The heavy brown gate closes behind them as they drive forward. Jimin sucks in a shaky breath.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like utter death."
Jimin throws his head back against the window of the car. His mother smiles at him from the driver's seat, but it's all thinly-pressed lips and her eyes don't crinkle the way they used to. They haven't since Jimin got the letter three weeks ago.
"It's not going to be that bad," Jimin admits, but even he doesn't know. He hasn’t ever driven so far out of the city to see the forest, but it's surrounding their car now as they drive along the road, with pine needles hanging so far out that it's like a canopy of shade over the vehicle passing beneath. He's half worried that a pile of snow will fall from the branches to crush him, even through the car, at any moment. "I get to finish my degree."
And really, that's all he has been clinging to. He might be forced to move into another world with limited outside contact, and he might never see a skyscraper again, but he'll live a peaceful life and he'll do research and get the degree he arguably no longer needs. His parents had raised him on the idea that education was like food—and he plans to eat even if he'll no longer ever get hungry again.
"That is exciting," his mother perks up. "And we can visit you for Christmas."
Jimin grins. "A whole month; I'm pretty lucky," he relaxes into his seat. He'd had less time to go back home in college. It won't be in his old home, but he'll have his parent.
"They liked you, at the office," his mother grins. "You were so quick to accept the move; they really appreciate that."
And that makes Jimin want to roll his eyes a little—it's just like her, to talk about an office she doesn't know anything about like she works there—but she does work there, so that at least calms him down. "I knew what would happen. That really helps me a lot."
They follow the curve of the road as it bends, and Jimin looks apprehensively out the window as the cliff drops off even more sharply on his side. On his mother's side, the mountain continues up farther into the sky. He can see where the road will rise at the bottom of the windshield, though, and that makes his anxiety swell. They're close.
"Stay warm," his mom says. Her voice sounds too tight for comfort, which makes Jimin uncomfortable enough to thankfully keep it together.
"It won't be so bad," he says. His tone is a little louder than necessary, so he reels it back in. "They have birth control, thank God."
His mom snorts and wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. "You sound like a woman," she chokes.
"I basically am," he moans. "God, my asshole is a vagina."
She smacks his arm, looking out at the road the entire time. "Don't use that language with me, young man. We're lucky you weren't an alpha—you know how they act when they present."
He doesn't say that they're both unlucky he isn't a beta. They've been crying about it enough before they go to bed at night. And his younger brother, of course—his dad, not so much. "I would've been locked in a cage, but now I get free tuition instead."
She's smiling again. "I love you, Jimin. I want you to know that. Your dad does too, even if it's hard for him. I know you don't get along—,"
"I'm relieved to be leaving," he cuts in harshly. "Not because of you, but because of him."
She sighs. "I love you," she says again. "I love you too," he says back, and the road opens up to be swallowed by a tunnel.
This is the tunnel he's always heard of but never thought of in detail. It's pitch black aside from the tiny white lights nudged in the very top stone above their heads, forcing his mother to turn on her headlights and expose the detail of the blue-grey stones surrounding them. The tunnel would be fine if not for the fact that it's disturbingly lengthy, and that another civilization lives on the other side. Jimin's breath is disturbingly even throughout it all, and he wonders why he's so calm when he's never going to be able to see any other part of the world again. The rational part of his brain thinks on all of his escapism. The other part of him is just happy not to live in his old home anymore.
Instead, he'll be a literal man among wolves—the opening tunnel goes to show that.
The first thing Jimin notices is the difference between the town's entrance and the town itself. There's a large bit of land cleared with gravel put down, although that's covered up by the barely-there layer of snow sticking to the earth. It all seems to lead up to the beginning of a thin forest, with trees disguising the village behind them. But just barely beyond that, he sees cabins. Massive cabins—absolutely everywhere. Smoke stacks up above each cabin's chimney. It looks a scene out of Jimin's world civilizations textbook.
"God," he chokes. "They're huge."
"They like to live together." But her lips are pursed. She's thinking that Jimin will be like them soon. Jimin's wondering if he will, too.
"Let's just go," he says anxiously, even though the pace is far too quick. His mother nods and pulls her car forward until Jimin can see where gravel begins to turn to grass underneath the sheer coating of white. Against the thin tree-line, three massive men look at their Subaru curiously. The one who looks the youngest of them seems especially impressed, eyes wide and tugging on the sleeve of the tallest man. On the far left side, the man who looks to be the oldest and shortest glowers down at the hood of the car. All of the men look surprisingly young in the face, though, even while their bodies are built—definitely young adults. Of course, Jimin can’t see any of them in detail, but noticeable signs of aging aren’t present. They all must be at least a foot taller than Jimin, although he’s admittedly much shorter than average.
"Alphas," his mom supplies. Her tone is cheery in a fake-polite way, like she's on the phone or she has a guest at home. His old home. "They're all tall. You'll get used to it." And with that, she steps out of the car with that same polite smile. Jimin follows, boots crunching in the snow, with his expression much more cautious.
As his mother walks up to the trio, the men all bow sharply. This has Jimin stiffening as they straighten up, and nearly jumping when the tallest reaches out a hand to his mother. "Mrs. Park," the alpha says, voice low and clear. Jimin instinctively steps up to her side, anxiously pulling her back a bit by the strap of her purse.
He can feel a tingling sensation in the back of his head, like he's being scrutinized, and not just from his mother who's smiling sadly at him like he's already some born-and-raised omega. The movement causes the lead alpha to pull his own hand back and shoot him a relaxed smile.
"You're Omega Park," is all he says. Jimin had known from his crash course in dynamics that they'd be able to tell his rank by smell. Jimin wonders what he must smell like, but pushes the thought back to hug around his mother's shoulders with one arm. "I'm Lead Alpha, Kim Namjoon."
"Jimin is fine. It's nice to meet you," he says very quietly, and offers his free hand—even if it is shaking. He can't even smell them yet, but their presence is threatening. And Jimin still feels like he's being watched.
Namjoon takes his hand—not in the way he's used to, but turns it slightly so that the back of Jimin's hand faces the cloudy sky. The alpha's massive thumb brushes over Jimin's fingers, with his entire hand being dwarfed. Jimin blinks. His hand is being held like he's a woman being greeted. His books on dynamic cultural differences didn't cover chivalry performances.
"It's an honor," Namjoon says, smiling genuinely. Jimin notes that the absolute monster of a man still manages to have dimples. "I'm also in charge of BCR, so I'm looking forward to helping each other in our studies."
Ah, Jimin's interested. He’d been told in advance that he’d be teaching their academics about betas. "Sounds good," he nods. Namjoon's posture relaxes a bit.
"Well," he pauses, and the other two alphas step up wordlessly. Jimin trains his eyes on Namjoon to keep his eyes from darting between them nervously—especially to his left, where he can feel those sparks in the back of his head. Whoever that last alpha is, he’s strange. "We're here to take your furniture and belongings to your den, but it looks like the truck hasn't caught up yet?"
"Oh." Jimin looks uncertainly to his mother, who rubs her hand over the back of his. The physical contact soothes him. "They told me I could buy it up here, so I figured that's what I would do."
The leader's eyes widen just a bit. "I see," is all he says. "We'll just take your luggage, then."
The young-looking alpha steps forward, and Jimin stands protectively in front of his mother without realizing it. But she laughs a little. "You'll fit right in, sweetie," is all she says, and hands man her keys. He heads straight back to pop the trunk after fumbling with the fob a bit, and oh. Jimin feels stupid as he and the other alpha—who he isn't looking at—start unloading his belongings.
"Sorry," he murmurs to her as he turns around. "I just feel strange. But I guess you have to go."
She runs her hand over the hair at the back of his neck and nods. "I'll see you in just under three months," she promises. "I'll bring Jihyun too."
"Not Dad?" He can't keep the hope out of his voice, and he sees his mother smile bitterly.
"Not Dad," she promises, eyes wet. And then she hugs him tightly and warmly, which makes Jimin feel like the little beta boy that he actually is, and not the nineteen-year-old omega being forced to move into a completely new way of life. He laughs stiffly into her shoulder, wondering why he feels so calm. "I love you," he says. "I'm going to call you every day," he promises.
"Love you too," she says into his hair. She holds him for a few long seconds before she finally steps away. The young-looking alpha hands her keys back and Jimin feels so small and helpless that he takes one of the bags from Namjoon, even if that duffel bag is by far the lightest and smallest he's brought. His mom steps back into her car, closes the door of the Subaru, and starts the engine. She waves, and she's crying, and it's all Jimin can do to keep his face from cracking into the blank expression he wants to fall into. He's going to be stuck here for the rest of his life whether he likes it or not, so he figures he'd better smile and pretend he enjoys it.
"You'll be fine!" He calls, but he's trying to convince himself. His mother laughs and nods, and then she's backing up. Jimin waits until he sees the license plate disappear into the black of the tunnel before he turns around to face the three alphas. With his mother gone, he can mentally pack his already dulled emotions away into the back of the dresser he still needs to buy.
"Sorry," he says to Namjoon, feeling too emotionally numb to be genuinely guilty but at least polite enough to pretend. "I know it's cold."
"We can't even feel it!" It's actually the younger who speaks up. Namjoon rolls his eyes.
"He's right; we're less sensitive," he offers. "This is Jeongguk, my younger brother and Lower Leader. He's currently hunting and studying mathematics."
Jimin shoots him a nervous smile. "Nice to meet you."
Namjoon gestures to his left and Jimin feels his stomach twist a little. He looks at the last alpha's feet. "This is Min Yoongi, our head carpenter and High Alpha. He's in the first rank, if you've learned about our hierarchy yet?" Jimin nods. "He's also one of our best hunters as well."
Namjoon sounds especially proud of the alpha, and Jimin chances a quick eye contact. He regrets it immediately.
It's a flash of an image—and a burst of the static he'd felt from before, and a handsome face, and dark eyes that seem slightly wild. Jimin shivers violently as he feels those eyes lock on his, and immediately focuses his eyes back on the ground. He takes a shaky breath and tries to say something, to even pretend at normalcy, but his tongue feels like lead and his lips are super-glued together with the buzzing in his head. He settles for nodding, packing the entire feeling down into nothing. It’s not exactly the time for questions. When he looks up at Namjoon, he sees the alpha studying him curiously.
"We'll stop by your den, first," he eventually says, smiling. "I'll go ahead and point out some major landmarks on the way, but we don't have very much order here—you'll need a full tour tomorrow morning."
Not much order. Great.
"Okay," Jimin says quietly, and he falls into step behind Namjoon. The other two stay behind him, which Jimin knows is supposed to be for his own comfort, but instead leaves his head fuzzy. He's hyper-aware of the alpha—Min Yoongi—standing behind him on his left side. But as curious as he feels, Jimin doesn't want to wonder on the what's and why's—he just wants to get unpacked and sleep.
When Namjoon approaches the treeline, he turns back and grins. "Welcome to Compound," he says, and Jimin swallows his fear.