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The Hunt For An Imaginary Beast

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“Jin! Jin! Jin!”

Jin hears tiny footsteps thudding towards the living room before finally stopping near the couch. He shifts his position, groaning as his peaceful sleep is interrupted. He tries to turn around and fall back asleep, but he’s violently shaken by the shoulder before he can do anything.

“Come on, get up!”

“Hgnnn… Five more minutes…” he mumbles. He tries to turn again, and this time he isn’t stopped when he manages to move onto his back with one arm covering his eyes.

It takes a few seconds of being forcefully poked in the face for Jin to finally accept that he won’t be going back to sleep anytime soon, and he realizes that it’s the twins who are trying to wake him up. It’s the middle of the night, though—what could they possibly need at this hour?

He grunts and decides to sit up before Akira can shake his shoulder again.

“Ngh… What is it?”

Jin doesn’t even have time to reach for his glasses because immediately after he sits up, Azure throws herself forward and hugs him like her life depends on it and starts crying softly into his shoulder. The sudden alarm is enough to fully wake him up, and after a moment he gently wraps his arms around her.

“Whoa, whoa, hey… What’s the matter?”

She sniffles in response. Akira pats her back comfortingly.

“What happened?” Jin asks, reaching for his glasses and putting them on.

Akira doesn’t answer, hugging himself in what looks like fear. Azure sniffles again before tightening her grip.

“I’m scared, Jin.” 

“Of what?”

The younger twin inches closer to the couch.

“There’s a monster in our room!” he explains, panic flashing in his eyes. “We need your help!”

Jin blinks. He should have anticipated something like this. When he heard the news about Max being hospitalized, he was more than willing to take care of the twins until he could come home. Max was worried that it might be too much for a seventeen-year-old, but Jin insisted that he could handle it.

He’s now wondering what part of him thought that taking care of two overdramatic seven-year-olds with overactive imaginations would be easy.

“A monster?” the teen echoes. “Like, a chimera?”

Azure nods vigorously, but Akira shrugs and shakes his head.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “But it was really scary.”

“Y-yeah,” Azure agrees, hugging Jin tighter. “I had a bad dream, and… And now I think… I think the monster’s gonna hurt Akira!”

The older twin breaks into a sob, burying her face into Jin’s shoulder once more. Jin is at a loss for what to do.

“Err…” He clears his throat. What is he supposed to say? Telling the twins that what they think they saw isn’t real wouldn’t exactly comfort them. All he can do is go along with the situation for now. “What does it look like?”

Azure mumbles something unintelligible against his shoulder.

“Huh?”

“There’s no time!” she wails, before breaking her hug only to hold on to her brother instead. “The monster’s gonna hurt him if we don’t hurry!”

“Alright, alright,” Jin sighs, standing up. “Let’s go take a look and see if we can find it.”

“And then you’ll scare it away!” Akira adds.

That thought seems to be comforting to Azure, because she smiles and cheers, “Yeah! Jin the monster hunter! Go Jin!”

“Go Jin! Go Jin!”

Jin can’t help but chuckle at that. It’s way too late for them to be shouting like this, but at the very least, Azure has stopped crying, so he supposes that’s a good thing. He takes the hands of both twins, one on each side.

“Alright, cheerleaders. Who’s ready to scare a monster?”

“We are! We are!” the kids chant excitedly.

“Then let’s go!”

And with that, the three of them begin marching down the hall to the twins’ bedroom, the younger two continuing to cheer various encouraging things like “Jin’s the best!” along the way. When they finally approach their destination, the cheers die down and both twins squeeze Jin’s hands tighter. Their steps are slower, more cautious, and every second until they reach the door feels like an entire minute.

At last, the door handle is within reach, and Jin is forced to decide which twin has to let go so he can turn it. Akira seemed pretty shaken, but Azure was in tears, so he opts to hold on to her hand and let go of Akira’s. The younger twin doesn’t protest, instead moving to his sister so he can hold her other hand.

Jin raises his hand above the doorknob and stops. Isn’t he supposed to say something? He’s not really sure what would reassure the kids other than saying the monster isn’t real, but he knows they wouldn’t believe him if he said that.

“Ahem… Alright,” he begins, turning to the younger two. “The monster’s probably gone by now. Do you still want me to look?”

Both twins nod intensely.

He sighs. “Okay then. One, two…”

Jin opens the door, revealing a dark room with no sign of any other presence. He flips the light switch by the door and steps in, Azure and Akira following closely behind. When nothing happens to jump out at them, he ventures further to the closet door and opens it. Yet again, there is no trace of any monster. Finally, the teen crosses to the beds to check underneath them. As expected, there is nothing but various toys and a few lost socks here and there, nothing out of the ordinary. With a satisfied smile, Jin stands and turns to the twins, who are still looking apprehensive.

“Looks like I scared it away. There’s no monster here,” he announces.

Akira glances around nervously. “Are you sure it’s not just hiding?”

“What if it’s invisible?” Azure adds, holding her brother tighter.

Jin sighs. This whole situation is beginning to wear him out. “I promise it’s not invisible.”

He knows chimeras are hidden without the help of a Legion, but he decides not to disclose that information.

“But in any case,” he begins, guiding the twins from the doorway. “It’s the middle of the night—you two should go back to sleep. Max’ll have my head if he hears we stayed up all night.”

“Okay…” the twins say in unison, but the anxiety doesn’t quite drain from their faces. Reluctantly, they separate, dragging their feet as they crawl into bed. Jin begins to make his way to the door.

“Can you stay and make sure the monster doesn’t come back?” Azure asks once she settles under the sheets. “It won’t hurt Akira if you’re here.”

Jin stops in his tracks. He turns.

“Oh, uh… Shouldn’t I check the rest of the house, though? The monster might have escaped. I should, er, make sure it’s not in the kitchen or anything.”

“But you scared it away.”

Jin bites his lip. So much for getting back to sleep.

“Come on, Jin,” Akira interjects. “Can’t you stay with us? Pleeease?”

The teen looks between the twins, faltering under their pleading expressions. It’s impossible for him to say no. He runs a hand through his hair.

“I...guess so.”

With that, he shuts the door behind him and crosses to the space between each bed. Azure and Akira shuffle closer to the edges of their mattresses in an attempt to be as close as possible.

“Hey, Jin?” 

Jin tries his hardest not to look as tired as he feels.

“What is it, Akira?”

“When is dad gonna be able to come home?”

“Uh…” Jin glances between the two kids. “The doctor said it might be a while before he can leave the hospital. I mean, his eye was in pretty bad shape. So until I get more news I won’t be able to give you a definitive answer. Sorry, kiddo.”

He ruffles Akira’s hair reassuringly. “But, I’m sure he’ll be just fine. You know how tough he is. There’s not a single chimera out there that can take him down.”

Azure doesn’t look convinced. “Are you sure?”

Jin turns and smiles.

“I’m positive.”

For the first time that night, both twins completely relax. The tension dissipates, and both allow their shoulders to loosen up. From their spots on the edge of their beds, they reach out to take each of Jin’s hands while flashing him identical toothy grins.

“Thanks, Jin,” Azure says, yawning immediately after. “I’m glad you scared the monster away.”

She lets go and sinks beneath her blanket. Akira does the same.

“You can go back downstairs now.”

Jin blinks. Oh, right. He’d almost forgotten about that. He breathes out in a mix of tiredness and relief as he makes his way to the door and flips the light switch.

Before he can leave, though, he’s stopped by Akira, who mumbles a small, “Good night, uncle Jin,” before turning onto his side and settling among the many stuffed animals scattered around his bed.

Jin freezes, wide-eyed in the doorway. Did he hear that right? Akira just called him uncle. Does that mean he considers him a part of their family? He doesn’t think he’s ever felt more flattered in his life.

The teen smiles wider than before, even though he knows neither twin can see it with their backs to the door. He’s suddenly trying very hard not to cry at the immense wave of emotion washing over him.

With one last sigh, he cards a hand through his hair.

“Good night, kids.”