The running grounds are already humid with the anticipation of summer. Mist from the vernal rains hangs in buntings from the tall cedars, making it damn hard for Katsuki to see the trail to the grounds through knotted moss and creeping rhododendron. He follows the smell of his mother, startlingly strong and sweet for someone without pheromones, through the underbrush until they reach the clearing in the forest where Katsuki will prepare to choose a mate.
Above the aroma of pine and loam from the grounds floats the stench of several foreign packs. Katsuki grimaces and pulls the pelt slung across his shoulder over his nose.
“I’m not loping,” he declares.
“You will,” Mitsuki says without looking back. She’s imposing even from behind, only a half-head shorter than him and draped in the famous fur of the ussuri bear that she killed decades ago to impress Katsuki’s father. “If you want the pack, you will.”
Katsuki bares his teeth at her even though she can’t see him. His fangs are the longest among his whelp-mates; when he gnashes them around the den, everyone ducks away.
“You’re gonna give it to me anyway,” he says, calling her bluff. Leadership isn’t hereditary in their homeland on the taiga, but he’s still her best choice—the most powerful, the most competent, the most virile in the pack. He shouldn’t have to chase some inferior bitch through the southern forests to prove that.
His mother sounds unimpressed. “Not without a mate,” she reminds him, turning around and cuffing him soundly. “Quit fucking whimpering—you’re embarrassing me.”
“Shitty old hag,” he growls in warning. He considers challenging her right here and now.
Right as she reaches out to slap at him again, his father slides smoothly between them. “We should dig a site,” Masaru suggests, nearly doubling over when Katsuki leans on his back to snarl at Mitsuki. She pushes his father’s head down so she can swipe back at him. “Dear—! Please, son—”
Mitsuki curls her lips to show her teeth. Her fangs are so short, just the little incisors that never fall out of the mouths of those without scents, but Masaru still tilts his chin up appeasingly. Katsuki gags. He isn’t actually affected by her snapping anymore, not when there’s no burst of pheromones to accompany the posturing, but watching his father submit to his mother always sickens him.
They do need to find a good spot in the clearing before the other packs dig the best ground. Katsuki abandons this futile tack and shoves ahead, ignoring his mother’s yammering. He stomps toward the reek of hundreds of strangers, incensed at the prospect of having to plug his nose long enough to put his teeth in one of those stinking necks.
He shouldn’t have to lope. He’s already demonstrated the skills demanded of any pack leader. He can track, hunt, and forage—the red fox pelts around his shoulders and the deer skin around his loins make that obvious at a glance. He can protect a den—the scars from both claw marks and knife tips on his ribs, some silvery with age and some still furiously red, vouch for his prowess. He can even rear—he’s taught so many stupid litters how to stalk and pounce that he could do it in his sleep.
The only thing he’s never done is pup a bitch, and that’s because he’s never met anyone worthy of squeezing his knot.
The running grounds are hardly the best place to find a mate. Every year lesser packs infiltrate the grounds and let even their most pathetic members participate in the run in hopes of breeding into stronger ones. Katsuki has heard of lopers that can’t tell north from south, and runners that deliberately slow down to get caught. It’s an insult to make him lope with the likes of them. His mother is better off letting him lead by himself than saddling him and the pack with dead weight.
Already the grounds are starting to teem with new arrivals. In the off season the clearing just smells of humidity and vegetation, a green aroma completely unlike the clear cold wind of Katsuki’s home. Now, with more lopers and runners spilling in from all directions, the clearing smells like shit.
With a single inhale Katsuki can identify at least four clans already present. One is sprawled across the hillock in the grassy middle of the clearing, and another is building fires on the bald flat part of the clearing tamped down by use and time. The rest must be on the far side of the large break in the forest. Keeping a distance from the others, Katsuki sniffs his way to a good patch of earth at the forest’s edge, carpeted with matted lichens and sedge next to a succulent berry patch. He throws himself down and waits for the rest of the pack to catch up.
Mitsuki looks a breath away from bitching him out when she finally emerges from the treeline with his father in tow, but she can’t say anything about his choice of site. That’s what he wants her to get through her damn head.
“Brat,” she says, ruffling his hair uncomfortably hard. She still signals to the pack that this is where they’ll stay. “Think I’ll praise you for doing a good job? That’s how you got like this, insisting you don’t need a mate.”
“Because I don’t,” he sneers, jerking away. “Make the damn rounds already.”
She grits her teeth like she’s going to toss aside her ussuri fur and tussle him, but instead she just turns on her heel and goes to greet the other pack leaders.
It’s tradition for them to make first contact on the grounds. Old leaders rub their wrists together in greeting, new ones offer their unfamiliar scents in introduction, and they all retire around a bonfire to spend several hours gossiping about their packs’ health, the state of their hunting grounds, the upcoming monsoon season, and everything else under the fucking sun. Sometimes they’ll renegotiate territories or share information about threats like bear attacks. It’s good for the rest of the packs to see their leaders mingling before the run: they get more mated pairs that way.
Katsuki supposes that’s one thing he doesn’t mind the old hag doing in his place—he sees no point in shooting the shit with geezers.
“Thanks for digging,” Masaru says, taking a seat next to him. “This is a great spot—even better than last year’s.” He releases a wave of his scent, shockingly bitter and acidic but somehow still pacifying.
Around them, the other pack members start settling: they spread out skins and pelts, unwrap flint and tinder, pile dried fruit and jerky together for the evening meal, and shoo away restless pups to play after the long travel. Katsuki studies every member in turn to make sure no one is worse for wear. When he’s satisfied with the state of the pack, he turns his head and spits.
“Tch,” he says, ignoring his father’s offered comfort. “Could’ve saved ourselves the trip.”
There’s a reason why he hasn’t loped before, even though he came of age years ago. It's the same reason he always spends his spring season alone.
He’s violent in rut, aggressive as a moose. For some reason the mating frustration is heightened in him—right before the onset of the heat and need he can hardly stand any scent other than his own or bear the touch of anyone other than his parents. None of his dalliances in the past had ever been during his season—he’s almost certain the furious desire and needling hypersensitivity would make him as likely to attack his rut partner as ravage them. He’s too dangerous during his cycle.
His father found him once in the aftermath of a particularly horrible rut, collapsed in the middle of a thick copse, naked and filthy and covered in scratches from both boreal thistles and his own claws. Ignoring Katsuki’s weak growls and cleaning him in the most humiliating way, Masaru tried to reassure him that the strongest pack members usually have the most intense springs. Katsuki hadn’t been impressed then and he still isn’t now—he can hardly take pride in the confirmation of his strength when it means he’s a threat to the one he’s trying to mate.
He doesn’t trust anyone in his own pack to handle him at his worst, let alone some shitty stranger from a second-rate clan. Now that he’s here on the grounds for his own run, his feelings on the matter are even more staunch.
He doesn’t even like this land anyway. The red-assed macaques that skulk along the forest floor are creepy, always harassing the spotted deer or stealing from careless pack members. The weasels here are ruder than the ones in the north, and uglier. The marshland before the forest can be redolent and tricky underfoot, and the rains come without warning.
The only good thing about the south is the temperature. He was bred for cold plains and snowfall, but he’s at his best when he’s so sweaty his hands drip and his scent rolls out warningly like the smoke ahead of a forest fire. He’s won fights with just his pheromones before—down here, where he’s already hot under his pelts, he could practically pup a bitch the same way.
Not that he has any intention of doing so with the extras here. He takes baleful stock of the strangers that he can see and smell from his position.
On second glance he recognizes some of them. There’s that girl with the long ears, lobes stretched out with ceremonial beads from her clan; a few years ago he predicted she would be a runner, given how petite she is, but her deep, leathery scent implies she’s going to lope. On the other side of the clearing is that moon-faced girl who sparred with him once when their packs met for a winter up north—she couldn’t beat him, but he definitely hasn’t forgotten how she lifted him clear off his feet for a second, like he was weightless. There’s also that shiny, eccentric runner, the scentless one that compensates by sprinkling crushed seashells from the coast on his furs and blinding every dumb fuck who glances at him.
Mingling around the clearing are unfamiliar people from new packs as well, but none of them hold his attention for longer than it takes to breath in their weak scents, not even with the first fever of his rut starting to simmer under his skin. Mating one of these lowlifes would be a mistake. He might as well go ‘lone.
He reaches through his furs to adjust his cock, thickening without his permission, and spits again. He’s absolutely not loping.
Eijirou takes a deep whiff of the foggy, fragrant air.
These grounds smell completely different from the ones he’s run through before. Back home he and the other runners dashed through wild vegetable fields, avoiding lopers by ducking through pear tree thickets or hiding in the foliage of loquat trees. Eijirou used to snack on succulent fruit while rut-stupid lopers dashed back and forth beneath him, confounded by the loquat’s heady smell, until he had his growth spurt and got too heavy for the trees’ skinny branches.
Here the forest is tall and coniferous, wreathed in mist, and the smell of resin makes the air sharp. The ground is soft with lichens underfoot—the urge to sprint radiates up from Eijirou’s soles. Excitement thrums in him, along with the familiar, seasonal urge to rip off his lambskin tunic and let the damp air lick along his overheating skin.
The people here smell different too. Eijirou marvels at the jumble of scents in this broad clearing, an exotic blend of clan musks from up and down the archipelago. Already he can sniff out runners and lopers from the rainy, coral islands in the far south all the way up to the snowy, boreal lands in the far north. The grounds back home weren’t big enough to host a run like this, with prospects from more places than Eijirou can name.
“Here we are,” Taishirou bellows, sweeping a huge hand toward the clearing. He drops his other heavy palm on Eijirou’s shoulder, nearly making his knees buckle. “What do you think, little chick?”
It isn’t the dripping fruit trees or peanut flower fields that Eijirou used to know, but he can’t help getting excited at the prospect of being chased through these sharp-needled woods, of being flung against these mossy grounds, of taking his first bite in the midst of all this fragrant rhododendron.
Eijirou cranes his neck and pumps his fist up at his pack leader. “I can’t wait, sir!”
Now more than ever he’s grateful that Taishirou let him into his small pack, taking pity on a fresh ‘loner only a few months out of his puppy heat. That was back when he first learned how to dye his hair with henna and root vegetables and gel it up with milled flaxseed, still missing his moms painfully but determined to find his own home and be his own man. Now he’s here with his found clan, about to hopefully find a mate as well.
He adjusts the squirming pup on his hip and follows Taishirou across the clearing toward a spot with beds of soft sedge and succulent berry patches. He and the rest of the pack dig, laying down their furs and victuals and piling their fidgety pups between them.
“I’ll be back after I greet the others,” Taishirou promises, petting each pack member in turn. “Sit tight and don’t let anyone come sniffing around before the run.”
“Yes, sir!” Eijirou yips, cracking his fists together. Once or twice he’s had to knock the skulls of some lopers trying to coax him into the grasses ahead of the appointed time, too knot-headed to wait for the chase. He’ll make sure none of the other runners slowly ripening into heat get seduced away from the pack.
Taishirou chuckles. “Where’s that enthusiasm, Tamaki?”
Slouching next to Eijirou with another baby tied against his chest, Tamaki makes a sound like the burble of a nervous stomach. “Don’t make me fight. I just got this one to sleep.”
Taishirou gives Tamaki and his littlest one another caress before heading off to the middle of the clearing. Already several other pack leaders are gathered around a growing bonfire, all of them powerful and imposing in their own way. They look and smell very different from the clan heads in Eijirou’s rural homeland. One of them, a woman with hair the color of sun-bleached wheat, is even wrapped in the furs of a sacred bear, a kill that Eijirou doesn’t think anyone in his birth pack has the skills or ferocity to make.
He spends a shy moment wishing she was his age and loping this year, before taking a look around and sizing up some of his real competition.
To his shock, he finds a few other runners not that far off from his size. There’s a buxom girl with long, glossy hair drawn up in a topknot, her breasts bared by the cut of her pelts—she has a sweet face and legs as long and strong as Eijirou’s. There’s also a boy with decorative metal bands around his powerful calves, the rest of his body so hard and streamlined that Eijirou thinks he might actually lose to him, and badly, in a straight foot race.
For the first time Eijirou sees lopers that dwarf him. Across the clearing there’s one with a close-shaved scalp and a huge grin who looks like he could carry Eijirou away to his den with one arm. Closer to Taishirou’s dig is another in a cowl that covers the bottom half of his face, his shoulders, chest, and sides muscled enough for eight arms. Eijirou feels his cheeks get hot just looking at the lineup.
He wonders if this run will really be the one.
Back in his homeland he had stopped entertaining the thought once he sprung up head and shoulders above even the tallest of the lopers. None of them were strong enough to wrestle him during bored, lazy sparring or lessons for the pups, let alone when his spring fever made him thrash on instinct against even the most handsome scents. There were several months before his first heat where he thought he might like Tomo to catch him and roll him onto his belly in the cabbage grass—he had to abandon those wistful reveries when it became clear that he could run circles around all of his friends even with emptiness and need cramping his stomach.
“How long does the run last here?” Eijirou asks, nuzzling Tamaki’s oldest pup before letting her down to toddle after the others.
“As long as it takes,” Tamaki shrugs, making a face when the baby at his chest threatens to stir. His sigh is long-suffering. “Mirio and I finished on the second day, but I’ve heard some pairs take four or five days.”
Eijirou’s cheeks heated at the thought. The only reasons why it would take that long to leave the grounds are if the chase is that thrilling, neck and neck from sunrise to sunset, or if the pair’s cycles sync. Both prospects make him squeeze his thighs together—the thought of a loper hunting him like big game, tireless and single-minded, and mounting him in their den for days on end fans the flames of the heat starting to core his belly.
He’s thought a lot about what it might be like to get caught. He’s breathed the musk of thrill and fear permeating the grounds, scents laced with need heady enough to make him slick as he runs. He’s gotten glimpses of other runners being pinned and forced open, has heard the fast and slick sounds of adrenaline-rushed claiming and the screams and croons of successful matings. Imagining himself as the one being pinned by his wrists to a tree or shoved across a rock leaves his throat dry and his cunt wet.
He doesn’t let his hopes rise too high, however. The skills he sharpened after leaving his birth pack and polished Taishirou adopted him have allowed him to come out the other side of every run unscathed. Once or twice he’s shamed himself by considering slowing down for a loper that caught his eye, but he’s too manly to throw a chase like that. He wants a bite, but only from someone that’s truly earned it.
“You’re really lucky,” he pouts at Tamaki, eyeing the pup starting to nuzzle after the smell of milk. “You found a great mate.”
Mirio is one of the finest people Eijirou has ever met, goodwill and strength and virility personified. The fact that he caught Tamaki, declared by Taishirou to be one of the greatest runners of his generation, is a testament to his prowess and character. The only reason Mirio isn’t here is because he’s off in a remote part of the archipelago making the ceremonial kill that will prove him worthy of starting his own pack with his mate and pups.
Eijirou wants something like that. He hopes he can find it here.
Tamaki’s wan, bothered look eases into a tiny smile. “I did,” he agrees. “You can too. The lineup isn’t bad this year.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Eijirou trusts his word, and tries to take reassurance from it. “I’m gonna do my best! I hope that this time—”
He cuts himself off with a stifled gasp.
Gooseflesh erupts up and down his arms; the hairs at his nape, already tingling with his oncoming heat, stand straight on end. His sense of smell has never been very good, part of his motivation for honing his strength and agility instead—even with his weak nose, however, he can still practically taste the startling scent riding the air of the clearing.
It’s sweet, more so than any of the fruits from his homeland. It reminds him of the crystals he tasted once from the south, made from crushed and dried sugarcane. But darkening that molasses is a smokiness like the soot of a bonfire, the aftermath of some huge and destructive blaze. The sultriness of the scent makes Eijirou gulp down more, breathing it deep in his belly where it starts to make him cramp.
When the pheromones hit immediately after, he shivers all the way down his spine.
“Whoa,” he whispers, feeling an instinctual tension in his low back demanding his hindbrain to raise his hips. The competing urge to jump to his feet and sprint makes the muscles in his calves jump, but the sudden and helpless throb of his cunt keeps him rooted to the ground.
He swings his head back and forth looking for the source of the scent. There are so many people in the clearing now, so many clans all gathered together. He can’t tell what direction it’s coming from, and he can’t see beyond the edge of the pack for all the runners and lopers started to mingle now that the pack leaders have settled into conversation.
“What is it?” Tamaki asks, taken aback by the way Eijirou’s eyes dilate to full moons.
Eijirou speaks without thinking. “The one I’m going to mate.”
By the time the sun sets on the forest, the clearing is full.
All of the packs are present now, as far as Katsuki can smell. Where the clearing was a bald patch in the forest before, it’s a riot of light and voices and scents now. The air is thick with the smoke of countless fires, and the grounds are tangled with pups from all different clans tussling and chasing one another through the maze of digs.
The miasma of pheromones, heightened and primal with the onset of collective heats and ruts, raises Katsuki’s hackles. All these people on the cusp of their seasons radiating all manner of scent have his lip curling back over his long fangs. He launches himself to his feet before he does something stupid like let out his claws or rub his wrists all over his pack-mates.
“Ah,” his father says hesitantly as he stomps away. “Don’t do anything rash, son.”
“Fuck off,” Katsuki mumbles, snapping his furs crisply. Obviously he’s not going to do anything rash—he wouldn’t fight or fuck any of the losers here, no matter how much his encroaching rut-brain snarls or how much his latent knot aches.
He exorcises some of his restlessness by patrolling the edges of their dig. He makes yet another count of their dams and little ones, snapping his teeth at anyone who looks like they might try to sully the clan’s reputation by sneaking out ahead of the run. He also rumbles at a few strangers stupid enough to sniff around their dig, making them run off with their chins tucked protectively against their necks. It’s up to his pack-mates to find their own worthy mate in the run, but he’ll be damned if anyone who carries his mother’s smell shames her outside of it.
Right as he rounds the far edge of the dig, he catches a whiff of a scent he hasn’t smelled in a year: damp mulch and blackberry juice. It makes him bare his fangs the same as it does every spring, dropping a stone of irritation, territoriality, and guilt straight into his gut.
“Deku,” he growls.
Right at the border between Mitsuki’s dig and the neighboring one, he can see Izuku kneeling in front of his mother’s furs, accepting her sobbing embrace and leaking tears and snot of his own. No one in the vicinity bats an eye; they do this every time they reunite. Looking away, Katsuki kicks hard at the ground, sending up a spray of grass; he still doesn’t understand why Inko didn’t follow her son after he ran Izuku out of the pack, since they miss each other enough to put on this pathetic spectacle each spring.
To Katsuki’s consternation, Izuku has changed a lot in the last year, the differences obvious at a glance. He's finally lost all of Mitsuki’s smell; instead, his scent has hints of spearmint and sunlight—the unmistakable of mark of Toshinori, still the greatest pack leader in the archipelago’s history even now that he’s shrinking around a debilitating side wound and, according to hearsay, about to give his venerated pack to someone else.
Infuriatingly, Izuku has somehow packed on enough height and muscle to dwarf his mother. Most of the pack assumed he was a runner until he and Katsuki had their ultimate bloody scuffle. He’s still not as big as Katsuki, but his smell is a far cry from the meek one of their childhood—it’s a proper loper’s scent, heady and thick despite the boyish undertones clinging to it. Katsuki watches as Inko rubs her wrists all over Izuku’s hair and neck though he’s only a night out from the run, making him splutter and turn red.
Katsuki can’t believe that good-for-nothing runt. Somehow a few years in Toshinori’s care has dropped his balls, replacing his timidity with a quiet, infuriating confidence. Like Katsuki, he’s never participated in a run before, but judging by his stupid, determined look he clearly intends to do so this year.
That does it—Katsuki turns on his heel and stalks off straight into the forest. If limp-dicks like Deku can find a mate here, then this really is a waste of his time.
Katsuki’s not loping. He’s going to keep a watchful eye on the pack in the clearing while their eligible runners and lopers fuck off in the forest, just like he has every year. Once the run is finished, he’s going to test the new additions to the pack to make sure he and his parents aren’t carrying around useless meat, and slake his rut by beating the shit out of them to let them know where they stand in their new clan.
And then he’s going to finally challenge his mother and show her once and for all that he’s the only obvious choice of successor, mate or not.
With that determination, he does what every other restless loper does the night before a run to distract from the pulse between his legs and the ache in his gums: he hunts.
The woods around the grounds are rustling with activity, even now that the sun has gone down. The treetops sag and sway under the weight of nocturnal birds and walnut squirrels, and the brush shivers with the activity of tiny hares and busy serows. Katsuki doesn’t bother with any of the small prey—he wants to sink his teeth into a challenge right now, something that won’t go down easy.
By the time he manages to crack the neck of a spotted deer several miles out from the clearing, the stars have all shifted several degrees toward the west. His breath saws in and out of his chest, mouth slack around his tired but victorious panting. The beast put up just the fight he was looking for—even though his cock still lies half-hard on his thigh, he feels much less like clawing off his own skin and that of anyone in the clearing who dares to look at him funny.
He slings the deer over his shoulders and makes his way back to the pack. There’s more than enough of the kill to go around. He’ll grace everyone with the rare treat of his cooking and roast the sweet meat over their dig fire, offering his mother more proof of what she refuses to acknowledge. Deku can even leech off of them if he wants; it’s not like he could bring back a better kill, no matter what kind of brave face he’s replaced his simpering with—
Right as Katsuki reaches the fringes of his dig, a scent distracts him from his thoughts.
It reminds him of the hikes that he takes in the igneous foothills above Mitsuki’s den in the north: mountain sap with the mineral tang of a hot spring. It’s both familiar and bracing, like how he feels when he climbs sheer, glossy ravines and stands triumphant at the cold summit above his mother’s lands. Astonishingly, it makes his dormant knot throb hard, even though he’s on the cusp of rut and always, always finds anyone else’s scent either nauseating or goading. His mouth shocks him by watering, because that scent is dripping with the musk of fresh slick, a headiness that he can practically taste on his tongue.
Katsuki’s head turns against his will, and he catches eyes with one of the biggest runners he’s ever seen.
He might be an inch taller than him. He’s certainly denser, thick with muscle everywhere except at his pup-bearing hips. His hair looks like the mountain that he smells like, swept up somehow into tall spikes the color of new blood. His jawline seems carved from stone, but his eyes are big and bright. And he’s looking back at Katsuki from across the crowded clearing like he wants his teeth in his neck right now.
Instinct snaps Katsuki’s straighter under his kill, demanding he show off the bulk of his arms and chest, making sure the full length of the deer is unobstructed and the quality of its fur is clear. He pulls his lip back to show his endless fangs, and feels his belly squeeze low and tight at the way it makes the alpine scent tickling his nose go even muskier.
Immediately he wonders what the fuck he’s doing. He’s never postured for a runner before in his life. He’s never had to. His scent, his snarl, and his strength have always made plenty lift their chins or hips for him first.
This runner, however, parts their lips at the sight of Katsuki’s long bite, and reveals teeth sharp enough to gnaw bone. Intrigue pulses between Katsuki’s legs at the sight of that dangerous mouth—his scent starts to smoke at the pairing of a pretty face and powerful body, the kind of blended promise and threat that he loves to mount when the need grows strong. He watches as the runner squeezes his knees together, gulping the air like water, and starts to get up from his seat.
Before he can make his way toward Katsuki, pulled along by the hooks of his pheromones, a fight breaks out in the clearing between them.
Two lopers crash to the ground not a foot from Katsuki, nearly catching the hooves of his kill and yanking it off his shoulders. A third and fourth loper follow right after, starting a dog pile of violent limbs and unsheathed claws that reeks of aggression and hostility. The yowling and snarling makes the dams in the nearby digs scramble away with their pups, and the scuffle only grows as protective sires and a few big-headed lopers race over to tear the brawl apart.
A fight the night before a run is hardly a surprise, but Katsuki’s fangs are out right away anyway. This pathetic display has his hackles all the way up, and the near miss with his deer means he can’t just abide the disrespect. He lets out a huge roll of pheromones, releasing his rage and menace across the skirmish.
As usual, just his scent is enough to make the weaker lopers freeze and look up wide-eyed. A few cockier ones peel their lips back and dare to bristle at him, probably too high on the concentrated perfume of runner scents to realize how badly outmatched they are. Before he can put down his prey and release his claws to teach them a lesson, however, the big runner appears behind the scuffle.
He palms the napes of two growling lopers, scruffing them so hard that they yelp like pups. With one in each burly arm he pulls them off their feet and knocks their foreheads none too gently together. He drops them, dazed, back to the ground and crosses his arms at the remaining offenders, who look between him and Katsuki and then scamper away.
Katsuki frowns consideringly. Not only did this runner neatly dispose of some idiotic curs, but he’s also standing inside the cloud of Katsuki’s scent without completely cowing. In fact, he’s looking at Katsuki with a big, crooked smile, appearing almost unaffected except for his huge pupils and gleaming thighs, wet nearly down to his knees with the intoxicating slick that Katsuki was huffing a moment before.
“What a scent,” the runner remarks. His voice is deep and cheerful, though the underlying husk betrays him the same as the shine of firelight between his thick legs. “You submitted those knotheads without even lifting a finger.”
Katsuki wrinkles his nose, unused to being sweet talked. Hefting his deer higher and watching the runner swallow, he sneers, “They always submit.”
“Not always,” the runner points out cheekily. He raises a small eyebrow and puffs out his ample chest.
Katsuki’s curious stare collapses into a scowl. “You’re ready to spread your legs—same thing.”
The runner doesn’t deny the accusation. “You have to do more than that to submit me,” he boasts.
“Hardly,” Katsuki sneers, inhaling that musk again on a long and deep breath to make his point. The novelty of huffing a scent with painfully heightened pre-rut senses and enjoying it makes him blink slow and languid.
“No one’s ever done it,” the runner says like a secret, low and rumbling, almost a purr. “I don’t know if anyone can.”
Katsuki eyes him again, taking note of his height and breadth, his strapping muscles, his clear experience. “Easy,” he declares.
“Prove it,” the runner says without missing a beat. “Or are you all talk and no teeth?”
A growl rips out of Katsuki’s throat as he bares his fangs again, his familiar rut-pique finally stoked. “I could have you on my knot before you even realized you were bending over.”
The runner hums a noise of skepticism. “I think you’d take at least two days, maybe three.”
“What?” Katsuki snarls, shifting his prey onto one shoulder so he can free a hand and unsheathe his dark, sharp claws.
“In the run,” the runner clarifies. “If you can do it at all.”
“I’m not fucking loping,” Katsuki tells him. “I’m not chasing down any of these bottom-feeders for a mate.”
“Ah,” the runner tuts, eyes gleaming with challenge. “So you admit you can’t.”
Katsuki has a hard time controlling his pheromones with the conflicting messages from his pulsing groin and rising temper. “I’m better than any of these puppy-dicked halfwits,” he says, voice so low it scrapes the ground. “You’d be taking my litter as soon as you stepped onto the grounds.”
A shiver wracks the runner’s spine, and he’s all but panting as he replies, “You’ll have to pin me first. We’ll see if you have what it takes tomorrow at dawn.”
“Dawn then,” Katsuki snaps. No runner has ever talked to him like this before, and he can feel his furs tenting as he tries to decide whether he wants to murder this one or fuck him into the dirt for his insolence.
The runner beams at him, looking so thrilled and determined that Katsuki’s mouth swims with more saliva. He knocks his fists together and says, “I’m Eijirou. The one who’s gonna leave you in the dust.”
“Katsuki.” Scowl sharpening into a feral grin, Katsuki raises his middle finger. “Remember it—you’ll be screaming it tomorrow when I catch you.”
He turns on his heel and stomps back to his mother’s dig, seething and stirred all at once. He’s riled up by the stupid lopers’ scuffle and the infuriating runner’s dare, and he wants to sink his claws and his cock into something right fucking now. He balls up that enraged desire until it’s a hot sun coring out his belly, the fire that will launch him to victory tomorrow during his first run.
That big, strong, willful runner back there—Eijirou—just might have what it takes to withstand Katsuki’s fearsome season. His scent begs Katsuki to let him try, the first he’s ever smelled that made him consider it. He really just got him to promise him his first knotting tomorrow—that must count for something.
Behind him, Katsuki can hear Eijirou sucking down the last whiffs of his scent like he needs it to live, and he smirks. Guess he’ll fucking lope after all—and he’s gonna win.
Eijirou’s heart beats fast for the rest of the night, long after his encounter with Katsuki.
He drops back into his seat next to Tamaki, uncaring of the wet squelch of his pelts, and practically vibrates with the need and adrenaline that have burned continuously in his veins since he smelled Katsuki’s mean black scent and pungent burgeoning interest. Tamaki looks at him as if he’s grown another head, perhaps because he’s purring loud enough to make the dams nearby laugh and titter at him.
He has no idea where he got that boldness from, the courage that allowed him to confront the most beautiful, hostile loper he’s ever met. He feels so manly having stood up straight under that oppressive, arousing scent and gotten what may be his future mate to promise him a chase tomorrow.
His competitive streak makes him want to prove Katsuki wrong—there’s a reason why he’s gone these many years through the run without so much as a scrape. But the other parts of him—the lonely parts, the yearning parts—want him to be the one who finally succeeds.
His sleep is utterly fitful, even though he washes himself clean of drying, tacky slick in a nearby pond and settles down with half the children in the pack huddled on top of him in a sweet puppy pile. He can only doze with lightning still zinging in his blood and making his body buzz with excitement for the morning. When he does slip under, his dreams are all of scarred arms and callused palms and a sweet, campfire scent.
He’s barely surprised when he wakes up to the first painful cramps of his heat.
They usually only twist his belly during the middle or end of a run, after he’s been exposed to thickening rut pheromones and had his seasonal instincts triggered by hours of chase. That they’re happening now is proof that Katsuki might be the most formidable opponent he’s ever faced, if their few minutes’ interaction and his scent alone has forced his cycle. That boast about Eijirou taking his litter right away might not be entirely baseless.
Tamaki notices right away as he takes back his pup from where she’s curled up on Eijirou’s chest. “Your heat?” he squeaks, shocked. “Already?”
“Guess so!” Eijirou smiles, alert despite his patchy sleep and elated despite the pain.
This run will be completely different. As long as Katsuki doesn’t go back on his word, Eijirou will get the chase he’s waited for.
Morning preparations begin as soon as Eijirou rolls off of his pallet to his feet. Taishirou returns to the pack from a pre-dawn hunt with his arms full of fresh victuals for the morning meal: new meat, picked berries, safe fungi, and more delights from the forest. The dams and sires take breakfast from him and send the lopers and runners off to get ready—Tamaki accepts Eijirou’s quick, giddy embrace before turning him by the shoulders to follow after the others.
They all take turns washing in a nearby stream, scrubbing their skin pink to make their scents waft fresh and clear from their glands. Eijirou dunks his head under the water again even though he did so last night, determined to eke out every advantage he can over Katsuki today—he suspects he could hunt him down just by the smell of his slick, if he isn’t careful. He also douses his hair to mute the smell of the dye, just in case.
“Hey, man,” Tetsutetsu says when Eijirou surfaces. He holds up a bar of tallow soap. “Need help?”
“I’m good,” Eijirou reaches out to clap him on the shoulder. While he was pup-sitting with Tamaki and the other dams last night, Tetsutetsu was patrolling the dig; Eijirou’s disappointment at missing out on a last spar with a friendly loper before the run brightens into gladness at seeing his new pack-mate one more time before they’re separated by tradition. “You ready?”
“More than,” Tetsutetsu declares, leading them back to the bank. “The competition is pretty stiff, but I'm feeling lucky this year.”
“You don’t need luck!” Eijirou says with confidence. Tetsutetsu might not be as fast as Eijirou, but the manly way he crafts a den is sure to snag him a mate. “You’re gonna do great.”
“You too, man, I know it,” Tetsutetsu assures him, holding out Eijirou’s change of furs and helping him get dressed.
It’s the same chivalry he’s shown Eijirou since he joined the pack right after him, another ‘loner who set off to find his own path. Eijirou has wondered once or twice during one of their good-natured tussles what it would be like to have Tetsutetsu’s thick, strong waist forcing his thighs wide in a different way, but he already knows that his friend can’t catch him in a real chase. He still shivers at every brush of Tetsutetsu’s big hands across his increasingly feverish skin, each graze stoking the flame licking up his insides.
When they separate Tetsutetsu’s pupils are slitted with a predator’s focus and his enormous cock is stiffening against his leg. Eijirou grins, picking up his clothes to return the favor.
Tetsutetsu snatches them back. “I, uh, think I got it.”
Eijirou’s laugh makes several of their pack-mates glance curiously at them from the water, and Tetsutetsu’s red cheeks elicit a few snickers. “Seriously, man,” he smiles, holding a fist out for his friend to bump. “You’re leaving the grounds with a mate this year.”
Tetsutetsu knocks their knuckles together without hesitation. “Smells like you will too.”
It’s Eijirou’s turn to go pink. “I reek already?”
“You don’t reek at all,” Tetsutetsu says huskily, before clearing his throat. “I meant that scent on you. Someone already made their claim.”
Eijirou is stunned. He fishes his mouth for a few moments before shutting his dropped jaw. He hadn’t noticed at all that Katsuki’s scent is still clinging to him after two washes. He didn’t know that was possible— the loper never even touched him.
“Oh,” he whispers. His belly churns with another cramp. Below it, his cunt clenches too.
“That runner smells really strong, whoever they are,” Tetsutetsu observes, sliding on his clothes and pulling Eijirou along back to the dig. “I don’t think you’re coming out of this without a bite, man.”
Eijirou puts a hand to the painful swell of his stomach and bares his teeth, eager. “Good.”
He and Tetsutetsu scarf down their breakfast together before Taishirou takes the lopers away and Nejire gathers the runners to the center of the dig to finish preparations. They part with an embrace and the declaration to do their best. Eijirou glimpses a few runners watching Tetsutetsu walk off—a stern and pretty redhead, a girl with sunset-pink hair styled into horns that he wants to try immediately—and knows that his friend will succeed.
Nejire herself sits behind Eijirou to get him ready, the other dams cooing over the rest of the runners. He hunches within her reach, feeling nervous—although she is Tamaki’s good friend, she’s also the most eccentric dam he’s ever met, and he never knows how to talk with her.
“Hey, hey, Eijirou,” she says, pulling him further down by his hair. “How do you get your hair this color? It’s so bright!”
“Oh,” he says, wincing. He drops down into a cross-legged seat so she can primp him without making his eyes water. “I have to grind up—”
“It’s gonna make it harder for you to run,” she points out. “You’ll be as obvious as the full moon.”
That’s a point of pride for him—he’s worn his conspicuous red for almost three years now, and still no one has managed to do anything other than stare at his back as he leaves them in his dust.
“It hasn’t been a problem so far,” he says proudly.
“Wow!” Nejire fawns. “You’re so confident! You’ll make a good dam.”
Eijirou blushes, unsure how the two are related. “Thanks?”
Nejire would know, he supposes. She has four pups already, even though she’s not much older than him; she may not know who any of the sires are, but that hasn’t stopped her from raising some of Eijirou’s favorite little pack members. If she thinks he’ll do well, then he’ll take her at her word.
One of the things that he appreciates about her is that she doesn’t question his request for her to put his hair up in the spikes that make him feel the manliest. She even helps him make horns at the front, and looks around curiously when he mentions his pink-haired inspiration.
“You look like a rock!” she declares when they’re done.
“Uh,” he says, unsure.
“Really tough,” she clarifies. “The runner that put their claim on you will have a hard time pinning you.”
Eijirou accepts that with a puffed up chest. He wishes his nose were better, since everyone can apparently smell Katsuki’s intent on him, but he swears to himself he won’t go down without a fight. “He definitely will.”
Nejire does his running paint for him as well. All runners and lopers put on their own unique markings before the run, patterns derived from their pack and preferences. Eijirou uses the paint that his mothers taught him to make—a black plant pigment bound with oil, filled with clay, and thinned with citrus from his homeland—but he smears it over his nose, cheeks, and chin in the muzzle-shape that draws attention to his dangerous teeth. He also drags it down his arms and in a line from left shoulder to right hip to show respect to Taishirou as his new pack leader.
When he’s done, Nejire gives him a sweet smile. “Too bad you’ll be leaving the pack soon.”
Eijirou is confused, until he realizes she means he’s soon to be mated into another one. It’s a bittersweet thought, but one he hopes will come true. “I’ll try to visit,” he promises.
“Not if you’re close to whelping!” she admonishes.
“Of course,” Eijirou stammers, embarrassed by the fervent talk of a litter. Even in season, he’s not actually likely to get pupped on his first knot. The ones after that, however…
“Hey, hey, Eijirou,” Nejire says, pushing at his chest around his drying paint. “You’ll be late! Go and line up.”
“Ah! Thank you!” He bows to her, grateful for the help, and runs off to where he sees the other painted runners beginning to gather at the edge of the clearing.
They form a half moon around an opening in the forest cover where the packed ground still holds the footprints of many years’ runners and lopers. Eventually the prints disappear under new growth and the lane where the run begins melts into the wilderness where mating is done. Standing underneath an arch of interlocking branches and a drapery of leaves is the tallest person Eijirou has ever seen in his life, a man as long and skinny as a dandelion weed with hair just as golden. Belated, he realizes he’s standing before the Toshinori, and has to swallow a whine of pure elation at the fact that he’s at the same run as a living legend.
He comes to a stop between the runner with the metal around his calves and a scentless boy with a macaque tail sewn onto the back of his furs.
“Hey,” he greets them with a smile to mask his nervous thrill. “This is where we start?”
“That’s right,” the tail boy nods, gesturing toward the tree arch. “When they give us the mark, we’ll enter the grounds through there.”
“First we will hear a speech from the great Toshinori!” the other runner corrects, interjecting at volume with a dash of his hand. “He will explain the rules of the run and wish us luck. After that the lopers will be released to find their dens. Only then will we enter the grounds.”
Eijirou relaxes at the reassurance that this run will be the same as any he’s participated in before, albeit with higher stakes. “Thanks,” he tells both of them. “I’m Eijirou.”
“Mashirao,” the tail boy says, giving him a little wave.
“I am Tenya,” the other runner declares. His bow is stiff, but he seems genuine.
Eijirou decides he likes them. “Good luck, guys.”
They return the sentiment just before a hush falls across the crowd of runners. Toshinori steps forward, looking like a figure of myth, even thin with old illness, as his hair catches the morning light. Not only is he still recognized as the greatest pack leader in the archipelago—the only one to travel over the endless seas to perform his ceremonial kill—he is also one of the only pack leaders to have been a runner. Eijirou has looked up to him, alongside his childhood hero from his homeland, since before he even presented.
“Welcome all!” Toshinori calls, voice flung to all corners of the clearing. His smile makes Eijirou forget his cramps entirely. “The turn of another year has brought us back to one of our oldest traditions: the run! This is a chance for everyone to find their mate and strengthen their pack.”
Eijirou could hardly hear him over the rush of blood in his ears. He misses out on some of the speech, too dazed and eager to process the words until a round of applause and hollering breaks the respectful silence of the crowd. That earns them a warm, toothy grin from Toshinori.
“In my youth I ran too,” he divulges, chuckling and ducking his head to the height of a normal man. “It took many years before a loper finally pinned me. I wish you all the same fortitude and luck that the gods granted me!”
Eijirou yells and whoops with the rest of the runners, legs aching with the fervent, animal need to start sprinting into the dark, heady cover of the forest. Despite his best efforts, his cunt gets dewy again with anticipation as he jogs in place, shifting his weight restlessly and waiting for the signal.
Toshinori steps aside. Eijirou is too busy watching his retreat, awestruck and admiring, to notice the approach of the other pack leaders and the lopers until they’re already taking his place at the entrance to the grounds. The sudden waft of near-rut pheromones from their arrival hits Eijirou like a punch to the gut, making Mashirao gasp and Tenya's back snap even straighter.
Just like the runners, the lopers have been cleansed and painted for the run as well. Eijirou tries to get a glimpse at the lineup and judge the prospects for himself, but his eyes are drawn like metal to lodestone straight toward his future mate.
He was already handsome in the ruddy, flickering light of the bonfires last night. The morning light makes his hair shine like the pale winter sun, and reveals the full breadth of his enormous shoulders and the slim, strong handful of his tight waist. He’s covered in impressive scars, wearing a long animal-teeth necklace and an earring draped with iridescent raptor feathers. His paint makes him look like a true predator: even blacker than Eijirou’s, smeared around his eyes in a mask, across his powerful chest in a warning criss-cross, and over his whole palms. His entire body radiates danger.
Katsuki’s red eyes narrow right to his, and his nostrils flare like he can pick out his scent among all the other sweetening runners gathered around him. At first his face is twisted into an ugly, threatening scowl, the kind that would make even a wild boar think twice about breaching his den. But then a slow, manic grin creeps across his lips in its place as he raises a blackened hand at Eijirou and gives him the same middle finger he offered last night.
At the sight of those huge fangs Eijirou can’t help but start purring, making Mashirao and Tenya glance at him funny from either side. He ignores them and knocks his fists together in silent challenge where Katsuki can see them, raising an eyebrow back at him.
The way Katsuki’s terrifying smile only grows wider tells him that challenge won’t go unanswered.
A exhausted-looking pack leader with bloodshot eyes steps forward. “Lopers up first. You have until the sun clears the trees to find a den. On your marks.”
The lopers quickly fan out to take up a position before the opening of the forest, jostling each other for space. Eijirou notices that everyone else gives Katsuki a wide berth, probably due to whatever horrific scent he’s releasing as a warning. His sleek muscles bunch and roll in preparation for the mad dash for the best mating spots on the grounds; his painted palms open and close with anticipation, claws slipping in and out with each flex of his large hands. Eijirou bites his lip.
“Go!” the pack leader commands.
The lopers take off like arrows shot from a bow.
Katsuki flies past most of the herd, fast as a gyrfalcon. His feet hardly appear to strike the ground as he sprints ahead of even the biggest of the others, propelled through the air like a summer solstice firecracker. In just moments the wide plane of his back disappears into the forest, leaving just a rustle of greenery in his wake.
Eijirou feels the flame in his belly burst into a conflagration. It licks under his skin and blackens his insides as if Katsuki had smeared his painted hands across his guts and womb. His eyes flutter on the hot wind that blows off of the flame inside him, a fire that crackles and sheds sparks of desire—and giddy fear too.
There’s nothing he can do about the slick now stringing between his thighs, or the fever starting to make him pant. He can only do what he’s always done: his very best. As soon as all the lopers are out of sight, he shouts out his resolve and squats straight down to the ground.
“Eijirou!” Tenya blurts, alarmed. “Are you alright?”
“Peachy!” Eijirou assures him, plopping down on his ass and spreading his legs as wide as they’ll go. He starts stretching, warming up the muscles that will be pushed to their limits and beyond once he enters the grounds—once Katsuki finds him in the cedar and pink blossoms.
Mashirao gets the idea and joins him on the ground, Tenya soon following with praise for Eijirou’s forward thinking. Eijirou hardly glances at either of them, however. He keeps his eyes trained on the place where Katsuki disappeared.
He prays silently to the gods of his homeland for speed and strength, and thinks with terror and delight about his prayers going unanswered.
The forest whips by on either side of Katsuki, reaching out to grasp at him with mossy tendrils and pine needle fingers. He lets tree sap and morning dew smear across his skin and soles without stopping, ignoring the slap of foliage and focusing on the tickle in his nose. He follows the smell of earth and mineral, not so different from that of Eijirou, deeper into the woods until the crashing of the other lopers behind him fades into the natural buzz and rustle of the forest alone.
Katsuki can admit that he underestimated the other lopers. It turns out some of the bastards here can actually tell their heads from their knots. After parting from the temptation of Eijirou’s willing, earthy scent last night, he sprawled onto his bed furs and went to sleep early fully expecting to be the first on the grounds, and he was—but for most of the sunrise he heard the competition panting right at his heels, keeping infuriating pace with him. The only reason why he’s outpaced everyone now is because he’s used to breathing in the frigid, gossamer thin air of the northern snow mountains, and this saturated southern air makes him feel buoyant and tireless.
The other lead pulling him forward is the memory of how Eijirou looked this morning, challenging him yet again even in nearly full-blown heat, painted down his massive arms and around his pretty face. Katsuki’s fangs ache just thinking about biting respect and submission into that sun-kissed skin, and his cock aches with the instinct to fuck it into him too for good measure. He wants to smear him with more than just their run paint.
So far he’s the only runner Katsuki has met that hasn’t gone belly up at the first whiff of his scent, the only one he’s seen casually drop of several pre-rut idiots at once, the only one who preened in the face of Katsuki’s snarl instead of cowering. The only runner to maybe, possibly be able to take Katsuki in his season—to accept whatever violence, whatever animalism he throws at him in his spring haze. The prospect of spending his first paired rut deep inside Eijirou’s soft hot hole pumps his legs faster as he searches for a den.
Somehow he knows exactly where he’s going. That sharp, sulfuric smell misting the close air between the trees tells him the way. As he runs he plucks what he needs from the forest: young knotweed, ripe persimmons, juicy brambles, burdock root, tubers, nuts, mushrooms, and whatever else he thinks his bitch will like. Old snatches of his father’s running stories cross his memory, and instinct fills in the rest. He scoops as much moss and fescue as he can without slowing himself down, and then sacrifices stamina for speed as he sprints the last of the way to the place he smelled as soon as he started the run.
The ground sheers away below him into a steep rock face, which he descends toward the crack at its base. That gap opens up into a humid cave that goes back deep into the rock, where shadow obscures the small, burbling hot spring that Katsuki can smell inside. Cautious, he sniffs around for a bear or some other challenger that might have laid claim to the space, and smirks when he only finds old, stale markings and dust on the stony floor.
He starts preparing the perfect den.
Laying down the foraged things in the middle of the cave, he goes around the space and starts marking. The acrid splashes immediately establish his own claim. He shakes droplets all the way to the back of the cave but makes sure to leave the spring pristine. It lies at the bottom of a short slope in the floor beneath a crack in the ceiling that lets in a sliver of light. He envisions Eijirou stumbling to the edge of the spring to wipe spend, slick, spit, and blood from his sweaty skin, and feels saliva drip off of his fangs.
He comes back to the front of the den but leaves the food and bedding alone—Eijirou will use them to make a nest when Katsuki drags him here, if he approves of the den. Katsuki is almost certain he will, since the other lopers out there will have a damned hard time one-upping this find.
He goes outside to mark the perimeter as well, to keep away any limp-dick losers weak enough to scavenge his work, and finds himself snarling on instinct before he even registers the trespasser hiking up to the cave.
The other loper jumps, obviously unaware that Katsuki staked this spot first. His fangs come out in instinctual response, teeth jagged and fearsome in a way that reminds Katsuki of Eijirou’s dangerous mouth. He gets a whiff of him in the next second and, upon realizing that this asshole is from the same pack as his bitch, unsheathes his claws and bares them in challenge.
The bastard doesn’t even blink his freakishly long, silver eyelashes—he just faces Katsuki head-on, flexing his huge chest and arms until the silver paint across his chest cracks and flakes.
“Mine,” Katsuki snarls, low and terrible, with dual meaning. The stink of someone else’s helpless arousal makes violence claw at his rib cage. He doesn’t know what kind of savagery he’ll commit if he lets it out, but he hopes for this idiot’s sake that he can handle him.
The other loper advances anyway, taller and broader than Katsuki and banking on it. Katsuki bares his teeth in a mad grin, abandoning his posturing as he has in fights past. He ignores the instinct to puff himself to his full height with experience and instead crouches in preparation for a leveling attack.
To his surprise, however, the other loper blinks and begins retreating.
“Ah, it’s you,” he growls, voice like the grind of steel on steel, rut ripening quick enough to slur his words around his sharp fangs.
“Do I fucking know you?” Katsuki rumbles, cracking his knuckles with a clench of his hand.
“Good den,” the loper praises him, looking stupid with his third arm of a cock dangling half-hard between his backtracking legs. “He’ll like it.”
Katsuki glowers at him until he puzzles through what the fuck this stranger is talking about. He feels like gutting this intruder despite the respect he shows for his territory, a sure sign that the worst elements of his rut are soon to come. When he puts the pieces together, slower than he might with a clear mind and dormant knot, he snaps his teeth irritably and sheathes his claws.
“Mind your own bitch,” he huffs, scrutinizing his cave in his periphery. It’s not a good den but a great one.
“Won’t go down easy though,” the loper advises him with a smirk.
“Good,” Katsuki says, since taking down Eijirou the hard way is what he looks forward to the most. “Now fuck off.”
The other loper leaves without wasting breath on a goodbye, unwilling to lose more valuable time before the sun finishes rising. Katsuki waits until he’s out of sight, a last flash of silver between the lichen-hung trees, before getting back to work.
When he’s pissed a warning in all directions around the cave, he cracks some branches off of several nearby trees and arranges them in a curtain across the den’s opening. Now he’ll know if some wild animal or another loper less honorable than the last one tries to break in. He casts one last glance over his handiwork until the restlessness roaring in his chest pries his feet off the ground and forces him toward the only one that can handle the beast he’s about to become.
The sun has cleared the forest. It’s time to hunt.
At the faintest edges of his senses Katsuki can smell the cloying scents of the runners; the wind tells him that they’re only just past the entrance to the grounds, only just released for the run. He jogs back up to the top of the rock face above his den, retracing his steps with his nose in the air, searching for Eijirou’s alpine musk.
As soon as it hits him, he breaks into a run.
His breath saws in and out of his chest before long and the big muscles in his legs begin to burn, but he ignores the pain. He lets the forest drop pine in his hair and leave cedar bark in his furs as he darts through the trees, masking his burning scent and camouflaging his approach. If he’s lucky he’ll catch Eijirou totally unawares—if not, he’ll still be invisible until the last crucial second before his runner’s senses perk up and he bucks into frantic escape like a startled deer.
It doesn’t take very long before Katsuki comes across some of the other runners dashing in the opposite direction. A slim boy in all black pelts runs quietly by in the distance, nearly escaping Katsuki’s attention except for the rattle of his bird feather headdress. Another streaks by him much closer, but they might as well be completely invisible for all the glimpse that Katsuki gets of them. He nearly bowls over a redheaded runner taking a short, calculated rest in the gnarled roots of a big tree; panicked, she springs to her feet and puts up brawny fists, but he ignores her and keeps heading where the breeze directs him.
He doesn’t want any of these petite, meek bitches. Their rosy scents begin to assault him on all sides as they disperse across the grounds, but he doesn’t follow the pulse of his groin after them. They would break under his fangs and claws long before he could even break them on his knot. Only one runner on these grounds can take him, and demanded to do so.
Katsuki just hunts Eijirou.
The climbing sun warms the forest with noonday light as the air begins to ring faintly with the cries of the first pairs. The farther and longer Katsuki runs, the more he sees, smells, and hears. He passes a den in which a long-haired blonde with pouty lips arches beneath a shaggy loper hairy enough to be an animal. He breathes in the frantic, pungent fucking of two lopers sharing the holes of a blissful runner between them in the distant. He runs faster at the pretty scream of yet another runner being mounted close by.
Something ugly and animal wells up within him, the urge to roar and rage and ravish. He’s going to be balls-deep in his cycle soon, and needs to find Eijirou before then. He pumps his legs faster, ducking boughs and leaping over rocks and roots, and tries to bring the scent of mountain air closer.
He sprints by the moon-faced girl from earlier with a runner slung over her shoulder. Her soft cheeks are glowing with the heat of her triggered season, and she nearly growls at him in passing as he comes too close for her territoriality. Then she seems to recognize him, putting her teeth away. She manages a slight nod of acknowledgment before instinct compels her to run off with her pair and make a claim no one can infringe upon. Katsuki continues without even slowing.
Finally, when the sun is high enough to make the air between the trees sticky and maddening, he picks up Eijirou’s fresh trail.
And almost immediately sees someone else following it.
A snarl tears out of Katsuki’s throat without his permission as he watches a light-haired loper taste the air and follow the mountain meadow scent that absolutely does not belong to him. He knows that loper—they’ve crossed paths enough times at past gatherings for Katsuki to know that he hates his copycat guts. This loper has shamelessly pilfered Katsuki’s hunting techniques and fight moves in the past, too weak or too lazy to come up with his own, and never wastes an opportunity to taunt him about it.
“Oh?” he pants over his shoulder at Katsuki, somehow not surprised at all to see him on the same trail. “Is this your bitch?”
He doesn’t smell like rut, which means that he’s not mindlessly chasing the first scent that appealed to his seasonal appetite. He probably sniffed Katsuki on Eijirou before they were released onto the grounds and decided he would be a piece of shit on purpose.
“Mine,” Katsuki warns, his growl inhuman. His claws slide out fast enough to hurt at the disrespect to his claim.
The loper just smirks before picking up his pace in Eijirou’s direction.
Katsuki sees red.
Normally he passes his ruts totally alone, as far as he can get from his mother’s pack without being out of reach if they need him. That way he can wreak havoc on his spring den without catching anyone else in the crossfire. This is the first time that he’s been around someone else with the vernal violence burning in his veins. He has a second to wonder if giving in to the bloodlust will help satiate his rut or inflame it, before instinct forces him to find out.
He flies over the forest floor, shooting across the budding spring carpet furring the ground and closing the distance between him and the copycat loper. The smirk drops off his face when Katsuki swipes at him and nicks the back of his neck. He hisses in response, ducking and dodging to the side to throw him off, but he’s nowhere near agile enough to shake him. Katsuki grabs for him one more time and seizes his nape, taking him down in a sprawling heap.
Several minutes later Katsuki leaves the copycat gasping for air through his shattered nose and bruised throat and writhing around contusions in the shape of his fists. He’s raw up to his wrists from punishing that shitheel and aching around his ribs from the few lucky shots that slipped past his rut-weakened guard, but that doesn’t slow him down at all.
He feels sharper, more in tune with the rustling of the woods as critters scuttle out of his way and the fickle twist of the wind carrying Eijirou’s scent. The hunger that started to gnaw at his stomach earlier is completely forgotten as his pupils narrow into slits. The urge to fight and the urge to fuck meld together into the compulsion to go forward.
He keeps running. It feels good. He always felt the need to run during past springs, but this time it actually clears some of the fog from his brain. He feels strong, like he could scrap with ten men and then mount Eijirou ten times in a row. When he sees two more lopers lapping up the smell of his bitch, he grins savagely and decides to try.
He ends up choking out a slim, cheeky-looking blond with an arm around his throat after finally managing to tackle the weaselly motherfucker. He wonders how this skinny loper thought he would take down big game like Eijirou, until he frees an arm and reaches back to smear Katsuki with something that burns and crackles across his skin like lightning. He wisely goes to sleep when Katsuki flexes his forearm and cuts off his blood flow, but the itch of whatever poisonous plant he weaponized against Katsuki doesn’t fade.
He ignores it while he scraps with a plain, scentless loper with some kind of bulky braces at his elbows. He nearly gets Katsuki with a slash from one of the tiny blades that he sneakily pulls out of the braces, before going limp after Katsuki blasts him into a tree with an explosive punch. The bastard chose a smart substitute for his lack of fangs and claws, but he should have known it wouldn’t be enough against a rutter hot on the heels of his future mate.
A few other lopers make the mistake of ignoring his claim on Eijirou, but Katsuki sets them all to rights. He bites, mauls, bruises, and breaks anyone stupid or arrogant enough to think they can steal his bitch from him, clearing the way to Eijirou with every idiot that he drops hurt or unconscious to the soft loamy ground. When he only smells himself on the scent trail, he tips his head back and gives in to the utterly animal urge to announce his claim again to the forest at large with a howl.
It’s an ugly, guttural scream that comes all the way up from his belly, where the sun that Eijirou ignited last night chars to ash everything else except the need to bite and breed. Everyone on the nearby grounds can probably hear it. It should keep them from getting in the way of him hauling Eijirou back to the den, putting him on his belly, and trying his best to pup him regardless of what they say about first knottings.
When the echo of the howl dies away, Katsuki follows that waft of mountain air, the strongest it’s been all day, toward the mate that he’s earned. It’s an easy run, even with the injuries from his duels pulsing with every pump of his blood, and he narrows in quickly on the source of the musk that’s taunted him since last night.
He’s covered the blood of lesser hunters by the time he finds his prey.
When the sun crests the treeline and Toshinori bellows the command for the runners to go, Eijirou waits.
He does the opposite as Katsuki—he enters the forest at a cautious jog, allowing most of the other runners to pass ahead of him. Tenya sprints ahead faster than a thunder clap, disappearing in just moments too far into the dense tree cover to be seen. Mashirao gives Eijirou a little salute before following. Soon he’s alone at the back of the herd.
By traveling in the wake of everyone else’s scent, he buys himself a little more time and coverage, a natural disguise for his scent that should allow him to get farther into the woods. He remembers the deer slung across Katsuki’s shoulders last night, a big takedown with minimal damage to the meat and skin, and figures that Katsuki is a meticulous hunter—he’ll spend nearly all of his allotted time making the perfect den before turning his attention on Eijirou.
All he has to do is find the heart of the grounds before then, and he might be able to delay him enough to keep his pride as a runner. There’s a new sense of inevitability to this run now that he’s smelled Katsuki and seen him, a resignation to a fate where he’s hanging off of his pair’s knot before sundown that he’s never felt before, but as he promised to himself he won’t make anything easy for Katsuki before then.
By the time he makes it far enough into the forest that he can no longer sense the packs left behind in the clearing, the sun is already high in the sky. Its warmth coaxes the smell of growing things into the sultry air, turning it sweet and muggy enough to make his head spin. He’s already dizzy from the heat simmering under his skin and throbbing in his groin; he has to pinch himself to focus so he doesn’t get waylaid by the distractions multiplying across the grounds.
He passes a few pairs in barely hidden dens already. In his homeland the first runners wouldn’t be caught until a little later in the day, but the lopers in this run are of a different caliber. Eijirou blushes as he skirts one struggling to notch their cock to their partner’s hole, another couple lying heads-to-feet and swallowing each other whole, that small, long-eared loper fisting the ponytail of that tall buxom runner and rubbing her pussy ruthlessly.
His thighs are so damp that they squeak as he runs. His belly clenches with the sudden, violent desire to stop and stick his fingers in his leaking hole, to rub his clit until the fire inside him is quenched with the gush of some kind of relief. He knows, however, that his season is never satisfied with just one climax; it would be a waste of precious, dwindling time to get himself off when his body would just sabotage him by demanding more.
He moans around the pain of need and keeps going.
Slowly but surely the forest changes around him as he reaches its densest part. The hot attention of the sun weakens as thick cedar branches block him from overhead view; he can finally stop blinking the sting of sweat out of his fuzzy eyes. The cool, concealing cover allows him a place to pause and catch his breath, to lower himself down and sip water from a tiny, clear brook trickling by his feet.
In past runs he outwitted lopers by hiding in groves, leading them on goose chases, or wrestling them into humiliated defeat. He doesn’t think those tactics will work on most of the lopers that he glimpsed here, let alone on Katsuki. The best he can do is keep the chase going for as long as he can, and not immediately melt as soon as Katsuki puts rough hands on his neck and hips.
He takes a few more moments to rinse the sweat and forest grime from his skin in the brook, and to rest a water-chilled hand against the humid heat of his cunt. He’s careful not to play with himself, knowing that the moment he gives in to his cycle is the moment he becomes easy pickings for any loper out there. Still, the temptation is so strong that he struggles against curling his fingers for several minutes, breathing harshly and focusing intently on forcing his hand away.
That’s probably why he misses the loper right behind him.
Pure instinct makes him dive suddenly for the ground. Not a second later a breeze like a gale blows over him from the missed swipe of a huge arm. With a bleat of surprise Eijirou rolls to his feet and hurtles off in the opposite direction, fear and curiosity cracking through him like a thunderbolt. Behind him, the loper that nearly snatched him in one go hollers out a laugh and gives chase.
Eijirou chances a glance over his shoulder—it’s the giant loper with the close-shaved head, the one who could probably lower him onto his cock and knot him in mid-air. The loper shoots him an enormous grin and releases a pleased, rut-thick scent along with a spring croon, both potent enough to turn Eijirou’s knees to water and tear a whine from his throat. He stumbles on slippery mulch, nearly letting the loper catch him again, before putting on a burst of speed and booking it into the densest copse he can find.
He’s never had a loper stay on his tail like this before; most of the time in a straight run his pursuers end up lagging behind. This one is advancing on him, fast as the wind. The only reason Eijirou doesn’t get tumbled and mounted in the next few heartbeats is because the forest starts closing in so tight that the loper has to slow down.
Eijirou is big, but this guy is bigger; he gets caught on branches or between boles while Eijirou wiggles through. The distance between them grows again. Instead of growling at his escape, the loper lets out another jolly laugh. With a hummingbird heartbeat Eijirou threads his way through the rest of the copse, trying to leave that loud voice behind. He pales when he breaks out of the copse into a bald patch of forest instead.
His skin prickles at the lack of cover—there’s nowhere to hide and nothing to use. Behind he can hear the crashing sounds of his pursuer climbing out after him. He sprints off, panic giving him legs like a rabbit, and makes for the ledge of grass and sod several paces in front of him where the land drops off into the bank of a tiny, sluggish river.
The loper closes in. Eijirou can feel the gusts of air from the near attempts to pull on his furs, to trip his feet, to bite his neck, to make him stop and submit. He’s never felt so terrified, or so feverish with need. He would be giddy that a loper was this close to taming him if he hadn’t already met the one whose teeth he wants on his nape.
He uses his spiking adrenaline to eke out a little more speed, until it feels like his heart will burst from the effort. Right as the loper’s big paw cinches hard around his arm, the ground falls out from under Eijirou and he slips sweatily out of the loper’s grasp, tumbling down the muddy drop to the river bank.
He lands half-in the water with a tall splash. Spluttering, he skates back up to his feet in the slippery mud and doesn’t waste time looking back before taking off down the bank. The sucking sounds of the wet ground underneath his pounding feet get drowned out by the roar that the loper lets out far behind him as he abandons the chase.
Eijirou wants to run all the way back to the blessed shade and camouflage of the trees, but he’s flagging—he squats right next to the river, gasping down huge gulps of air and trembling from the acid burn in his legs. He’s vulnerable where anyone can see him with his running paint smudged and his calves spattered with mud. The twinge in his side keeps him from jumping back up and finding a hidden place to recover, however.
It also makes him an easy target for the next loper.
This one comes at Eijirou from above—his senses tingle just in time for him to catch a glimpse of the guy as he leaps down the river bank nearly on top of him. Even with the red, waxy scar tissue pulling one eye into a squint, this loper is so beautiful that Eijirou’s labored breath catches. He’s never seen someone with their hair split red and white down the middle. He blushes even as he lurches forward, scrambling to get away.
His legs don’t obey him properly when he tries to flee again, so he only gets a few coltish steps forward before the loper seizes him with one cold hand. He fists his fingers in Eijirou’s hair, jerking him to a painful halt and tearing a cry from his throat.
“Sorry,” he grunts, more perfunctory than apologetic, and starts dragging Eijirou back up the bank with his unyielding grip. His scent is something like mint leaves, but rut makes it smolder with the ashy smell of coal. The strength of his hold and the similarity between his scent and Katsuki’s makes Eijirou moan and leak more slick even as he tries to pry this loper’s mean fingers open.
He’s taller than Eijirou but only half as broad. When Eijirou lets himself go limp, the loper is nearly pulled off his feet by his dead weight. He swears and tries to yank Eijirou forward, destroying the careful spikes and horns in his hair, but Eijirou reaches up and clamps his hands around the loper’s fine wrist and elbow.
In a surge of strength he flips the loper onto his shoulder, making him release his hair in shock. Eijirou staggers back a few steps until he hits the edge of the water and then dumps the loper into the river, closing his eyes against a spray of droplets.
The guy resurfaces with a startled inhale and blinks at him, handsome and uncomprehending, as the glint of river fish parts around him.
“Sorry,” Eijirou grins, giving him a little wave before hobbling off.
He reenters the forest with relief, hearing the shrieking in his hindbrain quiet to a murmur as he slips back into the shadow of the trees. He finds a hovel underneath a huge cedar, a hole in the ground under its enormous roots, and squirms like a worm into the dark earth until he’s completely out of sight, the smell of his slick smothered by that of soil and sap.
He rests in the cradle of roots until his lungs stop burning and his legs no longer tremble like the flanks of an overworked horse. He spits out the thick phlegm that his close encounters with the lopers worked up in his panting mouth. Absolutely starving, he gathers what nuts, seeds, or bugs are in reach of his hovel and cracks them between his teeth.
The sun begins to turn its attention on the west. Eijirou stirs from a quick, risky nap feeling very refreshed, and decides he’s lingered long enough. He crawls out, stretches and warms his cold muscles, and creeps toward the sound of another little brook where he can wash out his mouth. As he kneels there drinking, the need that had receded before the tide of his exhaustion comes crashing back on him once more.
Eijirou considers giving in, just for a while. He could bring himself off three or four times before lopers converged on his hideout. He’s aching for something to put inside—his mouth, his cunt, his ass, wherever. He whines a little at the thought of being found while chancing his pleasure and having all three filled and satisfied by his pursuers. They could seal him airtight and quench his desperation by knotting each of his greedy holes.
Eyes fluttering at the fantasy, Eijirou reaches down recklessly to palm himself. Before he can touch his dripping slit, a horrible scream reverberates through the forest, raising the hairs on his arms and shocking him back into rationality. The terrifying howl is belly-deep, ragged at the edges, nearly the voice of a beast.
Eijirou somehow knows that it’s Katsuki.
He snatches his hand back, leaping to his feet, energized by the sound of his mate-to-be. The howl sounded close—Katsuki is close. Just the idea is enough to clear his head and strengthen his resolve. He remembers his promise to himself and grins, eager to fulfill it and have Katsuki make him break it.
He turns in a direction away from the echo of the howl and starts running.
His tired legs begin to protest much sooner this time around, but he ignores the pain. Instead, he thinks about what will happen when he’s finally caught by Katsuki, what he’ll do to take him down and make him his. Will he put bruises in Eijirou’s skin trying to snatch him, or will he yank him about by his hair? Will he force Eijirou’s mouth on his cock first, or his cunt? Will he make Eijirou squirt over and over on his knot, or will he refuse to let him climax until he’s bred him deep and full?
He’s so distracted by thoughts of Katsuki’s cruelty and come that he doesn’t realize he’s heading into a trap, until he trips it.
He’s shouting in surprise before he even really registers what’s going on—a brutal tug on his ankle sweeps his leg out from under him, sending him crashing forward onto a moss-covered rock. The landing knocks the wind out of him. His mouth fishes open and closed around useless attempts to suck down air as he tries to push himself back up, palms slipping on damp green fuzz.
He can’t even crawl away—the thing around his ankle doesn’t let him go far. He swipes at it blindly, but then a heavy weight drops onto his back and crushes him onto the rock, dazing him all over again.
“Oh.” The loper on top of him presses his nose into the sweaty shoreline of his hair and inhales deeply. “You smell like…Kacchan?”
Eijirou tosses his elbow backward, hard. The loper grunts as he connects with his ribs. He tries to do it again, but both of his wrists are seized in an iron-like grip and practically manacled to the rock.
“This is definitely his claim,” the loper mumbles, shifting to pin Eijirou completely. He’s shorter by a lot, judging by how his erection slots against Eijirou’s back, but alarmingly strong. He ruts forward in short, instinctive thrusts as he talks to himself against Eijirou’s skin, making him shiver. “He said he would never lope. He changed his mind? Well, this is his type.”
Eijirou is getting dizzy again from the loper’s pheromones, feeling his heat rise under his skin in response. He tries tossing his head back, but the loper dodges the attempt, yanking his arms backward. He secures both of Eijirou’s wrists in one hand and uses the other to push his face down. Eijirou spasms as the rough handling makes a new wave of slick gush down his thighs.
He wonders if this is it. The loper above him is already half-mounted. All he would need to do to pair them is shuffle some furs around and thrust inside. The idea is appealing—this loper smells like earth and berries, and he’s powerful enough to hold Eijirou down one-handed—but Eijirou still tries thrashing to get free. He wants to be struggling under Katsuki, not someone who clearly knows him and is ignoring his claim anyway.
“Ah, should I let go?” the loper considers. “Kacchan will get mad. But we’re not pack anymore…”
Eijirou wheezes as he tries to respond, to break free, to do anything except spread his legs and tilt his hips up for the loper’s appraisal. It’s so hard to fight his instincts, however, when they ransom his senses in exchange for his surrender. He rolls his head to the side just enough to release a plaintive whine, one that makes the loper pause.
In the next second, the weight on Eijirou’s back is torn off with a snarl.
The smell of sweet burning razes his nostrils. An enraged growl rends the air, followed by the awful sounds of a struggle: teeth snapping, claws unsheathing, bodies thudding. Eijirou scrambles onto his back, kicking off the booby-trapped grass rope around his ankle, and sees Katsuki taking down the loper that nearly stole him.
He looks as weatherworn as Eijirou—he’s smeared with both his ruined running paint and thin streaks of blood from any number of encounters. His grimace is savage, the look of a beast mid-hunt. The other loper snarls back, but his sweet, boyish face is nowhere near as barbaric and fearsome.
They trade blows like thunder and lightning. Eijirou can barely follow their tussle; they fight with the familiarity of whelp-mates, like they’ve done this a hundred times before. Katsuki lands a blow on the other loper’s face, right on the fan of freckles across his cheek, but it’s returned as a kick to Katsuki’s vulnerable ribs. Furious, Katsuki yanks the loper into a chokehold by his hair, and the brawl continues.
Eijirou wants to stay and watch. The scent and sight of two powerful lopers tangled together—their big predator muscles bunching and gleaming with sweat, the stink of their rut on the pungent air—makes him double over around the throb of his cunt. He wants to be in the middle of them, to let them settle their feud inside him, but he knows that’s his heat talking and it will betray him if he stays.
Gasping, he rolls to his feet and flees.
He pumps his disobedient legs as fast as he can, though he’s spent from a day of pursuit and the urgent need for a knot. He went all of his previous heats alone except one, and even then Tomo had only kissed his cunt a few times to get him through the worst of it; he’s never felt this mind-melting desire for something inside him, never this badly. It nearly takes more willpower than he has to keep himself from turning around and lying back down in that trap.
The sounds behind him are still violent but dwindling. Eijirou hopes that whatever past those two lopers share keeps Katsuki busy long enough for him to regain his pride and his wits.
Only a few minutes later he has to totter to a stop. Fatigue has him bending over to pant for air, but arousal takes him the rest of the way down to his knees. He drops to the sedge-cushioned ground in front of a low-skirted pine tree and can’t help the immediate, instinctual snap of his spine into a painful arch. He groans into the earth and lifts his hips high into the air, presenting for the mere thought of his future mate.
He’s had so many close calls today, more than he’s ever had in all the runs before this year’s combined. All these potent, powerful lopers put their hands on him today, and the best of them all is fighting for him right now. Eijirou can’t dam up the flood of his desire anymore.
He snaps a hand between his parted legs and rubs hard and fast at his clit, the opposite of the languid, teasing touches he teases himself with otherwise. His eyes roll and his knees tear up grass as he kicks at the violent pleasure, feeling his release boiling over embarrassingly quickly. The tiny whimpers he tries to smother into the ground peal into shouts as he clenches around nothing over and over again, dripping a long line of slick to the ground.
His perfect presentation collapses as his climax turns his body to liquid. The relief only lasts for a moment—soon the fire flares inside him again, making his fingers twitch on his oversensitive pussy once more.
Before he can wrench out another quick orgasm, a growl rumbles out from behind him. Eijirou gasps, fear and need roiling in his quick-pulsing blood as he fumbles back onto his knees and looks wide-eyed over his shoulder.
His eyes are slitted with animal concentration, focused to the point of pain. He aches all over from an entire day of beating unworthy idiots with skulls too thick or noses too stupid to respect his claim. He even has a few bruises from Deku of all lowlifes. He can’t feel anything other than exhilaration however, as he swats aside drooping pine branches and kicks creeping ferns out of his way, stalking toward his prey.
Eijirou looks a feast sprawled on the forest floor in front of him: ruined hair sticking in tendrils to his pretty face, powerful body gleaming with sweat from hours of pursuit and his encroaching heat, slick cunt bared for his perusal. Katsuki’s mouth waters as he thinks about all the ways in which he can eat him.
“Caught you,” he croons around his distended fangs, claws flexing in and out menacingly.
Closing in on Eijirou’s scent only to find Deku slobbering on top of him nearly made him go feral. When he finally burst into the copse soaked with Eijirou’s potent musk, he had expected to see his mate-to-be panting and begging for his promised knot, not Deku’s muscled ass wagging in the air. The little shit had the gall to fight back while Katsuki knocked him around for touching what’s his, but even with his newfound confidence and physique he eventually had to concede that the only cock stretching out Eijirou’s tight cunt would be Katsuki’s.
Now that Katsuki has proven his claim to everyone on the damn grounds, it’s time to make good on it.
To his surprise, Eijirou pushes himself up shakily and manages a big, bright grin. “Not yet.”
The same flare of irritation and arousal that sparked in him last night fires again in Katsuki’s belly. He thought he exorcised the worst of his seasonal aggression earlier, but the chanting in his blood for a fight and a fuck starts up again.
“Try to run,” he dares him, a warning rumble starting up in his chest.
A part of him hopes that Eijirou will get up and flee, the part of him that isn’t satisfied with all the blood already on his knuckles. He wants to tackle Eijirou into the dirt, to stifle his squirming with his teeth, to mount him where everyone can see like the inferior, impatient pairs he passed on his way here. He's a spider’s thread away from berserking, and the violent urgency of his rut makes him want to make Eijirou scream loud enough for the rest of the grounds to hear him.
Just as he thought, however, when Eijirou tries to scramble away his legs give out underneath him. He ends up on his belly in the grass, weak legs akimbo, swollen cunt winking and glistening in the late slanted light beneath his skewed furs. He looks like he’s already been ravished.
Katsuki wastes no time dropping down on him to make it so.
Over the course of the run he had indulged himself with the thought of Eijirou submitting as soon as he felt the brand of his cock against his ass, as soon as he was enveloped in the suffocating smoke of Katsuki’s powerful scent. The thought had propelled him forward even when fatigue threatened to slow him down: this big and brazen runner going utterly limp for the hot press of Katsuki’s knot against his needy hole. For some reason he expected that Eijirou, just like the others that Katsuki had tumbled, would lie there obediently for his cock.
He’s stupidly surprised when Eijirou starts to fight him instead.
He’s just as strong as he looks—the first buck of his hips unseats Katsuki entirely. Before he can shove Eijirou back down into the soil, the runner twists enough to winch one powerful arm around Katsuki’s neck and tosses him to the side.
Knocked against a nearby fallen cedar trunk, Katsuki reels. No runner has ever manhandled him before, let alone thrown around his bulk like he was a pup. No loper either, for that matter. Incensed and aroused enough to see red, he flips onto his feet and decides to make Eijirou pay for it.
Eijirou only managed to get a few feet away in the time he bought for himself, so it’s easy for Katsuki to launch onto his back once again, this time without underestimating him. The runner turns them with one massive heave, crushing Katsuki beneath his weight, but Katsuki is prepared—he rolls them again and, pining Eijirou’s arms under his heavy body and barring his shins across the back of his knees, bites him hard on the crook of his neck next to the place where his dizzying scent emanates.
A yelp pierces the close forest air, startling a few nearby birds into flight. Katsuki thrills at Eijirou’s little bleat of pain. His teeth are far from the place at Eijirou’s nape which will mate them, and not quite ferocious enough to break skin, but they still make Eijirou go slack against the ground.
Only for a moment, though—in the next second Eijirou surges back to his struggling.
Katsuki can feel himself smiling like a mad men as he fights to keep his bitch under him. There’s still a possessive ache in his fangs, shouting at him to prove his dominance. He listens, biting Eijirou again and again as they grapple, littering his shoulders with far more than the usual subduing bite, creating a lattice of deep bruises in the shape of his ownership. Eijirou shudders and cries out with each one, alternating between whimpering in pain and panting at the endorphin release with each clamp of Katsuki’s teeth. At one point Katsuki feels him shake like a leaf under him, even as he gropes backward for a sore handful of Katsuki’s hair, and he wonders if he came.
The thought makes him pant with a new kind of thirst. Making sure his hold on Eijirou is secure, he reaches one hand down to cup his big palm across the entirety of Eijirou’s mound. Eijirou’s legs snap shut around his wrist before falling open on instinct, allowing him to drag his fingers through puffy folds. He swipes them from clit to hole and marvels at how much slick webs between them from a single pass. He chuffs at Eijirou’s wet desperation and hears a warble from under him in return.
Katsuki’s spring-addled brain wants his bitch wetter. He reaches back down to rub Eijirou’s clit with his soaking fingers. At the first touch Eijirou gasps, writhing so hard that he nearly bucks Katsuki off again. Cackling, Katsuki redistributes his weight and proceeds without mercy, bullying Eijirou’s hot little nub until his back goes ramrod straight. He revels in the deep, agonized sound that Eijirou makes when he comes.
As soon as Eijirou flops breathlessly back down to the sedge, Katsuki plunges a finger into his clenching heat without waiting for the tide of his pleasure to fully recede. Eijirou sucks in air at the tight pop inside, thrashing weakly, but the way his walls immediately start milking the digit betrays his whining and wriggling.
It’s so silky inside that Katsuki groans, cock throbbing hard enough to tent his furs. Even without his cycle whipping his mind and gut into a frenzy, he would still be stricken the sudden frenzy to get his aching knot in that soft squeeze. Eijirou feels exactly the same inside as Katsuki imagined while assembling his den and tracking his scent. Greedily he pulls back and shoves his hand into his mouth, drinking the taste of Eijirou fresh.
As soon as the slick hits his tongue something in him snaps. The last of his control chars to powder in the bright blaze of full rut that ignites under his skin.
He drops his hand back down to Eijirou’s cunt, and this time forces three fingers in his drooling hole. Eijirou squeals, jackknifing at the hard stretch, before his pretty eyes roll and his legs spasm with another orgasm. Katsuki’s eyes flutter too at the feeling of him gushing around half his hand.
His senses are sharper than ever. He can feel the tremors of Eijirou’s helpless pleasure beneath the bare muscles of his thighs, and he can hear the breathless mantra wheezing past Eijirou’s parted lips, a litany of his name. Right now Eijirou’s mountain and mineral scent is as intoxicating as a draft of burning wine from the tundra. He takes his hand back again, making Eijirou yelp, and sticks his slick fingers back in his mouth, sucking the taste of him like cool water.
He isn’t gentle when he uses his punishing grip to flip Eijirou onto his back, revealing his red, sweaty face and half-lidded, dazed look. He’s falling too deep in his season to mind his claws or his strength. The back-to-back peaks make Eijirou just docile enough for Katsuki to bend his knees to the ground beside his head. Eijirou squawks at the unfair stretch, but the crushed position leaves him with little leverage and Katsuki with the best view.
He shoves his face into Eijirou’s cunt and sniffs him deeply. When his head is full of that musk, he dips his tongue straight into the source. Eijirou’s legs kick above both of their heads, but Katsuki just tightens his hold, suckling at his stiff clit and his soaking lips, opening his mouth wide to kiss as much of him as he can. He eats Eijirou out until he’s soaking with his spit instead, and then drags more slick forth with his tongue to do it again.
Eijirou tries to pull his hair and claw at his nape, but he can’t muster his full power with Katsuki’s face between his legs. Katsuki enjoys the way Eijirou tries to pummel his shoulders with weakening fists as he flicks his tongue across his abused little bead until he gushes enough to drip down his ass too.
Slick-drunk, Katsuki risks freeing one hand to rub circles over Eijirou’s other hole. The smugness he feels when Eijirou moans his name loud enough for defeated fucking Deku to hear is his downfall—he relaxes his guard as he chases Eijirou’s next orgasm with his mouth.
One second he’s tongue-fucking Eijirou’s sweet hole, the next second Eijirou crushes his neck between his thighs and reverses their position. Katsuki can hardly breathe under Eijirou’s cunt, but he isn’t mad about it. The anger only comes when Eijirou tears Katsuki’s mouth away, craning his neck at an aching angle.
Katsuki bares the whole length of his fangs and releases a black scent through their little corner of the forest.
Accepting his threat with his pretty, dangerous smile, Eijirou leans down and bites him hard in return.
Katsuki can’t tell whether the urge that bursts through him at the bright star of pain in his neck is rage or rapture. His mate-to-be leans down to meet both.
They wrestle again. Eijirou seems to have gotten his second wind. He’s much harder pin now, skin slippery with the dew of several peaks. Katsuki tries forcing him back down into presentation, but his hold slips and he ends up in range of Eijirou’s dangerous teeth again. He snarls when Eijirou bites the other side of his throat, giving as good as he got.
Instinct roars through Katsuki’s mind and body. His den is ready, his quarry is found. He has the bruises from a strong, worthy runner at the base of his throat and the ripening smell of his full heat in his nose. It’s time.
Instead of trying to force his bitch back underneath him, Katsuki tosses him abruptly to the side. Eijirou rolls across the grass with a grunt, righting himself clumsily and looking back at him with feverish, confused eyes. He scrambles to his feet when Katsuki pulls his lips back over his teeth and grows.
Both of them are approaching a point beyond words. Katsuki follows his intuition and conducts them through the next steps of old, primal ceremony with his body—he puffs up to his full height and breadth and snarls at the runner, making him stumble backward in the direction of his den. He does it again and again until Eijirou trips into a wobbly run and starts hobbling toward the place that Katsuki prepared for their mating.
He can smell Eijirou’s glee, need, and fear as he herds him back across the grounds toward the cave. He watches him stick his nose in the air and catch the scent of his den. With Katsuki at his heels he has no choice but to head toward that shelter. They bound across lichen-eaten logs and tall boulders, swerving around big pines and crashing through the underbrush, following a tradition set in blood before their time.
They slow down as they approach the den, Eijirou picking curiously forward while Katsuki deliberately lags. Katsuki has never loped before, and doesn’t know how he knows to let Eijirou explore, but something in his season tells him to let Eijirou sniff first at his perimeter. His scent announces the strength of his territory, his competence, his virility. He watches eagerly as Eijirou pulls a deep breath into his belly, shivering as he crosses the markings.
Katsuki tries to wait as Eijirou peers through the cover that he draped across the cave opening, surveying his handiwork. After a nearly a minute he chances a step forward with a low rumble, cock throbbing in time with his heartbeat as if aware that he’s close to his first knotting, his first time ever rutting properly inside someone else. Eijirou spins around, hisses at him, and darts into the cave alone.
A part of Katsuki is annoyed at the sight of teeth, but his rut makes pleasure roll over him at the thought of Eijirou willingly breaching his den. Eijirou could have accepted any loper on the open grass, but that he let Katsuki herd him here means he chose him. As long as Eijirou accepts the materials that he assembled, they are as good as mated.
Katsuki patrols up and down the edges of his den, gnashing his teeth and swiping his claws through the air impatiently, trying to let Eijirou work undisturbed. He wants to fight again, and fuck like an animal. There’s hardly any restraint left in him. When he finally hears Eijirou’s call, he bursts into the den so forcefully that some of the branches of their pine curtain snap.
He runs straight into the hot, humid wall of their combined scents, and a satisfied chuff tears out of his chest against his will. When his eyes adjust to the shadow, he sees with relief that Eijirou really has built a nest in the middle of the cave with his scavenging, taking advantage of a dip in the stone floor to arrange the fescue and moss into a thick bed. The root foods and sweet fruits have been tucked against the walls of the nest for easy access, and it lies a strategic distance from the cave’s water source. Eijirou sits panting in the middle, staring back at Katsuki in the darkness with big, luminous eyes.
He looks a little cagey, as if nervous about his work. Katsuki decides to wipe that look off of his face and replace it with the rolled-eyed ecstasy from earlier, since Eijirou has more than earned it.
He flings himself at the nest, and Eijirou catches him easily as they roll for dominance on the bedding. It’s not the high-stakes battle from before, but a needy tussle that has them humping for small relief while they struggle to peel away their sopping furs. The nest holds well as they roll again and again, sometimes butting their scent glands together and sometimes trying to pin one another down. When they smell fully like each other, Katsuki decides they’ve dallied long enough.
He seizes Eijirou by the shoulders and fights to put him on his belly again. His mate-to-be thwarts his efforts by prying off his unyielding grip and kicking out of his hold, refusing to go down easy to the end. Katsuki should feel fury at the defiance, but he can only feel the manic grin stretching his face. Every time he glimpses the side of Eijirou’s face he finds the same wild smile mirrored there.
In the end simple stamina is what allows Katsuki to get the upper hand. As soon as Eijirou shows signs of tiring, Katsuki commands him onto his belly with a hot, damp hand on his vulnerable throat and another at his sensitive lower back. Eijirou tries posting a sweaty palm on his hip to push him away, but Katsuki ignores him in favor of snatching off his furs. He tears at them until the runner is naked and glistening in the golden twilight trickling in through the hole in the rock above the cave’s sparkling spring.
Katsuki’s breath comes hard and fast as he rips off his own furs too. He’s never had his blood sing for a runner like this, has never felt such victory and anticipation and need for anyone before. He avoided all others during his past ruts because he thought he might tear them apart, but Eijirou treats his dripping fangs and razor claws as he does his sweet scent and burning arousal—he meets it all head-on. Katsuki doesn't feel any of that old trepidation anymore as he crouches over Eijirou and prepares to mount him.
At the very last moment, for one beautiful second of triumph, Eijirou abandons his struggles and presents.
Katsuki howls again as he thrusts forward.
He glances off of Eijirou’s slick several times before he notches. The swollen head of his cock pops painfully into that tight hole, making both of them gasp. Eijirou squirms, squeezing so hard that Katsuki’s eyes roll. All the thrashing makes him slide out in the next moment, however.
Katsuki makes a murderous noise and drops his head to put his teeth on Eijirou’s nape. The threat causes a stutter in his small protests, allowing Katsuki to grab his wrists and pin him down above his head. He mounts him again, humping forward until he catches once more, thrusting the full length of his cock inside in one harsh go.
Eijirou’s scream reverberates through the cave. Katsuki’s blood burns with pride at the sound. He chuffs around his bite and strikes up an unforgiving pace from the start. At first the clutch of Eijirou’s cunt is so fucking tight he can barely jerk forward or backward, but he plants his feet in the nest and slams forward until Eijirou’s shout tapers into an aching whine. As soon as the runner stops clenching, Katsuki’s cock slips deep and hard into his velvet heat. Both of them groan as he wastes no time completing his claim.
Eijirou’s virginal cries have sweat pouring off of Katsuki onto him and into their nest. Eventually his legs fall open as he lets Katsuki in without resistance, lets him carve a place into his guts, lets him beat his pussy with hard, loud claps of his hips. He cries into the nest and struggles to hold his ass up while Katsuki pounds inside, balls slapping against his clit.
Katsuki is hardly a green pup, but he still finds himself on the verge of popping an immediate knot. Eijirou’s snatch is hotter and tighter than any he’s had before, but it’s his submission that pushes Katsuki right up to the precipice. That Eijirou is the one reaching a hand back to pull himself open for his own deflowering, that he’s the one tilting his head to let the teeth in his neck sink deeper is what makes Katsuki feel like this is his very first rushed time.
Even with Eijirou finally yielding, he can only get most of his cock inside, his knot butting uselessly against that clamping hole. Katsuki releases his teeth to lean back on his knees, never breaking his hard rhythm as he switches his grip. He holds Eijirou down with one hand by the scruff and tilt his hips up even higher with the other hand on his belly.
The new angle lets him slide deeper, making Eijirou squeal some more as he slams his cock against untouched parts of him. The swell of his knot starts forcing him wider, gaping him every time Katsuki cocks back to pound forward. His mate-to-be twitches nonstop as he shudders through an endless peak on Katsuki’s length. Every new inch that gets sucked into searing, soaking pleasure pushes Katsuki that much closer to falling over the edge and breeding Eijirou to bursting. But he can’t until he’s knotted Eijirou right.
Gritting his teeth, he leans down and stretches to put his fingers back on Eijirou’s clit. As soon as he feels that swollen nub he starts rubbing Eijirou off, not letting up even when overstimulation makes Eijirou yell and try to crawl away. He just ups the pace and force of his thrusts until Eijirou goes limp and drooling into the nest, until his hand cramps, until Eijirou starts convulsing with the first throes of what may be the most intense of the peaks that have wracked his body so far.
“Katsuki,” Eijirou shrieks, again and again, squirming into and away from Katsuki’s touch, overwhelmed. The cave rings with his frantic, tormented begging.
Katsuki concentrates on opening him up, shoving his knot through. He wants to fuck his seed deep into Eijirou’s womb even more than he wants to come. He keeps working at Eijirou’s clit until the moment when he goes completely quiet.
Eijirou snaps so still underneath him that he stops breathing, muscles locked like he’s been struck by lightning. For a moment the only sign that he’s alive is the rapid squeezing of his cunt—then he screams at the top of his lungs and clamps down around Katsuki so tight he nearly blows his load right then.
After a few seconds of mindless writhing, Eijirou’s whole body goes lax and he melts into the nest. Katsuki’s knot shoves into him all at once, and the sudden catch around all of his cock has Katsuki gasping and coming right away. He pumps his huge, promised litter inside with several brutal, final bucks of his hips, teeth coming down hard on Eijirou’s neck to seal the deal.
For a while Katsuki’s vision whites out and he can only hear the rush of his own blood in his ears. When he comes back to his senses, he finds Eijirou sniffling underneath him, sighing intermittently with at the pain of Katsuki’s bleeding bite on his nape and the ache of his stomach bloating with Katsuki’s load. One of his big hands cups his distended belly in spring relief.
Katsuki’s body knows what to do. Still panting, he does as his instincts bid and cleans his bite with meticulous care. When the wound looks good, he lays his hand over Eijirou’s and lowers them carefully to their sides on the bedding, going slack with exhaustion the moment he confirms that his mate is secure and sated.
Within just a minute they’re both dozing.
For a while Katsuki floats in a dreamless gratification. He’s never been anything other than wretched during his rut before; this relief and content is utterly novel. The big shape of Eijirou in his arms and the tired wringing on his knot satisfies something bestial in him. At the very edges of his senses he can hear and feel the sonorous rumble of Eijirou’s purr, an echo of his own fulfillment.
Katsuki sleeps like a milk-drunk pup.
He blinks awake, already snarling, maybe an hour later. His first instinct is to check the den for intruders, but the only thing he smells is a good breeding. Eijirou shifts groggily against his chest, revealing the problem: the shrinking of his knot, followed by a rush of his come dribbling wastefully out into the nest.
Eijirou makes a disgruntled noise as he slowly pulls out, reaching back in his sleep to tug him forward again. His complaint cuts into a trill as Katsuki wakes him by stuffing him back up with his half-hard cock.
“Told you you’d take my litter,” he rasps, the first thing he’s said in what feels like years. Gloating hurts his parched throat, but he won.
Eijirou groans out a chuckle. “You sure showed me.”
Katsuki growls at his pertness, reaching down to hook Eijirou’s knee in the crook of his elbow and tug him open. As retribution he bucks hard into his sore hole, making him yelp at the ache of rough treatment and the zing of new pleasure.
He fucks Eijirou like that until his cock hardens the rest of the way, before rolling him onto his belly again. Though it’s too soon to give him another knot, he gluts him with another, lesser load, feeling smug at the way Eijirou shivers and whines around the cramp of more come.
Eventually Eijirou tries to climb to his feet. “I have to piss so bad,” he announces, but he doesn't get very far on his own.
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Katsuki sneers and stands, stifling a grunt when the bruises from yesterday’s long hunt make themselves known.
He escorts Eijirou outside the cave and leaves him to relieve himself while he staggers around the perimeter of the den and renews the marks of his territory. When they’re both done he leads his mate back inside all the way to the rear of the cave, where he watches Eijirou lower himself gingerly into the hot spring exactly at he imagined: leaking his come, bleeding from his mark, and giving him his big, dangerous grin through the screen of fragrant steam hanging in the air.
“You really caught me.” The wonder in his voice is charming.
“Of course I fucking did,” Katsuki says, grabbing some victuals from the nest and bringing them over to the side of the spring. He watches Eijirou scarf down the food for a minute before crossing his arms and staring at the cave’s far wall. “You didn’t go down easy.”
Eijirou beams at him like he gave him a gift. He holds out a hand and beckons Katsuki forward, his purr resonating within the cave walls, hanging in the air like the smell of their mating.
Katsuki considers him, sitting there big, beautiful, and bitten in his den. He will never, ever admit that his mother was right, because she isn’t—but maybe she wasn’t exactly wrong either.
Smirking, he takes Eijirou’s palm in his own.
It takes four days for them to return to the clearing.
The first two were spent at the height of their shared season, mating on every surface in the den. Eijirou had taken Katsuki’s knot on his back with his feet scraping the stone by his head— on the wall pinned in place by Katsuki’s powerful arms and his bruising thrusts—against a tree outside when their morning ablutions got sidetracked. He had even gone back on his belly to let Katsuki press slick- and spit-drenched fingers into his ass and knot him there too.
On the third day they could barely move, too sore to do more than soak in the hot spring and feed each other the last of their reserves. They spent their final night in the den scraping together the remains of the nest for one last sleep, so tired that the cave rang with their snores like they were sharing it with a bear.
The last day is a long, limping walk at snail’s pace in their ruined furs from the den back to their packs. Both of them are chafed and stiff; they stop at every stream they see and chill their hot, raw skin before moving on.
Even though he’s still bloated from days of spreading his legs for his mate, Eijirou enjoys the hike. He shares stories of his homeland and travels from the south and sometimes receives his mate's curt anecdotes about the north. Katsuki is almost laughably easy to rile, so Eijirou entertains himself during the slow hours by dodging lances of his ill-temper and brutal scent. Even though Katsuki stalks ahead several times to, in his own words, escape Eijirou’s annoying-ass chatter, he always comes back to grab him grumpily and rub their glands together when the scent of their mating fades in the piny forest air.
When they finally reenter the clearing, both their pack leaders are waiting to greet them. A great swath of the open grass is vacated—most of the packs that came for the run cleared out once their pairs returned. Only theirs remain.
“Great work, little chick!” Taishirou cheers as they come back through the arch of branches through which they first entered the grounds. Beside him Nejire waves a hand madly and Tamaki gives him a quiet smile. “Quite a mate you found yourself.”
Eijirou raises a triumphant fist at Taishirou. “Thanks, sir, I know!”
“Well done, brat,” the other pack leader calls. It’s the woman from before, the one with the wheat hair and sacred bear furs. Eijirou blushes as it occurs to him that she must be Katsuki’s mother, mortified that he didn’t realize their uncanny resemblance earlier. “Can’t believe you got someone to take your bite.”
“Fuck off, hag!” Katsuki shouts, making Taishirou fumble and Tamaki blanch. The man standing behind Katsuki’s mother, most likely his father, covers his eyes with his hand.
She barely even blinks. “Who did you manage to trap for life?” she asks, somehow peering imposingly at Eijirou even though he’s taller by nearly a head.
Katsuki snarls. “The only worthy fucker in the whole damn run.”
Eijirou is caught between melting from tenderness and stiffening with nerves. He links arms with his mate, taking a deep whiff of Katsuki’s smokey-sweet scent and hardening his resolve, and pulls them both forward so he can bow to his new pack leader.
“Your son is really strong! And smart and capable! I’m lucky he caught me. I’ll do my best to take care of him,” Eijirou declares, knocking his fists together.
Katsuki’s father offers a very kind smile. “Thank you for choosing our son.”
At length his mother’s face softens too. “You did well,” she admits reluctantly to Katsuki. “Maybe all your yammering about the pack was right.”
She seems surprised when Katsuki holds up a hand. “Obviously. But you can give it to me after I come back.” He shakes off Eijirou’s arm so that he can link their fingers and hold up their clasped hands. “We’ll prove ourselves with a kill that not even you can bitch about.”
Eijirou can barely contain his grin. So Katsuki was listening when he said he wanted to explore the archipelago, to bring back their own ceremonial catch like Toshinori. They’re going to find their own way and be their own men, just as he set out from his home to do.
Katsuki’s mother smiles at them, all her hard lines softening into the same delicate face Eijirou saw back in the close, humid cave when Katsuki thought he was asleep. Then she reaches out and smacks Katsuki’s head, startling everyone in the clearing.
“You better let your mate rest before you go gallivanting off!” she shouts.
“I’m not a goddamn idiot! Fuck!” Katsuki yells back, reaching for her with a clawed hand. His father steps expertly in between them and holds them apart while Taishirou breaks the stunned silence of their onlooking packs with a booming laugh.
It’s a few hours later, after both packs bed down for one last night in the clearing before returning to their clan lands, when Eijirou rolls over in Katsuki’s tight hold and snags his attention with a kiss to one of his still-bruised bites.
“What?” Katsuki grumbles, even as he leans down to lap a few times at Eijirou’s scarring gland in return.
Eijirou shivers and tugs his mate closer by his tight waist, bringing their faces together until Katsuki leans in curiously to listen.
“Aren’t you glad you loped?” Eijirou whispers, smug.
Katsuki puts him in a headlock so tight that he yelps loud enough to wake the nearby pups, but the way he nuzzles his bite on Eijirou’s neck is its own answer.