Youngjae knows it's dangerous, because Yugyeom is healing from being thrown against the wall, but Youngjae’s only a human, and he could die if the red-eyed werewolf chooses to attack, and Mark would probably kill him himself if he knew what Youngjae was doing. But Mark and Jinyoung aren’t here, and whatever the hunters did to Jaebum before Bambam managed to scry where he was has him feral like Youngjae’s never seen, and even Jackson couldn’t get close to him before he took off to find the others. It’s destroying Youngjae to see Jaebum like this, watching him tear himself apart--literally piece by piece--and lashing out at Yugyeom every time the youngest tries to approach. Every flash of red, every growl that sounds more like agony than rage is burying itself under Youngjae’s skin, and there’s a noose around his chest that feels like when that rogue omega broke his ribs, except that time Jaebum’s face was human when it hoovered next to his hospital bed, and his grumbling still sounded pained, but it was worry that twisted his face, and he made Youngjae laugh anyway, even if he looked guilty about the way it sent pain radiating from the break.
But this time there’s no trace of anything in Jaebum’s expression except pain and fear and anger, and the tightness in Youngjae’s chest is choking him, making him gasp in tiny lungfuls that burn his throat, and the wetness on his face may be tears as much as sweat, but he keeps his voice steady as he takes another step.
“Hyung. It’s me.”
The wolf turns to him, and he hears Bambam hiss in a breath behind him, a whimper that’s more afraid than anything Youngjae’s heard from him before, but he doesn’t stop him, doesn’t pull Youngjae back with hands or magic, so there has to be a chance, there has to be some possibility that this could work.
Youngjae takes another step, and he holds the red-eyed gaze even as he twitches a hand toward the movement in his periphery, telling Yugyeom to wait.
“It’s Youngjae, hyung. It’s me.”
Jaebum growls, the sound wild and harsh, but Youngjae recognizes the warning, and that pushes him forward once again. If Jaebum is trying to warn him, it means that something somewhere under the surface of the out-of-control wolf doesn’t want to attack him. There’s still a part of Jaebum’s wolf that wants to keep Youngjae safe.
The growling gets louder as Youngjae takes another step, and he sees Yugyeom move again at the same time that Jaebum does, and he flings his hand up as Jaebum’s head spins in that direction, his lips pulling back over fangs as he snaps out a threat, his muscles coiling to lunge again. There’s blood on his teeth, and Youngjae isn’t sure how much is Yugyeom’s and how much is Jaebum’s own. The wounds on his arms are healing slower than they should and there’s a detached part of Youngjae that notes that potency of an alpha’s attack even works against the alpha himself. His stomach churns, and he swallows against bile.
“Yugyeom.” Youngjae speaks low, even as his heart races, and Jaebum’s ear swivels in his direction. “Go outside. You and Bam.”
There’s a moment of silence and then Jaebum’s ear twitches again as both younger boys suck in a breath.
“No, we can’t--”
“Yugyeom.” It’s Bambam’s voice, and Jaebum’s growl is lower when it’s the other human moving, but Youngjae can follow his progress to Yugyeom’s side through the way Jaebum tracks him with his gaze, and it makes Youngjae’s heart pound faster, because Jaebum has acted like Bambam’s big brother from the day they found him in the burned out shell of a magical explosion he couldn’t control, but there’s no trace of recognition in his gaze. “Youngjae’s right, we can’t be here.”
“But… hyung…” And the brokenness in Yugyeom’s voice cinches the noose around Youngjae’s chest even tighter, even as it hardens his resolve about what he has to do.
“Hyung will be fine.” Jaebum’s gaze darts back to his, and Youngjae wonders if it’s the certainty in his voice that even he didn’t expect that causes the flicker of something less murderous in the red eyes. “Both of us.”
And then it’s just the two of them, Youngjae feeling every ounce of his humanity, his lack of strength and healing and magic, as Jaebum fixes his entire focus on him. But there’s something stronger than fear pulsing in his racing heartbeat, and it drives him forward another step, even as Jaebum’s lip pulls back again, and hackles rise along his spine.
“Hey hyung.” It takes effort to keep his tone light, to keep the press of tears and the squeeze of panic out of his voice, but it makes Jaebum pause, his lip lowering even as he keeps up a steady growl. “Do you remember when you first found me?”
There’s no response, but Youngjae wasn’t expecting one, just takes another step closer and keeps his gaze locked on Jaebum’s face. “You looked like this then too. Except there was a little less blood and you smelled a little better.” Jaebum’s ear twitches, his growl remaining steady. Youngjae moves his feet again. “There was still blood though, because you were fighting that other alpha. The one that killed my parents. The one that tried to kill me.” Jaebum’s snarl gets louder, harsher, his lip tugging back up, but his ears are still angled toward Youngjae like he’s listening, and Youngjae doesn’t know if it’s a good sign or a bad sign, but he moves closer again, and forces himself to continue. “You stopped it before it could attack me, and then you came over to where I was trying to hide, and you were bigger and scarier looking than the other alpha, but I wasn’t afraid of you.” Jaebum is back to a low growl, and his eyes are still wild, but he’s watching Youngjae almost carefully. There’s only about three feet between them now, and Youngjae forces himself to breath slowly as he closes the distance more. “I could tell you were safe. From the moment I saw you, I knew I could trust you.” Snarling, Jaebum shifts, muscles rolling, but Youngjae doesn’t flinch, doesn’t stop moving forward. “I knew that you would take care of me. That you would protect me.” Jaebum’s head is angled up now in order to keep his red gaze fixed on Youngjae’s face, and Youngjae can feel the heat radiating off of him. The ground is sticky under his sneakers, and he knows it’s Jaebum’s blood more than anything. “I knew you would never hurt me.”
Snarling, Jaebum shudders as he drops down beside him, but Youngjae ignores his thrashing and the wet stickiness of blood soaking into his jeans as he wraps his arms around Jaebum and presses his face into his shoulder. Jaebum’s growling and snarling, claws tearing at the concrete as he lashes out, but not a single one goes near Youngjae, and he clings tighter, finally lets go of his facade of calm as tears escape, and he’s choking on sobs as he yells into Jaebum’s fur. “I trust you! You’re not going to hurt me! I believe in you! I trust you!”
Jaebum’s attacks are losing some of their force, and Youngjae shifts just enough to press his face into the side of Jaebum’s neck. And this is going too far, this could get him killed because a wolf’s neck is the most protected place, but Youngjae is clinging to memories of late nights and early mornings before the sun comes up, curled into the alpha’s chest, and feeling the hot pulse of his heartbeat from where his cheek is pressed against Jaebum’s throat. No one except Jinyoung has ever gotten away with being so close to Jaebum, and maybe it’s just the fact that Youngjae, out of all of them, is the weakest, the most useless, the least threat to anyone, and maybe that won’t matter now when Jaebum is almost completely lost inside the feral wolf, but Youngjae doesn’t care. He presses his face closer as Jaebum goes completely still, and he can feel the rapid thudding of his pulse matching his own, and he lets his fingers tangle in fur, deciding that if he’s going to die, he might as well die clinging to the person that’s been the most important thing in his world since the first time he saw his strained smile, crouching down to help Youngjae from under the wreckage of his family's car.
“Come back, hyung.” The words are muffled against Jaebum’s matted fur, but the werewolf will hear him. Jaebum always hears him. “Come back to us. Come back to me. I can’t lose you too. Please, hyung.”
Jaebum is shaking, and his heart is thundering against his rib cage under Youngjae’s arms, and Youngjae can’t tell if this is working, or if Jaebum’s about to shake free from his humanity completely, but he can’t stop, can only cling tighter as his voice drops to a whisper.
“I love you.”
When Jinyoung carefully edges into the abandoned warehouse an hour later, Youngjae is curled around a sleeping Jaebum. His human form is still littered with cuts and scrapes that aren’t fully healed, but they’re better than the gashes that had been in their places before, and Youngjae is trying not to think about the blood that’s still covering the floor and both of them.
Jaebum doesn’t flinch when Jinyoung steps into the space fully, and the beta closes the distance until he’s crouching down next to Youngjae. The crinkle of his eyes when he smiles releases the last of the tension and fear in Youngjae’s chest, because if Jinyoung thinks everything’s okay, then it really is.
“Mark says he’s going to shoot Jaebum with a wolfsbane arrow if you’re hurt, regardless of his condition.”
Youngjae’s arms tighten around Jaebum instinctively, and he frowns. “I’ll refuse to talk to him for a week if he tries. I’m fine. Not even a scratch.”
Smiling again, Jinyoung’s eyes drift over to Jaebum. “I know. There’s no way he could have hurt you.”
Youngjae’s lip is raw from how much he’s been worrying it already, but he catches it between his teeth again as he glances at the back of Jaebum’s neck. “He… When Yugyeom tried to stop him…”
Jinyoung’s smile dims slightly, but he shrugs. “Yugyeom isn’t you.”
Despite the fact that he should be used to it, Youngjae still hates when Jinyoung speaks like everyone else should know exactly what he’s talking about. Especially because no one except Mark and Jaebum usually does. “What does that even mean--ow!”
Looking completely unremorseful about flicking his forehead, Jinyoung’s eyes crinkle again as his gaze shifts to Jaebum when he flinches slightly. “Youngjae-ah.” And his voice is warm, but there’s something like exasperation in it too. “You’re his anchor, you dumbass.”
Youngjae’s lungs seize as he stares at Jinyoung, trying to process this. “But.. but you--you’re--”
Jinyoung cuts him off with a snort, and it makes Jaebum flinch again, and then Youngjae’s trying not to startle as the alpha suddenly rolls over, forcing Youngjae onto his back before pressing his face into his shoulder. Youngjae really hopes that the sudden increase of his heart rate doesn’t wake him up, because that would be almost as bad for Jaebum’s recovery as it would be humiliating.
The way Jinyoung is smirking at them is embarrassing enough. “Only because he’s been being a stubborn idiot for the last two years and clinging to denial.”
Feeling the heat of Jaebum’s breath against his ruined t-shirt, Youngjae lets his gaze drop down to watch the rise and fall of his back. There’s another tightness in his chest, but this one is different, something old and familiar. Something he’d felt from that first morning he’d woken up to find Jaebum pressed up behind him with his arms holding him close instead of sprawled at the other side of the mattress.
He swallows. “Why me?”
Only Jinyoung can manage that exact blend of judgement, exasperation, affected patience, and overwhelming affection. Dropping his gaze to where Jaebum’ hand has curled over Youngjae’s hip, he drags it back along the full press of the alpha against his side until he finally meets Youngjae’s eyes again. He raises an eyebrow, but the tilt of his smile is more affectionate than not. “Why do you think?”
And Youngjae knows that Jinyoung could hear the jump of his pulse even if he couldn’t see the flush in his cheeks, but he ducks his head anyway, hiding his face behind the top of Jaebum’s head, and Jinyoung takes pity for once in the way he just ruffles his hair before pushing himself out of his crouch.
“I’ll go get Jackson to carry him so we can get all of us back to the house.” Youngjae nods, feeling Jaebum shift again slightly, and Jinyoung pauses. “Youngjae.”
Lifting his head, Youngjae finds Jinyoung looking at Jaebum with an expression that he’s seen before, but still can’t quite read. “He’s too stubborn for his own good, you know. He’s going to try to blame himself for all of this. He’s going to take it hard.” His gaze flicks up, and that look is still there, but this time Youngjae can see something almost pained in the glimmer of yellow in his eyes. “Don’t let him run away.”
Youngjae thinks of all the years he’s known Jaebum, thinks about the quiet nights whispering secrets and confessions, thinks about the warmth of his skin and his smile and his arms wrapped around him at night. He thinks about how terrible his jokes are and how vibrant his laugh is. He thinks about the way Jaebum tries so hard to be a good alpha even though he never thinks he’s good enough. He thinks about the words he whispered into Jaebum’s matted fur and the way he’d collapsed--human--into Youngjae’s hold. He wonders what would happen if he said those words again. Maybe without the risk of death looming over them.
He nods. “I won’t.”
Jinyoung’s smile is the brightest yet, and that odd haunted look fades away. “I know.”
And then it’s just the two of them, Youngjae feeling every ounce of his bond with Jaebum, the pressure, the responsibility, the need for him to be there for Jaebum, and the way he knows he’s going to have to fight again and again to keep Jaebum from pushing him away, but he doesn’t regret it. Because there’s something stronger than responsibility and obligation that has him searching for Jaebum’s hand and lacing their fingers together, and he wouldn’t trade it for the world.