The Manchurian sika deer was browsing in the clearing, having wandered a little too far from the rest of the herd in search of sweeter things to sate her appetite…and by doing so she had also helped sate their appetite. From their position in the undergrowth she was on clear display in the moonlight, the harsh white glow of the full moon landing on her dappled hide to make the spots stand out in harsh contrast to her copper coat. Her snout was buried in a thick sprouting of what smelled like buttercups to Yoongi’s nose, and they quite clearly tasted nice for she was happily consuming them; white lips shifting so that she could snag the heads between her teeth and chew away.
Yoongi’s first thought was likely at odds with the five other hunting pack members, yet he thought it anyway. He couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was even when she was nothing more than a meal to him. It was a rather pointless and romantic notion, one that the others would laugh at him for thinking, but it was true. Yoongi thought that the deer was beautiful, with her dappled hide and her large brown eyes rimmed with tight lashes. It seemed almost cruel to kill a thing of such beauty but it couldn’t be helped. The cycle was upon them and that meant that the cycle was upon all of the woodland creatures for the evening. It was much harder to flee from them when they were in this form than it was to avoid the traps they made for the rest of the month to try and snare them.
The deer was going to be a victim; but weren’t they all victims in the cycle?
Yoongi spared a quick glance over the brush to see that his hunting pack members were watching her just as avidly. Standing at the far front, head stretched forward and ears pricked high, was the only adult: Taewang. His grey fur was threaded with white and black and his white snout was grizzled from his years as a hunter. He was watching their intended prey without even blinking, yellow eyes wide and attentive, but the same could not be said for the yearlings beside him. Taeguk was trying his hardest to copy him and yet he was wriggling around too much, thick tail refusing to stay still and matching yellow eyes far too restless. So much for the chosen one, Taeguk couldn’t even stay still and yet Taewang wouldn’t scold him of course.
If Yoongi so much as stood on the wrong twig he would get a snapping bite aimed at the side of his head and yet precious Taeguk could do no wrong. As it was, Yoongi hadn’t made a single mistake so far in the night and he was hoping that this would extend right up until their return to the den. Hopefully with the deer in tow.
Yoongi might not have been restless or made a mistake but there was one downside that he was suffering from: his coat. His thick pelt of white fur was much too noticeable and so he had been forced to stay much further back in the trees so that the shadows stopped the moonlight from reflecting off him. Jooyeon blended into the trunk of one of the trees with her deep brown fur, and Woori and Holding were almost heavily hidden with their near black colouration. Yet without the aid of snow to blend into Yoongi was at a disadvantage from the very start.
He turned to look back at the deer and saw that she was still browsing, ears flicking every few seconds but seemingly not detecting any sounds that alerted her to their presence. The flowers were clearly engrossing enough to keep her attention and so Yoongi hoped that her final meal was worth it.
“We will strike,” Taewang said, nothing more than facial muscles twitching minutely yet they all followed his words. “The stomach.” He crouched low, holding his own stomach close to the ground so that his thick and coarse fur brushed against the soil. “I will go for the stomach. Jooyeon, Taeguk, go for the front legs to trip her up. Woori, Hodong, keep close behind to block her in.”
“What about me, Taewang?” Yoongi asked as he flicked his ears hard and studied their hunt leader, awaiting instructions.
“You should watch,” Taewang replied without hesitation, not even holding his gaze as he did.
There was an iciness coming off him that was enough to make Yoongi press his ears down flat against his skull and take a soft step backwards away from the group.
That wasn’t what he had been hoping to hear and it made him feel rather pathetic. What did the yearlings think right now that they were out here with him in tow? He: a juvenile that was still being told that he couldn’t even participate in the actual kill. They would probably tell the others about him, he was sure of it; spread it around the den that Yoonjae’s son couldn’t even land a kill. Yoongi had joined in on the stalking of the herd from the very beginning. He had taken part and yet at the most crucial moment in the hunt Taewang was holding him back. It was enough to make him drop his head in disappointment and maybe, maybe just sadness. This was supposed to be his chance at showing the family that he could do something, that he wasn’t useless, and yet that chance was being slowly pulled out of his grip by their hunt leader.
“Be ready,” Taewang seized his muscles up tight, raring to go, and on either side Yoongi saw the yearlings copying him. “Front attack, go!”
Jooyeon and Taeguk burst out of the brush first, darting ahead in preparation for her fleeing. The deer’s head shot up at the sound of the leaves rustling and for a moment, just a moment, she seemed to freeze in place. Her large eyes didn’t even blink. Then she hopped right up into the air and was fleeing across the clearing just as the others dived out from the trees to pursue her.
Yoongi had been told to not get involved but he couldn’t stay in the undergrowth, he still had to chase after them and keep watch. He shot across the clearing after them but stayed in the brush, head turned to track the chase. They were all in position and yet she was still much too fast for any of them to try and take her down, not even Taewang because if he dived at her belly whilst she was still running he could risk getting trampled. The two yearlings on her legs needed to strike but they were either too scared to do so or too slow to attempt it. She put up a good fight, that much was certain. Maybe the pack had underestimated her, had thought her weak and slow; but she wasn’t. She was fast and she was going to escape from them, maybe even injure one of the yearlings with her hooves if they weren’t careful.
Yoongi knew that he couldn’t just stand by and watch this all fall to pieces. Not when the best opportunity had been presented to them. This was a good meal, an easy meal, and if Donghae’s pack also brought back a kill for the family they might just be able to get through this change a lot easier than the last. Everyone could eat tonight if this deer was brought down, and that was what caused him to leap out of the bushes and dart across the clearing instead. The others were much too busy trying to bring her down to notice him racing up at the back and Yoongi managed to catch up with them in just a few seconds.
Taewang might have called him weak but there was one strength that he possessed and it was speed.
Yoongi managed to almost slot himself in between Hodong and Woori but it was useless. He was risking a hard kick to the skull being so close to her rear and he couldn’t possibly attempt to snag one of her legs at the speed she was going. He didn’t want to risk diving on her back lest she knock his slight weight free and instead he decided to go for it. Yoongi dropped speed so that he could veer to the side, panting hard, and then he raced as fast as he could to catch up with the deer. He was running parallel to her, able to look right into her terrified eye that had been so calm just moments ago.
Taewang had told him to not get involved and yet without him they were going to fail, he knew that they were going to fail.
Yoongi dived at her, jaw opening and snapping down. His sharp and rather reckless nip at her flank caused the deer to go careening away from him and that was when Taeguk managed to dart low and snap his jaws around her foreleg. This caused her to rear up and allowed Taewang to pounce and sink his teeth into the soft underside of her stomach, tearing out a chunk of fur and flesh that he spat out without a single care. Yoongi saw blood taking to the air, pattering down on Taeguk and Jooyeon in thick crimson rain. The heat of her blood caused the air to almost steam and the deer let out a horrible lolling cry as she was dragged down to the ground. She tried to fight back, thrashing her head and legs but it wasn’t enough. Even with her bleeding stomach pressed against the dirt Taewang went straight for her next weakness: her unprotected throat.
Yoongi watched from several feet away as their hunt leader jumped upward, forelegs planted on her back so that he could twist and sink his teeth into the front of her throat. His fangs sank down deep, piercing into her windpipe and tearing straight through her carotid with ease. The deer heaved and wheezed for a few more seconds, refusing to accept death even when it was now inevitable, and then she went limp in Taewang’s grip. After a few more seconds he let go of her neck and she slumped to hit the soil with a sickening thump.
“All of you claim a piece of the kill.”
Taewang darted forward to tear a considerable trench in her stomach for them and then he moved back, blood coating his grizzled snout. Yoongi took a few hesitant steps forward and their leader glared at him so he stopped, not wanting to get too close for fear of getting attacked by him.
The yearlings pounced and attempted to tear into the deer but they were still lacking and required assistance. In the haste to help spill most of the organs free for them Taewang ended up severing right through one of her hind legs, bone and all, tossing it aside without a care so that the intestines could be dragged free and snagged between Taeguk’s jaws. Yoongi saw that Woori had torn one of her ribs free to allow Hodong to snag her lungs too, and Jooyeon had went for her liver. They had all went for organs because they contained the most nutrients of course, they were highly prized. Yet when he tried to go for the cast-off hind leg Taewang snapped at the side of his head and Yoongi pulled away with a yelp.
Their leader once again snagged the deer’s throat between his teeth and he lifted her up so that only her single hind leg brushed against the ground. She was much lighter now that a lot of her viscera was absent, and he headed straight for the trees without another word.
The yearlings shot through the trees after him at a quick speed, leaving Yoongi hanging around the still rather abundant remains. He saw the entire hind leg, a chunk of stomach muscle and a small amount of viscera glistening in a puddle on the ground that had tumbled free a moment ago, yet they had raced off and left it all behind. For a few seconds Yoongi was so shocked that he just stared at the remains and then he seemed to process what had happened and he gave chase. He shot through the brush as fast as he could, trying to catch up with the rest of the hunting pack. Even though they had several seconds on him he still manage to catch up, and from that point it was just trying to get ahead. By the time he had done so there was a considerable distance between the killing ground and the pack.
“Taewang, Taewang, Taewang!” Yoongi darted right into his path, making sure to keep a good distance but also trying his hardest to make him stop. “You didn’t assign me a piece!”
“You didn’t participate in the hunt,” his glare seemed to say. But he had, Yoongi had taken part and he knew that Taewang knew this too. “We have what we need.”
“But there’s still remains,” Yoongi looked away from him respectfully, head held low and tongue sticking out between his lips. “I should bring the remains back so that-”
“Leave it,” was what Taewang’s eyes told him, the slightest flicker of an order in the yellow depths.
But that single piece of deer remains could fill two yearlings pups’ stomachs for several days. How could he leave it behind? No, the entire reason he had been taken on the hunt was to help and so that could be his contribution.
“Taewang, there were considerable chunks, I think I should-”
But before he could finish this their leader carried on walking, forcing him to dive to the side to clear a path for him. Yoongi shuffled through the heavy fall of leaves and he saw the yearlings looking at him, Woori and Hodong giving him rather pitying expressions, whereas Taeguk’s eyes were with twinkling with amusement. Of course they were, being the grandson of Taewang meant that he was bound to find the entire situation hilarious. Why was their leader abandoning meat like this? After the last change Yoongi couldn’t believe that he was choosing to leave it behind when it could feed two yearlings or maybe a juvenile like himself for the evening. Yet Taewang was doing so because he didn’t want him bringing back proof of a kill that he hadn’t participated in. The bite wound in the deer’s hind said otherwise.
Yoongi watched them heading back through the thick growth of trees and yet he stayed behind for a moment. He knew that he was going against Taewang’s orders by refusing to follow them but he thought that his orders were erroneous. By going back and bringing more meat he could feed mouths, mouths that might end up starving if Donghae’s hunting pack failed to bring home a kill. Why should he let their leader’s hatred of him cause another to go hungry?
“…Oh, fuck it, ” Yoongi turned back around and he dropped his head, following the scent of their passage to try and get back to the clearing.
He didn’t want to go too fast for fear that he might get tangled up in the scents and wander away from the scene of the killing, and so Yoongi moved slow and steady to ensure that he didn’t. The scent of her blood was still strong in his nose, strong enough that he could taste it, and so he followed it as well as he could. Every few feet he located a puddle of blood that had been dropped from the remains and lapped it up just for the sake of it. Sometimes it was a puddle of gastric juices which he mostly certainly didn’t lap up and instead avoided because it made his nose wrinkle up in disgust. He would find a way of tracking them back through the forest, he was sure of it. After all it wasn’t like he was going to get lost because he knew his own way back to the den. If need be he would go his own way and face getting disciplined for it, but if he brought back meat then that might just be wavered in his favour.
He found the remains of the deer being tussled over by a clan of dholes. There was four of them, four copper coloured dholes all trying their hardest to tear into the remains of the leg and viscera. Yoongi studied them from the shade of the trees, seeing two of them almost coming to blows over a cast off chunk of organ. They reared up on their hind legs and snapped at each other, and one of them almost catching the other one’s snout between its teeth and causing it to let out a yip and then back down in resignation. They were going to destroy the remains if he didn’t act quickly, which meant that he would end up going back to the den empty-handed and in trouble for disobeying orders.
Yoongi had never taken on anything like this before but dholes weren’t that big at all. They were kind of like dogs, and he was pretty certain that he could scare them off because he was bigger than they were, was even bigger than an actual wolf though he wouldn’t dare try and chase one of those off. So he should just go for it, even when he was actually frightened of the thought of confrontation. If he couldn’t scare off a clan of dholes then maybe Taewang was right, maybe he was never going to be good enough for the family. He was never going to be his father, that must was clear, but he had to prove him wrong by feeding the family like this.
Yoongi broke through the clearing, leaves and twigs snapping under his paws like pine knots cracking in the fire. At the sound the four dholes looked up sharply, pointed ears twitching and fluffy tails going erect. He lifted his head up high, ears straight upright and snout contracted to show his teeth as he raised his hackles at them. A low rumbling built up in his chest and when he let it out in a growl which sharpened into a loud whine the dholes responded instantly. They went skittering off into the bushes with a series of high-pitched whistles and shrieks, copper fur quickly lost in the darkness between the trees, and Yoongi watched them go before sauntering over to the remains.
The animals had really attacked the leg, had skinned quite a lot of the pelt away to reveal shredded and gnawed on muscle, and they had scarfed all of the cast-off muscle and organs too. But despite this fact there was still quite a decent amount left. It would feed hungry stomachs and that was all that mattered, so Yoongi dropped his head and he snagged hold of the knob of the deer’s kneecap so that he could lift up the leg and leave the clearing.
Yoongi almost trotted back through the trees in the direction that the hunting pack had went, head held as high as he could hold it even with the weight of the leg in his mouth. His tail was swinging from side to side excitedly and he felt very pleased with himself. So he might not have helped that much but he had still brought back food and that was the most important part. So what if he hadn’t technically done much more than deliver a nip here or there on the hind of the other animal? Yoongi was bringing back an entire leg with him and that was a good trophy, a hefty trophy in fact because it did weigh a considerable amount. That was something that made him feel strangely proud of himself, made him feel like a true juvenile right now. His first hunt had been pretty successful, he thought, and when he dragged the leg back to the den so would the rest of the family.
Would Taewang finally see him in a respectable position now?
Maybe a little, it would take much more than a single hunt to get him respect but he thought that this was a good start. A successful hunt was always a good start and things could only get better if he started showing Taewang that he could help with the actual attack next time, even if it was just going for the legs he could do it. His mother was going to be so proud of him, even if he was still pretty far behind the rest of the juveniles. Yoongi knew that some of them had hit just a year old and yet they were preparing for hunting and here he was at two years of age, lagging behind. But he had done something now, something to prove them all wrong.
His mother was going to be so proud and had his father still been alive, he would have been proud too, Yoongi just knew it.
The forest path was narrow and pitch-black in the darkness yet Yoongi could follow after the tracks that the rest of the hunting pack had left behind. There were clear signs of their movements, from the broken twigs and scattered leaves, to the scent of blood that they had still left in their wake. Tracking them wasn’t that hard at all but he couldn’t race after them as fast as he was hoping; mostly because he needed to diligently follow their trail but also because the leg was rather burdensome to carry. The lower half kept dangling and hitting his chest awkwardly and he was scared of tripping up.
“Stupid Taewang and his stupid-” Yoongi tightened his jaw around the chunk of flesh and tried to pick up his pace, “stupid favouritism and his stupid orders. Leaving me out so shitty Taeguk can get all the glory…” He stopped to drop the leg for a minute, resting his jaw, and then he tried to grab hold of it another way. He settled for going for the chunk of the joint instead. “Intestines? No thanks, feels like I’m chewing fucking rubber and-”
There came a sudden, sharp and unmistakable sound of a gunshot on the still night air.
The sound was enough to make every single hair on his body stand up and his muscles went rigid with fear. His first instinct was to drop low, stomach to the ground and ears against his skull and yet he lacked the ability to do so. No, instead he was left completely upright, ears and tail lifted to point.
Yoongi’s legs were almost shaking and he almost felt like he was going to piss himself in fear. That had happened before when he had been just a yearling and he had gotten his leg caught in a trap but it had been quite some time since that and he didn’t really want to repeat the experience. But a gunshot? Was it maybe a farmer protecting his land? In the current wilderness of the area he knew that the sound would travel for miles and miles on end, and yet he couldn’t recall there being any human life for miles and miles on end. Could it travel that far or was it something else instead? Something like…
Yoongi darted through the brush, leg still trapped between his teeth because his jaw had clamped down hard and he couldn’t seem to let go of it. He ran as fast as he could, body low to the ground and head held low. The leg dragged along through the grass and leaves, causing enough noise to make birds in the trees take to the air in an explosion of beating wings. No, no this wasn’t happening again. He was sure that it must have been a farmer, it had to be. They were so far from away from civilisation that there was no way it was anything other than that, and yet deep down Yoongi knew that it was something else. There was one thing that he knew well and it was that gunshots signalled danger, and there was one very big danger in particular.
He could feel that the forest was thinning now, the trees becoming more sparse and the moonlight starting to get more thicker. He was almost free from it and as he darted across a brook of water, kicking splashes of it up into the air to soak into his fur, he heard the horrible roar of even more gunfire. It wasn’t rapid but was rather spaced out by several seconds, hard and loud booms that seemed to be from a powerful gun. Or maybe even guns. Yoongi knew that gunshots didn’t echo, so he was sure that there was more than one gun because the cacophony seemed too much for a single weapon. He burst through the last thick copse of trees and darted up the slight slope of a grassy hillock and that was exactly when he detected the scent of smoke, thick and greasy smoke, clinging to air.
They had been chased out of Munsan-eup just three cycles ago, chased with guns and those horrible bottles of pungent liquid that exploded and caused flames to lick along the grass and turn forests into pillars of fire that would burn to the ground overnight and destroy everything in sight. So they had fled south-east down to Tanhyeon-myeon, into the flatland and forests right on the border where they could hide from humans and just stay in their own little community away from trouble. But even in Tanhyeon-myeon, as close to the north as they could risk settling down for the break in the cycle, they still weren’t safe.
The hunters had found them again.
The hunters had lain in wait and had watched their hunting packs go off, leaving the weakest behind in the den, so that they could strike. When the packs returned they would do so to absolute carnage, fire and bullets and death.
Yoongi reached the top of the hillock and he froze to look down on the flatland that stretched for several miles in front of him. The den had stretched across a chunk of plain, nestled around a small underground cave that emerged from a sloping stretch earth. He could see that there was smoke pouring out from inside of the maw of the cave and quite a lot of the grassland down below was starting to catch alight; the beginnings of a wildfire that would soon rage out of control. The hunters had hit them hard and underneath the roaring crackle of the fire and the roar of gunshots Yoongi could hear howls taking into the air, howls that he recognised as the other family members.
Every muscle in his body told him that he had to go and yet he didn’t really understand what this impulse meant. Go forwards, out of the undergrowth to get back to the den, or to turn tail and race right back dense forest towards the border where the humans couldn’t get him? What was he supposed to do? What could he possibly do to help when he hadn’t even been able to take down a deer? Was his hunting party down there, down in the burning grass trying to chase the hunters away and save their family whilst he stood here uselessly? God, he was really was pathetic and yet…yet he still couldn’t seem to move to run down the hillock.
When a sharp howl cut through the air Yoongi recognised it instantly because it was his mother. There was no mistaking it, he knew her pitch better than he knew his own, and her voice carried just as loud as the gunshots had. That was what caused his fear to reach a level that he had never felt before.
“Yoongi! Stay away! Stay a- run!”
Yoongi loosened his jaws and the chunk of flesh dropped to land in the soil just as the undulating howling cut off completely. He could see the tall grass rippling below him and yet he couldn’t see what was moving down there? Was it his family, maybe a few fleeing members that he could help: yearling pups or the elderly? He might just be able to help them, why, he could carry pups in his mouth or he could risk carrying an elderly neugdae on his back if he needed to. But if could be humans too, it could be humans coming right for him whilst he was standing in clear view on the top of the hillock; a gleaming white patch of fur that was unmissable in the darkness. He was just about to dart down the hill, foreleg lifted and ready, when he heard it; when he heard the yipping and barking.
Fuck, it was the hounds. The hounds were coming right for him.
Yoongi didn’t even think, he just turned and raced back into the trees as the first series of barks took to the air. His mother had told him to run and so he was running, he was running as fast as he could. The fact that he could no longer hear her voice, that she had stopped howling so abruptly, was something that he wasn’t going to think about, he was just going to run. He flew down the hillock and back into the forest and he knew that the hounds were right on his tail: slobbering, panting and barking. He was already lacking stamina from the hunt and now he had an entire pack of hunting hounds chasing after him.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
Yoongi dived over a fallen and decomposed tree trunk in the hopes that the obstacle might just slow the dogs down. It didn’t, he heard them wriggling under the slight gap between the fallen trunk and the ground and the sound of human voices boomed through the air. They could be almost as loud as guns when they wanted to be, horrible coarse voices that made him cringe and pull his ears down flat against his skull.
“We’ve got a runner! Heading into the forest!”
“Take it down, don’t let it escape!”
The forest started to get thicker again, the trees growing closer together and making it harder for the humans to pass through but not the hounds. Yoongi was fast but he wasn’t fast enough and he knew that one of them was catching up to him. He could almost feel the heat of the dog’s breath on his tail but he couldn’t hold it up because it would slow him down. Had the animals not been so fast then he might have lost them when he raced across the brook, the water affecting his scent and stopping the animals dead for a minute or two until they crossed to the other side and found his trail again. But they were much too close and therefore their visual trail negated their olfactory trail.
Yoongi took a sharp turn into a thick copse of trees and though he was sure that he managed to throw the majority of the hounds off his trail for a moment he didn’t lose the one right on his tail. He felt it snapping at him, trying to go for his tail and his legs, and every single time that he heard its jaws connecting with a clash of teeth onto nothing more than thin air he felt his heart almost exploding out of his chest. He shot through the copse of trees and into a slight clearing that ran along the length of a ravine. He just needed to lose the other hounds and the humans, that was all that he needed to do. He could fight this one hound if needed to escape even though he knew that he would get injured. He could take down one but he couldn’t take down a whole pack. He just needed to-
The break in the trees was flooded with sudden light, a hard white light that shocked Yoongi so much he actually froze in place. The dog collided right into him because it hadn’t stopped running, the impact a bone-shaking thump that made them both cry out in pain.
“It’s here! Byungtae, it’s here!”
Yoongi almost stumbled to hit the hard ground at the sudden weight of the hound jumping up onto his back to try and trap him. There were teeth trying to sink into his neck, there were scrabbling claws and solid weight on his back and he was in trouble, he was in so much trouble.
“Quick! Gimme the gun I got a line on it!”
Yoongi yelped in pain and he did the one thing that he could do. He threw himself down into the ravine and his felt his legs giving in so that he rolled down the stretch of soil. The dog on his back tried to hold on but in the resulting struggle it lost its grip and he managed to fight free. The animal slammed into a large outcroppings of slate and let out a high-pitched whine of pain and Yoongi just twisted to try and recover before he hit the bottom of the ravine with a bone-breaking thud. He managed to get his paws back underneath him and though his delicate pads were rubbed and scratched raw on the gritty soil he at least managed to jump the last foot of the hill and carry on running. The same could not be said for his canine attacker.
“Son of bitch! I got you, I got you little-”
There was a high-pitched zipping noise and Yoongi was certain that he felt a bullet hitting him and yet there was no pain at all. Was that the bullet, or had it maybe hit a tree and that sensation he had felt was a splinter of bark hitting his side? Whatever the case it didn’t stop him in the slightest as he lunged into the thorny brambles and disappeared into another thick spray of undergrowth, officially crossing into Kaesong. The brambles had snagged on his snout, had tangled through his fur and had sliced at his skin underneath. He was pretty sure that he was bleeding, and not just from the thorny scratches. No, Yoongi could feel that his paws were bleeding too and he wasn’t surprised because he had been running for so long now. His paw pads were grazed and cut in parts from the ravine and every single step ached but he couldn’t stop.
Even when his fur was lathered in sweat and he could feel drying curds of saliva plastered along the side of his snout and down in the ruff of fur around his throat, he couldn’t stop.
He couldn’t hear the hounds any longer but that didn’t stop him. Just because Yoongi couldn’t hear the animals didn’t mean that they weren’t on his tail. The humans could still be in pursuit but he doubted it. The second he had crossed the border in Kaesong through the undergrowth he was sure that he had lost them. The humans wouldn’t be stupid enough to do something like that because they could be stopped by checkpoint guards, but the hounds could still pursue him through the forest if they weren’t called off. Hounds didn’t need official work documents to enter Kaesong without being arrested, and if they weren’t called off then he didn’t think that he had a chance at losing them now.
Yoongi could see a crevice in the rock wall, a splintered chink in the slate that emanated darkness instead of light. The blackness should have frightened him, should have made him want to avoid the crevice and yet he found himself darting in that direction because he needed to lay low. He was certain that he had gotten away for his sensitive ears detected no sounds of pursuit: no rustling grass, panting breaths or excited barks. The sun was going to rise in less than an hour for it was already starting to appear at the horizon. The cycle of change was almost over and he needed to hide before he turned again. So he half-ran, half-staggered in the direction of the crevice so that he could hide.
Yoongi’s hind legs gave up on him and he had to pathetically drag himself inside by his forelegs, lower body rubbing against soil uselessly until he ended up collapsing in a mess. His snout hit the hard ground and he let out a sharp whine of pain. He was breathing so hard that every inhale was a pant and every exhale was a heavy wheeze that made his body shake. The crevice smelled dusty and damp but it was dark and it protected him from the elements. There was a long faded scent in the air that hinted that it might have been a fox den at some point but now it was abandoned save for him. Yoongi pricked his ears and he waited in numb terror for them to detect the sound of the pursuing hounds but they didn’t. He heard nothing more than the faintest sounds of what could have been a hare darting about in the underbrush.
No humans, no hounds…just him.
Yoongi took a moment to try and catch his breath, side rising and falling with every laboured breath that he took. His heart was racing in his chest as if he was still running and he hated how hard it slammed against his ribs. When he felt like he could move again he lifted his head and moved to look down and his body. Even in the blackness of the cave Yoongi could see the dark patch on his white fur, almost black in the dim.
The bullet had clipped him in the side, just above his hip.
Yoongi could see matted blood and leaf debris stuck to his fur and so he lifted his head and shifted to try and lick at the wound. The bullet hadn’t sank into his flesh but it had left a deep trench that was still bleeding profusely no matter how much he licked at. His saliva made it sting even more and so he dropped his head back onto the ground with another whine. Just the faintest amount of moonlight bled into the cave and he could sense that he was going to change again. His entire body was starting to feel strange, that familiar tingling sensation under his fur that signalled that soon…soon he would shift back to his human flesh again. The change back didn’t hurt unlike the initial change, but it required much energy, energy that Yoongi was certain he didn’t possess. But it didn’t matter because he had no way of controlling it. Much like he had no control when he turned into a neugdae, he had no control when he reverted back to being human.
Had Yoongi been given the choice he would have stayed in his true flesh forever, to roam the forests and plains without weakness. He would have been an animal rather than…than…
“A monster,” he whispered as he closed his eyes.
Yoongi was so tired and yet he was in too much pain to sink down into blissful and numb blackness. No, he could only take slow and laboured breaths whilst the lingering remains of the night lightened into the day; feeling his body starting to shift as his limbs loosened and became longer, as his ears stopped twitching and his head seemed to lose weight and become much lighter. With the last transition of the change went his lingering energy and Yoongi could do nothing more than groan, his tongue now pressing against the flat backs of his squared teeth rather than hooked canines. He opened his eyes and stared across the crevice to see that the first hints of sunlight were bleeding in, warm and orange tinged light that seemed to be healing.
Yoongi wanted to lift his head and look at his side and yet he couldn’t do that because he was too weak. He couldn’t even move a hand down to touch his bare skin and check but he could feel that the bullet graze was burning. It hurt so much more now that he was human and he didn’t really understand why. Yoongi took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling his eyes also burning as they welled up with tears.
Shit, he was separated from his family by a land border and several miles of forest; his family that might very well all be dead for what he knew. He had seen no survivors because he had fled the den and there could have been one or two. Except deep down Yoongi knew that they were all dead because there was just something…something in his brain that almost felt like it had been severed. He was pretty certain that it was his connection to his family, cut like a string. Yoongi couldn’t sense any of them and that very void in the back of his skull told him that they were gone.
His mother was gone, slaughtered by the same hunters that had claimed his father three cycles ago…and only he was left.
“Nuh-no,” Yoongi almost sobbed as he took a quick intake of breath. “Not muh-mum, not mum no.” His fingers scratched at the hard soil and he felt his tears rolling down his face to soak into it, burning hot tears that felt no different to the blood still trickling out of his graze. “They wuh-wouldn’t, Taewang-”
Yes, Taewang! Taewang and his hunting pack might have gotten back, might have saved the den. He didn’t know for sure. Maybe he was cut off right now because he was too far from his family? Maybe that was what it was, so he just needed to go back to the den. But Yoongi couldn’t move, could barely do anything more than move his fingers because his body was so heavy. He blinked tears away hard and sniffed, shifting to press his chin against the ground. Yet even when he tried to move his muscles wouldn’t, they were paralysed and he was stuck in place: naked and bleeding in some crevice.
He was going to die in this crevice.
“Smell something…you smell that?”
Yoongi could hear voices and yet he couldn’t possibly move right now. He was much too weak, sprawled out on the leaf covered ground with his face pressed into the dirt. Every rasping inhale caused dust to be pulled up onto his lips, and every weak exhale knocked them free but he could still taste the soil on his tongue.
“…like blood? Yeah, I can smell that…think it’s coming from?”
“…tracks over there, look, see the leaves?”
“Yeah, yeah I see ‘em, you think it’s a deer? Might’ve been hit on the highway by one of the trucks.”
“No, it doesn’t smell like a deer it smells like…”
The voices seemed to be coming from somewhere nearby but he couldn’t figure out where. All that Yoongi could hear was rustling sounds that seemed to be grass being parted and stepped on, the crunch of things stepping down on the dry soil getting closer and closer. Feet or paws?
“Maybe you…check it out. It could be dangerous.”
“Just a quick look, it’ll be fine.”
Yoongi couldn’t figure out if there were two voices or three or even four. He couldn’t even open his eyes at this point.
“…still breathing. Shit, he’s still breathing…believe it, man.”
Yoongi could hear and sense that there was at least one thing in the cave with him. Was it a human? It certainly had to be a human of some kind because it was talking. Underneath the ringing in his ears he thought that the voice was masculine but it was hard to tell because of the distortion. Every word was dragged out horribly slow, as if they were tangible things that could be stretched like intestine over the void of the air until they reached his ears. Yoongi was pretty certain that that was a sign that he was losing consciousness but that had never happened to him before.
It scared him.
Yoongi was scared by the sound of voices that were almost gelatinous and monstrous to his ears: inhuman. He was terrified of how freezing cold his body had turned and how his muscles were much too weak to even move. That strange emptiness inside his head was now just filled with a horrible cloud of confusion that buzzed like a swarm of bees rather than proper thoughts, for the only thought that he could seem to think was simply…run.
Run, run, run.
Except he couldn’t run because he was lying in the dirt, unable to even crawl at this point. How could he run when his legs were spread open, akimbo on the ground? Those voices might belong to humans and that could be dangerous for him, could result in his death. He needed to run and yet he couldn’t. Sadly his body was unable to follow his thought processes at this point, even when those processes could result in his survival.
Maybe he wasn’t passing out?
Maybe he was dying?
“…buckass naked, I think he’s been shot. Fuck, man, look…the bullet wound in his lower side.”
“No I…it’s just a graze, ” the other voice replied. “It’s a graze, I think I can…him.”
Yoongi felt something touching him, something soft that felt like hands: human hands. They were touching his skin, his naked skin, and had he the strength he would have cried out in mingled horror and disgust that someone was touching him. But the hands only settled on his back and he felt something hanging over him. One of the possible humans was leaning close to look at his injury, to see how bad it was. Yoongi wanted to scream that it was agony, he wanted to scream that he was dying and yet he couldn’t. He had even lost his ability to cry at this point.
“You think…can heal that?”
“Yes Nam…pretty certain I can I just need-”
Yoongi didn’t get to hear what they said in reply because that was when he finally sank into blackness and nothing mattered anymore. The blackness was numbing and cold and there was nothing in it at all. No pain, no fear and no awareness and yet…
Yet he could feel something. Yoongi wasn’t sure what but there was something in the blackness, a warmth that stopped him from feeling cold and empty even when he didn’t know what it was. It was strange and though he couldn’t physically see what it was he was drawn to it regardless. For quite some time Yoongi floated in that warm void, unable to tell if seconds were passing, or minutes or even years, but eventually a revelation happened. It was his carers. They were the warmth in the blackness, that beacon that he was being dragged towards, and with that revelation he was that little bit closer to consciousness.
Yoongi could hear things going on around him but he lacked the ability to open his eyes. All that he could do was listen to them, listen to the occasional words that his confused and feverish brain managed to understand and try and learn a little more about who these strange carers were.
“…lacing bullets with fucking wolfsbane, the bastards.”
“Mmm, it got into his system but I think…burdock tea might have purified his blood.”
It took him quite some time to differentiate voices because at first they were both tinny and distorted, but after some time he learnt that there were two voices. Two males voices to be precise. One was husky and rather smooth and he often heard this voice asking questions or muttering worried thoughts aloud. The other voice was softer, more musical, and the owner often hummed under his breath or gave answers to the questions to other male asked. Yoongi took note that this voice was often closer to him him, and when he heard it sometimes he felt a cool hand brushing against his cheeks and brow. Yoongi craved the sensation because it was like an anchor to him, dragging him back up to the very surface of reality just so he knew that he was alive, that he was still fighting.
Sometimes Yoongi was aware of things spilling into his mouth, usually hot but sometimes startlingly cold. These liquids varied from bitter and acidic to soothing and pleasantly sweet. He didn’t know what these things were, but the carer with the soft hands often spoke to him as the liquid hit his tongue and his throat instinctively swallowed. He told him that he needed to drink because the liquids would help him. So Yoongi drank, and he listened, and he slowly but surely dragged himself out of the foggy darkness inside his mind until he finally managed to open his eyes. It was quite a struggle and he was almost convinced that he would fail but he didn’t.
No, Yoongi opened his eyes and he could see very little beyond blackness. Was it dark inside the crevice? Was it night or had he…had he gone blind from his fever? The thought should have terrified him but he was currently unable to feel anything close to emotions. It took him a moment of staring into the blackness before he detected something, something flickering across the blackness.
Light. Fire. There was a fire in the crevice right now and he could see the orange light flickering across what must have been the ceiling of the crevice. He was lying on his back, or at least he thought that he was lying on his back. He was too disoriented to really know. There was clothing on his body somehow, though he didn’t understand how or why it had gotten there. Over his clothing there was also a blanket and that probably explained why he felt much too warm right now. Yoongi was baking hot but he was too weak to try and move to knock the blanket free. His feet were bare though, and they were the only part of his body that felt cold. The rest was hot, much too hot.
Yoongi stared up at the flickering light on the ceiling until there was movement of some kind in the crevice and a moment later he saw a face hanging over him. It was nothing more than a messy blur, features indistinguishable, but when he spoke he knew who he was.
“Oh? His eyes are open again.”
“Still out of it?” the other male asked, voice sounding from close but strangely echoing in his ears.
“I don’t know if he can see me exactly,” the one with soft hands said as he stared right at him. Yoongi couldn’t even move his eyes in response. “He hasn’t responded the last few times that he’s opened his eyes, but I think it’s finally starting to break.”
“I dunno, I still think that there’s still better medicine that we could-”
“Over the border we’re not going to find human medicine,” he argued turning his head to look over at someone else. In Yoongi’s hazy line of sight his face seemed to distort, seemed to stretch into a blur of colour and nonsense. “It’s too risky leaving the forest in our state right now, we might get caught. Do you want border guards on either side catching us?”
There was a mumbled noise that sounded like a response to his question but Yoongi didn’t catch the exact words.
“No, we don’t so we’re stuck here for two more weeks until the cycle comes around again and we can sneak through and get back into Paju-si.”
Cycle? Did the soft handed male just say cycle, as in a cycle of change? Yoongi didn’t really know but it sounded right to him. Was he really in the company of two neugdaes right now? He felt his eyelids flickering shut again and a few seconds later the sensation of cool fingers brushed against his brow again, tangling in his hair so that he could brush it off his brow.
“So until then we need to use something else, something natural,” he continued, sadly pulling his hand away from his brow. Had Yoongi had the strength to whine he would have done so, but he couldn’t even move his tongue right now beyond pushing it up against the roof of his mouth to force air out in a huff. “I need you to watch him for me, just for an hour. I need to collect some things, so keep an eye on him and the fire.”
“Plants,” he replied and Yoongi heard the sound of him shifting to get upright, the rustling sounds of his clothing. “Just a few things that I know could help him, things that my grandmother used to use in times of emergencies.”
Soft Hands, as Yoongi had decided to call him, left the crevice even though it must have been deep into the night, and he left him with the other male. The other carer showed some uncertainty at this, continuing to mumble in that way of his, but eventually he moved to get closer to him. Yoongi could detect scents coming off him, woody scents and soil clinging to his skin and clothing.
“Man, I really hope you pull through for his sake…”
Yoongi’s vision cleared up a little better, allowing him detect a shock of what looked like silver hair and tanned skin. It was hard to make anything else out beyond the occasional hint of eyes floating around but that was good enough for him. He decided to call this carer Silver until he had a proper name to think of him as.
“I think you will though, you’ve been hanging on for a whole week now so I think that’s a good sign. Yeah? Just hang on that little more, the fever’s gonna break for you. I’m sure it is.”
Yoongi wished that he could reply to this but he found himself slipping back down into that blackness, eyelids flickering shut.
Once again he was left floating through that warm fogginess that was trapped between consciousness and unconsciousness. Except this time he was a lot more aware of what was happening around him. He heard voices, sometimes saw things - quick flashes of images almost as if his eyes were open - and Yoongi almost became aware of pain for the first time in what felt like forever. It woke him up sweating and he was almost certain that he started screaming though he could never recall what words came out of his mouth when he did. All that he knew was that he was fighting a fever of some kind, and Yoongi didn’t know if he was winning or losing.
He felt like he was losing.
“Gingko biloba. The leaves are shaped like fans, see? Take one with you, try and find more. You can’t miss the trees, they’re very tall and you will smell the fruits from a long distance away, Namjoon,” Soft Hands said, his voice permeating his foggy brain and echoing around his feverish brain.
“OK, so what’s the shit you’ve been putting on his skin, Seokjin?”
“Oak bark,” he replied as he carried on smashing things up, the rock hitting against something else with a series of clunking noises.
Back into the blackness…only to come back around to find himself thrashing around the floor whilst hands tried to hold him down; his skin coated with sweat and his very brain burning inside of his skull.
More blackness…and then…then there was calm again.
When Yoongi next opened his eyes he found that he was no longer burning hot. His skin felt warm but not uncomfortably so however the rest of his body was aching. It was a slight struggle to move one of his arms and when he did he found his fingers brushing against a rather rough blanket so he pulled it away in an attempt to cool himself down. Yoongi lifted his head to look down at his clothing and he saw an ill-fitting tee that was almost a dress on his frame, holes here and there in the material. Because of the length he wasn’t wearing anything else and he wondered where it had come from. Had his carers stolen it? It seemed to be the case.
Yoongi managed to drag himself up into a sitting position but he ended up slumping against the wall of the crevice, luckily taking most of the impact on his shoulder rather than bouncing his head off the hard stone. Just that simple act was enough to leave him breathing heavily and he had to close his eyes to push away the fact that his vision was swimming. He felt so hollow right now and he wondered how long it had been since he had last eaten. The crevice was currently empty but there were signs of life inside, from the currently dead embers of a fire a few feet away, to cast-off chunks of fur and picked clean bones beside it. Where were his carers? He thought that they might just be off hunting for food but he couldn’t be too certain.
“…Shit,” Yoongi groaned as he pressed his face against the cool slate wall and he closed his eyes again.
He had only just came around to reality and yet he felt tired already even when he hadn’t done a single thing. Should he try moving, should he get on his hands and knees and try crawling just to see if he could? Yoongi reached down with his hand to touch his side and through the thin material of his tee he could feel something. It wasn’t his wound but rather there seemed to be something covering it, something smooth but tough that might just have been hide. But before he could move to lift the tee and check there was a noise from outside the crevice.
Yoongi looked up sharply at the sound of rustling leaves and his heart leapt right up to the back of his throat to almost choke him. He wanted to scrabble back from the sound and yet he was too weak to move, so he could only wait and hope that it was his carers returning to the cave and not a hunter of some kind - human or animal. After a minute of terrified anticipation he saw movement and that was when two bodies appeared in the open mouth of the cave.
Yoongi saw that they were two males and it took him a moment before his nose figured out that they were his carers. They weren’t dressed very well at all, seemingly in worn and old clothing just like he was, and they were also barefoot. Yoongi knew from a single glance at them that they were just like he was. They were neugdaes. There was no mistaking them and he felt a strange feeling coursing through his stomach as he looked at them both.
“Oh, oh he’s finally awake!” Soft Hands declared, a broken clay bowl falling out of his grip to fall on the ground, and then he was quickly moving across the stretch of dirt to get inside the crevice, ducking low and almost crawling towards him.
Soft Hands had warm brown hair and large inquisitive eyes that latched straight onto him. Yet despite how close he was he was in no way threatening or intimidating in the slightest. No, there was a friendly air coming from him and Yoongi didn’t care at all that he was touching his face because he had helped save his life.
Silver hunkered down in the entrance of the crevice to collect the dropped bowl, gathering the leaves, berries and acorns together without a single care, and Yoongi saw that there was a brace of hares dangling from a twine rope knotted around his waist. He looked over at them with a rather amused expression, as if Soft Hands’ reaction was somewhat funny to him. There was two glass bottles dangling from his shoulder and they clanged together musically when he got back upright.
“He’s warm but the fever seems to have broken,” Soft Hands explained, turning his face in his hands as if examining him. Yoongi felt strangely self-conscious under his gaze because the other neugdae was very handsome, with his large eyes and pouted lips. “He seems alert and responsive right now, Namjoon.”
So Silver was called Namjoon? That was interesting, was something that he was going to have to commit to his memory if possible, but Yoongi doubted that the name would stick in his mind right now. He was much too scared and nervous.
“Yeah, so how about you give him some room and let him breathe, Seokjin?” Namjoon retorted as he moved to hunker down beside the dead campfire.
Seokjin, Soft Hands was called Seokjin.
“Ah, sorry sorry.” Seokjin didn’t let go of his face but he did move back to give him more room. A sheepish smile appeared on his face, making his full cheeks lift up with a rather noticeable blush. “That was probably a little frightening; wasn’t it?” Yoongi could only wet his lips with the tip of his tongue rather than reply because his throat didn’t seem to want to work. “I can be a little too friendly sometimes.”
“More like all the time,” Namjoon retorted with a smile as he hastily unknotted the rope around his waist to release the brace. Yoongi saw that there were five hares, all varying sizes, and then he shrugged the bottles off his shoulder. “Which one’s the milk again, uh…” he muttered as he popped one of the bottles open and took a sniff before figuring it out, and then he emptied the bowl of leaves so that he could pour out.
“Add some blood to it,” Seokjin said, fingers still holding onto his cheeks.
So Namjoon picked up one of the hares, pulling a small knife free from his trouser pockets to slice into the inner leg of it. Yoongi watched blood steadily dripping down from the wound when he squeezed the leg, landing in the milk with liquid splashing sounds. As soon as there was enough he slid the bowl over to Seokjin and so the other neugdae collected it and held it out to him. Yoongi wanted to take it from his hands but he was scared that he might just drop it and so he just leaned forward to lap at it instead, even when he saw surprise on Seokjin’s face as he did.
When Yoongi lapped at the milk it didn’t taste nice at all. The blood hadn’t mixed well into the substance and so it had given it a tangy and somewhat bitter aftertaste. But his mouth was so dry that he didn’t care about the flavour and he just lapped it up as fast as he could even when he ended up dribbling some of the milk down his chin messily.
“Now he’s conscious, should we try him on some meat?” Namjoon suggested, his knife making short work of skinning the hare as he started peeling the fur and skin away from the base of the back legs.
“No, he’s too weak for meat right now,” Seokjin said, watching him drinking the milk. “For now, milk and blood is fine. It won’t cause any more upset, he’s getting fluids and nutrients. He can have meat in a few more days.”
“Will that be enough?”
“Oh, Namjoon, I’ve seen all of you go through things like this,” he said before laughing softly. “Trust me, his body is going through the healing process. He’s healing, but too much too soon could make him ill again. There’s too many risks of parasites in the meat, so give him another day or two and I think he will be stable enough.”
Yoongi could think of nothing better than the idea of sinking his teeth into one of those hares but it wasn’t worth arguing with his carers. They had kept him alive so far, so they must have been doing something right.
“The treatments are far from nice-tasting, trust me my grandmother would always give me these funny flavoured teas and pastes, but she always swore that human medicine wasn’t right for us,” he explained as he glanced over at the other neugdae and Yoongi reached up to wipe at his chin, licking the bloody milk from his fingers as he did. “I think she thought it might poison us.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it did,” Namjoon agreed from his position across the cave, giving the fur a hard tug so that the hide ripped down to the base of the neck in a strip. “It poisons a lot of humans too, from what I’ve heard. Some of the medicine really doesn’t work at all.”
“You’re right about that,” Seokjin said as he reached up to knock a messy tangle of blond hair back off his brow for him.
“Do you think he’ll be strong enough to make it by then?” Namjoon asked in a quiet voice as he started removing the head of the hare to finish with the skinning process. “And I don’t just mean the journey, I mean the change too.”
“I hope so, we can’t get back across the border any other way,” Seokjin replied, those lovely cool fingers of his still brushing along his hairline and on his skin. Yoongi let his half-lidded eyes close so that he could trace his fingertips by touch alone, letting his breath out in a sigh as he did. “We have to go through the change and hope that he makes it.”
“Cuh…change?” Yoongi managed to ask in a harsh croak.
At his voice the two neugdaes looked up at him sharply and he tried to not cringe under their strong gazes.
“Yes, the change,” Seokjin said in a soft voice. “It happens in six days.”
Six days? He had been trapped in this crevice for almost a month and for most of that time he had been unconscious. The thought was enough to leave him reeling and he stared between the two neugdaes in shock, mouth hanging open. Neither of them spoke for a minute, seemingly wanting to let that piece of information sink in for him. It wasn’t going to however, and the silence didn’t help him process it at all.
“What’s your name, hmm?” Seokjin asked in a quiet voice as he lowered the empty bowl down and reached up to place his hand on the top of his head.
“Yuh…Yoongi,” he managed to stutter out.
“Yoongi,” Seokjin repeated as he carried on running a hand through his hair. “Did you come from across the border, or do you actually come from here? From Kaesong?”
“Tah…Tanhyeon-myeon,” he explained, wishing that his throat didn’t ache so much. “We wuh-were attacked.”
“So that’s where the smoke was coming from?” Namjoon said in a quiet voice, not aiming the question at him exactly but seemingly talking aloud.
The smoke, yes, the smoke that had been pouring out of the den in thick black plumes whilst gunshots had boomed out in the night air. They must have seen it that night too, maybe smelled it on the air, yet they hadn’t stumbled across the den.
“You had a den in Tanhyeon-myeon? Shit, we didn’t think that there were any families this far north…” he added.
“Came from…from Munsan-eup but we were chased-”
Yoongi nodded at Namjoon’s question and he saw the silver-haired male fall still, knife no longer slicing through the limbs of the hare so he could finish skinning it. He seemed to be thinking this over intently and his eyes slid over to look at Seokjin for a moment. In the early morning rays coming in through the crevice opening he saw a slight glint of green hidden in their depths. Seokjin remained quiet but he too seemed to be thinking about the fact that there had been hunters in the area.
“I crossed the border, lost ‘em,” Yoongi muttered as he reached up to start gnawing at his fingers. The taste of the bloody milk was still on them and so he ended up sucking them in his mouth. “But my…my den-”
“Yoongi, I wouldn’t think about your den,” Seokjin advised in a soft voice. Yoongi bit down on his fingers hard enough to make them start hurting, his skin protesting against his teeth. “Just think about the fact that you’re alive right now, and that in six days you will be crossing the border again to get away from here.”
Did Yoongi really want to cross the border? Did he really want to leave this crevice and patch of land behind? Why couldn’t he just stay here instead, away from the humans that worked in the industrial plant and away from hunters in the south? It was safer here, that much was certain. Perhaps sensing his thoughts Namjoon shifted and picked up another hare, pretending to not be paying too much attention to them even when he clearly was.
“We need to get back to our family, Yoongi,” he said. “We can’t stay here forever, and neither can you.”
“I have no family,” Yoongi said as he pulled his fingers out of his mouth. “The hunters killed ‘em all, I can’t feel ‘em. They’re all gone, even…even Taewang.”
“You do have a family,” Seokjin disagreed with a soft head shake. “You have one, Yoongi, but you haven’t met them all yet.”
It was the next morning that he was allowed to eat meat. When the pair of them returned at the break of dawn they did so with a small offering of food, more hares and a single mole that was hanging from Namjoon’s twine brace like a furry black star. Yoongi wanted to help in the preparation, it was one thing that he was good at, and yet the other two neugdaes insisted that he rest. So he was left to watch them instead, waiting and anticipating. Seokjin prepared the mole for him first, slicing the meat into thin strips that were then chopped and mashed under the blade of his knife. The organs were kept aside rather than prepared and then he handed him the plate.
The meat had been mashed up into something close to a paste, thick and pink and streaked with little threads of gristle. But to Yoongi it looked like heaven and he grabbed the bowl and proceeded to start wolfing it down even whilst they carried on skinning the hares. Namjoon placed his to-be meal aside for a moment to grab the remains of the mole, carefully cutting and twisting until he was pulling the hide free from the skull. Then he started working on it with his knife, clearly wanting to clean it up for some reason.
“Gotta keep this one for Jungkookie,” Namjoon remarked as carefully scraped away the fur and muscle clinging to the skull of the mole. “You think he’ll like it?”
“He doesn’t have a mole,” Seokjin said with a soft nod, glancing over at him for a moment before going back to him. Yoongi wished that he could eat without being observed but he was much too hungry to care that much. The meat wasn’t the nicest but it was good enough for him and he mashed it around his mouth with his tongue before swallowing. “He will like it a lot, though he’s going to shout at us for being gone for so long.”
“Shout at you, you mean,” Namjoon corrected as he lifted the knife up to point the blade at him. “He’ll be missing his favourite mattress warmer and object of his nuzzling.”
“I, for one, don’t miss him licking my hair,” Seokjin announced and Yoongi swallowed another chunk of mole meat without stopping to breathe. “I wonder who his victim is in my stead?”
“Probably Hoseok,” Namjoon retorted as he went back to the skull. “Though he would like the hair licking.”
They were clearly talking about their fellow family members, who were seemingly somewhere across the border. Yoongi didn’t know how many of them there were, for there could have been four families or as many six. That could be up to fifty or more neugdaes all together, and that was something that he couldn’t seem to process because his own family had been just twenty-eight members in total. He could have asked, he supposed, but instead he stuck to eating his mole paste meal, scooping mouthfuls up with his fingers and then licking his fingers and the bowl clean. As soon as he was done Seokjin started laughing under his breath.
“You can have some more later,” he said as he took the bowl from him. “As soon as we see if you can stomach this.”
For the rest of the day Yoongi didn’t speak again, rather he just drifted in and out of light naps curled up under the blanket. He liked listening to the two other neugdaes talking lowly amongst themselves: whilst they skinned the hares, whilst they boiled water to drink and make herbs and tinctures with, whilst Namjoon tried his hardest to stitch a small purse from hides in which to store the mole skull and several sprigs of what looked like herbs. He had to fashion a needle out of a snapped off piece of shrew rib and used sun-dried sinew as thread, but he seemed to have experience. Like he had thought, there was a similar piece of hide covering with bullet wound graze, and underneath it there was a compress of herbs and paste that were helping him heal. The wound still hurt occasionally, when he stretched or when Seokjin cleaned it and pressed his fingers into his skin around the wound to check that it wasn’t hard or swelling with liquid. The brown-haired neugdae had done a great job treating the wound both inside and out, and as a result Yoongi could feel it healing up; the skin itching annoyingly.
Over the late evening hours Yoongi found that he ended up getting closer to the other neugdaes, drawing comfort and warmth from their bodies and the small fire to help him sleep. It was strange feeling physical contact from others not in his family and yet Yoongi needed it. He had been out of consciousness for so long that there was a longing deep down in his chest that almost hurt. He needed to feel other neugdaes again because he was never going to feel any of his family members nuzzling against him like this.
At first he just rolled onto his side to get closer to Seokjin. He studied the sleeping neugdae’s face and after plucking up some courage he decided to try and press his face against his chest, brushing his nose against his shirt so that he could breathe in the scent of herbs and wildflowers, so that he could feel the strong planes of his chest muscles through the material.
Seokjin shifted in his sleep, moving forward so that his chin brushed against the top of his head, ruffling his hair. Yoongi took a sharp intake of breath in surprise, shoulders lifting and fingers rolling into little fists against his stomach. His breath ruffled his hair and he made a series of snuffling noises that made Namjoon roll over onto his side too. Yoongi could hear his clothing rustling and he wondered if he should move away, if maybe he was maybe crossing some boundaries by touching his family member like this. It was enough to make him feel anxious but when Namjoon shifted to place an arm over his side, almost pulling him into an embrace, Yoongi felt his nervousness dissipating and he actually relaxed with a heavy sigh.
He didn’t really know what it meant, nuzzling against the two neugdaes like this, but Yoongi was certain that he liked it. After all, none of his fellow juveniles seemed to have liked nuzzling him but only the yearling pups.
The next couple of days passed by at a horrible pace for Yoongi, almost painfully dragging just to spite him. He was finally able to eat meat properly again, not just paste and blood milk, and through several more applications of compresses his wound started to scab over and stop itching. Though he wasn’t able to hunt he was allowed to leave the crevice and sit in a small clearing in the forest, breathing in the air and enjoying the sound of birdsong in the shade from the trees and little rodents burrowing away in the underbrush. There was a slight trickling stream and he liked placing his bare feet in the cool water, enjoying it lapping against his still healing up skin. It was strange, for Yoongi could hear and sometimes smell signs of human life moving around the area. Namjoon told him that it was workers coming to work in the massive plant a few miles down the road, coming and going in trucks from both countries that rumbled and left pungent exhaust fumes in the air.
The industrial plant, Namjoon explained, was where they had found the clothes and objects that they had stolen, like the knives and bowls and bottles. It was constantly under guard surveillance and so it was dangerous to stray too far from the forest and crevice lest they be spotted in their human form. Yoongi didn’t want to go near humans anyway, not since the fact that every one that he had ever met had tried to kill him.
His days were spent eating, bathing in the warm summer daylight and recovering his strength, and his evenings were spent nuzzling with the two other neugdaes. Yoongi could feel himself starting to get better, but with that knowledge came the fact that he was going to go through the change again soon and that was going to drain him once more. He hadn’t been eating enough in the build-up and so the process was probably going to hurt that much more than usual.
So when the night finally settled and the sun was giving off its dying rays he started to feel that familiar tug in his stomach that signalled that the time was coming. When the change came Yoongi didn’t want to be in their company because of the pain. He was rather embarrassed by the idea of stripping out of his clothes in front of them anyway, so it made sense to just leave the crevice and hang around the forest. The waiting was near torture and Yoongi sat down in the grass, dry soil against his bare skin, and he just tried to be patient. At first he felt his skin starting to itch all over, a strange tingling that started from his scalp and travelled down his body to his very toes in waves.
The horrible itching all over his skin started to get stronger and stronger until the point in which he was tearing at his skin with his nails, biting down on his upper arms to try and mute the noises escaping from his lips. He just wanted the horrible shifting under his skin to stop, the feeling of his bones starting to contract and snap in ways that had him curled up in the grass in contorted positions. The most painful part was always when his jaw started changing, the sheer agony that had him howling and clawing at his skin until it was tearing, shedding from his very body to allow his true form to burst free.
Yoongi tore free of his flesh and back into the monster that he was always supposed to be, and in the overhead sky the moon was hanging full and glowing in the sky.
At the sound of his howls perhaps, the two other neugdaes came trotting out of the cave and that was when he got to see them fully, got to see what they really looked like in the strong moonlight: fur and fangs and all.
Namjoon was the most interesting shade of grey, so dark that he was almost black in parts and yet there was lighter tints of silver all over his pelt, particularly around his paws and snout. His ears weren’t very large but rather smaller and more rounded, but his tail was a thick brush of bristly fur. His fur was short and his eyes were a shade that was mostly yellow but with hints of green, and he was quite slender and willowy.
Seokjin, was quite simply majestic in his true form. He was a lot larger than Yoongi had imagined considering the fact that he was shorter than Namjoon. His fur was thick and plush, mostly shades of brown with grey and reds threaded through all over his back and legs. His chest ruff and snout was startlingly white, giving him a somewhat regal air especially with his wide-set ears and eyes. Yoongi found that when he looked at him he saw that he was important, maybe the son of a family leader, for he just emanated strength in his golden eyes.
Yoongi felt rather small and weak in his true form, a rather straggly bundle of coarse white fur and yellow eyes, and yet the other two neugdaes didn’t seem to look at him like the yearlings had used to. They had looked down on him, acted like they were above him even when he had been higher ranked than them. No, Seokjin and Namjoon looked at him as if he were just like they were: a neugdae and nothing more than that, and when they moved over to sniff and nuzzle at his ears and neck ruff Yoongi realised that he would follow them across the border no matter what. Even if that meant that there were more neugdaes to meet that might not be as kind or as caring. So long as he had Seokjin and Namjoon he was certain that he would be alright.
“Come, we have to get to Paju-si,” Seokjin held his head high and sniffed at the air several times. “We can make it home tonight but we mustn’t waste too much time. Namjoon, lead, I’ll watch from the rear.”
“Aye aye captain,” Namjoon replied and he even winked, purse snagged between his teeth, before he darted off across the dirt trail and headed right for the trees.
Yoongi almost jumped in surprise at how fast he was and it took him a couple of seconds before he started chasing after him, hearing Seokjin on his tail bounding through the grass behind him. It took him a few minutes to be able to pick up his speed because his muscles weren’t used to the sudden exercise, but when his blood started pumping and he was rapidly panting Yoongi soon found that he was running almost as good as he had in the past. Even with his still healing bullet wound he caught up with Namjoon and from that point he regulated his speed to keep close to him.
Running through the forest again, heading over the border and knowing that they were going to pass his den, was enough to make Yoongi’s fur stand up, a horrible cold sensation coursing through his body. He didn’t want to pass it again, he was scared of seeing the remains and knowing what had happened to his family, but to get through the region they were going to have to go through Tanhyeon-myeon. He was going to have to run along similar paths that he had taken to escape from the hunters that night, but they had to do it and so Yoongi forced himself to not look at their surroundings and instead just track Namjoon with his full attention. The other neugdae had a long gait so that his running was almost like leaps, ears pulled back and tail twitching from side to side. He couldn't see Seokjin because he was running behind him but he never broke pace once whilst chasing after them both and he seemed to trust Namjoon to guide them through the thick and pitch-black forest.
When they finally burst free they did so in a different area to where Yoongi was used to, coming out by a stretch of lake rather than the sloping hillocks that led down to his old den. But even from the considerable distance there was something wrong, that much was clear. The air was too still, too silent, and when they waded through the slight lake to emerge fully out of the forest he saw why.
The entire stretch of grassland had been razed to the ground, nothing more than burnt and blackened soil and dead trees along the left of the horizon.
The last time that Yoongi had been around their den, before the hunters had attacked, the area had been filled with lush green fields and trees and yet now…now it looked like no life could have ever flourished here. It was like a war had been raged on the soil, and Yoongi supposed that it had. Blood had been shed, blood of his blood, and that was an act of war to him.
“Yoongi, come on we’ve gotta go,” Namjoon said, twitching his ears and pointing his snout in the direction of the rest of the forest. “We still have a lot of ground to cover.” His dark grey fur was practically black from the lake and he shook himself off hard before he took the lead again.
Yoongi dragged his eyes away from the carnage and then he had to run after him again, Seokjin taking the rear to make sure that he didn’t lag behind just like from the start.
Now that they were running along even ground with no obstacles to get around, they covered ground a lot faster and Yoongi used the colour of the sky to time them as they travelled. The deep black lingered for quite some time as they covered huge swatches of Tanhyeon-myeon, going from fields to small wooded areas and even along the outskirts of quarries. As they drew closer to Paju-si the black started to lighten, started to turn to deep blues and bruised purples. It was around that time and distance that Yoongi started to feel himself slowing down because his energy levels were rapidly flagging. Every inhale wheezed through his open mouth and his muscles were starting to get heavy.
They took a small break from running not too far from the apparent den in a series of sweeping fields in Pyeonghwa-ro, according to the signs that Yoongi saw as they jogged through the area. There were no vehicles moving along the country roads at this twilight hour, and that allowed them to flush out some badgers from their warrens; chasing them through the sprawling stretches of grass until they managed to catch a few. They were hardly a filling meal but the sensation of hot blood and meat on his tongue was something that Yoongi had never thought that he would get to feel again.
Yoongi caught a badger with the help of Namjoon and Seokjin flushing it out, but it was him and only him that killed it; snapping its fragile neck between his jaws. Taewang had told him that he couldn’t hunt and he had just proven his old hunting pack leader wrong.
After this temporary reprieve they were back to running across the fields of Paju-si, heading in the direction of Arirang-ro according to Seokjin. Their den was in a warehouse, nestled under a freeway away from human roads and apparently very secure. Yoongi didn’t know about secure because he had once thought their den in Munsan-eup safe, and the one in Tanhyeon-myeon, and both of those dens had been far away from human life. This den seemed to be on the outskirts of an industrial area and he wasn’t that certain that this place could be safer. But he trusted the other neugdaes to not settle down anywhere too risky and so he just followed Namjoon across the fields that ran along empty dirt roads. Eventually a series of train tracks started to appear along lower ground and he used them like a marker on a map, guiding them both off in the direction of what looked like a hill.
A howl cut through the air as they quickly scrambled down to get down onto a set of rather battered and empty tracks. It was a long and rather deep howl that Yoongi didn’t recognise but the two other neugdaes’ ears pricked up at the sound.
“That’s Hoseok,” Namjoon looked back over his shoulder at them both, lightly jogging ahead along the tracks, claws clicking against the chunks of slate. “Should you reply or should I?”
“I will,” Seokjin stopped for a moment, throwing his head back so that he nose pointed straight up at the sky. He returned a howl, his one more undulating and in a higher pitch, stretching out for seconds in length until there was a series of fast and sharp howls in reply.
Yoongi pricked his ears up sharply and he detected four different pitches.
“Oh thank fuck, I thought I was stuck with them. I’m going fucking crazy, I swear-”
“Hurry up, it’s nearly dawn,” the second series of rather sweet and high howls added over the first neugdae. “You need to hurry your asses up!”
“Shit, they better have food after all of this fucking time!” a deep and rich pitch almost muttered under the cacophony, and over the others Yoongi could hear a final neugdae.
“Seokjin! Ah, Seokjin is coming!” The pitch of this one was excited, causing the howl to almost sound like snappy little yips. “Seokjin!”
“Jungkookie, keep your tail firmly where it- Jungkookie!”
Yoongi could hear only four voices and that confused him. Was he listening to a hunting pack, perhaps, a small hunting pack that would have been six strong had Namjoon and Seokjin not disappeared on them? Surely…surely their family wasn’t only six neugdaes? But to find out he had to get to the den, and so Yoongi trotted off after Namjoon. It was less than a minute later that his eyes detected movement heading right for them and he saw that it was another neugdae flying along the tracks at the speed of lightning.
The chocolate brown neugdae was almost as big as Seokjin and yet he bounded over to him with an almost detectable excitement until he nearly pouncing on the larger neugdae. Yoongi watched him proceed to start aggressively nuzzling against Seokjin’s snout until he opened his mouth and lightly bit down on his snout in a sign of affection, letting him free a few seconds later and then licking at his nose.
“Seokjin, Seokjin, where the fuck have you been?!”
It took Yoongi a few seconds to figure out that this was the Jungkookie that he had heard being scolded a moment ago.
“That’s a long story,” Seokjin replied as the presumably younger neugdae proceeded to bound around him excitedly, and he looked surprisingly unfazed by the headbutting and nipping.
From the length of the tracks the three other neugdaes raced over to them, all of them going straight for Namjoon so that they could shower him with just as much attention. Yoongi lingered beside the tracks awkwardly, uncertain if he should go over to them or just wait and see what happened. The sudden commotion, the noise of the neugdaes all chatting and nuzzling, made him turn almost invisible for nearly a whole minute until one of them finally noticed him.
“Wait, who the fuck is that?” a sandy brown one declared as he whipped his head around to look at him.
“He’s the newest addition,” Namjoon replied as he lifted a hind leg to scratch at his ear roughly, purse still clamped firmly in his mouth.
At this the four new neugdaes almost surrounded him, all sniffing noses and bumping snouts, and Yoongi pulled his tail in and dropped his head meekly. The sudden attention intimidated him and yet he could see that it was just friendliness and curiosity. Even when said friendless involved noses going in places he would prefer they didn’t.
“He has a nice colour,” one with hazel eyes and grey and brown fur remarked as his nose bumped into his ear. Yoongi tried to not flinch at the contact. “He’s a little awkward though…”
“Yeah, I’d say,” the mottled sandy brown one added, tongue lolling free in a rather cheeky grin.
“He’s so skinny, where did you find him?” a black and white neugdae asked as he looked over at Seokjin, amber eyes attentive and thick tail lightly swishing.
“We found him hiding from hunters after the last change,” Seokjin explained as he trotted over to them, Jungkookie right on his heel like a pup. “I can explain it all tomorrow but right now we must return to the den and rest.”
“Good idea,” Namjoon agreed as he started lightly running off along the tracks again.
The hazel-eyed one followed after him without any hesitation but the sandy brown and the black and white neugdaes lingered close to him for a moment, noses and ears still twitching curiously. Then they seemed to take the hint and they trotted off after the two others, leaving Yoongi alone. He turned to see that Seokjin and Jungkookie were waiting for him to go first and so he did.
It took them several more minutes of light running to reach the den, and he saw that it was indeed a large warehouse nestled away under a massive freeway, almost hidden behind a tall concrete support beam. The building was pretty large, the outer walls covered with graffiti that he couldn’t currently decipher, and there was a large stretch of grass and dirt that ran alongside the warehouse for a few yards. Yoongi saw another smaller building not too far from the warehouse and Seokjin headed towards it, calling to tell him to follow after him. He broke away from the others to trot after him, stopping in front of a small outhouse that was empty but still had shelves inside. The glass windows were mostly shattered and the door was nothing more than splintered chunks from age and weather damage, but it still looked like a decent place to stay in to keep away the evening chill and bad weather.
“Stay here for the rest of the night,” Seokjin instructed as he lowered his head and prodded his nose against the ground. Yoongi eyed the outhouse and then he trotted inside and started sniffing around the ground too, detecting countless interesting scents. “You won’t be able to sleep tonight in the den, they will all want to nuzzle you and talk until the sun comes up.”
“Seokjin?” Yoongi said as he lifted his eyes to look at him. “Thank you.”
Seokjin didn’t say anything in reply to this and he didn’t really need to.
It was the sound of a sudden burst of laughter that woke him up with a start and Yoongi lifted his head without even opening his eyes, ears trying to prick to detect the sound better and yet…his human ears stayed very still and firm at the sides of his head. For a few seconds he was much too foggy with sleep to figure this out and when he did he lowered his head back down onto his forearm pillow. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing but it was better than the solid ground, that much was certain, and so he pressed his face down against his folded up arms and settled down again.
The sound of the laughter had been very pleasant to listen to, a burst of what was unmistakably happy giggles. Yoongi didn’t know what exactly had caused the laugh, maybe a joke of some kind, but he did know that he liked the sound, and as he tried his hardest to keep listening he picked up more voices coming from the warehouse. Listening to the different voices was nice, nice enough to bring a smile to his face even when he was still so sleepy. He felt the corners of his lips lifting and falling again softly, falling slack. If he didn’t force himself to wake up in a minute or two he might just fall back asleep again and Yoongi thought of the pros and cons of staying awake and found that there wasn’t that many pros.
Save for meeting the other neugdaes that was, and his nerves might just chalk that down as a con instead.
Yoongi stretched out on the ground with a series of tired grumbles and when his bare stomach brushed against the gritty soil he recalled that he was naked. The thought was enough to make him stop stretching and let out a heavy sigh. Great, he was tired, hungry and naked. What a surprise, wasn’t he always? He lifted his head up off his folded up arms and tried to open his eyes but it was rather hard to do so. His eyelids were incredibly heavy and every time he managed to open them they tried to shut on him again, flickering a few times until he shifted onto elbows to rub at them hard with the heels of his hands. Luckily he didn’t smear soil all over his face as he did. This was enough to force his eyelids open and he dropped his arms again, running his eyes over the sight in front of him.
Sunlight was bleeding in through the broken windows in golden beams, landing on the dry soil and his skin to warm it. He tried his hardest to judge the hour but settled for assuming that it was the early morning instead, far from the afternoon but closer to dawn. Though he couldn’t see the sky clearly from his current position he imagined that it was a vivid shade of blue with little hints of clouds across the surface. His nose detected the rich scent of the soil, lingering exhaust fumes and faded hay, and Yoongi dragged his eyes away from the window to look across the small shelter.
There was a pile of neatly folded clothing and a container sitting right in the doorway of the outhouse: left for him.
He studied this for a few seconds before deciding to move closer and Yoongi lifted first item to see that it was a shirt, a check one that was a mixture of red, white and black. Underneath this there was a folded up black tee and a pair of rather worn and torn jeans. So he decided to get dressed first and foremost, struggling into the jeans to find that they were too large on him. That wasn’t a surprise, for the waist hanged rather low on his hips but at least they stayed up and didn’t fall down on him. Much like the last tee he had worn this one was too large on him, the neckline showcasing a slight hint of chest, but at least it didn’t have holes in it. Yoongi knotted the shirt around his hips in an attempt at a makeshift belt to keep the jeans up, knotting the arms tight, and then he eyed the boots.
The leather was covered in quite a lot of scuff marks and he briefly wondered if they had been chewed on as he brushed soil off the soles of his feet. They were practically healed up now, just a few scrapes here and there from last night, so he slipped the boots on and knotted them too. When he was finished he shifted to sit cross-legged on the ground and he took a moment to study the clothing. There were mingling scents of other bodies on the clothing but they were rather faded right now. His nose didn’t detect Namjoon or Seokjin on them however, so they must belong to the other neugdaes. Yoongi stopped sniffing at the tee and let go of it, gaze settling on the other object that had been left in the doorway for him.
Yoongi eyed the funny plastic container for a moment, uncertain as what it was exactly. It had a pink lid and the bottom section was clear but was too thick to reveal the contents inside of it. He picked it up and after some fumbling he popped the lid free, and that was when he saw that there was meat inside the container. There was a decent-sized chunk of meat clinging to a bone and he sniffed a few times before figuring out that it was beef rather than deer. So he lifted it out of the container and proceeded to start gnawing at it. Despite the meat being raw and cold it was incredibly tender between his teeth and he found pulling it off the bone very easy.
Whilst he chewed the mouthfuls of tender beef Yoongi looked out across the dirt path outside. He could see prints in the clay-like soil, some shaped like paw pads, some shaped like shoes soles. He couldn’t read them from his sitting position but he thought that there was quite a decent amount out there. Did that mean that the other neugdaes had been moving around often, or was it possible that they might have been coming out to check on him whilst he had been sleeping? The thought should have made him feel a little uncomfortable, the thought of the strangers coming to look at him whilst he had been unaware, but he didn’t find it too strange. Neugdaes were curious by nature so it only made sense that they would sneak out to look at him like that.
Yoongi licked his lips clean of beef juice and from overhead he heard a rather dissonant droning sound, that of a truck horn. There was traffic moving along the highway of course, the one that ran over the entire den area, and he listened to the rumbling of the engine as it got further and further away. He shifted to look out of the open doorway and he saw a thick plume of acrid black smoke dissipating in the air from the truck, and then he settled back on his ass to start gnawing the gristly remains of meat from the bone. From a few feet away he heard birds taking to flight in a flurry of flapping wings and honking sounds. Yoongi turned his head to look and a few seconds later he saw a series of birds flying past. He thought that they were geese, which meant that there must have been a small lake nearby. Underneath the bird noises he heard more of those rather light and sweet giggles and he figured out that the owner of said giggles had been chasing the geese around for fun.
It was pretty childish but Yoongi had often found some fun in chasing birds like that too. He had had no intention of eating them really, it was just fun watching them take to the air with indignant honks and screeches to leave a bunch of feathers floating in their wake.
Now that he was back in his human form it took quite an amount of pressure from his molars to snap the bone and he felt the impact travelling all the way up from his jaw to his brain so he squeezed his eyes shut in surprise. But it worked for he managed to snap it enough to stick the bone into his mouth to suck at the marrow. It had been so long since he had been able to enjoy marrow because that had always went to Taewang instead, but now he was happily sucking it out of the snap in the bone. It was thick and rich but sadly there wasn’t much of it at all.
Yoongi was attempting to get the last of the marrow free when he saw movement from across the yard and he froze, eyes tracking an unknown male across the slight spattering of grass. He had never seen him before and he eyed his tanned skin and jet black hair but didn’t catch enough of his face to see what he actually looked like. He did see a handful of long feathers clutched tightly in one of his hands however. The young man spared just a quick glance over at him and Yoongi decided to pull the bone out of his mouth because he looked rather stupid; sitting cross-legged in the dirt like this. His ears detected a soft sound that could have been a laugh but it didn’t sound mean, it was actually rather sweet. He had figured out who the duck chaser was, even if he didn’t know his name.
As soon as he was back in the warehouse Yoongi dropped his eyes to study the bone, seeing really nothing left on it save for a slight amount of tough gristle. So he shifted forward and started scratching at the soil, attempting to dig a hole to bury it in. It took him a moment to do so, dropping the hunk of bone into the hole, and then he started brushing the soil back. He patted it in place and then wiped his palms on the thighs of his jeans. There was soil trapped under his nails, that wonderful warm earthen smell clinging to his skin as he got upright and started dusting his clothing clean.
Yoongi eyed the stretch of yard in front of him and he knew that he had to go inside and yet he wasn’t sure that he had the courage to do so. Inside there were strangers, strangers that might be loud and touchy, that might not like him. That made him feel uncomfortable, made a low whine escape from his lips before he had even realised that he had made the sound. Should he maybe wait for them to come to him instead? Seokjin could come and collect him, escort him inside and introduce him…and yet he had a feeling that the other neugdae wasn’t going to do so. That way he had no choice but to introduce himself to the others.
Yoongi took a deep breath and held it in his lungs, puffing his chest up in bravado just so he could cross the yard and get closer to the warehouse. He tried his very hardest to ignore his shaking hands and just stared at the building. He could do this, he had put up with incessant bullying in the past and so nothing that they could throw his way would sting more. He swallowed a lump in his throat and when he got to the entrance he saw that the shutter door had been propped open by a tall stepladder, keeping it open permanently. He didn’t even need to duck to get inside.
The first thing that his eyes focused on was Namjoon, sitting not too far from the doorway with a rather large book on his knee that he was jotting things down inside of. There looked to be crushed plants stuck to sections of the paper and there was tiny neat characters covering the spaces between. Namjoon was far too busy concentrating on this to look up at him and so Yoongi studied him for a moment, seeing that he was wearing a loose fitting black tee and a matching pair of long shorts. Then he looked over at the other section of the warehouse to see some battered furniture placed here and there across the wide area: cushions tossed on the floor with stuffing coming free from the seams, a low table that was currently covered in bones, and lots of crates.
Seokjin was visible sitting on a crate at the far end with another male lounged out beside him. He was dressed casually in loose white tee and blue jeans and he seemed to be watching over three other neugdaes. Yoongi couldn’t see much of the male lying beside him because of their distance but he did see dark brown hair and a sharp profile with a long and delicate nose. Just looking at him made him think of the hazel-eyed grey and brown neugdae from last night, he was certain that that was him. The nameless young man was looking through a magazine, clearly not caring about what was going on in the warehouse.
Yoongi could see some slight commotion happening close to the centre of the wide area, three young-looking neugdaes having something close to a playful fight over something. There was a tall boy with black hair and matching clothing and he seemed to be trying to get the two others to give him something. That something in question seemed to be the bird feathers, Yoongi saw.
“Jimin, I don’t have those ones,” the tall one said, trying to reach over and take the feathers out of his fingers.
But the shorter one, who Yoongi now knew was called Jimin, moved his hand away before he could. He was the one that had been giggling and chasing the geese just a few minutes ago and yet Yoongi still couldn’t see his face very well. Standing behind the tall boy there was another young man with sandy blond hair and he also had feathers clutched in his hands, purposely batting them against his neck to try and annoy him.
“I need them.”
“You don’t need ‘em, you want ‘em,” the blond said pedantically.
“Whatever, I want them then.”
Yet Jimin was having way too much fun stroking the clutch of feathers between his fingers, and the nameless other neugdae lifted the feathers he had just so he could lick them and annoy him that much more.
“Oh, just give Jungkook the feathers,” the hazel-eyed one said without even looking at them.
“Yeah, gimme,” Jungkook almost whined, trying to grab the feathers out of the smaller male’s fingers with a pout. “I don’t have bean geese feathers!”
“They’ve covered in my drool, you still sure you want ‘em, huh?” the sandy blond joked as he held one of the feathers out at him and batted at his nose. The black-haired boy nodded and he carried on batting at his nose with the dark grey feathers. There was a wide grin on his face and Yoongi could see that he was having way too much fun being mischievous like this. “Well, too bad ‘cos I’m gonna eat ‘em!”
“Seokjin!” Jungkook let out the most spoilt whine that Yoongi had ever heard and this made the two toying neugdaes start laughing. “They won’t give me them!”
“Did you say ‘please’?” Seokjin asked, tone trapped between a joke and sounding rather weary, but there was a soft smile on his full lips that showed that he was used to these kind of antics.
“…No,” Jungkook said in a quiet voice, scuffing one of his boots on the concrete floor.
“Then try saying please,” he stated in a matter of fact tone, making the young man beside him laugh softly as he turned a magazine page.
“Jimin, may I please have the feathers?”
“Mmm,” Jimin almost purred, and at the sound Yoongi found his eyes latching onto him. It was such a strangely pleasing noise, that low and rather husky purr, and he caught sight of a hint of glinting eyes from their distance. “No.”
The blond burst out laughing at this, a series of guffaws escaping from his wide open mouth, and that was when Jungkook decided that enough was enough and he pounced on Jimin. He was clearly hoping to wrestle him to the ground, to start a tussle so that he could be crowned victor and be given the feathers but he was forgetting one thing. There were two of them and only one of him, and a play fight erupted right in the centre of the warehouse as they all tackled each other to the floor.
“You alright?” Namjoon asked suddenly as he looked up at him, and Yoongi dragged his eyes away to return his gaze. He found it rather hard to reply for some reason. “What? You nervous around a bunch of idiots like them?”
Yoongi glanced back at the three playing neugdaes to see that the feathers had been abandoned in favour of wrestling; tossed all over the floor. They were all laughing and making little excited noises and as he watched them he tried to recall the last time that he had played like that. It seemed a long time ago even though he knew that it really wasn’t. Jungkook was clearly strong for he was holding his own against the two others, managing to straddle and pin Jimin to the floor even when the other neugdae was wriggling under him and trying to push him off. But when the blond hooked his arms around his chest and proceeded to nuzzle against his neck Jungkook started to lose the battle; giggling even as he started pulling on his hair to try and make him stop.
“Ah, Tae, don’t lick me!”
“I’ll lick you all I want,” the blond retorted. “I’ll bite your ear off too, try and stop me.”
To prove his point he actually grabbed one of the boy’s ears between his teeth and started nibbling on it, causing another loud burst of laughter from Jungkook. This attack lowered his defences and allowed Jimin to actually sit upright, grabbing at the boy’s hands and proceeding to nip at his fingers rather excitedly.
“Alright, alright,” Seokjin announced suddenly. “Jimin, Taehyung: back off and give him the feathers. Jungkook: stop causing trouble.”
“Damn, almost had him,” Taehyung said as he let go of Jungkook and got upright, reaching up to knock a messy tangle of blond hair back off his brow.
Yoongi saw that he had rounded eyes and a strong nose: a very handsome face from just a single glance. His skin was a golden shade of tan, contrasting against his rather torn up light grey tee wonderfully. There looked to be claw marks in the material and he really wouldn’t be surprised if there was.
“Next time for sure, we’ll take him,” he finished with a heavy sigh.
“Sure you will,” Jungkook replied in a rather smug voice as he collected the feathers together off the floor.
Yoongi could see that he had startlingly large eyes and a rather prominent nose, and when his lips pulled up in a grin it made his the bridge wrinkle rather sweetly.
“Everyone, this is Yoongi,” Namjoon said suddenly as he closed the book over and proceeded to get to his feet. “You all met him last night of course, but now you’re meeting him again.” Yoongi felt his free hand going around his elbow so that he could guide him closer to the others and he realised that this was to be his grand introduction. “He doesn’t talk much so maybe you’ll get lucky and get to hear him speak.”
Yoongi took that as a hint to say something, anything.
“Uh…hey,” he mumbled under his breath as he glanced over them. He saw that they were all looking at him and yet Jimin’s gaze seemed to hold the most weight, and Yoongi couldn’t help but stare at him, finally getting to see his features clearly now that he was but a few feet away.
Jimin had pitch-black hair and tanned skin just like Taehyung, the combination almost making him glow against his fitted white tee. His eyes were rather thin and he had a slight pointed nose, but despite these features being small Jimin had a very pretty mouth. His lips were full and pouted, even more so than Seokjin’s. He was tugging on a loose thread in the open knee of his jeans and when he caught sight of him staring his full lips lifted in a slight smile. Yoongi didn’t return it and instead dragged his eyes away to look at the warehouse wall.
“You gave him my favourite boots,” Jungkook muttered in a rather sullen tone, rubbing one of the feathers against his chin.
Yoongi dropped his head to stare at the battered leather boots and he was about to try and mumble something in reply to this when Namjoon did so for him.
“They’re not your favourite boots, they’re your favourite chew toys,” he retorted, and this made the boy snort laughter.
Well, that explained the chew marks at least…
“Yoongi’s den was attacked, and to our knowledge he might just be the only survivor,” Namjoon added, and Yoongi started gnawing on his lower lip. Just hearing this was enough to make him feel a cold wave washing over him.
“Sucks,” Jimin said in a rather uninterested tone, batting a feather against the side of Jungkook’s face so that he flinched and made a smile appear on his full lips, flashing his teeth. He was no longer staring at him and Yoongi was thankful for it.
Sucks, well wasn’t that the truth? Yes, having his entire family murdered by hunters really did suck. Jimin had hit the nail right on the head with no need to try and dress it up as anything else. Perhaps sensing a flatness in the air the dark-haired male on the crate beside Seokjin rolled his head to look at him, ignoring his magazine.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Yoongi,” he said in a soft voice.
Yoongi saw that he did indeed have a long and pointed nose, along with large eyes and a long face. A friendly-looking face, he thought.
“Yes, Hoseok, we all offer our deepest condolences,” Namjoon agreed, clearly adding this on behalf of the three younger neugdaes who were still sitting on the floor playing with the geese feathers rather than paying attention.
“Where was this again?” Hoseok asked as he cocked his head to look at the other neugdae.
“As I said last night,” Seokjin explained from his position on the crate beside the other lounged out male. “His den was attacked during the last cycle, up in Tanhyeon-myeon, and he had to run away. Both I and Namjoon discovered him in the following morning on the outskirts of Kaesong, not too far from the industrial factory.”
“What, you found him in Kaesong?” Taehyung asked as he stopped chewing on a feather, rounded eyes widening even more if that was even possible. His eyes were going to roll out of his head, Yoongi was certain of it. “How the fuck didn’t he get blown up by a landmine?”
Landmines? What landmines? Yoongi knew nothing about this.
“Because we used an old incursion tunnel,” Namjoon retorted, even though they had done no such thing.
It took Yoongi a moment of contemplation before he figured out what was going on. He was lying to the other family members in order to make sure that they didn’t go wandering anywhere close to the border and get into danger. The silver-haired male moved to cross the warehouse floor in the direction of a set of doors, book hugged against his chest.
“Don’t you ever try that, Tae, it’s too dangerous so don’t any of you try it,” he finished.
“Oh, so mom can do it but we can’t?” Taehyung asked no one in particular, his joke met with some laughter. Mom seemed to be his nickname for Seokjin.
“Yoongi had been shot,” Seokjin continued, ignoring the joke expertly. “He could have died because it’s dangerous up north with the hunters, and I think you should all reflect on this next time you try and go wandering out of this region.”
This seemed to hang in the air rather heavily, almost suffocatingly so. Yoongi didn’t like the fact that he had become some form of a morality lesson for the younger neugdaes, but Seokjin seemed to be telling the truth. It really was dangerous up north and they would be wise to avoid it. Especially the youngest neugdaes, for they looked rather lacking to his eyes. Sheltered, in some aspects. They all knew him now and yet they knew barely anything at all save for his name and his dead family; and conversely Yoongi knew nothing about them too. Like why they were a family and yet seemed more like a hunting pack to him.
“Seokjin, Seokjin,” Jungkook broke the silence in a rather excited tone as he got to his feet. All of the geese feathers were gathered up tightly in his fists. “Whilst you were gone I found some more stuff! I think I need a bigger box and-”
“OK, Jungkookie, slow down,” Seokjin spoke over him and yet his words were completely ignored.
“there’s a crow beak and all kinds of feathers,” the boy continued as he started tugging at his arm to get him to climb off the crate. “And Namjoonie got me that mole skull too, so…”
Seokjin let Jungkook grab hold of his hand and pull him across the warehouse in the direction of the same doors that Namjoon had went through just a moment ago. Yoongi assumed that they led into a sleeping area of some sort, maybe where they also kept their belongings. There were more doors across the far side and he thought that they might be fire escape doors. He took a moment to take in the warehouse, with its concrete flooring and walls, with its high ceiling and countless windows, and he found that it had a somewhat secure feeling. It was just like a natural cave den, save for the fact that it was very unnatural.
Now that the others had left, Yoongi was left in the presence of the three other neugdaes: Hoseok, Taehyung and Jimin. He remained silent and waited to see if any of them would speak first. After almost an entire minute of silence Taehyung shifted to take a few steps closer to him, his currently bare feet padding on the concrete flooring.
“Hey, you’re kinda small,” he remarked even though there was only a couple of inches between their heights. With his frame however, Taehyung really did look much bigger than him. “Are you a yearling?”
“Juh…juvenile,” Yoongi explained as Taehyung reached up to touch his hair. “I’m two.”
“Two? Shit, Seokjin’s two,” the blond said as he started petting the back of his head. The contact and warmth of his palm should have been relaxing but Yoongi was too nervous to find it pleasant. “Why’re you so small?”
“Tae, stop making fun of him,” Jimin said, trying to scold him even though he was smiling. “It’s cute, I think it’s cute that he’s small.”
They were more or less the exact same height and yet Yoongi was the small one.
“I’m not making fun, I’m technically describing him,” Taehyung replied pedantically as he carried on stroking his hair. “What’d you mean by cute?”
“Cute,” Jimin reiterated as he also took a step closer to them. “You know, he’s kinda cute like a yearling pup. It makes you just wanna nuzzle him, right?”
“Do you like nuzzling?” Taehyung asked and Yoongi rolled his eyes to look at him. There was a smile on his face and though it looked friendly there seemed to be some naughtiness hidden away inside it.
“Yeah…yeah, I like nuzzling,” Yoongi replied.
“What kinda nuzzling?”
“I dunno, I just-”
Taehyung moved his face to burrow it in his hair and Yoongi stopped talking at the sudden contact. He felt his nose and his warm breath on his skin and it was very nice, very friendly. It was enough to make some of nerves lessen and Yoongi actually closed his eyes as the other neugdae nuzzled against his hair.
“Everyone likes that, Tae,” Jimin said, moving just that little closer to them. “Even humans like having their hair played with. This is much more fun.” When Jimin moved to press his forehead against his Yoongi opened his eyes in surprise. The other neugdae rubbed their brows together softly, the friction of their skin causing a little shiver to run down Yoongi’s spine. “This is much nicer,” Jimin said in a soft voice, a slight huskiness to it. “Isn’t this nicer?”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Yoongi said, feeling the corners of his lips curling up at the corners as he closed his eyes again.
Yoongi realised that they were playing a game with him right now, a strange little game that he didn’t really understand. It was confusing but the prolonged physical contact was very enjoyable and he didn’t really care because he was getting so much attention. How long had it been since he had actually been nuzzled like this by his actual family members?
This had never happened to him before, and Yoongi was enjoying it far too much to really care.
“How nice?” Taehyung asked, amusement audible in his voice. Why he was amused he didn’t really know but maybe he found the situation funny?
“I like it too,” Jimin agreed, also sounding very amused. “He’s so cute.”
“Makes you kinda wanna bite him, right?” Taehyung remarked and Yoongi opened his eyes just as Jimin moved his face. He saw those full lips of his shifting and then he felt the hard press of his teeth against his skin.
Jimin had just nipped him on the nose.
Yoongi’s entire body seemed to turn to stone at this, muscles going so rigid that his head bowed slightly and his shoulders brushed against his ears. It wasn’t just his muscles that reacted to the sudden contact but also his stomach, clenching tight as if it was being squeezed between his fists right now. His mind had just simply went blank too: wiped clean. The nuzzling had been so gentle and sweet until Jimin had nipped at him and he didn’t really know why he felt so strange. It just a nip and yet…
“Oh,” Taehyung let out a rather funny guffaw at this and Yoongi could only roll his eyes to look at him because he couldn’t even move his head. “Oh, Jimjim, I think he liked that a lot, look at his cheeks. So pink.”
“No, I think you should back off I think you’re scaring him,” Hoseok called from the crate across the room, not even watching them and yet seemingly aware of absolutely everything that was happening right now.
“It was just a nip,” Jimin argued, turning back to look at the older pack member. There was a rather playful air coming off him and Yoongi wished that he could feel that too but he was just so…stiff right now. Stiff to the point in which he was likely giving all kinds of strange vibes to the others, yet he couldn’t help himself. Could they smell his discomfort? Probably, it was likely coming off him in waves. “I nip you all of the time, Hoseok.”
“Yeah, you do,” he retorted. “But you’ve known me for years, Jimin, and you’ve known him for three seconds. Give him a little breathing room.” Hoseok turned the page of whatever magazine he was looking at, eye glued to it and not even looking in their direction again.
“I think you should give him another nip,” Taehyung said in a quiet voice out of the corner of his mouth, expression mischievous. His large eyes were almost twinkling with what could only be naughtiness, the golden flecks in the brown glinting at him, and his lips were pulled up in a cheeky grin.
Yoongi studied his expression and then he rolled his eyes over to look at Jimin to gauge what he was thinking. Perhaps he could sense the fact that Hoseok had shifted on the crate behind them, head held up to stare over at them and expression showing that he wasn’t amused, for Jimin stayed still for a moment and didn’t do anything. Yoongi could feel his nerves slowly starting to dissipate and so he lowered his shoulders ever so slightly and let his pent-up breath out in gentle sigh.
And that was when Jimin decided to pounce.
Yoongi could do no more than blink before Jimin moved and he once again felt the unmistakable sensation of his lips against the end of his nose, opening to bite down lightly on the skin. But rather than move away with another burst of giggles like before Jimin decided to try for another nip. Yoongi wanted to push him away but he was too paralysed to do so, and so his teeth snagged on his lower lip lightly. Jimin held on for a bare second, not biting down enough to hurt, and he looked right at him as he did. His gaze wasn’t shy in the slightest and why should it be? After all this was just affectionate play, and yet Yoongi saw something glinting in the amber murkiness of his eyes. That was what made Yoongi let out a little whimper and so Jimin pulled his head away, the most mischievous smile present on his face that made his eyes crinkle at the corners.
“Alright, alright, clear off,” Hoseok announced as he shifted on the crate to swing his long legs over the side and drop down. His boots thumped on the flooring loudly and at the sound the two family members actually started giggling and darted off across the warehouse to disappear out of sight in a series of rustling clothing and muttered words. “Scaring him like that seriously, you punks!” he called after them, tone not angry but showing some disapproval.
Yoongi listened to them go rather than look, hearing them leaving through the open entrance door so that they could run out into the yard. Maybe to go harass more bean geese for fun? That was probably very likely. After a moment he glanced up at Hoseok to see that the other neugdae was looking at him, not too intently but rather just studying him out of the corner of his eyes.
“Are you alright?” Hoseok asked him in a soft tone, shifting ever so slightly so that he could cock his head and get a better view of his face.
Yoongi was shaking again and he wanted to stop doing so but it was too hard, much too hard. The physical contact from the two of them had gotten too intimate much too fast, and he was already struggling to accept the fact that these were his new family members now. That meant touching and grooming, fighting and feeding together like his family would. Like his family had until the hunters had attacked and slaughtered them.
“Did they scare you, huh?”
“Uh…huh,” Yoongi mumbled with a nod, sparing a quick glance up to see that Hoseok was also standing very close to him. The other neugdae was hunkered forward so that he could peer under his mop of hair and study him, eyes wide and lips slack with interest. “No, no, they didn’t scare me they were just…touchy.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Hoseok said as reached down to take hold of his wrist. His grip was gentle and not at all uncomfortable and so Yoongi didn’t actually mind the contact. He allowed him to guide him across the warehouse in the direction of an open doorway that he had never been through before. “The yearlings are always like that, as I’m sure you already know.”
“Yuh…yearlings?” Yoongi repeated as they cut across the wide floor. “They’re your yearlings?” Upon looking at the two other family members he had thought that they were juveniles at least because they looked big enough. Yet Hoseok just nodded in agreement as he spared a look back at him over his shoulder. “I didn’t know.”
“They’re big babies,” Hoseok agreed with a smile, lips lifting to showcase straight white teeth in a very friendly smile. Oh, Yoongi liked that smile a lot because it didn’t make him feel nervous at all. “We had to learn to put up with them so so do you.”
“Hoseok, that’s your name; right?”
“Yup, that’s my name alright.”
“Why’re you such a small…family? Where’s the rest of your family?”
“Oh, that’s a long story. We had to disperse, split the family up into several pack groups,” Hoseok explained slowly, tone not at all condescending as he spoke to him. “For the sake of the family on a whole we were placed together because we were unpaired. It would have been reckless and downright stupid to place a bunch of unpaired males in an established family so…here we are. This isn’t exactly what you would call a family but well, fuck it, we’re doing our very best.”
That was a sentiment that Yoongi could relate to and agree with. Yes, they weren’t a family at all because none of them were actually related, but they were the offspring of six separate adults that had made up their original family. That really was trying their very best, that was for sure.
Hoseok led him through into another section of the warehouse and Yoongi could see that this was a sleeping area from first glance. It was only a small area, which heightened the sensation of it being secure and warm and made it perfect for settling down for sleep in. He had expected to see Jungkook and Seokjin inside and yet they weren’t present, but he could hear their faded voices coming from close-by. There was an old busted wooden door just across the room that revealed they must have been outside, enjoying the warm sunlight.
“You should just rest for a little while,” Hoseok suggested as they stopped in front of a stretch of mattresses spread across the floor. They were all placed together rather than separate, creating a large bed on the floor on which they all clearly slept because he could see multiple pillows and blankets, and even a few rather chewed up plush toys. “Wait until the evening, that’s the feeding time so it’s the best time for bonding. They’ll settle down by then, so less of the nipping and playing around.”
Yoongi wasn’t that tired at all and yet when he looked down at the mattresses he actually felt like he might just be able to lie down on them and sleep again. It was strange but it might just have had something to do with the fact that the last month had been so trying on him. He was still healing from his bullet wound too, so maybe it was for the best that he rested?
“I didn’t ask you this earlier,” Hoseok said as he moved to settle down on the very end mattress, pulling at his boots to remove them. “But were you paired?”
“Nuh-no, I wasn’t paired,” Yoongi muttered as he wrenched on the laces and managed to get one of the boots free. He dumped the boot aside without a care, the heavy soles thumping off the concrete flooring.
“But…you’re a juvenile right?” Hoseok asked him. “How come you weren’t paired? Wasn’t there enough females?”
Yoongi ignored the question as he moved onto his next boot and maybe Hoseok took his silence as a hint to stop asking questions. He got the other boot off and proceeded to shift to lie down on his side, curling his legs up in front of him to get into a tight little ball.
“Hoseok, why were you split up like that?” Yoongi asked in a quiet voice as the other neugdae started pulling a pelt blanket over his body.
At his words he paused for a moment, not looking at him but rather staring at the blanket in his hands instead. In the fading sunlight coming from the high windows Yoongi could see that Hoseok’s eyes weren’t actually as dark as they had looked at all for now he could detect other shades in them too. They were almost hazel in the lighting, a wonderful tint of green mixed into the depths that wasn’t noticeable unless his eyes were focused on entirely. Hoseok blinked twice almost languidly, eyelashes batting in a somewhat dainty manner, and then he once again reached down to pull on the blanket up higher over his ribs.
“The kids…” he paused for a moment as if thinking his words over. “They’ve been through some tough times, you know? With the family being dispersed, it’s affected them a lot. Some of us lost parents, some of us have just gotten cut off from them. They understand what you’re going through but it’s hard for them to…to emphasise right now.”
Yoongi just listened to him talk rather than interrupt because he found he greatly enjoyed listening to him speaking. The family had split up because of something important, that much was clear, and Hoseok had mentioned death. Did that mean that they had also been attacked by hunters or was it something else perhaps? Should he ask him, or should he wait a little longer, wait until he knew them a little more? He had already asked a very big question and so it was likely for the best that he not ask another for awhile.
“They don’t wanna open their wounds when they’re still licking at them; yeah?”
“I understand,” he said in a quiet voice as he pressed his face against the pillow, scenting the others on it. There was a mingled series of scents that he couldn’t ascertain but he was sure that at least one of them was Jimin. After all he had scented him almost as intimately as he had scented Seokjin and Namjoon.
“So that’s why they seemed a little cold earlier, because of what they’ve been through too,” Hoseok added as he stroked his fingers along the blanket slowly, smoothing the fur down. “It wasn’t because of you, I promise.”
“I know that I said this before, but I’m sorry for your loss, Yoongi,” Hoseok said as he stroked his thumb over his knuckles. “It’s a shame that we had to meet under such circumstances but I want you to know that I accept you.”
“As one of us,” Hoseok explained as he pulled his hand away from the blanket. Yoongi waited and almost anticipated that he would reach over and pat his head and after a few seconds he did. Hoseok placed a hand on his head and he lightly stroked at his hair for a moment before shifting to get upright. “The others do too, I know that they do. It’ll take a little while to settle in but, Yoongi, don’t be scared of trying. OK? Don’t be scared of trying to bond or anything like that, you’re just like us too and we’re not going to hurt you.”
Yoongi knew that they weren’t going to hurt him but that didn’t make any of this easier for him. If what had happened to him was opening wounds for the rest of them, painful wounds that they were still healing from, then the idea of bonding, eating and sleeping with another family so quickly after losing his own was like rubbing salt right into his own wounds.
Yoongi watched him leaving the room silently and as soon as he was gone he shifted to roll into his other side so that his back was facing the door. The mattress wasn’t the most comfortable but it was better than the hard ground that he was used to sleeping on for sure. He had a blanket and even a pillow right now, and that was almost luxurious. He eyed one of the plush toys that was just an arm stretch away and after some thought he decided to reach over and grab it and pull it closer to him, so that he could hug it against his chest. It wasn’t the same as a warm body of course, but it was better than nothing.
Yoongi looked down at the plush toy to see that it was supposed to be a fox, or at least he thought that it was. It was rather mangled now from what seemed like years of ownership. The copper-coloured fur was rather faded now, threadbare in parts so that it was starting to look a little bald, but the toy was still soft and nice to hug. He looked at the beady black button eyes and let his breath out in a rather weary sigh, feeling a strange wetness starting to well under his eyelids. Yoongi closed his eyes and drew himself into an even tighter ball, squeezing the plush toy between his thighs and chest until he felt as small as possible. With the pelt blanket pulled over him he was hidden from view mostly, almost invisible.
Yoongi liked that feeling a lot more than he should have.
He didn’t really fall asleep rather he just ended up drifting off into a light nap, just resting his eyes for a little while because he had nothing else to do. Because the warehouse was so large, with its high ceilings and thick walls, sounds seemed to echo through it very strongly. That meant that he could hear the voices of the other neugdaes even as he drifted, talking lowly amongst themselves or laughing. Yoongi didn’t pick up the words exactly but he could detect tonal differences that allowed him to ascertain who was speaking. From the open windows in the bedding area he could also hear the sounds of the outside world: the rumbling traffic on the freeway and the more or less constant tweeting and chirping of birds. It was nice, Yoongi thought, this area was nice and he rather liked it a lot.
Yoongi didn’t think that he would ever feel safe in a den that wasn’t a cavernous cave with a gaping black maw to scare others away from entering; from an underground system of tunnels that were tight and secure. Yet in this rather dilapidated warehouse he felt safer than he could have ever imagined. Maybe it wasn’t the location exactly, but maybe it was the fact he was once again in the company of more neugdaes that would help keep him safe? Whatever the case, Yoongi felt comfortable and secure lying on the mattress bed, buried under someone else’s blanket and hugging a plush toy to near death against his body.
After some time of blissful drifting he must have actually fallen asleep for when he was next aware of his surroundings something was different. He could detect another body in the room with him, from the scent to the sound of light snoring. Yoongi didn’t want to wake up and move so instead he just breathed in and scented the other neugdae. His nose detected a rather calming scent, a mixture of earthy scents that hinted that whoever it was might have been outside or digging in the dirt. So Yoongi just settled back down to go back into his late afternoon slumber, sleeping away the warm hours…
and he came around again to the sensation of being touched.
There was something touching his head, stroking through his hair softly in a rather affectionate way so that he quickly figured out that it was a hand. Yoongi could hear something underneath the soft rustling of his hair, something that sounded like humming. The tone was somewhat husky in a strangely pleasing way, and in his current foggy state he couldn’t figure out who it was exactly. Yoongi twitched his nose hard and he detected a woody scent mostly, coming from the hands in his hair. It was a nice masculine scent and it mingled with that of what smelled like berries to his nose. As if whoever it was might have been picking them not too long ago. It wasn’t the calming scent from earlier, he was certain of that much, rather it was actually a new scent.
“…and you’re kinda grumpy,” the neugdae sang in a rather nonsensical tune, “but that’s cool ‘cos so is Jimjims sometimes. And you kinda look funny but that’s cute…”
Yoongi furrowed his brow at this, pressing his tongue against the roof of his mouth to let out a little huff of air. The fingers resumed their playing and he felt more than a single hand touching his head. It felt like whoever it was was playing with his hair, grabbing little sections and fiddling with them. The sensation was so nice that he felt himself relaxing, loosening from his tight ball to stretch out more on the mattresses.
“You like forehead nuzzles, I wonder if you like…tummy rubs?” the neugdae stopped singing then and even in his sleepy state he was certain that he knew who it was.
It was Taehyung of course, for his voice was deep enough and he smelled similar to what he had when he had rubbed his face against his hair earlier. Was it earlier, or was it yesterday? It was hard to tell, as Yoongi had yet to open his eyes. After a few more seconds of soulful humming he felt something brushing against the blanket. Taehyung was lightly tugging it down from his ribs and Yoongi rolled onto his back with a series of sleepy sounds.
“Oh, oh,” Taehyung seemed to hesitate at this, wondering if he should maybe move away in case he woke up. But Yoongi was too comfortable right now, warm and comfortable with the plush still snagged in the fold of one of his elbows, to want to wake up fully. After a few seconds of thought Taehyung seemed to find himself emboldened again and so he actually reached over to place his hand on the slight hint of his stomach that his tee had risen up to reveal. “Oooh, your tummy’s kinda soft,” he said before laughing sweetly. His palm was warm and dry against his skin and Yoongi felt him lightly running little circles just to the side of his navel. “Hmm, I’ll have to tell Jimjim that you like tummy rubs too, he might just give you another nip and-”
Yoongi shifted with a start at this and that was when he heard the rather frantic burst of giggles. When he cocked his head up to look, squinting from under his heavy eyelids, he caught sight of Taehyung darting out of the room as fast as he could, a happy little skip in his step that signalled that he was very pleased with himself. Yoongi moved to pull down on the ends of the tee to hide his stomach from view, fingers brushing against the lingering scar on his stomach as he did.
Taehyung had been hunkered down beside the mattress, playing with his hair mostly whilst he had been asleep, before moving onto his stomach to stroke that too. Had he been grooming his hair for him? Yoongi reached up and he felt along his hairline to find that it had been brushed back off his brow, and after a moment of checking he found that there was a loosely twined plait in the lengths. Taehyung had plaited his hair and he had to reach up with both hands to try and untangle it. Was that single one the only one, or had he sat there and plaited several sections for fun? Yoongi spent a moment checking his hair and when he found nothing else he dropped his arms back down onto the mattress with a heavy sigh. He stared up at the ceiling for a moment, eyes running along the smooth concrete as he came around from his sleepy fogginess, and then he slowly sat upright.
Jungkook was also lying on the mattress several feet away, sprawled on his back with his limbs spread open like a starfish. His stomach was rising and falling softly and he could hear a light snore escaping his lips. The boy looked to be completely zonked out and Yoongi studied him for a moment, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest and stomach. The calming earthen scent that he had detected earlier was coming off him of course and Yoongi could see little smears of dirt on the backs of his knuckles and bare feet still, which meant that he had been digging in the soil. He recalled Hoseok telling him that the three youngest were yearlings and upon seeing his dirty hands it was suddenly very believable. But Yoongi noticed something else too, something that he hadn’t noticed earlier.
Hanging from the loop of his black jeans there was a raccoon dog tail, spread out on the mattress like a fluffy snake.
Yoongi stared at the sight of the plush black and white fur, speckled with a little hint of red here and there, and he couldn’t help but reach over to touch it. It was so soft against his skin that it was almost hard to believe because he hadn’t ever felt something as soft as this. It made hare pelts and deer hinds feel rough in comparison to the tail and he rubbed his thumb against it slowly, watching the sunlight rippling off the long strands. He was contemplating rubbing it against his cheek when the boy stirred in his slumber and he stopped himself. Jungkook was awake, one eye open and the other still shut groggily, and it took a moment for the boy to really come around.
“You never seen a raccoon dog tail before?” Jungkook asked him, watching him stroking the tail, large eyes slowly moving from side to side to track his thumb.
“No,” Yoongi replied, feeling no need to lie to him. “Why’re you wearing it?”
“The first meal you kill with the family you wear,” Jungkook explained as he started scratching at his messy black hair. The boy looked like he was also wanting to just close his eyes and go back to sleep but after a few seconds he sat up with a languid yawn. “Didn’t you do that?” he asked around his yawn, flashing his tongue and teeth unabashedly.
“No, we didn’t have anything like that,” he said with a head shake, and so Jungkook reached over to slowly pull the tail out of his hands. Yoongi looked at his soil smeared knuckles and he imagined that he would get dirt all over the precious fur, almost wincing at the thought of it being ruined. “Did your family do that?” The boy nodded at the question. “Why?”
“It’s tradition,” Jungkook explained as he cocked his head and studied him for a moment. “You know, something important to the family. Surely you had something like that; didn’t you?”
Yoongi thought long and hard for a moment, trying to think of something that was similar to what the boy was telling him. He had never seen any of his family wearing tails like that before but he supposed that there might be something, something that their family did that was somewhat special to them. Jungkook waited patiently for him to think, not at all making him feel rushed or uncomfortable, and after a minute of deep thought he finally recalled something.
“The…the females would wear animal remains,” Yoongi explained in a slow and soft voice. “Feathers, bones, they would wear them between cycles like jewelry.” At this he saw Jungkook’s eyes almost glinting, a spark of interest in them. “I can’t think of anything else though…”
“I told them that there’s such a thing!” Jungkook declared, eyes still glinting like flint at him. His lips lifted up into a grin however, an excited little grin. “They told me that I was making it up but I said no, no there’s definitely a tribe that wears feathers but they laughed at me. I fucking knew it!” The boy let out a sudden laugh, fingers squeezing at the tail as he did. “That’s so cool, they can’t make fun of me anymore.”
“Do the others have tails too?”
“Well, the others take theirs off most of the time but-” Jungkook rubbed the end of the raccoon dog tail against his nose, scrunching up almost as if it tickled him. Yoongi saw the deep furrows on the bridge of his nose and then Jungkook laughed and pulled it away again. “I don’t, I’ll never take this off. Only when I’m cleaning up do I take it off, it’s too important to take off.”
Yoongi thought this over for a moment, noting how the boy gently stroked the tail as if it was still attached to a living creature. There was a tenderness in his actions, an almost loving treatment, and it was clear that Jungkook treasured the tail immensely. It was rather endearing just how much it meant to him and he supposed that he might see it as a relic of some kind: an important and sacred symbol of his belonging to the family. Yoongi didn’t have anything to tie him back to his old family and he currently had no tail either. Did that mean that he would get one, when the next change happened? Would his first kill be a good one, a raccoon dog just like Jungkook’s? He wondered what the others had and on the trail of this thought he found himself wondering what Jimin had.
Yoongi didn’t really know why he thought about him in particular, but he found himself wanting to know what tail he had. Maybe if would be cool to…to get a tail just like his one?
Jungkook leaned over slightly without warning, head moving to go onto his shoulder, and Yoongi stayed still for a moment to see what he would do. The weight of his head was rather notable and he kept it in place for a few seconds before pulling it away and looking at him. He realised then that Jungkook had been sniffing at his throat.
“You smell…” he made a series of snuffling sounds again and then he lifted his head to look at him. “You smell like Jimin and…and Tae too.”
“Uh, Taehyung was in here before,” Yoongi explained as he reached up to touch his hair briefly. “I think he was grooming me, grooming my hair.”
“Oh, oh yeah he does that sometimes,” Jungkook said with a series of nods. “But…why do you smell like Jimin?”
Yoongi stared at him and suddenly found that it was rather hard to give him an answer to that question. Both Jimin and Taehyung had nuzzled him, which might just account for that, he supposed. But all Jimin had done was nip him a few times, so why would his scent still be lingering so much on him? Had he maybe entered the bedding area earlier in the day and touched him like Taehyung too? Maybe stroked his hair and left his scent of him? Jungkook eyed the plush toy in his arms for a moment before making a soft noise under his breath, a little ‘hmm’ before he shifted to get to his feet. Yoongi watched him stretching, little grunts escaping as he rolled his shoulders and kicked his stiff legs around, and then the boy moved to leave the bedding area.
Yoongi considered getting up and following after him and after a moment he did indeed get up off the mattress. He had to stretch his own legs for a few seconds, pressing his face down against the plush toy to suppress a loud yawn, and then he toddled across the room and stepped into the main area to see that only the yearlings were present. Taehyung was lying on the settee cushions on the floor, on his stomach propped up on his elbows so that he could play with a toy of some kind: a colourful cube-like toy. Jimin was lying on the floor beside him, head resting on his lower back whilst he fanned at himself lazily. Yoongi could see that the fan was made from feathers and it caused a few loose locks on his brow to ripple every time that his waved his wrist. Lastly, Jungkook was sitting cross-legged by the low table, fiddling with one of the bone chunks that Yoongi has seen earlier. He looked to be scraping at it with a thin metal scalpel, maybe to remove any remaining traces of meat and gristle trapped in the grooves.
“Where’re the others?” Yoongi asked as he moved over to the crates, hunkering down so that he could sit with his back against them.
“They’re checking on the traps,” Taehyung explained, fiddling with the toy as he did and not even looking up at him. Yoongi saw his fingers moving very fast, hitting the sides to twist them around and make the colours almost dance. “Hopefully we caught something if you boys wanna eat tonight. I sure as fuck do.”
“You always wanna eat,” Jimin muttered, head seemingly comfortable on the other neugdae’s ass. “Are you a neugdae or a pig?”
“Oink oink, bitch,” Taehyung retorted, and though he was supposed to sound annoyed Yoongi could hear the grin in his voice as he snapped the cube in place perfectly; all of the colours matched up. “Jungkookie, mix it up for me, Jimjim did it too easy, again.”
“Wait, I’m kinda busy,” Jungkook said in a quiet voice, tongue sticking out his lips as he slowly scratched at the thick chunk of bone. There was an intense look of concentration on his face and it was rather sweet. “I’ll do it in a minute.”
“Pass it it to Scrappy Doo,” Taehyung said as he held the cube toy back at him.
Jimin grabbed hold of it in his free hand and then he sat up to look over at him. That was when he seemed to go stiff suddenly, both the fan and the toy falling out of his grip to land on the flooring with a series of clattering sounds. Jimin was staring right at him, eyes on the plush toy in his arms, and Yoongi felt a rather ominous wave coming off him. The other neugdae got to his feet without a single word and he watched him moving to get closer to him. Jimin’s shadow fell over him and Yoongi suddenly felt rather small, sitting on the floor at his feet like this.
“No,” Jimin said and before he could even think of what he was going to do the other neugdae’s hand shot out and grabbed hold of the head of the plush toy. Jimin wrenched it out of his arms hard, making Yoongi actually jump in surprise, and then he hugged it against his own chest in a near death grip. “That’s mine, don’t touch it.”
Yoongi detected a sharp note of defensiveness in his voice and he realised that the plush toy was very important to Jimin. He didn’t know why exactly, but it was clear from the way that he was hugging it so tight and the rather guarded look on his face. Well, at least that explained why he smelled like Jimin according to Jungkook, because he has been hugging his plush toy to death for quite some time now. He wanted to say something to him, to apologise, and yet he really didn’t know why. It was an honest mistake that he had not intended to make, for he hadn’t known that it was Jimin’s plush. How could he have known that? He had only been in their company for a single day.
“You can’t touch her,” Jimin reiterated, lips set in a spoilt pout. “Don’t touch Saenggang.”
He turned to walk away from him and he watched the other neugdae go back over to Taehyung. Taehyung had twisted to look back at them both, expression comically surprised, and when Jimin shifted to sit down again and his head thumped off his lower back he jumped at the hard contact.
There was a sense of awkwardness in the air coming from all of the neugdaes and not just him and Jimin. Yoongi just shifted to draw his knees up instead so that he could hug them against his chest, chin balanced on them and his arms hugged around his shins tightly. He decided that maybe it would be for the best that he not touch anything else just in case he upset any of the others.
Jungkook stopped in the act of twisting a drill, arm cocked up and the sharp head pressing down against something that looked like a canine. He was looking over them all silently and after a moment he made a noise, a funny little noise that wasn’t a word but rather a…chirping sound. Yoongi looked at him in confusion and that was when Taehyung shifted to look over at the boy, also making a noise that seemed to be a reply. That was when he realised what they were doing. They were making noises at each other, noises that Yoongi couldn’t understand though he knew what it was. They were using their own made-up language. He had seen the yearlings in his family do something similar to this so that they could be naughty and say things about the adults that no one else understood, and right now the yearlings were doing the exact same to him. Yoongi knew that he was the focus of their conversation because they kept stealing quick glance at him as they conversed.
Jimin wasn’t looking at either of the yearlings but he was listening to them, Yoongi could tell that he was because he saw the way that his brow twitched and the ever-present pout on his full lips. After Jungkook made a series of rather funny yips it was enough to make Jimin sigh heavily.
What were they saying? Yoongi didn’t know and it was just another thing that made him feel alienated right now.
Jimin starting looking over at him in a way that seemed to hint that he was regretful, for he kept sparing quick glances at him. His eyes didn’t settle on him for more than a second before he looked away again, dropping his gaze down to his plush toy. Yoongi struggled to tell if he was acting sullen because he was upset at him touching his plush toy like that, or if he was annoyed at himself for acting in such a brusque manner. Maybe the two yearlings were trying to make him feel bad for his actions and, judging from his expression, it was working. Jimin sat up again, the plush toy trapped between his chest and thighs as he seemed to think something over, and then he got to his feet to skulk over to him. Yoongi looked up at him and waited to see what he was going to do.
“I mean…” Jimin dropped his hands down to his sides and the plush swung from his grip, the tail tight in his fist and the head almost brushing against the concrete flooring. “She’s mine but we can share her, if you want?”
Share…share the plush toy?
Yoongi dropped his eyes to stare at the plush toy hanging from his grip, the fox that was apparently called Saenggang. When he had picked the toy earlier he had only really done so so that he could hug it whilst sleeping, but he had had no intention of wanting the toy at all. He had just carried it into the main area by accident and Jimin had every reason to be mad at him for taking it like that. Yet now the other neugdae was telling him that they could share it and Yoongi was taken aback by this bold declaration. Did he really want to share the toy or was he just doing that because the two other neugdaes had made him feel pressured into doing so?
“Oh…only if you want to?” Yoongi said as he looked back up at him again.
Jimin furrowed his brow for a second or two before nodding at him.
“Yes, I wanna share her,” he explained, and his lips even twitched upwards at the corners as he did. Yoongi took that as a sign that he really was telling him the truth, and Jimin even moved to hold the toy out to him. So he reached up to accept it, taking hold of one of the plush legs. “You can have Saenggang until…tonight, then it’s my turn.”
Yoongi watched Jimin as he went back over to Taehyung and he saw that the other neugdae was smiling at him softly, approvingly in fact. He seemed pleased with the fact that Jimin had decided to share the toy and the air in the warehouse was no longer heavy or ominous which was a blessing. Yoongi placed Saenggang down on his lap, placing one hand on the top of her head, and he saw that Jungkook had went back to twisting the drill round and round so that the head bored down through the fang, and as soon as it was done he lifted it up to blow the dust away. It was a decent-sized canine and he held it between his finger and thumb, turning it this way and that to check it was a clean cut. Satisfied that it was he put it down and collected the scalpel again to start scraping at the chunk of bone.
The warehouse fell into a rather nice lull, nothing more than soft talking between Taehyung and Jimin filling the empty building. The sunlight coming in through the high windows was softer than it was earlier, more orange-tinged in a way that seemed to hint that the sun was actually setting on the horizon. In the late summer it was hard to guess the exact time but Yoongi thought that it was close to the evening by now. He was rather content with just sitting in the quiet building, feeling no need to interact with the others because he had never really done anything like that with his old family. This didn’t feel that much different at all, save for his absent mother. It was as the sky was starting to look a little purplish that his ears detected sounds coming from outside, that of footsteps and something rather squeaky.
At the sound the other neugdaes turned their heads to stare at the open doorway, noses twitching as they scented the air. Seokjin stepped inside first, followed by Namjoon who was pulling something between his hands. Yoongi saw a wooden and rubber handle of some kind and it looked to be connected to a pull cart.
“How was it; happy hunting?” Taehyung asked as he shifted to get up off the settee cushions.
“It was pretty successful,” Hoseok explained as he helped push the cart into the warehouse, on which there were several metal mesh cages.
Yoongi recognised them because his family had owned a few, though they had relied more on their own created traps and snares to catch animals. This family however seemed to use only man-made traps, which was very interesting. The squeaky sound that he had heard was one of the wheels, loose and wobbly, and he and Namjoon managed to get it inside and across the warehouse with some effort.
Inside the cages Yoongi saw several animals: three hares, a cat, a small white fluffy dog, a marten and a badger. None of these animals were particularly big but it was a rather fruitful hunt, in Yoongi’s opinion. For a single night it was a lot for them to catch with traps in their current form and he was very impressed. In his human form Yoongi had been unable to catch anything more than hares and pheasants with his snare traps.
“I see a doggy!” Taehyung said rather excitedly as he ran over to the cart, bending down and snaking his fingers through the metal cage so that he could look inside. “A Maltese! Designer!” Hoseok moved one of the smaller cages off the cart to place it down on the floor, both he and Seokjin hunkering down in front of it. “Wait, wait, I see a collar.”
“So?” Jungkook said, bones completely abandoned in favour of watching the older neugdaes at work.
“Awww, come on,” Taehyung said as he stood upright to look at Seokjin. “This dude’s got a collar, that means we can’t eat him.”
“If you let the dog go then that means less food,” Seokjin argued as he reached inside the other cage that Hoseok was holding open for him, and he grabbed the hare without even looking by the scruff of its neck and he pulled it free from the cage.
Yoongi saw the way that he supported its stomach in his free hand and then, with very little effort, he jerked his hand hard and there was a crisp sound: that of the hare’s neck snapping like a twig. It was a sound that he knew well and out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Jimin flinching. It was only slight but it was enough to make him glance over at him, and he saw that the younger neugdae was playing with his boot laces instead of looking at the other family members. That was interesting, very interesting.
“Duh, tell me something I dunno,” Taehyung retorted as he moved to look at the dog again, nose almost against the cage.
Seokjin dropped the hare down onto the low table in front of Jungkook and the boy reached over to stroke his fingers along its body.
“It’s not nice,” Hoseok said as he dropped the cage door, the metal clanging loudly. “But you have to pick: being nice or having a full stomach.”
“…Fuck it, I’m letting him go,” Taehyung announced as he opened the door and reached inside to pull the dog free from the cage, carrying it in the crook of his elbow. “Sorry Namjoonie, looks like you’re going without tonight.”
“Ha-ha,” Namjoon forced a laugh out as he moved the empty cage back onto the cart. “Just for that I’ll make sure you get the brains.”
“Oh man, the brains are the best,” Taehyung said as he licked his lips jokingly, shifting the dog closer to him to stop it from wriggling free. “Come on, Toto, we’re gonna go for a nice walk.”
“Tae, don’t let it go by the freeway like last time!” Jimin called, cupping a hand around his mouth as he did. “It’ll get run over again!”
Taehyung shouted back that he wouldn’t as he stepped out of the warehouse and at his disappearance Seokjin sighed heavily.
“Tae’s Tae,” Hoseok said as he collected another cage off the cart and placed it down on the floor, a rather sheepish smile on his face. “You’ll never get him to change no matter what.”
In the time that it took Taehyung to return back to the warehouse sans the dog Seokjin, Namjoon and Hoseok had made short work of the other animals, breaking necks and starting the skinning process in a fast and efficient manner. Yoongi noted that Jungkook and Jimin did not join in even though they could have done so to help cut down on the time needed to prepare the meat. So he volunteered to do so, accepting the marten off Namjoon and a small knife so that he could start slowly cutting along the limbs and remove the tail. Perhaps not wanting to get blood on Saenggang Jimin crawled over and pulled the plush toy off his lap, hugging her close as he watched him work.
“Have you done that before?” Jimin asked, rubbing his chin against the fox plush. Yoongi nodded as he started peeling the fur free from the lower legs. “It looks…difficult.”
“It’s not,” Yoongi explained as he glanced up at him, fingers sliding under the fur and skin so he could get a good grip. “After you do it a few times it’s not that hard.”
He briefly wondered if Jimin had ever skinned an animal before and decided that he clearly hadn’t judging from the question. That was another interesting thing to store away in his mind, he supposed. Yoongi took hold of the marten’s hind legs and held it up so that he could wrench down with his free hand and tear the fur down to the base of the neck with a practised tug. Jimin made a noise at this, trapped between disgust and surprise, and for some reason it brought a smile to his face. Yoongi carried on working on the marten, removing the paws and head so that he had nothing but the edible remains in front of him.
“Yoongi, Jimin, you can share the marten,” Seokjin said as he continued butchering one of the hares, Jungkook already gnawing away one of the haunches happily. “Tae will probably cry if he can’t have the badger all to himself…”
Just like Seokjin had predicted Taehyung did indeed go straight for the badger upon getting back inside the warehouse. Yoongi had thought that it was a joke and yet the yearling rather boldly walked right over and picked the skinned remains up without even asking, moving to sit down with them. Taehyung slipped his own knife free, a small flick blade that he then used to start trying to cut up the meat. Yoongi noted that he did so rather fumblingly, as if he wasn’t that trained at all, and he wasn’t surprised that he caught sight of the other neugdae observing him whilst he started dissecting the marten. Yoongi started by opening up the middle section so that he could get to the organs.
“So, uh,” Taehyung said, breaking the silence. “What’s your favourite kinda meat, huh?” He had managed to kind of hack the badger open rather messily but the job was good enough so that he could stick his hands inside and start cutting pieces free.
“Deer,” Yoongi replied as he cracked open the narrow rib cage. “I like deer the most, Manchurian sika deer is very very nice.”
Taehyung paused in the act of feeding Jimin a chunk of lung, a rather straggly strip of meat still gripped between his teeth that he had been gnawing on until he heard this. Yoongi saw the way that the two neugdaes looked at him, wide eyed, and he wondered why they were staring at him like that.
“We’ve never had deer before…” Taehyung said around the meat and Jimin quickly accepted the chunk of organ from him, happily chewing away. “They live too far north, so we’ve never had it before.”
“What else do you like?” Jimin asked, reaching down to grab some of the meat that he had stripped free of the bone for him. The neugdae held it up for him and so Yoongi accepted it, continuing his act of dissection on the marten.
This was met with more surprised looks and Yoongi couldn’t help but smile around the meat. Had they not tasted pheasant either? Were they just eating things like cats and hares every single day?
“Shit, and here I was thinking it’s a good day when we get badger and Scrappy Doo here’s living it large with deer and pheasants,” Taehyung said with a head shake. Yoongi didn’t know what this ‘Scrappy Doo’ thing he kept calling him was but he decided to not ask. It seemed to be a nickname for him and that was good, he supposed. “You hunted ‘em?”
“Trapped mostly, but I did hunt a deer the night that…” Yoongi paused in the act of sawing one of the hind legs free, voice trailing off and fingers seizing up.
What he had been meaning to say of course was the night that his family had been slaughtered by hunters. The thought was enough to make him feel cold and rather numb. Yoongi could feel the other neugdaes staring at him, waiting for him to continue and yet he couldn’t. He studied the remains of the badger, eyeing the wet organs and gleaming white flashes of bones hidden within.
“Yoongi?” Jimin said in a quiet voice, playing with a strip of meat in his fingers rather than eat it.
“I’m not hungry,” Yoongi said in a rather petulant voice as he put the knife down on the flooring.
His words rang rather loudly through the warehouse and he could sense the other neugdaes looking at him, stopping in the act of eating their own food. How could he could possibly eat right now, when he was thinking about his family? Shit, his family… He had built up walls to try and not think about them, to try and hide behind for the sake of getting out of the stupid crevasse, but now they were starting to crumble on him.
“You gotta eat, dude,” Taehyung said around a mouthful of meat, lips glistening. “Food’s important and you really need it so-”
“Yoongi, are you OK?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, speaking over the other bumbling yearling.
Yoongi blinked hard, feeling burning tears welling up under his eyelids as he did. No, no he was not okay. Wasn’t it obvious? He took a hitching breath and heard it rasping in his throat as he reached up to touch his throat. He found it rather hard to breathe right now, like there was a lump trapped inside that was choking him. Yoongi struggled to get to his feet, wobbling on his uneven legs as he did, and so Jimin made a grab for his wrist to try and steady him. The contact of his fingers wrapping around his wrist caused a strange jolt to run through him, almost a static shock.
“No, don’t touch me!” he cried out as he wrenched his wrist free, almost tripping over his feet in his haste to get away from the two neugdaes. “Don’t touch me!”
“Yoongi, it’s alright,” Seokjin said, putting down his own knife so he could get to his feet and hold his hands up in a placating manner. “You’re safe now so just try and calm down, OK-”
“Nuh-no,” Yoongi gasped as he reached up and rubbed at his eyes roughly with his knuckles. “No it’s nuh-not alright, it’s not muh-my family-”
“Your family is here,” Hoseok spoke over him in a rather soothing tone, but it didn’t work. His words stung Yoongi, stung just as badly as the bullet had when it had grazed his skin, and he let out a strangled sob as he reached up to cover his ears. They didn’t muffle Hoseok in the slightest however. “Yoongi, your family is here and we’re not going to hurt you-”
“He’s right,” Namjoon added with a series of nods. “We’re here for you, Yoongi, to help you heal.”
“You’re not- no, you’re not-”
“Yoongi,” Jungkook said in a quiet voice.
“You’re not my fucking family!” Yoongi shouted, unable to stop himself. He saw how Jungkook flinched in shock, hare leg falling out of his fingers to land on the floor, and then his lips started quivering. He had to get out, he needed to get out of this building because he couldn’t breathe. “My muh-mum is fucking dead and I duh-didn’t even try to save her, I didn’t…”
Yoongi raced across the warehouse to get to the door and he heard a whimpering sound as he exited the building. It was followed by Seokjin’s voice, presumably telling Jungkook that everything was fine and that he shouldn’t cry even though it was obvious that he was crying. He didn’t know where he was going, what he was doing, he just needed to get away. His legs ended up guiding him across the yard to the outhouse and he staggered inside before collapsing on the dirt ground with a mingled cry of pain and anguish.
Yoongi felt like he was being torn apart, just like the marten that he had been dissecting just a few minutes ago. It was as if someone had started tearing at his stomach, sinking their fingers inside of him to pull his organs free. He had never felt a pain like this before, for it was even worst than the bullet wound had been. How could he go through so much pain without dying? Tears started spilling down his face to land in his hairline, soaking into the soil, and he couldn’t stop himself from crying. His sobbing echoed off the wooden walls and the other neugdaes might just be able to hear him from the warehouse.
Hoseok had told him that they had lost family too, that they had been cut off from their parents just like he had. He had hinted that maybe, just maybe, some of them might have had parents die. Had his tears and outburst upset the yearlings? Had he made Jungkook cry by shouting about his mother like that? Probably, and that made him curl up even tighter into a ball and let out another low sob against his knees. It wasn’t that Yoongi had forgotten about his mother but during his struggle to survive he had been unable to really think about what had happened that night. The other neugdaes were right in a way, this place was his home now and they were his family, and it was that very sense of security that had allowed his memories and pain to finally return to him once more. He was no longer scared of dying and fighting to keep breathing, rather he was struggling to breathe from the guilt of surviving.
He had gotten to share his first proper meal with the other neugdaes at the cost of losing his family, of losing his mother. There was just something so wrong about it that he couldn’t accept it. He should be in his den right now, sharing food with his mother and other mother neugdaes and not with a bunch of yearlings and juveniles he only knew the names of.
Yoongi gulped hard as he tried to stop his tears but it didn’t really work. All that he did was hiccup loudly and moan as he buried his face against folded up arms. He took several deep breaths and tried to calm himself down because he was shaking terribly. Underneath the occasional hiccup he could hear movement from outside the outhouse but he didn’t lift his head to look at who was coming his way, rather he cringed and tried to make himself even smaller. He heard the soles crunching on the soil and then felt a shadow falling over him. Yoongi moved his head just enough so that he could scent the air and he detected honeysuckle.
It was Jimin.
The yearling hovered in the open doorway of the outhouse for a minute, looking down at him silently rather than speak. It was clear that he was uncertain about what to say and Yoongi wondered why one of the others hadn’t come out instead, like Seokjin or Namjoon, or even Hoseok. They all seemed to know things to say but Jimin had followed him out instead and that was rather peculiar. Yoongi found it rather hard to breathe with his face pressed into the soil and so he moved his head slightly, placing his wet cheek on his forearms. Could Jimin see his tear stained cheeks and pink eyes, his running nose and quivering lips? He waited to see if he would say something and yet Jimin didn’t so he mumbled something out under his breath.
“I’m suh…sorry,” Yoongi sniffed hard and blinked away more stinging tears. “I shouldn’t have…have yelled at you like that it’s ju-just…”
“It’s OK,” Jimin said, brushing his apologies aside. “It’s OK, I know.”
Did Jimin know? Did he really know what he was feeling right now, the pain, the absolute agony in his breast? There was a chance that he very well did know, if Hoseok’s words were the truth. Yoongi took a few more deep and slow breaths to try and control himself, cheeks hot against his bare forearms.
“Saenggang wants to cuddle,” Jimin said in a quiet voice as he hunkered down in front of him, arms hugging the toy against his chest. Yoongi rolled his eyes to look over at him and he could see that the yearling was a little uncomfortable right now. “And seen as we’re sharing her I thought that…”
Jimin stopped talking suddenly and then he moved slowly to place the plush on the ground beside him. Yoongi heard him patting the toy a few times, fingers brushing against the worn fur body, and then he felt his hand gently moving to rest on his head. The weight was enough to make him breathe out heavily: a strong form of comfort.
“She really likes nuzzles, kinda like me,” Jimin continued as he stroked his hair back off his brow. Yoongi felt his fingers against his brow and they were wonderfully cool on his warm skin. “So when you’re feeling kinda lonely, she’s nice to cuddle.”
Yoongi slowly unfolded one arm to pull the plush toy closer to him, pressing her against his chest. He let his breath out in a heavy sigh as he closed his eyes, feeling the warm plushness against him and breathing in the mingled scents trapped in her fur.
“I’m nice to cuddle with too.”
Yoongi opened his eyes at this but he caught just a quick glance at his face as Jimin got upright to leave the outhouse. Was that a hint of a smile on his face, or was he just imagining it? Whatever the case, he had heard the yearling’s words and they kept repeating over and over again in his head as he tracked him across the field. Jimin’s scent was wafting off the plush toy again and Yoongi found himself hugging it just that little bit closer.