Jimin is six years old when he wanders into the woods by himself for the first time.
His parents, too busy with the Harvest celebrations, don't even notice when he quietly leaves, lured away by a fluffy bunny that shows up at the edge of the trees. His short legs make it difficult for him to step over the roots but Jimin follows the bunny as fast as he can, not even caring how deep into the woods he is.
It isn't until Jimin reaches a clearing that he notices the lack of noise. He cannot hear the celebration music anymore. He whirls around to find that with one hop, the bunny is gone and Jimin is all alone. Cold air sweeps the fallen leaves and the trees whisper warnings, the tops swaying gently.
Jimin takes a tentative step, scanning the clearing, trying to remember which way to take so he can go back, but it's useless. He is completely lost. From his right, he hears the snap of twigs and then a rustle from the bushes. Jimin whimpers, hugging his torso. There's something there, something watching him.
“Hello?” Jimin says, voice almost quiet.
The first thing he sees is the eyes, beady and fixed on him. Then he sees the teeth, half bared as the animal sniffs the air. It's the Wolf. Jimin has heard of it almost every time he misbehaves; his parents warn him about the beast coming after naughty children. It's been years since it was seen last around Jimin’s village but there's no mistaking it. The beast is huge and wears the darkest coat Jimin has ever seen.
And it's looking at him with hunger in its reddish eyes.
Scared, Jimin runs. He cries out loud for his parents, short legs catching on the uneven floor and sending him down. His knees sting and he has scrapes on his palms but he continues to run because the Wolf is still there, coming after him. Jimin can feels its eyes on his back.
Jimin falls one last time, sobbing against the soil as he calls for his parents, anyone, for help. There's warm breath on the back of his neck and he closes his eyes, pleading for the beast not to hurt him.
“Jimin!” comes the voice of his father.
The Wolf nuzzles the curve of Jimin’s shoulder, teeth scraping the skin and he cries out loud, trembling like a leaf. At the sound of pounding feet, the Wolf bolts and Jimin sits down, looking all around him as thin tendrils of blood travel down his neck.
“Son! Are you ok?”
Jimin’s father kneels in front of him, gathering Jimin against his chest and in the warmth of his embrace, Jimin loses track of time.
Jimin’s mother nurses him back to health and meanwhile, the Wolf terrorizes the village.
He howls at the moon, running around the edges of the woods. His eyes pierce the heavy veil of the night and the villagers close their windows, barricade their doors, and hold their children close.
The beast walks in circles, restless. Searching...almost demanding.
Every morning, they wake up to a Village in shambles. To dead cattle and destroyed crops and a trail of blood down the main street. It has to stop, winter is upon them and the Wolf seems settled on making it their last. It isn’t until the body of a lone hunter shows up in front of the Sheriff’s house that the villagers decide that they have had enough. During the midday assembly, all eyes turn to the Elders, the only ones who have faced the beast before.
“The beast,” an old man says, lips smacking togetherr to detangle the words. “It wants.”
“What?” demands the Sheriff. “What does it want?”
“That I don’t know,” says the man, cloudy eyes scanning the people around him. “I was young when the beast was around but, whatever it is, we must provide. The Wolf won’t stop until it has it.”
A big offering is prepared late that night and Jimin is strong enough to see the preparations from the safety of his mother’s arms. His grandma - the one that loves isolated in the mountains - has sent him a red scarf to protect him and he wears is like a shield around his neck. Everyone in the Village gives something away: crops, jewelry, animals and money. The pile grows and grows under the steady heat of the bonfire until the last coin is dropped and then, the villagers wait.
The beast comes, as always, closer to midnight. It paces closer to the trees, charcoal-red eyes challenging and nose scenting the air. Jimin shivers in his mother’s embrace and the Wolf seems to fix its eyes on him. He whimpers.
“It’s ok baby,” his mother says, kissing the crown of his head. “You are safe.”
When the Wolf moves closer, the whole Village takes a step back. It catches the closest chicken, snapping the neck in two between its strong jaws. Jimin hides his face in his mother’s neck and his father hugs them both.
“Please accept this offering,” says the Sheriff, loud but wavering. “Give us peace.”
The Wolf howls and Jimin dares a look, one that is returned by the beast. One that makes the scar on his neck burn. The beast drops the chicken, retreating to the woods.
The next day, the offering is gone and so is the Wolf.
“C’mon Jimin, I’m freezing my ass out here. Pick up those turnips faster!”
Jimin huffs, yanking the last roots from the soil. He straightens up with a groan, wiggling his fingers in the air as he stretches and readjusts his red scarf. By his side, Seokjin jumps from one foot to the other, trying to keep warm. It’s a cold October morning, which means the Harvest is coming and soon the fields will be filled with villagers and chanting and jars of cider.
It also means that the Wolf will be back, once more to collect its share.
“Sorry,” Jimin says to Seokjin, grabbing his basket. “Mom wanted some for lunch. Since the beast is coming, we don’t get to eat much of them over winter.”
Seokjin makes a face, pursing his pretty lips. “Vicious beast, can’t believe it’s been years of the same. We should just go and shoot-”
Jimin presses a finger to Seokjin’s lips to shut him up, eyes scanning their surroundings warily. They are not close to the woods, but ears are always listening.
“Be careful, Hyung,” he warns. “Someone can hear you.”
Seokjin makes a dismissive noise but he pulls the lapels of his jacket tighter and his eyes scan the road as they trail back to their Village. Jimin doesn’t say a word, just walks closer using the cold as an excuse. Everyone is afraid of the beast, no matter how bravely they promise to get rid of the Wolf behind closed doors.
Jimin doesn’t blame them, he’s scared as well.
Turnips aren’t Jimin’s favourite but he eats his mother’s stew with a smile anyway, feeding little pieces of meat to the family dog when mother is not looking. It’s just the two of them at the table, them and a frame with a photograph of his father. It’s been a tough year without him, but Jimin is almost an adult and ready to take the house under his wing. He spends the rest of the afternoon spinning yarn for the winter sweaters his mother sells. The dogs sleeps fitfully by his feet, ears twitching at the slightest noise. It’s always the same as the Harvest approaches, like it can sense the proximity of the Wolf.
The wind picks up suddenly, forcing Jimin to bury his nose behind his scarf. The trees groan outside and in the blink of an eye, his dog is gone, chasing something Jimin can’t see even as he bolts after him.
“Jack!” he yells, slipping slightly over the mud.
The dog runs and runs and by the time Jimin stops to catch his breath, he’s already in the middle of the woods. His breath comes out in white puffs as he threads into the deeper parts, calling his dog’s name every now and then. The sound of branches breaking comes from the right and Jimin represses a yelp.
Maybe it’s just a deer, he reasons, swallowing thickly, although he doesn’t truly believe himself. Eyes follow him, like an unwelcomed caress over exposed skin. It’s still daytime, I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m-
Jimin finally finds Jack in a clearing. Trees surround the opening in a tight net and something in Jimin’s memory stirs. He heaves a sigh of relief, only then noticing that Jack is not alone. A boy is crouching next to him, hand lifted in the air as he scratches Jack behind the ears. The boy is dressed all in black, dark is also the color of his hair. Jimin has never seen him before, he must not be from any of the nearby towns.
“Thanks for catching him,” says Jimin, approaching them. The boy lifts his head and Jimin’s stomach jolts at the sight. The blue of his eyes is stunning, a color he has never seen before. Definitely not from around. Jimin wonders if those eyes are the same color that books like to describe as “the sea before the storm”.
“No problem,” the boy replies and his voice washes over Jimin in calming waves. “He looked a little lost.”
Jimin nods, shuffling closer. “He ran away chasing something...his name is Jack.” The dog pads toward him then, waggling his tail in a non-verbal apology. “I’m glad he found you and not the beast.”
“The beast?” says the boy, frowning in confusion.
Jimin looks up surprised, everyone knows about the Wolf. But then again, the boy is probably a foreigner. He should warn him.
“Yeah, the Wolf. It roams the woods.” Jimin’s scar seems to whisper words into his ear. “You shouldn’t wander alone in here. It’s dangerous-”
“What’s your name?” the boy asks, not even fazed by the warning. His eyes go back to Jack and the dog whines softly, ears flattened as it presses right against the boy’s leg.
“Jimin,” the boy repeats the name as if savouring it, as if feeling the weight of it on his tongue. “I’m Jeongguk...nice scarf by the way....pretty color.”
“Oh,” says Jimin surprised, touching the fabric. “My grandma made it for me...to protect me from the cold. I always wear it...”
Jeongguk hums, eyes staying a little longer before they go back to the dog.
“Passing by?” asks Jimin, taking off his belt and then squatting to loop it around Jack’s collar. It brings him closer to Jeongguk and Jimin is able to capture something musky coming off of him. It’s wild. Jimin can smell it right on his tongue.
“More like...visiting...for a while,” Jeongguk replies. The corner of his lips lift, making Jimin wonder if he missed a joke somewhere in there. “How old are you? If I may ask.”
Jimin stands back up, hand holding his dog firmly. “I’m seventeen, going eighteen in a few days though,” he scans Jeongguk’s face. “You look around my age, perhaps?”
Jeongguk laughs through his nose. “You could say that.”
The answer confuses Jimin, but he doesn’t comment on it. He doesn’t have much experience with foreigners; maybe they all tend to be ambiguous like Jeongguk. The wind picks up again and Jimin looks around, feeling uneasy.
“I should get going.”
“Want me to walk you back?” offers Jeongguk. “You know, because of the Wolf?”
“What about you?” asks Jimin, although he’s glad to have company since the sky is already turning caramel and the woods tinting dark.
Jeongguk shrugs, falling in step with him.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Jeongguk?” Seokjin looks up from the dough he’s kneading to look at Jimin. “Never heard of him before. Are you sure he’s staying here?”
Jimin shakes his head, adding more flour when he notices the way the dough is sticking to Seokjin’s fingers. The day is slow and Jimin should be in school but instead, he’s skipping class and helping Seokjin with his chores at the bakery. Not that it matters anyway, the Harvest celebration is close and Jimin isn’t really interested in school. It won’t teach him a trade, hence it’s useless and Seokjin is tired of scolding him to go.
“And you said you met him in the woods?” Seokjin continues as he gives shape to the loaves.
“Yep...a few days ago,” confirms Jimin, sighing.
“And you haven’t seen him again?”
Jimin resists the urge to roll his eyes. Sometimes Seokjin sounds way too similar to both their mothers combined. “No, I haven-”
He trails off. Right outside the window behind Seokjin’s back is Jeongguk. He’s wearing all black again and there’s a smirk on his face when he signals for Jimin to keep quiet, beckoning him over.
Seokjin claps right in front of Jimin’s face and he jumps in his seat.
“Are you ok?”
Jimin blinks, lips going slack. “Huh?”
“I said, are you ok?” repeats Seokjin, noticing as Jimin’s eyes stray to the window. He whirls around, but there’s nothing there, just the windmill and behind it, the woods. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” replies Jimin, much too fast and Seokjin narrows his eyes. “See you later, Hyung.”
Jimin runs out of the bakery, looping the scarf around his neck, to find Jeongguk leaning against the wall. He detaches himself from it as soon as he spots Jimin, making a gesture with his head, a clear indication that Jimin should follow. They walk in silence until they are at the very edge of the woods, which is where Jimin stops. Jeongguk turns around, eyes searching.
“What is it?”
“We don’t go into the woods,” Jimin replies, shifting on his feet. “Don’t you know that?
“I’m not from around here, remember?” Jeongguk smiles, lopsided and handsome. It turns Jimin’s stomach all warm and fluttery. He sets one foot just beyond the limit of the village and extends his hand. “Come.”
“B-but,” Jimin stutters, reaching his hand nonetheless.
“But, what?” asks Jeongguk softly, long fingers circling Jimin’s wrist.
“The…” Jimin blinks, eyes fixed on the changing blue of Jeongguk’s eyes. “Wolf…”
It comes out like a sigh and Jimin finds himself walking as in a trance, the feeling of Jeongguk’s hot skin as the only anchor to the soft soil under his feet. They walk and walk with bugs buzzing melodies under the weak sunlight. Jimin’s heartbeat slows downs, feeling safe, losing track of time. All thoughts of the Wolf banish in sight of Jeongguk’s leading figure.
They stop in a clearing and Jimin blinks back to reality, surprised to find flowers still lingering in between the bushes. The air feels warmer, it’s like fall is ages away. Jeongguk lets go of him, flopping down on the dying grass.
“Where are we?” Jimin asks, slowly sitting down and taking off his scarf. He scans his surroundings carefully; years of fear are hard to shake.
“You look scared,” comments Jeongguk, closing his eyes.
Jimin studies his profile, the prominent presence of his nose. It’s good, it suits him well. Works perfectly with that self-assurance that seems to seep through every pore in Jeongguk’s body. Jimin taps his own tiny nose. Life is so unfair.
“It’s the woods,” says Jimin, matter of factly.
Jeongguk doesn’t even stir at his words. “It’s safe.”
“How would you know?” counters Jimin, hugging his legs closer. “You have never seen the beast.”
They remain silent and Jimin rests his head on his knees, letting the breeze soothe his nerves. The woods seem at ease, he can no longer feel eyes on his back.
“Where did you come from?”
Jeongguk opens his eyes, sits up, mirroring Jimin. It scorches Jimin’s skin, the intensity of his eyes. The way they roam over the curve of his cheeks and down the column of his neck. Jeongguk reaches for the neck of Jimin’s sweater, pushing it aside and revealing the scar.
“When did you face the Wolf?” he asks.
Jimin shivers. “I was six...I thought it was going to kill me…its teeth-”
Flames dance in Jeongguk’s eyes and he retracts his hand. As soon as the touch is gone, the world turns cold, the light suddenly gone. Icy fear washes down Jimin’s back. It’s too late, he shouldn’t be here.
“You should go,” says Jeongguk, hands curling into fists, crunching the dry grass. “Before It comes.”
“What about you?” asks Jimin, though he knows the answer.
“I’ll stay a little longer. And Jimin...don’t forget the scarf.”
Jimin stans up on shaky legs, picking up his scarf and securing it around his neck. He doesn’t even look back as he stumbles over in the general direction of the Village. He’s worried about Jeongguk but too scared to stay, his legs speed up until he’s sprinting in between the trees, not even registering when a branch scratches his cheek. He emerges from the woods drenched in sweat and cloaked by darkness. A thin stream of blood trails down his cheek.
The Wolf howls in the distance, making Jimin flinch. It howls, but it doesn’t come.
“Hyung...how do you know if you like someone?”
Jimin looks over to Seokjin, who’s bent over the counter, piping bag held tightly in his hand. He breathes life to the last rose on the cake before shifting his attention to Jimin.
“Shouldn’t you be studying?” he says, wiping the sweat from his forehead. Rain falls in buckets outside but within the bakery, the air is toasty warm.
Jimin leans over, dipping his finger into the leftover frosting and sticking it into his mouth. He bats his eyelashes at Seokjin, adding a shrug for good measure. They’ve had this conversation thousands of times already but Seokjin never seems to get tired of it. “School is important Jimin,” or “You could get out of this fucking town, Jimin.” It all falls on deaf ears, Jimin doesn’t want to leave the Village. He was born to stay.
“Whose birthday is it?” asks Jimin, picking up the folding box and then helping Seokjin put the cake securely inside. “The roses are orange, bet is Hyejin’s.”
“You would know if you went to school,” chides Seokjin, slapping Jimin’s hand away before he can steal more frosting. “You’ll end up like me, trapped in this damn place.”
“I like my life,” says Jimin, stubbornly. “So, Hyung...have you ever been in love?”
Seokjin takes his apron off, heaving a sigh. “Maybe...if Namjoon counts, that is.”
“Why wouldn’t he count?” Jimin follows him out of the kitchen and into the main room of the store, plopping his butt on a stool while Seokjin opens another box, proceeding to stuff cupcakes inside.
“Well...he isn’t around anymore and I was young.”
Jimin frowns. “I’m young, why would that invalidate my feelings?”
Seokjin whirls around, pointing a finger at Jimin. “Aha! Who are you fooling around with, huh? Instead of being studying like a proper teenager?”
“No one! I just want to know.”
Hyejin’s mother interrupts them, coming into the bakery with her arms full of bags and her clothes drenched. Jimin hurries to help her out, holding her stuff while she chats with Seokjin, handing him the money in exchange for the cake. Jimin taps his foot, feigning interest as she tells them every detail about the celebration planned. Hyejin is the last one to turn eighteen this year in the neighboring village. Jimin is the last one in his own, as well.
“Anyway,” she finishes, munching on one of the cupcakes. “I gotta get going. Would you help me bring that to the truck?”
Jimin nods, putting on a raincoat and then following her out and arranging the goods on the back safely. Hyejin’s mother pats his cheek in return, urging him to go back inside. He dares a peek at the woods, cloaked in a vaporous mist due to the rain. They look as always, menacing, and Jimin wonders if Jeongguk is safe.
When he goes back inside, Seokjin is ready with a towel and a cup of warm cocoa.
“I have your answer,” says Seokjin, sipping on his coffee.
“You know you like someone when you want to bake them cakes all the time.”
Jimin frowns. There’s a smug expression adorning his Hyung’s face, even though he didn’t quite answer Jimin’s question. “How does that apply to me? I don’t know how to bake!”
Seokjin snorts, stuffing a bag with leftover loaves of bread and pushing it into Jimin’s arms.
“That’s why you shouldn’t be asking stupid questions. If you don’t know how to bake then you are too young for love!”
Jimin purses his lips, ready to argue that he’s only days away from turning eighteen, but there’s a clear warning in the set of Seokjin’s eyebrows and so he clutches the bag tighter, feeling the warmth of the loaves on his chest.
“Thank you, Hyung,” mutters Jimin. “My Mom loves the bread you make.”
“I know,” says Seokjin, watching as Jimin readies himself for the long trek home under the rain. “And Jimin?” he waits until the boy is giving his undivided attention. “You should introduce me to that Jeongguk.”
The rain is relentless but the village readies itself for the Harvest.
People come down from the hills and from the lone houses only seen in the distance. Tents are raised, scythes are sharpened and Seokjin starts sleeping by the oven every day. The bakery is busy churning out bread and cakes and pastries, so busy that Jimin’s mother decides to help. She ties up her hair and kneads the dough effortlessly. Seokjin looks at her with only adoration in his eyes.
Jimin is of no help at the bakery. He’s also not good at following instructions and getting the tents and tables ready for the festivities, so he goes where he knows he can help - the fields. Jimin can understand the soil, or at least that’s what people say. The crops just grow bigger under his hand, the animals thrive. His mother swears it’s something that he inherited from her father, but his grandma used to say it came from his father’s side. Whatever it is, farmers always receive him with warm smiles and rough pats on his back.
“Jiminnie!” Hyungwoo gathers him close in a side hug, eye-smile present even under the heavy downpour. “Weather is crap, thought you would bail.”
“Here, here!” someone says, “Let the kid take the first pumpkin.”
A scythe gets passed from hand to hand until it lands in Jimin’s grip. The weight is perfect, the handle fitting in his palm just right. Jimin knows they were waiting for him to bless the Harvest, to kickstart the festivities where they originated - the mud. He looks around for the perfect pumpkin, the one that will be on display until the festivities cease and the offering is arranged, leaving them with only half of everything.
At last he spots it, the chosen pumpkin, all smooth angles and sunset skin. Jimin’s hold on the scythe is firm, unwavering as he grabs his prize and makes a clean cut. He hangs the tool carefully on his belt before picking up the pumpkin and turning around to show it to everyone.
An unfamiliar village girl shows up by Jimin’s side, giving him a peck on the cheek and making him go red in the ears. The farmers woop, clanking their tools together and then settle back to work. Jimin hands the pumpkin to the girl, following with his eyes as she makes her way back to the Village. Hyungwoo gives him a knowing smile and Jimin smirks back, feeling adulthood creeping up his back.
“Seems it isn’t only turnips you’ll be harvesting this fall, huh,” Hyungwoo says, smearing dirt on his brow as he wipes the sweat away.
Jimin snickers, pleased. “Seems like it isn’t.”
By the time the farmers decide to take a break, Jimin has two baskets full of turnips and back pain on its way. The sun goes down slowly, turning the day cold, and the Village starts to light up, calling for a supper that is soon to be served. Hyungwoon stretches, securing the scythe on his belt and signaling to Jimin to follow. The work of the day is done; soon the world will turn dark and then the beast will start roaming, turning the fields unsafe.
Hyungwoon sniffs the air, moaning loudly. “I can smell that caserole your mom makes, Jiminnie,” he comments. “It’s calling me.”
Jimin smiles, stretching his arms as he trails behind him, scarf tied safely around his neck. The aches of a day of work start to settle in his muscles and he wants nothing more than to take a bath and sink into the softness of his bed. He’s scanning the edge of the woods when he spots Jeongguk. The boy is playing with what looks like an apple, tossing it up in the air and catching it on the way down. Jimin waves tentatively and Jeongguk responds with a half smile, starting to walk in the same direction the farmers are going, but staying close to the trees.
It isn’t until they are about to reach the Village that Jeongguk gestures for Jimin to follow him, hiding behind some bushes. Jimin hesitates, there are barely a couple hours before sunset and the risk of encountering the Wolf turns his veins cold. But at the same time, it’s been days since he’s seen Jeongguk and excitement bubbles in his gut.
“Hyung!” Jimin says out loud, calling for Hyungwoon’s attention. The boy turns around, eyebrows raised in a question. “I dropped my wallet, I think,” Jimin says pointing behind him with his thumb. “I'm gonna go back and check.”
Hyungwoon frowns, eyeing the road. “It’s gonna be dark soon Jiminnie, want me to come along?”
Jimin shakes his head, waving him off. “Nah, Hyung. I’m sure it’s close by. It won’t take long.”
“Be careful,” adds one of the older farmers, “beware of the beast.”
Jimin nods, turning around and making a show of searching the road leading to the fields. When he’s sure the others are not in sight, he bolts to the woods, keeping the scythe steady so it won’t hurt his leg. Jeongguk is waiting for him leaning against a tree, apple gone from his hand. The smile still lingers on his lips, red as the cherries that only grow in summertime.
“Looks like the Harvest will be plentiful,” Jeongguk comments as a way of greeting. Jimin turns to look at the cart left behind in the fields - half of them almost full after the first day - and completely missing the way Jeongguk’s eyes rake his body up and down.
“I think so,” Jimin says, nodding. “It’s a good thing, there’ll be more left after the offering for us.”
“More left?” asks Jeongguk.
“Yeah...to pass the winter, you know? The Wolf always takes half.”
Jeongguk curls his fingers around Jimin’s wrist, pulling him along as they walk deeper into the trees. Jimin doesn’t question him anymore. For some reason, every time Jeongguk is around the beast stays away and so Jimin feels safe, even when the light is scarce and his eyes fail to see where to step. The boy walking in front of him always knows where to go. His footing never falters.
“This Harvest will surely last the Village until the next winter,” Jeongguk says.
“How are you so sure?”
“I don’t know…” Jeongguk turns around to give Jimin a smile cloaked in darkness, one that makes him shiver. “I just have a feeling.”
They walk in silence for a long time, enough for the woods to be completely dark. Somehow, along the way, Jeongguk fingers shift until they are intertwined with Jimin’s. It feels a little odd, the way they fit together. It isn’t like when Jimin’s mom holds his hand, Jeongguk’s fingers are longer and thicker. It isn’t either like when Seokjin grabs him on those days when he’s feeling playful. That makes Jimin crinkle his nose in a mix of embarrassment and mock distaste.
Jeongguk’s fingers are different and Jimin doesn't know if that’s good or not.
“Where are we going?” whispers Jimin after he notices that he doesn’t recognize the trees anymore.
“It’s a surprise.”
“You must walk the woods a whole lot to know so many secrets about it.”
Jeongguk’s thumb rubs over the back of Jimin’s hand. “You could say that.”
They end up at a cabin, where Jimin guesses is the middle of the woods. It looks sort of abandoned on the outside but Jeongguk walks confidently to it, pushing the door open. He makes a sign with his head for Jimin to go in. The place is pitch dark inside, just like the woods and Jimin stays by the door, unsure of where to go. Jeongguk navigates the place as if he can see everything crystal clear and after a bit of fumbling, a lamp is lit and Jimin blinks at the sudden brightness.
“Your eyes are quite a thing, huh?” he says. “It’s like you can see in the dark.”
“Sort of,” replies Jeongguk, turning around - eyes like charcoal. “Take off your scarf.”
“Maybe because they are so big,” whispers Jimin, doing as he is told, entranced by the way Jeongguk moves towards him.
“Maybe,” murmurs Jeongguk, reaching behind Jimin to close the door.
Jeongguk’s breath is hot on Jimin’s cheek and it sends a ripple of something unknown down his back. Something that coils low on his abdomen, making it tight. Jimin feels the tip of Jeongguk’s nose on his neck and he closes his eyes, unsure of the things stirring in his gut. As soon as it comes though, it goes. Jeongguk is retracting with a smirk and Jimin is left confused and with wobbly legs.
“Do you want some tea?” Jeongguk asks, noticing the way Jimin is shivering. “You look cold.”
Jimin purses his lips but contains the need to spit that it’s all Jeongguk’s fault. Instinct tells him it wouldn’t be a smart thing to say. He opts to settle on the bed instead, closer to the fireplace that Jeongguk is bringing back to life. From the way Jeongguk navigates the place, it’s clear that he lives there. Jimin wonders if it belongs to someone from his family and he asks as much to Jeongguk, who tilts his head to the side, before assenting.
“You could say that,” he says enigmatically, handing Jimin his tea.
The mug is warm in Jimin’s hands and he takes little sips, trying not to squirm under Jeongguk’s heavy gaze. It’s late, they are alone and Jimin knows he should be heading home. He knows his mother is probably worried sick. He knows that Seokjin is most likely thinking the worst, since he’s aware of Jimin venturing into the woods lately. He knows, but he can’t bring himself to care. Not when Jeongguk is back at it, tracing the curve of his neck with his nose.
“What are you doing?” murmurs Jimin when the mug is taken from his hands.
“You smell so nice…” replies Jeongguk, pushing him back.
Jimin’s heart stutters at the feeling of Jeongguk’s lips on his pulse point. His lips are wet and warm and softer than anything Jimin has felt before. They leave a hot trail behind, one that cools down as soon as Jeongguk moves to a different spot, calling goosebumps to life on Jimin’s skin. Suddenly the painful reminder of his day working in the fields fills his mind and Jimin tries to recoil, self-conscious of the sweat and the dirt coating his skin.
“Don’t,” urges Jeongguk, holding him in place.
“I’m dirty,” explains Jimin, eyelashes fluttering as Jeongguk mouths behind his ear. “Been working all day-”
“You are sweet,” reassures Jeongguk, “so sweet.”
No one ever prepares you for your first kiss. No matter how many times people tell you what it’s like to feel someone else’s lips on yours. Not that Jimin has ever heard about it. He doesn’t have many friends, girls and boys are only starting to show an interest in him, and Seokjin doesn’t talk about it.
So when Jeongguk trails the curve of his jaw, pressing light kisses all along, Jimin isn’t quite sure of what to do. He just lays flat on the bed, arms thrown to his sides, and heart hammering in his chest with electricity running up and down his legs.
“I’m gonna kiss you now,” warns Jeongguk, eyes alight with what Jimin would learn to identify as desire.
The first touch of lips is weird and not really groundbreaking as Jimin would have expected. But then Jeongguk licks Jimin’s lower lip - biting it lightly - and Jimin gasps, his thighs tightening at the feeling. Jimin licks his own lips in response and then Jeongguk is back, this time with more certainty as he moves his lips. Jimin soon discovers that kissing is very different when he tries to follow Jeongguk’s lead. He soon discovers that it’s a lot like boiling water; the pressure builds up slowly, bubbles racing for the surface until the pressure is high enough to burst into a cloud of hazy need.
Jimin feels like those bubbles now, with no direction as he kisses Jeongguk sloppily, but sure that there’s a finish line he really wants to reach. When Jeongguk licks into his mouth, Jimin arches off of the bed, dick hard in between his legs. He’s so drunk in the feeling that he doesn’t even flinch when Jeongguk starts palming him through his pants, doesn’t even complain when Jeongguk yanks the piece of clothing away, taking a firm hold of his cock.
“So gorgeous,” whispers Jeongguk huskily, diving in for a kiss, swallowing Jimin’s moans.
A ragged breath escapes from Jimin’s mouth and he searches blindly for something to hold on to, whimpering like never before. It feels so much better than getting off by himself. The weight of Jeongguk’s body spurs him on, as much as the way Jeongguk’s hand digs into the pillow by Jimin’s head, as if Jeongguk can barely keep himself together. It digs so hard that Jimin swears he can hear the cloth tearing open.
Jimin’s legs tighten when his orgasm is close and he throws his head back, moaning unabashedly before spilling hot and thick, like molten lava over Jeongguk’s hand. Jeongguk sort of growls, teeth scratching over the scar on Jimin’s neck, causing more cum to leak until there’s no more.
The orgasm turns Jimin’s brain to mush so he barely registers if the red in Jeongguk’s eyes is just his imagination.
He isn’t sure, but it sort of reminds him of the Wolf.
“Where the hell have you been?!” Seokjin bellows. “Don’t you know how worried we were? Thinking the worst?”
Jimin shrinks on his spot, biting his lips and taking the yelling he so deserves. It was close to midnight when he finally made it back home and there’s really no excuse for such irresponsibility.
Seokjin huffs, dragging his hands through his hair as he paces. Jimin’s mother is sitting on a chair, clutching one of Jimin’s sweaters tightly in her hands. She’s crying quietly, lips quick as they probably murmur a silent prayer in thanks for having her son back. Jimin almost wishes it was her that was yelling, but he knows his mother is not like that. She’s a lot like Jimin, preferring to deal with everything in a quieter, more private way.
“I’m sorry, Hyung,” Jimin says.
Seokjin huffs some more, before dragging him into a tight hug, swearing and making Jimin promise he won’t ever do it again. Jimin just nods although he isn’t sure he can keep his promise if Jeongguk calls again. He then moves to his mother, kneeling in front of her and prying the sweater off of her hands before taking each delicate palm in his own. He kisses each of them, looking at her.
“I’m here,” he says. She releases a shuddering breath, patting his cheek and dropping a heartfelt kiss on his brow.
“What were you doing anyway?” asks Seokjin, now more calm.
Jimin turns around, racking his brain for an explanation when Hyungwoon - who had been hanging around a corner - reaches forward, pulling the neck of his sweater to the side.
“Seems like our Jiminnie was having an early celebration of his coming of age,” he comments gleefully at the sight of the purplish mark on Jimin’s neck.
Seokjin sputters, bringing a hand to his chest. “What is that?!”
Hyungwoon cackles and Jimin’s mother laughs as well, although still teary-eyed. Jimin ends up laughing along too, even when his cheeks are red from embarrassment. Hyungwoon makes a comment about the girl earlier at the harvest and Jimin doesn’t even try to deny it, just looks shyly down at his feet. He doesn’t know why, but he isn’t ready to let everyone know about Jeongguk. Seokjin doesn’t say anything either but he’s looking at Jimin through narrowed eyes, and Jimin knows he has probably already put two and two together.
“Ah, Jiminnie,” his mother says, standing up. “Be careful...don’t make me a grandma just yet.”
Sunday is their day off during the Harvest and Jimin uses the free time to restock the pantry at the Bakery. He’s still trying to get back on Seokjin’s good side, so a bit of free labour doesn’t hurt. His Hyung continues to send death glares his way every now and then, but he is still offered a warm bun for breakfast, so Jimin is sure forgiveness is close.
He’s struggling to put the flour sacks up on the shelves when a crash startles him. He jumps on the spot, the sack heavy in his arms, and he waits. Seconds after, another crash comes and then some unintelligible shouting. Without thinking about it twice, Jimin drops the sack, grabbing a wooden spoon from a nearby table and runs out to the main room.
The scene that unfolds in front of his eyes is unexpected.
Seokjin is behind the counter, throwing one plate after the other with rage painted clear on his face. By the door and under the receiving end is a man, half ducking and half pleading in a strained voice. Jimin lowers the spoon.
“Jin, please listen to me!”
The impact of the plate on the door frame makes Jimin flinch and he’s unsure of how to proceed. He’s never seen his Hyung in such a state, eyes almost disappearing under a heavy frown. It’s a little scary, but Jimin sets his jaw and runs to Seokjin, wrapping his arms firmly around his waist. Someone has to stop him, otherwise the bakery will end up with no plates.
“Seokjin-hyung!” he pleads. “Calm down!”
Seokjin screeches. “Let me go Jiminnie, I’m gonna kill this rat. I swear I’m gonna kill him!!”
“Jin, just let me explain!”
Jimin turns around sharply, recognizing the voice. He scans the face of the man, picking up the eyes and familiar lips from behind the hat and the mustache. It’s Namjoon. Kim Namjoon. The same one that left when Jimin was just a kid, leaving a heartbroken Seokjin behind.
“Namjoon-hyung?” Jimin asks.
Seokjin seethes. “Do not call him Hyung! He does not deserve the title! He does-”
“I can explain-” tries Namjoon, but Seokjin is having none of it.
“Ten years, Namjoon!” he interrupts and the sound is unpleasant, harsh like sandpaper on skin. “Ten fucking years, how dare you set foot in my bakery after so long! After you left me!”
The anger in Seokjin’s body dies down when the words leave his mouth and he sags in Jimin’s embrace. Jimin feels troubled and he pouts, sharing Seokjin’s pain. Should he help and kick Namjoon out? Should he try and convince Seokjin to hear what his ex lover has to say? Namjoon heaves a weary sigh.
“There’s a reason,” he explains, “why I left.”
“What reason could you possibly have,” counters Seokjin, defeated. Jimin doesn’t need to look to know he’s fighting against the tears.
“The Wolf, I left because of the Wolf.”
“What?” says Jimin.
Namjoon’s gaze shifts to him. “I left to find out what is it that It wants.”
The kettle whistles and Jimin pours hot water into the coffee mugs, finally understanding what it means when people say ‘the air could be cut with a knife’.
Seokjin is sitting on a chair, back ruler-straight while Namjoon is occupying the only couch in the space. They don’t look at each other. Seokjin has his eyes fixed on the little window behind the couch and Namjoon just stares at his lap.
Jimin hands them each a mug, settling on the rocking chair by the fireplace. They are on the second level of the Bakery, the one that serves as Seokjin’s room. The space is small, nothing more than a bedroom, with a washroom and the small sitting area where the three of them play at feigning that the others are not there.
Namjoon clears his throat.
Seokjin clenches his jaw.
They all sip on their coffee, burning their tongues.
“So…” starts Jimin, tired of the thick silence, “the Wolf.”
Namjoon squares his shoulders. “Right. I’ve been out all these years following leads about it. Literally haven’t had a place to call home in all this time-” his eyes flicker to Seokjin, “never had enough time to settle down before another rumor would put me back on the roads.”
“Knowing about your mishaps won’t put you on my good list again,” Seokjin comments, sniffing, but he stands up, coming back with a tray of muffins that he settles precariously on top of a stool.
Jimin gives Namjoon a tiny, encouraging smile.
“So you spent all these years just collecting information about the beast?” he asks.
“Pretty much,” Namjoon replies after swallowing. “Most of the leads were old ladies’ gossip bullshit, but some leads were very real and very terrifying. What’s been happening here, with the offerings and the beast hanging around the Village, it’s happened before. I’ve been to those towns, you know, trying to figure out how to stop it. How to get rid of the Wolf.”
“Were you successful?” asks Seokjin.
“Yes. The Wolf...it searches for a prey.”
“Isn’t that obvious?” says Jimin, frowning.
Namjoon shakes his head vigorously. “No, no. You don’t understand. The prey- it’s a member of the target Village, you know? The beast chooses its prey and won’t leave until it has it.”
“A hu-human prey?” whispers Seokjin in a thin voice.
“One of us,” adds Jimin, eyes like saucers directed to Jin. “The prey is someone from our Village.” Seokjin covers his mouth in silent horror, the dimensions of Namjoon’s discovery settling in.
“Exactly and it can wait years for it-” confirms Namjoon, oblivious to the panic his words are creating, “a truly fascinating behaviour.”
“Fascinating?” Seokjin clenches his hands into fists. “Did you just say fascinating?”
Jimin shakes his head in warning but Namjoon doesn’t understand the danger in the questions thrown his way. “Yes, fascinating. It’s like the animal has some sort of human notion of time...to wait for a prey to be mature enough-”
Seokjin stands up so fast, his cup spills to the floor, coffee running like a dark river over the wooden floors. Jimin stands up as well, lips pursed and full of worry. Only Namjoon remains seated, staring up at the other, completely confused.
“Is there a problem?” he says, tentatively. Jimin winces on his behalf, because that’s all Seokjin needs to finally snap.
“Of course there’s a goddamn problem! You are talking about people Namjoon, people!” Spit flies out of Seokjin’s mouth, some accumulating on the corners of his plump lips. “How can you say it’s fascinating that they are going to be eviscerated by the demon roaming our roads! How.”
“Hyung…” Jimin extends a hand, but Seokjin steps away, shaking his head. He turns to Namjoon then. “We should notify the Elders, we must warn the villagers.”
Namjoon nods in agreement, eyes downcast. He swallows thickly, eyebrows furrowed when he looks up at Seokjin.
“I was just talking about the behaviourist point of view, Jin. I’d never want anything to happen to our Village...they are my people too.” There’s a pleading in Namjoon’s words, the forgiveness he’s seeking going beyond some careless words. “I just didn’t think-”
“Of course you didn’t think,” muttered Seokjin, hugging his torso, his frame shrinking in the space. “Just like you didn’t think when you left ten years ago…”
Jimin takes those words and the way Namjoon’s face falls as his cue to leave. He moves away slowly, searching Seokjin’s face carefully for any sign that he should stay. After seeing none, he waves at Namjoon, closing the door behind him.
The idea of the Wolf wanting to prey on someone he might know makes him shiver as he steps out into the night. Out of everything, this is something their Village never considered possible. Besides the Hunter in the early years, the beast has never attempted to attack another human being and this new information just seems to ignite fear within Jimin’s bones.
Jeongguk finds him like that, wandering the lonely streets on his way home. His presence comforts Jimin, the dark thoughts scattering away in the warmth of Jeongguk’s embrace. It isn’t long until he’s naked on top of Jeongguk’s bed, body shivering as Jeongguk pumps them both to climax.
They collapse boneless on top of the rough wool of the covers and Jeongguk traces Jimin’s spine with a cum-covered hand. The feeling makes Jimin shiver, especially when Jeongguk’s fingers dip down, right in between his ass cheeks. He closes his eyes, blushing furiously as his legs quiver in undisguised want.
“Don’t close your eyes,” Jeongguk pleads.
“You are just so beautiful like this,” Jeongguk continues. “Smelling like me....mine.”
It makes Jimin’s stomach tighten, the idea of belonging to someone in such a way. It makes him want to open up, show everything for Jeongguk to see, inside out. All he has, with no restrain. Jimin doesn’t know from where the feeling is coming, but there’s no stopping it.
Whatever it is, Jimin wants to know how it ends.
Namjoon meets the Elders earlier the coming week.
The meeting is full, so full that people are standing in the corners, everyone sporting the same horrified expression when they finally understand what the beast wants. Mothers wail, fathers reach for their guns and the youngers feel the spark of revenge ignite deep within their chests.
“We must reach for help,” someone says. “If the words of this young man are true, we have to do something.”
The crowd roars its approval and Jimin moves closer to Seokjin, craving the comfort of the well known skin. The Sheriff stands up then, hands up in the air in a placating gesture. He waits until the murmurs die down to clear his throat.
“The beast might ask for more than we can give him someday,” he starts, looking at each villager in the eye. “We don’t know if it will be for this Harvest or the next, but it will come. It will come for one of us, for our children...to take them from us-”
“Never!” someone shouts, a new wave of overwhelming screaming filling the room. Jimin closes his eyes.
The Sheriff nods in agreement. “We won’t accept it. We must find a way to stop it. A solution,” he adds, looking at Namjoon.
“We would have to get rid of the Wolf,” he replies tentatively, aware of how impossible such an endeavour sounds. But the villagers howl in agreement, demanding safety for each and every single one of them.
Jimin doesn’t know when it starts but he’s is trembling, unable to stop the spasms cursing through his body. Seokjin tightens his hold on him, heartbeat frantic as well.
“I swear,” says the Sheriff. “We will not go without a fight.”
Later on that night, Jimin walks beside Jeongguk under the glowing moon, tremors still attacking him every now and then.
“What is it?” asks Jeongguk, guiding Jimin down until they are sitting in the middle of the woods. Jimin tells him in whispers, about the Wolf. He tells him about Namjoon and Seokjin and the things that shift and turn deep within his gut when Jeongguk is close. Jimin tells him everything, spilling all until he feels light.
Jeongguk smiles at him, a glint of amusement in his eyes. He pulls Jimin into his lap, nuzzling against his neck. He does that a lot, Jimin reckons, always right where his scar is.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jeongguk says. “It’s gonna be alright.”
“You don’t know that,” Jimin murmurs, counting in his head the days left until the Harvest comes. “You should leave, lest the Wolf thinks you belong with us.”
Jeongguk laughs, short but breathtaking. It makes Jimin’s chest constrict. Jeongguk has beautiful teeth, sharp and white under the moonlight. Jimin tells him as much and Jeongguk kisses him breathless, biting his lower lip until Jimin is whimpering and hardening in his pants. Jeongguk smooths a hand down Jimin’s back, settling on his ass.
“Stop, Jimin,” he tells him, “you must never worry about me, I am safe.”
Jimin swallows his protest, opting for nodding his head.
“Promise me?” he says.
“Promise,” replies Jeongguk. “I will always be by your side.”
Jimin’s eighteenth birthday finds him calf-deep into the mud, digging potatoes out of the ground. Seokjin woke him up early that day, holding a cake with a lone candle while he, Jimin’s mother and - to Jimin’s surprise - Namjoon sang. It was a sweet gesture and Jimin blew the flame away wishing for his eighteen years to be blessed and end with Jeongguk’s eyes like a beacon in the vastness of his mind.
The workers are also sweet to him the whole day, the reason why he’s digging potatoes - the easiest of all chores. It’s already the last day of the Harvest. The offering pile is so big it can be seen from every corner of the Village. It seems almost impossible that the Wolf might reject the offering one day, it’s just so huge - so full of food and riches - that Jimin can’t really wrap his mind around the idea.
Birthdays have never been special for Jimin but this one feels different. It’s special because now there’s Jeongguk waiting for Jimin at the end of the day. No one really questions anymore where he goes after the work is done. Everyone assumes he’s tangled among some girl’s skirts and Jimin doesn’t bother to deny it. They let him do whatever he wants and Jimin stays every day surrounded by the warmth of Jeongguk’s cabin until midnight comes.
This night is no different, but at the same time it is.
When Jimin steps into the cabin, the blankets are thrown in front of the fireplace. There’s food and a jar of water as well. It looks cozy, almost like if it were a nest. Jeongguk guides him to it in between kisses, shedding Jimin’s clothes until he has him lying naked by the fire. Jeongguk runs reverent hands all over Jimin’s body, kissing and nipping at every inch of skin he can reach. Jimin comes alive under his touch, body demanding more and more. Demanding things Jimin didn’t know he needed until he met Jeongguk.
The first breach of Jeongguk’s cock into his warmth is foreign, the stretch uncomfortable and a little painful. But Jeongguk eases him into it slowly and soon Jimin is moaning softly, sweaty forehead pressed against Jeongguk’s temple. The snap of Jeongguk’s hips turns faster and Jimin pants, loudly now, lost in the pleasure coursing through his veins.
“Mine,” growls Jeongguk, raising on his forearms to look down at Jimin. “Say that you are mine.”
Jimin mewls, clawing at Jeongguk’s shoulder, eager for a release that’s sure to come.
“Say it,” urges Jeongguk, opening Jimin’s legs wider and thrusting deeper. So deep Jimin can feel it in his belly button.
“Y-yours,” moans Jimin, tightening around Jeongguk’s cock. “I-I’m yours.”
Jeongguk grunts, lifting Jimin from the floor and maneuvering him until he has Jimin bouncing on his lap. He spreads Jimin’s ass cheeks apart, the new angle hitting something within Jimin that has him shouting and sobbing and sure he never wants Jeongguk to stop fucking him again.
Jimin comes choking on his breath, cum spurting in hot waves. He falls against Jeongguk’s chest as the other tightens his hold, hips snapping once, twice, before warmth is filling Jimin up. Teeth clamp over the scar on Jimin’s neck, dragging another moan from within his chest.
It’s electric. It’s consuming. And Jimin is in love.
The offering is finally complete and the festivities start but Jimin is too busy to notice, eyes trained on the necklace hanging from his neck. Jeongguk gave it to him on his birthday, right after they made love. It’s delicate, with a red stone nested in an intricate pattern of gold.
Seokjin is also distracted but not due to the necklace like Jimin, but with the bruise right under it. It’s quite a thing to behold, all teeth marks and purple hues and something twists deep within Seokjin’s gut. He clucks his tongue, eyes going back to the dancers currently enjoying the party.
“Is there a problem, Hyung?” asks Jimin, hiding the necklace inside his shirt and readjusting the scarf around his neck.
“I know love bites are a thing but I think Jeongguk took it a little to the extreme.”
Jimin blushes, hand covering the area from sight. The skin is still tender and although Jimin is hiding the mark from the world - as Jeongguk asked him to - he’s proud of it. It feels like a claim, a reminder that Jimin belongs to someone. That there’s a person out there who wants him, one that knows him in an intimate way.
Seokjin rolls his eyes but doesn’t say more, opting for stepping into the circle of dancers once he spots Namjoon coming their way. Jimin snorts, shaking his head. Everyone in town can tell Seokjin is still in love with Namjoon, but is too stubborn to recognize it.
“Forgiveness is tough,” comments Namjoon, crossing his arms and sighing loudly. “But Love is worth every hassle thrown our way.”
Jimin considers the words as Namjoon readjusts his pants, fierce expression in place, and he goes with the dancers as well. He stumbles through the steps, bumping into more than one person while Jimin giggles on the outside. Still he manages to complete a turn and meet Seokjin as the couples exchange partners. Namjoon’s ears are red and Seokjin feigns annoyance but they hold each other’s hands tenderly and Jimin can tell it won’t be too long until they are together again.
The sun goes down, giving way to the stars and the band stops playing. The last notes of the accordion resonate in the space and the Sheriff takes his place at the center, raising his palms.
“Light up the bonfire!”
Jimin stands on the side and soon his mother is intertwining their fingers. They both always wait together for the Beast to come, just the two of them now after Jimin’s father passed away. It helps to soothe Jimin’s nerves. He can’t quite face the Wolf by himself, not without getting flashbacks of his encounter back when he was a little kid.
It takes around twenty minutes for the bonfire to come to life and then the villagers wait. They wait, close to holding their breaths, hands wringing, feet pacing. Seokjin comes to wait with Jimin and so does Namjoon, a notepad ready in his hand.
The Wolf finally comes, its red eyes the first thing the villagers spot on the edge of the woods. Jimin tightens his hold on his mother, worried sick about Jeongguk even though the other promised he was not going to be in his cabin the whole day, gone to a town nearby.
The Sheriff steps forward. “Please accept this offering,” he says, like every year, “and give us peace.”
The villagers are deadly quiet as the Wolf moves forward, teeth bared to take the chicken, the signal that he accepts the offering. It’s the same ritual every time, but on this night, something changes. The beast stops. It scans the crowds and then it growls. A baby starts crying and Jimin bites his lip. Collectively, all but the Sheriff shudder in fear.
“Give us peace,” the Sheriff pleads again, one hand going slowly to the gun on his belt. “There’s plenty as every year!”
The Wolf growls again, pacing restlessly. It grabs a silver cup with its muzzle, throwing it away. It clanks loudly against a rock and someone screams, making Jimin’s mother flinch. Namjoon shifts, lips getting closer to Seokjin’s ear.
“Jin,” he whispers. “Go.”
“What?” Seokjin whispers back.
“Take Jimin and go,” says Namjoon, more urgently. “It won’t accept the offering. Go, now.” Seokjin gives a slight nod, reaching for Jimin’s hand.
Jimin can’t take his eyes away from the beast, who is getting more and more agitated, but he follows regardless when Seokjin tugs him to move back. The movement is minimal, barely anyone pays attention at the three of them, but it’s enough.
The Wolf roars to life, charging forward.
Namjoon yells at them to run and to not look back.
Everything is chaos.
Jimin runs, following blindly as Seokjin moves among the crowd, pulling Jimin’s mother by the hand. Screams pierce the night with the sound of gunfire. It’s madness. The bakery is right in front of them; Jimin can see Seokjin throwing the door open and shoving his mother inside. That’s when the growl of the Wolf comes from right behind Jimin.
“Don’t look back!” yells Seokjin.
Contrary to what his Hyung tells him to do, Jimin dares to look over his shoulder. The Wolf is coming right at him, the Sheriff and other firing to take it down. It’s like the bullets can’t reach him. The beast continues to sprint, fixed on its price. A villager tries to stop it - a shovel held high over his head - and the beast grabs him by the neck, shaking him until the crunch of bones can be heard all over the place.
Jimin is finally at Seokjin’s bakery, closing the door right behind him and sinking to the ground with tears in his eyes. His mother holds him close, whispering words of comfort.
Right outside, the Wolf howls.
The coming days are chaos.
Food at the pile goes bad and the Wolf ransacks the Village. Animals are left in pieces, the remaining crops that should keep the Village over winter are stolen and no one can step out of their houses at night. People start disappearing, some showing up after days staring up at the sky in the empty fields. No one is spared, not even Jack.
Jimin stops sleeping.
He can hear the Wolf outside of his house at nights, pacing, growling and sometimes whimpering. He can hear it howling, clawing at the door while Jimin’s mother sits on her chair inside, rifle poised and ready to fire. There is no doubt that the beast wants him. Jimin knows it. His mother knows it. Namjoon, Seokjin and the whole Village knows it.
That and the fact that he hasn’t heard from Jeongguk in days makes bile pool at the back of Jimin’s throat. It makes him choke in dark thoughts.
“We will find Hunters,” promises the Sheriff at the Village’s council. “We will call for help in the nearby towns, anyone willing to hold a gun and go into the woods-”
Hunters go by the dozen into the woods, no one comes back alive. The Sheriff starts losing his hair and hands point at Jimin when he dares to walk out of his house. Seokjin protects him with his life; holds him against his chest when Jimin goes mad, begging that he has to go check on Jeongguk.
When people start coming at Jimin’s door, hollering for a sacrifice, Namjoon closes the curtains, his own gun joining the one Jimin’s mother holds. It isn’t until the first child disappears that Jimin’s mother decides that she has had enough.
“We are leaving,” she says, packing what she considers necessary inside a bag.
“What?” asks Jimin after a moment, blinking confused.
Seokjin is already at it, sorting through Jimin’s clothes without even being told to do so. Jimin can see that Namjoon thinks it’s a bad idea, but his Hyung remains quiet, guarding the door. He agrees with Namjoon, there’s no way they’d be able to leave the Village unnoticed, but Jimin hasn’t heard about Jeongguk in almost five days and nothing matters much anymore.
“I’ll find him, I promise,” says Seokjin, pushing the bag into Jimin’s arms. “I’ll go into the woods if I must, just please...please stay safe.”
“Avoid the main roads,” instructs Namjoon and Jimin’s mother nods as they follow him through the alleys at the crack of dawn. Seokjin follows close behind, an arm draped over Jimin’s shoulders. “Don’t walk at night either, if the Beast really wants Jimin then he will smell him...he’ll follow- until someone kills it.”
They are all dressed in black but for Jimin’s scarf. Jimin’s mother refuses to leave it behind, arguing that it was woven to protect her son. No one knows if it’s true or not, but at this point, faith is the only thing that keeps them going. The Village is calm at that hour, families finally going to sleep after a night of fear and guarded doors. Jimin can see the disaster the Wolf made the night before, blood and dead animals, properties torn down. It makes his throat constrict in guilt. It would all stop if he was brave enough to face the beast. But then, he might never get to see Jeongguk again...and that’s something Jimin can’t fathom, for the life of him.
“I’d do what I can to kill the Wolf,” murmurs Namjoon, clasping a hand on Jimin’s shoulders. “Don’t worry...there’s something they don’t know...we might be able to get you out of this.”
Jimin tries to smile but it comes out as a grimace. Namjoon adjusts the red scarf around his neck. “If things go wrong-” Jimin starts but can’t finish. He hopes Namjoon knows to take care of his mother and Seokjin if the world turns its back on him.
Namjoon, however, understands. “Stay safe.”
Jimin takes a deep breath, holding his mother close as they venture into the open fields. However, things don’t go as planned and soon, the villagers surround them, taking Namjoon and Seokjin captive too.
“Not so fast,” one of them says to Jimin, loathing clear in his face. It makes Jimin shrink on the spot; he has known the man ever since he was a kid and never has he looked at Jimin in such a way before.
The are already waiting when Jimin is taken to the council room. Jimin’s mother is yelling to let them go, to stop this nonsense but no one pays attention to her, all eyes trained on Jimin. One of the Elders approaches him, fingers touching the scarf lightly before removing it from around Jimin’s neck. The Elder then touches the scar, pressing his fingers right into it.
“We should have known from the start,” the Elder says, turning to face the crowd. “Ever since Park Jimin was attacked as a kid-”
“Not an attack,” points out another Elder. “He was marked...selected.”
“We’ve been haunted for years because of him!!” someone yells. “It’s his fault!”
The crowds agrees, claiming for justice. Jimin’s mother starts weeping and Jimin can see Seokjin looking at Namjoon with pleading eyes but there’s nothing really they can do. The signs are right, the Wolf will not stop until it has Jimin all to itself.
The Sheriff stands up, raising his hands and waiting until the noise dies down.
“We must decide,” he says.
Kill him! Give him to the beast! My husband died because of him! Justice!
Jimin has no one to turn to, even Hyungwoon is in favor of his sacrifice. The Village is hungry, needy for blood. Just like the Wolf. The Sheriff nods, clasping his hands on his back.
“Please!” Jimin’s mother begs, kneeling on the floor. “He’s my son! My only son...he’s all I have left, please-”
“Too many have died already,” an Elder says.
“It has to end,” says another.
“It’s a must,” they say in unison, turning away from her.
Jimin’s hands are tied together and he’s taken away, not even getting a chance to say his final goodbye. The sun is nowhere to be seen, the first flurries falling from the sky and Jimin’s future is settled without second thoughts.
Jimin is dreaming about Jeongguk when they come for him.
The night is eerily calm, no signs of the Wolf, as if the beast knows it will finally get what it wants. What it’s been craving for so long. The bonfire lights the night in caramel tones. Braving the slowly falling snow and the gusts of wind that attack now and then. Jimin’s mother is nowhere to be seen, same for Seokjin and Jimin prays that they are safe. That Namjoon, somehow, managed to keep his promise.
Jimin is dressed in nothing but a white tunic made out of rough fabric. It’s itchy and does nothing to protect him from the cold. Suddenly, Jimin misses his scarf.
The minutes tick on the clock and the Wolf is nowhere to be seen. The villagers start getting nervous, whispering and looking around...scanning the shadows as if waiting for an ambush. One of the Elders clucks his tongue, searching on his belt for a little knife. He approaches Jimin and in the blink of an eye, he makes a cut on one of Jimin’s arms.
Blood drips from the cut and from within the trees, a howl can be heard.
However, it isn’t the Wolf that steps out of the woods. It’s Jeongguk and Jimin’s heart goes berserk within his chest. The relief is so overwhelming, Jimin sags in the hold of his captors, tears spilling down his cheeks. Jeongguk was alive, he is safe like he promised and he has come to free Jimin.
“What are you doing there, son?!” the Sheriff says, hand cupping around his mouth so the sound can carry better. “Come over here before the Wolf harms you!”
Jeongguk doesn’t move. Jimin notices that there’s a wild look on his face. He seems to be smelling the air. The Elder beside Jimin presses his fingers against the wound, making more blood ooze out and Jimin winces in pain. Across the bonfire, Jeongguk becomes alert, nostrils flaring.
A growl is heard, crystal clear in the silence of the night. Jimin looks up in shock because a second growl shakes the earth...and it’s coming right out of Jeongguk’s mouth.
“Impossible…” whispers the Sheriff and Jimin must agree. Because there’s no way his sight is right. There’s no way he’s seeing Jeongguk’s eyes turn red, red like the blood running down his arm.
Jeongguk starts walking, eyes ablaze and trained on Jimin, who’s growing paler by the minute. Jeongguk looks nothing like the boy he remembers but yet again exactly the same, and Jimin has a hard time matching the boy he loves with the monster that has haunted his nightmares since the age of six. It’s impossible, the unthinkable. The villagers retreat slightly, afraid and confused, not quite believing what their eyes are seeing as well.
The Wolf, walking the earth like a man.
“You have come,” says one of the Elders and Jeongguk breaks eye contact with Jimin to look at him.
“I have,” he says, stopping before reaching Jimin. From there, Jimin can see the elongated nails, the slight peek of his canines when he speaks. Bile swirls in Jimin’s gut, how was he so stupid? How did he not notice on time? That’s why the Wolf never attacked when he was with Jeongguk, that’s why the other was so confident of his own safety at night...that’s why he always told Jimin to take his scarf off.
Jimin wishes he had it now, the scarf...it feels like the only thing that could protect him from death.
“We have the thing you crave,” continues the Elder, pushing Jimin to the front. “If we give him to you, would you go forever and disappear?”
Jeongguk tilts his head, a smirk decorating his lips. “Of course,” he says.
The Elders nod, ready to push Jimin straight at the arms of the beast when Namjoon breaks into the circle, notepad firmly held in his hand. Jimin snaps back to attention, hope bleeding back into his veins.
“Stop!” he demands. “You can’t do that! You can’t sacrifice the boy! You must listen to me, the Wolf- it’s a trap!”
“The Wolf,” Namjoon says, pointing at Jeongguk. “He can’t take the boy without consent. If there’s no consent, he will come back and demand an offering next year anyway. You will never be free of the curse, ever!”
There’s a collective gasp. People start arguing with each other, pressing the Elders to just go and sacrifice the boy nonetheless.
Namjoon turns to Jimin. “I'm sorry it took me so long,” he whispers. “I had to take your mother and Seokjin to a safe place first- if we don’t make it at least-”
“Thank you, Hyung,” says Jimin. “Thanks-”
Jimin throws a sideway look at Jeongguk, who’s eyeing the situation calmly, perhaps even bored. It doesn’t look like he’s worried about Namjoon’s words. Not at all. The Elders turn to Jimin, then.
“You must go willingly, boy,” they say. “For your Village, you must make the sacrifice. We have sacrificed everything for you already, all these years.”
“Never,” says Jimin, turning to Jeongguk. “You lied to me, all this time. You- you used me,” without meaning to, he starts crying. The betrayal feels like a dagger digging painfully in between his ribs. “You beast…”
Jeongguk looks impassive, waiting.
“If Jimin doesn’t agree, you can’t force him,” says Namjoon. “Let him go,” he adds, grabbing at Jimin’s sleeve.
The Elder holds on tighter to Jimin’s other arm, pulling him away from Namjoon. Desperation rises inside Jimin and he squirms, trying to get away, seeking the safety of his friend’s arms. His heart beats frantically, he doesn’t want to die. He’s not ready yet, not when he has so much life ahead of him. In the middle of the commotion, Jeongguk remains calm. He observes - almost amused - the struggle of Jimin, especially since he knows there’s no way out. It isn’t until Namjoon loops an arm around Jimin’s waist - in a final attempt to free him from the clutches of the Elder - than Jeongguk reacts. He doesn’t like that, not one bit. The warning growl effectively freezes everyone in their spots.
Jeongguk takes a step forward. The Sheriff lifts his gun.
“What the man says is true,” Jeongguk says, pointing at Namjoon with his chin and crossing his arms. “The offering must come willingly. That’s the only way to end the curse. But,” he continues, looking at Jimin. “He already accepted me, beforehand-”
“That’s a lie!” yells Jimin. “I’d never-”
“Look at his neck,” interrupts Jeongguk. “The necklace he wears, it’s mine.”
Namjoon pales, hastily pulling the tunic down and baring Jimin’s collarbones. There, nestled right above his heart is the rock. A red rock, just like Jeongguk’s eyes. Tears fill Namjoon’s eyes as he looks at Jimin. Tears of despair and defeat.
“I did this to myself,” thinks Jimin, feeling as if the world was tilting on its axis. “It was all me...Love was the trap.”
“I’m sorry,” Namjoon covers his mouth with his hands, brow furrowing as he tries but fails to control himself. “Oh god- I’m so sorry, I’m-” Jimin can see it in Namjoon’s eyes even before he says the words. He knows it’s the end. “There’s nothing...I can’t save you, I can’t-” Namjoon is fully crying now and Jimin joins him in his tears. “Forgive me.”
“Hyung,” Jimin says quietly, “please take care of my Mom.”
Namjoon dries his tears with his palms, sniffing and clearing his throat until he can face Jimin. He nods, biting his lip. Jimin nods as well, craving a comforting hug but afraid of Jeongguk’s reaction to anyone coming close.
“The decision has been made,” says Jeongguk, not bothered by the turmoil Jimin is going through right in front of his eyes. “He has agreed to be mine.”
“Then so be it,” says the Sheriff, taking a step back.
The Elders cut the ropes tying Jimin’s hands since there’s no point in keeping him restrained anymore. Even if he were to try and escape, the Wolf would surely catch him in no time. The villagers start leaving one by one, throwing troubled, sad faces Jimin’s way. The same ones who were just demanding his sacrifice now fully understand the weight of those words.
They know Jimin will not survive the night.
It isn’t until Namjoon is retreating that Jimin starts shaking. Jeongguk is smiling in front of him and his once handsome face looks less and less like a human and more like the monster he truly is.
The snow stops falling and in between the parting clouds, Jimin can see the moon. He fixes his eyes on it, not ready to look around him only to find that he’s alone. It has taken more than ten years but the Wolf managed to catch him anyway.
“Don’t look so troubled, love,” Jimin hears Jeongguk say. His voice is soft and alluring, wrapping like a warm blanket around Jimin. “...I’ve been waiting so long for you, to finally have you...all mine-”
Even though his brain knows the words are nothing but empty, Jimin’s heart jumps. Eager to please, desperate for Jeongguk. Eighteen years old and in love with a monster is not the way Jimin wants his life to end, but things do not always work as expected and Jimin is too tired for hope. Jimin searches for hate, deep within himself, and comes out empty handed. Love is blind and in his case, also sacrificial. The Wolf chose him, like many others before him and if anything, Jimin only feels sadness at the fact that he was never “the one.”
“I never knew you meant having me this way,” Jimin says.
“Does it really matter?” Jeongguk asks. “Either way we’ll be together forever, just like I promised.”
Jimin remains silent, a promise is a promise after all. When he lowers his eyes, there’s a Wolf in front of him. Huge and black and with bared fangs glinting in the moonlight. There’s traces of snow on its fur - beautiful - like ashes over fresh coal. It starts to walk in circles around him, mouth parted as it savours the air, enjoying the fear seeping through Jimin’s pores. He’s suddenly six again, feeling the eyes of his killer on the back of his neck but this time Jimin doesn’t run. He braves his nightmares, even though they have ended up more reality than dream. For the life of his loved ones and the village, the offering must come to an end.
A log cracks in the bonfire, a bird cries in the middle of the night and Jimin closes his eyes.
“I’m ready,” he whispers.
This time, no one comes in Jimin’s aid. Teeth breach skin and the Harvest...
The Harvest is finally complete.