Jimin sniffed the air.
The fall leaves left a crispness behind as they floated down from their old homes in the branches and teased against the tips of his furs on their way to settle on the hard packed earth.
Jimin had ran this path dozens of times—trillions of times—as a pup, a youth, and now as a young man. He’d traversed this forest, followed along the migration trails of the deer, the rivets in the rocks eroded by the floods, the cuts in the grass made by predators’ claws and preys’ hooves, all in both his true form and his human skin.
Today, Jimin was in the former.
The overly large black-and-silver speckled wolf snuffed out a breath of heated air before burrowing his muzzle in a pile of orange and red leaves that the wind had swept against a line of trees. It smelled like rain.
Jimin loved autumn more than the average wolf. Running through the crinkling foliage, the feel of dirt between his toes as the grass grew more bare, small animals scurrying away as they looked for cover in newly claimed winter homes—Jimin was at his happiest.
But, as his nose burned with the smell of the change in weather, he was reminded that he hated wet fur more than he loved the season.
Jimin adjusted his deer-hide satchel that was tied around his neck making sure it was safe from being caught on bushes and then started to run again. He would have liked to go back to his dry den before the clouds broke but he had a mission to finish first. His pack was a fairly decent sized one of eleven and Jimin had been tasked to go to the river and fish enough to feed them all. It was only late afternoon, way before dinner and night break, but the day was growing darker by the minute.
He rushed down the hill leading to the field of mulberry bushes, turned left where the pack kept their stores of carcasses they couldn’t find a use for, bones picked clean and splintered, and went straight past the outcropping that would soon turn from large rocks to rough and rocky sand the closer he got to the river. Before he could reach the river, though, he was hit hard by a scent so potent it knocked the breath out of him.
Jimin skidded to a halt, sure footing suddenly very clumsy in his unsureness. He lifted his face to the wind catching the smell of rusted metals and burnt peonies, a musk that spoke of the mountain caves and stagnates, of springtime and sunshine—but the wolf was nowhere near the mountain terrain this time of year, it being too cold and too far north from his pack’s winter territory.
Debating if he should follow the direction the wind was blowing or not wasn’t even an option for the overly curious wolf. Before he could even think through it carefully his feet had already repositioned themselves to the southwest.
It wasn’t far that Jimin had to go but it was far enough that the rocks around him turned back into shrubs and flowers and bark. This part of the forest was a little more barren, a little less traveled, and a lot more dead than the forest Jimin enjoyed romping through but as everything was in his pack’s home, it was familiar. He was moving so quickly, so caught up in the odor and letting his feet get accustomed to grass once more, that he’d almost missed it.
It being the large lump of auburn and gold matted fur sticking out of a jagged hollow in a fallen tree trunk.
Although Jimin saw the fur it took his brain multiple seconds to send the signal to his legs to halt! He bounded around a tree before backtracking to the animal. There was a distinct aroma of blood drifting up from inside the hiding place, potent and thick on the back of his tongue. Jimin stopped ten yards away, wary and instincts sharp just as a few drops of rain plopped onto the top of his head and the tips of his ears.
A warning growl building in his chest and spreading up and out his throat, Jimin awaits a response. He doesn’t get one. He increased the timber of his voice, making the growl turn from low warning to high threat. The furry body doesn’t even twitch.
One step, two—Jimin approached, hackles raised and lips pulled back to reveal his teeth. The closer he got the stronger the bloody scent and the more confused he became at the lack of a reaction. Most animals wouldn’t dare have a strange wolf get near them, especially if they were already hurt and fighting to survive.
Maybe its dead, he thought. He saw a back paw sticking out from the body. A wolf. Maybe a dead wolf, Jimin amends.
Should he just leave it? But what if it’s still alive? It wouldn’t do to leave a live wolf in the territory. What if it decided to attack the pack in the middle of the night? The smell of blood was overwhelming but did it even belong to the wolf? There was only one way to determine that.
Bracing himself, Jimin used his head and shoulder to nudge the wolf until he was able to push it over onto its side. Its difficult with the front half of the wolf still submerged under the rotted bark but after a few attempts Jimin managed to flip it enough to get it on its back.
What he sees is—it’s a mess. Dirt and mud and twigs and burs are tangled in the hair across its body. Scars litter across its feet as if it’d run through thorns with no regards to its own safety. There’s blood coating the underbelly of the wolf, dripping down its hind legs and onto the forest floor. Between its legs it’s a he.
There is also a very obviously pregnant stomach.
An— An omega. Jimin sucked in a breath.
It was impossible to conclude a person’s rank based on smell alone. Hell, it was impossible to tell using smell at all. There were sweet smelling alphas, musky and earth-toned scented betas, and omegas with no scent at all. A wolf’s smell showed their emotional stability, not their wolf’s nature. The faintest hint of peonies floated on the wind as Jimin raked his eyes down the omega. It had to be an omega. There was no such thing as a male beta or alpha that had the capacity to give birth. At least, not without the help of humans and any smart wolf would stay far, far, far away from the human world.
The only way to tell the rank of a wolf was through their eyes—but in this case, as Jimin peered under the bark and saw the wolf’s eyes shut tightly, he was sure he had guessed correctly.
There was an unconscious, unknown pregnant omega covered in blood in the middle of his pack’s territory just as a rain storm started.
That was a lot to handle when all he’d wanted was a full belly tonight.
The omega didn’t seem hurt too badly. Other than the scratches on his paws and a few running up his legs that had already scabbed over and healed significantly, there were no other wounds, no fresh blood scent. It looked as if, naturally, the omega had prioritized protecting his stomach from any harm and let bygones-be-bygones. The thick coating of blood either came from a wound he can’t see from his vantage point or it was very much someone else’s.
Jimin hoped he didn’t stumble upon another body in the area.
This is becoming far more trouble than I’d imagined.
With one last futile bark to try to rouse the wolf, Jimin turned and searched for some fallen branches. The rain was starting to pick up, his fur becoming slightly heavier as its water-resistance fought to keep up with the new onslaught. Jimin really had to hurry if he wanted to get home soon with dinner. He could picture all the pups waiting at the entrance to the dining cave, trying to catch a glimpse of him drawing near through the shower.
Large branch clenched between his teeth he walked backwards, tugging it over the dirt towards the wolf. He felt bad for just… leaving. He had to protect the pack from intruders. He had to feed the pack. He had to investigate whose blood that truly was. He had to—
Lightening brightened up the sky before it was plunged back to a stark grayness.
Jimin really, truly, beyond a doubt hated wet fur more than anything.
Except maybe the idea of his pack going hungry another night. Jimin was raised in the mindset that he had to care for his packmates before caring for those not in his pack. And that meant letting this stranger fend for himself, no matter how in need they may be.
Also, Jimin had to protect himself too. Last thing he needed on top of wet fur was to get into a fight in the rain. If the omega’s mate was nearby and found out Jimin had not only growled at but touched—
Too. Much. Trouble.
Omega hastily and shoddily covered in areas that the hollowed tree didn’t reach, Jimin trotted off in the direction of the river, toes squishing in the mud and splashing rainwater up his shins.
Lightening struck the sky. One, two, three, four— Thunder boomed. The main storm was getting close. Jimin sprinted faster. He had to get back to the outcrop before it was too late. Even after that it was still a ways away before stone turned to stretches of running water.
Lightening. One, two— Thunder. Too close for Jimin’s comfort. He was still in the barren part of the forest. He must have traveled far chasing after the scent of bloody peonies. There were too many tall trees around. Too many skeletal husks. Too many places for a stray bolt of hot, raw electricity to strike. Maybe even places where it could strike a single wolf instead. A wolf at the mercy of Mother Nature. A vulnerable wolf. A pregnant wolf—
There might not even be any fish if the river has started to swell. The rain is coming down in heavy sheets, barely any visibility. Jimin shakes water from his eyes just for it to be replaced. He’s lucky he trusts his feet to get him where he needs to be because—
Where Jimin needs to be is in his dry den, out of this storm, away from danger.
It wouldn’t be the first time his pack went hungry due to some unpredictable circumstance. It would be the first time they’d go hungry because of Jimin, though. Jimin and his insistent need to explore any drifting scent that distracted him.
Gritting his teeth amongst chastising thoughts, the black-and-silver wolf could only hope there will be a plethora of fish washed up on the bank after the storm waters receded tomorrow.
Could only pray the omega found shelter somewhere else.