Oikawa has been going to his grandma’s house for as long as he can remember. The first time was with his mother when he was two and a half years old, which meant that his legs got tired about fifteen minutes in, and she had to carry him for the rest of the way there and back. As he got older though, his endurance improved, and he could spend the entire time they were walking marvelling at the nature around him. From the trees that were the heart of this forest, to the squirrels scuttling away from him, to the river that signified his grandma’s house was less than half an hour away, there was nothing that failed to fascinate him.
So, when he’s eight years old and his mom tells him that today he’s gonna go to his grandma’s all alone, he’s nothing short of overjoyed. He’ll be free to admire the forest as much as he wants, space out without someone telling him to pay attention, pick anything he likes —“That mushroom’s poisonous, Tooru, leave it there”— and his heart is frankly fit to burst from the excitement.
When his mother gives him the basket with everything his grandma needs today, he’s trying to stop his leg from bouncing —without much success.
“You’re okay going alone, right?” his mom asks. This area is safe, and so is the forest, but he supposes her worry is to be expected.
“Yeah.” He nods his head quickly, giving her a wide smile. “I’m fine, don’t worry!”
“Don’t get lost, little idiot,” his sister calls from where she’s reading.
Oikawa gasps. “How rude! I know the way perfectly well, I’ll be fine.”
She snorts, and their mother shakes her head. “Don’t start.”
“Fine,” they both reply.
“Well,” he says, grabbing the basket, “I better get going. Love you!” He calls, then closes the door behind him.
The first half of the way there passes uneventfully, fitting Oikawa’s expectations. It’s no different than any other time he’s made this trip, save for the lack of company, but that doesn’t bother him in the slightest. He even stops to climb a far too tempting tree, getting at least twenty meters above the ground before he decides he should come down and keep going.
But less than five minutes after that, he hears something. A whine, low and constant, like a baby crying as silently as possible.
Oikawa follows it, not sparing a thought about getting lost —he knows this area well enough, and the sound doesn’t seem to be coming from very far.
When he sees it, his breath hitches in his throat.
It’s a puppy. Or rather, it’s a wolf pup, probably a month or two old. Its fur is a dark grey, nearly black, and it’s curled around itself, licking his hind left paw.
It must have smelled Oikawa, because olive green eyes are on him in an instant. Its expression changes just like that, from pain to fear, and it curls tighter, trying to appear smaller.
And then Oikawa notices it, notices the source of the pup’s pain. There’s a thorn stuck in its paw, the one it was licking. It’s big, the part that protrudes maybe as long as his pinky. No wonder it had been crying.
Oikawa walks all of two steps before the pup starts growling at him. It would probably be funny under different circumstances, because that’s less than a growl and more of a raspy wolf-cough. The pup doesn’t quit though, keeps trying to scare him off. Oikawa approaches more, ignoring the pup’s warning signal, and when he’s close enough, he crouches down, then sits cross legged.
The pup is still growling, but it’s a lot more half-hearted now. It would have been long gone by now, Oikawa thinks, but it can’t run away with an injured paw.
Oikawa slowly, very slowly, extends his right hand to the front, palm facing the pup instead of fingers. It hasn’t stopped staring at him, and doesn’t stop now either, but after a few heartbeats, it reluctantly sniffs his hand.
And then Oikawa gently moves his palm down, to stroke the pup’s throat. Not the head, he remembers his mother telling him when he was younger, because dogs are afraid you’re going for a hit if you try their head first. Cats are the opposite; they only expose their throat to the humans they feel comfortable around.
Well, Oikawa thinks dryly, this is not exactly a dog, but it’s close enough. The pup hasn’t protested or made any moves to attack, although it is still staring at Oikawa. He brings his other hand to the pup’s clavicle and starts scratching softly. The pup makes a move to expose its neck more, apparently enjoying being pet.
Oikawa moves his hands up after a few minutes pass, gradually, not wanting the pup to raise its guard again. He rubs the sides of its face, watching for the mouth, then carefully scratches the base of its ears.
And then, the pup does something unexpected. It lets its tongue hang out and closes its eyes, leaning into Oikawa’s touch.
Oikawa huffs, trying to contain his laughter. “You’re really enjoying that, huh?”
The pup opens its eyes again, but it’s a different stare now, one that seems like it’s saying what do you think, idiot?
Now, Oikawa does laugh, though he doesn’t stop petting the pup yet. “We have to do something about your paw, though. You can’t really walk like that.”
The pup turns its head to look at its paw, then gives another exhausted lick. Turning to Oikawa, it gives another pain-filled whine.
“I know, sweetie, I know,” he replies, because maybe the pup can’t understand what he’s saying, but smart animal that it is, it picks up on the tone he’s using —a soft, soothing tone that honeys his words as he tries his best to calm it down. “How about this, then. I’ll take you with me to my grandma’s house, get the thorn out there and then take care of your paw, because I don’t want it to start bleeding here, yeah?” he asks.
The pup just stares at him, and Oikawa sighs. He places one hand between the ground and the pup’s ribs, and the other one on the pup’s other side, then lifts it. The pup yips but makes no move to bite him, just wiggles a little in his grasp. Oikawa presses it on its chest, then adjusts it so that the pup’s front legs are on his shoulder and it’s looking behind Oikawa. it’s so light that he only needs one hand to support its weight, so he grabs his basket with the other.
“Come on,” he says, then sets off.
The rest of the way there the pup is not exactly a model patient. At first, it had kept wiggling around in Oikawa’s arm, although careful not to hurt its foot further. Then, when Oikawa told it not to do that —“Stop, I’m afraid I’m gonna drop you if you keep moving around so much”— it stayed quiet for a grand total of seven minutes —Oikawa counted— and then decided the acceptable pastime, instead, was licking Oikawa’s left ear.
“No, no, stop, I’m— stop, I’m ticklish—” Oikawa had said between gasps, but unlike the first time, the pup did not obey. In fact, it had turned around to look him right in the eyes for a moment, then gone right back to torturing him, and so Oikawa had spent the last twenty minutes of the trip giggling and squirming and trying not to make any moves that would hurt the pup’s paw.
“You are terrible,” he says when they’re finally outside his grandma’s house. The pup stares innocently.
Oikawa puts down the basket, then uses both hands to put the pup down. He grabs the basket again and heads to the door, but stops abruptly when he hears a cry.
He turns around to find the pup staring at him. It’s not where he’d left it, and Oikawa thinks he must have dragged his body to him, since it can’t walk.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he says. “I’m not leaving you, okay? I’m just gonna go in, leave this basket right here and talk to my grandma. I’ll get some stuff to help you, and then I’ll be right out again.”
The pup looks down. He puts both hands on either side of its face, lifting it so that its wet, black nose is nearly touching Oikawa’s own. “I’m not abandoning you, sweetheart. Okay? I’ll be right back, but I need you to stay here. Just stay hidden, and don’t leave, alright?”
The pup holds his gaze for a long moment, then settles down again, in the stance where Oikawa had found it.
“Alright then,” he says, then goes inside his grandma’s house.
The house is as it always is; a small, wooden little place teeming with various decorative objects, like pressed flowers or baskets made from reed.
“Grandma, I’m here,” he calls, loudly because her hearing is not what it used to be. Neither is her vision, but she recognizes him just fine as he steps into the kitchen.
“Tooru! First time on your own?” she asks, ruffling his hair.
Oikawa nods, and starts emptying the basket. “Yeah, but I can’t stay for long. Mom told me not to be late.” She hadn’t, but he doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the injured pup all alone. “Do you mind if I take some food with me for the way home? I’m a bit hungry.”
“Not at all!” His grandma beams, Any chance she gets to feed her grandchildren, she welcomes. “I made pork stew today, and there’s a lot left. I’ll go pack some for you.”
“Thanks, grandma,” says Oikawa. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
As soon as he’s closed the door behind him, he rummages in the drawers and cupboards until he finds some spare gauze, band-aids, and a small bottle of alcohol, not the only one his grandma has. After throwing them all in his basket, he returns to the kitchen to refill his flask with water.
“I’m all ready!” He smiles, giving her a tight hug.
“Be careful, Tooru.”
He nods. “I’ll be back in a few days!”
As soon as the door closes behind him, he runs back to where he left the pup. It’s still there, half-asleep, but as he hears Oikawa’s rushed footsteps, its eyes snap open, giving him a borderline accusatory stare.
“Sorry, sorry! I returned as fast as I could!” Oikawa explains, although it’s not as if it can really understand him. Still, it extends its injured paw and sets its head on Oikawa’s knee. The small puffs of breath tickle his skin.
“Let’s see…” Oikawa squeezes out a few drops of alcohol to disinfect his hands, then drips some around the thorn. The pup turns to sniff it, tongue darting out, but Oikawa pushes its snout away. “No, don’t lick that.”
The pup scowls at him.
Okay then, he thinks. He sets a hand on the thorn, and carefully wiggles it around, not yet pulling it out. A choked sound comes from his left, as the pup puts its head in his lap. He manages to twist it freely, like he’s unscrewing a damaged screw.
Now for the hard part.
“This might hurt a little,” he whispers, petting the pup’s head, making sure to give it a nice, deep scritch behind the ears. The pup huffs in response.
He grips the thorn, but as he starts pulling it out, the pup gives a wispy cry and drags its blunt nails across Oikawa’s calf.
“Okay, okay, okay.” He lets go of the thorn completely, starts petting the pup again. He sighs, trying to think of another alternative. They obviously can’t just leave it there, but it inching out probably hurts the pup too much.
He spends another good five minutes calming it down, even going as far as to tickle its tummy a bit. Then, he makes sure his angle is good and grips the thorn again, making sure it won’t accidentally slip from his hand.
He grimaces. “This...is definitely gonna hurt, sweetheart.”
The pup looks at its paw, then him.
Oikawa takes a deep breath, then yanks the thorn out in one go. Something sharp squeezes his hand and he realizes the pup bit him —and drew blood.
“I know, I know, I’m sorry!” He tries to make his voice as comforting as possible, not touching the pup in case it bites him again. “But it’s gone now!” He presents his other hand to the pup, showing it the bloody thorn.
The pup eyes it for a second, sniffs it, then pushes its base with his front paw, sending it flying from Oikawa’s hand.
He laughs. “I see you’ve learned your lesson, then.” He pours alcohol on one gauze and cleans his hand, then does the same with another gauze.
“Stay still again,” he commands. He cleans the pup’s wound in slow, careful strokes, ignoring the pup trying to push his hands away with his snout. The dried blood is harder to get rid of, and there’s matted fur around the wound, and the pup gets more insistent in its shoves, but he manages to get most of it cleaned up. He rips another piece of gauze and wraps it around the paw several times, making sure it’s arranged in such a way that it won’t impede the pup from moving as it normally would.
For someone with absolutely zero experience in anything like this, Oikawa would say he did a pretty good job. “All done,” he announces, wrapping a piece of gauze around his own hand as well. “Look, we match!”
The pup moves its head from Oikawa’s lap and stares at his hand. Then, it turns its head to inspect its own wound. It sniffs at it for several seconds, but thankfully doesn’t rip the gauze with its baby teeth.
And then, it gives Oikawa a last look and bolts.
Oikawa blinks in shock. The pup is already a few meters away, and while he can see it’s limping a bit, the gauze holds up and there’s no more whining.
He gathers the bottle of alcohol and the bloodied gauze pieces and puts them in the basket, trying to quell the disappointment in his chest. There was no point in the wolf pup sticking around, he tells himself. It’s a wild animal, not a house pet. And just because Oikawa had helped it, it didn’t mean it would stick around.
So he picks up his basket and starts walking back on the familiar path, leaving his grandma’s house and the wolf pup behind.
(After that first time, Oikawa made sure to always have a rudimentary first aid kit tucked in the bottom of his basket.)
When he was maybe four or so, his sister had narrated to him old myths about the forest in order to make the time pass more quickly as they headed to their grandma.
“What kind of myths about the forest?” he asks, eyes full of curiosity.
She laughs. “You’re always so eager to learn. There’s lots of variations, but essentially the myth is that some people are not fully human, but can shapeshift.”
“Shapeshift?” He wondered, the word foreign on his tongue.
“Mhmm. Shapeshifters are supposedly people who can turn from human to animal and the opposite. Most myths say they could shift only into one animal form, not whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. A lot of shapeshifters though usually live as only one form, and rarely change to the other. Meaning, either they lived in a village with other humans, or in the forest as their animal forms.”
“That’s still so cool!”
“Don’t get so excited, Tooru,” she said, but smiled at him nonetheless. “Those are probably just that —just myths. There’s been no actual talk of shifters in at least two decades.”
Oikawa’s face falls, disappointment written clearly on it.
Four years pass, and at the age of twelve, he hasn’t seen another wolf again. The biggest animals he sees regularly are deer and wild boars, and while those are intimidating in their own right, they never approach him. The deer usually turn tail and flee when they spot him. Apart from those, there’s foxes, ferrets, squirrels, hedgehogs, fish swimming in the river, and if he’s returning home particularly late, he can spot an owl or two.
Occasionally, especially in the evenings, he feels weird. No, he feels watched, as if someone’s following him, noticing his every move. Once, he even thought he caught a glimpse of green eyes, but when he’d gone to investigate, he didn’t find a thing except for more trees. And after that, no matter how many times or how quickly he turned to look behind him, he never saw anything out of the ordinary.
When he was a bit younger, he used to think about the shapeshifter myths, wondered if all the animals around him where actually also humans, and if the forest was their own little village.
He still think about the myths a lot, they still fascinate him, but he’s more or less dispelled the idea of woodland creatures having a human side. All the animals look at him with decidedly animal eyes. None of them have the same look that wolf pup did, but Oikawa just might be imagining it, the years that have passed eroding that specific memory.
Sometimes, Oikawa thinks he just might have imagined the entire thing. That maybe he accidentally did pick up and eat a hallucinogenic mushroom when travelling alone for the first time, and what followed after wasn’t actually real.
But then, he looks at his right hand and is greeted by tiny, nearly imperceptible white scars from a bite. It’s an interesting reminder.
Today is unbearably hot. He stayed in his grandma’s home much longer than usual, basking in its cool and dreading going back out. Even the dense forest can’t tame July’s heat into something manageable, so Oikawa had decided to at least wait until the sun wasn’t shining directly overhead.
Sunset is still hours away, but he does have an idea to combat the sweltering atmosphere, at least for a little while. And get rid of the sweat that’s gathered on his forehead, the back of his head...everywhere, actually.
He clicks his tongue when he imagines the state his hair must be in. It sticks to his forehead and reminds him uncannily of that time his sister had picked up seaweed from the river bed and flicked it at his legs, delighting in his terrified shrieks.
He makes a point to avoid that specific spot when he reaches the river, about twenty minutes after he’s left his grandma’s house. He takes off his nearly damp shirt and dunks it in the clean water, making sure it’s soaked through, then repeats the process for his shorts. He sets them on a nearby rock that’s half submerged in the river, the other half being two, maybe three times Oikawa’s height, and places his basket next to them. In this heat, they’ll dry in no time. He’s only in his underwear, but he barely feels any relief from the warm, stale air.
The river itself is relatively wide. When he was younger, it seemed so much bigger, a passage he’d never be able to cross. Now, it seems much less intimidating and he thinks he could make the swim from one bank to the other in under ten minutes.
He climbs the rock and observes the water below. It’s calm, almost unmoving, and deep enough that he doesn’t have to worry about his feet hitting the bottom. Instead, he delights in upsetting that stillness, making ripples erupt across the surface. In an instant, its temperature has brought him relief, stopped him from feeling like he wants to tear his skin off from the heat.
He comes up for air and shakes his head, trying to get his hair out of his eyes. He takes handfuls of water and splashes it on his face, then his neck, then rubs his body all over, reveling in washing off the sweat and grime that has accumulated. After he’s made sure he’s gotten rid of all the dirt underneath his fingernails, that he’s thoroughly rubbed the skin behind his ears, he starts swimming.
In a matter of minutes, Oikawa loses himself in the broad movements of his arms and the soft kicks of his legs, as well as the pleasant temperature of the water around him. He flips himself, so that he’s lying on his back, and closes his eyes, breathing in the forest around him. It’s serene, floating on the river while surrounded by trees, and he may have fallen asleep for a minute or two.
Moments —or hours— later, chills creep up his spine as the water becomes colder, and when he opens his eyes from his reverie, the sight that greets him makes fear coil in his stomach.
Dark clouds obscure the sun, barely allowing a few rays to pass through, and the sky has lost the azure shade it was before, a muddy grey surrounding Oikawa now. He swallows, gaze skittering to the shore. The water has carried him right in the middle of the river, where the currents are much stronger.
The deafening crack! of lightning is heard somewhere in the distance, and the sky opens its gates to offer its tears.
He starts swimming, shoving down the panic that threatens to rise in his throat back down to his stomach. The water’s different now though, its previous calm having given way to violent hostility that wants to drag him down. He knows, he knows, he knows how dangerous waters are during a storm, he knows how quickly flash floods happen, he knows how dangerous it is to be swimming during a storm. If you’re a good enough swimmer to escape drowning, debris is tossed with enough force to heavily injure you, at the very least.
Or, he thinks as a tall, menacing wave heads for him, the water slams you against the river’s rocks.
His knee takes the brunt of the hit, sharp pain exploding around it. Even if it had made a sound, Oikawa doubts he’d have heard it, with the wind’s howl buzzing against his ears, but he doesn’t think anything’s broken. Still, the shock makes him swallow mouthfuls of water, and a violent cough rises from his chest. Managing to get to the other side of the rock, he nearly cries from relief. The riverbank is not too far now, maybe thirty meters or so, and even though fear has gripped his insides and his knee has gone ramrod stiff, he can feel himself calm down a little.
And of course, the moment that thought crosses his mind, the river immediately shoves him underwater, barely giving him any time to prepare himself and take a deep breath.
It’s even wilder now; the water’s swirling around him. A small maelstrom is forming, and he’s dead in the center of it. He opens his eyes, the water blurring his vision. Distantly, behind him, he hears a splash, though it’s difficult to distinguish if that’s just the waves. Panic settles in his bones as he sinks deeper; he’s thrashing like crazy, moving his arms as much as he can along with his good leg; he tried moving the other one and his knee had protested at the sign of any movement. Still, he just can’t break through, the growing eddy keeping him down.
And then, something clamps acutely around his trapezius, and he briefly wonders if he’s hit another rock. But no; there aren’t rocks near the bottom of the river, and instead of sinking further, he’s coming up, up, up. Something scrapes against the back of his leg, weirdly rough, but Oikawa can’t figure out what it is.
The moment he resurfaces, his lungs nearly seize. The pressure on his left shoulder still hasn’t abated, but his eyes are burning, trying to blink away the water.
And then, his side bumps against hard ground, and he sobs. He turns around and grips the grass, hauls himself upright while keeping his leg still. Something nudges his other leg, the good one, helping him up.
Oikawa rubs his eyes, takes a few deep breaths, then turns to his side to peek at what dragged him out.
Green eyes stare back.
It’s the wolf, he thinks, and for someone who nearly drowned, Oikawa feels weirdly elated.
It’s so much bigger than before, no longer a pup, though Oikawa supposes that’s to be expected. Its fur is pitch black now, making the stare that much more intense. It’s by no means small, but not as big as Oikawa thinks wolves are, even if it comes up probably above his waist.
“You saved me,” he says, a bit breathlessly.
The wolf makes a sound like coughing. Oikawa’s eyebrows furrow. The wolf coughs again, then makes a sound like a hair is stuck in its throat and it’s trying to get it out. When Oikawa still doesn’t get it, the wolf growls. It comes out more annoyed than threatening, but nonetheless, Oikawa lets the wolf push him so that he’s lying on his back.
He doesn’t expect the wolf to jump on his chest with its two front legs.
“Hah—” he chokes, going for what the fuck, but what comes out is water instead, and Oikawa understands then. He keeps coughing, punching his chest in short, rapid hits, until his throat is raw and he feels like there’s no more water he needs to spit out.
“Thanks,” he rasps. The wolf nudges his shoulder. Oikawa follows the movement, eyes landing on the small wound that has formed. The wolf dragged him out of the wild waters with its mouth, but there’s a lot less blood than expected.
“You were careful, weren’t you?” asks Oikawa with a fond tone, and goes to pet the wolf before he can think better of it. Still, the wolf accepts the touch with no hesitation.
The wolf left him right next to his things, he realizes when he turns to the other side and sees the basket. Scooting a bit closer, he opens it to clean his shoulder —and his knee, now that he sees it.
The wolf follows his gaze. It approaches his leg, nose twitching as it sniffs at his injury. Then, it lies down and starts licking the skin around his knee, cleaning out most of the blood.
Oikawa’s laugh is wet. “You can’t quite heal it like that, sweetheart.”
The wolf glares, as if saying shut up.
It’s soothing, the wolf’s pink tongue coming out to lick at his knee, and Oikawa finds the repetitive motion calming him down.
After he’s cleaned it up with alcohol, he gets up, using the rock as support and careful to use only the other leg. Even after he rises, the wolf makes no move to escape like it had when it was still a pup. Instead, it sits like a normal dog would, gaze trained on Oikawa.
He tries to shift some weight to the other leg and hisses. The wolf stands up, ready to —Oikawa doesn’t know what, exactly, it has in mind. But it still makes comfort wash over him.
He checks with his palm, and thank god, his clothes hadn’t gotten too soaked from the rain, that’s now dried up into what is barely a drizzle. They’re just damp, and he changes into them gingerly, paying attention to his leg.
He’s startled when the wolf’s head bumps against the inside of his palm, then his hip bone, like it’s offering Oikawa support for his leg, should he need it.
“I’m going home,” he tells the wolf. He hadn’t imagined that, then; its eyes are something else, not giving him the clueless look any other animal would give him. He picks up his basket and walks in slow, measured steps.
The wolf doesn’t leave his side.
The wolf appears the next time Oikawa’s off to his grandma’s, just a minute after he started walking, emerging so suddenly and quietly like it had risen from within the shadows. It went off somewhere when Oikawa had gone in his grandma’s, then reappeared once her house was far enough.
Oikawa is intrigued, and equal parts worried and flattered.
He’s not concerned about the wolf attacking or eating him; if it meant Oikawa any harm, it simply would have let him drown in the river. But wolves have packs, and he’s not sure he’d like another five of those trailing him.
On the other hand, it’d be difficult not to interpret the wolf’s behaviour as protective —or maybe just bizarrely obsessed.
“You just can’t stay away from me, can you, sweetheart?” he asks, sometime around the third week, letting arrogance slip in his tone.
He’s met with eyes starting from their sockets.
Maybe the wolf is worried Oikawa is too stupid to survive without it, so it has taken to accompanying him whenever he’s out in the wild. And that...is surprisingly touching, although a bit insulting.
“I’m not stupid, you know,” he voices aloud, not stopping to consider that he’s arguing with a wolf.
To his eternal surprise —and dismay— the wolf’s brows, of sorts, lift up, in an expression that conveys a clear message. Could’ve fooled me.
Oikawa huffs. “I’m not talking to you, you mean beast!”
The wolf huffs right back, though it comes out more as a scoff than a huff, which Oikawa must admit is —impressive.
Still, less than ten minutes later, its head bumps against Oikawa’s thigh.
“I knew you couldn’t resist me,” he says fondly.
The wolf gives him a harder bump this time, nearly enough to make him lose his balance. Oikawa throws his head back and laughs.
The wolf is surprisingly funny. He —because it is a he, Oikawa had verified— is convinced that Oikawa is incapable of taking care of himself.
“I, uh. . .I don’t eat that,” is the only thing Oikawa can think to say when the wolf places a rabbit to his feet with a self-satisfied look. The rabbit itself is frozen in place, huge eyes gazing up at him.
Smiling apologetically at the wolf, Oikawa shakes his head. “I’ll get sick if I eat it raw.”
The wolf puts his teeth around the rabbit’s throat but doesn’t close his mouth.
“Yeah, I know how it’s done.”
The wolf licks the rabbit’s belly, disbelief at Oikawa evident.
“No, not gonna happen, sorry. And you,” he addresses the still petrified rabbit, “go. Go,” he repeats, stomping his foot for emphasis.
The rabbit bolts, and the wolf tenses visibly, but makes no move to go after it.
Are you fucking kidding me? Oikawa can practically hear it, an exasperated and annoyed voice scratching against his ears.
“I can’t eat that, I told you!”
The wolf ignores him and starts walking, not waiting up. From his point of view, Oikawa just wasted a perfectly good and nutritious meal. “Hey, wait!” Oikawa strides to close the distance, reaching out to the wolf. After petting his head, he leans down to take his face in his hands. “Thanks, sweetheart, I appreciate it.”
The wolf lowers his face, not looking at Oikawa, nose turned to the ground. It almost looks like he’s pouting.
“No, come on,” he complains, attempting to make the wolf look at him again. “Don’t be like that, you ass.”
The wolf’s head snaps up and he licks Oikawa’s nose.
Too shocked to react properly, Oikawa blinks. And then, “You beast! You monstrous beast, how dare—” This time, the wolf licks his mouth, and Oikawa furiously rubs the skin there, because that’s just so gross. “That’s disgusting, I can’t believe I’ve even taken you under my wing—”
The wolf actually rolls his eyes before tackling him to the ground. Even if he had the time to prepare, Oikawa doubts he could have defended himself against approximately a hundred pounds of wolf coming at him. His back hits the grass, and an oomph is pushed out of his chest involuntarily. The wolf’s tongue is all over, from Oikawa’s jaw to his palm and, much to his horror, the top of his head.
“No, no, no, not the hair—” It’s a futile attempt, but the gesture does draw a myriad of giggles from Oikawa. “No, no, come on, stop, stop, I swear, stop—”
He tries to get up, push the wolf away, but he just sits on Oikawa’s torso, somehow managing to look smug in between nips. Oikawa knows they should get going soon, they don’t have all day. Or rather, the wolf does, he can do whatever he wants, but Oikawa needs to get home at some point. Still, it’s impossible to actually be annoyed at the wolf. His tail is wagging like crazy and warmth curls in Oikawa’s chest.
A few weeks before Oikawa’s sixteenth birthday, the wolf doesn’t appear to his side after he’s left.
It’s not exactly unusual at first. He always comes when Oikawa’s at least five minutes away from home, so that the rest of Oikawa’s family doesn’t spot him. He’s also never hurt any of the cows or chickens in their farm, despite clearly being aware of their presence, so he possesses intelligence above the average animal —although Oikawa already knew that.
Still, twenty minutes after the house has disappeared behind Oikawa, the wolf still hasn’t shown and his lungs are tight with worry. He’s not concerned about the trip; he can manage just fine. But the thought of something happening to the wolf...it’s not a pleasant one.
He tries not to jump to conclusions; the wolf could just be sleeping somewhere, or hunting, or doing a million other things that don’t involve Oikawa.
Or, he thinks and tries to swallow the lump that rises in his throat, he could have just decided that Oikawa didn’t need him anymore, that he wasn’t worth his time and effort.
Blinking rapidly, he shoves the thought of not seeing him again out of his mind. He gets to his grandma’s as usual, though he refuses her offer to sit down for dinner and leaves soon after.
It’s already getting dark when he shuts the door behind him, despite it being summer. The sun has dipped in the mountains in the horizon, painting the sky in saturated orange, pink, and violet. Normally, he’d jump at the chance to just sit there and take the beauty of it in, but he’s got work to do.
He heads into the forest, watching his step. Weeds grow better during the summertime, so he has to be careful not to trip; it won’t do to injure himself, especially not now. He clicks his tongue, making what he hopes is a beckoning sound. Thankfully, there’s no need to crouch. The wolf is now almost fully mature, he suspects, head coming up to Oikawa’s chest, which was just another indication that he was no ordinary animal.
He burrows through the forest, going deeper, so much so that the thought of actually getting lost occurs to him. Shaking his head, he reminds himself that he knows which direction the mountains are in, and therefore where the west is.
But it’s nightfall now, the sun long gone. The moon hasn’t risen above the trees yet, so it only offers a sliver of light to illuminate Oikawa’s way. Still, he’s not known to quit when difficulties arise, so he keeps going, feet pounding against the ground with blazing determination.
His voice comes out, imitating a wolf howl. Immediately, another howl comes in response, a wolf —his wolf.
He’s close; Oikawa follows his call, follows that howl. It sounds desperate; his heart hammers in his chest, his lungs almost seize. Poor baby sounds like he’s in a lot of pain.
He steps into a clearing, then, and nearly misses the wolf, black fur making him blend in the darkness. Oikawa’s heart catches in his throat.
The wolf’s front is crouched, its back arching, tail up, almost in the same stance dogs adopt when they’re playing with someone, shoulders down with their body arching. He’s not playing though; instead, he’s trying to find a way to get his right forefoot out of the bear trap.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Oikawa says, voice rushing out in a mix of desperation and relief. “What did they do to you?”
He’s on his side in an instant. The wolf hasn’t growled at all, and Oikawa distantly thinks he must have recognized his scent. Instead, small, throaty, frustrated huffs come out, but he wags his tail when Oikawa reaches out to him.
The trap is makeshift, probably an amateur’s, which is why the foot is not perforated, or worse, amputated. Even then, the small fur tufts are tangled from the blood, and the grass underneath the trap is stained, looking purple-brown in the night. A laceration is wrapped around what Oikawa considers the wrist, like a sanguinary ring.
He scowls at the trap. He doesn’t really know how to disarm it —if there’s even a way to do that, he was never taught anything about bear traps— so he’ll just have to do this the good old-fashioned way.
He slips one hand after the other in the gaps of the trap, barely fitting through. He grips both sides, carefully placing his fingers so that the metal teeth aren’t digging into his skin, then pulls.
For an amateurish construction, it’s surprisingly sturdy. Oikawa grits his teeth and pulls harder, leaning down to get a better grip. His arms burn, but he does not give up, goddammit, wrists aching with effort, and after several seconds, he manages to open it wide enough for the wolf to drag his foot out.
The moment it’s safe, Oikawa’s hands jerk up as if he’s been burnt. Metal clangs against metal, the trap snapping shut like a lightning fast, man-made venus fly trap.
He falls back on the grass, breath coming out as a groan. The wolf is lying on his back. He’s brought his foot close to his chest, neck craning up to lick it. Oikawa resists the urge to lie next to him and grabs his basket instead.
Cleaning his foot is easy enough now, after all the practice he’s had, and this time the wolf licks Oikawa’s hand instead of the alcohol. After he’s done, Oikawa murmurs, “This is what I can do for now, but I think running water would help.”
The wolf keeps licking his hand, and Oikawa can’t help it; he kisses the top of his head. When he goes to pull away, the wolf nuzzles his face.
“Come on,” Oikawa commands, rising. The wolf follows suit, but after a minute or two of walking, his hobble becomes more pronounced. It must still hurt a lot, never mind his exhaustion.
“God,” Oikawa says, not really complaining.
Using one arm to support the chest, he reaches over with the other and loops it behind the hind legs, then hauls them both up, his own back straightening, and oh my god, this is one heavy animal.
“How much do you eat anyway? You’re so heavy I can barely carry you,” he grumbles, dangerously close to wheezing. The wolf lets his head rest on Oikawa’s shoulder, entire body going limp, and his heart melts a little. “You little beast.”
The wolf licks his clavicle as a response, huffing in amusement.
Oikawa leaves his grandma’s house behind, inwardly cursing the tortuous heat of August. He’s long since given up on wiping the sweat from his forehead, letting his eyebrows grow damp instead. The back of his neck feels as if someone rubbed a thin healing salve on it and forgot to swipe it away, his hair clinging to the skin. He only went outside a few moments ago, having stayed in his grandma’s for a while to avoid the worst of it, yet the heat is already unbearable.
The wolf trots to him in under two minutes. His cheeks are stuffed, Oikawa notes, before he drops two round —no, oblong?— things in front of him.
It’s. . .It’s two potatoes.
The wolf nudges his foot with clear intention, as if saying, “Won’t you pick them up?”
Oikawa does, putting them in his basket.
“Thanks,” he says, with a small, surprised smile.
The wolf’s eyes glitter with satisfaction.
It’s definitely not a normal wolf —or at least not a regular one, who knows what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not. For one, he’s a lot bigger. Also, he hasn’t seen any wolves with such a dark color around here, especially not black; all of them were gray or light brown. And of course, he replaced the rabbit with potatoes.
“Smart boy,” Oikawa praises as he scratches the back of his ears.
He’s seventeen when his grandma’s weakness begins shining through.
It’s a bit heartbreaking; she’s always been such a vibrant woman, always ready to take care of him. One look at her and she always made you feel happy to be alive.
He stays longer with her, now. He doesn’t know how long it’ll before. . .he doesn’t know how long it’ll be —sometimes her hands shake when she goes to pour him tea, sometimes they’re steady as the oaks enclosing her house— but he’s determined to let her go without regretting not spending more time.
He leaves after two hours today, closing the door behind him softly, deeply immersed into thought about her health. There isn’t anything wrong per se; just old age, time coming to collect her debt in the shape of death. It hurts a little less like that, that this is not a chance-induced misfortune, but rather life’s condition. He told the wolf he’d be a while, so he could go hunt or sleep or something, if he wanted to. The wolf nudged him in response and took off. He’ll probably find him in a few minutes.
It’s later than usual, the forest darkening, yet it’s still lovely as usual, trees spreading out their branches as if they want to hug the whole earth. Some animals hide into their nests, while the nocturnal ones peek their snouts out of theirs.
A fallen branch cracking sounds somewhere far off to his right. He’s heard the wolf making that sound —usually to notify Oikawa of his presence, because he can definitely be silent when he wants to— enough times to recognize it, but this one is different somehow, as if it’s not his wolf stepping lightly on the branch but a mega monster taking curious walks without having a care about the sound it makes.
His head snaps to his side, and his heart leaps to his throat.
A bear is walking toward him.
He doesn’t even know if bear is the right term; it’s got all the right characteristics, the form, but the size. . .it’s about double the size of a regular bear.
His hands start shaking. Its steps are leisurely, as if wondering and wandering, but it has without a doubt its eyes on Oikawa.
If he runs, the bear will only chase him. He most definitely can’t outrun it.
He swallows, cold blooming in his lungs. His feet are firmly planted on the ground, as if the flora beneath him has sprouted vices to keep him there.
The bear is less than ten meters, now. Its brown fur glints in the low light, darker than it must be during the day.
His brain briefly entertains the idea of tossing his basket at it, if only to distract it and —climb a tree, or something but. . .that would only aggravate it, and he’s not sure he can climb that fast, let alone if scaling a tree will even be effective against the bear.
A snout touches his hand. Sniffs around his forefinger and middle finger, catching also his thumb as it’s wrapped around the basket’s handle.
His heart is beating so wildly it must be annoying the bear, which now starts sniffing at his feet, tentatively licking his shoes and then deciding that was not the best action.
A low growl sounds behind him, filled with threat and malice.
He turns his head around slowly, very slowly, trembling as he does so, not moving another inch of his body.
His knees nearly buckle.
His wolf is standing there, muzzle tensed, wrinkled and snarling. His pearly teeth glitter with crimson blood, the fur around his mouth stained as well. His ears have almost stuck to the base of his skull like someone’s forcing them down. His hackles are up, and his pupils have dilated, so much so Oikawa can only see black lakes in white sand.
The wolf shifts, approaching slowly, ears slightly raising as he takes slow, warning steps. The bear’s gaze shifts from Oikawa to him, cocking its head slightly. The wolf approaches even more, comes to Oikawa’s side, never stopping its growl.
If Oikawa was on the receiving end of such stare, such growl, such body language, he’d probably be even more scared than he is now.
The bear’s snout curls, but not in aggression. It looks. . .disinterested, like it was gonna explore something but found out the trouble wasn’t worth it.
It turns around and leaves.
The wolf waits until the bear is fully out of sight, and then some, trusting his much keener sense of smell. Then, his stance relaxes, forms into what it is when they’re together, and he nudges Oikawa’s knee —which is a horrible idea, because Oikawa’s stress levels haven’t come back to earth yet, and this time, his knees do give in; he collapses on the ground with a soft thud.
Fortunately it doesn’t hurt. But the wolf lies on his belly next to him, looking a bizarre mixture between mildly guilty and eagerly comforting. He licks at Oikawa’s hand, over where the bear sniffed him.
Oikawa calms down slowly, breath slowing, heart rate coming back to its normal state, while the wolf nudges at him with his head, moving on him in an almost hug.
His grandma dies a year after. He, his mom and his sister decided to visit her all together, have been doing so about once a month. They ate a big meal: sauced beef with rice, salads, green tea mochi; Oikawa was stuffed by the end of it, had to wait at least a few hours for everything to be digested before crawling to the guest room with his sister.
They’re all lucky; his grandma died in her sleep. There are so much worse ways to go. They found her the next morning on her bed, a small smile on her face, as if she was still peacefully asleep.
It only made things marginally easier, if he was being honest with himself; it still hurt so much, and Oikawa wasn’t able to contain hot tears rolling down his cheeks as they buried her, let them stain the dirt above her.
A few days later, he finds himself at her grave again; both his sister and mother seemed to understand his desire for it, nodding solemnly when he told them he was going to visit grandma.
It’s in front of the biggest cedar behind her cottage; he wouldn’t even be able to tell there was someone —something, now— in the ground, were it not for the words they carved on the cedar. Name, date of birth, date of death, and a message of love.
He weeps quietly; he misses her already, so much. She was always so good to him, had such a kind soul.
A familiar weight settles on his shoulder; the wolf’s nose touches his cheek. He’s sat next to him, as if guarding him, except for his head which is a comforting presence.
Oikawa lets his head, too, lean to the side, his hair enmeshed with black fur. Despite himself, his lips curl in a tiny smile.
“Thanks,” he whispers into the silence.
The winter’s cold is biting, creeping underneath the multitude of layers he’s draped over himself, wrapping around his bones stealthily. It began snowing over half an hour ago, light flecks paling his skin and sitting on his hair like particularly annoying dandruff before melting into the tufts.
He wraps the crimson cloak around him tighter. Its wool previously shielded him from most of the cold, yet the wind has picked up now, has begun an eerie song in his ears that will soon turn into a howl.
The snow intensifies, fall like rapid rain. The clouds above him are heavy, thick with burden that has to come down to earth, great off-white blankets covering most of the sky’s blue-grey hue. His heart sinks as the snowfall beats down on him, teeth chattering. He still has a long way to go before getting home. He only thought to go up the mountain because the skies were so clear this morning, no one thought it’d be dangerous.
Gritting his teeth, he continues climbing down for who knows how long. Eventually, his fingers stay clenched around his cloak. It hurts to move them, they’re too cold. Looking down at them, he’s horrified to find the shade of his skin transitioning to a purplish color. His legs shake, each step heavier than the previous one. He stumbles, almost falls but refuses to. He’s not sure he would be able to get up.
The wolf is next to him, accompanying him as he usually does. His fur is more white than black now, a layer of snow having settled on him. It’s nothing short of majestic. He runs in front of him, and for a terrible moment, Oikawa has the scariest thought, that the wolf is leaving him. But no, he just comes in front of him and moves, a full body shake passing through him to toss most of the snow from his back. Then, he crouches low in front of his feet. At Oikawa’s inaction, the wolf pokes at his own shoulder with its snout. He curves his back even more.
He obeys in slow motions, straddling the wolf’s back. Carefully, he unclenches the fingers in his right hand, stretches them out in tiny curves, and pries open the fingers of his left hand.
“Um. . .should I hold on somewhere?” His voice comes out hoarse. He hasn’t spoken in hours, and his water finished a while ago.
The wolf’s eyes tell him, ‘You better.’
So he grips the fur at the nape of his neck, black tufts soft between his knuckles.
The wolf lifts to his regular stance and god, Oikawa realizes how big an animal he is. Oikawa’s weight doesn’t even seem to register.
Then the wolf runs.
If his throat didn’t hurt, Oikawa would be screaming. They rush down the mountain like the wind, trees passing by in an almost blur. His stomach has tied itself into seven different knots, especially as he takes in the branches spreading around him, but the wolf seems to have the perfect awareness as to where exactly Oikawa is, because nothing smacks him in the face. In fact, nothing even touches him, save for the still falling snow.
Once they’re on sea level, though, the wolf does not head toward Oikawa’s home, even though he knows full well where it is. Instead, he turns around, taking a path unknown to Oikawa.
He doesn’t panic, however, despite the unfamiliar route; either way, everything is covered in a blinding white blanket. Plus, he trusts him.
They end up in a cave, a giant mouth yawning awake, gaping inward. The wind is blowing toward the opposite direction, so it looks dry, no melted snow sticking to the ground. It’s big, big enough that Oikawa can’t touch its ceiling with his fingers, not even while riding. The wind’s howl is muted here, and the difference in temperature is noticeable.
The wolf crouches again to let him climb down, footsteps echoing on the cave floor. It stretches for a bit, curving downwards in what probably used to be a small lake, but has now dried out.
His cloak is completely soaked, almost dripping on the dry ground. The wolf’s teeth come around the string close to Oikawa’s neck and he pulls himself away, craning his neck to untie it. The cave’s walls are jagged, stone protruding crudely, and the wolf stands on his two feet to hang the cloak from a bulge.
It’s a relief to have the cold fabric off him, but he’s still cold as he lies on the ground. The snowstorm has not abated at all; on the contrary, it’s definitely picked up, its rhythm relentless. There’s a chance the cave’s entrance might be blocked tomorrow. Exhaustion has seeped into his skeleton, and all he wants to do is lean back and close his eyes.
The wolf comes up behind him, curls into a curve, so that Oikawa is leaning against his ribs. His head comes next to Oikawa’s hip and gives a loving lick to his palm.
“Mm,” Oikawa hums. The wolf’s body is hot, like he’s underneath blankets, so he scoots closer, seeking out the warmth.
He falls asleep with the sound of the wolf huffing as background noise.
He wakes up slowly, gently. The first thing he notices is that the cave’s entrance is, thankfully, not blocked from the snow, although there should be a good five inches of snow covering the ground.
The second thing he notices is the lack of cold he feels. Some of it is because it’s not snowing anymore and the wind has stilled, but really, he’s. . .toasty. The wolf did a wonderful job keeping hypothermia’s claws off him. He curls closer, nuzzling the wolf with a pleased, drowsy hum.
And that’s when he notices the third thing. There isn’t a wolf behind him.
There’s a man hugging him from behind. A naked man.
He jolts up.
“What the fuck?”
The arm previously wrapped around him drops on the floor with a soft thud. The man’s eyes scrunch, brows furrowing.
He must be about Oikawa’s height, although undoubtedly more muscular. His skin is slightly darker too, not the same snowy tint Oikawa has. His dark hair sticks out in haphazard spikes. They’re kinda cute. His eyes open to reveal the same olive green eyes the wolf has.
Oh my god.
“Ugh, why did you wake me up,” the man says, then blinks in surprise, as if he wasn’t expecting the words to come out of his mouth. “Oh. Oh damn. Well.”
He comes back and throws his cloak at the man, covering his eyes as he does so.
“Y—Yeah,” he says, cheeks heating up. “So, um. Explain? Like, please? Also, is it safe to open my eyes?”
“Yeah,” the man says. He’s wrapped in the fabric, the red contrasting with the dark of his hair in a lovely way. “I’m, uh, I’m Iwaizumi, by the way. Iwaizumi Hajime.”
“Oikawa,” he offers.
“Yeah, I know,” Iwaizumi responds automatically, his eyes widening after. “Uh. I’m. Sorry.”
Oikawa waves a hand, sitting back next to him. “No, it’s okay. But um, I wanna know. The myths. . .are true?” he asks tentatively.
Iwaizumi nods slowly. “Yeah. I can change at will, but shapeshifters might switch forms if they’re too afraid or vulnerable, especially when they’re young. Shifting. . .also happens sometimes when we’re asleep, but I, ah, I forgot about it yesterday.”
“It’s. . .It’s okay,” Oikawa says. Then adds quietly, “I might’ve died without you yesterday, Iwaizumi. Wait.” He frowns. “Iwaizumi, Iwaizumi. . .Iwa-chan!” He exclaims, as if he just had the brightest idea.
Iwaizumi blinks numbly. “Iwa-chan?”
Oikawa beams. “I met you as a puppy! You were so cute, such a little baby! So, Iwa-chan!”
“. . .You’re not gonna drop it, are you.”
Iwaizumi sighs. “. . .Fine.”
“Do tell me more though. I’m so curious about shapeshifters.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Well,” Oikawa ponders, tapping a slender finger against his chin, “are your thoughts the same in human and wolf form?”
“Hmm. More or less. They’re a bit simpler while I’m a wolf, but for the most part of it, it’s the same. When we’re young we rely on our animal instincts while in animal form, but that fades away as we grow older.”
“That’s. . .so interesting.”
A film of silence settles over them, before Iwaizumi breaks it. “Well? Don’t you wanna know anything else?”
“. . .You don’t have a pack?” Oikawa asks quietly.
“Ah. That. No, not really? Well, I do have a family, also shapeshifters, but it’s common for us to roam around for years.”
After that, they talk a bit more, about shapeshifters' abilities. Oikawa drinks the details in hungrily, listening to everything Iwaizumi tells him.
His eyes fall on Iwaizumi’s wrist, his right one. There’s a circular scar there, like bite marks.
Ah, Oikawa thinks. The bear trap.
When Iwaizumi has finished answering all his questions, Oikawa smiles.
“You know, now that you’re human, I can thank you properly.”
“Well. . .everything, really. Yesterday, you saved me from the snowstorm. You saved me from drowning, years ago. And you’ve. . .you’ve always been there for me, you know? So thank you for that.”
“So have you,” Iwaizumi points out easily. “You got me out of that stupid bear trap. And we only met each other because you were kind enough to get that thorn out. We. . .We have known each other for a long time.”
Oikawa nods wordlessly. They have been by each other’s side for a long, long time, met when they both were young. Despite the lack of talking on Iwaizumi’s part before today, he really does feel like he knows him.
Iwaizumi’s close. His body runs hot even in human form, Oikawa notes, but it is hard to think when Iwaizumi is so close to him, breath nearly on Oikawa’s shoulder.
Oikawa turns his head around. Iwaizumi’s already looking at him. His eyes contrast with the cloak, too, the black of his hair, the green of his eyes, the red of his cloak forming a fitting triad.
“If. . .” Iwaizumi starts, voice shaking as his lashes nearly brush against his cheek, eyes downturned, “If I’m completely misreading this, feel free to shove me away. I’m not particularly well-versed in the human ways.”
His lips brush against OIkawa’s, softly at first, then with added pressure.
Oikawa can only smile into the kiss, eventually bringing a hand behind Iwaizumi’s head to pull him closer. He darts his tongue out, having it momentarily lick Iwaizumi’s lips before sliding back in. Iwaizumi makes a sound that betrays his surprise, but he doesn’t break the kiss in order to tell him to stop. Instead, his palms frame Oikawa’s face and tilt it sideways, and he licks Oikawa’s lips back.
When they break apart for air, Oikawa is still smiling, lips pleasantly sore and cheeks flushed. Iwaizumi’s reaction is more subdued, but Oikawa can tell he was affected too.
“Hey,” he says, nudging him on the shoulder. “That was pretty great. We should totally do it again.”
Iwaizumi gives him another smile. “Sure. But I should probably get you back to your family.”
Oh shit, his family. They might even think he’s dead.
“Yeah. Yeah, that— we should probably do that before anything else.”
So without much ado, Iwaizumi shifts, letting Oikawa climb on his back again, brings him to his home in under an hour.
“Thanks.” Oikawa pets the top of his head. He’s gonna go in, talk with his mom and sister and. . .tell them about Iwaizumi. They talked about it on the way, there —or rather, Oikawa explained what he wanted to do— and Iwaizumi hadn’t protested. After that, he’ll probably give Iwaizumi some clothes and invite him in.
He opens the door, calling, “I’m here!”
The wolf settles in the snow outside and does not leave.