Jimin always hates it when people pick on Taehyung.
Especially when it’s his fault.
Taehyung is weird, but he’s not any weirder than an eight-year-old has a right to be. And he’s more than weird. He’s so bright. He’s…Jimin doesn’t have many friends but that’s okay because he has Taehyung. Taehyung is enough.
It kind of makes Jimin sad that Taehyung would probably be one of the popular kids if they weren’t friends. Taehyung has a happy personality. He could definitely be one of the kids playing tag together and getting all of those little valentines on Valentine’s Day. Instead, he’s playing cards with Jimin by the swings where the teacher can see them, just in case someone wants to get a little too close.
Taehyung is very upset by the bullies.
Jimin is used to it.
He’s a happy kid, too. A softer kind of happy, sweet like spring instead of summer. He’s shy. Quiet. At least with strangers. When Taehyung had come up to him for the first time the year before, he’d had no clue how to handle it. But Taehyung had handled it for both of them, sitting down and talking until he felt satisfied and then continuing to stay beside him. It was exactly what Jimin needed.
The other kids think that Jimin is strange. And he is, to be fair. Sometimes Jimin talks to people that aren’t there. Sometimes he starts crying, randomly, and then a moment later the wailing siren of an ambulance or police car can be heard outside. Sometimes he just shuts down and won’t talk to anyone.
Anyone but Taehyung.
Jimin hates it when he does that, shuts down, freaks out. His mom always has to leave work and come get him, and she always says she isn’t mad but Jimin is mad for the both of them. And Taehyung is always upset because he doesn’t understand, but Jimin doesn’t really understand either. But he’ll still sit down with him for the 15, 30, 45 minutes it takes for someone to call Mrs. Park and have her drive down to pick him up.
It happened today. All of the kids got up and moved to their cubbies to get their lunches and there Jimin sat, stuck at his desk. He knows it bothers the teacher. Taehyung says that his face is really scary when it happens, like he’s seen something horrible or a dog peed in his shoes. Jimin can’t control it. He’d try to make his face less scary for the teacher, but he doesn’t know how.
He can’t help it. Sometimes he just gets stuck. Suddenly, he just feels horrible. Something horrible has happened, but he’s just sitting in class. He doesn’t understand why. It happens too often.
Taehyung had slid into the chair beside Jimin, placing Jimin’s lunch box in front of him on the table. When Jimin turned to look at him, Taehyung looked worried and pressed a hand to Jimin’s cheek. His fingertips came away wet. “Why are you crying, Jiminie?”
“I don’t know.” And that’s the scariest part.
That’s why Taehyung is over tonight. Jimin’s mom helped them set up their blanket fort, stringing up fairy lights on the inside and putting pillows on the floor and giving them flashlights because she knows the boys will not make it back to their beds before morning. Jimin likes doing this after an episode. The Blanket Fort is impenetrable. Nothing can hurt them here, not even Jimin’s own head.
It’s dark outside. They can hear the crickets chirping whenever they stop giggling. Jimin lives right by the woods. People are scared of the trees, sometimes, or what’s hiding in the trees, but Jimin has grown up here. He likes it. It’s safe, familiar. The trees won’t hurt him.
“Jimin,” says Taehyung, uncharacteristically serious for an eight-year-old. “What happens, when you go away?”
Jimin messes with the fringe of a pillow. “Something bad happens.”
“Something bad happens when you go away?”
“No.” He draws his knees up to his chest. “I go away when something bad happens.”
Taehyung comes a little closer, resting his head on Jimin’s knees. “I’ll be with you when the bad things happen, then. We can go away together.”
Even then, when they’re eight and delirious with denied sleepiness, Jimin knows that Taehyung means it.
Taehyung’s small hand comes up and pats Jimin’s head. “Are you okay, now?”
“Yeah.” Jimin leans into Taehyung’s touch. “The bad thing didn’t happen to me. It happened to someone else.”
“Are they okay?”
Jimin stops smiling. “I don’t know.”
Taehyung looks worried. “Shouldn’t you check on them?”
“I don’t know how.” Jimin has never tried. The things that happen just happen. He’s never thought about trying to make them happen.
“Maybe if you just think about it really hard?” Taehyung nibbles on the inside of his cheek as he thinks.
Jimin shakes his head vehemently. “I don’t want to think about it. What if it’s scary again?” He reaches out and pulls a pillow into his chest, like that will protect him.
“Scary things don’t happen in the blanket fort, duh.” Oh. Duh. “Besides, if you’re scared, then they’re scared, too. What if they need to come into the blanket fort?”
So Jimin thinks about it. Thinks about the Bad Thing that happened during class today and the person it happened to. Are they okay? Are you okay? I want you to be okay. But he doesn’t even know what happened. He just knows that they were sad and scared and very confused, and maybe angry in their confusion. Hurt. They’re hurt. They hurt so much.
Jimin climbs out of the blanket fort and looks out of his window. “They’re very close to us.” He looks back at Taehyung. “I think he’d like to come to our blanket fort.”
Taehyung smiles. “Well then.” He stands up and picks up one of the flashlights. “We need to go get him.”
It’s much easier than anticipated, sneaking out. His parents are long asleep. They live in a safe neighborhood. The door is rarely locked. There are no squeaky boards to be wary of. Almost as soon as the two decided to embark, they find themselves outside.
Jimin isn’t sure how he knows which direction to go. He isn’t even sure how far away this person is. But he’s not afraid as they reach the tree line. He’s not afraid when they lose sight of his house in the undergrowth. Some people are afraid of the trees, of what’s in the trees, but Jimin knows they won’t hurt him.
It’s not exactly a map in Jimin’s head, nothing is quite that clear. It’s easier, a little, if he thinks about it like he’s a pirate, looking through his…stethoscope? Telescope, he’s looking through his telescope, and way far away, The Person, they’re the star that leads Jimin to shore.
The star is not as bright as it could be, but Jimin can still see it.
Taehyung follows closely behind him. It feels a little like an adventure, but neither of them are sure if they’re going to like whatever is in the treasure chest. Jimin has a feeling they won’t.
He only falls down twice in the darkness, little feet tripping over tree roots camouflaged in the low light, and Taehyung helps him up again both times. Taehyung falls three times, but Jimin only helps him up twice, because the third time he falls is because Jimin has stopped in his tracks and is standing completely frozen.
“Shh.” Jimin’s voice is clipped.
Taehyung looks around his friend.
There’s a wolf.
Jimin can feel Taehyung’s fingers digging into his wrist. “Jiminie.” It’s a whisper, this time. Barely a breath.
“I found them,” Jimin tells him. He’s pale.
There’s so much blood.
It’s not…Jimin isn’t sure how he can tell, but it’s all the wolf’s. There’s no one else’s. The wolf is a dark gray, almost black, so Jimin has trouble making it out in the shadows of the trees. Its yellow eyes are starkly visible, shockingly yellow, surprisingly alert for how much blood the creature has lost. Even though Jimin knows that it’s young, it’s still so big. Much bigger than two eight-years-olds.
“Would you like to come to our blanket fort?” His voice shakes.
The wolf shifts, taking one, two shaky steps forward into the moonlight, no less terrifying for it’s weakness.
Taehyung gasps loudly behind him, and Jimin doesn't blame him. He honestly feels a little queasy himself. There are…there are claw marks along the animal’s hide, red and wet, bleeding sluggishly. Several of them. There’s more blood than Jimin has ever seen in one place, even more than that time Taehyung fell off of his bike and scraped his skin on the asphalt and that’s saying something.
“Do you need help?” Taehyung’s voice is even more uneven than Jimin’s, but at least he gets a full sentence out.
The wolf narrows its eyes and growls, low in its throat. Taehyung small hand slips down from Jimin's wrist to hold his hand properly. Jimin takes a small step closer, and the snarls get louder, but the star in Jimin's head is dimming, dimming, dimming, and Jimin knows what the star is now.
"If you don't let us help you, you're going to die.”
The growl hitches.
“Please, let me help you!” Jimin clenches his fists, terrified. He doesn’t even know what to do, but he knows that if he doesn’t do anything then the wolf will die and he doesn’t want that, not at all.
Taehyung is terrified, too. Jimin can feel the stress and fear that Taehyung is radiating behind him. Creatures in the woods…everything about this is suddenly a terrible idea. But Taehyung stays, and Jimin is glad, because he doesn’t know what he would do if Taehyung left him alone.
“Please!” Jimin says again, a little stronger. “It’s going to get cold soon! You’ll like our blanket fort, it’s really nice. My mom helped us make it. And it’s got plenty of flashlights if you’re scared of the dark.”
“I have a really cool comic book!” Taehyung offers. “I was gonna just share it with Jimin, but I’ll share it with you, too!” He moves out from behind Jimin so that they’re standing side by side, hands clasped.
The wolf limps forward.
Jimin takes a step closer, holding out his hand hesitantly. “You are different from other wolves, aren’t you?”
“Jiminie, you’ve never met another wolf!” Taehyung reminds him.
“But wolves are scary.”
“This wolf is scary, too!”
It growls again.
“Oh, shush,” says Taehyung, momentarily forgetting his circumstances. “Scary isn’t bad all the time, it just means you have to work harder.” He squeezes Jimin’s hand. “People think Jiminie is scary but he’s not, he’s really lame.”
“I can be scary!”
“Everyone can be scary!”
Taehyung kisses Jimin’s cheek.
The wolf has wandered a little closer, close enough that if Jimin stretches his fingers just a little bit he can feel fur. He can already feel hot breath puffing against his hand. “My dad makes really good pancakes on Saturday mornings. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you come!” It might take a little explaining. Why is there a giant, injured wild animal in the kitchen? I don’t know, Mom, but he’s hungry!
Jimin is cute, and Taehyung is precious. Together, they can probably make it work.
“But if you don’t want pancakes—”
“Why wouldn’t he want pancakes?”
“Taehyung, shh! If you don’t want pancakes you can just stay and not eat pancakes! You don’t have to eat pancakes for us to help you!”
The wolf is now close enough that Jimin can feel its breath on his face, but he doesn’t feel as afraid now as he did earlier. It nudges its snout gently into Jimin’s shoulder. Lead on.
Jimin and Taehyung both release a breath they didn’t know they’d been holding. “We have lots of bandages. I always use the Hulk ones? But we have other super heroes, too.”
And with that, Jimin leads them home.
In the morning, when Jimin’s mother comes in to check on the little boys in their fort, she screams.
They’re both there, sleeping soundly, with a pile of bloody towels and sheets in between them. There’s the red leftovers of dried blood all over Taehyung’s hands, all over Jimin’s shirt, all over everything. The box of superhero bandaids is open on the floor, empty, the individual wrappings scattered across the floor.
Jimin wakes up first, blinking blearily. He rubs his eyes. There is a streak of dirt across his cheek. “Good morning, Mom.”
She sinks down the wall, knees giving out. “Park Jimin,” she says sharply, weakly. “What happened?”
Jimin shrinks into himself, eyes flicking towards Taehyung who is only now starting to wake up. “I…”
His father races into the room. “Wha— Oh my god.” His entire face turns pale.
“We made a new friend,” Jimin tells them meekly.
“He was gonna stay for pancakes, but I guess he likes waffles more,” Taehyung says through a yawn. “Maybe next time.” He falls back down onto his pillow and goes to sleep.
Jimin is grounded for a while after that.
It’s several weeks later, maybe even closer to two months, when Jimin sees the wolf again.
If it weren’t for the blood she had to scrub out of almost every towel they owned, Jimin’s mother probably would have dismissed the Wolf Incident as the wild imaginings of an eight-year-old child. Jimin needs very little prompting to talk about his new friend even weeks after that awful morning, and it’s always very fond.
“He really liked the Iron Man stickers, so we used all of those first,” Jimin would say through a mouthful of cereal. “But his hurts were much bigger than usual, like that time Taehyung fell off of his bike, do you remember?”
“Yes, baby, I remember.”
“So he needed more than just the Iron Man ones. We saved the Hulk ones for last because those are my favorite, but he needed them so I gave them to him.”
“Oh, honey, that was good of you to share.” It’s been long enough that his mother has forgiven him for scaring ten years off of her life. “You should have called me, though. I could have helped you so you didn’t have to use all of those Band Aids.”
“You wouldn’t have liked our friend, at first,” Jimin would tell her seriously. “He’s scary, but he’s really warm and let us hug him a little at the end as long as we were careful where we touched. He sneezed on Taehyung’s face, once.”
“I’m sure he’s very nice.”
And so forth.
It’s one of the few days when Jimin is eating lunch by himself. His mom is doing laundry in the basement, and Jimin sits at the kitchen table, feet kicking happily as he eats his sandwich, listening to the sound of rain beat against the windows. There’s a television show on, he doesn’t remember the name, but it’s funny and the colors are bright. Jimin alternates between the cartoon and the rain. It’s soothing and constant, even if it’s a little gray. Jimin wants to go dance in it.
Jimin rips his eyes away from the overcast sky and watches the show, engrossed, taking another bite, but then there’s a star in the corner of his eye, bright and shining and beautiful. “Hello!”
It’s their wolf.
Jimin all but throws his sandwich down on the table and hops out of his chair. “Hello, Wolf! Hello!” He waves violently out of the window. He frowns. It’s raining so hard. “Wait! The door!” He points to the back slide door and runs to it.
It’s a bit of a struggle to open because Jimin has to remember to remove the block of wood his dad puts in the slidey thing so that no one breaks in, and then he has to remember to unlock the latch so that the door will open, and then the door is really heavy, but by the time it’s open, the wolf is there and waiting.
It barely limps at all when it comes into the house, which is good and probably because of Jimin’s Hulk Band Aids. It shakes itself off, spraying water everywhere. Jimin giggles, elated, before throwing his arms carelessly around his friend’s neck. His shirt and face and hair are immediately soaked, but Jimin still laughs. “Hello! You’re okay! You came back! Oh, Taehyung will be so happy when I tell him. He’ll be so jealous. We should call him so he can come see you, too!”
The wolf sits down happily, tongue lolling, tail wagging.
The star is so bright. Jimin beams.
With careful hands, Jimin’s fingers trail the roadwork of scars left behind, where the hair hasn’t quite grown back yet. He pouts a little. “I wish you could talk.” What kind of stories the wolf must have. “Do you have someone you can talk to?”
The wolf nods.
Jimin smiles. “Good! Talking is important. Mom says it’s the Most Important, especially when you want to feel better. So I hope that you talk a lot so that you feel even better next time.”
The wolf licks Jimin’s cheek.
He turns his head. His mother is standing in the hallways, basket of laundry under her arm. Her eyes are wide, but her face is kept carefully blank as she looks at her son, and the still-open door, and the wolf, and then back again.
Under Jimin’s hands, the wolf tenses, not quite growling but almost. Jimin pets its fur soothingly. “Mom! This is my friend.”
With a deep breath, Jimin’s mom puts the laundry down on the kitchen table. It’s a couple seconds before she says anything. “I’m happy that you’re feeling better,” she says solidly. She smiles, and it’s concerned, but it makes it all the way up to her eyes. Jimin beams back at her. The wolf’s tail wags once, unsure.
“We need to call Taehyung and tell him our wolf is back!” Jimin says, still not taking his arms from around the animal’s neck.
“Maybe we can tell his parents something else,” his mom offers with a slight frown, still looking at their wolf.
The tail wags once, twice, and then it never stops.
The wolf comes and goes. Sometimes days pass between visits, sometimes weeks, rarely months, and he always returns to Jimin’s house. It’s a good compromise, since Taehyung is there so often and his house is so far into town.
Jimin’s dad makes them pancakes on Saturdays, and none of them are sure if wolves can eat pancakes, but that doesn’t stop anything because the pancakes are snatched right from the table with glee and a scolding.
They never name their wolf. It feels weird, because the wolf has its own name and just can’t tell them, so giving it another one would just be rude. But it’s a wolf, and it’s theirs, so their wolf is as good a moniker as any.
And then it stops.
Taehyung and Jimin waits for days, weeks, the rare month, and then it’s two months, and Jimin knows that their friend isn’t coming back, but they still wait.
“Do you think it’s okay?” Taehyung asks once, when they’re older. He’s wearing beat up Converse and a hoodie, his ears are too big for his face, and he shot up like a pole (Jimin is woefully behind). There are algebra books on the shelf instead of fairy tales, and everything is different, but not much has actually changed.
“What’s okay?” Jimin asks absently, tapping his pencil against his lip as he looks over his Korean homework.
Jimin looks at Taehyung, who’s lying on the bed, not even pretending to be studying.
He smiles. “Yeah.” Jimin can’t see the star anymore, but he has a feeling he’d know if it went out. “Yeah, I think so.”