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Trial And Error

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Baekhyun meets Yixing when he's six years old, peeking out from around his mother's legs as Yixing blinks at him, head tilted to the side and the moonlight reflected in his eyes. Yixing's irises pulse red a few times before they retreat, leaving Baekhyun staring in awe at a young alpha with a warm smile and a pleasing scent that lingers in the air. Baekhyun breathes him in deep, memorizes.

"How did you like Yixing?" Baekhyun's mother asks later.

They’d played together in the tall grass, darting between trees and giggling as they raced through the night air while the rest of the adults either kept a casual eye on them or shifted to enjoy the beautiful evening in a more primal way. Baekhyun has playmates in his pack, but none are as energetic, none as willing to let Baekhyun take the lead and then steal it from him the moment the end is in sight.

Baekhyun is now snug against his mother’s chest as they lay atop a pile of animal skins in their large tent, falling asleep to the soft scrape of her nails on his scalp as she scratches lightly through black strands. "He was nice," Baekhyun mumbles, curling tighter toward her.

Baekhyun's always been attached to his mother, always had this overwhelming urge to be at her side - to keep her from being alone. He knows they're different, she's different, because out of all the other families in the pack, she's the only one without a mate. There are memories tucked away inside Baekhyun's head, memories of his mother's voice telling him about how strong his father was, how brave and true and just; and Baekhyun holds on to those, but not as much as he holds on to her. He may only be a child, but he can sense her loneliness and Baekhyun doesn't want her to ever feel lonely.

"He smells nice," he adds after a moment, words beginning to slur as his eyes grow heavier. The last thing he hears is a hum before succumbing to sleep, safe and protected in his mother's arms.

 

Baekhyun's father was the Alpha.

Many wolves are alphas, but there is always one in a pack who is the Alpha. Baekhyun has grown up with the members of his pack telling him grand tales of his father that he now knows are exaggerated. When he came rushing home to boast of his father taking down several black bears at once, his mother had laughed and scooped him up in her arms, explaining to him that no wolf, alpha or not, could pull off such a feat. "You need a level head, child," she said. "Not one full of impossibilities."

Since the death of the Alpha, their pack has been declining in numbers. Baekhyun has seen the tears streaking his mother's cheeks each time another family departs. And when he'd asked why they were leaving when they didn't look happy about it, she'd told him that wolves crave a strong Alpha to protect them. Their pack doesn't have that; they only have a council that mulls over decisions and works to find a new Alpha - the right Alpha - while trying to keep the remnants from scattering to the winds. They number only a few dozen now and more losses would be devastating.

Baekhyun thinks he understands. He's just over ten years old and he's beginning to come into his nature. As an omega, he matures slower during his younger years, only to speed through the changes that will claim his future. Alphas have it easier - always a little stronger, a little faster, a little broader. Baekhyun notices now, notices how he wants to tuck himself against one of the other alphas his age instead of holding his mother's hand and he shudders - curiously watching as the alphas wrestle in the dirt. One of them bursts from his skin, a husky brown wolf snapping his jaw at the others until they all, in turn, shed their human form for wolf.

Baekhyun wants to play too, but more than that, he thinks about lying beneath one of them just to feel the heat of his body, the tickle of his fur, the thick scent of safety that would come with the proximity. He trips over his feet, stumbling forward before righting himself, and his mother peers down at him knowingly, fondly.

Even when Baekhyun is left with the other omegas his age, content as Jongin leans toward him with a broad smile oriented at the caterpillar now crawling up his arm, Baekhyun's thoughts linger on this newfound desire to dart back to the playing alphas. Jongin flops his head onto Baekhyun’s lap, nuzzling his face against Baekhyun’s bare belly until he grants Jongin the attention he craves by petting through his hair. The pair of them nap under the midday sun and Baekhyun wakes to a puddle of drool dripping off his shoulder and Jongin’s hair in his face.

When he makes it home later, accompanied by Jongin’s mother, Baekhyun is greeted with a kiss on the top of his hair and a shirt forced over his head. It feels funny. He’s lived his entire life in pants or naked, and while the material isn’t as thick as animal hide, it’s uncomfortable.

“Why?” he complains, pouting at his mother. She’d smacked his hand when he’d tried to take it back off, but he’s seen plenty of the adults running around wearing far less than pants and no one ever forces clothing on them.

She sighs and pulls him into her arms, lips to his temple. “You’re an omega,” she begins, “and with that comes vulnerability. Staying covered will help.”

Baekhyun frowns down at the shirt, plucking it off his skin with two fingers before releasing it and letting it fall into place. He doesn’t understand how such a flimsy thing can offer protection, but he believes in his mother so he stays quiet.

 

At fourteen years old, Baekhyun meets Yixing again. This time, Yixing has to tip his chin down to gaze at Baekhyun, but his smile is the same, his scent just as familiar albeit stronger. His hair has grown out past his chin and his shoulders are broad, muscles beginning to cut against the smooth skin of his arms and chest. Baekhyun finds himself staring. His tongue is glued to the roof of his dry mouth, and he’s thankful for the spring breeze that cools his cheeks.

Yixing, along with the other members of his pack who have made the long journey here, will be staying for a full cycle to replenish their supplies before making the return trip. Baekhyun knows better than to ask why they are here; it isn’t his place. As one of the council members, his mother is privy to the information, but she’s sequestered in the main tent with the rest of them and Baekhyun is left with Yixing.

“Do you remember me?” Yixing asks, head tilting just like it had the first time they met.

Baekhyun huffs out a laugh. “Of course I do,” he answers, a hand coming up to perch on his cocked hip. “You are the only person who has never let me win a race.”

Yixing’s eyes seem to focus on where Baekhyun’s fingers are pushing the fabric of his shirt to his hip, accentuating the way his body curves. The years, and his omega nature, have served to give Baekhyun a slimmer frame with the exception of his hips. They have grown wider, granting him more attention from the alphas his age, now that he’s presenting as a potential child-bearing mate.

Baekhyun usually preens under the attention, enjoying the way their eyes trail after him and the constant offers to be his guard when he goes into the forest in search of berries and mushrooms. But Yixing’s attention clogs his throat, has his hand falling and his posture straightening. Yixing steps forward, eyes a brilliant red that fade into brown, and Baekhyun resists the urge to move away.

“I never let anyone beat me. That’s something you have to earn.”

A shiver races down Baekhyun’s spine and his instincts would have had him falling to his knees, but his strong will has him standing tall, jaw set in a challenge. “Then race me again.”

Yixing quirks an eyebrow at him, amused, but Baekhyun doesn’t back down. It’s not in him to back down. When that becomes obvious, Yixing nods. “Alright. To the river then. No shifting and no shortcuts.”

“Do you remember the way?” Baekhyun teases. After all, it’s been years since Yixing visited their camp and it had only been for a day.

“I can manage.”

“Then on your mark.”

“On your mark.”

Baekhyun scans Yixing’s face contemplatively, scraping his teeth over his lower lip. He suppresses a pleased grin when Yixing is drawn by the action. “Go,” he whispers, pushing off with his feet and moving away from the alpha without a moment’s hesitation.

It was a cheap trick, but one that Yixing quickly overcomes. In no time at all, the alpha is speeding past Baekhyun, disappearing into the trees in the direction of the river. Baekhyun has grown up in these woods and he knows every trail, every tree, every hidden cave perfect for escaping for a while. His feet make little noise over the forest bed even as he speeds across the ground, the scent of dirt wafting into his nose and the leaves overhead rustling faintly as they watch him pass.

Baekhyun’s always been quick on his feet and disappointment burns in his chest when he breaks through the trees and sees Yixing already waiting at the water’s edge, back turned to him. Frustration burns his throat, his fingers curling into fists at his sides and he’s ready to push Yixing into the water out of sheer frustration. If it weren’t for his mother’s face flashing in his mind, he would have.

Yixing looks unrepentant, smug even when he turns to acknowledge Baekhyun’s presence. “I thought you’d be quicker,” he announces.

Baekhyun’s stomach clenches tight at the image of Yixing with beads of water clinging to his face, dripping onto his chest where they roll until they disappear into his pants. He’s barely out of breath and the teasing smile on his face is too much. Baekhyun lunges and Yixing makes a surprised noise when he hits the surface of the water.

Yixing sputters, pushing his soaking wet hair from his face and Baekhyun gives a smug grin of his own before running back to camp, leaving the alpha there with his wounded pride.

 

Yixing has been a guest in their camp for nearly eight days now and Baekhyun is still waiting for his mother to grab him by the ear and demand to know what he was thinking when he shoved an alpha, a guest, into the river. Instead, he gets the same warm smiles she always gives him at the beginning of the day before ushering him off. Baekhyun gazes curiously at the sparring alphas when he passes, pausing to watch Yixing, in his human form, hefting a wolf - Chanyeol - in his arms and tossing him aside.

Baekhyun swallows, breaths shallow and something unfamiliar crawling over his skin. He’s outgrown the need to have his mother walk him to where the other omegas spend their days, but he wishes she was here now to pull him away.

Yixing pushes sweaty hair from his face, laughing at one of the other alphas - Taekwoon - as he tries to take Yixing down and misses. The sunlight bathes Yixing in a glow, creating a beacon that Baekhyun is drawn to without realizing. He’s several steps off the well-worn path and advancing on the alphas when Yixing takes notice, pulling himself away from the others to walk over.

“Baekhyun,” Yixing greets, his cheeks a healthy pink and eyes unfairly bright.

“You didn’t tell,” Baekhyun blurts out. If Yixing was going to tell anyone about what happened down at the river, he would have already and Baekhyun just doesn’t know why he hasn’t.

Yixing tilts his head as he regards Baekhyun. It’s an obnoxiously adorable habit of his. “There was nothing to tell.”

“I pushed you into the river,” Baekhyun sputters, arms flailing a little.

Yixing bends and Baekhyun squints as he peers up at him, heart thundering in his chest. “And if I was going to do something about it, it would be between us,” Yixing says in a soft, almost chiding voice. “I fight my own battles.”

And then he walks off, leaving a bewildered Baekhyun standing in the grass like a fool until Sehun barrels into him and drags him off, yapping about how Baekhyun is supposed to be helping him salt the deer hides and not panting helplessly at the alphas.

“They’re not even that attractive,” Sehun snorts with a roll of his eyes and Baekhyun suppresses a noise of dissent. He knows for a fact that Sehun has been nosing up to a disinterested Kyungsoo lately.

But he allows Sehun to keep complaining throughout the morning until Jongin grows tired of listening to him and shoves Sehun sideways to crawl over him, practically smothering Sehun in his chest as he exaggeratedly comforts his poor broken heart. Sehun only struggles for a moment before surrendering and wrapping around Jongin to cuddle. The two end up falling asleep, leaving Baekhyun with only the company of his thoughts and the squirrels he can hear climbing one of the few scattered trees in the field.

Sprawled in the grass with the midday sun caressing over his skin, Baekhyun wonders about his future, the pack’s future, and his place in the midst of it all.

 

Baekhyun’s wolf is only a few shades off from black, mottled patches of lighter brown scattered over his face and paws. As an omega, his frame is smaller and more agile than an alpha’s, but it doesn’t stop Yixing from pulling ahead as the two of them bound through the open field beside the camp, toward the cover of the trees. The moon is bright and full overhead and Baekhyun almost regrets leaving her light as he darts under a canopy of leaves.

But Yixing is right there at his side, nearly brushing against him as they both squeeze between the same two trees on their run. As soon as Yixing is in front of him again, Baekhyun nips at his heels, howling when Yixing slows to allow him to stay at his side.

This is nice. This isn’t a competition although that flare in Baekhyun’s chest that demands he prove himself burns bright. He just wants to show Yixing that he’s better, that he’s good enough and he isn’t entirely sure why. He doesn’t even know Yixing that well and he’ll be leaving in only a few days so attachment isn’t an option.

Still, Baekhyun doesn’t move when Yixing flops on top of him after their run, the two of them alone in a small clearing surrounded by trees. Yixing is bigger than he is, bulkier, but it’s not uncomfortable. Baekhyun is on his belly, Yixing’s head over his back and they lay there, catching their breath and enjoying the peace that comes after a satisfying run.

This is nice. Really nice.

The river trickles in the distance and there are howls in the air, playful calls thrown out and answered by the others. At one point, Yixing lets out a howl of his own, but it’s low, almost reluctant, and soon enough, several others break into the clearing.

Baekhyun is left on the ground as Yixing bounds onto his paws, deep brown fur catching in the moonlight as he rushes at Chanyeol. The two of them tumble in the grass playfully, Jongdae - another alpha with too much energy - barreling his way into the fight not long after. He’s content to watch, lazy and comfortable with his tail swishing through green blades of grass.

Baekhyun smells Jongin before he feels Jongin laying beside him, half on top of him and whining softly for attention. Baekhyun holds Jongin’s muzzle to the ground with a paw and runs his tongue over Jongin’s ears until Jongin’s whines are replaced with pleased sighs. He’s a spoiled wolf, not much younger than Baekhyun, and yet Baekhyun can’t help wanting to take care of him.

Sehun eventually noses his way between them, demanding attention and both Baekhyun and Jongin give him an aggressive tongue bath until he pulls away, laying across both of them instead. They spend the rest of the night in a pile, amused at the antics of the alphas still embroiled in their wrestling and play fighting. It’s one of Baekhyun’s more memorable full moons.

Yixing leaves a few days later, tossing Baekhyun a smile over his shoulder. Baekhyun stands at the edge of the camp until they’re out of sight.

 

Chanyeol is an imbecile.

The idiot is currently stuck in a tree after going up for one of the few budding flowers along the upper branches. And not only that, but the moment he’d realized how high he was off the ground, he’d shifted into a wolf, wrapping his limbs around the branch and refusing to move. Jongin is staring up at Chanyeol in disdain with a bit of mild amusement thrown in. Sehun, however, is in stitches, doubled over with his arms around his stomach as Chanyeol whines for help.

It doesn’t matter that he could probably fall down to the ground and walk off without so much as a scratch. Chanyeol is stubborn and scared and Baekhyun sighs up at him with pity. This isn’t the way to earn Jongin’s approval or affection. But when Baekhyun had told Chanyeol just as much, the alpha had scoffed and declared it a perfect plan.

Absolutely perfect.

“He’s so embarrassing,” Jongin whines, leaving the scene before Chanyeol’s howls call the rest of the pack to them. Ever since Chanyeol made his intentions to woo Jongin public, Jongin has been the unfortunate victim of secondhand embarrassment on an almost daily basis.

“You sure do know how to attract them,” Sehun teases.

Jongin throws Sehun a dark look. “You were the one pining for him not long ago,” he reminds Sehun. “Why don’t you go seduce him from the tree.” Jongin stomps off with a huff and Sehun scrunches his nose in distaste, but not before giving Chanyeol a thoughtful look.

“We all have our weaknesses,” he admits. “I should probably go get his father because Jongin won’t.”

Baekhyun would never say it out loud, but he does see the appeal in Chanyeol. At seventeen years old, Baekhyun’s right in the middle of a very active, very confusing puberty and his instincts are at an all time high. This includes taking notice of every single alpha with mate potential and, sadly for him, Chanyeol falls in that category.

Chanyeol’s grown up well. His arms are long and strong, his thighs sturdy and his height an advantage that has more than just Sehun glancing his way a second time when he passes. He’s proven himself as a strong hunter, surprising most of the pack because usually he makes so much noise it scares off anything living in a wide radius. His first kill, a young buck, was dropped at a bewildered Jongin’s feet only a month ago.

Jongin had looked faintly ill when he’d marched off, refusing to look at Chanyeol or anyone else for the rest of the day.

Things aren’t much better, but at least Jongin speaks to Chanyeol now even if it’s just complaining about how Chanyeol is drawing too much attention or “yes, I’ll let you sit beside me at dinner, just please take off that poison ivy crown already and don’t touch me”.

Love stories are blossoming all around him as everyone he’s grown up with prepares for adulthood. Sehun seems to rotate through alphas, sighing wistfully about one alpha one day and whispering excitedly about another only days later. It’s adorable and Baekhyun doesn’t mind when Sehun curls against his side to describe his latest infatuation. Even Joonmyun, an omega a year older than Baekhyun who always seems to have his head on straight, gets a pink tinge to his cheeks when Kyungsoo is around.

Baekhyun doesn’t have a love story. Not yet. He’s just not that interested, which seems to suit his mother just fine. She asks every now and then, testing the waters to see if some alpha has caught Baekhyun’s attention. Baekhyun notices her stiff posture, the tension in her shoulders that drains away when he professes his disinterest.

He supposes it’s a natural reaction. She’s alone and when - if - Baekhyun takes a mate, he’ll be leaving their tent and she’ll have no one to keep her warm through the cold winter months, no one to groom when she gets agitated. Her council responsibilities are beginning to weigh her down, soft wrinkles now permanent around her eyes and the rogue gray hair invading rich brown.

Baekhyun helps as best he can, knowing it will never be enough.

 

The pack is huddled around a large fire, the council all grouped on one side together as the others squeeze in. Jongin is squished on one side of Baekhyun and Sehun is on the other, nearly draped in his lap. Baekhyun is occupied, a hand petting through Sehun’s hair and the other gently massaging the nape of Jongin’s neck. He’s antsy, a knot twisted in his stomach because his mother has been on tenterhooks all week, only to dart out just before the bonfire was started.

With their dwindling numbers, Baekhyun estimates their food stores are more than plentiful enough to provide for those still here, so he’s uncertain why there are so many hushed whispers, so many worried faces. It’s getting close to winter and the wind that blows through sends a shiver across the back of Baekhyun’s neck and down his spine. Jongin shifts closer, slipping an arm around Baekhyun’s waist.

When the representative from the council steps forward, Baekhyun sits up straighter and the pack grows quiet. “We’ve been struggling for some time now,” Baekhyun’s mother begins. It’s always her who speaks with everyone - relaying news and decisions from the council. As the former Alpha’s mate, she’s trusted and loved and it only makes sense. “Changes must come for us to survive. Permanent changes.”

Baekhyun notices the way his mother’s gaze blinks over toward him before sliding back to the front and worry takes root.

“Over the years, you’ve all become accustomed to a neighboring pack’s members visiting and taking in our hospitality. They come from far off to the north in the mountains where their numbers have grown too large for their meager hunting grounds. Our packs have finally come to a mutually beneficial decision. During the next week, a group from their pack will arrive and they will be here to stay.”

Baekhyun can’t help it, drawing in a sharp breath as he thinks of Yixing. Will Yixing be coming? He’s not the only one who’s reacted either; there are murmurs and whispers and Jongin no longer looks in danger of falling asleep on Baekhyun’s shoulder.

“Their younger alphas and omegas will flesh out our ranks, will become our pack and we will finally thrive again.”

The news is met with excitement, cheers and whoops rising through the group. But Baekhyun is left more curious at what his mother has left out. Mutually beneficial? It seems to him that adding more bodies to an already wounded pack isn’t going to heal it. It will only make it fester. They need an alpha.

Baekhyun still lets himself be pulled into the excitement that’s circulating, laughing even as Sehun and Jongin tug him off the ground to move nearer to the crackling fire. It’s infectious, their smiles and wild dancing and the cacophony of howls ringing through the night air. Baekhyun falls easily to the positivity running rampant, forgetting his doubts for a little while.

He looks through the crowd for his mother and finds her staring at him, her expression unreadable and lips pursed in a thin line. It only lasts for a moment before Chanyeol is grabbing him by the arm to guide him deeper into the celebration.

 

It’s nearing sunset when their new pack members are spotted, a full two days after the announcement. The entire camp’s been alive with renewed energy during the wait, cleaning the tents left empty and pulling out supplies for more in case they’re needed. Baekhyun had tried to ask his mother why she didn’t seem as happy as everyone else, but she’d brushed it off, saying she hadn’t been feeling well. Baekhyun could smell the lie on her, but also the apprehension so he’d backed off.

Baekhyun is one of the many people who stand in the field to greet the newcomers, most of them offering to take the large bags from their backs and to escort them inside. He lifts himself on his toes, lower lip in his teeth as he searches for a familiar face; there are so many he doesn’t recognize. Baekhyun’s stomach sinks when the line begins to dwindle, and he’s left out on his own as the pack - new and old alike - rush toward the camp.

“Were you looking for me?” comes a voice from beside him and Baekhyun startles. He doesn’t even have to turn to know it’s Yixing because he smells him first. Yixing’s voice has gotten deeper, smooth and silky.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Baekhyun grumps, turning to ask Yixing what could possibly make him think that. But when he sees Yixing, the words choke and die in his throat. Yixing’s grown taller, broader, filling out so much better than Chanyeol. His hair is shorter although his bangs fall nearly in his eyes. It suits him.

“I wouldn’t presume to,” Yixing answers without pause. Baekhyun’s still a little entranced at the way his mouth moves, how the swell of his lower lip looks like something he wants to roll between his teeth. “Baekhyun?” Yixing questions, eyebrows furrowed.

Baekhyun hums in response, distracted until the weight of one of Yixing’s bags lands on his shoulder. “Ow,” he hisses, shooting a glare at the alpha beside him.

“If you went through all the trouble to wait for me, the least I can do is allow you to help and keep me company the rest of the way to camp.”

Baekhyun’s nose scrunches and his lip curls as he regards Yixing even as the alpha walks off. “Jerk,” he grumbles under his breath, hefting the bag and following him.

 

There are over twenty new members of the pack. Baekhyun had tried to pay attention to introductions, but he’d been distracted because Yixing was the one who’d stepped forward to speak.

Last night, they’d parted ways at the front of an empty tent, Yixing plucking the bag from Baekhyun with ease and thanking him before walking inside. Baekhyun had loitered for a few minutes, unsure if he should follow and try to help him set up or leave. Eventually, Yixing had poked his head out and claimed he was tired so he was going to sleep off the journey. He’d added that Baekhyun was free to join him and Baekhyun had huffed before storming off. “Not on your life,” he’d muttered only to hear Yixing’s laughter behind him.

There are new scents in the air. They’ll become familiar soon, melding with the pack, but right now they’re strange. Except Yixing’s. That one tickles along Baekhyun’s senses and he backs away slowly for fresh air, apologetic for leaving but he needs to clear his head. It’s going to take some getting used to.

Yixing’s only ever been around long enough to be a flickering memory, a dream perhaps that Baekhyun wakes from and lets fade until reality brings him back. But now Yixing is going to be a permanent fixture and he isn’t sure how he feels about it. Not yet.

Jongin finds him later, settling beside Baekhyun at the edge of the river, his feet splashing into the water beside Baekhyun’s. It’s instinctive the way Jongin’s larger hand slips effortlessly into Baekhyun’s palm, fingers curling together in a loose grip. It’s comforting. Jongin runs his thumb over the back of Baekhyun’s hand, rests his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder and just sits, silent.

It helps.

 

Sehun takes to the new additions with an enthusiasm only an omega pup clamoring for attention can manage. Although Baekhyun suspects it has something to do with a pair of alphas - Luhan and Minseok - whose scents are nearly indistinguishable from each other. They’ve taken to fawning over Sehun, lavishing him with attention as Sehun practically wags his tail at every look, every ruffle of his hair, every brush of skin.

It’s insufferably cute and Jongin has a scathing look on his face as he watches Sehun nose up to Minseok in the distance. Baekhyun knows Jongin well enough to understand that the omega is just having trouble still processing new people even after a week. Jongin’s always been skittish, preferring to keep to himself and a few close friends, which is why Chanyeol’s very public courting is doing more harm than good. It’s also why Jongin whines low in his throat when Sehun comes over, reeking of the two unfamiliar alphas.

“Consider me the bridge,” Sehun comments lowly, crouched in front of Jongin who is visibly trying not to recoil. “If you get used to their smell on me, it will be easier to accept them.”

It’s an earnest offer and one that has Jongin reluctantly accepting Sehun’s proximity even if he still seems wary. Of course, Sehun is a persistent boy and it’s not long before he’s wrapped all around Jongin, butting his head against Jongin’s chin because he wants Jongin to scratch through his hair. Jongin pulls a face at Sehun before sighing and complying as Baekhyun watches on, amused.

A strange scent flits through the air and Baekhyun tenses, the other two unaware of their guest. Baekhyun peers up at a ridiculously long body topped with a head of unruly blond hair that falls into unsure eyes. If it weren’t for his sweet omega aroma and the way he seems to shrink in on himself, scuffing a foot in the dirt, Baekhyun would have thought him an alpha.

“Is it alright if I join you?” he asks timidly.

Baekhyun nods, patting the ground beside him as Sehun and Jongin progress to wrestling, rolling further away while they nip and grab and laugh. The man hesitates only a moment before taking up the proffered spot, shooting Baekhyun a gummy grin that has Baekhyun smiling back at him, less uneasy than he thought he would be.

“I’m Baekhyun,” he introduces, holding out his arm for the new omega to sniff. His nose tickles in the crook of Baekhyun’s elbow and he jerks a little, laughing. And then the omega is returning the gesture and Baekhyun gets a good whiff of him, humming lightly as he puts it to memory.

“Yifan,” he says. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

At this, Baekhyun leans away, eyebrows raised.

“From Yixing,” Yifan clarifies, holding his hands up defensively.

“All good, I’m sure,” Baekhyun comments dryly, mildly apologetic for his tone because it’s not directed at Yifan.

But Yifan laughs, rocking until their shoulders hit together lightly. “Not at all. He says you’re a spoiled brat of a pup and you drive him absolutely crazy.”

Baekhyun sits up straighter, a delighted smile blossoming on his lips. “Really?” he questions, a bit proud of himself.

“There aren’t many who can ruffle Yixing’s calm nature,” Yifan divulges. “But you seem to get under his skin quite nicely from what I can tell.”

Baekhyun decides, in that very moment, that he likes Yifan and will become his friend.

 

With Yifan, things are easier. The sometimes too unaware of his own size omega doesn’t mind when Baekhyun pulls him down beside him, a sleepy Yifan draped mostly on Baekhyun who begins asking about the new faces that have infiltrated the familiarity of his pack.

“That’s Hakyeon,” Yifan mumbles, a yawn attached at the end. “He’s an omega, but don’t let that fool you. He’ll order people around like an alpha and they’ll listen.” Which is promptly proven when an amused Baekhyun witnesses Taekwoon blink up at Hakyeon and then move after the omega says, “scooch”. Hakyeon wiggles next to Taekwoon, nibbling on his breakfast as Taekwoon peers at Hakyeon with interest that he tries to veil.

A more permanent chill is beginning to settle in the air, lingering longer in the morning hours before the days grow warm. Autumn is encroaching and Baekhyun can’t say that he minds the presence of an overly large omega who blocks the wind and keeps him warm. Plus, it’s always a bonus when Baekhyun catches Yixing looking their way, the alpha’s shoulders tense and his expression unsure as if Yifan is giving away all his deepest, darkest secrets. It’s a pity that Yifan hasn’t.

It’s easy to keep Yifan at his side, washing up after their meal, taking their time about things because Baekhyun’s always a little slower in the mornings, a bit sluggish to get a good start to things. His mother used to threaten to dump cold water over his head, but she never followed through. By the time the duo leave the area, the rest of the pack is already occupied with other activities.

“And that’s Zitao,” Yifan explains, gesturing to the boy who has his thighs locked tight around Yixing’s waist. Baekhyun pauses to admire his physique, the way his muscles stand out until Yixing wrestles free and pins Zitao underneath him in a flurry of movement that leaves Baekhyun amazed, not to mention a little dazed; and he stumbles when Yifan pulls him along to go meet with the others for their daily chores. They need to ensure everyone has enough clothing for the upcoming winter.

Unlike the first few days, Jongin doesn’t shy away from Yifan when they take up a spot in the circle. They’ve been spending their time repurposing all the furs the new pack members brought with them from the mountains for a lighter winter. Jongin is subtle about scooting closer to the pair, but Baekhyun sees the pleased smile that spreads over Yifan’s face when Jongin bumps up against him, shoulder to shoulder, and doesn’t move.

It’s not quite as easy for Baekhyun. He finds himself not purposely, but sort of purposely avoiding Yixing. Sometimes it’s not even a conscious thing. Baekhyun’s wolf will catch a whiff of Yixing in the air and veer around until the air is clear again and his heart stops pounding. He doesn’t know what it means and when he tells Sehun, the omega just narrows his eyes with a stupid smirk on his face.

“You have a crush,” Sehun teases, only to get shoved to the ground an instant later. He wheezes, air knocked from his lungs as Baekhyun pins him easily. “Crush,” Sehun repeats, unapologetic. “You totally have the hots for Yixing!”

Baekhyun slaps both hands over Sehun’s mouth, freeing the omega’s hands from where he’d rendered them useless. “Shhhhhhh!” he orders, glancing around to make sure no one had been in hearing distance.

Sehun uses Baekhyun’s distracted state to roll, sitting on top of a startled Baekhyun. “I won’t tell,” Sehun promises, a sudden serious set to his face. Then he dips forward and pushes his head underneath Baekhyun’s chin and sighs. “Scratch my head,” he whines a moment later and, well, Baekhyun finds it impossible to refuse.

Sehun may still bound around like a pup, but he’s more mature than others older than him. Like Chanyeol. Even from where they are, far away from the camp, Baekhyun can hear Jongin’s whining as he storms through the field and toward the woods, Chanyeol on his heels. “Finesse,” is what Baekhyun had advised him. The alpha clearly doesn’t understand the meaning of the word.

 

Yixing approaches Baekhyun a few days later and Baekhyun’s skin prickles at his proximity, but he holds his ground. There’s a group of omegas sitting out behind the tents on the edge of camp and most of them shrink away, leaving Baekhyun alone and exposed. The traitors. Yifan’s the only one who looks apologetic. Joonmyun just appears disinterested, too immersed in sorting the berries in front of him.

Yixing crouches beside Baekhyun and Baekhyun struggles not to let his eyes wander down the expanse of Yixing’s chest. There are several worn leather bracelets around Yixing’s right wrist and Baekhyun focuses on those instead.

“I’ve been expecting you to jump out and demand to race me,” Yixing comments. “But the only running you seem to be doing is away from me.”

Baekhyun only flinches a little, scowling down at the ground between Yixing’s feet. “Racing is for children,” Baekhyun sniffs.

Yixing outright laughs, flopping back to sit on the ground with his face scrunched up in amusement. Baekhyun’s lip curls and his fists ball in his lap. “So you’re grown now?” Yixing taunts, pointing at Baekhyun.

Baekhyun snarls as he bats Yixing’s hand away. “More than you, clearly,” he spits. His stomach is twisting and his heart is racing, but Baekhyun thinks he would rather slap that grin off Yixing’s face than nose up to him. Sehun was wrong. Baekhyun definitely does not have a crush on Yixing.

“Or is it that you know you can’t beat me no matter how much you practice?”

Baekhyun’s eyes widen at the challenge. The other omegas whisper amongst each other as Baekhyun stands, hands on his hips when he stares down at the laughing alpha. “Fine. Let’s race. I’ll leave you eating dirt.”

Yixing raises to his full height, an eyebrow raised and a knowing smile on his stupid face. “How about away from the river this time. I’m not in the mood for another swim.”

“To the clearing then,” Baekhyun declares, attempting not to give away how much his skin is buzzing from how close they’re standing. His instincts want him to curl into Yixing’s arm, bump underneath his chin like Sehun often does for affection. And Baekhyun hates it. He hates that he doesn’t feel this way around the other alphas. When Chanyeol bounds over or Jongdae sneaks around to rest his chin on Baekhyun’s shoulder, Baekhyun enjoys the attention but there’s no visceral need to submit. Not like this.

“Should I give you a headstart?”

Baekhyun bares his teeth, eyes glinting amber for a second as his wolf rises threateningly to the surface.

“I rescind the offer,” Yixing wisely states, although he appears more intrigued than apologetic. “On my mark this time.”

“Fine,” Baekhyun snarls, lip curled.

“Go!”

The two of them start with such force that they leave dirt flying in their wake and Baekhyun hears the cheers from the others behind him, grinning to himself. He hasn’t necessarily been pouting at certain dextrous alphas to run with him just to get a little faster only so he can best Yixing, but he hasn’t been sitting down and not practicing either.

And yet . . .

Baekhyun loses spectacularly. There is no water to push Yixing into, so Baekhyun storms off, angry tears stinging his eyes and fists clenched so hard he’s trembling. His nails threaten to pierce his palms and he’s far into the woods before he gives out a scream of frustration.

He does not like Yixing.

 

“It’s all in the haunches. Yixing’s thighs could probably keep a mountain lion pinned.” Chanyeol doesn’t seem to know when to keep his mouth shut. There’s half-chewed food rolling around on his tongue and Baekhyun recoils when some of it comes close to shooting out of his mouth because he won’t shut up.

“I don’t care about Yixing’s thighs,” Baekhyun complains. “I don’t care about Yixing’s anything.”

Chanyeol doesn’t seem to hear him. Or at least he doesn’t give any indication of doing so because his lips are still moving. Beside him, Jongin looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, but sitting beside Chanyeol had been the only way to stop him from howling earlier. Baekhyun is rather certain Jongin is going to intentionally infest Chanyeol with fleas before the cooler weather kills the pests off.

“Even with my long legs, I can’t beat him.”

“I’ve heard no one has,” Jongin supplies, finally pulling his grimace from Chanyeol in favor of picking at his own food.

Chanyeol seems to suddenly notice that someone else is speaking. Big surprise. He raises an eyebrow at Jongin, leaning toward him. “Oh yeah? And who is your mystery informant?”

“Yifan,” Jongin replies, tipping away from Chanyeol. “Sit up straight before I fall over.” And when Chanyeol doesn’t, Jongin shoves him. Chanyeol grunts when he lands on his side, sending a pout at an indifferent Jongin. “Yifan mentioned that their former pack used to hold races all the time and Yixing has won them all since he turned twelve. He even beat their Alpha.”

Baekhyun isn’t impressed even if his heart is pressing against his ribs, chest swelling with something like pride that he has no right to feel. It’s not as if it’s his accomplishment, so why is a smile fighting to find its way onto his mouth? “Seems exaggerated to me,” he grumbles, staring down at his bowl.

There’s more meat than they used to have. A lot of the wolves that joined were great hunters that never had the chance to prove their skills in over-hunted lands. Now they have far more territory to cover and Baekhyun’s belly is going to get soft and pudgy if they keep feeding them this way. Perhaps an extra layer isn’t such a bad idea for the winter months.

He eats his fill as Chanyeol struggles with Jongin, wanting him to take the rest of Chanyeol’s food. Jongin eventually gives up, standing and leaving Chanyeol behind. Baekhyun has no sympathy for the pouting alpha. “Baek,” he whines.

“Don’t,” Baekhyun warns. “You’ve done the opposite of everything I’ve advised. My services are now closed to you. Go bug someone else with your lovesick problems.”

“But you’re the closest to him,” Chanyeol grumbles, scooting closer to Baekhyun.

“Sehun -”

“Sehun won’t talk to me.”

Baekhyun snorts. “Probably because you practically laughed in his face when he admitted he liked you, you jerk.” Baekhyun swats at Chanyeol, the back of his hand hitting against the firm muscle of his bicep. Something new ripples through Baekhyun at the contact. Oh. That’s actually rather nice. Baekhyun fits his fingers around Chanyeol’s upper arm, enjoying the fact that they can’t reach all the way. He swallows, distracted. Alphas feel really nice.

It should be awkward. It’s awkward, right? To run curious fingers down the arm of someone he’s grown up with, laughed with, fought with, been perpetually annoyed with. It’s awkward. And yet it’s not at all because this is what omegas do. They’re drawn to alphas and Baekhyun is leaning toward Chanyeol now, too focused on what he’s doing to notice the reactions around them.

“Baek?” Chanyeol questions, pulling away when Baekhyun tries to grab him with his other hand. He’s half in the dirt, propped on his elbow and panting as he stares at Baekhyun in question. It’s only then that Baekhyun realizes how hot he feels, how fluttery his heart is beating and he shakes his head to clear his thoughts.

There are other members of their pack around them, gawking. They’re not even being discreet about it and Baekhyun’s stomach churns.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, standing and wiping at his pants to brush off dirt that isn’t there. “Sorry,” he repeats, and then he’s gone. Running. Running so far away.

His skin draws too tight against his bones, his nerves under pressure until they burst. White spots dance in his vision and Baekhyun is sinking to the ground, ripping out of his human form and into a wolf. He seldom loses control over his shifting; the last time had been when he was a small child, upset because he’d been stung by a bee. This time, it’s because his natural instincts have decided to come out and play, and they’re stronger than ever before.

Baekhyun darts into the forest, following one of the paths he’d made years ago. There’s a fallen tree buried deep in the forest, the roots a maze of knots and the trunk eaten with mushrooms and insects. But underneath - underneath is an opening just large enough for Baekhyun to fit inside. The rotting wood helps mask his scent. Baekhyun doesn’t want to be found.

He curls in the dirt, tail tucked between his hind legs. It’s completely ridiculous how crazy he feels. Touching and getting into each other’s personal space is standard for wolves. They crave it, desire to be surrounded with those they call pack. So why does the way he was drawn to Chanyeol have his stomach twisting into a knot? Why is this something to panic over?

And why had Chanyeol reacted that way? Chanyeol’s never pulled from him before unless it was because Baekhyun was on his back, tugging at his hair while they were playing. Something about it was different. Baekhyun whines softly, closing his eyes to calm himself. It’s easier when he’s a wolf. The world is clearer, simpler.

Shrunk down this small, he can control the emotions running through him. It's the animal who comes out to tame the panic until Baekhyun is calm. Or at least calmer. As an omega, he's always known that his maturity is going to include new insights and reactions, but he hadn't been expecting it. Not one like this. Not with Chanyeol. And it isn't even specifically Chanyeol that triggered it. It was just another part of Baekhyun.

Once he understands what's coming over him - some stronger reaction to an alpha's physical presence and the strength he can provide - Baekhyun can come to terms with it, tuck it away and learn how to handle it when it happens again. He probably spooked poor Chanyeol. He had also probably flooded the entire area with pheromones without realizing. He's going to have to learn to control that too.

It's the same as when he'd first started noticing alphas, only now it's a kick to the gut when he thinks about one. Even Yixing. Baekhyun curls tighter in on himself when an image of the alpha floats through his mind. He doesn't even know why he thinks of Yixing, but he won't go away.

He knows that Yixing is stronger than Chanyeol even if he's more compact. They'd all witnessed the ease with which Yixing could toss Chanyeol around when they were fighting. It has Baekhyun whimpering into the dirt, wanting to seek out the alpha just to be near him.

Baekhyun keeps himself hidden, separated from the pack until he gets a handle on himself. Night falls, the curling edges of sunlight receding over the forest floor until there's nothing but darkness. There are all sorts of creatures out in the woods, the voices of the wilderness surrounding him. It's calming, soothing. It helps Baekhyun relax and pull himself together. Everyone will probably be worried by now. Except maybe Jongin. Jongin understands more than anyone else how important it can be to escape.

Baekhyun finally crawls out and pads toward home, catching fresh trails of pack members through the trees the closer he gets to camp. They've been searching for him. He's nearly there when he bumps into Yixing.

Baekhyun scents him first, freezing in his tracks until Yixing’s prowling form comes into view. Yixing rushes toward him, barreling into Baekhyun who stumbles back, ears flat and front paws lowered to the ground. He's apologizing and Yixing is nipping at his ears in acceptance, nudging Baekhyun forward. They walk in step, side-by-side and Baekhyun's wolf is trembling, wanting to push himself at Yixing and bury his nose in Yixing's fur. It has to be his new instincts coming through because otherwise, Baekhyun wouldn't want to have anything to do with Yixing.

Even if Yixing escorts him all the way to his tent where his mother is waiting. He turns to watch as Yixing pads off toward the tree line, stopping to loose a howl into the air, calling everyone back. Baekhyun nearly runs to him, gut clenched tight and body thrumming with the desire to be close to him, but his mother finds him first.

She hugs him, scratches around his ears and then smacks him right on the rear end for making her worry. Baekhyun decides that maybe he'll just stay as he is for the night. Wolf. He doesn't feel like answering any questions.

 

Baekhyun skirts where the alphas are working in the morning, hunched down on himself - making himself a smaller target as he makes his way to where Yifan should be. He'd slept through breakfast, and his stomach is still too unsteady to eat. There's a circle of omegas by the furthest tents in camp - where the unmated alphas live to provide a first line of defense should anyone or anything attempt an attack. The omegas are close to the center and the largest tent is reserved for the council meetings in the center of camp, leaving the mated pairs to spread out as they please.

Baekhyun slinks toward them, easily slipping next to Yifan almost unnoticed. Yifan settles his arm around Baekhyun's waist and tucks him closer, nuzzling Baekhyun's hair softly with his cheek before righting himself. On Yifan's other side, Jongin is listing, his hand wound in Yifan's far larger one. It's nice to see Jongin opening up to someone new.

They're still piecing together furs; everyone in the pack has more than enough for winter, so they're making the rest into blankets for the older members and those prone to falling ill in the colder weather. Yifan has one half on his lap, leather string binding the edges together with another and Baekhyun smooths his hand out on the soft fur.

"Baekhyun, can you give me a hand?"

It's Joonmyun and the expression on his face leaves Baekhyun with little room for argument. It isn't often that the two of them converse because Joonmyun is of the practical persuasion, speaking only when necessary. Baekhyun usually watches him from afar as an example. One he sometimes isn’t so good at following, but Joonmyun isn’t known for having fun.

Baekhyun peels himself away from the comfortable warmth of Yifan's side and crawls his way over to where Joonmyun is working on a set of white furs. He's hesitant, sitting close but not too close. Joonmyun's never been the cuddling type. So he's surprised when Joonmyun scoots until their thighs are pressed together and he can rest his head on Baekhyun's shoulder.

"If you need to talk about yesterday afternoon, I can be an ear," he offers quietly. His voice is low and since they're at the far end, no one else is close enough to hear.

Still, Baekhyun tenses at the mention of his behavior the day before. Joonmyun is there, his nose pushed to Baekhyun's jaw to calm him and an arm around his shoulders to pull him closer.

"It's alright," he assures Baekhyun. "I went through the same thing. I know what you're going through."

"Really?" Baekhyun asks, a little louder than intended because several curious eyes flicker over to the pair.

Joonmyun is smiling at him, one of those genuine smiles that brightens his face and curls his eyes into crescents. He doesn't offer a lot of those and Baekhyun relaxes against him, reaching out for Joonmyun's other hand to play with his fingers. It's always easier if Baekhyun has something to distract himself.

"I was a little older than you are when I first felt it. It was like someone sucked all the air from my lungs. I thought I was going into heat early," he confesses, shaking his head and letting out a sigh. "But it was just another step toward it. My father tried to keep me locked up for days after, just in case. All it managed to do was make me go stir crazy."

“I was too afraid to go near the alphas this morning,” Baekhyun confesses. “Yixing found me last night and I -” He swallows, glancing around to ensure no one is paying attention to them anymore. “I wanted to knock him over and use him as a blanket. I nearly ran after him and made a fool of myself.”

Joonmyun pets softly through Baekhyun’s hair. “You’ll learn to control it. We all do. Keeping away from the alphas is only going to make it worse. You need exposure. I suggest Chanyeol since you two are close and there’s no chance of you actually wanting each other.”

Baekhyun snorts in amusement, a laugh caught in his throat. “You’re definitely right about that.”

“You should ask him. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind sitting around with you for a while. Besides, maybe if you two spend enough time together, you can impress upon him all the wrong ways he’s going about courting Jongin.”

Baekhyun gawks at Joonmyun, impressed. “Thank you for noticing. I’ve been telling that mutt he’s going about things wrong, but he’s so stubborn.”

“I’m not sure how much more Jongin can put up with.” Joonmyun’s worried, his eyes resting on where Jongin is curled lazily against Yifan, his lips moving as he speaks and Yifan grinning beside him. “And I’m worried about what it will do to Chanyeol when he rejects him.”

Baekhyun must admit, he’s had the same thoughts. Jongin isn’t warming up to Chanyeol’s advances, but Chanyeol is too stubbornly bull-headed to do anything other than plow on until he reaches his goal. “That does seem to be where this is headed,” Baekhyun sighs.

He knows Jongin doesn’t like hurting people’s feelings; he’ll bend over backwards to make others happy. But he’s also not going to lock himself with a mate he doesn’t truly want to be with. And his patience with Chanyeol is growing thinner by the day. Something drastic is going to have to happen one way or another. Baekhyun might as well try to soften the blow.

Baekhyun ends up spending his afternoon with Joonmyun, enjoying the company as Jongin and Yifan are off in their own little world that’s only occasionally destroyed when Sehun demands attention. Things are nearly back to normal and that makes Baekhyun happy.

 

Chanyeol is nervous; Baekhyun can practically taste it in the air and he glares at the alpha sitting across from him until Chanyeol shrinks in on himself, properly cowed. “I’m not asking you to claim me,” Baekhyun snaps. “Just help me get used to this new . . . “ Baekhyun gestures to his body uselessly. The two of them are sitting in the forest, secluded from the pack and hopefully out far enough that no one will stumble across them. Seclusion, Baekhyun thinks, is the best for this situation.

Chanyeol looks a little guilty. “It’s not that. It’s just . . . you smelled so good the other night. It wasn’t easy pulling away.”

“Which is why I trust you to let me know when I do it so I can stop. You’re a safe bet because there’s no way I’d want to get physical with you.”

“You sure know how to make an alpha feel special,” Chanyeol comments dryly.

“Chanyeol, I treasure you dearly, but I don’t want your knot anywhere near me. Ever.”

Chanyeol visibly shudders. “Yeah, alright. So what do I do? Just sit here and look handsome?”

“Yes,” Baekhyun says. “And let me touch you so I can figure out what triggers it.”

Chanyeol’s eyebrows raise and Baekhyun pulls a face at him until Chanyeol is laughing. “Sorry, it’s just so weird. You want to touch me?”

“Well of course it sounds weird when you say it like that,” Baekhyun sighs, rolling his eyes and pushing halfheartedly at Chanyeol’s shoulder. “Now be quiet you big baby and let me experiment on you.”

Chanyeol makes a noise, but falls silent after, leaning back on his palms so a slant of sunlight that falls through the trees hits his bare chest. Baekhyun keeps still, well aware of the heat that’s seeping into his skin from where Chanyeol’s knees are hitting against his own. He realizes nothing is going to get accomplished unless he does something, but he’s not exactly looking forward to reliving that feeling. He’d been so out of it, not even a little bit in control of what he’d been doing and it’s frightening.

Then again, this is Chanyeol.

Baekhyun slowly tips forward, settling a hand on Chanyeol’s shoulder for balance as he climbs onto Chanyeol’s lap. Chanyeol makes to help him, hands poised to grab Baekhyun’s waist, but he seems to think better of it and places his hands back on the ground. This isn’t so bad. Baekhyun gets a good whiff of Chanyeol’s nervousness and he’s immensely thankful to Chanyeol for doing this for him although he’ll keep that sentiment to himself. Chanyeol’s ego doesn’t need bloating.

Baekhyun sits without moving until Chanyeol relaxes under him and doesn’t look like he’s about to rip out of his skin and go running into the woods on all fours. Before he does anything drastic, like breathe on Chanyeol wrong, Baekhyun tilts his head in question. Chanyeol nods, just the tiniest jerk of his head, but it’s enough. Baekhyun steels himself, taking in a deep breath as he slips his hands from Chanyeol’s shoulders to his biceps.

They’re still firm, hot to the touch although that could just be the sunlight warming Chanyeol’s skin. It’s not so different than usual. The low pull under his skin that drives him to wanting to be around an alpha isn’t any worse than normal. His thumbs push against Chanyeol’s muscle, dragging down to the crook of his elbow and Baekhyun watches the trail of red impressions left behind that vanish nearly as quickly.

It doesn’t happen as suddenly as it had the first time. Baekhyun feels it coming on and steels himself, breathing in and out evenly and watching for any signs of discomfort in Chanyeol’s posture. Chanyeol tenses and Baekhyun pulls back, his hands releasing Chanyeol’s arms until they’re both somewhat comfortable again. It takes proximity and physical contact for this new sensation to sweep through Baekhyun.

He tests it again, fingers tight around Chanyeol’s biceps and running down until Baekhyun’s hands are on Chanyeol’s wrists and his nose is buried in Chanyeol’s neck. He smells like an alpha, like petrichor and trees and grass and strength. A heat blossoms in Baekhyun’s gut and he forces it to back down. Chanyeol notices the change, holding his breath as Baekhyun gets control over himself.

“You know,” Baekhyun mumbles against Chanyeol’s skin, “you’re really screwing things up with Jongin.”

“Can we not talk about Jongin when you’re on my lap with your hands being all . . . handsy?” Chanyeol rasps, still trying to not breathe as Baekhyun’s thumbs brush over his wrists.

Baekhyun finds it amusing and he laughs just a little. “I’m fine, Chanyeol. Smell me.”

Chanyeol’s obnoxious about it, sitting up suddenly and wrapping his arms around Baekhyun’s waist, Baekhyun’s wrists trapped. He inhales deeply and lets the air out with a loud noise. Baekhyun squirms away, nose wrinkled and a laugh stuck in his throat as he tries to fight his way out.

“Chanyeol,” he complains when he can’t get out. He knows Chanyeol isn’t using his full strength - he never does with Baekhyun - and he is still stuck. Baekhyun rocks his weight back and Chanyeol, caught off guard, teeters forward until they’re falling. Baekhyun lands on his back, both his and Chanyeol’s hands trapped underneath him and Chanyeol’s weight pushing the air from his lungs.

Chanyeol groans, wiggling his head so his face is smushed to Baekhyun’s neck. “You’re so comfy and squishy,” Chanyeol compliments. “Time for a nap.”

Baekhyun huffs out another laugh as he stares upward, his view comprised of trees and branches with random bursts of sunlight filtering through. As far as traps go, this one isn’t so bad and it’s Chanyeol so Baekhyun knows he’s safe.

He rethinks things a few minutes later. “I can’t feel my fingers,” Baekhyun complains.

Chanyeol rests his weight on his knees just long enough for their hands to move before he’s slumping again. With a resigned sigh that’s more forced than genuine, Baekhyun finds himself cuddling with the overgrown wolf, petting through his hair until he feels Chanyeol fall asleep on top of him.

It’s warm and safe. And Baekhyun falls asleep not long after.

Baekhyun jolts awake to the sound of a snarl. He tries to dart off, but Chanyeol is still on top of him and the sun has gone down. They’ve been out here for hours. His head is spinning and he sends a dirty look in the direction the sound came from. What Baekhyun doesn’t expect to see is a wolf peering at them, head lowered and ears flat on his head.

It’s too dark to distinguish exactly which wolf it was, but Baekhyun knows that scent. It sends a chill down his spine.

Yixing.

 

The air has an unforgiving bite to it. Baekhyun glares over at their newest pack members who appear unaffected by the drop in temperature. Mornings are the worst. If he had his way, he’d spend the entire time inside his tent, the flap tied shut and his furs piled on top of him. The grass is cold and wet between Baekhyun’s toes and he'll be grumpy until the afternoon sun warms him up.

And he might be - just maybe - the teensiest bit disgruntled that Yixing is now less amiable and more . . . well, ignoring him. After finding Baekhyun lying comfortably underneath Chanyeol in the middle of the forest, lazily napping and doing nothing to be guilty over, Yixing has basically given Baekhyun the cold shoulder. Every time the alpha meets Baekhyun’s gaze, he drops it and pretends it never happened as Baekhyun makes a soft noise, almost hurt. Yixing is acting like a child who had his muzzle thumped for acting spoiled.

Chanyeol is now sporting a few extra bruises that take longer to heal than usual. He complains that Yixing is going to break him in half and while Baekhyun knows Yixing would never, he has no doubt that Yixing could actually do it. He just doesn’t know why Yixing is behaving this way. He knows the pretense of toughening him up is a front.

“Jealousy,” is what Joonmyun suggests.

“Horse shit,” Baekhyun snaps back. The two of them are huddled under a large fur blanket together, side-by-side as they stare forlornly at the logs for the fire that aren’t lit. They won’t be until dusk when someone lights them and Baekhyun shivers again. He’s never liked the cold.

Joonmyun pokes Baekhyun’s side teasingly. “You asked for an answer and I gave you my best one.”

Baekhyun just ducks his head, pulling mindlessly at the blades of grass at his feet. When it becomes clear he isn’t going to respond, Joonmyun sighs.

“How are things progressing with Chanyeol?”

Baekhyun cuts his eyes at Joonmyun.

“Aside from the Yixing development,” he adds with a roll of his eyes. “You seem to be a lot more in control of yourself.”

It’s true. It’s been a few weeks since he started sneaking off with Chanyeol during the day for a few hours just to learn more about himself and how to keep from letting his instincts take over. Sometimes he’s not sure if he’s actually progressing or merely desensitizing himself against an exclusive club comprised specifically of alphas named Chanyeol. But Luhan and Minseok have started making room for themselves by Sehun during meals and since Sehun likes to be near people who spoil him - including Baekhyun - he gets his fill of their scents and their touches when they lean in. And after the low buzz under his skin kicks in as a warning, he knows how to pull back.

“Other than Yixing,” Baekhyun mocks, “it’s much better. I can feel when it starts and it helps to keep it contained.” Honestly, Baekhyun would rather be having this conversation with his mother, but she’s been aloof lately. Always affectionate when she’s around, but she’s hardly around anymore. Baekhyun knows the council is still weighed down with finding an Alpha to keep their newly bolstered pack together and yet it doesn’t seem to be that reason that has his mother is treading just out of his reach.

So Baekhyun leans on Joonmyun - physically and emotionally - for support. Usually Jongin would be his second choice, but he has his hands full with Chanyeol and Sehun’s excitement at getting his two favorite alphas into their circle. It leaves Jongin trying not to visibly pull away and he’s glad Yifan is there as a buffer. It’s fascinating how quickly Yifan has learned Jongin’s tells. Baekhyun only knows them because he’s grown up beside Jongin his entire life.

Across from Baekhyun, turned to the side so Baekhyun can’t see his face, is Yixing. He’s speaking with Jongdae, their heads tilted together and Baekhyun doesn’t know why it bothers him so much that Yixing isn’t paying him any attention. It’s not as if Baekhyun seeks him out; in fact, Baekhyun’s done more of the running away than anything. He’d thought that maybe, once he was under control of himself, he and Yixing could be friends.

Now he’s thinking he’s done something to offend the alpha without realizing.

Tonight is a full moon. The pack always goes running as wolves during the full moon. Baekhyun thinks his best chance at making amends is when he can’t open his mouth and possibly say something to make it worse. Besides, he’s far more comfortable as a wolf when it comes to the presence of an alpha.

The plan leaves Baekhyun antsy, even after Joonmyun practically throws himself on top of Baekhyun to get him to stop bouncing his legs already. Joonmyun has Baekhyun solidly pinned to the ground, a knowing, resigned look on his features as Baekhyun concentrates on lowering his heart rate.

It’s unfortunate that Sehun passes just then because he drops on top of Joonmyun and Baekhyun, bringing a shocked Liyin and Hakyeon with him. Over to the side, Luhan is laughing outright at the sudden omega pile and Kyungsoo looks as if he wants to rescue Joonmyun.

He doesn’t.

Joonmyun complains the most, but he winds up sandwiched between Baekhyun and Liyin with Hakyeon and Sehun tucked to their sides. Baekhyun doesn’t know much of Liyin - she came with Yixing’s group - but she’s always been kind to him and they’ve shared several secret smiles over the fire when Jongdae starts trying to show off and dismally fails. It’s no secret that Jongdae has been enamored with the soft-spoken omega and she has yet to put a stop to it.

“I can’t breathe,” Joonmyun wheezes pathetically.

Sehun just presses closer, a hidden smile nearly closing his eyes. “I’m not falling for that this time.” Sehun licks Joonmyun’s cheek playfully and Joonmyun whimpers. Baekhyun, who is on the bottom of the pile, is comfortable just where he is. When it comes to snuggling, Hakyeon is almost as clingy and warm as Jongin and Baekhyun is happy to indulge even if Hakyeon is coated in Taekwoon’s scent.

Sehun, for all that he's covered in Minseok and Luhan, might as well be an alpha. Baekhyun's happy for him. He's happy for them all - even if his stomach twists at the thought that he's being left behind.

 

The tent Baekhyun shares with his mother is beginning to feel cold and he sighs, glancing over at his mother. She's been quiet today and he wishes he knew why, but asking always provides him with an answer dripping in a lie. She's so tense, wrinkles permanent around her eyes now and a slump in her shoulders. Baekhyun doesn't know what to do. She's always been so strong and steadfast and she's faltering.

And she won't talk to him. Baekhyun's old enough to bear some of that weight and yet he's being kept in place like a pup.

"How are you adjusting?" she asks, breaking the silence that's been eating away at him.

"To what?" Baekhyun answers without thinking, too preoccupied with his own thoughts.

"Our new pack members," she says, her lips pursed and head tilted because obviously that had been a dumb answer on Baekhyun's part.

Baekhyun's mouth drops open on a soft, "oh," and a laugh. "I haven't met many of the alphas, but the omegas are nice. Yifan's been a big help. He and Jongin have gotten close. I hadn't anticipated that, but Jongin needs more people he's comfortable with. Especially now that Sehun is -"

"Has anyone stood out to you? An alpha, perhaps?" She's staring at Baekhyun with that apprehensive look on her face again and he really doesn't know what's going on with her, but he suspects that asking will get him nowhere.

Baekhyun leans back on his furs, shrugging. "No." There was a point where he wanted to spill everything to her - Yixing and how weird he made him feel, the new stage in his development which just made him volatile. Not anymore. She doesn't look like she can handle much more and Baekhyun has Joonmyun to rely on now. "Why?"

Her eyes narrow and she studies him for a heavy moment. "The scent of Chanyeol clings to you," she observes. "I have smelled him on you every single day for weeks."

"Chanyeol's my friend," Baekhyun offers as a weak explanation. "He's liable to rub off on me."

"Have you given thought to the idea that perhaps the reason no alpha has asked to court you is because you smell of another?"

Baekhyun chokes a little on his spit, brow furrowed. He'd been under the impression that his mother didn't want him to find a mate and leave her behind. "If there was an alpha I wanted to court me, I'd make my interest known," he half-lies. "Everyone knows Chanyeol is in the midst of his own weird version of courting Jongin."

"He wouldn't be the first alpha to keep his second choice close in case his first doesn't accept him."

Baekhyun sits up straight, eyes wide. "Chanyeol is not like that! He's my friend and he's been helping me!" There's frustration surging through him and he stands abruptly, cutting off whatever his mother was about to say. He can't continue with this absurd conversation. Not when he feels as if she's backing him into a corner. Not when this tension between them has been building for so long. Something was bound to snap.

It's better outside. For once the chill in the air doesn't bother him. It serves to temper some of his irritation and Baekhyun has the presence of mind to peel off his clothing before he sprints toward the forest. The call of the full moon is stronger, perhaps enhanced by his agitated state, and he wants to put as much distance between himself and his mother as he can.

The sun is dipping low when Baekhyun darts into the trees, letting nature take him over so he doesn't have to think anymore. The leaves are all turning yellow and orange and red, falling to the ground for Baekhyun to tread over, hiding paths he knows by heart. It doesn't slow his steps, letting his instincts guide him deeper and away. He doesn't dare go to where he spends his days with Chanyeol. He veers toward the river instead, hoping that the rushing water will drown out all the thoughts trying to break through.

Baekhyun listens as the animals scatter when he approaches, the prey running from the hunter. If Baekhyun was of the mind to catch a meal, he could. Fortunately for the other denizens of the woods, he's too distracted with other matters.

The last rays of light flicker into darkness as Baekhyun breaks into the clearing by the river bank, his eyes adjusting easily as he slows his gait. No one is chasing him even if it feels that way, if his body just wants to keep running. The water ahead is a welcome sight.

Baekhyun stops along the bank, the tips of his paws teasing the water's edge. His reflection stares up at him, eyes a brilliant amber and ears perked as his visage ripples with the current. The gentle trickling and the light breeze that blows through serves to calm sensitive nerves and Baekhyun flops to his belly. His fur keeps him warm and the water helps lull his eyes closed.

It is several hours before someone else enters the clearing and Baekhyun's ears twitch in mild interest, senses on high alert even if he doesn't move from his position. The achingly familiar scent of Yixing fills Baekhyun with a sense of unease.

He doesn't know what to expect from Yixing. Not anymore. Everything is getting complicated and he misses when it was all so simple, when there was a line and he was either on one side of it or the other. Now he's straddling the line, wavering back and forth and Yixing - somehow Yixing is the cause of it all. Baekhyun had never second-guessed himself or been so distracted and confused until Yixing showed up.

Baekhyun keeps still even as Yixing pads closer. His body tenses, ready to dart away, but it's unneeded. Yixing lays next to Baekhyun, his muzzle pushing at Baekhyun's until Baekhyun turns to face him, finally opening his eyes. Yixing licks him then, whining softly and nudging his face beneath Baekhyun's so he can rest on it.

It's so confusing. As a person, Yixing has been ignoring him, leaving Baekhyun to wonder what he'd done wrong. And now Yixing is attempting to burrow his way beneath Baekhyun even if his wolf is far larger than Baekhyun's. It's cute.

Baekhyun doesn't want Yixing to be cute. He wants to stay irritated at the stupid alpha for being such a wild card, for forever keeping Baekhyun on his toes. It doesn't keep the tension from bleeding out of Baekhyun until he's easily rolled to his side, Yixing draping himself over Baekhyun's middle, resting.

There are howls that pierce the night air and Baekhyun waits for Yixing to answer. He doesn't. Yixing spends the full moon on top of Baekhyun, occasionally nuzzling his way to Baekhyun's ears to lick over them gently.

The two of them pick themselves off the ground and slowly make their way back to the camp once the sun begins to rise. Baekhyun's heart feels full, ready to burst and he has to admit that there's something here. He just doesn't know what.

Yixing escorts Baekhyun all the way to his tent, waiting for Baekhyun to disappear inside before leaving. There's no one inside to greet him and Baekhyun circles his furs before curling atop them to sleep away the morning. Peaceful. Mostly.

 

It's early afternoon when Baekhyun finds himself wandering toward where the others are gathered to eat a late breakfast. No one gets up early the morning after a full moon. From the looks of it, Jongin is still asleep and drooling on Yifan's lap as Yifan uses Jongin's head to balance his bowl.

Baekhyun decides to leave the two in peace, taking up the empty spot by Joonmyun. A simple pout aimed at Joonmyun has the older omega lifting his fur with a sigh, letting Baekhyun cuddle into his side, Joonmyun's arm securely around his waist. Joonmyun's nose presses into Baekhyun's hair and Baekhyun hums, picking a piece of meat from Joonmyun's bowl and popping it into his mouth.

Joonmyun pulls away, eyes wide as he stares at Baekhyun, a smile spreading over his mouth.

"What?" Baekhyun asks, chewing slower because the way Joonmyun is looking at him is too weird.

"You smell an awful lot like Yixing," Joonmyun says with a laugh. "I was wondering why he was in such high spirits." Joonmyun tips his head toward the other side of the circle.

Yixing is there, a broad grin on his face as he laughs at something Chanyeol's just said, hitting Chanyeol lightly on the chest. It's a complete turnaround from how he's been the last few weeks and Baekhyun's heart thuds in his chest. His fingers grasp for Joonmyun's, pulling the omega closer to him for support because he's suddenly feeling light-headed.

Yixing finally notices Baekhyun and sends him a softer, more genuine smile. Joonmyun snorts in amusement beside him as Baekhyun squeezes his hand hard enough to cut off circulation. He smiles back easily, but everything inside him is a maelstrom of confused emotion, battling it out for which one is going to dominate the rest.

Joonmyun doesn't allow Baekhyun the time to sort himself out. As soon as the food in his bowl is gone, he's hauling Baekhyun up with him, the fur falling to the ground. Baekhyun yips at the sudden assault of cooler air and he glares at Joonmyun.

"We have laundry to do and I will not let you pout your way out of it this time. If we get a head start on it, we'll have the rest of the afternoon to relax. Or in your case, pine over a certain alpha."

Baekhyun nearly snarls at Joonmyun as he's dragged away from the pack - and Yixing. "I'm not pining," he whines uselessly.

"You're even less subtle than Chanyeol when he watches Jongin sleeping and I didn't think that was possible."

Baekhyun stops in his tracks, only to nearly topple face first to the ground because Joonmyun jerks him forward again by his arm. "Am I that bad?" he asks out of panic.

Joonmyun laughs and pauses long enough to ruffle Baekhyun's hair fondly. "Only a little."

Baekhyun makes a noise of worry as Joonmyun runs his hand down from where it was, around his arm, to slot his fingers between Baekhyun's and squeeze. "Don't worry," Joonmyun soothes, his voice gentle, "we can't all be as subtle as me."

Baekhyun scoffs, nearly tripping over his own feet. "You're not that subtle," he grumbles. "You've always had a thing for Kyungsoo."

Joonmyun stops, turning to peer at Baekhyun. "Kyungsoo isn't the alpha I want."

Baekhyun eyes Joonmyun critically. "Are you sure?" he questions. "Because I'm pretty sure that you do."

Joonmyun shakes his head and continues tugging Baekhyun along until they've reached the baskets full of dirty clothing that need to be cleaned. Each of them pick up one, leaving the rest for the other omegas to claim later.

Baekhyun hates doing laundry. It leaves his fingers wrinkled and aching and somehow he always ends up with cuts that sting for hours. The only reason he isn't putting up a fight this time is because his curiosity has him picking at Joonmyun the entire walk to the river.

"There are no secrets between us," Baekhyun calls out, barely just avoiding a root attempting to trip him up. He really needs to start paying more attention.

"I have plenty of secrets, Baekhyun, but wanting Kyungsoo as my alpha isn't one of them."

"Because that's not a secret. We all know," Baekhyun is quick to add.

Joonmyun seems more amused than anything. "Kyungsoo is a friend and yes, I wanted him once. That was before and I've come to realize we wouldn't be a good match."

"That sounds so . . . practical," Baekhyun comments, his nose wrinkled. Practicality isn't supposed to come hand-in-hand with finding a mate. It's all about passion and romance and filling in the spaces of each other until there's one instead of two. Or at least that's how Baekhyun sees it. Practical is boring.

"Kyungsoo and I would be volatile," Joonmyun explains. "Besides, crushes come and go. Mating is for life and it's important to be sure. I wasn't sure about Kyungsoo and he respected that. We've both moved on since then."

"Since when? Were you two together?"

Baekhyun sees the small, sly smile slide across Joonmyun's lips. "We were."

"Why didn't I know this?! This is important information!" It really shouldn’t be that surprising. Unlike Baekhyun, Joonmyun has already reached maturity. It would make sense that he’s been with an alpha. Especially during his heats.

"Are you going to be like this all day?" Joonmyun complains, grabbing at Baekhyun before he runs himself into a tree.

“So who is it you’ve decided on?” Baekhyun wheedles, refusing to be thwarted and uncaring that his voice is probably scaring off all the wildlife in the area. “Does he know?”

“He does not,” Joonmyun answers succinctly.

Baekhyun has to speed his steps to keep up, letting Joonmyun guide them toward the river. “Are you planning to tell him? If I was an alpha, I think I’d want to know which omegas were sizing me up.”

They get to a small break in the trees where the river cuts through in a narrower path. Rocks in various sizes are rounded smooth by the waters, littered through the shallowest pools and that’s where they stop to wash the clothing. This part of the river is only used for this purpose. Baekhyun prefers the curve that’s further away - the place where Yixing and he had spent a lovely evening together.

“I’ll let him know when he’s ready,” Joonmyun states, settling on his knees with the basket by his side. Baekhyun follows, peering at his friend’s face curiously.

“How do you know he’s not ready?” Baekhyun pulls a face when he plucks a pair of pants from his basket. They reek of alpha, but there are so many heavy scents mixed together that he can’t be sure which alpha. It leaves a bad taste in his mouth and he promptly drops them in the water as Joonmyun shakes his head.

"Because he's not."

"That's not very forthcoming," Baekhyun complains, most of his attention now diverted to scrubbing the pants over the stones to get the dirt out. After all this is over, he's going to take a long bath.

"If I told you why, then you'd know who it is and no one should know before he does."

Baekhyun curls his lip, unimpressed. "I can keep a secret."

Joonmyun laughs. It rings loud in the trees, echoing until Baekhyun's frown is oriented at Joonmyun and not the sopping wet pants in front of him. "You should focus on your own budding romance."

Baekhyun promptly goes red in the face. "I don't have a romance!" he argues weakly even as he thinks about Yixing's weight pressed against him protectively.

"I can smell that," Joonmyun teases, flicking water at Baekhyun who flinches when the cold droplets hit against his warming skin.

He pouts, but keeps quiet as they both set about their task. The thought of pressing further about Joonmyun's mysterious alpha is set aside in preference of getting the laundry clean so he can be lazy the rest of the day. The sun is already high overhead and he wants to soak in it, but that's hard to accomplish when the trees around them keep most of it from hitting the ground.

It isn't long before Baekhyun hears movement in the trees, other omegas showing up with their own baskets. He catches the scent of Chanyeol - who is arguing to carry Jongin's basket stubbornly - and Jongdae who has possession of Liyin's basket. Such polite guards the two will make. Baekhyun has no doubt that Jongin and Liyin could get out of washing completely with one bat of their eyelashes, but neither of them are the type.

Baekhyun is, but everyone knows he's shameless.

The familiar presence of Jongin is welcome and Baekhyun leans his head on Jongin's shoulder as a greeting. He's missed him. Jongin smells strongly of Yifan and Sehun, both of whom are now crouched over the bank of the river with clothing in hand. Jongin noses at Baekhyun's cheek fondly and the two of them complete their chore in silence.

Baekhyun is content this way even if his fingers are sore and he thinks all he can taste is a mix of alpha scents stuck to the roof of his mouth. Predictably, Joonmyun finishes first, but instead of leaving, he starts helping Baekhyun with his pile, handing off the clean, wet clothing to Chanyeol so he can hang them from the low hanging branches to dry.

Baekhyun still mumbles complaints into Joonmyun's neck as he leans heavily on the omega when their task is done. Joonmyun scratches through Baekhyun's hair affectionately before tweaking his nose. "Brat."

 

Baekhyun finds an even balance within himself and when the cold finally settles around the camp to stay, he finds himself taking up residence in Joonmyun's tent. His mother is never around anymore and he gets lonely, shivering on his bed without another to keep him warm. So Joonmyun invites him in and Baekhyun stays.

Joonmyun still won't divulge the name of the alpha he deems worthy of his affections and Baekhyun knows he won't, but it's fun picking at him anyway.

"Is it Jongdae?" Baekhyun whispers in Joonmyun's ear. He nearly takes a shoulder to the jaw from the sudden jerk of laughter that has Joonmyun doubling over.

Baekhyun thought it was a pretty solid guess even if Jongdae is still doing everything in his power to impress Liyin. It doesn't hurt that Baekhyun finds Joonmyun watching Jongdae, a subtle smile curving one side of his mouth when he thinks no one’s looking.

Joonmyun's mirth draws the attention of a few others and Baekhyun waves them off, a disgruntled frown tugging at his face because he'd been so sure this time. After he'd gotten confirmation from Kyungsoo himself that he and Joonmyun had been together for a while, but had parted amicably, Baekhyun has been on a mission.

It's not that he's that intensely curious, but it's nice to take an interest in his friend in lieu of dealing with the nerve shaking emotions that come with Yixing's mere presence. He's the one alpha Baekhyun hasn't been able to acclimate himself to no matter how many times he scoots nearer just to test how long it takes for the hair on the back of his neck to lay flat again. It never does.

Baekhyun flops backwards, staring up at the sun as Joonmyun tries to catch his breath. The mystery is fun, but frustrating because he can never be sure if he's already guessed the right answer and Joonmyun lies it away. Excepting, of course, for the sudden reactions like this one that tell Baekhyun more than words could. It's definitely not Jongdae.

It wasn't Tao or Yunho or Taekwoon either. He hadn't even bothered asking about Luhan and Minseok because Baekhyun’s pretty certain they've already claimed each other despite being alphas. It doesn't happen often, but Baekhyun's heard of it. He just hopes Sehun doesn't get in over his head because he's still yipping at their heels even now.

"Is it even an alpha?" Baekhyun grumbles, mostly to himself.

Joonmyun lays back in the grass with him, half on top of Baekhyun with his hair tickling Baekhyun's chin. "Yes," he utters with a sigh.

"He's not already claimed is he?"

Joonmyun actually bites Baekhyun's neck enough for him to jolt, trying to jerk away. Joonmyun's weight keeps him held down. "I don't hate myself," Joonmyun says matter-of-factly. "He's unmated and no, I won't be telling you anything else."

Baekhyun grunts, irritated.

"What about you?" Joonmyun asks, tightening the arm he has around Baekhyun's waist.

"What about me?"

"Yixing," Joonmyun states. "When are you going to admit to yourself that you want him?"

Baekhyun should protest. He should shove Joonmyun away and declare that he doesn't think of Yixing that way, but Joonmyun's more observant than the rest and he picks up on what no one else does. Arguing with him would be pointless. It would be a lie to say that Baekhyun hadn’t entertained the notion that he may be drawn to Yixing. He’s an alpha after all. And an impressive one. Baekhyun wouldn’t settle for anything less.

The silence is enough of an answer and Joonmyun doesn't pry. He knows when to let things go, unlike Baekhyun.

"What about Minho?"

Joonmyun groans, Baekhyun rolls them over and behind them, Sehun manages to trip right into them, smashing Baekhyun’s head into Joonmyun's chest.

"Sorry," Sehun whines, draped over Baekhyun's back until Luhan wanders over to pull him away with a chuckle.

 

The pack doesn't make it through the winter unscathed. Baekhyun's gotten used to the sudden absence of families who have chosen to move on, but he wasn't prepared for this. There are raised voices in the center of camp and Baekhyun is one of the many rushing toward them, worried because one of those voices is too familiar to ever mistake. Outside the council tent, with bags over their hunched shoulders and determination set in their features, are Chanyeol's parents.

Chanyeol turns and darts off toward the trees and Baekhyun pushes his way through, following. He can sense Jongin just behind him, along with Joonmyun and Sehun. The anger is radiating from Chanyeol enough that they can pick up on it even from this far back.

A scream rips through the air and Baekhyun sees Chanyeol's fist slam into a small tree, cracking the trunk enough to have it teetering, close to falling.

"Chanyeol!" Baekhyun calls, afraid to reach out because he's never seen his friend this way. Chanyeol never lets his anger get the better of him, but when he spins, his eyes are red and his canines are pointed, pushing sharp into his lower lip. He's so close to shifting and Baekhyun needs him to keep it together long enough to figure out how to help.

"They're leaving," Chanyeol growls.

Baekhyun feels himself stop breathing, stomach dropping. "What?" he questions weakly.

"My family is leaving." Chanyeol looks so defeated, the anger pulling back to show the pain underneath. "They said they can't go through another winter without an Alpha. They want me to come with them."

"Will you?" The question comes from behind Baekhyun. From Sehun.

Chanyeol looks helplessly at all of them, finally resting his gaze on Jongin. “Should I?” Chanyeol sighs, defeat written over a once proud countenance. Baekhyun’s stomach flips, nauseous.

Jongin looks uneasy and he backs up a step, hitting against Sehun who wraps arm around his waist to support him. “Don’t stay because of me, Chanyeol,” Jongin whispers. Baekhyun looks at Jongin, a knot in his throat at the way Jongin’s eyes are wet, his heels dug into the ground. “I can’t give you what you want.”

The jarring silence that falls after Jongin’s words settles heavy in the air and all Baekhyun can make out is Chanyeol’s jagged breathing and the erratic beating of his own heart.

“I’m sorry,” Jongin mumbles.

There are tears running down Chanyeol’s cheeks and he nods, slowly backing away until he’s under the cover of the trees. Then he’s turning and shifting in the blink of an eye to run off. Baekhyun can’t let him be alone and he takes off after him, only to feel a strong grip on his arm, pulling him back.

Baekhyun turns to see Yixing releasing him, snarling at Baekhyun to stay put before he’s shifting just as quickly as Chanyeol and giving chase. He disappears in the shadows and Baekhyun stumbles forward, his hand resting along the split Chanyeol left on the tree. The two are gone from sight and he’s afraid.

Chanyeol can’t leave.

When Baekhyun turns around, Sehun is guiding Jongin toward the camp again, mumbling reassurances in his hair. No one is going to blame Jongin. They all know Chanyeol has been fighting a losing battle anyway. Baekhyun just wishes it hadn’t come down to it this way. He doesn’t want it to be the thing that drives Chanyeol from this pack into another.

The only person still standing is Joonmyun. His lips are thin, his hands balled into fists at his sides and the realization of discovering which alpha Joonmyun has chosen doesn’t fill Baekhyun with the triumph he’d anticipated. It leaves his chest hollow and his limbs heavy as he trudges toward his friend. He pulls Joonmyun into his arms and Joonmyun slumps against him, trying to keep himself from falling apart.

Baekhyun has never seen Joonmyun as anything other than strong. Even if omegas aren't particularly known for their strength, Joonmyun has always been a pillar in their pack and seeing him this way has Baekhyun feeling protective. Joonmyun clings to him, hands twisted in Baekhyun's shirt and tears wetting through the fabric.

He doesn't fight against Baekhyun when he begins guiding them back to the camp. Baekhyun takes a roundabout way, keeping the both of them out of sight which is a lot easier to do when most of the pack is still milling around the council tent as Chanyeol's parents wait for him to return. Baekhyun empathizes with them; he really does. But that doesn't stop him from resenting them for what they're doing.

Joonmyun's tent - and now Baekhyun's too since all his stuff has been moved over - is nestled out of sight, barricaded by a semi-circle of alpha residences, including Yixing's. It's easy to slip inside unnoticed, Joonmyun shuffling with him and allowing Baekhyun to pull him down onto the furs they share as bed.

Baekhyun doesn't say anything; he doesn't need to. He curls around Joonmyun and pets his hair as Joonmyun trembles, choking down the soft noises of his tears. Even now he's trying to stay strong and it just makes Baekhyun's heart ache more.

Baekhyun is conflicted, worried, strained to the limit and ready to burst out of his skin to go hunt down Chanyeol and yet Joonmyun is the anchor that keeps him where he is. Joonmyun needs him right now. Yixing is out there with Chanyeol and Baekhyun knows Yixing will do everything he can to do what's best for Chanyeol. Even if it means leaving the pack.

He can't imagine what Jongin's going through. If Chanyeol leaves, he'll take the blame for it even if it's not his fault. Jongin's too soft-hearted but Baekhyun can't protect him from that. It's a bad situation all around.

Baekhyun understands now why Joonmyun hadn't been forthcoming with who he was attracted to. Chanyeol's been so public and earnest in his attempted courting of Jongin that adding himself to the mix would have been volatile at best. It probably would have caused more pain than it was worth and letting the situation between Chanyeol and Jongin run its course had been the right call.

But now there's a twist and if Chanyeol leaves, Joonmyun will be heartbroken without ever getting to tell Chanyeol how he feels and being heard. There are plenty of alphas who would gladly step in to take care of Joonmyun, to claim him and keep him as their own, but it wouldn't be the same.

Joonmyun eventually falls asleep. His breathing is even and his cheeks are stained when Baekhyun carefully rolls away enough to check on him. Strands of dark hair are in disarray and there's splotches of red dotted along his cheeks and down his neck, but they're fading. He's relaxed enough that Baekhyun can rescue his arm because he lost feeling in it a while ago.

There's fluttering outside the tent, soft footfalls that draw Baekhyun's eyes to the partially open flap. A figure crouches down and Baekhyun catches a glimpse of Yixing beckoning him to come out.

He takes one last look at Joonmyun before leaving. By the time Baekhyun is outside the tent, Joonmyun has already rolled over, curled into a small ball.

"How is he?" Yixing asks, eyes trained on the tent flap.

Baekhyun tilts his head at Yixing, thoughtful. "He's sleeping, so he's fine for now."

Yixing hums, motioning for Baekhyun to follow him and Baekhyun does if only to ensure that their voices don't wake Joonmyun. They end up in Yixing's tent. It's the first time Baekhyun's been in here and the scent of alpha - of Yixing - threatens to flood Baekhyun's system.

"Chanyeol?" Baekhyun inquires, taking in shallow breaths to keep himself calm.

"Angry at the world," Yixing sighs, sitting and patting the spot beside him.

Baekhyun thinks about refusing, but his legs might give out if he stands much longer. He can feel the heat of Yixing beside him and his body reacts, wanting to climb onto the alpha and never let go. Baekhyun mentally shakes his head, irritated that his instincts are fighting with more important issues.

"I would be too," Baekhyun responds after a pointed silence. "Does he know what he's going to do?"

"No," Yixing replies immediately. "But I don't think he'll leave. Even with Jongin's refusal, Chanyeol loves his pack. He loves you and the others too much to go."

The words sound accusatory and Baekhyun flinches, shoulders raising protectively. "We've grown up together. Of course he loves us," he bites back defensively.

"He's loyal," Yixing states. "That's all I meant." Yixing sighs and Baekhyun looks over at him. Yixing’s hair is growing out again, hanging nearly to his shoulders. It will help keep him warm during the winter months - if Yixing gets cold. He’s still running around with just a pair of pants slung carelessly around his hips.

Baekhyun tries not to think about the few glimpses he’s gotten of Yixing wearing nothing at all. It’s not the time or place even if Yixing’s scent is swirling dangerously through Baekhyun’s system.

“I think it’s good you’ll be there for Joonmyun. He needs someone strong to lean on.”

Baekhyun startles. “How did -”

Yixing taps twice on the side of his nose, smiling as he turns to look at Baekhyun. “Keen sense of smell. Joonmyun’s scent would always shift when Chanyeol was around even if he didn’t physically react.”

“Is there anything you’re not good at?” Baekhyun grumbles under his breath.

Yixing peers at Baekhyun thoughtfully. “Figuring you out,” he answers. “I never know where I stand with you.”

Baekhyun’s chest feels oddly tight. “Good.” Baekhyun leans his weight against Yixing - a moment of weakness. “It’d be annoying if you knew how I felt before I did.”

“So I haven’t driven you away completely?” Yixing teases.

Baekhyun shoves at Yixing lightly. “Not completely.”

"It's not easy," Yixing confesses after a few moments of silence. "Even after visiting a few times, this place is so different from my old home and I'll wake up, forgetting that I'm not a part of that pack anymore."

Baekhyun reaches out without thinking, taking Yixing's hand in his own. Yixing squeezes and Baekhyun squeezes back.

"I know both packs are better off this way. I know I'm a part of this one now." Yixing sighs, staring down at their linked hands. "Still . . . "

Baekhyun can't possibly understand what Yixing is feeling, but he can sense some of the sorrow and longing. It has him allowing Yixing to draw him nearly onto his lap so he can rest his cheek on Baekhyun's shoulder, keep an arm around his waist to hold him steady. Baekhyun's skin prickles and his heart races and he can't fight down this urge to bare himself to Yixing. It's terrifying.

Yixing breathes him in deep and suddenly lets go. "You should go back to Joonmyun," he rasps, his voice oddly pinched. "I'll keep you informed if Chanyeol shows up again."

Baekhyun can't do more than nod and crawl his way out, gulping down fresh, non-Yixing tainted air when he gets outside. His body is buzzing, his head spinning and why doesn't he have this same reaction with all the other alphas? What makes Yixing so special?

He stumbles into his tent with Joonmyun and shuts them in, now lying with Joonmyun to calm himself too.

 

Chanyeol doesn’t make an appearance until the following morning. The camp has been jumpy, everyone on high alert and a guard set up overnight just in case he came back. Everything had been in a fragile, suspended state. Chanyeol is family; he’s pack and those bonds run deep.

Baekhyun doesn’t get to see Chanyeol before the alpha is slipping into the council tent where his parents have been waiting. But Baekhyun does keep near, anxious to see his friend and be there for him whether Chanyeol decides to leave or stay. Joonmyun opted out of keeping Baekhyun company and Baekhyun doesn’t blame him. He’s managed to pull himself together but his eyes are still rimmed in red and Joonmyun needs the normalcy of their usual routine to keep from relapsing.

Baekhyun practically carves a rut in the ground from his pacing, only stopped when Yixing shows up later in the morning, pulling Baekhyun to sit down with him. He knows that Baekhyun won’t leave until he sees Chanyeol so he keeps him company. The silence is more unnerving than Baekhyun had thought. He can’t hear anything coming from the tent and he only hopes that Chanyeol chooses what’s best for him.

He wrings his hands, then wrings Yixing’s hands when the alpha tries to stop him. Jongin joins them, nearly squirming himself directly into Baekhyun’s lap. He’s chewed his nails to the quick and is now picking at the skin on the sides. Baekhyun wraps his arms around Jongin, nose in his hair as Yixing moves behind the pair so Baekhyun can lean back on him comfortably. Jongin’s scent fills Baekhyun’s nose which helps him balance the heat that races through his body at Yixing’s touch. He certainly hopes neither of them notices.

Chanyeol looks like the physical embodiment of a raw nerve ending when he finally steps out. His eyes are bloodshot and he’s lost the color in his cheeks, hands clenched at his sides. Chanyeol’s parents appear next and they turn to walk off, leaving Chanyeol who refuses to watch as they go.

He’s staying.

Jongin and Baekhyun are both on their feet to catch Chanyeol as he falls to his knees.

There's relief at knowing that Chanyeol isn't going anywhere, but Baekhyun also knows that Chanyeol's in pain. He's choosing to let the people closest to him leave and not go with them. There's nothing he can say that's going to make this better, so he doesn't try. All he can do is be there for his friend. Baekhyun pushes his face to Chanyeol's neck, a few tears of his own escaping when Chanyeol's tears wet his shoulder and Chanyeol's arm grips tight around his waist. He's shaking and sobbing and Baekhyun feels helpless.

Jongin keeps murmuring apologies, uncharacteristically open and affectionate with Chanyeol which is probably why Chanyeol is easier to calm. Yixing is there to keep them all from falling to pieces, helping Chanyeol when he finally picks himself up.

"Need a place to stay?" Yixing offers, head tilted and his hand tight on Chanyeol's arm.

Chanyeol sniffles. His face is a red, splotchy mess and he's definitely looked better. But the smile that breaks out is one of his most genuine. "That'd be great."

Baekhyun finds Joonmyun sitting away from the others, busy sorting through berries. He doesn't say anything as he sits, but Joonmyun's back stiffens and he falters, nearly dropping a handful before continuing. Baekhyun rests his head on Joonmyun's shoulder, draping an arm loosely around his waist.

"He's not going anywhere," he whispers.

Joonmyun slumps against Baekhyun, a ragged breath cutting through the air. "Thank you."

The calm that settles in around them is reassuring even if Baekhyun can’t completely relax. He knows Yixing will take care of Chanyeol and Baekhyun is here for Joonmyun. But this entire experience has forced Baekhyun to rethink himself. They’d all nearly lost Chanyeol; Joonmyun had almost lost the alpha he wants to call mate.

Baekhyun’s mouth is thick, his insides in turmoil when he thinks about how he would react if Yixing was the one who might leave. There’s no certainty that it won’t happen one day. The pack is falling apart. Gluing extra pieces to it was never going to fix the problem. And he’s afraid of the day when Yixing realizes that and decides to leave.

As much as he denies it, even to himself, Baekhyun is irrevocably drawn to Yixing and not in the same way that he’s drawn to the other alphas. No, Yixing has a category unto himself. It should have been the only clue Baekhyun needed; he wants to be with Yixing. He can’t say that he wants him to be his mate because he doesn’t know him well enough for that yet. But he’d like to see where it could go.

Now all he needs to do is muster up the courage to say it aloud. To Yixing.

When the time is right.

 

It’s unsurprising when a few more families slip away during the cold nights, choosing to hide their shame at abandoning their pack in the darkness. The sunlight always exposes stripped out tents and a few less bodies during meals. Winters are always the worst and this one hasn’t even started properly. They’re suffering.

Any pack that shrinks too small is suddenly a target, ready for another pack to come in and sweep through. If an attacking pack wouldn’t pick and choose who they believe worthy enough to join them, leaving the others to be hunted or left behind, it wouldn’t be so terrifying a thought. But it’s a real threat and Baekhyun fears for them all.

He worries that Yixing and the others who came down from the mountain with him will realize this pack isn't worth sticking around for and they'll leave too. It's this fear that keeps Baekhyun hovering around Yixing even as he tries to bring the smile back to Chanyeol's face. Normalcy is what Baekhyun craves despite everything trying to fall apart around him.

Things like pack security weigh heavy on the pack council and the glimpses of his mother that Baekhyun catches are heartbreaking. He knows she is shouldering all she can and every time he tries, she pushes him away. She's chasing him away and he doesn't understand. It hurts. He promised her he'd always be there to protect her, but how can he when she doesn't want him to?

All he can do is lean on those around him, hoping that he's of some use. Perhaps if he'd been born an alpha, he'd be qualified to be The Alpha and they would have never been in this position.

Joonmyun is a constant. At first he was hesitant, reserved when Baekhyun would sit too near to Chanyeol, but he'd join him anyway. It's getting better. The weeks are dragging on, this dread in Baekhyun growing with them and he feels so stretched thin. Joonmyun notices and so does Jongin. The two of them gang up on Baekhyun all the time now until he feels better.

The first snowfall brings with it an overdue happiness that takes over the camp. Everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, bounds out into the fluffy white piles, yipping and playing and darting around. Snowballs fly through the air and Baekhyun screeches when one hits his neck and the snow slips down the back of his shirt to trail down his spine.

He turns, prepared for vengeance when he spies the glint in Yixing's eyes. Undeterred, Baekhyun barrels on, knocking the alpha onto the ground and shoving a handful of snow right down the front of his pants. Baekhyun is left cackling on a snow pile after Yixing nearly popped into wolf form and rushed off.

"That wasn't nice," Chanyeol laughs, plopping down beside Baekhyun on the snowy ground. He drapes one arm over Baekhyun's shoulders. Baekhyun really looks at Chanyeol. He'd lost weight right after his parents had left, but he's gained most of it back. There's color in his cheeks and he seems happier. Lighter.

"He deserved it," Baekhyun defends. "Probably."

"He's not going to end up like me, is he?" Chanyeol asks after a few moments of silence.

When Baekhyun peers over at him, he seems reserved, almost sad. "What do you mean?"

"Yixing has chosen you," Chanyeol states, leaving Baekhyun to nearly choke on a sharp intake of frigid air. "Everyone can see it. Do you? Would you accept him if he asked?"

Baekhyun's heart is pitter-pattering and his stomach ties itself into a knot of nerves. He swallows, letting out a calming breath. "If he asked to court me, I would say yes."

"I think he might be the only alpha I've ever met who could put up with you," Chanyeol teases, earning himself an elbow in the ribs.

"You're no prize either," Baekhyun grunts, face scrunched in distaste.

Chanyeol makes a noise of dissent, reaching out to drag his fingers through the snow. "I'm the best catch," he preens. "It's not my fault you can't see it."

"I'm sure someone will appreciate your special kind of weird," Baekhyun soothes. "One day."

Chanyeol is quick when he locks his arm around Baekhyun's neck just enough to keep him from getting away. Baekhyun finds himself unable to squirm his way free, pouting and digging his heels into the ground to push his weight around. It doesn't work so well when the snow is slippery beneath his feet. Chanyeol laughs and Baekhyun finally gives up.

"If you're not nice to an omega, you'll never earn the affections of one," Baekhyun wheezes.

Chanyeol pinches Baekhyun on the side. "It's a good thing you adore me so much already."

"Gross."

 

The snow doesn't stay for long; it never does. But the atmosphere it created sticks around, lingering in the air. Everyone keeps their furs tucked tight around them, save for a few of the alphas from the mountain pack. Including Yixing. Nothing seems to faze him and Baekhyun considers it unfair.

Baekhyun is crouched low near to the fire, debating whether or not he wants to risk the chill from the ground seeping through to numb his butt like last night. He's not given a choice when, moments later, Sehun rushes over and knocks Baekhyun directly onto his butt before sitting beside Baekhyun, legs draped over Baekhyun's lap.

Baekhyun has half a mind to push him away, but Sehun is rearranging their furs to cover them both and there's a serious set to his face. It's dark out and the flames flicker brightly, their shadows dancing over the bridge of Sehun's nose and caressing over his cheeks. He's younger than Baekhyun, but it looks as if this past year has aged him more than it should have.

A shiver runs through Sehun and Baekhyun clutches the furs closer to them, shifting as close to Sehun as he can in this position. Sehun is all gangly limbs that he’s starting to grow into, but he’s still such a pup, curling in for Baekhyun to rub down his back comfortingly. It’s nice that Sehun still has time for Baekhyun given that he’s been mostly with Jongin and those two alphas. It worries Baekhyun that Sehun’s become so attached to them. It will only lead to heartbreak.

“Your face is going to get stuck that way,” Sehun comments, poking Baekhyun in the cheek. “You look ugly when you frown.”

“Is that what you came all the way over here to say?” Baekhyun scoffs.

“Jongin abandoned me to go on a search for food and I got cold, so I’m here for your body heat.”

Baekhyun rolls his eyes. Sehun’s such a brat, but Baekhyun loves him anyway.

“But really, you look ugly when you frown.”

Baekhyun might not love Sehun that much.

“You only seem to really smile around Yixing these days.”

This gets Baekhyun’s attention and his head snaps up, eyes wide as he stares at a grinning Sehun.

“Don’t worry. I don’t think anyone else is paying as much attention except Yixing. It’s good.” Sehun nudges Baekhyun lightly.

Baekhyun chews his lip, a bit flustered because, yes, he’s been spending more time with Yixing lately and opening up more to the possibility that he wants to keep Yixing permanently, but being called out makes him feel exposed. “I don’t know how to do this,” Baekhyun whispers.

“It’s easy - you like him, he likes you, then you mate!”

“That’s ridiculously simplified,” Baekhyun snorts.

“It’s only complicated if you make it complicated.”

Baekhyun blinks at Sehun, surprised. “When did you grow up?”

Sehun beams at him, then pushes his head forward because he is forever going to want Baekhyun to scratch his head. So maybe he’s not entirely grown up. Baekhyun doesn’t mind so much. It’s such a normal, instinctive thing that it’s easy to just relax and stare into the fire. His mind goes blank and Sehun lists against him, sighing happily.

Sehun doesn’t move again until Minseok and Luhan approach. He’s not even looking at them, but Baekhyun feels when Sehun senses them, blinking sleepily up at the pair of alphas. Even Baekhyun wants to coddle Sehun when he looks so adorable and it’s inevitable that Minseok gently lifts Sehun to his feet as Luhan procures Sehun’s fur for him. Sehun flashes Baekhyun a satisfied smile before fitting himself between the alphas and walking off.

Baekhyun watches until they disappear toward where Minseok and Luhan have their tent. His attention is only drawn away when he takes in a whiff of Yixing who is now standing over him.

“What would I have to barter to get my head scratched like that?” His head is tilted, hair falling in his eyes and he looks so soft, so comfortable and sincere.

“Your body heat,” Baekhyun demands, holding his lone fur open for Yixing to fit under with him.

There’s no hesitation as Yixing fills the spot next to Baekhyun, huddling close. Every one of Baekhyun’s senses is oriented on the alpha and oh his mouth is watering and all he wants is to bury his face in Yixing’s neck. Instead, he gently tugs Yixing sideways to get to his hair. The strands are soft, flowing easily through Baekhyun’s fingers. Yixing lets out this sigh, leaning more of himself against Baekhyun until he’s slipping and his head is directly in Baekhyun’s lap.

Baekhyun looks down at the alpha, heart skipping several beats at the smile oriented at him. It’s so tempting to lean down, to steal a kiss, but Baekhyun doesn’t. He resumes scratching Yixing’s head while Yixing turns to push his face to Baekhyun’s belly. He thinks he imagines the way Yixing breathes him in, but he can’t ignore the race of heat that zips through him after.

He’s suffocating, drowning, unable to claw to the surface because he doesn’t want to. Baekhyun is content knowing that he’s sinking into Yixing and this time, he’s not going to talk himself out of it. Yixing is warm, curving his arm around Baekhyun’s waist and nuzzling against Baekhyun’s stomach even further. Baekhyun scratches and watches as Yixing’s eyes slip closed and his breathing evens.

He’s asleep.

And Baekhyun never wants him to leave.

 

The crick in Baekhyun's neck the next morning is totally worth it. He'd fallen asleep slumped over Yixing despite how low the temperature had dropped. They'd been warm in their little cocoon and Baekhyun only vaguely remembers being led back to his tent, clinging to Yixing before his presence had been replaced with Joonmyun's.

Joonmyun is still wrapped around Baekhyun from behind, his leg twisted between Baekhyun's and an arm slung over his chest. It's tempting to stay inside the tent all day. Screw the cold weather. Baekhyun can hear the droplets of rain hitting faintly on the outside of the tent and if there's one thing Baekhyun hates more than being cold, it's being cold and wet.

On rainy winter days, the pack usually stays inside excepting the rotating guards who try to keep the fire lit and run the perimeter to ensure nothing is attempting to encroach on the camp for shelter or food. It's a job for the alphas which leaves Baekhyun content to listen to the quiet noises Joonmyun makes in his sleep. Later, most of the omegas will probably crowd into someone’s tent for company and food, but for now, he’s perfectly comfortable.

He doesn't mean to think about Yixing, but everything seems to circle back to the alpha nowadays. Baekhyun can't complain when the attention he receives has his wolf howling in delight. He'd never really given much thought to how much satisfaction he would glean just from something as simple as scratching Yixing's head or watching him fall asleep in his lap, knowing he'd been the reason Yixing was so content.

Baekhyun closes his eyes and smiles to himself, his chest tight and the memory of how peaceful Yixing looked in his sleep playing on the back of his eyelids. A quiet whisper goes unheard, Baekhyun drifting off to thoughts of Yixing until his name is called again. Louder.

He startles, blinking groggily, glaring as menacingly as he can at the door to his tent. He's in no mood to be disturbed. Unless, of course, it's Yixing.

And it's Yixing.

All Baekhyun sees is a head of damp hair littered with glittering rain drops and then Yixing is peering over at him with a smile. The imprint of Yixing's furs still run in red lines down the side of his face and Baekhyun's heart squeezes fondly. Yixing doesn't say anything when he notices Joonmyun still sleeping, so he crooks his fingers and Baekhyun follows without thinking as if Yixing had a physical hold on him and dragged him out himself.

It's freezing outside. He immediately regrets every decision in his life that has led to this moment. His breaths come out in stuttering white puffs and he violently shivers, wanting nothing more than to crawl back into his tent. Honestly, screw Yixing.

Baekhyun is openly glaring at Yixing through narrowed eyes and the alpha still has the audacity to look pleased at himself. He reaches out and takes Baekhyun's hand, the one he was about to use to smack Yixing upside the head, and laces their fingers, tugging Baekhyun forward.

He finds himself stumbling after Yixing, unable to pull away or resist in any way. It's a little terrifying how much of a hold Yixing has on Baekhyun, but isn't that how things are supposed to be? Isn't Baekhyun supposed to want to follow his chosen mate anywhere?

Yixing takes them into the forest and the rain no longer makes it through. But the damage is done. Baekhyun is a soaking wet, shivering mess and he's unhappy about it. "There had better be a good reason you're risking me getting frostbite," Baekhyun threatens through his chattering teeth.

Of all the answers or reactions Baekhyun had anticipated, Yixing stepping forward and enveloping him in his arms, nose pushed to Baekhyun's hair and hands running up and down Baekhyun's back under his shirt, wasn't any of them. His toes curl in the damp leaves and he's still freezing, but he's also burning hot everywhere Yixing is touching.

"There's someplace I want to take you," he rumbles and Baekhyun nearly misses the words because of the pleasant vibrations in Yixing's chest. Yixing leans back, presumably for Baekhyun's answer, but said omega is still trying to catch his breath. "Your lips are blue," Yixing comments. And everything gets worse because he's running his thumb along Baekhyun's lower lip and Baekhyun whimpers, knees nearly giving out.

“Because you dragged me out,” Baekhyun complains, but there’s no emotion behind the words and he has this horrible urge to lean in to chase the touch.

Yixing licks over his own lips and Baekhyun thinks they’re about to have an Important Moment. Oh how he wants them to have an Important Moment.

Yixing drops his hands, stepping back and taking Baekhyun’s wrist. “Come on.”

The low burn of rejection that stings in Baekhyun's chest quickly gives way to butterflies as Yixing guides Baekhyun further into the trees. He's light on his feet although not as silent as Baekhyun as they weave their way through. Water still drips down, splattering unkindly on Baekhyun's already frozen skin and he scowls at the canopy.

The least Yixing could have done was let Baekhyun grab his furs before dragging him who knows where. He sighs, licking his cold lips and trying not to shiver too loudly as he focuses on Yixing's back. The idiot is still topless, but it does give Baekhyun a nice view. The muscles in his back shift under skin and Baekhyun wants to push against them, wants to touch so badly.

There are muted voices ahead; Baekhyun perks up at the sound and is pleasantly surprised when Yixing pulls him into the same clearing they'd spent a full moon in years ago. A fire has been built, far enough from the trees to not be a threat, but still protected from the rain by overhanging branches. Baekhyun is drawn to the warmth.

Yixing sits first, bringing Baekhyun with him. At this point, Baekhyun is trembling from the cold and Yixing fits himself behind Baekhyun, his legs pressed against Baekhyun's and arms around his waist to warm him up. The fire helps too.

On the other side of the flames, Minseok and Sehun are in a similar position although Sehun looks mostly asleep. Baekhyun wonders what kind of goading it took to get Sehun out of bed so early in the morning on such a dismal day. Sehun does crack his eyes open and offer Baekhyun a soft smile before he's nuzzling his head back against Minseok's neck.

"Sehun thought you might like this," Yixing murmurs. His mouth brushes the shell of Baekhyun's ear and the shiver that follows isn't because of the chill.

Baekhyun fights not to roll his eyes. He knows Sehun better than that. The sneaky omega was probably just scheming to get Baekhyun and Yixing away from everyone else, knowing that Baekhyun would be in danger of losing body parts to the cold and that Yixing would warm him up. He's going to have a few words with Sehun later. When he can feel his nose again.

"Did he also mention how much I hate the cold?" Baekhyun bites, eyes narrowed at a smug looking Sehun who most definitely is not asleep. If there was still snow on the ground, he'd lob a handful of it at the brat.

"I'll keep you warm," Yixing breathes.

Baekhyun smiles to himself, melting back against Yixing more. "Are you going to be my personal heater until spring?" he teases.

"Would you like me to be?"

Baekhyun hums, as if he's pondering his answer even as his heart leaps into his throat. "We'll have to see if you can keep me warm first."

"So this is a test?"

Baekhyun can feel Yixing's smile on his neck and he suppresses a shudder. "Yes."

Yixing makes Baekhyun feel safe, protected. It's a little piece in a much larger puzzle of how Baekhyun feels when he's around the alpha. It's almost as if he never had a choice. The wolf in him has decided Yixing is his and there's no getting away from it. Baekhyun isn't inclined to disagree.

He's probably going to be on the receiving end of Joonmyun's knowing looks when he makes it back, but for now, Baekhyun's going to indulge. He takes Yixing's larger hands in his own, running the tips of his fingers over rough palms and to his wrists before slotting their fingers together loosely.

The feeling slowly returns to his toes and face, allowing Baekhyun to relax and enjoy the scent of Yixing all around him. Even after being dragged through the cold, he could probably fall asleep in Yixing's arms.

He very nearly does, the dripping of rain along the leaves playing a lullaby, and the warmth of Yixing's body seeping into him to chase away the cold. It's not so bad when he has an alpha as a shield.

A howl pierces through the air and Baekhyun startles. Yixing chuckles and nudges Baekhyun's cheek with his nose.

"That's our cue to run perimeter," Minseok sighs, already peeling himself away from Sehun.

"You too?" Baekhyun questions even as Yixing begins extricating his limbs from Baekhyun's hold.

"We'll be back after."

Baekhyun is left sitting in front of the fire, freezing and scowling as Minseok and Yixing disappear into the trees. Their howls echo only moments after and Baekhyun sighs. He decides to crawl over to where Sehun is, pressing himself to Sehun's side. Sehun snuggles against him, head resting on Baekhyun's shoulder as they both stare at the crackling fire that provides the only warmth now.

Baekhyun's shirt is wet and the cold clings to it, but it's still probably better than having no shirt at all. Sehun, at least, is dry. Sehun wraps himself as much as he can around Baekhyun and they sit in silence. Baekhyun has to admit, begrudgingly, that this wasn't a bad idea. Even if it did come from Sehun.

“Baekhyun?” Sehun’s voice is timid, quiet, and Baekhyun would have missed it if Sehun hadn’t been so close. He hums in acknowledgement, sliding an arm around Sehun’s torso. “Do you ever feel funny around Yixing?”

Baekhyun rests his chin on the top of Sehun’s head. “Funny how?”

“Different.” He pauses, taking in a deep breath. “I’ve liked other alphas before, but none of them like this,” he whispers. “Even when I thought Chanyeol was the one, it was nothing like how it feels now.”

Baekhyun swallows over the thick taste in his mouth, beginning to rock side-to-side. “Like you’d crawl into his skin just to be closer,” Baekhyun answers, ignoring the churning in his stomach at the thought of Sehun falling for Minseok. Minseok already has a mate. How is he supposed to break that to Sehun without breaking Sehun?

“Just like that. Spring will be here before we know it.” Sehun twists, blinking up at Baekhyun. “I’ve made a pact.”

Baekhyun knows he probably looks silly with his mouth dropped open and his eyes wide. A pact is a big thing. They’re made in front of the Alpha - or the council in their case - between an omega and an alpha, officially stating that when the omega goes into heat, only that alpha is allowed to lay claim to him.

Baekhyun hasn’t even thought far enough ahead for a pact, but Sehun - sweet, sweet Sehun - has already made this adult decision. None of them - Baekhyun, Jongin, Sehun - have long before their first heat is going to hit and Spring is usually when it happens. It never really occurred to him that soon he was going to reach maturity. He's so used to the waves that hit him now and with the new members of the pack joining, he'd been preoccupied.

And then there's Yixing.

Is Baekhyun ready for that? He knows he’s not. Not right now anyway.

"Well are you going to say anything or just attract flies with your breath?" Sehun whines, lifting a finger to snap Baekhyun's mouth shut.

"I'm - it's great that you've found someone, Sehun." Baekhyun is suddenly struck with the knowledge that if Sehun's made a pact, then Minseok would have had to agree too. The entire thing is confusing.

"Someones," Sehun stresses. "Minseok and Luhan. The council said it was weird, but they'd allow it."

Sehun seems nervous, like he's afraid Baekhyun is going to scold him or tell him that what he's doing is wrong. Baekhyun only hugs him tighter. "It's not any weirder than you are already," he reassures the omega in his arms. "And I'm so happy that you snagged two alphas who spoil you rotten."

"What about you?"

Baekhyun pulls a face. "I don't want to be your mate. You're too much of a nag."

Sehun whines his name, laughing when he pushes his face into Baekhyun's chest like a petulant pup. "I meant Yixing. Are you two . . . ?"

Baekhyun sighs as he looks back at where Yixing had disappeared into the trees earlier. "I don't know what's going to happen with Yixing. But for now, things are nice.”

"Nice is good," Sehun comments. "But nice isn't enough when Yixing has the attention of so many omegas. He's a strong alpha, Baekhyun. The strongest out of all the alphas in the pack. Everyone knows he has an interest in you, but it won't keep the persistent omegas away for long. He's a catch and someone's going to reel him in. It should be you."

And yet another observation Baekhyun hadn’t made. When did Sehun get so smart and practical? Baekhyun sighs and tucks his head lower, cheek to cheek with Sehun. “Any advice? You’re the one here with romance experience. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Sehun chuckles, sounding pleased with himself. “Yeah, grab him by the ears and pin him down. Don’t let him go no matter what.”

Baekhyun thumps Sehun on the arm and he flinches, making a pained noise.

“You asked,” he whines.

Yixing and Minseok don't come back for a while, and when they return, Baekhyun and Sehun are asleep. Baekhyun flinches when he feels someone pulling him from Sehun, only to relax when he scents Yixing. He prefers to chase the addicting aroma of alpha and presses close, curling up in Yixing's arms once they're back on their side of the fire.

Baekhyun's eyes open long enough to see Luhan emerging from the trees to silently join Minseok and Sehun. Sehun had just settled against Minseok, but now he's stretching out without opening his eyes until he's over both alphas.

An otherwise miserable day is suddenly made better and Baekhyun revels in the security that comes with Yixing and their little escape even if it's only for a while.

 

Baekhyun decides he’s going to take things up a notch now that he’s certain - mostly - that Yixing is interested in possibly courting him. He’s not going to do something outrageous like take Sehun’s advice or anything, but letting Yixing know that he’s open to the idea is a nice, easy way to start.

Too bad it doesn’t work.

The first time, Baekhyun is sitting comfortably on Yixing’s lap, facing the alpha. There are furs draped over Baekhyun to keep him warm and he’d been drifting off, but the idea of nosing his way up to Yixing’s mouth is far more tantalizing. He does it slowly, softly, just knowing he’s going to get the reaction he wants as Yixing’s fingers tighten their hold on his waist. Yixing’s breathing stutters and Baekhyun takes in the heady, thick scent of alpha to let it curl inside his skull. There’s no doubt anymore that he very much wants Yixing.

Baekhyun’s nose catches on Yixing’s jaw and his heart is threatening to squeeze through his ribs as Yixing shifts beneath him. There’s no one else around; the two of them had snuck out, hand-in-hand, to the clearing earlier when Yixing had demanded Baekhyun’s attention from where he’d been draped over Yifan’s back to soak up his body heat as Yifan tried to ignore his presence. Baekhyun rests his hand on Yixing’s neck, thumb pushing just under his jaw and Yixing inhales sharply.

Baekhyun looks at the alpha, knowing his eyes are a vibrant amber, and they meet red. Yixing bares his teeth, swallowing, and Baekhyun wants to climb him, tangle fingers in his hair and do exactly as Sehun said. His wolf is clawing at him to push Yixing to the ground and lick his way over every part of Yixing, leave bites and scratches that will gleam fresh under the sunlight for a few pulsing seconds before healing.

Baekhyun can taste his desire for Yixing on the tip of his tongue and he wants Yixing to taste it too. There’s a whine caught in his throat and Yixing’s nails have sharpened, digging unforgivingly into the soft skin of his waist. Baekhyun waits with bated breath for Yixing to lean in the small distance between them and kiss him.

Yixing’s eyes fade from red to brown, blinking his wolf away and Yixing stands suddenly, taking Baekhyun off guard. He startles, wrapping arms around the alpha before he’s gently set on his feet. “We should go back.”

Yixing doesn’t touch him as they walk to camp in silence and Baekhyun is left confused, stinging with a pain that feels far worse than rejection. Even Joonmyun appears perplexed when Yixing walks Baekhyun to their shared tent and leaves him there with nothing more than a whispered sleep well when it was clear Baekhyun had been hoping for more.

Yixing seems to keep his distance from Baekhyun for a few days after, and Baekhyun pines with a permanent pout to his features. Joonmyun tries to reassure him that Yixing probably didn’t want to do something Baekhyun hadn’t been ready for, but even his words begin to sound placating and hollow when he notices the way Yixing skirts around Baekhyun whenever he’s in sight.

The evening Yixing makes room for himself beside Baekhyun over dinner, the omega stares at him openly in shocked silence. Yixing simply reaches over and closes his mouth, instructing him to eat before digging into his own bowl. Baekhyun thinks that maybe Yixing had just needed time to sort himself out and everything will fall into place now.

Instead, the two of them crash into a brutal pattern that leaves Baekhyun trembling and weak, pawing at his face to stop the tears from spilling. Yixing will devote all his spare time and attention to Baekhyun, spoiling him and keeping him warm and ensuring that Baekhyun smells strongly of him. (Chanyeol jokes about how they might as well be mated with how Baekhyun reeks of Yixing and vice versa. He doesn’t realize how much it makes Baekhyun ache.)

But as soon as Baekhyun makes a move to take it a step further, Yixing is gone. He’ll disappear from Baekhyun’s side for days, only to reappear just as suddenly. He acts as if nothing's happened and Baekhyun is too weak to call him out on it. Yifan attempts to take up Yixing’s spot on the days he’s gone - trying to explain to Baekhyun that Yixing must have his reasons for what he’s doing. But Baekhyun had unintentionally snarled and Yifan never brought it up again. He simply remained as support with Jongin there to brace Baekhyun’s other side.

Yixing will be the first to volunteer to guard the omegas during their treks down to the river for laundry and he’ll carry Baekhyun’s basket for him. He’ll seek out Baekhyun first when he returns from a hunt, the blood of a fresh kill still stained down his chin to his chest and Baekhyun grabs the nearest thing - usually Joonmyun - to keep from hurling himself at Yixing and cleaning it all away with his tongue.

When the full moon comes around, Baekhyun tries to run off and play with Jongin and Sehun, but Yixing is there, barreling at him and nipping at his ears until Baekhyun bounds off with him instead. Somehow he always manages to find himself smothered underneath a large alpha wolf until dawn when said alpha walks him to his tent with this aura of self-satisfaction radiating off him. And Baekhyun doesn’t understand.

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,” Baekhyun complains petulantly, curling up against Joonmyun’s side. He takes comfort in his friend - the friend who carries the lingering smell of Chanyeol on his skin. Baekhyun’s not so wrapped up in himself and his worries with Yixing to not notice the way Chanyeol’s been finding excuses to talk to Joonmyun. Joonmyun’s been kind enough not to babble about how pleased he is that Chanyeol is paying him attention, but Baekhyun can tell.

“I don’t think the problem is you,” Joonmyun tries to assuage Baekhyun, cradling him in his arms.

“Then what is it?” Baekhyun grumps.

“Ask him,” Joonmyun suggests. “You two have the body language down to an art, but you don’t speak enough. Flat out ask him.”

Joonmyun making sense isn’t a new thing, but Baekhyun groans anyway, knowing he’s right. He’d been hoping to avoid a direct confrontation because an omega demanding anything of an alpha, even something as simple as an explanation, can be seen as too difficult to manage and not good for mating. He knows Yixing isn’t the type, but he also thought he knew what Yixing wanted and now he’s just left confused.

Baekhyun waits until he and Yixing are alone in their small clearing by the fire, Yifan having darted off with Jongin earlier under the pretense of bathing since the winds have died down. There’d been something odd about Jongin’s barely contained excitement, but Baekhyun had been too distracted with the questions clogging his throat.

Yixing is beside him, an arm loosely draped around Baekhyun’s waist and his hand underneath the fabric of Baekhyun’s shirt to stroke his skin comfortingly. It would have worked at any other time, but Baekhyun’s too wound up, wringing his hands as he waits for Yifan and Jongin’s footfalls to grow silent.

“You’re anxious,” Yixing observes. “You have been since I asked you to come out here.”

Baekhyun swallows, turning to see the alpha beside him. Yixing has his head tilted and his eyes are warm, sincere. Baekhyun almost bites his tongue, but this is too important. “I need to know why you won’t court me.”

There. That wasn’t so bad.

Yixing pulls away from Baekhyun, putting space between them and the momentary relief from getting it out in the open evaporates. “That wasn’t my intention.” His eyebrows are knit, a pained look on his handsome face and Baekhyun breathes out a stuttered sigh.

“It wasn’t your intention to court me?” Baekhyun demands angrily, hands balling into fists. If Yixing had never intended to court him, what has he been doing? An alpha doesn’t pay this much attention to an omega, going so far as to make him smell of him, and not court the omega. Not unless . . . his mother’s words ring in his ears. He wouldn't be the first alpha to keep his second choice close in case his first doesn't accept him.

 

“Am I a back up choice?” His vision blurs with tears of frustration and anger and he shifts back away from Yixing, shrinking in on himself.

“No!” Yixing exclaims, moving toward Baekhyun, but he stops when Baekhyun flinches. “You are second to none.”

“Then what are we doing?”

Yixing looks lost, only moments from running, but his fingers push into the ground to hold fast. His eyes go red and just as quickly return to normal as Baekhyun waits for an explanation. He’s so tired of always waiting for Yixing’s attention and feeling less than worthy at the end of the day.

“I tried to stay away from you,” Yixing finally admits. His voice is low, almost a whisper and his eyes are fixed on the grass by Baekhyun’s knees.

“Why?” Baekhyun needs to know why this is so hard. If an alpha and an omega want each other, what is there to stop them?

Yixing chews on his lip, his posture rigid and defensive. “It’s complicated.”

“Then uncomplicate it,” Baekhyun demands. “What is it about me that makes me unworthy of being yours?”

“Baekhyun,” Yixing pleads, eyes growing soft. “You are so much more than you think.”

“But not enough to be with you.”

“That’s not it.”

“Then tell me!” Baekhyun feels like his chest is about to explode, his wolf clawing to the surface to snap at Yixing for being so frustrating. Yixing is so still and Baekhyun yearns to lunge forward until he gets a real reaction from him. It’d be better than this.

“I can’t.”

“Why?” The least he owes Baekhyun is an explanation.

Because,” Yixing snarls, eyes flashing with the reflection of the flames glinting fiercely.

“That’s not good enough.”

“It’s all I have.”

Baekhyun stares at Yixing, pain dripping into his lungs until he’s drowning in it. He never should have allowed himself to get so close. He should have taken that first rejected kiss as a sign and moved on. Any other alpha would be better than one who plays games with him. “Fine.” Baekhyun’s voice is far more steady than his heart, the sound of blood rushing loud in his ears. “I’ll make it easy for you. I don’t want you near me. Don’t seek me out, don’t speak to me and don’t sit with me.”

“Baekhyun,” Yixing growls, but Baekhyun is already on his feet, furs clutched tight to himself for protection from the cold. And from Yixing. Yixing bares his teeth, canines sharp and threatening.

Baekhyun turns on his heel and leaves as quickly as his feet will carry him. It's hard to breathe and he has to pause, resting his weight on the trunk of a tree as he pulls in deep breaths that chill him to the bone. He'd never expected such a reaction from Yixing. Perhaps Baekhyun had been deluding himself into thinking he was more special than he actually was.

Baekhyun's pride is smarting, but the rejection puts a new perspective on things.

Just because he isn't good enough for some alpha to pant over doesn't mean he can't be happy. Baekhyun doesn't need anyone to be happy except himself. He refuses to let this one disappointment shake his foundations. He was perfectly content with his lot in life before Yixing and he will not let the stupid alpha change it.

As far as Baekhyun is concerned, there is no one in the pack by the name of Yixing.

 

Winter fades peacefully into a much anticipated Spring. Along with the beginnings of warmer winds and the budding flowers blossoming through the fields, comes Sehun’s first heat. It strikes while he’s playing around with Jongin, the two of them wrestling as they usually do. Joonmyun scents it before anyone else, rushing to Baekhyun’s side with wide eyes.

“Find Luhan and Minseok,” he instructs, his gaze flickering around the area to ensure there are no alphas around. “Sehun’s going to realize it soon and he’ll need them.”

Baekhyun sprints back toward the camp without hesitation, worry clinging to him as he searches for one of the two alphas. They’re usually together, but this time, Baekhyun finds Luhan without Minseok. His steps falter only briefly when he notices that Luhan is talking with Yixing. He pushes down the fluttering of his heart and bounds over to the pair, glancing only briefly at a surprised Yixing.

“Sehun,” Baekhyun breathes, which gets Luhan’s immediate attention. “He’s beginning his heat.”

Luhan’s eyes grow wide. “Where?”

“He’s out in the field with Jongin.”

Luhan thanks Baekhyun as he runs off, probably in search of Minseok. Baekhyun is left staring at where Luhan disappeared, a vice grip clenched tight around his heart. Sehun has two alphas who clearly care for him very much to be there for him and the jealousy creeps up before Baekhyun can squash it down. He’s happy for Sehun, truly, but his friend’s happiness stands a contrast to his own bad luck with romance.

Still, Baekhyun thinks, it's not enough to break his resolve. Just because his wolf senses the proximity of Yixing doesn't mean Baekhyun is going to crack and give in. The last two full moons have been hard; Baekhyun hadn't realized how much of his life he'd allotted to the alpha until he'd cut Yixing out.

Joonmyun had told him he'd been acting childish, but then he'd also comforted Baekhyun and backed him up if Yixing was too near. As Chanyeol is a loyal friend, he's been hovering nearer to Baekhyun, although that could also be attributed to Joonmyun's presence. The alpha isn't subtle in his staring and Joonmyun notices, but chooses not to acknowledge it.

"He'll come to me when he's ready," Joonmyun had explained. Baekhyun had pulled a face that had Joonmyun laughing. "Watch him," Joonmyun had then instructed. "He still steals glances at Jongin too. He's not ready."

Joonmyun's words were true, but not as true now as they had been then. The warm weather seems to be drying out the stale and letting in the new. Life is revived, refreshed and Baekhyun sits back as the pack does as well as it can with the remaining members. They'd lost a half dozen families over the Winter - nearly as many as had come in from the mountain pack.

Baekhyun watches as some of the younger omega and alpha children weave through the tents, giggling and chasing after each other without a care. His heart feels heavy and yet he's smiling as one falls and the others rush back to pick him up and brush the grass from his hair. They take off again and Baekhyun sighs wistfully.

As an omega, it was always a foregone conclusion that he'd have children of his own one day, but now he's not so sure. He's young, yes, but no other alpha has drawn his interest the way Yixing had. (And still does if he's honest with himself, but Baekhyun hates being honest when it comes to Yixing and all those pesky emotions still tied up with the alpha.)

It's been over two full moons since Baekhyun walked away from Yixing and it's no easier to walk away from him now. He can feel Yixing's eyes on him and they burn until Baekhyun is out of sight. He heads back to the field, pausing when he sees a red-faced Sehun panting into Minseok's neck as the alpha leads him back to their tent, Luhan on their heels, his hand linked with Sehun's as the omega whines.

Joonmyun appears a bit frazzled when Baekhyun makes it back to where the man is now laying in the grass. "How'd it go?" Baekhyun asks, plopping his bottom down right on Joonmyun's thighs. The omega sits up and immediately pushes his head under Baekhyun's chin. It's instinctive for Baekhyun to start scratching through Joonmyun's hair even if this is the first time Joonmyun has done this. Usually it's Sehun or Jongin and occasionally Yifan who knocks Baekhyun over in his attempts for affection.

"He got pretty bad really fast," Joonmyun grumbles. His arms wrap around Baekhyun's waist and he sighs. "Poor thing was about to rip his clothes off by the time Minseok and Luhan showed up. Have you ever tried to wrestle with an omega in heat? It's not fun."

Baekhyun rests his cheek on the top of Joonmyun’s hair, scraping his nails over the sides of Joonmyun’s head now. “You can’t get worn out on me now,” he jokes. “You have to be there for when I inevitably go into heat too. I’m going to need my Joonmyun.”

Joonmyun pinches Baekhyun’s side and he squeals, twisting to the side until the pair of them are on the ground.

 

"Are you going to ignore him forever?" Yifan asks one morning over breakfast.

Baekhyun is purposely obnoxious as he chews the meat in his mouth, smacking his lips after he swallows. "Who?" he inquires innocently.

Yifan gives Baekhyun a stern look that cracks because Jongin is trying - and failing - to stifle his laughter on Yifan's other side. Instead, Yifan knocks his knuckles against Baekhyun's head with a fond sigh. "You shouldn't be so hard on him."

Baekhyun sets his bowl down and turns so he can throw his legs over Yifan's lap. Yifan has to scramble to keep his own bowl from being knocked to the ground. Jongin grabs at Baekhyun's ankles and pulls until Baekhyun is perched entirely on one of Yifan's thighs. He feels so much higher suddenly.

"Give me a reason not to be hard on him and I might consider it," Baekhyun answers, letting out soft, high pitched noise because Jongin is tickling the bottom of his foot.

Yifan goes silent and slumps. Jongin pats his back and Baekhyun feels mildly bad that he's being stubborn, but only because it's oriented at Yifan when it's Yixing who deserves it all. It's admirable that Yifan is stepping in for his friend; Yifan is good people and Jongin is lucky to have him around now that Sehun is otherwise occupied.

Sehun had crawled his way out of the tent he now shares with his mates a few days ago, flanked by Minseok and Luhan, and with a fresh claim mark on both sides of his neck. Baekhyun could smell them even from a distance as the three disappeared in the direction of the river to bathe. Sehun’s heat had taken three days, which was on the short side for a first time. Minseok and Luhan are probably the reason for that.

Baekhyun isn’t looking forward to his own maturity. He’s been taught about the changes his body is going to go through and how he’ll react and the best way to handle it, but now that it’s here, he’d rather stay as he is. The idea of having even less control of himself than he already has is terrifying. And knowing he has to do it alone is worse.

Stupid Yixing.

He leans all his weight on Yifan and occasionally steals bites of his food as Jongin feeds him because Baekhyun is still spread out on Yifan’s lap. It’s a comfortable lap. It’s not as comfortable as Yixing’s, but nothing can compare to the warmth and security that comes with Yixing’s chest against Baekhyun’s back, his arms secure around his waist. Baekhyun whines softly without meaning to and the pitiful look Jongin gives him only makes Baekhyun feel worse.

It eats away at him, this not knowing exactly why Yixing acted the way he did. He’d never given an answer and all his actions ever did was leave the omega confused over where he stood. Some days he feels good about the decision he's made. Letting Yixing have so much pull over him when they weren’t even courting was unhealthy. If it had been leading somewhere, it would have been different. On other days, Baekhyun thinks that maybe he missed something and demanding that the alpha keep away from him hadn't been the right way to end it.

Baekhyun’s mother walks by and Baekhyun feels ten times worse. She doesn’t appear to be doing well, but she’s stubborn. Even after he’d apologized to her for running out, and after he’d offered to move back in because it couldn’t be healthy being alone through the winter, she’d refused. She’d told him how happy she was that he’d grown into an admirable young man with his own mind and then shooed him out after combing down a few wayward strands of his hair.

Baekhyun worries for her. He worries for himself. He worries for the pack. At this rate they have one more winter left. Perhaps two if they’re lucky. He’s been told again and again not to worry himself with it - that the council is handling it - but Baekhyun can’t help it. He can’t stand the idea of being split up, of not calling everyone he’s grown up with family, pack. (He does imagine it sometimes, late at night, wondering if he’d find someone he could call mate in a new pack. He’d be away from Yixing and everything that twists in his gut at the thought of him and Baekhyun could finally move on. Those are the nights that he hates himself and ends up curling around Joonmyun protectively for hours before he can fall asleep.)

 

The river waters are still cold, but not cold enough to keep Baekhyun from taking a refreshing dip to clear his head. And to shake loose all the bits of leaves in his hair from when he’d been rushing through the trees earlier with Sehun. Baekhyun crooks his fingers and Sehun comes splashing up, ducking his head enough for Baekhyun to get to his hair. He’s more of a mess than Baekhyun, still smiling and panting from the exertion. They’d ended their frolicking by darting to the river and diving in, clothing and all.

Now their pants and shirts are in a sopping pile on the bank. Sehun is much taller than Baekhyun and yet he still shrinks down to let Baekhyun groom him. The only real difference between before and now is the twin marks that stand proud on both sides of Sehun’s neck. Curiously, Baekhyun runs the tips of his fingers over one, expecting to feel scarred, raised skin. He’s met with no resistance, no bumps or imperfections. Just the impression of teeth lighter than the rest of Sehun’s skin.

“Did it hurt?” Baekhyun asks.

Sehun’s face goes through a series of expressions, all of which are amusing, before he settles with a scrunched nose and his lips in a thin line. “It’s hard to explain,” he begins, reaching up to pull a stray leaf from Baekhyun’s hair. “I was hurting before the bite, but not a bad hurt. Just a . . . like a craving only it’s the only thing you can focus on. I wanted it so much and when he bit me, it was - it was a split second of pain, but after . . . “ There’s a wistful look on Sehun’s face now and a faint dusting of pink over his cheeks. “It felt like everything shifted into place. It wasn’t any different when Minseok bit me too. It felt just as right.”

Baekhyun coos, pinching Sehun’s cheeks until the omega is pushing away. “You’re so cute. It’s no wonder they fell into your web.”

“Baekhyun,” Sehun whines with a pout, batting at him without any strength. The tips of Sehun’s ears have gone red and even if he’s considered mature, an adult by wolf standards, Baekhyun will always see him as a pup.

The pair splash in the waters, pausing to scrub off patches of dirt, until they’re interrupted by a group of alphas who had the same idea. Chanyeol seems to be the leader of this particular rabble, which comes as a surprise to no one. He belly flops in the water and Baekhyun winces, hoping Chanyeol is out of the way because Zitao, Kyungsoo and Jongdae are right on his heels, leaping into the river behind him. Chanyeol looks half drowned when he resurfaces, finally noticing the two omegas who are staring at the new additions.

Chanyeol tips forward and flounders, his head nearly disappearing even if the water is only waist deep on him. He’s trying to get over to them and Baekhyun steps back, bumping into Sehun who is scrambling toward the shore. “Baek,” Chanyeol sputters. “You should probably -” A loud splash cuts Chanyeol off and he winces. Baekhyun peers around Chanyeol to see Yixing’s head popping up, followed by the rest of him. “Go,” Chanyeol finishes weakly.

He’s rooted on the spot, eyes glued to Yixing’s chest as rivulets of water curve over the hard lines of muscle until they meet with the water. Baekhyun swallows, his breathing labored as if he’s still running and when Yixing looks over and notices him, Baekhyun nearly whimpers. Yixing’s face falls immediately, his soft smile now turned down and his eyes sad, hollow. It looks like he wants to speak, but before he can, Baekhyun is moving away as quickly as he can. He doesn’t even make it to his clothes on the bank before his wolf has taken over.

It’s not easy pulling himself out of the water on four legs, but at least he’s covered as he darts into the trees to escape. Guilt plucks at him and Baekhyun is angry that he feels guilty for Yixing’s pain because the alpha had brought it on himself. Huffing, Baekhyun lopes back to the camp and to his tent for dry clothes and, hopefully, Joonmyun’s company to soothe his unsteady heart.

Baekhyun!

Baekhyun flinches when he feels the weak smack on his muzzle after he’s nosed his way into his tent. Joonmyun drops to his knees, immediately reaching out, guilt plain on his face.

“I’m so sorry,” he squeaks. “I didn’t mean it!”

Baekhyun shifts back to his human form, shaking his damp hair out of his face. “Then why did you do it?” he complains, fingers rubbing over his smarting nose.

“Because you were dripping all over everything,” Joonmyun answers with a pout.

That’s when Baekhyun notices it. The tent is clean.

The tent is clean.

Never once has Baekhyun seen the inside of their tent clean. The wooden shelves off to the side are filled with their folded clothing, the top now home to all the small wooden figurines Joonmyun carves when he has time. The furs that lay as a floor covering have been cleaned and Baekhyun is gawking.

“What -?”

“I get this way before my heat,” Joonmyun confesses, plopping down on the rearranged bed of furs they share. “I get antsy and I can’t stop nesting.” Poor Joonmyun rubs at his eyes and he slumps to the side, staring blankly ahead. “It’ll probably be tonight,” he sighs. “If not, then definitely tomorrow.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Baekhyun offers as he crawls over to Joonmyun to cuddle. This close, Baekhyun can pick up on the slight change to his scent. He’s much sweeter and it sticks to the roof of Baekhyun’s mouth.

“If you could check on me during, I’d like that,” Joonmyun rumbles. “Make sure I eat and drink because sometimes I forget.”

Baekhyun wraps an arm around Joonmyun’s waist from behind, face pushed to the back of Joonmyun’s neck. “What if Chanyeol comes by? Should I . . . ?”

Joonmyun fidgets, but stills after a few moments. He shakes his head. “Don’t let him in. He’s not ready and I don’t want my heat to push him before he is.”

Baekhyun nods. “Okay,” he whispers. “Okay.”

 

It hits before they’re about to sleep for the evening. Joonmyun is curled in on himself, facing away from Baekhyun, which is already a bad sign. But when he starts softly panting and clawing at the furs, Baekhyun knows it’s time. He hadn’t realized how strong Joonmyun’s scent had become until he walks out of their tent and the fresh air hits him in the face.

It’s also rather unfortunate that Chanyeol bumps into Baekhyun first and Baekhyun can see how Chanyeol’s pupil’s dilate instantly. “No,” Baekhyun says firmly. “If I see you anywhere near my tent, I will have the other alphas tie you to the thickest tree in the forest and leave you there for the birds to pick at.”

Chanyeol is still sniffing around and Baekhyun has to snap his fingers to get Chanyeol to focus. “No,” he commands a second time and Chanyeol visibly deflates. Baekhyun sighs, taking pity on the alpha and grabbing his hand. “Come on, you can help me get water and food for him for later.”

Baekhyun rethinks his position the moment Chanyeol stiffens, nearly dropping the jug of water in his hands because Joonmyun had moaned loud enough to be heard outside the tent. The alpha goes white-knuckled, sucking in his breath and holding out the jug for Baekhyun to take so he doesn’t have to step any further. The moment Chanyeol’s hands are free, he’s skittering away like a scared pup and Baekhyun carries on without him.

This isn’t the first time Baekhyun’s taken care of an unmated omega while they’re in their heat cycle. Every omega of age will go into heat during Spring and he’s seen his fair share of them in the throes of it, completely lost. Joonmyun laying naked, legs spread wide on the furs, covered in sweat with his eyes squeezed shut isn’t so bad compared to others that Baekhyun’s aided.

Thankfully, Joonmyun still possesses his wits enough to eagerly accept the water that Baekhyun tips toward his bitten lips.

Joonmyun whimpers, his fingers twisting in Baekhyun’s shirt. “You smell like Chanyeol,” he groans in a scratchy voice.

“Sorry,” Baekhyun whispers, slinking away. He hadn’t thought about that; he’d just wanted to give Chanyeol something to do so he’d feel like he was helping Joonmyun. “I’ll be back in the morning,” he promises. Joonmyun gives a low grunt of acknowledgement and Baekhyun slips out of the tent.

He’d already spoken with his mother about staying with her while Joonmyun goes through his heat. It’s different to have her near him again, sleeping soundly with her mouth open and face relaxed. Baekhyun watches her sleep, wishing he’d been a better son for her. Wishing that he’d been the alpha their pack and her need.

 

Morning comes and the extent of the evening is laid bare for Baekhyun to see. Joonmyun wasn’t the only omega to succumb to his heat over the course of the night. Baekhyun finds himself rushing around to leave jugs of water and baskets of food at the entrance to the tents of those now trapped inside. Even the mated pairs need to be cared for because once an alpha has his hands on an omega in heat, he’s taken in completely and won’t stop until they’re both sated.

Most of the unmated alphas spend their time away from the omega tents, circling the camp to keep an eye out for anyone or anything drawn in by the potent scents now wafting through the air. It also keeps them occupied, their minds clear instead of focusing on all the vulnerable, fertile omegas left alone.

Chanyeol, however, tempts himself by sneaking through every so often to ask Baekhyun how Joonmyun is doing. Baekhyun doesn’t mean to get snappish because Chanyeol genuinely cares and it’s absolutely wonderful that he’s fretting over Joonmyun without giving Jongin a second thought. But Baekhyun’s already exhausted and it isn’t even time for lunch. He’s sweaty and itchy and his head is throbbing from the assault on his senses because mating season is beginning to takes its toll on him now that he’s closer to his first heat.

Baekhyun’s never felt so chaotic before. It wreaks havoc on his emotions and his instincts and with them both out of whack, he snarls at Chanyeol and shoves the alpha away from the omega tents. “I’ll tell you if Joonmyun needs anything,” he grunts.

Properly cowed, Chanyeol tucks his tail between his legs and leaves. Baekhyun is immediately sorry, but not enough to chase after the alpha. With an exasperated sigh, Baekhyun goes back to refilling the basket left outside Jongdae’s tent earlier in the day. Apparently Liyin had agreed to let him court her and to be there for her heat even if they aren’t mated yet. She’s going to make him work harder for that final step. Baekhyun approves.

All the wolves around his age that he’s grown up with are pairing off and Baekhyun will always be happy if the people he cares about the most are happy, but it still stings. At least he has Jongin and Yifan for company. The two of them help Baekhyun with the others, sometimes pulling Baekhyun away for fresh air because he’s been around the omega tents too long.

“Thanks,” he mumbles against Jongin’s neck. Jongin doesn’t reek of sugary sweetness and it helps to clear Baekhyun’s head.

“You’re going to run yourself ragged,” Jongin comments. His fingers are sliding softly through Baekhyun’s hair and it calms Baekhyun enough for his eyes to slip closed. He merely hums in response, content with Jongin petting him and his thoughts finally fizzling out. “Running from your problems isn’t going to solve them.”

Baekhyun pouts. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jongin snorts right in Baekhyun’s ear. “You forget that Yifan is close with Yixing and I’m close with Yifan.”

“About that!” Baekhyun exclaims, sitting up to narrow his eyes at Jongin. “How is it that Yifan was my friend first, but you’re the one with some weird claim on him.”

“Can I help it if my personality is sweeter?” Jongin teases, laughing when Baekhyun makes to tickle his sides. Jongin falls back into the grass and Baekhyun topples on top of him with an oomph, his face smushed to Jongin’s chest. The pair lay there in silence after Baekhyun’s wiggled around to get more comfortable.

It isn’t until minutes later, when Baekhyun is succumbing to the warmth of the sun on his back, when Jongin speaks again. “He makes me happy,” the omega whispers.

Baekhyun has to take a moment to register the words, turning his head to the side so he can be heard. “You need more people who make you happy,” Baekhyun replies, nudging his nose on Jongin’s chest affectionately.

“I meant . . . Yifan makes me happy in a mate way.”

Baekhyun certainly hadn’t seen that coming, although it makes sense considering Jongin’s demeanor and how difficult it is for him to trust someone. Yifan is a good man and Baekhyun knows he takes care of Jongin even when Jongin doesn’t need it. The two hover around each other enough that it’s a wonder that Baekhyun hadn’t figured it out on his own.

“What does Yifan think about this development?” Baekhyun inquires, fingertips drumming in the grass as he scoots up. When he peers at Jongin’s face, he sees the omega smiling broadly, his mind clearly somewhere else.

“He kissed me a few days ago.” Jongin lifts onto his elbows and Baekhyun slips down with a scowl. “I used to think there was something wrong with me.”

Baekhyun blinks, mouth opening but nothing coming out.

“When all the other omegas were starting to notice the alphas, I didn’t. I’ve never had the urge to submit or to be around an alpha. I’ve only ever wanted to be left alone. So I thought I might be broken. But Yifan -” The frown on Jongin’s face blossoms into another smile. “It feels right with him.”

“There was never anything wrong with you,” Baekhyun quips, poking Jongin hard in his side. “You are just harder to please.”

Jongin rolls his eyes, falling back into the grass and bringing Baekhyun with him, arms wrapped around his waist. “No one is harder to please than you.”

Baekhyun huffs at the false accusation, but doesn’t counter. Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else think they’ve won.

 

The day Joonmyun steps outside the tent, his hair askew and his shirt on backwards, Baekhyun barrels him over. “You stink,” he supplies helpfully.

Joonmyun groans, lifeless beneath Baekhyun. “Then carry me to the river and wash me,” he responds.

Baekhyun makes a command decision and pins the flap of their tent open to air it out before plucking Joonmyun from the ground. “Come on, I’ll take care of you.”

The two of them are stumbling along, Baekhyun unable to hold up all of Joonmyun’s weight as Joonmyun attempts to keep himself up on unsteady legs, when another person darts out of the woods and nearly into them. Baekhyun is ready to bark at the man until he sees that it’s Yixing. The words wither in his throat and he croaks before curling closer to Joonmyun for all the pitiful protection that it provides.

It’s not the last time Baekhyun seems to run into Yixing. It happens more often than he’s prepared for and always leaves his self control teetering. How is he supposed to react when Yixing peers up at him, surprised, as water drips from the tips of his hair? How is Baekhyun supposed to keep a lid on his desires when he inhales the rich scent of Yixing and his fingers tingle, his chest growing tight and his body moving toward it until he remembers what he’s doing?

How is Baekhyun supposed to get over Yixing when he’s everywhere?

The full moon is the worst. Baekhyun races through the trees, his paws tracing over the same paths he’d run with Yixing and he’s heading right for where they usually spend their full moons together before he realizes what he’s doing. He stops short, whining and pawing at the dirt, crouching low to the ground because he doesn’t know what to do. He takes comfort when he backtracks, finally coming across a fresh trail and he catches up with Sehun who is busy loping around a more calm Luhan and Minseok.

Sehun takes to playing with Baekhyun, nipping at him and howling with his tail wagging enough for his entire backside to sway. It’s just the two of them bounding around for a while until Yifan and Jongin find them and join in. And as soon as Joonmyun joins the fray, Minseok and Luhan dart over to play as well. It’s been a long time since Baekhyun’s felt this peaceful and it’s because of his friends. Even the new additions have taken place in his heart.

It doesn’t quite stop the ache in his chest when he hears Yixing’s howl echo through the trees. Baekhyun pauses, tail tucked between his legs and he only snaps out of it when Luhan launches at him, knocking him over. It takes Baekhyun by surprise and by the time he realizes that Luhan did it to help distract him, it’s hours later.

 

Over the next few days, more omegas begin their heat and it leaves Baekhyun struggling to keep up while his own body fights against him. Every limb feels twisted tight, ready to snap and it has Jongin and Yifan constantly sending Baekhyun out of the camp to clear his head. He doesn’t have the heart to tell them that it doesn’t do much for him anymore. He’s teetering on the edge and the slightest gust could send him over.

“Take this to the alphas,” Yifan instructs as he works to hang several baskets on Baekhyun’s arms. “I don’t want anymore of them wandering in because they’re hungry,” he grunts. Yifan had hauled one alpha out by his ear earlier, uncaring that the alpha had been snarling and spitting at him. Yifan’s height had been an exceptional advantage and the alpha had apologized a hundred times over once his head cleared, but it’s best to avoid confrontation altogether.

Baekhyun makes his way through the tents, sighing because he knows what Yifan is doing. Baekhyun had started growling at a fly that had been insistently buzzing around his face and even after it was gone, the bad mood had become more permanent. He’s tired; he’s been up since morning to help gather and distribute food and water, helping clear out furs and act as an early warning system in case any alphas came barreling through without permission.

Outside the circle of tents, Baekhyun still doesn’t feel any better. The sun is just a bit too hot and the back of his shirt is soaked through with sweat. He would wipe the beads of it off his forehead, but his arms are full. It itches when it runs down, dripping off his jaw and Baekhyun heaves out another sigh.

The alphas are running the perimeter along the trees mostly, using the shade to keep hidden and cool. Baekhyun makes his way over to an empty spot, trundling along with his baskets. He sets them down gently, rubbing at the marks left on his arms with a scowl when an alpha approaches. Baekhyun reacts instantly, hopping back a step because the sudden invasion of Yixing’s scent burns his nose.

“Sorry,” Yixing apologizes instantly. He looks as if Baekhyun had slapped him and politely takes another step away. Baekhyun immediately wants to reach out and soothe him, but only just refrains. It’s not as easy as it used to be. The little bit of resistance he’d built up against Yixing seems to have evaporated and every part of Baekhyun wants to jump into the alpha’s arms and stay there forever. His mind may have received the message that Yixing doesn’t want him loud and clear, but every other part of him hasn’t.

Baekhyun thinks he needs to sit down. The heat of the day must finally be getting to him. His vision swims for a moment and he reaches out, afraid he’s about to fall. His throat is parched and his head feels funny, like it’s weighed down with rocks and yet light enough to float away. Baekhyun breathes through his mouth, teetering dangerously, and he just knows he’s about to hit the ground. Yixing catches him before it happens and Baekhyun audibly groans at the ripple that runs through his body from the contact.

Yixing’s touch sets off a chain reaction that has Baekhyun gasping for air as a new spike of heat prickles along his sensitive skin. He’s hyper aware of Yixing, breathing in deep and relishing the heady, thick scent of alpha that takes him over. His fingers curl against bare skin, nails scraping on Yixing’s arms to keep him close. He knows Yixing is speaking to him, but he can’t hear anything save his own heart beating.

Baekhyun doesn’t realize what’s happening until he feels the heat drop into his stomach before slowly sinking lower. That last little thread of sanity still holding on for dear life calmly lets Baekhyun know he’s definitely, without a doubt, going into heat - just before it detaches and leaves him drowning in his instincts.

The first thing Baekhyun does is get a firmer hold on Yixing whose hands are now on Baekhyun’s waist, hoisting him off the ground. It’s like fire is licking over his skin and the only way to douse it is with Yixing. He just needs Yixing. Yixing will make it all better. He wiggles against his alpha, whimpering when he rubs just right. It gives him a rush and Baekhyun can’t stop, panting and biting softly at Yixing’s neck as they move.

“Come on, Baek,” Yixing croons and Baekhyun curls toward Yixing even as his alpha is laying him down.

The furs under him feel coarse and scratchy and Baekhyun tugs at Yixing’s arms because all he can think about is getting Yixing over him. He wants to wrap his legs around Yixing’s waist, show his alpha how willing and open he is for his knot. The pressure is beginning to edge on painful and he whines, calling out for Yixing to help.

Baekhyun’s wolf is clawing at him and Baekhyun shifts down on the furs. He can feel himself leaking and while it’s not the first time he’s gotten wet, he’s never been this wet before. His body is throbbing and he’s still painfully aware of the clothing keeping him covered.

“I’m so sorry,” Yixing whispers. His eyes are red and Baekhyun sits up to pull Yixing down, but the alpha is moving away. “No,” Yixing states. It’s a command that has Baekhyun shuddering, falling back without a choice.

His legs press firmly together, sliding uncomfortably as Baekhyun calls for Yixing. He’s close to panicking. Is Yixing leaving him? This urgent need to follow tries to fight against Yixing’s command, but Baekhyun is too weak. He claws at the furs, at his shirt and pants until they’re torn away and he lets out a frustrated scream when he realizes Yixing isn’t coming back.

Tears pool in the corners of Baekhyun’s eyes and when he blinks, they trail down his temples and into his hair. His body is twisting, trying to find relief from the heat that’s burning through him, but there’s nothing. He presses his palm between his legs, hoping to alleviate the pressure and the touch alone is enough to set him off.

Baekhyun’s body seizes and sticky white ropes shoot up his stomach to soak into the tattered remains of his shirt. He’s expecting some sort of relief, but there’s nothing. If anything, the craving to be filled strengthens and Baekhyun openly sobs. His hand travels down, hoping to alleviate the ache when he pushes two fingers inside himself. It steals his breath for a moment, his back bowing off the furs at the feel of something finally inside him even if it’s not enough.

His body is ready to be mounted and there’s no alpha to do it. Baekhyun tries not to think about Yixing when he curls his fingers, his other hand wrapping around his cock to tug. He briefly lets go to wipe his palm over the slick on his thighs to wet his grip, moaning loudly at the slide of his cock through his fingers now. Thoughts of how Yixing would be so hot over him, his hands rough as he pinned Baekhyun to the furs and used him until they were tied together taunt Baekhyun with every stroke over his cock, every thrust of his fingers as his legs fall open further.

Baekhyun is past caring who can hear him now, fully focused on bringing himself over the edge until it all stops. He just wants it to stop. Knowing that this is only the beginning only makes it worse. Baekhyun moves quicker, pushing pushing pushing until his thighs are trembling and his cock pulses in his hand, coming over his fist again.

It doesn’t help.

Baekhyun grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut tight, refusing to stop even when his wrists twinge with pain and a cramp shoots through his foot and up his calf. He plants his heels and rolls his hips up into his hand, easily thrusting three fingers in and out of himself at a hurried pace and when he comes for a third time, he calls out Yixing’s name.

Every climax he coaxes out of himself seems to leave Baekhyun worse than before and yet he can’t stop. He aches everywhere and he’s curled on his side, shuddering from the cool rush of air that rolls over his sweat slick skin. He groans when a firm hand pushes him onto his back. Baekhyun blinks Joonmyun’s face into view and he whines softly at his friend.

Joonmyun places a rag wetted with cool water on Baekhyun’s forehead, pushing down lightly. He’s careful as he lifts Baekhyun’s head to rest on his leg, speaking softly when he holds water to Baekhyun’s dried lips. “It will get better,” Joonmyun promises, thumb brushing around Baekhyun’s eyes to catch his tears. “This part is always the worst.”

Baekhyun can’t offer Joonmyun more than a whimper. He’s squirming already, resisting the urge to roll onto his stomach to present himself. He wants to demand that Joonmyun haul Yixing inside to take care of him and it hurts knowing he had an alpha in his grasp and couldn’t hold on to him.

Joonmyun sticks around a little while longer, telling Baekhyun he’ll be back later with food. It’s at this point that Baekhyun realizes that he’s in this for the long haul. He spares only a moment to wryly remember when he couldn’t wait to hit his maturity. Oh he’d been such a naive pup.

 

The hours bleed together, day into night and back into day and Baekhyun hardly notices. He doesn’t feel like he’s inside his own body, but floating over it, watching as he goes through the motions that finally begin to bring him a little relief. The absolute need that had clawed at his insides during the first day or two fades into something more bearable, less demanding and when Joonmyun - sometimes Jongin - comes to visit, Baekhyun can finally speak.

He’d been dangerously close to ripping his way out of his tent once, but Yifan and Jongin had caught him first, dragging him back and sitting with him until he calmed down. He apologizes for it, but it’s brushed aside. The only person Baekhyun refuses to apologize to is Yixing. No matter how much better he’s feeling, Baekhyun is still angry with the alpha. It could have been so simple. But instead he’s suffering through a heat that could have been over by now.

“Almost,” Joonmyun tells him, wiping the hair from Baekhyun’s forehead.

Baekhyun gulps down the water and sighs, letting his head fall back onto Joonmyun’s lap. Joonmyun’s been able to stay with him longer now that Baekhyun’s heat isn’t demanding his attention nonstop. He honestly doesn’t know how anyone could do this more than once. It’s maddening. He has a newfound respect for Joonmyun. He could have had Chanyeol and he’d decided not to.

He does appreciate Joonmyun being there for him though. And he thanks him every chance he gets because he knows he couldn't have been nice to anyone during the first few days.

Baekhyun finally crawls his way out of his tent, taking in the fresh air greedily, nearly five days after it started. His entire body is weak and he knows he reeks, but he's determined to claw his way to the river if he has to. Being able to wash the sweat and come off his skin is all Baekhyun wants and he'll do anything for it to happen.

His eyes squint in the sunlight, unused to the brightness and he peers around for someone to lean on. Yifan would be preferable because Baekhyun could probably get the large omega to just carry him the entire way, but he's nowhere to be seen. Baekhyun is on his hands and knees, slowly moving forward when he catches movement out of the corner of his eye.

When Baekhyun turns his head, he's met with the sight of Yixing staring at him, clearly spooked. Part of Baekhyun enjoys knowing that Yixing is near, but mostly he's angry. Baekhyun curls his lip, letting out a low growl and Yixing ducks back inside his own tent. Baekhyun feels mildly mollified.

"You should be a little nicer," Joonmyun chides, startling Baekhyun from where he's still crouched on the ground. Naked. But the breeze feels too nice to cover up when he's been burning up for days. "Yixing was frantic about knowing how you were doing."

"Was he close enough to hear me calling out his name?" Baekhyun snaps back, eyes narrowed.

Joonmyun sighs, leaning down to comb his fingers through the clumps in Baekhyun's hair. "Yes." Baekhyun blinks, surprised. "I don't know what's going on between you two, but Yixing nearly tore himself up not rushing in to answer your calls. And he never left the area."

Some of the fight drains from Baekhyun and he allows Joonmyun to hoist him off the ground. He wishes things with Yixing weren't so confusing. At least Joonmyun drops the subject, the two of them shuffling to the river in silence. It's a gorgeous day outside, although Baekhyun's judgement may be clouded since he's been stuck inside. But the sun filters through the tree tops and the breeze is light enough to cool him off without giving him a chill.

The gently flowing water from the river has warmed since the last time Baekhyun was in it and this time, he sinks down until only his head is sticking out. Joonmyun flicks water at Baekhyun who scrunches his face, ducking his head beneath once to avoid it as Joonmyun laughs at him.

It's refreshing to simply let himself go as Joonmyun takes to cleaning Baekhyun from head to toe just as Baekhyun had done for him. The two of them wile away the hours languishing in the water, letting the sun heat their skin until Baekhyun's cheeks are pink and his eyes feel heavy. The exhaustion from expending so much energy is catching up with him and he would crawl back to his tent except it reeks of come and sweat and the lingering scent of Baekhyun's heat.

That's not something a few hours of airing out will get rid of. Baekhyun finds himself sitting on the shore, legs still in the water as he stares at the sun sinking toward the tree line. A waterlogged Joonmyun had made his way back to camp to start cleaning out their tent a while ago, leaving Baekhyun to his thoughts.

What's going to happen to him now?

He should probably head back to camp to avoid getting caught alone in the dark. He didn't use to feel vulnerable, but now that he's reached full maturity, it's almost like he's exposed. Especially since he doesn't have anything on after being accustomed to wearing shirts and pants all the time. Still, the cool air does wonders for his mood and his heart isn't so heavy when he finally picks himself up from the grass.

Baekhyun thinks about shifting, but it requires too much energy, so he shuffles his way home slowly. It's been a long time since he's stopped to appreciate everything around him. The forest seems calmer today even if the sounds of life are all around him. With the sun tipping into the horizon, leaving streaks of purples and oranges across the sky, all manner of animals are either settling in for the night or waking up to begin their day.

Baekhyun is fortunate to be a part of this. He keeps his footsteps soft, practiced in slipping silently through the trees. His mind wanders to better times when he was younger, always prancing around as this small wolf, biting at his mother's ankles so she'd join him in darting into the woods. He'd learned his way around the lands surrounding the camp as an energetic pup who only found beauty in the world.

He wishes he could go back to that time.

Baekhyun's feet take him down familiar paths, mindlessly wandering further into the trees without a thought. It's only when he realizes where his subconscious is leading that he stops in his tracks, but it's too late.

Sitting in their little clearing, the fire doused now that the weather isn't cold, is Yixing. His head snaps up, his eyes wide as Baekhyun struggles to breathe. He hadn't meant to come here. Anywhere but here.

"Baekhyun," Yixing says. His voice is soft, caressing through Baekhyun as it rides on the wind and Baekhyun so very much hates and loves how it clings to him and makes him want more. There's a sadness in Yixing's eyes and Baekhyun worries his lip, struggling against wanting to run away and wanting to run forward to bury himself in Yixing's arms. "You look better."

And the good feelings are gone. Baekhyun's lip curls and a low growl rumbles through his chest. "No thanks to you," he snaps. Baekhyun really needs to teach his body not to react to Yixing's presence in a submissive way.

Yixing flinches, but doesn't back down. He stands tall, stepping toward Baekhyun who refuses to let it show much affected he is. He can only hope Yixing can't hear the rapid beating of his heart.

"Baekhyun," Yixing sighs fondly, head tilted. The last lingering rays of sunlight scatter over Yixing's face before dying and the two of them are left in the soothing shadow that follows. "If I'd taken you during your heat, you would have hated me."

Baekhyun snorts, crossing his arms. "You presume I don't already hate you."

"I know I've hurt you and it wasn't something I meant to do."

Baekhyun huffs. "You obviously didn't want me, but you led me on anyway. Did you not consider that it would hurt me? Why do you suddenly care now?"

"I've always cared," Yixing is quick to say, stepping even closer. "I handled it all wrong. I know that. It's just that I couldn't stay away from you."

"What's so wrong with me that you wanted to stay away?" Baekhyun demands, his foot tapping in the grass.

"I didn't have a choice," Yixing answers, his tone growing colder.

"There's always a choice," Baekhyun throws back, eyeing Yixing up and down with distaste.

Yixing sighs heavily, raking a hand through his hair uselessly. The strands just fall down into his eyes again. "I weighed my options and realized there wasn't a choice even if it looked like there was. There was only one way if I wanted to protect you."

"You did an amazing job of it," Baekhyun snarls. "How could pushing me away - resisting me - possibly protect me?"

"Because they want me to be the Alpha!" Yixing bellows, the lid on his anger bubbling over.

Baekhyun stumbles back from surprise, arms dropping to his sides. There are a thousand thoughts running rampant through his head and none of them are making this any easier to accept. If Yixing had been chosen as a potential Alpha for the pack, wouldn't they all have been informed? “I’d have known,” Baekhyun mumbles, shaking his head before he looks up at Yixing. “The pack would have been told. There would have been a Trial -”

“You are the Trial,” Yixing cuts in.

“What?” Baekhyun asks, head spinning.

“The first time we met,” Yixing begins, some of the tension bleeding from his shoulders, “I knew you were going to be mine - that you were made for me to protect. There was never any doubt. I was so sure of it that I did anything I could to come down and see you. I didn’t know of their intentions to make me Alpha until just before I came to live here.”

“I-I don’t understand,” Baekhyun murmurs, staring at Yixing. “If you were so sure, why didn’t you take me when I wanted you to?”

“My Trial,” Yixing explains. “To become the Alpha, I must resist the one thing that I want most.” Yixing’s eyes are burning now, and Baekhyun can’t breathe. “And you were the one thing I’ve always wanted most.”

Tears sting in Baekhyun’s eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“You weren’t allowed to know. If you knew, you might have stayed away and made it easy. They couldn’t have that.”

“So I was just a test?”

Yixing reaches for him, but Baekhyun draws in on himself. There’s a weight in his chest, keeping him from running, but every instinct in him is screaming to let out this rage that’s pouring into him. Has this been nothing more than some task for Yixing to pass? Did the Council even take into account that Baekhyun is a living, breathing being with emotions? He’s spent the last months conflicted over Yixing blowing hot and cold, constantly making him question himself and wonder if he was worth anything.

“Baekhyun, please,” Yixing pleads, but it’s no use.

Baekhyun spins on the ball of his foot and takes off in the direction of home. He’s so angry. The wolf in him is snarling, snapping, begging to be set loose so it can sink its teeth into the people responsible for toying with him. They'd used him as bait, dangling him in front of Yixing to see if he was worthy. None of them are worthy.

There are others out and about when he breaks through the tree line, but with Baekhyun's clearly agitated state, they all move out of his way without pause. He storms past the alpha tents and through where he lives with Joonmyun. He even goes around his mother's tent before he makes it to the center of the circle.

The council tent.

He knows they're all still in there because that's all they seem to do. These old wolves with their air of superiority just love to spend so much time separated from the pack they claim to protect. It makes Baekhyun sick.

He bursts inside, ignoring the protocols for entering. Before him are all five of them, including his mother who is the only one who Baekhyun knows actually cares. The other four, all older alphas, stand up, glaring at the intrusion.

As an omega, Baekhyun should be cowed, but his wolf just wants to be set loose on them and Baekhyun shakes it back, but only barely. "You alphas with your egos thought it was a good idea to play a game with my life?" he accuses with a snarl. Baekhyun can see the clarity dawning on their wrinkled faces and he sneers. "Did you think I would roll over and take it? I'm not some toy you can use as you please!"

"You will calm yourself," one of them barks, stepping forward.

"Who are you to play so callously with others?" Baekhyun demands, moving toward the alpha. He hates that he has to crane his neck to stare at him, but he refuses to back down.

"We are the ones who keep this pack together."

"And you've done a grand job of that," Baekhyun spits, glaring at the alpha with disdain. The authority is rolling off the alpha in waves and Baekhyun braves it without flinching.

"We've done what we must. You feel we're playing a game?"

"Wait-" Baekhyun's mother steps toward them, but the alpha raises his arm, ordering her to stay put.

"The Trial is never a game. You feel you've been wronged, but what about the pack? If we'd instated Yixing as Alpha and he wasn't strong enough to have endured, it would have been all of our lives on the line. And it wouldn't be a game. It would mean division and death. It may seem like you have been wronged, but I would wrong you again if it meant the safety and protection of the rest of this pack. Your feelings are not more important than the rest of us even if it may seem like it right now. You are still a pup in many ways. I think it's time you grew up."

Baekhyun falters, tripping backwards until there's enough space between them to breathe. It stings, his harsh words, and yet the rational part of him knows they ring true. He swallows the thick taste in his mouth and lifts his head to look at his mother. "You knew," he croaks. It suddenly makes sense. She'd been slowly pulling away for a while and it only worsened when Yixing came to the pack to stay.

There's guilt there, plain on her face, that goes so much further than skin deep when she nods at him.

A pained noise skitters up Baekhyun's throat and he turns and runs from the tent just as quickly as he'd barged in. His head is too cluttered to think and his pride smarts. He means to head back into the trees to slink off and lick his wounds, but Joonmyun intercepts him. The first thing he does is throw a fur around Baekhyun's shoulders because he's been running around naked. The second thing he does is lead Baekhyun away from the prying eyes of anyone who may have overheard the shouting.

Baekhyun is shaking and there's something clogging his throat, his vision bleary through a sheen of tears. They spill down his cheeks when he blinks and Baekhyun chokes, pushing his face to Joonmyun's neck for comfort.

He feels all twisted up inside, warring with himself because he knows there's truth in the alpha's words, but it hurts. It hurts to know that he's been seen as so expendable and his selfishness wants to stay angry because it's unfair. But he's always adored his pack and has always wanted to do anything he could to keep it from falling apart and he'd done just that without even knowing.

Baekhyun just wishes it hadn't played out this way.

He's so tired and he allows Joonmyun to take him home. Their tent isn't so bad now and Baekhyun curls atop the cleaned furs with Joonmyun behind him. His presence is soothing and he doesn't ask even as Baekhyun sobs it all out. He's limp, drained, and still Baekhyun wants to scream and claw his way out to make it stop.

This isn't how his life was supposed to be. He was supposed to find an alpha, mate with him and raise a family while being surrounded by those he loves the most. Now his entire world is turned on its side and he doesn't know how to compensate. If he tilts too far to one side, everything will flip and he'll drown.

Baekhyun flounders in his emotions until he's dragged under into a fitful sleep. Joonmyun still doesn't let him go.

 

The morning brings little clarity. Baekhyun can't face anyone and he slips out early to hide himself in the little hole beneath the fallen tree. He knows he's being emotional and that eventually it will fade away and leave him ready to move forward. But he doesn't know how long that could take. Everything is raw, scraping too harsh against his emotions and he whimpers as he curls tighter in on himself.

It's difficult to admit that he needs to see Yixing. They need to talk about their relationship and see if there's anything worth salvaging. Baekhyun isn't so sure the alpha will even want him anymore after all that's happened, but he knows that he is most definitely still drawn to Yixing and probably always will be.

Yixing's words repeat in his head. I knew you were going to be mine - that you were made for me to protect.

It's almost enough to have Baekhyun go off in search of the alpha. Instead, he reminds himself of how he'd snapped at Yixing and how many times he'd run from the alpha or ignored him. Could Yixing still want him after that?

And does Baekhyun want to be with him?

It's not as simple as a yes or a no. Not when Yixing is going to be the Alpha. The responsibility of leading an entire pack isn't an easy one and Yixing will have his work cut out for him to bring this pack back to the way it should be. It would leave little time for a mate.

It also means that Yixing's life will be in danger at every moment. Baekhyun will never forget the way his mother suffered being alone when he was young. She'd been left by the Alpha, left by her mate to raise their son on her own. And no matter what Baekhyun did, it was never enough to erase that loneliness from her eyes.

Baekhyun's mother is a pillar of strength, but Baekhyun is not. He doesn't know if he could handle it if he were to lose Yixing after they were mated. He's never been strong, never had that will to persevere through the worst storms as she does. If he had to go through what his mother did, he wouldn't make it.

Baekhyun won't do it. He can't do it.

And that just makes everything hurt worse.

 

Baekhyun learns that Yixing only had to hold out through Baekhyun's first heat without giving in in order to become Alpha. Something about how strong Yixing must be in order to resist him makes Baekhyun proud even if it stings to know that Yixing is capable of resisting. It's a conundrum that makes his head hurt.

He's sitting in the back, hidden in the shadows with Joonmyun at his side because Baekhyun doesn't want to be seen. It's been days and yet the thought of facing anyone still has Baekhyun burrowing away to hide himself. It's not shame that spurs him, but something that goes deeper. He finds himself lacking and Yixing deserves more. Yixing needs more.

It's night and the bonfire is lit. The pack is gathered around, all of them watching as Yixing kneels before them. He's bare in front of everyone, his head bowed as the council stands behind him. Their words rings through the air, old writings that will bind Yixing as the Alpha of their pack.

Before it's finalized, the council addresses the pack, informing any of them that if they disapprove of their soon-to-be Alpha, that they are free to leave now without repercussion. No one moves, but Baekhyun twitches and Joonmyun pulls him closer to keep him from doing something stupid. It's as if Joonmyun knows exactly what flitted through Baekhyun's mind.

A wreath of vines is placed on Yixing's head and he stands as Alpha. The pack goes wild, screaming and cheering and dancing around the fire. There will be a feast after, and a celebration that will last throughout the night. Baekhyun doesn't plan on sticking around for it. Although he does encourage Joonmyun to accept Chanyeol's hand and partake.

Baekhyun watches for a while, his heart settled heavy in his chest as the pack finally gets what they've needed the most. It's a hollow victory for Baekhyun who feels as if he's sacrificed a part of himself that he'll never get back.

He doesn't know what to do with himself. Can he go back to his life and simply return to his usual routine as if nothing happened?

Baekhyun stares at the tips of the flames, watching as embers flit into the sky, burning bright orange before growing dark and floating away in the breeze. He tries not to think of the days ahead.

Baekhyun realizes he's not alone too late. Yixing appears before him, still wearing that crown, but at least he has pants on. There's a softness to his features and he doesn't say anything as he gently takes Baekhyun's hand, pressing a kiss to his palm. Baekhyun shudders, forcing out a deep breath as he tries not to let himself be so easily drawn in.

"I couldn't ask before," Yixing begins. The flames are reflected in Yixing's eyes and Baekhyun is entranced. "But I can now." Yixing moves closer, slotting his fingers with Baekhyun's and squeezing. "Baekhyun," he whispers reverently, "will you be mine?"

It would be easy to let the moment take him over. He could say yes and live in a delicate bubble of joy for as long as it took for something or someone to come along and burst it open. Then Baekhyun would be left stripped of everything without a way to recover.

Baekhyun carefully pulls his hand away. "I can't."

Yixing looks as if Baekhyun's just struck him. "Why?"

"My father was the Alpha and he was killed. I can't be the one left behind. I'm not strong enough. I want you, Yixing, but sharing you with the pack is something I can't do."

Yixing tilts his head, eyebrows furrowed. "You would only have me if I wasn't Alpha? You'd want me to choose between being with you and keeping the pack safe? That's not fair."

"I never said you had to choose. I'm the one choosing. I'm not strong enough. I can't be what you need."

"And what would you have me be for you to have me?"

“There’s an entire pack looking to you now. You’re responsible for them. It’s not as simple as what you should be just for me. The pack needs the leadership and strength an Alpha brings. The Alpha’s mate has to be just as strong. My mother had it in her, but I’m not my mother. I just want a mate who will be at my side, someone to be there for me and our children. I want to grow old and get wrinkles in places I didn't think I could get wrinkles and I want to laugh about them with my mate. My mate. Not the pack's Alpha. You're not asking me to just be your mate, you're asking me to be the Alpha's mate. Before, when it was you as my mate, then maybe I could, but I'm not strong enough to be the Alpha's mate with an entire pack looking to me."

Yixing takes a step back and Baekhyun hurts when he sees the look on Yixing's face. "I'm sorry that it can't be that way for you. My fate was sealed from the moment I called this pack mine. I was always going to be Alpha.”

“I didn’t know that! You knew and you’ve been preparing for it, but for me it’s different. Nothing has changed for you, but everything has for me. You’re strong enough to lead, but I’m not. And if something happens to you, it would be me they’d look to to hold everyone together, but who would hold me together?” There’s a knot in Baekhyun’s throat that he can’t swallow down and he knows his voice is shaking. He’s trying to hold it all in, keep up a strong front, but he’s slowly unravelling. “I’m not strong enough to do that. I haven’t had the time to prepare and I can’t.”

“I didn't know becoming Alpha was going to take you from me."

Baekhyun wills back the tears that are dancing in his vision, but he can't. Yixing sounds broken and Baekhyun feels broken.

"The pack is more important than the individual," Yixing says and it sounds more like he's telling it to himself, but his stare is oriented on Baekhyun.

"And I care for you even more because you will always do the right thing," Baekhyun admits. The tears are spilling down his cheeks now and he makes no move to brush them away.

"But it's not enough for us," Yixing states.

Baekhyun wants to tell Yixing that he's wrong. He wants to shout that Yixing is more than enough, but the words get lodged in his throat as Yixing walks away. It's Baekhyun who isn't enough and he hates himself for it.

 

Baekhyun tries. He gets up in the morning with Joonmyun and accompanies him to the circle for breakfast. He attempts to hold his own in conversations that die because he’s lost his train of thought. Jongin and Sehun pipe up to keep things going, but Baekhyun is already pulling away to sit as a spectator while his friends move on.

Sehun seems to have a tight hold on Luhan and Minseok; the two alphas scramble to do anything he wants even if Sehun doesn’t mean for them too. A blush flourishes on his cheeks every time it happens and it usually leads to the three of them slinking off to be alone. Jongin likes to pick fun at Sehun, but Sehun has ammo in the form of Yifan. It had taken Sehun lifting Jongin’s shirt teasingly for Baekhyun to notice the claim mark around Jongin’s left nipple. There’s a matching one on Yifan that he’d been told about later.

Even Chanyeol has made headway with Joonmyun who is more open with his affections now that Chanyeol seems to have gotten over Jongin. Chanyeol is still an overgrown pup with far too much energy, but now that all that energy is oriented at getting Joonmyun to notice him, talk to him, touch him, it’s more endearing than annoying. Baekhyun asked Joonmyun when he’d finally allow Chanyeol to court him and Joonmyun had gotten this small, secretive smile that lit up his eyes. “Soon,” he’d breathed. “Soon.”

The pack is moving on.

With an Alpha to properly lead them, the council has been set loose from their chains of responsibility. Yixing had allowed them to keep their titles and promised to run all major decisions past them out of respect, but there’s no mistake that Yixing is the final authority in all things. The oldest and strongest of their alphas all bow to him, never once speaking ill of Yixing.

There are also whispers of omegas making their interest known. One of the duties impressed upon an Alpha is to have children and Baekhyun knows this. And yet the very idea of another omega hanging from Yixing’s arm or leaning in to whisper in his ear makes Baekhyun’s stomach twist and his wolf growls territorially. Baekhyun tries his best to keep his distance from the Alpha, but with a pack as small as theirs, bumping into one another in inevitable.

It doesn’t prepare Baekhyun for the sharp gasp that spills from his lips and the bubbling jealousy that curls through his veins at the scent of another on Yixing when the Alpha nears him. His eyes turn amber, his fists balled at his sides and Yixing stares at him, lips parted as if he wants to speak, but he stays his tongue. Baekhyun almost dares him too, but catches himself and manages to bow his head politely at his Alpha before walking off as calmly as he can.

“You can’t keep this up,” Joonmyun whispers into Baekhyun’s ear later. The two of them are away from the camp, half-filled baskets of berries in their hands as they pause to pluck more.

“It’s all I can do,” Baekhyun answers weakly. He crouches beside Joonmyun, leaning his head on Joonmyun’s shoulder.

“It’s not enough.” Leave it to Joonmyun to be blunt even when Baekhyun’s in pain. He whines, lifting his head, but Joonmyun uses his hand to push it back down and hold him there. “I know you’re hurting. And I know you still want Yixing because that much is obvious to everyone. But he needs to choose a mate and if you don’t move on, it’s going to rip you apart.”

Joonmyun grows quiet and Baekhyun shifts to nuzzle his face into the crook of Joonmyun’s neck. Baekhyun knows he’s right, but he doesn’t want to admit it. Baekhyun’s stubborn.

“It kills me to see you this way.” Joonmyun cups Baekhyun’s cheek and pulls away to look at him. “The light is gone from your eyes. There’s so little of you here nowadays. You’re stronger than this.”

Baekhyun closes his eyes and lets out a soft sigh. “Am I?” he wonders aloud.

“I think you don’t want to be strong,” Joonmyun answers. “And sometimes that’s alright, but not like this.”

“Am I being selfish, Joonmyun?” Baekhyun inquires, blinking his eyes open to peer at his friend. “I can’t let him go,” he confesses, his hands trembling. “I can’t even when I know I must.”

“Then figure out a way not to let him go and be happy.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know a way to do that, would you?” Baekhyun grumbles, dropping his basket in favor of wrapping his arms around Joonmyun’s waist.

Joonmyun sighs and sits to pull Baekhyun onto his lap. “I wish I did.”

 

Baekhyun goes to the only person he knows with the experience to help him. He thought he’d feel a lot of things when he stepped inside his old tent to face his mother, but the only thing he feels now is sadness. Complete and utter sadness. He sinks down at her feet, head low and shoulders hunched. His fingers twist in the fabric that pools at her ankles and she sits, her hands soothing when they run along the sides of his neck.

“My boy,” she croons, and Baekhyun breaks.

She pulls at Baekhyun until she has him cradled like she used to when he was little. Baekhyun’s bigger than she is, but it doesn’t stop her from gathering him close and rocking, her presence enough to calm him. “I don’t know what to do,” he confesses in a whisper.

"My selfish, selfish boy," she murmurs, her voice warm and soft and just what Baekhyun needs.

He hiccups on a sob and clings tighter to her, arms around her neck. "I know," he whimpers. He wants it all and it's tearing him up inside that he can't have it.

She lets him cry it out. It seems like the tears will never end; they just keep welling up in his chest and forcing their way out. Baekhyun sobs until there's nothing left and he's left sniffling with sore, puffy eyes and this hollow echo in his chest. He feels better and worse all at once.

"When your father died," she begins softly, her fingers combing gently through Baekhyun's hair, "I was devastated. It tore me to pieces and I never thought I'd be whole again." She leans back to peer down at Baekhyun, her thumbs gently swiping underneath his eyes as she cups his face. "But I'd do it all again in a heartbeat."

A smile teases the corners of Baekhyun's mouth. "Because of me?" he guesses.

She smiles at him, tweaking his nose as she screws up her face. "No," she admits. "For me. I was happiest with him - with the both of you at my side. And that's not something I would trade for the world. We didn't have much time, but it was enough. I will always treasure it the most."

She wraps her arms tight around him and Baekhyun snuggles against his mother, comforted by her presence and her words even if he still doesn't know what to do. At least he's stopped crying.

"Put your pride aside," she whispers, "and ask yourself if you could ever be as happy with someone else as you would be with Yixing. And there's your answer."

The answer is obvious, instant, and Baekhyun knows without a doubt that he would never want anyone as much as he wants Yixing. There's no hesitation. But is it enough? Is it really that simple?

Baekhyun indulges in his mother's arms for a while longer before finally crawling away. She leaves a kiss on the top of his head and swats him on the butt for being stubborn just like his father. Somehow, it has Baekhyun laughing as he slinks back to his tent.

It's been an emotionally long day and he's ready to sleep away the ache in his eyes. Joonmyun isn't there when he slips inside, but that's alright. Baekhyun could use the time alone to think over things. He knows his mother is right; she's always been right. She's always known him better than he knows himself.

If Baekhyun were to sit on the sidelines as Yixing claimed another, he'd regret it for the rest of his life. There's no denying it. He's starting to believe that any time with Yixing is better than a lifetime of never knowing what if. And it's not like Yixing is doomed to die like Baekhyun's father. He's a strong Alpha and Baekhyun should have more confidence in him. He's proven himself over and over already.

He falls asleep with muddled thoughts, hoping to find his answer with the morning sun.

 

Baekhyun wakes before the sun, having slept fitfully even with the reassuring presence of Joonmyun beside him. He lays there for a bit, listening to Joonmyun's even breathing and the thumping of his own heart. His mind settles on Yixing and Baekhyun wonders, after all, if he's too late.

Would Yixing even accept him after being rejected?

Baekhyun swallows down the foul taste in his mouth and carefully, slowly, eases out of the cage of Joonmyun's arms. He pauses when he sees the dark mark on his friend's neck, smiling to himself because now that he's paying attention, he can smell so much Chanyeol lingering over his skin. Gently, he sweeps the hair from Joonmyun's forehead. Baekhyun owes him a lot; he'll be sure to thank him later.

It's still mostly dark when Baekhyun steps outside, the soft grass tickling his feet. He breathes in the fresh air, letting it curl around him and clear his head. His eyes settle on the tent not far from his where Yixing used to live. He's moved to the one in the center of camp now and Baekhyun doesn't like the new distance.

Baekhyun makes his way through the sleeping camp, his footfalls quiet and his chest tight. His hands are shaking when he stops in front of Yixing's tent. The last time he'd been inside, it had been the meeting place for the council, but now it's home to the Alpha. It's more intimidating knowing Yixing is inside and he nearly falters.

Baekhyun doesn't know where the courage that has him sneaking inside the Alpha's tent comes from, but once he does, all trepidation vanishes. Yixing's presence is everywhere and Baekhyun blinks his vision into focus through the darkness, orienting on where the Alpha is still asleep on the far side.

Baekhyun discovers, upon approaching, that Yixing wears nothing to bed and he kicks his furs to the side. He's a magnificent sight and Baekhyun's breath catches, his lungs filled with the scent of Yixing. It makes his head spin and he lets out a soft noise unintentionally.

Yixing stirs, his head rolling to the side and eyes cracking open the littlest bit. "Baekhyun?" he rumbles, lifting his head to peer more closely. "Am I still dreaming?"

There's confusion on Yixing's face. Baekhyun quietly makes his way to Yixing's side before sitting, chewing nervously on his lip. "It's me," he whispers.

Yixing doesn't believe him until he reaches out, his palm warm and calloused as it caresses Baekhyun's cheek. And then Yixing is awake, lifting onto his elbow to peer at him closely. Baekhyun covers Yixing's hand with his own and offers Yixing a smile. His heart is beating so fast, his senses all heightened by the proximity of the Alpha.

"I haven't lost you, have I?" Baekhyun asks, uncertainty staining the edges of his voice. Tears threaten to blur his vision and Baekhyun blinks them back.

Yixing shifts forward, thumb running along Baekhyun's cheek where his hand is still pressed. "You could never lose me."

Baekhyun nuzzles into Yixing’s hand. “I can’t promise to be perfect,” he admits. “And I don’t know if I’ll be as strong as my mother was when she stood by her Alpha, but I’ll do my best. For you and for the pack.”

“I think you don’t give yourself enough credit,” Yixing says softly, smiling. “But if you don’t think you are, I’ll help you. I can’t tell you that nothing will ever happen and you’ll never have to worry about being left alone. I wish I could. But I’ll do everything in my power to stay at your side.”

Baekhyun lets out a quiet sigh. Yixing's fingers slip so easily around to rest on the back of Baekhyun's neck. He uses his hold to bring Baekhyun closer to him until Baekhyun is staring into the red of an alpha's eyes. Baekhyun's wolf rises to the surface, antsy and eager, and he takes the final step.

Yixing's mouth is soft, his lips dry from sleep, but no less sweet to Baekhyun who pushes his own insistently against them. He's waited so long for this, yearned for it and it's no less than perfect. Yixing is warm and inviting, bringing Baekhyun in and tilting his head to kiss him deeper, harder.

Baekhyun's mouth falls open willingly and he moans softly, breathing in deep through his nose until there's nothing but Yixing. His hands find purchase on Yixing's back, winding around to hold tight because he's not letting go. Not now. Not ever.

His nails bite into Yixing's skin when he's suddenly lifted, gasping as Yixing pulls Baekhyun into his lap. The heat of Yixing's body is nearly overwhelming and Baekhyun is addicted to it. It's been so long since he's been able to soak in it and he appreciates it all the more now. A low moan rips from Yixing's chest and Baekhyun whines when he swallows it down.

"Alpha," he groans against Yixing's mouth. "My Alpha."

Yixing's hold on him tightens until Baekhyun can't breathe and his kisses burn trails of fire down Baekhyun's neck and to his shoulder. His shirt is stretched to the side and Baekhyun wriggles until he can rid himself of the barrier completely.

Yixing's eyes are predatory when they scrape over Baekhyun's chest, down to his stomach and then back up to his mouth. For the first time, Baekhyun doesn't fight when his instincts begin to take him over. He wants to give all of himself to Yixing and he means to do just that. His body relaxes and he molds against Yixing, head falling back as Yixing scrapes his teeth teasingly over his neck.

Baekhyun shudders and his toes curl and the heat builds beneath his skin everywhere Yixing touches. He rolls his hips and moans aloud when he feels Yixing's arousal against him.

"Baekhyun," Yixing growls in warning, his hands now grasped tight to Baekhyun's thighs to hold him still.

"Don't stop," Baekhyun begs, breathless. "Make me yours. I want to be yours."

The world spins, his back suddenly on the furs and Yixing over him, between his legs. The alpha is staring at Baekhyun, his eyes dark and flickering red and Baekhyun watches the way Yixing's tongue trails along his lower lip. He whines, reaching out because Yixing isn't moving and Baekhyun needs him to.

"You're sure?" Yixing questions.

Baekhyun nearly misses it, too distracted with the thick taste of desire in the air that's coming off Yixing in waves. He's a slave to it, a willing victim and the pressure in his chest is close to bursting. "Yes," Baekhyun answers. No hesitation.

His legs come up, ankles hooked on the backs of Yixing's thighs to pull him down. Yixing fits perfectly between Baekhyun's legs, his weight solid and welcome. The only problem is Baekhyun's pants and Baekhyun is about to say as much, but Yixing's hands are slipping down the back, palms cupping Baekhyun's cheeks. Yixing kisses the moan from Baekhyun's lips and licks into his mouth, using his hold to grind their hips together.

Baekhyun feels as if he's going to combust if Yixing doesn't hurry. His pants are pulled so tight around the front and his cock is trapped, throbbing. He whines pitifully, dragging in deep breaths when Yixing's attention moves down. His eyes are glazed over, staring mindlessly at the top of the tent. The wet heat that surrounds his nipple is sudden and Baekhyun arches into it, fingers twisting in Yixing's hair.

Yixing rocks their hips quicker, his mouth suctioning around Baekhyun's nipple as his tongue flicks over it. Every touch sends fire through Baekhyun, a spark that fills his groin until he doesn't think he can take it. Yixing moves to the other nipple, biting around it just enough to blur that line between pleasure and pain. And that's all it takes for Baekhyun to come.

It soaks into his pants as his head tips back, jaw slack and muscles tense when it washes over him. Yixing has his face pushed to Baekhyun's neck, breathing him in deep as he holds Baekhyun through it.

That heat is still there, simmering beneath his skin and waiting to boil to the surface. Baekhyun pushes at Yixing who raises to his knees, momentarily distracting Baekhyun from his mission to get his pants off because Yixing is hard, the tip of his cock wet and his knot already beginning to plump around the base. Baekhyun salivates, breathing in the scent of his arousal and it claws at his throat.

Baekhyun only snaps out of it when he hears the ripping of fabric. He looks down to see the front of his pants in shreds, Yixing's nails tearing through it like it was nothing and Baekhyun can't even be upset over the loss. The air in the tent is already heated, but it still feels cool when it fans over Baekhyun's legs as Yixing removes the last scrap from him.

Yixing's palms slide reverently up the insides of Baekhyun's thighs and Baekhyun's legs fall open. He's already so slick, just waiting for his chosen alpha to knot him and Baekhyun needs Yixing to hurry. He trembles as Yixing’s palms run hot over his stomach and to his chest before moving down his arms. Yixing takes Baekhyun’s hand, fingers lacing together and pushed to the furs by Baekhyun’s head.

There’s so much tenderness in Yixing’s eyes, so much emotion that Baekhyun could swim in it. And he would if this were any other time, but he’s been waiting so long for this. He raises himself up, stealing Yixing’s mouth for a kiss as he props his legs on Yixing’s hips. He can feel the weight of Yixing’s cock against his thigh and he rolls his hips, a sticky trail left over his skin.

Yixing hisses, pulling away with Baekhyun’s lower lip secure in his teeth. “”Baekhyun,” Yixing moans, rocking against him feverishly. “Are you -”

“Knot me,” Baekhyun begs without shame. “Claim me, please. I need it. Need you.”

It’s all the confirmation Yixing needs before his cock is dragging down the cleft of Baekhyun’s ass, slipping through to slick himself before pressing inside. It’s more than Baekhyun had anticipated. He knows the pleasure of having his own fingers inside him, but Yixing’s cock is something else entirely. He’s so full, stretched wide as his body gives around Yixing’s girth. A loud moan escapes Baekhyun’s lips as Yixing pushes all the way in until their hips are flush and they’re both out of breath.

He leaves welts down Yixing’s back when his cock drags out slowly, keeping Baekhyun held open with the crown before he’s thrusting back in with enough force to push the air from Baekhyun’s lungs. Yixing isn’t soft and gentle anymore and Baekhyun only wants more. He lifts into every thrust as best he can, relishing every tendril of pleasure that skitters through him with each slide of Yixing’s cock.

The pleasure only multiplies when Yixing’s knot grows large enough to pull on his rim. Baekhyun clamps around it, Yixing’s name on his lips when it finally locks inside him. Yixing lets out a soft groan, still holding tight to Baekhyun’s hand.

“Alpha,” Baekhyun whimpers, head falling to the side when he feels Yixing’s mouth on his neck.

It’s a simple press of lips at first, but then Baekhyun goes rigid when Yixing’s teeth sink into the skin and don’t release. He inhales sharply, body locked tight and his release flooding through him when Yixing pierces through. It’s a shot to the chest, an instant connection that bonds the two of them together.

Sehun was right. The pain was fleeting, but the resulting feeling is more than anything he could have prepared himself for. It’s like he’s come home and there’s nowhere else he’d ever rather be. Tears fall from Baekhyun’s eyes to travel down his temples and into his hair. He’s never felt so whole.

Yixing licks over the wound even as he rocks his knot further into Baekhyun’s pliant body. Baekhyun scrabbles for purchase on the furs, sending himself down onto it until Yixing stills, his cock pulsing inside him. Yixing tries to keep his weight off Baekhyun, resting it on his forearms, but Baekhyun isn’t having any of it. He’s smiling at Yixing, staring at him through the blur of tears still in his eyes and he’s never been happier.

“Mine,” Baekhyun says, laughing.

Yixing’s mouth falls open with a moan from the way Baekhyun’s body moves and Baekhyun brings him down for several sweaty, breathless kisses. “Thank you,” Yixing mumbles against his mouth. “Thank you.”

Baekhyun is crying again, trying to hide his face, but Yixing won’t let him. It’s overwhelming, all these emotions raging through him and he feels silly. “I’m sorry I waited so long,” Baekhyun sniffles.

Yixing kisses him again, tender and sweet. “I’d rather you were sure than have you hate me later.”

“I could never hate you,” Baekhyun laughs.

Yixing hums thoughtfully, nosing his way along Baekhyun’s jaw. “Not even if I do this?”

Without warning, Baekhyun finds himself off the furs. His arms lock tight around Yixing’s chest and he lets out a squeal as he’s seated in Yixing’s lap, the knot still keeping the two of them connected. It sends a shock of dull pleasure into him and his head falls on Yixing’s shoulder, hips rocking forward involuntarily.

“How many times do you think I can make you come on my knot?” Yixing whispers in Baekhyun’s ear.

Baekhyun moans his name, thighs spreading so he can sink down lower. “You’re all talk for someone who isn’t moving,” Baekhyun goades. Yixing’s hands are unforgiving when they grip Baekhyun’s hips to guide him and Baekhyun knows he’s in for a long day.

 

Baekhyun wakes up with a groan; his mouth is dry and he’s sticky from sweat and he’s pretty sure it’s dark outside. Yixing is behind him, an arm possessively tight around Baekhyun’s waist and his breath hot on the back of Baekhyun’s neck. When they’d fallen asleep, Yixing’s knot was buried inside him, but now it’s gone and Baekhyun feels empty, stretched too thin from so much exertion in one day.

He shifts, trying to lay flat and Yixing wakes, nosing at Baekhyun’s cheek until he turns to kiss him. “Hey,” Yixing whispers, smiling.

“Hey,” Baekhyun repeats, trailing his finger along Yixing’s lower lip. He’d bitten it a little too hard earlier, but the cut is already healed. “I can’t believe we spent the entire day in here and no one came in.”

Yixing’s smile only grows and he nips at Baekhyun’s finger playfully. “That’s because they could all hear you screaming my name.”

Embarrassed, Baekhyun shoves at Yixing’s chest, only to pull him back instantly because he doesn’t want to be apart. Yixing skims his lips over the permanent mark on Baekhyun’s neck, leaving soft kisses that have Baekhyun’s toes curling. He wonders if he’ll ever get used to his body’s reaction to Yixing’s touch.

“We should probably get up,” Yixing sighs. “Find some food.”

Baekhyun petulantly burrows closer to Yixing, arms tight around his mate. “Don’t want to move,” he pouts.

“I’ll race you,” Yixing teases.

Baekhyun leans back, pondering the idea. He hasn’t had a good race in a while and Yixing is always a challenge. Yixing seems to know this as well and he’s already peeling himself away, arms stretched over his head.

“Unless you don’t think you can win . . . “

The words have Baekhyun jumping to his feet even as his legs protest. “To the river,” Baekhyun announces. The two of them are absolutely filthy and a wash would do them good. They stand at the opening of the tent, staring each other down.

“On your mark,” Yixing taunts.

Baekhyun stands on his toes and pulls Yixing down for a kiss, fingers tangled in Yixing’s hair and chests flush together. His tongue swipes over Yixing’s lips before he leans away. “Go,” he whispers.

He sprints off, leaving a dazed Yixing behind and confident that he might not lose so horribly this time. The air does wonders to wake him up and the stretch helps with the ache in his muscles. There are only a few people still out and they watch as Baekhyun passes, darting for the trees. He doesn’t bother trying to keep quiet, rushing over the forest floor and toward the river.

Baekhyun breaks through to the waters, teetering to a stop along the bank. His chest is heaving and the moonlight is bright overhead and Baekhyun turns to realize that he’s won. Elation swells in his chest and he’s grinning when Yixing gets to him moments later.

“You let me win,” Baekhyun accuses as Yixing advances on him.

“Maybe,” Yixing offers with a half-hearted shrug, his hands settling on Baekhyun’s hips.

“But you don’t let people beat you,” Baekhyun reminds him.

The light of the moon glints in Yixing’s eyes. “I do when they earn it.”

It’s a beautiful moment, one that Baekhyun wishes he could bottle. Except for the part where Yixing then pushes him into the river like Baekhyun had done to him so many years ago. He screeches when he hits the surface, falling under before resurfacing. Baekhyun scowls as he brushes the wet hair from his face. Yixing is laughing at him, far too pleased with himself.

Baekhyun splashes at him, nose scrunched and a pout on his lips. Yixing, however, wades into the water after him even as Baekhyun tries to back away. There’s no malice when Baekhyun tries to push him and he’s all too easy to conquer when Yixing bends to kiss him.

In the morning, the two of them are going to have to face the pack and Baekhyun will have to leave his tent with Joonmyun to live with Yixing. He doesn’t feel so bad about it when he knows Chanyeol will probably be nosing his way into Joonmyun’s tent soon enough to stay permanently. Baekhyun finally feels like he’s found his place.

 

The summer sun is high in the sky, unhindered by the few clouds that float by. Baekhyun isn’t bothered by the heat, lounging lazily on his back, soft blades of grass tickling against his skin where his shirt has risen up and the familiar, welcome weight of Yixing’s head resting on his stomach. It’s a lazy day that’s been well earned.

The last days of Spring had been spent gathering and drying the last of the berries so they didn’t go bad and Baekhyun had been in charge of it all. He hadn’t realized how much responsibility his mother had taken on just by being the Alpha’s mate even before he was gone. For years she had maintained her position over the omegas, helping task and organize everything to ensure the pack’s needs were met even after the Alpha was gone. Baekhyun is stumbling along, trying to keep up with her legacy and there have been a few roadblocks, but he’s getting the hang of it now.

He’d been afraid that his being catapulted so suddenly to the top of the omegas would lead to resentment, but instead, his friends had stood by his side and helped him when he faltered. He honestly doesn’t know what he’d do without Joonmyun, Jongin and Yifan for support. And sure, Sehun too - when he’s not whining because he hates berry picking because he gets cut up, and pouts until someone bops him on the nose. He stopped the day Liyin told him that she didn’t mind the scratches from thorns because Jongdae liked to lick her fingers clean after.

Yixing is playing with Baekhyun’s hand, distracting him from what promises to be a wonderful nap because his touch sends shivers skittering up Baekhyun’s arm. He’d ask him to stop, but he’s enjoying the attention. Yixing’s Alpha duties keep him away, sometimes for days at a time. He’d even had to make a trek back to the mountain pack not long after they’d mated to form an official alliance and solidify his position - returning with a few more wolves looking to settle in a smaller pack.

That first absence was the worst. Baekhyun had worried over everything until it dawned on him that there was very little difference from what he’d done before. More people looked to him, but helping was something so ingrained in him that it was second nature. It eased his nerves and he rose to every occasion a little more confident than he’d been before. He still nearly climbed right up on Yixing the moment he was back in camp, scrambling into his arms and refusing to be parted from him for days.

Yixing gazes up at Baekhyun with a soft smile, taking Baekhyun’s hand and placing it on his head with a pleading look. Baekhyun scoffs for show before sliding his fingers through the silky strands of Yixing’s hair, his nails scraping carefully as Yixing leans into his touch. Sometimes he can be worse than Sehun who still seeks head scratches from anyone who isn’t busy.

Off to the side, Sehun is doing just that. Minseok and Luhan each have a hand stroking through his hair while speaking to each other in low voices as Sehun drifts to sleep. He’s been napping everywhere lately and Yixing’s mentioned a slight change to Sehun’s scent. Baekhyun has the sneaking suspicion that he might be carrying a little one or two.

Joonmyun’s probably picked up on it too. Probably. He’s got his hands full with Chanyeol who is even worse than before. Now that Chanyeol’s officially claimed Joonmyun as his, he’s become possessive. He darts over any time he gets a moment, draping himself entirely over the smaller omega until Joonmyun is slumping forward and ordering him to get off or he’ll force him to sleep outside. It’s an empty threat, but Chanyeol always slides off, pouting until Joonmyun gives in and allows him a hug before pushing him away.

When Baekhyun looks over, he sees the corners of Joonmyun’s lips fighting to stay down because Chanyeol has manhandled Joonmyun onto his lap and has him locked in place with no hope for escape. Joonmyun absolutely loves it, but he doesn’t want Chanyeol to know. It would only encourage him to do it more and while Joonmyun’s confided that he gets this rush every time Chanyeol holds him, it’s very distracting and he can’t think properly. If Chanyeol had his way, he’d never leave Joonmyun’s side and Joonmyun would never get anything done.

Chanyeol looks immeasurably pleased, his chin propped on Joonmyun’s shoulder, as he converses with the two people tangled together on the grass in front of him. Unlike the rest of them, Yifan and Jongin are literally inseparable; they spend their days going about their tasks, but always touching in some way. When Yixing’s alpha duties take him away, Baekhyun finds himself wistful when he sees their heads tipped towards each other, sharing whispers and smiles while he’s pining for Yixing. He’d unintentionally growled at them once just for being affectionate and they’d tackled him into the grass and snuggled him until he fell asleep.

Everything is falling into place. The pack is stabilizing, beginning to flourish under the leadership of a young, strong Alpha and Baekhyun is proud to be at his side. He’d once balked at such a responsibility, but he knows now that he’d been foolish. He was born the son of an Alpha, and raised by a woman strong enough to lead the pack after he was gone. Baekhyun was raised to fill this role and it feels right. Finally.

Yixing twists, pulling away long enough for Baekhyun to let out a soft whine at the loss of heat. But Yixing is crawling over him, leaning in until Baekhyun can see nothing but Yixing in his view. “What are you thinking about so intently?” the Alpha questions, nudging the tips of their noses together.

“You,” Baekhyun answers with a hum. He shifts beneath Yixing, laying out more comfortably. “And napping.”

Yixing drops a kiss on the tip of Baekhyun’s nose before leaving one on his lips. “You should rest lots,” Yixing mumbles, slowly leaving a trail of kisses across Baekhyun’s cheek and jaw, over to just beneath his ear. “You’re going to need it.”

“To put up with you?” Baekhyun jests even as his heart flutters and his breath catches in his throat. Yixing’s soft laughter rumbles through his chest and Baekhyun gets his arms around his mate, content and wanting nothing more than to bury his nose in Yixing’s neck to fall asleep.

“With the little me,” Yixing corrects.

It takes Baekhyun’s sluggish mind a moment to catch up, but when it does, his eyes pop open and he goes limp. “What?” he says weakly.

“Go to sleep,” Yixing grunts, dropping his full weight on Baekhyun who wraps around him instinctively. “We’ll talk later.”

Later. Baekhyun grins, fingers curling in Yixing’s hair. He’s comforted by Yixing’s even breathing and his steady warmth and his heart could burst from his happiness. He’s finally right where he’s supposed to be.