“We’re going to be late!” Taehyung sulks, head poking out of the door again, and it’s not like they’re really missing out on anything. The elders are probably telling the pack lies about how this is a peaceful merging, as if a certain level of hostility isn’t evolved. Jimin’s pack is smaller, the size of their land harder to defend with a pack steadily shrinking in size each year. It’s not like pack takeovers are uncommon.
“You just want to see that alpha,” Jimin says none too kindly, rolling his eyes. He’s having trouble sewing a button back onto his coat, unwilling to leave without something on.
“So?” Taehyung pouts, shoulders slouching as he comes over and falls onto Jimin’s bed. Their log cabin is empty, everyone else having already left for dinner. It had taken a day’s trek to reach the Evergreen pack’s territory and another half to get to their new homes. They’ve barely settled in and Jimin really needs some new furs, doesn’t think his old ones will hold up to the quickly dipping temperature. “Not every omega has alphas falling all over themselves to please them.”
Jimin knows Taehyung doesn’t mean that spitefully, or even with a hint of jealously, has seen first hand the kind of harassment Jimin’s dealt with. It probably doesn’t help that unlike Taehyung, Jimin has a hard time saying no. He snorts, “You want to trade places?”
“God, no, ew,” Taehyung protests, face twisted into disgust. Jimin’s finally got his button in place, slipping the coat on. “Besides, you’d be terrible at pranking all the shitheads who bother me.”
“You almost got us kicked out of the pack with your last ‘prank’ so tell me again about my ‘terrible’ pranking,” Jimin laughs, grabbing Taehyung’s hand to pull him off the bed. He leads them out of the cabin, Taehyung eagerly winding their arms together.
“It’s not my fault Minsoo throws temper tantrums as often as a five year old. Like I was gonna let him get away with trying to corner you like that,” Taehyung simpers, practically pulling Jimin along in his hurry. He’s got his neck stretched out, looking ahead at the fire pit in the middle of the pack’s central gathering place. The Evergreen pack’s made a clearing among the woods, trees chopped down to make space for the pack, with smaller cabins tucked away along the edges of the woods for those wolves who still had families to raise. Jimin likes it. “And he should have known better than to wander around with a leaking lamp — There she is!”
Jimin spots her just as quickly, Taehyung practically buzzing with excitement next to him. She’s pretty, short hair tucked behind each ear. Jimin and Taehyung find themselves at the back of the crowd, away from the heat of the fire, but hardly anyone is standing, leaving the alphas on the other side of the fire in plain view.
Their pack’s alpha sits next to the Evergreen pack’s alpha and well, Jimin figures he should stop trying to differentiate. They were one pack now. Jimin’s not as upset as some of the others, thinks that if such a merging is better for the safety and success of their pack, then there is nothing to complain about. But the prides of wolves weren’t so easily mollified.
There are two fires, each roasting a boar and Jimin supposes this is a special enough occasion. Taehyung’s whispering something into Jimin’s ear, probably about that alpha girl again but there’s a shiver running down Jimin’s spine, the feeling of being watched. He’d felt it earlier too, when they’d finally made it past the denseness of the woods. They were nearer to the mountains now, Jimin’s pack having lived closer to the human towns dotting the edges of the forest. The Evergreen pack lives so deep in the woods, Jimin’s not sure human feet have ever made it so far north. It’s colder, the furs he’s brought along to keep warm feeling like too little.
There’s definitely someone watching him, Jimin can tell, but he can’t pinpoint who, ignoring the nagging feeling to turn his attention to his new pack alpha. Jimin hasn’t caught a word he’s said so far, and they’d definitely missed the initial welcoming.
“As you know,” the alpha says, voice booming over the crowd, “with the joining of two packs, it is important to restore a hierarchy, create a sense of responsibility in our alphas to the whole pack. Afterall, it is hardly our omegas whose egos need to be kept in check.” This earns him a chuckle, and he allows the pack to fall silent once more before continuing.
“As is tradition amongst our kin, those wolves who are able to prove themselves in the days to come will serve as this pack’s first line of defense. They will serve our pack, protecting us from outside threats, against other packs. A strong pack, a healthy pack, is harmonious. There must be union amongst us, and in order to ensure this, I, along with your elders have decided upon a challenge.”
A murmur of excitement breaks out within the pack, and Jimin watches as Taehyung’s alpha perks up, attention captured. Jimin knows the hidden meaning behind their alpha’s words. This “challenge” would keep infighting at bay. The alphas from Jimin’s pack will want to prove themselves, but fights mean injured wolves, wolves who wouldn’t be able to help keep the pack fed, protected. Wolves are, after all, prideful.
“To all those wolves who accept this challenge, you will be given a week’s worth of time to bring back to the pack a kill. The difficulty of your kill will prove to us not only your strength, but your sense of duty. Remember that a true wolf puts his pack before himself. A wolf provides. We are a community before we are an individual,” the alpha intones, eyes piercing as he glances through the members of his pack.
“Those wolves who are able to bring back game deemed worthy of an alpha’s skill will be given a chance to prove themselves in a final fight,” he adds, rising from his seat. “To ensure the prosperity of this challenge, of this newly formed pack, participating wolves will be allowed to present their kill to the beta or omega of their choice and should that wolf accept your kill as worthy, you will move on to the fight.”
The whispers among the pack increase, the omegas surrounding Jimin suddenly far more alert than they were before. Their alpha offers nothing more, turning to Jimin’s old alpha as she continues where he left off.
“Before this fight, each wolf who has managed to move forward will present the fur of the beast they slaughter to a beta or omega as a prize. This is a laying of claim, but do not forget that simply laying claim does not mean the beta or omega must accept!” she exclaims, hands clasped behind her back. She’s aged significantly since Jimin’s youth, the grey in her hair too early. Keeping a pack together was a greater strain than perhaps any of them understood. Jimin watches her move forward, take position between the two fires. She glows in the heat of the flames.
“When the fight is complete, the new pack hierarchy will be announced, and alphas may make a final offer to their claimed beta or omega for a chance to become their mate. It will be the beta or omega’s decision to deem you worthy, do not forget. Any alpha found coercing another wolf will be exiled, without mercy! Is that understood?” she bellows and the resounding boom of howls that fill the air drown everything else out.
Jimin’s head spins, his hand tightening in Taehyung’s. He can sense the excitement radiating off his best friend but it’s not shared with quite the same vehemence. Since his coming of age, Jimin’s found himself at the center of a lot of attention, and while he doesn’t usually mind, it’s also tiresome, downright upsetting how often he has to defend himself from unwanted alpha advances.
Taehyung drags him into the hustle of their pack, roused for the days to come and Jimin flashes a weak smile as he returns greetings directed at him. He ends up with a plate of food in his hands somehow, seated next to Taehyung by one of the smaller fires started after the welcoming. Taehyung chatters animatedly, Jimin shyer, quieter and it’s always been this way; Taehyung makes friends easily.
It’s not until later, their elders retiring for the night, that Jimin feels like he’s being watched again. When he looks around, he can’t spot anyone and it unnerves him, but the gaze feels curious, not malicious. Jimin ignores it.
“The closest town is four days away by car,” Jimin reminds him, back aching from tallying cabbages. It’s getting late and they’ve barely made a dent in the storage room. To top it off, it’s chilly and Jimin didn’t think to dress for it. His hands are freezing. “And the pack easily has nearly 300 wolves. How do you plan to buy enough food for them all?”
“You know, it’s not written down somewhere that you have to be a know it all,” Taehyung mutters, nose scrunched up as he sticks his tongue out at Jimin.
Jimin laughs, grinning as Taehyung stands up to stretch out all the kinks in his back. They’re going to have to ask for help if they want to get all the inventory down before winter breaks. It was difficult enough getting large quantities of goods in the warmer months of the year, let alone when there’d be ten feet of snow trapping them to the woods.
“When do you think they’ll start that challenge thing? I haven’t seen Hyeri even once since they announced it,” Taehyung whines, starting in on counting onions. It’s only been three days and Jimin hasn’t really concerned himself with any new alphas, keeping to himself and his delegated tasks. There’s always a lot of work to do before winter.
“I’m sure you’ll get to see her soon,” Jimin replies, voice wavering as he fights back a sneeze. Taehyung had told him to go get his coat earlier and Jimin, stubborn as usual, had waved him off, saying he’d be fine. He regrets it now.
“Stop being an ass and go get your coat, or I’m going to leave you in this miserable cabin and go help with dinner instead,” Taehyung says, eyes narrowing and tone hard. There’s no point arguing with him now, Jimin knows, not when he’s clearly shivering.
Jimin sighs, scribbling down his count for the cabbages before straightening out. The storage cabin is a bit of a cluttered mess, crates of cabbages piled haphazardly on top of one another. “Okay, okay, I’m going. Sheesh.”
“And get your gloves too!” Taehyung yells from behind, just as Jimin pushes the door open. Jimin doesn’t bother replying, heading out into the cold of the evening, shivering as the bitter November wind hits him. He has a thick sweater on, but it’s not enough and really he should take better care of himself.
The walk back to his cabin isn’t long, the shrieks of some of the younger wolves filling the room as they play. Jimin laughs as one of them chases the other around his legs, rushing to catch his friend, nearly tripping in the process. He makes it to the bunk in front of his bed, pulling his coat out. The gloves are harder to find, and Jimin has to look under his bed before he spots them, mouth twisting as he shakes the dust off of them. His mother would give him a scolding for being so careless.
A quick glance at the clock tells Jimin it’s nearly four, and he needs to hurry back. Dinner would be at sundown and that’s hardly an hour or more away. He rushes back out into the cold, gulping down the sting of winter coming, lungs burning. As he turns the corner past the cabin, Jimin collides into something, someone, the force of it sending him toppling over.
Except Jimin doesn’t crash into the ground like he’s expecting, strong arms wrapping around his waist to steady him. Jimin gasps, hands fisting into the furs of the person holding him, smoky scent engulfing Jimin’s senses whole.
Jimin’s eyes widen at the realization, immediately shoving the stranger back roughly, cheeks burning with humiliation. “Let go of me!”
The stranger’s arms loosen immediately, and Jimin steps back quickly, willing himself to look the alpha in the eye. He regrets it, feels like he’s just been slammed into a wall, the wind knocked out of him. Sharp, piercing eyes look back at him, widened in alarm, hands raised with his palms showing, nonthreatening.
“Hey, sorry, I was just ― Didn’t want you to fall,” the alpha says, looking wary, almost nervous. Jimin finds it curious but he can’t shake the embarrassment simmering hot on his skin.
“Well maybe you should have been watching where you were going!” Jimin snaps, still trying to gather himself. He’s handsome, and that’s an understatement if Jimin’s ever made any. Black hair falls into big eyes, a strong jaw rounding out to a small face. Jimin thinks he might be younger than him. “I thought alphas were supposed to be good hunters.”
The alpha’s eyes harden and maybe Jimin’s overdone it but well, he can’t exactly take the words back now. The arrogance Jimin expects doesn’t come, instead, the alpha smirks, hands disappearing into his coat. “A good hunter always learns more about his prey before he attacks.”
Before Jimin can ask what that’s supposed to mean, the alpha leaves, and Jimin doesn’t have all day to stand here and stare at his retreating back. He hurries off back to the storage cabin.
Thanks to Taehyung they’re right at the front, his eyes fixed on Hyeri and Jimin would gag if he didn’t think it were so cute how smitten he was. He’d managed to talk to her the other day at dinner, offering her some of the apple tarts he’d made, giggling when she’d complimented his skill.
Hyeri waggles her fingers in Taehyung’s direction and Jimin has to pinch him to keep him from screaming something too embarrassing back at her, lovesick expression on his face indication enough.
“You’re so mean,” Taehyung whines, rubbing at his side, looking for all his worth like a newborn pup.
“Do you really want everyone staring at you as you blurt out ‘I love you’ to her,” Jimin counters, giving Taehyung a pointed look.
“I was going to wish her luck!” Taehyung exclaims, arm looping through Jimin’s. “You’ll understand one day, when you stop being such an ice queen.”
“No thanks,” Jimin says with a roll of his eyes. It’s not even that he doesn’t want a mate, he just doesn’t want to settle. Maybe he’s being difficult.
“I wanna go say good luck,” Taehyung pouts, arm still locked with Jimin’s. He better not be thinking Jimin’s going to come along, standing there like a third wheel as he makes love eyes at Hyeri.
“Then go,” Jimin encourages, giving him a little nudge and flashing Taehyung a smile. He looks uncertain for about point two seconds before he’s off, and Jimin watches as other omegas go and greet alphas, too. Some alphas are already mated, stealing kisses from their mates in good luck and Jimin thinks it’s cute. There’s a bit of a crowd around one of them, but Jimin doesn’t pay much attention. He should probably stop being such a stick in the mud all the time.
Their elders have already explained the rules. The alphas have one week to bring back their kill, present it to the wolf of their choice, and they could accept it or not. The fact that a single wolf can also be given multiple offers is what makes Jimin feel slightly queasy. He’s already been skirting around the new alphas he didn’t know, could smell their interest.
“Hey Jimin,” a voice greets and Jimin startles out of his thoughts, glancing up to find Namjoon’s smiling face. His dimple is peaking through, silvery blond hair even longer now, tied up into a small bun.
“Hey,” Jimin says, returning the smile, a shyness creeping down on him. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m good, although it’s been a bit of an adjustment,” Namjoon answers, hands shoved into the pockets of his pants. It makes sense, given that Namjoon had been something of a high ranking alpha in their old pack. Jimin hums in agreement, unsure what to say; he hadn’t lost any status.
There had been a time when he’d had something of a crush on Namjoon and Jimin’s not sure if it’s still lingering on the peripheries or if he’s just terrible at talking to people who aren’t his mother and Taehyung.
“You’re, uh, you’re participating, I imagine,” Jimin says, noting with a shiver that he can feel that same gaze again, the one that’s been following him around these past few days.
“Yeah, of course,” Namjoon grins, and it’s indulgent, the way Jimin’s used to seeing it. Back when they were younger, Namjoon had always brought Jimin wildflowers, said that pretty things suited him and it had been enough back then. Far better than the crude remarks other alphas had made since. “You’ll be cheering for me I hope.”
Jimin’s cheeks heat up at the suggestion, Namjoon giving him a waggle of his brows, teasing. He laughs, butterflies in the pit of his belly, “Of course.”
“Hmm, guess I’ll have to bring something pretty big back, won’t I? Caribou’s your favourite, right?”
He’s wrong but Jimin doesn’t have the heart to tell him, not when he’s always treated Jimin politely, respectfully. “I don’t mind it.”
“I’ll have to catch you a pretty one. You deserve something as pretty as you,” Namjoon grins, and Jimin imagines he’s referring to the fur. Omegas always wear the furs their mates bring them from their hunts, a sign of how well they’re being taken care of. The idea of mating Namjoon isn’t as exciting as Jimin imagines it should be, but he’s flattered anyways, thinks he’d be happy.
“I’ll be waiting,” Jimin smiles, attempts to fight back the flush slowly sinking down his neck. “But, ah, be careful when you’re out there.”
“Thank you, pup,” Namjoon grins, laughing when Jimins scowls at the endearment. He reaches to fix up Jimin’s scarf, although he’d worn it in excess today, having been caught in colder weather one too many times.
Jimin’s about to reply, but there are goosebumps rising against his skin, eyes fixed on him with such an intensity, Jimin feels overwhelmed. When he looks in the direction of the gaze, Jimin finds the stranger from the other day surrounded by a gaggle of omegas. Namjoon glances in the same direction but Jimin hurriedly draws his attention away, hand touching Namjoon’s briefly.
“Good luck, Namjoon,” Jimin says, but he’s drowned out by a howl, the final call. Namjoon’s off before Jimin can say anything else, the rest of the alpha wolves disappearing into the woods with speed. Jimin finds the stranger stays the longest, staring at Jimin until he looks away, flustered by the intensity of the gaze.
“Why was Jeongguk staring at you like he’s never seen an omega before?” Taehyung asks, suddenly next to Jimin. The pack lingers by the edge, and when Jimin looks back up the alpha, Jeongguk, is gone.
“Jeongguk, the pack alpha’s son?” Taehyung offers, eyebrow raised. “Do you ever listen to me?”
“Of course I do,” Jimin mumbles, except he can’t remember a single incident where Taehyung’s told him anything about the pack elder’s son. Had he been the one watching Jimin this whole time? After all, Jimin had felt that gaze before, since the first day…
“Liar,” Taehyung accuses, but he doesn’t look mad. Instead he flicks Jimin’s ear, laughing when Jimin winces in pain. He dodges Jimin’s punch easily enough, sticks his tongue out in victory.
“Asshole,” Jimin huffs, rubbing over the bruised skin. “How do you even know his name, you gossip.”
“One of us has to be the social butterfly,” Taehyung retorts, already grabbing Jimin’s hand and tugging him away from the other wolves still chattering around the edge of the clearing. Taehyung pauses only when he thinks he’s outside of earshot, dipping down to whisper in Jimin’s ear. “He’s apparently very powerful, Hyeri was saying. Has a lot of omegas interested in being his mate but it looked like he might have a thing for you. Poor things.”
Jimin snorts, shoving Taehyung away. “God, you’re so stupid sometimes. I’ve barely even talked to him, exactly why would he have a thing for me?”
“What do you mean barely even talked to him?” Taehyung, of course, had to zoom in on the one thing Jimin didn’t want to recall.
“He bumped into me a few days ago,” Jimin answers, shrugging.
Taehyung gapes at him, as if in disbelief that Jimin would keep such important information all to himself. Jimin really didn’t think anything of it, least of all the big deal it seemed to be for Taehyung. “Why didn’t you tell me before! Oh my god, I bet you a week’s worth of dessert he’s gonna lay a claim on you!”
“Just shut up and help me get my mom’s quilts back in before it starts snowing,” Jimin sighs irritably, heading off in the direction of their cabin. Taehyung runs to catch up with him, chattering about how he’s so going to be right and Jimin was going to have to watch him eat all of his desserts.
Jimin doesn’t mind his excitement so much as the thought he might have more than one alpha interested in him. Namjoon would be bringing him his kill as well. Fuck.
He glances back at the woods, at the spot Jeongguk had been standing at and all he can think of is his scent, burnt and smoky.
“It’s been four days,” Taehyung murmurs, the ends of his nails bitten clean off. Hyeri hasn’t made it back yet. For that matter, of the forty alphas who’ve left, only eleven have come back. Jiwon had brought back a wild boar two days in, dragging it between his teeth, throat ripped right out. The blood dripping down from his chest had told everyone the kill hadn’t been quite as easy as he was making it seem. The way Hanbin’s face had dropped, skin ashen, rushing to Jiwon’s side, had put quite a damper on everyone’s spirits, and then the snow had started.
Jimin curls up into his side, tired from the day’s activities. Taehyung’s got a hand playing with his hair, the downward curl of his mouth distressing. “She’ll make it back, and you’ll get to wear the pretty furs she prepares.”
“She might not even like me,” Taehyung says, mouth pressed into Jimin’s hair.
“I think she likes you,” Jimin says, having seen the way Hyeri returned Taehyung’s lovestruck look. It’s not as though Jimin hasn’t seen it before, knows not to mistake a look weighed down with interest with only friendship.
Taehyung doesn’t respond, just wraps an arm around Jimin, squeezing him tightly. It’s enough.
The taste of blood is metallic on his tongue, sits heavier in the air.
Jimin’s heartbeat thunders in his chest, eyes drawn to the edge of the woods. There’s nothing there, but Jimin finds himself leaving the crate at his feet, picking up his speed as he reaches the edge. It takes him seconds to strip out of his clothes, bones contorting to shift and lock into new places, paws hitting snow.
He's quicker like this, nose sharper, picks up the scent of blood easier. In seconds Jimin sees him, a massive carcass dragging behind him. There's a trail of blood accompanying him, and Jimin's honestly not sure if it's from the bear or Jeongguk himself.
The week's ended, the pack busy preparing for the feast in honour of their alphas’ return. Jeongguk's the last one, every other alpha in the pack finding their way back, sore and tired but victorious. But Jimin had seen the strain of tension in Namjoon everywhere, the limp in his left leg. Hunting is easier in a pack, not meant for a solitary wolf.
Taehyung hasn't stopped teasing him about Jeongguk since the send off, and Jimin's not sure what exactly he thinks he's doing, but he skids to a stop next to Jeongguk, notes the ugly gashes running from his shoulder down to his stomach. He's covered in blood, but the determination in his eyes is fiercer than anything Jimin's ever seen.
He doesn't make an effort to interact with Jeongguk, head bowing in submission in front of the alpha's domineering gaze, just wanders behind the dead bear, fur as stark white as untouched snow. Jimin's not sure where Jeongguk found such a thing, head pushing the animal from behind in an effort to lighten Jeongguk's load.
They work in tandem, pushing and pulling the beast until they break into the clearing, a small gathering of wolves already present. Jimin falls back, thinks the commotion will hide his presence well enough that he can wander back from around.
He finds his clothes where he left them, shifting back into his human form. The change back is always worse, bones cracking into place, claws disappearing back into his skin. Jimin's covered in a sheen of sweat, the ache scorching through his muscles stiffening in the cold as he scrambles back into his clothes.
The crate of apples is where he left it, his tracks through the snow almost embarrassing in their haste. A gust of wind blows his hood off again, and this time Jimin doesn't bother with it. He feels overheated anyways, feeling almost sticky with sweat in his clothes.
“Jimin!” Taehyung's voice rings out, and he finds his best friend clumsily attempting to run through two feet of snow toward him. Jimin can't help but smile, already knows why Taehyung's sought him out.
“Slow down, you're going to fall on your face,” Jimin yells back, continuing toward the kitchen. He wants to get rid of this crate, maybe start helping his mother with some of the cooking. It's not his forte, Taehyung's the better cook, but he’d rather help with preparing the food than be left to wash the dishes.
“You're going in the wrong direction! He's back!” Taehyung's finally managed to catch up, completely under dressed for the weather and it makes Jimin scowl. He's ready to drape his coat over Taehyung's sweater but he’s grabbing Jimin by the shoulders, shaking him urgently.
“Who's back?” Jimin asks, playing dumb. He shrugs off Taehyung’s hands, eyes narrowing when Taehyung attempts to reach back.
“Jeongguk! Alpha Jeon's livid,” Taehyung exclaims, taking half the crate's weight from Jimin. It's a little awkward carrying it between them but Jimin doesn't mind, the ache in his arms dulling out.
“Why?” Jimin asks, brows furrowed. “Shouldn't he be happy his son's back? He’s the last one to make it back.”
“He brought back a bear, Jimin. He could have died!” Taehyung answers, animated. “The pack alphas never go after bears alone.”
“Leave it to an alpha to overdo himself,” Jimin snorts, heaving the crate the last few steps. The kitchen is bustling, black smoke drifting off into the air. As much as Jimin does want to shrug this whole Jeongguk thing off, there’s something tugging at him to go see if Jeongguk’s okay. When Namjoon had come back two days ago, he’d been limping. The healer had said he’d put a sprain in his hamstring and Jimin’s mouth had twisted at the thought of so many injuries. This whole challenge was proving to be far more harmful than fun.
“He probably wanted to impress you,” Taehyung insists, grabbing Jimin by the hand. There’s a path carved out of the snow, heading in the direction of the fire pits. He lets Taehyung pull him along, hardly putting up a fight, the crowd around the edge of the woods where Jimin left Jeongguk already quite big.
“There’s half a dozen omegas dying to be his mate, I highly doubt he wants me,” Jimin reasons, the bite from the cold forgotten as they near the crowd. Shrugging his coat off, Jimin drapes it over Taehyung’s shoulders, glaring when Taehyung opens his mouth to protest.
“Thanks,” Taehyung mumbles instead and Jimin gives him a smile, stepping back as the crowd parts. He can see the dead bear now, fur glistening white, dirtied with blood and mud. There’s Jeongguk, too, steadfastly refusing his father’s help, looking paler than Jimin remembers. He must have lost a lot of blood and Jimin finds himself with his lip caught between his teeth, chest feeling tighter and tighter by the second.
“He’ll be okay, right?” Jimin asks just as Jeongguk’s eyes find his in the press of people. His breath catches in his throat despite himself, the earlier rush of adrenaline and worry fueling him to find Jeongguk now gone.
“What possessed you to go hunt down a bear?” Alpha Jeon exclaims, looking exasperated with his son.
Jeongguk doesn’t look to his father as he replies, eyes still locked on Jimin. “I wanted the fur to be worthy of its wearer’s beauty.”
“Who — ” his father starts, following his son’s gaze. Jimin shrinks back, but still finds himself under the intense scrutiny of the pack alpha. His head ducks on impulse, heartbeat rapid against his chest. “Ah, I see.”
Jimin’s never wished for the ground to swallow him whole quite so hard in his life, but anytime now would be spectacular. His face is aflame, sneaking a glance back up. Alpha Jeon’s discontent has transformed into an amused smile, disbelief colouring his eyes. Jimin’s light-headed, doesn’t remember to breathe until Jeongguk is walking past him, his father at his side. Their pack alpha tells them not to worry but Jimin can’t squash the feeling down fast enough.
“Are you still going to pretend he doesn’t have his eye on you, or?” Taehyung smirks, eyebrows waggling as Jimin finally turns to look at him and not Jeongguk’s retreating back. They’re headed toward the healer’s cabin and Jimin has to remind himself he can’t follow.
“Shut up,” Jimin mutters, fighting the heat cascading down his neck in waves. He notices he’s clutching Taehyung’s arm like some sort of lifeline, hastily letting go.
“And look at you! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you quite so taken with someone,” Taehyung accuses gleefully, arm slinging over Jimin’s shoulder until he nearly has him in a headlock. “Jimin’s in love.”
“Oh my god, shut up, Tae,” Jimin hisses, shoving at his friend. The crowd’s dispersing, but not without a few glances falling back at Jimin. He tries to smile them off, but there’s quite a few jealous looks and this is what Jimin hates. Taehyung let's go, Jimin straightening out quickly before heading back in the direction of the kitchen, Taehyung right behind him.
“It’s not your fault,” Taehyung starts but Jimin doesn’t want to go through this conversation again.
“It’s fine, Tae. I know. But they’re still going to be jealous,” Jimin sighs, hand running through his hair. The cold’s creeping through his sweater and he can’t quite hide the shiver that runs through him.
“Yeah but — ”
“But nothing. You should go check up on Hyeri,” Jimin says, steering the conversation away from him. He’s always been shy, but it’s never helped that the other omegas sometimes gave him the cold shoulder for garnering attention he didn’t want. “What did Healer Seo say?”
They’ve reached the kitchen again, Taehyung wrapping Jimin up in his own coat. “She said it was nothing. Just a scratch. I, uh,” Taehyung flushes, pulling the sleeves of his sweater down. “She let me, she let me clean the wound.”
Jimin’s eyes widen, smile spreading so fast over his face it almost hurts. “Taehyung! You’re supposed to start with that!” He barrels into his best friend, squeezing tight and Taehyung’s giddy with laughter, infectious in his happiness. “Shit, you’ve bagged yourself an alpha, huh?”
“Something like that,” Taehyung grins, Jimin pinching his cheeks as he steps back.
“Go on, go check on her. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
Taehyung runs off and Jimin steps into the kitchen, the heat packed inside the cabin overbearing. He swallows around the tightness in his throat, Jeongguk’s blood soaked chest swimming back into his vision. There’s a strange urge that floats up his chest from the pit of his belly and Jimin does his best to ignore it.
He didn’t even know Jeongguk.
It’s noon time, the sun peaking out from behind a few scattered clouds, sharp enough to sting everywhere Jimin looks. Alpha Jeon’s called for a meeting, and Jimin’s finally managed to drag himself out of bed, his mother’s disapproving scowl urging him to get going. Taehyung’s bed is neat and made, Taehyung nowhere to be found. Jimin already knows he’s gone to see Hyeri before the day’s chores swallow up all his time.
It’s cute really, how smitten the two of them are and Jimin almost wants to give this whole mate thing a chance when he looks at them. Hyeri’s got Taehyung’s same goofy sense of humour, her smile seemingly melting away any coherency left in Taehyung.
It’s been two days since Jimin’s laid eyes on Jeongguk, ignoring the way his wolf seems to fill with longing to see him. He hasn’t even gone to see Namjoon, feeling guilty. What’s worse is that he’s a pretty adept healer, would probably have been more help in the infirmary than trapped in the kitchen with his mother.
As he reaches the fire pit, Jimin takes note that he’s early. Wolves trail in steadily, Jimin finding a seat somewhere in the front with enough space for Taehyung and Hyeri.
The weight of the gaze falls on Jimin before he actually spots the healer, greying hair tied back in a long braid, cane supporting her weight. Jimin immediately stands, waits for her to take a seat before he sits back down, enough space between them to fit another person.
“How are you doing, Jimin?” she asks, voice gravelly, as if unused. Jimin finds her presence soothing, as always.
“I’m good Healer Seo,” Jimin murmurs. She’d been Jimin’s pack’s best healer and in the merging, she’d taken over as head healer for the entire pack. Jimin had spent hours in her cabin once, learning everything he possibly could, hoping to one day follow in her footsteps. Since the merging, he’s barely gone to see her, busy adjusting, helping his mother out with all her various duties.
She tuts, head shaking before fixing Jimin with a knowing smile. “You seem troubled, child.”
“Ah, it’s — it’s really nothing. Nothing to worry about,” Jimin assures, fingers twisting together in his lap. He can’t bring himself to look at her, eyes fixed on the ground.
“You should come to the infirmary today. I could use your help,” she says just as Taehyung and Hyeri show up, hands held together between them. Jimin nearly sighs in relief, smiling at the two of them before meeting Healer Seo’s gaze.
“I’d love to,” Jimin replies, refusing to think about how Jeongguk must be lying in a bed somewhere within the infirmary’s walls.
Healer Seo rises, smiling wider as she does so. “I’ll see you then.”
She moves toward the bench reserved for the elders, taking a seat next to Jimin’s old alpha. Alpha Jeon still hasn’t shown up but Jimin notices that quite a few of the pack’s alphas are present, a few with furs in hand. Jimin’s jaw tightens.
“What was that about?” Taehyung asks, just as their pack alpha’s presence shutters down the noise of the crowd. He looks severe and Jimin imagines he’s worried about his son, about the state of the alphas in the pack.
“I’m just gonna go help at the infirmary,” Jimin answers, leaning into Taehyung’s warmth.
“Good afternoon,” Alpha Jeon opens, standing at the very front. The fires have been started, warmth cascading over them in a glow of orange. “I’ve gathered you here today to announce that the final fight will be in five day’s time. All alphas have until then to offer their gift to the wolf of their choice, keeping in mind that should that wolf reject, you will automatically be disqualified. Choose wisely and know where your defeat lies.”
A murmur falls over the pack, Alpha Jeon leaving in a hurry. They’ve delayed the fight, and Jimin knows it’s due to the state of the alphas. A few extra days would give them enough time to heal, be at their full strength.
“Guess you’ll have to wait a little longer for your furs,” Hyeri teases, a finger lightly tapping Taehyung on the nose. Taehyung’s mouth immediately falls into a pout, eyes sad and imploring.
“But you said you were done!”
“Only the best for the best, right?” Hyeri grins, leaning in and placing a quick peck on Taehyung’s cheek, laughing when Taehyung turns beet red. “You’re so cute.”
“I am, aren’t I?” Taehyung simmers, practically glowing next to Hyeri. Jimin resists the urge to roll his eyes at them, can’t quite keep the smile off his own face. It was nice to see Taehyung so happy.
“Uh, not to ruin your mood or anything,” Jimin interrupts, getting up from the bench. “But Tae, can you let mum know I’m helping Healer Seo.”
Taehyung’s eyes light up with a mischievous glint but before he can say anything, Jimin’s off, waving goodbye. He isn’t going to have Taehyung tease him about Jeongguk in front of Hyeri, the two of them were like peas in a pod. She’d be just as relentless.
It hasn’t escaped him that he’ll probably have to see Jeongguk but Jimin imagines he’ll be resting. Healer Seo will probably have him helping with cleaning the place up, maybe checking up on some of the lesser injured wolves.
When he reaches the infirmary, Jimin squeezes in through the door, trying to keep his presence discreet. Healer Seo doesn’t seem to be back yet, at least Jimin can’t scent her out, the soothing smell of aloe lingering in the air faint. Instead Jimin picks up on lavender and rosemary, sharp but not overwhelming. There’s a wolf working at a desk in the corner, mixing together what smells like a salve. He glances up as Jimin shuffles in, face slim and eyes big.
“Can I help you?”
“Um, h-hello. Healer Seo asked me to come by to help,” Jimin answers, uncertainty lacing his voice. He lingers by the door, ready to head back out.
“Oh! That’s great! We could use an extra hand,” he smiles, getting out of his seat. The friendliness eases Jimin’s nerves and he manages to return the smile, taking note of the full beds in the infirmary. A few beds have been warded off, turned into makeshift rooms using separators. Even with the culmination of medical herbs swarming the inside of the infirmary, Jimin can make out Jeongguk’s scent and he nearly scowls at his own eagerness.
“Seokjin,” the other wolf introduces, coming to a stop in front of Jimin. They’re measuring each other up, instinct more than anything, Jimin noting that he’s a beta. It makes sense, Seokjin seems level-headed, gave Jimin the same sense of assurance that Hoseok always did. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too. I’m Jimin,” he echoes, nose finding exactly which separator Jeongguk’s bed is behind. Seokjin ushers him over to his desk, Jimin trailing behind him obediently.
“I’m just finishing up another batch of healing salve for some of the open wounds a few of the wolves have,” Seokjin explains, handing Jimin a tub of finished salve. It smells overwhelmingly of pennywort and witch hazel, but Jimin can make out the aloe and chamomile. “If you wouldn’t mind, until Healer Seo gets back, can you just change the bandages on beds four, seven, and twelve? They’ve got the most fatal wounds.”
“Yeah, no problem,” Jimin answers, already looking around for new bandages.
“They’re in the third cupboard from the right.”
Jimin heads for bed four, swallows down his anxiety until it swims in his stomach, nauseating. It’s not like he hasn’t done this before, but an alpha is still an alpha. Except Hyojung doesn’t give him any trouble, smiles at Jimin happily as he changes the bandages wrapped around her wrist. The gash had run deep enough to show bone, she tells him, her stitches neat and clean. Bed seven’s temporary resident is just as accommodating, the lacerations running down Yunho’s back long and thin, but plentiful. Jimin notes the flowers next to his bedside as he leaves, stopping short of bed twelve.
It’s possible the tightness in his chest is just for this alpha alone, Jeongguk’s scent strong even past the layer of curtains surrounding his bed. Jimin lets out a breath, sneaks a glance over at Seokjin but he’s busy working, grinding some leaves into a paste. Gathering up his courage, Jimin steps past the curtains, nearly shuddering as he catches sight of Jeongguk.
He’s shirtless, bandages wrapped around his right shoulder and arm, carrying down to his abdomen. There’s blood soaking through, Jimin’s heart sinking at the sight. His wolf feels anxious, as if Jeongguk is still in harm and not in capable hands. His eyes are closed, head resting on his hands as he leans back against a mountain of pillows, upright. There’s a light sheen of sweat against his skin, body fighting against his wounds, and Jimin’s never felt such a compulsion toward another person before, not like this.
“Hey,” Jimin greets, purposefully quiet. Jeongguk cracks open an eye and there’s no way he didn’t already know Jimin was standing here.
“Hey,” he responds, arms coming down, shifting to sit up in his bed. Jimin catches the wince he tries to hide, finds himself rushing forward to press Jeongguk back into his pillows. He sinks into the bed knee first, sitting on top of his leg as he ensures Jeongguk leans back.
“You shouldn’t move,” Jimin instructs, hoping he sounds stern, yanking his hand back as he realises it’s still pressed against Jeongguk’s naked shoulder. “Um, sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Jeongguk assures, smiles softly and Jimin willfully ignores the little leap in his chest at the sight, staring down at his pot of salve. “Seokjin wanted me to change your bandages.”
“Do you want to change them?” he asks, voice quiet. Jimin feels like there’s a right answer here, an answer Jeongguk’s looking for, but there’s a lump in his throat and all he can do is nod. He sneaks a glance up, catches a faint dusting of pink across Jeongguk’s cheeks and it’s bewildering really. Jimin’s never seen an alpha blush.
“You didn’t,” Jimin starts but he doesn’t know where he’s going with this, just that he’s sorry Jeongguk’s hurt and still bleeding.
He doesn’t want to finish the thought, thinks it would be brazen to assume Jeongguk will try to claim him, that the bear’s fur is for him. A part of him isn’t even sure he would want to accept, lingering fear of commitment sinking its claws into him. “Nothing. Is it still very bad?” Jimin asks, hand motioning toward the wound.
“Healer Seo said it was deep, any worse and I would have been breathing in my own blood,” Jeongguk smiles but it’s mirthless and Jimin feels like he’s upset him. He’d anticipated this being difficult but perhaps not quite to this extent.
“May I see?” Jimin asks, Jeongguk nodding in response immediately. Leaning forward, Jimin rests the salve on Jeongguk’s bedside table, doing quick work of Jeongguk’s bandages. Wolves usually didn’t take very long to heal, one of the advantages of their kind. The toll the body took in a change was too great, the added ability to heal quickly helping them to acclimate.
Jimin has to hold his breath, teeth catching his bottom lip between them as he stares at the gashes, angry and red, running down Jeongguk’s chest almost vehemently. They would heal faster if he licked them clean, but it’s an intimate gesture reserved for mates and parents to their children. Jimin and Taehyung used to clean each other up after a bad tussle, little scratches healing before their eyes, but that was before they’d hit puberty, before Jimin’s hopes that Taehyung might be a beta after all were dashed.
Jeongguk’s skin burns under his touch, and he still has that ghastly quality to him, too much blood loss in too quick a time. How would he be ready to fight in five days time?
“They’re not that bad,” Jeongguk mutters, snapping Jimin out of his daze. He flushes, feels bad for staring, head ducking to hide his embarrassment.
“You have a fever,” Jimin points out, eyes flickering over to the salve. It won’t be that effective, but then, neither will his saliva if there isn’t some kind of bond between them. They barely know each other and yet, Jimin can’t quite get Jeongguk’s words out of his head.
I wanted the fur to be worthy of its wearer’s beauty.
Being complimented isn’t something he’s unused to, but for some reason his wolf won’t let the words go, chest puffed out in pride. He glances back up at Jeongguk who’s quite unabashedly staring at Jimin, pads of his fingers feather-light as they smooth over the skin of Jimin’s wrist, his touch like fire. Jimin can’t bring himself to move, his hand still resting at the base of the longest gash. They’ve been stitched up, the same meticulous work he’d seen on Hyojung and Yunho. Healer Seo had tried to teach him how to stitch up wounds but Jimin hadn’t been ready then, thinks maybe he wouldn’t find it so terrifying now.
Lip caught between his teeth again, Jimin watches Jeongguk’s hand ghost over his skin, the sensation far too pleasant for his liking. He still wants to know, wants to hear it from Jeongguk’s lips, not just from what he’s reading between the lines. This isn’t even like him, fixated on attention from an alpha, especially one so stupid as to put himself in harm to prove himself better than the others. Except Jimin’s heart won’t stop hammering in his chest and he wants to know. It’s not like he won’t get an answer to his question eventually but for some reason Jimin can’t keep it in, voice quivering. “Is it really for me?”
Jeongguks stills, head tilting ever so slightly to the right, attention fixed on Jimin. “Is what for you?”
He’s met with silence, Jeongguk’s fingers tightening around his wrist. “If you want it to be.”
Jimin’s breath shudders out of him, hands fisting, and he expects the guilt but the relief, the way his wolf wants him to pounce onto Jeongguk is unexpected, borderline terrifying. “Don’t ever do something so dumb for me again,” he bites out, eyes stinging and Jeongguk looks shocked, a little speechless.
“Okay,” Jeongguk finally says, whispers, and Jimin slips his hand out of Jeongguk’s grasp, looking anywhere but directly at him. Jimin doesn’t expect the easy acquiescence, adds it to the list of things that surprise him about Jeongguk.
“This — this is for,” Jimin starts, runs out of courage, his wolf moving him forward until he’s licking tentatively at the nastiest part of Jeongguk’s wound, tastes blood on his tongue and the shudder that runs through Jeongguk. He doesn’t pull back or away like Jimin nearly expects him to, stock still under Jimin’s administrations. Jimin takes it as acquiesce, shifting bodily so that more of his own weight falls against Jeongguk’s thighs, the hand keeping him upright on Jeongguk’s other side. This close, he can smell nothing except Jeongguk’s intoxicating scent, Jimin’s mouth carefully working over Jeongguk’s gashes, salve forgotten.
Blood mixes with smoke, clouding his senses, and Jimin doesn’t register the hand sliding up from the small of his back until fingers curl possessively around the back of his neck, Jeongguk’s breath hitching. It doesn’t stop him, Jimin’s tongue sliding further down. He knows that if he lets himself falter, stop for even a single breath, he won’t have it in him to continue, embarrassment already burning red hot in the pit of his belly. His skin burns where Jeongguk touches him, breathy sigh escaping lips Jimin only allows himself to think of tasting in the split second before he slips away to sleep.
Jeongguk’s touch is light, almost reverent, and Jimin feels bolder for it, sinking lower until he’s level with his nipple. The wound’s ripped through it, careful stitches holding skin together and Jimin wants to see them gone, wants to pull them out after he’s done, Jeongguk’s wounds healed. If he lingers — tongue laving at the bud, wound shallower as Jimin strays from Jeongguk’s neck — neither of them acknowledge it.
By the time Jimin’s made it all the way down to the ends of the lacerations, Jeongguk is shivering under him, the taste of his arousal, his desire sharp in the air. Jimin finds it heady, feels almost dizzy, tongue dragging over the least fatal of Jeongguk’s gashes. The hand in his hair is tight, almost painful, but it only encourages him more, nearly breathless as he finds himself back at Jeongguk’s neck.
“F-fuck,” Jeongguk rasps, Jimin’s trance broken, body immediately jerking away, eyes widening as he realises what he’s done. The alpha’s eyes are half-lidded, something raw and all-consuming holds Jimin still, the taste of blood still heavy on his tongue.
When Jeongguk reaches for him, hand fisting into Jimin’s shirt, Jimin goes, allows Jeongguk to pull him in until their teeth clatter painfully against one another. Jeongguk kisses like he wants to devour Jimin, a hungry wolf and Jimin’s nails dig into the flesh of his thigh, mouth opening up, eager to please. He barely holds back a keening whine, Jeongguk’s hands dragging him closer, closer, fingers wrapping around Jimin’s neck, holding him in place. Every nerve ending in Jimin’s body feels like it’s been set on fire, mind a blurred haze, body submitting too easily.
Jeongguk breaks skin, teeth sinking into the flesh of Jimin’s lips too greedily, his lip splitting, and it’s enough, has Jimin falling back out of Jeongguk’s hold. He stumbles off the bed, nearly tripping over his own feet and he can’t look at Jeongguk, doesn’t even dare, rushes out of the makeshift room. Seokjin is still preoccupied at his desk, and Jimin can’t sense Healer Seo.
Panic has him running out the front door without so much as a goodbye, the taste of his own blood mixing too readily with the metallic tang of Jeongguk’s. He runs, frantic, bones contorting and shifting with each step forward until Jimin is tearing through his clothes, skin morphing to fur and then he’s gone. The woods swallow him.
And he runs.