He looked up from his desk in his hut, finding San staring at him, clinging to the tent flap, expression hard but eyes shimmering. “They’re here.” His voice sounded as if he was announcing a funeral.
Hongjoong smiled gently, standing and walking to San, placing a calming hand on his head. “Everything will be fine.”
It was a promise.
San bit his lip, swallowing hard, but nodded, walking away.
Hongjoong exited his tent, coming out into the center of the circle of huts with a large fire in the middle. The majority of his relatively small pack was gathered there, watching him with sober expressions.
Hongjoong’s smile was mostly genuine. Encouraging. Not at all nervous or afraid. Not a single stench of fear would be smelled on him.
“Let’s go,” he said, voice level and smooth.
His pack nodded, some of them grouping together, clinging despite his reassurances.
The day was lovely. The sun was shining and the clouds provided a wonderful shade for the pups to play in without exhausting themselves.
Such a shame that such nasty business must be handled on it.
Well. If all went according to the agreement, nothing would need to become nasty.
They walked out of the small camp, towards the hills. The woods on the opposite side of them were a good barrier against enemies, but their Western side was only rolling hills and open spaces with sparse trees. At the bottom of the nearest hill stood of crowd of about twenty, their foreign scents making everyone on edge.
With each step as they approached, Hongjoong felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, instinct making him tense. These were strangers. In their territory. Their posture was confident. Challenging. As if they had a right to be here.
They marched on.
Hongjoong didn’t need to be told which was pack leader. Everyone stood behind one man, his expression stony but not aggressive. Good. Aggression would have been a very poor choice of emotion to bring here.
His pack paused, a distance of only a few paces separating them from each other.
“Greetings, Seonghwa” he said boldly. “We welcome you to our pack.”
The man that stood in the front was the peak imagine of alpha Leader. His features were strong, like built into stone, his shoulder broad and his frame tall. Well, taller than Hongjoong (though most were), but not taller than some members of his own pack. He looked strong though. A worthy opponent from the moment you laid eyes on him. His eyes were a sharp brown, threatening, even without anything like anger to fuel them.
Hongjoong felt satisfied. His reputation preceded him. Hopefully, the rest of the stories accompanying his pack were true as well.
“I trust your journey was not too tiring?” he questioned cordially.
Seonghwa nodded absently, not even glancing at Hongjoong, scanning the crowd behind him, neutral expression falling into a frown. “Where is your pack leader? Did he deem it beneath himself to come greet me?”
Hongjoong felt his lips quirk, almost a little too pleased. “I am pack leader.”
The silence that rang across the clearing was loud enough to burn. Someone snorted within Hongjoong’s own pack.
Seonghwa narrowed his eyes, his patience waning. Well, that was amusing to watch so quickly. “Very funny, Omega, but I can smell you. Where is your head alpha?”
Hongjoong didn’t waver, holding his gaze with steely eyes, the first time Seonghwa had looked directly in his eyes. “We have no head alpha. We have a head omega. Me.”
And maybe Hongjoong was a little too pleased to say it. But the faces of his pack were priceless .
“Just don’t gloat, hyung,” Yeosang had warned him. “You need them to like us, remember?”
Hongjoong was well aware. Even if he did feel righteously smug.
Seonghwa’s pack began to shift, whispering to each other, some of them glaring at him in anger and others staring in wonder, as if he were some specimen.
“Enough games,” Seonghwa demanded, casting a hand in front of himself, some of his hair rising on end, preparing for something. “I don’t know what you intended to gain from this charade, but I came here to unite two packs-”
“Which we will do,” Hongjoong agreed readily, shoulders straight and strong. “We agreed on a mating between the two heads of our packs, did we not? We shall do just that.”
Seonghwa’s glared, as if trying to see through Hongjoong. As if trying to see if his nose was lying to him, or if his eyes deceived him. Neither had done so, he would find.
“You can’t be a leader!” someone behind Seonghwa yelled. “You’re an omega . A head wolf is meant to protect their pack!” He shouldered one pack member aside, glaring at Hongjoong with eyes red with fury. “How dare you-” he looked passed him, at his pack, “How dare any of you allow yourselves to be beneath this whore !”
Hongjoong felt the shifts behind himself, putting an arm out automatically to stop Jongho who had tried to run forward, eyes glowing red. “Calm yourself, Jongho,” he said without breaking his eyes away from the wolf who had spoken. “We talked about this.”
The younger glared at him, clearly begging to be allowed to attack, but Yunho grabbed his arm and pulled him back gently- hard, apprehensive eyes aimed at the pack in front of them. Jongho would strike without thinking, but Yunho would hold him back until an opening allowed itself. Or, in this case, until Hongjoong gave word to attack.
Which he had no intention of doing.
Hongjoong turned back to the wolf who had spoken out before. “You would be wise to watch your tongue in our territory. You do not have the advantage here. Nor do you have a complete understanding of the pack you threaten. It would be a truly idiotic move on your part to attempt any sort of violence.”
“You dare to speak to an alpha like that?” the man snapped, fingernails sharpening into claws. “I’ll-”
“I’d like to see you try.”
Seonghwa’s pack turned to the new voice as Wooyoung stepped up beside him, arms crossed and expression amused, his lips quirked up in a smirk.
“The head wolf protects the pack. They’re the strongest wolf the pack has to offer. And him?” Wooyoung jerked his head towards Hongjoong, looking more amused than Hongjoong could ever dream to. “If you can beat him- be my guest and be our head wolf.” He actually laughed. “Good luck, though.”
The man looked between Wooyoung and Hongjoong, seething. Hongjoong’s nose twitched as he smelled his anger turn to rage. He tensed imperceptibly.
Hongjoong had just enough time to summon his claws before the man launched himself at him.
“ Jay !” Seonghwa snapped, but the wolf paid no mind, tackling Hongjoong and sending them both sprawling. But the other alpha had made one mistake: he gave Hongjoong enough time to smell an attack, which gave his time to get his defenses up.
Jay hit him around his waist, expecting him to double over and lose his balance. To stumble.
He wasn’t expecting to slam into a body made of muscle that simply slid back a few feet before Hongjoong slashed claws across his back, spreading red blood across his grey shirt.
Jay yelped as Hongjoong snarled, and Hongjoong grabbed him by his back and hair, twisting as he pulled him around, slamming him into the ground, listening to the satisfying cry the other released.
His boot was placed on his neck as Jay clawed at it, struggling to breathe. Hongjoong turned to Seonghwa and his pack, not even bothering to care about the wolf struggling under his boot. “Anyone else?” he asked tersely, pressing down harder until Jay stopped clawing at his shoe, laying still and trying not to panic. His blood thrummed, asking to be allowed to let loose.
Seonghwa was staring at him with an unreadable expression, like it was carved in marble. “I did not order that attack,” he said gravely after a substantial pause. “I apologize for the behavior of my pack. It will be addressed, I swear to you.”
He wasn’t that sorry. Hongjoong knew he could have stopped Jay before he got to him. He wanted to see the outcome as much as anyone else. Hongjoong’s expression didn’t change as he finally removed his boot from Jay who gasped and turned over, coughing into the grass.
Seonghwa watched him passively, and Hongjoong would have given a quarter of their territory just to know what he was thinking as his eyes trailed Hongjoong, as if assessing a threat.
“I think these talks would be better held in my tent,” Hongjoong said, voice carrying in the silence. “Your pack is welcome to a lunch we’ve prepared. My pack will make you feel welcome.”
Unlike yours, you prick, went unsaid.
Seonghwa, however, inclined his head, jerking a hand to his pack to signal them to go with them. “Not a single fight, understand?” he snapped, making them all nod, the twenty or so wolves stepping over towards Hongjoong’s with wary eyes, as if expecting an attack.
Hongjoong watched Yeosang lead the two packs back to the camp area, turning when he heard a subtle growl behind him. He turned, seeing Jongho glaring up at him, specifically at his arm that was slightly red from where Jay had attacked.
Hongjoong smirked, ruffling Jongho’s hair. It shocked him enough that his alpha eyes stopped glowing red. “He punches weaker than Junyoung,” he assured him. “Go eat. And no fights, got it?”
Jongho’s eyes flickered to Seonghwa like he was sure he would attack his leader. Hongjoong smacked Jongho’s arm to get him to go, and he obeyed reluctantly, leaving the two leaders alone, but not before glaring at Seonghwa and baring his teeth in a clear challenge.
That was probably six levels of rude, a mere pup challenging a head alpha, but Hongjoong didn’t quite bring himself to care. It was also rude for a brutish alpha with a complex to attach a pack leader. Fair was fair.
He turned to Seonghwa who still had an expression he couldn’t put a name to.
“Come,” he beckoned casually, walking without waiting for him.
Not a word was said between them until they reached Hongjoong’s tent. It wasn’t like Hongjoong took real amusement from the other’s silent anger, but it was always truly amusing to witness the alphas who came through here glare and snap.
Because how dare an omega pose as a head wolf? How dare they make themselves appear equal to a big, strong alpha? It still made Hongjoong want to snort, even though he contained himself, because as Yeosang liked to reassure him, they did need Seonghwa to like him and agree to this contract.
Hongjoong could smell the distrust and anger from the alpha, spicy and thick, as he opened the flap and stepped inside after allowing in Seonghwa. The larger space seemed smaller with another power occupying it.
And despite his amusements at Seonghwa’s expense, he was another power.
“So,” Hongjoong began lightly, going to sit at his desk and gesturing across from himself at the chair on the other side. “What part of this arrangement is most problematic to you? The fact that I am an omega?” He asked, eyebrow raised delicately. “Or am I simply so repulsive to look at, you find the omega aspect a useful excuse?” He looked at Seonghwa, eyes glinting with mirth, but he stared on, unimpressed.
Seonghw’s eyes were hard, even as it seemed like he physically tried to make his posture less aggressive. Perhaps to amend for his pack’s behavior. Perhaps for another reason altogether. Either way, he failed miserably.
“I find the whole thing fantastical,” he stated, voice low enough to fill the space between them. “An omega as head wolf? That has never happened.” His voice was dark, still challenging the claim.
“No, it has not,” Hongjoong agreed, playing with the paperweight sitting on the desk, spinning it in circles as he watched Seonghwa’s every movement. “But do you not agree that whoever is strongest is in charge of protecting a pack? Has that not always been our way?”
Alpha’s held that title of strongest. In times of distress or war, it was possible for a beta to assume that position until another alpha was found, but an omega?
It was truly laughable.
“Who allowed you to become head wolf?” Seonghwa demanded, arms crossing once more, unable to keep their station at his sides. “No alpha would have handed over a title to you. Their pride would never let them.”
Hongjoong inclined his head, acquiescing easily. Hongjoong knew most of the surrounding packs knew very little of his little pack that kept to themselves, but he hadn’t realized just how much these people knew nothing of them.
But Seonghwa had yet to say a single thing that Hongjoong did not agree with.
“You are correct,” Hongjoong assured him, spinning the weight once more. “But I was not brought into this pack. I created this pack. It has been mine and mine alone since I found my first wolf.”
He gestured around his tent, and Seonghwa’s brows crept down further with each word.
Hongjoong picked the paperweight up, passing it between his hands to keep them busy. “I accepted an alpha into our pack, once,” he said, voice stiffening with the memory. “An outcast from another pack further upstream. He thought an omega in power was a crime against nature.”
Seonghwa didn’t move, but Hongjoong could see it in his eyes that glinted darkly in the firelight. He thought the same.
That was well enough. Hongjoong honestly could not care less what Seonghwa believed his position to be. It changed nothing.
“I told him if he could prove to be stronger than me, I would gladly give up my title to him.” Hongjoong’s eyes turned a steely silver as he stood slowly, bracing his hands on his desk. “Understand this, Seonghwa: my only goal in life is to protect my pack. I won’t hand over their safety to someone who can’t do a better job than I am now. That outcast lost the fight.”
Seonghwa’s brow pinched, clearly wondering whether or not Hongjoong was being truthful.
Hongjoong’s fingers curled into fists, not angry but firm. “I would be a fool to hand my position to him, simply for a title he was born to . He was useless .” He straightened. “ A few of my alphas have tried to become head wolf, but none of them can best me in a fight. So, until I find someone worthy of looking after my pack, I, an omega, will remain in power.” His eyes narrowed. “Do you understand this, Seonghwa?” This, of everything, was the one thing Hongjoong needed him to understand if this was going to work.
Seonghwa remained statuesque.
“It’s physically impossible for an omega to be more powerful than an alpha,” Seonghwa said, voice as if he were reading from a textbook.
Hongjoong sighed in disappointed frustration, hoping that maybe his explanation would be enough, but that was a fool’s wish. He crossed his arms, mirroring Seonghwa’s cut-off posture, though Hongjoong still had to raise his eyes to meet Seonghwa’s gaze.
“Did you not just see an omega slam your alpha into the dirt?” Hongjoong questioned petulantly. “Hold him there as he whimpered under my boot for mercy?” His lips curled in disgust as Seonghwa didn’t move.
He scoffed, some of the anger bleeding away as he reigned it in. This was not the first conversation he had about this, but Seonghwa’s lack of response was proving an irritant.
“With the way they’re raised, yes,” Hongjoong agreed with a walking along the length of the desk, dragging his hand along the wood. “From the time an omega is born, they are taught to be weak, yes. Required to be smaller, timid, submissive…” He gestured to himself for a moment, eyebrow popping up. “But look what happens when an omega is left to their own devices, without self-righteous alphas and betas telling them what they can and can’t do.” He cocked his head. “Impressive, isn’t it?”
Seonghwa glared at him, perhaps wondering if it was a specific jab at him. But Seonghwa was currently an alpha he had the least problems with. Hongjoong leaned forward, putting away the back story and stowing his irritation.
“But we didn’t come here to discuss the politics of our wolves,” he said, voice back to level and firm. “We came to sign an agreement. Unless, you are reconsidering your stance?” His eyes searched Seonghwa’s, wishing the man would let something slip through. His lips pressed together tightly. “I see now that you were expecting to bond with an alpha, or at the very least a beta.”
“I was told I would bond to a head wolf, of course, I assumed it would be an alpha” Seonghwa said sharply, glancing Hongjoong over once more, as if still trying to find a way to call him a liar for his claims. “I see now that it was perhaps foolish to make assumptions.”
Hongjoong hummed. “I can assure you, however, that the omission was not done to deceive,” he assured Seonghwa firmly. “I truly did not think the wolf of the pack leader was necessary to name. I see now that it was perhaps a bit ignorant on my own part. I apologize.”
Because Hongjoong had to remember: their pack was not like the others. In more than their choice of pack leader- they operated differently, they blended differently, they were different.
Hongjoong had been in the wrong to simply expect Seonghwa to view it the same way. Or even hope for him to do so.
To his surprise, though, Seonghwa let out a quiet sigh, his shoulders falling slightly, his posture not quite so stiff, but still closed off as he glared.
“Well…” Seonghwa folded his hands, clearly mulling everything over in his mind. “I truly was not expecting… you when I agreed to the bonding. And I admit it’s off putting… I am not sure if my pack would support me choosing to-”
“ Remember ,” Hongjoong broke in with a hard voice, eyes sharpening. “You have as much to gain from this as us. You need the resources on our land.”
Seonghwa glanced him over, his stony expression finally breaking as a smirk crossed his lips, almost… smug. Hongjoong’s blood boiled. “Yes, but we can find certain resources elsewhere. Not as conveniently, I agree, but we can get them. However, as I understand it, you are out of options when it comes to allies in this war.”
“ Potential war,” Hongjoong snapped, fists curling, stomach boiling and hair raising. “ One sided war. We’ve done nothing against Exo,” he spat, eyes flashing deadly silver. “They bring conflict purely for destruction’s sake! They have no need for anything on our land. They hunt us for sport because-” He broke off, closing his mouth for a moment before speaking darkly. “Because they have bloodlust. Nothing more”
“I understand that,” Seonghwa said calmly, his expression no longer so amused. He looked like he took no pity on them, though. “But you cannot think that this does not change some things. You are an omega , Hongjoong. That is not overlookable. If you would reconsider your stance on it being yourself who is bonded-”
“You are not taking anyone else in my pack,” Hongjoong said sharply, voice low in his chest. “ No one in my pack is interested in bonding. Your options were and remain only me. This was not an issue for you before,” he growled, muscles tensing as Seonghwa continued to appear above it all.
“That was before it was revealed the head wolf was an omega.”
Hongjoong’s eyes bled silver again. “ I see ,” he snarled. “This has become a matter of pride now.”
Seonghwa opened his mouth, eyes flashing crimson, but Hongjoong cut him off with a sharp swipe of his hand.
“You posed to your pack that you would be bonding to a nice, strong head alpha ,” he snapped. “But what you got was a nice, strong head omega . Explain, please , because I fail to see where you’ve lost anything . Does it matter what my wolf is when I am clearly stronger than even your own alphas? What more proof would you need that wolves are inconsequential ?”
Perhaps he sounded a bit more desperate than he intended, but Seonghwa’s stance was rapidly shifting away from him, and Hongjoong could not let him actually slip away, for something as little as his wolf .
This could not fall through.
Hongjoong could not afford to let Seonghwa walk away.
His outburst, however, it seemed, made Seonghwa pause. He pressed his lips together, breathing deeply as he ran a stiff hand through his hair. “You will be demanded to prove yourself,” Seonghwa warned him, dark eyes meeting angry ones. “I don’t know what kind of mentality you have here in this pack, but it is not what it is outside. My pack will want proof that you’re actually a reliable pack leader. And they may expect you to act like an omega.”
Hongjoong felt his insides begin to boil, but struggled to stamp it down. He expected him to return to that weakling he had been before? What was wrong with this world? Why did he need to prove herself at every fucking turn? Why was he continually forced to cut himself lower and lower, just-
For his pack. For the people he had taken in and promised to protect. If protecting them from this war meant… meant returning to how he had been…
Hongjoong wanted to break something at the very fucking thought .
If it meant putting on a show and… submitting again… then he would do it…
For them. And only for them.
“Whatever it takes,” he said, voice barely being held together, hoarse and rough as something dark began to swirl.
This was not in their deal. But apparently, things changed more than Hongjoong planned. Seonghwa’s pack would not budge. Which left only Hongjoong to twist himself in circles to try and save those most precious to him.
“As long as our original contract still stands,” he said stiffly, a warning in his voice.
To his credit, Seonghwa scanned Hongjoong’s face, as if seeing the change in expression. He frowned slightly, but nodded slowly. “The exchange would be enacted,” Seonghwa assured him. “Part of my pack would come here as emergency protection. Your selected pack members would come with us to ensure your treatment and connect the packs.”
Hongjoong nodded, lowering his eyes to stare at his hands. Anyone from his pack would see his agreed behavior and label it as horrid treatment. He’d have to address them beforehand.
“Very well, then,” he muttered. “Are we at an agreement, then?” His voice was bitter, Seonghwa tilting his head, as if trying to identify a sound.
Seonghwa slowly inclined his head, eyes almost curious behind their stony exterior. “As unconventional as it is… we are at an agreement.”
Hongjoong almost sighed with relief, but remained silent and passive, holding out a hand. “Then we have documents to sign, don’t we?”
Seonghwa looked at his hand for a moment before standing and taking it in his own. He saw the twitch in Seonghwa’s expression when he felt the rough, prominent calluses on Hongjoong’s hands.
He would find out that there was so much more about him that didn’t match up to the ordinary omega. And if Hongjoong squeezed his hand just a little harder than necessary, well, that was purely inconsequential.
“Kim Hongjoong from the Southern Pack,” Seonghwa announced to the small gathering.
Hongjoong stood there, his head high and his hands behind his back as he gazed out at the crowd of council members and pack members glaring back at him with disdain.
The stench of omega was clear to them, their noses curled in distaste as they didn’t even bother to whisper among themselves.
Hongjoong simply stared on.
“Before anyone tries to fight this decision,” Seonghwa went on over the grumbling that was beginning to grow, voice firm, “know that I would never settle for a union with someone who was not useful to our pack. Despite being an omega, he has proven to be strong enough to hold his own, even against our own alphas.”
“ Liar ,” Hongjoong heard one woman in the crowd hiss to her friend, sneering at him in disgust.
Seonghwa either didn’t hear or didn’t care. “We all know the strength of the Southern Pack. Despite their size, we knew they had withstood many assaults from larger, stronger groups. With that in mind, knowing that Hongjoong was the one leading against those assaults, we can conclude that he is a valuable ally to have, regardless of his wolf.”
And that was… almost a kind thing to say. Hongjoong glanced at Seonghwa from the corner of his eyes, wondering, if he knew all that, why they would demand Hongjoong take on the guise of the helpless omega. Were they truly so attached to their silly pride?
“Pack leader,” a woman in the front spoke up, not even bothering to look at Hongjoong. “We ask you to reconsider. This is… this is an embarrassment ,” she hissed angrily. “An omega standing as an equal with you… you can’t possibly imagine what that will do to your image. Other packs will deem us weak . Your own pack will turn on you-”
“I am willing to prove whatever strength you desire,” Hongjoong broke in, stepping forward. The woman looked at him, her nose curling as if his scent was going to make her ill. “Be it my ranking among my pack or my ability to provide aid in a fight.”
Her face turned red.
“However, I find myself needing to add that this must be a very broken pack indeed, if something as inconsequential as my wolf could cause a civil war.”
“You bitch- ”
“Sunny!” Seonghwa barked, making the woman back down, glancing at him with dropped shoulders. His eyes were steely. “Hongjoong and I have spoken about this. We signed the documents with his pack as a witness. Hongjoong wants only to transition here peacefully and protect his pack. No more than what we all want for our own pack.” His eyes narrowed and his voice hardened. “Anyone who disputes that can speak directly to me.”
No one in the crowd spoke. Hongjoong couldn’t call it defending him exactly (not that he needed it), but he… was grateful. Seonghwa may be an alpha in the head, but he seemed to not be so much of a brute that he couldn’t see reason.
Even if he was blinded by tradition.
Seonghwa relaxed even if his expression didn’t. “If no one has more to say, I suggest everyone return to their duties.”
The crowd didn’t look happy but even they knew not to push their head wolf. Hongjoong glanced at him from the corner of his eye curiously. Seonghwa didn’t look his way for even a moment. A lot of people around here had been doing a lot of ignoring him… that wasn’t going to fucking last long.
“You shouldn’t speak to them so casually,” Seonghwa said lowly, eyes dark. “They hold more power than you’d think. Anger the wrong council members, and you’ll find your time here much less enjoyable than it could here.”
Hongjoong cocked an unafraid eyebrow. “Is that a threat, Seonghwa?” he questioned. “Am I not your mate now? Your pack would attack one of their head wolves?”
Hongjoong could practically see each inch of restraint it took for Seonghwa to not snap back at him. He simply glared, turning away.
“Come,” Seonghwa said, voice unamused. “I’m taking you to where you’ll be staying.”
Hongjoong pressed his lips together at the order. “Wolves aside, I think the proper request would have a ‘please’ or something in there.”
Seonghwa turned back, and for the first time in… perhaps since the bonding, Seonghwa looked him in the eyes. Hongjoong stared back, fearless and impassive, waiting for Seonghwa to make his choice.
Seonghwa didn’t roar with anger at being spoken to as such. He didn’t snap, his eyes didn’t become crimson, his body didn’t tense with rage waiting to unleashed on this foolish omega who dared open his mouth.
He simply pressed his lips together tightly, as if stopping himself from saying something. Several moments longer than it should have taken passed before Seonghwa let go of a slow breath.
“If you’ll follow me… I will show you your new home.”
His voice was terse, short, and probably a bit pride-wounded. But it was a request. Not a command. Even if there still was no ‘please’.
Hongjoong nodded gently, not smiling to gloat. He only wanted the respect he was due as Seonghwa’s equal. Nothing more. “I’d be happy to,” he assured him, stepping after him.
He had almost forgotten the others standing behind him silently, watching the spectacle. He glanced over, finding Yeosang staring at him with cold eyes. “We’ll always be behind you,” he promised. “Don’t worry about anything other than your immediate duties.”
Hongjoong smiled in gratitude, nodding to him. “Thank you, Yeosang.”
“Yeah, we’ll beat the shit out of anyone who tries something.”
Hongjoong couldn’t help but snort. “Thank you, Wooyoung. But really… don’t trouble yourself.”
“He won’t,” Yeosang said flatly, arm curled around Wooyoung’s arm tightly. “ Right ?”
“Hongjoong.” He turned with a raised eyebrow when Seonghwa called his name sharply. At his expression, Seonghwa took another breath, letting it go. His voice softened around the edges minisculely. “ This way,” he said stiffly.
He inclined his head slowly, eyeing Seonghwa as he turned away once more. He turned to Yeosang with one more gentle touch to his shoulder. “Keep everyone in line.”
Yeosang’s lips quirked up, as if scolding Hongjoong for thinking anything different. “Of course.” Hongjoong smiled back, his shoulder relaxing slightly. At the very least, he could convince himself that the others would be fine. Especially with each other to rely on.
This pack may be larger than their own, but Hongjoong had never smelled such divisions, even among the most aggressive of his own pack.
Which did not bode well for him and his select few that were outsiders trying to settle in, despite his faith in them.
Hongjoong was an omega.
Seonghwa could smell it, as clearly as the scent of earth and woodsmoke in the wind, and he could see it .
Hongjoong looked like an omega. He was small. Shorter than Seonghwa by a bit, with every part of him delicate and thin. His arms were wiry and his legs were thin, and his hands were tiny with short fingers that hid his claws.
His face was delicate- with a delicate soft nose and delicate lips that were always quirked in some way or another.
He looked breakable .
And then Seonghwa saw him pin one of his alphas to the ground with his boot, forcing the other into submission with nothing but himself. Not a single member of Hongjoong’s pack had even looked concerned at the attack. Not a single one made a move to help him.
Seonghwa swore he saw one them snort into his hand, as if he couldn’t believe the alpha thought this would go well.
And omega or not… that made Seonghwa pause.
Because he saw Hongjoong’s eyes.
Omega eyes. Soft brown that would flash an omega silver when riled up, but they gazed at Seonghwa and his pack, and they challenged .
Seonghwa looked at Hongjoong’s eyes and they were challenging. They were defiant and sharp and angry . They… they made Seonghwa think twice. Because as much as he had expected another alpha, he had personally witnessed this omega overpower an alpha.
He had personally watched this omega stare down a pack leader without fear, snapping out in anger and curling his fists in preparation for an altercation.
He looked… strong. Perhaps not physically. He was small and stick-like. But in his eyes… in his eyes was a determination- a power- that Seonghwa couldn’t understand. Physically could not wrap his mind around.
Seonghwa told him to follow.
Hongjoong told him to say please .
Seonghwa was not a barbarian, despite what Hongjoong seemed to think. But he was a pack leader, and the thought that someone would refuse to follow his direction was startling, and more than a little bit annoying.
But Hongjoong didn’t quirk his lips in smug demand of knowing Seonghwa couldn’t touch him. He didn’t snicker in amusement as Seonghwa gave way. He simply stared at him expectantly, as if he were reminding a child of their table manners.
And… perhaps… if Hongjoong were an alpha as promised… perhaps Seonghwa would not be so inclined to order . Perhaps… if Hongjoong were not an omega, Seonghwa would have invited. By all intents and purposes, as two pack leaders- despite their wolves- Seonghwa and Hongjoong stood at equal ranking.
And Hongjoong seemed to wield this as a weapon, digging his heels in until Seonghwa acknowledged it, eyes expectant, as if waiting for him to realize that Hongjoong would not follow .
Hongjoong was… at worst, an intriguing anomaly. At best, he was someone Seonghwa might not regret bonding with.
Bonding had long since lost its meaning to Seonghwa. For years, he had numbed himself to the idea. Because he knew it would be a situation like this: an alliance with another pack for the strength of both. He and his mate would have a bond of allies, at best, and the contempt of strangers, at worst.
So far, Hongjoong seemed to view with the contempt of an omega turning their nose up at an alpha they found too brutish to be worth their time.
And Seonghwa wasn’t sure how- or even if he wanted- to fix that.
Because even only 24 hours after meeting him, Seonghwa stared at Hongjoong and declared him an anomaly that he would never understand.
Honestly, it might be a less painful experience for both if he just stopped trying.
Seonghwa’s home was large, with two stories, but somehow only one bedroom.
Certainly something fancier than Hongjoong’s hut they had been discussing in earlier.
“It wasn’t made for more than one person,” Seonghwa told him when he asked,observing the room with a large bed, tasteful curtains, and a desk. “But you should be comfortable here, even if it’s not what you’re used to.”
Hongjoong looked at him sharply, searching for a hint of insult. The Southern Pack was known to be more… wild than the larger ones. They lived in the woods, in huts and tents. They didn’t have cities and houses and large populations at their disposal. They had each other and the land.
But Seonghwa didn’t even look at him when he said it, so he assumed it wasn’t meant to insult. “Thank you,” he replied honestly, running his fingers over the top of the covers gently. They were surprisingly soft.
“So… is Yeosang your second in command?” Seonghwa asked too casually as he straightened papers on his desk without looking at him. “Or just a friend?”
Hongjoong looked up from the blankets to Seonghwa’s back, his shoulders stiff, and he almost wanted to roll his eyes. Alphas .
Hongjoong couldn’t really blame him. It was their nature. “What does it matter what he is?” he asked innocently.
Seonghwa put his papers down carefully, turning to him with an impassive face. “It doesn’t.” His voice was neutral- neither angry nor positive.
Hongjoong snorted. “We’ve only been forced into a bonding for 24 hours and already you’re possessive?”
“You’re very close to him,” Seonghwa noted, almost casual.
“Not only him. What- you aren’t threatened by Wooyoung? Just Yeosang?” He almost laughed.
“Wooyoung is an omega. You look at Yeosang differently.”
“That happens when someone saves your life.”
Seonghwa’s expression locked down slightly, as if he refused to show his reaction to the statement. “When did he save your life?”
“Many times,” Hongjoong shrugged. “Too many to recall.”
“So he is your second in command.”
“In a way. I have a couple of wolves who work directly under me.”
“Then who’s watching your pack, if your second in command is here?”
Hongjoong hummed, sitting on the edge of the bed. It was a strange conversation, but a conversation all the same. “San is more than capable of keeping everyone safe. Especially if Jongho is with him.”
Seonghwa couldn’t contain the snort that escaped him. “San? That scrawny beta? That Jongho alpha didn’t stop tormenting him the entire time I was there. He almost made him cry.”
“First of all,” Hongjoong replied coldly, scowling, “watch how you talk about my pack.”It wasn’t a threat, but it was a warning. “Second of all, Jongho is the first to tear out a throat if someone comes for his pack. San may not be the most physically strong and his emotions may guide his actions, but you’ll never find someone with better planning. He doesn’t need physical strength to win a fight. With Jongho’s strength and fire, they’re an unstoppable team.”
“You can’t have two head wolves left in charge,” Seonghwa broke in, crossing his arms assuredly. “It would cause a fight worse than the war you’re preparing for.”
And perhaps Hongjoong should start expecting it, but everything out here was so fucking stupid . He wanted to keep things light and amiable, but Seonghwa just made it so fucking hard . But even more than anger, it just made Hongjoong sad that there were people living with such limited, myopic views on what they and their packs could be.
He stared at Seonghwa with disappointment in his eyes. He saw Seonghwa tense under the gaze. “Such stupid ideals the world has,” he muttered, shaking his head. “San and Jongho are a team. They were one before they ever joined my pack. If I can’t trust them with it, I can’t trust anyone.”
“Why not just leave Yeosang behind?” Seonghwa demanded, clearly off balance by his choices. He looked as if each word out of Hongjoong’s mouth only threw him deeper into confusion. “He won’t have much use here, as your second in command.”
Hongjoong snorted. “He needs to follow Wooyoung if we want to keep the peace.”
“Wooyoung?” Seonghwa asked in disbelief. “That pompous omega?”
“That pompous omega tends to be a soft spot for Yeosang, so don’t let him hear you calling him that,” Hongjoong muttered, rolling his eyes.
“Why not leave them both, then?” Seonghwa demanded, as if he was tired of being talked in circles.
“Yeosang goes where I go,” Hongjong said simply. “Trying to convince him to stay behind would have been a waste of breath.”
Seonghwa lifted a sharp eyebrow. “He would have come here even if you told him to stay? What happened to the respect of a pack leader?”
Hongjoong felt a flare of annoyance. It was one thing to not understand the way his pack was run. It was another to continuously attack it and the wolves within it. “Yeosang is free-spirited. He does as he likes, and far be it from me to try and change that.”
Seonghwa’s brow drew down as he leaned against the desk, settling against it. “Sounds like you’ve had altercations with him before.”
Each of his statements spoke of trying to talk Hongjoong into a corner. And he truly didn’t know what corner he was hoping to back him into. What- was it a crime to allow your pack members freedom of their own?
“Yeosang knows when to listen and when to challenge me. It’s made him invaluable, especially with Wooyoung alongside him.” Seonghwa could never understand this. Hongjoong didn’t know why he was still trying to talk about it.
“You allow him to challenge you?” Seonghwa, for a moment, lost his skepticism, showing only pure shock. “You don’t retaliate against him? Why would you have someone like that as your second in command?”
Hongjoong snorted, so amused but so saddened by it all. “Yeosang, perhaps, is the only one who could usurp me,” he admitted, unashamed.
That caught Seonghwa by surprise, making his anger falter further. “What do you mean ‘could’?” he demanded. “Did he fight you and win?”
Hongjoong didn’t quite care for his tone, but he simply stared, eyes steely. “I’ve seen Yeosang in a fight. Under the right circumstances, he can beat me with no problem. But he’s never challenged me.”
“Why?” Seonghwa demanded. “He’s an alpha, isn’t he?”
Hongjoong didn’t look away, picking at the fabric of the blankets. “Yeosang has never wanted to lead. He only wants to protect. And he does that. If anything, he follows Wooyoung before me.”
Seonghwa narrowed his eyes, shifting against the desk. “If you know he’s better than you, why have you not given him your title? You said you would give it willingly to someone who could best you.” Despite Seonghwa’s self-assured accusations, Hongjoong was not a liar clinging to power.
Hongjoong scoffed, tossing his hair out of his face. “An unwilling leader is worse than an incompetent one. Yeosang can protect our pack just fine without being head wolf. The politics of it all would be lost on him. We know our roles well. He and Wooyoung work well as my second in commands.”
“An alpha that doesn’t want to lead?” Seonghwa scoffed, a snarl barely hidden in his lips. “What kind of backwards pack have you raised?”
Hongjoong’s eyes flashed silver, his fingers twitching with the urge to bring his claws out. Seonghwa tensed at the prep for an attack.
Hongjoong didn’t want to lose himself to anger, but if this fucking alpha could stop questioning his every choice, his day would be going a lot better.
“One that doesn’t force its members into position they clearly have no desire to fill,” he snapped, a snarl stuck in his chest. “An omega wants to lead, they can lead. An alpha wants to follow, they can follow. Forcing someone into a role is only asking for disaster.”
“ Calm down ,” Seonghwa ground out, still on the defensive, eyes tinging red around the edges. “You operate entirely backwards from anything we’ve ever seen. You can’t fault me for being confused.”
And Hongjoong knew he couldn’t. But it still took a moment for him to retract his anger. He forgot how much he hated people outside of his pack.
“ Maybe if you would stop insulting everything I’ve spent my life building-”
Hongjoong bit his tongue, physically shoving down the anger until he could breathe through it.
God, it had only been a day. How was Hongjoong going to spend the rest of his life like this?
“Sorry,” he bit out through his teeth before the ominous future could swallow him. “But say another word against my pack, and we will be having a much more physical discussion, understand ?”
Ha. An omega threatening an alpha.
Seonghwa glanced him over, expression icy, perhaps looking for another intent to attack, before shaking his head. “It’s late,” he muttered, voice too low and controlled. “I have a meeting to attend in the morning. I’m going to bed. You should, too.”
He disappeared into the bathroom attached to the room, emerging moments later in his sleeping clothes. Hongjoong didn’t move, following him with his eyes as he moved around, still not trusting himself to move without making some small attack on the other.
Seonghwa walked to the side of the bed nearest the door without looking at Hongjoong, pulling back the covers and sliding in, turning his back to Hongjoong and laying still.
Oh , how every part of Hongjoong wanted to leave and find Yeosang and Wooyoung. But, they would be getting settled in their new home, as well, and Hongjoong would rather not disturb them. He sighed quietly.
Seonghwa wasn’t the worst he could ask for, in terms of alphas, but he certainly wasn’t ideal. There were any number of alphas who would have fought Hongjoong physically for his attitude. Ones who would snarl and shove and fight, for no reason other than their bruised prides.
Seonghwa, while hardheaded, seemed… reasonable. Or, at least, able to reasoned with, even if he never gave way.
Hongjoong stared at his back for a few moments before standing.
The bathroom was nice (better than his old community one: the woods), and there was an entire wall in the closet full of Hongjoong’s clothes, plus more that had been provided. He grabbed a comfortable set of his own sleeping clothes, pulling them on, staring down at them.
He grabbed a fistful of the shirt, pulling it to his nose.
It smelled like his hut. Like earth and hearth smoke.
Hongjoong tore them off, picking a pair that he knew he had never worn before, pulling them on. They smelled like cinnamon or something. Not his own smell, and not Seonghwa’s. He walked from the bathroom quickly, pausing once he reached the room itself.
Seonghwa still faced away from the center of the bed, completely still, as if that could convince Hongjoong he was asleep or something.
The entire house smelled of Seonghwa, but laying in his bed, against his pillows and under his blankets, Hongjoong was almost smothered by the scent of rose and wildflower, like a meadow after rain.
Meadows that Hongjoong had once been free to run through at his leisure.
It wasn’t a horrible scent. In fact, if Hongjoong closed his eyes, he could imagine he had simply fallen asleep in the meadows to the South of them. But the bed was too soft and the blankets too warm for it to be anything but an opening for his chest to ache.
Did they even have meadows here? Or had it all been razed to make room for their streets and buildings?
There was more than two feet between them in the sizable bed, and they faced away from each other.
It felt just as lonely as being in his cot back home, where he slept alone.
But here, there was no Jongho or San to crawl into his hut with him in the middle of the night after having snuck out under Yeosang’s nose (Hongjoong knew the alpha knew, but let them come anyway).
So Hongjoong put away his heartache (it would do his no good) and simply allowed himself to believe that the scent was truly a meadow and not a mate who shifted another inch away from him despite their distance.
Seonghwa was not jealous because Yeosang was another male.
He was not jealous because Yeosang was another alpha.
He wasn’t jealous at all .
But if he were jealous… it would be because Hongjoong looked at Yeosang with gentle eyes and touched him with gentle hands, but when he turned the next moment to look at Seonghwa, his eyes were like silver knives and his hands curled in anger (or apathy, if he was in a good mood).
To be fair, Hongjoong treated everyone in his pack that way- even Wooyoung, who Hongjoong smacked and pinched and told to behave. Certainly, Yunho, who acted as if he were still a pup despite being almost twice Hongjoong’s size.
(Seonghwa still refused to believe that wolf was a beta.)
Even Mingi, who was almost as bad as Jongho when it came to annoying Yunho, tugging on him like a couple of pups being let out of the den for the first time and just discovering their teeth. Even he gained stern, yet undeniably fond gazes from Hongjoong as he told him to pay attention.
And Seonghwa was still met with distrustful eyes, as if Hongjoong expected him to leap at one of his pack members.
And it wasn’t as if Seonghwa had done anything to earn that sort of treatment… even if he hadn’t necessarily done anything to not warrant it.
Well… perhaps, he had done more to warrant it than not. But he believed that each reaction he had displayed had been reasonable, given everything Hongjoong threw at him so suddenly, just expecting him to rearrange decades and lifetimes of traditions and normality.
A head omega? The thought was laughable at best and a mockery at worst.
He scoffed because the idea- not matter how true and supported- was still laughable. And Hongjoong continued to view him with contempt with each expression of disbelief. He didn’t do it to mock and enrage- he did it because there was nothing else he could do when faced with such ideals.
Seonghwa had decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to change Hongjoong’s opinion of him. Too much work for no worthwhile outcome. Regardless if Hongjoong smiled or cursed at him, he would still remain in the same situation they now trudged through.
When Hongjoong had first approached them at a distance, Seonghwa could tell clearly that he was the one in charge.
The pack walked behind him, and the wolves on either side of him (Two wolves standing in the position of second in command- one of which had been Yeosang, the other was Wooyoung) clearly supported him unconditionally.
As he had gotten closer, Seonghwa could see the set of his shoulders, the cool but not harsh expression on his face, and the way he held himself like a seasoned fighter and leader.
For a split moment, Seonghwa had almost felt good about this bonding.
Having someone like that by his side? Someone who clearly had the experience, the blood, for this kind of life? Someone clearly sure of himself, strong, dependable- he was running a wild camp better than some cities, for God’s sake.
Then Seonghwa had smelled him.
It was impossible .
Someone with that sort of presence could not be an omega. It must be some sort of joke.
But he had seen the way the pack reacted to him, to his slightest movement, in sync and in tune almost to the point of synchronicity.
The way they reacted to his packs’ comments on Hongjoong (glares and snarls at their sneers), to Jay’s attack (not even bothering to concern themselves- so sure of Hongjoong’s victory)… there was no denying that this man- this omega- lead them and lead them well .
Every member of that pack was loyal to him, which smarted a bit, if Seonghwa was being truthful in the darkest parts of his heart, considering the unrest in his own. It wasn’t like he was fighting to keep the peace, but they were not a very united pack. Not at all like Hongjoong’s, whom Seonghwa would bet all his territory on the fact that any one of them would die for any other within their ranks.
Certainly something you couldn’t hope to find within Seonghwa’s. He had hoped to change this when he bonded. Hoped that whoever he landed with would be enough to convince their pack to draw closer once more. And then it was Hongjoong… and omega…
Could he really lead beside an omega? He had counted on an alpha’s strengths, smarts, determination… and he did find it. Just inside an omega.
Was that enough? The mentality and prejudice that followed omegas… could Seonghwa rule with someone who would be tailed by that their entire life? Was it worth fighting that?
The logical part of Seonghwa’s brain told him to accept it: Hongjoong was perhaps a better choice than any alpha could be. If Seonghwa couldn’t smell him, he would never think he wasn’t one.
But the part of him that had grown up among alphas on top, betas being next, and weak omegas at the bottom- who could prove to be resourceful, but ultimately unreliable… Hongjoong was an exception to everything he knew. It wasn’t supposed to be physically possible for an omega to compete with an alpha.
“But look what happens when an omega is left to their own devices, without self-righteous alphas and betas telling them what they can and can’t do.”
Regardless of what he was, what others wanted him to be… Hongjoong was strong. But he was an omega. Despite how it should never happen, it had .
Hongjoong clearly made no attempt to hide the tactical glint, the experienced tension in his muscles with each twitch from Seonghwa- already forming and ready to enact a million plans in case of an attack.
Seonghwa could see in his eyes the intelligence racing around, and he could see in his actions… beyond the violent and distrustful… the gentler ones displaying how much he cared for his pack.
Actions other than the snarls and threats he had given Seonghwa for how he spoke of them.
Seonghwa realized, belatedly, that Hongjoong was basically giving himself up completely for them.
He sacrificed himself to a bonding he clearly didn’t want, moved to a pack that clearly didn’t want him , agreed to potentially take on characteristics that he clearly loathed, gave up his entire life for a few more allies to fight against a threat against his pack…
Seonghwa remembered the members of Hongjoong’s pack- especially the younger ones- like the fiery alpha, Jongho, who had practically challenged Seonghwa for Hongjoong. All of them staring at him like Seonghwa was taking him off to his death.
They didn’t hate him, but they hated him for taking away their leader who was only willing for their sake.
Part of Seonghwa was amazed, begrudgingly- as with all things with Hongjoong.
No matter how close a pack, there would be fights- physical and not. There was unrest and people disagreeing with their leader and elders and such.
Seonghwa had seen none of that. He didn’t think Hongjoong’s pack even had elders. They all followed Hongjoong without hesitation, and he lead them somehow in a space between dictatorship and democracy.
Seonghwa secretly, silently , hoped that somehow he would be able to help him bring some sense of peace to his own restless pack. Of course, how could he, when Seonghwa’s pack would hate him to his dying breath for choosing to stand as an equal with an alpha?
And why would he want to, considering the treatment that Seonghwa’s pack gave, swiftly and without remorse, to him and his pack?
Hongjoong’s job within this pack was clear: Seonghwa would go out to his meetings with the council, and Hongjoong would remain at the house with clear instructions not to leave.
Seonghwa assured him it was to ensure that the pack members got used to him being here, before he was out wandering on his own. It was just to make sure he was safe, Seonghwa said.
Hongjoong, at least, could hold his laughter until Seonghwa left.
And Hongjoong wouldn’t say that he was entirely opposed to this, at his core. Yeosang and Wooyoung visited, taking in the house and making harsh judgements on the state of the drapes and carpets.
Hongjoong had no real desire to exit the house today- too many angry pack members, and too many reasons to remain within the walls of the house.
Mainly: Yeosang and Wooyoung sitting at the kitchen table with him to keep him informed on everything going on.
Yeosang’s expression, however, made Hongjoong begin to regret everything.
“It’s not bad,” Yeosang assured him. “But it’s clear that no member of our pack is welcome anywhere in the public. There haven’t really been any outward attacks, but…” He blew out a short breath. “No one is questioning whether or not we’ll ever be accepted.”
“Mostly just yelling,” Wooyoung told him. “And a couple of instances where a few of his wolves got a little…” He cleared his throat, lisp curling in disgust. “Handsy, we’ll say.”
Hongjoong’s grip on the mug of tea almost threatened to shatter it. “That what?” he asked, level and dark.
“Nothing major,” Wooyoung said firmly, not even looking concerned. “Just a couple of us getting… choice comments when we’re out and about.” He rolled his eyes. “If anyone is causing an issue, it’s Yeosang and Yunho.”
“We aren’t causing issue- ”
“Yeosang almost tried to snap another alpha’s wrist,” Wooyoung tattled.
“He called Yunho a-”
“Enough,” Hongjoong said firmly, cutting off both of them, Yeosang turning fiery eyes to Hongjoong, even as Wooyoung rolled his. Hongjoong took a sharp breath, letting go of it slowly. “Try not to start any fights,” Hongjoong said quietly. “I’m not saying it’s not warranted!” He spoke over Yeosang’s mouth opening angrily. “Yeosang, you know I’d trust you to protect each and every person, but…”
Hongjoong sighed heavily, rubbing his forehead, pushing his tea away.
“Listen, this is never going to be ideal,” Hongjoong murmured, looking them both in the eyes. Yeosang’s were no longer red, but soft brown and worried. Wooyoung’s face was grim. “That’s just something we’ll have to live with. But I want to have as much of a moral high ground as we can, alright? I don’t want anyone being able to say we started anything.”
“ We aren’t-”
“I get that, Wooyoung,” Hongjoong assured him. “But… just do this for me, okay? Just try not to start any sort of fights. Not unless it’s truly necessary.”
And Hongjoong always had to be thankful for how much these two understood him- taking in the weight in his eyes and shoulders, and nodding without further argument.
Would Hongjoong love to let his pack make their place, whether the others liked it or not? Yes. They had as much right to be here as anyone.
But for the sake of the peace… for finding a neutral zone with Seonghwa and his pack… Hongjoong needed to keep them in a straight line.
“Thank you,” He said quietly. “I’ll speak to Seonghwa about your treatment, and get him to address it further. Clearly, his orders at the assembly weren’t enough.”
And Seonghwa had to audacity to scold Hongjoong about allowing another to challenge and disobey him.
“Is he really that awful?” Wooyoung questioned, leaning on one elbow, frowning. “That he’s just… not going to do anything?”
Hongjoong stared into his tea, watching his reflection ripple and shift. “I don’t know,” He admitted honestly. “I’ve interacted minimally with him over the past couple of days. He leaves early, comes home late. We didn’t say a word to each other yesterday, but it seems like anytime we do, it’s all about the politics about how we each choose to lead.”
“Maybe, he should fix his own broken pack before-”
“Wooyoung,” Hongjoong chastised gently, frowning as Wooyoung huffed, taking a rough sip of tea. “I’m angry with how he responds to us, but I understand why,” he assured him. “We are different. I don’t blame him for his actions…” He sighed. “I just wish he would be a little more open to understanding my own.”
“There’s no way he can’t see the merit you have,” Yeosang said firmly. “There’s no way he could look at you, our pack… and not think that there’s something there that works.”
“I have no doubt that he realizes it,” Hongjoong agreed readily. “But even if he realized, supported, and praised my methods, it’s still going to be hard for him to admit it. I don’t even think it’s pride at this point, it just… an inability to change. He likes how things used to be. It’s easier that way.”
Wooyoung scoffed. “Yeah, until you’re the omega getting shit on for being born. Or God forbid you’re an alpha who doesn’t want to be a fucking jock.”
Hongjoong gave a helpless shrug. “It’s easy for people scorned by a system to hate it. But those who benefit from it… they’re not likely to give in easily. But I think..” He hummed, resting his chin on his hand. “I don’t know,” he admitted, shaking his head. “But I’ll talk to Seonghwa. You two should head back and make sure nothing is going wrong.”
Yeosang and Wooyoung bid him goodbye, and Hongjoong wouldn’t let himself think about how much he really didn’t want to let them go. But the others needed them around more than he did.
He spent his day wandering the house, checking out the kitchen and it’s admittedly pitiful food collection. Did this man never eat at home?
The sun set. Hongjoong waited in the bedroom for a while, sitting on his side of the bed, staring at the wall, until the scent of wildflowers got too powerful and he had to move down to the living room. He sat in the dark, legs drawn up, and tried not to think about anything in particular.
He wanted to optimistic and believe Seonghwa capable of understanding him, but he doubted it wouldn’t happen until very close to his death.
He heard the sound of the door opening and turned, the moonlight creating Seonghwa’s silhouette that entered, pausing as it turned to Hongjoong on the couch, like he had been caught.
Seonghwa closed the door slowly. “It’s late,” he said, voice a little hoarse, as if he had been talking a lot. “Why are you still awake?”
Hongjoong stared in the darkness, eyes able to make out the closed off expression that locked down Seonghwa’s eyes. “I have a few complaints about the treatment of my pack members,” he said, standing slowly, stretching his legs.
Seonghwa stared for only a moment before turning away. “I’m not in the mood to talk right now. In the morning-”
Hongjoong caught his shoulder, forcing him to turn and face him.
Crimson and silver clashed in the pitch black, boring into each other as Seonghwa knocked Hongjoong’s hand away.
“Not in the morning ,” Hongjoong snapped. “That’s my fucking pack we’re talking about, and you’re going to listen to my complaints now, and not in a week when you pencil it into your agenda!”
Seonghwa’s lips curled angrily. “I’ve been out all day-”
“And meanwhile, my pack members are being harassed,” Hongjoong spat. “They were brought here to ensure my treatment- it is your responsibility to ensure theirs! Unless you want me to take this into my own hands to defend them myself.” Hongjoong grit his teeth, swallowing a curse. “If you think I’m above attacking a pack I’m supposed to be in charge of, you’re wrong.”
Seonghwa looked truly ready to fire something back, but Hongjoong beat him to it.
“Everything short of physical violence is being used against them,” Hongjoong hissed. “They are being harassed verbally- my omegas are being violated and the others are cursed for lowering themselves to exist with me.” His fists curled at his side. “So fix it ,” he spat. “Before I fix it myself, got it ?”
Hongjoong shouldered past Seonghwa, knocking him away, and when Seonghwa’s hand curled around his bicep to stop him, he tore away, a growl caught in his throat.
“ You don’t get to say your part,” He snarled. “You have nothing to say. If you’re such a good and mighty head alpha, then you have no excuse not to control your fucking pack. I’m making this clear to you now, Seonghwa,” he growled lowly. “If you’re going to bitch and moan about how great an alpha is at leading, you had better be able to back it up, and not just hide behind your title like it makes you worth anything .”
Hongjoong stormed up the stairs, slamming the door to the bedroom and standing there, his blood seething.
How much was it to ask that he just protect them? That he just take responsibility for the pack he took in and keep them safe?
Why did everything have to turn into arguments ?
Hongjoong slid beneath the covers before Seonghwa could enter. And Seonghwa either didn’t come into the bedroom at all or Hongjoong fell asleep before he did.
It was not a restful sleep.
If Hongjoong and Seonghwa didn’t speak before, they were silent and ignorant of each other now.
Seonghwa was gone before Hongjoong even woke up, and when he returned to the house, it was in silence.
“Did you speak to them?” Hongjoong demanded that evening as Seonghwa exited the bathroom in his sleeping clothes.
Seonghwa didn’t look at him. “Yes,” he said flatly.
Nothing else was said.
The next morning, Seonghwa left the house. He could see Hongjoong sit up as he left the room, but he didn’t look back. Hongjoong knew anything he could say already. Seonghwa no longer mentioned remaining at the house, to busy keeping silent so that for once they could act like there was peace.
He blames himself for believing Hongjoong would actually just stay indoors like he asked him to. As if Hongjoong gave a shit what Seonghwa told him to do.
When Seonghwa returned home early (after another round and round argument about Hongjoong with the council that ended early before a real fight broke out) not far after noon, he found it empty. He felt something curl in his stomach as he stepped forward slowly.
“Hongjoong?” he called quietly. Usually, the omega was either within sight, or Seonghwa could at least smell him, but the scent of woodsmoke and rain was too faint.
He searched from the bedroom and worked his way into the kitchen, calling for him calmly when he didn’t catch sight of him immediately, but it was clear he wasn’t there.
Seonghwa stopped in the living area, holding his breath to keep it from picking up.
Where the hell would Hongjoong even think to go? To the house his members stayed at? That was almost the other side of the city, that was a long fucking walk among a lot of people who weren’t all that keen to allow him anywhere within their pack-
He was an omega, walking around a strange place, with other alphas who God knew what they were thinking with how they treated Hongjoong’s pack, much less the omega himself-
Forcing down something that felt too much like worry, Seonghwa breathed to calm himself.
He wasn’t worried. Worry implied some sort of attachment, of which, Seonghwa and Hongjoong had none.
Yes, he was an omega, but if anything Hongjoong was a threat to his alphas.
“Just go look for him,” he muttered to himself, shoving back everything else. “The most likely place is the housing for his pack-”
His mutterings were cut off by the door opening, making him whip around as a soon-to-be familiar scent of woodsmoke and earth reach him. Hongjoong toed off his shoes at the door, glancing up to see him standing there. He seemed mildly surprised to see him home so early, but didn’t mention it.
“Afternoon,” he greeted somewhat stiffly.
“Where the hell have you been?” he snapped, not sure why he was suddenly angry, but Hongjoong looked at him with too much innocence for someone who assuredly had conscious thought of disobeying him.
Hongjoong lifted a hand which held a shopping bag in it, as if Seonghwa should have noticed. “You were low on a few things,” he said easily. “Most things, actually,” he added. “I didn’t think you’d be back until late. I was planning to be back before you got here.”
“I told you to stay in the house,” Seonghwa said deep in his chest.
Hongjoong paused where he was stepping into the living area, eyeing Seonghwa and Seonghwa saw a very clear warning in his eyes: watch yourself .
“And I did. Until I went out to get a few things.” He held the bag aloft once more. “If you’re going to leave me here alone, at least let me have things to feed myself with.”
“I told you- ”
“And why exactly, Seonghwa,” Hongjoong snapped that familiar anger sparking, eyes flashing silver like a dagger flying through the air, “did you want me to stay in the house?”
Seonghwa could smell the anger rolling off of him, like pepper burning the inside of his nose.
Hongjoong stepped out of the doorway. “Was it because of the alphas who lusted over me while I walked to the store, as if I couldn’t smell that stench a block away?” he demanded angrily.
There had been-
“Or was it because you’re still ashamed of bringing back a weak little omega bitch who’s so backwards, he can even disobey his alpha mate?” His eyes stayed silver this time, glowing a dangerous mercury. “Or maybe you just wanted to see how much power you actually hold ever me- how long you can exert control before I just have to break it, well, let me set something straight right now .”
Hongjoong’s claws were out, tense and curled in anger, which made Seonghwa stiffen in preparation, but he didn’t make an action against him yet. Hongjoong and he had yet to get into a physical altercation, but Seonghwa had no doubt it would be so easy to tip over that line.
“You do not have power over me,” Hongjoong ground out slowly, hissing the words between clenched teeth. “I don’t give a damn about what our wolves are, I am not lower than you. I am not weaker than you. I don’t care how backwards and pitiful you think I am- I am an equal to you, and that means until you start respecting me, I sure as hell am not going to listen to your weak attempts to controlling me, do you understand ?”
Hongjoong’s eyes were still silver, and Seonghwa took a step towards him, his own claws still stowed, but ready to lash out. Hongjoong didn’t flinch.
Seonghwa was sick and tired of being the bad guy.
“I told you before we bonded,” he said slowly, voice low. “That this pack would expect certain things from you. And you agreed to those things. You agreed to act as an omega if necessary-”
“So your people demand a strong leader beside you,” Hongjoong spat. “Unless they’re an omega, then I need to shut up and sit down, is that right?” he demanded, hair standing on end, a growl in his chest. “That’s bullshit, Seonghwa, you have to acknowledge that!”
If fire could be silver… his house would be burning.
Hongjoong shook his head, something almost frantic in his eyes behind the anger. “I’m not going to present myself as some weakling . I spent too much of my life being one, I am not lying about a strength I lost so much to get!”
He dropped the shopping bag onto the ground, vegetables and a jug of milk rolling out as he turned on his heel and stormed to the door.
“What are you doing?” Seonghwa demanded, moving after him.
Hongjoong jammed on his boots again, standing. “Going out for a walk,” he snapped, not looking at Seonghwa. “I want to have a talk with Yeosang and some of the other members of my pack.”
Seonghwa didn’t know why he said it. He had never bother to refer or correct their statements that it was Seonghwa’s pack and Hongjoong’s pack, despite the fact that on paper, they were the same.
Maybe it was just to piss Hongjoong off. Maybe it was some sort of desperate attempt to… something .
Hongjoong stopped where he was halfway out the door, looking back at Seonghwa with an expression that almost seemed more regretful than angry. And Seonghwa hated those emotions that fell outside the realm of anger. Anger was fiery and required more anger.
Pity and regret were calmer, and made Seonghwa into a monster for lashing out.
“Not if your pack can’t accept us,” Hongjoong muttered, low in his chest. “Our packs are bound together now, Seonghwa, but your pack is the one keeping us from being one. Not mine.”
Seonghwa felt like he had slapped him, leaving him stunned and smarting as he exited the house. He stood there for what felt like an eternity, motionless.
Why couldn’t he just make things easy? Why couldn’t he follow what Seonghwa said? Why couldn’t he just give way sometimes , and stop being so difficult?
Why couldn’t he just do as he was told? Why couldn’t his pack just settle in among them without creating issue?
Why did Hongjoong always-
Have to make Seonghwa so uncomfortable with his statements? Why did Seonghwa always feel the urge to shift, like an itch on his skin he couldn’t scratch, when Hongjoong yelled?
Why did Hongjoong always have to…
Maybe… be a little bit… right?
Seonghwa resisted the urge to slam his head into a wall in frustration.
Hongjoong’s pack may not have been happy about the bonding, but they had been welcoming. They had been hospitable, even after Seonghwa’s pack had attacked their pack leader, unprompted.
They had come up to him after the ceremony and congratulated him, (albeit stiffly, but what’s done is done) asking him to make sure Hongjoong was looked after. Not a single request other than to look after their leader.
(Seonghwa had told them he would be. Seonghwa had lied.)
Hongjoong’s pack stood by at the assembly while his own pack hurled insults at Hongjoong, angry but silent, knowing that this wasn’t their fight. Knowing that they were outnumbered, bound by paper, stuck here and willing to take insult for the sake of keeping a peace Seonghwa’s pack seemed intent on ripping to pieces.
They stood by and lived, trusting Hongjoong to fight his own battles and to keep their own battles to a minimum because that’s what pack leaders did .
They protected their pack. Even from others in their pack. .
And maybe, if Seonghwa had been a little less concerned about his battles against Hongjoong, he would have gotten his head far enough out of his ass to see the battles Hongjoong faced, on top of the hell Seonghwa gave him. He would have noticed that Hongjoong’s anger was not at Seonghwa himself.
It was at Seonghwa’s apathy. His indifference. His inaction. His pride. All of his flaws that put Hongjoong’s own pack at risk within a place they had promised would be safe.
Seonghwa had promised it would be safe.
Fucking hell .
Seonghwa ran out of the house, glancing down the street in time to see Hongjoong round the corner out of sight. He hurried down it, angry and annoyed and frustrated. Because his pride had been bruised yet again.
Seonghwa had thought he had a pretty level headed alpha. Not blinded by pride so much that it interfered, he thought. But what little pride he had was enough to ruin everything, apparently.
He just hated being wrong .
Especially after so long of fighting and pulling and not giving. Of insulting Hongjoong and his pack, of ignoring them, of basically bringing them into a lion’s den and becoming annoyed when they complained.
Hongjoong wasn’t blameless, but God , did he seem like a lot less of an ass than Seonghwa.
Maybe it was better to be an omega with power. He was sure that it took away a lot of complications that came with having an alpha’s pride.
Could he have the strength to leave his pack, enter into a hatred-filled one, all while being expected to lower himself into something he wasn’t?
Seonghwa was sure he would rather die.
He rounded the corner as Hongjoong walked down a street towards the town square and ran after him. “Hongjoong!” he called.
If he heard him, he didn’t look back.
“ Dammit ,” he bit out, running faster. He made it out of his sight, but Seonghwa was right behind him.
“ Did you just look me in the eye ?”
Seonghwa’s heart skipped at the angry shout that was followed by the distinct sound of someone yelping. Loud and pained.
He rounded the corner to find Hongjoong frozen on the other side of it, his eyes blown wide and his lips parted in shock. But Seonghwa only spared him a glance as he followed his gaze to an older beta of Seonghwa’s pack standing over Wooyoung.
He was on the ground, three clear red lines bleeding across his cheek as his shaking hand hovered over them, afraid to touch them, staring at the beat with wide, wet eyes.
And Seonghwa almost couldn’t reconcile the terrified omega on the ground to the cocky one who had begged his pack to challenge Hongjoong. But the beta’s claws were dripping red, and he stepped towards Wooyoung once more, his intention clear.
Seonghwa’s mouth opened to shout at the beta, but he didn’t even get a breath out before Hongjoong was gone.
Seonghwa blinked and the man beside him was suddenly pinning the beta to the ground with a vicious snarl that vibrated the air around them.
Except, it wasn’t a man pinning him down.
It was a wolf.
A pure white wolf with eyes as dangerous and deadly as liquid mercury.
The beta cried out, struggling under the massive beast on top of him. Wooyoung was still on the ground, staring at the two of them with wide eyes, but he didn’t look afraid. Only shocked at the sudden appearance.
“ Wooyoung !” Yeosang suddenly broke through the crowd that had gathered, reaching the boy on the ground and dragging him away from the fight even as he examined his cheek.
“Hongjoong,” Wooyoung protested, pointing firmly as he began to struggle against Yeosang’s hold, but the alpha held him back easily, expression stormy.
“Leave it,” he ordered, Wooyoung still wrapped in his arms- whether for comfort or restraint, Seonghwa couldn’t tell.
He had gotten distracted by the two of them, but Seonghwa’s eyes snapped back to Hongjoong and the man.
The beta had also summoned his wolf, a brown one with black patches, and the two of them were rolling around in the square. People around them were screaming- some cheering them on and others running from the carnage.
Teeth snapped and claws scraped-
For a moment, Seonghwa felt afraid.
The beta rammed Hongjoong in the side, sending him tumbling as he leapt at the omega, snarling with a dangerous gleam in his cerulean eyes.
“ Enough !” Seonghwa finally shouted, finding his voice. It came out more desperate than he intended, and he saw Yeosang look at him from his peripheral.
Neither wolf paid him any mind, as if he hadn’t spoken.
Hongjoong, rather than trying to avoid the wolf’s attack, lunged up to meet the other. Seonghwa couldn’t stop the gasp that left his lips as Hongjoong lunged, his teeth sinking into the other wolf’s neck. He jerked forward a step, but made it no farther.
A wolf didn’t aim for the neck unless they were aiming to kill.
Wooyoung winced, his hand grabbed Yeosang’s and squeezing in pointedly, but the older shook his head minisculely, expression stony as he watched Hongjoong slam the other wolf into the ground, growling loud enough to vibrate the bones in Seonghwa’s chest.
Now in such a vulnerable position, the beta didn’t dare fight, his eyes wide with fear, red dripping onto the concrete as he tried to remain as still as possible, even as his hindlegs twitched desperately.
Seonghwa could see red staining the white fur around Hongjoong’s mouth, splatters of it painted across his pristine coat, and for a moment he marvelled that he had managed not to kill the beta with such an attack.
Hongjoong snarled against his neck, his paw landing on the beta’s shoulder, sinking his claws into him. The man whimpered desperately, begging for mercy, but didn’t dare move.
Seonghwa could see Hongjoong press harder against his shoulder as anger built, the silver of his eyes fading to a deep red.
Everything stopped for a moment.
Seonghwa stared, frozen.
Red eyes were the mark of an alpha. There was no way an omega could have red eyes, it wasn’t physically possible… It was impossible-
Hongjoong’s jaw began to tighten on the man’s neck, causing him to choke, eyes trying to look up at Hongjoong, silently begging for mercy.
Red dripped down his maw, staining more of the pristine white with an enemy's blood-
The name was gentle, but it held warning.
Seonghwa turned instinctively to see Yeosang standing, Wooyoung remaining on the ground, staring at Hongjoong with wide eyes that almost seemed to be saying something.
Hongjoong’s crimson eyes flickered over to Yeosang, growling at him, warning him about approaching.
Yeosang paid him no heed, appearing unbothered of the eyes that were a darker red than the blood on his maw. He stepped towards Hongjoong slowly, hands outstretched like he was approaching a dangerous animal to calm. Which he was.
Seonghwa almost warned him to back off.
You didn’t just approach two wolves in a fight. That was asking to lose a hand. At least. And Hongjoong… Hongjoong didn’t seem willing to let go.
“That’s enough,” Yeosang said softly, pausing a few feet away from them, hands placating. “Wooyoung is okay. You’ve taught him his lesson. Now let him go.”
There was a rumble deep in Hongjoong’s throat, and for a moment his jaw tightened further, the beta whining breathlessly.
“ Hongjoong ,” Yeosang said, more sternly, eyes darkening. “ Let him go . Before you do something you regret.”
Again, there was a heartbeat of tense waiting where Seonghwa didn’t breathe- torn between telling Yeosang to back away and bringing out his own wolf to force the two of them apart.
But then the crimson of Hongjoong’s eyes faded to silver again. He removed his claws from the beta’s shoulder, making him yelp.
“Turn back,” Yeosang coaxed softly. Much too calm when faced with the bloodstained wolf staring at him distastefully.
Hongjoong waited one more moment before opening his mouth, dropping the other wolf onto the cement. His mouth was stained red, one of his paws a similar scarlet color. The wolf whimpered on the ground, not moving away from him, his chest heaving.
Seonghwa blinked and the white wolf was gone, replaced with Hongjoong in his jeans and boots. His eyes were still silver, his expression as thunderous as a hurricane as he turned back to the other wolf.
“If you ever ,” he breathed quietly, “come near my pack again. I will rip your throat out and leave your bleeding carcass for scavengers.” Blood dripped from one of his hands. “Now, leave before I do just that.”
The beta yelped, getting to his feet, stumbling with blood dripping, but he ran off towards the streets that lead away from the square, leaving paw prints of red behind him.
When Hongjoong turned back to them, his eyes were no longer silver. He brought an arm up, wiping away the blood around his mouth, his brown eyes focused on Wooyoung on the ground.
He rushed forward, dropping to his knees beside him and examining the slashes on his cheek. “Are you okay?” he murmured quietly, fingers touching the cuts that had already begun to scab over. His wolf’s healing would take care of them in a few days, but had they been just a little higher and reached his eye…
Wooyoung nodded, allowing Hongjoong to hug him loosely, pressing his face to his neck, breathing in his scent as he shook a little in his arms.
For as fiery an omega that Wooyoung was (startlingly similarly to Hongjoong himself), it was clear that he was not a fighter. Nor, did he seem accustomed to being attacked.
“I’m sorry,” Wooyoung muttered softly, voice dark with regret, muffled by his neck. “I bumped into him. I was going to apologize and he just- He-“
Wooyoung seemed more shaken than scared by the event. Perhaps he realized how close he had come to losing an eye.
Hongjoong hushed him, shaking his head firmly. “It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sorry, I should have done something-” he stopped himself, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment, and Seonghwa realized that part of the shaking was coming from Hongjoong.
He realized with the force of a lightning bolt that Hongjoong was scared.
That he had been terrified that Wooyoung had been hurt badly. That the wolf had gone too far.
Yeosang knelt beside them, not looking Hongjoong in the face. “I should have been paying better attention,” he confessed, guilt clear in his voice. “We hadn’t gone anywhere alone, but I only lost sight of him for a moment, I should have-”
Hongjoong looked up, eyes a particular shade of dark as he bumped his knuckle against Yeosang’s forehead, making him pause, looking up with wide eyes as Hongjoong stared him down.
“Neither of you did anything wrong, understand? Though, I do wish you would have let me rip that bastard’s throat out .” His eyes flickered icy grey as Yeosang looked at him almost sadly.
“You made me promise to stop you.”
Seonghwa’s eyes widened as Hongjoong hummed as Wooyoung pulled away from the embrace, fixing his hair.
“I know,” Hongjoong replied quietly, eyes a million miles away.
Wooyoung reached out, wiping a stray smear of blood off of Hongjoong’s cheek. “So much for not starting any fights- huh, hyung?”
Hongjoong simply flicked his forehead lightly, not even enough for Wooyoung to wince.
“Take him back to the house,” he requested, patting Wooyoung’s head, making the other pull away as he fixed it, scowling. “Make sure to fix up those scratches.”
Yeosang nodded, standing and holding onto Wooyoung’s hand firmly as he helped him to stand. He tried to walk away, but Wooyoung fought him for a moment, looking up at Yeosang with a nervous expression. “Wait.”
Yeosang glanced back, brows drawn down as if looking for another injury on the younger.
Wooyoung pointed to the cuts. “Do they at least look cool?”
Seonghwa blinked as Yeosang sighed harshly, cuffing Wooyoung on the side of the head, making him cry out in indignation.
“Stop being stupid,” Yeosang huffed, dragging an unwilling Wooyoung along without looking back at his continued whines, looking like two pups wrestling in the dirt.
Not the fond, secret sort of smirk he had seen him give Yeosang and Jongho, but a full blown smile that set his eyes alight for a moment as he watched the two of them walk away together.
Someone in the crowd muttered something- too quiet to distinguish but loud enough to remind them of their presence.
Hongjoong’s smile faded as he turned to the crowd that was still gathered, casting his face back in shadow and anger. It was startling- almost chilling- after such a warm display. About ten people stared at his with varying amounts of contempt and shock.
“Hear me now,” he called in a voice strong enough to be felt in Seonghwa’s chest. “Regardless of your personal issues and vendettas against me, you leave my pack out of it !” His fists were clenched as he looked the strangers in the eye. “Make sure this entire pack knows: if another person attempts to harm members of my pack-“ A flash of silver. “I will not hesitate to kill you.”
Several wolves stepped back, nervous and prancing after the earlier willingness he had displayed.
“If you have issues with me, you bring them to me, ” he snapped, claws flashing out. “If your head wolf won’t make this threat, then I’ll be happy to deliver: Touch a member of my pack, and we will settle it the one way you people seem to understand.”
No one responded, but a few of them looked away.
It was a startling sight: a handful of betas and alphas averting their eyes to an omega.
He ignored the sharp pain in his chest that felt too much like guilt, shoving it away.
Hongjoong turned around swiftly, meeting Seonghwa’s eyes with ones made of ice.
Hongjoong approached him, his shadow falling over stone and blood, pausing at Seonghwa’s side as he glared at him. “I don’t give up my own power unless I know someone else can use it better,” he muttered darkly. “ This is why you will never have power over me, Seonghwa. Because I can’t trust you to use power right.”
Hongjoong left, once more, and Seonghwa would have felt shamed by the people who had just watched their head alpha be talked down to by an omega.
But truthfully, Seonghwa didn’t even feel the urge to talk back to Hongjoong. He didn’t feel like fighting Hongjoong.
He honestly didn’t think he would win.
Not because of the strength Hongjoong had displayed. But because Seonghwa realized, with a sinking sensation in his gut, something that would change the future of their two packs from that moment on:
Hongjoong was right.