A word of warning, Seer: be careful of how you use your Dead Eye.”

“It hurts,” McCree said.

“It will,” Skinner told him grimly. “And they are real pains that you experience with real repercussions.”

McCree thought back to the string of visions that Skinner had shown him. “Lady Justice.” Skinner nodded. “I can go blind.”

“Or worse.”

Sighing, McCree fell back against the pillows. “Great.” Skinner huffed in agreement. “I have so many questions.”

“You were cheated a long explanation of our illustrious history,” Skinner said dryly.

McCree had a sudden thought and turned his head toward Skinner. “If I didn’t believe in you before, how did you come here? Not that I’m complaining but…”

Skinner shrugged again. “I am tied to the weapon—or whatever it chooses to appear as. It will always exist, on and on into eternity.”

“Great,” McCree said flatly. Skinner’s laugh was mirthless.

“I get to watch so many more of you,” Skinner teased, baring his teeth in a smirk. He got to his feet and stretched. “Be careful,” he warned with an alarming note of finality. “Do not rely on me—you and your Wolf are clever and I am not a crutch for you.”

McCree sat up and groaned. “Wait,” he said and Skinner cocked his head to the side. “Can I see you? What you really look like?”

“I have no true form,” Skinner reminded him. “Just what you imagine. As above, so below; you determine what I look like. To an extent, of course.” Even so he grew, became more human-shaped. His feet were backwards, his skin as black as tar; he had a dog’s face that looked much like Kuma’s, with a little tuft of white hair between his long, pointed ears.

McCree’s lips twitched; Skinner’s form twisted until he appeared as a plastic pink flamingo.

For a long moment Skinner was silent and then he laughed and laughed. “Nobody likes a smartass,” McCree reminded him.

Skinner continued to laugh as he faded away like mist. He remained as a plastic pink flamingo for as long as McCree could see him.

Shaking his head, McCree carefully eased himself out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom to relieve himself. His eyes were bloodshot and aside from looking a little grungy McCree saw no other sign of what had happened to them—that any of it had happened.

He ducked into the shower and washed, letting the hot water soak into his tense muscles. His headache eased but didn’t go away completely. Towel around his waist, McCree found Ame waiting for him in the room when he emerged. She yipped happily to see him, prancing in place as her tail wagged so hard that it was a solid blur behind her.

Groaning, he fell to his knees and wrapped his arms around her. “Hey girl,” he whispered. “It’s been a day, huh?” He sighed. She smelled musty, like she had been running through water and rolling in dirt and getting dirty; she smelled like pine trees and the forest and the cool mountain air and McCree breathed it in.

It reminded him of Hanzo and McCree smiled into Ame’s shoulders as he pulled himself away. “Come on,” he told her. “Let me get dressed and then we can go and see how everyone else is doing, hm?”

He learned that he had been unconscious for two days. At first Lúcio had been terrified —he had no help from Hanzo, who was also unconscious though for not quite as long, and consulted with first Angie and then Ana. To McCree’s surprise, it had been Jamison and Mako that had stepped up.

It seemed that they knew what to do though they hadn’t explained why. McCree suspected that nobody wanted to ask.

When Hanzo had woken, it was to an entire pot of stew set next to his bed and he ate every drop of it. Then he had gone hunting with the wolves and brought back a few large deer, which had alarmed Lúcio.

Mako seemed unsurprised. He had helped to butcher the animals and to throw them into an enormous cauldron to cook. Then Hanzo had disappeared, leaving Ame to sleep at McCree’s bedside until he woke.

Mako explained this to him as McCree ate and ate and ate. It was the most by far McCree had ever heard him speak and while unnerving, he was relieved; Mako was blunt and did not waste his words. His dark eyes bore into McCree like lasers and he avoided making eye contact. After his fourth enormous bowl of stew, McCree paused and looked up at Mako.

“You’re expecting something,” he realized.

The enormous man grunted. “Something like that,” he agreed. “A lot of power was channeled through you that day; that much magic is never content to leave things be.”

McCree considered the bowl. It was a serving dish, one not typically meant for one person to eat out of, much less eat the entirety of—and thus far he had already eaten four of them.

Mako grunted and ladled him more and McCree was dismayed to realize that he was still hungry, as if the previous bowls hadn’t made a dent in his hunger. “What do you think will happen?” he asked, barely audible over the slosh of the food.

Somehow Mako seemed to hear him. He grunted again. “Hard to say,” he said at last. “But I suspect that…” he shook his head. “It’s hard to say.”

“What, do you think it’ll give me superpowers?” McCree joked weakly. “Like…like how radiation in comic books gives you powers instead of cancer?”

Mako peered at him. “Eat,” he said and went to the oven. He pulled out a loaf of bread with his bare hands and placed it, still steaming, on the table between them. “It is much like the comic books,” he admitted. “An electric shock, a drop into radioactive ooze; it moved through you. It changed what McCree used to be into what McCree is now—and that we do not know. Not yet.” He selected a bread knife and carved McCree slices of bread, which he passed over on a paper plate. Then he carved himself a slice, ladled himself a small bowl of stew, and dipped the end he had chose into it to soak. “You had a lot of magic running through you—some of your own magic, some of Hanzo’s. It’s hard to say which took.”

“Mine, wouldn’t it?” McCree wondered. “That would make sense. The more I use my own power…”

“Magic doesn’t always follow logic,” Mako told him as kindly as his rough voice could manage. “At least, not the logic that we could understand. Someone could spend centuries studying it and yet still not have a good explanation. No, I am leaning to the belief that Hanzo’s magic had changed you because Hanzo’s magic is not his own.”

Mako paused to take an enormous bite of his food and seeing him eat reminded McCree how hungry he was. He tucked into his meal once more, thinking.

“The magic he used through you was from the spirit that had attached itself to him when the Witch took her payment from him. It was the ancestral spirit of his family—once it was a dragon, now it is a wolf. It seems to go back and forth and I’m not certain that the spirit knows what it is, anymore. But you channeled the storm, and lightning; it flowed through your body as a conduit and exploded into being when you fired your gun.”

“Peacekeeper,” McCree remembered. “It gave me its name. Peacekeeper.”

Mako nodded. “And Hanzo’s bow has a name as well. Such blessed things—blessed or cursed—always have names to remind you that they are no mere object to be trifled with. When Hanzo’s magic passed through you, what did you feel?”

“Fire,” McCree said immediately. “That was the ghosts. Like I was standing beneath the sun in the desert or like I was standing in a fire. Just…burning. Then Hanzo…” he could remember it vividly. “It was like standing in a rainstorm. I was in the rain and I was the rain and I was the clouds and wind…”

and Peacekeeper was the thunder , he remembered.

Mako grunted. “He channeled the spirit through me, once,” he told McCree to his surprise. “I did not feel such joy.”

McCree didn’t think that he would describe it as joy , but didn’t say anything.

“It was as if I had been struck by lightning—I still have scars from it. They call it lightning flowers or electric treeing; Lichtenberg figures.” Mako nodded. “And here you are with no pain, no scars, no blood. To you it was a thunderstorm.” McCree wasn’t sure he would call it just a thunderstorm, but said nothing of that thought. “So I think it will be that spirit’s magic that changes you.”

McCree nodded and they fell silent.

Like Hanzo, he ate the entire pot of stew.

Then he slept again until Hanzo returned that night, waking up when Hanzo slid into bed with him. He smiled up at Hanzo and when they kissed, he felt the lightning that Mako was talking about.

Chapter Text

It was an awkward affair, waiting in the police station. Nobody would make eye contact with him, would hurry past him when they walked by; when they thought that he wasn’t looking, they’d stare.

“You seem well,” Galbraith said, looking him up and down. He openly stared at the reddish markings that traveled along McCree’s good arm like bloody tattoos, like lightning flowers etched into his skin, but unlike anyone else that stared his didn’t seem to be out of fear. “He treating you right?”

McCree blushed. “Sheriff!”

Across the desk from them, Morrison choked on his coffee; they ignored him.

“The missus misses you,” Galbraith told him gruffly. “She wants to know when and the Wolf are gonna visit again.”

McCree laughed. “She just wants his recipes!” McCree and Galbraith had been mystified to learn that Hanzo not only knew the sheriff’s wife, but they were very close—she had been after him for years for him to give her the recipe for his breads.

“It’s a shame,” Galbraith agreed, smoothing his moustache with a hand. His eyes crinkled. “I think she likes your Wolf more than she likes me. Perhaps if I dye my hair silver, she’ll love me again.”

McCree laughed. Morrison cleared his throat. “Are you quite finished?”

“Just waiting around,” McCree said, feeling bad for the sheriff. For whatever reason he didn’t seem to care much for McCree and he had long since given up trying to mend the bridge. It probably didn’t help that while waiting for their guests to arrive, McCree had crashed a meeting between Galbraith and Morrison. “They should be arriving soon.”

“And you insist on staying here?” Morrison asked crossly.

Galbraith rolled his eyes. As a guest he had no sway and so said nothing; nonetheless McCree knew that if it was up to him, the situation would be much different.

“No,” McCree told Morrison. “But I did want to find out how the town is doing.”

Morrison looked like he had sucked on a lemon. It seemed to be a common expression for him, like the equivalent of Resting Bitch Face. His face began to turn a furious red when McCree flashed him his most charming grin.

“Redstone is fine,” Galbraith told him. “In the middle of rebuilding but there was no death or injury. The Old Guys in town are explaining things.” McCree nodded.

The Old Guys’ was a bit of a misnomer and merely referred to the families that had been a part of the town since its forming—and would have known Hanzo personally as he helped them to build up the town. They were royalty of sorts in their own way: most in town tended to listen to them.

“A few houses were damaged; a lot of trees were knocked over. Power went out in the outliers for a bit but they all had generators or stayed with someone in town for the time being. All in all, not as bad as it could have been. Almost no injuries thanks to the Wolf’s warning.”

Perhaps it was just McCree being an Outsider but it seemed odd that even knowing the truth, none of the sheriffs wanted to call Hanzo by name; perhaps it was better that way.

Still, he was relieved to hear that. “And your house?”

Galbraith shrugged. “Houses can be rebuilt; and you know that the missus will take this as meaning that she needs to refill the cellar with everything she can stuff in a jar.” They exchanged grins.

“I’ll ask Hanzo if he’s got extra seeds,” McCree promised. “Or if he’s willing to part with some of his babies since the winter’s coming.”

“Please,” Galbraith muttered. It sounded almost like an expletive. “Please, no more.”

McCree turned to Morrison. “We’re fine,” he said shortly and McCree made a note to see if he could speak with Deputy Reyes later.

Someone knocked timidly on the door. “Um…someone’s here to see the Wolf.”

With a start, McCree realized that she was talking about him , not Hanzo. “Yeah, I’ll be out. Thanks.” He looked at her nametag. “Thanks, Frame.” She turned bright red and then blanched; she fled, nearly forgetting to close the door behind her.

“How’s it feel to be a god?” Galbraith asked dryly.

Thinking back to the start of this whole mess, McCree made a face. “Ain’t no god; never was. There is no such thing as gods.” He stood with a groan that was more reflexive than anything. “They’re just imaginary friends for adults.”

“Good seeing you,” Galbraith told McCree. “Don’t be a stranger, hear?”

“I’ll bring Hanzo by, sometime,” McCree told him. “Or you can visit us out there.”

Galbraith smiled. “Been wanting a dog for when I retire.”

“You’re not getting any younger,” McCree teased. He tipped his hat to Morrison who nodded back and left.

There was indeed someone waiting for him in the lobby and none other than Deputy Reyes was speaking to her.

“Oh, perfect,” McCree breathed. “I had wanted to talk to you.”

The deputy smirked and his dog wagged her tail when she saw McCree. She came over to greet him without Reyes ordering her, and he buried his fingers in her thick ruff. Soon she was rolling on her back, requesting belly rubs which McCree granted.

“Who, me?” Reyes asked dryly. “Or my dog?”

I’m sorry, McCree told Reyes’ dog silently and she sighed gustily. Duty calls .

She understood “duty”. Duty was fun, sometimes, and Reyes was good to her. Still, she wanted belly rubs—and a tick had gotten behind one of her elbows and itched . Could he at least get it for her?

Smiling, McCree obeyed, chasing it through her fur until he caught and killed it. “She had a tick,” McCree explained.

“I’ll talk to the vet about getting a tick collar,” Reyes promised. “With the changing season it shouldn’t be too terrible, but you never know. That aside, what can I do for you?”

McCree stood and stretched. These days he never seemed to tire; it was a novel sensation. “I wanted to know how the town’s been doing.”

“Nothing major happened,” Reyes assured him. “We managed to get the outliers in or at least warded well enough. Aside from downed trees and a few powerlines, the whole thing wasn’t so bad. Capocci had a heart attack and died, but he was an old bastard with a shitty heart so nobody’s really surprised. Nobody thinks it’s from the forest, anyway. It was more property damage than true injuries.”

McCree released the breath that he didn’t know he was holding. Reyes’ dog leaned against his leg and looked up at him, her tongue lolling out of her mouth. “I’m glad,” he said. “I would be…distressed to learned that it had gotten anyone else.”

Reyes smiled kindly at him. “No, it’s fine. Thanks to you and the Wolf.”

Embarrassed, McCree shook his head and turned to Ana with a wry grin. “Hello, Miss Ana.”

She pinched his cheek when he bent to hug her. “Hours.”

“I know,” he said apologetically. “I tried to warn you—and I told you that I could have picked him up.”

Ana made a face. “Well, he’s here.”

“I arranged with Miss Martha for some chocolate,” McCree told her. “As ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m so sorry ’ all in one.”

She didn’t seem mollified but her dark mood lifted somewhat. It would lift completely when she found that McCree had left a basket of Hanzo’s sweet buns with Miss Martha for her and Reinhardt to take back. Hanzo insisted that it was to thank her and Reinhardt for dealing with his brother but McCree knew that he had made so many because he was nervous.

Seeing that she and Reyes had more to discuss, McCree bid them goodbye and walked out to the front steps and found only one person—not two—waiting for him. Not that McCree knew with any certainty what Genji and his “master” Zen looked like, but…the person standing in front of him did not meet any halfhearted expectations he had. However, he knew without a shadow of a doubt—for many reasons—that the man in front of him was Zen.

He was a very plain-looking man: black hair, dark eyes, tan skin. Zen was wearing a pair of jeans and a very plain pair of sneakers and a blue flannel shirt. “Ah,” he said out loud and McCree felt as if he was deaf—it was strange to not hear his voice so booming, so great. “So you are Jesse McCree. It is a pleasure to meet you at last.”

To cover up his confusion, disappointment, McCree walked down the stairs and offered him. “Likewise,” he said.

Zen smiled. “I’m not what you expected.”

“No,” McCree admitted. “But I suppose you gotta look normal somehow, right? And I’m guessing that Genji doesn’t look like a walking, talking, chunk of jade.”

“Is that what you see?” Zen wondered. “Perhaps it is just semantics but I always thought he looked like olivine—like the green sand beaches near the volcanoes.”

McCree wondered why sand might be green without dye or algae and what volcanoes had to do with any of it but ignored it. “Speaking of, where is that little shit?”

“Terrorizing the pet shop, I suspect,” Zen said mildly. “He seemed very excited to see it.”

Startled, McCree laughed roughly. “I’ve half a mind to leave him behind. Let’s get you settled and see if he pops up again.”

Genji did indeed pop up as they finished loading their many bags on the backs of the horses. Silver looked pleased to not be carrying McCree and he was likewise glad that he wouldn’t be riding her. The piebald (as McCree learned the cow-printed horse of Lúcio’s was called) Cheese sighed heavily when he began loading her back.

She did not like the suitcases. They smelled of far-away places. Really, she would much rather be in the pastures and never have to leave. But the Wolves needed her so here she was. She didn’t need to be happy about it, though.

McCree dug in his hoodie and held out a treat for her. Cheese munched on it, not happy but in a better mood at least.

Seeing that Cheese got a treat, Silver grumbled. Didn’t she deserve something for putting up with McCree? Laughing, he gave her one as well, and then handed treats to the rest to prove that he wasn’t playing favorites.

“You’ve changed,” Zen commented, as he gingerly set his last duffel bag on Cheese’s shoulders. She turned to look at him, snorted at the smell of sea-brine-salt-storms, and turned away again. She was a simple horse and she didn’t want to know where this stranger came from; she just wanted home, to roll in the grasses at home where the scents made sense.

“I’ve changed a lot,” McCree agreed and patted Cheese’s neck.

He wondered if Lúcio knew how lazy his horse was; Cheese gave him as dark a look as a horse as calm and lazy as her could muster.

“For the better, I think,” Zen commented. “But that is only my observation.”

McCree ducked his head and gave Cheese a final pat on the neck. “You’ll be riding Hoshi, here.” Hearing his name, the gelding lifted his head and stepped forward.

He butted his face into McCree’s stomach, still munching away at his treat. Truly, he didn’t need another treat. He would like one but he just wanted to make sure that McCree had enough for everyone because Cheese couldn’t get all of them.

Smiling, McCree scratched his neck and Hoshi made a funny face in bliss. He explained silently that Zen was nice even if he smelled scary and that McCree promised that he wouldn’t hurt Hoshi, not deliberately. Maybe if Hoshi asked nicely Zen might give him a treat—and if Zen was what McCree thought he might be, he might be willing to help brush Hoshi when they got back to the farm.

Immediately Hoshi looked much more interested and turned toward Zen. His ears went back at the first big whiff of Zen’s strange scent; then he lifted his lip to better get his scent. It was just as terrible and terrifying as the first big whiff but it was much more bearable now.

“Why horses?” Zen wondered, holding his hand out flat for Hoshi to smell. “Can we not travel by car?”

McCree chuckled. “Road’s closed that way,” he explained. “Nothing but ATVs can get through and even then it’s really tricky stuff. Horses are the best bet.”

“Ah,” Zen said. “Can I give him some of the fruit in my bag?” Hoshi bobbed his head excitedly and they both laughed.

Zen was just feeding and the other horses—he was adorably fair about it—when the man that McCree assumed was Genji returned. He was wearing a tacky souvenir t-shirt in an eye-smarting shade of green that had been cut to show off his midriff despite the chilly autumn air.

“Are you ready to head out?” McCree asked.

Like Zen Genji was almost disappointingly plain—but that was only in comparison to the visions he’d had of Genji. Instead of a giant walking, talking, green statue, this Genji was very human. His skin was pale, strangely so, but marked with nearly-invisible scars that crossed his skin—he probably used makeup to hide them. There was enough resemblance for McCree to connect him to Hanzo: the same intense eyes, similar noses, that same smile that could cut.

Unlike Hanzo and Zen, his hair was bright green of such a shade that McCree had not known was possible. It is literally magic, Zen told him privately in his ocean-thunder-crashing waves voice.

They both laughed and Genji looked suspiciously between them, and then at the horses. “Where’s the car? And where’s my brother?”

“Car travel is impossible,” McCree explained simply. “There have been landslides in the area. Hanzo’s lodge is cut off.”

Genji snorted. “‘Lodge’?” he echoed with a mocking laugh. “Not a chalet ?”

They ignored him. “Do you think you can get into the saddle without assistance?” McCree asked Zen politely. “If not, there is a fence over there we can use or I can give you a boost.”

“I think I can manage,” Zen replied, just as politely. “If the lovely Hoshi would be so kind as to stand still?”

For another piece of pineapple, Hoshi would do whatever he wanted. McCree rolled his eyes and held his bridle. Really Hoshi didn’t need it, was almost canine in his urge to please, and was very well trained. It would take a lot for him to dance nervously, even in the presence of a being like Zen.

When he was in the saddle, McCree moved and helped him to adjust the height of the stirrups before beckoning to the only other unburdened horse.

“Is this wise?” Genji wondered, eyeing the horse with interest.

Ursa eyed him back, her ears tilted back. She had sized him up in the blink of an eye and got his measure as a rider; neither McCree nor Hanzo thought that she would give him an easy time of anything . Perhaps if McCree or Hanzo asked first, but even then she wasn’t fond of riders like him; and she was big enough that she could get her way if she really wanted to.

When McCree patted her neck, she snorted. It was just until the house and pasture again, so she would be good. But if he kicked her or fidgeted too much, she would absolutely throw him from her back. She could be convinced to warn them in advance though.

Save the warning for another time, he advised her and she snorted a horse’s laugh.

“Only way to get there,” McCree told him. “Or you can stay in town, if you like.”

Grumbling, Genji vaulted into the saddle and Ursa’s ears pinned angrily. She gave McCree a look that said very clearly I warned you and snorted again.

Smiling, McCree patted her neck. He visited with the pack horses, rubbing their foreheads and noses and necks, before gesturing. “Let’s get going.”

“Are you not riding?” Zen wondered.

“I am,” McCree assured him as the horses naturally fell into single-file. Zen was in the lead next to McCree; Genji was bringing up the rear, much to his frustration. “But it’s not a good idea to bring my mount into town.”

Zen gave him a very knowing look as they filed out of the carved gates and into the forest. When Hanzo finally showed himself, Genji screamed. Even Zen looked startled, his eyes wide as he looked up at the White Wolf.

“Hey,” McCree said casually, walking over and throwing his arms around Hanzo’s big neck. “Missed you. You should’ve seen the look on Morrison’s face when I walked in.”

Hanzo snorted and knelt down for McCree so he could scramble up into the saddle there. Tell me about it later, Hanzo suggested.

Love you, McCree replied, hanging on as Hanzo rocked to his feet. No amount of practice—in all ways—in riding Hanzo could get him used to the motion enough to be graceful about it.

Turning his head, Hanzo gave a canine grin up at McCree. Love you more. McCree made a kissy face at him and he laughed.

“What is that thing?” Genji demanded.

Hanzo’s ears pinned. I thought he was a Seer, McCree commented.

To be fair, I don’t think it’s things like this that he Sees.

Shaking his head, McCree let Hanzo turn away toward the forest, the horses following obediently. “It’s your brother,” he called over his shoulder. Behind him, Zen laughed as they all broke into a bouncing trot.

As always the dogs greeted them though they shied away from Zen at first. McCree wondered just what he was but in the end it didn’t truly matter.

With both McCree and Hanzo to assure them, the dogs soon swarmed them again, shamelessly requesting attention and scratches behind the ears which Zen just as shamelessly gave them.

“I am amazed that they approach me,” he told McCree with a soft little smile on his face. “Most animals are too afraid because they sense that something is not quite…‘right’ about me.”

McCree shrugged, sliding off of Hanzo’s back and beginning to pick at the buckles and straps. “Well,” he began and hesitated. “Hanzo and I told them that you were fine enough.”

“Thank you.”

Genji stalked over as McCree slid the last of the harness off of Hanzo’s broad back. “I would like answers,” he said, a demand despite his more delicate phrasing. “What did you mean that that— ” here he jabbed a rude finger toward Hanzo whose ears pinned in annoyance. “—was my brother?”

“Just a sec,” McCree said, hefting the harness and tossing it over the nearby railing. Genji followed closely, unhelpfully stepping on the straps and belts that hung from the saddle.

“You can walk and talk, can you not?” Genji demanded. “My brother is no mere dog .”

Behind them, McCree was gratified to hear the sound of Hanzo transforming—something he hadn’t been able to hear until recently—and Zen saying, “oh, hello, Hanzo.”

Genji whirled around in time to see Hanzo adjust his pelt around his waist. Yuki and Ame licked his free hand and he reached down to pat their heads before turning to Genji.

“Why are you naked?” Genji asked flatly.

Hanzo ran a hand through his long silver hair and McCree’s mouth went dry in Pavlovian reflex. The thought amused him enough to distract him from his lustful thoughts though from the look Hanzo gave him, it had been intentional.

Curse that man, but McCree loved him.

Leaning down, McCree brushed his nose against Hanzo’s in a wolfish kiss then gave him a human one. “Go talk to your brother,” he told Hanzo. “I’ll handle the horses and get Zen settled.”

Hanzo made a face as McCree walked back toward the horses. The door to the Lodge popped open and Lúcio poked his head out. “Need any help?”

“It would be appreciated,” he called back, and the vet nodded, coming out with Lily on his heels.

“Can I help?” Zen asked, wading through a sea of happy dogs.

McCree smiled. “If you want,” he agreed. “Or you could distract the dogs if you really want to. During your stay, I’m sure we’ll be dealing with the horses again.”

“Perhaps Hoshi,” Zen demurred. “She was kind enough to carry me down so I may as well address her.”

Hearing his name, Hoshi’s ears perked up. McCree showed him how to undo the fat belt behind his forelegs and the Y-shaped ones across his chest. He wasn’t surprised that someone as tiny as Zen could hold the saddle but followed just in case he tripped over the dangling straps.

Knowing that he was able to trust Zen to brush Hoshi to satisfaction, McCree began unpacking the rest of the horses and removing their gear. Lúcio ferried them away into the shed that housed their gear.

The sun was beginning to set when the brothers came back from wherever they had wandered off to. Both of their eyes were red as if they had been crying and McCree tugged Hanzo into a soft kiss as soon as he was close. When he opened his eyes again, Hanzo’s eyes glowed golden and he gave McCree a fanged smirk full of promise.

“Will you be joining us for dinner?” Lúcio asked. “It’s nearly ready.” Then he said, “ugh, I know that look. Come on, you two. Dinner’s inside—let those two do their thing. If we’re lucky we won’t hear what trouble they get up to.”

Laughing, Hanzo transformed and raced toward the trees, his veritable army of dogs on his heels, chasing him gleefully. McCree turned to Zen and Genji and tipped an imaginary hat at them. He could feel the same magic that had flowed through him during the battle with the demon only this time it wasn’t a destructive force; the marks on his arms, dark red in branching patterns, blazed.

“’Scuse me,” he said, his mouth already having difficulty shaping the words as his teeth and jaw began to change.

The seams of his clothes ripped and then exploded as with a gleeful howl, McCree transformed as well and chased after Hanzo, a splash of silver amongst the trees.

Behind him he could hear Lúcio sigh and say, “there goes another one of his shirts.”

There wasn’t anything quite like racing to the trees like this and the smell of the forest, of trees and animals and running water and the natural kind of mist that had always haunted these mountains. He caught up to Hanzo and nipped at his mate who nipped playfully back before leading him deeper into the trees.

Past Wolf’s Creek and where he had lost his arm.

Past a strange tree that McCree knew was one of the markers of Hanzo’s legal property, an enormous twisting tree that housed the spirit of an orisha that a ghostly girl that lived in the stables loved.

They stopped at an outcropping of rock that looked out into the valley of Hanzo’s home and the silver river that twisted at its base. McCree looked at Hanzo and found that he was already looking back at him. Even in his wolf form, McCree could see the way his eyes softened and leaning close, McCree gave him a wolfish kiss.

Neither knew how long the residual magic would let McCree to change forms like this, nor did they know how long the magic would extend McCree’s life. They didn’t know if it was rushing into everything, only knowing each other for only a month and a half, perhaps even two months.

For now, they could appreciate the time they had together. For forever or just one day more, it was enough to be together.

Throwing his head back, McCree howled. Hanzo’s voice joined a moment later, followed by all of the dogs within earshot.