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Only the Moon Howls

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The city bustles with people. The combination of so many scents should be offensive to Kyungsoo’s nose but he’s used to it; the olfactory overload is more comforting than not, purely because it smells like home.

Kyungsoo observes both human traditions and wolf dynamics. His people remain true to both sides of their heritage, with pack becoming nationality, a group of people far more organized than the wolf and more extraordinary than man.

There is no city in the world like Kyungsoo’s. Small communities of tents lie in clearings, connected together by well-worn paths through the woods. They branch out towards the edge of their territory, though all roads lead to the city centre; a place where markets and stalls line cobblestone streets, a place where wolf and man can co-exist.

“Hello, Alpha.” Kyungsoo pauses to observe a stall. It’s one of many spice stalls, but Kyungsoo can smell the quality of them. The elderly merchant’s eye light up in surprise as he inspects the goods she has for sale. The merchant is human, Kyungsoo notices. Humans are relatively scentless, they just smell human-- like skin and dirt, or the perfumed oils they use to mask their odour.

Kyungsoo, himself, is easily recognisable. He bears the Mark of the Alpha on his chest, a single square of ink that spirals and folds in on itself. His accomplishments are displayed down his right arm in the form of similar patterns and symbols, each one inked into his flesh with incredible detail. Anyone who looks at him will immediately know that while young, he is a formidable hunter and warrior. One day, his entire body will be covered in marks, as the older alphas are. The blank space on his wrist will be filled by a pure black circle as he dedicates himself to a mate. One day, Kyungsoo will become a true alpha, and instruct the pups as he was once instructed.

“How much will this get me?” He pulls the bear pelt from his shoulder, hefting the weight onto the wooden counter. The movement results in quite the noise, drawing attention from the surrounding vendors and curious shoppers.

“My boy,” the merchant replies, “that could buy you my entire stall.”

They still operate on a system of trade and barter. The city centre lies along a popular trade route, with weary travellers offloading some of their cargo in exchange for local art and pelts, with more valuable stock being traded for the spiced meats that Kyungsoo’s people are famous for. Money is rarely accepted, with some young wolves taking silver coins as payment, as necklaces and other trinkets made of the metal have become somewhat of a fashion statement.

“I’ll take only what I need.” Kyungsoo shakes his head. The offering of a bear pelt will grant the merchant anything she needs, next time the traders come through town. He was specifically instructed to visit this vendor, well known to the betas of his community for her kindness, generosity and respect towards their customs. He may be an alpha, but he knows better than to argue with the betas, especially where trading is concerned. “Consider it a gift, from my pack to yours.”

“I’ll throw in some salve with your spices,” she nods towards the still healing Mark of the Bear on Kyungsoo’s left bicep. It’s been about a week since he took down the adolescent male, the wound still raw and open, the ink still settling into his skin. “It should help with the healing and it’s the least I can do.”

She sells some spices while her husband makes medicines and ointments from others. The healing salve is a highly coveted item, and Kyungsoo will treasure it dearly.

“Thank you.” He replies sincerely. To show his gratitude, he touches his Mark, bending forward into a bow. To his people, it is the ultimate sign of respect.

The vendor becomes accordingly flustered.

“None of that,” she swats at him playfully, blush rouge along her cheeks. “Just promise to visit more often. We don’t get many alphas around here, especially ones so handsome.”

“I will.” Another touch to his mark; a sign of promise.

“And tell Baekhyun to bring his mate along, next time he’s in,” she says, “they’re such a sweet pair.”

“He has a mate?” Kyungsoo questions. Baekhyun’s wrist is as empty as Kyungsoo’s. He smells like foreign alphas on occasion, but Baekhyun’s role within the pack is that of a dignitary, organizing group hunts and ensuring good relationships between all factions of the pack. It’s natural for him to return home smelling like a stranger.

“Alpha,” the merchant nods to herself, “he’s got a few years on you, if his marks are anything to go by. He’s got those pretty gold eyes you see now and again.”

Golden eyes are rare, and Kyungsoo knows of only one alpha with the trait. His name is Minseok, and he’s from the community living closest to the river. Kyungsoo helps him fish on occasion, taking his wolf form and standing up stream. Together, they wait eagerly for the fish to jump straight into their jaws. He’s smart, strong and capable. His fishing techniques stolen from the local bear community, Minseok is an Alpha worthy of praise.

“I don’t think they’re mated,” Kyungsoo replies slowly, “he’d have the Mark if they were.”

“You may be a wolf, but I’ve been around your kind longer than you’ve been alive,” she winks at him, scooping piles of spice into small linen sacks for Kyungsoo to carry home. “I can’t smell anything, but I can tell when two wolves are going to end up as mates. To me, it’s clear.”

“I trust your judgment.” Kyungsoo has been taught to respect elders, both human and wolf. If the merchant says that Minseok and Baekhyun are to mate, then he believes her.

“Now run along,” she says with a laugh, hands waving in dismissal. “I’m sure an alpha like you has an omega to court.”

He doesn’t. Kyungsoo has no mate, and he doesn’t interact with many omegas outside of his community. Honestly, Kyungsoo believes he will remain mateless for a very long time, dedicating himself to other people’s pups rather than his own.

The merchant looks so hopeful, however, that he doesn’t correct her. He makes his way from the city with a wry smile, bags of spice in hand.

------

Humans wear their hair short, their bodies covered in fear of nudity. Typically, wolves run with wild hair and sans clothing, though times are changing. Kyungsoo’s hair is short in the opinion of his people. Only just brushing his shoulders, Kyungsoo often ties his hair up with a strip of leather to keep it from falling in his eyes. Out of respect for the growing human population, he’s one of the many wolves who dons a pair of linen pants or tunic to cover himself.

Of course, both pack dynamics and human tradition dictate some form of hierarchy system. To wolves, the strong are superior. As Kyungsoo has observed, the humans believe that the men and the rich are above all else.

Kyungsoo’s pack functions a little differently.

Alphas are strong, they lead by example and courage. Betas have level heads, which they use to negotiate and rationalise. Omegas are the kindest, most nurturing of the wolves and are often in charge of the pups. It should be expected that the alphas hunt, the betas deal with inter-pack relations and that the omegas cook and raise children, but it isn’t. A beta can use their level head to become a formidable hunter, an omega can become a great and kind leader and an apha may take their strength and use it to create beautiful works of art out of bone and wood.

Just because Kyungsoo fits the stereotype, doesn’t mean the rest of the pack does. A notable example is Jongdae, the omega from Kyungsoo’s litter. He’s a better hunter than most of the alphas; quick, agile and capable--- he’s earnt just as many Marks as Kyungsoo. Jongdae is set to take a seat on the Council of Elders once he reaches an appropriate age, his leadership potential already noticed by the current members.

Like humans, only the female wolves can birth pups. Though quite unlike humans, it is rare for anyone other than an omega to become pregnant. It’s not impossible, just highly unlikely for a beta or alpha female to have pups. Kyungsoo’s great-grandmother is the only alpha female to have given birth within the last hundred years, with his mother being one of the few betas to have pups within Kyungsoo’s birth year. He is a remarkable wolf descended from remarkable wolves, and everyone has such high hopes for the young alpha.

He is of age to take a mate, though no one has caught his eye of yet. The merchant in town expects him to find an omega, but Kyungsoo doesn’t have much of a preference. Male or female, beta or omega, he doesn’t mind in the slightest. He would even find an alpha mate if his wolf so pleases, as pure alpha couples are far more common than to be expected.

Kyungsoo has no interest in any of the wolves in his community, and expects he’ll have to search within other branches of the pack in order to find his mate.

------

Kyungsoo’s birth year was a bad one for pups. From those born in his community, only four survived. There’s somewhat of a generational gap between wolves, with Kyungsoo and his friends being the only ones recently coming of age. There’s an abundance of older wolves, plenty of pups. Not so many around his age, so the four of them all turn their gaze outwards in search of mates.

Baekhyun and Chanyeol, the betas, could have their pick of any wolf within their vast pack. Baekhyun has apparently set his sights on an alpha from the Riverside, with Chanyeol excitedly speaking of a blue-eyed beta from the mountains. Jongdae, the only omega of their group, hasn’t mentioned an interest in anything other than spiced meat. Kyungsoo assumes he hasn’t found someone worthy of his time.

It’s always been expected for Jongdae and Kyungsoo to end up as mates, for them to foster the pups of their community and raise them to be next generation of formidable hunters. With Kyungsoo’s strength and Jongdae’s keen sense of smell, any pup they may teach will surely become a welcome addition to any community.

However, their relationship has never run deeper than packmates and close friends. Jongdae isn’t interested in Kyungsoo and the feeling is mutual; Jongdae’s scent is a comfort, but it doesn’t make his heart beat faster. Even in the peak of mating season, Jongdae’s pheromone laced scent smells pleasant, but isn’t enough to drive Kyungsoo wild.

Kyungsoo has always had a plan in the back of his head, one where he takes his friends and their eventual mates to an unoccupied clearing, starting their own community within the pack. There’s bound to be something they’re good at, a niche not yet known to the pack at large. Something that will make a name for them, a group of young wolves still trying to find their place.

It’s a farfetched dream, but Kyungsoo hopes to turn it into a reality.

------

“Look,” Baekhyun whispers, pointing excitedly towards a tent. It wasn’t there when Kyungsoo headed to the river to bathe, the structure emerging seemingly from nowhere. It’s not decorated like the tents in Kyungsoo’s clearing; in fact, most of the tents in the area aren’t decorated at all. There’s a group of wolves living closest to the city centre, known for their art and intricate embroidery. Judging by the decorative designs sewn into the tent flaps, the wolf who owns it comes from that part of the pack. “Someone’s moved in.”

It’s not uncommon for wolves to move around and make camp in clearings other than their birthplace. They’re all pack, each section of the forest is their territory, so there is no issue when wolves come and go. But it’s rare for someone to migrate to Kyungsoo’s home, a place deep within the forest and with a reputation of fierce hunters. Even their omegas bear the Mark of the Warrior, as is tradition within their part of the pack. The intensity of their community tends to be a little overwhelming, so much so that they don’t seem to keep newcomers for very long.

“Hello!” The new wolf sticks his head through the gap in his tent, smiling brightly at Kyungsoo and Baekhyun. “I’m Jongin.”

Kyungsoo has never seen a wolf so beautiful. Jongin’s hair is well kept and cut to his shoulders, indicating that he’s fashionable and has spent a lot of time amongst humans. Kyungsoo cannot see his chest, and the wind blows his scent away from them, but the Marks on his arms speak of artistic ability and creative ingenuity. Why an artist would join the ranks of hunters, Kyungsoo doesn’t know.

Baekhyun touches his Mark of the Beta and bows respectfully. Kyungsoo is too stunned by the new wolf’s beauty to take his lead, clumsily offering the sign of respect after a nudge from Baekhyun.

Jongin emerges from his tent, and Kyungsoo finally spots his Mark. He’s an omega, the first to grace the clearing since Jongdae. His arrival will surely cause a stir amongst the wolves of their community.

“What brings you all the way out here?” Baekhyun asks, “surely you’ve heard of our reputation.”

“Your hunters fetch the finest pelts,” Jongin nods in Kyungsoo’s direction, scanning along his Marks as he does so. “I’m here to get first pick.”

“And what can you offer us in return?” Baekhyun continues to question. They may be pack but each individual clearing runs as a separate faction. Every wolf has their place and their role within the community, and it’s rare for other wolves to fit within their lifestyle. Jongin may be pretty, but if he’s going to be useless, then there’s no point in him staying.

“I have a fantastic recipe for spiced meat, and my creations usually trade well,” Jongin ticks his redeeming qualities off on the tips of his fingers. “I’ve learnt to make salves from the merchants, and while I’m not the best hunter, I’m fast enough to corner prey.”

His skill set is impressive. Anything worth trading to the humans will usually result in precious oils and salts, ingredients necessary for preserving meat through winter. If his salves are as good as the city merchants, then the risk of injury and infection will greatly decrease. And they can always use another hunter, especially someone who can potentially keep up with Kyungsoo and Jongdae during runs.

“I’m confident that you’ll prove your worth.” Kyungsoo speaks for the first time. He does not know why, but he wants to keep the new omega around for as long as physically possible. He smells like spice and leather, something so utterly pleasant to Kyungsoo’s nose.

“Thank you, Alpha.” Jongin smiles as he bows, finger playing with the Mark on his chest.

Kyungsoo can’t get the image of Jongin’s smiling face out of his head.

------

“I hear you’ve got your sights set on our Baekhyun,” Kyungsoo remarks casually. He’s offered his help to Minseok once again, acting on orders from a grumpy Baekhyun and his almost constant craving for fish. He agrees to Baekhyun’s whining for multiple reasons, the main one due to his love of water. It’s far too warm, the sun bearing down on the communities without remorse. Kyungsoo jumps at any opportunity to submerge himself in the cool river.

“He’s got his sights set on me,” Minseok laughs, “and I am powerless to resist.”

“Is that what it’s like to find a mate?” Kyungsoo wonders aloud. He’s never felt that pull, but he’s always wondered how it feels to find The One.

“You just kinda know,” he replies, staring off into the distance. There’s a small smile on Minseok’s face as he speaks. He’s obviously smitten with Baekhyun. Kyungsoo feels a clenching in his stomach and an ache in his heart; he’s jealous. He wants what they have, craves a mate, but the concept is a daunting one. Kyungsoo hasn’t found anyone that he’s shared that kind of potential mate connection with, not yet. He’ll have to actively start visiting other communities if he wants to find someone, and he’ll have to start soon.

They shed their clothes, loose and crafted from woven linen, before shifting into wolf form. Both Kyungsoo and Minseok look quite similar as wolves, as do all members of the pack. They branch from the same root ancestors; a group of grey wolves who settled in the area centuries ago. Kyungsoo’s fur includes a little more brown amongst the grey, his eyes black while Minseok’s are gold.

He thinks of his future mate as he fishes. It’s always an easy hunt with Minseok, they’ve figured out the best spots to stand, allowing the fish to jump directly into their jaws with minimal effort. An unsuspecting fish will fling itself upstream, only to be crushed by powerful teeth at the last moment. Happily, Kyungsoo trots towards Minseok’s woven basket that rests on the bank of the river. It’s different to the one they’ve used in the past, a little bigger with a weaving technique that’s all too familiar.

Minseok’s basket was made by Baekhyun, a courting gift of sorts. It’s tradition for wolves to exchange items as part of the mating ritual, though there’s no set rules as to what the gifts should be. It’s universally accepted that mating gifts should display a particular wolf’s skillset. Kyungsoo himself plans on delivering pelts and good cuts of meat to the mate he will one day court, as his talents lie in hunting.

Their baskets soon fill, a surprising amount of fish have been travelling of late, with Minseok and Kyungsoo there to take advantage of it. With small stone knives, they bleed and gut the fish, washing the mess away in the running water of the river.

Kyungsoo’s human hands reek of fish, his wolf form most likely worse. Still, it’s a good haul and there’s nothing a good bath in the river can’t fix.

“I’ve heard there’s a new wolf in the area,” Minseok says, rinsing his chosen fish clean.

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo affirms, imitating his actions. He offers no further information, unsure what there is to say about Jongin. Of course there’s his beauty, his skill in crafting. But that’s all superficial. Kyungsoo knows nothing of the real Jongin, hasn’t even seen his wolf form.

“Does he like fish?” Cut, gut, rinse.

“I hope so,” Kyungsoo laughs. They’re going to be eating fish for a while, what with Kyungsoo’s haul. Maybe Jongin has a recipe from his home community that will work well with fish.

Jongin is strange. He moves to a secluded community in search of pelts and leather, a reason Kyungsoo has never heard before. What a mysterious wolf.

Kyungsoo wants to get to know him a little better.

------

The combination of human and wolf doesn’t come without its downfalls. Post hunt, the fading rush of adrenaline renders Kyungsoo a shaking, hormonal mess. It happens to all wolves, but it tends to affect alphas far more than anyone else. Where the male betas and omegas may experience a slight increase in sex drive, Kyungsoo finds himself aroused to an almost unbearable degree. It’s the ultimate clash between the human and wolf sides of his heritage-- the high sex drive of the human and the animalistic nature of the wolf.

It’s the rush of the kill, Kyungsoo theorizes. The wolf side gets excited, the human side translates it as arousal. As an alpha, he’s the one to deliver the final blow when they hunt. He’s stronger, his jaws more powerful. The others will corner and wound their prey, whilst Kyungsoo takes it down.

Hunting fish is non-exertive and mild, so Kyungsoo’s arousal is manageable, he’s able to ignore it for the most part. Still, he sports a rather impressive erection as he walks back to camp, the bulge noticeable in his linen pants.

“Good lord!” Baekhyun turns around as Kyungsoo appears behind him. He sits at the fire pit with Jongin, as he teaches the younger wolf his weaving technique. Considering Baekhyun’s affinity with the riverside community, he’s the best person to prepare and cook the recently caught fish. They’ll be roasted with one set of spices while fresh, with the rest being preserved in oil and another set of spices and saved for a later date.

“What?” Kyungsoo grunts. The basket of fish isn’t the lightest thing in the world and he was expecting Baekhyun to take the heavy offering from his hands.

“Did the fish give you some trouble?” Baekhyun gestures vaguely towards Kyungsoo’s crotch with one hand, moving to cover his eyes with the other. Jongin doesn’t join in on the banter, he simply regards Kyungsoo with a raised eyebrow and bitten lip.

It takes everything within Kyungsoo to stop himself from blushing.

Jongin’s reaction would be almost suggestive, if not for the loud laugh he finally lets out, collapsing forward and snickering into his knees. It causes a chain reaction, with Baekhyun joining in, shoulders shaking. It takes Kyungsoo a moment to get over his mortification, but Jongin’s laugh is infectious, so he too laughs at his own misfortune.

“Get rid of that thing,” Baekhyun says. “Then come back and help us, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyungsoo agrees, laughter dying down. “Okay.”

------

“Here,” Jongin pushes a small bag into Kyungsoo’s hands. “Trade these while you’re in town.”

It’s Kyungsoo’s turn to run errands in the city. They’re running low on some spices, their clothes looking a little worn. Kyungsoo’s only pair of pants have a hole on the knee, the torn fabric catching on everything and causing him to trip. It’s time to pick up some new linen from the cloth merchants in the city.

Jongin’s been crafting small trinkets to trade; jewelry and carvings, created from leather, string and stone. They’re beautiful, the kind of craftsmanship that Kyungsoo rarely sees. He’s learnt to weave from Baekhyun, and hopes that the hats he’s made will trade for nice wares and protect their new owners from the harsh sun.

Kyungsoo inspects the items he’s been given, with one item of jewellery catching his eye. He’s not one for embellishments, but the simple leather strap with Marks of Luck and Prosperity embroidered along the length definitely catches his eye.

“Those trade well,” Jongin points out, “I’m hoping to get a few gems for that one, I need some for a new piece I’m working on.”

“Maybe you should come with me,” Kyungsoo says, still inspecting the bracelet in his hand. It’s flawless, each stitch perfectly in line, the clasps hand carved with no marks from tools remaining on the stone surface. “I’d end up trading the whole bag for spices.”

“Baekhyun said the same thing.” Jongin takes the bag from Kyungsoo, holding his hand out expectantly to receive the bracelet. Reluctantly, Kyungsoo hands it over. “Do I need to teach you how to trade?”

“Do I need to teach you how to hunt?” Kyungsoo retorts. He’s finally seen Jongin’s wolf, the younger having joined them on the last hunt. He’s as agile as he claims, but he still has a lot to learn. Kyungsoo can tell that hunting has never supplied Jongin’s main source of food, but was merely used to supplement the meats he was traded in the city. He’s leagues behind even the pups within Kyungsoo’s community when it comes to cornering and taking down even the smallest of prey.

Jongin peers at him curiously, “my, that’s awfully suggestive of you, Alpha.”

He’s seen Kyungsoo post-hunt, the way his eyes glaze over, the way he has to excuse himself once the kill is confirmed. He’s seen, up close, the way his cock hardens after just fishing. Jongin’s right; a personal hunting lesson is very suggestive of him. It’s a nice gesture, but there are underlying ulterior motives to be suspected. Jongin would be the only one around, the last person he sees while hard and aching, standing close enough that his omega scent can reach Kyungsoo’s nose.

Jongin won't be much better, not with all the alpha pheromones in the air. It might end with them acting on their instincts, perhaps doing something they’ll regret. Something Jongin may regret. Kyungsoo dwells on the idea of being alone with Jongin post hunt, and he finds it’s something he’s looking forward to. Jongin is beautiful, and Kyungsoo is definitely attracted to him. He’s not ready to call him a potential mate, not just yet. The feelings can’t be one sided for that to happen. However, there’s definitely an attraction, a draw to Jongin that Kyungsoo can’t deny.

“I won’t do anything to hurt you,” Kyungsoo replies sincerely, “you don’t have to worry about me.”

“I don’t know you all that well,” Jongin replies slowly, “but there’s something about you that I trust.”

“It’s settled, then.” Kyungsoo doesn’t look in Jongin’s direction, an attempt to avoid coming across as dominant or forceful. “You teach me to trade, I teach you to hunt?”

“Deal,” Jongin says.

Kyungsoo smiles.

------

It turns out that Jongin barters far better than expected. Which is to say, he barters better than Kyungsoo and the rest of his community combined.

He trades the jewelry for gemstones, Kyungsoo’s pelts for bone and gets a really good deal on the much needed linen. He’s got a soft spot for the same spice merchant that Baekhyun likes, because he slips her the bracelet that Kyungsoo liked as a sort of thank you present. The gesture warrants them a little more spice in each bag and a bottle of fragrant oil.

“So,” the merchant starts, looking between Jongin and Kyungsoo with a suggestive smile. “You do have a pretty little omega to court.”

“There’s been no courting,” Jongin replies before Kyungsoo is able to. “Yet.”

“Yet?” The merchant’s eyes light up.

“I’m new to the community,” Jongin explains, “I don’t know if he wants to be my friend or my mate.”

“Figure yourself out,” the merchant pats Kyungsoo on the arm, right on top of his newly healed Mark of the Bear. It stands for courage, his mark. Kyungsoo isn’t sure if there’s meaning behind the gesture or just coincidence.

------

Each wolf plays an important role during a hunt. It’s a team effort for the most part, the entire hunting party working together to make the kill. Their hunting style is based on strategy and stamina, choosing their mark and wearing it down until it’s too weak to run away.

The community on its own is too large to hunt as one, with the hunting duties falling into a rostered system of rotating groups. Kyungsoo is usually paired with the younger wolves for bonding purposes. These are the wolves he will spend the rest of his life with, and therefore he should learn to trust them with it.

Jongin begins to join them on their hunting roster, running ahead with Jongdae to scout for prey, leaving Baekhyun, Chanyeol and Kyungsoo to begin the chase. Following a young buck from a distance, they allow themselves to be seen and heard. It’s all part of the hunt. They want the buck to panic, to run around in circles and deplete his energy.

It will take time, but they’ll have their prey, soon. Kyungsoo is sure of it.

Of course there’s danger involved with a hunt. It’s not uncommon for wolves to die by way of hoof and antler, even with the combined intelligence of the human and the instinct of the wolf. Accidents happen, animals get scared and lash out. It’s to be expected, so they play fight when bored to keep their reflexes sharp.

The buck grows weary, movements sluggish and head dropping. He runs for the token effort of it. Kyungsoo can tell he’s resigned to his fate.

It’s time for Kyungsoo to end his suffering. With a bark he charges forwards, easily outrunning the exhausted buck. Chanyeol and Baekhyun stay behind their prey, with Jongin and Jongdae flanking it on each side. Kyungsoo turns and leaps, latching his jaw onto the buck’s jugular and biting down hard. It shrieks and squirms, shaking its head and trying to dislodge Kyungsoo’s teeth.

He tries to drag it to the ground but he’s struck in the side by an antler from the buck’s wildly flailing head; he manages to shift at the last second so it’s only a graze, but it’s still painful and a little too deep.

The buck intends to free himself from Kyungsoo’s jaws, but it causes him to hold on tighter. The others bark suggestions at each other as Kyungsoo bleeds and struggles, a quick conversation that ends with all of them jumping onto the fallen buck and tearing at its throat as Kyungsoo does.

It dies quickly, neck torn to shreds, bone visible through chunks of obliterated flesh. It makes their job a little easier; once they’ve calmed down, the head will be detached and antlers kept. They use needles made from antler for their Marks, and it’s sure that the five of them will all receive a Mark of the Buck for this kill, possibly etched into their skin by the very antlers they’ve obtained.

Kyungsoo collapses as the buck stops breathing, still in wolf form, he whines as the pain in his side becomes more apparent. Jongin joins him, whimpering at his side in distress and licking the blood from Kyungsoo’s muzzle. It’s calming to a degree; Jongin does nothing to ease the pain but it’s nice to feel cared for in such a way.

The cut throbs, and Kyungsoo shifts back into his human form. His hands are far more adept than paws, adding pressure to the open wound.

“Are you okay?” Jongdae asks, already in human form and fussing over Kyungsoo as he bleeds into the grass. The others follow suit, trying not to crowd him, instead standing a respectful distance away and watching with matching frowns.

“I’m---” Kyungsoo isn’t fine, though he wants to say he is. His wound is painful, although not life threatening. He can feel the arousal starting to set in, as well as the desire to run. He can’t stand to be around people when he’s like this, whether from shame or instinct, he doesn’t know. “I need to---”

He’s bleeding, hard and aching. Kyungsoo grows restless and desperate as the rut sets in. It’s not safe for him to be here it’s not safe---

“I’ll take him,” Jongin says. Kyungsoo’s nose trains on his scent, leather and spice. He can smell blood and Jongin and nothing else. Death and arousal, his wolf howls in his chest; usually Kyungsoo only feels the urge to touch himself, but he’s overtaken by the need to touch someone else. Anyone else. Jongin.

“Stay away!” He cries out, side and cock throbbing.

“We can’t move him just yet,” Jongdae chastises as Jongin reaches out towards Kyungsoo, not heeding his warning.

“Should we just?” Baekhyun nods towards the buck’s corpse as it bleeds out in the clearing.

“Take care of yourself,” Chanyeol says to Kyungsoo, before taking Jongin by the wrist. “We’ll cut up the kill while you…”

“We won’t watch,” Jongdae says softly, “so do what you need to.”

They walk away, leaving Kyungsoo to take care of his erection. Once he comes down from the thrill of the hunt, he’ll be far more competent. He’ll be able to aid his friends as they cut the buck into carriable sizes, he’ll be able to speak with clarity about the level of pain he’s experiencing.

Kyungsoo is loud, he knows. He’s sure he says Jongin’s name at least once as he touches himself, the world blurring as his eyes roll back in his head. Post-hunt orgasms are intense, sensitive to the point where it’s almost painful; every touch is far too stimulating, feels so incredible that nothing else matters.

All Kyungsoo can smell is Jongin, the scent burning into his senses. With his eyes closed, Kyungsoo’s hand becomes Jongin’s and he’s being taken care of post hunt by the beautiful omega he calls his own.

------

If anything strange happened in the clearing, no one speaks of it. It leaves Kyungsoo to believe that his constant chanting of Jongin’s name as he came was only in his head and not spilling from his lips.

He still doesn’t know what it all means. The draw to Jongin is stronger post-hunt. With a clear mind, he’s just curious about the new wolf, filled not with lust but with the intention to get to know him better.

Kyungsoo believes it’s the new scent that caused his reaction after the buck kill. He’s accustomed to the others, can barely separate their scent from his own. It’s the unfamiliarity that triggered it, he’s decided. Something that can only be cured by spending more time with Jongin and familiarising himself with his scent.

“How’s your side?” Jongin ducks to enter Kyungsoo’s tent, a small bag clutched nervously in one hand, a bowl of warm water and a cloth in the other.

Kyungsoo’s been confined to bed rest as his wound heals, as over exerting himself tends to reopen the wound. He’s covered in salve to stop infection and to speed up the healing process. Jongdae has been in and out to wash the cut and apply a fresh layer of the salve, but it looks like he’s busy, Jongin coming in his stead.

“It’s feeling a lot better,” Kyungsoo says. He can stretch now without fear of bleeding. There’s minimal pain and no signs of infection. Everything is healing nicely.

“I’m here to take care of you,” Jongin says, setting his things down beside Kyungsoo, “I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course it is,” Kyungsoo affirms, “where is Jongdae, anyway?”

“He’s being courted,” Jongin laughs, “Junmyeon, an alpha from my old community saw him and was immediately smitten.”

“That’s very unlike Jongdae,” Kyungsoo muses. There’s been a few attempts to court Jongdae before, none of which were very successful. Jongin’s friend must be special if Jongdae’s looked twice at him.

“You’re up for two new Marks,” Jongin says, changing the subject. He dips the cloth in water, wiping gently along the wound to remove the old salve. “One for the buck, another for protection.”

Kyungsoo laughs outright. It’s a bit of a joke for injured wolves to be given the Mark of Protection, the elder’s way of telling young, reckless wolves to be more careful during a hunt.

“I’ve made my own salve,” Jongin continues, pulling a small jar from his bag, “I traded some art for the recipe.”

It’s good that Jongin brought his own, Kyungsoo’s jar has all but run out with only a few small scrapings left.

“And…” Jongin trails off, rummaging around in the bag once again. “I made you this.”

It’s a bracelet not at all dissimilar to the one that caught his eye. Only his new bracelet is more personalised, decorated with the Mark of the Alpha as well as protection and hunting Marks. The clasp is missing, thin strips of leather taking its place. Jongin must have noticed Kyungsoo’s affinity for tying his hair up, adapting his design to suit a dual purpose. The strap is a little darker, and from the smell, Kyungsoo can tell that the swatch of leather came from the buck they’d taken down together.

“Thank you,” he replies quietly, “I love it.”

Kyungsoo isn’t the type to wear jewellery, but it’s a gift from Jongin so he’ll wear it with pride.

-------

It’s said that Kyungsoo’s people were once a group of nomadic hunters of human heritage. Throughout the years, his ancestors formed close bonds with various wolf packs, incorporating them into their own way of life. They would live and hunt together, the humans caring for sick and injured wolves and treating them with the same kindness and consideration as they would their human kin.

Their affection and respect for the wolves caught the attention of the Moon Goddess, as she too had a connection with the wild wolf packs; for she is the moon, and they are the one creature to howl at it. On the night of a Blue Moon, she rewarded Kyungsoo’s ancestors by gifting them the ability to be both man and wolf.

As such, each time there’s a Blue Moon, the entire pack hosts a celebratory gathering in order to give thanks to the goddess. It’s widely believed that the appearance of a Blue Moon in the sky is signal of the goddess’ presence on Earth.

Every community has its own holidays, something to focus on their speciality or to honour the day the community was founded. But the Blue Moon Festival is celebrated by all wolves, with many humans travelling to the city to join in with the feasting and festivities.

There’s no set time of year for the festival, nor is it an annually occurring event. It happens when it happens, completely at the whim of the Moon Goddess.

Kyungsoo has experienced exactly seven of the festivals. They tend to happen every three years, with a few separated by a two year period instead. The seventh festival experienced by a wolf denotes them being of age, one festival for each Lunar Phase.

It’s the first time that Kyungsoo has been allowed to participate in the festival preparations. His community has been tasked in acquiring the food for the feast. It’s a difficult job, because Kyungsoo and his friends have to hunt across the entire territory in fears over overhunting the woods surrounding their community. It’s also a time of great fasting, with one meal per day allowed in preparation for the feast.

It’s a different kind of hell because of his proximity to Jongin. Kyungsoo has reached the point where Jongin’s scent mingles with everyone else's, no longer new and intriguing. Jongin has lasted longer within the community than everyone once thought. It’s at the point where it’s difficult for Kyungsoo to imagine life without him.

The only issue with Jongin’s presence is Kyungsoo’s reaction to his scent post-hunt. It’s the same as before, if not worse. Day to day, Kyungsoo enjoys Jongin’s presence but after a kill he craves it. It doesn’t help that Jongin has taken up the lookout role as Kyungsoo gets off, standing close enough that his scent is all Kyungsoo can smell. On occasion, Jongin stands within visible range to Kyungsoo as he touches himself. Jongin must know he’s visible, that he’s the person Kyungsoo sees while he comes.

Kyungsoo doesn’t know what it’s all supposed to mean.

------

“You still haven’t taught me to hunt, Alpha.” Jongin walks into Kyungsoo’s tent like it’s his own. He’s becoming more comfortable in the community, even speaking up during meetings when he’s able to offer input. Jongin may not be a formidable hunter like the rest of them, but he’s certainly pulling his weight.

“You seem to be doing alright on your own, Omega,” Kyungsoo replies cheekily. Jongin still refers to him by title rather than name. It’s usually a sign of respect but Kyungsoo has reason to believe that it’s anything but, at least where Jongin is concerned. Especially since he calls the rest of the community by their given names, and the way he addresses the Elders is far different to the way he addresses Kyungsoo.

“I want to get better,” Jongin replies softly, taking a seat on Kyungsoo’s nest of blankets and furs without prompting. His scent will be all over them, and Kyungsoo will most likely fall asleep hugging the portion of his nest that smells the most like him. “I want to help, more than I already am.”

“You’re doing more than enough.” Jongin looks sad. That’s the only reason why Kyungsoo draws him into his arms. He intends to comfort Jongin, but the fact that he’ll be covered in Jongin’s scent by the end of it is a nice bonus.

“You think so?” Jongin melts into the embrace, burying his head into Kyungsoo’s shoulder and breathing him in. His scent must be as pleasant to Jongin as his is to Kyungsoo. It fills him with a little hope.

“They’ll be asking you for pups any day now.” Kyungsoo jokes. When the Elders ask a certain wolf for their pups, it means that they’re valued members of the community and that their continued lineage is considered a benefit to the community at large. It’s an outdated phrase, rooted in the old beliefs that all wolves should produce as many pups as physically possible. Though now they’ve lost all meaning, said to anyone regardless of fertility, and more of a joke or a show of affection.

“Pups scare me.” Jongin curls himself further into Kyungsoo’s side.

“Their teeth are too sharp,” Kyungsoo agrees, absentmindedly rubbing at the scar left on his finger by one of the pups from the previous season. They latch on with their little jaws and don’t let go, using people’s fingers in place of prey.

“I’m glad I’m fitting in, then,” Jongin says after a moment, “I was so scared when I moved here.”

“We’re not hostile,” Kyungsoo ruffles Jongin’s hair playfully. “Just intense.”

“You’re home,” Jongin replies sleepily, nuzzling into Kyungsoo’s neck.

They sleep like that, wrapped in each other’s arms. Kyungsoo hopes that Jongin wasn’t just talking about the pack with his statement.

------

“Jongin’s got a mate, Jongin’s got a mate,” Baekhyun skips towards the fire pit where Jongdae and Kyungsoo sit. Chanyeol’s off doing things, and hopefully courting that pretty beta from the mountainside community.

“What?” Kyungsoo chokes on his own saliva. While he hasn’t actively begun the courting process, he’s been holding on to hope. Jongin seems to like him a little more than the others, and he’d definitely have noticed if someone was courting him, right?

“He’s making a new tent.” Baekhyun jumps up and down in glee, clearly excited for his friend.

New tents signify different stages in a wolf’s life. They make their first to signify their independence, moving out from their parents nest into one of their own. They make a new one once they’ve come of age, and their third and final tent is to show that they’ve found a mate. The mating tent is large enough to share and is never replaced, any damage is simply repaired, resulting in a patchwork covering as the wolf ages.

It’s a big deal. Jongin has someone he’s agreed to spend the rest of his life with, and it’s not Kyungsoo. It’s not anyone else in the community, either. He’s sure of it. It means that Jongin is walking out of Kyungsoo’s life in order to spend his with someone else. It hurts.

Kyungsoo now understands the idea of heartbreak, as his chest aches in sorrow.

------

The Festival of the Blue Moon begins as the pack’s elders assemble an ancient puzzle. When joined together, the pieces form a statue of the Moon Goddess. It’s a piece of art as old as the pack itself, having been made by one of the original founders. When not in use for the festival, they’re kept in strategic locations along the border of their territory, small charms for protection against outside forces.

It’s the duty of each community to pick up at least one part of the puzzle, with a few of the communities retrieving two pieces in close proximity to each other. The responsibility of retrieving the puzzle falls on the shoulders of the strongest wolf amongst those newly of age. The pilgrimage is a rite of passage and an incredible honour for those the task is bestowed upon.

For Kyungsoo, the chosen wolf of his community, it’s more daunting than anything else. A four day journey deep into the forest lies in his future, with only a small hand drawn map and his own instincts to guide him.

“You may take one wolf with you as a companion to aide you,” one of the Elders explains to a shellshocked Kyungsoo. It’s not what he expected, being called in front of The Council like this. She seems to notice his fear and uncertainty, perhaps even smelling it on him, as she places a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Kyungsoo has never ventured so far with so little support. He needs to bring the most capable wolf his age, someone who will knows the woods, can hunt on their own and can survive without creature comforts. Baekhyun is the most obvious choice, his wolf form lithe and powerful and his knowledge vast.

“I’ll take Jongin,” he says, instead. Jongin may already have a chosen mate, and this may be Kyungsoo’s last chance to spend time with him. It’s a little selfish, he’ll readily admit to that. But it’s one last trip, not to change Jongin’s mind but to say goodbye.

“That is an…” another Elder speaks, pausing to carefully choose his words, “interesting decision.”

“It is the best decision.” The final Elder speaks. She is the leader, a once feared Alpha. Her body is now small and frail, but she is the most wise of all the wolves within the community. She does not offer an explanation for her words, nor does she need to. She is the leader of the Council and her word is law. If she says that Jongin is the best choice for Kyungsoo’s companion then it is true. No one holds as much knowledge as she, and it’s best not to question her motives.

The Council Leader offers Kyungsoo a small wink. He is her great-grandson, and sometimes in situations like this she drops the pretext of her council role to take up a familiar one. It’s likely that she disagrees with Kyungsoo’s decision, but is offering him her support to sway The Council. Not that their opinion really matters; once a companion is named within the sacred space of The Council it is final. Perhaps she wanted to quell any gossip that may arise from his decision.

“Pack only what you need,” the first Elder speaks once more, “and make sure Jongin does the same.”

“His art is stunning beyond words,” the second Elder adds, “but a task like this is no place for it.”

“Look after him,” says Kyungsoo’s great-grandmother, placing a kiss on his forehead. “Our Jongin is a very special wolf.”

------

Jongin is ecstatic with the news, eyes shining with unshed tears of disbelief. He’s never even dreamed of taking part in the pilgrimage, his skill set of better use outside the forest than within it.

“I told you I’d teach you to hunt,” Kyungsoo offers by way of explanation, shrugging off his decision like it was no big deal.

“Look at you, taking things seriously,” Chanyeol jokes, elbowing him in the ribs, “the most important task of your life, and you’re using it as a hunting trip.”

“I am taking it seriously,” Kyungsoo says stiffly. He thought things through but didn’t follow the logical choice in companion by picking Baekhyun. It’s like his brain and mouth had different ideas, he thought of Baekhyun but spoke Jongin’s name and now he has to live with his decision.

He’s not upset or disappointed in the slightest, he loves spending time with Jongin and to be honest, he’s more than capable of helping Kyungsoo with his task.

Besides, Jongin’s smile and the way he jumps happily around the fire pit makes the whole thing worth it.

------

Their pack is heavy. Kyungsoo carries all of their belongings, as is tradition on the pilgrimage. There’s no reason for him to carry everything. Yes, he’s stronger than Jongin but he’s more than capable of carrying his own pack. Half the traditions seem like jokes started on the journey to and from that have formed their way into lore. The wolves who undertake the quest may be of age, but they’re still young. A practical joke here and there wouldn’t surprise Kyungsoo in the slightest.

Jongin all but skips ahead of him, free from the burden of belongings. Sometimes he disappears into bushes to pull out things for his artwork, leaving them along the path for Kyungsoo to pick up on the journey home. So far he’s found feathers and stones and marked a few bushes as interesting new materials for his weaving.

Kyungsoo dreads the journey home for two reasons. One, it means Jongin will leave and two, he has to carry the various items he’s put aside along the way. Maybe once the puzzle piece is safely in their possession he’ll be able to convince Jongin to carry the bag for a while.

Jongin shifts in and out of wolf form as they travel, leaving Kyungsoo to carry his clothes whilst trying to keep up. Kyungsoo enjoys watching him excitedly sniff around the path ahead. It’s impossible to carry a pack as a wolf, so Kyungsoo walks behind Jongin at a brisk pace, trying to keep up. Wolves are faster than humans. He makes a mental note to ask Jongin to slow down the next time they stop for a break.

There’s a yip from behind him, Jongin’s wolf suddenly not where Kyungsoo thought he was. He thought Jongin was so far ahead that he’s lost sight, when in actuality he’s been distracted somewhere behind him.

Jongin’s wolf tugs at the hem of Kyungsoo’s pants, dragging him off the path and leading to his discovery further within the forest. Jongin has found a small grotto filled with flowering ground cover, shaded by a dense canopy of drooping branches.

The ground is soft under Kyungsoo’s tired feet, the ground cushioned by layers of blossoms and leaves. With the way the trees surround the grotto; it feels like a wall of sorts, keeping the natural beauty hidden and protected from the outside world. Branches meet, join and entangle in the sky above, providing shelter from the harsh sun.

It’s the most beautiful thing Kyungsoo has ever seen.

“I figured we could rest here,” Jongin says, back in human form. Honestly, Kyungsoo doesn’t need to rest, not quite yet. They’re barely half a day into their journey and Kyungsoo still has a few hours of walking left in him.

That being said, Jongin’s discovered something so beautiful that it would be a shame not to sit and appreciate it. Jongin himself is too beautiful not to appreciate, especially when surrounded by low-hanging branches and small, white flowers. He lies upon his bed of blossoms, fiddling with their delicate petals as he contemplates the canopy above.

“There’s a clearing through there,” Jongin says, pointing to his left. The tree trunks give way to a small opening, apparently leading to a clearing beyond their borders. Kyungsoo is overcome with curiosity. “It’d be a nice place to set up a community.”

Kyungsoo follows Jongin’s outstretched finger, cautiously making his way through the hollow and into the clearing. With one glance he knows he’s found it, the place he will one day call home. It’s decently sized and lacking any stones in need of excavating before tents can be comfortably installed. His nose picks up the scent of fresh water, and if he strains his ears, Kyungsoo can hear running water in the distance. The stream that cuts through the center of Minseok’s community must filter through this area of the forest, twisting and turning until it reaches its end closer to the city.

“Let’s move here,” Kyungsoo calls out, hoping Jongin can hear him. “You, me and the others. Let’s start our own community in this clearing.”

“It’s perfect.” Jongin yells his reply. Kyungsoo makes his way back to the grotto, already missing the way Jongin’s scent mingles with that of the wildflowers. “I’d set up my tent in here.”

It’s a fantastic idea, although Kyungsoo feels that Jongin might have to fight the others for the privilege of setting up camp within the grotto.

“Only if I can join you,” Kyungsoo collapses on the ground next to Jongin, sighing as the scent of crushed leaves and flowers reaches his nose. “This place is beautiful.”

“You seem to like having me around,” Jongin points out. Kyungsoo is caught. “First the pilgrimage, then inviting me to your new community, and now you want to live with me amongst the flowers.”

“I do,” Kyungsoo confesses, “I like having you around.”

“I can’t imagine my life without you.” Jongin curls himself around Kyungsoo, hugging him and snuggling into Kyungsoo’s neck as he often does.

He says that, but Jongin plans his life without Kyungsoo, anyway. Maybe he intends on visiting, or to bring his mysterious mate to the hypothetical community that Kyungsoo plans.

Either way, Kyungsoo agrees with Jongin. He can’t imagine life without him, either.

------

“Here.” Jongin pounces on Kyungsoo, wrestling something onto the crown of his head. He’s taken some of the flowers from the grotto, weaving them into wreaths as they walk. Evidently, one of them has ended up on Kyungsoo’s head. Jongin wears his own matching wreath around his neck, the subtle fragrance from the wildflowers amplifying his natural scent.

“Why is mine a crown?” Kyungsoo grumbles, though he makes no effort to dislodge the wreath from his head. It’s the perfect size, not too big nor too small. It doesn’t push his hair into his eyes, nor do the flowers obscure his vision. Even when creating things on the fly, Jongin’s work is still perfect.

“I ran out of flowers,” he shrugs, bumping his arm against Kyungsoo’s shoulder as they fall into step.

“Why couldn’t you wear the crown, then?” Kyungsoo retaliates by playfully elbowing Jongin in the side. It’s just a little nudge, nothing to cause pain or discomfort, just an action to keep up with their banter.

“It looks cuter on you,” Jongin laughs. He breaks into a run, leaping and taking on his wolf form mid air. He trots ahead of Kyungsoo, tail wagging and wreath still wrapped around his neck.

Kyungsoo smiles, retrieving Jongin’s discarded clothes from where they lay on the path.

------

“We’re not hunting properly tonight?” Jongin asks, watching curiously as Kyungsoo ties small sticks together to form a crude trap. It’s not his best work, but it’ll do.

“I’m tired,” Kyungsoo offers by way of reply. It’s too much effort to shift in and out of wolf form after a long day of travelling. It’s nearly sunset, with only a few hours for the trap to catch something before dinner.

They’re not allowed to bring any extra food supplies on their pilgrimage, having to rely solely on their, or rather Kyungsoo’s hunting abilities. It seems like another one of those practical jokes turned lore, but Kyungsoo isn’t exactly about to break tradition.

That means finding their own food each night, mostly small animals like rabbits and squirrels. They’re big enough to feed a hungry stomach but not too big that they’re wasting food. Normally, Kyungsoo would just shift into his wolf form and track one or two down. But he’s exhausted, and setting up a trap and waiting it out sounds like a far better idea.

Hunting like a human will ease his arousal, too. There’s less of the wolf hormones in the mix when he remains in bipedal form. It’s never really been an issue for him, but with Jongin and only Jongin around, Kyungsoo would rather avoid any situation where he’s thinking with his urges and not his head.

Who knows what kind of awkward situations that could lead to.

It’s a slow wait. Jongin’s sniffed out a commonly travelled path used by the local rabbits, his nose a little keener than Kyungsoo’s. They wait behind a set of bushes, Kyungsoo fighting the urge to sleep as Jongin naps on his shoulder, snoring softly.

There’s movement, rustling from nearby bushes as a rabbit slowly approaches Kyungsoo’s trap. Luckily enough, the area is mostly free from predators, allowing the rabbit to become fat and trusting. Drawn in by the promise of food, the rabbit quickly falls into Kyungsoo’s trap. He pulls at the attaching string, lowering the cage and preventing his prey from escaping.

“Wha--” Jongin wakes at the noise, the rabbit shuffling and whining in its confines. Kyungsoo points at the trapped animal, watching as Jongin’s eyes light up at the prospect of dinner.

“My trap worked,” he says.

“I can’t believe I doubted you,” Jongin replies.

------

Hunting in human form has done nothing to stop the post-hunt arousal, much to Kyungsoo’s dismay. Though he’s starting to suspect that it’s got more to do with Jongin rather than thrill of the hunt. Watching him cook and prepare the rabbit for their dinner feels awfully domestic, and it’s got Kyungsoo in the mood to mate.

He’s so unbelievably selfish, he wants Jongin all for himself. It’s Jongin or no one, he’s figured out. He may find a mate later in life, but Kyungsoo doubts his feelings will even come close to the way he currently feels about Jongin.

Kyungsoo has to excuse himself.

Jongin follows along worriedly, as he always does. Kyungsoo may fill the role of the protector, but Jongin does too; he stands guard to make sure Kyungsoo isn’t attacked during his moment of vulnerability. It’s something the others do for him, too. Taking it in turns after the hunt to make sure Kyungsoo is okay. But the others don’t smell as nice as Jongin, they don’t stand as close. Their presence doesn’t help him get off, nor make him feel guilty afterwards.

Kyungsoo desperately grasps at his cock, inhaling deeply and taking in Jongin’s scent, tasting the spice on his tongue. He wonders what it might be like to lick the scent from Jongin’s skin, to cover his own with it. He bites his lip, trying not to make too much noise. Jongin is close, too close. If he were to turn around he’d see Kyungsoo as he---

Kyungsoo opens his eyes, feeling the phantom burn of a gaze on his skin. Jongin watches him as he touches himself, hands curled into fists at his sides and eyes hooded.

Groaning, Kyungsoo falls to his knees. Jongin looks as if he wants to run to Kyungsoo’s aid, though stops still once he sees the way Kyungsoo’s fist speeds up over his cock, the way he moans loudly, now unashamed of his audience.

Jongin grasps at his bare stomach, digging his nails into the skin. Kyungsoo wonders he’d have the same reaction with Kyungsoo’s mouth on him; gasping, moaning, nails digging into his own skin before digging into Kyungsoo’s.

The thought makes him drop his chin, gaze still trained on Jongin’s shaking form. Kyungsoo’s action has Jongin crying out in a moan, obviously imagining the same thing as Kyungsoo while he watches.

Jongin does not touch himself, though Kyungsoo can tell he wants to. The idea of Jongin getting off as he does causes a jolt of pleasure to curl through Kyungsoo’s abdomen, he groans aloud, spilling white onto the forest floor.

Breathing deeply, he looks to Jongin to see his reaction. His eyes are closed, hands still clenched and shaking. Without a word, Jongin turns on his heels and walks back towards camp.

Through his post-orgasmic haze, Kyungsoo feels both guilt and shame.

------

Their dinner is eaten in silence. It’s delicious, of course it is. Even with limited supplies, Jongin has still managed to make better food than some of their other packmates. He is truly a talented wolf, and a worthy mate to whoever is lucky enough to have him.

Jongin doesn’t want to talk, shooting down Kyungsoo’s attempts at conversation with monosyllabic replies or even by not talking at all. He seems angry with Kyungsoo. Upset, even. What happened earlier was a mistake on both of their parts, something never to be repeated.

“I’m going to bed,” Jongin says, standing suddenly. He’s still for a moment before shyly adding “can you come with me?”

His words are a little surprising to Kyungsoo. Here he is, thinking that Jongin wants nothing to do with him, when Jongin seemingly wants to cuddle. They have a small tent, something compact and easy to carry. He knows they’ll have to be in close proximity to even fit inside it.

Kyungsoo was planning on sleeping outside so that Jongin might be a little more comfortable.

“Please?” Jongin pleads, taking Kyungsoo by the hand and leading him to the tent. It’s nice to feel wanted by the wolf he loves, and Kyungsoo can’t help his smile.

Jongin pulls him to the floor, shifting so that his head can rest on Kyungsoo’s chest, their hands still linked.

“I love being with you like this,” Kyungsoo confesses in a moment of weakness. It’s as close to a proper confession as he’s ever going to get. He’s sure Jongin knows how he feels, especially after the incident in the forest. He just can’t stop himself.

“Me too,” Jongin replies sleepily. Kyungsoo is probably warm, makes Jongin feel safe. His reasons for cuddling up to Kyungsoo are far more innocent than Kyungsoo’s intentions.

Still, it’s nice to hold Jongin, to feel him breathe on his neck. Jongin still smells like spice and leather, but he now smells like home.

Kyungsoo now knows what Minseok was talking about all those months ago. It’s not a simple thing, finding a mate, but the realisation comes on suddenly and with clarity. Kyungsoo wants to spend the rest of his life with Jongin, even if it means watching him be with someone else. Having a mate means an unrelenting desire to touch and to hold. Kyungsoo’s day becomes better with just one glimpse at Jongin’s smile.

He’s going to treasure moments like this, ones where he’s alone with Jongin. He presses a chaste kiss to the crown of Jongin’s head and falls asleep.

------

Kyungsoo barks softly, a warning for Jongin. He’s moving too carelessly, making a little too much noise. Usually the noise is fine, they want their prey to know they’re being followed. But rabbits are fast, agile and full of energy. Their chosen prey has numerous places to hide where a wolf cannot follow. Stealth is key.

It’s Jongin’s turn to make the kill, all previous meals reaching their ends via Kyungsoo’s traps or jaws. He’s as excited as a pup on their first hunt, making little mistakes here and there in his enthusiasm. Jongin’s never been the lead of a hunt before, the role always belonging to Kyungsoo. The ability to hunt alone is a necessary skill for any wolf, and it’s about time Jongin learns.

Cooking one’s food is also important. Kyungsoo is excited to try his hand at a task usually delegated to Baekhyun and more recently, Jongin. It’s a trade of sorts, with Jongin learning to hunt and Kyungsoo learning to cook. Perhaps one day he’ll create his own meal from start to finish, hunting his prey then preparing it. Perhaps Jongin will be there to try it, to smile softly at Kyungsoo, proud of his achievements.

He’s an alpha, a future leader. Kyungsoo needs to learn every aspect of pack life in order to do his job and birthright. He’s doing well, or so he assumes. There’s been no complaints about his lead by example style of leadership, not from his packmates nor from the Elders.

Kyungsoo isn’t sure if he’s a great teacher or if Jongin is a fantastic student. Possibly both. On his first try, Jongin takes down the rabbit they’ve been stalking, snapping its neck with a precise snap of his jaws. It’s a clean kill, preserving the meat and making sure the rabbit’s death is as quick and painless as possible. It’s not in Jongin’s nature to be cruel, his first question regarding a solo hunt being techniques for merciful deaths. Kyungsoo’s seen his fair share of drawn out deaths for his prey and he’s sure Jongin has seen the same.

With the kill still clasped within his jaws, Jongin offers Kyungsoo as much of a smile as he’s capable of as a wolf with a full mouth.

Kyungsoo swallows the lump in his throat. It’s no victory. He’s still got to cook their meal, and he’s not entirely certain that he’ll be as successful as Jongin.

------

“At least you can hunt,” Jongin says, folding his arms behind his head, strolling leisurely ahead of Kyungsoo. They’re nearly at the relic site, probably half a day’s walk at current pace. They walk slowly to conserve their energy, as Kyungsoo’s attempt at cooking ended in disaster. The way Jongin’s eyes twinkle in the light of their campfire would distract any wolf, Kyungsoo reasons. Though not every wolf would trip, fall and drop their dinner into the fire, burning it beyond a consumable state.

Jongin still finds the whole ordeal hilarious, breaking silence as they walk to remind Kyungsoo of his failures.

“I’m an Alpha,” Kyungsoo seethes, burning with embarrassment. Normally he doesn’t react to teasing. Baekhyun can insult him for hours on end and he’ll still be laughing by the end of it. Being mocked so mercilessly by his mate hurts. It has Kyungsoo lashing out. “I don’t need to cook when others will do it for me.”

Jongin looks taken aback, shocked and a little upset. It’s rare for Kyungsoo to speak like an alpha, to assert dominance or to act out on his temper. It’s hardly civilised behaviour, their pack having abandoned the hierarchical system so many years ago.

“I’m sorry,” Kyungsoo says, filling the silence left by Jongin. “I just wanted you to think more of me, I guess.”

“You’re not perfect, Kyungsoo,” Jongin says seriously, “but you’re still a wonderful wolf and a very capable alpha.”

“I shouldn’t have yelled,” Kyungsoo insists.

“Your pheremones are everywhere,” Jongin laughs, waving a hand in front of his face. It’s a token effort to dispel the intense aroma of Kyungsoo’s alpha scent, though his motions make it look like he’s encouraging the scent to waft towards him.

“At least I smell nice,” Kyungsoo says. He’s been told multiple times that his natural scent is pleasing, by both friends and strangers alike. Jongin can’t be immune to it, especially considering his reaction.

“It’s gonna be in my nose for hours,” Jongin whines, rubbing at his nose as if to prove a point.

“I know I smell good,” Kyungsoo pushes, trying to get Jongin to admit to it. His scent is one of ink and leaves, or so he’s been told. Wolves in the marketplace often comment on his fresh and calming scent, saying they remind him of the forest. “You don’t have to pretend.”

“The wolf who made the puzzle, she’s my direct ancestor,” Jongin quickly changes the subject and Kyungsoo lets him, “I mean, we all are, to a degree. I’m just a little more related than everyone else.”

“You must have inherited your talent from her, then.” Kyungsoo replies, eager to keep the conversation going.

Jongin sighs, walking a little brisker and putting distance between them.

------

With Jongin’s self imposed silence, Kyungsoo takes it upon himself to hunt for their dinner. Jongin naps in front of the campfire and he slips away, unnoticed, off into the woods in search for food.

He spots some deer tracks, fresh, by the smell of them, but decides not to follow. They wouldn’t be able to finish a full deer in one sitting, and it’s not the right time of year for fawns or adolescents.

There’s plenty of rabbits around, however. Kyungsoo quickly tracks one down, crushing its neck before it can hop away. It should be a big enough kill for a meal, though not a particularly large one. He’s sure Jongin will be able to make something with it, and the thought of a well cooked meal has Kyungsoo’s stomach rumbling.

The hunger is enough to distract from the arousal he feels, wilting his erection slightly as he retraces the path towards their camp. Moving quickly through the forest, Kyungsoo can detect the slightest hint of smoke in the air; the scent mixes with the scent of the trees, dirt and finally, leather.

It’s how Kyungsoo knows he’s nearing camp, when the scent of fire and Jongin outweighs the myriad of forest smells.

Jongin is obviously awake, as the fire wasn’t lit when Kyungsoo left. He’s probably guessed what Kyungsoo left for, and has prepared the small pit for his return. The smoke adds new notes to Jongin’s scent; tantalizing, tempting and now with a hint of burning wood. It brings Kyungsoo’s erection back to life, rekindling his arousal like it has never left.

There’s no greeting as he arrives back into their makeshift camp, and Kyungsoo drops his kill onto the ground in front of Jongin before fleeing back into the forest.

Jongin follows him, of course he does. Kyungsoo runs, hides, tries to find a place downwind where Jongin might not find him. There’s something about his scent that affects him more than usual, and Kyungsoo doesn’t know what will happen if Jongin is within sight while he orgasms.

He doesn’t want to know but he’s about to find out; somehow, Jongin finds him. He stands closer this time, too close. He’s not only within sight but also touching distance, unrelenting as he stares Kyungsoo down.

“I need to watch you,” he says, unblinking.

“I’m okay.” Kyungsoo grits out, hoping to persuade him into moving further away. It doesn’t work. Jongin’s resolve is steadfast and Kyungsoo has no choice but to get it over with.

He closes his eyes, focusing on himself and not Jongin. It’s hard, as Jongin’s scent grows ever stronger. He’s either moving towards Kyungsoo in small steps or he’s responding to Kyungsoo’s pheromones. Perhaps both.

There are hands on his shoulders and a nose at his neck; Jongin breathes him in, letting the pheromones reach the back of his throat. He’s close enough that Kyungsoo can taste the spice on the tip of his tongue, the scent strong and thick.

It overwhelms him.

Kyungsoo can barely tell he’s about to come, only knows Jongin, his scent and the warmth of his hands.

It’s not until he feels liquid trickling down his fingers that he knows to stop. Absentmindedly, he hopes he hasn’t made a mess anywhere near Jongin. Although it would mingle their scents for a moment (an idea which Kyungsoo finds all too pleasant) it would also be embarrassing and hard to explain.

Jongin is gone by the time Kyungsoo recovers, opening his eyes. He can see Jongin’s back as he ventures through the trees, oddly, whilst licking something from his fingers.

------

The creation story of Kyungsoo’s pack does not begin and end with the Moon Goddess. She is the creator of his people, but his pack’s establishment was the work of wolves.

As the story goes, there was once two rival packs living within close proximity to each other’s territory borders. A pack war loomed with both sides looking to expand their territory, no matter the cost of life involved.

A sweet beta artist refused to take part in the fights, often crafting good luck charms and weapons for the warriors rather than offering her services during fights. She wasn’t a warrior, and she knew that if she were to fight, she would surely die.

Her search for materials often lead her dangerously close to the territory border. She would forage for stones and branches under the careful eye and warning snarls of the enemy’s patrol squads.

One day she happened upon a lone wolf along the edge of her territory. He was an alpha, she could scent him a mile away. Only this alpha did not smell like death and danger, he smelt like home. He was her mate, and it was clear the moment the two locked eyes.

Their love was cautious and innocent, with the enemy alpha often betraying his own pack in order to keep his mate safe. He would tell her when his pack planned on raiding hers, so that she may stay away from the battles and return to him alive. In return, she would tell him which wolves to avoid during battle, as he would surely not survive if he was to face them.

To show her love, the beta artist created a small puzzle for her alpha, a visage of the Moon Goddess they both worshipped. She would give him a small piece with each meeting, and he would treasure every gift. It was a symbol of their love, the first ever courting gift and an event that sparked tradition amongst all wolves.

They managed to keep their relationship a secret from their respective packs, until one day the pain of being in love and unmated was too great to bear, the two of them consummated their mateship in secret.

The two wolves tried to hide their new status, but the noses of their packmates were too keen, too sharp. They were discovered within days, and it was their love that started a war. Many wolves died because of what they had done, the guilt became too much to bear.

In fear of their own lives, and to prevent any further death in their names, the two lovers fled to unclaimed territory in order to start their own pack. They decided that theirs would be a peaceful group of wolves, avoiding war at all costs. The lovers had seen the true cost of fighting, and it became their wish for that pain to never be felt by any of their descendents.

They did not expect it to last, though their devotion to the Moon Goddess allowed them to keep faith, hopeful that their lives, at least, would be long and peaceful. They did not trust to hope that other wolves would join them, as it is not in a wolf’s nature to abandon their pack. Though hard their life was, they were happy; at peace and with each other, two wolves in love.

Word spread of the newly established pack, and somehow several groups of wolves found the lovers within their territory, a vast area of forest cradled by mountains. Lost wolves asked to join them; survivors of packs decimated by war, wolves with similar stories to them and lone wolves finally giving into the craving of comfort and pack. They converged on the lover’s camp on the night of the Blue Moon, the day on which the Moon Goddess created their people.

It was a sign.

It was as if the Goddess herself had blessed them, sending them a new pack to ensure their survival. Those worthy of the lover’s pack would be guided by instinct towards the populated centre, carefully hidden amongst the trees and in theory, impossible to find.

The first council was established, whose first act was to reach out to the local humans in search of knowledge and peace, an action that changed and shaped the nature of wolf society, and created the well known trading mecca along the mountain path.

In thanks to the Goddess who saved their lives and blessed their mateship, the two lovers took the courting puzzle and spread the pieces along the borders of their land, so that the Goddess may always be within their territory, offering them her protection.

Saved by love and blessed for devotion and pacifism, the two lovers became legend, not only amongst their own descendants, but amongst all wolves the world over.

------

The site of the relic seems to be frozen in time. It sits within a hollowed out tree trunk, the indent obviously made by the tools of wolves. The tree should be dead after such a wound, but the leaves still grow bright and healthy, the branches reaching tall into the sky. The hollow itself should have closed over the years, but it remains open, still proudly displaying the fragment of the puzzle contained within it.

Everything about the area has an almost magical quality. The relic, a beautifully carved leg with a join to replace the knee, seems to have blessed the area. Flowers bloom in abundance, the foliage of nearby trees a far more vibrant and healthy shade of green than the rest of the forest. It’s almost like a sanctuary, the calmness of the area bringing Kyungsoo immeasurable peace.

For some reason it reminds him of the grotto they discovered on the first day of travel, what with its lush ground cover and drooping canopy. To Kyungsoo, it is a sign. The new clearing has been blessed by the Goddess, who knows of Kyungsoo’s plan to start his own community. The parallel appearances between the sacred ground and his discovered grotto cannot be a coincidence. As it was his ancestor’s destiny to start their pack, it is his to expand it.

“It’s so beautiful,” Jongin breathes, casting a glance around the area, before finally setting his gaze upon the puzzle piece. Kyungsoo doesn’t know what it is that Jongin sees that causes his reaction. It could be anything, from the light filtering through the canopy, to the craftsmanship of the relic. “Thank you for bringing me.”

“There’s no one else I’d rather be with,” Kyungsoo replies. He avoids Jongin’s eyes, busying himself with retrieving the relic. It should feel more monumental than it does. Kyungsoo feels nothing as he lifts the leg from its resting place, completing his movements quickly and efficiently. He doesn’t know what he was expecting; a gust of breeze as he touches it, an overwhelming presence to suddenly fill the grotto. Something. Anything. It’s almost anticlimactic.

“What’s that?” Jongin says, voice slightly panicked. Kyungsoo doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He tells Jongin as much while he wraps the relic in cloth, gently depositing it within his pack.

There’s a lack of animals in the area, something Kyungsoo assumed to be because of the relic. It doesn’t make sense, he now thinks, that somewhere so safe and sacred to be devoid of life.

A rustle, and Kyungsoo’s ears finally pick up the sound of footsteps. Lumbering and heavy treading that grows ever closer to their location.

He’s heard these steps before, only once. They weren’t as loud, the foe not fully grown. The footsteps that approach indicate an adult, possibly a male and grave danger. Kyungsoo rushes towards Jongin in a blind panic.

“Bear,” he whispers, discarding his pack and pulling Jongin behind him. “A big one.”

They’re still, silent. The breeze blowing through the grotto will drift their scent towards the bear, but hopefully the lack of commotion will make it realise that they’re not a threat. Bears know that wolves hunt loudly for strategic purposes; a silent wolf is a non-threatening one, and it’s something Kyungsoo desperately hopes is conveyed.

He’s taken down one bear before, but it was young and not quite seasoned as a fighter. The bear slowly approaching their position has probably had its fair share of fights, and it’s definitely not an opponent that Kyungsoo and Jongin can take down on their own.

Or rather, it’s not an opponent that Kyungsoo can take down on his own. He has no intention of letting Jongin fight, he’s not strong enough to face a bear unscathed and Kyungsoo would rather die than see him hurt.

“We may have to run,” Kyungsoo says, making sure Jongin is safe behind him. “See if we can lose it in the forest.”

“We can’t fight it,” Jongin agrees, “I don’t think we’d win.”

“You’re not fighting it, even if it comes down to one.” Kyungsoo informs him, “you mean too much to me, and I couldn’t handle seeing you hurt.”

“How do you think I feel?” Jongin hisses his reply, “I’m not going to let you die like that, not if I can help.”

“No one is dying,” Kyungsoo’s grip on Jongin’s wrist loosens, he slides his hand downwards to join his fingers with Jongin’s. “We’re going to run.”

It’s a theoretically foolproof plan, but the bear has other ideas. While distracted by their conversation, neither Jongin nor Kyungsoo noticed the suddenly silent bear. They do notice, however, the warning growl from the bushes that signify the end of their territory.

Kyungsoo’s reflexes are only just quick enough, he throws Jongin out of the way and flings himself in the opposite direction. He changes form mid air, his pants falling to the ground as he leaps out of them. The bear’s claws slice in the air where they once stood, missing them by only a fraction of a second.

It’s a fight. The bear has decided for them. Two wolves versus a fully grown bear is a fight it knows it can win. They’re most likely trespassing on the bear’s territory, their presence and the scent of an alpha acting as a threat or as an invitation for battle.

The bear is strong but it’s slow compared to Kyungsoo. Jongin, too, joins in the fight, ignoring Kyungsoo’s warning growls and displeased barks. He knows Jongin is a capable wolf and fast enough to dodge the bear’s wild swings. He has seen Jongin kill and knows he won’t hesitate from clamping his jaws around limbs and the soft sides and neck of the bear. But his participation in the fight has Kyungsoo distracted and anxious; he values Jongin’s safety over his own, and it may just get him killed.

Jongin bites down on the bear’s arm as it swings its claws towards Kyungsoo. It howls in pain, shaking the limb violently in an attempt to unhinge Jongin’s jaws. He’s steadfast, refusing to relent even as the blood fills his mouth and stains his muzzle. In retaliation, the bear raises its arm and begins to slam Jongin into a nearby tree, trapping him between the trunk and the bears immense body weight.

It hurts Kyungsoo to see his mate in pain. Jongin’s pained whimpers causing more distress than his own injuries could ever cause. Without thinking he leaps through the air, digging his claws into the bear’s back and violently gnashing his teeth at its neck, trying to tear away the flesh.

Blood and chunks of fur fill his mouth, he chokes as he tears them away, struggling desperately as he turns the bear’s attention from Jongin onto himself.

It works. The bear drops Jongin, using its now free arm to try and grab at Kyungsoo. When it doesn’t work, the bear falls to the ground, crushing Kyungsoo beneath its weight. His entire body is in pain, bones shattering underneath the sheer pressure. It forces the air from his lungs and restricts the intake of fresh oxygen; Kyungsoo’s vision grows dark as he begins to pass out from the lack of air. He’ll die like this, suffocating under the weight of the bear and unable to save Jongin.

The bear roars, lifting himself off Kyungsoo at the last moment, he pants and wheezes as oxygen rushes back into his tired lungs.

Jongin yelps, and Kyungsoo tries to collect his bearings, ignoring the pain in his chest from where the ribs have shattered. He watches the bear swing at Jongin with one paw, and hold its stomach with another. While Kyungsoo was down, Jongin obviously went for the soft, exposed midsection of their attacker.

It’s a risk that pays off.

Kyungsoo leaps back into the battle, once again landing on the bear’s back to tear away at the flesh of its neck. Jongin keeps it distracted from the front, latching onto arms and legs as they come flying in his direction.

With Jongin as a distraction, Kyungsoo manages to reposition himself, climbing further up the bear’s back and arriving within reaching distance of the bear’s throat. From his vantage point, Kyungsoo can see small gashes on Jongin’s snout and sides, the wounds aren’t life threatening but it fills Kyungsoo with a blinding rage nonetheless.

He snarls in anger, maneuvering his jaw to the closest part of the bear’s throat and biting; he ignores the pain in his chest as he tears the flesh and severs arteries, sending blood and fur flying.

The bear goes down with a pained cry and Kyungsoo barely manages to jump away in time, avoiding being crushed once more. The bear twitches and stills, blood pooling beneath it.

Kyungsoo finally succumbs to his pain, letting out a shuddering breath as the world goes dark.

------

There is a pressure across Kyungsoo’s stomach and a dull pain in his chest as Kyungsoo wakes. He can feel salve on his skin, a cooling type made from foreign herbs, sinking into his skin to reduce the swelling. He breathes in, a pained breath restricted by his injuries and the cloth wrapped around his chest. Jongin’s wounds were only superficial, and he must have stayed awake long enough to tend to Kyungsoo.

Opening his eyes, Kyungsoo expects to see canopies and sky. Instead he sees the cloth roof of tent, something else Jongin must have done while Kyungsoo was asleep. Jongin is such a capable wolf, the perfect mate. Kyungsoo’s heart hurts as much as his ribs.

“You’re okay,” Jongin breathes against Kyungsoo’s neck. The pressure on Kyungsoo’s stomach is his arm; Jongin holds him tenderly, craving contact and yet not wanting to exacerbate his injuries. “I was so worried.”

“How are you feeling?” Kyungsoo’s injuries are worse than Jongin’s, though he worries more for his mate than for himself.

“Fine, relieved,” Jongin replies with a disbelieving laugh, “you nearly died, I was so scared.”

“I’m just glad you’re safe.” Kyungsoo says. He fights the pain, reaching an arm across his chest so he may pet Jongin’s hair.

Jongin places a kiss to his neck, then another one. Small, succinct presses of lips against skin, gradually becoming longer and drawn out. His mouth opens wider, tongue sliding against Kyungsoo’s neck before dipping back between teeth as Jongin closes his lips. It’s not a platonic action, it’s the kiss of a lover, a mate.

Kyungsoo’s body is in pain, yet it still craves relief. It’s likely that he’s been completely hard during Jongin’s care, the pressure in his groin becoming more apparent with every slide of Jongin’s lips along skin.

“Stop.” Kyungsoo says. Jongin pulls away immediately.

“Why won’t you let me touch you,” Jongin asks quietly.

There are so many answers. Mostly, it’s because Kyungsoo will only want more of things he cannot have. He craves Jongin’s touch but would not be able to live without it if he knew. How can Kyungsoo survive with the memory of Jongin’s hands, when they will only ever touch him platonically in the future?

“You’re my mate,” Jongin sniffles, emotional and raw. Kyungsoo’s head spins. “You’re my mate and you don’t want me to touch you? What am I doing wrong?”

“We’re mates?” Kyungsoo manages to choke out, shocked and surprised and completely overwhelmed. Jongin’s new tent is to share with Kyungsoo. He stands so close as Kyungsoo touches himself, not as protection but as an invitation. Kyungsoo feels so unbelievably dense, angry at himself for missing the signs. Of course there’s no one else. They belong to each other.

“Of course we are,” Jongin cries, “we’ve been courting each other since I moved in.”

“We have?” Dense and confused. Kyungsoo hasn’t been actively courting Jongin, not at all. And since they met? Kyungsoo doesn’t remember their first meeting the way Jongin does.

“I mean, knowledge isn’t the most common of courting gifts, I’ll admit,” Jongin says, frustration showing in his voice, “but you’re not from a conventional community, and I thought that’s how you did things.”

“It wasn’t intentional,” Kyungsoo replies, watching as Jongin’s face falls, “I was just trying to help.”

“Please,” Jongin begs, “please tell me you’re just oblivious and not uninterested. Please.”

“I’m just oblivious,” Kyungsoo says, smiling. “Don’t worry, I’m very interested.”

Jongin breathes a sigh of relief, resuming his position next to Kyungsoo, hand now splayed across his stomach.

“Will you let me help you, then?” Jongin asks shyly, hand drifting slowly downwards. “Mate?”

“Please,” Kyungsoo sighs. He’s waited far too long. He’s so selfish for wanting this, knowing he’s in no condition to return the favour. Jongin already smells incredible, even with Kyungsoo’s dulled senses. He can’t imagine how enticing his scent is to Jongin.

Curious touches give way to bold exploration; Jongin takes his time, running his fingers along as much of Kyungsoo’s skin as he can. He avoids Kyungsoo’s chest, obviously not wanting to cause him any pain, so he rests his hands on Kyungsoo’s stomach and legs instead.

It’s by no means fast, nor hurried. Jongin’s fingers shake with nerves, his breath against Kyungsoo’s neck harsh and broken.

He runs a finger along the head of Jongin’s cock, it comes away slick with precome. Kyungsoo’s breathing stops as Jongin takes the finger into his mouth, licking it clean. His pupils dilate at the taste, his scent spiking; there’s spice at the back of Kyungsoo’s throat and invading his senses.

Jongin’s mouth is on his neck again, hand working over Kyungsoo’s cock. It feels even more incredible than he imagined, Jongin’s grip like heaven around his aching arousal. He arches his back, ignoring the pain in his chest as he does so.

Kyungsoo doesn’t remembering coming, though he must have, as Jongin licks the release from his fingers with a sly grin.

“You taste as good as you smell,” he says, tongue trailing along the lines of come that drip down his palm.

Kyungsoo groans, too sore and exhausted to do anything more, though he desperately wants to. He watches as Jongin sucks the last of it from his fingers.

Honestly, his mate will be the death of him.

------

The journey home is slow. Kyungsoo is injured and therefore, Jongin is tasked with carrying the pack. His eyes are bright and excited, as he protects the artwork of his ancestor. It’s a tremendous privilege, one that Kyungsoo is glad Jongin has.

Where Kyungsoo is honoured that his strength and integrity have been recognised, Jongin is just happy to cradle the puzzle piece within his hands, drawing a connection to both his ancestor and the Goddess for whom it was made.

The similarities to the artist’s love story and their own doesn’t go unnoticed. Of course there’s far less blood and war, but it’s still the story of an artist and a warrior falling into a love so unexpected. It was love at first sight for both of them, though Kyungsoo’s realisation took a little longer than Jongin’s, they got there in the end.

“Why are you so far away?” Jongin asks. Kyungsoo doesn’t think the distance between them is all too great. They walk side by side along the path, enough room between them that Kyungsoo could easily extend his elbow. Of course, he wants to be closer, though he doesn’t want to crowd his new mate; their pack is heavy, this Kyungsoo knows. He’d hate to see Jongin fall.

“I’m right beside you?” Kyungsoo replies, a little confused. Jongin laughs, reaching his hand out and grasping Kyungsoo’s fingers between his own. It’s not the distance that bothers him but the lack of contact. It’s something Kyungsoo understands all too well. They’re mates and the urge to be physically close is strong, almost overwhelming.

Jongin’s hands are filthy, they feel gritty under Kyungsoo’s palm. Covered in dirt, small green stains on his fingers from bushes and shrubs, small remnants of blood beneath his fingernails. Jongin’s hands should be repulsive but they’re not. His hands are a comfort, and if Kyungsoo is being honest, his own are caked with just as much dirt and perhaps a little more blood still caking around his cuticles.

“Gross,” Jongin mutters, taking in the state of their hands. “We need a bath.”

Kyungsoo agrees. They’re at the point where body odour is starting to overpower their natural scent. It’s not pleasant for either of them, nor is it safe. Their stronger scent will attract bears and terrify prey, whilst the lack of cleanliness isn’t good for Jongin’s wounds. With at least two days left of their travels, they need to find water and soon.

“That grotto,” Kyungsoo suddenly remembers the sound of running water, muffled by trees. “There was a stream near the clearing.”

“I can’t remember where it is,” Jongin replies sadly, “we’re going to have to wait.”

“I remember,” Kyungsoo perks up, excitedly. He grasps Jongin’s hand firmly, tugging him off the path and into the forest. “This way.”

------

The grotto is as beautiful as Kyungsoo remembers. They’ve decided to camp overnight atop the flowers and vines, the lush foliage cushioning the floor of their tent. If they do move to the area, their weight and the lack of sunlight will eventually kill the plants below, but for one night it’ll be fine, comfortable. Like a dream.

“So,” Jongin starts, following behind Kyungsoo as they traipse through the thick forest in search of the stream. One day their feet will carve paths through the area, but for now they have to watch their step. Kyungsoo makes sure Jongin doesn’t let go of his hand, not even for a second. “When are we moving here?”

Immediately, is what Kyungsoo would like to reply. If he were to have his way, they’d hand the relic to the elders and soon after depart for their new home. But it’s going to take planning, convincing. Kyungsoo intends to bring the others and their mates along with him; having them all agree immediately will be difficult.

Chanyeol also has to court his mate, and those things take time. Kyungsoo suspects that their new home will not be truly theirs for at least another year.

“Whenever we can,” is what he replies, instead.

Kyungsoo has always loved the water, it’s the reason why he’s so often found catching fish with Minseok. In wolf or human form it doesn’t matter; Kyungsoo will bound eagerly into the stream no matter what.

Water is tranquil and calming. Kyungsoo enjoys bathing not because it keeps him clean but because he can feel the the water shifts around his skin, warming to the temperature of his body before continuing its course downstream. Water, he thinks, is something far more magical than anything he’s ever seen.

He's always wanted to live near water; until he and Jongin found their grotto, before Kyungsoo found Jongin, he always intended on moving to Minseok’s part of the pack. The sound of the stream to lull him to sleep, less of a walk to fresh water. It’s always sounded like paradise to Kyungsoo.

But paradise has nothing on the home he’s found with Jongin, the stream in their soon to be community is far more beautiful than that closer to the city. The water is clear, the scent slightly sweeter than its downstream counterpart. The riverbed is slightly wider, too, with several rocky formations dotting the shoreline. It would be a nice place to rest in wolf form, sunny and warm but with the coolness reflecting off the water.

Jongin has his clothes half off before they reach the bank, eager and excited. He struggles one-handedly, stubbornly refusing to release his grip from Kyungsoo’s and wanting to prolong the contact.

Kyungsoo laughs, as he too feels the same desperate need to touch. But there are more important things; like bathing and scrubbing the blood from beneath nails. Jongin’s salve needs to be rinsed and changed, his wounds still fresh beneath the sticky creams.

“C’mon,” Kyungsoo says, shaking Jongin’s hand free. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“Me?” Jongin says indignantly. He pushes Kyungsoo towards the river in retaliation, laughing as he trips over his half-removed pants. “You’re the one still covered in bear blood.”

“And you’re covered in dirt.” Kyungsoo rights himself, removing his clothes and bandages before folding them. He places them onto one of the rocks littering the shoreline. A little later he’ll wash them out, leaving them to dry overnight. “I think we’re even.”

Gently, he takes Jongin by the waist, slowly stepping forwards until their bare chests brush ever so slightly. He’s still a little sore and tender; he knows Jongin is too, so he acts with care. His hands are caked with dirt and blood, with Jongin’s hair is in a similar state. Kyungsoo doesn’t feel guilty as he runs his fingers through the filthy locks, his hands coming back muddy from the grease.

It’s okay because it’s Jongin. He kisses his mate softly, twirling strands of hair around his fingers, trying not to disturb the salve on his cheek. Jongin’s hands rest on Kyungsoo’s waist, scratching lightly and drawing circles into the skin. It’s such a soft, tender kiss. Kyungsoo smiles into it, and Jongin kisses it from his mouth.

Bathing together is just an excuse to touch. Kyungsoo washes the grime from Jongin’s body, scrubs the blood clean from skin. He helps Jongin detangle his hair, running his nails along his scalp. With every inch of washed skin comes a kiss; lips sliding along fresh, clean skin, Jongin’s teeth lightly digging into Kyungsoo’s shoulder.

They’re close, but not close enough. No one told Kyungsoo that finding a mate came with such intense emotions, he wants to be with Jongin, always. He’s uncomfortable unless they’re touching in some way. Jongin obviously has similar feelings, reaching for Kyungsoo as he pulls away, dragging him back in to hold, to touch, to kiss.

Kyungsoo loves the water, but he loves it a little more when Jongin is around.

------

Camps are hard to set up. Kyungsoo could never live a nomadic lifestyle, and judging by the frustrated look on Jongin’s face, he couldn’t, either. Their tent is small, simple. It’s not as nice as the ones they live in, especially not the beautifully decorated creations made by Jongin.

“Wait,” Kyungsoo says suddenly. He remembers the tent Jongin has half completed back at their camp. The big, embroidered tent that cause him so much worry. “That tent you’re making…”

He trails off, trying to find the right words. A mating tent holds a lot of implications, ones that cause heat in both Kyungsoo’s cheeks and the pit of his stomach.

“It’s for us,” Jongin grins, all teeth. He tucks a strand of hair behind Kyungsoo’s ear, kissing him softly.

“That’s…” Kyungsoo can’t formulate a proper response. “That’s interesting.”

Mating tents serve the purpose suggested; they’re a private place for mates, two people in love. It’s no secret what happens within them, not with the noises so commonly associated with them.

Jongin’s making them a tent. He’s nearly finished. They’re mates but they’re not mated, and perhaps it seems that Jongin is ready.

------

The sun begins to set and Kyungsoo is quickly reminded that there’s no food. Jongin complains loudly about his empty stomach, something that Kyungsoo has always found quite endearing. Jongin could easily hunt on his own, their time in the forest has made him quite proficient in catching small prey in either form, though the task now falls to Kyungsoo.

“I’ll set up the fire, you catch the food.” Jongin presses his lips against the corner of Kyungsoo’s mouth, smiling softly at the lovestruck look on his face. “C’mon, be the alpha.”

Kyungsoo grumbles at that, though he obliges. He likes to hunt and he won’t deny it. It must be something within the alpha instinct, but he much prefers things like hunting to other chores within the community.

The area around the grotto is filled with life, and honestly he’s spoilt for choice in regards to dinner; he takes his time, waiting for a particularly fat rabbit to cross his path before pouncing. Part of him is hungry, another part is desperately trying to please and impress his mate.

Jongin is a wonderful wolf and a wonderful mate; Kyungsoo wants nothing more than for his happiness. And if his mate is hungry, then his mate will eat the most tender meat Kyungsoo can find.

He would cook for Jongin as well, allow him to relax and not have to lift a single finger. Even as a nice gesture, it’s a little devaluing. Mateship is about mutual respect, teamwork, two wolves becoming one. Kyungsoo won’t be one of those controlling alphas he hears so much about, the betas and omegas he knows gossiping in disdain when one appears somewhere within their pack.

Kyungsoo trots happily back to their makeshift camp, his kill clamped within his jaws. He should revert to human form at some point, though the grass feels so nice under his paws, and his chest aches a little less on four legs rather than two.

The second he shifts, he’ll be a hormonal mess, he knows this. He knows his body well, can pinpoint the exact moment where the thrill will fade, leading into the uncontrollable haze of his arousal. He fears it, to an extent, though the thought of seeing his mate excites him, easing his worry and fear. Even if Jongin doesn’t want to help, is too tired or exhausted to rid Kyungsoo of the ache, just his scent and his presence are enough to help.

Kyungsoo breathes in through his snout, on the exhale he drops the kill to the forest floor and shifts; it was once a painful process, but now his body encourages the shift-- bones shift and warp, fur and claws retracting into skin.

Inhale, exhale, the point of no return. He gathers the rabbit into his hands as the arousal sets in.

He catches Jongin’s scent, somehow stronger to his human nose than to his wolf. It’s always there on the fringe of his conscious, small hints of spice and leather as he goes about his day. In his current state, the smell of Jongin has his mouth watering, the need to touch and be touched reaching the stage of impulse.

Kyungsoo runs. Branches striking against flesh as he pushes through the forest. He does not take the flat paths or the easy route, he runs along the most direct route back to his mate.

He’s filled with the kind of illogical desperation that alphas are known for. He needs Jongin, even if it’s just a glimpse of his face or the subtle hint of his scent. Jongin doesn’t even have to touch him, Kyungsoo just needs to know he’s there.

The uneven ground of the forest starts to clear; there’s less rocks and twigs, something a little more path-like appearing below his feet. The smell of leather and spice mingles with the scent of a campfire and Kyungsoo knows he’s close. Home.

His home isn’t the grotto, it’s Jongin; the amplification of his scent working to both calm and stimulate his senses. Kyungsoo is a man crazed, desperate to reach his mate. There’s probably sticks in his hair, cuts and scratches on his skin but the only thing he can truly focus on is Jongin. The scent of the forest fade away until only leather and spice remains; his mate is close.

Judging by the surprise on Jongin’s face, Kyungsoo does not return to camp the way he left. He must look wild, what with the sticks in his hair and blood on his face. Jongin doesn’t look at all disconcerted, just fond and incredibly proud.

“Dinner,” Kyungsoo grunts, throwing the kill at Jongin’s feet. It’s a primal display, one drawn purely from his wolf instincts; presenting his impressive kill as tribute to his mate.

“Look at my Alpha,” Jongin purrs. He appreciates the view, tracing his eyes over Kyungsoo’s form with lust and appreciation.

“I need...” Kyungsoo trails off, gesturing vaguely to himself. “I’m going to…”

He makes to move off into the forest as he usually does, intent on touching himself to the thought of Jongin, this time sans guilt.

“Stay,” Jongin requests, “let me help.”

Through his tunnel vision, Kyungsoo watches as Jongin approaches him. He’s still nude, their clothes drying on a nearby tree. His scent grows stronger with every step. Kyungsoo realises that the amplification of the spice and leather is not because of proximity but due to arousal. It makes so much more sense, now, that Jongin’s scent is stronger when Kyungsoo is like this. It’s not because of his sharpened senses, but because of Jongin’s reaction to him.

The first touch of Jongin’s hand has them both letting out shuddering breaths; his hands are cool on Kyungsoo’s heated skin, just the slightest caress offering relief. A spike of scent, pure spice as Jongin traces his fingertips along Kyungsoo’s chest.

Sloppily, Kyungsoo attaches his mouth to Jongin’s neck; it causes a groan, one that shoots straight to his cock, Kyungsoo wants him, he craves his mate, he wants nothing more than to touch.

Jongin seems to read his mind, pulling Kyungsoo to the ground and settling on top of him, straddling his waist with his nose buried in Kyungsoo’s shoulder. He inhales deeply, sighing on the exhale. His hands brace against Kyungsoo’s chest, arms and legs shaking as Jongin hovers over him.

“You smell so good,” Jongin finally admits, hips rocking with small movements, lightly pushing his ass against Kyungsoo’s cock. His natural lubrication begins to drip, coating Kyungsoo’s stomach with the slick.

It instills something within Kyungsoo. Instinctual, primal, he takes Jongin by the thighs and switches their positions, mouthing at his neck and grinding their bodies together. Kyungsoo is overwhelmed with the need to bite, a primal instinct from the days of old where a bitten claims signified mating bonds.

Jongin arches against him as they grind, gripping at Kyungsoo’s shoulders and digging into the skin with his nails. He pushes his neck further towards Kyungsoo’s mouth, whining as kisses turn into curious nips. Kyungsoo increases the pressure of his teeth, an experiment, making sure to thrust against Jongin at the same time.

The reaction is immediate, Jongin crying out and tensing, nails digging into Kyungsoo’s back. His shaking legs wrap around Kyungsoo’s waist, drawing him ever closer. He takes hold of Jongin’s neck with his teeth and doesn’t let go, his teeth sinking into the skin and bruising. Jongin lets out his loudest moan yet, limbs falling weakly to the ground below them.

Kyungsoo trails his fingers down Jongin’s torso, lower and lower, following with his mouth. Careful to avoid his still healing wounds, Kyungsoo explores Jongin’s body with his teeth and tongue. He leaves obvious marks along Jongin’s torso, something possessive. Everyone will see the purpling spots and know that Jongin is his, the scratches on Jongin’s back to prove that it’s mutual.

Jongin’s scent is strongest at the apex of his thighs. Kyungsoo greedily breathes him in, sucking the skin of his thighs as he enjoys the smell of his mate. A lick along his hole has Jongin sobbing and the taste of sweet spice exploding on Kyungsoo’s tongue. Curiously, he traces a finger around the rim, pushing one inside with little resistance.

“Please,” Jongin begs, rocking his hips downwards onto Kyungsoo’s finger, one hand curled into the ground cover, the other draped across his chest. He looks so pretty like that, all blissed out and covered in Kyungsoo’s marks.

He fingers Jongin open, slowly and carefully. His mouth doesn’t stray from Jongin’s thighs, painting the skin with pretty spots that fade from red into purple. Spice lingers on his tongue, the scent of Jongin so heady he can taste it. Kyungsoo can’t help himself, removing his fingers to lick at them, cleaning the slick with his tongue.

Jongin’s pupils dilate, he pulls Kyungsoo down for a kiss; messy and desperate, tasting himself on Kyungsoo’s lips.

“Please,’ he says again, throwing his legs over Kyungsoo’s shoulders and gripping at the ground. He’s desperate but Kyungsoo is worse; his fingers shake as he cups Jongin’s cheek, overwhelmed and in awe of his mate.

They kiss as Kyungsoo pushes in. He sighs into Jongin’s mouth, who answers with a quiet groan. They fit together perfectly, Jongin feels no pain or discomfort as Kyungsoo moves inside him. Overwhelmed, Kyungsoo can only focus on Jongin, the way he feels around his cock, the little sounds he makes with each thrust.

He’s probably pulling up some of the ground cover, making paths through the flowers with his knees. Jongin tears plants from the ground, roots and all. Their first time will be immortalised by their impressions on the earth, and Kyungsoo hopes it takes a long time for the damage to regrow. He’d love nothing more than to return to their grotto and see the marks left in the ground, before making more.

Jongin’s legs slip from his shoulders, weak and twitching. His scent flares, and Kyungsoo groans. His knot begins to swell, catching on Jongin’s rim as he pushes inside one final time. He rocks gently, trying not to hurt Jongin, who clenches around him, crying out as the knot inside him expands.

It doesn’t take Kyungsoo long before he comes, the feeling of Jongin around him, his scent, his kisses finally pushing him over the edge. He doesn’t take a moment to recover, as his mate is still hard and leaking underneath him. His vision clears, focus finally sharpening. Taking Jongin’s cock in his hand, Kyungsoo rocks his still swollen knot against Jongin’s prostate as he touches him.

Jongin comes with a cry against Kyungsoo’s hand and mouth, arching his back before collapsing back onto the ground. He kisses Kyungsoo in the afterglow, soft and tender, running his hands along Kyungsoo’s back as they wait for the knot to shrink.

He tries to speak, words failing him in the afterglow of his orgasm. Kyungsoo finds it endearing, a little bit of a boost to his ego that he’s capable of rendering his mate speechless.

“About time,” Jongin finally gets out, slapping playfully at Kyungsoo’s shoulder. Kyungsoo’s ego deflates back to its usual status. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for that.”

Kyungsoo can only laugh. “Me too,” he admits, “me too.

------

The night is warm, humid air sticking to skin and making their earlier bath almost pointless. Kyungsoo and Jongin remain without clothes, more comfortable in their natural forms and allowing their pants to dry on nearby tree branches.

They lie upon the ground cover, leaves itching at their backs, the force of their body weight crushing the plants beneath them. Jongin’s scent is especially strong, overpowering the smells of the forest, the flowers and trees and dirt. It’s like the grime covering his body has been masking his natural scent, or that Kyungsoo is hyper-aware of it, now that he can be.

The stars peek through the canopy, glimmering against the blackened sky. They offer just enough light for Kyungsoo to vaguely make out Jongin’s features, softly illuminating the curve of his nose, the dip of his cupid’s bow.

Kyungsoo is sure, now more than ever, that he wants to live in the grotto. He wants to share a tent with Jongin amongst the flowers, have his friends located just through the trees. He has his mate, now all he needs is a home.

He has a dream, and it’s so close to becoming a reality.

------

Touching becomes somewhat of a compulsion. Their walk home takes a little longer than it should, what with all the times that Jongin decides that their time is better spend kissing against trees. There’s an unfortunate delay when Jongin somehow gets stuck on Kyungsoo’s knot, again.

Kyungsoo can’t find it in himself to complain. There’s still plenty of time for them to return the relic, with less than a day’s worth of travel still left to complete and another three before the festival begins.

It’s likely that they’re the last people to return with their portion of the puzzle, though it’s also likely that they’re not the only set of mates undertaking the expedition. Their journey is gifted with a few days of leeway. This allows for any unfortunate incidents and plenty of time for Kyungsoo to figure out different ways to make Jongin moan before they arrive back at camp.

They’ve figured out that Jongin quite likes being on top, clenching around Kyungsoo’s knot as he swivels his hips and throws his head back in pleasure. Kyungsoo’s quite fond of the position as well, it allows him to watch Jongin’s face intently as he comes.

Currently, Kyungsoo is discovering the joys of having Jongin’s beautiful mouth on his cock, a favour he’s eager to return as soon as possible. Jongin licks eagerly around Kyungsoo’s knot, messy and unrefined but still wonderful. They don’t have enough time for anything more, not with the time limit looming and their home so close. As eager as they are to spend time with each other, they’re just as eager to return to their community, back to their friends and comfortable tents.

Jongin uses his mouth on the head of Kyungsoo’s cock, using his fingers around the knotted base to stimulate the feeling of his walls. The knot is still a little wet from Jongin’s tongue and it feels wonderful. They’re going to have to do this more often.

It’s a wonderful sight, the way Jongin swallows Kyungsoo’s release, licking the remnants from his lips and fingers with a pleased sigh. It has Kyungsoo pinning Jongin to the forest floor and sucking him down, eager to see if Jongin tastes as good as he smells.

------

They walk back into their home camp, hand in hand. There’s still salve on Jongin’s cheek and bandages on Kyungsoo’s chest, but it’s the marks on their bodies that draw the most attention.

Jongdae pretends to be sick, Chanyeol looks stunned and Baekhyun engages in some form of bizzare victory dance, cheering and hollering as he takes in their matching marks and their combined scents.

“It’s about time!” He yells, echoing Jongin’s earlier remarks. They’re both a little shy, realising that their community are all able to smell the scent of sex and come on their bodies. If the marks weren’t a giveaway, their scents definitely would.

“Please,” Jongdae pinches at his nose, trying to block the flow of scent. “Have a bath.”

“We were worried,” Chanyeol throws an arm around their shoulders, guiding them further into the community. Curious eyes follow them as they walk. “We thought you’d been attacked by a bear or something, but it turns out you were just mating.”

“Well,” Jongin says quietly, “we were attacked by a bear as well.”

“No way,” Chanyeol breathes, “tell me all about it!”

Jongin regales Chanyeol with his story as they walk. The curious crowd create a sort of path, guiding them towards the Elders. At the end of the makeshift tunnel, Kyungsoo spots his great-grandmother. She smiles knowingly at him, offering a small nod in approval. She knew the whole time, Kyungsoo realises. Jongin was the best choice of companion because they’re mates, and his great-grandmother was well aware of it.

Secretly, he’s glad he misspoke, he’s happy about the bear attack. Without them, he may never have realised that Jongin is his mate. Well, unless Jongin took matters into his own hands. He laughs to himself, imagining Jongin finishing his mating tent and dragging a very confused Kyungsoo towards it.

“I’ll take that,” an Elder says. She wrinkles her nose in distaste at Kyungsoo’s scent, which is most likely a mix of sex, sweat and dirt. Kyungsoo rummages around in his pack, withdrawing the relic and placing it into her outstretched hand.

“Thank you boys,” says the third elder, grinning at them fondly. “You’ve done well.”

“Congratulations,” Kyungsoo’s grandmother whispers quietly, “you have both found fine mates.”

Chanyeol, still with his arms around their shoulders, supplies his agreement.

From under Chanyeol’s arms, they glance at each other, sharing a small, secretive smile.

------

The festival means a rare excuse to dress up, to braid complex patterns into hair and to wear accessories that so often get in the way of a wolf’s daily life. Kyungsoo prefers to keep his attire simple, a few small braids as well as the bracelet Jongin made sitting on his wrist.

Baekhyun’s braided flowers into everyone’s hair, including his own. He plans on sweeping Minseok off his feet and Kyungsoo is sure he’ll be successful. Chanyeol, too, puts a little more effort into his appearance, with a trendy coin pendant hanging from his neck. He’s expecting to see that beta from the mountainside. Hopefully he’ll start the courting process sometime soon.

Jongin looks stunning, though he always does. Hair filled with flowers and beads, bouncing behind him as he skips through the festival. Kyungsoo is dragged along behind him, laughing as Jongin nearly runs into several elders in his excitement.

They earn a lot of looks. They smell like each other, act like a mated couple. Jongin constantly pulls Kyungsoo into kisses in front of onlookers who offer confused glances at the pair. Kyungsoo knows the reason behind their looks; they act like mates and smell like mates although their wrists remain bare of the Mark.

There’s a few reasons as to the missing sign of mateship:

Firstly, their Mark of the Trial is still healing. It’s the most painful Mark Kyungsoo has received to date, despite being the smallest. The Mark, a small moon around the size of his fingernail, lies just under his right eye. The needle frequently hit bone as it was inserted, and it took all of his willpower to not cry out in pain. Jongin, too, was brave, receiving his mark without noise nor complaint.

Secondly, a Mating Ceremony takes time and effort to plan. The entire pack has been too busy with festival preparations, meaning that their own personal celebrations have been put on hold in the meantime. The Elders assure them that their union has already been blessed by the Moon Goddess, and everything else is just semantics.

They greet members of Jongin’s old community, all of them taking one look at Kyungsoo’s marks and congratulating him on his capable mate. Jongin likes to mention he’s quite capable in other ways, much to Kyungsoo’s embarrassment.

The festival, as always is wonderful. There are no lights, the whole celebration illuminated by the light of the moon. Small stalls line the city streets, offering food to the hungry pack, filled with delicacies from each community as they all mingle. It’s rare for all of them to be in the same place, meaning it’s the perfect time to cement pack unity.

Wolves Kyungsoo has never met congratulate him on his mate, on his successful completion of the trial. It’s a nice reminder that they’re all pack no matter what, that each community may be separated, but they’re just small parts of one whole pack, like the puzzle pieces created by their ancestor.

The relic stands on display within the city centre, each wolf taking their time to give thanks to the Goddess in front of her likeness. The few humans local to the area also take part, thanking the Goddess for creating their friends and neighbours.

Kyungsoo and Jongin quickly lose their friends in the swirling crowd, occasionally catching glimpses of them in the gaps of people. Chanyeol sits alone with a wolf around his height. His chest also bears the Mark of the Beta, or so Jongin can see. He must be Chanyeol’s intended mate. Jongdae walks hand in hand with the alpha from Jongin’s old community and Kyungsoo swears he sees Baekhyun kissing a lovestruck Minseok at least once.

It’s Kyungsoo’s favourite thing, the festival. With Jongin by his side, he finds that he enjoys it a little more than usual.

------

“Come with me,” Jongin hasn’t released his grip in hours. He uses it to his advantage, pulling Kyungsoo by the hand, dragging him away from the city into the nearby forest.

He’s filled with anticipation, as Jongin has been overly affectionate and touchy of late, never letting his hands leave Kyungsoo’s body for even a moment. Jongin is probably dragging him off to a secluded area for a little intimacy and Kyungsoo is beyond excited. He’s discovered that Jongin’s hole is particularly sensitive, and especially likes the feeling of Kyungsoo’s tongue as it runs over the rim. He can’t wait to do it again, stay between Jongin’s thighs until he comes on his tongue.

The clearing Jongin leads them to is far from empty. The Elders of his community are there, dressed in ceremonial garb. His friends gather around them, mates and prospective mates in tow.

He recognises the small basket lying at his great-grandmother’s feet, it’s the container for the needles and ink used for Marks.

It’s a Mating Ceremony, something Jongin has obviously organised while Kyungsoo was busy with preparations.

“But,” Kyungsoo says, dumbfounded by his realisation, “we don’t have offerings?”

When two wolves mate, they offer each other one final gift; matching items to be worn, a sign of equal devotion. It’s a tradition taken from their human heritage, something completely unnecessary though still observed.

Kyungsoo’s great-grandmother hold out her hand, revealing two identical pendants held on leather strings. They’re made from bone, joining together to create a full moon. Jongin has obviously crafted them while Kyungsoo was away. He can tell by the small grooves on the pendants that they most likely move and swivel into a different shape once separated.

It hits Kyungsoo that he’s about to be mated, officially. It’s a wonderful gesture on Jongin’s behalf, to organise everything in Kyungsoo’s place.

“Thank you,” he breathes, clutching at Jongin’s hand, giddy and excited.

“The Moon Goddess smiles upon your union.” The Elders speak in union, signalling the start of the ceremony.

It’s a simple affair; under the watchful eye of their friends and pack, an Elder prays over their joined hands while the remaining elders ink identical circles onto the skin of their wrists. It takes time, the whole ceremony taking place while seated. The formality of the situation dies within minutes, as the marking process takes far longer than tradition can be expectedly upheld.

An inked needle dips into Kyungsoo’s skin as he converses with his friends and their mates. Baekhyun complains loudly about Minseok’s unwillingness to plan their own ceremony and Chanyeol shyly loops his arm around the mountainside beta, who Kyungsoo discovers is named Sehun.

Jongdae, at some point, falls asleep on Junmyeon’s shoulder. They look so smitten with each other, and Kyungsoo wouldn’t be surprised if they complete the mating ceremony before Minseok and Baekhyun do.

The final dot of ink is inserted into Kyungsoo’s skin as the sun rises, his friends all asleep on the ground around them. Limbs interlocked with their partner’s, it’s a beautiful sight, no matter the sound of Minseok’s near comical snoring.

“You are now officially mates,” says Kyungsoo’s great-grandmother. She disconnects the pendants, looping them around Kyungsoo and Jongin’s necks to complete the ceremony. As expected, the pendant fans from a half moon to crescent moon while Kyungsoo fiddles with it.

“This is usually the time where you consummate your mateship,” says one of the Elders, laughing, “though I’m sure you’ve already done that.”

Kyungsoo and Jongin blush a deep red under the light of dawn. The Elders giggle at their reaction.

“We’ve all been there,” says Kyungsoo’s great-grandmother, “it’s not so wrong to do things out of order.”

Only, it doesn’t feel like that. Their relationship has been progressing at a natural pace, nothing happening too soon or too late. Well, except for Kyungsoo’s realisation. That took a little time.

Jongin kisses him softly, pulling Kyungsoo from his thoughts.

“We’re mates.” Jongin whispers excitedly.

“Yes we are.” Kyungsoo replies.

He wasn’t looking for a mate, but he found Jongin anyway. Their story may not be one of legends or one to be remembered for years to come. But it’s their story, and that’s all that matters to Kyungsoo, anyway.

------

The clearing is dotted with tents, all of them fit for two and intricately decorated. There’s a freshly dug fire pit lying in the centre, with a group of wolves huddling around it, each one attempting to spark a flame within it.

Kyungsoo watches with pride as his community begins their new lives. He stands not next to his mate, but with the newest Elders of the pack. Jongdae represents the omegas, Chanyeol the betas. Kyungsoo himself takes after his ancestors, becoming the alpha representative for the community. It’s only logical for him to lead, apparently, as it was his idea to start the new community in the first place.

It didn’t take much convincing on his part, with each wolf falling for the new section of forest the moment they laid eyes on it. They’ve been bragging, too, with each day leading up to the move. For months the pack has been buzzing with gossip about the new community and the young wolves that are to run it. They wonder what the new faction will be known for, how their combined skills and talent will benefit the pack at large.

There’s whispers of other young wolves wanting to join them, hailing from multiple other communities, a mix of all ranks and genders. Kyungsoo can’t wait to see how his community grows, is excited to meet all the new wolves he would normally never be able to interact with.

“This sounds familiar,” Jongin says, taking his place at Kyungsoo’s side, “an artist and a warrior fall in love and start a pack.”

Kyungsoo smiles at the comparison.

From above, the moon rises. She offers light to the new group of wolves, shining her blessing onto them all.

------