There are wolves in the forest, and good girls know better than to venture into the woods after dark.
But Momoi Satsuki is not a good girl.
“You’ll never amount to anything,” they told her. “Such a useless child.”
“If only I had a son,” her mother would lament. “A son could have been useful around the house; a son could have protected our home.”
All her life the people of her village would tell her what she couldn’t do.
“Girls do not have adventures.”
“Girls do not rescue princesses.”
“Girls do not fight battles.”
“Girls are not clever; you have no need for a brain.”
And when she asked, “Alright then, what do girls do?”
Her mother replied, “You marry well. Thank God you are pretty. If you are very good and well-behaved, maybe one day you will be rewarded and you can marry a prince.”
Momoi decided right then and there that she would not be good, or well-behaved.
She starts going into the forest at a very young age and that’s where she meets the wolf.
He follows her for half an hour and at first she thinks it must be some sort of game—she knows he is there, after all, he is not a very careful tracker—but she grows quickly bored with it.
“If you want to play then come out,” she demands.
There is nothing but silence in the forest.
She stamps her foot and puts her hands to her hips. “I know you’re there! You’re not very good at this!”
“Shut up! I am excellent at this!” And the wolf comes out, growling, but she only giggles in response.
“Don’t laugh at me.”
“I can’t help it! You’re just a boy! And I’m taller than you.”
She has never seen a boy look so outraged before. His mouth opens and shuts in thwarted fury. “I’m going to grow! Bigger and scarier than you can imagine!”
Momoi eyes him and thinks yes, he probably will grow; big and scary, just as he said. Because up close she can tell he is a Beast—one of those creatures that live in the forest that everyone calls wolves because they don’t want to admit a darker evil lives so close to home.
A keen feeling of disappointment washes over her as she studies him. She came into these woods to have an adventure, see exotic things. But the boy is frustratingly human-looking; his hair and eyes are blue, and that is certainly unusual, and his skin is a shade darker than anyone she knows in her village, but that’s not exceptionally out of the ordinary.
She lets out a beleaguered sigh—clearly things are never what the stories lead you to believe. “I thought you’d be scarier.”
The boy narrows his eyes. “I’m going to eat you now.”
“That is certainly more like it,” she encourages. “But you should growl more, if you really want to seem terrifying.”
The boy puffs up, mouth curling, and he’s poised to attack. Momoi continues to stare at him, crossing her arms and waiting for a real monster to come.
Slowly, the energy drains from the boy’s face and his shoulders slump. Then he scratches the back of his head and says, “You’re weird. Are all human girls like you?”
Momoi beams at him. “I promise you, there is no one else like me.”
Momoi grows up with a reputation—that girl goes into the forest. That’s the kind of thing that is Simply Not Done—the only people who willingly enter the forest are the Cutters, the Hunters, the witches, and the worst kind of trash.
Everyone knows Momoi is not a Cutter nor a Hunter. They have not quite decided if she is a witch or trash.
And somehow, a wolf becomes her best friend. Through her own fault, really, because no one else will talk to a girl who willingly enters the forest. But she also doesn’t care because Aomine Daiki is far more interesting than anyone in her stupid village, and she’d rather talk to him anyway.
Even if he keeps threatening to eat her.
“Shut up, ugly, or I’m going to eat you.”
Momoi pats him on the head. “Maybe someday. When you grow a little more.”
“I am almost as tall as you now!”
He is, but that’s not the point.
“I wouldn’t taste very good anyway,” Momoi says, as if this is a perfectly reasonable assumption. “And anyway, I was only telling you to be careful, there’s no reason to be snippy with me. There are a lot of Cutters in the Woods these days. Or at least, that’s what I heard.”
Aomine snorts derisively. “As if I’m afraid of any Cutter. I’m the strongest Beast you will ever meet. The only one who can beat me is me.”
Momoi tosses her hair and says, “Prove it.”
Surely there is something wrong with girls who willingly venture deeper and deeper into the darkest parts of the forest; but this does not stop Momoi. (Nothing stops Momoi). She follows Aomine right into the thick of demonic revelries, and she sits among them like she belongs.
These are the wolves of the forest; the evil creatures who haunt the woods and stalk human prey. They throw such wonderful parties.
At the center of the festivities are the games demons play, where they battle against each other with fangs and claws and blood. Momoi supposes that she should be repulsed by such activities but instead she watches, fascinated.
Aomine—and she is absurdly proud of this—was not boasting. He is the youngest demon to compete in the games and he shines among them. He fights with incredibly speed and ferocity, and the stronger the opponent is the more he smiles. Momoi stands at the edge of the fighting arena, watching everything very intently.
She’s never seen anything so amazing before. It completely captures her attention.
“He’s favoring his left side.”
“Eh?” Aomine says, wiping sweat and blood from his neck. They’re on some sort of timeout, and Aomine isn’t doing too well. His opponent is older, bigger and stronger than him.
“He’s favoring his left side,” Momoi says again, “It’s really subtle; but it’s there. He hasn’t fully recovered from his last victory. Also, he always strikes to the head right before a hit to the gut and he blinks when it’s a feint.”
“Are you trying to help?” Aomine says incredulously.
“You’re a strong fighter, but not a very smart one,” she informs him.
“I don’t need help from a human! I’m going to eat you after I win this match.”
“If I’m wrong, go ahead and eat me,” Momoi says with a shrug.
Aomine wins his match.
He also, Momoi notes with satisfaction, listens to her advice, proving he can fight smart.
“Shut up,” Aomine says, before Momoi can say anything. “I didn’t need you.”
But he brings her to every fight after.
The thing about having a demon for a best friend is that she doesn’t really belong anywhere. Certainly not with the people in her village, who thought she was a witch, or trash, or at the very least, Not Like Them.
But not with the demons, either. Momoi follows Aomine deep into the forest because she has nothing better to do. She watches the complicated demon battles and she understands the rules better than the demons. She observes and she analyzes, and if she had the strength she would be a frightening player, but instead she is always on the outskirts, always watching, never participating.
She enjoys it far more than staying in her village, but it can, at times, be incredibly lonely.
The demons rarely acknowledge her presence—all of them largely ignore her and most days Momoi feels like she’s invisible.
Which is why it’s all the more surprising when one of the demons does talk to her.
“You should be careful, Momoi-san, when you come into the woods.”
The voice is so polite and soft sounding that it catches her completely off guard. The sight of the pale blue demon surprises her even more, because she doesn’t recognize him. He is not anything like Aomine or the other demons—(Aomine, now finally at the point where he is much taller than her, gloats about it as often as he can)—for he is not at all large or imposing, and not frightening at all.
“Who are you?” she asks, not keeping the shock out of her voice.
“You may call me Kuroko Tetsuya,” the demon replies. “There are more dangers in these woods besides us.”
“I know that,” she says. And she tries not to sound too resentful, although she certainly doesn’t need anyone telling her to be careful like she is some sort of child.
“I know you are always very careful, Momoi-san, but I would be very sad if something happened to you because of your association with us.” Then he gives her a candied apple—one of the rare treats in the forest—and walks away.
Momoi looks at the treat and positively swoons.
“And then! And then he gave me a sweet apple!”
“I know! I know because you told me six times already!” Aomine puts his hands to his ears, as if that could stop Momoi.
“Ahh, he was so polite! And so nice! No one is ever so nice.” She puts her hands to her cheeks and feels warm. The boys in her village were never nice. They leered at her and said disgusting things she could never unhear and sometimes they made her cry, although never when anyone else could see.
No one had ever just been kind to her before.
Momoi sighs. “He was so dreamy.”
Aomine starts to look alarmed. “Oi. He’s still a demon, understand?”
“More like a prince,” Momoi says, still holding her cheeks, “Only better, because real princes are boring.”
“If you’re going to be like this you can’t come into the forest anymore,” Aomine tells her.
“Oh, please. Like you or anyone else could stop me.”
Aomine doesn’t point out that he probably could stop her, now. He’s taller and stronger and it wouldn’t take much to overpower her.
The fact that he doesn’t point this out, Momoi thinks, is a bit like he doesn’t actually want her to stop coming.
When she turns fifteen, everything starts to go wrong.
She is an observer, an analyzer, a watcher by nature. She knows when it happens, even if she doesn’t fully understand why.
She watches as the demons in the forest gripe at one another. She watches as their battles grown increasingly intense and the friendly aspect of the revelries disappears. She watches as Aomine pushes himself to be better and better, until there’s no one left to beat. She watches as all the demons leave the forest, one by one, in search of something they can’t find together.
This had been her home; just as much hers as it was theirs. This has been the only place she could belong, even if she never fully belonged. The only place that she could really be herself. When they all leave, they destroy that.
“Kuroko,” she says desperately to his back when even he wishes to leave the forest. “Don’t you want us all to be together forever? Don’t you want things to be like they always were?”
He doesn’t turn around when he replies, “I am sorry, Momoi-san. I do not know what you are talking about.”
And he walks away.
Of course, she didn’t understand, until later, what role Kuroko had when everything dissolved. She couldn’t know at the time that he was struggling, just as much as she was, to build a home for himself. And she couldn’t have known that Kuroko had decided that to build a better home, one first had to break the old.
She couldn’t have known all those things. All she knew was that everyone was leaving her behind.
And that it felt an awful lot like no one wanted her around.
“You should stay out of the woods, Satsuki.”
Aomine isn’t looking at her when he says that. He hasn’t looked at her all that much, lately, and she’s noticed that just like she notices all things.
The world falls apart, just a little, and Momoi tries to rearrange things back together as she keeps herself from breaking down.
“You always say that,” she says, keeping her voice light, even though he hasn’t said such things, not for awhile now. “But you don’t really—”
“No, Satsuki. You need to stop coming.” Blue eyes meet hers finally, and there’s a harsh edge to his voice that she’s never heard before. “You don’t belong here. And you never did. And besides, I don’t want you here.”
The thing about demons, Momoi had noticed over the years, is that contrary to popular belief, they rarely tell a direct lie. They prefer to twist words around, rely on double meanings and trickery, because honesty is a much more amusing way to lie to a person.
For Aomine to say, I don’t want you here, he must actually mean, I don’t want you here.
In her own way, Momoi has just as much pride as any demon or man or princess. She refuses to beg and she won’t stay if she’s not wanted.
So she walks out of the forest.
She does not see Aomine again for almost two years.
It seems like there’s nothing left for her but to grow up. She thinks it is far too late for her to become a proper lady now; to lure a husband and resign herself to being someone’s wife, someone’s mother. But now that the forest is no longer a sanctuary, she’s not sure what else is left to her.
Wild adventure, perhaps. She could leave. She could see what else is out there for her.
She’s not sure why she doesn’t. Maybe because she’s still tied to the wolves in the forest, even if they banished her. Maybe because she can’t leave Aomine.
She hopes that’s not the reason. It would be too pathetic to not pursue her own life just because she can’t shake the feeling that Aomine still needs her.
It definitely would be too pathetic, if that was the case.
That doesn’t make it less true.
When she turns seventeen the Cutters come to her village.
They have always been around, although usually there’s only one or two and then they leave. They come, they harvest wood from the dark forest, and then they leave after the damage is done.
But now they flood the village. They crept in silently, subtly, but then all of the sudden they are everywhere Momoi turns and they are ruling the village.
It is more unsettling than demons.
“Don’t be absurd, child,” her mother sniffs. “The Cutters and the Hunters provide a very important service. I, for once, find it very comforting that they are here. It is time someone got rid of all the wolves that plague us.”
The wolves are gone, but Momoi doesn’t try to explain that. And she’s not sure she can explain the damage this will cause the village, but she tries anyway.
“Mother, if they take too much from the forest, we will not be able to sustain ourselves. And the men are already causing a disruptive presence—they are making so many rules, we cannot live like this.”
Don’t stay out past six. Wear dull colors, for bright ones attract demons. Do not make so much noise, do not laugh so. All unmarried women must be accompanied by a chaperone.
They said these rules were for their own good. They said these rules would keep them safe, but every day there are more and more regulations, and soon enough, they might as well live in cages, for it would make no difference.
“You are such an ungrateful child,” her mother says. “And if you had any sense at all, you would marry one. It would be fine thing to be a Cutter’s wife. And many of the men are new here, and don’t know what a wicked girl you are.”
Momoi thinks that if they don’t know this about her, then it’s time they did.
The next day she starts to wear a red cloak.
She has known a lot of demons, and she has never known them to be particularly attracted to bright colors.
But it certainly attracts the attention of the Cutters.
The red cloak is her act of rebellion, but it is also probably the most foolish thing she has ever done. (She blames her isolation, this village, the Cutters, Aomine. She is not usually so foolish without cause. Clearly, this village is driving her mad.)
When all the Cutters begin staring at her, she starts to realize the dangers of this behavior.
She could live with the stares—she’s been stared at all her life—but of course the men don’t leave it at that.
One day, a Cutter grabs her by the arm and pulls, saying, “Well, now, little miss, don’t you know you’re breaking the rules?”
In this moment, Momoi is not afraid. In this moment, all she can think about is the fact that she spent her childhood amongst the revelries of demons, and the Beasts never once grabbed her by the arm.
“Your laws are silly,” Momoi says. But then, because she knows there is danger here, and it is better to appear foolish than defiant, she smiles prettily, bats her eyelashes, and says, “Besides, I look better in red, don’t you think?”
Even though she is expecting it, she is still sickened by the open way he runs his eyes over her body, leers, licks his lips, and says, “That you do. Say now, you are a pretty little thing. Perhaps I should make you mine.”
There are chuckles all around her, and Momoi is keenly aware that she is surrounded. There are Cutters everywhere and they’re all staring at her.
“Oh, but, I could never marry you, sir,” Momoi says, even though, she notes, the man never said the word ‘marriage.’ She smiles again, “I could never leave my poor mama alone.”
The Cutter pulls her closer, pinching tighter. “Then maybe we should talk to your mama.”
Momoi grew up watching demons battle; her best friend was the strongest of them all, and she watched him closer than the rest—she easily twists her way out his hold and dances out of reach before he even knows what’s happening. “Oh, but it would never do, good sir, I am much too delicate for marriage.”
But of course that is not the end.
The Cutters are ruining this village. They make more rules, and if anyone objects they are thrown in prison as witches. More and more often, the people thrown in jail are women, and the Cutters begin talk of burning them at the stake.
Momoi has always hated this village but it is still her village.
She will not let these men take what’s hers.
When the Cutter comes to her door, it is not a surprise. Nor is it a surprise that her mother is so ready to turn her over.
“Witches have been disappearing from the prisons,” the Cutter says—the same one who grabbed her before. “There are rumors of a demon cloaked in red.”
“My daughter has always been an evil creature,” her mother declares, “She used to disappear into the woods.”
The way the Cutter stares at her makes her skin crawl. “Did you, now?”
Momoi smiles her sweetest smile. “I only went to visit my grandmother.”
“You don’t have a grandmother,” her mother snaps.
“Not my real grandmother, no, I just called her that. She was a sweet old lady who lived in the woods. I still go see her, now and then.”
“Perhaps you should go visit her now,” the Cutter suggests. “If she exists. You can ask her for her blessing, to become my bride. But if there is no grandmother, well then, you must be a lying witch.
“And you know what we do to witches.”
A shudder shakes her whole body—marriage to this man, or burned at the stake; Momoi is honestly not sure which would be worse. “Well, then. I will go into the woods to visit my grandmother.”
“See that you do,” the man says, speculatively. “And don’t stray from the path.”
Momoi walks into the forest in a red cloak, carrying a basket full of bread and wine.
“You need to take the wine, do you?” her mother had sniffed.
“Grandmother loves spirits,” Momoi had replied sweetly, and then off she went.
She is being followed. The Cutters are in these woods. And with any luck, so are the demons.
“Tra la la,” Momoi sings, “Off to grandmother’s I go.”
She knows she is being watched, so it is important that she gives a good performance. She stops to smell some wildflowers, and then declares loudly, “I think grandmother will like these flowers. She is such a dear old woman, and she’s been bedridden for so long.”
The Cutters must think her very strange, but she is not performing for their sake.
Deep in the forest, there is a small cabin. She and Aomine used to play there, and that’s where she goes now.
She knocks on the door, all the while feeling the intense gaze of the Cutters who have followed her to this place.
And what, exactly, were they hoping to find? Demons, most likely. Beasts they could kill, and hang their heads upon their walls. Or else they expected to find some harmless old woman they could burn in an oven and declare a witch.
“Grandmother?” Momoi calls. “Grandmother, are you home?”
She’s not sure what she will do if no one responds. Her whole plan was a terrible gamble that there was still someone in this forest who cared if she lived or died. “Grandmother?”
Finally, a voice.
“Come in, dearie.”
There is a brief moment when Momoi thinks she might cry from relief, but she stifles that feeling. She composes herself, and opens the door.
Aomine lounges on the bed there, with a particularly wolfish grin.
“What a lovely surprise to see my granddaughter,” Aomine says in a particularly horrendous falsetto. Momoi is surprised he’s not wearing a dress—he’s enjoying this pretense of being her grandmother far too much.
There is danger in this moment. The air is charged with death and violence. But Momoi still takes the time to examine her childhood friend; he is more handsome than she remembers, more like a man than the boy she remembers. There’s an edge to him now, his eyes and smile no longer as playful as they once were.
His focus is the same—that intense way he would concentrate on a battle where it was like he could see into completely different dimensions.
Only this time all his focus is on her. He waits to get his cues from her.
She tilts her head and smiles, “Oh, grandmother, what big eyes you have.”
Aomine grins, because it’s a game—a game of death and violence, just like the games he played in their youth. “All the better to see you with,” he says, in that terrible falsetto voice.
They Cutters are at the door, they both know it. They see their shadows across the wall. “Grandmother, what big ears you have.”
“All the better to hear you with, my dear.”
They can hear their voices now too, the murmurs. The Cutters are raising their weapons.
“Grandmother,” Momoi says, her voice shifting low. “What big teeth you have.”
Aomine doesn’t answer not right away. He isn’t smiling anymore, just staring straight into her eyes. Are you sure? He asks with his gaze.
Momoi nods. She’s sure. She’s been sure ever since she walked into this forest.
“All the better to eat you with, my dear,” Aomine says, his voice soft, almost tender.
Then he leaps form the bed and bites into her neck, tearing at her flesh almost instantly.
Aomine tears into her skin but she doesn’t cry out—she expects the pain, even welcomes it, somewhat. This is her life, this is her choice, this is Aomine.
He’s on top of her now; she’s on the floor, bleeding out, and the last thing she sees is him. His eyes, always so intense, now soft as he gazes down at her. She thinks, ah, no one has ever loved me more than him.
This is the final thought she has before she dies.
A long time ago, when she was just a girl, and Aomine was just a young wolf she met in the forest, Aomine said, “You know, Satsuki, you’d make a better demon than a human.”
And Momoi had replied, “Well, I wasn’t born a demon, now was I? I’ll just have to make do with being human.”
There was a silence, then, followed by:
“But what if you didn’t have to be?”
It took Momoi a few moments to figure out what he was saying (what he was offering). But even though she understood, she still felt the need to clarify, “You can’t just choose to become a demon…can you?”
Aomine shrugged like he was extraordinarily unconcerned with the whole subject. “Some do. It’s not impossible, anyway. And. You would be a good one.”
It was a very flattering offer—one of the nicest she had ever received, and she spent some time thinking it over. Girls, as she had learned, couldn’t do very much of anything. Girls did not have adventures; they did nothing more in stories than marry princes and that didn’t seem like very much fun at all.
Demons could do a lot more.
“What would I have to do?” she asked.
Blue eyes met hers. “You would have to die.”
There was just a beat of hushed silence before he added, “I would have to kill you.”
Death was not the deterrent for her. It did not scare her like it might others. She thought about his offer very seriously, and in the end decided being a girl wasn’t very much fun, but she hadn’t fully experienced all the things she might do as a human.
She declined the offer, without regrets, but wondered if Aomine would ever make the offer again.
Death, all things considered, is not a very memorable event. She is only moderately disappointed that it is not a more dramatic occasion.
When she wakes again, there is violence all around her. There is not even the time to process her own transformation (her heightened senses, the strength of her new body, the sheer feeling of being alive that permeates every fiber of her self—she knows she is not human anymore because living has never been so glorious) because the Cutters are in the house and they are attacking Aomine.
They are killing Aomine.
Ordinarily, she would trust that there is no one on this earth who could beat Aomine—
—but these Cutters are not playing by any sort of rules. They outnumber him; they are armed with silver axes, and they have more cruelty in them than Momoi ever saw amongst the revelries of demons.
They do not see her rise. They do not see her cloaked in red.
And they do not see her when she attacks them with the strength of a demon and the fury of a woman who has lived all her life being told what she cannot do.
They never see her coming, and are ever so surprised when she kills them.
After the slaughter is over, Momoi finally begins to feel dizzy from the effects of her transformation.
Aomine is laughing—it is a joyous sound, something she hasn’t heard in a long time, not since they were children and he was battling strong opponents. All of the sudden she is in his arms and they are spinning.
“I knew you would make an amazing demon, Satsuki! You should have done this years ago.”
She braces herself against him, stilling them both. She can see her hair, and that’s what prompts her to dizzily stumble towards the mirror, so that she can see what she looks like now.
The mirror confirms what she has already seen – her hair is pink now, like flower petals. And her eyes are red, like the cloak she is wearing, like the blood that is still on her hands.
It is a strange appearance. But she finds that she does not dislike it. She turns to look back at Aomine, who has not stopped staring at her this entire time. She is glad to see him, now that the danger is over, and she is grateful. Somehow she knew he would come to her aid despite their separation (and he did, he did, he came for her, he still cared).
But she finds that she is also still very angry.
“What would it matter if I had turned into a demon sooner?” She asks crossly. “You still would have abandoned me.”
Aomine’s smile fades and he’s very solemn now. “I never wanted to leave you, Satsuki. I only wanted you… safe.”
She crosses her arms. “And I never wanted you to protect me. I only ever wanted to be your friend.”
“I never stopped being your friend.”
This isn’t an apology—and frankly, Momoi feels she is owed an apology for him being a condescending jerk, if nothing else—but even after all this time, she still knows him, and she knows he’s not going to apologize.
“Well, don’t do it again. I don’t need you to protect me.”
Aomine grins at her and says, “No, and you never will again.” He reaches over and wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her forward. Momoi lets herself be pulled, and when Aomine entwines his arms around her fully she responds in kind. They’ve never been like this before, this has never been their relationship, and yet it feels only natural when they start kissing, like this moment is what they’ve been heading towards for a long time.
They kiss like they are kissing through the centuries—all the years they had and will have together co-existing in this one moment. Aomine kisses her like he’s trying to devour her and Momoi kisses like she can finally battle him on even ground.
When they break apart they’re breathless, but still holding each other like they’re both afraid to let go, and Aomine asks, “What do you want to do now?”
Momoi thinks on this and says, “There are still a lot of Cutters in the village.”
Aomine raises a brow. “So? You don’t owe those villagers anything.”
“No, but they are mine, and the Cutters think they can get away with being awful because they are men with power.”
“Alright,” Aomine says agreeably. “Let’s show ‘em that they’re wrong.”
There are wolves in the forest.
And Momoi Satsuki is one of them.